September 28, 2012

Fill in the Blank Friday

Students these days feel tremendous pressure to, well, fill in their blanks. Blanks like: I’m majoring in_____________, or I have a summer internship lined up at___________.
Classmates in the dining hall, family around the Thanksgiving table, and high school friends add to the pressure by asking the same questions.
These questions are really asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” While we at the froshblog don’t necessarily think you should already know that answer, it is important to start to define what you’re good at, what you enjoy studying, and how these things intersect and build the foundation for the person that you are becoming.
It is also important to acknowledge that the person you dreamt of being might be very different than the person you’re growing into….and that’s ok.  Don’t be so eager to fill in your blanks that you make a decision based on the person you used to be; you are evolving, and it’s ok if your academic and professional interests are evolving, too!
The First Year Deans share their own experiences with this question in a special edition of “Fill in the Blank Friday”!

Dean Traxler and her sons, Tyler and Ryan
What was your intended major entering college?  English and Journalism – I loved to write!

What was your major when you graduated from college?  English and Journalism, but I did try out other options like Psychology and Communication

How did your real major better prepare you for being an advising goddess? I learned that my majors didn’t have to trap me in specific careers like teaching or being a newspaper reporter.  My writing and close reading skills are really useful in my work at the university and with students, even though I discuss major options instead of Jane Eyre. I had the faith that the classes and majors I loved would eventually lead me to meaningful work, but I never could have anticipated finding and loving academic advising as a career! 

Dean Stanzione and her daughter, Ella Rose
What was your intended major entering college?  Marine Science, with hopes of going to graduate school to study shark reproduction (Seriously!).

What was your major when you graduated from college?  Environmental Policy, Institutions and Behavior

How did your real major better prepare you for being an advising goddess? I’ve always been interested in people: in our motivations, our assumptions, and how we react individually to common circumstances. I enjoyed the EPIB classes, which balanced my passion for science with my strength in examining human responses and cultural practice. But the process of deciding my major molded me as a scholar and adviser just as much as, if not more than, the coursework itself.  Learning what I do well, examining why I do it, and respecting how my decision-making was a process  became clear in college, but I use these skils in my personal and professional life. It is my great pleasure that I get to be part of this same conversation in the lives of our students, whether you are certain of your path or interested in paving a new one.

Dean Zipkin and her daughter, Luna
What was your intended major entering college?  Biochemistry, with hopes of curing cancer and AIDS.

What was your major when you graduated from college?  Psychology. And then 7 years after I graduated, I returned to complete an English major because I wanted to be a high school English teacher.

How did your real major better prepare you for being an advising goddess? For as long as I’ve had to think about what I wanted to be when I grew up, all of my possible responses have had to do with helping people. I chose Psychology because gave me a relevant background to do that. I enjoyed learning about the biological and behavioral factors that influence who we are and how we present ourselves to the world. I’m not sure how much the coursework in my major prepared me for this role, but the varied path I took to get to that major certainly prepared me for being able to step into the shoes of students that might be asking themselves the same questions I asked myself when I was in college.

September 21, 2012

The Woeful Tale of the W: What does it all mean?

Ask undergrads about a Withdrawal on a transcript and you get a cacophony of horror stories, half-truths, misunderstandings and scare tactics.  

Let's clear the air by first setting straight what the W does NOT stand for:
Worst Thing EVER!
“That means you were failing the class!” “Maybe I should take the F instead of the W?!”
WHOA, now you have to rethink ALL of your goals!
           “OMG, you’ll never get into Med school!”
Warning, this student is a loose cannon!
           "If you withdraw from a class it shows that you can't handle it."

Here are some TRUTHS with a capital T:
When:  A W is applied to the transcript when a student drops a class after add/drop but before the final withdrawal period of the semester.  It does not go into the GPA.
No graduate programs (law schools, med schools, etc) use the W when they are evaluating your record.
No employers use the W to evaluate you when they are hiring.
Why do student drop courses?
They are no longer interested in the subject
They got a new opportunity (job, internship) and want to free up more time in their schedule
They don’t like the professor
The professor doesn’t like them
They need more time to focus on life or family or financial issues
They get into a class that they like better but it’s late in the add/drop period
And sometimes…
They drop because they are struggling in the class

Okay, so then..
What purpose does the W serve?
The university and departments need the W to track seats in classes and enrollment for an accurate review of class trends and sizes. For example, some classes fill quickly and are closed at the beginning of the semester. During the semester, students may drop the class (for lots of reasons – see above) and without the W, it would give a false impression that there was space available in that class. Departments base their plans for how many sections to run for each class on this information.

For more on the W, enjoy last year's Mythbuster post.

