Helping Our Children Become Eco-responsible Adults

Last year, it was Maria. This year, it’s Florence and Michael. The glaciers are melting in Alaska and there are more dry days in the Amazon. It snowed in the Florida panhandle last winter for the first time in 30 years. Then, the area was devastated by a hurricane. Around here, it was among the coldest Aprils and it was the hottest May on record.

Is it any wonder that just last month, an elite group of world scientists voiced dire predictions for the earth within just two decades?

Climate change is real and the seemingly unsolvable task of saving the earth from its people will fall on the shoulders of our children. When asked, millennials say the most serious issue affecting the world is climate change. More than three-quarters of them say they are willing to change their lifestyle in order to preserve the environment.

Our Ecology Club asked us to make the environment the focus of our summer reading project with our incoming freshman students. We thought this was a great idea, but it was actually hard to find a book that wasn’t a complete downer. I learned pretty quickly that there’s not much optimism in the literature written about the earth and its environment. In fact, most of the information teeters on the edge of apocalyptic. The book we chose, Coming of Age at the End of Nature: A Generation Faces Living on a Changed Planet (edited by Julie Dunlap and Susan A. Cohen), was a series of essays written by young people about our planet and the importance of saving it.

We’re hoping to inspire our newest students to take responsibility for their own personal footprint. Our Ecology Club consists of students who hold campus-wide activities to educate and recruit others to join their cause. With the help of our club, the campus has doubled its recycling in four years. We actually reduced our trash last year as well. We had a 35% reduction in waste water in 2017 because of low-flow water fixtures.

The Eco Club’s “Blue Goes Green” initiative began last year with the distribution of reusable water bottles. They estimate that we saved 1.2 million bottles of water by encouraging students to use reusable bottles. Our activists worked with our facilities department to make sure there were more refilling stations on campus and they talked to fellow students about the awful effect plastic water bottles have on landfills.

We as parents play a big role in that simple initiative. I have to tell you I cringe every year on move-in day when I see parents lugging case after case of spring water into the residence halls. The Ecology Club got me fired up about it. Stats show that Americans throw away 30 billion water bottles every year. And if it really does take a thousand years for a plastic water bottle to decompose in a landfill, you can understand why the Ecology Club is so keen on the reusable bottles.

That’s not all. The Seton Hall Ecology Club has been leading eco-expeditions in the N.J. Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary in Bernardsville and the Wildcat Ridge Wildlife Management Area in Rockaway to engage Seton Hall students with the outdoors and the natural environment.

Off campus, students have been stewards of the environment through their Service on Saturday work. In mid-October, a large group of students worked with the South Orange Environmental Commission to pull invasive plants from the bed of the Rahway River. Other volunteer groups went out to the Mahwah Environmental Volunteers Organization’s Fresh Roots Farm where they helped tend to and harvest crops, prepared the farm fields for winter, and spread gravel in a carport, which will be used as a produce processing station come spring.

All of this outdoor interaction is fun and it fulfills our students’ community service obligations, but more importantly it brings them in direct contact with the earth and its habitats. That first-hand learning often is all that is necessary to make believers of our students in the importance of changing their personal environmental footprint.

In my experience, students think this is such a “big” problem that it’s insurmountable. I actually feel that way at times – when I stand with an empty soda can in my hand and wrestle with the thought that the garbage can is next to me but the recycling bin is down the hall. The worser me used to win. Now, thanks to a year of consciousness-raising while working with our earnest eco-students, I trot down the hall, can in hand, to fulfill my recycling obligations.

When you are sitting around the Thanksgiving table with your students next month, give thanks for our bountiful earth, then spark a spirited family conversation about what we can do to push the collective American conscience in the right direction.

Start small. Commit to reusable shopping bags (here in New Jersey, our government is forcing the issue anyway). Unplug your chargers when they are not in use; turn off your computer when it is idle; turn off the lights; wash clothes in cold water; skip the clothes dryer; turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth; recycle; walk; use an e-reader; switch to energy-saving light bulbs; switch to a low-flow showerhead and shorten the time in the shower; take only the food you want and eat what you take; eat your leftovers; use food before it expires; yada, yada, yada.

In other words, as parents, it falls to us to help our children become eco-responsible adults who will leave the world in a better state for their children. If we set the example (and set the rules) in our house, our children will follow. It’s the right thing to do, but even more importantly the world of our children’s children depends on it.

