Power Tools for Teaching and Learning at an Urban-Access University
José Cuello is an associate professor of history and director of the Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies in the College of Urban, Labor, and Metropolitan Affairs at Wayne State University. Copyright and contact information is available at the end of this document.
From Retention to Empowerment: Student Motivation as the Key to
Chapter summary: Programs in social engineering, if they are to be successful, need the active, committed cooperation of the individuals who would be socially engineered.
I Must Want a University Education: Basic Questions I Must
Answer to Survive and Succeed at the University
Chapter summary: Details are important, and in any important endeavor there are many details. If you have enough nails, you can shoe the horse so the knight can ride to warn the king of the enemy's approach and save the kingdom. On the other hand, as the saying goes, "For want of a nail the kingdom was lost."
The Fundamentals for Studying a Liberal Arts Subject, with the
History of Mexico as an Example
Chapter summary: If you are going to do anything, do it well. Know the rules of the game and play your hardest. You can only play a superior game if you adhere to the fundamentals. You can only make your own rules when you play so well that you transcend the normal boundaries of the game.
When the University Becomes a Jungle Full of Stress: Basic Survival
Techniques and Strategies for the Proactive Learner
Chapter summary: The University is part of modern life and can be seen as an educational jungle all its own. When life becomes a jungle, you cannot afford to be caught playing the tourist.
5. A Student Code for Academic Success Chapter summary: Formalize your values and goals in life--or in an important life situation--into a personal code that is brief but captures the essence of what you want to accomplish.
6. Do You Want to Go Higher? Empowering Yourself for and in Graduate School Chapter summary: Look for the empowerment of understanding and insight--why things are and how they work--and your mind will soar like an eagle in flight. This chapter includes what schools will look for when you apply and the qualities that will make you a success in graduate or professional school.
José Cuello's Power Tools for Teaching and Learning at an Urban-Access University boldly faces up to some of the widespread pedagogical problems present in many of our K-16 schools. Students in our history courses--and in other disciplines as well--often lack adequate preparation or the necessary cultural context to be successful. More important, they also lack motivation or fail to understand the skills (educational and personal) that are necessary to succeed in their studies. Professor Cuello's article makes valuable contributions to the current debate on history teaching in particular and on general education as a whole in U.S. public institutions and inner cities. He suggests ways of directly engaging students, teachers, and parents in the making of a supportive learning environment. His approach calls on students to take charge of their academic lives and to work together with faculty and family in the learning process. Cuello's proposals are worthy of attention. His overall goals and methods--the power tools--for empowering students are aimed at minority students and public urban institutions, but his suggestions can be successfully applied to a variety of educational experiences.
I believe that historians, as individuals and through our collective organizations, have an unprecedented opportunity to address the larger context in which we teach in order for us to become more effective history teachers and build the strength of our field and that of our universities. All of us who teach in the classroom are acquainted to one degree or another with the issues of student consciousness, preparedness, and motivation that I address in this Web guide. We teach courses in which a large majority of the students are nonmajors who do not fully appreciate where history fits into the mission of our universities or into the schemes of their lives. Particularly at our public urban universities, we face a large percentage of students in our classrooms who are ill-prepared and ill-disposed to fully use and sharpen their capacities for reading, writing, and thinking critically.
This situation, I believe, has been created by two social tendencies, one positive and one negative. The positive force is the democratization of access to the university. The negative one is the increasing pressure from the public, politicians, and students to turn the university into a corporate-model vocational school that values practical training over the conceptual life of the mind. The capacity of history and liberal arts to sharpen analytical and communication skills and impart a deeper understanding of the human condition seems to be increasingly irrelevant in our highly specialized economic society. Faced with these social pressures, the university, as a national institution, will increasingly need to address issues of mission and organization. However much we as historians acknowledge or ignore the dilemma, we are confronted with a present and a future in which we are increasingly challenged to teach our students how to learn, and even why to learn, in a university context and environment.
Given the dimensions of the challenge, it would be easy to take the attitude that if students are not as prepared as they should be in order to fully understand the intellectual purpose of the university and adjust to it for success, that it is the problem first of the students and second of counselors and specialized retention experts, not of the in-class instructor with limited time and full courses to teach on specialized subjects. We could then continue to teach history, happy in the delusion that we are doing our job within our discrete, separate educational components isolated from the rest of the university. I do not believe many of us take the attitude that the issues facing the university as a whole do not concern us. However, I do believe that a good number of us may feel frustrated because we lack the adequate tools for tackling the larger issues that intrude into our classrooms and shape the teaching and learning environment in them.
There are practical reasons, other than the in-class environment, why historians may want to be concerned with finding solutions to the challenges we face. If we are at all interested in the health of our field as a teaching and research discipline, we need to overcome the anti-intellectual character of the political and social forces that are laying siege to the liberal arts. We need to create proactive ways to persuade nonmajors into a better appreciation of history and a fuller participation in our courses. We need to convince more of them to enter the field even if they do not plan to become university teachers. We need to address the core reasons why our universities are turning out larger numbers of anti-intellectuals who do not recognize the importance of history as part of a basic and universal college education. Unless historians join the rest of the university community in addressing the deeper and larger issues, we will continue to be part of the process in which we pass the problem on to somebody else who may also not be doing the job of bridging the growing gap between the mission of the university and the expectations of students and employers.
The guide that I have developed here addresses both the classroom issues faced by history teachers and the larger context from which they stem. History teachers who want to bridge the gap between what they expect and what students are willing to deliver in terms of preparedness, interest, and motivation will find this guide useful, although it is not addressed to them specifically as history teachers. I try to establish the basis for a dialogue by identifying the basics for student success in college, countering the popular myth that conceptual learning is irrelevant to real life, and suggesting how a vision and goal of self-transformation can motivate a student to find immediate gratification in academic activities that are only burdensome tasks without an appreciation of the university's functional paradigm. I know many historians are already doing this either as teachers or as academic advisers. The virtue of this guide is the systematic, comprehensive, and readable focus on how students can empower themselves--with the assistance of their professors and counselors--to achieve a fuller integration into our universities and into our classrooms.
The value of this guide will be self-evident to my fellow faculty in history and other disciplines. However, it may be an additional incentive to examine and consider using the power tools if you know that it is the work of a fellow faculty and not the work of a professional counselor or an education specialist. As a director of a complex student services program, I have maintained my identity as a researcher and teacher. It just happens that a good deal of my intellectual energy has been diverted and applied to the issues of student survival and success. Think about the utility of the proposal of giving a university faculty member a reduced teaching and research load, to concentrate on finding solutions to the problems of teaching and learning in an urban university environment. For nine years, three counselors and I have thought and rethought, designed and redesigned a program to address these issues. No formula or structure was safe if it did not work. This is the product of that active experimentation with a faculty perspective at the core. If you believe that the discipline of history is not an island in an academic sea, you will find this packet of tools relevant to your life as a professional teacher of history.
The power tools for teaching and learning contained in this guide were developed to address the growing gap between the ideal of what professors normally expect of college-ready students and the reality in awareness and preparedness of many students coming into our universities today. The shift in the paradigm, the motion in the ground on which our universities are founded, has been caused by complexly intertwined multiple forces. As a consequence of the accelerated democratic and technological changes taking place in our society, it has become a general public expectation that all high school students have the opportunity to go to college. However, caught on the shifting ground in the transition between old and new social paradigms, the schools that channel students to our universities have not been fully able to adjust for the task of preparing massive numbers of students for the new expectations. Families, communities, governments and the general public--major players in the capacity of our schools to adjust to the new challenges--are, themselves, caught in comparable transitions. Large numbers of students are thus coming to the university unconditioned for what they are about to face. Many of those who do survive an experience that often amounts to cultural shock often suffer losses in resources, time, academic performance, and self-esteem. Public universities that serve as gateways for working-class students have dramatically large drop-out and stop-out rates. The losses among students who come from inner-city schools are higher than the losses among students who come from suburban schools, but the latter are by no means immune to the personal crises they may experience at the university.
Two dimensions of preparedness that have to do with student attitudes are unrelated to skills or background. First, even middle-class students (whom educators and the public presume have an advantage in preparation) are coming to college with the attitude that the university should be primarily a vocational or technical training school, and that the liberal arts are not very relevant to their career plans. The idea that the liberal arts impart analytical and communication skills and a depth of understanding of the human condition, which enrich one's opportunities in life and work, seems to ring true only for a minority of modern-day college students. Second, it is my impression, gained from my own classroom experiences and from conversations with other professors, that more than a few students half-consciously apply to university classes expectations that are more appropriately associated with television and spectator events in which the passive observer expects to be entertained. The great technological advances of the 20th century in communications have accentuated the audiovisual character of our culture and made us less receptive as a nation to the charms of reading and writing and the critical thinking that goes with them. The expectations of vocational training only and of entertaining classroom experiences is a deadly academic combination at the university level. For students who combine these two expectations, the university becomes superfluous, boring, and unjustifiably expensive. The resulting lack of interest and motivation undermines many undergraduate careers, even those of students with high skill levels who are unable to apply their skills to their studies.
The power tools are meant to empower both teachers and students in redefining ourselves within the new paradigm and enabling us to create a better foundation of interaction. They are particularly relevant for use at urban universities that serve students who may be the first in their families to go to college or who have to work while they are going to school. Teachers, counselors, and students on residential campuses will also find the power tools useful because of the deliberate attempt that is made here to identify the specific components of the bridge between what are often two distinct realities--of the educators and students--that often coexist and dialogue with each other without communicating effectively. I believe that teachers in the classroom must not only teach but also teach how to learn. Students, on the other hand, need to be more fully aware of the university environment and become more proactive in making a place for themselves within it. "A"-level undergraduate students and graduate students will also find the power tools useful because they identify and review the basics of academic survival and success that most of us learn through hard knocks, and which we often have to relearn after life pressures force us out of our good habits and into a neglectful mode.
The power tools distill the insight from nine years of experience directing a Latino student recruitment and retention program and teaching Latin American history at Wayne State University in Detroit, as well as six years of teaching at a private university. The power tools need to be unpacked and used over the course of an entire university education. Chapter two, "I Must Want a University Education," and the other sections of this document, including chapters five and six ("A Student Code for Academic Success" and "Do You Want to Go Higher?"), are intended to persuade students to achieve a proactive internalization of the values that will focus their thinking and concentrate their behavior on a path of thought and action that will make each one of them a success at the university. Chapter three, "The Fundamentals for Studying a Liberal Arts Subject," describes power tools that have been particularly useful in the classroom in assisting students to understand the mission of the university in transforming them into powerful conceptual beings, not just into technical experts.
