Category Archives: Opinions

Why we should focus less on celebrities and focus more on us

Everyone wants to be rich and famous. Or at least, that’s the impression I’m given through the hundreds of reality TV shows on the air where normal people get their fifteen minutes of fame for doing niche, mundane things. Rich and fame are two powerful adjectives. Having either one or both signifies importance. So in essence, you can say that everyone wants to be important.

When you ask regular folks to name important people, what do you think they will say? George Washington? Martin Luther King Jr? Gandhi? But once you peel back the layers of “politically correct” responses for such a question and judge what people consider important through their actions, it’s easy to see who society considers important. Who is on the mind of your average person at any given time? A movie star? A singer? A football player? It’s easy to see where most of our money goes into: the entertainment industry.

And at its core, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Supply and demand. People want to be entertained, so entertainers entertain, and they get paid. Actors, singers, and athletes get rich and famous, and the executives and professionals who manage them and give them jobs are mostly just rich (though I doubt they’re complaining).

But here is a question I’d like to pose to you today. Why are these people so rich and famous? Could it be because the rest of society is content living their own lives in mediocrity because they can experience exhilaration by following every single thing these important people are doing? Is that why you can get sold out seats to a football game in a 60,000 seat stadium but can hardly fill up a room on voting day for local elections? Is that why newspapers and traditional storytelling are going out of style while tabloids and gossip columns keep getting stronger and more powerful? Is this why some people will obsess more over a royal wedding and the marriage of royalty in another country but neglect their own marriage at home?

Our society has a problem with obsession. Obsessing over all sorts of things, not just celebrities, is pretty common. In a world full of increasing stress and disappointment, it is easy to fall back on something that can give one comfort. For many, it can be food. For others, some sort of hobby. For others, less healthy habits like drugs and alcohol. But one specific sort of obsession that people don’t blink an eye at is celebrity obsessions.

Recently, I’ve noticed the public outcry over casting Ben Affleck as the new Batman in an upcoming Batman and Superman crossover. I’ve noticed an uproar over Miley Cyrus’ performance at the music awards that people would not stop talking about. With college football season almost over, that’s all I’ve been hearing about from fans of their teams, trash talking each other in every chance they get when their teams are set off to face.

And then there’s this image, supposedly meant to be a message as a way to support their team:

I’m not here to get into an argument about political correctness. I’m merely stating that people can sometimes get too involved into the things that they admire. My Facebook feed is filled with people who won’t stop posting about every little thing that any one particular celebrity is doing. Gawking, admiring, obsessing.

If all the time and effort spent into those types of obsessions gets put into one’s own life, could you imagine the possibilities? My question is, how can someone be content living such a plain and simple life while at the same time celebrating the lives of those who live in much more wealth and have much more influence? Many in this world are born, grow up, work a decent-paying job, have kids (maybe), grow old, retire, and die. That’s it. No real lasting impact on the world and they leave about as unknown as they came into this world.

Now, I’m not saying that we should all be drug-induced celebrities that get into scandals and live this shallow perception of fame. But why does not everyone strive to achieve significance in this world? Why doesn’t everyone set their sights on being people like George Washington, Dr. King, and Gandhi? I read this great quote once that said that Mother Teresa and Einstein had just as much time as we do and accomplished great things. What’s our excuse?

I can’t know for certain, but it’s reasonable to assume that important figures throughout history (politicians, scientists, and even celebrities) have striven to earn the significance that they’ve acquired. They set their sights on a really high goal, and they achieved it. What’s there to stop the rest of us from dreaming big? I think the answer for most of us is simple: the work to get there seems too hard and the risk seems too great.

Why try to be important when it’s safer to just live comfortably and follow other important people? And yet, it’s that kind of complacency that allows the rich and famous to become more rich and famous. Predictability. They know that most people will never attempt to reach higher levels of significance than they currently have, and are content with just traditional societal expectations, such as getting a 9-5 job, buying a house, getting a car, filling their house with material possessions they don’t really need, and living a life of debt.

 

So, I leave you here with the following thoughts:

Instead of obsessing over those football players down on the stadium, strive to be that football player down on the stadium.

Instead of following that famous singer in all of her concert tours and staying up until midnight to buy her latest album, attempt to be that singer who can seduce millions with your powerful lyrics.

Instead of complaining about corrupt politicians and the destruction of America, run for office and attempt to make that change yourself.

It’s true, we don’t all have talent in our specific field of interest. But everyone has a talent somewhere. And just like those famous people you see on TV, you need to take risks. They took a risk, and put their talents to the test. So can you. There’s no guarantee you will make it. In fact, it’s statistically impossible that every single person can become particularly significant, since it would be the equivalent of highlighting everything in your textbook.

But take comfort in the fact that you tried, and continue trying for as long as you live. The most dangerous disease that can affect the human race is complacency. Once we stop trying, there is nothing worth fighting for. Once we give up, we’ve lost. Who knows, you may be the next Einstein, the next Abraham Lincoln, or even the next Taylor Swift. But don’t let your own lack of ambition keep you from reaching that dream. When you are on your death bed and looking back at the kind of life you’ve missed out on, you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.

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‘Snowplow Parents’ are the new ‘Helicopter Parents’

We’ve heard for years about Helicopter parents. You know, those parents that do a child’s science project at school, take control of every PTA meeting, take care of every fundraiser with no effort from the child. However, an increasing trend in the US is the ‘Snowplow Parent’, parents who continue to hover over their child way into college and beyond.

This article on the Boston Globe explains what a snowplow parent consists of, with many frightening-but-true examples. These are just a few snippets of what the article describes as snowplow parents:

Astrid Franco, 21, of Framingham, lived away from home her first two years at UMass Boston and got constant calls and messages from her parents. “I’d be out with friends and I’d get a text from my mom, ‘What are you doing?’ With time, I stopped answering and they wondered why. I felt it was being nosy,” says Franco, now a senior.

In one extreme case of parental over-involvement, a college senior in December 2012 won a protective order against her parents for stalking and harassing her. Aubrey Ireland, 21, told a Cincinnati judge that her parents often drove 600 miles from their Kansas home to the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, unannounced, to meet with college officials, and falsely accused her of promiscuity, drug use, and mental problems.

