Staying Power: My Story of College Do's and Don'ts

Staying Power: My Story of College Do's and Don'ts  is the tentative title for a manuscript I have written. It is not yet in publishing but I soon hope for it to be. The book chronicles what I consider a somewhat unorthodox five year college stay. It focuses on my growth as a student and as a man. I speak candidly about my mistakes and how I went about correcting them.

I started college without the proper work ethic along with adjusting to this new challenge. Through much hard work and maturation I was able to graduate on the Dean's list. I want to encourage everyone, but specifically those going into college who may not be the top performers in school. They can make it happen, and I think my story is proof of that. If I can help keep people's thoughts in perspective as it pertains to college I would have accomplished exactly what I set out to.

Here's an excerpt:

                                                             "Seasoned Veteran"

     By my junior year of college I felt like I finally reached my comfort zone, I would hope at that point you would feel the same way. I had a certain confidence about myself, not that I had a problem with myself, but I was more confident in my work. In my mind I continued to formulate plans of how I would handle my classes, much like I strongly advise you to do. Not only was I formulating how to tackle my work and plan my schedule, but I was also remaining cognizant of the fact that I need to choose the right classes.

     Here is one great piece of advice, if you find a professor you enjoy, or find makes your life easier then you stick with them. You have to ride till the wheels fall off. Talk to other students and get an idea of the professors you don’t know but you have to remember some people simply don’t like to do work. With that being said those types of people would always have something negative to say about a teacher giving assignments. Understand me and understand me clear, YOU are in college and YOU will have to do work, sometimes a lot of work. Understand this and embrace this, it’s not a harsh reality it’s just something you have to be prepared to do.  But finding the right mix of professors is very important, you should start having a decent idea of what you want your semesters to look like midway through your sophomore year.

     In the beginning you’re probably going to have to take your core classes, these are classes that pretty much everyone must take, and then you have to take classes required for your selected major. My advice to you is to choose electives that compliment what you’re studying, what do I mean? I was a Psychology major so in that I also took many sociology classes. The two are very closely related and many times the lessons are learned were intertwined. In a way you start seeing things twice and that way the information may stay with you a little better, this also helps make studying a lot easier.

     So now in my junior year I have this swagger, I feel like I’m in a groove and I can seemingly do no wrong, I feel almost like a veteran to this college game. At this point I really looked forward to meeting the new freshmen and mentoring them in my own way. My experiences meeting new freshmen are probably my sole inspiration in writing this book. I wanted so bad to let all of them know that I wanted them to enjoy this time of their life, but to not do things as I did. I feel sometimes the freshman year of college is presented as a year where you will make mistakes; truth is you may make mistakes every year. But as you go along the idea is to make the least amount of critical errors as possible. During my freshman year I made some critical errors so now as a junior I wanted to be able to lead by example, and I took much pride in doing so.

     In my junior year I ran into what I now call my Achilles heal. My Achilles heal is also known as the subject of Statistics. Psych 53 or Psych stat as it is affectionately called was singlehandedly my hardest college experience. There wasn’t a class that challenged me more or in my opinion had the hardest professors. When I was first introduced to statistics in college I was a junior and it was the fall semester.  The class was 2 hours and 30 minutes long and at that time was the longest scheduled class I ever had. Not only was the class long but I had statistics twice a week, and that was very tasking on myself especially in the midst of taking 16 credits.

     So the first day I go into stats and it was in the basement of a building called Pell Hall. The room had a window but it faced another wall outside. I was given a soft spoken professor whose name slips me. She started out pretty basic; we went over means, medians, and modes. I felt comfortable since I had seen the material before. She gave us a break in the middle of the class; by the time we came back she turned up the heat. The class was disinterested and I slowly drifted to sleep. By the end of the class I decided this class was a detriment to my GPA at the time and I decided to drop it.  Dropping the class didn’t hurt me, it actually helped me focus more on my other classes, what I did wrong was that I didn’t research a better professor, or at least see if one was available. This would later come back to bite me, and boy did it hurt!

     The following spring semester presented a clean slate, I surely wasn’t confident in taking this class though. Once again I had no idea what to think but I did maintain an open mind. Another piece of valid information is to always keep an open mind in college, in and out of the classroom be open to many people and possibilities; it’ll take you far. So I now meet a new professor, there was no doubt she was a darling of a lady. In college you have to understand that all professors may not be for you because of their style of teaching; she was one of those professors. When you don’t have a choice you simply have to adapt and at that time that’s what I tried to do.

