Pining For… Substance

Delightfully Maladjusted

College reflection essay

Laura Knight

College Reflection Paper

COM 497

City University of Seattle

August, 2012

College Reflection Paper

Let me start this reflection essay with some background about myself and why I decided to go to college. As this is mostly likely the last college essay I will ever write, I feel a need to cathartically think about my educational experience as a whole and why it is important to me, not just about my time at City University of Seattle. Attending college has not been easy for me. Not because of the coursework, although that was challenging–as it should have been. The struggle to get to college, stay in college, and now to parlay all of that experience in to a satisfying career has been and is the most challenging aspect of my higher education. It bothers me to read and sometimes hear that a bachelor’s degree today is the equivalent of a high school diploma in previous generations. The assumption being that everyone is going to college now and it is hardly the respected accomplishment it used to be. Despite the fact that today’s job market is saturated with college graduates, earning a bachelor’s degree is an accomplishment for me. I want college administrators and lawmakers to understand that some people are leveraging their future against what they think a college degree will give them. Then to find out in the end that they were just a profit margin and are going to have a harder time than ever finding a job, let alone one they are satisfied with, well, it’s spirit crushing material. This is my education story, and I am not alone in my experiences.

As I write this, I will be the only person in my entire family to have graduated from college, and honestly among a handful that even finished high school. I grew up impoverished in central Florida, and I came from a broken home. Most of my youth was spent moving from one filthy, barely inhabitable house to another just ahead of an eviction notice. I am not sure if my father ever let on to his relatives or friends just how dire our situation was (and always seemed to be). I think he must have told them a few times because I recall living with his relatives or friends on occasion instead of being “technically homeless”. There were some genuinely caring people who offered to help when they could, although many of the people we knew were not much better off than we were.

I think back on all the times during school when I could not participate in field trips, activities or the like because my dad could not pay for it. I recall in sixth grade being sent to the principal for lying to a teacher when I explained that she could not call my dad because we did not have a telephone- I was telling the truth. I am just now at the age of thirty-two paying to have my teeth corrected because braces were as affordable as a yacht might have been for us.

I felt confused and thrown away like garbage because I saw my mother maybe five times in during junior high and my first two years of high school, even though she lived in the same neighborhood I shuffled around in from house to house with my father. And when I did see her she was bitter or drunk, sometimes both. I wondered who would ever love me if my own mother didn’t. Family was a distant concept in my world, and the ones who were not just as miserable as we were, were more likely to avoid you or shove a bible verse in your face rather than give you a place to stay or actually invest in your problems. And when my mother died when I was 15 I felt worse because I didn’t seem to care like I should, more so than because of her actual death.

I brought with me in to adulthood memories and survival skills of living without electricity on occasion, or hot water for months, nights with no dinner, and sleeping with cockroaches crawling on me. I also fought (and won thankfully) against sexual abuse on multiple occasions at the hands of many deviant members of the poor white trash community, or those who liked to visit those communities to prey on easily accessible and neglected children. I recall feeling scared often as I walked home after work two miles in the dark, alone and late at night at the age of 16 because my family didn’t have a car and the bus stopped running at 9pm. Or even worse I recall being angry and forgotten about because someone was at my house that did have a car but didn’t care enough to come pick me up. I wondered what it would have been like to have spent my afternoons as a teenager on extracurricular activities, sports, clubs, or just hanging out with friends.

I think back fondly on my friends and their families, how they opened their arms to me, but I also wonder if I was a charity case for them or if they truly liked me. I also wonder if I was a depressing burden to those who offered to help me more than once, and I hope I was not.

Why am I telling you, dear reader, any of this? What does it have to do with college? Well, despite the dark pit that was my childhood, I still went to school every single day. I earned good grades. I kept my eyes on the future, because there was nothing good about my present. And I assure you, I was not alone in my misery. There were kids like me who pushed through their desperate situations and kept going to school and there were kids who dropped out at 16. For those of us who kept pushing we thought (and were told by “authorities”) if only we can graduate and get in to college—that is what we must do, that is the only way to get out of this life. That is the only way to get a chance at the same opportunities as kids who only had to worry about “regular” teenager problems. As soon as I turned 18, I took control of my life. I moved out, worked two, sometimes three jobs to support myself and I decided to go to college. I wanted to create a better life for myself, and I thought that college was the first and most important step in order to do that.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that being dirt poor was actually an advantage in higher education because our government and big companies wanted to invest in me by paying for my education. What I didn’t know at the time was that I could have used that money to live on-campus somewhere and have a traditional college experience. I also could have graduated close to a decade ago. But I wasn’t really given a lot of guidance and at that time I thought the best use of my time and funds was to work multiple jobs and attend school part-time, while using some of my grant money to live in an apartment by myself in a neighborhood that made me think twice about checking my mail after dark.

