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by Andrea Brenner and Lara Schwartz


Amid COVID-19 closures and delays, college administrators and student-facing staff are turning their attention toward transitioning to virtual orientations and summer bridge programs. 


What can colleges do to provide a smooth transition for their incoming students? How can they help new students visualize their lives on campus and prepare for a memorable and informed home-to-college transition in these unprecedented times?


To address the challenges of transitioning to college, only exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, we wrote How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You’re There)—the first student-facing practical guide for incoming students to prepare for the college transition through exercises and conversations before they arrive. It is a flexible and comprehensive supplement for your online summer programs. In writing How to College, we drew on our experiences teaching and working with thousands of first-year college students over decades.


The comprehensive guide offers invaluable advice from college administrators, faculty, student-facing staff, and current college students, demystifying the college transition experience and emphasizing the student’s ultimate self-reliance in the transition to college during this challenging time. 


How to College sets the foundation for college success with accessible information and simple online lessons and activities that address the kind of challenges students will be facing this summer and fall, including:

  • interacting online with peers to gain a sense of belonging
  • connecting with campus resources such as tutoring and writing centers, career services, counseling services, and disability support to have the necessary support for college success
  • using campus technology resources such as learning management systems, library databases, and college email to be prepared for virtual learning
  • maintaining physical and mental health, wellness, and safety, especially during this stressful time
  • budgeting and financial literacy to cope with the uncertainty of today’s economy
  • selecting co-curricular and civic-engagement experiences to get involved, even in a distance-learning environment
  • understanding college-level academic standards: study skills, time management, writing, professionalism, reading, and academic integrity
  • examining the importance of finding supportive mentors in this life transition


How to College also includes exercises and tasks that orientation and summer bridge administrators can easily translate into a distance-learning curriculum: 


  • Know before you go- research tasks such as learning about the demographic makeup of the school’s incoming class, and practicing writing a professional email;
  • Do before you go- exercises such as preparing a simple budget, downloading the college’s safety apps, and researching campus clubs and organizations of interest;
  • Discuss before you go: conversation prompts for incoming students and their families on such topics as how to handle emergencies, responsibly using financial resources, and how families will communicate.'


Finally, as part of Macmillan Learning's COVID-19 Student Toolkit, we also put together a set of free web resources with some brief videos and our best tips for students this summer. These resources, combined with How to College, can help colleges prepare students for a memorable and informal transition to college during this unprecedented time. You can view our Orientation & Summer Bridge Resources at:


For more information, including how to order How to College for your program or to receive a free examination copy, please visit the Macmillan Academic website or contact 


by Andrea Brenner and Lara Schwartz


The transition from high school—and life at home—to college can be stressful for students and their families, and nothing in the college admissions process prepares students for it. Colleges are reporting an increase in underprepared first-year students at startling rates. How to College: What to Know Before You Go (and When You’re There) is here to help. Authors Andrea Malkin Brenner and Lara Schwartz guide first-year students to thrive in the transition process, in high school, during the summer after high school graduation, and throughout their first year on campus.


How to College is the first student-facing practical guide of its kind on the market. It draws on the authors’ experiences teaching and working with thousands of first-year college students over decades. The comprehensive guide offers invaluable advice from college insiders to college-bound students, emphasizing the student’s ultimate self-reliance. The book is filled with important resources needed to set the foundation of success at the collegiate level including lessons and activities on money; time and self-management; co-curricular and civic-engagement experiences; navigating relationships with family and friends back at home and roommates and peers on campus; exploring new college identities; finding one's voice inside and outside of the classroom; health, wellness and safety; and the importance of finding mentors for support in this life transition.


Colleges can use this book during the first year of college as…


...the basis for a first-year experience course. How to College addresses the full college experience, including college academic standards; maintaining physical and mental health and wellness; financial literacy and budgeting; moving to a new community; and engaging in college life in and out of the classroom.


...a guide for peer leaders and resident assistants. Research shows that peer leaders are among the best mentors for first-year students. These successful college students become adept at using college resources and mastering college-level skills, but by definition they do not have decades of experience dealing with the full range of challenges and pitfalls that are common to the first-year experience. They can benefit from a text that includes simple descriptions of these challenges and straightforward advice from experts that they can use to demystify the college experience in language that their student mentees will understand.


...a resource for residence life, counseling center, and orientation staff. Staff will find useful approaches to common first-year pitfalls and challenges. At most campuses, these staff do not have extensive contact with faculty. Written by two professors, How to College provides staff with the faculty point of view on matters such as study skills, writing, professionalism, reading, and academic integrity. The book creates a bridge between faculty and the student-facing staff who are charged with supporting students.


This book can also benefit students before college starts in the following ways:


Advising programs. Many colleges connect incoming students with an academic adviser, increasingly a first-year adviser, in the spring of their senior year of high school. This first contact is an excellent time to introduce How to College- including by sending it with other materials. Advisers can direct students to these exercises:

  • Setting up and getting comfortable with the school’s technology systems, including email, library research tools, and learning management systems like Blackboard and Canvas; 
  • Making good use of academic support services such as supplemental tutoring, writing centers, and resources for international students and students with disabilities; and 
  • Sending professional emails. 