Support Systems to Help Students in Crisis

It’s high stress time on campus. Students who are getting ready to graduate are freaking out about the terror of the “real world” (who can blame them?). They’re worried about getting jobs or getting in to grad school; they are worried about paying back their student loans; they are worried about moving home.

Then, on the underclassman front, we have students stressed about getting internships, about where they will live next year and with whom, about looming final exams, about relationships and about dozens of other life challenges.

The good news for us is that most of this is situational stress and situational stress abates as soon as the irritant goes away. You cram like mad for an exam. Then you take the exam and mentally move that worry to the done column. The trick is to learn to manage the stress and cope in a way that facilitates problem solving rather than stifles it. You’ve got tons of school work to do and can’t cope so you smoke weed. That’s bad. Same scenario and you seek out tutoring and study well in advance of a difficult final. That’s good!

Mental health wasn’t talked about when I was a college student. There were no counseling services and the rare student who was unable to cope with the stress and anxiety of college life quietly withdrew from school and recuperated at home. Those days are gone. Universities have recognized that college life is fraught with stress and have created support systems to help students in crisis. Society no longer shames people with mental illness and students are educated to seek help.

All that should mean we are winning the battle against mental illness, but it’s complicated. Students come to college with serious mental health conditions. The college years – traditionally ages 18 to 22 – are also times when mental health problems surface. Is your student aware if there is a family history of mental illness? Don’t be afraid to talk about this with your students – they might be relieved to know this important fact.

Parents may wonder how they will know whether their student is suffering from anxiety, stress, suicidal thoughts or other mental illnesses and what to do for them. The best advice if you are worried about your student’s mental health is to not be afraid to ask questions. Our desire to respect our almost-adult’s privacy sometimes gets in the way of important inquiry. Ask your student about their sleep habits, about their level of stress and their coping plan. Are they exercising? What are their eating habits?

Here on campus our counseling services include education and treatment. We have workshops about stress, groups that focus on eating disorders, anxiety, grief and other issues. We have online mental health assessments that students like to use to gauge their alcohol dependency, eating disorders, depression and anxiety. For some students, these serve as a wakeup call that they need help.

Now that students are getting ready to come home for summer vacation, you should look for changes in behavior, personal hygiene and attitude.

Katherine Evans, Ed.D., our director of Counseling and Psychological Services, says the one big red flag for parents is any whiff of suicide. “Learning that the student is thinking of suicide, has rehearsed a suicide or has attempted suicide requires a proactive response.”

In addition, Dr. Evans recommends the resources of the JED Foundation, which has a program called “Set to Go,” which helps families and students understand the stresses of university life.

We know our children better than anyone else. We know their habits, their quirks and their usual reactions to life’s challenges. That why is so important for us, the parents, to be aware of the warning signs of a mental health condition. The JED foundation lists 10 specific signs that should prompt action:

1. Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks;
2. Severe, out-of-control risk-taking behaviors;
3. Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason;
4. Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight;
5. Seeing, hearing or believing things that are not real;
6. Repeatedly and excessively using drugs or alcohol;
7. Drastic changes in mood, behavior, personality or sleeping habits;
8. Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still;
9. Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities; and,
10. Trying to harm oneself or planning to do so.

“There is no one thing that will definitely alert parents to problems and students often go out of their way to avoid disclosing problems to parent,” noted Dr. Evans. Yet, she says, parents generally “are supportive and play an important role in helping our students get or stay in needed treatment.”

Success of Seton Hall’s “Gen 1” Program

I think I was the only kid in my grammar school class whose dad had gone to college. Of course, in the 1950s in working class Kearny, N.J., that wasn’t a big surprise. As our family folk lore goes, dad was a scholarship kid at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark and his family was so poor he had to walk back and forth from his home in East Newark to school because, in the depths of the Great Depression, there was no money for bus fare. So, in those days before the FAFSA and complicated federal funding of college access, dad’s education would have ended at high school, but luck intervened. My grandmother won the Irish Sweepstakes! Way to go, Grandma. Dad went to college.

That’s the kind of miracle it took in 1937 to get my dad through college. But, because he had gone, I always had the expectation growing up that I, too, would go to college. And with that expectation comes a big bonus. Students whose parents went to college have a better chance of graduating from college themselves. So, here I am 77 years after my dad completed his college degree with the happy job of analyzing our graduation rates and doing my best to help our students stay in college and finish up on time.

