Welcome to Science, Engineering or Environmental Protection at Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
For the majority of you, this will be your first experience with post-secondary education. It will also then be your first true experience with a Science or Engineering program. Some of you will be arriving with all the courses and required grades to begin immediately at the first year level. Some of you will be missing required courses and/or grades, and will therefore need to take preparatory courses to make up that deficit. Some of you will be coming with very high grades from high school, and some of you will be less prepared. Some of you will be comfortable with all subjects you will need to take. Some of you will have discomfort with one or more of these required subjects. Some of you will be re-entering formal schooling after taking time off to explore other facets of your life. Some of you will have some post-secondary exposure, and are moving ahead in the same or different program. Some of you will be attempting to rectify an unsuccessful start in that previous exposure. No matter what your situation, you will need to make adjustments to successfully meet post-secondary expectations.
You may have heard numerous stories of students not making it through Science or Engineering. It is true that many do not succeed for a variety of reasons. However, there are many more who have lived through and even treasured the experience, and with the appropriate effort on your part, along with a few survival tips, you can be counted in with the successful group.
A large chunk of the survival tips that follow are borrowed and modified with permission from a course outline of Dr. Ron Britton of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Manitoba. Based on over thirty years of observation as a chemistry instructor, Registrar and Dean in the Canadian community college system, I believe I can safely declare that things are not much different today than they were when I first began university studies at Bishop’s University in rural Quebec.
Studying Science and Engineering at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, or at any other post-secondary institution in British Columbia, demands serious attention. Coasting like you might have been able to do in high school can lead to a career of flipping hamburgers, if that’s what you want. Not only is the work expectation more demanding, but if you were satisfied with average grades in the past, you now want to step that up a notch or two. As I often tell students, if you would be content with a “B” grade, then strive for an “A”. You won’t be disappointed if you accidentally achieve it.
Adapting to academic life at the university level has a lot in common with driving in snow - when we have it here in Vancouver. If you keep pointed ahead, and don’t spin your wheels in a violent attempt to “escape,” you will probably come out okay. And when you need help, ask for it. There are plenty of helpful resources to call upon as long as you are prepared to use them, and more importantly, follow the advice offered. Don’t treat those helping like you might your parents with a “yea, yea” and go on as before.Every student has a history of academic accomplishment in high school. Unfortunately, the relative ease of your past studies may not be the best preparation for your current situation. Many of you will discover that your previous study habits are no longer adequate for success. Things often don’t happen as easily as they used to. When this realization occurs, don’t assume that everyone else is having an easier time mastering the material. Bite the bullet and talk to someone (your instructor, an education advisor, a counselor) before a difficulty becomes a problem. But then listen to their advice. Asking another student does not generally provide the same quality of assistance, and often leads to even greater despair because, simply, they are not the best informed to help you. Two “wrongs” simply don’t make a “right.” I don’t know how many hundreds of students I’ve seen seeking course material assistance and guidance from another student who is equally struggling in the course. Why would they do that?
Treat your studies in the same manner as a full time job – even if you are taking less than a full course load. You wouldn’t expect to handle two full time jobs well, and managing two part time jobs can be more of a struggle than a single full time job. It is no different with your education. Learning is not just attending class, or worse, some classes. You have to commit to doing the necessary work and to dedicate the necessary time if you hope to achieve. Many students attempt to balance their studies with work, and many have little choice in order to pay the bills and tuition. But many students overburden themselves, and when they finally realize this it’s either too late or they end out sacrificing their studies in favour of their job. Sadly, it becomes a recipe for failure. A student counselor is a good resource to help sort out these personal challenges.
Everyone who properly advises students says “don’t fall behind.” As trite as this may sound, it is the best advice you can get. Your success can become an exercise in sleep deprivation if you do not manage your time well. Even then, there are times when all your instructors may appear to be unreasonable on the same day. If you make a habit of staying ahead of the deadlines you know of, and if you adopt a ritual of ongoing study and review rather than cramming, you are more likely to be content with the outcome.
There is a human trait to fault someone else for any failings. As Dean, I generally hear students trying to blame their instructor for their sad grades. You won’t find yourself liking all your instructors, but I can honestly say that every one of them at Kwantlen want to help you succeed, and are highly talented in content and teaching skills to provide you with the best opportunity to achieve. That’s not a guarantee of passing or obtaining the grade you want. It would be nice to live on that planet, but the real world is not like that. It is important to recognize that faculty are here to facilitate your learning. They cannot simply inject the knowledge into your mind with needles. It would be nice if this were possible, but then we wouldn’t need universities and colleges and we’d all be brilliant. Think of your learning as a pottery class where the instructor demonstrates the skills, but you have to digest these and sculpture them into your piece of art. Your instructors can help you understand course material, but they cannot make you understand it. Ultimately, whether you successfully learn or not falls on your shoulders. Constantly blaming your instructor for any failing serves no benefit in resolving the real causes of your dilemma, and more likely sets you up for further disappointment in other courses. Having said this,
I hope you can appreciate that faculty will become more engaged in helping you if you regularly attend class, participate in classroom discussion (course content, not gossip with a classmate), seek timely help from your instructor outside of class, at the Learning Centre or in the library, show general enthusiasm to learn, and refrain from wanting the whole course re-explained two hours before the final exam. Expecting help just prior to, or immediately following, class is not the best time as their own plans are directed elsewhere. You need to arrange an appointment, or go during scheduled office hours.
Take advantage of the substantially smaller class sizes you will get at Kwantlen Polytechnic University compared with what you would otherwise experience at most universities. The opportunity for greater personal attention is all around you for your taking, but you have to seek it. Gone are the days of someone seeking you out if you miss class, a lab or an evaluation. You are an adult now and are expected to burden your own responsibilities. But with that responsibility comes the enjoyment of being treated like an adult.
Take advantage of the many resources available to you. Enjoy the hands-on experience of the science labs - it goes far beyond your lab exposure in high school - and it prepares you well for transfer to university to complete your degree. But don’t just do the labs as an exercise. Labs are offered to enhance your learning and understanding, and provide relevance and illustration to what is covered in the classroom.
And don’t take these tips with a grain of salt.
Enjoy your experience at Kwantlen.
Best wishes in your studies.