Learning for a Lifetime of Choices

Refined from President’s blog

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A little while ago, I had lunch with a childhood friend, Marlene.  We have been friends since we were both thirteen years old, and that has been decades ago. Our lifelong friendship began on the Southside of Chicago where we discovered personal commonalities, as we explored the public libraries together and devised many less intellectual adventurers.  On a Wednesday in November 2013,  we met in Union Station in Washington, D. C., and it was indeed a reunion of epic proportions.  Between the two of us there were four children–all with college degrees.    It was our prayer, and our spouses’ too, that we had prepared these talented young adults to lead responsible, worthwhile, and altruistic lives.

When we looked into each other’s faces, we bore witness to a half century of American societal forces that had shaped the lives, and choices of two women who grew-up with limited resources, but who dreamed of nearly endless possibilities.  My friend earned a MBA from a big ten university, and I earned a PhD from a top-ranked national university.  Besides the fact that both of us have done well, by American standards, we also gained so much more from our college experiences than the academic content and subsequent jobs.  The value of our higher education included exposure to options, consideration of diverse perspectives,  and development of skill sets beyond our imaginations.

As we seek to grapple with the finances surrounding colleges and universities, the debate about the value of colleges and universities has reached a louder pitch with proponents on all sides.   As states struggle with competing priorities for revenue, and the economic recovery continues, there is more concern about the value of a college education in relationship to the cost of attendance.  While nearly half of my college experience included the private and well-regarded University of Chicago, it still does seem possible for students to choose from a range of institutions which correlate, as closely as possible, with their family and financial support systems.

Now I know that from a lifelong learner and educator, much of what I think about the value of a college education could be discounted–since I liked learning so much–it did not occur to me to leave the college/university  structured community of learners.  However,  as my friend and I shared stories in Union Station, it also occurred to me how fortunate we have both been to have spent so much time learning from the perspectives of others,  and how our expanded worldviews had influenced the activities we engaged in with our children and probably the choices and lives of our children and their future grandchildren. It seems that an expanded worldview is in itself a legacy–possibly just as precious as an inheritance of a land estate.

Engaging in various structured classroom or hybrid learning experiences also seems to help build a sense of confidence in the learners.  Without a doubt this confidence can be gained from other experiences rather than a college experience, but the efficiency and sequencing of these experiences in a college environment might take years to acquire without the talented and caring professors serving as learning guides.

Thus, one value of colleges and universities, is that we offer options to assist learners enjoy a lifetime of choices and to leave a legacy of options.

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How Do We Help The Millennial Generation Develop a Sense of Purpose?

Refined from August 6, 2009, President’s Blog

Every year this time, faculty and staff at colleges and universities around the nation are greeting new and returning students for the academic year. For many of us in academia, there is anticipation and a personal sense of renewal with each new class of students.

During the summer months, faculty refresh courses materials, construct course packs, and design their instruction and assessment to respond to the intellectual and emotional needs of this new cohort of students.  Also, during the summer, the admissions and financial aid professionals have been busy answering telephones to help families manage transitions into the higher learning communities of colleges and universities. Other middle and senior managers also have been busy refining policies and procedures that will guide the campus community through the upcoming academic year.

As I participated in, and observed, these various preparation activities, I realized that one of our challenges is to determine how we can contribute to the development of a sense of purpose in our new and returning students. This sense of purpose will, hopefully, be ignited by the general education curriculum and, appropriately, expanded and enhanced by an academic major and interactions with faculty and mentors.

On the surface, many students will attest that they come to college to pursue specific careers, or to increase their earning potential over their lifetimes. However, if we delve beyond their veneers, we discover that many students come to college searching for a future, searching for their passions, and searching for something that is bigger … something that they can commit their talents and affinities to – a sense of purpose. English novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly (1797-1851), the author of the famous Gothic novel, Frankenstein, is quoted as stating, “Nothing contributes so much to tranquilizing the mind, as a steady purpose – a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye.”

As I reflect, it seems that it is the intellectual and spiritual realization of a compelling sense of purpose that is the ultimate goal of higher education—possibly it is the ultimate goal of the human existence. If we succeed in our colleges and universities, our students will leave with a vision and sense of purpose that is bigger than the acquisition of material possessions or gaining a high-paying first job. Possibly, the sense of purpose they gain at our educational institutions will result in their being a better neighbor, in developing a more enlightened view of the interconnectedness of all humans, and in participating more aggressively in sustaining the environment for future generations.

