Monday, August 30, 2010

The Oil Filter Wrench

A couple years ago, I had to wade through some gen ed classes. I thought, "This will be interesting. But it will be like having an oil filter wrench in my toolbox when I don't plan on being an auto mechanic." Little did I know that the oil filter wrench would come in handy.

Two years ago, I took a Contemporary Appalachian Lit class. Great class. Most difficult exams I ever had to take (part of the exam was to identify 30 quotes from the 30 readings for that section of the semester, title and author of the piece and which character said it). One of the readings was Robert Morgan's "Poinsett's Bridge", an historical fiction piece about a self-taught mason who worked on the real Poinsett's Bridge in South Carolina in the 1800's.

Fast forward to this semester. This is where the oil filter wrench comes is. I am taking the last of my History electives or "Upper Level Distribution" classes - the History of Appalachia. We have to do a book review. I immediately think, Robert Morgan. "Poinsett's Bridge" is in a collection of Morgan stories, but he has written other books. "Gap Creek" is another novel by Morgan. Badda-bing, badda-boom - I ask my prof about it and he okays the book for the book review. Easy read, great story, quintessential Appalachia. I'm not an auto mechanic, but thanks to Dr. Russell Wilhelm, I just happened to have an oil filter wrench in my toolbox that I was able to use again. Who knows, maybe I'll need it sometime in the future as well.

So, what about you? Are you exasperated with taking those classes that seem to have very little to do with your major or your minor? Don't dismiss them. They may be the odd-looking tool in your academic toolbox, but someday, you'll be glad you took them. Besides, an oil filter wrench can always double as an egg ring. Just sayin'. Stay tuned . . . .

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Your Story

Nontrads each have a unique story to tell. Many of my profs have been impressed with my story of returning to school after 20 something years of being out of school. They find it more impressive this year when I tell them all three of my children are in college as well.

Two years ago, I sat in class with a Computer Science teacher who had not taken a computer science class until she was 35. She said she had a soft spot for women who were returning to school. At that time, I was working full time, in school part time and "Momming" uber full time (isn't that always the case - we're Mom 36 hours a day?).

Last week I changed my minor from Geology to Environmental Science. I had to drop one class and pick up another class that was closed. In order to get into the closed class I had to speak to the professor who was teaching the class. I attended his morning class, which he would not let me into. He said to come back to his afternoon class. I did and he let me into that. When I explained why I needed the class (switching minors because of my major and my plans for grad school), his eyes lit up. He said, "We need to talk!!"

I recently spaced out on some Spanish homework. I threw myself at the mercy of my Spanish teacher, explaining that I didn't turn my homework in because I was suffering from Post and Pre- Traumatic Stress Disorder. Post from taking my last child, my only daughter, down to school over the weekend and Pre from having to visit my lawyer again on Friday. He granted me a reprieve.

Being a nontrad is not an excuse, but it helps to speak with your profs to let them know that you are not the average college student who is on campus just to get the degree and leave. You are on campus (or online) because you WANT the degree, you are working hard for that degree, but you also have life going on around you (family, financial obligations, etc.). It has been my experience that profs have more tolerance, admiration, sympathy, etc. for a nontrad who they know is working hard in spite of the other things going in their life than they have for the average college student who is goofing off! After all, I was not out partying over the weekend and didn't do my homework, I was getting my daughter settled at her college in Georgia.

I enjoy reading about other nontrads and their adventures - people like Studentmum, Man Who Stares at Coats, Michael Antonio Dicianna. There are many other nontrads out there in Cyberville. Their adventures will make you laugh, cry, ponder, give you encouragement, etc. Each of us has a story. And each of those stories is well worth telling. How about you? What's your story? Tell it to whomever will listen!! That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Hen Has Landed

A with a loud, "Squawk!!" the semester begins. I survived my first day - two classrooms did not have air conditioning, all three classrooms were overcrowded, and I only got lost once. What are some handy-dandy tips, ideas, etc. I can take away from today?

