Thursday, October 24, 2013

What Miley Cyrus reminded me about college

As I've been starting to pack to move to a new place in a few weeks I stumbled across my senior thesis. The title? 

Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman”: The Incongruous Juxtaposition of Girlhood and Womanhood in Mediated Portrayals of Britney Spears

I opened it up and this paragraph (written in 2008) caught my attention:

       As represented by Spears, when women try to perfect the incongruous standards of girlhood and womanhood, certain destruction follows. Yet these conflicting expectations are still being mediated, as represented by the slew of criticisms that follow new emerging starlets. 
        For example, many question if young pop star Miley Cyrus will go down the same destructive path as Spears (“Teen Stars”). Their shared Southern roots and claims to innocence make many believe Cyrus will also rebel with sexual promiscuity. Media outlets have been on the lookout for these instances, and are already beginning to criticize some of her outfits...
       Cyrus has become a symbolic replacement for Spears; it seems the public is anxious to see if she too will mismanage her transition from girlhood to womanhood.
(It turns out I can predict the future.)

After community college I transferred to Stetson University where we were required to write a senior thesis; the project took over a year and was one of the most intense experiences of my life.

And, looking back now, I can honestly say it was one of the best experiences of my life.

Reading it over four years later reminded me how wonderful the learning process of college really can be.

The rhetoric surrounding whether or not college is worth it today focuses heavily on numbers, career outcomes, and speed.

While I truly believe college should help many have access to a good career and be done efficiently, I think it's easy to forget the actual privilege of learning. 

Aside from a few professions, there will be no other time in your life where your sole goal is to learn. 

While there are times in college where you will dream about the day where your life isn't dedicated to learning, I daresay you might be surprised when you miss it.

I won't lie - I don't miss exams. 

But I do miss the life dedicated to nothing but your own learning and growth. It was such a beautiful, magnificent privilege.

And that is what we can't forget. College and learning are a privilege. Just ask the millions around the world who would love to be in your shoes right now. 

The best thing you can do to show your gratitude for this privilege is to take full advantage of it. Bask in the knowledge. Learn deeply about the world. Pursue classes that excite you. 

Many think what they learn in college isn't relevant to their futures. At first glance you may think mediated portrayals of Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus have nothing to do with my current career. But you would be mistaken. 

That research project was the foundation to everything I'm doing now. It taught me to think in a way I still think every single day. (Critical thinking: it's highly underrated.) 

It also taught me how to manage a big writing project (when people ask me how I was able to write a book at such a young age I usually point to this research project). 

And it also taught me to fall in love with learning for learning's sake. I chose to research this topic for no other reason than it fascinated me. I wasn't thinking about my future career. I wasn't thinking about what would be easy. I was thinking about what I wanted to learn more about. 

It paid off: I got a $2,000 research grant and was flown to New Orleans (beignets also changed my life) to present it at a national conference. 

Learning is wonderful. If you aren't in love with learning right now it might mean you're not pursuing something that fascinates you.

Learning what you love isn't easy, of course. A good college education is excruciatingly difficult. But it's the appreciation of what you are learning that makes the challenge fun. 

So when choosing the next topic for a project, or your major, go for something you want to know just for the sake of knowing it

I have learned that being curious, thinking critically, and pursuing knowledge that fascinates you lead to a tremendous career, even if at times you have no idea where it's going to go. 

The habit of learning is the best thing college can give you. But it's up to you to run with it. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ask Isa: "How do I calm my nerves as a returning adult student?"

From the Ask Isa Inbox:

Dear Isa

This is for students who have been out of school for over 15 years: How do calm your aniexty? I feel so scared and nervous because I don't want to feel like the old, dumb lady in class.


Over the Hill

Dear Over the Hill,

Actually, let's change your name...

Dear Amazing Go-Getter,

Congratulations on going back to college! All students feel nervous before starting college, and I know the nerves can be even greater for non-traditional students returning to school after some time. 

However, I want to let you know that you are one of the main reasons I fell in love with community colleges. While I was traditional age when I started community college, many of my friends were older. And here's the thing...

I didn't really notice.

There's something beautifully democratic and equalizing about the classroom environment; in my experience, age became hazy and we were all just students trying to learn. 

Here are some things that I hope will help calm your nerves:

1) Remember that you are doing something many other adults dream of doing but let that (understandable) fear get in the way of taking that first step. Take a moment and allow yourself to be proud of what you've done so far.

2) Sit in the front of the class and do all of your homework. You have just as much skill and potential as everyone else in the class. Hard work, not age, will determine success.  

3) Visit each professor and explain your anxiety. Ask for their advice. I've only ever heard professors speak highly of their adult students - they often love their motivation and diligence. 

4) Join a club that interests you and get involved on campus. Though adult students often have more responsibilities outside of the classroom, I've still seen many find the time to become club leaders and win amazing scholarships. It's also a great way to begin to get more comfortable. 

