I have asked Lisa Gates, associate dean of experiential education, assessment, and planning, to be this month’s guest blogger. She is writing about the vision behind the new Center for Education in Action and how the center’s work is critical to a liberal arts education. Not only is her post informative, it also raises some intriguing questions about how we choose to spend our time.
Shirley M. Collado
Dean of the College
There’s a quote on my refrigerator from the writer Annie Dillard. It reads: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” Admittedly, it’s one of those obvious points, the kind of sentiment that ends up on refrigerator magnets in the first place, and yet I always appreciate the message: stop for a moment, think about the myriad things one does in the course of a day, and connect these daily actions to the larger picture. Are the things that I am doing today important to me? What am I learning from these things?
And that’s where the Center for Education in Action—EIA for short—comes in. As students, you are already well acquainted with at least some of our parts—career services, the Alliance for Civic Engagement (ACE), health professions and fellowships advising—but in coming together as one center, our goal is to provide you with a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Together, we bring more comprehensive advising and resources, more funding and more opportunities for interesting, challenging experiences outside the classroom. Because what you do outside of academics, too, is part of your Middlebury education—and it’s a critical part.
So let’s talk a moment about this broad category of out-of-the-classroom experience. These run the gamut from campus jobs to playing on an athletic team, from mentoring kids after school to presenting your work at the undergraduate research symposium, from practicing guitar (or yoga or rugby or you fill in the activity) to doing a summer internship, maybe with a botanical garden in Denver or the Department of Homeland Security in D.C. (examples of internships offered to students for this summer). This is what you do in the course of a given day or week or month. This is how you spend your days. And yet as quotidian—or in some cases necessary—as some of these activities are, they can still tell you something useful about yourself.
Think about these choices you are making. You’re doing all these things, but why these things and not others? What are you learning through these experiences? Are there connections between what you do outside of class and what you choose to study? Can you take what you learn in volunteering, working, or interning and apply it to your academic life? What do you like or dislike? What fascinates you? What challenges you? What puts you to sleep? Thinking about these choices will provide you with valuable information as you make decisions about classes next semester, your summer plans, or what you might want to do after graduation, because, like it or not, that day will come, too. Your learning is cumulative, and the more you can do to make those active connections between these various experiences and your formal education, the better prepared—and successful—you’ll be in choosing your path after graduation. And the happier you’ll be with your choices.
EIA is one of many resources at Middlebury available to support you in your educational journey here. If you haven’t connected with us yet or haven’t talked with us in awhile, take the time to stop by and look at what we have to offer: internships; jobs; funding; community connections, global and local; career exploration; alumni connections; fellowships and grad-school advising; and preparation for med, dental, and vet school applications.
Did you know we provided 91 students with funding last summer to participate in unpaid internships and independent projects? We offered more than 300 Midd-friendly internships and supported community engagement work in Vermont, Gambia, China, and Uganda last year, among other places. We helped students apply for and win prestigious scholarships, like the Fulbright, the Beinecke, the Watson, and the Gates Cambridge. We helped students gain admission to medical and veterinary schools and find jobs with organizations ranging from Teach for America to Goldman Sachs. Behind the scenes, we’re working with our extensive and enthusiastic alumni, parent, and professional networks to identify new opportunities, speakers, funds, and contacts that can help you connect with opportunities and advice in the areas you’re interested in.
Most important, we’re a place for conversation and advice. We don’t expect you to have figured it all out; we just expect to help you in that process. Figuring it all out, after all, is one of those elusive goals that no one, not even a Pulitzer-prize winning writer like Annie Dillard, really achieves. It’s what you do in the course of a day, a week, or a month that matters. One of the greatest joys and challenges of a liberal arts education is that it is not prescriptive. It leaves you to figure out what you are interested in, what excites you, and how you can deepen those interests through the experiences you choose while a student. You’re in charge of your educational path, but we can certainly help you as you explore these fundamental questions.
Want to learn more? Come see us in Adirondack House. Career counselors have drop-ins from 2–5 p.m., Monday–Friday, and all advisers—for community engagement, health professions, and fellowships—are available for appointments and can be reached by phone or e-mail (check out go/eia for a full list). Just give us a call (x5100) or drop by!
— Lisa Gates
Associate Dean of Experiential Education, Assessment, and Planning