T-Minus 5 Days

Thanks to Juliology for this image.

Packing to leave, what a chore!  It’s an activity my friend Mason calls “the p-word,” and one that’s an ongoing part of my life.  The task is necessary to satisfy the travel bug inherited from my grandmothers.  It requires projecting oneself into an unknown future, and I typically postpone it until just days before a major trip.

Taking ten months away requires thoughtful preparation.  So, over the past weeks, I’ve labored to anticipate what I’ll need in Dublin.  I’ve worked calmly and methodically, and at times I’ve even enjoyed the process.  But who can predict a year’s worth of needs?  And, isn’t uncertainty part of the fun?

A product of 1970 (born just months after Americans landed on the moon), I came into the world at an optimal time for making trans-Atlantic jaunts.  I feel blessed every time I board a plane, and so very fortunate to have such opportunities in life.  It’s the packing part, however, that stands between each new adventure and me.

At least this time, I have a fair idea of what to expect in that I’ve been to Dublin several times before. It’s been easier than the last time I headed overseas for an extended period.  Departing for Switzerland in 1996, I had $1500 and a round trip airline ticket but no place to live, no job lined up, and only the foggiest notion of how to find accommodation and employment.  Projecting myself into that unknown future was the scariest thing I have ever done.  The world economy was in despair, and my architecture professors clearly feared the worst for me.  I continually reminded myself that I had a ticket home.  I’d use it when the money ran out (which it did just days before my first paycheck arrived).

But I had an unstoppable urge to travel.  I saw an open window of opportunity that I simply had to take.  With a new Master’s diploma, I was free to fly.  I jumped through that window of opportunity into a bright new world, landing on my feet.

During my second week in Switzerland, I snagged an architecture position in the Italian-speaking region called Ticino.  And somehow, at my deepest moment of doubt and worry, a teensy-tiny studio apartment materialized.  It was one that I could afford.

When I returned home 12 months later, I was a wiser, more fulfilled person.

Today’s Internet tools have made visualizing the future much easier.  And this time I have an extensive support system in place.  Many thanks to the Dublin Institute of Technology, Fulbright Ireland, the US State Department, Hampton University, and Dave Chance for helping make all this possible — and to Colleen, Gavin, Sima, Brian, and Mike for extending the invitation to collaborate.  This time, I know where I’ll work and what I’ll do.  I have people to see and projects to do.  I know how I’ll make ends meet.  This time I had the Internet tools to make apartment hunting fun.

All I need now is to clamp my suitcases shut and head out the door with my Dave….

Nearly Formaldehyde-Free

Thank God for Environmental Working Group (EWG) which has been pushing to remove formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing chemicals from the products we use everyday.  This family of chemicals is added to products to help prevent bacteria and mold from growing in them — so we can keep them on our shelves for ever and ever.

These compounds are not only irritants to many people’s skin, they are also known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents).  Unfortunately, in the US, they are not listed on the labels of many products that contain them.

They are hidden in lotions, cosmetics, soaps and cleaning supplies, building materials, fabrics, medical ointments, vaccines, and all sorts of places you wouldn’t expect (including some meat and milk preservatives).  I’ve memorized a list of more than 40 chemical names to watch for, but many product labels don’t bother to list their components.

Three years ago, I developed a severe contact allergy to formaldehyde.  As it turns out, the ointments I’d been given to treat a tick bite contained formaldehyde.  Applying these medications caused me to break out head to toe.  It took until this past February to identify the source of the problem.  My dermatologist didn’t even mention the availability of patch tests (that could be used to determine the underlying causes of my itchy rash) until I asked.

These compounds are not only irritants to many people’s skin, they are also known to be cancer-causing.

It seems that health care providers in the US are trained to treat symptoms by prescribing pharmaceuticals rather than to ferret out the source of a patient’s trouble.  How I wish we’d re-conceptualize health care as a public service rather than a prescription-writing industry.  Isn’t it time, America?

I should have realized sooner that environmental toxins were to blame.  They are a focus of a book I’ve been discussing for years with my students.

I highly recommend reading Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.  It’s written by an architect and a chemist.  It’s a definite paradigm-shifter that will hold your attention to the end.  (My architecture students at Hampton University and educational planning students the College of William and Mary frequently assert that everyone should read it.)  You can buy a copy for under $12.

