A Professor’s Guide to Success for Your First Year at Mary Washington

What is the key to success both in and out of the classroom during your first year with us? I asked First Year Seminar Professors and this is what they had to say:


April Wynn – Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences , Faculty Director of the First-Year Experience 

Find connections/resources. These are your faculty members, other UMW students, tutors, friends, your RA, another first-year student, your Peer Mentor, someone in a club you are interested in, a member of the community or a teammate. You need to find folks that can lift you up when you need it and that you can lift up when they need it. Authentic relationships where you are not afraid to ask for help and then receive it. And work smarter not harder, but remember that you will need to put a large amount of time into your college courses (more than you did in high school)!

Randy Reif – Assistant Professor of Chemistry 

Get in touch with your professors early, especially in office hours. Make a friend or two – reach out to others and build connections within and beyond classes. 



Jeremy Larochelle – Professor of Spanish

During the first year it is essential that students understand that their priority is always their coursework.  Class attendance should never be seen as optional. Once students start missing class sessions, they quickly fall behind.  In addition, the syllabus needs to be understood as a contract and it is the student’s responsibility to be aware of when assignments are due.  High-achieving students are always one step ahead, and look ahead on the syllabus to plan a few weeks in advance so that they stay a bit ahead of their work.  If you know that in three weeks you’ll be having two exams and a research paper due but you don’t have other assignments due until then, the best strategy is to use the weeks to study for the exams and work on the paper early so you are not putting it all off until the week of.

Chris Foss – Professor, English, Linguistics, and Communication

Do your homework and participate as much as possible in discussions, whether in person or online. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or clarification!


Betsy Lewis – Professor of Spanish – Assistant Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

Be involved and engaged! That means attending class, speaking up, and turning in all your work. It also means seeking out new opportunities (friends, clubs, visiting profs in office hours). 

Mindy Erchull – Professor of Psychological Science

Be engaged.  Life is not passive, and neither is college.  In terms of academics… Attend all class meetings (unless you’re ill) – even if they are at 8am,  you slept poorly the night before, or you don’t like the topic covered that day.  Meaningful things are covered in class meetings, and if you’re not there, you miss them.  Getting notes from a classmate isn’t enough.  When in class, take notes.  Don’t just transcribe what’s being said – work to pull out key ideas, write questions in the margins that you’ll return to later, come up with your own examples.  Respond to questions asked; ask your own questions; share your ideas when working in groups.  Get to know your professors.  Make use of their office hours – even if it’s just to chat for a few minutes.  When you feel comfortable with them, you’re more likely to go to them when you need help.  They’ll also then be in a better position to serve as references for you and write letters of recommendation because they actually know you.  

Make use of the academic support resources on campus; the writing center, speaking center, digital knowledge center, peer tutoring, and peer academic consultants.  I still reach out to peers to provide feedback on my work – this is something successful people do, so don’t feel like seeking assistance is a sign of failure – it’s a sign of success!  Out of the classroom, engagement is just as important.  Chat with the students in your classes so you get to know them.  You never know who will become great friends, but be open to making connections.  The same goes for people you meet at the gym, at a club meeting, in your residence hall, etc.  Go to club and activity meetings.  Sometimes you’ll check something out and, after a meeting or two, realize it’s not for you.  That’s fine, but you won’t know if you don’t explore.  Don’t just wait for things to happen – make them happen.  If the club you want doesn’t exist, consider starting it.  Interested in exploring the area?  Let those around you know and organize a group excursion.  Don’t just look for your home – make your home.

Julia A. DeLancey – Professor of Art History

Communicate! Answer emails, engage in conversations, let people know if you need help or support. If you are doing well, why not see about volunteering to help in some way? Read and answer your email once a day. Learn when you need to challenge yourself, and when you need to be gentle with yourself—and then follow up.

Jennifer Hansen-Glucklich – Assistant Professor of German

I think it is very important for first-year students to establish strong relationships with their professors as well as with other students. My most successful students are those who come to see me in my office hours regularly, be it with questions, comments, or just to chat about our class or their other classes. Many students hesitate to do this –they do not want to impose or worry about being a nuisance. But we love it when students stop by to talk! This is especially important if a student is having any problems in class. The key is communication. For success out of the classroom, it is important to be engaged and involved, to make friends and connect with other students in class and outside class. Students who have a wide range of social contacts are happier and more successful. 

Ian Finlayson – Associate Professor, Computer Science

My key to success in the classroom is to try not to procrastinate on assignments.  My key to success outside the classroom is to get enough sleep!


Jeb Collins – Assistant Professor, Mathematics

Utilize the resources around you in the form of people.  Go to office hours, talk to your professor.  Study with friends, talk to them about how things are going for you.  Just don’t go it alone.


Dr. Kim Gower – Assistant Professor, University of Mary Washington College of Business

Be prepared, show up, and participate! Take notes. Get to know your professors by scheduling an appointment during office hours, and bringing questions or comments.

Campus Life: Join clubs you enjoy, or start one based on shared interests with others! The wide variety of opportunities UMW offers for students to be involved in fun and service oriented clubs always AMAZES ME! Develop quality, no drama relationships that help you study, get fresh air, work out, go for walks, and talk about things that interest you. Remember, you deserve to be happy and you are in charge of that!

Dr. David Stahlman – Associate Professor of Psychological Science

There can be no single key to success that works for every incoming student. Differences between individuals preclude such a possibility. However, something that can be useful for most is careful self-analysis and honesty. Know your strengths, know your weaknesses, and given those be prepared to organize your life in college to maximize your chances of success in all that you undertake.


Well, you heard them! Take their advice, and look out for another set of tips from your future professors soon.

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