From In-Person to Online Learning

This semester appeared full of endless possibilities and new opportunities. Being a graduate student in my last semester, and a TA in Industrial Design, my life got busy as expected. Each day I would work on my thesis, teach sketching classes for products, and have meetings with my advisor, my committee, and the instructor in charge of the courses that I am teaching.

I managed my time well and kept everything under control in both my professional and personal life. In each of my classes, my students received assignments that helped them either learn or reinforce their drawing skills. I made sure there was a safe environment to create and share ideas between classmates and to get feedback on their creations and how to make them better. I knew the change to online classes was going to be hard. No one had any experience with online teaching, and less in my department of Arts & Design. The entire Spring Break was used by all of the staff and faculty to determine the best way of teaching online and the platforms to use, whereby we could most effectively reach the students.

The first two weeks of online classes were easy, for the most part, because they relied upon the instruction given inside the physical classroom and face-to-face, and that feeling of being “in class” was still there. But the way of creating and sharing content changed with the switch to online instruction. I found it necessary to develop detailed digital presentations to explain assignments and new subjects, using platforms that I have never used before and technology that is not always reliable. As a designer, I am creative, so I developed step-by-step videos and presentations for my students to help them understand the activities and better process the material, which they could revisit if they didn’t understand something. It has been challenging to use Purdue’s WebEx platform to share sketch ideas with the students, but it has helped maintain a beneficial interaction between classmates. And, of course, I took the additional step of making myself readily available and responsive to their emails, in the hope that the dependence on technology this semester will not interfere with the primary goal, which is making sure the students acquire the knowledge and skills they are taught.

It is nice to see that most of my students have made the transition in their minds (and work) from a “vacation” at home, to real distance learning. They have been working hard and applying themselves to their work, and that makes it worth all the effort. These times are difficult for all of us, but there are many good things to learn from this experience as well. This experience forced me to take an even more in-depth view from my students’ perspectives so I could be as flexible as they needed while they adapted to these changes that seemed so overwhelming. It has pushed me to do things that I never saw myself doing before and has helped me become a better teacher as a result. It takes heat and pressure to create a diamond, and I think we are all becoming gems.

Vina Lacerna’s final project for Class AD146, a product design and storyboard.
Janna Johns’ final project for Class AD146, a product design and storyboard.

International Center in West Lafayette.

International Center: Place to Meet Friends and Learn Languages

Whether you are working on your English, learning a brand new language or just looking to make friendships with people from other countries, you should definitely check out the International Center (IC) @Purdue, conveniently located on the Purdue Campus, 523 Russell Street. Cozily hiding behind green trees, it offers a variety of classes and activities for all Purdue students and for those who are interested in other cultures. 

If you are new to Purdue and would like some English practice with friendly people and a leisurely discussion you would surely like to join one of four conversation groups and a causal atmosphere over coffee. People with any level of English will feel welcome! There are also options to attend English as a Second Language courses which run all year round. 

I really liked attending the Tuesday morning Conversations over Coffee where we made cute stuffed dolls and cards, ate cookies and even cooked meals. The IC has a spacious kitchen which allows to manage food preparation for a few dozen people. Every month you can enjoy a Global Cafe, presentation featuring some country and a chance to sample its traditional food. Also there are regular dinners for special occasions: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Summer Supper series around 4th of July. You can be exposed to all sorts of traditional cuisine without having to leave campus.

After filling dinners and suppers, let’s get back to language classes! Should you want to learn a new language or practice other languages besides English, you can do that, too, since IC offers classes in Spanish, French, Chinese, to name a few. The list of offered classes is different each semester depending on the needs of the community. If your schedule is like mine and does not allow you to commit to a full course, you can attend a conversation group and learn at your own pace. Currently, there are French, Spanish and Japanese Conversations. I have been lucky to make friends at the French conversation group. My French is far from perfect and there are not too many chances to practice it in West Lafayette with native speakers, so having a place to come every Friday just to immerse yourself into French conversation is extremely helpful.

Another cool thing you can do at the IC is volunteering to teach your mother tongue to a group. I have taught Russian for four semesters and have found it a very rewarding experience. You only need to commit for one hour a week but the satisfaction you get from watching your students progress learning about your culture and language is tremendous. 

I cannot complete this post without mentioning the IC spotlight event of the year, Global Fest. It is a huge all-day-long fair with dozens of booths representing various countries where you can sample traditional food while listening to the live-music and shopping for souvenirs. Naturally, the little house behind the trees cannot accommodate all those tables so it is held in the open air of downtown West Lafayette. It’s a great way to make your weekend both fun and educational. All the profit is donated to the International Center to enable them to run another series of interesting free events for the community. 

