Nathan Tripplett Interview

Nathan Tripplett Interview

He’s an MSU law student. He’s a skier. He worked with the Legislature in Lansing for six years and managed a political campaign fresh out of college. But he’s also the youngest member of East Lansing City Council, and up for re-election in November.

TBG sat down with Nathan Triplett to discuss East Lansing’s housing situation, his student-friendly moves and what’s next for this political player.

Photo Credit: City of East Lansing

Q: I remember you catering during the election to students, and coming at it with a student angle. I’m just wondering since you’ve been in City Council, what are some things that you think you’ve accomplished for students?

A: You know, I think the most important part is trying to bring more students into the process through commissions or appointments to boards and commissions, as well as trying to lend an opportunity for student views to be heard about a number of issues.

A couple of really good examples, rental housing has always been a tremendous issue in our community, especially with the advent of these rental restriction overlay districts and trying to provide a venue for students to voice their opinion about the impact that those overlays have had. I spearheaded an effort to create a committee that would evaluate the impact and make recommendations to the council about changes to the process of how overlays happen and also what the actual impact of those overlays would be, and students were a critical part of that.

Also, trying to get the human relations commission, which I actually served on before being elected to council, to focus a little bit more on making students aware that one thing that’s unique in East Lansing is our human relations ordinance actually prohibits discrimination based on student status, which makes us unique among communities, and try and make people aware of that.

Q: My next question was actually about those overlay districts. I think that there’s a feeling among students that the City of East Lansing is trying to push them out of East Lansing. Can you speak a little bit to that and how the rental laws have changed when you’ve been in office?

A: I think the most important ordinance that East Lansing has ever passed in regards to rental housing is ordinance 900, and that really changed the economics of renting in East Lansing. It limited the number of people who could be licensed to rent most houses to two unrelated or family. So it’s my opinion that that’s really been the ordinance that had the biggest impact on helping to stem the dramatic growth of rental housing in East Lansing and provide some balance to neighborhoods.

The challenge is that at about the same time ordinance 1035c, which was the overlay ordinance that was passed, and my conversations with a lot of the folks that have petitioned for an overlay in their neighborhood has led me to believe that overlays provide them with a sense of security, when they felt like their neighborhood was becoming unbalanced with rental properties moving in, but I don’t think there’s any evidence that suggests that they’ve really had a positive impact on property values or on neighborhood stability or on things like that, but I think basically they have a positive psychological impact for some folks. I don’t think that they’ve had the same impact that ordinance 900 has on really changing the economics of the rental market.

What’s been disturbing in recent years is we’ve gone from in the beginning where overlays were petitioned for in neighborhoods where there really was a huge influx of rental property and it was turning neighborhoods into primarily rental or majority rental rather than a good mix, we’ve gone from that to the completely opposite side of the spectrum, to what I call pre-emptive overlays where you have one person apply for a rental license and then the neighborhood quickly organizes to block the issuance of that license and then oppose any rental in that neighborhood with an overlay.

I wasn’t on the council when the ordinance was passed, but I don’t think that that’s what was envisioned. It was supposed to protect balance and neighborhood stability. It wasn’t supposed to be used as a tool for exclusion. So that’s a really disturbing development for me, which is why we’ve started to evaluate options in terms of changing the process and making residents aware of what it is they’re really doing when they’re imposing an overlay.

And the other side of that, which isn’t necessarily just student focused, is with the housing downturn we’ve had an increasing number of people come to the council and say “we just can’t afford to be in the home that we’ve been in before, we can’t afford to make the payments so we have to downsize, we have to move, we have to go back to renting, and we can’t sell our house.” But of course since many of those folks live in overlays they also can’t rent their house, which puts them in a tremendous situation of hardship. And it’s been unfortunate but so far we haven’t been able to unite the community around a solution for that that would allow an exemption to the licensing requirement for someone in the event that they’re having an inability or difficulty to sell, which is something that I continue to work on and I think we absolutely have to address.

But the last thing that I would say is that the umbrella of all of that is I think that there is a legitimate issue in East Lansing about the balance between rental housing and single-family homes. But the tools that were imposed 10 or 15 years ago, I think we have to look at whether or not they’re still serving a legitimate purpose and make sure that we’re providing housing opportunities for all different types of people in East Lansing, from undergrads to young families to working professionals to senior citizens who want to age in place. And they’ve got a lot of work left to do there, because I don’t think that’s what we’re doing at the moment.

Q: As far as housing goes too, I think that some of maybe the intended or unintended consequences of people not being able to rent here or not being able to rent cheaply here has been a lot of people moving out to Chandler Crossings. And from what I can see that’s taken business away from East Lansing, we just had Lou & Harry’s move out toward Chandler, new buildings are going up there that might have gone up here, and also there’s the recent violence there. I don’t know your perspective on that. But looking back on Chandler Crossings, was it a good idea?

A: I think what a lot of people are unaware of and they have to remember is that most of the apartment complexes that are in the northern tier weren’t actually built by the City of East Lansing. They were built by Bath Township and have subsequently come into the city through what’s called a 425 agreement with Bath Township. So the initial decision to build those complexes is not a decision that the City of East Lansing made. But it’s a reality that we have to live with now.

But I think you’re right, there’s clearly been a re-location of many student renters from neighborhoods in the downtown with proximity to campus into the northern tier. You see a higher vacancy rate of apartments or houses for rent in downtown neighborhoods because of that.

I think as you point out there’s a price premium that students pay for living close to campus, and that can be a disincentive. But I think part of it too is that a lot of that housing in the interior no longer meets the market demand for students. And people want a room of their own, they want a bathroom of their own, they want a parking space of their own and lots of those older houses just can’t accommodate that. So I think that there are structural challenges in the market that have led to that as well.

