November 18, 2007

Write, Write On in ECON

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November 12, 2007

To Find a Balance

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October 03, 2007

Decomposing Cleveland

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September 23, 2007

War of the Worlds

In this amazing age of high-speed internet, ever-increasing numbers of people have come to depend on web-based services as their primary method of communication. Instead of sending letters through “snail mail,” these people are now communicating in a virtual world in which email reigns supreme. Instantaneous, convenient, and nearly effortless, email has revolutionized the ways in which businesses communicate with clients, families communicates with relatives, and friends communicate with friends - everybody is just one quick email away.

Believe it or not, many universities have also leapt headfirst into this realm of virtual communication, one of which is our very own Case Western Reserve University. CASE has broken free of the old-school limits of pen and paper with the creation of personal email accounts for all members of the university community. From the loftiest administrator to the newest freshman, all are given free addresses. This innovative measure occupies a significant place in the lives of most CASE students, who depend on their personal CASEmail to keep them well-informed of various happenings in and around the university. Though some students soon grow tired of scrolling through mass-mailings (especially the ones cranked out by Case Daily), I find that students seldom venture beyond the Inbox to get their CASE news of the day- top stories include upcoming BBQ’s and Indians’ tickets giveaways, Bursar notifications and USG functions. The list goes on. As CASE PerceptIS writes on their webpage: Email is the part of our technology environment people use the most.

With such a cohesive hold on the workings of the university, email is threatening to make public posting obsolete. After all, if it can be accomplished in the virtual world with just one click of a mouse, why, then, would anyone elect to publish public postings in the physical realm of the university?

As pointless as the “public posting” practice may seem to some, many others in the Case community still find it fulfilling, and rather effective, to post colorful fliers and eye-catching posters on tangible surfaces around the campus - from the doors of Thwing Center to the tables in Weatherhead – from the walls of Adelbert to the now overcrowded bulletin kiosk on Mather Quad. Every person who comes upon these public displays, regardless of “mailing-list” affiliation or club membership, can see for themselves who in Norton sill needs a roommate, which movie is showing at the film school, or when Anthony’s Little Italy Pizzeria will be accepting applications. True, the virtual world of communication boasts unmatched speed and “at-your-fingertips” appeal. However, the physical world of posting offers the much sought-after “personal touch” of handcrafted messages.

Both CASEmail and campus posting occupy prominent places in their respective worlds, each one offering some facilitation unique to their roles in university communication. Which is the more useful of the two? That, my friends, is a question no one can answer. Nevertheless, if rigidity and functionality, a “strictly business” method, are what you seek in your daily communications at the university, then email is your best option. With this, you will be of the same mind as what has become the majority. However, if you ever discover a spark of creativity and long to embed it into a method of communication, then locate the nearest surface and post your message. Trust me, no one will click “Expunge.”

September 17, 2007

Property of...the One Behind the Writing

Arguably the most challenging duty of a university’s administration is directly related to the group of students they serve. This task, neither mundane nor inconsequential, is to arouse and then foster a true sense of unity within all the student community. This duty is essential in nature yet befuddling when it comes to practical execution attempts. As colleges search for effective solutions to this challenge, many have discovered that students who don “spirit wear” seem to feel “blended-in” among the rest of the students body. In response to this tendency, colleges and universities mass-produce their school’s name on the fronts, backs, hoods, and tops of hundreds of “spirit-wear” clothing items. By making these products readily available to their students, administrators accomplish their goal of fostering a sense of unity in the student body.

Though spirit tees and school apparel have proven effective in blending and unifying student bodies, I have discovered that individualism and personal identity are sacrificed in the long-run, by plastering redundant phrases and mass-produced words onto articles of clothing.

Recent events of my life prove this assertion to be true.

