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  • Freshman Year: Four Ways to Conquer It

    In honor of our 2-year anniversary, we are dusting off our writing chops and relaunching our blog! We missed you! Hopefully you incoming freshmen are excited to start college within the next few weeks (or right now!) and are preparing yourselves to do so. The preparation doesn’t have to be anything too crazy. It’s all a matter of getting yourself mentally ready to tackle a new challenge and getting some tips on how to make the most out of your college experience. Here, I’ll give you 4 things to make sure you do in your freshman year to set yourself apart from your classmates and lay a great foundation for success in the future. Get organized Your first day of class (aka Syllabus Day) is foundational for your success in that particular class. If planners work for you, I’d recommend taking all of the important dates i.e. test days and assignment due dates and write in your planner. Do this for each class and you’ll have a comprehensive calendar with all of the important for the whole semester for your entire course load. This way everything is in one place so you won't have to flip through all of your syllabi looking for due dates all of the time. This also allows you to plan ahead. If you put all of your test dates and due dates on one calendar, you can see when certain times in your semester will be busier than others. You can use the calmer times in the semester to get ahead so that when things get a little hectic you won’t be as overwhelmed. Read your Syllabi This is super important. It may seem obvious but having a good understanding of the class structure and the professor’s expectations of the students is essential if you want to do well. But every professor is different. Some professors will go through the syllabus on the first day of class and never bring it back up again because it is the students’ responsibility to make sure they know what’s going on in the class. Other professors are a little more hand-holdy. Some of them will have you take a “syllabus test” so that they make sure that you read it thoroughly. Then there are the professors who are a little more ruthless. These professors pass out the syllabus or post it online on the first day but they jump straight into a lecture on day 1. No explanation and no reading it together as a class. They simply make it available to you and go on about their day. I experienced all three. Moral of the story is that it is your responsibility as the student to make sure you read and understand the syllabus so that you aren’t caught off guard. However, do not be afraid to ask the professor questions if you’re in need of more clarification. Get to Know your Professors If you go to a school with a huge student population this can be a challenge. When you’re in a class with 100+ students there is less opportunity for you and the professor to interact with each other but that doesn't make building relationships with faculty any less important. One way to stand out is to participate in class. If you’re in a class where opportunities for class participation are slim, then going to office hours is another good way to build those relationships. Office hours are times throughout the week when professors make themselves available to speak with students. They literally sit in their office on campus and wait for students to come talk to them. It’s sad when students don’t take advantage of that. You can find out when and where office hours are in your syllabus (wink, wink). Getting to know my professors was great for me because it led to me getting access to opportunities that I would not have had without doing that. Professors wrote letters of recommendation for me, invited me to conduct research with them (which looks great on a resume by the way), and allowed me to get internships that led to me getting job opportunities after I graduated. Professors love students who take initiative, so doing a little extra to build that relationship can go a long way. Get Involved One thing that I wish I had done more of my freshman year was to get involved in student organizations on campus. I was taking a full course load (15 credit hours–5 classes) and I was working part time but I didn’t involve myself in organizations until my sophomore year. Granted, things turned out just fine for me in the end, but I didn’t get to know too many people until I started joining orgs. College isn’t just about going to class and getting an A. College is also an experience that you’ll never forget if you take advantage of all that it has to offer. College is a diverse place with people from all walks of life, socioeconomic statuses, ethnicities, nationalities, etc. Getting involved will allow you to get to know people who are different from you. Challenge yourself to get to know people and hang out with people that maybe you wouldn’t normally hang out with. Ultimately, it will cause you to become a more socially aware, well-rounded person and professional. That is something you can’t learn in a classroom. Written by Gabrielle Sims, Founder of Secondary Success and Beyond

