Désolé, je ne parle pas français.

It’s never lost on me how fortunate I am to be in a field where I get the opportunity to travel and explore. I’ve been all over the US, including many NASA Centers and military bases, England, Australia, and beyond. In September 2022 I spent a week in Paris – and a whirlwind 24 hours in Luxembourg. I was so proud to be a part of the IAA History of Astronautics Symposium, a part of the larger International Astronautical Congress. I presented my paper “Science and Strength: The History of the Relationship Between Civil and Military Space Organizations in the United States.” This was my first history paper and was absolutely made better and benefited from the work of my amazing research assistant, Grant Jones, and his hard work. Nebraska LLM alum and friend Nate Johnson presented in the same symposium! It was great to see friendly faces far from home.

This was my third International Astronautical Congress, but only the second in person (virtual 2020). It’s always a wild ride. I went to so many other incredibly fascinating discussions and have been really interested to see the continued focus on low earth orbit, commercial space stations, and fears about congestion and sustainability.

My program, the Space, Cyber, and Telecommunications Law program, was a proud sponsor of the International Institute of Space Law Manfred Lachs Moot Court Finals and our (I am also an institute member) annual awards banquet. This international and space law competition is unique in the world, and our finals are argued to justices from the International Court of Justice. A truly great, if not intense, educational experience for these students.

I spent a fast day in Luxembourg! I am part of a US State Department Leaders program that works to send US subject matter experts out into the world to meet with groups through our embassies and brings amazing international guests likewise to American institutions. I visited the Science and Technology Center at the University of Luxembourg and then on the The Luxembourg Science Center. Two of their science communicators showed us many of their very interactive and multi generational exhibits and public showcases on things ranging from statistics to astronomy to the science of cooking. To be quite frank I found myself remarkably jealous of their jobs and asking if I could apply! Finally we met with the Luxembourg Digital Learning Hub and Women in Digital Empowerment group, who are doing amazing work to broaden tech education on the tech jobs actor – and reminded me so much I’ll be awesome work happening at Nebraska Tech Collborative. I can’t wait to continue these connections and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have met with these groups.

The hub is located in a very cool gigantic bright red building owned by the royal Canadian bank. Outside are still these huge furnaces and this beautiful marble exterior library. It celebrates the industrial history of the area and is also a beautiful architectural feature. I didn’t grab a picture but from the top of the building you get to see Germany, Luxembourg, and France all at the same time!

In the evening I strolled from new town to old town which was essentially a large hill/cliff side. The second slide is a shot from the glass elevator that is free, public, and runs till 1 AM to help move people back-and-forth!

I did find some time for tourism, including a visit to the unreal Paris Catacombs💀 I went in with the first timed group of the day – they definitely space folks out so that it never actually felt busy in the tomb, which I’m sure is also for the safety of the remains. It was fascinating how everyone was chatty and talkative going down the tiny winding circular staircase to go underground (around 130 steps), but once everyone reached the tomb, it was immediate hushed reverence. I paid for the audio guide which is extremely helpful, but otherwise there was no official tour guide or anyone telling us to be quiet, but every person on the tour just automatically was moved, being surrounded by the remains of millions of individuals. Children aren’t allowed on the tours nor could anyone bring strollers, wheelchairs, or walkers and backpacks had to be worn on your front. It was not as claustrophobic as I feared, but then we were in the publicly open tunnels that I believe are probably the largest and the safest.

The experience was a lot more unnerving and moving than I expected it to be. It only took about 40 minutes and was one of the coolest things I did on the trip.

I also made time for a run/walk by Notre Dame and the The Louvre. The Louvre, I’m sure, is a remarkable experience and I’m glad I got to run outside it and see the pyramid, but my trip (mostly working) did not give me enough time to wait in those lines and explore that gigantic museum. Instead I hit up the smaller Rodin Museum and gardens. Magic. The Thinker, The Kiss, The Gates of Hell from Dante’s Divine Comedy. I would highly recommend it as a faster, but still beautiful, art experience in Paris.

Finally, I also went on a conference sponsored tour of the River Seine. Just, well, chef’s kiss.

Something new.

The Dean announced it so I guess it’s true – after almost three years growing and launching the Nebraska Governance and Technology Center, I’ll be transitioning out of the Center to lead the creation and development of the University of Nebraska College of Law’s first externship program! I will take the helm as ‘Director of Externships’ at the end of August, 2022. An externship is a practical learning tool where a student earns academic credit while working.

This position will leverage student and faculty experiences with our former ad hoc approach to externships to build a new program, a new curriculum, and new relationships with companies, firms, agencies, and organizations across the U.S. and the world. I can not wait to get working!

Connecting students with opportunities has always been my favorite work. This is a chance to devote 100% of my time to that; a chance to utilize my skills as a connector and networker directly in service to our students.

I will retain some strategic oversight of the Nebraska Space, Cyber, and Telecommunications Law Program, working along side its other leaders and our new Associate Director. My current grants and research responsibilities will also be a part of my ongoing work for and with the space program (satellites, you are my first love).

