Feb 15

A Path Appears

This weekend, I began the book “A Path Appears” by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wudann. I started it spontaneously and it was unexpectedly was exactly the “pick-me-up” I needed. It opens explaining,

“Hope is like a path in the countryside. Originally there is nothing–but as people walk this way again and again, a path appears.”

–Lu Xun, Chinese Essayist, 1921

This quote right from the beginning really stuck with me because it ignited in me the importance of paving a way. Sometimes when we are the first to create a path, the walk itself isn’t easy. Noone has done it before. There isn’t a lot of guidance but it is important, especially for the future. It is important to give yourself and others hope. This quote also made me gracious for all of the people who have walked the path before me and given hope. It made me reflect on what it takes to be a pioneer. I think you need passion, gumption and a mission. Sometimes you see a future that others can’t imagine. Sometimes you see a better world. However as this book details, good intentions and a dream is not enough. These beautiful thoughts and compassion need to be put to good use. Through United States history, we have provided finances to aids efforts that ended in a failure. Many people begin humanitarian ventures without a plan to be sustainable. An imperative part of fixing the world is having well thought out, evidence based plans on how to do so. This book provides the important perspective of turning charity into a science. It combines social issues, policy, economics and even neuroscience to analyze what is the best way to give. As “leaders”, I think it is imperative to question how we give. We need to put the amount of thought into how we give money as we do how we make money. What we give to will shape the future. It is a good first step you have the right intentions, but the next most important step is to determine how to make the largest impact.

I am still figuring this out. However what I have decided so far is that when I want to give to a charity, I will research them intensely before donating. I want to know that my money will be make the most impact for its worth. I want to that I am donating to a sustainable cause.

“We only have what we give.”

– Isabel Allende

Dec 14

Brains Balancing Beauty

What would happen if we were freed from that inner critic?

I recently watched the TED talk, “Why thinking your ugly is bad for you” and it resonated with me deeply. Throughout it points out the painful ways in which we hold our bodies to high standards and let them preoccupy us.

A few months ago, before watching this TED talk,, I sparked one of my idealist conversations with my friends and I asked them to imagine if we were not able to compliment each other  on our looks. Where would our attention redirect too? I can’t tell you how many times a day I will compliment someone’s hair or tell someone I like their shoes. I like to make people feel good about themselves however, I wish I instead acknowledge the depth in their being. I want to compliment their ideas, their dreams, their actions. Some people discusses how they will admit that it feels good to be compliment on their hair and told me to consider taking a less extreme point of view. This made me reflect and I wondered whether I was being too critical. However, my point is that I just want people to have more confidence in their actions and idea than their looks. Humans are dynamic and we do not need to refuse a compliment to our looks but it is the imbalance and disproportion of attention that scares me.

Preparing for finals has actually put these thoughts in my spotlight. I have less time than ever, and I feel lucky if I shower, let alone put on make-up. I am rocking the all natural studious look. Due to a lack of time, I purely stop caring so much about what I look like and focus on learning. Sometimes I look in the mirror and I tell I look tired, run down, lack the ideal beauty, but it is something I acknowledge but it doesn’t stop me.  However as this TED talk points out there are many young females who choose to do the opposite. They will avoid activities because of their appearance. They will stay silent during class, not because they don’t have an idea, but because they don’t want that idea to draw attention to how they look. That terrifies me.

There are hundreds of young girls posting on the internet, “Am I pretty?” seeking affirmation. I imagine a world where young girls are posting, “Listen to my idea”.


Meghan Ramsey ends with challenging us all to “start judging people by what they do, not what they look like”

In my personal life I have been trying to implement this, catching myself when I want to compliment someone’s hair and instead asking them a question about their research project. I want people to know that they are valued so much more than their appearance and additionally I would like to feel this way as well.



Nov 14

Ignorance or Freedom?

The concept of skimming over conversations on religion or politics is non-existent in my home. Routinely we get in heated argumentative discussions. We challenge eachother’s ideologies and always call one each other out when one doesn’t have enough evidence. This family discourse is effective in ensuring we do not become accustomed to staying statement without facts but it is sometimes frustrating if one can not immediately recall everything fact from an article he or she just read. I often leave my dinner table frustrated wishing I could have constructed a better argument faster or I think of a fact I should have added in later. To ease this frustrations I often write down the argument I wish I had stated, even if no one ever sees it. This past evening, my family was discussing a variety of supreme court cases, one being “Wisconsin vs. Yoder”.  A big component of our discussion revolved around civil liberties and freedom. I was challenging that we should promote education to unveil ignorance and within that people can have the freedom to make an educated decision. However in the bustle of conversation, I did not portray my points effectively. For this reason after dinner, I wrote this:


