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Awake MY Soul: Musings on Graduation.

May 17, 2011

Oh hey two years, see ya later, it’s been lovely. Really? Really?! Two years? I cannot believe that this time last year I was sittin’ on my arse with a broken leg. This last weekend was Bay 2 Breakers (the scene of the incident) so it definitely brought back memories of the start of this journey. (side story – I kinda hurt my ankle again this weekend and my Dad texted me this morning “It was Bay 2 Breakers this weekend, that’s why your ankle hurts. It knows.” LOL).

SO, two years ago as I sat on my couch with a messed up leg loaded on Vicodin, debating moving back to San Diego for grad school in higher education leadership (#sagrad), I interviewed for my (spoiler alert) current job at the University of San Diego. Unsure what made my supervisor offer me the job at the end of our conversation, but boy am I thankful. Not only had I applied late to the job, but the lady had never met the crazy that exists in my head (and I had only stepped foot on campus once before in my life). Welp, two months, a steel plate, and an ankle brace later I showed up for work and was greeted by a nice Asian guy and a J Crew stand-in and had my life forever changed.

Thank GOD – seriously, thanks big guy, that I met Nick and Sara. Our insta-friendness (just add the Student Leadership & Involvement Center) kept me sane and brought me to tears (mostly the hilarious, I-can’t-breathe-because-I’m-laughing-so-hard-kind). After meeting Nick and Sara, I met other great friends and colleagues that supported me, challenged me, and taught me more about how to be a better professional, friend and person (cough, cough Kelli & the rest of the cohort!).

To sum up two years of graduate school in a blog post seems ludicrous but some highlights definitely included:

– Traveling around the world and visiting Qatar

– Attending NASPA in Philly and meeting the UC Magic (our dream-team-staffed University)

– Meeting some of my best friends

– Meeting some of my life’s greatest mentors (and hopefully future life coaches – Cheryl, Athena, Mandy)

– Interning for AFLV & AFA on the graduate staff

– Learning the real meaning of terms like adaptive challenge, oppression, challenge and support (and using them in inappropriate settings with my cohort members)

– Serving as a TA for the LEAD 555 course (hi, emotional roller coaster)

– Serving as the Panhellenic Council advisor and working with 3 different leadership boards (who all think they were my fave, and no I don’t have one!)

– My NODA internship at UC Merced last summer

– Learning ah-lottttt (like seriously, where is all of this knowledge going?)

– Created a bomb research project (thanks Athena!)

– Learning even more about myself than I learned in book smarts

– Becoming obsessed with crystals/stones/gems/tarot/life paths as a guiding force in my life

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – I’m sure as I publish this post I will think of more things and go back and edit that list before you even read it all. Also wrapping up our two years, Nicky, my cohort-mate that I spoke of above, made an AWESOME video with pics and quotes of his graduate experience (and yours truly happens to have QUITE a few cameos):

I knew I wanted to write a final post for the semester/my grad experience but was SO unsure how to start, what to say, blah blah blah, so I’m thankful for Nick’s video and for my NASPA pal, Megan Bebb’s Facebook note, as inspiration for my thoughts. I used these musings to create my online “vision board” that has clips of my life and influences:


Blog2 by cwellhouser created on

The title of this post is the title of a Mumford and Sons song, Awake My Soul. I love the line…

In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die. Where you invest your love, you invest your life.

I hope to invest love into the things that really matter to me moving forward and I’m not settling for anything. I’m so grateful for every individual I’ve met throughout these short, but oh so long, and extremely fast-moving two years. AND of course, my fam gets a huge shout out for their unwavering support, as well as my bomb KDZ sistas for travelling down to SD to celebrate this weekend!