1. Make sure my water bottle is full before each class. It's sweltering here in the southeast.
2. Make sure to participate in each class. My classmates may think I'm brown-nosing, but the profs like student participation.
3. Do not be afraid to help a classmate in need. One of my Geo 320 classmates is on crutches. I was her extra pair of hands this morning.
4. Acknowledge folks I know from previous classes, even if it's the TA in the class. I did not acknowledge Will in Geo 320 (one of the TA's who was my lab instructor last year for Geo 101)and I'm sure he will have a smarty pants comment for me on Friday.
5. Say "thank you" as often as possible. I had a lot of doors held for me today. (Is that because I am a woman or an "older" woman? Hmmm . . . .) I made sure I said "thank you" to everyone who held the door for me.

Tomorrow I only have my Appalachian History class in the afternoon. I am looking forward to it. Once again, this semester will be a challenge - fossils (Paleobiology) and Spanish look to be the two roughest classes so far. But, as anyone who follows me knows, I love a good challenge! Dean's List, here I come!!!

How about you? Does anyone else have good first day of school experience worth sharing? Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

T Minus < 24

No, that is not a math formula. (Are you crazy? Most of you know I am NOT a math person!!)That is how long I have until fall semester starts for me. Am I ready? Of course not. I still do not have my books. I will probably get those tomorrow or Thursday. I may wait and compare online prices to bookstore prices. I have been so busy trying to get my daughter ready to go to school that I have neglected my own preparation.

Besides books, I need a new backpack, notebooks and folders, and pens. I also need to fire up the mini to make sure she is fully charged in order to pound out notes like a crazy woman. I'm sure once I wake up tomorrow morning, I will be excited. I have not had much time to get excited about my school this semester because I have been so busy with my daughter and other stuff going on in my life. What are some ways that I can get excited about school?

1. Go to the school supplies aisle at Walmart and watch the frantic elementary school moms with their long lists of supplies - things like hand sanitizer, Kleenex and Post-it notes (whatever happened to notebook paper, pencils and crayons?) - surrounded by masses of children all under the age of ten and click my heels together three times while saying, "There's no place like college! There's no place like college!"

2. Go to the bookstore and stand behind the freshman as they field phone calls from their mom (in between texting their buddies about the great party tonight); "Yes, Mom. I'm getting them now. No, Mom, no partying last night. Yes, Mom, there is milk in my fridge. Yes, Mom, I had breakfast this morning. No, Mom, I did not throw the bananas away. Yes, Mom. Me, too."

3. Take a walk through campus and listen to the buzz of activity the new semester has created so far.

4. Walk down to see Jason at the Campfire Grill hotdog stand on the other side of campus and ask him how business has been this week.

5. Stand on the plaza overlooking Neyland Stadium and observe the sudden increase of activity as the construction guys hurry to finish the renovations before the first football game on Sept. 4. They had been working on this all summer, but it seems as if someone suddenly looked at the calendar and said, "Hey, guys. Football season's only three weeks away. Oh my gosh! Football season's only three weeks away!!!"

I need a good night's sleep and a good spray of Eau De First Day of Kindergarten. I should be wide awake, excited and ready to roll with the new semester by tomorrow afternoon. Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Taking Shape

I am always amazed as I watch a potter work with a lump of clay. They take a shapeless lump of something and make it into a beautiful work of art. Today, I am that potter. The shapeless lump of clay is this semester. This morning, I slapped that clay on my potter's wheel and began to mess with it. It is beginning to take shape.

I have Megan's volleyball tournaments plugged into my planner. Funny how I still cannot escape volleyball tournaments! I guess I will be volleyballing it for the next four years. Go, Spike! (That was her orientation nickname.)

Next week, this lump of clay known as fall semester will continue to take shape as my classes begin. I am hoping the work of art produced at the end of it all will yield a diploma come May. Keep your fingers (and toes and eyes) crossed for me!

How about you? What does your lump of clay look like? Is it beginning to take shape? I know I will have to pound it out a couple times during the semester and try again, but I am hoping this semester will produce another work of art like last semester did (Dean's List!).

