My sophomore group struggles to see the benefits of their education and are unaware of how many opportunities their school provides them. On the first day of the career research unit, I presented them with data from the National Center for Educational Statistics, provided them with some background knowledge and asked them to infer how education impacts annual income. They noticed the “bubble” trend salaries increasing with education, but some students were irritated by these statistics suggesting to them that there are no possibilities of making good money without a degree.
I agreed. There are some people making good money without degrees, but I pointed to the full range of percentages. And then I also pointed out not everyone with a college degree moved up the pay scale. I asked them to instead look at the data and decide what improves just their chances. I started an allusion to board games with multiple size dies and asked them to connect it to the spreadsheet I showed them. Heads started looking around as the idea clicked: the greater the education, the bigger the die, the better the chance of making good money. After that day’s open discussion, I had them interested.
The next day, I told a story about a hard decision my brother faced when he had two internship offers — one from a small college in California and another closer to home and directly feeding research into NASA. My students were always interested to hear about my family or my rocket scientist brother. I walked them through the many different values and interests my brother used to weigh both options, polling the students along the way. We talked about family, friends, personal relationships, bosses, outlook, short-term challenges, financial or even prestige considerations. We talked about the changing opinions as each variable was introduced. The interest in this cliffhanger ending proved to me that they were hooked. There was such an excitement in the air when they found out that through all of this decision-making, my brother ended up in an internship that led to a very stable career. These two setup lessons lead to a very interested group of students who quickly learned that there is a complicated blend of passion, learned skill or natural talent that goes into choosing a job. We spent weeks on the research and writing process, but the relevance had been proven to them: hard work, education and tough decisions lead to a better chance at success. And we shouldn’t gamble with any of those if we don’t have to.