MOOCs

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a relatively new concept in higher education and offer access to online courses for free to students. The following infographic shows some of the universities that are offering these classes and gives some information about the students who are taking advantage of this new form of education.

moocs-ivy-league-free

I think that this free access to education is a wonderful idea and a great service. When I look at the breakdown of students, however, I notice that over 50% of the students who are enrolled in MOOCs already have at least a bachelors degree. While I believe in the importance of continuing education and support the use of these services for people to increase their skill sets, I think that as a society we need to figure out how to promote higher education to those people who do not have a college degree. This could be by simply promoting these types of programs more or by creating resources to make these programs more accessible. I think that community centers or libraries could be good infrastructure that could be leveraged in order to build support and access to MOOCs. By advertising in these spaces and providing computers that students could use to access their classes, I believe that more people would be aware and have access to these free courses.

The Importance of Grammar

I was recently introduced to the song “Oxford Comma” by the band Vampire Weekend. The opening line is, “Who gives a fu** about about an oxford comma?” I had to look up the definition of the oxford comma and found that it is commonly known as the serial comma and “is an optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list” [Oxford Dictionary]. This made me really think about what the meaning of the song is. The conclusion that I came to is that it is making a statement about all of the proper grammar that we learn and how important these constructs are when we are actually trying to convey an idea. I believe that understanding grammar and being able to clearly convey an idea is very important, however, academics can sometimes forget that the end goal is to simply convey an idea and as long as this objective is realized successfully, the grammar is insignificant.

I feel that educated people often look at people who may not use proper english, either using slang terms or a regional dialect, as being less intelligent. This is a mistake and I would argue that a person who is thinking critically and conveying their thoughts clearly is intelligent regardless of how ‘traditionally improper’ their language is.

I am reminded of Alan Alda’s communicating science workshops and his goal of getting scientists to convey their ideas using simple concepts and easily understood language. I think that it is so important for educated people to realize that the language they use can lead to either inclusion or exclusion and it is a choice that they must make. I firmly believe that the more inclusive that we can be as a society, the better all of our lives will be.

Supporting our Undocumented Brothers and Sisters

Last week I attended a training session on how to become an ally to undocumented students. Coming from New Mexico, I have had close contact with  many wonderful documented and undocumented immigrants. I believe it is so important to educate the public on the challenges that these people face and begin to correct the misconceptions that so many people have.

One of the first things that I would like to share is the language that is often used to discuss the issues of undocumented people is inconsiderate and derogatory. This is especially true of the term “illegal” which we often see in the media and some may use without realizing that it could be offensive. The material given out in the training did a very good job of discussing this term: “… actions are “illegal” not individuals themselves. This term further perpetuates stereotypes of immigrants as law-breakers, foreigners, and a burden on society. It undermines the complex experience of undocumented immigrants.” As a society, Americans need to change the negative connotation that is associated with immigration and come to a realization that we are all descendants of immigrants.

The second thing I would like to share is a flow chart that was presented during the training depicting the complex path that an immigrant must navigate in order to achieve legal status.

Roadmap to a Green Card

This chart shows one part of their struggle: the bureaucracy that they must navigate. What it does not show is how much time the process takes or the green card application fee. According to the website that the chart was taken from, immigrationroad.com, one should expect the process to take 5-15 years just to get a green card and another 5-7 years to achieve citizenship. Furthermore, the fees for filing a green card application are $985 for a person between the ages of 14-78 and $635 for a person under the age of 14, as long as they are filing with a parent who is also paying an application fee. I wanted to share this flow chart and these fees because many people do not understand why undocumented people do not just “get their papers” or are not aware of the significant hurdles that a person must go through to achieve legal status.

I think one of the most powerful and important misconceptions that societies hold is that immigrants are “taking away jobs.” This viewpoint is so powerful because so many Americans are suffering economically and are having difficulty finding employment. I do not blame people for wanting to protect their families and their means for providing for them. The evidence is, however, that immigrants, and especially undocumented immigrants, are not actually having a significant impact on the job market. The following is a link to the National Academies of Sciences report, from which these conclusions are drawn: The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration . The study found that the group that experiences the biggest economic impact from the inflow of immigrants are people without a high school diploma. I believe that instead of trying to exclude people from our country, we need to do a better job of educating people and preparing them to work in a world that is becoming more heavily dependent upon technology.

I am interested to hear what some other people think about this issue. In my experience, working with diverse people who contribute different perspectives has always created better results. Furthermore, I believe that policies based on exclusion are destined for failure.

Mission Statements

Mission statements are often overlooked by most of the students at an institution of higher learning, I am certainly guilty of this myself. They can be, however, a very revealing look at the goals and values that an institution holds. I felt that it would be interesting to compare the mission statements for two very different universities, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (NMT) and the University of Cambridge.


New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology:

New Mexico Tech serves the state and beyond through education, research, and service, focused in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Involved faculty educate a diverse student body in rigorous and collaborative programs, preparing scientists and engineers for the future. Our innovative and interdisciplinary research expands the reach of humanity’s knowledge and capabilities. Researchers, faculty, and students work together to solve real world problems. Our economic development and technology transfer benefit the economy of the state and create opportunities for success. We serve the public through applied research, professional development, and teacher education, benefitting the people of New Mexico.

The University of Cambridge:

The mission of the University of Cambridge is to contribute to society through the pursuit of education, learning, and research at the highest international levels of excellence.


I am intrigued by the vast diversity in these two statements. I like that the University of Cambridge had such a concise mission statement. A single sentence is enough to convey the core values that the university holds. I also like that the mission statement for NMT specifically addresses helping New Mexico because the state has a large under-educated population and I believe that more needs to be done to make higher education accessible to those people.

First week of Graduate School

Hello, I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself and reflect on my experiences during my first week in classes at Virginia Tech. My name is Abram and I am a first year direct PhD student in the mechanical engineering department. I grew up in a very poor family and often had to deal with difficult circumstances in my home life. As a child the idea of getting any college degree seemed like a great challenge and something I was never confident that I would attain. I first began my college career at the University of New Mexico in my home town of Albuquerque. I was not prepared for the rigors and responsibility required to succeed at the university level and after three very poor semesters I dropped out. During the time that I was out of school I became a manager at a local pizzaria and helped open a new restaurant. This was a great experience for me in many ways and I think most importantly I became aware of how much I missed learning. I also realized my desire to have a more meaningful career in which I could contribute to improving my community and the world. I returned to school at the Central New Mexico Community College and then transferred to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology where I completed a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering. I am so proud of the hard work and challenges that I overcame to graduate from college and as the first person in my family to do so, I feel I have motivated my younger brothers to also attain college degrees.

I still have a burning desire to learn and grow, so here I am starting a PhD program at Virginia Tech. The differences coming from a very small school in rural New Mexico to such a large school in the Appalachian hills have been immense. Humidity! The number of people on the sidewalks during the day is overwhelming as well as the extensive size of the campus. I have also felt a little intimidated by the academic level of my peers. The support that I have received so far, however, has been amazing. The mechanical engineering department has done a great job connecting me with various groups such as the New Horizons Graduate Scholar Program and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. I am also enjoying the benefits of being at a large institution. I have been very impressed with the labs and equipment that is available for research and have enjoyed the wide array of opportunities to explore research outside my field. I did not realize how much I would enjoy being on a campus with so much academic diversity. I am looking forward to the many new experiences I will have and challenges I will overcome during the next several years here at Virginia Tech.