Her parents, Julie and David Ireland, admitted in court that they installed monitoring software on their daughter’s laptop and cellphone. But they said they had her best interests at heart. “She’s an only child who was catered to all her life by loving parents,” her mother told the judge.

“We see snowplow parents when they come in with their son or daughter to apply for a job,” says Green, whose family owns several restaurants, including West on Centre in West Roxbury. “They say things like, ‘I’m here with my son, Mark, to apply for a bus boy position.’ Mark is standing there not saying a word. We’re thinking if Mark can’t talk to us, how can he interact with our staff and customers?”

The truth is, in my time in college (and working in a college), I’ve seen this type of behavior firsthand. People joke about the fact that elementary school teachers are now being harassed for handing out low grades to students, but the consequences of such behavior are starting to see a societal impact. This new generation of sheltered, over-protected kids are now entering college, and soon, the real world. Many of these students are unprepared to deal with the challenges that life will throw at them, because their parents have always taken care of it for them.

Once these students leave college, one of two things are going to happen: either their parents are going to continue to do everything for them (such as applying for jobs with them as mentioned in the above example) and then wondering why no one will hire them, or they will finally let them go, once again wondering why their grown up children can’t fend for themselves when buying a house, raising a family, or managing a budget.

What are your experiences with snowplow parents, either as a college student or bystander? Are you friends with one? What can we do to solve this type of problem? Let us know in the comments.

Check out these 5 things colleges don’t want you to know

College is a great environment to be in, full of supporting faculty and staff and offering great opportunities to become a responsible adult. What you don’t know, however, is what goes on behind-the-scenes in colleges. Things they don’t want you, as a student, to know about. It’s not that they’re illegal, or necessarily immoral, but that by knowing them, they’d ruin the positive image universities try to maintain.

1. College entrance requirements aren’t as strict as they appear

Source: The College Solution

I once talked to an admissions counselor when I was searching for colleges. She was very friendly, but the pamphlet she gave me was pretty intimidating. “I have to have THAT high of an SAT score?” I thought to myself as I kissed my dreams of being a whatever-it-was-at-the-time goodbye. Reading further, I saw that I had to be involved in a certain number of organizations, had to have this high of a GPA, and had to have so many volunteer hours, among letters of recommendations, full transcripts, and job experience.

The admission counselor smiled, surely relishing in my worried facial expressions caused by my ignorant innocence, and told me not to worry about too much about the requirements. “There’s always exceptions,” she said confidently. She then went on to tell me that as long as I could write an essay explaining why I wasn’t involved in organizations, or getting an adequate score on the SAT or ACT, the university would consider my application.

I’ve learned that this is true of many colleges, save for the Ivy Leagues and the sort. Colleges like to put down rigorous entrance requirements so they can tout that they have the smartest and the brightest, but if you read the fine print, there are many ways to get around the published requirements. See, if universities truly stuck with what they advertised as their requirements, enrollment would be horrible! The funding systems for universities are based on enrollments, so universities strive to get as many students as they can. For this reason, they implement certain “loopholes” to their own policies to be able to admit students who do not meet their requirements.

Go to any university website that you are interested in and take a look at its admission criteria. You’ll see that it is worded in such a way that allows for flexibility in admissions standards. For example, take Oklahoma State University’s admissions page.

OSU page

First of all, they preface the requirements by mentioning that all students are encouraged to apply, as they take many factors into consideration and individually review each application. Likewise, if you meet one of their listed criteria, you are assured admission. That’s where the wording is tricky. Colleges often make is sound like all their students meet those requirements as a minimum, and they are partially correct. Sure, those are minimums, but only for guaranteed admission. You can still be considered even if you don’t meet their listed requirements. And even then, of the several “minimums” they state, they usually publish the strictest one to make them seem more selective (as was the case at my undergraduate university).

FSU page

Florida State University’s admissions page is another great example. In this one, they don’t even give you a minimum requirements list. The list they show you is the academic profile of the middle 50% of freshmen they accepted in 2013. So really, all it does is give you an idea of their overall average of the students they admit, which doesn’t really tell you how well your chances are, since the bottom 50% could fall anywhere below that average. Plus, they make sure to include careful wording to say that “applicants who bring other important attributes to the University community may also receive additional consideration.” These may include, but are not limited to skilled artists, musicians, and athletes.

Why do colleges do this? For publicity reasons, mostly. This way, they can state in their advertisements, pamphlets, and national publications that they accept students with these amazing criteria in an effort to attract other students with these criteria. And if you have 5 colleges in one area that accept students with a 24 ACT as a minimum, you don’t want to be the college that publishes your minimum as 18 ACT. It’s just not good for business.

So what does this all mean to you as a prospective student? This means that you should not be discouraged to apply to a college if the requirements seem to strict. If you weren’t involved in extra-curricular activities in high school because you worked full time in the evenings to support your family, that’s fine! Be sure to include an essay with your application that states that. Admission departments in colleges don’t just go down a checklist and pull your application if you don’t meet them all. They look at your application to see how you are as a whole person. The more information you provide with your application, the easier it will be for them to paint a better picture of you as a student.

If they see that you worked to provide for your family in high school, they may see that as responsibility and maturity and would take that in place of your extracurriculars. If you didn’t have very good grades, as long as you can provide a good reason for it and assure them that you will do much better in college, they may give you consideration they may not have otherwise. Now, I’m not saying that you can BS your way through an application and get into college. It doesn’t work that way.

What I’m saying is that you have nothing to lose by applying to the college that you want, even though you may not fit the “ideal” criteria.

Let me tell you that when I started college, all I had going for me was my GPA. Being a first generation student, I had no idea how important extra-curricular activities, volunteer hours, and letters of recommendations from teachers who knew you well were. Plus, I am a horrible test taker and didn’t do very well on my SAT. Still, I made a strong enough case on my application, got accepted, and not only did I graduate from my university, but I was senior class president and gave the commencement speech in front of ten thousand people. All because they decided to take a chance on me.

