Don't you wish you had an inside person to help you navigate every new situation? Some of us are fortunate enough to have designated mentors in siblings or parents who have attended CSUN before us. But for those forging a path of their own, we bring you Matador Tips, a series of articles in which we share some secrets of success from current and former CSUN students.
California State University, Northridge has nearly 300 student clubs and organizations. If you’re not a part of something you’re missing out.
Ask graduating seniors about their most memorable moments at California State University, Northridge, and you’re not likely to hear enthusiastic reveries on textbooks, tests and studying. It’s often the extracurricular involvement that provides the richest aspects of the college experience. Participating in clubs and activities can help you develop management skills, pursue a passion, make connections, and provide opportunities for practical career experience.
Sophomore journalism major Kenia Lopez is already taking on leadership roles in several groups, serving as director of finance for University Ambassadors, an Associated Students senator, and as a director for The University Corporation she contributes to the decision making for the corporation, which provides services and solutions that address the needs of CSUN. She’s also a member of the Delta Zeta sorority and working with Dreams to be Heard to develop an AB 540 student center. Kenia, who came to Southern California from Mexico at age 11 with her mother, received CSUN’s Dreamers Scholarship for undocumented undergraduate students as a freshman. Determined to make the most of her time at CSUN, Kenia offers tips for other students looking to live the Matador life to the fullest by getting involved.
1. Look for activities and organizations that support your passions.
If you’re not sure what you might like to be a part of, the Matador Involvement Center is a good place to start. Consider joining a club or organization that is related to your major, suggests Kenia, who was a member of Radio Television Digital News Association last year. Professional groups are a great way to connect with other students in your classes and find out about potential internship and job opportunities.
2. Take advantage of opportunities to network.
Club activities are the perfect way to get to know other students, faculty, staff and even professionals in your chosen field. Kenia attended Freshman Convocation last year, and watched President Harrison present the Dianne F. Harrison Leadership Award. Afterward, she went and introduced herself to the recipient, and by being bold she was able to learn about the opportunity and what she needed to do to qualify as an award candidate. It paid off, and at the 2015 Freshman Convocation Kenia herself received the honor.
3. Learn to lead.
While your classwork and professors are providing important knowledge and understanding, taking an active role in a student group is an opportunity to learn valuable leadership and management skills.
“Taking on leadership positions and getting involved will definitely teach you about yourself,” Kenia says.
Those leadership roles can also be an important addition to your resume, but don’t jump into a commitment too quickly. Find out exactly what’s entailed, and consider whether you have the required time and skillset. Ask also about the financial commitment, and exactly what the responsibilities are. Additionally, you’ll want to think about your relationships with anyone you’ll be working with closely.
“Don’t take on a task just for the title,” says Kenia. “It can affect the whole organization if you take on a role you don’t have a passion for.”
4. Step out of your comfort zone.
College is all about exploring new activities and taking on new challenges, so look for organizations that might encourage you to do something you never thought you could do.
“You might develop passions that you didn’t know you have,” Kenia says.
If you’re thinking about switching your major, extracurricular activities are also a great way to learn more about different career fields and opportunities. Not sure if something is for you? Most CSUN groups have websites and social media pages where you can find out more about activities and events.
Fellow Matadors share their favorite free Apple and Android mobile apps for class.
As CSUN moves toward being more of a technology-friendly campus, recently adding electronic device charging lockers to the Delmar T. Oviatt Library, you are encouraged more than ever to use apps for class.
Since there are more than 1 million apps in the App Store and Google Play, finding new apps may be overwhelming. Fortunately for you, Matadors Blanca Samano, Lynda Rodriguez and Desiree Flores sifted through some of the most popular apps to find the best technology for students regardless of your major.
1. Use the CSUN app to plan your class schedule in advance.
Blanca, a Chicana and Chicano studies major, recommends using the CSUN mobile app to develop the class schedule for the upcoming semester before you register.
She uses the Enroll in Classes feature on the CSUN mobile app, which makes planning classes on the go easier. First, she signs in with her CSUN user ID and password to search for classes, look up meeting times and locations, professors, class descriptions and number of seats.
Even though you can’t register until your assigned date, she suggests adding your classes to the cart so that when the date comes, all you have to do is select Submit Cart.
She advises coming up with backups. This way if the classes you want fill up, you have alternatives.
“Planning multiple class schedules with first and second choice time slots prepares you to quickly register for the classes you need before they become full,” Blanca says.
The CSUN mobile app is available at m.csun.edu, the App Store and Google Play. To learn more about additional features like the GPS-enabled map and paying for tuition, visit the Information Technology website.
