Category Archives: education

Asking Questions


I’ve always been the quiet one—the one who stands on the sidelines, the one who goes with the flow, and most importantly the one who doesn’t ask questions.  For a long time this stance on life has treated me well, and kept me out of trouble.

But ever since I spent two months travelling around the backwoods of Arizona with a group of people – unafraid to ask for anything and everything – I’ve considered altering my quiet persona.

From mid-March to mid-May of this past year I was on assignment working for Arizona State Parks. I was traveling in a fifteen-passenger van packed with everything from trail tools to camping supplies; plus enough clothing and personal gear to keep eleven people functioning and happy no matter what the trip threw at us. Our weather conditions varied from hundred degree work days to twenty degree frost-covered mornings as we travelled through ten different state parks in the Arizona park system. The work, the travel, and the stress were a rollercoaster worthy of even the most dedicated thrill seeker.

But the ten people riding along with me were of an indomitable spirit. They took what could have been a very rough experience for all of us and made the two month project an amazing and unforgettable journey, all through the cunning use of questions.

“Can I have that?”

“Can we have some?”

Unabashedly, my co-workers used these phrases and other like them to get us an overwhelming collection of free stuff. From t-shirts to food, to walking sticks, to hats; if our travelling van hadn’t seemed laden down when we started, it certainly was bulging at the seams when we returned. Every new location provided new opportunities to my ambitious team. And it didn’t stop at the stuff.

The questions branched into “Are we allowed to…?” and “Can you show us?” which opened the door to tours and plane rides and undisclosed hiking trails, all of which we happily explored to our hearts content. Once they got people talking, the folks we encountered were always happy to point us in the direction of fun and exploration. It seemed like we were trading our service time for insider secrets on the best places to see and visit in the small towns surrounding the parks we worked in.

The last set of questions I heard with regularity surprised me every time. “What’s your story?” and “Will you teach us?” No matter how many new characters we met during our travels, my team never seemed to lose interest in the stories. We’d sit and listen or explain what we were doing in the parks, ever content so long as the exchange of information continued, the questions flowing. They laughed, they learned, and they weren’t afraid to reap the rewards gained through their never ending litany of questions.

At the time my appreciation for their questions was limited, my predominant reaction being annoyance. The stream was really never-ending. But with the proper distance and reflection, I’ve come around. Present-day-job-searching-me is now reconsidering the potential of this seemingly inconsequential communication device.

The question, in all its shapes and forms, is a very important and somewhat underrated networking tool. Its many uses can include promoting conversation, opening doors, projecting interest and curiosity, making connections. I have been trying to employ it more and more in my daily life.

Even if a store doesn’t have a ‘now hiring’ sign up it can’t hurt to ask, right? Maybe they haven’t had the chance to put an ad out. Maybe they know someone else who is hiring.

From what I’ve gathered about networking (though I’ve never really gotten the hang of it), the idea is to put out feelers. To ask questions that can help me identify connections I was previously unaware of and use those
connections to find the hiring manager in charge of my dream job.  Asking questions helps me to put my foot in the door and let people know that I have arrived. Or at least that I’d like to arrive sometime in the near future.

Now if only there was a guidebook to help me find the right questions…

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Recounting Yestermorrow


By Christine Bahrens

In my senior year of high school, Kyle, his then-girlfriend Laura, Z, and I all went to see Tristan and Isolde. Following the movie, Z and I started a popcorn fight in the lobby of the movie theater, one that carried out into the snow-draped parking lot. Our greasy, buttered popcorn would join the rest of the theater litter in snow mounds by the end of the night. It was dark, just about nine, with the pale snowfall catching in the amber lights of the parking lot.

We were chilly, anxious – it was a Friday night – and hungry. Across the parking lot were three restaurants, but Uno’s Chicago Grill was the closest. Z and I skipped ahead of Laura and Kyle – we always joked that they were Mom and Dad, and we were the kids. This particular night Z and I were absolutely hyper, and even ‘Mom and Dad’ were giggling.

