New Year, New Goals. Like a first-year student, look to the FIRE Program model for support.
As fall semester ends at UNH and 2016 begins, it is a natural time for reflection. 2015 was a crazy year for myself filled with many highs. I started an exciting new job, jumped out of a plane, went on an incredible family vacation to Europe and ran my first half marathon. However, 2015 also brought one of the lowest lows in my life: watching my mother battle lymphoma. Like most others, I have set high goals for 2016. To help achieve these ambitions I am thinking like a first-year college student and I encourage everyone to try as well…seriously!
In my new role at UNH as the Paul College FIRE Program Coordinator, my daily routine involves working with Paul freshmen on anything from class selection to extracurricular involvement to planning out a four year plan for their time at UNH and everything in between. As part of the college’s Freshmen Academic Experience class, the students’ first assignment was to write an academic autobiography. This essay was meant for the first-year student to reflect upon their experience in high school and how they would attack their college career knowing their strengths and weaknesses in high school. After going through over 650 essays, it was clear that freshmen wanted to make significant changes in their study habits and become more active participants in the community.
I’m sure many of us, myself included, would like to make changes this year; possibly to a healthier eating and/or exercising regiment. Maybe we want to join a club or do more community service? Most of us make these resolutions individually and have to hold ourselves accountable, which can be tough when our lives get in the way. This is very similar to a freshmen’s first semester at college. For many, it’s their first time being on their own and having to hold themselves accountable for getting homework done, eating right, staying active, etc. and there are no parents or teachers providing oversight. A lot of the time, this is very difficult to do on our own. Sure the first couple of weeks, we are motivated and it goes well, but as time moves on we get comfortable and tired and lose sight of the goal.
This is why I think the Paul FIRE Program has done so well in its first semester: no one is on their own. Each student is placed on a team with another 15-20 first-year students in the exact same situation as them. Also, each team is paired with an upperclass peer advisor that was in their position just a couple years prior. The Freshman Experience Course syllabus encourages freshmen to evaluate their study skills in order to achieve academic success. Finally, each team is matched with an alumni advisor that can provide real-world support for becoming successful post-graduation. Each student sets his or her own goals, but has a support system that meets weekly to keep him or her on track. This builds a community that promotes academic and professional success for the impressionable first-semester, first-year college student.
As professionals, we need that same support system. Like first-year college students, there are so many distractions in our lives that can derail us from our goals. For example, I ran my first half-marathon a few weeks ago after being inspired by the students’ academic autobiographies and the need to drop some weight. I trained for almost three months and thankfully I had my coworkers and supervisor that would check in on my progress and provide encouragement as I made my way through the training. Without their support, I’m pretty sure I would have stopped training, especially since I hate running. Even skydiving earlier in the summer; if my friend did not go with me, I wouldn’t have done it myself and missed out on the experience. Lastly, changing jobs this past year was one of the most difficult decisions I have had to make. I felt like I was making a name for myself in college athletics and even won a national award for some of the projects my team and I had spearhead in the department. Leaving that career path was very scary. But with the encouragement from my friends and family and a little faith, I took that next step forward in my journey.
Making lasting changes in your daily routine is very difficult. There are many theories on the best way to stick to resolutions. As we head into 2016, my advice is to find a community that can support your goals and can keep you on track. It has worked for me and I see it work with first-year college students every day. If 2015 has taught me anything, it is that life can change on a dime for better or worse. You may not have control over all of these changes, but for the ones you can control: work hard, find your team and have a little faith that it will work out.
Have a wonderful and healthy 2016!
About Sean Stewart:
Sean Stewart is currently the FIRE Program Coordinator for Peter T. Paul College of Business & Economics. Sean is a 2013 graduate of Paul College and UNH. While a student at UNH, Sean was a member of the UNH Men’s Club Volleyball program and was part of the 2011 national championship team. He was also part of the ‘Cat Crew Marketing & Promotions internship program, the Honors Program and a peer advisor for Paul College. Prior to returning to Paul College, Sean spent three years working in college sports marketing at Harvard University and the University of New Hampshire.
Beyond his full-time role with UNH, Sean coaches the UNH Women’s Club Volleyball team and was named the 2015 National Division 2 Coach of the Year during NCVF National Championships in Kansas City, MO. Sean also coaches for Great Bay Volleyball Club out of Hampton, NH and Great Bay Community College.