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Beyond Earnings: What You’ll Get From a College Degree

beyond earnings

Camille Foster, Austin Huber and Carina Brookover
March 26, 2020

College is about getting a degree, gaining skills, and becoming employable. Students grow up and grow outside their comfort zones. Here, three UNC students share some of their most valuable learnings from their college years.

What hard skills have you acquired at UNC?

Austin Huber, senior, English, Writing minor: To be honest, I didn’t know the difference between soft and hard skills for the longest time. Even so, I’ve learned way more hard skills than I bargained for. I know just about everything there is to know about Microsoft Office, I’ve learned how to bind books, how to do my taxes, how to solve a Rubik’s Cube, and I’ve definitely learned how to conduct my own research. That last bit has been the most important to me, and I know I wouldn’t have found my way there if it weren’t for university.

Camille Foster, junior, International Affairs: The two main classes that have taught me hard skills have been University 101 and Applied Anthropology. In UNIV101 we did a research project for our final, as well as a presentation night. For my Applied Anthropology course, I’m getting Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI)-certified to do human-focused research, and we’re conducting research with the immigrant community to gain a better understanding of how they interact with their cultural heritage. It’s been an amazing opportunity to gain research experience. Outside of my classes, I work as a Social Media Ambassador for the university, where I’ve completed my Google Analytics certification and learned how to manage various social media platforms. A lot of my job is marketing strategy, which is something that nearly all professions utilize.

Carina Brookover, junior, Sport and Exercise Science: As far as hard skills go, I’ll finish my time at UNC with a degree in Sport and Exercise Science with an emphasis in Human Performance. I’ve also acquired certificates in phlebotomy, first aid and CPR. In addition to those I’ve learned how to use an InBody body composition scanner, spirometer, Biodex Balance System, and flow cytometry machine — just to name a few. I’ve gained these skills while working in the Biology Lab as an undergraduate lab assistant as well as volunteering at the University of Northern Colorado Cancer Rehab Institute (UNCCRI). A skill of major importance in my field, and really any field that does research, is becoming familiar with how to use Microsoft Excel, and although it hasn’t been easy, I’m happy to say I can now use this program to manage data, in addition to understanding Word and Powerpoint.

What soft skills have you acquired at UNC?

Austin: I remember being in high school and feeling a constant lull in my brain: If I were asked a question by a teacher or even a friend, I’d seize up at the prospect of having to think about an answer. Thinking on your feet is scary, and I still get nervous when I know that I have to do that. Now, though, I welcome the challenge to prove what I know. I get those good nervous butterflies when I need to develop a new idea on the spot, or make a connection that’s not explicitly obvious. Being challenged like this has contributed to my reading, writing, communication, interpersonal and creative skillset.

Carina: It would be an understatement to say my time at UNC has been life giving and fruitful in the ways I’ve been able to grow in leadership, communication, teamwork, problem solving, work ethic and working under pressure. I’m so thankful for being able to participate in AFROTC, Navigators, YoungLife College, and the UNCCRI, just to name a few. When I look back on my time at UNC, I look at the AFROTC program and see how many skills I was able to sharpen—especially  in leadership, but even more than that in learning the importance of hard work and discipline.

There’s a saying about networking that “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I’ve found that the best way to create a network is knowing your stuff, showing that you know your stuff, and allowing for your peers, professors and bosses to critique and grow you into a better person. Life is not guaranteed to be easy, so putting tools in your toolbox like problem solving (especially under pressure), working as a team, leaning on your support system and knowing when to say “I don’t know,” or “I need help,” has gotten me through a lot the past three years.

Camille: My freshman year, I took Public Speaking. I used to be incredibly anxious when speaking in front of groups of more than like five people, and this class really helped me get over that and learn about what makes a good speech. With my job, I’ve learned how to communicate during meetings and via email (email is so important — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!). It’s also allowed me to have a more balanced perspective, because I can understand things from a student perspective as well as an administrative perspective. In my interactions with people, whether for a group project or just coordinating a time to meet up and study, I’ve been able to gain additional interpersonal and communication skills. I’m a natural leader, so I often find myself in leadership positions, which has also brought some very good opportunities for growth in that regard.

How will your skills help you achieve your career goals?

Carina: I want to be a pre/postnatal exercise specialist when I grow up. I want to work with mothers and empower each to be the best woman and mom she can be. Working with women is such an honor and a gift, especially when they are bringing new life into the world. This is a season of life that impacts the rest of their life.

