From the Chief's Desk: Stress Less This Spring

During my years as a college student, I have seen and met all kinds of people – but the one thing I can safely say we all have in common is the unwelcome presence of stress hanging over our heads.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress is defined as the brain’s response to any demand – but that doesn’t seem to cover it, does it? To me, stress is the ten ton elephant in the room that seems to always travel in the company of its cousins, anxiety and panic.

Physiologically speaking, stress is a good thing. It keeps us moving, keeps us working – but an excess of it is what results in those rip your hair out moments we all seem to experience come finals time. And so, as we enter a new semester, I have decided to give you all some unsolicited advice to deal with the elephant and its cousins.

My first tip I am stealing from Douglas Adams’ book, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. That nugget of advice is this: Don’t Panic. Panic is the result of stressing about stressing, and it is counterproductive in that while panicking, that deadline that you are dreading is still approaching, so take a breath. It’s not the end of the world (although if you’ve read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, it kind of was).

My second piece of advice is Get Ahead, then Plan Ahead. Getting ahead in work while you can is always a good idea, however do not expect to stay ahead – as many of us know, the semester seems to speed up around midterms and sometimes assignments may come in the form of curveballs. So have a plan. Buy a planner in the campus store or make one on your laptop, scheduling when and for how long you will work on assignments. Have a calendar in your room with assignment deadlines color coded to indicate importance. Make sure to do lists every week. That way, when you can no longer be ahead, you have a plan to make sure you don’t get behind.

My next nugget of knowledge is something most people forget when facing a stressful event because it seems counterintuitive – but it is important: Schedule Time for Fun. According to a plethora of studies conducted on undergraduates, taking breaks while studying has been found to improve memory and reduce anxiety – and I can tell you from experience that spending fifteen minutes every two hours of studying to play Sims or jog will make a huge difference, if not in grades than in your sanity.

Fourth (and this one is important) – dont procrastinate in the beginning of the semester because you think you can “catch up” later. You can’t and you won’t. We all know Facebook, Reddit, Pintrest, Twitter, Tumblr and social websites of the like are the Bermuda Triangle when trying to get work done. To help avoid temptation, consider using productivity applications such as SelfControl or Cold Turkey that block your access to these websites for a period of time. I think having Facebook on a Blacklist for a day is healthy once in a while.

Finally, I would like to remind everyone of the importance of sleep. Young adults ages 18-20 need 8 hours of sleep to function at their peak, and sleep is incredibly important for your physical and mental health. The more sleep you get, the more you will retain, the less you will need to cram before that 8 a.m. exam.

If my advice helps at least one of you de-stress, then I can say I’ve done my job. Happy spring semester everyone.

Farewell from the Chief’s Desk

For three years, I have sauntered down to the campus center every Monday night at 8 p.m. Every Monday, I have swiped my student ID across the sensor and opening the club room door as it unlocked with a beep to make msy way to the table where staff writers and editors alike brainstormed and assigned story ideas to write about. For the past year or so, the number of Point News staff writers has sorrowfully declined, but despite our small numbers, we continue to receive comments about the quality of the newspaper that we pour so much energy into designing and distributing. As much as part of me would like to remain a part of this campus institution, I have to say goodbye, and wish the editors that are staying behind the best of luck.

I would also like to thank all of the people involved with the paper, especially the editors past and present who have acted as friends and mentors. The staff that I have worked with has always been very reliable and hardworking, willing to sacrifice as much as 24 hours total every other weekend in the newsroom, not counting the time in between spent at meetings, covering events, conducting interviews, and writing articles. I will miss the camaraderie between editors that flourishes during meetings, the fake headline placeholders, and the ridiculous captions about guest lecturers eating people or displaying superhuman powers, all of which have to be replaced before publication. I’ll miss the ability to serve the campus community, although you’ll still see me around campus, especially in the Writing Center as a tutor.

