Sunday, December 29, 2013

Your Job Title: Educated Person

Lots of buzz on campuses these days about careers.  Everyone, it seems, is eager to graduate with a job title in their back pocket.  Across the country, enrollment in computer science, business, engineering, and nursing programs is booming; on the flip side, the number of students majoring in liberal arts shrinks by the minute.

Given the economic disasters of the past few years, it's hard to fault students for trying to increase their chances of finding a job after graduation.  Majors that translate into "hot" careers seem to make sense in a tight market. 

But besides careers and paychecks, college can (and should) prepare you for other rewards, including some that can impact far more than just your future earning power.  If you let it, college can widen your world.  It can help you gain a better understanding of yourself and inspire an appreciation of life's richness and complexity.  A college education may sometimes be about finding correct answers, but it's also about asking questions--the same questions educated people have been wrestling with for ages.

Engaging the world is as important a part of your education as preparing for a career.  And interestingly, the two activities are not at all at odds.  If you're well informed--if you're curious about life and (as one of my students recently put it) "know about things"--you're more likely to make better choices, including those about your work.  And more often than not, the most successful people out there are knowledgeable not just about their field but about the rest of the planet.  As always, knowledge rules.

This isn't a pitch for the liberal arts, business, or any other curriculum, but instead for the importance of being open to learning and the promise and possibilities of college.  Clearly, you should study what you enjoy and find interesting.  And you should, now and then anyway, look at the link between your coursework and careers.  

But it's a mistake to go through college with your head down, focusing only on courses and knowledge you think will make you marketable and ignoring everything else.  Doing so shortchanges your life big time--a terrible thing.  Whether next semester is your first or last at NCC, work on becoming a well-educated human being, by far the best job title of all.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Look Back, A Look Ahead

Over.  Done.  Finished.

The curtain has officially fallen on the fall 2013 semester.  And unless you're taking a Winterim course, you've a good month to kick back and relax before the spring semester gets rolling.

Good deal?  You bet.

But while fall 2013 is still in the rear view mirror, take a moment to give it one last glance.  Think about what was satisfying about this semester . . . and what wasn't.  Think about the smart decisions you made this fall and the choices you wish you could take back.  Chances are you've items in each column.

If your pluses outnumber your minuses--if you liked your classes, did well in the grade department, met people, and (all in all) enjoyed college--you're definitely doing something right.  Stay the course and you can expect more of the same.

But if the fall semester wasn't exactly what you'd hoped for--academically, socially, or in other ways--time to figure out how to make the next term better.

Start with a "Next Semester's Goals" list.

When I finished my first semester in college (which was okay but far from perfect), my Next-Semester's-Goals list looked something like this:

  • Work smarter
  • Meet people at school
  • Find an interesting major
  • Join something
  • Worry less  

I can't tell you I managed to accomplish all of these goals right away, but I did use my list to make plans.  And getting started--and making plans--felt good.  It felt good to move forward and to work on filling in the previous semester's gaps.  It beat standing still and feeling helpless.  It certainly beat writing off college as a disappointment.

So whatever you want to "fix" about your Nassau experience, the intersession is a good time to give that some thought.  Better grades, new friends, a more interesting social life, a major that inspires, a happier outlook: maybe these are among your possibilities.  But good things rarely happen on their own.  You have to set some goals, make some plans--and act.

Have a great intersession.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Essay Exam Coming Up? (Don't panic)

"I don't mind multiple choice tests," a student told me the other day, "for at least you know the answer is somewhere in front of you.  But essay exams are another story.  You have to know the topic really well, be organized, write fast, and hope it all makes sense when you're done.  It's tough."

He's right.  Writing a good essay, especially under test conditions, IS tough.

But not impossible.

Preparing for essay exams is in most ways like getting ready for any other test.  If you've done all of the right things--paid attention in class, kept up with readings and assignments, reviewed your notes, stayed interested in (and thought about) what you're learning, and anticipated test questions--you're already more than halfway there.

But since writing about a topic is different from answering short answer questions, knowing some essay test strategies also can't hurt.

Here are some quick tips to keep in mind for your next essay exam:

  • Read the question carefully.  Essay questions call for different kinds of information.  They may ask you to focus on similarities and differences; explain the how or why of something;   discuss a sequence of steps or events; argue a point; or summarize something you've learned.  A good way to determine a question's intent is to look at its action verb (words like compare, contrast, evaluate, explain, describe, summarize, trace, and so on).  Each communicates a specific "request." Paying attention to these words can help you understand the question and begin planning a response.

  • Answer only the question that's been asked.  If an essay question asks you to compare two short stories, discuss the symptoms of a disease, evaluate the effectiveness of a law, or examine the causes of a social problem, answer that question and that question alone.  Don't feel you have to provide tons of background information or anything else that's secondary to the question at hand.

