Faculty Impact - Patrick Hargon

Posted: October 31, 2016 12:00:00 AM CDT

A headshot of Patrick HargonPatrick Hargon, the Associate Director for the Learning Commons, shares information about how rewarding it is to work with students everyday.  He is also working on a Facebook group that brings musicians closer together, being a semi-professional musician himself.

Tell us about yourself.

I am the Associate Director for the Learning Commons, and I am glowingly proud of the work that we do for students every single day: All of our student workers are trained to provide the kind of academic support that actually works, not just the kind that students think they want upon entry—e.g., the answers to problems, corrections for their writing. It’s a collaborative interaction, and our student workers will politely and gently force students to push through what they don’t understand until they get it. We want them to get it. And we have to push, pull, cajole, beg, plead, bribe—whatever it takes to just get them to push through the uneasiness of confusion. Knowledge comes from trying to learn, not from being told answers. It is an amazing sight—every day the Learning Commons is full of students pushing students to excel, and students pushing themselves. It’s work, but having a coach/cheerleader to help you push through can make the work more focused and productive.

Tell us about your role at UNK and how you impact students.

My role at UNK is to provide academic services to every single student—not just the ones who are struggling. Many students come in to push themselves from a B+ up to an A. Many students come in who are frustrated and exhausted. We give them all the same service: We guide them as they practice strategies they can use on their own later.

That’s when it counts: If you can get a problem done with a tutor, that’s great. But our goal for every single session and for every single student is for them to be able to get the next problem, the harder problem, done on their own.

What do you like most about your position at UNK?

I listen to our student workers describe breakthrough moments with students, and it is always such a powerful experience for me, sharing that feeling of connection, of having actually helped someone, of seeing someone go from frustrated and defeated to confident and ready to take on more. Amazing. Every day. Success Coaches, for instance, have semester-long weekly appointments with certain students, mandatory meetings. Some—far from all—exhibit a little resistance to the idea that they need help, and I empathize with that, completely. It’s hard to feel like someone is telling you that you can’t handle school on your own. Our dignity is tied into our sense of self-efficacy, that we can solve our own problems, and sometimes it feels like we have to step down to ask for help. But I have seen our Success Coaches show these students simple strategies for staying on top of their schoolwork, and the students experience a little taste of success, and then another taste, and more and more, until they have all the confidence they need to know that they are completely capable of getting the exact grade they want. It’s a beautiful scene to witness, and I see it every day.

You created the “Musicians’ Collaboratory” Facebook group to help musicians connect to potential collaborators.  Can you tell us about that process?

My alter-ego is a recovering semi-professional musician, meaning, for a time I could make more money touring with a band than I could working elsewhere. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown less and less fond of driving all day to play a show all night and driving until morning to get home. I’d rather record. So I started the Facebook group as a way for folks to connect with collaborators—lyricists could connect with instrumentalists, folks with home or professional recording capabilities could connect with each other and play on each other’s recordings. I am currently recording guitar and pedal steel parts in my basement for a friend’s album that’s being recorded in Georgia. These are different times!

A friend and I are in the beginning stages of offering recording services here in Kearney. We’re going to try to diversify, not just record local bands, but try to help people share stories. I want to record grandparents sharing their story so their grandkids can listen back when they’re older. I want to record stories from small towns in Nebraska, the ones everybody knows and everybody tells a little differently. I want to get five versions of one of those stories and edit them together. We live through stories, and we live on through stories.

Describe your “aha” moment when you realized this could serve other people.

The “Collaboratory” has connected musicians in Argentina with musicians in Europe. It’s amazing to watch conversations unfold in languages I can’t understand. Music, from every direction, is about connections, relationships: the connections between musicians, the musicians’ connection with the audience, the listener playing a song they love for someone they love. Music can create this powerful exchange between people, like emotional telepathy; we can experience the transference of enormous feelings we only have tiny little words for, all with different meanings. Creating a place where musicians disconnected by geography can connect and make more music—I feel good about that. Music is service. It gives voice to aspects of ourselves we cannot articulate.  

Students gathered around a table readingHow has this changed the way you interact with students?

Well, one of my focal points in the Learning Commons is the Writing Center. I’ve worked at or directed writing centers at multiple universities. I’ll share an analogy I share with tutors frequently: Tutoring writing is very, very similar to music lessons. You can talk about it a little bit, but the talk should always be directed toward what the student will do next, will try, will attempt. Ultimately, the only possible way to learn how to write is by writing—just like an instrument. If I were to tell you how to play guitar, all of that talk would be pointless if I didn’t let you play. I think about this Frank Zappa quote frequently: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” I know he meant something else, but the point resonates with me: “Talking about writing is like dancing about architecture.” I want tutors to show students a strategy and let them practice it. Learning proofreading strategies can help you catch far more errors than listening to a twenty minute verbal exposition on subject-verb agreement or avoiding the passive voice. Let them try. Ask them how it went. Ask them to imagine how they’ll do it on their own in a different context. That’s how learning transfers.

What advice would you give to someone else facing an obstacle keeping them from their passion?

Your passions probably aren’t very interesting if they take you down paths without obstacles.

I would also empathize. I’d listen. I’d nod. Hopefully, eventually, we’d both laugh, or the subject would gradually change, and we’d get back to being and doing what we know we’re here to be and do.

Related Pages: Faculty Impact

By: Samuel Harper

Category: Business and Technology, Entrepreneur

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