I started my college career thinking I was going into theater or journalism. I was taking courses in both at my community college. Eventually the acting bug left me and I decided I wanted to write for a living. I loaded up on all the journalism and writing electives I could. I truly enjoyed the content of those classes, but I wasn’t able to devote myself to the student newspaper like I wanted to because while the news staff was meeting at two in the afternoon I was at work.

For me college was a chance to leave my past behind and start fresh, a chance to be normal. I found working two jobs and trying to stay on top of my coursework was tough. There were semesters when I just felt like giving up, and I did for a while. I would stop going to school for six months here and there because I just felt exhausted. There were also times when I would simply talk myself out of going to school altogether. I would rationalize my decision by telling myself to accept the job I had at the time as the best it was going to get for me. I would tell myself that I should be happy enough with where I was and get settled in the life I was living because, after all, it was still better than the situation I came from.

I changed majors a few times. I thought I was going to be a crime scene investigator, then a pastry chef, then an event planner. In 2004 my father died from cancer and I was devastated. Even though he had never been a good provider, he was still a loving person. When he died I felt completely alone in the world and the idea of continuing on with schooling or bettering my life in any way seemed pointless. I stopped going to school for a couple of years.

Finally, after a long debate with myself about what I was going to do with my life, I decided to go back and at least finish my two year degree. I had been working at it for years and I only had two math classes left in order to graduate. I had always struggled with math and I was validated a bit when I was clinically diagnosed with a mild learning disability. Those two math classes may have been the toughest of my life. I had a great sense of accomplishment, until I realized that a general A.A. degree gets you nowhere. I wasn’t qualified for jobs that I was interested in because they required a bachelor’s degree, but I didn’t quite fit with jobs that only required a high school diploma either. After continuing to work in jobs that I could not contribute to in a meaningful way or that micromanaged me to the point of logging in and out to use the bathroom, it was clear that I needed to move ahead with my education.

I chose City University of Seattle’s communications program because I wanted a program that I could do online while working full time and that focused on writing extensively. At the time I felt that the classes being offered were relevant to my career goals. When the program changed to emphasize writing and marketing for social media, I was pleased because I too had noticed an increase in requests for these skills in job ads. Up until now I have given you background on why college was such an important goal for me, but also how hard I had to work at keeping myself focused on education in my life.  I wanted to explain my point of view in depth so that someone can understand my line of thinking when I explain what I felt has worked for me and what has failed me as a college student at your school. I suppose it is time to get down to the specific questions this essay is supposed to address—my CityU program and how it has and will help me as a communications professional.

Ethics, diversity & lifelong Learning

Ethics, diversity and lifelong learning were the strongest and best taught topics in my experience with the CityU communications program. The final paper I did about ethics and social media in my spring term class with Professor Barnes has already proved to be a resource during my internship. Social media is being used heavily by all sectors of the communications industry, especially media outlets. The issues of plagiarism, privacy, fraudulent marketing tactics, and simply not giving credit to sources are all major issues with the credibility of communications professionals right now. What I learned at City University is that ethics come first, no matter what. No matter what industry I find myself in, be it news media, marketing or publishing making ethical choices about the content I produce is the most important thing for my career.

Also, I found the curriculum was devoted to expanding my awareness of diversity. In a global marketplace understanding some of the cultural behaviors of other countries has proven helpful yet again. During my internship, several of the clients I was working with were based in Asia. City University did a good job of giving me a basic foundation of global awareness and how we are connected through business and now socially more than ever.

In addition to these two areas, I felt that CityU did instill in me a desire and the awareness of the value to continue learning. The very fact that our program changed to reflect the needs of the marketplace is testament to that. I also felt confident that most of my instructors were up to date on the latest industry information and best practices, making their coursework relevant and interesting. I do not think I will ever go back to college in an official capacity, but I do know that I will continue to educate myself on a variety of topics inside and outside of my industry because being a well- informed person is perhaps the most valuable lesson college has taught me. College may not teach us everything we need to know, but it teaches us why it is important to learn and be objective (critical thinking), and in that regard City University has done a fine job by me.

