Tuesday, September 30, 2014

New Reading Together Book All About Great Lakes

by Zinta Aistars
Aired on WMUK 102.1 FM 
September 29, 2014

Jerry Dennis

The Kalamazoo Public Library (Kalamazoo, Michigan) recently announced its Reading Together selection for 2015. It’s called The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas by award-winning Michigan author Jerry Dennis. My interview with Jerry Dennis on WMUK 102.1 FM, Kalamazoo, Michigan's NPR affiliate -- listen to the radio version or the full interview here, online:

The Kalamazoo Public Library recently announced its Reading Together selection for 2015. It’s called The Living Great Lakes: Searching for the Heart of the Inland Seas by award winning Michigan author Jerry Dennis.
The book combines Dennis’s journey across the Great Lakes with the environmental issues that shaped the lakes history.
Sailing The Great Lakes
Dennis and his crew sailed through four of the lakes (excluding Lake Superior) and through canals and rivers to Bar Harbor, Maine. Most of the crew were ocean sailors. Dennis says it was interesting to hear their take on the Great Lakes.
Environmental Dilemmas
Dennis says the environmental health of the Great Lakes has been on the minds of the American public since the 1960s. There were several causes that environmentalist rallied around, like the Cuyahoga River catching fire and the pollution problems in Lake Erie and Green Bay, Wisconsin. 
"The controversy of course was over whether this was a problem that needed our attention or whether needed to let the economy have its way or let industry have its way," Dennis explains. "And I think that controversy has slackened quite a lot because now we're recognizing across all boundaries, all partisan viewpoints that a clean environment is good for the economy."
But that doesn't mean that the battle between industry and the environment is over. Dennis cites the Enbridge near the Mackinac as an example. He says the coast guard has even stated that if an oil spill like the one on the Kalamazoo River happened there, they would not be prepared to handle the situation.
Shipwrecks On Top Of Shipwrecks
During the trip, Dennis explored several shipwrecks. He says he came across an 80-year-old man in Canada who ...

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Next Questions

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Kalamazoo College's ezine BeLight
September 2014

May 2014, the first ever Kalamazoo College Economics and Business Development Senior Individualized Project (SIP) Symposium was underway, and the excitement at Hicks Center was palpable. President Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran walked from project to project, leaning in to examine the details, taking time to question the seniors. The economics professors mingled, glowing like proud parents.
President Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran asks senior economics and business major Kari Paine about her SIP.
“For me, seeing these SIPs is seeing the culmination of a K education,” President Wilson-Oyelaran said, pausing between posters. “We are seeing the power of faculty mentorship. I’m thrilled the department of economics and business is doing this. I hope it will become a tradition.”
“It will be!” assured Ahmed Hussen, the Edward and Virginia van Dalson Professor of Economics. “This is our new tradition. We had workshops with the students and saw great improvements—we had only 14 of our majors participate this year, but we expect the symposium to grow over the years.”
Topics varied greatly: crowdfunding and the lean startup; new growth opportunities in Detroit; economic analysis of property rights in outer space; measuring the effectiveness of a buy-local campaign; economic impact of hosting the Olympics; analysis of produce pricing dynamics in Kalamazoo; effects of patient protection and the Affordable Care Act on the medical cost trend; a marketing plan for a luxury travel planning business in Spain; and more. Something for everyone, yes, even those who might one day prefer to live in outer space.
Among students, faculty and administration, and here and there the proud family members of seniors, wandered Will Dobbie ’04. A decade from his own school years at K, where he majored in economics with a minor in political science, he has made a name for himself as a result of his research on school effectiveness. Dobbie today is an assistant professor himself, teaching economics and public affairs at the Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs. He was back on campus to deliver the keynote address for this inaugural symposium.
“When I received the invitation to speak at K,” Dobbie said, “I wondered – about what? Then my fiancé reminded me. She said, ‘Everything you do, Will, everything you are today is because of K. Talk about that.’” Dobbie smiled. Obvious. His talk on this evening at K would be about the value of a liberal arts education in business.
“We raised the bar immeasurably this year,” said Timothy Moffit ’80, associate professor of economics and business, in his remarks at the dinner that concluded the symposium. “All in the spirit of learning,” he said. “Friction was natural in this process of making improvements. It was the friction of change.” Then Moffit introduced Hussen, who serves department chair as well as (in Moffit’s words) “the SIP czar.”
Senior Katie Moffit answers discusses her research with “SIP Czar” Ahmed Hussen.
“I loooove talking about my former students!” Hussen crowed, and his audience laughed. “It’s a way for me to brag about what I’ve done, to claim that everything this former student has done is because of me,” Hussen smiled. Then he became more serious.  Will Dobbie, was special. Will, Hussen explained, earned the highest grade he had ever given a student.
“Will Dobbie’s SIP on the decentralization of government in Kenya is one of the best, still, that I’ve seen,” Hussen said. After K, Dobbie earned his master’s degree in economics at the University of Washington, and his Ph.D. in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Just a few weeks prior to the economics department SIP symposium, he had been in Kalamazoo to receive the W.E. Upjohn Institute Dissertation Award for best dissertation on employment. In addition to his teaching at Princeton he serves as a research fellow at the Education Innovation Laboratory at Harvard University.
Dobbie’s speech that evening was titled “The value of an (economics) liberal arts education,” and Dobbie illustrated that value by talking about his November 2011 study, “Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools: Evidence from New York City,” in partnership with Roland G. Fryer, Jr.
In their study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dobbie explained, the two professors compared 39 New York charter schools to find out if the charter schools were any more effective than traditional models of education. Did class size make a difference? Would spending more money per pupil improve quality of education? Did teachers with more credentials and advanced degrees teach better?

