"I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation." – U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan, October 9, 2009

Women: Don’t Be the Roadblock To Your Own Success

I came across a great TED-Ed talk the other day that is related to my recent blog post on how women still earn less than men for equal work. Led by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, she posits a couple of reasons why we have too few women leaders. I think the reasons she gives can not only explain why so few women hold top positions in professions but also why they are still earning 91 cents for every dollar men earn. Here are some interesting points she made:

  1. Women methodically underestimate their own abilities. Why is it that after men finish an exam they feel like they nailed it and women leave the test thinking, ‘I should have studied ____ more in depth…’
  2. Women attribute their success to external factors and men attribute their success to internal factors. Women tend to think they got the A or they got the job because they simply got lucky or because they worked hard. Men on the other hand, believe in their pure awesomeness.
  3. Success and likability are positively correlated for men but negatively correlated for women.
  4. Men are reaching for opportunities more than women. Women need to reach for the promotion and “sit at the table.”
  5. There is more societal pressure for boys to succeed than girls.
  6. We have to make work in the home, raising children important for both men and women.
  7. In thinking about starting a family, many women stop reaching for new opportunities when they should be reaching for the promotion.

From this talk I learned that when applying or interviewing for a job, I need to own my successes. I shouldn’t be concerned with being modest, if I did something awesome that is very applicable to the job position and will give me a competitive edge, I am going to emphasize it an own it. I shouldn’t let myself be intimidated by other male applicants—I am just as strong and as qualified as they are. In the future, I need to remind myself to keep looking for new opportunities and to not lean back. And lastly, I need to trust in my own abilities. I can’t imagine anyone who demonstrated a lack of confidence or was unsure of his or her skills and abilities ever got the job or promotion. That will certainly not be me.


Post-Grad Concerns? Keep Calm and Dream Big

Having only two quarters to go in my college education, I’m slowly becoming nervous. It’s hard not to be concerned with the massive amounts of news stories on low employment rates and stories telling how total student loan debt has surpassed total credit card debt. When my parents were my age, they already had jobs, me, and a home, so why can’t I be independent too? Ah yes, we are in quite a different era. Back then, college was the above-and-beyond, but now it’s the norm for one’s education and it has made my generation’s lives drastically different from the one before.

I don’t particularly like this. I just don’t want to be thirty, still living with my parents, and still trying to pay back loans; I want to get my post-education life started!

In a perfect world, I’d have a job lined up to roll right into after I graduate, and move into a place of my own. I’ve been in school for what seems and eternity, and I’m anxious to obtain the outcomes I’ve worked hard for all my life. Is it so wrong to want that? No, but my eagerness warrants some attention. Only I can make this dream happen, and I have to delay gratification for some more years in order to do so.  Yes that means putting down the IKEA catalogue, saving money in the bank, building a network, building a resume, and getting a good job under my belt.

It looks like I’ll have to rely on my parents financially a bit longer. I’ll be leaving college with a bachelor’s degree, but with an accumulation of student debt along with it. This has always been in the back of my mind—the debt, it’s scary. My father always just tells me to focus on my studies, not to worry, and that my job will pay off my loans.

But will I find a job, and if I do, how soon?

Here is my plan. As always, it’s good to remain optimistic yet be smart about it. I know the likelihood of a job landing in my lap in very slim, so I’ll need to be prepared to apply and interview at several places, and be prepared for the fact that this may take some time.

While my post-graduation future seems almost entirely out of my control, the truth is, the future really does lie in my hands, just as it’s always been. In high school I earned straight A’s to get into an excellent university, and I ran miles and miles to earn a spot on the start line at the track and field state championships. I’ve made my own luck in life and I will do it again. I just have to keep dreaming big and continue being the determined, go-getter that I am. Just like someone once told me, how I’ve achieved my success in the past is a reflection of how I will achieve in the future.

21 Sesame Street: My Undercover Elementary School Assignment

Brief: More than just cookies are being stolen on Sesame Street, creativity is too.

I woke up one morning to a Twister game sitting at the foot of the stairs. ‘”What is this doing here?” I say to my Ma. “It’s game day at your brother’s school, the second to last day of school,” she said. My seven-year-old brother over hears her; he frolics down the stairs saying, “Yeah it’s game day today!”

I decided to join in on this game day. I thought it would be a good thing for me to see where my little brother spends his weekdays, to let him show me his desk, and to meet his teacher. I knew my visit would excite him too. I suppose I wanted to show him that I was involved and supportive of that part of his life.

