Schools

Lax Movie "Crooked Arrows" Starts Filming Aug. 1

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Cinema’s latest underdog movie is sure to lure many lacrosse-crazed Baltimoreans.  “Crooked Arrows,” which starts filming August 1 in the Boston area, tells the story of Joe Logan (Brandon Routh, Superman Returns), a young Native American trying to modernize his reservation while winning his father’s approval.  The perfect way to do both, it turns out, is coaching the reservation’s lacrosse team.  Joe leads the boys to success and brotherhood, culminating in a final showdown against rivals at a private school, where they compete for the state title. 

In early daysproducers faced the perplexing problem of finding actors who could play both lacrosse and convincing roles.  This summer, open auditions for “Crooked Arrows” were held in Hempstead, NY, Norwalk, CT, Summit, NJ, and of course, Baltimore. At callbacks in Syracuse and Boston, two teams were selected and former Hopkins lacrosse star Jameson Koesterer and Onondaga native Neal Powless started coaching the ersatz teams this week.

The championship game will be filmed August 13, so lacrosse fanatics interested in roles as extras should consider a trip to Boston next month.  Producers promise the appearance of lacrosse “celebrities” (perhaps Ken Clausen? or Connor “Con Bro Chill” Martin?) and other goodies at the end game finale. With sponsors like US Lacrosse, Inside Lacrosse, Reebok and assorted beverage, automotive and apparel partnerships (read product placement), you can bet the freebies will be worth the trip.

The premise of the movie begs a few questions about the state of lacrosse today.  The sport originated with Native Americans, but over the decades has practically become a symbol of elitism and exclusivity.  “Crooked Arrows” could critically examine this issue of origin versus elaboration.  On the cultivated green grass and million-dollar turfs of East Coast prep schools, lacrosse has become a cultural juggernaut, an undeniable force whose influence has spread far beyond the boundaries of the field to play a role in everything from clothing to college choice. Despite all that it has become, lacrosse’s creation came hundreds of years ago on the vast plains of an untouched America. So to whom does the sport really belong?  Maybe “Crooked Arrows” will settle the question once and for all. 

Johns Hopkins Has No Rivals in the Hospital Business

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It’s barely even news anymore — Johns Hopkins is the best hospital in the country. Again. In fact, no other hospital has ever held the top spot, ever since US News and World Report started rankings back in 1990.

If ever a rival should emerge from the ranks, it may be either Massachusetts General in Boston, or the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which this year were ranked #2 and 3, respectively. But, I mean, come on. We all know who’s number one.

Which is not to say that Hopkins is the only game in town (even though it tends to seem that way). Locally, the runners-up are the University of Maryland Medical Center, Union Memorial, Hopkins-Bayview, and Sheppard Pratt.

But there can be only one number one — around town and around the country as well. And isn’t it somehow comforting to know that it’s not just Baltimore that Johns Hopkins dominates, but, well, the whole country?

How Old is the Universe? Local Astrophysicist Could Tell You.

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Presumably, all astrophysicists are smart. But some, it turns out, are smarter — or at least more award-winning — than others. Take Hopkins professor Charles Bennett, for example.  Last summer, Bennett shared the $1 million Shaw prize in astronomy with two colleagues from Princeton.

Bennett works on the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, which measures cosmic background radiation. In other words, Bennett’s research has “helped determine the precise age, composition and curvature of the universe.” (It is 13.7 billion years old, and made up of approximately 5% atoms, 25% dark matter, 70% dark energy. I couldn’t find any explanation of the curvature that made any sense to me; apologies.)

One other Hopkins prof has won the award since it was established in 2002; Adam Riess was named a co-winner in 2006 because he discovered dark energy. As of this year, 43 individuals have shared 25 Shaw awards. None of them have been women.

Is Segregation Getting Worse? Lawsuit Says Yes

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Are Maryland’s  four historically black colleges — Morgan State, Coppin State, Bowie State, and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore — more segregated and generally worse off than they were a few decades ago?

So argued a lawsuit filed on behalf of the schools a number of years ago — and brought to a somewhat anticlimactic conclusion this week.  The suit argued that the state underfunded these schools, and gave preferential treatment to other schools, among other discriminatory practices; as a result, they are more segregated now than they were a few decades ago. To take one example, funding for capital enhancement projects takes two or three times longer than at other institutions. As a result, perhaps, historically black institutions have poor retention and graduation rates.

