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Mirror real world environment & rules of professions to ensure students choose careers based on accurate data which fit their character

Students "go to work" in mirror of planned career's work space & culture to test personal fit w/reality vs. perception; Tech & PF required

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Structural vs Chemical Engineer 

Architect vs. Product Designer 

Legacy vs. Start-up 

Teacher v. Curriculum Development 

Field Correspondent v. Desk Anchor 

Medical Researcher v. Peditrician

One of the stated goals of Higher Education is to prepare students for success in the “real world”.

            To do so, universities must:

  • Create a mirror of the real-world environment with respect to the career the student wishes to pursue;
  • Require competency in the use of technology to analyze, create solutions and communicate; and
  • Teach and enable students to put into practice personal finance skills.


Life within the walls of a university does not mirror the “real world.”  In addition to the need to manage a life (apartment, food, bills, social life), at work new graduates face very real cost and time deadlines, competition – from candidates, colleagues and companies, and the unspoken rules of the profession. Arriving on Wall Street from the United Nations, I was “behind the 8 ball” as I struggled to learn the rules of a game I had never seen, no less played.  My diligence and excellence at my responsibilities were overshadowed by my lack of understanding of office power and politics. I was handicapped relative to my colleagues who had grown up in investing in securities and real estate, and were the beneficiaries of family trusts; and there was no manual I could access to catch-up.

I recommend every university, which represents it prepares students to successfully enter the work force, be required to create a mirror of the work environment of the career the student believes she wishes to pursue.  The environment can serve as a required lab, like a Chemistry or Physics lab, where the student is required to dress, sit, interact and “work” as if going to work every day for at least two weeks and preferably a month or all semester. 

Every profession has its own dynamic, unspoken rules, and even dress code. In creating mirror environments, universities will not only prepare students for professional life they will afford students the opportunity to discover they do not wish to purse a profession based on the television or Instagram version of it. The day-to-day work environment of any profession differs from the romanticized version presented in media.  To avoid students choosing professions, and their preparatory course of study without the experience necessary to do so in an informed, universities need to afford students the opportunity to “try before they buy”.   

In fact, student should be permitted to attend the labs of as many different professions as they wish to undertake a journey to determine “best fit.”

Students are asked to select a major, supposedly to develop the skills required for entry into their chosen profession.  Yet, students have no understanding when selecting this major what a career in that field feels like.  No one lets them experience it and counselors do not ask, “do you enjoy getting dressed in a suit,” “working with machines versus humans,” “being outdoors” – things students are likely to know about themselves, and which could change the track of their study before it is “too late.” An engineer may work outside in jeans building bridges or in a corporate office developing products – the entire course of study is not the same, one will focus on civil, structural and mechanical engineering the other on manufacturing and design engineering.  

 An internship or Co-op where students are coddled is not sufficient preparation for successful transition to the real world. Knowledge, skills and the ability to understand the rules of, and adapt to a work environment is necessary to survive.


 The “three Rs” of reading, writing and arithmetic are not sufficient building blocks in a world where AI has machines learning faster and deeper than humans, and algorithms are replacing human discretionary across industries.

  • To graduate from university, student should be fluent in the use of technology to communicate, analyze and create. Professionals from doctors to artists will attest they need to know, not only their field of expertise, but how to perform necessary functions using technology. Witness the use of robotic arms for surgeries, your parents’ doctors struggling to eScript to a pharmacy, and your local Street Artist creating a digital catalog of her art to be sold globally on the internet.
  • I propose Higher Education integrate into every course of study, and require for graduation a basic competence in technology to analyze, create and collaborate into every course of study.
  • Finally, I propose every student be required to demonstrate personal finance literacy.  With material student loan debt, credit card debt and a job market which is out-of-line with the cost of living in many major cities, students are prejudiced by the lack of skills to handle their own financial stability.  Further, the understanding of the importance of, and how to invest is a skill which levels the playing field – allowing students with less financial means to “catch up” and providing students who seek to pursue a career which does not “pay well” with the knowledge and skill necessary to supplement that income.


Israel’s success in become a technological force, and the value placed by the United Kingdom on apprenticeship and traineeships lend support to the thesis real-world experience breeds real world success.

Many respected international business leaders and companies Bill Gates and IBM have praised Israel for its high quality of education and major role in spurring Israel's economic development and technology boom. (Jump up^ Karin Kloosterman (30 October 2005). "Bill Gates – Israel is a high tech superpower". Israel21. Retrieved 3 July 2015; Jump up^ Gary Shapiro (7 November 2013). "What Are The Secrets Behind Israel's Growing Innovative Edge?". Forbes. Retrieved 3 July 2015.)