I hadn’t approached this campus in some time. I used to come here to pick up my little brother from school every now and then, but now I approached the campus with a critical eye. I suddenly had the opportunity to step out of the role of the student and take on the role of the observer. I was curious. How has elementary school changed since I left? Has it changed at all?

After a few post-recess classroom activities and a few (defeated) Connect Four games later, I was able to answer this question.

Elementary school has not changed very much since my time. One thing I noticed is that everything is still structured, if not more. The schedule for the school day is up on the white board, there is no time for tangents or off-topic comments, and your butt must be glued to the carpet—always.

A recent article, 3 Ideas to Prevent Schools from Killing Creativity, Curiosity, and Critical Thinking, brought me back to my first grade classroom experience. One thing this article nailed: these kids are fidgety. You can see it in their eyes, down to their tippy toes; they are in a constant struggle to maintain self-control. You can see that they are antsy to standup, to move around, to talk out of turn, to share, and to engage with their classmates. This is wonderful news!

It’s great that we have children who are eager to learn, share, and to connect with others. It’s understandable though why there is structure—the classroom is innately a jungle and without rules and reminders the monkeys will run wild. But can’t we let them run wild a little bit? Instead of silencing this writhing energy for 8 hours a day, can’t we “transfer” it somewhere else?

This is where the article brought in some interesting points. Though there are activities like recess, art, music, and P.E. class that are meant to give kids a break from classroom lessons, I feel like there is still a lot of structure and rules that essentially take away children’s autonomy. I have no recollection of choosing my own instrument to play in music class, but instead, being handed a recorder and told to play it. And I doubt I would have ever chosen juggling for a P.E. class activity, let alone be graded on it (yes graded!).

In accordance with the article, I think we should allow kids a greater voice in what they want to do in school. We should give them time in the school day to do activities that they are passionate or curious about. This isn’t a recess or some pointless free time, it’s a time where kids can exercise their creative minds with the encouragement and support of their teachers. Giving children this opportunity will help reboot their minds for better focus and concentration on other classroom activities that require attention, patience, and structure. Also as a result, you will help create a group of children who feel empowered and confident to pursue their passions and ideas. We want to generate students who challenge the what, the how and the why—essentially leaders, not followers.

What do you think about the current structure of elementary school? Does it need to be changed? If so, what changes do you think should be made? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Reforming Education In America: Finland Teaches Its Kids and America Too

I think it’s great that America is getting off its high horse and reaching out to other countries for guidance on how to improve its education system. In a bigger picture, I think that communication and collaboration is key to positive social change. One thing I’ve learned through academics and athletics is that it’s okay to ask for help, in fact, it’s a pretty dang good idea. Look to your role models and do what they do—this is how you can learn and improve! After taking the article into consideration, this is what I highly suggest America does to improve its education system.

Students in Finland are consistently performing well, making Finland one of the leading nations in education.

I just read an intriguing, eye-opening article on Finland’s educational system. The article, What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success, was very informative and offered some great insights on what our nation can learn from Finland’s education system, and how we can apply their nation’s values to help improve our own education system.

From reading the article I learned a very inspiring and impressive piece of information about Finland. For one, Finland reformed its education system with the focus on achieving equity—giving every child, no matter where they live, their family’s income, or their background, equal opportunity for education.

Does this seem quite the opposite of America’s education system? It is. We have private versus public schools and universities. It looks as if America has a “mini war” within it, where institutions with money, power, and prestige strive to be better, achieve more wealth, and strive to outdo its competitors. These schools want to be known for producing the most special, standout students. Given this approach America is currently taking, it’s no wonder our students are falling behind in academic achievement—only a select amount of students have the best education available to them!

In agreement with the article, I think America needs to veer away from this competitive attitude and have schools cooperate with one another. America has a goal: achieve academic excellence so we can compete globally. But this goal cannot be reached if everyone is looking out for their own self-interests. We need to grow up, lend each other a helping hand, and sacrifice for the good of the group. Perhaps academic achievement isn’t something we can directly obtain, but merely a by-product of fundamental changes to our education system. If we can establish a policy on equity, I think all the pieces will fall into place for us.

Do you think it’s possible to establish a policy on equity here in America?


