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Helping students cope

From the Spring 2012 Parent Newsletter

I’ve heard that students should be involved in campus organizations and opportunities outside of classes. My son says he is too busy just with class and homework. His grades are fine, but is that going to be enough when he applies for a job or graduate school?

Freshman. Sophomore. Junior. Senior. Four years, each with its own challenges and opportunities. Take it one year at a time and you graduate. Sounds simple. But we know it’s not.

Take any of those years and there’s a lot to manage: new demands, new skills, increased course loads, changing relationships. Many students approach each year as a self-contained unit, without recognizing that what they learn now should lead into the next steps. While a “one day at a time, one thing at a time” approach has its advantages, the years of college are not as distinct as students may want them to be. Each semester is a brick for a wall one is building. The bricks must not only be set in place. Mortar is needed to bond each piece of the wall for strength and long lasting viability.

Unlike the formal steps of college—the semesters or bricks—which are defined by program requirements and measured in credit hours, the mortar is less defined. But it connects a student’s experiences. For example, sophomores and juniors aren’t usually required by their program checklist to pursue an internship. But doing so has real benefits for developing mastery of concepts, clarity of focus, networking, and job preparation. Great mortar. Other examples include engaging in campus leadership roles, student organizations, volunteer experiences, learning abroad, and research projects.

Because the formal demands of an academic year are challenging enough, these mortar aspects can often remain as cracks. Opportunity deadlines are easily missed. Networking can feel awkward and elusive. Participating in a club meeting tomorrow might mean writing the first draft of a paper tonight. Adding mortar can be stressful. But few doubt its importance.

One of the University’s key student development outcomes is “goal orientation,” the ability to “manage energy and attention to achieve specific outcomes.” Embracing mortar opportunities leads to mastery of goal orientation—a tremendous asset for life after college. So what can students do?

First, it’s important to build mortar into each semester’s plans. For example, first-year students may get a head start on developing networking skills by visiting professors or joining a campus organization. Sophomores may take on greater leadership roles, pursuing informational interviews (that can help identify future internship opportunities), and discussing with their academic adviser the steps needed to travel abroad junior or senior year. Such efforts won’t feel like an inconvenience or burden if they are planned in advance.

Second, students can consult campus resources that help in planning. Examples include the Learning Abroad Center, Student Activities and Engagement offices; career and advising office staff; professors (for research opportunities); and family and friends. Offices such as Orientation & First- Year Programs; Admissions; Student Unions and Activities; and Housing & Residential Life offer leadership and peer mentorship opportunities. And the University now offers a leadership minor.

Third, students can work with you—their parents—and with other family members. Engage in conversations about planning. They may not welcome such a conversation, but it will help create greater satisfaction for them in the years ahead. Planning ahead means talking in August about plans for January, or completing that summer internship application in March. Many opportunities require planning. Students should spend time in the last two months of each semester planning for their outside-the-classroom activities for the next semester or for the summer. Your students are working hard to put in place all the required bricks for graduation. Don’t let them forget about the mortar.

Student Development Outcomes

The U of M has adopted seven development outcomes for students:

  1. Responsibility and Accountability
  2. Independence and Interdependence
  3. Goal Orientation
  4. Self Awareness
  5. Resilience
  6. Appreciation of Differences
  7. Tolerance of Ambiguity

For more information, see www.sdo.umn.edu.

Picture of Dr. Scott Slattery.Dr. Scott Slattery, University Counseling & Consulting Services (UCCS), addresses questions from parents of University of Minnesota students. He may be reached at 612-625-4568 or slatt008@umn.edu.

Link-Up Mentoring Program

The advice and experience of an older student often means more than staff or faculty advice. Link-Up is a student-run program to help freshmen adjust to the U.

Link-Up connects first-year students to a mentor in their own college who shares their priorities.

First-year students seeking a mentor and students interested in becoming a mentor can apply at z.umn.edu/linkupprogram. Mentors are expected to

  • Make a commitment to participating for an entire academic year
  • Attend a training session before first meeting with mentee
  • Meet with their mentee twice in the first month and once a month after
  • Be comfortable initiating communication with mentee
  • Email feedback after each meeting
  • Attend at least one of the program’s planned activities
  • Maintain a healthy balance as a leader and a friend
  • Enjoy the program as a learning experience, not as a recruiting method