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How I Spent My Winter Break

crossing "nothing" off a to-do list

Yep, this was me over Winter Break!

The second semester of my freshman year has started, and after a month away from Winona, I can honestly say I missed this campus. Connecticut was great and all, but nothing beats the feeling of freedom I get when here at WSU. I am sure many of you felt a similar sigh of relief to back too.

In my last post, I mulled over what home would be like since I’d been away for a long semester. Would my friends still be my friends? Would I be able to fit back in with my family?

The answers to these questions—yes!

After being in airports for over 12 hours, I journeyed another hour to go see my several of my friends perform in The Nutcracker Ballet staged by my town. I surprised them backstage–last time they saw me my hair was bright red, not black!–and caught up on everything while helping them through costume changes.

Right after the performance, I picked up another friend and headed to the mall to meet up with a groups of many other friends who, apparently, had been missing me terribly. They rushed me as soon as they saw me and I felt surrounded by memories and old friendships once again. I didn’t even get to put a word in as they greeted me and told me all about their post-high school lives.

My first day back was fantastic, but the rest of my break was less exciting. The fact of the matter is no one would hire me for a month and I didn’t have any means of getting around. So, like I’m guessing many of you did, I spent my days on the couch! I caught up on my TV shows and played some video games which was still a nice break from the hectic pace of school.

Another thing that dampened the excitement of break a bit was that my friends were either still at school during my break or working so I couldn’t hang out with them as often as I would have liked. I also didn’t have a car, having left mine in Minnesota, so I had to share with my brother who was away at school for half of my break.

By the end of break,  I had exhausted my Netflix queue and was so bored that I actually cleaned my house for FUN! Yeah………I did not see that coming.

Break had some ups and downs, as I’m sure most of yours did too. We all enjoyed being with family and friends, but after four weeks, you know you started missing what Winona has to offer even though the homework nearly killed us and we barely had sleep most nights. I know I sure did. The feeling of community and belonging had me wishing I had been back here.

–Rachel Adam

Wonderings of Home

Finals are almost over and I know most of us are antsy to get home. For me, I don’t get to leave this tundra till Saturday when I board my flight and fly into La Guardia.

This time in the semester is not only stressful because of exams for me but also because of the hassle of flying. Most of you students live close by, and by close by I mean under 6 hours away. You get to pack up as much luggage as you want and drive back. I have to pack only the necessities and watch the weight limit on my suitcase. But nonetheless, I am excited to get home.

success kid meme

I don’t know what to expect when I get back, though. It’s been 5 months since I left for college. A lot can change in 5 months. My friends have all been at college, on their own, making new friends, getting used to not having me around and I them.

My family hasn’t seen me in a while either, and if Thanksgiving is anything to go off of, I can tell they’re not used to the new, more independent me.

Game of thrones meme

We’ve all changed, whether we know it or not. I’m not the naïve, new college student I once was. I’ve learned in and out of the classroom. And if I’ve learned some new things about myself and about life, then I’m sure everyone has else too. In learning, we adapt to the knowledge we gain, and this means that the friends I knew are not the same anymore.

I’ve thought about what it’ll be like when I get back—hugs and tears from my best friend, dinners at my favorite restaurants, trips into NYC, lazy days at the mall being basic white girls. I don’t have a job waiting for me back home and trying to find one so late into the holiday season is going to be tough.

I’ve come to the realization that those dreams of how it’ll be like when I get home are just that—dreams. My friends all have jobs and I won’t even have my car to go visit them. Now, I’m sure I’ll get to spend some time with them.  I’ll get to hear all about what’s been going on since I left and watch movies with them and see a glimpse of what once was. And maybe everything will be like it was. I have been in contact with them throughout the semester and everything seems fine with our friendships, so who knows?

But whatever the differences in friendships and home life, I will be happy to be back in Connecticut and with people I love. I am sure that you all have friends and family you’re looking forward to seeing,and we should make the most of our winter breaks with them while we can.

–Rachel Adam

10 Questions Seniors Dread Hearing Over Winter Break

For all that it’s a month of relief from stressful classes, exams and papers, Winter Break can be hard–especially when you’re a college senior. It’s because family members ask you the same questions over and over, and you feel the same panic every time you don’t know the answers…or don’t want to admit them. Here are 10 questions you dread but can expect to be asked in the next few weeks.

1. How’d you do on your finals?

Cam shakes his head "no"

2. Are you going to graduate on time?

a college student looks pained

3. What do you plan on doing with your major?

a man rolls his eyes

4. Have you applied for jobs yet?

a young woman says "what??"

