College, for the run of it

College, for the run of it

If you ask me what I miss about high school, my answer is and always will be one thing: cross country. Yes, I was one of those crazy runners that did 5Ks and fartleks and distance training. My team was small but close-knit – pasta dinners, rambling conversations during long runs, rattling bus rides on Saturday mornings to various parks in the Greater Lansing area for meets – and I loved every minute of it. I was by no means a star athlete and I knew my chances at running for a collegiate team were sparse, so I was sad when my final high school season ended in November of 2007. I didn’t have time to dwell on it for long. I had something bigger to prepare for. College.

credit: Lori Blanding

While I applied to a few different schools, I always knew I wanted to go to MSU. My parents both went there, I grew up basically living on campus while my father taught there, and I was incredibly partial to Buckeye Blitz at the Dairy Store (ok that wasn’t a huge factor in my decision-making, but being geographically close to good ice cream is always a perk). When I discovered MSU had a Running Club, I was sold.

What is a “Running Club,” you ask? It’s an organization on campus where students – both graduate and undergraduate – meet in front of IM West, typically 5 days a week, and go for a run. It’s officiated by a student e-board that also collects dues and holds monthly meetings to discuss upcoming races and other RC events. Carpools are arranged on weekends to races in the Lansing area, there’s an occasional team dinner or party, but it’s more than that – it gives students like me, who were used to running with people every day in high school, a chance to relive it. When asked why they joined RC, physiology sophomore Kayle Noble, mechanical engineering sophomore Amanda Boyd and animal science and agribusiness management freshman Rebecca Dow all said the same thing: They ran cross country in high school and wanted to continue running in college.

“I remember going to Sparticipation my freshman year with the intent of finding the Running Club booth. After finally finding it amongst the hundreds of other booths, I joined the club and have enjoyed being a part of it ever since,” said kinesiology sophomore Sarah Parks.

Naturally many of us are only in it now for staying in shape and camaraderie, but there are always a few people that just want to keep racing and didn’t want to deal with the constraints of running at a Big Ten School.

“When I knew I wasn’t good enough to compete at the varsity level, I knew running club was fit for me,” said kinesiology senior Eric Loveland. He’s since been a part of the club for four years. Two fellow teammates, computer science sophomore Jeff Girbach and history and English-secondary education freshman Colin Riley, wanted to continue to train together and do some local races.

credit: Jenny Barlage

“I like running club because it’s a chance to continue competitive running in college even if you aren’t on a varsity team,” said Riley.

MSU’s Running Club is also a member of NIRCA – National Intercollegiate Running Club Association, which is a network of running clubs from all over the U.S. This allows us to race against other colleges such as the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.

If you want to start running or you like to run but find that you’re lacking motivation, I highly recommend coming out to Running Club. Even if you can’t make it to a practice every day, find someone else on your floor or in your apartment complex and find a nice loop through campus. I’ve found that running with others motivates me to keep going when I might ordinarily stop.

Running for me is not just about keeping my body healthy – it’s a way to keep my mind healthy too. I’m addicted to endorphins – even a quick ten minute jaunt when I’ve had a hectic day clears my head like nothing else can. In all honesty, Running Club has been one of my favorite things about my time at MSU so far. I’ve met some amazing people, I’ve stayed (relatively) in shape and I’ve found something that allows me to hang onto the memories I have of my high school cross country days.

For more information about Running Club, check out their Facebook page.

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Twitter in the Classroom

Twitter in the Classroom

Source: Google Images

Twitter, the bird-themed micro-blogging website, has been taking the world by storm since the first Tweet was posted in 2006. MSU is certainly no exception; there are many ways in which students and faculty are utilizing the social media website both inside and outside of the classroom and everywhere in between. Here are a few instances of how Twitter is changing the way people and organizations think and do different things.

Twitter in the Classroom

Jeffery Elsworth, hospitality business professor, has his students use Twitter in almost every class he teaches, mostly as a way for him to post interesting articles related to class discussion.

“I tried other formats like Angel and Facebook, but I found that students either didn’t check Angel regularly or their newsfeeds would fill up and they wouldn’t know that I had posted anything,” Elsworth said. “With Twitter, each class could have its own place where I could post different items and that students would be able to find and access easily.”

Elsworth will occasionally have an in-class quiz to ensure that students are actually paying attention to the materials he puts on Twitter.

“Most HB students will have me as a professor at least once during their undergrad years,” he said. “After they’ve had me for one class they’ll know to at least marginally pay attention to Twitter in regards to what we’re talking about in class, otherwise they’ll miss important information.”

