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College and career myth corrected

Many people assume that individuals who become doctors, lawyers, and professors have that all-knowing capability that extends into life-choices. Folks assume that those individuals knew in their teens or early twenties what they wanted to do when they grew up. 

However, it is not necessarily true.  It turns out they are just like the rest of us - at least the professors are.  In recent interviews of four professors at Ohio University's Eastern Campus, it was unanimous:  not one of the professors graduated in the major they started in as a college freshman.  Further, not one of the professors started college saying they wanted to become a professor, earn a doctorate, or even earn a master's degree.  Yet, they now have done all three things. 

Dr. Edie McClellan, assistant professor of psychology, started college majoring in history but loving English, too.  "I had no idea what I wanted to do in life," she says.  She took an introduction to psychology class her first semester and it "clicked" for her.  She changed her major to psychology right away. 

Dr. Sarah Mahan-Hays, associate professor of communication studies, actually earned her bachelor's degree in psychology.  "I thought I might go into art or music. Then I considered education?. Then I took a couple of communication classes as a second semester junior in undergrad and realized I really liked the field. I considered trying to become an organizational consultant."  With the encouragement from her communication professor, she went on to graduate school in communication studies.  After her master's degree, she worked in the book publishing industry before deciding to pursue her doctorate in communication studies and becoming a professor. 

Dr. Warren Galbreath, associate professor of social work, originally wanted to be a high school social studies teacher.  When he graduated with a bachelor's degree in that field, there were no jobs available.  "I then went into VISTA and found my niche that led me to the social work profession.  When I was in college, I did not know what a social worker did."  Galbreath continues, "My experience in VISTA in Philadelphia in 1972 was an eye-opening experience.  It was the first time I realized the extent of discrimination and poverty there was in this country.  I also look back and realize that my parents were mentors for me.  They allowed me to explore options before I found my career.  Years after making the decision to pursue a social worker career, my mother told me that she always thought that I would become a social worker, but she allowed me to find it on my own." 

Dr. Jenn Diamond, assistant professor of English, took the scenic route to her current career as well.  Diamond, originally from Utah, says, "I had a scholarship to play basketball at a small college in Colorado, but family finances and other events prevented me from making it to Colorado.  I went to a local community college in Utah for a month, and then decided that I would rather work full-time and have some financial security.  After moving to California in 1986, I started community college several times, but a heavy, full-time work schedule made it difficult to attend night school and do well, so I kept dropping out.  I finally returned to college as a full-time student 11 years after graduating from high school." 

While in the workforce in California, Diamond worked for computer software developers.  Therefore, when she returned to college, she thought she would study to become a computer engineer.  She figured it would be a financially rewarding career.  However, after taking several classes in the field, she decided she just was not "intellectually engaged by the field."  Since she had loved books all her life, read constantly, and had people tell her she was a good writer, she found herself pursuing English as a major for her bachelor's, master's, and doctorate. 

When the professors were asked what advice they would give to current or future college students, they all replied that students should explore courses they know nothing about.  "You might find a new career by doing that," McClellan says.  Further, they suggested not to worry that it may be taking you longer than your friends to find a major or career that suits you.  "No one ever regrets receiving their college degree, but they certainly do regret dropping out and never finishing," McClellan explains. 

Diamond adds, "First, some advice for older college students: You're never too old!  While attending college as an older adult is often more difficult in terms of time juggling and money, you bring invaluable life experience and commitment to your education. Beg, steal, and borrow, but figure out a way to juggle the priorities and the money: You'll never regret having an education.

For all students, the best advice I can give is to stick with your education, even if it means just taking one course some quarters. No matter your socio-economic or ethnic backgrounds, education is something that can never be taken away from you. An education will open doors that you may have never imagined would open for you."

Published: Jul 20, 2006 3:50:00 PM
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