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COLLEGE ADVICE: Group Projects

I like to think that I’ve participated in my fair share of group projects. From ESUMS Expo groups to design-thinking groups to huge company-sponsored coding teams, I’ve participated in 12+ group projects over the past 6 years. In that time, I have had the opportunity to be both a team player and lead several groups. So, here’s some advice on how to make the best out of a group project.

What makes a great team member? Whenever I’m in a group, I notice 3 things that tend to make or break the project. These apply to everyone in the group, including the team leader if there is one!

  • Good Communication – This is the most important! Good communication means letting group members know your skills, your availability, and if anything comes up that might interrupt the flow of the project. Be open about communicating if you’re going to miss a meeting or if you’re falling behind with an assigned task.
  • Respect & Honesty – Act like a team, not just a group. Respect the skillsets and perspectives that others can bring to the table and be mindful of outside circumstances. Be respectful of people’s time and ideas. Additionally, be honest and ready to ask for help if something comes up. If you need extra learning time/resources or extra clarification, be straightforward.
  • Motivation – Whether you are personally drawn to the project or are just in it for the grade or experience, it’s important to put a good attitude in and contribute to an outcome you will be proud of!

What makes a great team leader? A trickier question to answer, but I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing leaders who have made my group projects a joy to work on.

  • Organization – One of the main jobs as a team leader is to be able to schedule meetings, assign jobs, and set deadlines so that the team can work efficiently and stay focused. You can use applications like Kanban or Trello to help with visualizing the progress of small tasks as well as a shared calendar (Google Calendar, Outlook Calendar), resource holder (Google Drive, Microsoft Teams, or Dropbox), and communication medium (Discord, Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts) for group events.
  • Confidence & Passion – As a leader, you are expected to guide focus, organize resources, and call shots if needed. You’ll have to adjust your leading style depending on the needs of the group. Some team members need more coaxing, and some members are eager to step up. It’s your job to make sure that you are a uniting force in the group. When leaders are passionate, it’s easier for the other members to rally behind for a great project.
  • Keep the Big Picture in Mind – While most team members will be working on a small portion of the project at a time, it’s the leader’s job to always keep the bigger picture in mind when assigning tasks and meeting about next steps. The best leaders are always able to coordinate member’s ideas in a way that supports the end goal of the project.

Sometimes group projects don’t work out, and that’s okay! If all else fails, make sure you let the professor know if a member isn’t communicating. Most professors can offer some leniency with group grades depending on the situation.

- Patricia Acorda

COLLEGE ADVICE: How to Make Friends During Your First Week Of School

This is all about how to make friends in a strange new place. College can be difficult, and it may seem impossible to make friends, especially at first, but I promise that you can and will make friends.

To make friends in college the first thing to do is to find activities that you seem interested in and participate in them. I say this because the other people who attend these events are most likely there for the same reason. Events are held on campus during the first week to allow new students to meet new people. Take advantage of this opportunity and interact with like-minded people.

The second thing to do on your mission to gain friends is to create a study group for all your classes. A study group allows you to meet people with potentially the same schedule as you. You may have multiple classes with a person, now you're seeing this person 3 days out of your week. This can end up in you two getting lunch together and doing homework together. Now you have made your first friend and all you did was create a study group.

The third thing to try is to join clubs. Clubs directly allow you to make friends with people who have similar interests as you. Depending on where you go there is a club for everything and anything you see as a hobby. The best part about it is that if you do not see a club, you can make it a club and people who are interested can join. Now you have just made friends who are interested in what you are.

Finally, if you want to make friends you can use your roommate and or hang out in common areas in your dorm. People will walk by and talk to you and hang out as a big group. The best part is that you live in the same building as them making it easier to communicate and plan things. Making the process of making friends easier.

- Kymani Lindo

COLLEGE ADVICE: A Guide to College Majors & Degrees

Like many students in their senior year, I often found myself burdened with a lot of huge decisions. Up until the very last minute, I honestly did not know what I wanted to major in, and throughout the beginning of my college years felt very unsure about what I wanted to do.

Whether you are a junior who has yet to apply, or you are a senior who has already applied, I want to reassure you that choosing a major isn’t a permeant decision. In fact, it’s a normal thing to be unsure about this! Thankfully, most colleges will offer many ways to mix, match, and change the majors you are interested in.

First, if you aren’t sure about what to apply as, you can choose to apply as undecided if your college offers it. This is a great way to still apply without committing if you are totally unsure about what major you like.

