Sunday, July 13, 2014
The deluge of demands on higher education to prepare students for careers has left a wake of various responses - primarily changes in curriculum and more emphasis on testing and assessment of outcomes - to try to engineer skills that match current job requirements. But by focusing just on on content, they're missing the most important key to career success-- confidence. Unlike most other colleges, we intentionally engineer confidence here at the Park School.
We all know that skills and facts become obsolete and that knowledge alone doesn't land the job. On the other hand, there's a great deal of research that shows that confidence may be the most important ingredient in getting a job and rising up the corporate ladder. Perhaps nowhere is this statement better proven than in the studies that demonstrate why women don't get as far as similarly educated and competent men. For example, a recent article entitled The Confidence Gap cites a number of studies that prove that confidence-- even over-confidence-- is what separates out highly successful leaders from their peers.
The sad part of this story is that higher education, for the most part, doesn't concentrate on teaching confidence. None of the assessment measures that are required by accrediting agencies look at this factor, either. In fact, a lot of education actually stifles confidence. John Taylor Gatto, the 1991 teacher of the year, argues in his essay The 7-lesson Schoolteacher that school really teaches confusion, indifference, class position, intellectual and emotional dependency, provision self-esteem, and that one can't hide. While Gatto speaks of K-12 education, the same lessons are often the big take-aways in college classes. Too many professors are selected and promoted on the basis of their huge list of publications - matched only by their huge egos. Some enjoy putting students in their place, and consciously or unconsciously make them unsure of performance standards. Their students are beholden to them for the grades that will impact whether they get that prized internship, qualify for a scholarship (or even to stay in school), or make it into graduate school. And too often, students have no other measure of how well they're actually doing other than their grades.
Here's how we engineer confidence: Opportunities to give students authority and responsibility early on in their academic careers push them into situations where they will inevitably test their own capabilities. This also lets them see that their faculty and administration trust them. For example, here at the Park School of Communications, we check out about $25 million of portable production equipment to undergraduates each year - and we entrust them to manage our cable TV channel and FCC licensed FM radio station. Our station managers wind up leading 300 other student volunteers to execute programming that is accessible to the world - and accountable to the FCC. Even if they don't wind up managing radio or TV stations, these student media execs know how to lead teams, manage projects, motivate and provide feedback to subordinates, and run meetings.
Pushing students to interact with experts, even if they don't fully feel capable of engaging with them, allows them to learn how to network and use the language of their profession. I teach a freshman class called S'Park where we Skype in leading industry professionals and students are required to live Tweet and to actually ask questions and share their opinions with our alums, including Bob Iger '73 (Disney CEO) and David Muir '95 (ABC news anchor). We tell the students they are not "kids", they are young professionals - and they immediately begin acting that way.
Providing opportunities to become independent and live in unfamiliar situations while still having a familiar structure allows them (and their parents) to choose options that otherwise would be too risky. Our centers in Los Angeles and New York City allow our students to intern full-time while still checking in to take 2 classes and being mentored by their faculty and staff. And working side by side with professors and staff on real projects allows them to see themselves as agents of change and as capable - while still being scaffolded by their mentors who are teaching important concepts while also doing a job. Many of our students serve as crew for faculty documentaries or for productions done by our professional production unit, and many classes at Ithaca College work for clients in the community writing grants, creating websites, or helping to teach kids.
When choosing colleges, prospective students and their families should ask not just about job placement, what kinds of equipment or facilities are available, how famous the professors are, or even the college's ranking. What's most important is whether a student will feel more confident having experienced life in and out of the classroom . Being overwhelmed by the size or the culture of the institution will clearly be a step in the wrong direction. But so will being a truly huge fish in an overly small pond - while a student may succeed, she will accurately perceive that success there is not indicative of success among a more representative group of peers in the profession of choice.
Students need opportunities to test their own mettle, to lead others, to accurately see how they stack up against talented and motivated peers, and to find the niche where they feel comfortable and confident. They need just the right amount of sheltering and hand-holding. That's why we focus as much on developing and measuring confidence as on measuring the acquisition of facts and skills.
Monday, November 19, 2012
There are lots of ways to earn a college degree these days - and the price tag varies more than ten-fold depending on the choice. Community colleges offer a great value for vocational and basic liberal arts classes-- and for most students, they can live at home which counts as additional savings. State universities, even with their government support dwindling, are still quite affordable. Proprietary schools offer laser-focused and fast-track training that can demonstrate concrete job skills and leads. And online options such as MOOCS can allow the motivated to be independent learners, exposed to some of the best minds in the world without paying a dime.