Together, these power tools constitute an intensive but readable reality check and a minds-on manual for how students can empower themselves to survive and succeed at the university. They are teaching tools as well as learning tools, because it is imperative that teachers and counselors undertake a dialogue with students about the contents of these documents. If they are just handed out to students without the organized structure of discussion, many students will simply file them away and eventually lose them without fully examining their value or implementing the advice in them. Engaging the students in a series of discussions about the nature and quality of their education will help bridge the gap between professor and student that everyone knows is there, but which few are willing to address. As teachers, we need to overcome the fear of facing our own inadequacies and the arrogance of our intellectual self-assurance. Although some students will flee the discussion out of insecurity and fear--many have a sense that they do not belong at the university--most students will respond with interest and intelligence.
By the same token, students will benefit from reading those sections that seem to be primarily written for educators. The first chapter, on the key issue of student motivation, is addressed to teachers, counselors, and administrators who are involved in programs that promote student success. However, students will benefit from reading it because the programs of which I speak are designed for them. Students need to take up a partnership role to help solve the challenges that we all face, albeit from different perspectives. Those of us who have roles as educators cannot afford to treat students as the objects of paternalistic or maternalistic social engineering. Ultimately, it may be that components of a university education that are much larger than those addressed here will need to be reorganized and transformed in order to enhance the university's ability to fulfill its mission in the new environment. When that happens, students need to play a large role in the analysis, planning, and implementation of the restructuring.
The goal of a quality education for large numbers of persons in a democratic society can only be achieved if the struggle is individualized and personalized, even when universities and programs target their services at large social groupings for logistical reasons. The goal of individualization can be achieved only if each student is fully empowered with the tools he or she needs to build a successful university career. Because these are intellectual and behavioral tools, each student needs to make his or her own personal box of power tools. Thus, students learn not only how to fish, but also how to make the fishing equipment.
The tools for empowerment contained here are undergoing continuous revision and expansion. I would appreciate any suggestions for improving them and for creating new ones. Comments and suggestions can be sent to me at the contact numbers below or at my e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The key issue for urban university programs whose mission is to provide assistance to students in making a successful college career for themselves is a very basic one that often gets lost in the many services we provide to the students. The key issue is this:
How does a student acquire the self-motivation to make a deep and long-term commitment to his or her education?
Everyone knows of students who are so motivated that they overcome great odds to achieve success and become shining examples of highly focused determination. They come in all colors and ages and we are proud to know them and be part of their lives. Yet, a disturbingly large number of students who attend urban-access universities do not fit this profile, and I believe this may also be true for a growing number of students at traditional residential campuses. Despite their intelligence, sincere intentions, and great potential, many students are often not sufficiently motivated to take full advantage of their access to higher education and the support services available to them.
Those of us who are educators often make the mistake of assuming that if a person is in college, he or she knows what the university is all about and is motivated to succeed in an academic environment. Moreover, thousands of access, bridge, and retention programs have been built on the assumption that, if the doors to the university are only opened to students of working-class and minority backgrounds, our children will rush to satisfy their hunger for educational opportunity and academic achievement. Long-standing barriers to equality of opportunity will be toppled and trampled, hopefully never to rise again.
But what happens when some of our children are welcomed into the university and they are not motivated to the level necessary to become a success in college? What happens when their fears, personal needs, wants, and disconnectedness from course subjects distract and derail them from giving their full attention to why they are here?
Very complex programs of recruitment, retention, and academic success have been designed and are operating all over the country to help students in college overcome all of the past and present experiences holding them back. Yet, it is my impression that too many of our programs have met with only limited success in creating corps of undeterred and skilled high-achievers or even scores of minimal survivors.
Most of the students (of various and diverse backgrounds) who do take substantive advantage of universitywide and specialized programs are generally the students who already have the motivation to do well and who leap at the opportunity to use the services created for the less skilled but less motivated students who fear, disdain, and avoid these same services. Our programs wind up boosting the success of students who most probably would have done well, although less so, without our support programs.
Student support programs that focus on the factors of environment, study skills, and students' adjustment to them address important issues that are at the base of a good university education. These issues must be tackled and solved. Ultimately, however, there is a deeper core issue to the educational challenge. Student support programs and services can improve their success rates by focusing more concentrated energy on the single factor that is at once the most crucial and the most elusive element in student academic success--student self-motivation. The skills that students can acquire through our programs will best flourish if they are grafted onto a receptive core of determined, undeterred motivation.
Retention and skills development programs are on the cutting edge of a challenge that has universitywide relevancy because the issue of motivation transcends class and race boundaries. Many students who are from middle-class and upper-class economic backgrounds or who are not "minorities" also suffer from the same lack of motivated focus and skills deficiencies as do students from working-class and minority backgrounds. What students from these varied backgrounds often seem to have in common is a practical, vocational perspective that is not a comfortable fit with an educational system that is designed with more abstract components than students believe they want or need. (Consult chapter three, "The Fundamentals," for an extended statement on the mission of the university.)
If the problem of success in the classroom was simply one of skills development, it would have been solved long ago, because most students who struggle academically are quite intelligent. The motivational dilemma stems from the dissonance between student expectations and university purpose and, even more seriously, from student dislike for the very activities--reading, writing, and critical thinking--that are the fundamental tools for building a successful academic career. Many students who enroll at an urban-access university find it extremely hard to make the cultural transformation in their identities and in their activities to reach the level of mastery that is necessary for them to succeed as readers, writers, and analytical thinkers in a system of higher education. The transformation is difficult because students have not acquired a taste for the activities and habits that will make the learning experience pleasurable for them. They are accustomed and conditioned to thinking of reading, writing, and analytical thinking as intellectual drudgery to be avoided except when absolutely necessary. The development of the habit of disciplined reflection--which is a special mission of the university--is therefore stunted. (See chapter four, "When the University Becomes a Jungle Full of Stress," for an extended definition of "reflection" in this context.)
I am not trying to downplay the economic and social obstacles many students face in seeking a higher education. The great majority of students at an urban university work part- or full-time to support themselves and pay for their education. They often have families to nurture. They may come from high-stress neighborhoods or from families whose immediate need is an income rather than the delayed satisfaction of a better job in the future. Precisely because these are powerful factors, a student will only be willing to overcome the environmental and skills barriers to success when learning is itself a satisfying and pleasurable activity. To be effective, learning cannot be just a job to do in order to get the ulterior rewards. Only a sense of deriving an immediate and direct personal satisfaction from an experience will motivate a person to continue with it in a persistent and determined manner. Students who see reading, writing, and critical thinking as unpleasant tasks are not likely to do well in the university, and there is very little that support services can do for them. The message we try to convey to them--of how to improve their skills and performances--falls on unhearing ears, and our support services go underutilized. Even intensive intervention cannot move minds and hearts that do not have the will and the desire to move themselves.
On the wall outside my office door, I have a sign that has a more diplomatically worded version of the following:
You would not apply to be a car mechanic if you did not like to work with engines, tools, and oil. Why would you sign up to be a college student, if you do not like to read, write, and think analytically?
Of course, a great number of students who do not particularly enjoy school, nevertheless pursue college careers because they have been socialized to believe that this is the best way to gain a decent life in our high-tech, postindustrial society with its accentuated materialistic values. If there is a large grain of truth in this social belief, we need to concern ourselves with the systemic and structural issues created by the large number of students arriving at the gates of an institution that was originally designed for the elite classes in society. The solution does not lie in dumbing down the university, but rather in better explaining its mission and in creating the pathways and incentives to pursuing its benefits.
The best way I can think of how to begin to solve the issue of motivation is to address it directly with the individual student, and to help the student to do the frankest possible reality check on his or her own motivation and on what it means for his or her survival and success at the university. The student must understand that learning is a proactive and participatory experience and that no professor, counselor, or tutor can teach him or her anything that he or she does not want to learn.
To evaluate his or her own level of motivation and commitment, a student needs the most important basic information on what is involved in creating a successful academic profile and college career. Here, as a starting point, are certain qualities a student must develop in order to make the college experience worth his or her time and effort. This is a quick reality check on motivation and preparedness for the student before going on to the complementary documents in this guide that address in greater detail the comprehensive personal adjustment required for success in college.
A successful, motivated, and happy student
1. Is in college because he or she gets satisfaction from the learning experience and is not enrolled solely for ulterior motives like making money or social pressure. He or she
- Derives (or earnestly wants to derive) satisfaction and even pleasure from reading books, writing essays, and thinking critically about the subjects he or she studies.
- Can set priorities. He or she does not place studying dead last behind a series of entertainment, social, and work activities when choosing areas of interest.
- Can follow through on priorities. He or she has the self-discipline to study long hours when he or she would rather be doing other things. He or she acts on the belief that short-term sacrifices will pay off in the long run.
2. Appreciates the difference between a vocational education and a university education. (Consult chapter three, "The Fundamentals," for a more complete explanation of the difference.) He or she
- Knows the university has the additional mission of expanding his or her knowledge of the larger world and of training the mind to be analytical.
- Knows that it is unfair (and very frustrating to one's mental health) to judge the university by the standards of a narrowly focused vocational education program.
3. Can identify with the goal of transforming himself or herself into an intellectual, someone who thinks analytically and conceptually. (Consult chapter three, "The Fundamentals," for a fuller explanation of "intellectual.") He or she
- Studies to learn, to understand, to comprehend--not just to meet the requirements to get the diploma. He or she gets excited about ideas.
- Immerses his or her mind in the course work--gets his or her head into the subject matter; or more appropriately, gets the subject matter into his or her head.
- Develops an appetite for books, for deriving satisfaction and pleasure from reading and thinking about the contents.
- Is obsessed with finding a link between himself or herself--his or her self-vision--and the topics of his or her courses.
4. Develops a sense of pride in his or her academic achievements and derives a sense of empowerment from them. He or she
- Commits to acquiring and continually improving for life the skills needed to succeed as a student, as a professional, and as a citizen.
- Commits to doing the studying for a course in a timely and analytical manner over the course of the whole semester.
- Commits to using all of the support systems and services available to improve his or her educational opportunities.
5. Is willing to make economic and personal sacrifices to get a quality education, rather than use economic and personal challenges as justifications for not doing well in school.
Many students (and their families) seeking a higher education have not taken sufficient time to define these qualities for academic and life success and to make a commitment to incorporate them into a concrete plan of action and self-transformation. If a student does not acknowledge and commit to these qualities, he or she will lead a miserable existence at the university. This is because these traits reflect the true character of the university, a unique institution that exists to deepen and expand the mind as well as train professionals in vocations. Many students have expectations of the university that are better met in schools, for technicians and mechanics. It is important that students realize the difference between the university and other types of schools because all of the qualities identified above are internal and personal characteristics that cannot be forcibly or externally instilled in anyone. A person must not only become aware of these qualities; he or she must voluntarily adopt, acquire, and finely tune them to succeed at the university.
