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    The College Transition

    people talking
    Seidel meets with Cowboy Coaches and staff in the Student Success and Graduation Hub, located in Old Main.

    It’s a big leap from high school to university, and even top students can find the transition difficult.

    By Micaela Myers

    I was a straight-A student in high school and community college. When I transferred to university, I assumed I would be a straight-A student there too. English was my strongest subject and my major. When my English teacher handed back my first essay, I expected to see an A at the top. Instead, there was a big, fat C — the first C of my life. I couldn’t believe it. Had I been an impostor that entire time?

    Luckily, my professors helped me understand their expectations and how to meet them. I learned to work harder, study harder and succeed in university. But it was not the same as high school or community college. It required a different level of rigor and self-discipline.

    It turns out my story is not unique. Top students all over the country struggle with one or more domains — from academics to mental health — as they make the transition from high school to college. Even international leaders such as University of Wyoming alumnus and former Vice President Dick Cheney struggled in the transition from high school to college.

    To let you know that you are not alone and that you can overcome any challenges you meet, UW President Ed Seidel and Provost and Executive Vice President Kevin Carman share their stories of transition.

    UW President Ed Seidel

    Seidel grew up in Connecticut watching “Star Trek” and every NASA launch. He knew he wanted to study math and physics. In high school, he did well without putting in much effort.

    His mother, who died when he was 12, had been the first in her family to go to college. She had attended the College of William and Mary, so Seidel decided to apply there.

    “As a freshman at William and Mary, I was constantly getting in trouble and pulling college pranks,” he says, adding that he did his fair share of partying as well. “It finally ended in my being suspended for disciplinary reasons. When I came back the second year, I didn’t get in as much trouble, but I still couldn’t bring myself to do the work that was needed. I ended up failing out after two years. I was really depressed about it, thinking, ‘Am I ever going to amount to anything?’”

    For a while, he drifted, trying to find his next steps in life. He traveled to Europe, learned French and worked in Switzerland for a time. “When I was in Switzerland, I got a letter from the associate dean of students,” he says. “She wrote me this charming letter saying ‘We miss you here, and we believe in you. We want you to come back.’ That really spoke to me.”

    This type of personal touch is something many students at UW also find appealing. Here, they are not just a number and can receive individualized help.

    Seidel returned to William and Mary. This time, he applied to live at the French house. There, he found a group of students who were academically disciplined and helped him get on the right track.

    “I knew I had to do more and have enough discipline to redeem myself,” he says. “I found a letter I had written to my father mid-semester. It said, ‘I’m not so sure I’m really able to do this.’ But I did.”

    Not only did he succeed at William and Mary, but he also went on to earn two master’s degrees — one at the University of Pennsylvania and one from Yale — followed by a Ph.D. in relative astrophysics from Yale. After graduate school, he entered academia — first as a professor and then in director and vice president roles — before coming to UW as the 28th president.

    “I worked at three Pizza Huts. I failed out. I had to really climb back,” Seidel says of his undergraduate journey. “I knew I needed people to help me. That’s the story I like to tell students. We all go through our struggles, no matter what our talents and personalities are. We need to be able to reach out, and we need people to reach out to. I tell them UW has people unlike any other place I know. That’s really true.”

    group of people posing outside
    Provost Kevin Carman meets with students on Prexy’s Pasture. (Photo by Nycole Courtney)

    UW Provost Kevin Carman

    As a child growing up in Kansas, Carman was fascinated with the ocean. He would walk along the railroad tracks and find sandstone fossils. In the evening, he’d grab some popcorn and watch the famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. He decided he wanted to be a marine biologist.

    But the summer before his senior year in high school, his mother and stepfather divorced. With the family turmoil, he lost focus. After a rocky senior year, he registered at nearby Fort Hays State University. But he never applied for financial aid or scholarships and instead got a job working at a bar until 2 a.m. He then had to be at a 7:30 a.m. precalculus class. It was a recipe for disaster, and he ended up dropping out.

    “I had some maturity problems and wasn’t disciplined,” Carman says. “I suffered from the syndrome that many reasonably bright people have, in that I’d never really had to work in high school. Making As wasn’t a problem. Very rarely did I do homework. I think I was a little arrogant thinking I could stroll in and be the smartest guy in the class like high school. I wasn’t. It was a lack of awareness for what the expectations are, a lack of maturity and beer drinking.”

    After dropping out, he went to work in the oil fields and on rigs. But after some time, Carman realized he wanted to try college again and moved to Texas near his stepfather’s family, hoping to become a state resident. But when he began college there, he was informed he did not qualify for in-state tuition and again dropped out. Carman returned to Kansas. His girlfriend’s father was on the board at McPherson College and convinced him to speak with its financial aid adviser.

    “That’s when things started to get better,” Carman says. “I had never talked to anyone in financial aid during my previous two attempts. I thought you had to do it on your own. That was the western Kansas way. She showed me that I qualified for some scholarships,

    that a little loan was not a bad thing and that I could do work study. She laid out a path to show me how I could do it.”

    It’s the individualized attention he wants students at UW to also feel.

    older snapshot of people in caps and gowns
    Carman and friends at their college graduation. (Courtesy photo)

    Carman thought that perhaps this time around he would be a history major and go to law school — studies show that over 50 percent of undergraduates change their majors. After an internship, he realized practicing law was not for him and switched his major to biology. Bachelor’s degree in hand, he applied to graduate school in marine biology, heading to Florida State University. Even in graduate school, Carman sometimes struggled with imposter syndrome, but encouraging professors helped him make it through. After earning his master’s degree and Ph.D. in biological oceanography, he went to work as a professor and eventually entered leadership positions at top universities.

    His advice to UW students is to be proactive and take advantage of the resources that are available to you here. That’s why he helped champion the Saddle Up program for incoming students.

    “There are people here who want to help — from academic advisers to faculty and administrators,” Carman says. “One key is to connect with your professors. Go see them during office hours early in the semester. They can be a tremendous asset to you and can help you understand how to prepare for their class.”

    He also encourages students to be active on campus. Students who are involved get more out of college and persist at a higher rate. At McPherson, Carman was active in theater, the golf team, intramural sports and student government, and he worked as a teaching assistant.

    “All of those things made my experience so much richer and also made me feel connected to the college and the people,” he says. “A lot of students don’t fully appreciate the rich tapestry of experiences we offer. Come and embrace the opportunities. Get involved with programs and activities outside the classroom. You’ll meet people and make connections. It will really enrich your experience.”

    Contact Us

    Institutional Communications
    Bureau of Mines Building, Room 137
    Laramie, WY 82071
    Phone: (307) 766-2929

    Find us on Facebook (Link opens a new window) Find us on Twitter (Link opens a new window)