Ep. 020 – Making College Worth It

[podcast src=”https://html5-player.libsyn.com/embed/episode/id/4712575/height/360/width/450/theme/standard-mini/autonext/no/thumbnail/yes/autoplay/no/preload/no/no_addthis/no/direction/forward/” height=”360″ width=”450″]

Congratulations to Alanna, Brian, and Amit for snagging Ali Bouzari’s new book!

This monologue is about the ways you can maximize your college experience and hopefully prepare you for the future. You can follow all of these rules, or none of them. I’m just distilling my “complicated” college life.

Key Takeaways

  • Why you need to be involved in college
  • How to be involved in college
  • Why my best experience in college wasn’t food science related

What We Talk About

Lion Dancing


In this episode, I’m going to talk to you the importance of getting involved in college.

Before I go into college, don’t be one of those people who thinks college is a waste of time.

You can be rich going to college, you can be rich going to trade school, you can be rich by not going to school at all! I’m a bit fatigued about how any people complain about working at starbucks after graduation when the anecdotes between successful people and unsuccessful people are relatively the same.

College is indeed, what you make of it. And it’s a time that will really cement how you will deal with life in general. Some people will spend it partying, some people want to find true love, some people want to get experience starting a company, get into the Big 4 Accounting firms, support local communities, or change the world.

Me? I’m not sure. I kept my options open.

A lot of people get screwed over on college debt. A lot of people have to work two jobs in food service and take classes. I’m going to be honest with you, my parents paid for my college so I was able to focus on more things that other people could not. However, I want to give you service on what I thought was most beneficial in college.

This is me sharing my experience and though you may or may not be in my shoes, distilling my experience might enrich your college experience. I hope.

At my busiest time in college, I:

Had 2 part time jobs: in the pilot plant and in the Multicultural center. I probably wouldn’t survive working there with the wage they paid me.

Did 2 product development competitions: Disney and Developing Solutions for Developing Countries

Was in 3-5 clubs with 2 being officer positions (Captain of the Lion Dance Team, Treasurer of a cooking club)

Was a committee head for a really cool diversity event with 500 people involved.

Did an entrepreneurship competition

So this involved staying up until 12 to 2am every day. Fun stuff, right?

So I didn’t have to do all this, and to be honest, you shouldn’t. What I found valuable from these experiences was the relationships you for by meeting different people.

With these relationships, you learn so many things. How to talk to people, how to convince people, how to be charismatic, how to excite a crowd, plan events, count money, take notes, write agendas, align visions, work together.

The relationships you kindle when you do these extracurriculars are vital if you choose to go into the career you studied. Or not. But it certainly has helped me with this podcast.

So in this episode, I want to give you 5 distinct actions why you should be involved with things in college and 5 distinct actions on how to do it.

Let’s begin.

Let’s start with “Why”:

For some people, getting involved in college can be a way to make new friends, a shiny spot to put on your resume, or because you’re generally a good person at heart, right?

Anyways, I have 5 reasons on “why” you should get involved in college especially if you’re in your freshman year.

1. You will look attractive on paper

Of course, the most straight forward reason you should get involved is to put it on your resume

Here’s some real life advice: it might not be wise to do everything. There are a lot of people who were just good at one thing and got a job super easily. There was this one girl in college, where all she did was talk about wanting to be a plant manager and so she did an amazing job climbing through the ranks of college and grab a leadership position within the Cal Poly Pilot Plant.

Her focused experience got her the job quite easily where my sporadic experience…well… took me a while. You can check that out on episode 10.

However, getting involved as much as possible does have its perks…

For one, you get this huge foundation of soft skills, something that throughout this episode, you’ll come to find out. More importantly, it makes you a more wholesome person, you learn not to be so much of a jerk, and you have increased diversity awareness due to just dealing with different people.

