Skip to Main Content
Student Success

Embracing uncertainty in your environment

How embracing uncertainty and building resilience are essential parts of success in college, and in life

Student Success

Embracing uncertainty in your environment

Uncertainly is a big part of life, especially for college students, who are figuring out their future. For Alexandria Coffman ‘23, embracing uncertainty is an essential part of success. We’ll also talk about gaining and nurturing leadership experience. Building a new network of friends from scratch. And about how there may not be one right answer for your future, but lots of right answers.

Featured Majors: Urban and Regional Planning, Geography and Sustainable Development, Sustainability

Featured Organizations and Internships: EcoReps

Scan the QR code below to listen on your phone. 

episode 55 qr code

Read the transcript

Speaker 1 [00:00:00] The views and opinions expressed in this podcast by the hosts and guests may or may not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Miami University. 

Speaker 2 [00:00:08] Freshman year I came in undecided.

Speaker 1 [00:00:11] I'm finance, entrepreneurship, anthropology.

Speaker 2 [00:00:13] I'm a senior architecture student.

Speaker 1 [00:00:14] I'm involved in the blockchain club here.

Speaker 2 [00:00:16] I'm very passionate about studying abroad.

Speaker 1 [00:00:18] Classes are going great.

Speaker 2 [00:00:19] And then obviously very involved with my sorority.

Speaker 1 [00:00:21] I'm thriving.

Meredith Aliff [00:00:00]

Uncertainly is a big part of life, especially for college students, who are trying to figure out their future. And for Alexandria Coffman, learning how to embrace the uncertainly has been an important part of her journey so far.

As an Urban and Regional Planning, Geography and Sustainable Development, and Sustainability Co-Major, Alexandria is making a positive impact on the world by creating community and advancing equity across on campus and beyond.

And today we’ll also talk about gaining and nurturing leadership experience. Building a network of friends from scratch. And about how there may not be one right answer for your future … but … lots of right answers.

And the first question that I'm going to ask you is who are you?

Alexandria Coffman [00:00:03] My name is Alexandria Coffman. I am a senior majoring in urban and regional planning, geography and sustainable development and sustainability.

Meredith [00:00:11] Oh my goodness. 

Alexandria [00:00:13] And I am the president of a MUeco Reps, which keeps me very busy. I am passionate about environmental justice and I love getting outside. And I was a little unusual in that  I knew coming in that I wanted to go to a school that had an urban planning degree. 

Meredith [00:00:32] Great. What made you decide as a high school student that, like at the end of the day, no matter what, this is what I want my major to be.

Alexandria [00:00:40] In middle school and high school. People would ask me, you know, what do you want to do? And I didn't necessarily know. But one of my friends said that her dad was a community and regional planning professor at Iowa State, and I didn't know what that was. And so I went down the Internet rabbit hole and started looking into it. And, you know, YouTube videos that I watched went down that YouTube rabbit hole. Of course, I realized that this was something that I could see studying for a long time and continued to be interested in. And so I kind of kept it in the back of my mind and then realized that this was something that enabled me to be involved with people in the public and to make a difference, which was something that I knew that I wanted to do.

Meredith [00:01:24] Yeah.

Alexandria [00:01:24] I also knew that I was interested in sustainability, but I wasn't really sure whether that was something that I wanted to do professionally. I am very passionate about, you know, combating climate change and trying to find sustainable and equitable solutions. But I was under the impression that sustainability was really just for environmental scientists, and I didn't consider myself somebody who really wanted to do a lot of work and so once I realized that there were options for environmental studies or sustainability where I could focus on implementation and people, then I felt like that was something that I was interested in.

Meredith [00:02:06] Yeah. So tell me about your classes. What is a day in your life look like with classes?

Alexandria [00:02:12] Every semester has looked a little bit different, which is part of why I enjoy it so much. Taking a lot of gen eds and kind of dipping my toe in lots of different fields that were very interesting to me. One of those is geography and gender, and I've taken physical geography or GIS courses, but the past couple of semesters, as I've gotten into higher level coursework, I've gotten to take three client base project courses. Those have really been so cool to get to see. Take what I'm learning on Miami's campus and apply them off campus. My core major curriculum. The semester is a client based course where we are working on a revitalization plan and a comprehensive plan for a neighborhood in Hamilton and so we just had our stakeholder engagement session yesterday, and we're working with that community to figure out what the challenges are and where they want to go in the future. And so that's been so cool to get to actually work with people where I'm able to use the skills that I've learned on campus and hopefully help people realize their vision for their neighborhood.

