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Practical Wisdom From Your FYE Professors

Susan Ashley, History Susan Ashley

In a recent letter, a CC alum wrote:  "I think the first words you should tell your students when they get to Colorado College are, ‘Hold on and enjoy the ride, because life is not going to be anything like you expected.’ That's good advice.  She added: "Not that I would have listened if you told me that when I first showed up."  You, too, will understand things in your own way.  You will see, as the English political philosopher told CC students some years ago: "Learning is something which each person does and can only do for him or her self."

Tamara Bentley, Art HistoryTamara Bentley

Many times in College, and in life, it will be up to you to create your own support networks. Take the initiative and create a study group with others in your class, or a cooking group, or a hiking group.

Find a regular place where you like to work, in the library or elsewhere. Set up regular times for doing your work there. After you are done working, ask yourself "is studying in this spot working for me?" If not, change to a new spot. 

If you are anxious about a particular assignment, set your phone for 30 minutes and commit to working half an hour on it in a focused way. After that half hour is over, you may be less afraid of the assignment.

Wear headphones in the library if you don't want to be disturbed.

Seek help if you need help. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Sal BizzarroSalvino Bizzarro, Spanish

The Greek poet Cavafy once wrote metaphorically that: "When you set out for Ithaka, Ask that your way be long, Full of Instructions, Full of Adventure..."  But to decipher at the end of his poem "what these Ithakas mean" you must spend time understanding your own possibilities, understanding yourself. Over "mass education" opt for the creativity in you.


Owen CramerOwen Cramer, Classics

Turn off your phone: really join the face-to-face experience of classes and conversations over meals and informal downtime; conversely, monitor your on-line experience and keep it in its place.
Steven Hayward
Steve Hayward, English

Success is not permanent. Failure is not permanent. What matters is the courage to go on—and that you do something cool on Block Break.
Darrell Killian
Darrell Killian, Biology

"If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?" - Albert Einstein

I love doing research and love working with undergraduates on research projects. One great thing about CC is that many students will have the opportunity to do research with a faculty mentor. Unfortunately, many students don't seek out research opportunities until they are almost done with their CC experience. It is never too soon to start thinking about getting involved in research. In fact, I have had two members of the incoming class contact me about research already. What is the first step? Talk to your professors and ask them about research opportunities. It may work differently from department to department, but the opportunities are there if you seek them out.
Dan Leon
Dan Leon, Classics

Your professors are your teachers, but they are also experienced students.  If there's one thing they all know how to do, it's learn.  Seek advice from them about study habits, both in general and within their specific discipline.  Different things work for different people, so cast your net wide and be open minded.  You may find that something you have been doing for years has been holding you back, or that something you would never have thought of on your own suddenly makes a difficult task seem more manageable.

Heidi LewisHeidi Lewis, Feminist and Gender Studies

In her novel Little Women, Louisa May Alcott wrote, “I'm not afraid of storms, for I'm learning to sail my ship.”  Similarly, Vincent Van Gogh once proclaimed, “The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”  These quotes resonate for me in so many ways and for so many reasons, but I find them especially significant to ponder whenever I embark upon a new experience that is exciting yet challenging.  This is the primary reason I share them with you.  As you pursue this collegiate journey, think of these words often.  Think of them when your studies become difficult.  Think of them when you feel homesick.  Think of them when you feel alone.  Think of them if you ever question your ability to realize your dream of earning a degree from one of the most prestigious institutions of higher learning in the world.  Think of these words, and remind yourself that you belong. Think of them, and remind yourself that you are worthy.  Do not be afraid of the storms, for you are learning to sail your ship.

Phoebe Lostroh
Phoebe Lostroh, Biology

My advice for beginning first years is as follows. If you want to major in the sciences, choose an FYE that is in an area of academic strength for yourself, or an FYE that meets one or two blocks of the all-college requirements outside of the sciences, such as the Critical Perspectives West in Time requirement. Once you arrive, talk to faculty and upper-level students in the science majors that interest you before you register for the rest of your blocks 3-8 classes.

During your first week on campus, make an appointment with the Career Center so that they can help you assess your strengths and weaknesses; share this information with your advisor. During your first week of any science class, take your syllabus and assignments to the QRC in the Learning Commons, and sit with a tutor to plan your personal schedule for the block. The tutor will be able to help you plan realistically for how long various kinds of studying and assignments should take. In any class that requires writing, take the syllabus and writing assignments to a tutoring appointment at the Writing Center during the first few days of class, so that the tutor can help you plan a reasonable schedule for accomplishing each writing assignment, with time for any library research and for revision. 

