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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:

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.

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

Last summer, we looked at schools with Common Reading Programs, where institutions assign or recommend titles for students and instructors to read over the summer, so that they can come together to discuss the book as a community in the fall.


Believe it or not (I don't), but summer is here again, and so are these reading programs. While several schools have already announced their picks, there's still no way to tell which books will be the most common (pun intended) choice.


While some common reading programs include the entire student body, many of them are aimed specifically at students entering their first year of college. This gives incoming students the opportunity to share something with their instructors and peers before they step on campus, and provides them with a taste of what they can expect from their institution over the course (pun not intended) of their studies.


So, for those of you still deliberating on your common reading choices, or those of you who simply want more reading recommendations, take a look at the Macmillan catalog on Books for the First-Year Experience. These critically-acclaimed books are ideal for the first-year experience: they're accessible and challenging, timely and classic, broadly appealing, stimulating, and moving. They foster individual growth while also inviting campus-wide discussion. Overall, a perfect summer reading for an incoming student who wants to start their first year on the right page (last pun, promise!).


Here are some examples of books featured on Macmillan's Books for the First-Year Experience Catalog: 


The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin

The Sun Does Shine

Oprah's Book Club Choice for June 2018!


In 1985, Anthony Rae Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Stunned, confused, and only twenty-nine years old, Hinton knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free. But with an incompetent defense attorney and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on Death Row at Holman State Prison in despairing silence—angry and full of hatred for all those who had sent an innocent man to his death. But as Hinton realized and accepted his fate, he resolved not only to survive, but to find a way to live on Death Row. For the next twenty-seven years he was a beacon—transforming not only his own spirit, but those of his fellow inmates, fifty-four of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. With the help of civil rights attorney and bestselling author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015. With a foreword by Stevenson, The Sun Does Shine is an extraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Hinton’s memoir tells his dramatic thirty-year journey and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, humor, or joy.


Anthony Ray Hinton spent nearly thirty years on death row for crimes he did not commit. Released in April 2015, Hinton now speaks widely on prison reform and the power of faith and forgiveness. He lives in Alabama. Check out his chat with Oprah about his book on her Facebook page here.


Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande


Being Mortal  

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering. Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.

Atul Gawande is author of three bestselling books: Complications; Better; and The Checklist Manifesto. He is also a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. He and his wife have three children and live in Newton, Massachusetts.

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero with Michelle Burford

In the Country We Love

Diane Guerrero, the television actress from the megahitOrange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, was just fourteen years old on the day her parents were detained and deported while she was at school. Born in the U.S., Guerrero was able to remain in the country and continue her education, depending on the kindness of family friends who took her in and helped her build a life and a successful acting career for herself, without the support system of her family. In the Country We Love is a moving, heartbreaking story of one woman’s extraordinary resilience in the face of the nightmarish struggles of undocumented residents in this country. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., many of whom have citizen children, whose lives here are just as precarious, and whose stories haven’t been told. Written with bestselling author Michelle Burford, this memoir is a tale of personal triumph that also casts a much-needed light on the fears that haunt the daily existence of families like Guerrero’s and on a system that fails them over and over.

Diane Guerrero is an actress on the hit shows Orange Is the New Black and Jane the Virgin. She volunteers with the nonprofit Immigrant Legal Resource Center, as well as with Mi Familia Vota, an organization that promotes civic involvement. She has been named an Ambassador for Citizenship and Naturalization by the White House. She lives in New York City.

Walking to Listen: 4,000 Miles Across America, One Story at a Time by Andrew Forsthoefel

Walking to Listen

At twenty-three, Andrew Forsthoefel walked out the back door of his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, with a backpack, an audio recorder, his copies of Whitman and Rilke, and a sign that read “Walking to Listen.” He had just graduated from Middlebury College and was ready to being his adult life, but he didn’t know how. So he decided he’d walk. And listen. It would be a cross-country quest for guidance, and everyone he met would be his guide. Thousands shared their stories with him, sometimes confiding their prejudices, too. Often he didn’t know how to respond. How to find unity in diversity? How to stay connected, even as fear works to tear us apart? He listened for answers to these questions, and to the existential questions every human must face, and began to find that the answer might be in listening itself. Ultimately, it’s the stories of others living all along the roads of America that carry this journey and sing out in a hopeful, heartfelt book about how a life is made, and how our nation defines itself on the most human level.