Meredith [00:03:28] Yeah, absolutely. Do experiences like that kind of inspire you and the people in your major to continue on learning and maybe going into things like that as postgrad?

Alexandria [00:03:40] I think so. And I think it really helps with our confidence too. We sat down in one of the courses and talked about resumes and the ways that a lot of employers would like professional experience, but it's hard to get professional experience when you're still a college student. And so being able to have basically professional experience within an academic setting kind of woven into the curriculum has been something that's been really beneficial. And it also helps to bridge that gap between the classroom setting and then the so-called real world.

Meredith [00:04:18] Yeah, definitely. Well, that's super, super neat. I didn't know that there were even things like that happening on campus where you're traveling to all these different places. So are there any teachers or classes that you would want to give a little shout out to?

Alexandria [00:04:32] I already mentioned geography and gender. That was a great course with Dr. England. My initial freshman courses that I took to get the basics of human geography with Dr. Jakubowski, and she is such an enthusiastic teacher and so being able to feel her enthusiasm for the subject and learn about the world around me in a new context and kind of make sense of things that I'd been seeing was very fun. And I still look back on those classes and they're just wonderful. I would recommend that anyone take them. I think that it's a great way to understand how the urban environment was built and how people around the world view space and creating a sense of place.

Meredith [00:05:20] Absolutely. Well, let's step outside of class for a sec. What do you do? Clubs, organizations on campus are you a part of? 

Alexandria [00:05:30] Yeah. So my biggest involvement is I currently serve as the president of Miami University Eco Reps, which is an environmental education organization. We are partnered with the Office of Residence Life, so we work primarily in the residence halls, but we also do work all across campus. And Eco Reps has really shaped my college experience in a way that I could not have predicted. And every Eco Rep serves every on-campus eco rep, I should say, serves on their halls community leadership team, and is basically the sustainability voice for that leadership team, which is a way to incorporate sustainability into the residence hall environment and into residence hall decision making. We also conduct a series of really cool events. One of those are trash audits, which seem a little bit strange at first, but I promise they're not as bad as it initially sounds. We go into each residence hall on campus once a semester and we wear out 50lbs of trash, and then we break open those bags and we see how much food, waste and recyclables are being thrown away in that dorm.

So we get a percentage of the food waste and recyclables that are being thrown away. And so that's a way to educate the people in the dorm and people across campus about the resources that could be reused or could find a new home and understand how we could reduce the amount that's going into the landfill. So that's really useful data and it's used across campus and we've been partnering with APhiO service fraternity on campus this semester, and we've had multiple people volunteer from A Phi O say it's not nearly as bad as they thought it would be, and they actually had a lot of fun. So we're usually playing music or having fun conversations. And it's an unusual thing to do with your Saturday morning and I recognize that. It's a lot of fun and you really learn a lot about waste management on campus and quite frankly, Campus life. Another project that has become a Miami staple is the Water Bottle Project.

Meredith [00:07:45] Yes. 

Alexandria [00:07:46] So if you walk around Miami's campus, you're likely to notice these green bottles in various forms. Through our trash audits, we realized that there were a ton of single-use plastic bottles that were just being thrown away on campus. And while students can recycle them, that wasn't something that was happening. So the Eco Rep's leadership teams created the eco rep's water bottle project, and that is a fundraising project where we partner with community sponsors to purchase water bottles that are then given away to students free of charge and these are high-quality reusable bottles.

Meredith [00:08:25] They are high quality. I love my Eco Rep's water bottle.

Alexandria [00:08:28] I'm so glad. I'm so glad we love to hear that. So that's super cool that it's become such a big part of Miami's culture. And I've grown a lot in terms of project management skills and things are never going to go exactly the way you think they're going to go. And so learning how to navigate circumstances that you didn't see coming has been something that I've encountered with that project. And then we also help with initiatives across campus, partnering with other organizations. About every three years when our advisor gets new chickens, then we're able to do pick up a Chick day, which we were able to do last year. So we did pick up a Chick Day where we talked about the food supply chain and allowed people to actually hold baby chicks, and that was a hit. And so getting to do cool events like that, it's just so fun. And really, when I think back on my college experience, those are some of the things that stick out to me. 

