Defining your own undergraduate education

Fresh out of high school and going directly to a four-year university, I had not yet defined what an undergraduate education meant to me. Just like most of my peers in the same situation, I embraced the common belief that all I needed was to just get by enough to hopefully get a diploma in four years. I believed that the diploma itself would qualify me and set me up for work straight out of university. Naturally, I adopted short-term strategies that helped me pass exams through pattern recognition rather than content mastery.

Fast forward to 2020, with five years of undergraduate experience and several years of higher education still ahead of me, I have begun to transition toward content mastery as a pillar of what my undergraduate education means to me. Currently, my undergraduate education is about developing a foundation of knowledge and professional learning skills, all while developing personal relationships with peers and faculty to reach my own interpretation of success based on a timeline of my choice.

Therefore, I have also had to consider how I would define success in the context of my present and future. For me, a successful life means being able to provide for my family and I, financially, mentally, and physically. Financially, I would like to earn enough money for my family to be safe, comfortable, and not feel severely limited in opportunity due to lack of money. Mentally, I would like to disassociate stigma from vulnerability and provide a supportive environment that promotes individual growth. Physically, I would like to be present and available to spend time with my family. If I could afford to extend some of these qualities to my students as well, I would also define that as a success.  

We Are The Living | A crazy couple's epic quest for awesomeness!

But how did I go from just wanting a diploma to defining higher education based on my goals and values?

Having been at Davis for 1.5 years and at Foothill for the next 2.5 years, many times along the way I began to question if my inevitable 6+ years pursuit for an undergraduate degree was worth it. The process was painful, and with each failed quarter my pursuit for a diploma became less appealing. Hearing the stories of fellow students similarly questioning their fit and expectations in higher education, I too began to question my own role in my education. With help from my professor Jeff Anderson, I realized that if one did not come to university with a specific goal, the university would give one the empty goal of graduating within four years. However, I wanted to make my education about serving my values and goals rather than about graduating within a time limit.

Can the value I seek in my education be efficiently replicated through an online-only experience?

No, the personal relationships that can be attained in person are not as equally developed via online. Lectures are already an inefficient system, and over the internet there are more barriers for student engagement. Although, these barriers can be overcome, I could not suggest that online and in-person classes are of the same value. Although, I applaud the effort of students and faculty who are doing the most with what they can, but I am still glad I have chosen to take this quarter off. Perhaps in the past I would accept whatever position I was forced into, but now I am willing to advocate for myself and argue that my experience in education should be determined by me and what I find most beneficial for my education.


One thought on “Defining your own undergraduate education

  1. What a beautiful and timely post Steve… This sem I have really hit the wall you addressed in your 1st paragraph on doing what we know how to do, to pass the damn course. I am now learning, those strategies are insufficient to pass the course, especially as courses get tougher: which I’d like to define as – less student centered, paralyzing dictatorship of academic integrity, needing to cover way more stuff from the course of requirements on the syllabus for the same amount of time… with way fewer resources (tutoring, online material) available. Many concept images I try to shortcut are no longer even searchable on the internet…

    in your 2nd paragraph I might considering embedding this link if you see fit: Foundational Knowledge is a beautiful concept I know TLCode community endorses.

    I hope to see you expand in your 3nd paragraph as you continue to blog Steve, there’s a lot there which gets to many of our conversations of what values/purpose/mission mean.

    For paragraph 4 I’d embed link into the actual page of the post, or as a link for Jeff Anderson, because sadly, not all students get to experience his student centered heart… this link will also provide students who struggle with reading to get some value out of your post.

    areas to rally: I recently started critically distinguishing effectiveness and efficiency, thanks to our Kindling & deeper thinking TLC club with @jeffandersonmath . Because of this I would challenge you to think about: are lectures ineffective, if so for who? how are lectures inefficient, and if so for who? What is the relationship between effectiveness and efficiency? Do you learn to be effective before you think about being efficient (think about your 1st paragraph “pattern recognition vs. content mastery”) to lead you to explore, my zoom meeting w Katherine lee 10/16/20 she states “lecture is extremely efficient for the instructor”

    What would a “slower” more attainable pace of learning look like in a class? How do we nurture and model psychological safety in our own leadership, in hopes of other students doing the same in small group facilitation / breakout rooms / group projects

    Great work Steve, I see that you are serious about reading and writing. Keep up the steady pace, and I’ll do my best to catchup!

    Liked by 1 person

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