Campus Nightmares: Tricks and Treats for Halloween and Beyond

Tis the season for witches and warlocks, ghosts and goblins. Maybe you’re donning a costume, attending a Halloween ‘do, or indulging in a little candy. But if you’re a college student, chances are, your biggest fears may not appear in horror movies. Here are some “monsters” you may encounter this semester and some “tricks” to help you dispel them.

Deadly Deadlines: They sneak up on you. And they often appear in pairs or trios: you know, your biology paper is due on the same day as your English essay and your history test. And deadlines don’t care about your job, social life, or family. 

Well, you can’t make your deadlines disappear if you want to stay in college. But if you prepare for them, they can lose their ability to intimidate you. Use a calendar or planner to keep tracks of tests, papers, and projects. And instead of cramming for an exam or writing a paper in one night, break assignments and study sessions into manageable chunks over a few days or weeks.

Terrifying Teachers: Well, “terrifying” is a strong word. But some classes are more challenging and some professors less approachable than others. And if you don’t understand your professor’s expectations, it can be a little scary.

The good news is, professors can lose their power to terrify. Have a question about an assignment, grade, or class? It’s best to approach your instructor directly. Don’t know how to start the conversation? Talk to one of the counselors at Academic Support. They have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Haunting Habits: In the scariest movies, the main characters discover something terrifying about themselves: a potential for evil or a shaky grasp on reality. It’s no different in college. What’s holding you back is probably inside you: social media addiction, procrastination, maybe even a belief that you can’t cut it academically or personally.

Dispelling bad habits can be hard – most of us can’t manage it overnight. Sometimes, we make progress only to fall back. But the first step is acknowledging that they exist. After that, make a game plan, meet with a counselor, and do anything you have to do to replace destructive thoughts and actions with healthy ones. Keep going even when you stumble. It will get easier.

Ghastly Grades: Sometimes, despite your best efforts to keep the other horrors at bay, you’re confronted with Ghastly Grades anyway. A test or paper, a semester or academic year, end poorly. What’s most frightening is that they can make you give up entirely.

But don’t give in! Ghastly Grades may feel like the end of the world – or your academic career – but they don’t have to be. If you’re struggling academically, meet with one of the counselors at Academic Support. They help you develop a plan to get back on track. And while you’re there, they’ll tell you a few stories about other students who’ve beaten Ghastly Grades and achieved their goals.

We hope these tricks make your time at Castleton a treat. Happy Halloween from all of us at Academic Support!

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Balance and Compassion: Meet TRIO Star Sabrina Lacasse

When Sabrina Lacasse first arrived at Castleton, she didn’t know what to expect. She knew she wanted to be a nurse, but the first-generation college student was nervous about forms, deadlines, and other facts of college life. In addition, Sabrina was apprehensive about leaving home. She’d grown up on a small farm in tiny Elmore, Vermont, and she wasn’t sure how she’d handle being away from family.

Fortunately, another family awaited Sabrina at Castleton. Through Summer Transition Program (STP), a weeklong pre-college experience for new TRIO students, she made valuable connections. “STP helped me tremendously,” Sabrina recalls. “I learned where everything was before classes started, and I made friends.” STP also introduced Sabrina to the Academic Support Center’s full-time staff.

But settling in was just the beginning of Sabrina’s journey. Despite the warm STP welcome, Sabrina was often homesick. And although she worked hard, the nursing program proved daunting. Finally, like most college students, Sabrina wanted to earn good grades, have a social life, and get sufficient sleep. Balance seemed elusive.

Whenever obstacles arose, Sabrina met with Academic Support Center staff, a practice she continues today. “They say, ‘Take a deep breath; this is what you have to do,’” she chuckles. “And I feel better.”

Today, it’s hard to reconcile the relaxed, self-assured young woman with the shy girl who entered STP. Sabrina maintains a 3.30 GPA while juggling part-time jobs at the Campus Center and Academic Support Center. She plays club basketball and is an active member of the Rotaract Club.

Despite Sabrina’s success, she hasn’t forgotten her rocky start. As an STP and TRIO Texting Mentor, she nurtures and encourages new students, many of them first-generation students who are anxious about entering a new world. “She inspires new students with her positive attitude and by sharing her personal experiences,” says Kelley Beckwith, Director of Academic Services.

