New College Rankings: Who’s Cheapest, Rowdiest, Easiest


U.S. News and World Report releases its annual “Best Colleges” report in a couple weeks, but Newsweek/The Daily Beast is trying to trump them (and perhaps capture a slice of the apparently insatiable appetite for college rankings) by issuing its own set of lists this week.

But don’t check them out expecting to get an idea of which schools have the top academic reputation. Instead, the site claims to know whose students are the horniest (Wesleyan), what school is the cheapest (Berea College), who gets the best food (St. Olaf College), and where future CEOs and activists matriculate (Harvard and Swarthmore, respectively).

One nice thing about these lists is that less-well known schools feature prominently. Schools making the top-20 list for free-spirited students include College of the Atlantic, New Saint Andrews College, and Soka University of America, all of which were unfamiliar to me. One less-nice thing is that the rankings themselves seem at times, well, dumb. Does Johns Hopkins really belong on the list of “least rigorous” institutions? Have you ever visited the school’s library during finals week?! Kids literally camp out at their library carrels. I wish I were kidding.  Also on the list:  Berkeley, UNC-Chapel Hill, and other universities that I highly doubt are walks in the park.

Results this misguided may have come about because the methodology includes data from, not the most reputable source in the world. Also the idea that freshman retention is a measure of relative ease or difficulty seems suspect.

I imagine Newsweek’ll be hearing from some wound-up Blue Jays in the coming days. After all, the school year is just beginning, so students still have a teensy bit of free time with which to correct mistaken assumptions about their school of choice.

Gender Roles on Campus: Are Today’s Students Regressing?


In this weekend’s New York Times, Lisa Belkin writes about her discomfort with the gender roles she sees on campus (she’s a professor at Princeton):  women who are intelligent and confident in the classroom, and subservient/skimpily dressed outside of it:

“Why has the pendulum swung back to a feeling that sexualization of women is fun and funny rather than insulting and uncomfortable? Why are so many women O.K. with that? Odds are that the women dancing at [a Halloween/slut-themed] Duke party had mothers who attended more than one Take Back the Night march in their college day. What has changed?”

Some commenters have called Belkin out for assuming that girls in short skirts are being oppressed — perhaps they’re just asserting their sexuality the way they want to. (See the debate over the anti-rape SlutWalk protests for more discussion of the same issue.) But something about Belkin’s subtly troubling account rings true, to me at least. I always get kind of creeped out by the wintertime phenomenon of college girls trotting across Charles Street in sleeveless dresses, dodging snowdrifts while wearing high heels. Aren’t they freezing? (Consider also the series of frat-centric scandals that have erupted over the past year or so.)

Belkin asked some of her journalism students to help with the reporting, and the quotes they contribute give me an icky feeling inside, too: “‘A guy is more or less dependent on the women receiving his advances so if she is not interested, then tough luck for him,’ [one male student] said. ‘I think that in a way the girls relish that power. They can pick and say, “I’m not interested in that guy.” ‘ ” Hopefully these young women are feeling empowered by more than just their ability to reject guys. But an upsetting number of students — both male and female — seem to see it in exactly those terms.

If you’re a college student (or a parent of a college student):  does Belkin’s account ring true? Are today’s students moving in the wrong direction, in terms of gender roles? Or are here expectations outdated?

What’s Green, Nutritious, and More Competitive Than Harvard?


First there was the Peace Corps, whose members travel to developing countries for two-year stints to teach English, set up small businesses, and help with irrigation systems. Then there was AmeriCorps, whose members performed service in communities much closer to home. And now, in keeping with our food-obsessed times, there is FoodCorps, a national service program that centers on, you guessed it:  food. More specifically, the 50 new corps members will be helping improve nutrition education for kids, developing school gardening projects, and revamping cafeteria lunches. (And, just to keep things straight, it’s actually a subset of AmeriCorps.)

The participants are clustered in communities with high rates of childhood obesity and/or poor access to healthy food. And while Maryland isn’t represented, Baltimore plays a part in its own tangential way:  one of the sites where FoodCorps will be working is the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health… which is in Arizona, not Maryland.

Still, if all goes well for this first batch of Corpsmembers, maybe we’ll be getting our own next year. Each participant gets only $15,000 a year, but still the program is undeniably popular:  1,230 people applied for the 50 spots, making it more competitive than Harvard. Not bad for the program’s first year.

