The thing that struck me after graduating from the Academy and finishing my first semester at Rutgers was just how easy my it was, after completing my senior project the previous year at the Academy. I watched friends who went to “better” (they thought) private schools flame out in their first year, and I made a realization: the Academy was the first place in my life where failure was actually an option. I was a part of the third graduating class at the academy, and fully 25% of the class that enrolled did not graduate. Now a lot has changed since 2006, and as my class reaches its ten-year reunion I’m not sure any of us would even recognize the school that the Academy has become, but I know that I am where I am because of the Academy. Because while I was there I learned how to work smarter, I learned what aspects of my work mattered (and which didn’t), and above all, I learned how to manage my time.
I use the skills I learned at the academy every day. Mr. Lopac, the former Civil and Mechanical Engineering instructor taught me, without my realizing it, some of the most important META-lessons I have ever learned. He taught me how to present my ideas, how to approach a problem like the end user, how to hold a problem in my head and turn it upside down to find solutions that weren’t obvious before, and he taught me to learn as many approaches to as many problems as possible, because you never know when the approach you used on one problem will work on a different, unrelated problem. Today, I’m one half of a financial advisory firm, and I’ve helped people on all points of the socio-economic spectrum, but every time I look at a client’s needs, I come back to the approaches Mr. Lopac taught me.
Unlike many of my peers who graduated the Academy, I did not become an engineer. Of course, like all of them, I have an interest in science and engineering, and I’m fortunate to be able to use my skills on a daily basis. I built and maintain our website, manage our office technology, and have used what I learned about process engineering and project management to increase my firm’s productivity by 300% in the past 2 years. Why am I telling you this? Because even for those who do not intend to pursue a career in engineering (or perhaps ESPECIALLY for those students), the academy teaches the soft skills necessary to succeed in business. It forces students to learn how to plan a project from scratch, to make their own direction and go for it, and most importantly, it allows them to fail so that they learn how to cope. 25% of my class did not graduate, but those of us who did came out tempered by the experience, more flexible and stronger than we thought possible.
I am continually surprised by my peers after graduation. Our firm has advised a number of academy grads on their resumes, and I have found time and time again that those people who survive the academy go on to do great things. It is a unique place, set up so that the students who come out the other end have learned lessons which cannot be taught, they can only be learned.