Say What?

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One friend of mine has had her four-year schedule and ensuing career planned out since freshman year. Another is a senior who finally figured out what she wanted to do, only to lack the preparation to study it in graduate school. While I congratulate the first, the fact that many more students can relate to the second friend accentuates one of this University?s fundamental failures.

It is a university?s responsibility to provide students with a proper foundation on which they can build the rest of their lives. Carnegie Mellon is known for providing among the best career training in the world. It does not, however, provide an adequate opportunity for students to determine what they want to study.

We must question whether concrete future plans should be a prerequisite to a Carnegie Mellon education. It is impossible to expect 18-year-old high school seniors to know what they want to do with their lives. Yet, Carnegie Mellon students are thrust into specific courses of study from the time they accept their offers of admission. Upon arrival on campus, students are presented with a specific list of coursework that must be completed for a degree from the college in which they are enrolled, a list that becomes the defining element of course registration. When course registration rolls around, students are often too focused on finishing degree requirements or studying something they love.

At this University, there are a multitude of opportunities ? disciplines that are completely foreign to many high-school graduates. An ideal curriculum provides students the opportunity to pursue varied interests and find a true passion. However, flaws in the course registration system often make this impossible. While I have never had a problem enrolling in a course required for my major, enrolling in anything else often has proved to be a trying task. For many courses, effectively, all seats are reserved for majors in the relevant discipline. Over time, I learned that registration for these classes is often possible by talking to enough professors and advisers. This process, however, is not clearly defined, and its effectiveness varies greatly.

These flaws stem from underlying philosophical problems. By dividing the institution into separate schools, the University defines education in the fields of engineering, art, and social sciences as fundamentally different. Separation of the schools leads to a focus on career training rather than broad education. The University does not feel like a complete unit, but rather a handful of trade schools that fall on the same plot of land. Students are defined almost entirely by their career aspirations, and there is no middle ground provided for questioning.

Dare I suggest that we tear down the artificial boundaries separating the engineers from the philosophers from the actors? An educational institution should first provide each student an opportunity to explore various disciplines and determine what he or she wants to study. Later, each student should work with an adviser to develop a curriculum tailored to the student?s interests and aspirations.

I challenge those in charge to alter the structures and policies at this University which make possible this fundamental failure. Alter the admissions process so 18-year-olds are not forced to decide their future careers unprepared. Respond to student interest by offering additional course sections rather than excluding non-majors. Hold discussions with students, administrators, and faculty to re-evaluate the overall meaning and content of a Carnegie Mellon education.

In 1900, Andrew Carnegie founded an institution with the motto ?My heart is in the work.? Over a century later we must ensure that in our focus on work, we provide students an opportunity to find their hearts.