Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Real College Education

Today marks the first day of many class discussions to come in the Presidential Powers course. The class held a very interesting discussion about the Founding Fathers view of the role of the President, as stated in the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. I was intrigued to learn that the Founding Fathers were very legislatively oriented. I also learned that the Constitution was partially influenced by the attributes and experiences of George Washington.

As we are about one week into our 3.5 week trip, Milani and I decided to do some laundry this morning before breakfast.

I have found that as the days progress, my focus on my research topic narrows down. I have a much more clearly defined and specific thesis than I did two days ago.

This evening, like yesterday, I retreated back to the library to work on my outline for my research paper.

I like the structure of the Presidential Powers course very much. The course differs from my high school courses in many ways including its freedom of topic selection and individualized support. As students in the Presidential Powers course, we are free to choose any topic related to Presidential Powers that we wish for our 20+ page research paper, as opposed to picking from a pre-arranged list or even one specific topic the teacher assigns. We also have plenty of freedom to plan our study schedule on our own time. Doc Z provides plenty of guidance by recommending other sources and listening to our ideas to make sure we are on track, if we choose to seek out her help. The Columbia library system also provides a librarian consultation for assistance for researching a topic.

Some R & R

Today was rather uneventful, but that in itself is, in a way, a blessing; after a week of frenzied activity, its nice to breath easy again, curled up with a good book on a warm day with your homework done and tomorrow looking bright.

That right there is essentially my one and only major critique of this program. Yes, that whirlwind of college visits was incredibly informative and I'm grateful for the opportunity to expand my college list as well as rule out places unfit for me and my personality; and yes, the class I am taking here at Columbia is both rigorous and engaging, and again, I'm very grateful for the chance to further my academic interests. Neither of those things do I dispute, and I truly do appreciate them. But this past week has been undeniably very stressful, and the effects are long reaching: I found myself eating and sleeping less merely because I am worried and because it is what my body has adjusted to, and I've observed that I am now quicker to snap at others without really meaning too, more so than is anything I would consider a usual amount. The long hours at the beginning of this trip, added to the stress of being in a completely unfamiliar environment far away from family and friends, made it that much harder to fully grasp, utilize, and appreciate the myriad of opportunities that were being graciously presented to us, and I would say that, personally, its actually hampered my ability to perform here at Columbia. Just a side note: I'd like to point out that my aim here is not to whine or complain or unduly criticize, merely to inform and discuss so future ILC forays can perhaps have an easier time.

There is definitely something to be said for the “thrown in the deep end” approach to learning, one that I think works just fine... so long as there's someone at the edge shouting encouragement and advice. That's not to say that I feel that, if I had a real problem, I could not come to the ILC for help; but at least from my point of view, there seems to be a very small involvement from those not “on the ground” as it were. And perhaps there shouldn't be. Perhaps this is more of a social experiment, giving students a taste of real college life and watching, almost impassively, as they overcome obstacles in the hopes that the result of this close observation can help future college-bound students deal with the incredible shock that leaving home really is. But, if that is the case, I can help but wonder if that is the right approach. In all of the feedback I have gotten from current university students, many of whom have the trails of their freshman year, only a few months gone, firmly imprinted in their minds, they all stress the importance of time management. That has been duly noted by myself and I believe the rest of my cohort; but its one thing to say and another to do. Whatever good time management is depends incredibly on the person managing their own time, and I would make the argument that it takes a year (if not more) for every student, no, person, to fully know themselves enough from living on their own to really develop a system that works. I bring up this example because it seems as if the ILC is throwing this information at us and expecting us (or perhaps I should say “me” because I cannot speak for my cohort), expecting me to achieve in less than a week what takes most people a year or more by simply having the forewarning of that it is necessary. It appears, to me, to be an impossibility; but perhaps it is only my unique personality that makes me feel that way, and there are others so in tune with themselves that a forewarning can be immediately turned into a system that works for that individual. Again, none of this is meant as a criticism, merely an explanation of how I personally am coping (or not coping as the case may be) with the pressures that are part-and-parcel of the Ivy League Connection.

Class today was a lot of fun, as usual, but I found no new information engaging enough to fill a whole blog within those four hours. We went over our reading in our morning lecture, learning about how Congress has used an enumerated power, the regulation of interstate commerce, to influence everything from monopolies to civil rights to even (and I found the justification for this incredibly weak) the growth of marijuana plants for personal (i.e. not commercial) use. Over lunch I met with Eric and our study partner Min from Sol, Korea to review the things we would need to know for the quiz in our afternoon session, which I believe I did remarkably well on, in no small part due to the help I got during that brief but useful half-hour of review. After the quiz our small class played Constitutional jeopardy where, according to our instructors, anything we'd learn so far was “fair game” and the subjects ranged from the Federalist papers to the Clinton cases to the system of checks and balances. After a meeting with Mrs L and dinner, I relaxed and recuperated for the rest of the evening and afternoon, getting to know a little bit more about my suite-mates as we all lounged about, a slow process of familiarization that I'm looking forward to progressing down as he days tick by.

Deadlines and Dead-drops

In the case that "first" rhymes with "worst," I take it that they are synonymous in their right. As in, my first draft, which is an extended outline at that, of the research paper I am putting together for my Presidential Powers course is my worst. It is scarce. It is unkempt. It is disorganized. It is rushed. It is incomplete. It is not entirely accurate. It is not scholarly material. And, the deadline is tomorrow afternoon.

But, it will get better. Because, it is a testament to the best of my ability to produce quality work within the given time frame. And, by no means is any other students' paper superior to mine to a large extent, if at all. Everyone struggled through this. But, it is, and was, a good struggle. I can admit that. As more time is allotted, more work will be accomplished, and more smiles will be smeared upon the face of an exhausted, yet proud student.

I don't smile too frequently, by the way.

After hours, and hours, and hours, and hours in the library, outside of the classroom mind you, I have begun to grow a lot more comfortable in and within the setting. I do not feel a perpetual need to check the clock. I do not rush out of the reference room as soon as the clock strikes 4:00 P.M. On the contrary, I feel as though I can do without a time measurement. I do not feel the stereotypical, high school student-associated library hatred that I have felt in the past. It's the university's magic at work, I tell you.

