Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A thank you to my grandma

Below is the beginning of an article I just posted on Fox News Latino about my Grandma who passed away this past Monday. Thinking about where you've come from is such an important step when it comes to thinking about where you're going in college:

"It’s Hispanic Heritage month and my Grandma just died this morning.
What do those two facts have in common?

My Grandma is Hispanic. She is my heritage. And I have no idea how I can ever fully thank her for what she’s done for me...Read the rest of the article on Fox News Latino here.

My grandma Isabel and my late grandpa Tito.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Why to dance alone in college

To all my wonderful regular followers, I'm so sorry posting has been and will be a bit sporadic for the next few months as I'm in the middle of the crazy traveling speaking season. I am still trying to write every second I get, and think about you every day I miss. Things will be more regular by November, so in the meantime please enjoy my sporadic posts and past posts. And if you have any great resources to share or stories you want to send to have considered to be featured on the blog as a guest post please email me at isa@communitycollegesuccess.com. Thank you!

This weekend I went to a delicious Cuban restaurant with a live band. When the band struck their first notes the dance floor was empty - except for one white-haired lady. She salsa danced by herself. And it was clear wasn't trying to get attention. She actually didn't seem to notice anyone was watching. She was just enjoying herself, by herself, and it was beautiful to watch.

How many times have you been scared to do something alone? I know I have. When it comes to extra-curricular activities in college, it can be really hard to try something new by yourself. But often that is the best way to to do it. Branching out by yourself grows you, and can actually inspire others. 

It wasn't before long that people saw that lady having so much un-self-consious fun that soon the whole floor was filled. When you step out and do something new, you will often inspire others to do the same. But the worst mistake you can make is to wait for someone else to go first, or go with you.

There are things (and clubs) only you can start. There are people you'll only meet if you do something by yourself.

So this week, pick an activity on your college event calendar and go by yourself. Make it a goal to make a new friend, or to just find a way to metaphorically dance by yourself. You might be surprised by how much fun it is.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

When should you take an unpaid internship?

I've had many students ask me when it is okay to take an unpaid internship. Or rather - when is it really worth it to work for free?

Obviously anytime an internship is paid it's a huge bonus - but pay should be just that, a bonus, not what you look for first.
The goal of an internship should be to gain valuable work experience and make connections in an industry you think you'd like to work in one day. 

So below are the questions to ask yourself when considering taking an unpaid internship:
  1. Does this company have a good reputation?
  2. Would you really want to work at this company one day?
  3. Will working at this organization enhance your resume and help you get a job you really want after college?
  4. Are there people who work at this company that you want to meet?
  5. Are there skills you could get at this internship that you couldn't get anywhere else?
  6. Will this internship teach you a lot about what you want to do with your life? 
  7. Does doing the work described in the internship sound interesting to you?
  8. If you spent time doing this unpaid internship will you still have time or resources to cover your necessary expenses?
If you can answer yes to most of these questions then you should absolutely take the unpaid internship. It is going to give you much more than money. 

If you answered no to most of the questions, then keep looking for an internship that would really encourage your professional growth and give you a great return on your time and effort. In short, choose internships that excite you. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Five tips to getting a great recommendation letter, everytime

After a speech I just did in Iowa (like literally 5 minutes ago), a professor asked me if I would focus on the part of my book where I teach how to approach professors about recommendation letters when I give my student speech (which I'm about to do - yay).

She said she loved that part because she gets so many requests years later, and can't remember the students, and they don't give her all the information she needs to write the letter and send it to the right place.

At first glance, recommendation letters seem like an annoying thing you have to do for scholarship and admission applications. But they can be the most powerful part of your application. And the way you approach your professor about writing one can be the difference between getting where you want to go, and not.