I also want to express how happy I am for the opportunities that next year’s staff will have. If President Urgo keeps his word, then next year’s editor-in-chief will have weekly access to the president to be able to cover issues important to the students. The Point News is also ordering some new equipment to be able to provide more media for both the paper and our Web site. I have no doubt that The Point News will continue to improve, and I hope that the campus community will continue to look to us for information about the pressing news around campus. I know that I will continue to read the paper, and to appreciate all of the hard work that will continue to go into it.

From the Chief's Desk: A Talk with Joe

On Friday, March 5, I was lucky enough to be able to talk to our next College president, Dr. Joseph Urgo, or just Joe Urgo, as he signs his email correspondences. The interview is printed in the news section, but in my opinion, the text of the interview doesn’t tell the whole story. Sure, it reflects Urgo’s voice and provides an insight into his personality, his style, and his views of the College, but because of practical purposes, it doesn’t allow the student body to witness the dialogue that took place after the interview–dialogue that underscores even more the paradigm shift in leadership that St. Mary’s College is about to experience.

Current first-years never met our previous president, Maggie O’Brien; they may or may not have seen Acting President Larry Vote around campus. For our current acting president, any lack of visibility makes sense because of the new roles that he has taken on in this period between official presidents; however, Vote still leads choir and chambers, so some students interact with him on a regular basis. Regarding our previous president, Maggie O’Brien, I have never heard of any students regularly interacting with her. She was a recluse–campus “Maggie sightings” were a cause for excitement. I remember seeing her maybe five or six times in my first two years here, and talking to her in person maybe three times (and this was only because of my Point News connections).

Based on what I have heard from Urgo, this is all about to change. In the interview, he talks about using his Twitter account to give updates from sports games or alumni events. He has a Facebook page. He wants to have his own radio show, and starting in the spring of 2012, he may be teaching a seminar class. He’s talking about us seeing his family on campus as a regular fixture. Outside of the interview, he expressed a desire to meet with Point News editors and SGA leadership on a weekly basis. And from what I’ve read in the Hamilton Spectator, the college newspaper of Urgo’s home institution, this isn’t just empty talk. Presidential leadership is changing at St. Mary’s, and it sounds like it’s changing in a big way.

But this isn’t just change in terms of our president’s visibility. The sort of immersion that Urgo has discussed indicates the development of new channels of both informal and formal communication. In our last issue, Point News editor Dave Chase outlined several issues that he felt the new president would need to address. Two of his concerns, about tuition and construction, I felt were outside the scope of the interview because Urgo hasn’t taken office yet. But the third, Dave’s priority of creating a new decision-making structure that involves students as much as possible, already seems to be a priority for Urgo as well.

Urgo and his wife will be visiting campus from Thursday, March 11 to Monday, March 15. There are two opportunities to see him: one during and after the Thursday performance of Cabaret and one at 1:30 p.m. on Friday around Montgomery, Schaefer, and Glendening Halls. To students: these are your first opportunities to meet Urgo and decide on him for yourselves. Dave and I will be there after Cabaret; we hope to see you there.

From the Chief's Desk: English/Social Science Majors Rejoice?

It’s Feb. 22, Monday afternoon. I’m sitting at a lunch table with a few of my friends, one history major and two physics majors. None of us have checked our email yet, so we haven’t seen who the new president is. Speculation abounds about the new president’s background, which eventually degenerates into a my-discipline-is-more-worthwhile-than-yours dispute. As an English major, I stay out of it, mostly because in the hierarchy of majors perceived as useless, English probably ranks in the top five. Nobody does anything with English except maybe become a professor. Or go into communications. Neither of those are easy. Has anyone seen that Facebook group that jokes about living in a box after graduation? Yeah. Most of those people are probably English majors.

The physics majors finally won the debate, and after our group disbanded, I went into Baltimore Hall to check the school Web site. An update was posted: “Dr. Joseph R. Urgo Named Next President of St. Mary’s College of Maryland.” Okay, I think. I click on the press release link.  And lo and behold, Dr. Joseph Urgo, current VP of academics and dean of faculty for Hamilton College, and former head of the English department at the University of Mississippi.

