Teaching and Trailblazing: Meet TRIO Star Sarah Dunbar

When Sarah Dunbar first enrolled at Castleton University, the campus seemed a long way from Craftsbury Common, her hometown in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. She missed her family and friends, and as she didn’t have a car, she was dependent on other people for rides off campus. And although she’d participated in Upward Bound, a college-readiness program, in high school, the first-generation student occasionally doubted her ability to succeed in college.

At Castleton, Sarah found a home away from home in the Academic Support Center (ASC). Through the Summer Transition Program, Sarah met Director of Academic Services Kelley Beckwith and other academic counselors. They helped her select classes, manage her time, and navigate financial aid options. She sought tutoring from the ASC’s Math and Writing Clinics. She even found part-time employment as a Learning Center Assistant, scheduling appointments and assisting staff with administrative projects. And even when she didn’t have a particular reason to visit the ASC, it proved an ideal place to study. “It’s the right environment to focus,” she remarks.

Outside of the ASC, Sarah found success in the classroom, earning all As her first semester at Castleton. Slowly, she started branching out, joining various clubs on campus.

ASC staff noticed a change in her. “When Sarah first came to Castleton, she was on the shy side and a bit underconfident,” says Kelley Beckwith. “That quickly changed as her success in the classroom emerged. She then began challenging herself in other ways.”

Today, it’s hard to remember Sarah ever doubted her ability to thrive in college. The senior multidisciplinary studies major has a 3.83 GPA. During her time at Castleton, she’s visited St. John and Iceland through travel-study courses. In addition to serving as the Vice President of Academics in the Student Government Association, she is involved with the Student Education Association and the Rotaract Club. She has also served as a Community Advisor, mentoring students in the residence halls.

Sarah freely admits that juggling her various pursuits can be challenging. “I made sure the things I wanted to do really counted,” she says. “Yes, they look good on a résumé, but they served a purpose personally and professionally.”

Despite her many commitments, Sarah has found time to give back to TRIO and the ASC. In addition to working as a Learning Center Assistant, she has served as a Writing Clinic tutor and a TRIO Program Assistant. In these roles, she has mentored and sometimes counseled other first-generation students. “I like knowing I’m helping a student who is in the same position I was when I first started,” she says.

But don’t count on Sarah to start dispensing advice. She takes a far more laidback approach to mentoring. “When I’m the mentee, I want to feel free to make mistakes,” she explains. “Our conversations should be a two-way street. I have as much to learn from my students as they do from me.”

After graduation, Sarah hopes to teach elementary school in Vermont. Eventually, she intends to earn a master’s degree in education. “I’m fortunate to have found something I can see myself doing for the rest of my life,” she says. “Castleton made me fall in love with teaching.”

Sarah hopes other students will embrace adventure in their college journeys. “Be a trailblazer,” she urges. “Trying new things will be scary at first, but you’ll never know if you like them until you give them a go. And you’ll never know what you’re capable of until you try.”

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Group Work: The Agonies – and the Possibilities

You’ve started dreading Biology. Your lab partner is nice enough, but she doesn’t do much. You have to ask her to help with the task itself, and she texts her boyfriend while you prepare the lab report. You try to get her to contribute, but she always says, “I don’t know” and copies whatever you write.

Then there’s Business Management. In groups of four, you’re working on your final project: a plan for a new business. The assignment constitutes 30% of your grade, so you want to do a good job. You’re also excited about applying the concepts you’ve been studying in class. But one guy has already appointed himself CEO of your fledgling corporation. He’s not interested in your ideas; in fact, he doesn’t let anyone do very much. This is just fine with one member of your group who is delighted to be off the hook. But two of you are getting frustrated: it’s your education, too!

If you’re a student, you know the perils of group work. Since kindergarten, you’ve also heard teachers rave about the importance of working with others.
Like it or not, collaboration is part of the academic and professional world. After graduation, you will have to contend with other people – even if you work from home, run your own business, or pursue a freelance career. Often, your colleagues will be warm, supportive, and inspiring. Sometimes, you will find yourself with a lazy, stubborn, or overbearing co-worker. You’ll have to contend with these situations without clenching your teeth, compromising your health, or leaving your position.

