January 17, 2017

defining moments of my college education

Since I begin classes in a week, at a whole new university, I've been thinking recently about my five semesters at community college: the courses I took, the professors I met there, the memories...  I'd like to share some of my most important moments college!

1. Existential Crisis During First Semester

I took Clinical Hematology (learning about blood) my first semester.  I thought I wanted to be a lab tech.  We had two lectures and one lab every week.  I did well on tests and enjoyed the lectures, but dreaded the incredibly tedious and mind-numbing lab portion, where we spent almost 2 hours every week counting red blood cells through a microscope.

This is basically what we were looking at.
One time as we were doing this, the professor said to all of us, "This is what you will be doing a lot of the time when you're employed as a lab tech!"  I had this moment of clarity where I thought to myself, "Okay, if THIS is what I'm going to be doing in two years, and I hate it NOW, I am in the totally wrong place."

So I noped out of there, dropped out of medical lab technology and became an art major.

2. Learning to Read

In Spring 2014 I was in my 3rd semester and was still kind of nervous about the choice I had made to be a visual arts major.  As much as I liked creating and drawing, I was missing any kind of interest in looking at and critiquing art.  I didn't know how to talk about qualities of art besides "I like that art!" or "I do not like that art!"  I just didn't know what I was looking for.

This changed when I took 3D Design.  The class itself was a huge growing experience for me, creatively, and I could write a lot about what I learned through building sculptures and stuff - but a sort of side-effect was what the professor (a young, female adjunct who was new to DCC) taught me about looking at art.

An example of the kind of projects we did in 3D Design - not mine.
Group critiques were important in that class: we set up our works of art and talked about each one.  At first, it was awkward.  None of us really knew what to say, other than "I like it." :P  But every week, with every project, she focused on teaching us a term for talking about art: things like color, form, line, balance, space...  And she guided our discussions, suggesting ways to look at the things we made.

Eventually we got better at critiques and were able to give better input, like, "I like how balanced and light this side of your sculpture is, but I think it feels to heavy and dense on this side; maybe you could help it flow more by opening up this denser side."  Or whatever.  Later she brought us on a field trip to a local art museum/gallery, where we viewed and talked critically about all kinds of art, and all of a sudden I realized I could spend time in front of one work of art and see a million different things, where before I just thought, "I like it," or "I don't like it."

A Richard Serra piece from the gallery we visited!
It's hard to describe how much this meant to me.  It was like I was equipped with a whole new mental tool, like being taught to read.  In this case, I learned how to "read" art, I guess.  It was really a defining moment for me in my life, not even just as a student.

3. From Allied Health to Visual Arts to...?

In a weird turn of events, I decided to change my major after that 3D Design class.  I realized that it was moments like that - trying new things and learning amazing lessons from them - that kept me excited about education, and I wanted MORE.  I switched to "General Studies" for my 4th semester and took advantage of the freedom I had to take random classes!  Some highlights that semester:
  • History of Modern Art. I went from borderline apathy about history/struggling to understand the context of various historical world events, to having a true excitement and teachable attitude about history.  Now I LOVE looking at a work of art and learning about the circumstances surrounding it, the worldviews that influenced it, the artist's personal life, the context of when it was created... I still sweat when I look at a history timeline, but history comprehension "clicked" in my brain that semester; another mental tool I didn't have before.
  • Popular Culture.  This was actually an English class.  I thought it sounded interesting because I heard you got to watch a TV show for one module.  :)  It ended up being more than that!  We talked about the fast food industry, the clothing industry, music, education, the inner cities, YouTube, and a lot of other interesting things.  Since I've talked about mental tools twice now, I will say that this class added another tool to my mental toolbox: I think about the relationship between the creators of pop culture and me, the consumer.  I want to write about this in-depth later on, so I won't go into it now.
  • Spanish.  I took a Spanish course in college while I was in high school, but I honestly didn't learn a whole lot from it.  I didn't need another foreign language credit, but I was looking for a class to fit a particular time slot, and a Spanish class fit.  This was not the most demanding class I've ever taken, but imagine going from knowing how to introduce yourself in Spanish and basically nothing else, to having a teacher who refuses to speak English in his class!  It was SO CONFUSING, but I learned SO FAST that way.  You can imagine what this added to my mental toolbox.  Not only did I learn to stumble along in Spanish, I also learned how to learn a foreign language: immersion!  Textbooks are great, but it was speaking Spanish the entire time that did it for me.
The TV show we studied in Popular Culture.
I wasn't (and still am not) particularly proud about being a "General Studies" student.  I know it was the best choice, but I also struggled to admit that I really had no specific idea what I wanted to do in the future.  As other students narrowed down their goals and honed in on a path for them, I kept just taking classes.  Taking random classes.  But I accomplished what I was aiming for!  I got to try new things, and I learned a lot about myself and about the world around me.  Aaaaaand I was given a couple of opportunities that wouldn't have come about if I'd gone a different way...

