Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Road to College

The folks on NPR are interviewing guests to talk about their college experiences.  The guests are those who were the first in their families to attend college.  It made me recall how I eventually started to take college classes and ultimately finish.

I was the youngest of three, and both my brother and sister went to college right after high school.  Yet my path to college was not so straightforward.  That's because my brother was disillusioned with college.

He was seven years older than me, so he got his B.A. degree in education before I  started to think about college.  He really wanted to be an artist, but he didn't think it would be a good career.  So he majored in education.  It wasn't until he started student teaching that he realized he didn't want to be a teacher.

One problem was that the student teaching program involved both teaching and observing.  Each student was paired with another.  While one taught, the other observed.  The observer was also tasked with providing an evaluation of his student teacher partner.  Well, the evaluation that my brother wrote of his partner was honest and fair, which got the partner angry.  "I gave you a good evaluation, why didn't you give me a good one, too!" was the complaint.  Yet he finished the program.

He decided to pursue a career in commercial art, specifically drafting.  He attended a technical school for several months and got a job right away as a drafter.  He could have gotten the same job four years earlier had he skipped college and went to the technical school right after high school.

So that's what I did.  I had no desire to commit to any kind of career when I was close to completing high school. I put off going to college by instead enrolling in a nine-month technical school for certification as an electronic technician. This was 1981, when electronics was booming and demand for technicians was high.  I got a job right away as an engineering aide in the R&D department of an innovative medical device company.

We were doing very interesting "cutting edge" work, but I felt under utilized.  They had me "breadboarding" prototypes most of the time.  I'd fend off the tedium of that manual labor by understanding the designs I was building and sometimes noticing a mistake.  Occasionally I was allowed to design something.

The VP of the department encouraged me to take college classes part time to pursue an engineering degree.  I was ready, so I soaked up the Calculus and Physics courses with relish.  I tolerated the Chemistry courses.  I was still living at home with mom and dad, so I had plenty of time and money for school.

After I completed two full years' worth of college at the local state university, I left with an A.S. degree (Associates of Science) in engineering, and I transferred to a university that specialized in science and engineering. I enrolled as a full time student and received ample scholarship funds, too.  I completed the program in two years, and I worked over the summers as a designer of printed circuit boards.

The intensity of each school year wore me down, and I was glad to go back to an easy, slow-paced job in the summers.  (I took no vacation.)  But by the end of each summer, I'd be bored with the job and anxious to start school again.  So it worked out as a sort of perpetual, self-motivational cycle.

At the end of those two years, I had no clear idea of what to do next.  The US economy was in a downturn and engineers were in low demand (except for the foreign ones who could be hired on an H1-b visa).  Acting on the advice of a few professors, I took the GRE1 and applied to graduate school, just in case I got an offer I couldn't refuse.  But by this time, every topic in engineering seemed exceedingly dull -- I couldn't bear to even think about studying anything further.

So when a colleague of one of my professors invited me in for an interview at his (boring) company, I figured I'd go.  One thing led to another.  I relocated to take the job offer and I've been there (here) ever since.

So what was your educational experience like?

1 I did not study for the GRE.  I figured if I was meant to go to graduate school, I'd perform astoundingly well on the test regardless of any preparation.  As it turned out, my results were at about the 50th percentile for the engineering portion and within the top 10% for the English portion.  Most of my fellow test takers were Asian.

1 comment:

Rummuser said...

Due to family circumstances, I started to work immediately after High School. I acquired my Bachelor's degree through distance learning process but due to a series of unexpected developments got selected to a Business School and quit work and took my savings and went for my MBA. Campus recruitment and a reasonably successful career after that till I retired. If you wish to go deeper into it do read http://rummuser.com/?p=1494