There's something academically encouraging about a large room, filled with various students, quiet, steady, resourceful, and timeless. It doesn't necessarily conform studying into some sort-of past-time activity for leisurely hours. It does, however, allow me think of study time not as a necessary evil, but as a necessary occurrence. I even find myself more willing to use novels, biographies, and other literary pieces in my research. Rather than searching Google with three to four relevant keywords related to the topic and clicking on the top five links, I hesitate to aboard the Internet's super-highway of information. Nay, I think I'll check out the Butler book-stacks instead.

The rigor is unpleasant, sure, but the values it is reinvigorating within me are essential. Four days in, and I already feel as though I'm two steps above the competition when I enter senior year. I feel like, in addition to my A.P. assignments, this summer will have provided me with a necessary academic continuation from my usual school year, so that there is no habit to re-develop when I enter Richmond High School in late August. I won't need to brush up on my material, or gradually come into my study habit and work ethic within the first few weeks. I will not have to do any of that nonsense, because I will already be in possession of such.

And, that's extremely valuable. Of other particular reward, I'm really getting a sense of life on campus, academics aside. I'm figuring out the day-to-day routines of college kids: the risks they take, the risks they don't take, the work they do or don't do, the places they go, the people they see. I'm getting an idea of time management, both from an academic and social perspective, and I feel as though when I attend college, wherever I may attend, I will be one step ahead of my new freshman class, just as I see myself with the advantage in comparison to other rising seniors.

Though my time at Columbia University be scarce, I have learned so much. I've learned things I thought I already knew, and things that I knew nothing about. I've learned what is real, and what is fake. To an extent, I've learned about myself as an individual. And, such knowledge has surely not climaxed. I'll be learning for a while--inside and outside of the classroom.

I suppose that's what this is all about.

I am relieved to be finished with my paper in the sense of Dr. Z's instructional guidelines for the extended outline, and I am ready to drop dead onto the bed.

As the end to the first week approaches, I'm excited to see just how far my first week progressed me, and what is to come in the following weeks.

Until tomorrow-

Almighty Commerce Clause

One of the focuses of our class discussions today dealt with the commerce clause which grants Congress the right to "regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes." More specifically, our discussion focused on to what extent can Congress use the commerce clause to justify regulating institutions both private and public.

In the case of Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States, the motel refused to provide service for black customers. The appellate court decided that under the Civil Rights Act, the motel is prohibited from discrimination or segregation in all catering establishments, with the only exception being "private clubs" with less than five rooms. Because the motel has over 200 rooms, it is subject to this act. However, the motel appealed to the Supreme Court with the argument that the 14th amendment does not prohibit discrimination in privately owned public accommodations unless private discrimination is "sanctioned by the state" or "done under state authority".

The question the Supreme Court had to answer was that because the majority of the motel's customers are from out-of-state, does that qualify as interstate commerce. If so, then the appellants argument would be void because interstate commerce isn't "done under state authority". The Supreme Court came to their decision based on the following reasons:
  1. In a society which is becoming increasingly mobile, prohibiting service to blacks causes barriers for blacks to travel to other states in search of jobs, which may contribute to interstate commerce.
  2. Because the motel's customers are primarily from other states, about 75%, discrimination isn't protected under the 14th amendment. Interstate commerce is regulated by Congress who has the right to enforce the Civil Rights Act.
While this decision my appear straight enough, it has a lasting impact on how the court interprets the commerce clause. The same logic was applied to the case Katzenbach v. McClung where Ollie's Barbeque refused to serve blacks. The Supreme Court ruled that because the establishment imported a significant amount of meat from other states, Congress has the right to enforce the Civil Rights Act because the importing of meat was deemed to be interstate commerce. More recently, in 2005, the court ruled in Gonzales v. Raich that Congress can regulate a homegrown product even if it doesn't enter interstate commerce. By applying the commerce clause, the court reasoned that if a civilian smokes marijuana that he/she grew, Congress can regulate the product because if the civilian grew it, he/she isn't purchasing from possibly, out-of-state vendors.

Should the commerce clause be extended to this extent? I don't believe so. What if someone brought to suit that Congress should regulate tomatoes produced in one's garden? The justices will apply the precedent and can vote to regulate the purchase of tomatoes by using the same logic applied in Gonzales v. Raich. In my opinion, the Supreme Court has given the legislative branch too much power to regulate commerce. The power has been extended to situations where it is possible that interstate commerce may be related, instead of situations like Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States and Katzenbach v. McClung where it was known that the institutions were involved in interstate commerce.

The library is my new "home".

My morning started off with the one of the biggest accomplishments ever: doing my laundry sufficiently. I was able to wash, dry, and fold my clothes all before class started. My clothing was not damaged in the process, so I'm giving myself a pat on the back. I guess I'm already starting to learn time management. This is going way off topic to what I'm supposed to be writing about, but I found it really cool that you can set your phone up to receive messages when your laundry is done. You just text the number of the dryer and it will send you a message when it's done. You can also check the availability of the machines so if they are full you don't have to waste a trip. Pretty convenient.

We spent our AM session discussing the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. I was pretty scared at taking part in the discussion, but once I did it wasn't so scary after all. You're simply stating your opinions and its hard to get a "wrong answer". Dr. Z is a fountain of information. No matter what question you ask she always seems to have an answer and details to go along with it. She explained to us why the American colonies blamed the King of England and not Parliament in the Declaration of Independence and helped us focus in depth on the executive powers in the early stages of US government.

I am very proud of myself for the work I accomplished in the library today. It is required that we finish a 5-7 page outline for our research paper for Friday. I only spent 4 hours in the library today and I was able to manage my time wisely and finish almost all of my outline. I finished 11 pages of outline (I think I went a little too detailed) and the only thing I have to worry about tomorrow is finishing my bibliography and making some final formatting adjustments. This is the first assignment we are turning in and I hope I did it right!

