Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Three Tools Universities Forget to Give Us

by Jiahe Wang

            Like being processed in a factory, we are given professional knowledge to become future lawyers, doctors, engineers, financers and teachers at university. However, as human beings, not products, we need not only professional knowledge to support our careers but also good qualities to be responsive, humane and participating members of a democracy. Universities are like trains that carry students from carefree school life to complex society. They are supposed to provide the tools to live a principled, significant and meaningful life instead of only knowledge used in a career.

            The first tool that universities should help students to gain is self-awareness. Can you speak about your biggest strength, weakness and objective immediately? This simple question tests if you know yourself well. When I met this question in an internship test, I got stuck. And in another internship test, they gave me a personal strengths report which surprised me, because I didn’t know that I have those strengths. The internship application experience drove me to think more about myself and self-awareness. What is my character? What are my strengths and weaknesses? What is my potential? And what do I really want to do in the future? I learn professional knowledge every day at university, but without recognizing myself, where am I heading to? I was lost in my studies and ignored the need to gain a very important thing—a clear view of myself, which many college students ignore, too.

            A survey conducted by Jinan University among university students in Guangzhou, China, shows that 73% of the students don’t have clear objectives and a lot of them have no idea which direction to go after graduation. Some students choose majors according to their parents’ suggestions and employment situation without discovering their own interests and strengths. As a result, students will feel uncertain in their direction, have low study efficiency and hardly improve themselves. By comparison, if they know themselves well and what they want, they will have more confidence, a higher efficiency and constant improvement.

            Students’ lack of self-awareness is related to the college education. Universities just provide courses and care little about what each student is like. In that case, students keep on absorbing professional knowledge and ignore that they have to learn more about themselves. Universities have the responsibility to help students set up a clear self-consciousness and a viable goal. In Hofstra, students have academic advisors who help them to register suitable courses. This kind of service is helpful to students, and I think it can be expanded. Personality tests and strengths tests could be given by advisors to new students to let them learn about themselves. And through conversations, advisors can help students find their real interests and suitable study directions in time. Self-awareness is a long-term process, so continuous interaction with students is necessary.

            The second tool universities should help students to gain is an open mind. Having a major does not mean that the only thing to do at university is to learn professional knowledge. Students need a wide view of the world. Spending most of their time in the same classrooms and in the library, students know little about the outside world, so it is difficult for them to have an open mind to create new things and understand others. Universities should provide more colorful activities, not only professional knowledge. Various courses should be given to students to open their minds. Cornell University provides students with a very special course—tree climbing. Students are challenged to think analytically, to use concepts they learn to solve new problems and to enhance their assessment skills. In a fun environment, they learn about nature and become stronger physically and mentally. Travel is another excellent way to help students get a wider perspective of the world. Universities should give more students the opportunities to travel or study in other countries. As a beneficiary of an exchange program, I know what exchange experience means to students. They can see new things and cultures in other countries, learn a lot from different people and try to improve themselves and their own countries. Furthermore, universities should provide students with internship opportunities. In a working environment, students have to solve problems they have never met before at school and develop their perspectives towards work and life.

            The third tool that universities should help students to gain is social responsibility. Nowadays, students focus on themselves and care little about others and the society. University students are the future pillars of a nation. It is hard to imagine that they have no will to contribute to the nation, but only pursue personal development.

            The survey conducted by Jinan University confirms the change of Chinese students’ social responsibility during these decades. The survey shows that the university students in the sixties and the seventies studied for a prosperous and rising China. Because they are the first and second generation after the foundation of China, they studied not only for themselves, but also for the young country they loved. On the contrary, the university students in the eighties and the nineties study for a good job, in other words, for themselves. Another survey among Beijing university students shows that only 30% of students pay attention to what is happening in the country and in the world.

The change of time causes students’ lack of social responsibility, and university’s lack of social responsibility also influences students. If we look back on the original intention of building the oldest universities, we can find that it was to develop talents for the society. However, nowadays even the elite schools are involved in the commercialization of college. They charge higher and higher tuition fee relying on their names. Peking University, the top university in China, has just started a program which charges 600,000 Yuan tuition fee a year and attracted some rich movie stars to take part in. Many people criticize the practice of Peking University, because they run such a program only for the sake of money. It is true that universities need money to support them, but they may forget their responsibility to cultivate people when they are pursuing money.

To help students form social responsibility, universities should fulfill their responsibility first. They should guarantee their education quality and keep “cultivating people” as their first goal instead of making money. A positive school spirit should be constructed in a university, and students should be encouraged to learn more about the national history and take the responsibility to construct the country.

Universities should build a bridge connecting students with the society. In Hofstra, students can get free newspapers every day to learn political and economic news. Universities can also organize volunteer work in the communities. In China, voluntary teaching is organized at universities every summer vacation. In such a program, students go to poor rural areas to teach students there for about a month. When they come back to the city, they change significantly, because they have seen poverty and also simplicity they have never experienced, and realize their responsibility to the country. I believe when students feel that the nation and people need them, most of them will be willing to contribute to the society. What universities have to do is to awaken the sense of social responsibility in more students.

As Picasso said, “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” In my mind, people who are responsible, humane and participating are more valuable than those who cope well in a competitive and capitalistic society, because they know how to give, not just compete and gain. Universities have the responsibility to give students professional knowledge, and also the three tools—self awareness, an open mind and social responsibility, which is to help them find their gifts and give them away.

Bio Note:

I am a native of Beijing, a junior in Xi’an Jiaotong University, and an exchange student at Hofstra University for the spring semester of 2015. Xi’an, where my university is located in, is an old city in China which has been the capital of 13 dynasties. You can see terracotta warriors here, one of the nine wonders of the world. If you have the chance to visit China, Xi’an is a wonderful city you cannot miss. Apart from Xi’an, I also love New York, because I had an amazing time full of happiness there. I enjoyed the beautiful campus of Hofstra, full of tulips in spring, high-quality courses and being together with my professors and classmates. I really want to thank my professors and classmates, who gave me a lot of encouragement and power. I hope that I will go back to New York and Hofstra again in the future.

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