Johns Hopkins Summer Interns Make an Impact in Baltimore


When an anonymous donor approached the Johns Hopkins Center for Social Concern (CSC) with a proposal for a summer program that would fund students to work with local non-profits during summer months, no one was quite sure what to expect.

There is, after all, the (not entirely undeserved) Hopkins student stereotype:  chained to a library desk, happy in the Hopkins bubble, venturing off campus only once a year to have dinner in the Inner Harbor with their parents.  Bill Tiefenwerth, head of the CSC, had met students who were passionate about engaging in the community — but this program would be much more time-consuming and immersive than, say, the school’s annual day of service. Interns would be doing hands-on work measuring Inner Harbor pollution, building composting systems, and organizing after-school programs for disadvantaged youth. These were demanding jobs, often in parts of Baltimore unfamiliar to many students. Would a summer spent in the Baltimore trenches hold any appeal?

Quite a bit, it turns out. From the start, the Johns Hopkins Community Impact Internship program has struck a chord with both students and the wider community, challenging the way that Hopkins students see their city — and perhaps changing the way the university and the community interact.

The first sign of the program’s success came early — in the application phase. The donor set aside funds for 25 summer internship placements (students received $5,000 stipends to help cover the cost of summer housing and living expenses). No one knew whether this was a realistic expectation. “We were wondering how many [applicants] we’d get,” Tiefenwerth remembers.  The program’s intensity — and its emphasis on outside-the-classroom learning — would appeal to a particular type of student, ones who “have an intellectual curiosity about how things work, [and wonder] what is this place called Baltimore?” as Tiefenwerth puts it. Turns out, there were more of those at Hopkins than you might expect. Ultimately, 200 undergrads applied for the 25 slots. “When you send out a call for applications hoping to get 25 and you get 200, there’s a sleeping giant out there,” Tiefenwerth notes.  The response was so overwhelming that next year’s program will double in size, offering 50 funded summer internships to Hopkins students.

The program seemed almost perfectly tailored to a student like Sylvie McNamara. A rising sophomore majoring in history (“and probably Africana Studies”), McNamara works two jobs during the school year, in addition to her coursework. “I’m paying for school myself, so it wouldn’t be feasible to work for non-profits unless I could get paid,” McNamara says, and then points out that the grassroots social justice organizations she finds compelling tend to operate on shoestring budgets and rely on volunteer labor. But with a Community Impact Internship, McNamara was able to stay in the city for the summer, getting some seriously good work done. (Read the Baltimore Free Farm brag about her efforts here.) Program administrator Abby Neyenhouse matched McNamara with a trio of local groups that share a collaborative, collective ethos:  the Free School, the Free Farm, and the Free Store.

Thanks in part to McNamara’s work, the Free Farm launched Hampden’s first Community Composting Program. McNamara helped build the system (“I learned to use power tools!”); set up a series of Free School lectures during Artscape that touched on prison reform, independent media, and hiphop and politics; and helped out with the Free Store’s periodic give-away days. All three groups operate as horizontal collectives (meaning there’s no authority structure in place, and all participants are on an equal playing field) and, McNamara says, “it was interesting to see how that works — and most interesting to see that it worked very well.” Furthermore, her extended engagement with the projects allowed her to connect with the community in a way that, say, a morning spent planting flowers as a part of the school’s President’s Day of Service would not.

It’s no accident that McNamara’s interests and skills lined up nicely with her internship placements.  Internship coordinator Abby Neyenhouse interviewed each participant, and took pains to make intentional matches between students and agencies. That was just one aspect of the  service-learning model that the CSC adopted to make sure participants were taken care of throughout the program. “We’re not just sending out students and hoping for the best,” Tiefenwerth notes. To that end, all participants took part in an orientation program with representatives from local government and grassroots organizations to give them a broad overview of the city’s challenges and opportunities. During the program, the interns met for a weekly dinner to reflect together on how their understanding of the city (and themselves) was changing. The goal was to have the students “constantly engaged with the process,” Tiefenwerth says — in a way that generic internship programs rarely do.

Both the CSC and the anonymous donor seem to understand that supporting these student interns goes well beyond just giving them money.  Participants were guided through the often-befuddling world of Baltimore politics and non-profits, supported by the program (and by one another). When one of the partnering non-profits suddenly moved its headquarters, Neyenhouse helped the intern figure out a viable transportation option.  She also made sure that each of the participating organizations — which included the ACLU, the Baltimore City Health Department, Blue Water Baltimore, Parks & People, and the People’s Community Health Center, among others — had a specific project for the intern to tackle, so no one spent six weeks fetching coffee and filing.

