Education

Want to be creative? Try disconnecting.

With my talk of social media and MOOCs, its pretty clear that I love the influence of the Internet. Even after listening to my grandmother’s woes about how ‘we’re always shoving some screen into our faces’ it’s difficult for me to think of how some things worked without the internet.

At the same time, the constant push to be online has caused a lot of problems. Whether its the dangers (and mass acts of cruelty) that come from internet anonymity or even the fear of missing out which seems to be a result of social media sites and the push to constantly be ‘on’ (but also off?) and show how exciting your life is. I try to be as mundane as possible, so the only purpose of social media is to post artsy pictures, vague statuses, and the occasional mention of my dog.

Side-note: If you tend to post a lot of pictures of dogs, feel free to connect with me on all social media sites. Double points if you have puppies.

But there’s another side effect of internet in my opinion – its saps creativity. It’s hard to have time to yourself to think and create when you’re constantly absorbing and shifting through a variety of information whether it’s articles, messages, or photos. While I think the quest for originality is highly overrated, it is important for people to be innovative. It’s a way to express yourself in a thoughtful and detailed way. And in some aspects, when you finally find yourself online again you’ll have something unique to contribute. 

There are plenty of small things you can do to go offline every now and then:

  • Take a walk every day: There are plenty of benefits from walking every now and then. It’s also a great way to reflect during the beginning or end of your day. My current dorm involves walking at least 4 blocks before I get on campus, and I really love the feeling of having time to think about my day before moving straight into work or school. In fact, I come up with most of my short story ideas while taking a walk.
  • Use a whiteboard/sketchpad/etc.: Sometimes you really just need to draw out what you’re thinking. Even absentminded drawing can be the start of something great.
  • Join a club or volunteer: Sometimes you need to clear your mind of your own self-reflection and think about the needs of other people. And I personally think volunteering is the most productive way of doing this, but joining a club and participating in a cause that you care about is another fantastic way to go about expending energy. And some get their creative energy through working around and with others, so that’s always a great option if you want to build creativity within the company of others.
  • Give up a day to chaos:  This one is simple – take a day, and day, and leave it completely up to chance. Instead of focusing on completing tasks and meeting deadlines, find a day that you can use to do whatever you what.

Instead of focusing on whether being online or offline is the better option – look into finding different ways to value the time equally. Focus on how you can maximize your time for growth, instead of pushing to be in one state of being or another.

What are your tips for building creativity?

The Minority Millennial: Culture Shock, Loss, and Overcoming Obstacles

Soggy puppy

Also, look at this adorable picture of a puppy! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since I haven’t written a post in forever, I thought it would be fun to open with a story:

Most of my friends and I come from a variety of different backgrounds, I’m sure we could fill the entire diversity spiel just by sitting in a group together. I have issues with the academic perception of diversity, but I’ll get to that another time. Regardless, nearly of all us have some difference via gender, socioeconomic status, nationality, race, or ethnicity. And one of the things that I’ve noticed from discussing issues of minority background with my friends is how dramatic it was to come to my college when we first arrived.

While I absolutely love my college now, it was painful both academically, socially, and emotionally to adjust to it even though I came from a school with similar demographics. Unfortunately, my college is not an activist campus. I wish it was, but it isn’t. I think if it had been, there would have been a greater sense of awareness and preparation not just for students of color, but in forming transitions to adjust to college life.

I’m saying this mainly to reach out to the student who struggles at college either due to their presumed minority status, but even those who come from an incredibly different background than the college they attend. The college experience is always shifting and changing. Sometimes it’ll be the “best thing ever”, but other times, it will HURT. A lot of it can depend on the cultural differences, but I promise, it will get gritty and dirty at some points. And that’s OK. I’m not saying you’ll overcome all of your issues instantly, but it’s OK to feel discomfort and shock. While it sucks sometimes – I know it did for me at a lot of points – you’ll leave with a greater sense of maturity, and a set of skills that will serve you well long after you leave college.