4. An Extra Semester

There I was after finishing my 4th semester.  After switching  my major twice, you'd think I'd be waaayyy behind with graduating in 4 semesters, but actually, I only had one more class to take to graduate: a science class.  So I signed up to take a biology class over the summer.  I'd had a good run, but figured I had gotten as much as I could out of DCC (I even received an award - see the first picture in this post!) and wanted to graduate ASAP - no more full-time semesters for me!  I'd be finishing in just about the expected amount of time.

BUT NOPE there was more in store for me.

So I not only enjoyed the pop culture class: I also did really well in that class, and the professor was impressed by the papers I produced.  In fact, he recommended me to the director of our school's writing center, and I was offered the chance to take an advanced English/peer tutoring course.

I was flattered but didn't even consider taking it at first.  For one, it was for the following semester, and I planned to be graduated by then.  Besides that, the class is basically one part "Really Difficult English Class" and one part "A Job Helping Students Write Papers."  I like a challenging English class, but in my mind, I am the LAST person who should ever have been offered a job tutoring; nothing about my personality suggests that I would be a good tutor.

But at the last minute I was like, "Isn't this what I switched my major for?  For new experiences?  How can I turn this down, even if it means another semester?"  So of course I ended up accepting.  And while I was at it, I dropped the summer course, added it to the next semester's schedule, and also signed up for another Spanish class and a class about the Shaker religion... Because why not.

LOL.  The tutoring job was as difficult and awkward as I expected it to be, but I definitely grew from it and if I had the choice to go back in time and change my mind, I wouldn't.  I stepped out of my comfort zone, and it was terrifying, but it was an enriching learning opportunity.  It was a crazy semester and I think I wrote about it here on my blog at the time - I was working multiple jobs while going to school full time - but again, if I had to go back and choose between one summer class and an entire extra semester of random classes, I'd make the same choice!

A picture of the peer tutors I worked with during that semester, taken from my school's website: that's me in the back left :P
I finished community college in December 2015 and planned on taking Spring 2016 off from school to apply to colleges and get set to go back to school full time in Fall 2016, but...

5. A Gap Year

This is weird, because it's not a "defining moment of my college education" - it was the opposite sort of, because everything went wrong and I ended up not going back to school for the entirety of 2016 lol. Two of my plans for school fell through.  That's not to say I didn't learn - I think I did, and you can go back a few posts to read about that in "Have you tried turning it on and off again?"

But I had negative college education for a year and it mattered in the long run, so it's a defining moment, I guess.

6. An Opportunity Arises

At the beginning of December 2016, when I had just accepted that maybe this was God saying to me that I wasn't going back to college and should do something different, a college, which I had applied to AGES ago and hadn't heard back from in forever, told me I had been accepted for the Spring 2017 semester and I was like ??????who even are you and where have you been??????

You know me and opportunities.  I always think "NO," but I always want to say "yes."  Anyway, I took it as an actual physical opportunity handed to me directly from God, because it was so easy compared to the frustration of trying with other schools over the past years: within a couple of days everything was all set for me to begin school again in the best circumstances that I can think of.

That's where I am now!  In six days I begin online classes and will hopefully graduate with my Bachelor's degree in four semesters.  It's so crazy to think that two months ago, I wouldn't have guessed what I would be doing.  Certainly not this.  But that's how it always is in my life...

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