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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Working Hard or Hardly Working, Part 1: The Scholarship

I didn't begin working my first real job until my second year of college. And when I say "real job", I'm also including gigs like McDonald's or Old Navy. It's not that I didn't attempt to get a real job while I was in high school. I remember applying to places like Blimpie and Borders and Bed Bath and Beyond (apparently I was drawn to businesses beginning with B), but nobody would have me. It's hard to get that first job when you don't have any experience. I suppose most people get their first job through some sort of social connection, but as an introverted do-it-myself-and-lean-on-nobody kind of person, those types of connections never availed themselves of me. Of course, I wasn't too concerned about getting that real job in high school, because my real real job was getting good grades so I could get a scholarship to pay for college. And I succeeded in that, which is better than $5.50 an hour slicing deli meats and cheeses could have ever gotten me. I was offered an Honors at Entrance Scholarship to the University of Utah, which afforded full tuition for 4 years of study provided that I maintain a 3.7 GPA throughout. That's an A- average, to keep things in perspective. (I believe these days students have to maintain a 3.9 for the same scholarship. Ouch!)

Because I won that scholarship, I was able to use my humble college fund to live in the student dorms my first year of college, and that ended up being an important middle step between childhood dependence and adult independence. I'm glad I had the chance to experience it. With the roof and meal plan taken care of, I didn't really see much purpose in having a job that year either, and once again I made my job getting good grades to keep my scholarship. My first semester I slacked off a little bit. It turns out scheduling Ordinary Differential Equations at 8:30 was not playing to my weakness as being a total night owl. (I quickly learned never to schedule a class before 9:45.) Plus, my instructor was basically useless at explaining the concepts of the class, so I ended up having to mostly teach myself. Through my half-hearted sleep-deprived self-instruction I pulled a measely B- in ODEs.

Additionally, on the day of September 11, 2001, I ended up skipping out on most of my classes after learning about the World Trade Center incident, and in so doing, I missed an important assignment that was given out in my German 2010 class. I did not make an effort to make up for this assignment, even though my instructor offered me extra credit, and so I ended up pulling a B in this class. I must admit this was entirely my fault, but I can't say I expected one assignment in a beginning language course to be the difference between an A and a B, so I did feel a little bit blindsided on that one. Altogether, my first semester GPA was a few points below the 3.7 I needed to keep my scholarship. Luckily, I had one more semester to pull my average back up before the day of reckoning.

So over Winter break, I sat down with my calculator and my math skills, which had not yet been totally blunted by the ODEs, and I calculated what GPA I needed to pull in the second semester in order to save my scholarship. I had already registered for about 15 credits worth of second semester classes, and according to my calculations, which I repeated over and over again because I was not happy with the answer, I would have to get a straight 4.0 without dropping any credits in order to save my GPA. So in my second semester, my real job really was going to be getting good grades, otherwise I might not have the money to continue my education the following year.

Much to my chagrin, I had registered for yet another math class, this time Multivariable Calculus, which I arguably should have taken before ODEs, and once again my math teacher was completely useless. So this time I buckled down and read each chapter of my math book, studied the example problems, and got help in the tutoring center on my homework. This time with a more vigorous effort, I was able to pull an A in that course through self study.

None of my other classes seemed to give me much trouble, and I was anxiously confident that I would make my 4.0. But after finals, when grades were posted, I was dismayed to see one little minus sign next to my A in World Religions. Oh no. If I was going to lose my scholarship, it wasn't going to be on account of Jesus, Vishnu, Buddha, or any other god-like figure. Hell no. Luckily, despite the fact that this class had been a large lecture class of over a hundred people, my World Religions study group had earlier made the fortuitous decision to invite our professor to a private study session, so my professor actually knew who I was, and I fully intended to use this acquaintance to my advantage. In short, I went to my professor's office and shamelessly begged him to reconsider my grade, reminding him how invested I was in the course in light of our study session together. Of course, I brought my final exam answers and class papers and presented my case logically, but then I appealed to his mercy because of the desperate way in which my scholarship was teetering on the edge of a cliff held only by a thin strand of rope in the form of a minus sign. He agreed to grab hold of the minus sign and pull it back up. (Thank you, Prof. Dean K!)

