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Learning Outside the Box

by Ronald A. Williams, President

Most students enter college with a self-centered view for success.

If I can just fulfill my goals in this field of study, then I will have succeeded.

We are often just as guilty of this self-centered view for success.

If I can just complete this or that task in a reasonable timeframe, I will have succeeded.

However, helping students look beyond themselves and encouraging them to broaden their intellectual horizons must be a primary goal at Prince George’s Community College. We cannot afford to miss the opportunity to help students learn outside the box.

We are living in an era of global interconnectedness. Students must be exposed to a broader worldview in order to be prepared to live and work in a multicultural world and maximize their chances of true success in that world. They need to learn how to exchange ideas, how to debate and how to think critically in order to be effective workers. They must learn to respect other cultures and belief systems in order to interact comfortably and knowledgeably with a very diverse world. They must learn to be other-centered and community-focused in order to be responsible, productive citizens in their communities and in their world.

We are so fortunate to be part of a community college where faculty, administrators, staff, and even members of the community have supported our mission to be an intellectually vibrant institution of higher learning that is committed to being community-centered and culturally diverse. Part of fulfilling that mission has entailed developing programs, events, and lectures designed to stimulate the mind. Café for the Mind; art exhibitions; lectures by nationally recognized political theorists, authors, scholars, historians, and other experts are just a few of the ongoing, easily accessible activities available right here on campus or nearby. Many of you have helped to organize these activities and have served as lecturers and facilitators for these events. I commend your participation and encourage you to stay involved. Student participation in these activities has increased, but we still need to make a conscious effort to get them more engaged in activities that culturally and intellectually enrich their lives.

So how do we do that? I am glad you asked the question. I would like to propose a few suggestions.

First, realize the value of a broad, intellectually rigorous education. Let’s face it. The world is a much different place than when you and I attended college. Most of us could have gotten by just fine embracing a vision of education for personal success’ sake. Not any more. We need to realize that a comprehensive, liberal education that challenges students intellectually, celebrates diversity, and exemplifies good citizenship is essential not only for success but also survival in today’s rapidly changing world. If our view of education remains narrow, so will that of our students.

Integrate external intellectual activities with class work. Look for a connection between classroom topics and some of the cultural events or lectures on campus. Ask students to attend the activity. Then take the time to delve into a vibrant discussion that fosters an exchange of ideas, coaxes students out of complacency, and compels them to analyze and apply critical thinking skills. Make it your responsibility to learn about campus events; and even if the events seem unrelated to class work, remember to encourage students to attend. Your personal endorsement carries a lot of weight with your students.

Step outside of your own box. Nothing beats leading by example. Many of you are extraordinarily gifted experts in your field. If you have not yet lectured in a Café for the Mind series, consider it. Support and celebrate diversity at the college by participating in the Book Bridge Project. Consider other culturally-oriented professional development opportunities on and off campus. Be proactive. Leave the comfort zone of your classroom. Teach students the value of being engaged in their community and involved in intellectual pursuits by you getting involved yourself.

There is no reason why any of our 37,000-plus students should leave Prince George’s Community College without becoming equipped with the comprehensive, intellectually rigorous education they need to succeed in their careers and in life. The future of our community, and our world, depends on it.

 

The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 18, No. 3

Spring 2003