Oberlin Blogs

How to Navigate a Mini-Crisis: Adventures in Extracurricular Learning

April 10, 2018

Ruth Bieber-Stanley ’21

I expected to learn a lot in college. What I didn’t expect was just how much I would learn outside of the classroom. Sure, I’ve learned about polyatomic ions and pirates and Arthurian legends and the German subjunctive and classical and operant conditioning, and those things are great, but I’ve also picked up so many life skills. Most of them have come to me this semester, many through teaching an ExCo (and I know what you’re going to say: “Ruth, where’s the ExCo blog post you keep promising us?” And yes, it’s coming, you should have it by early May! I have a grand finale planned!). In addition to honing my leadership skills in teaching other college students how to be mentors, I’ve also gained a lot of experience navigating all of the moving parts that come with handling a student-run organization with an affiliated after-school program! Whew! I’ve gotten FBI clearance, lesson planned, sent many an email (yay communication!), made many a phone call to parents (SCARY), consoled seven middle school girls who got momentarily trapped in a bathroom, trouble-shooted a massive miscommunication and had an emergency meeting with an elementary school principal the day the program was supposed to start, and served as a point person for a community dinner that went off without a hitch! Wowza! In addition to all my co-chairing duties, I also decided to be the treasurer for Girls in Motion. In a moment of weakness (foolishness?) I decided that “being treasurer wouldn’t be that hard” and that “it won’t be a big deal and will look good on a resume!” Oops...

Being a treasurer had me thrust into a world of budgeting and filing mid-year reports and using fancy adult terms like “allocation” and “Financial Year 19” and spewing acronyms like OST and SFC and FOAP. Needless to say, I was not prepared for navigating the arduous process of Spring Budgeting. However, I somehow, in the end, wound up writing a budget for next year and submitted it on time. Thankfully, the Student Finance Committee and the Office of the Student Treasurer were very willing to help my poor confused first-year self. Now I have filled out various types of official forms with lots of carbon copies involved and I even ordered two Bluetooth speakers with my org’s funds to take to the Girls in Motion sites! Now we can play music every week and the speakers will continue to serve the program even when I am no longer involved! Being treasurer means that I pretty much feel like I have no idea what I’m doing like, ever, but I’ve gotten really good at checking OST’s office hours and going to them and making them sign things and tell me how to be an adult human managing large amounts of money. It’s honestly not that bad, and it’s definitely getting easier.

This semester I also became a peer tutor for statistics! If you told last semester Ruth that she would be tutoring a fellow Oberlin student in stats the very next semester, she would have laughed. Like, actually. I would have CACKLED and people would have stared at me. I went into stats last semester thinking it would be easy. It was not, but I managed to pull an A in the end and the subject made more and more sense as the semester went on. This semester, I was shocked to get an email from the math department informing me that I had been selected to apply as a peer tutor for the STAT 114 course (I think what I said was “Whaaaaaaaaaat?” with my voice rising an octave as I drew out the word). The peer tutoring system here at Oberlin is amazing. While I haven’t used a tutor yet, I know that you can request a tutor for any class. The Center for Academic Student Success pairs you with a peer tutor. The best part is, tutoring is free, but the peer tutor also gets paid! I think it’s a great system, because going to office hours can be intimidating, and peer tutoring can be less threatening. The scheduling is also more flexible, since you don’t have to adhere to professors’ office hours if they are conflicting in any way. I have been tutoring a fellow student since Spring Break. I served as the head of a math tutoring service learning group in my high school, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to tutor again! I really enjoy it, because I love helping others and it’s a good way for me to reinforce the concepts I learned last semester, especially because I might want to do research someday and knowing stats is crucial in so many fields.

I also gained some more experience applying for jobs this semester. The only jobs I have ever applied to were as a summer camp counselor, and this here blogging job (I was more selected for the stats one, I didn’t really have to apply in the conventional sense). This Spring, I decided to apply for the PAL Program, or Peer Advising Leader Program, where 2nd-5th years are placed with groups of 15-ish first years during orientation and help them adjust to life at Oberlin throughout their first semester. I was immensely fortunate in that my transition to living and learning here at Oberlin was smooth. I love it here (as you might have gathered) and I feel that I have been able to take advantage of all the opportunities here. I want others to have the same ease that I did last semester. The PAL application consisted of a Google form that asked me various questions about why I wanted to be a PAL, why I was suited for the job, etc., etc. After spending a good long while on that piece while enjoying a scone and chai latte at Slow Train during Spring Break (RIP my bank account), all I could do was wait. I was informed after a few weeks that I had been selected for an interview! While I’d been in a few interviews in the past for jobs and colleges (and with my mom in the car, as she forced me into mock interviews to prepare me for said college interviews), I had never participated in a group interview, which was the format of the final stage of the PAL selection process. There were five of us, and we were given a scenario to discuss amongst ourselves, while a panel of evaluators watched us. I was spooked!!! I am not the most assertive person in discussions, and at the beginning of the interview I felt as though I wasn’t talking enough. I eventually got a chance to give my two cents, and I guess the selection committee liked what they heard, because I am officially a PAL for the next Fall! I am so excited, and navigating the application process, while a bit unfamiliar, was totally worth it. I can’t wait to become mama duck to a bunch of new first-years and ascend to ULTIMATE MOM FRIEND STATUS.

So, while I’ve learned a huge amount in the classroom here at Oberlin, many of the ways I have learned and changed here are due to my involvements and engagements with things outside of the classroom. I have grown so much in just 1.75 semesters, and many of those opportunities for growth were unexpected. Picking up all of these practical skills has, in some ways, made me less stressed about picking my major(s) (Sneak peek: psych and German…). I know that even if I don’t know what the heck I want to do with myself after I graduate (likely), I’ll have a smashing and varied liberal arts transcript, excellent writing abilities, good time-management habits, and an arsenal of practical skills that will help me excel in any career. I owe this in great part to teaching an ExCo, being a peer tutor, and becoming a PAL: all things uniquely Oberlin. 

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