“When I started college, I saw giving up Zoloft as a way to embrace a new me. I knew I wouldn’t be able to convince a doctor that I was ready, so I just stopped taking the pills. In one week, I was dizzy, nauseated, having dramatic mood swings, and sleeping. A lot. Sometimes two or three days at a time.”
I read paragraphs like this every semester when a student has been suspended or dismissed, like this one, from their college for failing to meet the standards set towards degree completion.
Every fall, college students set foot on campuses across the U.S. with ideas they hope to realize and ideals they aspire to. It’s a heady time of new beginnings. One of the very few really when you think about it. It can be exhilarating and intoxicating.
Unfortunately, dozens if not hundreds of students decide to go off their medications as one way of embracing the new person they wish to be. I haven’t seen much written about it, but the effects are staggering. Not only to the individual, but to the community that tries to support them through the almost inevitable struggle to get back on track.
At the end of every semester, when students are headed home for some R&R, university faculty and administrators spend hours poring over final grades. In a percentage of cases, students haven’t earned high enough marks or enough credits to continue, so they are suspended or dismissed. Then the appeals process begins. I have read hundreds of them. Anecdotally, a strikingly large percentage involves students taking their medication regimen into their own hands without the benefit of a doctor’s guidance or any medical support whatsoever.
You know the common meds they are on (Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celexa, Adderall, Lamictil, Tegretol, Ativan, Xanax, Lamictal, Klonopin) and the reasons (cepression, mood disorders, anxiety, ADD, ADHD, etc.).
A quick Internet search of possible effects of withdrawal from any one of these is enough to terrify you. Dizziness, “brain snaps,” trouble walking, sudden weight loss or gain, sleep disturbances, appetite issues. You name it.
While the body is adjusting to the lack of whatever the med provided, the student is trying mightily to move forward, to go to class, do homework, write papers, study for exams, and be present at their jobs, volunteer or intern positions, and dance/acting/music/student government groups. The stresses and strains on a college student without withdrawal are enormous. With withdrawal, it often becomes impossible.
The obvious question is: why aren’t the students reaching out for help in time to save their semester? Headiness makes us think we can handle things we can’t. Shame also makes us stay quiet and not reach out for help. Often until it’s too late.
I talk to parents and students about this at orientation every chance I get. But if anyone has any ideas for reaching people more effectively, please let me know.
“The students who succeed after college … are those who are always learning outside the classroom as undergraduates, in everyday circumstances, whether in clubs, sports, activities, in residence halls or in part-time jobs. It’s that lifelong curiosity that leads us to appreciate education whenever it happens and wherever, even when it doesn’t come on the campus of an elite university.” By JeffreySelingo
As students prepare for the spring semester, there are some quick, important things they can do to ensure they get off to a strong start.
Leadership - 80.1%
Ability to work in a team - 78.9%
Communication skills (written) - 70.2%
Problem-solving skills - 70.2%
Communication skills (verbal) - 68.9%
Strong work ethic - 68.9%
Initiative - 65.8%
Analytical/quantitative skills - 62.7%
Flexibility/adaptability - 60.9%
Technical skills - 59.6%
Interpersonal skills (relates well to others) - 58.4%
Computer skills - 55.3%
Detail-oriented - 52.8%
Organizational ability - 48.4%
Friendly/outgoing personality - 35.4%
Strategic planning skills - 26.7%
Creativity - 23.6%
Tactfulness - 20.5%
Entrepreneurial skills/risk-taker - 18.6%
2. Clarity: the ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot yet see. Leaders must be clear about what they are making, but flexible about how it gets made.
3. Dilemma Flipping: the ability to turn dilemmas—which, unlike problems, cannot be solved—into advantages and opportunities.
4. Immersive Learning: the ability to immerse yourself in unfamiliar environments, to learn from them in a first person way.
5. Bio-empathy: the ability to see things from nature’s point of view; to understand, respect, and learn from its patterns.
6. Constructive Depolarizing: the ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication is broken down— and bring people from divergent cultures toward positive engagement.
7. Quiet Transparency: the ability to be open and authentic about what matters, without being overly self-promoting.
8. Rapid Prototyping: the ability to create quick, early versions of innovations, with the expectation that later success will require early failures.
9. Smart-mob Organizing: the ability to create, engage with, and nurture purposeful business or social change networks through intelligent use of electronic and other media.
10. Commons Creating: the ability to seed, nurture and grow shared assets that can benefit all players— and allow competition at a higher level.
[Quoted from: http://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/jacl/vol8/iss1/13]
Regardless of which model you use, continue listing which courses and extra-curriculars and one-off programs provided you with the opportunity to learn which skills and competencies and which provided you with a deep sense of pleasure and joy. (Now, add the skills and competencies to your resume or online portfolio so you don’t lose track of them!)
Are there so-called "lessons learned" from last semester? Things you do not or absolutely do want to repeat or delve more deeply into? Keep them in mind.
Finally, it is time to take a look at the spring line-up of courses and other commitments you have for the spring.
Why this focus on articulating the things that provided you with the deepest pleasure, those moments of inexplicable joy and gratification?
As Andy Molinsky (@AndyMolinsky) says succinctly: “People have pursued one path in life — influenced by their culture, parents, or sense of what they “should” pursue — that leads them to invest time, money, and skill development in a path that is very hard to escape from.”
To avoid this trap, you must focus on the things that genuinely interest you! Because the things that interest you reflect your true passions, and they will give you joy.
Being joyful enables you to love well, to contribute to your community and the rest of the planet.
Being unhappy makes us all unable to love well and to tap into the energy we rely on to make the planet a better place for ourselves, our families, and our communities. What could be better than that?
Even though I said my last post – on Trumpists and Obamans – was not about higher education, in the end, of course, it was. Education is essential if we are to bring ourselves into a bright, productive future that enables the sustainability of the planet and the human race.
Today in the New York Times’ @SocialQPhilip column, a parent wrote in to ask about paying $60,000 in Tuition, when “My Son Wants to Become a Farmer”!? This speaks to a very common misconception of what education is and does. Education enables us to make the decisions that help us to live a productive life, however you may define it.
In the case of the student who is interested in spending a summer on a sustainable farm, all may not be lost. First of all, the sustainability business is huge. It’s a multi-billion dollar endeavor.
The resale industry for apparel and jewelry alone is over $4 billion a year.Sustainability is driving growth in telecom and so-called clean tech.Green construction is a major driver of the U.S. economy.
And, as the World Wildlife Foundation states, “The need for sustainable resource management is increasingly urgent.”Agriculture is a $1.3 trillion-dollar industry!
So, if a student interns at a sustainable farm to learn the brass tacks of a small operation, he or she may return to college and decide to reorient their studies to environmental science or, better yet, environmental engineering and go on to make scads of money.
A parental concern about a student’s ability to make some money is usually short-hand for their desire for their kids to learn how to create a life that is satisfying and productive. That’s why it is the one thing that comes up most often when parents talk about the cost of college. Will it be worth it?
So, let’s say the student goes to the sustainable farm internship – maybe one in Europe where he also learns another language and meets the love of his live – and returns to college and does not become an environmental scientist, but nevertheless finishes the degree, and the two, still in love, join a community somewhere on the planet. Maybe they meet a number of like-minded people who strive to live in a sustainable way. They grow some food, generate energy using solar technologies on their roofs, calculate their carbon footprint, make their homes as sustainable as possible, drive electric cars, create local businesses, teach in the schools or work in the libraries or town governmental organizations and educate others about sustainability. And the student and his now spouse decide to have a family – perhaps they adopt, maybe they are able to have their own, maybe a mixture of the two and a dog – and they live a long and happy life in a community connected to others. And in their old age, they think back on their lives and realize it all started with their college experience.
Would that be worth it?
I'm taking a short break from all things higher ed. Please indulge me.
I can’t help but think of January 20 as a real turning point in this still-young twenty-first century. After eight years of Obama, the other half of the nation is getting its way. Obama represents openness – open-mindedness, inclusiveness, welcoming of diversity in all of its manifestations, openness to change, to moving us all forward into an as-of-yet unimagined future. And destruction of an old order.
Trump represents putting a stop to this forward movement into that as-of-yet unimagined future. Trumpists want to return to the past. Why? Well, on the most simplistic level, Trumpists want all this change to stop so that they can reclaim a societal order that is quickly slipping from view. And it’s not entirely selfish and self-serving, though it seems as if it is. Many Trumpists believe that the previous order, in fact, the one in place when the country was founded, is the only right one. When white Christian men held sway. They yearn for the return of that seemingly idyllic structure.
That past is obviously eroding. Every time a woman takes possession of her sexuality or rebuffs a sexual overture; every time a person of color fills a position that, in the old order, would have gone to a white male; every time a non-Christian is elected to office; every time a movie role goes to a transgender person instead of a white male, or a gay couple marries – all of these jeopardize the Trumpists’ past hegemony and make them fearful, which makes them angry. They are going through a protracted period of mourning loss. Anger and fear are a natural part of the mourning process.
The Obamans are angry because they are afraid, too. Because their rivals are winning this time. But not only that. They are afraid because Trumpists are anti-intellectual and less educated. When the powerful are not educated, they cannot take advantage of the wisdom of historians and other intellectuals who know stuff that can help our world move forward.
So, both sides are afraid. And angry. And our country is about to erupt into a volcano of protests in the coming week. There are only two things that can help us ameliorate the anger, but neither of them is going to happen.
One is the adult and mature thing – to sit down and talk, talk, talk. Sustained dialogue would help. Maybe the Germans could mediate. They know first-hand what happens when the uneducated try to restore an old world order.
The other, which is even more unlikely, is found in recent research on ways to calm troubled grade school students, but has been known for centuries by some cultures. Meditation – a practice of solitude. But the odds of us going all Zen/Dalai Lama/Buddha and instituting a nationwide mindfulness practice are probably pretty slim. (I’ve always been a dreamer.)
So, the struggle between the Trumpists and the Obamans will continue. People will shout, carry signs, and scream for justice. People might even get injured or die. When are we all going to learn a better way to deal with our fears and anger?
Happy 2017! I have a feeling it's going to be a doozy. But politics aside, today I'm writing about how to avoid any semblance that you, a college student with integrity, would engage in grade grubbing, an insidious, undignified practice that outta be outlawed.
In late December, Jeff and his parents came to see me after being referred to me by the Dean of the College’s office, and asked me to change a grade for an economics class. I had already printed out the student’s record, and a quick glance at his fall courses revealed no econ course. When I asked which course, they said it was Micro- and Macro-Economics from the spring term. I needed to find out why the grade should be changed – from their perspective – but I had to probe gently. They were in a pretty agitated state already. They said that the D was the student’s adviser’s fault. “How so?” I kindly inquired in a soft voice. Anyone who knows me knows that my voice isn’t exactly naturally soft, so I was really trying here. They said the adviser had not let their son drop the course when he wanted to. That sounded highly suspect, so I went into the advising system and read them the adviser’s notes regarding this course. She had suggested that Jeff petition to drop the course after the drop deadline because he was so worried about how he was faring in the course. The student refused and stomped out of the advising office. At that point, the parents really got a head of steam up and said they were going to the president’s office immediately. I worked with them for the next half hour to understand what kind of obstacle the D would pose in Jeff’s future and to explain the ins and outs of the straightforward grade appeals process. They calmed down a bit. But of course, I then called and emailed the president’s office to give them the low-down and followed the meeting up with an email to Jeff and his parents outlining the process, with a cc to the professor, the president’s office, and the adviser.
By now, all #CollegeStudents have received the semester’s final grades. If you are one of the many who is less than thrilled by the results of your work, read on. Here’s some advice I’ve come up with after watching students and professors (and parents!) agonize about grading issues for several decades now. We all know #GradeGrubbingIsUndignified, so it pays to approach grading issues respectfully and knowledgeably. Believe it or not, #GradeGrubbing is a huge conversation among college instructors. David Gooblar, a columnist for Vitae, wrote a great article directed to instructors on ways to reduce “grade challenges,” as he terms them.
Here are the steps you should take to embark on this process.
Is your result higher than the one on your transcript? If so, it is time to reach out to the grader(s). Craft a kind email, avoiding anything that even vaguely resembles grade-grubbing, which is an undignified and all-too-common practice. It only reflects badly on you. Professors can’t stand it. And it won’t get you anywhere good. And for goodness sakes, do not have your parents write or call the professor! You can write a respectful email inquiring in the gentlest possible terms whether you might meet with them to talk about the outcome of the course. (Note that some course instructors include a deadline for grading inquiries!)
What if you do not hear back from the TA or professor within a week? Every college approaches grade disputes differently. In most cases, the term “grade dispute” is pretty strong. In any case, look up “grade disputes” or “grade appeals” on your college’s website. Usually, you will find a step-by-step process.
Anyway, moving on. After that one-on-one conversation, if you haven’t gotten the outcome you believe you deserve, the next step might be the advising staff, the provost’s office, the dean of the college’s area, a department chair, a department’s director of undergraduate studies, a dean of the faculty, etc. etc. etc. That’s another reason it’s important to find the grade appeals info before you embark on the process.
I’ve left the most important part of this process to the end. Through the in-depth consideration of your work in the course, you hopefully had some take-aways about your work that you can bring with you into future coursework. Even if your grade dispute process leaves you with the same grade you had when you started it, if you’ve learned something beneficial for the future, it will all have been worth it.
Next semester, print out the grading rubrics for all of your courses before the first class and keep them available throughout so that you can determine how much time and energy to put into the various aspects of the class. Plus, go see the instructor of each course at least two or three times to talk over the coursework. If any of the grading seems unclear along the way, you can talk about that during those office hours as well.
Good luck this spring!
For many years, as a dean at three Ivy League colleges and now as an AVP at a university with an extraordinary mission, I have had a front row seat to the obstacles to success that college students and their parents confront every year. Even at so-called elite, highly selective colleges such as Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia, where I spent some of my career, students struggle on a daily basis to remain healthy, happy, grounded, and to stay in school. I am dedicated to helping them.