Hopkins president Ronald Daniels recently touted the program as an example of the benefits of community engagement:  “Our students will get real work experience and an appreciation of the need to look beyond oneself. Often squeezed organizations will get Johns Hopkins talent on loan. And the city will get a few more advocates, maybe even a future mayor, working on its critical issues.” As the University attempts to remake its image in the wake of its floundering East Baltimore biotech project, the Community Impact Internships are one way of connecting the campus to the community on a micro level. Otherwise, you’ve got a situation in which, as McNamara describes it, “[Hopkins students’] brains and labor pretty much stay on campus for four years, and that’s too bad.”

One measure of the program’s success is whether (or if) it continues to make an impact now that the summer is over. Signs are encouraging — Tiefenwerth says that two organizations have offered to hire their interns come fall, and other students are figuring how to work their community involvement in with their academic responsibilities. For her part, McNamara is working with the Free School on a series of classes that would appeal directly to Greenmount West residents. It may be too soon to tell what the program’s impact on the students and the community will be, but as Tiefenwerth notes, “You can’t really develop a model program after one year, but this is as close as you can get.”

The Plagiarism Epidemic: Real or Mirage?


Dora Clarke-Pine was getting the funny feeling that there was a lot of copying going on with her students. Being an academic (she’s an associate professor of psychology and school counseling at La Sierra University), she naturally decided to make a study out of it — and found that four out of five of the PhD dissertations she examined had strings of 10+ words copied exactly, without attribution. Yikes.

The obvious conclusion would be that students are plagiarizing more than ever. Google, essay factories, the slow erosion of copyright culture — you can pick your favorite villain.

According to Clarke-Pine, though, it’s not that there’s a nationwide cheating crisis — at least, not on purpose. She concluded that most of the borrowing was unintentional. That is, that students either weren’t entirely aware of what they were doing (perhaps finding other peoples’ phrasing creeping into their own work), or didn’t know that what they were doing “counted” as plagiarism. Really, Clarke-Pine opines, it’s the fault of the universities themselves — for not doing a better job of teaching students about plagiarism, and how to avoid it.

So what do you think — is most of this copying innocent, or is Clarke-Pine letting students off the hook too easily?

The List: Apply to at Least One Dream School


My daughter has spent untold hours in her room over the last two weeks of summer.  She’s not hiding, or pouting, or avoiding the rest of the family.  She is working on “the list.”  Emily is a rising senior in high school, and the reality of the college application process has hit her like a pie in the face, kind of sweet, but certainly messy. 

High school has been great for Emily.  She’s done a lot of terrific growing up.  We think she’s pretty mature for her age, makes good decisions in social situations (something not all parents of 17-year-olds think), and has a star-bright future.  Her junior year grades, however, were not what she was hoping for.  This sad fact has an impact on “the list,” the colleges where she plans to apply.  

I have had to check myself in conversations with her about my emotional reaction to her list, but finally I couldn’t bear it.  I had to tell her–I think she is smarter than the schools she is planning to apply to!  I know she needs to be realistic, but it can’t all boil down to GPA, can it?  We are all transfixed by the computer screen when we look at Naviance–the software program that compares Emily’s GPA and SAT scores to those of other graduates from her high school, and charts how those kids fared in the application process at specific colleges and universities–accepted, rejected, deferred.  But, it cannot be this formulaic, can it?

Oh sure, there are some good choices on the list.  A few selective liberal arts schools–proper “reaches.”  But then it all falls apart.  I thought, somehow, that the list would flow something like:  three or four “reaches,” three or four “as-likely-as-nots,” two “safeties.”  Well, Emily has a couple reaches, and then whoosh.  She falls off the ledge!  I know this is not the time in her life for me to tell her what to do, but come on!  Ramp it up a little!  Speaking hypothetically, if she doesn’t get into the so-called reaches, then we must assumed she is going to end up at one of the others on the list–a less brilliant outcome than perhaps we had hoped for.

Our younger daughter, Grace, put it to me straight, though.  She said, “Mom, you just don’t want to tell your friends if she goes to one of those schools.”  Is that it?  I don’t think so.  I mean, I’m sure that’s true, but only a tiny, shameful little bit of the truth.  The bigger part of the truth is that I don’t see a fit for Emily on her list–a place where she will likely get in that deserves her, all that she is.  The list has to get better–it has to change so that it holds a picture we can smile at when we look in the middle.  Sure, we’d be happy if she got into her first choice, but there is a reason we call them “reaches.”  Her list has got to grow so that when we picture her at number 4 or 5 or 6 down the line, we can still feel good, she can still feel good.  I don’t know how to say this to her without sounding critical.  It may be impossible.  But I have to try.  Maybe she doesn’t see herself the way I do–better.          

