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by Agnes Jasinski

As further evidence that “going green” is here to stay, college graduations across the country may be looking a bit more environmentally-friendly this commencement season. According to a recent article from the Associated Press, at least 100 schools will have their graduates decked out in gowns made of recycled or biodegradable materials.

The gowns come from a number of manufactures, and a number of materials. Plastic has proved to be one of the more popular options, although schools have explored gowns made of sustainable bamboo and acetate, a material that decomposes within a year, according to the article. (Those made with the acetate come in a variety of colors; the plastic bottle gowns come only in black.)

Wake Forest University is one school that will have its graduates dressed in gowns made of recycled plastic bottles this season; each gown is made of about 23 plastic bottles. Students at Lafayette College and the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh will be trying out the biodegradable gowns instead. According to an article in The Christian Science Monitor, administrators at those schools said they wanted to test the product’s claims that the gowns would biodegrade within a year’s time, as they assume students will most likely toss their gowns after the ceremonies rather than looking for recycling bins set up campus-wide.

The gowns made out of the plastic bottles cost about $2 more apiece, although most colleges will be absorbing those costs. The biodegradable gowns range in price, although administrators have said they cost about 18 percent more than the gowns they had been using. Traditional gowns are made out of petroleum-based polyester. Students who have already tried out the varieties of “green” gowns made say they’re much lighter than the alternative, making them ideal for warm weather ceremonies.

It may no longer even be accurate to say that colleges are “going green.” Many of them are already there if you consider lists like the recent ranking of the 286 greenest colleges in the country from The Princeton Review. Commencements have also been a target of the environmentally-conscious for quite some time, with schools making sure to print programs on recycled paper, sending emailed invitations and tickets rather than printing them, using recycled cardboard in caps, or looking for ways to cut down on electricity use at the actual ceremonies. Would you describe your impending graduation ceremony as “green”? What has your college been doing to become more environmentally sound, or what more can they do?


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by Agnes Jasinski

Many of you have already made your decisions on the school you’ll be attending come fall. The next step (outside of the obvious, determining how you’ll pay for that choice and evaluating your financial aid letter) will be figuring out where you’ll be living once you’re on your chosen campus.

Many colleges will require freshmen to live in dorms, to build a sense of community and give those first-year students better access to campus offerings and guidance. You’ve probably heard quite a bit about communal living already, either through older siblings’ roommate horror stories or warnings of consuming too many calories in the dorm cafeterias. A number of recent articles have taken a lighter approach to dorm living, looking at the unique options you may have when determining where you’ll be spending most of your time come fall. (You may remember reading about college students demanding more from their dorms; it seems like schools are taking notice.)

One article in The New York Times took a look at dorm rooms that came with “bragging rights” and an air of celebrity about them. While wait lists for them are typically high, some students discover only after they’ve moved in that they’re bunking in the same space as a former politician, celebrity, or historical figure. Princeton University in particular has quite a few of these famous spaces—Michelle Obama had a single room there, and four freshmen currently live in Adlai E. Stevenson’s old room. (The school razed the building where James Stewart spent his evenings.) Yale University boasts Anderson Cooper’s and Paul Giamatti’s old rooms. While colleges are often hesitant to disclose where famous alums lived while attending their schools, the article suggests it’s not too hard to figure out using old yearbooks, and the Times piece alone discloses quite a few of the celebs’ previous addresses.

For those who would rather bring a furry friend from home to college than boast of their rooms’ history, a number of colleges have become more amendable to allowing students to bring the family pet to live with them in the dorms. Another recent Times article took a look at the trend, as colleges begin setting aside dorms specifically for pet owners. The dorms include daycare facilities for when students are in class—although hours are limited to prevent pet neglect—and other amenities staffed by work-study students interested in working with animals. According to that article, about a dozen colleges currently have policies allowing pets access to the dorms. Typically, the policies are limited to cats and small- to average-sized dogs.

What kinds of things will you be considering when you’re ready to make your housing choice? Are you looking for a more traditional dorm room experience, without the frills or additional options now offered by colleges?


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College Cuts Housekeeping Services

George Washington University Says Students Too Messy for Perk

July 2, 2010

by Agnes Jasinski

New freshmen at George Washington University this fall won’t be as pampered as their predecessors. Administrators there have decided to cut the housekeeping services they had offered in the past, in part to keep the costs of room and board at their current levels.

