[Fresh] Interview with Dr. Reilly

Kelly Eastland (kelly.eastland@villanova.edu)
Wed, 12 Mar 2003 15:06:34 -0500

Interview with Dr. Edward Reilly, Study Skills Counselor.

Fresh@News: By now all of the members of the class of 2006 have gotten their mid-term grades
for the spring semester. Is it time for some changes?

Dr. Reilly: Most of our first year students did very well in high school or they wouldn't be
here in the first place, and most do well at Villanova as well. But moving from high school
to college is a big adjustment, and some students make the transition more easily than
others. For some, the first semester can be a rude awakening. The spring semester, however,
starts off on a clean slate, with new courses and often completely different teachers. This
is a good time for students to look at what worked or didn't work in the first semester. It
is also a good time to make some concrete changes, and that is what the Study Skills Program
is all about.

Fresh@News: What problems do first year college students typically face with study skills?

Dr. Reilly: One of the most obvious problems is that college is different from high school,
and sometimes they learn that the hard way. It can take students a semester or two to see
that they can't continue to use the same methods that worked in high school. In high school
they might have found that they could wait to the last minute to write a paper or study for
the test and still get a good grade. If they try that strategy in college, often they will
not get the grade they were
hoping for. Instead they should have started writing that paper well before it was due,
perhaps taking a draft to the Writing Center and then revising it.

Fresh@News: What about the greater independence of college life, does that play a role?

Dr. Reilly: That is the other big piece of it. In college, students are the captains of
their own ship, and they don't have parents to see if they are completing their work. They
have enormous freedom. If they want they can cut classes, not study, hang out with their
friends, or become caught up in the many activities that are available to them. Not
surprisingly, not all first year students adjust to this greater freedom right away.

Fresh@News: What are some of the skills you help students acquire?

Dr. Reilly: There are several skills that are important including: time management;
assertiveness; self-awareness; and test taking skills. Let's start with time management.
One big problem is to know how much time to spend on various subjects. Some courses are
more demanding than others, and some first year students have trouble figuring this out.
Some instructors are very directive, and tell students exactly what they need to know, but
other instructors give much more general directives, and students have to translate those
into a concrete plan of action. All of this takes some practice and skill, especially in the
beginning.
A first step we usually take is to have the students do an assessment of how they are
spending their time right now. We have them ask themselves whether they are making a good
apportionment of their time to the things they need to get done. Often enough even this
simple exercise leads to positive changes.

Fresh@News: You mentioned assertiveness. How does that relate to studying well?

Dr. Reilly: We want students to learn to take charge of their lives. First, they need to be
assertive enough to say no to distractions that will keep them from studying. They have to
learn to say no to their friends about a social activity, for example, if it will prevent
them from finishing a paper or studying for a test. They also need to have the confidence
to establish relationships with their professors, so that they can ask professors for help
or for more direction about the course. Sometimes they are just unaware of academic
culture, so they don't realize that it is better to make an appointment with a professor to
meet in the office rather than to try to ask the professor something in the hallway.

Fresh@News: What about self-awareness? How does that contribute?

Dr. Reilly: One of the things we know is that different students learn in different ways.
Some students, for example, are very good at getting the details, but have more trouble
applying them. Students need to come to understand how they learn, so that they can adapt
their learning
styles to different contexts. We like to have students take the Myers-Briggs test, which
really helps them understand how they think and learn, and from there to strategize about
the best ways to use their skills. Motivation is also a big factor. Sometimes students
have trouble studying because they just don't see the connection between their long-term
goals and the tasks that have to be accomplished. Sometimes what they really need to do is
to think more about what they
are expecting to get out of their education anyway. Once that is clear, we can help them
connect those goals to more short-term behaviors. If there are emotional problems involved,
we may suggest that students take advantage of our psychological counseling services as
well.

Fresh@News: You also mentioned test-taking skills.

Dr. Reilly: Just because a student knows the material doesn't necessarily mean that the
student will do well on the test. Test-taking itself is a skill, and some students need
help with it. We work with students, for example, to practice for an essay exam by trying
to make up possible essay questions. Some courses use multiple choice exams, and we can
help students use the world-wide web to find practice tests that will help them sharpen
those skills.

Fresh@News: What kind of study skills support does your office offer students who need help?

Dr. Reilly. We regularly offer workshops on time management, on test-taking, and on
learning styles. During the semester we usually offer all three workshops at least once a
month. Students can see our advertisement in the Villanovan, or just stop by our office,
206 New Health Services Building, to find the schedule. Much of our work is done in
individual appointments. Often students who have done a workshop then continue with some
individual sessions. It gets pretty busy toward the end of the semester, but usually a
student can get an appointment within a day or two of making contact with our office.
Students and parents can also find out more about what we do by looking at our website:
http://www.students.villanova.edu/studyskills/

Fresh@News: What does Villanova offer for students with learning disabilities?

Dr. Reilly: Some of our students have been diagnosed with learning disabilities during their
K-12 schooling. Sometimes the student will hope that those disabilities will just disappear
in college, but often enough a student with a learning disability will need extra support in
college. Our office of Learning Support Services is specifically dedicated to helping these
students, and most of the students who have shared their diagnosis with us have already been
in contact with the
office (http://learningsupportservices.villanova.edu/). We also sometimes discover
students with undiagnosed learning disabilities. Ms. Nancy Mott, our Learning Disabilities
Coordinator, can help these students seek appropriate evaluation, and then she can work with
them and to identify the accommodations that are appropriate to help them have a successful
career at Villanova.

Fresh@News: What advice do you have for parents?

Dr. Reilly: Let me start by giving some advice about younger siblings who are still in high
school. I think it is very important to let these students develop independence and
responsibility while they are still in high school. Unless they have got some sense of
independence and self-direction before they reach college, they may have some
difficulties. Once students are already in college, the parent can gently monitor how the
student is doing as far as self-direction. If
the student does badly in one or more courses, the primary focus should be on getting beyond
recriminations to asking what concrete changes the student will be making in the future. It
is all well and good to talk about will-power, but usually students need to make some
concrete changes in their behavior as well. Parents might, of course, want to suggest that
the student take one of our workshops or stop by for an individual session. One book that I
recommend is HOW TO STUDY IN COLLEGE, by Walter Pauk (Hougton Mifflin). The other important
thing is not to be discouraged, especially during freshman year. We have good students who
have the qualifications to do the work that is asked of them, but it is important to help
them take advantage of the support services that are available to them.

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