However, you can’t fit everything on your resume…but you can on your linkedin profile…

  1. You can’t BS experience

In most interview questions I’ve experienced, I have been able to fit in the question with an answer quite well because of the myriad of experiences. In fact, I could give comprehensive stories on how I delt with the situation.

It’s very hard to BS experience, but that’s not to say you can’t. I know a lot of people who BS or stretch the truth, but it doesn’t make them good people. You should be a good person.

I think what I really want to get at here is this: most interview questions you’ll get can be answered the best in a story format. It enriches your answer and gives people a much better understanding on who you are as a person. So armed with this knowledge, BSing your answer will make you seem good at first, but you’re probably going to be living a lie throughout your time at work. But some people do it.

Some people are very good at lying though, and some people pull through with it. Hey, if it’s what you want in life, then you do you.

  1. You will forge deeper connections

As long as you are consistent at meetings and not a jerk, you will forge very deep connections with people who are involved. It is vital to forge these connections for people who are involved in things because the return on investment is extremely valuable.

But you can only forge connections if you are fully committed.

Commitment, like many of you guys probably know, is a huge sacrifice because you can only share who you hang out with so much. In a platonic point of view, which club is going to give you the most value from your time? On a deeper level, which friend is going to?

And value is very very subjective. Depending on the person, value can mean so many things.

At my freshman year, I tried out 30 clubs. In my final year, I peaked my head in about 4.

You’d probably go insane if you invested all of your time in 30 clubs. I might have almost did. But you soon realize who or what is more important. I found the people in my department and the diversity-advocate community, along with some food clubs, important to me.

Let me give you an example: All of the Cal Poly Alumni who have been interviewed for this podcast were a result of forging deep connections throughout college. Whether it be in classes, clubs, or competitions.

If I didn’t forge a good connection with them, I don’t think this podcast would have turned out. They really supported me during the makings of this, and they were the spark that ignited the flame.

I really can’t thank my Cal Poly friends enough for supporting this podcast. I’ve worked with Katie and Taryn on food science projects, the IFTSA product development competitions, and other crazy things in my University. Because we were involved in everything together, we trust each other.  So I’ll just say another thank you to both of them.

4. You get, and I’m putting this in quotes… “free stuff”

One of the funniest things I like to do is post stuff on social media on things I get for free. I used to do it on facebook, instagram, and now snapchat. By the way, every social emdia thing I have is itsmeadamyee, all one word.

Free stuff is nice, but as the old saying goes, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”.

I feel like with that mindset, it ruins the involvement experience because it makes you very ungrateful on the free swag (shirt, food, concert pass) that you received. For me, I enjoyed helping people and getting involved so I enjoyed the benefits of the free stuff.

Point being, the value you put into something will bring back as much value as you get out of it.

Here’s an example:

You get paid to go to work for 8 hours a day. You convert hours to dollars.

If I spent 5 hours a week feeding the homeless, I don’t necessarily get money, but the value is still there.

Feeding the homeless gives me satisfaction, it gives me, purpose, it gives me happiness in times where I feel really bad about myself. Seeing people smile when I give them a can of corn feels good to me.

But it can also give other things. What if it gives you the chance to meet a famous person? Or the love of your life? Granted, these are far off, but the point is, you never know.

Exposing yourself as a good person to people makes you valuable, and it should strip you of any bad intentions that you think you have. However it’s also an investment, you might not see returns in a month, but it snowballs. Your reputation increases, and the value might return 10 fold.

5. You develop a sense of purpose and meaning

So this mainly happens when you get into a leadership position. Especially the VP or President stage. For some people, leading something’s pretty cool, and don’t knock it till you try it.

Once you learn to lead something, and get people to do things for a common cause, it’s quite a strange, but satisfying feeling. Especially in hindsight. But people will do it, because they either like you, or the idea. Both help…a lot.

With enough leading on something you’re inherently passionate about, you might actually make a difference.