5. Are you going to have to move back in with your parents?

a man gags

6. What do you plan on doing with your LAST winter break?

Buddy the Elf messily eats candy and pasta

7. How’s your GPA?

Britney Spears squints and sighs

8. How long will it take to pay off your school loans?

man looks sad

9. You’re going to work really hard your last semester, right? Finish strong!

man nods sarcastically

10. Are you excited to graduate and leave WSU?

Leonardo DiCaprio's Romeo sobs in the desert

–Leah Dobihal

10 Signs Finals Week is Almost Here

1. A Mugby Junction cup is in everyone’s hands

Thor smashes a coffee cup on the floor

2. People you’ve never seen before appear in class

a woman looks confused

3. Everyone’s default outfit is sweatpants

a guy wears sweatpants for a week

4. Your favorite study spot in the library is now gone

a girl crying

5. Your backpack is so big that one slip on the ice and you’re going down

a person falls wearing an enormous backpack

6. People look like zombies from lack of sleep

a zombie

7. Baldwin Lounge is full of students alternately studying and sleeping

students sleeping in library

8. There are always lines in the Smaug for food no matter the time

people waiting to be served

9. Students are rushing to finish projects and papers

person typing a paper

10. But once the finals are over, we celebrate!

a woman dances on a plane

–Liz Peterson

A Big City Guy in Small Town Life

an aerial view of downtown Milwaukee WI

Now this is what I call a city!

When coming into college, you hear a lot fears about moving from a small town to a city. There are plenty stories in pop culture of scared Stewart Littles coming from a friendly, small town to the mean and nasty big city.  What you don’t normally think about, however, are the kids coming in from a big city to Winona. It may not sound strange to some of you, but to me, Winona is small town living. Making my way from Milwaukee, a city of 600,000 people, to the comparatively tiny Winona, population of 28,000, was actually more of a transition than I would have ever thought when coming into college three years ago.

One thing to know about me is that I am not what you would call a “country guy.” I don’t really think a dirt road is a good place to chill and I cannot bait a hook to save my soul. I’ve lived in an urban bubble my whole life, completely oblivious to how the world worked outside of the metropolitan area. Then I moved out to Winona and I saw more jacked-up pickup trucks with NRA bumper stickers and blaring country music than I have seen in my entire life. All of a sudden, I was thrown into a situation where I was becoming friends with people who actively lived the small-town lifestyle. And then there’s me, the from hippie Milwaukee who’s out there trying figure out why I can’t pay for my coffee with a song (just kidding, I know how money works).

While I like to joke around about small towns and I am looking forward to living in a city again, the transition has helped me realize a lot about myself and how the world works. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and I would like to say how thankful I am for the years I spent here in a smaller city.  I am heading into my last year in Winona, and looking back, here are a few things I was able learn from the small town life.

I Made Friends with People of Different Backgrounds and Mindsets

I’ll admit, Winona isn’t the teeming melting pot that a lot of cities are, but I have been surprised at how many amazing friends I have made who come from vastly different lifestyles. Winona has a very interesting combination of students from large cities to students from the most rural parts of the upper Midwest. Getting the chance to become good friends with people from both of these backgrounds and getting to know how they think is a great opportunity that is lost in the city.

I Learned to Make My Own Fun

This is going to sound like I’m bragging, but I have always been spoiled when it came having things to do. I lived 5 minutes away from Miller Park and 10 minutes from downtown Milwaukee so any band I wanted to see would basically come to me. Giving up that convenience really forces you to new outlets for fun. I’ve rafted down the Mississippi River, raced chairs through the SLC, picked up weird hobbies and threw a dance party in my residence hall elevator. The places you will go when you are bored are incredible, and most of the time, these places are where the best stories come from.

I Enjoyed Peace and Quiet in Nature

I have always loved nature and the outdoors. However, it’s hard to get out and explore nature when you can hear cars zooming past. Living in Winona, we have the convenience of being surrounded by natural beauty. Having bluffs, rivers, lakes, and natural beauty is something special to Winona, and getting out into the peace and quiet is something that isn’t easy  when you live in a city.

I Created a Sense of Community

Possibly the thing I love most about Winona is the sense of community the campus can build. What is really cool here is that everyone is connected on our compact campus, and this has gotten more and more relevant as I’ve meet new people throughout my 3 ½ years here. Looking at bigger schools like UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee, or the University of Minnesota, I noticed that the campus is pretty much a city itself and there isn’t much sense of unity. There is a lot of life on our campus, and every one is connected with one another. Smaller towns have this sense of connectedness that big cities fail to create.

