GERs and Gazing at Stars

Hi Blogosphere,

One of the best ways to avoid work and thoughts of impending graduation is reflecting on memories of my past four years here at the College of William and Mary. I’ve been doing a lot of that recently, and I wanted to share one of my most distinctive freshman experiences: Astronomy 101.

You probably already know that as a liberal-arts university, William and Mary requires students to take classes in a range of disciplines through the General Education Requirements (GERs). This includes math, science, history, performing arts, and more.   Almost anyone on campus will have some great GER stories–the class they were “forced” to take to fulfill a GER that totally changed their academics/life.  I know too many students who went from pre-med to Anthropology or Art History majors because of a course they took to fulfill a GER. And there are lots of classes to fulfill any particular requirement, (see the full list) so students have choice in how they fulfill each. Ballroom Dance, which I wrote about earlier, fulfilled my performing arts GER. No doubt, taking GER courses has enriched my college experience, and I appreciate them for that, but GERs also challenge you to learn outside your academic comfort zone, and that is its own kind of experience.

For my college career, Astronomy 101 was “that” GER. The one in which I had no idea what I was doing walking in the first day (it didn’t help that I took it first semester freshman year).  Astronomy was a large intro level lecture course in Small Hall (That’s the one with the second largest electro-magnet on the East Coast inside. And no, I’ve never played with it).  While the professor was a solid lecturer and having lab with a TA once a week helped, I struggled with the subject matter and spent many evenings staring in frustration at my textbook.

I realized it was time to be brave and go to office hours, but on that particular day my professor decided to be extra creative, and I wrote this in my journal: “Friday morning with only one class. prof. sprayed us with a fire extinguisher–not bad, it allowed me to come up with an excuse to avoid office hours–why ruin a good astronomy experience.”

I finally made it to office hours the next week, however, and recorded, “Went to see my astro professor about a homework problem/my frustration towards astronomy in general.  He thought I was actually doing well. AND he said he was IMPRESSED by my ability to do one of the homework problems. Impressed people, by my astro skills–amazing.”

That was my first office-hours visit of college, and in that experience I learned how beneficial office-hours can be.  I quickly discovered that professors are such a great resource out of class as well, and I now challenge myself to visit each of my professors at least once a semester, even if I don’t need help in the class. Figuring out how to get the support you need is just one of those things that college helps you figure out.  When I realized that I had so many places for support– my professors, my freshmen advisor, my friends, and others–it became much easier to deal with the challenges of Astronomy and college in general. No, I didn’t become an Astronomy genius, and having fulfilled my science GER I have avoided other science classes, but still the GER taught me not just about Astronomy but also about the incredible academic support at William and Mary.

Last journal quote of this post, I promise, but I wrote this right before finals: “Now I will go spend some time with Astronomy book because we are going to get married and have little protostarastrobookhuman babies.” I thought I was such a witty freshman.

I hope you take a moment this evening to look up at the stars and know that if you can already identify the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, or Orion, or know to turn to someone next you and have them point it out, then you are already on track for a successful college experience.


“I’m No Galileo”

P.S.  This made me chuckle: “I once stayed up all night wondering where the sun went to at night…, – ….then it dawned on me.”

Categories: Academics, Student Blogs

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