5 Ways to Make the Most of College

In the past few decades, colleges and universities have seen a massive surge in enrollment numbers with students eager to attend college in hopes of finding better job opportunities. However, recent concerns have grown over the number of students who exit higher education without any real experience or job prospects. A staggering 11% of business leaders say that college does not adequately prepare college students for the workforce. With numbers like that, it makes one reconsider whether going an average of $30,000 in debt is worth getting a college degree if you still won’t be prepared for a job afterwards. Of course, the next question is:  How can colleges and universities improve the job readiness that 21st century employers are looking for?

Among other solutions, the following guidelines as offered by Gallup.com offer a broad approach towards getting the most bang for your buck while attending a college or university. It has been found that meeting each of these criteria can double your odds of being engaged at work – a vital outcome for overall well-being and life satisfaction.

  1. Invest in a mentor. Remember that mentor-mentee relationships are two-way streets. You can’t expect someone to always reach out to you. Faculty appreciate ambitious students who take the initiative to reach out and ask for a meeting, are eager to learn, and ask genuine, insightful questions. Be conscious and respectful of this person’s time and resources.
  2. Pick professors, not courses. Do not be intimidated by the person standing in the front of the class giving the lecture. Chances are they are teaching for a reason, that reason being they care about your learning and success. Professors that don’t care about these things or are just working at a university just to do research, are not worth your time. Find someone who has a reputation for being an amazing teacher and mentor. Ratemyprofessor is a great resource for finding out what other students have to say about professors’ courses, habits, and teaching styles. A more “boots on the ground” approach is to attend your professors’ office hours as much as possible. You should do this anyway, but by asking genuine questions about material professors have *basically* dedicated their life to, is a great way to catch their interest and attention.
  3. Find a job or internship where you can practically apply what you are learning in the classroom in a true workplace setting. This practice cannot be overstated and is linked to being more likely to find full-time employment after school. Of course, you could find out that the position and company may not be right for you! Either way, you have not lost anything. You have only narrowed your scope of career options, gained additional experience, created more connections, and learned more about yourself.
  4. Take on long-term projects that require a semester or more of work to complete. This could mean getting involved in ongoing research, establishing video game student club, or bringing a new student service to campus. A long-term commitment will help you establish your sense of purpose, self-efficacy, and belonging on campus – not to mention help you develop real-life applicable skills.
  5. Get involved in meaningful ways. When I transferred to UM, I wanted to be the president of 4 student groups, have a full time job, do research, and balance a full-time course load… or something like that (p.s. It didn’t happen). The point is, I wanted to be super involved in tons of student organizations so that I could look really smart and committed on my resume. However, it is nearly impossible to juggle multiple responsibilities while undertaking a full-time course load – at least not in any significant way. Rather, get involved in a single, deeply engaging and lasting extracurricular activity, and ONLY if your grades do not suffer from it. Having hundreds of hours and stories to tell of your campus involvement does not help you if your GPA is below the average of where you are trying to go. In fact, it shows that you do not know how to manage and adequately prioritize your time and effort. So, find one thing you are deeply passionate about, or try something new, maybe you will become passionate about it. Getting involved is essential towards creating new connections, learning from others, building a sense of community, and developing leadership and teamwork experience.

If you decide to take the college route, these are a few proven tips to help you make the most of your time and money. The first course of action should be deciding whether achieving your life goals and ambitions requires a college degree. And what level or type of degree do you need? Maybe you only need an associate’s degree, as certificate, or simple training. These could all be done at your community college at an affordable price while you work, care for family, or attend to other responsibilities. Whatever your pathway, I advocate for adopting habits of a lifelong learner. Never cease to be curious, ask questions, discover answers, and share wisdom – you don’t need a college degree to do that.

