Reflections from Four Years Out

Reflections from Four Years Out

Apr 23
Manuel Colón, NRES Student Recruitment Coordinator

“Why am I learning this?”

“When will I ever use this in the real world?”

“How will this help me in my future career?”

These and many more are common questions heard throughout college classes across campus and other educational institutions. This May will mark four years since my graduation from the College of ACES. It’s an interesting threshold to arrive at, as it marks a transition to a time where I’ll have spent more time OUT of college then I have spent in college. But, what I find more meaningful in my reflection post-undergrad is thinking about all of the skills that I did develop in the course of my studies here at Illinois that are still applicable today. Here are a few:


As part of my Field Experience course requirements, I took a class on Survey Research Methods. I initially thought “We only have to write a survey? What a breeze!” and very early on in the class did I realize just how much thought and processing has to go into asking the “right” questions for research and general good practices. It pushed and challenged me to think critically of how I ask for information and also how I responded to questionnaires and surveys in the past. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, this was a critical skill to have when doing community assessments or even volunteer satisfaction surveys.  It’s very easy to write off surveys as just a series of random questions. However, understanding the nuances of in-person surveys versus anonymous surveys or the complexity and depth of how you frame certain questions are really critical in making sure the answers you get will actually be productive to your end goal. Even as I work with undergraduates or prospective students, I still think about what I learned in NRES 285 in the Fall of 2008 and it’s really helpful.


Integrative Ecosystem Management (NRES 456) is a senior capstone course where we analyze different management styles and work on case studies to develop our own management plans for randomly assigned areas. This class is clearly targeted towards the management of natural resources, but the skills are completely transferable. Every project that I work on, I challenge myself to identify the variety of stakeholders, develop clear goals, periodically measure progress, and reevaluate the project as a whole as necessary. When working in conservation education and sustainable development, this was an invaluable skill to have when I wanted to be to secure a certain project’s success even in my absence.

I can list many other examples of collegiate coursework that has continued to serve me well in the “real” world. However, what I want to convey is that when you are enrolled in such applied and practical programs that the College of ACES offers, there is never a doubt that if what we are learning is valuable and useful.