Time to heighten higher ed.
Put that textbook down.
My time at the University of California, Davis is coming to a close — and to be honest, this ending feels quite abrupt. The lack of anticipation has led to significant confusion about where I am, where I will go, and perhaps the problems I’d like to solve. But the disarray, certainly overwhelming in nature, has enabled me to derive a set of conclusions that I believe will formulate the next decade of my life.
I’ll admit that my freshman year was certainly where all the confusion started.
Here are just a few of my observations.
- Thirty thousand students across a campus that felt more like it’s own planet.
- A catalog of academic courses that could potentially populate its own dictionary.
- An incredibly talented academic faculty that could probably be casted as Marvel Avengers.
But these observations were not responsible for the development of my confusion. It was the blandness, linearity and expectedness of my university experience that introduced this internal conflict.
I asked myself, “With so many talented individuals in research, instructors with notoriety, and many enriching courses, why do most students in my discipline do the exact same thing?”
I am a student in the school of Computer Science — and considering that I am enrolled in a publicly funded program — it came to no surprise that my peers were financially, racially and geographically diverse. Keep in mind, that this form of diversity is essential to manifesting opportunity-bearing experiences.
But there still remained a lack of diversity in academic intention. Why were students taking specific classes or why did they join certain organizations? There seemed to be a glaring linearity behind everyone’s approach to their higher education.
This observation is one I would like to explore — I do not have a single solution, but after four years at this incredible university, I have been able to formulate some conclusions.
Begin with observation.
I often find students asking their peers, “if I take course A, with course B and potentially course C, will I do well?”
Don’t worry, these questions can also find you online — just check a couple of unnamed Facebook pages.
Anyways — let’s unwrap this question — its quite loaded.
You are asking a student(s) to gauge the difficulty of your course load. For starters, difficulty is a relative measurement — it is a factor dependent on the student you are asking. And to ask if you can “do well” — that’s yet another relative metric.
The question, ultimately littered with relativity, seems pointless to ask — but there is obvious intention behind asking it. In most situations, the student posing the question is looking to optimize their schedule for academic performance.
I will admit, some do attempt to find the perfect course-load such that they do not minimize the amount of learning they are doing — but frankly, I haven’t seen that too much.
I will also concede that GPA is a crucial metric when exploring grad school opportunities. But this can be offset by the experiences and opportunities you seize when you respect your own curiosities and observations.
My approach to my education changed as I began to respect and act upon my observations. I, along with close friend Andy Haden, developed UC Discourse — it was a project that would fundamentally shift my career path.
To this day — I accredit all my recent opportunities to this entrepreneurial experience.
End with execution.
Remember this question?
“If I take course A, with course B and potentially course C, will I do well?”
The birth of this project was really conceived after observing how frequently questions like this were asked.
I firmly believe that a higher education should enable you to develop an affinity for disruption. Can you talk to your peers, identify problems, and note the frequency at which they occur. Will you act upon these observations and disrupt the current status quo?
And given the discipline I chose to invest in from an early age, I realized that developing this skill was crucial.
Building amazing software experiences is not just an enjoyable process —when crafted properly, technological solutions can scale to such a level that they can eliminate specific problems quite swiftly.
Andy and I purchased grade distribution data from the academic registrar at our University. We spun up a website that was quite literally a glorified collection of bar charts — as long as students understood which classes were easy, we felt we had addressed the question many wanted answered.
Fast forward two years and now the website was more than just a supposed fortune teller — it was an academic market place to rate and build value associations to the courses offered on campus. By crowdsourcing student-uploaded transcripts, we could build powerful relationships between courses and generate academic pathways for students interested in optimizing their higher education experience for learning.
I was grateful to work on UC Discourse — it enabled me to work with incredible professors, meet receptive administrators, explore accelerator programs, and find incredible industry opportunities. But nothing was more rewarding than being able to connect with students who appreciated our work.
I have realized that the higher in higher education comes into play when you generate impact with the education you are provided. Because when I have moved on from this wonderful University, there will be one distinct contribution that remains — that is UC Discourse.
— Signing off,