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The ACES that you know and love got some amazing updates last week to make it more user friendly and more useful for both your course and your institution. Now available in the LaunchPads for Connections, 1st and 2nd editions, Connections Essentials, Step by Step and LaunchPad Solo for ACES, we have new unit organization, a new instructor dashboard, and new reports.

 

Before we dive into the details, it’s important to note that  to avoid issues and to make sure all of these awesome updates show up in your course, you will want to create a new course from scratch, rather than copying a course from a previous semester. Directions for how to do so can be found here: https://macmillan.force.com/macmillanlearning/s/article/LaunchPad-Create-a-new-course

 

When students take ACES at the start of the semester, the inventory is now called the “Initial Report.” Everything with the inventory itself is the same, with the same scales, still norm referenced, though the norm group has been updated and now represents over 42,000 college students, and there are 3 new demographic questions. The Inventory is in its own unit folder, along with the Student Guide.

 

All LaunchPads also now contain a unit folder at the bottom of the chapter listing for students to take ACES a second time, at the end of the semester. This folder is called the “Progress Report and Activity.” Depending on which LaunchPad you used previously, this may be a new name, and we’ve removed the Likert Scale quiz you may have had. It’s been replaced with a Reflection Activity, which has students look back at their Initial and Progress scores to observe and explain any differences.

 

The biggest changes come in how instructors review student results. Rather than having a dashboard in the activity itself, all instructor facing resources live in a unit folder called “ACES Instructor Resources and Reports,” seen in the screenshot below.

 

ACES Home Page

 

As before, instructors have access to a guide, the inventory questions, and feedback, though they are now more easily accessible. The ACES Instructor Report Dashboard is where things get even more interesting.

 

ACES Instructor Dashboard

 

All reports and scores that you need are all in one place, in a well organized, symmetrical pattern. There are 4 types of reports:

  • Initial Report: The first time students take ACES, at the start of semester
  • Progress Report: The second time students take ACES, at the end of the semester
  • Comparison (NEW!): See Initial and Progress report scores side by side
  • Change (NEW!): Looks at change in raw numbers, not on the national normed scale.

Then, each of these reports break down into three different ways to review data:  

  • Class Report: What you’re used to seeing, all student scores on all 12 scales
  • Roster Report: Previously, this was in another window. View each student’s score on an individual topic
  • Institutional Report (NEW!): Normed results for ALL students at your school who have taken it, including your class, to see how your class compares to the average course at your school


If you’d like more detail on these new reports, you can read more in our Knowledge Base, we’ll be hosting webinars throughout the summer, and you can always sign up for a one-on-one session with your Learning Solutions Specialist. Hope to hear from you!

Instructor Reports Knowledge Base: https://macmillan.force.com/macmillanlearning/s/article/LaunchPad-ACES-Using-ACES-Instructor-Reports

 

Webinar sign up: https://go.macmillanlearning.com/Register-for-Comm-Webinar.html?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWm1Oak5ESTBOVGxoT1dVMyIsInQiOiJVWjJ5M1M1MW5NVkhQK1pMZWp3UG5HeGh3emxhNzVqc05DRUN0bGhEMjJFcmJpclE3V3QrTE1TUytmQTBUOTZxNnREdU1hQzRuOWYwdml3eHNPSmZzdz09In0%3D

One-on-one meeting: http://www.macmillanhighered.com/Catalog/support.aspx

As a Learning Solutions Specialist at Macmillan, it’s my job to help instructors get their LaunchPad courses set up, offer advice on which activities to assign, and make sure they’re comfortable using the technology with their students.

 

I often begin or end my LaunchPad demo and training sessions with the idea that students WILL be using tech at some point through college, why not start them off with it right away? While they’re prepping for and/or adjusting to college?

 

That’s all we did at my old teaching gig.

 

Before coming to Macmillan, I taught, and was an adjunct for my school’s college success program. All online students took the exact same class during their first 4 weeks of school. We had a prescriptive course because we wanted each student on equal footing. And, because their programs were totally online, we wanted to make sure they knew how to use the technology they would be using the rest of their college careers. We offered “remedial” activities for students who may not be very familiar with laptops. Their very first assignment was to download AOL Instant Messenger (this was many years ago…) and send their instructor an IM, as all instructors on campus were constantly logged in during office hours, and that’s the best way to reach them “live.” We also worked through applications and websites that may be helpful in their other courses, and spent a fair amount of time on conducting research on the Internet.

 

All that being said, of course it is important to teach study skills, time management, etc. But make sure you’re focusing on the little things too. The little things that will also make their time in college a little easier.

 

If you’d like a personal tour of LaunchPad, sign up for a session with me, your Learning Solutions Specialist: https://www.macmillanlearning.com/Catalog/support.aspx

I have fond, giggle-filled memories of sputtering out the last lines of cumulative children’s songs in a single breath. A familiar example of such a song is There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, but my absolute favorite culminated into this string of ever-higher-pitched, gasped lyrics: There’s an eye on the flea, there’s a flea on the wing, there’s a wing on the fly, there’s a fly on the frog, there’s a frog on the bump, there’s a bump on a log, there’s a log in the hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea. A similar song, though far less melodious, may be crafted of the precedents leading to this post: There’s a networking post on a blog, there’s a blog written by a professor, there’s publisher and professor who met at a meeting...

