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Study Abroad Overhaul

October 18, 2010

Study Abroad Overhaul

by Alexis Mattera

Studying abroad for a semester can be a rewarding experience for college students but do those benefits translate to potential employers? For a long time, they haven't – many have dismissed time overseas as an excuse to backpack and party in multiple countries – but Cheryl Matherly is setting out to change that.

Matherly, the associate dean for global education at the University of Tulsa, is designing a series of workshops and seminars to help students discuss their time studying abroad in a way meaningful to employers. The common perception – that studying abroad is a perk for wealthier students, typically white females in the humanities or social sciences packing their bags for Europe – is exactly what Matherly is attempting to reverse and show to employers that the students who studied abroad may actually be better assets to their companies. "The value isn't that you had the abroad experience itself," she says. "It's what you learned overseas that allows you to work in a cross-cultural environment. Students have to learn how to talk about that experience in terms of transferrable skills, how it relates to what an employer wants."

Much of the blame for this falls on the schools themselves, as the paths of study abroad and career counselors rarely cross, and Martin Tillman, a former associate director of career services at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, stresses the importance of deliberate efforts to build connections. The University of Michigan offers panel discussions each year on what it calls "international career pathways” and the Georgia Institute of Technology touts a Work Abroad Program to place students in international internships and jobs and advises them throughout the process. Some schools are even bringing in third-party providers, like Cultural Experiences Abroad, to help students translate their study-abroad experience into terms employers can understand. CEA has createda semester-long career development course which includes pre-arrival reading assignments, Webinars with career consultants and regular meetings that incorporate experiential exercises and journal writing.

I knew a number of people who studied abroad in college (I didn’t because I couldn't find the right program for my major and regret it to this day) and I’m sure they would have benefited from programs like the ones detailed above. Any graduates in the same boat? And for current college students considering studying in another country, do you think you’d take advantage of these resources if they were readily available to you?


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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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The Deal with Debt

Who Owes What, Where and Why

October 22, 2010

The Deal with Debt

by Alexis Mattera

$24,000. To a recent graduate, that five-figure number could be 1. their starting salary at their first entry-level job or 2. the amount of student loan debt they have accrued while in school.

We’re going to talk about the second choice this morning, as a study by Peterson’s and the Project on Student Debt just revealed it was the average amount owed by graduates of the class of 2009. The study broke down debt levels by state and school (D.C. graduates had the highest while Utah students had the lowest) but did not include debt levels for graduates of for-profit schools because of a lack of data.

Arriving at these tallies didn’t come easy for the Project on Student Debt, which adjusted the averages initially recorded by Peterson’s ($22,500 and 58 percent of students who borrowed) because it felt they were too low when compared to the statistics recorded last year by the National Post Secondary Student Aid Study ($22,750 and 65 percent).

You may be one of the lucky students who scored enough scholarships and grants to have a degree in hand and no debt in sight or you may be flipping couch cushions in search of change to put toward your next payment but what do you think of these findings? A college degree certainly doesn’t come cheap these days!


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Montana State Aims to Up Graduation Rate

by Alexis Mattera

Montana State University has a glass-half-full outlook when it comes to graduation rates but its students aren’t exactly sharing that mentality: Though the school announced it had enrolled record 13,559 students for the fall semester, only half that number will make it to graduation day.

Graduation rates aren’t that different nationwide – about 57 percent of students who enroll in U.S. four-year colleges earn a degree in six years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics – but these low numbers are cause for concern and in order to reach President Obama’s goal of making America the leader in college graduates by 2020, the country’s public universities need to do whatever they can to shed the label of "failure factories." Things are looking up for MSU for the time being, though: The retention rate for last year's freshmen who returned this fall was 74 percent - 2 points higher than last year and a record for the past 10 years.

So what’s being done in the Treasure State? MSU President Waded Cruzado says she plans to renew attention to the goal of graduation with the help of the Montana Board of Regents by getting more people to earn two-year or four-year degrees. But why are so many MSU students are dropping out in the first place? Despite the less-than-favorable economy, finding money for college isn’t the issue; instead, students surveyed cited lack of direction, affinity/connection with the school and overall interest in college classes. MSU is responding by ramping up its career coaching with freshmen and advising to help undecided students pick a major and launching a campaign to lure back former students who have left the university in the last three years.

The university is doing much more than what’s listed above (check out yesterday’s article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle) but will any of it work? Students leave school for myriad reasons and sometimes no amount of advising, coaching or incentives can change that. Then again, an extra push can make a difference for many students on the fence about their education. How would you respond to MSU’s initiatives?


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Is Your School Transfer-Friendly?

Why it Pays to Accommodate

November 2, 2010

Is Your School Transfer-Friendly?

by Alexis Mattera

Transfer students have long been afterthoughts at many schools but they are beginning to be viewed as quite the opposite. Just ask Bonita C. Jacobs, a woman aiming to increase transfer friendliness one college at a time.

