Supplementary education can offer the best lessons

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A lot has changed since I left Stanton Heights for Syracuse University two summers ago, but the way I spend my summers hasn't.

I still lie face up on my sleeping bag and watch movies on Flagstaff Hill; I still indecisively sample two flavors of Italian ice before ordering gelati from Rita's on Forbes Avenue; and I still dry off my dripping-wet swim trunks by sitting on a towel during my car rides home from Sandcastle Water Park.

As long as I continue to return home for the summer, these habits will persist, but another Pittsburgh-established summer tradition will be with me forever regardless of my residence -- supplementary education.

As a child, I participated in Carnegie Mellon University's C-MITES program, the University of Pittsburgh's Young Writers Institute, Point Park University's Summer Journalism Workshop and Washington & Jefferson University's lacrosse camp.

Every summer since I can remember, I've been a part of at least one academic program, internship, summer camp or sports clinic and, most times, it was more than one.

The things that I've learned outside of the classroom have, many times, proven to be much more beneficial than the material that I've learned in class.

My first journalism class was at Point Park University, the first time I used film-editing software was at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and my first mock client pitch was at Emanate, a public relations firm in New York City.

Reading is one of the easiest ways to learn about extracurricular interests.

I was raised in a tradition of summer reading. As a child, I was a frequent participant in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's summer reading programs. As I got older, my school began to require summer reading. Now, I see it as a privilege. A college student rarely receives a reading assignment without the unspoken, looming threat of a pop quiz.

One recent book that I read, "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" by Robert Cialdini, uses hard evidence and psychological studies to explain the persuasive tactics that sales people and marketers use to engage customers. As a public relations and business major, the knowledge that books like these impart is invaluable.

Although this book was on Fortune magazine's "The Smartest Books We Know" list, it's not a part of my curriculum and would have been overlooked if I relied solely on the campus library for reading material.

Another way to learn outside of the classroom is to study abroad.

Though my abroad experiences haven't been a part of a formal program, I've learned a lot from them.

The summer before my freshman year of college, I traveled to Greece with a group of my high school friends.

The beach attire, or lack thereof; the aggressive tactics that restaurant managers used to amass patrons; and the customer's ability to negotiate nearly any marked price at any establishment were all practices that were very different than what I was used to.

My summer internship experiences have also added a variety of practical skills to my arsenal.

Last summer, on my train ride to New York City, I frantically tried to finish "The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR."

This was my first internship, and I ignorantly believed that I needed to know everything about the industry before I began working.

To my surprise, my supervisors guided me through all of my responsibilities and even took time out of their busy days to help me when I needed it.

I researched new business opportunities, participated in brainstorms and sat through informative classes that educated new hires and interns on the firm's history.

The experience was challenging, demanding and, most importantly, informative. I returned to school the following August with practical knowledge.

Supplementary education doesn't have to end when the summer does. Other ways to supplement a college education are joining a club, participating in a student-run organization or competing in a sport that offers responsibility and leadership opportunities.

Supplementary education is essential. It can help you discover what you'd like to do after college and it can give you experience that will help you stand out from the competition.


Antoine Allen, who was a summer intern at the Post-Gazette, is a junior at Syracuse University majoring in public relations and entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises. He can be reached at


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