Published May 29, 2020
Call this UB professional development in the age of telecommuting.
As administrators and staff in UB’s Office of Fellowships and Scholarships prepared to leave their offices in Capen Hall in March to begin working from home, Director Elizabeth Colucci, Assistant Director Megan Stewart and Brittany Iannucci, director of communications for the Graduate School, had an idea.
They had been talking about starting a book club. Wouldn’t the upcoming days of working in their home offices be a good opportunity to put that idea into practice?
“We decided this would be the perfect time to stay connected and do some professional development,” says Colucci, whose office has taken on the mission of making UB a ”top-producing” school of nationally and internationally prestigious fellowships and scholarships, such as the Marshall, Fulbright and Goldwater.
“Our days are so busy with the day to day, we don’t close our doors and sit quietly and read. And it’s really important to stay connected with literature that informs our work.”
Since those uncertain hours before isolation, the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships’ book club has flourished. Meeting remotely, of course, from noon to 1 p.m. every Wednesday since March 25, seven members, including the office’s graduate assistant and a formal Marshall Scholarship recipient, have read three books: “Grit” by Angela Duckworth, “Mindset” by Carol Dweck and “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown.
“Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren and “You Are a Badass” by Jen Sincero are up next.
The professional development constant among them: How do you identify students willing to take risks and motivate them to enhance their intellectual experiences? For the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships, assisting these students in obtaining these life-changing honors is the top priority.
“I’m fascinated with the motivation some students have to complete very challenging tasks, and why one student will push themselves while others don’t,” says Colucci. “As we work with accomplished UB students, how can we help them to see the positives in applying for high-stakes awards, knowing that they might not necessarily win? We want to learn how these students can learn from these opportunities.
“The ideas of ‘growth mindset’ and ‘grit’ play into this,” she says. “That is why I was so anxious to read these books and discuss how the topics apply to students.”
Iannucci calls the books “packed micro-lessons.”
“I think collectively these books continued to emphasize that growth and learning is always possible, no matter your age,” she says.
Reading these books together has connected those sharing these intellectual experiences within the restrictions of working remotely.
“It sounds cliché, but in the Graduate School we are more of a family than just co-workers,” says Iannucci. “Being able to connect with the people I care so much about while doing what I love ─ reading and learning ─ has been such a blessing.”
Besides Colucci, Stewart and Iannucci, members of the book club are Sandra J. Flash, associate vice provost for academic affairs; Sue Adinolfe, professional development program manager; Lisa Gagnon, graduate assistant with the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships who received a Fulbright English teaching assistantship; and Sean Kaczmarek, a UB Marshall scholar now working with “Grit” author Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania.
“It’s a wonderful way to interact with the people I work with regularly, and have deep and meaningful conversations, even while we work remotely,” says Colucci. “This book club has been one of the most enjoyable things I’ve done during this period of working from home.”
The special circumstances of working remotely also often work in favor of the book club, Iannucci points out.
“It’s been exceptionally enjoyable being able to meet in our comfortable lounge clothes with our dogs snoring in the background!” she says.