Category: Student Stories

The Perma-Smile

Many people talk about the “Senior Slide” as students finish their final year of college, I prefer to talk about the “perma-smile”.  smiley-face-on-beach

Students have worked so hard for their grades.  They have learned how to survive with messy roommates, impossible project assignments, harsh weather, homesickness, and the stress of a job search.  In the last few weeks of the Spring semester, can you blame them for being insufferably happy?

As these students count down the days until they graduate (it’s 22, by the way) – all of their hard work has paid off.  Although nobody knows what it is, they are ready to join the “real world”   As they strike out on their own, hopefully, the Career Culture that we have created on campus will propel them into their first destination.

The educational value of many the things the students have done may not be apparent to them.  There are a lot of technical skills learned in the classroom, but also a lot of other skills learned outside of the class that will help them succeed.  Late nights completing a project before a deadline, networking during a lunch, performing a presentation on a topic in front of their peers, entering a contest, or volunteering their talents to help someone else — these life lessons will serve them well.

To me, the perma-smile is a result of knowing that all the hard work is just beginning but the pay will be much better!


The value of knowledge lies in application

 In 1982 a young man named Jim headed off to college. He knew he was good in math and science, but had no idea what career that would lead to. Like his fellow freshmen, he found college courses far more challenging than high school. Lacking a defined use for the knowledge he was acquiring and the mounting challenge to acquire it, he was headed for trouble.

Jim’s grades suffered and he was put on academic probation by the university. Finally, at the end of his sophomore year, he received a letter from the Dean of Students that he had been kicked out of school. Jim was crushed as he shared the devastating news with his parents. He had a choice to make, speak with the Dean to be reinstated or choose a different path. Jim choose to reach out to the Dean for reinstatement and give it another try.

As Jim returned to school his grades improved marginally, for he still had not figured out a use for his knowledge, only that he needed to acquire it to graduate. He failed to take his knowledge for a test drive by participating in different co-ops or internships, allowing him to explore different career options. Jim ended up graduating with a “C” average, which limited his career choices after graduation.

Jim then began trying out careers beginning with the financial industries and leading to retail management, where he found his niche. He learned to lead others, execute creative merchandising, and manage expenses. He found an application for his knowledge and focus for the passion and work ethic he had developed. This combination of purpose and passion put him on the corporate ladder leading him to a position of training other managers to operate high volume retail operations producing sales of over $60 million annually.

Jim was experiencing professional and financial success, but still lacked personal gratification. In talking through his situation with his wife, he realized the most rewarding part of his job was helping others succeed. Jim, at 39 with the support of his family, decided to leave his job go back to school to be a middle/high school teacher.

Jim became a successful teacher in a small school. To improve his skills as an educator he completed his master’s degree, completing classes in the evenings and weekends. Soon he had an opportunity to work at a university, working with a team to create unique hands-on programs for K – 12 students that helped them discover their interests and talents.

Jim work at the university with freshmen began to bring back memories of his early challenges in college. He found students today suffered the same anxiety of how to apply their knowledge. This led him to return to school to pursue his doctorate in studying college freshmen and their experiences. Jim’s goal was to develop programs that would help freshmen understand how they were going to use the knowledge they were struggling so hard to acquire.

The moral of this story is that the true value of knowledge is decided upon by those that possess it. Successful educational institutions must focus not only on delivering knowledge to students, but ensuring each student explores ways to apply that information or skills that are valuable to each of them.


A Disability or a Gift – Dyslexia

John was creative and hard-working college student. His was majoring in computer engineering which is where he found his gift at coding. His interests spanned outside the classroom to rock climbing and other outdoor adventures. This well-rounded creative genius faced one daunting obstacle, the vast amounts of reading associated with demanding, tech-heavy majors. John visualized text differently than others, a situation he saw not as a disability but as another challenge to face.

Dyslexia is associated with difficulties in learning to read, having problems spelling words and some slowness in processing symbolic information. It is a source of anxiety and frustration for many whose learning is based heavily on acquiring knowledge through reading. Neuroscientists have found that the left hemisphere of your brain is the home of our language processing. The right hemisphere is known to be the home of our creativity. Recent research has tied problem-solving and creative thought processes used by engineers and scientists to this right hemisphere. Most adults will have a larger left hemisphere compared to the right. Researchers have found that dyslexic’s possess a larger right hemisphere, providing fertile ground for creativity and problem solving.

