KLabs Korner Office: Nandini Mittal ‘22, Success Consultant

Kravis Lab for Social Impact’s “Korner Office” is a spinoff of David Gelles’ “Corner Office” column in the New York Times’s Sunday Business section. The Korner Office includes snippets of conversations with changemakers and social entrepreneurs.

Claremont McKenna has a plethora of resources for students to take full advantage of. The Dean of Students Office’s Success Consultants are no exception. Success Consultants are a diverse group of fourteen CMC sophomores, juniors, and seniors that develop academic, career, extracurricular, and wellness strategies to help fellow CMCers achieve the most out of their time in college and beyond.

On their website, each Success Consultant has a “talk to me about ___” section. While each Success Consultant is well-versed on the common problems students face in college and ways to address them, these short blurbs give students an idea of what Success Consultant will best suit their individual needs. Focus areas range from adjusting to online learning, being a first-generation/low-income student, meditation and mindfulness, reading and note-taking strategies, and student-athlete balance, among other things.

Nandini “Dini” Mittal, a junior from Bangkok, Thailand, majoring in Economics and Philosophy, has served as a Success Consultant since the first semester of her sophomore year. In her blurb, Dini writes that she loves to talk about checklists and color-coding, productivity tools, and time management. Informally known as the “Slack Queen” within the Kravis Lab for Social Impact community, I can definitely attest to these statements.

This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.

While Success Consultants can serve any student enrolled at CMC, does the program have a specific target audience?

The program’s outreach targets the entire CMC community because our services can be equally as beneficial to a first year as they can be for a senior. With that being said, we have been very conscious of how the program targets first years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What do you often hear from first years?

First years schedule appointments with Success Consultants for a variety of reasons, however I’d say that the most common issue that first years face is how to manage overwhelming workloads and reduce their stress. Distractions and procrastination play into both of these issues. Remote learning has also contributed to feelings of being academically and emotionally burnt out.

What is the most common piece of advice that you’re giving to first years?

Since I am currently living and taking classes in Thailand, I primarily serve international students in similar time zones. International students typically have a different set of circumstances and problems than domestic students, such as adapting to taking classes in the wee hours of the night. Students are accustomed to starting their days with class and ending their days with leisure. Now it’s flipped. A common piece of advice that I’m giving to international students is to work their schedule around when they’re most productive, which may or may not align with the typical “work and leisure times” wherever they are living.

Oftentimes, students are conscious of the areas that they need help with, however do you feel like students are unconscious of some of the problems that they face?

I would say that I have a 50/50 mix of students who have pre-prepared questions and students who need help pinpointing where they are struggling. There are a lot of students that realize that they need help, but struggle to articulate the problems that they are facing because it’s all buried under a pile of stress. I try to contextualize every student’s circumstances before giving them concrete advice. It’s important to offer specific strategies that will work for individual people. I think it’s helpful to “chalk out” every single thing that students have going on in their lives. For first years, this usually includes classes and deadlines. For upperclassmen, this usually includes classes, deadlines, extracurriculars, interviews, and meetings. I help students figure out routines that allow them to fulfill all of their obligations in a manageable way.

Outside of Success Consultants, there are a lot of great resources at CMC. What are some resources that you commonly refer people to?

A large portion of advice that Success Consultants give is experience-based. Common resources we’ve both used and refer people to are the Academic Success programs like Accessibility Services and Peer Tutoring. We also frequently refer students to Career Services. Many students want to be more involved, so I’ll often refer them to the ASCMC calendar, the clubs and organizations website, and research institutes.

You’ve experienced being a Success Consultant on and off-campus. How has remote learning changed your role as a Success Consultant?

I could get a better feel for the room when I was on-campus. In the past, Success Consultants provided a very comfortable, personal, and welcoming environment. Although we have been fortunate to have undergone an amazing training program, it’s hard to foster that environment across a screen.

Reaching out and asking for help is a vulnerable experience and first years are certainly not the only ones who struggle in college. What types of problems do upperclassmen face?

People don’t know this, but it’s very common for Success Consultants to make appointments with other Success Consultants. We don’t have things figured out, either, and that’s something that we are trying to demystify. As an upperclassmen, I’ve really had to focus on time management and how my academics, extracurriculars, professional development, and more “outward-facing” things mesh with one another. Even though it seems like academics are at the forefront, all of these things need to be prioritized. Having a course load that is major course heavy has also been a big adjustment. Balancing qualitative and quantitative courses has been huge. As a program, we’re trying to both encourage and normalize asking for help. It’s definitely a sign of bravery and strength.

What are some of your personal tips and tricks?

I’m a big to-do list person, both for the instant gratification of checking things off, but also systematizing things that I have to do. I will rarely start my day without writing down what I need to do that day. There are different ways to systematize these checklists. You can do day-by-day, project-by-project, or subject-by-subject. Slack is an amazing communication tool. I also use Notion as an all-in-one workspace. Mural, a collaborative whiteboard, is perfect for giant brainstorm sessions for group projects.

How can students better utilize their CMC Academic Planner?

I’m a big proponent of CMC’s planner. The front of the planner has an academic calendar, CMC and Claremont Colleges student resources, and “Semester at a Glance.” This is really helpful for visualizing long-term project deadlines and breaks. The back of the planner has the AXES Method of Paragraph Development and the CARS Model for Research. I always have these sections open when I’m researching and writing. The back of the planner also includes templates for writing emails to your professors and asking them for letters of recommendation. There are also life skill, mindfulness, and well-being tips and tricks scattered throughout the planner. I love how it’s CMC-designed for CMC students.

What is one thing that you do for your mental health?

I subscribe to a lot of newsletters and inspirational quotes of the day. I especially love the 3–2–1 newsletter that gives me 3 ideas, 2 quotes, and 1 question. This really helps me escape school and be more introspective.

Can you tell me about the Success Consultants Giveaway Program?

Success Consultants are doing daily, weekly, and semester giveaways this semester. Students can opt in to a raffle after they make an appointment with a Success Consultant, fill out a survey about their experience, and follow DOS on Instagram. The semester giveaway is any electronic device or accessory valued up to $450. A lot of thought was put into the kinds of things that we are giving away. The goal of this program is to give away things that would make students a little happier, a little more productive, and a little less stressed.

How can you make an appointment with a Success Consultant?

Students get an email from Success Consultants every week that reminds students that Success Consultant appointments are available. There are appointments scattered throughout 24 hours of the day to accommodate for international students, which is amazing! Once a student makes an appointment through our platform (WCOnline), your Success Consultant will confirm the Zoom ID with you. Every appointment is typically 30 minutes, but you can make it as long as you want. There is a section where you can let your Success Consultant know what you want to work on.

At the end of the interview, Dini stressed that Success Consultants are not people who have everything figured out and they are certainly not more cut-out for the role than any other CMC student. In the words of Dini, the only thing that differentiates Success Consultants from the average CMCer is that “Success Consultants have spent a little bit more time thinking and failing,” which has allowed them to share problem-solving strategies that have worked for both themselves and others.

To make an appointment with Dini or another Success Consultant, click here.

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