Tag Archives: Higher Education

Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned

According to the calendar it is still summer, but for those of us in higher education summer will soon be a faded memory. I work in a marketing and university relations department on a college campus, and the new academic year is just days away. Goodbye summer, hello students!

I won’t deny that I’ll miss the quiet (and clean bathrooms). But I do love the start of the semester, greeting returning students and getting to know the freshmen. The campus practically hums with positive energy and new possibilities.

Part of the fun of my job is having a student intern each semester who assists with writing, website updates, research, list management, etc. Many of our interns have minimal experience but plenty of enthusiasm, so they get a semester’s worth of Journalism 101 in a matter of days. They learn about deadlines. About suddenly having to shift gears when necessary. How to write in AP style, conduct an interview, take photos.

What do they get out of it? In addition to receiving college credit, they acquire new skills (and beef up their resumes) and get a byline in our publications. That’s great to have in a portfolio.

We benefit from this experience as well. In fact, lessons learned from our students have been invaluable to me, both professionally and personally. Here are just a few reasons why I admire them so much.

They are expert multi-taskers.

Most of our students carry a full course load but have outside obligations that require a good amount of their time. Some hold full-time jobs. Others are responsible for the care of family members. Yet these are often the students who consistently make Dean’s List and hold leadership positions on campus. I don’t know how they do it, but I’m pretty sure they don’t get much sleep.

All it takes is a little creativity.

Who wants the same old same old? Not us! We’re open with them about our expectations, but from the get go we encourage the proverbial thinking-outside-the-box. Out of these brainstorming sessions have come some really cool ideas, things that we hadn’t thought of before. One of our interns taught himself video production and editing, and made several fantastic videos that we added to our website.

They are self-assured and driven.

I am often awestruck by the composure of our students. They are well-spoken and respectful, but do not hesitate to question the status quo and offer alternate solutions. Many of our students are first generation college students, and very motivated to succeed. The dream of a college degree, and the doors that will open for them, keep them going even when the challenges seem insurmountable.

Take two LOLs and call me in the morning.

They are funny, these Generation Y-ers! Just in the nick of time, when the work is accumulating and the stress level is inching up, they come out with something that tickles our funny bone. Finding the humorous side of things can make the tension dissipate: just what the doctor ordered. We have a laugh and then get on with it.

It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.

It is gratifying that our interns stay in touch. Just when we start to wonder what ever happened to so-and-so, we’ll get an email or an impromptu visit. Occasionally it will be to request a reference, but most often it is just to say hello and catch us up on their careers, their families. A good thing that is, staying in touch.

We feel good knowing they’re out in the world making a difference. And what they’ve left behind has made a difference for us.

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Spread Your Wings and … Fly?

On a sunny day last May, the newly-minted graduates tossed their tasseled caps in the air with whoops and hollers. With that, my daughter Laurie and the other members of the Class of 2011 closed one door and turned expectantly toward another. What was on the other side? For some, the promise of a job or graduate school.

For others, the door creakily hinged shut, putting new beginnings tantalizingly out of reach.

The members of the Class of 2011 had been raised to believe that they could do anything with a college degree. Follow your dreams, we parents told them. The world is your oyster. With that diploma you will have opportunities galore.

The economy of 2011 told them something else.

The misery of finding a job in a sluggish economy was a lesson in Real Life 101.  Item #1 on the syllabus: there aren’t a lot of jobs out there. Item #2: you’re one of a gazillion vying for the jobs that are. Item #3: get used to trying your hardest and coming up empty. Get used to not having your calls returned. Get used to waiting.

Being the highly organized person she is, Laurie started her search months before graduation.  She sent out countless resumes. Checked job websites daily. Spent hours researching, reaching out to friends of friends whose cousin’s neighbor worked somewhere where they were hiring. And I won’t tell you that nothing, absolutely nothing came of it.

There were some clunkers offers along the way. Yet despite being in the throes of anxiety, Laurie trusted her instincts and was wary.

For example, she encountered:

* a “marketing/advertising” company whose website boasted its rapid growth, multiple office locations and plans for further expansion. She was interviewed for a marketing associate position. Sounded perfect, too good to be true. And it was. At the end of a long day of interviews, she was told she would be selling the services of a utility company. Door-to-door. In questionable urban neighborhoods. No salary, just commission. And no benefits. Um, no.

* a well-known international finance corporation that invited her to interview for a financial analyst position. The first interviews went well and she got called back. In the course of the second round, she was pressed to reveal her family’s financial circumstances, what neighborhoods her relatives and friends called home, which prominent families were in her circle from high school and college, etc. Noooo, thank you.

* an insurance company with locations throughout the country that offered her a position right on the spot. What was the catch? Again, no base salary. Strictly commission. :sound of buzzer:

Her dogged pursuit meant hours each day browsing new openings, following up with emails and phone calls, and continuing to network every which way. She tried to be positive, but sometimes it just got to be too much. The waiting was awful and it really sucked to be back at home, living with her parents, as if college had never happened. Thank goodness for friends like Cassandra who freely dispensed encouragement and hugs.

 

But I am happy to tell you that her persistence paid off. After many months and many interviews, she was offered the job she had wanted more than anything, in the city she wanted to live in. In the end it worked out exactly the way she had dreamed.

To the recent grads, and even not-so-recent, who have yet to land a job: hang in there. May 2012 will be a year of recovery, healing and promise. My CNN email alert just announced that the U.S. economy added 200,000 jobs in December with the unemployment rate falling slightly. Believe in yourself, and believe in your future.  Your college education was worth it. And the best is yet to come.

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Helicoptering

Congratulations to all the parents whose children have graduated from high school. Your darling sons and daughters are happily morphing from high school student to college freshman.  Commencement is over, yearbooks have been signed (they do still do that, right?) and the quest for a summer job is underway.

You, dear parent, have cried, exulted, worried and philosophized.  But now that your son or daughter is positioned for the next four years, I am here to tell you that it is time to plan for your future.

Consider this: no more “Back to School” nights, sitting uncomfortably in those student desk/chairs while trying to look interested in the expectations or recriminations of long suffering high school teachers. No more PTA meetings, bake sales, soccer tournaments, Halloween parades, choir recitals or  high school musicals.

What are you going to do with all this extra time?

Of course you have your 9-5 job, your gardening club, grocery shopping, fantasy football and all the other mundane tasks that we pack into our days. But be honest now. Is there a part of you that secretly yearns for the carpool line? Will you have to resist driving by the baseball field to catch a few innings? Are you still humming the tunes from last spring’s high school musical?

Good news: your prayers have been answered. These days, the gates of college are open not just to incoming freshmen, but their aging boomer parents as well.

Responding to the outcry of parents who want to retain their position in their offspring’s day-to-day lives, many institutions of higher education have adopted a full scale of parent programming and opportunities for involvement, giving you a way to extend the active parenting years a bit further. Do you have fond memories of serving on a school committee? There’s room for you. Miss volunteering at school events? Just sign up and the job is yours.

And whether your child reacts with glee or despair, you don’t have to cut the apron strings. Not yet.

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