Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Life Changer

I was 18, midway through my first year in college, and looking for something interesting to do. I had seen a flyer in a campus building about the student newspaper needing members, so I showed up at the newspaper office one cold February morning and said I wanted to write.  

Truth be told, I was nervous about joining the paper.  I'd heard that campus groups were cliques, hard to break into.  I was also unsure just how much of my time the newspaper would take up.  And though I wouldn't admit it to anyone, I wasn't convinced my writing was exactly ready for prime time. 

Still, I screwed up my courage and decided to give the newspaper a shot.   

I can't tell you my experience was perfect.  It wasn't.  I soon figured out that I wasn't the best writer on campus, that working on the paper frequently kept me up nights, that putting out a newspaper was hard work, and that there were definitely some people on the staff with attitude problems.  And it also didn't take long for me to realize that there was a lot I didn't know about college, myself, and life at large. There were times, especially at first, when I felt pretty ignorant.

But there were plenty of positives too.  The newspaper turned out to be a great learning experience. Along the way, I learned all sorts of important lessons, like how to manage time and money, how to make deadlines, how to work with people (including some I didn't much like), how to give and take criticism, how to make tough decisions, and (yeah) how to write clearer sentences.  They were lessons that would stay with me long after graduation--many, in fact, for life.  I also made some friends on the paper, which not only made good times great and bad times bearable but pretty much brought my social life back from the dead.  

This isn't a pitch for joining the NCC newspaper, one of 100+ student groups active on campus these days.  Think of it instead as a nudge--to get you out of your comfort zone and to try something new in college. Too often I meet students who say they'd like to get involved--maybe join something on campus--but they're too shy to take that first step.  Some have the same fears that I once had, that they're somehow not good/smart/talented/funny/outgoing/whatever enough to join a club or do something else that will give them a chance to stretch. 

If this description sounds even a little like you, think about this: No matter what you do or don't do this semester, the time will go by.  You may have other chances to get to that club meeting you've been thinking about, but not this one.  Pass up today's opportunity and it's gone forever.  And if too many today's morph into yesterday's, well, college (and life) can go by in the blink of an eye. 

"You miss one hundred percent of the shots you never take," observed former hockey great Wayne Gretzky.  It's a terrific quote, one almost every hockey fan has heard before.  But if you stop to think about it, Gretzky's talking not just about ice hockey but the rest of life too. 

This is your moment to take that shot.  Whether it's joining a club, playing a sport, or doing something else on campus to make college a more interesting experience, the time is now--no more putting it off! Get involved in something and it will change your life, maybe not in exactly the same way the newspaper changed mine, but in ways that will make sense to you.  

There are no shortage of life-changing experiences waiting for you at NCC.  All you have to do is forget your fears and give one (or two) of them a try.  Trust me on this . . . 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Read Your Syllabus Yet?

So how carefully did you read the syllabuses you received in your classes last week?

Not very, I'll bet.  In fact, if you're like a lot of students, you probably gave your syllabuses a quick once over before filing them in your notebook or backpack.

If that's the case, time to dig out those documents and read them from start to finish!

Why? Because a syllabus (aka a course outline) is one of the most important pieces of paper you'll receive this semester in your classes.  It's a contract of sorts: an agreement between you and your professor about the course you're beginning together. It's a document that tells you what you can expect over the next fifteen weeks and how you can make the most of the experience.

While not all syllabuses are alike, all contain information you need to know.  A syllabus will typically tell you
        • who's teaching the course 
        • what you'll be studying and learning
        • what books, manuals, online resources, and other materials you'll need
        • what work (assignments, projects, etc.) you'll need to do over the semester
        • when tests are scheduled and when assignments are due
        • how your final grade will be determined
        • what you need to know about attendance and classroom behavior (class do's and don'ts)
        • what extra help is available--and where you can find it
        • how to reach your professor out of class (phone, email, office hours) 
See why it's important to pay careful attention to the syllabus?  Besides explaining the course in detail, a syllabus also lays out what's expected of you--info you can't afford to blow off.

Over the years I've had tons of conversations with students who've messed up in their classes.  While their situations have varied, almost all of these folks have been basically clueless about what their professors expected of them.  Asked about attendance policies, tests and assignments, deadlines, extra help, their professors' names and office hours, most have known nothing.  If only they'd looked at their syllabuses . . .

As we all know, college can be crazy sometimes.  As the semester goes on, courses become demanding, assignments pile up, and life often grows more intense and stressful.  But having a handle on your courses--knowing when exams are scheduled, what chapters must be read, where you can go for extra help, and even where you can cut corners--can take some of the pressure off.

And that's where knowing your course syllabuses comes in handy. Giving your syllabuses a close read won't guarantee straight A's, but it will definitely help you stay on top of your courses, plan your time, and be better organized.  It'll also make you feel less pressured.

So before this semester gets too far along, sit down and read--REALLY read--your syllabuses. Highlight the important parts. Note dates (exams, papers, etc.). Pay attention to your professors' office hours.  Use the information on these pages to map out your semester.

Do it now.  No time to waste.  This is your education (and your life) we're talking about.