Of the various envelopes and random parcels that Case Western Reserve University sent to my home this past summer, one in particular ranks amongst the most memorable. This parcel contained a most generous gift from the University, a t-shirt which bore the Case logo and the proud words: Case Western Reserve University - Weatherhead School of Management. After reading and then rereading the eye-catching phrase, I instinctively exclaimed, “Now I can blend right in at Case.” No sooner had those words tumbled forth then a mild suspicion seized control of my thoughts: and they sent me this because… my voice trailed off. Though unbeknownst to me at the time, that shirt marked the beginning of a proud line of complementary CASE t-shirts.

New additions to my collection of complementary “blend-right-in” CASE shirts were added about a month later, during the dazzling days of Welcome Week.

The chief goal of Welcome Week aligns with the aforementioned duty of college administrators: to build community and foster a sense of unity within the student body. In this case, the entering class were the ones who needed serious unifying. To serve this end, each member of the incoming class was given two shirts. On the first shirt was printed the theme of our Freshman Orientation session, “CASE MARKS THE SPOT.” The second, the “residential college” shirt, was styled to match the color and crest of CASE’s four residential colleges. Though the color and back panel varied slightly between the four styles, all bore the common, unifying phrase: “CWRU 2007-2008.” As Welcome Days progressed, it became apparent that our matching shirts, each echoing phrases of comforting sameness, made it possible to really grasp our visible unity. At a time when everyone around you was a total stranger, it gave some comfort to find one element of familiarity in a crowd of diverse personalities, even if that element happened to be a mass-produced passage plastered on a shirt.

We carried those feelings of familiarity and unity beyond Welcome Days and into the new year.

During the first week of classes, a surprising number of freshman elected to wear our complementary “class t-shirts” around campus. As I trekked from class to class the familiar words, “CWRU 2007-2008” or “CASE MARKS THE SPOT,” passed me time and time again, and each time my eyes were immediately drawn to the words that had brought our class into such indefatigable unanimity and sameness. However, after several days’ time I realized that during all those fleeting moments in passing, I had been ignoring the people on whose bodies those words were displayed. I had allowed people to pass without acknowledgement, for all I saw were the printed words.

I had lumped every single one of my classmates, my friends, into mass-produced phrases. Their personal identity was lost, overshadowed by the printed words on their shirts.

This pitiable state of affairs extends beyond the bounds of the freshman class.

Every nonchalant schlep through the Case quad opens my eyes to the growing numbers of students who sport Case apparel. Whether their motivation flows from group affiliation or from an abundant store of school spirit, it has become apparent that many Case students opt to sacrifice individualism and personal identity to display the “Fat Man” and the CWRU name. Just as my eyes were drawn to the phrase “CWRU 2007-2008” with no consideration for the person behind those words, so other eyes can easily be drawn to the Case name printed so cleanly on a students’ clothes. Will those eyes see the student for the uniqueness of his identity, or will they only see him as a vertical representation of a unified student body, the name of which being plastered across his body?

Must a sense of unity leave students without their own unique, personal identity?


September 10, 2007

The Writing Boom

Upon entering an unfamiliar place, a stranger is usually greeted with the phrase, “Just make yourself at home.” This familiar phrase sets the newcomer at ease and, in all honesty, does in fact make them feel right at home.
In my view, a person’s home is defined by the abundance of comfort and security it bestows upon those who call it thus. More importantly, however, home is where a person feels freest to express themselves and their ideas. However, “making yourself at home” in a college residence hall, or “dorm,” can be the most nerve-wracking task ever undertaken by an uneasy college freshman. From the turbulent seas of unfamiliar faces to the dizzying mazes of windy hallways, many a college freshman, myself included, stop to wonder if they will ever feel secure and “at home” in their stark new residential settings.
Is it possible to unlock the secret - to find just one element of “dorm life” that can bridge the gap between the dorm and old home-sweet-home?
Believe it or not, the secret lies with the printed word.
In every lounge and common area in my Case residential hall, oversized dry-erase boards and old-style bulletin boards have been installed for the express purpose of displaying whatever we residents deem noteworthy. We kept to this conformist plan in the beginning, by displaying “only the important stuff” and by keeping all writing and posted material within the iron confines of the boards. However, as news of the “public posting” boards spread throughout the building, ever-increasing numbers of eager residents began flocking in droves to the posting boards. Despite our original agreement to post “only the important stuff,“ the public posting surfaces soon morphed into proverbial “message boards“ which, at this point in time, displayed all sorts of flamboyant, friendly, and often ridiculous messages penned in every known font, color, and nonconformist alignment.
After what seemed like mere hours had passed since the first message had been composed, the set limits of those “message boards” vaporized. Writing was no longer held prisoner by the iron confines of our message boards. The entire building was overtaken by writing as ever-increasing numbers of residents adopted a spirit of free writing. Student-produced flyers, colorful posters, and personal messages of every description papered the walls, windows and doors of my residential house. Though my initial reaction to this widespread writing boom was one of annoyance, my second thoughts led me to draw a profound conclusion.

