Archive for May, 2011

Madeline Huerta is a genius.  She has turned other people’s problems (and some of her own) into Internet gold.

Huerta is the creator and overseer of College Problems, a Tumblr site that offers undergraduates a spot to vent about everything related to higher ed. that irks or annoys them.  The user-submitted entries typically run only a sentence or two, almost always with a set-up and a punchline and sometimes without proper capitalization and grammar.

A quick sampling of students’ admitted college problems: “Paper-thin dorm walls. . . . So much homework that you don’t know where to start. . . . Laptop dies [so] forced to pay attention during class. . . . Open a bag of chips in the quiet part of the library [and] receive death stares. . . . Two water bottles left in the fridge [and] you don’t remember which one is vodka.”

Madeline Huerta is a Boston University rising sophomore majoring in marine science.

Below, Huerta talks about the secret to the success of College Problems and offers her 10 favorite posts.

How did you come up with the idea for College Problems?

I came up with the idea for College Problems one day when I was just on Tumblr and supposed to be writing a paper. There are a bunch of other blogs similar to mine– that make little blurbs about a certain topic.  I was feeling kind of frustrated with college at the time, so I figured I’d make a college-themed one.  ULTIMATE PROCRASTINATION.

So I wrote out a bunch of different name ideas, like “Why College Sucks”, “College Sucks When…”  But then I came up with College Problems, and the name stuck.  So I came up with a design, wrote out a bunch of College Problems, and uploaded them to Tumblr.  I didn’t follow people or ask people to follow or promote me on their blogs. I uploaded the images, tagged them, and within a few days, a lot of people started taking interest.

What is the secret to its success?

I think the main reason people are drawn to the site is that they can relate to almost everything I post.  Some College Problems are funny things that everyone goes through, and some are more serious issues that students have to deal with.  It’s a site that people visit and go, “Wow, I thought I was the only person with this problem.”  Students read College Problems and submissions from other students and realize they’re not alone.

Memorable CP moments.

Two moments immediately come to mind: (1) At the beginning of May, a girl from my school’s student-run newspaper interviewed me and wrote a feature about College Problems. When the article came out, I was amazed at how many BU students came up to me and were really surprised and excited that I ran College Problems.  Up until the end of the year, I’d be walking to class and people I didn’t even know would compliment me on the blog.  It was pretty surreal.

(2) The second is more of a series of moments– I think it’s wonderful when people send me messages on Tumblr telling me how much they love the blog and how much it’s changed their view of college, knowing that virtually all students share the same problems.  Knowing that the blog is so influential and reaches so many people is unbelievable.  I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that I make one post and it reaches 67,000+ people.

Any advice for students interested in launching something similar to CP?

Choose something relatable.  Choose a big group of people.  For example, college students all over the world relate to College Problems.  Another tip is to not force your blog/website on people.  It’s obnoxious when people send me messages asking to promote their new blog.  It’s good putting your website out there, but in my opinion, if people like your blog, they’ll follow it.

What have been your favorite submissions so far?

Biology 108 inspired this one. As soon as I finished reading a chapter or completing a lab write-up, there was more work.  This is one of the most liked/reblogged posts as well.

So relevant.  I live in Chicago and almost all of my college friends live on the East coast.  I don’t get to see them all summer.  It’s rough.

It couldn’t be more true.  This semester I didn’t get much sleep.

This was me spring semester.  I didn’t have any classes before 11, and it still felt too early sometimes.

Those girls you hear in the dining hall on Sunday mornings, going on and on about the night before.  Obnoxious.

Judging by how fast this year went by, graduation seems right around the corner. :( Sad.

No one to bring you soup, make you tea, wake you up when it’s time to take more Advil.  Laying in bed sick, all you can think is, “Why isn’t my mom here?!”

It’s happened too many times.  I’m not awake until I’ve had some coffee.

When I tell someone I’m a marine science major, the the most common response is, “So like . . . fish?”  Yes, fish.

My mom and my friends’ moms do this all the time.  I put this one up during finals, and a few hours later my mom calls me and asks to talk for “just a few minutes.”  She thinks she’s funny.

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—  A rundown of the top 10 pet friendly schools.  Apparently, students are enjoying evermore freedom at some schools to room with certain animals in campus housing and have their pets included in all parts of their college experience.  For example, according to Eckerd University’s dean of admissions and financial aid, “A couple of years ago, we had one young lady whose dog actually walked across stage with her at commencement.”