2. You DON’T have to go to college

I can already hear my fellow colleagues and college administrators yelling at me for this one, but the truth is, you really don’t have to go to college like society makes you believe. I’m sure you’ve heard in high school, in the college you already attend, in TV shows, commercials, and speakers that jobs won’t hire you without a college degree. That it’s not like it used to be where anyone could get a job with a good work ethic and a smile. And yes, it’s true that it’s becoming more difficult for companies to even consider you if you don’t have that degree on hand. Even jobs that didn’t previously required formal education experience are requiring Associate or Bachelor degrees. And that is why you are told very often that you need to go to college to get those lucrative jobs.

But do you see the problem with this? Students everywhere are being told that they need a college degree to get a job that requires college degrees. As a result, more and more students are going to college each year. Over the last 15 years, enrollment in U.S. institutions of higher education at all levels rose from 14.5 million students in fall 1994 to 20.7 million in fall 2009, with most of the growth occurring in the last 10 years (source: NSF ). And what’s worse, over the past decade, the U.S. private-sector has lost 203,000 jobs (source here ).

What this means is that more and more graduates are finishing colleges with degrees, but the jobs aren’t growing with them. As a result, we have tons of people out there with useless degrees working jobs that don’t require anything more than a high school diploma. But colleges won’t tell you all of this, because their goal is to get more students.

As a Student Affairs Professional, I will say that college does a lot more for you than just get you a degree, as I listed on my blog post detailing how college can get you a job without a degree. But still, I stand by the fact that there are some people who do not need to go to college. Are you one of these people?

Let me explain. I’ve seen many students, both as a university staff member and as a student myself, that go to college despite the fact that they are not ready for it. They either do not know what they want to do with their life, or are just not emotionally mature enough to handle the responsibility of college life. Yet, these students will start college, get into lots of debt, then drop out their first year having no way to pay back that said debt.

Other people are just not good classroom learners. Regardless of college, it is reasonable to assume a lot of classroom work will be in your future, and some students just don’t do well with that. A friend of mine just could not grasp anything from a classroom, and left college within two months. Yet, he was a masterful electrician and could rewire an entire house with no problem.

Students like these would be better off going to trade schools, where there is more practical learning and they could put their talents to good use. I’ve known many mechanics, plumbers, and carpenters that make a lot of money, and never had to go to college to do it.

What about those students who are not ready for college? Students who don’t know what to do with their lives but don’t want to spend thousands of dollars for an education they may not even get use out of? As someone who went to a university with a strong military focus, I would say that the military may be a viable option. Don’t know what to do with your life? If you meet the health requirements and don’t mind some discipline in your life, the military may be a better option for you. I’ve known a few high school students that would gain a lot from joining the army for a few years before going to college. It can be an eye-opening experience, and what’s more, they may have the option of paying for your college once you complete your years of service.

For other students, maybe college is best if you just wait. Work a full time job for a little bit, get a sense of what the real world is like, paying bills, paying your own rent, just generally living on your own. Start college when you feel ready. My sister followed this path, and now she’s in college and loving it.

I don’t believe that college is always the right answer. But not enough people are willing to say that. And why would they? It makes sense that a college recruiter would feel guilty telling you that college isn’t for you. And that’s because they cannot make that decision, nor can I. Only you can. You need to take a good look at yourself and wonder if it’s worth getting into all that debt for the next few years before you dive right in.

For a great illustration of how college may not always be right for you, check out my post on how the movie Monsters University accurately depicts college life.

3. A lot of faculty aren’t trained to teach

Source: dumpaday.com

At some point during my college career, I decided that I wanted to be a professor. Part of the decision came from the amazing professors that inspired me to follow in their footsteps. Another part came from the horrible professors who made me want to become one to correct their mistakes. Upon looking for grad schools and trying to decide what I wanted to teach, I came to one horrible realization: professors are not trained to teach!

Teachers, specifically for elementary school and secondary school, have to go through an intense program, that includes not only a Bachelor degree, but teacher certification, and in some cases, even a Master degree. They have to learn about classroom management, implementing curriculums, special education, and then student teach for hours and hours while maintaining a teacher’s portfolio assuring future employers that this person knows what he or she is doing.

I was pretty shocked to find out that this is not true with college professors. There is no “professors 101” class or a degree specifically to teach college courses. The way a person becomes a professor is to get a Master degree in a field, and then get a doctorate in that field as well (or a related field). At that point, the person is considered an “expert” in the field and is then qualified to teach a course in that field. However, none of those courses prepare those students to teach what they have learned. This is especially evident in STEM fields, where students constantly complain about engineering professors who don’t know how to teach a concept in a way students can understand, or a science professor who just reads from a slideshow. Sure, they know everything they need to know about their field, but that does not mean they know how to teach it.

When colleges look for new faculty, they look for several factors, with the primary ones being teaching experience and research/publications. A professor is worth more if he or she is a published researcher, holding some clout in the field, and has the ability to receive grants from several institutions. It shocked me to find out that in many universities, teaching ability isn’t at the top of the list. Now this isn’t true of all colleges. Community colleges and liberal arts colleges put more priority to teaching skills, whereas research and land grant universities will put more weight on research and publications. I actually had a professor tell me that if I didn’t have some decent published research by the time I finished my PhD, I will have a hard time getting any college to consider me.

But what about all those great professors that have a passion for teaching, those that just seem to get it? Typically, it’s a result of experience. Experience is a wonderful teacher, and professors who learn from their mistakes and research effective teaching methods on their own time will likely be better at it than others. Mentoring is also very helpful. Many doctorate students find advisors and mentors that are willing to work with them and teach them the practice of the trade, even sometimes offering teaching assistantships where they get practice before they graduate. This is, however, very dependent on the teaching quality of the mentors.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed that universities are now offering certificates for college teaching. Usually these programs consist of a few courses specifically suited for teaching in a college environment. As far as I know, I don’t know of any doctorate program that requires these to be a college professor, but the resource is there and more and more universities are encouraging professors and would-be professors to get it.

Well said, Einstein, well said.