  • "I Wrote My Way Out": The Importance of Writing Skills and How to Improve

    (Did anybody get the Hamilton reference lol) The Importance of Writing Skills & How to Improve Them Writing is an essential life skill. They can take me pretty far depending on how you develop those types of skills. Whether it’s note taking, keeping minutes in a meeting, organizing an outline, or even writing a paper or essay, there is no question that the ability to write is needed if you really want to be successful in any educational or professional endeavors. This week we will discuss some tips on how to improve your writing skills and go into more detail as to why they are important to have in the first place. Just like the last few weeks, I will be sharing my own personal tips on how to improve and why it is important to improve your writing abilities. As a Journalism major getting ready to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree, I realize the importance of writing and can provide some tips to you! 5 things you can do to easily improve your writing abilities are to read more, outline your ideas before you write, expand your vocabulary, conduct thorough research, and be detailed. Read! One thing I've noticed is that people don’t read as much as they used to. Especially students in grade school. Reading is good because it exposes you to different writing styles, allows you to see the use of proper grammar and structure and allows you to see how other people are able to effectively communicate your thoughts and ideas. So any chance you get, read! Outlining Ideas Having the ability to brainstorm and outline your ideas before engaging in an intensive writing session is crucial to having good cohesive writing. Developing this skill is important because it allows you to organize whatever you are about to write and really think about the topic more deeply. It also allows you to incorporate details that you might have otherwise forgotten about if you had not written the outline. Aside from organization outlines are also useful for reference points once you enter the editing phase. The outline conserve as a way for you to backtrack just in case you forget any information while writing your first draft. Before you begin the next phase of your writing piece the outline can also help you structure and restructure anything that you might’ve missed during the first draft as well. Expanding Your Vocabulary Language and all of its complexities gives you the option of saying things in multiple ways. Expanding your vocabulary is just one way of figuring out how to convey the same idea in different ways. For example in the two sentences prior to the one you are currently reading, I briefly summarize the importance of expanding your vocabulary and in my summary I used the words different and multiple. Although they insinuate the one idea they are clearly two different ways of referencing that same idea. This is just one way in which expanding your vocabulary can be shown to diversify your writing abilities. Another reason why this skill is important is because it keeps the reader engaged and allows your writing to become much more interesting to them. Nobody is interested in reading sentences that begin with the same word or writing that is bland because the writer does it have an extensive vocabulary. Add some flavor to it! Conduct Extensive Research Credibility and accuracy are probably the two most important things that every good writer is supposed to master. Regardless if you are writing a persuasive piece, a research piece or even some sort of narrative in which you are making references to real life events or people you need to conduct research that backs up everything that you say. Having good research skills allows you not only to improve your writing abilities and credibility but it also gives you a way to find more ideas from other people about the exact same topic. The higher the quality of research that you were able to attain the more well-rounded your paper will become. This rule is applicable in every type of writing regardless of what the topic is, so make sure to remember that. Another benefit in conducting extensive research is that you are able to establish trust between you and your readers. If people know that they can trust what you say then there is a very good chance that more and more people will find you as a reliable source of information which is never a bad thing. Being Detailed I saved this one for last for a reason. Sometimes I struggle with this depending on what I’m about. There is no such thing as being too detailed. Don’t ever feel like you are over explaining something or that you don’t need to specify something else because it “seems obvious”. Even if your intended target audience are experts on whatever your topic is, treat them as if they know nothing about what you’re writing about. Doing this generates two benefits, The first being that it helps you establish your credibility and knowledge on the topic. The second being that you say everything that is necessary to be said without anything being left on the table. These things are important and will help you improve your writing skills because people love details. This is especially the case for teachers who are grading your academic writing pieces. The more you are able to reel in your audience and keep them intrigued the better off your writing piece will be remembered in the future. NEVER neglect the details. I know the blog for this week is a bit longer but I felt as though I had lots of gems to give you guys and I really hope that they are helpful. Writing can be intimidating for some people and I want to make sure that I do everything that I can to help. I encourage you all to continue to find your own way of improving your writing as well. The skills are important and essential for creating business opportunities, getting good grades, networking and establishing relationships, and developing the personal skill of articulation. It is important to be able to articulate your thoughts on paper so again…. Do not neglect or overlook your ability to write.