Our data shows that our first-generation college students (the ones whose parents never went) graduate at lower rates than the rest of our students. And Seton Hall is not alone. Dismal national statistics indicate that only 11 percent of first-gen students earn a degree within six years and more than 25 percent leave after their first year. Our figures are much better than the national averages, but we still have a way to go.

That’s why we’ve been paying extra attention to our first-gen students this year and backing up that attention with initiatives designed to help the students thrive and graduate. The reasons that first-gen graduation rates lag are varied. For many first-gen students, college is a mystery that they can’t turn to their parents for a solution. The students who are first have no point of reference as to what college is all about. The vocabulary of college, for example. What is a bursar or a provost? What does it mean to complete the Core Curriculum? Teaching students the lingo is the easy part, helping them solve other challenges, like family obligations, financial difficulties and a reticence to ask for help, is harder. Sometimes, to a first-gen student, it just seems easier to stop and get a job.

Last August, we ran a special program for first-gen students who were in commuting distance to campus. The 10-day program tackled some of the known obstacles. First of all, we invited the families of our 24 students to campus for a barbeque. Everyone came! We had siblings, grandparents, moms and dads. President Mary Meehan, herself a first-gen college graduate, welcomed the group. Freshman Studies explained the fall semester in detail and we went from family to family answering questions and breaking the ice.

For the next nine days, the students were exposed to the ins and outs of college life. Most importantly, they were taught how to ask for help, whom to ask and where to go when the going got rough. We’re trying to teach students to stand on their own for the first time.

In addition, the students were given a support team that included a Freshman Studies mentor, a Peer Adviser (both of them first-gen) and an academic coach.

An academic coach is exactly what it sounds like. Just as a sports coach teaches and advises from the sidelines, the academic coach helps a student make sound decisions about college life. I often ask parents to act as an academic coach – to provide the help and support and guidance that nudges students to good decision making.

The students who participated in our pilot are doing so well that we’ll be bringing the program back for next year’s freshman class. For our returning students, we welcome all our first-generation students to participate in our workshops and to take advantage of our offer of an academic coach. If you have a student who wants to benefit from these resources, coach them: tell them to shoot me an email at I’m always excited to help our students connect to the best path to graduation.

Conversation Around the Thanksgiving Table

Hindsight is 20/20. We’re all great Monday morning quarterbacks. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. Whatever the cliché, it comes down to students lamenting in January what they should have done throughout the semester to ensure their academic success.

As we finish out the Fall Semester, our students need to evaluate their status in each class and figure out just what effort they need to put in to cross the finish line with the desired (and sometimes required) outcome. You can help them with this crucial assessment.

As you search for topics of conversation around the Thanksgiving table, you might want to nudge them in the right direction with some targeted questioning. Start by asking who teaches each class. If your student doesn’t know the professor’s name (and it’s the final weeks of the semester), that could be a red flag. Ask your student about each course specifically — what’s the most interesting thing about the class, what work is outstanding.

Ask your students if they received an Early Warning. If so, what did they do to ameliorate it? An early warning is an electronic notice that a student is struggling or failing to meet the attendance requirements. Not all professors send warnings to students, but we know that when students receive them they often are able to get their act together and improve.

Ask about pre-registration. What are they scheduled to take next semester? Students should be done with spring registration by the time they come home at Thanksgiving. Students who are engaged and content are usually excited about registration and about what they are taking next semester.

Ask about their roommates – what’s the most annoying thing about the roommate? What’s the best thing? What are they thinking about housing arrangements for next year?

Ask if they read their university email. Reading email is the difference between success and failure. There are nearly 10,000 students at Seton Hall. It would be nice if we could send a personalized text to every student each time there is important information to convey. But the reality is: we send emails. Students complain they get too many so they don’t bother to read them. Really? There are financial ramifications that affect you, the parents, when students ignore emails. Late fees are imposed on tuition bills, students are charged for health insurance when they already have family health insurance. All of these situations stem from students ignoring their university email.

Ask if they did the extra credit. In my 35+ years of college teaching, I have observed that it is the students who DON’T need the extra credit who do the extra credit (which may explain why they don’t need the extra credit!). Every chance I get, I ask students if their professors have given them the opportunity to earn extra credit and I urge them to do it, just in case.