4. Beware of the “weeding out” classes

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned many times on this blog, I went to a university that was very engineering-focused. Even though I wasn’t an engineering major, I had to take an occasional basic engineering class or two each year. As a non-engineer, I noticed that I was having a very hard time with these classes. At first, I thought I just sucked at engineering. But upon discussing it with other classmates, we came to the realization that it wasn’t that we didn’t understand the work, but that the work was made hard on purpose.

First of all, those engineering 101 classes were huge. Lots of students and only one professor to teach us all. Our professor covered a lot of material in a very short amount of time. Tons. Concepts that, individually, would result in hours of work. Even if I did figure out how to solve the homework assignments, there was no way I could finish it all and do all the work in my other non-engineering classes. At some point, I had to call it quits and settle for the lower grade for that assignment. It made me wonder how those students with four engineering classes in a row got anything done.

What I learned later on was that these classes had an ulterior motive. In addition to providing a “general view” of engineering, they were designed to overwhelm students with varying different concepts to “weed out” the students who were not the best of the best at the craft. Even though I had a hard time excelling at the class, my wife, who was and engineering major at the time, got through those assignments with no problem. Sure enough, she got an A in the class and moved on to the higher level classes.

What surprised me about this the most was that I was generally good at math. I was studying meteorology and we dealt with all sorts of equations and concepts. But for some reason engineering work frustrated the hell out of me, and there was just so much of it. I, like many others, was the victim of a student not worthy to go to the higher level engineering classes, where professors worked at a better pace and were more willing to help you learn the material (as opposed to my class, where I would go to my professor to help me with assignments and he refused to help me in favor of the upper-level students).

Now that I’ve graduated college and have worked in colleges, I notice this for many fields. STEM fields are notorious for this, but I’ve seen this in other fields as well.

Weeding out classes are generally seen as classes where they are designed for students to fail. Large classes where professors throw a lot of information at you in a “101” style class, hoping to scare away all but the most dedicated to the craft, those who will stick through until the end. They offer minimal support to test you to see how well you can take the heat.

It makes sense in the long run, since professors don’t want students who don’t have a chance at being successful in the field. But this is still important information for students who have a passion in a field, but don’t necessarily have the skills to get through those “weeding out classes”. If that’s you, you either need to find another major or prepare for an uphill battle getting that degree.

5. Politics… politics everywhere!

Source: newyorker.com

I had a discussion with a friend of mine the other day, who talked about a program at a university that required EMT classes and certification in the curriculum, even though in wasn’t related to the field they were studying. The department head had been struggling for several years trying to remove that requirement from the curriculum. It seems that the requirement was put in there erroneously many years ago, since the beginning of the program, but no one had bothered to take it out. After many attempts, the department head was unable to get the requirement removed. Why? We still don’t know. I don’t think even he really knows.

The truth is, universities are filled with politics, just like any other business. I’ve heard from many people mistakenly believe that academia is a peaceful environment where learning takes place through curious minds exchanging ideas while sipping tea. I’ll tell you that this isn’t the case at all. Faculty and staff at universities can be just as catty and political as any other industry. Grudges among administrators can delay proposals and university changes for months, or even years, as they argue semantics and try to get things their way.

Just like our own US government, implementing changes at the university level can take a really long time as committees meet about this and that, amending the changes and involving others both inside and outside the university. They try their best to keep things objective and professional, but I’ve seen situations where things can get personal, and the personal beliefs of those in power can interfere from any real change happening on the campus. Professors who don’t like other professors will fight for favored courses, or timeslots for courses, or even office hours. Staff members may want to work independently or have more freedom in how they allocate their budgets. A lot of the time it involves administrators implementing new policies which adds responsibilities to departments that do not have the capacity to accept those added responsibilities, resulting in angry and resentful staff.

“So what?” you may ask. “This happens everywhere.” Well, yes, but the difference here is that oftentimes, college students will see the effects of these situations in a much greater magnitude. Political battles in university administration can result in tuition increases, removal of pivotal classes for degrees, removal of faculty, removal of amenities, more regulation to make simple tasks more complicated, and generally a lower quality of life at the campus.

The moral of the story here is that everyone is human, and no one is above making mistakes. Students get screwed over all the time regarding classes they need to take for graduation, grades on courses, residence hall charges, and other issues that may be the result of university politics. Sometimes, there may be no way to avoid them. The best you can do is understand that no one is perfect and mistakes can happen. Choose your battles wisely and fight for the things that matter the most to you.

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Monsters University offers a surprisingly deep look at college

Pixar’s latest entry in the animated film industry received a lot of mixed reactions upon its announcement. Following in the footsteps of two other PIxar sequels, Toy Story 3 and Cars 2, many figured that Pixar was running out of ideas and had to recycle their existing series into sequels and prequels.

Although Toy Story 3 was met with strong critical acclaim, with a 99% “fresh” rating on RottenTomatoes.com, Cars 2 was met with a 39% “rotten” rating for feeling too much like a cheap cash-in and lacking that Pixar magic that their movies have been known for.

But where does that leave Monsters University? Just like in the original movie, Monsters Inc., the movie takes place in a world inhabited by the monsters that children fear are hiding in their closets. They have their own society, with their own economy, factories, and of course, education systems. As a prequel to the original Monsters University, this movie follows Mike Wazowski who attends Monsters University in an effort to achieve his dream of becoming a scarer.

Make him a few inches taller and that’s me my first day of college.

Let me just say that I went into this movie pretty skeptical. The last two movies I had watched, Cars 2 and Brave, didn’t really impress me much. Monsters Inc, while a good movie, just didn’t appear to me to be the kind of movie that needed a prequel. However, I was pleasantly surprised that not only was this a good movie, but it offered a really nice view of college life through Mike’s eyes, and even ended it with an interesting message that you wouldn’t typically expect from a movie for kids.

Let me explain. At first glance, this movie is just pure fun, providing typical satire of college life, such as the super peppy RAs that you find on campus, to the new roommate, the craziness of sororities and fraternities, and the rigors of academic pressure.

But where this movie really shines is the parts that aren’t so typical for a college movie. At first glance, the relationship between Mike and Sulley when they meet seems to follow the typical movie cliché: nerdy guy meets the cool guy. Cool guy is popular and everything comes easy, whereas the nerdy guy has to fight his way to make it through the top. Cue a rivalry through the whole movie until the nerd comes out on top. Surprisingly, this movie was not as shallow.

