Friday, October 24, 2014

Dr. Faulkner: T Shaped Persons

We’ve all likely heard of the hour-glass figure.  One web site says there are four body types – hourglass, spoon, rectangle and triangle.  A few years ago the idea was circulated that whether you were apple shaped or pear shaped had impacts on your future health.  This idea was refuted by a study done at the University of California, Davis.  I have concluded that I am melon shaped.

A few days ago I came across a new term – T shaped person.  The term apparently was first used in 1991 in a London newspaper to describe the type of computer manager in demand in IT fields.  It has since been used to describe candidates in a wide range of employment.

The term describes someone who is skilled in two planes, hence the use of the letter “T.”  The vertical portion of the T describes the depth of skills in a particular area.  For example, having skills in engineering, architecture, accounting, media, or business.  The horizontal portion represents the abilities of the person in relational skills like collaboration, empathy, understanding, and cooperation.  In short it represents both depth and breadth of characteristics.

We have all known person who were “deep” in their field but could not relate to other people.  These are “I” shaped people.  A common complaint from students is, “He/she is a very smart person, but they don’t know how to teach.” 

As a college, we want our students to become T shaped persons.  We want them to be excellent in the knowledge and skills of their chosen career.  But we also want graduates that can excel relationally.  We want our health science students to have great technical skills but also to have a good bed-side manner.  Sometimes the relational skills are a side effect of the program they are in and sometimes they are more purposed. 

Part of developing that horizontal plane is the general education requirement that is part of all our degrees.  What some may call the liberal arts gives our students a breadth of understanding of a variety of aspects of life and the ability to communicate with others both orally and in writing.  Another way we can broaden a student’s relational skills is the way we relate outside the classroom.  Giving exemplary customer service models relational skills for our graduates.

The challenge is for all of us to evaluate our own “shape” and to model a well-balanced “T” for our students.

-Dr. Jerry Faulkner


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