7 Things I Learned from Working at a Business School

Tuesday was my last day working at UT’s McCombs School of Business, as I’ve started a new job with UT’s central communications office.

I never imagined myself working at a business school. During my years as an undergraduate at UT, I’m not even sure if I ever set foot in the building. I just knew it was where all the “fancy” students went to class, and even 20-year-olds wore suits on a regular basis.

But after five-and-a-half years at McCombs, as managing editor of a print and online magazine and the primary voice behind the school’s Twitter and Facebook accounts, I can safely say it’s a place I know pretty well, and I picked up a few things along the way.

  1. How to spell “entrepreneur.” I don’t even have to use the dictionary.
  2. Business students hustle. There’s nothing like having a teenager make you feel like an under-achiever. Most business students, whether undergraduate or MBA, are incredibly hard workers who have sort of an obsession with opportunity–in a good way. They have seemingly unlimited energy and enthusiasm and are always on the lookout for new ways to work, contribute, create, and learn. For most it’s not just about making money, although that is certainly valued.
  3. Rankings rule all. While beautiful stories, fun photos, big headlines, and enlightening infographics always proved popular, the topic our readers cared about far more than anything else was rankings. Business students and alumni love to see those numbers. Thankfully at McCombs, we usually had pretty stellar ones to tout.
  4. “Business casual” just means a suit without the jacket and tie.
  5. Hermes is the god of commerce (and the McCombs mascot, sort of).
  6. There are more than 1,000 billionaires in the world. Three are McCombs alumni.
  7. Business is fascinating. Before I took this job, I didn’t have a particular interest in business. In fact, part of me was a little concerned the content might be a bit dry for my taste. But I didn’t have anything to worry about. In addition to intriguing finance and accounting research (really!), I had the opportunity to tell stories of discovery, ambition, love, loss, grief, unimaginable perseverance, terrifying risk, inspiration, community, nostalgia, secret hopes, lives changing, and so much more. It was a pleasure, and I left behind a long list of stories that still need to be told.

I’m excited to move to the university level and explore more of what’s going on around other corners of campus, but I’m grateful for my deeply educational and challenging experience in the world of business and for the “fancy” students letting this communications schlub sit in for awhile.


Should Universities Use Pinterest?


Well, maybe.

Visual bookmarking website Pinterest is the newest social media superstar–Mashable reports that the site saw its estimated unique visitors jump 429 percent from September 2011 to December 2011, for a total of more than 7 million unique visitors. Users create collections of images–called boards–by “pinning” an image from anywhere online, uploading an image from their computer, or “repinning” another user’s pin. Some of the most popular topics so far are fashion, DIY, health, home decor and party and wedding planning. (Here’s a quick how-to that explains more about what Pinterest is.)

I’m an avid personal user of Pinterest but wasn’t sure if there was much use for brands outside of lifestyle or retail companies like Martha Stewart and West Elm.

Then I saw Drake University’s account.

The Iowa university’s Pinterest boards include Rad Room Decor, Study Abroad, Wear Blue, Explore Des Moines, and Adorbs Bulldogs (their mascot). Brilliant! And they already have 550+ followers.

But I work for a business school. We don’t really do room decor or cute animals. Could it work for us?

At first I wasn’t sure, but then got hit with a little inspiration and decided to give it a shot and create a UT McCombs School of Business Pinterest account (not super catchy, I know). The thing is, once you get the hang of Pinterest, it’s very easy to use and doesn’t require much of your time or energy (although it’s easy to get sucked in). I created boards for office fashion (Workin’ It), workplace decor (Office Space), alumni and faculty books (Alumni and Faculty Books), motivational messages (Inspiration), UT and Austin stuff, and a few others. It’s a mix of things I think our communities might be interested in, plus a selection of our own best content that fits in the Pinterest ecosystem. Once I decided on these buckets, it was easy to find stuff to fill them with.

