COLUMN: Social skills, networking are important for students to learn
If you are a student and are reading this, I most likely am old enough to be your father.
I am in my second life as a college student. The term “non-traditional student” does not have any fixed meaning. It just means someone who is working toward a degree in a manner other than the usual way of going from high school straight to college and earning a degree in a timely fashion that does not span three decades.
For me, it means that I blew my first chances and got stuck in the world of manual labor for 25 years. There’s certainly nothing wrong with hard and honest work. But, let’s face it, you probably aren’t majoring in Wage Slavery, right?
If you are a non-traditional student like me, maybe you can relate. If you’re a younger, more traditional student, let me be a good “bad example” to you.
Probably the biggest mistake I made as a student in the 1980s was thinking I had unlimited chances to get through college and make my dreams come true. Sure, I am re-enrolled now, but here’s the thing: I have been trying to get re-enrolled since 1988.
My first few years in college, I didn’t take it seriously enough. I came in as a beer-drinking galoot who thought I was smart enough to wing it through my classes on minimal effort, and that college primarily was a time for reenacting the movie “Animal House.” So, I made bad grades and consequently had to fight to get my GPA back up for the next few years.
Just about the time I was ready for upper division coursework, my support system crumbled beneath me. My family no longer could help me get through school, and I had to go to work. Take your chances and opportunities seriously while you have them. There is no guarantee they’ll be there for extra semesters.
The most important thing you will need out there in “Jobland” is people skills. I wish I had realized that as a student. You’ll need to be able to look co-workers, bosses and clients right in the eyes and establish your value in the workplace. You absolutely must be able to promote yourself if you want a stable career.
I don’t mean the shameless, opportunistic, backstabbing kind of self-promotion. I mean you need to be articulate and able to read people, and respond to the dynamics and relationships accordingly. That will apply to any field of endeavor.
You simply can’t develop those skills without engaging in real face time with people. Having lots of Facebook friends doesn’t count. Find an organization or a cause and get involved. Being able to network is the skill that will take you the farthest, and not being able to develop connections and relationships that sustain you will cost you the most. If you need help or ideas in this area, contact OU Leadership Development and Volunteerism online or at 405-325-4020.
Scott Starr is a Native American studies senior.