Connecting the Dots

by Carolyn Babcock, Ph.D.

Last week I was invited to hear the keynote speaker at a student conference being held at our college on behalf of our students.  The conference was geared towards preparing our students for leadership roles in their careers.  The keynote speaker was a former student who had taken my class “Speech & Public Speaking.”  Unfortunately, she was “snowed-in” in New York City and had to give her speech via Skype audio.  Her PowerPoint presentation was given simultaneously.

I remember her … even though it had been five years and a thousand students ago.  “Nickie” was the dream student.  She was an Art Education teacher out West and decided to make a career change by enrolling in a program at our school.  She was in her mid-twenties when she came to be a student in my class.  Nickie was an eager student whose mind was open and ready to take in the lessons that were offered to her.  She was unusual in that she did not treat “Speech class” like a class with assignments.  Nickie approached the class with the attitude of “How can I use this to help me with my career?”  That difference was all the difference.

During the 10 weeks she was in my class, she had an interview in New York City for an internship.  We had just covered argument-based persuasion, so she went to NYC with this new-found knowledge and felt prepared to handle the presentation and interview.  She did get the position, and returned to our classroom fired up about using the tools acquired in the classroom in the “real world.”

She had “connected the dots.”  We, as professors, offer “dots” to our students.  It is up to the students to connect them, to have them make sense, to use them.  Nickie was a Non-Traditional Student (NTS) in that she had already earned her Bachelor’s Degree and was pursuing a rewarding career.  She opted to change direction when she realized she needed and wanted more.  Even though she did not fit the numeric definition of a NTS (out of high school at least 10 years), she had a fully mature attitude toward learning and was highly motivated to effect change in her life.

She graduated in 2007 and has pursued a successful career as an independent designer, obtaining numerous contracts with prestigious firms.  She has also participated in many college-related events even though she lives in a different region of the country.  When she was asked to give the keynote address she requested that her former professors be e-mailed and invited to attend the opening program of the conference.  Before her presentation began, I asked the coordinator of the conference to let Nickie know that I was there.  Consequently, when she was wrapping up her speech, she gave an enthusiastic “shout-out” to me and thanked me for all she had learned in my class.

Yes, I did provide the dots she needed to help with the change in her career.  However, it was up to her to connect them – and so she did!

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