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Can you grow? Pt. 2

As alluded to in my previous post, I discovered the power of adopting a growth mindset when I approached new challenges and difficult tasks. Over the past few years, it was tempting to say this is the key towards unleashing each person’s inner talent. I thought it was the solution to everyone achieving better grades, cultivating healthier relationships, excelling at a sport, or drastically increasing productivity at work. If only it were that easy… This idea was challenged when I was introduced to a seemingly contrasting concept that suggests what seems to be the opposite – playing to your strengths.

For my Master’s program, I am required to complete an internship for one full year. I was able to apply, interview, and be selected for a position at a local community college where I serve as a Success Coach towards incoming new students. During this summer, before the school year begins, I have been participating in training sessions that will help me better help others. Several years ago at Grand Rapids Community College, I was inspired by my advisers who invested so much time and effort into my case. This experience planted a seed of desire to do something similar for others – whether it be guiding, advising, or coaching. This makes my internship particularly fascinating.  One particular training exercise my boss had me do was the Clifton StrengthsFinder 2.0. If you have taken a personality test, it functions similarly, however this is much more rigorous and backed by a significant amount of research.

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The StrengthsFinder foundation is built on the strengths-based perspective that has become increasingly popular in research. The research argues that we have historically approached solving problems with a deficit-based perspective. For example, we look at dysfunctional, inefficient, impatient, counterproductive teams (or individuals) and pick apart all the bad things about the way they do work. They’re too sloppy and overlook things, they create only short-term solutions, they lack communication between each other, or they act impulsively without asking permission. However, the strengths-based perspective would put aside the things they do poorly and focus on the things they do extremely well. Or one could reframe the deficit-based perspective in a positive way. For example, maybe these workers would excel in emergency situations where a short-term solution is needed quickly in order to buy time for a longer-term solution to be developed.

strengths quote

In any case, this is the underlying premise of the StrengthsFinder. The quiz asks you to answer questions with options you most closely identify with under 20 second time restrictions to encourage answering with your gut, not your head. Depending on your responses you will be assigned 5 strength-based themes (of 34 possible) that you are strongest in. My themes are 1) Belief 2) Relator 3) Individualization 4) Discipline and 5) Connectedness. I am sure these seem rather abstract and meaningless to the reader, but explanations of these themes are included in your post-quiz report. I assembled a summary of how to work with someone with my themes; you can find it here.

The quiz was disturbingly accurate, and I don’t think it is in the “self-fulfilling prophecy” way. It has made me more aware of these areas of my life and I now recognize when I am behaving in accordance to one of my themes. My boss wanted me to take this quiz because it would help her identify the strengths I have as a member of her team. She could then assign me certain tasks she saw would fit my strengths the best.

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This seems to contradict, in part, the growth mindset concept I introduced in my last post. This idea suggests that we should ignore areas where we lack skill and finesse and instead just focus on what we area already good at. Instead of striving to improve my “woo” theme (meeting new people and winning them over; i.e. salesmen), I should mostly ignore this, and focus on “relating” and “connecting”  with others. I am tempted to think the growth-mindset interpretation would say that assertion is wrong. I can improve my “woo” theme because our talents are not innate, but malleable. Where do these two theories intersect without colliding into another mess of faux psychology? Is it in the nature of the task/skill? Perhaps the StrengthsFinder focuses on personal qualities and characteristics and growth mindset could be better applied to physical skills – sports, writing, public speaking, art, work, etc? I just could not seem to put my finger on where these concepts can coexist without contradicting each other.

If you, the reader, have any ideas, please feel free to educate us. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

Can you grow?

During my second and final year at community college, I took a Social Psychology course with my influential mentor Dr. Conner.  In this fascinating course, we learned about how the social context of situations plays a significant role in how humans will behave. Social Psychology holds potentially endless implications for real world application if scientists could accurately predict how humans would react in specific situations, but the reality of the situations are often much more complex than we think, making the science challenging.

