Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's Official

I had my admittance interview yesterday. I drove onto the Naperville campus not quite sure what to expect. We had to submit a bunch of writing exercises, some of them were self-evaluation (see my Learning Autobiography) and one was an in-class persuasive essay.

Would they criticize the writing and provide direct feedback? Would they dig into the sacrifices I was willing to make to ensure successful completion of school this time around?

I was more than a little worried about my in-class essay. The topic was "Should the US Implement a National Health Plan?" Or something very close to that. If you have ever read my blog before you know that I strongly oppose national healthcare. Very strongly.

Would this obviously liberal organization hold my, apparently, conservative viewpoints against me?

The whole process went something like this:
2 minutes going over my transfer courses. A good chunk of my previous coursework was pre-approved, though there are a couple that I will have to request exceptions for.
3 minutes asking asking if I had any questions (I had none).
2 minutes stating that I had strong writing skills, but recommended that I take college writing anyway.
3 more minutes asking if I had any questions (nope, still no questions)

I have now been officially accepted into DePaul's School for New Learning.
Yay Me!

I'm not sure why I had to go through that in person, but whatever. I am still viewing this entire exercise as something akin to a fraternity initiation anyway. It doesn't provide anything of value, but it proves you want something bad enough to endure any amount of pain and humiliation.

The good news is that about half of my competency requirements are complete. There are a couple of requirements that I should be able to take proficiency exams to meet. At the end of the day I think that I can probably complete everything in about a year and half or possibly two.

My journey begins finally begins in January. I sign up for my first (almost real) class next week.


Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Last Class Before My First Day of Class

It is kinda odd, I decided to go back to school and signed up for the required Learning Assessment Seminar. This was, I thought, the official beginning of my return to college. Unfortuntaley, no. I learned at this seminar (that I had to pay $350 to attend) that I hadn't even been accepted to DePaul yet.


I'm not even entirely sure what the point of this exercise was. Well, it was required and it cost me money, so that is part of the point I guess. There was also an amazing amount of writing required, one portion of which I shared on this site. I feel bad for some of my classmates that struggled with the exercises. There was very little direction given and no examples of what good writing actually is.

Perhaps that was the point.

The only thing that I learned during this exercise was that I have to take a 6 credit, mandatory class, to decide what classes I'm going to be required to take to finish my degree.

6 Credit Hours! I had no illusions that college was going to be cheap but $2400 for a class that has zero practical purpose beyond filling in a box in the requirements list! If I wasn't already convinced that college is little more than signaling I would be really upset.

Someone in the class suggested that we share email addresses and I volunteered to take the collection. I sent the list out to everyone, but didn't even get a thank you back. Its too bad, it will be interesting to see how everyone else fares over the next couple of years, I hope I can keep track of at least some of these people.

The journey is going to be much more interesting than most of the classes I'm going to be required to take.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The First Day of Class

At least I thought it was. It turns out that I haven't even been accepted yet.

Returning students have to attend a three week course called a "Learning Assessment Seminar." I Think the purpose is to dump a bunch of writing assignments on the potential students to make sure that they really want to go back to school (and for the school to make sure that the students can handle college level writing I suppose).

It's made me think twice about whether or not DePaul was the right choice for me though. The program is a liberal arts degree. Sure they let you focus on a particular area, but it's only a handful of courses. Most of the requirements are liberal arts, with a particularly heavy emphasis on liberal. Check out some of these:

Power and Justice:
Can analyze power relations among racial, social, cultural, or economic groups in the US.

Can analyze issues and problems from a global perspective.

Interconnections in the Natural World:
Can describe and explain connections among diverse aspects of nature.
Eek! What did I get myself into? I'm half tempted to take some particularly liberal leaning class and see how much they respect diversity of thought by interjecting my libertarian philosophy. Then again, completing the degree is the important part, so I probably won't try to rock the boat.

So far I've learned three things. First, the library doesn't have any books - just librarians. Second, they don't give credit for life experience - they make you write a paper about your life experience and they give credit for that. And finally, they don't teach professional writing, they teach academic writing.

I'm certainly glad that they are preparing students for the real world!


Sunday, November 04, 2007

My Learning Autobiography

My success has been driven, in a large part, by my passion to learn. Beginning as a child I was obsessed with learning how things worked. Before I even started school I would take my toys apart to figure out how they worked. Some of these experiments ended in success, others ended with parts that simply wouldn’t go back together, much to the chagrin of my parents.

Formal education itself was very enjoyable. I enjoyed nearly every subject and enjoyed the recognition that success brought me even more. School itself was very easy; I was able to achieve high grades with very little effort. However, the drive to be the best is what kept me interested. This drive to succeed followed me into high school as well. I joined a number of extracurricular activities like chorus, band, theater and speech team. This provided me with additional opportunities to learn and excel; it also provided the sort of challenge that the regular curriculum was not providing.

