Friday Feature: Former Student Dan Crawley

Welcome to the first in a series of weekly blog posts featuring my former students and where their lives have taken them so far.  My hope is that each individual feature, and the collection as a whole, will interest and inspire young people, giving them a sense of the unique experiences and the wide array of possibilities that await them in the world.  Lots of paths for lots of journeys, in other words.

This first post may seem a bit obtuse for a couple of reasons.  First, because it didn’t get posted on Friday the way I’d planned.  Second, because our featured student chose not to attend college, which might be a little peculiar coming from a blog that’s a companion to a book about seizing one’s entire college experience.

One of the most important lessons of the book, however, is to be open-minded to all the wonderful experiences the world might throw at you and to follow our mantra:  Know Thyself, Have a Plan, and Assume No One Else Cares.

When you meet Dan in what follows, you’ll see that he’s surely done that.

(NOTE:  Pictures of some of Dan’s work will be peppered throughout; however, most of what he creates is owned by the movie studios, so visit IMDB to get a sense of the breadth of his work HERE.

Dan Crawley

I’m not really sure how to write advice for young people who are on the cusp of entering or are already in college.  I’m actually not really sure how to write in general.  I was a good student through all of my school years, but those years ended with graduating high school.  My story actually diverges from the norm before I received my diploma which came by way of mail, and not via walking down the aisle in cap and gown.

I have a tendency to get long winded, so I’ll try to hit the play by play and get to the point.  I don’t believe my years in middle school and high school were too terribly different than most youngsters and I’m sure I faced many of the same adversities and challenges that anyone faces.  I wasn’t popular and I wouldn’t even say I was generally very well liked.  I was a kid from a small, lower middle class town that attended a school comprised predominantly of kids of wealthy and conservative families.  My reaction was obviously to draw attention to myself via imagery and appearance contrary to that world.  This made high school an experience I wanted to end sooner rather than later and so with all my credits completed by the middle of my senior year, I graduated early at barely 17 years old.

This is not Dan.  This is Mega Man.

This is not Dan. This is Mega Man.

Art had always been a focus for me since a very young age, and I was drawing pretty much non-stop since as early as 5 years old.  It was something that I had a natural ability at and that I was happy to practice to sharpen those skills further.  Somewhere around the age of 9 or 10 I saw a behind the scenes special involving special make-up effects used for movies.  I was fascinated by the imagery I think more than the actual process since I hadn’t been exposed to a lot of the types of movies that are heavy in that realm.  Animatronics in particular grabbed my attention since my interest in all things mechanical or electronic was second only to my insatiable need to produce art.

By the time that early graduation from high school came along, I had convinced my parents to let me attend a specialty trade school for special effects make-up and animatronics in Orlando.  This was a long way from where I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, I was only 17, and my parents were pretty adamant that I go to college first.  They argued that I should get a college education first, and then I could attend the trade school if I still wanted to.  They thought it would be important to have something ‘to fall back on’.  I even humored them by visiting a school in Pittsburgh that had what they called an Industrial Design Technology program, which was a fancy way of conveying that they taught a watered down version of special effects.  It was a 2 year program, and the trade school was only just over 4 months.  I knew what I wanted to do and thought that the quicker I could get into the business and just start working, the better.

I won the battle and moved to Orlando at 17 years old and attended that trade school.  I was all alone, and my parents actually had to lie on the application for me to have an apartment and say that my older brother was living with me because they wouldn’t allow a minor to live there alone.  I was already a few weeks into school when the rest of my high school class walked the aisle.  My diploma was mailed to my parent’s house.

I finished the program and moved back home by the fall to save money and decide on my next move.  My parents took on a great financial burden to send me to that trade school both in tuition and in housing me while I was there.   I held odd jobs at nights and weekends while I was there to pay for what I could, but I actually owed money to the bank by the time I left Florida.  This intensified my desire for success with the obligation to fulfill their investment.  I knew that all of the work was in Los Angeles, so that was where I needed to go.  I had a friend whose mom lived out there and he was also eager to move to Los Angeles, so we decided after the first of the year we would move out there together.  Two weeks before our intended move, however, my friend bailed on me, and with that went any kind of connection or housing in a city an entire country away.

Dan doing his thing.

Dan doing his thing.

This was another time I made a decision to take an unorthodox approach.  I moved to Los Angeles anyway, without my friends or family, barely 18 years old, and only about $2000 to my name that I had saved from working since returning from Orlando.  I drove across country without the internet, a cell phone, or a place to live.  I can honestly say that it didn’t seem as crazy as it sounds now, and I’ve never been so excited in my life.  I was incredibly fortunate to have parents that supported me even if they didn’t understand me.  I was naïve enough to think that there was no other option but to be successful.

