When I was in college, I landscaped in the summers. My recollection is that I was very excited to mulch and plant flowers. One place in particular, a sun-up til sun-down operation, hired me right away for my very first landscaping job. That particular job paid well, involved some hard labor, and was male dominant . . . I was the one and only “girl.” I left there with an unparalleled work ethic. At the time, I thought that they were doing their best to deter me from returning every day. Looking back, I’m not so sure. Maybe they just knew that I could do the job.
The first day on the job, I was taken to a huge, thorny hill that stretched for about a half a mile on the side of an interstate. I was told to use a weed whacker (something that I had never used), and cut down the thorny grass to a reasonable length. I would be picked back up in a few hours. That hill was neatly cut and I had scratches all over my shins by pick-up time. The next day, I was told to drive a two-ton truck across town. This trip in a manual, with several stoplights along the way, was memorable—especially since I had never driven a stick. I told them I hadn’t; they didn’t care. I drove the truck. I got the job done although it was different and new.
When I showed up to the Sprint campus in Overland Park, Kansas, as part of the Plank Center Fellowship for Educators, I had the same sense of determination. I, again, had tools (although not exactly like a weed whacker and a two-ton truck), but this time, I knew how to use them.
Everyone at Sprint welcomed me; they knew that I could do the job. And I was the only academic on the scene. I had meetings with many decision-makers in the corporate communication area. I went to lunch with the Senior Vice President of Corporate Communication and Corporate Social Responsibility and one of his directors. I was placed in “Joe’s old office” and could feel the positive energy that Joe—still there and promoted—emits. They all challenged me, without even knowing it. My job while at Sprint was to construct a whitepaper and make suggestions about their brand identity. I began to cut the thorny weeds, and I found what was at the base of the company. They not only promote responsibility; they live it. This untold story is a two-ton truck of goodwill and potential brand loyalty—and needs to drive noticeably down the road.
I was fortunate enough to be able to suggest things to a company that would listen—simply because they care about their employees, their consumers, and their community. My suggestions didn’t go unread or unnoticed. They were very gracious to act is if they learned from me (either from my whitepaper or from my workshop on storytelling). But, I learned from them. I learned that I have kept up very well in my area, that I could work again in the field, that I still have much to learn and always will, and that no truck is too big for me (or any one of us) to drive. I learned that The Plank Center supports these fellowships to empower educators—to push them, to challenge them, and to teach them.
Although this experience was totally different than my first landscaping one, I kept thinking of that job during my two weeks in Overland Park. I wasn’t sure why until now. At Sprint, I finally got to mulch and plant flowers. I got to beautify pre-existing ideas and add my own layer of new support. I applied the elements that I teach, used the theories that I preach, and helped create something useable . . . something that could grow and live. I’m not sure that I could have done that in two short weeks had I never been pushed by that landscaping job, by my students, by Sprint, and by Plank. I’m one lucky landscaper.