Residence and campus life staff are in contact with incoming college students during the summer following high school graduation. Residence life programs pair roommates and suite-mates and build living and learning communities long before students arrive on campus. Students are “meeting” and interacting on social media and through email before orientation, and without the college professionals’ support. How to College has great tools to help students build these new relationships from the start, including: 

  • Advice about how to have a first conversation with your new roommate(s); 
  • Tips to prepare for a successful, low-conflict move-in day; 
  • Activities to prepare students to live and learn in a diverse community. For example, we encourage students to learn about the student body’s backgrounds, demographics, and circumstances; to read books or articles by authors who have different points of view than their own; to attend an event that exposes them to a new idea or culture; and to reflect upon their own listening and communication skills and habits.


Summer bridge programs for particular cohorts of college students. How to College is a pre-made “bridge” program that can form the basis of in-person programming. It includes materials of particular interest to the college cohorts that summer bridge programs most often serve: international students, first-generation students, low-income students, and students with disabilities. 


Admissions and orientation programs can suggest How to College as a pre-orientation read or send it to incoming students with welcome materials. 

Tutoring centers working with high school seniors on academic high school transitions can use How to College as a textbook, assigning activities from the book to their students. Of particular interest would be the information presented on:

  • How to read an academic journal
  • Reading without technology distractions
  • Writing a persuasive college paper
  • Using sticky notes for higher-level note-taking


Common reads programs expose the entire incoming class to one common text. How to College can be a unique common read in that it exposes students to a series of shared summer experiences, not only a shared book. Students read the text and also engage with a wide variety of useful learning experiences in preparation for their college transition. Common Reads programs can assign students to complete particular activities- for example, setting personal goals as a communicator, participating in a new cultural activity, or taking a financial literacy course-- over the summer. Once on campus, they can then engage students in conversations about the experiences, making college preparation collaborative.


For more information on How to College, go to our trade website at

The semester is almost over, and it’s time to start wrapping up your college success course. Which means that now is the perfect time for your students to complete the ACES Progress Report found in most of our LaunchPad products.


Students will take the same inventory that they did at the start of the semester, and can provide a great insight into their growth and the effectiveness of your course.


There are three different reports you can view: 


  • Progress Report: The second time students take ACES, at the end of the semester
  • Comparison (new this fall): See Initial and Progress report scores side by side
  • Change (new this fall): Looks at change in raw numbers


Note that only students who have completed BOTH the Initial AND the Progress Inventory will show up in the end-of-semester report.


The Progress Report will look similar to the Initial Report you’re already familiar with, but with new scores, on both the Class Report, Roster Report, and Institutional Report. 


The Comparison Report compares how your students scored on the ACES Initial Report at the beginning of the term with how they scored on the Progress Report at the end of the term on a side-by-side chart. 


On the Change tab, you can view reports showing how students’ raw scores (their scores before they are run through the national norm table) have changed from the ACES Initial to the ACES Progress self-assessment. This is a more precise method of calculating change.


For more information on using the reports, you can read our knowledge base article or sign up for a session with your Learning Solutions Specialist

“I am passionate about study skills, and I bet you’re wondering how that’s possible…”


I always start my classes this way and most students either laugh out loud or look at me in disbelief. Then I explain that I am passionate about study skills because they saved me. I struggled mightily my first and second years of college, especially in Economics, and I was close to failing. I was struggling in other classes, too, including a Science requirement. It was the first time I had ever seen my grades so low and I hid by not telling a soul. But a teaching assistant who really cared noticed that my tireless efforts didn’t mesh with my grades. He told me that I wasn’t stupid, I just hadn’t been taught how to manage college level work. I needed study skills support.


He was right, and I got help from my college’s academic resource center. I learned how to change my old habits, which ultimately changed my life. I finally felt like I could “do” college; that I wasn’t the mistake. Over time I learned there were “college ways” to becoming a true critical thinker that meant I studied more deeply, wrote papers more analytically, debated more effectively, and simply learned a whole lot more.


So yes, I am passionate about study skills, but it can be difficult to instill this passion in students. And I get it. Study skills topics like time management, setting goals, critical thinking, taking notes, test taking, etc., are simply not thrilling. Many students think they already have study skills so they don’t see the point in a class dedicated to them. On top of it, study skills are very personal in that we all have individual learning styles and preferences so there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach.


Which gets me to the real reason I’m writing this blog post: to share a number of approaches that instructors can take when teaching study skills. I believe there are opportunities to meaningfully engage students in study skills topics if self-reflection and personalization are built into the curriculum. When the topics start mattering to students, they are more likely to walk away interested, willing, and able participants. But, it is very hard to “teach” study skills because they are so personal and individual.


And this is how the Instructor’s Manual for The Pocket Guide to College Success came about. It was developed as a way to offer very specific tools for instructors to consider as they plan for each class, with the goal of actually engaging students and helping them find their own “passion” for the topics. You’ll see that the Instructor’s Manual is filled with ideas focused on individual self-reflection through journal writing, small and large group discussions (starting with small group discussion channels, which can be more meaningful than large group discussions), relevant guest speakers, hands-on activities, and online videos and discussion boards.


