Odyssey should look past QPAs

From Jan. 10 through 12, 75 carefully selected sophomores participated in Odyssey, an introspective program designed to help them best evaluate their academic skills and apply them toward internships and post-graduate work. They crafted public policy statements, discussed research topics, and practiced writing professionally for job and internship applications. The general consensus from those involved was that the program was helpful for students.

But what about those who were not involved? The 200 students selected to apply were chosen above the other 1000-plus members of the class of 2010 based primarily on their QPAs. Why should a program designed to instill ideas about preparing oneself for the future be limited to a select few?

After the top students in each department (those with a QPA of 3.4 or higher) were sifted out from the rest of their classmates, a list was sent to faculty advisers, department heads, and certain Student Affairs personnel, who collectively “know [their] students better than anyone,” according to the letter sent out by the Office of Undergraduate Research. These sources then picked the top five of those students in each department based on their limited interaction with them, mostly as first-year students.

We agree that for a program to allow for individualized attention there must be a way to judge who participates. Maybe part of this selection is academic — after all, Odyssey is intended to instruct students how to best apply their strong academic records to the real world. But we question whether academic advisers and first-year professors — and a select few high-level Student Affairs employees — are the most qualified to assess the success of sophomore students. Housefellows, extracurricular activity advisors, and club presidents often know students better than academic personnel with whom students interact a few hours per week, at best.

We commend the facilitators of Odyssey on a successful program with good intentions, one that will undoubtedly help students in writing clear proposals and getting the best internships. But on a campus that so emphasizes extracurricular involvement and interdisciplinary study, both of which can lead to less-than-stellar QPAs, we question whether the realm of academics is the most important place to start looking for “excited learners” and “self-starters.”