Right from the beginning, despite Sulley’s cocky attitude at the beginning due to being son of a famous scarer, he quickly realized that his reputation wouldn’t get him far in class. His lack of care and preparation had him fall behind in class and get a pretty bad tongue lashing from the dean. Meanwhile, Mike’s studying and preparation actually made him a force to be reckoned with in the classroom, quickly becoming the professor’s favorite and impressing the rest of the class. This is quite different than what I expected, which was Mike having to catch up to Sulley through the whole movie.

Their bickering eventually gets them in trouble with the dean, causing them to fail the qualifying exam and kicked out of the college of scaring. This forces the two of them to work together to prove that they can be decent scarers.

The rest of the movie has your typical “ragtag team of losers overcome the odds to win the championship” type of plot, but once again wowed me as it reached the end. The entire point of the movie was Mike’s dream to be a scarer. It is all he wanted since he was a child, and promised himself he’d do whatever it takes to make it. This manifested himself in the scaring competition, where he truly believed in himself, and against all odds, scared the tacos out of the child simulator and won the team the competition. I rolled my eyes after watching this scene, as the whole “you can do it if you believe” schtick is in just about every animated movie you can imagine.

But in an effort to continue to feed me crow, Pixar once again throws another curveball by revealing that Sulley actually tampered with the machine which allowed Mike to win. As it turned out, Mike wasn’t scary at all!

Yeah, that cute face ain’t scaring anyone.

After a series of events, Mike and Sulley end up trapped in the human world, hunted down by a bunch of cops (or were they park rangers?). In the midst of hiding, Mike gives what I believe to be one of the most heart-wrenching, powerful speeches I’ve ever heard come out of an animated character’s mouth.

Earlier in the movie, the dean had these words to say to Mike: “Mr Wazowski, what you lack simply cannot be taught. You’re just not scary.”

After everything he went through, after all his failures, he came to the realization that she was right. He is not scary, and he will never be scary. Mike realized that his dream was wrong, and that he simply could not be something that he was not. Instead, rather than trying to chase after an unrealistic dream, he altered his goals to match his strengths, and together with Sulley, managed to come up with a plan to scare away the cops that were chasing them and find a way back to the monster world.

Despite their victory, they were still kicked out of the university for cheating and consequently trespassing into places they weren’t allowed. The final foot-in-mouth moment I experienced with this movie was towards the end, when Mike and Sulley finally accepted who they were at the bus stop before Mike left. As they were saying goodbye, the dean approaches them to congratulate them for their previous victory in working together to scare full grown adults.

As I’m sure most people watching were expecting, this would be the part where the dean enthusiastically invites them back in, they finish their degree, then claim their place at Monsters University. But that didn’t happen. She did not let them back in. They did not go back to college, any college, and decided to start at the bottom at the Monsters Inc post office. The credits scenes subsequently showed them working their way up to the scaring positions we are familiar with them having.

This movie shares with its viewers a couple of messages that go against the norm of society today.

First, that just because you really, really want it, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. If you do not have the talent to do something, then you just can’t do it, period. Sure, you can work years and years to become adequate at it, but why waste your time becoming adequate on something you’re bad at, when you can be great at something you’re good at?

For example, try as I may, I will never be a great Olympic swimmer like Michael Phelps. I’m not 6 feet, 4 inches, for starters, and my wingspan is nowhere near as long as his. Plus, I just suck at swimming. But society today tells me that if I put my mind to it, I can do it. That’s just not true, and as a result, we end up with a bunch of very disappointed kids who were raised with unrealistic expectations. Many people I’ve talked to complained about the downer ending in which Mike never became scary, but instead became a scaring coach. Well, so what? If this were a real life situation, isn’t that what would happen? I applaud Pixar for giving this realistic ending.

The second message that this movie gives us is that college isn’t for everyone. I may get a couple of dirty looks for saying this (especially from other college professionals), but it’s true: college isn’t for everyone. Some people are just not suited to learning in a college atmosphere. But that’s not a bad thing. Society seems to stigmatize people without a college education. Monsters University is unique in that it doesn’t seem to favor one way or the other. Mike and Sulley quit college, but instead gain all their skills by starting from the bottom of the totem pole and working their way up. They become just as competent in their job as the rest of their colleagues.

But let’s take Randall, Mike’s roommate. He stayed and (we assume) graduated from Monsters University, and yet he was also a pretty good scarer. In Monsters Inc, he was shown to go toe-to-toe with Sulley. Is either approach better than the other? Not necessarily. There’s a reason vocational and tech schools have grown rapidly: some students just don’t want or need college for their career goals. On-the-job training is sometimes the best route for them.

Too often is college seen as the only option, and the message is that if you don’t go to college, you are a loser and will never succeed. This is demotivating for students that either can’t afford to go to college, or just can’t succeed in the college classroom setting. Now, granted, I do believe that most people can benefit from a college education, and it’s true, most jobs nowadays won’t even look at you without a college degree, but I still stand by my statement that college isn’t for everyone.

So all in all, this was a really good movie. Pixar has once again managed to raise the bar with quality animation and throw in some wonderful messages without being too preachy. Good show, Pixar, good show.

My only question is, what the heck happened to these guys? I never saw them at Monsters Inc!

Author Interview for college-themed mystery novel at Twinja Book Reviews

As I’m sure you may have noticed by now, I’m a college enthusiast. I love everything about it. So much so, that I wrote a book about it. Instead of going the traditional route with it and writing a “how-to” guide or a research paper, I decided to create a mystery novel set on a college campus.

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The title is called “Halls of Ivy”, and Twinja Book Reviews, a blog dedicated to multiculturalism in fiction, has agreed to do an author interview with me! Find out more about what it took to create a mystery novel with a plethora of characters on a college campus and make it interesting. Plus, there’s a giveaway that ends today at the site for a bunch of different books. Be sure to enter!

