Thursday, October 19, 2017

Not Knowing What Our Students Don't Know

I was sitting in my office yesterday morning during office hours when I found out that Gord Downie died. Gord was lead singer of The Tragically Hip, a band that I love and is important to me, and that's something that is true for a lot of other people who live in Buffalo. I was sad, still am sad, still bummed, and I've been playing a lot of Hip songs in the last 24 hours.

Back to yesterday -- I was listening to the Hip in my office, sad, waiting for a student to arrive for an appointment. I knew she was coming to talk about career paths. She's a student in one of my Sociology classes. She doesn't major in Sociology but wanted my help in exploring careers.

During our meeting, I asked if she had an internship yet, and I talked with her about the process of pursuing an internship, and how she could earn three credits for completing one. This was new information to her, a junior student. It surprised me in the moment that she didn't already know what I told her. I guess I assumed that what I told her was the kind of well-known information that students possess these days. But, still thinking about our conversation, I don't know why I was surprised. I didn't know anything about internships when I was a college student. I never had an internship. I went to class, did my work, went to the library, partied, played rugby, rinse and repeat. It wasn't until my junior year when a professor asked me if I wanted to be a research assistant that I realized there was something more than my normal college routine. It was from there that I began to look beyond my day-to-day college life and began to think seriously about career possibilities. I'm not saying my conversation with my student was anywhere near that significant or important. I'm saying I'm glad I was reminded that the things we might think are common knowledge aren't necessarily so.

I've been in university communities for so long that my conception of common knowledge has changed. I have to remember what it's like to be a busy young person who might not have access to valuable information. I need to be more mindful about sharing this kind of information. As one of the first people in my extended family to go to college, I know what it feels like to navigate the unfamiliar world of higher education.

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