Conversation Starters for Thanksgiving Dinner

1289860839296_3899503Thanksgiving is all about food and family. But turkey legs and mashed potatoes don’t sidle up to you after three eggnogs and ask why you can’t be more like your sister.

The first big holiday of the season is here, and you need to be ready. Your extended family members are lying in wait, cooking up juicy conversation starters like, “Let’s hope the economy gets out of the gutter by the time you graduate, huh?,” “How’s that job search going?,” and “So, are you dating anyone yet?”

But this year’s going to be different. This year, you’ll turn the small talk to your advantage with some crafty conversation starters of your own. You’ll find that with the proper prodding, each relative has something genuinely valuable to share with you.

Uncle-Jesse-Duke-the-dukes-of-hazzard-30209168-324-362YOUR UNCLE JESSE

The challenge: Uncle Jesse never has the same conversation just once, so you know he’s going to ask you (again) what your major is, and you will have to explain (again) that majoring in Religious Studies does not mean you are studying to be a priest.

Your tactical approach: “How’s business at the dealership?”

Say this because a) nothing is more likely to distract Uncle Jesse from your future employability than a question about American-made vehicles, and b) you can learn a heck of a lot about the local economy by studying consumers’ buying habits. The people who are buying (or not buying) Uncle Jesse’s cars are the same people who are hiring (or not hiring) employees. One of his customers might even be your dream employer. Find out if he knows anyone who is working in your field of interest and see if he can put you in touch with that person.


The challenge: Oh, how you secretly loathe him. This guy has been making you look bad since he skipped kindergarten and first grade on the same day. How is it possible to earn above a 5.0 GPA in high school? Was it really necessary to triple major at Yale? And why does he keep talking about Georgetown Law? It’s been a whole year since he graduated.

Your tactical approach: “So, what’s it like being a lawyer?”the-lincoln-lawyer

His response to this innocent-sounding question will immediately replace your anxiety about being unemployed after college with blissful relief that at least you probably won’t be working 70 hours a week and falling asleep on the couch every night with your laptop still on your lap. Listening to other people talk about their jobs can help you pinpoint what is most important to you in your future career. Compare your cousin’s experiences to the kind of life you’d like to lead. And don’t forget the lawyers know lots of people (a.k.a. potential employers), too.


The challenge: This sweet, fluffy-haired lady once threw a dinner plate at Richard Nixon’s face on her 1960s television set, so you rightly fear her. In her opinion, your life should progress as follows: Get a spouse, get a job, get a mortgage, and work for the same company until you retire or die, whichever comes first.86509377

Your tactical approach: “If you could’ve tried a different path in life, what would it have been?”

Nana isn’t much for networking, but she has more stories than everyone else in the room put together. Her regrets about roads not taken—and her reasons for not taking them—can powerfully illuminate the choices in front of you now. You might also realize that some of the hard decisions she made were based on practicalities that still exist, and will affect your own dreams.

Suit up, soldier. Winter is coming, and so are your relatives. Prepare to make the best use of your time together—and avoid awkward questions—by starting the conversations you really want to have.

Kacie Glenn
The Career Center

Plagiarism: The Gray Area

As students, we are all expected to know what plagiarism is. The Towson University 2014-2015 Student Academic Integrity Policy plainly spells out what plagiarism is: “Presenting work, products, ideas, words, or data of another as one’s own.” This definition covers the basic premise of what it means to steal someone’s work; however, there is a lot of gray area when it comes to what constitutes as plagiarism.

During syllabus week, it is not uncommon for professors to tell horror stories of students they caught plagiarizing work. If a student is caught stealing or copying someone else’s work, or even ideas, they can be subject to failing the course, or even suspension from the university. There are many circumstances where students are penalized, or even failed, for plagiarism without even realizing that they stole anything at all.

“Steal” and “copy” are two words that seem to go hand-in-hand with “plagiarism,” but it doesn’t just stop there. It is easy to fall through the cracks of plagiarism without directly copying and pasting someone’s work. In fact, there are different degrees of severity when it comes to plagiarism.