  • Plan your answer before you begin writing.  Taking a few minutes to outline your answer can help you see your essay's content and direction.  Your outline doesn't have to be fancy: a simple list of the points or pieces of information you wish to include (maybe in the order you want to discuss them) should work just fine.  Once you've sketched out your answer, you can use the outline to guide your writing.

  • Introduce your main idea early in your essay.  Most essays have a thesis or main idea: a statement that responds directly to the question and that sets the stage for the rest of the discussion.  It's a good practice to state that idea early on, preferably in your first paragraph.  Whether you're telling your reader that film X is better than film Y; that four factors contributed to a revolution; or that being a vegetarian has many health benefits, make sure you share your thesis early in your discussion. 

  • Make sure your essay has enough content.  A good essay has not only a clear thesis but good content to support it.  Content may include facts, reasons, examples, research, data, definitions, and even personal experiences--all aimed at expanding and elaborating on the discussion's  main idea.  When answering an essay question, don't skimp on substance.  If a piece of information helps to advance your thesis, chances are it belongs in your discussion.

Essay exams can be challenging, but they can also be good confidence builders.  They give you opportunities to stretch yourself academically and to practice organizing information into a thoughtful discussion.  That's an important skill--and one that will pay off not only in your classes but in most careers, where your ability to make and support a point effectively will surely get you noticed. 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Showing Your Grit

Okay, so here it is, thirteen school days to the end of the semester.  Lots to do: papers to write, projects to finish, tests to prepare for, loose ends galore to tie up.  If college were a football game, this would be the two-minute warning, with the season on the line.

Time to show your grit.

Even if you've been on top of your classes from day one, the final weeks of the semester can be tough.  You may have done all the right things--kept up with required reading, reviewed notes, completed assignments, really given college your best shot--but the end of the term can still be busy and stressful.  It's a fact of college life.

Here's another fact: The most successful students not only put time and work into their classes throughout the semester but also push themselves at crunch time.  I'm not talking about pulling all nighters, staging marathon study sessions, medicating yourself to stay awake an extra two hours, or doing anything equally dumb.  But I am talking about pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone to do your best, especially at those moments (like now) when your performance matters.

I know students who just give up when school gets really busy. They miss classes at the end of the semester, let studying slide, and don't finish papers because they don't want to work any harder than usual.  "I never like to exert myself," a student told me last spring.  "If things get too intense, I just shut down." 

This attitude baffles me, especially given the evidence that suggests that the people who do best--in school, on a job, in a game, or anywhere else in life--are usually the ones willing to stay focused and push themselves at the end.  They're the ones who have the grit to keep going, despite being tired.  They may not always be at their best, but they hang in there nonetheless.

And so should you.  As the semester winds down, remember the importance of focus and tenacity. These qualities alone won't get you straight A's, but they might make the difference between knowing that you gave school your best effort and realizing that your semester could have turned out better, if only you'd shown a bit more grit.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

So it's Thanksgiving . . .

. . . and a lot of people in America have done some serious eating.  If you're among them, great.  You can't beat full bellies: the world would be better off if everyone had one.

But not everybody does, which is something that should concern all of us--and not just today. Millions of people, worldwide, routinely struggle to feed themselves and their families.  This includes Americans, as many as 1 in 6 by some estimates.  

Many of the hungry in America are children; others are middle-aged; many are elderly.  Some live in cities, some in suburbs, some in rural out-of-the-way places.  Though their situations and circumstances vary, all share a common plight. 

Hunger is a complex issue, one not easily understood or solved.  But while individuals may not be able to remedy the economics, psychology, and (yes) politics of poverty, they can respond to the needs of those for whom decent food is a luxury.

In your travels around campus lately, you've probably seen signs about food drives and fundraisers for the hungry in our midst.  The drives are sponsored by campus groups, including the Newman Club, the Student Organization of Latinos, and the Programming Board. Donations will go to local food banks and homeless shelters, which--sadly--are doing more "business" these days than they'd like to. 

These groups need your help.

You may think that a single donation--a can of food, for instance--won't make a dent in the world's hunger problem.  But such gestures count far more than you realize. They will most definitely make somebody's life better, even if for only a short while.  And they'll also be a statement, on your part, of our responsibility to each other.  We are all in this life together, something worth remembering on this Thanksgiving Day.

Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963: A Look Back

Most remember tears--theirs and others'.

One person recalls her teachers crying, upon hearing the news, in the hallway of her elementary school.   

Another remembers his mother--"a diehard liberal Democrat"--weeping in the family's living room.

A third remembers breaking into tears herself when "Walter Cronkite removed his glasses and solemnly said that the President had died."

The poignant recollections of these and other members of the campus community are part of an NCC Library exhibit, "November 22, 1963: A Look Back," marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The exhibit features photos, newspapers, books, and most moving of all, an array of memories, each unique, yet all connected to the tragic events of a half century ago.  