I had thought it impossible. Our next president is a former English professor.

The news had already reached Facebook by this time. English and social science majors (Urgo has a degree in political science) were busy rejoicing: “Our new president has done scholarly research on Faulkner and Cather. SO GOOD. YAY ENGLISH MAJORS.” “Our new President has a BA in PoliSci? Search Committee: I love you.” “All hail Urgo! Social science guy from Hamilton-thank you for your work, Presidential Search Committee.” And so on and so forth.

Some might say that it was about time, that after Maggie O’Brien with her science background it was about time that we had a humanities/social science scholar in charge for a change. As much as a little part of me screams for more English department funding (and also wants to make my entire first interview with Dr. Urgo a Q&A session about The Sound and the Fury), I think we can all hope that no president would let his or her personal prejudices influence the treatment of different departments. We can, instead, hope that he will use his knowledge of politics to help our school receive funding, and use the writing and communication skills gleaned from his English talents to further the same goals of working for and with our College.

Time will tell if Dr. Urgo is a good fit for the College. I have communicated with him on Facebook (yes, he is on Facebook, and has been friended by half the Point News staff), and so far he seems very amicable. Am I a bit biased? Maybe. But maybe my optimism isn’t unfounded. Maybe this new member of our campus community will encapsulate all of the skills that I have taught to internalize and admire. And maybe–just maybe–the next time my friends and I talk about the benefits of our respective majors, I’ll put my fork down and chime in with a well-placed sentence or two.

Welcome Back from the Chief’s Desk

As semesters change, so do our surroundings, even on this tiny isolated campus. Seasons come and go. Buildings rise on old foundations. Grassy hills become leveled. Docks stretch out over the river. Even on a personal level, things change: as students, we find new housing arrangements, we sign up for new classes in different buildings, and our friends depart for a tour abroad or in the trenches as RAs.

Perhaps the one thing that has stayed constant for me as a student has been the Point News room (to be fair, half is Avatar’s/The Dove’s). Small, with off-white walls, Macs lining the perimeter, and tiny windows that look out into bushes, our part of the room is only made inviting by the newspapers that sit casually on its tables. Since I started with the paper my first year at school, the newsroom itself has been a concrete representation of the paper itself. Issues came and went, but the office has always been there. Before I became an editor, I wondered what went on behind that mysterious closed door.

The reality is much less mystical: basically, all of us editors sit in a circle and try to come up with news stories. On production weekends, we come in and spend between six and 14 straight hours each Saturday and Sunday in this tiny room. I have worked under three wonderful editors-in-chief, all of whom have graduated or have had to step down because they are so busy on campus. Editors have come and gone, and some have just returned from study abroad. Still, the office itself has the same off-white walls, the same Macs, the same windows.

The paper itself has changed, however. Different editors have different styles, both in writing and layout as well as in humor. We still have the placeholder headline from last year’s presidential inauguration issue pinned to a corkboard: Manbearpig Wins Presidency, it reads, with the accompanying image below. This followed the LOLCats gag page (also never published) the semester before.

The topics have changed, too. Looking back on last semester’s papers, a presidential search update occurred in nearly every issue, which will continue as needed until a new president is found. In a larger context, The Point News covered national events like the presidential election and inauguration, health care, and the economy as they pertained to our campus.
Over the next semester, you can expect continuity. We will still attempt to cover every lecture, arts event, and trend on campus. But you can also expect new topics, hopefully especially in the editorial section, about the things that affect the school, and wider community around us, whether through this “From the Chief’s Desk” or Dave Chase’s analysis of what the Massachusetts senate race has to do with Maryland.

