Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Preparing to read

As I pack up and prepare to depart the chilly, rainy pre-spring weather of Iowa for the warmth of Arizona (we were warned by Jane Curlin that the conference room we meet in may be "chilly." I will take my chances after making it through another lousy Iowa winter), I thought I would let you know the pre-meeting part of being a reader.

It started last fall, when Peggy Mullaney dropped that beautiful email into my in-box, asking if I would like to go to Arizona in March (answer: heck yes!). Travel arrangements were made over the next few months, and then about three or four weeks ago a FedEx package showed up with a thick blue folder in it. The folder contained all of the information about the hotel where we are staying (note: it looks swank, but lest ye fear that your hard-earned tax dollars are going to waste, they have an excellent government rate), the schedule for the reading period, the names of all the readers, and (crucially) the reading team assignments.

Just to get this out of the way now, since I should tell you at some point, here are the readers for this year's Udall competition:

  • Terry Bensel, Allegheny College

  • Paul Blowers, Univ. of Arizona

  • Joe Bowersox, Willamette Univ.

  • Ann Brown, Ohio Univ. (about whom I once wrote "Most any event can be improved with Ann Brown in the room." To say that I am tickled that Ann will be there is a vast understatement; anyone who has attended events with Ann present knows that hilarity shall ensue, not all of it blog-appropriate. It is a very, very good thing that we are not reading partners.)

  • Jerilyn Church, American Indian Health and Family Service of SE Michigan, '04 Udall Scholar

  • Sue Kissinger, Univ. of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

  • Matt McMahon, Princeton, '02 & '03 Udall Scholar

  • Bryan Mercier, Dept. of the Treasury, '03 Udall Intern

  • Brian Pasko, Sierra Club Oregon, '98 Udall Scholar

  • Katie Purvis-Roberts, Claremont McKenna College

  • Renae Steichen, Dept. of Justice, '04 & '05 Udall Scholar

  • Karna Walter, University of Arizona

  • Jeanne Ware, New College of Florida
My reading partner for this week will be Sue Kissinger, and we have already traded a few emails to say hello to one another and exclaim our excitement over this reading adventure. Though I am looking forward to reading with Sue, I did warn her that she has big shoes to fill -- Katie Purvis-Roberts was my co-reader two years ago, and was just outstanding to work with. She had insightful comments, was good-natured, has a great sense of humor (defined as "was willing to pretend to find my lame jokes were funny"), and we were able to really engage in give-and-take to come to a consensus over the files we were reading. Udall has a rule that two readers can only work together once (usually returning readers are paired with new readers), so Katie and I will just have to chat during breaks this year.

The big blue folder also contained several pages of instructions on how we will read files, copies of all of Mo's most important speeches -- Planet Earth, Enviro vs. Economy, Man: Endangered Species, etc. etc. -- for us to read in advance, and, perhaps most importantly, the sample cases.

The sample cases are copies of four actual files from past years, with the names redacted from them (they do identify university, major, have letters of rec and transcripts, etc.). They also have blank rating forms attached, and our job is to read and score each of the four files in advance of going to Tucson. You also have to pick one of the four as a scholar and one as an honorable mention -- and then fax all four rating sheets to Peggy. When we meet on Wednesday afternoon for readers' orientation, we will talk about all four cases, look at how we each graded each sample case, and make sure that we all understand what the Udall is looking for and how we read files. There is of course no way to remove the subjectivity from reading and scoring files -- these are humans making judgment calls -- but the foundation does a good job of trying to at least get us all in a tight cluster of opinions.

The sample cases also have, at the back, the rating forms that were completed by the readers when these were real, "live" applications. After you've read and scored the application, it's helpful to compare your comments and thoughts on a file with those who have read it before.

Going through the sample cases was a really good exercise for me, especially since when I read them I was in the final throes of helping my own four Udall candidates finalize their applications. If you haven't done so already, I would strongly encourage you to download and utilize the blank rating form on the Udall website -- it is a great tool to help pinpoint where your candidates are strong and where they need help. It lets you get in the mindset of a reader and utilize the same tools that we will have when we read the file to score it.

In addition to the four sample cases, all of which are environmental applicants, the blue folder also had two sample cases from tribal health care & policy applicants, just to make sure we all understand the diversity of the applicant pool (tribal health care and policy applicants are read by a separate team, so I won't see any of them this week).

Since I can't get from Iowa to Tucson on Wednesday in time for the 3pm meeting, I will be departing on Tuesday afternoon, arriving that evening. I should mention here that my wife, Anne, will be travelling with me (thank you grandparents for proving child care!) and will be romping around Tucson while I am holed up and reading files all week. In case there are random references to Anne getting tan, Anne getting a massage, or Anne having close encounters with saguaro cacti (and my jealous comments about these activities), at least now you know to whom I am referring.

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