One faculty member recalls being escorted by her elementary school teacher from school to a nearby church, where she and her classmates prayed for the President's recovery.  Another remembers "being called [by teachers] to meditation and prayer."  A third notes the irony of talking with a co-worker, just before learning of the assassination, about what nice weather the President had gotten for his trip to Dallas.

Others recall specific sights and sounds of the day: a group of people kneeling in impromptu prayer on a New York street corner, a collective gasp among those gathered around a dormitory television, a usually gruff shop teacher talking softly to eighth grade boys about the destructivenes of hate, a television newsman weeping on the air.

Still others reflect on the painful days that followed--the procession through the Capitol, the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald, a young son's salute, the funeral, the loss of a President so young ("he had a wife and young children"), the sense of grief and futility.  One writes of trying to understand the meaning of the riderless horse, the eternal flame, a grief-stricken family walking instead of riding in a  limousine.   What did all of these things mean? 

For many, memories of the confusion and chaos of November 22 loom large.

"All I kept thinking was, 'Will anything ever be the same?'" one faculty member writes. 

"It was unfathomable to a young child," recalls another, "how anyone would want to kill the President, especially one who was loved and admired by so many people."

For some, the political and personal meanings of the Kennedy assassination would become truly clear afterward.

"It was the end of Camelot, the beginning of the real world, and the start of our generation's struggle to regain hope," one faculty member recalls.

"I lived it," another person writes. "November 22, 1963 was my first day IN history."   

And one remembers an especially emotional moment a year later, at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, when Jacqueline Kennedy was introduced: "People stood on chairs with tears streaming down their faces.  Hard to describe the sound they made, but I wouldn't call it cheering."

Even if you're not old enough to remember November 22, 1963, go see this exhibit anyway. You'll learn about  an important time in our history, and you'll experience the moment through the words of those who were there--and who remember.     

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Speech for the Ages

It was short, just under three hundred words, and it was delivered in just two minutes by a President who was not even the occasion's featured speaker.  Yet for all its brevity, President Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, delivered 150 years ago today at the dedication of Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, proved to be a speech for the ages.  

Noting the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address might seem a bit out of place in a blog devoted to the here and now of college success.  But the (amateur) historian in me thinks that part of becoming an educated person is connecting to moments that define our country, culture, and humanity. Lincoln's address, which paid homage to the thousands of Americans who had fought and died that July in Gettysburg, is one such link to our collective past.  So it seems right to note both the address (below) and its anniversary:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

"Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.  We are met on a great battle-field of that war.  We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who gave their lives that this nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate--we can not consecrate--we can not hallow--this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
                                                                                                                             -November 19, 1863 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Got a Registration Game Plan?

Registration already?

Yup.  Those signs you've been seeing around campus about spring registration are for real. Registration has begun.  Time to sit down with your advisor and talk about next semester.

But first, develop a registration game plan for yourself.  Think about

--what courses you want to take next semester;
--how many classes you should take;
--when you want to come to school;
--what professors you would like to study with.

All are important.

If you're not sure what to take this spring, find your curriculum in NCC's online catalog. You can access the catalog from the homepage--  (see "College Catalog") --and you can find your specific curriculum by clicking the "Programs of Study" link.  It's all there; you just have to look.

As for the number of courses/credits you should take, ask yourself how busy (with jobs, family stuff, etc.) you expect to be next semester.  Be honest.  Can you handle a full-time program? If so, should you take four courses? Five? More?

What's the best time of day to take classes? Do you like getting up early?  Are you at your best in the morning? Or are you not really "on" until the sun is halfway across the sky?  P.S. No matter what time you're starting school, a) avoid scheduling too many classes back to back (a formula for being mentally MIA by your last class) and b) remember your commute, especially if you're starting early and have a long trip from home.  You may not want to be on the road or at a bus stop at 6:30 a.m. in January.  

Should professors figure into your registration decisions?  Absolutely. A professor can make the difference between a great classroom experience and a so-so one.  Ask friends and classmates for recommendations.  Find out about teaching styles, workload (papers, exams, etc.), grading policies, and whatever else is important.  But above all, look for profs with good reps. 

Lots of important decisions here, some easier than others (and some you may want to make after talking with your advisor).  But think about these questions now--no time like the  present.  And be sure to register early!  If you hibernate until January, you may not like the choices you have at that point. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

It's Winterim Time

Short on credits this semester?   

Got a requirement you want to complete?   

Want to make up that course you had to drop?

Think Winterim.  

For those who don't know, the Winterim is NCC's "mini" semester--a roughly three-week session between the end of the fall semester and the start of the spring.  It's a chance to complete a course and get one step closer to graduation.

Winterim classes are intense.  They start right after Christmas (December 26) and run through January 15.  Most meet three hours a day (or evening) Monday through Friday, with breaks only for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.  Because classes move at a fast pace, you DEFINITELY have to keep up.  But since that's the only course you're taking (NCC will let you do only one) during that time, it's not impossible.  

