Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Sucks to be you

As Program Officer at the Naval Postgraduate School, you are guidance counselor, vice principal and military authority all rolled into one.  I am the first person in what we call in the military as the Chain of Command.  I should be the first stop for an officer in my curriculum when they have an issue they need help resolving.  Of course, not all the junior officers seem to understand this nuance (a subtle) of military life. 

SO, one day, a young officer (Let's call him Timmy) entered my office on his third day of school.  He got my attention and preceeded to say:

Timmy:  "I just spoke to Captain Not-in-my-chain-of-command.  She said I could transfer from this curriculum to another (which he perceived to be easier) curriculum."

Me:  "I think you have me mistake for someone else. Perhaps you should go outside my office and read the name plate again.  I know who I am.  You need to refresh your memory."

Timmy has a confused look but does as he is instructed.  Good!  I thought we were going to have to remind him there is a vast difference between junior officers and very senior Commanders. 

Timmy:  "Sir (we are off to a better start), Captain Not-in-my-chain-of-command said I could transfer to the other curriculum and I just needed your signature.  So, I will bring the form by tomorrow for you to sign."

OH BOY!  I don't do well when junior officers tell me what I am going to do.

Me:  "First of all, I am glad you spoke to the Captain.  But she doesn't run this curriculum.  I do.  AND YOU  need my permission to transfer -- which you don't have -- and the agreement of the Program Officer to accept you into the other curriculum.  So, let me tell you what I need to grant you permission to transfer from my curriculum."

A look of promise in Timmy's eyes.

Me:  "You need to attempt to do well and FAIL!  Not just fail.  Just failing will earn you a disenrollment from school and back to the fleet."

Timmy:  Now gathering this won't be an easy approval.......  "But, sir.  I will fail.  I don't have the skills required to pass this curriculum."

Me:  "Why do you say that?"  Pulling up his record.  Naval Academy graduated less than 3 years ago in Economics.  Top grades.  Very impressive Academic Proficiency Code (APC) -- we use the APC as an indicator of Undergraduate performance.

Timmy:  "Well, I am an Economics major.  I haven't had all this math."

Me: "You are an Naval Academy grad, right?"

Timmy:  "Yes, sir."

Me:  "Well, suck to be you.  So am I.  And I know you have taken two semesters of Calculus, Calculus based physics and an Economics major has math involved."

Timmy:  "Well, yes sir, BUT my girlfriend at the Academy was a Math major and she tutored me through all of my math courses.  IT is the only way I made it through."

Me: "AHHHHHH!  I understand now!"

Timmy smiles, as he feels relief that I finally get his predictament.

Me: "Your girlfriend helped you through the math.  AND you weren't smart enough to keep her.  AND you weren't smart enough to replace her before coming here.  As I said, it sucks to be you!"

Timmy's smile leaves quickly.  He doesn't know what to say.

Me:  "Here is what we are going to do.  You are going to keep attending class.  Let me judge if you cannot make it through this curriculum. When I think you have 'tried' and will not succeed, we can have the transfer to another curriculum conversation.  Until then, do you need my help finding a tutor OR will you be able to  handle that on your own?"

Timmy:  "I don't know.  I will let you know, sir."

Me:  "Ok!  Thanks for stopping by. Come back and let me know if you need any help."

Update.  Timmy is in his last quarter of the curriculum.  He has suffered some bumps and bruises (academically speaking) for the past 8 quarter, but he is scheduled to graduate this March.  He stops by my office regularly to let me know how he is doing.  I told him during one of those meetings I was really proud of him.  He smiled and said, "Thanks, I guess I just needed someone to believe in me.  Thanks for being that person." 

"You are welcome."

Sometimes we all just need someone to tell us, "It sucks to be you right now, but you can make it."