Hey, Class of 2022: Here’s what AU faculty and staff think you should know

The biggest piece of advice: go to office hours

Hey, Class of 2022: Here’s what AU faculty and staff think you should know

Incoming freshmen gather for convocation in August 2017. 

The class of 2022 will take their first classes at American University on Aug. 27. To help first-year students prepare for what lies ahead in their upcoming semesters, multiple professors and deans, as well as staff members in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion and the Counseling Center, shared their advice with The Eagle on how to succeed at AU.

“Go to faculty office hours”

Attending faculty office hours was the most frequent advice given by staff and professors alike, including Jessica Waters, the dean of undergraduate education and vice provost for academic student services.

Shannon Smith, the assistant director for student success and transition at the Center for Diversity Inclusion, said to go “before there’s even a problem in sight.”

“It can be as simple as, ‘Hey, your research is interesting,’ or, ‘Hey, I see you’re a cool person outside being a professor,’” Smith said. “It builds a great relationship there.”

“Professors are your best advocates and mentors,” Sybil Williams, a professor in the Department of Performing Arts and program director for the African-American studies program, said. “They are here to make sure you succeed.”

But don’t wait until the last minute, School of Communication professor Scott Talan added. “If you’re going to bother to go to office hours, don’t go the last week asking about an assignment or a grade. That’s laughable,” he said.

Each school within the University has a reception during Welcome Week where students are introduced to the school, including many of the professors and deans.

“Take advantage of those opportunities in those first couple weeks when you have the opportunity to meet faculty and begin that process of becoming part of the community,” Rose Shinko, assistant dean for undergraduate education and a professor in the School of International Service, said.

Going to a professor’s office hours early on isn’t admitting failure or defeat either, several faculty members said.

“It could simply be that you’re presented with many of life’s challenges, and you’re at a University that has such a wealth of supportive resources,” Amaarah DeCuir, a professor in the School of Education, said. “Consider professors as one of [those resources].”

Prepare yourself for culture shock

First-year students may also have to prepare themselves for culture shock, Smith said.

“We all come from different areas and culture shock could literally be ‘I’m a black student and I’ve never seen so many white people in my life,’” Smith said. “Or, the majority of the campus is white, so it could be ‘I’m a white person, I’m surrounded by white people, but we have such different backgrounds.’”

Martyn Oliver, the director of the Arab World Studies program, advised students to “try to make friends with people whose background is very different than your own.”

DeCuir added that students of color and other students from marginalized backgrounds should know they belong at AU.

“You’re meant to be here,” DeCuir said. “That’s a message that many students of color, many marginalized communities don’t receive.”

Get to know your resources

Smith said it’s important for students to know what each office at the University does and how those offices can help them. Sarah Marsh, a professor in the Department of Literature, added that “the first year is really hard” because students have a big learning curve.

“You’re not only learning the methods and content, you’re learning to be a college student,” Marsh said. “And in some ways you have to teach yourself.”

One of the resources that can prove beneficial is the Academic Support and Access Center, or ASAC, said Pallavi Kumar, a professor in the School of Communications.

“Visit the academic support center or go to one of their workshops. They do really great things on how to manage your time and your studies,” Kumar said.

Freshmen should “prioritize themselves”

Robert Kelley, a SIS professor, advised students to prioritize their wellbeing during their first semesters in college.

“If they’re not taking care of themselves, they’re putting themselves at risk,” Kelley said.

It’s important for freshmen to “find a good balance,” according to Jaime Miller, a professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, who said she sees students who have a hard time handling the demands of college life.

The Counseling Center offers resources such as a mental health screening on its website that allows students to anonymously assess their well-being according to different topics. Students can also follow the Counseling Center on Pinterest for more tools and tips.

“It will give them a little something that will tell them ‘I’m doing pretty well,’ or ‘I need to talk to someone,’” Shatina Williams, the assistant director for outreach and consultation for the Counseling Center, said.

Kelley spoke for many professors when advising students to eat well, get enough sleep and exercise. Waters, the vice provost, also advised students to watch their diets.

“Coffee is not a food group,” Waters said. “Please do go and eat some vegetables once in a while.”

Don’t do too much, too quickly

Several professors acknowledged the pressure at AU to succeed both academically and professionally as interns in D.C. Oliver, the Arab World Studies program director, advised students to not get too caught up in the “rat race.”

“Personal opinion: one internship is enough,” Oliver said. “[Students are] here to study and learn to read and not make photocopies for someone else.”

Scott Freeman, a professor in SIS, also warned students against collecting internships “as a sort of prize.” Freeman and several other faculty members, including Talan and Shinko, encouraged students to slow down and take time to be curious.

“There’s this sense among first year students that they are behind and they have to move really quickly,” Shinko, the associate SIS dean, said. “Take your time to think about your courses. Take your time to read your syllabi for your classes. Really try to slow down.”

Stay true to your values

Shatina Williams of the Counseling Center advised students to not “lose sight of the values you came in with” and figure out what aspects of college life they want to participate in.

“If that means touring the monuments at 10 p.m., explore the monuments rather than going to a party,” she said.

Sticking to these values and experiences will also help students find what a few faculty members referred to as their “tribe,” or community. This is especially true during Welcome Week, when everyone runs in a pack, said Sybil Williams, the African-American studies program director.

“The thing is, if you remain true to you, you’ll find your tribe,” she said. “You’ll find the true friend you need to have.”


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