Monthly Archives: October 2013

*Jonathan Ruiz, who works at Southern as part of the AmeriCorps Campus Compact, and Southern student volunteers were noted in an Oct. 30 story in the New Haven Register. the article was about a Halloween party for kids from the Westville section of New Haven.

*Jim Tait, associate professor of science education and environmental studies, and Ezgi Akpinar Ferrand, assistant professor of geography, were quoted in an Oct. 27 story in the New Haven Register about the recovery of coastal communities a year after Hurricane Sandy. Jim and Ezgi, as well as their students, have been working with the communities of East Haven and West Haven to analyze beach erosion and flood damage. The goal is to help those towns develop a plan to restore those beaches and mitigate damage from future storms.

An article about Southern’s efforts in East Haven and West Haven also appeared in the Register’s October education supplement, “Education Connection.”

*Southern attracted considerable media attention in relation to the Oct. 21 visit to campus byU.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor:

  • The New Haven Register ran a Page 1 story that ran on Oct. 22. It also published online a series of photos from the event.
  • The Connecticut (Television) Network (CT-N)broadcast the event in its entirety several times, beginning on Oct. 22.
  • WQUN (1220 AM) aired a segment about the visit during its Oct. 22 newscasts.
  • Frank Harris, a columnist with the Hartford Courant (and associate professor of journalism here at Southern), wrote a column that ran in the Oct. 24 edition of the paper and referenced the event.
  • The Connecticut Post ran two blog posts —  published Oct. 18 and Oct. 20 — which previewed the event.

*Frank Tavares, professor of communication, was interviewed Oct. 17 on the “Where We Live”show on WNPR (90.5 FM) about his new book, “The Man Who Built Boxes.”

Frank also was interviewed by WNPR about the upcoming change in National Public Radio funding credits. Although it did not air, the clip was posted on the station’s website.

*Joe Fields, professor of mathematics, was “in the news” on back-to-back days for his development of an open-source textbook that has been used by many of his students over the last several years. The book is available online at no cost to his students, or to anyone else who chooses to use it for their own classes or reading.

On Oct. 14, he was featured in an article that appeared on the front page of the New Haven Register. Len Brin, assistant chairman of the Mathematics Department, and Aaron Clark, associate professor of mathematics, also were quoted in the story.

On Oct. 15, Joe was interviewed on the Channel 61 Morning Show about the book and a budding trend in higher education toward open-source textbooks.

*An Oct. 10 article in the New Haven Register previewed the conference, “Title IX: Equality in Action: The Enduring Legacy of Title IX.” The conference was held the following day. The daylong event focused on the history of the landmark federal legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity receiving federal money on the basis of sex.

*Tim Parrish, professor of English, was interviewed on two Louisiana radio stations for his recent books: “Fear and What Follows: The Violent Education of a Christian Racist, A Memoir,” and “The Reading Life.”

An interview aired on Oct. 8 by the Baton Rouge-based WRKF, a National Public Radio affiliate, for “Fear and What Follows.” It is part of that station’s “All Things Considered” program.

On Oct. 9, he was interviewed on WWNO, the University of Louisiana’s station for “The Reading Life.’

*Yahoo! Canada ran a story on Oct. 8 that offered 13 tips on how to feel your absolute best this month. It mentioned a study conducted a few years ago by William Lunn, assistant professor of exercise science, which indicated chocolate milk is an excellent beverage when recovering from a strenuous workout.

    Christmas ferns are pretty ordinary plants in the botanical world – they are in abundance in the eastern half of the United States, and if you walk through a shaded area of a park, you can find them pretty easily.

    Yet the properties inside this ostensibly unremarkable fern may be a catalyst toward combatting an aggressive form of brain cancer. So says, Sarah Crawford, a professor of biology at Southern who has an extensive background in cancer research.

