The final course project described below is designed to help students take ownership of the success strategies they learned by teaching the strategies to someone else. This project is specifically for the folks using On Course as their text in a student success, composition, or other course, though I hope others will consider using the idea, which I believe can be adapted as a final project or even an exam question for many courses.  This project is the most popular with students in my College Success Seminar class (they get to choose from a menu of projects).  As a bonus, I believe you’ll experience great upliftment by reading the amazing student example below.


Directions: Write a letter to someone you love (your child, grandchild, brother, sister, etc.). Tell the person how he/she can create a successful life. Share three or more specific strategies you have learned in our class.  If the person you write to is very young (or not even born yet), you may want to give the letter as a gift when he/she is old enough to benefit from your wisdom.


Before you read the following student sample, here’s some background on the author: She’s in her 40’s, married, and is a recovering drug addict; this semester was the fourth one in which she enrolled at our college, but it is the first semester that she ever finished a course. Up until now she had earned the label “at risk.” You’ll quickly see that she has all the potential in the world…she just kept sabotaging herself from the inside out. There is ample evidence here that she has revised enough of her beliefs, attitudes and behaviors to let her potential soar.  She writes the letter to her husband.  Enjoy!

Dear Ronald,

I’m writing this letter in hopes that I may share with you some of the most valuable information that I’ve received in my entire life.  You have been there with me during the entire semester as I have written in my On Course journal for my CSS 110 class.  You pushed me on those Sunday evenings when I was exhausted and did not feel like writing.  You often gave up the room to me, which sometimes interrupted your peace so that I could have mine.  You constantly acknowledged my strengths and never mentioned my weaknesses.  You were always patient with me when I went into a panic and disrupted the entire house because I had waited until the last minute to complete my writing assignments.  I demanded so much of you and like always you yielded. Your patience and understanding played a tremendous role in my completing this course.  The purpose of this letter is to thank you.

The strategies that I learned while taking this course have helped me to grow significantly in all areas of my life, and I want you to grow with me.  You gave me the gift of tolerance while completing this course, and in return, I give you the gift of my knowledge.  In sharing these strategies for success with you, I also give you the gift of my love.

My personal definition of success is to set goals that will make me happy, my life more rewarding, and to see those goals achieved.  For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted nothing more than to be a good wife, mother, and to earn a college degree.  Today my dreams are becoming realities.  Today I take charge of my dreams and believe that, with determination and a sincere desire to succeed, I can do anything that I set out to do.

The first strategy that I recommend to you is “Mastering Creator Language.”  As it says in our book, Creators and Victims speak different languages.  Victims make excuses, but Creators seek solutions. Victims blame, but Creators take action.  Victims repeat ineffective behavior, but Creators try something new.  Victims “have to” do things, but Creators “choose to” do things.  Most of all, Victims are powerless, but Creators take control of their choices and their lives.  As for me, I lived the Victim role for so long that I had become very comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Everything that happened to me was the result of someone else, of their behavior towards me, never taking responsibility for anything myself.  By always blaming others, I lost a very valuable tool, the power to control my life.  Using Creator language has helped me to think more positively.  I learned how to take charge of my life, chart my own course, and to become emotionally independent.  I learned that I am responsible for the outcome of my life, and today I choose that outcome to be a successful one.  Using the Creator role, I do the necessary things that will lead to my achieving my goals.  I do things today that will enhance my dreams.  I take the initiative when it comes to my well-being.

