Tips to succeed

Survival and success at Portland State University – by far themost exciting and intellectually challenging school in the state -requires more than a cacophonous Freshman Orientation. It requiresthe realization that you inhabit an invigorating, urban campus andthe ability and willingness to adapt to the unique challenges andopportunities it presents.

In light of this, I queried four graduates about what they wishthey had been told as freshmen and have summarized their thoughtsbelow.

A tale of two books
You can and must strategize your textbook purchases. It is onething for 1st District Representative David Wu (D) to point hisfinger at the bookstore and lament why textbooks are so highlypriced (as he did this last year to much student acclaim), but itis still another for prices to remain so ridiculously high. Despitethe best efforts of the foreign language department, among severalother departments, the prices of texts are still not coming down toreasonable levels (no matter how well-intentioned the congressmanis).

To add insult to injury, ASPSU has not engineered, nor evenundertaken, a successful book exchange since 1999. So, do not counton anything remotely organized or helpful.

Instead, as soon as you know what classes you will be taking inthe upcoming quarter, contact the department for a syllabus. If thedepartment does not have it, contact the professor immediately andplead with them to place copies in the department. This will allowyou advance time to order the books from alternate booksellers andfrom online wholesalers and retailers., andPowell’s have consistently lower prices, even when accounting forshipping charges (normally $2.49 a book, or less). While this doestake some planning and organization, the savings can be more thanrent. Seriously.

Your professor is in
All four graduates I spoke with agreed that PSU professors aretruly an exceptional bunch. Maybe they are just happy to work andlive in Portland; a lovely climate, even if the salaries arestunningly low. Regardless, the office hours are real. Professorshave told me time and time again about how they sit and wait intheir airless offices for students to appear. And they wait. Theformer students want you to know that the professors at PSU reallydo believe in the scholarship of teaching. Don’t wait until youhave a “problem” with your quiz to chat it up; let your professorknow what you are thinking. They really are interested, andbesides, there are very few schools where professors actually teachlower-level classes. Check the syllabus for office hours, send anemail to confirm and do not be intimidated. Take advantage of thisunique opportunity, it will add another enlightening dimension toyour education. That is the point of this whole education thing,right?

You will win a scholarship
You will, you just have to apply. The four graduates I spoke withall had diverse, incongruous educational, economic andextracurricular backgrounds. All, at various points in their PSUcareers, were awarded scholarships. Sheepishly, two of thegraduates admitted that the scholarships they won were awarded outof a very small applicant pool. Moral of the story: apply and applyoften.

After working in a department on campus, I also learned thatcompetition for departmental and other scholarships at PSU isnotoriously thin. In addition, there are several offices andorganizations on campus that directly work with students who areseeking funding: The Center for Academic Excellence, the McNairScholars Program in the Office of Academic Affairs and a universityliaison for post-graduate scholarships are all excellent sources ofinformation and guidance. Note that scholarships and otherdistinctions usually require one, two or more academic references(see above).

There are a few more things that the graduates wanted you toknow, but they all involved epithets, tuition and the statelegislature. I will leave this out, but suffice to say the more youlove PSU the more the dizzying escalation of tuition breaks yourheart. However, if there is one thing that PSU does have, it is aheart. It might be oddly palpitating, twitching in strangedirections and bleeding from odd corners on campus, but it isthere. To be discovered, it requires an opinionated, dynamic,involved and slightly perturbed student. The former proud graduatesof PSU hope that this is you. Good luck, though if you follow theiradvice, you may not need it.