Bethany Course: Welcome to the Real World

For many careers, an undergraduate degree is considered the minimum standard just to get in the door. But with unemployment among recent college grads higher than average, many realize you need to have something more than “just” a degree.

One local man is providing just that to students at Bethany College.

John Osborne, a retired executive and Bethany grad, created a college course titled “Professional Transitions” that is designed to expose students to how the “real world” actually works.

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I was first introduced to the course when he invited me to speak once a semester on my experiences, and to talk about financial planning, investments, and money management in your 20s. Throughout the semester, students hear from many guest lecturers ranging from bankers, human resource professionals, retired CEO’s, attorneys, and judges that each bring their perspective on ways they can stand out and excel after graduation.

John is a native of Wheeling, and graduated from Bethany College in 1963. After a successful career with stops at Standard Oil (now Chevron), IBM, and Apple Computer, John and his wife retired back to the Valley, where he pitched his idea to his alma mater. The concept was to provide students with the tools they need to transition from the academic world to the real world.

Although the course isn’t a traditional one that follows a standard textbook, students learn invaluable lessons that separate them from their peers. Even their grades are structured like a real job. Points are given for tests of course, but also for regular attendance, prompt response to requests, as well as finding hidden Easter eggs in class and exams. It’s about thinking outside the proverbial box.

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One example of non-traditional learning occurs early each semester. At the beginning of a class, John draws a large circle on the chalkboard and tells the students it’s a dinner plate. He asks if anyone knows where the fork would go.

He’s generally met with blank stares.

Over the years he has added an off-campus etiquette dinner full of food that is intentionally difficult to eat. At the dinner they’re taught about how many pieces of meat to cut from a steak before chewing (It’s one.), how to butter a roll, appropriate alcohol to order at dinner if you’re the first to order, and handling finger foods that aren’t finger foods.

Students who take the class also learn how to open a checking account and avoid bank fees, how to write an effective résumé and LinkedIn profile, as well as how to interview effectively. By adding real world skills to a broad liberal arts degree, the students are much better prepared to function in the real world.

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The class has grown from a handful of business majors in 2008 to over 20 students this semester, covering many of the college’s majors. At a school the size of Bethany, 20 students in an elective is a stunning success. Beyond Bethany, schools are taking notice of this unique approach and asking John to take Professional Transitions on the road. In fact, a seminar version of the course was presented to a packed house at Youngstown State a few years ago, and other local colleges are talking about doing something similar.

As I spoke to this semester’s class, I realized that John Osborne was a Weelunker before there was such a thing. He saw a need to help transition college students to the real world, and he did something.

What advice would you give to an upcoming college graduate to help them stand out in 2015?


photos by Russell Dunkin