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Robert K. “Bob” Glenn has spent more than three decades in higher education, serving students throughout. He became the 10th president of the University of Houston-Victoria on Aug. 1, 2018. Prior to moving to Victoria with his wife, Laurie, he served as the 36th president of Athens State University for 10 years. Glenn also was vice president for student affairs and vice provost for enrollment and academic services at Middle Tennessee State University (1999-2008) and dean of students at Missouri State University (1993-1999). His “A Jaguar Journey” blog is intended to provide members of the UHV faculty, staff and student body, as well as alumni and members of the community, a direct connection to what he is doing as the new UHV president. Readers are encouraged to share their views and ideas by posting to the comments section.  

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What I learned from a child

Posted By Dr. Bob Glenn, Wednesday, February 19, 2020

 

Many of you may not know that my first job in higher education was as a residence hall director at my alma mater, Birmingham-Southern College. That job led me to a career in student affairs before becoming a university president. Although rising to the position I now hold was the result of several deliberate steps, chance also played a part. One chance event in particular had more impact on me personally and professionally than any other.

 

One very late night when I was a residence hall director, I was watching TV and saw a commercial about the Big Brothers/Big Sisters volunteer program. It occurred to me that I could volunteer. 

 

I must confess, I convinced myself to do the right thing but for all the wrong reasons. I thought about all the things that being a Big Brother could do for me. I was working on a graduate counseling degree at the time, and I reasoned that being a Big Brother would be good practice. I had been a resident assistant and was now a hall director, so I had all the training that would make the one-on-one stuff easy. I was single, and I thought about how women love sensitive guys.  

 

I would like to think that somewhere, deep down inside me, I was motivated to help a child in the same way many others had helped me as I was coming up. But the truth was that I didn’t consciously think of any of these role models. I was self-absorbed and thought only of the benefits to me.

 

My self-absorbed arrogance led me to tell the Big Brothers/Big Sisters counselor to give me his toughest case when it was time to match me with my Little Brother. My counselor just smiled and said, “Let me tell you about Jim.” Jim was 9 and had patiently waited for a Big Brother for two years. Jim was a slower learner than other children, and others had been reluctant to be matched with him. He lived with his mother, grandmother and younger sister near the college campus where I worked. 

 

My first meeting with Jim changed me and how I look at the world. The beginning seemed unremarkable. Jim said very little, was intensely shy and just looked at me. A trip to the ice cream store for a treat and a chance to talk about what we would do on our first outing was suggested.

 

We got into the car and drove off. We were about halfway to the store, and quite suddenly, Jim began to cry. My arrogance, which had given me so much courage, gave way to simple, raw panic. I put my hand on his knee and tried to comfort him. “Jim, are you all right?” I asked.

 

He grabbed my hand, looked up at me with tearful eyes and said, “Big brudder, I love you.”  Even now, I cannot think of this event without being moved. I had done nothing to deserve this pledge of affection, and I couldn’t fathom how just showing up was worthy of anything.

 

We began a weekly tradition. I would arrive at Jim’s house, and he would jump into my car, almost before I could get it stopped. We would go for walks, play games, play catch or even just watch TV together.

 

After a few months, I became convinced that it was time for me start taking some “therapeutic” actions. Surely there were specially designed games or activities I should be engaging in with Jim to “improve him.” Jim’s psychologist sounded a little surprised when I called for advice. “You’re kidding, aren’t you? The difference in his condition now compared with before you two were together is like the difference between night and day. Don’t change a thing,” he told me.

 

This just didn’t make sense to me. My student affairs training had taught me that I had to be the active ingredient in change. But I wasn’t doing anything. It would be a long time before I learned the simple lesson Jim was teaching. Slowly, during the four years we were together, Jim brought me up to a new level of understanding. I began to understand that you never accomplish anything of real merit or worth when you only think of yourself. When you take yourself out of the picture, it is possible to see the others there. And when you are finally able to see them, you can begin to see what they really need.

 

I believe that Alexander Astin said it best in “Achieving Educational Excellence.” In essence, he said that the traditional measures we use to judge the merit of a university are just measures of reputation, not excellence. It doesn’t matter how many degrees your faculty possesses, or what kind of buildings you have or how many volumes are in the library. What really denotes a quality institution is whether it can take students from where they are to where they want to be, no matter what it takes. In other words, when a university can look beyond itself, it can see its students. And, when we can really see our students, we can measure their needs. When we take care of their needs, when we help them get to where they want to be, we become a truly great institution.

 

I encourage all UHV students, faculty and staff to attend the Spring Volunteer Fair from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday in Jaguar Hall Commons. You’ll be able to meet more than 20 of UHV’s community services partners and learn how to get involved. As I can attest, these volunteer opportunities can have a huge impact on your life. 

Tags:  Alexander Astin  Big Brother  Spring Volunteer Fair  UHV  volunteer 

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