Now, I don’t know if this will catch on with our particular students and alumni or not. I’m just testing the waters and have only tweeted about the account once. We only have nine followers, with some of the individual boards attracting more. Maybe our audience will never be there. And if that turns out to be the case, we’ll move on. But I know for me and quite a few friends, Pinterest has quickly become that rare tool that is easy, addictive AND incredibly useful. And if I can bring our school into that mix, I feel like I should at least experiment a bit and see what happens.

Besides, we’re always hearing about the need for more visual and less text-heavy communication. Maybe this curation process will help me become a better visual storyteller in other outlets like our blog and print magazine.

I haven’t found many universities actively using Pinterest, but here are a handful that are worth following for ideas and to see how this trend develops:

University of South Carolina Arts Education

  • Sample boards: Visual Culture, Social Justice, Art/Artists

Texas A&M University

  • Sample boards: Our Campus, Aggie Traditions, Aggie I Do

Skidmore College

  • Sample boards: Campus Eats!, Books Worth Reading, Science at Skidmore

Oberlin College

  • Sample boards: Bikes & Bike Style, Obie Creations, Learning from the Greats

So should universities use Pinterest? I’m answering a definitive “maybe.” If you’re overwhelmed with all the other social media outlets you have to currently maintain, maybe just learn about the site and keep an eye on things. If you’re a personal Pinterest addict-user and/or general early adopter, I think you’ll have some fun exploring how to use it as an organization.

Related links:

Tucson | January

Hoping to do these little collections regularly throughout the year

The Obligatory New Year’s Reflection Post

I’m not the most introspective person in the world, but I felt compelled this year to join those who intentionally look back at the year that has just passed. I am, however, a somewhat lazy person, so I’m going to do this list-y style. Or, as my new favorite writer Mindy Kaling calls it in her book, a pliest, “which is a piece with a list-y quality.”

So, here goes – A Few Things I’ll Remember About 2011

Hiking the Grand Canyon


At the beginning of Day 2, on a bridge over the Colorado River.

This surely deserves its own post, but it’s a daunting thought, to be honest. In November, I hiked the Grand Canyon with 7 gals from church, carrying a giant pack for 3 days and camping 2 nights in the canyon. It was crazy hard. I cried. I cussed. I bled. I fell over about 20 minutes into the hike and had to be pulled up by a nice Swedish man because I was stuck under the weight of my pack. I ate oatmeal for the first time. I sang The Eyes of Texas when I felt like I wasn’t going to make it. (Loretta’s response:


“Wow, that is both aggressive and religious.” Welcome to Texas!) The other women literally carried my burden for me when my knees—bad from the fall and just because they are—were giving out at the bottom of the steep climb down and they took gear out of my pack to make the hike easier for me. I made new friends and got closer to the ones I already had. The Grand Canyon really is a magical place and one you have to see in person. You HAVE to see in person. As we reached the top, mentally, emotionally, physically exhausted, I burst into tears like an Olympic marathoner winning the gold. I was overcome by emotion and weakness and disbelief at what we had just accomplished. It’s one of the sweetest and most emotionally charged memories of my life, and I’m utterly grateful to have the experience with me forever. Also, praise Jesus for walking sticks and 500 mg Tylenol.

Living in Philadelphia

Shout-out to Rittenhouse Square! I already wrote about this, so I won’t rehash here. I don’t know if we’ll ever live there again, but we do find ourselves missing our little historic neighborhood, the parks, cafes, tree-lined streets and public transportation. It was a leap of faith that I’m very glad we took.

The Head and the Heart

Maybe my favorite album of the year, this little debut gem from the Seattle band of the same name is meaningful indie pop at its best. It also features a guy-girl lead singer combo, which I always love. Many of the songs are about being young and on the move, separated from friends and family and trying to figure out new roots. Big themes in my life right now. Rivers and Roads, Sounds Like Hallelujah, and Down in the Valley are especially good and are perfect for road trip sing-alongs.