There is something else that I hope will change. Right now, our editors also write most of the articles in the paper. We have very few staff writers, and while we manage as we are, we would love to see more students participate in bringing the news or their opinions to the rest of campus. Working on the paper gives us a good idea of what’s going on around us, as well as giving us a solid resume for work or grad schools and several hundred dollars a semester in pay for editors (have I mentioned how upwardly mobile The Point News is?). While I think The Point News is doing well as it is, it could always be stronger, and if you want to be a more informed member of the College community and have some fun along the way, you should join us right outside the newsroom Mondays at 8:30 p.m.The other editors and I will be waiting for you.

From the Chief’s Desk: Urging Students to be More Engaged

I often hear from students that the administration doesn’t value student opinion when making decisions for the College. While student outreach might not always be consistent, it seems the Presidential Search Committee has tried to give a fair amount of student access to the presidential candidates brought to campus. It seems only a few took the opportunity to get involved.

Over the past three weeks, I have attended at least one of the public forums for each candidate. I never saw more than 20 students at the forums and in many cases, it was less than ten. It was also clear that at each forum, it was the same people who were showing up over and over again—the student trustee, the student trustee in training, members of the SGA executive board and the Point News staff.

Even if the forums weren’t at convenient times for everyone to attend, the Search Committee included resumes, articles, interviews and speeches on The Portal. One can see how many times each of these documents have been downloaded. When you look at the numbers, its not hard to see that less than 10 percent of students took the opportunity to look at the candidates and what they might bring to the College. I know a petition against Bacchus went around, but how many students could have an informed opinion of candidates if only a very small percentage attended their forums or downloaded materials about them?

Considering the impact the next president has on the quality of life at St. Mary’s, students should care about the candidates brought to campus.How much money the next president can raise, for example, will influence your tuition rates, College services and the quality of academics.

In contrast, when the Protest policies appeared in the handbook last year, students were up in arms about losing their right to protest on campus and were successful in having the policy dismissed by the administration. Although students were willing to fight for their the right to freely express their opinion, it doesn’t seem like they exercise it when it really counts.

At this point, the decision is made and the community will have to adjust to whoever the next president will be. While we might think that our impact on this College is limited to the four years we are here, our action or inaction will leave an imprint on the College beyond graduation. I hope the next time the opportunity presents itself, more students will choose to be engaged.

From the Chief’s Desk

I joined the paper in Fall 2006 and found myself amongst ten or fifteen other first-years at the semester’s first staff meeting. I tried not to draw attention to myself as the editors assigned stories to everyone seated at the table in the Club Room. I was waiting for something exciting and interesting to jump out at me before I committed to writing my first article for a college newspaper. Nothing had caught my eye and the group was discussing the Opinions Section next.

Next thing I know, my friend Lisa is going on and on about how “dangerous” exiting Guam parking lot is for someone who is learning to drive. Yes, Lisa, for the 1 percent of students who still have their learner’s permit, perhaps it is “dangerous.” But this certainly wasn’t the article I was anticipating.

“Well, which one of you wants to write it?” asked the Editor-in-Chief.

“Mari, you should do it!” exclaimed Lisa. “I mean you don’t have a story yet…”

“Cool, Lis. Thanks,” I grudgingly responded. Needless to say, I didn’t talk to her for about three days. I could go on about how ridiculous this story assignment was, but enough said. I had to write about a stop sign in the freshman parking lot.

A week later, as I was driving out of Guam, I found myself face to face with a stop sign. All I could do was laugh uncontrollably until the car behind me started honking. Then it occurred to me that although I didn’t feel particularly strong about the problem, my short argument in the newspaper had actually made a difference.

Though I felt it was a dumb assignment at the time, it also taught me an important lesson about St. Mary’s: there really is no story too small. A students voice won’t go unheard. There will be discussion, and in many instances, there will be change.

I hope students take to heart how lucky we are that this community is inclusive. There are major decisions being made on campus this fall and we have the opportunity to voice how we feel about many of them. The Presidential Search Committee, the Capital Design Advisory Committee, the Working Group on Revenue Planning and Forecast and many other decision-making bodies invite students to engage in dialogue about the important issues facing our community. Rather than taking that for granted, get involved. If they are listening, then it’s our responsibility to speak up.

