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Winning Essay

Kristine Ruggles
Whitworth College
Spokane, WA
(Instructor: Diana Churchill)

What is a Master Student?

It was my 45th birthday, Friday, September 8, 2000 and I wondered how I could best embrace this next season of life. My children are no longer tugging on my apron strings and are showing healthy signs of venturing out from the nest. It is a beautiful, albeit painful, experience for a woman who waited until later years to wear the maternal hat. Little did I know that my own children would launch me into a genuine yearning to seek new ways to grow and enrich myself. This yearning helped me decide what that next step might be. I will spread my wings along with my girls and finish something I have desired to complete since I left junior college nearly 22 years ago - a college degree!

What better place to begin than by signing up for a class entitled "College Study Skills." This class appealed to my sense of logic and I was certain it would cover the basic how-to's of studying. However, when the instructor handed me the book entitled, Becoming a Master Student, I was intimidated. Shortly into the class reading, the book helped me understand that all human beings are designed to be learners and we all have a Master Student within us. This is when I began to define a Master Student as being a life-time learner versus my previous belief that someone is born gifted, talented, and a straight "A" student or valedictorian. However, I now realize it is up to an individual to tap into their innate learner and develop those skills that can lead to a lifetime of personal growth and enrichment.

One of the first skills I encountered was completing many exercises and reading assignments about the learning styles and how they apply to a student's study habits. In one of the assignments, our class took the Myers-Briggs personality test. I found out that I am an ISFJ (Introverted Sensing with Extroverted Feeling) learner, and now I use this discovery to better understand how I learn while letting go of past misconceptions. For example, some students have been labeled mischievous when in reality they are kinesthetic learners in lecture-based classrooms. Familiarity with learning styles also helps me understand an instructor's teaching style in order to adapt my practices in the classroom. If the instructor is auditory, then I can take vigorous notes to assist my visual learning preference. This is one way a Master Student can embrace who they are and use weaknesses and strengths to become a more self-confident learner.

Another invaluable skill inherent to the Master Student is setting goals and planning to make them real. Even if a goal is never achieved, it shows that a person is willing to risk and change which is never a failure. A goal must be specific, attainable, and set within a certain time limit to be effective. For instance, "I want to get a degree" is not a real goal because it is too broad to measure. However, if I say, " I want to complete a bachelors degree in liberal arts at Whitworth College by the spring of 2002", that is an attainable, measurable goal. I plan to achieve this goal by breaking it down into manageable steps. A Master Student realizes the importance of setting short-term and long-term (a year or more away) goals using one to feed into the other. Both give an individual a sense of purpose and direction as in an age-old Chinese proverb "A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step."

Finally, one of the more general but crucial attributes of a Master Student is the ability to think critically. This is an important quality in all areas of life because our choices dictate our direction for better or for worse. A Master Student is a well-rounded, mature individual who has attained wisdom from a culmination of life experiences. Successful choices are a result of solving a problem or making a choice by listing the facts, looking at pros and cons, making the decision/choice, and checking how you feel about (and how others will be affected by) this conclusion. This takes concerted effort, but a Master Student uses this inquisitive, analytical, and open-minded process to gain self-confidence and maturity.

In summary, a Master Student knows the truth about herself and uses that understanding to enhance any learning situation. She also sets goals and uses planning, both short-term and long-term, to chart a course to achieve those goals. All along the way, the Master Student approaches her life applying the qualities of a critical thinker. There is a Master Student in all of us just waiting to be tapped into for a lifetime of growing and enrichment!