In reality, there are probably too many ideas in this manual. It’s not possible to use every activity or suggestion and I honestly have not been able to use every single one in my own teaching. But, I always revisit the manual when I am preparing for each class because I know I must use a variety of strategies to keep the students engaged in the topic at hand. I have a pattern of always including time for written self-reflection, asking students to share with one or two others about their personal experiences, and providing opportunities for those willing to open up to the larger group. I try to talk less and listen more. And ideally, I dedicate at least ten or more minutes for students to apply the study skills to the academic work they are currently engaged in. It’s a lot to fit in, but I hope it means I am making the material accessible to all students given the variety of learning preferences represented in each class.


Authenticity also matters. It’s important to be real about your own experiences if they are relevant. If that’s not possible, I try to bring in “experts” who can speak more deeply about the focus of class and personalize the material, especially experienced peers who have truly been there. I don’t sugarcoat the often challenging and difficult parts of college, especially since my students come from academically disadvantaged backgrounds. The more honest I can be, the more likely students will be honest about their own struggles. And that is such an important opening because the information now matters to them. They then become more willing to make the effort to try out new study skills strategies that can really help them tackle and overcome their college obstacles.


I don’t ever promise that students will suddenly become passionate about study skills. But I do promise that if they actually take study skills seriously, they will increase their chances of true learning and engagement in those college subjects they are passionate about! And that means more personal growth and college success!


The Pocket Guide to College Success provides straightforward and easily consumable coverage on all the topics typically found in a full-size College Success text in a handy, affordable, highly-customizable format. For more information on the Pocket Guide, please go to

The ACES that you know and love got some amazing updates last week to make it more user friendly and more useful for both your course and your institution. Now available in the LaunchPads for Connections, 1st and 2nd editions, Connections Essentials, Step by Step and LaunchPad Solo for ACES, we have new unit organization, a new instructor dashboard, and new reports.


Before we dive into the details, it’s important to note that  to avoid issues and to make sure all of these awesome updates show up in your course, you will want to create a new course from scratch, rather than copying a course from a previous semester. Directions for how to do so can be found here:


When students take ACES at the start of the semester, the inventory is now called the “Initial Report.” Everything with the inventory itself is the same, with the same scales, still norm referenced, though the norm group has been updated and now represents over 42,000 college students, and there are 3 new demographic questions. The Inventory is in its own unit folder, along with the Student Guide.


All LaunchPads also now contain a unit folder at the bottom of the chapter listing for students to take ACES a second time, at the end of the semester. This folder is called the “Progress Report and Activity.” Depending on which LaunchPad you used previously, this may be a new name, and we’ve removed the Likert Scale quiz you may have had. It’s been replaced with a Reflection Activity, which has students look back at their Initial and Progress scores to observe and explain any differences.


The biggest changes come in how instructors review student results. Rather than having a dashboard in the activity itself, all instructor facing resources live in a unit folder called “ACES Instructor Resources and Reports,” seen in the screenshot below.


ACES Home Page


As before, instructors have access to a guide, the inventory questions, and feedback, though they are now more easily accessible. The ACES Instructor Report Dashboard is where things get even more interesting.


ACES Instructor Dashboard


All reports and scores that you need are all in one place, in a well organized, symmetrical pattern. There are 4 types of reports:

  • Initial Report: The first time students take ACES, at the start of semester
  • Progress Report: The second time students take ACES, at the end of the semester
  • Comparison (NEW!): See Initial and Progress report scores side by side
  • Change (NEW!): Looks at change in raw numbers, not on the national normed scale.

Then, each of these reports break down into three different ways to review data:  

  • Class Report: What you’re used to seeing, all student scores on all 12 scales
  • Roster Report: Previously, this was in another window. View each student’s score on an individual topic
  • Institutional Report (NEW!): Normed results for ALL students at your school who have taken it, including your class, to see how your class compares to the average course at your school

If you’d like more detail on these new reports, you can read more in our Knowledge Base, we’ll be hosting webinars throughout the summer, and you can always sign up for a one-on-one session with your Learning Solutions Specialist. Hope to hear from you!

Instructor Reports Knowledge Base:


Webinar sign up:

One-on-one meeting:

As a Learning Solutions Specialist at Macmillan, it’s my job to help instructors get their LaunchPad courses set up, offer advice on which activities to assign, and make sure they’re comfortable using the technology with their students.


I often begin or end my LaunchPad demo and training sessions with the idea that students WILL be using tech at some point through college, why not start them off with it right away? While they’re prepping for and/or adjusting to college?


That’s all we did at my old teaching gig.


Before coming to Macmillan, I taught, and was an adjunct for my school’s college success program. All online students took the exact same class during their first 4 weeks of school. We had a prescriptive course because we wanted each student on equal footing. And, because their programs were totally online, we wanted to make sure they knew how to use the technology they would be using the rest of their college careers. We offered “remedial” activities for students who may not be very familiar with laptops. Their very first assignment was to download AOL Instant Messenger (this was many years ago…) and send their instructor an IM, as all instructors on campus were constantly logged in during office hours, and that’s the best way to reach them “live.” We also worked through applications and websites that may be helpful in their other courses, and spent a fair amount of time on conducting research on the Internet.


