October 5, 2014

BHOWMICK | The Future of Our Education

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In light of Bill Gates visiting Cornell and addressing the status quo of education and where it could potentially be heading, I decided to devote this Monday’s column to what I think of the astronomically high valued liberal arts education I am receiving today. Cornell is an exemplary academic institution and offers some of the most engaging courses and the best faculty I could find anywhere else. I regret to attest, however, that I — and I suspect most of my generation — is not being able to capitalize on the education we could possibly receive over these few years. Now, this was not a predicament during our freshman year. During my freshman year, I was eager to learn and was absolutely tuned into everything that was happening in lecture, discussion or even guest lectures. But ever since the middle of sophomore year, the infatuation to accomplish, get rich, famous and proud as soon as possible has caught on. This fixed idea has really become a bane of my existence and I am guilty of being a victim. I am so caught up with trying to do the things which look good on the checklist — read articles about equities when I am honestly more interested in Iraq, acquire empty accolades which do not reflect any passion whatsoever — and I hate every bit of it.

It’s quite a dilemma at this point because I find myself sitting in the most engrossing lecture and straying onto CCNet (Cornell’s career services portal) hunting for internships. I find myself constantly preoccupied and consumed by the terror that there will not be a rewarding internship waiting for me at the end of my Junior year, and an opulent job offer waiting in my mailbox senior year fall semester. There is the constant fear that I will graduate not knowing what to do next. Meanwhile, all of my senses constantly protest saying it is ludicrous to beat oneself up about what is to happen in the future and in the process be absolutely lost and distracted in the present. There is however, an issue at hand. Why is it that a college degree in the major we are passionate about is not the cornerstone of what makes us qualified for the real world? Must the curriculum be revised so that students do not have to scrape to land a spot in a summer job training session; where they teach you how to read the Wall Street Journal correctly on campus instead of at job training? Our university is constantly trying to get in touch with what the student community wants. Well, this is what we need: In the midst of this rat-race, we need a credible, sensible, adult — maybe our professors or advisors — telling us that it is okay.

When we walk into a career services session, the first thing we are asked to figure out is what we want to do with our lives. However, before we can even start making our minds, we fall for the glamour of one dream internship or another without giving it much thought. In this world of relentless marketing by every firm in existence to attract students of all sorts, it is very easy to lose touch with who we really are and the passions that accompanied us to Cornell. One would think that the faculty advising system should take care of that, but I do not think it is adequate enough, as a student always feels like he or she is encroaching on a faculty member’s valuable time when asking them the simple question. A question like, “I am really confused and these are the subjects I really enjoy but I am not sure where or how to go ahead from here.” Every week there is a column in The Sun about the growing stress about what next — all of it emerging from fear of rejection from jobs, graduate school, fellowships and all of that. This stress is very tangible and Cornell Minds Matter does an excellent job during exam week but the root of this stress is entrenched very deeply in the fear of failure in a world of increasing expectations and a decreasing time frame for success. Amidst all of this, all the average, struggling Cornellian needs is to hear their professors, advisors and University administrators say, “It will all work out. You are doing a good job so far, and hard work pays off.” I know I don’t have a success story to back my word of assurance up, but I promise everyone who feels remotely anxious every other day, it will be okay and you are better off listening to what your professor is saying in the class you were so excited to sign up for than worrying about how blank or unimpressive your resume looks. You will get more out of it anyway.