Design: The Apollos

Early this fall, I was asked to design a logo for The Apollos, a news outlet for campus. We no longer have a campus newspaper, which is not so surprising when you consider we do not have a journalism degree or even humanities degrees. Last winter, a sort of community newsletter was developed to fill this void and to give voice to student opinions and experiences. The Apollos is named for Paul Smith, whose given name was Apollos Austin Smith and went by “Pol” in his family. Pol became Paul when business took off.

Anyway, The Apollos, being new, had been really bootstrapped together in the beginning, but its popularity meant that it underwent changes pretty much immediately. When I was brought on the project, they had already had two different logos, and as you can see they were, well, not so much to my taste. The one below is the older version, while the newer version featured curly script and a background the color of dried blood.


In collaboration with the Chief Marketing Officer, we agreed on a more modern design aesthetic, still featuring an image of Paul, but with a cleaner look. I liked the idea of playing with Apollo, the Greek god, in the imagery as well, and the CMO thought that keeping it “natural” but not too “Adirondacky” was appropriate. These are the first two designs I submitted to test the waters.

header 1

header 2

I liked the idea of using laurel to reference the Greek god. Originally I was thinking to use pine or something more Adirondack but it ended up looking like a guy with his head in a Christmas wreath. For the second, I played with the idea of Apollo as the god of the sun. I liked the second one better than the first, but didn’t love the way that Apollos’s shoulder was cut off, a side effect of the original image I was altering.

header 3


header 4

After some feedback, we agreed that we liked the second likeness of Paul better than the first, but the sun felt like a halo. Could I make it more Adirondacky? I tried versions with pine needles and birch branches. I preferred the birch branches, but we agreed that it felt too busy for a logo.

header 6

That’s better, but still not loving the chunky shoulders. Clever placement of other design elements obscured this in other versions. Ultimately, the Apollos staff decided to go with the cleanest, least involved design with the chunkiest shoulders:


header 5

Paul has the feel of a visionary, or at least the bust of as visionary, and the font is much cleaner and easier to read while containing more information about the purpose of The Apollos. You can see the logo in action on the webpage.

How did I do it? In my presentation on graphic design this spring, I talked specifically about how designing beautiful things is much more about vision than it is about software. People make designs, not software. As usual, I hacked this together in a perfectly filthy manner, but it worked because I had a vision that I was working to accomplish. Here’s the original photo I started with, courtesy of the archives:

AA (4)

Using Photoshop’s magic extractor tool, I separated Paul from his background and strategically cropped out the caption at the bottom. I have access to Photoshop Elements at work, and I used their “artistic effects” to play around with the resulting image. I think I settled on “posterize,” and then I played with the sliders on the setting until I got a contrast I liked. There were a few chunks missing from edges of the image here and there where the contrast was too great, so I used the paint color picker and the paint bucket to fill them in.

I imported the file into an appropriately sized Photoshop file, sourced a font, painstakingly aligned everything, and bam! Done. Ok, in reality, it was much longer process because I went through so many versions and sourced so many images (not all of which made the cut into a design version) which needed to be edited and altered. Sourcing the images was by far the most involved part of this project.

I used one design program, built-in effects, and a specially selected font (super easy to install) in order to achieve the end result. Is it perfect? Certainly not. Could a pro do better? Absolutely for sure. But the difference between what I did and what a pro could do is not necessarily software but a vision. Well, a vision and money. I fully expect that The Apollos will have a new logo in the next year or two, and I’m fine with that. I learned a lot as a result of this collaboration. Firstly, design by committee in the mix with a deadline and a full time job is a fairly stressful combination. Although I’m proud of the work I did, this is one of those things I probably should have declined for my mental health. Second, creating a logo with a person at its center, especially of a previously living person and not a character, is actually pretty hard. Evocative imagery is really tricky to get right. When it goes wrong, it looks a lot like a dude with his head in a Christmas wreath.


