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.

As Cruel As Schoolchildren

The second day at Columbia is coincidentally the first day of class. For me, I was introduced to American Presidential Powers: at Home and Abroad--a course that none of my floor mates knew existed until I happened to mention it.

The rigor of the class was explained quite elaborate during morning session, and we all had to narrow down our ideas into a final topic by the end of the afternoon session. We have four hours of class total split amongst two sessions.

And, when I say rigor, I imply impossible quotas to meet under normal college circumstances. To do this in three weeks is manageable, yet extremely intense. I can only imagine an addition of three to four more classes, given, the length would also improve considerably. Every time I concisely detail my class expectations to my my floor mates, they tend to feel significantly relieved in not attending the class. Of particular interest (and of great example of the unique rigor associated with Professor Martha Zebrowski's class), this is the only high school program (H.S.P.) course that features a university-level research paper assignment. While we have to write a twenty-page paper on the topic of our own choosing, our cohorts in Constitutional Law are required to submit a 5-7 page court argument (to the best of my knowledge). And, that is quite a gap in assignment difficulty. But, I am not denying rigor. After all, they are the first of our cohorts to have a due homework assignment tomorrow.

Anyway, the class size is about 12, but Dr. Z., as we are suggested to refer to our professor as, expects 2-3 drops and swaps between now and the end of the week. The class is predominantly male: there are three females. Yet, in the Constitutional Law class, it's about even. I'm not exactly sure why females are less attracted to Presidential Powers. I mean, it does have the appealing effect of sounding interesting on paper. And, when you experience the class itself, it is pretty cool. It's interesting, at the least.

In addition to our research paper, our reading list is quite lengthy. There are six books to buy. We will be reading only one of them front-to-back, and we will be selectively analyzing the other 5. Unfortunately for me, they ran out of Eyewitness to Power, by David Gergen, when I was purchasing my books. My other cohorts were satisfied having found their completed reading list. I guess I had a bad case of luck on that one. The next order should be in by Thursday, so I'm alright on that matter, in any case.

The majority of the afternoon session revolved around library tour and instruction, with the larger emphasis on the latter. Columbia's library system, affectionately referred to as C.L.I.O. (I do not know the abbreviation extension, but I would guess Columbia Library Index Online), is incredible. The refining search methods and accessibility to other great educational index's such as Proquest and Jstor provide the student with a seemingly endless amount of material, ensuring our success in the class should we attempt to pursue it necessarily. The library is amazing, especially the outside of it. Butler Library is my favorite building by far. But, one library policy for us H.S.P. students did tingle my nerves: we are not allowed to check books out of the library. Nevertheless, it is ably circumvented if of necessity.

Our class introduction today was really well-done, if you ask me. The level of detail and exact planning put into the class and prepared from the very first day presents a keener interest in the students of universities, as opposed to high schools. Although, as with all things, of course exceptions exist.

Our first day of class was good, but our second day is a definite to be better. I'll be anxiously awaiting round two, for now.

Class with Doc Z

Today was our first day of class with Doc Z, or as she is known to the public, Dr. Martha K. Zebrowski. She dictated a thorough overview of the class and we sat on the edge of our seats and devoured every last word of it. I’ll admit it, I was a little bit nervous, so I can’t imagine what the students who weren’t fortunate to have pass students of this class tell them what to expect were feeling.

Doc Z announced that the goal of this class was for all of us to construct a 20-page college level research paper; you could see dread in the eyes of the other students eyes. For the Columbia team, we all breathed a sigh of relief as we were expecting 25. This was not the only advantage us Ivy League Connection members had over other students in our Presidential Powers course. Just knowing 1/3 of the class already made the class feel manageable and we are able to communicate with each other whenever confusion regarding an assignment or meeting point arises.

After lunch we met back up in the imposing Butler Library where librarian John Tofanelli gave us an in-depth tour of the cataloging systems we will be using to acquire texts and electronic resources to cite in our paper.

We also picked our topics. Mine is Woodrow Wilson’s Quest to Secure a League of Nations.

After we were released, Mrs. L, and the rest of the cohort met briefly to discuss how far we have come and what we should focus on moving forward. We had a productive discussion that was beneficial to us as students going through a very new experience. Likewise, Mrs. L is now able to take suggestions back to help improve the program.

Now I must just buckle down and prepare for what I will expect will be the most rigorous but rewarding class of my young life.