Is the Winterim for you?  It depends.  Some students like the month off between the fall and spring semesters.  Some don't like the pressure of coming to class for three hours a day, five days a week, with assigned readings, papers, projects, and exams happening almost nonstop.  Some people work extra hours during this time, which makes squeezing in a course pretty tough, maybe impossible. 

But if you're eager to earn credits--and have the time (and energy) to give to school in late December/early January--the Winterim can be a good option.  You can choose courses from more than twenty departments, including English, Psychology, History, Business, Health, Phys Ed, Music, Physical Sciences, Sociology, Criminal Justice, Marketing, and Math (see the full schedule on Banner under "Winterim 2014").  You can fulfill a requirement, pick up an elective, even complete a prereq for a future course.  

Taking a class that's over and done in three weeks will probably require some changes in your schedule, but the trade-off could be worth it.  Having three additional credits under your belt means that somewhere along the way--next semester or next summer--life will be easier. 

Registration for Winterim classes starts on November 14.  Even if you can't register for the spring semester until a week or two later, you can get into a Winterim class right away--no waiting.  Nor should you wait: Winterim courses fill fast.  Seems like lots of students are eager to put their January to good use. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Just for Fun

Considering all of the advice about academics and other serious topics that this blog dishes out, you might think that fun isn't an option for college students. 

Not so!  While college classes are always serious business, I can't think of anyone in higher ed who thinks that students should never look up from their work.  In fact, if you go through Nassau and never have a few laughs or light moments, you're missing a really important part of your college experience.

What better time to share this thought than the night before Halloween--absolutely one of the most festive days of the year.  Though Halloween is a regular school day at NCC, there'll be even more fun stuff than usual happening on campus tomorrow. 

It starts early in the day with the annual Halloween film festival (9:45 a.m.-4 p.m.) in the College Center. A nonstop horror fest featuring some classic horror films (as well as some truly ridiculous ones), the festival gives you a chance to gasp, laugh, eat some Halloween junk food (plenty on hand), and take in a film that you've probably never seen before.


If you get restless and decide you've had your fill of ghouls, zombies, and mad scientists, stop by the Student Activities Office (Rm. 150 in the College Center) and pick up a pumpkin to decorate.  Between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., there'll be two hundred pumpkins in the CCB just begging for faces.  You can decorate a pumpkin for a friend, a little brother or sister, or even yourself--and take it with you (no charge).  And while you're creating your masterpiece, you can also put away more chocolate bars and peanut butter cups than you probably should.

More into decorating yourself than pumpkins? Then come in your most outrageous costume to the Student Government/Programming Board/Student Organization of Latinos Halloween Bash tomorrow evening (8 p.m.-midnight) in the College Center. You can listen to a deejay, gobble down some food, and live it up with others in disguise. It's free--as long as you have a current NCC ID (which you ought to have gotten by now).

Photo: Halloween Costume Bash!  Oct. 31, 8 PM-12 AM, CCB MPR.  Free for NCC students with valid ID!

I know what you're thinking: life is busy, you already have plenty to do tomorrow, and there are sometimes just not enough hours in the day.  All true.  But Halloween comes only once a year.  And Halloween 2013 will happen only once.

Which is why you need to find time tomorrow to have some fun. 

Because now and then at least, fun really matters.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Need Some Inspiration?

Given the sorry state of American politics, it's easy for us to feel disillusioned, maybe even cynical  about the "system" these days.

But while some people in public life disappoint, there are plenty of others, in government and elsewhere, whose behavior is inspiring.  

One of these is Mukesh Kapila, who spoke at NCC this week about a disturbing topic: the genocide that began in Darfur, part of the Sudan, in 2003 and that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.  As the United Nations' Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sudan, Kapila put his own life and career on the line to alert the world to the Darfur crisis and to bring to justice those responsible for mass killings. His message to his NCC audience: all of us must speak out against injustice and work to end it.

Kapila's talk was the first of several inspiring and thought-provoking presentations happening at NCC this semester. Another will take place this Monday, when Tim Wise, a nationally known anti-racism educator, will speak about the subject of race in America.  Wise's talk, scheduled for 11 a.m. and again at 2 p.m. in the College Center, is titled "Can We Talk About Race?"

The author of several books, including "White Like me: Reflections on Race From a Privileged Son," Wise will involve audiences in a frank conversation about racial inequality and the need for everyone, without exception, to address it.  An often no-holds barred speaker, Wise is above all else inspirational, someone sure to leave audiences with a lot to think about. 

Following Wise, on Nov. 4, will be another speaker with an inspiring message--Eric Greitens, author of "The Warrior's Heart," NCC's common reading for 2013-2014.  A Rhodes scholar, a former Navy SEAL, and the founder of an organization (The Mission Continues) that helps military veterans continue to serve their communities, Greitens will share his experiences bringing humanitarian relief to people in war-torn parts of the world. 

His talk, scheduled for 9:30 a.m, 11 a.m., and 2 p.m. in the College Center, will stress compassion, courage and commitment as the basis for a worthwhile life.  His emphasis on service and selflessness should clearly resonate with many in his audience, especially those realizing the importance of connecting to the larger world.