But I think you’re right, it has to be an important priority for the city to continue to provide affordable housing for MSU students in close proximity to campus. And I think that we’re making strides in that area and we have to continue to do so. But what’s been built in the northern tier obviously isn’t going anywhere, so you have to balance those two things looking forward.

Q: And on the trend of building things, what’s your feeling about City Center II? Because for as long as I’ve been here, it’s been an eyesore.

A: You know clearly we need to re-develop that corner. And you’re absolutely right, you look at those buildings now and you used the right word. It’s an eyesore at the moment. Redevelopment there is really crucial. I think the important piece of that though is that is a key entrance to our downtown. So what gets developed is important. It’s important that we get that corner right, not just get it done. And I think that what’s been proposed for City Center II is a really transformational redevelopment where you’re integrating mixed usage into downtown that will add vitality and opportunity for additional retail and restaurant space incorporated with housing and a theatre. And really providing a new anchor on the western side of our downtown. All of that I think is good. The timing was obviously very unfortunate. With the economic downturn happening, financing the project on the private sector side has proved to be difficult. And we continue to move on that.

But I think what City Center II really illustrates is a fundamental choice that East Lansing has to make. If we’re going to continue to grow, we can either grow out through more sprawl, or you can grow up through higher density. And in recent years you’ve seen us begin that trend with City Center I and the Abbott Place Condominiums and things like that. But if we’re going to recover more retail uses in the downtown and encourage people to live in the downtown that’s going to require allowing higher densities along the lines of City Center II and some of the other projects we’ve moved recently, and for my money I think that’s the right direction for our community rather than attempting to build out yet further with the infrastructure costs and everything associated with that.

Q: And with City Center II, is there any thought that that’s still going to happen? I know the builder was exposed as not having enough money to build a project in Ann Arbor, and are they even paying taxes on it right now?

A: They are paying taxes on the project, in fact the City’s charter, as I’m sure you know, prohibits the council from entering into a contract with someone who is not paying their taxes so that’s always been a constant concern. And there have been certainly some financial difficulties in the developer acquiring the necessary financing for the project and he continues to work on that. In fact there’s been some additional financing in recent weeks about finding more financing, but the fact of the matter is in a market as depressed as this, finding a hundred million dollars or thereabouts in financing would have been difficult for any developer. It’s not unexpected and we continue to work on it.

But the other thing is one way or another the city’s going to promote and ensure that there’s a development befitting our downtown at that corner. I hope that it’s City Center II, we’ve put a lot of work into getting that right, but in the event that it doesn’t pan out for whatever reason we’ll find another appropriate use for that street corner, it’s not just going to sit there in its current condition forever.

Q: So doom and gloom aside, what are you excited for that’s happening in East Lansing?

A: You know actually East Lansing’s weathered this storm better than a lot of communities so we continue to do exciting things. In my time on the council I’ve been particularly proud of some of the environmental initiatives we’ve pursued. We’re really a leader in that area with incentiveizing green building, promoting recycling, investing in non-motorized transportation. Things like that are all very exciting.

We’ve also done a lot in the area of entrepreneurship and job growth. Not the more traditional sort of economic hunting model where we all fight over who’s going to find the next factory or the next big job provider, but in an economic gardening model. We’ve got the technology innovation center in downtown East Lansing which is fully leased out with new businesses, with our providing opportunities for those entrepreneurs. We just recently opened the hatch there, which is a student job accelerator to try to tap into some of that creative energy that’s on campus, and that same space is shared by MSU Technologies and MSU Business Connect as well, so you have this real node downtown of creative energy and entrepreneurship which I think is a real positive for our community and a model for other communities around the state who are looking for how to be able to revitalize themselves. So I think that’s a real positive as well.

And we continue to be able to provide a level of service that you don’t find in a lot of communities, which we’re very proud of and have worked very hard to be able to maintain despite the downed economy. So things are certainly not easy, we have big challenges with what’s happening on the budgetary front, especially with the state, but we’ve been able to weather the storm and continue to provide a high quality of service and make East Lansing a great place to live for students and permanent residents alike.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your involvement with Zipcars?

A: Zipcar has been expanding onto university campuses, obviously as a business decision it makes a lot of sense for them. MSU students aren’t all going to have access to vehicles, residents aren’t all going to have access to vehicles nor would they necessarily want that. And so the idea of having a way that you can get access to a vehicle to perform a particular errand or job just makes sense for a community like East Lansing. So we’ve been part of discussions with Zipcar, they’re deploying initial vehicles on campus and it’s our hope that once that model is proven on campus and it’s shown that that model can work it will actually expand that service into downtown East Lansing so that in a downtown parking lot or downtown garage there would be Zipcars available for use so that residents who are living in the downtown, are close to the downtown, who want to be able to run an errand without having a vehicle will be able to have access to that. I know it’s another example of the commitment we have to make downtown living more accessible, an attractive East Lansing, and have a more walkable more sustainable model of downtown redevelopment. And transportation is a key part of that and Zipcars are just one example of what we’ve done there.

Q: And what are your personal plans for the future? What’s the next Nathan Tripplett bumper sticker going to say?

A: Well at the moment I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing at the City Council level, we’ve got a lot of great things going on in this city and there’s a lot of things that I’ve started here that I’d like to be able to finish. We really touched on one of the ones that I feel most passionately about earlier, and that’s the expansion of affordable housing and housing diversity in this community. We’ve taken some steps, but we’ve got a long way to go, and I will continue to promote that.