Ask them what’s the worst case scenario? I find this an enormously helpful question. This is best illustrated with a real-life slice of my life. During the summer, my son is scheduled to start a new job and I am doing my best to not ask too many questions or to be too pushy. So I keep my mouth shut after I asked, “All set for Monday?” on Friday evening and he replied, “Just got to fill out a few forms.” On Saturday, I couldn’t contain myself and asked, “Got those forms filled out?” but again backed down when he said he was on it. Fast forward to Sunday evening when I am sitting down to a re-run of 60 Minutes and he turns on the printer and it’s dead. A half-hour goes by as he fiddles with the connection, the cartridge, the scanner and the computer. Nothing. So now he is faced with the worst case scenario: he will go to work on the first day unprepared and with his homework not done. Not exactly the message you want to convey to a boss. So he turns to me for help at the 11th hour and I succumb. We head to Seton Hall on a Sunday night, open my office and print out his paperwork. He is extremely grateful and I resist the temptation for about half the ride home, but I can’t hold back any longer. “If you had imagined the worst case scenario for your procrastination, this never would have happened.”

I have sometimes described this as “Just in case the engine falls out of the taxicab,” which memorializes the time the engine fell out of the taxi on the way to Newark Airport for a trip to Hawaii. Thanks to my keen ability (honed by decades of motherhood) to imagine the worst case scenario, we still made our flight.

Our dean of Freshman Studies, Robin Cunningham, has a favorite saying for students, “It’s not about where you start, it’s about where you finish.” The university has the resources to provide your students a strong end game, from tutors-in-residence, the Writing Center, the Academic Resource Center and our end-of-the-semester tutoring event, Tutopia. And there’s still plenty of time to finish strong. Happy Thanksgiving!

‘Tips from Tracy’

Back when I was a journalism professor teaching Seton Hall students how to understand and write the news, I gave them little tidbits of advice that I alliteratively dubbed “Tips from Tracy”. I used to make the students write them down and spit them back at me as extra credit throughout the semester. Little tricks of the trade – when to use “which” and when to use “that;” how to figure out what the lead is in a complicated story; how to estimate the size of a crowd; or, how to find a story on a slow news day. I didn’t realize I had made any impact of the students until 25 years later when a student from back in the day called me to ask about one of my Tips from Tracy.

His call made me nostalgic for those good old days in the classroom, but it also got me thinking about what my “Tips from Tracy” would be today, now that I am the vice president in charge of so many aspects of student life. I’ve been working with college students for 30 years and for the last 16 I’ve specialized in 18 year olds, so I think I have a pretty clear picture of what works and what doesn’t. I actually fancy myself an expert on the topic.

My advice is pretty simple and guaranteed to work. If a student follows these simple rules for success, a college degree is sure to follow. Feel free to share it with your students.

1. If students are only going to listen to one piece of advice, this is the most important: go to class. As Woody Allen said, “Ninety percent of life is merely showing up.” At Seton Hall, there is a direct correlation between showing up for class and extracurricular activities and being successful. Students from big universities will brag that they never go to class and it doesn’t make a difference, but here at Seton Hall, professors know when you aren’t there. And it matters.

2. Stop Multi-tasking. Yes, yes, this is the generation that thinks they can do more than one thing at a time, and they probably can. But they can’t do it well. If a student can write a B paper while they are texting, listening to Spotify and streaming House of Cards, imagine what success they could have if they turned all that stuff off.

3. Ask for help. The biggest hurdle our students have to success is their pride and their inflated confidence in their ability to study and learn difficult material. College is hard. We have the support students need, but our tutors don’t knock on doors and force their way in to provide assistance. The students need to come to us and seek help before they are in dire straits. We have tools and techniques that can help students thrive. Their first stop should be our Academic Resource Center. Our first-year students need to think of their Peer Adviser and their mentor as their safety net.

4. Bumps in the road are a part of life. The successful student is the one who is being resilient enough to pick up the pieces and move on. Yesterday, I sat down with a junior who was struggling. She had a lousy spring semester. In the last three years, she had meandered through several different programs and majors and hadn’t found a good fit. Her GPA in her major was dismal and she was beating herself up about bad decisions and roads not taken. My message to her was simple: this transcript doesn’t have to define who you are. Grit your teeth, steel your shoulders, pick up where you left off and move on. Life throws us curve balls. The students who learn to cope with the hard reality they encounter in college are learning life skills that will make them strong.

