How Learning Happens: Skills, Experiences and Values

Emily-Weier-1By Emily Weier, Events & Travel Team Intern

I shadowed at Jackson as a freshman, now I am interning here as a senior, and I’ve had dozens of classes, projects and professors along the way. To say I am grateful to each person who cheered me on, gently told me when I was wrong (which was more often than I would like to admit!), taught me how to think critically, and became a friend/mentor to me would be such an understatement. As I finish up college, I know that the “what” of my education is vital and significant, but in the end, it will always be the “who” that sticks with me and impacts my choices for years to come.

Here’s the thing about education—it is always changing and it never stops. I am in the final stretch of my undergrad years. As my classmates and I see the finish line approaching just a few short months away, we can’t help but reflect on the past and think about what is waiting for us after the caps, gowns and celebrations.

In the past seven semesters of classes, and all that accompanies them, I have been taught various skills—soft and hard—and have been given incredible opportunities to take advantage of experiences that enhance my education. I could categorize college takeaways into three main groups: skills, experiences and values. The way I see it, skills are what you learn, experiences are what you do, but values are the lifestyle choices you develop because of where you are and who you are with.

Skills are the things I’ve learned in the classroom setting. I have enjoyed learning about a variety of subjects while focusing on the ones I love most. Employers today are looking for people with the technical skills to do the job but, equally important, the soft skills required to excel at the job. To my peers, don’t overlook the critical rhetorical training you need to succeed in any field you wish to enter. Taking extra speech and writing courses is invaluable to a student in entering their career in today’s world. Knowing how to think and communicate effectively will be the foundation of your accomplishments, and the lack of them will be a major cause for your shortcomings.

We all know that it takes professional athletes and musicians years of dedicated practice to achieve their goals, so why would we expect the art of communication and the training required to learn be any less rigorous? In the 18th century, students woke up before the sun to begin their day full of education. They spent hours and hours studying Latin or learning geometry. This seems absurd and would be labeled “too harsh” by the education system of today, but it was this very system that brought about the Scientific Revolution and produced philosophers that enlightened our knowledge in so many ways. I will be honest, if I was given a choice I think I’d stick with the 21st century—please and thank you. However, because the educational expectations of today are so different, our futures are left in our own hands. It is up to us to go the extra mile, to read the book, to do the experiment. If you want the skills to be successful, you have to roll up your sleeves and do the work!

Experiences are the opportunities you capture outside the classroom setting. Sometimes the experiences placed in your lap are small, insignificant and repetitive. Take them. Use the short-term, summer job opportunities to narrow in on what you love and what you are good at. Participate in campus associations, go to city events, volunteer in your community. They may seem small, but it is in those settings that relationships are developed. Sometimes the experiences placed in your lap are big, overwhelming and scary. Take them. I have been able to compete in national marketing competitions. My small, Christian, liberal arts school from Greenville, SC went up against some of the biggest schools in the nation. And guess what—we survived. But more importantly, we learned. I would not trade the sweat, tears and lack of sleep from those competitions for anything! Sometimes the experiences placed in your lap are exciting, unbelievable and exhilarating. Take them. I have been able to travel the country on behalf of my school, meeting prospective students and alumni. From California to Florida and all the places in between, I have met individuals with incredible success stories that taught me to challenge the status quo. And sometimes the experiences are not placed in your life, and you must find them. Do it. I spent a semester of my college career working in a preschool classroom as a teacher’s aide. Trust me—that is not at the top of my “dream jobs” list, and I do not ever expect to work there again, but through it, I learned communication from a whole new perspective. The very best thing about experience is that it is never wasted; there is something to be learned from every job and person.

Values are defined as “judgment for what is important in life.” Values are the constant when skills and experiences are gained, lost or changed.  Values cannot be taught exclusively in a classroom although they are learned there! They are not instilled for merely academic or professional purposes, but for character enhancement. You are taught what to value by the people in your life. In actions and words, they constantly, actively demonstrate what is significant to them. Creativity, teamwork, gratitude, humility, focus, integrity, honesty, dependability—and the list could go on and on. If developed, those traits are your primary assets. I am so thankful to attend a school that emphasized character qualities that develop me as a practical, successful, future professional. In just a few weeks of my internship at Jackson Motorsports Group, I have seen those values highlighted and rewarded over and over again.