All that being said, of course it is important to teach study skills, time management, etc. But make sure you’re focusing on the little things too. The little things that will also make their time in college a little easier.


If you’d like a personal tour of LaunchPad, sign up for a session with me, your Learning Solutions Specialist:

I have fond, giggle-filled memories of sputtering out the last lines of cumulative children’s songs in a single breath. A familiar example of such a song is There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, but my absolute favorite culminated into this string of ever-higher-pitched, gasped lyrics: There’s an eye on the flea, there’s a flea on the wing, there’s a wing on the fly, there’s a fly on the frog, there’s a frog on the bump, there’s a bump on a log, there’s a log in the hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea. A similar song, though far less melodious, may be crafted of the precedents leading to this post: There’s a networking post on a blog, there’s a blog written by a professor, there’s publisher and professor who met at a meeting...

This song could of course go on to explore the series of planned and unplanned (though not random) events that led two professors to teach FYS courses and then to be in such positions as to be involved in a statewide meeting, and then connect in agreement on the conceptual premises of the FYS course, and then to co-present at a number of conferences, and to have had a publisher attend a conference session that would lead to the invitation for a blog post; however, I’ll spare you the continued detail in the interest of word count and grammar.

Krumboltz’s (2009) Happenstance Learning Theory provides a more scholarly interpretation of the events that lead to professional and growth opportunities. He identifies five key qualities that lead to planned happenstance events: curiosity, persistence, flexibility, optimism, and risk-taking. These qualities, when fostered and valued, lead learners to recognize potential opportunities in even unexpected situations and then to have the confidence to take action to capitalize on them. Happenstance Learning Theory provides the theoretical foundation for the thread of events that lead to the old lady swallowing the fly - or rather, that lead to authoring opportunities, mentoring relationships, and job opportunities.

When we discuss networking with students – and we, FYS instructors, should be discussing networking with students – we are able to tug away the veil on the adage that when it comes to scoring a job, “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” For some college students - and especially for first generation college students - who lack social capital, this adage foretells of a daunting career journey that is far less direct than graduating in a major and then getting a job in that field. So what can FYS instructors do to both to mitigate that anxiety and contribute to evening the playing field? 

First, instructors should include career planning and decision-making in their courses. The most recent National Survey of First-Year Seminars conducted by the National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition concluded that 56.8% of respondent colleges and universities noted career exploration and/or preparation as a first-year priority (Young, 2018). Bailey, Jenkins, & Jaggar (2015), in their follow-up work to actualizing the college completion agenda, recommend lending highest priority to career planning and decision-making. But planning for a career and studying that field are insufficient goals in a job market predicated on planned and unplanned connections. Therefore, we contend that networking be discussed and practiced in the classroom or through facilitated out-of-classroom experiences. Faculty particularly interested in equity issues should heed the call.

We can start by fostering and explicitly discussing those qualities that help us take advantage of opportunities as they come – those that are described by Krumboltz and are listed above. We can then build upon that foundation with intentional activities that build students’ self-efficacy while they practice and prepare for both formal and informal networking. To help start the conversation, we can map our own career journey backwards, to our earliest jobs burning (or, uh, toasting) bagels to being in the classroom, noting the personal connections along the way that facilitated this journey. In this discussion, students may be able to identify the people who have already or who could in the future provide them similar opportunities. They may also consider who they, or their classmates, know that work in a field of interest through a no-more-than six degrees of separation type of exercise. Practicing efficient and effective networking conversation is also key to confidence-building. Powerful classroom activities and assignments to engage students in working towards this goal may include: crafting elevator speeches, preparing for and undertaking informational interviews, and participating in mock career fairs. Regardless of the specific activity or activities chosen, the key is to use the FYS classroom as a career learning lab where students can build skills and confidence to network, and to take advantage of unplanned opportunities as they come.


Sabrina Mathues is a full-time faculty member and Department Chair for College Success at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, NJ. As a national Guided Pathways coach, she works with Brookdale and other colleges to develop career-focused college success curriculum and to redesign wraparound student supports. Her favorite past-times include acrylic painting, collecting sea glass, and – of course – teaching her young son how to give a good handshake.  



Bailey, T. A., Jaggars, S. S., & Jenkins, D. (2015). Redesigning America’s community colleges:

            A clearer path to student success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Krumboltz, J. D. (2009). The happenstance learning theory. Journal of Career Assessment,

            17(2), 135-154. doi: 10.1177/1069072708328861

Young, D. G. (2018, September 18). Data from the 2017 National Survey on The First-Year

Experience: Creating connections to go beyond traditional thinking. Retrieved from the National Resource Center for First-Year Experience and Students in Transition website:


Matthew L. Sanders is an Associate Professor of communication studies and an Associate Dean of Humanities and Social Science at Utah State University. He holds a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Matt conducts research in the areas of nonprofit organizations and student empowerment and his work has been published in academic journals in communication, business, and public administration. He is the author of the book Becoming a Learner: Realizing the Opportunity of Education, which is used in First Year Experience programs at several universities.