Different speakers, different styles, different topics--yet each encouraging audiences to get outside themselves and touch the world and make things better.  If you're weary of cynicism and could use a little inspiration and maybe even a wake-up call right now, come on over to the College Center and listen to what these speakers have to say.  The experience could be a life-changing moment.    

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Avoiding Siberia

Generally speaking, the classes at NCC are small, but there is still room to get lost.  Think of the layout of your classroom: There are seats lining the front row, many seats in the middle of the room, and a row of seats pressed against the back wall.  Where is one to sit?

It seems for some of us that we gravitate to the back.  I'm an English Professor, not a Psychologist, but I observe a lot of student behavior.  Now the following two points certainly don't apply for all rear-of-the-classroom dwellers, but for some of you, the rear maybe be more comfortable because:

  1. You won't get called on as much: If you stay out of the instructor's sight then you'll stay out of the instructor's mind.  The instructor will be so busy answering questions from the front and middle rows, so busy asking volunteers in the front and middle rows to read passages aloud from the textbook, that you can safely stay in your own cocoon.  Or, 
  2. You can do other things:  If the instructor is not calling on you to contribute in class you can sneak in some studying for the class after his in which you have a test.  Or you can, with your phone strategically placed next to your text book or resting on your lap (out of the sight lines of your professor), continue with texting, Facebook, Twitter conversing.  The class can stay a backdrop to what you feel are more important, interesting, pressing concerns in your life. 
I had a professor in grad school who had widely written about pedagogy and student engagement in the classroom.  He labeled the back row in his classroom "Siberia," a cold place where some students chose to sit because they knew they wouldn't be called upon to fully engage in the life of the classroom. He found much more enthusiasm generated in the front-end of the classroom and more disconnection in the back.  

I would challenge you to mix-up where you sit in the room.  And you can change things up at any time during the semester.  Try the classroom from different perspectives.  If you're a rear-sitter, move to the front.  You may find out that being so much closer enables you to become so much more engaged in what the professor/class is doing.  You'll get more and you'll miss less.  If you've ever been directly in front of the stage in a concert, you will know what I mean.  The performance becomes immediate and engrossing.  The difference between a great show, a good show, and a so-so show can relate to your vantage point of where you were sitting/standing during the show.  

The same can happen in a classroom.  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Be Good to Yourself

Picture this: It's early December, just two weeks to the end of the semester, and you're sweating big time over your Math 102 (Statistics) class.  Though you've been struggling in Stats since September, you've been putting off going to the Math Center for extra help, hoping everything would somehow turn out okay.   

Now picture this: It's early December, the end of the semester just around the bend, and you're holding your own in Statistics.  Though you'll never be the world's greatest math student, you took yourself to the Math Center early in the semester (as soon as you started to struggle) and got the help you needed to learn the material.

Whose shoes would you rather be standing in?

As you've probably heard (several times) by now, Nassau offers a wide range of services--help centers, individual and group tutoring, even online assistance--aimed at helping students get the most out of their classes. Though the specifics of services vary from department to department, all are delivered by people who know their subjects--be it math, writing, biology, accounting, or whatever.  All services are also free, which, as anyone who's ever paid a private tutor knows, is no small thing.

But just knowing about these services isn't enough.  You have to use them.  That means calling or visiting their locations and setting aside time to get the help you need.  That may be a little inconvenient, especially if the rest of life is busy, but ask yourself this: Do you want to hit December knowing a) that you got help early on and are doing okay or b) that you did nothing and are now sinking and hoping for a miracle?

The answer's a no-brainer.

The good news: It's only mid October--still time to salvage that course that you feel is slipping away.  Act now and there's no reason you can't catch up and raise those disappointing test or paper grades. 

But the key word is NOW.  Not the day after tomorrow or next week or whenever you get a little free time to make that call or visit.  Right now.

You can probably find the help you need just by clicking the following link, which lists most campus services.  And if you don't see what you need, try the department that offers the course you need help with. 

But whatever you do, act--don't put it off.  Be good to yourself.  Don't leave your classes to chance.  And come December, take comfort knowing that you gave your education--and your future--your best shot.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

No, you're not being hauled away by the police and you won't need a lawyer to get you off the hook. 

But if sitting silently in class and never letting on that you have a good mind were a crime, some of you would have some serious explaining to do! 

Year in and year out I meet students in my classes who do their best to be invisible.  They never ask a question, volunteer an answer or opinion, or speak (when called on) for more than an instant.

Many of these students are smart and have plenty to say--something I discover when I read their first papers or meet them for conferences.  But until that "aha" moment, they're often a mystery to me and others around them.

Some students have told me that they're simply too shy to speak in class.  Or that they spoke up in high school but were silenced by obnoxious classmates or overly critical teachers.  Or that they're worried about giving a wrong answer or saying something someone might disagree with.

