• Ian Kirkpatrick

What I Learned in Undergraduate School…

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

This week is going to be a little bit different than most weeks. I’m going to write about my experiences in University. From 2009-2013 I attended the University of Alaska Anchorage where I studied theater and eventually received my bachelor's degree. From 2014-2016 I studied creative writing at the University of Tampa. Today I’m going to talk about UAA and on Friday I’ll discuss some of the things from UT.


During my time at the University of Alaska Anchorage, I had received little to no advice in career, personal, or educational growth. I received even less help in accomplishing my goals within the department of my major. I only saw my academic adviser twice, each time I went to her with questions I left with answers like, “Well, I can’t help you.” “It’ll be another three semesters.” “You can’t do that.” Turns out everything she told me was a lie. One example goes to getting in statistics 211. I didn’t meet the prerequisites, but I knew I could do the work. This math credit was one of the only credits I needed to graduate. Instead of helping me find a way to get into the stats class, her response was “impossible. You just have to take 4 more semesters of math.” I left, talked to the stats teacher personally, and got a note signed that allowed me to take the class. The teacher just asked, “Do you think you can do the work even without the prerequisites?” I said yes. She signed the paper. One semester of math.

It was as easy as doing it yourself.

The difficulties finding help among my professors and advisers forced me to figure things out for myself. I planned my enter class schedule by myself. I wrote all of my papers by myself. I had no encouragement outside my immediate family, for continuing forward and graduating, and that encouragement was pretty much limited to my mom and one or two close friends.

I went to the advisers in my department and asked them questions about moving forward in my career, in my field, getting more experience. More often than not they just said “tough.” More often than not they said, “we’d pick community members before we’d pick you.” More often than not, they weren’t invested in me as a student or a future worker. They were simply invested in me as a bank for that government money. This culminated in my senior year where I had been talking about doing an honors project since I started at UAA. However, in that year, there was only one show that was eligible for a senior project and that meant one director. I’d never written a project proposal before; I constantly went back to the professor who was supposed to be my advisor on the project, the director of the show, and asked him for input, direction in crafting the proposal, even just guidelines on what should be in the proposal, what were the expectations. He gave me nothing. Every time I asked he said, “Oh, yeah, it’s fine,” and then after multiple drafts of me groping in the dark for something, the deadline passed, it had been read, and I got rejected (sort of?). I don’t think it was ever formally submitted. When I talked to other department members about the decision, they said they were underwhelmed and confused–but the whole time, every time I asked that specific adviser, he said the essay was fine, the information was fine, and gave no direction.

I was set up to fail by someone who was supposed to be helping me.

And I realized that I was nothing more than government money. Most of the professors I had at university couldn’t care less about their students as long as they were getting paid and they were gaining a reputation in the community. As you’d expect, a large part of the theater community is the ego and I could tell you, looking back on most of the professors I had, especially those who directed, only wanted to be known for being the best directors. They didn’t spend the same amount of time and attention to properly training each student. They picked their favorites and they put their favorites in leadership positions in every show, then outsourced everything else to community members who weren’t even paying or the experience like the students were.

I get that theater is a ‘rejection’-based career and I’m not disputing the rejection or the lack of getting cast, but I wouldn’t judge them as hard if they cast as many members from the University itself as they could, rather than outsource 30-40% of the cast to community members. Every time this was done, the directors were actively taking learning opportunities away from students. Some who would go through their four+ years and never get one item they could put on their resume once they got out.

The thing is, you won’t be accepted into universities unless you conform to their ideology. I know other people had more success in making a friend or two while there. I’m assuming there’s a lot more luck for companionship without odd conformity rituals like that of a cult outside of the arts. Liberal arts are notorious and you basically lock yourself out of the community by thinking different than the rest or behaving different than the rest — which includes not sinking into drinking/partying/sex culture.

I think in college you learn how alone you are and just how cutthroat everything really is–especially if you’re someone who doesn’t fit in. The schools and adults around you spend grade, middle, and high school telling you you need to go to college to become anything. The government backs them up and tells you, a young adult, you have to take out these massive loans or fail at life. Parents often say go to school or get out of my house when you turn 18. Young adults are thrust into this lie of scholarship and governmental loan sharks that say there’s no other way for you to succeed when what they’re really doing is setting you up to fail.

The current nationwide graduation rate for 4-year degree-seekers in the USA is 60%. That means 2 in 5 kids will fail to graduate. So where do their loans go? That’s billions of government dollars going to kids for upper-level education who will fail to achieve that educational goal, but still have to foot the bill. Then they default, then their wages are taken by the government, and the cycle really isn’t pretty.

Our government and school systems are setting the youth up or failure by giving them an expensive ultimatum without all the information. Telling them to take out money while they are never taught how to be responsible, and then sticking them in what’s basically a club wherein you don’t play by the rules of the club and you are exiled.

Now we’ve discovered the name of the ideology being taught in most schools: marxism. That’s why you have students who are being penalized for using the term ‘mankind’ rather than ‘humankind,’ though nothing is inherently wrong with the phrase. Campus culture like Greek row is under fire, and students are pushed out of class for asking questions and taping inappropriate behavior. The Marxism and ideology never reached me in Alaska. I kept to myself. I ignored most of what I saw I had problems with, but I noticed it a lot in my graduate program. In every group of book-length reading assignments were identity-politic related books. At least two out of five of my terms were focused on identity, what they referred to as ‘the other.’

I’ll discuss what I’ve seen happening with the University of Tampa on Friday.

What kids aren’t taught in school is to ask questions and look out for themselves. Instead, they’re taught to say yes to everything and altruistically approach everything. Some think there’s nothing wrong with being altruistic, but you turn yourself into a victim that falls or everything because you’re taught to believe in nothing. The university creates thoughtless soldiers by shunning everyone who doesn’t fall in line and this is what I experienced in undergraduate, continued into graduate, and still see the effects of post-graduation among my interactions with professors.

There was only one professor in the Theater at the University of Alaska Anchorage that had any interest in helping me grow and I wish I could have given her more. Fran Lautenburger the customer and makeup designer, puppeteer, singer, musician songwriter–She has continued to inspire me to this day and I will never forget the kindness and encouragement she showed me while she was at UAA. I wanted to say her name and acknowledge what she did for me just because it was so meaningful and she is the type of person that makes a difference in peoples’ lives. She’s thoughtful, intelligent, hardworking, unbelievably creative, compassionate, generous, talented, and so much more. 

So I never fit in in undergraduate. I was personally rejected constantly from the community in which I was told all were welcome. Theater is supposed to be an open community, right? It’s where all the eccentric people go, but in five-ish years, I never fit in, so by the end of my degree, I had a pocket full of skills, a lack of experience, and a lack of desire for that community anymore. It wasn’t where I was meant to be. So what would I do after I graduated?

In my last two semesters at the University of Alaska Anchorage, I took two writing workshops on a whim. I’d always written as a kid and continued to do it for fun as a teenager. I spent all my time writing. The workshops weren’t that great; the kids weren’t committed and some were submitting fan fiction. Let me tell you how constructive these peer workshops were: on one copy of the returned story the only note I got was, “I hate everything about this.”

That’s it.

From an all-black, eyeliner wearing emo. LOL.

But it was in those classes that I realized what I should have been doing. Not acting, not theater, but writing. And that’s what lead me to the University of Tampa and the continual social and professional isolation I’m seeing now.

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© 2019 by Ian Kirkpatrick