Strayer University: An Odd Coincidence

You may recall that I recently posted a bit of information about Strayer University’s efforts at getting my dog, Pete, to apply to one of their degree programs. You may also recall that in addition to being a dog, one other obstacle standing between Pete and his lifelong dream of earning a degree is that his life turned out not to be long enough to see his dream come true. Sadly, he passed away a little over a year ago.

But now the saga has another twist:

This weekend, my wife and I had the privilege of attending my cousin’s wedding. The bride (my cousin) was glowing, the groom was a charming gentleman, everyone had a lot of fun, and it was a great opportunity for two families who, for the most part, had never met to get to know each other. And get to know each other we did over the course of a lot of eating, drinking, and dancing (or something quite like it).

After the reception, the party continued at the hotel bar where I met the uncle of the groom. He mentioned that he worked at a university in the Washington DC area. As an educator myself, I was curious to hear more, so I asked which university.

The answer: Strayer.

On top of that, he said that he works in the Office of Admissions.

I paused for a moment, wondering if I should mention Pete.

I mentioned Pete.

“You know,” I said. “My dog got a letter from Strayer a few weeks ago asking him to apply.”

“That happens sometimes,” the man said.

“He died about a year ago,” I said.

The man nodded and said his office got a lot of phone calls from people with similar complaints — letters going to elderly relatives in nursing homes, for example, asking if they’d be interested in furthering their careers by going to Strayer.

I asked why that happened.

The problem, he said, was that Strayer works with an outside marketing firm to reach out to potential students. It was the firm, in other words, and not Strayer’s Office of Admissions who extended an invitation to Pete to apply to one of the university’s degree programs.

So it seems I owe the Strayer University Office of Admissions an apology.

Moreover, the gentleman I spoke to was a very nice guy, and it turned out that we have a lot of the same concerns when it comes to higher education. We’re both distressed by the decline in reading and writing skills we see among incoming freshmen, and we both worry a lot about retention rates among matriculating students. In other words, we really want to see students who apply and are accepted into degree programs carry through with their course of study all the way to graduation.

And there it was: two families coming together and two distinct approaches to education finding some degree of accord, both on the same day.

In the end, I suppose, we all have more in common than we tend to think.

Interview with Steve Almond

Thanks (again!) to Steve Almond, this time for a great interview in The Nervous Breakdown. We chatted electronically about a number of subjects — including but not limited to my writing process, working with the Permanent Press, and any similarities I might see between my own mother and Audrey Corcoran, the heroine of The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl.

This interview appears hot on the heels of my interview with Peter Schwartz in Dogzplot, so I hope my responses don’t contradict each other from one week to the next.

The Con (Part One)

When I was about eight or nine years old, the coolest show on television was The A-Team. If you haven’t ever seen The A-Team, the basic formula for every episode was that four war criminals would roll into town in a black van, build a tank out of a broken-down tractor and some spare oil barrels, and rid the world of evil-doers by setting off bombs and shooting up the place with machine guns. If you remember the show at all, you probably remember it as a vehicle for Mr. T, who played big, bad B.A. Baracus.

All of my friends wanted to be Mr. T. Which was kind of odd, because all of my friends were skinny white kids who weighed about seventy or eighty pounds. Mr. T, by way of contrast, was a muscular African American man with a Mohawk who was prone to saying things like, “I pity the fool!” and “I ain’t getting on no plane.”

He’d say it very gruffly.

It was very intimidating.

Recognizing that there was very little likelihood that I’d ever be Mr. T, I gravitated more toward a character called Face, who was played by Dirk Benedict. Face was a con man. At least, that’s what everyone on the show called him. At the time, though, I didn’t know what that meant, so I asked my mother, and she told me that it was someone who is good at talking and tricking other people into doing things for him or giving him what he wants—usually money. This sounded pretty good to me, and I decided right then and there what I wanted to be when I grew up. (My novel, by the way, is available at Amazon.com and other online retailers.)

The trouble with aspiring to be a con man, I soon found out, was that there were no real opportunities for kids my age to break into the field or to get tips from professionals. Sure, there were movies like The Sting and Paper Moon, but they lacked the firepower of The A Team, so I wasn’t especially interested in them. Ten years later, I went to college and was further disappointed to learn that nobody offered a major in the art of the con. So I did the only thing I really could do given the circumstances, and I became an English major.

I’m guessing there are at least a couple of English majors reading this, so you’ll forgive me if I’m stating the obvious when I say that engaging in that particular field of study provides the perfect proving ground for anyone interested, as I was, in following in the footsteps of my favorite character from the A Team.  People say things to you like, “English? What are you going to do with that?” And you have to be ready with all of the answers that English departments always give to justify what they do: “Well, I could always be a lawyer,” you say. (That’s the one they teach us to say first.) “Or a teacher. Or go into advertising.”

And then, if you’re like me, you make the most ridiculous claim of all.

“Or I could be a writer.”

(Continued tomorrow.)