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The many lives of college students

Some of them I see in person. Others, the students enrolled in online courses, I haven't met. Our lives coincide because of their academic studies: they are college students at the University of Minnesota Duluth who are taking an American Indian ...

Linda LeGarde Grover
Linda LeGarde Grover

 

Some of them I see in person. Others, the students enrolled in online courses, I haven't met. Our lives coincide because of their academic studies: they are college students at the University of Minnesota Duluth who are taking an American Indian Studies class and I am their teacher.

When I arrive at class they are waiting, most of them. An occasional latecomer will slide sideway through the door to take the nearest seat, hoping the tardiness will go unnoticed. (It doesn't, actually, but as long as it continues to be only occasional, I won't mention it.)

They are, for young people going to school here in Onigamiising, in the north, surprisingly diverse. During this semester there are American Indian, White, African-American and Asian students looking back at me from their desks and tables. Several students were born in other countries and some will return there after they have completed their studies.

And their lives, outside of the commonality of my classroom or the formalized discussion groups assigned to the online students, are also diverse. Just last week I noticed, along the trek from my office at one end of campus to my morning class at the other end, students I have, or have had, in past semesters. They were taking orders and making drinks in the coffee shop; bent over their books or laptops; reading at the desks that line the corridor; chatting up other students from the information tables that clubs and organizations rent at the Kirby Student Center; and, of course, hurrying to class. They are busy.

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Many of the students work at jobs, on or off campus, to help with the costs of tuition, rent and food. They are everywhere, at bookstores, shops, fast food places, upscale restaurants, day cares, group homes.

Do you remember, as a child, seeing one of your teachers outside of school doing the kinds of things that ordinary people did? I do! "Mom," I whispered in the Kenwood Red Owl, "that's our student teacher!" Such a surprise it was to my 7-year-old self to see this young woman and her roommate buying a pack of hamburger at the meat counter.

On anothe­r occasion that same school year, my mother and I saw Miss Cowden, my classroom teacher, at Montgomery Ward, where she was looking over a rack of dresses. She said hello to us and then she and my mother talked for a minute or two. I wondered if she'd bought her pleated, red-plaid skirt, my favorite, at Ward's, where regular people went. Just think!

When I see students outside of the classroom at their jobs, I am impressed in a different way than I was seeing my celebrity teachers when I was 7. The young man who takes my order for a sandwich and the young woman who offers to check if another store has the shoes I like in my size ... they likely have no idea that I am observing their diverse skillsets and interactions with customers. I am struck by how their performance in the classroom, and their preparation for tests and papers, transfers to how they do their jobs. I am struck by how their job skills develop and build upon their work ethics.

As I handed back group projects recently, I commented to the young woman who came to the front of the classroom to pick up her group's, "Very nice work; thorough and complete, with an interesting and creative presentation." She smiled and the rest of the group applauded. After class she stopped to thank me for the "A" grade and said, "It wasn't easy. We had to use our best customer-service skills with a couple of the people."

I thought it was interesting that she used the term "customer-service skills." Research and writing skills, resourcefulness, thinking skills and creativity contributed the well-deserved grade. So did some of the tools that she and other students use every day in the jobs they work while on their educational journey.

Monthly columnist Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, an award-winning writer and a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. Email her at lgrover@d.umn.edu .

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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