Top Ten Books

I wouldn’t exactly call myself a reading buff, but as followed are the books that I’ve found my enjoyable and/or meaningful to read, or a book that I’d really like to read:

1. I Beat the Odds, Michael Oher with Don Yager

2. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

3. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

4. On the Road, Jack Kerouac

5. Lord of the Flies, William Golding

6. The entire Alex Rider series, Anthony Horowitz

7. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown

8. Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy, Jane Leavy

9. Any Curious George Book

10. Any Dr. Seuss Book


It seems like just yesterday that I received an email informing me that I had been accepted into the Sweetland Minor in Writing program.  Sorry for the most cliché possible first sentence.  That was intentionally obnoxious and dull.  Let’s try that one again.

Once upon a time, I dreamt of one day becoming a writing scholar.  The Sweetland Minor in Writing has enabled me to live happily ever after.  Forgive me again, I just really like fairy tales.

Let’s forget the introduction.  All in all, I am very pleased with my decision to pursue a writing minor.  To that end, I am also very happy with the way my writing has improved during my four years as an undergraduate.  This journey began by being a part of the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program as a freshman.  To be perfectly honest, I applied to that program purely on the basis that I wanted to live in Alice Lloyd Hall, which would guarantee that I wasn’t going to be one of the many extremely unfortunate freshman that had to live on the dreaded island that they call North Campus.  So that’s how my story begins: applying to a writing community with no intention whatsoever of actually leveraging or engaging in the writing component.  Four years later, it turns out that this was the start of the yellow brick road that led me to becoming a Sweetland Minor in Writing.  During my time as a Lloyd Hall Scholar, I formed relationships with two great Sweetland Professors and realized how nice it was to be a part of a small writing community.  Taking two different writing courses as a freshman also allowed me to discover the merit behind a writing education.  Simply put, writing is a fundamental skill that is a part of our every day lives.  It allows people to communicate, debate, and challenge concepts as we currently understand them.

During my two years as a part of the Sweetland Minor in Writing program, I believe that I strengthened my writing in several different ways.  Among them, I learned how to identify and address a targeted audience, articulate my thoughts in a more clear and succinct manner, and in general write with passion and conviction.

The five specific courses that I took to fulfill the Minor were Writing 220, English 225, SM 217, American Culture 345, and Writing 400.  My professors in each of these classes were outstanding, and I can genuinely think back and acknowledge specific improvement in my writing stemming from each one of these courses.  Writing 220 forced me to think about why I write and how I can make my writing more relatable to people.  English 225 taught me the art behind an argumentative and persuasive style of writing.  SM 217 educated me on writing in a professional manner that is appropriate for business and general career endeavors.  American Culture 345 helped make my writing far more clean, efficient, and reader friendly.  Lastly, Writing 400 forced me to step outside of my comfort zone and make an elaborate web-based portfolio to improve my design skills and overall aptitude for creating pieces that are both purposeful and meaningful.

There are many elements to the Sweetland Minor in Writing that I have greatly enjoyed.  Among them, two in particular stand out.  First, as already alluded to, I really value being a part of a small, close-knit community.  Enrolling in a 20-student seminar as opposed to a 200-person lecture is like night and day.  I also really appreciate the familiarity and continuity throughout the program in general.  I feel as though I know a lot of people and have strong and comfortable working relationships with tons of students and faculty members.  Second, I love how the Minor is largely open.  In other words, with the exception of a gateway and capstone course that everyone student must take, the program is very flexible and allows students to fulfill the remaining branches of the Minor from a wide range of classes and subject matter.  This allowed me to enroll in courses that I was generally excited about being a part of and certainly motivated me to put fourth my best work.

Considering my body of work in Writing 400 specifically, I am happy with the material that I produced.  My Writer’s Evolution essay allowed me to really consider the trajectory of my four-year undergraduate writing career.  I was able to acknowledge areas of great improvement while also identify areas that still need to be addressed.  My final project about summer camps was without a doubt the most rewarding assignment that I have worked on in college.  Although I love sports and have had the opportunity to engage in that realm with countless assignments due to being a Sport Management major, my final writing project easily stood out to me amongst this clutter.  I was able to immerse myself in a topic near and dear to my heart.  I can honestly say that working on something of genuine passion and interest makes a world of difference.  My final project allowed me to be creative and unique in the work that I produced while genuinely enjoying the entire process behind it.

In regards to my short and long-term writing ambitions, they are fairly straightforward.  As I have already stated on multiple occasions, Law School will be the next chapter of my life.  Needless to say, in the horrible and scary legal world, it is essential to be able to write well.  Thus, over the next three years, I will be learning an entirely new form of writing.  Given my experiences and growth as a writer in college, I definitely feel as though I have been well prepared to undertake the challenges and rigors behind a legal education.  Beyond the law, I also want to continue writing as an enjoyable leisure activity.  I take passion in the voice that generally shines through in many of my pieces.  I want to hold on to this voice and continue to develop and refine it.  For me, writing is a lot more than a skill in life.  It is a means of identification that I will always have and forever lean on.

