Sunday, February 22, 2015

A Life Changer

I was 18, midway through my first year in college, and looking for something interesting to do. I had seen a flyer in a campus building about the student newspaper needing members, so I showed up at the newspaper office one cold February morning and said I wanted to write.  

Truth be told, I was nervous about joining the paper.  I'd heard that campus groups were cliques, hard to break into.  I was also unsure just how much of my time the newspaper would take up.  And though I wouldn't admit it to anyone, I wasn't convinced my writing was exactly ready for prime time. 


Still, I screwed up my courage and decided to give the newspaper a shot.   


I can't tell you my experience was perfect.  It wasn't.  I soon figured out that I wasn't the best writer on campus, that working on the paper frequently kept me up nights, that putting out a newspaper was hard work, and that there were definitely some people on the staff with attitude problems.  And it also didn't take long for me to realize that there was a lot I didn't know about college, myself, and life at large. There were times, especially at first, when I felt pretty ignorant.

But there were plenty of positives too.  The newspaper turned out to be a great learning experience. Along the way, I learned all sorts of important lessons, like how to manage time and money, how to make deadlines, how to work with people (including some I didn't much like), how to give and take criticism, how to make tough decisions, and (yeah) how to write clearer sentences.  They were lessons that would stay with me long after graduation--many, in fact, for life.  I also made some friends on the paper, which not only made good times great and bad times bearable but pretty much brought my social life back from the dead.  


This isn't a pitch for joining the NCC newspaper, one of 100+ student groups active on campus these days.  Think of it instead as a nudge--to get you out of your comfort zone and to try something new in college. Too often I meet students who say they'd like to get involved--maybe join something on campus--but they're too shy to take that first step.  Some have the same fears that I once had, that they're somehow not good/smart/talented/funny/outgoing/whatever enough to join a club or do something else that will give them a chance to stretch. 


If this description sounds even a little like you, think about this: No matter what you do or don't do this semester, the time will go by.  You may have other chances to get to that club meeting you've been thinking about, but not this one.  Pass up today's opportunity and it's gone forever.  And if too many today's morph into yesterday's, well, college (and life) can go by in the blink of an eye. 


"You miss one hundred percent of the shots you never take," observed former hockey great Wayne Gretzky.  It's a terrific quote, one almost every hockey fan has heard before.  But if you stop to think about it, Gretzky's talking not just about ice hockey but the rest of life too. 


This is your moment to take that shot.  Whether it's joining a club, playing a sport, or doing something else on campus to make college a more interesting experience, the time is now--no more putting it off! Get involved in something and it will change your life, maybe not in exactly the same way the newspaper changed mine, but in ways that will make sense to you.  


There are no shortage of life-changing experiences waiting for you at NCC.  All you have to do is forget your fears and give one (or two) of them a try.  Trust me on this . . . 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Read Your Syllabus Yet?

So how carefully did you read the syllabuses you received in your classes last week?

Not very, I'll bet.  In fact, if you're like a lot of students, you probably gave your syllabuses a quick once over before filing them in your notebook or backpack.

If that's the case, time to dig out those documents and read them from start to finish!

Why? Because a syllabus (aka a course outline) is one of the most important pieces of paper you'll receive this semester in your classes.  It's a contract of sorts: an agreement between you and your professor about the course you're beginning together. It's a document that tells you what you can expect over the next fifteen weeks and how you can make the most of the experience.

While not all syllabuses are alike, all contain information you need to know.  A syllabus will typically tell you
        • who's teaching the course 
        • what you'll be studying and learning
        • what books, manuals, online resources, and other materials you'll need
        • what work (assignments, projects, etc.) you'll need to do over the semester
        • when tests are scheduled and when assignments are due
        • how your final grade will be determined
        • what you need to know about attendance and classroom behavior (class do's and don'ts)
        • what extra help is available--and where you can find it
        • how to reach your professor out of class (phone, email, office hours) 
See why it's important to pay careful attention to the syllabus?  Besides explaining the course in detail, a syllabus also lays out what's expected of you--info you can't afford to blow off.

