Thriving in College

With convocation being held this week, campus is bustling with the activity of thousands of new students. This includes about 850 new Engineering students at UMass Lowell, including freshmen and transfers. A recent post by Valerie Strauss, “Getting into college was the easy part. Staying there is becoming harder than ever, experts say,” in The Washington Post (August 14, 2017), which draws on a blog from Brennan Barnard, reminded me that the transition to college is not always easy for students. In fact, the article claimed that it is easier to get into college than to stay in college. I would disagree that it is easy to get into Engineering, but there is no doubt that one must be diligent to stay on track towards graduation.When welcoming students, I generally stress the following keys to success in Engineering:

Plan Ahead: The curse, and benefit, to pursuing an engineering degree, is that the sequence of courses is well defined for each major. This means that planning coursework ahead is easy, although there may not be a lot of choice due to limited electives. So plan ahead – as altering from the plan can lead to a longer time to graduation. Significant, and worthwhile, endeavors, such as co-op, study abroad, or adopting a minor, should be pursued and can be completed in the normal course of study, but not without planning. The earlier this planning occurs, the more likely one will graduate on time.

Work Hard: Engineering is hard. But take heart – having been admitted to the college, you have already proven that you belong and can master the topics and content. But “showing up” is not good enough – the key to success is hard work. Engineers learn by doing – in my experience, you can never work too many problems to master a concept. Work hard and the material will become easy.

Ask for Help: The college and university have invested heavily to help you succeed. If you are struggling academically, seek out tutors and your Professors. If you are sincere in your willingness to work hard, your Professors will support you. Additionally, counselors and professionals are available to help – reach out if you feel overwhelmed or just need someone to listen to you. (They can be found in University Crossing!)

 Get Involved: The opportunities available to students to get involved are innumerable. Each major has a club where you can learn more about career options or participate in competitions. But opportunities to get involved go well beyond engineering, from intramural sports to student government to multicultural clubs to DifferenceMaker – all of these organizations and programs provide opportunities to grow, network, and frankly, take a break from the rigors of school.

Explore your Future: When beginning college, graduation may seem ages away. But the time will go fast. It is never too early to start looking at your options after graduation. Internships and professional co-op opportunities provide insights into potential careers (both those that excite you and those you may want to avoid) while invited lectures and lab work provide insights into potential research opportunities and graduate school. Attending events sponsored by Career Services, such as the Career Fair, and the Graduate School are great ways to get started.

Have Fun: Earning an Engineering degree is not easy, but it does not mean that it does not have to be fun. The College experience is exhilarating – from student club competitions to attending sporting events, there is a lot to see and do. Enjoy it all, never losing sight of the goal – graduation.

In summary, there is much to do – both inside and outside of the classroom – on campus. Take advantage of your time and have no regrets!