The #1 Social Media School in the U.S. is….


It’s not the same as being the nation’s best school according to the US News & World Report, or the #1 ranked Division I lacrosse team, but hey! it’s something:  Johns Hopkins was named the nation’s top social media college, according to

Yep, the Blue Jays stomped all over Harvard, the previous top school, now miserably demoted to #2. As the rankings noted, their school’s social media Twitter group hasn’t posted anything since April 15 — which is eons in internet time. Nice try, Harvard. Hopkins has a wealth of bloggy info out there, including (school-sanctioned) blogs by a bunch of different undergrads, and the supremely helpful Hopkins Insider site run by the admissions office, which does some excellent, virtual hand-holding as prospective students navigate the application process. As of today, the school’s been tweeting for 3 years, 4 months, and 6 days, and has 13,961 followers.

So, what does this mean? According to the site, “’s Top Social Media Colleges ranking compares more than 6,000 federally recognized colleges and universities and post-secondary schools in the United States in terms of their mastery of public social media methods, tools and websites.” You hear that, Harvard? Mastery!

Ahem, anyway. The rankings are a little weird — tech powerhouse MIT lingers at #68, for example. And no other Baltimore-area schools make the list, while less-well-known universities (Transylvania University? Wafford College?) are up there. Still, who’s going to nitpick a #1 victory?

Bringing Lacrosse to Baltimore’s Toughest Neighborhoods


A couple of years ago, Lacrosse Magazine ran a piece featuring two arguments on the exclusivity of lacrosse — one swearing it is, the other refuting the point.  The article surprised me.  It hadn’t occurred to me that the sport is seen as, well, controversially exclusive.  Further reflection led me to face facts that my lack of awareness was a result of my having been lucky enough to be included in the first place — I’ve played lacrosse since I was seven. 

Anyone active in the sport will tell you that lacrosse has come a long way in the last decade, and that’s true.  Instead of playing one another over and over again, club teams from Baltimore, New York, and Boston now play teams from Georgia, New Hampshire, California, and Texas. While broadening the geographical horizon is a great start, it doesn’t necessarily bridge the racial and economic gap that exists in lacrosse.  The cost of putting one safely equipped young man on a lacrosse field is around $400 per season. The cost for women is a little less, between $200 and $300.  That’s several thousand dollars, just to field a team.  Not everyone can handle that expense for a sport, especially when that money will be spent twice or three times over to replace equipment. 

It doesn’t seem fair for kids to be kept from a sport because they can’t afford it.  A lot of people, when presented with that opinion, would probably agree, but might also say that it’s not their responsibility to pay for other kids to play lacrosse in addition to their own, and that’s not unreasonable.  Important to note: There’s a lot of money being donated in the world of lacrosse — people give thousands of dollars to teams that don’t need it.  I would venture to guess that most of the time this is not because they are averse to helping people who actually need help, but rather that they don’t know how they can do that.
Baltimore features some of the best quality lacrosse in the country, and has recently produced some of the best intentioned as well.  Baltimorean and former All American Ryan Boyle founded the Baltimore Youth Lacrosse League in 2007 with the help of Rob Lindsey and David Skeen.  All three were raised on Baltimore lacrosse and wanted to find a way to give poor kids the same opportunities that allowed them to thrive.  When they found no such thing, they created their own.  And while much of the program focuses on teaching skills, the larger goal has always been nobler.  The program caters to kids in rough neighborhoods, those most at risk of falling in with a bad crowd. 

Interestingly, another program bridging the lacrosse gap in Baltimore pairs inner city youth and Baltimore’s finest. In the Parks and People Foundation’s Baltimore Middle School Lacrosse League, under the direction of police commissioner Fred Bealefeld, several officers from the Baltimore Police Department serve as volunteer coaches, coaching kids from some of the worst areas in the city.  And despite the unfavorable reputation the police may have in some of those neighborhoods, discipline is rarely an issue.  On the field, officers are coaches; kids are just kids, no matter their background. 

BMSLL volunteer coach A.C. George, who played at North Carolina and coached at Walbrook Middle School, says the pairing works–they are helping keep kids off the street. 

“These kids are at an age that gangs target for recruiting, and this gives them a much better option,” George says.