Tell us about one initiative you are currently working on that you are really excited about.


I’m working on a project to infuse the idea of becoming an educated person into our general education curriculum so students will hear that important message more times than just their FYE course. I think general education reform is the next step in improve the first year of college.


What motivates you to work in college success?


College can be a transformative experience. It was for me; I wouldn’t be who I am without it. I want to do what I can to help it be a great experience for all students.


What advice would you have given to your younger self as you embarked on your first year in college?


To remember that the overall goal is to become an educated person and to worry less about what major I might choose. And I would take more classes that would really challenge me and stretch my abilities.


What are some trends and developments you are currently seeing in the college success/First-Year Experience course?


There is a trend toward focusing on helping students understand the “why” behind everything. It’s just starting, but people get it. Our textbooks of the future won’t just have a short chapter on it or treat it as self-evident. The premise of our work will be to infuse meaning into how students view college.


What did you enjoy the most about writing Becoming a Learner?


Writing in my teacher voice. Rather than write as an academic writes to other academics, I was able to write and in a way speak directly to the reader in the same way I do in my classroom. That made the writing exciting and meaningful. And I think that’s why so many students respond well to it.


And on a personal note...


What book has influenced you the most?


Parker Palmer’s book, The Courage to Teach, had a big impact on me as a brand new teacher. It made me realize that teaching is about connection.


What is something you want to learn in the next year (related to higher education or otherwise)?


I want to learn how to lead change among my peers at my university.  


If you hadn't pursued your current career, what do you think you would have done?


I would have worked in training and development.


What is your ideal vacation?


A guided fly fishing trip to Alaska.


Tell us an interesting fact about yourself that not many people may know.


I speak Spanish.

John Gardner and Betsy Barefoot were some of the early innovators of the college success course. In keeping with that theme, the LaunchPad which accompanies the 13th edition of their text, Your College Experience, we include innovative ways to engage your students with the course content. As your Learning Solutions Specialist, let me take you on a tour of what’s available.


Each chapter contains an interactive self-assessment quiz, which gives students an opportunity to reflect and learn more about themselves and the chapter topics, providing targeted advice to help them develop a personalized learning plan.


Multiple-choice Case Study Quizzes ask students to apply practical strategies and concepts discussed in each chapter. Students receive instant, helpful feedback after each response to help them contemplate the scenarios further.


My personal favorite resource is our student voices videos, which shows real college students sharing their experiences. Accompanied by a set of open-response questions, two Video Activities per unit allow students to reflect on course topics and deepen their thinking, as well as encourages application of helpful strategies discussed to their own lives. You can talk and talk and talk about how important time management is, but it might not really hit home until they hear it from their peers!


All of these live alongside an interactive ebook, instructor resources, and LearningCurve Adaptive Quizzing.

If you’d like to learn more about how LaunchPad can help enhance your course, sign up for a one-on-one session with your Learning Solutions Specialist:

ACES, the Academic Career Excellent System, is the flagship feature of our College Success list. Though it is a student inventory, it also has benefits for instructors. As the Learning Solutions Specialist for College Success, it is my job to help get instructors up and running with all of our digital resources, including ACES. And, as a and a former instructor myself, I'm personally invested in making sure your classes are using the resources in the best way possible. We’ll explore its many uses throughout the semester, but, today, we’ll just start with the basics for those not familiar with it, or as a refresher if you haven’t checked it out in a while. Specifically we’ll focus on the Initial Report and its use as a Pre-Test. It is found within several of our LaunchPad online platforms, including the Connections Franchise and LaunchPad Solo.


Typically assigned during the first few weeks of class, the inventory looks at how prepared students are for college in 12 key areas: Critical Thinking and Goal Setting, Motivation and Decision Making, Learning Preferences, Organization and Time Management, Reading, Note Taking, Memory and Studying, Test Taking, Information Literacy and Communication, Connecting with Others, Personal and Financial Health, and Academic and Career Planning.


Students rate their level of agreement with statements such as “My notes are legible and well organized”, on a 6 point scale from “Strongly Agree” to Strongly disagree.” It consists of 80 statements and takes about 20 minutes to complete. Once completed, students see how their scores compare to our national norm based on college students across the country.

They are also provided with information on what their scores means, and how they can improve upon certain areas.


ACES Student Results


As an instructor, you see the aggregate of your class on that same national norm. Scales with green bars indicate a high skill level, consistent with the highest 25 percent of the national sample. Scales with yellow bars indicate a moderate skill level, consistent with the middle 50 percent of the national sample. Scales with red bars indicate a low skill level, consistent with the lowest 25 percent of the national sample.


ACES Instructor View


When given as a pre-test at the start of the semester, you get a glance of what you should focus your time on throughout the semester. Spend more time covering the areas in red, and maybe less time in the green areas. And of course, you can also work individually with students as well.


