As a working student myself (I am completing my Ph.D. in Educational Psychology while teaching full-time at Stevens-Henager College), I often ask my students what they expect in return for their investments in education. They usually say they hope to make more money or get a job they enjoy, although some say they just want to get a degree to achieve a lifelong goal.
While these answers make a good start, I try to get students to consider their commitment to education at a more detailed level. To do this, I help them understand two concepts: competent professional and level of mastery.
Most students enter career colleges to improve their professional standing. Whether they intend to start their own businesses or join established companies, what they really want to become is competent professionals. Even in tough economic times, employers are always looking for truly competent professionals to help them achieve business success.
When employers talk about what it means to be competent, they break the term down into three crucial components: knowledge, skills, and disposition. Let’s explore each of these terms using a phlebotomy technician as an example.
Knowledge is the store of facts and understanding a professional has to enable performance of tasks. For our phlebotomy technician, this might mean knowing how to read lab orders, which vial colors to use for which lab tests, and where to find the proper veins from which to draw blood.
Skills are the abilities needed to perform tasks. For our technician, this means the ability to insert the needle quickly and without undue pain to the patient, to hit the vein on the first try, and to extract the needed blood in the smallest possible time.
Dispositions are psychological tendencies to do things in particular ways. Our technician might, for example, feel it important to take great care to ensure that she fills lab requests correctly and that she records accurate information on all her paperwork. She may also be disposed to chat with her customers and, to the best of her ability, make them feel at ease while she performs her draws.
Employers need professionals who have the knowledge, skills, and disposition (KSDs) necessary to contribute to the success of their businesses, and they need professionals who possess high levels of mastery in those KSDs.
In a recent visit to the local hospital lab, I was served by a student just starting his externship as a phlebotomy technician. This young man struggled to find a vein in my arm from which to draw blood, pierced my skin but could not find the vein, and finally had to go find a more experienced technician to draw my blood. The student technician’s level of mastery in this crucial phlebotomy skill was low. When I see him next I hope his level of mastery will be higher and so, I am sure, does the hospital at which he works.
Our mission at Stevens-Henager College is to create a learning environment that enables students to gain the knowledge, skills, and disposition employers desire, at the highest levels of mastery to which those students are capable. I encourage my students to ask me, and to ask themselves, which knowledge, skills, and disposition they should obtain from each of my classes. I also encourage them to expend their best efforts to master these KSDs and to let me know how I can best help them do so. Only in this way can I help my students gain the most from their investment in education.
Eric Miner joined the Boise campus of Stevens-Henager College in 2006 after retiring from a 31-year career as an Information Technology engineer. He teaches Psychology, Computer Science, Math, and Statistics courses, and Eric is currently completing his Ph.D. studies in Educational Psychology.