Kevin Covington, MSM | Assistant Director, Retention and Outreach, Center for Access, Success and Achievement (CASA)
“When I reflect on my undergraduate days, especially my first year in college, I was so excited and optimistic to start. However, the first semester ended quite differently than I had hoped. In high school, I was the type of student who really liked going to classes and did relatively well. But when I got to college, the classes were much different than I had expected, they were more lectures than my high school classes. I had honors most of my high school career and I thought that college would be similar, at least the classwork would be. I did what was asked of me and not much else. I didn’t take notes unless they were written on the board, and I certainly didn’t study because I didn’t really have to in high school and that earn me honors then. Slowly, I began to do poorly on quizzes and exams, and it seemed as if everyone around me knew more about college than did I. It was as if I was a step or two behind my peers; they knew what to study and how to study. After the first semester doing everything that I did in high school to earn honors, I was placed on academic probation in college. I felt like I would never “get it” and that I had made a big mistake going to college.
I was across the state attending college, and I wanted to come back home but I still wanted to be in college. I felt like I was treading water and could barely keep up. During that first semester around finals, I remember trying to study in the library – it had taken me some time to find the right area to study and not just hang out with friends. While I was sitting at the table with my work all over the table, an upperclassman stopped by my table to say hi. His name is Greg Ray and I will never forget our meeting. He talked to me about how I was doing and if I enjoyed being in school. He also said that he would often see me at parties and around campus but then told me that I had to get serious about being in school. It was not high school and that here you have to work hard to succeed, sometimes harder than others around you. He told me that I shouldn’t be discouraged about my first year and that I should take it as a teachable moment – I knew what not to do now and that I had to cut down on the parties and visit the library more and not just during finals. Greg helped me to understand that failing isn’t final unless I made it final. He also helped me to understand that success is often about the amount of effort you put in and less about comparing myself to others.
That next semester, I started to study in a way that worked for me. I am a visual learner – something I discovered after my talk with Greg. I would have to write and rewrite chapters from textbooks which would take hours to do. I did this for each class. I asked questions in class and started to take notes from lectures which was difficult because initially I couldn’t tell what to record and what not to record. But after some time, it became second nature and slowly, my grades improved as did my attitude about school and my place there.
Success can be hard to visualize when it comes slowly or when you doubt yourself. But what I learned is that effort and attitude are vital. I realized that success for me requires a lot of my time and focus and that I cannot compare my path with anyone else’s path. I am happy to say that I was able to earn my undergraduate and two graduate degrees and I owe a lot of that to a chance conversation with someone who cared enough to talk to a frustrated freshman many years ago.”