For me, it was working on getting Cal Poly to get involved in IFT and entering the product development competitions. Once we actually placed and were able to go to Chicago, that was like “wow, we actually made progress!”

And that’s an amazing feeling! The feeling of actually leading people to do something significant is something everyone in the world should try to do.

Once this happens, you can actually feel a sense of purpose, and later in life, that might save you from the impact of being an adult.

Never have anyone berate or laugh at your sense of purpose. Whether God, the environment, improving your home town, getting married and having kids, being an astrounaut, telling everyone you’re a food scientist, your purpose is unique.

And for some people who say they don’t have a purpose, well, my only advice to find it is to really lead something and make an impact. Once you’ve had small successes doing that, go bigger, and suddenly, it’s like you were born to do this.


Alright, you’ve made it this far.

As much as we like to hear why something works, it’s more practical to learn how something works.

Here are 5 actions you can use right away to get more involved in college.

  1. Join a club/organization dedicated to your major

To get ahead of half your classmates, you should probably join the club or organization dedicated to your major. For Electrical Engineers, that’s I Triple E, for Food Scientists, it’s IFT. Ask your professor which organizations to join. Do it, email him or her right now. Unless you’re driving… then wait until you get home.

Other than club fairs, job fairs, etc, the best way to absolutely get into an organization is to just ask (well, except for the Greek system). People absolutely love it when you ask if you can join something and they shouldn’t ignore you if you request to join, unless you give off that you’re a horrible person.

  1. Join a club/organization dedicated to your major …and make it better

It’s vital that once in your college career, you do a leadership position

Some leaders want to do everything, and then get overwhelmed and depressed, and ultimately, their legacy fades. Actually, your legacy is probably going to fade anyways since college is like life on steroids. After you graduate, you’ll keep clinging on to your friends in college, and then maybe in 3 or 4 years… poof, you’re forgotten. Oh well.

I went off tangent… basically, instead of focusing on making an organization better as a whole, make it your vision to improve just one thing about the organization. This can be getting into a new competition, or hosting an amazing banquet, whatever. This teaches the power of legacy.

Legacy is important, especially in college, but probably later in life. At most, you’re going to have 2 years tops in improving your organization, so time is valuable. Getting in the mindset that you need to impact your “legacy” is important. Legacy isn’t exactly a name, it’s what you actually did during your year of leadership. Did you make a cool How-To manual for next year? Or did you organize an amazing event for the campus? Or as simple as implementing a successful fundraiser or bake-sale is good enough.

20 years from now, wouldn’t it bring a tear to your eye if you came back on campus and saw the thing you worked on still being worked on? Like that pizza Friday you kept on pushing year after year was successful after 20 years. Stuff like that, though small, is what you need to strive for to make an impact in college. And they may forget that you did it, but that shouldn’t matter. The fame shouldn’t matter, the experience that you received should matter the most.

And of course, you don’t have to be club president to do so. In fact, I ran twice for food science club president until you realize how cliquey it got.

But in hindsight, I realized I got really power hungry. I’m proud of the things I did in my department so I have no regrets in what I did. Roberto and Emma did a great job in their terms.

  1. Join a club/organization not dedicated to your major

So besides Food Science activities, I really enjoyed getting involved with the Asian community in Cal Poly. There was a point where I was living two lives: an overachiever in food science… and an overachiever in Asian things…. Looking back, was it necessary? For an average person, probably not… but… yea let’s leave it at that.

Let’s see, I had a job for 2 years at the Multicultural Center, lead a 500 person diversity initiative, and probably my most precious moment, I would say, the most ephinany-like moment in Cal poly was leading and growing a Lion Dance Team. This was the first team I grabbed by the horns and lead charge.

I fell in love, became absolutely obsessed with lion dancing. For audio reasons, it’s the rawr Lion, not the one in country bars. Please, just google it.

Lion Dancing is this ancient art of Chinese Dancing where we dress up in these giant paper mache dragon-like costumes and scare away evil sprits… that’s probably the best description I can give.

