Many adults engage in consuming hobbies. They may be enthusiasts of rare coins or seekers of elusive birds. Some people are infatuated with football – American and/or European. At this moment in the United States, many amateur pundits carefully watch and debate the world of politics.
Author Sean-Michael Green, however, has a different passion. He is a higher education junkie. He has his fair share of degrees – more accurately, the first-generation college student has earned enough degrees to cover his whole family – and he has attended schools ranging from state schools to the Sorbonne. His interest is not limited to his own formal education. He is a fan of universities, students, and academics – but he is especially intrigued by the most selective institutions.
Green, who lives in Orange and works at the University of New Haven, is the author of a new book, The Things I Learned in College. The book tells the funny and true story of his travels over the course of an academic year of exploring the eight Ivy League schools. He spent approximately 30 days at each school attending classes, talking to students, and participating in campus life. “I began in August with the freshmen at Cornell,” he said, “and I finished at commencement with the seniors at Princeton in May. It was an exhausting but epic adventure.”
Along the way, he reconnoitered Brown, Dartmouth, Penn, Columbia, and Harvard. And, of course, Yale in his now-backyard. “Yale was not what I expected it to be,” said Green. “It was a great part of my project. The students were warm and welcoming. I am especially grateful for the time they spent showing me their residential colleges.” He added that, while he knows that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, he cannot get enough of Harkness Tower.
The book is not a guidebook in a traditional sense. The institutions of the Ivy League serve as a backdrop to the vignettes, and the schools are discussed and described at length, but the book embraces Green’s subjectivity. It is not the definitive guide to the Ivies, but rather the story of one man’s exploration of the Ivies. In this way, Green brings color and warmth to a subject so often reduced to data points and statistics.
The book is intended to serve prospective students and families seeking a different view of the Ivy League. Moreover, Green hopes that alumni will find the book full of reminders of good memories. The primary audience, however, are people who are looking for a voyeuristic peek into an exclusive world.
This educator and author was once a stand-up comedian, and his humor finds its way into the book. Early book reviewers and bloggers have universally commented on the comedic quality of the book. For example, Kirkus described Green’s writing style as, “highly engaging and entertaining, with dry wit infusing this book.”
For someone with a passion for education, Sean-Michael Green did not naturally gravitate to college. He was a “horrible” high school student, nearly failing out of school and enlisting in the Marine Corps upon graduation. After leaving active duty, he began taking a few courses at a community college with little hope of success. His time in the military, however, awakened an intellectual curiosity that served him well.
“My path through higher education began as most things do: With a girl.” He was dating a young woman who had attended the University of Pittsburgh, a high-quality research university. “I was surprised by my good grades at the community college, and I showed my early grades to my girlfriend at the time. She was unimpressed, saying, ‘Well, yeah, you can do that at a community college, but try that at Pitt!’”
Thus, Green left community college – and the girlfriend – behind and went to the University of Pittsburgh. He fulfilled the requirements of multiple majors, earned admission to Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated from the University Honors College with high honors.
One of his best friends from childhood had also graduated Pitt, and he was apathetic. The friend had gone on to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania – an Ivy League school. Rising to the challenge, Sean-Michael earned a master’s degree at Penn, too. Of course, by that time the friend had gone on to law school. Nothing, according to the friend, was as academically challenging as that – sparking Sean-Michael to attend Cornell Law School, where he became the only person in his class to earn two law degrees in three years. Fortunately, his friend stopped issuing academic challenges at that point.
The love of learning and the passion for higher education has not diminished for Sean-Michael, though. “I’m fortunate to work in a field that I love with wonderful colleagues and mentors. I learn something every day.”
The Things I Learned in College is available in paperback and as an e-book through Amazon. And the sequel? Another year of auditing courses, attending fraternity parties, and stalking across the hallowed grounds of America’s most selective schools? “No,” said Sean-Michael shaking his head with exhaustion.