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December, 2010

Straight outta the South

seanna-85Straight outta the South

2011 is right around the corner.  A new year often brings hopes of new opportunities, fresh starts, and unforeseen possibilities.  For college students, it marks the beginning of another semester.  For high school seniors, the majority of applications have been sent in and the waiting process begins.  Before the clock hits midnight on January 1st, many of you may write out resolutions and goals for the upcoming year.  Maybe you want to get straight A’s that last semester in high school, help your parents around the house more, or exercise 3-5 times a week.  All of those are great, but as you prepare to make those changes, remember to keep one important thing in mind.  You’re amazing just as you are.

As you finish up the last semester & start hearing back from different colleges, you may start envisioning your freshman year…the classes you’ll take, friends you’ll meet, and fun you’ll have.  In many cases, there are attributes or habits that students had in high school that they want to leave in high school, eager to present a fresh & new persona to college peers and professors.  Although the new educational atmosphere will most likely deviate considerably from your high school experience, you don’t have to lose who you were back at home in the process, especially as you try to transition.

I remember being afraid that I’d be too out of place in the big state of California (never mind that I’m in the tiny town of Claremont) after coming from a state like Arkansas.  I didn’t want to be the naïve country gal fresh outta the boondocks, so I tried to smother my accent at times and know just as much about “big city things” as others.  Only after I established strong friendships and felt more at home within the college did I realize that I didn’t need to be anyone else, or reshape who I was.  Now, people back home tell me that they don’t hear the accent anymore, and newcomers at school are surprised when I tell them that I’m from the South.  The tables have turned, and I’m not sure if it was for the best after all.  I didn’t “become” smarter because I lost my Southern twang.  I wasn’t a better person because my vowel sounds shortened, and I stopped “fixin’” to do things.  I’m still myself, and still capable of succeeding at Pomona while being that happy, Southern-raised belle.

As you start thinking more and more about college, resolve to be firm in who you are and believe in your beliefs and values.  It’s great to transform and grow, but it’s also okay to retain a strong sense of self and pride in who you are.  When looking back after more than a year, I’ve realized that many changes are imperceptible as they occur; only receiving notice long afterwards.  Maybe this year, one of my resolutions will be to reassume my deeply imbedded habit of using “ma’am” and “sir”…nothing wrong with a little hint of Southern hospitality : )

A fortunate gift

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Finally my semester exams are over and now I am sitting here at home just enjoying the company of some good friends and family. I’m sure all of you are putting in all the long hours into college applications, scholarship forms, and academic work. From my perspective, the end of the semester brings a chance to relax, yet now that I have much down time, I’m starting to reflect on my experience so far. Miami has opened many new doors for me: I traveled to Washington D.C. for the first time in my life, and I even got a meeting with the president of the University. All the opportunities are the reasons why this semester has been successful, but the one that stands out the most didn’t happen on campus but in an inner city project probably an hour away from the posh georgian architecture that Miami is known for.

When I first arrived on campus I heard of an organization called America Reads. The program at its core takes students from Miami’s campus and places them into various primary education facilities. The goal is to give students more opportunities to improve their reading capabilities and also be mentored by students who are distinguished in their own right.

At the start of this year all tutors are allowed to choose a school where they wish to work at. I decide that my skills would be best utilized and felt at Ethel Academy. From the statistics and description given the school caters to students from grades 1 to 8. The demographic student body is overwhelmingly African American and over 90 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged. Those two indicators gave away the academic situation in the school. From first hand experience I know poor and black usually equates to less than desired results but I automatically sympathized with those students so I made this a personal mission.

The first day of tutoring myself and six other students load up in the university minivan for a an hour long drive to Ethel Academy. Our first encounter was with the 7th graders. Oh boy were they stubborn! The first student I was assigned to seemed very distracted from the book he was reading. He would repeatedly stand up from his stool and failed to cooperate for an extended amount of time. After all the posturing and delay I finally got him to crack open his book. He began to read. After several attempts to pronounce the word “ internet” I became aware of the situation. The student I had was in the 7th grade yet he had a book written for a third grader. I put the pieces together and realized the previous actions were attempts not to expose the the true reality. Right then I had to stop him and once that happened, I could see him lower his eyes towards the ground. His slouching posture and lack of confidence spoke of the stigma that is associated illiteracy. The inevitable had happened.