Good luck. Have fun pounding out this lump of semester! May it produce a work of art! Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Counting Down

Classes start at the University of Tennessee a week from today. I finally have my schedule tweaked so I am only taking 13 hours instead of 16. Plan Q has proved successful thus far. Megan is working the next couple of weeks to get her stuff sorted and packed so we can take her down to school on August 21. Last fall represented a major milestone in Megan's life - her senior year. This fall is my final senior year - hopefully!

As I prepare for my final year, for Megan's first year in college away from home, my first year as an empty-nester and a host of other changes I am sure that I am not yet aware of, I am excited and scared. You know the feeling - like the first day of kindergarten. Remember that? Your own first day as a child and your first child's first day. The excitement, yet the fear all at the same time - kinda made you want to throw up and run to find your mom. The thing is, throwing up is not an option and I AM the mom. So, I need to suck it up, hold it together and walk forward with confidence and grace.

I am looking forward to this semester. I have two Geology classes - Paleobiology and Earth as an Ecosystem (with the infamous Dr. Mike McKinney again), Intermediate Spanish I and the History of Appalachia. Good stuff. Lots of writing, memorizing and lab work. I can smell the late night latte now! As usual, I am jazzed about the new semester. And as usual, I am sure once the end of November rolls around, I will be ready for the semester to end.

Once again, what do I do to prepare? This semester is a little different because of Megan's departure and her dad's job loss. I am going to review my previous posts about cutting college costs and getting ready for the semester. In the meantime-
1. I will make sure I have a good support system in place. I am going to take advantage of the Student Counseling Services. There are many services on campus that are free for students - the writing lab, counseling services, etc. They are there for YOUR use - take advantage of them.
2. I will introduce myself to my profs after class and find out where their offices are. Chances are, I may need to pop in and make use of their office hours at some point.
3. I will also take the time to visit a couple of my past history profs. I will need letters of recommendation soon and I need to catch up with some of my profs.
4. I will look for sales on the school supplies I need. I will also watch for sales for Megan. Neither one of us needs all of our notebooks to be from our school - those embossed collegiate notebooks can get expensive! I'm over the novelty of it all, Megan probably is not. She can have two collegiate embossed notebooks!
5. I will make sure both Megan and I have a planner to write down assignment due dates, exam dates, etc. A planner is a major time management tool we both need to take full advantage of.

I am counting down the days until I start school and until I take Megan down to Georgia. One I am jazzed about, the other is a bittersweet event.

A quick shout out to the PSCC Nontrads - Hey, y'all!! Good luck this semester!! And good luck to all the nontrads out there - new, continuing and finishing. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Needle in the Haystack (or Keep on Swimming)

I think I may have found the needle in the haystack. I have been searching for an environmental history program. in the southeast I realize I may be going about this backwards. My Philosophy prof said, "Find a prof whose work you admire and go study under him." The only thing is, the prof whose work I admire is at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH. That's a bit too far away. So, I wrote to him and asked him if any of his colleagues in this area were "doing" environmental history. He directed me to Dr. Tim Silver at Appalachian State University.

Appalachian State is the little David who defeated the Giant Michigan Wolverines in football three years ago. That's how I remember them! Go, Mountaineers! I emailed the head of their graduate program and received an enthusiastic response. Dr. Linda Holliday told me there are two other faculty in their history dept who are also working in environmental history, though not necessarily on conjunction with US history. At least there is more than one environmental historian on faculty. I was thrilled to find a program that 1) was actually doing environmental history and 2) had some "robustness" to the program in the form of several faculty. I perused Dr. Silver's publications and it looks as if he is doing some things I am interested in.

I am scheduled to visit Appalachian State University on October 7, my fall break. I am excited. Now, I just have to get the GRE out of the way and kick some serious you-know-what in the rest of my classes. This is shaping up to be yet another challenging semester. BTW, I take my baby down to school August 21 (I'll try not to cry much). Then, it's just me, the dogs, GRE math and Geology. Ya, baby! Oh, the point of this post? In the words of Dorie from "Finding Nemo", "Keep on swimming!" Stay tuned . . .