Another Letter to a First Year Student

Well, we are two months into a new term and it’s worth sharing this again.

I might be posting this one month too early, but it’s on my mind. And, I can always revise and post again, right? Here I offer a second installment. The previous one was really focused more so on academics and having a well-rounded first term or year at university. This installment is based merely on my opinion and experience as both an undergrad advisor and as someone who has taught first year students for my entire career.

  • If you live in the dorms try to schedule your study time at a time when you’re at your best. Chances are you are juggling a handful of classes, work, relationships, stress, and more. You need to manage your time well and I suggest that you schedule study time. This requires that you keep a schedule! Add all the assignment due dates to the schedule, and take advantage of the UVIC Library’s Assignment Calculator, and those suggested due dates in your calendar.
  • Find out where the gym is on campus. If you haven’t been there, go take a tour, and have a workout there. Get comfortable there because you’re going to need to stay healthy during the term and this includes eating right, sleeping, and exercising.
  • Find out where Health Services/Campus Clinic is on campus, and go by and check when you can get a flu shot. If you don’t believe in flu shots, then make sure you wash your hands lots, and cough/sneeze into your arm. This is so obvious that it pains me to remind people, but seeing so many leave the bathroom without washing their hands–especially during flu season makes me share this.
  • Find out where Campus Counseling office is and find out what services and workshops they offer for student success. It could end up that the Learning Center or Library offers workshops related to time management, skill-building, and more. At the campus where I work the Counseling Services office offers some great workshops and counseling sessions.
  • Before the term begins, walk around campus to get familiarized with the different buildings, and check out your classrooms, so that you don’t get lost during the first week of classes. Check out other parts of campus for good study nooks and crannies!
  • Google your instructors or at the very least look them up on the university website so that you know what they look like. Some of you might not care to do this, but others will want to make sure that they’re in the right class. You will also get familiar with what your instructor teaches and researches. This particular suggestion might be more appropriate for the transfer student, who is looking for a mentor. I’ll add to this one–go see your professor during her/his office hours.
  • Check out the student union and the different clubs on campus. You should seriously look at getting involved on campus. The degree of this involvement will vary among the students, but you really should get involved in a club or two. This will allow you a way to meet other people.
  • Your first year you are really going to take an array of courses and meet the general education requirements for your undergraduate degree. But, you really should refer to the university guidelines or department requirements for the department that you think that you will pursue your major in. Take a course or three in this area, so that you can make sure that you want to pursue this degree.

I will continue these letters to a first year student. The next one will most likely focus with peer mentoring. I truly hope that some of this is helpful! If you’re a student, bookmark this and save it. If you work with college students, please add more. I’m sure I missed something in this second installment.

Busy is Hard to Unlearn: Having It All

An article in the Globe and Mail that discussed how students today don’t really take a Summer break gave me pause. Once I was in high school I found a love for running and spent my Summers training for Cross Country and Track Seasons, but I also took the occasional Summer School class up at Mt. SAC. I was also enrolled in some Honors and Advanced Placement courses, so by the time I graduated I had more than the first term of college courses completed. While in university I also took Summer School and ultimately graduated with my BA in Women’s Studies and Minor in Political Science in 3.5 years. Yes, you read that right.

I was a first generation college student and the eldest of 5 kids. College wasn’t really about having the time of my life and finding myself (well, I did a little of this), but was about being  busy and serious to get it done. I had my family to think of and how they would help all five of their kids go to college or university. Three of us have degrees and the two others took some coursework, but never completed to earn the four year degree. Two of us have multiple advanced degrees.

The crux of this post, though, is the article about teenagers not having Summers today. I can recall being in middle school and getting bored after one month and I was ready to return to my school schedule. I was a good, focused student. Today, though, I am a workaholic and not saying this out of pride, but just sheer honesty. I work hard and I love my job, but I have to remind myself that I am not my job. I say this, as I want to be a good example to my own teen and her little sister. I want them to have a Summer and decompress from the busy school term that is filled with classes, competitive swimming, piano lessons, and more.

What does it mean to be so busy? What does it mean to have it all? Yes, I’ve linked to the now infamous NYT and Atlantic articles. What some of this means is that it’s getting harder to relax. I’ve blogged previously about the electronic umbilicus between me and my gadgets. I’ve also blogged about Breaking Up with Foursquare. I’m mindful of my work balance issues and trying hard for better balance. But, I also know that my Type A personality is at work, and I work in a field where my job is not the traditional 9-5 gig. I always have a project to work on, a chapter to revise, or journal article to write. And, I need to say “no” more.

It’s no wonder that during my first week of vacation I was at the office three days for meetings. Meetings planned months in advance with four or more people and our busy schedules meant that we could only find time in July–my month off. The second week of my vacation I was also at work three times. Each time I came into work the wonderful, Graduate Secretary smiled and me and said, “Now, I thought you were on vacation?” I love her to death for her humor and support!