Moody’s Mega Math Challenge Brings Dessert to America’s Education Table

It’s one thing to perform well in math in the classroom, but applying mathematical knowledge is another. It takes skills in problem solving, creativity, and the ability to perform lateral thinking. One of The Moody’s Foundation, Moody’s Mega Math Challenge, seeks to highlight mathematics in hopes of instilling greater passion, confidence, and enthusiasm for the subject and its related fields.

According to Moody’s CEO, Raymond McDaniel, the program “is an opportunity for students to… create modeling solutions to real-world issues.”

Although the Foundation’s emphasis is on mathematics, I feel the Foundation’s concept can extend beyond math and into education as a whole.

Thinking about what they’re trying to accomplish got me thinking about what I think our nation hopes its students get out schooling. So here is my answer, in my opinion, about the goal of education in America.

The goal of my education isn’t to simply memorize facts and formulas, but to apply them in innovative ways to the real world. I wish to walk away with a more open mind, the ability to think critically, the ability to self-analyze and analyze others, to ask and learn not the “what” but the “how and why,” to adapt and change in order to become who I want to be. I wish to be curious and satisfy my desire for knowledge, to stimulate my mind, to read between and outside the lines, over the fence and to the moon, to think laterally, vertically, use my left or right side of my brain as I please, to collaborate with others, communicate my ideas, to be innovative, to leave more than an ecological footprint on this world, but to make a significant, positive mark that says, “Alison Was Here.”

I ask you to take a step back and think about the purpose behind your education. You’ve been armed with tools and knowledge, rapidly building and refining them since age five; now what will you do with it? Ventures like Moody’s Mega Math Challenge push students to not just answer this question, but to actively demonstrate it. I think our nation needs more challenges like this to stretch students’ minds. There is a world that extends far beyond the classroom and I think having the opportunity to apply one’s knowledge and to problem-solve in the real world adds something significant to one’s education. You could say this concept Moody’s Mega Math Challenge embodies brings dessert to America’s education table—you may enjoy the main course, but it’s the dessert that really satisfies your cravings.

Interested in the challenge? Register for Moody’s Mega Math Challenge by February 24, 2012 at 6:00 p.m. EST!

Attention Grads: Don’t You Worry, Never Fear, Teach for America Is Here

In thinking about life after college, you may be experiencing this:

But once you’ve done some of this…

Get off the floor and consider your options.

Today’s post is here to inform you of one of those options: Teach for America.

What is Teach for America?

An organization working towards helping kids in poverty gain an education. They target communities of low-income, ensuring those children get equal opportunities for education just as those raised in higher-income neighborhoods.

What members do: Take charge of their own classrooms and invest in students

Teach for America creates individuals who teach effectively. Recruits undergo intensive training. This training persists throughout the two-year experience, where recruits are continually learning and altering their methods while they teach in the classroom.  Corp members attend five weeks of summer training at the Institute where they learn from experienced teachers. While at Institute, members are instructed in the basic foundations of teaching, learn how to design their own lesson plans, how to carry them out effectively, and how to measure their student’s progress.

Under the guidance of a faculty advisor, corps members are able to apply what they’ve learned to the classroom. These advisors act as role models and a form of support by observing and providing feedback on corps member’s teaching. But once summer training is done, members are not left alone to teach; they continually receive feedback, tools, and resources in order to help their students achieve. One great thing about Teach for America is that they are not creating a homogenous group of teachers who all teach the same way. They help each member gear their teaching to fit the needs of the specific students in their classroom.

Who helps make this happen?

The best of college graduates who have demonstrated hard work and dedication throughout their higher education. The organization’s goal is to deliver grade-A, top-of-the-line education to disadvantaged students, and doing so requires recruiting those who have the most potential.

Don’t let your lack of experience teaching in the classroom deter you from joining Teach for America, in fact many corps members do not have this experience prior to joining. Instead, they look to individuals who, through years of schooling, have demonstrated leadership, excellent grades, the ability to manage projects, and possess interpersonal and critical thinking skills. Teach for America recruits individuals who are committed to helping children reach their full potential, who push through adversity, and are open for growth and improvement.

Why join Teach for America post-graduation?

