“Student Outcomes” is a new, ongoing series of interviews with my former students who are now living life after college. Considering how much of our work is based on the assumption that “learning outcomes” will be met, I thought it would be a good way to catch up with them and to see what sort of impact college has had on their lives in the long term. Past students interested in participating should e-mail me. Comments, as always, are appreciated. — Michael Arnzen
Mike Rubino, Seton Hill U class of 2007
Start with a brief bio that tells us first where you are now, then what your status was in college (e.g. “Creative Writing major, Volleyball player, Tetris fan, whatever.) Let your personality show.
I am currently a graphic designer for a commercial and political strategy firm in Pittsburgh. I graduated from SHU with a B.F.A in graphic design with a minor in creative writing. While at Seton Hill I was a “Renaissance Man,” bouncing between graphic design, fine arts, theater, creative writing, and politics with the occasional pause to watch some “MacGyver” on DVD and write some blogs.
Tell us where you thought you’d be now, back when you were a college freshman.
I’m pretty much exactly where I expected to be. I knew when I enrolled that I wanted to work in the world of graphic design, and I discovered during my junior year that I wanted to work for the company that currently employs me. Maybe it’s strange that I was able to plan ahead and attain my goals with only minor hiccups; that either means that I’m boring or I’m blessed.
Describe your college experience in one word. Then elaborate in no more than five sentences.
Unique. My field of study, extracurricular activities, and friendships yielded experiences that few others could expect from a small liberal arts school. As a cartoonist and writer for the school paper, as well as a campus blogger, I was able to reach a large number of people on campus without ever actually meeting them. My interest in English and theater allowed me to expand my education into new areas and consequently integrate these ideas into my graphic design degree with the help of independent studies and self-designed courses. I was also able to meet amazing people that I hope to be friends with the rest of my life.
Describe one very specific lesson from the college classroom that you’ll never forget. Give us concrete details. Tell us not only what it taught you, but also how and why it worked.
In my freshman drawing course with Phil Rostek (a course that almost all art majors take, and everyone loves), he began the first day of class with the odd exercise of having us draw with the lights off. Students stand by their easel with a raw stick of charcoal in hand and a piece of blank newsprint in front of them. Phil turns out the lights and everyone begins to draw. It was an odd sensation to say the least; however it was also the first indication that I was in a new environment, I was out of high school and in this strange and unnerving place called “college.” The exercise was fun and messy, but in the grand scheme of things it served as a reminder of the new sort of learning environment I had entered into.
What do you know now that you wish someone would have taught you in school? How might that lesson best be taught?
Personal finances. Now that I have a full time job, my parents have been working extra hard to teach me about investments, savings, and creating a nest egg for my future. It isn’t likely that upcoming generations will have Social Security when they retire, so it’s important for students to learn formally how to save money, invest, and budget their income (even if college kids don’t actually make enough money to put the knowledge into immediate action).
What teaching method(s) were you subjected to that never made a dent on your learning?
The most ineffective teaching method I have encountered is the “group project.” This isn’t because I’m anti-social or fear cooperation; rather, I found that group work slowed me down and diluted the learning process. First, students that I knew rarely wanted to be in a group (and if the kids get to choose their groups, then you are faced
with the “picked last in dodgeball” scenario). It’s like playing on a team that no one wants to be on. Secondly, students who are self-motivated leaders find themselves at odds with other members of the group, and, in my opinion, have to stunt their own advancements in
order to keep the “learning field” level. Lastly, group projects, presentations, and discussions rarely felt appropriate when they were instituted in the lesson plan. They weren’t present in every course I enrolled in, but oftentimes I found that their inclusion was because people assumed groups were necessary, rather than actually adding to the learning experience.
Of course, the idea behind the group project is noble: that they prepare you for a team-oriented working environment commonly found in the real world; but in my work experience so far, my collaborative efforts (which hinge on seniority and hierarchy) have been very different from the classroom.
What college experience did you find most displeasing at the time, but now recognize as an important contribution to your learning?
Doing fake interviews. In a couple of the core courses, students are asked to sit through a mock interview to go over their resume and test their job-grabbin’ skills. At the time, I sort of rolled my eyes at the idea, and wasn’t thrilled about going through the motions of an interview. Looking back, however, the practice interview in my core courses, like Senior Seminar, was a huge help. It taught me instinctual skills that I had to actually use at an interview six months after graduating.
I’m sure there are plenty of other exercises and lessons I went through in college that I didn’t enjoy but ended up needing… but my advice to students would be to sit through them and try your best to absorb everything, because you never know when it’ll come in handy.
What habits — good and bad — did you pick up in school, that you still continue to apply?
1. Drinking upwards of 4 cups of coffee a day
2. Listening to Charles Mingus when I really want to get something done
3. Constantly employing the phrase “I could blog that” in my head
You can decide if any or all of those are bad.
What do you miss about the college classroom, if anything?
It was nice having a syllabus to tell me about what I’ll be talking about and doing each day. It provided me with a gameplan, a learning track that I could see in its entirety and prepare for. It’s a shame the real world isn’t like that.
If there was one suggestion you would make to college teachers everywhere, what would it be?
If you’re going to make students buy a book that costs over $50, you’d better use every chapter in that thing.
THANK YOU, Mike! You offer some fantastic advice in here for students and teachers alike.
Read more “Student Outcomes”!