The threads of your diploma

Pup peeves

Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), according to Case Western Reserve University and almost everyone, is the be-all end-all of degrees. After many tears, late nights and much blood, I received a STEM degree. The experience was less than fulfilling. Somehow, it was not the magical ticket to happiness it was billed as in high school.

No, my STEM degree came with lots of pain and not in the fun, consensual kind of way. It did, however, come with a lesson that I did need. That was, how to make the best of something after years of hard work.

Truthfully, I never wanted a STEM degree. It was just something I did because that’s what “you’re supposed to do” in the American capitalist scheme. I figured if I struggled through and got the degree, on the other side would lie a job, and with that would come happiness and fulfillment.

Instead I poured more than $200,000 into this institution, and while Babs does look fabulous in that leather dress, (like hook a girl up, where’d she get that) I learned that in order to use my STEM degree to the fullest, I’d have to expand my horizons. I added a minor in English, to soothe my passion for writing. And thus I ended up with the odd combination of STEM and English. Now, how does one bill such a combination?

As it turned out, I could find something that shoved together my passion for writing and a STEM degree. I applied for, and got, an internship with a local magazine that writes articles devoted to STEM topics. I never even considered the fact that, one day, my odd combination of skills would not be a hindrance, but an asset.

An engineer that not only could write, but eagerly wanted to write? That was something rather rare. And rather valuable. Sure, plenty of engineering students, including CWRU students, get rudimentary courses in “communication.” But they often leave a foul taste in the mouth and send students running the opposite way. I learned that, perhaps, having a set of skills normally considered a quirky footnote on résumés could be turned around and sold as something far more.

And as such, I’m writing this column. Because we are not limited by our degrees. It’s a cliché, but it’s very much true. Though my time at CWRU was quite grating, and left me with a bitterness comparable to hoppy beer, it also somehow helped me realize that I could still do all I wanted to do. On most of my own terms.

I’m often accused of slighting CWRU unfairly and leaving its dirty laundry out in the sun. So here’s me singing some praise. You can use your education here for possibilities unimagined when you entered. STEM or not, love or loathe your degree, it is possible to make something out of the millions of stray threads that college can tend to feel like. We have the lofty privilege of college education, and recognizing that privilege is vital. It is also vital to recognize that even when it feels like we must, we don’t have to set ourselves aside in pursuit of something whole.

Zak Khan doesn’t even go here anymore, but they have a lot of feelings and angry barking.