Be aware that classes are hard for everyone, even for people who "seem fine," and that strategies that led to A's in high school might not work in college: college is different. Get advice from your professors and from the QRC for how and when to study in your science classes, and know that it will take some work and some patience for you to calibrate your "I'm done studying and ready for the exam" bell for college — your instincts about being 'finished' studying for high school exams are probably not appropriate for college. 

Plan to study in a professional, focused small group, every single evening, for your introductory science & math courses — and studying physically at the QRC is usually the best option. Talk to a professor in the Math department to find out which introductory mathematics course would be best for you to start with.

Recognize that you need faculty to write letters of recommendation for you, for everything significant you want to do for the next 5-10 years. So, cultivate a professional attitude and professional practices that will allow you to connect with faculty and be remembered as the student we want to recommend, because of your organizational skills, engagement with class material, accomplishments in class, etc. Be the student who's awake and prepared every morning at 8:50. 

In letters of recommendation, we typically comment not only on the grades a student earned but also on their attitude, their ability to work with others, their response to constructive criticism, and whether or not they help contribute to a positive working atmosphere.  

Finally, most of us faculty love to be asked advice — it makes us feel special. Plus, we actually do have valuable practical experience to share with you. So, go ahead and ask us our opinions about how to study, what to study, when to take certain classes, how to plan for study abroad, etc. etc. etc. We will love it! And we will have even more good things to say about you in those letters of recommendation. 

Ryan PlattRyan Platt, Theatre/Dance

When choosing your FYE and other courses, be sure to keep a wide open mind. Of course, it's important to complete requirements and get started on a potential major, but college is also a place to play, explore, and experiment. Follow your passions! That's why the liberal arts are "liberal": they give you the liberty to try out many ideas and make unexpected discoveries that could change your life.

Tip Ragan, HistoryTip Ragan

“Dave Letterman” top ten list

Take advantage of the faculty. Presumably one of the reasons that you and others are paying so much for you to come to a top-rated liberal arts institution is for you to get to know faculty in a more profound way than you would at a large university. And faculty who have chosen to teach here want to get to work closely with you, too. Frankly, that is the prime reason that I chose to move from a research university to Colorado College. I’m not saying that you should make it a habit to telephone faculty at their homes in the middle of the night. But faculty here set aside hours and hours to spend with you. Take advantage of it.  One of my FYE students, for example, invited me to go with him and a group of his friends to the movies downtown. That proved to be the beginning of one of the richest intellectual relationships I have ever had. He would visit me often in my office, and I read drafts of papers that he wrote for other classes, etc.

9. Pay attention to the written and unwritten rules regulating a class. Different professors care about different things. For example, I absolutely hate it when cell phones go off in class and interrupt the conversation. And I go crazy when students just stand up and leave class to go to the bathroom. It seems to me that you should go before class, during the break, or after class. But I also know that other teachers are not bothered by this behavior at all. I don’t mind if people eat in class, while other faculty do. I know that these sound like trivial matters, but I think that respecting a professor's concerns shows that you care about making a class work.

8. The success or failure of the class rests primarily with you. Keep in mind that we faculty love what we teach. That’s why we chose this career. But no matter how much we love the material, if students come in to class and don’t want to put energy or time into it, there’s nothing we can do, no matter how talented we are, to make the course turn out well. When I taught on the semester system, I often would have two sections of the same course. I’d do the same thing in both classes, and invariably one would be much better than the other. It seemed to me to depend on the mix of students in the course. In the end, it’s really up to you to decide if you want to do the work, participate in the discussions, and create a fun learning environment for yourself and your classmates.

7. Speaking of classroom discussions, work at balance. Some people think that if they talk all of the time, they are making a good impression on the professor and the rest of the class. But I have had several situations in which one or two students dominated the classroom discussion to such an extent that it stymied the overall discussion. One of the most invaluable skills to be worked on is to learn to be a good listener. If you find yourself talking too much (look for clues like other students rolling their eyes or giggling), try to do things like not talking until at least five other students have said something. Don’t be afraid to talk to your professor about strategies to maximize good classroom discussion. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some students are so shy or intimidated that they don’t want to participate. This also takes a toll on the class. I try to work with shy students. For example, in my last FYE course, I had two students that were shy. I had them write down three comments about the reading for each day.  I would simply ask them to tell me during class what they had found interesting.  Over time, they started to build up their self-confidence, and it made for a better classroom experience.

