Living, Learning, Leading
July 7, 2021
Editor’s Note: Lauren Chupp ’18 currently attends Hobart and William Smith Colleges as a member of the class of 2022 where she is pursuing degrees in English and Psychological Science. From nearby Plymouth, Indiana, Lauren remains committed to Culver through her brother, Colin ’22. She is serving as the summer Marketing and Communications intern.
Arriving at my first class my freshman year at Culver Academies, I was a bit of a mess. My newly purchased kilt was buttoned wrong, my attempt at wearing my hair curled had turned into flat tangles, and when I reached in my backpack for a pencil, there was none to be found.
I wish I could say this was a funny anecdote for just the first day, but, sadly, this remained routine for much of the semester. I struggled my way through my classes with constant e-mail reminders from my teachers to “Go to the bookstore and buy a pen,” “Make sure to schedule time for each class during CQ,” and even “Lauren, remember your nametag please.”
My first college course at Hobart and William Smith Colleges could not be more different. I spent the morning before picking out a notebook and matching binders to hold all my materials. My dark grey pencil bag was stuffed to the brim with writing utensils of all different shapes and sizes. My outfit was planned far in advance to avoid the chaos of digging through my closet for the perfect shirt that did not exist.
The change in routine was not something that happened overnight, but rather the work of myself and my incredible mentors at Culver who helped shape me into the responsible student I am today.
Culver prepares students in a myriad of ways and areas for life in college that I did not even realize until I got there. The only way I can describe this process is through the name of a class taught here – Living, Learning, and Leading. Taken your freshman year (and, ironically, the exact class I walked into from the story above), the goal of this class is to help you adjust to the various parts of boarding school life at Culver, ranging from taking care of your mental health to basic life skills. Four years later in college, I found myself going through the same experience, only this time the class was just me, myself, and I.
The “living” lessons are perhaps one of the more obvious benefits of going to college after time at boarding school. After all, when you move out at 14, you get used to not having your parents there to take care of your every need. Unlike many of the students in my college dormitory, I already knew the basics of living without parental guidance.
Laundry was no problem, especially after years of washing a nice uniform that had to be done just right. No shrinking kilts here! Public bathrooms were normal to me and felt more like home than the small one I share with my brother at my house. Air conditioning was not even a thought that crossed my mind after years on the top floors of Chateau-Thierry. Right away, I noticed the difference in adjustment in this environment and how easy it was for me to feel comfortable there in comparison to my friends who lived at home in high school.
Beyond just feeling comfortable living in public dorm areas, part of my living advantages came in my ability to work together well with a roommate. Culver has you sign roommate contracts every year and that process helps students learn how to communicate their personal needs to someone they are living with. I understood how to tell my roommate that I needed the lights off at a certain time and made sure she knew that when I left my shoes in front of the door, she could tell me to move them. Being able to have these frank conversations quickly revealed itself as a blessing, given the many times a classmate had to look me in the eye and tell me that my clothes were folded wrong for Sunday inspection.
This improves living conditions tremendously for both roommates involved. And, by building these skills into the leadership system, Culver ensures each graduate knows how to have these conversations before entering the world without dorm moms and counselors to help them out.
Gaining skills for “learning” is also another obvious benefit of graduating from Culver. Going into college, I already knew so much about my personal study habits and what works best for me thanks to Culver’s support in my early years of high school. I made use of several of Culver’s resources including the Math Help Center, Writing Center, and academic coaching, all of which helped me develop habits on how to be academically successful based on my own learning style.
Culver encourages students to learn in a way that worked best for them while still demanding they be held to the challenging classroom curriculum. I did not realize how using these programs at Culver would help me transition so well into college until I arrived. These same techniques are used today in my study routine for college. Culver’s study schedule also carried over into my college career.
The famous Closed Quarters hours from 8-10 p.m. were ingrained in my mind as markers of when I should be done with work. In fact, during my freshman year I even made myself go to the library most nights between these hours as my own personal CQ time. Beyond just nighttime study hours, Culver’s rotating class schedule caused me to have free periods at different points of the day constantly.
Another important aspect of learning besides personal time management is how to be present in the classroom. Going into college, I was used to Culver classrooms where everyone was engaged in the material. Part of the grading scale here is that each class’s grade is made up of two components: process and performance.
Process grades are essentially your preparation and engagement in class, which includes being graded on whether you did your homework and if you are participating. Four years with this grading scale trained me how to be an active member of any class I am taking.
My college classmates were not prepared the same way. Many of them were too shy to speak up in my classes, leaving me to lead most class discussions and ask most of the questions in class. I wasn’t afraid to email the professor to ask for help while many of my peers tried to avoid office hours out of fear. It benefited me not only grade-wise; it also and helped me form relationships with my professors from an early point in college.
Culver’s most unique benefit for a student transition to college is the concept of “leading.” The leadership education system at Culver is structured so each individual first learns how to lead themselves before transitioning to leading others. This is an important nuance in being a strong leader; you need to know how to be responsible for yourself first.
The same concept applies to getting adjusted to college life. First, you have to be able to lead yourself through this transition. I noticed that I was more independent than my college classmates through the smallest actions such as walking across campus alone or asking for food adjustments at the dining hall. Culver teaches students how to take care of themselves in ways beyond just the basics. The leadership system requires you to learn skills of self-advocacy, problem solving, and personal responsibility, each of which translate into skills needed to lead yourself just as much as they are needed to lead others.
Much like the transition from underclass to upperclass years at Culver, within a few months at college I found myself beginning to lead others once I had established how I needed to lead myself. It wasn’t a special position with a green nametag, but it was smaller acts of leadership to help support the people around me.
Even small acts like inviting a few people in my class for an essay writing session required the same leadership characteristics that a hall prefect uses to communicate with each other on inspection standards. This is the type of daily leadership training that only Culver can provide. Culver students leave ready to not just take on the role of CEO, but also the kind friend reaching out to make plans with the shy girl she met last weekend. This is the leadership needed your first few months of college to help find your place in your new community.
Beyond just small actions for myself and leading others, one of the greatest ways I learned to lead myself at Culver is through knowing when I cannot be the leader and when to rely on others to lead me. Being an underclassman in college is a lot less pressure than in high school (no fear of stepping on the wrong grass and being thrown in the lake!) but there are still moments when you feel the weight of being the youngest on campus.
It could be at the new club you joined where all the upperclassmen have inside jokes you don’t understand. Or it could be when you go to put your dirty dishes away without reading the signs and throw your banana peel where the silverware is collected (yes, I did this).
Instead of fighting this process, I embraced it, like Culver reminds you to. Being in your first year is not a punishment but a chance to learn. While there were no Crest books to guide me through the process this time, I knew from Culver where to reach out and ask for help from those more knowledgeable than me, including professors, my resident assistant, upperclassmen in my classes, and even the campus counseling center.
These values of living, learning, and leading remain a part of me even now going into my senior year of college, only they have evolved to fit my new phase of life. After college, I am sure these concepts will change again while remaining the same core roots from that very first class at Culver.
I am so grateful for the foundation given to me by the Culver process and cannot wait to see where I get to live, learn, and lead after I graduate (again!).