An Ode to Post-its

Please allow me the space to discuss my favorite instructional tools: index cards, post-its, and whiteboards. What would we do without these endlessly versatile receptacles for written thought? More public than social media, more shareable than a listicle, more mobile than Padlet, their only downside is one that our sustainability students don’t hesitate to point out. They’re disposable. (Ok, the index cards and post-its are technically recyclable and the whiteboard is reusable. Let’s not let perfect be the enemy of the good in this circumstance, agreed?) Here’s what you can do with them:


Index cards

  • Super quick in-class assessments. An index card has two sides, so have the students write the answers to two questions, one on each side. Examples: What are your expectations of this class/What are your concerns? What’s one thing that’s going well in this class/What’s one thing that isn’t going well? What one technique you learned in class today do you plan to use again/What are you still confused about?
  • “Trading Card” warm-up activity. Have each student make a little trading card about themselves as they come into the class and before class is underway. It should include a caricature/doodle, and the answer to at least one funny question.
  • Post-It note substitute. I’ve found that post-its don’t always stick well to whiteboard surfaces. Some tape and index cards works, too, and some students prefer to lay cards on the ground or table for sorting purposes rather than putting them on a wall.


  • Affinity Wall! I did this again in my FYS class and it worked well. Veronica has also tried out an adaptation of this in an instruction session.
  • A few favorite games from Gamestorming use them. The 4-C’s is one I tried in orientation workshops with moderate success. I also did Brainwriting with my students as they worked on solutions to problem statements in their problem based learning unit.
  • Whiteboard Substitute. Giant post-its can stand in for whiteboards if you don’t have enough whiteboard space. I developed a thesis peer-review activity for English 101 using giant post-its that was very well received. Significant inspiration for the activity came from Anne Barnhart’s presentation at LibTech. (Thanks, Anne!)


  • Like a giant post-it! (Kidding. Kind of.)
  • Post-it note repository. Important secondary component to the affinity wall exercise and generally a great place to stick post-its, organize them, and write things about them.
  • PowerPoint substitute. We totally revamped our FYS library instruction on evaluating information to ditch the PowerPoint. Instead, we deliver the same material by accessing what students already do when making decisions about information, asking uncomfortable questions, and giving them framing principles for what they’re already doing. This requires lots of writing down what they say.

IMG_0013And on the technological side of things, I’m loving my new iPad for instruction. My tendency towards Evernote really makes sense when I can access my teaching notes right then and there. I’d love to know more about your favorite instructional tools. What am I missing out on?

FYS at Midterm

This year’s First Year Seminar is a substantially different ball game in the best possible way. It really is easier the second time around. It’s the power of editing rather than creating from scratch. Filling a blank page is way more difficult than editing something that’s already there, even if what’s there is total crap. I’m much more comfortable as a teacher in this class, and I’m more willing to take some calculated risks. I like to think that I have something to do with how well the class seems to be going so far, but I know that there’s only one of me and 19 of them. They have as much to do with the success of the class as I do. Still, I did a few things at the beginning that I think made a difference.

Early on, I committed to “debunking” my students expectations and fears. I handed out 3×5 cards and asked them to write their expectations of class on one side and their concerns about class on the other. I addressed every comment in class. Two things came up that I thought were especially important to address and then I was very up front about them. Firstly, one student mentioned that he expected class to be very hands-on. There is a constant tension in our FYS classes between the students, who expect class to be about going canoeing and hiking, and their professors, who know that there are learning objectives we’re meant to address. I was clear that class would be very hands-on, but that hands-on doesn’t always look like playing in the woods. Sometimes hands-on means discussion and other times it means group work and still other times it does mean playing in the woods. Second, one student admitted that he feared this class would be a waste of his time. I looked my collective class in the face and told them that if they came in to class thinking that it was a waste of time and there was nothing of value, they undoubtedly would learn nothing and find class to be a waste of their time. If, however, they chose to come to class and to participate and find something of value, well, it might never be their favorite class but it definitely wouldn’t be a waste of their time. I really think this primed them early on to approach class with an open mind. I have had no attendance issues and every student is passing the class. (So far, anyway.)