The first 6 months were very hard, but I did it on my own and never had to borrow any money.  I worked a grocery store nights and weekends to support myself very modestly.  During the day I worked at a special effects shop for free doing all of the odd jobs nobody wanted to do, but I watched and listened and learned.  I put in as many hours as I could and jumped at any opportunity I got to learn or be involved.  I quickly realized that my trade school education was outdated and nearly worthless.  It was actually a scarlet letter to the people in the business, and so it became my secret pretty quickly.  After about 8 months I was finally being paid and was able the leave the grocery store and make make-up and special effects my only job.  It was a very proud moment, but I still had a long way to go.

This is not Dan.  This is Dan's work.

This is also not Dan. This is Dan’s work.

I started bouncing around to different effects houses in the area, building upon my skills and luckily my wages too.  By a year and a half in, I got a job at the top special effects house in the entire business.  It was owned by the man who was the subject of that behind the scenes special that had ignited my passion all those years ago as a child.  It was a place where the top artists in the field worked on the highest profile movies and projects in the business.  I was only 19 years old when I got the job, and although I was at the very bottom, I was still in.  It seemed as though all of my hard work, sacrifice, and probably a little luck had all converged to give me what I had dreamed of.

It was short lived.

A series of concussive blows to my newfound success came within less than a month.  My roommate told me he was moving, which left me with no place to live.  My car broke down and I didn’t have enough money to fix it or get a new one.  I was able to borrow a bicycle from a friend and ride it 7 miles each way to work at my dream job, but was hit by a car on two separate occasions in one week.  Then I got laid off from that dream job since the movie we were working on came to an end and I was the low man on the totem pole.  Finally, September 11 happened and pulled the rug out from an entertainment industry already debilitated by a writer’s strike from the previous summer.  By the end of November I was out of money, there were no prospects for work, and I had to move out of my apartment.  After nearly two years in the industry that I fought desperately to be a part of, I put what little I owned in storage and headed back to my parents’ house in Illinois literally penniless.

Not Dan returning home.

Not Dan returning home.

Discouraged but not defeated, I took the month of December to spend time with my family and devise a path back to Los Angeles.  Here came some hard choices and my naively ambitious answers again.  By mid-January I was on a plane back to California where I would live out of a single duffle bag on my friend’s couch.  I found a few days’ work where I could and rode that borrowed bicycle in the bitter cold early morning hours to get there on time.  By the end of February I had found a room to rent, and by mid-April I was able to buy a car.  In less than a year I went from the height of my career, to a worse situation that when I began it, and finally back to enough of a baseline to survive and look for further opportunity.

The story wraps up pretty quickly from that point.  Within less than a year from moving back I had worked my way to supervising small crews and working most of the months of the year.  I think it was somewhere in my fourth year that my parents finally decided that what I was doing was an actual career.  From about that point on I’ve worked steady ever since and had some amazing opportunities and experiences along the way.  14 years later I still love what I do, and that’s not to say it can’t get monotonous and boring, but I’m truly lucky to earn a living at something I’d be doing anyway.

The eyes have it.

The eyes have it.

I think that almost all of my successes came from a combination of saying yes to every opportunity and then working hard to make those opportunities a success.  There were many times when I was asked if I knew how to do something and the answer was always ‘yes’ whether I knew how or not.  I have truly lived a trial by fire.  I’ve always believed that by throwing myself into an unfamiliar or challenging situation I will rise to it and thus become stronger for it.  This can be a dangerous game to play, but it is one that I believe plays a large part in my education via experience.

Most of the skills I use on a daily basis can’t be taught in a school.  I would say the number one most important tool to success in my field is problem solving ability.  Everything we do is custom and never has been done before, so while your experiences from previous projects can be applied, every job presents a new set of unique challenges.  I don’t know if you can effectively teach instinct in a classroom.  My kind of problem solving is a step by step way of thinking that requires a cool head and a logical approach, but also a little luck and magic.

I don’t think I could ever really say if I’m left or right brained since everything I create and every choice I make are the result of perhaps just being advantageously scatter brained.  I also don’t know that I’m qualified to give advice as to what path young people today should take since the world has changed so much since I was that age.  But passion and perseverance seem to be an integral part of it.  All I can do is share with you what got me to where I am today in my career and say that it won’t be the same for anyone else.  Every journey can take many different paths to arrive at the same destination.  Are any of them the right one if they all lead to the same place?  Some are certainly easier or more direct, but perhaps won’t build the character necessary to be the most successful or effective once you arrive.

Thank you.






Red Hood BTS Final-0680

A Circus Run Like an Army

Baz Luhrmann says his life is “a circus run like an army,” which might be the perfect amalgam for being a thinker, creator and doer – three requirements for any college student.  By conducting oneself in a structured manner, there is time to think, to create and to execute, essentials for surviving on campus.