A large number of students in college (even among those who are very academically skilled) never reach their full potential because they rarely see college as an experience in which learning is rewarding in itself. Instead, they see it as a means to an end. Reading, writing, and critical thinking are seen as distasteful chores they must reluctantly complete to get to the jobs and money waiting for them when they get through the educational obstacle course. Frequently, it is only later in life that many individuals come to the realization that learning for its own sake is not as impractical and as irrelevant to the quality of one's daily life as it may at first appear; that analytical and communication skills learned at the "ivory tower" can be beneficially applied to many areas of one's life and work. Why should we take the attitude that the end justifies the unpleasant means? Why shouldn't the means to an end also be pleasurable in itself? And why should proficiency in the means not be a goal in itself? Why should this wisdom come to so many so late in life? It is a communication problem and a dilemma created by our society's values.
An appreciation for the relevancy and applicability of abstraction is obtainable only on an individual basis. Each person comes to this realization on his or her own personal time frame. While individuals may certainly organize groups and associations to help each other get there, acquiring a taste for the habits and practices that will empower a person to succeed in college is possible only through individual motivation and commitment.Universitywide or specialized projects in social engineering will only succeed if the persons who are the objects of the engineering want to be engineered, or better stated, if they want to engineer and transform themselves with the support of the services we offer them.
2. I Must Want a University Education: Basic Questions I Must Answer to Survive and Succeed at the University
To succeed at the university, you must be able to do well at reading, writing, and critical thinking; you must be able to spend a lot of time and energy studying; and you must organize your life extremely well. Ideally, these are also activities that you also enjoy doing and from which you derive a feeling of satisfaction. These are practices and habits, however, that are not sufficiently stressed in high school or even in college. Therefore, many students of all ages are faced with having to make dramatic lifestyle and attitude changes in order to survive and succeed at the university. A successful venture into the university arena will affect all aspects of your life and will often require a great deal of reorganization and the postponement of other life goals. These changes can be very stressful and taxing of one's energy and resources. If you decide to undertake a career as a university student, you must either already be well-prepared by your past experiences to possess high levels of reading, writing, critical thinking, study, and organizational skills; or you must decide that you want a university education badly enough that you are willing to make the extraordinary effort to acquire those skills and achieve a performance level at which you actually enjoy using and further sharpening those skills.
This tool for academic success is a comprehensive reality checklist of questions on attitude, behavior, and organization that every student at every level of the university should be able to answer in a positive manner as a reflection of their life in college. The questions do not have answers attached to them because one of the purposes of a university education is to create a proactive student mind that seeks the answers to questions rather than waits to receive them passively. The answers to these questions mean much more if you find them yourself. The answers to many of the questions will also change and become more meaningful as you grow as a person, as a student, and as a professional. If you are in your first year at the university, you should answer these questions as soon as possible, and you should know the answer to all of them by the end of the first semester.
If you are already doing any of the affirmative things that these questions suggest, you should be proud of yourself. Pat yourself on the back and continue to work on the questions that suggest you could be doing better in other areas. This will maximize your opportunity to be happy at the university while you work harder than you have ever worked in your life at gaining an education in which you can take pride. On the other hand, if you do not prepare and commit yourself to discovering the rules of the game of higher education and to mastering the skills required to do well in this high-pressure environment, you will be very unhappy doing things you do not like, and the university will feel like an oppressive environment.
The bottom line of this guide is a question that is simple to ask and answer, but very difficult to implement: "Am I ready to empower myself as a college student and make a positive statement about what I am going to do with my future at the university?" If the answer is "yes," then read on.
Am I Motivated and Self-Empowering?
- Do I know what I want or expect from a university education? Do I know that an important key to motivation is having clear goals and objectives?
- Do I realize that I have more control over what I learn and how I succeed at the university than the counselors, teachers, or anyone else will ever have? Do I realize that without a solid hard core of self-motivation, my personal education program is doomed to fail?
- Do I really want to be here, or am I just killing time until something else shakes out for me?
- Am I going to the university mostly because my parents expect it, because my friends are going, or because I have nothing else to do?
- Can I get motivated if I do not understand why I have to take certain classes and why I have to do classwork and homework that I do not like or find difficult?
- Do I know it is a common mistake to judge a class by the entertainment standards of television programming?
- How can I get motivated if most classes are boring to me and I enjoy socializing more?
- How can I change my attitude and goals to get excited about going to class and about learning new subjects and new ways of thinking?
- Do I know that being a proactive learner rather than a passive recipient or resister is a major part of what it takes for me to become academically motivated and successful?
What Kind of Contract Am I Making?
- Do I know that when I enroll as a student I make a contract with the university? With my fellow students? With my teachers? With my family? With society in general? Do they know I have a contract with each of them?
- What is a contract?
- What is the purpose of a contract?
- Do all contracts have to be written? Can they also be implied or understood?
- Do I know and understand my contract with the university? Have I carefully read that part of it that is written down? Where is it written down? What other parts of it are implied?
- What other contracts have I made in my life?
- Why is it important to think of my life as a series of contracts?
- Do I live up to the contracts that I make? To which I sign my name or to which I give my word? Which I understand exist without it being expressed?
Is My Purpose in Harmony with the Purpose of the University?
- What is a university education? How is it different from a vocational school program? What larger mission in transforming me is the university designed to fulfill?
- What kind of person am I supposed to be when I finish college?
- What is my purpose for being at the university? Do I know what I am doing here and what I expect to get out of it? Is it the same or different from the purpose of the university?
- Can I be serious about what I am doing here?
- Do I know what requirements I need to fulfill for the university? For my major? Do I know where to get this information?
- Do I know how many credits it takes to be considered a sophomore? A junior? A senior? To graduate?
Am I Aware That I Need to Make Major Changes?
- What does it take to be a good student?
- What kind of changes in lifestyle and habits do I need to make?
- How do I need to reorganize my life and my priorities?
- Am I willing to make those changes?
- Do I have a calendar book to help me do it? Do I know that my ability to manage my time will determine whether I swim or sink in my new environment?
- Do I know that changing habits and lifestyles takes an everyday effort?
Can I Work on My Self-Image and on My Personal and Professional Growth?
- What is an intellectual? What is a professional? Do I have an image of myself as becoming an intellectual (someone who thinks conceptually) and as a professional? Why is this important?
- Do I need to see myself in a specific career to think of myself as an intellectual or professional? Or can I see myself as one or both without making the choice right away?
- Apart from the courses I have to take, do I know what it takes to get a degree in the field or major I have chosen or in which I am interested?
- Do I actually know what a professional does in that field? Have I talked to practicing professionals in my area(s) of interest? Have I chosen a career only for the glamor or money associated with it?
- How do I want or need to grow and change as a person to realize my goal?
- Does becoming an intellectual or professional mean rejecting part of me, my family or environment that I do not want to reject? Or can growing as a person mean that I can have many sides to my personality and relate to many groups and cultures?
- Even if I choose not to become a "professional," can a university education still have some value for me?
Am I Ready to Make Hard Choices and Commitments?
- Can I treat school as a full-time job? How is a university career like a job?
- Can I make a commitment to study and do homework at least 20 hours a week?
- Does my family understand what it takes for me to succeed at school? How can I explain it to them? Do I have to go to school in spite of their resistance?
- If I have friends who do not go to college or who do not take college seriously, can I resist their pull to do the same? Can I take their ribbing because I seem to be growing different? Can I disassociate myself from persons who put me down or hold me back? Can I make new friends who are supportive?
- Do I know that if I do not make the commitment now and every day that my career at the university will slide by out of my control, and I will create a poor track record and even flunk out?
Have I Evaluated My Economic Situation and Maximized My Economic Resources?
- Do I know that although a university education is not "free and mandatory" like education was in grammar school and high school that it is still subsidized by taxes and that it costs a lot more than what I am paying in tuition? Do I know that I make a moral contract to deliver my best effort when I sign up for a college education?
- Have I developed a plan for how I will pay the thousands of dollars it will cost me each year in tuition and additional expenses?
- Do I discuss my economic situation with a financial aid counselor every semester to evaluate changes in status and assess opportunities and challenges?
- Have I explored every option for financial aid and scholarships? Do I know that there are hundreds of scholarships available for all types of students with a wide variety of qualifications, even scholarships for bowlers and golfers?
- Do I keep an updated calendar of financial aid and scholarship deadlines and requirements so that I do not miss out on important opportunities?
- Am I aware that even if I receive scholarships and financial aid, the university expects me to make a contribution to the cost of my education, particularly when it comes to buying my books? Have I saved $200-300 to buy my books next semester?
- Can I live frugally and delay buying expensive clothes and cars until after I get my degree?
- If I need or want to have a paying job, can I give my education the kind of attention it deserves? Where will I get the time to do well in school and also hold a job?
Do I Know That Skills Are Abilities I Can Develop Forever?
- Do I know why the following skills and personal qualities are important to me as a university student, future professional, and just plain human being: writing, consciousness of ethnic and gender issues, reading, time management, critical thinking, open-mindedness, math , flexibility, oral communications, persistence? Identify other qualities that are important to you.
- Are these skills just for persons who have jobs I do not want to go into?
- Are these skills that I can use in other parts of my everyday life?
- Do I have a realistic sense of what my skill levels are?
- How do I know what they are?
- How will my teachers and counselors let me know what they are?
- Am I willing to be aggressive to take my skills to the highest level possible?
- Will I commit to using the resources available to me like supplemental instruction, language labs, and tutors?
- Can I accept the idea that education is a lifetime process and that there is always room for improvement?
Do I Have a Happy Relationship with My Grades?
- Do I have a vision of myself as an achiever? Do I take pride in doing well in school? Or do I have a negative self-image? Am I afraid to try to get good grades because I might fail? Do I get bad grades because my friends get bad grades or because I do not want to be seen as different or as a nerd or uppity?
- Will I be satisfied with low grades as long as I do not get hassled by the teachers and counselors?
- What does it take to get good grades?
- Is the university just about getting good or bad grades?
- What are grades supposed to reflect? Do I know that making high grades as an end in itself can distort the purpose for which they were established?
Am I Mature Enough to Be a Class Act?
- How mature am I? Am I ready to take responsibility for my words, actions, and commitments? Do I keep the contracts that I make?
- Do I act like an adult or do I act in a manner that tells the teachers, counselors, family, and other students that I do not take my life seriously? Do I have an attitude or cause trouble because even negative attention is better than no attention?
- Do I give in easily to peer pressure to do things that hurt me as a person, hurt my education, or hurt other people?