The great thing about GPAs is that the more credits you have, the less each credit counts toward your total GPA, so after the first year, it was much easier to keep my 3.7, and I ended up remaining fully tuitioned throughout my undergraduate career. And that's what I call a job well done.




Next time: Sra struggles in the job search, but serendipitously lands a real job.

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9 comments:

heidikins said...

That, my friend, is impressive.

Kudos to you!

xox

tennessee mike said...

Congrats! I too had that same scholarship when I started at the U, and my first semester provided me with both engineering physics and engineering statistics. I didn't do as well in either class as I had hoped. So I too used my math skills over winter break, and realized that I would have to retake one of those two classes and have the grade replaced by the end of the second semester, in order to keep the 3.7 and the scholarship.

I would've rather walked on coals than retake stats, so it was physics I...part II!

tennessee mike said...

...make that "TAKE II," not "part II"...lol.

Erin said...

I'm glad I didn't have to do so well in school. I hated college and sucked at it! Fortunately, no one has ever asked about my GPA.

A good teacher makes a huge difference in math. My best teacher EVER was a college math teacher. But I didn't take diff EQ. I don't think any freshman did at my college. You had to take linear algebra first after regular calc.

God, I'm glad those days are over.

Sra said...

Heidi: Thanks, dear. It was that or work to pay for school, which is a very impressive feat in itself, but was not what I desired to do.

Mike: I hear the engineering level physics and maths are much harder than other ones. In fact, I think engineering students probably work hardest for their degrees. I felt lazy compared to my Chem-E roommate. I had one semester where I got a C in Syntax (which you might think is easy, but it's a lot more mathematical-like than one would hope), so I had to repeat it the next semester so I could replace the grade and save my scholarship yet again. Talk about my worst nightmare. Syntax and I do not get along. I'm a phonology girl.

Erin: I was spoiled by two very good math teachers in junior and senior high. Because of them, I rarely had to read the math books, which is great because they are generally quite boring. I enjoyed school while I was in it, but felt burned out by the end. Now that's I've spent 3 years in the working world, I'm ready to go back to being a student. I actually kind of love the student life, and would be an academic forever if I could. We'll see, that could still be in the cards.

B.R. said...

The life of an academic is not too shabby. It's a lot of work, no doubt, but your work revolves around constant study, research, and teaching.
In my ever so biased view, it's a great way to go through mortality.
I also had scholarships as an undergrad and that, in a way, paved the way for future grad success.
The work will always be there. I do believe that undergrads need to primarily focus on their academics. The better they, the higher their chances to get placed in good grad programs.
Scholarships are never inconsequential.
German 2010, huh?

Sra said...

It's true, my undergrad GPA is a huge contributing factor to my law school applications, and I'm sure I have it to thank in part for many of my current scholarship offers.

I guess I feel like academic work is somehow more important than working as an office monkey just to make money. Sure, you get paid in academics, but the true reward is in intellectual stimulation and contributing to our cultural knowledge, I think.

German 2010, yeah. I tested out of the first year of German classes due to my high school studies. Grammatically speaking the class was the right level for me, but I was really behind speaking-wise, as there were many Kiel-program students in my class, and they had a month of immersion on their side, whereas I just had American classroom experience and precious little else. I think the speaking disadvantage followed me throughout college.

Sra said...

It's true, my undergrad GPA is a huge contributing factor to my law school applications, and I'm sure I have it to thank in part for many of my current scholarship offers.

I guess I feel like academic work is somehow more important than working as an office monkey just to make money. Sure, you get paid in academics, but the true reward is in intellectual stimulation and contributing to our cultural knowledge, I think.

German 2010, yeah. I tested out of the first year of German classes due to my high school studies. Grammatically speaking the class was the right level for me, but I was really behind speaking-wise, as there were many Kiel-program students in my class, and they had a month of immersion on their side, whereas I just had American classroom experience and precious little else. I think the speaking disadvantage followed me throughout college.

B.R. said...

The life of an academic is not too shabby. It's a lot of work, no doubt, but your work revolves around constant study, research, and teaching.
In my ever so biased view, it's a great way to go through mortality.
I also had scholarships as an undergrad and that, in a way, paved the way for future grad success.
The work will always be there. I do believe that undergrads need to primarily focus on their academics. The better they, the higher their chances to get placed in good grad programs.
Scholarships are never inconsequential.
German 2010, huh?

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