Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Undergrad Research Opportunities: My Summer Learning About Prisons.

Happy August, undergrads, high-schoolers, and general public at-large. Soon school will be back in session, a few hundred incoming first-years will be joining us on campus, and in the mean time a few-dozen Saint Mike's undergraduates are wrapping up their summers of research.

Two organizations, the VPAA and SSRC, offer opportunities for undergraduates to pursue research on a topic of their choice during the summer months. These students receive a stipend, work one-on-one with a professor/adviser, and can present their findings at the symposium in the spring. Throughout the summer there are lunches that students can attend, a sort of forum for their experiences where they can exchange ideas and learning about others' projects.

Under the advising of professor Patrick Walsh in the econ department, this summer I set out to learn about how prison privatization interacts with other aspects of the justice system. Specifically, I asked how the growth of private prison populations have impacted the length of sentences served for certain crimes, and then I asked what variables predict both the level of private prison populations and the growth of those same populations.

At the moment, I'm working on analyzing the regressions of the data we collected, and finishing a first draft of the paper. In the next two weeks or so the paper should be done, and hopefully I'll present my findings at some point in the fall and maybe one other time (and I'll share my findings here, as well).

More than just learning about prisons, I've really enjoyed the pursuit of research, working one-on-one with a professor, and learning to appreciate the process of research in the field of economics. Based on this summer, my aspirations for the future have shifted more towards the pursuit of academia, because I've really found a passion for research and academic inquiry that I knew I had before, but hadn't necessarily considered could be my future (looks like I have to take the GRE's, after all).

Being on the brink of my final year as an undergrad, what I've learned this summer is both exciting and sobering. The world is a big place, and there are many students with lots of experience and many backgrounds competing to get into Masters and Ph.D. programs. I hope that I am able to pursue academia further, but I know that the future is plural and hard to predict; so, all I can say is lo que sera, sera, and cheers to the upcoming fall semester.


Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Kolkata Mutton, or Letter to a Goat (repost).

The following is a re-post from http://knightsinkolkata.blogspot.com/. I had the opportunity to go to Kolkata, WB, India this spring with MOVE, and this is my follow-up reflection from the trip.

The first time I walked from our hostel to Mother Theresa was the morning Goat made me laugh. Goat was scratching back with head, neck impressively flexible as it moved side to side, soothing some invisible goat itch. I didn't know goats could do that, I thought, chuckling to myself and continuing along the rugged dirt-and-brick sidewalk.

For many mornings after, Goat and I continued to exchange friendly glances and nods. Most often I passed by in the mornings, other times on the way to a market or otherwise.

One morning while making my way by Goat’s post, I didn't nod ‘hello’ like previously. As I passed, I heard a voice bark my name, and whipped around to see who it was. I only saw Goat staring back at me. ‘Hello?’ I questioned, scanning the street to find the voice that summoned me.

‘What’s the matter?’ asked the voice.

My eyes fall back on Goat, and I saw one raised goat eyebrow staring into my soul.

‘Goat I’m shocked’ I say. ‘I had no idea you knew English.’

‘And Bengali and Polish,’ Goat replied, ‘but what’s the matter this morning?’

‘Well Goat,’ I began, ‘I feel frustrated by so many volunteers here. People who have taken months off from their respective lives to travel around the world and pass through here. All of us come from somewhere I suppose, but I've met so many people whose motivations for being here seem superficial at best. It all seems an act! If we’re so humble in servitude, why are we so uppity and superior?’

‘What makes you think volunteers find themselves superior?’ asked Goat.

‘I guess it’s the way some of them talk. One woman I overheard wouldn't stop yapping about having held the hands of God, having touched the face of God, while she was assisting an older patient at the hospital yesterday. Not once did she talk about the patient, only the God she supposedly touched.’

‘So?’

‘So I find it annoying that she can’t just hold the hand of another person! Why does she need the glove of religion to hold someone’s hand? It’s as if she’s choosing not to see the person in front of her. Do we need to erase the experiences of other people by focusing only on serving some elusive construction of a creator?’

‘You’re frustrated.’

‘They’re crazy!’

‘You’re talking to a Goat.’

‘That’s not the point,’ I blurted. ‘I just don’t see why people feel the need to pretend.’

‘Don’t you also pretend?’

Twenty to forty passengers disembarked a passing city bus, and we fell silent as the crowd passed.

‘I suppose I pretend in some ways,’ I conceded as the last passenger walked by.

Goat met my glance, nodding head with a tilt to the side in the fashion of West Bengal. I realized it was time to go.

‘Til next time Goat,’ I said, turning in the direction of the Mother House.

‘Til next time indeed,’ Goat agreed.