I’ve already cried my eyes out at my last Panhellenic and dread the thought of leaving USD but I know that the universe has great things in store for me (well that is if we make it past judgement day of course). Now this certainly isn’t the last post on this blog – I’ll continue with my ramblings about higher education, job searching (yes still job searching – holler at your girl if you know of any leads!), and the intersection of my life into these areas. BUT FIRST – I think a margarita (or two…) is in order…YAHOOOOO!

p.s. – see I knew there would be another edit! I wouldn’t be graduating with a Master’s degree this weekend without the guidance of my original mentors in student affairs, Sarah, Jacqueline and HMH from my days as an undergrad at SSU. SERIOUSLY – thank you!!! xox


Inspiring the “Right Thing”: Part Duece

April 29, 2011

In a post two weeks ago, I explored some issues of personal responsibility within the Greek Community at USD and the causes for bad behavior from the perspective of my boy Aristotle and Manning and Stroud. Some of the causes of wrongdoing I outlined were weakness of will, ignorance, the culture of the group, and dilution of personal responsibility to name a few. In summary, people act a fool when they feel pressure to conform to a group or are only focused on their individual interests. There are occasions of a few bad apples and actual evil people that cause trouble, but I think within fraternity or sorority life the most instances of “stupid shit” happening are caused by individuals not standing up for their own personal values. In another post I discussed the transition from “superego” to “conscience” – I think this is totally connected to personal responsibility. Moving from the idea of I am doing this because someone tells me to or it’s “tradition” (ghak!) to I am doing this because it connects with my personal values and it is what I believe is a huge shift in our development.

So we know that there needs to be a shift in personal responsibility for decisions as well as accountability within the organization and leadership to address misconduct but how does one “cure” these imperfections? As I mentioned last week, Manning and Stroud (2008) also presented a few ideas for such cures, which I’ve outlined below:

  1. Renew the group’s interest in integrity: How can we support the work of whistle-blowers in our organizations and protect them? Do the bad apples need to be punished or does the social pressure need to increase? In a meeting this week, the women in our Greek community were discussing how as women we could affect change in relation to fraternity hazing activities. One woman suggested that if everyone says no we aren’t going to do it (and the men know they can’t just go to someone else after one “no”) it won’t be seen as cool. Great thinking, so how do we create buy-in from the women in our community?
  2. Elect leaders that demonstrate integrity: If the leaders in our groups are not acting with personal responsibility and commitment, how can we expect the members to? Additionally, if a group encourages it’s members to break administrative rules or community guidelines how can they try to expect their group to follow their internal rules?
  3. Develop ethical cultures: Reward integrity, discourage wrongdoing. I think this happens a lot on the discourage wrongdoing, except it comes across as a threat. The two organizations that immediately come to mind when I think of this are not threatening to their members and are trying to promote values among their members and recognition of these members actions.
  4. Realignment of incentives: As organizations we need to re-evaluate what rewards people get for doing the right thing. Is it only a punishment if they do wrong?

I see these as long-term, physical-therapy, rehab-type cures – not antibiotics. What work to improve the health of a community (think immunizations, lifestyle changes, diet, exercise) can be carried out to sustain our communities? I’ve posed some broader ideas here and continue to think of the tangible pieces of work we can do to help improve our “preventive medicine” practices?

Inspiring the “Right Thing”: Part 1

April 15, 2011

The fraternity and sorority community at USD is exceptional. I love the student leaders that I work with and dread the end of my time working with them. That said, they are exceptional, but not perfect. They are navigating their own personal lives and their lives as members of a group that is bigger than themselves.

Recently we’ve had some significant issues with personal responsibility and decision-making. The community is full of smart (see their recent recognition here!) people. The community is great at following protocol and procedures for handling incidents (for the most part…). The community is full of inherently good people. The community is tired of a few individuals tarnishing their reputation, organizational standing with the university, and taking care of people who cannot handle their alcohol.

We held a town hall meeting yesterday (what a great idea from my supervisor, Mandy Womack!) to have an open discussion about the issues our community is facing and how we can move forward. She implemented a technique we’ve seen some other colleagues use at recent conferences where students could text in their comments/feedback if they did not feel comfortable sharing. After hearing the responses at the meeting coupled with personal feedback I’ve heard students share, it seems there are some key issues affecting the students I work with (and I’m sure students at other institutions as well).

Framing my thoughts from my Ethics class and the work of Manning and Stroud (2008), A Practical Guide to Ethics: Living and Learning with Integrity, I wanted to outline some reasons for misconduct and connect them with the student population I work with. Some of the causes stem from Aristotle as well – he’s my new favorite theorist/philosopher btw.  In my next post (groannnn – yes you’ll have to wait until then!) I will explore some of the “cures” as M&S put it.