We were seated in a booth across from the bar, and we were so caught up in our conversation that we barely noticed the white square napkin nestled precariously between our glasses of root beer. There four letters were scrawled in plain black ink, and they form one word that Z and I continue to joke about to this day.

Todd.

Or, More specifically, The Todd Cult, which was a running joke we had after that night at Uno’s when we passed the napkin around the table and each of us wrote a silly little note to Todd, like “We love Todd, he is our God.” I had only been to Uno’s once before then, so needless to say I left that night with a positive opinion of the restaurant planted firmly in my memories. For the rest of the year the four of us would snack at Uno’s. We created “The Todd Cult” under the “Order of the Napkin” because it was something that only the four of us participated in.

After I graduated from high school, I didn’t spend a lot of time at the restaurant. Mostly because I didn’t HAVE free time. But I always kept the fond memories of the restaurant and my friends in the front of my mind. I would even retell the story of The Todd Cult to anyone who would listen (and even some who I knew did not want to). I would even apply to Uno’s whenever I was job hunting – only dropping to second in my job picks to Barnes and Nobles, because I had always wanted to work in a bookstore.

It wouldn’t be until my senior year in college when Uno’s would once again play a role in my life. A friend of mine, KB, introduced me to the wonders of trivia nights at Uno’s (something that had always been a weekly ritual for her and her friends, and one that I quickly became a part of).

When I moved back home, I had to give up my weekly visits to Uno’s for a few reasons. The first being there are no trivia nights at our local Uno’s. The second being that my family is not big on eating in restaurants. Well, they’re not too big on going anywhere, any day.

But when I decided that I was going to give up my search for a full-time job, and instead get a few part-timers in order to save up enough money for moving to Seattle, Uno’s was my first choice.

And, long story short, this little ‘love affair’ between us is finally moving to the next level. As of today I am officially an Uno’s waitress!

I recounted my previous adventures at Uno’s because I know people are thinking – so what, you’re a waitress? That’s not much of an accomplishment. But to me it is. It is something that will pay the bills, and it’s a second home.

Stuck on Repeat


By Katherine Shaye

I’ve been here before, this section of my life. I’ve been this girl, I’ve played this part, and I know these lines. So for something that know so well, why does it still freak me out so badly?

More than two years ago, I graduated from college with the same sense of panic. That knot of worry so deep that every casual question from friends and family became a probing stab into the very purpose of my life.

“What are you doing?”
“What’s your next step?”
“Where do you see yourself headed?”

Finding a way to pay the rent felt way too serious.

In the months when I found myself counting down to my graduation, these questions looped through my own mind, getting louder each day. While my friends prepared for internships, graduate school, and the various entry-level jobs they’d acquired, I still sat in front of my laptop wondering where to start. I had treated my undergrad years as a means to an end. College wasn’t career prep; it was a check mark on my resume. It wasn’t until I had graduation staring me in the face that it even occurred to me that I’d wasted much of my very important “figure myself out” time.

Enter AmeriCorps.

Scanning through the internet, looking for a job, a sign, or even a clue, I found one site in particular that caught my eye: AmeriCorps.gov. It took me all of twelve seconds to fall in love with the idea of AmeriCorps NCCC; a mobile, team-based national service program that would allow me to travel the country, do volunteer work, and meet amazing people. I was so in. After an application longer than most of my college apps, and three nail-biting months of waiting to hear back that is.

Then I was off. Off to build trails in national parks and houses in New Orleans. Off to figure out how to feed ten people on $45 a day.  And most importantly, off to meet a uniquely unforgettable cast of people who would slowly but continually change my life. I will detail several of my adventures in later posts.

But here I am again. After completing yet another graduation ceremony, I am back in panic mode answering the same round of firing squad questions that came at me two years ago. It seems like things haven’t changed at all.

But somehow they have.