For The Win Book Review: The Consequences of Forever

Every now and then on my blog, I’ll review a book that I think may be of interest to college students. It’s also a crafty way of getting me to read for pleasure again. Ever since starting grad school, all my reading became purely scholarly, and I suddenly realized I lost my passion for fiction. As a result, For The Win Book Reviews were born!

Today’s book review is The Consequences of Forever, by Kaitlyn Oruska.

The Consequences of Forever is a story about a teenage girl named Lainey whose life changes completely after realizing that she’s pregnant at 15. The novel follows Lainey and her boyfriend Adam as they struggle with the idea that they’re going to have a child.

This is my first foray into this type of novel. I’ve always been a mystery and thriller reader, so I was hesitant at first to check it out. However, in an effort to expand my genre horizons, I pushed myself to get the book and see what it was about. I was very pleasantly surprised at the story the author told us through Lainey’s eyes. The plot itself is very straightforward: a girl she finds out she is pregnant, deals with the ramifications of being pregnant in high school. However, what really makes the book truly shine is the characters that the author brings to life.

I instantly found myself liking Lainey from the beginning of the book. She was grounded, idealistic, if a bit unsecure at times. She wasn’t angsty or annoying, traits I often found in stories starring teenagers. The emotions she felt and her reactions to her pregnancy seemed realistic to me. Her boyfriend, Adam, was very supportive of her upon learning about it, yet still exhibited enough flaws as a character to make him seem human, rather than an idealistic caricature he seemed like at first glance.

The author did a great job of developing their relationship. I could sense how much they’ve matured as individuals as well as a couple from the beginning of the book to the end. I noticed growth in not only them, but even the several supporting characters they interacted with. This attention to detail to every character introduced is what really made the story feel organic and engaging.

The title of the book seemed a bit cliché at first, but it makes a lot of sense within the context of the story. It really takes until the end of the book to appreciate the choice of words in the title. I thought that was pretty nifty, though I can see how it may scare away new readers of the genre.

The only things that bothered me in the book were the over-explanation of some things and their redundancy. A lot of times I felt the monologues were necessary, really driving the point across. But sometimes I felt as if Lainey kept making the same point over and over, and it seemed to slow down the plot progression. A lot of the chapters consisted of minute details that made it feel like I was reading a teenage girl’s diary, but I will admit some of those details really added to some of the revelations that came afterwards.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Though I’ve never been pregnant, I felt I could relate to many of Lainey’s worries, such as dealing with a broken family, judgment from peers, and uncertainty of the future. Problems that may seem minor to others can mean the world to the individual facing them. We all face personal battles, and Lainey’s experience was inspiring, to say the least.

I would definitely recommend this book to readers looking for an inspiring read and like detailed character growth in their stories. You can buy the book online on Amazon and several other websites. You can also find the author’s website here.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

7 Lessons Learned as a College RA

Anyone who has lived in a college dorm knows what an RA is. They are seen as either the bossy tools who go out of their way to keep you from having fun or the useless nobodies that get a free room to do nothing and let chaos run throughout the halls. Well, I worked as a college RA (Resident Advisor, or Resident Assistant in some universities) while in college, and eventually got promoted to an RD (Resident Director), and a lot of my college experiences happened from the point of view of those positions. Here are ten lessons learned from being an RA/RD:

3DN Landing Strip

The theme one year in one of my residence halls

1. An RA isn’t just that happy-go-lucky robot with a clipboard.

I thought I would start off by giving a clearer description of what an RA is and does, since I’m sure not many people are familiar. An RA is known as a Resident Advisor, or a Resident Assistant, in most colleges. The hiring process to become an RA is much more in depth than any other campus job (which I’ll describe in more detail a bit later), as the responsibilities of an RA range in many areas. The following are the typical tasks an RA of your school would be responsible for:

– Rule enforcer- Probably the most common task RAs are known for. They are in charge of abiding by the university residence hall policy and make sure students in their hall are following them as well. If they catch students not following policy, they are then to either give them warnings or write them up for a variety of punishments options.

– Room checks- Making sure that resident rooms in dorms and residence halls are clean, in proper living conditions, and ready for students to move in. Throughout the semester, they must ensure that the rooms continue to be in proper condition and do not present safety hazards to the students who live in it. They also must check the rooms when the students leave to make sure no damage has been done to it.

– Advising- This is where the “advisor” part comes into play. RAs are often put (whenever possible) in dorms with students in a major similar to themselves. RAs are trained to help students if they are having trouble with classes, with school, or even their personal lives. While not full-fledged counselors, RAs are given basic training to see if students are showing signs of depression, or giving basic counseling advice in emergency situations when a counselor isn’t available.

From my experience, most RAs get the compensation of a paid room to themselves. In many schools, that’s all they get (and sometimes they’ll even have to share a room with another RA). In other schools, RAs get some better benefits. In addition to a free room, some schools give RAs a stipend (ranging from $20-$100 a week), free meal plans, free travel expenses for conferences, free goodies (like shirts, office supplies, mugs, caps, etc), and gift certificates/gift cards.

2. The RA hiring process is very selective and thorough.

Unlike other campus jobs, the position of RA holds a lot of power and responsibility, so it is no question that the interview process will be very comprehensive. Since I don’t know how the interview process goes for every university in the country, I will merely provide the process for mine. I assume other schools are at least in a similar ball park.

The first step is the application. In addition to all the traditional application information that has to be provided, the RA application also puts you to answer essay questions that test your ethics and your desire to be an RA. If you hold the minimum GPA required and the questions show some ethical decision making and interest, you may be called to an interview. In that first interview, even more questions are asked in all sorts of different areas. You are given scenarios that RAs typically deal with and are asked how you would deal with them.

In addition, you are asked to prepare for the interview a 15 minute presentation of how your first RA ‘wing meeting’ will be (the initial meeting with your new residents at the beginning of the year). You are invited to be as creative as possible, and have decent knowledge of the housing policy handbook.

If you pass that interview, you will join a second group interview. All the candidates who have made it this far will be asked to participate in a one-day retreat kind of thing, where games will be played and team exercises will be performed. RDs and administrators will watch these games and see who works well with others and how these students perform in group settings. Being the loudest and most outgoing won’t necessary land you the job. It’s about being yourself, and not being afraid to take risks and talk to people. I would also recommend volunteering to be the first to do something in a game, even if you know you’ll make a fool of yourself. In that initial time when they ask for volunteers and everyone is quiet, that is the best time to shine.

