Tuesday, July 26, 2011

College is Not Dead

Currently, there seems to be quite a hubbub over the worth of the college degree. One Silicon Valley investor is paying bright youth to skip college altogether and start entrepreneurial ventures, and The Economist did a piece on the exorbitant cost of tuition arguing, "The cost of tuition cannot forever rise faster than students’ ability to pay. Industries that cease to offer value for money sooner or later get shaken up." Lastly, it seems I can’t go a day without being reminded about the saturation of education in the job market, “a bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma,” as if they were speaking of the “it” fashion color of the season.

As someone who is sucking the marrow of life out of the college experience and gladly taking on the debt associated with it, I feel I need to add my two cents to the debate.

In my mind, college is not dead. It is glorified in the media as a constant party, as well as expected by many employers for entry-level jobs, but I argue that it is a lot more than that. College is a four (sometimes five) year transitional experience where you try new things, expand your mind, and learn about yourself; all while not taking in an income and spending a lot of money. The college experience has a lot to offer to ones development: it is the first time for many to live away from home, experience a different culture or way of life, be responsible for money, learn about different professional disciplines and figuring out how they connect, and learn to independently manage a work-life balance. While other parts of the world have alternative solutions for this such as a gap year, an apprenticeship, or compulsory military service, here in America we swarm to college campuses in the masses fresh out our prom attire.

The problem is, we as millennials were taught to see it as something it has recently proven not to be- our golden ticket to success. During the beginning of our senior year of high school we are asked to choose our major, then when we step foot on campus we are required to take a list of specific classes, all the while promised a long and happy career in our desired profession, surely making more than our parents.

It isn’t until graduation that we receive the painful reality check to our instant gratification and entitled ways. I cannot tell you how many students I know who have moved back home taking on minimum wage jobs after graduation. This is surely not the post-grad opportunity our grandparents graduated into.
What’s more is the schools are just now admitting that the system doesn’t work. Colleges in recent years have scrambled to create an Exploratory Studies program to accommodate the large percentage of students that change their major. My talks with my school’s administration have allowed me to learn that this is the fastest growing group of students on campus. They joke about a new Exploratory College, not program.

It is no wonder why schools have to take such measures; we are working in an antiquated educational system. The world environment has changed. The students are different; we millenials come with a host of unique traits (some better than others). Also, it is crucial to note that the job environment is different; globalization and technology have run a muck much to the dismay of our “Super Power” ego.

To combat this, education needs to think big. The world is an increasing volatile place, and as a species of educated peoples, we need to be flexible enough to adapt. Gone are the times when we will graduate to a job lined up and dedicatedly serve the company for 30 plus years. The sooner we stop promising that to our youth, the better. It is much more likely that we will hop from position to position, much like we have our college majors. We need to be heartier, and more resilient than ever as we seek to redefine and expand our definition of “success”.

In this paradigm shift, we can no longer expect our undergraduate degree to perfectly match up to our dream job. That is why colleges need to be more flexible with their programs. Through my experience as a student, it matters less what students study, but what really defines who they are and how they will contribute to society in the future are the experiences they accumulate while they get the degree.
One of the tenets that I believe is key to this success is the need to bring American entrepreneurialism into the college system. In many cultures around the world the mantra is to work more or work harder, but in America the key to our success has been to work different. We are a young country and have the luxury to make things up and try new approaches. American students need to capitalize on this and instead of working harder or longer, work different. Take risks, be different, and be new. While this is easier said than done in a harsh economy where there are few chances for slip-ups, it is imperative to remember the importance of taking risks (see previous post).

For example, I created my own degree studying “Design Strategy.” While I learned many skills that I hope employers will value, my real college education extends far beyond the confines of the classroom. During my first year I completely divorced many of my habits from my high school days as I adapted to my new college environment (See post “Sponge”). It is from this expansion of my horizons and seeing what is out there that I am best able to envision where I want to go. Through my college experience, I have simply learned and bolstered the American values of creativity, independence, and entrepreneurialism. While it has been expensive, it has been a very meaningful way to push myself out of my comfort zone, get to know myself, and figure out a way to package my strengths to the world.