6. Since I have been at CC, I’ve noticed that many of the most successful students share one characteristic: flexibility. I know that it seems that good writing is good writing pure and simple, strong analysis is strong analysis, etc. But there are very important differences in how to approach and write about material from discipline to discipline. Writing a good lab report requires a different style than writing a historical analysis.  And historians do not write (or think) like poets. Part of the challenge about being a student is learning how to be a historian. AND to be a poet. AND to be a physicist. So I guess that I’m calling for you to work to find out how to excel in different ways in different intellectual contexts.

5. Now I’d like to move a bit beyond the classroom experience narrowly construed. Under the block plan, it’s critical to learn to manage your time wisely. (By the way, this is not true simply for you; it goes for faculty, too.) When you are covering huge amounts of material every day, it’s easy to fall behind. I’ve discovered that it’s even more important for people to get their work done on time here than at any other school I’ve been at. The FYE is one of the most important places for you to learn how to divide up your time between your various commitments.

4. Keeping that in mind, it’s really hard (and I mean REALLY HARD) to catch up when you’ve been sick. Of course, it’s impossible to avoid sickness completely. But eating right and getting adequate sleep will take you far in terms of maintaining good health. This advice is short, but in some ways, it might be the most important....

3. If you’re feeling homesick or having a hard time with anything, tell your friends, faculty, or student life administrators about it. –Whomever you feel most comfortable with. I recently had a student who was living off-campus, and she was having a hard time feeling as if she fit into the class or to CC. We talked about her concerns, and we came up with strategies to help her move in the direction of feeling more a part of the community. By the end of the year, she was active in several different student groups, she had made good friends, and she went overseas with a class that summer.

2. For this point, I must ask all parents to cover their ears..... OK, you guys know what's going on, don't you? Your parents are really stressed out. For years, your job has been to guide them, helping them to establish their priorities, fulfill their responsibilities, make good choices. Now they have to learn to become....adults!  They have to figure out what they want to do with their lives. They have to become independent. They have to think through who they are. This year is going to be really stressful for them. Well, you're going to have to show the same "tough love," that you've had to use to train them at earlier stages of their development.  Set clear expectations and boundaries. Let's just give one example: they are going to want to call you on your cell phone three or four times a day, sometimes even during class! They have important questions, such as "What should I have for dinner tonight?" I know it’s hard, but I think that negotiating rules, like “We’re going to talk on Sunday and Wednesday evenings, and that’s it,” might help.

1. Work on a balanced life and have FUN. Of course, we want you to work hard.  But if you work 24/7 for four years, you’re not going to have a successful college experience. Similarly, if you party every single day and every single night, you’ll encounter other problems. It’s important to study hard, but it’s also important to have fun. Learn who you are. Learn about people who are different from you.

Tomi-Ann RobertsTomi-Ann Roberts, Psychology

I once told a group of FYE students that, contrary to the popular saying, there IS such a thing as a stupid question. Four years later, one of them reminded me I had said that when I met her parents for her graduation. She said it stuck with her. I meant two things by that comment. The first is that of course there is such a thing as a stupid question. Here are some you want to avoid in college: "Will this be on the test?" "Do I have to bring the book we're reading to class every time?" "Should I be taking notes?" Those are all stupid questions. The second thing I meant by this comment is that college is all about learning to ask smart questions. At CC, because our class sizes are wonderfully small, you will have the opportunity to talk, sure. But I'd advise you to practice listening. When you listen carefully to your professors and your classmates, when you consider and weigh what is happening in your classroom, then you're in the best position to make your own meaningful contribution. And the most meaningful contributions to class are typically not statements but rather questions. Your questions get smarter when you listen well.

Rashna SinghRashna Singh, Race and Ethnic Studies & English

At Colorado College, seek an education, not just a diploma. Take a class because it interests and challenges you, not just because it is in your comfort zone. Work on an assignment to learn more, not just to get a good grade. Ask questions to seek awareness, not just to appear smart. Be alert, be attentive, and be mindful. To be a true global citizen is not only to know about the world, or to travel, but to be informed about the impact of every decision, every action and every election. What part will you play? Learn from all members of the campus community, from professors and peers, administrators and staff, grounds people and custodians. One of my favourite verses comes from the Indian writer, Rabindranath Tagore,who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth...

Go “where the mind is without fear.”

Barbara WhittenBarbara Whitten, Physics
  1. Try to complete the West in Time and language requirements in your first year. Two block courses get harder to do as you get into more advanced classes.
  2. There are SO MANY activities and clubs available that you will want to do many things. It’s easy to get overcommitted. Choose just one thing—an athletic team, a club, a volunteer activity—for your first semester, until you get your feet on the ground academically.