Develop your own curriculum

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Develop your own curriculum

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By Matt Moret | Contributing Editor

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I once read this article about unpasteurized milk. This is going somewhere, I promise.

The article was diagramming the link between illness outbreaks and raw, unpasteurized dairy. Lawmakers had begun to call for greater regulation of raw milk and insist that the health risks associated with the product outweighed a revenue blow to independent dairy farmers.

Shortly after, during my first year here, I took an American history course, and my teacher’s assistant was a woman who happened to own a dairy farm with her husband. After class ended, I saw an opportunity to ask her what she thought of the situation I read about — which led to an hour-long discussion about the intricacies of food distribution and oversight.

That probably seems unbearable, but I assure you, it was one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had and it would have never happened if I hadn’t taken advantage of Pitt’s media resources.

The milk article came from a copy of USA Today, which I picked up in the William Pitt Union lobby, along with a copy of the New York Times. This was an almost daily ritual for me during my first year at Pitt and I suggest you find a similar one. I know you’re paying an unspeakable amount of money to sit in Pitt’s lecture halls, but an education outside of the classroom is just as valuable.

Luckily, media organizations hungry to earn the trust and loyalty of wide-eyed young adults mean that task has never been easier. From traditional to digital news outlets, there’s no reason to stop learning once you step out of the Cathedral.

Both USA Today and the New York Times are available for free in the lobbies of Litchfield Towers and the William Pitt Union — as well as several other buildings across campus — with a swipe of your Pitt ID.

Pitt also offers the Wall Street Journal for free in Mervis Hall and Sennott Square, and copies of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sit on a rack by the entrances to the individual Litchfield Towers. You may need to ask a friend to grab one for you on their way out if you don’t live there.

There’s also the issue of informational variety. Chances are, there isn’t a class focused on every one of your interests. If you’re anything like me, that leaves a lot of ground uncovered.

Gaining insight about the world usually has to fight for time against homework, internships and maintaining a social life. While you’re busy learning about your specific field of study, it’s easy to fall behind on what’s happening outside the textbook.

I’ve been lucky. I love comic books, old foreign films and transatlantic policy analysis, and Pitt offers courses for all of that. Still, the most compelling things I’ve learned in college came from exploring my own interests, not from hearing a professor lecture at me. 

Following the news regularly has pretty straightforward benefits. Becoming a regular news-reader brings a greater understanding of world events and how they’re connected through institutional, regional and ideological bonds.

You can read a newspaper on a bus or in between classes, one story at a time. You’re learning in those gaps — it isn’t a waste. Think of it as an investment in your broader perspective and knowledge base.

You don’t need to carry around the free papers Pitt provides if you prefer digital formats. The New York Times offers free daily passes so students can have full access to all of the paper’s online content. You have to renew your access every 24 hours, but all an account requires is your school email address. The Washington Post also offers free online access for students, and with an Amazon Prime account, you can receive a discount on a full subscription. Both of these publications and many more — including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette — also offer discounted subscriptions to students looking for their own accounts or simply investing in media.

I decided to buy a New York Times digital subscription recently, and it only costs me $1 per week. It’s the best purchase I’ve made all year.

If you don’t like reading — in which case, good luck in college — podcasts also present an enticing informational rabbit hole to fall down. Podcasts are essentially radio shows that you can subscribe to and hear on-demand. They are almost all free and anybody with an iOS device already has an app to download them pre-installed. There are countless free apps for Android users to choose from, and PCs have services, such as Stitcher, that allow you to stream both podcasts and actual radio shows.

After the pop culture success of true crime series Serial in 2014, the number of podcasts available has exploded, which means there is really one for just about everybody.

A friend of mine is interested in ancient history and began listening to a show which devotes two hours to the Byzantines every week, while I regularly poke through my excessive batch of 25 subscriptions to hear shows about politics and hip-hop. Like I said, I take advantage of the free stuff.

Your education can take whatever form you want. Once you graduate, your identity will hopefully not be limited to your occupation, so while you are in college, don’t let it be limited to the topics of your major. We all have interests that exist outside of academia, and we all need a break from the tight structure of school occasionally. That doesn’t mean those times have to be unproductive.

You presumably came to Pitt because you want to learn about something you care about. Take the time to make sure you are.

Matt Moret is a Contributing Editor for The Pitt News. He primarily writes about politics and rhetoric.

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