Some of our greatest leaders in industry and the arts were known to be dyslexic. John Lennon and Cher shared the gift of the musician. Each day we experience the creative genius of two other dyslexics, Steven Spielberg who brought us E.T. and Saving Private Ryan and Walt Disney who brought us on so many animated journeys starting with Mickey Mouse and then created Disney World theme parks to enjoy them in person. Great artists in history struggled with this disorder including Pablo Picasso and Leonardo Da Vinci leading up to present day Andy Warhol and Ansel Adams. Notables in American history with dyslexia include George Washington, Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, and Henry Ford.

A disability is often described as a limitation. What is not discussed is the gift that is associated with it. A recent study found that over 35 percent of successful entrepreneurs were diagnosed with dyslexia. The study found they quickly developed perseverance and tenacity to overcome this reading challenge. We now also know that they had a gift of a larger right hemisphere of their brain, providing them with creative tools to see the world a bit differently, allowing them to solve problems in a unique way others could not.

Many employers classify those with dyslexia as possessing a disability. They should be viewing it as a gift. The grade point average of a student challenged with dyslexia is not an accurate measure of their gifts of persistence, tenacity, and creativity. If we use history as our teacher, these individuals are the hidden gems that see the world through a different lens and will bring unique and creative answers to the problems we will face in the future.


Peer To Peer Networking For Experiential Education

Students love to interact with their peers.  I had a chance to observe this in action during some events held here on campus.  Career Services organized an event for students to share their experiences from their Experiential Education (Co-op or Internship) with students 1 or 2 years behind them.  To facilitate the discussion, students described what they learned while out working.  Afterwards, students displayed posters sharing their work experiences.

Giving students a chance to network with each other changes the entire dynamics of the conversation.  The style of the questions was dramatically different than the typical Career Fair interaction.  These conversations were more informal, more relaxed, and more conversational.  Why the big difference?  Students were talking to their peers?  Students on both sides of the table were were excited to learn, excited to share, and willing to “tell the truth” from their experiences.

What was most amazing to me was that after 3 or 6 or 8 months working for a company, our students were able to articulate the work culture and environment at their company.  They were just as passionate about the company they worked for as a seasoned member of the recruiting team.

This is an event that is easy to over-think or over-complicate.  Essentially, we invited students to make posters and asked them to share with their colleagues.  The rest of the interactions were unscripted and some of the most educational programming we have available to our students.

For pictures from the event, check out our Flickr page.


Going Back to School to Retire

In 1971 Marty Knowlton filled a backpack full of clothes and began a 4-year walking tour through Europe. Using the youth hostel system of staying in low cost housing, a cheap railroad pass, and his feet, he experienced the informal education experience of a lifetime. When he returned to the states he meet up with David Bianco, who at that time was the director of residential life at the University of New Hampshire, and shared his experience.

David wanted to find a way to use the campus facilities during the summer and Marty wanted to find a way to create low cost, less formal educational experiences for people. In the summer of 1975 over 220 participants descended upon the University of New Hampshire campus and the Elderhostel was born. By 1980, Elderhostel’s had expanded to all 50 states, with over 20,000 participants. Today this systems of informal learning has expanded to 150 countries. These experiences combine travel with education, creating an educational experience driven by the idea learning by doing, we now call experiential learning.

The value of lifelong learning, both through social and intellectual engagement, can be found in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease. Today, every 67 seconds someone in the U.S. develops Alzheimer’s with over 5.3 million Americans of all ages currently suffering from it. At a cost of $226 billion annually this expense is expected to rise to $1.1 trillion by 2050. Research has shown that a balance of healthy foods, exercise, and living with less stress are key components of preventing the occurrence of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This same research identifies the high value of consistent brain stimulation through social and intellectual action.

Elderhostel’s were created on a university campus as a way to provide unique hands-on learning experiences for participants of all ages. University campuses, recognizing the needs of our aging baby boomers, are now piloting campus retirement communities. They have set up full functioning villas on campus for retirees. Residents have access to campus facilities such as libraries, fitness facilities, while also getting discounted tickets to sporting events and campus food services. Some campuses are also offering reduced tuition to take courses while others are offering free instruction.

The pioneers of these campus retirement communities are Penn State, University of Florida, and University of Texas at Austin. Others have created unique living experiences adjacent to their campuses such as the University Commons in Ann Arbor, allowing aging adults to have all the services available on campus, yet allowing for a bit more serenity than what you would experience on campus.

