A Love Letter to my CMS

When you wear a lot of hats (as we tend to in higher ed), it’s a relief when you have a tool that makes your life easier. For me, it’s our CMS. As we gear up for a redesign, I can’t help but reflect on how great my experience has been over the last four years since we became a LiveWhale school. Working with the CMS let me fall in love with content strategy and has helped me see the bigger picture of our website.

LiveWhale CMS is tailored for higher education. Faculty, offices, student clubs—everyone can easily edit their own static content, create stories and events, or upload full photo galleries. The WYSIWYG editor is as simple as Microsoft Word, and the dynamic content creation echoes the ease of popular social media that these folks use anyway. The back end organization makes it even easier to control who has access to edit what, but dynamic content can be shared easily from group to group.

What I like best is that I don’t have to say “no” often. If someone comes to me and asks, “Can I do X with my content?” I can usually figure out a way to do it with LiveWhale in 10 minutes. My favorite example of this is Path to Passion, which came out of an idea our Volunteer Coordinator had. She asked me, “Can I make a searchable thing with profiles of alumni?” and we went from “I think so” to “here you go” in record time. This was made much more simple by having a profiles module in our CMS where we could update or create profiles for our alumni. One of the coolest results of this project? We got to present it at eduWeb Digital Summit.

The support from LiveWhale is also top notch. I mentioned the hats? Well, sometimes quirks and bugs are outside my wheelhouse, and I just can’t fix them. The support team at LiveWhale is amazing at diagnosing and correcting any issues with the CMS. They’re just an email away. Plus, the entire LiveWhale family—you know, other schools who use LiveWhale CMS—is part of a Basecamp where we can discuss ideas and developments for the CMS, which is an open development platform. The sharing with this crew and with the Whales themselves is a unique atmosphere I can’t imagine with any other product. Like I said, it’s a family. We may all be in the business of recruiting students—some of us possibly in direct competition for the same kids—but we’re also always there to help each other with ideas!

To be completely honest, LiveWhale is one of the reasons I love my job in higher education. Working with the LiveWhale team, the extended LiveWhale family, and the faculty, staff, and students at my college make my days better. I’m constantly learning, and as a liberal arts grad working at a liberal arts school, I couldn’t appreciate it more.

On Grief

My grandfather passed away last year. On Christmas Eve of 2015, I drank a Budweiser to honor his memory, even though he had since become a Yuengling man.

This year was different. I feel like I’ve been in mourning all year. I’m grieving not only the deaths of both of my grandfathers, but also the world that I’ve known. That works on both a large scale (see: election) and a personal scale (see: mental health).

I’m grieving the end of President Obama’s two terms in office. Under our first Black President, I saw my country working toward equality and empowering women and POC. The Affordable Care Act, marriage equality, science valued over religion—I saw these things and more happen in his eight years. Not everything during the Obama years was perfect; the legislative branch created nightmares, mass shootings occurred on the regular, the Black Lives Matter movement needed to form in response to a systemic problem in our police force… But overall, Obama’s tenure is a bright spot in our history, and I am grateful to have witnessed it. I’m also grieving the party’s loss in this election. It proves we haven’t come far enough in our acceptance of women in power—because any man running for office would not have faced such scrutiny over the same details. Instead, our country elected a xenophobic misogynist accused of sexual assault, further driving home the inequality women are well aware exists in most every work place. I grieve for the dreams we thought were about to come true, for the hopes that we would see our first female President.

In these past eight years, I’ve also grown tremendously as a person. I finally have an understanding of what makes me tick. Treatment for anxiety better unmasked additional issues, and only now am I working with a diagnosis I often suspected. While I’m happy to have a better understanding of myself, I now grieve for the girl I used to be. I was a quiet mouse, satisfied to stay in one place. I’ve lost my sense of self; I not only mourn who I was before but also the opportunities I lost as that person. While I look forward to the future, I’m also worried about what changes my evolving self-awareness will bring to my life.

We can all agree that 2016 was a shit year. There’s no question that the sheer volume of celebrity deaths, the hideous election cycle with all its disappointments, and whatever personal demons we may have faced make this year qualify as a complete dumpster fire. But I cannot grieve forever. The changes, the losses, the emptiness—my hope is that all these factors can serve as motivation to live better in 2017.

