Beyond the Tangible is Where Learning Begins

left-right.jpgby Erin Jacobs
Beyond the tangible work we construct as individuals and in groups, is an emotional being connected to learning experiences in very unique and personal ways. Though most of us grow up thinking it’s the logical and concrete things that validate us as successful human beings, it’s actually the emotional being that makes anything and everything we know come to life. The DMBA graduate program embodies this perspective, but for me, the experience only actualized itself once I learned to embrace it.
Working in teams is no easy task, especially when members have just met. Deciphering personalities is challenging enough without the added pressure of trying to excel in a graduate program. In school, the pressure is on. Our work must be perfect if the professor is to assign the respectable grades high-performing students desire. Having recently graduated from undergraduate studies at UCLA, it is logical to think that professors only know us for what we turn in, for the tangible things we produce. We think it’s up to us to make sure that everyone in the group is meeting expectations and working with high standards in order to receive desirable grades. After all, the work of the group directly reflects each individual and how the professor will perceive us.

As a new graduate student, and a recent undergrad, I have found it is a mistake to think this way in graduate school. After an incredibly passionate and intense first semester in the DMBA program, I have discovered it is a precarious fallacy to believe that the work done in groups in any way defines us as individual students in the eyes of our professors and peers. It became clear that too often we get caught up in the team’s tangible work and begin to lose sight of ourselves as individuals. At times, I became overly concerned with grades. Luckily for me, I came to learn that beyond the work we construct together, is an emotional being. I am having my own very unique and personal learning experience.
In a professional and educational world in which we are taught that our work defines us, it is easy to underestimate the professors that review our progress and to lose confidence in the work we produce. As students, it is dangerous to forget the dynamic nature in which we operate as emotional learners. When knee deep in work, it is crucial that we take a step back and realize that this is graduate school, it’s not and never will be, black and white.
As high-level learners, it is up to us to get to know our professors and to trust them and their knowledge. They posses the experience and expertise needed to look past concrete assignments and to understand their students on multiple levels. Professors don’t just grade students; they get to know us through our drive, our passion and our enthusiasm. Their assessment is not based solely on the work that is turned in, the words that are typed, and the answers that are given. Yes that is a part of it, but only one piece.
There were times when I found myself overwhelmed with different assignments and personalities, going in circles about what the professor would think about the work I was turning in. I lost sight of what it means to be a graduate student. Through intermittent reflection, I was able to take a step back and question my purpose for being here. Through this process, over the course of the semester, I reminded myself of the colorful and dynamic nature required to learn. I am in graduate school to become the most successful version of myself, which includes both the knowledge I gain and the person I become.
There is a symbiotic relationship between the physical work and the emotional work that goes into being a successful student. Understanding that relationship is where true learning begins. We are all dynamic beings operating in a dynamic world. Professors and other students alike, pay attention to personality, work ethic, and purpose. They monitor learning, experience, participation, thought process, teamwork and creative development among many parts, too many to list. As we gain knowledge about the subject at hand, professors and students begin to learn about each other as well.
By realizing we are much more then the material commissions we create, in a group or individually, and by developing an insightful understanding of why we chose to become students in this program, we are able to connect the pieces that make us an individual learner. Graduate school is kinetic; there is more to take in then is manageable without concerted reflection. Acute students, through dedicated meditation, eventually develop an awareness of themselves and others in a learning environment. Throughout this process it is pertinent that we ground assessments of others and ourselves as we form relationships.
The meaning we assign to our experiences reveals our individual wisdom. Realizing that not all my work met my personal standards forced me to seek meaning in what I was doing. Speaking with my professors about my concerns yielded insights I never thought possible. I learned from them that what we learn and what we do with our knowledge is what matters, far beyond the assignments we turn in and the grades we collect. I also came to know that how we present ourselves as participants is a significant piece of how professors receive us as individuals.
Ultimately, it is our responsibility to apply what we learn and what we experience in ways that allow us to excel. Emerging as a sophisticated student is not about being wrapped up in grades and proper type size. Though these things are extremely important to a fastidious student, and rightfully so, they do not reveal the entire picture. Learning is dynamic; we must pay attention to both our logical and emotional selves and the logical and emotional selves of others to consider our experience whole. We must acknowledge that there is more than meets the eye, literally and figuratively.
Erin Jacobs is a Design Researcher currently working towards a DMBA graduate degree and a recent UCLA graduate in Design/Media Arts and Anthropology.
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These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.

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