There is but one way to account for this writing boom:

My fellow residents were so eager to write because they found freedom and comfort by expressing themselves with free, unchecked writing.

Freedom, comfort, security…feels like home, doesn’t it?

As I mentioned before, home is a place of unmatched security, where a person feels freest to express themselves and their ideas. When a new resident is faced with the almost insurmountable task of uncovering that same security in their college dorm, free writing can offer the solution. I offer my own experience as proof of this. If college residence halls and associations encourage the residents to write in a free, uninhibited manner, then the residents will undoubtedly feel more comfortable in their new surroundings, more secure in the pursuit of their goals, and more “at home” at their university.

September 04, 2007

Lesson Learned?

In decades past, it had been assumed that teachers came in but one form-the form of the human person. In high school settings especially, it was assumed that all teaching was done by the teachers and all learning was done by the students. The teachers taught the students, and the students learned from the teachers. It was a cycle, or a pattern, if you will, that had remained virtually unchanged since the days of our parents. Yet I must announce that this pattern is breaking. Yes, high school students are still learning, but a kind of unconventional teacher has arrived on the scene. What is the identity of this new teacher? It is none other than the proverbial "high school experience." The "high school experience," as I have observed in recent years, is now one of the most influential and powerful teachers of high schoolers today. This observation really shouldn't surprise you. After all, when a person spends around 1/4 of his or her day in a particular environment, it's logical to suspect that he or she will inevitably learn from this environment in which a quarter of their day is spent. The "high school experience" is no exception to this rule. Students spend at least six hours in school each and every school day, and they learn most, not from the teachers who stand at lecture podiums, but from the person-to-person interactions within the school community, and from the often life-changing occurrences which combine to form the high school experience.

In recent years, high schoolers have learned that cheating is an acceptable practice.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, "How do students cheat? How is it accomplished?" Unlike our parents, students have more at their disposal than just a pen and crinkled-up scraps of paper. Students utilize the most technologically advanced devices and instruments to sneak answers into tests, send test answers to friends, plagiarize, and the list goes on. In today's high schools, "studying" for a test may only be a simple matter of snapping a camera-phone shots of the textbook pages. Bring the phone to the test, and your worries are over.

Now we ask ourselves the big question: "But why do high school students cheat?" The answer to this question is simple. As seen in the example above, the "skill" of cheating is becoming easier and easier to master. Well, why is that? To answer this question satisfactorily, just consider the ways by which high school students communicate on a regular basis. As more and more students opt to use blackberries, cell phones with text messaging, cell phones with cameras, e-mail, Instant Messenger, the tools with which students cheat multiply exponentially. As I have said before, in days of old pen and paper were a cheater's only hand tools. In today's world of technology, the possibilities are as endless as the world-wide-web.
This cheating and dishonesty among high school students is greeted all too often with permissiveness and shocking indifference. The students adopt these attitudes, although it has been my experience that teachers are automatically held accountable for the students' breaches of academic integrity practices and policies. However, I do not believe that teachers are the guilty parties. After all, the teachers can enact anti-cheating policies, yet it is up to the students to adhere to these policies. Unfortunately, if the students draft into their dishonest service the latest, smallest, most "undetectable" ways by which students communicate with their schoolmates, what can be done to allay this assault on the very foundations of academic integrity?