What are the pet policies on your campus?  Depending, what are the most popular animals legally or illegally being cared for by students?  More generally, while at school, how do students deal with the separation from their pets at home?  And what about faculty and staff pets?  Any pet-owner lookalikes?  Depending, a photo slideshow is a must.  (U.S. News & World Report, Huffington Post, and UPIU)

—  A mini-ethnographic report on late-night antics at the Kent State University library.  The bottom-line question the reporter sought to answer: “What happens in the library after 2 a.m.?”  It is an interesting question, considering the bookish haunt is one of the few spots on most campuses open and well-lit 24/7. This piece told the library’s after-hours tale through a series of short observational bursts presented chronologically.  A more straightforward report with quotes from students and staff might also be interesting.

Among the questions I’m curious to have answered: What do staff do on the library’s graveyard shift?  Are there similarities among the students hanging out at such odd hours (i.e. all bookish nerds, grad students, sexiled roommates, hung-over frat guys, townies)?  What spots in the library are most known for more, ahem, elicit activities?  What does the security system for the library entail?  (KentWired.com)

—  “On The Dwnld” is a weekly listing of the most downloaded music tracks by college students nationwide.  What are the hottest singles among students on your campus?  What about the hottest viral videos or mobile apps?  (NextGen Journal)

—  The wife of the University of Vermont president has been relieved of her “official volunteer role” after a mini-scandal involving an apparent relationship between her and a school administrator.  Yikes.  For story brainstorming’s sake, I’m less interested in the scandal than her status as an “official volunteer.”  What role does the president’s spouse serve at your college or university, if any?  What causes do he or she particularly champion?  Is he or she on the payroll or included in school brochures or websites in any capacity?  Or do he or she purposefully shun the spotlight?  (Inside Higher Ed)

—  An interesting mini-profile of a student activist at New York University.  In this case, she is attempting to shed light on the “ugly side” of the cosmetics industry. Who are the faces of student activism on your campus?  Any profs or admins with an activist history willing to tell their tales?  What are the most popular student causes at the moment?  What are some stories of student activists’ efforts? Any classes on activism in the current curriculum?  Depending, talk to the instructor.  What are the latest activism trends?  (Washington Square News)

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Principles of Good Journalism. Why Newspapers Matter.  Media in Transition.  The Future of Publishing.  How Did the News Get So Dumb?

These are the names of just a few of the lectures, seminars, and workshops included in an interesting list compiled and posted by OnlineClasses.org.

The title of the list, which provides a slug, a brief description, and a link to a video of each talk: “40 Important Lectures for Journalism Students.”  (Suggested subtitle: “40 Lectures Possibly Worth Poaching by J-Profs”) :)

The list offers a very scattered collection of journalism, media, and contemporary culture chats– some delivered by biggies with last names such as Rather, Kinsley, and Assange.  A quick sampling of the first dozen proved marginally entertaining and occasionally enlightening.  Enjoy.

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Susan Deans wants the world to know: Journalism is not dead at the University of Colorado.  In a recent guest commentary for The Denver Post, the former editor of Boulder’s Daily Camera wrote that the university is actually moving “closer to the forefront of journalism education” and will soon be “a leader in the field of digital communication.”

As many in the journalism community are aware, the Board of Regents at the University of Colorado-Boulder recently voted to close CU’s School of Journalism & Mass Communication based upon the recommendation of an advisory board that counted Deans as a member.  The vote officially ended a long discontinuance process that has been viewed by some as a harbinger of dark days ahead for journalism education nationwide.

Deans argues the opposite.  As she wrote, “At present, the journalism school is no longer meeting the needs of its students. It is still teaching news journalism pretty much as it did 20 or 30 years ago, when most graduates went to work for newspapers and a few for TV stations. . . . The advisory board supported closure only because we believe it was a necessary step toward reconstructing a world-class journalism program on the CU campus.”

My take: I am a firm believer in the brush fire mentality as it pertains to journalism’s current state– the notion that the flames burning down some traditional portions of the field will enable new innovative portions to rise from their ashes.  In this sense, the words Deans spouts such as leader, forefront, and world-class (not to mention digital) to describe the dreams of Journalism 2.0 at CU are obviously welcome.

My problem is that they are still only dreams.  The school has been shuttered without a true detailed plan in place for what happens next.  Yes, the administration has been offering reassurances that it intends to keep its “three most important resources intact– our budget, our student body and our faculty/staff.”  But what will they be doing exactly?  What will they be teaching and learning?  How will they specifically be integrated into existing programs?

The brush fire is a neat analogy.  But it requires more than burning down.

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As digital and online media conquer the world, college students are still most content to read their campus newspapers in print.