And then there are the expensive, elite private colleges like Ithaca College. The bill for four years of this experience is easily a quarter of a million dollars. The conventional wisdom regarding private schools is that it's where rich kids -- and the token few exceptionally bright scholarship recipients -- meet their mates and future business partners who come from similar backgrounds. "It's not about what you know but who you know", people say. I don't underestimate the partial truth or the worth of that. But if this is all it's about, parents could just give their kids memberships to a few country clubs take off on some expensive vacations hoping to meet the right people who will hire (or marry) little Johnny and Susie.
I do believe that connections are what an elite private college education is all about -- but its more than social networking.
A four year residential college education helps students connect the dots. It's not just about marching through a Chinese menu of courses in various distribution categories, checking off requirements. In the best schools, there are many ways in which students learn to connect ideas and leverage divergent ways of thinking and solving problems. For example, in fall '13 we're launching an integrated core curriculum through which students take four courses in different disciplines on a particular theme such as sustainability or mind, body and spirit and create an e-portfolio showing how they've synthesized tools, techniques, and ideas to solve problems. At small colleges, it's much easier and more likely that students get involved in clubs and leadership opportunities where they put learning into practice. And just living in dorms -- especially where there are trained staff and resident assistants and even faculty associates - provides a rich opportunity for experiential learning.
In elite colleges, classes are small. Students are individually known to professors and to their peers. This forms a support group, and provides opportunities for role modeling not found in huge lecture halls. Students find their own voice-- they're called on and forced to take a stand and articulate their thoughts. Other students are also talented and motivated -- they're not just rich kids but rather today in elite colleges they are more likely characterized by their drive than their parents' tax return.
Finally, smaller colleges that have strong reputations have similarly robust alumni relationships. People are proud to have graduated from their institution and find it an honor to come back to speak and network with students. We just counted up the Park School alums who have been involved in various classes, contests, and special events just this fall and they number more than 70. The common bond of having studied at the same campus or even with the same professor is a huge advantage when students are looking for internships or jobs with alums. We hear from decades of communications students that saying "I'm from Ithaca" has opened many door -- and hearts.
In this crazy world of information overload, rapid change, and uncertain economies, the only thing that sets people apart is their ability to make all kinds of connections -- otherwise everything is just random. Those connections are what make us human --- and make us more valuable as colleagues, citizens, mates, and parents.
If you're considering coming to the Park School - don't underestimate the value of connections. And if you're already here-- make the most of this precious commodity.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
What's the role of colleges in preparing students for jobs? The debate rages on among university leaders, politicians, and journalists. Articles like this one by our own alum Jeff Selingo (VP of the Chronicle of Higher Education) summarize the conversation around this topic that focuses on the relative merits of a general liberal arts education vs. specific technical job preparation and the return-on-investment of a college degree.
The Park School has been known for decades as a place that blends professional training with a broad liberal arts foundation -- and often minors in other subjects and langauges. Selingo's article helps us focus on thinking about the kinds of attributes and behaviors that mark successful employees as they continue their careers -- sometimes far beyond particular skills they learned which might be obsolete in a few years. Those include teamwork, critical thinking, reasoning, clear writing and speaking, and problem-solving. Our Park students excel at these, not only because of their class experiences, but because so many take advantage of opportunities with our student media such as ICTV, WICB, and the Ithacan. But how do new grads demonstrate those competencies, and how do they get a foot in the door in this competitive global environment?
The process that human resources offices and hiring managers used a decade ago are quite different today - and many of the changes are due to technology and social media. So ... allow me to share some challenges, lessons, and some examples of how I'm trying to help our students ready themselves for the job hunt, starting on day one.
Challenge: The resume-reading robot
Yesterday's method of filling jobs was to place ads in a few newspapers, receive a few resumes, have somebody from HR screen them, and then let a hiring manager interview the most promising ones. Today's system is quite different. Jobs are listed on multiple internet sites and thousands of resumes flood in. HR staff use automated software like the Resumator to look for key words and sort the wheat from the chaff.
Lesson: Write like a search engine thinks
Resume robots obviously search out key words, so when students prepare resumes, they need to know the current, hot terms and names for processes, initiatives, and software that matter to employers. For example, my communications students who want to go into video editing need to be able to list the software they've learned and they also need to know the terms used for the commercial editing processes, like "workflow". Students going into organizational communication need to pepper their resumes with concepts they've learned such as Lean Six Sigma and employee engagement. They pick up this "insider" language not just from textbooks, but from interacting with alumni and professionals who come in to do guest presentations, mini-courses, and workshops -- and also in internships.
Challenge: Conveying your personality on the screen
Once you do get a real person to read your resume, you've got to somehow stand out in the crowd. Many online job systems limit the kinds of file and the formatting of documents that you can submit. But even though most young people in the job market now have their own website or blog where they post information about themselves, it can be difficult to stand out among all of these.
