Senior's investment at college worth more than just tuition

Originally published in The Daily Collegian. This is my senior column.

Last fall I spent my first night back in State College watching the movie Accepted.

Given that I spend most weekends in a movie theater with my friends, it seemed like the appropriate start to the school year.

In case you haven’t seen the movie, it’s about a bunch of lovable losers, led by the “I’m a Mac” guy from those commercials, who accidentally form their own college.

And much to their surprise, students start showing up and, beyond all logic, start paying the founders’ tuition.

After the initial shock, the founders do something that’s actually quite extraordinary.

They take the students’ tuition money and invest it in equipment for their area of study.

Photographers get SLR cameras, cooks get kitchens and skaters get half pipes.

OK, so maybe study is a broad term here.

Naturally, a small portion also goes to the administrative costs of keg parties and tiki bars.

The whole thing is kind of a magic moment that could only happen in the movies. But it got me thinking.

What would I do if I could reinvest my tuition?

I am an information sciences and technology major, so I would buy myself a pretty nice computer setup and some teach-yourself programming books — although the For Dummies series does not really cover how to protect a database through sui generis intellectual property rights or the potential for information technology to enable globalization in the third world.

(I’m sorry, am I showing my IST major here?)

But I couldn’t buy the relationships and connections I have made in college.

In addition to meeting policymakers, innovators and legends, I have also made some lifelong friends.

Still, the best part of Penn State is also the best part of Accepted: the message of learning through experience. That is what I have gotten out of working at the Collegian.

I imagine people in some of the other student groups would reach the same conclusion.

I have built Web sites on my own before, but none have the reach that The Daily Collegian Online does.

In addition to our print circulation, some 300,000 people visit our Web site every month.

It’s pretty nice to go into a job interview and meet an alumnus who reads the Collegian every day online.

I’m equally flattered when friends tell me their mom reads our Web site.

It’s easy to take a class on organizational studies, but it’s a little harder to transform a traditional newsroom into a group of Web-savvy journalists.

But we’ve taken our Web site to a new level, and I can say I helped do that.

These are the experiences I’ll be carrying into my job.

That’s why I am worried every time administrators talk about making Penn State a “student-centered” university.

In my book we already had one.

I cannot think of a better example of grassroots community building than the one I witnessed in Paternoville, which got reduced to a university-sanctioned booster club last fall.

Likewise, Thon is the most successful student philanthropy in the country.

Yet apparently it could be improved upon by shortening it two hours.

USG tended to create more conflict than it resolved, but what better preparation is there for real world politics?

At least it attempted to represent student interests.

Sometimes these organizations (including the Collegian) make mistakes.

These are teaching moments too, though, and the university should embrace that, rather than running to their lawyers to “protect” student from themselves.

So, thank you to all the students, professors, bosses, colleagues, friends and family who made my college experience an experience.

When I look back on my years at Penn State I will think of you, not Old Main.

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