Supporting Passions

I spent the past week in Boston. My cousin graduated from MIT with his PhD in Mechanical Engineering. We saw the sights, went to a Taiwanese bakery, made Taiwanese hot pot, went to an Argentinean Steak House, rode bikes, took a tour of MIT and my cousin’s lab at Harvard (post-doc work), and attended the Boston Symphony. Pretty epic if you ask me.

We used to spend our summers together: playing pinecone wars and creating coded messages with our own spy languages. Reminiscing about our Oregon summers as children also brought back a conversation I had with my family when I had declared my major as Merchandising. As mentioned in one of my past blog posts, the majority of my family has an engineering, math, or science degree. I grew up having conversations about physics around the dinner table. Needless to say, my grandfather was not happy. “Why can’t you be an engineer?” most likely meant: “That’s a silly major,” but also: “How are you going to support yourself after graduation?” While I knew it came from a place of concern, I also vowed to prove my interests in fields beyond engineering were just as valuable.

While Merchandising never ended up sticking, I still found value in my undergraduate education: harnessing communication skills, developing the ability to give a compelling presentation, and establishing a strong work ethic. While I think I would have developed these in any field of engineering, I do not know that I would have been happy.

This caused me to think of my students. Colorado School of Mines is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) institution. While I know many of my students truly want to be here, I also know many of them are here because their families had a strong hand in the college decision process. It is hard to see those who are struggling but do not feel like they have a choice.

I had a choice, even if it wasn’t fully supported initially. (My grandpa got over it and has been supportive since.) My cousin faced a similar opposition initially. He was homeschooled as a child, but was so internally driven that he surpassed what homeschooling offered. His desire to attend a local community college when he was 14 was not supported by his parents in the beginning. Eventually they came around, and they could not have been more proud of their son during his doctoral hooding. I am extremely elated for my (literally brilliant) cousin. I know he is going to do big things.

While this blog is aimed at entry-level professionals, these experiences just serve as a reminder to me to support those we love in their passions and endeavors. Hopefully, it will resonate with you as well!

Katie Schmalzel

Student Affairs - the First Years

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