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Comfort of a cornfield

Ohio Northern University is like a second home for every student who attends the university.

Ohio Northern is just that kind of place. The university makes its students feel as if they have the support of their family and closest friends all year round. There is a closeness and a connection between students and their professors that cannot be rivaled by any other university.  

This element of a family feeling comes with a certain level of comfort that is seldom felt in professional settings. At Ohio Northern, every student is expected to be a big fish in a little pond. That happens because the culture at the university allows its students to excel no matter who they are.

The family feeling at Ohio Northern enables a student to feel at home and feel as if they are capable of achieving success. This confidence can be a significant advantage for a student, and it's something that only a small school can provide for every student who calls the university home. Students have the confidence to go out into the world and compete to be the best in their respective fields. It can let a student have the courage to pursue their passions and excel while they are in school. I have seen this first hand with my schooling and attribute much of my success in my education to the confidence I’ve gained from being at Ohio Northern.

However, some benefits of attending a small university can be harmful to a student if they are not balanced out.

This year I had the privilege of attending the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA) National Conference in Austin, Texas. As part of the conference, students were given the opportunity to network with other student and professionals at the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) International Conference. During one of the mixers held by PRSA, students were encouraged to approach and start conversations with professionals. During this mixer, I had the privilege to meet Brandi Boatner, Social and Influencer Communications Lead at IBM CHQ Communications, and a former PRSSA National Committee President.

Brandi, like many other professionals within PRSA, looks forward to mentoring PRSSA students. While speaking with her, Brandi made me aware of an issue that I had never realized before. Many of the ONU students during the mixer were having productive conversations, but only a few of us were speaking and meeting new professionals. The rest of the group, while still having productive, professional conversations, were just talking amongst themselves. Brandi brought this to my attention and raised the question, "Why are all of you ONU students so close with each other?"

Repeatedly, throughout the entire event, Brandi asked me this question. My response at the time was, “It’s because we are such a close-knit family at ONU.” but I came to realize that is not what she was trying to get me to understand. She already knew we were a close-knit group of people, but she did not understand why we leaned on each other like a safety net.

At an event like a mixer, it is important to step outside of your comfort zone and make connections outside of your existing network. The ONU students who were attending the PRSA mixer knew this but did not have the skills to do so. I think this is because of the culture that is bred at small universities. There is a safety net because we are all taught that being a big fish in a small pond is comfortable. We are never taught how to be a big fish in a big pond.

At ONU we take pride in our university and its values, we take comfort in our small town because our ceiling is only being raised to the level of those around us. We do not realize that the peak of success is much higher until we step outside the cornfields. Until we step outside the comfort of the university. If we desire to be big fish when we leave ONU, the professional world needs our comfort zone to be expanded and our ceiling of expectations raised.

I challenge every student at a small university, especially ONU to look outside of your comfort zone and to look beyond the ceiling that is set for you right now. What would it take to be the big fish at a university that has double, triple, even quadruple the number of students than we have at ONU? What would it take to be the big fish in a booming city, or in your respective profession?

We have the luxury of family here at ONU. We have everyone pushing us to have the confidence to be our best, but we cannot take this for granted. We need to look outside of the cornfields and out of the walls of our university and realize that society and our professions need us to be more than what we are at our small university. We need to utilize the confidence we have established at ONU and use that to excel us out of our comfort zones.

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