Spotlight on Michael Julian

Michael Julian, board member since 2016, has enthusiastically supported Wily since our first year of working with students. He has spoken about his personal experiences as a college student without family support at several Wily events and shares his story with us here.

1. Please tell us a little bit about your life.

I live in Concord, Massachusetts, with my wife and eight-month-old daughter. I have spent much of my free time over the last five years renovating our historic house with the help of friends. Since graduating from Bowdoin College, I have worked all over the world in the technology field, living in Singapore and Hong Kong.

2. Why Wily? What drew you to our mission?

I was emancipated at the age of 17. I understand what it is like to attend college without support and not to have a home to visit over the holidays and when school is closed.

I can relate to the experience of our Scholars, growing up with five siblings in rural poverty, being exposed to drugs and alcohol in a volatile household, and experiencing the frequent involvement of social services.

Following my emancipation, I worked several jobs throughout high school and went from friend’s couch to friend’s couch, until my senior year when my baseball coach of many years and his wife took me in. I wanted to succeed and take care of my family — which is a Sisyphean task when you grow up with poverty-fueled thinking. Like the Wily Scholars, I often felt — and still feel — like I could never do enough.

I have personally seen many talented and capable people with similar challenges fall through the cracks. I see the obstacles that Wily Scholars are facing, and I want to help. 

3. You had a complicated early family life. How did that impact your arrival and first year at Bowdoin?

I applied to college with no SAT prep. I chose my schools randomly, without
guidance or any models of how to navigate the process. I was simply oblivious.

Despite my haphazard college process, I was accepted to Bowdoin College in Maine and dropped off by my friend’s mom. In order to make it all work, I accepted multiple jobs on and off campus. My focus on being a student was diluted by the need to pay my bills. It was hard to focus on thriving in college when I was used to functioning in survival mode.

My independence and history created other significant obstacles my freshman year. At times it complicated relationships with my peers. My freshman year, I moved my bed into the living area in my dorm room. I am social by nature and was chronically oversharing. I felt as though I needed to constantly explain myself. I was looking for safety in an unfamiliar environment. I was not prepared for simple questions, such as “What do your parents do?”

In many ways I was leading a double life. I had a “fake it until you make it” attitude. In general, it’s hard to juxtapose life on a college campus with a family situation like mine. You have to manage the guilt. For example, I enjoyed Bowdoin’s famous dining hall with its abundance of food, while my family members struggled with homelessness and addiction. One tends to want to share what one has earned — I so wanted my siblings to have the college experience.

More concretely, I had to manage school breaks and holidays, each time figuring out where I would go and who I would stay with. At times, I  remained on campus during the winters and summers while my peers headed home. Additionally, I had a particular issue managing the exposure to alcohol, trying to wrap my mind around fun and safe partying when substance abuse robbed me of my childhood.

“Do I belong here?” was a question I often grappled with, as would any 18-year-old, but it was exponentially more potent for me with the overlay of a traumatic family background.

4. Looking back, is it clear to you that without intervention your experience would not have been the same?

I would have made it through Bowdoin without the wonderful support of Allen Delong, but it would not have been the same. Allen gave me an on-campus job where I could also study. Once we connected, I no longer had to remove myself from the experience of Bowdoin in order to make ends meet. Another inuence was my cross country and track coach, Peter Slovenski, who welcomed me to the team (even though I wasn’t very good) and even employed me at his summer camp.

From there, I was able to take advantage of on-campus resources. I began to heal by attending counseling, building a cohort of close friends and mentors, and participating in internships. Looking back, I feel like I learned how to be normal. I surrounded myself with people to look up to — peer models I could observe — and I learned what it is like to be okay.

5. What else would have helped you while you were in college?

I wish I had a “Wily Network” back then. I had to learn a lot of lessons by trial and error. I wish there had been a program for students in my  situation who were attending the school.

6. Is there anything more you’d like the public to know about why they should invest in Wily Scholars?

Even at the best schools, like Bowdoin, some people fall through the cracks. I’m lucky. I wish more people like me had the chance to succeed; I’ve seen many people end up going down the wrong path.

Look around at your peers and colleagues. Statistically, only 10% of students with backgrounds like mine make it to college, and only 3% ever
graduate. It’s much easier to give up than to make it through.

If students aren’t able to build coping mechanism skills for trauma at this pivotal juncture, the likelihood of being a productive member of society post-college is severely diminished. My story is an anomaly, and that is why I am so passionate about working with the Wily Network — because I want
to make it the norm.

Wondering How to Fit It All in Your College Schedule?

College is full of amazing experiences–classes, clubs, sports, campus spots and activities. It is also full of readings, minor tasks, pop quizzes, and exams. Add to that a part-time job, volunteer work, group studies–you name it.  How are you supposed to fit it all into your schedule?

Well, there are many ways to keep track of your activities.  Want our advice on one of the best investments you can make in your life?  Buy a physical, paper planner. The best paper planners include monthly, weekly, and daily (30-min slots) divisions.  

If you can take a power hour every week to organize, using your planner, you will be amazed at how much more you can accomplish.  Not only will you spend less time wondering how to proceed, you will also be more present in every activity. By knowing you are doing something you planned for and that you have set aside time to accomplish other tasks, you won’t have to worry over whether you should be studying while you are having dinner with a friend.    

