16 June 2013

Home Is Where The _________ Is

During last week's 2013 UNC Chapel Hill Alumni Summer College June--Old and New: Studying the South in the 21st Century, I facilitated a lovely, reflective, wide-ranging discussion about the 2013 UNC Summer Reading selection, Toni Morrison's Home. We talked about trauma, racism, burials, love, poverty, and decency but just began to scratch the surface. Where is home? What does it really mean to come home?

Generations of my family are buried on the haunting island of Pag on the Dalmatian coast. When my father left in his teens, it was a part of Yugoslavia; now, in a few short weeks, it will be a part of the European Union. The first trip I ever took as an infant, was to meet my grandparents. Next week I will once again return to Croatia where, as my husband says "people look like you." I will reconnect with dear friends, eat my favorite foods and revisit familiar places. 

I grew up in New York. My sisters reside there. My maternal grandparents lie there. Even after twenty years of magnolias, iced tea and gentle winters, people "read" me as a New Yorker. I drive, dress, walk and talk like a New Yorker. I know my way around New York. 

I have also lived in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Scotland and Russia. 

This weekend I celebrated Father's Day with my parents and other members of my family at my house in Orange County. Remarkably, I have lived in North Carolina for twenty years now. Like so many people, I migrated for graduate school and never left. My parents live here now. When I am away from North Carolina, I miss it. 

"Where are you from?," probed one discussion session participant. I always hesitate to answer that question. I feel at home in many places.

19 February 2013

Online Learning

“What are you doing here? You’re teaching online again?”
“Nope,” I replied. “I am taking a course.”

When I stopped by the office to submit the paperwork for my online course in December, the staff looked at me quizzically. I finished my degree—three degrees, to be precise—years ago.  Since then, I have taught traditional undergraduate and graduate-level university courses and both synchronous and asynchronous online classes.  

 I feel like a mole or sleeper agent. I am a faculty member but, for the first time in many years, I am a student again. I decided to take advantage of my university’s employee tuition waiver to take an online course this semester. To be an informed manager of budgets and a smart investor, I am studying financial accounting. When colleagues and friends look at me like I am demented, I joke that exercising these brain cells will stave off dementia. I never took an accounting class as an undergraduate student. Perhaps I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

Like most traditional and non-traditional students, I am sleeping less, upping my caffeine intake and creatively carving out time to complete my assignments.  I too complain about the cost of my textbook ($279+) and look forward to spring break.

But what am I learning about online education?
  • I would not be able to take this course in a traditional campus setting. My online course is convenient. I can do my work at odd hours or in my pajamas. Nobody cares.
  • Discussion forum exchanges are more mechanical and forced than meaningful. My fellow students don’t really read my posts and I don’t really read theirs. Nobody cares.
  • I don’t hear the voices of my fellow students.  Nor do I see them. I don’t know anything about their appearance, age, class, or motivation. They don’t know that I am a faculty member at the university. Nobody cares.
  • Working solo through the textbook, one chapter at a time, is mind numbing. 
  • I realize how much of my educational experience was social. I miss the exchange and camaraderie of a traditional classroom. 
  • I have posted questions online that my instructor has neither fully understood nor completely answered. Without eye contact, body language and dialogue, connecting is a challenge.
  • I didn’t like timed assessments when I was a student at a liberal arts college and largely avoided them as a graduate student. This semester I don’t like them but can’t avoid them.
I wonder
  • Why isn’t it an option to take the course pass/fail? How would that alter my learning experience? 
  • I was trained like a lab rat to get good grades. What does success look like for me now? Is trying enough? Do I need to complete the course? Do I need to ace the course? I still haven't decided that one yet.
  • I must keep myself motivated. If I quit, would anyone care?
Thus far the experience has underscored that some subjects are scalable and better suited to online learning than others. There are tens of thousands of other students taking brick-and-mortar or online versions of this very course. We all know that if Assets = Liabilities + Stockholders’ Equity, we are on the right track. When I submit a quiz or a homework problem set, the publisher's software grades it instantaneously. There is one right answer. Not so in my history, literature, language or art classes.

You can take the girl out of the liberal arts but you can’t take the liberal arts out of the girl. Recently, I caught a typo in a problem set. My instructor reported it to the publisher.

09 February 2013

Water, Energy, Beer and Burgers

“Water and Energy in the Crosshairs,” this year's UNC Chapel Hill Global Sustainability Symposium (#unc2013gss), just wrapped up and I find myself feeling, well, a little smarter.

The third installment in a lauded four-part series on global sustainability, “Water and Energy in the Crosshairs” brought together local and global experts and students to explore key issues related to water and energy in an inter-disciplinary and community gathering. I was pleased to see some themes repeat from last year’s symposium, Shared Tables: A Triangle Symposium on Global and Local Food Studies.

