. . . Winter 1996
The Residential College
Almost 30, but still trusted
The University's Residential College students are known for their freedom, creativity, social conscience and political partisanship. It was to foster those qualities that the University set up the college-within-a-college, living-learning experiment in the East Quadrangle almost three decades ago.
On the eve of its 30-year anniversary RC Director Thomas E. Weisskopf, professor of economics, and the RC staff are holding a variety of outreach events in the months leading up to the October 23-27, 1997, RC 30th Anniversary Celebration.
A two-day Residential College Welcome this October included panel discussions that put current RC students in touch with visiting and local alums. One panel of alums served as proof that designing one's own curriculum in an independent concentration and leaving college with no grades on one's transcript were no bars to success in traditional careers.
The message to the students was that the skills they develop at what some outsiders think of as a fuzzy, impractical educational experience prove to be highly translatable to many fields, even when those fields don't correlate with the students' arts-oriented majors. The panels were a high-spirited and encouraging instance of chickens coming home to root, but not about themselves so much as about the College they love.
Mike Faigen'88, who majored in Spanish and art, said he learned valuable "know-how and insight skills" at the RC, but not "action skills" needed to implement ideas. Today, he said, he could develop action skills through the RC's Community Practicum program, but he developed them after working for a defense contractor following a two-year stint with an international food program in Mexico. Next came business school, and now he's setting up his own adhesives-manufacturing firm with his father and an inventor.
Ruth Kallio '71, '93 PhD, said she "didn't have a clue" about a career when she graduated with a math degree. It was her "good high school typing skills" that got her a clerical job at the U-M School of Public Health. Two years later she moved to the Office of Planning and Analysis in the Provost's Office, and over a 10-year period, while holding a demanding full-time job, she worked on her PhD in higher-education research.
In addition to obvious math skills, Kallio said, her RC education gave her a basic social science foundation, writing skills and an ability to research and record history. It also gave her the drive to pursue her PhD for "intrinsic, internal satisfaction," a grueling quest during which there were no material rewards for her effort.
John Revitte '72 doesn't have a PhD, but he's a tenured professor of labor and industrial relations at Michigan State University, nonetheless. He prized his RC years for providing "close ties with faculty and an incredible breadth of liberal education. The faculty was willing to let us create our own educational plans, and some of us did it. I helped create a new degree---bachelor's in general studies." He added that as a member of MSU's faculty grievance committee, he still applies "the principles I learned in Carl Cohen's Language and Logic course."
Dan Rydholm '80, Arts & Ideas, said he wanted "to focus on the anxiety associated with one's future career. Some people know from youth what their path will be. I never found it in college, and a lot of other RC students did not have that defining epiphany, as it were or they had them all the time."
Rydholm, who finished law school solely to please his parents, worked for National Public Radio for three years, and is now a PhD candidate in theology at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. He advised the students to rest assured that even if they don't know, and never learn, what or where their place is, "there is always something, even if it may not be what you want."
"The priority while you're here," he continued, "is to dip in and take advantage of what is offered to you. Learn as much about the world and yourself as you possibly can. Ask yourself, what do I feel about this? What is my position? If you do that, you'll have self-knowledge and be ahead of the game in comparison with those focused only on their careers."
Shelly Marx '78 got a public health degree after RC, and now runs a social service agency for the disabled in Los Angeles. "The thing that was mind-blowing to me," she said, "was how much power we RC students were given. The College was a close community. It offered support. Anything you wanted to do, someone was willing to help you. The emphasis on creativity is everywhere---not just the obvious example of the creative arts course everyone takes, but the way creativity is integrated into all of the courses. You learn to integrate the arts into your life without being a Picasso or Maria Callas. You learn your life can have meaning in so many ways even if it's not from your job. Almost everyone in the College or who has graduated from it volunteers."
Weisskopf ended the session by underscoring Marx's observation about volunteering. Comparing a survey of RC freshmen with their peers at large, he said in answer to the question, "Yes, it is important to me," 81% of RC students versus 42% of all freshmen placed "To develop a meaningful philosophy of life" as their primary objective. Second-highest for RC students, at 75%, was "Help others who are in difficulty," a goal that 60% of other freshmen declared.
The reception was "part of a series of events held on campus and off," said Laurie Stoianowski, an RC administrative assistant. "We've invited current student and alums to meet in alums' homes in Bloomfield Hills and in New York City. Another event is being planned for May in the San Francisco area."
RC alumni/ae and other interested persons may e-mail Stoianowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or e-mail the steering committee with suggestions for the 30th anniversary celebration at RC.email@example.com. The College also has an interactive web site at http://www.rc.lsa.umich.edu/.
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