Next, in your freshman and sophomore years of college, you should start thinking about if you want to change your major or add a dual, double, or minor. After sophomore year, you can still change your major or add to it, but it might be difficult to still fit in all the required classes in the span of your typical four-year college education. One loophole around this is taking summer classes if your college offers them.

When thinking about possible majors, keep in mind that most colleges will offer dual degrees, double majors, and minors.

  • Double Major* – When you take two somewhat related majors, with overlaps like elective classes counting towards both majors. You will graduate with one degree that will combine both majors.
  • Dual Degree* – When you take two majors, with no overlap, completing the elective and core requirements of both majors separately. You will graduate with two degrees, one for each major.
  • Minor – You take a few classes in a subject that can be part of a specialization of your main major. Requires less credits than a major, and usually only shows up on your transcript.

*Often, the definitions of these two will switch depending on the college, so please read up on the different degrees/majors that your college offers!

Don’t be scared to switch majors! Be sure to research the required classes and create a plan on an excel sheet (or something similar) so that you can visualize what classes to take each semester and how long it’ll take. Guidance counselors will also usually have some good insight on how to organize your classes, and it can also help to find older students who are taking a major that you’re interested in (especially if you’re looking at a less common dual/double major). Good luck!

- Patricia Acorda

COLLEGE ADVICE: The Expert’s Guide to Having a Roommate in College

I love my suite; it really does feel like a home away from home. Recently, we stayed up until 2am just chatting, we have a Sunday movie night every night, and hugs and forehead kisses abound. But we also have disagreements or issues about who should buy more snacks or whose trash week it is. So here’s my list of advice for living with others and how to overcome those disagreements.

  • 1. Establish a list of “suite rules”. They don’t need to feel harsh. For example, one suitemate doesn’t like people wearing shoes into their room so now we know, and we won’t do that. Another had food they wanted to share with us and some food just for them. It’s really important to just talk about what you like and how you want your roommates to treat you.
  • 2. Disagreements will come up. They’ll probably come up more frequently than in high school. After all, now you’re living with people that you ordinarily would just see during the school day. My first quick tips for resolving roommate disagreements is to talk to someone else first, maybe a parent or a college friend or a sibling. In talking through it with someone else you can get past the rant and the ugh I can’t stand you and focus on what you’re really upset about and how we can resolve that. Also talk to the person one on one. If you try to talk to them with the whole suite/group around then it could get awkward and it might feel like a confrontation which is never fun.
  • 3. You don’t have to be friends with your roommates. Especially if you’re randomly assigned a roommate, you just need to get along with them. They don’t need to be your best friend or feel like a second family; it’s just important that your room and your space feels comfortable, safe, and home-y.

Most of these are pretty basic tips because at the end of the day, it’s just the same interactions as in the rest of your life. So maybe think of it as this. And remember that you deserve to feel comfortable in your space and the others around you should respect that.

- Margaret Hankins

COLLEGE ADVICE: Roll With It!

Hi everyone! Peter here with my very first blog. Today, I am writing in an attempt to calm the nerves some of you likely have about college. Regardless of your grade, if you think that college is in your future, it can be very intimidating thinking about leaving your home and probably getting one of your first tastes of true independence. Furthermore, there is the stress of going to college itself. You might be wondering if you will be able to make friends in a new environment, or whether you will be able to manage the new workload required of college classes. Believe me, I grappled with these questions myself. This is a big moment in your life so I will therefore give you one suggestion to face this moment as well as you possibly can.

If I have one suggestion, and this is a suggestion that you can apply to nearly every facet of your life, it is to not worry about things outside of your control. Sure, you may have a degree of control over what college you might end up at based on how much effort you put into your academics or how hard you work on your college applications. However, the day admission decisions are released, whether you receive an acceptance, or a rejection is completely out of your control. Maybe you end up not getting into your top college, or maybe you didn’t get into any of your top five colleges. That is a heartbreaking feeling. However, if you are able to accept that fact and move on, you will be able to succeed so much more. Dwelling on these matters will not improve your situation; after all, you can’t go back in time to try and get better grades or become the piano maestro you once hoped you would become. What you can do instead is to make the most of your situation and take control of the things that are still under your control. No matter where you end up, you are the person who determines how your four year undergraduate career will go. You will be able to make friends, and you will have access to amazing resources that can help you through any problems you may have.

Roll with the punches, and everything will work out fine. If you can ignore the things that are outside of your control and focus on the things that are within your control, I promise you will succeed in whatever that you want to do. Good luck everyone! You all got this.

- Peter van Vlaanderen

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