Maryland has a checkered past when it comes to higher education and race. In 1969, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights ruled that Maryland had an illegal segregated higher education system.

But we won’t get a chance to see a dramatic trial result in the case, at least not anytime soon; the two sides agreed to postpone the trial until December, in favor of trying to mediate the conflict.

What do you think is the role of historically black colleges in today’s educational landscape?

Online Learning Teaches You More?

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If you’re headed to college in the fall, odds are good that you’ll end up taking at least one class online. Back in 2008 — ages ago, in internet time — nearly a third of all students were enrolled in at least one course taught online.

Call me old-fashioned, but I find it hard to believe that online classes can measure up to the dynamic give-and-take of the traditional face-to-face class. But it turns out that a number of recent studies have proved me wrong. In fact, when the Department of Education looked at the hundreds of studies that have been done on online learning over the past decade and a half, they found that students in online classes actually did marginally better than those in “normal” ones.

And, of course, the number of online classes is only growing. Quite a few Baltimore-area schools offer online-only courses, and sometimes even online-only degrees.  Goucher offers a distance-learning Master’s in digital arts; Hopkins has an online Master’s in museum studies, just to name a few.

So what’s your take on online learning? Just as good as the old-fashioned way? Better? Does anything get lost in translation?

Pricey Summer Programs for Students: Advantage or Indulgence?

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Gone are the days of lazy teenage summers, when kids could sleep in till noon and work a couple hours scooping ice cream for spending money, ride their bikes to no particular destination, and stop only when they felt like it, or go to a friend’s door, unannounced, just to see if she wanted to hang out.  Our teenagers are busy, focused, and accomplished.  They are maximizing their summer opportunities, building their resumes, maybe improving their chances at college admissions.  Our teenagers are getting internships, externships, substantive jobs that will pave their way professionally.  They are participating in language immersion programs to sharpen skills. They are traveling to international destinations to participate in nonprofit, humanitarian aid programs.  They are relocating to college campuses for summer classes, years before they are in college.  And many of their parents are spending a lot of money on these summer programs, some in the hope that the programs will help them get into the college of their choice.

Some local examples:  “Heather” is spending two months on a yacht in the Caribbean, doing marine biology research. Not cheap. “Connor” is in China, participating in a competitive State Department program for Chinese speakers, to learn about the culture (although the State Department pays his way).  “Jenna” is in Costa Rica, with a nonprofit organization building a school.  Her parents gladly paid the $6,000 plus for the program, hoping she would grow, learn, and yes, develop her young resume.  “Yasmine” is interning at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in a lab, assisting a world class research scientist.  No pay for her work, but at least she’s not paying them.  “Ryan” is in Spain for four weeks, living with a Spanish family and speaking only Spanish, at a cost of about $1,000 per week.  “Ella” is at Washington University in St. Louis, in a summer college program, earning six college credits and (her parents are) paying about $6,500 for the experience.  “Bethany” is going to six different lacrosse camps, at six different colleges, each with a steep registration fee.

There is debate about whether these expensive summer programs help or hurt our high school students in terms of their college applications.  Our intentions to help our kids learn, grow, and yes, distinguish themselves by participating in these programs may backfire.  Some admissions officers say that when kids write about these programs and activities (a yacht? in the Caribbean?) it reeks of privilege, and comes across like they have purchased an unfair advantage, and that is something admissions officers do not care for.  Colleges say they are looking for authentic experiences, things that have changed the student, made him or her grow or mature.  This can happen volunteering in the neighborhood senior center or community organic garden–or working at a parent’s office in the mail room for minimum wage.  

Again, we are forced back to the truth.  Real is real, and people know it when they see it.  For those of us who have paid for the pricey programs, we should not assume we have purchased anything more than an opportunity.  What our kids do with it, and how it changes them, is what colleges are really looking to understand.           

So How Bad Is Grade Inflation?

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Cleaning out my parents’ attic the other day, we found my dad’s old college transcripts.  Turns out he wasn’t as much of an academic superstar as he always claims.  “But a C back then is like an A today!” was his excuse. 

