The Cross of First Assignments

At Saturday evening Mass at St. John’s, Greg Carlson S.J began his excellent homily by noting that many of his students could relate to Jesus’ suffering on the cross as they received their first grades
We laughed but the suffering Fr. Carlson alluded to is real, especially for freshmen.
Most of you who are freshmen probably got A’s in high school without much difficulty. Now you may be seeing the first C’s of your life and are waking up to the fact that almost everyone here is smart.
What can you tell your parents when they ask how things are going? What does this do to your image of yourself?
I’ll tell you a secret. I got a C on my first freshman English paper and learned a life lesson from it People do recover – especially at Creighton where we believe that the cross leads to redemption. Start working on your own academic redemption.
First, read all that red ink CAREFULLY. You ARE smart but the standards and demands here are a lot stiffer. Many of us use first assignments to communicate our expectations to students; now we judge your response. If we see significant improvement on future papers, we tend to minimize the grade damage from the first.
Take advantage of all the help that Creighton offers. Ask your professor how to do better. This always impresses us.
See assistance on papers from the Writing Center. Make a math tutor your new BFF. Seek informal help from fellow students who are doing well. I even encourage my students to submit drafts of papers for a pre-grading review. That’s probably not the norm but seek advice BEFORE you submit your next paper.
If Creighton were easy, good students like you wouldn’t have come. Remember it’s not the “cross” of that first paper that counts but how you rise to the challenge of future assignments.
Good luck!


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Take a Break for the Arts

Take a study break for the Arts. Yes, I said the Arts.
Research by Harvard professor Richard Light showed that the greatest predictor of success during the freshman year of college is participating in some form of arts activity – it makes little difference what type. Here’s why.
Most of your courses require intense activity from the side of the brain involving logical thinking. The other side controls creativity and emotion. So give your logical side of your brain a rest and release your creativity.
You’re under a lot of stress; singing, playing an instrument, acting, dancing or losing yourself in a painting or making a pot is a great way to relieve that stress. You’ll return to studying chemistry, accounting or philosophy refreshed.
Getting involved in the Arts also is a terrific way to meet students who share your passions. The more friends you make, the more you’ll attach to Creighton, enhancing your odds of success. My daughter, a business major, made some of her closest Creighton friends through being in a play during her first semester. In spite of spending hours rehearsing, she also made Dean’s List.
All career fields emphasize the type of teamwork that most arts endeavors demand. Arts also make you well rounded, which is important in all fields – business, medicine, nursing, teaching etc. Some of my journalism/pre-med majors have found that writing for the Creightonian helped them stand out during their medical school interviews. That’s also true of being in a choir or dance ensemble or a band.
Happily Creighton makes it easy for non-Arts majors to get involved in a wide range of artistic endeavors. Check out the many opportunities that the Fine and Performing Arts Department offers. To ALL students There is something for everyone.
Beyond FPA, audition for a choir at St. John’s or get involved in Omaha’s active indie rock scene. You’ll be happier and, ironically, probably a better student. And if you left your guitar at home, retrieve it over fall break. It might be as important to your success as your calculator!

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Panicked? Seek Help

By Dr. Eileen Wirth

OMG! You’re at Creighton and everything is different, possibly a little scary: a new place, new people, maybe a new identity. So how do you cope?

Panicked? Seek help. Ask questions, especially of your professor.  Answering some questions even before you ask them is also the intention of this weekly “Online Advisor” blog.

One myth I’ve heard many times in my 20+ years of teaching journalism here is that in college you are on your own – don’t count on your teachers for help.

While that may be true at some very large universities it’s quite different at Creighton. Here, most of the professors I know are dedicated to their students. A hallmark of Jesuit education is “cura personalis,” which is Latin for “care of the person.” Lots of people at Creighton – not just faculty—work here because they love students so take advantage of this wonderful gift.

You’ve already noticed that most classes are small enough that your teachers can get to know you by name. Speed that process by dropping in during office hours if you have a question or want extra help. We can’t help you if you don’t ask.

The sooner you adjust to college, the happier everyone will be. When my brother, who is now a university dean, was a freshman he called our parents during the first week to say he just couldn’t cope with the load. Obviously he managed. By the end of the first semester, most of you, like my brother, will wonder why you felt so frightened and overwhelmed.

Welcome to Creighton. We hope this will be the greatest experience of your lives.

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Finals Week Rituals

Happy Finals Week!

We’re almost there and all of us, faculty included, can almost taste the summer ahead but first we have to conquer the final obstacle course of the year.


Dress as grungy as you like, wig out ,then breathe a huge sigh of relief when you finish that last exam. Try these rituals to make the week more bearable:

•Wear your lucky shirt or worst pair of jeans to every final.

