Every day, I read some story about how someone says colleges aren’t preparing students for the “real world.” Of course, most of them have the same solution: more standardized tests. I doubt most of those with such suggestions have a lot of business experience, because employers rarely have their workers spend the day filling out multiple choice questions about Greek words or how someone can cross seven bridges 11 times without taking the same route twice.
Critics of this business-oriented approach claim that learning should be done for the sake of learning. It shouldn’t be connected to the business world. I don’t know of a single parent of a prospective college student who would be pleased to hear those words, especially when vocation-based schools promise jobs.
Can’t there be a compromise? Could we stimulate critical thinking and creativity, with a component that resembles the corporate world?
LaGrange College does just that, on Honors Day. And if you haven’t seen it, I recommend that you do, especially if you are interested in what this local academic school (and others) is doing to prepare undergraduate students for “the real world.”
On this day, students pack the Lewis Library with presentations of their research. They range from independent projects to teamwork. You’ll see everything from Biology and Chemistry majors testing arguments, to Nursing students revealing their medical findings. You’ll see surveys, publications, History and English papers, and even a film or display. But they all have one thing in common: it’s connected to what people are doing in the real world.
It also should satisfy those who are concerned with colleges being turned into preparation factories for careers. Each research project is developed with the creativity and critical thinking that professors seek from questioning, debating students, and even freewheeling discussion that you get in the classroom.
This semester, two research teams of mine worked to solve two societal problems. One dealt with trying to stop human trafficking. They looked at the factors associate with which American states, and other countries, have actually taken steps to stop what’s been called modern-day slavery. And those results were presented at an economics conference in Las Vegas by the students, thanks to a generous grant.
Another class of mine looked into a question posed to us by State Senator Josh McKoon. A constituent who finished his prison term and parole was struggling to find work. Couldn’t his record be expunged, to help him find work? Senator McKoon asked us to look into what other states do, and whether or not the policies worked, in terms of crime reduction. In both cases, students researched the literature, gathered the data, ran the analysis, and wrote the paper.
We’re hardly the only school that does such activities. I have seen some pretty good poster presentations at the science building in Columbus State University. Such undergraduate research, valued at private and public schools, is likely to help a student stimulate his or her mind, and be prepared for the real world, unless he or she has to cross the Chattahoochee River several times without taking the same bridge twice.