The Paths We Take in Education

It’s that time of year where you walk into any store and see advertisements for gifts for graduates.  I was talking to a friend recently about college degrees and how challenging it is to decide “what you want to be when you grow up” at age 18.  Sure, you can change your major throughout your college career (perhaps frowned upon by those footing the bill), but even in the span of those four years, how many students leave feeling confident that their passions align with the field they have chosen?  I do think some people “just know” or are gifted/talented in an area and it seems logical that is the path they will take.

I was not one of those individuals.

I was a good student, but did not excel or have a passion for a particular subject. I was on the swim team, played violin in the orchestra, was an editor for the newspaper, and even worked at the local diner.  When I was applying to colleges, we were told to be “well-rounded,” and I was! But that did not help me choose a major. I chose engineering and stuck with it, completed my degree, and pursued outdoor education instantly after graduating (that’s where most people give me a funny look).

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I don’t practice engineering the way most of my college colleagues do.  But, I do get to share it in the way that makes me most passionate about the knowledge I gained in college -– by educating youth.  There is a large engineering component to the Outdoor Classroom curriculum (no surprise why) and a lot of students we work with are not really sure what engineers do.  I am fortunate to show them what engineers do by designing lessons that allow them to solve design challenges and help them grasp the foundation that engineers work daily to solve problems, those problems being the needs and wants of societies/people.

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I do not regret my decision to pursue this degree, even though I do not practice engineering “traditionally”.  But I do get that quizzical look often when I share my college background with others. As an educator, what it fuels in me is to remind students that there are different ways to apply your talents and passions. Some are more traditional, and some are not; both are validated. It also provides that voice in the back of my head every time I am writing curriculum or teaching that says “make sure students understand how this relates to the real-world”.  As educators, it is our responsibility to help students grasp how these math, reading, and engineering skills are applied in careers so they can get excited about their futures and make the most informed decision possible about the path they will take after high school.