- Do I know the basic rules of good social behavior in the classroom? Am I considerate of the teacher and my fellow students, and do I maximize my own learning experience by doing the following?
showing up all the time
being on time
paying attention and being quiet except to participate
taking good notes
trying to understand what the teacher is trying to teach
asking questions when I do not understand
being prepared to participate by doing my homework
sitting in a respectful position at the front or in the middle of the class, rather than sitting in the back and slouching or being inattentive
socializing or eating before or after class, not during class
reserving my clowning around for outside the classroom
- If I think I already know the material in a class, can I take a leadership role and make it more interesting for myself by helping other students to learn it better? Do I know that teaching others--in class, on an individual basis, or in study groups--helps me to sharpen my thinking and understand the subject better?
- Do I know it will help me to learn if I go see the teacher personally even when I do not have a problem?
- Do I know that teachers and counselors are people too, and that they are affected by my behavior in class and in their offices?
- Do I think that it is their job only to serve me? Or do I understand that I have obligations to them too?
- Do I know that it is important to keep appointments with teachers, counselors, tutors, and others? That they have set aside valuable time for me? That I should call if I cannot keep the appointment?
- Do I know that doing the right things (listed above) is part of the contract I make with the university and the other institutions that fund my education?
Why Are Gender Issues Important to Me?
- Do I know what the issues are in today's society about growing up as a male?
- Do I know what the issues are in today's society about growing up as a female?
- What are my responsibilities as a male or female?
- How do the gender issues relate to my education at the university and my future life?
Have I Given Attention to the Practical Basics?
- Have I taken care of my transportation needs? Do I know the parking situation is going to be chaotic in the first week of classes? If I do not have a car or if my car breaks down, have I tested the bus system as an effective way to get to campus? Have I looked for other students in my classes with whom I can carpool?
- Do I know where my classes are? Do I know what rooms they are in and where the buildings are located?
- Do I know exactly what time they begin? Do I know what day classes start and the important dates in the semester?
- Do I know how to takes notes? If I do not, how can I learn?
- Identify other practical questions or issues.
Do I Know What to Do When Things Get Rough?
- If my personal life, family, or academic life is under real stress, can I still focus on my education? Can circumstances become so emotionally stressful that it is better for me not to be in school?
- How do I make that decision?
- Do I know where to go for help on campus and off campus?
Do I Know That a University Education Will Not Necessarily Make Me a Better Person?
- Do I know that any area of human activity has its share of imperfect and bad persons as well as good ones and that the university is no exception?
- Do I know that a university education is only one of many ways to test and improve my character? That becoming conceptual and highly skilled will not necessarily make me a better person if I do not make a conscious personal effort to shape my own character for the better?
- Do I know that there are many individuals with university degrees who are doing more damage to society than persons without a higher degree?
- Do I know that some of the shining lights of moral leadership in human history never went to college?
- Do I know that whatever I do in life, with or without a university education, that I will find challenges and opportunities that will test the moral core values that I adopt for dealing with other people? Do I do unto others as I would have them do unto me? Or am I a part of the "me generation" that thinks the world owes me?
- Do I know that if there is anything the university will do for me in this area it is that it will teach me to think about problems systematically and expose me to nonfiction and fiction works of literature that grapple with the great moral issues of humankind? That this quality is what makes great literature that transcends the ages?
- Do I know that the advantage of a university education is that it sets time aside for reading and discussing this great literature as opposed to what I may have to be doing on a regular job? Am I ready to take advantage of this opportunity? Or will I think it has nothing to do with getting me a good-paying job?
Other Questions Are Important to Me?
Identify and share with your fellow students, with faculty and counselors, and with your family other questions that are important to you or that you think should be included in this set of questions for survival and success.
The study of any liberal arts subject in the humanities and social sciences has fundamental concepts, rules, and practices just like any other activity at which individuals and groups seek to succeed and excel while avoiding costly and frustrating mistakes. The purpose of this section is to provide an overview of those fundamentals to facilitate a focused individual and team approach to a liberal arts class, with the history of Mexico as an example.
Fundamentals are those key aspects that contribute to the success or failure of any activity. To make the point, we can draw on the experiences of an area outside of academia that we all know something about: professional sports. It does not matter if men or women are the players. It can be any sport like soccer, baseball, football, volleyball, or hockey. In any of these sports, even a team with brilliant coaches and intelligent and physically talented players adheres to the fundamentals if it hopes to succeed on the field. The coaches and the players know that natural talent applied in a disorganized and undisciplined fashion yields mediocre and disappointing results. They thus study the nature of their sport's environment and organize their lives to focus on their job. They have a vision of where they want to be at the end of the season. They know the rules of the game and adhere to them. They maximize individual success by working together. They are committed to their goal and pay attention to detail. They study the playbook and the films. They have a plan for every game. They are on time for practices and games. The players practice even the most basic techniques of running, passing, catching, blocking, and kicking--whatever is appropriate to the specific sport--consistently throughout the season. They use the appropriate equipment. They analyze opponents and make adjustments from game to game. They train to stay conditioned in the off-season while they evaluate the past season and make plans for the next one. No aspect of the game is too small to leave unexamined. They know a single player can win or lose a game for the whole team. This kind of dedicated and concentrated attention and effort is based on a desire to be doing what they are doing. The players have long-term team and individual goals, but they also get immediate satisfaction from playing the game and practicing for it. This is what makes it possible for them to endure and even enjoy the unglamorous, sweaty, physical training and the strenuous mental preparation that takes their game to such a high level.
The point of this sports analogy is that success and excellence in the study of a course like the history of Mexico will depend on the willingness and ability of the individual students and the class as a whole to understand the environment, identify a vision, follow a plan, commit to consistent hard work, and--most important of all--derive an immediate sense of personal satisfaction from taking the course.
As the professor teaching the course, I believe that understanding and practicing the fundamentals will maximize your motivation and satisfaction in the course. This will, in turn, maximize your commitment and ability to learn and earn a good grade. You can get yourself into a positive cycle in which commitment and satisfaction reinforce each other. On the other hand, ignoring the fundamentals can result in misperceptions and misunderstandings, boredom, confusion, frustration, lack of motivation, feelings of unfairness, poor grades, and--worst of all--a failure to learn.
The following list of fundamentals includes many that apply to other courses in the university, but also some that are specific to the history of Mexico as a course that meets the foreign-culture requirement of the university and the ethnic-heritage requirement of Chicano-Boricua studies. The section below address both the educational paradigm (context, structure, environment) in which the history of Mexico exists and the logistics and mechanics of how to do well in the course and in others like it.
A. Good secondary reasons that do not guarantee you will be interested and motivated include
- The course is a university or program requirement.
- It fits my schedule.
- It will help me get a better job.
- Someone else thinks this course is good for me.
- The course will make me more culturally aware.
- My friends are taking the course.
B. Good primary reasons that will maximize your satisfaction and motivation. If you can state the following with confidence or are working to be able to do so:
- I enjoy reading, thinking, writing, and talking about the subject.
- I really understand why it is a university or program requirement, and I believe in the purpose.
- I really feel the course fits into my transformation as an individual whose knowledge of the world is expanding.
- I really feel the course fits into my transformation as an individual whose analytical skills are continually improving.
- I will be able to apply the knowledge and skills I gain in this course in my social or professional life.
C. If you do not have a set of personal primary reasons, develop a set.
- Make the effort to identify with the purpose of the university (see below).
- Make the effort to understand the subject of the course.
- Find ways of relating it to your existing personal interests.
- Become an active participant in the course.
II. A university education is more than a vocational education.
A. A very common misperception that causes a lot of grief.
- Many people approach the university only as a vocational school to train them for specific jobs and professions.
- This kind of approach devalues the purpose of the university and creates resistance to the mission of the university.
- It also frustrates a lot of students who believe they are forced to take a lot of courses that they think are irrelevant and in which they have no interest.
will feel mentally and emotionally healthier and happier if
- Recognize and fully accept the purpose of the university.
- Do not try to force the university into a box that is too small for its purpose.
- Do not judge the university by standards that are inappropriate to its purpose.
- It is important that we understand the difference between a strictly vocational education and a university education.
B. The strictly vocational education is characterized by limited goals and methods.
- It has limited aims of training you in the skills of a specific job.
- All teaching and learning is focused narrowly on those job skills.
- A broader world view and its issues are not part of its mission.
- The analytical component is sharply focused on limited skill objectives.
- Skills transferable to another job are not a goal.
C. The university is different from a vocational or technical school because the university has the additional mission of assisting the student achieve a personal transformation by developing other areas of personal and professional growth. The added-value mission of the university is to assist the student to
- Acquire an understanding of the broader world and its issues; and of how these relate to one's life and career.
- Acquire skills that can be applied to many jobs and tasks.
- Develop the ability to read well difficult and large amounts of material in a variety of styles and at many levels.
- Develop the ability to synthesize large amounts of material into a brief summary of the message and its main points.
- Develop the ability to write in clear, powerful prose. Writing is a craft that requires consistent and continuous conscientious practice. It sharpens thinking and adds clarity to communication.
one's self into an intellectual, that is, to
- Develop one's conceptual, abstract, and analytical thinking.
- Develop the ability to build conceptual models and use these as tools of analysis and organization.
- Become conceptually creative, come up with new ideas.
- Develop a self-image of one's self as a professional.
- Develop a self-image of one's self as a citizen with social responsibilities as well as individual rights.
- Realize one's capacity for inventing and reinventing one's self.
- Develop an appreciation for continuous self-growth.
- Develop an ability to adjust to a continuously changing environment.
D. A fuller definition of the term intellectual is
- A person who thinks conceptually and analytically in a systematic way on both broad issues and on details--most of the functions in section C, above.
- Not necessarily an egghead, nerd, rocket scientist, or absentminded professor. "Intellectual" is not a dirty word for someone with an elitist attitude.
- Someone who may have any kind of job in society as long as he or she thinks conceptually and abstractly. Someone can be a street sweeper or homeless and still be an intellectual.
- Not the same as "intelligent," although the two terms frequently overlap. Many intelligent people are not intellectuals, but may be very wise (often as a result of experience); and many intellectuals may not be very smart about a lot of things.
- Someone with a learned skill. An intellectual has conditioned and trained the mind like others train the body to gain physical skills.
- Someone with a skill that, in the best of circumstances, can help one become more intelligent and wiser. However, there is no guarantee this will happen.
E. If the components that make up the broad mission of the university sound like hollow, boring words to you--perhaps too abstract and removed from your interests--you may need to work on making them more real.
III. Students will derive maximum benefits from their education if their purpose for being at the university is the same as the mission of the university.
A. Adopting transformation-of-the-self as your personal goal will yield an instant gratification--not just the delayed gratification of a future job or career, because you will value the change and be able to feel it happen.
