Virginia Tech loves competition. Whether it is the North Endzone erupting during Enter Sandman at the Homecoming football game or the slew of architectural competitions thrown at students in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies every semester. Competing is a big part of our culture here in Hokie Nation. While I see the benefits of this (and wouldn’t have been able to lead my first team this semester without it), I do want to probe into some of the pros and cons of such an intensely competitive educational environment.
The pros: The obvious benefit of competing is that to excel you need to push beyond your comfort zone. You also have to learn your way to victory as many competition entries are not covered in the syllabus and many ideas enter creative territory where even faculty are unfamiliar. In group teams this can mean learning to work together (or at least better understanding how you operate within larger teams). Individually you can learn how you stack up to the best in your field, and use it as motivation to improve.
The cons: Depending on who you are competing against, this type of atmosphere can cause tension between students and undermine a unified school spirit. Especially if the stakes are high in a local competition between only Virginia Tech students. More generally, these types of competitions cause STRESS. It is not much different than the way students compete in a course for the best grades, but it is more stark. There is usually only one real winner. The stakes can seem super high and you often only have one chance to get it right.
As far as the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge goes, I really think my experience embodies both the pros and the cons equally. I learned more in a single semester than I learned in 4 years of undergraduate education. Not just about the subject matter but about leading and inspiring others to do their best work. I also have never felt more stressed in my life. Never lost so many nights of sleep. Never felt so responsible for the output of such a large team. Never realized how much my stress affects other friends and family members in my life.
We competed. We excelled. We won. But at what expense? And what now?