21 August 2011

why students should go to college

Today we drove away from SNU (although only 1.5 miles down the road) and left our daughter on campus to begin her freshman year. During the month of August, I'm sure there are millions of other people doing the same thing some time this month. While I don't think my experience is any different than any other parent, I had some thoughts this morning and thought I might share them with you.

In 1949, Charlie Edgar Jones, Jr. was born. He grew up in the Amber-Pocassett community of Oklahoma and graduated from the high school there in 1967. He never missed a day of school and even drove one of the school buses while in high school. (Can you imagine if we had high school students driving buses in this day and age?) Shortly thereafter, he entered the Marine Corps and went to Vietnam as a mechanic on the A-4.

I suspect (I've never asked) that he took a few college classes from time to time while he was in the military. Once he left the Marines,  he and his wife Linda went back to Oklahoma with their 2 year old daughter, Michelle (who is now my wife). I'm not sure when, but at some point he made a decision that has affected my family's life (and mine) in a really significant way: he decided to go to college. Dad was the first in his family to do so. He finished his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (without an undergraduate degree*) in 1980. He continued his education by doing a Master's of Public Health at the University of Houston, after re-entering the military, this time the Army, as a veterinarian.

I've never asked if he knew during high school that he would go to college, but I know that he believes in the power of education. Michelle and I married young and both dropped out of college when the strain of a new baby (or two) came quickly in our lives. Dad (I'm sure) was disappointed that we weren't continuing our education. I remember him asking me (as I was leaving for the Army) "Don't you just want to go back to school? We'll do whatever we can to help." I continued to resist, thinking I was taking the right path in my life at the time.

If you've read this blog for long, you know the rest of this story: Michelle finished her undergraduate in 2000 and then quickly a Master's in Education in 2002. I went back in '04 for my undergraduate and just completed my Master's this past May.

This morning, we spent our Sunday not in church, but in the dedication service at New Student Institute. We were there not as faculty mentors, but as parents. We were dropping our daughter, Jessica, off for the beginning of a new chapter in her life. During this service, Dr. Gresham asked all of the students who are the first in their family to attend college to stand and be recognized. I've never attended Oklahoma State, so I have no idea if they have anything like this for new students, but I wonder if Dad knew the powerful impact this would have on his family when he began his studies there back in 1974?

Over the past several days, I've been talking with people about beginning to work on a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) plan for the State of Oklahoma. One of the things we have discussed is that not every one needs to go to college. There is some sentiment that we do students a dis-service when we expect every single one of them to go. I wonder if people, back in high school thought Dad was one of those people who needed to stay in town and work in a blue-collar job? I wonder what it was that got him interested in the science of animals? I wonder what teacher first lit the fire to inspire him to go beyond what the "normal" expectation was?

As a result of his decision, all three of Dad's children and each of their spouses have an undergraduate degree and half have Master's degrees. The first of his grandchildren is starting college this weekend and I imagine the expectation for the rest of the grandchildren is that they would attend college and pursue a vocation which requires at least a bachelor's degree.

We have no idea what Jessica is going to do in college. What we do know is that she would have been much less likely to be attending school if her grandfather had not made that decision to work on his education beyond high school. When you reach for excellence in all things, you have no idea what effect you will have on those that come after you.

This reminds me of one of my favorite Isaac Newton quotes: "If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants." Thanks Papa Charlie for allowing us and now Jess, to stand on your shoulders; we can definitely see further.

*While I'm not sure if they still allow it, back in the 70s, at OSU you could go to Vet School before you finished your undergraduate degree. Students started a pre-Vet degree and then could be accepted to Vet School before graduating. At graduation, you actually got both your undergraduate and D.V.M. degree.

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