  1. Through your education you’ve learned to think critically, to manage your time, to manage projects, to take initiative, and you’ve honed your interpersonal skills and ability to communicate effectively. Teach for America after college is a good idea because it gives you the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned in school to a real life setting. Many post-grads find it difficult to land a job because they have not demonstrated themselves outside of school. Teach for America can help bridge this gap, giving you practical experience in a leadership role—the kind of experience employers are looking for.
  2.  Let’s not forget the biggest reason for joining Teach for America: you’d be making a difference in the world. Become a part of a movement and make a lasting impact. Through your teaching, you can help children earn the best education, giving them the opportunity in life to reach their full potential. You’d be helping Teach for America make the achievement gap a thing of the past, where children’s success in life is not limited or predetermined by the wealth of their family or their community.  If you’re looking for a rewarding experience, look no further.
  3.  Teach for America will give you the opportunity to immerse yourself in another culture and to gain an understanding of another community.
  4. It’s an experience that will stick with you. The experience of taking on such a large leadership role leads many corps members to continue philanthropic work with other nonprofit organizations or to continue teaching in the future.

How do you apply?

To apply for Teach for America in 2013, fill out the application on the Teach for America website by one of the listed deadlines. After submission of your application, you may be asked to do a phone interview, a full-day interview, or to perform some requests online.

How can you prepare for the application process?

Make sure you have a thorough understanding of the requirements, expectations, and policies of Teach for America. Check out the website’s tips for the application and interview process. The application will require information on your educational background, leadership experience, a resume, and a letter of intent in response to three questions.

To end on a good note, life does not end after college; it is only the beginning. If you’re looking for extra preparation for the real world and looking to make a significant impact, Teach for America may be a great option for you.






Education in America: Neglecting Physical Education Contributes to Childhood Obesity

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of childhood obesity has increased threefold since 1980. The recommended amount of physical activity for children and adolescents is 60 minutes daily. High school students, however, meet far below this recommendation. One-third of these students do not exercise on a regular basis.

Thanks to Jackie Manetzke photography

The New York Times article Despite Obesity Concerns, Gym Classes Are Cut, claims that there are schools in America that lack physical education classes, PE teachers, even facilities such as gyms and playgrounds. Without such facilities, one elementary school teacher in California arranged students to exercise at an off-campus playground one day a week. Even she admits that they sometimes cancel the program if it rains.

The information that this article disclosed was disturbing to me. It is astonishing that physical activity for children and adolescents has gone so low on the priority list for education in America. I am in agreement with the article when it says that schools have increasingly become aware of the importance and benefits of physical education classes. However, with budget cuts, lack of resources, facilities, teachers, and the heavy emphasis on getting kids to meet standard on national assessments, I can understand how making sure children meet the daily-recommended amount of exercise is difficult.

I think that if money and facilities are not available, schools should make use of the resources they do have. Here are some proposed ideas:

Get volunteering college athletes to come to schools and share their knowledge on living a healthy lifestyle. Have athletes share the sport that they love, lead activities, and teach basic stretching and strength exercises. From this, students will not only learn from volunteers with expertise, but may become inspired. College athletes are role models for children, and I think this is one way we can instill motivation in children to get active.

Many schools find it difficult to make time for physical education classes due to the pressure of preparing students for standardized tests. If physical activity cannot be squeezed into the school day, perhaps schools can form groups and clubs to meet before or after school. Yes, yes I’ve heard of afterschool athletics, but what if we expanded on this idea?

Arrange groups to walk or bike to school (rain or shine!) or make a twist on show-and-tell, letting kids share their favorite sport or physical activity. Making physical activity fun, interesting, social, and a routine part of children’s lives is one way we can get children excited about exercise.

How else can schools help children to meet the daily-recommended amount of exercise? How can we help schools accomplish this?

What To Bring To College: Eleven Must-Haves

Ah yes college prepping is in the air. You’re making your list and checking it twice. While on your shopping adventures, don’t forget to snag these things for college.

1. Protection—That’s right, someone had to say it. Even if you don’t think you’ll be doing some hanky-panky, you might. So be prepared!

2.  For the Caffeine addict: 4-cup coffee-maker and traveler’s mug—Tired + cold weather = yearn for coffee. Save yourself a ton of money by making your own. Set it on auto and wake up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee!

3.  Earplugs—In a perfect world, everyone would sleep at night and be awake during the day, but college is far from this. Just like we come is all shapes and sizes, we call have different routines of wake and sleep, and some don’t even have routines! Whether you’re trying to get some silent study or peaceful slumber, these will help.

4.  Professional outfit—You never know what opportunities may come your way. Interviews, presentations, and banquets are all occasions where a nice outfit will help make a good impression.