It is not breaking news, confirmed over the past few years by a number of news outlets and marketing surveys– including a fall 2010 Poynter Online piece (screenshot below) and a Washington Post Magazine feature published in April.

The most recent proof of students’ print-first campus newspaper reading habits comes from David Simpson, the coordinator of student publications at Georgia Perimeter College.  As he recently wrote in a message to college media advisers:

“A nugget from our latest market research at Georgia Perimeter College made me very happy, so I’ll share it.  This is a pretty rigorous survey designed and analyzed for us by senior marketing students under a very savvy professor at nearby Georgia College and State University.

“The first question on the survey was whether the respondent agreed that ‘reading the newspaper is a waste of time.’ Not a particular newspaper– just ‘the newspaper.’

— 

“A whopping 69 percent either ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that the newspaper is a waste of time– and that number jumps to 89 percent when you include ‘somewhat agreed.’

“A little later in the survey, the respondent was asked if he/she had read The Collegian, our campus newspaper, in the last month. (We only published every three weeks this year.)  The ‘yes’ on that question was 62 percent.

“So this print-hating generation still reads the college newspaper!”

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At nearly a century old, The Chanticleer, Duke University’s yearbook, is dying— at least in its current form.

A profile of the yearbook published in The Chronicle, the school’s student newspaper, during spring semester paints a grim picture.  The staff is having trouble giving free copies away.  Its top editor admits many students do not even know Duke still has a yearbook.  The publication’s budget is being slowly slashed.  And more questions than ever are being raised about its relevance in the Internet era.

As Chronicle staff writer Ryan Brown writes, “In an era of Facebook photos and digital cameras, when every student group has a website and every basketball game can be Tivo-ed into permanence, one of Duke’s oldest student organizations is staring down a life-or-death question: does anyone care about the yearbook anymore?

In a separate Chronicle report on the yearbook’s recent budget battle, a Duke senior is similarly quoted saying, “There is no reason why we should be giving $80,000 to the yearbook when we have things like Facebook.”

Will Duke join Mississippi State University, Mount Holyoke College, Purdue University, Towson University, and the University of Virginia “on the growing list of schools that no longer print a student yearbook”?  (In fall 2008, the University of Texas student media director told ABC News that there are roughly 750 yearbooks still publishing at U.S. colleges and universities, “far fewer than there were 10 years ago or 40 years ago.”)

Even a free price tag is apparently not enough enticement.  I see the same sad reality at the University of Tampa, where an overwhelming majority of students are either uninterested in owning a quality yearbook offered without any charge or entirely ignorant of its existence.

Why should these books retain a place on campuses, in print form?  A Duke publications adviser: “Of course people have their Facebook pictures and everything, but it’s so impermanent.  You’re not going to pick that up years from now and say, ‘Here’s what was happening at Duke while I was there.’  There’s something to be said still for having a book.”

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• An interesting glimpse at one night in the life of a shooter, or shot girl, a side job for many female students.  How popular is this nighttime/weekend profession among undergrads at your school?  What are the perks/downsides?  How do their parents/friends/sig others feel about their work?  (UPIU)

 A profile of four siblings— ages 10 to 16– enrolled at the University of Iowa at the same time.  What family holds the record for most legacy enrollees at your school?  How many young geniuses are seeking degrees at your school, and what are their stories?  How do admissions handle off-beat applicants such as these? (Daily Iowan)

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• A pair of stories on the debate over whether freshmen at Princeton University should join Greek organizationsstory one and story two.  What are the rules at your school?  What do Greek student leaders, administrators and freshmen think? (Daily Princetonian)  Update: Here’s my USA Today College column on it.

 A write-up on a busting of a fake ID ring run by a student at the University of Maryland.  A separate piece on a fake ID website popular among students, apparently based in China.  What are the latest trends/controversies within your school’s fake ID culture?  Especially memorable student stories related to their use? Does your school consider fake IDs a major issue?  (Diamondback and UPIU)

 A piece outlining the latest skirmish in the textbook sales war being waged between college bookstores and Amazon.com.  Portion of piece: “For years Amazon and other Internet retailers have been moving into a college textbook market that was virtually oligopolistic 15 years ago. Most college towns had only the college-run bookstore and one or two independent shops. Internet booksellers and the ease with which students can compare textbook prices have now made the market ‘exceptionally competitive.'”  How has your school bookstore fared in the past 15 years?  What are textbook-buying trends among students?  What do the profs assigning these textbooks think?  (Inside Higher Ed)  Update: Separate piece by Heather Regen at NextGen Journal on textbook renting and downloading trend.

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