For those who want to measure the value of colleges and universities, how to you measure this outcome, “a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye”?

Maybe this emotional, intellectual, and spiritual transformation of members of our society is really the quintessential purpose of college–of quality education.

I hope that all of us, who guide the education of college students will also move forth with a steady sense of purpose.

The Road Less Traveled

Originally Blogged on May 15, 2014

I smile to myself when I reflect on the many unique, and sometimes painful, journeys that students have related to me over the years. It is extremely gratifying when students persisted and these divergent paths eventually led to transforming college experiences and college degrees.  
 
While  I cheer  those who succeeded, I have to ask—why have not more students chosen similar journeys to develop into critical thinkers, to gain confidence in their learning abilities, and to leave an institution of higher education as more confident and competent individuals ready to take their places as responsible citizens in the Commonwealth and America? Graduating students will not only contribute to the intellectual capital of the region, but they will eventually earn money to help their families, serve as role models, and maybe start a business and employ others.  
 
How can we encourage more young people to take the road less traveled into emerging fields of study in higher education that will respond to the needs of the region and America?
 
With this Blog, I ask that you, too, reflect upon this question with me—how can we muster whatever it takes, the political will, and the infrastructures needed to increase and amplify the intellectual capital in the region?   What can each individual do to maximize the outcomes in human capital that could possibly alter the America we live in and amplify the American dream for many?
 
Dr. Randal Pinkett, an extremely well-educated scholar who is viewed by some as one of the elite intellectuals of this century, and I discussed this briefly before Cheyney University’s 2014 Commencement.  We were both concerned that there appears to be a broadening economic and social gap that could be tearing at the social fabric (education, wealth, health, quality of life, and overall well-being) of our society. We believe that we (Americans) will each have to redouble our efforts to help young people see possibilities, believe in themselves, and gain the courage to venture forth.
 
As Dr. Randal Pinkett so aptly employed as a metaphor in his inspirational 2014 Commencement speech, it seems appropriate to end this Blog with the quote from Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken:
 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence: 
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 
 
 
 
 

 

The Value of Internships in Higher Education

As a president, I strongly encouraged the practice of internships in students’ junior and senior years. Ideally, I wanted about seventy-five percent of students to participate in an internship before graduation. Recently, I talked to several students who completed internships. These students were energized, to say the least, about what they had learned from their internship experiences.

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With a twinkle in their eyes, most of the students informed me that the internship experiences had brought the text and theories to life. The students stated that it was much more useful and interesting to employ theoretical concepts and to discover how diverse paradigms can solve real problems with other interns and co-workers than to read about problems in a text, hear about them in a lecture hall, or even discuss problems with fellow students– although lively debates do also have significant merit. It seemed that internships, unlike specific classes, allowed students to bring their arsenal of learning outcomes, from various disciplines and experiences, into the work environment.

Moreover, internships allowed students to utilize multiple intelligences, as described by Howard Gardner, to navigate the work environment– further allowing students’ performances to be measured more holistically.

While I listened to these students enthusiastically relate their internship experiences, I smiled both externally and internally. The students viewed these experiences as opportunities. The students’ responses were not surprising. Needless to say, experiential learning has been around for a long time. Many colleges and universities encourage these experiences in a wide range of disciplines including the liberal arts (history, English, and language arts).

The State of Washington defines internships as “a combination of on-the-job training (OJT) and related classroom instruction under the supervision of a journey-level craft person or trade professional in which workers learn the practical and theoretical aspects of a highly skilled occupation. After completing an apprenticeship program, the worker’s journey-level status provides an additional benefit of nationwide mobility at journey level scale.”

Moreover, the concept of learning on the job under the supervision of a master goes back to the Middle Ages. Back then, apprentices were mostly men learning their trade by studying and working with a master for a number of years. Over hundreds of years, apprenticeships, however, evolved and became more structured as colleges and universities grew and defined college credit for them.

Often I hear students talk about the transition from college life to the workforce, the students who have experienced internships seem to make a smoother transition into the workforce. Other students who might have excelled in the class have confessed that their transition into the workforce has been a bit more disjointed. They struggled with workplace etiquette, working in teams, and sometimes just the long hours of a job.

As we continue to refine our instructional design to meet the needs of the 21st century, it is important to look closely at the benefits of internships– some learners excel in these structured but real life experiences.

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