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Ten Southern students recently received prestigious internships or full-time positions with Deloitte. Yes, we’re counting!

Louis Signor, ’17, who graduated with a degree in business administration, is one of numerous Southern alumni who recently joined Deloitte.

It’s the Holy Grail for many accounting students: a position with one of the “Big Four” accounting firms — Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young, and KPMG — widely recognized as the largest professional services networks in the world. In 2016, they earned a combined revenue of $128.2 billion through work in auditing, advising, consulting, tax services, and more.

Deloitte is the largest of the Big Four in terms of revenue ($36.8 billion in 2016) and number of employees (244,400) — the latter figure receiving a boost from a growing number of Owls who recently joined Deloitte’s Stamford, Conn., office as interns and full-time employees.

“Once I became an accounting major, my only goal was to work for a Big Four firm. The goal now is specifically [to become] a partner at Deloitte,” says Kayla Seminoro, ’17, who graduated from Southern with a degree in business administration and a concentration in accounting. In September, she moved closer to realizing that dream, joining Deloitte as an audit assistant after interning there.

Her interest in accounting came relatively late in her college career. After transferring from Central Connecticut State University, she took her first college-level business course at Southern — an accounting class taught by Janet Phillips, professor of accounting and chair of the department. Several years later, Phillips recommended that Seminoro apply for an internship with Deloitte.

“The best advertisement for Southern’s accounting program is definitely our students,” says Phillips. Her confidence in Seminoro was well placed. After interviewing online and in person, she was selected for the highly competitive internship, which began at Deloitte University, The Leadership Center, a 700,000-square foot training facility in West Lake, Texas.  She was then assigned to a client-team, receiving extensive real-world experience. “Deloitte values the importance of networking and making genuine connections with the professionals around you. This is one of my favorite aspects about both the firm and my internship experience,” says Seminoro.

Such positive feedback is icing on the cake for Lori Charlton, a partner at Deloitte based in its Stamford, Conn., office. Southern flashed on Charlton’s radar screen several years ago when she was working with an especially talented young colleague. “I asked her where she went to school, and she said Southern,” she says.

Soon after, Deloitte made its first campus presentation. “We had a very good turnout. The students were well-dressed and well-prepared, with resumes in hand. They asked great questions and were very enthusiastic,” says Charlton. “The faculty also came, showing a lot of support for their students and for us being there.”

In September 2017, Deloitte made its fourth campus visit — and many Southern students now know a classmate who’s interned or become an employee there. “They’ve been terrific,” says Charlton of the students and alumni who’ve received offers in both the audit and tax practices. “They interviewed very well and were very competitive. . . . It’s been a great success from my perspective. We’re really encouraged by our partnership with the university and want to keep the relationship going.”

Deloitte rates first among accounting companies for formal training, according to Vault, which annually ranks firms on numerous criteria. The services provider also finished among the leaders in the “prestige” and the overall accounting categories.

Muhamad Chowdhury, ’16, knew of Deloitte’s reputation. Before graduating in December, he’d explored different career options, including a potential winter internship with the organization. But after an in-depth interview process, Deloitte offered him a full-time position as an audit assistant in financial services. He started in January 2017.

His success comes after a period of intense struggle. In 2014, Chowdhury was a full-time junior at the University of Connecticut, among the first generation in his family to attend college. His parents both immigrated from Bangladesh to the U.S., where they built a successful life operating several Subway franchises in the Wallingford and New Haven areas. Then the family patriarch became seriously ill. Chowdhury left UConn, returning home to help run the family business. He also enrolled at Southern — working full time, attending school full time, and commuting.  “It came out of a difficult situation, but I have to say it was the best decision I ever made,” he says.

At Southern, he majored in business administration with a concentration in economics — a program he says develops a comprehensive understanding of the business world. He also volunteered with the campus VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program, which helps those with low-incomes, disabilities, and limited English. “My career is not in taxation, but the knowledge and experience I gained translate to any business environment,” he says of the program overseen by Frank Bevvino, associate professor of accounting.

Today, things are looking up. His father has recovered, and Chowdhury’s transition to Deloitte has been remarkably smooth. “After working for Deloitte for six months, I can absolutely say that this was the right decision for me. It’s been priceless in terms of the experience and many benefits,” he says.

