USC Thornton Ambassador Maria McMillan shares details from one week in her busy yet balanced life
As part of our Ask An Ambassador series, “A Week in My Life” is a blog post written by USC Thornton Student Ambassador Maria McMillan that highlights her activities, classes and experiences from her own perspective.
Mornings Are For Work
I usually start every day by working at my work study job at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center. I work from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. every day except Wednesdays. As a Campus Center consultant, I sit at the front desk, answer questions and help give people directions. It’s a really easy job, and I love interacting with students, faculty and prospective students. If there’s not too much going on or it’s a slower day, I am usually able to get some homework done while I work, which is super nice.
All About Pop
Monday, Tuesday and Thursday are more music-heavy days because that’s when I’m preparing for pop performance class. Our class is Tuesdays from 6-8 p.m., and my weekly schedule is often built around the work I have to do for that class, since it’s the focal point of my major.
I have rehearsals with my band for class on Monday and Thursday, and then we perform in class on Tuesday. I also have my private lesson on Thursdays. Most of my practicing leading up to Monday, Tuesday and Thursday involves learning our songs for pop class and practicing or arranging for my lesson. Most days I’m done with class around 4 p.m., so then I go home to practice and complete assignments. Usually, I’m more productive practicing in the afternoon so I try to do any practicing when I get home from class and then do my assignments later in the evening. I also sometimes have club meetings or rehearsals for pop performance class in the evening.
On Wednesdays and Thursdays, I have extracurricular activities: Helenes and Troy Camp. I have Helenes meetings every week from 9-10 p.m. and Troy Camp middle school programming on Thursdays from 6-7 p.m. I first heard about Helenes at the involvement fair my freshman year. Helenes are the “official hostesses” of USC, and they are a service, spirit and sisterhood organization. I applied for both Troy Camp and Helenes in the spring of my freshman year, got in and joined both.
I really wanted to get involved on campus outside of Thornton. I wanted to meet people outside of music and find more opportunities to feel like part of a community at USC. I was really drawn to Helenes because of the service opportunities they offered, and I wanted to be surrounded by people who are just as enthusiastic about USC as me.
Being in Helenes has been one of my favorite USC experiences. It has exposed me to people from all different majors and given me really fun experiences, like sitting at the front row of football games and screaming my head off with some of my best friends. There are some weeks when I’ll have Helenes events come up, but there’s such a wide variety of events that I can always pick the ones I want to go to based on how they fit with my schedule.
I’m currently the music chair for Helenes. Chair positions allow you to be more involved with Helenes without the bigger time commitment of being on the executive board. As music chair, I make Spotify playlists, share a song of the week at meetings and keep members up-to-date on concerts happening around campus. Serving as music chair last semester and this semester has been a really fun way to bring music into a non-musical setting.
And You Can, Too
If you want to get involved in extracurricular activities, I would say just go for it! My freshman year, when I was getting involved outside of Thornton, I kept doubting my decision to join clubs. Sometimes, music students choose not to so they can spend more time practicing. Ultimately, I realized that being involved on campus is something that makes me happy and feel more connected to the school and community. I find it very rewarding. Don’t compare yourself to what your peers are doing or have this idea that you should or shouldn’t be doing extracurricular activities. Get involved on campus if that’s something you want to do! There’s also such a wide variety of clubs and student organizations on campus, so there are many different communities to be a part of! But don’t force it if it doesn’t feel right for you.
Striking A Balance
To balance my music and non-music classes, I really make an effort to stay on top of my coursework for non-music classes and get it done as soon as it’s assigned, because I know my workload with music classes takes up a lot of my time. At the beginning of the semester, I try to frontload my work for my non-music classes and get ahead on readings and small assignments so I don’t have to worry about them later. Then, throughout the semester, usually on Sundays, I’ll spend a couple hours getting ahead on non-music homework that week, so that I can spend my time during the week focusing on music. I also schedule everything in my Google calendar, including meals and when I’m going to get what specific assignment done. Then, not only do I have a to-do list, but I also know exactly when I’m going to accomplish everything on my to-do list. This helps me feel way more in control of my time and how I spend it.
My freshman year, I really struggled with making time for practicing. It always got pushed to the back of my mind, as I had assignments and other things due sooner. However, scheduling time for practicing into my calendar made all the difference. Scheduling my practice time makes it like a class — it’s something that is necessary and I have to set aside time for.
Within my scheduled practice time, I’ll designate what I’m doing. For example, on Wednesdays, I practice for two hours. I usually spend one hour learning the songs for pop class, 45 minutes practicing for my lesson and the other 15 minutes doing something fun that I know fulfills me musically. This distribution can change depending on what’s heavier that week. If I have a heavier lift to get ready for my lesson that week, I’ll adjust. If I’m preparing for a show, I’ll spend more time in that third, extracurricular practice category once I get everything else done.
It can be hard to find time to practice. It requires planning ahead. Sometimes, you don’t get very much notice before a show, so you don’t have the option to plan ahead as much. That’s when organizing my time and staying ahead on my non-music assignments is really useful. I work harder to stay ahead so that if I have a show coming up, it’s easier to move my schedule around. I’ve created a safety net for myself in case I fall behind.
This week, for example, I’m playing a show with Ellie Williams, a singer/songwriter in my pop cohort, on Friday night. The past week and this week, I’ve had to move some things around to make time to learn the songs and schedule rehearsals. However, staying ahead in my classes has allowed me the flexibility to make that happen without overwhelming myself.
Self-care is key
This semester, I’m taking “OT-100: Thrive” as an elective. It’s an occupational therapy class designed to address topics and difficulties faced by undergraduate college students. There’s no homework, and your only grade is your attendance to the one-hour weekly lecture and the one-hour weekly small group connection session.
The class feels like scheduled self-care in my schedule, and I love it. It relates to my work as a musician because we cover topics like stress, mindfulness, belonging at USC, community and more. When I take care of myself, like by taking this class, I’m able to perform better musically and academically.
Pursuing multiple interests as a college student is important for me for the same reasons that being involved in extracurriculars is. While I love Thornton and all of my music peers, sometimes it’s really nice to step outside and be curious about other subjects. Plus, meeting people from other majors and disciplines reminds me how cool the popular music major is and how lucky I am to play awesome music for class and that my midterms are performances, not tests.