When Preparation Meets Opportunity: The Value of Becoming a Lifelong Learner
In the U.S., meeting an increasing demand for skilled, professional workers has proven to be a complex challenge. To do so, emphasis is being placed on competitive undergraduate and graduate level degrees including career-focused post-secondary education.
The wealth of educational options means there are more opportunities than ever before to become a lifelong learner. Pursuing higher education promotes personal and professional growth. By understanding that every individual takes a unique path, students can take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves and, ultimately, fulfill their goals.
Let me give you an example from my own experience:
My educational journey started with a degree in electrical engineering. Because I was also in the Navy ROTC (they paid for my college), I was assigned special engineering duty at White Sand Missile Range. While I was there I completed a master’s degree in electrical engineering, which led to a job offer at Litton Industries at the end of my tour of duty.
Litton sent me to New York where I met and married my wife, Suzanne Roosa. I took two courses at night school – Managerial Accounting and Feasibility Analysis. Shortly after we were married, I started looking for something else to do since my job involved the prospect of going out to sea with the Navy, which did not interest me.
While I was at my wife’s parents’ house scanning the classified section of the paper, I saw an ad for a computer school director. I thought it was job, but it turned out to be an opportunity to start a computer school.
The rest is history.
The point of relating this story is that although some things in life are serendipitous and accidental, the power of education is that it gives one choices—choices that can progressively lead to better opportunities.
For me, the pursuit of further education along with a quest to align my skills with what I loved to do has been very satisfying and rewarding. I did not really enjoy engineering. I love career education.
If I had not studied engineering (other majors would have been academically easier and in some ways more fun) I would not have been at White Sands. That not only gave me great experience, but an opportunity to complete a master’s degree. If I did not have the master’s degree, I might not have been hired by Litton Industries. Then I would not have gone to New York where I met my wife and saw the ad for a computer school director. My wife had a teaching degree so the mix of engineering and teaching seemed appropriate for starting a technical school.
So the start of Herzing University was partly fortuitous, but also an example of where preparation met opportunity. Of course I did not need a master’s degree in engineering to start the school. But the rigorous problem analysis and mathematical problem solving along with the managerial accounting course made all the numbers side of starting an enterprise quite easy. I had also taken a business law course as an undergraduate which came in handy. So sometimes one does not know where additional education will lead or its effect on one’s life.
Likewise, I have seen the changes in the lives of many students at Herzing that go beyond the simple attainment of a diploma or degree. The big surprise for me in the early years was the positive effect this has on so many students’ self-confidence and self-image. For many students, high school was a period they endured on the way to getting to something which felt more relevant. Typically, in high school and sometimes in college, there’s not an obvious link in how a subject or assignment relates to a particular job or career path. Consequently some students don’t flourish in high school and leave feeling inferior.
But many have abilities that just need to blossom. In our first computer studies program that involved math, problem analysis and programming, our students showed they were capable of mentally demanding work once they recognized the purpose and end result. Students graduated not only with a new set of skills, but also with a new level of self-confidence and self-worth that almost radiated from them.
Unfortunately, career or technical education has been, if not denigrated, sometimes held in low esteem in the United States compared to some other countries such as Germany. There, everyone has a “BERUF,” a profession which is respected equally whether you’re a neurosurgeon, a teacher, grocer or garbage collector.
We need all levels of education and training to make our economy work, and we should respect and recognize the importance of all of them. The great opportunity we have in the United States is to continue to advance our individual education or training through the myriad of education options that exist here - online, part-time, full-time and at private or public institutions.
Where you start does not have to be where you end up. Pursue as much education as fits you and your goals.
Henry Herzing is the founder of Herzing University, which began in 1965 as a computer training institute in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The non-profit institution has grown to include campuses in eight states offering baccalaureate and graduate programs as well as an online division.