Learning to Collaborate

We’ve all been in that situation when it’s your first class of the semester and your professor is going on and on about the syllabus and, suddenly, the words “group project” leaves their lips. It’s like you’ve been punched in the gut! All of these horrible memories of past group projects flood your mind and you remember all of the nameless slackers who left you high and dry to do the project yourself, taking half the credit and the undeserved A that you slaved over to get. Now, I get it. This is probably the last thing you want to read, and I’m not conceited enough to think I can change your negative opinions about group projects. But, I want you to know that there is hope. There are guidelines that you can lay down early on in the process when you first meet your group mates that can insure success.

These guidelines come straight from Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects. Chapter 5, “Assembling Your Technologies and Your Team”, thoroughly describes how to effectively collaborate using certain guidelines. These paraphrased guidelines are as follows:

  • If possible, limit the size of your group. More members means more voices which means the possibility of trouble when coming to decisions and coordinating schedules.
  • If you have the chance to choose your teammates, try to choose members who bring a diverse set of skills and perspectives.
  • Exchange contact information with your teammates, so you can keep up with them and their progress.
  • Create a group contract that explains group expectations, member roles, communication procedures, meetings, and problem-solving tactics.
  • Contribute by coming to class or meetings, being prepared with materials and ideas, participate, and, especially, pull your own weight.
  • Listen to the ideas of others. Don’t just shut them down immediately.
  • Learn to compromise.
  • If there is conflict, let your teammates talk it out by explaining their own perspectives and suggestions for solving the issue. If it’s a serious conflict, speak with your professor who will help the team get back on track.

Some of these guidelines may seem obvious and self-explanatory, but, believe me, some people may need to hear the obvious. The problems that usually occur within groups stem from the fact that rules weren’t set and agreed upon at the first meeting. If this happens, then your group members can be held accountable for breaking them. Inevitably, there may be a bad egg in your group that just refuses to follow the status quo. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to go to your professor and tell them what’s going on. Your professor will be able to handle the situation better than you just chewing them out at the next meeting. I hope these guidelines help the next time you’re forced to work with others for an assignment or project. If not, then at least you tried.

-Rose Street

How to Travel as a Broke and Busy Student

Whenever I tell my friends I’m leaving for a trip, I’m always met with the same response: “Wish I could go…” Maybe they’re just trying to humor me, but I have noticed a trend of people in their early twenties saying they can’t travel because they don’t have enough money or time. These friends would like to travel, but they believe school, money, and time constraints hold them back. I am here to tell you how wrong that is!

Since I started college, I have been to countless states and cities across the country and the entire coast of California. From the Grand Tetons and Yosemite, to Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, I have climbed giant cliffs, swam in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and hiked through both deserts and forests. I have driven cars, flown in airplanes, and taken the Megabus.

I say none of this to brag or put homebodies down because there is nothing wrong with staying home. I’m simply trying to help you stop making excuses if traveling is something you are interested in. I am not wealthy. My parents didn’t help me out. I did it on my own. And you can, too.

Are You Really Tied Down?

During college, you are pretty much the opposite of tied down. Are you married? Do you have children? Do you have a full-time job? Chances are, you can’t check any of these boxes. Most of you work part-time jobs, and can easily ask off work. And if you can’t get off work to TRAVEL THE COUNTRY, then quit. There. I said it. Quit your silly part-time job, and find another one when you return. It’s really that simple, because if you don’t travel now you probably never will. Your part-time job at Jimmy Johns is not worth missing all of the experiences you’ll have, sights you’ll see, and people you’ll meet. You have the rest of your entire life to work. And what full-time job gives you as many days off as your university? Use your school breaks to your advantage!

Save Money!

You do have money- all you have to do is save that money. Whenever I decide I want to travel, I make a plan. I decide when I want to go, how I will get there, and how many days I will be there. I look at how expensive the destination is, and this decides how long I need to save and how much I need to save from each paycheck. I usually stay away from hotels, as they are unnecessary expensive. I love Airbnb because it is cheaper and having a local around saves you a lot of time and energy deciding on what to do. Hostels and camping are also great options, and can sometimes be even cheaper than Airbnb. All you have to do is book in advance. Remember, traveling while you’re in college is going to require a bit of “roughing it” so don’t expect the Four Seasons.

Save your money and plan wisely. That brunch might sound great now, but if it cuts into your travel fund, skip it. And when you finally arrive, don’t spend all of your money eating out at restaurants. Budget a certain amount of money you can spend each day on the trip, and stick to that budget.

Find a Fun Travel Partner (Not Required)

Your travel partner does not have to be your significant other, and you can even get together a whole group. Having a travel partner allows you to drive less, and see more. It’s also helpful because both of you can split the cost of rooms, gas, and food. We even built out the back of my husband’s Honda Element and have used his car as a kind of mini-camper, which helped us save on lodging costs. Whatever it takes, a travel partner will help you to enjoy things you might not have noticed, and of course, you are less of a target for criminals to take advantage of you.

Just Go

Quit fantasizing about traveling. Stop being envious of Instagram feeds showing you places you can’t go. If you plan accordingly, save money, and aren’t afraid to go somewhere you’ve never been, you can easily travel. Once you graduate and start your career, it will only become harder to get away. Satisfy your wanderlust now while you have the chance. It’s all worth it. Just go.

-Morgan Hodge

Sorry, Grandma

As an English major, or really any liberal arts major, you often hear, “So what are you going to do with your degree?”, or even worse, “Good luck finding a job with that”. Emphasis on the “that”. It’s like some kind of atrocity that I’ve chosen to study the written English language and the centuries of literature it has produced. Because for some people, the fact that my major will not lead me down a specific path to a predetermined profession makes it somewhat less valid than others. My family, for example, seems to fall into this category. When I told my parents I was changing my major (from nursing to English of all things), their only response was, “But why??” They couldn’t possibly fathom why I would want to give up my chance at a ‘real’, well-paying profession “just to read”. My sister’s response? “You’re wasting your intelligence”.

I spoke to my grandmother on the phone the other day. After the obligatory “How are you?’s, she steered the subject towards my upcoming graduation – and I knew what was coming: “So what are your plans for after graduation? Where are you applying to grad school? Will you have a job lined up for you?” I had to break it to her that “No, Grandma, I’m not going to grad school”. She was so disappointed. She doesn’t think I could possibly get a good job with my degree, regardless of the countless hours I’ve put into my schoolwork. To be fair, she did give me some credit for my communication skills, but I know she’s thinking how that’s not nearly enough to support me. What’s worse, I made the mistake of telling her I’ve considered law school if everything else fails. It was only to placate her, but I could feel her excitement through the phone. It was completely disappointing to hear that change in her voice—for her to be disappointed when I’m doing something that I absolutely love, but then for her to be over the moon about something purely for the fact that I “would have a real profession”. But what she doesn’t realize is that it’s not about money. Or prestige. Or a position of power or whatever else it is that she values. It’s about doing what I love and feeling like what I’m studying is actually worthwhile. I’ve learned to be more empathetic, more understanding. I’ve learned to be more open minded and to respect others’ opinions. I’ve just learned to be a better person in general. That means so much more to me than making money. So I hate to break it to you, Grandma, but I’m not going to be a lawyer.

-Haley Baldwin

Mastering the English Major Lifestyle – According to Me

It’s the beginning of the week.  My weekend involved hours of work, catching up on sleep, cleaning my house, late night talks with friends, homework assignments, paying all my money for concerts, hangouts, and Pabst Blue Ribbon.   I ponder what this week has in store for me.  I have to gather music and practice for RUF worship, meet new people, more work, study for tests, write papers, practice for our house concert, and lose more sleep trying to get to class on time.  No matter what your year is in college, you immediately have responsibilities that take up your schedule.  Sound familiar?  How in the world will I get all of this done so that I can write more short stories and finish John Steinbeck’s East of Eden?

There has to be a solution.

As an English major at UTC, I think the three most important things are homework, writing, and reading.  Homework is my archenemy.

I hear this conversation between my friend and I:

“How are those new poems gong?  Started anything new?”

“Nah, I’m behind on homework.  But I have new clever ideas that I want to get back to!”

“Right, right. Keep me updated!”

This has happened too many times.

I think that the first step in conquering these tasks is to either get ahead of homework, or always stay on top of it.  Ironically, homework has a mysterious force that is knocking at the door of our brains, eager to find a home to rest.  Homework is the key to decreasing the study time we put into tests and papers, and it eventually allows more available time to write.  If I am caught up on homework, I can write more.  Simple, right?

Secondly, I think that consistent writing is essential.  I know this sounds unrealistic since we do enough writing as it is, but developing your own voice is something that can’t be ignored.  English majors love to read and write, no matter how much stuff they have to get done.  It is what gives us encouragement in our own character and writing.

I know that some people are not confortable with sharing their writing, but this challenge has to be met if you want to further develop your voice.  Please, take a class with Professor Najberg or Professor Braggs, and then you’ll be set.

Lastly, I think reading inspires better writing.  This is where I might lose some of my readers, especially if you’re trying to read a novel a week in class, and on top of writing papers and finishing King Lear.  I get it.  I trust that the materials read in certain classes are capable of influencing better writing; however, wouldn’t it be better if we could shred through 20 pages a night in a novel?  I like that thought a lot.  Think about what your schedule will entail after college when there will be more tasks that need to be met, so why not take advantage of the time now?

I challenge myself and other students to live this life style.  Maybe it will be too stressful or not worth it. But I know from experience, that this challenge is worth practicing and mastering.  Now get a friend and start sharing your creative work.

– Adam Jones