James O’Shea Lecture

A bit earlier I attended a really interesting lecture. James O’Shea, a current professor here at the University of Michigan, was once an editor for the LA Times and Chicago Tribune. He has also written three different books. The title of Mr. O’Shea’s lecture was Journalism Now and Then: A Story of Peril – and Promise. He spent a lot of time discussing his own experiences in the world of journalism, particularly about his time in Chicago. The general message that O’Shea delivered was in regards to all of the challenges that legacy media outlets currently face. In his words, “With the New York Times being the one major exception, most legacy media entities are just hanging on by a thread.” In the digital age that we currently live in, where people have short attention span and seek real time updates, it has become increasingly difficult for newspapers and such to compete. Given how saturated the media industry has become in general, it has made the situation all the more challenging. However, O’Shea did offer a ray of hope and optimism. “As long as we have passionate journalists, we’re going to be okay. As long as they are passionate about telling a story, promise will always outweigh peril.” For all you aspiring journalists out there, legacy media platforms need you now more than ever. Go for it! All writers have their own brand, so now is the time to discover yours.

One other interesting takeaway, O’Shea acknowledged that advertisers no longer need a lot of the audience that journalism provides any more as a result of the diminished viewership and the specific audience that has been lost to various forms of digital outlets. As a result of this, journalism driven entities need to look for additional new revenue streams in order to remain profitable. Funding is seemingly always a challenge in life that applies to all different industries, entities, and situations. For journalism, it is now so more than ever.

Today’s Workshopping

Class time today will be a great opportunity to get feedback and guidance on any progress that you have made. Whether you are looking for project advice, portfolio tips, or evolution essay critiquing, I think it would be wise to send your fellow workshoppers your work in advance with some general instructions for what you are looking to get out of today’s session. Personally, I’m looking for a lot of feedback on my project in terms of structure, tone, progression, clarity, etc. If you provide your peers with some sort of roadmap, I think it will help make today’s class time a lot more efficient and valuable. Given that I am only working with one other person, I’m not really concerned about time constraints. There should be ample time for each of us to throughly comb through all aspects that we seek feedback on. However for groups of three, which I believe everyone else is in, I can see timing get tight if it is not used effectively. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail! Don’t prepare to fail. Be ready to get the most of class today. Our portfolio is due in less than two weeks, so don’t take this time for granted.

That is all. Please excuse the subpar pump up speech. Coaching has always been an intriguing potential career path. I’ll probably settle for being the next Will Ferrel youth soccer coach. Kick and Screaming, anyone?

The Biggest Hurdle to Overcome

Just out of curiosity, I’d like to pose a general question to everyone. What do you find most challenging about this class? Is it the constant struggle of racking up points to somehow make it to the top of mountain? Perhaps you struggle and do not enjoy evaluating yourself, and the evolution essay has been giving trouble? Of course there is the project, which just seems to be everything in life right now? Planning the idea, executing your thoughts, and putting it all together in a presentable manner can certainly be daunting. And how can we forget the portfolio – the be-all end-all of our Sweetland Minor in Writing experience. I have found difficulties in all of these arenas. If I were to put them in order though, beginning with what I find most challenging, I would say portfolio, project, evolution essay, points. I am generally reliable when it comes to be organized and task driven, so point watermarks have not really presented any issues for me. The evolution essay was a bit tough getting started, but the same can be said for any writing assignment. Once I got going, my thoughts came naturally to me. The project has definitely been tough because there are so many components to manage. I’ve tried to step outside of my own shoes to view it from other people’s perspective in order to make it as relatable as possible while still being composed the way I want it to be. This has surely been challenging. For me though, the portfolio is definitely Goliath. I enjoy absolutely nothing when it comes to designing websites, integrating media, and all of that other miserable stuff that some people somehow find entertaining. I’m curious to hear how other people view these things.

The Juggling Act

As if we don’t have enough work to be preoccupied with as it is (view my previous post – The Stretch Run), Michigan basketball also just happens to be in the midst of a potential Final Four run. How can students reasonably be expected to attend to their work with such an extraordinary current event taking place before our very eyes. Every time I think about working on my project I immediate wish that my name was Nik Stauskas, not Benji Shanus. I am short, he is tall. I am an obnoxious American, he is a Canadian Saint. I am procrastinating, he is wowing NBA scouts. Good.

Does anyone have any good tactics of motivating themselves to be productive? I try to break things down into smaller chunks and make a checklist of what I need to do. Each day, I make it a priority to accomplish a certain number of tasks. Today just happens to be one of those days where nothing is clicking. I went to the library with the intention of doing work with a combination of Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers in the background. What has actually transpired has been quite the contrary. Bieber and the Brothers have been rocking my world, as I’ve occasionally managed to jot down a few notes. Don’t let this be you. Get rid of Cable and upgrade to Direct TV.