The writer is a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science at Purdue University.

Learn more about other cultural centers and graduate student opportunities at Purdue: https://www.purdue.edu/gradschool/

Rock Climbing Image.

Want to Start a New Sport? Climb with Us!

One of Purdue’s greatest facilities is Cordova Recreational Sports Center (CoRec), where students and faculty engage in various types of sports activities. It was renovated in 2012 and is now recognized as one of the best college recreation centers in the US (ranked 12th according to the website I came across: https://www.collegeconsensus.com/rankings/best-college-rec-centers/). It’s huge, and you never run out of things to do. One of the best things to do in CoRec is climbing as there are a big bouldering wall and top rope wall where you can climb for free (free entrance to CoRec as a student and free rental climbing shoes and gears) and make a lot of friends. If you’re looking for a new sport to start, I hope this blog can guide you to choose climbing.

Personally, I have been a relatively athletic kid, and I was in the track-and-field club for six years during junior and senior high school. But the training was too hard, and I didn’t find enough interest in it to continue after graduation. I would also enjoy seasonal sports, thanks to the rich nature in Japan, like surfing, skiing, and snowboarding. But I never had a sport that I engaged on a daily basis.

A year after I came to Purdue, my friend took me to the bouldering wall in CoRec. It didn’t take me weeks to fall in love with climbing. It’s like solving a puzzle. You have to try so many movements to find the correct one while trying to be as energy-efficient as possible. If you were a type of student who enjoyed solving math problems in high school like me, you’ll love bouldering too. Ever since I started climbing, I have been climbing three times a week, without missing any sessions unless I’m sick.

Th bouldering wall at the CoRec.

Climbing is a hot sport. The climbing population is increasing worldwide, and new gyms are opening everywhere. It’s going to be in the Olympics this year (2020) for the first time, and we climbers are all so excited about it. In most cases, indoor climbing has three components: bouldering, top rope, and lead climbing. Bouldering is on a relatively low wall, and thus you don’t have to use a rope. Top rope and lead climbing are on a tall wall where you have to use a rope. The difference between top rope and lead climbing is how you, as a climber, are belayed through rope. Lead climbing involves more risky and tricky belaying technique, but more advanced than top tope. In general, bouldering requires more technical and dynamic movements (like a math problem, and thus I enjoy bouldering more than rope climbing), and rope climbing requires endurance (anaerobic vs. aerobic).

Let me give you interesting info here (from IFSC website):

National team ranking for bouldering and lead climbing 2019

  1. Japan, Japan (bouldering, lead)
  2. Slovenia, Slovenia
  3. France, South Korea
  4. Austria, USA
  5. Germany, Austria

Yes, I’m trying to show you how awesome Japan is for climbing, but also, some of you may be thinking “but I’ve watched Alex Honnold’s Free Solo, and I think there are many strong American climbers too”. Yes, that is true. That’s where outdoor climbing comes in. Places like the US, Europe (like Spain), and South America, are where many people climb rocks outdoors because of their beautiful nature (availability of “climbable” rocks). Therefore, there are so many strong famous rock climbers in the US, but not many of them participate in international climbing competitions, which is all about indoor climbing. In countries like Japan, meanwhile, there are not as many places to climb outside (because of nature, but sometimes also because of inaccessibility to rocks), and indoor climbing is more popular.

If you think you’re more of an outdoor person, there is a famous rock climbing spot in Kentucky called Red River Gorge. It’s about 5 hours driving from Purdue, and they often have international visitors too. It’s so much fun to make a weekend trip out there with climbing friends. In any case, if you want to start indoor climbing or outdoor climbing, I will always be happy to show you, or just talk to random people at the CoRec wall. The climbing community is full of nice people, and they are always happy to welcome new climbers.

The writer is a Ph.D. candidate in Forestry at Purdue University.

Learn more about other graduate student organizations at Purdue here: https://www.purdue.edu/gradschool/student/organizations/index.html

Women in Engineering Department - Graduate Women in Engineering Network Leadership Team.

Funding – Where to Search for the Money

I believe, for most of the students who are looking for a graduate school, funding is one of the main concerns. At least it was my biggest fear. How am I going to pay for everything? I asked this question to myself a million times. Today after I got my master’s here at Purdue, and I am working towards my Ph.D. degree, I think I know a few things that could help other students like me.

  1. Start looking for funding inside your own country before you move to the USA. Since I arrived at Purdue, I have learned about the enormous list of countries that offer scholarships to their citizens. Check online and ask inside the universities. I never heard about those scholarships before I got mine, but if you search, you will find some help!
  2. Check other options. If the government of your country does not offer any scholarships, look for programs that help different countries. The first name that comes on top of my head is the Fulbright, but there are many others. Check all the possibilities! You truly need to spend some days in front of the computer searching for everything.
  3. Talk to your future professor. Professors here in the USA have the freedom to choose the student who will receive some type of funding, like the RA – Research Assistant or TA – Teacher Assistant. So, before you select your professor, check if he or she has any available funding.
  4. Next step, check your own department. If your professor does not have any funding available, it is not the end of the world. Sometimes the department itself is looking for graduate students to hire for TA or even GA – Graduate Assistant positions. Those GA positions can be inside the department office itself, like to help with statistics of the students and things like that.
  5. Look in other departments. For example,if you are an engineering student and the engineering department is not hiring anyone, for now, do not give up. Think about your own qualities and check where someone may need your help. The math department usually hires engineering students as well. If you speak another language, the language department may be looking to hire more TA´s.
  6. Check the Purdue jobs website. Purdue is incredibly organized. And the university has a website where you can look for positions available, including GA positions. I found my GA position on this website!  https://www.purdue.edu/studentemployment/site/
  7. Be open minded. Sometimes you can find great opportunities in different and unexpected departments. Did you know that the Women in Engineering is an official department and hires graduate students? The University Residences also hire GA´s for many different programs.

Do not give up on the first no! Keep searching. The difference between success and failure sometimes is just another try!

GA for University Residences.
My boss, my students, and me; working as GA for University Residences, supervising the University Residences Multicultural Connections club.

The writer is a Ph.D. Candidate in Civil Engineering at Purdue University.

Learn more about funding and other resources for graduate school here: https://www.purdue.edu/gradschool/fellowship/funding-resources-for-students/index.html

Students at Summer 2019 Commencement

Do You Want to “Survive” Graduate School?

Each year, many students across the world either join or apply for graduate school. But as we might have heard, graduate school can be stressful and the amount of demand it comes with can be inundating. As a Ph.D. Candidate myself, I have experienced some of the challenges of being in graduate school, and I am glad to share tips that can help current and/or prospective graduate students be successful.

It is okay not to be okay. Due to the pressure to do more in less time, and having little leisure time, it is common for students to experience burnout. When this happens, know that you are not alone and that you are not the only one facing such kind of pressure. Most universities in the US have health centers that handle mental health issues. Thus, it is important to accept how you feel and take steps to seek help. This might entail checking for wellness resources at your institution, sharing your concerns with professionals dealing with mental illnesses, or just knowing how to prioritize tasks so as to avoid being overloaded.

Avoid unnecessary comparison with others. As a graduate student, there are times when I have been tempted to compare my success with that of other people. But at the end of the day, I realized that we all have different aspirations and goals in life. So, instead of constantly comparing myself with others, I found it more fulfilling to measure my progress against my past and present achievements. As you start your degree, set your own goals and work towards achieving them!

Manage your time well: In graduate school each minute counts! Plan ahead for all the assignments and tasks and make sure you spend your time well. Do not wait till the last minute to do all your assignments. Instead, break assignments into smaller parts then work on these parts at a time. Each little progress will amount to one giant leap in the end!

Remain on schedule: One of the ways of ensuring you graduate on time is discussing all the milestones you need to accomplish with your graduate advisor. For instance, know how many courses you should take each semester, know if you will be required to write a thesis or take the non-thesis track, and know the requirements of each track. Having regular meetings with my advisor is also another way that has helped me to constantly review my progress and adjust accordingly to suit various situations.

Stay engaged: There are many ways in which you can remain active on campus. Find a club to join, or even the gym for some regular exercises. Having volunteered as a Global Ambassador for the past 2 years, I have seen the value of volunteering as I have been able to build a network of friendships that have always come in handy. For me, staying engaged has been a good way of breaking from the rigorous academic schedule, and taking time to have fun! Remember graduate school will be as interesting or as boring as you choose. So, have fun and be happy!!

The writer is a Ph.D. Candidate in Health Communication at Purdue University.

Learn more about graduate programs offered at Purdue: https://www.purdue.edu/gradschool/