Lubna Sparks, ’17, also transferred to Southern — and says her interest in Deloitte peaked after the organization made a presentation to the SCSU Accounting Society. After interning at the company last year, she’s been offered a full-time position. But she asked to remain an intern while preparing for her examinations to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) — a request Deloitte honored.

A fellow graduate of the Class of 2017, Louis Signor is preparing for his CPA examinations as well. It’s a welcome development for the talented alumnus who had worked at Home Depot for about six years when, in 2016, his position as an asset manager was eliminated.

“I’m not a typical student,” says Signor, who graduated from Southern at the age of 29. He’d attended Utica College right after high school, but didn’t return after his first year. Instead, responding to his father’s request to “get a job,” Signor applied at Home Depot — and steadily moved up the corporate ladder. Armed only with a high school degree, he ultimately found himself overseeing asset protection for all stores in the Norwalk, Conn., and New York Metro area — a market grossing $105 million.

“At the age of 24, I had a really good job making much more money than I thought would be possible,” says Signor. A watercooler conversation with coworkers changed his perspective. “The general consensus was that they felt stuck. They were paid well. It wasn’t a bad situation, but they didn’t have alternatives,” he says. He began attending Southern part-time, using Home Depot’s tuition reimbursement benefits. Then in August 2016, Home Depot underwent a corporate restructuring and his position was eliminated. Signor took the compensation package and, as a Southern senior, began attending the university fulltime for the first time ever.

In May 2017, Signor became the first in his family to earn a college degree, graduating magna cum laude. He interviewed with six employers and received five job offers — including one from Deloitte. He started in September.

[From left] Students Luke Velez, Brooke Davis and Lyman DePriest interned with Deloitte over the summer, while student Yenny Bayas completed an earlier internship during the busy tax season.
[From left] Students Luke Velez, Brooke Davis and Lyman DePriest interned with Deloitte over the summer, while student Yenny Bayas completed an earlier internship during the busy tax season.
The Interns

Deloitte consistently earns top ratings for its formal training program, a benefit experienced firsthand by a growing number of Owls, including four who participated in coveted summer internships in 2017. The interns — all business administration majors with a concentration in accounting — are students Luke Velez, Lyman DePriest, and Brooke Davis, and alumnus Nicholas Intino, ’17.

Velez and DePriest completed Deloitte’s Discovery Internship, with time spent exploring two company functions — audit and tax services. The hands-on learning kicked off at Deloitte University, the Leadership Center, in West Lake, Texas, where they connected with other high-achieving students from around the U.S.

“Before heading to Deloitte University, I heard so much about it that my expectations were through the roof. . . . Those expectations were met,” says DePriest.

During one team-building exercise, the students were placed in groups and challenged to develop a presentation. DePriest’s team took first place out of 25, earning an assortment of Deloitte gear.  The victory was particularly sweet for DePriest. His team’s presentation focused on a startup mobile application that he is developing (myhypeeye.com) — Here Are Your Parties and Events Everywhere.

Looking forward, there is certainly a lot to celebrate. After completing their summer 2017 internships, Intino and Davis received offers to join Deloitte’s audit practice. Meanwhile, Deloitte’s Discovery Internship will continue for DePriest and Velez. Both chose audit as their area of focus and are invited to intern with Deloitte again: Velez in summer 2018 and DePriest in the winter. “It’s a very unique experience because it allows you to get a glimpse of both aspects of accounting to possibly steer your career decision-making before you graduate,” says DePriest.

Southern senior Yenny Bayas, who interned with Deloitte in the winter of 2017, agrees, noting the experience confirmed her career aspirations. Although she’s wanted to study business since high school, she was unsure what specialization to select. But she loved her accounting classes — and a trip to a major European accounting conference with Robert J. Kirsch, professor of accounting, and three other Southern students cemented the deal. Southern was the only college or university from the U.S. at the event. “That’s where I really fell in love with accounting,” says Bayas. “But my internship at Deloitte made that even clearer.”