As far as some of the environmental initiatives that again we’ve got a good start but there’s lots that can still be done so for the moment I’m happy working on the local level and I’ll be running for re-election this November to hopefully finish some of those things that I’ve started.

Q: Do you plan to court the student vote again?

A: Absolutely. You know I think it’s more than a voting block in this community and I spent a lot of time on campus during the election, I spent a lot of time working with campus organizations since then because MSU students aren’t just visitors in the community, but they’re an integral part of what makes East Lansing East Lansing. If it weren’t for Michigan State University, this community wouldn’t be what it was. It wouldn’t have the vibrancy, or the feel that it does. So people talk about student residents and permanent residents, but for my money we’re all residents of East Lansing and I value the vote of an MSU student just as much as I value the vote of a current resident, and I think that we should look at issues that affect both communities that address them both and really treat us as what we are, which is one community that happens to have students and permanent residents living alongside each other.

Q: Those were all my questions, did you have anything you wanted to add?

A: The only thing I would mention is that folks like me can do a lot of outreach to Michigan State students to try to get them to engage in the process, boards and commissions and things like that, but you know it’s also important for students to step up and make their voices heard as well. And one of the things that’s been most surprising to me when I was elected is how few students have reached out when they’ve had a concern or an idea and contacted me. When I go on campus and ask people they’re more than willing to tell me exactly what they think and offer their ideas. But I’m sure every day something happens in this community that sparks an idea or a concern or a thought for students on campus and I wish that more of them would pick up the phone and call me, or send me an e-mail, or contact the city by getting involved. Because they really are absolutely integral to this community, but that would be, it would be easier for them to be fully integrated if they would step up and get more involved, and they’re always welcome and I hope that more students will choose to take advantage of that.

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Top Ten #MSU Tweets: March

Top Ten #MSU Tweets: March

(Photo credit: Kaleigh Robichaud)

You and your friends tweet status updates. Your professors tweet homework assignments. Your mom tweets to tell you to get enough vitamins. Let’s face it: Twitter is here to stay, and State Side is celebrating that fact by bringing you ten of the best, most school-spirity, most right-on, most hilarious tweets with a #MSU tag each month. @TheBigGreen. Get at us.

Can anyone tell me why #MSU doesn’t recognize President’s Day? (@benjac33)

In 3 days, I’ve kissed center court of the Breslin & played music on the carillon in Beaumont Tower… How many #MSU students can say that? (@j_tink)

MSC smoke stack is the iconic image of #MSU removing it is like removing the #spartystatue (@danbaker09)
Not impressed with the #MSU snow removal team. Come on guys, you should have this down to an art by now.#forgingmyownsidewalk (@leahadelaide)
SOME DUDE IS EATING DAMN BBQ IN COMM ARTS #msu #michiganstateuniversity (@_droo)
Probably should have spent more/any time at the #MSU library while in school. I get a ton done here. (@bcclist)
gettin yelled at by #msu personel (@NiteDiver69)
Watching the debut of the film, Kings of Flint, on PBS right now Here’s a preview #MSU (@Rick_Mason)
Ok. What’s Harder ISS Or ISB?????#MSU (@LickMy_Tweet)
as big as #msu is, i wonder sometimes why their technology sucks a lot of the time? (@LK_Kotlarczyk)

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Static: A Hairy Situation (and how to fix it)

Static: A Hairy Situation (and how to fix it)

When I was a kid, my mom taped bows to my head so people would know I was a girl. I have that type of hair that’s fine, straight and difficult to manage in the winter because of one key problem: static cling. I’m not talking about a few fly-aways being kind of annoying, I’m talking about my entire head of hair plastering itself to my face when confronted with any sort of less-than-humid condition. I look like one of those dolls with its hair painted on.

Usually I suck it up and find a ponytail to mitigate the problem. But this year, I’m through. I want to wear my hair down year-round. I want to go to interviews looking like an adult. I want people to see my hair and think “wow, that college student showers.”

As my whole family has this problem, I sought some advice. The following is a graded review of some of their suggestions:

Mom’s Moisture (D) : As I also have a dry skin problem in the winter months, my mom attributes my apparent excess of static charge to a lack of humidity, of which Michigan has plenty in the warmer months. At my parents’ house there’s a humidifier built into the heating system, and I remember her running the humidifier all the time at our old house.

This little froggy took care of my cat's hair, but not mine. (credit: Rebecca Foster)

So after a semi-embarrassing conversation with what has to be the only super hot male Target employee, I located a frog-shaped humidifier for $35. I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty adorable. It’s also served as a sort of conversation piece when people come over. However, its effect on my hair was marginal, and I still wake up looking alternatively plastic doll and just-got-electrocuted. I’m running it though, because it does seem to help my cat’s hair be less charged. He’s stopped shying away from me when I go to pet/shock him. This is the only thing that kept this froggy’s grade from being an F.

Static-Specific Hair Product (B) : I went to a drugstore, and started browsing the hair isle for things that didn’t look like shampoo. I found TIGI Bed Head Spoil Me, which claims to, among other things, eliminate static.

Spoil Me lacked the discipline my hair required. (credit: Emily Lawler)

It works, for a while. But it works a lot the way hairspray works; it just makes your hair so stiff that it has to stay wherever you put it. Which would be fine for some hairstyles, but I have big, long hair. When it stays in one place it’s suspicious, because gravity and wind should have some effect.

So yes, this is a good short-term fix. Or it’s ok if your hair gets static when you take a nap or something. But it only lasted through about half of my day, and the bottle is too big to lug around in a purse or anything. And at $17, I’d say save your money. Props on the bottle itself though, it’s very pretty.