This song could of course go on to explore the series of planned and unplanned (though not random) events that led two professors to teach FYS courses and then to be in such positions as to be involved in a statewide meeting, and then connect in agreement on the conceptual premises of the FYS course, and then to co-present at a number of conferences, and to have had a publisher attend a conference session that would lead to the invitation for a blog post; however, I’ll spare you the continued detail in the interest of word count and grammar.

Krumboltz’s (2009) Happenstance Learning Theory provides a more scholarly interpretation of the events that lead to professional and growth opportunities. He identifies five key qualities that lead to planned happenstance events: curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism, and risk-taking. These qualities, when fostered and valued, lead learners to recognize potential opportunities in even unexpected situations and then to have the confidence to take action to capitalize on them. Happenstance Learning Theory provides the theoretical foundation for the thread of events that lead to the old lady swallowing the fly - or rather, that lead to authoring opportunities, mentoring relationships, and job opportunities.

When we discuss networking with students – and we, FYS instructors, should be discussing networking with students – we are able to tug away the veil on the adage that when it comes to scoring a job, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” For some college students - and especially for first generation college students - who lack social capital, this adage foretells of a daunting career journey that is far less direct than graduating in a major and then getting a job in that field. So what can FYS instructors do to both to mitigate that anxiety and contribute to evening the playing field? 

First, instructors should include career planning and decision-making in their courses. The most recent National Survey of First-Year Seminars conducted by the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition concluded that 56.8% of respondent colleges and universities noted career exploration and/or preparation as a first-year priority (Young, 2018). Bailey, Jenkins, & Jaggar (2015), in their follow-up work to actualizing the college completion agenda, recommend lending highest priority to career planning and decision-making. But planning for a career and studying that field are insufficient goals in a job market predicated on planned and unplanned connections. Therefore, we contend that networking be discussed and practiced in the classroom or through facilitated out-of-classroom experiences. Faculty particularly interested in equity issues should heed the call.

We can start by fostering and explicitly discussing those qualities that help us take advantage of opportunities as they come – those that are described by Krumboltz and are listed above. We can then build upon that foundation with intentional activities that build students’ self-efficacy while they practice and prepare for both formal and informal networking. To help start the conversation, we can map our own career journey backwards, to our earliest jobs burning (or, uh, toasting) bagels to being in the classroom, noting the personal connections along the way that facilitated this journey. In this discussion, students may be able to identify the people who have already or who could in the future provide them similar opportunities. They may also consider who they, or their classmates, know that work in a field of interest through a no-more-than six degrees of separation type of exercise. Practicing efficient and effective networking conversation is also key to confidence-building. Powerful classroom activities and assignments to engage students in working towards this goal may include: crafting elevator speeches, preparing for and undertaking informational interviews, and participating in mock career fairs. Regardless of the specific activity or activities chosen, the key is to use the FYS classroom as a career learning lab where students can build skills and confidence to network, and to take advantage of unplanned opportunities as they come.

 

Sabrina Mathues is a full-time faculty member and Department Chair for College Success at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ. As a national Guided Pathways coach, she works with Brookdale and other colleges to develop career-focused college success curriculum and to redesign wraparound student supports. Her favorite past-times include acrylic painting, collecting sea glass, and – of course – teaching her young son how to give a good handshake.  

 

References

Bailey, T. A., Jaggars, S. S., & Jenkins, D. (2015). Redesigning America’s community colleges:

            A clearer path to student success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Krumboltz, J. D. (2009). The happenstance learning theory. Journal of Career Assessment,

            17(2), 135-154. doi: 10.1177/1069072708328861

Young, D. G. (2018, September 18). Data from the 2017 National Survey on The First-Year

Experience: Creating connections to go beyond traditional thinking. Retrieved from the National Resource Center for First-Year Experience and Students in Transition website:

            https://sc.edu/nrc/system/pub_files/1538846259_0.pdf

Matthew L. Sanders is an Associate Professor of communication studies and an Associate Dean of Humanities and Social Science at Utah State University. He holds a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Matt conducts research in the areas of nonprofit organizations and student empowerment and his work has been published in academic journals in communication, business, and public administration. He is the author of the book Becoming a Learner: Realizing the Opportunity of Education, which is used in First Year Experience programs at several universities.

 

Tell us about one initiative you are currently working on that you are really excited about.

 

I’m working on a project to infuse the idea of becoming an educated person into our general education curriculum so students will hear that important message more times than just their FYE course. I think general education reform is the next step in improve the first year of college.

 

What motivates you to work in college success?

 

College can be a transformative experience. It was for me; I wouldn’t be who I am without it. I want to do what I can to help it be a great experience for all students.

 

What advice would you have given to your younger self as you embarked on your first year in college?

 

To remember that the overall goal is to become an educated person and to worry less about what major I might choose. And I would take more classes that would really challenge me and stretch my abilities.