I finally read Harry Potter

My friends were sort of disgusted/ashamed that I wasn’t interested in reading this series. I liked the movies but just didn’t care about the books. Travis even gave me the first one for my birthday one year, to force me to read it, but it didn’t hook me. Then after watching Deathly Hallows Part 1, I wanted to know what happened next, so decided to give in and read the whole thing. I never doubted that they were good, and I’m glad I finally made the plunge. Also, when coming out of the theater in Philly for seeing Deathly Hallows Part 2, we walked by that girl who sings and plays the ukulele on Raising Hope. Celebrity-sighting bonus!

Photo 365

In April of 2010, I decided to start a Photo 365 challenge to force myself to be creative and practice photography. Using my DSLR and iPhone I took a picture pretty much every day, with the exception of a two-month gap in the fall when some life stuff got in the way. I also took an intro digital photography class at Pima Community College in the spring, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I really enjoyed both endeavors, and I definitely feel more comfortable behind the camera now. Some people complain that taking photos takes you out of “the moment” but I’ve found that it helps me pay more attention. I’m still afraid of photographing people though.

Here are a few of my favorite shots:









































































Beautiful things don’t just happen …

… If you want something marvelous, you’ve got to make something marvelous. You know where I got that quote? From Pinterest. I wonder what percentage of my conversations this fall included, “I saw this thing on Pinterest.” A lot. A lot percent. Pinterest is a sort of online visual bookmarking/inspiration board/search engine/social community website thing that I love. I decided awhile ago that, as much as possible, I want everything in my house to be pretty. Even spatulas and staplers. I love beautiful things. They make me happy. I love seeing people’s creativity and care and heart. Pinterest is fun if you want a few minutes to drool at gorgeous kitchens or cute clothes, but the reason it earned a spot on this pliest is because it actually helped spur me to action. I have 19 things on my “I did this!” board on Pinterest—ideas I found there that I actually used or made in real life. From recipes to crafts to hairstyles. I made wedding and Christmas gifts, Thanksgiving and baby shower decorations and relished the creative opportunities I was creating.

It also got me thinking about some bigger things. About how I want to be more intentional and caring in general—as a wife, friend, daughter, employee, community member. In my relationship with God, my diet, exercise and *cough* housekeeping.

Hey, now that I think about it, that sounds an awful lot like some kind of resolution.

Philadelphia Story

Travis landed an internship at a top landscape architecture firm this summer, so we packed up the pups and headed to Philadelphia, where the company is located. Since I work from home, it was easy for me to go along.

We rented a cute little furnished apartment from a Penn graduate student in Center City, near Rittenhouse Square. We went on lots of walks. We ate pizza and, on our last night there, cheesesteaks (thanks to my cousins Austin and Ashley for the tips). We took weekend trips to New York City and Cape May on the Jersey Shore (not that Jersey Shore). We made at least three treks a week to both Food and Friends (groceries) and Good Karma (coffee shop) in our neighborhood. We visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art on pay-what-you-want Sunday (glorious) and the Benjamin Franklin Institute on a kid-packed Saturday (kinda weird and dinky, but I did get to make my own paper).

We tried to catch a Phillies game and even scored tickets through Travis’s job, but a rain delay screwed things up and made us miss the game, so we had to settle for the Camden River Sharks instead.

We walked blocks and blocks and blocks carrying car batteries when the Fit died—twice. We lost $100 on our security deposit when Maeby, confused by this whole not having a yard thing, peed all over the rug.

We did not complain about it never raining, the way one does when one summers in Austin or lives any other time of the year in Tucson. We saw that chick who plays the ukulele on Raising Hope on the street outside of a movie theater. She was carrying her ukulele.

We shopped at the Macy’s where Mannequin was filmed, and I took a moment to acknowledge my deep and abiding love for that fine movie, pointing out where Kim Cattrall hang-glided and Andrew McCarthy played the organ.

We paid an exorbitant amount of money for the most mouth-wateringly delicious fish and chips in the world—thanks, Dandelion Pub!

I turned 30 and was treated by my mom to an all-natural pedicure where they rubbed cold lime slices between my toes.

