Green: Your major may sway your outlook on problem solving
I often think about what I’m getting out of my education aside from information. As a double major in theater and journalism, I don’t have the firmest grasp on what it means to have “the right answer,” mostly because the questions I’m asking don’t have one.
A lot of what I learn daily is about relationships and human interactions, not certain figures and equations. Obviously this isn’t the case for every department. Thinking in these different ways in the classroom conditions us to do so outside of it as well.
I spoke with teachers and students regarding these scenarios: a close friend in need of a major loan on uncertain terms and a phone call from a friend going through a tough split with a partner. I wanted to get an idea of what the process is behind problem solving these scenarios for people with such differing day to day lives.
“Drama classes instantly became a community for me,” Zeina Salame, a second year graduate student in the theater department said. “Of all the pieces of my education it is the piece that has prepared me the most.” Salame spoke about the way theater keeps her on her toes, giving her an ability to anticipate problems before they occur and deal with them when they do.
When it came to the hypothetical loan, Salame was entirely focused on the relationship. “If it was my sister I would give her everything,” she said. It was clear she was less concerned with the amount than to whom she was handing it to.
“I have a business take on life now,” Alexander Tushner, a second year undergraduate majoring in business administration, said. “I find it fascinating that everything in life has to go through a process, starting as an idea,” he continued. He spoke to the way that he’s learned to take every single detail seriously, in his academics and in his personal life:“I break people down more, try to understand them.”
Tushner’s response to the idea of a major loan was the rational one you might expect from someone with a business mindset, “You need to figure out why. Is there any way we can fix this? … You’ve got to talk it out.” Both of Tushner’s responses were rooted in logical reasoning.
“I never stop learning,” said John Schmor, the department head for theater arts. He was clear that his work as a teacher was only to guide, not a platform on which to force ideas: “I think acting is the best way to enlarge a person’s compassion for difference. You’re placing yourself in an imaginary situation that isn’t yours.” On a more introspective level for the students, acting is about constantly striving to be more defined as your own character. “Don’t go on stage unless you’re going to bring your mess with you. I’m not interested in your best self,” Schmor said.
Schmor’s answer to how he’d respond to a friend going through a separation was an immediate extension of support. He replied, “I’d say bring the kids and come stay at my place.”
Nicole Johnson, an accounting professor with a PhD from Stanford University spoke about a more direct style of teaching. “In my class I focus a lot on how to think rigorously on making decisions, whether it’s a personal decision or a financial decision,” Johnson said. She’s aware that accounting wasn’t a passion of every student who came through her class, but she was very clear that there was a lot more than crunching numbers taught in the process.
Johnson’s response to the question of a loan was internalized and thoughtful. For someone close, she knew it could create a difficult situation. She suggested writing the amount off as charity in her mind, regardless of any claim to it being a loan. That way, she wouldn’t be pestered by the idea of an unpaid debt. “I think it’s important how you frame it for yourself,” she said.
Even after speaking with these brilliant individuals, it’s difficult to pull any solid ideas about the affects of work in a field on a personality. There are so many factors in a person’s life, who is to say whether a degree shaped them or the way they were, shaped their choice of degree.
I remain unsure what a degree in theater versus one in business really does to change students as people, one thing was very clear: that regardless of what you’re studying, you’re learning a lot more than you think.
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