Here are some tips to make group projects less stressful:

1.) Set Boundaries: Before you get started, delegate tasks. Determine who is responsible for each part of a project and set deadlines. This can be casual: “I’ll answer questions one and three if you do two and four.” With larger projects, you may want to establish more formal requirements: “Rick will write the Procedures section, Liana the Analysis, and Chelsea the Recommendations. We’ll meet to discuss our drafts a week before the paper is due.” Get these arrangements in writing – or save e-mail correspondence about them – so that there is no confusion about responsibilities.

2.) Be the Teammate You Want. Don’t be lazy, don’t be disparaging, and don’t take over. It’s normal to be frustrated when the material is difficult or when your partners’ standards are different than yours. If you’re struggling with the project, get help – from your professor, classmates, or the Academic Support Center. If you find yourself with well-intentioned, but less skilled group members, help them succeed. For example, if your partner is not a strong writer, you might proofread his work and tactfully make suggestions. You might also refer him to the Writing Clinic. When he does something well, tell him so.

3.) Document Everything. Keep track of who attends meetings and contributes to the project. If a teammate isn’t pulling his or her own weight, you will be able to bring specific grievances to the professor. Use this option as a last resort: only approach your instructor after you have talked with your group member. If you must complain about a classmate, be professional. Don’t tattle or rant. Instead, express your concerns in a well-written e-mail, and attach any documentation you have.

4.) Put Your Project in Perspective. Sometimes, this means writing the lab report yourself if you want a good grade in the course. At other times, you’ll have to shrug off your lackluster discussion group. Weigh each assignment to determine how much time you want to spend nurturing group dynamics.

Regard difficult group work as you would any other obstacle: a chance to prove to yourself and your professors that you have the maturity and determination to overcome a challenge. Take a deep breath, and tell yourself that you’re developing skills you’ll use the rest of your life.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

Saving Money this Summer: Yes, It’s Possible!

Beautiful woman with a laptop on the beach

For many college students, summer means making money. They work long hours during their vacation to earn money for the academic year. However, summer brings temptations of its own, including the urge to spend! Fortunately, with a little planning, you can enjoy the summer without losing all your savings.

1.) Fun = Free or Almost Free. You don’t need to plan extravagant outings to create memories with your friends and family. Many towns offer free outdoor concerts, festivals, and theater performances during the summer; check out your local newspaper for information about upcoming events. In addition, you can hike or swim at local or state parks for little or nothing.

2.) There’s always a cheaper option. Lunch and breakfast are less pricey than dinner; picnics and potlucks are less expensive than eating out. Matinees are cheaper than evening movies, DVD rentals and Netflix are even less expensive, and your local library will allow you to borrow DVDs for free. There’s nothing wrong with the odd splurge, but make sure your “treats” are occasional and special – otherwise, they’re not splurges, but reckless spending.

3.) Think daytrips, not vacations. Check out destinations – amusement parks, nature trails, museums, and events – within a four-hour drive of your home. If you don’t have to stay overnight, you’ll save money on meals and hotel fare.

4.) Keep it separated. Most adults have a checking account, which they use to pay their bills, and a savings account, which constitutes their savings. If you haven’t opened a savings account, now is the time. Allocate a certain amount of money to your savings account every pay period. You’ll be less likely to spend the money if it’s separate from the rest of your income.

5.) Do your financial aid homework. Even if you’re working a lot, you probably have extra time on your hands during the summer. Use some of it to research scholarship options for the next academic year. Check out Fastweb, College Board, and org to research scholarships. You may have to spend hours filling out applications and writing essays. Regard this the way you would any other job: something you have to do to earn money.

6.) Stay focused. Remind yourself of why you’re in college and what you hope to be one day. Saving money in the present will be much easier if you remember the future you want. While you’re at it, start taking steps toward your goal. You’ve probably heard about how crucial internships are for recent graduates. If you don’t have an internship lined up for this summer, use your downtime to research internship opportunities for the academic year or following summer. You might also request informational interviews with people who are working in your field.

Summer doesn’t have to mean having to choose between work and pleasure. With some mindfulness, you can a fun and frugal, relaxing and inspiring season that prepares you for the next academic year and the career you want.

-Dorothy A. Dahm