We’ll look at more ways to use ACES in your course in future “Tech Tuesdays.” If you’d like to learn more right away, or get assistance setting up your LaunchPad course space, sign up for a demo with your LSS Specialist.

The morning after the 2016 election I found myself driving—bleary-eyed after a restless night—to the English department at Florida Atlantic University to host a book fair.


Weeks earlier, when I had scheduled the event, I overlooked the fact that it was the day after the election, though I could not have predicted the dramatic turn of events and the resulting atmosphere of charged emotion.


At the time, I was the Macmillan Learning sales rep for South Florida, before coming in-house as an editor, and I never felt closer to my virtue as a Macmillan rep than when hosting a book fair. I think that in all of the talk about learning and course objectives, people can forget the tremendous power that books have to simply help us understand one another.


On that particular morning, instructors stumbled in, grabbed a hot cup of coffee and sat with me and the books for a long moment or two, before heading on to the rest of their day. We shared some laughs, and some cries, but above all—despite the confusion we were feeling—we felt connected to all of the humanity I had spread out across the table. The textbooks and the readers, but also the Macmillan trade titles I had brought—George Packer’s The Unwinding, Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, the essay collection This I Believe...


While moving slowly in South Florida traffic on the way home, in my mind I began writing my own This I Believe essay. I helped Broward College select This I Believe II for their College Read program, and I had been meaning to write one.


A week or so later, after sharing my essay with a few professors, I was invited by Broward to read my essay and lead a discussion on a documentary, Glen’s Village, they were showing in conjunction with College Read.


After the screening of the documentary, I led an open-forum discussion about the film. In one of the most striking parts of the film, Glen and his community fight to keep his public high school from being closed and demolished due to budget cuts. When they lose the fight to keep the school open, Glen then fights to preserve at least "the culture of the school." I asked the attendees to talk about the culture of their school, Broward College. What is it, what should it be, what role does it play as a part of your community?

We had some really heartfelt discussion. One student said that the school "is like a piece of you, and when you lose the school, a little piece of you dies." A professor said that so many of us as individuals come from broken places, and he saw Broward as a place of healing, and that all of us need to be part of that feeling for ourselves and each other.

I then talked a little about the College Read program, and the idea that everyone reading the same book and sharing their stories can help strengthen their community. I read a selection from This I Believe II—a quote from Edward R. Murrow about why the “This I Believe” project was founded. I asked if his words resonated with them, particularly after the election—lots of nods and yesses. 

Then I read my This I Believe essay, and invited students to read their own essays—or to read ones from the book they wanted to share. One student picked "Living with Integrity" by Bob Barrett.

In closing, one of the professors read "The Right to Be Fully American" by Yasir Billoo, from This I Believe II. It opens:
"I am an American and like almost everyone here, I am also something else. I was raised to believe that America embraces all people from all faiths, but recently, that long-standing belief--along with both parts of my identity--have come under attack. And as an American Muslim of Pakistani descent, this attack is tearing me apart."

Before reading the essay, she gave a very moving speech to students: 

"In light of the recent election, I just hope and pray that we as individuals and we as a community can still hold on to our integrity and our values and to understand that each and every single one of us, regardless of our background, of our heritage, of our religious beliefs, of our height, our weight, our color, our anything, that we all treat each other as human beings. And nobody--nobody--is better than you. Nobody. And nobody on this planet is worse than you. And please always, always remember that. Take that with you in every walk of life."


As an editor, I believe my job is helping build communities. Because that’s exactly what a good book is--textbook or trade--a means for helping us understand one another, heal us from the broken places we’ve been, and reveal to us our enduring, common humanity.


Allen is the Program Manager for College Success & Human Communication at Macmillan Learning. He is an advocate for College Read programs as a way to foster social belonging on campus and in our larger communities. You can read his This I Believe essay, Crying in Baseball, here.

Since we first launched the ACES self-assessment back in 2016, we’ve seen program after program make the simple decision to give each one of their students, on their first days of college, one of the most powerful gifts--self-knowledge. It all starts with the simple, 20-minute ACES activity: a set of survey questions expertly designed by three counseling psychologists, through which students create a quantitative self-portrait of their strengths and growth areas--the ACES Initial Report.


Over 30,000 students have now taken ACES in their first weeks of college, so many of them for the first time discovering the power of a growth mindset, goal setting, and how to cultivate their inner assets to overcome adversity and be their best selves.


Over the past year or so, we’ve been beta-testing an ACES “post-test,” so that students could take the assessment again and reflect on their progress. An impetus for developing the post-test was that instructors could now have a powerful tool to help quantify the progress students were making in their FYE course. But the real driver behind this second instance of ACES is a pedagogical reason--its metacognitive benefits.


Having a second ACES report, at the end of the term, provides students with an important opportunity to reflect on their progress, practice gratitude, and gain valuable positive reinforcement. It also gives them an updated version of their quantitative self-portrait. By seeing change in their skills, abilities, and attitudes, the end-of-term ACES report provides them with real, first-hand experience with growth-mindset, neuroplasticity, and above all, the power to change oneself for the better.


