CMU should better inform students of resources

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I got straight A’s in high school. But this is Carnegie Mellon; most of us did. It came as a shock to me when, at the midterm of my first semester, I received a less-than-stellar grade in a class directly related to my intended major of civil engineering. I began to wonder whether CivE was the right choice for me. Why was something I thought I enjoyed turning into such a burden? Could I possibly be in the wrong major?

So I asked around. I talked to some upperclassmen, other first-years, and my family — basically anyone who could possibly feel, or have felt, what I was feeling. To make a long answer short, I learned that it’s okay to be in my position. Classes may start out rocky at first and you might just have to study for the first time in your life. You might even fail a test or two. But it’s not the end of the world. One semester isn’t enough time to gauge how well you’ll do over the next four years. I realized then what a good network of support I had created for myself in such a short time.

But what about everyone else, like students who, in their first semester, transferred to different departments, even different colleges? Where was the support system telling them that it would take time to adjust? Why had no one told them that certain departments tend to “weed out” students in their first year? I was angry that the administration had no system in place to counsel students, to tell them to ride it out and see what next year had in store for them.

But the administration does have something: Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Its mission statement reads, “CAPS maintains in the Center a presence as a comfortable, inviting place which attends to the personal, emotional, interpersonal, developmental, and psychiatric out-patient needs of students in and out of the classroom.” I know I always go to a trained psychiatrist with all of my academic needs. But I digress.

There are many opportunities to take time-management courses and to get sound advice on my future career choices. In addition, peer tutoring is available for any student who needs it. If you need academic help, it’s available. A lot of the time, all students need is someone to listen to them rant about their uncertainties and qualms, and then tell them that it’s okay.

Now, some may say, “This is college — first-year students don’t need anyone babysitting them,” but I’m not proposing that. There is a need on campus for academic advice, and the current system just isn’t working out. A guidance-counselor-like advisor should be established, and, at predetermined intervals, send e-mails out to students letting them know that the C– they got in chemistry or psychology isn’t necessarily indicative of their abilities in that field. Not only would this result in happier students, but it would also cut down the number of students transferring from computer science to English, or vice versa.

If I’m wrong, and such a service exists, why don’t I know about it? Could it have anything to do with the fact that the majority of first-years are so overstimulated during Orientation that they can barely function? CIT doesn’t mention it during Orientation. Other colleges might; I don’t know that for sure. Here’s what I do know: Those pamphlets and leaflets that everyone gets don’t seem to do the job. I can’t possibly imagine why.

Students can’t take advantage of a service that they don’t know about. They also can’t take advantage of it if it’s sub-par and time-consuming: The University can’t expect them to.