Attendance at Husky Career Week events last week at USM was limited. Student Success and Student Life on the Portland and Gorham campuses teamed up to plan this first-time week of events in anticipation of this Wednesday’s job fair.
Rodney Mondor, student success coordinator for the Portland campus, said Career Week is a response to employers at job fairs. Over the years, employers have said that USM students were under prepared for the job market. The intention of Career Week is to help college students prepare to start careers after school.
“It’s a great opportunity to explore,” said Stacy Stewart the USM Coordinator for STRIVE U, an organization that helps young adults with developmental disabilities to build career and academic skills, “For students looking to gain experience that they could earn in an internship.” Career Week offered an students the opportunity to learn from professional how to create a resume, how to act and dress in an interview and how to work a job fair.
Attendance averaged only about four people per event, but Mondor called this year a pilot for Career Week and said it was an opportunity to ask “What can we do better?”
Director of Portland Student Life Chris O’Connor was aware of the small attendance of Career Week and said a large part of the problem was in the promotion, which consisted of a mass student e-mail and a few posters around campus.
“We have to come back and revisit how to market it,” said O’Connor. The plan was to schedule workshops multiple times at different times of the day to accommodate students’ differing class schedules. Since the low attendance indicated that this strategy did not lead to high attendance, O’Connor said, “that wasn’t the most realistic way to program for it.”
O’Connor believes student involvement would have grown with more promotion, including getting into classrooms, getting more people talking about it and having more than a week to promote for it and put it together.
Another cause may have been that in previous years the job fair occurred in March rather than February, as it is this year. The job fair is scheduled for Wednesday at the Sullivan Recreation and Fitness Complex. The early date, Mondor said, is a response to employers’ requests to move it up, and to help students prepare for the fair, Student Success and Student Life wanted to hold Career Week in case the early date caught student off guard. The lack of attendance was especially surprising due to the massive attendance seen at the job fair in previous years according to O’Connor.
However, Career Week was helpful to some students. When senior philosophy major Jamie Grindle was asked about her experience at Career Week, she said, “looking for a job can be very overwhelming.” She said that she feels that it is important that students attend these events because many people find it difficult to get started after college. She believes that it should seem even more pertinent to the upperclassmen. “There is guidance out there,” said Grindle.
Nominations for this spring’s student government elections opened up last Monday, and the Student Government Association is waiting for student nominations to come rolling in. This year, the SGA is making promotion of the elections a top priority and focusing on making the process easier for students.
“We want to get as many people nominated and as many people voting as we can,” said Will Gattis, a senior economics major and Vice-Chair of the Student Senate.
Along with senior political science major and student body Vice President Marpheen Chann, Gattis is a co-chair of the SGA election committee. Their goal is to make this year’s elections the most active elections in recent USM history.
One of the ways they’re doing that is by creating a specific, user-friendly website to make it easier for students to get involved. All information about SGA elections is now on USMVotes.com.
“It is a new external website which will allow us to enhance and improve the way we present information, candidates and voting in general,” said Chann. “Candidates will also have their own personal webpages that they will have the freedom to update. This will then lead them to directing students to the website for info about their candidacy…[and] theoretically will also get them to look at other candidates and general election information.”
“When all the nominations come in and it’s time to vote, students won’t just see the names of other students and choose one on a whim,” said Gattis. “We want these profiles to be personable and informative. If students can see the priorities of all of the candidates, they can align themselves with people who they align with.”
The new website was created using Weebly, a web-hosting service that features a “drag-and-drop” website builder, and solves a number of issues that have hampered SGA elections in the past.
In past years, the SGA website was not readily searchable through the main USM page and could only be accessed through another page or external link. Now it is one of the first that appears when searched on the USM website. The simple nature of the Weebly platform will also ensure that future SGA members will not have to worry about finding someone with the technical skills to build a website. According to Chann, the new website is already having an impact. “There has been decent traffic since Monday,” he said.
