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Archive for March, 2013

I DECLARED

Somewhere between “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and “what do you do for a living?” many of us come to grips with that core question of college life: “What’s you major?” While some have the good fortune to be zeroed in on a major and what lies beyond from the day they fill out a college application, many more are on a search through an overwhelming range of areas of study that, gulp, lead to the possibilities awaiting after graduation day. It’s the source of a fair amount of hand-wringing among first-year students and sophomores. IMG_7286

Decisions, decisions. Yesterday, posters all over the Davis Center led the way to the ballroom where staff and faculty had set up a sort of “one stop shop” to help the undecided, the undeclared, and the just plain bewildered better find their academic paths. The event is one of those great ideas that requires plenty of cooperation across the university to make happen. That job fell to Dani Comey, head of programming for first-year students, who coordinated with Pam Gardner at Career Services, student services staff in deans offices throughout the university, and academic departments to create the inaugural event.

Erin Monahan, a transfer student who started her college years at the University of Delaware, sat at a table in the DC ballroom with her friend Dani Esenler. While Dani, a major in biology/pre-med, was trying to sort out options for minors and concentrations, Erin was taking on more fundamental questions. Currently undeclared, she was studying options in economics, international relations, community development. “I’m generally an indecisive person,” she admitted, but added that once she had that clear goal it would help her focus in on the work at hand. The major fair was all about helping students like her push that decision forward.

In the first twenty minutes of yesterday’s event, Gardner and colleagues already had a healthy line in front of the Career Services table. Gardner noted that they can help ease a typical roadblock in making that academic declaration—the daunting sense that choosing a major is choosing what a student is going to do with the rest of his/her life. While there’s some truth to that, every psychology major is not going to become a psychologist. “With every major there are a set of core competencies, it’s not purely the subject that you are studying,” she says. Gardner has set up a matching game in which students try to pair up examples of college majors and eventual careers from real-life UVM alumni. The paths and the way that majors have informed them are not always so simple.

I imagine there were some anxieties eased yesterday as students may have pinned on one of the “I Declared: Major Fair 2013” buttons and headed down the stairs or even if they just left better informed about their options and still pondering college, department, major, minor, concentration, and, you know, life.

“This normalizes that search,” Gardner says. “Students can walk in here and see that they aren’t the only one.”

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Yesterday’s guest speaker for the Mark L. Rosen Lecture Series in political science didn’t have to travel far. Jim Douglas, Vermont’s former governor who is currently teaching at Middlebury College, his alma mater, just made the quick drive up Rt. 7. “GOP RIP?  How the Republican Party Can Connect with Mainstream America” was Douglas’s focus, a subject that drew a capacity crowd of students, faculty, and community members to the Livak Ballroom on the top floor of the Davis Center.

Professor Frank Bryan, who will retire at spring semester’s end, handled the honors of introducing Douglas. “Jim is the consummate politician,” Bryan said. “When we shook hands just now, he said, ‘Go easy.'” Bryan ticked off the many political offices Douglas held in his long career in Vermont politics, which started scarcely after his college graduation. Part of his success, Bryan offered, is “a profound example of how we value civility in Vermont.”

True to form, Douglas’s talk was a highly civil discourse, delivered with the careful enunciation of the radio man he once was, and lightened here and there with humor. The former governor gave his audience a fast-forward through a couple of centuries of United States and Vermont political history as parties and ideologies have shifted across time. The table set for the title of his talk, Douglas then described the current political weather for the Republican party, and, no surprise to anyone, the forecast isn’t sunny. “There are a lot of souls being searched,” he said.

Suggesting his recent role as a teacher may have something to do with the packaging of his message, Douglas described a potential plan of action for the GOP that would work from “the three R’s.” Telling the audience that all of the steps would be difficult to achieve, Douglas said they are essential to reinvigorating the party.

Respect: Within the Republican ranks, party members must come to respect a diversity of opinion.

Reach Out: Noting the lack of support from African-American and Hispanic voters and other demographic challenges, Douglas said, “We must embrace more Americans and encourage them to join our ranks.”

Relevant: “We need to be discussing jobs, economic issues and not focusing on social issues where people should be able to have diverse opinions.”

Also, speaking to the American public’s frustration with Congress, Douglas suggested two key reforms. First, the former governor said that how districts are drawn and redrawn, gerrymandering, needed to be addressed and made more equitable. Second, Douglas said that though he has long opposed the idea of term limits for senators and congressmen, he thought the time had come to end the advantages of incumbency and refresh a system that has too many legislators “breathing the stale air of the Capitol” for too long.

“When surveys show that the American people are more comfortable with a colonoscopy or head lice than they are with the U.S. Congress, it’s time we tried something different,” Douglas said, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

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