Ithaca College Will Make You Ready
With a vibrant community, professors who inspire, and the hands-on experience you need to dive into your field with confidence.
“I’m not a big-city person, and I was anxious about this big-city internship,” wrote Meghan, a senior journalism major, in an article chronicling her experiences at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. “Could I do the job? Would I handle the pressure?”
The answer was yes. A sophomore when NBC chose her and 30 other IC student interns to help produce the winter Olympics, Meghan rose to the challenge of meeting ever-shifting deadlines in what she called “a giant makeshift mouse maze” beneath the Vancouver Convention Centre. Prompted by editors’ notes scribbled on unpainted walls, Meghan created athlete profiles, assembled research packets, and met Tom Brokaw in the process. That intense, 17-day experience was another step in a journey that began with Meghan’s arrival at IC.
“I come from a really small town, where everybody has the same mindset,” she said. “At IC, it was eye-opening to discover a broad spectrum of opinions and backgrounds and so many organizations to join. Part of me said, ‘I’m just a freshman; there’s nothing I can do.’ Another part of me said, ‘Go for it.’ ”
And go for it she did. As a freshman, she honed her management skills through the Leadership Scholars Program and connected with another leadership scholar, Christine Evans, to cofound the IC chapter of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA).
“The organization is a national nonprofit that helps people struggling with suicide, self-injury, and addiction,” Meghan said. “We’ve developed a committed core of people willing to show their fellow students that, despite pain and suffering, there’s hope. Writing love on your arm signifies the healing power of compassion.”
While serving as TWLOHA’s president, Meghan went a step farther and volunteered to coordinate events and educational initiatives for a local suicide prevention agency.
“My leadership opportunities at IC have tested me and made me stronger,” she said. “There’s still a little fear when I face a challenge, but I’m not that timid girl coming out of high school anymore. I’m ready to dive head-first into my future.”
Computer science and history are not commonly paired in the classroom. But at Ithaca College, professors Ali Erkan and Michael Smith have begun a collaboration that may help improve the way students learn.
The project began because of computer science professor Ali Erkan’s curiosity. He wanted to look at how students use wikis—websites developed collaboratively by a community of users who can add and delete information—so he could research and create a visual map of the way the students make connections between ideas. He asked himself, If students produce things that can be visualized as structures, will that allow us to understand understanding itself?
“I think computer science allows you to develop the tools to work on that question—but then you need a context,” Ali says. “I thought the humanities would be the best context to explore, and I had to find the right person to work with.”
Ali had just the person in mind—a history professor he had met during a bus ride in Ithaca a couple years earlier and had since interacted with on the IC campus. He emailed Michael Smith to share his idea.
“The fact that Ithaca, both as an institution and a community, is small enough that you can have these kinds of interpersonal connections that can then become more formal collaborations is something I really value,” Michael says. “In some ways I’m an odd choice because I’m a little bit of a digital skeptic, but when Ali approached me with this idea of using wikis as a way of representing knowledge—that you could kind of lift up the hood and see some structures in there—I was intrigued.”
Ali and Michael have been working with students in both their fields to further explore the project’s questions. They created a grant proposal and received a digital humanities start-up grant from the National Endowment for Humanities. They hope that by gaining understanding of how thought connections are formed, they can eventually help students improve how they research and learn.
Ithaca College has given them the support they need to make the project a success. “It is a teaching-oriented institution, so we’re encouraged to be innovative and emphasize teaching excellence in all sorts of ways. So this is a way to remain active as scholars and at the same time improve what happens in our classroom,” says Michael.
“There’s no quota for the amount of papers you have to write or the amount of money you have to bring in. Those things are in place at other institutions so that there’s more research productivity, but I think it ends up being a hindrance on the research,” Ali says. “We both feel liberated by not operating under those constraints, so we can simply follow our curiosity, and that becomes our optimum point of operation. Because we are curious, we are productive.”
>> More on this story: Untangling the Web
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