Group work and projects are a very common part of classwork in most courses in the college world today, particularly in any business/marketing programs. Since I’m a Marketing major, this is pretty much the norm for every class. It’s not one of my favorite items about college, but it has permitted me to be part of some really interesting groups and work with some really interesting people.
Forming groups in a university setting is like the college version of getting picked for the dodge-ball teams from grade school. The professor usually states what the project going to entail and then says, “OK you have 10 minutes to form your groups”. What? This is where panic sets in. I don’t know these kids. Damn, no one is gonna pick me. I’m going to be stuck with ‘stinky Steve and that other new kid that takes the sniffs his erasers’, as I thought back to my grade-school days.
Now this was my first marketing class (Market Research) and first 300 level course, at my new university after earning my associates from the community college the previous spring. The professor conducts all the normal first day stuff and then proceeds to inform us about the semester long group project that will be 1/3 of our overall grade. She states that the project will be dealing with researching and developing a new produce related item or improving an existing produce item that you would find in any local grocery store. Hot Damn! What luck.
OK, side bar your honor… More background on me. I spent 20+ years in the grocery industry. I just thought I hit the jackpot! I have something to offer, I am valuable, thinking to myself. I started to feel really good about this. OK, think fast, how do I let everyone know my credentials? How do I ‘market’ myself to this ‘kids’? Yes, the introductions, I’m home free. The smart kids will come running after I divulge my work history.
It’s going to be a good day Tatar! (Ron White, stand-up comedian, look it up, love the part with his bulldog Sluggo, hilarious!).
Introductions start, I know exactly what to say. As we move through the class, I’m practicing my lines in my head, making sure not to sound too arrogant, but present myself where they will all look past the ‘old guy’ image and want me to be part of their team. OK, I’m next, be cool Mark, I got this. In a very calm relaxed voice, without sounding too confident, I went for it, “Hi, I’m Mark, non-traditional student, first semester here at ‘mid-level state university’, returning to school after being laid off twice in 3 years to pursue my bachelor’s degree. I have about 30 years in the food and beverage industry, with 23 years of the 30 in the grocery industry in various positions. I’m married for 17 years, with 3 teenage boys.” Yes, nailed it. Just then the professor responds, “Wow, I guess you are going to be in high demand for this group project, everyone should consider Mark for your group”. She didn’t just say that. Great, thanks mom dropping off my lunch, kissing me on the forehead in front of all my guy friends, and embarrassing me to no end. I felt like the teachers ‘pet’ on day one, I’m doomed. Stinky Steve and eraser kid wait for me, here I come!
Introductions conclude, let the group picking torture begin. I just sat there in my own misery letting fate present my future. Groups were forming all around me and just going to deal with whoever was left. Heh, life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get, forget where I heard that once. Just as I was going to accept what the ‘group forming gods’ were going to give me, two young coeds approached me (again, get your mind out of the gutter). As they approached, I heard a guy in the row behind me loudly whisper to one of the coeds “no one’s got him yet, hurry up!”. What? In a slightly nervous voice one of the coeds asks me, “Heh, Mark right, would you want to be in our group for the project?” This is where ‘idiot Mark’ came out, my respond “who else is in the group?” Like I had a boatload of choices and holding out for the highest bidder. What was I thinking. I blew it.
My response didn’t faze them, thank God. Without hesitation they pointed out the 3 other guys in the group, I looked at them and each one, particularly the one sitting in the row behind me had the same look. The look was like a state of suspended wonder as if to say ‘please say yes old guy’. I turn back to the coeds and said sure, OK. Gave them my contact info, all was good, I guess. What happened next was what sealed the deal for me.
With my head down looking for my reading glasses, I heard one the two coeds say, “we got him” to the guy in the row behind me. A gleeful response of “YES” was elated behind me. Angela and Karen (not real names) introduce themselves, collecting my info, they thanked me, said they would be in touch. They turned around walked away and gave each other a very small, but noticeable, fist pump to each other (girl style). Two other coeds where making a bee line towards me. In a very possessive but reassuring tone Karen headed them off, “Yo, back off, the ‘old guy’ is ours!”.
Yes, I have arrived. I guess.
All five were great to work with that semester. I learned a lot that semester from both my group-mates and the material in the course. I would have another great experience with one of the group members in a future class, more on that later.
Lasting Thought: Don’t short change yourself. Realize that you have something to offer to others. Find out what that is and use it to promote yourself. Everyone has value and can be valuable to someone somewhere. We just need to pull back the current sometimes to see what opportunities are out there.