Four Reminders from Dr. Strayhorn
Four Reminders from Dr. StrayhornCrystal Barrick, Assistant Director, Communications
When Dr. Terrell Strayhorn became a tenured professor, he thought it would be boring to have the same job for 30 years. He couldn’t imagine taking the same route to work each day, to the same office, and doing the same few things. Once he mastered the job, how would he stay interested?
But after twelve years at The Ohio State University, Dr. Strayhorn is asking a different question: “How will I get it all done in just 30 years?” As the world changes, he noticed, our students change, and the work we need to do to serve them changes. “After more than a decade in the classroom,” he said, “I’m not sure I know anything at all.”
During this year’s New England Regional Forum in Boston, Dr. Strayhorn proved he has plenty of wisdom to share with educators. Here are some highlights from his opening keynote.
1.Diversity matters in higher ed—and beyond.
Collaborating with peers with different perspectives, from different backgrounds, can help college students get a job, Dr. Strayhorn said. Research shows that employers are looking for people who are ready to work on teams with people different from themselves. “If you leave school without this skill, you’re less competitive,” he said. “If you make fun of or avoid people who are different than you, if you snicker or change seats, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to get the skills you need for your future.”
2.Students keep us grounded.
While Dr. Strayhorn has done extensive formal research, his day-to-day interactions with students bring his findings to life. During his keynote he mentioned how conversations with incoming students, current students, and graduates have sharpened his perspective, led to new research questions, or challenged his assumptions. He warned: “Our prejudices determine what we think the needs, supports, or kinds of majors might be appropriate for a student”—we need to get to know each of them well before we assume what they need. This may not be easy, he admitted, but “it’s our job to sit in uncomfortable seats so our students can be more comfortable.”
3.“Don’t ever get so smart you can’t talk to your mom.”
Education can change you—the way you look at the world, the way you talk. When Dr. Strayhorn was scolded by his grandmother for using obscure, technical vocabulary in conversation, he realized how important it was for students to not lose touch with their roots. We want our students to grow and reach their full potential, Dr. Strayhorn advised, but we need to “make sure their experience never rips them away from their communities of origin.”
4.Be the keynote.
While traveling across the country to give keynote speeches is rewarding, Dr. Strayhorn encouraged audience members to “be the keynote”—to inspire others through their everyday work. You don’t need a podium to change the world, he reminded us. “We impact society through the work we do with each and every day with students.”