Unfortunately, this addiction to success also had a downside, if I didn’t have the skills to be the best I simply lost interest. My initial forays into sports and athletics didn’t hold my interest. Although I was able to make the teams I had no chance to be recognized as the best, so I just quit. The only thing that kept my interest in less interesting subjects – at least to me – like English and Spanish, was the desire to keep my grade point average as high as possible.

College started the next chapter of my learning experience. I had chosen my major based on the expectations of those around me; I was smart and particularly skilled at math and science. Such people went into engineering, so that is what I did. I also chose my school on those same expectations. University of Illinois was one of the best engineering schools within my reach, so that is where I would go.

It started off as very similar to the rest of my school career, I succeeded without much effort. But as the curriculum moved from the basics that were geared toward the general student population and towards more specialization, I started to struggle. I could no longer succeed by just showing up and didn’t have the discipline or drive to put in the extra effort required to be the best.

I wasn’t quite sure what was wrong and initially blamed it on my choice of majors. I switched majors to computer science from engineering but that didn’t seem to make much difference. Looking back it’s clear that I was having a crisis of identity. I was no longer the one that everyone looked to and I didn’t know how to turn to others for help – people came to me for help!

I couldn’t force myself to go to class anymore and constantly found ways to procrastinate. Eventually, I failed out. After taking a semester off I was determined to return and finish what I started, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I successfully completed my probation semester, but I no longer knew what I was going to do with my life and withdrew from college.

It’s possible that a different choice of institutions would have led to a very different outcome. If I had known how much my drive for excellence affected my overall performance I may have made a different choice. It would have also been beneficial to determine what my career aspirations really were instead of relying on the expectations of others.

But it was not to be; I was working my way through college so had some reasonable options to put food on the table. I was well liked and respected by my management, so they were anxious to promote me to a management position. This began my chapter in life as a restaurant manager. I spent the next three years working to successfully advance my career in restaurant management. I wouldn’t necessarily call them happy years, but I was content. I was learning about what it took to make a restaurant successful, and what it meant to manage people. But most importantly of all, I was being recognized for my efforts eventually becoming assistant manager then restaurant manager.

Shortly after taking over my own store I came to the sudden realization that there was no next step. There was nothing left to strive for and simply being good wasn’t good enough. So I tendered my resignation and moved to Chicago.

My stint as a restaurant manager may not have been overly satisfying intellectually, but it wasn’t devoid of learning. I spent much of my free time with my lifelong hobby – computers. I was introduced to computers during the fourth grade, ever since that introduction I was enamored. I played games, did homework, took computers apart, put computers back together and learned everything about computers that I could. I was very active during the early stages of the internet and would spend hours web surfing; I’d follow link after link enamored with all of the interesting things there were to learn.

This would end up serving me well; after moving to Chicago I served as a temporary secretary. Whenever there was a computer related problem or question I would jump in and do what I could. My associate was convinced that my knowledge was more than enough to work on computers for a living. She convinced me to apply for a desktop technician job; so I took the chance and obtained a computer job as soon as my temporary position was over.

It was amazing, I had found my calling. It was astonishing that you could have so much fun at work. People were actually paying me to do something that I had been doing for free for years. I was constantly learning something new and was being recognized for my skill. The limits of my education were only set by my desire to learn; from basic computer skills to networking to programming I wanted to learn it all. As the computer industry grew, I did as well. I gained the status of technical promotions and filled my yearning to figure out how things worked with no practical limit in sight.

For someone that loves to learn and someone that loves to figure out how things work information technology was too good to be true. Every day brings a new puzzle that must be deciphered and every year brings a slew of technology that must be discovered.

My career continued to advance successfully for a number of years and I was more than content. Then something changed, although I wasn’t able to realize its impact at the time. The advent of blogging was about to become a major contributor to both my professional career and my career as a learner.

It started off as a convenient way to read content from the web sites I would have visited anyway. Then I discovered a community of like-minded bloggers and academics. My political philosophy has always been a little different from most others, but this community shared my worldview and they had a lot of great content, research and theory to justify their positions. I started to devour this new world of economics and politics with the same lust that I originally computers.

I really wanted to participate in this community, so I launched a blog of my own. While it was not successful by the way these things are measured, it was very satisfying to participate in the blogging community. I applied my newfound knowledge of economics and incentives to improve my ability to make decisions. I also honed my writing skills, all of which had a positive impact on my career. My arguments were more persuasive, my ideas were better developed and I was much more effective when communicating with others. What started out as a pleasurable diversion had turned into a promotion to manager and recognition as a leader within the organization.

