March 31, 2014 by Daniel Reichwein
Arthur Ashe, one of the first African-American tennis players, spoke these words –”Start Where You Are, Use What You Have, Do What You Can” – as an activist. At a one-day, personal development seminar held at William & Mary on the 16th, Ashe’s words nicely summarized what we students had learned that day and how simply each of us could become a catalyst—a catalyst for improving our personal lives or a catalyst for improving the world around us.
The Catalyst program, designed for students interested in challenging themselves to go deeper, wider, and further out in their definition of who they are and where they can have an impact, was sponsored by the Office of Student Leadership Development. As a student assistant in the Office of Community Engagement, I spoke with the Director, Drew Stelljes, prior to the event. He was very enthusiastic about it and encouraged me it would be worthwhile, saying:
“The new OSLD has aligned its mission with the William & Mary vision. Theory based, the OSLD is well on its way to becoming a national model for student leadership development. As our W&M vision statement aspires for our graduates to change the world, the OSLD is a mechanism to prepare students to do just that. We aspire to establish a campus culture where students examine their talents and joys and use them to address the world’s greatest needs. There is no better place than W&M to cultivate in students an intense desire to emerge as engaged citizens and effective leaders.”
After a statement like that, what W&M student wouldn’t go? The seminar featured a great speaker, Arthur Gregg, from the University of Texas. There were introspective questions such as, “Am I becoming the person I want to be?” and sapient quotes like Andre Gide’s words, “It’s better to fail at your own life than succeed at someone else’s.” Mr. Gregg spoke about the importance of active listening and appreciative inquiry when interacting with people, authenticity and integrity, and teamwork. He had a felicitous story about teamwork involving a drum major, and ended it by saying, “You can have a band without a drum major, but you can’t have a drum major without a band.” No matter how talented or driven you are, we all have to rely on others at some point. This was a good quote for me personally because as a highly conscientious and dominant introvert (personality traits we formally learned about), I prefer to work by myself so that I know things are done correctly and according to my way of thinking.
Anyone in the business school would have been happy with a second shot at a team-building exercise in which four groups of students worked together to build the tallest free-standing tower that had to hold a golf ball at the top, using only plastic straws and tape. (We business students had to do a similar exercise using marshmallows and spaghetti). Besides learning that the compression strength of a series of plastics straws measuring over six feet in length is pretty low, the importance of group communication, group decision making, prototyping, and personality dynamics were reinforced.
As the day came to an end, we began focusing on what we would take away from the seminar. Leveraging one’s strengths, thinking rationally about what holds us back, and the commitments and contributions we want to make going forward. Words of wisdom from Aristotle himself, “Criticism is something we can avoid easily—by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing,” touched on one of the common answers to what holds one back—fear of criticism and failure, but if we allow our lives to be guided by these constraints, we will accomplish nothing. Life is a process. Vulnerability and uncertainty are OK. Do what you know to be best and true for yourself.
Before everyone parted ways, we were asked to write down what we would take away from the seminar or what we would commit to afterwards. You might expect me to write what I wrote down, but what I wrote is unimportant. The words of another student that I had teamed with for some of the activities and discussions were far more inspiring to me. She said that because she had been in a group with a few older students (Tribe PRIME!) who shared their life experiences, she learned that life may not work out the way you plan. You will make mistakes. But, if you have confidence in yourself, in the process and confidence that you’ll figure it out, your life will turn out the way you want.
In retrospect, this was a touching moment for me. I had shared my personal story with my group and talked about the moment when I was being evicted into homelessness: I had no idea where I would sleep that night, but despite the feelings of desperation, anxiety, and loneliness, I told myself that I would figure it out because I had confidence in myself despite everything that happened leading up to this moment. It didn’t happen right away (what happened right away was sleeping in a parking garage, lol), but I did figure it out eventually. I attended this seminar hoping to take something away from it for myself, but instead I gave up something – wisdom and confidence – to other, younger students who took my advice to heart and will use it as they make their own paths in life.
March 27, 2014 by Daniel Reichwein
After one, maybe two semesters at William & Mary, a student should come to the understanding that an A grade here takes much more time and effort to earn compared to a B grade. It’s much like this graph of an exponential function.
