Special

Savor College

Wine tasters do not guzzle. Quite simply, college must be savored and not rushed. Students who try to get as much out of college as fast as they can are often the least happy with their undergraduate experience. I?m writing this article because I?d like to help first-years be successful at Carnegie Mellon. I want you to enjoy yourselves, to savor college.
There are two parts to savoring college: time and experience. The first part is fairly straightforward: Slow down. I can?t tell you how many students I know who try to get four years of partying done in their first week of school. Similarly, far too many students try to take as many upper-level classes as they can as early as possible. Slow down.
Those who try to do everything at once often burn out the fastest and end up with very little to show for it. There is no reason to sign up with organizations that will dominate your life during your first month of school. They will be there for you whenever you want to join. There is no reason to declare four majors as a first-year. If you?re really committed to the work, they will be on your diplomas when you graduate. I am not opposed to intense and demanding lifestyles at all, quite the opposite. But there is no need to do everything as soon as you get to college. Relax a bit.
Pacing yourself is important, but it is only half of the picture. It is equally important that you embrace things which are uncomfortable at first. Do not shy away from new experiences. I worry that too many students live their lives within a very small comfort zone. In order to truly savor the time that you have here, you need to push yourself and try new things. It?s easy for an advice article to talk about abstract issues without giving any useful advice. So let?s talk about concrete ways that you can enjoy your time here by taking your time and trying new things.
Food
One of the most consistent problems students face is the food on campus. This may very well have little to do with the actual quality of dining services. Quite simply, you eat every day (hopefully). There?s no question about, food is important, so here are some tips that will help you eat well and be happy about it.
Most students discover half-priced food on Atwood Street fairly quickly. That being said, students tend to order the same dishes every time they go there, and tend to make trips to these restaurants into rituals. Instead of making a big fuss about it, just go with some friends when you?re hungry and try new dishes. I promise you?ll be pleasantly surprised.
Venturing away from Oakland is important, as halfpriced alone isn?t enough to survive. For example, Enrico?s Biscotti in the Strip District has a spectacular caf? behind their storefront; it?s one of my favorite places to grab lunch. Maggie?s Restaurant on Atwood street provides great vegan meals.
If you?re like me, you know that being able to cook is one of the few ways to stay sane. While Giant Eagle may serve as a good start for grocery shopping, you can do better. Fresh produce can be found in the Strip District on Saturday morning and it?s worth the long bus ride. I?ve found that the best place to buy groceries, which doubles as the best caf? in town, is at the East End Food Cooperative; to get there, just hop on the 71c.
You?ve probably noticed that I?ve only mentioned off-campus places to eat. This is not a judgment on campus food, but part of my overall goal of talking about new experiences. Discover what you like the old-fashioned way, by trying your options. If you really want to eat well, you need to take your time and find places that you like. If you discover a new ?favorite? restaurant every semester, then you?ll always have places to get food.
Coffee
I?ll never understand people who willingly drink bad coffee. Unless you?re some sort of super-peppy person, odds are you will eventually need coffee. Some of us more than others. Your options on campus are tenuous at best, with Skibo and the Zebra Lounge being the best of a bad situation. A quick trek to Forbes and Craig will bring you to Kiva Han, which is now dueling with a new Starbucks across the street.
While Kiva Han clearly wins that competition, there are better. If you?re willing to walk a bit, you can make it to Dancing Goats on Ellsworth, which is probably the best you?ll get on foot. If you can make it to the Strip, La Prima and Fortunes Coffee are significantly better. Still, the best coffee shops in the city are The Quiet Storm in Bloomfield and Taza D?Oro in Highland Park. Get someone to drive you; it?s worth it.
Academics
Let?s face it: You?re not here to spend four years in front of a PS2. Furthermore, there are no easy paths from the first day of classes to graduation. Welcome to CMU: You?re going to work hard. Yet don?t take this to mean that you can?t enjoy your classes. Too many students make the mistake of viewing academics as a burden that prevents them from having fun. Instead of creating a simplistic work/play opposition, let?s explore the ways to savor your academic life.
Firstly, pace yourself. Students who put off all their required courses until senior year often find themselves unable to finish in time or unhappy with the sacrifices they make. Students who try to get everything out of the way as underclassmen often burn out or discover they failed to develop a solid base for more difficult classes. Pacing yourself also means aiming for reasonable goals. Instead of being clever about trying to double-count everything, focus on getting the most out of the classes you take. Taking additional classes can be a huge mistake if you aren?t taking full advantage of each one. There?s no way to know what a good balance for you is until you try it for yourself.
Secondly, be willing to make mistakes. It?s important to learn your strengths in the classroom, but sometimes this means doing poorly. Embrace the bad grades you get as learning opportunities. I learned the most from teachers who graded me the harshest and I continue to respect them for it. Students who view their QPA as sacrosanct never take risks and are cheating themselves out of a learning opportunity. Success without failure is somewhat meaningless. Until you find yourself staring at a bad grade, you?ll never know how hard you have to push yourself to really succeed. A 4.0 doesn?t always means that you?re a genius; it sometimes means that you?re a coward.
Thirdly, do not be limited by your degree(s). It is very important to take classes that don?t count for anything. Instead of choosing a linear schedule where every course is part of a plan, branch out. Take courses that sound interesting even if they don?t fit into your degree requirements.