5.  Hand-held vacuum—Two words. Crumbs everywhere.

6.  Sleep mask—Your roommate cramming for a test = light on all night

7.  Clothes drying rack—Dryers in the dorms are lazy. They dry your clothes part way, and then assume you can handle the rest. Hold up your end of the deal by not stuffing your partially dried clothes in your drawers—mold is no one’s friend.

8.  Nyquil– Use wisely my friend.

9.  Comfort book or movie—For those days that you feel homesick.

10. Paper plates/bowls/plastic utensils (especially spoons)—I don’t know why, but spoons are always the first to go. Don’t get desperate to the point of reusing a dirty spoon; stash some disposable utensils for those busy, hectic days.

11. ID card holder—And no this does not include your jean pocket; you will lose it I guarantee! Save yourself some trouble and invest in this. IDs are used to access pretty much everything on campus, so you’ll need it often. Getting a holder that attaches to your keys is a plus. 99.9% of students find their card just after they’ve paid a nonrefundable fee to replace it.

Did I miss anything?

Chinese Students Take The Biggest Test of Their Lives

From what I’ve heard, the life of Chinese high school students is intense. But if I’ve learned one thing from college, it’s to not passively accept everything you’ve heard. After getting an inside look at the gaokao, China’s national college entrance examination, I realized there was a glimmer of truth to the rumors I had heard.

After watching the video I said to myself, “Wow I thought I was in a pressure cooker.” I knew that education was highly valued in China, but I had no idea how significant of a role it played in shaping the day-to-day lives and futures of students and their families. From the video, to my surprise, I learned that one student’s parents rented an apartment next to his school so he could have more time to study. The video featured a young student who studied 13 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a year! That doesn’t even seem possible!

The gaokao is not your average exam. The test lasts a long, grueling two to three days. And the score? The test essentially determines one’s future (no pressure). Their scores determine which colleges they get into (if any), which determines their career, and how they will later be able to support their family.

Considering the heavy emphasis on this college entrance exam, its no wonder the test instigates fear, anxiety, and post-test nightmares. As if the pressure they place on themselves isn’t enough, students also feel pressure from their parents and teachers. Their last year of high school is dedicated to studying for the gaokao, eating and sleeping—nothing more.

Although the Chinese education system may be producing highly intelligent citizens, I believe it is a very unhealthy way to meet such goals in education. Being a college student myself, I know the feeling of studying for days on end, locked up in my room with my nose in a textbook, and surrounded by pages and pages of notes. For me, it’s an unpleasant feeling to study for such long periods of time. And feeling unhappy is not good for one psychologically!

As I’ve made my way through college I’ve learned that balancing my study time, my social life, and allowing time for myself is a skill. I didn’t realize it as a freshman, but it is possible to not make studying the only thing you do and still get good grades. In fact, getting outside, taking breaks, and enjoying time with friends can make one a happier person by reducing stress and making studying all the more tolerable.

Do you think the Chinese education system is harmful or helpful? I would love to hear your thoughts!

We Are Young: Unlocking America’s Most Valuable Resource to Help Education

We’ve all heard the talk. America has an education crisis on its hands. Too many kids dropping out of school, teachers underpaid, and the U.S. lagging far behind other countries in math, reading, and science. My blog post in May on the current state of education touched on the bad and the ugly of education in America. I also proposed that America focus on improving the teaching profession.

When I wrote that blog post I think I was trying to kill two birds with one stone. Hearing about all these problems with America’s education was overwhelming to take in. But I’ve come to realize that not one idea, not one remedy can cure our nation’s problems in education. Rather than getting to the bottom of one thing, we need to get to the bottom of many things and make some changes.

Making this possible will require brainpower and ideas. The article, Can Student Startups Solve the Education Crisis? , made me realize that America has forgotten one very important source of ideas: students.

The U.S. Department of Education devised the National Education Startup Challenge.

The department wants to hear the ideas of young student entrepreneurs on how to tackle various problems in education.

I think this is a great challenge. Students are the ones going to school everyday and getting the classroom experiences; you can say students are that nation’s experts on education. Not to mention, the decisions the government makes on education impacts students and teachers the most. For these reasons, I believe the opinions and ideas of students are the most valuable resource our nation has for improving, or even overcoming its problems. Furthermore, this resource is abundant. Many students want to help improve education in America and have a passion for creating positive world change. When passion meets the innovative minds of young students, the possibilities are endless.

How can we give students a greater voice in education? What can students do to make their voices be heard?


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