Launching a research center in the middle of a pandemic was an unreal experience that tested me. I look forward to the creative projects I know will flow from the Center and hope I’m leaving behind a structure and culture where the staff can flourish and thrive.

Just Keep Failing

I present a series of selfies I took a few weeks back on the eve of a big professional goal…. that didn’t happen.

Friends, I fail. I fail a lot.

I want to remember that failing and resilience is part of the journey. It’s been my experience that many of my woman identifying peers are perfectionists. We’re doers, we’re achievers, we’re hustlers. But here’s the thing: that’s impossible to maintain. Failing hard and failing often means you’re doing something.

Dreaming and doing, baybee

My career and volunteer service has increasingly demanded that I continue to develop management skills. I am not alone in this, particularly as people guide their work through the pandemic and the (maybe, kinda, sorta?) post-pandemic world. There are two ways to approach this. As usual, the first is to do nothing and rely solely on instincts. In my estimation, this has a low probability of success. Even if it finds success, it has a low probability for fostering loyalty from a team or organizational growth. Few people, or at least myself, have baked in instincts for our managing the work of others and scaling organizations.

These are not the sorts of things our ancestors prepared us for. Knowing I should run from an attack? Baked in. Finding cover during cold and wet weather? Baked in. Investigating things that make us curious? Even that, baked in. Knowing how to position our donor portfolio to attract more foundations? Needs to be taught.

So then, we’re left with ‘doing the work.’ During the pandemic I took on managing a bigger team, continued to supervise a large group of graduate students, and attempted to develop a new center almost entirely on Zoom. I turned to leaders I admire for guidance – including Molly Brummond’s New.Now.Next. women’s leadership cohorts. In these sessions we did a few things, but one of the most notable exercises helped me develop tools to fall back on when things are tough.

It’s easy to lead when everyone is performing excellently, things are on a roll, and growth is thriving. Sadly, those sweet spots rarely pop up on their own and rarely live long – not because people aren’t loyal and talented – but because life is life. As in, life happens.

Molly challenged our group to develop our own leadership statements and walked us through that process. This statement is my guiding light during decision-making and going into awkward or difficult conversations:

  • Am I being true to these ideals?
  • These are my values, am I following them?
  • This is how I think about leadership, and is the kind of leader I can be at my best.

I started with the values I developed working through Brene Brown’s work on leadership. These are the core parts of who we are and what we rely on. For me, these are:

  • Creativity
  • Initiative

Dreaming and doing, baybee.

From there, Molly walked us through a series of questions pushing us to think about our core beliefs about success. In the end, I got to this, which I (such a nerd) made into this desktop image:

I believe everyone has something to contribute.

My attitude will be nimble and I will be adaptable. My words will be reliable and clear, but gentle.

I will lead by celebrating our differences, initiating opportunity, and seeking creative ideas.

I believe my enthusiasm for new and different opportunities is my best resource.

I expect myself to stay calm, kind, and collaborative in situations where it is easy to let frustration, judgement, apathy, or fear lead my actions.

Prairie Ink

My fourth tattoo is one I have wanted for a long time and finally made happen. Micheala at Iron Brush tattoo is so talented and made me feel so comfortable! Her Instagram is @gettininky.

The prairie doesn’t have the intensity of the mountains or the grandeur of the ocean, its beauty is a quiet one. Calm, consistent, balanced, wide open. These constellations represent my children’s, my partner, and mine. Plus the spacey water color which, obviously, is important to me. I wanted something that was not a zodiac or purely space tattoo nor a blatant parent-child tattoo, but instead reflected on lots of things that are meaningful to me:
the stars,
the prairie,
my family,
and balance.

Our elements form the Avatar, so I just couldn’t resist it (Cancer/water, Aquarius/air, Leo/fire, Taurus/earth). Balance.

The tree is a cottonwood tree, several of which stood in the front yard of the house I grew up in. The trees have since had to go, but were still the notable part of my childhood in Nebraska.

My skin was angry but forgave me. This is my fourth tattoo but it’s been 18 years. It hurt like a motherfucker. Finally, did I buy the shirt in multiple colors in anticipation of this tattoo? Yes, yes I did. 🙌🏽

Get paid.

A message (and reminder to self) to all my mid-career friends in similar situations:

When I was early on in my career I did many free speaking gigs and projects that were additional to the requirements of my job. This was good! I was new, I was building up my credentials and expertise, and my reputation. For certain causes and groups I still work for free and of course certain events are within of my regular salary and work.

More broadly though, the most important thing that I’ve taken out of the last 2 to 3 years, and a phrase I want us all to practice saying is “I can’t do this unless there is compensation for the additional hours.”

Get. Paid.

Or, if you don’t actually want to do it, don’t.

Amen.

Solstice

Monday was winter solstice, the shortest day, the longest night, and a time that has always deeply resonated with me.

Gratitude and gratuitous table setting will always be my jam.