 

What are some trends and developments you are currently seeing in the college success/First-Year Experience course?

 

There is a trend toward focusing on helping students understand the “why” behind everything. It’s just starting, but people get it. Our textbooks of the future won’t just have a short chapter on it or treat it as self-evident. The premise of our work will be to infuse meaning into how students view college.

 

What did you enjoy the most about writing Becoming a Learner?

 

Writing in my teacher voice. Rather than write as an academic writes to other academics, I was able to write and in a way speak directly to the reader in the same way I do in my classroom. That made the writing exciting and meaningful. And I think that’s why so many students respond well to it.

 

And on a personal note...

 

What book has influenced you the most?

 

Parker Palmer’s book, The Courage to Teach, had a big impact on me as a brand new teacher. It made me realize that teaching is about connection.

 

What is something you want to learn in the next year (related to higher education or otherwise)?

 

I want to learn how to lead change among my peers at my university.  

 

If you hadn't pursued your current career, what do you think you would have done?

 

I would have worked in training and development.

 

What is your ideal vacation?

 

A guided fly fishing trip to Alaska.

 

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself that not many people may know.

 

I speak Spanish.

John Gardner and Betsy Barefoot were some of the early innovators of the college success course. In keeping with that theme, the LaunchPad which accompanies the 13th edition of their text, Your College Experience, we include innovative ways to engage your students with the course content. As your Learning Solutions Specialist, let me take you on a tour of what’s available.

 

Each chapter contains an interactive self-assessment quiz, which gives students an opportunity to reflect and learn more about themselves and the chapter topics, providing targeted advice to help them develop a personalized learning plan.

 

Multiple-choice Case Study Quizzes ask students to apply practical strategies and concepts discussed in each chapter. Students receive instant, helpful feedback after each response to help them contemplate the scenarios further.

 

My personal favorite resource is our student voices videos, which shows real college students sharing their experiences. Accompanied by a set of open-response questions, two Video Activities per unit allow students to reflect on course topics and deepen their thinking, as well as encourages application of helpful strategies discussed to their own lives. You can talk and talk and talk about how important time management is, but it might not really hit home until they hear it from their peers!

 

All of these live alongside an interactive ebook, instructor resources, and LearningCurve Adaptive Quizzing.

If you’d like to learn more about how LaunchPad can help enhance your course, sign up for a one-on-one session with your Learning Solutions Specialist: https://macmillanlearning.com/Catalog/event/training-demos/LaunchPad/Demos

ACES, the Academic Career Excellent System, is the flagship feature of our College Success list. Though it is a student inventory, it also has benefits for instructors. As the Learning Solutions Specialist for College Success, it is my job to help get instructors up and running with all of our digital resources, including ACES. And, as a and a former instructor myself, I'm personally invested in making sure your classes are using the resources in the best way possible. We’ll explore its many uses throughout the semester, but, today, we’ll just start with the basics for those not familiar with it, or as a refresher if you haven’t checked it out in a while. Specifically we’ll focus on the Initial Report and its use as a Pre-Test. It is found within several of our LaunchPad online platforms, including the Connections Franchise and LaunchPad Solo.

 

Typically assigned during the first few weeks of class, the inventory looks at how prepared students are for college in 12 key areas: Critical Thinking and Goal Setting, Motivation and Decision Making, Learning Preferences, Organization and Time Management, Reading, Note Taking, Memory and Studying, Test Taking, Information Literacy and Communication, Connecting with Others, Personal and Financial Health, and Academic and Career Planning.

 

Students rate their level of agreement with statements such as “My notes are legible and well organized”, on a 6 point scale from “Strongly Agree” to Strongly disagree.” It consists of 80 statements and takes about 20 minutes to complete. Once completed, students see how their scores compare to our national norm based on college students across the country.

They are also provided with information on what their scores means, and how they can improve upon certain areas.

 

ACES Student Results

 

As an instructor, you see the aggregate of your class on that same national norm. Scales with green bars indicate a high skill level, consistent with the highest 25 percent of the national sample. Scales with yellow bars indicate a moderate skill level, consistent with the middle 50 percent of the national sample. Scales with red bars indicate a low skill level, consistent with the lowest 25 percent of the national sample.

 

ACES Instructor View

 

When given as a pre-test at the start of the semester, you get a glance of what you should focus your time on throughout the semester. Spend more time covering the areas in red, and maybe less time in the green areas. And of course, you can also work individually with students as well.

 

We’ll look at more ways to use ACES in your course in future “Tech Tuesdays.” If you’d like to learn more right away, or get assistance setting up your LaunchPad course space, sign up for a demo with your LSS Specialist. http://www.macmillanhighered.com/Catalog/support.aspx

The morning after the 2016 election I found myself driving—bleary-eyed after a restless night—to the English department at Florida Atlantic University to host a book fair.

 

Weeks earlier, when I had scheduled the event, I overlooked the fact that it was the day after the election, though I could not have predicted the dramatic turn of events and the resulting atmosphere of charged emotion.

