Reid Henkel and Kelly Anderson on Cecilia Payne and How College Will Change the Room You Stand In

Noodle Experts Reid Henkel and Kelly Anderson discuss feeling inspired by astrophysicist Cecilia Payne and how going to college changes a student's life by allowing her to pursue new opportunities and stand in different rooms.

Who would you pick, alive or dead, to be your teacher for a year? What would you want to learn?

We are both big proponents of the idea that learning can come in any shape or form. With that in mind, we're not sure that we would want a formal "teacher" per se. Rather, we would be looking for (and truthfully are always looking for) a person who could act as a mentor for us. What better hypothetical mentor than the astrophysicist Cecilia Payne. While we could definitely talk for hours with her about the wonders of the cosmos, that’s not what we would be looking to "learn" from her. Cecilia Payne was a pioneer in her field — one of the first astrophysicists to shed the notion that women were incapable of understanding scientific concepts. The idea of being mentored by someone who fought through so much intellectual adversity (not to mention someone who could help us understand our small place in the vast universe) is truly inspiring.

What is one small piece of advice that has had a big impact on your life?

We have both been equally struck by David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech to Kenyon College in 2005. In the twenty minute speech, Wallace urges the soon-to-be graduates to challenge their own certainties because "..there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day. That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing."

Where would you send a student who hasn't traveled before?

Both of us are lucky; lucky that we were born with one of the strongest passports in the world, and actually had the chance to use it. We both lived abroad, Kelly in Lesotho and Reid in Belgium. It is an incredible experience to be immersed in a culture different from your own. It is exciting, scary, wonderful, overwhelming, adventurous, and many more emotions all at once.

So, to the student who has never traveled before and finds themselves with the opportunity to do so, do it. Please. If you only speak English, go to London, England. It is the urban nexus of cultures, languages, customs, sport, food, music, and diversity. It is also strategically close to beautiful places in Europe like Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Spain, France, Scandinavia, Belgium, and Portugal, and to North Africa. You will not feel a total culture shock, and therefore would find confidence, ease, and curiosity to explore the surrounding countries -—whether by train or air. Once there, you will be presented with a proverbial mixing pot of the World's cultures.

When was a time that you failed academically, and what did you learn from the experience?

We have both been in situations where we felt overwhelmed academically when we pushed ourselves outside of our comfort zone. For Kelly, this happened her senior year at Syracuse University. After spending an exhausting five years in Industrial Design studios, Kelly took an elective in Greek and Roman literature, a topic she had never before studied. Similarly, when Reid started his graduate school program in design at Parsons, he was suddenly thrust into a situation in which he was essentially starting over; there was even a new language to be learned in the design world.

Kelly tried her best to keep up with the readings, but eventually decided instead to focus on a few pieces rather than waste the experience by topically skimming everything. The works she did get to read have directly affected her academic, professional, and personal growth. Reid took an entire semester (or a quarter of his entire graduate program) to shift his thinking from one of social scientist to a designer’s mindset. At times, he was frustrated with the uneasiness of confusion, but by listening to others, he slowly began to develop his own ideas of design and its relevance to our social landscape. Ultimately, we both learned that there is always something to be gained from any experience; you just have to find it.

Why did you go into your field, and how is it different from what you expected?

Many people in the field of education decide to dedicate themselves to it because of a more personal connection. We are no different. Reid has worked with youth since he was fifteen years old, helping children develop at many different stages in their lives, from preschool to high school. Though he has played many roles over the years, he can (and will) proudly say that his greatest accomplishment is seeing all the players on the inner city baseball team that he coached graduate high school and attend college. Like many of Reid’s players, Kelly is a first generation college student. She is the only member of her family to graduate from university, and is seeing the difference that a degree offers.

The true value of a college education does not just extend to higher incomes, better health, and more activity in voting and civic responsibilities, but many implicit outcomes as well. Simply put, higher education changes the room in which one finds him or herself. This affects people by altering the conversations had, social capital skills, networking opportunities, mindset changes, behavior changes, and so on. Ultimately, students go to college to change the room they stand in.

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