Long gone are the days when college students sat idly in a classroom, reading from outdated textbooks and addressing instructors only when called on. As employers move quickly toward an increasingly conceptual age, liberal arts colleges are taking notice and preparing students for a new, innovative workplace.
The New Work requires us to question the old ways and get more creative. To compete in the new global economy where parts can be manufactured and code can be written anywhere, we need to excel at innovation.
The New Work requires broader thinking, asking better questions and considering varying points of view. And when thinking about jobs for college students, this should be the starting point.
Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future , is aligned with this thinking.
In his book, Pink compares and contrasts right-brained individuals with their left-brained counterparts in the current economy. “Lawyers. Doctors. Accountants. Engineers. That’s what our parents encouraged us to become. They were wrong,” Pink boldly states. “Gone is the age of ‘left-brain’ dominance. The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: designers, inventors, teachers, storytellers — creative and emphatic ‘right-brain’ thinkers whose abilities mark the fault-line between who gets ahead and who doesn’t.”
The shift from the industrial age, which focused on tools, machinery and large industries, to the current conceptual age is described by Pink’s short film, A Whole New Mind. The film compares the right and left hemispheres of the brain, the left of which zeroes in on analysis and logic, and the right, which focuses on design and emotion. For the past century, the emphasis has been placed on left-brained innovators, while the right brain has been mostly ignored.
Now, the right brain is coming into play, using design, empathy and storytelling to bring meaning to the products we design. Pink predicts that those right-brained individuals will begin to thrive in the working world.
Liberal arts colleges are noticing this trend and leading the pack when it comes to the New Work. Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, is one college at the forefront of this shift, offering block plans that encourage students to collaborate, complete projects, discuss lessons learned and identify areas in need of improvement.
The block plan also allows for students to participate in internships throughout the school year. The advantages are that students:
- Make connections between what they’ve recently learned and what they’re experiencing in their internships.
- Get a jump on networking now rather than later.
- Have more internship opportunities. They don’t have to vie with countless other students who are also looking to intern during the summer.
Coupling learning with real-work experience is an opportunity for students to build skills and discover strengths and interests, which can help them move past the fear that they might not be ready enough to have a “real” job post graduation. “Understanding your strengths boosts your confidence and encourages you to explore career options based on your talents,” Gallup.com claims in a report about highlighting strengths for career development.
Students at Cornell College are reaping the benefits of the school’s unique approach to teaching, which encourages students to dig deep into projects and focus on the task at hand. The success of this approach is evident in the impressive results: rather than just meeting deadlines, students are far exceeding them.
Such is the case for Cornell College graduate Bekah Kurtz, who spent a good portion of her junior year in India as part of a study abroad program. Kurtz studied the country’s developing economy as well as self-help groups for local women. Her liberal arts education allowed Kurtz to complete her research ahead of schedule. “I had a month to study the self-help groups, but I was able to finish my research in two weeks. I think it was Cornell. I’m used to focusing on a topic,” she shared of her experience.
Rather than choose a predetermined major, Kurtz created her own, which focused on international development, a topic close to her heart. The trip to India so inspired Kurtz that she went back the following year. And, she had plenty of on-campus support. “I seek out mentors,” Kurtz explained. “I can find them here, and I don’t think I could have found that at a larger school.”
As college-bound students and their parents begin researching schools and majors, it’s important to keep the New Work in mind. Just like Kurtz, students need mentorship and opportunities to open them up to broader thinking and gain valuable life experience beyond the classroom.
Developing their skills, strengths and confidence during the college years will allow students to transition easily into the conceptual age and the New Work.