Best Practices for Achieving a 4.0 GPA


 

honors-college.previewWhen I started my undergraduate work at Colorado State University, I committed myself to trying to maintain a 4.0 GPA.  At the time, I didn’t understand what it would take to maintain that level of excellence for the duration of the coursework, nor did I find much in the way of best practices to light the way.  Now that I have completed my coursework and graduated with a 4.0, I though it would be worthwhile to document those practices that helped me reach my goal for other students who choose to commit themselves to academic excellence.  I have organized the practices into three categories, a) building a support system, b) organization, and c) intellectual curiosity.

Building a Support System

Every journey in life is worth sharing, and the decision to pursue a college education is no different.  It’s a journey, and as such, requires a support system to help along the way.  A strong support system includes family, friends, employers, and the university.  In addition, it is important to seek out a mentor that can guide you through the journey.

I began by talking with my family, to make sure they understood the value I placed on academic excellence and the sacrifices that we would have to make as a family.  In addition, I used Facebook, Twitter, and a WordPress blog to communicate my progress to extended family and friends, finding the social network tools a great way to keep everyone informed of my progress and share my work.  After each term, I posted the grades for my classes and a credit countdown.  In turn, friends and family gave me the encouragement I needed to keep going when things got tough.

In addition, I talked to my boss and co-workers about what I was doing and learning throughout the journey.  My employer was incredibly supportive and allowed me to use what I learned in the work environment, helping me to synthesize the knowledge.

I also made extensive use of the University support system, including the librarian, professors, the administrative staff, and my academic advisor.  Colorado State’s staff was excellent, insofar as they appeared to care as much about my success as I did.

Finally, I had an excellent mentor.  Tom Tonkin, a friend and colleague of mine was pursuing his doctorate while I was working on my undergraduate degree.  I was able to bounce ideas off of him, run my rough drafts by him, get guidance on research, or simply vent.  His support and guidance was invaluable.

Building a viable support system was likely the most important step I took, and there is little doubt in my mind that they were critical to my success.

Organization

Staying organized is another critically important practice that includes planning for success, time management, understanding expectations, and keeping your research, citations, and academic work managed and accessible for future assignments.  Staying organized assures that you understand what needs to happen, and build the infrastructure and tools that support your academic efforts.

The first step in getting organized is to work with your academic advisors to build a realistic degree plan, that takes into account all of your obligations and responsibilities.  Of course, the plan is simply that, a plan.  As such, you should be comfortable adjusting it to changing life circumstances.

Second, I recommend using calendar tools to build a schedule that includes assignments, writing time, and research time.  Pad the schedule with extra time.

Third, go through the ALL of the course material before starting, paying particular attention to the syllabus, rubrics, and the grading scheme.  The grading scheme will tell you a lot about where to spend your time and energy.

Finally, keep your work organized, including research, citations, and all of your academic work.  I use End Note, a software package made by Thompson Reuters to managing citations and research.  I organize the End Note library by class and then citation.  I also make sure every citation includes a hyperlink to the material where possible.  This way I can always come back to it.  In addition, I post all assignments on my blog.  This is important because it makes it easy to cite myself (which you need to do to avoid plagiarism); thus, I am able to build on my earlier ideas in future work.  Finally, I save all of the original assignment documents in a local folder structure.

Intellectual curiosity and engagement

The most important advice I can give is to engage seriously.  It starts with an intellectual curiosity.  I try to provoke my curiosity by suspending my natural attitude—the ideas we take for granted—to look upon a subject with fresh eyes.  In addition, I always go to original sources rather than simply using the text.  The texts are typically great summaries, but the original material is much richer.  Finally, I try to be provocative—not for provocations sake—to engage in positions that I may not normally take or that nobody would take, to explore other positions in the spirit of intellectual inquiry.  Unpopular positions make for great debate, the soul of interaction.  It isn’t about beliefs, rather the point is to learn and grow.

In summary, I attribute my undergraduate success to more than just hard work.  Hard work is necessary, but not sufficient condition.  Graduating with a 4.0GPA also requires a great support system, great organization, and a genuine curiosity for how people and things work.


2012 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,700 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.


Why This Republican Voted For Obama (Again)


Following Obama’s re-election, it is clear that the GOP is doing some soul-searching, trying to figure out what went wrong.  There are several dominant narratives in the mainstream press, including a) Republicans failed to recognize the changing ethnic makeup of the country, b) Governor Romney was out of touch with the working class, or c) President Obama’s campaign had a better ground game, doing a better job of mobilizing Democratic voters.  It appears likely that all three narratives played some part in the election results.

Indeed, this long-time Republican voted for Obama again, continuing a trend that started with a vote for Vice-President Gore.  If you believe the political rhetoric coming from disappointed conservatives on Twitter or Facebook, my vote, along with the votes of more than 61 million other Americans, is going to result into a descent into economic depression, communism, or civil war.  Of course, I didn’t vote for economic failure, communism, civil war, or any other such thing.  Rather, I voted for the Democratic candidate for a variety of reasons I felt were important for America.

  1. The Economy
  2. Tax Policy
  3. Freedom and Liberty
  4. The Environment
  5. Foreign Policy
  6. Character and Leadership

The Economy and Jobs

Of course, the economy dominated the election discourse.  The key differences between the candidates centered on the size of government debt.  Romney appeared to favor decreasing government deficit spending, arguing that economic growth in the private sector is the result of decreased regulation.  In addition, in an either-or argument, Romney suggested that the private sector created jobs rather than government.  On the other hand, President Obama favored deficit spending to spur the economy and create jobs.  As a voter, I rejected the either-or proposition as an overly simplistic argument.  Indeed, I was offended that both parties underestimated the intelligence of the American people.  Of course, the budget deficit and the size of U.S. debt needs to be reduced, because too much government debt crowds out private investment.  However, it is largely a question of timing.  As a proponent of Keynesian economics, I understand how short-run government spending can stabilize the amplitude of economic cycles.  The $700B stimulus package was the right thing to do for the economy.  To argue that the deficit we now must reconcile with was somehow the fault of President Obama when it was the only way to prevent the economy from going into depression is not only divisive, it is stupid.  Had Governor Romney been in a similar position, he would have had to use the same tools of fiscal and monetary policy to prevent the collapse of our economic system.  Moving backwards at this stage in the game is simply an ill-conceived idea.  Moreover, it suggested to this voter that Governor Romney either a) didn’t understand the economy, or b) was simply pandering to the views of the Republican base, knowing his policy response would have had to be the same in a similar situation.

Tax Policy

As noted earlier, government debt crowds out private investment.  We simply must reduce our deficits while growing the economy.  There are two ways to reduce our debt, increase revenue and cut spend.  President Obama focused on raising revenue through higher taxes.  Governor Romney favored cutting taxes and reducing spend on entitlements.  In an ideal scenario, the government will do both, finding opportunities to raise tax revenue and cut spending.  Again, the candidate’s positions forced an either-or mentality when the answer is likely both.  For my part, I believe that U.S. tax policy harms the economy by overwhelmingly favoring those with wealth over income-earners.

Indeed, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, household median income in 2011 is roughly $50K annually, the same as it was in 1989 when adjusted for inflation.  Of course, in the same period, the U.S. GDP has grown 60%, from $7.8 trillion to more than $13 trillion in constant dollars.  So where did the money go?  The money overwhelming is going to those with wealth.  In 1989, the bottom 60% of households shared roughly 30% of U.S. income, whereas the top 40% shared 70%.  Today, the ratio is 25% for the bottom 60% and 75% for the top 40%.  Moreover, the top 5%’s share increased from 18% to 22%.  It is clear that our tax policy favors wealth.

Of course, we don’t need economic analysis to tell us what is happening.  We are all feeling the pinch as energy, healthcare, and education costs rise, while median income remains the same.  The question is what to do about it.  There are two schools of thought coming from our political parties.  The Republican plan is to lower tax rates on wealth and businesses, while the Democratic plan is to raise taxes on wealth and businesses.  Concurrently, the Republicans favor cutting government spending, while the Democrats favor continued spending to spur the economy.  This leaves voters with an imperfect choice.  It comes down to this: do we believe in trickle-down economics, where greater wealth results in greater investment, or income equality, where greater income for the middle-class results in higher consumption and the resulting investment from those with wealth?

For my own part, I believe that more income in the hands of the middle class will increase consumption and thus grow the economy.  Let’s face it, our economy is geared towards consumption.  Our mortgage interest deduction favors the purchase of houses.  We use tax credits to spur consumption for everything from energy efficient appliances to new cars.  Indeed, just how many cars will a billionaire buy compared to healthy middle class?  If you’re Jay Leno, perhaps you’ll buy a hundred or so, but otherwise, it is unlikely you will buy much more than you need, whereas the same amount of money in the hands of the middle class would create far more demand. I should note that I do not believe in the redistribution of wealth.  However, that is exactly what is happening when a tax policy favors wealth.  It assures that income earners have difficulty accumulating wealth, while those who make their money from wealth grow wealthier.  Rather, our tax policy should reverse the current trend to create a more level playing field between the wealthy and income-earners.

Freedom and Liberty

I have to be honest.  The Republican agenda against gay marriage is a problem for me.  The Declaration of Independence is quite clear, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.  How then, should we legislate less than equal rights to some of our population, simply because they are different?  Moreover, how much has the party of President Lincoln changed, that they have departed from the basics of our democracy?  The Republicans are simply on the wrong side of history in the argument against gay marriage.

Furthermore, the argument against gay marriage appears to be a moral argument with origins in Christian thought and influence.  Because of the 1st amendment to the Constitution, which protects the rights of the people by preventing Congress from abridging freedom of religious worship, equally so, it prevents Congress of forcing the values of any one religion on the people.  Indeed, as Jefferson wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State”.  As such, freedom of religion is also freedom from religion.  Accordingly, and consistent with our founders, the idea that Christians should implement their moral agenda on the free people of these United States is abhorrent to me, despite my personal faith.

The Environment

While climate change was not a topic during the Presidential debates, the candidate’s policy positions were relatively clear.  Governor Romney had no policy position on climate change, while President Obama favors investment in clean energy.  Indeed, the general position of Republicans on climate change seems to be evolving from denial, to an argument questioning the relationship between cause and effect.  Is climate change happening?  There is no longer any question, it is simply physics.  Carbon dioxide stores the sun’s energy radiated from the earth’s surface.  Burning fossil fuels increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases the amount of heat stored in the atmosphere.  More heat in the atmosphere increases the melting of the ice caps and glaciers, decreasing the amount of the sun’s energy reflected out to space.  Ipso facto, burning fossil fuels increases the temperature of the atmosphere causing changes to our climate.  How long can we continue to ignore this issue?

Moreover, as Hurricane Sandy showed, the economic impact of climate change is staggering.  Should we continue to protect the energy and automotive industry given such high social costs?  Or should we invest to spur innovation and reverse the current warming trend?  Like President Obama, I believe we have to innovate now.  Of course, there will be failures.  Failure is a part of innovation.  However, the risks of doing nothing far outweigh the risks of doing something.

Foreign Policy

After entitlement spending, the defense budget is the largest line item in the federal budget.  We need to have a strong defense, but when it comes to killing people, it should be defensive, not offensive.  I do not believe President Obama will get us into a frivolous war, like Iraq.  Moreover, Bin Laden is dead and you cannot fight a war against a concept like terrorism.  You can destroy terrorist organizations.  However, that does not require spending more than $1 trillion dollars.  Intelligence, international cooperation, police action, and limited military action are far more efficient means to prevent terrorism and destroy the capabilities of terrorist organizations, than is war.

Character and Leadership

Leader’s share their vision and inspire people to achieve great things.  While some can argue President Obama’s leadership, the President was remarkably consistent in his beliefs and policy positions.  I struggled with Governor Romney’s character.  He appeared to change his policy positions quite often, particularly between the Republican primaries and the Presidential debates.  The Governor initially pandered to the extreme elements in the Republican party in order to get nominated and then attempted to appear as a centrist to be more electable.  If he so willingly abandoned his positions, how do you know what he stands for?  Was Governor Romney a conservative extremist or simply an opportunist?  Moreover, what would happen when he got into office?  I simply had a very difficult time understanding how our country would be governed under Governor Romney.  In addition, President Obama, with all of his faults, appears to behave as an honest man.  Character mattered to me.

After reading this, some might argue that I am not a Republican.  However, I would argue that I am a Republican, but my party left me behind long ago.  By pandering to social conservatives and growing government during the Bush years, the Republicans left a sizable number of fiscal conservatives, like me, behind.  I remain committed to the power of free markets (with some caveats), strong defense, and freedom for all of us.  However, the party has changed.  The free market philosophy appears to be irrevocably attached to policies that deride smart regulation, and favor income inequality and special interests.  Moreover, strong defense has become strong offense.  Finally, liberty and freedom for all have reverted to liberty and freedom only for those that look and act the same as the majority.  When the Republican party comes back, I’ll still be here.  Perhaps I can even vote for one again.