Fourthly, treat your professors with respect. Turns out they?re human beings, just like the rest of us. Even more amazing is that they like students who take an interest in the material. These professors have dedicated their careers to researching something that they are sharing with you. If you go to office hours and talk with them outside of class, you are talking with an expert on the subject. Some of the most important learning I?ve received from professors has been outside of the classroom. Professors have lives too, so don?t be demanding or unreasonable. There is no replacement for excellent teachers and once you?ve found a few, continue to take their courses.
Finally, give weight to all of your classes. You may not want to take a required course, but other students may care very deeply about it. Do your readings; be polite; don?t talk during lectures. There are few things more frustrating than students who slow down fun classes because they are obnoxious and disrupt the class.
Extracurriculars
Getting involved with clubs and organizations is a great way to meet people and spend your time. At the start of every semester there is an activities fair where hundreds of groups present information about themselves. Make sure you go your first year and spend some time there. Do not over-commit yourself and be careful with groups that try to get you to do grunt work. If all of the sudden you find yourself getting people coffee and taking minutes of meetings, you?ve made a wrong turn. Any good club is full of people who are just glad to find people who are excited about the same stuff. So paying massive dues or having to spend all of your time with the group should be giant warning signs.
Activities, whether they are student organizations, club sports, or the student newspaper are great ways to meet upperclassmen and other first-years who aren?t in your classes. Even if the group isn?t the center of your social life, you?ll always have parties to go to, friendly faces in your classes, and future roommates awaiting you.
Students who don?t join clubs often find themselves with an incredible small group of friends. I personally went a bit overboard with my involvement, but I don?t regret the hours I spent in meetings, at events, or on the Frisbee field. And let me tell you, I am looking forward to working in the paradise that is the Tartan office.
One of the best ways to get involved is by being an Orientation Counselor. This will mark my fourth year as an OC and it?s something I deeply enjoy. A good OC can really make a difference in assisting people during a difficult time. It?s an easy way to help out. And if you think that you need to be extremely high energy and perky to be an OC, then you didn?t read my coffee section.
Advising
There is no substitute for good advice. If you do not get along with your advisor, make sure that you find a faculty member in your department who you can use as a surrogate. College can be a confusing set of circumstances and setbacks: A great advisor helps you get to where you want to be.
Lectures
One of the best learning opportunities on this campus are the countless free lectures. Every week there are a number of visiting scholars who come to speak at CMU about their latest research. Make it a habit to attend as many of these lectures as possible; they are great chances to learn about something you would never otherwise think about. Look for flyers posted around academic buildings and try to make as many as possible.
I?ve sat through lectures on the genome of the housefly, the wireless spectrum, and generational ethics, all of them excellent. There?s usually free food afterwards, which gives you a chance to impress your professors with your erudite comments on the lecture ... and free food.
Netiquette
Many of you have been active online citizens for years. Some of you have not. For this latter group, you may find Computing Skills Workshop (CSW) to be extremely informative. Here are a few important things they don?t tell you.
Firstly, if you have 15 things to sell on misc.market, make one posting, not 15. Secondly, don?t expect to make any friends by posting your opinion. You will be lucky if you don?t make too many enemies. Finally, online isn?t real life. Don?t worry about it too much. If you find yourself spending all day on misc.market, get outside. Even if it?s raining.
Think Big
This may sound odd, but it?s important to dream about things being better. A number of students are content merely to gripe about problems instead of working to fix them. Unless you?re willing to think of making changes, you?ll always be stuck with the way things are. So brainstorm and share your ideas with a few friends. If you?re on to something, keep talking about and start working to make it a reality. A small group of dedicated people can make serious changes at CMU, but only if they?re willing to think big.
StuCo
One great example of a good idea that changed things is StuCo. The idea that students can teach courses for credit is a radical one, but it only took a small group of students to make it happen. As a result, you can now take a number of exciting and fun courses every semester. I believe strongly in the StuCo program and recommend it to everyone. The courses are a great way to learn in a fun and stress-free setting. Teaching StuCo courses is just as important as taking them. You?ll gain a new respect for your professors and TAs once you?ve had to prepare a syllabus and put up with ungrateful students.
Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh is a wonderful city; explore it. If you graduate without having visited the Inclines, the Mexican War Streets, Kennywood, the Zoo, or the Warhol Museum, you?ve missed out. So find your own secrets and share them with people. There are tons of resources to find how to get to these and other destinations. Every week these resources provide you with information on concerts, galleries, plays, and other events about town. Be adventurous.
Conclusion
So wrapping things up, I?m going to continue to stress my two main points: Take your time and try new things. If you?ve been reading carefully, a third theme emerged as well. The best way to learn something is to do it yourself, even if there?s some risk involved. As such, I can?t really offer you anything else. The danger in writing an advice article is that it may seem to advocate a singular normalized notion of success. There is no such ideal path, nor should there be.
This is not a ?Dummies? Guide to CMU.? The problem with the dummies? guides is that they distill all the interesting elements out of life in order to present a sterilized model. These guides don?t create connoisseurs: They create marginally competent drones. I want you to become a connoisseur of CMU.
Create your own successes and failures and let them change you as you go. Do not allow your current feelings and preferences to dictate how you lead your life. Had you told me four years ago what I would be now, I would have laughed. I view this as a massive success. Now go, savor college, and succeed and fail on your own.