College is a time for students to obtain a skill and broaden their education. It’s also a time for students do develop the personal characteristics that are essential for their future career success. Employers across the country were asked to identify these critical personal characteristics. The interesting thing about these characteristics is that they are also essential for academic success as well.
I’d like to describe these characteristics for you. When your student returns home over Thanksgiving, you might want to keep these characteristics in mind. I suspect that you’ll see some development of many of these. Here are the top ten characteristics (in alphabetical order):
- Action orientation – This characteristic describes someone who is decisive, someone who does not procrastinate, and someone who doesn’t hesitate to confront challenges.
- Attitude – This characteristic describes someone who approves every challenge with a positive spirit and who generally views every setback as a learning experience.
- Communication – While we often associate communication as writing and speaking, these are not the most critical communication needs. The more important communication needs are such skills as expressing ideas, listening to others, speaking up, providing feedback to others, and understanding non-verbal messages. In general communication refers to how we relate to others.
- Consistency – In life, there are no averaging of grades. We are often judged on the worst thing we do even when we have done a number of great things. Consistency refers to a level of performance that rarely varies. Consistency of performance is just as important in personal life (e.g. sleep habits, diet, exercise) as it is in the work we do.
- Continuous learning – This characteristic refers to curiosity and the quest for knowledge and understanding. The process of learning may be one of the most important skills learned in college.
- Customer service focus – This characteristic describes an ability to understand the needs of others and respond to those needs without being told.
- Organization – This characteristic concerns how one uses his/her time, how one arranges work space, and how one sets priorities. In today’s vernacular, it’s having your act together.
- Problem solving – This characteristic does not refer to math skills. It’s the ability to see something that needs to be corrected, being able to sort through information, developing possible answers, evaluating possibilities, and proposing a solution.
- Team Work – There are virtually no situations where we work alone. We need to be able to work with others with diverse backgrounds, work styles, and perspectives.
- Work Ethic – This characteristic requires discipline to put in the time it takes to get the job done. It sometimes requires sacrifices now for the future.
It would be interesting for you to evaluate your student on each of these characteristics and to assess how these develop as he/she goes through college. Some of these will develop naturally, others require mentoring.
Rather than close with a story of one student, this week I’d like to tell you about four students I met during one morning. The first student came to see me about not having a math course this semester. He did not do well on the math placement test. I got the impression that he partied the night before New Student Orientation and he was hung-over when he took the test. We discussed a very specific strategy for preparing for the test in late November. He will be giving me a report each week of his preparation. I find that students respond well to this firm guidance and follow up.
The next student was one that I saw on the first day of classes. At that time, he was distraught. He didn’t have the money to buy a book. I gave him the money he needed, but I also talked with him about how he was going to pay for college. As it turns out, he has very good computer skills so I was able to help him get a job with our computer staff in the college. The purpose of his visit was to repay me for the book. His finances are now more secure. He didn’t need to do this, but I really appreciated his thoughtfulness. His classes are going great. I have often found that unconditional giving will always be returned. In this case, the money was immaterial to me. The return for me was seeing a student do well.
The next student was really troubled. He has had some difficult personal relationships. These problems are having an impact on his grades, but I’m more concerned about what else he told me. He’s a recovering drug addict (prescription drugs), and he’s concerned that he will start using drugs again. We discussed a strategy that I’ve used with other students. He is putting together a “discipline diary” where he shares with me how each day went. I get this diary sent to my email account at the end of each day. So far, he seems to being doing well, and his grades are getting better. The fact that the student reached out for help was an important first step. It’s tough convincing students that I want to help, but when they come to me for help I really try to support them fully. So far he seems to be doing very well. I meet with him every week.
The fourth student I talked to was a young man who was really struggling with math. He is a very hands-on person who just doesn’t have the preparation for his intended major. We discussed other options, and we were able to find a program close to his home that fits his needs. I gave him very specific steps to follow in investigating this program. He will report back to me on what he has found after the Thanksgiving break. My major is not for everyone, but I’m reluctant “to let students go” until I’m comfortable they have found a viable next step in their education.
When the fourth student left my office, I looked at the clock on the wall. It was 6:50 AM. This is not an unusual start of the day for me.
Each of these students had challenges to face. If you think about the above characteristics, they have deficiencies that need to be developed. These deficiencies are unlikely to be met without the help of a mentor. I hope your son or daughter has identified an academic mentor that can support them.
Since I have taught for 44 years, I’ve seen my students develop over a span of years. Virtually all of them had careers that they could never have dreamed about. When I speak with them, they will often say that the education they received was important to them, but more important was how they developed as a person in college.