February 26, 2010 - 5:40 PM
I've done it! Taken the dreaded GRE, the Graduate Record Examinations, the gateway test to grad school.
I hate standardized tests. Though to be honest, I used to love them. Taking those annoying tests back in elementary school meant filling in a bunch of bubbles with a blunt Number 2 pencil and then sitting back to read a novel. I was a fast reader then, as I am now, and back then I was also good at math. Those test days had extra recess time and a chance to take a break from normal classes. We sat in different desks, had friends around to make faces at, and had only the vaguest understanding of why we were taking the tests in the first place. My mom always looked forward to the test scores, but I never even quite noticed. It was just a break in the normal school year.
Oh my, how things have changed.
I just left my GRE. Three hours in a little cubicle desk in a white room with seven other cubicle desks, facing computer screens and constantly surveyed by video cameras mounted on the ceiling. No ambient noise except for keyboard typing and my neighbor in the next cubicle who incessantly tapped his pencil against the desk. Noise canceling headphones can only do so much.
I haven't taken a standardized test since the SAT. I honestly haven't taken a test of any kind for more than a year. The reality of a literature major's college experience is not exactly one of multiple-choice knowledge. Rather, the skill set I have developed in college is one of argumentation and idea development. A Number 2 pencil hasn't figured significantly in my grades since freshman year. Finals aren't a time of stressed-out cramming for me, rather a time of stressed-out essay writing. So being in a testing center at all was stressful.
There are three sections of the basic GRE. The first is the writing section, with an opinion essay followed by an analytical piece. I honestly enjoyed that part of the test. I just sat there, typing away, not unlike I do while writing these weekly blogs. The style was different, but the basic act of writing was basically the same.
Next was the verbal portion. That's the part my science major friends worry about. It's the part people practice with the flashcards for words like "peregrinate" (Nerd alert! I already knew that one). You fill in the blanks of poorly-written sentences with appropriate missing words. You find antonyms and you do analogies (I hate this part). You also answer multiple-choice questions about passages of text.
Then came the math. The dreaded, horrible math section. The place where words give way to strange-looking combinations of letters and numbers combined to taunt you with questions of the areas of triangles or the absolute value of x. Oh, friends and readers, this section was grim. I knew it would be. I am in this circumstance the stereotypical literature student. I see numbers and I want to run screaming. The timer clicked away and I struggled through basic algebra, geometry, and weird word programs. The graphs and probability/statistics questions were great-I can see the value in that kind of math, and generally understand it pretty well. But good grief, show me a rectangle with a triangle inside it and ask me the length of the hypotenuse? Forget about it. Not to mention the extreme frustration of having memorized the quadratic equation and not being called upon to use it. So I'll use it here. Ready? OK. X equals negative b plus or minus the square root of b squared minus four a c all divided by two a.
I can't get the darn thing out of my head now.
Well, enough crankiness from me. The GRE is behind me, and good riddance. You get your scores right away, and I did well on the verbal portion, and managed to score better than I had imagined on the math portion. Hopefully it's enough to get me into the graduate program of my dreams, the Conflict Resolution Master's program here at the UO. They don't prioritize the GRE scores, which is a good sign for me.
That might have been the final standardized test in my lifetime. One can only hope. I hope that sitting through the description wasn't as painful for you as sitting through the test was for me.
And even if nothing comes of it, at least the "forces that be" have managed to teach this excessively verbal type one tiny math tool: the Quadratic Equation. X equals negative b plus or minus...
I'll be having nightmares about that one for weeks to come.
February 21, 2010 - 2:56 PM
This was a week of many events. Not only did Monday start off with a bang-Reverend Jesse Jackson and the Holden Leadership Symposium-but the week finished with a campus visit by Seymour Hersh, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist responsible for some of the most important investigative reporting on US wars in the last forty years.
Seymour Hersh is UO President Lariviere's first Presidential Lecturer. Hersh not only gave a public lecture for the university, but also attended meetings with several classes and faculty groups, providing many members of the campus community with an opportunity to meet with him and discuss his writing, his perspectives on torture and US foreign policy, and the role of journalism in the world today.