 

At the time, I was the Macmillan Learning sales rep for South Florida, before coming in-house as an editor, and I never felt closer to my virtue as a Macmillan rep than when hosting a book fair. I think that in all of the talk about learning and course objectives, people can forget the tremendous power that books have to simply help us understand one another.

 

On that particular morning, instructors stumbled in, grabbed a hot cup of coffee and sat with me and the books for a long moment or two, before heading on to the rest of their day. We shared some laughs, and some cries, but above all—despite the confusion we were feeling—we felt connected to all of the humanity I had spread out across the table. The textbooks and the readers, but also the Macmillan trade titles I had brought—George Packer’s The Unwinding, Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, the essay collection This I Believe...

 

While moving slowly in South Florida traffic on the way home, in my mind I began writing my own This I Believe essay. I helped Broward College select This I Believe II for their College Read program, and I had been meaning to write one.

 

A week or so later, after sharing my essay with a few professors, I was invited by Broward to read my essay and lead a discussion on a documentary, Glen’s Village, they were showing in conjunction with College Read.

 

After the screening of the documentary, I led an open-forum discussion about the film. In one of the most striking parts of the film, Glen and his community fight to keep his public high school from being closed and demolished due to budget cuts. When they lose the fight to keep the school open, Glen then fights to preserve at least "the culture of the school." I asked the attendees to talk about the culture of their school, Broward College. What is it, what should it be, what role does it play as a part of your community?

We had some really heartfelt discussion. One student said that the school "is like a piece of you, and when you lose the school, a little piece of you dies." A professor said that so many of us as individuals come from broken places, and he saw Broward as a place of healing, and that all of us need to be part of that feeling for ourselves and each other.

I then talked a little about the College Read program, and the idea that everyone reading the same book and sharing their stories can help strengthen their community. I read a selection from This I Believe II—a quote from Edward R. Murrow about why the “This I Believe” project was founded. I asked if his words resonated with them, particularly after the election—lots of nods and yesses. 

Then I read my This I Believe essay, and invited students to read their own essays—or to read ones from the book they wanted to share. One student picked "Living with Integrity" by Bob Barrett.

In closing, one of the professors read "The Right to Be Fully American" by Yasir Billoo, from This I Believe II. It opens:
"I am an American and like almost everyone here, I am also something else. I was raised to believe that America embraces all people from all faiths, but recently, that long-standing belief--along with both parts of my identity--have come under attack. And as an American Muslim of Pakistani descent, this attack is tearing me apart."

Before reading the essay, she gave a very moving speech to students: 

"In light of the recent election, I just hope and pray that we as individuals and we as a community can still hold on to our integrity and our values and to understand that each and every single one of us, regardless of our background, of our heritage, of our religious beliefs, of our height, our weight, our color, our anything, that we all treat each other as human beings. And nobody--nobody--is better than you. Nobody. And nobody on this planet is worse than you. And please always, always remember that. Take that with you in every walk of life."

 

As an editor, I believe my job is helping build communities. Because that’s exactly what a good book is--textbook or trade--a means for helping us understand one another, heal us from the broken places we’ve been, and reveal to us our enduring, common humanity.

 

Allen is the Program Manager for College Success & Human Communication at Macmillan Learning. He is an advocate for College Read programs as a way to foster social belonging on campus and in our larger communities. You can read his This I Believe essay, Crying in Baseball, here.

Since we first launched the ACES self-assessment back in 2016, we’ve seen program after program make the simple decision to give each one of their students, on their first days of college, one of the most powerful gifts--self-knowledge. It all starts with the simple, 20-minute ACES activity: a set of survey questions expertly designed by three counseling psychologists, through which students create a quantitative self-portrait of their strengths and growth areas--the ACES Initial Report.

 

Over 30,000 students have now taken ACES in their first weeks of college, so many of them for the first time discovering the power of a growth mindset, goal setting, and how to cultivate their inner assets to overcome adversity and be their best selves.

 

Over the past year or so, we’ve been beta-testing an ACES “post-test,” so that students could take the assessment again and reflect on their progress. An impetus for developing the post-test was that instructors could now have a powerful tool to help quantify the progress students were making in their FYE course. But the real driver behind this second instance of ACES is a pedagogical reason--its metacognitive benefits.

 

Having a second ACES report, at the end of the term, provides students with an important opportunity to reflect on their progress, practice gratitude, and gain valuable positive reinforcement. It also gives them an updated version of their quantitative self-portrait. By seeing change in their skills, abilities, and attitudes, the end-of-term ACES report provides them with real, first-hand experience with growth-mindset, neuroplasticity, and above all, the power to change oneself for the better.

 

To emphasize these powerful benefits, the beta post-test will be replaced in early Summer 2019 in all ACES LaunchPads with a new, permanent, second instance of ACES to be taken at the end of the semester. The report students will receive from this second instance of ACES will be called “The ACES Progress Report.” Instructors will also have a new “Comparison Report” in their report dashboard so they themselves can reflect on the impact their course has had on their students.

 

In addition, there will be a brief guide added to all ACES LaunchPads to help students compare their Progress Report with their Initial Report from the beginning of the semester.