    But her statement is more than just an abstract theoretical possibility. An extract made from the Christmas fern has demonstrated anti-cancer properties in pre-clinical testing conducted by Crawford and her students. In fact, the results were impressive enough to spur the U.S. Patent Office to award Crawford, as well as Erin Boisvert, a former student of Crawford, a patent for the extract.

    “This is really exciting news,” Crawford says. “I applied for the patent more than six years ago and was hopeful it would grant its approval. But it’s a long, thorough process. You’re never quite sure whether it is going to be approved or not.”

    The extract was tested as part of a three-component cocktail – carmustine, a powerful chemotherapy drug used to treat brain cancer; curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric that has anti-inflammatory qualities; and polystichum acrostichoides, the technical name for the Christmas fern. The plant is believed to have antioxidant properties, but to Crawford’s knowledge, it has not previously undergone rigorous testing for its anti-cancer ability.

    The tests showed that the cocktail was effective in killing nearly half of the cancer cells in tiny tumors created in the Biology Department lab – far more effective than use of any of the three substances alone. “I won’t rest until we can kill 100 percent of the cancer cells, but it’s a good start,” she says, adding that she plans to experiment by using different levels of each substance to see if that increases the efficacy of the extract’s anti-cancer properties. She said she also may test other chemotherapy drugs with the Christmas fern and curcumin.

    Crawford says that a reduction in the level of carmustine, but maintaining or increasing the effectiveness of the cocktail, would be ideal. That could reduce the side effects commonly associated with chemotherapy drugs.

    The tests were conducted on glioblastoma multiforme, considered to be the most deadly form of brain cancer with a fatality rate of more than 90 percent within five years.

    Two current students are assisting Crawford with this project.

    Brielle Hayward, who is a graduate fellow, is examining the Christmas fern’s antioxidant properties and comparing its anti-cancer effects with other phytochemical antioxidants, such as American and Korean ginseng.

    Paulina Mrowiec, who is a member of the Honors College, is continuing her research on the project after completing an undergraduate thesis last spring on pre-clinical models for cancer drug testing.

    Crawford says she looks forward to the opening of the Academic and Laboratory Science Building, scheduled for 2015, which promises state-of-the-art facilities and equipment to conduct further research.

    Halloween is a tough time to be a bat.

    Only a month ago, the Flying Mammal had a buffet of available bugs to choose from for its meals. But the cool weather of late fall has drastically reduced the volume of mosquitoes, gnats and other flying insects from which to dine. The chillier conditions and declining food supply has sent some bats into hibernation already, with others preparing for the long, sleepy fast.

    Brown bats are common in the United States.
    Brown bats are common in the United States.

    But if that’s not enough to give bats the blues, their reputation is annually besmirched during Halloween season. In movies, we see Dracula turn himself into a bat, flying around a haunted house and sucking blood from his victims. Kids equate bat costumes with those of witches, goblins and other menaces of the night.

    “With the exception of ‘Batman,’ we generally don’t see bats portrayed in a positive light,” says Miranda Dunbar, assistant professor of biology at Southern and a self-proclaimed Defender of the Bat. “But the reality is the bat is actually one of the good guys.”

    Dunbar, who has conducted extensive research on bats, has offered to help dispel some of the biggest myths about bats. Here are some of them:

    Myth: Bats like to suck people’s blood.
    Reality: There are only a few species of bat that consume blood at all, none of which are regularly found in the United States or Canada. And even among the species that do feed on blood, such as the vampire bat, they prefer livestock.

    Myth: Bats are dirty animals that often spread rabies.
    Reality: Bats are actually very clean, frequently giving themselves and their young tongue baths. And while it is possible to contact rabies from a bat, like many animals in wildlife, you have a much higher chance of getting rabies from raccoons, rats, foxes or dogs. When a bat gets rabies, it often dies within a week, not allowing it to hang around very long to spread the disease.

