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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 Code.org 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

You Bombed the Midterm--Now What???

a nuclear explosion

It might feel like the end of the world, but you can recover from a bad test.

We all know that college is different from high school…in many more ways than one. For me, one of the biggest shockers freshman year was that the grades I got on my tests were very much related to the final grades I received at the end of the semester. While high school teachers will give out daily assignments and give you points for reading, college professors rely much more on test grades and student responsibility.

With that said, tests are something to take very seriously in college classes. But what do you do when you bomb a really big test, let’s say, the midterm exam? It’s really easy to throw that big red “F” to the side and forget about it, but there are a few things you can do in order to make the best of a bad midterm exam grade.

Step 1: Make Sure You Can Still Pass the Class
I know that sounds dramatic, but if the entire class grade is made up only of a midterm and final exam, it’s possible that a bad midterm grade could mean a failing grade in the course. So look at your professor’s syllabus and calculate what percentage of your final grade you lost. After you do that, you can decide if withdrawing or taking an incomplete is the course of action.

Step 2: Talk to Your Professor During Office Hours
As awkward as it may be, you should talk to your professor after a not-so-perfect test score. I am a huge advocate of office hours and believe that going directly to the professor is always beneficial, no matter what the problem is. Go to your professor and explain how you prepared for the exam. Ask him or her if this seems like a successful way to study, or if they have a different method that has been helpful for students in the past. Odds are, you’re not the first student to come to them with questions about a bad test grade. Most professors will be happy to help.

Step 3: Finish Out the Semester Strong
The final step in recovering from the bombing of a big test is seemingly very simple: do your best for the rest of the semester. On everything. Go to class in order to maximize your participation points. Study for quizzes and complete any class work thoroughly as possible. The benefit to this is not only the points you’ll be racking up, but it will also help you on the next test. And when the next test rolls around, make sure to employ the study strategies that you and your professor discussed.

So now that you have a game plan for that not-so-great midterm grade sitting in your desk drawer, you can take a breath and know that life as you know it is NOT over. If you take these three steps, a bad test grade can turn into a decent (or even awesome) final grade.

–Leah Dobihal

#HoCoWear

college girls pose together

We want to see your signature WSU style!

 

Homecoming Week is upon us! And if you’re anything like me, this means you’re busy coming up with a great HoCo outfit for all of the festivities for this week.

When it comes to homecoming attire, my style can be summed up in three words: comfy, cozy and cute.  With all of the outside activities like Tuesday’s bonfire and Saturday’s football game, the best thing you can do is LAYER. Since we are in Minnesota and the weather can be very unpredictable, it would be wise to make your outfit versatile for both the warm and cool hours in the day.

If you’re looking for more HoCo outfit inspiration, check out WSU’s HoCoWear Pinterest for some great tips and tricks on various outfits for the week.

AND if you have a great ensemble, why not add it to the Pinterest world? Snap a picture of your Warrior HoCo wear and submit it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #WSUHoCoWear. Your brilliant creations will then be added to the WSU Pinterest page! So, get those creative juices flowing, fellow fashionistas. And Happy Homecoming!

If you’re a WSU alumni, you can still participate too! Take a picture of your chosen HoCo Wear and use the hashtag #OnceAWarrior to submit your images to the WSU Pinterest page.

–Melissa VanGrinsven

Tips to Tackle Those Tests

using a crib note on an exam

Sneaking in a cheat sheet is NOT a good test-taking strategy!!!

 

Midterms. Love em’ or hate em’–there’s no way to avoid em’. It’s that time of year again where we take a step back from the food debates and workout routines to focus on the nitty-gritty academic aspect of college. But have no fear, because I’m here to help This post is all about tips on test-taking so you can tackle those formidable midterms.

The fact is that you can study all you want, but if you don’t have good test-taking strategies all that knowledge is going to stay locked in your brain. And no matter what the class you are more than likely going to run into at least one of these two types of questions: multiple choice and paragraph response.

Taking a Multiple Choice Exam

Now, when a professor says the test will be multiple choice, most students are relieved–and for good reason. Multiple choice tests are significantly easier to pass even when you don’t fully understand the material because you have a 1 in 4 chance of guessing correctly. This is not to say don’t study. You should absolutely study. But if you’re walking into a multiple choice test feeling uneasy about the subject matter, here is some advice:

  1. Read All the Answer Options– Always.
    Looking at all the possible answers will ensure that you don’t fall for any tricky questions with answers that sound plausible.
  2. Take Your Time. Never hesitate to go back and check your answers. I know it’s tempting to just turn in your test and get out of class early, but many times students lose points because they skimmed over questions and end up missing key phrases like “Which of these is NOT accurate?” Going back and reading the questions will ensure that you didn’t accidentally skim over something as vital as a “Not.”
  3. Don’t Feel Overwhelmed by Choices.
    Elimination is key in getting the correct answer on questions you have no clue about. Everyone’s been there. You’re taking a test and come across a question that seems to come out of nowhere, but nevertheless there it is and you’re expected to take a guess at it. So it’s best to find the option that you know isn’t right. For most multiple choice questions there are two “throw away” answers that most students easily recognize as incorrect. This leaves test-takers with two answers that sound right. From that point, it’s all about luck.

Taking a Paragraph Response Exam

While students are usually thrilled to hear their professor is doing a multiple choice test, almost no one is excited to hear that they will be seeing paragraph responses on an exam. These questions can really tank test takers and giving advice is not easy because each subject has different standards. However, here are some general guidelines so you aren’t left horribly confused when you come across this type of question on your mid-terms.