Like the others who won internships after completing several rounds of interviews, Bayas is a hard-working, high-achieving student. She — and classmate Velez — are School of Business ambassadors, two of only nine in the selective leadership program. At the age of 23, she has also been a licensed realtor for several years. In sum, Bayas — a native of Ecuador and a first-generation college student — is no stranger to a challenging workload. Still, she concedes that her Deloitte internship, conducted during the busy tax season, was very intense at times. “I loved the challenge,” she says.

In terms of a future career, she says being an accountant who specializes in real estate would combine her passions. But she’s also drawn to audit services. “I like that you are with a team and that you are investigating,” says Bayas. “You see the financial statements, think about the facts and numbers, and combine them into the story to make sure it all makes sense. I discovered that I really enjoyed that at Deloitte — and that’s one of the things I loved most about my internship.”

As a child idolizing the men and women of the Japanese TV show “Ninja Warrior,” Derek Mathews never imagined he’d grow up to be one of them.

“I just thought that was the coolest thing,” Mathews said. “Being a kid at the time, I thought that I could do everything that was on TV.”

Flash forward to 2017 and Mathews is training with American Ninja Warrior legend Drew Drechsel at New Era Ninja Gym in Hamden, preparing for the show’s city finals in Cleveland.

“I just went into this to have fun,” Mathews said. “I didn’t expect to do as well as I did. Never in a million years did I think I would be training at a Ninja gym or competing on TV.”

Drechsel encouraged Mathews to send in a submission video for the show after he tested high on an assessment at the gym. He was selected to compete in the Cleveland City Qualifiers in May, an event that aired in July. Contestants that make city qualifiers go on to compete in city finals, then several more rounds before a national champion is crowned.

Mathews describes training for the show as one of the most intense times of his life. When he found out he would be able to compete, he increased his training from a moderate workout twice a week to three days of intense training.

bugman2The morning of the Cleveland City qualifiers, Mathews went on a run to prepare for the outdoor obstacle course. It was 34 degrees outside. Despite the unseasonable cold weather in early May, Mathews said he felt prepared because “discipline” is his strongest asset.

“You can get so far with being the strongest person or the most durable, but if you don’t have a strong mindset going into it, you won’t go far,” Mathews said.

Mathew’s most challenging obstacle came in the form of the “I-Beam,” a course of construction-like beams that require contestants to hang at a horizontal position while using their feet and fingers to make their way above a pool of water. Starting with 4 inches of spacing and ending with two, the test is to defy gravity.

“My hands [were] so cold that I couldn’t grip. I was just burning myself out trying to just power through it and then I quickly made my descent into the water,” Mathews said.

Having never practiced the obstacle, he didn’t realize his error until it was too late.

Nonetheless, Mathews moved on to the Cleveland City Finals because of his speed and number of obstacles completed. The show airs on Monday, August 14 at 9 p.m. on NBC.

While the opportunity to train with veterans and elites was a gift, after workouts Mathews was “wrecked.”

Not to mention he was simultaneously working toward a feat that he describes as equally challenging: earning his bachelor’s degree. Despite being exhausted at the end of each day, Mathews became the first person in his family to graduate in May.

“I never let Ninja get in the way of my academics,” Mathews said. “But I did let Ninja influence and enhance my academics. I knew what needed to be done. I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of that.”

bugman4

School of Business, marketing students

Southern’s Student Marketing Club (SUMA Marketing) recently placed among the semi-finalists at the prestigious International Collegiate Case Study competition after developing a comprehensive campaign for an ecommerce giant.

Each fall, the American Marketing Association hosts the Collegiate Case Competition for its 370 student chapters around the world. Every year, a different company sponsor provides the chapters with a marketing problem that they are prompted to solve through a comprehensive 40-page marketing plan.

“This was the first time that an ecommerce company (eBay) was used as a case study, so for our students, this was great experience in digital marketing,” said Randye Spina, assistant professor of marketing and faculty advisor to SUMA.

The challenge was to increase eBay’s participation in the online trading marketplace by Millennial and Generation Z non-users. Listed as one of the most valuable brands in the world with more than $8 billion in revenue in 2015 and with an estimated 164 million active buyers as of the second quarter of 2016, eBay is facing an increasingly crowded and competitive market with competition from rivals such as Amazon, Alibaba, craigslist, and Etsy.