I ended my night by going to the gym to relax after all the strenuous researching I've done in the past 3 days. I know this is only the beginning of the 20 pages, but I feel like I'm on a great start. Hopefully the professor will like my work. Tomorrow I am going to wake up at 5:30 AM to go with an RA group to see Beyonce perform in Central Park. Don't worry, we'll be back before class. I adopted a new motto in the last couple of days: Work Hard, Play Hard.

In the Library

This morning’s class began with a talk with Doc Z about the expectations for the outline of our paper. She went over the proper format of the bibliography, introduction and much more and as a result, I now have a much better idea of what to include in my paper. The rest of our morning class time was spent listening to a riveting lecture from our professor about the American Revolution.

Today was my first day in the Butler Library stacks, the large collection of books located in the middle of the Butler library. I am a now a big fan of university libraries. Having never previously studied at one, I am thoroughly impressed with the extensive print and online collections in the Columbia catalog and the immense resources the university offers, including librarian consultations.

I spent some of lunch locating my books, browsing through them and putting them on hold. For our afternoon session of class, I preferred to walk over to the Lehman Library where I had the opportunity to briefly discuss my research topic with Doc Z and she gave me some names of important figures and authors pertaining to my subject. Following dinner, I spent a few hours in the Butler Library, reading the books I selected on my subject.

After three days, I am finding American Presidential Powers to be a very stimulating course. It has truly opened my eyes to the intricacies of political science and I am pleased to be learning this at such a wonderful university. I really do appreciate the support the Ivy League Connection has received from the sponsors and administrators that keep this program around.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Thoroughly Entrenched

“Hey, look, its dropped down into the 70s; starting to get cold. And wow, there's a low of 62 tomorrow!”

Almost those exact words ran through my head when I popped open my laptop and glanced at the little weather-widget on the screen for New York City. Whereas a forecast of anything above 70° would have warranted a grumble back home, I barely batted my eyes at a high of an even 90° for Friday. I really am getting used to this place!

Even walking up and down Broadway by the campus (Milani and I made a detour during the midday break to send off packages and swing by a coffee shop on our way back from the post office), I realize I'm more and more comfortable with the bustle here, even if it is relatively subdued here in Morningside Heights. Our trip down to SoHo yesterday was to a very lively area of the city, and I didn't find myself overwhelmed by the honking cars or people rushing by me; in fact, I was rushing by other people!

As the time between visiting the colleges and reaching Columbia is increasing, I find myself mentally holding each school up to one another and comparing their respective strengths and weaknesses. For instance, the neighborhood around Columbia is starting to really feel like home even after a few days, and I'm beginning to really love New York, but as prestigious as their campus appears from walking around, the inside of their dorm buildings (hallways, laundry rooms, suites, bathrooms, and bedrooms all included) are absolutely drab and lifeless and appear to have been built with no thought for anything but the exterior. In steep contrast to that, Vassar College's dorms were nothing special from the outside but boasted spacious and well-decorated parlors and lounges inside for each student to access, but the location of the school itself is not within the bustling city that so appeals to me. Yale's campus is, like Columbia's, very impressive, and the immense resources Yale has ensures that an education there is one-of-a-kind and gives anyone a leg-up on the competition, but the school itself did not give me that feeling of welcome I felt visiting the University of Pennsylvania. When asked why he chose to attend Yale, our tour guide in New Haven answered promptly, “Because I got in,” and there was definitely a (probably completely justified) sentiment from every Yale person we talked with that if a student was lucky enough to be accepted they were very privileged, in the sense that a great favor has been bestowed upon. The UPenn alums and students I spoke with placed a greater emphasis on the “fit” they had seen between themselves as individuals and a University that would support them as individuals, and the general feeling was more of a “Come join us because we want you!” approach instead of a “Come join us if we feel you're good enough” mentality, both of which are entirely valid. Perhaps labeling the schools as similar and equally good places to apply to because of their affiliation through the Ivy League is not the right answer, as I felt that each school we visited had incredibly different things to offer every student; it was not a one-Ivy-fits-all experience. A student in love with Columbia would be unhappy at Yale but might be comfortable at UPenn and vice versa, simply because of the kind of personalities each school attracts.

But I should talk more about class today! The morning class was spent going over the opinions we had read last night. For those who don't know, a Supreme Court opinion is essentially the verdict at the end of Supreme Court cases and is written by one of the justices on the majority side; other justices in the majority side can write a concurring opinion, meaning they agree with the outcome of the trial but not the legal reasoning behind it, and justices in the minority side (the side that looses, essentially) can write a dissenting opinion explaining their own legal reasoning and how they reached the opposite decision from the majority group. Both opinions had to do with clashes and disputes over the power of the Executive Branch and just what is the scope of and limitations on the President's enumerated (aka listed in the Constitution) powers. As I'm reading and dissecting tonight's homework, I'm finding that the cases seem to be dealing with issues between state and federal authority, so perhaps that will be the highlight of tomorrow's lecture.

Our afternoon session today was phenomenal. I was a bit bummed when our second instructor said that the afternoon class was going to be in more of a small lecture format as we learned about how a bill becomes a law (a lengthy and arduous process that School House Rock explains very well but certainly leaves some complicated things out) as well as the set up of the federal courts. But as we started getting more and more into how we, as scholars of law (in training, at least), interpret the Constitution, a rather impromptu debate rose up in class about the validity of the Second Amendment. It was rather a novelty actually, as an Irene vs Irene debate; there's another Irene in class who seems to have views that are completely opposite from mine, which definitely will make for interesting conversation! As I mentioned before, I've changed a bit in my views, and since this class has started I view the Constitution in a very originalist and textualist sense, meaning that the actual words in the document should be the primary (if not only) source of consideration when deciding whether or not an act or law is unconstitutional. I and a few other took the position that the 2nd Amendment, while perhaps not morally right depending on your personally views, does allow people to own guns, whereas Irene and the rest of the group felt that the historic value behind the amendment (keeping the government from preventing revolt and dissent among its citizens) no longer held to same value pertaining to guns and that public safety and the common good should be the highest law. It was quite the discussion, one that I doubt a group of high schoolers could resolve in a few days when its already been debated for years and years with apparently no significant strides for either side.

