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Episode Notes | Transcript | AskTheGuest

 Hi Fives (5 Highlights)   Click for 3-Minute Listen

Dr. Herb Childress is an Author, Social Researcher, Academic.

When Herb was in High School, he wanted to be an architect. But no one around him - his family or neighborhood knew any architects.

After High School he went to college, but dropped out after 2 years. After working in Retail for a number of years, he went back to college to pursue Architecture.

Herb joins us on our podcast, to share his College Journey, Career Flow, About US Colleges, Exploring Colleges, Majors,  Impact of College and Advice for High Schoolers and Parents.

Hi-Fives from the Podcast are:

  1. The Return to College
  2. Majors - How to Explore?
  3. Finding Your College
  4. College Impact
  5. Advice for High Schoolers

Episode Notes

Episode Title: Dr. Herb Childress on US Colleges: Look Beyond the Easy Summary Labels.

When Herb was in High School, he wanted to be an architect, though he didn’t quite know what it was. After High School he went to college, but dropped out after 2 years. After working in retail for a number of years, he went back to college to pursue Architecture.

In this podcast, Herb shares his College Journey, Career Flow, About US Colleges, Exploring Colleges, Majors,  Impact of College and Advice for High Schoolers and Parents.

In particular, we discuss the following with him:

  • College Journey
  • Types of US Colleges
  • How to Explore Colleges, Majors
  • College Impact
  • Advice to High Schoolers

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Introducing Dr. Herb Childress [0:50]
  • Hi Fives - Podcast Highlights [2:01]
  • The Initial College Journey [5:08]
  • On Going Back to College [9:48]
  • Types of US Colleges [11:11]
  • How Families Should Approach College Education [19:37]
  • Majors - How to Explore [24:25]
  • Finding Your Passion [27:23]
  • Looking for a College Degree versus College Experience [29:35]
  • Finding Your College [32:11]
  • Herb’s College Experience [36:28]
  • Impact of College [40:08]
  • Advice to High Schoolers [42:41]

Our Guest: Dr. Herb Childress is a Writer, Social Researcher and Academic. Dr. Childress received the Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture from the University of California Berkeley. He then earned his PhD in Architecture (Environment- Behavior Studies) from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. Dr. Childress has a number of fiction and nonfiction books to his credit.

Memorable Quote: “ Every good thing that's happened in my career is because I've said yes to some opportunity that I was afraid of.” Dr. Herb Childress.

Episode Transcript: Please visit Episode’s Transcript.

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Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

<Start Snippet> Herb C  0:14  

I finished my PhD when I was 38. That was 25 years ago. Golly, I'm old. So you know, 25 years ago, but I haven't been a student for 25 years. But I still have. Right. I still have because I still know how I can explore more about the kinds of things I want to do. Right. So for the last eight years, I've been writing a lot of fiction, which I never really thought of as like a career path.

Venkat  0:50  [Introducing Dr. Herb Childress, Author]

That is Dr. Herb Childress, Author, Social Researcher, Academic.

Hello, I am your host, Venkat Raman.

When Herb was in High School, he wanted to be an architect.

But no one around him - his family or neighborhood knew any architects.

After High School he went to college, but dropped out after 2 years.

After working in Retail for a number of years, he went back to college to pursue Architecture.

There he discovered Architectural History!

The story doesn’t end here.

Venkat Raman  1:35

Herb joins us on our podcast, to share his College Journey, Career Flow, About US Colleges, Exploring Colleges, Majors,  Impact of College and Advice for High Schoolers and Parents.

Before we jump into the podcast, here are the Hi-Fives,  Five Highlights from the podcast:

Herb C  2:01  [Highlights - Hi Fives]

[The Return to College]

So I dropped out after a couple of years. And I didn't go back to school until I was in my mid 20s. I was living in California at that point. And I ended up going for a couple of three semesters I think, to community college to get prerequisites before I tried to transfer into the university system. And that was that was just an entirely different experience. Because I knew then why I wanted to go to college, I knew what I wanted to do. I had a much better sense of myself.

[Majors - How to Explore?]