  • A College Student's Take on Mental Health Management

    Self-Care Much like last week, in our discussion about empowerment, I will be giving some more tips, but this time about self-care. Self-care is identifying your immediate mental, emotional, psychological, and physiological needs and then meeting them regardless of how long it may take or how much it might set you back from whatever you are focusing on. Self-care is the process of taking a step back, healing, and then resuming your life, and ensuring that you are good before you resume. Too often people neglect their health and as a result develop conditions that could have been avoided. An example of this is anxiety disorder. Of course, anxiety disorder can stem from factors such as drug and alcohol abuse, but a lack of self-care can bring this on as well. So, this week I want to outline my self-care process along with giving 3 tips on how to develop self-care. Stepping back Life can be very overwhelming. Stepping back is the first step of my process, and it's simply putting everything else aside so that you can begin to diagnose what your problems are. Stepping back can be taking a relaxing hot bath, opening the screen door and enjoying the breeze, getting a massage, watching the stars at night on the hood of your car, etc. The point is that you are completely relaxed, and you have nothing to distract you from your inner thoughts and feelings. Relaxation is key here if you want to truly diagnose what's going on mentally and psychologically. Whatever is causing you high levels of stress needs to be put at ease by doing something that can bring you back to a calm state of mind. Let it Sit Once you have relaxed your mind and successfully figured out where your problems and stress are coming from, do nothing! Take time to just leave the problem there until you are ready to address it and handle it. This of course must be handled on a case-by-case basis because if the problem requires a sense of urgency, then by all means, take care of your business. The main reason why I suggest this is because I have learned that giving yourself a minimum of 72 hours to feel what you need to feel in order to correctly deal with the problem is extremely helpful. I call this the 72-hour rule. The 72-hour rule is a form of self-care because it allows you to keep things in perspective and sort through stresses logically. It’s a lot easier to deal with problems 72 hours after your stress levels have had the opportunity to decline, as opposed to charging head on into the problem at hand. Let it sit and give yourself a fair chance at handling everything. You're only human! Get Back to Work The final step in my self-care process is getting back on the grind. After I have taken the necessary time to step away, relax, and let things sit for a bit, I deal with everything that has been bothering me. This could entail talking to someone who I've had an issue with to find a resolution, developing a hobby to cope with the pain, creating a schedule that allows me to better prioritize my time, or even take time to meditate and let all of the stress go. I understand that not everyone will be able to utilize my process of self-care, but this is just my way of doing things. Self-care and how we deal with things reflect our beliefs and circumstances, so it would make sense that sometimes you may have to take a different path. I hope my process was helpful and just in case you missed them, my 3 tips on how to develop self-care were; Relaxation (Whatever that looks like for you) The 72-hour Rule (Or some variation of it) Meditation Written By Kameron Brown, Marketing and PR Intern at SSAB and Senior at NIU Edited By Gabrielle Sims, Founder and Executive Director at SSAB

  • Empowerment: The Power You Didn’t Know You Needed

    What is empowerment? By definition, empowerment is the process of becoming stronger and overall, more confident, especially when controlling one's own life and claiming one's rights. I've always defined empowerment as the altering of your perspective in which you stop at nothing to achieve your goals no matter how strenuous, insufferable, or tedious the journey may be. Empowerment is what you feel when things are going well and suddenly take a negative turn, because although you are aware of the struggles you currently face, you feel motivated to get through them. You are aware that just on the other side of these current struggles is the success that you have been longing for the entire time. Today, I will give you all 3 of my own personal strategies on how to become empowered or stay empowered if you have already reached that state of mind. Keeping Things in Perspective What I'm about to say is going to come off very bold, but there will never be a point in life where things get so deplorable for you that your goals become unattainable. The saying goes; "Where there's a will there's a way", and I have always been a firm believer in that. Just because difficulties come about does not mean that you cannot regain control of the situation at hand or your life in general. Weeping in negativity only stalls the preparation needed to correctly address and solve the problem, so keeping things in perspective is absolutely crucial to developing an empowered mindset. Keeping things in perspective is simply acknowledging that this “problem” will not last forever. It is a level of awareness in which you master staying out of your emotions and thinking critically and logically in order to figure out what you need to do moving forward. This is key to becoming and remaining empowered because this type of thinking focuses on problem solving rather than overreaction and sulking in a tough situation. Know Yourself One of the most common forms of empowerment is self-awareness. Being self-aware is so much more than just knowing what you do and don't like, but rather understanding the way you think, how you react to every kind of situation, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, and finding ways to improve your overall character. All these levels of understanding are essential to self-awareness, and they build an empowered mindset because they help you figure out what you want out of life. Having a clear mind about who you are and what you want builds an empowered mindset. Part of empowerment is that feeling of being motivated in the face of adversity. Knowing who you are contributes significantly to the development of that motivation. In order to know who you are, you have to have some deep conversations and self-reflect. Get to know yourself. Stay the Course Once you have taken the time to figure yourself out, you know what you want out of life, and you have created goals that help you pursue what you want out of life, all that's left is for you to do is one thing: stay the course. This requires a significant amount of discipline, manifestation, and self-motivation. Avoiding distractions is not enough to stay the course, you need to concentrate effort into keeping and maintaining distance from any and everything that could get in the way of your goals and aspirations. This does not mean treating people however you feel it is necessary to get what you want, but rather keep yourself out of unnecessary situations. Examine your day-to-day habits and ask yourself if these things align with your goals. Develop new habits if your old ones are a detriment to you. Make sure you lay a brick every day, meaning you take at least one step towards achieving your goals every single day. These can be little steps, as long as you keep going. This is how you stay the course. Doing so will generate a sense of confidence that can help you build an empowered mindset. Remember that change doesn’t happen overnight. Getting to a point where you are empowered to achieve great things is a process, but the second you decide that you want a better life, nothing can get in your way. You don’t have to do it alone either. Tap into your resources, consume motivational content, surround yourself with positive people and you’ll be well on your way to achieving your goals. Written By Kameron Brown, Marketing and PR Intern at SSAB and Senior at NIU Edited By Gabrielle Sims, Founder and Executive Director of SSAB