2. Use the Microsoft Outlook app to check your CSUN email daily.
One of the main forms of communication between you and the university is through your CSUN email. CSUN sends you important reminders about missing documents, housing application deadlines, scholarship opportunities and more. Your professors also use your CSUN email to send you syllabi, required textbooks and other class materials, or notify you that class is canceled.
Lynda, a cinema and television arts major, syncs her CSUN email and other email accounts to the Microsoft Outlook app to stay up to date. You can add Gmail, Yahoo, iCloud, Microsoft Exchange and Office 365 email accounts to the app.
“It is a very organized app,” Lynda says. “It’s easy to find emails from specific people.”
The app is mobile-friendly; you can delete, reply and flag emails with a simple swipe to the left or right. You can also send large files through cloud-based file sharing such as Box, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox and Google Drive. The app also allows you to opt in to push notifications that alert you about new emails or upcoming appointments.
3. Use the Sunrise app to mark important dates.
Desiree, a management major, uses the calendar app Sunrise to make sure she doesn’t miss any important dates — whether they are for classes, her co-ed business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi, internships or personal activities.
As soon as she receives a syllabus for a class, which is usually by the first week of the semester, she enters important deadlines for the next five months such as quizzes, tests, projects and essays.
“I can add [dates for] my classes, syllabi and Moodle assignments [to Sunrise],” Desiree says.
Additionally, Sunrise allows you create to-do list items and reminders, and opt in to push notifications. You can also sync multiple calendars from social media and other apps such as Google Calendar, iCloud, Evernote, Eventbrite, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Other helpful features include weather — morning, afternoon and evening reports — and integrated directions; when you add a location to an event, the app connects to Google Maps, Apple Maps or Waze and gives driving directions.
4. Use the Evernote app to take class notes.
An effective way to retain information from a class lecture is taking good notes.
“I can use the [Evernote] app in any class I need to take notes in,” says Lynda.
Lynda likes Evernote because you can record lectures, insert images, and edit and mark up those images. You can create multiple digital notebooks for each class and save Microsoft Office and PDF files. Additionally, you can easily share notes with others via text, email, social media or the app’s work chat feature.
5. Use the Prezi app to create a presentation.
Regardless of your major, you will most likely have to give a class presentation at some point before you graduate. Desiree uses Prezi to create presentations about strategic management for her Business 497B class.
Instead of slides, Prezi utilizes 3-D templates that allow you to zoom in and out on the screen and move from details to a bigger picture for a more dynamic presentation.
“The way Prezi allows [the user] to present information is a lot more fun as well as easier to understand,” Desiree says.
Since Prezi presentations are auto-saved, you can work with a group virtually and in real time to create a presentation. Although you can only create and edit a presentation on a desktop or tablet computer, you can sync the presentation on an Apple or Android phone to view and use to remotely control the presentation.
There are opportunities to purchase upgraded packages. But university students, faculty and staff that create a Prezi account with a CSUN email address receive free 500 megabytes and the ability to make your presentations private — two features not available for free users without a university email address.
Utilize the Reflection Guidebook for Students to navigate your academic success.
Psychology major Tai Finley felt out of place when she had to take remedial math and English classes in her freshman year.
“It was just stressful and made me question what I was even doing here,” Tai says.
Ever since high school, Tai has dreamed of graduating from college and entering a career in foster care. But the remedial classes shook her academic confidence.
Tai’s situation is not unusual. Low academic confidence is one of the biggest challenges that all students face.
The Reflection Guidebook for Students, a resource offered by University Counseling Services as part of its Experience Confidence and Enjoyment in Learning (ExCEL) program, teaches you self-reflection as a tool for shaping your college experience.
One thing the guidebook points out is that academic success is only partly achieved by intelligence. The greatest obstacles are actually environmental and psychological-social.
Oftentimes your peers fail to graduate due to external factors: family, financial or health problems; lack of college preparation and unwillingness to seek help; restrictive attitudes about learning; and low academic confidence.
The guidebook teaches you strategies for overcoming these challenges. Firstly, it directs you to a thought-provoking 28-minute YouTube video featuring Mark Stevens, a clinical psychologist and the director of University Counseling Services. Then it has you answer 11 questions.
In retrospect, Tai wishes she had this guidebook when she first started out.
“Self-reflection is the biggest thing that anyone has to learn in college because your mom and your dad are not there,” Tai says. “I think this [guidebook brings] to light your strong and weak characteristics.”