The Stretch Run

Hello All,

Since I’ve already made one post about the midway point of the semester, nearly a month later, I figured now would be a good time to establish that we have but a few weeks left to complete EVERYTHING for this capstone extravaganza. Below is a checklist of what everyone should be aware of and actively working on.

1. POINT TASKS. Yes, we have discussed this all semester, and now more so than ever, it is urgent to push yourself to do as many mini assignments as possible. I know it may seem like a hassle. Just do it. Just do it. That second “just do it” was not a typo. It’s there for emphasis. #Nike.

2. EVOLUTION ESSAY. Ray reminded us all in class about this. By design, we brushed it aside for an extended period of time. Now may be an opportune time to revisit, reflect on what you have, and incorporate some of your newly acquired drafting strategies to provide the finishig touches. I’m really not sure what I mean by “newly acquired drafting strategies,” but I’m sure you’ll figure it out before I do.

3. PROJECT. We just went through some intense workshopping days. At this point, you should have plenty of feedback in regards to what’s working, what isn’t, how to proceed, and how to ultimately present all of your work. Consider the advice you have received, decide what you like and feel most comfortable with, and run with it. Maybe even sprint if you feel up to it.

4. PORTFOLIO. The culmination of everything that we will have completed throughout our illustrious time as Sweetland Minor in Writing scholars. If you have not done so yet (mainly talking to myself here), begin thinking about you would like to present all of your work. What fits your personality? How do you want people to see you? What will make you feel most accomplished? What will you need to know and do in order to make this all happens? Therapy is a perfectly acceptable thought to have.

Bon Voyage!

Voices of the Middle West Student Panel Reflection

First of all, I would like to thank Mark Feldman for the acknowledgement in his recent blog post about this same subject, and would like to give him a shout out in return.  Marco… (embrace opportunity to say Polo out loud to yourself).

Now that that’s taken care of, I want to add to what Mark has already contributed about our experience yesterday. First of all, the bagel spread was outstanding. Many different kinds of bagels and all very fresh. I was pleasantly surprised to see an asiago bagel, one of my favorite types and one that I believe to be both painfully under appreciated and utilized. Also, in addition to the coffee, there was ice tea as well, which definitely made a non-coffee drinker like myself very happy. Although I love asiago bagels, having one with cream cheese and no beverage would have been challenging, so thankfully I was not given that ultimatum.

As far as less important matters go, below are a few takeaways from the student publication panel:

1. There are so many different great opportunities on campus to get involved with publication.

2. Each of the panelists were very passionate about their current roles and past experiences.

3. They all embraced their friendly and social working atmospheres

4. Literary journalism is a great opportunity to open up to and interact with a range of different people.

5. The students expressed interest in working in publication full time or finding a field directly related to the skill-set that they have acquired.

6. “Part of being a better writer is just reading a lot and seeing good and bad things that other students are doing.” – Girl on the far left side of the panel who’s name I regrettably do not remember.

In-class Workshopping

I am  excited to be able to take advantage of seeing other people’s current project work. I think this will give me a good gauge of the approach that other people are taking and the overall level of work that will go into our final projects. In addition to giving other people feedback on their current content, my goal is to take a few personal takeaways from each of their work. What worked well for them? How can they improve? Do I like their presentation style, or do I think another alternative may be more effective? Do I understand the ultimate message that they are trying to get across? Is it obvious to me who’s work this is (does the work reflect their personality, beliefs, values, etc?)? Are there certain things missing that I believe would be good additions to what they have? David mentioned a lot of these things in his message to our class when he sent out his current work, which I appreciated. I think it is important to not only read with an open mind, but absorb certain things simultaneously that may be applicable to your own work. It is cool that we are covering such a wide range of topics and planning on employing so many different styles and media forms. I just hope that my project isn’t the least developed one by the time I send it out. If it is… oh well.

Midway Check Point

I hate to be that guy, but spring break is just about over.  With that, I feel like we’re just beyond the halfway point of the semester.  With that, I am curious as to how people are progressing with their project and general work.  Personally, I feel as though I have made it more of a priority to chip away at the various tasks that will earn us points.  That being said, I definitely feel as though a lot of that work will be beneficial in terms of achieving the best possible end result for my project.  I have made an effort to filter a lot of my activities towards topics and activities that are relevant to my project.  In the process, I have definitely come across various interesting insights and discovered new perspectives.  My only concern is that a lot of this feels forced rather than organic. Maybe this is the stupidest thing I have ever said, but I am forcing myself to discover new things rather than allowing it to happen through a more natural discourse.  How anyone approach their project differently? Is anyone simply researching things that they see fit and worrying about points as a more secondary matter, or are you prioritizing points the way that I am, and doing your best to ensure that the activities you’re doing are applicable to your ultimate goals? If you feel as though you don’t fit into either category because you haven’t done much yet, that is a perfectly acceptable and noble answer also. You’ll probably make other people feel a lot better about where they’re at.