In defense of the five-year experience

James Vaughn

I am sitting here, on my last day as editor-in-chief, staring at my computer screen wondering how I’m going to craft a final column that could possibly one up former Shieldsters and good friends Jessie Hellmann and Shannon Hall, and soon to be former Shieldster Amanda Brinkman.

I know what I’ll do. I’ll stay an extra year.

That’s not really why that decision was made. It just happens to be the difference between me and them. All three of those ladies are incredibly hard working and managed to walk across the stage in four years.

I didn’t, and I am happy I didn’t.

Exploration is vital in college, but it’s something that’s becoming less and less accepted on university campuses across the country. Programs like 15 to Finish in Indiana urge students to earn their degree in four years, which makes many people who don’t feel like failures.

But they’re not. And I’m not.

Discovering who you are and what you love should be what college is all about, which is why I’ve had a problem with MAP-Works since its implementation. It doesn’t leave room for exploration.

Students are pushed to get the core curriculum out of the way early. For a lot of people, the core can spark interest in a subject they hadn’t even considered pursuing; it’s why I picked up a minor in psychology. I don’t have a problem with it until it infringes on a student’s freedom to truly test out their chosen major early on.

With MAP-Works, students take one major course per semester until they’ve completed the core. What if, three or four classes in, a student realizes they don’t like that major anymore?

Chances are they’ve completed the core by that point and are about to head into a semester with four or five more major courses.

Say the student does decide to change his/her major at that point; they are going to head into the following semester taking four or five courses in that new major. But what if they don’t like that major either?

It seems that students with diverse interests like me are going to be here longer than four years – probably longer than five – if every time they try something new, they’ve wasted 15 credit hours on something they didn’t enjoy.

The people who don’t want to be here for more than four years – or are scared to be – are just going to stick with something they’re not excited about so they can get out of here because that’s what they think they’re supposed to do.

I changed my major multiple times my freshman year – so much so that I can’t even remember all of the majors I had. I would take one or two courses in each program, realize I didn’t like it and move on, because I could.

I am still finishing up the core going into my fifth year, but that’s OK because I took the time to discover my passion. I took the time to pinpoint what I’m good at. I took the time to find a home in a program on this campus.

But my exploration is not why I’ll be sticking around an extra year. My other home on this campus is the reason for that.

I walked into The Shield’s newsroom four years ago not knowing what to expect. I got my feet wet the first year and swore I would never be as “cliquish” as the people on staff were.

Then I made a couple of friends.

By the third year, most people on staff knew me better than most people outside of the newsroom do.

And as I end my tenure here – so many short years later – I have to say goodbye to my family.

My family is the hardest working group of people I know, and all of them, in one way or another, taught me a thing or two about work ethic.

I took lighter course loads the past two years so I could focus more of my time and energy on building a better publication. And for the past year, I’ve regretted it. As I heard students talk about graduation and saw the silhouettes go up in the display case in University Center West, I became depressed. I began to regret my every move.

But not anymore.

I am excited about next year. I am excited to be a normal college student for once – whatever that is – to volunteer and to focus on classes and life after graduation. I am excited to sit for more than an hour in the library and enjoy extended lunches outside near the beautiful fountain I haven’t taken nearly enough advantage of.

I am excited to be a Screagle, if that’s really what we want to call it these days. I’m excited to spread my wings and fly because I’ve been grounded for so long – being a journalist and working for The Shield. I don’t regret it for a second, but it’s all I’ve been for four years. I’m ready to experience a different side of the college experience.

I urge the administration and the state to let students explore. Don’t make students feel like they have to get out in four years or they’re doomed.

I love that I get to call USI home for one more year, whether you like it or not.