When the newness of college wears off and the hassles of driving to campus, roommate conflicts, or filling out forms start to get on your nerves, that is a good time to remember Abe Lincoln. Long before he became our 16th President and memorialized on Mount Rushmore, he was a young boy growing up in a log cabin on the American frontier. And after a long day of whatever pioneers do (such as chopping firewood), he would read the few books available by the dim light of the fire. He was very committed to learning even under very difficult circumstances.
This raises the question: how much energy and sacrifice are you putting into your education? In fact, actual learning is mainly up to you, even if there are professors and classrooms and libraries stocked with books, journals, and computers. At a university like UMBC, opportunities to learn are literally everywhere—both inside and outside the classrooms. Are you recognizing these opportunities and taking full advantage of this educational bounty?
Here are some specific ways to put this idea into practice.
MEET THE PROFESSORS AT LEAST HALFWAY
Some professors have the ability to fully challenge their students, and a knack for keeping the classroom lively. Professors like James Thomas in Philosophy, Tom Schaller in Political Science, and Taryn Bayles in Chemical Engineering, and many others, connect with their students in a very special way. But even in classes where the instruction is solid but unspectacular, you can learn if you choose to.
Professors are not entertainers. They assume that you are in the course because you genuinely want to learn about the topic and that you will meet them halfway. By doing the reading, coming to class prepared, participating in class discussions, and staying late or coming to office hours to continue the dialog, you take responsibility for your own education. The more you do this, the more you will learn. That’s simply indisputable.
LEARN OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM
Equally important, college presents many, many opportunities to learn outside the classroom. Put more bluntly, if you simply do what is required, you will miss a huge fraction of the learning available to you at UMBC. Not only that, you will not be cultivating the habits of intellectual curiosity and self-teaching that will contribute to your happiness and effectiveness throughout life.
Think about something you know a lot about that has never been taught to you in a classroom. Did you learn a non-English language from your parents? Did you learn how to sing gospel music at church? Do you know the names of the generals who fought at Gettysburg? Do you know why airplanes and helicopters stay in the air? Are you at least vaguely familiar with the work of Van Gogh, Rembrandt, and Georgia O’Keefe? Do you know the connection between diet and life expectancy? You may well have learned all these things outside a formal classroom.
And what are some of the ways you have learned outside the classroom? How about this list for starters:
•Reading newspapers, books and magazines
•Visiting historical, scientific, or artistic sites
•Talking to people with knowledge more extensive than yours
•Reading Wikipedia and other internet sources
•Watching documentaries on television (History Channel, PBS, Smithsonian Channel)
•Working at a job (paid or volunteer).
As a college student, you have a whole new array of learning opportunities inside (of course) and outside classrooms. Consider these examples:
•Learn about journalism by writing for the Retriever Weekly and attending a national collegiate journalism conference.
•Pick up some Farsi or Korean by being a Conversation Partner with an
•Learn how to teach (and reinforce your own knowledge) by being a tutor in the Learning Resources Center.
•Learn how to edit and produce an academic journal by working on the staff of the UMBC Review.
•Enhance your understanding of world affairs by participating in Model United Nations.
•Observe talented students using their programming skills as a team at meetings of the Game Development Club.
•Increase your understanding of global warming, historical immigration patterns, remote sensing technology, German lieder (songs), genetic counseling for Tay Sachs disease, and countless other topics by attending Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day at UMBC in late April.
•Learn more about just about anything by simply browsing the stacks in the UMBC Library!
All of this learning that takes place at UMBC outside official college courses is optional. If you simply attend your classes and do the required work, you will miss all of it. Much of it takes only a small investment of time. Being part of a community of lifelong students is exhilarating. Realizing that you can educate yourself here is priceless. And you don’t even have to stay up reading by candlelight like young Abe Lincoln.
Immediate Learning Opportunities at UMBC
“For all the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights”
Organized in cooperation with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, explores the historic role played by visual images in shaping, influencing, and transforming the fight for civil rights in the United States.
UMBC Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture
Fine Arts Building
November 15, 2012 through March 10, 2013
“A Symphony of Fables”
The UMBC Wind Ensemble collaborates with the students of Introduction to Animation to present a unique work.
Fine Arts Recital Hall, Fine Arts Building
Monday, December 10, 2012 8:00 pm
“The Combat Paper Project”
Veterans used their uniforms worn in combat to make paper for artworks that help them to reconcile and share their personal experiences in the military.
UMBC Special Collections
Albin O. Kuhn Library
October 8 through December 10, 2012
EXTRA CREDIT DISCUSSION QUESTION
What have you learned at UMBC through an activity not in a formal classroom and course?
Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.