Whether you like his work or not, this Baz-brilliance captures an important part of my Carpe College! message about time management for college students.  You need to keep your regular, daily, walking around life in order as a means of freeing your mind to think big and be creative.  Or, as put more elegantly and succinctly in Amy Wallace’s NYT magazine piece, Deep Inside Baz Luhrmann’s Creative Chaos, “external order creates internal possibility.”  External order creates internal possibility.  That sounds nice.  It’s elegant because of the truth contained therein.  In Carpe College!, I talk about using a planner so you don’t need to keep your mundane appointments and course assignments organized in your head and how doing so, in turn, frees your mind to think about bigger and better things.  I suggest that college students develop their own EMO (Effectiveness M.O.) that can involve any combination of electronic calendars, white boards, post-it notes or school-supplied planners.  Luhrmann takes this to the nth degree with his “nine huge calendars tacked to a white wall,” but the point is that he’s developed an EMO that works for him.  That is, it affords him the time and space he needs to think and create and execute.

I like Luhrmann’s style in this regard, and it’s best illustrated by his underpants.  Yes, underpants!  According to the Wallace piece, he has nearly identical closets in Sydney and New York and gets frustrated if he must wonder ‘Where are the underpants? They’re supposed to be in Drawer No. 6.”  A similar approach applies to his bathrooms.  “As I’m going through the routine, I don’t have to think,” he said, adding that this leaves more room for creativity.  ‘The mind is unlocking something.”  What he really means by “I don’t have to think” is that he gets to think about the things he wants to think about, not “Where is the underwear?”*

While Luhrmann’s approach may appear to venture into OCD-land, it clearly works for him.  And any college student can find an Effectiveness M.O. that works, as well.  Now that we are into the second half of the school year, most first-year students should be well on their way to fine-tuning an approach that works.  By June it should be a system that’s been tested and proven, one that provides comfort and confidence coming out of their first year that they can handle what’s to come for the rest of their college career.

And… they should be able to find their underwear.


* This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from my Latin teachers:  “Semper ubi sub ubi.”  (Always wear underwear – LOOSELY translated**)


This two-letter word keeps creeping up lately…. And rightly so.

While matters of sexual assault are not exactly front and center, they are receiving some timely attention through the “No More” campaign, which has been airing since September, and articles like this, which revisit ‘no means no’ and more:

Two thoughts occur to me:

1). The staggering numbers when it comes to male involvement.  Only three percent are responsible for most assaults, leaving 97 percent to simply stop being bystanders.

2).  I’ve got to stop using the word ‘simply’ when talking about this.  Nothing is simple.  I recall the difficulty I had writing about this topic in my book.  I was drawn to the fatherly (male?) tack of telling young women to be careful, protect themselves, and take preventative measures (like monitoring alcohol intake).  But a former student suggested I was venturing into ‘blame the victim’ territory, and I had to rethink it all.


In the end (which isn’t really the end in this ongoing effort), one must not fall in the middle, riding the fence, when faced with an issue like this.  So, I subscribe to a ‘both-and’ stance, where I advise would-be victims (females and males alike) to take precautions and preventative measures, and I encourage males to get educated about how to become part of the solution.  In the book, I felt inadequate on both counts, so I continue to defer to those who are off and running with some really good ideas.  The above article and the ‘No More’ campaign do a pretty good job of framing the issue and calling young men (and campus administrators) to action.

Here are a few articles I’ve read along the way that tried to tackle this troubling topic.  At the time I wrote my book, there was a thought-provoking piece by Kate Taylor in which the author explored campus sexual relationships through in-depth interviews at Penn University.  It’s called “Sex on Campus:  She Can Play That Game, Too.”

The response to her article was quick and loud, as well…

And the conversation continues with “Love in the Time of Hookups” here:

The sexual assault conversations were just as active….


As we continue to look for solutions, the most immediate action would be to keep this issue front and center with an ongoing dialogue.  Hope this contributes.


Student Athletes: Separate But Equal?

‘Life must be lived as play.” 



Maybe by this point you’re tired of people telling you how special you are.  Or maybe you’re still basking in it.  Either way, that’s going to be a part of your student-athlete life for the next few years, and there’s no getting around it.  You are special, you will be treated as though you’re special, and yet your goals are probably the same as every other ‘regular’ student (unless you plan to be a professional athlete or Olympian).  You want to graduate with knowhow and skills to begin a career and become a thoughtful, well-functioning citizen.

But you’re not like ‘normal’ students because you have expectations, obligations, and special treatment that they don’t have.  You have team meetings, training, practices, meals, travel, games, community-relations events, and aches and pains that can’t help but dig into your academic time.  Everyone associated with NCAA athletics will tell you that there’s a good reason you’re called a ‘student-athlete’ with the student part first and academics as the priority.  When you’re immersed in a weekly regimen of ‘team time,’ however, it may be hard to focus on your life outside your sport.  And when you’re showered with special stuff (special course registration, special meals, special gear, special travel, special opportunities in the community, special status, etc.), it might become hard to stay grounded and maintain perspective.

So, it might be beneficial to remember our mantra

Know Thyself.  Have a Plan.  Assume No One Else Cares.