For one thing, I’m two years older. That doesn’t seem like much at first glance, but with careful review I’ve realized that at the very least I learned a few things in those years:

  1. Every experience is worth the experience – Even the things that sucked when I was going through them were worth it for the knowledge I gained about myself.
  2. I must accept that I can’t please everyone, or die trying – I’ve been a people pleaser my whole life and it has never come to bite me in the ass more than these past two years. Living and working with the same ten people while keeping them all happy is absolutely, hands down, 100 percent not possible. I accept that now.
  3. I’ll never stop trying to find my purpose–There will always be a part of me that yearns for definition, that interprets questions like “what’s your next step?” as “what is your life’s passion?” Hopefully, as time goes on I can tone down the anxiety associated with that question and learn to see it as encouragement to explore my options.

Now as you may notice, these are not the end all be all of life lessons, but for me parsing out what the last two years has meant to me and what I have learned from it will be an important part of figuring out that crucial next step. Perhaps it will even help me figure out how to improve my resume.

Future posts from me will most likely feature flashbacks from my time in AmeriCorps, my time in college, and
maybe even a little bit of that good old high school drama, all for the purpose of figuring out who I am now and what I want (and am qualified) to do.

Post-grad Bugaboos


This article was written by guest writer, KB.

As I approach a new semester, I’m usually bedeviled by the consternation regarding the difficulty of new classes and the imminent cessation of sentience outside work and school (if you’re confused by the precocious, albeit ridiculous, utilization of advanced “lexicon,” I’m studying for my GRE). At this point, however, senior year seems tantamount to child’s play. It’s no longer a question of finding my academic niche or proving myself competent in the mathematics department. With a proclivity for worrying about the future, the most pressing trepidations are related to what’s going to happen subsequent to my receiving a bachelor’s degree.

I know what would ideally happen. I’d get into the graduate school of my choice, get my PhD in mathematics, and someday start my career as a professor at a reputable university.

Since I’m not ignorant to the less-than-ideal workings of the real world, I can’t ignore my post-grad bugaboos.

Bugaboo: (noun) an object of fear.

Bugaboo #1: Failing the GRE

Yes, I know technically, you can’t fail the GRE. That won’t stop me from feeling like a failure if my score is insufficient for getting me to where I want to go. There are three sections of the GRE, much like the SAT: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. Since GRE scores are required by the majority of graduate schools, if you’re considering a master’s or doctoral program, GRE test prep is probably in your future. My advice is to take it slow, and start studying what seems like way too early.

Besides going through life as my normal information-sponge self, I’ve focused on two areas to prepare for the exam. A major portion of the Verbal section requires having a “college-level vocabulary” so, for the past month, I’ve been studying about 500 words a week from the reputable Barron’s GRE word list. From what I hear from other test takers, brute force memorization is the easiest and most effective strategy. You’ll need to recall definitions for the test, but likely never need to use these words again.

The most important targeted study area is the math subject test, which is separate from the general GRE. Four years of college math in one test;
pretty exciting, I know. Coming from a state school where a high GPA doesn’t hold the same weight as a high GPA from an Ivy League school, I’m feeling a lot of pressure to perform well on this exam and prove I know my stuff.

Bugaboo #2: Rejection letters

Feeling like I’ve worked very hard during my four years of college and being told that it wasn’t good enough: I imagine that would be a depressing experience. No one likes rejection, which is why I’m trying not to set my heart on one specific graduate school. Sometimes the key to happiness is
low expectations.

Bugaboo #3: Financial qualms

No matter what your post graduate plans are, we’re all living in the same economy with the same worries about our financial futures. With plans
to go straight to graduate school, I had my concerns about not entering the job market soon enough. It turns out the only expensive part of graduate school will be the application fees. As is true for most graduate programs in academia, mathematics PhD students are guaranteed financial support for at least five years as long as they remain in good academic standing and teach one or two undergraduate classes. These teaching assistantships provide on average a full waiver of tuition and a very generous living stipend, in most cases anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000. Therefore, putting myself through graduate school won’t be the kind of financial burden I imagined.

Bugaboo #4: It’s never going to end

With qualifying exams, graduate classes, dissertations, and oral exams, the pursuit of my PhD seems daunting to say the least. After 17 long
years in the American education system, it is none too comforting to know at least another five lie ahead of me. I know I’ll leave graduate school with some kind of PhD: Permanent Head Damage.