The first amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”. The Unites States was founded under the principles that citizens could practice their religion freely. Throughout history though, the country has faced challenges to maintain these freedoms. Often times, it comes down to the Supreme Court to interpret what exactly these religious freedoms should be and where the lines should be drawn. In the 1971 case, Wisconsin v Yoder, Jonas Yoder, an Amish man, and two others alike from Green County, Wisconsin, were prosecuted by a state law that required all children to attend school until they are at least sixteen years old. The Supreme Court had to decide, “Did Wisconsin’s requirement that all parents send their children to school at least until age 16 violate the First Amendment by criminalizing the conduct of parents who refused to send their children to school for religious reasons?” (Oyez).

Yoder argued that attending school was against the Old Amish Church beliefs and dangerous for the survival of their community. The Old Amish are descendents of Mennonites, dating as far back as the 1500s. They were originally prosecuted, but with the assistance of William Penn were promised religious freedom in America. Ever since, the Amish have tried to maintain their same culture patterns, as the society around them has made drastic changes. When attending primary school, Amish children were expected to learn only the abilities necessary to maintain the Amish lifestyle, farming, teaching, etc. Because the abilities for their life style were already achieved in lower school, Yoder and others saw no reason to send their children to any secondary school. The Kansas City University explained that Amish believed that high school education contradicted ideals to that of the Amish life style and stated “High school tends to emphasize intellectual and scientific accomplishments, self-distinction, competitiveness, worldly success, and social life with other students. Amish society emphasizes informal learning-through-doing; a life of “goodness,” rather than a life of intellect; wisdom, rather than technical knowledge; community welfare, rather than competition; and separation from, rather than integration with, contemporary worldly society”(KCU). There was a clear distinction between lifestyles but the question was, was this distinction strong enough to make an exception to a state law. The Amish parents definitely felt it was and went so far to say that “complying with the law would endanger their own salvation and that of their children”(Cornell Law). Eventually, the Supreme Court also agreed.

The Supreme Court argued this case in December 1971. and came to the conclusion that if the Wisconsin compulsory school attendance law were to be implemented upon this culture that it would infringe upon their rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Interestingly, this case was a unanimous vote of 7-0 with Chief Justice, Warren Burger leading the majority opinion. This decision was made under three main principles. First was that this law affected “fundamental rights and the traditional interest of parents with respect to the religious upbringing of their children”(cornell law). Second was that this law could destroy the free exercise of their beliefs. Lastly was that, the Amish have proven the “sincerity of their beliefs”. Their community depended on a specific interrelationship wayas of life and they’ve worked hard to maintain their culture. It was decided that because public Wisconsin education would have a strong “negative effect” on them that an exemption from this law would be granted in order for the Old Order Amish communities to continue their survival.

What I believe many of these justices are overlooking in this case is that the constitution is made to protect the minority, those without power. The minority in this case is not just the Amish as a whole, but more specifically the children of those Amish parents. Justice Douglass was the only member of the Supreme Court who voted with the Majority, but made a partial dissent considering the children. The Old Amish say that the public high school has conflicting ideologies but by denying Amish teenagers to listen to other perspectives, in my opinion, is not protection of their religion, but just ignorance to the world around them. If the community has such a strong religion, it should be strong enough to withhold faith against other opinions, options, and opportunities.  Justice Douglass seems to explain this idea when he writes “no anaylysis of religious liberty claims can take place in a vacuum”(cornell law). Part of Yoder’s argument was that they need to be exempt from this law to have thire religion survive, but this exemption initiates survival by trapping any Amish individual from breaking free and experiencing something new. If members of the Old Amish Church community choose to leave, a majority of the time, if they return, they are shunned. The idea that if they leave, they can almost never return to the same lifestyle, is a rather eminent fact and force. However, the pivotal point in Douglas’s decision is that Frieda Yoder, the daughter of Jonas Yodar, testified that her own religious views are opposed to the high-school education. I wonder though whether her views were truly her own, or if they were just said due to the pressures of her parents and her community. Furthermore, even if Frieda truly believed in her values, who is to say that all of the Amish children affected by this law, want to follow in their parents and community’s footsteps? Justice Douglass explains this issue when he writes, “It is the future of the student, not the future of the parents, that is imperiled by today’s decision…He may want to be a pianist or an astronaut…If he is harnassed to the Amish way of life by those in authority over him, and if his education is truncated, his entire life may be stunted and deformed”(Douglass dissent Cornell Law). How is the possibility of stunting and deforming one’s life not be viewed as “clear and present danger”?