Causes for Misconduct


  • Ignorance: Don’t know what is right/wrong (likely not the case in this context)
  • Malice: Wrong occurs because the person wants to do wrong (out of evil – again, likely not the primary cause in this setting)
  • Weakness of will: Wanting to do right but has conflict of doing it (winner!)
    • Desire for approval by peers
    • “Everyone else is doing it,” “I’m not powerful enough,” “They’re much worse than we are”
    • Feelings of lacking authority to make decisions – denying moral responsibility
  • Failure of Empathy: We become so overwhelmed that we begin to focus on relieving our own distress and ignore the feelings of others


  • A few bad apples: They spoil the environment for others (yes!)
  • Banality of evil: Justifications and trivialization of evil-doing (sounds so scary) perpetuate immoral behavior (yup, this too!)
  • Failure of leadership: Individual interests take over the group (definitely happens, not as much at USD though)
  • Dilution of personal responsibility: I don’t have a position so I can’t effect change (can you say, Bystander Behavior??)
  • Organizational culture: The culture and values of the group allow actions that undermine integrity (ohhh yes)
  • Lack of oversight: Regulations to constrain misconduct are not followed (what standards board?)

These issues spark so many different examples in my head it’s frightening. Manning and Stroud outline some more examples of types/causes of misconduct but I think the ones above are most present in our community (and maybe yours too). I’ve particularly noticed students telling me things like, “well I can’t send them home, I’m not in their chapter” when seeing someone too intoxicated at a philanthropy event. Or the organization themselves doesn’t follow university policy and they are so shocked when their members don’t follow their own rules. When one group makes a mistake, we aren’t learning from the mistakes they’re made – where’s the empathy!? Also very frequently, our campus loves to compare themselves to our slightly more rowdy neighbors to the east that have a reputation for craziness. What they forget to think about when making such comparisons is the idea that just because someone is doing worse things than you doesn’t make your misconduct any better – it’s still bad behavior!

Most frightening is some of our president’s feelings of powerlessness or lack of authority to make decisions that may be unpopular. I’m not sure if they were told when they took office that most of the time their decisions made would not be popular. From two levels I see this affecting our community. First with chapter leadership, how can we inspire students leaders to make the unfavorable decision because it is the right decision?

“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” – Albus Dumbeldore (via Mike Dillbeck)

This could range from kicking out the Frat-star of the group to ending an event early because it’s gotten out of hand. Second, related to the members-at-large, how can we encourage personal responsibility and good personal decision-making that is congruent with personal values? USD has already started some great work in this department thanks to an awesome student-led initiative, but more on that later!

In my next post on this topic I’ll explore some cure’s for misconduct. Until then – my best mom voice says to you, “Make good choices!”

Ten Things You Need To Know About: The Placement Exchange

March 20, 2011

It’s been less than a week since I’m back in California after a whirlwind of a week in the City of Brotherly (and Sisterly!) Love. For first year grads navigating The Placement Exchange (TPE) or the NASPA conference, I’ve outlined some (hopefully) helpful tips for the experience. And be sure to check out the other reviews/reflections of my cohort member, Nick!

Goodie Bags Our 1st Years Made Us!

1. Travel with people you know aren’t cray-cray: Nick and Sara (and later in the week, Jaclyn!) were the best roomies a grad could ask for! They put up with my “I don’t talk in the mornings” schpeel and respected my time to freak out or vent or get pumped about a second interview. It was also helpful to keep these people close by in between interviews so we could crack a joke or tell a funny story to keep our nerves down.

2. Check the closing time of national monuments: Arriving at the Liberty Bell at 5:10 does not work so well when it closes at 5. Just sayin’. Although it is a nice view through the glass.

3. If you want to remain sane during TPE, DO NOT camp out in the candidate workroom: two words, mad-house. Nick, Sara and I found that the candidate resource room was much calmer, more spacious, and way more conducive to our jokes, laughter and silliness.

4. Laugh! There is nothing worse than psyching yourself out before an interview and getting super serious. By being able to hang with two of my fave people I was able to stay true to myself.

Geno's Steaks!

5. Don’t listen to your cab driver when asking where the best cheese steak is: OK, so we’re in Philly, home of the cheese steak. you’d think your cabby knows the better joint. Wrong. Apparently if I had truly conducted a more statistically sound survey of Philadelphian’s, I would have known I should have picked neither Geno’s or Pat’s and headed west to Jim’s. Dang it.