Know Thyself

In high school athletics, you were a ‘big fish.’  It may take you a while to get back to that stature at the college level.  Or, you may never get back there.  Is school your Plan B?  I would recommend making it your Plan A.  This does not mean to abandon your athletic dreams.  Keep them alive, continue to perfect your skills and perform at your best level, and ENJOY this wonderful experience that only a small number of college students get to enjoy.   But before school begins in the fall, please spend some serious time thinking about your life after athletics.  Put all your athletic plans aside TEMPORARILY and consider who you are and who you wish to become WITHOUT athletics.

Remember that you are the one who’s still in control of your own destiny.  At least in terms of planning for your present and future.  You made an agreement with your institution that you would partake in their athletics program, but their part of the bargain was that they would educate you.  What kind of education do you want?  What do you want to do with it when you’re done?  Go back and review some of the advice contained in this book and see if you can find a way to find your bliss apart from your sport.  This should help drive how you approach the academic side of your life for the next few years.

It’s also important to remember that there will be multiple sides to your life over your college career.  You might play the role of a campus leader and an ambassador for your team and your school.  It’s healthy to consider how others might view you and how you’d like to view yourself in this capacity.  You could start by reflecting on how you acted back in high school when you were a celebrated student-athlete.  Were you a good student, teammate and person?  Were you a good role model?  In other words, did you find a way to transcend being identified only by the sport you played?  Were you able to be something else first?

I sat next to a Heisman Trophy runner-up in one of my marketing classes.  He and I exchanged small talk and class notes and, later in life, when he became a college football coach, he sent my son some fun autographed memorabilia to inspire him as he began his young football ‘career.’  This guy was a true Big Man On Campus, but he allowed me to see him as simply a nice, humble guy by the way he carried himself.

One of my son’s friends, Conner, who’s going on to play Division I baseball, proposes this outlook for a student-athlete to maintain proper stature and perspective:  “Stay focused.  Stay smart.  Stay humble.”  These are wise words, and you’ve probably heard something like it from your coaches, parents or recruiters along the way.  But it’s time that you begin to interpret them in terms of your own outlook and your own behavior.

Have a Plan

Let’s keep this simple… and harsh.  Tomorrow you blow out your knee and end your athletic career.  What’s your plan?

Sorry to be so blunt, but this is the best way to figure out if you have truly thought through your plans.  I’d recommend reflection on what your goals are, who you want to be, as a person, as a student, and as an athlete.  Treat them all separately at first, and then combine them into one larger plan.  Of course, what you do over the next few years as a student and an athlete will help forge who you can become as a person, but it’s always good to start with the bigger ‘person’ picture, knowing that your days as a student and as an athlete will eventually fade away.  So, begin with ‘Who do I wish to become and how do I want people to see me?’ and work your way back from there.

Once you’re done planning who you wish to be as a person, you can use what you’ve read in this book to plan what you’d like your student life to look like.  Then, once you’re done with that, move on to your athletic life.  Revisit ‘The June Question’ to think about what you’d like to say after your first athletic year.  Or aim higher and consider what you’d like to be able to say when your college athletic career is done.  Once you’ve reflected on these matters on your own, be sure to share them with your coach, parents and others who care about you.

After laying out all this planning, it’s important to return to the fact that your life as a student-athlete makes you special, and that will require one more bit of planning:  your social life.  The easy way to do it would be to meet your teammates and do whatever the team does.  If that’s the extent of what you’re looking for from your college experience, then stick with it.  But because you’re special, you have the unique opportunity to carpe more college than most.  Consider how you’re going to meet your dorm mates.  Of course, you’ll spend a ton of time with your teammates, but what if you planned one day a week to stroll your dorm halls and say hello to people who aren’t on the team?  What about Bulletin Board Bingo?  With your busy team schedule, it’s going to be tough to find time to experience all the great cultural offerings on campus.  But if you have a plan, you can do it.  Are things a little lighter for you off-season?  Why not plan to do some Bulletin Board Bingo then?  You might even be able to combine that with meeting dorm mates.  To the best of your ability, and in terms of what your schedule will allow, try to reach out and away from your athletic culture as early and as often as you can.  That will make for a richer overall college experience, and you’ll be able to say, in a way few others can, that you really Carpe’d College!

Note:  For planning purposes, try to utilize the entire year to fit in all that you’d like to accomplish.  Consider that you’ll be swamped while your team is in season, but when out of season, you may find time to squeeze in some of this other stuff.  Week to week, you’re simply not going to be able to fit it all in, and you won’t have nearly the time luxuries that other students have.  However, over the course of a full year, you will.  Again, it’s all about what you’d like to be able to say at the end of the year.

Assume No One Else Cares

Simply apply this part of the mantra to your athletic life the same way you’re doing for your student life.  It’s your job to run your life, and you need to care about it more than anyone else.  Of course you should rely on coaches, professors, parents, teammates and tutors, but you’ve got to rely on yourself more.

