Ask the Faculty: Advice for Incoming Freshmen from Their Future Professors

Chris Mirus


Published Date: August 01, 2014

Starting college for the first time can be like entering an entirely different world, so we asked some of our faculty for advice for incoming freshmen on making the transition. Here's what they had to say.

1. Do you have any recommendations of books to read over the summer or other advice for preparing academically for the coming year?

"I would suggest that they start reading Book One of the "Iliad" – without help. No Wikipedia, no Spark Notes, no voices telling you what you're supposed to think. Read slowly, preferably aloud, and with a pencil in your hand. Facing that text yourself, reacting to it, developing confidence in your own mind's ability while feeling humility at the same time are all virtues and habits of a UD education." - Associate Professor of English Debra Romanick Baldwin 

"Science students might consider picking up their books for biology, chemistry, math or physics and start skimming chapters to review some introductory information for that first day." - Associate Professor of Biology and Associate Dean of Constantin College of Liberal Arts Marcy Brown Marsden, BS '91 

"Read for pleasure over the summer, enjoy your family and friends, and rest." - Associate Professor of English Scott Crider 

"More than individual books, I think it is important to learn better how to read deeply and slowly, to take the classics seriously and realize that each line of verse or each sentence deserves the time to be understood and reasoned out. Then you need to establish your own connection to what the author is saying and how you understand yourself and the world around you." - Associate Professor of Theology and Associate Provost John Norris, BA '84 

2. In your experience and opinion, what is the best way for students to communicate with their professors?

"Participation in class communicates to a professor that you are there when there. The best way to communicate, of course, is to come by during office hours for conversation. Those hours are for you. You are not interrupting us; we are here for you." - Scott Crider

"If you need anything or have any questions, please reach out to your professor. Don't be shy; the semester goes by quicker than you expect. Before you know it, a test, a paper or finals will be right around the corner." - Affiliate Instructor of Spanish Nicole Lasswell, BA '03 

"I believe that there is no substitute for face-to-face conversations during office hours. Email is also a valuable means of communication – but it is limited and less synergetic. Face-to-face conversations are shaped by so many more factors, including tone and silences that can result in serendipitous discoveries. Get to know your professors – meet people who have been shaped by their love of great works and ideas. And let them get to know you, too." - Debra Romanick Baldwin

3. How would you say that the relationship between students and their teachers changes from high school to college?

"Despite the increased distance between teacher and student in college, there is also greater opportunity for intellectual friendship, as student and professor tackle together the perilous seas of their shared intellectual tradition." - John Norris

"College students are learning to gain their own intellectual authority – to be, in the end, peers of their professors." - Debra Romanick Baldwin

"UD professors expect students to be self-sufficient, even if we are always happy to help. Most of all, we expect you to come prepared and eager to learn. UD is a school for intellectuals. Even UD students who don't define themselves that way are usually intellectuals-in-denial. We expect you to be independent thinkers. Both parts of that phrase matter." - Scott Crider

4. In this age of social media and multitasking, what advice would you give students on balancing it all? Do you think social media is ever beneficial to students, or does it seem to be mostly a distraction?

"Personally, I like social media, but it can be a huge distraction if you don't have the discipline to use it at the right place and time, and for appropriate amounts of time. However, social media can help enhance the college experience. You can set times to meet with friends, make study groups, post study questions, etc. It can be a tool for your academic and social life, if you use it wisely." - Nicole Lasswell

"First, open your books and don't just use them as doorstops. Get off your phones, your tablets, and sit someplace and read your books without the distractions of multitasking. Though technology has many advantages, much of it can be very distracting." - John Norris

"Perhaps the biggest challenge of college life is learning how to use one's time well and to focus on things worth focusing upon – unplugged. So schedule time for the big things: reading and study (including thinking and talking with friends engaged in the same work), eating well, sleeping enough, exercising some. If you make time for the big things, the rest will fall into place." - Debra Romanick Baldwin

"Use social media; don't be used by them. Remember that they are wonderful tools – means to an end. Too many of us are the tools of our tools now – distracted, even dominated by our technology. Give yourself time to unplug – time to attend to your social, intellectual and spiritual life without your smartphone and your computer. The ability to attend to the subject-at-hand over long periods of time: this is one of the most important abilities there is. It can be difficult at first, especially if you don't yet have the habit, but practice turns it into a habit." - Scott Crider

"I get concerned when I see students texting or on a computer in my class since I feel it is a potential diversion of their attention. If a student considers time spent in class as a component of study time for an exam, a paper, etc., then time spent in class doing something else means less study time. There is a time and a place for that interaction, but is it the best use of your class time?" - Marcy Brown Marsden

5. Do you have any study tips?

"Don't study late at night when you're tired. Go to bed and get up earlier in the morning and study when you're better rested. You'll learn and retain more." - John Norris

"Write in the margins of your books. Take good notes: write down what goes on the board, of course, but take down essentials of material; leave a margin for questions – basic and advanced. When you have time, take a second set of notes from your first set, reducing the material, outlining it, making it yours. Be prepared for classes to converse with each other so you can begin to see the Core as a whole body of knowledge, a universe of what we think about what is." - Scott Crider

"If you feel like you need help for any class, that means you need it. Go and meet all the tutors available for the classes where you feel you might need help the most. It would be wise to get in touch with our Academic Success Office. They'll help you organize and prepare yourself correctly for each class." - Nicole Lasswell

"One primary difficulty I see with students is that they participate in passive studying, not active studying. A student may say 'I studied 15 hours for this exam,' but was that 15 hours of staring at notes, or did it include working problems, rewriting notes, quizzing, study groups, talking to professors? Active studying requires inventorying to determine what you know and what you do not. Passive studying such as staring at notes, sitting in a review session without asking questions or simply flipping through slides is not going to be as helpful as when you put notes away and ask yourself 'what do I really know?' That's when you learn." - Marcy Brown Marsden

6. Any other advice or words of wisdom for first-time college students?

"Your first semester is crucial: it is so easy to fall behind in those first few weeks, and the resulting damage to your academic record can be devastating. But excelling in your first semester will give you a boost for your whole four years. Still, education is not just about numbers. Remember that you are embarking on a truly exciting intellectual journey: so enjoy it! And call your mother from time to time." - Debra Romanick Baldwin

"Be good and be smart. The rest will take care of itself. Take every opportunity to learn since these amazing years will be over before you know it." - Scott Crider

"You are a full-time student, so being a student is your full-time job. In the real world a full-time job is minimally 40 hours per week. If you are registered for 15 hours a week, then sitting in class takes at least 15 hours, but what about the other 25? That time should be used for studying, reading, reviewing, talking to professors and other things that are part of your full-time job. Some students will require more than 40 hours a week, and some will require fewer. But even people with full-time jobs have time for friends, family, faith, exercise and other activities that enrich their lives. It just takes planning." - Marcy Brown Marsden

"Take your education seriously. Create friendships with people who support that in you. This education is an expensive investment, but it will last a lifetime, longer than any car or house or possession." - John Norris

In the photo: Associate Professor of Philosophy Christopher Mirus

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