Sabrina loves seeing her mentees grow; some have even become leaders themselves. “Sometimes, they come up to me and say, ‘If it wasn’t for STP, I wouldn’t be here,’” she says. “Some still call me Mom.”

At Castleton, Sabrina’s compassion has taken her far, even out of the country. Last year, Sabrina and her fellow nursing students traveled to Honduras to provide care for people in underserved communities. It was Sabrina’s first trip outside the U.S. – and her first time flying. “I was way out of my comfort zone, but it was the best experience,” she says. “It reminded me of why I want to be a nurse.” This spring, Sabrina will travel to Florida to volunteer with the Rotaract Club.

Sabrina’s adventures have whetted her appetite for travel. After graduation, she plans to pursue a career as a traveling nurse. Eventually, she hopes to settle in her beloved Vermont, where she would like to work as an emergency room or birthing center nurse. Her Castleton family is confident she’ll succeed. “Her manner as a mentor indicates she’ll make a wonderful nurse,” says Becky Eno, Academic Counselor.

Sabrina hopes new students will find a home at Castleton and take advantage of all the university has to offer. “Ask for help if you need it,” she advises. “As a first-year , I was too shy to ask for what I needed – now I do it all the time. And get involved on campus. It can lead to all sorts of opportunities.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Majors and Minds: Should You Change Yours?

Maybe you always wanted to be a teacher. You enjoyed your time in elementary school, and you love babysitting, right? But then you got to college, took your first education course, and discovered the field is not for you. You still want to work with children, but you’ve decided to pursue social work instead.

Or maybe you came to college because of the nursing program. Your parents encouraged you to become a nurse: that way, you’d always have a job. But you’re really enjoying your psychology course: you actually look forward to doing homework. You’re thinking of becoming a counselor and switching majors – if your parents don’t explode, that is. Then there’s your friend who started off as an exercise science major, but wants to enter the nursing program.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. Studies suggest between 60 and 80% of undergraduates change their major at least once. Sometimes, this results in a happier, more successful student: if you love what you’re doing, you’ll be motivated to work hard and reach your goals. But a switch can also add years – and debt – to your college career.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before you change your major:

  • How much time and money would a change cost? Figure out exactly what classes you would have to take to complete a degree in your new field. On the VSC Portal, under Web Services, select Student Academic Planning and then Program Evaluation. This tool allows you see what classes you would need to take to meet that major’s requirements. Your current adviser, a professor in your new field, or any of us at Academic Support can help you figure out how much time your new program would take. Adding semesters or even years to your education isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but seeing exactly what is required can help you decide if the change is worth it to you.
  • How closely are your major and career goals aligned? Without a nursing degree, you can’t become a nurse. However, many liberal arts graduates find themselves in fields unrelated to their college major. For example, English majors work in finance and law enforcement, art history majors in human services, philosophy majors in broadcast journalism, and theatre majors in business management. Employers are often more interested in transferable skills –ability to work independently and with others, time management, writing, and verbal communication – than they are in your precise degree. If you have a career goals that doesn’t coincide with your present major, you may not have to change your academic program. However, you should definitely pursue internships and work experience in your chosen field.
  • Would a minor work just as well? Perhaps you’ve discovered a passion for art, biology, or Spanish. That’s wonderful; finding new interests is an important part of college life. You may want to change your major, add a second major, or select a minor. Think carefully before you make this decision: do you love this new discipline enough to fulfill the major requirements? Would taking several courses to complete a minor be enough to satisfy your curiosity?
  • Does the new major make you more excited about your education? If the answer is an emphatic “Yes,” then switching majors – or adding a new one – is a good idea. College, unlike high school, is not compulsory. You are not here because you have to be. You are here to study a discipline that fascinates you or prepare for an exciting career. Higher education is a privilege, and it should be enjoyable.

 Only you can answer these questions. But just make sure you weigh your options carefully – and start every new path with a whole heart.

– Dorothy A. Dahm

The Art of Knowing When

woman-standing-at-edge-of-cliff

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.