 

Connections, Second Edition--the new edition of the textbook program developed in conjunction with ACES by the same team of counseling psychologists--gets an even more powerful end-of-semester feature: an assignable Capstone LaunchPad activity that automatically pulls in students’ ACES results from the entire term, and leads them through a metacognitive reflection to set them up for long term success.

 

These new features--the ACES Progress Report, the ACES Comparison Report, and the ACES Capstone Activity--are truly the product of the collaborative spirit at Macmillan Learning. I’m so inspired by how our wonderful authors, our senior editor Christina Lembo, our senior media editor Tom Kane, our technology team, and our faculty and student partners across the country, came together to bring you these new products, fostered by our spirit that together we can achieve more.

 

With these new features, our hope is that you will now be able to give your students something as powerful as the self-knowledge you offer them when they walk into your class--self growth, as they walk out.

I overhear a similar conversation among students hundreds of times a year …

 

Students will say “I have a lab report due for chemistry class” or “I’m working on an outline for Public Speaking.”  They might mention the instructor who assigned the work, saying “I have to do a rough draft for Dr. Hayward” or “I need to finish reading that chapter for Professor Ingram.”  At an even broader level, students will say “I have to take this class for Area C in General Education” or “This class is for my Major elective requirement.”  This mentality is prevalent and subtly destructive. 

 

I do my best to listen and let these conversations play out without interference.  I want students to talk to each other honestly, even as I think of how I might try to tweak their mind about it later. I call these “Mind Benders” – topics that are fairly common but, when seen from a different perspective, or with new information, have the ability to shift one’s thinking on a broader level quickly and profoundly. In this case, students have assignments, tests, papers, etc. and they tend to talk about them quite a bit (especially when the due date or exam date gets close).

 

So what’s the Mind Bender here?  It’s pretty simple: Who and what is college for? When students are engaged in conversations about what they are doing and what it’s for (the class) or who it’s for (the teacher), they are completely missing the entire point of education. All of the papers, tests, labs, speeches, etc. are for them – the student! This is the Mind Bender because very few students I’ve come across in 15 years of teaching have internalized the process of education as development of themselves and their skills. Deep down they may understand, but on their reactionary surface, their conscious or unconscious mentality toward education is associated with some form of other rather than the self.

 

After listening to their conversations, I try to find an appropriate time to share this little nugget with them: that college is ultimately for them and that each one of the assignments they are talking about is for them and their development. This usually comes with some hesitancy and disbelief: while some students start to accept the fact that college is for their development, other students still find it easier to dissociate themselves from what they have to do and deflect responsibility onto something else. This mindset is fascinating to me and the intrigue increases further when grades come out.

 

The mentality that the intricacies of college are for someone or something else other than the student I believe is further reinforced by grades. If the Mind doesn’t Bend from the initial way of thinking described at the beginning of this post, students attribute failure, and worse, success, to the class and the teacher. A student who struggles might say “That class was stupid. I don’t even know why I had to take it” or “Dr. Hayward is so unprepared and unorganized. I could never understand why we were going from topic to topic.  It felt all over the place.” Perhaps these are fair comments, but they’re focused on the other. Again, the responsibility falls on some external source.  What I think is potentially more troubling is even when students succeed, they attribute success to the class or the teacher. “Professor Ingram is so cool” or “That class was fun to go to every week.” The focus continues to remain on the other.

 

Why is deflecting success potentially worse in my opinion? The student mentality is at the core of it all and, at its worst, has a tendency to rob students of feeling successful, building confidence, taking ownership and credit for their development. The same can be said for their failures too, but what sucks the joy, happiness, and fulfillment out of education is students who don’t give themselves credit for what they do well because they already have an engrained mentality that what they are doing is for something outside themselves. This mentality creates a relatively low emotional ceiling where school becomes mundane, repetitive, and uninteresting rather than exciting, uplifting, and a source of hope and inspiration.

 

So instead of the rough draft being for Dr. Hayward. The rough draft is for them!

 

The reading assignment isn’t for Professor Ingram. The reading assignment is for them!

 

That class isn’t for Area C of General Education. That class is for them!

 

My hope is that shifting their mentality in this direction creates more investment which includes a more enjoyable emotional journey because, ultimately, they stop working for everybody else and start working for themselves. 

 

Andrew Pasquinelli

Foundations of Success Lecturer

California State University, East Bay

            You’ve graduated with your bachelor’s degree, and you have been accepted to the university of your dreams to pursue a master’s degree or possibly a Ph.D. I know it seems early to consider this, but what is your exit strategy? What I mean is, are you going to take a comprehensive test, create a project, or write a thesis as a means to fulfill the final degree requirement to graduate? It seems overwhelming to start considering this, but what you decide upon now will influence every major decision you make in graduate school, including the most important choice you will make: who will be your committee chairperson and who will be your committee members. Your committee will guide you through whatever exit method you choose, especially if you choose a project or thesis. Each member will play a significant part. However, it is your chairperson that will have final word and most control, so chose wisely. The following suggestions center around the thesis or project methods, although your committee is salient in all three cases.

