Hello Bear Family!
Persistence is a major factor in the college experience. There are many challenges that college students encounter along their path to graduation, and I am no exception. Although I have become a proud Bear grad and representative of Missouri State University today, I had serious thoughts about transferring after my first semester. Now that it is halfway through the spring semester, I believe discussing persistence is an important conversation. I hope that by sharing my own story and how my family helped me will provide useful insight for helping your student persevere to graduation if they are struggling to see themselves in the campus community.
I arrived to Missouri State University in Fall 2012 as an out-of-state student from Overland Park, KS. While I did not want to be too far from home, I had a strong desire to be in a completely new environment going into college to meet new people and grow as a person. Thankfully, Missouri State was still affordable for our family and Springfield being 2.5 hours away was an excellent distance where I could easily travel home yet still have the full, independence college experience I desired. Because I had this great opportunity to be in a new community, I knew that I wanted to get involved on campus even though I was not very involved in high school. Luckily, I was living on the Fit & Well Living Learning Community (LLC) floor and I applied to join the Freddy House Hall Council, for which I was selected as their Residence Hall Association (RHA) Liaison for the 2012-13 academic year. These experiences got me plugged into two student organizations right away, connected me to many people, and got me involved in planning programs and events just in my first month on campus. In addition, I even joined some of my floormates on a competitive intramural sand volleyball team. While this does not sound like an unhappy situation whatsoever, the truth is that I felt out-of-place and unhappy for my whole first semester.
I felt like no matter what I did, I could not shake this strong feeling that I was not finding my place at Missouri State and I did not belong there. I had many people I interacted with and I was involved in multiple things on campus, so why was I feeling this way? I did not have the language for this feeling at the time, but I have learned that what I experienced is called “imposter syndrome.” Imposter syndrome is a well-documented phenomenon that refers to feelings of inadequacy, incompetency, and inability to accept one’s success despite evidence to the contrary. From the outside, it sounds like I had no reason to not feel connected to Missouri State. However, my imposter syndrome was telling me that I did not fit in and these involvement experiences would not make me happy in the long-run so I would be better off going somewhere else. Compounding this feeling was that I did not have any confident idea about what I wanted my major to be so I felt like I was going through the motions academically. Experiencing imposter syndrome at any point in life is hard (I have also felt imposter syndrome as a graduate student), and this was even more difficult to deal with as a first-semester student. Today, I want to share advice that my family gave that helped me persist through my imposter syndrome and what helped change my mind to stay at Missouri State. My experience with imposter syndrome is not unique, so I hope that my advice today can help you support your student if they ever encounter this feeling.
1) Hear them out and talk them through what is causing their feelings.
Around November 2012, my imposter syndrome reached a boiling point. I still remember having hours-long conversations with my stepdad about how I was unhappy at Missouri State and wanted to leave after the semester was over. I told him all the reasons why MSU was not my place and that I needed to transfer so I could solve my unhappiness. During these conversations, he provided a listening ear and asked me challenging (and needed) questions to really help me think through the potential consequences of this initial decision. I also received the most importance advice from him that has stuck with me to this day: “College is what you make of it.” Using this advice, he challenged me to keep trying to make the most out of my first year at Missouri State. He said that if I still felt the same way by May, we then could have serious talks about potentially transferring from MSU. As you can imagine, I did not fully appreciate this advice at the time as an 18-year-old. However, upon reflection these were some of the most important conversations of my life.
2) Encourage your student to step out of their comfort zone and keep their eyes and ears open.
This advice is common, but I cannot emphasize enough how true this is. My family reminded me that I had to push myself to make the most of my college experience. As a more introverted person, I felt this was a pretty daunting task to ask of me. I was already feeling so much discomfort within my environment and I was even more intimidated at the thought of forcing myself to make connections and step outside of my box. However, I needed to hear this from my family because I had not yet admitted to myself that I have a great deal of control over whether I would be happy with my choice of college. I had the completely unrealistic expectation that I did not need to put in much effort to be happy during my college experience and when things were not going the way I hoped, I misattributed my feelings towards the idea that I did not belong here. I wanted to make my family proud and take their advice to heart, so I agreed to their challenge of one more semester at MSU. Another piece of advice my family gave me at this time was to keep my eyes and ears open because I would never know what opportunities would arise and how my life could change for the better. When I returned to campus for the following spring semester, I went in with a mission to maximize the semester, but I still had doubts that anything would change. Turns out that these family conversations were foreshadowing to how my life would completely change over the next few months.