Because of this, I had the opportunity to hear Hersh speak multiple times. I was unable to attend the Thursday night presentation, but I hear his speech was excellent. On Friday morning he joined my FHS 407 seminar class on Torture and Foreign Policy for a breakfast. While sharing a meal of waffles and fruit, my classmates and I had a chance to really converse with him about his life and work, and his views about some of the most complex issues facing the US today. I found Seymour Hersh to be more than knowledgeable about the issues: his grasp of the military situation in the Middle East extends deeply into the lives and stories of hundreds of people he has interviewed and known over the years. This includes anonymous sources, whose stories he sometimes told us only in the vaguest of terms in order to not cross lines of confidentiality.
This man not only broke the recent military scandal of torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, but also was instrumental in the coverage of the Vietnam War and the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese civilians. This man, with his deep understanding of the atrocities possible in war, also has a deep compassion and commitment to the military personnel of the US armed forces. He spoke about the impossible situations our armed personnel face, often with inadequate or inappropriate training for the situations they are thrown into. (Example: National Guardsmen trained in traffic control ending up in charge of prisoner control at a secret prison) As someone with several family members and friends who are either currently enlisted in the military forces or have already served in active duty overseas, Hersh's perspective is an important one: he addresses critical issues and does not equivocate on the morality of the question of prisoner abuse, but does not demonize the individual soldiers.
In addition to joining my FHS class for breakfast, Hersh also appeared at an event in Portland for UO Clark Honors College alumni, UO donors, and interested community members. I attended this event at the White Stag building in Portland as a representative of the Honors College student body, and to present about the Inside-Out Program and the opportunities I have had through my participation in the Clark Honors College.
It was an incredible series of events, including many opportunities to speak with people who have contributed to the UO and the CHC, and who are invested in maintaining the excellence and dynamism of the University. It was wonderful to meet these people, to hear their stories, and to share my own.
Additionally, I attended a CHC Alumni Council meeting, where we discussed the state of the Honors College and its future goals, including the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of the Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon. This will include many events in the next year and a half involving alumni and current students, online interviews and archives, visiting alumni presentations, and special events at the Shakespeare Festival and the Bach Festival.
Last night the first of the celebrations of the anniversary was held in Eugene at the Hult Center, following a performance of Avenue Q, a Broadway play written by a CHC alum. The cast party included not only cast, but CHC alumni and more than seventy-five current students.
It's a wonderful thing to meet people who have been a part of the Honors College for years, and who still feel that their college experience was important enough to continue attending events and contributing their money and time to ensure its continued impact on current students. I know that these four years have been some of the most important in my life, and that I will remember them forever. I'm glad I'm not alone in this.
There will be many more events of this kind to report on in the coming months. Be on the look out! And if you're in town you should consider attending. Want an insider tip? Two words: chocolate fountain.
February 16, 2010 - 8:52 PM
Yesterday I had the honor of attending the Holden Leadership Center's Annual Leadership Symposium. This is an event which celebrates UO student leaders, and provides them an opportunity to hear from important leaders at the UO and on the national level. Participants had to be nominated by a student group, and attended leadership workshops as well as a dinner and presentation. This year's honored guest was the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who spoke to us about contemporary issues of leadership in social justice and movements for change.
It was an inspirational crowd. I was present as a member of the Clark Honors College, and I met student leaders from campus groups as diverse as the Black Student Union, the Craft Center, Student Athletes, and the presidents of Fraternities and Sororities. We discussed the importance of student cohesion and our support for each other, as well as recognizing differences and questions of diversity.
Reverend Jesse Jackson's speech included issues from lingering questions of the Civil Rights Movement to challenges to our generation to act for change. He told us, "What makes America great is not that we are always right. What makes America great is that we have the ability to fight for what is." He also told us that "you cannot get drunk on yesterday's struggle. You all have work to do."
These messages spoke to me strongly as a student leader and activist, and as a member of a campus that works hard to be equally welcoming and diverse. His challenge to our community of campus leaders was an inspirational one. Jesse Jackson and his generation of young people changed the face of this country, and created the possibility of racial equality. All movements for social justice since then have been based on the work that they did. Last night was a deliberate call to work for just causes in the world, in the knowledge that student commitment in the past has created the world we live in today.
Jesse Jackson spoke to many contemporary issues here in Eugene and at the UO campus. He addressed the undeniable "whiteness" of our student body, and the need to reach out to minority students. He decried the presence of the Pacifica Forum here, and encouraged student effort to stand together and support one another in the face of hate speech and intimidation. He also specifically addressed the need to recruit African American students who were more than athletes, who were also peers and students. The UO has made a serious effort to recruit more students of color, but, as Reverend Jackson told us, "it ain't too black up in here." The underrepresentation of minorities in higher education continues to be a major stumbling block in national questions of equality. He told us that "we, the people, are free but not equal."
In my studies of sociology, I have read a wide variety of texts dealing with the inequalities between people of different races and socioeconomic classes. Many of these issues revolve around questions of education and the quality of schools available in inner cities vs the schools in suburban areas. This stems not only from parents' economic status, but also a continuing segregation of schools that happens through red lining and unequal investments in different school districts. By the time students enroll in college, there are often extreme inequalities in their levels of reading and problem-solving. All too often, this means that minority students are not able to attend any higher education institutions, and quality college education is not an option.
At this celebration of UO student leaders, it was obvious to me that people are looking for change, and are hoping to create an environment of increased equality and welcome. There are initiatives to make Oregon schools more accessible to first-generation college attenders and students with financial need. Pathways Oregon is one such initiative, which provides a specific Oregon population with a free college education.
As the policies and realities of economics and education have shifted, there has been an increasing need to support universities through private donations and student tuition. I am impressed, therefore, that the University continues to have a strong commitment to the mission of a public university: to provide high-quality education to all Oregonians, regardless of personal history. I am also encouraged that, as individuals contribute to the UO, they are donating to scholarship funds that allow students to step beyond their expected boundaries.
I hope that Jesse Jackson's encouragement to recruit more students of color is recognized and enacted at the UO. I also hope that, as efforts are increased, the academic merits of prospective students are emphasized beyond those of sports.
The Leadership Symposium was such an inspiration because of the sheer number of students who serve as leaders on our campus. We are part of a dynamic group of people who have made their college experiences into something larger than academics alone: we are applying what we have learned in the classroom to the larger world and larger questions of life, from activity in a certain small community to goals that encompass athletic achievement to global social justice movements. Leaders like Jesse Jackson speak to our potential as students and individuals, to young adults working to create change of one kind or another in the world. This is what makes the UO community such a wonderful place to live in: that we create our own communities, that we work together as leaders and peers, and that we care deeply about the social realities which surround us.
February 14, 2010 - 5:33 PM
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone! You know what Valentine's Day means... (dramatic drum roll)... It's OREGON'S BIRTHDAY! So I'm going to take this auspicious day to celebrate some Eugene goodness.
First, this was the second annual Spencer's Butte climb with my group of friends. Spencer's is a gorgeous hill south of Eugene, with a round-trip hike of about an hour. The view of the city is incredible, and the whole area is so beautiful. Today it was foggy and muddy, but that just added to the incredible green beauty. Moss and ferns and huge trees everywhere. Instead of the normal view of Eugene from the summit, we had a beautiful, shifting pattern of fog and forest. If you're ever in town, I would recommend this as the Number One Eugene hiking destination.
Which leads me to the larger blog a commentary on "Eugene's Best." A couple of weeks ago, the Oregon Daily Emerald student newspaper published a "Reader's Choice" special magazine edition about the "best" of Eugene. The full list is a treat to read through, and I highly recommend the magazine, which you can also find online. They polled students about their favorite places as diverse as campus hangouts, happy hour bar, ice cream, and make out location. For another take on Eugene's Best, please check out blog by Caitlin H, my fellow Annual Giving Program blogger.
I want to provide some commentary and alternative views, and overall evaluation of the list of Eugene's Best. I love their focus on the quirky and unique of Eugene, and I so appreciate the results. More than anything else, I love that there is not a single restaurant or store that won first place that is a large chain store. Several are Northwest chains, and a couple have multiple Eugene locations. But what Eugene natives and UO students love about this city is its quirkiness, it's ability to create unique cultural icons. So when "Best Under $5" has Cafe Yumm! in first, Holy Cow Cafe second, and SUBWAY representing national fast food chains in third place, that is a serious commentary on the quality of our city. And, Northwest pride or no, Starbucks also took a third place ranking, behind Espresso Roma and the Wandering Goat for "Best Coffee." This is the way it should be.
Some of the Emerald's selected "Bests" are also my own.
"Best BBQ" went to Papa's Soul Food Kitchen, which is an uncontested favorite among anyone with any kind of taste for food. It's got the atmosphere and music to back up the claim, also.
"Best Italian" went to Beppe and Gianni's Trattoria, which for me wins best Italian, best restaurant, best ravioli in my life, best restaurant staff, best location, and (significantly) best place to force visiting relatives to buy me dinner. Hands down.
"Best Secondhand Store" is Buffalo Exchange, according to the Emerald. However, for the female shoppers out there, I would recommend the Clothes Horse any day. It's right down the street from campus, and has the cutest dresses I've ever seen in a thrift store. My bus passes their window and every morning there is a different display in the front window, and it's always a struggle not to go and buy a total wardrobe makeover. I found my favorite dress there for less than twenty dollars.
"Best Taxi Service" made me laugh. The winner was the Designated Driver Shuttle, which everyone can agree with. It's a free shuttle for UO students, to provide students a safe way of returning home, and an alternative to driving while under the influence. I have made use of DDS in the past, and would say it's one of the best uses of student fees I could imagine. The runner-up, however, made me think "only in the Northwest." In Eugene the second-best taxi option is Pedicab! Not only will some nice cyclist pedal furiously to take you to your destination, they will also often offer you a serenade for the ride.
"Best Campus Icon" is a toss-up for me. Frog is the official winner, the purveyor of the "World's Funniest Joke Books." Frog can be found in the same place on the sidewalk near the Duck Store every working day, accosting passersby and touting the hilarities of his joke books. If urban legend speaks truth, Frog has been standing on that corner for more than fifteen years. However, I have another favorite campus regular: The Jesus Man. He might be "Doug," the third place icon. He stands with a "Jesus Loves You" sign next to the EMU, and is pleasant to everyone who passes. I'm no believer in the proselytizing, that arrives on campus with a nasty attitude and confrontational style. But the Jesus Man just stands and smiles at everyone, wearing his ducks garb and the same jacket every day. Truth be told, I thought he might be an undercover FBI agent my first year on campus. Now I just think he's a nice campus fixture.
"Best Ice Cream" is Prince Puckler's. So says the Emerald, so say I, and so say we all.
"Best Place to People-Watch" I disagree with. The people have spoken, and vote for the EMU as number one, with the 13th and University intersection as second. To me there is no question. The third place selection, the Saturday Market is the best place to go to see and be seen in Eugene. It's on the top of many other personal lists, as well: best place to buy produce, best place to spot hippies, best way to spend a Saturday afternoon, best place to buy gifts, best place to bring prospective students, and most iconic Eugene event.
Rather than enumerate all the rest of Eugene's Best, I'll direct you to their online site. However, I would like to add an extra category: best place to spend a sunny Friday afternoon. Now, I already stated that the Saturday Market is the number one choice, but it's only open once a week, and that's only in the summer. This one's tricky, folks, and has cost me some real effort to decide. But here it is, in the world according to Katie D.
