Why I Feel For Non-Traditional Students

I enjoy highlighting the bright contributions of my students. Consider the following essay that a student wrote in response to a class discussion:

The idea that an undergraduate education in management will prepare one to manage or that any college degree prepares one to thrive in that field once the diploma is in hand is preposterous. To believe otherwise is an insult to the vocation in question and a misunderstanding of the significance of the college degree.

One of my older brothers once told me that a typical consulting firm will not count on making a profit off of a newly minted engineer for at least two years. I was beyond puzzled. In fact, I did not believe him. I was in college at the time and what he said did not conform to my perception of the world. Didn’t I just spent the last couple of years taking courses on the fundamentals of engineering? Aren’t I now taking some classes where I could appreciate how the principles apply to design in “real life” situations? Although I cannot remember any professor expressly telling me so, somehow I had become convinced that I was being prepared to be a valuable asset for my first employer and to hit the ground running.

I can remember very early in my career attending meetings in awe while listening to project engineers, contractors, and utility representatives solve construction conflicts. Nothing had prepared me for these types of problems. As the assistant department head, I dreaded the days that my boss would take off of work because I did not want to “not know something” if someone were to call about a project. Being able to draw shear and moment diagrams was not going to help me if a contractor hit an area of soft soils and he wanted to know if he could use a biaxial geogrid rather than over-excavating and increasing the section of compacted stone. My brother’s comment ran through my head often, but now I comprehend why two years is not sufficient time to learn everything I needed to know in order to carry on an intelligent conversation with someone who had been working in the industry for twenty years.

Thus, the college experience has two purposes in related to job-readiness: to develop critical thinking abilities and to signify an ability to finish a project.  Both are qualities that prospective employers look for, and while they can certainly enhance them, employers cannot substitute the most vital quality one can possess — experience.

This essay was written by a mature, experienced non-traditional student. One of the issues that I mentioned in my interview with Andy Nash on Inside Academia was that these students receive a sub-par education because of dumbed-down standards. This essay gives a face to those people. I wish I could have a classroom full of these guys and gals.

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