Why UMAC Matters to Students

Photo of Rich and Rose standing side by side in an office.

University of Minnesota Advanced Careers (UMAC) Initiative fellow Rich Harney volunteered in an undergraduate class, Public Affairs; Community Organizing Skills for Public Action. Rich interviewed Rose Adams (CEHD ‘21) about her perspectives on the experience. Here are some excerpts (with slight editing for clarity) from that interview.

Rich: How did having a nontraditional student in class enhance the learning environment?

Rose: I think that having an older student in the class brought in a lot of different perspectives, especially because this class was focused a lot on social issues. Being college students, we all sort of have a similar experience and having someone that had been in the workforce, who worked with a lot of different people, taught us a lot about what it means to go through college, learn what you know, and then go out into the real world and experience things like that.

Rich: I remember this from my own college experience, being in college can be such an echo chamber, or a bubble, meaning you’re constantly with the same people at the same age... Well, sometimes being in a bubble is a good thing, it feels good. But, it is not real, right?

Rose: Yes, I would definitely say that college classes and being near the University of Minnesota is an echo chamber. You’re with people who are all your same age. If you are in a classroom for your major everyone is studying the same things, everyone cares about the same things, in general.

Rich: What kinds of insights did another generation provide in class that were unexpected?

Rose: I think again, as a college student, we have specific ideas of what we imagine the world to be like. What we want the world to be like. It is very interesting to hear about how things actually happen. And we were just talking about what it actually looks like to work in human resources for a company. In my head, I imagine it to be a certain way. But to talk to someone who has actually worked with human resources a lot, and knows what the culture is like in corporations like that, it gives me a lot of insight that I can use in a very practical way to make future decisions for myself.

I know that in-class discussions as well, we had a lot of debates and discussions about gender inequality and about education and I think that whenever you have discussions like that it is important that you get multiple perspectives. College students generally have similar experiences because we are all at a similar life stage. To see someone who has time to reflect on their experiences means a lot.

Rich: I do think having that sense of context in history can add some additional value to the study of any topic. What do you think about that?

Rose: Yeah, I think that is very true. I was just thinking about, how, when you learn about the civil rights movement you look at particular people who were really big players in the civil rights movement like MLK, or Ella Baker, or all of those people who are really famous. But I think that, while it is important to learn from experts about a topic, it is also important to learn from people who were just--there...having adults in the classroom that way, you were able to give us perspectives for things, even though you were not necessarily an expert on the topic. That is part of understanding any topic, any event in history, the civil rights movement being one of the few things. Like your understanding of 9/11 is very different than ours is, and that is not something we talked about in class particularly, but that is an example of something where having another perspective just really enhances the learning...the option to learn something at a more deep level I suppose.

Rich: What do you think I learned from you?

Rose: I would hope that in the same way that having you in our class helped see what older generations think, that having you in your class helped you to see what younger generations are thinking. Because I think there are a lot of stereotypes. We think of boomers in a certain way, and you think of Millennials or gen x’ers in a certain way. It is my hope that you can see that a lot of the way that people view our generation might not necessarily be true. I think older generations see us as, you know, entitled, or overly passionate about things that are perhaps not important. But I think this class in particular hopefully showed you that the reasons a lot of us are really passionate about things is because we have a self-interest in those topics, and it runs really deep for a lot of people.

Rich: One of the things that I was really struck by was, compared to when I was in college, students today are more likely to challenge the professor...I see you pushing back. Not inappropriately and not unprofessionally. But...you make it really clear that you are kind of partners together...you ask questions...and probe in a fashion, you make sure you have a stronger understanding. Is that a good observation on my part?

Rose:.I do think in the class that we are in, the environment is specifically designed to encourage that kind of discussion...I appreciate having classes like that so much more because I pay a lot of money to be here. It takes a lot of time to dedicate to these classes to get good grades and to actually learn things out of it. I know that if I don’t ask questions I am not learning. If I can't explain it then I am not learning. I have noticed very clearly in the classes where I engage, then I learn things. I get something out of it.

Rich: How has your experience with another generation in your class helped your impressions about what you want to do going forward? Whether it is work, career, continuing in academia?

Rose: So, the biggest influence...I was considering going into business, and I also love teaching. The reason for going into those two paths is really different. Business, because I have

skills in that area. And I want to be financially stable as an adult. I want to go into teaching because I care about it so much. I love kids and I love working with kids. I love working with people in general and helping people to understand something they did not before. That is what makes me happy and that is where I feel fulfillment. So, like a lot of college students, fulfillment versus money are constantly at battle.

So in this class, I had the opportunity to work with someone who did work in huge businesses, and I think that I had an idea in my head...they just care about the money, they care about the power that comes with working in corporate America. And what I saw is that someone who worked in corporate America for forty years,...was the same as me in a lot of ways and they had things they were passionate about and found a lot of fulfillment in. I saw that working in corporate America did not take that away from you, and you still had those passions and values...And that was really powerful for me because it helped me develop.

Rich: That actually makes me feel really good, that I did not come across as a corporate drone.

Rose: I learned it is possible to do that and not lose your soul.