We missed our friends and our home. We soaked up the time to ourselves, like a little incubator for our family. We wondered if we were meant to return to the northeast sometime in the future. We settled on undecided.

So thank you for a memorable summer, Philly (and people really do call it Philly). You are charming and unassuming and a little difficult at times. But that’s sort of how I like life to be.

How to Clean a Jute Rug

Jute [joot] – a vaguely natural fiber woven devil material that cannot, repeat, cannot be cleaned

Think our landlord will notice?

In just 21 easy steps:

  1. Move into a sublet for the summer so that you confuse your dog and she doesn’t know how to ask outside to go to the bathroom. Also this way you can lose money from your security deposit since the rug doesn’t belong to you.
  2. Look away for two seconds so that your dog can pee on the rug.
  3. Panic. The last time I tried to clean a jute rug, it just ended up looking worse than the stain itself.
  4. Do a spot check with color safe whitening Tide. It won’t appear to have any effect.
  5. Google! WikieHowFloorLady says to avoid getting the rug wet at all costs.
  6. Run to the other room to remove the damp towel sitting on the stain.
  7. Per WikiehHowFloorLady’s suggestions, pour baking soda on the stain to remove the moisture and odor. Let sit.
  8. Vacuum up baking soda.
  9. Why isn’t the $#%&*! baking soda coming up?? Dear god, it seems to have woven itself into the tiny fibers of the rug and is building a permanent settlement.
  10. Since you’re not in your own home, you only have one dish towel, which you already used to blot the pee, so you’ll have to use paper towels now. Scrape the paper towel across the rug to pull up the pioneering baking soda. Be sure to do this hard enough so that the paper towel produces delicate flakes that join the baking soda’s settlement and open a school and general store.

    The demon baking soda and paper towel flakes together in their frontier jute settlement.

  11. Attempt to scrape up the baking soda with a knife. It will not be intimidated out of its home.
  12. Try WikeeHowFloorLady’s last resort – mix white vinegar and water and blot on the stain. For an added Russian roulette level of excitement, try to determine which corner of your dish towel doesn’t have pee on it and use that.
  13. Hurrah! The fizzy vinegar is uprooting some of the baking soda settlers, forcing them to the suburbs. Unfortunately it doesn’t do anything for the stain.
  14. Use your hair dryer to soak up the moisture of the vinegar mixture. Use high heat so that you can realize in a few minutes that you might actually be setting the stain instead of drying it.
  15. Try the Tide again, but this time over the whole stain. Still nothing.
  16. Sprinkle baby powder, with a less heavy hand than you used for the baking soda. It’s less hearty, so maybe it will flee after soaking up the moisture.
  17. Vacuum up baby powder.
  18. Why isn’t the $#%&*! baby powder coming up?? Dear god, it seems to be so lightweight as to be untouchable.
  19. Glare at your dog while she gives you sad face.
  20. Get dressed. (You were doing all this in your pajamas, right? Because it’s how you started your day?) Realize the Anthropologie cardigan your mom bought you has a hole in it, like many of your other tops recently. Cry just a little. Who is doing this to you?

    I may have overreacted.

  21. Admit defeat. Go get a fountain drink.

Congratulations! You are a successful, graceful keeper of house.

Image credits:





Yes, and…

Depending on your tastes and personality, when you hear the word “improv,” you may have feelings of delight, nausea, extreme humiliation, terror, discomfort, annoyance and excitement.

It’s probably a safe bet that all that was swirling around when my coworkers and I took an improv class together last week as part of our staff retreat. I personally was a curious and willing participant with about 2 percent of ohmygoshwhatareweabouttodo mixed in.

Mike from Austin’s Cold Towne Theater kicked off our three-hour session by telling us that improv would change our lives. Um, ok. He didn’t say it an obnoxious way or anything, but that’s a pretty bold claim.

