The Art of Knowing When

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Over my thirty years in higher education, I’ve met with hundreds of students. All these conversations have taught me something, and many hold a special place in my memory.

I met Vivian soon after she started her freshman year. I always begin meetings by trying to build a rapport with students, so I asked Vivian the usual questions. “Where did you go to high school, Vivian?” I asked.

“I didn’t,” she replied. “When I was in third grade, I walked out of the classroom, called my mother, and told her that school wasn’t for me.” From that day onward, Vivian was homeschooled.

I was stunned. Of course, I had never heard this reply before. Also, her confidence and self-knowledge astonished me: at the tender age of eight, she knew regular school would not work for her. She realized she needed a Plan B.

Vivian’s Plan B clearly worked for her. As a Make a Difference Scholar, she received a full four-year college scholarship for her academic promise and contribution to the community.

Vivian’s story never left me. Today, as a career counselor, I share it with clients who are unhappy in their current positions. I want to remind them that a Plan B always exists – if we have the motivation and courage to find ours.

May we all pay attention and know when.

-Renee Beaupre-White is Director of Career Services at Castleton University.

Dodging Distractions

It’s a typical evening at college. You are armed with your textbook, laptop, notes, and your churning brain to write a report for your science class. Your fingers hover over the keyboard as you try to force your brain to form words to type. Nothing is coming to your mind, and you are frustrated. It feels like you are trying to decipher the English language to be able to use it.

Frustrated, you reach for your phone or open another tab on your laptop to check on your social media. You text your friends, you tweet about how hard it is to write this science report, you look up a question that randomly flew into your head, and you end up reading an article about cats and how they have complete control over you. Suddenly, you realize an hour has passed, and you haven’t even tried to go back to type your report.

Sounds familiar, right? Okay, maybe it wasn’t a cat article, but you get my point: we all get distracted! In our everyday modern life, we are surrounded by so many distractions that it can be hard to focus on our daily tasks. You are not alone! Your fellow students, professors, and even your parents have to battle distractions to get their work done every single day.

It is our job to train ourselves with healthier habits that can help us stay on task and finish what our homework. That being said, it does not mean you cannot have a social life or a paid job. However, as a full-time student, you have a full-time job to complete and balance your studies and work. You need to arrange your life around your classes, not the other way around.

Here are some helpful tips to maintain a less stressful and distraction-free semester:

  1. Find Your Niche. Have a place that is designated as your study area. If you repeatedly use the same area over a long period of time, it is easier for the brain to seamlessly go into homework or study mode. This can be anywhere that works for you! If you need extra quiet time, you can always go to the circulation desk in the library and ask for a key to one of the study carrels on the second floor.
  2. Turn It Off. Simply turn off your electronics so that if a notification sounds or lights up your screen, there will not be a need to check your phone. Some people need background music to study. Perhaps that’s you! If so, put on some light, instrumental music, and let your creative juices flow!
  3. Plan It. Set aside a block of time for your studies. In that way, you will go to your study place and have time saved for that use only just as you would for a class.
  4. Do Intervals. Research shows that if you study or work for 20-25 minutes on a paper and then take 5-10 minute break, you will think more quickly and complete assignments faster. The study interval gives the brain time to focus and relax.
  5. Balance. Have time for your studies and for your social life. It is hard, if not impossible, to juggle both at the same time and play catch up on one or both. Balancing allows you to relax and enjoy your friends’ company and have a better quality of work. Schedule time for your studying and homework and then make time for your social life. To make this more effective for you, start papers sooner and spend an hour each day working on that paper. The result will be less stress and more time to spend with friends.

Imagine your grades improving, having a social life, and stressing less about your classes. Sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it? By eliminating distractions and promoting healthier habits of studying, you become more effective in different areas of life, especially when you graduate from college and move onto your career. The best part is that the tool that you need to accomplish distraction-free studying is you. You are your own key to success.

-Sierra Fales

Sierra Fales is a senior English major at Castleton University.

