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September 1, 2003

Five Years and Three Days in Syracuse

Came back last night from my first trip to Syracuse since defending my dissertation on a snowy day in 1982. It was a kick to return to the IDD&E program where I spent five years learning instructional design, motivation theory, research methods and generally growing up somewhat.

They kept me busy for three days starting with a presentation in the same classroom in the Newhouse building where I was a teaching assistant in my first semester. It seemed cosmically weird to come full circle to exactly the same place exactly 28 years later. Then on to a brownbag lunch presentation for students and faculty in the School of Information Studies followed by a Q&A webcast for a joint IST/IDD&E course. On Saturday morning I did another Q&A with students and faculty of the IDD&E department. Pretty good turnouts all around given that it's Labor Day weekend.

Then, finally, I had some free time to wander and reminisce. Walked up the hill past the architectural marvel of the Toilet Bowl Dorm and gazed awhile at 560 Allen Street, 925 and 940 Westcott Street... three of the five places that I lived in. Due to 70s wackiness or maybe just bad luck, I had an unbroken chain of amazingly bad roommate experiences. One programmer roommate smoked continuously, never showered or washed his clothes and filled the apartment with a ghastly stench; one was arrested for shoplifting and accused the rest of us of rifling through his stuff; three were such emotional rollercoasters that everyone within 100 feet of them suffered vertigo. One exception, though, was sane and smart and went on to become a pioneering author of hypertext fiction.

The best part of the trip was spending time with my sponsor Ruth Small, Tiffany Koszalka, Ray and Gisela von Dran, Don Ely and especially Phil Doughty, who took me out to his camp on Lake Oneida and boated us to a restaurant. It was great to see the IDD&E department stabilizing after almost being wiped out by the previous Evil Dean.

What did I learn from this journey back in time? I guess I'm surprised at how little it felt like coming home, how unattached I felt to a place where I spent five years. I was also surprised to realize that in all that time I probably went into only six of the dozens of buildings on campus, and that I hardly ever went downtown or anywhere else. That's partly because my car was a rolling deathtrap and partly because I focused on courses and flailing my way towards a dissertation. Still, if I could have a serious talk with my Disco Era self, I'd advise him to get out and live a little more. I wonder if my 2031 self would say that to me right now.