While I hate telling students that they’ll have to change for the world, I want you all to know: be open to change. You’d be surprised how many similarities will arise even in the things that you’d find different.

5 Habits of Highly Effective 20 Year Olds

Churchill College, October 2009

Churchill College, October 2009 (Photo credit: Caramdir)

I’ve already mentioned my love of Stephen Covey on this blog, and his most famous book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I think it’s a great book, and while I didn’t agree with some of his personal philosophies, it’s definitely a book that everyone should read at least once. And because I’m at the ripe age of 20, I decided that maybe there are different measures that we all should be taking. This list is geared towards college students, but I’m sure plenty of people would be happy to give it a whirl.

1. Finances are more important than grades

I know, blasphemy. But once college is over, your GPA may be a foot in the door, but all of the important things (buying/renting a house, taking out loans, purchasing investments) depend on your credit score and your managing of personal finances. Many banks offer programs to help college students manage the brand new world (for some) of finances, and if not, see if your school offers any courses on it. Your bank won’t care about your 3.9 GPA, so start building a good credit score now.

2. It’s time to be something else than the drunkest girl (or guy) at the party

You, I, nearly every college student have had those moments. And if you haven’t, congrats! You have much more common sense then me. But regardless of your class year, you’ve probably figured out the drinking scene. Some will claim mastery level, I’m sure. Take those hours and try to find out someone more productive. I have confidence you can do it.

3. Decide on your (temporary) career path

If your major doesn’t lead to a direct career path or is in a field with slow growth, plan now on how you are going to get there. Interested in being a fashion journalist but can’t find job offers? Take a job at Starbucks/Target/IHOP and volunteer or intern at a newspaper company or fashion house. I know plenty of people who took multiple unpaid internships and didn’t have at least a part time job, and complained about finances. Well, duh. Customer service isn’t a glamorous lifestyle, but neither is making $0 per year.

4. Cut the drama

You’ve probably gone through the friendship fights, downward spirals, and disappointing events. Crying on people’s shoulders and causing chaos is fun for a while, but your potential employers probably won’t be so mirthful. There’s no need for constant drama. Take that energy and network instead.

5. Know that it’s OK not to have all of the answers

Kind of funny that I’m saying this given the title of the post, but you just turned twenty (or twenty-something). While I hate when people use the excuse of being young to ignore Kristen Stewart levels of scandal, you are young. It’s OK to panic sometimes. And you don’t have to have all or any of the answers right now. You just have to keep searching. Don’t let the unknown weigh you down. Embrace it.

Factors contributing to someone's credit score...

Factors contributing to someone’s credit score, for Credit score (United States). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Intern Anomaly

The Intern Anomaly

For all of you struggling college students out there, this link gives an interesting insight into internship opportunities related to the federal government. Personally, I believe that the logic could be similarly tied to non-profit and for-profit institutions as well. I’m currently participating in a non-federal virtual summer internship at the moment, and I’ve had to critically reflect on my time as an intern, and assess the level of experience I’ve gained working as a virtual and non-virtual intern (I’m also interning at my local public library this summer). In my opinion, the quality of an internship is absolutely tied to three factors:

1) the effort an intern is willing to make in a company/institution

2) the desire of the company to educate its interns

3) the ability between both parties to evaluate and revise their current procedures if any conflicts come up

Without all three of these options, I don’t believe that an internship can successfully take place. I was lucky that with one of my internships this summer, I felt that I could carefully discuss matters with my supervisor if any issues or conflicts arose. Plus, the general experience of helping people led me to realize what I wanted to pursue in a career, and influenced my decision to apply to graduate school for library and information science.

At the same time, I believe that completing a variety of internships is the best way of figuring out exactly what you want to do. It’s a way of understanding the trials, joys, and ultimately disappointments that come with working in a professional atmosphere. While I may have done things a bit differently if my life situations had been less complicated, I believe that all students should have a mix of physical and virtual internships, especially for those of us who can’t afford to travel long distances or pursue unpaid opportunities during the summer.

What do you all think?