So while I believe the college experience has the foundation to create the qualified, contributing members of society that it seeks to produce, the real task is figuring out a way to minimize the economic risk so that people are free to take time to explore the world and themselves without detriment to their survival. If you have any brilliant ideas, please let me know!

Your CV,

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Looking Past the Word, "No"


I remember the first time I heard that word, and how I had such a problem hearing it. I was three years old. I was on a shopping trip with my mother. Somehow one of my table lamps had broken and we went to the store to find a replacement. My mom found one she liked, and asked the friendly sales women if we could purchase the lamp separate from the shade. Just as if it was yesterday, I can remember the sales women (who I thought was Snow White in the flesh) turn into a wicked witch in front of me when she replied, "no" to my mother. In hindsight that seems like a perfectly normal request since they probably were sold together, but at to the three-year-old Lauren it seemed so appalling. There was a limit on something that seemed so unnecessary. I felt victim to an unjust system.

Growing up, the word "no" never had rigid enforcement. My mom said no I couldn't wear a certain outfit to school, so I would pack the outfit and change in the school bathroom. My dad said I couldn't get a pair of roller blades. I strategically reminded him that he wanted a new tennis racket to get him to go to the sports store, and I would end up with the roller blades. When mom said no, I talked to dad. When dad said no, I talked to mom. I have to admit, these instances make me look like a manipulative con artist.

So where has this caused me to be now? While I have a much higher sense of ethics, I still believe if you package and promote to the right people, you can still get what you want out of life. I realize that if you truly see beyond convention and are willing to work for it, then you deserve it. After all, if society did not have innovators, slavery would still be the norm, I wouldn't have spellcheck for my papers, and I would have an entire wall storage system for my music.

As I am older now, I understand why, "no" is such an appealing option. It is easy for us in society to go the easy path; the one we've seen others be successful on. It's less risky, less lonely, and far more comfortable. So what do we do if the written path doesn't satisfy? We build systems and order so society can make sense. We need that to survive. Yet, as our silos get taller, we should assume the characteristics of a tree: the taller it gets, the more need for it to be flexible, otherwise the wind will snap it in half. Much like nature, our silos of societal order, whether that be university colleges, religious institutions, or playground politics, need to get more flexible and more open to change as they get larger.

These societal silos grasp tightly to their need to say no. "If we make one exception, everyone will want to break the rules", they say. Yet, by not saying no, they are passing on growth and innovation opportunities.

In my own experience as an Interdisciplinary Studies undergrad, I ventured out of a prestigious design program, into a self made experiment that I thought was the right path. While now it is crystal clear that it was the right decision, it didn't always feel so clear. My relationships were stressed, my credibility questioned, and my self assurance lowered. Yet once I started seeing the benefits of my venture, it paid back any negative feelings ten fold.

To have a successful experience creating my own degree, I couldn't see each department as a silo, or each college as a separate entity. I saw that there were thousands of classes offered here at the University of Cincinnati, the only difference was the amount of credit hours. I strive to build relationships with people, not departments. That is the only way your are going to break down barriers. There were so many constraints to getting this degree approved, but I never saw them as barriers, I saw them as opportunities. I never heard the word no, I just heard, not now, or not me. And after every temporary stall, I heard in the back of my mind, "keep trying Lauren."

So as we each assume the role of innovators and change makers of society, let's look past "no" and see opportunity and reason for us to keep trying.

Your CV,

Thursday, May 5, 2011

First Year Reflections: Be a Dedicated Sponge

No one is born the CEO. Everyone has to climb the ranks to get to the top dog position. Since that seems to be a very important part of American culture, the question to ask is, "How do you get there?" I would argue that the key is starting off on the right foot. The first year on the job is more important than you think.

