By Colleen McMullen, BTC Student
In college it is very easy to get swept up in academics, to only think short term, study all the time, and develop tunnel vision on getting good grades. While this may enable a student to master the concepts of his or her major, it is an incomplete way of preparing for the “real world”. Even easier is failing to think about how what students learn at the University of Maryland applies and will contribute to the rest of the world. College is a rather sheltered environment in which students may learn about the issues facing the world today, but have little opportunity to see them in action and learn what is being done to combat them.
The Beyond the Classroom program has changed this perspective for me. It has exposed me to the world’s leading problems in new and engaging ways: through community service, activism, research, and meeting and speaking with those that are directly affected by challenges and work to fight them.
In the foundation course – Civic Engagement and Social Change in a Global Context – we discussed a different topic every week, ranging from climate change, HIV/AIDS, poverty, gender inequality, terrorism, and issues in the local area of Prince George’s County. Before discussion students read articles, reports, and opinion pieces on the topic to provide a range of views and types of information. Students also have the opportunity to watch videos and documentaries about vital civic issues. I found these to be the most powerful, as they were the most effective at depicting the direct effect these issues have on the lives of citizens. Seeing interviews of those in Bangladesh and Africa that are forced to flee their homes due to climate change, or American citizens stripped of their rights due to tort reform made the issues much more tangible. Even more powerful were the speakers brought in by the Beyond the Classroom program. These were most often people who worked for non-profit organizations or government agencies that addressed issues discussed in class. The seminar class provided a unique, up close view of the most critical problems in the world today, what is really being done about them, and what we as students could potentially do in the future to change them.
The next semester in the Beyond the Classroom program, students to obtain an internship at a non-profit organization and take an additional seminar that focuses on how to succeeded in such a position and learn as much as possible. This step has proven to be a turning point in my college career and has changed the way I view and plan to prepare for my future after college. Before I was one of those tunnel-vision students who placed a great deal of emphasis on grades and much less on experience. As an environmental science major, I spent much of college believing that knowing the material and facts would be enough to be successful in the field and drive change in addressing global climate change.
My internship experience, however, has shown me that there are many more skills necessary for being successful – not just in environmental science, but in any field. No matter what a student is studying, it is vital that he or she knows how to communicate effectively, be open to all ideas, and be willing to try new tasks that he or she has never done before. As an intern with the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, I faced new challenges all the time, and while that was sometimes intimidating, it made me a much better and more versatile worker. I was asked to draft flyers and emails providing information on environmental issues, organize the chapter’s website, and reach out to our members to mobilize them for an event or outing. While all of these tasks are far from the assignments typically given to a science major, I came to realize that they are all necessary for the goals of environmentalists to be reached. The environmental movement will go nowhere without the support of citizens, and effectively educating and reaching out to them is the only way to gain their support.
Beyond the Classroom provided me with a great breadth of knowledge and experiences that have enriched my college career. I have come to fully appreciate the potential my education has to help the world and acquired some of the skills that will help enact that change.
Edited by Dr. Caitlin Haugen, Adjunct Instructor, Beyond the Classroom