You can see that I have committed to being very honest and open with my students in challenging them to take charge of their own educational experiences. While we ask our students to do deep reflection in class, it can be very uncomfortable to dig deep in the presence of someone you feel you don’t know very well, so I committed to being personally open with my students, too. On the first day of class, I let them ask me anything they wanted to know about me. I did, of course, keep some appropriate boundaries, but I tried to be a good interviewee and answer the question they asked as well as including any relevant surrounding information. I have also used our out of class experiences such as hikes to have real conversations with students so we get to know each other a bit better. It’s been very personally rewarding, and I think it’s made a difference in class.

I have read a few books in the last year that really helped me to grow into FYS. First up is Discussion as a Way of Teaching by Stephen D. Brookfield and Stephen Preskill. Last year in the final evaluation of the class, my students thought that the discussions were really great. I didn’t agree. I resorted to a lot of think-pair-share with handouts so I could evaluate their contributions for participation and preparedness later and it was basically the same all the time and I was bored with it. This book gives a lot of different suggestions for ways to facilitate real discussions. The book is geared more towards classes which are mostly discussion, which my FYS is not, but there are tons of tips that are applicable to any course with discussion as a component. As a class we created a discussion charter early on to establish norms. While I still use some form of paper record for evaluation, I often change up what happens on the paper. Sometimes small groups are the only discussion. Sometimes I have the small groups come up with discussion questions for the whole class (sometimes on themes pre-determined by me and sometimes not.) Sometimes we just talk as a group. I’ve used their method of having a big framing question on the board for class, as a sort of answer to “why are we doing this?” I’ve also adapted their method of gaining feedback on the previous day’s discussion, called a CIQ  or Critical Incident Questionnaire, for gaining feedback in general.

discussion as a way

I also love and use Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo. In particular, their approach to affinity walls is something that I love to use for my FYS. I have also used Brainwriting, an approach to brainstorming that is a sort of mash-up between an affinity wall and one-sentence stories, Trading Cards, for getting-to-know-you, and Memory Wall, for wrapping up the semester. The games are divided into categories like Games for Opening, Games for Exploring, and Games for Closing, which is helpful if you’re looking for an activity to fill a niche. The term “game” is kind of a misnomer, though. Really, these are just active learning activities that require that the participants put in at least as much work as the facilitator. In other words, exactly my kind of teaching.


While I haven’t actually read Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning by James Davis and Bridget Arend, I saw Bridget Arend’s keynote at LOEX and promptly put the book on my Amazon wishlist. We all intuitively know that different modes of instruction have different strengths and weaknesses, but rarely do many of us think strategically and critically about the modes we fall into. Lecture is good! For certain things! Service learning is also good! But not for the same things as lecture! I credit her keynote for breaking open a piece of FYS that I knew wasn’t working. I revised by starting with a mode – Problem Based Learning. Add in a community based problem for connecting to the campus community, assign groups for a bit of diversity, slot library instruction neatly in the gaps, and, you guys, I hesitate to say this too loudly but it’s working!

seven ways of learning

I don’t want to celebrate too ecstatically without proverbially knocking on wood, but I’m really happy with my decision to teach FYS again this year. It’s not something I thought I would ever do, but I’ve learned a ton, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. Would you teach FYS at your college?

Challenge and Change

I like to think that I’m pretty good at change, or, at the very least, not change-averse. I may not be the earliest of technology adopters, but I’m always up for an adventure. Although many changes in the last few years have been overwhelmingly positive in my personal and professional life, it has been a challenge to my ability to wrap my head around the sheer volume of change. Here are few highlights from the last year:

  1. I got married! Admittedly, I found the wedding planning process to be… not the most fun I’ve ever had, but I’m thrilled to proceed with the business of building a life with my new husband. Incidentally, I’m also changing my name, which you will see reflected in this website. Personally, I find the double letters in Meggan Press to be very satisfying.
  2. Speaking of name changes, our college is also pursuing a name change! It’s not official official yet, but it’s certainly created quite the whirlpool among the campus community.
  3. The proposed college name change came on the heels of a tempestuous year, most of which I did not talk about here. In the last year or so, my college has declared financial exigency, laid off 20-ish percent of its already lean faculty and staff, and hired a new president, quickly followed by a new leadership team including provost (whom I am proud to say I had a hand in hiring as a member of the committee), chief marketing officer (a position that, shockingly, has never existed at our institution), vice president of enrollment (position has been largely vacant for the last 2 years), and vice president of business and finance (also vacant for about 2 years). My boss is retiring, which started some reorganization in the library and educational resources, which allowed us to hire a Student Outreach Librarian and also means that I have a “new” job and a “new” boss.
  4. I’m the Teaching and Learning Librarian! I think of it like the Provost of the library. While job duties between librarians are somewhat fluid here – we all pitch in to help where needed – my areas of leadership will be in curriculum, instruction, and faculty liaison-ing. It’s my old job, shifted sideways and deepened. I’m thrilled to be able to largely design my own job and also to shift jobs within my institution, something that I wasn’t sure was possible given the relative size of the college and library.
  5. We added a new person to our team! I’ll introduce our new Student Outreach Librarian when the time is right, but I’d like to report that I’m absolutely over the moon with our new colleague and I cannot wait to get stuck in to making the library even more awesome than it already is.
  6. I’m teaching FYS again this fall! I almost didn’t do it. My experience of last fall was significantly colored by an unusual and upsetting student “event” that came after final grades were posted and lasted into the early weeks of the spring semester. Frankly, in the shadow of that event, I wasn’t feeling great about what I had accomplished or my desire to do it again. Most of my feelings about the class were colored by that final experience. I knew I wanted to teach FYS again, but wasn’t sold on the idea of doing it right away. After a bit of time and some encouragement, I saw the benefit of teaching in consecutive years. It’s easier the second time, they say. You can be sure I’ll report back on that wisdom. I’m keeping my theme of “Cultivating Resilience” but I’m changing things around a bit. It has new texts (featuring readings from Carol Dweck’s Mindset) and a new project (problem-based learning for the win!) and, of course, new students and new personalities to navigate. I’m excited and also nervous. Seems about right.

And, so, you see where my head has been the last months. It seems absurd to say “now that things have settled down a bit” in proximity to the start of fall semester, but truly that is how I feel. Now that things have settled down a bit, I hope to spend more time in this space. I have another post idea lined up, but, well, you know how change can be. While sometimes you can see change coming, you can’t always predict people’s or institutions’ reactions to it. In many ways, I feel a kinship with my FYS students who are asked to consider their resiliency and personal and community responses to challenge and change. Hmmm, how might I incorporate that into class…..?

What’s changed in your life recently?

Come work with me!

upstairs stack

We’re hiring a Student Outreach Librarian this summer! It’s a great opportunity for a librarian who is passionate about students and small academic libraries. Here’s the basic outline, directly from the description:

We are seeking candidates for the position of Student Outreach Librarian. Paul Smith’s College is a very small private college nestled in the beautiful Adirondack Park among forests and lakes that offer recreational opportunities and vibrant community events in all four seasons. The Joan Weill Adirondack Library at Paul Smith’s College Library is a central hub of campus, and it is widely praised and very well utilized by our community. The library staff is a small, nimble, healthy, collaborative group that is student-centered and dedicated to delivering excellent services that fulfill the mission of the college. We are seeking a creative, ambitious team player who is excited about the mission of academic libraries. The successful candidate will work collaboratively in many ways while providing leadership that creates opportunities for student outreach, engagement, and learning, both inside and outside of the library. Creativity and thoughtfully planned experimentation are encouraged. Additionally, this librarian will work closely with our Teaching and Learning Librarian to develop curriculum and deliver in-class instruction and resources to help our students achieve their academic goals. Extensive interaction with students is a major component of this position. A self-motivated, positive attitude is absolutely essential.

The full description can be found here.

P. S. I’m the Teaching and Learning Librarian.

Graphic Design for Maximum Engagement

This spring has been a whirlwind of unexpected professional gains. I’ve given a presentation titled “Graphic Design for Maximum Engagement” in a number of different places with slightly different formats and time frames over the last few months. If you were not able to attend SUNYLA Midwinter, LibTech, or LOEX, I was recently asked to give this presentation for NCompass Live through the Nebraska Library Comission. You can find my slides below, or click through to their website for a full recording including Q&A.