The first year in a new environment, it is important to take on the attributes of a sponge. Take in as much as you can. Lead by being a great follower. Execute the plans of the current leaders, and do it in a way that lets them know you are there to genuinely support them.

It is interesting to note the contrast that happens in the first year of a transition. For instance you may go from being top dog, seniors that rule the school, to the "Freshie". When this transition happened for me in college, I let down a lot of barriers, changed my expectations for myself, and just tried as many new things as possible. To put it in perspective, during my senior of high school I wore heels 95% of the time, biked to school, worked 15 hours a week, and spent equal amounts of time blowing my cash shopping. I was passionate all right, I was passionate about expressing myself through my dress. While I was working and contributing to society in that regard, I was not doing it for anyone but myself.

On the flip side when I got to college, I purged my over-consumption, occasionally wore sweatpants to class, stopped dyeing my hair, got super involved on campus, and dedicated myself to my school work and meeting new friends.

These experiences were formative because I didn't let my perception of myself in high school get in the way of who I was to become in college. So back to how to capitalize on the first year and make it an experience to ensure future success:

1) Take in as much as you can by trying any and every possible experience.
2) Observe the organizational culture and how process are done and how people interact.
3) Lastly, don't feel the need to over step your bounds right away. The people that try to show off in the beginning without knowing the ins and outs of the organization end up reinventing the wheel or offending their superiors.

Be a dedicated sponge your first year, and it will pay dividends as you continue.

Your CV,

Monday, September 27, 2010

Paint The Street!

This Sunday was the Paint The Streets initiative in downtown Cincinnati. It was a ton of fun and being around such beautiful colors was a great start to my day! The mission of the organization Artswave is to fund arts and cultural organizations and foster increased community interaction and neighborhood development. The mural goes from Main Street to Central Parkway and is in beautiful bright colors. Thanks Nate for telling me about this great project!

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Polygamists on Sister Wives

So there is a new show on TLC that I find absolutely gripping. It is called Sister Wives and documents the lives of a polygamist family. The family is trying to dispel the myths and misconceptions of the polygamist lifestyle. Some of the benefits the sister wives claim to benefit from include more time for their personal interests, a better support system and camaraderie, and safety net for the mothers in case they pass on. What I find interesting is to compare my experience with joint Indian families with this lifestyle. In India, it is tradition that the sons of a family keep the family house, and their wives move in joining the husband, parents, brothers, and any unmarried sisters. I became close friends with a woman who lived in such a lifestyle, and she greatly benefited from having another woman in the household. They shared domestic duties and benefited from the efficiencies of economies of scale, and she was able to hold a job at the organization I worked for. The only difference between her and her polygamist counterparts is that she does not have to share a man with anyone. I think it is interesting that the women on Sister Wives each have their own apartment within the home to maintain their autonomy, while the Indian sister-in-laws only have different brothers. In my opinion, sharing a house is much more efficient economically than sharing a husband, and sharing a house is less emotionally taxing than sharing a husband. In the history of time, people have lived many different lifestyles, and the organization of a family structure can be fulfilling in many different ways. From arranged marriages, to plural marriages, to serial marriages, the road to personal fulfillment can be sought in many different ways. I am in no position to comment on which one is the best...but if you have any comments, feel free to share your opinion.

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Will Allen and Growing Power!

So I am back in the states. The last weeks in India were a whirlwind, and amazingly awesome. I really miss the wholesome lifestyle of India. Back here in the states I have a new job as a Sustainability Advocate on campus and I love it! Tonight I went to Xavier University to see Will Allen, founder of Growing Power, speak about his amazing commitment to the good food revolution. It was really amazing to hear his story in person and see the photos of his organization in Milwaukee. Some of the key take-a-ways are that you need to gain the acceptance of the community you are working, you need to expect to move slow, and you need to network with people from all disciplines and backgrounds. This lecture just reinforced how good I had it while living in Dahod, a place with ample fresh farms.

Till next time-
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Saturday, August 21, 2010