Andrea Savage: Self-Designing an Accredited Degree

27 May

I have updates! First of all, I returned from New York a month ago and have been busy with a few other projects, but am now beginning to tackle the hours of video footage I took from the interviews I conducted on the East Coast. Stay tuned for that! 

One of my other new projects is contributing content (i.e. resources for DIY learners) and cross-posting profiles to DIY U author Anya Kamenetz’s Edupunks Guide site! This post includes the first profilee I posted to the Edupunks Guide site. I met Andrea Savage after a friend of hers told me she was attending Goddard College, a school I am considering eventually attending which allows for self-designed distance learning, and has fully-accredited Undergraduate and Masters programs.

Andrea grew up being told and knowing that going to college was “what you were supposed to do.” Sitting down at Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley, California where she currently lives, she told me, “I was on the private school liberal arts-college path my entire life. When I was in second grade I asked my dad ‘When can I start my application to Stanford?’” She ended up deciding to attend a prestigious small private liberal arts school in California once she graduated high school, and for the first two years she enjoyed the experience, for the most part, although she would joke that it was “like an expensive summer camp.” At that point, “I started opening up spiritually and consciously” she says. She started to realize that this particular educational experience was no longer for her when she was sitting in an environmental policy class. “I really found it interesting, but we never learned any problem-solving tips, just about all the problems. I was sitting in that class and I was on Facebook, and I thought to myself, ‘What am I doing? This class probably costs $300 per class and I’m on Facebook, that’s absurd! I wasn’t doing the reading but I was getting straight A’s and I knew the information, but it really wasn’t what I wanted.” She ended up stumbling upon a talk given by progressive education advocate Alfie Kohn, and as she puts it, “it blew my mind.” Andrea had been trying to self-design her major at Occidental, and she eventually realized that she was spending so much time jumping through hoops and trying to educate herself, and she “didn’t need to be spending $30,000 a year to do that.” At this point, Andrea had heard of Goddard College, located in Vermont, from a friend of hers who attended the school. Goddard College allowed for self-designed distance learning, with week-long residencies each semester that allowed for time to meet with professors to design the upcoming semester of work. It was also a lot cheaper than the college Andrea was attending- about $12,000 per year. Andrea’s friend had recently received her “packet” back from professors at Goddard, which included five pages of a professor’s comments on a thiry page essay she had written. “I’d never gotten that much feedback on an essay,” Andrea reflected.

Andrea presenting her research in Nepal

Andrea decided to transfer to Goddard for her junior year while still living near the campus of her previous school. She also was able to study abroad for a semester in Nepal and Bhutan, and became involved in projects involving the education systems and Bhutan’s famous Gross National Happiness method of measuring it’s country well-being. Eventually, Andrea moved to Northern California as she continued to to learn through doing. This included working at local schools, taking a permaculture course in San Francisco, working in community gardens, and learning to build a website that showcased interviews with people about their connection to growing and eating food. She completed a Bachelor’s degree in Education Studies through Goddard this past year, and is now starting her own edible landscaping business in the San Francisco Bay Area. “It’s hard to leave [traditional] school, you know, it’s such a cultural thing,” she says, “People think something’s wrong, like you have emotional issues. But no, I just didn’t need that.” Although it was a difficult choice and transition to change from one school to another, Andrea is very happy with the decision she made and experience she ended up having.

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