The Impactful Lesson That I Had At Uni
By Luisa Florez
After I graduated high school, I thought, would being a college student really be that different than what I had done for the past 12 years?
When I left for university, my father told me, “You don’t go to college to necessarily learn thermodynamics; you can learn that from a book. The value in going to college lies in meeting new perspectives, discussing ideas and coming up with your own.” He has a point; I could, if I really wanted to, learn thermodynamics from the comfort of my couch. What would have been more challenging to do from my living room is become exposed to hundreds of different people with different stories, backgrounds and experiences who are centered on learning. And I say hundreds, because through the teaching assistants, professors, and students you will meet, you will also hear the lessons of their teaching assistants, their peers and their professors.
This exposure to different points of views became one of the most impactful experiences I had. It enhanced my strengths, for I now have a more positive state of mind, I embrace change and different opinions, and enjoy working with different teammates.
Coming from a high school with 4000 students, you could argue that I could have had this enlightening experience then. And to some degree, I did. However, college proved to be different because each day was something new. Spaces that you least expected become opportunities to immerse yourself in diversity of thought. A classroom, a speaker event, lunch with a new classmate, all of these and more are instances to learn more about who you are and the world around you. With every semester that passes by, college gives you the experiences and the tools to express your ideas more clearly and understand the ideas of others.
One of the moments that impacted me the most didn’t even take place on my college campus, but I was able to live it thanks to the support of my university. After applying to many scholarships, I had the opportunity to study abroad for a semester in Australia. For the first time, I would be living 17 hours ahead of my family in a land, where according to urban legend, everything living, from spiders to snakes to fish can kill you (in case you’re wondering, that’s not true). Once there, I met students from all over the world, from Brazil to Japan, who were dealing with the same challenge as I: adapting to the new culture. We were all facing culture shock, yet we all found solutions for dealing with it differently. Things that I worried about, they hadn’t even pondered; it helped me realize that the problems I had imagined weren’t as hopeless as they seemed. They taught me strategies; I taught them mine. As we navigated through the semester, our problem solving skills improved and by the end, we were doing great in school, using Aussie slang (like uni for university) and making a mean Australian barbie (BBQ) by the beach.
But I didn’t have to leave my classroom in Texas to engage in different perspectives. In fact, I found that opportunity in my physics class. My class had engineering students from all different disciplines: electrical, civil, or geosystems engineering, for example. After going out of my way to meet students that weren’t in my department, I saw that each discipline saw the material differently and had unique ways of addressing problems. For example, some electrical engineers used coding to solve an exercise; some civil engineers sketched the problem out. In the end, they both had correct answers.
As you enter industry or become involved in research, you’ll begin to work with more multidisciplinary teams that may not even be engineers. Being able to know that there are different perspectives to solving problems, and being able to understand these points of view will make you a more effective team player and leader. It can also make you a better problem solver, because you may now consider aspects of a problem that you hadn’t before. And as engineers, problem solving is our trademark, which is why a professional engineer once told me, “We don’t hire engineers because they know thermodynamics,” (what is it with thermodynamics!), “we hire engineers because they’ve developed the skills to problem solve.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. Getting good grades is IMPORTANT. Having good grades can open many opportunities and can help you with scholarships, internships, and summer research programs. But don’t make it all about the grades. Experience college. There are few moments outside of college where you’ll be able to take a class on Creation Stories from Latin America or speak to the researcher who cracked the Mayan code or does field work in Antarctica. Be proactive and engage with your professors; they have dedicated their lives to learning and have a lot of knowledge to share. Become a mentor and meet and befriend new people. Join a club in something you’ve always wanted to learn. Attend guest speaker seminars. Take your work-study job in a different department other than your own. Do research. Take a class in a different major. Become a student leader. Study abroad. Burst your bubble.