6. Make friends with the person next to you: Before you enter the candidate waiting pen’s you will have no idea how anxiety-inducing the holding areas are. Our best tactic (thanks to Kelli Dorey and Paige Haber for this tip!) was to strike up a convo with the person sitting nearest to you. Granted it is hit or miss chatting it up with a strange bird, but most of time you get a normal, nice person who is looking to get calmed down just like you. Shoot, thanks to Sara’s convo skills, we even found one of our best conference friends this way! This tactic also helped in making friends in the candidate rooms – we met some hilarious and awesome people this way.

7. Quality not Quantity: Number of interviews DOES NOT MATTER. I repeat, does not matter. As Sara kept reminding us, you only need one job after graduation, not 20. We all found our experience much more relaxing and enjoyable when we weren’t jumping to interview after interview and we actually had time to prepare for our next interview.

8. Do your homework before you leave. Sure, you have a week away from school and all this time in airports and in between interviews – but trust me, when you’re there, there is nothing less you’ll want to do than homework or a research project. Facebooking is about as in-depth you’ll want to get during the day.

9. Don’t over-pack and try to sneak by the Philadelphia airport security or counter agents: Seriously, I think they laughed at me for a. my overweight baggage and b. my “carry-on” garment bag which apparently was overstuffed (I don’t know how this happened when all I bought home extra was a Ben Franklin beer mug and a tiny Liberty Bell pencil sharpener).

10. Go a day early: This will give you time to rest after traveling, unpack, iron, scope out the Starbucks, go to candidate orientation, view the interview hall, realize you forgot toothpaste, etc.

Final Countdown!

Get ready for Phoenix, people! Hopefully it won’t be as cold and you won’t feel the need to pack 3 winter coats (whooops – that’s maybe why I was overweight!).

p.s. thanks to the 1st years in our program for making awesome love notes and care packages!

p.p.s. get with Twitter while you’re there. Just do it already!

Leggo my Superego

March 1, 2011

Where do I come up with these blog titles?! This semester one of the courses I am taking is Ethics. What’s really interesting is that while at the start of this course I thought, shoot, now that I’m taking an Ethics class I will have all these little birds sitting on my shoulder questioning my decisions when really, those damned birds have been there all along. More specifically, what I’m realizing now is that many of my “ethical decisions” or life choices have begun to shift from the superego to conscience (put smart-looking reading glasses on….now).

This guy, you might know him (well Sara does since she babysat his great-grandson or something like that this summer), Freud, came up with the concept of superego. It’s a part of the structure of our personality (if you can’t remember that intro to Psych class you took) that builds on the ideas of id (instinctual drives based on pleasure) and ego (reality of physical world, conscious structure). Basically the superego is the imposition of the ego of another on the premise of guilt and authority. What the what? Basically, superego = doing things you do because you were always told this is how it should be done by other people (little kids telling you to look both ways before crossing because their parents tell them to do it and it’s important). Richard M. Gula discusses the difference between superego and moral conscience further if you’re interested in the topic.

The shift in our lives to making decisions for ourselves and based on our own personal values and what we want to do rather than what we should do is a shift to moral conscience. So for example, we do something because it gets us approval or for fear of loosing love is an act of the superego. Doing it because we genuinely love others or are invited to love is an act of moral conscience. Picking your political party because that’s what your parents identify as – superego. Changing it because you’ve realized it’s ok to vote democrat if that’s what you want and believe – conscience (sorry Mom and Dad!).

Doing all this job search business, cover letter hoopla, and interview prep, I’ve been asked many-a mock interview question, “So tell me about yourself and why you want to do this work.” WELL, it aint’ for the money – that’s fo show. I began thinking of this question in terms of superego and conscience (yes, really!, I did!! OK…not until class tonight, but hey!).

I used to work for a public relations firm in SF before starting grad school. My image of PR when I started = glamorous, working with popular journalists, serving neat clients and getting approval from people when handing out business cards. In my undergraduate public relations courses I learned PR was “ALL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIPS!” Excellent. Perfect. This perfectly aligns with one of my top values, building and maintaining relationships with those around me. What I found in my post-college career that many relationships in the PR world are forged on the basis of, write this story for me so I can meet a goal or what kinds of news do you have that interests me or drives the most traffic to our site or I’ll only write it if it’s about a popular company. Where is the love people? I totally respect the work of my former colleagues and understand it’s value – it just wasn’t my value. I acted in my career out of hope for approval from my managers, clients, and random people I met at happy hour rather than for the passion of my work.

