Throughout the course of this semester, I’ve been paying particular attention to the differences between my students this year compared to those from last year. As I mentioned in my first post of this series, I am teaching a class I haven’t taught in three years. I’m used to teaching graduating seniors, accustomed to their demeanor and questions, their curiosity about life and what’s next. I often found myself swept up in all of their anticipation and anxiety about the “real world.”
As much as I enjoy teaching undergraduate students, I often felt like the temptation of what lies ahead was more interesting to them than some of the more strategic – and ultimately important – course materials. Many of my students were preoccupied with things like dress code, entry-level salary and making a good impression during the first few months. Not to mention, most of you are probably familiar with the “senioritis” that sets in during that last semester at college – so walking into class on that first day, I thought I knew what to expect from my new group of students.
But starting on day one, I realized that I not only needed to revise my curriculum, but my expectations as well. This was not a classroom full of just seniors, it was predominately graduate-level students. I found out quickly that many students arrived to the first day of class with previous real-world experience. They had lived in a world beyond college, spending time figuring out who they really are and what they want to do.
Because of their past experience, these students approached the class with a greater sense of urgency. I’ve noticed a difference in the way they view the class and their assignments. Not to say that my undergraduate students weren’t diligent and serious about class and their work, but I get this distinct feeling of eagerness and dedication when I walk into class each week. Discussions are more in-depth, questions are more pointed and focused, insights and relevant experiences are discussed widely amongst the students.
Given the agency focus of the class, many students are fascinated by my two TA’s, Adam and Jon. They’re very interested in their personal experiences and career paths at PAN. They are eager to hear what a day in the life of a PAN employee is actually like and learn about the inner workings of a public relations agency. These conversations came up with my undergraduates as well, but it is a different tone and conversation now.
I am also met by a group of individuals from varying backgrounds and experiences. This year, four of my graduate students are of Asian decent, bringing a unique and worldly perspective to class discussions. One of my students also happens to be a former employee at PAN, and hearing how her own life experiences have matured her, and given her confidence, demonstrates just how different graduate students are from undergraduates.
Although I sometimes miss the days when class discussions got derailed by topics about what happens the day after graduation, I am appreciating the opportunity to work with a new group of individuals. Just like the PR industry continues to diversify, I find that every year, so do my students. In a post from last year, I talked in depth about the increase in male students I had between the two classes. At PAN, this mix of backgrounds and experiences has proven beneficial in more ways than one, both on the client and agency side. In class, this same mix has allowed for deeper conversations and varying perspectives on current events.
After only a few short weeks, I find myself exploring topics in ways that I hadn’t in previous years. I am already learning a lot from my students’ experiences and hope they are learning just as much from mine.
This blog post is part of larger series, ‘Cuse Chronicles by a CEO, from PAN President & CEO, Philip A. Nardone, Jr., as he chronicles his experience teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications.