The summer can be a great time for you to learn life skills that seem to fall by the wayside in the midst of classes, hectic exam schedules, and student jobs. Now is the perfect opportunity for you to ask your parents for advice on all the tasks you might not already know how to do: change a tire, change your oil, wash the laundry (without bleaching, shrinking, or otherwise ruining anything), and how to make a meal (without a microwave or the word “instant” involved). Tackling these skills while you’re on break can help to fill your summer with meaningful learning, without opening a book or taking an exam. When you get back to college, you will be able to impress all your friends with your new knowledge!

Time these requests right! Ask your parents if you can tag along on errands such as grocery shopping so you can learn how to stretch your budget to feed multiple people. Ask to be taught how to do something that is already being done so as to make the most of the lesson! For instance, don’t ask to be taught how to make lasagna for dinner and expect to learn at 10 AM. Such a lesson would be much better timed closer to dinner. Your parents will appreciate your thoughtfulness, and you will still get to learn what you want.

The summer is also a great time to learn random skills that may or may not be at all useful. You can learn essentially anything you can dream of on YouTube. One summer I learned how to make paracord bracelets just because. Do you have an interest in some random skill? Try looking it up and see what you can learn with just the internet and your copious amounts of free time.

The Spring semester is drawing near and now is the time when final assignments, take home exams, and the dreaded group projects are now due.  Working alone can be great, because you can do things on your own at your own pace and on your own time.  There is no one to discuss thoughts and preferences on the way things should be completed. You are not putting your grade in the hands of someone else.  Working alone is possibly the best case scenario. Or is it?

Working in groups is designed to help you grow in a variety of ways. Group assignments force you to interact with others.  The selection process can be great when you are given the opportunity to select your own group.  Friends, the kid next to you that aced every quiz, or even the crush you have had your eye on all semester.  However, the selection process can also be daunting if you are randomly selected or placed in pre-assigned groups. Instead of dreading this experience, think of it as an opportunity to grow and learn.  Group assignments allow the best parts of each person to shine.  Someone will naturally migrate into the role of leader.  Someone will be creative and find ways to add their gift to the project.  Someone will be organized and create a timeline and ensure the group stays on track.  Inevitably there will be someone who waits for a role in the group, and if no role is given they will float along throughout the project. The issues arise when expectations are not set, a non-leader takes on the leadership role, or when personalities clash.  Working together can be an enjoyable experience, but you have to tackle concerns from the beginning and do not wait until the last minute to achieve the goals of the group.

Below are 10 things to keep in mind when working in a group.

  1. Identify the goal of the group. Is it to a PowerPoint, a skit,  a debate, a movie, etc.? Refer back to the actual assignment and make sure everyone understands what the professor wants. Ensure you identify this early on and that everyone knows what the overall objective of the group.  Making sure everyone is on the same page from the beginning will eliminate a lot of frustration, confusion, ad last minute scrambling.
  2. Develop and a game plan and identify roles.  Each person will have their own strengths.  Allow people to identify their areas of strength and competence. However, the assignment is an opportunity to grow, so do not allow everyone to shy away from the “hard” or “difficult portion of the assignment.  Everyone will have to step out of their comfort zone at some point in the project. Someone will emerge as the leader of the group.  This will come naturally to someone or  someone may have to be appointed. Do not allow this position to become a dictatorship, the process from beginning should be a democracy and a collaborative effort to ensure all voices in the group are heard.
  3. Set-up a timeline. Identify the due date and work backwards from that date to identify milestones for the project.  You      should have a minimum of 2 meetings before your final meeting to ensure everyone is on target and playing their role.  Having at least three meetings will allow you to identify weak links, gaps in the presentation, ensure each person is on target with their portion. When you discuss progress you will be able to see early on if someone is not completing their task.
  4. Be open to new ideas.  People will do things and interpret things differently, different does not mean wrong, just means different.  Allow yourself to try new things and be open to a different way of processing the project.  Everyone will see things in a different way.  The only way the project will be successful is if everyone has the opportunity to infuse a piece of  themselves into the final edition. No one should shut down ideas or not consider how an idea could positively impact the final project.
  5. Bring a positive attitude.  From the very beginning, have a positive attitude.  Do not show your disgust for group work.  Do not let previous experiences negatively impact how you approach this new experience.  Do not allow your personally feelings towards individuals affect how you work. Do not allow your distaste for the subject or topic overshadow your      contributions to the group.  When someone else greets you with negativity respond with positivity.
  6. Do your part. Nothing is more frustrating than working with a group and someone does not do their part of the project.  Ensure you are available to meet.  Make sure you are on time when there is      a meeting.  Bring something to discuss when the meeting takes place.  No one wants to hear your excuses about why you cannot meet, why you are late, or how you are struggling to complete your portion.  Come prepared and prove to be a strong link.
  7. Do not take things personal.  Group assignments can bring out the best and worst in others. There may come a time when tensions are high and unkind words may be      spoken.  In these moments, focus on the project and not the person. Focus on the needs of the group and not the person.  Do not feed into the tensions, stay focused on the goal.
  8. Do not involve the professor.  The professor does not want “babysit” your group and how you work together.  As young adults, you and your peers should be able to work together to achieve the goal at hand.  If problems arise you should try everything among the group to resolve your issues without involving the professor. Meeting a minimum of three times will allow you to catch issues early before they can impact the entire project. If you need to involve the professor, it should be related to the goal and expectations not personal conflicts. If there are personal conflicts that cannot be resolved then you should approach the professor with the issues, the strategies you have implemented, and how the group thinks the problem should be resolved.  This will show      the professor that you are not tattle telling and that there was an attempt to resolve the issues.
  9.  Do  a dry run.  At some point before the final presentation, the group should complete a run-through of the presentation from beginning to end.  Each person in the group should have a copy of the presentation and know the role that each plays and should have an understanding of ALL of the information in the presentation.  Focusing on just your area will not give you all of the information about the topic.  Emergencies happen, people oversleep, someone could get stage freight; you should be able to      present on the topic in the event you are the ONLY person available the day of the presentation.  The “show” must go on even if you are the only person there to present.
  10. Take it seriously. From the moment you receive the topic to the moment you begin the presentation, take it seriously.  The entire semester may boil down to this one moment. Your failure to plan and thoroughly think things out could result in a failing grade on the project.  A failing grade on the project could result in a failing grade in the class. Do whatever you can to show your professor that you are taking the assignment seriously and want to achieve. Little things like professional attire, a portfolio cover, or a well scripted presentation could go a long way.  Taking things to a creative level, involving the audience, or tying things into today’s popular culture can also win major bonus points with the professor.

Safety on Campus is a reoccurring topic.  In the days of school shootings, sexual assaults, and viral fighting videos school safety has never been more of a concern.  When things go wrong and incidents occur, fingers are pointed and everyone wants to know who is responsible.  The truth is campus safety begins with each student.  Each student should be aware of their own safety and well as the safety of others.  One of the first things you should take note of is safety practices on campus.  Campuses across the country have emergency alert systems.  The system allows you to be contacted via text message and email in the event of an emergency.  You should also add campus security/police as a contact in your phone. Having this information readily available allows quick access in the time of emergency.  Another helpful resource campus’ are implementing is the anonymous texting system.  The system allows you to anonymously send message to campus safety officials about possible incidents.  This allows you to report issues, possible threats, or bring things to their attention to further investigate.

As you are navigating around campus, you should always travel with caution.  While on campus you become comfortable and assume everyone is your friend. Campuses are targeted every day, lurkers standing by observing, someone trying to find their next target.  That is why it is extremely important to pay close attention to your surroundings, only share personal information with those you trust, and report suspicious activity. After hours, when travelling on campus, be sure to travel in groups and never walk alone. Campuses offer escort services; providing an officer to assist you in getting from one place to another.