Before I head off to bed (study group with Eric meets in the morning and I need to be awake for that), I'd just like to express my thanks to the school board for having the vision to create a program like this, that can send six students (and more) 3,000 miles for almost a month to take a class and experience life in a real Ivy school; and also thanks are due to the sponsors of this program, without who's support the school board's vision could have been achieved and turned from an idea to reality. On that note, good night!

How Should One Interpret The Constitution?

Today was the third day of class, and I fell as if I am beginning to get into the flow of things. While the Constitutional Law course may be less rigorous than the Presidential Powers course, the Constitutional Law course is by no means a joke. Unlike many students I have talked to, our instructors require that we do homework daily which is to read Supreme Court majority opinions, concurring opinions, and dissenting opinions, analyze how the justices came to a decision, and weigh in whether or not we agree with them. Ultimately, the homework is what makes the class interesting because the instructors don't need to use time during the morning session for us to read the opinion. Instead we briefly discuss the historical period of the case and dive into a discussion about what influenced the verdict.

One of the most intresting discussions we have had in class regards one of the most fundamental aspects of being a Supreme Court justice: how to interpret the Constitution. Yesterday in the afternoon, we watched a movie about a question and answer session with justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer. Scalia labeled himself as an originalist, one who determines whether a matter such as the death penalty is constitutional based on explicit definition in the Constitution. If the definition isn't clearly written, the associate justice Scalia determines if the matter is Constitutional or not based on the time period in which the Constitution was first written. Let's take the death penalty for example. The eighth amendment states that a citizen cannot be subject to "cruel and unusual punishment". But because the term "cruel and unusual" is really vague, Scalia would argue that capitol punishment is constitutional because in the 18th century, punishment of a citizen younger than 18 by hanging wasn't considered cruel or unusual. However, associate justice Breyer, a developmentalist, believes that one should interpret the vague areas of the Constitution, such as the eighth amendment by asking, "In America today, is it considered cruel and unusual to punish a minor for a crime by death?" His answer would be no, and thus he believes that applying capitol punishment to a citizen who is a minor is unconstitutional.

I believe that justices should interpret the Constitution from the devolopmentalist approach in comparison to the originalist approach. Today's society and values are much different than the values of the people from the 18th century. Because of this, it is my belief that a justice should weigh the social and economic situation before making a decision. When Breyer brought up this arguement, Scalia countered that the Constitution should be interpreted in it's original context because if the people wish it to be interpreted with a modern context, they should amend the constitution. While this may be valid, is it really plausible to pass amendments over and over to keep up with changing society? No. That is why I do not agree with justice Scalia's approach.

This is just one example of the discussions we have in class I am honored to be a part of. Had it not been for the gracious support from the Ivy League Connection's sponsors I would have never been exposed to anything remotely intellectually stimulating as the Constitutional Law course. For that, I am eternally grateful

Finding My Niche

Day Three. Not nearly as exhausting as Day Two.

I didn't change much, to be fair. I'm kind of developing a standard, collegiate agenda for my days at Columbia. I find myself eating at the standard dining hall hours (closer to opening than closing), spending at least two additional hours after second session in the library for my research paper, spending at least one hour in the gym and traveling from destination to destination, and spending an additional two hours doing assigned homework for my class. It's a lot to handle, especially considering the majority of my agenda occurs after 4:00 P.M., when the afternoon session is dismissed.

I believe what contributed to my overall exertion of energy yesterday was the initial execution of such a rigorous plan. It's day three in the classroom, but it's day two of my daily routine, and I'm finding my niche.

I'm pretty sure that the American Presidential Powers: At Home and Abroad course is one of the most difficult, rigorous courses available in the high school summer program, and that's mostly due to the comparison of classes and the opinion of my floor-mates. Three of them, in fact, do not receive any homework throughout their stay at Columbia this Summer. A class in computer programming provides that luxury. Many have homework, but also have a rather flexible schedule, fluid enough to mold against the grains of their own schedule, yet buoyant enough to allow them to float above the water.

However, at the end of my mental assessment of such comments and conclusions, I sincerely believe that I was put in the right course. I think about it more and more as I strain hour after hour, working to perfect only the rough outline of my research paper. I am learning the study, time management, and success skills to achieve in high school, college, and life in general. My preparation for the real world, though begun years back, is definitely excelling here. And, the behavior in which I have adopted in terms of academic and social responsibility is being tested. I plan to ace it.

Of course, this combination of a once-in-a-life-time experience, reality check, and time-of-my-life experience has been the genuine product of those who have donated so graciously to both the Ivy League Connection and the West Contra Costa Unified School District (W.C.C.U.S.D.). This is my thanks to you, the investor. Thank you for investing in my personal future, the future of our students, and the future of our district as a whole. I hope to return the favor if and when I can snatch success when I am presented with the opportunity.

On another note, exploring the city and "getting out" is becoming extremely difficult, however, but such is to be expected from the given schedule I practice, I suppose. I still have my weekends, and that's what counts! I definitely won't leave New York without distraction myself on Main Street and Wall Street for a while, but I definitely won't leave the university without setting myself on the proper path for prosperity and success in life.

It's all about doing your homework--your high school teachers were not lying.

The research has just begun...

Today's class was perfect. It is so much better than any high school class I have ever taken. I'm not sure if it's the class size, but being able to have our professor's full attention is something that I'm so eager to get in college.

Our morning session started off by Dr. Z. going over exactly what we needed to turn in to her and Pavel (our TA) by this Friday. She went into complete detail, stating how long things should be, what we should be thinking about while we write, and the importance of our thesis. Yesterday, I was uncertain about whether my thesis was appropriate or strong enough to carry a whole 20 page essay behind it. I emailed my professor asking for her advice on my thesis and she got back to me the next morning. She is so helpful! Definitely not what I had expected coming into the program. I thought I would be figuring out most of the things I needed to do by myself. The professor and TA really want you to ask questions and really want to help you. They check on us frequently asking if we need help or how far along we are getting with out work. I like how she has us turn something in every Friday so we can stay on track and have time management with our papers.