According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, the services included vacuuming students’ residence hall rooms and cleaning their private bathrooms. Come fall, it will be up to the students to tidy things up, although administrators said some housekeepers were unable to vacuum a number of freshmen’s rooms properly anyway because of the messes students would leave on their floors, which first prompted the school to look into eliminating the service. About 80 new freshmen have been vocally opposed to the school’s decision to cut the service, signing Facebook petitions to demand it be added back. In one article, one incoming student said it was one of those things that “semi-convinced” her to come to GW, and that with tuition at $54,000, it shouldn’t be too difficult to keep such perks in their communal living spaces.

It may seem silly to have a housekeeper keep your dorm room tidy, but GW wasn’t unique in offering the service. Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology still offers the service, with housekeepers there changing linens, cleaning bathrooms, vacuuming and taking out students’ trash. According to the Inside Higher Ed article, administrators there said if they needed to trim their budgets, they would cut housekeeping staff rather than eliminating the program altogether, as they describe it as “one of the top selling points” of the college. At Xavier University, administrators use their housekeeping service (offered in three out of four dorms) as a way to relieve parents worried about their sons and daughters living in messy rooms now that they’re out on their own.

At other schools that have instituted cuts to housekeeping services, the reaction from students has been mixed. The College of the Holy Cross and Claremont McKenna College both reduced their service from twice a week to once a week, which may not seem like that big a deal to students without any kind of formal cleaning service. Administrators at Holy Cross said having housekeepers allowed the school to maintain a sense of upkeep in residence halls, and keep rooms in better shape for the next round of freshmen. The Inside Higher Ed article closed with a rising senior at Claremont deriding what he thought of as an excess: “Do we really need maids cleaning up after every mess? It’s pretty ridiculous. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love it. Who wouldn't? But I think for college students trying to become adults, people shouldn't be cleaning up our mess. That is a mother thing to do when you're 10 years old.”


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by Agnes Jasinski

Those interested in what conservative Fox News commentator Glenn Beck has to offer in terms of an academic experience will have a chance to explore that idea for themselves starting this week. The broadcaster has officially launched his own online summer program, Beck University.

The program, which does not give those enrolled college credit, offers online lectures and discussions based on the concepts of faith, hope and charity instead. Those enrolled don’t pay tuition, but must instead subscribe to Insider Extreme, which comes at a cost of $6.26 per month.

Beck isn’t an academic by any means—according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, he dropped out of Yale University after taking one course—but he has given the reigns of the program to outside experts. According to the program’s website, this week’s schedule includes Faith 101 with David Barton, the founder and president of a “pro-family organization.” Courses later this summer include Hope 101 and Charity 101, with the philanthropic course led by James R. Stoner Jr., a professor of political science at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

Beck isn’t the only famous face to have ventured into the world of online education. Donald Trump started the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative, renamed from Trump University after he was told calling the school such violated New York Education Law and the Rules of the Board of Regents in the state. The program, which does not offer college credit, describes itself as a resource for business leaders and those interested in wealth creation. Bassist Bootsy Collins has started the online Funk University, which gives aspiring musicians access to online lectures on music history and funk from “Professor Bootsy” and lessons in advanced bass and rhythm. The program is more a tutorial in bass Bootsy-style, as it doesn’t offer college credit either.

However you feel about such programs, make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into no matter what you sign up for. If you’re up for a few classes in funk to supplement your coursework elsewhere, that’s perfectly fine, but know that many of these entertainingly-named “schools” don’t offer college credit and certainly won’t be accepted by your home institution as transfer credit. That probably means they won’t exactly give your resume a boost either when you’re out there applying for jobs. Check out the information we’ve come up with on choosing the right school if you’re unsure, including tips on finding an accredited distance learning program if you’re looking for an online college in particular.


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by Agnes Jasinski

You’ve already read about the website that allows college students to wager on their grades. A new online tool allows students to calculate not whether they should risk some cash on their academic performance, but whether sleeping in and skipping class is worth their while.