Lesson: Use multimedia tools
Until you get that big chance to meet in person, there are a number of multimedia tools that can give potential employers a glimpse of how you present yourself and, if it's relevant, examples of your creative work. Our students learn to create websites and blogs where they upload pictures, videos, and presentations, as recommended by Kyle Lagunas of Software Advice in this article.
At the Park School, all of our freshman students begin creating an e-portfolio in a first required course, S'Park. This is where they develop and continually tweak a personal essay that describes their unique experiences and perspectives (such as travel, volunteer or leadership activities, minors, languages spoken, etc.) The e-portfolio supports multimedia documents, so students often upload presentations, videos, still pictures, and examples of papers and creative media projects. Even a highly praised final paper in a philosophy course is a valuable "artifact" to include: while it might not relate to your major, it can show your writing and research abilities along with adding depth to whatever you did study as a major.
Challenge: Doing a makeover of your college social media presence
Most companies will check out a candidate's FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts before hiring, or even before interviewing. Obviously, the kinds of pictures and comments that made you the life of the party at school are not going to be similarly impressive to future employers. On the other hand, somebody with no social media presence doesn't appear to grasp the power of these tools.
Lesson: Weed out your social media sites, and start getting connected with the right folks
Our S'Park class features alums and other industry leaders who come in person or via Skype to provide their perspectives and advice. The course is taught in an auditorium with about 180 students, and they all need to Tweet live during the entire class. The purpose of the Twitter feed is twofold:
1) It allows the students to assemble "group notes" so they gradually learn from each other how to tease out the important lessons in a guest speaker's presentation. They can also ask questions of the guest speaker this way or post links to relevant sites about the presenter.
2) It forces students to begin a Twitter account that they use to present themselves professionally. Once they create an account, they often follow guest speakers and other industry luminaries, who will then follow their feed. From freshman year, our students begin sharing their voice with other professionals, getting a head start at being a regular contributor to the dialogue in our field.
Challenge: Knowing whom to talk with and how to network
College students are accustomed to communicating with their friends via text messages and FaceBook. They may have shaky interpersonal skills and they also may not know how to start meeting other professionals.
Lesson: start at home
It's tough to make inroads with potential employers and often sources of good leads are totally overwhelmed with employment-related requests. A recent article suggests people to contact both before and after graduation. This article suggests often-forgotten people close to you like your friends' parents, your parents' friends, professors, and former guest speakers. We make many of those connections right here for our students. We're lucky that so many of our students' parents and friends are in the industry, and we often invite them here (live or via Skype) to speak with students, or we take our students on field trips to visit them.
Being successful in today's job market means embracing new and old techniques. For college students, the message is to start early crafting a compelling image, saving examples of your work, learning multimedia tools, and expanding your network. This may be news to other colleges -- but fortunately it's the tradition at the Park School.
Monday, April 16, 2012
This tweet just appeared in my feed:
With our high quality, self-paced degree programs you can get an accredited degree for around $6,000 #EndStudentDebt
What separates a "real" college from a fly-by-night diploma mill? One of the ways in which colleges and universities are vetted is by accreditation.... and many new for-profit online start-ups like the one in the Twitter ad blast flaunt their accreditation as a validation of their legitimacy. But accreditation comes in many flavors.
Like all respectable colleges and universities, Ithaca College, is accredited by the US Dept of Education approved agency for our region, Middle States. The Park School of Communications falls within that overall institutional accreditation and in fact, we're recognized as one of the top undergraduate communications schools in the nation.
That's the easy part. Here's where it gets hairy: Many individual schools or degree programs within an institution can also be accredited by an agency that's specific to that discipline. For some, it's mandatory. For instance, programs offering a degree in teacher education or in certain health sciences such as physical therapy MUST be accredited for students to be able to sit for licensing exams and for students to be considered for graduate study in that area.
In other disciplines, there is voluntary accreditation. Business is one of those fields. Journalism is another - and that's one of the degrees in the Park School. Some journalism programs choose to apply for accreditation from the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications. We've never chosen to pursue this and here's why.
The accreditation standards for ACEJMC actually limit the number of communications courses that students can take.They require that students take a minimum of 80 credits outside of the school while we require that students take at least 60 credits of their coursework outside of communications. Here's why: communications is a complex and rapidly changing field. To be competitive, students need a preparation that is both deep and broad. If you want to go into journalism, one course in reporting that you don't take until your junior year is not going to cut it. If you want to be a scriptwriter, you need many semesters of practice. Prospective communications professionals also need to learn about skills and practices slightly outside of their specific area of interest. Journalism students profit from being photography minors and taking courses in public relations. Cinema majors are well-advised to take some advertising courses lest they don't get picked up by George Lucas to direct his next epic. TV-Radio majors may wind up producing corporate videos, so taking courses in strategic communications will allow them to be more effective. One of the great advantages of the Park School is that we have all of these majors and courses under one roof... and we encourage our students to take advantage of that fact.