Once the tutoring shift came to an end, I couldn’t help but take a quick glance around the surrounding area around the school. Most of the buildings were abandoned warehouses and living projects. I asked the principal “How are the conditions in this neighborhood?”. His answer was sort of a surprise to me. He said “ There is not a grocery store or gas station in this area at all… Most of the jobs have dried up and the situation is a struggle for these kids”. His words give insight into the lifestyle that eight year old children grow up in. It’s a lifestyle that is often ignored and I wonder what will become of students who lack resources and mentorship? How do we say that each citizen has equality of opportunity when some are denied the basics?

I want to note that my experience at Ethel was not all negative. I came into contact with my intelligent students who will one day flee the grasp of the inner city but there are many who will not. This story doesn’t have an ending because it is still in progression and if you are on this site reading these words then you must have a gift that needs to be cherished and shared. This holiday season I wish that you will give a gift worth more than any present: yourself. It is only when individuals decide to make little changes, little impacts on the lives of students will we truly be able to move forward in correcting this social ill.

Working During the Year?

jesse-85It feels so good to be home after a semester full of great experiences. Looking back on my Sophomore Fall, some of the best memories have got to be while working with Crimson Summer Academy. Remember that job I had during the summer? Well, I loved it so much I continued on into the school year.

Working and balancing schoolwork can be challenging but if you find a job where you learn, have fun, and enjoy what you’re doing, the balance comes a lot easier. If you’re wondering how my job went this semester, check out this video where you can get a brief look at how it went!

What is more important than getting good grades? Reflection

khadijah-85I want to start this blog post with an apology. I have gotten so caught up in the demand and flow of college, that I forgot my responsibility as a blogger. My lapse in blog posts does not reflect how important I think this blog is- what it does reflect, however, is that I need to review my own post on time management (ehem, Khadijah!).

But I also want to thank CSO, not just for how it helps students who are where we bloggers were a few years ago, but also for helping us bloggers. For you see, sometimes, when college life gets hectic, it is so easy, so tempting, to move on without thinking or assessing. College life is fast paced. You blink, and several things happen and pass you by, and you can’t and don’t want to miss a second of it. You get into the grind, and your nose is down low- you have so many expectations, you gotta meet them, surpass them! Yet, I believe that stopping and reflecting is crucial to success. As important, and in many ways, more important than studying those extra hours. CSO assists me and other bloggers in this process by having us, just for a moment, reflect on our experiences in college.

Reflection is important to success.  College is more than academics and partying, it’s discovering who you are, what you love, who you want to be. It’s not to be molded into the perfect image of middle class society, although it may seem that way. For me, in particular, it has helped me come to terms with my past, and look at what  I have done because of, and not merely despite my past. Reflection helps me understand how it still affects me, and how it gives me strength. Reflection allows me to process what I am going through in college- what study strategies don’t work for me? Do I enjoy my classes? What do I love and hate the most about being at college? Am I happy with myself, with who I am now? Why am I here in college? What do I want? Are my expectations mine, or someone else’s?  Am I ok with that? Sometimes, it’s simply meditation, sitting and staring off into space in my room, on the grass, or it’s talking with a counselor, with friends, with parents, with adults. It’s writing in your book, your journal, or a diary. There is no right way to reflect, but it’s important that you do it, in your own way.

College is such a life changing experience, that it requires processing. Reflection can be spontaneous, it can be planned, as long as it’s regular. Reflection helps you grow and mature. It grounds you in a time of hectic uncertainty and organized chaos. I sound all new-agey, but trust me, try it, you’ll think it’s great or your money back.

So CSO, thank you for providing this forum to reflect on our experiences in college. Not only does it provide a great resource for students who want to go to college, but it is a great resource for us bloggers as well.

Yeah, it’s corny, but do what makes you happy. Seriously.

khadijah-85

Major choices- I didn’t really think it was terribly important; after all, the most important thing is doing what you love and being comfortable. But that’s exactly why choosing a major, or department, is so important. I had been decided on Social Studies since freshman year. As an honors major, it’s challenging, it’s prestigious, it’s interesting, all my friends were doing it, so of course I’d do Social Studies, right? I thought I picked a major for the subject matter and the interdisciplinary design, the readings – the most defining theorists of our time, you know, the ones that those annoying know-it-alls like to slip into conversation? Anyway, I was completely set on Social Studies. But then, during sophomore year, I realized I didn’t feel quite comfortable in Social Studies. I realized that it didn’t meet my personal and academic needs. I realized that I was in Social Studies just for the prestige, but in my heart, I was a Sociology major.