While out you should be very careful when mingling and partying with others.  You should never accept a drink from someone that you do not know. You should also not leave your drink unattended. Any time away from your drink or accepting a drink from someone you do not know could place you in danger. The same rule applies to taking any other food, candy, or medicine from someone you do not know. You may not be aware but drugs come in all shapes, sizes and flavors.  Drugs can be placed in food, look like candy, or appear to be medicine.  Consuming such items can cause you harm and ultimately death.  Additionally, if physical safety becomes a concern be sure to find the closest exit to safety.  Grabbing your phone to take video should not be your first concern.  You should grab your phone to contact campus safety or to report the incident.  Your actions could help determine how the situation ends.  Be sure to create a buddy system and always know where your buddy is located and what they are doing at all times.  When it is time to leave be sure you leave together and that you both arrive home safely.  Leaving a friend could result in tragedy; arriving together, staying together, and departing together should be your primary goals throughout the evening.

Campuses are relatively safe places to be.  However, there are people the target college students for their lack of caution, maturity, and street knowledge.  Be sure you are aware of your surroundings and know which resources are available to you. Having the knowledge before a situation occurs will help you when a situation actually unfolds. Throughout your college experience you want to be open, have fun, and have new experiences, but you also want to be safe and you are ultimately responsible for your safety.

College is not all about the books and learning in the classroom.  College is really about learning from various life experiences and taking in all that college has to offer.  Last month we challenged you in our January 11th blog, to make short and long term goals to explore what your campus has to offer.  This month we echo those sentiments to get out and explore what your classmates are doing.  You have talented colleagues that will go on to do some amazing things.  Now is the time you can see them display their truly raw talent, before the limelight, the professional contracts, and the record deals.

Take pride in the awesome skills and talented abilities offered by your classmates.  Go to the Big Game and cheer on the full back from your psychology class.  Give a standing ovation to your chemistry lab partner.  Buy tickets to support your Resident Assistant at the music recital.  Showing your support to your classmates helps to boost school spirit, helps develop relationships, and connects you to the university.

A major focus is placed on academics and doing well in classes, but success outside the classroom is just as important. Participating in activities outside the classroom, allows you to develop your interpersonal skills, provide networking opportunities, and allows you to reduce the stress from the class room.  Accepting our challenge to be more engaged on campus, coupling your classroom room experiences with your out of classroom experiences, and supporting your fellow colleagues will increase your chances of having a well-rounded college experience.

It is a new year and a new semester.  It is around this time of year when resolutions are brewing and there is an openness to change.  What better time to introduce yourself to something new that you have not tried at the university.  Last semester is done and in the books. This semester think about all of the things that you did not get a chance to explore, try, or do on your campus. College is the perfect time to go and explore things free or very low costs.  Commit yourself to trying two new things this semester.  Go visit a play in the theater, go to a sporting event, or participate in an intramural activity.  Join a club, already in one? Take on a leadership role.  Take a class that peaks your interest as an elective, volunteer in the local community, or look for a part-time position on campus. Think about Greek life, take a fitness class, or start a community garden.  Join an honorary society, have lunch on campus somewhere you have not dined, or get to know you RA.  There are many ways to get involved and to try new things.

Take the first few weeks of the New Year and decide how you want to map out your semester/quarter.  While mapping out your plans, be sure to create a list of short term and long term goals.  Your short term goals should include something you will accomplish in 4-8 weeks and your long term goals should be accomplished within 8-16 weeks.  Make your goals varied in focus, interest, and difficulty.  Academic, personal, and achievement should all be included.  Perhaps your short term goal is to join an organization and your long term goal may be to join the executive board for next year.  These are obtainable goals and will allow you to push yourself into new roles you may not have considered.

Take in the New Year and try something new.  Each semester you should push yourself out of your comfort zone to try something new.  If you don’t like it you can always try something new and hopefully be able to share your experience with someone else.  Ready, set, go…create at least two goals of trying something new this semester/quarter.

As you enter the home stretch of the first semester, you may feel a little out of touch with your faith.  Your campus will offer a host of options for you to stay in touch for your faith.  If you do not have a faith based, the campus will offer a plethora of options for you to explore.  If you are looking for a more formal faith interaction, your campus may host a weekly church service.  There may also be a local church that offers special services to the students on your campus.  Some services may include a shuttle service, dinners, and scholarship opportunities.  If you would like to engage in less formal services explore the student organizations that your campus has to offer.  Both of the options provide you the opportunity to continue to develop your faith and stay spiritually connected.  Attend meetings and campus events to become more familiar with the values and beliefs of the organization.  If your campus does not offer the organization that aligns with your spiritual beliefs, you have the option to create your own organization.  Find others with like beliefs and create an organization that will help to get you on target.  Creating your own organization is definitely a way you can leave your mark on campus.