Plagiarism can be as minimal as missing page numbers on citations or as severe as blatant theft of content.

The concept of plagiarism can be confusing for a lot of students, so it’s important to know what exactly constitutes as plagiarism and how to avoid it.

Allison Peer, one of the Assistant Directors for the Office of Student Conduct & Civility Education, coordinates the Academic Integrity Process and handles instances when plagiarism has been reported. Allison meets with students who have committed serious forms of plagiarism or second time offenders; however, she also works with students who fall into the “gray area” of plagiarism.

“Students have this pressure to do well,” Peer stated, when asked about the issue of plagiarism. “When you get into a desperate situation, you may be willing to do something you wouldn’t normally do.” This is the same for situations where students may not even realize that what they have done is plagiarism.

Here are some instances of plagiarism that students may not normally consider:

Using previous work without citing yourself

Even though you may have written a paper, done a study, or completed a lab, it is still important to cite yourself if you are using the information elsewhere. If anyone else was to use your work, they would be expected to cite it. So, the same goes for if you are using your own work. Towson is an environmentally friendly campus, but this is the kind of recycling you should avoid.

Reusing work that you have already submitted

Even if the subject matter is similar, the citations are all in order, and you got an A on the assignment, you can absolutely get into trouble by resubmitting work. If you make small changes or move a few sentences around, it will still be considered plagiarism. If you did well the first time, work just as hard on the next assignment and don’t risk failing the assignment because of plagiarism!

Not properly paraphrasing

Paraphrasing can be tricky. It can be difficult to discuss a thought that someone else had without quoting it exactly. When it comes to paraphrasing, you’re best bet is to play it safe; otherwise, it may look like you’re copying someone’s idea, rather than using it to support your own. Try putting away your book or article when you write your notes so you are forced to put the ideas into your own words. Allison Peer often sees students get themselves into trouble for “trying to paraphrase, but not doing so well enough.

Not citing every source

You may have cited most of your sources, but if you leave any out, even one, you are plagiarizing. It can be tedious citing multiple sources and may seem easier to just cite the ones that you relied on the most; however, spending the extra time on citing every source you used will benefit you in the long run.

First Draft Plagiarism

Make sure you properly cite and avoid copying text in your first draft. Even though it is not the finished project, it is still considered plagiarism if you turn in a draft that violates any rules regarding plagiarism. Make sure you include a work cited page or a bibliography, even on your drafts.

False Citations

It is easy to assume that professors aren’t going to check every source you include; however, falsifying citations can get you into serious trouble. Make sure any links you include in your citation are real and lead to the page that you say they do.

How to Avoid Plagiarism

There is a broad spectrum of what can be considered plagiarism and it is important to know what could compromise your academic integrity. Towson University fosters students to uphold a standard of academic achievement and excellence, so it is important for us, as students, to make sure we avoid falling into pitfalls, such as plagiarism.

If you are ever confused or have questions about plagiarism, there are plenty of resources you can access to get quick answers.

  • Talk to your faculty about their expectations when it comes to plagiarism.
  • and are excellent online resources for checking your work to ensure that you haven’t plagiarized.
  • Check out Towson University’s 2014-2015 Student Academic Integrity Policy. It spells out exactly what the university considers to be plagiarism.
  • The Writing Center and The Office of Student Conduct and Civility Education are always willing to help and answer questions regarding plagiarism.
  • The Albert S. Cook Library also has tons of resources on how to avoid plagiarism, as well as citation help guides that can save you from making simple citation mistakes.

It can be tricky to stay out of the gray area of plagiarism, but when in doubt, just make sure you are using proper citations and giving credit where credit is due. Be sure to familiarize yourself with what plagiarism is and how to avoid getting caught up in it.