As mentioned earlier in this book, it’s not that your teammates or fellow students aren’t nice people.  It’s just that they have themselves to worry about.  If you decide to break team rules and get suspended for a few weeks, I’m sure a teammate will gladly step in and take your starting position for game day.  If you forget to tell your professor about your team travel plans, it’s unlikely anyone else will.  And, even if your team offers some formal communication with professors, having a special travel schedule gives you a built-in excuse to talk to your professors and get to know them better.  And we’ve already addressed why that’s a good thing.

And, again, I’m sorry, but what if you blow out your knee and end your career?  Is there anyone who will care more about your next move than you?  (NOTE:  A friend of mine earned an athletic scholarship to a Big Ten football program with a stellar academic reputation.  He blew out his knee before his first season without playing a down for the team, and his career ended.  The school, however, honored his scholarship until graduation.  So, you see, assuming no one cares is not meant to make you cynical and jaded; it’s designed to help you plan for the worst while hoping for the best.  It’s about having YOU in control of your journey even though there are a whole lot of uncontrollable factors that can come into play.  If you have planned in this way, good things can fall into place even after some setbacks.)

What if you want to be something more than just an athlete?  What if you want to have friends outside your team?  What if you want to go on to grad school?  What if you want to do philanthropic work in the local community or abroad?  What if you want to be a head coach some day?  What if you can’t afford to be charged with a crime because your future is riding on your college experience?  What if you want to be nice to everyone?

All of these answers must reside with you.  And you can lay the groundwork with some deep self-reflection and a good plan that begins your first year.

You’ll have a unique opportunity to have a much more rich college experience than most.

Seize it!

(NOTE:  This blog entry is taken from Appendix I of Carpe College! Seize Your WHOLE College Experience by Mike Metzler)

The New STEMsation

As you know, there has been some STEM talk in the air the past few years.  That’s really understating it, though, isn’t it?  Far from a little bit of chatter, it’s been more of a clarion call.  And, given a short-term, ‘what’s on our immediate economic horizon and how am I going to get a job right out of college?’ perspective, it makes perfect sense that we might see such emphasis.  In fact, it also makes sense from a long-term perspective if one were interested in strategies for how America might ‘win’ the next innovation-driven era the way we ‘won’ the twentieth century.  Of course the STEM disciplines must be a part of that endeavor.


But it is shortsighted and makes little sense to have this conversation at the expense of the liberal arts, as many politicians (and others) have, including President Obama, using liberal arts majors as a foil to bolster the argument that STEM disciplines deserve emphasis.  To think that these two realms –STEM and the liberal arts – operate separately, and we can slough one off in order to lighten our load as we propel ourselves full-steam ahead in pursuit of the other is sheer madness.  It’s not zero-sum.  It’s not either-or.  Moreover, my attempt to dichotomize ‘these two realms’ is a fool’s errand, for it fails to recognize the way the world works and how we should operate in it.  They are not distinct and easily separated the way we often try to do in education circles.

The world does not come at us a little bit of literature, a measure of math and physics, a sprinkle of sociology and a dash of ethics, all at perfectly proportioned intervals and amounts in a nice, neat, and easy-to-execute recipe.  It storms at us in rapid waves, a mash-up of drone technologies, human rights, nuclear weaponry, poverty, terrorism, new discoveries, or those myriad cases where economy and ecology collide.  It is not clean and tidy, neatly packaged and formulaic.  We humans rarely are.

And this human messiness provides the context for why the liberal arts have always found a place in an education that hopes to prepare citizens for the world we have and the world that’s coming.  On the immediate horizon, if our world is shrinking, its pace of change quickening, and its career possibilities shifting, a broad-based liberal arts curriculum for a well-rounded education should be part of the mix now more than ever.

Though conducting laboratory research, engineering new designs, or writing software – any STEM activity, really – will be an integral part of our future, they will never be done in a vacuum.  They will never be done for their own sake just because we can.  They will be done in the context of the wider world.  There will be questions of ethics, historical context and impact on humanity.   There will be dialogue and debate and difficult decisions for our collective future.  These are the bread and butter of the liberal arts and must be a significant part of any education.

Whether or not you get a great-paying engineering job right out of college is not really relevant in this context.  Yes, it may be what you want.  And, yes, it may be good for the world in terms of the potential contributions you may make.  But it should not be a solitary consideration.  Your preparation for an engineering career should not be done at the expense of your preparation to be a citizen of the world.  Sure, earning potential matters, but isn’t that a reflection of what we collectively choose to value, and wouldn’t this be a good time to ask why that is?

If we can, in all good conscience, say that there is NO value in the social sciences, like psychology and anthropology, the humanities (yes, including art history, that other much maligned major), and literature (yep, we gotta toss English majors into the mix once we pull ‘em out from under the bus), then it is most definitely time to pull the plug on all of them and set our sights on STEM full-throttle.  But if these domains, these college majors, have value in terms of how we learn to think and communicate about ourselves, our pursuits and our collective future, then it’s time to stop the rhetorical assault on the liberal arts.

