Q&A on GoodWork and Freshmen Reflection Sessions

To learn more about Howard Gardner’s involvement with GoodWork and the Freshmen Reflection Sessions at Harvard College, check out this Q&A with Ilse van Heusden from the Dutch daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad:


Q. Do you still teach seminars to students at Harvard to motivate them to think about a career in public service?

A. I teach a course on Good Work to graduate students and lead reflection sessions for first year students. These are not designed to pull students toward public service, though I am pleased if the sessions have that effect. Rather, the sessions are designed to stimulate students to think about their values, those of their family, those of people whom they admire—and then to consider whether their current curricular and free time choices are in accord with those values. Only about 10-15% of incoming students elect to take these non-credit sessions. But a careful evaluation confirmed that the sessions are worthwhile and that in some cases they have been transformative.


Q. Are these reflection sessions only offered for first year students at Harvard?

A. This year, for the first time, colleagues have begun reflection sessions with second year students and the initial evaluations are quite positive. Also a number of other campuses in the United States, including Stanford University, have modeled sessions after the ones that we began 5-6 years ago.


Q. What career path would your ideal Harvard student choose?

A. Personally I would prefer if more students went into public service careers. Or, if they went into professions like law or medicine or journalism, it was not primarily to make as much money as possible, but in order to provide services for those who are less fortunate (e.g. public interest law, medicine in less affluent communities, etc.) Until 2008, about half of the graduating students at elite colleges and universities like Harvard went either into investment banking or into management consulting. I understand that many of the students attracted to these fields did not even know what the jobs involved—just that you worked long hours and got paid well. At the time I joked that if Goldman Sachs and McKinsey wanted to recruit talented students, they should just run their own universities. It should not be the job of Yale or Williams or Duke just to serve as ‘preparation’ for these lucrative jobs, which give the employee a very fancy life style but do little if anything to help the less fortunate members of our society.


Q. What if any changes did you notice in student careers and attitude after the economic downturn?

A. For a short period after 2008, fewer students went to Wall Street, presumably because there were fewer jobs available. I think that the numbers are now about where they were before the financial collapse. Indeed the only group of recruiters that can compete with Wall Street is Teach for America, a cohort of young graduates of elite colleges who devote at least two years to working in the inner city. Teach for America is spreading around the world, and if graduates of our reflection seminars were more likely to end up at Teach for America, I would feel very good about it.


Original article (in Dutch) PDF


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