Students should take ownership of learning and study to become something, not just to pass tests and eventually get engineering jobs.

Education vs. learning: It’s all about ownership

Students should study to become something, not just to pass tests, take more classes, and eventually get jobs

No one has ever washed a rented car!  Tom Friedman and Lawrence Summers have used this statement often to emphasize the importance of ownership.  It originated in 1985 from the response of a military noncommissioned officer to a question from a general officer about aircraft maintenance and the importance of owning the whole aircraft and not just a piece of it – only whole planes fly! 

As an engineering educator for over 40 years, I have always felt my responsibility has been to have students first experience engineering – what it is like to be an engineer – and then, if there is interest and the start of passion for engineering, guide students to become an engineer, not just study engineering. Students study to become something – not just take courses, receive grades, earn a diploma, get a job, and make a living.  

Becoming something takes passion and, most importantly, ownership. This is a commitment each one of us must make in whatever profession we choose. Once a commitment of ownership happens, an educator can then be the mentor, the guide, to the student’s life-long pursuit of becoming something they are passionate about. There is no secret here – it is all about commitment and ownership.  As the famous golfer Ben Hogan once said, the secret is “in the dirt.” 

Unfortunately, making a commitment to become something is long-term and does not lend itself to daily postings in social media by which everyone is seemingly.  And when trying to attract students to enroll in a university, it always seems to be the newest building or most successful athletic program that gets the publicity.  I do not think telling potential students that the answer to their pursuit is “in the dirt” would increase enrollment. 

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