                        -------------------------------------------------------------------------

A day or two or three later, I approached goat as goat sorted through a pile of rubbish on the street. Goat heard me as I got closer, nodding head in a tilt as a gesture of greeting.

‘Hi goat. I've been thinking a lot about our conversation before.’ Goat stared at me, waiting for me to continue. Goat’s ear twitched to swat a fly away.

‘I realize it’s a waste of energy to criticize how other people decide to do service. It’s all to the same end, and individual experiences are the individual’s prerogative. At the end of the day, everyone’s just dishing out lunch or mopping or caretaking.'

I paused.

‘But as volunteers we don’t accomplish much anyway! How is volunteering like this not just poverty tourism?’

I think Goat laughed, but I may have imagined that.

‘If you only thought you were here to spectate poverty, would you have come?' Goat inquired. 'Before you came, did you not consider what might have motivated you to buy a plane ticket and a visa to a city half way around the world?'

‘Yes but I have all this privilege and—‘

‘But you already knew that. Why do you think it was important to you to choose Kolkata, above other places, to do service?’ Goat asked, locking my gaze.

I paused for a moment, keeping eye contact.

‘Goat, why are you the only one that talks to me? Why don’t other goats talk?’ I asked, not knowing what else to say.

Goat burped and said nothing, then finally turned back to the pile of rubbish. I chuckled, and turned back to the hostel for lunch.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was the last day in Kolkata, and I made my way quickly toward the storefront where Goat sat.

‘Goat,’ I said, approaching the shop front briskly, ‘Goat, I think I know why I flew halfway around the world.’

Goat sat down, preparing to listen.

‘I think I’ve struggled most with the element of ego; there’s something narcissistic in thinking that one would be able to make positive change anywhere, especially a 14-hour plane ride away.

I pause, Goat nods.

‘But there’s also something valuable in the human exchange that necessarily becomes a part of service. Since I've been here, people have shared with me tremendously, shown me the places they've lived and struggled. At the same time, I've done my best to reciprocate. I've tried to listen, remember, and value these stories for what they are, not what I’d like them to be. How can I pity the successful student and full time worker who happens to live in a plywood home on the sidewalk? I see that she experiences hardship, I know that her life is in danger, but pity does no justice to explain neither her strength nor the beautiful smile she wears as she shows you her home. Corporate theft, unjust economies, and social systems of oppression are real, but in opposing these destructive institutions we should not forget to be human with other humans.’

I stopped talking, and Goat did nothing but nod his head in a tilt to the side. I smiled back.

‘It’d be wise not to miss breakfast today. It’s gonna be a hot one.’

‘Thanks, Goat.’

‘Any time human.’

‘This might be the last time, actually. I leave tomorrow.’

‘In any case; til next time. Best of luck, human.’ And Goat turned back to the pile of rubbish.

‘Goodbye Goat,’ I said, and turned to come back from whence I came.



-Ben Rosbrook, 2015

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Durick Library: Best College Library (Fact).


The library offers an obvious flavor of academic utility: academic literature, miles of novels and other books, online resources, computers, study spaces, etc. Not only do students have access to resources from our own library, but from other libraries (other universities, I believe) who participate in our inter-library loan. One might say that the library is endless in its offerings of academic resources; last semester when Common Ground asked a librarian if the club could co-purchase the rights to a film, they offered to pay for the whole thing (Intersexion is now available for rent from the DVD stacks), so you can pretty much get what you need. But there's more to the library than just academics, and those qualities are the ones that: (a) make it the special place that it is, and (b) will probably comprise the more significant aspects of my memories spending time there.

The Strangely Hidden History

Last semester, I got to tour the archives and "secret room" of the library, which are two of the only spaces not readily accessible by the student body (without permission). Not only was it wicked cool to see parts of the library I'd dreamed of seeing since freshman year (seriously, those windows into the secret room on the far right front of the library are mysterious!), but I also learned that our library houses some serious history and treasures. These include but are not limited to: an *alleged* piece of the cross (like THE cross), a relic from the body of Saint Edmund (his skin), and Sermones de patientia in Job, which was published in 1474 (like, before the Native Americans saved Chris Columbus and his crew after nearly drowning in the Ocean Blue). This tour was the first time I knew we had any of this, and my point in sharing is that Durick automatically become ten times cooler when you consider the mass of unique historic artifacts that rest beneath the chairs of these studious Purple Knights.

It's Like Our Living Room (Imagine Gryffindor House).