Well folks, I’m here to say that a.) it was a super fantastic experience, b.) I had so much fun, c.) everyone/team/office/group of friends should do it, and d.) it changed, well I won’t say it changed my life (at least not yet), but it absolutely made me think about some things in a new, refreshing way that I’m sure will improve my work and personal life.

Ease Up on Saying “No”

The title of this post, Yes, and… refers to one of the building blocks of improv comedy. It represents the mindset of building a scene together, piece by piece. I create something in the scene (“This is my 300th dog show to compete in.”) and my partner accepts that premise and then adds to it (“Yes, and I never would have guessed that by looking at your dog.”).

It’s a cycle of creation, agreement and growth where each person is contributing, listening and supporting. (Mike said improv actors always tell each other, “I got your back,” before a show. In other words, if you get stuck or throw out a curveball, I’ll work with it. Don’t worry.)

I love this as a mindset for approaching creativity and brainstorming, but I think it’s also a valuable perspective to have on life in general. We learned that a critical part of improv is to roll with what you’ve been given—don’t say “no” to anything. Mike challenged us to look at how often we say “no” to things and question what’s behind that rejection, which we often offer without much thought.

Other surprising applications from improv:

Listening and eye contact – Mike kicked off the class by playing a bunch of games to warm us up. The premise was always very basic, but you could easily get tripped up if you weren’t really paying attention or if you didn’t make sure your teammates were connecting with you.

One game called Pass the Clap (and no, our team was not above constant giggling at the name) required you to stand in a circle and try to clap simultaneously with the person next to you. Of course the key to accomplishing this was to first make eye contact and sort of signal to the other person that you were about to clap. If you just quickly turned to someone and clapped at them before they were ready, they’d always be a beat behind you.

Be in the moment – the quickest way to ensure you won’t be funny is to tell yourself that you have to be funny. If you’re too focused on the outcome, you’ll screw up the process that will eventually get you to that outcome. So many applications for this, and it’s important to keep in mind, especially at the start of any new project, creative or not.

Rethink constraints – there was one game when Mike asked us to pick a celebrity, a place and a job in 10 seconds. It really didn’t matter what three things you chose, but I found myself trying to impose constraints on my choices. Well the first celebrity I thought of is Brad Pitt, but the other team just used Angelina Jolie, so I shouldn’t say that. Really? It literally had no bearing on the game, so why did I care?

It made me think about situations in which I assume certain boundaries or rules that probably don’t exist. When someone in the business school sends me an e-mail telling me about their cool new program, I sometimes assume they want a 2,500 word feature on the home page right away. But that’s a constraint I’m unnecessarily creating.

The inverse of this was also interesting, in that sometimes constraints are a blessing. In the Yes, and … game, we did one round where we just had to create scenes out the air. But in the second round, we were given a foundation—you’ve met via online dating, you’re neighbors, you work at a carnival together. That constraint actually felt liberating, in that it instantly gave us a direction and characters to work with. As a result, that second round produced much more creative exchanges.

I can’t say enough about what a wonderful experience this was. We had so much fun, and we even played one of the games at the start of our staff meeting today. Apparently we are now as hilarious as these guys:

Related link
My boss, David Wenger, blogged about the experience, too. BONUS: He found a very dramatic picture of our instructor Mike!

Flattery Will Get You Everywhere

I woke up this morning to a delightful surprise: Johns Hopkins Magazine Associate Editor and all-around editorial guru Dale Keiger highlighted my recent Texas magazine cover story (“The Fall and Rise of Matt Miller”) on his UMagazinology blog. It was a thrill to write Matt’s story, but it was also a huge challenge, so I’m honored by Dale’s kind words.

As much as I love reading praise of my own work, I spent some time exploring the other stories Dale calls attention to on his blog. My favorite find among the many gems was a piece by former Major Leaguer Doug Glanville for the Pennsylvania Gazette. The story chronicles Glanville’s attempts to find concentration as a hitter by “going blank” in his thinking. It also winds its way into his personal life and identity in a very moving way. Well worth your time, especially if you’re a baseball fan.