Andrew Forsthoefel is a writer, radio producer, and public speaker. After graduating from Middlebury College in 2011, he spent nearly a year walking across the United States. He first recounted part of that journey in a radio story featured on This American Life. He now facilitates workshops on walking and listening as practices in personal transformation, interconnection, and conflict resolution, and is currently based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

This post was adapted from an entry in A Word from Macmillan tagged 2017, A Word from Macmillan on 10/19/2017.

When I was in elementary school, I had trouble focusing in one of my classes during reading time and tests. This was not due to a lack of motivation or interest; on the contrary, I loved reading and going to school each day. My lack of concentration was related to a specific sound -- music. My teacher at the time felt listening to classical music facilitated learning, and would often play it during quiet moments in class. My mind was unavoidably drawn to expressive melody lines, dissonant harmonies, and pulsating rhythms, and I couldn’t seem to listen passively without mentally attending to these musical elements. For me, background music was more of a distraction than a learning aid.


Many studies in the fields of psychology and neuroscience have demonstrated a correlation between music and enhanced cognitive performance; however, the findings are nuanced and sometimes contradictory. Can music really facilitate learning, or do these effects vary based on factors such as learning preferences and personality types? How do musical genres and different cognitive tasks affect this correlation?


“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Rekonstruktion aus dem Jahre 1819),” Barbara Krafft

Mozart for the Mind

“The Mozart effect” refers to a common misconception that listening to classical music enhances intelligence. The idea stems from a psychology study conducted in 1993 by Frances Rauscher, Gordon Shaw, and Katherine Ky. In the experiment, participants completed standard IQ spatial reasoning tasks after listening to three distinct sound conditions: a Mozart piano sonata, a relaxation tape, and silence. Rauscher et al. found participants scored significantly better on the tasks after listening to Mozart than either silence or the relaxation tape, with an increase of about 8 points on their IQ scores.


Although this effect lasted for only 10 to 15 minutes, the implications were widely misinterpreted. While the participants were college students, many people generalized the results, claiming early exposure to classical music could boost intellectual development in children. The idea that listening to Mozart could increase general intelligence became a popular cultural belief, despite the fact that this study examined only one domain of intelligence. In considering the effects of music on learning, it is also important to note this experiment examined participants’ task performance after listening to different sound conditions, rather than the effect of listening to music while simultaneously working on a task.

The Mood-Boosting Effects of Music

Despite difficulties in replicating the Mozart effect, many studies provide evidence that listening to music can facilitate learning and enhance cognitive performance. One prevailing theory suggests music can improve mood and motivation levels, alleviating some of the emotional strain associated with complex tasks. For example, Hallam et. al (2002) found calming background music had a positive effect on children’s altruism levels and performance on arithmetic and memory tasks, suggesting music perceived as relaxing or pleasant can significantly affect task performance and behavior. On the other hand, music perceived as arousing, unpleasant, or aggressive negatively affected children’s memory task performance and altruism levels, suggesting some types of music are less conducive to learning than others.


Several studies indicate these effects could be influenced by other factors such as personality and learning preferences. For example, a study conducted by Adrian Furnham and Anna Bradley (1999) found pop music hindered performance for both introverts and extroverts on memory and reading comprehension tasks; however, this effect was more significant for introverts. 


Another study provides evidence that music can be beneficial for both introverts and extroverts depending on the work environment. Dobbs et. al (2011) found while both extroverts and introverts performed better in silence than while listening to music, they also performed better on the music condition than while listening to general background noises, such as simulated office ambiance or people talking. This suggests it may be beneficial for students to listen to music while studying in areas like cafés that may have distracting background sounds.