Over the years I've had tons of conversations with students who've messed up in their classes.  While their situations have varied, almost all of these folks have been basically clueless about what their professors expected of them.  Asked about attendance policies, tests and assignments, deadlines, extra help, their professors' names and office hours, most have known nothing.  If only they'd looked at their syllabuses . . .

As we all know, college can be crazy sometimes.  As the semester goes on, courses become demanding, assignments pile up, and life often grows more intense and stressful.  But having a handle on your courses--knowing when exams are scheduled, what chapters must be read, where you can go for extra help, and even where you can cut corners--can take some of the pressure off.

And that's where knowing your course syllabuses comes in handy. Giving your syllabuses a close read won't guarantee straight A's, but it will definitely help you stay on top of your courses, plan your time, and be better organized.  It'll also make you feel less pressured.

So before this semester gets too far along, sit down and read--REALLY read--your syllabuses. Highlight the important parts. Note dates (exams, papers, etc.). Pay attention to your professors' office hours.  Use the information on these pages to map out your semester.

Do it now.  No time to waste.  This is your education (and your life) we're talking about.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Place of Possibilities

Did you read the recent New York Times' column by actor Tom Hanks about his experiences at a community college? http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/14/opinion/tom-hanks-on-his-two-years-at-chabot-college.html?_r=0 It was terrific: honest, funny, inspiring, and insightful.

Also true.

Hanks writes about graduating from a California high school in 1974 and having neither the grades nor the bucks to attend a competitive and expensive university. So he enrolled at nearby Chabot College, a two-year college that not only accepted everyone but was free (nice, huh?).   

Hanks's classmates included recent h.s. grads, Vietnam vets, women returning to school, and middle-aged men seeking to boost their careers.  Together they commuted to campus each day, studying everything from accounting and auto mechanics to physics and journalism.

Though never (by his own admission) a great student, Hanks writes that he found himself--and his passion--at Chabot, discovering that he loved oral interpretation, public speaking, film, and literature. His experience wasn't perfect--he detested some required courses (sound familiar?) and almost flunked zoology--but the positives far outweighed the negatives.  He recalls taking a drama course that "filled my head with expanded dreams."  He also remembers sitting in the Chabot campus library and listening to recordings of actor Jason Robards, with whom he'd someday co-star.

I tell you all this because there are probably at least a few of you out there wondering whether enrolling at Nassau, a school in many ways similar to Chabot, is worth the time and investment.  It is--provided you give college and yourself a chance to see what you're both all about.   

I'm not saying you're going to wind up as rich and famous as Hanks.  But I am saying that if you're open to college--if you approach Nassau with curiosity and with the idea that college holds plenty of possibilities (which it clearly does)--good things will happen.  I can't be more specific about what those good things will be; you'll have to fill in the blanks yourself.

Hanks writes that community colleges give people low-cost opportunities to explore "the next chapter of their lives."  He's right.  For those willing to give college their best shot, two-year colleges, including Nassau, do just that.   

"That place made me who I am today," Hanks says he told his kids when passing Chabot recently.  

Wouldn't it be cool if someday you could say the same thing about your time at NCC?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Nervous about Starting College?

Don't be. The majority of people at NCC--faculty, students, administrators, staff, and others--are friendly, caring, and helpful. They want you to do well in your classes and enjoy your time in school as much as you do. Most are more than willing to extend themselves and to respond to pretty much any question or concern you might have. You'll be surprised how many folks here are willing to offer a helping hand. 

But the one thing people at NCC can't do is read minds. They can't tell if you're enjoying college, doing okay in your classes, meeting people and making friends, handling the daily commute, or balancing school and the rest of your life.  They can't tell if you're happy with your area of study, have found a club that interests you, or have discovered your dream career.  