Roommate’s Route (C) : My roommate said that she’d read somewhere that you should swipe the inside of whatever hat you wear with a dryer sheet to remove the static before you put it on. I checked the completely factual and never mistaken internet, and it seems many people just swipe a dryer sheet through their hair.

These aren't good for much besides a fresh scent. (credit: Emily Lawler)

So I did a quickie wipe one morning, and headed off to class. While the dryer sheet did take the static out of my hair quite well for the time being, by the time I got to class and took my hood off I had plastic doll head again. But as a cheap (around $2.69 for a 80-pack at Meijer) and short-term solution, this isn’t a bad idea. I can see maybe tucking a dryer sheet in your purse and using it in emergency situations. However, I wasn’t particularly fond of smelling like I’d just come out of a laundromat.

Alyssa’s Miracle (A) : My sister recommended Miracle 7 leave-in mist. I’m not one to fall for miracle products, and the $20 price tag on a 10-ounce bottle was a definite deterrent. Furthermore, it doesn’t even say that it stops static cling on the bottle. But my sister let me borrow hers and I was convinced in one day.

It really is a miracle... (credit: Emily Lawler)

Not only did this last all day, but it made my hair feel like being down was its job. Which, it should be, right? I walked out of the door with a crazy confidence. On the street I had to stop myself from asking strangers to run their fingers through my hair. I did ask my roommates to feel me on up, and they were immediately asking what I’d used and where I got it. Because it’s a freaking MIRACLE, is why.

So I walked into Sally Beauty Supply to buy my very own bottle, and the clerk saw it in my hand. “That stuff is amazing, it’s worth the money,” she told me. I gave her a knowing smile, and leaned in for the whisper… “It really is a miracle.”

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One Woman on Toeing the (slack)line

One Woman on Toeing the (slack)line

My favorite hobby requires two trees and a lot of patience.

When I first heard about slacklining I saw some YouTube videos and thought I’d finally found the perfect outdoor sport. It was kind of quirky, burned a few calories and didn’t look too hard. A few spills and bruises later, I remembered looks can be decieving.

Being on a slackline isn’t like walking anywhere else. To an outsider it looks like a low-to-the-ground tightrope. It’s an inch-wide flat rope between two trees, pulled tight with a homemade pulley system of carabiners or a ratchet that comes in some of the fancier slacklining kits. From there the only thing you need is creativity. People walk the line, jump it, flip on it, do handstands, lay down, sit, stretch and pretty much any other yoga-type pose you can think of. The difference is that it’s not a tightrope; in every video you see, the line isn’t held straight by the trees, but the slackliner’s muscles.

When I started slacklining I joined Outdoors Club, because they slackline before meetings. Here the Outdoors Club encompasses activities like slacklining, but according to other universities are forming clubs for the sport as it trickles to the United States from Europe. A number of universities including the University of Deleware, Florida State University, University of Minnesota and the University of California, Santa Barbara have slackline-specific clubs.  The sport itself started with rock climbers, but I surveyed some Outdoors Club members, and it seems their start-up stories involved cool people with rope.

“I heard about slacklining from a friends in Forestry several years ago. I decided to start myself because I love being outside,” said forest science senior Margaret Studer.

For zoology junior Eric Raslich, it was something he’d accidentally put on the back burner.

“I first heard about slacklining way back in middle school when I was looking for something sweet to do on Boy Scout camping trips when there weren’t lakes/boats/climbing towers around. Then after realizing I had no idea how to get any of the webbing or real carabiners, I promptly forgot about it until my sophomore year at MSU when I heard about people doing it and bought my own kit and never looked back,” said Raslich.

For me, the adventure started with Google. I didn’t know any slackliners at the time, but I looked up some knots on the internet and bought my first slackline at the Moosejaw in East Lansing. A worker there helped me pick out the right kind of line for the right kind of price, gave me some knot-tying tips, and sent me on my way. I ended up with two 10-foot pieces of anchor webbing, one 35-foot piece of webbing and five carabiners for about $55 (the slackliners I interviewed for this article all spent about $50-$100, so I was right in that range.) But I threw my new materials in a bag, found some trees near my friend Kathy’s house, and got to work.

I didn’t realize at the time what kind of work I was getting into. Every line I tie is different, and this one was too high and too tight, though I had no way of knowing it at the time. I didn’t realize that keeping the line from moving horizontally was up to my woefully underprepared leg muscles, and I’m afraid most of my time was spent trying to hug Kathy and stay on the line. Kathy was a childhood gymnast, but even she wasn’t too sure-footed on the slackline.

I figured practice made perfect, so I started going every day.

I took my line to class, and set up anywhere with trees. I spent hours mastering the basics … my friend Jen and I took three hours one day to work on mounting the line. We got tips from passerby, and slowly got better. A gentleman from Germany told me it was bigger in Europe, and stopped to show me some of his favorite moves. Some Cuban visitors stopped for a couple hours and applied their skateboarding tricks to the line.

From what other slackliners have said, meeting people is part of the sport.

“I set up where ever I’m able to. I’ve gone to the local park, the beach, my backyard, I even went downtown once. I am usually by myself, but slacking with friends is much more enjoyable. Even if you’re by yourself, you usually will get one or two curious people that want to try it out for a while,” said Japanese major and freshman Michael Lohr.

Raslich too says it’s not a sport he ends up doing alone.

“I usually end up setting up alone or with one or two other people and more people join as they walk by and stop to see what it is or I heckle them into trying it. No one has left wishing they didn’t try it as far as I know,” he said.

I, for one, enjoy the company. I still have trouble doing things like walking more than a few steps, or balancing on anything that’s not my feet. I like trying to run the line, and practicing different mounts never gets old.

