Austin Helms is a 2016 graduate of UNC. His new book, Orientation to Graduation, was written during his time at Carolina. Helms will be signing copies of his book in the Pit on June 14 at noon, and he will also appear on WCHL radio at 8:30 a.m. that day. Staff Writer Sara Pequeño spoke with Helms about his unique experiences and how he's helped others gain a sense of what college is really like.
The Daily Tar Heel: What inspired you to write this book?
Austin Helms: It was never in my vision to write a book, it was just something I was going to do for fun. I wanted to write through the college process. Through my research, I couldn’t find a book written by a college student in real time about the college experience. So I got to UNC and kept writing about my new experiences — random roommate, how to get involved, etc. I became a tour guide on campus and made business cards with my blog on them, and that’s when I got really motivated — through the students I would give my card to on my tours. They would message me and tell me “Austin, this is really helping me. This is the kind of stuff I’m going through.” So I kept writing about anything and everything, from temptations in college to what to major in, studying abroad, traveling abroad, all these different things.
DTH: And you wrote this entire thing while you were in college?
AH: Yeah! It was a month-by-month thing, so just dependent. Some months I would write multiple chapters, some months I would just write one. And they’re about a ton of different things — how to set goals, etc. My writing definitely got better over time. It started with all of my excitement freshman year, to sophomore year, applying to the business school, to junior year and yeah. Then it got all compiled, and then my editor kind of rocked my world and told me to rewrite it.
DTH: And you’re from a small town, right?
AH: Yep, 4,500 people. In my first class in college — either ECON 101 or ASTRO 101 — there were about 400, 500 people in my class, which is more people than I graduated with, or more people than you could see on Main Street in Valdese.
DTH: Tell me a little more about that transition.
AH: As a kid from a small town, you’re excited because there are so many opportunities at Carolina. I would tell kids on my tours, “You can walk out of your dorm every day and meet somebody new.” And I never had that opportunity where I was from. There are like 700 or 800 clubs. So every day at Carolina, you can try something. My transition wasn’t terribly hard, but I did get homesick, and I did miss my mom’s home cooking. Sometimes I wanted to quit. But I knew how many opportunities UNC had, how "the ceiling is the roof.” There are so many different opportunities, so many people from all walks of life. And that’s what excited me, to be able to go to a University where I can truly try something new every day.
DTH: So you have a lot of experiences that you talk about in your book — swimming with great white sharks, going skydiving and starting a waterless car wash. What about UNC helped you have those experiences?
AH: So UNC just exposed me to a lot of different people, and a lot of different opportunities that I wouldn’t have had coming from a small town. I always say before UNC, I didn’t own a passport, and I’d never been west of Tennessee or north of Pennsylvania. Now I’ve been to three or four countries, I’ve been to California. Some of those trips were even paid for by UNC, when they’d send me for a number of different business competitions. It’s because UNC and Kenan-Flagler have such a great name that I was allowed to have these opportunities.
DTH: In your book, you use the phrase, “Making the Most” in your chapter titles. What does that mean to you?
AH: My book is dedicated to my aunt, who passed away before I started college. It’s all about learning how to dance in the rain, when you fail an exam, or get sick from drinking too much, or you apply to a program you don’t get into, you realize that you may not have gotten what you wanted, but it’s okay because there’s so much better stuff out there. You can’t just cry or mope about not getting that opportunity, you have so many opportunities. You can’t really fail in college – you can try anything. You have all this flexibility.
DTH: How have people responded to the book so far?
AH: So I’ve sold almost 400 books. I’m getting all kinds of feedback. Some people have said they think students should read this earlier than senior year, maybe freshman year of high school to get them hyped up for college, and I’ve had students who have read it that enjoyed it, that are gearing up to go to college. And of course my family is going to support me no matter what. Before I published the book, I actually had professors from Washington State University, Mercer University and other schools give me positive feedback.
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