Which brings us to the present; I still enjoy learning how things work but taking toys apart isn’t as satisfying as it was when I was four. The things that I want to understand are much more complex now. What makes a business tick? How do you make a business better? When a business is broken what can be done to fix it? I certainly have thoughts on this subject, but in order to put them to the test I need to continue advancing in my career.

My career advancement to this point has been very natural, taking what I do well and love I have been able to achieve the each successive level of achievement. In order to continue advancing I will need to go back and finish what I originally started, completing college.

Not having a degree may not be a hard requirement, but I do not want something that I can control to prevent further success. Unlike discovering computers – where everyone else was essentially learning along side with me – there is a vast amount of knowledge about businesses and organizations. Completing my degree at this time is an opportunity to catch up with everyone else and an opportunity to continue the journey of learning that I began as a small child.

The Pats are freaking amazing

In response to a post over at Atlas Blogged:

All of the whining about running up the score is nonsense. Its a game, the point of a game is to win, it's not to make sure that the other team isn't embarrassed. When you have possession you try to put the ball in the end zone, that's what you are supposed to do. What does everyone want the Pats to do? Punt as soon as they get the ball so the other team has a chance? That's just ludicrous.

What the Pats have done so far this year is nothing if not spectacular. They have completely dominated every team they have faced (except Indy). This team is the best team to ever play football - no questions asked. The only remaining question is by what margin.


DePaul uses a competence based system for determining graduate requirements. I'm not sure that I can explain it over a blog post, but I found this a bit interesting:
Medieval master craftsmen taught not only technical skill, but also problem solving, standards of quality, and good citizenship. We can regard today's college education as a means of achieving competence in the work world, in the community, and in general -- that is, a knowledge of the arts and sciences.
This is, in part, what I view as the arrogance of academia. In my experience, college grads spend the first year of life in the "real world" unlearning what college taught them, or having it beat out of them by their coworkers and supervisors.

I honestly don't think that most academics have a clue about how the rest of the world really operates. If it wasn't for that piece of paper I don't think I could tolerate this.

Hello, My Name is Inigo Montoya

Since I have re-purposed this blog, it may be helpful to get a bit of background on me. It may provide some important context as to what will be going on.

I'm an IT Manager at a larger retailer based in Chicago and have decided it's time to go back to school and finish my degree. I quit school the first time for a variety of reasons. The burdens of paying my way through college with a full time job and not really having any clue what it was that I wanted to do were probably the most important.

If I had known then what I know now - that knowing what you wanted to do wasn't important - I probably would have stuck it out. I was under the mistaken assumption that the degree actually mattered, in reality it's only completing the degree that matters.

Either way, I haven't really regretted making that choice - I have had a pretty successful, so at worst it has only been a minor setback. I've reached the point in my career, though, where the lack of a piece of paper may end up closing some doors. So I decided to finish.

I settled on DePaul for three main reasons. First, it's close and they offer both online and onsite classes. I probably won't go for the online courses, but I like having the option. Second, the program is geared specifically for adult students. It's an accelerated program and they offer credit for life-experience (more on that in another post). And finally, DePaul has a much better reputation than many of the other alternatives in the area.

So my hectic life is about to get much more hectic. I'm a new manager that is taking ownership of a somewhat dysfunctional team. I have two lovely girls at home (6 and 9, there picture is above) and I'm a chronic procrastinator. (Probably part of the reason I'm blogging again, gives me something to do besides homework.) And somehow, amidst all of this I need to finish a degree, thankfully I should be more than half done.

It should be interesting, at the very least.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I'm Back

Yes, it's true, after a long hiatus I have to returned to blogging.

So why did I leave in the first place?

Several reasons, the first of which I felt that I was just echoing what a lot of better bloggers were already saying. I just didn't have that much to add. Second, my blog reading had decreased considerably and I couldn't keep up with the topic du jour. Instead of struggling to keep up, I just stopped writing.

So what has changed?

Well, I'm not likely to blog on current affairs much anymore. I reserve the right to do so, but that won't be my main motivation. I'm going back to school to finish my BA and have decided to use my blog as a psuedo journal.

I'll start attending DePaul University in January and after reading the required "competencies" and attending a preliminary seminar on going back to school I just needed some outlet to express my - amusement? - at the process. I also wanted to record my progress - does attending school again change my outlook on life? The professor that ran the seminar assured me that it would - but I'm rather skeptical. Hopefully some of my former readers are still around (say hi in the comments) so there will be at least a handful of sympathetic ears to my plight as a (l)ibertarian in a very liberal institution - I think I may need the support.

Which brings us to one additional change. I'll no longer be blogging anonymously, I'm not sure why I started, but it's ending now.

I hope you follow the journey with me, it should be interesting.

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