The “Should I Skip Class Today?” calculator asks users 10 questions that glean information about how many times that user has that class in question, when the next major test/quiz will be held, and whether that class has an attendance policy, among other criteria. Once they hit submit, users are told whether they’d be safe or sorry if they stayed in bed and skipped class. For example, I was told it was OK to skip class but that I wasn’t completely safe when I gave the calculator a whirl. I used a hypothetical class that met twice a week, included regular handouts in class, and had an attendance policy where my instructor did not take attendance, but where participation mattered in my final grade. The results also told me that I had already skipped 7 percent of my classes this semester (I had informed the web tool that this would be my third absence), and when my next test or quiz was (I offered that information up as well).

The calculator is the brainchild of Jim Filbert, who thought of the idea “one cold morning” in February of this year. Filbert, a telecommunications management student at the time, didn’t want to go to class that day, and found himself wondering what the risks were to stay in his warm bed. Following a quick search online, he was unable to find a similar tool, so he took it upon himself to create an online risk calculator himself. He did end up skipping class that day, according to his bio on the site, but he spent his free time working on the calculator, instead.

While you should probably go to class as often as you can, barring an unfortunate illness, flat tire, or other incident that would stop you from doing so, it’d be interesting to see how “accurate” this calculator is in a real situation. How you’d measure its accuracy, though, I’m not exactly sure. Have you tried out this new online tool? How do you go about determining how risky it is to skip class? What’s an appropriate excuse? If you’re feeling swamped, check out our College Classes and Study Smart sections before deciding whether you’re really too overwhelmed to go to class; we have tips on everything from preparing for exams to choosing which courses you should sign up for.


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by Agnes Jasinski

If you’re entering college this fall, Beloit College has you pegged as a group that doesn’t know how to write in cursive, believe email is too slow, and can’t relate to those who don’t know what it’s like to have hundreds of cable channels on their televisions.

The school’s annual Beloit College Mindset List includes 75 items that go beyond the technology gap to describe the incoming class of freshmen (in somewhat of a tongue-in-cheek manner), as a way to remind professors and instructors that there are vast cultural differences between them and the new students. The list is put together each August by a Beloit College professor and a former official at the school, and represents the at times amusing world view of new freshmen, in this case the Class of 2014. The officials putting together the list began to do so in 1998, when they realized how outdated the references many instructors used in their classrooms were.

Included on the list:

  • “Caramel macchiato” and “venti half-caf vanilla latte” have always been street corner lingo.
  • Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry.
  • Fergie is a pop singer, not a princess.
  • They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone.
  • The first home computer they probably touched was an Apple II or Mac II; they are now in a museum.
  • Second-hand smoke has always been an official carcinogen.
  • Russians and Americans have always been living together in space.

The originators of the list feel knowing these tidbits will help professors create more meaningful discussion in the classroom. It may also help instructors avoid blank stares when they use a cultural reference beyond the experiences of those new students. The 46th item on the list, for example, “Nirvana is on the classic oldies station,” may make some instructors feel old, but may also be a wake-up call for others when they’re looking to relate to students.

An article in USA Today this week quotes students that both disagree and agree with the list. While some say they do indeed still know how to write in cursive, one described the only time she’s ever used a telephone with a cord as such: “Yes, I’ve used them but only at my grandparents’ house.” Take a look at the list. Do you have anything to add? Is there something on the list you’d remove? We’d love to hear your ideas!


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by Agnes Jasinski

There hasn’t been much to laugh about at many schools across the country, what with budget cuts and creative cost-saving measures affecting course offerings and faculty positions. At one North Carolina community college, however, a new course is teaching students how to chuckle, giggle and guffaw, no matter how they feel about the state of affairs outside of the classroom.

While the class is targeted at retirees—the noncredit eight-week “Laughter in the Sandhills” is put on by Sandhills Community College’s Center for Creative Retirement—it’s a good example of the kinds of offerings you may not know existed as you focus your attentions instead on the general education requirements in your course catalog. This class is taught by a “certified laughter coach,” according to an article about it in The Fayetteville Observer, and focuses on the positive health benefits behind a good laugh and the right and wrong way to let out a chortle. The class isn’t about perfecting your stand-up comedy routine, but about learning to induce laughter; students spend about 15 minutes of the start of each class greeting each other with silly handshakes, for example, or high-fiving to the sounds of “Alo-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha.”

