Over the years, I have written occasionally about the role of being a mentor for my students versus being a pure teacher.   Personally, I prefer to be open to mentoring for those students who might want it.   I think many of them like knowing that there is some rather disinterested person available that they can go to and simply say “I need some advice.”  For example, a former student wandered into my office a few days ago who was interested in talking about Teach for America.   This was a decision that had stressed her out and she began to cry.   We chatted for 10-15 minutes.   She didn’t leave dancing or singing but at least she wasn’t crying.  I did not mind listening and giving my opinion.

But, at other times, I want to be a mentor to my students without even being asked.   I want to butt into their lives just a little bit—especially as it deals with college and their education.   Without any request, I sent out the following email yesterday.   Will any of my 61 students follow my advice?   My guess would be that 10-15 percent will actually reconsider their course schedules.   If that is true, I will have had an impact on their lives over and beyond teaching them accounting.   I love teaching accounting (it is truly a great way to teach critical thinking) but I would like to be more of an influence, more of a mentor—at least to some.  That is how I want my career to be.

I do this occasionally.  Do you?  Are your courses all about subject matter or do you try to have more influence than that?  I prefer more influence.  But, that is a personal decision.  It is your career.   What do you want it to be?  That’s a personal decision but one you should consider.

To my students:  (slightly edited)
I realize registration is over for the fall semester but, of course, there is always drop-add.  

Students occasionally come by my office and chat with me about what courses (other than accounting) they should take.   I have mixed emotions about my own college experience – it was a lot of ups and downs (but part of that was because I expected to wind up going to Vietnam to try to kill people – that puts an odd spin on reading books, writing papers, and taking tests).   However, if I have one special regret, it is the courses I chose to take outside of my major.   I don’t think I quite realized how much those courses would influence the person I became.   I am sure that if I had better judged the impact on me I would have chosen those courses more carefully.

So, what courses should you take if you have an open slot?  Here’s some advice you didn’t ask for.

--I don’t think you can ever take enough math and computer science.  Think how the world is going to change over the next 30 years.   The people who are positioned to do well are those who are ready for all those changes.  I suspect that math and computer science will be the two areas that make you most ready for the world to come in 30 years.  But, for goodness' sake, don’t take just any course – ask around and find out who is the best, most inspiring teacher.  

--For a fulfilled life, you need to be able to find beauty in life.   Take an art appreciation course or a course in great literature.   Your adult life will be so much more wonderful if you appreciate beauty and there is nothing that teaches us more about beauty than art and literature.   And, if you now tell me, “Oh, I find that kind of stuff boring,” I’m going to give you my worst possible insult:   You are reacting like a teenager and not like an adult.  I’m convinced that art and literature become more beautiful as you study them more deeply.   But, for goodness' sake, don’t take just any course – ask around and find out who is the best, most inspiring teacher.
--We live in wonderfully interesting times.   Take a political science course.  How does Congress work?   Why do we only have two political parties?   How have politics evolved over the last few decades?   Heck, it is hard to read the newspapers without some basic understanding of politics.  How could any class be more relevant to your life than political science?   But, for goodness' sake, don’t take just any course – ask around and find out who is the best, most inspiring teacher.

--When I talk with former students who have graduated in the last 2-5 years, it is absolutely amazing how many of them tell me “I’m shocked by how much I have to write and how important it is to write clearly.   I never realized that grammar was so essential to a career.  Writing has turned out to be more important to my success than anything else.”   How can a person learn to write clearly?   I have had several students over the years take Copy Editing from the Richmond Journalism Department and they have always raved that they have finally learned how to write.   Here at Richmond, the copy editing professor is fabulous.   He will teach you something you probably do not know—how to write a clear sentence.  

--Find something you have a passion for learning.   Surely, there is something at this university (other than accounting) that you have a passion to learn.  Oh, I hope so.  It would be incredibly sad if you said that you have no passion for any learning.  If that is the case, you might as well spend your life planting potatoes.  Pick something that you really have an interest in and then go for it.  But, for goodness' sake, don’t take just any course – ask around and find out who is the best, most inspiring teacher.

If I had my college career to live over again, I would have chosen a course or two differently each year.   And, if I had done that, I would be a different person now.   More importantly, I suspect I would have been a better person.   Pick wisely.

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