To PhD or not to PhD, Part 2 – Onward with Life!

DSC_0602nal banjoTo PhD or not to PhD, Part 2 –  continued from Part 1:

The mystical irony was in the timing that I received the no go PhD news. Relaxed from a Cascade, Idaho cabin retreat with my inspirational women friends, I immediately spotted the letter on the kitchen  table.  The weekend was rich with soul-searching conversations, vision boards, dream exploration, laughter, delicious food, and plenty of opportunity to snooze.   I tore into the envelope ready to accept my next challenge in life.

“Dear Ms Emerson – I regret to inform you that your admission to the PhD in Public Policy and Administration, State and Local Government has been denied.”

My fall higher education plans completely derailed, and mixed emotions swirled in a recipe of bruised ego, anger, and disappointment.  Then I felt embarrassed because for over a year, I talked incessantly to friends and family about my PhD plans. Next, a simple, subdued  thought, “Now what do I do. Reapply next year or apply to other universities?”   Finally, a curious feeling emerged  – relief.

Then the big question, do I want a PhD  and why? I know I can achieve that goal, but is that how I want to spend my time. Lack of a PhD does not prevent active involvement in affordable housing advocacy.

Since that March 2014 spring day when I opened the “No” letter, my life rapidly changed. Fall 2013, I had received a promotion into a new job as a Proposal Development Specialist with the Research Computing department. As a result, the rest of my spring 2014 melted into a flurry of travel to trainings and conferences that revitalized my talents and put my MPA to use.

I went on a glorious trip to the Washington Olympic peninsula, camped out, took long walks on foggy beaches, and explored the rain forest. I visited my daughter in Portland, Oregon and we shared an incredible weekend in Cannon Beach. My other daughter returned from New Zealand with loads of stories and pictures.

I decided to downsize, simplify, and sell my house, move into a smaller apartment and use precious time and money to travel, visit friends, and write. Instead of mowing the lawn or home maintenance projects, I plan to devote time playing the banjo, going to bluegrass festivals, writer workshops, and blogging conferences.

My PhD plotting plans did not leave a void for long. Other opportunities rushed in to seize the moment. As the gorgeous, cooling fall weather eases into the Treasure Valley, I am able to pause, thoroughly enjoy the transition, and not worry about getting an assignment completed, or that next paper written.

In October, I travel to Taos, New Mexico to join friends for one week to work on Habitat for Humanity build. I became involved with Boise Valley Habitat in 1994, when hired into a support staff position. After the position had ended, I remained involved with the organization locally, national and internationally. In addition to local builds, I joined Global Village teams in Northern Ireland, Romania, Guatemala, Hawaii, and a Jimmy Carter build in Valdosta, Georgia.
I look forward to additional volunteer opportunities and a chance to spend time with friends as result of my long involvement. Onward with an adventurous life!

photo (13)photo (10) (1)I look forward to additional volunteer opportunities and a chance to spend time with friends as result of my long involvement. Onward now with an adventurous life!


To PhD or not to PhD, Part 1:

mpa picture

From The Scribe, Boise State University, Department of History

May 2008, I graduated with a Master in Public Administration in a thrilling ceremony that began with my family gathered around and a breakfast of donuts. Once seated, bagpipes played, former NASA Astronaut Barbara Morgan spoke, and Gabriel’s Oboe performed for the closing music. I felt a surge of accomplishment, pride and had no doubt that I would pursue a PhD.

Several of my MPA colleagues planned to enjoy the year break and then apply to the PhD. in Public Policy and Administration program scheduled to begin fall 2010. We knew a strict and competitive application process existed. We remained optimistic and looked forward to the honor of being the first cohort through the program. The Boise State fall 2007 FOCUS magazine wrote a story about me as being a great candidate for the program. (p. 26)

However, circumstances beyond our control altered those plans. As the University, with the rest of the nation, navigated a rough economic crash and budgets cuts, the program went into hibernation. The years passed with attempts by dedicated faculty to reactivate the program. During that time, my friends and I lost momentum, and our drive to pursue a degree.

We questioned if we wanted a PhD with all the stress involved and potential debt. I investigated other educational pursuits that involved history, training to teach English as a second language, or a writing career through the MFA program at Goddard College in Port Townsend, Washington. One of the many rewards of working at the University is the tuition benefit. It may take longer to complete a degree working full-time, but employees avoid educational debt.

In 2012, the PhD program, rather suddenly, came out of hiding and ready to accept applications. Exciting news and I considered application to the program but decided to delay for the first year, fall 2013. I visited with a longtime friend and mentor whom I trusted and knew would ask me the tough questions that boiled down to a simple, “Are you sure?”

My area of interest is affordable housing policy. I spent a year investigating topics and research questions with various faculty, friends, and directors of programs involved with housing issues. I considered the impact on my life if accepted. I finally turned in my application for a fall 2014 start-up.

In early spring, I received a form letter in the mail – the answer was, “No.” Initially, I felt hurt hearing the news via an impersonal form letter, and nursed an insulted ego for several days, okay weeks – all right maybe a month. Yes, I still feel a tinge now!

Curiously, underneath it all, I noted a sense of relief. I struggle with health issues and had concerns about my stamina to complete the program. At 55, I deliberately ponder how to spend the next healthy years of life. In addition, when I stopped feeling sorry for myself, I had a terrific review session with the Department Chair. Congratulations to the program that had over 50 applications!