This third week, on Monday I met with some mentees and I’m finally ready to get to my own projects and writing! But, as any of us working in higher education knows, there is still work to be done on courses and other work related stuff during the month off. This post is the first in a series thinking about what it means to be busy or attempt to have it all. I think I just about have it all, but it means that I’m busy. Cue the big sigh.

Coalition Building after Occupy: Campus Community

All of this talk about who constitutes the 1% makes me think of the university system. Surely, regular, full-time faculty appear to constitute the coveted 1%. We have the some semblance of job security (or at least those with tenure do), better benefits than the contingent faculty, job flexibility, and essentially get paid to think, talk, read, and some get to engage in research. It sounds great. Some have even gone so far to refer to the academic system as one of a feudal society.

I would argue that the student population–both undergraduate and graduate student are in a place of privilege, too. While they are taking classes and many are heavily in debt to do–the act of being on a college campus and opportunity to go to university is in itself a unique opportunity and privilege. Should we move beyond an “us vs them” conversation?

Thus, I’m not completely sure if the framework for who is the 1% completely works–unless we look to the CUPE staff on campus who are doing most of the behind the scenes work on campus–from serving coffee, cleaning the grounds, and working as contingent faculty. I would argue that this group of the university population is the most exploited or constitutes the least privileged group on campus. Of course, this also includes some staff who might make good incomes that exceed 50k annually. This is by no means enough to live comfortably in the capital region; however, it constitutes a good income. My point here is that more people on campus constitute the 99%. And, many in the campus community are not in their career job.

When we think of the university community, it is fair to say that regular, full-time faculty are part of the elite on campus. But, even this group has tiers: senior instructors (new, continuing and Teaching Professors), Assistant Professors, Associate Professors, Full Professors, and Canada Research Chairs. Directors of units or offices are in a good position as well. Then, we move to the various Deanships. Associate Deans and the full Deans. Moving to the next level would be the Associate Vice Presidents, Vice President, Chancellor, and President. There are many tiers of responsibility and privilege on campus. Maybe we should think more like a large community? The campus is its own microcosm. Can we work together for social justice? Is this a reasonable idea? I think that we can work together. The how is the important question.

Lots of great work going on at the campus across multiple units or departments. But, at times we aren’t having cross campus conversations to share this work. We need to get better at this. I don’t have the answers, but I’m thinking about what is next with the occupy movement and how we need a broad-based movement. This movement has touched so many. What is next?

Fri Fun Facts: Positive Wishes for Students

Today’s Friday Fun Facts is dedicated to my students. Well, to any #UVIC students. I hope that you have a great start to the term and this school year leaves you with a continued love of learning. My other wishes for you are as follows in no particular order.

1. Come to class. You’ll do better.

2. Come to office hours. The consultation does help.

3. Do the reading. A close reading and not a quick review or scan.

4. Take notes.

5. Establish study or conversation groups.

6. Think about the assignments and manage your time well.

7. Use the handy assignment calculator to help you manage your paper(s) writing needs: http://webapp.library.uvic.ca/freecalc/

8. Write helpful comments on the Course Experience Surveys. (Teaching effectiveness, readings you didn’t like/did, etc). Save the snark for FB or Rate My Professors.

10. You have lots of resources at your fingertips or shoes–contact the Writing Centre or other offices on campus to help you.

11. Review numbers 1-3! Repeat.

12. Get involved! The more you make #UVIC and your home department your home, the better you will transition into the campus community. Don’t sleep through these 5.1 years. Make the most of it.

And, seriously, do enjoy these years on campus.

Why the Adaptive Advising Tool Will Not Replace Undergraduate Advising

In case you haven’t heard about it, there is a new kid on the block in Tennessee that is meant to help students better plan their college classes. Now, this program (Adaptive Advising Tool AAT) sounds useful. And, it will most likely help many students maneuver their degree programs by using an algorithm based upon the students’ courses and their interests. It has repeatedly been compared to the similar equation used by Amazon to offer reader recommendations.

I imagine that this will work well for some students, but there were still be students who will want to come to office hours for consultation. The algorithm will not offer an honest opinion about life decisions and the algorithm will not mentor students.

What I do hope, though, is that students find interesting courses to take that they might not otherwise of thought of taking. The AAT also might alleviate advising office hours, so that students come prepared for chats about their futures and not just the usual spate of questions that are answered by the college calendar or website.

Tennessee can thank Bill and Melinda Gates for this $1 million dollar grant. Apparently ten states won this award. The intention is not meant to replace advisers, but to help students graduate faster.  For more information about this see: http://tinyurl.com/3lxznme

Without a doubt, this story is not over and we will continue to hear more in the news about the AAT and ultimately its effectiveness. I look forward to reading about students graduating on time and having a better college experience, but I do not expect the AAT to replace certain important aspects of face to face advising.