For more information, please visit:

Conor Reynolds
A-LIST Student, Cook Library

Your Permanent Record & How It Will Make You Money

“Get Involved.”

get-involvedThis phrase is among the most common ones you will hear throughout your career at Towson University. Student leaders like resident assistants, orientation leaders, and members of executive boards for different organizations constantly preach it. While it is easy to let this piece of advice go in one ear and out of the other, it’s highly important.

The short-term benefits of involvement are obvious; it fosters school pride, encourages engagement, and serves as a great way to make friends. You’ve probably heard it all before; however, what you may not have heard is how getting involved now will also benefit your future career search.

Once you start to become involved, it’s difficult to stop. Students often participate in multiple student organizations. Over the years, your involvement will start to add up and may prove difficult to track. The Student Activities department at Towson University has created a tool for countering that problem: The Student Engagement Record.

What is the Student Engagement Record?

The Student Engagement Record is a co-curricular transcript that showcases the accomplishments, involvement, and experiences you have acquired during your time at Towson University.

How do I get started?

Technically, you’re already signed up! The Student Engagement Record has begun tracking your involvement; log in through to see what’s already on your record. Check out this video for further instructions.

Why should I care about this?

If you care about having a job at some point in your lifetime, this is an important resource to consider. “The Student Engagement Record prompts students to reflect on their involvement, which will help them be able to articulate why these experiences make them a valuable employee or professional school candidate,” said Beth Steiner, Assistant Director of Student Activities. She continues, “The Student Engagement Record is a great opportunity for students to track and highlight all of their different experiences here at Towson.”

Some of the different ways that this record may help with your future success include:

-  Building your resume
–  Increasing your marketability
–  Enhancing your personal brand during interviews (bring a copy to your interview as supporting
–  Customizing your record to compliment varying job requirements

Fast forward to a year from now; you are involved in a few clubs, maybe you serve on the executive board for one or two of them. You are a proven leader. This means that job offers will just start flooding in, right? You’ll probably have to change phone numbers, move to a new apartment, and start a new life with a new identity? Not exactly. All of this information still needs to be put into a resume to show everything you have to offer your future employer. Great news; the Student Engagement Record allows you to track your involvement and there’s a place on campus that can help you with that tricky document called the resume: The Career Center!

What are the next steps after completing my Student Engagement Record?

The Career Center offers many services and resources including sample resumes by major, a free resume creator on Hire@TU, and resume/cover letter review appointments. The Career Center has a multitude of trained professionals who are dedicated to making your resume the killer job searching tool it has the potential to be!

To schedule a resume/cover letter appointment with a career advisor, call 410-704-2233 or visit The Career Center (7800 York Road, Suite 206) during Express Hours Monday through Thursday from 1-4 p.m. for a 15 minute consultation. Express Hours are conducted on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Make sure you bring in a completed copy of your Student Engagement Record to your resume/cover letter review.
Get started today!

Aaron Stroud
Career Center Marketing Intern

How to Help a Friend

“He’s stopping coming to class…I’m worried about him.”

“I’m afraid that my roommate has an eating disorder.”

“Every time I see her, she’s drunk. She’s not doing well. ”

“I think he could hurt himself…what do I do?” hero-friends

These are just a few statements we’ve heard from students at the TU Counseling Center. These friends look similar to our ongoing clients. They’re worried, stressed, and concerned about a fellow student.

It won’t likely surprise you to hear that many TU students are struggling. The statistics are concerning. The 2013 National College Health Assessment study found that about one-third of U.S. college students struggled to function in the last year because of symptoms of depression. The Center for Collegiate Mental Health at Penn State found that around 30% of clients at University Counseling Centers across the country have seriously considered suicide.

You’ve likely had a friend who you were concerned about but felt uncertain how you could be helpful. Perhaps you’ve worried that bringing up problems could make the friend feel uncomfortable, or worse, angry at you. Maybe you’ve tried to help already and felt some pushback. We’d urge you to not give up. As a friend, you’re positioned to possibly have an influence. The goal shouldn’t be to fix the problem (whatever it is that your friend is struggling with), but to show support and assist the friend in getting help from professionals.