One particular theory we learned in the course, related to goal achievement, is that of Growth Mindset. Originally coined by Carol Dweck, growth mindset is defined as having the belief that one’s, “most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment,” according to Dweck. It is a rather simple concept, but a powerful one because many of us hold the opposite mindset, aka the Fixed Mindset. This mindset is simply the reverse of the growth, in that our basic abilities and talents are fixed from birth and are unable to be cultivated or developed in any significant way. One can see how circumstances can be viewed in drastically different ways depending on which mindset you bring to the situation.

For example, when I was about 13 years old I tried to learn to play the guitar. My mom bought me a solid beginner guitar, a tuner, and some basic booklets to help me. I could have approached the beginner phase understanding that it would take consistent practice over a long period of time (aka “grit” – another related concept) to cultivate rhythm, nimble fingers, and the memory of chords. I could have believed that I could grow better as a guitar player because my talent was not based on innate talent, but rather on the effort I put into the skill (growth). OR I could practice for a few weeks, realize that I just wasn’t good at playing, and tell myself that I would never be an expert guitarist because I wasn’t born with the quick, agile fingers and innate talent like others (fixed). I don’t remember exactly why I quit, but it was likely a lack of motivation and a fixed mindset. Regardless, I had to make a choice of how I was going to approach guitar playing. This could easily be applied in other areas of life.

For example, each year thousands of people make New Year’s Resolutions to get in shape – or rather, out of shape if their shape is a circle. However, we all know that an enormous amount of those individuals who purchase a Planet Fitness (or some other local fitness center) membership lose interest within a few weeks, throwing away their resolutions. I am curious as to if this could be attributed to the lack of results. They do not see results within a few weeks, so they might think, “Why bother torturing myself on the elliptical three times a week??” One explanation could be the lack of a growth mindset and a simple acceptance that they are always going to be fat, justifying it with the excuse that, “they have really bad genetics that make me gain weight fast” (Hypothyroidism is a thing, so it could be, but I doubt you have it). Other areas include, relationships, academics, sports – really in any area you want to improve in.

In this, I think there is an important lesson. There are two ways YOU can CHOOSE to view challenges, setbacks, and goals in life. Either with a fixed mindset or with a growth mindset that empowers YOU. I emphasize your personal agency in these situations, because I believe our perspective is an important starting point in the journey towards any goal. As I write this, it is interesting to understand how the concepts of growth and fixed mindset are the theoretical foundations to the material many bloggers, coaches, and speakers might use. I don’t think this is recycled content, because I believe understanding the theoretical background to this material is important. I hope you find it interesting or useful. I believed understanding these concepts were important to my success in the past few years. However, recently at the start of my new job, I was introduced to a seemingly contrasting concept of which I hope to write about soon.

I have really wrote the bare minimum that could be said about these concepts. More could be said about the characteristics of the mindsets, how to identify them in yourself and other people, and how to shift your thinking from fixed to growth. If you would like to learn more, please leave a comment or message me. Otherwise, I highly recommend reading Carol Dweck’s book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” (or at least the first few chapters).

 

 

 

Higher VS. “Alternative” Education – Beginnings

In my small town community, it’s tradition to find a job as soon as you are able to drive. Nearly everyone goes directly into the workforce following high school, working as electricians, landscapers, mechanics, or some other form of skilled labor. This trend made it difficult for me to justify attending college, and ultimately a large, four-year university as a Psychology major. My sense is the decision to attend college carries an implicit stigma within my community for reasons to be discussed. This might come as a surprise to others who know higher education as one of the most reliable pathways towards upward mobility in America. In future posts, I hope to explore the topic of Higher Education VS. “Alternative” Education. Alternative education meaning the career training for skilled jobs that typically do not require a four-year degree. This debate is one that runs close to home as many people feel that “alternative” education should be promoted more than higher education. I hope you find the topic interesting, engaging, and provoking. In order to understand why this topic is relevant to me, it will make the most sense to begin the series by examining my family’s history of work.