After discussing our requirements for Friday, we went into great detail about the Declaration of Independence. She showed us exactly what other countries looked for when deciding whether or not to accept the US as an independent nation, which can be found in the last paragraph. The fact that our country had some form of government, wanted the power to go to war and establish trade, and expected all other privileges a free country had convinced Morocco and France to recognize us as our own country. Tomorrow we are supposed to discuss the Federalist Papers we read as homework last night, which are a group of documents written to urge the country to adopt the Constitution. We might start discussing another book we are supposed to read for homework tonight called Inventing the Job of President by Fred Greenstein. The professor assigned volunteers to start a discussion on the president found in each chapter. I volunteered to start the discussion on James Madison. I'm nervous because I've never been in a discussion like class and have no idea how to start one. However, they say you get out of it what you put into it. I want to most of this experience and I plan on putting all of my effort into it, even if it means going "cold turkey".

I find the afternoon sessions in the library to be the most helpful part of my day. They allow me to focus directly on my paper and use the library's unlimited amount of resources. I finished some of my outline in that time and even stayed a little bit after to finish my thoughts. The library here is calm to do research in because there are no distractions.

It is only day three, but I feel like I've already learned so much! I've learned how to conduct research and how to use my time efficiently. Of course, everyone must have their free time to do the things they like, but this class is my priority, play can come later. I'm really enjoying my class so far. I find it weird that there are only 3 girls in my class, including myself. Maybe it's a sign? Of what I don't know.

Will, Eric, Beilul, and I plan to spend our evening in the library. Being time efficient is key. Especially since most of the RAs and students heard that the course we're taking is the hardest. It's really hard to jump out of a high school curriculum and be pushed into a college level course. Not to mention when you're supposed to crank out a 20 page paper in three weeks when the longest essay you've had to write in high school is a maximum of 5 pages.

This program is only three weeks, which seems like a short time to me. But, I'm very grateful I was offered this opportunity. I mean, how many other students can say that they already experienced a college level class. I feel that this program not only is broadening my horizons to other schools but giving me the preparation to succeed in college. I have learned to adjust to my dorm (including the traffic that used to keep me up at night), socialize with other people, and lead to become more efficient in my work. Like I said, today is only day three and I have already learned so much.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dead On My Feet

Its the end of day two of class and I am beat.

I suppose a large chunk of this tiredness must be attributed to the fire drill from this morning. Rather an unkind trick of the University, I thought, waking students up with ringing bells and shrieking alarms after their first night of staying up late to finish their homework; but I suppose it was planned in advance to make sure everyone knew at least what they would have to do in a real emergency. Or at least how to recognize the alarm: I was convinced it was a dream, then that my phone alarm was going off, and it took my fuzzy brain a good two minutes to figure out what this incessant noise meant. I also hadn't planned on being awake for almost another two hours, so it did cut my sleep short (all situations normal here then).

A quick run to the nearby Starbucks with Will and breakfast with the other ILCers raised my spirits as well as lifted the morning fog from inside my head, and I was ready for class. For last night's homework we had been asked to read Federalist papers 10 (dealing with the power of factions and the tyranny of the majority) and 51 (discussing checks and balances and the reasons for separation), as well as two Supreme Court opinions by John Marshall, the first justice to really bring the Supreme Court any power or recognition, as well as one other document from our reader. I must admit that a large part of the information went unprocessed by my brain due to the late hour when I finished, but we discussed all five readings in our morning class and now I'm very confident I understand the importance and legal theory behind each document.

Lunch was quiet today; snag some lunch from the dining hall (the food is actually pretty good; I haven't had that delicious a grilled cheese sandwich in years!) and mosey on over to a stationary store to scope out possible ID holders with no lunch before heading early to the afternoon class.

Constitutional Law this afternoon was very mellow: we watched three videos and took notes, though I was not the only one feeling the temptation to nod off as the third video seemed to drag on. The first two were conversations between justices: O'Connor and Breyer in the more sedate first set, followed by a more heated debate between Scalia and again Breyer. The first conversation had to do with why the government was set up in the way it was, as well as explaining difference in O'Connor and Breyer's opinions: Breyer favored a stronger and more centralized version of government to encourage unity and limit confusion through uniformity, while O'Connor championed the smaller courts and legislative bodies of local and state government as being better suited to deal with the real issues of the people in each area that would arise. The second conversation was quite the jousting match. Coming into this program, I favored a more evolutionary view (thought I did not know the term for it until today) of the Constitution, as Breyer does, meaning that the interpretation of the Constitution should be based in today's society, not a two-hundred-year-old idea that may not hold true anymore, and that the document's interpretation should evolve over time along with society. But as the conversation (which turned into a debate) progressed, I became more and more impressed with Scalia's “originalist” view and lens for interpretation. He rested the power to add or change laws with the elected representatives in the legislature, meaning that the Supreme Court's only purpose was to declare laws unconstitutional. His example was capital punishment: thought he did not voice his own private opinion on the issue, he explained that the amendment that prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment” was written during a period of time when capital punishment was very usual and common, and therefore the Court had no legal (not moral, ethical, or political; the difference is very important when dealing with law) jurisdiction to define the death penalty as “cruel and unusual punishment” unless an amendment was ratified that made capital punishment thoroughly illegal. Scalia argued (successfully, in my opinion) that the Court had no right to impose its own values upon the law unless the justices were elected and not appointed. The last video told us more about the story of John Marshall, the chief justice who essentially gave the Supreme Court teeth and respect.

After class was our daily check-in with Mrs. L, dinner, and a quick trip down to SoHo (the neighborhood south of Houston Street) for some wonderfully touristy shopping. It was a fun trip with all the ILCers except Will, who had stayed holed up in the library to diligently continue his research for his paper, and an experience in how to transfer between trains in New York City. I was greeted at my return to the dorm with cupcakes, as it was one of my suite-mate's birthday today and we had a little makeshift party for her before heading off to bed.

Mrs. L has asked us to focus on water and sleep for the next few days so we can take care of ourselves properly, and armed with a water bottle I'm about ready to hit the sack.

SoHo? What's That?

