An Attachment to a College
Jessica Bruder QC ’11, ’13 and Jim Stellar
Jessica just finished her master’s degree at Queens College. Counting from the time she was in high school taking her first college course under a program called College Now, she just completed her 8th year of study at Queens College. When I found that out, I persuaded her to examine what held her here.
Remember the famous quote from Blaise Pascal which goes something like “The heart has reasons of which reason does not know.” In this blog, we often claim that heart reasons help to define what can be experiential about education, leaving reason (head reasons?) to account for the classical academic curriculum-based part of education. We know that Jessica got degrees at Queens (head reasons), but why did she stay 8 years at one institution?
Jessica, can you start us off by saying how you got started at Queens?
My passion, interest and love for Queens College started at a young age. I remember finding my mothers yearbook and innocently inquiring what this yearbook entailed. I was six years old and my mother told me that the year book was her Queens College year book and she kept it because not only did it symbolize memories, but also her own history of her success and that of others who had graduated. This yearbook was a record of those who had achieved their goals and she was there; she had succeeded. My mother in that moment bequeathed to me an idea of the life I wanted to have just by the passion and excitement in her voice when she said she had graduated from Queens College.
Ten years later I was handed by my 11th grade high school teachers what I felt was a boon wrapped into a nice bow of words on a pamphlet reading “College Now.” My high school was offering an opportunity for 11th and 12th grade students to take college classes at Queens College. I immediately signed up for a philosophy class since at 16 years old I felt I needed wisdom and philosophical thought of trying to figure myself out. I also remember walking through the campus observing how capacious the campus truly was and feeling so small in size, but somehow I also felt grand in confidence. When entering the quad I remember falling in love with how beautiful the campus and buildings were – like a canvas painting of the city. I wanted to be here, I remember thinking I wanted to rise up as tall as the buildings and succeed.
In 12th grade I immediately applied to Queens College and not only got in but also got in with a scholarship. I didn’t know what I would major in, who I would meet, where I would end up, what classes I would take, or who I would become after the many years I attended, I always knew that as long as I was here at Queens College I would prosper to great heights.
Great. Now what persuaded you to stay to complete a master’s degree?
Being at Queens College always gave me a feeling of security. To define security further, first I felt secure educationally in terms of being in the hands of wonderful, intelligent, well-trained staff. Second I felt secure in the safe environment since Queens College had and has excellent security guards and safety routines embedded in the policies. Thirdly I felt secure in knowing my success would reach higher by staying at a school that had helped me achieve during my undergraduate career. My last reason and reason most associated to why I stayed and continue to stay is because Queens College feels like home to me. I’ve spent one-third of my life at this school and despite the challenges, successes, and fears I had I always knew that if I ever needed some support or guidance I could find that here at Queens College.
Notice the emotional language in this story beginning with the transmission of excitement from mom and the awakening of an ambition. Then it is followed by a soaring emotional experience in the physical structure of the campus that was now hers for a course or two as a high school student. By then the place was trusted even in the face of the typical uncertainty of entering college from high school and that emotion continued in graduate school.
These are the kinds of heart reasons of which Pascal spoke and around which we wrap stories from our conscious language system or what Gazzaniga calls the interpreter module in his book Who’s In Charge. These are the stories the interpreter module (reason) tells us about our life to justify the decisions we have already made in brain areas without words such as Haidt writes about in The Righetous Mind or neuroeconomics studies in purchasing decisions with brain scans. Heart reasons are operating everywhere in higher education, not just in experiential education activities such as internships.
With all of this as background, let’s go back and push on Jessica. How do you as a student decide the best school and major for yourself and why is it important to feel like the school you choose will be the right support system and institution for your own goals?
When choosing Queens College initially it was because I had fallen in love as mentioned with the campus. In terms of others and their pursuit for choosing the right school, right major, and right program I would advise those to choose a school they feel safe and happy in. Also to choose a school that has the program they are looking for. When trying to choose the next four years of your life in one location it is important to know that the program you choose has the best advisors, support systems, and resources. In all honesty the type of motto a student should follow on their pursuit to choosing the best school and program would be “It’s not what your program can do for you, but what you can do for your program.” It must start with the student. The student must take control of knowing what they need to do in order to reach their end goal. The student also needs to understand where they see themselves at the end of their program. Lastly the student needs to always take initiative to get to their end point, and do research to find out exactly what they need to reach their goal and end of their program. Personally in my eight years at Queens College I always did research and reached out to the support in my department in order to reach my end goal, and I would say such a scheme has worked wonderfully.
While not classically experiential as an internship or study abroad or undergraduate research with a faculty member, this last paragraph again evokes the same kind of emotions with the college as a whole that students often have with those specific experiences. We in the higher education business could pay much more attention to this phenomenon to recruit the kind of loyalty and passion Jessica has shown. It works even in a largely commuter-type public college, and clearly, it also breeds student success.