Despite her initial doubts, a clear and strong sense of purpose kept her motivated all these years. Now a senior, Tai is set to graduate soon. She and fellow Matador Christian Alvizuris share tips from the guidebook that help you think critically about your college experience and ways you can take charge of your academic success.
1. Identify your goals and how to accomplish them.
Most of us start college with the same purpose: to earn a degree. Having clear goals about what you want makes planning and overcoming challenges easier. It’s also okay to be flexible and set new goals. In fact, most of us change our majors more than once during college.
For example, Christian started out as an architecture major at San Diego-based Mesa Community College. But when the economy took a turn for the worse, he adjusted.
“The recession hit pretty bad,” he explains. “A lot of [architecture] firms that I really looked up to were closing down.”
Christian switched gears by exploring other interests. During the course of fulfilling some general education requirements, he fell in love with journalism and transferred to CSUN.
Now he hopes to own a public relations firm one day. The guidebook helped him come up with tips on how to stay motivated: he plans to keep a photo of his dream job close to where he studies, read a book related to his dream career once a month, and join a CSUN club.
2. Find your true academic worth and improve it.
We all arrive to college with varying levels of academic worth. Some of us are more confident to begin with; others have feelings of shame and embarrassment.
Sometimes someone telling you that you aren’t good at something can cause you to have low academic worth. For instance, failing a statistics class was a blow to Tai’s pride.
“It really made me feel worthless,” she says.
Instead of discouraging you, you can use these negative experiences as learning tools by acknowledging the areas you need to improve in and seek help for them. Tai’s failing grade inspired her to sign up for tutoring. As a result, she was able to pass the statistics class when she took it a second time.
3. Rediscover the joy of learning.
A negative attitude can inhibit academic performance. If going to class and learning feels like a chore, your brain actually retains less information. Both Christian and Tai noticed that they enjoy the social aspect of the classroom and learned best with group activities.
“For me, to make learning more enjoyable is to do it with other people and be hands on,” Tai says. “Before you know it, your three-hour class is over already.”
She recalls how one professor made her and her classmates move their chairs into a circle every class meeting. This different configuration changed the classroom dynamic to encourage group discussion about the subject.
Christian too shares the merits of a collaborative classroom experience.
“I like group work to gain extra feedback and opinions,” he says.
Most of the learning we do in college tends to take place on our own time. Learning shouldn’t stop in the classroom. For instance, create a study group outside the classroom to review before your midterm, final exam or essay deadline.
Whether you are an intrapersonal or interpersonal learner, you can use the guidebook to come up with doable ways to uplift your learning attitude and make learning fun.
Instead of physically going to the Delmar T. Oviatt Library the next time you have a research paper to write, visit its website.
The Oviatt Library is as much of a place to hang out as it is a place to study. The spacious and state-of-the-art Learning Commons features amenities such as comfortable seating, whiteboards, collaborative study tables that allow you to connect portable devices to a large-screen monitor and traditional private study rooms that you can book via the website.
However, did you know that many of the materials in the library’s physical collection can be digitally accessed? And that the library subscribes to a number of key academic publications and major domestic and international magazines and newspapers that you can search for and reference online?
And did you know the website has invaluable academic writing resources? For this reason, the Oviatt Library website is a go-to guide for fellow Matador Sarah Hernandez.
“I use the website when conducting research or citing my sources,” says the senior English major.
Since it may take some exploring before you can utilize all the benefits of the library website, Sarah highlights the three features that she most commonly uses: the Find Articles by Subject, Databases A-Z and Cite Your Sources.
1. Find Articles by Subject
Research papers are a staple for college students. At one point in your undergraduate career, you’ll probably be expected to write one. The first time you are assigned a paper, you may feel overwhelmed. However, if you don’t know where to begin, a good place to start is Find Articles by Subject.
When Sarah had to write a seven-page paper for her children’s literature class, she first went to the Find Articles by Subject feature, located the Search by Subject section and selected the Children’s Literature link. The link pulls up a list of academic databases that offer published materials related to the topic of children’s literature, even prioritizing them as Most Useful or Also Useful. The search provides contact information for a subject specialist from the Oviatt Library’s reference desk.
In addition to looking up source materials, you can also use Find Articles by Subject to brainstorm topics. If you are struggling to come up with a good thesis, Sarah recommends browsing the databases for ideas and bookmarking interesting articles, which you can use toward a paper outline.
2. Databases A-Z
If you already know your way around some academic resources, you can go straight to Databases A-Z, which provides an alphabetized list of all the databases the Oviatt Library subscribes to along with a short description of the articles types that can be found in each database. Databases A-Z can help you easily locate specific databases that you may have used before.