Pokemon and Persistence

Or how a strange combination of Pokemon, stress, and contemplation is ridiculously relevant to my 20 year old life. 

Image Copyright mynintendonews.comImage just so you know 🙂

Recently, I heard the Pokemon song again. I’ve also had an increasingly rough semester, an even rougher summer, and I decided to make a few lifestyle and career changes that may completely alter who I will be in the near future. In the interests of not sounding melodramatic, I’ve been busy.

So I’ve been reading into a variety of study materials, as the decision to attend graduate school means that I want to refocus and double my study efforts. If I’m going to be a Librarian or better yet, Information Professional, I need to be someone who absorbs information fully and completely. A lot of this is due to a book I’ve recently gotten into, called Study Smarter, Not Harder, which I would recommend to anyone interested in improving their study skills. I plan to do a review of it on this blog later on.

This book taught me about the importance and interesting skill of Zen Meditation, and creating ‘preparation strategies’ in order to conquer big hurdles such as studying, essay-writing, and test-taking. Naturally, I thought of level grinding. But what does this have to do with Pokemon?

Studying, oddly is exactly like level grinding

So you have a team of 6 Pokemon, and you’ve been training to get to the next gym. You rotate through a different array of Pokemon to build up each of their strengths, and you rest at the health center in between battles. In terms of studying, think of it like this: There are reportedly 8 different types of intelligences humans have. These are linguistic, mathematical/logical, musical, visual/spatial, naturalistic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and physical. And attribute theses to different Pokemon types. I’ve decided to correspond intrapersonal with the Fairy-type because well, it’s funny. Clearly no one has a team of just one type, and you need a wide variety of types to tackle different gyms or tests. So in a way, everyone is a ‘math-type’ or ‘language-type’, also it’s incredibly important to grind/study with those skills at the right times. Just one or the other will give you 0 benefits. It’s a combination that ends up putting you in the right place. Being a math-type will help me to do well in Economics classes, but its my linguistic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal skills that may land me a job or internship.

Don’t pigeonhole yourself. As cheesy as it sounds, go and catch them all.

I want to be the very best, like no one ever was

When I was younger, I loved the Pokemon Anime. I wanted to be just like Ash, and be the best. But be the very best at what? It’s somewhat impossible to be the best at everything, so what was my plan or goal? As much as I loathe to admit, I’m pretty sure he had better goals than I did. “I want to collect all of the Pokemon” is still a better aspiration than “I want to be awesome”. I need to refocus my goals like he did. And as a future information professional, my goal is to be better at learning. I want to absorb information with a passion and with a sense of intuition. I want to be a metadata specialist, and brush up on my business and economic skills along the way. So for all of you college students out there, go back to your inner Pokemon roots and be the very best.

And if nothing else, I hope that you decide to use this message and tell people that you’re a [insert skill here] type. Because you are, and you can hone and collect them all if you put your mind to it. Best of luck!

College, Interning, and the Abundance Mentality

Recently I’ve been rereading (more like completely finishing) Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s an incredibly amazing book and it seems to change my perspective on life every time I read it. So in case you couldn’t tell, I would wholeheartedly recommend purchasing it.

I just finished looking over Habit #4 of the public victory mentality, which deals with thinking “Win/Win or No Deal” meaning that we must use strength and empathy to come up with a decision that benefits all parties involved. If we can’t, then we will walk away from the situation entirely.

As someone who is almost ready to leave college and has mixed feelings on the institution and my time there, I wonder how much of the educational system is built upon the Abundance Mentality versus the Scarcity Mentality. To clarify, the AM is a worldview that promotes the ideas of partnership and opportunities out there for everyone. The SM focuses on the ‘there’s not enough out there for everyone’ idea, and that there are always winners and losers. One of the examples Mr. Covey gives is that only so many people can be ‘A’ students (p.219, paperback edition).

