After a nice break between semesters, the 2016 spring semester kicked off for Saybrook University with the January 2016 Residential Conference (RC).
Last semester, our RC at the gorgeous, intimate Cedarbrook Lodge in Seattle was a small gathering of the Organizational Systems (OS) doctoral students and the Master of Arts in Management, Specialization in Global Workforce Collaboration (referred to as MAM) students (all under the auspices of the Department of Leadership and Management). This semester, it was the large gathering of the various Saybrook departments, such as Mind-Body Medicine, Humanistic and Clinical Psychology, and Counseling.
Since we were so many, of course we needed to be at a larger venue, plus the conference alternates locations every semester. The 5-day RC was held at the Westin San Francisco Airport hotel in Millbrae.
It’s a nice enough hotel, but not a special place, like Cedarbrook Lodge. The conference didn’t have the same personal feel as last semester, but it was great to see my cohort and get started on my OS courses. The humane education part of my program (Ph.D. in Organizational Systems, Specialization in Humane Education), taken in a partnership program with Valparaiso University’s Institute for Humane Education, started a couple of weeks ago. I’ve already turned in my first assignments for Animal Protection and for Environmental Ethics. At Saybrook, I will be continuing the second class in the basics of research module, Disciplined Inquiry 1B: Research Foundations, as well as taking Dealing with Complexity: The Foundations of Systems Thinking.
Living just across the Bay, I didn’t want to spend the money to stay at the hotel (I need the money to buy books!), so early on Day 1 I headed over bright and early to register and get started.
Luckily, coffee was plentiful and the breakfast buffet was still going. To my surprise and delight, there was a special vegan/vegetarian section.
Our first morning forum for OS started with an introduction icebreaker. Being nervous, I had to refer to my prompt sheet to remember my name and where I live!
Then we launched into a “world café”. For those unfamiliar with the concept (which I was before Saybrook), when I Googled world cafe this is the definition I got:
“The ‘World Café’ is a structured conversational process intended to facilitate open and intimate discussion, and link ideas within a larger group to access the ‘collective intelligence’ or collective wisdom in the room.”
With the question of what makes Saybrook and the OS program unique, we spread around the room to talk about topics including education, health care, systems thinking and practice, and organizational transformation. For each topic, a host student stayed at each “café table” while the rest of us made the rounds to all of the tables to add to the discussion, with the host student presenting a summary of the talks to the larger group at the end. It was a great way to bring the new students into the group and for the returning students to reconnect.
That worked up a pretty good appetite! Lunchtime (and more coffee).
In the later afternoon, a few of us had an open block and attended the Clinical Psychology department’s screening of the 1985 Swedish film My Life as a Dog. We just wanted to see the movie (and it has a dog in it), but it was fascinating to hear the psychology students’ discussion afterwards. Analyses I would never have thought of were debated; I was mainly sad that (SPOILER ALERT) the dog doesn’t make it to the end of the movie.
Lest you think we are not a fun crowd, look: grad school humor!
By Day 3 we were tackling some serious world problems with another world cafe. This time our morning icebreaker, lead by the intrepid Mike Johnston, was an activity called That Person Over There…during which we mingled in a group, introducing our fellow students by trading and sharing “my passion is ” sticky notes. It was surprisingly fun.
Then we divided up into groups to apply systems thinking to various pressing global issues. We stayed with one group rather than circulating, and I chose the group looking at environmental degradation.
The 5 groups came up with some very interesting points and ideas. We also looked at the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These cards are available for presentations and education.
Our tired brains needed fresh air and our bodies, sitting for long stretches, needed some exercise, so down to the San Francisco Bay Trail entrance just across the street from the hotel.
We obviously only saw a very tiny portion on our hour-long walk, some of it prettier and some of it a bit on the grubby side. What’s up with the littering, anyway? Come on, people!
Sadly, I wasn’t able to stay for the last 2 days, so I said goodbye to my cohort and good friends after dinner. But I did at least get the t-shirt.
And now to study!