Starting college can be extremely overwhelming, so much in fact that it scares a good portion of people away. There are continuous doubts that plague people’s minds, making them second-guess themselves. There is one thing that new students seem to forget though.
They are not alone.
Dreaming by Degrees, a multi-media project created by Robert Jersak, a Communications instructor at Century College, and Dr. David Engen, an Associate Professor Department Chair at Minnesota State University Mankato. It was created in part to “explore the hopes, dreams, fears and challenges of today’s incoming college students,” according to the creators.
Dreaming by Degrees is, “A culmination of our interviews with eleven remarkable students,” says Jersak. He and Engen were able to follow the daily lives of students in a New Student Seminar at Century during the summer of 2014. These 11 students committed to recording their thoughts every week for the entire semester. Jersak and Engen then edited the tapes to compile an audio record of the students’ college beginnings. Around a year after the class was over, Jersak and Engen followed up with the students who were involved in the project.
On Student Success Day at Century there was an installation of Dreaming by Degrees. Students were able to listen to the experiences of their peers starting college.
One recording of a student who participated in the project was Iyanna Brown. Brown, a cosmetology student and mother of four, has a goal to open her own salon. “Just easing somebody’s mind, or relaxing somebody through a massage, it just made me feel good knowing I was making somebody else feel good and look good,” explains Brown on why she’s passionate about cosmetology.
Throughout the day, listening to comments from students who experienced the installation was encouraging. Listening to their fellow students’ stories and having a sense of inspiration for themselves was truly remarkable. “I can relate to them,” “Emotional,” “We should do this in class,” “Powerful,” and “This is ingenious,” were just some of the few reactions that students had.
One story, Darvin Turner’s, stirred many listeners’ emotions. Turner is a poet, single father, and military veteran. He speaks to the dynamics of balancing school, parenting, and the daily struggle of providing for his children.
Serving in Iraq gave Turner a different perspective on life. “I feel like my poetry can change the world you know, it can change lives,” he declares. If given the chance Turner very well could.
John Wahl, a psychology major from Roseville, MN commented, “Everyone’s story is remarkable, they’re all different.” Wahl added, “Of course it made me think of my own story in a light I had not quite examined before.” This statement seemed to resonate throughout the day. Students were able to make the connection that starting college can be full of obstacles and accomplishments.
The positive reactions to the installment continued throughout the day. Autumn McMeeman, a first-semester student from Somerset, WI said, “[It’s] important to showcase where students are coming from, their goals and obstacles.”
The event continued to be well received for the rest of the day. “I expected students to sit down at one spot, listen to a few tracks, maybe look at the screen a little bit, maybe look at the clock… and then go. I was surprised how many students would move from folder to folder listening, and how much time they took both on that [and] the feedback forms. It surprised me,” he expressed in awe.
Jersak hopes Dreaming by Degrees will inspire others to do similar types of projects. “Something powerful happens both when students are paid attention to, as well as when others pay attention to what they have to say,” he concludes.
All images courtesy of John Cross