We decorated our Yule log, celebrated our earth, thanked the light, and acknowledged the night by having a “dark dinner” and taking a long nighttime walk with our homemade lanterns.

One of my favorite Mary Oliver poems felt like the right fit this year.

In winter
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
where the wind-bird

with its white eyes
shoves and pushes
among the branches.
Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,
but he’s restless—
he has an idea,
and slowly it unfolds

from under his beating wings
as long as he stays awake.
But his big, round music, after all,
is too breathy to last.

So, it’s over.
In the pine-crown
he makes his nest,
he’s done all he can.

I don’t know the name of this bird,
I only imagine his glittering beak
tucked in a white wing
while the clouds—

which he has summoned
from the north—
which he has taught
to be mild, and silent—

thicken, and begin to fall
into the world below
like stars, or the feathers
of some unimaginable bird

that loves us,
that is asleep now, and silent—
that has turned itself
into snow

Be well and blessed be.

Fall Family Portraits

We haven’t had “real” photos taken since Eleanor’s birth, so when a law student (with a background and love for photography) offered an awesome fundraiser for the Student Bar Association I jumped on it! I’m not much into having posed portraits like this, but see the value in it, so a quick low pressure experience was great. She donated her photo session fees to the association and we got 30 minutes of her time. A win-win.

Thank you Dana Jurgensmeier!

Also, I never really share my kid’s faces on social media, though I sign the releases of schools and activities to do so. I’ve, pretty randomly, decided to share them here as part of our family photos. I can’t articulate a great reason for why I feel OK about this and not about day-to-day posts on social media, but formal family portraits seem like much less of an invasion of their personal autonomy. Life is full of decisions that live on a spectrum, this is one of them.

A Lost Semester: A Note on The 2020 Pandemic From Executive Director Magilton

The letter being shared in our Program’s 2019-2020 Annual Report and with our alumni this September.

As our team put together this report and reviewed the full gamut of events and activities we completed this fall, I felt a new wave of loss over all the great plans we had for spring 2020 that were, of course, cancelled. When the world stopped this March and all the “out of an abundance of caution” cancellation emails started rolling in, academic programs everywhere were suddenly forced to change course. Of all the losses and pain that COVID-19 has caused globally cancelled conferences and academic events are, with out doubt, some of the least important. Acknowledging that, it was still hard to cancel work we had put our hearts and souls into. There was so much I looked forward to sharing with you here that is missing – and that hurts.

Even more seriously, the rug was pulled out from under students everywhere. I am proud of how Nebraska Law responded and we did our best to support students and employees who suddenly found themselves learning and working from home. From “old school” efforts like student phone trees, to more modern efforts in helping students navigating Zoom classrooms, we took efforts to the next level to retain our community.

Did we do it perfectly? No. Spring 2020 was an unprecedented time, and it continues to be so as I write this. There is no blueprint to help us establish best practices for building community when our community can’t be together in person. The past six months have taught us a lot of lessons – and while I hope we don’t have another occasion to apply them in the same context, opportunities to learn always provide opportunities for gratitude.

That feeling is the one I want to leave you with: gratitude. I could outline our response plans, discuss how our online program made us uniquely suited to make the switch, tell you what it felt like to watch our students graduate and move away without being able to hug them, but instead I want to thank our community for rising up to meet the challenges we faced this year.

When all the networking mixers, airport connections, conferences, and “hustle” is stripped away, what is left is the heart of the mission, the research, and the community. This has been a year for introspection, creativity, empathy, and making space for new ideas. While this isn’t the year I would’ve wished for, there is space for gratitude for what this year has been.

To our alumni, friends, and loved ones who have been impacted by COVID-19, our hearts and thoughts are with you.

Elsbeth Magilton
Executive Director of Technology, Security, and Space Law Initiatives
Space, Cyber, and Telecommunications Law Program
Nebraska Governance and Technology Center

Starting School.. in fall 2020

We finally made a choice about how the kids will be attending school during the first quarter amidst the pandemic.

We are under no obligation to validate it and fellow parents – neither are you.

This all sucks, big time. Everyone has different situations professionally and financially and by-and-large our leaders failed us. We’re all just doing the best we can with the options available. If you’re panicked, frustrated, angry, sad over back-to-school: I am too. Always up to talk and commiserate, however your kids are attending this fall. 

For what it’s worth our kids will be going for the first 10 days so they can get to know their teachers and get some in-person instruction on using their chromebooks for remote learning, which they’ll switch to until we reassess in mid-October for the second quarter. 10 days is the time set by our district to stick with one method or the other – so 10 days in and one and half months remote. It is an imperfect plan, but still at least reduces exposure over the next 9 weeks, while acknowledging other needs. 

Eleanor is starting kindergarten and I’ve lost so much sleep and cried many tears processing this. 

I do want to say that I feel the folks in our public school system have had their hands tied and are doing the best that they can. We are so proud of the work our elementary school has put into keeping kids safe, using classroom cohorts, and with masks on. 

We are proud Roadrunners! #beepbeep 

But also.. #fuck2020