Don’t be afraid to set ambitious goals. Colleges and universities offer many resources that can help you achieve them.

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Students who approach college with a willingness to stretch their horizons and reach for big goals can make a great future for themselves.

Take Ryan Summers, for instance. He graduated from Washington State University in December 2017 with a degree in computer engineering and his name on a patent. During his time at WSU he also was selected as a Rhodes Scholar finalist, earned several scholarships and completed two internships—one of them at Elon Musk’s SpaceX aerospace company.

It’s a sensational résumé, but the secret behind it is actually very simple: Summers took everything one step at a time and gave every step 100 percent effort.

He was persistent and focused. And he took full advantage of the unique opportunities that come with the college experience.

Yet Summers hasn’t always been so focused. In high school, his time was consumed by online gaming. His grades were good, but not perfect. His father frequently urged him toward more productive pursuits.

“My rebellious self didn’t want to listen,” Summers confesses.

But near the end of his freshman year at WSU, he had an epiphany. He realized that college was full of opportunities he’d find nowhere else—and he was missing too many of them. So he made a decision: no more gaming. He reprioritized his time, pouring his energy into making the most of his college experience.

He focused on academics. Joined student clubs. Worked in a professor’s research lab. Applied for dozens of scholarships. Semester by semester, step by step, he developed the knowledge and skills he needed to reach his goals.

At age 10, Ryan Summers constructed a Lego model of a Star Wars Blockade Runner that won second place at the Washington State Fair.
At age 10, Ryan Summers constructed a Lego model of a Star Wars Blockade Runner that won second place at the Washington State Fair.

Use your college’s resources

All colleges and universities offer resources that can help you reach your goals. And one of your first steps should be to seek them out.

Academic and career advising offices are a good place to start. They can direct you toward useful services and help you figure out which majors and careers could be a good fit for you. Ask about academic support services such as tutoring, too—even if you think you won’t need them. It’s better to know how to get help than to get into a bind and not know what to do.

Let your academic adviser know what interests you; ask about elective courses and related opportunities.

Summers credits an adviser in WSU’s honors college with encouraging him to step outside his comfort zone and pursue opportunities he hadn’t thought of before.

Unsure how to qualify for the scholarships he’d been urged to pursue, he asked for help. His adviser put him in touch with the university’s scholarship advising office, where experts helped him find the academic and leadership experiences he needed to build winning applications. The awards he won paid for his education.

“Don’t be afraid to take on really big projects,” Summers says. “Because nothing is impossible.”

Look beyond the classroom

Ryan Summers
Ryan Summers

Ask Summers what his favorite college learning experience was, and you’ll find that it wasn’t in the classroom—it was a student club.

“I learned even more from the club than I did in many of my classes,” says Summers. “We did a lot of the things that professional engineers do—some of which you just can’t do in a classroom.”

Every year the club takes on the difficult challenge of designing and building a fully autonomous robotic submarine for an international robotics competition. Summers loved the hands-on problem-solving and the teamwork. And the experience he gained through three years in the student club helped him land a coveted internship at SpaceX.

Once you start looking, you’ll see opportunities and helpful resources everywhere.

So go ahead and make lofty goals. Even the biggest challenges become manageable when you attack them step by step. And your future college is ready and waiting to help.

Washington State University offers degree programs at five locations across the state: Pullman, Tri-Cities, Vancouver, Spokane and Everett. The Global Campus delivers degree programs online. Explore locations and programs at choose.wsu.edu.