To address the challenge, SUMA collected primary and secondary market research, devised a marketing strategy, and created an integrated marketing communication plan with creative marketing tactics — all within the sponsor’s provided budget.

From data collected through 186 completed surveys of commuter and resident students “we learned that many young adults think of eBay as their parents’ website, while theirs is Amazon,” said SUMA Marketing President Julia Rotella.

“To overcome this, our recommendations included tapping into their existing business assets including Shyp (their trucking company) and StubHub (the world’s largest ticket site),” Rotella said. “In addition we recommended using several demographically-relevant social media influencers as spokespeople and we recommended simplifications to their website to make the user experience easier for younger audiences who don’t want to ‘bid’ but would rather buy.”

The resulting annual plan for July 2017 through August 2018 saw Southern’s team placed among the top 20 competing colleges, when results were announced in January.

“The students were thrilled, this is a major accomplishment for them,” Spina said. “They deserve a lot of credit for finishing in a group of finalists that included representation from some very prestigious schools.”

This year, for the first time, due to the complexity and difficulty of the project, the AMA Case Study was run as a three-credit course (MKT 398). Past Southern entries were based solely on club activities, Spina said.

About SUMA Marketing

SUMA (SCSU Undergraduate Marketing Association) is Southern’s collegiate chapter of the American Marketing Association. SUMA provides members with marketing and professional experience through national competitions, fundraising, community service, and much more. For more information visit: owlconnect.southernct.edu/organization/sumamarketing.

About the American Marketing Association

American Marketing Association student membership and AMA collegiate chapter affiliation offers many benefits, from career resources, platforms for professional development and experiential learning, execution of chapter events, leadership development, to taking part in the many AMA competitions offered annually. For more information visit: ama.org/collegiate.

graphic design class

Many students think graphic design is all about technology – the software programs like Quark and InDesign that are bread and butter to graphic designers – and not so much about problem solving. But this semester, students in Alex Girard’s Principles of Graphic Design (ART 215) course learned differently. Girard, an assistant professor of graphic design in the Art Department, challenged his students to have a positive impact on the life of someone else, to and use creative problem solving to make it happen.

“My two main goals in the course,” Girard explains, “are for students to see how much impact a graphic designer can have on perception, and to explore mapping a solution from start to finish.” At the end of the semester, students presented their projects to the class to practice professional presentations of creative ideas.

In the assignment, students were challenged to identify a problem, the problem’s audience, a concept for the solution, and to establish measurable benchmarks on a timeline. The project was very self-directed. Girard wasn’t asking his students for a highly refined design solution but was more focused on concept and process. Critical thinking skills came into play.

“The project is about navigating a process,” he says. “You’re successful in the class if you do this. The focus is not on the end product. And this class is a safe environment in which to experiment and maybe fail.”

Girard was particularly impressed with the thoughtfulness with which his students developed their topics and projects. They “tackled some brave issues, and did some really positive work,” he says. One students’ project was about stopping racial slurs, for instance, while another’s was about teen suicide.

Girard says the 12 students in the class supported each other and challenged each other as they worked on their projects, but also respected each other.

Speaking as a graphic designer himself, Girard says, “Graphic design is never about you – you are the conduit of something external. Your job is to see the world through someone else’s eyes.” One of the reasons he likes teaching graphic design at Southern is its liberal arts environment. He says many graphic design programs are very technology-focused, but the liberal arts education Southern students receive teaches them to communicate well with others and think about the world broadly.

“It’s important to help students beyond just design sensibility and technological competence,” he says, adding that he thinks about what his students will be doing next, beyond college, and talks to hiring directors and art directors to find out what they’re looking for in potential employees. One key skill he often hears them ask for is the ability to communicate well.

Girard’s students and their topics were:

Pause MovementJordan Watkins
“The outcome is to let people know that it is okay to put your phones down for once.”

Stop the Slurs Julies Ly
“I hope that this movement will bring an understanding that racial slurs hurt.”

More than Something on a Wall Trevon Homeward-Bennett
“I’m hoping that after this show other people would be inspired to create their own art, with their own interpretations and have fun with it.”

Not a Starter Fish Julia Zeidler
“I am raising awareness about proper Betta fish care to eliminate ignorance about how these beautiful creatures are to be kept and raised.”