But when I thought about it, even though he uses that as a negative point, that’s relatively true in higher education. Many institutions promote the scarcity mentality, and say that there’s not enough X to go around. Whether its grades, awards, accolades, etc. there’s a distinction between the best, and every one else. To a certain extent, I don’t believe that is a bad thing. Everyone cannot get A’s in a course realistically, and many don’t do the work that merits it. Still, the education system as it is promotes antagonism and the Win/Lose mentality, and with the amount of debt college grads are piling up, its becoming increasingly hard to say whether the educational system is even worth it.

In my opinion, this is where interning comes in. I don’t really think that the Scarcity Mentality of education will ever go away, but instead of focusing on the flaws in education we can move into other situations that will serve us much longer. Interning is a great way to show how to work for yourself and your boss. You’re in a lower position (and hopefully practicing humility as well) which means that you might feel the need to go into lose/win positions, or get goaded into doing something you are uncomfortable with to appease your boss. In this situation, I really support focusing on Win/Win or No Deal, and calmly, effectively, and thoughtfully explaining to your boss what you thought your defined roles were, your goals, and what you believe their aims for you are.

This probably comes off as another one of those “college isn’t everything” posts – probably because it is – but I believe that the skills of Win/Win and the Abundance Mentality are applicable no matter what stage of life you’re in.

Cover of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effectiv...

Cover of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Creating the College Experience

If there was one thing that I wished my guidance counselors would have told my 17-year old high school graduate self, it’s the importance of making your own path in college. I naturally assumed that picking the ‘perfect’ college would magically grant that experience. Sadly, it didn’t. I later found the experience I wanted, but there was a lot of trial and error getting there. Regardless of your college situation, you can shape it into path that you want. Here are a few tips and situations to get you started:

College Relationships are Dramatic, and That’s Good. 

Fostering relationships is work, and at some points you may need to work at it as hard as your academics. Most will tell you that academics always come first and I definitely agree with that. But the truth is for many of us, college is one’s first extended time away from family and friends who are situationally close both emotionally and physically. College pretty much puts you at level one, and tells you to build yourself up from the start all over again. And creating connections is essential for dealing with college stress. So talk to people, join clubs, fall in love, and break a heart or two. Don’t let college get too monotonous.

Try Things and Take Risks (In Moderation)

I personally do not believe in the mantra of ‘sign up for everything at the activities fair, and then drop what you don’t like.’ I think a better approach is to start in your comfort zone, and join clubs that relate to things you already love. You’ll meet people with similar interests, and it’ll help you to manage your time initially as you’ll be following a similar schedule as you’re used to. After that, THEN I say take as many risks as you want. Your high school never had a karate club? Sign up for it then. But only after you’re comfortable. There’s a certain awkwardness that always comes with branching out, but once you’ve given yourself time to settle, you’ll feel much more at ease exploring new things.

Say Hi to Professors (Even The Mean Ones)!

If nothing else, this is a must-do (only second to fostering friend relationships). Your professors are a valuable source of information, and if you have absolutely no idea of your future plans, they could also be a source of interesting facts, opportunities, and career advice. Be eager to learn from them both in and out of the classroom.

Get a Job. Your Parents Will Thank Me Later. 

I personally think that some of my greatest experiences at college have been due to my jobs. I absolutely love working, and I discovered my talent for marketing and my love of librarianship through my jobs. And my jobs have helped me to learn how to interact with others and manage large groups, skills that can’t fully be learned in a classroom setting. Even if a job has nothing to do with your future career path, it can definitely get you into the working world mindset.

Overall, be proactive in finding the college experience that suits you best. There’s no one correct path, and many people have taken different avenues to get there. Just try not to spend all of your parents money and have fun with it OK?

On Disappointment, Anger, and Unemployment

Alternatively, why higher education promised us the sun, and gave us a rock.

So I come from a college that is pretty well known for engineering, or as most of you know, the only major that seems to be getting a lot of jobs at the moment. While my school is a great place, one of the things that I’ve noticed within higher academia is the heated discourse going on within different disciplines. Ranging from pushing students away at the arts and humanities, complaining that humanities majors should have to pay more or forget about attending college (http://www.forbes.com/sites/petercohan/2012/05/29/to-boost-post-college-prospects-cut-humanities-departments/), and the growing healthcare industry that doesn’t have enough qualified workers at the moment, it seems that American society at least is in a bit of a bind.

