Every month, the Goodreads newsletter pops into my inbox. These emails taunt me by singing the praises of newly-published books: colorful rectangle covers lined up into neat rows by genre; enticing blurbs draw me in. I used to pore over these newsletters and make library holds based on book suggestions, but now emails from Goodreads just evoke guilt.
I love to read. As an English major, I think that goes without saying, but I love to read more than the average person. I’ll read pretty much anything. Fiction and nonfiction. Science texts and sci-fi novels. The latest poignant, “deep” literary triumphs alongside “comfort food” stories from childhood. A few years ago, I consumed the New Yorker cover-to-cover in an evening. I read a book (or more) every couple weeks. More recently, however, my “to-read” list has grown longer and longer, my Goodreads account sits in stagnant silence, and I rarely read for fun anymore. Why?
College involves a lot of reading, and majoring in English involves even more reading. I read so much for school every day that by the time I have some free moments the last thing I want to do is pick up another book. Instead — and I hate to admit this — most of my spare time is spent glued to my phone. I keep up on news articles and current event pieces online and off … but when it comes to reading for the sake of reading, anything longer than 280 characters doesn’t have much of a chance.
Reading fatigue is fairly common in academic circles. In a recent discussion post on D2L, I asked classmates if they had any ideas to wake up from my word fugue. People commiserate and several expressed the same problem. They had some great ideas for combatting reading fatigue: reading while sipping my morning coffee, having a specific reading space, and reading in bite-sized pieces. From their suggestions, I’ve decided to set myself a New Month’s Resolution: read one non-school book a month for the rest of the year.
I think this is a reasonable goal, if I can manage to tear myself away from my phone more often … this is where self-discipline comes in. However, I’m going to allow myself some grace if I fall behind — after all, life happens, and instructor-assigned reading comes first. I’m excited to get started! Step one: Look over that email from Goodreads.
On any particular day, my morning routine always begins with coffee. It’s a stereotype: the college student who runs on coffee. But in my case, it’s true. I. Love. Coffee. My morning coffee is the simple indulgence that kicks off my day; a form of self-bribery to hoist my tired body out of bed instead of pressing the snooze button.
One of the little ways I show affection for my partner is by making coffee. We have an Aeropress, which is like a French Press but FASTER, meaning less time to wait for that caffeine jolt! I add a splash of cream to mine, and we sit and watch the news together before getting on with our respective days. If I’m at my place, I either brew a pot of drip coffee or trot down to Starbucks for the frothy goodness of a Grande Nitro cold brew. On days when I’m having trouble working up the motivation to study, I head to one of my favorite places on campus, Park Avenue Café. A mocha and an almond biscotti while I study? Heaven.
Enjoying a caffeinated beverage (or two or three) in a place where I can have alone time, yet experience a fair amount of background stimulation while I work, is where I’m most productive. The concept of “productivity” is a double-edged sword that seems to go hand-in-hand with coffee culture: social media is saturated with pictures of espresso next to laptops, attached to hashtags like #onmygrind and #butfirstcoffee. Being busy (and the tasty brown beverage that gets you through the busy-ness) is glorified in our society, and some people criticize “busy culture,” pointing out that it can lead to burnout and feelings of inadequacy.
I’m no stranger to burnouts and feelings of inadequacy. I’ve had depression and anxiety since I was a kid, and was recently diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 27. My ADHD diagnosis has led to a new perspective on my own habits and productivity. Like others with the same concurrent conditions, I’m in a weird spot: common wisdom for the depressed and anxious is to avoid caffeine to prevent exacerbating symptoms. However, coffee’s mainstay stimulant helps many people with and without executive function disorders sharpen their focus. Many people with ADHD use coffee instead of (or in addition to) prescription ADHD medications for this very purpose.
I sometimes wonder: is it the caffeine, the taste, or the ritual that makes me love coffee so much? Maybe it’s a combination of all three: caffeine helps me concentrate, coffee is yummy, and a morning cup of Joe signals my brain that it’s time to sit down and get things done. Whatever the reason for my coffee obsession, I don’t see myself switching to decaf anytime soon.
I could probably stand cutting back to one cup a day, though.
Welcome back, everyone! I’m excited for spring term. My classes are interesting, my color-coding system is finalized, and I’m confident that this is the term that I’ll finally slay the Procrastination Dragon. And this term, I mean it.
I have the habit of making overly-ambitious to-do lists; both necessary (like re-organizing the closet and taking clothes to Goodwill) and pleasurable (like practicing my art skills). Very rarely do I ever complete even a third of these aspirational tasks.
Maybe I’m lazy and unmotivated. On the other hand, maybe I’m being too hard on myself. I’m not the only one who assigns themselves tasks during a period of free time, only to wake up and realize that the window of free time has come and gone. Yet I feel like I do this more than most people. Is it self-sabotage? A mental health thing? Disorganization and lack of motivation stemming from COVID stress?
Whatever the cause (or causes), I’m tired of doing this. I want to be able to set goals and actually meet them.
I decided to look at my lists a little differently. I pulled out my winter break to-do list: was there anything on the list I could see myself doing — actually doing, and not just picturing me doing? Did I write this list for me, or an ideal version of myself? And were my own goals stressing me out; just contributing to procrastination and leading me to not even try?
Ideal Erika — the Erika I want to be — has endless energy and focus. She wakes up at 5:45 a.m. every day to work out. She meets all her homework and blogging deadlines. She has a vibrant social life and devotes lots of time to personal improvement and hobbies. She schedules doctor’s appointments without a shred of anxiety. She keeps her environment clean and tidy and cooks healthy dinners every day in her shiny kitchen with an alphabetized spice rack. Her schedule is perfectly juggled; each ball expertly timed to land in her perfectly-manicured hands, and she manages her stress easily. In fact, stress revitalizes her!
I’m not Ideal Erika. At least not yet. Although the truth is I probably never will be, not entirely. However, I can take steps to get closer to being her, and the first step is by admitting to myself that I have limits. I used to make a lengthy list of everything I wanted to get done in a day, then self-loathe at the end of the day when I didn’t complete it. Now, I’ve started making a list as I would before, but highlighting what’s important … and then highlighting again in a different color once I’ve prioritize from that pool of tasks. As long as I get my Three Big Things done in a day, I feel accomplished.
Some days are better than others, and my Three Big Things turns into Eight Big Things. Other days, I have Two Big Things, or even One Big Thing. And some days I don’t even get One Big Thing done. But since I’ve started prioritizing, life is a lot more manageable and less overwhelming. I’ve completed more projects and been more productive compared to before when I’d load up my plate with endless tasks and self-expectations. And while procrastination is still my biggest obstacle to success, I’ve been paying visits to the Procrastination Dragon less and less frequently.
When PSU announced that the coming spring and summer terms would continue to be remote, I had conflicting feelings. On one hand, I’m happy that PSU is looking out for students, faculty, and staff by minimizing physical contact. It’s comforting to be part of an institution that values health and safety. On the other hand, I (and every other Viking I’ve spoken to on this topic) am disappointed that after a year of remote learning, we still won’t the inside of a classroom for at least the next few months.
I have an edge over “Past Erika” in March 2020, however – I know what to expect. I’m used to living remotely now. I know the ins and outs of Zoom … at least in theory. For instance, I didn’t know that there was a shortcut to “raise hand” (“Option” + “Y” keys) until this week. Although I miss traditional learning, I’m pleasantly surprised at how well Zoom classes work for me. Don’t get me wrong, in an ideal world, I prefer the classroom format and wish we could look forward to non-remote terms sooner than this fall. But by using Zoom, I’ve learned a lot about myself and my learning style.
The Zoom format provides the schedule and structure of regular meeting times, which is helpful to people like me who struggle staying organized and on-task without a timetable to hold them accountable. I’m much more engaged on Zoom than in classes that are entirely on D2L, because having faces and personalities to match to the names leads to more lively discussions (at least in my experience.) In classroom settings, I struggle a lot with social anxiety and self-doubt, leading to stumbling over my words or declining to share my thoughts at all. In virtual classes, there is the added buffer of seeing the instructor and classmates through a window, lending me more confidence to speak up and share comments verbally … and if I’m still feeling shy, I can always type out my take in the class chat.
The benefits of Zoom don’t end with me. Zoom classes have helped make the class dynamic more accessible to students with special circumstances; those who’d like to attend classes in person but can’t always make it there. Life sometimes presents obstacles that make regular attendance difficult —for example, becoming ill or injured, being your family’s only source of childcare, a lack of funds for regular public transportation, or having mental or physical disabilities. Being able to learn remotely during the times you can’t make it to class has made education more equitable — instead of worrying about piling up absences and missing crucial material, students can focus on learning.
Perhaps as we move forward through the pandemic and beyond, schools and colleges should consider ways to offer Zoom classes alongside solely-online courses and traditional in-person lectures. This idea might seem silly, but consider the ubiquity of online-only courses — even pre-pandemic, it was a rare college that didn’t offer a selection of online courses. Critics didn’t think it would work, but online learning is now undeniably part of academia alongside traditional lecture halls. Maybe Zoom is the happy medium that blends classroom and keyboard, creating a more flexible way of learning.
I wouldn’t say I hate therain … but it’s not my favorite natural phenomenon, either. The dismal grey skies and absence of natural light. Soaked clothes and muddy shoes. Umbrellas dripping all over the carpet. Humidity that turns an hour’s effort with the straightening iron into a frizzy, unkempt mess. The ever-present risk of hydroplaning — I totaled my Ford Focus by hydroplaning on Hwy 84 a couple years ago, and have had a personal vendetta against the rain ever since.
I concede that the rain has some positive qualities — it sustains all life on earth, after all. I guess that’s kind of a big deal, right? Not to mention that nice “before the rain” smell. And it’s not like there aren’t enjoyable moments sometimes: I possess the long legs necessary to leap across puddles, which ignites a flicker of childlike joy in my cold heart. Snuggling up inside with a good book and a warm blanket while it’s pouring outside is one of the best ways to spend a lazy weekend. Yet these “snuggle inside” days often backfire by making you not want to emerge from your blanket at all. Even though it sustains all of earth’s life, the rain has a tendency to suck the life out of me.
Why did she move to a city FAMOUS for its rain?! you might ask. Well, I had two main requirements when I chose a transfer school: be in Oregon (so I could take advantage of that sweet, sweet in-state tuition), and in a metropolitan area. After graduation, I suppose I could move somewhere more mild and dry. But I don’t want to leave … and not just because I like not having to pay sales tax. I fell in love with an Oregon native; a man as comfortable driving in a deluge as he is on a dry summer’s day. He’s practically amphibious.
Maybe I just need to let the rain win — “win” in the sense that I learn to love it. I could cultivate an interest in meteorology; monitor the weather app and make bar graphs comparing expected inches of rainfall to actual inches of rainfall!! On second thought, maybe that’s a bit much. Learning to tolerate the rain is a much more realistic goal; accepting Portland’s default climate as just part of life. I can adapt instead of complain. I could purchase an actual waterproof coat, so I don’t get soaked every time I step outside. Maybe pull my light therapy lamp out of storage and actually use it (maybe the thing works, maybe it doesn’t … but damn if it doesn’t cheer up the room.) Perhaps with time I, too, can become an amphibious Pacific Northwester … or at the very least, remember a plastic bag to hold my dripping umbrella when I go indoors.
Unprecedented. Surreal. Socially distanced. No matter how you choose to describe it, 2020 has been a year like no other. But it hasn’t been ALL bad. Though the threat of COVID-19, urgency around racial equity and a strife-filled political climate have dominated our thoughts and lives, we didn’t have far to look to find uplifting PSU stories that will give you all the feels.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. We just didn’t have time to include more before 2021 is upon us.
20. Those beautiful blooming blossoms
Every spring like clockwork, 100 Akabono cherry trees bloom along Portland’s southwest waterfront a few blocks from campus, transforming the esplanade into a pink wonderland (and popular selfie opp.) In spring 2020, they provided a moment of much-needed normalcy against a decidedly abnormal backdrop. Fun fact: The trees were given to Portland in 1990 by the Japanese Grain Importers Association.
19. Athletes transform obstacles into opportunities
Most of us agree that virtual gatherings just aren’t as good as in-person — but there is one advantage: cameo appearances. Comedian alum Ian Karmel graciously dropped in on a spring scriptwriting class to talk comedy. And soccer legend Abby Wambach and her bestselling author wife Glennon Doyle surprised the women’s soccer team. We can’t wait to find out who will show up next!
17. PSU steps up in early days of the pandemic
When COVID-19 first reached Portland, teaching and research labs around campus donated over 1,000 boxes of gloves as well as hundreds of masks and other personal protective equipment to local hospitals. The PSU Center of Entrepreneurship printed and distributed 1,000 face shields to Legacy Health. And they were just getting started!
Recent Portland School of Business grads Sharona Shnayder and Wanda McNealy were looking for ways to contribute to their communities last spring, and realized that picking up trash is a simple and safe way to practice environmental activism that anyone can do wherever they are. The Tuesdays for Trash grassroots movement was born! (Find them on instagram at @TuesdaysForTrash)
School of Architecture alum Lisa Patterson designed a hub in Portland that provides bedding and clothing exchanges, medical aid, showers, bathrooms and an outdoor warming area for Portland’s houseless community.
14. Students go the extra distance
Public health student Morgan Godvin moved to Tijuana last spring to serve the houseless community there while taking classes online between shifts. The experience made a deep impact, and Godvin now plans to pursue a career in public health and human rights law.
In true Viking spirit, College of Urban and Public Affairs student Lauren Everett transformed an empty lot near her home into a temporary park last summer, a place for people to safely gather. “The amount of dedication and sweat equity that went into this project has been really inspiring” she said. “I hope this inspires similar efforts in other neighborhoods, to create spaces where people can gather safely during COVID and beyond.”
13. International students show resilience
Portland State’s international students had to contend with multiple stressors all at once this year. Thousands of miles from home, students worried about their families and friends abroad, had flights canceled and suffered financial hardship and homesickness — all while having to cope with changing immigration policies. Amazingly, they persevered. This fall, just over 1,000 international students enrolled at PSU. “There are some incredible stories out there of what students are doing to try to keep up,” said Christina Luther, director of International Student and Scholar Services. Read some of their stories here.
In July, Willie Halliburton was sworn in as PSU’s new Chief of Campus Public Safety. Halliburton has been at PSU since 2016, following a 32-year police career. He has since announced his commitment to unarmed campus patrols. “I believe deeply that safety comes from developing relationships in the community and treating people with respect,” Halliburton said. “My ultimate goal as chief is to build trust between CPSO and the PSU community — staff, faculty and particularly students. I recognize the need for change and to honestly address the concerns of the PSU community.”
While most speech-language pathology programs had to put clinical training on hold last spring, PSU quickly adapted its telepractice to actually expand its services. The clinic did not abandon a single client and, with the addition of four clinical supervisors, were able to increase their caseloads! “In the COVID-19 crisis, we have found an opportunity to innovate and deepen our commitment to serving the community and families in need,” said Claudia Meyer, director of clinical education at the Speech and Language Clinic at PSU.
The pandemic and corresponding shutdown was a financial disaster for many students. So when the federal government stepped up with $8.3 million earmarked for financial relief for students, it was gratifying to hear what a difference these payments made. “I can finally sleep at night,” was how one student expressed her profound relief after receiving the financial assist.
Hannah Prather, a certified arborist and postdoctoral researcher who is part of a team from Portland State, Reed College, Washington State University and The Nature Conservancy, spent the summer getting up at 4 a.m. to install sensors high up in Portland-area Douglas fir trees. These “smart trees” will become part of a study to better understand the impacts of climate change on urban trees. The Smart Trees team uses a range of technologies to monitor the health of the urban tree canopy, a key resource for reducing the social and environmental impacts of our warming climate.
8. Taking strides toward racial equity
As part of President Stephen Percy’s commitment to promoting equity and justice at PSU, the university will hire a cohort of 7 new scholars in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ School of Gender, Race and Nations in fall 2021. The school — made up of Black Studies, Indigenous Nations Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies — seeks to better understand and advocate for historically underserved populations. PSU also welcomed the esteemed Dr. Ame Lambert as Vice President for Global Diversity and Inclusion. In October, she and President Percy convened five cross-campus task groups to organize a Virtual Equity Summit and developed a learning and action agenda to make our vision for a racially just and equitable future a reality at Portland State.
Thirty-three Portland State researchers are ranked among the world’s most-cited and the top researchers within their discipline areas, according to a recent study that looked at more than 6 million researchers in 22 disciplines and 176 subdisciplines. Of course, we already knew this but it’s nice to be recognized!
5. PSU choirs make beautiful music
When it became apparent that in-person concerts were not possible in 2020, Portland State choirs quickly adjusted, practicing outdoors in small, distanced and masked groups. The PSU Chamber Choir, recognized as one of the finest choirs in the world according to Classics Today, created several live concerts online, partnering with the Rose Choir and Thorn Choir. And the Portland State Community Choir chimed in with a beautiful rendition of “Tender Love.”
When COVID-19 hit Oregon, Portland State public health students sprang into action, partnering with OHSU and Oregon Health Authority to perform contact tracing, conduct case investigations and help manage the outbreak. The partnership provided not only real-world experience, but also opportunities for careers after graduation. These inspiring Viks did more than study the issues — they addressed real-world problems with hands-on solutions!
3. Spring Term pivot
Yes it’s the most overused word of 2020, but we don’t care. Portland State faculty and staff delivered a full-on, jaw-dropping pivot this spring when classes moved from in-person to remote in a matter of days, and our students found new ways to learn and connect.
It became the national anthem heard around the world. School of Music & Theater graduate Madisen Hallberg was recording the national anthem for PSU’s virtual commencement ceremony last spring in the park blocks when local artist and singer Emmanuel Henreid, who goes by Onry, walked by and asked to join her. This simple moment between two strangers was a balm for our souls during a divisive moment in our country, reminding us of the uniting, healing power of music. Thanks to the College of the Arts, the duo reunited this holiday season to bring us a beautiful rendition of Dona Nobis Pacem, translation: Grant us peace.
As I’ve written before, I live in student housing. Dorms— a word that connotes many things related to “the college experience”— ridiculously tall beds, hallways decorated to reflect the RA’s floor theme, washing machines that only work half the time … and above all, socialization. From bonding over bowls of instant ramen to flashcard quizzes in the common area, you can’t picture dorm life without thinking of social interaction.
I came to PSU in the fall of 2019 — ignorant of COVID and the pandemic on the horizon, I had one blissful term to experience the social aspect of college and dorm life. Sure, most of the other residents seem to fall into the 18-21 cohort, and at 27 I’m an old lady by comparison, but mixing colors at Paint Nite and making dorm decor at RHA-sponsored events was a great way to chill out and meet fellow Vikings. While waiting on my laundry one night last year, I ran into a couple girls reading Tarot cards. Naturally, I threw my accounting homework to the side so I could get a reading. The cards uncannily reflected a recent breakup and reminded me of my ex (although, to be fair, pretty much everything reminded me of my ex at the time.) I bawled like a baby and the three of us swapped stories about Men Who Did Us Dirty. I don’t remember those girls’ names, and I never ran into them again, but I’ll always appreciate that experience.
The halls look very different now … no Tarot cards or half-finished puzzles to be seen. Occasionally I’ll bump into another student on the way to their room, or the elevator will stop on another floor and a resident and I will awkwardly stare at each other until the doors close and the elevator continues its trip up or down (one of the new Housing rules: only one person/household in the elevator at a time, to cut down on germ transmission. The elevators didn’t get the memo, so they continue to stop at floors where the button is pressed.) Once in a blue moon, there are freebies left by kind strangers — individually-wrapped hand sanitizing wipes; packets of tea; paper napkins with a note saying “emergency toilet paper :).” I don’t usually partake in these freebies (sanitizing wipes are an exception) because of, ya know, the virus … but it always warms my heart a little when I see them.
Around Thanksgiving, I found a Dorm Pie. A solitary pumpkin confection left on a communal table, the pie was exposed to the elements without a cover, and there was no note explaining its presence. It was like an unaccompanied child at the airport, and I simultaneously felt mild amusement, pity for the lonely dessert (lockdown has caused me to anthropomorphize everything), and gratitude that someone thought, “I have an extra pie. Someone will want this.” We’re a building of college students, after all — we love free food even when COVID hasn’t made employment scarce — and it’s the season of giving. And I love pumpkin pie … sure, it may be uncovered and rife with viral particles, I thought, but it’s probably fine! I don’t want it to go to waste, or dry out before someone can find it …
I ended up leaving the pie. Whether someone ate it or threw it away, I’ll never know, but the Dorm Pie will forever live in my memory as a symbol of goodwill during hard times.
Even though we dorm-dwellers can’t socialize in person, there’s still a sense of community — seeing free stuff someone’s left for their neighbors is a reminder that even in these socially-distant times of Zoom trivia nights and solo elevator rides, residents are still looking out for each other.
Or maybe they just want to unload excess stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. But if you’re reading this, kind Pie Donor — you should probably leave the cover on next time.
Wash your hands. Wear a mask. We’re in this together.
Governor Kate Brown recently announced new social-distancing requirements across Oregon. Most counties will have to follow the new guidelines for at least two weeks, but Multnomah County and other COVID hotspots will stay shut down even longer. Washington’s Governor Jay Inslee recently announced similar restrictions. I’m willing to bet that it’s only a matter of time before Governor Gavin Newsom follows suit in California, making shutdowns in the West Coast states three-for-three.
Needless to say, this is unwelcome news. Everyone is fatigued from the months of isolation, and it’s easy to fall into a false sense of security from the warmer months’ improvement. But the pandemic is nowhere near over, and as we move into the colder months, our collective situation is likely to become even more dire. It’s more important than ever to continue practicing social distancing, wearing masks, sanitizing, and taking the basic precautions to slow the virus’ spread.
Yes, these measures are inconvenient. Like everyone else, I’ve been irritated and upset by the shutdowns and restrictions. Earlier this year, I had to postpone medical procedures that weren’t deemed essential. A large part of why I chose PSU was Portland’s vibrant social and cultural scene, and I haven’t been able to experience most of the places and businesses that Portland is known for. In fact, I might very well finish out my time in college without seeing the inside of another classroom. The lower half of my face is constantly breaking out in “maskne.” None of these inconveniences are life-and-death situations, though.
What I’m saying shouldn’t be controversial: People need to face facts and follow the safety measures that save lives. I am sick of the head-in-the-sand science denial, the conspiracy theories, the people endlessly complaining on social media about the basic measures meant to keep themselves and others safe. It’s disheartening. It’s disheartening to know that millions upon millions of people complain about masks: Masks causing people to inhale carbon dioxide (they don’t), masks being uncomfortable (fair enough, but not important), masks somehow violate constitutional freedoms (not true), or any number of excuses. Some people flaunt going maskless and give performative, self-righteous rants in private businesses or record themselves marching through public in some kind of virtue-signaling display, extending America’s hyper-partisan us-vs-them narrative into public health.
Masks are not political. Public health is not political.
There are some things you just can’t argue about. There are facts, and then there are opinions. “That’s just my opinion, and you need to respect it!” Well, your opinion doesn’t mean much when America’s premier health advisor says the country “could not be positioned more poorly” with regards to the virus’ spread. Your opinion doesn’t mean much when cases are surging almost everywhere. Your opinion doesn’t mean much when hospitals are overwhelmed and record numbers of people are dying. Dr. Anthony Fauci and others have long warned that the cooler weather will bring more cases, and that if we don’t collectively change our habits, the pandemic will become even worse.
The only way to prevent future lockdowns and stricter requirements is to follow the rules now. Everyone needs to take this pandemic seriously. Please. If you go out, wear a mask. Wash your hands. Sanitize. This isn’t hard. This isn’t forever. The more we adopt these lifestyle changes, the closer we are to going back to normal.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been at PSU for a year now! The last 12 months have brought more changes and challenges than I could have possibly imagined, both in my personal life and the world at large. Since I first became a Viking in September 2019, I’ve switched jobs, broken up with a long-term partner, changed my major, found a new partner, had a major medical emergency, spent almost four months out of town because of the pandemic, and moved apartments … wow. That’s a lot of drama to squeeze into one year.
If I could go back in time, I’d change a lot of things (first off: warn people about COVID-19, obviously). However, I’ve learned so many lessons and found a new strength and sense of accomplishment from everything I went through. When I feel down on myself, I try to remember how much I’ve grown in a mere 12 months …
My newfound sense of direction
Last autumn, downtown PDX’s urban sprawl seemed like a labyrinth. I was constantly getting lost, relying on Google Maps to get to classes or do errands. Today, I move through the neighborhood on instinct and have all the street names memorized. (“Are you looking for Starbucks? Do you want the one on 6th in the Urban Center, the one on Jefferson inside of Safeway, or the one on Broadway and Clay? Don’t bother trying the ones on Jackson or Montgomery; they’re temporarily closed.”) I’m starting to feel like a local!
A new passion for wellness
A year ago, I was a brand-new suburban transplant who rarely walked anywhere for necessity, much less for fun. A lack of endurance made simple trips to the store a sweaty ordeal. Now, I’m so accustomed to walking every day, I get cabin fever when I have nowhere to go. In addition, I started running regularly and attending workout classes (before social distancing, that is), and started paying closer attention to what I ate. I did end up losing weight, which I’m proud of, but I feel better, which is so much more important than a number on a scale.
Having faith in my journey
My first term at PSU, I was a Business major — while aspects of the field interested me (and still do), I was only on that track out of fear — what if I couldn’t find a career to make money majoring in the humanities? However, I soon realized that I needed to take a chance and major in what I loved; what felt right. Now, I’m a happy English major and I’m exploring the idea of law school. I love literature and challenging myself to find connections and interpretations in various media, and applying those ideas to real life. I had to take a few steps back in my graduation timeline (changing my major as a junior means I’ll be at PSU a couple extra terms), but I’m happy where I am. It’s better to take a leap of faith than always wonder “what if?”
It’s easy to focus on all the ways life sucks … and let’s be honest, life sucks for pretty much everyone right now. Life is complicated even in the best of times, and we’ve all had our lives disrupted by this virus — it’s ok to be angry, sad, scared, or anywhere else on the spectrum of emotions. Yet it’s also important to pause and reflect on the good. I’m not someone who subscribes to the tenet of destiny, or says “everything happens for a reason,” but I do believe there’s lessons to be learned in every situation: good, bad, and in-between.
It was complete coincidence that two PSU Chronicles bloggers — Erika and Claire — ended up in the same Senior Capstone, but we wanted to reflect on our experience. This was far and away the most involved class we’d ever taken, but it was also one of the most rewarding…in large part because our work impacted the real world.
Our class was called “Grant Writing for Shelter Pets.” In a Capstone, you work directly with a community partner — in our case, a non-profit cat shelter in Vancouver, Washington called Furry Friends. We worked in groups writing grant proposals for Furry Friends (Claire worked in the group seeking medical funding for seriously ill cats, and Erika was in the group focused on building a new “kitty condo” structure.) This wasn’t just another course–it had real-world ramifications. The fate of hundreds of cats were directly influenced by our commitment to the grantwriting process–for example, these grant proposals could be the difference between Furry Friends getting funding for life-threatening medical conditions, influencing whether cats live or die.
This course was intense! Capstones always take up a lot of time and energy. We found it’s best to plan for contingencies that could affect your stamina and focus–life happens sometimes (sometimes in ways we can never anticipate), but you can try to be prepared for things likely to happen. Remember that this class is six credits, which is basically a class-and-a-half. So it’s going to take longer than you’re used to…and it’s a 400-level course. To be safe, treat this class as two regular classes and then you’ll know how to budget enough time.
A huge part of the class involved communication, and while we’d done group work in previous classes, it was nothing to this extent. It was tricky doing distance communication; although this was an online class even before most other classes were remote, not being able to meet with the whole group in person proved challenging. We found group emails, group texts, and Google Docs to be invaluable (pro tip: make sure everyone is looking at the same Google Doc to avoid confusion). It’s essential to communicate with your groupmates, your instructor, and the community partner. It’s way better to double-check something than to miss something.
It’s important to keep in mind that since Capstones involve community service, you might be emotionally affected by the project and the community partner’s stories. Be sure to practice self-care and make use of your support network if necessary. We read stories about animal abuse that made us feel sick, but that was just more motivation to work hard.
In the end, we’re both proud of our work and happy that we made the decision to take this Capstone. We both learned so much–not only about the grantwriting process, but about collaboration, research, and harnessing empathy to do good.