If you get selected to continue, you go through the last interview. This is usually with the assistant or associate director of housing. They tend to ask even more prodding questions to find out more about you, including experiences you’ve had that you think would be relevant to the job, and case studies to truly see how you think. If you can make it past this 3rd interview, you’re almost an RA.

All that’s left is the RA class. In some universities it’s offered for elective credit, in others it isn’t. This class ranges from 1 month to 3 months, once or twice a week, and the class covers just about everything an RA will do: administration, counseling, community-building, activities and events hosting, and even how to dress and nonverbal communication.

If you get through the class and manage to complete your assignments, you get placed in a residence hall and a room, go through another week of intensive training (the class is more on theory, and the training is more on practice) the week before school starts, and voila! You’re an RA!

RA training is serious business.

RA training is serious business.

3. There are a lot of unadvertised perks of being an RA.

In my line of work, I’ve had several dinners with the university president, gotten backstage passes to Jeff Dunham and Tosh.O, and have even been picked as a volunteer for several hypnotists at my campus thanks to my VIP seating. In addition, I have been invited to complimentary trips to the Oshkosh aviation air show to represent our school, and other trips around the country for a variety of reasons.

The point I’m trying to make is that RAs receive many other benefits and opportunities than what you see in the job description. It really is a lot of fun and worth the experience. Plus, as student leaders, putting that you were an RA in college looks really good on resumes and grad school applications. It’s one of the most versatile campus involvements you can have since they deal with so many areas.

In addition, you will be very well-known on campus. As an RA, you participate in orientation events, rallying up students for orientation activities, games, and programs. You usually get to know all the students in the building, and more importantly, they get to know you. If you’re the super strict RA with the iron whip, the students will get to know you and avoid getting in trouble by you. If you make an effort to get to know the students, like saying hi in the hallway, going to the events you promote, etc., you will find that students will talk, and all of a sudden all sorts of people will be saying hi to you on campus, some you don’t even know. This will continue to grow every year that you’re an RA, until you become one of the most well-known students on campus, if you can handle that.

From personal experience, I went from a completely reserved, quiet student as a freshman on campus to one of the most well-known students in school. Case in point, I actually won Senior Class President my senior year and gave the graduation speech on graduation day. The biggest part of the popularity necessary to win that election was the people that I knew and the people that knew me.

It is a great feeling to have residents you had all year come back to you in their junior year and tell you thanks for helping shape their freshman year. Granted, many freshmen could care less, but there will be some that really appreciate your efforts.

4. Once you are an RA, you are always an RA.

Our university’s housing department had a motto about being an RA: It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. The reason for this is because you are an RA 24/7, whether you want to be or not. You can’t just “turn it off” when you go clubbing with your friends. Your residents will see you as their RA in the halls, and they’ll see you as an RA in the clubs. They will also see you as their RA ten years from now when you encounter them and their kids at Disney World.

Many university staff members and student affairs professionals started out as RAs. Once they realize they could make an entire career out of doing stuff like that, they went for it. I’m one of those people. I became an RA for life, so to speak. So if you don’t think you can handle the pressure of a job that becomes a part of your life, I wouldn’t recommend being an RA. Otherwise, it’ll be one of the most memorable jobs you’ll ever have.

5. Being a Resident Director (RD) is pretty awesome too.

I want to take some time to talk about a Resident Director. Simply put, it is an RAs supervisor. Rather than looking over a hall, they look over an entire building, and oftentimes several buildings at once. In many schools, these jobs are offered as full time positions. In others, they are offered as graduate assistantships to graduate students who want a place to live for grad school. In my school, however, you can get it as a promotion as an undergraduate if you applied.

The interview process is similar to that of an RA, but there are less people applying and you already know the interviewers very well. As for the job itself, it is amazing. Rather than a simple dorm, you get an entire full-fledged apartment. My apartment in particular had a bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen, and two bathrooms, fully furnished.

The job is more administrative in nature. You usually have much more full control over the punishments you give out to students who break the rules. You also make big decisions as to changes you make to the buildings you are responsible for, such as adding additional study lounges, vending machines, or even restructuring room placements. You also often get to pick the RA staff you can work with, and hire and fire your staff as you see fit. It is a rewarding experience, and it is one of the only university jobs that I’ve ever seen where you are on just about equal footing to other university staff and administration.

The pay is much higher than an RA’s pay, and most universities will also give you a very generous meal plan and money for travel. However, there is also much more responsibility with the position. As the representative of my building, any cases too big for my RAs to handle were sent up to me. I had to deal with the suicide attempts, students caught with firearms, arson cases, sexual assault, and hate crimes. As the RD, it is not as easy as an RA to be the fun-loving, good guy.

In order to help your RAs out, sometimes you have to be the bad cop to the students in order to make your RAs the good cop. For those who watch Scrubs, think of Dr. Kelso. He has to make the tough decisions in the hospital and look like the bad guy so the rest of the staff doesn’t have to. With the kind of guy I am, that was the most difficult transition. But I found the perfect balance of being fun and easygoing with being tough and fair.

My RA staff at work.

My RA staff at work.

6. A typical day for an RA.

As an RA, my typical day consisted of a variety of different things depending on the day. Other than normal student things such as classes, and RA has to have at least somewhat of a presence in their residence hall every day (so no extended trips where you’ll be gone for more than a day without approval). Though you can usually dodge this one if you just ask a fellow RA to watch your hall for you. RAs also have a couple of meetings they need to attend a week. The two most common are staff meetings and committee meetings. Staff meetings are run by the RD that goes over issues in the building, in the school, or relaying other work-related information. Some RDs also make it a group bonding time and play games or go out for dinner or some type of social activity since RAs are often like family to each other. RAs are also occasionally asked to serve in committees for school events, such as student appreciation, staff appreciation, resident hall Olympics, Relay for life, etc. They also have to go to those meetings.