So they sit silently in class and let others do all the talking.

If you're one of these folks, you need to think about changing your ways.  While you needn't be the most talkative person in class, you clearly deserve to be heard when you have a question to ask or a thought or opinion to share.  Don't let the loud mouths of the world (and there are unfortunately a few in our midst) or the possibilty of a wrong answer (who hasn't been wrong at some point?) keep you from participating in the life of your classes. 

Remember: This is YOUR education.

In the end, you do have the right to remain silent in class, of course, but you also have the right to speak up and make your presence felt.

I cast my vote for the latter; so should you.   

Monday, September 30, 2013

Getting All Emotional

You've just gotten your English essay back and--boy--are you mad!  Not only did your professor not like your writing very much, he seems (in your opinion) to have completely missed the point of your paper. 

One part of you says you should march right up after class and demand to know how he could have given such a crummy grade to such an awesome piece of writing.  But another part says maybe it's best not to bring this up while you're so angry and to wait until you've calmed down before talking to him about your grade.

Which voice will you listen to?

Depends on how emotionally intelligent you are.

Though definitions vary, emotional intelligence (EI for short) refers to the ability to control and manage feelings at critical moments.  Emotionally smart people, researchers say, are able to handle a range of important human tasks--calming themselves down, controlling their impulses, managing their anger, and sensing others' feelings.  They're also able to be at ease socially, a skill that serves them well in school and elsewhere.

People who aren't so emotionally intelligent often let their feelings get the better of them.  They botch friendships, antagonize professors and bosses, and blunder badly in social situations.  They often have a tough time managing anger and impulses--like the desire to quarrel publicly with their English professor about a grade--and are forever (or so it seems) digging themselves out of awkward situations.  
For those who'd like to handle things better, the good news is that emotional intelligence skills can be learned and improved, even while students are in college.  Just as people can learn to be better readers of textbooks, for example, they can also become better readers of themselves and those around them. 

Which brings us to this Wednesday's workshop, "The S Factor: Social and Emotional IQ and Your College Success" (Oct. 2, 9:30 a.m., Cluster F, Rm. 237).  It will offer a thoughtful look at Emotional IQ and suggest ways that students can strengthen their EI skills.  

When we talk about intelligence, we often think of it in traditional ways--as reading, problem solving, and so on.  These are obviously critical skills, but no more so than the ability to be emotionally smart. If you think you could use some practice in this department, find a seat at Wednesday's workshop and see what emotional intelligence is all about.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

$cholarship Season

Unless you're as rich as Trump, Gates, and Zuckerberg, you'll want to read this.

Each fall and spring NCC gives out a ton of scholarships, everything from awards of several hundred dollars to some carrying several thousand.  Some scholarships are earmarked for students who are about to graduate from NCC; others are awarded to people who have earned some credits but who still have a semester or two to go before graduation. 

Do you have to be a super student to qualify for a scholarship?  Not really.  Each scholarship has its own criteria, academic and other.  While having a good grade-point average never hurts, you don't need straight A's to be in the running for most awards. 

What you do need, however, is a willingness to look over the field of scholarships, identify some possibilities, and fill out the applications.  This takes time, but it isn't as complicated as it sounds.  In fact, completing most scholarship applications is pretty simple and straightforward. 

A good place to start is with NCC's Scholarships page, which can be found at  There's a link on that page that will take you to the actual list of awards, including descriptions, amounts, and application details.  The deadline for applying is October 16, so if you see something that looks promising, get working--no time to delay.

And by the way, if you don't see anything for now, remember that NCC will offer more scholarships--a larger number in fact--in spring 2014.  The application deadline for those awards will be sometime in February, so keep checking the Scholarships page.

Winning a scholarship or two (that's right--you can win more than one) won't make you set for life, but it will ease next year's tuition bill a bit.  It will also remind you that college, along with the rest of the world out there, recognizes achievements and accomplishments.  Dollars aren't the only reward for doing well in school, of course, but they're an immediate reminder that putting time and effort into your education pays off.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Freedom to Read . . .

Imagine an America without the freedom to read.

Imagine an America where "dangerous" books are banned from libraries and classrooms, newspapers with "controversial" ideas are shut down, and certain words and thoughts are considered too "hot" to be read or voiced--by anyone, anywhere.

Impossible?  Unconstitutional?  Un-American? 

Don't be so sure.

In communities across the U.S., including some in our own backyards, censorship is alive and thriving. Books considered inappropriate for high school students are removed from curriculums and libraries, often at the direction of school boards and community groups.  In high schools and colleges, student newspaper editors are told they cannot print stories that will embarrass their school or express opinions likely to offend readers.  Those who resist often find themselves admonished, demoted, transferred, or even fired.

If the right to read what you choose strikes you as important--and clearly it should--you'll want to get to the NCC Library next week and take part in the Library's "Stand with the Banned: Celebrating the Freedom to Read!" program.  There'll be a host of great events, all aimed at examining this complex but critical issue.

