Participation matters in the Comm School. The common ability within the walls of Rouss & Robertson Halls to formulate a thought that expands readings and experiences and then to share it eloquently creates a system in which you learn from not only your professors, but also your peers. It incorporates the student perspective into an otherwise one-sided, three-hour monologue. The classrooms are set up to enable this. The desks wrap around to form concentric U’s, and office chairs on wheels allow for easy pivoting. Small slits in the desks also hold name tents, so you always know who’s speaking.
Discussions spark debate and critical thought and even inspire participation from students who wouldn’t usually speak up if simply asked a question. However, discussions don’t always go as planned.
About two months into ICE (Integrated Core Experience), students (myself somewhat included) perfected and personalized their approaches to participation. We could shoot our hands into the air with the hopes of getting called on to then voice an insightful comment within seconds. For the most part, my points pulled from psychology research I completed or the cultures of the places where I lived abroad. They were usually pretty good, but a comment I once made fell far, far below average.
As a Marketing concentrator, the Marketing section of ICE was usually where I excelled. I knew things from external readings or conferences I had attended that gave me extra information in terms of what I could add to the classroom.
During one particular session, rebates were the hot topic. Consumer unwillingness to claim rebates due to laziness is a way companies make a product appear discounted or cheaper without ever having to actually pay the expected return. I related to this personally. Although we were talking about washing machines, I was ready to broaden the topic to a commodity I used and disposed of daily—contact lenses.
In my mind, I lined up the perfect remark. I’d begin with the fact that my contacts come with a rebate I never file; I would then elaborate on the importance of convenience to customers and the psychological barriers to getting money back, concluding with a comparison between rebates and clearance aisles and the impact of price markdowns.
After loosely aligning a comment, I raised my hand and immediately heard my name called—a bit too soon. I expected two or three people to be chosen before me to give me time to tighten what I wanted to say, but that didn’t happen.
“I wear contacts,” I said.
My professor, and everyone else, watched me, waiting for me to continue, but I ended there.
That was my entire comment: “I wear contacts.” My tone was assertive, which made the statement that much more confusing because it was absolutely irrelevant in itself but sounded like it was going somewhere. We all laughed and eventually carried on, and I redeemed myself 15 minutes later with a comment about dog food and product diversification for packaged meats.
Although unfortunate, I think my contact comment highlighted an aspect of ICE that makes it so unique. The fact that we were unfazed by my anticlimactic contribution and were able to continue learning shows the level of intellectual maturity and even environmental comfort to speak up in class. The U-shaped desks and name plaques physically enable participation, but the unconditional support from the students and professors are the bulk of the source of ease.
Whether you’re me or someone who is less or more articulate, students have the autonomy to allow participation to be such an instrumental part of the overall experience. Participation matters in the Commerce School because we make it matter, not because we have to, but because we want to.