We Have Great Students

At UMW, we strongly encourage our students to travel abroad at least once as part of their education.  This is an expensive option and challenging to accomplish on a student budget.  However, traveling is very broadening and in an increasingly interconnected world, it is important for tomorrow’s leaders to better understand other cultures.

Several years ago, two of my students asked me which country was my favorite.  Outside of the United States, I love Australia and have had the good fortune to visit it several times.  After I told them about why I loved visiting Australia, they asked me to sponsor a UMW trip there over Winter Break.  I was a bit skeptical if we could get enough students for such an expensive trip (the airfare alone is over $2,000 during this time period – peak summer season in that part of the world), but I agreed.  We ending up recruiting six students and visited Australia over the 2014-15 Winter Break.  The students had such a great time learning about Aussie culture that their word-of-mouth created the demand for the next trip.  We took another trip with 13 students over the 2016-17 Winter Break (a summary about the 2016-2017 trip is available here).

During these trips, I learn so much about our students.  For example, one of our students had never flown before.  She certainly picked a challenging set of first flights!  One of the legs is over 14 hours long.  However, she handled it well and now has the skills to travel internationally on her own.  In addition to learning how organizations market themselves in Australia and New Zealand, we also did some fun activities such as kayaking three miles in the ocean to hike on a island.  After we had finished the first part of the excursion and were exploring the island, one of the students told me another student did not know how to swim.  Think of that – this brave young student was willing to kayak three miles in the ocean despite not knowing how to swim.  Further, she did not complain or even tell her professor it was an issue.  I would have never known if another student had not shared.

I am thrilled that these students had the opportunity to learn from how other cultures and businesses operate.  I am equally impressed with the lessons we can learn from the behavior of our own students.  As the two examples I shared illustrate, our students are willing to bravely try new activities, even when these activities are well outside their experience or comfort zones.  I feel blessed to have the opportunity to help our students have these experiences (and share them) and look forward to taking another group of students Down Under over the 2018-19 Winter Break.

Paying for Our Transportation Infrastructure

Mac Zimmerman had an interesting editorial in May 26’s Wall Street Journal.  He correctly points out that our Highway Trust Fund will soon be empty unless Congress acts.  Our current fuel tax is insufficient to keep up with current spending, so the easy answer is to increase the gas tax.

However, Zimmerman pointed out this was not necessary.

If Congress directed the fund to spend its money only on highways and other road-related infrastructure—what it was initially created to do—it would be 98% solvent for the next decade.

That is an excellent suggestion.  Zimmerman references other sources that show that a minimum of 20% of the Highway Trust Fund’s spending went toward items such as light rail, bike paths, and transportation museums.  All of these may be laudable projects, but it is unfair to use fuel taxes for these other purposes, especially when our highways and bridges need more funding.

Zimmerman also had some other good suggestions based on facts and economic analysis.  I recommend you read the entire article if you have access.

Solid Advice for Philanthropists

Too many people want to spend your money.  Don’t let them.

James Piereson wrote a great column urging innovators not to succumb to the urgings of people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, state and local governments, and other people who think they can spend your money better than you can. Mr. Piereson highlights the example of Robert Wilson, who gave away $500 million of his own money to the causes he supported while rejecting Bill Gate’s desire to influence his philanthropy.

Wilson wrote Gates “When I talk to young people who seem destined for great success, I tell them to forget about charities and giving.  Concentrate on your family and getting rich–which I found very hard work.  I personally and the world at large are very glad you [Bill Gates] were more interested in computer software than the underprivileged when you were young…  Which rich people reach 50 and are beginning to slow down is the time to begin engaging them in philanthropy.”

Not only does this make sense from a financial point of view, it makes sense from a long-term view of helping the world.  I admire some of the great things the Gates Foundation has done to make the world a better place, but none of these efforts come close to the benefits Gates helped usher in with the rise of the personal computer.  This does not mean people should be selfish – I personally am teaching my children the 10/80/10 rule of giving 10% of their income away, living on 80% or less, and saving 10% – but that while people are young and creative, they should maximize their creativity.

Mr. Piereson’s philanthropic advice may be summarized as “Donate to causes you care about, think long term, and remember it is your money.”  Let’s hope people read his words and follow his advice.