This blog is written by Mya Whitton, Black In Neuro Scientist and LPS STEM professional pen pal mentor. She shares her experience navigating how to speak candidly about her college experience with her pre-scientist without discouraging their enthusiasm about higher education.
Being honest with a child is difficult because adults work so hard to keep them sheltered away from hardship. Though, sometimes being honest with them is the only option if we want them to grow and explore. Growing up, I got one impression of college and that was that “college was great” and that “it was the best time ever”. Being a pessimistic child, I was skeptical about this but I trusted the words of my mother who attended school for business and the arts. I later found out in my freshman year of college that our stories couldn’t have been more different. Maybe this was because I went to a university that was not hers, and I majored in something completely different than my mother. I got there and surely realized that no one told me about the institutional practices that would try to destabilize my time and finances for the sake of a university’s profit. I felt lost and somewhat betrayed finding out on my own that college is sadly another business in some respects, but I realized my mother would find it hard to tell her child this . So how do I tell my pre scientist in a way that doesn’t make them indifferent about the idea of college. College is a wonderful place but it has it flaws and we as adults should tell the youth about experiences negative, positive, and in between.
One of the first questions I read from my pre scientist was “ Do you like college?”
Of course I like college, but as an undergraduate in STEM and a Black woman you wonder if it likes you back most of the time. I quickly had to find out how I would word my answer. After jotting down some thoughts and reflecting on both the good and the bad. I decided that I had to do one thing: be honest with them, because it’s what children deserve. I told my pre scientist something along the lines of college can be a great time when you find the people that support you fully. I explained how the college groups that I’ve joined throughout the years have made me feel valued and seen. I explained the value of mentors and friends in college, as well as getting out of your comfort zone to see what else you are interested in other than your major.
I also told her about the endless cycle of studying which is a given, but I wanted them to know that learning is forever so don’t stress too much if you don’t get it the first time. With the academic pressure colleges give, I reminded them that it is stressful but that is why it is important to take mental and physical health breaks.
As a lifelong learner, I would have appreciated this because I would’ve been more prepared to take on the everyday challenges of school. We don’t want to bash college and the experience of others in college, but it is important to tell future students that it is not always as aesthetic as the media portrays it to them. In a way to not scare them away from college either, I suggest going through old college photos, papers, letters, etc, and take five minutes to reflect on those individual moments. After that reflection, remember the good, the bad, and the ugly and ask yourself “What did I need to hear or know during that time?”, or “What was helpful during this time?”. I challenge my fellow volunteers to be honest with these fantastic students so they won’t be so starstruck coming into a new environment like this one.
Written by first year pen pal Mya Whitton, published March 24, 2022