How has your view of what ‘success’ looks/feels like changed over time? What or who has contributed to this throughout your personal, professional, or academic journey?

Haley Rietman, Program Assistant, The Learning Center


Success for me has not been something that is easily defined. When I was younger, I thought success was one thing- good grades in school. It has now changed to mean a multitude of things. When looking at this prompt, the first thought that came to mind is that the definition of success is individualized. To further my point- I asked three of my biggest mentors what success means to them off the top of their heads; these are the answers I received:


“Success can be very different for people… for me, success is a well lived life with loving relationships, and working to live not living to work. I do believe however, that with success it is important to work and be self-sufficient.”


“Success is when you have loved deeply and are committed to jobs or projects that are satisfying to you while also giving back to others”


“Success is doing ones best at what whatever one chooses to do in life, while negotiating with win/win outcomes in mind, while ultimately trying to make the world a better place, even if incrementally so. Success is enjoying the journey while maintaining the ethos of love, kindness and helping fellow humans.”



As you can see from even just my small sample of people, there is no one definition of success. Of course, the dictionary states that success is “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” However, everyone’s aim or purpose is going to be different. I now think of success as an all-encompassing measure. Sure, one may have a 4.0 in their university courses however, if they are unhappy is this really where they would like to be? Or maybe one is happy with their current life but has no goals or intended outcome for their future. This leaves one with no opportunity for success.

I see success as a comprehensive measure of balance and realizing that there is constantly room for improvement. Success is infinite and one should always be striving to be more successful no matter how small these improvements may be. Growth is a huge part of my definition of success and with each year, or even day, my definition gets more distant from my original thought that success can only be reached by the highest of achievers in their academics.

I don’t think I can pinpoint one thing that has contributed to my own definition of success and even if I could, I don’t know that I would share it. It is important that one finds their own definition of success through life experiences, mentors, peers, academics, and passions.  All of these influences are developing my definition of success and I know as I continue to grow in my career and personal development, this definition will continue to be ever changing.

How do you define Learning and what enables you to make meaning of new knowledge?

Hanrui Zhang, Lead Speaking Center Coach

To me, the definition of learning is the process of receiving and responding to feedback. Any online search for the purpose of feedback will close with something along the lines of “to improve the system it gets fed back into.” As a bilingual coach, student, and older sibling, feedback has been a central focus of how I’ve both taught others and learned things in life.

In my experience, learning is a synthesis of feedback. Learning is taking the feedback and making a conscious note to actively work towards using that feedback as fuel for positive improvement. As a sort of self-sufficient feedback system, before I sleep every night, I ask myself to type out or vocalize 3 positive actions I did during the day, and 3 actions I could have performed differently in to improve the day.

Usually, the actions I liked doing consist of something along the lines of “I’m happy I got a nice sweet cup ice cream today.” Despite the more whimsical nature of this specific observation, I still believe I accomplished the point of identifying positive actions. In this case, I’ve found that learning about what made me happy in the day is a crucial step towards building a positive mindset for getting excited about learning more things in general.

For the 3 things I could have done better, I usually take a deep dive into my words and attitudes towards others during the day, and I’ll often evaluate several of my thought processes throughout the day as well. As a Speaking Center Coach, I find this part relatively easy on the days I have work, since there is always a rich treasure trove of interactions during every appointment that I can draw from to assess today’s behavior.

In a more macro lens, identifying 3 positive actions at night help me realize that my studying paid off for a difficult quiz, that my coaching during a session really helped a student feel better about a speech, or that I finally got some ice cream to eat after skipping lunch. In another light, this “feedback” for myself helps push me towards experiencing the feeling that the positive action entailed. Similarly, the 3 areas of improvement that I identify help push me to be more conscious of what made me not perform those actions to the best of my ability. My self-awareness of these improvements I could have made help make meaning of how I felt about those actions.

Another reason why I define learning as feedback is because I have witnessed students who I’ve coached at the Speaking Center learn so much about themselves through my feedback. I strongly believe that a huge part of coaching is being able to provide useful feedback to the student, which in turn motivates the student to improve themselves in that aspect. Whether it be an observation about their pace, eye contact, transitions, style, or posture, every bit of feedback helps students identify and stick to better paths in their learning process.

All in all: to learn, seek feedback. Understand and remember the things you are doing correctly in the learning process and identify the improvements that can be made. When there is a constant system of input and output of those items, the learning process becomes a much more multi-dimensional experience. As a coach, I hope to always provide honest, accurate, and real-time feedback to ensure that everyone learns about public speaking the smart way.




Great Speaker

Jacquelyn Horton, Speaking Center Director

Jacquelyn is the director of the USF Speaking Center and an instructor in the Department of Rhetoric and Language.  She received her Masters of Arts in Communication Studies and Certificate in Composition from San Francisco State University.  She has worked as a public speaking instructor and professional speaking coach for over ten years, teaching university students, community members, and industry leaders to become successful at the challenging task of public address.  Jacquelyn’s greatest joy is preparing peer tutors for their coaching work in the USF Speaking Center.


