Welcome Back!

Note: This message was sent by John Clark, chair of the Department of Political Science, to all of our majors and minors on the first day of school

Good morning, and welcome to the start of the fall semester! On behalf of the faculty and staff of the Political Science Department, I hope that your academic year is already off to a great start.

Whether you are an entering freshman or a multi-year senior, my guess is that the start of the school year brings lots of advice, mostly unsolicited, from your parents, your high school friends, the person who cuts your hair, your crazy Uncle Frank--it could come from anywhere, and some of it is worth less than what you paid for it. Forget all that for a moment, and get ready for good advice--MY good advice--for the start of the year.

I recently ran across a column in the Washington Post by education writer Jeffrey Selingo that was titled, "Have fun at college, freshmen, but read this first." Selingo identifies three strategies for first-year college students designed to help them get the most out of their college experience. I think they apply to all college students, and that makes them worth sharing with you:

  1. Participate in campus life.
  2. Connect with learning experiences that go beyond coursework.
  3. Find mentors and ask for help.

If these sound like the advice that Provost Bott shared at yesterday's matriculation ceremony, this Selingo guy must be on to something. You can read the entire column at this link: 


Since Selingo is focused on activities outside the classroom, I'd like to add some simple advice that will help you succeed inside the classroom: do your reading and go to class. I said it was simple, but you might be amazed at the number of students who fail to heed it.

First, do your reading, and do it before you come to class. Unlike high school, much of your work in college takes place on your own time. By doing your reading before you come to class, you will have a better context for understanding the lecture or participating in discussion. You can ask questions about things that you don't understand because you will already know what you don't understand. Make the time to do your reading.

Second, go to class. Unless you are extremely ill and contagious, go. And don't just go to sign the attendance sheet or copy down the Powerpoint slides, be present and focused while you are there. If you know you will be tempted to check your phone, put it away so it isn't a distraction. If you know that you have trouble seeing the board from the back row, don't sit there. If you know that hallway noise bothers you, don't sit by the door. Allow yourself to focus on the class and engage the material (which will be easier because you've already done the reading).

If this sounds like the advice you got from Uncle Frank, maybe he isn't as crazy as you thought. Best of all, it's simple. Follow it. And have a great year, starting today.


Best wishes for the semester and beyond,

John Clark