I hope my little spiel has inspired you to take a second and think about where you are from and how wonderful it is to have this unique background. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

–Caleb Bednarski

How I Chose (and Changed) My Major

two college students make heart shapes with their hands

My Spanish major and Global Studies minor let me study abroad in Spain and follow my passion for travel.

A marine biologist. That’s all my fifth grade self wanted to be. I loved dolphins and killer whales and just knew I was born to be a marine biologist. But then I took my first “real” science class in tenth grade. To say I struggled would be a vast understatement. As hard as I tried, I didn’t understand the anatomy of an atom let alone the entire periodic table. Science just wasn’t (and still isn’t) for me.

So, my dream of becoming a marine biologist was crushed. What was I going to do now? I didn’t feel anything else pull me in particular, and while everyone was choosing what college they were going to, I was still stumped as to what I would study when I actually did choose a school.

As an incoming freshman, I was the dreaded “UNDECIDED” major. I signed up for some general classes…I think one of them had to do with the extinction of dinosaurs. As the end of the semester neared, I knew I had to make a decision sooner or later. So I decided. Mass Communications. Seemed like an all right major at the time and I was in a panic about my future. I felt good. But then a nagging feeling came. Mass communications wasn’t exactly what I was passionate about. I knew I had to figure out what was really right for me. So here’s what I did.

I thought about what I liked. It sounds so simple, I know, but sometimes it’s just that–simple. I think our passions are so inherent in us that sometimes we can’t even put our fingers on what they really are. I thought to myself, “What are you passionate about?” and let me tell you, it wasn’t an easy process to find out. I wrote down a list. Culture, traveling, grammar, writing papers, dancing….these were a few things on my list. I remember looking up and down the piece of paper and thinking, “Great. Let me just major in grammar and traveling. I can be one of the traveling, dancing grammar police.” That sounds ridiculous, but when you pick apart your interests, you really find areas of study. I like traveling and culture, so I decided on Global Studies and Spanish. I like writing and grammar, so I added an English Writing major.

Here is my advice to those people who still have the “UNDECIDED” cloud hanging above their heads: think about what excites you, what intrigues you, what you see yourself doing twenty years down the road when you close your eyes. What parts of classes have inspired you? And when you start to choose what major is for you, don’t listen much to the people who say, “Oh, you’re not going to get a job in that field” or “Well, you’re not going to make enough money doing that.” Pick a major that you’re going to enjoy for the next few years, and make sure that the major you choose gives you the opportunity for a career you’ll continue to be passionate about.

I’ve learned a lot from changing, switching, upgrading, downgrading, dropping and adding majors. I’ve learned not to let others judge your passions and interests. I’ve learned that the best part of a college education is that you have the power to decide what you learn. And I’ve learned that truly enjoying your education is important. And the biggest lesson of all has been to…(prepare yourself)…follow your heart.

–Leah Dobihal

Coding-- What is it Good For?

a corgi wearing glasses sitting at a computer

This corgi knows what’s up with coding! Photo Credit

You don’t see it, but this blog is built with computer code. So is Facebook and Hulu and D2L. Every day you are using hypertext markup language (HTML) and cascading style sheets (CSS) but do you have any idea how they work?

Steve Jobs once said that “I think everybody in this country should learn how to program a computer because it teaches you how to think.” I, for one, never thought that I would find myself in a coding class yet here I am in Computer Science 116: Intro to Web Technology. And I have to say, it’s been such an eye-opening experience that I’m with Steve Jobs: learning to code will benefit you even if you are not a planning a career in computer science.

Coding Builds Your Digital Literacy

Digital literacy is generally defined as the having ability to use a range of digital technologies “to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information” as well as participating in online communities and understanding the social issues that digital technologies cause. In our tech-dependent world, digital literacy is an essential skill to have simply so you can be a competent digital consumer and creator. That’s where know how to code comes in good skill to have in a tech-heavy world—part of digital literacy is knowing how to make sense of cyberspace and use it effectively for your purposes. “If you don’t know the basics of computer technology, you are at the mercy of those who do,” says WSU computer science professor Dr. Joan Francioni, “and not everyone is working in your best interests.”

Coding Gives You Creative Independence

Say you wanted to make a website or a build your own blog—where would you start? Sure, WordPress, Weebly and Wix are excellent web-authoring services that provide you with the basic tools and hundreds of templates to get started, but what if you wanted your site to look truly unique? Learning HTML and CSS gives you full creative control over your web project. You want a three column layout that floats over a background image? You can do that! It’s amazing to see the code you write appear in a browser window.