  • Experience and Benefits for All: How to Build your Resume and Help your Community at the Same Time

    Many times people feel like you have to choose between success in the workplace and getting active in your community. But if you're strategic, you can do both at the same time. There are so many systemic issues that need Gen Z's spirited energy, but don't think that you can't build your resume while simultaneously creating positive change at a young age. Today we are going to outline 3 easy yet effective ways in which YOU can get active in your community and learn transferable skills for the workplace. As a high school student, you may not yet be able to see the benefits of becoming active within your community, but I can say from personal experience that becoming active is absolutely invaluable. It’s a way to build connections and network with people that you most likely wouldn't have met otherwise. It's also a way to create opportunities for yourself that can lead to future jobs, internships, or social connections. The 3 simple ways that anyone can get involved in their community and learn professional skills are volunteering, working a part-time entry level job or internships, and getting involved in extracurricular/campus activities and clubs. Volunteering Volunteering is probably the number one way to gain professional experience and give back to your community at the same time. It's not the most glamorous thing because you don't get paid, but if you're a high school or college student looking to get your foot in the door, volunteering could be one way to go. There are a lot of nonprofit organizations that have volunteer positions available that will allow you to a lot of things like marketing, finance, data management, and technology work. is a great website to find these kinds of opportunities, and a lot of them are remote too :) Entry-Level and Internship Roles Internships operate in the same way that volunteer positions do. In either case, the organization doesn't typically expect you to be an expert in your field yet. That means that this is a great opportunity to learn in a low-stress, low-pressure environment. Some internships are paid as well, but even if they aren't they can turn into full-time paid positions. I speak from experience. During my senior year, I began an internship at a nonprofit organization and before I was even half-way through the semester, they offered me a full time position that I could start right away. There are lots of places that do internships for high school students too. These opportunities can be found on This website is a good starting point for your search! Getting Involved in Extracurricular/Campus Activities and Clubs Getting involved in activities outside of the classroom with your peers is a good way to meet new people and even discover something new that you enjoy doing. For example, activities like debate or student associations can help improve your communication skills and help build your confidence and activist groups that aim to improve a certain social issue are good for networking within your community. At NIU, there are over 300 student organizations and that's what college is all about. Take the time to find your niche and if your school doesn't have a group or activity that interests you, you can almost always start your own with other like-minded people. There really is a lot you can do if you are struggling to find ways to build your resume. These are just a series of suggestions that can help you do so. Becoming active within your local community is never a bad way of going about building something like your resume. It truly serves as a rabbit hole of opportunities in which there could be a ton of benefit in the end. Written and Edited by Kameron Brown and Gabrielle Sims

