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Learn Because You Want To

March 5, 2010
Cameron Ingram, Daily Texan Columnist

"Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand". As this ancient Chinese proverb implies, personal investment is key to learning. At a large public university such as UT, however, the bottom line for many undergrads prevails: earn the credits, snatch the diploma, and launch headfirst into the workforce. A strict vocational fixation, however, undermines any real relationship to an education. Another saying comes to mind, a bit more modern: D's get degrees.

In an increasingly globalized economy it's necessary to start cultivating one's career as soon as possible, to stay competitive, but with this mentality what's sacrificed? In an effort to rush through an institution that is meant to serve as an intellectual incubator what qualities are never developed in students? In addition to this approach is one of specialization. Are the different schools within a university as mutually exclusive as is easy to assume? Would an integrative framework work better?

I discussed these matters with Dr. Richard Cherwitz, Director of Intellectual Entrepreneurship (IE), part of portfolio of the Office of the Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement. IE is a program, or as Cherwitz defines it, an "inter-collegial consortium", which harnesses the resources of a wide array of schools to 'educate citizen-scholars'--individuals who creatively utilize their intellectual capital as a lever for social good". Above all, IE's aim is to get students to understand the connection between what they're studying and how they can apply it to the world around them in a constructive, civically conscious way.

One of the many components of IE is its Pre-Graduate School Internship which pairs an undergraduate student with a graduate mentor who nurtures and helps sculpt his or her pupil's education, priming them for grad school and beyond. According to Cherwitz, relationships such as this provide students with "greater ownership of education" and help to promote "self-definition". Similar IE campaigns work to get students to "not equate accountability with measurement to the test".

With looming budget cuts and tuition hikes, maybe more interest should be focused on making student's dollars go further, and less on turnover.

Investigating further, I spoke with senior Alex Au whose fledgling organization "Selfish Teachers" innovatively provides students with an outlet to reinforce what they're learning in classes by letting them teach the content themselves. Au giddily relayed his rationale: "A lot of responsibilities in class follow structures already laid out, [Selfish Teachers] provides personal responsibilities". To teach something on one's own helps a student synthesize what they've learned while enriching others participating.  What is chosen to teach doesn't even have to be curriculum oriented; it could just be whatever he or she finds interesting and would like to share. In this way students are given the chance to learn something not to be tested on it, but to demonstrate deep understanding of a topic.

Endeavors such as these truly vitalize me. To know that energy is being spent both at the administrative and student levels to make one's university experience outside the classroom more rich motivates me to crawl out of my apathetic daze and actually work to alter what I feel merits changing.

Ingram is a sociology sophomore