There were three big chances I took my second semester to meet this challenge from my family. First, I asked out my crush Amanda. Amanda and I met in RHA my first semester and were acquaintances, but I did not have any confidence at the time and I thought it would not be worth it if I was having thoughts about transferring. However, I mustered up every ounce of courage I had and asked her out over Facebook after talking all evening after the RHA meeting. Luckily, she accepted and we went out on our first date that following Friday afternoon. Second, I applied to be an RA in early February as a way to help my family financially and have more involved leadership position on campus. Third, I applied to be the Student Government Association (SGA) representative for RHA to get involved in different capacities on campus. As I put in all this effort, my imposter syndrome was still that voice in my head telling me that nothing would work out because I was not good enough and I still would be unsuccessful in finding my place at MSU. Here were the outcomes of each of these chances:
- 6 years later, Amanda and I are still together and we have been engaged since August. As we have grown together since that first date, she is my dearest love and one of the most important and impactful people in my life.
- Amanda also applied to be an RA and we were both selected for the position for Blair-Shannon House.
- The Residence Hall Association General Assembly selected me as their Student Government Association representative and I became more involved as a Senator in SGA. The April of this semester, I was encouraged to apply for an SGA Cabinet position (the organization’s executive Board). I did not want to apply at first because I thought I was not qualified nor had the skills to do well on that level, but I came around to doing it soon after as another chance to take. I was selected as the Director of Sustainability for the 2013-2104 school year a few weeks later. I went on to serve on SGA Cabinet for three consecutive years and it turned into the most impactful involvement experience of my undergraduate career and where I truly found my place and confidence here at MSU.
I say all of this to emphasize how vital it is for your student to invest in their own college experience. From academics to job and involvement opportunities, the more they put into their college experience, the more benefits they can receive. Imposter syndrome can be overwhelming and it is very easy to believe that nothing can or will change. However, my family taught me that experience is one of the best teachers and putting yourself out there and investing your best are so important in these formative years of college.
3) Know our campus resources and emphasize that it is ok to ask for help.
As I mentioned previously, going through imposter syndrome and other challenged during college are tough and highly-stressful experiences. I bottled up my struggles until the semester was early over when my stress levels were already at their peak. If I had known the resources available on campus and utilized them, I would have had a much different experience. If your student is encountering imposter syndrome or other challenges that test their persistence during their Missouri State experience, here are some great resources to which you can refer your student:
- Counseling Center: Located on the third floor of Magers Health and Wellness Center, our Counseling Center is a tremendous resource for your student to access professional, certified counselors on campus. Students get 8 free sessions per semester, which equates to 1 session every other week. I have used the Counseling Center several times throughout my time here and I greatly regret not using this excellent resource my first semester. I have received the help I needed during every appointment I have had there and I am so fortunate for the staff. Students can make an appointment by calling 417-836-5116. Our Counseling Center also has an Emergency/Crisis Service in cases of students needing immediate support and help. Talking through these challenges with a professional has been an incredibly important aspect of my own persistence, and I hope that you will encourage the same for your student as well.
- Office of Student Engagement (OSE): If you student is struggling to find their place on campus or deciding what to get involved in, the Office of Student Engagement is out hub for campus involvement opportunities. Their website has a multitude of organization categories for your student to explore: https://www.missouristate.edu/studentengagement/. The OSE also manages CampusLINK, our online database for our 350+ student organizations located on the bottom-left corner of your student’s MyMissouriState Home Page. If your student has any questions about getting involved, have them visit PSU 101 or call the office at 417-836-4386.
- Center for Community Engagement (CCE): If your student has interest in community service and volunteering, the Center for Community Engagement is where your student can get connected to opportunities across Springfield, the surrounding communities, and even across the country. Located in PSU 131, the CCE provides many opportunities for your student to find their place in our communities and expand their experiences. Your student can visit their website at https://www.missouristate.edu/cce/ to see all the ways they can engage locally and nationally.
- Hall Staff: If your student lives on-campus, their Resident Assistant (RA), Assistant Hall Director, and Hall Directors are all excellent people to connect with because they are there to enhance their campus living experience and help them be successful. As a former RA myself, I have seen first-hand how Hall Staff can help students find their place and gain the confidence they need. I acknowledge how intimidating it may be for your student to contact or go to an office if they are struggling. Since your student has a closer connection to these individuals in their residence hall, they may be more approachable and comfortable for your student to open up with as a great first step to seek guidance. If they do not already know their Hall Staff members, I highly encourage them to establish those connections if they ever need additional support on campus. Like the Counseling Center, I wish I had consulted my Hall Staff members about what was going on in my life because I had these very supportive people around me.
Persistence is a vital aspect of the college experience. Your student will inevitably face different challenges on their journey to their degree and they may encounter imposter syndrome at least once as they grow and develop. I hope that sharing my story has given some useful tips about how you can help your student overcome their challenges and become their best selves.
Thanks for reading and Go Bears!