While voting has taken place online for several years, low voter turnout has always been an issue at USM. In spring of 2013, the elections only saw 609 counted votes out of the entire student body, an increase from the 146 votes cast the year before. Nominations for senate seats have been low as well, with senators frequently running in uncontested elections.
“[The seats on the senate] have been uncontested for the past few elections, and I really want to change that,” said Gattis.
At last Friday’s student senate meeting, Gattis encouraged other senators to nominate each other and to encourage leaders in the USM community to consider becoming members of the SGA.
“Every student pays a student activity fee, and the senators, they’re essential the guardians of that money,” said Gattis. “I love all of the people here [on the senate], but I would like to see all of the seats contested. It’s important that students get to choose who controls all of the money that they spend in student activity fees.”
The election committee has included information about how much students pay in activity fees per credit hour. A full-time student taking 12 or more credits spends $55 a year for their student activity fee, while part-time student pay less at different credit number intervals. All of these fees combined leave the SGA to oversee the distribution of over $500,000.
“For us to know what the students want, there need to be more students involved,” said Gattis.
SGA nominations will close on Friday, March 14 and voting begins just days later. Nomination forms can be picked up in the SGA office or via the elections website, USMVotes.com
At the Faculty Senate meeting last Friday, faculty members expressed concern to President Theo Kalikow about the purpose and conclusions of the Direction Package committee. The committee is scheduled to present its findings to Kalikow on Feb. 28.
Many at the meeting were frustrated, saying that Kalikow wasn’t giving enough details pertaining to the initiatives of the committee. “There’s word on the street that the direction package has no direction,” one faculty member said to the president. Kalikow responded, “I think the direction package is moving along nicely. The soft rollout isn’t until next week. The details, I think, are still being worked out.”
“[The committee is] working very diligently and with great focus. I think the process is going to be very fruitful. The overall goal is to do the right thing for our students, the state and the communities where we find ourselves,” Kalikow said.
She went on to stress the scope of the undertaking and the amount of time that will need to be invested in it. “But I hope we will work in partnership with the Faculty Senate to do a good job and to set a reasonable direction for USM,” Kalikow said.
Jerry LaSala, chair of the physics department and the Faculty Senate and co-chair of the Direction Package Advisory Board, spoke to the difficulty of the committee’s task. He explained that it’s the committee’s job to create a vision for USM’s future and to save $14 million next year. “[They’re] trying to focus on both of those; it’s a challenge but they’re doing their best,” he said.
English professor Nancy Gish pressed Kalikow about how the committee was planning to serve the students of USM. Kalikow, who has not yet seen the advisory board’s full presentation, responded, “I don’t know what the hell these people are going to do. So I can’t be pinned down on this.”
Another faculty member expressed the concern that despite the committee’s findings, they would be unable to find a way to cut $14 million from next year’s budget. Kalikow said, “What I think is, we can come pretty close. It may be a combination of things. I don’t how it’s actually going to unfold.”
Some faculty expressed frustration at their inability to help brainstorm ideas to save the $14 million, when the preliminary 2015 budget is due only a month after Kalikow receives the recommendations from the Direction Package committee. One member said, “We could help with that if we knew what those ideas are.” Kalikow responded that she would not share her ideas until after Feb. 28.
Christy Hammer, president of the USM chapter of the University of Maine System full-time faculty union, told the Free Press later, “I was heartened to hear the president say that we will not let [the University of Maine, Orono] take all the resources from USM, because I think it was and has been a fear. And with USM being in the economic and cultural hub of Maine, I believe that political and community members will not be happy that we have to cut opportunities for students at USM.”
There was contention at the meeting about whether or not online classes are an acceptable substitute for live classes. University officials across the system have been discussing the possibility of working more collaboratively using online mediums due to system-wide shortfalls.
Hammer said, “What we’re afraid [of] is that UMO will take over the programs, and we don’t think that’s what the greater Portland community deserves. They deserve quality programs with real faculty and not just online access. I’m hoping they can figure out a different way to restructure the funding so that USM, that runs very efficiently, can still provide the programs to Maine students in the population center.”
