When LSUs campus was first laid out in the early 1900s, it was built around a central quadrangle of buildings.  The land, a nice level plateau just north of Baton Rouge and east of the Mississippi River, had been pasture for years and met two of the most important criteria to Louisiana’s leaders at the time.  It was cheap and there was lots of it!  The main campus, dedicated in 1926, has now grown from the simple “quad” to over 250 buildings.

So when you have lots of buildings, you need something.  Something built using a material from Emily’s blog on Monday.  You got it….sidewalks!!  According to a story I was told by my former boss at LSU, when the campus was growing and new buildings were popping up, they would wait to lay out sidewalks.  Once students had walked between buildings for a while, they’d just pave the paths the students had tramped through the grass.  Saved money on concrete and they didn’t build useless sidewalks!

I’m not sure if the story is true, but based on what I know about how things work back home, it doesn’t sound too far-fetched.  Remember, this is a school that got the money to build a football stadium by saying it was for dorms.  Then strategically placed the dorms so you could have a ball field in between them and built stands on top of the dorms…

I tell that story about LSUs sidewalks to make a point about the new career classes we are adding to the College of Business curriculum.  This semester we launched GEB 3003 with 1200 students.  The goal was to answer a simple question, “what will you do with your one wild and precious life?”  To figure that out, students had to do research and attend events, lectures, and workshops.  Not everyone was pleased.

For example, leading up to Welcome to the Majors, an event I required all students to attend, I got 187 emails asking if they “really” had to go or to be excused from the requirement for various reasons.  Most having to do with work.  In the first 5 weeks of the semester after Welcome to the Majors I received over 4000 different pieces of correspondence asking questions and seeking clarification on class requirements.  I learned through this process that there were seven unique channels for students to try and contact me.  To cope with the flow, I had to cut off some of those channels.  I also relied on communication channels to push information that students weren’t using.  Most of the questions being asked were contained in the written syllabus and project assignment.  But that information wasn’t clear to students accustomed to finding all they need to know through the class’s online delivery portal.

Why all the mail?  A lot of what I wanted students to do was different than what they did in previous classes.  We also had some technology issues and a vendor miscommunication.  But mostly it was because we were building sidewalks while people travelled between new buildings.  In other words, the class requirements (buildings) were there, but the methods we were putting in to manage the traffic (sidewalks) were still being created.

So why not wait and work out a fool-proof, technology based solution to tracking student registration for and attendance in a lecture?  Large, complex organizations can make decisions slowly and take even longer to set up infrastructure.  Colleges are, by nature and name, “collegial” organizations that prefer slow, measured change brought about through many discussions and consensus building.  This is great when you are thinking about making changes to a curriculum or building a college culture.

But the other lesson I learned at LSU was much more personal than how sidewalks were built.  I learned what happens when a student lacked focus.  When a student is just focused on going to school to get a degree.  When they pick a major without thinking, “Is this what I want to do?”  When the experience is more about the moment and less focused on the future.  I was that student.  And although I had a great time in the moment, I failed miserably.  My behavior was misdirected and when I finally graduated, I just wandered from job to job without a purpose or direction.

For faculty with experience doing what they now teach, one of the cool things you get to do is share lessons learned in the “real world” with your students.  My experience taught me the importance of having a clearly defined goal.  Of knowing the answer to the question, “What do you want to do?”  I also learned that if all you have is a goal, but you take no action to achieve it, then you’re just running your mouth.  No one cares about hearing what you’re gonna do for them, they want to know what you did.  So I got you moving by requiring attendance at events, lectures and workshops and we developed the tracking process as we went along.

So in that sense, the buildings are there.  And they are good.  After going through the first class, lots of students feel the experience, though confusing at first, was rewarding.  Employers and community leaders are excited about what we’re doing and want to get involved.  We have assembled an awesome team of career coaches who can help guide you.  We’ve trained our Advising Team to answer curriculum and scheduling questions.  But the sidewalks will take time.

Next semester you’ll see some changes.  Things like a Career “To-DO” list and LOTS of activities to choose from.  We’ll also have more help and a better idea of how to communicate with you.  You’ll also see things that are familiar now, like keeping your Career Coach appointment and attending a lecture.  If you wisely used your time in the building to research what you want to do, coming up with a plan of action will be easy…and rewarding!  And the path, though not fully paved, is much more familiar this time!