When he first started using Twitter a few years ago, Elsworth said he would get a handful of students at the beginning of the semester that knew about and/or were using the site. Now, roughly three quarters of his students in a given class knows what Twitter is and roughly half of them actually have accounts.

No matter what class Elsworth is teaching, he stresses the importance of using Twitter in the real world.

“If you’re interested in working for a specific company, follow their Twitter feed,” he said. “It’s a great way to learn more about the company and could potentially give you specific situations or events that you could discuss in an interview.”

Journalism professor Karl Gude doesn’t just encourage his students to use Twitter – he requires it. Twitter is a major component of his JRN 203: Visualizing Information class. Gude uses the social media platform to post assignments and only allows students to ask questions about grades, projects and other class-related topics through tweets on the class’s Twitter page. Despite the necessity of making a Twitter account Gude said he still has a few students that don’t seem very interested in using it.

“One of the best ways I’ve found to provide students with a powerful argument for why Twitter is effective is when I post information that only students following the class’s account will know about,” said Gude. “For example, I tweeted that whenever I say the phrase ‘What’s for dinner?’ in class, all of the students should stand up. So the next day in class when a student had a question about the relevance of Twitter, I said ‘What’s for dinner?’ and at least three quarters of the class stood up; the girl who asked the question has since been actively tweeting about JRN 203.”

Gude said that Twitter and other social media platforms are changing the way that journalism and other industries function. He even went so far as to say that a student or faculty member’s refusal to use social media either in the present or the near future would ultimately be their demise – “You can’t dwell on the past,” said Gude. “You won’t get a job.”

How to use Twitter

According to Gude, there are essentially two ways in which Twitter is used. First is the personal level, where an individual has their own account where they post tweets similar to Facebook statuses. The difference from Facebook is that while there is a 140 character limit on tweets, the tweets can be about virtually anything and can be seen by virtually anyone – in other words, there’s a much wider audience and less privacy.

Photo credit: Kaleigh Robichaud

There is also the option of retweeting what other users have said and different individuals, organizations or businesses can be tagged in the tweet. In this way, something that was posted on one account will show up in the newsfeed of another account. This allows the post to be seen by a larger or more diverse group of followers than the original account may have had. Examples of this way of using Twitter include celebrity accounts like Ashton Kutcher and Conan O’Brien as well as business accounts where a company representative tweets about events or news updates related to the company or something in which the company has an interest.

The other main way to use Twitter is as a means of mass communication. With retweets and the use of hash tags (such as #MSU or #JRN203), Twitter can be used to send out information about events or promotions quickly and conveniently. In addition, tweets don’t require a professional demeanor.

Students Who use Twitter

Lauren Montemurri, a professional writing senior who uses Twitter both for personal and professional purposes.

“I was encouraged to use Twitter over the summer by the professors of my study abroad program in London, Mass Media in the UK,” said Montemurri. “Now I use it all the time to post things that interest me such as really cool photo shoots and fashion ideas.”

Montemurri also uses Twitter in a professional sense through her social media internship with BeSpartanGreen, a program through the Office of Campus Sustainability that works to educate the university about different environmental issues. She said the difference between a Twitter account for an organization as opposed to her own personal account is that she tweets items that she thinks would be interesting to BeSpartanGreen’s audience and tries to find different ways to get people to follow the organization.

“What’s interesting about Twitter and other social media is that the goal for the organization or company is not to sell a product but to get their audience to have a conversation with them,” said Montemurri.  “It’s two-way communication as opposed to the traditional one-way communication that most companies and organizations are used to.”

“With Twitter especially, there are very little guidelines on how to use it so it’s kind of like feeling in the dark,” Montemurri said. People are trying to make social media strategies but for now it’s mostly just trial and error.”

While Montemurri said she finds Twitter to be useful in her internship and as a way to get information out to a wide audience, she added that given the choice between Twitter and Facebook that she would stick with Facebook.

“With Twitter you get to hear a little bit about a lot of different things; Facebook is much more personal,” said Montemurri.

Another professional writing major, junior Lauren Ebelt, gave a similar answer when asked if she would pick Facebook or Twitter.

“More people I know use Facebook, and there are so many more functions on Facebook than there are on Twitter,” said Ebelt. “With Facebook, I can upload photo albums, play games, send messages to my friends, chat with people, or check out different events. With Twitter it’s just status updates over and over again.”

Ebelt has been using Twitter for approximately a month, mostly as a personal account but also as a way to network with potential employers. Despite knowing almost nothing about the site initially, she found it quick and easy to use.

“There’s a step-by-step sign-up process and they give you these goals to follow in order to set up the account,” she said. “The people at Twitter made it really user-friendly, especially for people like me who are sort of technology illiterate.”