The North Carolina premiere screening of “Switch” (2012), an award-winning documentary on future energy needs and supplies, kicked off the symposium. A quest of sorts for science geeks and wannabe science geeks, the project struck me as a mashup of FRONTLINE,  "The Amazing Race" and my old favorite PBS program "3-2-1 Contact." Of course, I loved it.

The film tracks an earnest academicScott Tinker, Director of the Bureau of Economic Geology and the State Geologist of Texas—as he travels to eleven countries to interview more than fifty energy experts and study best practices. The Norwegians, I was once again reminded, are ahead of the curve. Norway is the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter; according to a recent article in The Economist, petroleum accounts for 30% of the government’s revenues. Yet, remarkably, roughly 99% of Norway’s electricity comes from hydro power. With its stunning Norwegian fjords, waterfalls, and art (yes, public art in a hydroelectric plant), the power station was both resplendent and regenerative.

On Thursday night, scholar and contributing editor at The Nation, Christian Parenti, offered a framework for understanding the nexus between climate war, the legacies of Cold War militarism, and free market economics. In his opening keynote talk, Parenti urged the audience to consider the connections between climate change and violence in Afghanistan, East Africa, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, India and elsewhere. Climate change-related food inflation, Parenti suggested, was a driver of the Arab Spring. When I read his book, Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence (2011), last summer, I knew he would lend a powerful and provocative voice to the symposium and I was right.

On the final day of the symposium, a range of academics and businesspeople addressed supply side challenges of the water energy nexus and engaging a standing-room-only crowd at UNC Chapel Hill's Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise.

The first panelThe Supply Side of the Water-Energy Nexusfeatured Christian Burgsmueller (Head of the Energy, Transportation and Environment Section of the EU Delegation in the US); Vikram Rao (Executive Director, Research Triangle Energy Consortium); Jennifer Turner (Director, China Environment Forum at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars); and moderator Greg Characklis (Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, at UNC Chapel Hill). Did you know that during peak wind and solar events, energy inputs to the German grid can exceed capacity and help power the Czech Republic? Or that last year, China used as much coal as the rest of the world combined?

Corporate Perspectives on Energy and Water Consumption panel participants relayed their water and energy sustainability efforts aimed, in part, to satisfy increasingly conscious consumers. James Salo (Senior Vice President, North America, Trucost) discussed what he termed the true cost of businesswater use impacts. According to Salo, an astounding 60-70% of industry’s environmental impact is water-related. Kim Marotta (Chief Sustainability Officer, MillerCoors) highlighted best practices in water stewardship, including efficiency, wastewater management, and watershed assessment. Matt Kopac (Social and Environmental Responsibility Manager, Burt’s Bees) acknowledged that the missions of Burt's Beesdo what is good for the earth, the consumer, and the companyoften but not always overlap. For example, Burt’s Bees faced challenges in China because of the Chinese government’s stance on animal testing. 

In the final panel, Learning from Germany’s Renewable Energy Policy, Dale Medearis (Senior Environmental Planner, Northern Virginia Regional Commission) and Michael Mehling (President, Ecologic Institute) explored several themes raised earlier in the day by Burgsmueller. Germany’s position as a global leader in renewable energy, is attributed to prudent government policies and the response of localities to implement solutions in their city and regional planning. 

The closing keynote speaker, Ted Howes (Chair of The World Economic Forum’s Agenda Council on Sustainable Consumption) argued that it is time to reframe the sustainability conversation and concentrate on sustainable consumption.  We are drowning in data, Howes suggested, and crave information. The Quantified Self collaborative interface epitomizes the growing self-tracking movement. Howes cited concrete examples of companies that are doing cutting-edge work in this space, including PatagoniaFairPhone, Opower and Burgerville. Look at a SmartReceipt receipt from Burgerville and it might just change the way you eat!

Everything and everyone is interconnected. Howes pointed to Seattle artist Chris Jordan's haunting Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption as a visual reminder that as consumers, we are all complicit. 

"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them," Einstein warned. Like Howes, I believe that multi-disciplinarity breeds cross-pollination and innovation. Our shared commitment to dialogue, exchange across disciplines, and learning, after all, first brought me and my fellow members of the symposium planning committee together.