5. Practice the etiquette of adulthood. Students need to be on time for class, turn off their cell phones, learn their professors’ names, write formal emails that use correct spelling and grammar, and act appropriately. All of this is training for the world of work.

6. Sleep. Dr. Oz tells us to power down our devices two hours before bedtime. I would be happy if students just moved their phones away from their heads and didn’t check their feeds during the night. This is a generation fueled on caffeine who are clueless about down time. Students are more productive and more successful when they are well rested.

Just six little tips from Tracy. If your kids are anything like mine, they’ll probably ignore you. But share this with them anyway. It actually could make all the difference.

Family Traditions

I am feeling nostalgic about my mother’s Thanksgiving stuffing — not necessarily in a good way.

Nothing lights up Facebook faster than a “Do You Remember?” post like this: “Name something that your mother/grandmother cooked that was your favorite.” I’m one of nine children (and seven of us keep in touch regularly on Facebook). Throw a question like that out into the universe and the memories fly.

My poor mother, now gone a year, worked miracles feeding a family of 11 on my dad’s salary. Lots of potatoes with traces of meat.  The Facebook memories included her pork chop casserole (hated it); stuffed peppers (edible); her stuffing (a mush of sage, stale bread and celery, hated it, too); her baked beans (never tasted them); and, alas, a bizarre concoction of ground beef and watery gravy she called “Collops.” Turns out that it’s actually a real Scottish recipe, one that calls “a delicious way to stretch ground beef.” Not the way my mother made it (although my brother Jim would disagree with me). I always tried to get an invite to my girlfriend Joanie’s house on nights that Collops were on the menu.

As Mom got older and was unable to cook, she lamented that she missed her own cooking. A few of us would try to replicate her recipes (although nothing had been written down) and bring her dinner. She scoffed when Jim had the audacity to add parsnips to her beef stew. She was annoyed that I undercooked the vegetables. She possessed a sharp palate that detected spices she had never used. Garlic in her spaghetti sauce? Impossible.

Now that she’s gone, a conversation about her cooking congers up the happy memory of a massive, round kitchen table with each of us in a strategically assigned seat designed to keep potential outbreaks of wrestling or elbowing at bay for 30 minutes each evening. Food memories are so strong. We can smell the aroma and nearly taste the food, or gag again if that’s what we did on that particular evening.

Thanksgiving is around the corner, your sons and daughters will be coming home to you. Remember that home-cooked food at Thanksgiving is about tradition, comfort and family. Want to conjure up happy memories? Prepare a home-cooked feast your returning college student couldn’t get in the finest restaurant!

Here on campus we recognize that just about now students are longing for their parents’ home-cooking, that very same cooking that they turned their noses up at a few short months ago. With this in mind, the University hosted a “Taste of Home” dinner on November 17, featuring out-of-state regional recipes. Students submitted suggestions for Gourmet Dining Services to cook that evening. It was a fun way to allay home-sickness and remind each other of the diversity of our backgrounds.

We are an empty nest at my house now. Our youngest lives nearby and comes home for dinner on Thursday evenings (along with one or two baskets of laundry). He’s not looking for Chinese take-out or a fancy roast, he asks for our pot roast, beef stew or chili. Home cooking a la Gottlieb — comfort food.

I’ve never had much interest in cooking and I have no illusions about my talents in that regard. I’m sure that our three children in decades to come will poke fun at mom’s meatloaf, dad’s noodles in a cup and my special interpretation of “chicken fish,” (don’t ask!).

My sister Peg always says, “Food is Love.”  Enjoy your children around your Thanksgiving table this year and pay no attention when they gag at Grandma’s turnip recipe. Trust me, even if it never makes it past their lips, it will be a part of the family food lore forever. Happy Thanksgiving!

January 2016

At an alumni reception to celebrate Seton Hall veterans, the keynote speaker stated that his year in Vietnam as a second lieutenant back in 1969 was one of the best years of his life.

“Everything I have done since then has been easy,” explained Ret. Major General Donald F. Campbell Sr.

His words resonated with me. Not that I have any experience in jungle combat, but I too had a life-transforming experience as a young woman. When I was 26 years old and a newlywed, I moved with my husband to Belgium where I learned to speak French, found a job, established a household and became a mother – all of it thousands of miles from home. In those days telephones in Brussels were considered such a luxury that you had to add your name to a waitlist to acquire one. I had to write my mother an air-mail letter when I had a question about the baby not sleeping. And three weeks later, I’d be lucky to get her response. It was a hard time. And it was the best of times.