“Its freestyle. everyone is better at different things on the line, some people are good jumpers, others can surf like pros, and there are also different mounts and balances you can try too. No matter how good you get, there’s always something new to try thats inside your safety zone, you never really have to worry about extreme injury unless you decided to be stupid,” said Lohr.

I’ve set up my line or hopped on other people’s upwards of 50 times now, and I’m always finding new things to do. I’m more into moving on the line, but my sister and her boyfriend like to try to translate yoga poses and balancing acts onto the inch-wide surface. My parents just like to prove they’re still young by hoping on, and most of my friends are still in the stage where they’re just trying to stay up.

“I like the challenge that slacklining provides both mentally and physically,” said Studer.

And when it comes to my mind, nothing clears the slate like a few hours airborne, fighting gravity with a one-inch rope. My body’s coming along, and my balance is getting closer every time my mind and body hop aboard for one more go.

“My favorite thing about slacklining is the instant gratification you get from staying on longer or better than the last time you hopped on,” said Raslich.

A good way to get involved is to practice with the Outdoors Club before meetings at 7 p.m. in IM West (or outside during warmer months). But if you’re itching to try it, find a friend that’s into it or purchase your own setup. There’s something about seeing my senior year from between two trees that has helped me focus, and I don’t mind when strangers ask for a turn at that kind of zen.

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Make a Healthy Hummus

Make a Healthy Hummus

Emily Lawler, The Big Green’s own multimedia editor, has precisely one hour to cook every day. She has become an expert at making delicious, healthy meals in a small amount of time. In this video, Emily shares how to create a healthy hummus in less than 30 minutes!

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New Website Sends Students Text Reminders

New Website Sends Students Text Reminders

Remind101 is a new website that sends MSU students text messages and e-mail alerts reminding them about assignments, due dates, exams and more. A study through the Telecommunications Department is measuring the effectiveness of this service, and TBG sat down with site founder and MSU alum Brett Kopf to see what’s going on behind the scenes at this green & white company.

Remind101 founder Brett Kopf (credit: Emily Lawler).

Q: Where did you come up with the idea for Remind 101?

A: So two years ago when I was a student I was sitting at my desk before the semester started, and I just had so many classes and so many credits that I was really overwhelmed. So I remember I had my feet sitting up on my table I was at my desk and I was just like “damn, I’ve got so much to do,” and then my friend texted me and it just hit me. Came out of nowhere. So I thought about it about two years ago and I just sat on it. I didn’t  do anything with it until about nine months ago.

Q: What was your major when you were going to MSU?

A: Food management. Agriculture. Not really related to web technology, but that’s ok. They prepared me well.

Q: So I understand you may be working with the telecom department to do maybe some grade tracking. Can you explain how that’s going to work?

The new website's homepage.

A: Sure. We partnered with Dr. Coursaris from the Telecom department and he does mobile app research. So he’s going to be researching if we can enhance student behavior so the idea is that if students receive more messages to their mobile phone reminding them to study for courses the hope is that they’ll miss less classes and turn assignments in on time. So in a perfect world essentially if we can prove that it created a weighted scale and impacted education in a small sense I guess, just because we could replicate this product millions of times.

So we’re doing some preliminary research and we hope to apply to the Department of Education for a major research grant for about $500,000.

Q: Do you do all your own web work? Are those skills you got at MSU, or from other experience?

A: Great question. So I am not a coder at all, I’m not the technical guy. I founded the company with my brother, who luckily is the techie. We actually outsourced the web development to a company called One Design Company in Chicago. And we work with two developers and one project manger, and it took us about two and a half, three months to get the product up. And so from here on out just, yeah, the core platform of the site is built now.

Q: And what made you decide to go into a family business?

A: You know, some people have thought against it but it’s the best thing to happen for my brother and I just because we have alternative assets, meaning I’m really good at one thing and he’s really good at another thing and we don’t really cross with that. So I let him do his thing with the tech side, and I do my thing with the marketing side.

People say you’ve got to be careful with that but we’re just kind of very up front and honest with each other we just kind of get it., and it’s been an absolute pleasure working with him. And obviously trust is really important and I can lay my life on the line and trust that he’ll look out for me.

Q: With the economy being what it is here, why pick Michigan to start a company in?

A: I think you should rephrase that question as why not pick Michigan. There’s a few reasons. The first thing is obviously I went to MSU. The only reason I was able to get into the position I’m in now starting this company is because I had such a great backing from the local community, the school itself and the people in the tech community. So there’s a lot of people here who have guided me and given me advice.

It’s a fantastic school to start at, it’s one of the best universities in the country, it has a great brand. And the university itself has been really supportive of this, specifically the Alumni Association. They’ve been helping us market the product and working hand in hand connecting with student and professors. So I lived here for four and a half years while in school and anyone from outside this place sees this horrible, dreadful place. But when I’m back here I really don’t see that because there really is a lot of stuff happening in tech startups. So that’s why we’re only starting at one university, we’re starting it here because we want the press to come back to this area.

Q: Any idea where you’re going next?

A: No. I’m open to staying in Michigan to start in the geographic area, maybe Western or UofM but you gotta crawl before you walk. So we’re starting to run now hopefully here and get some good feedback. We can listen to our users and see where we go from there. But as a hint, online universities might be a good space to start going after.

Q: And I watched your video, but what’s different about how you can access your course content versus other websites or paper calendars?

