Pyramid of Success
I am writing you because as a new student in Mechanical Engineering (ME), I want to give you the best possible opportunity to succeed in ME. My purpose in writing you is to give you some tips that you might find valuable in trying to maximize your grades. Provided in this document is a color graphic I have developed to help students recognize a stratum of suggestions that build on one another and work synergistically to help students maximize their grades and achieve their full potential. I have taken the liberty to summarize these eight principles below.
- Attend Every Class – Attending Class Every Day is the foundation of the Pyramid. Not surprisingly, many students who find themselves struggling with grades aren’t following this simple principle. To get more from this foundation, sit up front where your attention in class will likely improve. Also, introduce yourself to your professor and get to know them. They are the key to your success and often a valuable resource later when you need a strong recommendation letter. Some students may feel their professor is ineffective in the classroom for them. It is still important to attend class every day. However, if this does occur and you are unable to switch sections, try attending another section that has a professor whose style more closely aligned with what you need to learn.
- Do All Homework – The second layer of the foundation is Do All Homework to the best of your ability. Again, it is common for students who are struggling academically to blow off their homework because it doesn’t represent a high percentage of points. However, the homework is critical because it represents your PRACTICE for understanding the concepts you are trying to learn. Without regular practice it is very difficult to perform effectively on exams, where the majority of points reside. Also, many struggling students don’t regularly use the resources for assistance that are readily available (e.g., the Tutorial Rooms, the TA Office Hours, the Faculty Office Hours, etc.). You may have been a student that didn’t need to ask for assistance in high school. However, you need to realize that all ME students need help periodically so don’t hesitate to advocate for yourself and ask. My top students get there by asking questions when they don’t understand. You should do likewise. Finally, it is great to work with other like-minded students, but don’t become too dependent on them. You need to find a healthy balance between working individually and working with others.
- Prepare for Exams – In preparing for exams, many of the faculty provide help sessions and copies of old exams to use for practice. I strongly encourage students to take advantage of all of these resources. Practicing with old exams is a great way to test the waters and see how well you understand the concepts. The other difference between exams and homework is that you will be tested over many concepts that will be ordered randomly on the exam. Hence, understanding how to classify the various types of problems is not a skill you tend to practice a lot when working on homework. Even if you have no clear questions, it is still valuable to attend the help sessions. Listening to other student questions and the professor’s response may provide you with some new insights. Also, if you have documentation to receive accommodations, by all means take advantage of these accommodations, whether or not you believe you will need them. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Occasionally, faculty may write excessively long exams and that extra time may prove invaluable.
- Debrief on Exam Results – Human nature causes us to want to ignore bad news in hopes that it will just disappear if I don’t think about it. Obviously this never works. I recommend the opposite approach of taking your exam and securing a copy of the solution and reviewing step-by-step what you did right and what you did wrong (perhaps even with your professor). Who knows, you might detect a grading error that will help improve your grade (most faculty offer re-grades if you identify any errors in grading). Only then can you learn from your mistakes and hopefully avoid these mistakes in the future. In this process it is imperative that you are honest with yourself. Did you may a silly mistake? Did you just not fully understand a concept? Did you misunderstand the problem? Were you just not prepared? What are the honest reasons for not performing at a higher level?
- Prepping for Finals - This is pretty much a ditto for the exam preparation discussion above. However, the challenge here is that most final exams are comprehensive and thus cover considerably more material than the regular hour exams. Again debriefing for the final exam is also a good idea. This will enable you to confirm your grade is accurate and occasionally you might find an error in grading that improves your grade. It never hurts to check.
- Treat Your Classes Like a Job – Finally at the apex of the Pyramid is “Treat Your Classes Like a Job”. What I mean by this is commit yourself to coming in to campus early every day and stay on-campus all day. When you are not in class, go to the Tutorial Room or the Library and work on your upcoming homework. I promise you that if you use the day effectively, you can get the majority (if not all) of your work done and will have the evenings for social activities, student organizations, just relaxing, attending sporting events, working out, etc. I would even bring your lunch with your and utilize the kitchen in the building if needed (just like you would do with a summer job). The point is if you follow this basic principle, you will be amazed how much more effective you will be with your time. Many younger students especially tend to come to campus late, go back to their dorms or apartments between classes and flitter the day away with little to show at the end. Then they want to hang out with friends for a while which forces them to either stay up late getting homework done (and risk missing class in the morning) or blow off the homework and get behind. In either case, this mode of operation is not sustainable for 16 weeks. Try this simple idea and see if it doesn’t help you to improve your grades (and in many cases dramatically).
- Interruptions/Accommodations – If anything impedes or interrupts your ability to succeed, you need to come in and see your academic advisor (or myself) immediately. Don’t sit on the problem and hope it will go away. We can think together on what accommodations might be possible to help you with whatever struggle you may be facing. The point is, don’t sit on your problems and do nothing. Take action early and we can find reasonable solutions to most challenges.
- Seek a Student (or Professional) Success Coach if Struggling – Finally, if you find yourself struggling academically, consider seeking a Student Success Coach. This is a relatively new service that the University if offering at no cost to you and can be requested at the Student Success Center on the 4th floor of the Krach Leadership Building. You will be paired with a trained success coach who can meet with you periodically (e.g., weekly or biweekly) to: 1) help you develop good study habits and organizational skills, 2) to establish your goals and plans of action, 3) have a vehicle for regular accountability, and 4) provide a multitude of resources that can help you succeed professionally, academically, and socially. If you are struggling academically, I strongly recommend you seek a student success coach to assist you in establishing good habits and monitoring your progress. Personally, I would recommend you meet with your coach weekly and have your coach prepare a monthly summary that you can share with your advisor to keep them abreast of your progress.
Finally, I encourage you to take a look at the common mistakes of younger students and the three common types of students listed (shown on each side of the Pyramid of Success). You might find some insight that may prove critical to your success. Remember that neither I nor your parents can do it for you. It has to come from you. The first question you need to ask yourself is “Is this what I want to do with my career and my life?” If not, we need to talk so I can help you discover your true passion. If ME is your passion, you need to commit the time and effort needed to succeed or you may lose this opportunity forever. In my experience, the more a student has a vision of what they are working towards, the greater ability they have to persistent even when they face struggles. I have to tell you that I am not a dictator so I am not going to follow you around to make sure you are following these ideas. Nor can I guarantee if you follow these principles, you will succeed. However, I believe that if you will honestly implement these simple ideas, your chances of success in ME and in life will improve dramatically. Test me on this and see if I am right. I personally challenge you to print out a copy of the Pyramid of Success and post up on your mirror as a daily reminder of your new philosophy. As always, I am available (as well as all of our academic advisors) if you have questions about these suggestions or any other topics you may want to discuss.
Best wishes for a successful and productive semester!
James D. Jones
Associate Professor and Associate Head
585 Purdue Mall
School of Mechanical Engineering
West Lafayette, IN 47907-2088
Ph: (765) 494-5691
Fax: (765) 494-0539