Have you ever really thought about why you are going to college? According to Toni Murdock, Chancelor of Antioch University, more than 80 percent of college freshmen said they attend a university with the hope of learning more about things that interest them. Slightly fewer want to go to college to increase earning potential and land a better job.
College used to be a requirement for only doctors, lawyers and engineers. These professions were considered too complex to learn from a simple apprenticeship. A wealthy family might send its children to school to broaden their minds, expecting that these students would return from school to serve the public good, possibly by entering government or industry or exploring the world.
At some point, university education lost its passionate exploration and became commoditized. Now it is seen by many students as just one more box to check off on the climb up the socio-economic ladder to a stable middle- or upper-middleclass lifestyle.
Your time spent in college can be so much more than that, and you owe it to yourself to get as much out of it as you possibly can.
The opportunities at a university are many. Your professors absolutely love what they do. You take required classes and maybe you like them and maybe you don’t, but your instructors have chosen this as a profession, a passion. Talk to them after class and you may walk away with more than just what is on the next test. Explore.
College also presents an opportunity to discover the world philosophically. I don’t strictly mean this in an ancient Greek way. What I mean is your personal philosophy and relationship with the world. You can think about who you are and who you want to be. Dream about where you fit into the grand scheme of things and what you would like to get out of life. You have an unparalleled opportunity to spend your years in school on these very personal explorations.
All successful people learn and adapt, but the college environment is not the right place for everyone. Many fulfilling public service careers, for example, do not require a college education. Police, firefighters and the military have their own specialized education. College isn’t the only choice out there for a successful career and a fulfilling life. Look for your passion and follow it.
At the end of World War II, America saw a sharp increase in college attendance. The GI Bill of Rights allowed veterans to afford a university education and, consequently, the competition for jobs increased. Having a degree soon became a requirement for a good job in the business world where, in the past, an apprenticeship would have been enough. The nature of American schooling changed because of the post-war generation, and it seems ready to change again.
Thomas Friedman, a New York Times columnist, wrote The World is Flat, a book about the modern, more interconnected world. He discusses how education has traditionally been set up and in what ways it may need to change. The approach that the Georgia Institute of Technology takes is a great example.
Georgia Tech discovered that graduates with active interests outside the strict confines of engineering became better engineers. It would seem that engaging in creative pursuits yields a more imaginative, expressive and communicative employee.
The term for this kind of thinking is consilience. When I first heard the word consilience I thought it was Latin for “with silliness.” Instead, as I later discovered, it has to do with the unity of knowledge. Consilience bridges the gap between science and the humanities.
Serious competition from around the world necessitates that the United States steps up the education of its people. This country must push for a synthesis of the technical and creative to maintain its position as a global innovator. Each student makes this possible not just by going through the motions, but by searching within for what really interests him or her and pursuing it for a lifetime.
Jason Olivero is pursuing a degree in electrical engineering.