Professional competency, identity and communication skills

Throughout my life in school from kindergarten to college, I was under the impression that I was an exceptional writer. I won awards in school for my writing. I placed in the top third of a Readers Digest writing competition a few years ago. Many of the papers I submitted to instructors at City University were returned with good grades and positive comments. Therefore, you can imagine my disappointment and confusion when I was told –and I am paraphrasing here–by an Ivy League educated editor turned PR pro that I was a nice, enthusiastic person but my writing skills are currently not competent enough to work as writing professional. Well, perhaps that is simply her opinion I reasoned, but her staff also agreed with her. I also suspect she is accurate because it took extensive searching to find an internship that would consider me. Also, to date I have applied to over 50 entry-level communications jobs and no one is calling me for an interview.

I have read numerous news articles about–and less formal rants from– recent college graduates who cannot land a job in this economy. Some of these recent grads did everything right—they did the best internships, got good grades and learned all the necessary software for their major. I also think many of these recent grads are from middle to upper middle class homes, so they have a place to wait it out until they do find a job. But what does that mean for recent graduates like me? It feels like I am still struggling after a tough childhood, years of trying to finish college, and close to 30 thousand dollars in student loans to pay off. I am still struggling to get to the same position in life that so many others take for granted. That position in life that gives me notions of things I can have such as liking my job, home ownership, family vacations and stability seems to try harder and harder to keep me out.

And the reality is that now that I am a college graduate employers do not care about my woes. They do not care why I don’t know how to use InDesign or write as competently as students who had better foundations- all they know is I am not a contender. I can imagine elitist editors snickering at my degree earned online and that it took 14 years for me to complete it. And I think what a figurative slap in the face because I would like to know if college graduates who were able to focus solely on their education for four years without working full time are better qualified than me.

I have an idea of how to deal with the practical weaknesses that are preventing me from getting a job in communications. Although I have found that not only do companies not bother these days to tell you they are not hiring you, the form letter rejection e-mails they send will not tell you why either. How are we supposed to know what to improve upon , or if it’s something we simply cannot change such as years of experience, if no one will actually talk to us? I can revisit proper writing and teach myself, I can try to find a way to teach myself the technology skills I lack through YouTube, trial versions of software, and community classes at the library. But I am angry that I need to do it and I am tired. I have been relying on the education system my whole life under the assumption that if I stuck with it and worked hard I would have opportunities. That belief has proven to be wrong. For 27 thousand dollars, I expected City University of Seattle to give me everything I needed to be competitive in the communications field, and at that this college has failed.

As I read job ads, it seems that employers do not care if you are a hard worker who is passionate and excited about a new career. And they certainly do not care if you are willing to learn new things because they are not willing to invest in you with on the job training- college was supposed to do that, I guess. New graduates are being bounced around like ping-pongs between employers saying they are not qualified for entry-level positions and colleges assuming practical training will be provided. Employers in this economy care about how many hats they can pay one person to wear. This means, a communications graduate today absolutely must know how to use relevant graphic design & editing software, must know about daily deadlines, must know how to use technology tools such as smartphones—and employers do not care about the digital divide. And communications graduates must be the type of writer that editors & managers will not have to babysit, and above all of that, today’s graduate must have proof that they know how to do all of these things.

My advice to City University—if in fact the school intends to continue to seek communications majors- is to create some type of student newspaper, website or newsletter that students can contribute to regularly via their coursework. My advice to City University is to make essential software such as the Adobe Creative Suite available on campus through the library for students who want to learn it, and to provide some type of formal or even informal student tutor type instruction for it. The class I took with Dr. Kaghan, IS 331, is the closest thing to useful in this category I came across in my curriculum. During my internship it was very clear how important metrics are and he did teach us about that and elements of web design in his class. But, because this program is new the kinks had not been worked out and some things that were more for an IS student were not as relevant to me. I would strongly suggest that City U add back in the editing & proofreading course I was able to take with Professor Pope to its communications program. Also, as you already know internships are crucial. I tracked down an internship on my own, with no help or guidance from this school, because my research was showing me that my chances of getting hired after college without an internship were pitiful. My experience in trying to get a communications job has been that the social media emphasis I received is helpful, but the foundation must include practical software skills and fundamental writing knowledge.

To say I am disappointed and anxious about this abysmal job market and my skill set is an understatement. To think about how I am going to pay all of my bills with an entry level job in communications that wants to pay me less annually than I owe on my student loans is frustrating. The most important lesson I have learned in my education journey is that school, from kindergarten to college, tells us to rely on a system that is fundamentally broken, and if I want to succeed in my life, on my terms, I had better take ownership of my education and teach myself. Nevertheless, I am going to push ahead. I just hope that I am able to reap the benefits of my hard work someday in my simple version of the good life before the journey itself manages to crush every ounce of hope and drive I have left.

 

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