  • Benefits of Having a Mentor

    A successful collegiate mentor or mentorship program could be the difference between a student who graduates top of their class and someone who drops out of school after 1 or 2 bad semesters. Having that support system is everything sometimes. They provide a variety of resources and information on how to navigate through college, point you in the right direction of scholarships, make credible recommendations for decisions after college, and can hold you accountable whenever you feel like you’ve reached a rough spot. Mentors are also instrumental in career planning and development. Their entire purpose and focus is to help students develop their interests both professionally and academically to help them succeed before, during, and after their higher education journey is complete. Surely, the benefits of having a mentor are numerous and plentiful, but what are the primary, most important aspects of having a mentor and what does it mean for the development of a successful student and ultimately, professional? Invaluable Networking Resources College and all that it has to offer, is much more than just an educationally beneficial opportunity. Mentors are key instruments in guiding students through the process. Whether it’s connecting with people on LinkedIn, giving advice about how to answer questions for an interview, or even informing students on campus events such as job fairs or internship opportunities, mentors literally cover all bases. They also have access to resources from their own networking experiences that they can provide to students whenever there is a common interest or skill. Unbiased Disciplinarians A good mentor, no matter what will keep you on track and make sure that their opinions and ideas do not interfere with your plans. At the same time, they will also let you know when you’re a little off track or way off the mark. Mentors also establish necessary boundaries that students often struggle to set for themselves. Prioritization assistance, clarification at any capacity, and mistake prevention are among some of the ways in which mentors are able to discipline students. As a result of this type of assistance, students are significantly more likely to succeed throughout the duration of their college careers. Wellsprings of Knowledge Mentors are humans too. They have knowledge and experience from their own lives they can impart upon students who may be following a similar path; and even in cases when students are following a different path, they still have knowledge that they can offer. All their experiences with college, professional experiences, and even with life in general can all aid a student who may need a little direction or guidance. Resources & Information So, by now you must be wondering, where can I find a good mentor where I will be able to have access to all these wonderful benefits? Secondary Success and Beyond can provide you with these types of services. For more information on where to find a mentor, use the contact us form located at the bottom of this page. We'll make sure that we get you all squared away with a mentor ready to get you on the right path. Written by Kameron Brown, Journalism and Marketing student at NIU References Dougan, Kate Pankratz. “3 Benefits of Having a Mentor in College.” CHALLENGE. ENCOURAGE. ENTERTAIN., 2 Jan. 2018, Rampton, John. “10 Reasons Why a Mentor Is a Must.”, Inc., 9 Jan. 2016, Sewell, Vanessa, et al. “4 Benefits of Having a Mentor in College.” The University Network, 4 Mar. 2019,,You%20Post-Graduation%20Guidance.%204%204.%20Support%20You.%20.