From Stardom to Service: Meet TRIO Star Weslee Thompson

Growing up on the island of Guam, Weslee Thompson did not imagine attending college in Vermont. A talented athlete, he seemed destined for soccer stardom. When he was seventeen, an injury derailed his dreams. He still recalls the hurt he felt when his physical therapist told him he would never again play competitive soccer.

But one dream’s demise led to another. “Having a negative experience with a physical therapist made me want to pursue physical therapy,” Weslee says. “I knew what it was like to be in a vulnerable position. I wanted to come alongside people and work with them.” At the time, Weslee hoped to rehabilitate injured athletes.

Weslee’s new goals led him to Castleton University, where he pursued a double major in health science and psychology. Although the health science degree would give him the prerequisites for graduate school, he knew understanding human behavior would allow him to better support patients.

Like all first-year students, Weslee had to adapt to a new academic environment. Unlike most of his classmates, he had to pay his own way through college. He accepted a full-time position at McDonalds and quickly became a shift manager.

Juggling a full-time job and courses for two majors proved challenging even for a student as dedicated as Weslee. He invested in a planner. “I discovered a passion for color coordinating,” he chuckles. Always a competent writer, he met with Writing Clinic tutors and the Writing Specialist to make his papers even stronger.

Weslee’s formula worked. Now in his junior year, he still works full-time while maintaining a 4.00 GPA as a double major. Outside of class, he embraces other intellectual opportunities. This summer, he worked with psychology professor Greg Engel, conducting genetic research on ethanol tolerance in fruit flies.

And despite Weslee’s hectic schedule, he still finds time to help others. He is a writing tutor at Castleton’s Academic Support Center; he has also tutored students in anatomy and psychology. For the past two years, he has served a Student Orientation Staffer (SOS), helping new students acclimate to life at Castleton. Being a mentor has proven rewarding. “I’m most proud when people come up to me between classes and say I’ve helped them,” he says. “I’m more proud of that than anything I’ve accomplished myself.”

The desire to help others led Weslee to Castleton. Since then, his journey has taken another turn. This summer, an internship at Rutland’s Back on Track Physical Therapy affirmed his interest in the field. Through his internship, he discovered a passion for helping injured veterans. “I’d like to help those who’ve served get back to their lives,” he says quietly.

During his time at Castleton, Weslee has made an excellent impression on faculty and staff. “I feel immensely lucky to have known Wes as a student and an employee,” says Doe Dahm, Writing Specialist and adjunct professor of English. “It’s rare to find a student with his level of personal and intellectual maturity. When I first met him and he said he wanted to be a physical therapist, I thought, ‘Yes. I could envision him working with my elderly family members.’ He’s ready to enter the professional world.”

 In the meantime, Weslee is making the most of his time at Castleton. He hopes that new students will also enjoy their undergraduate years. “Time management is crucial, but it is possible to breathe,” he says. “Make sure you give yourself time to pursue your own passions.”

 

What I Wish I Knew as a Freshman

College is a time of big changes in your life, and those changes can be both pleasant and absolutely miserable. For me, they were miserable.

I went to a small high school in Vermont, where I was the captain of the football and lacrosse teams and just an overall popular guy within the school and the community. Life was good for me; I had as many great friends as I could possibly ask for, and I was content with where I was.

When I rolled into college my freshmen year, I tried to be optimistic – for about a week – but not long after that, I started getting feelings of regret and loneliness.  Castleton was the absolute last place that I wanted to be. It was hard for me to leave my life, my family, and, more importantly, my best friends, who I had been with my whole life.  I spent that whole first year miserable and depressed. I went home every single weekend, trying my hardest not to leave my past life behind me.

Life since has gotten much better, all because of a few simple changes. These tips certainly will not be universally helpful, but if I can help even one person get through some hard times, I will feel better about my tough start.  

So that said, here are some things I wish I knew as a freshman:

You are not too cool to participate: This was a big one for me. I roomed with a friend from high school, so when the time came to participate in orientation events or activities put on by community advisors, I turned up my nose at the idea and refused to get out and do some events. I chose to just be with the person I knew best at school. I missed out on opportunities to meet new people and make friends by not participating in campus events.