That’s why I made the switch. As much as I dreaded leaving San Francisco, I needed to act on my “moral conscience” and do work that connected with my passion for building relationships with people, especially in the university setting. That’s why I love my work with students at USD. This post is why I’m so thankful for my program in providing the opportunities to articulate this realization.

So when I’m doing interviews these next few months, I’ll be giving a shorter, elevator-pitch version of this. Unless I feel like getting all smarty pants and Freud on them of course.

Flashback: A year ago (sometime close to) today

January 26, 2011

While my program focuses a lot of our experience on the “here and now,” it’s always fun for me to play a little game of “This is Your Life” and remember, oh shit, last January I was in the Middle East. CRAY CRAY (translation, crazy).

That was also pre-higher edventures. So in case you missed out on the fun here’s the reader’s digest version followed by links to the Sassy Sipper’s take on the journey to the desert:

Hopped on crazy long flight from LAX (woah that sounded too much like a Miley Cyrus song..wait that was intentional), enjoyed Burger King fries as first meal in Dubai, arrived in Doha, Qatar, visited a ton of museums, learned about Arab culture, was shocked by how wrong my perceptions of said culture were, got a crash course on Education City, visited 6 prestigious American Universities all in two days, went for a crazy sand dunning ride, rode a CAMEL!, did some serious Persian scarf shopping, visited and WENT TO THE TOP of the world’s tallest building in Dubai, travelled back around the world and still haven’t made sense of all of it.


OK SO for the longer, drawn-out-with-photos version see the following posts (in chronological order):

I’m part of two separate teams of upcoming presentations at NASPA and ACPA where we are reflecting on our experience as study abroad graduate students. I guess it’s about time to make sense of it all, isn’t it?

It’s a Party in the AFA

December 7, 2010

Well – at least the grad staff thinks so! This last week, that version (it’s a party in the AFA) of the Miley Cryus song, Party in the USA was our mantra for our week in Phoenix, AZ. Earlier this Fall I was lucky enough to be selected as one of eight graduate staff members of the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors (AFA) Annual Meeting (AM) Planning Team. What an honor! I know there were many qualified applicants and I happened to be one of them.

The Annual Meeting is held in a different city each December, this year Phoenix was our host. This was my first Annual Meeting and I was super excited to meet other professionals in the fraternity and sorority field. About 980 people attended this conference, which was made up by fraternity and sorority advisors, graduate students, campus professionals and members of national/international organizations.

My duties at the conference entailed setting up and tearing down signs, stuffing packets, processing registrations, compiling program evaluations, introducing programs, basically helping with anything that needed to be taken care of! I held a similar role with the Association of Fraternal Leadership Values at their West conference in April (that conference is geared more towards undergraduate fraternal leaders – if you couldn’t guess by the title!). While we were VERY early to rise and VERY late to bed each day, it was so rewarding. I got to meet professionals in the field that I have read about, seen tweet, heard about – yadda yadda. I also made some good relationships with other graduate students that were on the staff that I know will be my support system and colleagues for many years to come.

Some key takeaways:

– The fraternal movement is as strong as ever and we need to strive to help build organizations that promote member’s development of self, relationships, and leadership values.

– My name may or may not be changed to Whitney Wellhouser or Christina Sweesy (courtesy of spending too much time and looking like my roommate, Whitney Sweesy)

– I thought conferences/meetings were about networking – which I thought was a slimy way to get your business card in someone’s hand. What I know now is that networking done intentionally and with authenticity is extremely rewarding. I made many meaningful relationships with individuals that I know have my back in the future as well as can serve as a great resource to bounce ideas off of or just vent.

– Phoenix is really dry and makes your nose bleed and hair flat (I wonder how much lotion this city consumes)

– My supervisor is awesome and definitely deserved the distinguished service award she was recognized with (thanks for being awesome, Mandy!)

I’m excited to continue my membership in this organization as I move forward in my career and I’m excited to be able to attend next year to learn more about how I can better serve the students I work with. I also learned about great opportunities for future learning via the association and its partner groups. I’m so thankful for this opportunity and to all the sage advice I was given throughout the weekend (as well as the many, many moments of intense laughter and jokes).