3 Dean's of the Graduate College

Reflecting on the good in life this holiday season


As we approach the holiday season, I wanted to take a moment to remind us all of the importance of gratitude and appreciation in our lives. It can be easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season, but taking time to reflect on what we are grateful for can have a positive impact on our mental health and overall well-being.

I was curious as to how others viewed the concept of gratitude and how it shows up in their lives. I decided to talk to a few of my colleagues for more insight. I sat down with Tamara Underiner, Associate Dean of Professional Development and Engagement and Lisa Anderson, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the Graduate College. They highlighted personal achievements that brought them the most joy recently, how they unwind to keep a positive mental attitude and holiday traditions they’re looking forward to!

ELIZABETH WENTZ: As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, do you have special traditions you’re looking forward to?

TAMARA UNDERINER: Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade together with my daughter is what I’m most looking forward to. We’ve done it for 20-some years now and she’s still into it, which makes me more than grateful. We make hot cocoa and sing along with the acts and then prepare food for the big meal while the dog show that follows it is on. But the best part is that we both must have a needle crafting project going. At the same time, we watch, often a handmade present in the works – a skill passed down from my grandmothers to my mom to me. It makes me feel good to know that tradition is alive and well in the next generation.

LISA ANDERSON: I’m looking forward to cooler days! I’ve always loved fall as a season, even Arizona fall. We don’t have any special traditions, but we might consider establishing some this year. Since only part of my family is here, we don’t do big family gatherings anymore.

WENTZ: For me, sometimes all it takes to turn a bad mood around is remembering or focusing on what I appreciate about my life. How do you express gratitude?

UNDERINER: For me, it’s a spiritual practice. I’m trying to get better at taking time to say “thank you” to the source of all the blessings in my life, and there are many that I would otherwise take for granted in a day. And trying to be specific about the source to express those thanks, whether with a note, a hug, a gift or a prayer.

ANDERSON: So many ways! I walk my dogs very early in the morning before work and usually walk them while the sun is rising, and I give thanks for the new day and what it will bring. I also like to make things for people (even though I am a very slow knitter).

WENTZ: There is just something special about noticing the little things that make life better. What are some strategies you use to maintain a thankful and positive attitude, even when faced with challenging or stressful situations?

UNDERINER: There’s a lesson in everything. With practice, I’ve learned to pause and see that sometimes, the most difficult people and situations life sends our way can be our greatest teachers. Even if the lesson is to do better next time with my reactions, the other day, I found myself writing a note in the margin of my planner – “thank you for showing me what a jerk I can be” (except I used a stronger word than jerk)!

ANDERSON: In my karate training, we had a saying: bad trainings make good trainings possible. In part, this means that challenging or stressful situations pass. Still, it’s also a reminder to be thankful for the ‘easy’ days.

WENTZ: How do you balance expressing thankfulness with being assertive or standing up for what you believe in, particularly in an academic setting?

UNDERINER: That’s a great question that I’ve not thought about until now. Still, I’ve seen others do this very well – expressing gratitude first to the folks they disagree with for their perspective as a way of acknowledging that the other views are being heard. This can be very powerful and a good start for doing the work together that needs to be done.

ANDERSON: I think it’s possible to be both generous and kind and to assert things I believe in. Disagreement doesn’t have to be hostile, and you can challenge others without being mean or obnoxious about it.

WENTZ: Please share a personal or professional achievement for which you are especially thankful.

UNDERINER: We just sent in the manuscript of the latest edition of a theatre histories textbook I’ve been involved in for many years as a co-author. I couldn’t have done that without the support of colleagues here in the Graduate College or all the graduate students in the theatre and performance studies programs who’ve challenged me to dig deeper throughout my career.

ANDERSON: This year, I am thankful for the publication of my third book and my promotion to full professor. I am grateful to everyone who reviewed my work for both things!

WENTZ: I am grateful for both of you! Thank you for this conversation

Wishing you all a happy and healthy winter break!

— By Vice Provost and Dean Elizabeth A. Wentz


Written by Dean Libby Wentz, Tamara Underiner and Lisa Anderson. Edited by Marjani Hawkins