Posted by: bkivey | 1 September 2013

Back to School

Back to School is my favorite Rodney Dangerfield movie (yes, even over Caddyshack), because I can identify with the protagonist. Every time I’ve attended post-secondary education, it’s been as a ‘non-traditional’ student.  The last time I entered the hallowed halls of academia, I was some 25 years senior to most of my classmates. It’s worth noting that I never had a class where I was the oldest student, although it was close in some. Going to school when you’re in your 40’s with a lifetime of experience to draw on is significantly different than the same experience at 19. Some advice I would give as an older student:

Don’t over-think the problem

When a professor would pose a problem or situation to the class, the results were predictable. Older students would quickly focus on the essential elements, and offer a course of action to reach a reasonably advantageous outcome based on the information provided. Younger students would play endless games of ‘what-if’, leading to paralysis by analysis. You could see the eye rolls of the older students, in spirit and sometimes in fact. If the discussion went on long enough, an older student would essentially tell people to shut up and focus on the problem at hand. Contingency planning is a necessary part of decision-making, but it’s not the primary goal,

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

Teenagers are deathly afraid of looking like fools, and then suffering the ignominious fate of unpopularity. I found that this was less of a problem in engineering school than in business school. It seemed that in engineering classes there was more fellowship, because it’s not easy material. and unless your name is Hawking, you’re going to make some stupid mistakes in class. But engineering classes are full of smart people learning a highly technical trade. Except for the genius student found in every class, there’s some sympathy here.

Business classes have a wider distribution on the bell curve. It’s not uncommon for a student to try and BS their way through a presentation. Older students immediately recognize this for what it is, and may well call said student out in public.  The moral here is that it’s OK to make mistakes in the classroom: it’s why you’re there.

Rude is rude

I was raised by Southern parents, one of whom was in the Army, so I was indoctrinated to respect others at an early age. It was ‘Yes, sir’, ‘No, ma’am’. Respect your elders; pay attention when someone’s talking. This, to me, is basic etiquette. Imagine my surprise when I’d see students on their laptops or phones while the professor was lecturing, or another student was giving a presentation. Are you kidding me?

When I gave my first presentation, I looked out at the classroom and saw maybe a third of the students distracted with electronic teats. My first words were “I’d like everyone to close their computers and put down their phones. We worked hard on this presentation. We listened to you, now you can listen to us.” It worked. During the presentation I had the undivided attention of most of the class. Afterwards the professor came up to me and said “Thank you. I’ve wanted to do that for a long time.” My first thought was, well, why haven’t you? But I realized that maybe there were some elements of which I was unaware, so I said nothing. The point is, if someone else is talking, you should be listening.

A ‘B’ is good enough

This doesn’t really apply to people who have nothing to do but go to school. One of the more interesting conversations I had in the pursuit of my most recent degree was with a group of students in their 30’s and 40’s. Most of us had full-time professional jobs, some had families, and all had households to run. The consensus was that given the demands outside of school, a ‘B’ in a class was acceptable. Everyone had run the cost/benefit analysis, and figured out that the work required for an ‘A’ could be up to 50% greater than for a ‘B’. In most cases, it wasn’t worth the effort. You could pick up ‘A’s here and there with the same effort most classes would require for a ‘B’, but the goal was to get the degree, not polish the GPA.


Every Rose has It’s Thorns

Portland is the ‘Rose City’ and the women’s professional soccer team is the Thorns. On Saturday, the Thorns played Western New York for the NWSL championship, and won. They won despite being a player down for most of the second half, after Kathryn Williamson was ejected for earning two yellow cards in eight minutes.  Karina LeBlanc was brilliant in goal, making seven saves, several of which were highlight quality. The Thorns played all of their elimination games on the road, and played the championship in weather not normally found in Portland.

Chapeau, Thorns, and here’s to next year.



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