It was hard at first to give up the allure of Social Studies. I moved back and forth- I felt I needed to prove I can do this major, the hardest social science major at Harvard. Will I still talk to my friends, who are staying in Social Studies? After much deliberation and conversation, I declared Sociology, knowing it was the right place for me, but my love affair with Social Studies wasn’t over. I wanted to take the 2nd semester of Social Studies 10, the introductory required class for Social Studies concentrators. I couldn’t take it unless I was a concentrator. Rules are rules. So I tiptoed, quietly, into the office of the undergraduate director of Sociology, within the tall white imposing building, 6th floor. I rode the elevator in nervousness, replaying my spiel- I believe this course will help forward me in Sociology. That’s what I’d say… I was worried that he would think that I wasn’t set on Sociology, that I was considering staying in Social Studies. The director knows my name, greets me with sincere enthusiasm. I feel worse. “So, I would like to take Social Studies 10b, spring semester, but I need to be a concentrator, so I would need to switch from Sociology to Social Studies- But, I wanted to hear your perspective, if it’ll mess up anything, like taking classes next semester, I won’t do it. I asked to take it but the Social Studies undergrad director said I must be a concentrator to take 2nd semester.” Would he grill me why?

His reply, I didn’t expect. “Sure, just remember to switch back to Sociology by the end of your sophomore year so you can take the junior tutorials.” Was it really that easy? “Really, you don’t mind?” “Doesn’t bother me, you should be able to take whatever classes you want. Now, you wanted to talk to me about your research paper?” We then spent the remainder of the appointment talking excitedly about my research project, with him totally getting what I wanted to do and asking challenging, but helpful questions and providing lots of resources.

I realized then that I wasn’t just picking a disciplinary major- I was picking a department. I was picking my peers, my advisors, my professors, the undergraduate director- this major choice wasn’t in a vacuum. The ease of conversation, his desire to help me figure out my desires and mold them to what classes I would take, I didn’t feel I had that in Social Studies. In Sociology, I was supported, I was challenged. It was only then that I was comfortable with my choice. I have finally broken up with Social Studies, and will not try to take their tutorial next semester, but will move forward wholeheartedly in Sociology.

Remember, CSO readers, whatever you do, make sure you do it because you truly want to, and do it because you know you’ll thrive. Prestige can be a seductive thing and can blind you from what really matters. I found an academic home in Sociology and I can honestly say, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

Plus, it turns out the Sociology department at Harvard is the top 5 in the country, so who cares! :D

Oh great, here we go again (sophomore year)

khadijah-85Ok, so honestly, first year, freshman year, you will probably get your butt kicked. Seriously- different environment, high expectations, you’re on your own- even if you’re a beast academically, you will get your butt kicked. Even if you are a social butterfly, you would have to adjust to peers who seem like they have so much money, they don’t know what to do with it, and be kicked in the butt by your empty, angry wallet, or work hours and hours to afford a burger from the overpriced restaurant down the street (but those burgers are soo GOOD). Class matters at Harvard, (so many of my black peers at Harvard come from private school, high income brackets, or another country) and so does race - “the black experience, the poor black experience”(everyone turns to me- share your wisdom, oh poor black girl). Not obviously, of course, but definitely more than I expected. I was and am sometimes disillusioned, and to top it all off, I had more work than I knew how to deal with. Although I know this is a crazy thought now- I thought I was going to fail out of Harvard, be a disgrace to low-income, homeless and black females everywhere, and I thought I was a failure socially. Shouldn’t I be the social butterfly? It’s only a few papers and exams, why is this so difficult? WHY so much reading? I don’t want to see my report card. No. Intro Economics, I’ll pretend it doesn’t exist.

So, since I’m still posting, you can see that I did make it to sophomore year. And oh my goodness, I finished my first semester of sophomore year! And you know what, it was harder in many ways, but easier in many other ways. First off, those 300+ pages of reading a week, it’s doable, it really is. The papers, I’m figuring out my formula, and I’m using it to try to work on my papers. I’ve had to ask for extensions, but you know what, this time I knew what I needed, I hadn’t a clue before.

Basically, what’s easier about sophomore year is this awareness I now have. I’m aware of my own rhythms- I know never to do heavy reading late at night, and I know I must start a paper on Friday because it’s not getting done during the week. It’s just not. I know that 9 am class, even if I get up at 8 am every day (including weekends) should absolutely be considered cruel and inhumane treatment under the constitution. I’m aware of the importance of time management, looking at the syllabi and talking with professors in September- “So uh, I have 3 papers due within three days, may I turn in my paper in December on a different date?” Yeah, you can do that! (Ask, you never know, professors are pretty nice typically). What makes sophomore year different than freshman year is that you know better who you are, and you know your strengths and weaknesses. You get into a routine, you find your clique of friends, you’re more comfortable turning on and off the social butterfly (or keeping it off indefinitely, if that’s your thing).