A: So the big differentiation between Remind101 and Google or Microsoft calendars is this: because Google and Microsoft calendars already send text message alerts, if one student or one professor adds the syllabus to our site the entire class can subscribe and press remind me and receive alerts for the semester. So it’s going to be a reverse-crowdsourcing effect. There’s a lot of value in that because usually it would take you a lot of time to add your calendar but now if there’s that one student, professor or TA to add it, everyone else can just sign on and press remind me and get alerts to your phone.

Q: So obviously people can sign up for the service and I know you mentioned some internships, but how else is the community getting involved here?

A: Yeah so we’re working with five student interns on campus. So we have interns in social media, writing, public speaking eventually sales but we’re not quite there yet. So we’re working hand in hand with them, like I said we’re working with the telecom department and the Alumni Association, and then we’re also going to be working with MSU E-net, the new entrepreneurship class at school. So I’m not quite sure, I have a meeting later today, on how we’re going to be collaborating together.

Q: What have you learned from starting your own company?

A: The first thing I would say is find a good co-founder who you really trust and who has varying assets, so “I’m good at one thing and they’re good at the other thing.” So that’s so important because you’re going to continually hit brick walls. Things are always going to go wrong, but it’s nice to have that person to help out. And also it’s really nice to have a community to back you. Not only like this area, my friends, family, even with business. So those two things. And the other thing is especially for students, if any student are reading this, just start it. I don’t know what they’re waiting for, you don’t need to wait for permission for someone to say “yes, you can do this.” There’s a lot of good resources on campus, especially with MSU E-net starting up. Feel free to reach out to me if you’re starting a company I’ll be more than happy to give you advice. But you don’t need to wait for permission to do these things. If you have an idea, go do it.

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Union MSU’s “Twitter Hub”

Union MSU’s “Twitter Hub”

“Where U at?” Social media wise, probably wasting time on Twitter, if you’re not a Luddite. But there’s another U on Twitter these days and it’s good ole’ MSU, your friendly university.

The MSU Union has a very large Twitter presence (photo credit: Emily Lawler).

MSU has 119 recognized Twitter feeds belonging to colleges, student groups, schools, buildings and other entities. In theory, each feed is “specialized” — relating to a specific interest of a specific campus demographic. But it turns out that the less specific Twitter feeds may be the most successful.

According to Rachael Zylstra, an electronic media communications specialist with University Relations, there are two official campus-wide Twitter feeds run by University Relations: michiganstateu and MSUnews. The rest fall into “niche” categories that appeal to people of different majors, interests and locations.

But it turns out that some of those niches are more specialized than others.

“Have you seen the renovation at Brody yet? Check it out on YouTube: Really cool stuff!”

You’d expect that tweet to come from a Brody resident, or maybe a residence hall’s Twitter feed. But that tweet was from the MSUUnion, and so are a whole lot of other ones.

When compared with the 16 Twitter accounts representing either colleges or buildings at MSU and all the ReTweets or @ messages in the month of March, the Union was at the center of all the activity. The most other feeds mentioned it, and it mentioned the most other feeds.

This represents how the 16 colleges and buildings on campus have connected through @ messages and ReTweets on Twitter. Bigger nodes indicate more connectivity, and bigger lines indicate more tweets between specific actors (graphic credit: Zachary P. Neal).

“I’m a little amazed by the diagram,” said Kat Cooper, who runs the Union feed singlehandedly.

Cooper works for Auxiliary Resources, a Department of the Division of Residential and Hospitality Services. When the feed started a year and a half ago, she said she wanted it to be a virtual place to get information.

“A student union is really the living room of a campus,” said Cooper. “It’s where you get info and go to events and communicate with other students. Our mission with a twitter feed is to create that sense as well.”

Being a generalist has served the Union well. It boasts 1,686 followers, more than either of the official general MSU Twitter feeds or any specialist college.

“I knew that we were among one of the more popular feeds aside from athletics, but I guess the connectivity I was unaware of,” said Cooper.

But in the world of Twitter as with business, networks are key. According to those who study networks, MSUUnion isn’t just popular. It holds a lot of power.

Imagine you’re a dude with a bunch of dude friends and one cousin that’s a Victoria’s Secret model.

That’s what Ron Burt, a business professor at University of Chicago, termed an “open triangle” relationship; you know your dude friend and you know your cousin, but they don’t know each other. That puts you in a position of being able to demand free drinks at your buddy’s parties or his physics notes from last semester in exchange for introducing him to your cousin.

It’s not that the Union is in the market for free drinks, but it has become a central actor in the whole MSU Twitter scene, giving it a lot of social capital. Since the Union interacts with the Breslin Center, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources and Olin and none of those interact with each other, you want the Union as your friend. That way you can be virtually “introduced” to all of those other feeds through ReTweets and @ messages.

Graphic credit: Brianna Ritivoy

But for some university entities, Twitter is less of a networking tool than a Public Relations (PR) mechanism. Wharton Center, for instance, has incorporated their Twitter account into their main website and also had it broadcast to two electronic billboards.

“It’s certainly become a very valuable resource to communicate with patrons but also a good way to spread our name across the country,” said Victor Hamburger, director of marketing at Wharton Center.

But he says there’s a lot of value in the personal connection with patrons messaging the center as well. According to Stanford Sociologist Mark Granovetter, that’s the best kind of connections to have: a mix of strong (personal messages) and weak (everybody on the highway sees Tweets on a billboard).

Communication Arts & Sciences (CAS) is at the center of a “twitter triangle” between the Union, Physical Plant and College of Social Science, and all four entities are strongly connected.

The reason CAS is central in the “strong” Twitter actors may be its combined use of Twitter as a tool for personal connection and PR. According to the college’s Communications Manager, Kirsten Khire, the college has made strong connections with individual students and alumni via Twitter. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have another purpose.