B. Making a commitment to self-transformation will make course work interesting and motivate you to do the hard work required to learn well and derive pleasure from learning.
C. This happens because acquiring new knowledge and understanding and sharpening your skills as a conceptual, analytical person become goals in themselves, rather than passive experiences that have no relationship to your identity. They become interesting things to do rather than distasteful obligations to postpone and avoid.
D. A deep commitment to self-transformation can be made only if you can derive personal satisfaction and even pleasure from reading, writing, and critical thinking.
IV. Becoming a successful university student often requires great effort and a conscious change in identity.
A. Self-transformation is only possible when we open ourselves to change in our identities and self-images, to the idea that we can really be more than what we have been conditioned to believe we can be due to our personal or group backgrounds. We have to turn off the secret internal commands that tell us we cannot transcend our current limits. We have the power to shape our own identities.
B. Adopting transformation-of-the-self as your personal goal may require a change in your self-identity to incorporate a larger and more complex you. It does not mean you have to give up all of your old self with all of its relationships and contexts; but you have to learn to have additional and multiple identities. Many students who attend the university find it hard to accept for themselves an identity as university students because of peer pressure and the fear they will betray who they were and are--the identities that currently give them a sense of security.
C. Deriving satisfaction from learning and pleasure from doing well educationally often requires practice, conditioning, more practice, and the replacement of old habits with new ones--or at least, the addition of new habits to the old ones. This is how we reshape ourselves. Sometimes we need to learn how to enjoy something we know is good for us. Knowing it and feeling it are two different things. The enjoyment of reading books, writing good essays, and critically examining ideas are all acquired tastes. All of these involve exercising the powers of the mind like one would exercise the muscles of the body. Because this requires a lot of mental effort and sweat, many people neglect their minds the way many people neglect their bodies. If we are motivated to do only the things we enjoy without effort, our lives may be very limited and frustrated. The university is like a gym for the mind. There is no purpose in paying the membership dues if we are not going to work out.
D. Taking a university class should be taken as seriously as working at a job. Some students unintentionally or mistakenly judge a class by the standards of the entertainment industry. You can have fun in a class, but it is usually not the same kind of fun derived from a movie or a television program or compact disc. A class should not be treated as a spectator event. The best way to make it interesting for yourself while learning is to become actively involved as a participant. Do not be a classroom potato.
E. Priorities in life may need to be reorganized temporarily. Make enough time to do the homework for each course you take. Most people have obligations to their jobs, families, and other life concerns and interests. To be a successful student, you need enough time to study calmly and deliberately. A time-management analysis and plan are important. You need to exercise the self-discipline to use your time wisely and effectively every day. If your education is low on your list of priorities, you will probably acquire only a mediocre education.
F. Using the university's many resources like tutoring, supplemental instruction, and labs will maximize your learning. You will only be motivated to use them effectively--and prioritize your time to include them in your schedule--if you enjoy (or want to enjoy) learning as much as whatever else you might do with the time otherwise.
G. Students who have been out in the workplace for several years, usually (not always) appreciate the value of a university education more than students coming directly from high school. Unfortunately, by then, they have a lot of additional obligations that compete for their time and many can only go to school part-time.
V. The history of Mexico is part of the way the university fulfills its multifaceted mission. (Some items below could be placed in multiple categories.)
A. The following list of reasons will not have much meaning unless you have already integrated (or seriously plan to integrate) the broad mission of the university as part of your identity. Refer to section I of "The Fundamentals."
B. The history of Mexico expands your knowledge of the world around you. It contributes to your understanding of
- One of the most important neighbors of the United States.
- The background of an important ethnic and cultural group in the United States.
- The role of the United States as a hemispheric and world power.
- The world economy shaped by long-distance exchange of technology, capital, and labor.
C. The history of Mexico sharpens your conceptual skills. The course
- Organizes history conceptually, not just according to facts and dates.
- Exposes you to different ways of thinking, different value systems.
- Creates a comparative framework for analyzing our own society and others.
D. The history of Mexico is relevant to your social and professional experience. The course
- Provides you with the opportunity to sharpen skills that can be applied to many jobs and life situations.
- Helps you better understand the links between the United States and Mexican economies, links that will increasingly shape the environment in which your job will exist.
- Provides you with the opportunity to further develop your abilities as a conceptually oriented individual who can survive and flourish in a changing, often hostile, economic environment.
VI. The history of Mexico is a course with a well-defined purpose, goals, actors, environment, rules, and plan of action.
A. The syllabus for the course is an important resource.
- It is a contractual agreement between the professor and each student and among all of the students.
- It has a clear mission statement with goals and objectives.
- It outlines the organization of the course. It can be compared to
- The rules of the road
- A map for a little-known territory
- The rules of a board game
- The rules of a professional sports game
- A game plan
- A handbook or guide
- It clearly states the actions students need to take to learn the subject and obtain a good grade.
- It sets up specific ways to measure student progress.
- It contains provisions for flexibility which can be expanded by agreement between the professor and the students.
B. The fundamentals complement the syllabus in defining the environment for the course and the best approach for success.
C. The students are defined as actors, players, and active participant learners in a dynamic relationship with the professor and with each other.
D. The professor is a guide for the students venturing into the history of Mexico. He cannot teach what the students do not want to learn. Learning is a proactive experience, not a transfer of data from professor to students.
E. A major function of the professor is to provide the students with the themes and concepts that organize the course and that facilitate learning the course subject.
F. A contractual agreement thoroughly understood by all parties will lay a solid foundation for a good course.
VII. Conceptual learning can be a fun way to study if the basics are understood and implemented with diligence and persistence.
A. The most basic elements that form the foundation of conceptual thinking are
- Gathering data and information.
- Absorbing the information. Reading for comprehension.
- Processing the information to extract the main ideas.
- Analyzing the main ideas for their utility and validity.
- Understanding the information and main ideas.
- Using the information and ideas to create new ideas and new perspectives.
- Communicating ideas and information clearly and powerfully by using concepts to organize your thinking and using as few words as possible.
- Practicing until one gets it perfect.
- Persevering until one gets the results desired.
- Realizing there is always a newer idea--although not necessarily a better one.
B. Rote memorization is not conceptual learning.
- It is a boring mechanical function that is often useless.
- It does not create understanding or build one's powers of reasoning.
- It is like loading facts onto a computer disk and unloading them without any comprehension involved.
- There is more retention of knowledge with understanding than with rote memorization.
- With rote memorization individual facts fall out of the mind like water or sand through the holes of a colander.
- With understanding, facts are held together by ideas, and ideas are held together by concepts, theories, and themes. These relationships and structures keep the mind from acting like a colander.
C. Conceptual thinking is a process that refines information and leads to understanding.
- In conceptual thinking, the mind is like a saw mill and furniture factory.
- The mind refines raw data into a finished product. Much of the raw material is transformed into something new and a lot of the raw material is discarded.
- The end product is often a distillation of understanding and insight in a highly concentrated form. This is when you get a great idea, when your language becomes powerful. Facts are meaningless without an interpretation. A dynamic relationship among the facts needs to be established. This is the role of ideas, concepts, theories, and themes.
- Common wisdoms and proverbs, like "practice makes perfect" and "penny-wise, pound-foolish," are examples of distillations of understanding derived from lifetimes of experience. They are powerful because they say a lot in a few words.
- Mental milling, cooking, and distilling must be done consistently and gradually over the length of the semester. The mind goes into overload if the process is left for the last minute before an exam. You just wind up with a garbage heap of raw materials.
D. There is a step-by-step way of carrying out the basics of conceptual thinking in a course like the history of Mexico.
- Read or listen for the main points in a chapter, article, lecture, or documentary.
- Highlight and underline the main points in a chapter or article.
- Make notes on the margins of pages of the text.
- Take comprehensive notes of lectures and other presentations for further studying and refining.
- Highlight the main points of your own notes.
- "I do not know how to take notes" is no excuse. Effective note-taking is an acquired skill of every good university student and every effective professional.
- Prioritize the main points according to their importance for inclusion or exclusion in subsequent communications.
- Connect the main points, establishing a relationship among them.
- Connect the main points to identify and create larger and larger conceptual building blocks: ideas, concepts, theories, themes, interpretations.
- Connect the main points, ideas, theories, themes, and interpretations from various sources: the text, other readings, lectures, discussions, documentaries, other sources.
- Develop an interpretation and organizing theme that brings it all together.
- Look for organizing themes and interpretations provided at the beginning of books, chapters, articles, and documentaries as well as by the professor in the classroom. If you understand what these are, you can identify the main points and other building blocks much more easily than if you just read or listen without purpose while waiting for some understanding to come magically to you.
- Look for the hidden outline (I, A, 1, b, etc.) with main points and subpoints in a chapter or essay the way "The Fundamentals" document is organized.
- Understand that analyzing the relationships among the main points and related themes opens up the possibility for intellectual creation and invention, for discovering something new, for coming up with an idea no one else has had.
E. Communicating your understanding in a written or oral report is best accomplished if it follows a simple universal pattern.
- State the main organizing theme distilled above as a thesis statement in the first paragraph.
- Support your thesis with a logical sequence of main points in the following paragraphs.
- Every paragraph should be a mini-essay with a thematic lead sentence, supporting facts, and concluding sentence that sets up the next paragraph.
- Provide a conclusion that sums up the central theme and its arguments.
- A good essay can be broken up into an outline with main points and subpoints, the way the same is true for a book chapter and "The Fundamentals" section. If your conceptual skills are good, you should be able to make an outline before you write the essay or make the presentation.
- After you have written a report or essay, go back and revise the initial thesis statement if your thinking has developed in the process of writing the piece.
- The title of the report or essay should contain the heart of your interpretation. It should tell the reader exactly what is coming.
- The best exams have the characteristics of a good report.
XIII. Other ways to learn better
A. Take the risk: ask questions in class and participate in class discussions.
B. Discuss a topic with other people to speed up the process of understanding and to sharpen understanding. Verbalization will help crystallize your thinking as will writing.
IX. There Are No Substitutes
A. For understanding the big picture; using concepts to analyze the larger context.
B. For paying attention to detail. A conceptual structure , like a real building, is only as secure as the building blocks from which it is made.
C. For persistent effort in the face of difficult odds. Thinking conceptually, undertaking the task of self-transformation, running the mind's workshop, is hard work.
