Thinking Ahead: Alum101

Learning outside of class

As an RPI graduate and a current member of the Rensselaer Alumni Association board, I was asked to write a column on how my education got me to where I am today. But, I am not going to do that. Instead I thought I would tell you a secret. I am going to tell you the things you are supposed to learn while you are at college.

The most important thing you should learn is problem solving. Yes, all those physics, mechanics, and thermodynamics problems were doing more than just teaching you the subject matter. They were teaching you a systematic way to go about setting up and solving whatever problems you might encounter in your life. The hardest part can often be just identifying that there is a problem. Just remember that as long as you approach each problem in the right way, no matter how intricate or complex, you are way ahead of the game.

The next thing you need to learn is how to work in groups—the more diverse the better. If you can learn to bring different viewpoints together to get a consensus while still in college, it will give you a huge advantage as a team leader or manager. So when you are forming teams or groups in your classes, make sure you include as many people as possible from different cultures, majors, genders, age groups, etc. The more exposure you get now, the easier time you will have working with people later on in life.

The last thing you need to learn is that your networking starts here. Once all your friends graduate they are going to spread out across the country, and maybe the world. The different companies and departments they will be working for will provide you with a rich resource to dip into when you have questions that are outside your area of expertise. They can also help later if you decide to change jobs, locations, or even careers. So make sure that you connect with as many people as you can while at college. Also, make sure to maintain those connections once you graduate. With all of the social media outlets available, there is no reason to let a connection fade.

So don’t worry if you are not one of the people graduating with a 4.0. (I sure wasn’t.) Don’t get me wrong; the subject matter is very important, but equally as important are the intangible people and social skills you are developing. Employers need people who can put their heads together and solve problems while being able to explain it in simple terms to the users and customers affected. You will be measured equally on what you do as how you do it.

Columnist’s Note: Terence Barton BS ’92, MBA ’01 currently serves as a member of the RAA Board of Trustees. He is the CEO of G-Force Suspension, a manufacturer and designer of suspension systems and related components for sports cars. You can contact him at