Monthly Archives: November 2014

Take a break. Be thankful.

For most college and university students, it is break time.  Some of you may have the whole week off (for Thanksgiving holidays); others, just the Thursday and Friday combination.  Whatever break you get, take time to have a break.  And, take time to be thankful.

The break:

There is a good chance that you have loads of schoolwork to do.  Acknowledge it; make a plan for attacking it.  But.  Do not forget to take a break of some sort.  It is better if you make a plan for both taking a break as well as getting homework done (material read, essays written or outlined, and study time in general).  Grab a piece of paper (or your phone organizer) — sketch out the days and times you have until you have to be back at campus.  If you are also working, include that, too.  Sketch the study time, the work time, and the R&R time.  It is critical that you take a break but don’t stop studying.  You will have a better holiday in general; and, you won’t be as panicked or stressed when you head back to classes next week.

The thanks:

Take time to be thankful.  Reflect on your school experience so far.  Be thankful you are in school and that you are working hard.  Think about the final stretch in front of you — make a plan to study hard so that you can relax well for a few weeks during the upcoming longer winter holiday.  It is important to own your actions thus far; and, be thankful you have the chance to reflect on your progress.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Cindi and Heidi

Do you recognize this student?

Recently, my colleagues and I have been receiving several emails from students who are struggling in our classes, have missed multiple assignments, and are now asking for mercy.  At my institution, we are finishing up Week 12.  That means there are 3 weeks left.  We are getting emails like this:

Dear Professor,

Hi, I am in your Intro to Blah Blah class.  I have been having a difficult semester.  I wasn’t able to buy the book in time and therefore I scored poorly on the first quiz.  Then, my car was broken into and my backpack and laptop were stolen.  On top of all that, I was recently in a car crash.  I know right.  Amazing.  I missed the midterm [3 weeks ago] and have missed the other assignments, too.  I was hoping I could make up the midterm and some of the assignments so that I can pass the class.  I was talking to my advisor and s/he advised me to talk to you about how I can make up things I missed.

Student-in-trouble

Does this sound familiar?  Familiar at all?  Here is what we, as faculty, think about this kind of post (in no particular order):  OH!  How awful!  Was s/he hurt in the car crash?  Which student is this?  Is the story true?

Then, we have to decide how to respond.  Typically we ask such a student to visit us in office hours immediately (if possible).  Then we are able to strategize together the next best path.  If someone has had devastating events happen during a semester, understanding the available options is a critical aspect of any contemplated next step.  For example, assuming the above circumstances are true, even if a student is not in the hospital, a traumatic event may warrant being able to withdraw from a semester.  Withdrawal means that you will lose the time and money invested this far in the semester.  But, it will also mean that you don’t have a super low GPA for missing so many assignments and exams; and, you may avoid academic probation and disqualification.  It is an option to weigh and consider.  Grades of Incomplete may also be appropriate; but these decisions are made in conjunction with the faculty who teach your courses.

Let me tell you what a student of my colleague did:  for two weeks the student did nothing.  No more emails; no office visit; no class attendance.  Nothing.

Finally, when the student did attend office hours, my colleague did a very wise thing:  My colleague said to the student:  you must understand that in the situation we are in right now, doing nothing IS a decision.

Read that again.  It is profound.  In situations like the above, doing nothing is akin to doing SOMETHING.  By just letting time tick by, even if you convince yourself you are “thinking about what do to”– your lack of action translates into action.  And in this case, zero action means you will fail the class; you will lose the money and energy you have put in thus far because you will have to repeat the units at some point.  “Just thinking” for a week to ten days constitutes  an action (an active decision) on your part.  You are still responsible.  You did the right thing by reaching out to the professor, and even to advisors, but then not acting on any of the suggestions, doing nothing, is also a course of action.  But it is rarely a good one.  Especially in these cases.

As you head into the final stretch of the semester, do so purposefully.  Even if you are not finishing all the units you originally signed up for; know that you are making decisions that are the best ones you can make right now given the situation and information you have.  Be confident; but don’t be inert.

Experiential Learning

Learning by experience (experiential learning) is probably the most important activity to engage in while in college. I believe most students go to college precisely for these opportunities, although you rarely hear a student respond to “Where are you going to college?” with the response of “the place where I have the most opportunities!” Every college campus provides numerous ways to collect these experiences – but you, students, must be on the look-out for them.

Recently, a fun and funky friend of mine, provided me an experiential learning opportunity (as a 30-something adult). She honored me with a media pass to a festival which provided me access to take photos of musicians, bands and rockstar in the Media Pit! This bout with photography was really interesting in multiple aspects. First, being so close to the stage and the musicians was exciting! Second, watching professional photographers in action, running around the pit, bumping into each other – and being quite polite about it, climbing on fences and scaffolding was nuts! These individuals are only given 1-2 songs, or about 10 minutes in the pit, to get great shots. Third, noticing all the stage lighting, especially during the evening performances, makes one wonder, how do any of these photos look good with all those colors changing every few seconds. Additionally, the musicians aren’t posing for pictures, so the photographer has to know how to get a good shot, no matter what the performer is wearing or how s/he is standing/dancing/moving on stage.

My friend, Susan, tapped into experiential learning in college by writing for the campus’ weekly newspaper. Through this experience, she found her love of writing and photography. Today, she continues with this passion in two ways: 1) by interviewing bands for an Atlanta, GA, music publication (note: she lives in California), and 2) photographing musicians at concerts around the U.S. Currently, being a “rocktographer” is not her full time gig, however, she has a true passion for the industry and continues to pursue avenues to make this work a full time career.

So, student! How are you, or how will you, engage in experiential learning before the end of the term? Here is a photo of Susan, and our favorite band  at the festival: The War On Drugs!

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Application Essay Advice similar to Job/Resume Advice

College students, the title of this blog may look like advice for the high school seniors, but read on!!!

It’s November, and the college application deadline is looming! In the spirit of wanting to inspire great college application essays, I’ve once again been researching other people’s thoughts on them. However, what I’ve noticed, is thoughts on writing a great application essay also translate into items that make for a great job application cover letter and successful interviewing.  Some of these keys to success include:

* Write it yourself
Both a college application essay and a job cover letter are a reflection of you. For a college essay, you receive an essay prompt, for a job vacancy you receive a list of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSA). No matter which you are writing, you must utilize your skills, accomplishments, and the challenges you’ve overcome, as examples of how you can be a valuable asset to the college or company.

* Practice, edit, practice, edit, practice, edit…
Once you know the prompt or the KSA, now:

  • Brainstorm a list of experiences you can write about. Then…
  • Pick a few key topics from that list and make a short outline of how you believe those topics answer the prompt/KSA. Then…
  • Write a few rough drafts (three topics = three drafts). Then…
  • Make sure you’ve used a positive tone, no one wants to read a whiney story! Then…
  • Seek an outside opinion. Ask a friend, family member, a counselor: high school or college career center for feedback. Next…
  • Utilize their feedback for edits, then self-edit, then get outside editing again!

Your best writing is not your first draft, nor your second! It’s important to be willing to allow yourself time to grow as a writer of this type.

* Are Admissions officers/Human Resources staff even reading this?
In the case of Admissions officers for a college: Yes, they are, and they care about who they admit to the institution. In the case of Human Resources: it depends, some companies use computer software to screen applicants. The electronic screening is often set to find key words, which makes it very important for applicants to include key words and phrases used in the job vacancy in the cover letter and resume.

For those of you working on the application essay, these two blogs may be useful! For those of you working on resumes and cover letters, go to your campus career center for one-on-one conversations and feedback!

Happy writing! (FYI: I edited this blog more than ten times!)