Project proposal

Politics and policy have always been major interests of mine. I am fascinated by the factors and circumstances surrounding why a certain policy is formed and the impact those outcomes have. Intellectual curiosity aside, I am also drawn to this sort of work because I find it important to solve issues—especially ones that result in social, economic and political inequality.

With that in mind, I’d like to do a project that involves exploring a particular policy issue, the historical context in which it was formed, and (potential) ways to make effective change about the issue. This was the basic framework for my gateway project, where I used Prezi to explore the issues within our campaign finance system.

I’d like to take a similar approach for my Capstone project. I have a few topic ideas already, so I’ll just share all of them and see if the class has any advice on which one makes the most sense to purse:

  • One would be to 1) assess the evolution of marijuana legalization, 2) evaluate the policy of mandatory minimum jail sentences, and finally, 3) explore the history and current status of the private prison industry, all while conveying how the three are interconnected and how the progress of each may affect one another in the future. Each one of these could be a project on its own, but I like the idea of demonstrating how they are interconnected.
  • Since my gateway project covered the problems with our campaign finance/lobbying system, and since I did a project for a course last semester on the issues in U.S. industrial agriculture, I could sort of marry the two ideas and try to explore how lobbying and campaign finance has affected the type and quality of food Americans eat every day.
  • A third idea would be to investigate why professional sports teams always seek out and receive public funding to build new stadiums, when it seems they can afford to build them privately.

Any advice is appreciated!

See You Later

I am now saying goodbye to the Gateway course blog, but this is not by no means a final goodbye to blogging. In fact, this is just the end of a the beginning of my venture into new media writing. I can say with confidence that over the course of the semester, my feelings towards blogs and new media have undergone a drastic makeover. I still value traditional academic writing a lot, but I certainly now see the important niche new media writing has in the overall landscape of the discipline.

At the end of this post you will find the link to my gateway course ePortfolio, a permanent digital home for all of the work I did this semester, as well as some past writing I have done in college. There is also a reflective component that goes along with each of the pieces you will see. Putting together an entire website was at times difficult and frustrating, but was very rewarding. I am proud of the site I am about to present and think it showcases what I have done pretty well. My ePortfolio also is not necessarily a finished product–I plan to keep building on it and adding more work as I continue writing.

So, here it is: my ePortfolio. I hope you enjoy!

Remembering Jimmy V and his message

Tuesday night marked the end of ESPN’s Jimmy V Week, a weeklong cancer awareness initiative that is promoted across the network’s many platforms. The V Foundation for Cancer Research was founded in 1993 by ESPN and the late Jim Valvano, legendary North Carolina State basketball coach and ESPN commentator. Since 1993, The Foundation has raised more than $115 million to fund cancer research grants nationwide.

As a college basketball fan and as someone who watches ESPN frequently, Jimmy V week serves as an annual reminder for not only the importance of cancer research but also for the importance of Jim Valvano’s message. At the inaugural ESPY Awards in 1993, less than a year after being diagnosed with metastasized bone cancer, Valvano received the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award , and  he made an incredibly memorable and emotional acceptance speech.  It is definitely worth watching:

I re-watch this speech around this time every year, and it always inspires me and helps me keep things in perspective. Jim Valvano knew that he didn’t have much time left to live, and wanted to make sure that others approach life the same way he did:

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

Valvano’s animated personality and inner-Italian were also on full display. During his speech the teleprompter showed that he had 30 seconds left, to which Valvano responded, “They got that screen up there flashing 30 seconds, like I care about that screen. I got tumors all over my body and I’m worried about some guy in the back going 30 seconds.”

He concluded the speech with an emotional, teary-eyed statement:

“Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever. I thank you and God bless you all.”

 Jim Valvano died just two months after making this legendary speech, but his spirit has indeed lived on forever.

During this stressful time with finals just around the corner and plenty of other work piling up, just remember to keep things in perspective and appreciate the good things. It’s best for our health, and it’s what Jimmy would have wanted. I hope you found Jimmy’s message as inspirational as I did.


Prezi can be messy

After a brief mono-induced hiatus, I have returned to the blog scene. I barely left my bed last week and I think I watched more TV in that span than I have over the course of the entire year. Fortunately, I think the worst of the mono (and strep throat) is over and I am back to being a semi-functioning person.

