BY ERIN PETERSON > PHOTOS BY DAVID J. TURNER

LET’S FACE IT: Mac alumni are anything but average. They’re just a little bit smarter, a little bit more curious, and a little bit more likely to take action instead of sitting on the sidelines. But there’s always room for improvement. And who better to help you take your life to the next level than someone else with a Macalester mindset? That’s why we asked Mac students, faculty, alumni, and staff experts to share their expertise on a variety of topics, from bicycle commuting to persuasive arguments to rocking that Macalester tartan.

Howtobe246001.jpgHow to pack your luggage efficiently

Macites learn the value of global citizenship early, but traveling to all those far-flung locations can sometimes be a hassle. We asked one of our most well-traveled staff members, associate director of major gifts Stephen Sporer, to share some tips on packing the perfect carry-on bag—plus a few other suggestions to make your journeys more pleasant.

  • Good packing is about prioritizing. It’s okay to wear the same pair of pants two days in a row. You can often wear the same shirt two days in a row if you have two different ties, or a different scarf. Instead of packing bulky items, try to have layers.
  • Don’t remove your dry-cleaning bags. Fold your dry-cleaned items, with the hanger, in your bag. It prevents wrinkling. As soon as you get to your hotel room, hang up those things.
  • Lay a scented dryer sheet on top of your clothes before you fasten your bag. When you get to your final destination, everything smells like fresh laundry.
  • Don’t worry about packing your phone charger. If you’re staying in a hotel, the front desk will have a whole box of chargers that other guests have left behind, and they’ll generally be happy to let you use one during your stay.
  • Don’t be a jerk. Flight delayed? Hotel room not ready? Stop taking it out on the front desk clerk and the flight attendants. Ask nicely. Stay calm. If you do, you’re likely to get even more than you asked for.

Howtobe246005.jpgHow to look sharp in a kilt

Mike Breidenbach ’96 is director of piping at Macalester. Every year about 45 students take individual lessons or participate in the Macalester College Pipe Band. Though most of them enjoy wearing kilts, says Breidenbach, it does take some getting used to. “If you’re around Macalester and wearing it, people don’t really think twice,” he says. “That said, it usually takes a couple years to feel comfortable wearing a kilt into a gas station.” But when you look this good, what’s to be ashamed of?
Below, a user’s guide:

  • The glengarry cap is a wedge-shaped hat with a lengthwise crease across the top.
  • In addition to a button-down shirt and tie, pipers often wear a waistcoat and a Prince Charlie Jacket.
  • The kilt should hit right at the middle of the knee, or slightly above it.
  • The leather-and-metal sporran (Gaelic for pouch) is suspended from a narrow belt on the kilt.
  • Hose should reach just the bottom of the knee.
  • Flashes are decorative straps that hold the hose in place and complement the kilt.
  • Ghillie brogues have no tongue; the laces go over the foot and wrap around the ankle.

Howtobe246004.jpgHow to be a vegan

Nola Pastor ’14, a longtime vegetarian, became a vegan—meaning she eats no animal products—more than a year ago. An edited version of a longer conversation with her appears below.

It’s easy to think of veganism as “lots of food rules,” but I like to think of it in terms of abundance and thoughtfulness. I want to be eating the things that make me feel good and that fit with my values.

There are so many interesting options out there: nuts and fruit, greens, legumes, veggies. Coconut butter and coconut milk are great. There’s almond milk and soymilk, cheesy spreads you can make out of nuts, and a whole world of different sweeteners.

I understand the idea that veganism is a privileged thing in a lot of ways. Meat and dairy substitutes can get expensive. And not every place is as easy to eat vegan as the Twin Cities.

But you can experiment. Last year, for example, I was just playing around with the idea of what I liked to eat: what felt good when I ate it, what didn’t feel so good. I listened to my body and stopped cooking and eating dairy at home, but still ate it when I went out. It’s easy to explore diet in smaller ways. Maybe you don’t eat meat every day, but just a couple times a week. Change things up, just for a meal.

The point is that flexibility and exploration are great. Like any behavior change, it takes time and it’s not right for everyone. It can be exciting to open up and think of all the different ways to eat.

 Howtobe246003.jpgHow to live an environmentally friendly life—the lazy way

You recycle your cans. You haul your cloth tote bags to the grocery store. But are you really doing your part to lead a sustainable lifestyle? We asked Mac’s sustainability manager Suzanne Savanick Hansen to suggest a few “big wins”: changes you can make once that will allow you to reap environmental benefits for years to come. She was happy to help. “Frankly,” says Hansen, “our sustainability changes are so big that we need everybody to play their part.”

