She steps into the classroom every day, five days a week, looking onto a sea of eager first-grade faces. They are sticky and silly and at times hard to control. Not everyone gets it, but these six and seven-year-olds are her true loves. She loves their unbridled curiosity and unpredictability, but perhaps most of all she loves the endless possibilities these children carry with them.
She is Laura Dewire, senior and early childhood education major at Miami University, and she has found her passion.
This process is unique to every student and does not always come easily. As Director of Career Services Mike Goldman said, one size does not fit all when it comes to choosing majors and eventually careers, and that is crucial for students to understand as they embark on their college years.
“Students need to remember they are attending [one of the top] public universities for undergraduate teaching,” Goldman said. “They can and should allow themselves to dream about different career options.”
Junior Matthew Meeks has allowed himself to do just that. Even before college, Meeks said he knew he wanted to be a doctor, but it was not until his first semester at Miami that he discovered where he truly fit in that field.
Meeks was taking an African Art course – specifically, “ART 235: The Gods are Here” with professor Dele Jegede – and the final assignment was to create a presentation relating the course materials to your own field of study.
“So I studied the healthcare problems in the countries we had learned about all semester,” he said, “and I absolutely loved it.”
It was this class project that ultimately led Meeks to move his entire career path in a different direction.
“I shifted my focus from working with medicine inside the U.S. to working in global medicine,” he said. As a result, he added the Global Health Studies minor, keeping his Zoology major and pre-medicine emphasis.
Meeks said one of the reasons he was driven to this particular field is because its problems will never be solved; major health crises are at the root of many other issues, including unemployment, low income and quality of life.
“Of all my career options and major choices, I chose this path because it is such a rewarding [one],” he said. “My passion for this field is sustained by the fact that I love to travel… I will get to travel to exotic places and it won’t just be for vacation. I will be helping people as well.”
However, not every student realizes his or her passions so definitively. Senior Associate Director of Career Development and Employer Relations Heather Christman said she could break it down to a couple different kinds of students, when it comes to their career choices.
The first is students who select a major based on what they have heard about it – the salaries, the job opportunities, the demand for jobs in that field. The students’ parents might be behind the scenes of this decision, Christman said, and passion is not the driving force.
Goldman also recognized the challenges of outside influences in making career decisions.
“We know [students] are influenced by parents, friends, relatives, mentors – all which is normal and can be positive – but at this liberal arts college, with this liberal arts education, we want them to find their own voice,” he said. “Our goal is to help students make self-directed decisions about their eventual career goals.”
This idea ultimately defines the second kind of students Christman identified.
“[These] are students who are driven by passion,” she said. “There’s a tremendous pressure in that way too because if they don’t find that one right thing, they feel like they have failed.”
Christman also emphasized the importance of students accepting there is not one right or wrong way to reach your goal.
“We want students to understand you don’t have to be a marketing major to have a career in marketing,” she said. “There are many pathways [that lead] to the same place.”
Some students do not find where they fit until later on in their college careers, which can result in feeling trapped by a certain major or program, Christman said.
There are certain ways of avoiding this, though, and it starts by engaging in your classes, study abroad and other significant college experiences.
“If students aren’t thinking critically about the experiences they are having – why they liked or didn’t like a class, what they learned about the subject or about themselves – then they are less likely to connect those experiences to a passion,” Christman said. “If you are just going through the motions, you are less likely to find things that [give you insight] about yourself and allow you to pursue something you love.”
According to Goldman, this is seldom an area in which Miami students come up short.
“Miami students tend to be extremely engaged … and engaged human beings create opportunities,” Goldman said. “Because of how Miami is organized as an institution, there are [endless] opportunities – in our laboratories, our studios, our classrooms. The Miami experience, by design, leads students to explore their passions and gain real world experiences that are an outlet for those passions.”
Miami’s education program, for example, allows students to gain such real world experiences through student teaching during their final year in the program. Dewire is doing her student teaching this semester and said it has been particularly validating.
“Of course I love kids, that’s innate,” she said, “but that’s not why I want to teach. [I want to teach because] I really believe in education, I always have. I believe in what an education can do for a person. I also believe that every person, no matter where you live or who you are, deserves an education, and that is the foundation for why I am here.”
Dewire said she was drawn to early childhood almost as soon as soon as she entered the education program at Miami. “[My students] aren’t only going to learn to be students but eventually citizens of the world,” she said. “They are going to learn to be team players, to be a friend. I am going to be able to help them develop as a person, which I think is very special and unique.”
Dewire said she would not be where she is today if it were not for her faculty and peers along the way.
“They’ve been really wonderful, they really have,” she said. “The professors push you and develop you at teaching this craft, and I [have also] found that what I believe about education now as opposed to four years ago has been so strongly influenced by those who have worked alongside me in my classes.”
Meeks said the resources at Miami provide him endless support and guidance.
“I am happy to say that I have received nothing but support from faculty and friends [at Miami],” he said. “Professors like Dr. Hay-Rollins, Dr. Craig Williamson, Professor Rojas-Miesse and the entire staff of the Honors Program have pushed me to accept any challenges and opportunities that come my way.”
After years of notoriety, such close consideration and concern for undergraduates has become deeply ingrained in Miami’s core principles, permeating all angles of the faculty and staff. Career Services at Miami is no different.
“Our focus isn’t just getting students a job – but getting students a job they love,” Christman said. “Career services across the country is focused on ‘job placement,’ but we want don’t want students to just find a place. We want them to find the right place.”