  1. OUTLINE.
    I cannot stress this enough–planning what you’re going to say is vital for any length of written response. When you are trying to think of the answer and write it down at the same time, it’s really easy for words to get left out or jumbled up. Professors may take off points for simply leaving out key descriptive words that make answers specific. Just plotting out what you’re going to say and the order you’re going to say it in helps make your wording a lot cleaner.
  2. Fake It Until You Make It.
    Just because you’re not 100% sure about the answer doesn’t mean you throw away the question. Say what you THINK is right. Unless your professor docks points for misinformation, you’ll probably get at least partial credit. Feel free to add extra information as well. It’s better to have too much than too little.
  3. Use Your Time Wisely.
    Professors give you the entire class time to take a test for a reason. Don’t rush through answering your paragraph response questions. The more you can think about a subject the more likely you are to remember material on that subject. Take your time, read the question carefully and re-read your answers before turning it in. Of course, if you have several questions, you can’t spend too much time on any one question. Divide the number of minutes allotted by the number of questions on the exam to find out the average time you should spend on a question. Try to stick to that schedule in order to get to all the questions.

Hopefully these test-taking strategies help you feel a lot more confident heading into your exams this week. That A is totally achievable but you have to work for it too. Don’t take midterms lightheartedly and be as prepared as you can be.

Wishing you the best of luck on your exams this week!

–Hannah Carmack

Our Days (of Warmth) Are Numbered

a collage of Winona nature photos

The breeze is turning crisp, the leaves are falling like rain, and the numbers on the forecast keep getting lower and lower. The Minnesota Cold is upon us. But don’t fret, there’s still time to enjoy Winona’s spectacular autumn scenery and activities

  1. Hike
    Hiking is Winona’s favorite pastime. From Sugar Loaf to Garvin Heights to the number of bike trails, you’re sure to love the crisp air and rainbow of leaves.
  2. Enjoy the Lake
    There’s still time to get out on the lake and learn how to paddleboard, canoe or kayak. Grab your windbreaker and enjoy the view.
  3. Go for a Bike Ride
    There’s nothing like a good bike ride around Winona. Whether through the little town streets or along the river, it’s always good to appreciate the charm of Winona from the seat of a bicycle. Go rent a tandem bike from the Student Resource Center and spend quality time with a friend!
  4. Go to a Pumpkin Patch or Apple Orchard
    Pumpkin patches and apple orchards are perfect activities for roommates, friends or couples. Get into the autumn spirit and bake some fall treats!
  5. Grill Out
    There’s nothing better than a burger straight off the grill. Get your cornhole bean bag set out of the garage and enjoy a meal and games with your friends.

–Leah Dobihal

I'm On a Boat at WSU! Wait, What??

a boat is docked on the river

Drum roll please……………… Here is the Cal Fremling, WSU’s newest classroom!

Hello and welcome back to another year in beautiful Winona. I spent the majority of my summer back home in Milwaukee completely isolated from Winona and any events that may have happened over our long break. I had little contact with the Winona community outside of my roommates, who frankly are useless at relaying interesting social news, so when I returned to start the new school year and logged on to the school website after months of ignoring my responsibilities, I was shocked to find a new addition to Winona State. We now have a boat.

This new boat is named the Cal Fremling after the late Dr. Cal Fremling, professor of biology and was acquired through the Winona State University Foundation. Frankly however, I could not figure out why the school would need a boat. What would we use it for? Why do we need it? What can it do? For those of you who are in the same boat as me (get it?), don’t worry, I (strangely for me) decided to take some initiative and went to tour to find out what the Cal Fremling boat was all about.

My guide through the inner workings of the boat was the director of technology and man of the hour, Thomas Hill. As the man in charge of all the technology present on the boat, Tom’s job was to bring the Cal Fremling into the modern world. Thanks to his tireless work, the boat is equipped with state of the art technologies including wi-fi, live video streaming capabilities, GPS navigation systems and interactive maps. There are also cameras mounted on the front, back and underside of the boat.

With these modern technologies and interactive learning tools, the Cal Fremling has become a brand new, state of the art “floating classroom.” According to Tom, the purpose of this technology is to provide students ways to bring the river to life. He wants this technology to act as a gateway to provide students ways to interact with the river and apply what they have learned in their classes to the real world in a hands on and interactive way.

As a classroom, the Cal Fremling is open to students and professors of all disciplines to use as an interactive tool to develop a better understanding of class material. For example, the Cal Fremling recently served as a lab for biology students studying algae growth in the Mississippi river. The students cast out nets to collect algae from the river and used the technology in their classrooms and on the boat to analyze their findings. Theater majors have also used the boat to study lighting at various times of the day and how it can be recreated on stage.

As well as being a classroom tool, the boat also provides students a way to use what they have learned and apply it to the Winona community. The nature of Winona is a large part of what makes the city a beautiful, unique place, and the boat allows students to connect these natural resources to our education in ways specific to Winona.

The Cal Fremling is very young and currently still in the developmental stages. Constant updates are being made to the boat in an effort to find new and innovative ways it can be used other than joyriding down the Mississippi. This means the future of the Cal Fremling is being left intentionally open-ended. This open-ended nature is what helps the boat provide countless opportunities for fun, engaging and flexible learning in the Winona community.

I encourage you to talk to your teacher if you think there is a way the Cal Fremling boat can be used in your courses. It would definitely make for an interesting class period.

Happy Sailing!

Caleb Bednarski