Meredith [00:09:27] Yeah, for sure. I mean, I feel like obviously, you guys are quite a force on campus, but I didn't understand the extent of like what you guys are doing, like going into these residence halls and looking at trash and figuring out how much people are wasting and how we can cut back on that waste. You guys are really doing something super, super cool here.

Alexandria [00:09:48] Yeah, well, thank you. And we definitely couldn't do it without all of the members and all of the staff and residents life that support us and we hope to make sustainability more accessible and we hope to let people know that there are ways that you can make a difference and there are things that you can do as you're a college student. You don't have to try to be perfect and you don't have to wait until you're out of college to have an impact and make a difference. 

Meredith [00:10:11] Yeah. So, so neat, well, congratulations for being the head of such a massive organization on campus. That's so exciting. So obviously you found things that you're super passionate about in your four years here. Where are you hoping that this takes you after graduation?

Alexandria [00:10:28] Oh man, I'm still trying to figure that out a little bit. And I think that I'm trying to embrace the uncertainty to the best of my ability. Ideally, I want to be it comes back to I want to be in a position where I'm making a difference and so I could see myself doing environmental education, but I could also I'm hoping to be in either transportation planning or resilience planning, which is basically urban planning and regional planning for the effects of climate change. But there's also things embedded in that, like just climate action planning. And so I'm open to a lot of things, but I'm I'm hoping that I can have a positive impact.

Meredith [00:11:12] Definitely. I feel like we should also normalize not having a solid plan when you're done with school. 

Alexandria [00:11:18] Absolutely.

Meredith [00:11:19] Like it's okay. Yeah. You know.

Alexandria [00:11:21] Yeah, I think that I thought that I would have a solid plan leaving college, and the more seniors that I talked to, the more I realized that even when you have a full-time position, it's not nobody has it all figured out. And so trying to embrace the uncertainty and understanding that even for people where it seems like they have it all figured out. Really everyone is dealing with uncertainty and everyone is dealing with hard questions that they're facing, figuring out how to translate experiences at Miami into post-grad life is is really challenging. But I think there's also so many opportunities and there's no right answer, but there are lots of right answers at the same time.

Meredith [00:12:05] Absolutely. I think the point of college is to learn and get passionate about something and educate yourself and then it's okay to leave and be like, All right, so I've got all this right, and now let's figure something out. Let's figure out what I'm going to do from here. AbsoluI think the point of college is to learn and get passionate about something and educate yourself and then it's okay to leave and be like, All right, so I've got all this right, and now let's figure something out. Let's figure out what I'm going to do from here. Yeah, And I think there's this preconceived idea that when you're done, you have to be ready to go. Like you already have things lined up for after. And that's just not reality a lot of the time.

Alexandria [00:12:05] Yeah.

Meredith [00:12:05] And I think there's this preconceived idea that when you're done, you have to be ready to go. Like already have things lined up for after. And that's just not reality a lot of the time. 

Alexandria [00:12:36] No. And I think that it's similar in high school. People will ask you in high school, what do you want to do with your life? First of all, you can do try out so many different things over the course of your life. And I know very few people who came in and didn't have some subject that they realized they were interested in that they weren't planning on. Or I know lots of people who came in this one major and decided that wasn't for them and that is all okay. Yeah. And embracing the uncertainty and kind of taking classes that are interesting or joining organizations that you're interested in can lead you down a path that you weren't prepared for or didn't expect to take. But I think those classes and those experiences have been the things that I really treasure most about my time in college. 

Meredith [00:13:25] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I'm a junior. I have no idea what I want to do. So I definitely didn't know when I was 18.

Alexandria [00:13:32] Right.

Meredith [00:13:33] It's just it's a lot to ask. And I think you kind of have to take it one step at a time.

Alexandria [00:13:37] Right.

Meredith [00:13:38] To have the best turnout. And also so you don't get overwhelmed and start to shut down because you're like, Yeah, oh my gosh, I'm 19 and I don't know what I want to do with the rest of my life. Like, totally. Okay.

Alexandria [00:13:50] Right.

Meredith [00:13:51] So what would you say are some of the biggest challenges that you've had to overcome during your college experience?

Alexandria [00:13:57] One of the biggest things that I dealt with freshman year was making friends and feeling homesick. I'm originally from central Iowa, and so I'm quite a ways from home.

Meredith [00:14:09] Yeah.

Alexandria [00:14:09] I'm very close with my family and so all of a sudden I was only able to connect with them over FaceTime and had to figure out how to create a new community. And there's the perception, and I had the perception as a freshman too, that everyone had friends within the first semester that they got along with, and we're going to be there forever. Friends. And while I was meeting people, I wasn't forming those strong friendships quite yet, and I kind of started to my second semester freshman year. I think one of the things that has been a challenge is just creating a new a new network pretty much from scratch. And there are lots of resources on campus and certainly Eco Reps has been a big part of that. I have this one memory that sticks out in my mind. I was walking across the hub where the seal is having a rough day, feeling really homesick, walking back to to my dorm and one of the Eco Reps leadership team members, Claire just yells across the Hub, Hi Alexandria and was super excited to see me and just waved. And then we both kept walking. But there was something about having somebody on campus who recognized me and who was excited to see me, where I started to feel like I kind of felt like a switch flipped and I started to feel like I had connections here. And now, as a senior, I make a point to wave to people when I see other eco reps or my residents or other people that I recognize on campus. I think that that's making a point to let others know that you're excited to see them on campus or you hope that they have a great day, even if it's just in passing, has been a way for me to feel like I'm able to build community here at Miami.

Meredith [00:15:55] Almost like the pay it forward type like as an upperclassman now you've gone through it, but you don't forget how you felt as a freshman like that feeling of homesick and am I going to find these people that I click with? And I think it's so great that you're now turning around and being that for other people, because obviously, Claire doesn't know the impact that she had on you. And I'm sure that there are people that you reach out to that you don't understand the impact that you have on them and just making them feel more comfortable. But I think joining organizations and things like that, like I felt the exact same with my a cappella group, having juniors and seniors that wanted to talk to me and like wanted to hang out with me and hear about my day. And it means more than you would ever know, like as a freshman coming in to have a little bit of a network especially, of upperclassmen.

Alexandria [00:16:45] Right.

Meredith [00:16:46] And that just comes from once again, being open, joining organizations like something could pop up and you might not have ever thought that you wanted to be an eco rep, But here you are and you're meeting all these people and making these connections.

Alexandria [00:16:58] Yeah.

Meredith [00:16:58] Yeah, I love that. And I I'm really glad that you've kind of turned around and done that for other people as well. Yeah, well, you've given some great advice so far just throughout our conversation. If you could go back and talk to yourself before freshman year, is there anything else that you would say just to calm nerves or anything like that about where you're at now in college?

Alexandria [00:17:20] I think the biggest thing is be patient with yourself and give yourself time. You will find people that are interested in the same things you are. You will find people who you click with. And even if it feels like other people on campus have it all figured out, nobody has it all figured out. And so it's.

Meredith [00:17:41] Totally a facade.

Alexandria [00:17:44] Oh it truely is. Yeah. So being able to know that nobody has it all figured out and that there's always time to reach out and branch out and introduce yourself to somebody new or create a new relationship. Freshman year is not a deadline. The connections and relationships that you've made at the end of freshman year do not dictate the rest of your college experience.

Meredith [00:18:04] Absolutely not. Well, great answers. It's been so great talking with you today.

Alexandria [00:18:10] Thank you so much for having me.

Meredith [00:18:11] Yeah, absolutely. And I really appreciate you coming on and I'll see you around.

Alexandria [00:18:18] Thank you.

Meredith [00:18:19] Of course. Thank you.

Alexandria Coffman is an Urban and Regional Planning, Geography and Sustainable Development, and Sustainability Co-Major at Miami University. After graduation she plans to pursue a career in transportation or resilience planning, while creating a positive impact through environmental education.  

And thank you for listening to Major insight. If you enjoyed this podcast, share it with your friends or anyone interested in college life. Many more episodes are now available wherever podcasts are found.

Major Insight is a roadmap for college students who wish to find their place and purpose on campus. Each episode features real stories with real students who are successfully navigating 21st century university life.