Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Who You Know

Yesterday as I was perusing through the classes I will need to take next semester, I was dismayed to find out that out of a group of five classes in a certain section for my minor, three are not being offered next semester. I began to panic and double checked my information to make sure what I had found out was the truth and not just me fat-fingering the class schedule. Sure enough. Those three classes were not even on the radar for next semester.

I had a decision to make - panic or figure it out. After a few minutes of sheer panic and visions of having to take one class per semester for the next three years, I set about to find a solution. The group of classes were in a "global studies" section of classes needed for my minor. I need nine hours or three of the five classes in that section. I am already enrolled in one and will take another next semester. I just needed one more class in that section next semester.

I began to hunt for classes that were global studies related. I finally found a sociology class that I thought would fit the bill. I emailed my Geology prof (Dr. McKinney), who is also the head of the Environmental Studies program at UT, and explained the situation to him, offered him my alternative class and asked if I could petition the class next semester. He understood the classes were not being offered and said he would approve my class choice as well as my petition. Whew!

Now a little background: Last semester (spring 2009), I took a biodiversity class from Dr. McKinney. I loved the class and got a B in it. But the thing about the class was that it made a huge impact on my life. Dr. McKinney is the one who got me interested in Environmental History instead of just History or Geology alone. He knows he's had an influence on my life because I told him. Besides that, I am always in class and pepper Dr. Mick with questions. He knows who I am.

It pays to get to know your professors, especially if they are teaching or are in a subject you like, is your major, or that you are passionate about. Profs like seeing students get excited about what they are excited about.

I was talking to a Computer Science prof yesterday. He asked about my educational/career aspirations. When I explained the Environmental History thing to him - the History major with the Environmental Science minor - he looked rather befuddled. He asked, "Those two things don't normally go together, do they?" He's not the first one to ask that question. Most pure humanities or pure science people will question a History (humanities)/Environmental Science (science) combination. (I am well aware that Environmental History tries to be the bridge between two apparently opposing schools of thought - humanities and science) Dr. McKinney doesn't question my academic combination. He gets it. But in Connie's world, yes - those two disciplines mesh quite well together to form Environmental History.

I could speak again to the need for flexibility or offer encouragement once more to step out and take a risk, but most nontrads are aware of those concepts - flexibility and risk. The very category of "nontraditional student" implies one is familiar with flexibility and risk. However, Flexibility and her red-haired sister, Risk, are subjects for another post.

Get to know your profs. They are a wonderful resource! Stay tuned . . .

Monday, September 20, 2010

When to Ask For Help

I am a month into the Fall semester. I am not doing well in my Spanish class. I need help. I have a list of Spanish tutors that I have emailed and am awaiting a response from. I hope I will be able to adequately shore up my sagging Spanish scaffolding enough to pass the class.

I hope that you don't allow being a nontrad to keep you from asking for help when you need it - from finding a tutor to asking questions of your professors and classmates. It's better to ask questions as soon as you realize you don't get it than to wait the entire semester to say, "I don't get it" because you were too embarrassed.

As a student, your fees pay for all sorts of resources on campus. Some of the resources available to students on my campus are: Writing labs, computer labs, student counseling services, private and/or free tutoring services, and student success services. I have counseled each of my three children to take advantage of the services available on their campuses. Those services are there for the students, the students just have to take advantage of them.

If you find yourself needing help, ask for it! Many profs are willing to read the rough draft of a paper, or ask questions, or advise on research projects. Don't be afraid to darken their door during their office hours. Form study groups with your classmates. Take advantage of every service you can - they are there for YOU, the student. Stay tuned . . .

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Excellence or Mediocrity?

99% of the time, I strive to be and to do my best. However, there are those times when no matter how hard I try, my best just doesn't seem to cut it. What should I do, then? Should I cut my losses and instead of setting my personal expectations so high (striving for excellence in something I know I can't attain excellence in) knock it down a notch and be satisfied with mediocrity? What if my best in a certain situation is only mediocrity?

Fall of 2006 was my "Welcome back to college!!" semester with the first half of my math requirement - Statistics. My best in that class was mediocrity, even though I tried my darndest to do my best. I find myself in that situation again.

Apparently, math and language ability both reside in the same side of the brain - the analytical side. The analytical side of my brain just sits there and stares out the window and daydreams. I can't seem to get it to do much. Writing, grammar, vocabulary - that side of my brain is VERY active and I can't seem to get it to shut down when it's time to go to bed. For one side of my brain, mediocrity is about as excellent as it gets. For the other side, the sky is the limit as far as excellence goes.