    Myth: Bats are blind, at least during the day.
    Reality: Although most have small eyes and don’t have great vision, they can see, even during the day. Some tropical species actually have vision that’s quite good.

    Myth: Bats do nothing but sleep during the daytime hours.
    Reality: Like other nocturnal animals, bats certainly sleep during the day. But they don’t sleep the entire time. In fact, they often groom and socialize during the day. Yes, they have friends.

    Myth: All bats are brown or black in color.
    Reality: While most in North America are some variation of brown, the Eastern red bats are actually a fiery red or orange. They are very handsome, but they tend to be a little high maintenance compared with the other bats.

    Most bats wouldn't want to mess with this guy, an Eastern red bat.
    Most bats wouldn’t want to mess with this guy, an Eastern red bat.

    Myth: Other than eating some insects, the bat contributes little to the eco-system.
    Reality: Not true. They eat a tremendous amount of insects – sometimes even their own weight in bugs during the course of an evening. But one of the little known facts about bats is that they are the primary pollinators and seed dispersers for many tropical fruits, such as bananas, mangoes and figs, as well as cashews and even for the Agave plant, which is used to make tequila. Their fur gets full of pollen when they eat the nectar of flowers. They then spread the pollen in their travels.

      U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the Southern community that she thought about asking President Barack Obama to withdraw her nomination to the nation’s highest court amid intense scrutiny four years ago during her confirmation process.

      “The attacks on me were wearing me down,” she said. “The process was exhausting. Some people were saying I wasn’t smart enough to do the job.” But Sotomayor persisted with the support of her family and friends and was eventually confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

      It was a blunt admission during her nearly hour-long talk on Oct. 21 at the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts, where she spoke to an estimated 1,300 people – mostly students, faculty and staff. Her talk was part of a one-on-one interview with President Mary A. Papazian. It capped her campus visit, which included meeting with Southern students, as well as a class of seventh and eighth graders from New Haven’s Columbus School. She also had her photo taken with attendees of a reception in her honor.

      And while she recalled the confirmation process, most of the dialogue focused on her life’s journey and lessons that she has learned along the way. She weaved in plenty of advice to students, especially freshmen who were required last summer to read her memoir, “My Beloved World,” as part of the “Common Read” program.

      Among the pieces of advice she offered students was to take courses outside of their comfort zone while in college. “College is the one time you can experiment a little,” she said.

      While she knew in college that she wanted to go to law school, she decided to take a course in economics so that she had a better understanding of supply and demand, and a course in psychology so that she knew what terms such as “Freudian slip” actually meant.

      “Take courses just because they are interesting…Become a more interesting person,” she urged.

      Asked for her thoughts on taking a foreign language course in college – something many students would prefer to avoid — she expressed her approval for registering for such classes. “Most Europeans speak not (just) one other language, but multiple other languages,” she said.

      Sotomayor said taking a foreign language is also important because it helps to expose students to other cultures. And she added that while cultures may differ, the underlying values among the people are essentially the same – the importance of family, sharing, loyalty and love.

      She also offered a blunt analysis of courtroom justice. “In a courtroom, there are winners. But there’s always, but always, a loser. That person feels justice was not on their side.”

      She said that in writing the book, she attempted to give people an insight into her life beyond the biographical information about her that had already been made known to the public. She also wanted to let people know that although her early life was filled with personal and family struggles, they taught her a great deal and gave her strength.

      The visit was coordinated by a committee, spearheaded by Dawn Cathey, a university assistant in the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs and an adjunct faculty member who teaches in the First-Year Experience program, and Tracy Tyree, vice president for student affairs.

      MEDIA STORY: The New Haven Register ran a Page 1 story in its Oct. 22 edition. The following are links to that story, as well as a collection of photos taken by the paper:

        You are sitting on an examining table in a doctor’s office, waiting to hear what your physician has to say about your mystifying symptoms. But when the doctor begins to explain, you cannot understand the medical terms he uses. It’s a situation that can make anyone anxious, but add to that a language barrier – imagine your doctor only speaks English and you only speak Spanish.