Last year around this time was my grandfather’s funeral. I remember crying, unashamed because my grief was understandable, undeniable—my tears were completely justified. I have not shed tears for 2016 like I did for my grandfather, and maybe it’s time that I do. Or maybe it’s just time to toast 2016 with a Budweiser (or a Yuengling) and say good riddance.

Late Night Thoughts

Well y’all, it’s four in the morning and I just finished doing some organizing for a freelance project and writing this blog post.

I think this firmly proves that I’m still in some sort of manic phase, although I’m definitely not at the height of it, and I’m much more self-aware. In fact, I can see myself making the bad decisions and sometimes even stop myself.

It’s not that I’m not sleeping. I fell asleep around 7:00 on the sofa, went up to bed around 10:00, and woke up—bright eyed and bushy-tailed—between 1:30 and 2:00. Around 2:00 I decided I would just get up and do some work in the living room. I’ve been waking up all week, usually at 2:30 and 4:00. Sometimes I get back to sleep. Sometimes I stare at the ceiling for half an hour. It’s annoying and it leaves me drained, but this too shall pass.

It’s nothing like high school when I consistently got by on two or three hours of sleep each night. I would stay up working on my graduation project and watch The Crow twice a night sometimes. These were the days before I had a computer in my room. In summer, when my poor sleeping habits were more acceptable, I’d stay downstairs on the computer all night and sometimes fall asleep on the pull-out sofa in the computer room. I’d be chatting on IRC or playing Rollercoaster Tycoon, trying my best to be quiet as I listened to OutKast on repeat.

* * *

In our psychoeducational groups, they explained bipolar and other depressive orders with a graph. [Aside: I just now understood sinus rhythm is because it’s a graph of sine and remembered how much I hated trig.]my crappy graph drawing Anyway, the neurotypical mood graph is that gentle wave and my mood has this tendency to go up, up, UP, and then back down. The third line in my poorly-drawn graph is what a friend who has depression says her mood tends to be—her ups don’t make it to manic highs if and when she has them.

Part of the problem with this disorder is that it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between being happy and being manic. Another problem, for me at least, is that so much has also been masked by anxiety, which is what I first sought treatment for. In fact, I sort of wonder if the intensity of this manic episode I just had could be because I’m already on a great SSRI for treatment of anxiety. I haven’t had a bad panic attack in ages, and—knock on wood—I haven’t experienced a bottom-out depression on that mood graph for a long time.

This journey of understanding is just beginning, but I’m hopeful my graph looks a bit more muted in the future.

Hi, I’m Lindsay and today I’m feeling okay.

I have a pineapple tattoo on my arm.

It’s not my first tattoo, but it’s my first that I can’t hide easily. It’s not the first that I got while manic, but it’s the one that made me realize I needed help. At thirty-two, I found myself in therapy and marriage counseling. My thoughts were racing constantly. I spent months making impulsive choices that kept getting more and more reckless. I started to hurt the people around me. Suddenly, it wasn’t fun anymore.

In hindsight, I’ve been experiencing ups and downs for most of my life. I could always write it off as something else. I didn’t sleep because I was a night owl. When I slept all day it was because I needed to catch up. Invincibility was just confidence, and I should be happy I felt good! Hook ups and binge drinking were just part of the college experience. And so on and so forth until I excused it all away. I wasn’t hurting anyone then—unless you count myself.

So at the beginning of December, I entered a partial hospitalization program. From nine to three every day, I attended group sessions alongside peers with similar diagnoses. Some were recovering from substance abuse, others had anxiety or depression, others—like me—were bipolar. We learned from each other and a team of professionals. We participated in process groups, psychoeducational groups and expressive therapies.

Today, I was discharged.

I’m still processing what this means for me. The journey of the past two weeks, my growth in self-awareness, the friendships I’ve forged—I’m still sorting everything out in my head. What I can say now is that the focus on self-care that was the underlying theme of the program will not be forgotten. I clearly needed this break to regroup, to get to know myself again, and to figure out how to cope with a chemical imbalance that can lead to me jumping into the swamp before I look for alligators.

Writing more is a goal of mine, so I hope to expand on this journey over the next few months. Stay tuned!