For instance, since Sarah often taps JSTOR for her research papers, she can quickly access it via Databases A-Z. However, she utilizes both Find Articles by Subject and Databases A-Z because the former allows her to discover new sources.
“Since I wanted to use something other than JSTOR, I found Literature Resource Center through Find Articles by Subject,” she says.
3. Cite Your Sources
“I use the Oviatt Library’s Cite Your Sources for every single research paper,” Sarah says.
The Oviatt Library’s Cite Your Sources provides formatting tools and guidelines for common academic styles such as Modern Language Association (MLA) and American Psychological Association (APA). This resource is important to Sarah because of the fact that CSUN has a strict anti-plagiarism policy, and the style guide ensures that she’ll never accidentally take credit for another person’s work.
You can use Cite Your Sources to create and organize your works cited or bibliography pages. There are also links to websites such as Easy Bib, which automatically generate citations for you, giving you one less thing to worry about while writing your research papers.
— Melaney Christy, English major, graduating spring 2014
Want to score that A+ grade? Here’s a wild idea: think like a teacher. Fellow Matadors point out how approaching your studies from an instructor’s viewpoint can make you a better student.
Upon entering college, many students struggle because they fall behind. Knowing how to catch up can keep you from getting buried.
Leila Benoun, Nina Kotelyan and Robert Ahdoot are graduate students. They have already gone through the gamut of undergraduate experiences. They are also instructors, so they have participated in the college classroom from the point of view of both student and teacher.
Leila, a linguistics master’s student with emphasis on English as a second language, works as a supplemental instructor — teaching her own classes, assisting professors and tutoring at CSUN’s Learning Resource Center. Teaching is one way she engages with her course work.
“It helps to explain what you are learning to others,” she says.
Leila, Nina and Robert are invested in the ways their peers respond to the curriculum, so they offer advice on how to achieve academic success with lessons from the instructor’s perspective.
“Teachers understand you’re responsible for your own success,” Leila says.
1. Take control of your own success.
As she points out, professors assign a workload with the expectation that students will apply themselves and succeed. Their goal is for students to learn and be able to produce results from what they have learned. Assignments are not so much a test of how well you follow directions but how well you adapt and are accountable for yourself. After all, teachers want you to run a marathon, not a sprint.
Leila’s advice: “Pace yourself. Don’t take on too much.”
For this reason, she discourages cramming. Trying to dump information into your brain all at once is unrealistic, she says, and it doesn’t give you room to learn and grow. Instead, she recommends putting knowledge at your command and making it work for you.
“It’s about constantly participating and staying engaged,” Leila says.
2. Find balance.
Contrary to what some might think, Leila explains, teachers want you to have a life outside the classroom. Balance prevents you from burning out before you reach the finish line. Teachers don’t want you to drop out of their classes due to stress. Therefore, she emphasizes work-life balance over any other habit.
“Organize your time,” she says. “Balance schoolwork and fun, and stay motivated.”
Nina, a master’s student in communication studies, teaches the class COMS 151: Introduction to Public Speaking.
She recommends using a calendar and setting up a schedule for work and play.
“For each day,” she says, “dedicate a certain number of hours to homework, meals and your job.”
And she recommends giving yourself a “me” day.
“During ‘me’ day, you’re allowed to do homework,” she says, “But only for two hours so you don’t feel like you’re falling behind. Then the rest of the time is for you to relax or to reflect.”
3. Confront your fears.
Like Nina, Robert is pursuing a master’s in communication studies. He used to be a high school teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District. One thing he observed over the years was how sometimes the mere anticipation of failure can stymie a student. Robert even gave a Tedx Talk about math anxiety as an obstacle to academic success.
“When you are experiencing fear,” he explains, “higher-level brain functioning shuts down. It’s a proven biological phenomenon.”
He recommends confronting the curriculum head on. Review and familiarize yourself with the topics that make you nervous. Look at the syllabus, do the readings and ask the professor what will be covered on the tests. Start your preparations early. Ask questions when the professor is first explaining the assignment, or email or visit the professor during office hours at least a few days to a week and a half before the due date.
Lastly, conquer your anxiety through practice. Robert recommends teaching the subject material, such as in a study group.
“When you teach someone else, it irons out any problems you have with your understanding of the material,” he says.
Practice and repetition allow you to grow more confident so that you don’t take your anxiety with you on the day of the final exam.
— Patrick Pagan, communications major, graduating spring 2014