So below are my top five tips to get a great recommendation letter -everytime - that will lead you to scholarship money and the transfer universities of your dreams:
  • Don't wait until you need a recommendation letter to talk to a professor. Meet every professor during their office hours early and often to ask for advice and build a genuine relationship. You never know who you will need to write you a great letter later.
  • Sit in the front row and do your best in class. Instead of having to "remind" the professor who you are, you want to be such a great student that they know you instantly by name.
  • As soon as you know you'll be applying for a scholarship, transfer university, or graduate school, figure out the professors who know you best and ask them ahead of time if they can write a letter, even if you know you won't need the letter for months. Then ask them to tell you their preferred method of receiving the directions and when they'd like you to remind them about it again.
  • The rule of thumb is to give the professor at least two weeks notice before you need a letter. This is good, but the earlier the better. If you find out about a scholarship you want to apply for late, ask a trusted professor in person.
  • When you email the professor, ask if they have time to write the letter (don't assume they owe you) and don't leave any of the following details out. If you do, the professor will feel annoyed, and that's not the mindset you want them to be in when writing about you:
    • What you're applying for
    • When the letter is due
    • What class you had with them and when
    • Any special projects you want them to mention as relevant to the application
    • A resume
    • Any special things you were involved in that they helped you with or saw directly your impact on the campus
    • How they should send the letter (e.g. email, snail mail, scanned and emailed, on a website, to the university, directly to you, etc?)
    • Whether or not the letter needs to be signed and on letter head
    • A word limit for the letter if applicable
    • A stamped and addressed envelope if the application requires them to mail the letter directly
Most people get the best jobs and opportunities because someone else recommended them. Starting these habits early will serve you well both in college and in your career.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

10 things to do before you graduate college

I recently read an article on a college website that said things like getting a fake ID and getting drunk in vegas were "must-do's" before you graduate college.

A lot of the items on their list seemed more like good ways to get arrested than to have a successful college experience.


My list is a little different. It might not be attractive to the college party-hards out there, but it's guaranteed not to have you found passed out on a street (unless having a rockin' awesome successful college experience makes you faint). ;)

10 things to do before you graduate college 

1. Travel outside the country
2. Join a club based on a culture outside your own
3. Visit your college career center
4. Become president of a club
5. Take a random elective that fascinates you
6. Job shadow someone with a job that interests you
7. Do something that's always scared you
8. Mentor a HS student or freshman to help them through college
9. Have a conversation with a professor outside course content
10. Lead a new initiative, project, or event on your campus

Feel free to add to this list by adding a comment below or sharing an item from your list at Facebook.com/CCSuccess!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How to make your learning more fun

I'll never forget the moment when my 5th grade teacher took out an oatmeal cream pie (the crinkling sound of it coming out of its wrapper making my mouth water) and crushed it up, stirring it into a big container of water.

He then went on to give us a science lesson about the digestive system.

I've never forgotten that moment, because it was fun and relevant.

In elementary school it is accepted that learning should be fun, to keep the kids engaged. I'm currently learning Spanish right now, and I frequently watch Blues Clues in Spanish to help me learn. And you know what, it is pretty fun. 

I'm sure Blue couldn't do much when it comes to teaching calculus, but then again, what if? Fun and learning can and should always be connected. 

I always looked forward to the classes that were fun. They were the classes where I also learned the most. 

Field trips to Publix to learn about how a deli works, interactive coffee houses where we read poetry, acting out a period of 13th century history using silly costumes...these are the moments I treasure. And they are what kept me waking up every day for school - excited. 

Sadly, those moments waned with every year, with the exception of a few exceptional teachers. Our society assumes we grow out of a need for childlike fun and wonder. That it's time to grow up and stare at books. I don't believe this. Who said coloring stops being relevant? (Bring out a pack of markers for a college assignment and watch what happens in a classroom). 

Learning should never stop being fun. But you can't always rely on other people to make it fun for you - that is a part of growing up.  

Below are some ways you can bring the fun to your learning every day:

  • Start study groups and develop fun games to practice the content together. Illustrate concepts with markers. Develop a trivia game with points and prizes. Make people laugh. 
  • Have contests between your friends when it comes to getting the best test grades (e.g. person with highest grade gets to pick where you all go to dinner afterwards) 
  • Volunteer with or spend time with elementary school kids you know. Watch how they play and learn. Chase your dreams like they chase bubbles.
  • When you're reading your textbook or listening to a lecture, always be thinking about how you can connect what you're learning with what you already know about the world. Make it relevant for yourself.
  • Listen to music you love while studying, and take short dance breaks.
  • Organize your own field trip with a few classmates to a place that will help bring your course content alive. 
  • Look into study abroad or other field study courses.
  • When you give a class presentation, don't just do the bare minimum and read from slides. Make it fun for your audience. Bring relevant humor, props, videos, and your personality to the table. Entertain while you educate. Invite your audience to have fun with the content. 
  • Pick classes that really fascinate you. Never just pick a class because it's convenient to your schedule. Engage with learning that excites you and encourages you to want to wake up every morning. 
When learning is fun, you actually learn. You retain it, treasure it - and you never look at oatmeal cream pies the same again. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eight full-tuition community college transfer scholarships

The most common question I get at advice@communitycollegesuccess.com is students asking if they really can transfer to a good four-year university if they start at community college.

The truth is, not only will wonderful four-year universities accept community college transfers, they want them! Or rather, they want YOU! So much so that many offer incredible full-tuition scholarships for the top community college transfer students. 

I owe a huge thank you to Phi Theta Kappa's Ron Filipowicz and Sarah Reynolds for sharing this information with me, so that I could share it with you.

You'll see that most of the scholarships look for a 3.5 GPA and PTK membership. It's a great reminder that working hard in community college will (literally) pay off. However, if you aren't PTK eligible yet, don't worry. You can do it (and my hope is that CommunityCollegeSuccess.com can help you get there). 
Below is scholarship information (current as of September 2012) for eight quality universities that offer incredible scholarships for community college transfer students. 

1. Bloomfield College

Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship
This scholarship is available to full time transfer students from two-year colleges who present a grade point average of a minimum 3.5 and are members of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society. GPAs are calculated based on all colleges previously attended. Students must have earned an Associate in Arts or Associate in Science degree and must be admitted to Bloomfield College and enrolled immediately following receipt of their degree from the two-year college. 

Renewal of the scholarship for up to 3 years (6 semesters) requires a minimum 3.0 grade point average while remaining a full-time student. Non-U.S. citizens, part-time students, and students with previous bachelor’s degrees are not eligible. A letter of recommendation from a Phi Theta Kappa advisor and/or a copy of the membership card or certificate is required, plus proof of the Associate Degree graduation date.

College Contact
Nicole Cibelli, Director of Admission

2. Columbia College

Phi Theta Kappa Honors Scholarship
Awarded to one Phi Theta Kappa member every fall semester. The scholarship covers full tuition for the subsequent fall and spring terms and is renewable for one year pending a 3.6 CC GPA and 30 semester hours are earned per academic year. Students must be transfers from community/junior College with a minimum 3.5 cumulative college GPA and an associate in arts degree, associate in science degree or at least 60 transferable hours to be eligible to compete. 

Students must submit a letter of recommendation and be admitted to Columbia College before being eligible to compete for the award. Transcripts, a resume and documentation of Phi Theta Kappa membership are also required. Part-time students and students with a previously earned bachelor degree are not eligible.

College Contact, Stephanie Johnson
Associate Director of Admissions

3. Cornell College

Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship
An unlimited number of renewable $8,000- full tuition Dean's scholarships per year. Part-time students and students with previous bachelor degrees are not eligible.

Fine Arts Scholarships
Just as it has traditions of academic excellence and extracurricular involvement, Cornell has a tradition of excellence in the fine arts. Talented students in art, music, and theatre may be awarded a fine arts scholarship of $2,000 to full tuition per year. The College also offers fine arts awards of up to $2,000 per year.

William Fletcher King Phi Theta Kappa Scholarship
A limited number of renewable Full Tuition WFK Scholarships per year will be awarded to All USA Academic Team Members. Part-time students and students with previous bachelor degrees are not eligible.

College Contact
Sharon Grice, Director of Admission Operations

4. Mississippi University for Women

All-USA/All-State Academic Team Scholarship
An unlimited number of full tuition scholarships and a $600 book stipend (plus out-of-state tuition, if applicable) are available to members of Phi Theta Kappa who are selected for the All Academic Team (National First Team, Gold, Silver, Bronze or Finalists) with a minimum 3.25 GPA and 48 transferable hours. 