Yesterday, I had absolutely no clue what SoHo was until I saw on my R.A.’s sign out sheet that two friends on my floor had left for SoHo some 4 hours ago and had not returned. This sparked my interest to find out what SoHo really was, and what it had that could draw students away for 4 hours on the first night in New York City.

After doing some online research, I found that SoHo stands for South of Houston Street and is primarily a shopping and dining neighborhood. Originally, SoHo was known as the cast iron district because it was one of the first areas of the Big Apple to have buildings made of cast iron instead of bricks and motor. It was a relatively cheap manufacturing neighborhood which began to attract artists because of affordable space for studios and galleries. However, the artists didn’t stay for long and were forced to vacate due to high rent and SoHo became the residential area bustling with tourists looking for good food and souvenirs that we know today.

When Milani told our group at dinner yesterday that she would like to get some souvenirs, I immediately remembered what I had just researched and told our cohort what I knew. After asking for directions from R.A.s, we decided that Milani, Beilul, Irene, Masao, and I would travel via subway to SoHo tonight after dinner. The trip down to SoHo was awesome in itself because it was like an adventure. With nothing but scribbled down directions, we walked to the 116th street subway stations prepared to board for the first time without Mrs. L. After a transfer at Times Square and 45 minutes, we arrived at SoHo which I must say, fell short of expectations.

As we window shopped, I was surprised to find that most of the stores were brand names, not the small tourist venues that I had expected. It wasn’t until we had arrived at the edge of SoHo did we find a store that had the “I Love New York” t-shirts we wanted, but even then they cost more than we were willing to pay. Thankfully, Milani’s R.A. provided an alternate solution should we not find what we were looking for. She told us to go to Chinatown, which was adjacent to SoHo. Almost immediately we found what we wanted and quickly paid. I wished we had more time to stroll through Chinatown, but we had to head back because we had Supreme Court opinions to be read, and for the Presidential Powers group, an outline to be made for a 20 page research paper.

While I may have wished to do more, I enjoyed our first excursion out of Columbia.

Two Down

"The door to our suite"

It is only the second day and I'm not getting any sleep. I'm not a full time college student. This should not be happening.

This morning I was abruptly awakened by a noise. I had no idea what is was, but apparently it was the sound of a fire alarm at 7:30 AM. I was not a happy camper at all...

Today we explored Lehman library which is one of our other libraries we can choose to do our research at. The library yesterday was Butler Library. Personally, Butler library is my favorite. Mostly because everything I need to know about Theodore Roosevelt and foreign affairs (my research topic) is found in that library.

"Inside Butler Library"

I think I'm in over my head already. We have a 5-7 page outline and 10 source bibliography for our research paper due on Friday. I might sleep in the library the rest of mytime here from all the research that is required. The amount of books in the library to chose from are overwhelming. Not tomention it is very hard (well for me) to even search through the 12 floors of unlimited book shelves to find the one you're looking for. Thank God for the catalog online and the map of where everything is! I felt like a really college student today, going into the library to study and write reports. I found the library was able to help me focus because of the professional and serious vibe it sent out.

"The books keep going..."

Our first reading assignment is to read the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Articles of Confederation, and several sections of the Federalist Papers. I believe tonight will be my first all nighter at Columbia University and will for sure not be the last. We must read in order to participate in the morning session of our class, which is mostly discussion.

In the evening Irene, Beilul, Eric, Masao, and I traveled to SoHo by subway. It was a cool experience to travel on our own for the first time. Through team work we were able to figure out how to transfer on the subway and make it to SoHo without getting lost. We bought some souvenirs in Chinatown, which is right next to SoHo. It was not what I had expected since everyone who told me about it said it was the best place to go shopping. It wasn't in my opinion. It was nice to bond and hang out with the cohort. It was a well needed break from the intense second day of class we had.


Tomorrow I will hopefully get more rest. Hopefully. I plan to read as much as I can tonight before I knock out for the night. I need my rest orI can't participate in any of the RA trips! I cannot miss out on all of the excitement.


Fire alarms, Research and SoHo

This morning we were rudely awakened by an obnoxious fire alarm drill. I was planning on sleeping in a bit, but that was not an option.

The Columbia campus is surprisingly wonderful. When I think of a NYC school, I immediately think of a set of buildings spread out through many streets and blocks - not a traditional campus. But Columbia is not like that at all. The school is in its own little world, relatively secluded from the busy city. It’s quite nice.

Our morning class consisted of another library presentation to help us begin researching our topics. Furthermore, we were assigned reading tonight for our first class discussion tomorrow. For our afternoon session, we were given the choice between two libraries: Butler or Lehman. I stayed in Lehman gathering sources for my topic.

After class we had our daily chat with Mrs. Lilhanand and then headed off on our separate ways. Irene, Masao, Eric, Milani and I decided to get lunch at the dining hall and then headed off to SoHo to get souvenirs.

Tomorrow marks our first class discussion and time is running out as our 1st assignment is almost due.

Library Lessons

Day Two, I'm exhausted.

Understandable, granted the entire John Joy dorm house was abruptly awoken by the piercing screech of the fire alarm. It was just a drill... at 7:30 in the morning. It is a suitable time considering one must wake up, prepare themselves, eat breakfast, and be in class by 10:00 A.M., but that is assuming the individual went to sleep at a reasonable time, and the unintentional wake-up would be okay in terms of time. I was one of the proud few who still pulled 8 hours of sleep. Go team.

What the Presidential Powers group thought today was going to be was incorrect. Yesterday was the orientation to class, the introduction and presentation of the syllabus, so, naturally sequential, we thought today would be our first day of instruction.


Our class doubled up on the library tutorials and the use thereof, especially in regards to C.L.I.O. and its many partner databases. I have to say, however, one of those databases was incredible. The World News Connection is essentially an electronic center for news articles and press releases all around the world. Sponsering every single country, a student at Columbia University has access to English paraphrased or fully translated foreign news. Now, for instance, I could not only read about the U.S.'s response to [insert international affair here], I could read about [insert international affair target]'s depiction of the incident, ongoing or passed, as well. The amount of perspective this database offers is serious business, literally.

