School is a Full-Time Job
Nyzuria Conner of Milwaukee knows what it takes to succeed at a college or university. Conner, now a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, has made the Dean's List and was successful right from the start with a 3.4 grade point average in her first semester. And she is a recipient of the Communication Department Endowed Scholarship.
There are a number of reasons for her strong performance, including pre-college programs. For three summers, the graduate of Wauwatosa West High School attended a two-week program at UW-Oshkosh. The summer before she started at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, she enrolled in the Summer Scholars program through the school's Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA).
Damian Evans, OMSA director, says the goal of the Summer Scholars program is to help students make the transition from K-12 education to a college or university. "While we are limited to 20 students, the financial support provided by Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation allows our office to work diligently, and delicately, at developing the much-needed relationships that ultimately lead to student support," Evans said. "Nyzuria is an extremely good student to work with because she wants to be successful."
The pre-college program at Oshkosh motivated Conner to continue her education after high school. "The way they treated us (at Oshkosh), we felt like college students," Conner said. "We didn't know, of course, that you don't have people walking you to class and waking you up each morning. But being around the college students who were mentors and RAs (resident assistants) made us feel like we were doing something really important."
During her junior year in high school, Conner began exploring her college and university options. "At Wauwatosa West they really emphasize what you are going to do after graduation," she said. "We had college visits all the time."
Originally, Conner wanted to attend Hampton University, an HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) in Virginia. "I wanted to go to an HBCU - I didn't want to stay in Wisconsin," she said.
During a college fair at Wauwatosa West, however, Conner met a recruiter from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. The recruiter was a UW-Parkside alum and described the school as friendly - even homey - she said. "I started to feel as if - me being close to my family - maybe I wouldn't want to go all the way to the East Coast. If I came to Parkside - it's only a 40-minute drive," Conner said.
During her senior year, a number of students from Wauwatosa West attended an African American open house at UW-Parkside. Knowing that Conner had some interest in the school, a guidance counselor encouraged her to go along. "I got here and I fell in love with the campus and the people and the environment," she said.
While Conner has enjoyed success at the university level, the same cannot be said for all of her classmates.
"A lot of my friends were very social when they first came here," Conner said. "They would stay up really, really late - even if they had morning classes - and then miss class. Sometimes they missed so many classes that they just stopped going. They pretty much dug themselves into a hole.
"I didn't have that problem because in my household (during high school), I was always the first one up in the morning."
The longer bus ride to Wauwatosa West meant that Conner was out of the house by 6:45 each day. "As far as going to class I adapted to that very well," she said. "I barely missed any classes my freshman year and got a 3.4 (grade point average) my first semester."
But that doesn't mean she didn't experience her own adjustments. "My biggest struggle was money," Conner said. "I worked since my junior year in high school. I was used to having a steady paycheck."
At UW-Parkside, Conner had a work-study job one day a week and that paycheck was much smaller than she was used to. "So it wasn't the academics I had to adapt to," she said, "it was money and being out here on my own."
Conner says she's smart enough to learn from others. "I listen to what people have to say: 'Oh, you don't want to get into the trap of not going to class.' I listen to those things," she said. "I can learn from other people's mistakes as well as my own. So when I see people missing class and saying, 'Oh, I failed my quiz because I missed class' ? I don't want to be that person.
"Some people went home after the first semester because they weren't doing well and I didn't want to do that, I want to progress in life."
Experience, however, can be a great teacher. Conner said that some of her friends who did not do well in school initially, are doing so now. "Some of them weren't prepared," she said. "It took that experience to get them prepared. A lot of them weren't responsible for themselves because their parents did a lot for them."
Conner said parents and family members can be a big help when it comes to a student's success. However, because many freshmen are first-generation students (neither parent has a college or university degree) it may be difficult for family members to know exactly what to talk about and how they can help.
"When parents call, they should ask about how the student is doing in class," Conner said. "Don't just ask if they miss home or if they like the food."
And for students, Conner knows it can be difficult at times to explain the struggles and pressures of going to school. She encourages both students and their families to remember that: "School is a full-time job. Especially if you are doing it right."
Conner's Words of Wisdom
Go on campus visits, see the school.
Call the school's minority-student office and find out what programs are available for incoming freshmen to prepare for college.
Participate with upper-classmen through mentoring programs.
Get involved, that's what keeps you focused
Get help if you need help.
Be confident in yourself and know that you can succeed.