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FALL, 2006
Volume 50,
Number 1


Making the grade

Digging history


The University of Iowa
Making the grade: Students active outside the classroom  do better inside the classroom

Student serving someone in a cafeterial line.
Being involved in cocurricular activities—such as taking on student employment, volunteering with peers, or playing intramural sports—is a great way for students to meet new people and have fun but also a way to learn valuable skills like teamwork and time management.

If your son can’t take your call because he’s at a play rehearsal, or if your daughter’s worn out from an intramural soccer game, fear not, says Elizabeth Whitt, a professor in the UI College of Education and an expert in student academic affairs.

“Our studies have found that students who get involved in educationally enriching experiences outside of the classroom get better grades and report learning more than students who don’t,” says Whitt,  coauthor of Student Success in College: Creating Conditions That Matter.

Two women playing soccer.Cocurricular activities, she adds, teach time  management, teamwork, self-reliance, and other skills that can ease the transition from high school to college.

There is no shortage of these kinds of opportunities at The University of Iowa. If your student needs some advice, there are plenty of actions you might suggest.

Join a club.

There are more than 400 student organizations at  Iowa, ranging from the Cycling Club to the Black Student Union to the Biology Undergraduate Society. Clubs allow students to meet others with similar  interests, and can provide opportunities to learn  leadership skills. Find a list of UI student groups at

Get a job.

The University employs thousands of students in jobs across campus, from food service to technical research. The Jobnet database at has more details.

Just don’t work too many hours, says Pat Folsom, director of the Academic Advising Center and assistant provost for enrollment services. “There’s evidence that students who work on campus for 12 hours a week actually do better because it helps them structure their time and improve their time-management skills,” she says, citing research reported by the UI Office of Student Financial Aid.

Students painting a room wall.Volunteer.

The UI Civic Engagement Program works with  community organizations and UI faculty members  to create volunteer opportunities for students that will expand on concepts being taught in class. Check out the options at

Get to know professors and advisors.

All UI professors have office hours, and students are encouraged to use them. Professors and academic  advisors can be excellent resources during a career search, says Beth Westlake, a senior from Mt. Prospect, Ill., studying industrial engineering.

“Getting to know your professors will not only make class more interesting, but it also helps with networking, and may land you unique opportunities,” she says.

Take a college transition course.

The University recognizes that the transition to college is significant and offers specialized courses to help new students. The College Transition, a course open to all  first-year students, focuses on helpful campus resources and tips for succeeding at Iowa. Another course, College Success Seminar, is for students who receive  unsatisfactory grades their first semester.

“The number one barrier to students making the transition from high school to college successfully is not being prepared to figure out how to be a successful college student,” Whitt says. “That means learning how to be in charge of their own schedule and still get their schoolwork done, and being prepared to balance freedom and responsibility. For some students, it takes some time to adjust.”

UI sophomore Ellen Lewis found out about the College Success Seminar the hard way. Despite being an excellent student in high school, she ended up on academic probation. With the intervention of an academic advisor and College Success Seminar, she revived her grade-point average—and her future as a college student.

“The class was basically like therapy,” recalls Lewis, who had begun skipping her physics lectures because no one was taking roll and quit doing her algebra homework because it didn’t have to be turned in. “You would have to write papers on the goals you want to set for yourself. I loved it. I realized that ‘Hey, if I want to stay here, I’ve got to work. I can have fun, but the work comes first.’ ”

Additional opportunities for first-year students are listed on the Admissions web site at

Visit the University’s career center.

Employees at Pomerantz Career Center provide a variety of programs to help students at every step of the job-search process, from determining career goals to preparing résumés and practicing interview skills.

“Knowing the staff and having them know you and your career goals personally may give you an edge  when positions become open,” Westlake says.

Ask for help.

UI students can get help with all sorts of things—from roommate problems to tutoring—through math,  science, and writing labs and offices like University Counseling Service. Resident assistants (RAs) in the University residence halls are trained to help guide students toward these resources when necessary, but it’s up to the student to follow up on an RA’s advice.

Whitt says parents also should watch for signs that a student is struggling, and be prepared to suggest helpful campus resources, but she cautions parents not to intervene on the student’s behalf.

“Unless it’s a last resort or a student in some extreme situation, the students should do this on their own. They learn from making the connection,” she says.

Folsom says parents who want to help from a distance can call the UI Parents Association or the Academic Advising Center.

“We can’t talk about the specific student because of federal privacy regulations,” she says, “but we can tell the parents about the resources we have so they can encourage their student to contact those resources.”

by Sara Langenberg


Published by University Relations Publications. Copyright The University of Iowa 2004. All rights reserved.

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