Communication is obviously different in this world of instant chatter, but life-transforming experiences still shape our character. The independence and problem-solving skills I learned so far from home have helped me countless times in my life. And even more important has been the growth I experienced from learning about and immersing myself in another culture.

All of this brings me to the point of this column: that Study Abroad could be the single most important thing your student can do during his/her time at university. I realize it is an added expense to an already expensive endeavor, but the good it does is immeasurable.

The most traditional form of study abroad takes a Seton Hall student to another university for a full semester, occasionally a full academic year. Seton Hall has formal exchange agreements with many universities abroad. In addition, there are third-party providers that lead students from other universities on organized study abroad semester. Semester at Sea, a floating university that stops in dozens of ports in the course of the semester, is an exotic option. Students can be as adventurous as a semester in far-flung Australia. Some students like attending university in England or Ireland because the language is familiar (sort of!). I know a student who spent a year in Russia, another who went to China. Students coordinate their class schedules with their faculty advisors so that the course credits will all transfer back to Seton Hall when the experience is complete.

A smaller and less expensive commitment is our faculty-led tours that typically occur during the summer. Many departments sponsor study tours for 10 days, two weeks or a month. These programs are convenient because they count as Seton Hall class credits, with no extra paperwork or bureaucracy. This is often a great option for a student who is daunted by the many tasks associated with the paperwork surrounding study abroad.

Yet another option for an international experience is the Division of Volunteer Efforts (Dove) annual international service trips. There is no academic credit involved but in many ways this volunteer service is even more enriching to our students. Students who are interested in participating in this activity should stop by the Dove office to learn more about it.

For students interested in study abroad, their first stop should be our Office of International Programs in Presidents Hall. The trained professionals there can walk the student through the many options available to them and then help them negotiate the paperwork.

Freshman students should be weighing their options and factoring an international experience into a four-year academic plan. Sophomores should be laying the groundwork for a junior year experience or a summer tour.

When I think of all the gifts I have given my own children that eventually ended up in a pile for the Goodwill, I know that helping them achieve an international experience was one that will stay with them their whole lives. It might not be for everyone, but it’s worth looking in to. It just could shape your student’s life for the better.

March 2015

It’s that time in the semester when a young person’s thoughts turn to the idyllic prospect of moving off campus next year. As the person ultimately responsible for the life of our students outside the classroom, I personally take comfort in the story I tell myself every evening: that all our SHU students are tucked cozily in their residence hall rooms (the fantasy includes an 11 p.m. bedtime as well!). Now that we have increased the number of beds on campus, there’s more room for everyone. Keeping our students on campus is my preference.

Of course, I also have to concede that many students see the chance to live off campus as a natural progression of their independence and self-responsibility. My own son, who graduated last year, lived off campus for his senior year. And even though I worried more, he saved some money and learned life skills. Now that he’s graduated and living on his own about 800 miles away, he has the coping skills to be alone. It’s not for everyone, but for some students, it’s a chance to establish a credit record (when you are responsible for the utility bill in your name), learn to cope with adversity (when the pipes freezes), and figure out how to budget your money and manage your monthly obligations. For some, it’s the logical next step before graduation. But before any of your students make the leap, I hope it’s something that you give a lot of thought to as a family.

Before your students sign their names to the dotted line of a lease, we have a resource for them. Our online tutorial walks students through the process of finding an off-campus residence and alerts them to the questions they should ask and the pitfalls they may encounter.

My first concern for all our students is their safety. We have two transportation services at Seton Hall – our shuttle, Shufly; and, our night-time service, Safe Ride. Students who are looking at off-campus housing should be referring to our Safe Ride zone to make sure the apartment or house they choose for next year is inside this map. If they choose a property within this wide zone, they can be assured that late at night they can get a ride home to their residence. Students who decide for whatever reason to live outside the Safe Ride zone should be thinking now about their transportation needs, especially after dark.

Students also want to make sure that their choice of housing is safe, in good repair and warm. They need to ask about hidden charges: water, utilities, internet and cable.
Finances also come in to play. Students promise their parents that their living arrangements will be cheaper than living in the residence halls, but it’s a little more complicated. Rent has to be paid all 12-months of a lease. Whose name is on the lease and how much rent security do you need to pony up? You might never see that money again. Then, there’s the monthly gas, electric, cable, internet, and water. How is that going to be paid and whose name is on those bills? It can be cheaper, but you have to plan ahead.