On Tuesday, Sept. 24, you can stop by the Library and read a few lines aloud from your favorite banned book (no bleeped out words here).  For the selfie-lovers in the crowd (and we know you're out there), you can also take your picture at the "Stand with the Banned" photo booth. 

On Wednesday, Sept. 25, you can hear (at 11 a.m.) a panel of NCC faculty share their takes on campus speech (a hot topic at many schools, including NCC) and listen (at 12:30 p.m.) to a talk on censorship and First Amendment rights and a debate on book bans.

That's not all.  Throughout the day on Thursday, Sept. 26, the Library will be showing the film "Hunger Games," based on the novel (a banned book as well!) of the same title. 

"Stand with the Banned" is a celebration of Democracy at its best: a chance to discuss, debate, and air out views on the right to read and think--an issue vital to all of us.  No matter where you stand on such topics as campus speech, censorship, national security, the First Amendment, and freedom of expression, it's important that your voice be heard.   

So come be a part of the campus discussion next week!  You may not like or agree with everything you'll hear, but then again, that's sort of the point.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Getting Out of Your Zone

Ready to take some risks?

Ready to stand up in class and voice your opinions, strike up a conversation with a guy or girl you've just met, or walk into a club meeting and announce to the strangers in your midst that you want to join their group?

Hey--this is college, where if you really want to squeeze the most out of your education, you'll need to get out of your comfort zone. . . . . 

                                            *                        *                        *

Don't get me wrong: Comfort isn't necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, when you're trying to get used to new situations (like college), being comfortable is often important.  At first, you may be more at ease listening quietly in class than speaking up and feeling like the center of attention.  And when you're trying to get a handle on your first semester's classes, you may prefer to spend club hours reviewing your notes instead of heading for that campus party or Student Government meeting. 

But over the long haul, it's in your interest to make your presence felt at NCC.  Constantly sitting on the "sidelines"--be it in the classroom or on campus--can shortchange your education big time.  It can rob you of some valuable learning experiences, the kind that result from interacting with professors and students, from sharing your views with others (and hearing others' opinions as well), from taking courses that offer a different perspective on life, from tackling unique tasks (like producing a student newspaper, organizing a campus fundraiser, or learning the art of debate), or from just being spontaneous.

Do all of these activities involve a bit of risk?  Yeah.  Can you tell for sure where all will lead?  No.  But chances are almost all will be an essential part of your college experience.

So get yourself out of your comfort zone this semester and see what happens.  Speak up in class.  Talk to people.  Take part in campus life at NCC.  Don't be afraid to make mistakes.  You may hit some sour notes from time to time, but you'll also have some terrific moments, ones you'll remember long after your time at Nassau has passed.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Here Comes College . . .

So this is it--the last weekend before the curtain goes up on the next chapter of your life. 

Excited?  Nervous?  If so, no surprise.  It's not every day you start college, after all.  And even if you've been in school most of your life, this September will be different from all of the previous ones.

But remember that there are plenty of people at NCC who care about you and who are willing to help you succeed in your classes.   If you attended Orientation this week, you met some of them.  You'll meet others in the months ahead.

And as you get ready for Tuesday, here's some sound advice about college from Nassau faculty.  Their words are worth remembering.  File them away! 

"The ability to focus on the challenge at hand--paper, test, whatever it may be--will make you successful."
                                                                              Prof. Bob Rubin, Student Personnel Services Dept.

"Be organized.  Keep your notes all together.  Above all, enjoy your classes."
                                                                               Prof. Silvia Albanese, Foreign Languages Dept.

'"Make the commitment to learn.  Buy the textbook.  Come to our office hours.  Use the learning centers."
                                                                                Prof. John Despagna, Accounting/Business Dept. 

"Whatever you're doing, give it 110%--whether it's your job, your relationships, or school. .  . . And be in control of your impulses.  Fight those impulses that interfere with your success as a student."
                                                                                                       Dr. Bernie Katz, Psychology Dept.

"Come to class with curiosity.  Find something interesting in whatever that day's activity is."
                                                                                Prof. Chris Berg, Reading/Basic Education Dept.

"Surround yourself with people who support your dreams.  Take control of your education; you're doing this for you."
                                                                Prof. Genette Alvarez-Ortiz, Student Personnel Services Dept.

"Learn when it's time to study and when it's time to party. . . . Don't go to class and just go home.  Be active and be involved."
                                                                                             Prof. Trent Webb, Communications Dept.  
"Read newspapers, go to films, have conversations, bring [that knowledge] back to class."
                                                                                                 Dr. Lisa Korman, Psychology Dept.

Congratulations on starting Nassau!  Here's to a great college experience . . .

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Skip Orientation? No Way

It happens every August: a small number of students call our office and ask what's going to happen at Orientation and whether it's really necessary for them to attend.

I'm always okay with the first question, which is pretty understandable.   