  • Get an energy audit of your home. These inspections often cost less than $100 and may be subsidized by your energy company. Auditors typically will make some low-cost, high-impact improvements for you, from swapping incandescent bulbs for high-efficiency CFLs to installing low-flow showerheads and sink faucets. And even if you need something expensive, like new windows, they’ll show you how inexpensive solutions, such as caulking, can help save energy.
  • Live closer to work. When you move, make proximity to work a major criterion, or at least consider alternatives to a car-based commute, such as public transit, cycling, or carpooling. Biking to work is not just healthier for the environment, it’s healthier for you, as well.
  • Buy an energy-efficient car. You may not be interested in flaunting your environmental bona fides with a Prius, but there are plenty of gas-sipping alternatives that will save gas and cash. Any upfront price differential will typically be returned over the life of the car.

Howtobe246009.jpgHow to be generous

Paul Odegaard ’04, a planned giving officer at Minnesota Public Radio and a former staffer for Mac’s Annual Fund, has spent years working with donors eager to make a difference. Here, in an edited version of a longer conversation, he shares what he’s learned about financial generosity from these men and women—and what you can, too.

We talk a lot in development about the three things you can give: your time, your talent, and your treasure. We all have varying degrees of each of these. For someone who just graduated from college, a $20 gift to an organization might be incredibly meaningful.

And meaning is important. Give to the places you love, not to the places you only like. There’s too much competition out there, too many worthy organizations. Give, and give generously, to those organizations you have a relationship with, because the most important gifts you make are about feelings. They’re a way of expressing what you value.

But giving out of love for an organization doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be rational about your giving. I find, for example, that the biggest donors tend to have three to six organizations that they really care about and support, even though they get requests from many more than that. Selectivity allows people to pay attention to what the organizations they’re supporting are actually doing. And you should pay attention. Read the president’s newsletter or emails. Look at the organization’s annual report. You can learn a lot by understanding how they spend their money. Even if you’re a true believer in an organization’s cause, you’ll still want to spend time making sure they’re up to the task they’ve set out to do.

Howtobe246002.jpgHow to be a bike commuter

Scott Schaffer ’08 is a volunteer with the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition. He has been bicycle commuting since 2008.

Problem: Ugh, I don’t have thousands of dollars to buy a new bike with fancy tires, a better seat, and a high-tech speedometer.
Solution: The only thing you have to buy are the things that make you safer. You probably already have a helmet. And yes, reflective gear is smart, especially if you travel when it’s dark. But finding safer routes with bike paths and less traffic is free.

Problem: Are you kidding? In this weather?
Solution: Yes, in the winter you’ll need a good pair of gloves, and ski goggles can make your ride more comfortable. But because you’re moving and staying active, you don’t need as heavy a jacket as you think. Fenders can prevent slush and water from getting on your clothes. In warmer weather, bring along deodorant and a change of clothes in a waterproof bag. A lot of workplaces have showers you can use. Beyond that, you don’t need much—just an adventuresome spirit.

Problem: My commute is too long. And what if I need to get somewhere fast unexpectedly during the day?
Solution: Become multi-modal. Maybe you can bike to a bus stop. Or look into Metro Transit’s “commuter connect” program, where they’ll pick up the tab for an emergency cab ride home.

Problem: I can’t fix a flat tire.
Solution: All you really need is a tire lever and a patch kit. Most bike shops teach free or low-cost classes on bike maintenance.

Problem: I love my car! And my radio stations! And my cup holders! It’s a perfect cocoon from the world.
Solution: Biking will change your relationship to your environment in a really good way. You’ll smell the food people are cooking, notice the skyline differently, truly see artwork and graffiti. And if you find something interesting, just hop off your bike and check it out.

Howtobe246010.jpgHow to have a civil argument

We’ve all got that one crazy “friend” on Facebook who posts views of the world that we just can’t stand. And we believe that if they would just listen for us for one minute about the crazy buffoons whose ideas they parrot, we could show them the error of their ways. If those thoughts have ever crossed your mind, says associate professor of political science Adrienne Christiansen, you’ve already lost. Instead, use these four principles to have more thoughtful discussions with those with whom you disagree.

