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Week of February 15, 2010

Constant transitions for IT specialist

In a city full of progressive organizations, Jeanne Mackey believes there’s always room for one more.

Mackey is a founding member of Transition Ann Arbor (TAA). This grassroots organization seeks to catalyze creative local responses to climate change and peak oil. Activities include film screenings, café conversations and “reskilling” sessions where participants share low-energy skills such as canning along with preserving, gardening and singing. As a member of the TAA initiating team, Mackey helps organize these events and facilitates discussions.

“We’re not aiming to replace or trump any other group,” says Mackey, senior performance support analyst for Information and Technology Services. “Our goal is to collaborate with existing organizations to create an action plan for Ann Arbor’s creative descent to a low-energy future.”

Formed in the United Kingdom in 2006, Transition Towns promotes efforts to build local resilience in the face of climate change, diminishing fossil fuels and the resulting economic instability. The movement has an international presence, with approximately 278 Transition initiatives around the globe. Instead of waiting for government-issued solutions, they rely on the “collective genius” of ordinary people to initiate lifestyle changes at the personal, neighborhood and community level.

Early last year, Transition Boulder conducted a two-day training for 50 participants from Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Detroit and beyond. Since then, Mackey and her Transition cohorts have organized two free day-long ReSkilling Festivals, which teach an assortment of low-energy skills from past generations.

“These workshops are a great way to bring people together to share and learn — everything from winterizing your bike to beekeeping, urban chicken coops, hoop houses, fermentation, root cellars, sock-darning and storytelling,” Mackey says. “I think it’s inevitable that we’re heading for a low-energy future. It doesn’t have to be all about losses. If we plan for the changes, opportunities will arise for more meaningful connections with one another and the natural world.”

A lifelong knack for performing and a master’s degree in social work have enhanced both her community contributions as well as her job performance at U-M. On top of the daily work of creating eLearning courses and job aids, she hosts a monthly Web seminar for staff entitled “Business Intelligence TV” (BITV) with tips and tricks on using BusinessObjects and BI applications like M-Reports.

“It’s a big challenge to make IT training available in the most convenient and digestible form. I’m always looking for ways to make the broadcasts more interactive and engaging with polls and live chats,” Mackey says. 

Music has always been Mackey’s outlet for creative expression. Growing up in Oxford, Ohio, she learned piano and guitar at a young age. A guitar has always been by her side since then, she says. In the 1970s and 1980s Mackey called Washington, D.C., home. Here she dove head-first into the feminist and social justice music scene, performing with an all-female rock band called Lifeline. The group routinely played at conferences and demonstrations, and recorded a studio album.

Being an artist in a politically active region and discovering feminism was “a major turning point in my life,” Mackey says. “I had always supported the civil rights and peace movements. But feminism spoke to my own personal experiences and helped me put them in a larger framework.”

In Ann Arbor, Mackey continues to perform in group settings while simultaneously encouraging others around her to join in. She helped start a monthly drop-in “circle of song and spirit,” Women with Wings-West, and directed Sacred Song, a multi ethnic choral group.

Mackey’s varied artistic and environmental activities led her to wilderness rites of passage in the Mojave Desert. Twice, she has done four-day solo fasts through the School of Lost Borders. “Most indigenous cultures have rites of passage to mark the transition from childhood to adulthood, including my Celtic ancestors. I’ve learned a lot about myself through these and other earth-based ceremonies,” Mackey says.

 

STAFF SPOTLIGHT

Jeanne Mackey, senior performance support analyst, Information and Technology Services, on environmental activism: “What I love about the Transition Towns approach to a low-energy future is that it draws on our hopes more than our fears.”

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