Realize that college IS a new chapter in your life: As painful as it may be, high school is over, and you’ll be better off not trying to avoid that fact. Keep your great memories and hold them close, but it is time to go out and make some new ones!

Talk to someone: Alright… to be honest, I heard this from professors all the time especially in first-year-seminar, and I neglected to listen. Don’t be like me. Talk to someone. Whether it’s a friend, or a roommate, a professor, a CA, or even someone in the Wellness Center, I promise it will feel better if someone knows how you are feeling.

Make campus your home: Going home on the weekends is great. I still do it from time to time. But for me, each time I go home, it makes it harder for me to want to come back. So try to make your dorm as comfortable and as homelike as possible, and stay on campus on weekends. It is hard to get a college dorm to replace the place where you grew up, but the more at home you can feel at school, the better.

Evaluate your options: All colleges are different, college isn’t for everyone, and that is perfectly fine. Evaluate if Castleton is the place for you, and if it isn’t, try something new.

This is by no means a one-size-fits-all solution to a happy freshmen year. But if I had done these things, my first year here could have been much better.  

Take a deep breath, and just know that everything will be okay.

-Isaac Ryea

Isaac Ryea graduated summa cum laude from Castleton University in May 2018. Today, he is a fifth grade special education teacher in Highgate, Vermont.

 

 

 

 

Procrastination: Know It, Beat It, Use It

stressedstudentYou knew about the paper for your history class two weeks before the deadline, but you didn’t start it until the night before it was due. There was really no way you could have begun earlier – not with the labs for your science class, your big stats test, and all the reading you’ve had to do lately. Sure, things got a little rushed: doing all your research online at 11pm wasn’t ideal. And maybe you didn’t proofread as carefully as you might have. But you got a B- on the essay; that proves you work well under pressure, right?

Many college students admit they procrastinate. Some wish they could conquer this tendency; others don’t perceive it as a problem. However, putting off assignments and study sessions can make you more anxious and less effective. If you’re rushed, you won’t work as carefully, and you will make more mistakes. Had you put more time into that history paper, that B- could have become a B, B+, even an A.

So if procrastinating is such a bad idea, why do so many students – and professionals – do it? Think about why you saved the green beans or mushrooms for last when you were a kid. Part of you hoped they would go away or at least become tastier by the end of the meal. But you finished the rest of your dinner, and there they were: colder and more unappetizing than ever.

By saving them for last, you didn’t make them disappear. You made them worse.

No matter how much you want to change, altering your habits can be hard. Here are some tips to help you overcome your procrastinating tendencies:

  • Talk yourself through it. Every time you’re tempted to delay an assignment, tell yourself that putting it off will only make it more difficult – and make you more stressed.
  • If you need help, get it. It’s tempting to put aside what we find difficult. If you’re struggling with an assignment or course material, meet with your professor, join a study group, or use the tutoring services at Academic Support.
  • Break it up! Too many students try to complete essays and projects in one sitting. The next time you receive a large assignment, try dividing it into multiple smaller tasks. For example, if you write an essay, you might brainstorm and create an outline one day, compose a rough draft the next, and revise your paper the day after that.
  • Celebrate each success. Change is difficult. Everyone who’s overcome a weakness knows that. (And that includes all of us!) Accept you will slip up occasionally, and reward yourself when you succeed. Indulge in a cupcake, meet up with a friend, or relax with a favorite book or movie.

As you change your approach to your academic work, you’ll find yourself replacing your procrastinating habit with a planning one. And as you become better at organizing your assignments, you’ll find yourself with less stress – and more time for the things you enjoy!

-Dorothy A. Dahm

T.I.M.E: Some Tips for Starting Your College Career

 

You will learn by the end of your college career that your time spent at school is more than just your classes and homework. The skills you learn in college, inside and outside of the classroom, will carry over into your professional and personal lives after graduation. An acronym all college students should know is T.I.M.E.