Introduction

As I mentioned in my first blog post, I am a first generation college student. This means neither of my parents attended or received education beyond high school. To my parents and many in my community, I was a 21st century pioneer, radical and risk-taking. I had departed from the traditional ways of my family, and decided to explore a new dimension of opportunity. In a way, this led me to live the past few years balanced between two vastly different cultures – College/White-collar VS. Workforce/Blue-collar. Here are a two examples of the cultural standards set for my life (very summarized).

Tough Acts to Follow – My Opa

Following their marriage in the Netherlands, my Oma and Opa (Dutch Grandma and Grandpa) immigrated across the Atlantic to Canada. With little to survive on, my Opa took responsibility for the love of his life and took on whatever jobs he could in order to keep food on the table. The history between then and their arrival in Grand Rapids, MI remains unknown to me (Side note: Recently, my grandparents untold history strikes me as sad. There is too much value in one’s family history for it not to be told, saved, and treasured). He spent the rest of his working life as a painter, mastering his craft until the arthritis in his joints slowed him down to a halt. He found pleasure, self-worth, and dignity in his work. Today, it is clear from his slanted fingers he spent countless hours stroking  back and forth while gripping a paintbrush. His history of honest, hard work in a skilled trade (not to mention his immense compassion, curiosity, and sense of adventure) created opportunities for future generations such as mine in a completely new country. That was fulfillment for him.

Opa and Oma.jpg2

Tough Acts to Follow – My Dad

Since he was old enough to work, my Dad has been employed. One weekend, I was able to escape my studies in Ann Arbor, and enjoy a home-cooked meal with my parents on a Saturday evening. Nearly every Saturday we ate grilled pork loin, golden potatoes, and a fresh salad from out home garden; it was a welcome interruption to my chicken and rice routine. We began talking about his childhood. He told me how his first job was selling newspapers on the street corner to passerbys, then he worked at his Grandpa’s grocery store. He and my great grandpa would go to the farmer’s market early in the mornings to select their produce for the day. After the grocery store, he worked at a bakery, creating pastries, rolls, bagels, and bread for restaurant owners. Eventually, he moved onto his current career as a heavy machinery fabricator. For the past 25+ years he has worked on industrial balers, compactors, and large over-head doors. Today, at 56 years old, he spends most of his time managing the shop rather than running around on service calls. He brings home the occasional story of an obnoxious coworker or a poorly designed system, but I have never once heard him complain that the work is too difficult, too dirty, or beyond his pay grade. He knows what must be done to support his family and has dedicated his life towards this cause.


When I decided I wanted to study Psychology, transfer to the University of Michigan, and now attend graduate school, I placed these blue collar beginnings and traditions in jeopardy. That’s what it felt like at least. Why were they being placed at risk? My entire family history and the similar histories of those I have grown up around, have shaped my perception of what work is. For many of those in my community, school is not work, especially for something like Psychology. Work is sweaty faces, grimy pants, greasy rags, and cut hands. It’s shovels, hammers, levels, ladders, wrenches, ratchets, drills, and heavy machinery. People who define work as such believe in the meritocracy of our society, that if you work hard enough, you can earn your part of the American Dream. They believe handouts deprive individuals of the dignity to be self-sustaining, so they will work extra hours to avoid it. They have watched as college students, a group I belong to, have whined and complained about menial setbacks that pale in comparison to the reality awaiting them after college. Additionally, college costs A LOT of money and time and does not always produce immediate results, or more importantly, a paycheck. I have talked to a few people who never want to return to these communities after being “enlightened” at institutions of “higher learning”. They are tired of their community members’ “narrow-minded” ways. I would like to think I do not give up that easily on people, of any kind, let alone people that have something incredibly valuable to contribute to society. Either way, this legacy, tradition, and subculture was now being put at risk by me because I established a presence in a new community. With regards to student life, I was unable to relate to my friends and family. As a man in my community, the area of work stood out especially to me as one that I would not be able to relate to anyone on. I would not longer be contributing tot he manual labor force as much as my Dad and the rest of my community was. I perceived they felt that I had turned my back on them. My language of distrust is intentional, because there is a certain level of wariness to the white collar community in my circles. A modern manifestation circulated several years ago in a Facebook Photo that read, “Men in denim built this country… Men in suits will destroy it.”

