The work-education nexus

18 Jun

Great article in today’s Chronicle of Higher Ed about how work experience and one’s college education enhance one another. If you need any more encouragement to take an internship–or participate in meaningful service or extracurricular activities– while you’re in college, this should put you over the edge.

Because the article is only accessible to subscribers, I’ve transcribed some choice bits below. The whole thing is worth reading if you have access:

If you are interested in doing an internship for credit for the fall semester, get in touch with either me or Dr. Forni, who will be taking over internships next year while I’m on sabbatical. We can help!

Want a College Experience that Matters? Get to Work

Scott Carlson, The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 18, 2014

Now and then, I get invited to journalism classes to talk to students about making a living as a writer. Last year I got a particularly special invitation: to speak to a room full of budding journalists at the Minnesota Daily, the college paper of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. This was the place where I learned about writing as real work—late at night and on weekends, cranking out profiles and essays to see them dropped within a twine-tied bundle of papers the next day at the cafe where I worked. When I arrived at the Daily for my talk, I found students much like my friends and me from years ago—coming from all kinds of majors, devoted to the craft. “Come with whatever you want to talk about,” the managing editor had told me in the invitation. But it was clear what they all wanted to talk about: how to land their first jobs in a stagnant economy, in a profession that is tougher than ever to break into.

That visit came back to me last month as I looked over the findings of the Gallup-Purdue Index, a survey of 30,000 Americans aimed at finding which college experiences lead to a happy job and life. Most of the buzz about the survey focused on the conclusion that caring and stimulating professors significantly raise a student’s chances of finding employment and well-being. But another important finding of the study was less noticed: Graduates who felt that their colleges had prepared them for life beyond the academy—through such activities as internships or jobs where the students were able to apply their classroom knowledge—were three times as likely to be engaged at work. Those who had done a long-term project, held an internship, or participated heavily in extracurricular activities or organizations doubled their chances of being engaged at work. Unfortunately, only a third of the survey respondents said they had gotten such an internship or job during college.

… snip …

Many of the outcomes resonate with my own experience, although my journey was more haphazard. I was an English-literature major who wanted to be a writer, but there were few opportunities to write for a real audience within the department, and I didn’t have a clue how to make a living at it. All I had heard in my creative-writing courses were clichés about the writing life: getting up every morning and putting something down on paper. That was too amorphous to be helpful.

Thanks to pushing from an uncle, I stumbled into a semester-long internship at a newspaper in Washington, where I was a transcriber and gofer for a veteran investigative reporter. That led me back to the Minnesota Daily, where I landed a job as a reporter covering arts and culture. And while the reporters got excellent training in writing on deadline, they also wrestled with the same problems that vex professionals: How do you balance hard-hitting news with crowd-pleasing stories, especially when advertisers are skittish and revenue is down? If the police want to dig through your notes in an investigation, what do you do? How do you handle a colleague (usually a friend) who isn’t cutting it?

Tony Wagner, who just finished his year as the Daily’s editor in chief, says he faced a dilemma when the newspaper came across a police report of an alleged sexual assault at the apartment of some university basketball players. Staffers deliberated right up to press time about whether or not to print the names of the players. They did, and a local metropolitan newspaper, the Star Tribune, did not. “You might talk about something like that in the classroom, but I don’t know of any place other than a student paper where you would actually wrestle with it,” he says. Graduating this spring, he has landed a job at American Public Media, the producer of A Prairie Home Companion, Marketplace, and other public-radio programs.

I, too, learned in a college newsroom the basics of what I went on to do every day, and it helped me land my job at The Chronicle.

Some people—like the wealthy entrepreneur Peter Thiel, who has offered students money to drop out of college and get on with work—might say that my English degree was unnecessary. But novels of ideas and literature of feminism, minorities, and marginalized people opened up the world of a kid raised in a monochrome Twin Cities suburb. In particular, the late Peter E. Firchow—the “caring professor” of my own college story—taught me to look at society through close reading of utopian and dystopian fiction. That training was invaluable to me, personally and professionally, in America after September 11, 2001. My literature degree wouldn’t have taken me far without the work, but my work wouldn’t have been as rich without the literature degree.


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