Stephani Pescitelli was so determined to choose the right college that she visited every school in the state. Literally.
She wanted a school that offered a strong honors college and study abroad program, as well as her intended program of study: environmental biology. She wanted a school that offered the benefits of a small liberal arts college—a first-rate education, small classes, personal attention—and the range of activities typically only available at a bigger college. And it didn't matter that both of her parents had graduated from a Big 10 school. In fact, she's adamant that such a school was no place for her. She wanted to be able to devise her own research projects—projects connected to her social activism—not work on whatever her professors' pet projects were. And she wanted to have time to do that research, time she wouldn't have if she had to work full-time to afford the tuition.
Only one school met her expectations.
This summer, Stephani will embark on a research project she designed to help address the world's paper-waste problem. With co-researcher and Professor Andy Methven, she will inoculate shredded paper with spores from an edible fungus whose enzymes, she believes, will speed up its decomposition. (Shredding paper, she says, shortens the cellulose strands and actually makes it harder to recycle.) And the hoped-for results? Fewer trees being cut down to make paper, as well as some extra income—or dinner—from those mushrooms.
Stephani sums up her understanding of the purpose of a college education: "Getting an A on a biology exam is great," she says, "but it doesn't help others. We need to use our academic abilities to do good."
When they graduate, our students must be prepared for what awaits them: a journey into lifelong learning that will require them to compete in a global arena and serve in a volunteer society. To prepare them for this journey, we must help them develop habits of mind that lead them to be excited about learning, to reflect on what they learn, and to synthesize learning wherever it occurs.