We were blessed with a feather-weight homework load. All we have to do are read Federalist Papers #1, 10, 47, 48, 51, 67-77, and 85. They are only full-length, university-level essays. Oh, and we have to read the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the U.S. Constitution. That's due in about 14 hours. Oh, jeez. I forgot something. We need to have a 5-7 page outline and initial draft of our research paper with apt annotated bibliography by Friday. Easy enough.

In light of our recent homework list, I decided to begin my research in Butler Library after meeting with my cohort and Mrs. L. to touch base. I found myself thinking about life at Columbia University, personally, as a student. Every page turn, notebook flip, sudden yawn, hasty stretch, and bathroom trip, I pondered how I would fit into the school, and how the school with mesh with me.

I concluded that it is just about a perfect fit. Yesterday, even, Milani turned and said, "I could see you going here, Will." A second opinion without inquiry? Yes, please!

Doubts plagued my naive mind before finally settling into Columbia, but now I know where I want to go and what I have to do to get there. And, that's an invaluable feeling. Surely, I'm one-step-ahead of most of my 2012 classmates as is.

I predict success in this class. I can definitely see myself doing well, as long as I put in the necessary time to achieve such splendor. I'll be in the library.


Monday, June 27, 2011

Best Monday in a While

My first full day at Columbia University's Summer Program for High School Students! So exciting!

This morning was (yet another) early start as our suite headed down to the dining hall at 7 AM for breakfast, which I thought was very good, especially for a dining hall. The actual hall itself is also very pretty, with large wooden beams holding up a high ceiling and big windows with stained glass letting in a fair amount of light. After eating we headed to another nearby building for our orientation, which our RAs informed us was at 8, but didn't end up starting until a little after 9 AM and lasted only about fifteen minutes; it seemed a little silly to be woken up more than two hours before that point just to watch a small video and go over some of the guidelines to the program, which, to be honest, the RAs had done a better job of describing the day before. I had a feeling the orientation was really more for the parents who were dropping off the “commuter” students (meaning people from the area who weren't living in the residence halls) than an actual orientation. We did, however, all get our class schedules as well as a map; I was very pleased to learn that both my classes are in the building directly next to my dorm, so there's no trek across campus every morning for either me or for Eric, who is in the dorm just one building down from mine.

After orientation we all went straight to class and met our instructors. For Constitutional Law, we have three: Kelly Rader, Jeffery Lenowitz, and Kate Krimmel. Kelly Rader led my morning class, which was done almost lecture style in a small room holding I would guess around twenty students with plenty of space left over. I was impressed at how we just jumped right in; I used five pages of my notebook just during the two-hour session in the morning. Eric and I both sat near the front; I can't say for him, but I plan on making that seat my permanent seat as our instructor requires a seating chart so she can take attendance and mark participation much easier. That was another great thing about this class: 40% of the class is participation, which each instructor keeps track of each day, while the rest in divided between weekly quizzes and a “writing exercise” that hasn't yet been fully explained. I like classes where participation is a big aspect; it means you don't ever get (or shouldn't get) just a few people sharing opinions while everyone holds back because of shyness of because they are merely tired or, however far fetched it sounds, uninterested. Like I said before, our first session in the morning involved a lot of note-taking as our instructor found and filled the gaps in our knowledge about the Supreme Court and the judicial process in general. She also reminded us that, in this class, moral or ethical or even political arguments have no bearing (although she did make a convincing argument that the judicial branch is a largely political body) in this class, and that the only realm we were interested in discussing would be the legal realm, which can include everything from the specific wording of the text to trying to interpret law through the “spirit” of the lawmakers such as the founding fathers.

Lunch was quite a hub of activity. I met some of the other ILCers for lunch in the dining hall (burgers, fairly standard fair here my RA tells me), and we were given a coupon for free bubble tea (tapioca) which we immediately rushed to redeem. Pulling on our bubble tea, we made our way over the carnival that the RAs of all the dorms had set up on big lawn on campus; Milani and I tried our hand at “jousting” (aka whacking each other with big inflatable “spears” while trying to stay balanced on a small stand raised off the ground); it was very difficult to keep my balance on my wobbly surface while also fending off Milani's attacks and trying to disrupt her sense of balance. We had to quit before we could snag a snowcone since we had to be in class by 2 PM.

Eric and I both moved down the hallway from the morning session and had class with our second instructor, Kate Krimmel, in a much smaller setting; including myself and the instructor, there are only ten people in the room. The afternoon is meant to be a much more discussion-based section of the class, although occasionally we will meet up with the other three groups (both Kelly Rader and the third instuctor, Jeffrey Lenowitz, have similar small classes on Constitutional Law students at the same time) to either watch movies and documentaries or participate in debate. I'm hoping in those combined groups I can meet Jeffrey Lenowitz and get to know him a little more; while both of my female instructors are great (all three of them are in their fifth year of their PhD), they seem very professional and focused, whereas Jeffrey Lenowitz seemed like he would bring a more relaxed feel into the environment and would certainly have different views than either of my two instructors.

After class we met with Mrs. L and chatted a bit about our first day of class as well as our impressions of the dinners and any comments or suggestions we had. I suggested that perhaps the next batch of NY-bound ILCers should get an extra day here of lighter, puttering-about-the-city activities before they begin their grueling pace for the college visits, as that would give them at least a day to get their sleeping schedules straightened out; for me personally, the first few days of early risings and late turn-ins have really messed me up, sleep-schedule wise, and I'm getting used to attempting to function on four hours sleep, which is a deadly combination when mixed with the intense course I'm enrolled in. Also, I've been here almost a week and I feel like I've seen almost nothing of New York City, so maybe that extra day would give the students a chance to get better acquainted with the city in general, or perhaps more specifically the area around the University. Afterwards Mrs. L took the Presidential Powers to buy their textbooks (ours won't be in until the end of the week; in the meantime, we have a reader for the class) while Eric and I stopped by the admin building to try and fix his ID problems (no luck there) and swung by another bookstore to grab my AP Lang summer reading assignment book, Fast Food Nation.