Intro to Diving Salim Lemond
“I hope that this [project] will bring forth to viewers a stronger understanding, as well as an increased interest, in the sport [of diving].”

Stress Relievers Fabian White
“I am bringing the problem of stress relievers into the light.”

Have You Smiled Today?Whitney Lane
“I am striving to let people know that you in fact do matter and you have made such a great impact on at least one person’s life.”

Strength is Beauty Lee Langley
“I am intending to inspire and motivate a plethora of young girls to embrace their outer strength and beauty as well as, inner beauty.”

Stop. Remember. – Michelle Tenney
“My intended outcome is to promote relaxation and decompression, both physically and through social media.”

Not Another StatisticFelicia Carey
“I am creating a Twitter movement and keychains with the saying ‘Not Another Statistic’ to help spread awareness and show someone suffering that we all care. Together we can put an end to suicide.”

Smash CommunityEdwin Vargas
“The Smash Brothers Community is torn between two games. Using Twitter, I will bridge the two communities by creating and sharing content that both can share and understand.”

 

 

 

 

 

Mother/Daughter commencement candidates Elizabeth Reyes and Angélique Quiñones.

Mother’s Day is coming late for Elizabeth Reyes, who will celebrate not one but two Southern graduations on May 20: her own and that of her daughter, Angélique Quiñones.

The two never had a class together, but the mother and daughter are united by a firm commitment to education. “I was at Southern first. Then she joined me,” says Quiñones, who is graduating with a degree in theater and a minor in communication.

“I am her mom, so I am going to get emotional,” says Reyes, her eyes welling with tears. “She is an inspiration to so many people.”

mom and daughter

As is Reyes, a single mother of two daughters. Building on years of experience working in preschool education, she began her degree at Gateway Community College where she earned more than 100 credits before transferring to Southern. “I wanted to continue my education, but I wanted to put my daughters first and make sure they had a good upbringing. So I took my time to get here,” says Reyes. She will graduate with a degree in general studies and hopes to begin working on a graduate degree in education this September.

The two soon-to-be-grads note that the family’s connection to Southern will remain strong. Reyes’ second daughter is currently studying at Gateway. “As soon as she hits 90 credits, she’s transferring those over and coming to Southern,” says the proud mother.

In the meantime, the family is excitedly looking forward to celebrating commencement, which will take place on May 20 at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Later that day, Reyes has been invited to speak at the ROTC military ball held by her alma mater, DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City. The following day, they will gather with family to celebrate. “We’re really looking forward to it,” says Quiñones with a smile. “Grandma’s food.”

Asked what she is most proud of, Quiñones answer is decidedly short and sweet: “Graduating,” she says with a huge smile. “I’m graduating.”

commencement graphic

Mother and daughter graduates of the Class of 2016 reflect on their time at Southern.

Ideal Study Atmosphere
Elizabeth Reyes (Mother): “I love soft music in the background.”
Angélique Quiñones (Daughter):  “I’m the opposite. First I like noise. Then once I start focusing, everything needs to be silent.”

Most Challenging Part of Attending Southern Together 
Reyes: “No . . . I don’t have anything!”
Quiñones: “She stalks me sometimes. I’m just saying.”
Reyes: “No. How is that possible?
Quiñones: I don’t know where she comes from. She just pops up . . . .”

Favorite Classes
Quiñones: “There was an anthropology class that I took recently. There’s a script writing class. Creative writing.”
Reyes: “I enjoy the psychology courses, sociology courses and education courses.”

Best Part of Attending Southern Together
Reyes: “I know hers.”
Together: “Rides home!”
Reyes: “Having her on campus and seeing her smile. Seeing her being with her friends . . . engaging and socializing with other people. It warms my heart.”

School of Business students

It was a simple suggestion that grabbed the attention of Modern Plastics President Bing Carbone: If he hired someone for just six hours a week to update social media accounts, brand recognition would rise and marketing costs would drop.

That nugget of advice – backed by solid market research – came not from a high-priced consultant, but from a group of five business-minded students at Southern Connecticut State University.

The hiring recommendation was part of a larger social media campaign to help the Shelton-based plastics distributor increase profits and boost sales of two older products, Plexiglas acrylic and COVESTRO MAKROLON® Polycarbonate. The proposal netted the students a $1,000 prize from the company.