Is Silence Superior?

Although many studies support the hypothesis that music can enhance cognitive processing, a large body of research suggests silence provides the optimal study environment. For example, Thomas Alley and Marcie Greene (2008) found students performed best on a memory task while working in silence compared to listening conditions with irrelevant speech or vocal and instrumental music, suggesting background noise and music can impede cognitive performance. Interestingly, students performed better on the instrumental music condition than on the irrelevant speech or vocal music conditions.

Another study by Nick Perham and Harriet Curie (2014) indicates studying in silence or while listening to instrumental music is preferable to studying while listening to music with lyrics. They found students performed best on a reading comprehension task while working in silence, and they also performed better while listening to music without lyrics than while listening to either liked or disliked music with lyrics. 

Takeaway Tips

Should students listen to music while studying? It depends. Students should consider various factors such as task complexity, musical genre, personality, and study environment before listening to a background playlist while doing homework. Based on the current research, here are several tips to keep in mind:

- Experiment with listening to enjoyable music before study sessions. Research building on “the Mozart effect” suggests listening to musical excerpts that induce positive mood and arousal prior to engaging in various tasks can lead to improved performance.

- Notice how you are feeling and adapt your study music choices based on your current mood and motivation levels. If you are feeling overwhelmed, try listening to calming or relaxing music to help alleviate stress levels. Consider listening to upbeat and pleasant music if you need a motivational boost.

- Take into account the complexity of the assignment and your environment, and adjust your study music accordingly. Try to study in silence for complex cognitive tasks like memorization or reading comprehension. If you must study in an area with potentially disruptive background ambiance, consider listening to music to avoid becoming distracted.

- Listen to instrumental music with limited acoustic variation. Avoid listening to music with lyrics while studying, especially when completing reading or writing assignments. Look for music that is enjoyable and somewhat repetitive. Some people find it helpful to listen to video game music or movie soundtracks, while others benefit from listening to meditation music or white noise.


Do you listen to music while completing tasks? Do you find it helpful or distracting?

Michelle Gayne

Faculty Don't Bite!

Posted by Michelle Gayne Jun 18, 2018

I have dedicated a significant portion of my career in higher education so far to working with students who have struggled academically. For me, it is one of the most gratifying experiences that I have had and I like to tell these students, when I meet with them one-on-one or in a classroom setting for Academic Recovery seminar, what an honor and privilege it is to work with them to get them back on track. Now that I have developed an interest and skill set specific to this population of students, I’d like to offer up one tip, one very important tip, that can be a game changer. In order to implement this tip, students need to find the inner courage to do what they have always wanted to do but either felt too embarrassed to do it, or they thought, “What difference would it make?” or they trusted second-hand opinions from friends over the primary source. I’m talking about the extreme value in having students talk to their faculty...GULP!


I often ask students if they ever reached out to talk to their professor for the course regarding their difficulty in understanding something (say, for instance, why they did poorly on a paper or exam). More often than not, I hear them say they haven’t, either because 1) they wouldn’t know what to say, 2) they were too intimidated to approach their professor, or 3) they just never thought to even approach their professor! What I tend to do next (and enjoy greatly) is walking them through a scenario of how they could go about approaching their faculty member. Could they get to class early or linger back after? Could they send an email instead of approaching them in person? Or, and this is a big one, could they go to their office hours or make an appointment? I like to challenge them to think about how they would envision this going for them, what they would ask, and how they would feel about themselves once they did it.


One of the best feelings I reap as an advisor is when a student, especially one who needs to get their grades up in order to keep studying at the University I work for, comes to me and says that it worked, that it was easy and relieving to visit with their professor. What’s even better? When it changes their paradigm about what it means to be in the role of student and professor - that faculty are able to learn from students and not just the other way around.


The time-tested adage of “Every journey starts with a single step” has never rung more true, and once students take the advice and talk to their faculty...well, they tend to keep on with their journey and tend to ask themselves, “What else can I do?”


Michelle Gayne

Assistant Director of Advising & Academic Services

University of Maine