Dear Family and Friends

I have a lot of feelings this year—2016 has kind of thrown a lot of curveballs and a few of them have hit me and left me bruised. It’s Thanksgiving Day as I write this, and I’m thankful for all of you. We are entering the time of year where I typically get excited to send out holiday cards and find perfect presents for the people in my life, but I can’t muster the energy. This year I’m dreading the holidays. I feel crappy inside. The world is going to hell and there’s nothing I can do—except, maybe there sort of is.

Instead of giving me a present this Christmas, please consider donating to one of these charities/nonprofits (either in my honor or just cuz):

The Big Ones

Some Specifics

 

I don’t need things this year. I need my heart to stop hurting. I am blessed with food, shelter, and an amazing support system of friends and family. I hope that you can choose one of these nonprofits—or find one that is special to you—and share good fortune with others this year.

Love always wins,
Lindsay

Inspriation from eduWeb 2016

 

This is going to be the year I delegate more.

I’ve been at Washington College for nearly five years, and with each year I’ve taken on more responsibilities. I found out that I love content strategy and information architecture—something I might not have known had I not become our resident CMS guru. And these days, I’d rather spend my time developing strategies that will serve our audiences than crafting tweets about campus events.

Maybe this is what happens when you wear many hats at an institution. I’ve reached critical mass, and I need to make room for the new ideas and goals that I’m bringing back to the office through professional development. It’s time to stop postponing diving in to data and analytics because I don’t have time; if I want our strategies to be successful, I need to make the time. Several of the sessions I attended at eduWeb spoke to the importance of analytics strategy and data-driven changes. I want this information to inform my decisions—whether it backs up what I think or changes my views. (Now the big challenge is getting the data I want out of Google Analytics.)

Two of the sessions I attended—“Empathy for the Digital Age” with Kevan Gilbert and “Project Kickoffs that Work” with Allison Manley—prompted some additional thoughts on breaking down those wonderful silos we have in higher education. In a perfect world, I would incorporate so many of these tactics into larger scale projects, but I don’t typically get to start the big stuff. As it stands, I will take bits and pieces of each presentation and incorporate them into the smaller-scale CMS trainings and content strategy consultations I perform. I want the people I work with to feel empowered to use the CMS. I want them to feel comfortable coming to me with ideas that seem crazy and asking me if what they want to do is even possible. That is, after all, how Jenny and I ended up presenting at this year’s eduWeb.

This year will be more strategic, but I won’t implement all the ideas that support the strategies I create. I will use my time wisely—and encourage others to do the same too!

Leveraging Alumni Stories

“Can we do something like this?”

It’s one of my favorite challenges—and in the case of Path to Passion, a very promising question. When Jenny first came to me with her idea, she had been shot down because it seemed complicated. We talked about what she wanted, and in 10 minutes we had the basics hammered out.

How It Started

When Jenny moved into the Volunteer Coordinator position, 450 alumni had filled out an engagement survey stating that they wanted to give back as career mentors and admissions champions. Unfortunately, at that time, those opportunities weren’t really available to them. Career development wanted job placement, internships and job shadowing instead of mentors; and admissions wasn’t ready to onboard alumni volunteers. Jenny was confronted with the challenge of making sure these alumni still felt valued even though we did not have the volunteer opportunities that they wanted. While she was thinking up ideas, she was also watching her firstborn look at colleges. He had a strong interest in economics and finance but no desire to be a banker. Jenny knew that our liberal arts majors went on to great things regardless of their majors—so how could she show this to her son?

Path to Passion solved a conundrum. The opportunity to create a profile and make your way to Jenny’s rolodex of volunteers would keep our alumni engaged beyond that initial survey, and creating a searchable directory of outcomes would benefit prospective students like Jenny’s son.

In its first year, we’ve developed and expanded our searchable directory to include academics and career fields. We’ve increased engagement with alumni—some of whom were previously hard to find. We’ve placed various alumni on panels and found inspiration for new events. With alumni who participated in Path to Passion we saw twice the conversion in monetary giving. And finally, we generated numerous story leads and social content.