Ebelt said she still prefers other forms of communication, but added that Twitter is slowly growing on her.

“The more you use it and the more people you follow and the more people that follow you, the more fun it is,” she said.

MSU Faculty and Students to use Twitter in Future

According to Dr. Cliff Lampe, associate professor and director of the Social Media Research Laboratory in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Twitter will probably continue to grow and fill its particular niche in the world of social media.

“For MSU students in particular, Twitter can be very useful since it is a way to follow things like politicians or organizations and receive news or information that has been filtered by these sources,” said Lampe.

Lampe added though that most of the current users of Twitter are slightly older than college students – mid- to late 20s. The reason for this, said Lampe, is that Twitter was launched at a time when it was useful for this slightly older demographic. For most college students they are not at a place in their lives where Twitter is especially useful.

“That is not to say however that MSU students are not using Twitter and using it effectively,” said Lampe. “[2009 MSU grad] Brett is an example of an incredible Twitter user who used it in relation to his work with Remind 101, a program where you send in your class schedule and receive texts about homework assignments.”

Lampe also pointed out that social media is not necessarily a new concept. “We’ve had social media for decades, but it was mainly populated by, for lack of a better term, nerds,” said Lampe. “Only recently has there been a context collapse – it’s no longer just a small group of people with similar interests. Facebook for example was originally just college students but now it’s being used by a much broader spectrum of people. Twitter is exactly the same way.”

For this reason, Lampe said it is difficult to predict if Twitter will still be useful in the next decade – things could change or a new and improved social media platform could be created that renders it obsolete.

Twitter as a Communication Tool

Despite being fairly simple to use, Twitter is in fact a fairly complex form of social media that is changing the way businesses and universities think and act. At MSU alone there are professors using it as a teaching tool and as a way to supplement more traditional ways of learning. Students are using it for personal and professional networking and as a way to keep in touch with the world outside of college.

Twitter is a news mediator, a large-scale communication tool, and a platform for promoting different events and information. It may not be used by everyone on campus, but those that are using Twitter are using it in diverse and effective ways that ultimately improves their educational experience at MSU and beyond.

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Courses Under the Radar

Courses Under the Radar

At a school like Michigan State University, where majors number in the hundreds, it can be daunting to decide what classes to take each semester. With so many programs and areas of study, there’s sure to be some diverse offerings. Here’s a sampling of classes with some unusual topics.

HDFS 445 Human Sexuality

The name is pretty self-explanatory – for an hour and a half twice a week students talk about everything from the male and female anatomies to the work of Alfred Kinsey, a professor who pioneered the study of human sexuality in the 1950s, and everything in between. Taught by human development and family studies professor Rebecca Wright, the class is set up to encourage conversations about sexuality among students, whether it’s in the classroom or at the bus stop. Questions have included subjects like “Do women find it easier to achieve orgasm if they’re on top?” and “Is it a deal-breaker if she spits or swallows?” Kelsey Nover, a communications junior currently enrolled in the class, said it is more than just talking about what might normally be considered taboo subjects.

“The point of the class is to gain sexual knowledge and intelligence,” Nover said. “It’s a lot of fun because everyone in class speaks up and we have a lot of interesting discussions.” The proof is in the numbers: despite an early start at 8 a.m., Nover said there is almost always complete attendance.

RCAH 390 Section 002 Language and Culture: Linguistic, Cultural and Biodiversity in the Work of J.R.R. Tolkien

One of the core classes of the Residential College in Arts and Humanities curriculum is RCAH 390: Language and Culture. This semester, section two of the course is all about J.R.R. Tolkien, the mastermind behind the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) series.

“I picked this class because I had seen the LOTR movies but never read the books,” said arts and humanities and psychology junior Orli Ginsburg. “This class was a good chance to read them and it sounded unique.”

Students in the class recently read excerpts from The Silmarillion and The Fellowship of the Ring and they’ve also watched a documentary on “Ringers” – extreme LOTR fans in the same vein as Star Trek “Trekkies” that dress up as different characters and collect memorabilia from the book and movie versions. The emphasis of the class is not just on the Lord of the Rings, but on the way Tolkien uses language in his writings. One surprising fact taught in the class was that Tolkien created entire languages, such as the classic Elvish, and then formed a storyline around them.

Although the course is reading and writing-intensive, Ginsburg said she likes the class .

“The theme of good vs. evil is universal and relatable, even if you aren’t super into fantasy,” said Ginsburg.