Throughout America’s history, ignorance has played a key role in different prejudices. The lack of knowledge and understanding is incredibly dangerous. It generates a constant power-struggle and often time traps the minority. When I read this case, I couldn’t help but think of “The Narrarative Life of Frederick Douglass”. In this autobiography, Douglass tells a story about his fight to escape from slavery. He explains that the main reason other fellow slaves did not fight the power is first, ignorance. Many slaves did not know there was any other way of life out there. Their education was restricted on purpose by their owners and many were lucky if they were even taught to read. The second was fear; fear mostly of the unknown, and fear of the repercussions from taking a risk. If a slave were to runaway, where would they go? If they came back, they’d be severely punished.

There are some distinct parallels between these situations and it makes me wonder whether restricting education in any community is ever “just”, even if it is claimed to be for religious freedom. Do the Amish children know a life any different? Is it their right to be educated on what else is out there? Again the factor of fear plays a huge rule. If any member of the Amish community decided to leave, a majority of the time the consequence would be a shunning, practically complete isolation. Perhaps the court just decided to “respect their religion” and decide that “ignorance is bliss”; it just seems interesting and contrary, and I would hope that the Justices would learn from our country’s history: the dangers of implementing ignorance on America.


Sources: Oyez.org

Nov 14

Brainstorm By Yourself

This Saturday, I helped teach Leadership JumpStart class and every time I “teach” I end up feeling like I have learned more from my students than I have taught them.  This class the students were required to give presentation’s on the book The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation.  A big component on this book focuses on the importance of intersections for innovation, explaining that combining two fields is where discoveries emerge. For example, combining my passion for neuroscience and women’s studies could generate a new field of interest or generate a new perspective that can be used for analysis in a particular field.

Another piece of advice the students presented on were the best methods of brainstorming. What practices and settings can lead to innovation the most efficiently? Interestingly, while team work and a combination of minds in projects is necessary for innovation,  the beginning stages of brainstorming should be in solitude.

It is incredibly important to brainstorm individually before uniting with your teammates. For a team project, for example, one should sit for an hour on their own and just write down all his/her ideas.

When attempting to do this in a group, individuals are more likely to feel self conscious and limit the expression of their ideas. If they have something “out of the ordinary”, they are less likely to express it. Also brainstorming  in a group can lead to distractions, conversations. It does not allow you to get all of your thoughts onto paper.

Further, for brainstorming, quantity is better than quality. Even when you think your ideas are silly or unrealistic, it is better to write them down.  Not every idea will come to life but the process of letting every idea run free is conducive to innovation. Further ideas can be later combined. One idea that did not seem to be “the best” could be combined to generate a new innovation.

Also when you are working with a team, you can eventually come together and share your ideas.


It is suggested for to develop one’s leadership to always have a journal on hand. Write down ideas, thoughts, principles. This will ensure that the thoughts that come and go quickly get recorded and can be acted on later. I just ordered my journal from amazon after being inspired by my students.

Another advantage to having a journal is for developing a working leadership philosophy. While these blogs every week are also useful in the process, it is not the best medium for dissecting one’s principles and internal conflict. The thoughts that need to be thought about but should not be published online should go into one’s journal.  We are taught to how to communicate with other people and have in depth conversations, but we are not fully taught how to have a conversation with ourselves. A journal provides a comfortable medium to have an open dialogue with oneself.

Nov 14

Promote others’ ideas: raise their voice

Being a TA, I often have to take on the role as moderator. With this role comes new leaderships skills to learn.

Successful moderation, if I may say so, is a challenge for most people, for we live in a world where we expect and want our opinions to be heard. Seeking recognition, we often impulsively shout out ideas without deep consideration of the potential response. How many times a day do you get interrupted or do you interrupt someone? As we carry out everyday conversations, our primary focus seems to involve the promotion of our own thoughts over the extraction of others’ ideas. For this reason, I have to admit it has been a hard transition for me to embody the role of a moderator or deliberator. In recent trials, I have uncovered the importance of humble moderation for successful deliberation among a team. Although I will be the first to admit this is something I do not always achieve, reflecting on my past trials and failures have moved me one step closer, revealing three main components to successful humble moderation: 1) suppressing my ego 2) actively listening and 3) promoting others’ ideas.

