Matt Waite is a professor of practice and a 1997 alum of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications (CoJMC). Along with teaching courses on reporting and digital product development, he leads the Drone Journalism Lab where he and his students explore the ethical issues around using drones as newsgathering tools. Before he returned to teach at NEBRASKA, he had an award-winning career as a journalist and started the Pulitzer Prize-winning website, PolitiFact.com.
As one of the most popular professors on campus, we figured we'd pick Prof. Waite's brain for the advice he'd give soon-to-be college students.
What is the most valuable thing the college experience gives students?
Honestly, it's a space and a time to figure out who you are, what you want to do, and what you want to be. And the great part, and a thing you don't realize until later on, is that will change. And that's fine, but this is your first opportunity to be out of the house, be away from your parents, and be your own person and just sort of grow into that. You get to see cool stuff, you get to learn new things, you get to make mistakes, and you get to stub your toe and screw up. Which is part of the deal. I mean, that's life.
College is a great place for that to happen because there are bumpers on the outside to keep it from going completely off the rails. You're in a sort of slightly constrained environment where there are people to help you, there's stuff to do, and there's a direction to go. And those are all great things to have.
For me, the great part about college was that I got to look around and realize I was the one charting my destiny here. I was the one who got to decide what I liked doing, what I wanted to do, and where I wanted to go. And sometimes that's really simple things like, "I feel like going to the grocery store." You can just do that.
So it's that space to grow into yourself, be who you are, and find out what gets your blood pumping. It's a magical, magical time, and the reason people remember college so fondly is everything to do with the moment you realize who you are, what you want to do, and how you're going to live the rest your life.
What would be the best way for students to figure that out?
I believe you've got to get out and do stuff. College and life is not sitting in your dorm room playing video games all day long. Go to class (I've got to say that as a professor). Go work out. Go join a club. Go join five clubs. Get jobs. Lots of jobs. Weird jobs. Jobs you can tell stories about later on. Meet people. Talk to people in line at the Dunkin Donuts.
Try to experience as much as you can every day, because you never know who you're going to come in contact with that will have an impact on your life. You never know who is going to be a mentor. You never know who is going to help you out when you need it.
You just don't get experiences and opportunities like this very often in life. Because most of us graduate from college, we get a job, and, good lord willing, we get to keep that job for a long time and we work with the same people every day for years and years and years. So it's a chance to explore and meet people and have a built in commonality that means you can start a conversation with just about anybody. It just does not happen again in your life. It's right here on campus. So get out and see and be a part of all of this stuff.
You're not going to be in an environment like this ever again. And to waste it doing nothing, to waste it not meeting people and doing things and experiencing everything that the campus has to offer is just a tragedy.