How We Did It

After we realized that the CMS side of things would not be a problem, Jenny set out to create a form that was in depth but not daunting. The questions shape the narrative for the alumni, focusing on their experience with Washington College and the liberal arts. Any school can create the narrative it wants with specific questions. If yours is a research-based institution, ask questions about what kinds of research influenced the alumnus’s path. If your students transfer on to four-year programs from your school, tell the story of how starting at your institution helped them achieve longer-term goals.

We use paid third-party service Wufoo to run the form because it can employ logic and also allows for file uploads; it goes a bit beyond what our CMS’s forms can currently handle.

Lists of alumni were built through the aforementioned survey, through personal contacts, and through some good old-fashioned detective work. Jenny found interesting alumni via Google and then stalked them (in a completely appropriate and legal way). Some of the connections she built from this seemingly simple research provided incredibly interesting stories and fantastic opportunities for these alumni to work with faculty and students.

After they are contacted and complete the form, profiles are created and tagged in our CMS. We use LiveWhale, which makes the idea of profiles super easy because it has a profiles module we were already using for student (and alumni) profiles. If your CMS doesn’t have a profiles module, you can use some sort of dynamic content to make profiles. If you go that route, make sure you come up with an established style guide so your profiles look consistent!

The tagging nomenclature is vital, as it drives the search function of our widgets. We decided ahead of time that we would use academic programs, but as we were creating the form we came up with general career fields to use, and we haven’t expanded these too much. The academic program tags are somewhat overwhelming; we don’t need career fields to get out of hand, too! In the future, we may add tags for athletics—it will depend on the buy-in we get from our coaches and athlete alumni.

How It Turned Out

I can talk in depth about the varied experiences we had reaching out to alumni with personalized emails, with letters from professors, and through general word-of-mouth discussion of Path to Passion—but that’s a long story for another time. The TL;DR version is that our first year went pretty well. We’ve gathered a plethora of profiles, Jenny found inspiration for a new event (Lead Like a Girl), and we’ve continued to grow the program. Recently, we presented our journey at eduWeb Digital Summit in Denver, Colorado. That experience helped me feel like we’ve got something good—and I look forward to continuing to work on this project.

 

 

Daenerys Says Dracarys: A Playlist for Daenerys Targaryen

Even though I didn’t watch much of this season of Game of Thrones, I tuned in for the finale, and watched the previous week’s episode in preparation. I won’t write an spoilers, but let’s just say there were some kick ass dragon moments and while show Dany isn’t always my favorite, I really like the whole girl-will-kill-you-with-fire vibe she has. Can you blame me?

So during a specific scene, I commented that if Dany had a playlist, it would include “Heads Will Roll” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Then, I had the idea to open up Tidal and start putting together something about the length of a mix tape inspired by her character. And now I can share it with you on Tidal (and a version with one different song on Spotify).

1. Metric – Glass Ceiling

We kick it off with a song that directly references the barrier to success faced by women. Guess who’s going to shatter that? With dragons.

2. Ani DiFranco – Not a Pretty Girl

Dany basically doesn’t give a fuck if you want to save her. She is not a damsel in distress (looking at you, Jorah!). There’s also a tendency for folks not to take her seriously at first; they think she’s a naïve child with some angst: “Every time I say something they find hard to hear / They chalk it up to my anger and never to their own fear.” Thankfully, she’s found some decent advisors now, so she can blare this 90s feminist tune.

3. No Doubt – Just a Girl

Does this song even need an explanation? Thankfully Daenerys will never be a judge on The Voice, but she will rise up and prove that a chick with platinum blonde hair can get shit done. Imagine if Gwen Stefani had some dragons.

4. Meredith Brooks – Bitch

So if you’ve tried to date or fight or deal with Daenerys Targaryen, you’d probably agree that the chorus of this 90s song speaks to her as a person:

I’m a bitch, I’m a lover
I’m a child, I’m a mother [OF DRAGONS]
I’m a sinner, I’m a saint
I do not feel ashamed
I’m your hell, I’m your dream
I’m nothing in between

Basically, don’t cross her. She has many sides, and all of them will kill you with dragonfire if you mistreat her.

5. Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl

Feminist revolution! Would Dany have been a Riot Grrrl? Maybe. I like to think this song is also on the “I <3 Daenerys” mix that Asha Greyjoy has obviously made by now.

6. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Heads Will Roll

The song that inspired this whole insane playlist. Since I’ve started watching GoT, I’ve seen a lot of heads roll. Just ask the Starks about that.

7. Beyoncé – Sorry*

No one has ever cheated on Daenerys, and one could argue that she is quite the Becky herself, but she is incredibly unapologetic about giving the finger to people who try to cheat her or betray her. You might get locked in a vault, have your throat slashed, or just get burned to death by dragons. She ain’t sorry.

*On Spotify, this is replaced with Beyoncé’s “Run the World” because Lemonade isn’t on their platform at this time. It’s still pretty appropriate and could be a theme for a number of ladies kicking ass in GoT.

8. Hole – Asking For It

For all that is great about the empowerment of women on GoT, there is a lot of rape. It’s ridiculous that you can be the mother of dragons and men still think they can take advantage of you. It’s ridiculous that you can stage dive and men think that they can take advantage of you. It’s ridiculous that you can exist as a woman and men think that they can take advantage of you.

9. The Cure – Burn

If you have three dragons, you’re probably a little goth on the inside. This song, from The Crow soundtrack, speaks to Dany’s feelings about Khal Drogo after seeing him (and their son) in her vision at the House of the Undying. Plus it’s called “Burn.”

10. Coal Chamber – Sway

We don’t need no water, let the motherfucker burn. Burn, motherfucker, burn.

11. Crazy World of Arthur Brown – Fire

This 60s psychedelic rock song begins “I am the God of Hell Fire” and it made the playlist thanks to Preston & Steve. Sometimes, when you’re burning people alive with your dragons, you just need some organ music.

12. Imagine Dragons – Radioactive

Obviously we have to include something by Imagine Dragons on this mix because Daenerys Targaryen doesn’t have to imagine dragons—she is mother of them. Plus this song alludes to revolution and the apocalypse; we’re going to see some of both of those in the future, methinks.

13. The Cult – Fire Woman

Let’s be real, Jorah listens to this song in a dive bar while he has a shot and a beer. Dany’s playlist has it so she can have a little giggle over how weird that whole situation is.


Admittedly, I got a little lazy by the end of the playlist, but it was a fun exercise. I miss the art of the mix. We started with tapes, then CDs, then iTunes playlists—but now I can just stream whatever I want to hear or I listen to Sirius in my car. My fabulous friend Sara makes mix CDs still at Christmas, but I just haven’t felt the inspiration. So thanks, HBO. You finally did something well.*

*You did The Wire well. The only anger I have at that show is because it rips my heart out on the regular.

Things I’m Not Ready to Talk About

The Recent Tragedy at my Alma Mater

I’m completely drained. Since waking up to that text message on November 16 to now, it’s just been hard to wrap my head around the whole ordeal. I’m blessed to have an amazing support system and a wonderful husband who got me through this. And sadly I have too many friends who have experienced suicides of classmates and friends and family. My own husband has lost family members.

I hope that Jacob’s death can open the door to talk about mental health—especially on college campuses. Right now the focus is on bullying, which is in some ways just leading to more social media bullying (from grown ass adults!). We need to honor his memory by learning from this tragedy.

For the upcoming LiveWhale Developers Conference, I am presenting on our web response to the crisis and how we handled our communications. I’ll be thinking it out over Thanksgiving break, so maybe I’ll be able to talk about it after I sort out all the thoughts in my head.

ConfabEDU

I’d actually love to talk about this, but I haven’t had time to process all the awesome. After the conference was over, my husband and I stayed a few days in New Orleans to be tourists. We saw some floats, ate a ton of food, and I got a tattoo. I have a lot more to say about our trip.

I also have a lot to say about the lessons I learned while at the conference, and the new ways I want to approach our web content. Unfortunately I haven’t had time to read over my notes and properly geek out since we’ve been home.

The Dog

Yeah. Uh. We got a dog. We fell in love with a dog at a rescue before we left for New Orleans and were approved to adopt him. Unfortunately, while we were gone, someone else adopted him. We kept our appointment and let a dog pick us. Sadly this particular dog has major separation anxiety. He’s a great dog, though. Pugsley Addams is a cuddle bug and he’ll eventually adjust and not destroy the world when he’s left alone. We just keep telling ourselves that.