To emphasize these powerful benefits, the beta post-test will be replaced in early Summer 2019 in all ACES LaunchPads with a new, permanent, second instance of ACES to be taken at the end of the semester. The report students will receive from this second instance of ACES will be called “The ACES Progress Report.” Instructors will also have a new “Comparison Report” in their report dashboard so they themselves can reflect on the impact their course has had on their students.


In addition, there will be a brief guide added to all ACES LaunchPads to help students compare their Progress Report with their Initial Report from the beginning of the semester.


Connections, Second Edition--the new edition of the textbook program developed in conjunction with ACES by the same team of counseling psychologists--gets an even more powerful end-of-semester feature: an assignable Capstone LaunchPad activity that automatically pulls in students’ ACES results from the entire term, and leads them through a metacognitive reflection to set them up for long term success.


These new features--the ACES Progress Report, the ACES Comparison Report, and the ACES Capstone Activity--are truly the product of the collaborative spirit at Macmillan Learning. I’m so inspired by how our wonderful authors, our senior editor Christina Lembo, our senior media editor Tom Kane, our technology team, and our faculty and student partners across the country, came together to bring you these new products, fostered by our spirit that together we can achieve more.


With these new features, our hope is that you will now be able to give your students something as powerful as the self-knowledge you offer them when they walk into your class--self growth, as they walk out.

I overhear a similar conversation among students hundreds of times a year …


Students will say “I have a lab report due for chemistry class” or “I’m working on an outline for Public Speaking.”  They might mention the instructor who assigned the work, saying “I have to do a rough draft for Dr. Hayward” or “I need to finish reading that chapter for Professor Ingram.”  At an even broader level, students will say “I have to take this class for Area C in General Education” or “This class is for my Major elective requirement.”  This mentality is prevalent and subtly destructive. 


I do my best to listen and let these conversations play out without interference.  I want students to talk to each other honestly, even as I think of how I might try to tweak their mind about it later. I call these “Mind Benders” – topics that are fairly common but, when seen from a different perspective, or with new information, have the ability to shift one’s thinking on a broader level quickly and profoundly. In this case, students have assignments, tests, papers, etc. and they tend to talk about them quite a bit (especially when the due date or exam date gets close).


So what’s the Mind Bender here?  It’s pretty simple: Who and what is college for? When students are engaged in conversations about what they are doing and what it’s for (the class) or who it’s for (the teacher), they are completely missing the entire point of education. All of the papers, tests, labs, speeches, etc. are for them – the student! This is the Mind Bender because very few students I’ve come across in 15 years of teaching have internalized the process of education as development of themselves and their skills. Deep down they may understand, but on their reactionary surface, their conscious or unconscious mentality toward education is associated with some form of other rather than the self.


After listening to their conversations, I try to find an appropriate time to share this little nugget with them: that college is ultimately for them and that each one of the assignments they are talking about is for them and their development. This usually comes with some hesitancy and disbelief: while some students start to accept the fact that college is for their development, other students still find it easier to dissociate themselves from what they have to do and deflect responsibility onto something else. This mindset is fascinating to me and the intrigue increases further when grades come out.


The mentality that the intricacies of college are for someone or something else other than the student I believe is further reinforced by grades. If the Mind doesn’t Bend from the initial way of thinking described at the beginning of this post, students attribute failure, and worse, success, to the class and the teacher. A student who struggles might say “That class was stupid. I don’t even know why I had to take it” or “Dr. Hayward is so unprepared and unorganized. I could never understand why we were going from topic to topic.  It felt all over the place.” Perhaps these are fair comments, but they’re focused on the other. Again, the responsibility falls on some external source.  What I think is potentially more troubling is even when students succeed, they attribute success to the class or the teacher. “Professor Ingram is so cool” or “That class was fun to go to every week.” The focus continues to remain on the other.


Why is deflecting success potentially worse in my opinion? The student mentality is at the core of it all and, at its worst, has a tendency to rob students of feeling successful, building confidence, taking ownership and credit for their development. The same can be said for their failures too, but what sucks the joy, happiness, and fulfillment out of education is students who don’t give themselves credit for what they do well because they already have an engrained mentality that what they are doing is for something outside themselves. This mentality creates a relatively low emotional ceiling where school becomes mundane, repetitive, and uninteresting rather than exciting, uplifting, and a source of hope and inspiration.


So instead of the rough draft being for Dr. Hayward. The rough draft is for them!


The reading assignment isn’t for Professor Ingram. The reading assignment is for them!


That class isn’t for Area C of General Education. That class is for them!


My hope is that shifting their mentality in this direction creates more investment which includes a more enjoyable emotional journey because, ultimately, they stop working for everybody else and start working for themselves. 


Andrew Pasquinelli

Foundations of Success Lecturer

California State University, East Bay

            You’ve graduated with your bachelor’s degree, and you have been accepted to the university of your dreams to pursue a master’s degree or possibly a Ph.D. I know it seems early to consider this, but what is your exit strategy? What I mean is, are you going to take a comprehensive test, create a project, or write a thesis as a means to fulfill the final degree requirement to graduate? It seems overwhelming to start considering this, but what you decide upon now will influence every major decision you make in graduate school, including the most important choice you will make: who will be your committee chairperson and who will be your committee members. Your committee will guide you through whatever exit method you choose, especially if you choose a project or thesis. Each member will play a significant part. However, it is your chairperson that will have final word and most control, so chose wisely. The following suggestions center around the thesis or project methods, although your committee is salient in all three cases.



