Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon Portland Community College

This content was published: June 20, 2014. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.

An Innovative Writing Assignment Motivates Students to Pursue their Dreams

Posted by

An Innovative Writing Assignment Motivates Students to Pursue their Dreams
Motivation to succeed is the single greatest asset to our students. It can help students find solutions to most any of the problems they come across: lack of training, lack of time, a variety of personal struggles, the lack of energy needed to muscle through the demands of college, even the lack of funds. In addition to students’ nagging self-doubt that they do not belong in higher education, one of the main obstacles to motivation in our students is not having a clear vision for their future and how college can help with them achieve this future.

Accordingly, I believe that my job as an instructor is to help students develop, nurture, and cultivate their motivation, while helping them utilize college skills to find and realize a vision of their future. To do this, I build my courses around the college outcomes as well as students’ personal learning, career, and professional outcomes. In other words, I have one simple question that I use to build each one of my courses: how can I help students find the vision they have for their life and how can I help them realize this vision? My CBL assignment sprang from this question, and so I created a course designed to be of what I consider maximum use for students in community college.

Ben Clemenzi-Allen is a Writing instructor at Portland Community College

Ben Clemenzi-Allen is a Writing instructor at Portland Community College

This term, I built my entire freshman writing curriculum around my student’s career interests and how to become successful in one’s dream job. The CBL assignment offered the springboard for this courses’ structure. More specifically, the CLB assignment asked students to identify various professionals working and established at various levels of success in the students’ dream jobs. Students then had to draft emails asking the identified community partners if they would be willing and/or able to have a quick email exchange that would act like an informational interview. Students then drafted and edited questions that roughly asked their community partners about the field and how one achieves success in this field.

Eventually, I want this course to help students find community partners and co-design opportunities to assist the community partner on the job. In essence, I want students to develop contacts willing to help them design short-term, collaboratively-designed internships. I want students to present themselves professionally to various community partners, learn about the field, and help fill a need in this field, even if they work alongside the community partner for just a short period of time.

Motivating students can propel them to success.

Motivating students can propel them into success.

I understand that this would be an enormous challenge to many students, especially over an 11 or 12 week course, so I am experimenting with this assignment. I devoted this term to finding out how difficult or easy it would be for students to make contact with community partners and conduct short informational interviews. This term, however, focused on the informational interviews.

Once these interviews were completed by email and the students’ questions were answered, my students developed a research paper that answered the following question: how do I become successful in my dream job and how do I stay successful? Students were expected to use the information provided by their community partners as well as the information they culled from professional publications and websites and academic journals.

My students’ experiences in contacting their community partners were extremely exciting. Out of 50 students, only three had trouble securing and completing at least two informational interviews in a five-week period. These three students were exploring creative fields that are highly competitive (two feature film animators and one free-lance photographer). These students were still able to be in touch with professors and employees in programs that teach animation at the college-level, and the photographer told me on the last day of class that one of her contacts had finally gotten back to her. To solve this problem, I might have students find 15 or 20 potential contacts and write them sooner. I will also make sure some of these contacts live in other states so the fear of competition will be less likely to arise.

A motivated student has the inner drive to succeed.

A motivated student has the inner drive to succeed.

Most every other student had extremely exciting results. Several were offered jobs and most all received more than enough information from established community partners. When a community partner did not have the time or ability to answer a student’s question, they would pass the information along to another. Moreover, many students were very excited to be using freshman writing skills and assignments to help discover, deepen, and refine their career paths. The motivation and excitement were palpable in the classroom, especially when we discussed the various limiting beliefs we have that hold us back from living our dreams.

I am very eager to teach this course again and push the assignment farther!

by Ben Clemenzi-Allen, 2013-2014 CBL Cohort Member