14 December 2010

Winter Wonderland[scape] Formal

You know what's awesome about being in college?  You get to do whatever you want.  For example: a few months ago people in my studio were talking about how much fun it would be to have a formal for the landscape architecture department, so one of us went ahead and planned it.  Last weekend I went to a formal that a classmate completely organized and coordinated.

First off, HUGE props to her for all the work she put in.  We had music, food, and a venue (Muncie Cornerstone Center for the Arts).  I have no idea how she pulled this off, but we're all very grateful for her.  We had a TON of fun that evening, as the photographic evidence suggests:

My date and me before the dance.

A common theme from the dance: studio love.

More love.

Even more love.

Maybe too much love?

Probably my favorite photograph from the evening: do you see the stalker?


Fun fact: I live with five other people and at no point in history have all six of us been in the same room.  In an effort to remedy that, I offered to make my Muncie family a holiday meal Sunday evening.  The meal was great-- my roommates latched onto the idea and everyone pitched in to make a delicious meal.  All but one roommate.  *sigh*  We still haven't all been in the same room together!

Neither of these gentlemen is my roommate, but they were welcome nonetheless.

Setting the table.  We've never eaten at the table before.  Never.

We even busted out some napkins.  And a center piece.  That's how fancy this dinner was.

After dinner we pulled each other around the neighborhood on a lunch tray behind a truck. (Again: college = do whatever you want!)  Which was doubly awesome because you ended up looking like Frosty the Snowman by the end of it.  His pip was completely packed with snow.

They were really proud of themselves.

06 December 2010

Finals Week

It's finals week!  Well, at least it's finals week for people in the College of Architecture and Planning.  Because it takes professors a long time to grade all of our projects, they end up being due this week instead of actual finals week (which is next week).  It's a little tough to finish up projects, but it ends up being great because we tend to not have any finals during finals week.

I lucked out this year.  I have no final tests, just final papers.  It's a little unfortunate that I have to write so much, but I like the way my classes are challenging me to think critically about what we've been doing all semester.  Along that vein of thought, I had a presentation in my Research Methods class today, and I think it went well.  At least, a professor who tends to be hard to please said she likes my project, and the chair of my department has been supportive.  That's something I like about my college: all the professors are involved in your education the entire five years you're here.  I like that nearly all the professors in my department know me by name, and those that don't at least recognize me.  It's nice to have that kind of community.  Even though I'm excited about graduating, it'll be sad to leave the people who have been so supportive over the years.

02 December 2010

First They Came. . .

I've been thinking a lot recently, especially about why I want to do what I want to do, which is to work with refugee communities.  As I was pondering my motivations, I remembered this poem by Holocaust survivor Pastor Martin Niemöller:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

I started thinking about what Niemöller was communicating: we're all in this together, and we need to support and stick-up for each other, even when we otherwise might not be directly involved.  At the very least, we should do this because we will encounter times in our lives when we'll need someone to support us.  At the most we should do it because compassion is the one redeeming quality of humanity.

So maybe I'm interested in working with refugees because I hope that my actions will in some way help to offset the horrible things that sometimes happen in our world.  Maybe I'm doing it because I'm selfish, and I think my actions will somehow offer me security if I ever experience disaster.  Maybe I hope to join the group of voices speaking out against injustice.  Maybe it's all of the above.  Maybe it's none of the above.

Anyway, I've just been thinking a lot recently.

29 November 2010

Islam Awareness Week

Last week was a fun time for after-school events.  For starters, the Muslim Student Association sponsored Islam Awareness week.  Unfortunately, I didn't hear about that until about halfway through the week, so I was able to go to only two events, a panel discussion on Islamophobia and a panel discussion on the hijab.  Both were interesting and kept me thinking long after they had ended.

Two points of observation/possible places for improvement: it would have been nice to have a woman on the Islamophobia panel and it would have been nice to have a man on the hijab panel.  In respect to the former, some women in the audience had a unique perspective on Islamophobia much different than that of the men.  While the men on the panel discussed media portrayal of Muslims, women in the audience talked about discrimination against the hijab in the workplace.  One woman shared a horrifying story of how a boy had pulled off her daughter's hijab in school and had used derogatory names against her.  Having a woman on the panel would have given clearer voice to Muslim women's concerns about Islamophobia.