How was I supposed to cope with living as a white collar future bound student from a blue collar community?

This was only one side to the dissonance I felt by attending college. The other side was that my life experiences and values were vastly different from those who I met in class or on campus. Today’s college campuses are an almost direct contrast to this working-class, blue collar tradition I had grown up with. After three years of living on the University of Michigan’s campus, I still ask, “How am I going to cope with the differences between my home culture and college culture?” I hope to address this dilemma in this series. Specifically, I hope to narrow down my understanding of how I, as a prospective future educator, can attend college, advocate for higher education, and help those in college find success in whatever major they choose to pursue, AND advocate for skilled labor and amplify the voices of my blue-collar, working-class community. In short, I think I am trying to find the logical consistency of my current position as a university student. I hope that in promoting these skilled job options that lead to fulfilling lives, I can help bring working-class voices back into the national spotlight and conversation.

Questions to consider:

Have you ever gone against status quo and had to tiptoe between two (sub)cultures? If so, what strategies did you use to maintain relationships? Do you ever feel like running away from your situation altogether? Of these two groups I have described, who do you think has the loudest voice in our society today and why? What specific examples can you think of? How can we bridge this experience and knowledge gap that seems to divide us? Does one need to relate to people to fit in? Can we embrace differences in how we were raised, learn from each other, and still enjoy each other’s company?

If at any point, you would like to comment, critique, or share your story, please feel free to reach out. I am eager to hear your voice.

Who am I?

Hello everyone, my name is Nathanael Boorsma. I am currently a Master’s student of Higher Education at University of Michigan’s School of Education. I am among the first in my family to attend college and now have a passion for helping others discover their best self!

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My history began in 1995. I have 2 older brothers and 2 older sisters who are now all happily married. In 2000, we moved from inner city Grand Rapids, to Byron Center, a developing, small, rural town several miles south of the city. Our country home was where I was raised. I could not have asked for anything better. Following graduation from the shitshow (that is high school) in 2013, I decided to attend Grand Rapids Community College where I discovered a deep appreciation for learning. I excelled in my academics, insomuch that I was able to transfer to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor in the Fall of 2015. I majored in Psychology, conducted 2+ years of educational research, joined a fraternity, and embraced the traditional college student experience. I graduated with the bicentennial class of 2017 and will continue my education at UM as a Master’s student in Higher Education. Following graduation, I hope to return to Grand Rapids to work (preferably) at a community college while exploring business opportunities on the side.

In my spare time, I enjoy spending time outdoors goofing around with friends. When possible, I enjoy going on nature adventures, boating with friends, going up to Silver Lake Sand Dunes, and driving ORV’s. When I am stuck indoors, you can find me browsing the internet, going to the gym, reading books, playing video games, or writing.

I wanted to start a blog mostly because I wanted a platform where I was encouraged to write down my thoughts, questions, feelings, and experiences. I am not a confrontational person, so do not expect bold, outlandish opinions from me. However, you can expect me to spark conversations on a huge range of topics. This was and is difficult for me to do in college, so I hope this blog gives me a safer platform to be speak from. I believe I bring an interesting personality to a web space saturated with established bloggers and writers. I hope my readers can identify with my curiosity and inquisitiveness and are inspired to ask more questions in order to learn, and ultimately to grow. Finally, I hope I can pass along some of the things I have learned along my journey, to others.

In a sentence, I hope my experiences, thoughts, and questions, inspire and challenge my readers to be more curious, think critically, and appreciate the process of learning and growing.