Our society places a very high value on knowledge and expertise. Often when individuals retire, they take this acquired knowledge with them, ceasing to share it with others for mutual benefit. Dementia occurs when an individual ceases to stay active intellectually, socially, and physically. Campus retirement communities bring the ideas learned in Elderhostel’s to future generations. Interaction with young students through these adjacent communities is a unique way to pass on this valued acquired knowledge, while still enjoying the activity of the mind and soul in retirement.  


Embracing the Unknown

“Strange about learning; the farther I go the more I see that I never knew even existed.” -Daniel Keyes

As I read the current installment of reflection and discussion responses from students who are currently on co-op for the summer, Keyes’ quote is more true than ever, but I am not surprised. Our group of four career advisors here on campus share a lot of sayings, but one of our favorites sounds oddly familiar to Keyes, though far less poetic.

You don’t know what you don’t know.

We are constantly reminding our students of the unknown, because they are struggling to make career-related decisions without really knowing what’s out there. Those on co-ops are learning more about what is out there and some of those things they “never knew even existed.” When these students return to campus, they will come knowing a little more, worrying a little less, and working even harder, because they experienced, they learned, and their path became a little less winding.

If you are on the other side, as a supervisor or co-worker to a co-op student, I will leave you with some of their words. Nearly all of them credited those around them as to why their experiences were so englightening and valuable. While the work was part of their experience, a common theme was their appreciation for how they were treated while on site. Here’s what they said worked:

  • Surround them with people with whom they can trust, especially when asking questions
  • Provide honest feedback, because they want to learn and they want to learn to do it right
  • Make them feel valued – their work, their ideas, and their contributions
  • Take the time to get to know them and their lives outside of the workplace

The students on co-op are very aware of how much they don’t know and use every opportunity to learn something new each and every day, but those of us who have been doing our work for a while may be less observant. As you finish your day, think back and try to identify something new – what did you see that you never knew even existed?  We may be surprised.


India – the Movement from Skills to Competency

India is a country of roughly 1.2 billion people, 600 million below the age of 25. Its K-12 educational programming is called a 10+2+3 system. The first 10 years is divided into 5 years of primary education, next 3 years is upper primary, and the final 2 years are high school. The “+2” stage is called the higher secondary stage which leads to “+3”, their University system. Today India has over 460+ central and state Universities, 190+ private universities, and 34,000+ colleges, of which 1,800+ serve women only.

The education system in India is now facing the challenge of moving from producing graduates with skills in each field of study to producing young professionals who are competent, or possess the ability to immediately apply those skills in industry. This challenge is coming from industry in India that has been expanding on average between 6% – 10% annually (the U.S. has been 3% or less since 2008). They need talent that can contribute immediately, the day they are hired. Currently, they have training programs lasting 12 to 18 months to get new graduates up to speed and productive.

The Indian education system is one that relies on testing of basic knowledge to advance academically. Like many education systems it focuses on memorizing academic content. Testing measures the level which this base knowledge is attained. The measurement is not on the ability to apply this knowledge to solve real world problems. India’s challenge; alter the system to produce young graduates that not only possess the knowledge (skill) but also ones that can easily and broadly apply that knowledge in a job situation (competence).

How can this be done? The educational system in India believes the approach to addressing this is broad based. First, there must be more interaction between industry and their educational institutions in the areas of research and student based problem solving of industry problems while they are still students. Second, alter the curriculum to include more project-based learning involving immediate application of the skills or knowledge they are acquiring.

Next is more internship experiences in industry as they are fulfilling their course work. Again, allowing students to apply their knowledge in a real world setting. Industry leaders in India such as Honeywell, Thermax, and Tata Consulting Services all continue to advance extensive internship programs to support the development of competent students who they expect to convert to full-time employees when they graduate.

A change that will be slower to transition is altering the established culture of testing which is strictly focused on the skills. There has been much controversy internationally on how to measure acquisition of skills and competencies in a way that can be both time-efficient and cost-effective. Those that find the answer will be closer to the goal of mass production of competent talent.

Intellectual talent is the most valuable renewable resource on earth. Industry sees this value and rewards talent with high salaries, while aggressively recruiting at the educational institutions that can produce competent students. In today’s global marketplace, we must ensure our educational efforts exceed our not-so-distant neighbors, allowing us to produce competent graduates that will attract both industry and valued careers.