Best: Alton-Baker Park
Why? This miles-long set of trails for walking and biking includes a duck pond, multiple bridges across the Willamette River, and a huge variety of picnic locations. It's close to campus and beautiful at all times of the year. The Autzen Footbridge is a great place to watch the river, and there's almost always an Oregon "O" piled in rocks in the middle of the river. This location also wins best place: for a first date, to pet a stranger's dog, to watch waterbirds, to fly a kite, and walk with a large groups of friends.
Runner-up: The Quad
Why? The quad is the grassy space between the library and 13th street. Ringed by oak trees and crossed by busy sidewalks, this is always my favorite place on campus. But when the weather gets nice and the grass dries off, it always feels like the whole university has turned out to be there.
Honorable Mention: Hendrick's Park
Why? This is a beautiful hill in Eugene, close to campus and with an incredible rhododendron garden. The trees are beautiful and there's a rope swing. This is a great destination for a large group of cabin fever sufferers.
A final Eugene's Best: season. Eugene's most glorious season is spring, there's no doubt about it. Spring in Eugene is not only the most beautiful explosion of flowers I've ever seen, it is also the best smell and best reason to spend the day outside. Friends, the first trees have started blooming. Crocuses are out, as are the daffodils. Pretty soon I'll have to leave the favorite study locations and favorite rainy day spots for the favorite outdoor locations.
The view from Spencer's is great, but so is the Eugene from my bedroom window, from my favorite desk in the campus library, and from my favorite homework location in the Honors College lounge.
Eugene's best looks pretty good to me.
February 12, 2010 - 4:22 PM
Today I took a walk down Memory Lane, and returned to a Friday tradition that was a high point of many weeks of my Freshman year. My friend Maddy and I went to the outdoor amphitheater of the EMU (student union) to watch On The Rocks and Divisi, the university a cappella singers, for their weekly performance.
My freshman year you could have found me at the On The Rocks (OTR) shows every Friday at 4:00. We were consistent fans, who knew all the songs and most of the choreography. We would show up a half an hour early, sometimes freezing in drizzle, to hear them sing.
These singers have incredible talent. On The Rocks is a men's a cappella group, and combines talented vocals with highly entertaining choreography. When I first went to see them perform, I hadn't expected them to be so fun. I was honestly expecting choral music of a more traditional style, perhaps in a monastic chanting style. Imagine my surprise, then, the first time I heard their rendition of "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy." They arrange contemporary songs for twelve voices that include the vocal line, instrumental sounds, and a beat boxer on drums.
Divisi, the women's a cappella, is in the same style: choreographed dance with vocal arrangements of songs you would normally hear on the radio.
Every Friday my friends and I would arrive a half an hour early to get a central spot on the steps of the amphitheater. Often, we would bring ice cream from the dorm cafeterias. It was the signal that the weekend had begun, and a time to hear some great music. Each group had a repertoire of approximately ten to fifteen songs, but would only perform four or five each week. We could therefore spend pre-performance time wondering which songs they would choose.
As the years have progressed, I have seldom had the Friday afternoon time to watch OTR and Divisi. Living off campus can make regular informal concerts a little harder to fit into the schedule. In the past two years I have only attended once or twice, and have enjoyed hearing how the groups have changed as their membership and song lists change.
This afternoon was a blast from the past. Again, I was seated with two hundred or more students, there to watch our university peers perform great music with some serious attitude. Several of the faces were the same: five of the On The Rocks singers were the same ones I knew three and a half years ago. Their beat boxer is incredible-who needs a drum set? The other amazing thing was that the crowd is the same. Different faces, but same feel. We were a bunch of enthusiastic students, cheering our peers on as they sang and danced. I could tell that most of the crowd were regulars: they knew the music, knew when something funny was about to happen.
This was one of the iconic discoveries of my first year at the UO: the a cappella culture that is alive and strong at most universities. On The Rocks and Divisi are both recognized as particularly good groups with highly talented individuals, great group dynamics, and an exceptionally loyal fan base.
Seeing On The Rocks again, living my freshman traditions again as a senior, made me realize that sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same. A cappella, and the traditions of the OTR and Divisi crowds, will stand out permanently as a great way to end the week, and a great part of a college experience.