Skip to main content

Hajim School greets record number of freshmen

nikki terry
(Nikki Terry, an academic counselor with the Hajim School, advises freshmen students during their orientation.)

“You are the stewards of the future,” Associate Dean Jim Zavislan told a record number of incoming Hajim School freshmen on Wednesday. “Define your passion and go after it.”


jimZavislan’s welcome was part of orientation for 480 incoming freshmen who have declared an interest in an engineering or computer science major.

He began his presentation with a video of Steve Jobs, the late Apple co-founder, urging young people not to limit their aspirations to living with the world as it is. “Everything around you that you call life was made up by people (who) were no smarter than you. You can change it. You can influence it. You can build your own things other people can use. Once you learn that, you will never be the same again.”

At the Hajim School “we celebrate the same things Jobs was talking about,” Zavislan said.

He urged the students to approach their education as a “full time job” and offered advice in several areas:

Turn off those cell phones during lectures. “Your cell phone is basically there to demand your attention. If it is demanding your attention you are not learning. Learning is purposeful. Learning is hard. Learning requires effort. To establish the neural networks that lead to intuition in your education, you cannot be distracted.”

If you must surf during a lecture, “do it from the back row.” Research shows that students sitting around you will be even more distracted than you are by the changing images flickering across your screen.

Avoid huge “ time sucks” such as online video gaming and internet surfing. “If you want to surf, surf with a purpose, even if it’s for fun. Surf for 15 minutes, then walk away. Don’t do the rat-hole, dive-down, binge internet surfing because it distracts you from what you need to do, which is to focus on your work and on your fun. Be careful how much time you spend on things that don’t add value.”

"Lighten up on yourself." Students often think they are being judged more critically by their peers than they actually are.

Regard failure as an “incredibly important” learning tool. Zavislan related how some costly mistakes he made in private industry actually led to better solutions and “in some cases to fundamental knowledge that led to very important progress in our field. Until you fail you don’t necessarily know the right path.” Moreover, you will be defined “not by the failures you have had, but your responses to those failures.”

Engage with others. Engineering is a “body contact sport” that requires working as a team. Take advantage of study groups. And if you’re shy, buy some cookies, walk up to the group, put the cookies on the table, and ask if you can sit in. It will work every time!

Be wary of double and triple majors. “Speaking as someone who has hired a lot of people in engineering, being a double major does not make you more marketable,” Zavislan noted. “It can actually make you less marketable because it (might appear to employers that you are) less competent in your chosen field. And triple majors are almost always disasters.”

Instead, give serious consideration to study abroad. “You live in a global society. If you’re an engineer today, you will work with overseas suppliers and you will likely work with engineers trained in other countries. You will be more marketable if you have international engagement.”  And study abroad will fundamentally change your understanding of the world around you.

Take full advantage of the opportunities that college offers. That might mean doing something that makes you uncomfortable. Zavislan related how one college student, advised to do so by his father, joined an acappella singing group, even though he had never taken music or sung in a choir. “He loved it.”

Take ownership of your education, and “learn to take advice from the people who are paid to give the correct answers.”  Don’t rely on fellow students to have the right answers about courses, grades and how the academic system works. Student advisers, undergraduate coordinators and faculty members will know the answers, or will know who to direct you to.

Be respectful of advisors' and faculty members' time. Think through your questions ahead of time. The worst experiences for an advisor are students who show up, saying “I don’t know what I want to take,” and when asked what they like, shrug and mumble “I don’t know.” Advising is collaborative. “We can add more value the more you bring to us. Tell us your passions; tell us your dreams.”

“Let’s get to work!”