A View from Above: One College Student’s Reflections on Her First Year

By Alana Eichner, Smith College

What clubs or activities did you participate in during your freshman year?
Early on, I became very involved in the Smith Democrats. Since Smith is a very liberal school, the dems are a very active organization on campus. I was originally driven to get involved because of the weight of the upcoming election in fall of 2008. I went on more and more campaign trips, attended the regular monthly meetings and soon became very close with the other women in the group. The adventures of campaigning in Philadelphia and New Hampshire were a quick way to become bonded with my fellow Smithies. My involvement with the dems allowed me to make connections and become more politically involved. Second semester I became the group’s webmaster and so had a role on their leadership board, which allowed me to do a lot of the behind the scenes work in organizing events and becoming closer with the other women leading the group. This has been my primary extracurricular involvement, and next year I will be even more involved while I serve as treasurer.

Second semester I also became a tour guide at Smith. Tour guides are part of the organization called “Gold Key,” which trains students to give tours and host overnights. I love giving tours (talking to curious students is my new favorite pastime) and hope to get more involved in this organization over the years. Although it is an unpaid position, it is still selective to get chosen. Guides give one hour tours once a week and host two overnights a semester.

Lastly, I have become very involved in my house community. This year I officially held the title of 2012 class representative and house historian; I voluntarily organized many house social events and was on a team to create and order house apparel. My house has been a really loving, close-knit community for me at Smith and is the primary place I have made friends. Next year I will serve as one of the two house senators, as house social program coordinator and as a HONS (head of new students).

Were there any issues that came up at college that you were not prepared for?

  • Having come from a family where everyone is very close, being at school without any family or close friends right off the bat was tougher than I expected. It took longer than I might have guessed to feel really at home in my house at Smith.
  • Some of the classes were conducted at an academic level that I had not experienced before, and I had to learn to think, analyze, and write at a higher level. I had a lot of support from home though, via phone and text messaging, which helped me with whatever issues I encountered.

Did you find the freshman-writing seminar useful in preparing you for college-level writing?
My writing intensive first year seminar was interesting and helped me in making friends but wasn’t that helpful in preparing me for college level writing. I took a seminar called “Reacting to the Past,” in which students are assigned a character from a historical situation (such as the trial of Galileo) and must write speeches and debate at that character for several weeks. I felt like my writing struggled in this class but that the main focus wasn’t on improving our writing but instead on role playing and studying the historical situations. The professor was tough on our writing yet didn’t provide the most helpful guidance for improving it. It did teach me some things, like the importance of supporting points made in a paper with concrete evidence, but most of the improvement of my writing came from trial and error.

Another problem I encountered is that different professors have varying standards about what they do and don’t want in writing for their class, so learning that about each professor took time. I felt that my writing was fairly strong going into college and feedback from professors combined with some help at the reading and writing center helped get my writing up to where it needed to be for most of my courses.

Did you have a favorite class or any class that you particularly liked?
My favorite class was a history class called “Women in the U.S. 1865-Present.” I loved it mostly because of the professor and my interest in history. The professor, Jennifer Guglielmo, was captivating and dynamic, interesting and interested in what she was teaching. I felt like Jennifer really cared about and noticed each student and this made a world of difference to me. I found the reading and work manageable; we wrote eight one-page papers over the semester and then a final five-to-seven page paper. I’ve had other classes that I’ve liked but none I’ve loved as much as this one.

Did any faculty members stand out to you or did they take a particular interest in you?
Jennifer, the professor of my favorite history class, made an effort to encourage my participation in class and provide positive feedback on the work I had done. She offered to talk about history and possible majors at the end of the class and I took her up on this towards the end of second semester. She discussed the history versus American studies major and other possible majors for me. I also have a scholarship called STRIDE that involves doing research with a faculty member. I asked Jennifer to be my STRIDE mentor for next year, which she has agreed to. I look forward to working more with her and to possibly asking her to be my advisor when I declare a major.

Are there any other lessons or pieces of advice that you want to pass on to future freshman?

  • If you’re homesick when you arrive, and even a while after that, it’s okay. More often than not people are pretending that they don’t miss home and feel out of place. Find a small group to make your base right off the bat (a club, your house/floor, a group of classmates); it can make a daunting new environment feel smaller and homier right away.
  • Don’t take more than the required number of courses – you may think you can handle it because you took 6 or 7 classes in high school but it is not the same.
  • Try to fit in some regular exercise into your schedule. Take an exercise class or join intramural sports if that is the only way you are going to be active.
  • For the most part, professors really like talking to students. Going to their office hours and making that connection can make all the difference.

Alana Eichner just completed her first year at Smith College, an all-women’s college in Northampton, Massachusetts. She is a 2008 graduate of Somerville (MA) High School. Although currently undeclared, she plans to major in history and/or government. Alana can’t wait to return to Smith for her second year, a sign that she has chosen a college that really fits.

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