        Luisa Piemontese, professor of Spanish, says people in this position are often scared. She has helped Spanish-speaking friends and family with communicating in doctor’s or dentist’s appointments. Piemontese will also assist if she is out in a doctor’s office and notices that someone is having trouble communicating because of a language barrier. And she is helping in another way: the new course on medical Spanish (Spanish 220) that she is teaching this fall will give students, particularly those going into medical or helping professions, the capability to converse with patients and make them feel comfortable.

        The course was developed by Resha Cardone and Sobeira Latorre, associate professors of Spanish. Cardone was originally approached by the Nursing Department in 2010 to create such a course and later worked with student Stephanie Caicedo, a double major in Spanish and nursing, who wanted to do an independent study to connect her two majors. Caicedo translated a series of documents into Spanish for the Connecticut Lifespan Respite Coalition (CLRC), a local agency. Thanks to this independent study, Cardone says, she met Peaches Quinn of the CLRC, who helped her understand that the need for medical Spanish courses existed not only at Southern but also within the community. “Despite the fact that her agency serves many Hispanic clients, they had no materials in Spanish to offer them,” Cardone says.

        By the end of Stephanie’s independent study, she says, she was hearing from both students and members of the community that a medical Spanish course was needed. When the time came to put together the course proposal, Latorre offered to help. “Neither of us have any expertise in the medical field, so we had to do quite a bit of research in putting the proposal together,” Cardone says.

        When Piemontese offered the course for the first time this fall, it was immediately apparent how much interest there is among students for such a course. The course filled quickly, prompting its developers to consider creating a medical Spanish track or minor, not only for nursing students, but also for students in related fields like public health, psychology and exercise science.

        Spanish 101 is the prerequisite for the course, along with three years of Spanish in high school. Spanish 200 is required for the LEP, but the medical Spanish course can fill the same requirement. “In Spanish 200, you learn the parts of the body on the outside,” Piemontese says. “In this course we’ll go inside the body.”

        Learning vocabulary is important, she says, and the students will do that, but her ultimate goal for the course is for them to be able to communicate. “We are focusing on the medical terms – the textbook is on medical Spanish, and the dictionary required for the course is for students in medical professions – but we’ll also do a lot of mock scenes of being in a hospital or doctor’s office.”

        She is interested in knowing how much her students know about the Spanish-speaking world and wants to move beyond stereotypical ideas of the cultures so that students understand they will be dealing with human beings, not stereotypes. Early in the course, Piemontese will talk about how important correct pronunciation is – “mispronunciation can be insulting,” she says.

        One way she plans to give her students hands-on experience is to take them with her to help at a medical clinic for migrant farm workers run by the University of Connecticut. The clinic, staffed by medical students, goes out into farms around the state and provides medical and dental care for the migrant workers.

        Piemontese volunteered with this clinic over the summer and has asked her students if they would like to join her. The first week of class, she and some of her students were headed to Lyman Orchards to accompany the clinic staff to observe and to help with communication, if asked.

        The students who registered for this course want to be there, Piemontese says. “It is immediately meaningful to them. They know it is a skill they need.”

        Two Southern Connecticut State University faculty members and their students are analyzing the effect that Hurricane Sandy had on the coastlines of East Haven and West Haven in an effort to help those communities prepare for future storms.

        James Tait, associate professor of science education and environmental studies, and Ezgi Akpinar Ferrand, assistant professor ofgeography, have been examining the beach erosion that occurred from the hurricane that hit the East Coast a year ago. The bulk of their efforts have been focused on East Haven, so far, though some analysis has taken place on the coastline of West Haven. They may look at other coastal communities in the future.

        “East Haven was really the poster child of damage as a result of that storm,” says Tait, who lives close to the beach area in that community.

        He says the width of the beach area was the primary factor in determining how much damage a coastal community sustained. In areas with a wide beach, the damage was minimal, but in narrow beach areas, the effects were much more profound. In fact, the waters of Long Island sound extended 1,845 feet inland in the Silver Sands Road and Farview Road area of East Haven, according to Tait. And the beach area was cut in half in the vicinity of Caroline Avenue.

        “It could have been even worse had the peak of the storm coincided with high tide,” Akpinar Ferrand adds. “Instead, it occurred close to low tide.”

        SCSU has been mapping the flood zones to show the most affected areas. Tait says that because a wide beach is the best protection against property damage, he believes it would be fruitful for East Haven to restore its beach area. He said there are a few ways that this can be accomplished.

        “Connecticut’s beaches are naturally erosive, especially as compared with California,” he says. He explained that in areas with fairer weather, the waves naturally return the beach sand that is lost. But in Connecticut, the return rate is very slow. In fact, he said some studies have shown up to a foot of beach area is lost, on average, per year.

        Tait says a full report on the assessment and recommendations will be made to East Haven officials next fall.

        Part of the report is likely to show how bad the damage would have been if the storm occurred in 2025 or 2035, assuming a gradual rise in the sea level of Long Island Sound projected by many climatologists. “We certainly believe that the damage would have been worse,” he says.

        In West Haven, an analysis is being conducted to determine where the beach sand has gone as a result of the hurricane. He hopes that information can help West Haven plan for its own beach revitalization, which would include the addition of beach sand in the areas that would have the greatest benefit to the city.

        “These two projects have the potential to benefit the two communities, as well as give our students an opportunity to participate in real-world research,” Akinpar Ferrand says.

        Tait agrees.

        “And the research could be used as a catalyst for changes that could lower flood insurance premiums in those areas,” he says.

        Catherine Cota, a student working on the projects, says it is a rewarding experience to see what can be done to preserve the existence of the beaches and prevent devastation from future storms. “I really enjoy being part of a project that can directly benefit the people of these communities and help tax dollars to be put to good use,” Cota says. “After working on the beaches all summer, you really get a feel for how important the beaches are to this community.”

        Kaitlyn Stobierski, also a student engaged with the research, says the real-world experience has enabled her to apply the skills she has learned in the classroom. “And the work that we have been doing on the beaches will give people in the town a better understanding of what they are up against and what they can do to help out the beaches,” she says.

        Mark Paine Jr., assistant to the commissioner of public works in West Haven, thanked SCSU, noting that the city could not possibly have conducted the extensive research that is being conducted by the university.

        “I’m grateful for the resources the Werth Center (for Coastal and Marine Studies) is providing the city, and as an SCSU graduate, I’m pleased to be a small part of an enriching and tremendously valuable field experience for the students,” Paine says. “It’s truly a win-win situation, and a perfect example of the type of collaboration our state and municipal entities would benefit by engaging in. It is my hope that this is the first of many such partnerships with SCSU.”

        Carlos Cruz plans to spend much of his future on a college campus. Not only does the recent Southern grad intend to someday pursue a master’s degree and a doctorate, but his long-term goal is to become a college professor.

        But before he headed down that path, Cruz knew he wanted to take a break from his studies to travel and get some real-world experience.

        So instead of spending this academic year as a student, Cruz will spend it as a teacher– helping primary or secondary school children in China learn English.

        “I think everybody should take a break from school once they graduate,” says the 21-year-old New Haven native, who leaves for Shanghai on Oct. 9. “Going straight to graduate school is beneficial in some aspects, but really getting experience out in the world is much more valuable.”

        Cruz is one of about 300 young people from all over the world heading to China as part of the Ameson Year in China program (AYC), which looks for “college-educated, open-minded people seeking to expand their horizons and enhance their careers,” according to the AYC website. Participants spend an academic year teaching students between the ages of 6 and 15 in public schools located in several Chinese cities and provinces, including Shanghai, Beijing and Nanjing. Any native English-speaking degree holder is eligible to apply.

        Cruz, who graduated with a degree in history, says he plans to eventually pursue his graduate studies in East Asian and Southeast Asian history and “thought this would be a perfect start.”

        “My family thinks I’m nuts,” he jokes. “But my former professors, my colleagues at work and all my friends – they’re really excited for me.”

        Cruz says he learned about the program after getting an email from Michele Thompson, a Southern professor of history, who he also credits with inspiring his interest in Asia.

        Thompson says she immediately thought of Cruz when she heard that the program was looking for applicants. She knew of his interest in traveling to Asia – he initially asked her about opportunities to go to Vietnam — and says his strong organizational skills and cheerful and outgoing personality make him a good fit for the assignment. She says Cruz was enrolled in four of her classes last year and excelled in each, while also balancing a job and volunteer work.

        “He is also very, very polite which will serve him well anywhere in Asia,” she says.

        Cruz grew up in the Fair Haven section of New Haven and is a 2009 graduate of New Haven’s Wilbur Cross High School. He’s also a familiar face around New Haven’s City Hall, having worked on and off since 2008 as an intern for Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s office, as well as the city’s Commission on Equal Opportunities and the Finance Department. He was also the inaugural president of the New Haven Youth Council, a group that researched the likes and interests of city youth for the New Haven Board of Aldermen.

        Cruz prepared for his journey by taking online classes in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFOL) and will complete his certification following a week of on-site training. He will spend his first two weeks in orientation – which includes a crash course in “survival Chinese,” as well as lessons in Chinese laws and culture — before being assigned to a host school. Cruz says he plans to take advantage of classes in Mandarin Chinese throughout the year as well as sightseeing trips to major cities and landmarks such as the Great Wall.

        “I’ve never been out of the country before, not even once,” Cruz says. “I’m looking forward to the culture shock.”

          As a math professor, Joe Fields knows a thing or two about how costs can compound themselves. He can use algebraic formulas – even calculus equations – to show just how much rising costs of higher education are affecting the pocketbooks of students and their parents.

          But he didn’t need an advanced mathematical background to discover the effect that rising textbook prices are having on students across the country, including those he teaches at Southern.

          That awareness helped spur Fields to write an open-source textbook for a course he teaches on mathematical proofs. He makes the book available online for free to his students, or for that matter to any students, professors or others who wish to read it or print it out. “It just seemed ridiculous to me that a standard textbook for this class was costing students around $150. So, I decided to write a book (A Gentle Introduction to the Art of Mathematics) that is not only free, but that I believe is better at helping students in their transition from computational math courses to the more abstract and theoretical courses.”

          And don’t worry, the quality is sound. In fact, his book has been endorsed by the American Institute of Mathematics – a prestigious organization in the math world. The book was originally published in 2008, but has had several revisions. A printed-on-demand, hard copy of the book is also available for $14.40, but in the digital age, many students are quite comfortable with reading online publications.

          The approach taken by Fields – offering free online textbooks – is a growing phenomenon in academia. At SCSU, several of his Math Department colleagues are following a similar path. Len Brin, assistant department chairman, has begun writing a book, “Numerical Analysis.” And Marie Nabbout-Cheiban, assistant professor, and Klay Kruczek, associate professor, are also involved in online software projects.

          “You often see textbook publishers come out with revised editions after making only minor changes that really didn’t need to made,” Fields said. “But they sometimes change the numeric sequence of the math problems in the book so that students are forced to buy the new edition, rather than purchase a cheaper, used book.”

          Fields said it is easier in some ways to develop and market such free online textbooks for more advanced courses because there is less interest from publishing companies. The introductory or more basic level courses are used by more students and the publishers do a good job of providing supplemental materials, he said.

