Proud Midwesterner

Last night, the Heart of It All subcohort was dissolved.  Okay, not actually dissolved, but for our final course, we have changed groups and are working with folks across our cohorts.  I’m excited for this next step, but cannot help but think of the ways in which group dynamics might play out.  We’ve spent the last three and a half years working with the same group of folks.  As I’ve shared in the past, these three folks have made my experience thus far phenomenal.  We’ve met once a week since July 2011 and struggled through moves, changes in job responsibilities, issues with family, issues with each other.  And more.  We’ll keep meeting as we move through the next steps of our doctoral program, but for the time being, we are no longer a group of people who are together.

Our group was joined together due to similar (though not shared) timezones and group dynamics as our program director watched us interact throughout that first class together.  And we became known as the Heart of It All group.  From the “heartland of America,” we wanted a group name that was a play on that.  Earlier this year as I was perusing the RayGun web site, I came across this and could not help but think of our group:heartland

Later, as we continued to interact with folks from different parts of the country, it became increasingly clear that this was the perception of the Midwest from our classmates and others:midwest

So, a couple of weeks ago, we sent this postcard to our colleagues sharing our excitement for seeing them this week.  Last night we showed up at dinner wearing matching shirts with that picture on it and celebrating our home region of the country.  On my drive to Colorado, I was listening to Michael Rank’s History in 5 Minutes podcast which had five consecutive episodes about the greatness of Iowa.  This, combined with conversations last week at the ICQI conference about the Midwest, has increasingly made me feel proud to be a Midwesterner.

While I identify as a Minnesotan through and through, Iowa has grown on me.  Ohio has grown on me.  I don’t question saying hello to someone walking down the street or holding the door open if someone has full hands.  I’m not suggesting the folks in other parts of the country fail to have manners and be polite, I often am hyper-cognizant of the ways in which my interactions might not be reflective of what is experienced across the country.

For those who have not visited or spent much time in the Midwest, we are much more than a “flyover” area of the country.  I love that when I drove through small towns throughout Iowa, Nebraska, and Colorado on Monday, people were at the cemeteries, visiting their loved ones and honoring those who deserve our respect.  I love that we know how our neighbors are doing and that it is strange to me that I have not yet gotten to know more of my neighbors.  I love watching for the differentiation in planting driving across these states and caring whether the farmers are planting corn or soybeans, spraying the fields, or how many head of cattle they have.  There is a community that exists throughout this.

As I continue ruminating of sense of place, the Midwest is one location I could not deny considering.

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Sense of Place

Horsetooth ResevoirThis morning I find myself sitting in the Wild Boar Coffee Shop in Fort Collins, Colorado, reflecting on the concept of space and place.  It’s not unusual that I am thinking about these topics, as lately, it seems that all of the articles and definitions I am reading exist around these concepts.  Only three days ago I was sitting on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana, Illinois, ruminating on the same ideas.

As I think about these spaces, and my dissertation, and comps, and the many things which are always on my mind these days, I cannot help but think about the point at which a space feels like home to me.  This sense of place, as written about by Clemons, Banning & McKelfresh in 2004, 2005, and 2006, is key in a concept of feelings of belonging to an environment and security within it.  This concept resonates with me for many reasons, key among them being my reflection of self when in an entirely new environment.  Which leads me to state that I am, unequivocally, not good in new environments.

This probably has to do with my sense of security.  Interestingly, however, on only my second time at the Urbana campus, my sense of place and sense of security was greatly enhanced from last year.  This may have been a result of knowing and recognizing places, spaces, people, or the fact that I was not the sole representative from my campus (aka, I had an entourage)… Yet, when I pulled into Fort Collins last night, despite still feeling at times like nothing is where I left it upon my last visit, I had an immediate sense of being at home.  My sense of place here may be heightened by the fact that I’ve lived here for a couple of years.

More and more, however, as friends have come and gone from my life and I have recognized that my sense of place is greatly enhanced by the people who are with me in each place.  It’s why I was watching for people I recognized at the conference last week, why I called one of my best friends while driving to campus this morning, and why I want to help others feel oriented to spaces when introducing them to the space.

We now kick off our final week together in Fort Collins, Colorado.  While I am certain class will be challenging at times (it is our capstone/practical comprehensive/other course), mostly I am looking forward to having these individuals together with me.  These are the folks who have been part of this first part of our doctoral degree program and who I know will be there for me in the next few years as we take our comprehensive exams, write our proposals, and ultimately, do our dissertations.  Not to get too sentimental, but these folks have become my sense of place.  They give me a sense of belonging.  And security.

This may be our last week in the same physical space, but the creation of our relationships and place via a virtual space provides an entirely new sense of space and place.  I’m looking forward to our interactions, consumption of beverages, and overall development of strategy for comps in the next week.  As I take a sip of my coffee and eat my chips and salsa for breakfast (deliciousness), I’m reflective of the greatness of these individuals today, this week, and in the coming years.