The program is growing by leaps and bounds.  At NCAA men’s finals in Baltimore this spring, all teams in the new league participated in NCAA-sponsored clinics.  This summer the 19 players travelled to New Hampshire for a five-day lacrosse camp.  George, a retired McCormick Spice executive, fielded 12 teams this spring and would like to grow to 16 to 18 teams in 2012.
Ideally, these programs help kids get involved with lacrosse when they’re 11 or 12 — next, they play for their high school team, then they get to go on and play in college.  After just one season, George sent Jamar Peete to play at Limestone College in South Carolina: the first of what promises to be a long string of successes.

Charm City Lacrosse, a program out of Baltimore city, takes the outreach one step further with a program for six- to 10-year-olds. Kids learn skills, training, league play and receive mentoring.  According to the website, the program also aims to open doors to scholarship opportunities at private schools.

Seems like the meaning of these programs and the kids they help should be enough to make any lacrosse fan feel that fighting for the sport to be more inclusive is worth their time, maybe even their money.  Many who watch the sport have complained repeatedly that professional lacrosse doesn’t get enough coverage, or funding, or publicity, and it certainly doesn’t get nearly the amount of sports like baseball, soccer, football, or basketball.  Then again, it doesn’t cater remotely to the same number of people.  For as long as lacrosse remains exclusive, it will also remain largely un-televised.  Certainly it’s understandable from a financial standpoint–stations don’t want to show something that only a few thousand people are going to watch when they can broadcast to millions–but it makes sense socially as well.  People don’t want to watch a sport they never had a chance to play and thus know nothing about.  Making the sport inclusive is win-win for everyone, and it starts right here.

A Brain and a Babe? Baltimore’s Jane Randall in NYT Fashion Shoot


America’s Next Top Model contestant and Roland Park Country School, Class of 2008 alum Jane Randall was featured last week in a spread entitled “Beautiful Minds/Extra Credit” in The New York Times “T” Magazine blog.

The Princeton University undergrad, who played lacrosse for the Tigers, took a year off last year to compete in the reality show. She came in second in the contest (where she was forbidden from reading a book!) but was signed by top modeling agency, IMG.

Said one Gilman, Class of 2008 alum and friend who eyed her this summer, “She’s still the same, just a lot skinnier.” Modeling will do that…




The Other Wes Moore: A Summer Read From Sea to Sea


In our recent coverage of local universities’ summer reading assignments, we mentioned that incoming Goucher freshman are required to read The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Baltimore native Wes Moore.  Several local high schools have included the book on their summer reading lists as well.  But, as it turns out, Baltimore-based students aren’t the only scholars who are reading the bestseller. (See the video on our video landing.)

The non-fiction work follows two boys, both named Wes Moore and both from the same area of Baltimore, but whose lives take divergent courses as a result of the decisions they make and the expectations they set for themselves.  The author grew to become a Rhodes Scholar, a decorated veteran, and a White House fellow, among other achievements.  The other Wes Moore, by contrast, is serving a life sentence in prison for felony murder. 

That central message–the idea that the choices you make and the standards you set for yourself determine who you are and what you accomplish–has earned The Other Wes Moore a spot on required summer reading lists at universities across the country, from nearby Virginia Commonwealth University all the way to California State University at Bakersfield. 

In a recent interview on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, Moore touched on this point, saying, “I remember there was actually a scene in the book where Wes and I were taking, and I asked him, ‘So do you think that we’re products of our environment?’ (We were talking about Baltimore). He said, ‘you know, I think we’re products of our expectations.’ And it’s so important that these students … really see the importance of that–that the expectations you set for yourself really matter. Because we are a nation of self-fulfilling prophecies, and so what we envision, and how we’re willing to work at it, can really make all the difference as to where we end up.”

During the interview, caller after caller phoned in to express appreciation and love for the book, adoration the author met with sincere gratitude. Speaking of which, gratitude is another virtue Moore hopes to impart on the students reading his tome.   

“For so many of these students who are coming into college, they know how lucky they are…It means a lot of people have sacrificed and worked on your behalf, and that the collegiate experience can’t simply be about what are you learning. It also needs to be about, what are you giving and what is the sacrifice that you’re wiling to make in order to help make the lives of others better.”

Moore has worked with schools to create local service projects within a given school’s community in conjunction with the study of the book. This will not only ensure students are giving back, but will also give students an understanding of their new communities.

And there’s one more thing students should be grateful for: Moore is making summer reading much more enjoyable than Homer or Plato ever did.