Mablene Krueger, chief operating officer of the Schaumburg Campus, standing in the grand stairs of the Auditorium Building

In a recent meeting with a not-for-profit board on which I serve, a member commended the organization on its “down payment” in technology. I loved that statement! In this case, the down payment referred to the organization’s continuous investment in technology, reaping more rewards in the current environment than ever expected.

We are all familiar with the term “down payment” when it comes to a house, car or other major purchase. But what about real life and the people with whom you interact? What down payments have we made?

Let’s be clear. This type of down payment is not meant in the traditional sense of “an initial, upfront partial payment.” What I’m talking about here is an investment in something or someone because you believe you might just be able to make a difference, it is the right thing to do, or it will pay off for you, for someone else, or both. You’re not sure, and there is no guarantee. However, something propels you to invest your time.

I see down payments being made every day in my “home” in higher education. A faculty member goes way beyond expectations to assist a student who needs extra help. A security professional spends a little extra time with a student who appears distracted. Our University president challenges a student to a Ping-Pong match! In each case, the student may have asked for extra assistance, needed an extra push to reach his or her goals, or perhaps deserved some special recognition.

Just last week, I was talking with a faculty member who told me he stops his class early so that he can meet individually with each student to share the current grade calculation. He does this every week. Yes, students can see this grade via technology anytime/anywhere, but the one-on-one discussion is just that: a discussion. It forces a question-and-answer time between the faculty and student. No doubt this leads to related topics of a late assignment or a congratulations on a great grade on a recent paper. The best part is that the faculty member has been able to continue this practice virtually while teaching and learning occur remotely. What a wonderful down payment on the future!

Another coworker shared recently how frustrated he was with his teenage stepdaughter for being 17 assignments behind in her course work. Of course, once the cell phone and TV were taken away, those assignments were completed almost as if by magic! He made a down payment; it has already paid off.

In higher education, we have the opportunity to hear from alumni and learn firsthand how our down payments were wisely invested. Ask anyone who works at Roosevelt University, and you will hear all about how something we mentioned in class or a word of encouragement outside the classroom served as needed inspiration years later. The trick is that we never know where and when this may occur.

The same is true in any organization. A down payment of a kind word or a smile can make all the difference. Our daily challenge, then, is to focus on our down payments, make them often, and invest in them over and over again. They may reap great rewards, sometimes when and where we least expect it.

​One kind word can change someone’s entire day. Anonymous

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