“Water and Energy in the Crosshairs” was a cross-disciplinary collaboration among the Kenan-Flagler Business School’s Center for Sustainable Enterprise and Center for International Business Education and Research and UNC Global’s Center for European StudiesCenter for Slavic, Eurasian and East European StudiesAfrican Studies Center, and the UNC Institute for the Environment. Supported with funding from the U.S. Department of Education and the European Union. Special thanks to UNC’s Bulls Head Bookstore

"Water and Energy in the Crosshairs" Planning Committee:

  • Barbara Anderson, UNC African Studies Center
  • Anna Brigevich, UNC Center for European Studies
  • Erica Edwards, UNC Center for European Studies
  • Julia Kruse, Center for International Business Education and Research, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School
  • Jacqueline Olich, UNC Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies
  • Carol Seagle, Center for Sustainable Enterprise, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School
  • Elizabeth Shay, UNC Institute for the Enviroment
  • Jessica Thomas, Center for Sustainable Enterprise, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Read about "Water In Our World" (UNC's Pan-Campus Water Theme for 2012 – 2014)

Read about "Water and Energy in the Crosshairs: in The Daily Tarheel 

07 June 2012


Today, I am sending off my entry for the UNC History Department alumni newsletter.  This annual ritual demands that I sit down and look back upon my (professional) year.  Here is my entry:

JACQUELINE OLICH (MA1994/Raleigh/PhD2000/Raleigh) is the Associate Director of the Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies (CSEEES), Adjunct Professor of History and Curriculum in Global Studies Faculty Affiliate at the UNC Chapel Hill. She teaches and advises in the Curriculum in Russian and East European Studies (RUES), administers the FLAS Fellowships awarded through the U.S. Department of Education and coordinates community and campus outreach activities.  She taught a new graduate course--International and Area Studies Writing Seminar--and published “A New Look at Comrade Krupskaia” in Constructing Childhood: Literature, History, Anthropology (2011, in Russian). Констриуруя детское: филилогия, история, антропология. Под редакцией М.Р. Балиной, В.Г. Безрогова, С.Г. Маслинской, К.А. Маслинского, М.В. Тендряковой, С. Шеридана. Москва- Санкт-Петербург, изд. "Нестор", 2011.  The highlight of Olich’s year was meeting Mikhail Gorbachev at Lafayette College. Additionally, she spearheaded two high-profile conferences.  Shared Tables: A Triangle Symposium on Global and Local Food Studies provided a forum for local and global experts to explore key issues related to food studies in an inter-disciplinary academic and community gathering.  The successful Who “Owns” The Arctic?: An International and Interdisciplinary Conference was funded, in large part, by a Conference Grant awarded by the Government of Canada.  This unique UNC-Duke collaboration brought together more than one hundred policymakers, academics (including historians!), students, and environmentalists to explore diverse issues related to Arctic resource and energy management from Russian, Canadian, Indigenous, American, and other perspectives.  She continues to serve on the Advisory Board of the BRIDGES Academic Leadership for Women Advisory Board. Email: jmolich@email.unc.edu and Twitter: @jmolich

Whew.  No wonder I feel tired.  I thought it was jet lag. Now I realize that this has been a particularly exciting but exhausting year.  What the entry does not reveal is that on the personal side, this year also saw the selling of a home, the completion of a new one, and a move.  

Asked what her secret was to being so accomplished and well-rounded, one remarkable woman told me: "I don't know.  I don't think about it.  I just keep moving forward." I will move, or, paddle forward; I will spend this weekend kayaking on the North Carolina coast! Here is to slowing down a bit, catching my breath and savoring summer.

09 May 2012

Summer Reading Queue

I equate summer with reading and the beach or, better yet, reading at the beach.  As a girl, summer days and early evenings were spent with sisters and other friends on the Long Island Sound, riding waves, digging for clams, collecting sea glass, and turning cartwheels on sandbars.  I also prized rainy days when my mother took us to the Fairfield Public Library where I could browse the shelves and curl up in nooks

This month, I look forward to reading the work of my fellow participants in the upcoming Russian Children's History Workshop.

