Message from the Dean – January 21, 2019

First some good news:

Abstracts by UCO Global Art and Visual Culture majors Olivia Reyes and Lyazzat Galilolla have been accepted as presentations at the 2nd World Congress on Undergraduate Research in May of this year in Oldenburg, Germany. Their submissions were among 270 selected representing more than 70 academic disciplines and more than 100 universities located in 37 countries across six continents. Congratulations to Olivia and Lyazzat as well as their professor, Dr. Teresa Pac.

Now a story:

My childhood occurred in a pre-Marie Kondo world. I collected things with guilt-free abandon. Fossils, shells, feathers, shark teeth, Hot Wheels, football cards, agates, fools-gold, quartz, stamps and coins nestled inside tins and shoe boxes stashed in closet, desk, dresser or bookcase. Stony Crinoid stems and Brachiopods discovered in the gravel shoals of the creek behind our house shared space in a box with a toothy Merycoidodontid jawbone from the Badlands and Lake Superior agates. These frequently pondered objects became talismans for my imagination; the “medicine pouch” of my childhood. I blame genetics for the impulse to accumulate. I inherited my grandpa Hansen’s pencil collection, including advertisements for services reachable through three-digit telephone numbers. The rarest of these pencils have no erasers, with “metal and rubber gone to the war effort” emblazoned on their smooth sides. Grandma Roberts amassed chicken-themed serving pieces and salt shakers in ceramic, wood and glass. My mother collects owls and snowmen. The most organized of my early collections were stamps and coins. The American stamps were neatly adhered in a binder while the Lincoln Head pennies were thumbed into precise grids inside navy-blue albums organized by date and mint.

Wheat Pennies were produced from 1909-56. I began collecting them in the mid 1970’s. If my mom had business at the bank, a one-dollar investment purchased a pair of red-paper-covered 50 penny rolls. Once home again, the hunt for treasure commenced in earnest. The copper coins were spread on table or floor and flipped on their heads, separating “wheat” from chaff. A typical roll would yield 3-5 collectibles. These were checked against the holes in my albums, with eureka moments for each new date and mint filled in. Spares were worth a minimum of 2 cents each at the local antique shop. The remaining Lincoln Heads went back to the bank for a full refund. Searching for collectible pennies was inexpensive fun in the days before Mario Kart. The rarest Lincoln Head penny is a single 1943 copper-alloy example, pressed by mistake after the mint was supposed to switch to zinc-coated steel during WWII. This penny, still usable at face-value, recently sold for $1.7 million. I never found one.

There is a famous line from “Forrest Gump” where the protagonist explains that, “My mama always said, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna to get.” When hunting for metaphors, I prefer “a roll of pennies” to “a box of chocolates”. Loose change weighing down a purse or pocket can be annoying. Conversely, it is remarkable to think that the five rarest pennies in America could still be exchanged for a nickel. To a store clerk, a roll of pennies is an unremarkable necessity. To a patient collector, that same 50 cent roll represents the opportunity to discover treasure. Inevitably, frictions in working relationships will arise. In a college bursting with intelligent, creative people, variations in approach regarding teaching and process are not only unavoidable, but healthy. In our day-to-day interactions, even when co-workers exasperate us with their “loose change”, I hope we consider the unique contributions each individual brings to the table, and focus on the admirable “wheat”. My experience teaches me that every CFAD colleague has a mint condition 1943 copper-alloy penny tucked into their roll if I am willing to look.