Technical Education…From a Student’s Perspective

Over the past several months, technical education has become a hot-topic issue in the news. I’ve been following the conversation closely; I spent the last two years of high school at United Technologies Center in Bangor (the largest technical center in the state). I enjoyed those two years; I found out learning can be exciting. “Boring” classes suddenly started making sense…Eureka!

It’s been nearly three years since my last class at UTC, and I’m eight classes away from graduating at UMaine. My technical education experience is still fresh in my mind, so I’ll share my story.

From the Outside, Looking In

I was not the first person in my family to attend a technical center; my older brother started a year before I did. I remember he would come home from school, passionately explaining what he learned. This confused me. How could my brother enjoy going to school? Didn’t this violate the unspoken law of education? Aren’t students supposed to hate school?

Student hates school

I was curious, so I decided to tour UTC. I was a sophomore in high school, and I had no idea what program I should enroll in. I thought it would be cool to be an electrician, or maybe a videographer? I couldn’t decide after my first visit, so I toured a couple weeks later. I visited the IT program, and the rest is history.

At the time, my career goal was to work for a professional sports team, yet I thought it would be a good idea to have knowledge of a specific trade. College was expensive, and I knew the tuition bill was on my shoulders. I needed to have a specific talent to try to offset the cost.

The Difference

After a few weeks at UTC, I quickly learned a few important things:

  1. I could work at my own pace (I didn’t have to wait for other students to catch up).
  2. Teachers truly cared about their students.
  3. Hands-on learning made more sense (to me) than traditional “book-learning.”
  4. Motivation matters, learning will be a result of effort.

 

During my senior year, I decided to start a website focused around high school sports in Maine (GiveMEsports.org). I didn’t understand the nuances of the business world, yet my teacher encouraged me to pursue my passion. I made cold-calls, sent emails to every newspaper in the state, and tried selling advertising to every business in town. I quickly found out that I couldn’t sell advertising, so I started bartering, and somehow found a t-shirt sponsor. I worked on the website for six months before shutting it down, but I learned many valuable life-lessons in the process.

 

Looking back, I learned more working on that website than I have over the past few years of college. It’s not because UMaine is a bad school (it’s actually a great school), instead it’s because I don’t learn by reading books and taking a test at the end of the class. I learn by doing. Thankfully UTC accomodated my learning style, and I was able to work at my own pace.

 

What’s my Point?

Technical education is not the end-all solution for students, but neither is traditional schooling. At UTC I didn’t find the key to success, instead I learned the joy of learning new things, and how with motivation and hard work, anything is possible. I know it sounds cliché, but that’s the honest truth.