I’m so glad that EWG and the authors of Cradle to Cradle have been researching environmental toxins and lobbying companies to make healthier products.  EWG has now convinced Johnson & Johnson to remove formaldehyde from its offerings in the coming years.  Maybe other companies will follow suit and ditch carcinogens and skin irritants from their products.

Here’s to hoping that the products I encounter in Ireland are better designed than the ones we use in the States!

Thanks to an AP Environmental Science teacher for posting this image. Visit his blog or read the book to find out why this book is submerged in water.

Always Learning to Teach

I love teaching students to design!  I’m also fascinated by theories about how students learn.  At the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) , I’m going to be researching:

  • How students’ ideas about “knowledge” and “knowing” mature over time.
  • How DIT professors are helping students become more flexible problem-solvers.
  • How DIT’s faculty has transformed its electrical engineering curriculum using a hands-on approach to education known as “student-centered, problem-based learning.”

I’m happy to report that these topics are of interest to the engineering education community… DIT’s Gavin Duffy and I have already been invited to present our work in Greece this September and to publish an article in the Journal of Engineering Education.

You can read more about the Fulbright in press releases by William and Mary and Hampton University.

Electrical Engineering students prepare to compete in the mid-semester round of “Robo Sumo,” March 2012.

What is it?

Can you tell what this is?  What clues does the image give you about life today in Dublin?

Dublin, Ireland. (Copyright Shannon Chance, March 2011)

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Reflecting Dublin

Traveling with a professional photographer has its perks.  I get to use fabulous hand-me-down cameras and I have a most astute technical advisor on hand.

It’s got some drawbacks, too.  A few years back, I’d started to adopt Dave’s eyes and to automatically see the world through his frame of reference.  The problem was:  I found myself all too tempted to copycat his compelling visual language whenever I was behind a camera.  Most people would see that as a blessing, but we found we were competing for the same spot of ground everywhere we went.  There always seemed to be one most-logical place to stand to capture that perfect image and Dave got there first.

I’d have to find my own photographic niche. So I started capturing images of what lies beneath the surface. I became fascinated by the reflections that dance off metal, glass, and water.

In this pursuit, I’ve combed cities throughout the US and Europe in search of reflections that tell a story.  I seek to capture the essence of each city I visit and mark its place in time.

I hope that when we look back at these images in years to come, we’ll know intuitively “that was Madrid in the ’90s” or “Dublin in the early part of the new millennium.” We’ll be able to learn something of history, of the city, and of ourselves in the image’s details.

For me, this hobby never grows old.  Each shop window becomes a full-length motion picture, revealing to me layer upon layer of time and of social reality. Every puddle and each car fender provides a kaleidoscope of vibrant images waiting to be discovered.  In the blink of an eye or the subtle shift of the lens, a reflection can transform completely.

My camera captures what the eye sees but the mind generally ignores: the fleeting images that inform our understanding of the world without us even realizing they are there.

Below, I’ve posted the first of the Dublin Reflections I will share with you on this blog.  This particular image is quite straightforward.  I hope it will be very easy for you to untangle the layers, determine what it “is,” and decide for yourself what it means.  There are far more challenging visual puzzles to come….

I selected this particular reflection to share with you today because I think it does a nice job summing up my hopes and dreams for the upcoming year.  It was taken in Dublin in March 2011.

Cultivate Living and Learning (Copyright Shannon Chance, March 2011)

Is Fulbright for you?

Each year, the US government sends thousands of people abroad. These “Fulbrighters” do advanced research, teach (at the elementary, secondary, or college level), or study at the graduate level. Fulbrighers include:

  • teachers, professors, scholars
  • students and recent graduates
  • professionals (e.g., journalists, attorneys, artists)
  • administrators

Fulbright programs vary in length (2 weeks to 12 months) and location (there are 155 countries participating today). They also vary on the level of  funding they provide and the subject areas hosted by each country.  The core Fulbright Scholar Program, in which I am participating, “sends 800 U.S. faculty and professionals abroad each year. Grantees lecture and conduct research in a wide variety of academic and professional fields.” My position is for a full academic year.

The overall point of the Fulbright program is to increase mutual understanding among nations and help build knowledge as well. It dates back to 1946 when Senator J. William Fulbright asserted that nations could avoid future wars by simply getting to know other.  Today’s Fulbright programs are sponsored by the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. These programs bring foreign students and scholars to the USA in addition to sending US citizens abroad.