Follow these steps and tips to make the most of this new miracle in your life:

  1. Make a habit of using the paper planner: Digital tools are perfectly fine, and in fact it’s great if you want to combine both sets of tools.  But sometimes the old-fashioned way is the best way. Quickly jotting down and erasing tasks and events on paper can be helpful for remembering them.  
  2. Set a weekly planning hour in stone: To make the most of this tool, set aside an hour each week to sit down, alone, and take the time to organize your week. The first couple of times might be a little overwhelming. Over time, it will become easier, and you will develop the system that works best for you. It is important to be flexible, but this is the hour you want to keep as consistent as possible in your week. Get organized for the next week, and you will feel less scattered.
  3. Use a pencil: Putting color and personality into your planner might help you cheer up and feel more inspired. The tasks themselves should be written in pencil. It is easier and definitively prettier if you can quickly erase and shift or substitute a task. It also helps you think of your plans as flexible.
  4. Organize monthly, weekly, and daily: Begin by setting all your big events and due dates on the monthly view of your calendar. Then, set those up for each week. Break tasks down into daily activities, especially those bigger projects. Remember to make time for all the important people and activities in your life. School work should not be the only thing in your calendar, at least not all the time.  
  5. Take a look at your agenda after waking up and before going to sleep: By making a habit of looking at your agenda first thing in the morning, your brain can prepare better for the day. At night, make sure to celebrate what you have accomplished and reschedule or reorganize anything you were unable to complete that day.  
  6. Be flexible and adjust: Things happen unexpectedly. Not everything will work out as planned. Don’t panic. Keep calm, and make sure to shift tasks around until you feel comfortable with Plan B.  

Finally, make sure you set realistic goals, and allow enough time for every task. Now that you have this new tool, take advantage of it and keep putting effort into completing those tasks as efficiently as possible. Remember, if you learn to plan and execute well, there will be time for working hard and playing hard.   

Go, try it out! Then, schedule in a few minutes to tell us about your experience or if you have any questions.  

Check out these links for more tips:

10 Tips to Deal with Stress

Three out of 10 college students reported that stress had a negative impact on their academic performance, according to the 2018 National College Health Assessment. Instead of ignoring stress, let’s embrace it, acknowledge it, and attempt to relieve at least some of it!! While you will inevitably encounter stress during your college years, it’s important to learn how to manage it when it arises. If left unattended, stress can impact not only your grades, but also your overall mental health and well-being. To help you out, the Wily Network has compiled our top 10 favorite tips for handling stress at school. Hopefully they help or at least give you a break from studying!

  1. Practice Healthy Stress Management.

Junk food and social media breaks are quick fixes… in moderation. Stress can last for weeks. That’s why you want to adopt sustainable stress management techniques that will help you in the long run. Keep on reading for some suggestions!

  2. Get outside.

Although studying in bed can be comfy cozy, it makes a world of difference to take a break and get some FRESH AIR!! It doesn’t have to be a jog down the Charles–just a walk around the block or to grab a bite to eat can clear your head and wake you up a bit!

  3. Put down the coffee.

While coffee might seem like your best friend during midterms, numerous studies have linked caffeine consumption to increased levels of stress. If you can’t go cold turkey, aim to limit your consumption to just one cup a day.    

  4. Meet up with a friend.

One of the best parts about college is that friends are never far away. Find that friend who will motivate you, but not distract you too much, and maybe even provide the occasional meme exchange or laugh. Social interaction is a nice way to relieve some pressure and take your eyes off screens and books.

  5. Catch up on sleep.

All-nighters may seem like the solution to your cram sesh, but no good ever comes from exhaustion during an exam!! It is much better to get some sleep and wake up early to study! Sleep deprivation makes it harder to retain information. Make sure you’re getting at least seven hours of sleep to minimize your chances of blanking on a test question.

  6. Watch puppy videos.

Yes, puppy videos are good all the time, but they are BETTER when you’re knee-deep in studying. Seriously, a study done by Deborah Wells found that watching videos of animals encourages relaxation. No need to feel guilty next time you watch funny videos of cats and dogs!   

  7. Remember your purpose.

Why are you taking this class? What do you want to get out of college? Where do you want to be in five years? The answers to these questions may help motivate you to persevere through tough tests and long papers.

  8. Turn off your screens.

Studies have found that regular computer use without breaks can lead to higher levels of stress and sometimes headaches. Netflix and social media might be tempting, but make sure to also schedule some screen-free time to minimize stress and clear your head.

  9. Get organized.

Organization doesn’t just mean planning your calendar, it also means getting into a healthy routine. Even simple things like a regular sleep schedule and cleaning your dorm room can promote stability and get you in the right headspace for study sessions.  

  10. Appreciate your progress.

It’s easy to forget how hard you’ve worked to get to this point, so take a minute to appreciate the incredible progress you’ve made so far. Sometimes making a checklist of stuff you can easily do and crossing them right off can be a nice source of relief.

Taking time away from the books may seem counterintuitive when you’re overwhelmed with readings and tests, but sometimes it’s the best thing you can do for yourself. Stress is a normal part of the college experience, but with the right techniques you can successfully manage it and thrive under the pressure.

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