And, as annoying as it is to admit, he’s kind of right.  We’ve all heard about grade inflation, but it turns out it may be more rampant than you may have guessed — at least at some schools.  Private colleges and universities have, on the whole, way more A’s and B’s than their equivalently selective public counterparts, which lends credence to the argument that you get the grades you pay for.  Geographically, the harshest graders are in the South.  Schools that focus on science and engineering give fewer A’s than liberal arts-focussed schools — something that’s probably no surprise to all those stressed out Johns Hopkins students out there.

But grade inflation’s influence stretches across the country — a full 43 percent of all letter grades given are A’s these days.  In 1960, they made up only 15 percent. Which begs the question(s):  does getting an A mean anything these days? Or is it true that, as one study’s authors assert, “It is likely that at many selective and highly selective schools, undergraduate GPAs are now so saturated at the high end that they have little use as a motivator of students and as an evaluation tool for graduate and professional schools and employers.”

UMD Security Dispatcher’s Secret Other Life

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Between the hours we log at our jobs, some of us garden; others watch TV. Very few of us spend our extra time training to be a professional athlete — but that’s just what Andrew Pedrick, University police dispatcher for the University of Maryland, College Park, does. At least if you consider professional bowlers to be athletes — but, hey, they’re on ESPN so why not?

What does it take to be a professional bowler? More and better bowling, it turns out — Pedrick will have to end the year with an average score of 200 or more to be considered a pro. (Remember that a perfect game — 12 strikes in a row — comes to 300.) And while Pedrick has scored his fair share of perfect games, he still has a ways to go.

So between his 4 PM to 2 AM security shifts, Pedrick is spending his spare time (pun intended) taking a tour of local bowling alleys —  thanks to unique oil patterns, each alley has its own quirks and demands a slightly different style of play. “You can get a different shot every time,” Pedrick told the UMD’s Diamondback. “It’s like tennis, with clay courts and then grass.” If you care to cheer Pedrick on, he competes alongside his parents most Fridays at the AMF Country Club Lanes in Rosedale.

Student Photographer Earns National Recognition

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David Cha, a rising junior at Gilman, is going to be photo editor of the school yearbook, Cynosure, next year and, judging by the quality of the shot he took to win a top spot in the Josten’s Yearbook student photo contest, he has the chops to take on that important role and then some. Cha was just awarded fifth place in the Sports Athletes in Action category.  Photo contest winners were judged on composition, artistic merit, technical qualities and the ability to tell a compelling story.

Cha’s prize winning track photo titled “Full Speed” captures relay runner Daniel Yue at an indoor track meet. David panned with the running action during the 4×200 event.

“It took me at least 150 shots to get that one. I tried panning in every running event. I didn’t have a good telephoto. I shot it hand-held, which is why it is so hard. I ran with the person to get the pan and I ran into the fence once. It took a lot of attempts. It is really, really hard to pan when the person is moving everything. I got really lucky on that one,” says David.

Cha shot the photo using a Canon 60 D SLR, Tamron 17 to 50 mm 2.8 lens with vibration control, using a slow shutter speed of 1/30 sec. ISO 100. We won’t forget the cool image and we’ll keep his name on file!

Is the Internet Ruining College Admissions?

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Is the Internet ruining the college admissions process as we know it? John Christensen, outgoing director of admissions at St. John’s (the one in Annapolis, not the one in New York) seems to think so.

As Christensen told the Chronicle, the internet has fundamentally changed the college admissions process. Whereas once the schools controlled most of the information that prospective students got about them via brochures, campus visits, etc. These days, though, blogs, gossip boards, and Facebook can offer a fuller — if not quite as flattering! — portrait of a school. Admissions officers now must spend their time mastering YouTube and Twitter, trying to create an engaging and appealing online personality for their institution. (See, for example, Johns Hopkins’ attempt to woo undergrads.)

But this comes at a price. As Christensen puts it, “Admissions directors spend so much time grappling with these issues that many of us feel more and more removed from working directly with high school counselors, prospective students, and their families—the work that once made our jobs enjoyable and rewarding.” In this way, college admissions is subject to the paradox of online socializing:  more information and access can sometimes lead to an increased sense of alienation and distance.

To be fair, Christensen notes the positives, too:  namely, that schools are attracting more and more international students. Still, what does it mean that admissions officers feel “managers of media campaigns [who] do not have time for the work we enjoy”? Do the pluses outweigh the minuses?

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