September 11, 2012

Of Calendars & Planners

So, after one week of classes it should be dawning on you that there are a lot of things to remember - exams, papers, projects, homework - for four or five or six classes. And unlike high school, where you got daily reminders from teachers (and parents), now it's on you to keep track of it all. You may find yourself asking “How do I prioritize when every class/assignment is a priority?!”

The other big change that requires you to step-up your organization game is that the pace of a semester is completely different than marking periods. This change may not be obvious now, but often rears its head around mid-terms. Think about it: a semester is 15 week long, so in a class whose grade is primarily based on one midterm and one final, you may not know how you’re doing until you’ve been in class for 7 weeks – almost half the class! If you fall behind, you risk not catching up!

This is a good time to consider how you organize your time and efforts. We here at the SASfroshblog will endorse pretty much any organizational system that doesn't involve making notes on gum wrappers or grocery receipts - BUT everyone needs a system. In other words, we want to encourage you to find a way to get organized that you can work...not necessarily the one that works for your roommate, or the planner that you bought because it had puppies on the cover. We’re talking about life management techniques that you can sustain and adhere to for more than a few weeks. Here are some suggestions of useful tools:

1.  Smartphone - Use the calendar function on your phone. Or download an organizer App. The phone is also useful for setting reminders of weekly events like online homework submission.
      Works well for: those who have trouble breathing if they haven't checked their phone in, like, 10 minutes

2.  Paper planner book – Pick up a daily or weekly planner at the bookstore and carry it everywhere, recording all of your important dates. The bonus here is that a planner gives you a reason to buy pens in different, cool colors.
Works well for: those who love paper and pen and physically turning pages (see also: Luddites, technophobes)

  3.  Desk blotter calendar pages – This big calendar is great for the long view; at a glance, you can see a full month's assignments, which is useful for effectively planning time and balancing classes. Plus, assignments don't sneak up on you like they can if you haven't flipped the page to next week. This option also comes in a handy dry-erase version for those of you who are conservationists at heart.
      [One particularly creative student used duct tape and color-coded post-it notes to create her own calendar on the wall of her room.]
Works well for: those who like a broad overview, and who have wall space to accommodate three months of pages (and a tolerant roommate)

Again, we don't care HOW you organize yourself, but find something that works for you - and START NOW!

Some web resources:
Ru-tv segement on Time Management
10 Steps to Organization at College

September 3, 2012

Something Old, Something New
When we do something new, we’re attentive, on guard, and ready to deal with the unexpected. When we do something that we already know how to do, we’re often not as focused because we are confident in our abilities. But sometimes, what we think we know may have changed – simply because we are doing it in a new place.  
Let me give you an example. I learned to ski in my twenties in New Jersey – and I loved it. Then, my now-husband suggested that we go to Vermont to ski. I was excited – I knew how to ski. At Killington, two lifts and a gondola later, we stood at the top. As I stared down that huge, huge, huge mountain, I thought, Wait, I DON’T know how to ski! What I thought I understood about skiing had changed completely – because the place had changed. All of my assumptions about the activity were wrong.
I was prepared for this: 

And I encountered this:

I always think about that experience when I’m talking with new Rutgers students, because our students are good students. They’re smart, and they’ve often accomplished amazing things in high school. But, many students come to college without thinking about how the location changes the activity - and what challenges that change may create. The mountain has gotten bigger, the slopes steeper, the work more demanding. And unlike me, standing at the top of that mountain, my students may not see the difference immediately.
So, how can you prepare to meet the challenges of becoming a successful college student?
Step 1: Think about yourself as a student. Did you have to work hard and learn to study to succeed in high school? If so, you already have building blocks for success. If not, college may require skills that you have not yet developed. Your old habits (cramming before a test, taking sketchy notes, memorizing everything) may not support your new challenges.
Step 2: Focus on the differences. College work requires much more learning time outside of the classroom, so prepare to carve out study time in your schedule.  Homework may not be assigned or mandatory, so how can you motivate yourself to do supplemental work to fully master the material? Reading the assigned chapters once and attending lectures is the beginning, not the end, of the work.
Step 3: Seek expert advice on campus. See your academic adviser ( to discuss the rigor of your schedule, see your professors at office hours to review the course material, and use the Learning Centers ( for tutoring, test-taking tips, or study skills. Talk with upper-level students to learn their secrets to success at college.  
Step 4: Give yourself a break. A new transition takes time and energy. Don’t expect to adapt immediately. Many first year students get an NP (no pass) on their first Expository Writing paper. Once you recognize that grades and professor feedback help you identify where your assumptions may be wrong, you’re ready to adapt your skills to be more effective at the new challenge.