If you’re more interested in virtual LOLs rather than learning appropriate laughter techniques, and have the time (and funding) to explore unique courses at your college, do so. You may not use your new underwater basket weaving skills (courses in the craft are offered at the University of California-San Diego), but you may meet some interested characters along the way. Or you may find a hidden talent for analyzing pop culture (the University of California-Berkeley has a class on the philosophy behind the Simpsons). Or, that quirky course may even add to your skill set. Courses on social networking, especially Twitter, for example, may be more useful than you think. (DePaul University has a course in how Twitter has changed the way reporters do their jobs.)

It’s important to choose college courses wisely so that you’re able to graduate in a timely fashion and meet the requirements of both your school and chosen field of study. But it’s also important that you keep going to your classes, and a fun course here and there may help keep you motivated. We’ve all taken that intro to bowling/ice skating/curling course, and some colleges may be more lenient about how you fulfill certain general education requirements. Just remember to talk to your counselor or adviser about how much leeway you have when it comes to coming up with your schedule of courses.


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A Bigger Brain from Video Games?

by Alexis Mattera

Can you play “Guitar Hero” on the expert level? Are your Koopa stomping skills kind of a big deal? That’s awesome, but it’s not going to qualify you for Mensa membership any time soon. But what about “Big Brain Academy”…does it live up to its name?

Researchers recently released their findings on whether the Wii game would help improve the mental abilities of individuals between the ages of 50 and 70. Over the course of a month, the subjects played the game for 20 hours and then were tested on whether their fluid intelligence had improved. Did it work? Not so much, the statistics show: Perceptual and cognitive abilities remained the same but the participants did get better at playing the actual game.

Guess that’ll teach us to waste our time playing video games…whoa, we DID learn something after all!

Posted Under:

Just for Fun

Tags: Just for Fun

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What are They Reading?

Bestselling Books on Campus

October 2, 2010

by Suada Kolovic

Curious as to what college students are reading this fall? Well, wonder no more! The Chronicle has compiled a list of the best-selling books from information supplied by stores serving the following campuses: American U., Beloit College, Case Western Reserve U., College of William & Mary, Drew U., Florida State U., George Washington U., Georgetown U., Georgia State U., Harvard U., James Madison U., Johns Hopkins U., Kent State U., Pennsylvania State U. at University Park, San Francisco State U., Stanford U., State U. of New York at Buffalo, Tulane U., U. of California at Berkeley, U. of Chicago, U. of Florida, U. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, U. of Miami, U. of Nebraska at Lincoln, U. of New Hampshire, U. of North Dakota, U. of North Texas, U. of Northern Colorado, U. of Oklahoma at Norman, Vanderbilt U., Washington State U., Washington U. in St. Louis, Wayne State U., Williams College, Winthrop College, Xavier U. (Ohio). For more information on any of these schools, check out our college search.

  • Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

    by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • The Girl Who Played with Fire

    by Stieg Larsson
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

    by Stieg Larsson
  • Mockingjay

    by Suzanne Collins
  • Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang

    by Chelsea Handler
  • Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea

    by Chelsea Handler
  • The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

    by Stieg Larsson
  • The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner

    by Stephenie Meyer
  • Nightlight: A Parody

    by The staff of the Harvard Lampoon
  • Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

    by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

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Professor Lama is ‘In’

Not Your Average Office Hours Held at Emory

October 20, 2010

Professor Lama is ‘In’

by Alexis Mattera

Do you take advantage of the office hours and review sessions held by your professors and teaching assistants? You may be more inclined to if you were meeting with the Dalai Lama.

The spiritual leader is currently at Emory University as part of a presidential distinguished professorship and during that time he has met with researchers, students and members of the spiritual community to discuss everything from traditional coursework to meditation. One of these events included Tuesday’s “office hours,” which were held in the private school’s gymnasium and attended by 4,000 members of the campus community.

After laughing and bowing while taking the stage, the Dalai Lama answered a series of questions posed by students and faculty about enlightenment, world affairs and his greatest influence and biggest fear. In addition, the Dalai Lama talked about keeping a calm mind, reaching out to others, recognizing the connection between all humans and learning how to be centered. "My generation ... we need to say 'bye bye' so you transform the 21st century," he told the students. "The people who create the new shape of this century is you. You must protect, not only taking care of yourself but you must have responsibility to take care of this planet."

Did any of our readers attend this event or have the chance to interact with the Dalai Lama during his time at Emory? Interested in hearing a first-hand account…and if he was able to help out with your calculus homework.


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