Instead of STEM, I propose a new acronym to guide our curricular focus.  Sure, it’s trite, but it’s really more traditional than anything.  And it truly does get at the heart of the matter….







Sciences (all of ‘em)


There.  That ought to do it.

This article includes a new study that should help us get our collective heads (and hearts) around it….  Enjoy!



A Toast!

I read somewhere that an author bio is supposed to help people warm up to you rather than be a ‘just the facts’ introduction.  Well, I recently realized I left out a ‘fun fact’ that I’ve decided to add this week:  I invented a drink!

I don’t know if ‘invented’ is the right word, but a few years back I created the drink at home, loved the taste, and shared the recipe with friends and family.  Most liked it.  So, I named it, and I’ve been sharing it with anyone who will listen.  However, I can’t believe I forgot to share it with my Carpe College people.  So, here’s the recipe for the one and only ‘Grape & Granny’:

Grape & Granny

Ingredients:  White Grape Juice, Pomegranate Juice

Fill glass with ice

Add 2/3 White Grape Juice

Pour in 1/3 Pomegranate Juice

(Check out the ‘lava lamp’ visual display of the Pom morphing through the Grape)

Stir or don’t stir


(While this is a wonderful summer drink, I enjoy plenty of ’em year ’round.  If you’re an adult, feel free to add a touch of vodka or gin. I’m not a coffee drinker, so it’s a regular morning drink for me.  It’s a great ‘afternoon by the pool’ drink, as well.)

This recipe actually emerged from a sort of ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ experience.  I heard about Pomegranate juice being good for you, so we grabbed some from the store.  But when I saw how expensive it was, I tried to combine it with others, so I wasn’t using it up so quickly.   The first mix I tried was with my old favorite, white grape juice, and the rest is history.

Oh, by the way, if you haven’t tried pomegranate seeds yet, they’re a terrific snack!

So, what does this have to do with college?!  Drink healthy juice. Healthy body=healthy mind.  There.  Simple. Done.

An Interview with Carpe College! Author Mike Metzler

mike-officeQ:  So, why does anyone need a book like this?

A:  Having worked with both high school and college students, I believe today’s teens have a tougher time managing expectations, their own and others’, than previous generations….at least when it comes to their academic and social lives.  Combine the heightened pressure to succeed academically, the increased pace of learning, and the complexity of their social lives (including social media), and you realize it’s tough terrain out there.  Because college is such an important step for a young person, it helps to have a little assistance from a perspective in addition to your parents.

Q:  Is there a theme that captures what this book is about?

A:  Yes, and it’s in the title, Carpe College!.  Making the most of your college experience is about seizing opportunities inside and beyond the classroom.  I reference three ‘gurus’ in the book who set the table for everything else.   Joseph Campbell implores us to ‘follow your bliss.’  Thoreau said he wanted to ‘live deep.’  And Mark Twain said he ‘never let schooling get in the way of his education.’   These are all great approaches to seizing the richness of the whole college experience.

Q:  What are some of the key points you touch upon?

A:  First, I encourage students to take a tough look at themselves and ask whether certain aspects of their high school experience made them passive.  If so, they need to leave that bad habit behind when they get to college.  For example, did they tend to wait for the teacher to serve up an assignment and then ‘jump through that hoop’ without much thought or effort?  Did they slide through senior year worrying more about prom than any academic passion?  If so, then they may wish to rethink their mindset for college.  There’s so much to explore in college, you just can’t sit back and wait for it to tap you on the shoulder like you may have done in high school.

I tell students that a great way to shed such passivity is to become more ACTIVE and INTENTIONAL about the choices they make both in and out of the classroom.

Q:  So, how does a student become more active and intentional?

A:  I offer a mantra in the book that can help mold a student’s mindset in this regard:  ‘Know thyself, have a plan, and assume no one else cares.’  This approach encompasses all aspects of college life, from academics to everything else.  You can know yourself in terms of how good you are at taking lecture notes or whether you make friends easily.  You can have a plan for studying during the week and another for meeting people in your dorm.  You can assume no one else cares whether you fail a test or whether you remembered to buy your ticket to the football game.  Whatever it is, this mantra can be your guide to help control your own destiny.

Q:  From a planning standpoint, where should students begin?

Carpe College!A:  Actually a good way to begin is to forecast what you want in the end.  I often ask first-year students what I call ‘The June Question.’  I remind them that at the end of their first year, in June, they will be done with school, attending some sort of social gathering, and they will be asked, “Hey, how did your first year go?”  They agree that question will definitely be coming, and they should be prepared for it.  “What do you want to be able to say when that June Question comes?” I ask.  That’s the beginning of the kind of reflection needed to identify their goals, to set their sites on those goals, and to develop strategies to achieve them.  Again, whether it’s getting on the dean’s list or walking away from their first year with two really good friends, students can be reflective, active and intentional about getting there.  (Of course, this forecasting approach can be applied to one’s entire college career, too.)

On a larger level, it’s all about becoming a more reflective person.  As students try to ‘know themselves,’ I realize they are young and emerging adults, and that they still have a lot to discover about who they are and who they will become.  However, they can begin by periodically asking, “Who am I, where am a going, why, and how?”  These are great questions to ask before heading off to school and during each break over your college career.  It helps students think big about their aspirations and directions, and it helps them develop a framework for how they’re doing in relation to what’s important to them.  (There are even some helpful worksheets in the book to guide this kind of thinking.)

Q:  But it’s not always as smooth as you’re laying out here.

A:  No, it is not.  And I’ve developed a memorable little strategy for that, too.  I call it F3, which stands for Fix It, Forgive and Forge Ahead.   As with the previous mantra, it can be applied to both your academic and non-academic life.  Everyone needs to acknowledge that first-year students in a new and challenging environment with increased academic demands and more complicated social lives and living arrangements are going to make some mistakes.  They just are!  So, it’s very important to recognize that these missteps are part of learning and development, and that it can be destructive if we dwell on them too much rather than turning them into something instructive.

For example, let’s say you get to college, enjoy your newfound freedom a bit too much, and fail your first midterm.  You FIX IT by learning to manage your time better, getting more serious and systematic about studying, and visiting your professor to discuss what went wrong on your exam.  You can plan better by carving out more specific time each week for that particular course, using that time to review and rewrite notes from class, preview what’s coming, and attend sessions with a study group from class.  Then, you FORGIVE yourself by recognizing that it’s a significant transition in your life in a completely new setting with new rules.  It’s understandable that some stumbles will occur.  In the end, you FORGE AHEAD by recognizing that what’s next is what matters, and you set about enacting your new plan.  If you fix things by developing a more systematic plan with a more diligent approach, and you cut yourself a break, you can keep your eyes on the prize of successfully completing your first year (in the short-term) and attaining academic success over the long haul.

Let’s say you misstep on the social front.  Maybe you have a bad encounter by drinking one too many beers, your roommate has to usher you home early, and you become rude and unkind to your dorm mates back on your floor.  You can FIX IT by asking to hear all the gory details, apologizing individually to people, and throwing an impromptu pizza party in the lounge as a form of public apology.  You could stay in for the next evening or, better yet, go out with the gang while staying sober, a great demonstration of your sincerity.  You move forward and FORGIVE yourself by recognizing you’re not the first person to experience beer bubbles on the brain and have it affect your behavior.  You’re only human, of course, but how you respond matters.  If you do not change your behavior, it’ll be tougher to forgive yourself in the future, and to have other forgive you, as well.  Finally, you FORGE AHEAD by reflecting on what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future.  If you continue to drink socially, find your limits, or don’t even tempt your limits.  Find an alternative to drinking.  If it helps, imagine what your outward behavior might look like from an adult’s perspective (or in a Facebook photo).  That ought to ensure you avoid future mishaps.

Q:  Does this book offer anything for the non-traditional student?

A:  Yes.  While most of the book is directed toward students who will live on campus at a four-year college, there are several sub-groups whose special circumstances are addressed.  There are sections for commuter students and student athletes, and there is also a collection of time management weekly planning templates geared toward students with part-time jobs and other demands.

Q:  Speaking of part-time jobs, does your book address financial aid?

A:  Indirectly, yes.  The book acknowledges that most students need some sort of assistance to pay for college.  When I address managing time for academics, social life, and other enrichment opportunities, I assume I am speaking to a student whose budget is tight.  So, every suggestion is made with this consideration in mind.  That’s why I place so much emphasis on students being active and intentional with their choices.  If their radar is up, they will find wonderfully rich opportunities at very little cost.

Q:  What’s the most important thing you’d like readers to remember?

A:  It’s YOUR journey.  Ask yourself who you are, where you want to go, and how you’d like to get there.  Graciously accept advice from everyone, but don’t look left and right and wonder why you’re not taking the path of your peers.  Enjoy the path you’re on and make the most of it.  Carpe College!

About Mike Metzler

Carpe College! Book Launched


Carpe College!December 10, 2013 

New Book Makes College Transition Easier

Great Gift for High School Seniors

Fairport, N.Y. – Mike Metzler, an educator with nearly two decades of high school and college teaching experience, has released Carpe College! Seize Your Whole College Experience, to help recent high school graduates and their families navigate the transition into college.

The book offers breadth and depth, covering matters first-year college students will encounter both inside and outside the classroom.  According to Paul Roche, parent of a college student who has benefitted from reading the book and hearing the author speak, “Metzler’s experience with both high school and college students becomes quickly evident.”