What are your postgrad bugaboos?

Post Grads and Staying Active – Mentally and Physically


By sendmeonmyway101

Dishes?Check.
Laundry? Check.
Cat box? Check.
Floors? Check.

By the end of the day, I try to make sure that all of the above has been taken care of. Some days I get help from my mom and dad, other days I get distracted. Sometimes I’ll pick up a new project – cleaning out the linen closet, or helping my Dad remodel (if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that this weekend we will be putting in a new rug, and I can’t wait to get started!). If I’m not doing housework, I look for reasons to get out of the house.

This past weekend a friend of mine and I went hiking. She is also a recent post grad, but since she only has her associate’s degree she is going back to school this fall (she will also be designing Sauce Off’s new label – something to look forward to).

Z (we’ll refer to her as Z) has always been more active than I, so she was in much better shape for the trip than I was. Still, we successful managed to get lost, wind up in someone’s backyard, and chase after a bike rider without anyone having a heart attack (well, the bike rider may have been startled when he realized we were chasing him).

Anyways, when Z and I finally left the woods and went to chill on the swings for a bit, she suggested writing an article on why we (post grads) should keep busy. So what follows is a list of reasons why I slave over housework, subject myself to exercise, and find good reasons to get out of the house now that I don’t have any reason (i.e. a job) to go anywhere.

  1. Doing housework keeps my mind from wondering, “Why haven’t I gotten a phone call from that company that I just applied to two hours ago? Should I give them a call? Is it too soon?” (The answer is yes, btw).
  2. Doing housework gives me something to shove in my brother’s faces. “What, you have to go to work? What, you’re too busy sleeping till 7pm? Hey, dudes, I just cleaned the whole house. What can you say you did around here, huh? Huh? Yea, you know, the least you can do is … (insert some simple, meaningless task. Because after going on and on about all the work I did, they’ll do almost anything just to shut me up).
  3. I chose to study English because I have been writing since I was in the second grade. Over the years that writing has bounced around from short stories, novels, articles, and even the neighborhood newsletter that I tried (and failed) to start back in eighth grade. The logical thing to do, now that I don’t have school telling me what to write, is keep going. As long as I keep my fingers writing or typing (articles, short stories, etc.) I’m keeping my mind motivated in my chosen field. Post grads, especially those that are unemployed, should find something related to their field that keeps them going.
  4. Physical Activity! How many post grads get accustomed to spending time at the free gym on campus, and then get out of school and A.) can’t afford to go to your own gym, or B.) the gym in your town is too far away/you don’t have a way to get there? So maybe you’ll have to give up bodybuilding for a while, but you don’t have to give up physical exercise. I like to take time to ride my bike, take a walk around my neighborhood, or go hiking with friends. Keeping your body going prevents laziness – one of the deadly symptoms of Post Grad Panic.

Don’t believe me? Check out some of these articles.
Swallowing pride: Reasons why post-grads should get a job immediately
Recent Grads, Keep Your Head (And Morale) Up

Let's try and avoid this

Post Grad by Day, Gamer by Night


By bowski477
(Bowski477 is a guest writer, from aesthetically-pleezin.com)

You can’t always get what you want.

That seems to be the theme song to my post-grad life. I graduated with a degree in English from Salem State University in 2010, and I currently work for a hospice care facility in Massachusetts. It’s not the field I went to school for, but it’s a job. More importantly, it’s a paying job.

With the economy being as tough at it is, and jobs being scarce in most fields, I am lucky enough to have a stable job with benefits. I know that many of my former classmates cannot say the same thing. But just because I work in a different field doesn’t mean my degree is being wasted. When my work day is done, I’m a different person. I’m a gamer and a blogger; and while neither of them pays, they’re still classified as jobs.

Gaming is more than a hobby for me. It’s a passion. Two years ago I decided to spread the word about my passion for gaming. I started my very first blog, Aesthetically-Pleezin.com. It was somewhere that I could put all of my thoughts about the gaming world and show them to other gamers. I made new friends with similar gaming interests, and I got their take on the things I was writing. I wasn’t afraid to make my opinions known to the gaming community.