Also, at least once a week, if not more, an RA is on duty. This means that they may not leave the building they live in for a 12 hour period for any reason. In addition, they have to serve anywhere between 2-6 hours of desk duty, where they must man the front desk of their building to answer questions for students or provide general customer service. Most RAs use this time to socialize with friends who join them during the downtime or do their homework. It’s also how you catch up to the dorm gossip since you’re in the middle of everything.

RAs also have to fill out weekly email reports to their RDs telling them how their residents are doing and have occasional one-on-one meetings with their RDs to tell them how they are doing.

Lastly, RA should constantly be making events and social functions for their residents, like movie nights, bowling nights, dinner, games, etc to keep the community feeling in the dorm. You know you have a good RA when they constantly supply a good range of activities for you to do throughout the year.

7. Some stories from my RA days.

In my line of work, I deal with all sorts of situations, some serious, others humorous. Here are some examples:

The pranksters– I had two “factions” of residents across the hall from each other who pranked each other nonstop, each one upping the ante on the pranks. They would super glue their keyholes, put live cockroaches in their rooms, steal their hats and drop them in the toilet, vandalize their doors with shaving cream, and all sorts of things. This was an interesting but challenging situation.

The shower lockout– The bathrooms in the building I lived in were outside the rooms and required a key for entry. I’ve been woken up several times at all times of the night by guys and girls in a towel who got themselves locked out of the showers and their bedroom. Why do so many people shower at 3 in the morning?

Alcohol poisoning– I ran into a freshman throwing up in the bathroom from alcohol poisoning from drinking too much at a party. He wouldn’t stop throwing up and would occasionally lose consciousness as his friend tried to keep his head up. I had to call the ambulance and have them take him to the hospital. I was told that he was so intoxicated it could have killed him if he didn’t get the medical attention when he did.

Topless wrestling in the halls– This isn’t what you think. For some reason, one year I had a hallway full of guys that for some reason always wrestled each other in the hallway with their shirts off at 3 in the morning. I would come out of my room, exhausted and angry to yell at them, only to see wide-eyed what was going on. I would tell them to keep it in the bedrooms and I went back to bed. Never understood that one.

Hall Wars– There were two dorm halls that were competing with each other for the best hall. Each time a hall put up decorations or set up an activity, the other hall would put up something better. I still remember during Halloween where the competition got so fierce, when you walked into the hallways you felt like you were literally walking into a Halloween town. The walls were covered with wallpaper, spider webs and spiders sticking out, mechanical ghosts on strings flying back and forth, pumpkins by all the room entrances, and an orange glow emitting from the lights. It was amazing.

The Spring Break Snake– A resident apparently had a pet snake in their room and left it there when he left for spring break. The snake managed to get out and scared the crap out of one of my RAs (I was RD at the time) when they were doing health and safety inspections. They had to call animal control to take the snake away. The student was furious.

The sorority birthday surprise– As an RA, I ran into a group of girls keying into another girl’s room with a coat hanger. When I confronted them, they told me they were a fraternity who wanted to fill the pledge’s room with balloons and gifts. I told them that the gesture was nice, but that they were breaking the rules by keying into a room as it is considered trespassing. I didn’t write them up, but told them they had to leave. Unfortunately, I caught them doing it again later and had to write them up.

The Stinky Roommate– I had a complaint from one of my male residents once about having a roommate who’s stench could raise the dead. When I walked into the room, I could confirm that he did, indeed, stink. It was one very awkward conversation I had to have with that resident.

The Tree hugger– I had to take a guy to a hospital because he ran into a tree. No joke. He ran into a tree and knocked himself out.

The beer smuggler. There were about 5 other RAs and I chilling at the front desk one night. One smart freshman decides to walk in right through the front door with a 12 pack of miller and walk right past us. We almost felt like writing him up for two counts: one for alcohol and one for stupidity.

The loud couple– Had to deal with a noise complaint constantly about a couple who were too loud when “going at it.”

The dump hall– For a while, there was a hall that was so dirty, that even the RA was scared to go in it. Garbage was everywhere and the students even looked like hobos. I had to send a cleanup crew to take care of that mess.

My RA staff... still at work.

My RA staff… still at work.

The cold weather cometh…

This post was inspired by a sudden cold snap we’ve gotten this week here in good old Oklahoma. Fall is officially here, and I’m pretty happy about it. The heat has overstayed its welcome. As I laid (lied… I can never get those two used properly) on my couch last night, wrapped in a blanket and drinking a hot beverage, I started to think about what this cold weather meant.

As a child, the cold was amazing. We got to bundle up in our newest jacket that we couldn’t wait to show our classmates, snow days galore, snowmen and other anthropomorphous snow creatures, snowball fights, and a rapid departure of sweat and heat! Even for those in states with no snow, the cold was a sign that the big-hitter holidays were on there way, and as a result, vacation!

But now, as an adult, the cold just brings more and more problems. I learned to drive in Florida, where snow has never been an issue. Since moving to Oklahoma, learning to drive in snow (and more specifically, ice) has been a challenge. I’ve had too many close calls on intersections, spinning my vehicle 360 degrees while attempting to break.

Owning a house makes things more challenging. I never realized just how much heating spikes up your electric bill! And for some reason, that’s when everything decides to break. Last year, my heater broke, my refrigerator broke, and my dishwasher broke. And repairmen like to charge more when they have to come to your house in the dead of winter to work on those things…

Anyways, as I get older, more and more posts on my Facebook feed are changing from “yay the cold weather is here” to “oh no the cold weather is here”. I guess it’s like other childhood wonders that get squashed once you’re an adult and responsibility gets in the way to ruin it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the cold weather. After all, I grew up in New Jersey, and lived through 2 blizzards and didn’t complain once. I do like living in a place once again where we get all 4 seasons. Florida is nice, but sunshine and thunderstorms get a bit old after a while.

Despite all these new challenges, I look forward to the cold weather this year. It brings about a certain mood in the air that you just can’t get with summer weather. It’s the perfect opportunity for more stay-at-home-movie-nights with the wife. And most importantly, I get to show off all the new jackets and coats I’ve bought for the season!

Feel free to share your thoughts on cold weather in the comments!

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