Navigating a complex, ever changing world

The typical year in higher education has a number of familiar seasonal rites. There is move-in day and the welcoming back of students each August. Here at William Woods we have traditions like Fall Family Weekend, and Alumni Weekend in the spring. There are final exams at the end of each semester, and of course the biggest event of the year, graduation, in May.

We marked another one of those yearly commemorations this week when the William Woods Fall 2017 semester Dean’s List was announced: ( 254 William Woods students earned a spot on this semi-annual listing of our top academic achievers. I congratulate each of them on this prestigious distinction, and their hard work to make it happen.

The announcement of our Dean’s List for another semester always fills me with feelings of pride, mixed with a little bit of wistfulness. Pride at what our amazing students accomplish, but also a small amount of wistful sadness at the realization that these same students are only with us for a short time and soon will be heading out into the world. We only have an amazingly brief four-year window to prepare them for their life’s journey into that world, and we take our responsibility to do that very seriously, because the world our graduates will enter is marked by change that is exhilarating and maybe even a little bit frightening.

Recently Gerd Leonhard, the CEO of Mercedes Benz, gave a speech about the future that was astounding. He talked about how computer software will disrupt most traditional industries in the next 5-10 years, which maybe didn’t surprise most people. That is, until he got into the details.

  • Details like how IBM Watson will be able to dispense legal advice to people within seconds with 90% accuracy in a few short years, which will lessen the need for many or perhaps most lawyers in the near future.
  • Details like how the automotive industry will be completely disrupted in the near future due to self-driving cars, which you will call for on your smartphone to come pick you up at your location and drive you to your destination, all but eliminating the need for car ownership.
  • Details like how the creation of a medical device called a Tricorder will eventually make it possible for you to get world-class medical detection and analysis on your phone, for nearly free, which will significantly lessen the need for our current medical establishment.

These were just a few of the examples he cited. Overall, he stressed that 70-80% of current jobs will disappear in the next 20 years, and that how compatible new jobs or ideas are with smartphones will have significant impact in the future.

It is overwhelming to think of what challenges college graduates will face in the coming years and decades. Which is why here at The Woods, we will always be committed to innovating and thinking outside the box when it comes to how we can best serve our students. We did that in the past, when we added programs like online and graduate-level courses long before many similar colleges were doing it, to make sure our graduates are as competitive as possible in the world they inherited.

We will always be proud to see William Woods’ finest young people head confidently out to tackle that world. Even it also always makes us a little sad to see you go. As they have heard me say many times throughout their years with us: Your college years should be great ones, but it is our job to make sure that the “rest of your life is the best of your life!”


Dr. Jahnae Barnett