Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Engaged Teaching Leads to Career Opportunities for Students

by Ann Abbott

I believe that...

  • ...universities are places of learning. That comes first. They are not vocational schools. And they are not businesses in and of themselves.
  • ...learning should be broad. Yes, there should be a foreign language learning requirement for everyone. Yes, all students should have to take a course on non-Western cultures. Yes, math and science are for everyone--even though I thought I was going to flunk Chem 101 my freshman year.
  • ...learning should take place inside and outside the classroom. Going to a foreign film festival is part of your university learning experience. Visiting a campus art museum, attending a student-produced play going to a concert are all learning experiences. When you're a student in a place where learning is the central mission, you don't stop learning when you leave your class.
  • ...encountering "difference" is one of the most important things students should do. It's so important, that students should seek it out. Invite it. Embrace it. Learn from it. In some ways, I learned more from my friendship with a fellow student from Kenya than from many of my courses. I am definitely a different person because of that friendship. And while I didn't understand everything she tried to teach me back then, because we had many, many conversations, her ideas stuck with me. They came back to me much later, when I needed them. She planted seeds that only blossomed later.
I say all of this because it sometimes seems that universities are now all about job preparation. Return on investment. Career fairs. Internships. Fast tracks. 

Those are wonderful things! But the learning is first. First and last. Always the learning.

That's why I do engaged teaching. Because I want students to learn from it in ways that traditional classrooms just don't provide. I want them to encounter linguistic and cultural difference by design, not by chance. And I want them to reflect upon those encounters as part of their academic learning. Where I can support them and challenge them.

But when learning and career opportunities align, that's a wonderful thing. 

Here are two emails I received yesterday from former students. Notice how engaged teaching resonates long after the final exam has been turned in. (Kind of like my conversations with my Kenyan friend.)

Medical School

I hope everything is going well for you this year.  I wanted to thank you again for writing several letters of recommendation for me over the past couple of years.  I recently received notice that I am accepted into Midwestern University Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine.  I am still waiting to hear from some other schools, but I will be attending medical school in the fall.

Thanks again for all your support and helping open my eyes to the opportunities at Frances Nelson.  It's practically all I talked about in the interview!


Seeing you on the quad today reminded me about something. I wanted to email you earlier this semester but I forgot. This year I have a virtual internship with the US Embassy in Mexico through the Virtual StudentForeign Service. I'm working with their social media team and their Facebookand Twitter pages to analyze their posts. I used my experience in your SPAN 202 class when I was applying and that is definitely the reason I got the internship. Just wanted to say thanks and I'm glad I took that class!

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