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Providing Students with *Hirable* Experiences


If you asked one of my students why they’re in school, they’d most likely respond with, “To learn stuff.”

Obviously, people learn things in school. We learn that commas are powerful, if not complicated. We learn that power corrupts. We learn that math believes two negatives produce a positive.

But, do we learn when to use this knowledge? The overwhelming response from students, college professors, and employers is, “No.”

Sadly there’s a tacit message learned: that much of this knowledge can be effectively siloed without any immediate detriment to the student or their test scores.

This is abruptly changing, and school had better respond quickly.

For instance, I asked the lead tech  developers of several Cedar Rapids companies what they look for when hiring, and they all responded with, “The applicant’s Github [open source] portfolio.”

Not their GPA.

Not their test scores or transcripts.

Their what-have-you-done files.

The only way a student can have a Github portfolio is if they have a project worth working on, and the only way they can have that is if they’ve had generative interactions with the greater community; a community who has a plethora of problems worth working on.

Experience Trumps GPA

Providing real experience has become the task of the school, and it’s one that has barely been embraced.

We have a school culture that believes “you must know a few things before you can do the real stuff.” I know that sentence feels right, but it just isn’t. Intuition for educational best practices is about on par with physical intuition: you know, the intuitive, yet false, ideas that the Earth is the center of the solar system, or that heavy things fall faster than lighter ones.

I had a recent conversation with a student–17 y/o Kenn–about her application for an internship. In what must have been a truly awkward experience, the applicants were interviewed in a group setting for the same internship. As each student answered in turn, it became obvious to Kenn that her experiences in the field of engineering gave her a legitimacy the other applicants just couldn’t match. She spoke of her time at Fermilab and Argonne labs in Chicago, her various projects built to enhance the school building, and her currently running phytoremediation experiment.

What I find most interesting about Kenn’s story is that the conversation never turned to GPA, it centered on the ideas and experiences she was sharing, which operated as their own de facto assessment of her understandings; a positive assessment to be sure. Needless to say Kenn ran away with the interview – what classes the others took and their stellar grades rang hollow in comparison to Kenn’s learning and experience.

What’s more is that these experiences were not for an already advanced student, they were initiated to teach the content. They are what she does at school, not what she does after instruction.

How is your school providing experience in tandem with content? What does this look like?

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