“I see value in the Public Relations sense, because we’re obviously having great conversations with our target audience on all kinds of topics,” said Khire.

The Communication Arts & Sciences Twitter feed is essentially playing both specialist and generalist in trying to find, @ message and link to the broadest variety of things that are of interest to its target audience of its students and alumni.

“There’s still some criteria there,” said Khire. She said the feed mainly ReTweets things “related to our college or related to our audiences.”

Some feeds are expanding into contests and questions that make interaction with users a stronger prospect. And according to Khire, Twitter isn’t in anybody’s job description. University entities usually have Twitter accounts because somebody took it upon themselves.

“It [Twitter] is important, especially with the college demographic,” said Zylstra of university Twitter feeds. And she’s part of a four-person social media team with University Relations — Twitter is in her job description.

Like anything, the more time a person puts into Twitter, the more they get out of it. Excepting star power (this means you, MSU_Basketball), the more a person generates content and @ messages and ReTweets, the more followers they have. And the more followers, the more “open triangles” and important connections.

So next time you’re messing around on Twitter during class, remember that the connections you’re making —  weak and strong –might be important. They may lead to a job. And directly or indirectly, Twitter can lead to jobs or connections you’ve never had. Maybe it’s time to re-think whether or not social networking is “wasting time.”

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SoS Media: The Impact (89 FM, that is)

SoS Media: The Impact (89 FM, that is)

As part of The Big Green and Spartanedge’s series on “The State of State’s Media,” TBG Editor in Chief Emily Lawler sat down with Impact 89 FM Station Manger Jeremy Whiting. Read on or take a listen for Whiting’s words on how Impact is evolving, student tax dollars at use and what he thought of the first editorial in this series.

Jeremy Whiting, Impact 89 FM station manager.

Q. So my first question is that Impact’s the Michigan Association of Broadcasters College Radio Station of the year for like, a million years running?

A. Ah, something like that, I think its ten years now we’ve won it.

Q. So you guys have a huge variety of programming, lots of different DJs, you get tax dollars but everybody likes you… what’s your secret?

A. I don’t know if there’s one secret to probably a large amount of people liking us, but definitely I think our organizational structure has something to do with it. We bring in a lot of student volunteers, we look for diverse programming, we take a lot of listener feedback into what we play, I think all that plays into it.

Q. And so as far as student tax dollars go, you guys get three dollars?

A. That’s right. Each semester every student on campus pays a three-dollar tax for the radio station. Now that’s part of the big larger grouping that you know is taken out for ASMSU and The State News and some of the other things like that. But ours is only three dollars, it’s never raised more than three dollars, and it’s refundable too so if students feel like they would rather not support us that’s fine too, they can always come and get a refund.

Q. So do a lot of students generally come to your office to get refunds?

A. Not too often, actually. Probably about each semester out of the thousands and thousands of students on campus probably only about, I’d say anywhere from 10 to 25 students actually come in to get the refund.

Q. So one of the things we’re examining in our series of editorials here is that The State News has a non-competition policy. Do you guys have anything that’s comparable?

A. Not really. For us there aren’t any other student radio stations on campus besides us. There’s WKAR, which is an NPR affiliate, which does something completely different than us. But a lot of times you’ll see people on the air that are doing stuff for maybe TV stations in the area or other radio stations in the area, but it’s not discouraged by any means for what we’re doing.

Q. So how is your institution not crumbling? The State News is terrified of letting anyone write for more than one publication and say it’s gonna drive competition through the roof, we’re going to turn into the next media battleground!

A. First off the station at least in my mind I know we’re not a news organization so that maybe makes the rules for us a little different, you know, so I can’t really speak to how State News does that. But for us, because we don’t cover news because we don’t have a lot of people going out and reporting, we do have some but that’s not our primary focus. You know our focus you know for that sort of thing. We do have some talk shows in the evening from 7 to 8 p.m., our Exposure series, so that could kind of be considered like that.

For the most part we’re playing music. We’re doing a little bit of talk programming, we see it as a launch pad for bigger and better things at the Impact, you know we think it’s great, it’s recognized statewide and even nationally as a great program but we find it kind of as a launching board. But I guess maybe it’s just a different philosophy and we haven’t run into any problems with it really. Our staffing issues haven’t really come up, we’ve been pretty consistent you know, at least the years that I’ve been there.

Q. And you don’t pay regular DJs but you pay directors?

A. That’s right. So our staff’s structured any MSU student who comes in who wants to be a DJ, awesome, great! You don’t have to have any training, prior experience, we take you through everything show you what to do. And all those DJs are volunteers. So everyone you hear on air 24/7, they’re volunteer DJs, they’re just doing it for the fun of it.

Now we do have a small staff of directors, about 10 directors, and they oversee each individual department. So we have a music director that sifts through the hundreds of CDs we get in each week and listens to them and figures which ones of these should be recommended for airplay. So that’s a huge job, that’s more more above and beyond the call of duty, so they get paid a little. Someone who’s doing the promotions for the station gets paid some, I get paid a little to oversee all the operations 24/7. So those positions are paid slightly, but you know it’s not even that much. But it’s a decent amount to help us as we’re going through school. But for the most part we have I think 45 air shifts throughout a week and they’re all volunteer.

Q. And what would you consider your relationship to other campus media? I will say that I did call in and they told me they were huge Big Green fans, to Exposure.

A. Ha ok, must have been Emily Fox, our exposure director and Exposure host. Um, you know, to be truthful it depends on the staff at the time not only of the radio station but also the other forms of media. We’ve had other articles we’ve participated in with The Big Green and stuff, which has been great. State News we’ve had great articles too, where we’ve talked with them.