So it should go without saying that if something in school (or elsewhere in life) isn't going as well as you'd like, it's up to you to do something about it.  Most of the time, that means finding your way to a professor's office, a campus service, or a counselor or adviser's office and asking for help, information, or advice.  It may sometimes involve scheduling an appointment or--depending upon what's happening--visiting an office or service several times.  Some issues can get resolved quickly; others take longer.   

But all of this must start with YOU.  While that might seem pretty obvious, it's not so to everyone.  For far too many students, staying silent is preferable to asking questions or opening up about a problem. Some students keep to themselves out of shyness; others, out of pride; still others, who knows?  But the outcome is almost always the same: an education that's been shortchanged.

If you're just starting Nassau--if today's your first day of classes--here's lesson number one about college: Be your own advocate--your own best friend.  If you have a question or concern, talk to someone.  People here care about you and are willing to help.  But before they can, they have to know what's going on.  And only you can help with that.   

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Got Grades? Got Questions? Get Answers . . .

So if you're new to Nassau--completing your first semester--you're on the verge of getting your first set of final grades.  Excited to see how you did?  You can find out over the next few days by logging on to the MyNCC portal.  Chances are your grades won't all appear at the same time, but over the course of a week or so they should all be there.

Since your college grades will follow you for life, it's important you know how the grading "system" at NCC works.

By far the most complete discussion of grades and grading policies can be found in the "Policies and Procedures" section of the NCC catalog, which you can access online through the College's homepage (http://collegecatalog.ncc.edu/current/policiesandprocedures).  Look under "Grading System" in that section and you'll find pretty much everything you need to know.

But if you don't have time to review that entire section just now, here's a quick list of some grade "facts" worth filing away:

Grades (Credit and Noncredit Courses)
  • NCC's grading system is similar to that of many other colleges.  For credit courses: A = Excellent; B =Very Good; C = Satisfactory; D = Minimum Passing; F = Failure.  For noncredit courses: S = Satisfactory; U = Unsatisfactory.  
  • You can earn a final grade of A in a credit course at NCC, but you can't get an A+ (no such grade).  You can, however, get a B+, a C+ or a D+. 
  • You can get a minus grade (A-, B-, etc.) on a test, paper, or project, but not as a final grade. 
Withdrawals, Incompletes, Never Attended, and Repeated Courses
  • A W grade appears on your transcript (your official academic record--a list of the courses you've taken and the grades you've received in them) if you have officially withdrawn from a credit course.  To officially withdraw, you need to file a "Drop" form with the registrar's office.  Depending upon when you start the withdrawal process, you may need your professor's signature. 
  • A UW grade appears on your transcript if you stop attending a credit course but never officially withdraw.  A UW counts in your grade-point average (your academic average) as an F.
  • If you register for a course but never attend, you'll receive a grade of NA ("Never Attended") on your transcript.
  • If you repeat a course that you have already taken, the second grade replaces the first in your grade-point average.  But both grades stay on your transcript.
  • If you request and receive an Incomplete (INC) (a temporary grade granting you an extension to finish work in a credit course), you have until the end of the following semester to complete the missing work.  If the incomplete isn't made up by that date, it changes to an F,
  • If you stop attending a noncredit course, you'll receive a grade of UU.  
Transcripts and Grade-Point Averages
  • All of the courses you've taken at NCC, along with the grades you've received in them, are listed on your NCC transcript--your official academic record. 
  • Credits you have transferred from other colleges are also listed on your transcript.
  • Besides courses and grades, your transcript contains your grade-point average (aka GPA), the numerical average of the grades you have received at Nassau. 
  • The grade-point average is cumulative, which means that it reflects changes each time you earn new grades during a semester--or whenever else (summer or winterim) you enroll in courses.
You can find more details about grades in the catalog as well as in the daily planner, which also illustrates how a grade-point average is calculated.  But no matter where you get your information, it's important that you know what's what in the grade department.  This is, after all, your transcript--and your future! 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Hunger Pains, Even on Thanksgiving

Not everybody on Long Island ate like kings and queens yesterday.

