January 11, 2013 | Borough of Manhattan Community College
Of all the choices incoming freshmen have to make, selecting a lunch option—turkey sandwich, vegetable wrap, tuna, chicken salad or ham—at the all-day Freshman Year Experience event, is one of the easiest.
Much harder for students, is choosing classes that will transfer to the 4-year college they’ve set their sites on, or committing to better study habits. This event (which follows New Student Assembly day) provided guidance for those and other decisions, with interactive lectures and small group advisement sessions.
Having some fun
BMCC’s latest Freshman Year Experience was held in Theatre I at the main campus. Hundreds of student filled the rows of red seats and Senior Academic Advisor Allana Hankey-Thomas opened the event.
“We’re going to have a little bit of fun,” she said. “We’re going to give you MetroCards, vouchers for movie tickets—and also a lot of important information.”
She explained that the students’ majors build toward three degrees at BMCC—an associate of arts, associate of science, and associate of applied science.
“But academic advisement is so much more than telling you to take these or those classes, to build toward that degree,” she said. “Our goal is to help you plan your entire academic future, not just here at BMCC, but beyond.”
Working the systems
Hankey-Thomas walked the students through concepts vital to their understanding of college: GPA credits, credits earned, remedial classes, prerequisites, and more.
“What is CUNYfirst?” she asked the audience, and the student who answered, “a new system for registering and paying your bill,” was called up to the stage to receive a complimentary MetroCard.
“CUNYfirst is also a way for you to apply for financial aid,” said Hankey-Thomas, and reminded everyone to use their BMCC email accounts, to access the system.
“I have a rule,” she said. “I will not respond to any student email that comes to me not from their BMCC account.”
She talked about another system, DegreeWorks, and demonstrated on the large screen behind her, how students can use it to calculate their grade point average, or GPA, and see which credits will be accepted if they change majors.
“You have to set goals,” said Hankey-Thomas, “and stay on track. Certain 4-year colleges will require a certain GPA when you’re ready to apply to them.”
“Guess which one saved $40,000?”
Freshmen are permitted to take one online course, Hankey-Thomas told the audience, and explained that the ratio of computer to classroom time varies in online, hybrid, and web-enhanced courses.
She went on to talk about BMCC’s degree requirements—a student who knew what they were won a voucher for movie tickets—and writing intensive classes.
Regarding the advantages of earning an associate degree—as opposed to transferring to a 4-year school before completing it—she stressed that “schools are more likely to take all your credits,” and “you become a more desirable candidate to other colleges and employers because you completed your associate degree.”
She mentioned two students who transferred from BMCC to New York University (NYU); one left for NYU after just a year at BMCC, the other waited till she had earned her associate degree.
“Guess which one saved $40,000?” Hankey-Thomas asked the audience, and reminded them that CUNY Pathways, starting in Fall 2013, “will promote transfer between BMCC and all other CUNY senior colleges.”
She also encouraged students to consider volunteering through BMCC’s Office of Student Affairs, and “We have over 60 clubs,” she said. “If you don’t see one you like, you can start your own.”
The power of note taking
“Education is an active process, not passive,” said speaker Jason Schneiderman, Director of the BMCC Writing Center.
“How much of the information that Allana just gave you, do you think you retained?” he asked the group, and a student volunteered, “85 percent?”
“If you do nothing to review the information, you’ll probably retain about 20 to 30 percent of what you just heard,” Schneiderman responded, adding that to have something to review, a person needs to have taken notes.
“Writing is a way to keep your mind on what’s going on,” he said. “Have a separate notebook for each class. Sit up straight—it can keep you focused. And sit in front.”
To the students’ great amusement, he shared that a colleague had described his class as follows: “The front row, that’s the ‘sponges’. People on the sides are the ‘watchers’. And students in the back, those are ‘prisoners’,” or the most reluctant to be there.
Schneiderman urged the students to be “sponges,” and addressed some misconceptions about learning: “Does tape recording a class help? Unless it’s an accessibility issue, recording a class just gives you an excuse to zone out.”
While he was on the topic, he encouraged students with a learning disability to visit the BMCC Office of Accessibility, for advisement on accommodations that might support their success in class.
He shared two methods for note taking: The Cornell Method, which creates a left-hand column for key words, and the Associative Method, for students who prefer to circle clusters of notes, and draw lines connecting them.
Class notes are a vital tool for review, he said, “within 24 hours of the class, and often throughout the semester. Don’t cram, or wait till the night before a test to return to your notes.”
Insider tips on test taking
Grades, Schneiderman told the freshmen, “measure not how hard you worked, but how much you learned.”
The room seemed stumped when he asked, “Why is it a bad idea to ask the professor, ‘Will this be on the test?’,” so he shared an insider’s tip: “That tells the professor, ‘I only really care about the parts that are on the test. Everything else you say, I’m not really interested in’.”
He gave specific strategies for various types of tests, such as multiple choice: “Cover the answers, think about what the answer might be, then look at them,” he said, and suggested estimating the answer in a math test, before starting to solve a problem, “so you have an idea if you’re in the right ballpark.”
After getting a test back, “Look at the grade, but don’t go over it for 24 hours,” he advised. “Then visit your professor during office hours, to go over the test, and use your graded test to study for future tests.”
Test taking is stressful, Schneiderman acknowledged, and advocated getting enough sleep the night before, sitting far from the door, deep breathing, and other relaxation strategies.
Most of all, he told the students, “If you’ve reviewed your notes throughout the semester, you won’t be as stressed.”
Wise words from VP Craig
Of keen interest to college students, is their grade point average, or GPA. Marva Craig, Vice President for Student Affairs, led students through a sample grade report in their packets, explaining quality points, credit earned, and other terms.
She demonstrated the difference between a final grade of “W” (“Withdrew”), and “WU” (“Withdrew Unofficially”), leading the students through an exercise in which they calculated the GPA for a grade report in their sample packet.
Next, she had them replace one of the grades with a “WU,” and recalculate—for a sobering outcome in which the GPA plummeted.
“Don’t let this happen to you,” VP Craig told the group, stressing the importance of official withdrawal.
She also clued everyone in on the 5-year expulsion from all CUNY campuses if a student attempts to attend a college in the system under the false pretense of never having attended another CUNY college, and touched on BMCC’s attendance policy—a 4-hour class allows five hours of absence (not five sessions); a 6-hour class allows seven hours of absence, and so on.
Finally, she shared her own story—graduating from BMCC in 1980, then going on to earn a Bachelor of Arts at Hunter College/CUNY, a master’s degree from NYU and a Doctor of Education or Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University.
The students received a complimentary flash drive as they left the auditorium, and enjoyed a free lunch in Richard Harris Terrace, before meeting in small groups with academic counselors.
“It was definitely helpful to me to be here today because I didn’t know anything about any of this stuff, being as I’m the first generation of my family to be going to college,” said freshman Elizabeth Vargas, a criminal justice major and aspiring forensic psychiatrist.