But the second?  Asking if they have to attend their college orientation? 

Come on guys!

At Nassau, Orientation is where students' college experience begins to take shape.  It's where students meet other students, get a feel for the campus, catch a glimpse of college life, and go home with some tips about handling the first weeks of classes.

Orientation is also about learning to make connections--through classes, clubs, sports, campus services, community service projects, and other experiences that provide a sense of community and belonging.  Such connections matter: they play an important role in students' overall happiness and success in school.  They sometimes even lay the groundwork for life beyond Nassau. 

That's not all.  Orientation introduces students to the promise and possibilities of college.  Its message to students: "Here's your chance to see what the world is all about, to discover (or re-discover) yourself, to be whatever you want, and to pursue dreams and goals that once seemed out of reach."  Romantic notions?  Maybe.  But if people can't dream big in college, when can they?

All this happens at Orientation.

So if you're one of those people still wondering if it's okay to skip Orientation this week, the answer is NO.

See you there.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Driving on Campus: Rules for the Road

Come Sept. 3, tons of new drivers will descend upon the NCC campus, many unsure where they're going but anxious, nevertheless, to get there in a hurry.

Some will do not-so-smart things, like park in nonexistent spots, drive the wrong way on one-way streets, ignore stop signs, and go way too fast.

Don't be one of these drivers.

Even if you manage to avoid running into another car (which sometimes happens when people are in a hurry), ignoring parking and traffic signs on campus is a sure way to get a ticket, if not right away, then soon after.  And tickets are serious money, often $90 and up.

So here are a few tips to keep the commute from ruining your day.

  • Register your car before school starts.  No matter what you're driving to campus (car, SUV, motorcycle, etc.), you'll need to register your vehicle with Public Safety (  Otherwise you risk getting a ticket, which can wind up costing plenty.

  • Leave enough time to park.  Don't arrive five minutes before the start of your first class and expect to find a space next to your classroom building.  Instead, leave at least 45 minutes to park, get your bearings, and walk to class.  NCC may be big, but it's not an impossible place to navigate on foot. 

  • Scout out parking in advance.  Finding a space will be easier if you know where to look.  If you're entering campus from Endo Boulevard via Stewart Avenue, there's the East lot (the largest on campus).  If you're coming from Earle Ovington Blvd. via Hempstead Turnpike or Charles Lindbergh Blvd., there's the West lot, which also has plenty of spaces.  There's also parking behind Clusters A-D as well as near Building H, on the western part of the campus.  P.S.  If these directions seem confusing, you can download a campus map that shows the parking fields ( and click "Map and Directions") and how to reach them.

  • Read signs carefully.  Most parking on campus is available to students, but some spaces are reserved for employees and people with disabilities.  Park in one of these spots and you're likely to get a ticket--again a costly mistake.

  • Pay attention to campus speed limits (and traffic signs).  The Nassau campus is a busy place--no shortage of traffic and pedestrians at times.  Speed limits and traffic signs try to ensure safety, yours and others'.  Be smart here. 

  • Be careful coming in and out of campus.  Nassau County's red light cameras dot the roads around NCC.  They pick up drivers who run lights or fail to stop on a red before turning.  You may not get pulled over on the spot if you're careless, but you could find a County ticket in your mailbox a few weeks later.

Is commuting to Nassau always stress free?  No.  At certain times of the day, the campus is busy, with a good number of people either looking for a parking space or trying to leave one.  But if you plan ahead--and use your head!--driving (and parking) on campus doesn't have to be a hassle. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Connecting to the NCC Community

Club meetings, sporting events, guest speakers, parties, workshops, concerts, trips, films, plays, poetry readings: interesting things take place almost every week at Nassau.

But given the size of this campus (we're really a little city in many ways), how can you get a handle on all that's happening?  And how can you keep up on academic news--registration dates, scholarship deadlines, new college policies, etc. etc.--that you absolutely need to know about? 

Here are some ideas:

  • Read your College email.  Like pretty much the rest of the planet, Nassau does a ton of business online these days.  To stay in the loop, check your NCC email at least every other day. 

  • Read the NCC homepage (  It's the place to go to learn about "here and now" events--speakers, theatre productions, scholarships, and other happenings.  Give the homepage a weekly once over to see what's going on.

  • Follow NCC's First-Year Experience on Twitter (  Daily tweets, many with links to other NCC pages (and interesting articles), will help you stay up on campus events and other NCC news.  Be a Twitter/FYE follower!

  • Read the Vignette.  NCC's student newspaper (see page 2--Happenings) is information central for news about campus parties, concerts, club meetings, intramural sports, off-campus trips, film fests, and other fun stuff.  Look for the Vignette in newsstands around campus.

Feeling more connected already?  Of course.  But even so, don't stop reading this blog!  You'll get timely information about NCC, advice about college, and neat ideas to kick around as you go through your semester.  You can even respond to posts and tell us what's on your mind.  

Don't be a stranger . . .