D. For the motivation it takes to do A, B, and C.
4. When the University Becomes a Jungle Full of Stress: Basic Survival Techniques and Strategies for the Proactive Learner
For the sake of imagining some stressful situations out of which we have to extract ourselves or learn to avoid, let us pretend we do not see all the beautiful and wonderful things around us. Cities and jungles can be beautiful. However, this board game in our minds is a bleak scenario in which modern life is an urban jungle full of dangerous corporate creatures, industrial plants, environmental hazards, bills in the mail, and road-enraged denizens. The university is part of modern life and can be seen as an educational jungle all its own. It is full of all kinds of obstacles and hazards that can produce great amounts of stress in someone who just wants to get a degree to get ahead. In other parts of this guide, I try to show you how to do both brief and comprehensive reality checks on yourself and how to integrate yourself into the university's mission and into an academic course. If you are going to deal with all of the aspects of this complex environment and thrive in it, there are a few other things you need to add to your successful survival kit. Here, I am just going to focus on a few basic lessons on how to reduce and avoid stress.
University Can Sometimes Be a Jungle
It should not be surprising that the university is a mirror of the high-pressure society in which we live. An institution designed to process 34,000 students in any given year is rarely capable of giving you all of the individualized care you need. Because of its great number of activities and the size of its bureaucracy, the university may not even give you enough advance information to enable you to do a good job of taking care of yourself. Many students do not realize this until it is too late, and they are already under a great deal of stress. They do not take proactive charge of their education for various reasons. They were not accustomed to doing it in high school. They may have other pressing issues in their lives. The advice that counselors and teachers give them may not sink in soon enough to avoid problems. They can also procrastinate too long in taking care of essential business related to their careers and in implementing a time-management plan.
Students often begin to feel the stress when they realize that the university requires so many courses that hardly anyone can finish in four years. Five years is more normal for a full-time student unless he or she goes to summer school. Students often want to load up on courses to get out fast. However, university courses are usually very demanding. They require more time and effort than the number of hours spent in the classroom. Some students find that their previous educational experiences did not raise their powers of reading, writing, and critical thinking skills to the level required for doing well at the university. The ingredients for a personal pressurecooker come together when you throw in the challenges of dealing with a bureaucratic system, the need to support oneself and family, the need to pay for an education, and the many life-problems that an ordinary person can experience. The result is that taking more than three courses at a time, especially when one is employed, actually undermines a student's ability to appreciate or fulfill the mission of the university as a space in which reflection takes place.
In this scenario of great pressures and high costs (even when you have a scholarship), you must either be proactive or the environment will determine what kind of education you receive. You must know your environment and how to cope with it or you will make very costly mistakes. If you do not drop out as a result, the lessons you learn through experience will cost you an unnecessarily high price in time, money, stress, and an academic record that will not be as good as you want. Too many students wait until the system crunches them. If they are lucky, a counselor, professor, or friend may rescue them, but not without the pain of a lesson learned in the proverbial school of hard knocks. Do not wait for this to happen to you.
to Avoid the Tangle and Get Through the Jungle
Stress is normal at the university. You have to be able to determine how much you can handle and make the necessary adjustments. You can tell when you are under severe stress when you get so busy with competing demands on your life that you cannot concentrate on the reading for your courses or even on lectures or class discussions--the greater the pressure, the greater the inability to learn, retain information, analyze, and complete assignments. At this point, you may wonder about the use or relevance of going to college and sacrificing yourself just to jump through so many hoops in the circus being run by apparently insensitive professors and administrators caught in their own games of hoop-jumping.
If you are already caught hopelessly in a stressful tangle of homework, work, and home life and you feel overwhelmed, the easiest way to get out is to hit the escape button. You can relieve the pressure by dropping one or more courses even when you are more than halfway through the semester. Obviously, this will mean lost time, effort, and money; but it may be good for you as long as you do not keep repeating the same pattern semester after semester. Sometimes, you have too many things on your plate and some of them are spilling all over you. When you fall so far behind that you cannot catch up, you may have no choice. Sometimes the rest of life gets so hard that you just have to give it all of your attention. Taking time off to reassess your situation and reorganize your life may be the best thing to do. Next time, think ahead so that you do not sign up for a program you will not finish to your satisfaction.
the Environmental Tangle: Plan Your Expedition
The most successful student is the one who takes his or her education into his or her own hands in a proactive constructive way (as opposed to doing just anything you want when you want to do it). Some students quit too easily or too early and drop out or become part-time, occasional students before exploring all the options for dealing with a difficult situation and for developing a long-term strategy for getting their college degree in less than 10 years. Sometimes a little reflection with some assistance can lead to a reenergized perspective and a reorganized approach. Sometimes the tiredness need only be momentary.
Whether you are coming out of an emergency situation, or just catching your breath, resource and time management are essential to continued success. You need to plan for the year, for the semester, for the month, for the week, and for each day. Make a budget for each one. Be realistic about what support you can depend on from family, and friends; and about what support you have to give them that will compete with your educational goals. Above all, get a daily planner and calculate how you can best distribute your time among your competing life areas and classes. It is a lot easier to plan when you put things down on paper rather than try to work them out only in your head.
Your Baggage Outside the Jungle
It is difficult not to bring the rest of your life into the educational jungle of the university. However, this is just like taking too much gear into the bush; it only gets you tangled in the vines and underbrush more quickly and thoroughly. As hard as it may be, you need to leave the baggage behind. When you do make time to study and you can identify an hour or two to devote to a schoolwork assignment, put all of your other concerns aside and concentrate only on that assignment. You are going to "lose" that time anyway to your other worries; so maximize your productivity by creating a quiet time and space for yourself in which you put down the burdens of the rest of your life for a short time. You can learn most effectively when you can be relaxed and allow yourself to sink into the subject and your mind can immerse itself in it calmly without external pressures. You have to be able to think about what the words mean in the chapter or assignment you are reading. If you bring your life worries into your study time, then you may as well not even open the book. If you can free yourself for a while from your other life pressures, then you might even find that your study time is therapeutic, and that it might even reenergize you for going back to the other parts of your life and dealing with them from a changed perspective.
Your Mental Machete
Remember your mind is a powerful tool. Thinking conceptually will help you do well in every course you take--even if the instructor does not require it. No matter what the subject, it has to be organized conceptually to make sense. Otherwise it will be a boring, meaningless mess. You can help yourself by looking for, identifying, and using the organizing concepts in a course, in a chapter, in a lecture and in anything you read, hear, or discuss. Most students do it to one degree or another, but you get better at it if you do it consciously and consistently. If you hone your skills at playing with concepts, you will be able to better distinguish between what information is important and what is not. You will become more efficient and effective at your studies and at comprehending ideas and communicating them. You will get more satisfaction from a sense of achievement. You will even find that it can become fun. If you ever have the luxury of enough time to reread a chapter, a book or a set of class notes, you might find that you will discover you are getting even more out of it in ideas that you missed the first time around.
the Lords of the Jungle
In every course that you take, exercise the initiative of going to see the professor at least once or twice during the semester. If you consult with a professor now, you are more likely to understand what the course is about, where he or she is coming from, how to improve your performance, and you will be motivated to do even better. You will be more likely to go get help when problems arise rather than let them fester until it is too late. Some professors are too busy to even know all of their students' names, much less seek them out for appointments. You will stand out by visiting a professor because 95 percent of the students who go to see a professor on their own will do it only when a serious problem arises and they need an extension or have to excuse a missed assignment. These are only the students who go at all. Unless a professor makes it a course requirement, most students avoid office visits to a professor like they avoid visits to the proverbial dentist. If you are going to apply to graduate school, for a job, or for a scholarship, you may need a letter of recommendation. A professor will be more able and more willing to write a letter if you make sure he or she gets to know you now. The professor has to be able to distinguish you from the hundreds of other students in his or her classes every year. Just the fact that you initiate a visit will enable the professor to say that you are serious and that you have initiative.
One of the Dominant Species Yourself
You can also be proactive by participating in class even when it is not a class requirement for your grade. The professor will take your participation into consideration, consciously or unconsciously, when grading you. Most professors prefer an interactive class with at least some students being active. Your participation will reinforce the positive impression made by the office visits. Proactive participation in class discussions will motivate you to keep up with the readings more effectively. Voicing your ideas and conclusions will help sharpen your thinking and analysis. You will also gain confidence that you can do well in your classes. You will have the confidence to speak out in other situations. Everyone has ideas and opinions in private and anonymously. Coming out and stepping up to do it in front of others takes you to another level. To be most effective, a good portion of your classroom participation should be based on your reading assignments. Anyone can ask informational questions that require no previous reading or knowledge. Outside of the classroom, do what any smart jungle denizen would do. Learn the location of the natural resources and use them. Labs, tutors, and other student services are part of the jungle's resources. If you bluff too much in class and procrastinate too much outside of it, the jungle will eat you. If you work hard, you can become one of the dominant species in the educational jungle. Only the fittest survive and succeed. The undecided, unfocused, uncommitted, and unable--the weak--become extinct. With a little reflection and a lot of organization, you have the opportunity to avoid this fate and to manage stress successfully in our urban jungle university. When that happens, you will notice the beauty and the wonder around you again.
This is my reality check and my ideal; this is why I am here.
I am at the university to reinvent myself intellectually and socially.
I am responsible for the quality of my own education.
I have unlimited potential and I will not settle for mediocrity in myself.
I will make my education my number one priority.
I will concentrate my focus and work hard to succeed.
I will be a proactive learner and strive for excellence.
I will expand my mind and develop into a skilled professional.
I will always be in class and I will be there on time.
I will actively develop an interest in each one of my classes.
I will be a proactive participant in each one of my classes.
I will listen with my mind as well as with my ears.
I will do all of my homework.
I will read to understand what I am reading.
I will think analytically about the subjects I study.
I will write to become a powerful communicator.
I will develop strong personal and professional ethics.
I will respect my teachers, counselors, and fellow students.
I will take pride in my character, in my heritage, and in my work.
I am not alone, I will seek help when I need it.
I am not alone, I will help others when they need it.
I am not alone, others judge friends and associations by what I do.
My words and actions are my honor.
I will bring honor to myself and to those I represent.
I will add to the inheritance of the generations that have gone before me.
I will be better than my role models, mentors, and teachers.
I, myself, will become a role model for others.
I will make a difference in my own life and in the lives around me.
Only I can make this code real for me.
There are no heights you cannot reach and no obstacles you cannot overcome if you are willing to work hard enough and long enough at transforming yourself. You will always be a caterpillar if you think of knowledge as the accumulation of dry, lifeless facts, of learning as a tedium, and of wisdom as something that only belongs to the old. If you look for the empowerment of understanding and insight--why things are and how they work--your mind can soar like an eagle in flight.
