Monday, January 17, 2011

Helping Students Reach their Dreams

Guest Blogger: Kristin Anderson

It started as a typical Sunday on a bitter cold January morning in 2007. My photographer and I approached the news desk, dreading an assignment outside in the blinding snow. Our editor handed us a police press release detailing the events of a drug deal gone bad. We looked at each other, knowing full well that we would not be welcomed guests in the most dangerous housing project in Cleveland.

We drove up to the scene, now empty of the police presence that had filled the area during the shootout. After many years as a television news reporter I had covered this story too often. This time it was a 14-year-old boy who, ironically, lost his life while selling drugs to survive. He never had a father. His mother left him. His grandmother kicked him out and the Cleveland School district gave up on him when he dropped out at the age of 12. He did not even have someone to give him a proper burial. Everyone in his life failed him, no one told him that he mattered. I was haunted by this teen's death. I could not stop asking myself, "What can I do to make a difference?" I tried to write a heart-touching story that would penetrate the television screen and reach the hearts of viewers. It somehow inspired the community to pull together and bury the teenager, but it wasn't enough for me. A year later, I made a life-changing decision to leave television and start teaching upcoming news professionals about the changing world of news and deliver a message that THEY MATTER!

In the past two years in the classroom, from West Chester University to Lincoln, I have found that students know how to dream. They know what they would like out of a career, but they don't fully realize how important they are and how much they have to contribute. As a result, they don't know how to make their dreams turn into reality. When I ask them what they want "to be" after graduation, they often respond with "music producer, news anchor, radio announcer," and that's just from one student. That's impossible! It's great to shoot for the stars but where is the reality? What I am trying to do this semester is get students to focus on their dream and come with a realistic plan to make it happen. I can teach them how to write in broadcast style, how to use the ENG cameras to record professional video, and how to edit using the highest quality equipment in the industry, but it all falls to the wayside without a focused plan.

I'm going to experiment with one class and have them narrow down their career path to just one position. From there I'm going to have them pick a role model in their chosen industry and research how that person reached the top of his/her field. Finally, students will have to come up with a plan of their own to find internships, meet mentors, create resumes and job search. I wish I could blog that I have attempted this approach in the past, at numerous universities, and 100% of the students are successful in their chosen careers; however, the truth is that I don’t know. I am relatively new to this, but I know that something needs to be done to motivate students to reach their potential, to rise up and not be average.

I can't go back in time and save the life of the 14-year-old boy in Cleveland, but I can try to get students to realize that THEY MATTER, and that the world needs what they have to offer!!!


  1. Good luck! I get the psychology involved but not the logic, epistemology or even philosophy of education. You say you "made a life-changing decision to leave television and start teaching upcoming news professionals about the changing world of news and deliver a message that THEY MATTER!" Is this to suggest that the best way to deliver a message that people matter is in the college classroom and that the world needs whatever people have to offer?

  2. I empathize with Prof. Anderson’s position. I too found myself in a classroom, after a brief career in journalism, standing in front of group of 18-year-old “basic” writers explaining to me that they want to doctors and lawyers among other professions. I thought, “These students can’t put a coherent sentence together. How are they going to pass this class, let alone graduate, get in to law school, graduate, pass the bar, join a practice, stand on front of a judge and jury and present a logical argument to argue their case?” But I didn’t let the enormity of the situation stop me. I taught “bird-by-bird” as Anne Lamont would say. I (hopefully) kept the students’ dreams alive while working on the pieces needed to fulfill those dreams.

  3. I really like your approach, Kristin, since it is both student-centered (students choose goal, work out path to reach it, are invested in the learning process) and teacher-directed (you help with the things students can't probably do on their own like decide the steps they need to follow and the order and the timeline).

    In the spirit of assessment, Lincoln's favorite activity, you could check things like final grades, successful completion of projects, student course satisfaction, etc. at the end of the semester and see if this new approach makes a difference. The problem is that probably it will be a period of time before students really reap (and recognize) the benefits of the project, so that doesn't fit in well to short-term assessment unfortunately.