Involved in the world of higher education for over 50 years, Richard Dorf’s lifework has centered upon the collegiate environment – a trait both his anecdotes and curriculum vitae confirm. It is with the publication of his latest book, The College Journey: From College to Career 2009 (Davis Press Inc., July 2008), that Dorf cumulates his understanding of this environment into a guide for researching, applying and achieving in college.
“This is a later-in-life book, something that I can contribute,” said Dorf, a professor emeritus of management and electrical and computer engineering. “It’s essentially my summation of what I think a student would find as a useful approach to finding a college, number one, and number two succeeding there.“
Receiving his bachelor of science degree from Clarkson University in 1955 did not put an end to Dorf’s familiarity with the collegiate world.
He began his work at UC Davis in 1972 as the dean of extended learning, and has since been a professor of electrical and computer engineering as well as a professor in the Graduate School of Management, a school he helped found in 1981.
“I’ve looked at the university from all sides,” Dorf said. “To some extent college is my hobby [as well as] my profession.“
This fascination is indicated in his personal accounts of the “character” of each university – accounts acquired from traveling to all 150 schools profiled in the book. These descriptions also include statistics such as acceptance rates and average SAT scores of admitted students.
In addition to writing about his own experience, Dorf also utilized UC Davis‘ research library, which is evident by the multiple-page reference section.
“This book stands on other people’s shoulders. I put it together. It’s an integration of other people’s contributions into a thesis,” Dorf said.
Dorf proposes an individualized ranking system that matches a student’s goals to schools with similar characteristics.
The student first states their goals, then ranks those in order of importance, Dorf said. Then the student ranks colleges based on their adherence to these goals, and thus applies to the schools that are the best match.
By using the ranking system, students can match themselves to schools that best fit their needs, Dorf said.
“I help you [with] two things – find the best university for you and then [also] be a successful student there,” he said.
Dorf’s ranking system is different from traditional ranking systems since his emphasis is on matching students with schools.
“The best school for you has to meet your needs and your criteria, not some ranking,” Dorf said. “So what if Princeton is number one – that doesn’t mean it’s the number one for you.“
“[This method is] a whole lot more practical in terms of making you think about what you want in a college,” said Amanda Kimball, a graduate student researcher in the Graduate School of Management and doctoral. student in the economics program, who has worked with Dorf in several projects.
Dorf’s application of the “five minds” – a concept developed by Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor of cognition and education – to the college application process and learning experience also distinguishes his book from other college guidebooks. The “five minds‘” developed by Gardner include the disciplinary, synthesizing, creating, respectful and ethical minds.
According to Gardner’s website, these “minds“ are the areas of development that employers and society seek in individuals. In The College Journey, Dorf explains how to evaluate the college experience in terms of the “five minds.“
The role of the university, Dorf said, is to prepare students by developing their “five minds.“
“There is no doubt that education from kindergarten through graduate school will change profoundly in the years ahead,” Gardner said in an e-mail interview. “To my knowledge Richard Dorf is the first author to examine how colleges can best prepare students for this new world – in my words, how to develop ‘five minds for the future.‘ I predict that many others will react to and build upon this innovative work.“
While each university differs in strengths, UC Davis provides students with preparation in several of the “minds,“ said Dorf.
“A great university provides everybody a chance to create something…so that’s creativity,” Dorf said. “The [synthesizing mind has] an advantage at Davis because [at] this university we’re big into interdisciplinary programs, synthesizing, so you could study biology and English and you could put them together if you wanted and be essentially a writer about science…. [At] small, specialized schools maybe you may not have that chance.“
It is these strengths in developing the “minds“ that Dorf urges students to consider when choosing a college.
“Some colleges put a strong emphasis on [a certain “mind“] and if that’s really important to the student then they should choose a college that has that,” Dorf said. “The best university is the one that you feel is home.”
The College Journey: From College to Career 2009 can be purchased on Amazon.com for $19.95.
SARA JOHNSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.