If anything, you can google Lion Dancing… L-I-O-N Dancing and something cool will pop up.

It’s cultural, and frankly, it taught me how to run a business (which to be honest, a good chunk of profit was rewarded to our club members via all you can eat Korean BBQ).

It taught me how to manage money, members, develop systems to make things really effective, how to motivate members (via food), and how to develop strong family-like bonds that would make it impossible to leave.

So this can be practically anything. Not just cultural. I chose cultural because… I’m Asian.

As discussed on how to make a legacy, my most proudest legacy was mending relationships with our parent organization, the Chinese Student Association. I found this extremely satisfying in the beginning, there was a mutual hate with each organization, and after 4 years, having half of our board have lion dance members just last year. What’s amazing about that, is that you basically planted a seed, and told the next person in charge to keep watering!

But there’s plenty of other avenues to look into such as socially conscious organizations like a fair trade club or permaculture club, a project oriented club like a rose float or robotics club, or sports club like club soccer and intramurals. There are so many options it’s ridiculous so just go for it. Try everything.

  1. Form bonds and maybe a following

Though the food science clubs gave me value professionally, joining the cultural environment at college improved me as a person. It was the family I never had. And that’s extremely important to acquire in college.

So forming bonds between your collegues is extremely important. Like I mentioned before, you are investing in your future by forming these bonds. You never know when someone can get you a job offer just because you helped them on their homework.

But the food science organization did give me a kind of following…

So there’s a lot of debate whether to form a lot of bonds with multiple people, or form strong bonds ith a few people?

I guess not everyone is a connector, so whatever floats your boat. My recommendation? At least in a professional setting, form strong bonds with people who have a good network. Usually, those people are pretty friendly.

  1. Don’t cry when you lose

When you fail at an election, or have 3 people show up to your scheduled event, a fancy banquet that fell through, or whatever, don’t cry about it… at least not in front of people. You can cry when you go home, or in the arms of a loved one.

So you’re going to hear this throughout your whole adult life: you need to embrace failure.

We’re taught all of our lives not to get F’s in school, and I’m still in the mindset that failure hurts.

But that’s a good thing.

It’s very important to learn how to feel the pain of failure. It’s more important to have the ability to analyze why you’ve failed and improve on it.

Failure hurts as much as a bad test grade, a broken heart, and a lost acceptance letter. Some will say those scenarios are all failures. But when that happens to you, what did you do? Did you complain on facebook? Did you cave in and stay in your room forever? Maybe. Can’t say I haven’t. Can’t say you haven’t. But every time I’ve “failed”, I’ve learned how to analyze what went wrong and try something new.

Everyone has their own different story on how to conquer a loss. Some get numbed, some walk away, some crumble and never leave their room, ever. The best advice I can give you, is that when one door closes, another one opens. And it’s up to you to pack your bags and charge at that door at 100%.

Final thoughts:

The most important thing you need to learn in college is learn how to be a leader. To progress anywhere in life, to be recognized, to be respected, you have to learn to be a leader.

So make it your goal to lead at least one thing you’re passionate about in college. It’s such an amazing opportunity to inspire others. You need to take it.

And when you graduate, never stop leading. Join a non-profit or 12, build something in your town or city that you’ve always wanted to be a part of. You have that ability now.

By being a leader, your life will have meaning.

And always remember: there is no better time in the world to create something new.

This podcast was made with about $100 dollars in equipment, all I needed was the initiative to start, and the courage to ask experts to help me. Before, I hated my own voice, before, I could never think of talking to people, asking engaging questions right on the spot.

When you ‘Grow up”, it’s easier, yet scarier to start something new, and lead. But those who feel your enthusiasm will follow. It might take a while, you might have people who think you’re crazy, but all you have to do is smile.

Learn to Lead and keep on leading.

Thank you for listening

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *