Big-Time Transition to the Big 10

By Michael Sullivan


Michael Sullivan, a former Smart Kids Youth Achievement Award winner, relates his experiences navigating the transition to a Big-10 university • Faced with a rigorous curriculum, and many distractions, this student with ADHD finds ways to turn his disability into a super-ability

Wow! It has been an interesting month for me at Penn State. This place is huge! I was so scared for my first day of classes. Where were they? How long would it take me to get there? Luckily, the university has a lot of personnel to help out on the first day, which I took advantage of as soon as I got lost.

I woke up about an hour before my first class (Chemistry), took a quick shower and started walking. It was a 20-minute walk! And that is my closest class! So now I leave 30 minutes early because I want to be in the front; it helps me pay attention.

Large-Scale Changes

Then there’s the actual class itself. A 600-stadium-seating lecture hall! Crazy! Most of my professors have to use microphones. And 50-minute classes in college mean 50 minutes of work! In high school, I’d be able to take bathroom breaks and still know what the teacher was talking about when I returned. Not here. I have had to find other methods to keep myself focused. Sucking candies is now my weapon of choice.

My Microeconomics class is large too, but my professor finds ways to keep us active and still teach us, including using movies and music related to what we are learning. Amazing!

It still can be tough to pay attention and not let my mind wander, but I think I have found classes that interest me, which helps me want to pay attention.

Managing My Time

Then comes the homework. It is a lot. In most of my classes I get assigned these long lists of problem sets and they are due in a week. It’s not like in high school where my teachers would make an assignment and budget my time for me. Sometimes I don’t even have enough time to get something to eat. But I’ve found ways to work it out.

My Chemistry homework is due on Thursdays, so I split the work over Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, I go to the teacher assistant’s office hours or the extra help room and have them look over everything and explain any problems I’m unsure of. For Math, I have the same set-up just on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I’m slowly starting to work in my own time-management strategies.

I have a lot of reading for my Energy and Environment class. Eight-page articles and summaries for each class! And I cannot let myself fall behind because I never know when a pop quiz is coming! Homework is a lot, but it does feel cool once I figure it out.

My Super-ability

Besides all the work, there is all the fun. A lot of fun. All these new faces and things to do. I’ve been meeting a lot of people here—maybe because of ADHD! There are over 700 clubs here! And of course an ADHD student would try to get involved with as many as humanly possible.

I’m in Energy Club, Energy, Business and Finance Club, an environmental psychology project, but the best of all is a philanthropy called THON. I love helping others and serving my community, so how could I not be involved in the largest student-run philanthropy organization? They raised over seven million dollars last year for the Penn State Children’s Hospital to combat childhood cancer.

I can’t wait to help them top it this year and maybe one day get my turn to dance in the 46-hour dance marathon! Hyperactivity and dancing for hours—sounds like a perfect fit. I’m so excited to turn my “disability” into a “super-ability” here at Penn State.


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