Students must also meet transfer admission requirements and provide verification of Phi Theta Kappa membership. The award is renewable for up to two years if a minimum 3.0 GPA is maintained. Students who will be enrolling part-time at MUW and those with course-work from a four-year college or university are not eligible.

College Contact
Maeghan Tilley, Admissions Counselor

5. Northern Arizona University

All-Arizona Academic Team Scholarship
All-Arizona Academic Team members are eligible for full tuition scholarships.

College Contact
Paul Orscheln, Director of Admissions

6. Rockhurst University

Phi Theta Kappa Full Ride Scholarship
Phi Theta Kappa members are eligible to compete for one full ride tuition scholarship for the Fall of 2013. Application deadline is 4/1/2013. Scholarship competition interviews to take place in late April 2013.

College Contact
Nathan Elliott, Director of Transfer Admissions

7. Texas A & M University, Commerce

Full Tuition Scholarship
Texas A&M University-Commerce will provide two full-tuition scholarships for the Fall 2013 semester. The scholarship is available only to Phi Theta Kappa members with a minimum of a 3.75 GPA.

College Contact
Dimitri P. Lyon, Senior Admissions Recruiter

8. Truman State University

Phi Theta Kappa Competitive Scholarship
One state and one national scholarship will be awarded covering up to full tuition, room, and board. This scholarship is competitive and is based upon academic record and membership in Phi Theta Kappa.

College Contact
Jeremy Brinning, Admission Counselor for Transfer Program

Keep working hard and your efforts really can lead to you finishing your baccalaureate degree for free. Search for these scholarships early at your desired transfer institutions and make it your goal to be eligible for them. You can do this!

Monday, September 10, 2012

How celebrities are playing a part in encouraging education

Would having a celebrity call to wake you up in the morning help encourage you to get up and get to class?

That's just one innovative way the non-profit Get Schooled is mixing "sizzle with substance" to encourage students to graduate high school and reach their educational goals. 

I recently spoke with Marie Groark, the executive director of the Get Schooled, about her college journey, what it's like to have such a cool job, and more about what Get Schooled is doing to help students across the country reach their goals. 

Marie grew up in what was then one of the poorest cities in the country - Hartford, Connecticut. Marie owes her college success to her mom: "I was in my second week in an honors English class and I decided the class was too hard for me. I asked the teacher if I could switch out and she said 'sure no problem.' When I came home and told my mom the class was too hard, wow, you should have seen the look on her face. It was that moment I realized you don't set low expectations in our family. I stayed in the class."

While Marie knows every student needs this important blend of encouragement and high expectation, she knows millions of students do not get that from their parents. "You really see the stark difference when you’re growing up among that poverty," she said of her childhood in Hartford. This disparity inspired Marie to work in education.

However, like most college students, she still wasn't sure what to do when she graduated college. She first got a job in the District Attorney's office in New York: "I thought maybe I should be a lawyer. But then I saw tons of 15 and 16 year olds who had committed these crimes. And I knew that I just had to stay focused on education."

Marie went on to become a high school social studies teacher and attended graduate school at Columbia University Teachers College and then the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government.  

Marie is a great example of how passion plus higher education can lead to incredible job opportunities. But she explains how it takes time: "In your undergraduate years you don’t always realize how big the world is and how many places you can go or how many different paths you can take. Getting out of my comfort zone and meeting new people was huge."

In addition to being a teacher Marie also worked for IBM and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And then she joined Get Schooled to help bridge the gaps she saw growing up. 

I could hear her voice brighten when she said: "We want to help young people see their potential, set high expectations for themselves, and believe that they can reach those goals. We then want to give them access to the information they need to make those dreams a reality."

Marie sees her current job as her dream job. By mixing her passion for education with pop culture, she believes they can really make an impact by meeting students right where they are and speaking to them through the role models they're already listening to. 