Mark Lapping, distinguished university professor for the Muskie School of Public Service, stressed the economic importance of USM to the Portland community and argued that we were not properly funded to begin with. Eve Raimon, a USM English professor, agreed and added to the Free Press after the meeting, “It’s the administration’s job to keep reiterating that USM is in a death spiral.”
Kalikow will present the Direction Package Advisory Board’s findings to the Faculty Senate in a meeting on March 14.
The work of an bioinformatics class offered at USM in spring 2013 will be published in Frontiers in Genetics, an online science journal, with USM undergraduate Jeffrey Thompson leading the co-authorship of the peer-reviewed paper.
The article, entitled “Common features of microRNA target prediction tools” is in part the work of Thompson, a USM senior and computer science major who will be entering the Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. graduate program at Dartmouth after his graduation in May, and University of Maine Ph.D. students Sarah Peterson and Melanie Ufkin. The students were mentored by computer science professor Dr. Clare Bates Congdon, who taught the class last spring whose own research and expertise is in Bioinformatics, and Dr. Lucy Liaw and Dr. Pradeep Sathyanarayana at at Maine Medical Center Research Institute.
The students began their work in a course called bioinformatics in spring 2013. Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary class cross-listed in the applied medicine, biology and computer science departments and also University of Maine Graduate Studies in biomedical sciences and engineering program. They continued working over the summer and fall 2013 to refine the presentation of their work for Frontiers in Genetics.
Bioinformatics is the process of applying computational tools as a means of understand biological data. Essentially it’s using one form of science to understand the data of another. The class was developed to teach students how to work in this interdisciplinary field and how to overcome the specialized jargon of biology and computer science and bridge the gap between the two disciplines. “By the time you’re a junior or senior, you’ve learned so much, but you don’t realize how much you’ve learned is so specialized and jargoned that people who haven’t been through that path don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Congdon.
The research produced by this team explores the pros and cons of computational tools which can be used to easily target special genetic molecules called microRNA and help scientists better understand how they work. “The tools are not new, they’re other people’s research, what’s new is the way that we’ve managed to present this information. So, we’ve reviewed these tools in a way that’s much more accessible than anything that’s been done previously,” said Thompson. Congdon then added, “This paper is largely written for biologists to understand the available computational tools.”
The article focuses on microRNA, the small genetic molecules that regulate the expression of genes. Understanding where the microRNA bind to a gene is an important part of learning how our genetic machinery works. The students learned everything they could through reviews about computational tools previously developed by other scientists in order to help predict the locations of microRNA, saving both time and money. These three students set out to explore all these computational tools used by molecular biologists and bioinformaticians and break them down for the researchers to understand and choose the best one for their research needs.
Congdon observed that this publication isn’t just an interdisciplinary effort, but also inter-institution effort within the community with researchers from USM, UMO and the Maine Medical Center Research Institute working together on the research and sharing credit for the work. “There’s been a big push between research institutions to figure out ways to start working together on problems because then they can pull in people with specific knowledge that might help out,” said Thompson on the achievement. “There’s now a greater understanding that to solve the big problems we need to work in interdisciplinary teams,” said Congdon.
“Given that I am pursuing research as a career, the chance to help author a journal publication as an undergrad was a great opportunity,” said Thompson, but this isn’t his first time being published. Thompson has been the leading author on conference publications in the past pertaining to a system called Genetic Algorithms for Motif Inference, which is being developed in Dr. Congdon’s lab.
The paper is currently available online in its draft form and is expected to likely be posted in its final form on the open-access journal by the end of next week.
When you love someone, you don’t literally give them your heart (we hope), so what is this feeling that is as important to our emotional lives as the blood pumping through our bodies? What is love?
In a highly informal poll taken in the Woodbury Campus Center cafeteria at lunch time, not a single student volunteered a personal definition of love when asked. “I don’t like Valentine’s Day,” said Sunjung Kim, a sophomore nursing major. Iyann Mohamed, who she was having lunch with, agreed. “Next week I have too many exams on Valentine’s Day.”