As for the second point, there is a bit more of a background story.  First, the three women on the panel were fantastic.  Really, truly, an inspiration to listen to.  The biggest fault on the panel was a lack of diversity.  All three women wear the hijab (one also wears the niqab), all three agreed that the Quran says Muslim women should wear the hijab, and all three were women.  Again, some men in the audience did enter the discussion and added their perspective to the mix, but it would have been nice to hear from a man on the panel.  Also, I've heard some heated arguments amongst Muslim women and men about what the Quran says and doesn't say about the hijab.  I'll also add that the arguments were among native speakers of Arabic, so the idea of "bad translations" doesn't really carry the discussion (which was the perspective mentioned on the panel, ie: that the translation from Arabic into English was partly responsible for any confusion).  Not being Muslim, I don't have an opinion on the matter-- everyone is free to worship as he or she chooses; however, I thought it was dishonest to not give voice to both sides of an important issue on the panel.  Most sad about the lack of diversity was the fact that the "discussion" did get preachy towards the end.  I ended up not remembering the question I had wanted to ask until after the discussion was over.  I'll ask it now in hopes someone can answer me:

Regardless of what the Quran says or doesn't say about the hijab, it seems that everyone agrees it does tell Muslims-- men and women-- to dress modestly.  I applaud and respect the Muslim women on campus and in the Muncie community who choose to wear the hijab or niqab despite the discrimination they may face because of it.  I also applaud and respect Muslim women who dress modestly without the hijab or niqab-- in the Muslim-majority countries I've lived in, that usually means keeping arms and shoulders covered and wearing long skirts or loose-fitting pants.  Which brings me to my point: in the Muslim-majority countries I've lived in, men also wear a distinct type of modest clothing, characterized by loose pants and a longer shirt, like this for example.  While I see Muslim women in Muncie dressing modestly, I can't say I've seen the same of the men.  And that irritates me.  Why not?  Even the Muslim men who spoke up at the panel in support of the hijab weren't dressed particularly modestly-- they wore tight jeans and short-sleeved shirts.  Again, I do think everyone has the freedom to dress as he or she sees fit, but it seems, well, hypocritical, to be a strong advocate of the hijab while not maintaining similar standards for yourself.  Maybe it's just me, but its been on my mind since the panel discussion.

28 November 2010

Hunger Banquet

Last week was Oxfam's Hunger Banquet, co-sponsored by the Social Justice League.  When attending a hunger banquet, you are assigned a class when you first enter-- lower, middle, or upper.  Lower class individuals sit on the floor and are served small pieces of bread with water (sometimes colored brown to represent unclean water).  Middle class individuals sit in chairs and are served bread and butter with clean water.  Upper class individuals sit at a table and are served a real meal, in this case peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, lemonade, and a cookie.  Each group represents the same statistical group of real-world lower, middle, and upper class people.  So really, it's a very interesting idea.  Here are some photographs from our hunger banquet:

Opening Remarks.

Here you can see the lower class and the upper class.  Something I learned: if you make more than $12,000 a year, you're considered to be among the top 15% wealthiest people on earth.  Now there's some perspective.

Middle class, where I was.  Not many of us here.

Interesting information on what Oxfam does around the world.

Learning about world hunger and economic non-equality.

Preparing our middle class meal.

Talking while we eat.

Nom, nom.

It gives "middle class" a whole new meaning, doesn't it?

16 November 2010

Rhodes Finalists-- I told you it's a big deal!

Here's an email the Ball State Communications Center sent across campus yesterday:

Two vying for Rhodes Scholarships

A pair of Ball State University students have advanced to the final round of the Rhodes Scholarship selection process, the first time in school history that two students have reached the last stage of competition for the world's oldest and most prestigious international graduate scholarship.

Abigail Shemoel and Matt Tancos, both members of the Class of 2011, will participate in final interviews with members of the Rhodes selection committee on Nov. 20 in Indianapolis.

Shemoel is a landscape architecture major and international resource management minor from Kokomo, Ind., and currently a Udall Foundation undergraduate scholar at Ball State. Also a past recipient of the National Garden Clubs Scholarship, she already has studied the effects of environmental management on ecotourism in Costa Rica and recently completed an internship in Argentina with the Foundation for Sustainable Development. She'll spend her final semester as a Ball State student conducting additional research on sustainable community development in Brazil.

Tancos, from Valparaiso, Ind., is a biology major and chemistry minor concentrating in genetics and ecology. He previously earned an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Greater Research Opportunities Undergraduate Fellowship and has completed research internships at both an EPA lab and Cornell University, investigating the microbiological treatment of drinking water for arsenic removal, microbial biofilms on lead drinking water pipes and pathogen diagnostics, in addition to his studies at Ball State.

Administered and awarded by the Rhodes Trust (Cecil John Rhodes, 1853-1902, was an English businessman and founder of the De Beers diamond company), Rhodes Scholarships provide recipients with up to three years of graduate study at Oxford University, U.K. In addition, scholars receive a monthly maintenance stipend to cover accommodation and living expenses.

Scholarships have been awarded to applicants annually since 1902 and are widely regarded as the most distinguished graduate awards in the world.

Landmark event

Ball State has never had a Rhodes Scholar and only a handful of candidates have made it to the state semifinalist stage (a category no longer used; finalists now are selected from specified geographic districts), reports Barbara Stedman, director of national and international scholarships. She calls Shemoel and Tancos' advance "historic" and proof of the university's strategic plan that emphasizes attracting greater numbers of high-achieving students, as reflected in the growing percentage of entering freshmen holding the Indiana Academic Honors Diploma from high school.

"The Rhodes not only is the most prestigious of graduate scholarships it's also the most rigorous in terms of its academic standards and other requirements," observes Stedman. "That two of our students have reached this level in the selection process this year, I believe, speaks loudly to Ball State's success in increasing the overall quality of our students and giving them the additional tools, through immersive learning and other opportunities such as research assistantships and study abroad, to achieve still greater things. This is a landmark event for Abigail and Matt, certainly, but also one in which the entire university community should take great pride and satisfaction."

If successful in her Rhodes bid, Shemoel expects to pursue a master's degree in environmental change and management at Oxford. She sees the opportunity as especially fortunate. The Oxford program is among the best in the world, she says, reckoning that the Rhodes committee probably doesn't see too many landscape architecture majors.

"But that's what I love most about landscape architecture - it's all about good stewardship of the land," says Shemoel, who hopes to make a career working internationally on the issue of adequate and sustainable shelter for millions of the world's poor, possibly with the U.N. Centre for Human Settlements.

Tancos also has international career plans. He will seek a master's degree in plant sciences in Oxford's equally renowned Plants for the 21st Century program. Ultimately, he intends to earn a doctorate in plant pathology in preparation for joining the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) or similar nonprofit organization working to improve crop production in impoverished countries.
The world's fertile soils will soon be pushed to their limits as human population growth becomes a formidable "resource vacuum," says Tancos, who was raised on a farm and learned early "how intricate and connected life is."

While environmentalism typically emphasizes protection of nature, Tancos says, "I believe protection of people should come first and agree with Indira Gandhi that 'poverty is the greatest environmental threat in the world.' Humans will attempt to survive by all means, which include poaching or clear-cutting forests in order to acquire new fertile soil and resources. Plant technology, however, offers one way to alleviate famine and its environmental consequences."

Instincts to lead

Although popularly perceived to be largely a reward for academic performance, the Rhodes Trust also establishes that candidates be adjudged for their "literary attainments" and "energy to use one's talents to the full" as well as their "truth, courage, devotion to duty . moral force of character and instincts to lead."

Only 32 American students are chosen each year as Rhodes Scholars. Notable past U.S. winners include former President Bill Clinton and his one-time senior counsel, now ABC News correspondent, George Stephanopoulos as well as singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson, film director Terrence Malik ('Badlands," "The Thin Red Line"), feminist author Naomi Wolf and current Newark (N.J.) Mayor Cory Booker. From Indiana, current U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, a graduate of Denison University, earned his Rhodes Scholarship in 1954.

10 November 2010

Today was a Long Day. . . And it's not even over yet!

Something unthinkable happened to me on Monday:  I got excited about a studio project.  No, really.  I was legitimately excited to design, develop, and create an idea for Seattle's waterfront.  Likewise, my group members were equally jazzed about the project.  You should have seen us: we had the trace paper outside, our pencils and pens scratched away, and I'm pretty sure there was some squealing.

Surprisingly, we were still excited about the project today.  Then we had a crit, which is when professors come to your desk, look at your design, and tell you how to make it better.  Our crit was. . .  less than satisfying.  Our professor brought up good ideas that we're going to look into more, but we never really got to talk about our ideas for the site.  *sigh*  I guess we'll just keep going as we're going, then try again on Friday.

In the meantime, the semester is picking up again.  I've realized most of my projects are due in less than a month.  Ick.  I have a lot of work to do.  But there is always a silver lining.  Today's silver lining is multifaceted-- I really, genuinely love all my classes and really enjoy the work we're doing; I'm starting to get back into a "normal" pattern of activity here in Muncie (after being abroad last year); I'm beginning to look into graduate schools and other opportunities for next year; and I'm almost certainly graduating in May.

Something else that's been good: Students for Peace in Israel and Palestine has been picking up.  We now have a mission statement AND our first event planned.  Our mission statement is:

"Students for Peace in Israel and Palestine is dedicated to promoting peace, human rights, and equality in Israel and Palestine for all people, regardless of ideology, ethnicity, or religion.  The Purpose of SPIP is to be an educational resource on Ball State's campus, encouraging understanding and promoting peace through public events and philanthropic endeavors."

Not bad, huh?  Our first event is this Friday, 12 November, at 6:00 in AJ 175.  We're screening Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People.  It's a really interesting movie about the ways Arabs are portrayed in the film industry.  You should come!

Tonight is a panel discussion about Islamophobia at 6:30 in SC Ballroom.  Be there, or be square.  (BTW, I've never fully understood that expression.  And it kind of sounds threatening for some reason.  Huh.)

03 November 2010

Congratulating Rhodes Scholarship Finalists by Day, Drag Show on the Weekend

Yep, that's right.  Ball State is the proud university of TWO Rhodes Scholar finalists.  One of them happens to be a friend of mine, and we're all SO PROUD of her!  Actually, we're proud of both of them--I work in the office that helps students find and apply for scholarships, so I can say firsthand that our two students are legit.  I've never read their files--because that would be a gross invasion of privacy--but everyone speaks very highly of them, and--geez!  They're flippin' Rhodes Finalists! So, congratulations and the very, VERY best of luck to both of you!!!

On to other news, Spectrum hosted a fund-raising drag show last weekend, so as a straight ally with an empty Saturday night, of course I went.  : )  I also convinced a few of my roommates to go, and we had a great time of it.  Here are some highlights:

Yeah, she's really singing.

And here are some drag kings representing.

This was just a fun performance.

I'm not sure if that's me singing along or not.  As you can see, they're REALLY working the crowd.  They were stellar.

25 October 2010

Online Classes: The Final Verdict

I mentioned ages ago that I took some online classes while I studied in Brazil last spring.  Any Ball State student can take online classes, although Distance Education does charge an extra fee.  I opted to take some online classes while I was in Brazil because I wanted to take a full course load, but I didn't want all my courses to be in Portuguese.  Distance Education gives two online class options: 10-week courses, and 9-month courses.  Both my classes (Geography 101 and History 413: Recent American History) were 9 months long.  Well, I just finished my lass assignments, and here's what I think:

1.  The pace of both my courses was pretty conducive to a hectic life style.  Both classes were arranged to have only 2 assignments a month.  However, I'm a procrastinator, so I completely put off doing my assignments until the last minute.  That meant I had A LOT of work to do over the past two weeks, which kind of sucked.  I should have taken the 10-week courses to be more crunched to finished them before this semester started.  As it was, you reap what you sow.

2.  Taking one of my core science credits online was probably wise.  I hate labs, and online classes don't have labs.  There was a lot of reading, but honestly, each assignment took less than an hour.  I definitely didn't learn nearly as much as I would have had I taken the "real" course on campus, but the class is also one I don't necessarily need for my career.  All classes are valuable, but some are occasionally *less* valuable.  (I'm wincing as I write this because I'm trying to walk the line between being honest and not encouraging anyone to slack off in a class. . . which I DON'T support!)

3.  My Recent American History class was fantastic.  Probably one of the most interesting classes I've had.  And I really, really like the professor who teaches it.  Which sucks because it would have been even better as an on-campus course.  Never again will I take a class I'm really interested in online.  Never.

4.  Some professors "get" the whole online class thing better than others.  For example, my history professor gave us a combination of assignments and essays for the course, and each chapter came with a video of my professor sharing a historical "artifact," which we then had to write about.  For never seeing my professor face-to-face, the class was really good.  It was dynamic, interesting, and varied.  Now, take that compared to my science class.  Again, it wasn't my favorite topic to study, but the entire class consisted of reading chapter after chapter in a textbook (read: BOR-ring) and answering 30 multiple-choice questions about each one.  So yeah, it wasn't the most intellectually challenging course I've had.  BUT it was still a good class because it was easy.  Some videos would have been nice though.  Maybe some demonstrations of the experiments we're not getting since we don't have a lab.  Just a thought.

5.  Some professors are better at responding to emails than others.  If you have a question about the course or are concerned about your grade, you can't necessarily count on the professor getting back to you.  And in one sense, why should (s)he?  You're taking the class online.  Take campus courses if you want interaction.


If on campus, I wouldn't take online classes; however, it was really convenient to get important course credit while I was abroad.  The one exception I have is this:  if there's a topic you really don't like--and it's a 100 or 200 level class--then I would consider taking the course online.  At least then you don't have to sit through something you hate for three hours a week.  An exception to the exception: if you're a procrastinator (like me), don't take online classes.  You'll end up with a boat load of work all at once that you may or may not get done.

24 October 2010

Rock Climbing/ My Parents are Awesome

I just had a great weekend.  My parents came to Ball State last Wednesday for an awards dinner, and they decided to stay until Saturday evening.  While I regrettably had some homework, which kept me from spending as much time with them as I would have liked, we did have time together nearly every evening.  We had a stellar time.  Saturday was particularly exciting because I got to spend nearly the whole day with them.  We went out for breakfast, walked around Minnetrista, and bought some goods from the farmer's market.  Then we went to a sports bar and watched football. (Michigan State won!  Yay!)  After my dad's college team won (just barely), we went rock climbing on campus.

So, in case you're skimming and not really thinking about what you just read, read again:  my totally awesome dad in his mid-fifties went ROCK CLIMBING with me on Ball State's campus.  My mom was equally awesome and documented the whole thing.  : )

There he goes!

I'm so proud he's my dad.  I mean, really: how many dads would spend their weekend climbing walls with their daughter?

There I go!  It had been a while since I'd been in the gym (silly homework), so it felt SO GOOD to be back on the wall.

The two of us together.  We should have gotten a family shot with my mom, too.

This is his second time up.  With just two times he was already improving.

See?  Look at him go!

My second time up.

I mentioned in a post before school started how excited I was about the rock wall, and it has lived up to ALL of my expectations.  I can't even begin to tell you how much I love climbing at Ball State.  The staff is friendly and REALLY helpful, new routes are constantly being mapped, and it's free to climb!  All you need is a Ball State ID.

17 October 2010


Reasons I like my major:  yearly field trip to awesome places.  This year?  Boston, Massachusetts (which might be the most difficult state to spell).

Ok, Boston in and of itself it super cool.  It's one of the oldest cities in our country, tons of historical things have happened there, and it's surprisingly pretty and easy to walk around.  Even when it rains for four days straight.  Which it did.  :/

Boston was also exciting for me in particular because I have several friends who live in the Boston area and who I don't get to see very often.  I was able to meet up with two good friends I met while I was in Egypt a few summers ago.  I was thrilled beyond belief I got to see them.  :)

And so without further ado, enjoy the photographic evidence of my journey!

I like the white print on the window.  Classy.

I also *love* copper.  Especially when --everything-- else was brick.

We found many small doors.

Oops!  Someone got a ticket!

I even like this vinyl siding just because it's different than the brick.  Tackiness aside, the brick was boring.

Pizza box!  No idea why it was on the car though.

This is an entrance to one of the coolest parking garages ever.

See?  It even has shops on the ground floor to make it even more brilliant.

We passed this train station several times in our wanderings....

*This* is much more my preferred city.  I love the canyon appearance.  It's so grand, but also somehow intimate.

Gateway to Chinatown.  We met the people who helped design this.

This water feature is just inside the gateway in Chinatown.  I'm pretty sure it's symbolic of something, but I can't remember what.

I love the red poles that form cages around the bamboo screens.

We also take time to meet with firms while we're on field trip.  This landscape architect took time to tell us about his firm and some of his projects.  I really liked the style this firm had--very clean and simple.

Landscape architects also design cemeteries.... which isn't depressing at all.  This photo was taken in the first LA-design cemetery in the U.S.

Still in the cemetery.  This person wanted to be remembered with a giant sphinx.  I just hope he or she was Egyptian.

The first of several photos I took of Sasaki's parking lot.  I could have stayed in their parking lot for hours.

There were so many details.

I love how they used paving to mark the spaces.

The ginkgoes add so much character to this space.  And I love the color against the gray.

Such a stylish entrance.

Again, fabulous paving patterns.

And you have to love the sleek benches.

They even pulled some of the landscape elements into the building.

Near the Christian Science Center.

The Christian Science Center

4-acre reflecting pool near the Christian Science Center

Get it?  Get it?  We're the tortoise and the hare!  (I was having trouble using my foot to scratch my ear like the statue.)

Bioswales hold runoff water to give it a chance to sink into the ground.  This bioswale is beautiful and on MIT's campus.

Looking at myself in a Frank Gehry building on MIT's campus.  By the way, I liked MIT much more than I liked Harvard. Just saying.

My friend with her new walking, plastic nose.

Someone from the Travel Channel was filming at Salem while we were there.  Ten points to whoever can tell me his name!

I have a relative who was hanged during the Salem Witch Trials.  This is his memorial marker near the cemetery.

Apparently all the "witches" were put into a mass grave that has since been lost.  So now each victim has one of these stone memorials instead of a tombstone.

The ship is technically less of a pirate ship and more of a merchant ship, but being a pirate was way more fun than being a merchant.  :)