jason kellerIt is a fact that you can find a Star Wars analogy for any life experience if you try hard enough. And, having just re-watched Episodes I-IX with my daughter, I’m particularly well poised to frame my final thoughts as the Interim Dean of the Schmid College of Science and Technology in the Star Wars universe.

The analogy starts (like many good stories do) in a wetland. A young Luke Skywalker is on Dagobah and is making progress in his Jedi training with Master Yoda. In a vision, Luke sees that his friends are in trouble and he has to make a choice. Should he stay where he is – working hard (Jedi training is no joke), but relatively secure in knowing what is expected of him? Or, should he fly off into the unknown to rescue some folks that he cares about?  In the end, he leaves the wetland to help his friends, but not before getting some sage advice from Yoda (it is also a fact that the best Star Wars analogies include at least one Yoda quote).

“Always in motion is the future.”
(Yoda, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back)

To the delight of my third-grade self, I get to be Luke Skywalker in this analogy (and four months of staying home has given me the perfect early-80s hair for the role). The invitation to serve as Interim Dean represented a choice. I could stay in my role as a Professor – hard work to be sure, but work that I loved and (mostly) knew how to do. Or, I could fly off into the unknown and try something new. Unlike Luke’s, my choice seemed to have pretty low stakes. Schmid did not need rescuing and no one in the story was in trouble. Quite the opposite. We had just moved into the Keck Center for Science and Engineering, the College was supported by an experienced and effective staff, our faculty were a productive group of scholar-teachers, and our students were consistently amazing. Indeed, I was repeatedly told that my time as Interim Dean would largely be focused on ‘keeping the trains on the tracks’.

So, I accepted the position. I knew I was not qualified and I knew that I would have to work hard to understand the role. But I also knew that Chapman had been really good to me – allowing me to grow into a better teacher, a better scholar, and a better person than I thought I could be when I joined the faculty in 2008. It was my turn to give something back to a place that had given me so much. I was off to the Dean’s Suite (Bespin, if you’re still following the analogy).

In retrospect, I should have remembered Yoda’s advice.  If the past several months have proved anything it is that the future is constantly in motion. Like all of you, I was not prepared for a global pandemic or for a much-needed reckoning on social injustice. There are no tracks anymore, and some days I’m pretty convinced that the trains are on fire. But, through it all, Schmid has moved forward. And, I leave this position incredibly proud of what Schmid has accomplished. Our faculty have continued to publish research with our students; our alumni shared their words of support with the graduates in the Class of 2020; our students were ever patient as their professors moved courses online overnight, and our staff has continued to show up (virtually) every day to make it all happen behind the scenes.  Schmid has come together to support each other through a particularly challenging time.

Here is where I think the analogy matters. As Star Wars fans know, Luke was actually pretty worthless once he arrived in Bespin. He failed to keep his friend out of carbonite, he lost a lightsaber battle (and his hand), and he ended up dangling from the bottom of a city in the clouds waiting to be rescued. It was every other character in the story that did the real work. And, so it has been for Schmid. When I say that I am proud of Schmid, what I mean is that I am proud of each of you for doing the real work. I am proud of the staff and faculty who showed up for Zoom meetings and classes with their kids on their laps; I am proud of the alumni who continue to share their successes with us; I am proud of the students that aced their on-line courses from their childhood bedrooms, and I am just as proud of the students that trusted us enough to ask for help when they needed it.

And, I am grateful. Grateful that (like Luke) I have been rescued by all of you over the past 18 months when I was dangling in space. Thank you.

Luke does eventually head back to Dagobah to complete his training with Yoda, and so I step back into my role as a Professor. Like many of you, I am nervous about the Fall. But my time as Interim Dean lets me push that nervousness aside and be hopeful. I choose to be hopeful because my time in this role has reminded me that the Schmid College of Science and Technology is ultimately a group of incredible staff, faculty, students, alumni, and families who have always come together to support each other. I am so very thankful that my time as Interim Dean has allowed me to re-learn how lucky I am to be a part of such an amazing place (which, of course, is what Yoda told Luke).

“Already know you, that which you need.”
(Yoda, Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi)