The first day at university can be daunting and sometimes a few creature comforts from home – like a teddy bear – can make it a little more bearable.
Playing the guitar helps Blake Fleischacker break the ice with Mind the Gap conference participants Laura Inchley, Ariba Shah and Sam Hoover. Fleischacker was the keynote speaker at the April 23 conference aimed at Grade 11 and 12 students interested in post-secondary education.
On Blake Fleischacker’s first day at The University of Western Ontario he packed “Teddy” into his backpack alongside essential items, such as maps, money for textbooks and food.
Admitting his vulnerabilities as an 18-year-old, first-year student, Fleishchacker, a 2007 alumnus who is now the residence manager at Alumni House and Elgin Hall. The shared the highs and lows of his undergraduate degree during the Mind the Gap transitional conference for Grade 11 and 12 students interested in post-secondary education held on April 23.
More than a dozen high school students from the Thames Valley District School Board attended the event organized by the Student Success Centre:
The full-day conference provided an opportunity for youth to speak with upper-year students, faculty members, student service professionals and leaders from across campus on topics such as costs and budgeting, careers, Engineers without Borders, tips for success and experience sample lectures.
For Fleishchacker, his guitar became the gateway into social circles, helping to make “this big, scary place known as Western” a more welcoming environment.
To demonstrate how music can unite strangers, Fleischacker played the song “Wonderwall” by Oasis and encouraged the students to sing along. The video of a game-stopping shoulder check in hockey illustrated how he felt after missing his first exam because he slept through the alarm (he asked permission to rewrite it and got back on his feet). And, he relayed the pivotal role his residence advisor “Selleck” had in making first year a success.
“My first grade in university was not an 80 or 90 (per cent). It’s OK to ask for help when you are struggling,” he says. “You will come to realize the academic rigor is not necessarily easier or tougher – it’s just different.
“In high school, you’ve probably figured out how it works. You have a sense of the teachers, a sense of the classes, and the level of skill, effort and energy it takes to be successful. When you go to school after (high school) it will change. It’s not always fun, but it’s not always business.”
Like following a drum beat or clapping your hands, “there’s a rhythm to this college or university thing,” says Fleishchacker.
Grade 11 student Gaby Marchese wanted to learn what changes to expect at the post-secondary level.
“There is a big emphasis on the differences between high school and university. Everyone talks about the gap, but I want to know what the gap is,” she says.
Organizer Leslie Gloor Duncan, University Transitional Programs Co-ordinator for the Student Success Centre, says the event was a success and plans are in the works to grow the conference in future years.
“The goal was to give students a preliminary taste of university life.”