Over twenty years ago, during a difficult period in my life, a good friend reassuringly remarked, “the only certainty in life is change.” His comment has come back to me over the years whenever I encounter stormy seas. It was a daily mantra for me several years ago when a couple of hurricanes wrecked havoc on my community, and I had to re-build my house. Both skilled construction workers and materials were in short supply as many others were in the same predicament at the time. Out of necessity, I learned how to do new things, and I changed and grew on many levels.
Hurricanes, fires, and other natural disasters can destroy worldly possessions. Economic conditions can cause long term employees to be laid off. Loved ones can be lost due to accidents, war, or illness. Marriages can end in divorce. Education, however, is one of the few things that once earned cannot be taken away from people.
The ramifications and possibilities resulting from an education are infinite; thus, it is impossible to confine a definition of education to strictly one perspective or philosophy. Nevertheless, higher education must be grounded in three essential areas: employment skills, critical thinking, and exposure to both alternative concepts and classical knowledge.
Survival is a basic requirement; therefore, it is imperative that college programs prepare students for the demands of the business world by teaching useful skills and technology and offering opportunities for hands-on experiences in various fields. Institutions of higher education must successfully partner with the local business community, so students can benefit from internships and volunteer activities that develop skills outside the classroom. Ensuring proficiency in employment skills is a fundamental role for educators.
In addition to establishing a foundation for students’ future survival in the business world, the most crucial responsibility educators have is to teach students to think critically and analytically. Critical thinking and analysis are tools necessary for prosperity and leadership in the workforce and all other areas of life.
Writing is my initial area of expertise. Before I ever picked up a camera or a paint brush, I was trained to write very well. My first brilliant teacher was the late writer Ann Obenchain, whose textbook on teaching high school students how to write well, now out of print, launched numerous fine writers fortunate enough to attend Langley High School in Northern Virginia when it was the standard text. As a college undergraduate, I majored in journalism at Mississippi University for Women, Columbus, MS, where I was exposed to another excellent author, photojournalist Dr. Richard H. Logan III, and two outstanding professors, Dr. David Kintsfather and Dr. Neil Woodruff. Receiving a master’s degree in Educational Communications and Public Relations from Rowan University, Glassboro, NJ, I studied under an esteemed graduate professor, the late Dr. Donald Bagin, who was an instrumental organizer of the press and public relations when the university hosted the historic Glassboro Summit Conference between President Lyndon Johnson and Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin in June 1967, which led to a thaw in Cold War tensions.
Clear writing begins with clear thinking. Critical thinking and the ability to analyze come into play when people communicate verbally or in writing, evaluate data or statistics, or develop business and personal plans. Developing critical thinking and analysis abilities prepares students for a third and more traditional educational priority: “broadening horizons.”
College students come from a variety of geographic areas, backgrounds, and life experiences. For many students, educational coursework is the first contact with concepts in both classical studies and cutting edge international views and innovations. In addition to core studies, higher education creates an environment for students to learn from each other and faculty in the classroom and through campus interactions. Higher education provides a playing field that allows students to cut through assumptions and prejudices and experience the realities of people who are different. Educational exposure to the diversity of fellow students in many areas, including culture, history and religion dissipates fear, fosters compassion, and contributes to the understanding needed to work together in our global community.
The greatest assets of any country are the minds of its people; thus, educational institutions are charged with creating citizens with relevant work skills for the present economy, creative problem solving ability, and a solid grasp of international issues and perspectives.