     This new professor taught statistics from a PowerPoint, and when it came to mathematics that’s probably the worst way to teach me. For some reason I happened to always be more vocal in other classes not dealing with math, but when it came to stats I think I wanted the satisfaction of figuring it out on my own. Sometimes in life you have to humble yourself, I think I was too proud to ask and that was to my detriment. I encourage you all to be vocal and ask anything that’s on your mind, to be sure can mean nothing but good things.

     As the semester progressed I wasn’t finding any rhythm, I simply wasn’t passing. I wasn’t passing because I didn’t speak up enough and time passed me by with my academic bashfulness. You can’t afford to be bashful in the classroom. Something I began to do after this experience was to always see a professor during their office hours to clear up anything that I wasn’t too sure about; needless to say that worked to my benefit.

     As I mentioned before my professor was a good hearted person, and her next act of character really proved to me she did have my best interest at heart. She pulled me aside one day after class and told me that even though I was improving in my work I wasn’t mathematically going to be able to pass the course. It had been 2 years since I had any academic woes and it wasn’t a good feeling starting my summer on that note. The only feeling of consolation was that it didn’t’ affect my GPA, my professor allowed me to withdraw from the course. The downside to this is that now I am racking up setbacks, the reality of graduating in 4 years wasn’t as real as it once was. I now was going to have to go through another full semester of stats; this would be the second time.

     The last thing you want to do in college is fail a class. If there was one thing I realized it’s that failing a class actually takes effort as well; so much has to go wrong in order for it to happen. An “F” is simply not a good look and in this instance I got lucky. I didn’t take this break lightly, I truly appreciated it and I knew I dodged the proverbial bullet.

     So the second semester of my junior year is upon me, and I was optimistic about the opportunity to avenge my past effort. I was placed with a professor by the name of Tepper.  Little did I know she seemed she was one of the hardest professors in the department. This time around I inquired about other professors only that this time I was stuck. No one else was available for that course in that semester so now I was really stuck. I tried to approach the class differently, I got involved and I did homework, and I asked questions. In the beginning the class was bearable, but then things began to change. As much as I tried to stay interested it became increasingly hard to. Now I’m not blaming my own woes on this but this surely influences you at some level, and it became increasingly difficult to pay attention in this course without being angry.

     Professor Tepper at times really came off as condescending and sarcastic. Those traits served as a real distraction and took away from the learning in the course. I have a friend name Tristan who would also ask valid questions sometimes along with me, and more times than not she would respond to us in a way that made you feel like we should’ve already known the answer. As the semester wore on the passion I began the class with began to wane a bit, I continued to ask questions and really wasn’t getting the genuine help I thought I should have been getting. I grew very unhappy with the reality that this time there will be no bullet dodging. I was pretty much trying to right all of my wrongs since freshman year, but here I was faced with a new obstacle. I was on the brink of failing my second class in 2 years. To fail was something I didn’t want to do, and it’s something I urge you never to do.

     In college there are many pressures that you will find; they are not all social. I began to realize different things that I think are relevant for you to know. Your grade does not always equate to your effort; what I mean is that there are some people who do cheat and find their way through classes through different tactics. Now all the while they receive A’s and B’s while other people work hard and may receive C’s. Bill Cosby once said on his show “I’ll take a hard C over and easy A any day.” I totally agree with that; in college emphasis is heavily placed on letter grades. No one really knows your circumstance and it’s your job to figure everything out. I was in a position where I didn’t have a stellar freshman year and now I wouldn’t have had a stellar spring semester of junior year. On paper you would look at it and think to yourself that I might not have been dedicated. Your transcript will not convey your experiences; it’ll only convey the result. So your thought process has to remain that you have to continuously put your best foot forward in anything you do. Everyone won’t have the opportunity to ask you about your experiences so unfortunately you have to really work hard to make your transcript speak positive volumes for yourself.

     By the time I was learning these lessons it had been too late for me; I could only affect the future. I want you to be able to really put these words into action; it can only make life easier for you. When I look back at it, I really couldn’t have been more wrong. I began my junior year feeling good and accomplished, I thought I had it all figured out but I was wrong.  I end my junior year much like my freshman year…disappointed. Although there was all this disappointed, a fire was lit under me like never before and since has never burnt out. I encourage you to remain inspired and not lose that fire, because if you do it may well be the beginning of the end for you.


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