When I paused to reflect thoroughly on the ordeal, I realized a five-year journey ended. I spent the last five years thinking or talking about getting a PhD. – at least once a day. That turned into a fair amount of real estate property in the brain dedicated to the question, To PhD. or not to PhD.VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

To be continued……


Empty Nest, Adventures and Soaring Eagles

imagesIt finally happened, rather quickly too I might add.  Both my girls are gone for Christmas.  Jen is in New Zealand and Molly moved out of Idaho the early part of December.  I knew for weeks that Jen would not be home for Christmas.  Molly had been contemplating relocating for quite some time, and her decision to make the move came quickly.

On a percentage scale, I estimate 90 percent sheer joy as they each step out into their own lives in a new way.  Each has seized the moment and opportunities, further detaching their anchors from mom and dad, and forging new paths.  The 10 percent is denial on my part that they in fact left the dock and sailed out. photo(6) Those little toads ventured out, and I miss them, yet am joyously delighted for them – complicated, these feelings!

Why not join them?  I experienced a fantastic year of travel in 2013 as I visited Ireland, the mid-west and participated in a Habitat for Humanity Build in Kauai.  I used most of my vacation time and finances and for now I am temporarily grounded in Idaho.

I also started a new job working with the BSU Research Team working on grants centered on high performance computing and cyberinfrastructure; a fantastic career opportunity. My daughters and I are deeply connected, as mothers and daughters are, and I find it interesting that we all three seized new adventures and opportunities at the same time.

In addition to the girls leaving, activities that our family traditionally engage in during the Holiday season changed due to other factors, such as illness, folks decided to attended other dinners, and  several of us entered the season simply tired and in need of rest – that includes me.

Christmas Eve day I ventured into Fred Meyer for a few items and enjoyed my leisurely stroll through the frenzy of shoppers. People look stressed trying to get those last-minute food and gift purchases, and I considered that the chaotic quest has become part of the holiday tradition.

Past years, our family deliberately plunged into the mall crowd madness because it seemed the festive zero hour Christmas shopping thing to do.  As I get older, an activity photo (24)like that plummets me quickly into overstimulated, wide, crazy eyed confused behavior and is not a very attractive look on me.

Instead, it is a relaxing holiday as I am exempt from the riotous last-minute preparation for this year.  Yet, I know that my turn will come around again, and I will host dinners and gatherings for friends, family and stray people during the Holidays.

Christmas morning I woke early to prepare delicious dark roast peaberry coffee from Kauai, and lounged in bed with fat cat Cleo, listening to music and blogging away.  While my girls fashion new experiences and traditions in their lives, I paused to consider a new level of empty nest and forge an innovative vision for my life.

My plan is to spend 2014 preparing to downsize by 2015 to something small where time and money is spent on  traveling, visiting with friends and most certainly going to where my lovely daughters reside.  If all goes well, I hope to be working on a PhD in Public Policy on the topic of affordable housing issues.   My chances will improve in this attempt if I get the application in on time for consideration.  The deadline in February is fast approaching!

Yesterday, when I stepped outside, I spotted the powerful grace of a bald eagle lazily circling right above me; the flying eaglefirst time I have observed an eagle flying in this neighborhood.  Of course, I thought it a significant message, quickly utilized the power of Google, and found the following that seemed fitting:

Great power, spiritual self is soaring.  Tremendous freedom to be used wisely, accepting responsibility, and taking care of own needs.

The vision they possess helps us learn to take a step back and view the bigger picture. We need to view the past and the present objectively, whilst looking towards the future.

zeldaeagleWe need to open our minds and hearts to see past old, restricting beliefs that are holding us back. Eagle teaches us to courageously face our fear of the unknown, so we are then able to fly as high as our heart’s joy can take us.   Soar away girls!

Move-in day at Boise State University

 The Towers Housing - Boise State University

The Towers Housing – Boise State University

I enjoy the rhythm of the University.  Fifteen years of employment time on campus combined with the fourteen years it took to finish my undergraduate degree, have produced a long and multifaceted relationship with Boise State University.

In an age of economic crises and with the workforce population often required to relocate, my continuity of employment experienced at Boise State University both surprises me and fills me with gratitude.

The end of the spring semester brings a frenzy of stressful energy as students work to complete projects, coursework, and study for exams.  Graduation provides celebration and closure to the academic year and the majority of students exit for summer work or adventures.  Even with the intercession summer classes, the 3, 5, 8-week schedule, the bulk of the student flow is gone.  Landscape, construction and remodel projects fire up and what I term “the underbelly” of the university claims the campus.

We are the year around employees, the infrastructure that continue completing old projects and launching new ones to prepare for the fall semester.  We all enjoy the vibrant energy of the students and it takes a little time to adjust to the quieter campus.  However, within a few weeks, we reclaim the space and enjoy the temporary absence of the student flow.

Before each semester begins, I take a traditional walk across a campus gradually becoming busier with returning students and faculty.  The energy palpable, and a week before the first day of class a growing buzz of preparatory activity takes place. Move in day is delightful, and heartwarming to watch. An abundance of family and friends haul in baskets of supplies to the dorms.  Parents lug crates of toilet paper, granola bars, peanut butter jelly and crackers, and the infamous Ramen noodles to assigned rooms.

Lincoln Housing

Lincoln Housing – Boise State University

Buoyant, excited looks on the faces of the young people inspire hope for our future.  Lots of laughter, smiles, and invigorating energy populate the campus. Students are the lifeblood of the university and their sparkly dreams spread throughout BSU.  New friendships, stories, homework angst, challenges, adventures, and careers are already unfolding.