Review By: Denise Rinn
The College of Arts & Sciences
Kent State University
Advisors must address both practical and philosophical issues in support of first-year students’ transition to the academy. Authors in Foundations: A Reader for New College Students acknowledge this reality in essays that reveal the complexities of the college experience. The editors have compiled a resource that invites dialogue among advisors and students by introducing controversial issues, without providing easy answers. The text is useful not only as a teaching tool but also as a general advising resource because its anecdotal materials provide critical insight into the student mindset.
An obvious value is the text’s identification of academic success strategies. But authors go beyond the expected to confront such abstract topics as ethics, diversity, and the very purpose of a college education. The text’s value as a discussion source is evident in its treatment of the last topic. Distinct sides of the careerism-versus-intellectualism debate are embraced by James Tunstead Burtchaell and Mark R. Ballard. Burtchaell, an emeritus professor at the University of Notre Dame, highlights the risk in a premature occupation choice as he states that “fixing on a lifetime career when you are a sophomore in college is like getting engaged at 14” (p. 60). However, Ballard, a former career services director in the liberal arts, stresses that students who postpone the job-search process might invite a desultory approach, resulting in underemployment (p. 245). Although these contradictory opinions have the potential to confuse students hoping for a prescriptive advising model, they invite discourse. Certainly, advisors at career-oriented schools would do well to encourage students to begin the planning process early. But to ignore the liberal arts is perilous. As Burtchaell emphasizes, “education is the opportunity, through studying a variety of subjects, to gain the information and the dexterity to use your wits and your expression” (p. 58). Surely, these are attributes critical to the effective performance of any job. While students at liberal arts schools are often appropriately encouraged to delay choosing a career, they would do well to heed Ballard’s advice. Internships and leadership experiences serve well the student pursuing even the broadest course of study.
The first-person accounts included, principally in the sections on diversity and careers, impart insight into our students’ changing realities. Edward A. Delgado-Romero’s description of his father’s “covert racism” is stunning in its authenticity. A sting is palpable in the essayist’s description of his father’s rejection of his own culture in his quest to become a “real” American. Similarly, as Mary Sherry describes her flawed perceptions about her daughter’s job-search process, the reader appreciates the efforts involved in this family’s arrival at a place of understanding.
Foundations: A Reader for New College Students is an excellent resource for advisors and students alike as it imparts sound, practical, nuts-and-bolts advice. Moreover, it addresses complex philosophical issues that students must confront if they are to demonstrate the maturity expected in college. Ideal for freshmen seminar classes, the book is also appropriate as a guide for advisors engaged with the first-year students.
Foundations: A Reader for New College Students (with InfoTrac). (2005). Book by Gordon, Virginia N and Minnick, Thomas L. Review by Denise Rinn. Belmont, CA, Wadsworth/Thomson Learning. 320 pp. Price $33.95. ISBN# 0-534-62167-8.