UCSB Grad Pens Pocket Coach to College Success

'Take Off!’ Interactive Journal Helps Students Manage Their Time and Lives

Courtesy Photo

Émile Nelson doesn’t just work hard — he works smart. He’s one of those rare and enviable guys for which impeccable time management comes naturally. Nelson graduated UCSB last year with straight As, highest honors, and a University Award of Distinction. He was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa, served as the Nexus editor in chief, and juggled friends, a girlfriend, and a law firm job in his “free” time. “No time is really free,” he said. “It always costs you something.”

Nelson was figuring out his first post-UCSB move — he’d been considering careers in journalism or law — when he was invited to a workshop put on by author Jack Canfield of Chicken Soup for the Soul fame. “Boom,” Nelson said, snapping his fingers. “The inspiration hit, and I thought, ‘What’s something I have expertise in?’ Being a good student.”

With his characteristic efficiency, Nelson set out to create an interactive journal for the new college student, hoping to pass along the lessons he learned and lived in an engaging and easy-to-use way. “I wanted to make college not such a threatening thing,” he said, noting that less than 35 percent of college students graduate in four years, and more than 40 percent never graduate at all.

Take Off! Your Pocket Coach to Student Success was published last August and reached number two on Amazon’s list of best-selling back-to-school books. Nelson partnered with his mom, Åsa Odbäck, on the book and credits her business acumen and life experience for its success. “We’re a great team,” he said.

Unfortunately, Nelson noted, colleges do little to prepare freshmen for their new lives of independence and higher learning, and how to manage both. He remembered his UCSB orientation focusing more on binge-drinking than study habits or health care. Take Off! helps students think both practically and introspectively, asking questions such as: What do you appreciate about yourself? What is your plan to take care of your body during college? and How do you manage times of stress? Blank pages are for responses, and motivational quotes and stories highlight different themes of self-help. The whole idea, said Nelson, is to build confidence and good habits in order to save time that would otherwise be wasted by doubt or distraction.

Nelson admitted it’s tough for a young graduate like himself to not come across as sanctimonious. He’s careful about his approach, and that tact comes through in person. He’s authentically humble. He’s just happened to figure out time in a way most, especially college freshmen, haven’t. “There’s a lot of time in the day,” he said. “You just have to be aware of the best way to use it.” Nelson plans to have a few more books published by the end of the year.

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