April 13, 2011

Balancing act: juggling at Knox

For senior Ari Timko, college is about more than getting the grade.

Belonging to eight different campus groups, working two jobs and volunteering with the Initiative for Girls in Galesburg, Timko would seem to have little time to study, much less stop and take a breath. Still, anything less would not satisfy her.

“I could have graduated with a 3.97 and only worried about myself and not made an impact on the school,” she said. “If I didn’t think I was making a difference, I wouldn’t do it all.”

Timko’s ability to balance her studies and other activities would seem to stand in contrast to sentiments pervading higher education journals and campuses that college students are spending less and less time on academics and suffering for it. In a book review on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website, professor of economics Richard Vedder called American higher education “dysfunctional,” issuing a damning verdict that most college students prefer hitting the dance floor to hitting the books.

Although Vedder’s unflattering opinion is not an unpopular one, there has been little discussion of the role activities, aside from studying, can play in a student’s mental and personal development—and that these activities often consist of more than partying. Moreover, that academics and activities can be balanced seems unlikely, if not impossible, to many higher education analysts.

Timko disagrees.

“If I reread every chapter in my Developmental Psychopathology textbook a couple times, I could probably get a perfect score on every test,” she said. “But I think it’s important to have balance.”

To investigate how college students actually spend their time, The Knox Student will spend spring term following four students, each with vastly different interests and activities. For all of them, however, academics remain a central focus.

Marcus McGee

Major: International Relations

Minors: Business and Management and Spanish

Spring term classes: HIST 238 World War II in Europe, PHIL 276 Existentialism, PS 323 Comparative Politics of the Middle East

Activities: Model United Nations, Phonathon, Red Room Tutoring

Already taking 300-level coursework and holding leadership positions in campus organizations, freshman Marcus McGee has wasted no time in jumping into college life. In some ways, this term will be his hardest yet.

“This term will probably be harder in one way, in that I have to be more reliant on myself to do the readings for my classes,” he said, referring to his PS 323, which is loosely structured and holds students accountable for learning the textbook material.

McGee’s other two classes are no less rigorous. PHIL 276 requires difficult readings and four papers, and HIST 238 involves readings from novels and textbooks as well as required films and papers. Along with his studies, he spends several nights a week tutoring in the Red Room and calling alumni as part of Knox’s Phonathon program. On Monday afternoons, he attends Model UN meetings. Next year, he will serve as the group’s secretary.

Despite his commitments, McGee rarely feels overwhelmed. A central part of this involves making time for friends.

“I love people. I love socializing,” he said. “I want to bond with people and the community around me. I haven’t turned on a television in six months; I haven’t wanted to.”

Yet McGee is careful to not let his social life hurt his academic performance. His academic and extracurricular decisions, from participating in Model UN to minoring in Business and Management, are largely geared towards his goal of working in political analytics.

“You may have great ideas in your head, but if you don’t know how to sell them, they’re useless,” he said.

In the end, it is McGee’s passion for his classes and activities that keeps him excited rather than exhausted.

“I always really try for contentment in whatever I’m doing. I generally don’t have rough terms; I try to keep everything in check before things get out of hand,” he said.

Mackenzie Steward-Snook

Class of 2013

Major: Biology

Minor: Journalism

Spring term classes: BIO 130 Molecular Biology and Genetics, BIO 210 Introduction to Research, ENG 306 Creative Nonfiction Workshop

Activities: Alpha Sigma Alpha

Sophomore Mackenzie Steward-Snook returned from spring break with high expectations for spring term. Within two days, she had caught pneumonia.

“So far, my biggest problem has been catching up from missing a week of school,” she said.

Her illness complicated the fact that academics, while important to her, have not always been easy.

“I’ve always been more of a B-average student,” she said. “For example, science-wise, I’m a B, even C average student, but that doesn’t really bother me because I know I am giving it my all every step of the way.”

This term, Steward-Snook’s classes will demand more from her, she said. BIO 210 requires several projects and presentations, and ENG 306 involves regular reading, writing and workshopping.

“I’m taking slightly harder classes. They’re not 100-level intro things,” she said. “[ENG 306] is the most terrifying class I’ve ever been in, but … I’m excited to get to know people through their writing. It’s such a personal way to get to know someone.”

Outside of class, Steward-Snook is a member of Alpha Sigma Alpha (AΣA), in which she was recently elected Vice President of Alumnae and Heritage. The position involves acting as a liaison between current and graduated members.

“I think [VP] will be a little more of a time commitment than my previous position,” she said. During winter term, Steward-Snook served as Philanthropy Chair.

When she’s not studying or working with AΣA, Steward-Snook is trying to recover from her illness. During any other term, she would be watching TV, sleeping or spending time with her friends.

“I live with my very closest friends,” she said. “On average, we maybe spend two hours a day together doing homework, watching TV or chatting.”

In the past, Steward-Snook has also been involved in flute choir, but her schedule this term conflicted with rehearsals.

“It’s probably a blessing it didn’t work out,” she said. “If I weren’t sick, I’d probably try to get more involved on campus. I have a very limited knowledge of what clubs are on campus, and that’s nobody’s fault but my own.”

Overall, the combination of pneumonia and a harder course load is stressful for Steward-Snook, but she feels confident that things will fall into a comfortable rhythm once she is well.

“I absolutely think I fall into the ‘I’m awesome and work really hard to succeed’ category rather than the stereotypical straight A student,” she said. “I’m focusing on the basics this term, and I know I’ll be able to do it.”

Sam Lewis

Major: Studio Art

Minor: Music

Spring term classes: ART 224 Baroque Art and Architecture, MUS 210 Jazz History, MUS 245 Music Theory II

Activities: Cherry Street Combo, Funky Funky Freaks, Knox Jazz Ensemble, Ritmo Brasilero, other ensembles

Junior Sam Lewis has a passion for both music and oil painting. Unfortunately, pursuing a double major is out of the question for him.

“I don’t know how to decide,” he said. “I don’t have enough time [to do both]. I don’t have a lot of time when I’m not doing something with another group.”

Although Lewis’ fields of study mean that he spends less time in the library than McGee or Steward-Snook, he still keeps busy.

“Last term, I had a painting class, which is a lot of work. I would spend eight hours a day in the studio every once in a while,” he explained.

To keep himself musically sharp, Lewis participates in five different performing ensembles, ranging from “a group of guys who just wanted to get together and make music” to Knox’s prestigious Cherry Street Combo. The Cherry Street Combo alone can demand upwards of seven hours of rehearsal and performance time per week.

“Last term, I had class Monday … third, fourth, fifth and sixth [period] and then rehearsal from 4 to 5:30 and Cherry Street rehearsal,” he said. “On Mondays, I would wake up and be like, ‘F-ck, here I go again.’”

Still, last term was instructive for Lewis in that he realized the importance of balancing his activities.

“It was rewarding—I was doing things that I enjoyed doing—but I was doing so much that I couldn’t devote enough time to anything,” he said.

Across all of his ensembles, Lewis can spend close to 20 hours a week in rehearsal or at a performance. Still, he remains a successful student, having made the Dean’s List every term of his Knox career.

“My close friends that know me well would call me a good student, but I wouldn’t. I have really bad study habits,” he said. “I’m a good student that doesn’t really make sense. By all rights, I shouldn’t be that of a good student.”

This term, Lewis is looking forward to throwing himself wholeheartedly into music while still having time to relax.

“This weekend and last are the first ones I can remember when I’ve had days where I could just sit back and relax and not worry about having to do any work,” he said.

Ari Timko

Major: Psychology

Minors: Gender and Women’s Studies and Music

Spring term classes: MODL 295A American Sign Language, MUS 245 Music Theory II, PSYC 363 Developmental Psychopathology, PSYC 380 Dreaming

Activities: Admissions TeleAmbassador, Allies for Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP), BE Active Workshop Facilitator, Human Rights Center Task Force, Initiative for Girls, Mortar Board, Order of Omega, Pi Beta Phi, Student Health Advocacy Group (SHAG), switchboard operator, Terpsichore Dance Collective

For Timko, the key to managing a busy life is not taking on anything alone.

“I prefer to work in group situations, and that allows me to do more,” she said. “I don’t, and could not, run SHAG by myself. I don’t have to do everything for BE Active because there’s a team of seven of us. I’m not the one and only of anything.”

Although Timko admits to once having had her life scheduled in increments of 15 minutes, she does not feel unnecessarily overworked.

“I like everything I do. None of those things is something I got pushed into,” she said. “My motivation is that I care about and enjoy it, so it’s not a burden for me.”

Sometimes, Timko values her activities so highly that she will prioritize them over academics.

“I go to class, I do my homework, but there are definitely days when I would rather have a meeting with [Associate Dean of Campus Life] Craig Southern about turning a tampon machine into a pregnancy test machine than read a chapter of…my textbook,” she said. “I know people who will study for four hours a day. I just don’t do that.”

Still, Timko’s activities have not significantly infringed on her academic success. Next year, she will be attending medical school at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and pursuing a degree in rehabilitation counseling and psychology—a subject towards which most of her activities are geared.

Timko is also not hesitant to take on additional commitments when something arises that is important to her. Earlier in the year, she sat on the Presidential Search Committee, and she is now considering starting a weekly sign language table in the Oak Room.

“[Sign Language] is an immersion class, but it only meets once a week, and I want to get more practice in somehow,” she explained.

As the term progresses, however, Timko plans to wind down and remind herself of the most crucial aspect of her busy life: free time.

“It sounds counterintuitive, but the reason I’m able to do all these things is because I have a life,” she said. “If I didn’t have ‘me’ time, when I could just bake cookies … or watch bad TV, then I wouldn’t be able to do all the rest of this.”

The next installment of Balancing Act will run in the April 28 issue of The Knox Student.

Anna Meier

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