You can identify which programs fit you by visiting the Institute of International Education’s (IIE’s) Fulbright page.  As you dig down, you’ll be able to find out what countries host scholars in your areas of expertise and interest, how much funding they provide, and what skills they require.  Some positions are much more competitive than others — some require specific credentials while others are open to scholars in any discipline.  Some positions require that you can speak your host’s native language.

It’s worth your while to spend a little time today looking over the possibilities… it’s never too early to start planning your own Fulbright adventure!

What’s in a Name?

My husband Dave loves to point out that “the mouth of the Shannon is wide and deep.”  Indeed, when we visited the mouth of the River Shannon it was so.

I’d grown up with the impression that my name was Irish–as Irish as my sister Heather’s name.  So it surprised me when I arrived at the Shannon Airport in 2003, ready to rent a car, and the man behind the counter asked me to spell my first name. “Shannon?” I replied. “You know, like the airport!?!”

On that trip, I found driving on the left side of the road wasn’t nearly as difficult as communicating my very Irish-seeming name to the Irish folks I met.

I visited Ireland again in 2010, and discovered the same problem.  Why did so few people click with the name, I wondered?  I realized that even at home, many people heard “Janet” when I introduced myself.  I tried to slow down and enunciate more clearly:  “Heeellllooooo, my name is Shhhaaaannnn-non.”

By my 2012 visit, I’d had a relevation.

“The Irish don’t name their girls Shannon, do they?” I asked Gavin, my colleague at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT).

“No, I don’t think so,” he replied. This, despite that fact that Shannon is a well-known last name.

When Gavin asked other lecturers at the DIT, they reported knowing of a couple of (very) young women by the name.  They believed it gained popularity in Ireland due to American television shows… that it was actually imported from the States for use as a first name for women.

So, here’s to Beverly Hills 90210, a show I’ve never actually seen.  You can bet I’ll be hard at work this year, trying to set the bar a little higher for what a girl-Shannon can be.

And I’ll make sure to visit that lovely River Shannon.

Standing on Shoulders

In the States, we tend to overemphasize individual merit.  While there’s something to be said for pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, you never actually do that all alone.  There are always others there providing ideas, support, and know-how.

Surrounding yourself with good role models is key to achieving big things.  You need to hang around people who are curious, passionate, and driven to make a difference.  They help you see what’s possible and how to achieve it.

One my best role models is my mom, Dr. Cynthia Mara, who recently completed her own Fulbright to Canada.  A Fulbright representative actually recruited her for that position because the US needed to send someone with mom’s expertise.  While in Canada, she researched health care and interviewed people about how well their single-payer system works. There’s a photo of mom below.

Another of my role models is Dr. Pamela Eddy, a professor of higher education at The College of William and Mary. She joined W&M in 2009, at the same time she was a Fulbright to Ireland.  Her success reminded me of the goals I’d set for working in Ireland.

They both gave ideas and encouragement, helping me hone my Fulbright proposal and connect to important people.  I am grateful to have their shoulders to stand on.

Mom and me at the photo exhibition “Exposed” at the Meyer Gallery in Norfolk, Virginia.

Roadmap to Ireland

Enchanted by Ireland in 2003, I vowed to return to live and work there for a year.  My husband and I had fallen in love with the people, pubs, landscape, food, architecture, music, and even the climate.  (Admittedly, we had false impressions of the climate, since our two-week trip coincided with a “heat wave” where temperatures hit a whopping 75F each day and rain was nowhere in sight.)

I returned home and researched the requirements for becoming a Fulbright Core Scholar.  Securing a Fulbright grant was going to be more difficult than I’d thought, but I did see a possible route to achieving that goal.  I’d significantly improve my chances if I earned architectural licensure and a doctorate.  Over the years, I chipped away at my iceberg — earning a license to practice architecture in 2005 and a PhD in Higher Education in 2010.

I submitted an application to Fulbright right after graduation, but to no avail.  That inital application got kicked out in the first round of competition. I kept chipping away, though.  My second try met with success.  Starting August 23, I’ll be living my dream — and working my finger to the bone — at the Dublin Institute of Technology.

Stay tuned to this blog for:

  • Tips on applying for a Fulbright
  • Stories of my adventures Ireland
  • Photographs of “Urban Reflections”
  • Findings from my research at the Dublin Institute of Technology

A picture from graduation day 2010 at The College of William and Mary in Virginia.