When considering approaching someone who is struggling, it’s common to feel some discomfort. Keep in mind the goal of the intervention: to assist your friend with obtaining access to help. Here’s some steps for reaching out to your friend:

  1. The conversation should take place in a private setting, away from distractions. Avoid planning a large intervention as one on one will likely work best. Everyone involved should be clear headed so avoid talking after getting back from a party.
  1. Begin by expressing concern for your friend’s well-being, or safety if relevant. Share examples, things that your friend has done or said. Something like “I’ve noticed X, Y and Z. I’m worried about you.”
  2. Allow space for your friend to respond to your concerns. Listen carefully, demonstrating empathy and a non-judgmental attitude.
  1. Share information about campus resources, encouraging your friend to make appointments as soon as able. Be willing to help your friend make these appointments, maybe dialing the phone number or walking the friend to the building. If your friend doesn’t want to seek services on campus, help them find options off campus. The Counseling Center’s Community Providers Database might be helpful.
  2. Don’t let this be the last conversation about your concerns. Check in periodically to offer additional encouragement and support. If your friend isn’t open to making appointments when you first try, don’t give up. You might say “I still want you to think about getting some help. What do you think?”
  1. Supporting someone who is struggling can be draining particularly if you’re not careful with your own needs. Seek out your own support by talking with family, and friends. Consider seeking out your own counseling.Health0027

You can help your friend by initiating a caring conversation. Know that the Counseling Center is here to help. A consultation with us might provide more individualized suggestions and an opportunity to practice the intervention.

Jaime Fenton, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist
Director of Clinical Services
TU Counseling Center

Rate My Professor or Hate My Professor?

It’s time to pick your classes for next semester! After figuring out what you need, you might start filtering by days and times – maybe weeding out those Friday classes or 8 a.m.s. And chances are your next step might include a visit to Rate My to check out your options.

RateMyProfsSeems like the perfect way to choose which instructor to take, right? What could be better than hearing directly from students about their experiences, with no editing or censoring?

But wait . . . before you click, have you ever thought about how reliable the information you find there is? The site is so heavily used (according to a recent article, as high as 80 million views during registration times) that you would assume it’s full of valuable information that can help you make informed decisions about which classes to take (and which to avoid).

But although so many students turn to the site for answers, only a tiny fraction are actually posting to the site, making the feedback unreliable and potentially misleading. The best feature of the site – that it’s completely user-driven, so you get direct unfiltered student reviews – is also exactly what undermines its usefulness, since the response rate for such sites is typically very low.

Think about it – you may use the site all the time, but do you take the time to go on and post a review for each of your classes each semester? Usually, those who are motivated to post either absolutely adore their professor or, more often, are unhappy with their grade or otherwise disgruntled (which, by the way, in addition to the Hatemyprofessor

nickname, has spawned MTV’s always entertaining “Professors Strike Back” videos – kind of like a nerdier version of “celebrities read mean tweets”).rate 2

The problem with this user-driven format is that it tends to leave out the reviews from all those who are not at those two extremes. And there are no checks in place to make sure the reviewer attended class, did all the assigned work, or even was a student in the course – anyone can create an account and post. The power of influence contained in those 80 million views ends up in the hands of a very small minority of students (and who may not necessarily be the most informed about the full experience of the class).

Still feel like the site is too valuable to your decision process to let go? Consider these hard numbers, then, for Towson’s own page on the site:raccoon

Over 2800 TU professors are reviewed, but guess how many of those have 100 or more reviews? 42. That’s it. And only ONE of those has over 200 ratings. The other 2,772 instructors have numbers of reviews in the double or single digits only.

So to investigate how useful these small numbers of reviews might be, I decided to try using myself as an example. I’ve been teaching here since 1999, with as many as 12 classes per year and 35 students per course. Conservatively, that means I’ve taught 5000 students (likely more), and yet my reviews total . . . 30. That’s right – thirty, out of my thousands of students.