Definitely Gryffindor (Dailey Room).
You know how some witch or wizard always happens to be lounging in the Gryffindor common room when Hermione, Ron and Harry stumble in post-plotting or post-delinquency? You don't? OK: well it's this magical space filled with fluffy chairs, pictures on the wall, and what I imagine to be the warm scent of magic. In these ways, I find Gryffindor house to be like Durick (if we had a fireplace that would be BOMB). Walking into the library is like entering a hybrid world of studiousness and napping (we really do nap in there), with the occasional social exchange between stressing classmates or busy friends. Someone's always reading some book, and more often than not you'll see a student without their shoes. It is the most comfortable place on campus to bust out a paper, cram some studying, or even plan out an organized academic schedule if that's what you're into. Either way, I and most of the people I know get most of our homework done there, and I'm unconvinced that this can be explained by anything but library magic (which probably comes from the archives downstairs!).

Everyone Has their own spot (because there are so many).

Different people find comfort in different spots; whereas I'm more of a table-and-chair kind of person, my boyfriend Trevor can read dozens-of-pages articles in armchairs that put me to sleep. So depending on the type of student/type of homework, one can seek out: independent study cubicles, computer labs, a food-friendly study room downstairs, group project tables, individual tables in the bird's nest, or, like I've mentioned, fluffy armchairs. The library-goers with whom I often associate are frequent fliers in the Dailey Room, which also houses the Global Eyes photo exhibition (which showcases student photography from around the world). My personal favorite, though, are the two most secluded study cubicles at the end of the rolling stacks in the basement (you kinda have to find them). I'll be happy to consult with anyone looking to find a Durick study spot that best suits them, just shoot me an email ;) (sort of kidding but I'll actually help you if you want).

Lollipops and Other Comforts

Durick's Den--the location of much snacking and finals
coffee breaks.
I think I've called Durick comfortable more than once, and that's due to more than just the sleep-inducing armchairs. Next time you're in the library, take a left at the top of the stairs and head for the encyclopedias. Across the aisle from the research desks you will likely find a large pink bowl of purple and gold lollipops, supplied courtesy of the library for nothing more than pure happiness and study calmness. During finals, there are cookies, coffee and hot chocolate in the food-friendly Durick's Den (in the basement), because the library knows we're stressed and wants us to be happy. It is the plurality of possible study spaces, wonderful librarians and college staff, plus amenities such as these that make Durick the truly welcoming place that it is, and for this I don't hesitate to call it my favorite building on campus.

If you have any questions about the library or want a personal tour, I will be more than happy to oblige at any time.

Thanks for reading, and happy studies!


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Summer Research On-Campus.

Each year, the Social Science Research Center at Saint Mike's accepts applications from students looking to pursue summer research with professors. I'm pleased to say that my application was accepted, and I'll be doing research on private prisons with Professor Walsh in the Economics department this summer!

The SSRC, as well as the Office of the Vice President of Academic Affairs, which also gives students awards for independent research, offer unique opportunities in that the students selected have quite a bit of autonomy in determining the question, hypotheses, and methods of their research. So while my professor will advise me in the process of gathering data and crunching numbers, the direction of my research is largely up to me, At the end of the summer, I'll have a final paper written as the culmination of the investigation, which I'll be able to present at the academic symposium at the end of my senior year.

There are also students who do research through organizations like EPSCoR, which works with Saint Michael's faculty and students, but is an external organization. My best friend and room mate Carlos Sian just did his final presentation on the research he did last summer (pictured), which was about the levels of ammonium and nitrate in Vermont streams and watersheds.

This availability of such opportunities really speaks to the culture of academia on campus, because many students are actively engaged in research during the summer and also throughout the academic year. Obtaining such a position often requires extra work and motivation, but the students who take advantage of them are learning invaluable skills in their various fields that will translate well in other long-term pursuits. And these researchers are no joke--a student in the chemistry department was recently the first Saint Michael's student to be named a Goldwater scholar, which is a very prestigious award.

I'm very grateful and humbled to be selected for such an opportunity, and I look forward to beginning my research this June! If you have any questions about research opportunities, my research, or anything in general, don't hesitate to shoot me an email (brosbrook@mail.smcvt.edu).

Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Spring Break in Mexico.

El rancho de La Bufadora.
In terms of atypical-typical spring breaks, mine was everything you might expect, and not. The Wilderness Program often runs extended excursions over winter and spring breaks, having visited locations far-flung as Kenya and Scotland. Over break, I participated in a trip to Baja California, Mexico, with a group of 9 other paddlers, including our program director, student leader, and local instructor from San Diego.

We flew from Burlington to San Diego on the first Saturday, spending the night at Jen's house (our west-coast contact, and a peer of SMC's own Todd Wright's in the world of prestigious paddling instruction). That night we slept on her back porch under the stars; a nice and sudden departure from the cold and snowy of our beloved Vermont.