We used to have a yearly softball game, kind of like a fun rivalry which is some years and is not other years depending on how riled up our staffs get and our schedules and stuff. So some staffs kind of get competitive with the others, some kinda don’t care. Right now we seem to be in the situation where we’re just kind of friendly with everyone and I like that. But I think there’s also something to be said for having some competition and trying to outdo each other, so it’s good to kind of see it swing both ways sometimes.

Q. So in the journalism school right now and I’m sure elsewhere, there’s a lot of talk about traditional media being kind of re-worked. And I’ll give the example of the local radio station The Edge which kind of went off the air, came back with no DJs or very few DJs, barebones, and what’s keeping Impact alive aside from tax dollars? What innovative programs are you coming up with?

A. I think a lot of it is, the heart of it is the students. Without the students so committed to the station we’d be in the same spot as the edge. Anyone can play music on the air, that’s not a big deal. In The Edge’s case they have a cool playlist, I enjoy listening to it, but they don’t have any DJs, you’re not getting that local connection besides the ads you hear on the air. So I think that’s something the DJs are able to offer.

You heard them this last weekend talking about the final four how we’re in it somehow, it’s great but you don’t get that local content just by listening to basically an iTunes playlist. Anyone can do that, so I think where we’re unique is that we offer some music selection, I think people have an idea that ‘I love listening to my iPod I’ll just play what I want,’ but your iPod runs out after a while, you know? So we do have a whole music review staff that sifts through all the new music and recommends things you might like, you know ‘if you like this, this might be cool.’ We have talk programming that’s relevant for the area. So I think that’s something that sets us apart.

Q. Well that was my last question, but is there anything else you want to go over?

A. No, well I liked your editorial, it’s good to see some bounce-back of that stuff, I’m not sure, it’s a weird dilemma that people are in. I can see The State News’s side and I can see The Big Green’s side and other forms of campus media because it is hard with one dominant publication and they have a non-compete clause, but so many others out there too that are good quality publications I can see both sides.

It’s interesting how it will all shake out I think with you know, online media and other, broadcast media dipping into the waters that print has traditionally been a part of. The line is very very grey and shady and it’s hard to figure out sometimes what makes one publication a competitor and one not at all what you’re doing. I think things are converging, they’re really starting to get that way, and it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out pretty soon.

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MSU Power Plant in Trouble With State, Campus Groups

MSU Power Plant in Trouble With State, Campus Groups

The MSU power plant has a dirty little secret: coal. The Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) heard testimony today concerning self-reported excess emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.

Protesters sport signs against the University's coal use (photo credit: Emily Lawler)

The T.B. Simon power plant produces enough energy for the entire MSU campus, but in doing so allegedly violated its Renewable Operating Permit with the state of Michigan, as well as the federal Clean Air Act Amendments and the Michigan Administrative code.

According to their own reports, in the first quarter of 2008 the power plan reported 7.58 percent excess sulfur dioxide emissions and 4.75 percent excess nitrogen oxide emissions. These are classified as “high priority violations” by the Environmental Protection Agency, and join 2007 violations of a lesser caliber that were resolved without monetary penalties.

According to Karen Zelt, communications manager for the MSU Physical Plant, the violations were accidental.

“We had violations from our sulfur content because we’d purchased some bad coal from a vendor,” said Zelt. The nitrous oxide she said resulted from burning wet coal, and the power plant has since built a structure to house coal.

To address these violations, the DNRE has proposed a consent agreement that would put into place new operating protocol and mandate that the MSU power plant pay a $27,000 fee to the state’s general fund.

For the 16 students and alumni that testified against the consent agreement, that punishment is not enough. They called for an equal amount of money to be spent on transitioning the power plant to renewable resources, and said coal was an antiquated way of powering a world-class institution.

“The main reason we are running this campaign is that coal is an unacceptable fuel to be running campus on,” said Monica Embrey, part of the Sierra Club-sponsored MSU Beyond Coal group.

The students also cited health concerns stemming from the excess emissions, and did not know if the $27,000 would come out of their tuition. Zelt says she does not know where the money will come from.

Student protesters gather outside the administration building (photo credit: Emily Lawler).

In addition to attending the meeting, 25 students attended a rally outside the MSU administration building calling on the university to transition to completely renewable resources.

But at this point, Zelt says it’s just not possible.

“We would love to get off coal, we just can’t afford to,” she said.

MSU clubs Greenpeace, Beyond Coal, ECO and Global Exchange were involved in the rally.

However, DNRE Environmental Engineer Mike Kovalchick deals with these types of violations regularly, and says that at this point it’s too late for a renewable energy plan to be included in the state’s consent agreement.

“That’s certainly an option, but it has to come from MSU,” said Kovalchick. And that’s generally done within the first 30 days of receiving the violation notice, so at this point it’s too late. But that’s not to say that MSU couldn’t implement a renewable energy plan on its own, and that’s what students are hoping for.

“The coal plant is a big smear on this campus,” said Greenpeace member Kyle Pray. He said that of the 250,000 tons of coal MSU uses each year, most is obtained through mountain top removal mining methods in the Appalachian region. Embrey too considers this unethical.

Protesters carry mock solar panels and windmills (photo credit: Emily Lawler).

“Almost all of it comes from blowing off the tops of mountains in the poorest parts of the country,” said Embrey.

As far as the consent agreement goes, Kovalchick says that when the MDNRE makes a decision on the consent agreement, it will go to MSU and Attorney General Mike Cox for approval.

“That whole process could easily take 30-45 days,” said Kovalchick.

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Stabenow at State

Stabenow at State

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow spoke to the MSU Dems last week. Excerpts here:

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