 

 

Choosing Your Committee

            The most important decision you will make will be who to pick as your chairperson. I cannot stress this enough. Picking the right chairperson will be the difference in a enjoyable scholarly experience or wishing you had never applied to graduate school. Sorry to sound negative, but the right choice will make all the difference in the world. My first recommendation in choosing your chair would be to pick a professor that you know or has taught one of your classes. Because you will be working closely with this professor, for a year or more, you should consider the following about your candidate:

  • How busy is this professor? Are they a department chair or involved as another committee chair or member? You will be asking them to add your project or thesis onto their already huge workload.
  • Do you get along with them? I cannot imagine asking someone you do not even like to chair your committee. You will be spending a lot of time with them, so having a good relationship will help when things get rough.
  • What’s their specialty? Do they have the experience they need to provide you with the best advice on your given project? While they don’t need to be experts in your exact topic, make sure that they have enough knowledge of your topic to provide helpful feedback.
  • If you have previously had them as a professor, how fast do they turn back assignments? You will be producing multiple drafts of your proposal, so you want a one to two week turn around, not five or six or more. Do they have office hours that can work around your schedule?
  • Are they easy to talk to and do they challenge you? You do not want a “yes” person to control your best work. You want them have suggestions that will make this work fulfilling and your highest achievement that you have ever produced.

I would say that you should consider the same attributes for your other committee members. Remember that your chair has final word and the most control of your work. Often, the rest of your committee will not see a draft until it has been signed off by your chair. However, you want a well-rounded committee. You want them to complement each other and if possible get along, even if they have differing opinions or viewpoints. Maybe your chair is great at research but is not well versed in statistics. You should consider a member that excels in that part of the puzzle. Do not pick your members out of convenience. You want them all to contribute and not just agree, as tempting as that may sound. You want your members to challenge you to do your best work.

            I hope I have not scared any of you into burning your admission papers. I have had to learn some of these lessons the hard way. These are difficult decisions, but a little research and you will put together a team that will make this rewarding and less frustrating.

Going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the original aim of a liberal arts education was to encourage free citizens to participate in civic life by supplying them with skills of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. In medieval times, the study of liberal arts evolved to include arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The modern liberal arts college champions development of the well-rounded human as it allows students to focus on the diverse breadth of arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences, and mathematics. 

However, without the perspective of the bigger picture, some students view the liberal arts core negatively. They argue that it prolongs their college career, costing them more tuition money, and challenges them to study subject areas they might not even be interested in. And why should an English major, inclined towards reading and writing, have to take a general education statistics course? What’s the point?

 

The point is that you will:

  • learn to think critically
  • be more well-rounded and better prepared for your future
  • learn the most when you step out of your comfort zone

 

As a freshman in college, I enrolled in what I thought was a gen-ed history course. After receiving a 30+ page syllabus, I realized it was really an education course disguised by readings on local history. As neither a history nor education major, I was attracted to the course for three honest reasons: it fulfilled my history requirement, the professor had great reviews, and the class went on field trips. It turned out to be one of the best classes I ever took, despite the fact that I was the only non-education major. It may have been the only time I’ll ever have to write lesson plans and organize field trip activities, but it provided me the opportunity to strengthen my leadership and creative talents, while encouraging me to reflect on how everyone learns differently.

 

Liberal arts courses fuel students’ curiosity and encourage them to test the waters of where their professional interests might lie. Taking a course outside your designated major forces you to think and approach problems in an all-new way. You will learn to communicate -- remember grammar, rhetoric, and logic? -- and connect with people who are accustomed to different thinking, all while broadening your own knowledge and network. And, just because you studied English doesn’t mean you’ll never need math in your life.


Sure, if students only had to complete X number of business or engineering courses to graduate, they could probably earn a degree in fewer semesters, piling up less student loan debt in the process. However, they would have missed out on what might be their last opportunity to truly explore different academic interests just for the sake of learning.

On top of that, students might be lacking the transferable skill set that would help them succeed in their careers -- the interpersonal, organizational, leadership, and communication abilities often best developed through diversified studies. The list of student benefits of a liberal arts education is rather similar to what employers look for in their new hires. Even talking about your experience of adapting to unfamiliar coursework and learning styles provides great material for a job interview! Losing your security blanket, coloring outside the lines, thinking outside the box, and stepping out of your comfort zone in a class setting is great practice for doing so in the real world.

 

Whether their focus is in the traditional liberal arts discipline or not, students should be encouraged to broaden their studies and make use of the liberal arts core. With expanded knowledge across disciplines, students will be equipped to better understand and respect opposing viewpoints, assess their own opinions, and make informed decisions. Just like the ancient Greeks and Romans, students will become well-rounded citizens, which will serve them in their personal and professional lives for years to come.

