The African American Cultural Center held part one of their “How to Be a Straight-A Student” presentation on Wednesday, Feb. 8. Walking in, I fully expected to hear the same tired and useless study advice teachers have drilled into my brain for years. However, I was pleasantly surprised; I was genuinely interested in what Kenneth Looby, a current materials engineering Ph.D. student, was telling us.
Throughout the presentation, Looby gave numerous personal anecdotes, explaining how he learned about organizational techniques and how they influenced his life. He told us about how in his undergraduate career he had a 2.8 GPA.
“I felt like I wasn’t capable,” he vulnerably expressed about the early stages of college life.
Not only was the transition a huge academic challenge but a mental and emotional one as well. Within his first few months of living in Connecticut, he faced degradation like he had never experienced before. Looby explained how all of these factors caused him to question whether he got into college due to his race or if he simply wasn’t the student he had once been before.
Looby now has a 3.8 GPA as a graduate student, accrediting this achievement to the skills and mindset he implemented in his own life and encouraging us to do so in ours.
Most of the advice Looby gave in his presentation comes from a book called “How to Become a Straight-A Student” by Cal Newport. In this book, the author interviews college students at Ivy League schools to learn what they are doing differently from everyone else which pushes their work ethic over the edge.
The biggest takeaway Looby got from this book is that all you need is a to-do list and a calendar. While this may not sound like the most groundbreaking or life-changing advice in the world, Looby explained what this meant and how it’s actually the best advice for success.
Often when people write to-do lists, they only write the tasks that they need to accomplish for that day and strictly for that day. The three main things people forget to recognize in their to-do lists are how long each of these tasks will take, when there will be time allotted for eating and breaks and that it is okay to move tasks around when life doesn’t go as planned.
The first two items may sound unnecessary, but think about how often you either forget to eat throughout the day or find yourself in a bad mood because you haven’t had lunch yet. As for the second item, we are all human and we need breaks. Looby provides a piece of advice that allows people to be more efficient than ever while still getting to watch a TikTok or two.
Looby advises that students study or work for 50 minutes, take a five to 10-minute break, then rinse and repeat. Our brains cannot entirely focus on something for more than an hour. Taking these breaks and pressing restart on our brains is essential.
He also advises that students not save all their studying or homework for the nighttime, which I for one am highly guilty of. In reality, we want and need the nighttime to be our free time as it is likely the time our friends will want to hang out, our families will want to call us or when we simply want to do nothing.
Following the presentation, students who attended the event participated in a group activity called “Empowered Through Failure.” In this activity, students were asked to be vulnerable and write on a piece of paper telling about a time they failed or had a shortcoming. With this story, they were asked to reflect on three things: what did they do right, why did they fall short and what skills or mindsets can they implement to make themselves more resilient.
Looby chose the word “resilient” because, as he puts it, “you can’t be perfect, but you can be strategic.”
Failure is inevitable in life, but learning how to not let it crush you and how to avoid it as often as possible in the future is an essential skill.
Next week at 6 p.m. there will be a part two to this presentation in which Looby will discuss exams and papers. He will talk about how to prepare for them and how to execute them without burning yourself out. I highly recommend attending if you are able.