“Wow, I’m blown away,” said Carbone after listening to the students’ pitch at the School of Business during the week of final exams. “I’ve been to other presentations and have been thoroughly disappointed. Here, I can’t say enough.”

The presentation was the culmination of a semester-long project aimed at giving students a real-life experience in the business world, says Robert Forbus, associate professor of marketing and assistant to the dean of the School of Business. The project was part of a marketing class he taught during the fall semester.

School of Business students

Forbus divided the class into six teams, asking each to research ways Modern Plastics could tap back into the Plexiglas and polycarbonate market. The company shifted its focus away from those products over the years, favoring the larger profit margins of high-end engineering and medical grade plastics, but other companies have found them profitable. Forbus then gave the teams 10 minutes each to pitch their ideas.

“Ideally, what they’ll leave this class with is a new skill that’s very much in demand in the workplace,” Forbus says. “Plus, they’ll have a deliverable – this plan – that they can actually show to a hiring manager.”

The winning team suggested numerous ways the company could increase sales by stepping up its online presence – using blogs, targeted ads, discounts and promotions and more frequent and engaging Facebook posts.

Carbone said just as he had hoped, the students approached the problem with fresh ideas and a youthful perspective.

While he intends to use some recommendations from each team’s presentation, he said the winners stood out by offering something he could implement immediately. Carbone said he’s thinking about offering the new social media position to a Southern student as an internship.

“I thought they hit it right on the nose with things I ought to be doing,” Carbone said. “I feel that I could implement their ideas tomorrow.”

School of Business student

The university-business partnership began after Carbone approached Judite Vamvakides, SCSU director of annual and leadership giving. Carbone’s two daughters attend Southern, and he said he wanted to give something back.

Vamvakides arranged for Forbus and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Ellen Durnin to tour the plastics company, and during their conversations, the contest was born.

Members of the winning group said the experience was nerve-wracking, especially since they had to start more than three weeks before the deadline after being told their first plan wouldn’t work.

“We initially wanted to do something with 3-D printing, but they didn’t have the manufacturing ability, so we had to start from scratch,” said senior Charlie Dunn.

Junior Chanelle Clarke said the presentation helped her overcome her fear of public speaking. “I was really shy and nervous about the whole process, but my teammates really encouraged me to go out there and kill it,” she said.

Senior Brielle Grestini said the most valuable lesson was learning how to work together as a team. Other winning team members were seniors Ashley Tomanio and Melanie Sivo.

Durnin said the students’ role in the project should give them an edge in job interviews, and she commended Forbus and Carbone for providing the opportunity. “This is a real focus of what we do in this school,” Durnin said. “We want students to feel as if when they leave here, they have the skill set they need to succeed.”

Starting a new school year brings both challenges (expected and unexpected) and opportunities. It gives students a chance for a fresh start — a way to right some of the wrongs from the previous year and to exceed expectations. But to do so, it is important to have a plan of action.

Students wishing to improve their chances for a successful year should begin with a plan before the first day of classes.
Students wishing to improve their chances for a successful year should begin with a plan before the first day of classes.

Today, Wise Words offers the last half of a 2-part series on how to start the year off right and lay the groundwork for a successful year.

Part II

Kelly McNamara, assistant professor of counseling and school psychology at Southern and a former school psychologist in both Connecticut and Massachusetts, shares her suggestions:

*Develop a schedule…Using the previous tips as a guideline, create a plan to get everything done (including fun). “If you tend to be a more detail-oriented person, or an overachiever, a schedule can help reduce feelings of anxiousness that may arise when contemplating how all of the tasks you have taken on will actually get done,” McNamara says. “If you tend to have more of a laid back, go-with-the-flow type of personality, a schedule can help provide an anchor to keep you grounded so that you are less likely to get caught up in the here-and-now, running out of time for completing assignments and having fun.”

*…But be flexible… “Life has a way of throwing us curveballs, so make sure there is room in any schedule to move things around,” she says. “On any given day, you may need to spend more time completing assignments; a fun activity may run later than expected; a project may take longer than you thought it would; your club meeting or sporting event may run late; or you may need to pick up am extra shift at work.”