Jacobs, the executive director of the National Institute for the Study of Transfer Students at the University of North Texas, recently spoke to the Chronicle about the integral pieces of the higher education puzzle transfer students have become. More schools are thinking harder about the needs of transfer students and the advantages of enrolling them - benefits discussed by Jacobs and others at the College Board’s annual conference. Jacobs and Alfred Herrera, the assistant vice provost at the University of California at Los Angeles, detailed how four-year colleges can better serve students coming from community colleges by making transfer students’ success an institutional priority as opposed to seeing such students as a way to “backfill” freshman classes to meet enrollment goals.

How are they planning to achieve this? At UCLA, for example, reps from various campus offices that serve transfer students meet regularly to discuss their strategies and progress; the university also has a dedicated resource center that caters to transfers. “These students add to the richness and diversity of our campuses,” Herrera said. “When we don’t look at the transfer experience, we’re really in trouble.” Jacobs added, “We often put transfer students in this package, and they don’t all fit neatly into that package. They’re a distinct population, but they’re very diverse. Some of them see their first semester as their first-year experience. Others are older, with children, and are totally different. So many times, campuses will look at transfers as an admissions issue. But it’s also a student-affairs issue.”

We know some of our readers are considering transferring from a community college to a four-year institution so what do you think of the work Jacobs, Herrera and others are doing to make your transition more seamless? And for students who have already transferred, is there anything you wish your school had offered you when you were the new kid on campus?


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What the Blank?!

Experts Say Filling All Application Fields Isn’t Necessary

November 5, 2010

What the Blank?!

by Alexis Mattera

You’re applying for a job, seeing a new doctor or creating a Facebook page and you’re asked to tell the powers that be a little bit about yourself. This information could range from work history to preexisting conditions to favorite bands, respectively, but what do you do when there’s still space left on the form? That’s right: You scour every square inch of your thinkspace for relevant (and maybe not-so-relevant) information to fill in the blanks.

College applicants know this situation well during this time of year and for those who don’t have a laundry list of extracurricular activities or community service hours at the ready, filling out applications – like this year’s Common App, which has 12 blank fields for “Extracurricular Activities and Work Experience” – can cause some serious anxiety. Admissions officers, however, say there’s no need to input something into each field. “The perception is that you have to fill in all the blanks,” said Jennifer Delahunty, the dean of admissions at Kenyon College. “What we hate to see is when students do things like check ‘9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grades’ and then write ‘personal reading.’ Yes, we’re glad you’re a reader. But it looks decidedly like filler.” Monica C. Inzer, the dean of admissions at Hamilton College and a member of the Common Application board, agrees: “We’d rather see depth than a longer list. I think students think we want well-rounded kids. We do. But we really want a well-rounded class. That could be lots of people who have individual strengths. Distinction in one area is good, and better than doing a lot of little things.”

So, college students to be, does this news warrant a gigantic sigh of relief or are you worried the 12 blank fields won’t be enough to hold all of your accomplishments? If you’ve already been through the process (this year or 20 years ago), did you find the application process daunting?


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Meet Your New Floormate: Your Professor

University of Houston Encourages Interaction Between Students and Faculty

November 29, 2010

Meet Your New Floormate: Your Professor

by Alexis Mattera

Now that the tryptophan has worn off (we hope!), it’s time to get back to work and start preparing for finals. But would doing so be easier or more difficult if your professor lived down the hall?

University of Houston freshmen have been testing these waters since move-in day when associate professor of history Raul Ramos, his wife, their two sons and their dogs started calling the new Cougar Village dormitory “home.” Their relocation is part of the university's efforts to engage students by encouraging more informal interactions with faculty. Ramos and his family aren't alone, either: Two other faculty members – Catherine Horn and Carroll Parrott Blue – have also taken advantage of on-campus housing.

Provost John Antel believes this initiative will make the campus more personal – "We're a big, urban research university," he said. "It can be intimidating." – and increase the amount of students living on campus: Long known as a commuter school, UH currently has about 6,500 of its 38,750 students living on campus but its target is 8,500. University officials believe it will ultimately improve graduation rates and de-mystify academic life. "As a professor, you know the first year is critical," Ramos said. "Students don't know that one mistake can take two years to fix. One mistake that first year, and you're graduating in six or seven years instead of four."

The idea may seem novel but UH isn’t the first school to promote student-faculty interaction – Rice University places faculty members and their families in each housing complex on campus, as do other universities – yet I’m interested in seeing the long-term results. If there are any UH students in the audience, has having professors living in the residence halls changed the way you study, behave or view your future? We’d love a first-hand account!


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Hummusgate 2010

Princeton Students Say Sabra Spreads Injustice

November 30, 2010

Hummusgate 2010

by Alexis Mattera

While you may not think hummus is as newsworthy as Google buying Groupon, Nina Garcia’s new baby or the death of Leslie Nielsen, a group of Princeton students would beg to differ.

