I am the divorced parent of a freshman engineering student at Virginia Tech. Recently he, along with many others, was hit with the reality of first year, first semester, college life. Michael, my son, went through what I determined to be the five-week freshman freakout. He wrote to me that he wasn't sure that his dream of becoming an engineer was going to come true, and that he felt that he was letting himself, his father and me down.

I embarked on a networking mission to communicate support to Michael. Following is a letter written by our good friend, Kevin Kennedy. The words he wrote, I think, could apply to all college freshman students who are homesick, frightened, or just plain overwhelmed.

Chris Rumohr

Dear Michael,

Your mother and I had lunch on Tuesday and, as is a mother's eternal prerogative (and curse), she couldn't suppress her concern over your recent run-in with the five-week college yips (which happens to be most acute with engineering students, as I recall).

I pointed out to her that her real concern would be if you didn't feel overwhelmed, because that would mean you were clueless, which you are not. My absolute worst experiences in school were my freshman year of high school, my first year of college (even as a rinky-dink liberal arts maven) and my first year of law school.

The transitions from one level to the next were brutal. Self-doubt was ever present (just ask my wife about law school). Worse was the sensation of "drowning" and not being able to recover. Your present experience is universal and understandable, especially for E-schoolers.

Observations and Tips (for what it's worth):

1. You matriculated to VT's E-school directly out of high school, which is no mean feat! Why is that significant? Because people who know more about it than you do (now at least) recognize that you possess the intellectual capacity and other characteristics necessary to tackle such a rigorous program.

2. Because your first year curriculum is so demanding and alien to you, you will learn new techniques to handle the load such as:

Sleep -- do not underestimate the rejuvenating power of seven hours of quality sleep per night.

Exercise -- an absolute must! It clears the brain temporarily of the mountains of information you're force-feeding it and it releases much needed stress-relieving chemicals into your system. Peculiarly, instead of being tired, you are ready to tackle the next task.

Hide -- depending upon your roommate and friend situation, you may want to find a remote part of the University that you can sneak off to to avoid distractions and the other temptations of college life. When I really needed to focus at U-Va., I used to go to the deepest part of the stacks at Alderman Library where nobody could find me. In law school at Boston University, I actually went to the law library at Boston College to get away.

Social life -- raise some hell at the right times, you're in college after all. However, the intake of the customary party ingredients virtually assures fatigue (see "Sleep" and "Exercise") and should be enjoyed when you don't need to focus at a peak level.

This is more true in the first year than any other time in college. As you have no doubt observed, there are and will always be innumerable opportunities for partying at VT. Accordingly, if you miss a few social events you really haven't missed anything. Like buses, there's another one coming around the corner.

Faculty -- use them, force yourself on them when you need help. They're making a good living presumably training you to become an engineer. Make them earn it! They've been where you are now and can help you more than you might expect.

Study Breaks -- When you're really cranking, you must, must, must walk (literally) away from the books once every hour and take at least a 10 minute break. Your eyes, body and brain must have a change of venue. Ideally, light exercise, fresh air and fluids will recharge you for the next 50 minutes, and so on . . .

Prayer, meditation, stretching or yoga are also great ways to break-up the strain of studying. This is more important than it sounds!

3. Lastly, this is your journey, not your parents', grandparents', friends' or anyone else's. Your particular genius (i.e., genie, guardian angel, etc.) will guide you to your destiny through the good times and through the seemingly overwhelming times.

Whatever occurs, you are no more or less a child of God than you've always been. Your parents and true friends will always love you.

Best Wishes,

Kevin Kennedy