Are you afraid to explore faith alone? Take a friend along with you.  Ask around your residence hall, perhaps with a classmate, or coworkers.  Although branching and exploring religion can be scary, once you arrive you will be welcomed by others excited to share more about their faith with you.  As you continue to visit and grow within your faith you will find people with like interests and mindsets.

At this time in the semester, you may be experiencing increased levels of stress as finals are approaching.  Some of your peers will turn to substance abuse, some will opt to sleep, others will exercise, and some will give up.  As you approach this stressful season of your life, developing and strengthening your faith can aid you in staying calm and peaceful during this time.  While your peers venture to find unhealthy ways to manage their stress, you will be able to guide them and offer support to them.

Regardless of where you are on your spiritual journey, your campus will offer you a ways to stay connected and ways you can continue to grow.  Explore the options that are available to you on campus or in the neighborhood. Being away at school does not mean you have to step away or lose who you are spiritually; embrace the resources available to you while at school.

The time is drawing near and it is time to finalize roommate requests for the upcoming year.  Choosing a roommate wisely will help you avoid a lot of unnecessary frustration and drama throughout the school year.  There are several things to consider when selecting a roommate: are you friends, are you in the same major, and did you accurately complete your resident profile sheet. 

Rooming with your high school best friend seems like the perfect scenario.  You both know each other, you enjoy the same things, and you are already friends.  Ideally this would be the prefect criteria when selecting a roommate, however this is not the criteria you want to use to use when assessing roommate options.  It has been proven time and time again, that friends make the worst roommates.  As a student affairs professional and mediator in a multitude of roommate disagreements, friends often present the worst fights. Roommates that were friends first, know what makes each other tick and use that to their advantage.  The roommate fights are often personal and have nothing to do with typical roommate issues of using personal items, temperature control, and quiet hours.  These issues are usually tied to issues that stem from incidents experienced before rooming together. Another common reason conflicts arise among friends, can be connected to one of the friends making new friends and spending less time with the roommate.  Going to college, provides students the chance to branch out and meet new people.  This is a good when both friends are on the same page.  However if one friends does not want to share their friend with new people problems feelings will be hurt and problems will arise.  Lastly, college is a time for self-exploration. This poses a problem if one of the roommates begins to grow, change, and have new interests that do not include their roommate.  As you age, people grow apart and develop new interest.  When this separation begins to happen, friction occurs and then there is conflict.  Rooming with friends seems like the best scenario, but it often does not yield the best results. 

The second factor to consider: is this person in my major.  Again, this sounds like a good idea in theory.  You have someone that has the same career goals, you will be in the same classes, have similar schedules, and have someone to relate to what you are going through.  The downside of living with someone in your major is that they are in the same classes and you do have similar schedules which means you are with this person all day long. After a long day in class, you are then living with that person.  Being with the same person all day, does not give you a break and allow you time to yourself.  You will have a better chance of growing your relationship with someone you do not spend the entire day with.

The last factor to consider when selecting a roommate is did YOU accurately and honestly complete the resident profile sheet in your application packet. A large number of students will have their parents complete the application packet.  In doing so, the parents will answer the questions based on their knowledge of who they think you are and their knowledge may not be close to the reality of who you really are.  The questionnaire is really seeking truthful information about who you are, what your habits are, and what you enjoy.  The will help pair you with the person based on their truthful responses.  So if you smoke cigarettes and your parents are unaware you could be placed in a room with someone that is allergic to smoke.  This could and probably will cause issues for you and your roommate when they discover you bring the smell of smoke every time you enter the room.

Pairing roommates together is not easy, and the easy option is not always the best option.  You want to ensure that you enter into each situation with an open mind and mutual respect.  You will be exposed to people from different backgrounds and lifestyles.  Give the person a chance, find things you can do together, and try things they enjoy (and show them things you love).  It is great to get a roommate that is diverse and can share what happens in their family, in their major, and during their extracurricular activities. Having a roommate to share new experiences with will help make the transition to college more educational and exciting to all involved.