5) Find other non-traditional students and share your stories. Some campuses have clubs just for adult students. You are not alone, and it can be very comforting to find other students in your situation. Don't hide your anxiety but instead be open and share it with others. You'll be surprised to find out most in your situation are feeling the same way, and those who are younger will often exclaim they don't even think of you as "old" but just as their classmate. 

Best of luck in this new endeavor. I applaud you for taking this big step; it's exciting! You are what community colleges are all about. 

And remember that nerves usually mean you're about to do something important. 



Any non-traditional students out there? Please share what helped you calm your nerves and succeed in the comments or on the Facebook page!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

New speaking video!

A few months ago I had the honor of speaking to all of the new students at Guttman Community College's orientation. I wanted to give you the first peek of the short 5-min video featuring clips from that speech. You can also watch the full version here if you like. :)

Ask Isa: What do you do when you get discouraged?

My favorite thing to do in my day-to-day job is read questions from the Ask Isa inbox. Sadly I've been so behind in answering the questions during what's been a very busy speaking season.

I want to get back to it today and want to thank you for being so honest and sharing your questions. They keep me going when things get tough.

And that brings us to our question for today: 

Dear Isa,

What do you do when you get discouraged?



Dear :(,

Discouragement is the worst. 

The more I read about success and successful people, the more I see how common their failures are

I'd heard my whole life that failure is part of success (for years my little brother had that Michael Jordan poster about how many shots he missed and games he lost), but it's really hard to stay focused when you're in the pit of discouragement. 

I've recently had some discouraging times in my life, including last night when I checked my e-mail right before bed (bad idea!) and saw a YouTube comment where the person called me an idiot multiple times and talked about why community colleges were the worst. 

What helps me cope with those kinds of things is based on something Marie Forleo said - she never receives harsh criticism from someone who is more successful and whom she admires. If you think about it, the same is probably true for us all. 

Because successful people usually don't have time to dedicate to make someone else feel awful; they also know it's not a path to success.

I know criticism may not be what's discouraging you now, but it's definitely something that discourages me. Even though I know it's part of the process and journey, it still hurts. 

Below are the four things that help me get through the many many moments of discouragement and self-doubt that come when trying to move forward in your life. I hope they help:

1) Meet with close friends/mentors
Schedule a coffee or lunch with someone.Talk about why you're discouraged and ask for advice. More importantly, though, ask that person about their life and just listen. 

2) Write down your past successes and what you're thankful for
I'm all about writing down your goals, but sometimes you need to write down what you've already accomplished to remind yourself of how far you've come. Then write about the things that you're currently thankful for.

3) Journal
My journal is my best friend when it comes to discouragement. I journal every morning, even if it's only a few sentences; it helps me clear my head.

4) Read
Read books about successful people you admire. Every book about a successful person is jam packed with failure and discouragement. It's actually comforting, because reminds you that discouragement is normal and not a precursor to failure if you don't want it to be. 

It's how you handle discouragement that can set you apart and help you reach greater heights. 

So next time you're discouraged, see it as an opportunity to become more resilient, resourceful, and successful. 

And at the risk of sounding incredible cheesy, well, forget it, I'm going to just be cheesy and end with a line from a song I love:

It's always darkest before the dawn...




You can submit your question to the Ask Isa inbox here! 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

How One Professor changed my life

Go to class. Go home. Go to class. Go home.

That is what I did in my first few weeks of community college. I didn't know any better. 

But then a professor wrote two words on an essay that changed my life:

"See Me."

I was terrified. But I went to his office anyway to find out if I was failing miserably in college.

It turned out, however, that he wanted to tell me about the college's honors program and how I could join. He also told me how community college could be a launching point to wherever I wanted to go in my life.

He challenged me to be more, to do more, and to accomplish more. 

That moment is what inspired the One Professor campaign that has today yielded over 500 videos from students across the country, sharing moments of how a professor has changed their life. 

I've learned that I'm not the only one with moments like this. Students have shown us that professors are helping them reach their goals both inside and especially outside the classroom. 

Most of the time it's those little moments of encouragement and advice that can make all the difference in a student's life. 

The One Professor campaign continues, and it now offers the ability for you to honor your professor in just a few minutes without having to turn on your camera - simply go to and write a sentence or two about how a professor has made a difference in your life! 

Your quote will be turned into a meme and be added to our Pinterest wall of quotes. Your professor will see the quote and be mailed a certificate of thanks.

So what are you waiting for? Take a few minutes and thank a professor for helping you get through this complicated journey called college, and become a part of this national movement. It would mean a lot to me as well.

I can't wait to read about you and your professor!

Fill out the form to thank your One Professor here. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Video: Tips to avoid writer's block

It's mid-semester and chances are that means you have some essays due. Check out the video below from the Pearson Students blog for some tips to overcome writer's block and make your essay process yield less stress and better grades.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

5 things you need to win scholarships while in college

For most community college students, searching for scholarships is about taking action to do the right things in college in order to find and win the best transfer scholarships. The tips in this video can also help students who hope to win graduate school scholarships.