The first college semester of the year has begun, and our campus is buzzing with activity as students settle into their routines after a long and cold winter break. In the spirit of new beginnings during this traditional time of reflection, I'd like to offer four tips for college students in 2014.
Tip #1 - Get outside the classroom: One piece of advice we constantly emphasize to students is to stay engaged in the community. Whether by joining a campus club, obtaining an internship in a desired field or volunteering, it's vital to stay plugged into something meaningful beyond the classroom.
At Simmons College, we have offered something called the "World Challenge" to start the new semester. This two-week interdisciplinary course is offered specifically to sophomore students -- who, as the New York Times points out, are particularly vulnerable to the "sophomore slump" malaise. Working together, students and faculty research a major world problem, such as poverty or violence, and use a variety of resources both on and off campus to create actionable solutions. The experience gets students thinking critically in a different way, working across disciplines, and out into the real world. Truly, a marvelous way to start a new year!
Tip #2 - Be mindful of your online presence: Social media is a wonderful tool, but it can also be deceptive. Posting photos and comments to your Facebook or Instagram account may seem like it is semi-private but in reality, the entire world is able to view your postings. We encourage our students to be thoughtful of the ramifications of their online presence, and to be mindful about the content they choose to post. Of course, everyone is entitled to a private life, but employers now regularly check these sites to make sure that potential employees represent the values and work ethic that they want. Just as students learn to use these tools, they should also learn what postings will be in their best interest now, and after they graduate.
Tip #3 - Experiment with risk and (yes) failure: Learning to take risks is a crucial step on the path to maturity, and can be a liberating and a revolutionary way to make life choices. A big part of the culture of a women's college is supporting an environment where students are encouraged to get out of their comfort zone -- and even to fail!
Embracing failure is a theme Bloomberg Television anchor Betty Liu grapples with, asking, "How do we fail well?" Liu suggests investing more time in the execution of a project, rather than worrying about its outcome, and I concur. Failing is never easy, but the faster you can recover, learn from your errors, and move forward, the more you will come to appreciate the value of risk and failure.
Tip #4 - Raise your voice: College is a time for students to absorb new and different perspectives, and to solidify their own beliefs and values. It is a time to develop your voice, and use it to support or defend causes you feel strongly about - including yourself.
Two videos remind me of this idea. The first was a video created by a female scientist who spoke honestly about sexism online. Her courage to address this unacceptable behavior is a model for all of us. The second video was a montage of the inaccurate and misrepresentative images of women in the media last year, and the myriad challenges women still face.
Both represent examples of creative and clear responses to challenging situations.
I'm pleased that these videos seem to have resonated with so many people and become quite popular.
Wishing everyone a productive and happy start to the semester!