Geek Life: Getting Students Organized

Despite the many social and demographic changes that have resulted in colleges and universities welcoming a wider variety of non-traditional students (from returning women to life-long learners) the biggest chunk of our students will likely be relatively fresh out of high school, and still in need of a little in loco parentis to get them started.  Many of these hatchlings are still waiting for someone to tell them what classes to take, when to arrive, where to get materials for class, and how to study.  One area where we can contribute is in the arena of organization, and preparation.

On the first day, in addition to going over the syllabus and reading schedule, I spend time discussing what I call ‘geek kits’; meaning  those varied sacks, cases, Ziplocs of supplies the best students keep handy in their bags.  I am prompted to go over this thanks to my own undergraduate days, where I might have won an award for LEAST prepared scholar, always cadging a pen and paper, or taking notes on my hand.  So what should go into a geek kit? At a minimum, students need pens, pencils, erasers, a sharpener, highlighter pens, white-out pens ( and Post-It flags ( for marking relevant passages in their books.  A portable three hole punch (like the Binder Buddy from ACCO) and a mini stapler are also essential.  While we are at it, a couple of USB sticks wouldn’t come amiss. Many students don’t think to backup their work and bring it to campus in the event of the inevitable ‘printer failure’ that comes at crucial moments.

Do you think this seems obvious? Goes without mentioning? Is anal-retentive overkill on my part? I would have thought so too, until you spend fifteen wasted minutes while people run around asking each other for supplies so they can turn in a paper, or take a Scantron exam (in fact, my syllabus now mentions not only that they will need Scantrons, but the model number, the color, how many they will need, and where they can purchase them).  It was either that, or go out of my mind answering those questions several times per class, with six or seven classes, every semester.  Preempting them in this fashion makes me a calmer, nicer, professor.

One funny extension of the geek kit comes from a student of mine, who created a ‘Finals Week’ survival kit to fit inside of an Altoids tin*.

“1. Starbucks prepaid coffee card – while I normally don’t splurge on Starbucks, while studying for finals I just gotta have some joe.

2. Rubberband – I need a rubberband to wear around my wrist. When my mind begins to wander, I snap myself back to reality and remember to focus-focus-focus.

3. 4 No-Doze tablets – just in case I begin to fade too early, I’m too tired from working all day, or the library is really, really quiet, I can load up on caffeine pills and stay alert.

4. 2 Advil tablets – all that studying gives me a headache!

5. 5 Sticks of Juicy Fruit – to fight boredom and/or dry mouth.

6. Half a dozen Altoids – for refreshment and/or to fight coffee breath.

7. Two dozen sour lemon candies – to help focus, fight boredom, and counteract any Altoids aftertaste.

8. 1 Think Organic Chocolate Coconut snack bar – to fight off any hunger pains and provide energy.

9. A handful of paperclips – I like to use them to mark pages in my notes and text books that I may need to re-review several times (key concepts, graphs, etc.).

10. A container of pencil lead – just in case.”

*If you would like to make your own Altoids survival kit, as another student put it, “in case of a zombie attack, or an asteroid hitting the earth…” you can find suggestions at:,13355,1225788,00.html

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