Many William & Mary students come here having performed extremely well in high school with the majority coming from the top 10% of their class. Numbers that are equivalent to Ivy League schools and UVA. So we smart kids can go to most classes, skim the readings, cram for exams and earn Bs with a bit of work. For the T.W.A.M.P.s (typical William & Mary persons), the future medical school students who use Miller Halls as a quiet study place at night, the future lawyers and grad students, and perfectionists who either want an A — we need to put a lot more work into earning that grade.
Obviously the scale isn’t the same for all classes, but it generally holds true. I transferred to W&M a year ago and recognized this observation near the end of my first semester. For challenging mathematics and foreign language classes, the separation between the amount of time/work required between an A and a B is even greater. Many students are in 5 or more classes and have a list of organizations/clubs/teams with which they are involved, so time becomes a very scarce resource if one doesn’t get organized and study efficiently.
The main reason I wrote this article was to share the resource called Quizlet that my Spanish professor kept mentioning to help us strengthen our language skills. She emphasized the vocabulary first and foremost because half of whatever task we have is designed to test vocabulary and if you know the vocabulary well, you will be better at other tasks that rely on it – grammar, reading comprehension, writing, etc. I didn’t listen to her at first and just did traditional flash cards, scoring in the upper 80s on my Spanish quizzes.
Then, I actually started using it after a tutor (first time I ever went to a tutor) showed me the sets she made for her Spanish class. It’s more than just digital flash cards. For instance, it can read the flash cards to you so that you can study while doing something else, like driving. In the morning I now connect my smartphone via Bluetooth to the car stereo system and listen to Quizlet rattle off vocab lists and verb conjugations. Quizlet can test you on your knowledge with various test-like learning activities such as fill-in-the-blank, multiple choice, True/False, matching and auditory tests for foreign language studies. Another neat feature is classes, where multiple users can contribute sets of Quizlet cards that everyone in the group can access. You can do all of this on their smartphone app while you are walking between classes. I get a lot of learning done just driving to/from campus or walking to/from classes now.
On the first Spanish quiz I took after using Quizlet, I got a 100% for all the vocabulary sections and an A grade overall. It really works, but this isn’t just useful for foreign language studies. You will benefit from Quizlet for any class or test that involves memorization. If there are any other cool pieces of technology that will save your fellow students time, effort, or stress, please share them in the comments section.
December 2, 2013 by Daniel Reichwein
A fireman, a lawyer, an astronaut, a scientist, a professional lottery winner, a philanthropist, even a male model were all on my list of future careers as I was growing up.
Being homeless for three years certainly wasn’t on the list. Nor was the hereditary health problem that caused me to become homeless, be discharged from the U.S. Army reserve, and withdraw from Indiana University – where I used to study on academic scholarship. No, that sure wasn’t how I envisioned my future as I stared blissfully at that fire engine birthday cake. Those events stunted my academic career to the point where I am now an undergraduate student 10 years older than my peers.
The basis for my idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up matured as I matured. When I was in a foster home (the picture above is from one that was initially good), I wanted to be a fireman because that fire truck was just so cool. It had a ladder and could spray a ton of water everywhere. I could ride that truck on my way to rescue kittens in trees and save people. Then, when I was adopted into a family, Miles, the lawyer who arranged it, became my hero. I wanted to be like him – making things right, saving kids from bad people.
In elementary school, I started learning about science. What’s cooler than firetrucks? Being an astronaut in outer space, of course. It would be the grandest adventure ever. Exploring the stars, visiting all the planets, exploring the unknown, leaving the familiar behind. My mind seemed suited for science as I learned about Newton’s & Einstein’s work. There was so much depth and knowledge to uncover in our own world too.
As I got older, I became more aware of the need for money. My adoptive father worked a low-paying job at a bakery an hour away trying to provide for five children. Times could be tough back then. It showed in the disparity between us and the middle class kids in school. I knew the perfect solution: to become a professional lottery winner! In my late high school years, I became selfish in my career ambitions and thought of becoming a male model. They made a lot of money, looked good, and were smooth with the ladies.