ACEJMC also limits the amount of internship credit a student may take in a degree to the equivalent of one course -- 3 credits. That's counter-intuitive. What we're hearing is that to be employable, students need intensive and multiple internships. Our students often start out with a 1 credit internship after their freshman year, go to our Los Angeles, London or New York City programs and take 6 credits of internship (engaging in almost full-time work for a semester), and many of them do multiple internships in their home towns during the summer. We limit internships to 12 credits total.
Students come to the Park School and alumni are successful in large measure because we immediately immerse them in coursework in their majors starting day one-- AND we promote intensive and meaningful internships. Does this make our students less academically prepared or narrow? I certainly don't think so. Actually, we find that when students engage in internships and become immediately involved in their professional coursework, they are more likely to value the kinds of courses our college offers outside of their majors. They learn the importance of speaking a second language, of being able to grasp scientific and economic concepts, and of being prepared to construct and balance a budget.
Many other schools of communication agree with our stance; in fact, only about a quarter of the over 400 programs seek accreditation - and some prestigious programs such as Ohio State have voluntarily given up their accreditation so that they could offer what they feel is a more valuable curriculum.
So accreditation is a two-edged sword. In today's confusing marketplace, families certainly need some assurance of the quality of an institution and its programs. On the other hand, accrediting agencies are one of the many factors that lead to curricular stagnation - the very last thing that we need in higher education.
We'd like to think that our own faculty and leadership - as informed by our ongoing engagement with our academic and professional counterparts - are the very best judge of what constitutes an excellent communications education.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
It's that wonderful time of the year when high school students applying to Ithaca College are getting their acceptance letters. I hear from a lot of them - through ICPeers (our online social network for prospective students), through my Facebook page, and emails - and it's wonderful to share in their thrill.
Then comes the big question for many of them: deciding among many good college offers. On the sidelines are their families who will be trying to support them both emotionally and financially through the next four years -- and each day being bombarded with questions about the value and purpose of a college education. President Obama, in his recent State of the Union address, put colleges "on notice" regarding rising tuition costs. And today, a guy who dropped out of Harvard launched the Facebook IPO and instantly became a billionaire. Should you pick the college that gives you the best financial package? One that guarantees you a job right after graduation? Or should you take that college savings account and open up a lemonade stand or a create new smartphone app? What's the purpose of a general well-rounded liberal education?
I've figured it out... the big question that prospective college students and their families should ask:
*** Which college will give me the best chance at having the most fun for the rest of my life? ***
I'm not talking here about which place has the best downtown nightlife, the most frats and sororities, the rowdiest football games, or the most entertaining-sounding courses. And it's not just which college looks like it has the happiest students (although that's an important indicator).
Many students wonder why they are "forced" to take all those courses that they don't feel relates to their major or what they want to do as a career. I've even heard them called a "waste". FAR FROM THE TRUTH. Those are what create opportunities for fun.
Sure, we hope that a college education at a place like the Park School leads to great job opportunities upon graduation and career advancement through a lifetime. We have four decades and thousands of alums who have proven that we do that really well. We prepare students who are confident, connected, and well-trained in their craft. But if it's just the technical skills you're looking for, you can get those through a trade school or even free online. A place like Ithaca College offers you much more. It's those other courses and experiences outside your major that have the most potential of yielding you more fun in your personal life after college.
Do you know people who are picky eaters, timid around strangers, narrow in their musical tastes, anxious travelers? They're kind of difficult to be around -- and they seem like they have few opportunities for enjoyment. I remember when my 3 yr old nephew would only eat Kraft American cheese, white bread, and Chicken McNuggets. The other kids were having a great time exploring new tastes and new places and he frankly was kind of a wet blanket.
If you give yourself opportunities to expand your musical and literary tastes, learn new languages, be comfortable in strange places with new people, try new cuisines and sports-- you simply expand the possible ways you can have fun. When you get the opportunity to go skiing in the French Alps and eat escargot, you're right there, mixing with the locals. When an opera company comes to town, you jump on it with the same enthusiasm that you feel for your favorite jazz trio and heavy metal band. You have a deep appreciation for art films, keep in great health, create a solid investment strategy, and can have a lively debate with people of almost any political persuasion. What fun!
The Dali Lama (who actually spoke at Ithaca College in 2007) said in his book: ""I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness."
College should help you create more opportunities for happiness. Sure-- a great career is a good start. So are good life-long friends. But more than that- your four years in college should help you develop more things you appreciate and more situations where you feel confident and comfortable.
If you're thinking about college -- or already a part of a campus -- seek happiness for yourself and for those around you. THAT's what we're all about.