Take the resume page I just built in CS 116 for example. I started with a blank page in my Notepad++ program and then went to this:

html code

The pure code looks quite intimidating, but when viewed in a browser it turns into this:

an online resume coded by hand

Pretty cool, huh? Now just imagine what you could do!

Coding Helps You Find a Job

Obviously, you need to know how to code if you want to be a programmer, but you may find knowing how to code useful in other professions as well. If you are going into a communications field, you might find yourself in charge of your employer’s website. Or if you want to run your own business someday, you are going to need a website to market your products or services.

Even if you don’t end up using actual HTML/CSS in your career, learning to code teaches you other valuable skills  such as understanding big data and managing databases. It can also teach you problem solving skills and logical methods of testing out ideas.

If you are interested in learning the basics of HTML and CSS, definitely register for CS 116 next semester. Or, you can teach yourself to code through free, online resources such as Code Academy and or inexpensive apps.

And if you still don’t believe me that coding is a useful skill to have in the 21st century, maybe these famous and successful people will change your mind.

–Elizabeth Meinders

The Pros & Cons of Online Classes

a college student in pajamas using a laptop

This is probably what you imagine when you think of online classes.

When I registered for classes back in June, I was pretty pleased with my schedule for my first semester. After Orientation Week, however,  I realized that I wasn’t ready for my Intro to Public Speaking class. Even though it interested me (and is required), I have a pretty big fear of giving speeches. So, instead of adding more anxiety on top of the inevitable stress of transitioning to college life,  I dropped that class in order to have a more manageable start to my year. But that meant I needed to find a replacement course, and as I scrolled the course options I found an English 111 course taught online. I was so happy because this seemed to fit my needs and my schedule so much better.

As soon as I was enrolled, I bought my books and was excited at the thought of doing my classwork at home in my pajamas. The class started with a video introduction. Everything seemed good. The next step was to begin an online forum, which I found very confusing. And this is where my string of problems began.

The instructions provided on how to set up this forum were not clear at all. In an online class, it is up to you to figure out all the material on your own so you really need to be self-sufficient. But this is hard when it doesn’t make any sense. As a freshman in my first semester, I found this aspect of my online class extremely overwhelming.

I seemed to be having a lot of technical issues as well. I emailed my professor about my issues and questions, but the issues were never really resolved or I would never get an email response back. To be fair, this turned out to be problems with my email and, in fact, some of my professor’s emails were actually hiding in my inbox. There was also an instance where the professor marked me down for the wrong assignment. This just made things a lot more confusing and reiterated the fact that technological issues play a large part into online classes. Overall, instructions and assignments were just not made clear to me and I couldn’t communicate well with my professor.

Technical issues, aside, having a professor online felt like having a mysterious and unreachable resource for guidance. I didn’t seem to be really learning anything, except the fact that I wasn’t doing well in an online class. I came to the conclusion pretty quickly that I prefer that face-to-face interaction with my professor and also my classmates. Many courses include group projects and that is really tricky in an online class. For instance, there was a debate assignment that involved forming team and when I tried to find partners through emailing, I never got responses from any other people in the class. This is when I just decided to withdraw from the class to save my GPA and my sanity.

My experience with taking online class was not a very good one, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful in one. If you enjoy learning at a fast pace and are able to work through any technical difficulties that may arise, an online class may be perfect for you. There are some definite pros to online classes, including:

  • Comfort
    You get to take the class in the comfort of your own home or a coffee shop or wherever you can get an internet connection.
  • Flexibility
    While there are due dates in an online class, you get to decide when you complete your coursework depending on the free time you have.

I’m glad I went through the experience because now I know to not take an online class when I register for next semester. Overall, I think online classes have great potential but I caution you to be aware of the downfalls of online education. If you think you can stay on top your homework, figure out assignment instructions and be persistent in communicating with professors and classmates, then an online class might be worth it for you.

–Liz Doyle

How to Write a Research Paper in 6 Steps

As a senior English major, I’ve written so many research papers that I’m not even fazed by them anymore. Professor wants 8-10 pages and at least 12 sources? Pssh—I’ve got this! But I wasn’t always this confident in my writing abilities. When I was freshman like you and looking at the assignment description for my first research paper, I didn’t quite know where to begin. Lucky for you though, I’m going to share with you the strategies I’ve learned over the years.

1. Start Researching Early

guy leafing through pages quickly

Despite its sketchy reputation, Wikipedia is a not a bad place to begin. You can get general ideas from a Wikipedia page, but you’ll do your real research at the Krueger Library . In addition to thousands of books, students have access to a ton of scholarly journals and online databases. JSTOR, Academic Search Premier, ScienceDirect and Lexis-Nexis are some of the more popular databases.