READ THE COMPLETE ARTICLE ON K's BELIGHT. (Because the answers may surprise you.)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Musical minds: How a documentary on local Hot Tracks show is making autism more familiar

by Zinta Aistars
Published in Rapid Growth Media
Grand Rapids, Michigan
September 25, 2014

Photo by Adam Bird

With the documentary Musical Minds, two filmmakers hope to share the lives of two local people with autism with a wider community. Meet JB and Nick, passionate music critics, weekly hosts of the Hot Tracks show on WCET-TV, and singers of a song all their own as Zinta Aistars learns why this film had to be made.

JB wears a cap and one of his several Detroit Lions sweatshirts. His grin is wide and bright.

“Have faaaaaith!” he sings to his best friend Nick, and he holds his hand in a circle over Nick’s head like a halo, drawing it up toward the heavens.  

It cracks Nick up, but he shakes his head. He’s done being a Lions fan, he says. Decades of losing, that’s enough. He’s given up on his team, at least until they start showing signs of improvement.

The two are sitting in the back room at WCET-TV, a public access station in Hudsonville, a small town about a half-hour drive northwest of Grand Rapids. Their banter is light and fun, as it will be once the camera starts rolling for the half-hour show they tape every week, and have been taping for 13 years, called Hot Tracks.

JB West, 38, and Nick Van Zanten, 29, both have autism. To most, including their fans, they are simply known as JB and Nick. They will tell you: they fall into the high-functioning spectrum of autism, a developmental disorder of the brain expressed as difficulty with social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 American children fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, a tenfold increase in the past 40 years.

James Grochowalski, now 27, was a Byron Center High School intern at WCET-TV when he first met JB and Nick. He became intrigued with their friendship, with their easy banter on the Hot Tracks show.

Grochowalski today lives in Las Vegas, where he works as media director for a church, but he has maintained his connection to JB and Nick both on a professional and personal level. Grochowalski and friend Andrew Bedinger, 27, of Grand Rapids, have just finished filming a documentary about JB and Nick, called Musical Minds.

“We followed JB and Nick for, oh, I don’t know, four, five years, filming their everyday lives,” Grochowalski says. “The documentary is more a slice of life than informative. Our push was to make people more familiar with autism.”

When Grochowalski first met JB, JB had already been working at WCET-TV for some time, helping director Allan Dodds film a program called This Week in Jenison. He has earned the title of production assistant.

“It was probably Allan, the director, who first connected JB and Nick,” says Bedinger. “JB had an idea for a show about music, so Hot Tracks is all about their favorite music, mostly from the 80s and 90s, and rating songs they like.”

Or don’t like. Neither of the two have any inhibitions about ...