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Several years ago, my wife, Nushi, and I were asked to evaluate several educational programs at Bethlehem University, directed by the same Christian Brothers who built the imposing Greystone that is now home to the Culinary Institute. The Christian Brothers also operate schools around the world, including Napa’s Justin-Siena.

Bethlehem University overlooks the biblical town, with Jerusalem in the distance. For several days we found ourselves holed up on campus with the Brothers on the university faculty and staff, as the West Bank was under what is charmingly referred to as a “curfew,” which had been imposed by the Israeli government.

After several days under lockdown, I felt the urge to work out; however, venturing off campus was not in the cards. There was no gym, so one of the Brothers suggested that I exercise by walking back and forth in a large parking lot on the campus’s lower level.

I responded that, having visited the parking lot earlier, I had noticed what appeared to be bullet holes in the fence. Trying to reassure me, he smiled and said, “Don’t worry. They don’t shoot up here in the day time”

Not convinced, I replied, “Do you think that, or do you know that?”

This story illustrates one of the primary functions of educators early in the undergraduate’s academic journey: facilitating the process of supporting students to move from “thinking” to “knowing.” Nowhere is this more the case than when it comes to helping students decide on a field of study, a major or pathways to careers.

Summer finds new students selecting their first-term courses, as they are repeatedly asked three questions during those first days of college: What’s your name? Where are you from? What’s your major?

I often find myself asking young people around St. Helena about their academic plans, especially in light of the high costs of a college education. As the value of college continues to be debated, with some students carrying loan burdens upward of $100,000, investing the time and energy required to ensure — to the degree possible — the likelihood of achieving goals is essential.

Former students recall three points I shared during the 25-plus years that I spoke at new-student orientations:

1. If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up somewhere else.

2. If you read the menu in a new restaurant to discover what’s offered, you should also read the catalog to understand the range of curricular and co-curricular choices available to you.

3. If you choose a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

This pursuit begins by examining academic, personal and career goals, understanding interests and values, and being clear about areas of strength as well as those needing further development.

Finding the answers to life planning questions — moving from thinking to knowing — takes time and genuine effort. New and continuing students must take advantage of opportunities to consult with academic advisers, career counselors, faculty members, upper division students and alums working in their fields of interest.

Academic advisers assist students to share responsibility for developing programs consistent with their goals, interests, values and aptitudes. Fewer than 15 percent of new students think they’ll change majors or careers; however, more than 60 percent do so. Advisers support students through this process, as they revise plans and pursue new interests and opportunities.

The time for students to use the services of the campus Career Center is not the senior year to prepare a resume or interview for a job. During the first term, the Career Center is a valuable resource that provides assessments to identify interests, clarify values and explore fields of study that provide foundations for rewarding careers.

Faculty members know their fields, often keep in touch with former students, and can provide invaluable insights into the kinds of careers their graduates are pursuing. Faculty, who are often practitioners in their fields, can also discuss additional areas of study needed beyond a certificate, or an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Faculty, the Career Center and Alumni Office can connect students with graduates to provide informational interviews, internships and job shadowing, which can allow students to better know and understand what nurses, teachers, medical technicians, attorneys, nutritionists or others actually do in their everyday work.

The philosopher Albert Camus observed, “Life is the sum of all your choices.” To live more fulfilling lives, students must move from thinking to knowing, which means choosing to act based on facts and a clarity of purpose.

(Tom Brown is a St. Helena resident who served as a dean at Saint Mary’s College of California for 27 years. He currently is a consultant and speaker at colleges and universities that are seeking to keep more of the students they enroll. Send comments, questions or suggestions for future columns to


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