It’s #TechTuesday! Here are 10 useful and free apps we love for both instructors and students to live informed, balanced, simplified, and successful lifestyles:

  • Alarmy
    • Some of us just aren’t morning people, but sometimes life throws us 8 a.m. classes anyway. Whether you’re waking up just to be at class or you have to teach it, attendance and punctuality are important. Alarmy is one way to ensure that you get out of bed -- your alarm will be set with tasks that must be completed to turn off the dreaded noise.
  • Morning Brew
    • Who has time to watch or read the news everyday? Morning Brew delivers a newsletter of major updates to your email inbox every morning. Designed for millennials, the app provides quick and quality news coverage of diverse topics including a stock market recap, business news, and a short lifestyle section.
  • SelfControl
    • Whether you tend to procrastinate a little or a lot, physically blocking out distractions can be helpful in completing assignments in a timely manner. SelfControl lets you block your access from certain sites and apps for a predetermined period of time. Even if you restart your computer or delete the app, you won’t have access to blacklisted sites until the timer is up.
  • Slack
    • In need of a professional, direct means of communication between organization members, students, and instructors? Slack is a cloud-based messaging and collaboration app that offers organized instant communication, file sharing, screen sharing, and calling through its free and secure service. It’s the perfect real-time alternative to email.
  • Venmo
    • Find yourself without your wallet and with a growing list of IOUs? Venmo makes it simple to pay back your friends for split meals, Uber rides, concert tickets, rent, and much more. The app securely connects to your bank account or credit card to send or request money to friends, family, colleagues, and now even many businesses.
  • Google Keep
    • If you’re a big list person like me, you’ll love Google Keep, one of the lesser known apps in the Google Suite. You can take notes, make checklists with tick boxes, create drawings, insert photos, change colors, and set reminders.
  • Quizlet
    • This mobile and web based app allows students to study content through flashcards, quizzing, and a variety of study games. Quizlet is extremely popular with students because it can be used on the go and study sets can easily be shared. Instructors can use it as a tool to review course information, track progress, and engage students.
  • EasyBib
    • While writing a halfway decent essay is a prerequisite of college admission, properly citing one is not. EasyBib makes it easy for students to correctly cite their sources and avoid plagiarism. All you have to do is plug in the link to the article you’d like to cite and the app picks out and formats the necessary information.
  • My Fitness Pal
    • Students and instructors alike can fall prey to bad eating habits under the stress and time constraints of school. My Fitness Pal is a free app by Under Armour that keeps track of daily exercise and diet habits, allowing you to set attainable personal fitness goals. Users simply enter their current and goal weight, then input their meals and daily exercise to track their progress against the recommended calorie intake suggested to achieve their goal.
  • Mint
    • College is often the first time young adults manage their own money, usually with little guidance on how to do so responsibly. Try Mint to proactively (or counter-actively) save money. It’s an all-in-one app for budgeting, investments, bills, security, and credit. 

Maybe you’re like me: Determined to finish your biggest project, but struggling to get things done. For students, this may be especially true with writing papers. In college, when it came to term papers, I’d hear my classmates’ united refrain: “I’ll just do it the night before anyway, why start now?” The phrase still rings familiar to me years out of the academic environment. I’d had my fair share of the “One-Draft Wonder,” too, so why did it bother me so much?

 

I found my answer in what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck identifies as the “growth mindset”, the belief that talent and skills can be developed over time. The growth mindset is dedicated to improvement, even if that requires the possibility of failure or struggle. Alternatively, a “fixed mindset” assumes talent is static and unchanging. The fixed mindset chooses the quickest path to success, (i.e., the One-Draft Wonder), relying on skills presumed to be static and relatively unchanging. The growth mindset engages, takes its time, and yields a bigger payoff down the road.

 

The learning process is not a matter of instant gratification. In my experience, I found a remedy for my distraction in a few basic tools: The assigned text, a notebook, a pencil, and nothing else. The first time I tried this, I spent 90 minutes hanging out with Walt Whitman’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d. At first my eyes kept flickering up from the page, but slowly I became immersed. By the end of 90 minutes I was diagramming in the margins, unaware of my surroundings and lost in the experience of the poem.

 

Applied to the college classroom, the growth mindset reduces students' stress of completing a first draft because the main goal is to improve over time, rather than be perfect the first time. In this way students can feel comfortable approaching challenging assignments before the eleventh hour hits. I love Dweck’s advice because it empowers us to be learners at any age, continually considering our lives a work in progress. 

 

For more on growth mindset, check out Your College Experience 13th Edition, or explore more online here.

Immediately upon walking through the doors of my old high school, you are confronted with a floor-to-ceiling list of students’ GPAs. From day one, students are encouraged to compete against each other for the coveted spot at the top of the list. Certainly the list allows students to visualize their goals, but it can come at the cost of pitting classmates against each other.

 

Many students grow up consciously or subconsciously competing against their siblings and peers to be the best: in sports, popularity, and in academics. Sometimes, their interest in learning is overshadowed by this desire.

 

Like so much of our lives, education can become a competition. Some students are immune to this affliction, while others are entirely fueled by it. Each students’ personal experience of the academics competition is affected by numerous factors including his or her financial situation, gender, choice of school, and much more.