*…And find some balance. “Certainly, there will be times when you are spending more time studying, working and completing assignments than you might like,” she says. “But it is important to remember that spending all of your time studying and completing assignments, working or even going to meetings or practice can start to feel routine. Try to balance your time so that you are (fulfilling your obligations), but also spending time with your friends, family and having some fun. “This balance is often hard to achieve, but if we plan for it, and consciously try to achieve it, we have a better chance of realizing it.”

*Establish priorities. Since balance can be difficult to achieve, know what really matters so that you can be sure to put what matters first when time runs short. “It can be really challenging to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life, and you may even change your mind a few times along the way,” McNamara says. “But at any given time, it’s important to have an idea of where you want to go, and have a plan to get there. So, decide what is important to you, and make sure that this priority, or those priorities, show up prominently in your schedule and in your life.”

Good luck to all the students — and their parents — for a successful 2014-15 school year!

The start of a new school year generally spurs a bit of anxiety to students – especially for those about to enter a new school. Who doesn’t have some butterflies in their stomach the night before classes begin, or when meeting your teacher for the first time?

But along with that angst and a need to prove your scholastic mettle once again, September also offers the opportunity for a fresh start. In baseball, if a pitcher’s ERA was uncharacteristically high the previous year, or if a hitter’s batting average was surprisingly low, spring training offers hope and promise to turn things around.

A new school year offers students parallel academic opportunities – reclaiming a spot on the honor roll, a chance to boost your overall average and class rank, successfully completing an Advanced Placement course to earn college credit. Last year was last year. This year is now.

A new school year gives students a chance for a fresh start. Wise Words offers some tips on how to start the new school year off right.
A new school year gives students a chance for a fresh start. Wise Words offers some tips on how to start the new school year off right.

But what steps can you take to start the school year off right? Kelly McNamara, assistant professor of counseling and school psychology at Southern, offers several suggestions. She is a former school psychologist having worked in Connecticut and Massachusetts schools.

Today, Wise Words launches a 2-part series on how to start the new school year off right. McNamara shares her ideas in both posts.

Part I

*Learn from those who walked the path before you. Talk to students who recently completed the course or year you are about to start. Ask about workload, topics addressed in classes, teachers/instructors and other important pieces of information that will help prepare you for the year to come. While finding out that Mr. Jones or Ms. Smith is a tough teacher is good to know, ask what specifically makes them so tough. What do they like or dislike? Similarly, you might hear that sophomore English is very difficult. But then ask why and what kinds of assignments are forthcoming. “Remember, people will differ in their opinions about what was enjoyable, tolerable or unpleasant, so be sure to get a variety of opinions,” McNamara says.

*Seek guidance. Talking to a guidance counselor, or perhaps a teacher or two, can answer some questions and concerns you might have. Maybe you had a good relationship with last year’s algebra teacher. Ask them what geometry will be like. If you don’t know any students to talk with about a course or year, counselors might even be able to help put you in touch with someone. “These professionals are great resources to help you navigate the unknown at school,” she says.

*Have some fun. In fact, plan for it. Various studies show that engagement in school is important, yielding benefits to students, such as higher academic achievement and lower dropout rates. “One way to be more engaged in school is to have something that you look forward to and motivates you to be there,” McNamara says. “Find something you enjoy and do it, whether it is a class that is interesting, a sport you love, or a club that fulfills your creative or volunteer spirit. It’s a lot easier to get out of bed and get to class when you have something motivating that is waiting for you.”

*Make the most of your electives. Most schools have a certain number of required, or core courses. For example, every sophomore might need to take English II. But electives are those classes in your schedule that you choose to take. For example, you may need to take five classes next year, but only three of them are core courses, leaving room for two electives. Courses in the arts are frequently electives, as are those in computer science. But even additional courses in the “basics” can be electives, such as going beyond your three-year requirement in foreign languages and taking a fourth year of a language. “Use these ‘flexible’ credits to make the most of your school experience, whether it’s for fun or to help you achieve your goals,” she says. McNamara points out that a larger number of students today apply to majors or specialized schools when applying to college (such as engineering). Electives can be a way to provide you with specialized training and give you a “leg up” on the competition.

Coming soon:

Part II – More helpful hints to start the new school year out right