Sunday, May 24, 2015

In the shoes of a student...

My College Grad Photo

There is little I remember about my time as a college student other than feeling complete and utter chaos and fatigue. With a full-time diploma program, three part-time jobs, one co-op job and a terminally-ill parent, I simply put one foot in front of the other until I found myself crossing the stage to receive my diploma. I know my experience was not unique.

Now, years later, as the editor of a burgeoning student blog for a university community, I have noticed some trends in the posts over the past year. If I were a student today (I graduated 33 years ago, so feel free to picture me as an eccentric Yoda-like sage right now), these would be the top 5 subjects of discussion that I would want to share with you as prospective students, current students, families and high school counsellors. This is my "in the shoes of a student" list:
  1. Stress: University is the most stressful thing many students have done in their lives so far, learning skills such as: work/life balance, multi-tasking, communicating needs and prioritizing. We have to learn that this is our education and, for the most part, we are the ones responsible for its success or failure based on the choices we make along the way. 
  2. Food: fuel. If I do not fuel my body with the appropriate comestibles, I will wither and get sick. Healthy food, in regular portions, is essential to my academic success. Treats, occasionally, are necessary to my emotional success. Feed a student and you will receive eternal gratitude.
  3. Preparation: ...before uni, during uni and after uni will make my life easier. a) High school counsellors: When you care and help us with our decision-making and university preparation, our paths are easier.
    b) Parents: Although we may rail against you every step of the way, it's important that you care and that you remind us about what we need to do and, once you teach us, let go (a little) and let us make our own mistakes so we can learn.
    c) Me: Use the resources available. They are there for me and will make it easier to succeed.
  4. Involvement: the school community. Find your people. Do at least one thing that has nothing to do with your classes and grades. Help someone else. Play a sport. Join a club. Plant a garden. Dance. This will enrich your experience and make your education unique. The "life" part of school will be what you remember the most.
  5. Work: a paid job, in a co-op program, in a work study program or as a volunteer. It will give you the opportunity to put to practice what you have learned in the classroom. I don't mean just the actual book-learning part, I mean the part where you have a difficult conversation with a colleague - like the kind you may have with your roommate or project partner. It will give you the chance to make a presentation to your boss or colleague using all the cool tools you have used for your class presentations. It's a chance to practice for your career post-graduation, to make connections, make some money and make a resume. Please don't worry about taking more than four years to finish your degree because that is very common.
There you have it. It may not be the same as your list, but having edited 155 student blog posts this year, I feel I learned a thing or two.

Would I ever go back to the student life now that I am closer to retirement than I am to school or career planning? Yes, I would - I would go back for the fun of it, for the pure enjoyment of learning, to share ideas and make new friends - definitely, yes. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. May 24, 2015

Looking back - elementary school
Circa 1969 or 1970

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