I have been quiet in this space lately. It’s hard to know what to say. I’d like to talk more about FYS, but I’m currently dealing with some circumstances relating to final grades that are not appropriate to talk about here, and those circumstances are coloring my experience. I don’t have more to say except to reiterate my last post on the subject: Policy is black-and-white while people are grey. Assessment is helpful except when it isn’t. What and how we choose to assess may provide more murkiness than clarity.

In the midst of the murkiness, a few huge points of light have emerged. Last Friday I gave a webinar at the SUNYLA Midwinter Conference titled “Graphic Design for Maximum Engagement.” The webinar went really well and I got some great questions. I was very happy, not only because I felt the webinar went well but also because the 20-minute webinar is the seed for some much larger happenings this spring. I am so pleased to tell you that you will find me at LibTech and LOEX presenting an expanded and enriched version of that webinar. In addition, I will be able to attend ACRL this spring through the support of my college and an Early Career Librarianship Scholarship from ACRL.

It seems it will be a spring of presentations and travel. I will be traveling not only to conferences but also back to Michigan a few times because, you guys, I’m getting married and we decided it would be a good idea to do that in less than 6 months. I’m in that excited/overwhelmed/grateful place where I’m not quite sure what I’m feeling at any given time. I imagine the feeling will continue for a while. In the mean time, it will probably be quiet around here a bit more than usual.

What are you looking forward to this spring?

News from the trenches



Grading is hard. Among the steep learning curves I’ve had to hike in my stint as a First Year Seminar professor is accounting. Setting up a gradebook is the least of it. Next comes the day to day accounting of grading the assignments, making the judgments, and confronting your own rubric shortcomings. For instance, what do you do when you have required that powerpoint and outline are turned in, in addition to actually giving the presentation, but the rubric only covers the presentation itself? I’m asking for a friend.

It’s hard to reconcile black-and-white policies with the gray of everyday life. What do you do when a student who does good work while attending class and no work when not attending class runs into a rough patch and doesn’t show up for two weeks, jeopardizing his ability to pass based on attendance deductions alone. This student needs this class to graduate, and the work is there. But he isn’t. How do you give this student a fair chance to make amends and do the work you know they can do? Do you even give them a chance? Have they earned it? Who earns it? What is “earning?” What is fair to the other students in comparison? What is fair to you? How much more time should I spend worrying about this one student?

I am very sensitive to solving these kind of accounting problems in a way that is fair not only to the particular case but to the other students. I’ve been the student who showed up to every single awful class because missing class meant missing points only to find out that the prof couldn’t be bothered to take attendance and every person got full attendance points, even the ones who never showed. I know how terrible that feels. (Obviously the ones who never showed didn’t pass for other reasons, but that’s not the point.) I don’t want to be that prof. I also don’t want to be the prof who stands between a good but flawed student and graduation when a little bit of gray and some serious work on the part of the student could mean the two points that make a difference.

Black and white is about the big picture, the generalizations. Individuals are gray. Even though you are supposed to be teaching a classroom, you are also teaching 21 unique students. Sometimes the answer to “how does this class measure up to standards” isn’t as important as the answer to “how can I best teach this student.”

I turned in my final grades. All in all, I am pleased with how class went. I have a long list of things I would do differently next time, including being more precise on rubrics when I choose to use them. I’ve learned a ton from this experience in little and big ways. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about it in the future. For right now, I’m deep in reflective mode, as it relates to FYS, my job, and my life. One of the confounding pieces I will continue to turn over in my head is the way that classroom experience, observation, student reflection in different contexts, and rubrics can tell very different stories about student learning and experience. Together they might give a big picture and that picture might be nuanced, but they rarely agree in a way that is easy to assimilate. What is the truth of this experience, for them and for me? What might we all say about it in a year’s time?

Wishing you a fruitful reflective season. See you in the new year!