Part One: What Schools Will Look for When You Apply
Graduate admissions offices will be looking for a combination of qualities in their applicants, not just one outstanding academic characteristic. Some of these factors you cannot affect. So you need to begin to build a well-rounded and substantial profile early in your college career around the factors over which you do have some influence. The beginning of your senior year, when you have to submit your applications, is too late. Here are many of the qualities that will matter:
Everyone knows these are important, but some students get serious too late in their college careers. It is difficult to make up in your junior year for two years of mediocre grades as a first-year student and sophomore. Different universities have different requirements depending on how strong the competition is to get into them. Some look for nearly perfect and perfect grades over an undergraduate career. Others might accept a solid B record. The higher the grades, the better your chances; but even perfect grades by themselves will not be good enough.
All schools require applicants to take exams to qualify for graduate school, just as most do for undergraduate admission. Be aware of which ones you will need to take and investigate how you can best prepare for them in addition to doing well academically.
These can be as important as grades. The letters that carry the most weight are the ones from professors who know you well enough to write convincing positive analyses of your academic abilities. Cultivate your professors early and long, and provide them with an academic profile they can praise. Do not ask a professor to write a letter of recommendation out of the blue. Always provide the professor with your updated transcript and a résumé that includes your employment record, extracurricular activities, special achievements, and awards. Always contact the professor a minimum of two weeks before the letter is due. See the chapter on how to manage stress for more.
Application and Application Essay
Your ability to fill out forms accurately, clearly, and cleanly will give admissions officers an idea of how serious you are about attending their schools. Even more important, your ability to communicate your purpose in applying, and your mature awareness of what graduate school in your chosen field is all about, will let them know how well you are prepared for the next challenge. If you cannot write a decent essay and they still let you in, beware of a school that wants a body count and your money.
Your participation in a number of student and community service organizations will show that you are a well-rounded person and not just a bookworm. Universities want to recruit students with leadership qualities and diverse life experiences that they can bring onto the campus and into the classroom. Colleges want to see that you have applied your learning in the real world.
of Many Kinds
Being female or an underrepresented minority (African American, Latino, First Nation) are only two of the many types of diversities that universities recruit at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Universities want students from diverse parts of the country, not just one state or region. Especially at the major schools, there is a limit to the number of in-state applicants that a university will actually enroll. For example, a number of spaces and scholarships are set aside for musically talented students who will make up the school band. Of these, so many will be assigned for each instrument. A school cannot recruit only tuba players. We already know about athletic scholarships. Departments choose graduate students partly on the fit of the students' specialized interests with the expertise of their faculties. There are many other types of diversities for which universities select because they realize that diversity enriches campus environments and our society in general.
Family's Connections and Money (or at Least Someone Else's)
Some private universities set aside a number of slots for students whose parents are alumni or who make big monetary contributions to their school funds. This is a different type of affirmative action than the kind that is always in the news.
Part Two: The Qualities That Will Make You a Success in Graduate or Professional School
If you want to maximize your success in graduate school--or if you want to be more than what is required at the undergraduate level--consciously work on developing your ability to do the following:
and Consciously Reinvent and Grow Yourself
Your self-identity is the sum of your life experiences as interpreted by your mind. It includes the values you have absorbed about yourself from the rest of society. Your identity as a graduate student and professional academic is similarly shaped by your university experiences. You have the opportunity to proactively seek self-transformation through learning from your interaction with people and books. Learning, by definition, transforms the mind and its wisdom and therefore your identity. You cannot afford to be afraid of the individuals who are your teachers, mentors, and authority figures. You will have a better chance to learn and grow if you seek them out and hold them responsible for teaching you what they know that is of value and for recommending to you additional pathways to your self-improvement. If you are afraid, passive, or unduly deferential to authority, and expect that wisdom will rain down on you as a gift from those who have it; your identity will always be shaped by the perceptions, values, and goals of other people and the systems they faithfully operate. You can only experience self-transformation and self-realization if you let go of the fear of being perceived as inadequate by others. If you admit your ignorance, you have nothing to lose except ambitions that are burdens to your self-development. Admit your relative and temporary ignorance and ask for assistance. You will find willing teachers aplenty. Ultimately, your best teacher is yourself; and you can best teach yourself when your mind is self-aware and free of concerns about where you rank in the academic pecking order.
Information and Ideas in Both Written and Oral Forms
You will have tons of reading thrown at you and you will have a multitude of ideas blown your way. You will be buried and badly beaten by the sheer force of their volume unless you know how to pick out what is important in the flow of information. You can best cope with this challenge if you identify the ideas and theories that give meaning and form to the mass. Develop a proactive, conceptual approach to your readings and to the oral exchanges with your professors and fellow students in seminars and classes. Make it your objective to reduce clearly and accurately the contents of books, articles, and oral presentations to their most important basic points. Synthesis and analysis have an interactive relationship. See chapter three, "The Fundamentals for more"
Information and the Ideas That Select and Organize It
A fundamental goal of a graduate education is to train you to critically evaluate the information and ideas you receive from teacher-figures, printed materials, and other sources. You will be asked to identify the point of view of each source of information and the factors that have shaped that view. You will be encouraged to become keenly aware that every piece of information you receive has been selected and shaped by a human mind or group of minds together or sequentially. Every interpretation is an intellectual construct of the minds of the persons who hold and promote that view and whose thinking has been shaped by their life experiences and by the values they use to organize their thinking and to live their lives. Everyone has an agenda, even those who proclaim objectivity, simply because everyone has a point of view. This applies to primary sources as well as secondary. You can therefore test the logic of every proposition being made for its internal consistency and for its accuracy in reflecting the sources it uses to construct an image of a reality. You can examine your own thinking to see if an idea seems sweetly logical because it fits your vision of how things should be, or if it seems so distastefully unsound because it clashes with your own preexisting views. You can reach for a state of mind in which you are careful to use ideas as tools of analysis and not as rooted components of your intellectual identity that you will then have to defend like a home territory against the attacks of hostile ideas. Ideas, theories, interpretations, and themes are all intellectual constructions. You should be able to take them apart and put them together like erector sets, jigsaw puzzles, car engines, or more complicated systems of interaction with specific designs and functions.
The wonderful thing about ideas and intellectual constructions is that, like songs and car models, new ones are always being invented. When you are proficient at deconstructing and reconstructing someone else's conceptual models, you get better at building your own. Most of the time, you use the same building blocks or components that are available to the other thinkers in the disciplinary field lab. Most of the time, you rearrange the pieces a little or apply the same principles to a new material. These exercises add to and refine our cumulative fund of knowledge. Creativity is the ability to link points of fact and elements of interpretation that have not been linked before by other scholars. It is the ability to develop new points of view and establish new interpretations. In the most dramatic cases, new approaches create shifts in the paradigm of an established field or discipline. Paradigm shifts in the various social science disciplines have resulted from the application of Marxist, subaltern, and feminist perspectives. Examples of paradigm shifts in larger spheres of the human experience have resulted from the impacts of domesticated fire and animals, agriculture, the wheel, the great religions, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the internal combustion engine, and the computer.
Languages and Concepts
The ability to translate is usually associated with the grasp of more than one language. This standard but narrow definition applies to several disciplines in the sense that proficiency in a language other than English is often a requirement of graduate school. Not all important sources of information and concepts are found in English and some disciplines require the art of translation more than others. At the University of California at Berkeley, the doctoral program in Latin American history required that my fellow graduate students and I qualify in three languages other than English. In many countries, students must be proficient in English as a foreign language because that is the language of the major textbooks. Translation in language occurs at several levels. It is one thing to be able to translate by reading and another to do it in writing and still another to do it instantaneously while thinking, without any aids. And each of these types of translations has different levels of proficiency.
Translation can also be applied at the level of concepts. Remember that the fundamental act of translation is the decoding of a message in one language and the encoding of it in another. In the field of history, for example, we depend a great deal on the ability of scholars to read a concept or conceptual approach in one area and translate it into an appropriate form for use in another. Because each of the histories of the various world regions have their own unique dynamics, scholars must be very careful about translating from one context to another. The danger is that the inappropriate application of an imported format will distort the history being examined. The benefit is that a careful translation--or transplantation--of concepts among several areas and fields enriches all of them.
Your Thoughts and Ideas Powerfully
Language is the foundation medium of human thinking. Without a commonly agreed-on set of symbols into which specific meanings have been encoded, we would not have a society. Language is a powerful tool for shaping and representing reality and for communicating our thoughts and plans to others. The idea "the pen is mightier than the sword" is really a reference to the power of language to move people. The use of language in one's thinking and in communicating through written and oral forms are skills that need to be consciously developed at the graduate and professional levels. The often-stated idea that writing is a craft conveys an image of the work and care that has to go into the selection of every word in a sentence, of every sentence in a paragraph, of every paragraph in an essay. One of the first things your professors in graduate school will do is challenge you to write a book report in one or two pages rather than five to ten. They want you to realize how we all tend to be very sloppy in our use of the language and how much more effective we can become as communicators if we take care in selecting our words. Great writers and great orators survive in the memory and literature of the human race because of their ability to use the language to communicate ideas and feelings that have an enduring impact on human sensibilities across time, space, and cultures. Our own ability to communicate gains power when we craft our words with care.
Objectivity with an Awareness of Your Own Subjectivity
You will hear and read a lot about the postmodern state of the social sciences and the humanities. What is important here is that we have come to realize that any fact, event, or process of human interaction can be perceived and interpreted from many points of view. Until very recently in human history, most of the record of the human experience was left by individuals writing from the perspective of male elites. This perspective distorted our vision and understanding of women and nonelite groups because these were usually left out of the record or portrayed as being less intelligent, less moral, and less capable than the dominant elite males. Historical writings and other types of literature tend to reflect the distribution of power in society. The civil rights movements that flourished from the 1960s in the United States eventually penetrated into academia and created a shift in scholarship that brought to the fore the perspectives of African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, women, and other groups once excluded from full humanity in the scholarship dominated by an Anglo-American, upper-class male perspective. The lesson learned by scholars is that "truth" is multifaceted and that we must be careful that the truth we discover as researchers is not just a reflection of our own biases and prejudices working themselves out in the selection and interpretation of the sources. Scholars attempting to reconstruct a subaltern or feminine perspective can be just as biased as the scholars they seek to revise. This does not mean that you cannot make careful judgments about history and humanity. However, as a scholar, you will want to ask yourself the extent to which the values you hold dear will influence you to grant or withhold the full humanity of the subjects you study. If you can see your own tastes and biases functioning within your mind, you will have a better chance of being the driver--better yet, the observer--rather than being the driven.
