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August 2017

Tools for Practical College Insights Include 'Human Barometers'

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Photographs by Michael J. Leahy

Sharing their campus experiences, and advice, were Sumitra, at left, a Fordham sophomore, and Kadijat, second from right, a University of Pennsylvania sophomore. Back to camera: Kate Fenneman Stokes.

Expert advice on the realities of college life was the subject at an afternoon gathering of this year's Scholarship Plus class on Aug. 9 in a seminar room at the City University's Graduate School of Journalism. The experts on hand included three current students, Kadijat, a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, Karen, who is entering her final year in the Maccauley Honors College at Hunter College and Sumitra, a Fordham sophomore. The sessions were led by Gabriel Gaskin, a senior trainer at the Posse Foundation, who was joined by Kate Fenneman Stokes, executive director of Scholarship Plus.

Topics ranged from time management – "In college you won't have unlimited funds," Gabriel Gaskin said to an accompaniment of nods, "but you will have almost unlimited time" – to note-taking techniques, where to study, managing money, extracurricular activities and dealing with roommates. Among the advice: "For a girl, whenever you go to a party, always have a buddy system." "Time management is the issue for our scholars." "This may be the first time you have had a drink. This is new – don't go overboard." "Outside New York, people are nice!"

Techniques ranged from general discussions to use of the "Human Barometer" and responding to a TED talk on how to cope with being an introvert in what seems like an extroverts' world. In the "Human Barometer," a whiteboard had been prepared with the words "Agree" and "Disagree" at opposite ends. Participating students were asked to go to one side or the other – or to the center, or somewhere in between – in response to such propositions as, ""Affirmative action in higher education has worked well," "On college campuses, plagiarism is too heavily punished" and "Colleges and universities should have the right to monitor students' internet use." Discussion ensued, and students could change their positions as the conversations progressed.

Numbers were part of the conversations: In some courses, books can cost $500 or even $1,000 – it's worth checking with those who have taken the class already to see if a cheaper second-hand volume, perhaps even an earlier edition, is all that really required. For a student commuting to a New York City school, the $120 monthly cost of a MetroCard adds up to $1,200 for an academic year.

"How do you present rules to your roommates?" one student asked. "When is the best time to do so?" The answer: "The first day." Rules should cover, among other things, noise, cleaning and relationships – "do rules that you know you can follow." And advice that was specific to roommates, but carried further: "Be cordial!"

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Gabriel Gaskin, at right, a senior trainer at the Posse Foundation, makes a point as, from left, Xabier, Nogaye and Abdoulaye listen.

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The "Human Barometer" in action: Three are in agreement, two disagree and Bai Hao makes the case for his position.

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Responding to a subsequent proposition, Emely and Kadijat are on the "Disagree" side, and Kadijat states her case.

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