Is it a red ruler or a magic wand?

Published 2:45 pm Friday, February 11, 2022

Walking to our beautiful Ole Miss Campus after 8:30 am Mass at St. John’s Catholic Church a few days ago on a beautiful day, swell students everywhere, I reflected on my many wonderful years working with students at Ole Miss, Southeast Missouri State, own education, career and life experiences – all of which greatly helped me assist students to reach their life goals.

As Assistant Director of the Ole Miss Career Center in Martindale and Instructor, I “gently” requested parents to please not attend my counseling session with their student because from experience learned quickly that parents would speak for their student and tell me what “they” wanted to major in – as the student looked at me and rolled their eyes – never had a problem with that request.  

Almost always, as soon as I shut my office door, the student would say, “Thanks!” and we productively explored their interests and non-interests. Obviously, they didn’t always know what they wanted to major in or do in life, but they knew what they “didn’t” want to do, so I started at the bottom and worked my way up providing interesting to them, feasible career choices. 

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A “gift” of my dad’s death (and God’s mercy), shortly before beginning my college career, was a deep empathy for people, which eventually led to my life’s work.  I also developed a sort of “radar” when meeting someone for the first time to screen if they could hurt me or not. This intuitive radar with students in career and personal counseling paid huge dividends and they would often say, “Do you know me?”   

On rare occasions, I would be totally stumped as students safeguarded their inner vocation dreams with someone they didn’t know and then had to dig deep into my non-technological “tool box” and use my secret weapon – a 12” red wood ruler.  As I pulled the ruler out of my middle desk drawer, asked what it was.  “Uh, red ruler?” they would correctly respond and I would say, “No, this is a “magic wand.”  

I explained that by waving this magic ruler over them their life desires could be realized even if they didn’t have the qualifications – they would relax, then with a sheepish, quirky smile and quiet whisper, their dreams perhaps for the first time ever would slowly exit their mouths.  Yes!! Then I could help make their dreams realized.

Although cheesy, this technique never failed, even with my first and second year MBA students when I became Director of MBA Career Services and undergraduate instructor in the Ole Miss School of Business Administration, with Law students who sought my assistance, or anyone else. 

One of my first year MBA students from the north seeking a summer internship responded to the red ruler as she quietly revealed she had always wanted to work with preserving old historic buildings in the south.  After much research and many phone calls, I contacted the director of the Savanna, Georgia Coastal Heritage Society, introduced myself, told him I had the perfect summer intern for him and why.  There was a long pause on the phone and then he asked, “Can she do PowerPoint presentations?” “Yes!” I said – she was thrilled, and after a face-to-face interview she got the internship, then a full time job with Coastal, and met her husband there.  

From experience, I learned that a large variety of companies were not particularly business orientated. For example, the folks at the Stennis Space Center on the Coast could build rocket engines, but hated the task of keeping up with expenditures or formulating marketing and business strategies, and had no problem placing our MBA’s with them in summer internships that I managed to extend into fall/spring semester, and landed full time jobs.

Rather proud that my supervisor said my placement numbers in the spring of 2002 for first year MBA summer internships was nearly 100% and fulltime job placement for second year MBA’s nationwide was 26%, mine was over 60% and wrote me a fantastic letter of commendation.  It took a lot of hard work, getting to know each MBA starting at summer orientation, discovering their dream job, busting my butt to make contacts for them, and…sometimes using a wee red ruler…

So, parents, from personal experience, discuss potential majors with your student, encourage them to take advantage of Ole Miss Student Services Career Center (alone), but please don’t force your wants on them as they will resist and it won’t work – like you, your student has to do their own thing.  Amen, Good Luck, Peace Out, and GO REBELS! 


Steve Stricker received his Ph.D. in Counseling from Ole Miss, lives in Oxford, and can be reached at