As the Mortenson Center is an academic entity and its primary mission is to prepare students to address the challenges of working in developing communities, from time to time this blog will address some of the characteristics of a successful student in this endeavor. Today, I’d like to talk about a factor I believe is critical to success for students entering the development area: rebellion.
Rebellion usually has a negative connotation, and often with good reason. The word conjures images of riots, counter-culture uprisings or out-of-control children, none of which generate comfortable or happy thoughts. But I want to you think about a very specific kind of rebellion – academic rebellion.
What do I mean by this? Academic rebellion is the need to push back against the rigid academic curricula in place in many engineering schools which fail to prepare individuals for the challenges of working in developing communities. Rebellion is about saying that you have an interest that goes beyond what is listed on paper as your required courses. Rebellion is about experiencing the breadth of knowledge that you need to pursue your dream.
This is a charge to every student out there who is interested in working in developing communities. It is not only OK to ask to substitute a course, it is essential to achieving your goal of helping others. Working in developing communities is based on both understanding people and understanding how to work with people. These skills may not be found in traditional engineering curricula. If not, go out and find where they are taught and ask for credit for taking these courses. Talk to your advisor, program coordinator, or whoever is in charge of approving substitutions in your curriculum. Find out what it takes to get credit for that sociology or psychology or urban planning course, and be prepared to make your case as to why it is critical to gaining an understanding of developing community issues.
Rebel against what is written on your degree flowchart.
You must take this opportunity to be assertive. Remember, when you are working in a developing community, many people will tell you that you can’t do things because that is not the way it is done there. Sometimes you can’t take “no” as an acceptable answer. Your job is to find a way to get things done. The time to start learning that skill is while you are in school.
Take control of your education. It is your life and your preparation for a career. Courses are referred to as electives for a reason – they are for you to elect what you want to take. Challenge the system with these courses and broaden your perspective. Build your foundation for what you want to do. Rebel if necessary and start achieving your goals.