Zi's Tips for College Success

Making Your Time at Mason Work for You


We asked recent graduate Zi Yang (B.A. in History and Global Affairs, 2014) to talk about his experience with campus involvement, getting funding for his projects, and opening doors for life and career after graduation.Here's what he shared with us.

Zi, in your time as a student at Mason you really made college work for you. You made connections with students, professors, and people outside of Mason in ways that will contribute to your network throughout your career, and you did a lot of great work inside and outside of the classroom that shines in your academic record and on your resume. You got great grades, worked the honors program in your major, presented your research at conferences, started student organizations, even organized global affairs conferences. I’ve got to ask - what kind of student were you prior to coming to Mason? In other words, have you always been like this?

Actually, during the sleepy years of my high school career I mostly “floated” through my classes. But sometime in early 2009 I had an epiphany that I must revamp and rejuvenate myself for the sake of a better future. I chose Northern Virginia Community College as the starting line for my college career. Released from the constraints of high school, my experience at NOVA was exceptional because of the academic freedom of college, and the encouragement I received from my professors. Regaining the initiative, I earned very good grades at NOVA, yet I was searching for more fulfillment. That’s what I eventually found at Mason.

So once you got to Mason, how did you go about getting involved outside of the classroom? Do you remember the first activity you got involved in? Tell me about how you got started and how it worked out...

Initially I was unsure where to look for opportunities to get involved. So I decided to go to an information session on how to succeed at Mason. Afterwards I contacted several campus organizations through Mason CollegiateLink according to my interests and signed up for their online newsletter. Mason’s Habitat for Humanity was the first to return my emails, and I quickly followed up and became a member.

One great American value that I especially look up to is the spirit of volunteerism. A new student at the time, I wished to leave my first footprint at Mason through partaking in volunteer work. For this reason, I joined a Mason Habitat for Humanity building trip to help detail a new home for low-income families. It was a remarkable experience where I met a group of warmhearted Mason students, and together we made a difference in our community on that sunny spring day.

Sounds like a very rewarding experience!  Did it lead directly to other kinds of campus/classroom involvement? In other words, how did you get from an afternoon with Mason’s Habitat for Humanity to things like organizing global conferences on campus or getting selected for the Students as Scholars program?

I would summarize my experience with campus involvement in three points. First, be proactive. Attend campus events, especially seminars, lectures and distinguished speakers series. Interact with the speakers as well as the attendees. Be sure to introduce yourself with confidence and leave a positive first impression. Have a pleasant chat with others at the event and don’t forget to exchange contact information (I strongly recommend printing your own business cards) for possible cooperative opportunities down the road.

Second, talk to as many people as possible. Engage classmates and professors in thought-provoking conversations and infer new lessons on how to broaden your career horizon. People love speaking to young and enthusiastic individuals. Do understand that you will be rejected and ignored at times, but you just have to bite the bullet and keep moving forward. Always remember that everyone you meet, regardless of his or her occupation and background, will teach you something new. So speak to as many people as possible.

Last but not least, Mason is a kaleidoscope of diverse student organizations. Since time is a limited resource, you should join organizations that fit your interests and then do your best in contributing to the team. I became a member of the organizing committee of the 7th annual conference on governance during the spring semester of 2013. I provided quality service and was elected to the position of head chair within four months. Later that year, the team and I expanded the committee into a full-fledged campus organization, but that’s another story. If you want to succeed in campus involvement, just remember to be a reliable and generous team player, and your hard work will be recognized.

My experience with Mason’s Student as Scholars program is quite straightforward. A friend introduced me to the office behind the program, the Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, & Research, better known as Mason OSCAR. Driven by curiosity, I conducted research on the program and later submitted a proposal for a summer grant. The review committee liked what they saw in my application and accepted the proposal. Without a doubt, I must give credit to all my mentors for their support. Ultimately it all leads back to the three points mentioned above.

Great advice. Is there anything you think it’s important for students to know that we haven’t touched on?

I would like to make a few additional comments on college success.

Grab hold of opportunities. One maxim I keep close to my heart is, “Opportunities are everywhere. It is the individual who has the option to seize them and turn them into advantages.” Let yourself be proactive in seeking out these opportunities. Apply to as many programs as possible. Join internships, short-term seminars and long-term academic programs. Of course you are not going to be accepted into everything you applied to, but it never hurts to try. Do your best once you are in, and extract the most out of the experience. It is a competitive market out there and it is never too late to start building up your résumé.

Form and expand your network. Connections, in addition to your own abilities, will help enormously in constructing your future career. Forging alliances is an important ingredient to success anywhere in the world, especially in Washington DC.

Put the Mason library system to good use. In my opinion, one of the great joys of being a university student is reading and pondering. The four years as an undergraduate are a crucial time for exploring the vast ocean of human knowledge. Be sure to use the Mason library network to its fullest extent, and if you cannot find the book you want, the courteous librarian can always help you find what you need from libraries located in the DC area or anywhere else in the United States.

Actively participate in classroom discussions. This especially holds true for students of humanities, since classroom discourse is the perfect touchstone of your learning. Do not hesitate to voice your thoughts. Professors love students who come to class with a basket full of questions. Rest assured your contributions will leave your teachers and peers with a memorable impression. Remember, a lot of great things start from a favorable first impression.