As a public speaking coach and professor, I am often asked if a person can learn to be a great speaker or if they are just born a talented speaker. My answer is always a resounding, “YES, you can learn how to be a great public speaker!” There is no doubt in my mind with the right teaching, practicing, and commitment to learning, anyone can become a great presenter. Now of course we can all think of a person who has the right temperament and easy charisma that makes them a natural public speaker, but even those “naturally talented” speakers have to study and practice public speaking to be truly great. I see it over and over as a public speaking professor; the confident and talented public speaker relies too much on their natural talent and ends up earning lower grades than the student who studies and practices public speaking.


The first step to learn and prepare to be a successful presenter is to understand your personal speaking anxiety and finds ways to minimize that anxiety. Most people feel nervous when they public speak, but we usually don’t present that anxiety to the audience. Research shows us that the audience does not perceive a speaker to be as nervous as the speaker claims to be. So, even when we feel nervous we are not presenting that to the audience. I believe in fake it till you make it – project confidence until you start to feel it. I promise with a few successful public speaking experiences under your belt, you will start to feel confident and maybe even enjoy it.


The second step is to prepare for your speeches. When we feel anxiety or apprehension about something we tend to put it off and procrastinate. PLEASE stop doing this! if you want to succeed, you have to give yourself the space and time to prepare! Preparing means picking a topic you care about, finding a message you want to share with an audience, something you are passionate about, researching your topic, analyzing the content, organizing it in a way that is accessible for your audience, drafting outlines, and practicing delivery. This is a lot of work and you time to do this, so please don’t let the anxiety cause you to procrastinate.


The third step is to PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! You must stand up and speak out loud when you practice. You need others to watch you and provide feedback, you need to think about your content, organization, and delivery. You must leave time to practice. If you think you should practice three times, double that and practice out loud six times. Practicing will help you know where you need to improve your delivery, content, or organization and it will help minimize communication apprehension and maximize confidence.


Many great speakers needed to prepare and learn to become successful at public speaking: Winston Churchill, Steve Jobs, Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton, are just a few of the many examples. You to can become a successful and confident public speaker! Come visit us at the Speaking Center we will help you get there!


“Filled with Yet”: A growth mindset on preparation

Written by Rachel Brunson, Learning Center Assistant Director

Rachel graduated from USF’s School of Education with a Master of Arts in Organization & Leadership (emphasis in Higher Education & Student Affairs) in 2013, after receiving her Bachelors degree in English from Notre Dame de Namur University in 2011. She is originally from Angels Camp, CA, a small town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Rachel is passionate about enriching student success and impacting student persistence through collaborative learning and peer leadership; she is grateful to work in the Learning & Writing Center, which cultivates individualized learning environments for USF students. Outside of work, Rachel enjoys reading, writing, knitting, hiking, playing the piano, watching basketball, and traveling with family and friends.


“What is the chief way in which you prepare for an important task? What person, thing, or situation influenced you to prepare in the way that you do?”


“As I reflect on how I approach and prepare for important tasks, two things come to mind: (1) utilizing resources and (2) mindset.


We often think that personal success is determined by what we have accomplished on our own, but success can also be defined by how we utilize the resources and support around us to increase our likelihood to reach goals and complete tasks. Getting started early and building a foundation to launch from are essential components in my preparation process. When I’m approaching a task I often start by asking myself questions: What do I already know about this, and what do I need to learn in order to complete it? Who might I be able to reach out to for key insights or ideas? Have I done anything like this before that I can draw upon? Breaking a greater goal into subgoals and then creating a task-list for each subgoal helps me to feel less overwhelmed as I get to work.


In a recent workshop I attended the speaker mentioned how we should re-frame our outlook on what it means to be successful. She asked the group to think about if we only celebrate our “outcomes” rather than also celebrating our “efforts.” This approach of “praising the process” speaks to me, and also ties into the research of Carol S. Dweck, a professor of Psychology who is known for her work on the mindset psychological trait. Her writing and lectures on the “growth mindset” (versus the “fixed mindset”) inspire me because they offer me hope for a successful future. When I am not afraid to make mistakes while I am learning, I am more likely to successfully complete an important task. With a growth mindset, my preparation process might be a little more messy…over time, however, I have learned to fight my tendency to strive for perfection. As I realize I am not perfect (which I realize over and over), I also realize that the opportunities to try again or to do what I haven’t yet been able to are typically always waiting. This doesn’t mean I support taking serious things lightly. Rather, we should give ourselves the space we need to accept our shortcomings and strive to improve. I have found that this approach relieves stress I used to experience in both my academic and professional environments.


If you have ten minutes to spare, check out one of my favorite TedTalks, “The Power of Believing That You Can Improve.”


Do you find yourself commonly needing to approach new or unfamiliar content or assignments? It is natural to put pressure on ourselves to accomplish things on your own, and this can be daunting. I encourage you to check out Carol Dweck’s research, and if you are a student at the University of San Francisco, do not hesitate to visit The Learning Center for resources or assistance. We sit down 1:1 with students for Academic Skills Coaching appointments to help you get started and stay on track!”