Digging a little deeper, let’s look at my most-often taught class as an example: I’ve taught History of Modern Design online 6 times (totaling over 200 students) since I redesigned it in 2013, and yet I have only 1 review posted for that class. Would you really want to make your decision to take the class based on one person’s opinion?

Much better to choose your courses based on other factors that are more concrete, and give the professor a chance. If you’re not sure about a course, email the instructor ahead of time and see if you can get a copy of the syllabus to see if the class looks like it would be a good fit for you. And we have a generous week-and-a-half long add/drop period, so nothing is set in stone – you’ll have several class meetings (at least) to make your own decision about an instructor.

Rate my seems to be here to stay, and students will inevitably be drawn to it. But with this more realistic view of what the site actually offers, try to take what you read there with a very large grain of salt.futurama gif

Or in the words of a great New York Times piece about the site, consider it “a lovable relic of Web 1.0. With more than 10 million quirky, untrustworthy reviews, it’s going strong. Read it like a novel, watch it like MTV, study it like sociology. Just don’t base any real decisions on it.”

Dr. Emily Halligan
Undergraduate Academic Advising Center

Money Matters…Increase Funding for Your Education

Part of being a successful college student is knowing how to navigate college finances, because finances can directly impact your academic success on so many levels. One of the first challenges is understanding your funding options – in other words – the financial aid process. Towson University’s Financial Aid Office and the Department of Education Student Aid websites provide excellent relevant and current information to help you navigate this ongoing process.

2014-10-20_0857 A very important thing to note is that each year your must re-apply for financial aid, which begins January 1.  The FAFSA is free – so don’t pay any money to complete it!  TU’s priority deadline is March 1, but it can take about two weeks for FAFSA to process, so it is recommended you complete it by mid-February.  Use Valentine’s Day, February 14th as a way to not only remember your honey – but also your money!

Meeting the March 1 priority deadline is most important because it is your best chance for getting the most financial aid for which you qualify. Also remember two weeks after submitting the FAFSA to login and make sure the Estimated Family Contribution field is not blank, all other information is correct and there are no error messages.

A common response to submitting the FAFSA by February 14 is that I’m a dependent and my parents haven’t completed their tax return (which has a April 15th deadline).  If this is the case, provide estimated tax return data for the previous year using W2s, 1099s and other tax reporting documents, because they must be issued by January 31 of each year.

But what if I miss the priority deadline, can I still apply for financial aid?  The answer is yes – but you may not receive as much funding.  For fall, the last date to apply is November 15 and for spring it is April 15 of each year.

When it comes to your award notification – note that freshman awards will be mailed starting April 1; but returning students will be sent an email starting May 1.  When you receive your award notification – review it carefully to determine whether or not your funding provides enough money to pay for actual expenses established under the Cost of Attendance, which is basically your student budget.  It is critical that you know you have enough money to pay Towson University each semester so you can register for and attend classes and pursue your academic career.

If you don’t have enough money to pay your bill, this is how finances can impact your academic success.  If you owe more than $200 on your account, you will not be allowed to register for next semester.  The Bursar’s Office will make several attempts to contact you to pay your bill and if you don’t respond – then they will pass this debt on to Central Collection Unit (CCU) of the State of Maryland.  This is when you will incur additional fees!  First you will be charged a $25 late fee, and when your debt is passed on to CCU – you will also be charged a collection fee of no more than 20% of the outstanding balance.  This unpaid deb may also be reported to credit bureaus. You may also lose many of your University privileges, including cancellation of your class schedule.images

As you can see, not having enough money to pay your bill each semester can have a snowball effect on both your finances and academics.  So if you find yourself in this situation – ask for help by going in person and meeting with someone at both the Financial Aid and Bursar’s Offices.  Financial Aid can review your award and the Bursar’s Office can let you know if there are other payment options available.