So I promise, even when your butt gets kicked freshmen year, and your gpa makes you cry, it will get better. Your feelings of not belonging, of being a failure, the doubt, is all normal, and trust me, it won’t always be like this. Sophomore year, you’ll look back at your freshman self and wonder why, instead of cranking that paper out and getting the crappiest grade, you didn’t simply ask for a day extension. It will get better, because you’ll not only know yourself better, you’ll know how to work with, not against, your natural self. And with knowing yourself better, everything else begins to fall into place.

A holiday poem from Center for Student Opportunity

CSOlogo-85‘Twas the night before college application deadlines and all through the town
Each and every student was stirring, at least one with a frown.
From considering publics, to privates, Ivies, Big Ten, and more
Each student was hoping to send in their highest test score

 

guidebook_cover

Most were quite stressed, but none touched their beds,
As visions of application essays danced in their heads.
Some were on twitter and facebook taking the process in stride,
And everyone wished for a copy of the
College Access & Opportunity Guide.

 

Making sure that the schools promoted access, opportunity, and success
These future college graduates had learned to determine great colleges from the rest.
“How will I afford college? Will I need loans?
What will my financial aid package be?,” These students moaned.

 

On to CSO College Center they went to sign up to be Opportunity Scholars
Where what to their eyes did appear but hundreds of colleges and ways to get dollars
They wrote to “Ask the Experts” for the answers to all they should know,
Then checked out the
blog and read of ten others—also first in their family to go.

 

Having utilized CSO, they had done all that they could to prepare
Now the question was not if, how, or when, but merely to where.
Fast forward to spring, when from outside the mailbox there arose such a holler
I got in, I got in—I’m truly an
Opportunity Scholar.

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Help students become first in their family to go to college and make all of their holiday and college wishes come true. Donate to Center for Student Opportunity.

Please share this with your friends, family, and colleagues.

Dreaming with Open Eyes

abigail-8555-41. That was the Senate’s final vote on the DREAM Act.

Thousands of undocumented students received a huge blow when these long-anticipated results came in. The DREAM Act, in essence, provides hard-working students, who have lived the majority of their lives in the United States, the opportunity to become citizens. There are a other requirements for students to be eligible under the DREAM Act but the main ones are these: students would have to complete the curriculum for a college degree or fulfill two years of service in the armed forces in order to receive citizenship.

I am deeply saddened and frustrated that dedicated and determined students who have long pledged allegiance to this great nation are going to have to wait for another chance to become a recognized part of the American mosaic. These individuals are CHOOSING to be American and WANT to contribute to the only country many of them know and call home. But in spite of what many consider a “lost DREAM”, these same students are not giving up much less giving in to naysayers.

The persistence and resilience of the students and groups who have supported the DREAM and will continue to support it, have inspired me to not let my first term grades (all B’s) convince me that I’m inadequate or incapable of success. I’m not saying that I expected a 4.0 but once I saw my grades, a smidge of self-doubt continued to nag me until I realized that this is only the beginning. I may not have started my college career with a bang but it’s a start and in the words of my mother, “You are only a failure if you don’t learn from it.”

I’m taking the next three weeks to figure out what is working, what isn’t, and how I can improve as a student. I’m ready and excited for the winter term and my classes!

Everything in college is a learning experience if you CHOOSE to make it so.

Don’t cry about it, brush yourself off, reflect, and keep moving forward.

Staying the Course

jordan-85I am sorry I haven’t been able to post for quite a while. I have been very busy with classwork and then finals. However, finals are finally DONE! I am so happy to have finished my first semester of college. It went so quickly, and now I have seven more semesters to go.

I have definitely enjoyed my time in college so far. Although it has been challenging, it has definitely been just as rewarding, if not more. All the hours of studying paid off, and I am well on my way to getting a degree and starting my life as a working man. I want to encourage all of you that think school is just too much stress and meaningless work, to stay strong and keep on giving 100% in all of your work and studies. If you keep working hard it will all pay off in the end, there is not a doubt in my mind. When you are stuck with projects and essays and loads of work, just remember that this is all worth it, and is just a stepping stone on your way to a successful and rewarding life. Trust me, I have gone through this as well. I always have to remind myself of why I am doing what I am doing. Perseverance and determination are a couple of the most desirable and important qualities a person can have, so please remember that and stay strong.

As for me, I am happy to be home and to have a break from all this schoolwork. This first semester has been great, and I am looking forward to my future at USC. If you guys have any questions, let me know through comments and I will try to answer as many as I can. Thank you very much and I can’t wait to talk to you all again, God bless.