So where is the real solution in this situation?  And on the other hand, do we even know where the problem stems from?

While I certainly am not qualified enough to solve our economic woes, I want to take a stab at why these problems have occurred. As distressing as it is, Generation Y isn’t the first to suffer through economic turmoil, and it won’t be the last to deal with these kinds of issues. I believe our situation is unique part in thanks to the rise of computer technology and to an extent social media, which has led to the creation of jobs that were unheard of 20 years ago. But at the same time it has lead to the deterioration of certain industries, and the near eradication of many others. And right now, most of the skill sets we have are partially ones we grew up with, but the official jobs where our skills could be useful haven’t quite opened up yet, at least not to their full extent.

It’s the End of the World as We Know It

But what does this have to do with universities? One of the more obvious answers is the inflation of education levels and skill sets. As my grandmother likes to tell me all the time, back in her day men and women could learn non-degree related skills such carpentry, bookkeeping, secretarial studies, etc. And nowadays, minus vo-tech schools (which tend to be poorly advertised and marketed as for students ‘who aren’t good in regular school’) those courses have completely been eradicated from a school’s curriculum. While I have personally lamented the dismantling of art programs in public schools, I also think that it is very important and disheartening that we’ve gotten rid of technical or skill based programs, as for many students who come from low income families don’t have the opportunity to attend college, and may end up graduating with little or no marketable skills (that’s if you consider a college education a marketable skill in and of itself, which I do to a certain extent).

Redefining Education

But more directly related to struggling college students and grads who are looking for work, I don’t really think that this is all of your fault. I believe a lot of this comes from colleges who marketed to us that qualities X, Y, and Z made them the best, and more often then not unless it was a specific career with a direct career path (accounting, engineering, etc.) many colleges twiddled their thumbs and pretended as though they had no idea what kind of jobs came with our degree. And while I won’t pretend that students shouldn’t research these things on their own, I do think most colleges do a poor job of prepping students for the career environment. At the very least, I would push for more courses on business/resume writing and personal finance, so at least the unemployed graduates these colleges create will have something under their belt. But I think 4 year colleges should also partner with community colleges, so students can learn a combination of of ‘career skills’ alongside a humanities education. As an economics major I can’t completely discount the value of a liberal arts education. But I think many of us college students need to push back against some of this backlash, and decide either to complement our liberal arts education with more technical based skills, or create our own paths that involve the humanities.

Another path is to remove the stigma against community colleges, which teach liberal arts classes and trades, and at a lower cost than many 4 year colleges. I know many of my friends were embarrassed to be at a community college, and most were only using it as a pathway to attend a more traditional university. Traditional is fine, but students who go to community college shouldn’t be ignored or demeaned. Personally, as a soon to be college grad, I’ve been lucky to escape some of the more perilous hurdles such as student loans, but if my high school career counselor had told me that I could make decent money as a mechanic or bookkeeper with two years and more than triple the cost (my school costs roughly $50-60,000 per year) I would’ve been sold.

So What Next

Overall, what I hope to get across is that there is a problem with our current educational system, and while there are no ‘right’ answers, there are certain things that need to change. Some parts of the college experience should be dedicated towards non-career related goals: being away from home for the first time, learning to adjust to a new environment, understanding academia on the university level, enjoying time with friends and meeting people from a variety of geographic and cultural areas, and so on. But in this economy, we’ve lost that luxury to a certain extent. And now we have to be pragmatic at 17-18 years old, and ignore the cheers of college and getting a education that may financially ruin us well into our thirties, forties, and further. It’s a hard sell, but I caution others to reflect on the college experience as they see it now, and on the bright side, this may turn Gen Y into one of the most pragmatic generations yet! We may not appreciate it right now, but the innovative skills we’ve gotten will last us a lifetime.

What do you guys think about the state of higher education? Feel free to combat my points as well!

The entrance to PCC

The entrance to PCC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)