          He typically teaches his Introduction to Proofs course to about 40 students a year. That saves students – who in past years had been paying about $150 for a textbook – a collective total of $6,000 a year. He does not know how many others have used his textbook so far, but he has received a few emails – presumably from faculty members or students at other schools — asking questions about it.

          Suzy Mitchell, an SCSU student who used the open-source book by Fields for another math class, said she was pleasantly surprised by her experience. “I thought I was going to hate an online textbook, especially a math one,” Mitchell said. “However, it was a very easy resource and as a student, it was very convenient and easy to access. And the fact that the author of the book was one of my former professors was a great comfort. If I was confused about something or questioned an idea, I could (ask) Dr. Fields about it and he would be more than willing to help answer any of my questions.”

          Fields said he believes the use of open-source textbook will continue to grow.

          “I think we are going to see increased interest and use of online books in higher education as a way to help curtail costs for students,” Fields said.

          A recent report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office shows an 82- percent increase in the average price of college textbooks since 2002 — virtually triple the rate of inflation during that same period.

          Note taking is one of the most underrated skills a person can learn in school.

          You generally don’t get graded on it, per se, unless you take a class in shorthand. It’s often taught as a small component of another course.

          But unlike some academic subjects that have little or no practical use after high school or college graduation, the ability to take notes has lifelong value.


          Good note taking goes a long way toward making good journalists. Doctors and other medical staff rely on notes concerning a patient’s symptoms and diagnosis. Staff meetings often require taking down important information.

          “Note taking is a skill – like shooting free throws or dancing the waltz – which must be learned and practiced to be done well,” says Lisa Kuchta, an instructor of communication at Southern.

          She actually landed a job in college as a note taker. In the long run, the profitability of her job depended upon the accuracy and effectiveness of her notes.

          Kuchta offers the following suggestions to students on effective note taking, although many of the same principles can be applied to adults, as well.

          • Do your homework. It is important to read the material on which a lecture is going to be based before the class. Teachers and professors will use terms or ideas from the readings in their lectures. If you don’t understand the material, it will be difficult to grasp the meaning of what is said in class.
          • Eliminate barriers to learning. Simply put, you can’t take good notes if you can’t pay attention. So, make sure you can see and hear clearly what is said and written on the board. Turn off your cell phone. Avoid the temptation of checking an email or instant message if you are taking notes via a laptop or tablet. And while students today are probably better at multi-tasking than in the past, research has shown that the brain can’t fully focus on two mental tasks at once.
          • Learn to pick out the main ideas. “Ten minutes of lecture can likely be boiled to a few main points and a handful of sub points,” Kuchta says. “Trying to write down everything the instructor says will inevitably cause you to miss important information. You just can’t write as fast as the lecturer can speak, unless you know shorthand.”
          • Practice, practice, practice. If you find yourself having difficulty choosing what to leave in and what to leave out, take some extra time to improve that skill. One way to practice is to listen to a news broadcast. After each story, try to retell the gist of it in one sentence.
          • Use a clear, outlined structure. Outlines enable the brain to think logically. They enable us to differentiate between major and minor points. You can choose your own style – Roman numerals, capital letters, stars and bullet points, or whatever system that makes you comfortable.
          • Put ideas into your own words. Just robotically copying what the lecturer says – even when you don’t have a clue as to what it means – isn’t going to help you understand the material later. “Instead, listen completely to what the professor is trying to tell you and — in your head – re-explain it to yourself in your own words so that it makes sense to you. If you realize it does not make sense to you, ask the teacher for clarification,” Kuchta says.
          • Type or reread your notes later that day. It takes a little more time, but it will be worth it in the long run. By re-reading and/or transcribing your notes, it will allow you to fill in the blanks on what you don’t understand while the information is still fresh in your mind. And it will also help you commit it to a longer-term memory.

          “Becoming a better note-taker may take commitment and diligence, but improving your proficiency will make your job – in school and in the real world – so much easier,” Kuchta says.