1.) Time management can be very difficult for many students. There are 168 hours in week, 2688 of them in a sixteen-week semester of college. About a week, maybe two, of breaks. 12 to 18 hours per week will be spent in the classroom, then two to three times that should be spent studying for those classes, then, if you’re lucky, 56 hours for sleep, a few hours for eating… you get the idea. You’re left with only a few hours during the week to do what you please. One of my high school teachers gave me advice I still cherish. As we waited for the bell of our final high school class, she said, “When you go to college, you can do three things: you can study, you can party, and you can sleep, but you can only do two of the three things.”

2.) Involvement. Do it. Get involved. Turn off Netflix and Facebook, go outside, and throw a Frisbee. Go outside and lay in the grass or by the pool. Talk with students who live in other dorms. Close friendships that are made in dorms are important and worth holding onto, but remember life exists outside of your hallway or your suite. Join your student government, or your major’s club, or a volunteer club, or do all three. If you commute, stay for a weekend here and there. Make friends other than your parents and siblings, as well as whatever dogs, chickens, goats, or hedgehogs you might have— all of which I had when I commuted to community college.

Volunteer, tutor, join a team, join a club, join another club. Fill your week, but remember to save time for yourself and time to socialize. If you have a hard time making friends, go to your school’s cafeteria, sit down with some people you haven’t met before, and ask them five questions: What’s your major? What year are you in school? Where are you from? Do you have any pets? Do you have a job? Do you play any sports?

3.) Movement. Simply, move. Playing sports takes care of this one. Some of us don’t participate in sports, so go to the gym. It’s not as scary as it sounds. If you’re nervous like most other people, go with a friend, or ask someone to be a “brofessor” and show you what it’s all about. Still not convinced? Go outside like you did to cure your Netflix addiction. Most colleges have somewhere you can walk where you can feel safe and unjudged. You don’t have to walk for miles, but once you feel the enlightenment of the outdoors, you’ll never want to go inside again. Learn to ski or snowboard, ride a bike, swim, do something other than sitting down.

4.) Education is the reason you are going to college, so study skills are important. If you missed out on study techniques in high school, go to the Academic Support Center and ask for some help—immediately. Unless you are one of those students who doesn’t study for anything, yet somehow gets good grades, you need to know how to study. (And even if this worked for you in high school, it won’t serve you well in college.)

Part of navigating – and enjoying – college is learning to communicate with faculty. TALK with your teachers. Talk with them face-to-face, by e-mail, phone, letter, even carrier pigeon. Although you may believe otherwise, they are people; they do not turn off like a robot as soon as class is dismissed. Get to know a few. Attend a social gathering where teachers are invited without some sort of grade stipulation.

If you only take away one thing from this post, let it be this: you only have so much time while you’re in college. Remember to spend it wisely.

– D. Austin Martineau

D. Austin Martineau is a recent graduate of Castleton University with a degree in English and Secondary Education.

Finals, Summer, Then What?

In a few days, Spring 2018 will be over. You’ll finish your finals, turn in any last papers, and go home. We hope you’ve had a good semester and wish you a relaxing summer. You deserve it!

We also hope you reflect a bit on the semester and think about the one ahead. Just as the New Year allows you to make a fresh start, a new academic year gives you a clean slate. No matter what happened this spring – a bad grade, poor decisions, a failed class, a list of failures – you can overcome it. Really!

First, consider this semester’s successes. Maybe you found that you were better at math or writing than you thought you were. Perhaps you discovered a love for film studies, Spanish, or botany. In any case, you learned something about your strengths and interests.

Second, identify what you did wrong. No, you don’t need to beat yourself up. Just acknowledge your mistakes calmly as though you were talking about someone else’s life. For example, say, “I left my papers to the last minute, so they weren’t as strong as they should have been” or “I let my social life distract me from my studies.”

Next, think about what you gained from the experience. Maybe you learned something about time management or study skills. You may have discovered something about yourself and your interests: perhaps teaching is not the career for you. Use this insight to move forward even if you’re not quite sure of your path.

Finally, realize you’re not alone. Many of your peers and professors have had low periods – and recovered from them. All of us have struggled – academically, personally, or professionally. Successful people aren’t the ones who’ve never stumbled; they’re the ones who’ve continued on anyway.

