Q&A with Christine Thomas
-What are you reading?
Currently I have two books going. One is titled Encore: Finding Work that Matters in the Second Half of Life by Mark Freedman, and it’s about baby-boomers retiring and finding work that matters and finding work that matters in the second half of their life. I’m actually reading it with several other people who run non-profits about how the workforce is going to be changed—looking at possibilities for individuals but all also for companies. Every so often I get to read fiction so I’m reading a book called “Aloft” by Chang Rae Lee—it’s a book in common we’re reading with the English Department here, and it’s about a guy living in the suburbs of Long Island in a middle-age crisis. So a lot of adult males will relate to this.
There’s also a book called “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” by Daniel Pink and in it he talks about the rise of right brain thinkers–looking at patterns and systems and nuances—those are not usually the skills awarded in schools. And then over the summer “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream” by Barack Obama. It’s been on my bookshelf for a couple of years and I finally got around to it. And a book called “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis. On the surface it’s a baseball book. It’s fun for me as a former baseball player, but it’s a new way of evaluating talent, or people resources.
-Where did you discover it?
When we new that [Lee] was coming I wanted to read his books. When I first met him at Princeton a year ago he gave me the book “Aloft” personally with his signature so I felt I needed to read it before he came. And “Encore” was sent to me by Robert Witt who is the head of the Hawai`i Associate of Independent Schools—we’re just reading it with a group of school heads and nonprofits. And the other person who recommended it was Calvin Takeda who is the head of the Hawai`i Community Foundation, and former head of The Nature Conservancy.
-What do you like about Freedman’s and Lee’s books?
“Encore” is just giving me a different way to view the demographic transitions in the faculty. So what’s happening for us in schools with the retirement of the baby boomers is you have this massive teacher shortage that’s upon us. This has given me ways to reframe this—maybe some of those baby boomers will be working longer but in a different way through mentoring or other ways. For those who are retiring it’s a way to reframe retirement. And most of my reading list is nonfiction so “Aloft” is a nice treat.
-Do these stories about people in transition help you envision how Punahou students and faculty can model and promote environmental sustainability?
I think 80 percent of our budget is the people costs of running the organization. And 80 percent of my time is filled with people issues. In my position I have to rise above the day-to-day and think more strategically and creatively about the issues, and as I do I can help force other people to do the same. I think even though sustainability is a thrust for us, something like “A Whole New Mind” actually fits into that. We’re trying not just to change kids’ behavior, but for them to see systems and the interdependence of systems and for them to become not just recyclers but more inventive and innovative and resourceful about how they might do things differently. We’re producing the next generation of change agents not just the next generation of consumers. If we can get from a 5-year-old to an 18-year-old to a 50-year-old faculty member to think about the interdependence of systems then you’re really changing how people conceptualize the world.