•Reward yourself after each test with something delightfully sinful like a chocolate sundae or anything drenched in ranch dressing.

•Read a trashy novel during study breaks. Who knows? It might help you as much as obsessing over theology or chemistry.

•Watch the dumbest TV show you can download on your smart phone.

• Study outside when your room starts to feel like a prison cell. The new hammocks look pretty cool.

When I was an undergrad, I used to take my notes from particularly hated classes to the final then dump them in the first trash can I saw after the test. I won’t say which subjects those were!

All your professors have similar memories of sitting when you do now. And we are just as eager to complete our work on exams as you are.

Good luck! Have a great summer. See you next fall when we will all be psyched up for the year to come.

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Turn Your Study Break into a Career Break

Take a study break that will give you a career break.

The pressure of final projects and exams is intense heading into Dead Week but take a few minutes away from reviewing for tests to review your summer plans. Do they include an internship or volunteer work that will benefit your future career?

Many of you have such experiences lined up including summer classes that will give you an edge come fall or travel to immerse yourself in a foreign language and culture. If so, you can stop reading now.

However if you’ve got some openings in your summer calendar, visit the Career Center or your advisor to check out recently arrived opportunities in your major or prospective major. Maybe you can turn summer into a life expanding experience even if you stay in the Midwest.

Lots of employers and organizations think college classes end in June so they are still sending us requests for interns and volunteers. I had at least half a dozen such requests last week, some of them excellent.

About this time, I WELCOME knowing who’s still available as I hunt to fill such positions. It kills me to turn down good employers or volunteer programs.  Even if a student just stops me on the mall or in the library, I file that information mentally and send emails when I get late requests for applicants.

So no matter how hard you are cramming to get through your history or bio final, take a break to touch base with your advisor or a professor in a field you are considering. Get on their radar so if something potentially awesome comes their way, you might get an alert to apply.

There’s nothing like such a career break to boost your morale for the dash to the finish. Good luck and don’t forget to text your mom for cookies!

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Salvaging Your Grade

A student who is doing poorly in my class came in to see if there hope of getting the B she says needs for a variety of reasons. This scenario is painfully familiar to lots of students and professors this time in the semester.

By now about 2/3 of the points in many classes are in and the odds of a dramatic turn around get slimmer every day. But still there’s SOME hope –and who can fault a student for trying?

By all means talk to your professors. Better late than never even if you’ve put off the conversation until two weeks before the final. We’ve all dealt with our share of desperate students but don’t be surprised if the odds of a happy ending aren’t great. The math just may not work out no matter what you do.

You’ll get more sympathy if you’ve consistently sought help and shown extra effort. I plan to meet with another student in the same course to review my in-class review to be sure he gets everything.  He never misses a class, pays close attention and is grateful for extra assistance. We’re in this together.

Here are a few other tips for students seeking to salvage their grades as we head into the home stretch:

•DO meet with your professor but DON’T try to guilt trip him/her into giving you a higher grade because you need to keep a scholarship, get into med school etc.

•Seek advice on the best way to ace the final exam.

• Ask your professor to suggest a student who might tutor you for a modest fee. Seek aid through university tutoring centers or find a study buddy in the course, preferably one that is doing better than you are.

•Check your finals schedule and see if your professor teaches more than one section of your course. Sometimes professors with multiple sections will allow a student to take the final with another section on a lighter day or later in the week.

These are intense, crazy days for faculty and students. Above all, don’t do anything stupid like forgetting to turn in a paper or skipping a review session. The end is in sight!

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Oh Those Four Year Plans!

It’s Four Year Plan time.  Underclassmen who are transitioning to their new major advisors often come to their first meetings clutching sheets of paper laying out how they will spend their next two or three years.

These are good, up to a point. They reassure students that they can meet all requirements to graduate in four years. But the plans never pan out as indicated and that’s just fine.

Guess what? Things change including the courses your department requires and your own goals. Faculty members turn you on to new interests or you abandon a field after a shadowing experience or an internship.

Departments update their courses to reflect advances in science and technology in ways that your RSP advisor couldn’t possibly know about.

Major advisors know which courses balance each other in terms of content and time demands so they suggest packaging the mix of courses somewhat differently than your four-year plan  Required courses meet at conflicting times so you juggle things a bit.

The variables are almost endless and will become even more so as we phase in the Magis core next year. But don’t worry. Things will work out. Creighton is committed to helping students graduate in four years and faculty go to extraordinary lengths to make this possible.

So bring on the four-year plans but don’t be wedded to them.  You’ll miss the best of Creighton if you treat your plan as rigid road map through college rather than the start of your adventure.

Also have a blessed Easter. Use our mini-break to rest up for the killer weeks to the end of the semester.

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Re-thinking Your Major

By Dr. Eileen Wirth

You came to Creighton thinking you would be pre-med or something else but now you’re having second thoughts like a couple of students I met with last week.

Good for you!  It takes courage to re-think a cherished plan and now is the perfect time to do it, especially if you are a freshman or a sophomore.  As you start to plan your fall classes, ask your advisor to help you assess your prospects for success on your current path. If you think you should change it, here are some good steps to take.

•Think about what you enjoy doing and what careers or majors these activities suggest.  Go online, check out these majors and ask friends what they are like.

• Contact a faculty member in each department you are considering to learn more. Could you see yourself enjoying computer science or history or finance? What might these majors lead to after graduation?

•Ask the EDGE to arrange a job shadowing experience. I talked to one student who changed her major based on this. She could have spent three years preparing for something she would have hated but she’s dodged that bullet. Whew!

If you’re a freshman, rejoice that Creighton requires you to focus on Core because you haven’t wasted any time or courses this year.  You should end the year with at least 30 hours that meet requirements no matter what you major in or which college you choose.

Next fall, take at least one course in your possible new major, maybe two if you’re pretty confident you’ve found the right field. At worst you’ll have an elective or two; at best you’ll be happily en route to your major and declaring it during the year.

If you are torn between two fields, check out how happy friends are with their classes as well as research and internship opportunities. You might even (God forbid) sample what students say about the teachers in both departments on “Rate My Professor” to see which major you might prefer. We know you all do it anyhow!!!

Good luck!

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Salvaging Midterm Disasters

By Dr. Eileen Wirth

             Today I will meet with a very nice, hardworking student who badly blew a midterm. The student didn’t challenge the painfully low midterm grad but wants help doing better so we’ll develop a plan to salvage the rest of the course..


We’ll go over the exam and I’ll offer extra help. Extra credit opportunities should do the rest. I have every confidence that this student will end up okay in my course because people with this type of an attitude almost always do.

While it pains me to give a D or an F at midterm, I’m glad we are forced to give students like this a wake-up call while there is still time to salvage a course. It’s not unusual for students to raise their final grades one or two levels just by figuring out where they have been going wrong and focusing on improvement.

This student is not alone in my course. Several others also had terrible midterms. However I have yet to hear from them. While I am happy to help any student who requests it, students must ask for the extra help, not expect me to seek them out.  They’re in college not middle school.

There’s no disgrace in struggling in a course. Only a handful of students make it through college without suffering through a few such situations just as very few people make it through life without suffering setbacks. The trick is to learn from the problems and grow from the struggles as my student almost certainly will today.

Professors respect students who accept responsibility and seek help just as employers will later. They see such requests (if made without whining) as evidence of maturity and a desire to improve. On the flip side, never pout and suggest that a poor grade merely represents a teacher’s unfounded opinion. BAD MOVE.

So if you got a terrible midterm grade, contact your professor TODAY and turn that course around.  Redemption is still possible but only if you seek it. Good luck!

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Feeling Awful During Midterms

By Dr. Eileen Wirth

            There’s nasty stuff going around campus during midterms,  just when all of us can least afford to get sick. For the past couple of weeks I’ve gotten many emails like these:

Hi Dr. Wirth – Sorry I can’t make it to class because I feel awful…

Hi Dr. Wirth—I hate to miss class but I’ve got strep and I’m still contagious…

Dear Dr. Wirth—I threw up twice last night. I hope I’ll be better by Thursday …

            It’s obvious these students aren’t faking because they often look half dead when they return to class. Professors are not immune from illness either. A member of my department was hospitalized last week; now he’s trying to figure out how to cover everything he missed. 

            So what do you do if you get ill during midterms? There aren’t any good answers but start by contacting your professors to see if you can take a test later in the week or even after break if you are really sick. For something major, get a doctor’s note documenting your illness.

Since midterm exams typically count heavily, you are probably terrified of what illness could do to your course grade.

            Most Creighton professors are reasonably understanding but it’s tough to reschedule a midterm. Often this requires altering a test to ensure that the late exam taker hasn’t gotten feedback from classmates. However since we all know that lots of students are genuinely ill and we hate to penalize you for something that isn’t your fault, you should at least inquire about alternatives.

            If you are still healthy, try to stay that way. Wash your hands frequently, drink lots of liquids and don’t pull all nighters. Even during midterms, sleep is important. Being rested may not only make you less susceptible to the bugs going around but also help you recall all the information you’ve crammed.

            Good luck! Spring break is almost here and we’ve all earned it.


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