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Heartwarming Small-Town Romances and Thrilling Mysteries

My daughter left her job of 10 years as Director of Extended Studies at West Texas A&M University to pursue her PhD in Interdisciplinary Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU)

Kyle Stadium, TAMU football

TAMU has many student chapters of professional organizations, so despite my age difference and experience, I decided to join one nearest my field of interest. I arrived about 10 minutes before the meeting’s start time to find 12 students sitting in the room. All of them stared at their phones, thumbs getting a cardio workout while silent awkwardness froze the air.

I sat down in the largest concentration of students and started introducing myself, asking for their names and majors. They answered nervously, then tried to get back to their phones, but I kept engaging them in conversation. Others looked up at the spectacle, breaking the silence. Pretty soon, I was calling across the room for everyone else’s names and majors. Our conversation went on to where people were from, and soon the whole group was conversing on assorted topics in smaller groups.  Except, that is, for the lone student who sat quietly in the front, facing the crowd, bent over her phone, occasionally looking up at the group cheerfully talking.

At the appointed meeting time, she stood up, moved to the center of the front, and said softly, “Howdy.”

Of course, being Aggieland, everyone replied “Howdy!”

“I was going to start with introductions, but I guess everyone already knows each other,” she said with white knuckles clinging to the podium as she cast a quick glare at me.

A realization hit me with a smack. Industrial engineers comprised the group who, like me, prefer to follow an intentional, efficient plan without deviation.

“So, I guess we will move on to the ice breaker,” she continued as she looked down at her notes. After a brief pause, she said, “but you already have found out most of that information about each other, too.” Her voice made it clear her white knuckles were a mix of nervousness and displeasure at the ruinous course of the first meeting.

My heart hurt. I had totally upset the apple cart. Having been in those shoes of wanting everything to go absolutely perfect, I had become what I hated: the rigid planner’s most unwelcome guest, spontaneity.  I hadn’t realized that after 20 years as a career woman my introverted, tightly wound personality had acclimated and unwound enough to actually initiate a networking social.  Who was I? The change over the years had been so gradual I could not have recognized it until now, finding I was no longer one of “my people.” What had happened?

Other first meetings with student-led groups proved that their standard behavior…and my “standard” behavior…was not an isolated incident. While networking starts early and often in business, among college students, networking is a process not to be commenced until the meeting is over.

My advice to other nontraditional college students coming from industry: grin and bear the cringy silence first; network later.

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