The second success strategy from my CSS 110 class that I recommend to you is “Choosing Purposeful Goals.”  People who have unclear pictures of themselves make unclear choices. As a result, they end up with an unclear future and never have a chance at reaching what they thought they had wanted.  My experience has been that by setting purposeful goals for myself, I lay the foundation for my future and dreams.  Goals have become my blueprint for life.  I found that writing down long- and short-term goals gives me an opportunity to plan, and to make decisions in my life based upon my goals.  When I first began this course, I knew what I wanted, but had no action plan.  This strategy taught me how to choose and decide what actions were steps toward my goals, and which were not.  For example, I knew that one day I wanted to earn a Master’s degree in social work, which before seemed very unattainable.  By making short- and long-term goals, I find myself reaching that goal by taking 3-foot tosses. I realize that I had to concentrate on the immediate issues at hand, which meant I first had to earn an AA degree.  Never forgetting my long-term dream, but concentrating more on the short-term, I’ve begun to make significant progress.  The courses that I take now, I look at as stepping-stones to my Master’s degree.  I find it easier to take smaller steps that give me results a lot sooner, which in turn motivates me to keep going.  I’ve decided to live my life on the installment plan so as not to become so overwhelmed and give up.  Knowing that I can accomplish small tasks prepares me for the larger one.  Using the Creator role involves a lot of hard work.  I have to constantly push myself when life sometimes seems hopeless.  I’ve had to adjust my schedule at home and work to accommodate school, but the Creator in me does whatever it takes to reach my goal.  Today I tell myself that I can, and then I do.

The last strategy that I recommend to you is “Committing to Your Dreams.”  Our book says, “A commitment is an unbending intention, a decision that you are unwilling to change despite setbacks.  A commitment is a single-mindedness of purpose that promises to overcome all obstacles regardless of how positive or negative you may feel in any particular moment.” By using this strategy, I have made a commitment to my education. I’ve always wanted to pursue my education, but until I made a commitment to do it I always failed.  To me, making a commitment seals the deal.  I’ve struggled this semester trying to juggle work, family, and school.  Some days I am so tired that I feel like quitting, but I push myself.  My commitment to my education keeps me disciplined.  By committing to my dreams and goals, I’ve found that I really do program my brain to look for solutions to my problems.  I did not know for certain how I would finance my education beyond next semester.  By being committed and not using Victim language, I filled out my financial aid papers early, which makes me a candidate for a senatorial scholarship for four years.  What I’m trying to emphasize here is that my commitment and determination force me to look for alternatives and solutions in a never-ending quest to reach my goals instead of giving up. Committing to my dreams allows me to claim them.

Ronald, for the twenty-five years that I have known you, you have kept most of your aspirations and dreams for yourself hidden.  I know that there are a lot of things that you would like to pursue.  The one thing that you shared with me is your desire to earn your high school diploma.  The strategies that I recommended above can help.  They will give you the tools necessary to accomplish anything that you set out to do.  By following them you can change all aspects of your life.  It’s time that you took time for yourself, to do something that you really want to do.  You spend so much time helping others that you have put yourself on the back burner.  There is so much that you were not able to do during your life because you were caught up in my addiction.  I cannot change the past but I can determine my future.  It’s time to give yourself a break.  I want so very much for you to be happy and fulfilled. 

You are presently struggling with the idea of going into business for yourself.  These strategies as well as the entire book can help you.  You often tell me how much I’ve changed and how proud you are of me; well, I want the same for you.  You have a love of music and for writing music.  One of your dreams has been to have one of your songs published.  By utilizing these strategies, you can turn that dream into a reality.  You are afraid to take risks, always asking yourself, what if?  With careful planning, determination, and a commitment to your goals you can do it.  I have so much faith in you!  You are talented in so many areas, and I hate to see those talents not being utilized.  I want to see the joy in your eyes when you achieve your wildest dreams. In the last four months, you have seen me blossom into a confident woman who is taking life head on and you can do the same.  It might seem scary at first, even hard, but anything worth having is worth working for. 

So, Ronald, don’t wait another minute.  Make that phone call and enroll in GED classes.  That 3-foot toss will eventually lead to a rewarding career of your choosing.  You know first hand what I’ve gone through to get to where I am today, for you have been with me every step of the way.  Let me be with you now.  If you incorporate these strategies into your life, I promise that you will grow significantly, and your life will change for the better. Give yourself a break! Try something new.

–Skip Downing, Facilitator, On Course Workshop,

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