Thinking about changes to Rice that would make it a better university raises questions regarding what exactly “better” means. Better for the students’ individual experiences? Better for their success post-graduation? Better for college rankings in the U.S. News? After having downed a glass of wine for creativity’s sake, I am still convinced that there is one answer to all these questions and one that benefits all students and the university as a whole: make a professional development class a requirement for all new students.
I believe that every student needs to take a “life” course. The main goal of a university should be not to only give students a fancy sheet of paper attesting to their qualifications but to provide them with the skills to succeed in whatever field they pursue and life, in general, and to foster personal development. I have often seen a popular Tumblr meme that says something along the lines of “Never learned how to do taxes, or what taxes are…but thank God I know the Pythagorean Theorem!” Clearly, the pure focus on academic material is a widespread issue and concern that students have. While this class wouldn't quite teach how to do taxes, it would teach extremely valuable and relevant information that students from all majors can incorporate in their lives and careers.
Perhaps the most significant development a student undergoes in college is the discovery of his or her true identity. Away from the influence of parents and at the junction of infinite paths, college students experience a period of independence, true self-reflection, and endless possibilities. It is a time to consider all three levels of identity, personality, motivations, and life story, and how they influence their decisions and ultimately, the career path they choose to follow. It is a time to weigh their multiple alternative selves and be challenge by the inevitable fact that they can only live out one. These topics would be discussed in the first half of this course and would help students think about their motivations and identity and guide their decision-making about their future.
However, no matter what path students decide on, the concepts covered, especially in the second half of this class, are instrumental to professional success in working with others no matter what field. No matter what you decide to do in the future, you will be working and interacting and, most likely, negotiating with people. Take an independent artist, which is the most isolated career I can think of, for instance; even the most independent artist needs to negotiate with buyers and dealers and galleries, if not publishers and commissioners.
Another reason this idea would improve the university is that it would create cohesiveness to the culture of the student body and give students an opportunity to form a more brokered network, promoting diversity of ideas and personalities. There are very few, if any, shared experiences that every student at Rice go through besides O-Week. Once students choose a certain field to go into, they tend to meet and form brokered networks, making it difficult to branch out. Students make a large portion of their friendships through class because frankly, taking the same class just gives you something to talk about and relate with each other. Therefore, a required class for new students would allow and encourage students to meet and work with students from all fields.
Putting all students in this course would also create a culture of diversity on a deeper level (ideas) and prevent the perilous illusions of groupthink. The “Rice bubble” has often been criticized because the appearance of acceptance of different ideas seems like an illusion. Some students have voiced their fears of expressing their religious or unpopular political opinions, despite the administration’s effort to encourage diverse ideologies during O-Week. One week simply isn’t enough to create a culture for the entire school year. On the deepest level of Rice’s culture is a prevalent but tabooed assumption that everyone is rather liberal and that liberalism is equated to goodness. Students therefore also tend to group together based on their sociopolitical views, further perpetuating the illusion of agreement. This change can burst the comfortable but limiting bubble and promote diversity and ultimately, creativity.
On the note of creativity, every field in the present-day is looking for creativity and new, fresh ideas. On the contrary, few classes in many disciplines don’t develop creativity or provide guidelines on how to be more creative. The information presented in this course as well as the environment of diversity that it creates would help students to develop their creativity and give them a competitive advantage on top of the skills they’ve gained in academics.