Have a wonderful summer! We’re already looking forward to seeing you in the autumn.  

-Dorothy A. Dahm

 

 

Caring and Caregiving: Meet TRIO Star Chandra Luitel

Castleton University is a long way from the Nepalese refugee camp where Chandra Luitel was born and raised. At ten, Chandra was cooking for her family and taking care of her younger siblings. College and career seemed remote. “I had a passion to become a nurse,” she says. “But I knew my dream of going into a professional field was impossible because of my family’s financial situation.”

When Chandra was thirteen, her parents decided to move to the United States. They were taking a chance: they knew very little about the country and could not speak English. However, with robbery, violence, and poverty in the camp, the move seemed worth the risk.

But the family’s struggles did not end when they arrived in Winooski, Vermont. The Luitels knew no one in their new city. Chandra and her younger sister had learned a little English at school in Nepal, so they did their best to help their parents navigate this new world. “We were scared for a few months,” recalls Chandra. “But then we met other people from Nepal who encouraged us to stay – not that we could go back.”

At school, more culture shock awaited Chandra and her siblings. There was the pressure to buy clothes and fit in with peers. “In Nepal, we had only one uniform,” says Chandra. School lunches were also an adjustment as Chandra was accustomed to cooking food at home. And although Chandra had lots of questions about her new language, environment, and schoolwork, she did not ask many. “I was hesitant to ask for help,” she says.

In her junior year of high school, Chandra was introduced to the University of Vermont’s Upward Bound program, a federally funded program for high school students of modest means whose parents do not have a bachelor’s degree. Through workshops and college tours, Chandra learned that she could realize her dream of attending college and becoming a nurse. She applied and was accepted to Castleton’s nursing program.

In August 2015, Chandra came to campus a week before the start of her first semester. With about thirty other new students, she participated in the Summer Transition Program, a week-long program to help TRIO students acclimate to college life (STP).

Like many other first-year students, Chandra struggled with homesickness. “In my culture, we don’t move from home until we get married,” she says. “It was pretty challenging for my parents as well.”

Through STP, Chandra found ample support. She made friends with other homesick students. “We talked about it and realized it’s pretty normal,” she remembers. Academic Support Center staff were also reassuring, particularly Kelley Beckwith, Director of Academic Services. “Kelley was good to me,” says Chandra. “She shared how she felt when she left home for college and later realized it was all for the best.”

STP helped Chandra find her way around campus – and help her peers. “I was able to help other new students from Nepal find the Academic Support Center and other places on campus,” she says. She now encourages high school friends to apply to Castleton and participate in STP.

As Chandra threw herself into challenging coursework, she continued visiting Academic Support Center. Academic Counselor Becky Eno helped her register for classes and gave her pep talks when she doubted her ability to succeed at Castleton. Faced with writing assignments, she took her papers to the Writing Clinic. “Every semester, I think, oh, I’m going to fail these nursing courses,” she says. “But then I come to the Writing Clinic for help with writing and research.”

Today, it’s hard to believe Chandra ever wondered whether she could make it at Castleton. This semester, her mid-term GPA was a 4.00. Recently, she was awarded the Vermont Educational Opportunity Programs scholarship for overcoming significant obstacles to pursue her education. “Chandra has matured, become disciplined, and begun to see the world as a nurse, one who is responsible for the well-being of others,” says her advisor, Assistant Professor of Nursing Margaret Young. After graduation, Chandra plans a career in pediatric or geriatric nursing.

But despite Chandra’s accomplishments, some things haven’t changed. She still puts her family first, returning home almost every weekend to help her mother. “I read the mail my mom cannot read and pay the bills,” she says. Since her mother is often tired from working double shifts, Chandra gives her a break by cooking for the family and taking her teenage brother to sporting events.

Chandra hopes other students will learn from her story, particularly those who are reluctant to attend college because they fear homesickness or debt.   “Push yourself,” she says. “We all have doubts, but life will be better. Ask for help. And don’t be afraid of the financial stuff – there is aid available, including lots of scholarships at Castleton.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Finals Week: Survive, Thrive, and Celebrate!