It is not surprising mathematics is a mandatory matriculation subject in Israel. Of greater impact, however, is the experience of being conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces upon completion of 12th grade.  Most students do not go to university until after the army, if at all.  Consequently, “By the time people go to a university after the military, they already enter with “business” experience.” The impact of this sequence is reflected in the innovations developed by Israeli start-ups. “This culture has helped us to look at problems that people may think are too complicated to solve or would require too much effort and then tackle them head-on.”

As a volunteer on an Israeli tank base during the Gulf (Scud) War I can attest to the training in solving real-world situations and the use of technical skills. It is an experience I would never have had as an American woman had I not volunteered, and it changed my perspective of and on many issues of importance.

In the U.K., you may leave formal school just before your 16th birthday if you will start an apprenticeship or traineeship. Apprenticeships, for ages 14 to 19 are for “education and training for work”. A traineeship is a course with work experience that gets you ready for work or an apprenticeship. Here, as well, students enter university with work experience – at an older age, and thus, maturity. The benefit is the ability to select a course of study which suits your “work personality” discovered at work.

As a project and team manager for a German bank in Japan, my work included coordinating the “passing of the book” globally. Coordinating the teams in Japan. London, and New York, I experienced just how significantly the philosophy of education in each country -the intense pressure to pass the one test determining entry in Japan, and the philosophy graduate school was only for academia, the practical approach of London, and the variety of backgrounds in the United States, influenced business practices, cultural temperament and managerial style.

Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine higher education to support the needs of tomorrow?

For college students who are faced with choosing a major when they don't know what someone in the associated profession does on a daily basis, and have not considered the match or mismatch with personality, preference to be casual or dressed, indoors or outdoors, working with people or technology, in front of the camera or behind the scenes. Global universities. It requires universities to 1. offer student the opportunity to experience the culture, rules & dress codes of professions before selec

This idea emerged from:

  • An individual

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Input from recent graduates of biggest gap between what they expected and what they encountered Input from hiring firms of same Willingness of career development offices to try a mirror experiment Organizing professionals to participate in creating the real world environment or offering an existing environment to put students in. The co-ops and internships often do not provide a true sense of what is like to be one of the team vs. a student visitor.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Have students who are studying engineering and students who are studying journalism complete a survey about: A. Themselves (indoor/outdoor; people/machines) B. What they think the daily day looks like; wear, space, lunch, socialization; C. Management style; D. how one is evaluated /succeeds. C. Have a professional complete survey of: 1- What s/he wear to work every day; 2-work space; 3-daily routine; 4-Rules of conduct/power; personality best suited to career; Test FinLit/$ skills identify gap

Tell us about your work experience:

Worked in business, financial services, working with institutional and retail clients on a trading floor, in a corporate office, in a start-up, and in solo practice. Problem solver, intrapreuner, cross-functional communicator, iterative development devotee, design is the carrot for action


Join the conversation:

Photo of An Old Friend

I love this idea, it's too often that students fresh out of college find themselves in a new career that they find out the hard way is not the right fit!

This would help to reduce the amount of those types of blunders and allow the students to get a feel for the real working environment. The small scale prototype that you proposed is also very feasible and could help to take this to the next level!

Photo of Stacy

Michael Matthews Hi Michael -
Thanks for the feedback. Relating to your idea, Schematic Co, it is an excellent way for students to experience working on different design projects tackled by companies with different ways of working together. I believe if student could line up 4 of these projects they would have a much more valuable experience than spending a semester or summer at one internship - often requiring little "normal" work-out put, and concluding they know they don't want to "do that." Perhaps it would be possible to get some firms to sponsor the lab, as I am sure there is a significant loss when new employees join only to quit after a few months. Your thoughts, Stacy

Photo of An Old Friend

Hi Stacy, I agree that the value of real world problem solving scenarios, in a certain format, could prove to provide a more enriching experience for students involved. One of these workshops a year could be very interesting as well. Maybe the more senior students could take on more senior positions in program as they near graduation. We could even create a program like student senate where a University also owns a business and the students are the employees.

Photo of Stacy

Hi Michael -
We could create a program where companies submit an RFP for a project and students have to "win" the project. This would build project design skills - business skills for creatives, which they very often lack. Once the student wins the project. They are enrolled for an independent study so it does not affect their performance in other classes - the independent study would not have a cost, in universities that bill by credits, but would be a graded course based on the performance on the project. If the company is delighted with the student, they would host the student as a "new hire" - please see "Undercover Student" so the student could experience the company and decide if it is a good fit both intellectually and personality-wise.

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