One student with a defined notion of love, though, is junior women and gender studies and sociology double major Jules Purnell, who drew upon their experiences with kink to explain aspects of their own personal experiences with romantic and erotic love.
“In my own life, kink and love are very closely tied. My partner and I married back in March, and our love life, sex life and interest in kink are very much overlapping. My partner is in service to me, and that plays out in interesting ways. For them, providing service is a means of expressing their love and devotion.” Purnell explained, concluding, “All of us who are into [kink] are into it for different reasons, but many of us find that gently pushing each other’s limits or serving one another can be acts of love.”
Personal definitions of love are necessarily subjective, but science can give a more general explanation.
Psychology provides explanations for much of why people act the way they do in contemporary society, but the USM psychology department were as reticent as the student body. “Not an area I feel competent in discussing,” said psychology Professor Bill Gayton when asked for a psychological perspective on love. Associate professor of psychology and department chair John Broida was equally direct. “I know nothing about this topic,” Broida said.
Biology Professor Jeff Walker’s answer, however, did have a psychological basis. “From a neurophysiological perspective, love is an emergent, subjective set of conscious and unconscious behaviors and/or feelings that arise from a set of active neural circuits that have been created and strengthened by signaling mechanisms activated by our personal history,” Walker told the Free Press.
That is, in perhaps simpler terms, that love is the way each individual person feels, when a set of circuits are set off in their brain, interacting with their experiences.
Walker explained, “This is a circular and maybe not very satisfying definition, boiling down to ‘Love is the set of circuits that are activated that give us the feeling of love.’”
He warned that it would be a mistake to try to reduce the feeling of love down to nothing more than cell–cell signaling, but said that love is not alone in being activated in the brain by various means.
“This isn’t too different than, say, a definition of red. Red is the color that we perceive when circuits in our brain that give us the sensation of red are activated. These circuits can be activated by certain wavelengths of light hitting our retinas but can also be activated by input from other areas of the brain (imagine the phantom of the opera walking down the staircase with his red suit),” Walker wrote in an email to the Free Press.
Philosophy Professor Derek Michaud echoed Walker’s sentiment about the different forces behind love. “I’m sure that you’d get as many answers to this question as there are philosophers,” Michaud said, going on to explain his own answer, which is concerned with the various situations and explanations that the word “love” is applied to.
“Well, love is highly complex, as anyone who has ever felt this most celebrated of emotions already knows. Or as the underrated philosopher Ronny Cammareri says in the film Moonstruck, ‘it ruins everything!’” Michaud began, before exploring the differences between the love people feel for family members, for lovers, and even for food, and the fact that these three arguably very different sentiments fall under the same word, a fact that he traces back to the way the ancient Greeks talked about love.
“What makes all these things ‘love?’” Michaud asked, and answered himself that the thing that connects these different types of love is that they all involve a union of the lover and the beloved, in whatever form that takes.
“In erotic love that takes a rather straightforward form. After all we regularly speak of the physical union of sexual intercourse as ‘making love.’ But in other cases too when we love we are united in some sense with another. Love forms the emotional bonds between us and thus forms a central part of our subjective experience as social beings,” Michaud said.
Allison VanderLinden, the Christian Inter-Varsity Chaplain to USM’s graduate students, also traced her conception of love to ancient Greek roots, citing the four different Greek words for love in the ancient world, and the four different types of love they represented, as well as citing a series of Bible verses on the subject of love, notably from John 4:16 b,
“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
Rebecca Wohl-Pollack of Southern Maine Hillel gave a different religious perspective. “I would say that love, from a Jewish lens, is an action,” Wohl-Pollack wrote in an email to the Free Press.
“The word for love in Hebrew is ‘ahavah,’ with the root built upon the consonants ‘h-v’ meaning ‘to give.’ Therefore, you can translate the word ‘love’ as an act, the act of giving.”
So there it is.
This Valentine’s Day, remember that love is strange, hard to define and analogous to the process of seeing the color red. It is a concept that has been an evolving part of human society for thousands of years, might be divine and might ruin everything, and is probably best expressed through actions.