  • Be open to being proven wrong. “The philosopher Henry Johnstone once wrote that to be truly engaged in argument and discourse, you must make yourself as open to being changed as you are to trying to change another person’s perspective,” says Christiansen. “Both parties take the risk of having themselves changed, and that can be uncomfortable.”
  • Eliminate ad hominem attacks. Sure, that politician you loathe may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but stop attacking the person—that misses the point. “You need to be engaging with the idea,” says Christiansen.
  • Consider other points of view with a debater’s mindset. Competitive debaters must deeply study multiple sides of an issue, and be ready to make arguments they may not believe in. “If you think about how you might argue a position that’s the opposite of your own, it can force you to take on a stance of humility.”
  • Have empathy. We’re all human. Respect the sincerity your friends bring to their beliefs. “We can never really know all the experiences of another human being. We can’t know all of the influences that led them to adopt viewpoints we don’t share,” says Christiansen. Look for that humanity, even as you disagree with someone else’s ideas.

Howtobe246008.jpgHow to remember what you read

Maybe your boss asked you to get through a pile of reports. Perhaps you’ve got to plow through all 750 pages of The Goldfinch before leading your book club’s discussion. Whatever the case, if you’ve got pages to go before you sleep, use the advice of the Max Center’s Sedric McClure to make the most of your time.

  • Read like an investigator. If you’re not reading strictly for pleasure, have an agenda in mind, says McClure, even if it’s a fairly broad one. “You should know what you’re looking for before you even begin the task,” he says.
  • Draw a concept map. Does the novel you’re reading have more names than a phone book? Does that think piece have many interrelated big ideas? Map them out. “It can be a flower, a flow chart, or a family tree, whatever helps the text come alive for you,” says McClure.
  • Plot out the work by task, not by time. Instead of planning to read for two hours, decide to read a certain number of chapters or a specific number of reports. “Break it up into manageable pieces,” says McClure. Be sure to add in little breaks for dense reading, but don’t let a five-minute Facebook reward turn into an hour’s worth of Buzzfeed quizzes.

Howtobe246007.jpgHow to run a campaign

Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto ’85 has won several close elections in her political career, and she was happy to share what it takes to earn a victory. Whether you want to win political office, launch a grassroots initiative, or earn a spot on your company’s board, these tips can help.

  • Start with a vision. And no, “there’s an empty seat” isn’t a compelling vision. “What’s driving you?” says Otto. “If you can’t answer that question, don’t run.” That vision isn’t just what’s going to persuade voters: it’s what’s going to keep you on track, even when the going gets tough.
  • Develop your plan. Plot out your moves between now and voting day. How will you find and effectively manage the time, the money, and the volunteers you need to be successful? What will it take to earn the votes? “Do your research. Think critically. Be prepared. That’s what this stage is about, and these are skills I learned at Macalester,” says Otto.
  • Follow through. Once you’ve built your bulletproof plan, it’s time to execute it. Avoid the distractions to focus on your goal. “People will always try to throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, but there’s so much value in having the discipline to just follow the plan,” she says.

Howtobe246008.jpgHow to transform a team

When Tony Jennison became Macalester’s head football coach in 2008, the team was in rough shape. The squad had won just a handful of games over the previous several seasons, and fewer than 40 team members were on the roster— including some who hadn’t even played the sport in high school. Since then, Jennison has engineered a masterful turnaround, capped off last season with a conference championship (the program’s first since 1947). For his efforts, Jennison was named regional coach of the year.

The transformation started with a vision he shared with all his young recruits, says the winning coach. “Macalester is a top-25 liberal arts institution in America,” he says. “Our vision was to create a football program consistent with those top-tier academics. We wanted to be nationally reputable.”

Although Jennison couldn’t help his players improve overnight, he could change the team’s approach to football. “Greatness doesn’t happen by flipping a switch,” he says. “Greatness comes from doing your very best over a long period of time.”

He encouraged his players to concentrate on the present, making the most of every minute on the practice field, and every rep in the weight room. Instead of focusing on the things they couldn’t control, such as wins against top-flight teams, he urged them to instead focus on their effort and attitude. Over time, Jennison’s coaching strategy has helped build a culture that values discipline, preparation, and hard work.

These principles don’t just apply to the gridiron, he adds. “There’s no sense in sulking about something that happened yesterday. Be aware of what you’re doing right now and what you can do to get better, whether that’s your football life, your personal life, or your academic life.”

For Macalester, Jennison’s approach is paying off: Last year, for the first time, the college received votes from the American Football Coaches Association in two weekly “Top 25” polls for national Division III football rankings.

ERIN PETERSON, a Minneapolis freelance writer and editor, is a regular contributor to Macalester Today.

April 23 2015

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