• This essay originally appeared in the Southwestern Magazine.
    This essay originally appeared in the Southwestern Magazine.

Recently, I find myself thinking more and more about my time at Southwestern, reflecting on specific experiences and how they now relate to the challenges I face professionally. What I find most interesting about these reflections is the conclusion that what benefited me the most was not so much what I learned, but rather, how I learned.

I remember, as a student, my goal and objective was to maximize my GPA. The apparatus I used to get me where I needed to be, and I suspect most of my fellow students also utilized, was the course syllabus. The first day of class, highlighter and calendar in hand, I highlighted the key course dates and marked my calendar with ‘cram week’ for all of the important tests.

Imagine then, my frustration, anger and disbelief upon receiving the Paideia® “syllabus.” This wasn’t a one page road map to an ‘A’–it was a 100-page outline for a three-year program that I was expected to design for myself. Wait! You mean I have to take ownership of my own development and advancement? You mean I have to critically think about subjective program elements, reflect on them regularly with nine other students, and glean from all of that my level of growth and success?

I am sure to most of us this juxtaposition seems obvious and silly. However, I find myself increasingly alarmed at how many recent college graduates with whom I work who are still looking for a course syllabus rather than a Paideia syllabus. When I reflect on my Southwestern Experience, I think of my Paideia journey and what it taught me about being the entrepreneur of my own growth, development and success, rather than depending on someone else to define it for me. Paideia taught me more than just the importance of being a self-starter, it actually taught me how to take ownership, develop, manage and document a project without having to be given specific detailed instructions.

All of this is not to say that I didn’t find individual classroom assignments and projects meaningful to my professional development. Rather, I find the challenges, mystery, collaborative effort and work required to develop and complete my Paideia portfolio prepared me in a more robust and complete way for the challenges and experiences I deal with professionally and personally as a Southwestern alumnus. Paideia taught me to ask the question, “How am I going to do this?” instead of, “What am I going to do?”

The hope that my wife (Patricia Paxon Slezak ‘06) and I have for Southwestern, as it reflects on the results of the Strategic Plan for 2010 and implements Shaping Our Future, the Strategic Plan for Southwestern University 2010-2020, is that it continues to be a leading institution predicated on challenging young minds with more than just what to know. Our hope is that it continues to offer programs that introduce students to experiences and challenges outside of their comfort zones, so they learn that they are capable of the how, not just the what.

Finally, in reading Dan Hilliard’s Last Word in the spring 2010 issue of this magazine, I was struck by his observation that Southwestern readers–myself included–seek ways to stay connected to Southwestern. Perhaps the simplest way of doing this is to merely reflect on the way Southwestern benefited us in our current stations in life, and to simply share that reflection with a friend, colleague or loved one. If nothing else, I hope we never stop experiencing and reflecting on how we can succeed.


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