“We learned to talk with our teachers and to question why we were doing the work we were doing. We learned to start taking ownership of our education.”
My mother once told me I should be my own biggest advocate and when I went through the IB Diploma Programme (DP), I learned just how to do that. My teachers told us students we should own our education, that if we were being overwhelmed, we should speak up; and, perhaps more importantly, that if we weren’t being challenged we should say something.
So, I learned to monitor my education. Admittedly, as I’m sure will sound familiar to many IB students, there was more we said about having too much work than about not having hard enough work during the two years of the Diploma Programme. But we learned to talk with our teachers and to question why we were doing the work we were doing. We learned to start taking ownership of our education. And after I started my university schooling, I realized what a wonderful tool self-advocacy truly is.
When I started at Colorado State University as an engineering student, there were a few core course requirements for which my IB scores didn’t give me credit. One such course was introductory chemistry. I nearly walked out of the first class when the instructor said, “If you don’t know what an atom is yet, don’t worry, we’ll get there.” For an introductory course the statement made sense, but having taken three years of chemistry in high school, I wasn’t about to sit through that class.
“But I felt confident in my goal. I’d learned from my high school teachers to take my education seriously, to advocate for myself when I saw an issue.”
So, I spoke with my counselor and learned I could take a university-proctored exam to test out of the class. Two of my fellow IB graduates and I promptly took and aced that exam. However, the test did not give us credit for the lab portion of the course, which was just as introductory as the lectures and not appropriate for the level of chemistry I’d reached in high school. My counselor said I would have to speak with the dean of my engineering college if I wanted to get out of the lab portion of the class. I made the appointment.
I was admittedly nervous about speaking with the dean of my college; he was the highest ranking official I’d have spoken with during my short time as a university student so far. But I felt confident in my goal. I’d learned from my high school teachers to take my education seriously, to advocate for myself when I saw an issue with coursework that wasn’t properly pushing me.
We met, and in about twenty minutes, I had made my case, negotiated a bit and ultimately gotten out of the lab. My deal with the dean was this: I would get credit for the introductory chemistry lab provided I took a more advanced, related course with a lab component (like modern physics, etc.) sometime later during my time at the university.
Needless to say, I was elated.
With that experience, I fully understood the power of self-advocacy. Perhaps, with more experience, I would have negotiated my way out of the lab without having had to take the extra course later. But at least the course should be adequately challenging (it was). Without the self-advocacy skills I had cultivated in the IB programme, I never would have known I could take charge of my education like I did with that introductory university chemistry course.
To those of you just finishing your IB experience, I urge you to hold tightly to the self-advocacy skills you’ve developed in the programme. Especially as you move into a world that might not be familiar with your background and work ethic, it will be important to speak up for yourself. Remember, you should be your own biggest advocate!
Sally Runions earned her IB diploma at Loveland High School in Loveland, Colorado, USA. She completed a B.S. in mechanical engineering and a M.S. in technical writing at Colorado State University. She now works as a technical writer for an industrial power supply company and moonlights as a poet; she published her first collection of poetry in January 2019. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.
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