Choosing Your Committee

            The most important decision you will make will be who to pick as your chairperson. I cannot stress this enough. Picking the right chairperson will be the difference in a enjoyable scholarly experience or wishing you had never applied to graduate school. Sorry to sound negative, but the right choice will make all the difference in the world. My first recommendation in choosing your chair would be to pick a professor that you know or has taught one of your classes. Because you will be working closely with this professor, for a year or more, you should consider the following about your candidate:

  • How busy is this professor? Are they a department chair or involved as another committee chair or member? You will be asking them to add your project or thesis onto their already huge workload.
  • Do you get along with them? I cannot imagine asking someone you do not even like to chair your committee. You will be spending a lot of time with them, so having a good relationship will help when things get rough.
  • What’s their specialty? Do they have the experience they need to provide you with the best advice on your given project? While they don’t need to be experts in your exact topic, make sure that they have enough knowledge of your topic to provide helpful feedback.
  • If you have previously had them as a professor, how fast do they turn back assignments? You will be producing multiple drafts of your proposal, so you want a one to two week turn around, not five or six or more. Do they have office hours that can work around your schedule?
  • Are they easy to talk to and do they challenge you? You do not want a “yes” person to control your best work. You want them have suggestions that will make this work fulfilling and your highest achievement that you have ever produced.

I would say that you should consider the same attributes for your other committee members. Remember that your chair has final word and the most control of your work. Often, the rest of your committee will not see a draft until it has been signed off by your chair. However, you want a well-rounded committee. You want them to complement each other and if possible get along, even if they have differing opinions or viewpoints. Maybe your chair is great at research but is not well versed in statistics. You should consider a member that excels in that part of the puzzle. Do not pick your members out of convenience. You want them all to contribute and not just agree, as tempting as that may sound. You want your members to challenge you to do your best work.

            I hope I have not scared any of you into burning your admission papers. I have had to learn some of these lessons the hard way. These are difficult decisions, but a little research and you will put together a team that will make this rewarding and less frustrating.

Going back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the original aim of a liberal arts education was to encourage free citizens to participate in civic life by supplying them with skills of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. In medieval times, the study of liberal arts evolved to include arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. The modern liberal arts college champions development of the well-rounded human as it allows students to focus on the diverse breadth of arts, humanities, social sciences, sciences, and mathematics. 

However, without the perspective of the bigger picture, some students view the liberal arts core negatively. They argue that it prolongs their college career, costing them more tuition money, and challenges them to study subject areas they might not even be interested in. And why should an English major, inclined towards reading and writing, have to take a general education statistics course? What’s the point?


The point is that you will:

  • learn to think critically
  • be more well-rounded and better prepared for your future
  • learn the most when you step out of your comfort zone


As a freshman in college, I enrolled in what I thought was a gen-ed history course. After receiving a 30+ page syllabus, I realized it was really an education course disguised by readings on local history. As neither a history nor education major, I was attracted to the course for three honest reasons: it fulfilled my history requirement, the professor had great reviews, and the class went on field trips. It turned out to be one of the best classes I ever took, despite the fact that I was the only non-education major. It may have been the only time I’ll ever have to write lesson plans and organize field trip activities, but it provided me the opportunity to strengthen my leadership and creative talents, while encouraging me to reflect on how everyone learns differently.


Liberal arts courses fuel students’ curiosity and encourage them to test the waters of where their professional interests might lie. Taking a course outside your designated major forces you to think and approach problems in an all-new way. You will learn to communicate -- remember grammar, rhetoric, and logic? -- and connect with people who are accustomed to different thinking, all while broadening your own knowledge and network. And, just because you studied English doesn’t mean you’ll never need math in your life.

Sure, if students only had to complete X number of business or engineering courses to graduate, they could probably earn a degree in fewer semesters, piling up less student loan debt in the process. However, they would have missed out on what might be their last opportunity to truly explore different academic interests just for the sake of learning.

On top of that, students might be lacking the transferable skill set that would help them succeed in their careers -- the interpersonal, organizational, leadership, and communication abilities often best developed through diversified studies. The list of student benefits of a liberal arts education is rather similar to what employers look for in their new hires. Even talking about your experience of adapting to unfamiliar coursework and learning styles provides great material for a job interview! Losing your security blanket, coloring outside the lines, thinking outside the box, and stepping out of your comfort zone in a class setting is great practice for doing so in the real world.


Whether their focus is in the traditional liberal arts discipline or not, students should be encouraged to broaden their studies and make use of the liberal arts core. With expanded knowledge across disciplines, students will be equipped to better understand and respect opposing viewpoints, assess their own opinions, and make informed decisions. Just like the ancient Greeks and Romans, students will become well-rounded citizens, which will serve them in their personal and professional lives for years to come.