I first have to give so much credit and gratitude to the SES department at UNC; if it weren’t for their outstanding faculty and staff, I wouldn’t be where I am today. From the time I stepped foot into Anatomical Kinesiology to apply my skills at the UNCCRI, to refining and beginning to master my skills in Exercise Prescription and Assessment, everything about my major has been so rewarding. Having such great hands-on experience for me (especially as a tactile learner) in the biology research lab, training cancer patients at the UNCCRI, and writing exercise prescriptions in many of my classes has built the skills, knowledge, and confidence I need to take into an internship and my career.

Camille: I want to go into the nonprofit sector after I graduate, and that will likely involve a combination of public speaking, marketing, interpersonal communication, management, and problem-solving skills. I feel so much more prepared to make a real difference because I’ve been able to fine-tune these soft skills and become a more effective team member, employee, and leader. If I go to grad school, it will be great to already have research experience and be certified to do so, as well as an understanding of what it means to be part of a team and communicate effectively. Once I’m in the workforce, I want to end up in a leadership position where I’ll be leading meetings, giving presentations, and helping to market the organization to get the word out to people. I wouldn’t be able to do those things in my future if I wasn’t gaining these skills now.

Austin: There are several career paths I have in mind, and all of them require top-notch communication skills, good personality traits, collaboration, analytical thinking, listening and learning ability… it’s pretty much all there, wherever I hope to end up. Essentially, I never want to stop using my newly developed communication, analysis and writing skills, so I’d better find a way to apply them in my career! The faculty I’ve had at UNC have been amazing at preparing me for what lies ahead.

How has UNC facilitated opportunities for you to grow?

Austin: I think UNC is amazing at supporting you in whatever goals you may have, while also being relatively hands-off in guiding you to them. Students make their own decisions about what they’d like to pursue, then UNC can get them there. The catch is, as a student, you have to be assertive in setting goals and finding resources; those things don’t always jump out. Still, that’s an excellent way to improve your networking and communication skills.

Camille: People at UNC really care about your success, and if you seek opportunities for growth, you’ll easily find them. College is really all about growing in a multitude of ways. Growing your potential, your resume, your friend circle, your networking circle, your soft skills, and your hard skills, and growing your expertise in a field that interests you. The UNC community is really here for you through this whole process, and so many people work tirelessly to create resources for pretty much any aspect of your life, current or future.

Looking back on nearly three years at UNC, I’ve leveled up every year in big ways. I’ve been able to watch myself become more “me” over the years. I’ve utilized my strengths and come face to face with my weaknesses, and then had opportunities to improve both in class and outside of class. I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that on my own. It’s been incredibly rewarding to be in an environment where I have the space to fine-tune all my skills alongside my peers, which is an experience I didn’t get in high school.

Carina: UNC has created not just a network, but a family. For me that means I have support at my home base (UNC), and I have people around the country to help me reach my dreams. I’ll never forget the day I was meeting with my Biomechanics lab TA and she told me, “Carina, no matter what you end up doing with your career, if I don’t find you traveling the world in a van in the next few years, then that means I didn’t do my job right.” As random as that sounds, what that means to me is that my teachers are not just interested in my career goals but also my life goals. They want to see me live out my wildest dreams and even come alongside me.

UNC has facilitated more than enough opportunities for me because they are there, but what’s important is that I reached out to grab them and take them for my own. There is so much to experience at UNC, and you simply must be willing to make the time for it, look for opportunities, and jump on them when you find them.

Do you have any advice for incoming students on how to grow personally and professionally during college?

Austin: Keep your eyes and ears open to things that will challenge you. Listen slightly more than you speak. Never discount an opportunity because it sounds “dumb” or “boring.” Staying positive, working well with others and taking school seriously (while still having fun) is a surefire way to find those extra little experiences and grow those nuanced skills. Don’t be afraid of having to think hard, as that’s the only way to get better at it. And go to class! One can’t stress that enough.

Camille: Take advantage of all of the opportunities UNC offers. Go to job fairs, find an alumni sponsor, develop your soft skills, learn the relevant hard skills, go to the counseling center, study abroad. Have fun. Ask for help when you need it. Get involved! I waited so long to get involved because I was afraid to put myself out there, and I was comfortable where I was. And one day I showed up to an Earth Guardians meeting because a friend invited me, and I was introduced to a whole group of amazing people who inspire me every day to be a better person and to dream bigger. Now, I don’t know what I would do without my Earth Guardians family. You can find home and growth here, but you have to seek it.

Carina: Personally, community. The most beneficial gift you can give yourself coming to college is community. We’re meant to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Community to me means meals shared together, walks around campus or local parks, long coffee dates, or a collaborative study session in the library. Surround yourself with people who make you a better person, not just any old Joes whom you aren’t your true self around. This is a big mistake too many college students make, so save yourself the headache and choose good friends.

See Carina’s post for more insight on how to thrive in college.