I ate dinner with my suite-mates (the Hartley 8C girls are becoming quite the group) and headed back to my dorm after that to putter around, alternating between reading my AP Lang book, my reader from Constitutional Law, and whatever novel happened to be in arm's reach; I'm building up quite a collection on my desk, as every time we go into any bookstore I cannot help but window-shop and eventually find something that catches me I and my wallet. Then I met with Will, Milani, Beilul, and Eric again to run by the nearest convenience store for some odds and ends (kleenex and wrapping paper for me); all of us were in great spirits, happy to be in the city together and thrilled that we were keeping our little group in one piece even with all the people around us, even growing closer as a result. The making-friends vibe here is an odd one; very few of the girls are here completely on their own, so few people are actively trying to make new friends since most already have a built-in set; I'm hoping as the week wears on we'll get closer, at least with our other suite-mates. And hey, there's always trying to make friends with the guys through Will and Eric!


Today was a wonderful day.
Our classroom Views of Columbia

The Presidential Powers professor, Dr. Z, gave us a wonderful introduction of the course expectations and an overview of our syllabus. We will be spending our seminar time discussing selected presidents including Lincoln and Obama, and the library time researching and writing our paper. Our Teaching Assistant, Pavel, is studying for a PhD in Public Administration. The Presidential Powers course only has 12 people and the majority of the other students in the course are from New York. The gender imbalance is also noteworthy with 3 girls and 9 boys.
The dining hall

The Mid-Day Carnival

After our meeting with Mrs. Lilhanand, she took the Presidential Powers students to purchase our required reading. The rest of the evening consisted of dinner, relaxing and a trip to the local Duane Reade, a NYC convenience store.

First Day Of Class

The day had come. The day where all of us would finally be doing what we were sent to Columbia to do. Irene and I arrived at our classroom in Hamilton Hall and I was surprised to see that we were in a lecture hall with 3 instructors. Our class had somewhere in between 20-30 students which surprised me because I had expected our class to be the American Presidential Powers course where there is about 15 students. Once the clock struck 10 AM, our instructors introduced themselves and explained that our entire class would meet together for the morning session with Ms. Rader and will spend the afternoon session divided among into three rooms with each group being taught by either Ms.Rader, Mr. Lenowitz, or Ms. Krimmel. Fortunately, Irene and I will be taught by the same instructor which is nice because it’s reassuring to have a familiar face in a new environment.

When we dived into the meat of the class, I was hooked. I found that the discussions that we will have once we cover the basics will be extremely interesting. For example, each citizen is entitled to equal protection from discrimination for race, religion, gender, and veteran status. While “white” and “black” bathrooms are prohibited due to equal protection for race, what about male and women bathrooms? In addition to this question, there are always the core debates for issues such as gun control. Those who want to purchase whatever weapons they wish will argue that according to the second amendment it’s “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” while gun control advocates will argue that the second amendment wasn’t intended for anyone to purchase a weapon of their choice unless it is for “a well regulated militia” or “being necessary to the security of a free state.” I am truly looking forward to learning how to make convincing arguments based on the Constitution by reading the opinions of cases written by likes of Chief Justice Roberts.

Moreover, I really think I’m going to enjoy the afternoon session classes because of the small class size, nine students, which allows for great discussions regarding interpretations of the Constitution. While I will be learning from justices, I have a lot to learn from others in my class, many of whom are aspiring lawyers. I cannot wait to learn how to take the vague laws of country and make a decision whether or not something such as is the same privacy guaranteed to a motor home as a house, or is a motor home guaranteed the same privacy as a vehicle?

This is what I have been waiting for!

This city doesn't sleep... neither do I.


I wish I could tell you that my first night at Columbia was amazing. It was... new to say the least. It was really awkward for me, mainly because I have no idea what I'm doing trying to socialize. I noticed that people from different countries are so much friendlier that people from the US. Why, I'm not sure. I know that maybe I need to become more personable.

Last night, I slept. It wasn't the kind of sleep I wanted. I haven't gotten used to the city that never sleeps. From the cars racing by and the people below, I was frequently waken up during the night. I must get used to this or I won't even make it in college. Adjusting is key!

I had my first experience in the dining hall today, which I want to point out is an experience in itself. The food actually was better than I expected. I expected nasty food, but it was yummy. Well for now it is. In the morning we had everything from bacon to eggs to bagels to cereal. For lunch we had hamburgers and french fries. For dinner we had sweet and sour pork, fried rice, and chow mein. The dining hall made me feel more comfortable. It was almost like being at high school in the lunch room.

"John Jay Dining Hall"

"Will's lunch"

Our ILC cohort each is in different floors or suites within our own respective buildings, yet we still group together at meals or during free time. I'm glad I'm not here alone. It feels good to be able to come together as a group and explore and tell each other how we feel and what we experienced. Most people will come up to us to talk or even sit and dine with us. It's really interesting meeting new people who are in their own groups too, like ours. Most students come are grouped together, like they all planned to come here together. We attended a carnival together that was kind of like an orientation party. They had jousting, frisbee, snow cones, soccer, and many more cool activities. Irene and I decided it would be cool to joust each other. I'm pretty sure she won, but it was still fun!
"The winner takes all"

Class went by smoothly. We met our professor Dr. Z. and our TA. Dr. Z. right off the bat is very helpful and friendly. When I had trouble deciding my research topic (yes wehad to pick the topic the first day of class) she was more than willing to help and give her opinions based on what I was interested in. On the second half of the class where we met in the library we learned how to use the library resources to our advantage. If I didn't already mention it, at the end of these three weeks we have a 20 page research paper due based on presidential powers. Our class consists of us four Californians and the other 8 are from New York. Strange... very strange.

Will and I explored the gym today. Usually I'm not the kind of person to go to the gym, but this gym is definitely one you want to be in. The swimming pool is indoors and easy accessible along with many treadmills or other fitness machines and courts to play different sports.

More and more I can see myself being at Columbia. I'm giving myself some time to get used to this whole experience. When I'm not on oovoo with my family, I sometimes get home sick. Then I think about how proud I'm making them and what this experience is doing for me as well as the students in the district that I'm bringing back all of my stories to. This is what college is like. This is what the real world is like. This is what being treated like an adult is like. This is life.