In her work, Marie works with middle and high schools, corporate partners, and celebrities to bring content, inspiration, and tools to students in entertaining ways that will ensure they actually get the message. 

In short, substance with sizzle

One of their biggest projects includes their attendance challenge where high schools compete to have a celebrity be "principal for the day" at their school (which includes the celebrity speaking to classes, making announcements on the loud speaker, and sometimes performing at an assembly). 

Marie says the adults in the high schools are often blown away by the amazing things that happen when you invite young people to be a part of the education conversation. As Marie puts it, "Education isn't something that should happen to kids, but something that is done with them in full partnership." 

They'll soon be rolling out another challenge to help more young people fill out their FAFSA to attend college. 

The earlier students can begin to see the value in showing up to school, setting goals, working hard, and establishing relationships with positive role models, the better our entire educational system and economy will be. The more I work in higher education, the more I see how crucial high school is. 

If you're in college, I encourage you to think about how you might go back and help mentor students at your high school. Or perhaps think about how your campus club could do a project to reach out, motivate, tutor, and/or mentor high school students in your local area. High school students are in desperate need of more one-on-one college guidance, and while you may not be BeyoncĂ©, you can certainly have just as big of an impact. 

And finally, I just had to share with you the great advice Marie shared when I asked her about figuring out what you want to do with your college education and finding your dream job: "Realize that success often happens in smaller steps than we would like, and it's almost never a clear A to Z path - it's often very curvy. If someone had told me in college I'd be doing this I would have been like "really? really?!?" It was a lot about building different skills and meeting a lot of amazing people along the way. Do your best every day and take advantage of every opportunity, because you truly never know where each opportunity will lead."

To keep up with Get Schooled or get your own celebrity wake up call check them out on Facebook, Twitter, and GetSchooled.com

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Big news - quick tips video premiere!

Below are the first of twenty-four college success quick tips that will be premiering over the year on TCC22. They are part of a new college success show called The SKiNNY that will premiere later this Fall. The show is for a cable station in Tallahassee, but TCC22 is showcasing everything on YouTube too! Be sure to subscribe to their channel to get the latest :)

I am so excited and wanted to share the first three videos with you to help you with scholarship essays, transferring, and choosing your  major. 

Please show your support by sharing and liking the videos. I hope they help!

How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

How you can transfer to college anywhere with an A.A. degree

Why you should choose a major ASAP

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Inspiring CC student faked a teen pregnancy for her HS senior project

Last year the media went into a frenzy when they found out Washington HS Senior Gaby Rodriguez faked her own pregnancy for a senior project.

Gaby's mom had her first child when she was a teenager. And many of Gaby's siblings also experienced teenage pregnancy. According to statistics, Gaby too was "expected" to become pregnant as a teenager.

Gaby was a high achieving high school student. Each year the seniors at her high school have to do a big senior project. As Gaby began noticing the strength of stereotypes in high school, and how some of her own family members sadly accepted their stereotypes, she decided she wanted to do something that would show how, much more than our backgrounds, it's the negative things people say to each other that breed cyclical stereotypes. 

Gaby wore a fake belly and told only her mom, her boyfriend Jorge, her best friend (so she could write down all the mean things people said behind her back) and a teacher (who also wrote down the negative things teachers said behind her back) about her project.

What Gaby found was that once she got "pregnant," no one seemed to care that she was still getting good grades and was at the top of her class. To both teachers and students, her life was essentially over. Forget college. She would never amount to anything.

While everyone agrees teen pregnancy is something to discourage, once it happens, is it really the best thing to put the teens down even more? 

I remember being shocked when I talked to Channel Baez, a former teen mom who graduated college and attended a Harvard leadership program, on the phone as she told me how instantly people stopped believing in her when they found out she was pregnant, despite her top grades. 

While Channel is the first to tell people teenage pregnancy makes life so much harder, she works with other teen moms to help them realize it doesn't mean life - or potential - has to end. In fact, it's even more essential that the moms are encouraged to develop their full potential, because now there are two lives at stake. 