The Princeton Committee on Palestine recently circulated a petition (and collected more than 200 signatures) regarding Sabra hummus, whose owner has been accused of contributing to human rights violations of Palestinians in the West Bank because the company supports the Israeli military. A referendum will appear on this week's Undergraduate Student Government election ballot and if the measure is approved, a formal request will be submitted to Dining Services to provide an alternative hummus option at all university-run outlets. “We think it’s important to allow students to have choice, and if they want to eat hummus, not have to buy a product that’s so morally problematic,” said Yoel Bitran, president of the Princeton Committee on Palestine.

This issue isn’t just isolated inside Princeton’s gates: Students at DePaul, Georgetown and other schools across the country are voicing their support for or against Sabra via – where else these days? – Facebook. Events like “Save the Hummus! -- Vote Against the Sabra Hummus Boycott” and its counterpart, "Boycott Sabra Hummus" have gained substantial followings, more evidence the matter is spreading across campus populations. But even if the measure doesn’t pass at Princeton, Bitran is just glad awareness is being raised. “In the beginning people didn’t really understand why this mattered,” he said. “People thought that it was just about hummus and kind of trivial. I think most people kind of changed their minds…. At this point the referendum itself is a detail.”

What’s your take, readers? Is a chickpea just a chickpea or does it represent much more?


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Popular Culture 101?

TV + Trends + College = Fun and Unusual New Classes

December 1, 2010

Popular Culture 101?

by Alexis Mattera

No, there are still no classes entitled “The Anatomy of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show” or “The Hanukkah Snuggie’s Effect on Modern Judaism” but classes with roots in popular culture are popping up on college campuses everywhere. If you’ve yet to select your classes for next semester or have found a few empty blocks in your schedule, consider enrolling in one of these fun, weird and surprisingly informative courses. (Bonus: They could help you earn an equally unusual scholarship!)

  • Consumerism and Social Change in Mad Men America, 1960-1963: Northwestern University history professor Michael Allen teaches this freshman course, which examines the relationship between consumerism and the social and political changes of the 1950s and 1960s. Students attend lectures and read historical texts but are also required to watch several “Mad Men” episodes each week. We’d assume cigarette smoking, scotch swilling and infidelity do not earn extra credit points.
  • South Park and Contemporary Issues: This course at McDaniel College mixes sociology and philosophy while exploring the controversial contemporary social issues featured on the long-running Comedy Central cartoon. The official course description states, “Ultimately, students will gain…new knowledge of the benefits of applying an interdisciplinary approach to contemporary social issues.” No Kennys will be harmed but bring your own Cheesy Poofs.
  • Music, Video Games, and the Nature of Human Cognition: This NYU psychology class already has a waiting list and there’s a good reason for it: Professor Gary Marcus believes video games – specifically “Guitar Hero” – can be used to enhance human cognition. Some parents are upset that this is the type of class their tuition is going toward but Marcus stresses that delving into this understudied area will yield positive results. Rock on, Professor!
  • Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame: The University of South Carolina’s Mathieu Deflem has gone gaga for Gaga and he hopes his students will too with his sociological analysis of selected social issues related to the pop star’s work. Though the course is within the sociology department, the subjects of music, fashion, art, business, marketing, new media, religion and politics will be integrated to dissect Gaga’s rise to fame and impact on society. Unlike the infamous meat dress, this approach is well done.
  • Zombies in Popular Media: Vampires are so last year, people, and Columbia College Chicago has the latest undead trend – zombies – ready to take over your brain, not eat it. Literature, comics and film will “foster thoughtful connections between student disciplines and the figure of the zombie,” states the course description and the history, significance and representation of zombies will be discussed and implemented on a daily basis. Hopefully, this class doesn’t take place after dark.

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No One Likes a Cheater…Except the Cheater

Study Shows Narcissists More Likely to Cheat on Tests

December 3, 2010

No One Likes a Cheater…Except the Cheater

by Alexis Mattera

Mirror, mirror on the wall…who is the most dishonest of them all? A new study shows that in the collegiate world, narcissistic students are far more likely to cheat on tests while their less self-involved counterparts employ a different tactic – studying.

The Huffington Post (which also recently published a piece about how narcissists also spend the most time on Facebook) featured findings from a Science Blog study that said vainer students were more inclined to cheat for two reasons: 1. they want to show off academically and 2. they are able to bypass feeling guilty for their actions. Amy Brunell, an assistant psychology professor at Ohio State University at Newark and the study’s lead author, elaborates, "Narcissists feel the need to maintain a positive self-image and they will sometimes set aside ethical concerns to get what they want." If she is indeed correct, a number of students attending the University of Central Florida are a morally corrupt (but extremely pretty) bunch.

Given our increasingly celebrity-obsessed society, it’s not surprising that narcissism is on the rise but the increase has been especially prominent in college students say San Diego State University and the University of South Alabama. Cheating on college exams is a serious offense but down the line, when these students graduate, the U.S. could experience more social problems associated with their risky decision making and senses of entitlement.

Students, have you noticed more classmates channeling their inner Kanye Wests and Janice Dickinsons lately?


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