Soon I found myself in Los Angeles listening to the top men at Treyarch debut their then up and coming game Call of Duty: Black Ops. I thought, I am just a goldfish in the giant ocean that is the gaming community, yet there I was listening to actual developers show off their new game. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

The trip went by so fast, and I had to return to the “real world” where no one called me by my Xbox Live gamer tag, and no one knew what the hell a “noob” was. But a new opportunity came knocking a few months later. A new gaming site was just getting off the ground, and the fact that I had a degree in English made me a good candidate for the position of Editor-in-Chief.

I joined the staff of IRBGamer.com. It doesn’t pay, but like my personal blog, I love working on it. It’s another place I can use the talent I learned in college and mix it with the passion I have for the gaming community.

What are my hopes for the future? Well, ideally I would hope to someday get paid to write about games, so that I could pour all of my potential into what I love to do. But until that time, I do have bills and plenty of student loans to pay. Being jobless is not an option for me. Not having a job in my chosen field is a small sacrifice I have to make at this point in my life. But that doesn’t mean things have to stay this way. I’m getting my name out in the gaming community and trying to get noticed. Life maybe short, but I’m not really in a big rush. My opportunity will come, and I’ll be ready to grab it when it does.

Have questions for bowski477?  Feel free to comment!

Foot in the Door, Tossed On Your Bum Part 1


By sendmenonmyway101

My past few posts haven’t been as hopeful – or helpful – as I had wanted them to be, so today I think I’m going to recount my first ‘real world’ interview. Hope this gives some of you a clear picture!

It was the end of June, and I was surprisingly giddy that morning; even though I had gotten up at 4:30 am to make the three hour drive to Buffalo. I may have downed two whole bottles of 5hr energy by the time I bounced onto the elevator, so I suppose being giddy explains itself. I spent the whole car ride into town going over potential questions, and my best answers. Then I begged the interview gods that I wouldn’t forget them.

I was aware of the interview for a week before hand (after surviving the phone interview), but the only person I had mentioned it to was Kyle. I didn’t want my parents to get their hopes up for me, and then be disappointed when I didn’t get the job. In the end I caved – unable to think of a good enough reason for why I would be getting up at 4am (well, I came up with some pretty good reasons, but I wanted some advice from my Dad, and when I told him he insisted I tell my Mom).

I had gone to bed late the night before – not my best idea, but I was up gathering as much research as possible on the people I would be meeting with. I could tell you who graduated from what university, with what degree, and exactly what their extra-curricular activities were. Creepy, I know (the fact that I was able to find this information so readily, and the fact that I memorized it), but I wanted to be prepared.

I knew I was going to have to step my whole game up a notch, so I dressed in one of the outfits I had bought specifically for post college interviews almost two years ago (fortunately, the pants and shirt still fit – black slacks and a beige blouse).

I was there for an office position where, if I had gotten the job, I would be responsible for handling customers, answering questions about the software, and editing the surveys (it was a survey company. Not exactly my first choice, but I was impressed with what the company aimed to do – forge a bridge between college students and the faculty/staff that affect their education).

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. I could feel the vomit building its way back up my intestines. Hell, I could taste the stomach acid burning in the back of my throat.

I swallowed it back as a woman guided me inside. The main work area was small but open. No cubicles. I was deposited into a glass conference room off to the side, and left alone.

Someone had once told me that employers will leave potential employees alone for a few extra moments just to psych them out. With this in mind, I tried focusing my thoughts on anything other than my nerves.

First I tapped my fingers along the counter top, marveling at how small I was in comparison to the bulky, tall table. I wished there was a telephone book or two to prop me up.

The novelty of the table lasted only a few moments, and I was soon distracted by the notes scribbled all across the dry erase board. With nothing else to do, I tried to memorize what was on the board, as if I would be quizzed on it, or something.

Finally the HR rep who had originally contacted me stepped into the room with a warm smile.

READ PART 2 Tomorrow Evening

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