Returning to Reality

After a lovely weekend away at camp for the COEO conference, I’m having a hard time facing the reality of life once again. The weather on Saturday was particularly beautiful, and I slipped away from the crowds of people quite often to gaze in rapture at the yellows, reds, and oranges adorning the trees. Leaves were falling everywhere; the night sky was brilliant with stars; the sensation of being intimately wrapped in nature was pervasive.

However, everything that I feared about camp manifested itself at one time or another. My bunk mates all snored loudly throughout the night, so my waking time was generally somewhere between 3 and 4am. I was told by the camp elder – an aged but very active lady of at least 70 years – that I looked like a “social outcast” when I was sitting by myself for lunchtime. Everyone was vigorously energetic and staunchly optimistic, always smiling. Our first evening together involved rowdy singing, with the most extroverted people getting up to dance and play musical instruments. For me, there were many socially awkward moments.

As a consequence of this social awkwardness, I was constantly seeking out nature. I did interact with many of the people there – though for the most part, I made no deep connections. I enjoyed helping my thesis adviser give a presentation, as it involved facilitating a hands-on exercise that was very well received by the participants. We’re going to write a paper about the process behind and results of this presentation for COEO’s journal, called Pathways.

But now it’s back to reality. Since the conference this weekend primed my brain to think about educational initiatives in new ways, I was happy to find an article by Jeff Selingo entitled “The New, Lifelong, Nonlinear Path through College“. This article questions the authority of educational institutions to provide ‘learning’ to students, and suggests that students should be able to gather together all the available resources (e.g. mentors at various schools, certifications, travel experiences, etc.) and be accredited for the learning they have actively pursued, not what classes they’ve merely sat through at one college or university. In the words of the student they interviewed:

“I was learning a lot of things, but not the kinds of things I’d need to get a job out of school,” she says. “After being in Mexico, I felt I could learn outside of school” (Selingo, September 30th, 2013).

In a fantastic and beautiful way, this kind of rhetoric privileges the student and places them at the center of their learning experience. Some educational institutions are facilitating this kind of growth by offering cheap or free online courses (e.g. Coursera, edX), though many students worry that this kind of non-traditional learning will prevent them from obtaining jobs in a largely traditional employment market (Selingo, September 30th, 2013). Hence, there are organizations like the Enstitute which provide Millennials with the entrepreneurial skills that they need to succeed in high-growth industries (including technology, digital media, and non-profits) (Enstitute, About).

I burst into noisy applause when I read this website’s About page. Entitute’s vision “is to create a competitive, affordable, and scalable model of apprenticeship based higher education to: (1) equip Millennials with 21st century skills they need for 21st century careers, (2) maximize our human capital potential and combat high youth unemployment and (3) foster entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking, globally” (Enstitute, About). Recognizing the value of the German apprenticeship model, which has resulted in the lowest levels of youth unemployment in the world, the Enstitute offers apprenticeships, curriculum blending, and digital portfolios at the three tiers to their program (Enstitute, About).

Thus, despite the fact that I spent the weekend away, I return to a reality that is filled with hope and potential. There are some very charismatic movers and shakers out there who are finding new ways to chart a life course in this uncertain and chaotic world; my only hope is that they will remain strong in the face of multiple barriers and significant uncertainties.

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