Thinking beyond the possible? Part two

Current adventure: Case

Think beyond the possible.” It’s the catchphrase emblazoned on every student’s first Case Western Reserve University shirt. It’s the Kool-Aid we all drink.

In terms of research, CWRU is pushing the envelope. We all know a professor, friend or even yourself who is working on groundbreaking research or seeking creative breakthroughs to seemingly immovable problems. The Daily showcases some of the most interesting, valuable advances within the educational realms of CWRU.

We live up to our research institution categorization. As a tour guide, I have witnessed on several occasions a beaming Officer Mark welcome prospective students to our campus. While standing on the corner of Euclid Avenue and Adelbert Road, Officer Mark highlights three strong points of CWRU: research, community and family.

Our university certainly thinks beyond the possible within the confines of research. But what about community and family? Where is the commitment to creative problem solving and pushing the boundaries in all aspects of education?

Unless “think beyond the possible” truly considers holistic education and growth of the student, university, staff and faculty, the phrase should come with an asterisk. Thinking beyond the possible should apply to every aspect of my education not just the labs I can join (even as a freshman!).

I have never been interested in doing research. Lab coats, Petri dishes and recording data have never caught my attention. But spending a year abroad was up my alley. I’m studying engineering but never considered doing a co-op. Instead I pursued an internship with ESPN. I appreciate critical thinking and the ability for an engineer to articulate and solve a problem. But I chose to think beyond a degree and considered how four years of studying engineering can help launch a career in whatever I chose to do.

Seeking guidance or support in my slightly unusual path at CWRU has proven to be challenging. Too often I received a blatant “no,” a word that draws a line in the sand. “No” makes the seemingly possible transform to impossible. It is a limiting word. If we are committed to thinking outside the box and encouraging deviations from the norm, then let’s replace “no” with “Hmm, I don’t know the answer to your question but I am committed to your holistic growth, so together let’s see what the next step might be.”

Sometimes, even after finding a supportive, two-thumbs-up faculty member, bureaucracy crashed the party. The upper echelons of the hierarchy or an obscure rule wrapped in red tape limited the capacity of the faculty member to aid my quest.

So the burden came back around to me. I frantically sent more emails and lay in bed wracking my brain for solutions, determined to take the risk I deemed essential to my education. But feeling I had to go it alone.

In the end I went abroad and landed the ESPN internship; in the process I learned that if I put in the work and find the chink in the armor of bureaucratic normalcy, I can achieve what once seemed impossible.

I grew through adversity, which I am grateful for, but I can’t help but believe that if CWRU was truly committed to “thinking beyond the possible” then most of the obstacles I faced would not exist.

I urge CWRU to change approaches towards challenging problems or out of the ordinary student requests from “no” to “let me help you” and reexamine the bureaucracy that prevents students from capturing the greatest scope possible of their education.

Going beyond the possible is achievable and certainly possible via creative, innovative thinking. However, I’ve crossed the boundaries of possible through sheer will and hard work. Unless CWRU widens the scope of its dogma, let’s get rid of the false advertising.

“Work beyond the possible” seems a little bit more appropriate.

Heather O’Keeffe is a senior studying biomedical engineering and minoring in sports medicine. She would like to thank Dean Hurley from WSOM for truly thinking beyond the possible and sponsoring her independent study internship with ESPN.