Your Standard and Electronic Bibliographic Agility
You will be most effective as a graduate student and scholar if you learn the major journals, bibliographical guides, and indexes in your field of specialization as soon as possible and use them frequently to stay current on the themes and issues being worked by the published experts. All of these can be found in printed form in the library. However, many are now being transferred to CD-ROM for easier and quicker use. The World Wide Web and e-mail have introduced even more wonderful tools for the researcher. Organizations like H-NET, for example, have Web pages and Listservs on a great variety of specializations within the study of history. Book reviews can now be transmitted via both of these electronic mediums. Libraries throughout the country and the world, and indexes of their contents, are now accessible through the computer. In many cases, actual documents, books, pictures, and other types of information have been formatted for electronic access and transmission. Your reference librarian should be one of the persons with whom you are already well-acquainted by the time you enter graduate school.
A professional network is crucial to staying informed in your field and to your ability to take part in professional organizations and conferences. Networks keep you informed on research trends, job opportunities, funding, and other resources. Begin your network with your professors and fellow graduate students who will provide an important social and professional context for you at the local level. Expand your network by enrolling as a student member of the major organizations in your specialization. You can also subscribe to listserv information and discussion groups. Subscribe to, or read at the library, the major journals in your field. Read The Chronicle of Higher Education for all types of issues concerning academia. Attend conferences whenever possible and introduce yourself to scholars and graduate students from other universities. Do not wait to do all of this until you get your degree.
a Conference Presentation and Journal Publication Profile
Competition for jobs has gotten so intense, and graduate training has become so good in some fields, that doctoral graduate students are now expected to have presented at least one or two papers at conferences before graduation and even to have published an article in at least a minor journal. Graduate students can now be found who exceed these expectations. Do not leave this area of your academic life underdeveloped out of modesty or fear. There are plenty of conferences and publications that invite the participation of graduate students. Some are specifically geared to graduate students. Search them out and jump into the mainstream of the profession. The practice will make you stronger and better.
Persistent and Fluid in Pursuing Your Goal of a Graduate Career
A graduate career is one of the most difficult undertakings possible because it requires a lot of energy, determination, stamina, and money. The long hours--let alone the long years--you have to put into your training can be very discouraging. You will need a lot of persistence if you decide to go to graduate school. You will be asked to step up to a higher level of academic and life challenges. No matter how friendly the professors may be, they will still hold you to standards of performance that outstrip anything at the undergraduate level. You will be challenged to accept strong academic criticism constructively rather than personally. You may not be able to get into the school of your choice. The programs and courses you want--or the professor you want to work with--may not be available. The cost of graduate school will be high and you may need to live even more frugally than you did as an undergraduate. You may not be able to afford health insurance. You may face concerns from family and friends that you are chasing windmills when you could be earning a living working in the "real world." Take comfort in the fact that tens of thousands of other individuals like you are going through comparable experiences.
It Because You Love the Experience
Finally, if you go to graduate school, do it because you get immediate satisfaction out of the learning process in your chosen field. Especially in the social sciences and humanities, you are not guaranteed a job in your chosen field after you get your degree. You will lessen the possibility of winding up resentful and bitter if you are willing to do it for the experience itself and for the way it will transform you as a person, rather than if you do it primarily for the job and income you hope will be there at the end. Having both the pleasure of the experience and the economic rewards is the ideal goal for most of us. We would then be paid for what we like to do. Unfortunately, this is not the way it always works in our market-driven economy. Academic professionals need to be realistic as well as idealistic. Be prepared to apply your intellectual skills to another profession. If you have to do this in your life, you may be surprised by how much you are able to transfer from your academic training to your new occupational identity.
Healthy--Physically, Mentally, and Spiritually
Take care of your physical health. In academia, the pressure is always on to stay seated. Remember your mind and emotions are affected by the state of your body. You will do better at your study and work if you get enough exercise and adhere to a reasonably healthy diet. Taking care of your physical being will minimize the need to go into debt if you do not have insurance. Way back in the mythical sixties and seventies when I was a graduate student at Berkeley, the university provided health insurance at a reasonable cost. Today, graduate students who are not covered by a wife or family, or by a full-time job outside of academia, often go without basic medical care. Remember also that taking care of your mental health and finding inner peace is important to your physical health. People in academia are no better than people in other areas of endeavor. Stay true to your values, ideals, and ethics. Call a time-out when the stress becomes overwhelming. It is an ancient idea that the body is the temple for the soul and for the mind. The idea is still relevant today. Now we also know all three are intricately and intimately related and interdependent.
CBS Student-Parent Contract for a Quality University Education,
It is very important for students, their families, and the university programs with which they work to fully understand what they expect of each other to maximize student success. I believe in the power of written contracts to clarify expectations and crystallize the commitments that each party makes to the others. A contract like this one is an example of how the written word can be used as a tool by university programs to empower the students and their families to succeed in college and assist the programs in completing their mission in student services. This kind of contract serves as a motivational tool in creating for the student and family well-defined roles as participating stakeholders in the success of the program.
CBS Student-Parent or Guardian Contract
For a quality university education, a successful college career requires the teamwork of the student, parents, teachers, and counselors. The staff of the Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies does its part by providing a comprehensive recruitment program and two-year academic program supported by advising, counseling, and financial aid; with tracking and optional advising through graduation. In exchange, we ask each student to make a comparable commitment by pledging himself or herself to take the necessary steps that will improve his or her chances for a successful university career. When the student is still living with his or her parents (or guardians), we ask the latter to make a supportive commitment. The individual commitment of each person involved is reflected in the reading and signing of the following contract.
In recognition of and in exchange for a comprehensive recruitment, financial aid, academic, advising, counseling, and tracking program provided to me by the Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies, I, the undersigned student, make a knowing commitment to fulfill the letter and intent of the following conditions:
1. I will approach the opportunity for university education with a serious, constructive attitude and with a commitment to the hard work that such an education requires.
2. I will respect and cooperate fully with my fellow students, my instructors, and my counselors both inside and outside of the classroom.
3. I will participate in a one-day summer orientation. This is both a Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies (CBS) and Wayne State University (WSU) requirement, and I understand that enrollment is not possible without it.
4. I will take the English, math qualifying, and math placement exams before the fall semester begins. I understand that I must call the Office of Testing and Evaluation at 313-577-3400 for test dates and fees.
5. I will enroll in a CBS-approved curriculum of courses during the first two years at Wayne State University. I will complete my class schedule for each semester in consultation with a CBS adviser. I will take two ethnic heritage courses as a requirement of the CBS program during the first two years at WSU.
6. I will participate in weekly discussion sessions known as supplemental instruction as part of the courses I take while in CBS. These sessions are guided by a trained student leader who will help me better understand the course material.
7. I will be proactive in seeking and utilizing tutoring and other academic support services when their use is indicated to me by the instructors and advising staff.
8. I will attend all class meetings and be on time for them. I will be attentive in class and be respectful in the classroom. I understand that developing a sense of responsibility for the success of one's own education is one of the most dramatic adjustments students make between high school and university life. I understand and acknowledge that only the most serious and documented reasons will be accepted as legitimate excuses for absences or lateness.
9. I will keep all appointments with my counselors, instructors, tutors, and other advisers. I recognize their time is valuable. I will only cancel appointments for serious reasons, and I will call to let the person know ahead of time of my inability to keep the appointment and reschedule it for another time.
10. I will participate in a limited number of general meetings of all CBS students during the academic year.
11. I understand that the CBS computer room is intended for studying and doing homework. I will treat it like any other computer center on campus. I will not engage in excessive socialization. Under no circumstances will I bring food or drink into the room.
12. I will limit my employment during the academic year to a maximum of 20 hours per week. I understand that a university education is a full-time job in itself and that the more I work at another job, the less time I will have for my college duties.
13. I will abide by all Wayne State University rules and regulations and all requirements of the Chicano-Boricua Studies program, including deadlines for scholarship applications.
14. If I decide to stop attending WSU, I agree to personally notify my CBS counselor of my intent to withdraw. I understand that by unofficially withdrawing I will be held responsible for full tuition, fees, and penalties.
15. I understand that if I fulfill the conditions of this agreement by maintaining satisfactory performances in my courses, I will continue in the program and that I may be eligible for awards from the Latino En Marcha Scholarship Fund. I understand and acknowledge that if I do not fulfill the conditions of the contract, my parents or guardians will be so informed and that I may be asked to withdraw from the CBS program.
16. I will keep my parents and guardians informed of my academic progress, and I will enlist their assistance in making myself an academic success.
17. I hereby authorize Wayne State University and the Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies to release to my parents or guardians or to any necessary official or employee of Wayne State University any records pertaining to my participation or progress in the Chicano-Boricua Studies program. I understand that this disclosure is necessary to ensure the fullest participation of all parties and the maximum benefit to my academic career. This consent shall remain in effect until such time as I leave the Chicano-Boricua Studies program.
18. I give the Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies permission to use my name in press and media releases for the purpose of promoting the CBS program and Wayne State University.
I affirm that I have read, understand, and will honor all of the conditions of this contract.
|CBS COUNSELOR SIGNATURE||DATE|
Parent or Guardian Agreement
In recognition of--and in exchange for--the comprehensive recruitment, academic, advising, counseling, and tracking program provided to my daughter or son by the Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies, I, the undersigned parent or guardian, make a knowing commitment to fulfill the letter and intent of the following conditions:
1. I affirm that I have read the student section of the CBS Student-Parent Contract and that I agree to assist my daughter or son abide by all of its conditions.
2. I will take an active interest in my daughter’s or son’s education, make a conscientious effort to be aware of requirements and deadlines, and generally provide a supportive environment at home that will facilitate and encourage academic success.
3. I will receive periodic reports from CBS teachers and counselors about the academic progress of my daughter or son. If I do not receive such reports, I will request them.
4. I commit myself to participating in CBS-sponsored events during the academic year as it relates to my daughter's or son's education. I will participate in the parent orientation in the fall semester of the first year. I will be notified of other meetings or events as they are scheduled throughout the year.
5. I hereby authorize Wayne State University and the Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies to release to me or to any necessary official of Wayne State University any records pertaining to my daughter's or son's progress in the Chicano-Boricua Studies program. I understand that this disclosure is necessary to ensure the fullest participation of all parties and the maximum academic benefit to my daughter or son. This consent shall remain in effect until such time as my daughter or son leaves the Chicano-Boricua Studies program.
6. I give the Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies permission to use my daughter's or son's name in press and media releases for the purpose of promoting the CBS program and Wayne State University.
I affirm that I have read, understand, and will honor all of the conditions of this contract.
|CBS COUNSELOR SIGNATURE||DATE|
Copyright and contact information
Last revised March 16, 1998
College of Urban, Labor, and Metropolitan Affairs
Center for Chicano-Boricua Studies
656 W. Kirby
Room 3324 Faculty Administration Building
Detroit, MI 48202
Tel. (313) 577-4378
Fax (313) 577-1274
Celebrating 26 years of Commitment to Latino Education
Last Updated: August 7, 2007 10:52 AM