Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Professors, pizza and pie

Every fall I meet with my freshman students and the dean of the college for an event we call Professors, Pizza and Pie (or PPP, or perhaps P-cubed).  It started years ago as a way for the dean to meet all the freshmen after he stopped teaching seminar meetings in that class.  Now it's the first step in an advising process that tries to help the students clarify their personal goals and forge plans to reach them.

I'm really impressed by this year's crop of freshmen.  They're careful readers, good writers, hard workers, and are unintimidated by the prospect of participating in high-level conversations about abstruse subjects.  They're not yet careful thinkers, but are capable of being honest about it when the flaws in their reasoning are pointed out to them, and are willing to back up and take another run at it.

The question we ask them to ponder over pizza and pie is this: If money were no object, what would you do for the rest of your life?  How would you spend your time?  When we first posed this question to students a few years ago, I recall them having a hard time wrapping their minds around it.  It was a foreign concept to many of them, this consideration of life apart from the necessity of making a living.

This year the answers clustered around several themes, all predictable from this type of student, but nonetheless heartening.  Travel -- experience of different cultures.  Service -- helping people in need.  (A stunning number of them said they would still get the degree and have the career they are currently aiming for, usually in medicine or therapy, but would be free to use those skills for service rather than moneymaking.)   Music, family, and creative pursuits were also frequently mentioned.

All these kids are smart enough to eke out a living from the world doing what makes them happiest and feeds their passions.  A few of them are already questioning their previous direction (or the one urged by their parents) to hedge their bets and tack something marketable onto their undergraduate education.  I'm certainly cognizant of the need for higher education to turn out graduates that will find their niches in the labor market, but these are the best of the best -- they will be in demand in whatever field they choose.  So it would be nice, I always think, if they didn't approach their career and curriculum choices in a spirit of fear.  I'm happy to report that the fourteen who are studying with me this semester seem to have gotten the hang of it.

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