  • Understanding the First-Generation College Student Experience

    Studies show that 40% of college dropouts in 2014 fall under the category of first generation, or the first to attend college from their family. Not because they are inferior or incapable of success, but rather due to obstacles that can affect first generation students on a deeper level than non-first generation students. This is a rather staggering statistic because it suggests that first generation college students only have a 60% chance of graduating from a four-year university. My question is why. Why is this the case and what types of struggles do first generation college students face? How is it that a student who had parents attend college before them makes such a significant difference in terms of graduation rate and overall college experience? These are the types of issues and questions that you should keep in mind when discussing all of the circumstances and considerations that first gen students have to think about. We must first recognize that there is no single answer or reason as to why one first generation college student may be more successful as opposed to the next. Students all over the country face a variety of circumstances, some of which they have absolutely no control over. For now, we will be discussing the top 3 most prominent issues that first gen students face when going to college. Lack of Perspective Financial Troubles Distorted Social Stigmas and High Expectations for Self Lack of Perspective At the very beginning of the college application process, students typically develop a list of schools to choose from where they then narrow down their schools into one and make a final decision. Studies show that parents who have also been through the college application process typically suggest to their children their Alma mater because they know what to expect in terms of how well put together the curriculum is, campus life and activities etc. The disadvantage for first generation students is that they don’t have that same perspective offered by their parents. Their parents cannot provide any insight on what college is like or even make useful suggestions about which schools are better for the goals that their kids are trying to reach. As a result, first gen students are forced to make these decisions on their own. College is difficult enough to navigate your freshman year. Not having any guidance from someone who has experienced college is the opposite of helpful. Financial Troubles In 2020, Secondary Success and Beyond took a poll of first generation college students at Northern Illinois University to find out what factors were the most important when considering which college to attend. 63.6% of them told us that the cost of tuition was a factor when deciding where to go to college. Now, you would probably think that anyone who doesn’t come from a well-off family or has earned a significant amount of money in scholarships or grants, could potentially struggle with paying for college. The difference here is that statistically, those who went to college and got their degrees generate more money annually than those who didn’t. This in turn means that first generation students who come from a home where their parents or guardians did not get a college degree have a higher chance of struggling to pay for school. Students often find themselves having to work to help offset expenses. 81.8% of students polled indicated that they had to work during their four years in undergrad and they all indicated that at times work interfered with their ability to do well in their classes. Distorted Social Stigmas and High Expectations for Self Ever heard of imposter syndrome? This phenomenon can often be felt by people of color at predominantly white institutions (PWIs) for example. First gen students can most definitely feel it too when they’re on a college campus. They may feel like people look down on their family or like they don’t belong in classrooms filled with people that they believe have the upper-hand on them. These thoughts are detrimental to students’ success when they consume the focus and progress of their college careers. Because of these thoughts and attitudes, some students begin to experience mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, or extreme levels of stress. While it is possible for anyone to experience these conditions and deconstructive mindsets, it is more likely in first generation college students because they typically do not have the same support systems that second and third generation students do. Over 90% of students polled at NIU told us that they often felt pressure to be a successful college student from their families. One student stated, “My biggest concern was being able to do well in my classes academically. The transition from high school to college was immense, and I was worried that I wouldn't do well, and as a first generation student when I did begin to struggle I didn't really know who to turn to because my single-mom wouldn't really understand what I was going through. As a first generation student there is a lot of pressure to do well because your whole family may be counting on you to do well and may see you as an opportunity for the whole family to move forward in life”. For many first generation students it’s not just about making a successful life for themselves, but for their families too. Carrying that weight of responsibility can be stressfully exhausting to say the least. Being a first generation student isn’t all doom and gloom though. Being a first generation student is something to be proud of. Hopefully you see it as an opportunity to do something amazing for yourself and your community. Despite all of the things you may be up against as a first gen student, you can still attain your goals. There are resources available to help you leap over those hurdles. SSAB is one of them. Check back next week to see how mentoring can help bring you up to speed and make you competitive amongst your peers. Written by: Kameron Brown, Journalism and Marketing student at NIU References Authors, Various. “Overcoming First Generation College Students' Struggles.” University of the People, 26 Oct. 2021, Banuelos, Megan Bahr and Jessica, et al. “First Generation College Students: The Struggle to Graduate .” Universe Narratives, 21 Apr. 2017, Greenthal, Sharon. “5 Big Challenges for First Generation College Students.” Verywell Family, Verywell Family, 12 Jan. 2022, Smith, Kaylee. “10 Struggles of Being a First Generation College Student.” The Odyssey Online, 12 Nov. 2018,

  • Welcome to SSAB!

    Hello and welcome to Secondary Success and Beyond (SSAB). We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to mentor high school students and provide career readiness skills and college readiness skills for first generation college students. SSAB is a one stop shop for college and career readiness regardless of what your future goals are. Whether you want to go straight into the workforce after high school or pursue higher education, SSAB and guide the way to successfully reaching your goals. Continue to browse our website to find out about all of the opportunities we are prepared to offer you.

  • Meet the Founder!

    Hello everyone! My name is Gabrielle Sims. In June 2021, I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Northern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences with an emphasis in Family Social Services. During my time at NIU, I conducted research with professors, served as President and Team Captain of the NIU Mock Trial team, and worked for the Office of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Since graduation, I have worked for Winnebago County CASA as an Advocate Supervisor and I currently work as a Scholarship Associate for the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois overseeing their scholarship program. I have had many learning experiences in my college years that occurred both in and out of the classroom. I hope to impart my wisdom to high school and college students who want to be successful in their future endeavors. Whether you want to attend college, trade school, or go directly into the workforce after high school, Secondary Success and Beyond can help you achieve your goals. Tell me, what do you want to learn first? What are your goals?

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