When I was in actually, when I got to Berkeley, I was in architecture school, and I was doing my studio courses and doing the design courses. And those didn't captivate me nearly as much as Architectural History. Because architectural history was asking the questions that motivated me.

[Finding Your College]

College Navigator will really help you narrow down this blizzard of possibilities into a handful that are more worth exploring for you. And again, I want to be really clear that this is not about the best college, this is about the college that will give you the kind of experience you want to have.

 

[College Impact]

I said I want to stay in school, I want to be the kind of person who helps to provide this experience to others. I want to be a college teacher. And so that led me to graduate school, which again opened all kinds of new doors that were off the side of the main chamber of what I was interested in. Right. And so What college did for me was give me the resources and the permission to really understand more about what excited me

[Advice for High Schoolers]

Crucial thing is to not get stuck on the sort of Easy Summary Label, whether that's the major or it's the brand name of the school. But to really keep the focus on yourself. Be selfish, be self interested, say you know, all the time is this closer to or further from the question that's in my heart. Right. And and that will be the most reliable guide to your decision making.

Venkat Raman  4:32

These were the Hi5s, brought to you by “College Matters. Alma Matters.”

Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Venkat Raman  4:46

Now, I'm sure you want to hear the entire podcast with Herb.

So without further ado, here is Dr. Herb Childress!

-----------------

Venkat Raman  4:57  

Cool. So if you're ready, let's go kick it off with maybe how you got into the college system how your college journey began. And we'll go from there.

Herb  5:08  [The Initial College Journey]

Sure. So I went to college a long, long time ago, I graduated from high school in 1976. And neither one of my parents had ever been to college, my father had dropped out of school during the depression in seventh grade, to go go to work in a shipyard, and my mother had graduated from high school. So when it came time for me to think about college, no one in my family had had any experience with that at all. By that point, my father had passed away when I was 16. And so I knew I knew that I would be going to college in state, this was in Michigan, because that would be affordable. And so I applied to the University of Michigan, I applied to Michigan State University, and I applied to Michigan Technological University. And I was accepted to all three, and I had no way of knowing anything about why they were different. Sure, they were, they were all just college, they were this generic, right. And so I knew that two of them were huge, and one of them was less. So two of them played football, and one of them didn't so much. And so I ended up choosing Michigan Tech as my first college because of two reasons. One, it was as far away from home as I could possibly get them still live in the state. And the second was that the girl at my church, desperately wished was my girlfriend, her brother went there. And I thought maybe she would think more highly of me if I chose the same college as he did. That turned out to not be the case, either. So I went to I went to tech, and I had a lot of fun. I enjoyed myself enormously. I did fine, I had something like a 3.2 GPA. But I didn't, I didn't know why it was there. Sure, I did. It didn't add up to anything, there was no sort of plan that I had in mind. To make all of this work worthwhile. I just did what I was told to do. And where people pointed me and did fine, and it didn't matter. So I dropped out after a couple of years. And I didn't go back to school until I was in my mid 20s. I was living in California at that point. And I ended up going for a couple of three semesters, I think, to community college, to get prerequisites before I tried to transfer into the university system. And that was that was just an entirely different experience. Because I knew then why I wanted to go to college, I knew what I wanted to do. I had a much better sense of myself. And so and it was at that time, a very low risk decision. In the mid 90s. In the mid 1980s tuition in California Community Colleges was $5 per credit. Well, plus 20 plus 25 bucks a semester for a registration fee. So you could be a full time student for $100 tuition. So it was a really low risk environment. I don't know that I would have done it now when it's, you know, 3500 bucks a year. Right. Right, right. And so I ended up doing my three semesters at Laney College in Oakland, and then transferring to the University of California at Berkeley. And even then, I didn't know that it was Berkeley with the big capital B, it was just the state school up the road. I didn't have to move, right. I knew so little about what different kinds of colleges could offer. And so since then, I've done a lot of work. I've taught at a couple of different colleges myself after finishing graduate school. And I've always been really interested in the in the condition of people whose families don't know, you know, and we think of this word college. And it really is a generic, I think of it as the same kind of word is the word restaurant. It means any number of things. Right, right. A really elite French restaurant in New York City is a restaurant but so is Taco Bell. And, and so how do we know what kind of experience we're likely to have? How do we know which one will suit us? How do we know which one we're really going to take the most advantage of? That's a tough question with 5000 colleges and in the US.

