On Tuesday, Nov. 5, an informative seminar took place at the Blount County campus of Pellissippi State Community College. Dr. Sam Overstreet of Maryville College, along with three other college professors spoke at the seminar. The purpose of the talk was to address what professors in college wish that their incoming freshman knew prior to attending college for the first time.
Several relevant issues were discussed at length. Some of the items may seem trivial but, according to Dr. Christopher Milne, a professor of biology at PSTCC, “you would be surprised by how the simplest of concepts escape the freshman class.”
Basic items like class size played out at the beginning of the discussion. Dr. Randy Small, a professor of general biology at The University of Tennessee began the conversation with some remarks about what instructors go through in classes.
“Being an instructor at UT is pressing. There is an average of 224 students in my classes,” Small said. “This makes it very difficult for anyone to stand out in my memory when it comes time to write letters of recommendation.”
“The first three rules for being a successful college student are write well, write well and write well,” said professor of psychology Diane Benson of Pellissippi State.
The ability to convey ideas clearly and support them with facts or credible sources is a key ingredient in the recipe for success. What then, does one do if he or she is lacking in the writing skills?
“Buy a good reference for grammar,” Overstreet said. “We all use these to reference writing that may be questionable. It helps us to decide what is correct.”
The panel of four professors all agreed that freshman often make the mistake of thinking that only their English composition professors are grading them on their grammar, sentence structure, style and prose. This is false. Everything that you turn into a college professor must contain correct grammar and some recognizable form of style in order to get the credit for the paper that you deserve.
Tools that your professors give to their students were on the agenda, as well.
“The syllabus is the most important tool that a student is given. It contains all of the material for the semester so that even a class is missed, that student can still commit to absorbing that material and be able to apply it later in class” Small said.
According to Overstreet, managing your time is the strongest way to be successful.
“If the world is planning your time for you, you will not be able to fulfill requirements that you must in order to be successful,” Overstreet said.
Milne said that the most important to plan is downtime.
“Your time between classes could be better spent taking a nap in your car, or reading the material that you read last night just before class, instead of talking about the latest fashion trends in the hallway,” Milne said.
The conversation ended with a brief coverage of personal responsibility.
The professors each had their own perspective to share. “It really infuriates me when students have three weeks left in the semester and realize that things are not looking to promising, show up at my office door, and ask if they can do any extra credit,” Small said. “I spend enough time grading your papers and coming up with lesson plans the first time around. The syllabus is the syllabus. I don’t do extra credit.”
“Embrace your inner geekdom. Make your way apart from the crowd. They will say that you’re uncool. Embrace that,” Overstreet said. “The time that you could spend with your friends out on the town could be better spent on your studies and that could mean the difference between a C and an A.”
“Be responsible and be accountable for your own actions and products. Remember that homework and studying are two very different things,” Milne said. Don’t mistake action for progress.”
After the seminar, I looked around the room to see some reactions. It was clear to me that most of the perspective students in the room were engaged. There were a few scared faces in the crowd. I imagine that college is not at all what our youth thinks it is from the TV shows that they watch — ever notice that those people are never in class? They always seem to have all the time in the world, but that isn’t the reality.
The fact of the matter is that most professors are understanding. It is the students who have the unrealistic expectations. Stay focused. Keep your eyes on the prize, and fill in whatever other motivational phrase that you have to. College is tough, but worth it in the end.