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It hardly seems possible, but in just over two weeks, the semester will be over. Chances are, you’re excited about summer – and can’t wait until finals are behind you. After all, Exam Week means study sessions during which you cram for finals and churn out one capstone essay after another.

Being nervous about the semester’s end is normal. But staying up all night to review notes and finish assignments isn’t healthy or effective. When you’re sleep-deprived, your brain doesn’t work as well, so you don’t absorb as much information as you would if you were rested. You also make careless errors. (All of us at Academic Support teach, and we recognize the work you finish at 4 am. Trust us.)

But if you’re not staying up all night to get through Finals Week, how will you finish your work? Fortunately, you can sail through the end of the semester without losing your sleep or sanity. Here are some tips to keep you focused during exams:

1.) Start Early; Break It Up. Many people begin shopping for the holidays long before December 1st. You should start studying for exams well in advance of Finals Week. Review your notes and previous tests, if applicable, for 10-20 minutes each day. This way, the information will be fresh and firm in your mind. Also, divide writing assignments into manageable chunks. You might create an outline one day, write a rough draft the next day, and revise your essay the day after that.

2.) Prioritize. Yes, being a college student means juggling a lot of commitments: classes, activities, part-time work, a social life, and family. And the end of the semester, combined with the holidays, can amplify these obligations. That’s why now, more than ever, you need to remind yourself of why you’re here. Promise yourself you’ll enjoy an outing with friends – after you finish your sociology take-home exam.

3.) Take Care. Telling yourself you’ll be able to relax after Finals can propel you through a tough week. However, don’t save all of your treats for the holidays. Schedule short breaks during Exam Week to exercise, connect with friends or family, or simply curl up with a book or movie. Making room for fun keeps you healthy and motivated; it’s also a valuable time management skill.

4.) Be Grateful. Let’s face it: if you’re in a position to fret about finals, you’re a pretty lucky person. Lots of people, in the US and overseas, cannot access higher education. When the assignments multiply and stress piles up, take a deep breath. Remind yourself of how privileged you are to be able to study something you love and pursue the life you want.

Finals Week doesn’t have to mean sleepless nights, too much caffeine, and harried students. As the year draws to a close, use this time to reflect on how much you’ve learned and celebrate how far you’ve come.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Procrastination Station: How to Leave the Station and Get to Your Destination

We all procrastinate. With an endless mess of papers to write and exams to study for it can be especially difficult to get going. But it isn’t impossible. Here are a few tips to get your brain train back on track and out of the station.

1.) Make a done list of everything that you need to do. Write down everything you have to do whether you need to do laundry or write a paper for your english class. Write it all down. Now, you may be asking, “isn’t it supposed to be a to do list?” Let me explain. Anyone can write a to do list, but making a done list gives your list purpose and implies that, by the end of the day, some of the things on your list will be done.

2.) Now that you have your list, cross items off of it. Find an item or two on your list that isn’t urgent and cross it right out. I find that every time I make a done list, I write down every single thing that is on my mind. I even write down things that I don’t need to do right away that can be saved for later. When I cross those items off, my list becomes more manageable, and I have more time to work on the projects that actually matter.

3.) Start easy. Work on one of the less menacing tasks on your list first. By starting in on your work, even if it is only on the simpler assignments, you are making progress. Before you know it, you will be through a few items on your list and will be that much closer to relaxation.

4.) Take a break. Did you write your eight-page paper? Did you clean your room? Did you finish one of the bigger projects that you had on your list? If you have, reward yourself with a few minutes of break time. Get up and stretch, have a snack, or go for a short walk. Just be sure to set a timer for when you need to get back to work (and stick to it!).

Finally, keep in mind that not everything can be done in one day. Maybe you’ve tackled half of your list and need to save the rest for tomorrow. That’s okay. After all, the whole point of this process was only to get started, right? If you’re already on your way to completing your list, you’re on time (perhaps even ahead of schedule) and will be at your destination before you know it!

Good luck!

-Sarah Dunbar

Sarah Dunbar is a senior majoring in Multidisciplinary Studies at Castleton University