Not at your service

I finally landed a work week that was a bit lighter and managed to read my way through the small stack of journal articles growing to the left of my computer. Directly on top was Not at Your Service: Building Genuine Faculty-Librarian Partnerships by Yvonne Nalani Meulmans and Allison Carr. Lucky for me, it was truly excellent and spoke to my own instructional issues. There’s something to be said about journal articles that take a strong position, define that position, and support that position with both theory and practical suggestions. That something is “More, please!”

In this article, the authors argue that librarians must cease being at the service of faculty. That is, librarians need to decline the aforementioned types of requests, especially when they are not in the best interest of students. Instead, the authors advocate that librarians must sometimes say “no” to such requests and instead question, engage, and converse with faculty. By doing so, the librarian then places creating learning environments and opportunities for students as guiding professional value, over and above an individual’s discomfort.”

In addition to providing a compelling argument for why instruction should not be viewed or treated as a service model, the authors give many suggestions for helping individual librarians define useful boundaries as well as for communicating points of collaboration to faculty. As suggested in this article, I plan to revisit and define my own teaching philosophy and FAQ over winter break. As a bonus, I can use some points from the article to frame the library presentation to faculty at President’s Meeting in January. Is there a word for the serendipity of the right thing falling into your lap at exactly the right time? After reading it I felt both calmed and energized, and I immediately put together a plan for the future. May your holiday break work-reading do the same for you.

Brace yourself….



This post is brought to you by the fact that I scraped an inch of snow off my car this morning before heading to work. I’m going to have to start remembering to get up early to do weather-related chores before I can leave the house. I’m not bitter about winter. Living in the North Country, you have to embrace it or you go crazy. I am, however, slightly traumatized from last year after waking up for weeks on end to temperature in the -20 to -40 range. Here’s what I do to make working life in the frigid north just a little bit better:

  1. Forced heat is rough on my body. I recently purchased this travel humidifier and set it up in my office. My skin, nose, and office plants are happier for it. Plus I can take it with me when I stay in overly-dry hotel rooms. Humidifiers also can help keep you from getting sick.
  2. Due to office placement right next to the front doors of the library and an overly complicated heating arrangement, it can get really cold in my office. Scarves, shawls, and all things snuggly and wooly are my best friends. I keep an emergency shawl in my office drawer that I can use if I forget a scarf or I can use it as a blanket on my legs if it’s really bad.
  3. One word: Ponaris. If you suffer a chronically bloody nose for 6 months out of the year like I do (TMI? Sorry.), you need to get Ponaris. I have used saline gels in the past and they do make me more comfortable but since Ponaris is an oil it helps to mend the problem and last longer than the gels.
  4. I use coconut oil on my face and body when winter sets in for real. Only a tiny bit alleviates dry skin almost immediately. It soaks in quickly and doesn’t feel greasy or thick at all. Coconut oil is readily available in most grocery stores and is sold with the cooking oils. It’s hard and white but melts readily at skin temperature and also tastes fantastic in peanut butter cookies. Just sayin’. One container will last you many winters (I did say just a tiny bit, right?) or one winter and a few batches of peanut butter cookies.
  5. I’m a little sensitive about getting sick this year. Libraries are surprisingly filthy places filled with lots of people. Germs are inevitable, but after I ended up with both strep throat and mono AT THE SAME TIME last spring, I’ve been really jumpy about working to stay healthy. I usually rely on a combo of Airborne and Cold-Eeze when I’m feeling something coming on. My aunt swears by Buried Treasure Acute Cold and Flu, which she sent when I was sick in the spring. It didn’t work wonders for me at the time because mono, but it did give me a burst of energy after taking it. I’m keeping a bottle around this winter and we’ll see how it does.
  6. And, since I’ve already admitted to putting cooking oil on my face, I may as well fess up to one other out-of-the-ordinary thing I’ve been doing to stay healthy – fermenting foods. Now you know my secret. I may look like your average librarian but underneath I harbor hippie tendencies. Probiotics are a known component in an active immune system and fermented foods give you a boost. Yogurt is a good place to start but has a limited range of bacterial strains. I’ve been making and drinking kombucha for a few months and I love it. Also, fermented dilly beans from the summer. I’m not a huge fan of sauerkraut but I’d like to try my hand at kimchi.

What do you do to take care of yourself at work or home in the winter?