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.
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.