Students who live off campus are then commuters to the university and, most importantly, residents of a town (usually South Orange). They need to remember their obligation to be good neighbors. No one wants a noisy, disruptive gaggle of students in the house next door. If our students are old enough to live independently, they have to be responsible enough to consider their neighbors.

All of these issues should be hashed out before taking the big step of moving off campus. I hope I have given you a framework for an important heart-to-heart conversation.

November/December 2014

I was a first-semester freshman when I had my “epiphanical” moment. Sitting in a calculus class listening to my professor drone on about the value of Sigma, I was overcome by dread, and then it came to me: I hate this. It took the rest of the semester to extricate myself from a future as a math teacher; it took another semester to discern that I wanted to study journalism, and still another semester to convince my journalist father that this was not a dead-end path to unemployment.

So, I speak with personal experience in addition to my decades as an academic adviser when I caution parents that, now that the excitement of the new academic year has been tempered with the reality of homework and tests, we are heading into the annual period of student self-doubt.

Some students are simply fatigued from cramming information and big ideas into their heads. They just need some time away from studying and a few stress reduction techniques and they will be fine. Other students face the realization that their plan of study and their career goals need adjustment.

I call it the “epiphanical moment.” You won’t find that term in the OED, but it’s my way of capturing the “aha!” moment students need to have when reality hits them.

Here at Seton Hall we try to facilitate a student’s personal epiphany with outreach through the Career Center and interaction with a student’s mentor or academic adviser. Our new Sophomore Center (in Mooney Hall 14) works with all second-year students but gives special attention to the sophomores who are directionless. We know that sophomore year is especially crucial because students are pushing up against the credit limits so that lack of a major will delay graduation or prevent them from registering for classes.

For our first-semester freshmen, this fall semester often serves as a reality check. I’m not the only freshman to realize I hated my major. In the first semester of college, the course work intensifies and students need to make a leap to a higher level of math or science if their dream of med school is going to happen. Many students realize that they don’t have the grit or the inclination to sustain the intense seven years of study to be a doctor.

I use the doctor example because that is the most common epiphany we see in freshman year. If all the people who thought they wanted to be doctors as high school students actually became doctors, we would have a huge physician glut in the United States. Instead, we see a natural weeding out of all but the most passionate. This process happens in all the disciplines, but is most prevalent in the sciences, perhaps because the course work is so intense.

If your son or daughter is going through this epiphany, you can support them by listening and encouraging. And know that this annual reshuffling of dreams and life goals is a natural part of the maturation process. Very few of us are actually working in the jobs we aspired to as children.

Urge your students to meet with their mentor, to visit The Career Center and to take advantage of workshops and guidance that is available to all students. There’s a major out there for everyone; sometimes it just takes a little insight and coaxing to figure out what it is.

September 2014

In the fall of 1987, I sent my big girl to kindergarten. And every year since then, I have sent a child to school. I hang my giant “Back to School” sign on our front door, humming “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and spring for new shoes and/or a backpack.

So it is with a heavy heart now that I anticipate the opening of yet another school year. My baby, 22-year-old Tom, graduated (from SHU!) in May and flew the coop. He’s gainfully employed in North Carolina. While that is something to be celebrated, I am a bit snifflely right now about my empty nest status. And not only is Tom far from his mom’s grasp (488.2 miles away), but that big girl I referenced above is moving 2986.1 miles away to San Francisco. So our empty nest is really quite empty. I will adjust.

But for those of you who are celebrating the milestone of sending your first child to college, cherish the quiet. Take one child out of the complicated mix that we call modern family life, and it really does change the dynamic. Enjoy it. And give your college student some room to breathe and grow away from the family.

I tell my students that it’s time to change and that I even changed my name when I went to college. It was my way of becoming the person I wanted to be. Students have this one opportunity in life for a “do-over” on the way to adulthood. Transitioning to college is a time when you can analyze your faults and make adjustments. No one knows the you that you were before.

Your student’s transformation might not be as dramatic as a new name (my Mom still calls me by the old one!), but your children will change when they go to college. It’s a good thing. At its best, college provides students with a graceful transition to the “real world.” Here’s hoping for an excellent school year filled with good adventure, opportunities to grow spiritually and intellectually, with a little bit of good fun sprinkled in. Go Pirates!