If the thought of diving in to databases overwhelms you, ask a library liaison for help. Each academic department has a librarian who is an expert in that field and can help direct your research. Researching is the longest step in the writing process, so give yourself plenty of time to find the right sources you need.

2. Outline, Outline, Outline

guy typing on a laptop

You might be able to write a reflection paper without a clear idea of where you’re heading, but that won’t work with a research paper. You need to outline—whether it’s official with roman numerals or just a basic sketch—you need to know how you are getting from claim A to claim B and finally to conclusion C. Develop a working thesis and map out your main points. Start picking out good quotes from your sources and file them under their respective topics. This will help you later when you turn this outline into full-fledged paragraphs.

3. Write a First Draft

guy typing furiously

Now, it’s very easy to get swept up in all the research, but at some point you’ve got to pull your head out of the books and put your fingers to the keyboard. Carve out a good chunk of time and go at it. I usually give myself at least two or three hours because once I’m in the zone I don’t want to stop until it’s done.  (Pro Tip: After expending all that brain power, take a nap or play a stupid game on your iPad and relax :) ) Don’t worry about getting the transitions or spelling totally correct at this point. You just need to figure out what you are even trying to say about your subject.

4. Revise, and Revise Again

guy looking confused

This is NOT the step to check for proper usage of commas and misspellings (that comes a bit later). Revising is taking those rough sentences you furiously typed into a Word doc and making them into coherent paragraphs with good sentence flow and an academic vocabulary. Once you have each paragraph looking pretty good, take a look at your essay as whole. Do you stick to your thesis throughout or do you wander off-topic? Do you have enough explanation about each main points or is there an obvious hole in your argument? Answering these types of big-picture questions honestly may mean that you have to re-write half your essay or go back to the library for yet another stack of sources, but this is why you started writing the paper early in the first place.

5. Double—No, Triple— Check Your Citations

a woman and a man look shocked

You do not want to get caught with plagiarism, even accidental plagiarism like forgetting to include the author’s name in a paraphrase. Professors take this issue very seriously and most have a policy that if you plagiarize you will fail the course or even get dismissed from WSU. The Purdue Online Writing Lab is a good resource for all things MLA, APA and CMS.

If you are going into a liberal arts field, do yourself a favor and purchase The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association or the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, depending on your major. Not to be sacrilegious, but these books will be your Bible for the next few years.

6. Proofread Carefully

an exhausted Squidward holds a stack of paper

Proofreading is an often overlooked step, usually because you are pressed for time to simply finish, but it is crucial if you want to avoid embarrassing mistakes including misspellings, dropped words and misplaced commas. Don’t rely on spellcheck to take care of it for you. You need to go through your paper line by line to make sure you catch those pesky “it’s” and “its” or “their” and “there.”

And there you have it.  Those are the six steps to writing a research paper.

If you are struggling at any point in this process, I encourage you to visit the Writing Center, a free tutoring service for writers at all skill levels and any writing assignment. These people are trained to help you work through the worst writer’s block and the trickiest of thesis troubles. Trust me– I was once a writing tutor and have used the Writing Center myself on more than one occasion. Soon enough, you won’t feel like this anymore:

Lisa Simpson cries on her bed

—Elizabeth Meinders

5 Reasons to Love Fall in Winona

Don’t get me wrong, Winona is a great place to live all year round (well, except maybe the dead of winter). But here are the top 5 reasons why I love the fall in Winona best.

1. Fall Colors on the Bluffs

How lucky are we to able to watch the bluffs transform from their green splendor into a skyline of orange, red and yellow watercolors?

red, gold and brown trees on the bluffs

2. Ferguson’s Apple Orchard is a Magical, Mystical Place

Caramel apples, apple turnovers and apple picking…need I say more?

This year I went apple picking with my best friend Alia, my mom and my mom’s best friend. Alia snapped this picture as I was reaching into a tree for more Haralson apples.

a girl picking apples

3. WSU Homecoming

Homecoming is the one time a year when everyone rallies behind our Warriors and it’s always a blast.

women in WSU apparel pose together

I went to the Homecominggame last year with my friends Aly and Lindsay.


4. Fall-Themed Coffee Drinks at Mugby Junction

I’m not even ashamed to utter these words: pumpkin spiced lattes.

pumpkin spice latte

5. Tews Corn Maize

Living in such a small town close to farming areas has its perks. Take an afternoon off and get lost in the corn!

a corn maze

–Kim Schneider