Venkat Raman  9:37  

I, you know, I was quite intrigued that you, you dropped out and then you went back. Why did you go back, and what what actually happened?

Herb  9:48  [On Going Back to College]

Well, I had been working in retail for a few years and you know, my wife and I were doing fine. We were getting along economically. But I was bored. And I was still I'm really interested in architecture, which had been my original thought that I was going to major in architecture, I was still really interested in buildings and how people use buildings and what they wanted. And so it was an opportunity for me to go back and try to exercise that curiosity. And as I say, it was a fairly low risk moment for me to exercise that curiosity. And it turns out that I loved it, it turns out that I had a great time. And we'll come back to this in a little bit. But I ended up not being an architect, I ended up being really captivated by architectural history, which was a whole body of study about why people built what they built, what were they trying to satisfy when they made this thing? Which was really the question that motivated me the whole time. But it took me a while to sort of learn that that was a legitimate question that it wasn't just a career path named architecture that drove my interest.

Venkat Raman  10:54  

Just beginning to talk about the number of colleges. But before we do that, maybe a little sort of idea on how the college system is structured. I mean, what's under this college umbrella?

Herb  11:11  [Types of US Colleges]

Yeah. So there are, you know, every college is a little bit unique in its own way, even though there's a lot of similarity because of accreditation pressures and whatnot. But I think of sort of four big clusters of colleges in the US. First off, you have community colleges, they're low, they're intended to be local, they're intended to serve their community, as the name suggests, they, they tend to be the most fluid school, you can take courses at different times of day, you can fit it around your work schedule. And they are really aimed at people who have to work part time and go to school part time work part time. And they really are kind of a great sort of foot in the door, to get prerequisites out of the way to sort of experiment with things that I loved and less cost than a state tuition would be. The difficulty with the community college system is that just as the students are kind of part time and not fully able to commit to their education, the faculty are in the same boat. Yeah, community colleges employ an enormous number of part time, or what we call adjunct faculty members, people who aren't really affiliated with the school that we're teaching, they're one course at a time. For an unfortunately, really low stipend usually don't have don't have computing don't have an office don't have any real affiliation with the school at all. So they know, they may know their subject matter really well. They may be fantastic teachers. But you it's it's almost impossible to sort of build an ongoing relationship with somebody who can kind of lead you into a new way of thinking. Right? It really is your your purchasing, sort, of course, by course, information.

Venkat Raman  13:03  

Right. Right.

Herb  13:05  

Which certainly has its place, but you have to know that that's what's there. Right. At the then sort of next level, the baccalaureate colleges, especially the public, four year schools, the state systems, schools, those will be places that are increasingly because of state budget requirements. They're really aiming their students at various kinds of careers. They really are professional development. curricula. It's where you go, when you want to be a nurse, it's where you go, when you want to be a physical therapist, it's where you go when you want to be a teacher. It's it's really aimed at helping students gain good solid footing into a professional life. Right. They also tend to have an increasing number of part time faculty, although not as prevalent as community colleges, but people, people there are largely there, because they want to have a better economic future than their parents did. Right. They also accept an enormous number of transfer students, many of whom transferred from community colleges. Right. And so an awful lot your your student body is still kind of fluid. You have people who start as freshmen at 18 or 19 years old and carry forward you have people who, you know, kind of come from two years elsewhere, and now they're in their mid 20s or late 20s or 30s, who are starting kind of midstream. So there's not as much of a kind of cohort that Yeah. The third kind of school I think of are the sort of traditional liberal arts colleges, places like Middlebury places like Williams places like Knox, they tend to be Small they tend to be almost completely undergraduate schools with no doc no graduate programs at all, either masters or doctoral, they really are there to have this kind of almost monastic experience. Right? It's the beautiful little campus in a small city in the Midwest kind of thing. Right? Right. Right. They tend to be pretty small schools. And you know, 1000 2000 3000 students at most will use Middlebury College, which is near me, as an example, about 2300 students, all of them undergraduates, all of them residential, all of them full time, hardly any of them transferred. Almost all of them full time students, all of them most all of them graduating in four consecutive years, because their families have the resources to allow them to go to school without having any other sort of additional life burdens of dealing with a family or outside work. Yeah. So you take a school like Middlebury, the median income of families who send their kids to Middlebury is almost $250,000 a year. Right? And so you can go to Middlebury as a lower income student, they're pretty generous with financial aid. But you have to know that you're entering this kind of hothouse of of the comfortable upper middle class. Sure. You know, the upside to that is because they're so well resourced, and the families are typically so experienced with college, they have graduation rates in the 90s. Sure, right. Students, you know, when you show up and Middlebury this fall in 2022, you're gonna get a sweatshirt that says you're part of the class of 2026. Yeah, because you will be, yeah, you know, 90, some odd percent of their students will leave in four years with a bachelor's degree, right. But that's not just because they're smart kids, it's because they have the resources that allow that to happen. And then the fourth kind of school is the big, research centric football centric schools, University of Michigan, Duke, North Carolina, Ohio State, Cal Berkeley, those are places that are really, really focused more on graduate school and research than they are on undergraduate education. You can, you can have a really wonderful undergraduate education there, because you're going to be surrounded by really, really smart people. But most of their energy is going to be spent dealing with their own doctoral students dealing with their own labs dealing with their own grant funded support. So you take, for instance, a school like MIT, I've written a little bit about them. If you look at their financial statements, at the end of the year, MIT makes about $350 million dollars a year from tuition. But they make almost $1.7 billion a year from federal research funding, almost five times as much as their tuition. Right, that's not a college. That's a federal research laboratory that happens to have a college hooked onto it. Right. So you, you look at these big schools. And you have to recognize that although you'll be surrounded with really, really smart faculty members, and you'll have sort of a great sort of community experience going to basketball games and whatnot, their primary focus is not going to be on the traditional undergraduate population. That's not really their fundamental mission. Right? So just those four categories of school are going to offer you radically different kinds of experiences with a radically different cohort of fellow students, and a radically different interaction with your faculty. Yeah. Yes. And so yeah, so making, so making the most of college No, depends on knowing what you're hoping to achieve. Right? What do you hope the college experience will be like? And then you choose something within one of those categories that's most likely to satisfy those desires?

Venkat Raman  19:16  

How should, How should students think about this? I mean, how should they think about college? I mean, what should they expect to gain from college, when you outlined what these different institutions offer? But from a student and family point of view, How should they approach college education?

Herb  19:37  [How Families Should Approach College Education]

Right? Well, I mean, it's, it's a, it's an enormously variable question, right? Yeah. One of the things we see for instance, is far, far fewer students majoring in science. Yeah. And we talk all the time about the stem revolution, science, technology, engineering and mathematics. But more Mostly it's not science and mathematics that are being majored in it's technology and engineering. Those are the growth areas. Right. And so it's one thing to go to school to be an engineer, which kind of has a job, you know, intended at the other end of the cycle. And another thing entirely to go to school for physics. Yes. Which is the, you know, it's the underlying science behind engineering, but it doesn't have a sort of a named job at the other end. Yeah. And so you have to, you have to be more confident that you'll be able to land on your feet without this kind of named, professional, targeted degree. Yeah, right. And so we see the, you know, we see computer science having grown by hundreds of percent majors in the last few years, and we see mathematics half of what the majors weren't right. Certainly, the social sciences, the humanities, have been in the decline in terms of numbers of majors, because they like physics, like mathematics don't have a nameable career at the other end. Whereas nursing does, computer science does engineering does. So if if your goal if you know, if you're one of those miracle people at age 18, who knows what you want to do for a living, Hey, God bless you. And be you can definitely pursue that very directly by going to a very targeted program that will promote your development toward that career. But if you but if you want to explore the landscape of ideas, if you want to learn more about who you might become, that's not going to be as easily satisfied and those kinds of programs you want a program that's going to allow you to explore to make false starts to change your major. One of my very favorite stories was I had a student who was Sudanese refugee and came to the US with her family when she was about five or six. And she was absolutely absolutely guaranteed that she was going to be a doctor, she was in a pre med undergraduate curriculum, she knew that she wanted to provide health care to low income and endangered folks. And after her second year, she had an internship at the Wake Forest Medical Center in North Carolina. And after she got done with that, she sent me an email and she said, I'm changing majors, I'm going into public policy, because the problem that poor people are facing is not the quality of healthcare, it's access to health care. And I can I can do what I want to do in the world, I can support low income and threatened people to get health care better, by going through public policy than I can by being a doctor. Right? That's the kind of that's the kind of exploration that I love to see, when students discover, you know, a better way to be who they already are. Right. And that's much less available to you, if you go to a really kind of professionally rigidly structured program, where you really are following very prescribed set of steps on the floor to get from A to X, which is the engineering degree or whatever.

Venkat Raman  23:33  

Now, isn't it also true that, you know, you mentioned this earlier that, you know, the age of 16, 17, 18, Obviously, very few people, very few of these kids have an idea of what, you know, what's in the future for them, or what they don't like, etc, and maybe whatever it is maybe a passing fancy. And like this girl that you mentioned, you know, realize what it takes to sort of make a difference, at least from our point of view, right, right.

Now, what, what can we do to sort of educate these folks coming into college, so that their exploration can be somewhat more guided than sort of, all over the place? Right. I mean, right.

How do you know, how do you even know where to begin is my question. How can college help with that? What's a good way of approaching that?

Herb  24:25  [Majors - How to Explore]

Yeah, I mean, so the good news is that most colleges have far better advising systems than they did when I went to school, you know, 40 years ago. And so being able to talk with an academic advisor, not merely about you know, okay, so I've done this, what courses should I take next semester, but really, to be able to ask sort of bigger, broader what I call kind of naive questions, right? So again, I'll use myself as an example when I was in high school, I thought that I wanted to be an architect. I didn't know what that meant. Nobody in my family knew anything. Architects, everybody in my neighborhood were factory workers. And so what I really was interested in is how people made decisions to build or modify their places to satisfy their desires, right. And I ended up teaching in an architecture school. And I used to tell my students, nobody in the history of the world has ever wanted a building. What they want is happier family, what they want is patients who recover more quickly, what they want is more productive students, what they want is a business that makes more money, and they buy a building in order to get those things. Right, right. And if I had been able to sort of name that as a motivating question, I might have been steered away from architecture, and toward, say, anthropology, which is another perfectly valid and productive way to study exactly those same questions. Right. Which is why when I was in actually, when I went got to Berkeley, I was in architecture school, and I was doing my studio courses and doing the design courses. And those didn't captivate me nearly as much as architectural history, because architectural history was asking the questions that motivated me, right. So being being aware, you know, being aware of who your advisors are, and how they can help you clarify your desires, rather than sort of simplifying them with a name of a degree. Right. But also just being attentive to your own passions, being attentive to you know, I took this course, and I thought it was what I wanted, but it was really kind of dull, and it just didn't seem very exciting. And I had this other course, and I loved it. Why did I love it? What was it about that course that enlivened me, right? How can I get more of that? That's really, that's one of the best questions you can ask yourself as a student or as an adult, right? How can I get more of that? Sure, sure. This this thing that I just, I can't believe how much fun this is, I want to do more.

Venkat Raman  27:02  

Now, did you, did you stumble upon it? Or did you think I know, you took the course. And it was made available? And you had to take it? Would you call it, you know, discovering in that fashion by just exploring? I was, was there some guided approach to that?

Herb  27:23  [Finding Your Passion]

No, it was actually, you know, it was it was part of the requirement for the major. And I was kind of looking forward to it, I knew that I was a good writer, and I knew that it would be a writing centered course. But I didn't really have any idea what architectural history would entail, I thought it would be memorizing a bunch of buildings, right, and knowing who built it. Which, you know, that's part of it. But a big part of it was understanding, you know, the, the sort of nature of colonialism was understanding the nature of exploration was understanding the nature of commerce, through buildings. And, you know, so it really was, you know, I would go into class, and every day, it was like, wow, I'd never thought of that. Right. I've seen things like that a million times, but I never thought about what they meant. Right? And so it really was that sort of, you know, that that illumination, people talk about, you know, having the lights come on. Right, right, right. It really is true, when you catch something like that is like holy cow. I didn't know that was even possible. I didn't know you were allowed to ask questions like that.

Venkat Raman  28:34  

This is awesome. So no, I mean, I think, I think that in, in talking to a lot of alumni, my favorite question is always, “how did you kind of settle on a major?” right, while in college. And it's fascinating to see the different routes people take to get to that, right. It's all some form of exploration, leading to some sort of discovery. In some cases, it's just a compromise or settling on something just because, right.

But but it is, it is a sort of a pretty important part of the whole process. And I think they get more out of that than anything else.

What about approaching college education as a place to, you know, expand the mind and learn things and learn to learn, so to speak. And at the other end of it, sort of figure out how you want to apply it or how do you want to, you know, how do you want to go from there?

So what are your thoughts on that? What do you think of that?

Herb  29:35  [Looking for a College Degree versus College Experience]

Well, it's it's interesting that goes back to our conversation about different types of schools a little bit. The community colleges, especially, but also the sort of four year state colleges. You know, increasingly they're, they're full of students who like me didn't have any family history with college. Right. And so they have discovered that one of the one of the sort of best tools that they have to help people, you know, walk through the program, and in a kind of timely and efficient way is to minimize choice, right to say, here's the steps on the floor, right? You do this, then you do this, then you do this. And every step of the way, we're going to help, we're going to tell you what you ought to do next, because it's proven to be the most efficient, most effective way through the program. And that's absolutely true. But again, it leads you toward a very different kind of college experience, right? There are there are other schools at which you are not allowed to declare a major until the end of your sophomore year. Right? You don't come into the school, as you know, knowing that you have, you know, physics or mathematics or history as your major you come into the school as an undeclared student, and you remain that way long enough to learn something about what enlivens you to learn something about what's exciting, right? So, so though even those two different approaches to what a curriculum is, really have huge ramifications for what students are allowed to do, what they're encouraged to do, what they're helped to do, as they go through. Right. So again, thinking carefully about the kind of, of path you want to be on, will lead you right off the bat to what kinds of schools make that path more palette, possible. We're used to thinking about, well, I'll choose this school because they have this degree, right? And not so much about, um, choose this school because they have this kind of experience.

Venkat Raman  31:47  

So that sort of leads me to the thing you alluded to earlier.

So there are, you know, over 5000, colleges. How, how do students, How should students and parents go about thinking about, you know, where to apply? I mean, these days students apply to, you know, quite a number of schools and hoping they get into one of them.

So, how do you, how do you think people should think about that?

Herb  32:11  [Finding Your College]

Well, so the first thing I'll do is I'll give you a tool. Everybody who's thinking about college should immediately you know, during this podcast should go on Google and look up college navigator. Okay. College Navigator is a tool that is maintained by the United States Department of Education. And it has really an extraordinary amount of information about every single school that's eligible to receive federal financial aid and like 4700 of them, right. And so you can go online, you can find out an awful lot about a school before you ever get started. So for instance, you can find out you know, how many students there are, you can find out what the racial breakdown of the students are, so that if you're a person of color, you might be able to find a school that feels like it might be more welcoming to you. You can find out whether or not there are, for instance, more graduate students, students on campus than undergrads, which is going to clearly lead toward a particular kind of an experience. You can learn about how many of their faculty are permanent versus how many are part time or adjunct, and what that might mean for your program. College navigator will really help you narrow down this blizzard of possibilities into a handful that are more worth exploring for you. And again, I want to be really clear that this is not about the best college, this is about the college that will give you the kind of experience you want to have. Right? Yeah. And so you know, learning college navigator going online and looking you can look up any school you want to look at. And, you know, really start to understand how these schools differ from one another, right? In our current age of social media, it's easy enough to be able to connect with somebody who is currently after school and say, What's it like there? What does it feel like? How, you know, how easy a time have you had managing your progress through the school? You know, how do you feel about whether the school is accepting for gay kids? How do you feel about whether the school has been productive and helping me figure out who I am and what I want to do? You know, it's easy enough now to make connections with people who are on campus and not just trust the glossy brochures that come from the admissions office. Sure. Right. So So those are two things that I would absolutely advise anybody who's thinking about school a or School B. Right. The other thing to be aware of is that most schools now are pretty well prepared to support For students who will do well there who may not be able to afford to go, right? So you take a school, you take a school like Middlebury, you know, and it's easy to be afraid of the price tag. Yeah, right? Tuition plus room and board at Middlebury is about $70,000 a year. And you look at that, and you say, Well, I can't do that. That's crazy, right. But if it's the kind of school that suits you, and you've done well in high school, and you think that that might be possible, you should absolutely apply to a school that seems financially out of reach, because they will, if they see you, as an asset to their community, they will absolutely help to make up some or even all of the difference. Right? So don't be afraid to shoot at schools that you think are quote unquote, over your head. Right? Yeah. Think about the experience you want. And if they if they agree with you, that they that you would benefit from that experience, they will find a way to help you get there.

Venkat Raman  36:04  

As we kind of wind down here, I kind of wanted you to reflect on you started with how we went to college. And have you sort of found your way. How, how's it many decades later? I mean, what are your thoughts? Wherever you sort of landed on that whole spectrum of opportunities and possibilities and thoughts?

Herb  36:28  [Herb’s College Experience]

Yeah. You know, so there's, there's two ways to think about this. One of them is pejorative, and one of them is opportunist. Yeah. The pejorative way to think about it is being aimless about saying, well, I'll do this, and it's not very interesting. I'll do that again. And it's, you know, you're just sort of bouncing from one peg to another in the pinball machine, and no real, you know, sense of underlying focus, right? That's, that's clearly not going to lead you to good outcomes, right? Yeah, yeah. But you can absolutely experience the world as kind of an enthusiast and say, This is fascinating. I need to figure out for myself how to do more of that. Right, every good thing that's happened in my career is because I've said yes to some opportunity that I was afraid of. Right. So when I was I was finishing up undergrad at Berkeley, and I was in a course in the journalism department just you know, fulfill part of the prerequisites for graduation. And my instructor in the course said, you know, the local newspaper, has been looking for a couple of years for somebody to write architectural criticism for them. You're a good writer, you understand architectural history, why don't you send them something? And I said, Yeah, I'm a good writer, like for college, but not like in a professional setting. And he said, No, just do it. So I sent them a piece. And three weeks later, I had 150 bucks on a regular kind of gig as a contributor to architectural criticism in the Bay Area, right? I didn't, I didn't know I could do that. But I try. I didn't even know that that existed. I didn't know that such a thing happened. But somebody opened the door for me. It looked like it was really cool. I was afraid of it. But I said yes. And gosh, it you know, it opened up other doors. Right. Yeah. So So walking into walking into the unknown and saying yes, yeah, is a huge part of changing that kind of aimlessness into a directed path that just isn't directed by a name of a career. Yeah. Right. I mean, I talk with with students all the time about what I call the ballistic model of career preparation, right, I see your time, I see a target way out there six years from now, 10 years from now, whatever, and I'm gonna throw a dart at it. Right. And that can fail in so many ways. One is you might miss. One is that you could hit the target and find out that it's not nearly as interesting as you thought it was. Right? One is that you can hit the target and discover that that career has been supplanted. It's been offshored, or replaced with technology. And you know, even though you were good at it, it doesn't exist anymore. Right? Yeah. So even even people who are like really focused on this career outcome can have that goat sideways, in in a lot of ways that you can't predict. And so I think it's much safer actually, to say, I'm not sure what I want to do, but I'm really interested in this and I'm gonna figure out how to do more of it and get better at it. Right? And to and to talk to people to be, you know, have your ear to the ground about an opportunity and to say, when the opportunity comes up, not Oh, I could never do that. But to say, well, let me try it. The worst thing that can happen is somebody says no, and I'm in the same place I am today.

Venkat Raman  39:50  

Right. Right.

Venkat Raman  39:54  

So the other thought, I'd like to hear from you is how do you think College, at the end of the day, has shaped your career, your professional life.