Then, while I was in my second year of university, I began to experience the health problems that ultimately led to my homelessness. That journey is long enough to fill a whole book, but if you’re interested, you can check out an old blog I started in the twilight of my life on the streets. Being homeless opened my eyes to a part of the American population that most people disregard as self-made poverty cases. I didn’t find that to be true. Eventually I was connected with a homeless support organization where a social worker helped me get back into college and find a job. At my new job a co-worker discovered I was homeless. She let me live with her, and I found a new, “adoptive” family.
This exposure to a sometimes overlooked socioeconomic problem and the kindheartedness that strangers showed to help someone in need truly inspired me. It inspired me to my newest aspiration of what I want to be when I grow up. I want to use my new passion and experience with the homeless community and current alleviation solutions to help the homeless people throughout our country. I plan to repudiate negative stereotypes by telling people about my experiences and to utilize the kindness of others in intelligent ways.
The College of William & Mary recently helped me explore my passion by paying for me to attend a social entrepreneurship convention in North Carolina run by the Sullivan Foundation. During this “retreat” weekend, students discussed and contemplated big questions such as what are you truly passionate about and what would you do if money wasn’t a concern. Those who had an idea that they wanted to manifest into a positive change in the world got to sit down in a small group and exchange ideas with each other and a facilitator who works for a non-profit. We also had a crash course in design thinking and formed some mock business plans for socially-conscious firms. Through this exploration I came to the realization that while helping people was my passion, I was not willing to make sacrifices to my personal financial security.
I don’t want to have to worry about paying my bills just because I choose to make a career out of helping others. Starting my own venture would be too risky, and I don’t want to grind years of experience to get a decision-maker/change-maker job helping people. Thus, I plan on attending graduate school and then either working full-time in a professional law or business career while manifesting my philanthropic aspirations on my own time OR earning an MBA then working full-time in management for a large, well-funded organization that helps Americans in need.
It’s tough knowing what you want to do with your life at such a young age. Some people are fortunate enough to find their passion as a kid with college just serving as credential development to get their dream job. Other times, you have to learn about different subjects or explore different jobs to find your passion, and that’s perfectly fine. A retiree turned business professor told me recently that sometimes you even find that what you’re passionate about changes every decade. Unexpectedly, I figured out what I wanted to do through a painful experience.
Whatever you want to be when you’re grown up and out of William & Mary, make sure it’s something you’re passionate about and don’t forget to take some time to help the community in which you live and work. And if you haven’t figured out your passion, it’s okay. Try a class that sounds interesting; talk to our wonderful faculty advisors or the Career Center; and don’t forget about your professors. They are fountains of knowledge and experience, eager to pass that on to you.
October 15, 2013 by Daniel Reichwein
When I was a kid, my father had paid a man to bring some firewood to our small farm and unload it in the middle of Indiana winter. He had arrived late, and my dad was very short and irate with him. We were low on supply and needed the firewood to power a couple wood-burning furnaces of our dog kennel. My parents bred Great Dane dogs and operated a small hog farm.
Funny thing was that no matter how mad my dad was, that firewood didn’t get unloaded any quicker. So I put on my coat and gloves and went outside to help the man. He was in his 40s with a well-weathered face and feeble demeanor. After the surprise of me offering to help him passed, I got to know him a little as we stacked the firewood along the front of the dog kennel.
I can’t remember the man’s name now, but I won’t forget his story. As it turns out, his wife had recently divorced him for reasons unknown and he had a boy he was raising by himself at home. He was chopping and selling firewood trying to make a living for the two of them. Work doesn’t come easy nor does it pay well in rural Indiana, or any rural area for that matter, so he was trying to get by as best as he could. Before we parted, he shook my hand and thanked me for the help. That was one of my first lessons in respect.
There a couple ways that this story applies outside of unloading firewood in wintry, rural Indiana. If you see your classmate struggling to answer a question or explain something, jump in and help him/her. The same thing applies to your professor who might be having a problem getting their presentation or video to start that you know how to solve. Try to think “extrospectively” when a classmate shows up late for a meeting. They could be dealing with some serious personal problem or working a couple part-time jobs so they can afford to go to school here. Lastly, as you look around at your classmates, don’t judge them. No one is as simple as they appear to be. We all have our stories.