Gaby experienced stress and heartache when she realized how instantly the people who once believed in her were ready to give up on her completely. To them, according to their comments, her life was over and her potential, wasted.

Gaby wondered - is it the nature of what happens that makes people become statistics, or is it the things other people say and the low expectations that drive them deeper into failure? 

This was the question that drove the introverted Gaby to take on such risk and essentially give up her senior year for this project; she never anticipated the media would become interested in what she was doing (her project also inspired a Lifetime movie).

I was astounded by Gaby's bravery as I read her memoir, The Pregnancy Project, and its theme - how stereotypes become self-fulfilling prophesies - struck me hard in my work with community college students. 

Because the title of my blog has always been Because going to community college doesn't mean you couldn't get in anywhere else.

My goal in all of this was to create a platform to defy the stereotype of community colleges and give students the tools they need to succeed to their potential. Because, like Gaby, I believe those stereotypes are damaging and that they stifle potential that keeps great talent from our world and economy. 

I was also excited to find out that Gaby is currently attending a community college - Columbia Basin College. Another example of an incredibly intelligent student choosing community college. 

I highly recommend reading The Pregnancy Project. It is one of the best memoirs I've read in a long time, and while it'll have you on the edge of your seat, it will also help you rethink the power that our words have on the trajectories of each other's lives. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Is it possible to be too confident? The missing link in college completion.

Students in the U.S. lag far behind foreign peers when it comes to math and reading. However - they are in the lead when it comes to confidence

We are the generation where everyone got a trophy. We feel pretty good about ourselves. But sometimes this confidence isn't rooted in or connected with the hard work required. Those that don't check their confidence will be met with frustration, depression, and disappointment when they struggle to succeed in college or find a job. 

I still think many students need more confidence - but not so much in believing in what they can achieve, but in how they can achieve it. There is a missing link that we have to connect if we're going to raise the high school and college drop out rates. 

And it's a missing link you can connect for yourself

I'm currently reading an amazing book called Students Speak: Are We Listening? by Kay M. McClenney and Arleen Arnsparger, and in the opening they state that while nearly 80% of community college students say they intend to earn an associate degree when they start community college, less than half are actually achieving that goal (p.14).  

The authors allude to the missing link between confidence and results in community college (can you see yourself or your friends in these statements?): 

"While students express certainty about their end goal - a degree, certificate, and/or transfer to a four-year institution - they often are far less certain about what they'll do with the credential they earn."(bold mine, p.16).

And in focus groups, students "often acknowledge that they didn't clearly understand in the beginning what it would take for them to succeed" (bold, mine p.17). 

Students come into community college confident that they will succeed. However, when things get hard, their confidence is bruised and they assume they just don't have what it takes. And they drop out

Belief is a powerful thing, and you won't be successful in your life if you don't believe you can be. However, that belief must be tempered with a serious understanding of the hard work required. Otherwise, you'll end up sorely disappointed, with a life far from what you hoped for. 

This is where the "knowing what you want to do with your degree" part comes in. The only way you'll be motivated to do the hard work is if the end goal is something you really want. Something that really excites you. Something you know is going to absolutely enhance your life. Something you're willing to work for.

You can't just be confident that you'll "get there somehow." You have to be confident that you can do the hard work required, every day. 

How to link your confidence to your goals
  • Think about the goals you have for your college degree and write them down. Then interview someone with the degree and/or job you want and pay close attention to how much time and work they put in to achieve that goal. Ask them what their biggest challenges were in achieving their goal. Ask for their advice in overcoming those challenges. 
  • Ask yourself which attitude honestly reflects you right now: "yeah I'll do this one day" or "I'm going to do this to the best of my ability today."
  • Realize that anything that will make your life better is going to be hard. College is hard. But the hard work is a lot easier when it's directed towards something you really want. 
  • Write a journal entry about what you really want in your life and how college will help you get there. Believe you can make it happen. And work work work.
In the end, when it comes to results, confidence alone is second to hard work. But confidence plus hard work? Unstoppable. 

McClenney, K. M., & Arnsparger, A. (2012). Students Speak Are We Listening?. Austin: Center for Community College Student Engagement.