(Exasperated sigh.) The moral of this story is that I will have to do several things to attain excellence for both sides of my brain:
1. Know my weaknesses and work hard to turn them into strengths. I will have to work harder on Spanish vocabulary.
2. Understand there is no room for laziness when it comes to subjects I am not strong in. This will take personal discipline.
3. Ask for help. My Spanish prof told me "vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary!!"

If I want to go on to grad school, there will be no room for mediocrity whatsoever. I will have to walk in excellence 24/7. No one ever said school would be easy. How bad do I want this degree? How bad do I want to go to grad school? Bad enough to breathe excellence? Stay tuned . . .

Friday, September 10, 2010

Blessed Are The Flexible

I got thrown a huge curveball this week - I had emergency surgery Wednesday night to remove what initially was thought to be an infected appendix but what turned out be a burst ovarian cyst. That means I was out of work and school for two days. So, how do I hit this one out of the park? I'm still trying to figure that one out.

I initially went to the ER Tuesday night with severe abdominal pain, but because there were 50 people ahead of me, I decided not to stay but went home, doubled up on nighttime pain medication and went to sleep. I felt a little better the next morning, knowing I had to make it through my Spanish exam (which I got a 60, or D- on, so I didn't fail it). The pain on my right side got worse as the day went on and I finally left school at 2. I went to my doctor's office. After having to peel me off the ceiling when he poked that one spot on the right side of my abdomen, he immediately sent me to ER. Once there (and five hours later), the ER doc and surgeon both diagnosed "your garden variety appendicitis". However, once the surgeon got in there, he found something totally different. He cleaned everything out and removed my appendix anyway ("You'll never get appendicits!").

My oldest son and his fiance were with me in the ER and my youngest son came up from Chattanooga to spend the night in the hospital with me. My daughter cried because she could not be with me. I am blessed with three of the best children in the world!

When I woke up Thursday morning, I immediately began to call my profs to let them know I would not be in class Thursday or Friday. When I got home, I emailed my classmates to ask for notes. I was reminded that I have an exam today in Geology 202, which I will have to make up next week.

The lesson for this post is --> COMMUNICATION. If you know you are going to have a situation that takes you away from school, let your professors know. Ask for help from your classmates. Don't just fall off the face of the earth for a few days. Profs are much more appreciative and more willing to cut you some slack when you keep them in the loop. In fact, one of my profs assigned a classmate to take notes for me. But then, I make sure my profs know who I am by the second day of class just for this very reason.

Communication - with your profs, with your classmates - is one of the pillars of a great educational experience. You never know when you might need a favor. Stay tuned . . .

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lemons, Curveballs and Lessons Learned

There is a saying; "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." What that means is when life throws you a curveball, hit it out of the park! Life will always give us lemons or throw us curveballs - hand us the unexpected. What we do with the unexpected shows our maturity as a person and as a student. Many people face the unexpected with fear, anger or other negative emotions. Those reactions are normal, but one cannot be overwhelmed with them.

An example: I did not expect to be taking my foreign language my senior year. That is neither the lemon nor the curveball. That is the lesson learned - don't put off your foreign language requirement.

What if you do face something unexpected or you realize you left an important requirement until the last minute?
1. Stop. Step back and take a deep breath. Take a look at the situation for what it is - unexpected, a poor decision. Acknowledge that something has happened.
2. Ask yourself, "What do I do now?" Explore all your options. Do not make any pressure decisions, but take the time to analyze the situation. When my dad died a year and half ago, I was in the middle of my spring semester. I missed a week of school. Projects were due, exams were coming up. What was I supposed to do? I sat down with a friend and looked at my options.
3. Make a plan and start working toward fulfilling that plan. Make your lemonade or lemon merangue pie, or prepare to hit that curveball over the back wall and out of the park! Take control of the situation, don't let it take control of you.
4. Let people in so they can walk with you through this time of uncertainty. Seek wise counsel, not just about your options and your plans, but for your own mental health as well.
5. Stay focused. Don't let the false urgencies distract you from your goal - getting your degree. The unexpected is only a side track, a detour. It is not a new road. Stick with your goals. They may need to be redefined and reworked a bit, but you can still achieve them.
6. Keep track of the lessons learned. They will prove valuable in the future.

Each day is a new day to experience life. And life is an adventure! My challenge this semester is Spanish. I will give it my all. ¡Hablaré español bien! Estancia afinó . . .