Herb  40:08  [Impact of College]

Certainly, as I say, it's clarified my own interests, it's allowed me to recognize more fully what I'm really excited about. And that hasn't been stable over the course of 40 years either. I'm still I'm still kind of motivated by the same questions. But they've changed direction a little bit, they've changed color a little bit, because of the things that I've learned the things that I've read the things that I've experienced. So they've been a it's been a grounding for me to sort of base camp to explore further, right. Certainly after, after undergrad, I, you know, I got my bachelor's degree when I was 31, instead of 21. But I decided, you know, I knew that I was really interested in more of this kind of study of human environments. And I loved I loved being in school, and I said, I want to stay in school, I want to be the kind of person who helps to provide this experience to others. I want to be a college teacher. And so that led me to graduate school, which, again, opened all kinds of new doors that were off the side of the main chamber of what I was interested in. Right. And so What college did for me, was give me the resources and the permission to really understand more about what excited me. Yeah, right. You know, and so I haven't, you know, I left grad school when I was 38. I finished my PhD when I was 38. That was 25 years ago. Golly, I'm old. So, you know, 25 years ago, but I haven't been a student for 25 years. But I still have, right, I still have, because I still know how I can explore more about the kinds of things I want to do. Right. So for the last eight years, I've been writing a lot of fiction, which I never really thought of as like a career path. But it's another way for me to explore how people live in particular places. Right. So it's, it's another, it's another lens on the same questions. I think I think that we have these questions that motivate us for our whole lives. And we just get smarter about looking at it from different directions.

Venkat Raman  42:30  

So before we sign off, any advice for the students and parents out there who are looking at their upcoming college journey with some trepidation?

Herb  42:41  [Advice to High Schoolers]

Yeah, well, it's reasonable to have trepidation. It's, it's a complex, a complex world, it's an expensive world. But I think that the crucial thing is to not get stuck on the sort of easy summary label, whether that's the major, or it's the brand name of the school. But to really keep the focus on yourself. Be selfish, be self interested, say, you know, all the time, is this closer to or further from the question that's in my heart? Right. And, and that will be the most reliable guide to your decision making. But you have to be really serious about that. You can't you you have to, you have to hold that question close. You don't have to, you have to not sort of answer it with the first thing that comes to mind. You have to sit with it. And really try to think, you know, what is it that makes me? Me?

Venkat Raman  43:45  

Yep. Right. Okay, so, on that note, I would like to thank you for your thoughts and for taking us through this journey. I think this will be hugely beneficial and give a lot of insight to our listeners. So thank you so much. I'm sure. We'll talk more. But for now take care.

Herb  44:13  

Venkat, thank you so much. And thank you for doing this this entire enterprise. It's so important for young people to have some guidance into this world.

Venkat Raman  44:25  

Thank you. All right, fair enough.

Herb  44:27  

Yep. Take care. Thank you so much.

Venkat Raman  44:29  

Yep. Bye bye. Bye.

--------------------

Venkat  44:36 

Hi again!

Hope you enjoyed our podcast with Dr Herb Childress about his College Journey and Beyond.

Herb’s commentary on US Colleges & Process should be required listening.

Herb’s story is one of exploration, and converting knocks on the door, that may have sounded less than friendly, into opportunity.

He dropped out of college the first time because he felt it was aimless.

The second time around Architectural History gave him purpose, and his interest in human environments led to a PhD.

Writing is a talent & skill that has stayed with him throughout, eventually leading to his writing fiction novels.

I hope you use your time in College to explore and find your calling, wherever you pursue your undergraduate studies.

For your questions or comments on this podcast, please email podcast at almamatters.io [podcast@almamatters.io].

Thank you all so much for listening to our podcast today.

Transcripts for this podcast and previous podcasts are on almamatters.io forward slash podcasts [almamatters.io/podcasts].

To stay connected with us, Subscribe to Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts or Spotify or visit anchor.fm forward slash almamatters [anchor.fm/almamatters] to check us out.

Till we meet again, take care and be safe.

Thank you!

Summary Keywords

Podcast for High Schoolers, College Majors, US Colleges, College Podcast, High School Students, College-bound, University of California Berkeley, Cal, College Majors, Selecting Colleges,  undergraduate


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