I first encountered Glanville’s writing last year in a New York Times op-ed he did about former NFL star Steve McNair’s tragic death. Without glossing over McNair’s mistakes or sounding like an ungrateful multimillionaire, Glanville offered insight into the struggles of a retired athlete. I’ve been a sports fan my entire life, but he raised questions and issues that had never crossed my mind, and he did so with unexpected grace and intelligence. Glanville makes me proud to be a fan of both baseball and journalism.
Photo by Flickr user Pete Prodoehl

Stuck in a Funky Rut

Until today, I had written exactly one blog post in the last three months. Why? Because I was summering at our estate on Lake Como, having  dinner parties with George Clooney and eating pizza and pasta and red wine at every meal, which, in Italy, is actually considered perfectly healthy and causes you to lose 10 pounds and also get a tan that somehow does not involve putting you at risk of skin cancer.

Jealous? Yeah, so am I. Because that’s what dream-Tracy was doing.

Meanwhile, real-Tracy was back in Austin for two months, working feverishly to get my house on the market, squeezing in as many visits with friends and family as possible, and going to the office every day, sitting in many many planning/strategy/brainstorm/ican’ttakemuchmoreofthis meetings to help launch two major projects early this fall.

All of those are good pursuits. But they are tiring pursuits. And doing it all while living outside my own home for so long just stretched me in a way I’ve never really been stretched before. I never really had any down time. Was always dependent on my mom or Travis or someone else for a ride. Never was bored and alone. And being bored and alone is important to me. I am an ISFJ after all. Being bored and alone refreshes me. Even if it’s just for 30 minutes.

But I think being bored and alone is important to all of us, even you extroverts who can’t sit still. Why? Because that’s often when we get new ideas, get inspired, notice things. It’s why this guy returned his iPad right after he bought it.

When I searched for "rut" on Flickr, a bunch of deer images came up. I learned this is because rut also refers to the mating season for "antlered ungulates" like deer, sheep and bison (above). Fun with words!

So I got in a rut. Was just sort of treading water, focusing on other stuff. I managed to keep up with my Photo 365 blog, but just barely.

I’m disappointed in myself for not keeping up my writing during this time. It might have made me feel better. And I know that writing even when you don’t feel like it can be an important exercise. But I didn’t. And that’s ok, too.  

Image from Flickr user NDomer73.

Enliven Your Editorial Calendar with a Little School Spirit

This sweet old man and his model of the UT Tower may not be a strategic priority, but they make a great story.

As managing editor of a higher education alumni magazine and news blog, I spend a lot of time thinking about story ideas. What are those brilliant topics/people/photographs/insights that will get readers excited, teach them something new or make them grateful they’re still in contact with the school?

Our editorial team goes round and round on what angle to take, the point of the story, the appropriate tone. Many of these stories require hours of research, interviews, reporting, editing and art direction.

And even after all that care and hard work, sometimes the story falls flat. No one reads it. Or they read it and think it’s a waste of time.

And then there are those “stories” that unfold like this:

  1. An alumnus who graduated loooong ago writes you a letter and includes a printed photograph. The letter explains that the alumnus, now retired, finally achieved his dream of carving a model of a beloved university symbol, and he thought you’d like to see a photo of it.
  2. You think it’s a sweet letter and photo, and your editorial pace has slowed down for the summer, so you decide to post it. (First of course you have to scan the photo.)
  3. You quietly post it on a Friday and send one tweet about it.
  4. It quickly becomes one of the most-read stories of the week and earns 4 comments.
  5. The UT Facebook page posts the item and gets 260 Likes and 61 adoration-filled comments.

Sweet old man with school spirit: 1. Fancy story planning: 0.

Lesson learned? If you’re lucky enough to work for an organization that has millions of devoted followers, don’t forget to nurture that spirit and loyalty, even if it means you’re not doing a Big Important Story. And if you don’t have millions of devoted followers, what kinds of stories can you tell  to create some?

I write what I know (and love). Mostly higher education, writing and public relations.