Part of a series of articles on education and job development, point-and-counterpoint style, with high-achieving perspectives from Eric Chen and me, J. Arthur Rath.
Rath: June brings a sigh of relief for many tired students and tuition-paying parents: Graduation may mean the end of the line–or a continuation of a long train ride of high education costs.
Chen: Graduating from high school and college is a beginning as well as an ending. For me, it is a time of reflecting and remembering students who have changed my life by being in my classroom.
Rath: So students change your life? I thought it was you who changed the lives of the students.
Chen: It’s not a one-way street, Arthur. It has certainly been my pleasure to assist my students in getting jobs by
changing the way students look at the world. Both past and present students, are a constant reminder of my reason for teaching: I have been given the privilege of serving as role model, guiding students through subject matter, and just plain
teaching “how to be.”
Rath: Please reflect on particular personal experiences that might be instructive to our readers.
Chen: This past commencement, as I donned my academic regalia, I thought of “Jordan.” The word that came to mind as I
thought about him was “Courage.”
Rath: How so?
Chen: Five years ago, Jordan was the first person in his extended family to graduate from high school. One year ago,
Jordan was awarded a bachelor’s degree. This year, he earned a master’s degree.
Rath: How did he get on this track?
Chen: I met Jordan four years ago when I was teaching at a small college in Massachusetts. At time he was a floundering
history major. His grades were up and down and he was lacking direction in his life. We met because he purposely signed up for my Principles of Management class. According to Jordan, “He did so because he was hoping the experience in my class would change his life.”
Jordan said he was feeling rudderless and that he couldn’t go back home like this and disappoint his family. He
didn’t want to flunk out of college.
Rath: So what happened?
Chen: Jordan did well in my class and went on to complete his bachelor’s degree in business administration (BSBA).
Rath: What a great ending!
Chen: It certainly is and there’s more.
Rath: Relate it as an inspiring message for our readers.
Chen: When we first met, Jordan was working part-time in the fraud prevention department of a large retailer. After taking a bunch of classes with me, including marketing, finance, and strategy, Jordan decided that he wanted more.
To his credit, Jordan came to the conclusion that his BSBA wasn’t enough. Further, Jordan felt that his alma mater
wasn’t going to be enough to get him the job that he wanted in the future.
Rath: You’re telling me that after four years he’d been at the wrong college?
Chen: Yes: Because of the critical thinking and assessment tools that he picked up in my classes, he decided that the
college’s alumni network wasn’t strong enough for him and that the school’s reputation wouldn’t get him through the doors he
wanted to enter.
Rath: What did he do?
Chen: He followed me to Saint Joseph College to study for a Master of Science degree in Management.
Rath: Another degree? Isn’t that just more of the same?
Chen: In my opinion, graduate study is much more practical than undergraduate study.
In part, this difference exists because undergraduate, liberal arts study is supposed to give the student
a well-rounded education. When I was an undergraduate, I remember taking a great class that wasn’t in my major. The class
was with Professor Wei-Ming Tu on the history of China. This course was affectionately dubbed, “The Orient Express” because if you fell asleep for five minutes, you could miss a few hundred years of history. Some of the best classes I took as an
undergraduate weren’t in my major.
Rath: My college required courses not associated with my interests; we were there to acquire the ability to learn
anything. I was an English and Psychology major who forced to take Biology and Accounting–difficult for me, but the rubrics
accomplished their purpose.
Chen: Graduate study is much more applied. In the Master’s Program in Management at Saint Joseph College, we focus
on real-life solutions to current problems in business. We afford students the time to think about issues in the workplace
that they would otherwise not have the chance to consider.
For example, in my Legal Aspects of Health Care Management class, we go through a learning module towards developing a position on medical marijuana by performing research on the issues and examining the U.S. Supreme Court case of Angel
In my Financial Management class, we hold an investor call with the senior management of a publicly-traded company as
the culmination of our semester-long study. It’s as real as it gets.
Rath: I understand. In addition to subject matter exploration, earning such a degree, as hands-on as it might be, replaced Jordan’s educational brand with the Saint Joseph College brand.
Chen: Absolutely. Since Saint Joseph College has a strong regional reputation and a good, established alumni network,
Jordan was able to secure an entry-level position working for a major bank’s Fraud Prevention Group.
I made a call to the Senior Vice President in charge of the Group, who happened to be a former student of mine when I was an
adjunct at Saint Joseph College. She told me to have Jordan show up on Monday, ready to work.
Rath: Wow! That’s quite a story. Honolulu’s St. Louis College, now known as St. Louis School, had that cachet. “All
the college you’ll ever need” is what those could say who found prime jobs through St. Louis’ associations.
Chen: While on the job, Jordan met a fabulous young woman who also worked for the same company. This past year, the happy couple got married. Mrs. Gold, the wife of my mentor Joel, always told me that if you have a hand in setting up three
couples, you were assured a place in heaven because the setting up part resulted in a blessing.
Rath: A mazel? Mazel tov!
Chen: There’s more.
Rath: I should have known.
Chen: Jordan just accepted a new job as head of fraud prevention for another bank. So, he’s on his way and his career
is ready to take flight. But this wouldn’t have happened if Jordan didn’t have the courage to change his life.
It’s a challenging thing: changing one’s life.
Jordan had to uproot himself to follow me to Saint Joseph College. He didn’t know anyone here but me. His family was out
of state. He had the courage to get out of his comfort zone and change his life.
Rath: That’s a difficult thing to do, especially for those nurtured within a comfortable style of living such as we
experience in Hawaii. Let’s offer contrasts in our next article.
Chen: Okay, exemplary Jordan crossed a river. But we have the stories of Brown who didn’t want to leave his comfort
zone…Eddie who got homesick…and Sarah who wouldn’t work hard.
Rath: Are their stories as real as Jordan’s?
Chen: Absolutely. As a teacher I invested in them and tried to be motivating.
Rath: “Chen and Friend” will be back in two weeks then.
J. Arthur Rath III is a Hawaii-based writer, reach him at email@example.com