From the Chief’s Desk: Students Must Make Themselves Heard

Buried amongst official correspondence from the College’s Presidential Search Committee is a simple and staggering fact: There are only two students on a committee of 27.

Obviously, though, I am not the only student to take umbrage with this. In our front-page article “Search for College’s Next President Kicks Off,” sophomore Aaron French – one of the two students chosen to sit on the committee – notes that, “There are two students and six faculty, and everyone else is a trustee or administrator, which sort of puts the balance of power against students.“

While he goes on to state the receptivity of other committee members to students’ voices, French’s first point is the most salient. Students, at least in terms of concrete representation, are vastly undermanned.

We are one of the largest constituent groups at this college, though, outnumbered only by alumni and – maybe – interested members of the local community. Further, our tuition fuels St. Mary’s. And I can almost guarantee that at least a portion of the next president’s salary will be paid with our dollars. We deserve a say. Yes, we have been given one, but the approximately 1,958 of us who do not have a seat on the committee must weigh in on the search at every turn.

This point was only amplified  at the first open forum held by the committee last Thursday. Nine students attended; among them were French, the Student Government Association President, the Student Trustee, the Student Trustee-in-Training – who also sits on the search committee – along with the Student Trustee-in-Training Designee and three Point News staffers who were present to photograph and report on the event.

Nine is not enough, especially when the majority of the nine were quasi-obligated to attend. We need to mobilize every student, not just a select few: the biology majors, the Resident Assistants, the lacrosse players, the library denizens, the members of the Black Student Union, no matter what defines us on the campus, we all must have a vested interest in the selection of a new president.

And I believe that we all do. So, we must now show the committee that we sincerely care about the outcome of this campus-changing search. Please come to events, write emails, do anything that is necessary to ensure that the next president of St. Mary’s is a representation of the students who love this institution so deeply.

From the Chief’s Desk: Vote…and Vote Yes

While conducting interviews for “Academic Budgets Cut,” I was frequently stunned by the amount of discretionary funds that each academic department receives every fiscal year. The amounts, which often hovered around 35,000 dollars, were absolutely dwarfed by the Student Government Association’s budget of about 350,000 dollars per year. Even The Point News’ yearly allocation of 24,375 dollars comes close to the operating budgets of some disciplines.

Now, this is not to say that the SGA and TPN are not worthwhile investments. I believe that just the opposite is true. But, hopefully, these numbers illustrate that, after enduring a 15 percent cut, some of the academic departments’ budgets are less than healthy; different disciplines have seen their travel plans scaled down, their new purchases delayed and they will invite fewer speakers to visit campus this semester.

Thankfully, though, we as students have an SGA that recognizes their relative wealth. And, further, we are fortunate that our SGA is committed to helping the academic departments – and their fellow students. They have pledged to cut their own budget by 15,000 dollars this year to aid the departments. Also, 20,00 dollars from the SGA’s Special Carryover Fund will be donated to the Emergency Assistance Fund, which provides scholarships to at-need students.

Though the SGA has taken the steps to prepare for these donations, they cannot act until the student body passes a referendum. On this referendum, which will be available on Blackboard until Wednesday, I strongly the College’s students to vote. And, moreover, I urge you to vote in favor of it.

I cannot give enough credit to President Sunny Schnitzer, Treasurer Jesse Lee, the rest of the SGA’s Executive Board and the Senators for not only writing and voting in favor of this bill, but also for allowing the students to ultimately decide.

The SGA has proven its commitment to the College’s academic program, now it is up to the students. We must vote in favor of this bill; the funds will not only greatly aid the academic departments and students, but by passing this referendum we can show our solidarity with them. The results of this vote will prove where we stand as a college. If our priorities lie in upholding our tradition of a superior liberal arts education, this referendum will pass.