Student, 'Educate: 20/20' founder, sees education as more than means to a job

Senior Rachel Thor set her own course(s) for a degree, and may end up changing the course of education

Rachel Thor, who is completing her bachelor of philosophy intercollege degree, developed her senior thesis into a monthlong, cross-the-country quest for innovative ideas called Educate 20/20. With the help of State College's New Leaf Initiative, where she is program director, Thor led a presenting team to San Diego's AshokaU Exchange. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Go to college to get a job ... it’s a mantra most college students can say in their sleep. Many students pursuing higher education seek it for one reason: to be employable. On a quest solely to get hired, they may forget what education is all about.

Rachel Thor, a fifth-year senior from State College, Pa., says her goal upon entering college was to be "fully alive" the whole time. She used that goal as a guide in choosing classes, a major, jobs and opportunities. With that in mind, Rachel spent years taking classes revolving around her interests: art, philosophy, psychology, science, recreation park and tourism management, environmental education and art education.

“My ultimate goal has been to be the best educator I can be,” Thor said.

Thor heard about the bachelor of philosophy (BPhil) intercollege degree program and decided to create her own education major. Through this program, conducted by the Office of the Vice President and Dean for Undergraduate Education, she got to choose her own classes, create her own independent studies and more, resulting in Thor being in control of her degree.

“I don’t hope my degree will help me accomplish things, as many hope,” she said. “Rather, I finally feel satisfied that it already has helped me accomplish the things I felt most called to while in school. And because of that confidence, that practice that I’ve been allowed through my degree, I know that I will accomplish great things in the years to come.”

In February 2013, Thor embarked on her senior thesis project, titled "Educate 20/20," along with 10 other students, retired teachers and education entrepreneurs all searching to change the narrative around education. Educate 20/20 was a monthlong road tour including stops in 16 cities, and finishing at the AshokaU Exchange hosted by the University of San Diego. After interviewing dozens of people and speaking at various conferences — including Educate 20/20 winning GOOD Inc.'s GOOD Maker Challenge prize and speaking to its staff — Thor and the other attendees learned a lot.

“What I’ve learned most is that every single person, yes, you reading this, can take ownership and responsibility for your life and your learning,” Thor said. “You can live the life of your dreams, you can create an education that inspires you beyond the four walls of a classroom and in doing that, you’ll be giving yourself the skills you’ll actually need the rest of your life, for any job.”

Thor suggests one way for students to get more out of their education is to consider the bachelor of philosophy program. 

“If you’re interested in feeling true freedom to learn what you want and how you want (which can also be scary), with the guidance of wonderful mentors, then I suggest you check out the BPhil program,” Thor said.

Last Updated May 12, 2016