 

Kids love the childish game of “mine is better/newer/bigger/etc. than yours.” Most of us eventually grow out of this stage, only to see it reappear in a new form in school -- especially college. Now, instead of, “mine is better,” the winning phrase becomes, “my work is harder.” This comes up particularly often regarding majors, and everyone hates it:

 

“I wish I was an English major just reading and writing all day instead of doing organic chemistry labs.”

 

“I have a practical and two exams this week.”

“Well, I had a practical and two exams today.”

 

“I was up until 1 a.m. finishing that paper.”

“Oh, you’re lucky. I was up all night finishing that paper.”

 

As the semester wears on, students frequently compare war stories, trying to one-up each other with who has it the worst.



With so many stresses of being a college student, on top of the daunting pressure to eventually get a job and become an adult, this additional stress competition is completely unwarranted and unwanted. College offers the opportunity to choose a major that genuinely interests you -- regardless of how objectively/subjectively “hard” or “easy” it may be. Comparing majors and workloads is like comparing apples to oranges, and it gets students nowhere. While communications students may not take as many exams as science majors, they are nonetheless inundated with essays, presentations, and group projects which are challenging in their own right.

 

College offers so many opportunities -- tutoring sessions, teaching assistant positions, mentor programs -- for students to work together to help each other symbiotically. Instead of complaining at each other, students could at the very least complain with each other and find solace in the fact that they’re not alone in their struggle. And at best, they can help each other to succeed to their fullest potentials.

 

When the pressure to have the “right” numbers on one’s final transcript (which ultimately isn’t as important as real experience) becomes more important than actually learning and retaining any of the content of one’s classes, students lose sight of the purpose of a college degree.

 

 

But at the end of the day, remember that the purpose of education is to learn! Healthy competition encourages students to do their very best and think independently, and it also enlivens the classroom environment. Students thrive with a combination of both competitive and cooperative learning. For example, instructors can:

  • Allow students to work and study collaboratively, but grade each on their own merits.
  • Give students say in how they approach an assignment and how they will be tested.

 

Through this balance, students are motivated to do their best but still value learning over earning high grades and teacher approval. Students can help each other through study groups, tutoring, and mentoring. The math majors can support the English majors by tutoring them in general-education statistics, and vice versa.

 

As the number of college students experiencing anxiety continues to rise, it’s important to remember that mental health is more important than acing a test or course. Aside from academic resources for struggling students, all campuses should also offer free counseling, meditation, and other stress management services. Be sure to take advantage of the support at your fingertips and encourage others to do the same to promote a healthier, happier campus.

 

Most importantly, keep in mind that earning real world experiences through internships, job opportunities, leadership roles in campus organizations, and even studying abroad will help you more in your future career than that 4.0 GPA ever could.

There is a resounding assumption that our nation’s high school graduates will enroll in some form of higher education in the fall of the same year they graduate. The assumption starts early on in American public education, with the onslaught of advanced placement/college prep academic tracks, college entrance exam test preparation, college visits, and the pressure to participate in extracurriculars for the purpose of crafting an impressive college application. To know what you want to be “when you grow up” and where you want to earn your degree from is “supposed” to be something students have squared away by the time they begin their senior year. What happens if you don’t fit into that box?

 

According to the 2016 American Community Survey published by the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.3% of people 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree and just 11.9% hold a graduate or professional degree of some kind. Based on this, it is evident that not everyone holds a four-year degree or beyond.

 

I think we are doing an injustice to our nation’s young people when we assume they are going to a college immediately upon graduating from high school and that if they choose to go right to college, that they need to know exactly what they want to study. How embarrassing, isolating, and frustrating that must feel if you a) don’t want to go to school right away (or ever) and/or b) have no idea what to study.

 

In my own work with students who struggle academically, they will tell me that they have been a student, continuously, since they were five and that they are tired. They don’t know what they want to study anymore. They aren’t getting the grades in the program they (or their parents) wanted. They feel aimless, ashamed, and sometimes, just depressed.

 

What if instead of dragging them to the finish line, we gave them permission to take a break? I often find myself saying to students that, “colleges will be there when you’re ready.” As a society, we need to normalize that earning a degree is not a race – it’s an opportunity and a commitment that an adult can take on at any age. Besides the financial investment, earning a degree takes an exorbitant amount of personal investment as well and students need to be ready for that commitment.

 

What if instead of asking our young adults what they want to be, what they want to study and where they want to go for school, instead ask, “What do you think you might like to do after high school?” and just let that be the open-ended question. What if instead of jumping in with our own opinions on what they should do, we just listen to them, patiently and with an open mind. What if we normalized the notion that it’s ok to take a break after high school, to work, to find yourself, to reflect, to travel, to tend to yourself and others in a loving and caring way?

 

We don’t slow down enough as a society. That we know and I am guilty of it as well. We are always thinking of the next thing to do, to buy, to be. What if, instead of rushing recently high-school graduates into dorm rooms and classrooms, we let them learn at their own pace, just by making their own choices in their lives? Moreover, what if everyone’s post-high school graduation plan was a great plan?

 

Michelle Gayne

Assistant Director of Advising & Academic Services

University of Maine