Archive » November 23, 2006
The Montecito Connection
By Celeste Scheinberg
A DAY IN PAUL ORFALEA’S CLASS
It’s Monday morning and coffee is brewing in the corner. The ocean is clearly visible through the large window and a UCSB student begins passing out bagels to everyone from a paper bag. Folding chairs are brought in as more people arrive and a small dog is weaving in and out of the chairs looking for bagel crumbs. Paul Orfalea, the founder of Kinko’s and a widely asserted expert on globalization in the business world, is chatting amicably with the students who are early. As class time nears, it becomes readily apparent why students want to arrive on time – Orfalea’s lessons are about to start.
“How are you doing?” Orfalea cheerfully asks a student who arrives late.
“Um, fine,” the student answers, looking at the floor.
“Walk out the door and try it again,” Orfalea orders. “First of all, don’t say ‘um.’ Have a positive attitude and look me in the eye. Secondly, you should ask how I am doing.”
The student walks out among hushed laughter and tries it again.
“How are you?” Orfalea asks.
“Great. How are you?” the student replies confidently looking Orfalea in the eyes.
“I am fine,” Orfalea answers. The student looks relieved he has passed the test and takes his seat.
Many of the students arriving late fail to pass Orfalea’s muster and must leave the class and walk back in until they get it right. One student makes the trip through the door three times before he is allowed to sit down.
“You will not get the job if you arrive late and fail to look confident when greeting someone,” Orfalea lectures. He tells one student she would get the job because of her bubbly personality and tells another she wouldn’t because she acts tentatively.
As part of UCSB’s seven-year-old Global and International Studies program, Orfalea, a Montecito resident, teaches a class to prepare students for real-life professional situations. His teaching methods are quite unconventional, employing negative motivation, unique guest speakers and cash incentives to reinforce his lessons.
Orfalea often gives unusual class assignments, such as offering students $5 to buy a stranger a beverage and to report back on what they learned. He encourages students to learn personal skills and how to carry a conversation. Students also must read articles on finance and international issues and come up with questions, which they must stand up and present to the class with confidence and clarity. Anyone who hesitates or doesn’t present well is told to sit down and try again. And pity to anyone who forgets his or her assignment: when one student tells Orfalea he left his assignment at home, the smell of fear is palpable in the air. The student thinks he will be excused, but Orfalea doesn’t let him get away with it. “Make up something!” Orfalea orders. The student is flailing, but the teacher doesn’t give in. “This class is so stressful,” a female student whispers to the woman sitting next to her.
Despite the pressure, the students relish the experience and the opportunity to join the class. Only UCSB seniors can apply for 15 coveted seats in Orfalea’s class. Others can gain entry by writing a paragraph explaining why they wish to take the class and how they believe it will help them in the future. They jostle for the spots because they know ultimately that the lessons must be learned.
“Paul’s class teaches you how to look people in the eye and communicate,” one student says. “Our parents may have taught us this at home, but in the real world it is different with people you don’t know that well. He has taught many of us that we need to be prepared when we walk into a room, no matter what the situation. He also has taught us that titles and wealth aren’t what decides a person’s worth; everyone should be looked in the eye and treated with respect.”
The class is held at the cliff-front Isla Vista home of Mark Juergensmeyer, who is director of the Global and International Studies program and a UCSB professor of sociology and religious studies. No classroom, no lecture hall – just Orfalea, students and a slate of guest speakers with a breadth of professional experience and knowledge.
One of those is Bob Burton, the famed bounty hunter who holds an office in Montecito. With an effective speaking delivery, Burton’s message to the students is clear and concise: have good etiquette, have a nice appearance, stay informed by reading newspapers and be a good conversationalist. The students digest his lecture and ask questions about his unusual and dangerous profession. “Have you ever been shot?” one students asks. “Of course!” Burton answers laughing.
Towards the end of the class, Orfalea invites guest speakers to judge students based on their questions from current event articles. Orfalea awards the winner $100 of his own money. The students recite their questions and are narrowed down to three finalists.
On one occasion, a male student prevails over two female students by asking a question with confidence and good eye contact. Orfalea hands him the $100, but tells him he isn’t finished yet. “Now ask those two ladies out to dinner,” Orfalea says.
“Uh,” the young man starts and looks at the floor.
Orfalea interjects immediately. “How can you present your article question with confidence and not be able to look these two women in the eye to ask them to dinner?” he demands. In the end, the point is made and the student asks the two young ladies out for dinner.
Of course, Orfalea expects a report back on everything that happens.
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