HB 409 Introduction to Wine and HB 411 Hospitality Beverages

Wine tasting is one of many unique courses offered at MSU. (Photo credit: Brett Ekblad)

Alcoholic beverages are sure to peak students’ interest, but Dr. Carl Borchgrevink, the professor for both HB 409 and 411, is quick to point out that these classes are not about getting intoxicated. In fact, Introduction to Wine, the prerequisite for Hospitality Beverages, is entirely online. Students watch prerecorded lectures on different types of wine and how they vary according to climate, region, distribution and more.

“The class is open to any MSU student and if they follow the lectures they will get a base knowledge of wine, but they aren’t encouraged to do any sensory tests,” said Borchgrevink.

Students in Introduction to Wine have the option of completing the class within a few weeks. The only requirements are to watch the online lectures and take a test at the end of each video. From there they can arrange a time with Borchgrevink in which to take a final written exam, which could be done anytime before the end of the semester.

After taking Introduction to Wine in the fall, students then have the option of taking Hospitality Beverages in the spring. This time they will get to do some wine and beer tasting but there are some restrictions.

“For Hospitality Beverages they are required to be at least 21 years old, and the most that a student will consume for a sensory test in a given class period is the equivalent of a glass of wine,” said Borchgrevink.

Hospitality Beverages is an academically rigorous survey course that covers not just wine, beer and some spirits but also soft drinks and other nonalcoholic beverages that can be served in a hospitality setting. For this reason, Borchgrevink said that a few surprised students drop the course within the first couple of weeks.

“The emphasis is not on drinking to excess but to appreciate the different flavors and aromas in each beverage and how to pair them with a meal,” said Borchgrevink. “This type of knowledge can be applied to any type of career, not just hospitality business.”

KIN 101 Great Lakes Sailing

This one credit course offered by the Kinesiology department was just what economics junior Daniel Zaharia was looking for.

“I needed one more credit for my schedule and I was interested in sailing so it really just made sense to take it,” said Zaharia.

The course is taught by Captain Joe Smith, whom Zaharia describes as “an old salty captain with a scraggly beard.” With an attendance policy that consists of Captain Smith telling the class “Raise your hand if you’re here” and drowning being the only way to fail, it’s clear this is not your typical college course.

Class meets in a lecture hall on Wednesdays where Captain Smith talks about the various aspects of sailing technique, but Zaharia said, “He tells us he can talk to us for hours about how to sail, or he can take us out on the water for an hour and show us how to sail.” So that’s exactly what they do.

For the first few weekends of the semester, depending on weather conditions, Captain Smith takes his boat and groups of ten students on overnight sailing trips on Lake Michigan near Muskegon. He even throws in an all-you-can-eat French toast breakfast the next morning.

Zaharia said that Captain Smith explains it like this: “If you can sail in Lake Michigan, you can sail anywhere in the world, because the water molecules touch all of the other water molecules in other bodies of water.”

No prior sailing experience is necessary and the class is open to all undergraduate students provided they pay a $150 lab fee (which includes the cost of French toast).

What Else is Out There?

If MSU has classes on sailing and J.R.R. Tolkien’s use of languages, what kinds of unique classes do other universities offer? An article posted on a website called Classes2Careers listed the “Seven Weirdest College Courses You Wish You Took,” which included “Maple Syrup – The Real Thing” at Alfred University in New York where students learn everything about the sweet substance from production to sales, and “The Science of Harry Potter” at Frostburg State University in Maryland where students bring fantasy and reality together and attempt to explain what is and isn’t possible in the realm of Harry Potter. If pancake toppings and wizardry aren’t your thing, there was also “History 298: Oprah Winfrey – The Tycoon” at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where students learn about race, gender, and class issues through the cultural rise of the famous talk show host.

Another article on E! Online has a list of unusual courses that includes “GaGa for Gaga: Sex, Gender and Identity” an introductory freshman writing course at the University of Virginia and “Twilight: The Text and the Fandom” at California State University, where topics of discussion include “vampire lore, the romantic core of the series, female characters and fans and the depiction of men and masculinity.” The article also mentions that at the University of Berkeley a student can take a class about the TV show “Mad Men” as well as “Sex and the City and the Contemporary Woman,” “James Bond: Politics, Pop Culture, Hero,” “Batman as American Mythology” and “The Music, Lyrics and Art of Radiohead.”

Modern college courses have adapted to meet the changing needs and wants of students. While you still can (and probably will) take microeconomics and calculus, options like Introduction to Wine and Human Sexuality can make life a little more interesting. Because, be honest – the first question you expected to hear when you showed up at your Monday 8 a.m. was not “Is it a deal-breaker if she spits or swallows?”

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