September 2, 2016

The Workspace Series: Pokilani's Setup


Welcome to the Workspace Series—glimpses into the offices, desks, and other work and play environments of our Forum members and the TOM BIHN crew.

Forum name: Pokilani

What do you do? (If it's your professional workspace, what's your job; if it's your hobby workspace, what's your hobby?)

I work at a large university where I mostly advise undergraduate students. I also get to teach a few classes here and there (large lectures, seminars, classes targeted to first-year students) and sometimes engage in research around teaching and learning.


What sorts of things went into the planning of your workspace?

Since I see students all day long about 4 days a week, I like my office to be a calming and welcoming space. Our building is very old and ugly. It also doesn’t smell particularly nice. In other words, it’s not particularly welcoming.

When I started working here in 2007 I had an old steel desk from the 1950s-60s, which was neither conducive to using a computer, nor a good set-up for interacting with students. There were many times  I’d struggle to open one of the desk drawers and slam it into my knees, or worse, the legs of my students.

A student I knew well sat in my office one day and said, “Your office is a dump…. This office is so not you.” She was right. I decided I needed to do something about it.

Fortunately, my department had promised me a new desk and filing cabinet when I first started so took action. I didn’t want any old desk, though. I really wanted to make sure that it was a good space for working with students, while still functional for all the computer work I do. I didn’t want a barrier between me and my students so I opted for an L-shape desk that bubbled out and was open at one end, giving a nice space for my students and me to have a conversation, review things on a computer, and still have space to write up notes from our meeting.

My family has strong ties to Hawaii, where my mother was born and raised, so I wanted the rest of my office to reflect that spirit with lots of botanical art and crafts. I chose colors that remind me of the sand, ocean, lush plant life, and mountains.


I’m also lucky to have some students contribute little things like dragonflies (which remind me of my mom), artwork created by their kids, a few magnets of prominent psychologists whose work we covered in one of the classes I teach (this student knew me well enough to leave out Freud!), and an orchid plant that endures just like the student who gifted it—seriously, it keeps blooming!

What are some of the important items/tools in or aspects of your workspace?

As I mentioned previously, my desk is really critical to the work I do. Even with my recently added Varidesk (that big white thing one of my computers sits on), my desk is spacious. I like to spread out, but I also want to make sure students know there is room at the table for them.

I have two computers set up in my office. My main computer connects me to all the systems I need to do my work. I use it to access confidential student information, do email, check my calendar, do my administrative work, and keep everything related to my teaching. My second computer is one I share with my students. This is where we get to work together without my worrying about students having access to confidential information. You might call it being a little possessive, but it works for me.

Challenging conversations are not uncommon in my office. Boxes of tissues are always on hand. Sometimes eyes need to wander away from me, or students need to warm up to tackle a tough conversation. That’s where art on the walls, silly items on my desk and bookshelf (like trophies won by my now-defunct bowling team, “Advice to Spare”), pictures of my dog (some cute, some funny), or stress toys can be helpful in getting students into a more comfortable state. I also have a wind chime that hangs from the ceiling in front of my window for a bit of background noise. Air circulates from a venting system just below it, allowing it to give off the slightest tinkling of the delicate shells, while drowning out a bit of the traffic noise outside my window.

For the most part, students just want to feel welcomed. In my mind, that involves both wanting to be known, as well as wanting to know others. I like to think I reveal a little of myself in my office. In that respect, I try to make my office feel a little like home.


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We're the TOM BIHN crew: we design bags, make bags, ship bags, and answer questions about bags. Oh, and we collaborate on blog posts, too.