Here are some other important things to consider when it comes to navigating college finances:

  • A change in enrollment may impact your financial aid, so consult with Financial Aid Office before making any major enrollment decisions.
  • Use TU Scholarship Seeker to apply for additional funding.  Click here for a list of other options.
  • The State of Maryland Higher Education Commission provides useful information about state aid programs and college planning at
  • Save money by using your Onecard to buy meals on campus – you will not be charged the sales tax!
  • If you have to take loans – accept subsidized loans first!  For more information about wise borrowing see:
    • While you are in school – your loans are on your credit report, but in deferred status.
    • And remember – student loans cannot be forgiven under bankruptcy!
  • If you pay your student bill using a credit card, you are also charged a 2.75% fee.
  • If you are about to graduate and are worried about repaying your loans – learn more about consolidating your loans.  Use this link to learn more about the process.

Mary Fortier
Financial Services

David Horne
Director of Financial Aid

Too Busy to Vote – Think Again!

College students are perhaps the busiest demographic in the U.S. during the school year. Papers, exams, jobs, and internships consume most of their schedules, leaving them little time to relaStudent_Votingx and enjoy themselves. One aspect of the price that busy students pay is their ability to participate meaningfully in the U.S. democracy and their civic responsibility to vote.

Unfortunately, many students miss the opportunity to vote because of their busy lifestyles. Some schedules make voting nearly impossible, and some schedules make students prone to forgetting where and when voting is taking place.

“More than twice as many young people said that they did not vote because of ‘registration problems’ like not receiving an absentee ballot or not being registered in the right location. This may reflect that many are first-time voters who are less familiar with the process, particularly if they moved for school or work and had to adjust their registration accordingly. Measures that simplify the registration, address change and voting process could help reduce that gap; they could also help reduce the 10% who said they simply forgot to cast their ballot” (

student-vote-democracy-word-cloud1-1024x791Understanding the issues that college students face when they cannot make time to vote or have difficulty voting, Towson University’s Office of Civic Engagement & Leadership collaborated with TurboVote. This service is informative, convenient, easy to use, and it clears up voting-related issues with simplicity. TU’s partnership with TurboVote addresses all of these issues, and more. Did you know, for example, that Towson University students, faculty and staff members could register to vote in the upcoming elections, regardless of their home state or county? That is, you can register to vote and vote at TU even if your home state is New Jersey or South Dakota.

Does this sound like a lot of paperwork? Actually, no paperwork is involved at all. You can register to vote through TurboVote online in under five minutes, and those who use TurboVote can sign-up to receive text messages and email alerts reminding subscribers of impending elections.

Don’t be part of the “24% of youth said that they missed the registration deadline or that they did not know how or where to register” (Kawashima-Ginsberg, 2014). The benefits of TurboVote—from email and text reminders to the ability to register to vote online—make political civic engagement easy. TurboVote provides students access to required documents, absentee ballots and deadlines germane to each individual. With TurboVote at your fingertips, residents of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota can now vote while living in Maryland, leaving no excuse to miss voting. Utilizing TurboVote to register and then voting can better society—for both yourself and your community.

The Office of Civic Engagement & Leadership sponsors a variety of different initiatives in an effort to get students civically engaged on campus and in their communities. Our programs range from political engagement such as: Voter Registration, the Collegiate Readership Newspaper Program, the New York Times Talk Lunches, and “thoughtful thursday” conversations on Freedom Square to environmental engagement with the Environmental Conference, Sustainability Day, and the Eco-Reps Program. We have community engagement initiatives that bring the community to the classroom through Service-Learning courses in a variety of academic departments.jfk

Civic engagement and leadership encompasses active citizenship, community involvement, advocacy, awareness of social issues and injustices, and the development of personal and social responsibility. Civic engagement requires students to involve themselves in society with the intent to better the world around them through leadership. We are proud to offer many experiences for students, faculty, and staff to practice civic engagement and leadership at Towson University.

For more information, please visit:

Tyler New and Dr. Christopher Jensen
Office of Civic Engagement & Leadership


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