Next in my reading queue?
Maurice Sendak's final book--Bumble-Ardy.  David Eggers on Bumble-Ardy in Vanity Fair:
"Bumble-Ardy goes to live with his aunt Adeline, and when she fails to throw him a party on his ninth birthday, he throws one for himself. Like all Sendakian rumpuses, it gets out of hand, and for 10 pages we’re treated to the most bizarre tableau of celebrants, all in costume: pigs dressed as monsters, pigs dressed as cowboys and Indians, pigs dressed as old ladies painted garishly. As with any Sendak book, the pictures are full of references and echoes. One pig is reading a newspaper that says, WE READ BANNED BOOKS. A sheriff’s yellow badge calls back to the Warsaw Ghetto. Messages are written in Hebrew, Italian, Russian. One placard, held by a yellow pig in overalls, asks, WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?" 
Clumsy Solutions for a Complex World recommended by Duke's Laurie Patton during Shared Tables: A Triangle Symposium on Global and Local Food Studies:"a powerful and original statement on why well-intended attempts to alleviate pressing social ills too often derail, and how effective, efficient and broadly acceptable solutions to social problems can be found. It takes its cue from the idea that our endlessly changing and complex social worlds consist of ceaseless interactions between organizing, justifying and perceiving social relations. Each time one of these perspectives is excluded from collective decision-making, governance failure inevitably results. Successful solutions are therefore creative combinations of four opposing ways of organizing and thinking. This book, jointly written by leading political scientists, anthropologists, economists, lawyers, sociologists, a geographer and an engineer, shows the force of these theoretically sophisticated, yet simple and practical ideas for a number of pressing issues from around the globe." 
The Hedgehog Review, The Corporate Professor:
"If professors can’t articulate what they do or why it matters in terms not beholden to the market, then who can? What resources are there for re-envisioning and re-articulating the purposes of higher education in a way that responds to the rapid and far-reaching cultural changes taking place in our world today and that resists the commodification of knowledge, scholarship, attention, and reflection?"

06 May 2012

Gorby and Me Redux

This year, I met some inspiring and energizing individuals, notably Will Allen, Mary Simon, Jane Moss, Jill Newbold, Pavel Baev, Michael Byers, Tony Miller, Susie Crate, and, yes, Mikhail Gorbachev.  

Read my piece--"Gorby and Me"--in the Winter 2011/Spring 2012 UNC CSEEES newsletter.

05 February 2012

The Lamb, the Candy, McDonald's and Me, Part I

How did the Associate Director of the UNC Chapel Hill Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies become the co-lead for Shared Tables: A Triangle Symposium on Global and Local Food Studies scheduled to take place at UNC and Duke February 28-29, 2012?

Ah, a bit of history . . .

Growing up in suburban New York, food was intimate, symbolic and, fortunately plentiful. I worked alongside my father in the garden, learning how and where to plant seeds and when to pick asparagus. We were in touch with the seasons, tapping trees and making our own maple syrup on a wood-bruning stove in the winters. For him, it was particularly important that he teach me to grow and appreciate tomatoes. Other children had cupcakes for their birthdays; my father made palačinkas. As our television set bombarded me with images of the Trix Rabbit and Tang-drinking astronauts, I grew to understand that my classmates did not eat blitva, pršut, figs, or rugelach. I saw how food connected people, notably in the relationships that my uncle Milan cultivated with suppliers, customers, and staff at his popular restaurant. In my uncle's restaurant kitchen, a neo sort of Pan-Slavism reigned, with men--only men could serve as impeccably uniformed waitstaff--from remote regions brought together by food.

During a summer visit with family in Vlašići on the island of Pag in the mid-1980s, I was traumatized when my grandparents slaughtered a lamb in my honor and I was expected to help clean the animal and cook it over an open fire. I did not want to be so intimately connected with my dinner. Trying to convince them that they need not do this to celebrate my arrival on the island, I offended them. Nobody was happy that day—least of all the lamb.
Recognizing my sweet tooth (is it that apparent?), my grandmother snuck me money to buy Kiki candy and Mikado chocolates. The following year, when I went away to high school in Connecticut, I devoured the sugary cereals, soda, white bread, and candy that I had been denied.

As an undergraduate pursuing Russian studies and a participant in Lafayette College's exchange program with the U.S.S.R., I began to think about food in a different way. Food transcended the public and private spheres. In my travel journals, I recorded milk prices. Empty stores shelves symbolized the impotence of the Soviet system. I photographed people waiting in long lines for bread and butter and talked with people who threw up their hands during the sugar shortage of 1990. I also photographed Cyrillic Pizza Hut and Pepsi advertisements.

As a graduate student living in Moscow in the 1990s, I ate at more than my share of McDonalds. They were familiar, ubiquitous, and air-conditioned. (Never underestimate the lure of a clean toilet). In 1996, the family of intelligents with whom I lived near Moscow State University coped with economic volatility the way that generations of Russian had—by growing their own potatoes, beets, and other vegetables. They harvested them at their dacha and stored them on the balcony of their high-rise apartment. [Once again, I recommend Colgate University’s Nancy Ries, “Potato Ontology: Surviving Postsocialism in Russia,” Cultural Anthropology , Vol. 24, Issue 2, pp. 181-212)].

More recently, I have come to see the tomato as a barometer of Croatian public opinion about EU accession. "I don't want someone from Brussels telling me how big my tomatoes should be!," the man sitting next to me on the flight from Zadar to Zagreb exclaimed. It brought me back to those days in the garden with my father . .