Off to school: Make the most of your college experience — not just on the academic side. *File photo
Off to school: Make the most of your college experience — not just on the academic side. *File photo

Is there something you wish every college student would know as the 2012-13 academic year gets under way?

People associated with higher education in the Madison, Wisconsin area, were asked by The Capital Times to share some ‘words of wisdom’ as the fall semester begins.

Here are those responses.

Rolf Wegenke, president, Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities: “The best advice for college students was given by Ms Frizzle, the teacher in the Magic School Bus series: ‘Have fun, take chances, and get messy!’.

“Your education is important, but if you are missing out on the sheer joy of learning, your education is incomplete and maybe even wasted.

Change the world

“The nature of education has changed. With the knowledge explosion, premature specialization can work to your disadvantage.

“Fields of study that are ‘hot’ today may be stone cold tomorrow.

“View your experience in higher education as an opportunity to take chances, to experiment, to find your passion and to pursue it passionately.

“You should be open to changing your major and changing your mind.

“As for getting messy, you need to stop viewing your four years of college as the culmination of your education.

“In today’s expanding universe of knowledge, higher education is only the gateway to lifelong learning.

“The future belongs to those who are creative, have developed their critical thinking skills, and can communicate to a diverse and changing world — and maybe, just maybe, change the world for the better.

“Have fun, take chances, and get messy!”

Lori Berquam, dean of students, UW-Madison (University of Wisconsin): “My advice is about the 4H’s. Head, heart, health and hands.

“Head: Become a critical thinker. Be curious. Ask deep questions. Challenge yourself to solve problems creatively. Apply classroom learning to real-life issues.

“Heart: Be open. Look and listen for those who are missing. All perspectives are important and if voices are missing, everyone misses out.

“Health: Eat vegetables. Drink water; get eight hours of sleep a night and exercise. Laugh. Laugh some more. Eat fruit. Enough said.

“Hands: Give back. Understand the value of humility. Roll up your shirtsleeves and dig in. Volunteer. Tutor. Shovel. Our world depends on it.

“The big question to ask is: What kind of a person do you want to be? What legacy do you want to leave?

Chris Montagnino, president of Madison campus, Herzing University: “I have often heard prospective college students wonder if they are adequately prepared for college.

“Stop worrying. No one is prepared for college. Success in college and attaining your degree undoubtedly favours persistence over natural intelligence.

“Understand that success in college comes from experience.

“Experience is gained by trial and error and this may mean having to fail before you can succeed.

“Embrace this fabulous life experience. A degree is forever and is one of the very few things in life that cannot be lost or taken from you. So commit to see it through.

“The only regret I have ever heard someone articulate about their college experience is if they left it incomplete.”

Don Madelung, president, Madison Media Institute: “One. Make graduating and starting your career your number one priority. Be selfish about your education, this is for you.

“Two. Show up, show up, show up. Attend all your classes. Employers look at your attendance. Formula for success: Attendance plus higher grades equals better career opportunities.

“Three. The best time to do homework is during the day and not the evening or late at night when you are tired.

“Four. Ask instructors for help if you don’t comprehend the material or ask for a tutor. Do not short-change your education or your opportunities.


“Five. Find a friend or a group to study with. Challenge each other to excel. Make graduating a team effort.

“Six. Reward yourself for a good test or a good semester of grades. Life has to have rewards, so celebrate your victories.

“Seven. Establish routines and good habits, eating right, sleeping seven to eight hours and taking good care of your health.

“Eight. Take advantage of everything the college offers: Library, Blackboard System, e-mail, financial aid, instructors, staff, student services, clubs. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

“Nine. Visualize yourself walking across the stage at graduation. Burn it into your brain.

“Ten. Remember to thank anyone and everyone who helped you along the way.”

Christopher Olsen, interim vice provost for teaching and learning and professor of public health, UW-Madison: “These are the points that I would like you to know, and that I wish I had known myself at your stage in the learning journey.

“Soak it all in — take advantage of the extraordinarily wide range of learning opportunities that happen throughout a campus experience.

“Listen intently; be humble; be patient with yourself, your colleagues and your faculty and staff.

“Teaching does not directly equal learning — take personal responsibility for your learning — faculty and staff will do everything they can to lead you to the trough of knowledge, but only you can drink it in.

“Learn to organize and manage your time efficiently. Develop a schedule. Give yourself rewards for achievements done well, small and large.

“Make good decisions, don’t over-extend yourself, moderation is a very healthy concept.

“Travel abroad — I wish I had.

“Keep in touch with family back home — they love you more than you will ever know.

“Challenge yourself, but find a balance between your academic pursuits and healthy ways to relax and recharge.

“Know that there are many people on campus you can turn to with questions about everything from your course work to life’s complications — reach out to them.

“Take your studies seriously, but not yourself. (The most important!)

“The critical formula is E + 2C + 2P = S + H; or Excitement + Confidence and Curiosity + Pride and Patience = Success and Happiness.

Kevin Helmkamp, associate dean of students, UW-Madison: “I believe the three most important things to bring to campus as a student are the following.

“Bring a sense of self. Stay true to the values and ethics that define who you are. There are a lot of new opportunities at a university. Try new things, in moderation, but stay true to who you are.

“Bring a sense of purpose. Know why you are here and what you want to contribute to the university community. As a student you have a responsibility to the community and to yourself.

“Bring a sense of humour. Not everything will be easy. It isn’t supposed to be.

“I also believe that the student who gets the most out of their educational experience is the student who has the self-confidence to say ‘I need help’.

Amelia Cook, assistant director for international admissions, Edgewood College: “Have an adventure or two!

“You will likely have opportunities to travel somewhere new this year.

“Make it happen, even if it means pinching pennies and eating even more Ramen noodles. It’s worth it.

“Travel to as many places as you can and stay as long as possible. Do your best to learn the language, become friends with the people, and try the strangest food you can find!

“Like your education, travel is an investment that can’t be lost, stolen, or broken.


“The experiences you have will be with you forever.

“Your memories of frat parties and football games will blend together after a year or two, but flying down roads in the Andes mountains or watching the sun rise from the waters of the Caribbean are moments you will truly never forget.

Deb Olsen, counsellor and college success faculty member, Madison College: “Based on my experience teaching college success and study skills, some of the ‘rules for success’ my students would share: Show up — As Woody Allen said, ‘80 per cent of success is being there.’

“Do your best — avoid comparing yourself to others. Remember the Crow Proverb, ‘You already possess everything necessary to become great.’

“Participate — be the active learner in your class. You will get noticed by peers and instructors.

“Learn from your mistakes — you already know what you must do.

“Use resources — resources include: Services, staff members, instructors, etc. College isn’t intended to be an isolating experience.

“Get to know at least one other person in each class so you have a ‘buddy’

“Find ways to laugh. Do what you love.”

Turina Bakken, associate vice president for learner success, Madison College: “I have a sign on my desk that reads, ‘A year from now, will it matter?’.

“I use it as a perspective check when the details and burdens of the day seem overwhelming.

“You will have those days in college; days when the assignments have piled up, due dates are looming, you may be working, raising a family or have other obligations at the same time.

“Many days, you will wonder if it is all worth it. It is.

“While you have to make it through each exam, paper, class, semester... it all adds up to an incredible opportunity and experience. Relish it, every day.

“You will be better for it. When you look back on your college experience (and that may be many times during your life as you will likely return to higher education many times for skill upgrades, new careers, fresh insights, etc), you won’t remember individual exams, grades, definitions, algebraic equations.

“You will remember the experience, the faculty that cared, staff who listened, ideas you had, friends you made.

“And, bottom line, never forget who the hard work, sweat equity, loans, sacrifice and ultimate reward is really for... it’s for you. So, take a deep breath and go for it.”

Sue Robinson, associate professor of journalism and mass communication, UW-Madison: “Take time to think hard. It is so easy during your first year of college to get caught up in all the socializing and class attendance and requirements and obligations and, well, parties, fests and fun, that the homework, the listening, the deliberation becomes something one must get through.

“Martin Luther King said, ‘Nothing pains some people more than having to think.’

“The process of engaging deeply with whatever you are studying, whatever relationship you are building, is as important as any finished paper in college.

“Consider consequences and accountability before actions. Be interested in peeling back the veneer.

“Learn stillness. Experiment with new perspectives.

“Read what you think might not interest you. Ask questions.

“Ultimately deep focus — that is, learning how to take the time to really understand some concept or relationship or motivation — will serve you well not only in your academic life but also your social, financial, and professional life post-graduation.”

Ankur Desai, associate professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences, UW-Madison: “Several years ago, journalist Malcolm Gladwell published a book where he argued that it takes around 10,000 hours of intentional practice to master a skill.

“During your time here, you will be in the classroom roughly 1,500 hours and doing course-related homework and projects for roughly twice that. So yes, go to class and engage in the work, but it will only get you halfway there.

Ask questions

“There is much going on at UW-Madison to meet the other half. Don’t get overwhelmed, find a few things that appear interesting to you and get involved in them.

“Conduct research in labs, write for a periodical, listen to outside speaker seminars, attend a recital, tutor other students.

“Most of all, get to know your professors outside of class — face time with your instructors is known to be a key to success in college.

“Your first year, you will be exhausted, homesick, confused by coursework, feel like a number in a faceless crowd, perhaps regret a few evenings — these things will pass; focus on where you want to be four years from now.

“Only you can do what it takes to be successful, but you’re not the only one invested in your success.

Don’t be afraid to seek out help!”

Bradford Barham, professor of agricultural and applied economics, UW-Madison: “My advice is to connect widely, communicate freely, and collaborate strategically.

“Find ways to meet people from around campus, especially those different from you in background and experience.

“Ask questions, listen well, and share yourself. There are so many smart and creative people — from all over the world — that can help us learn and grow.

“As you identify and refine your interests and passions — academic and others — be selective about whom to collaborate with. Work and play with those that help you to learn, enjoy, and excel.

“Sports, cultural activities, clubs, and political groups can also nourish your health, vitality and growth.

“You are surrounded by so many opportunities. Go for it. Find your favourite neighbourhoods and people around this diverse campus. Learn from them. Learn with them. Enjoy!”

Mike Kent, business instructor, Madison College: “One. You will receive many credit card offers during the school year. Tear them up. Those companies are trying to help themselves, not you. The younger you are when you learn about compound interest, the better off you’ll be.

“Two. If you don’t lock up your bike on campus, it will be stolen. Not may be, will be.

“Three. If you want to understand the value of education, learn about two concepts: Bounded Rationality and Cognitive Behaviourism.

“Four. You should have a personal motto that reflects the best of you... and it should be in Latin, because mottos are cooler in Latin.”

Denis Collins, professor of management, Edgewood College: “You are a one-of-a-kind person on a planet that is spinning on its axis 1,000 miles per hour while orbiting the sun at about 66,000 miles per hour.

“It’s rather amazing that we don’t think we’re moving when we stand still, or that we don’t get dizzy from all that spinning!

“How should we spend your time on this spaceship orbiting the sun?

“Most philosophers agree that the purpose of life is happiness. Determining what makes you truly happy, not just superficially happy, is essential.

“For most people, true happiness is loving and serving others and yourself, and fully being in the moment.

“There is no consensus about happiness and careers. We all have unique desires, interests, skills, and experiences.

“So what career options should you explore in college? Buckminster Fuller (look him up in Wikipedia) advised: ‘What is it that needs to be done, that you can do something about, and won’t get done unless you do it? Then do it.’

“Thus, after a week or two of classes, find a peaceful place, sit comfortably, close your eyes, inhale and exhale deeply a few times, reflect on what you’re learning, and answer Buckminster Fuller’s question.

“Then pursue it with passion and kindness while momentarily ignoring all the doubts.”

Heather Wipijewski , chair of veterinary technician program, Globe University — Madison East:

“Ask questions. Chances are someone else in the class also has the same exact question you do. Instructors would much rather you ask questions about something you want additional information on.

“Get involved. Try to involve yourself in campus/programme specific activities. This is a great way to meet other students and it looks great on your resume as well.

“Ask for help early! If you feel you are struggling in a certain area, ask for help before you fall behind. There are many resources on campus that are in place to help you, the student, be successful.

“College isn’t easy. You are preparing yourself for your future career. It’s not always going to be easy and it isn’t meant to be.

“Face those challenges head-on with your head held high.

“Study, study, study (with breaks). You will need to study hard to do well in your classes and career.

“However, you need to take breaks while studying. Trying to sit down for four hours straight is not going to help you. Make sure you are taking frequent breaks while studying.

“Get up, move around, get the blood flowing and then come back to it.”

Steve Noll, professor of marketing and social media, Madison College: “Go out and fail at something. You’ll get a little bruised and then realize it wasn’t so bad.

“It will give you confidence to try again, and try with the knowledge that caused you to fail the first time.

“Then fail again. And be frustrated. And not want to try again. But do. Life is a series of failures that eventually lead to success.

“And that sweet taste of success will be better than the bitter taste of those failures.

“And after you succeed, you’ll look back and say that those failures weren’t really failures at all, you just learned how not to do it.

“So don’t be afraid of failing. Besides, they make really good stories to tell over beer with your friends later in life.

“PS: Learn how to spell. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, proper spelling impresses people.”

Bettsey Barhorst, president, Madison College: “Every day I greet and meet students in the halls, cafeteria and other public places on campus.

“I always tell them that I’ll shake their hand on graduation day. This is to give them a vision of their academic goals.

“In addition, I ask them to think of the kind of professions or jobs to which they aspire as they are studying.

“Finally, I remind them to be open, respectful and civil to all with whom they interact.”

Tod Finkelmeyer is a reporter on higher education for the Capital Times newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin, US.

Scholarship Recipients 2012