According to Metzler, “A typical college student’s day is a whirlwind of extremes, from engaging in lofty philosophical thought to managing mundane minutiae to cutting loose and blowing off steam.  So, the book parallels that experience.  It’s lofty one moment and silly the next.  Just like the students it hopes to help.”  It also recognizes that students are juggling a number of macro and micro challenges, like reflecting on career and life choices and managing their time, across both academic and social domains, all in the midst of trying to discover their emerging selves.

“The high school experience is laden with support and guidance from adults,” says Metzler, “and this has the potential to create passivity in some students, a bad habit that should be left behind when heading off to college.”  Carpe College! offers an approach that encourages students to be active and intentional about every aspect of their college experience.  It addresses interactions with peers and professors, career reflection and academic choices, dorm living and partying – teaching students to develop a mindset that helps them make the most of their fleeting college years.  To guide their pursuits, Metzler suggests a mantra that is laced throughout the book:  ‘Know thyself.  Have a plan.  Assume no one else cares.’  It is meant to remind students of the need to be reflective, organized and in control of their own destiny.

The book strikes a playful tone as evidenced by fun illustrations and quirky chapter titles, including “(Parents in Parentheses),” “Doorstops & Chopsticks,” “Five Alarm Mac-n-Cheese,” “Party Like a Smarty,” “Teenage Wasteland,” and “If You’re Cocky and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.”  While the tone is light, the material is substantive, including numerous tips and templates for academic planning, communicating with professors, contacting professionals, and seeing the link between a rich life outside the classroom and future success beyond the college years.

(Parents in Parentheses)

Here’s an early passage from Carpe College! to help parents find their bearings during this challenging transition…

“Lord, help me not to do for my children what they can do for themselves.  Help me not to give them what they can earn for themselves.  Help me not to tell them what they can look up and find out for themselves.  Help me to help my children stand on their own two feet to grow into responsible, disciplined adults.”
                                                                        -Marian Wright Edelman, Guide My Feet

Before we truly begin to Carpe College!, we need to assign some roles and responsibilities.

Hey parents, yes you are part of the deal, and yes this book is for you, too.  But it’s time to move to the sidelines and be more… how shall I say?  Parenthetical.  This book ought to give your kids the confidence to manage their new collegiate lives, and it ought to give you parents the peace of mind that your kids are well equipped to ‘own it’ on their own.

You can no longer be those ‘Ice Curling’ parents, who run on ahead and sweep away all the trouble spots, so your child can have smooth sailing.  Nope. If you’ve tried that, you can’t do it anymore!  You should be present, to a degree, but you’re a tag-a-long.  Think about it.  You’ve been practicing for this all along by watching little league games, stage dramas and music recitals from afar, and now it’s time to kick your spectatorship into high gear.  There’s a huge difference between being a safety net and being a puppeteer.  You need to be the former.

Be enriching, not overbearing.  If you encounter an interesting article about your kid’s favorite musician, a good TED Talk related to their major, or a good lead for an internship, by all means, send it along.  But mark it ‘No Response Needed’ or something else you’ve worked out to indicate that you’re just throwing stuff their way, and they shouldn’t feel obliged to get back to you.  You could even just say, ‘Hey, thank me at Thanksgiving.’  Don’t worry.  Of course, they’re going to talk to you before that!  You’re just demonstrating how easy going you can be…. Right?!

Encourage from afar.  Keep communication lines open by letting them know you’re available when THEY need to call or text.  Leave the ball in their court, and respect their new lives, schedules and demands.  They will need (and want) to communicate with you, but they would like to do it on their terms and timeline.  Please let them.  Give them their space, and they will be stronger.  You will be stronger.  Kind of like free-range turkeys (or something like that).

So, parents, please proceed to your proper place:  those (parentheses)!


Oh yeah, and if you ‘borrowed’ this book from your kid, be sure to give it back when you’re done.

“I’ve never done a single thing I’ve wanted to in my whole life.” – Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis

There are millions of miserable, middle-aged people in the world, and I’m assuming you don’t want to end up like them. That’s what this book is about: developing habits and a plan to become…. well…. not miserable.

Pretty lofty, eh?!

For many, college is the first real and significant step toward finding one’s place in the universe, to ‘following one’s bliss,’ as Joseph Campbell put it (Look him up!). So, if you prefer bliss to misery, you’ll need to embrace the college experience in all its glory. You’ll need to have a sense of yourself, your goals, your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll need to have an active approach to tackling schoolwork, meeting new friends, and expanding your horizons. You’ll need to start dreaming your own dreams, rather than those of your parents. You’ll need to develop keen internal radar that helps you distinguish between opportunities and distractions. You’ll need balance. You’ll need to learn to trust yourself and to forgive yourself and to get back on your horse and take some more risk. You’ll need to reflect seriously, and often, on the question: “Who am I, where am I going, why and how?”

Mostly, though, you’ll need to… Carpe College!

(Oh yeah, and parents will want you to find a job, so we’ll cover that, too.)

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