In fact, for thousands of Long Islanders, including kids and senior citizens, Thanksgiving was just another day of uncertainty in the food department.

Surprised by this?  If so, you're not alone.

In an affluent place like Long Island, it's easy to forget that many of our neighbors rely on local pantries, kitchens, churches, and shelters for emergency food supplies each week.  Many of these organizations themselves depend upon food banks, such as Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, as their primary source of food.  And many food banks, in turn, depend upon individuals--people like us--to keep their shelves stocked.

If you're a data guy, here are some numbers about hunger (from Long Island Cares) worth pondering:
  • Almost 65,000 Long Islanders take advantage of emergency food services each week. 
  • Children under 18, people with almost no control over their lives or futures, make up the largest single population of Long Island's hungry (39%).  
  • Roughly half (48%) of those receiving regular food assistance on L.I. are employed, with 63% having incomes falling below the federal poverty level.  
But hunger is not just about numbers.  Hunger has human consequences.  Hungry kids are more likely to struggle in school than kids who are well fed.  Hungry adults are more susceptible to illness, which translates into increased absenteeism if they're employed, which makes escaping poverty that much more difficult.  Hungry seniors (no shortage of them either) face increased incidences of depression, anxiety, malnutrition, and disease, including some that are life-threatening.

Combating hunger--and poverty in general--is indeed a tough task, one that involves coming to grips with a host of economic, political, social, and human factors.  But the complexity of the problem doesn't mean we should turn a blind eye to those for whom the most basic of human needs--eating--is a daily question mark. 

What can you do?

Taking part in one of NCC's many campus food drives, launching a hunger awareness project on campus or in your community, volunteering at a local food bank, or lobbying for legislation that affords people the diet and dignity they deserve--all are important. They won't solve our (yes, OUR) hunger problem overnight, but they'll help. They'll certainly beat hand-wringing or--worse--pretending the problem is somebody else's.

Because it's not. 

If you enjoyed your Thanksgiving dinner yesterday (as I did), great.  If you went to bed last night with a full belly, even better.  But until everyone in our midst can make the same claim, not only on Thanksgiving but every other day, we've all got serious work to do.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Family Affair

In the food court yesterday I overheard a student complaining about her class having to go a campus talk on domestic violence.

"Why do I have to listen to this?" she asked a friend.  "I know it's a problem, but it's depressing."

She's right, of course.  Relationship violence isn't a cheerful subject.  Nor is sex trafficking, genocide, racism, bullying, or anything else involving the exploitation (or worse) of human beings, either individually or collectively.

But because these actions are so terrible--and because they happen so often--we have an obligation to pay attention to them.  For they involve members of the human family, which we're all a part of.

Don't mean to sound sappy or sentimenal here, but in fact, we are all connected.  And we're also responsible for each other, more than we might want to admit.  I'm hardly the first (and hopefully not the last) to think this, but in a world that sometimes seems to be "majoring" in self-absorption, it's important to be reminded that others in our midst matter.

This isn't necessarily a call to action but rather to awareness: of human rights violations, whatever form they take, wherever they occur. There's no shortage of them on this planet in 2014, some taking place on the other side of the world, others on the other side of town.  We may not be able to solve all of these problems overnight, but knowledge is a good first step.

Which is why all of us (including the complaining student in the food court) need to take ourselves to programs that raise awareness.

Like tomorrow's Women's Resource Center symposium on sex trafficking (Nov. 19, 9:30 a.m.-3:15 p.m., College Center). 

Or next Monday's program on the medical atrocities of the Holocaust (Nov. 24, 10 am, College Center).

Or the talk on American sports culture and domestic violence (Dec. 3, 12:30 p.m., College Center).

Or next spring's workshops on bullying and sexual harassment (check back for the time and place). 

These aren't exactly happy subjects, but they're important for all of us to know about and understand.  For whether we realize it or not, they touch members of the human family--people just like us.