Learn From Your Interns

Providing meaningful projects to your Interns and Co-ops is important.  Students can learn a lot about their professional development, your company, and their career development based on the workplace challenges your provide them.

Have you ever taken the time to consider the things you can learn from your interns?

Interns are an excellent source of information about themselves and their peers.  Once the orientation is over and they are starting to settle into the routine of your office – take some time out of your busy schedule to ask them some questions:

  • What kinds of recruiting activities have you seen other companies do that have impressed you?
  • What is the most off-putting thing you have seen a recruiter do?
  • How much did you know about our industry before you started working here?
  • Do you have any friends that you could recommend that I meet?
  • What did you think of your orientation?  Did it prepare you for the challenges of working here?
  • Is there too much hands-on?  Too much desk work?
  • Do you have a good understanding of our office culture?

By acknowledging this student as an expert about their life experiences, you will gain  business intelligence for yourself, but also gain the confidence, trust, and respect of a young student by simply listening.


The Value of Summer Jobs for Youth

The Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the labor participation rate, defined as those seeking employment or employed, is 17 percentage points below its peak in 1989. According to a J.P. Morgan Chase study, only 46% of teenagers that apply for a job this summer will actually become employed. A survey of official in 14 major cities estimates that tens of thousands of youths from economically disadvantaged families will not be able to find employment this summer in their urban centers. So what is the value of a summer job to teenagers in the short and long term?

My first summer job was at Arby’s restaurant in my hometown of Midland. My parents let me know it was time to begin earning money for college and spending on my social experiences. Up to that time I had done odd jobs here and there, but was never obligated to show up for work for scheduled shifts for a longer period of time. My friends made me aware of the job at Arby’s and I applied using them as a reference. After a 20 minute interview I was awarded the job, a uniform, a paper hat, and my first schedule including training sessions. I tuned up my bike for the 12 block ride to work 4 to 6 days a week. So what was the value of that job to me?

Working at Arby’s paid me minimum wage which was around $3.45 per hour. It didn’t make me rich. But that jobs value was more than the wage. It taught me time management. I learned how to step out of my comfort zone and learn new skills. It taught me that with consistent and creative effort comes more responsibility, respect, and increased compensation. I found that doing more than what was expected increased my value in the eyes of my employer, while seeing those around me that did less than expected were rewarded with termination of employment.

At Arby’s each employee was part of a team whose mission was great customer service. My manager, Dave, didn’t play favorites but reward those that exceeded his expectations. The rewards may have been in the form of a free meal but often was just a moment of conversation and praise for specific actions we took that he appreciated. These conversations always concluded with statements of how it benefited others on the team and the customer.

So why are summer jobs so important to teenagers? Teenagers are in what experts call formative years. They are looking for purpose and direction that allow them to establish and endorse core values which will stick with them for the rest of their lives. Numerous studies have shown the value of employment. Success as an employee is like a self-confidence drug, once you get a taste of it you yearn for more. Lessons learned by a teenager during a summer job can help establish a strong work ethic, develop an understanding of how to contribute in a team environment, help prioritize tasks and much more. And the hidden take-away from a summer job? The never-ending yearning of each student to pursue a job where they can be successful in attaining the self-confidence drug is where the true value lies.


Putting the “Experience” into Experiential Education

Michigan Tech students were able to experience the inner workings of the Nucor factory in Crawfordsville, IN a few weeks ago.  This experience was made possible due to the hard work of AIST, Nucor, and Michigan Tech.

Because a bus full of 50 students were traveling, the trip logistics were carefully planned and accommodations for a group this size were considered.  The planned portion of the trip included a factory tour, dinners, and classroom training about leadership.

There are many adages about the “best laid plans” and Murphy’s law.  All of them apply here!

While the bus was en-route on this 12 hour journey, a combination of weather patterns forced the electrical utility to schedule the Electric Arc Furnace to be shut down during the tour.  Quick thinking at the factory resulted in a re-adjustment of both dinner and tour plans.  The Nucor team was able to rally to provide tours late in the evening and everyone ended up staying up later than planned.

Our students learned even more lessons than we had originally planned!  They got an excellent lesson in planning, resilience, and adjusting to changing conditions.  The key part of “Experiential Education” is that the experience will always be unique.

You can view photos of the event on our flickr page

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