I am in the midst of putting together a rough cut of my re-mediation project. I was really intrigued by Prezi when Shelley showed it to us a few weeks ago, so I’ve decided to use the program for my project. The biggest hurdle is deciding what information to extract from my re-purposed Op Ed and into the Prezi. The main idea in my piece is that those who fund congressional elections have a distorted amount of influence on our government. There are a fair amount of figures and numbers involved in the argument, so I will definitely emphasize those through interesting visuals. Aside from having difficulty choosing the content, I am new to Prezi and have encountered my share of struggles in dealing with all of its nuances. I just have to keep playing around with it and maybe watch the tutorials so I have a better understanding of how to get the most out of it. My eventual plan is to export the Prezi into iMovie and have a voiceover to complement the visual presentation. For now though, this is definitely a work in progress and there will be much to improve upon. I am confident, however, that a “shitty first rough cut” can still lead to a great final product.

Educate through Writing

I’ve always been at odds with the method of testing in our education system. Much of our testing requires students to memorize information and spit it back out in fill in the blank or multiple choice sections. Instead of rewarding students for thinking critically about a problem, our testing constrains students to think within certain parameters. My grievance here mainly applies to humanities-oriented classes. In science and math, this sort of testing is more appropriate because of the more mechanical nature of the subjects.

I still remember being so frustrated by high school english tests that asked me to identify what character said a certain quote in a book we read. What does that achieve? I would have benefited so much more if we were asked to explain an overarching theme, analyze certain plot dynamics and do other critical thinking-based tasks. This failing in our education produces kids who excel at “doing school,” but do not actually learn how to think for themselves. The real world–whether it be in your job, or dealing with everyday life–requires that you can think things through and work through problems. Bubbling in scantrons won’t get you through the day.

There are plenty of people who would disagree with me about this, and since I would much rather write a paper than take an exam, my bias is pretty obvious. However, writing forces us to explain and articulate, rather than recall facts and information. Writing will help students be proactive, instead of reactive, learners.

Switching Gears

I said this after I first read “Why I Blog” and it is worth saying again: before I read Sullivan’s piece, I was wholeheartedly against blogging. But after reading it for a second time, my thoughts that there is certainly a valuable place for blogging have been reinforced. It has not replaced other long-form genres of writing that require more research, revision and rethinking. Those still have great value to readers, but blogging has many benefits as well. Over the past few weeks of blogging, I’ve begun to write freely without the academic lens that would force me to write a sentence over and over three or four times. By blogging, I have created a more raw and direct form of my thoughts. I have also benefited from having my classmates comment on my work–getting instant feedback has really helped me develop my writing and thought process.

Within the last hour, I decided that I will be re-purposing an article for the Michigan Daily that I just finished writing which should run tomorrow. The article is about a lecture that renowned Harvard Law Professor Lawrence Lessig delivered today at the Ford School. The talk was titled “How money corrupts Congress” and was incredibly interesting and informative. I plan on applying to the Ford School and my focus area will center around campaign finance and corporate lobbying reform; since this is already such an interest of mine, it makes sense to use it for re-purposing, and subsequently re-mediating.

Blogging certainly differs from writing a news article. A news article is a factual account of a trend, occurrence, event, etc. that tries to cover all sides of an issue. A blog certainly does not try and diminish its biases and is much more opinionated. My news article was an account of Lessig’s lecture; in the article, I did not express my own opinion. However, I agree with much of what he said, so I will re-purpose my piece to a genre in which expressing my opinion would be appropriate–an academic argument, op-ed piece, blog, etc. Because of my personal interest in the topic of my re-purposing, I am incredibly excited to embark on this project. It was a last-minute decision to change the piece for re-purposing, but I’m happy I did it.

