Friday, August 26, 2016

Is Education Wasted on the Young? Probably Not!

This week, I'm in the unique position of starting the seventh and eighth courses in my online master's degree program at Colorado State University and taking my oldest daughter (Lara) to Bozeman, Montana, to start her first semester at Montana State University.  As I think about my own undergraduate experience (at UC Davis), I can't help but compare the opportunities that await Lara with my own academic career.  I can't help but think about what I might have done differently if I'd known then what I know now.  And I can't help but wonder if post-secondary education is wasted on those who have just graduated from high school!

While I'm approaching my fiftieth year, I can't say that I have any regrets about my educational choices.  The courses I took in college, which led to a bachelor of science degree in agricultural economics, have served me well.  Although I can't remember the particulars of some classes, the education I received is part of the sum of who I am today.  Undergraduate education - both formal and informal - is an incredible journal of self discovery and social development.  I suppose that in some respects, I love sheep-raising today because of the mix of courses and experiences I enjoyed at Davis.

My current educational endeavors - working to complete a master's in agriculture in integrated resource management (a combination of range management, animal science and agricultural business) - are far easier for me today than they would have been immediately following my undergraduate coursework.  My life experience - from working in the policy arena to operating my own ranching business to conducting research and education programs for other ranchers - has prepared me for the classes I'm currently taking.  When I was younger, I probably didn't question my professors as much; today, I recognize BS when I see it (which is to say, I know when someone is - or isn't - talking from experience).  Today, the questions I ask my professors are asked from know-how as much as from a lack of knowledge; as an undergraduate, I couldn't say this.

This brings me back to our week in Bozeman.  I have to say that I'm incredibly impressed with Montana State University.  The staff and faculty have all gone out of their way to be welcoming to our daughter - and to our family.  The university emphasizes a sense of community very much unlike my own undergraduate experience more than 25 years ago.  MSU also emphasizes its role as Montana's land grant university - from the president to the deans to faculty to staff.  Accordingly, MSU still caters to it's rural constituency, with programs designed to equip young people to go home and make a difference (rather than move away).  As I watch Lara embark on her college career, I realize that this emphasis probably means more to me now than it would have when I was 18 (and perhaps than it does now to Lara).  After observing a half-week of Facebook posts about MSU, a friend (who happens to be a native Montanan) asked if I wished I was coming to school here.  In many ways, I suppose I do!

As I reflect on my college experiences (in my distant past at Davis and more recently online at Colorado State), I realize that much of what I've gained educationally is an inherent curiosity.  Education, if we're paying attention, teaches us to keep learning (as opposed to simply memorizing facts and formulas).  Higher education teaches us to ask important questions, to accept different viewpoints (and to question our own) - to ask "why" as well as "why not."  The seeds that were planted in my first animal science course - or in my advanced composition course - continue to bear fruit today.  Seeing this future germination through the eyes of my child is incredibly exciting!  To the extent that we all continue to learn, education is never wasted - no matter one's age!

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