Learning New Ways to Hope

March 25, 2020
Jeffrey Utzinger

[Author: Dr. Jeffrey Utzinger, Dean of Teaching & Learning]

I am writing this while sitting on the Concordia University Texas Pier, where I just recorded a video lecture on Robert Frost’s poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," for a class that will soon be moving online. The experience is, at once, delightful and eerie. Delightful, because trees from Concordia’s nature preserve are swaying in the backdrop of my video. Eerie, because it’s a Monday morning in late March, and this place should be teeming with people. If you’ve been to your local grocery store or driven through what we normally call "rush hour" traffic, then you have your own stories of feeling "eerie." This morning, however, I’m trying to tamp down deficit thinking — marking experiences by what’s no longer there — and trying to embrace the world of possibilities that working, learning and living in a different way have opened up.

If this had been a "normal" day, could I have taken my students to the Pier to discuss nature poetry? Could I have recorded the lecture so students could go back and review content in preparation for an exam? Could I have learned how to use some new technology in preparation for this lecture? Yes, but I probably would not have done so. My hope and prayer are that all of us find unexpected joy and meaning through working, learning and living within this community called Concordia while not actually being together in this physical space.

Many of us were drawn to the University because we thrive on in-person conversations. It's difficult to break the deficient-thinking habit. I wrote a list of things I wanted to share with everyone about having hope as we transition to online-only courses. Initially, every sentence began with some variation of "don’t forget" or "don’t expect." I started over, removed the "don’ts" and tried to think in terms of "dos." It took a long time. Hope is difficult, and it's worth having.

  • We (students, faculty, staff and administration) are at Concordia University Texas because we believe higher education matters in a person’s life, that learning new things, learning new ways to think about things and learning new ways of doing things makes the world a better place.
  • We are all involved in preparing people, or preparing ourselves, to become nurses, poets, economists, theologians, entrepreneurs, historians, software developers, teachers, musicians, microbiologists — a whole host of vocations — and this world needs educated, innovative and compassionate people now more than ever. We are engaged in critical work together.
  • We all chose to work or learn at Concordia because it’s different from other learning institutions. In the coming weeks and months, we have the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to education in a caring, Christian environment, even in — especially in — the midst of great uncertainty.

I leave you with the final stanza of Frost’s "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening":

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep."

Yes, we have "miles to go" in our preparations and pivots to a new way of doing things, and we must remember to pause, when we’re able, to ponder what is still lovely. We must continue to seek truth, beauty and goodness.