Re-Purposing issues

The idea of taking a completed, polished assignment and turning it into another mode or genre of writing for a new audience can be a challenge: I’m taking a piece of writing that I am already happy with in terms of content and structure, and now I have to reshape it towards a different perspective. After much deliberation, I’ve decided to re-purpose a proposal paper from English 225 last semester, in which I argue that the NCAA does not properly prepare its athletes for success in the real world. In football and mens basketball, the two  biggest revenue-generating sports, most would assume that these athletes will continue on to success into the professional ranks of their respective sport. However, the likelihood of getting drafted by an NFL or NBA team is incredibly low, and the average career span in those leagues is under 5 years. I also outline how these athletes are not receiving the same academic experience as their peers and make that part of my argument. Another important argument I make in the paper is that athletes in the revenue-generating sports do deserve some financial compensation for what they do–they help bring in revenue for their school, and they devote so much time to games, practice and other team affairs that they do not have the opportunity to earn money in a job like any other student.

I think this is a good subject for re-purposing because it is a somewhat controversial topic that is ever evolving. There is a ton of great statistical and anecdotal evidence out there that I can gather to re-purpose and re-frame this argument to a more specific audience. I still have to figure out the angle and what type of publication I’m writing for, but I think I have a topic that lends itself naturally to re-purposing. Hopefully I will have more of the specifics figured out by doing more research.

Reading to Write, or Writing to Read?

In Deborah Brandt’s “The Status of Writing” and “How Writing is Remaking Reading,” she argues that in an ever-increasing commercial world, people are now reading in order to write, rather than reading for the sake of literacy, moral or culture. Brandt seems to have done exhaustive research on how the individual disciplines of reading and writing have developed and eventually intersected. She seemingly bemoans the fact that because of writing’s commercial value, reading has merely become a steppingstone for its more commercial complement and is no longer regarded as its own discipline.
To me, the convergence of reading and writing is nothing new and not something to look unfavorably upon. Granted, Brandt might have better perspective on this and has done more research, but I would think that reading and writing have always had this relationship; at least that’s been the case in my experience. Writers have always read to improve their craft. How else can you improve yourself besides reading other work? You learn new ideas and information and are introduced to different mechanisms and style choices. No idea or thought is wholly original; it has some basis or root in something else. Our writing is a response to something we’ve read, an expansion of the information that was presented to us. I cannot argue against Brandt that reading has lost its moral standing; I do not have enough information either way to make a statement. But I can say that reading and writing have always had this complementary relationship. Commercialism didn’t really change that, but it may have made it more apparent.

I Write to Understand

Responding to the prompt “Why I Write” is difficult in and of itself. Writing an entire paper on it will pose an even bigger challenge. The best way to go about figuring out the answer is to go back and look at what you’ve written in the past. What was the goal or intention of that work? I think that I write to understand problems and explain them. Writing lends itself to research and I can learn a great deal about a topic when doing research before writing.

I guess those ideas will be the foundation for “Why I Write” but I’m having trouble fleshing these thoughts out completely and turning into a full paper. Part of the reason I am having trouble might be because I have written very few, if any, “meta” pieces of writing. I’ve written a lot of things as a student, but haven’t reflected on them that much. Doing it all at once is a challenge. However, the more I write and the more I look back at my old work, I might get a better sense of how this paper will shape up. A lot of times when writing a paper I have that “A-ha” moment when everything seems to come together. That hasn’t happened for me yet with this, but hopefully it will.

This is an especially hard paper to write because in most cases, your research and the bulk of your sources are coming from the outside. In this case, I am both the writer and the resource, which certainly poses an unfamiliar challenge. Since we have the freedom to approach this assignment however we want, I think I might write about how I have evolved as a writer, and where my passion for writing stems from.

Writing this paper should certainly be an interesting process, let’s hope my head doesn’t hurt too much afterwards.

Precis for Andrew Sullivan’s “Why I Blog”

Andrew Sullivan makes a case for the value of blogging and the importance it has in the sphere of writing. Blogging is a “more free-form, more accident-prone, less formal, more alive” form of writing—or as Sullivan says metaphorically, it is to “writing what extreme sports are to athletics.” While Sullivan recognizes the importance of traditional forms of writing, he finds the instantaneous and personal nature of blogging very appealing. A blog’s immediacy, Sullivan concedes, can lend itself to factual inaccuracies and an argument that lacks depth. However, this form of writing compensates for those faults by opening itself up to the scrutiny and criticism of the blogosphere. Commenters and fellow bloggers can argue or disprove a blogger’s entry through comments or hyperlinking to other sources on the web. Blogging creates an environment in which an entire community of writers works together to establish facts and form opinions.