Our not-so-minivan and boats.
We spent Sunday traveling from San Diego to La Bufadora, Mexico, boats in tow behind our beautiful boxy not-so-minivan (the rack on top is my favorite part). On our way we crossed through Tijuana, Ensenada (where we stopped for fish tacos and quesadillas at the market), and finally out to La Bufadora, only after picking up some tamales for dinner. The area was jaw-droppingly beautiful; geographically, it's a desert on the ocean. As you can imagine, the weather here was nice like San Diego ;)

Our first  day on the water consisted of crossing from the peninsula to La Isla de Todos Santos, which was about a 7 nautical mile crossing. Being our first day out, many of us spent some time finding our sea legs (or since we were sitting, sea bums?). The swell (waves) on the coast that day were pretty big, so the crossing took some time. When we finally arrived to the islands, though, there were seals and other aquatic amigos who saluted our arrival (seriously, they were super friendly). However it had been a long day, so hard ground was a much-celebrated accomplishment when we finally made it ashore. Also, our camp was a bunkroom built inside an old lighthouse, next to the newer one built to replace it (pictured). It was a wicked cool experience camping out in such a unique place.

Our second day out we paddled the features around the island. In coastal conditions, there are often rocks and other geological formations that allow for white-water-esqe boating in the swell. This week was my first time being exposed to conditions like that, and the playtime we found in the islands was like something in a dream. After circumventing the larger island and looping back to camp, we posted up for a good nights sleep before our 7nm trek home.

After our excursion to the islands, we spent Thursday and Friday paddling around La Bufadora. We paddled through everything from caves to 'slots' (wave runs that will form between two rocks as a swell comes in from the ocean), and even a couple blowholes (La Bufadora actually means 'the blowhole', and we paddled i the blowhole that the town is famous for). I found myself exponentially more comfortable in a boat from the instruction I received from our own Todd Wright, as well as our west-coast amiga Jen Kleck. While I had a ton of fun all week, it felt great to develop my paddling skills and learn some techniques that I had never learned. By far, the most enjoyable and productive Spring Break I've experienced in my young life.

While my words can't do justice to the beauty we encountered on this trip, these photos from the Wilderness Program might be more successful: http://on.fb.me/1dKevlp

Here's to more adventures in the future, and thanks for reading!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Paddling in Baja: a preview.

Over spring break I'll be traveling to Baja, Mexico for a week of kayaking in the pacific waters. Our group will fly out to San Diego where we'll meet with Jenn K., a contact of Todd Wright's and a fellow of his in paddling certification. After that, we'll pack the van, and drive to the region north of Ensenada, where we'll begin our adventures.

While there, we'll spend full days paddling along the coast, and at least one (if not two nights) exploring around and camping on small islands off the coast. I'm looking forward to both developing my paddling skills in a different environment, and spending time in Mexico; a country whose politics, social welfare and culture are heavily present in the U.S. I had the opportunity to travel to Mexico once before while in high school, but I was much farther south and I imagine the experience will be somewhat different.

I'm looking forward to sharing stories about the trip when I return, but first I've got a week of class and some last-minute gear sorting and overall planning to do ;)

Happy Spring Break, and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Can I Work in College?

Many students wonder whether they'll be able to hold a part-time job. Like a true economist, I'll tell you that the answer to that depends entirely on individual circumstances.

Obviously, both school and work require commitment and follow-through. Just like you need to take tests and fulfill certain course expectations, you have to show up to work and do your job well. So adding a part-time job to the school equation certainly adds another dimension to the busy student paradigm, which is incredibly prevalent on this campus.

Speaking from my own experience, I would only recommend working a part-time job off campus if it's not to the detriment of academic and extracurricular expectations. For example, I work at a deli down the road from campus; I can take the CCTA Route 2 from my apartment on North Campus to work, and then to class. The commute is short and straightforward, so my concessions are minimal. Further, I work the lunch shift on the days of the week that I don't have class during that time. Basically, work fits into my day like classes would if I had them at that time, so there's very little trade-off (except that I have long days every day).

Not having a car, I wouldn't be able to work if my job required a substantial commute because of the commitments I have on campus. It would also be more challenging if I had to schedule evening work hours, since that time frame is when I'm doing most of my extracurricular stuff. I've struck a lucky balance, but a balance  nonetheless, and that's what's important.

That being said, it's also possible to hold a work-study if your financial package allows, and there are on-campus employment options (Sodexo, Einsteins, or even Cumby's, Simon's or Tilley's, but those three aren't technically on-campus).

So happy job-hunting/class-scheduling! As always, hit me up at brosbrook@mail.smcvt.edu with questions/comments.

Thanks for reading!