The suppression of an ego is arguably the hardest, and most important component of this moderating (leadership) style because I think it directly connects to the success of other critical moderating techniques. Suppressing my ego involves being conscious of the fact that I am not expected to have or provide all the answers. Going into deliberation or discussion, I must expect to learn from the other deliberative members. Most importantly, I need to remember the success of other moderators (professors, speakers, etc) I have watched and try to mimic their acceptance of silence. I can recall my failures of this practice, filling reflective silences with excess jargon, or yelling out my ideas in excitement without respectfully waiting my turn. Reflecting on these moments provided me with a necessary wake-up calls warning me that my moderating and deliberative skills need some fine-tuning, leading to my admiration to the humble moderating philosophy. After many trials and errors, I now push the sacrifice of my “ego”; even if the topic being discussed is within my expertise, I tame the desire to express my ideas because active and equal participation of deliberative members should be my primary goal. If I have a strong opinion, which I admit I often do, I attempt to find ways to transform it into a question, preferably one with multiple valid responses. For example, in a recent sustainability deliberation, I saw so many possible solutions surrounding us, but I am happy to say that instead of blurting out what I thought would be the “best solution,” I posed a question to spark others’ thoughts. I now never underestimate the power of something as simple as, “What do you think?”. Questions in themselves are a good means of remaining humble for it gives other’s the chance to actively participate. Questions allow me to guide the conversation but give others the opportunity to be heard. Overall, I think the suppression of a moderator’s ego can act as a symbol for the entire deliberative process, promoting a collaborative and interdependent atmosphere. It is something I am working towards achieving.

A humble mindset serves as the foundation for active listening. Decreasing the amount of time speaking or preaching should never be confused with eliminating a moderator’s participation. As a moderator, I should cherish others’ ideas and try to show them this in any way possible. One way I’ve tried is with my body language: eye contact, head nod, a smile. While I continuously digest members’ thoughts, I try my best to remain mindful of the possible solutions presented. When I was TAing a recent class, I took note of each speaker’s key points and suggestions in order to track the direction of our conversation. This is a skill that requires successful multi-tasking that I will admit does not come naturally to me. I hope I will only become better with practice. There were inevitably some points I missed, but I try to tell myself it is better to make mistakes while actively listening than not to do it at all.

Active listening sets the groundwork for the final component of successful moderation: promoting others’ ideas by enhancing overall clarity. If there seems to be a gap in understanding between participants, I should do my best to interpret and fill the void. For example, in my most recent deliberative practice, participants A and B had very similar perspectives but were nearly arguing, unaware of their overlap. I pointed out their similarities initiating progress of the conversation. On the other side, I noticed student C had not spoken and therefore people were completely unaware of his ideas. I asked him a question to promote his participation and was pleased to find that he had many opinions but was just a quiet thinker. These simple acts promote dynamic collaboration of all members and I think lead to the progression of deliberation. Remaining considerate and aware of the other members is a huge part of humble moderation for it leads to the successful interpretations of others’ thoughts.

Overall, and if nothing else, I believe effective and successful moderation depends upon catalyzing others’ ideas, rather than promoting my own, and I am working towards learning ways to successfully do this. I hope that working on this can help me to gain better leadership skills in listening and raising other’s voices.

Oct 14

What is “Burning Out?

Over and over again throughout my college experience I have heard warning of “burning out”. From my parents, from my peers, from my professors,  all saying “just don’t burn out”.


It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

Often when people dish out these phrases that are providing some sort of precaution warning not work too hard. And well, if I don’t work hard, I don’t know how I will win the marathon or the sprint. 

The frustration I have with the phrase “burning out” is that is not clearly defined. Is “burning out” overcoming failure for the first time? Is burning out a phase? Is burning out a life time?

We are often pushed to our limits in college and it is up to us to overcome challenges. Is burning out giving up?

Recently, a friend defined “burning out” as replacing motivation with apathy. This could be true.

However lately I have been wondering if “burning out” is just questioning one’s on road to happiness. Lately when I lose motivation it is because I am questioning whether my “hard work” is worth it?  I try hard to be a super human but at some point something has to give. Life is all about balance people say,  but in a culture as demanding as a college education, my primary focus is my education. I arguably often leave my happiness on the way side trying to achieve something more.  A part of me has recognized this work-a-holic- mentality  as unhealthy and have tried to find a better balance, but in trying to uncover that better balance, I am questioning whether I am a “burn-out”.

Am I burn-out because I want to see my friends on a Friday night instead of study? This is where my guilt is coming from. I also often like to question what great leaders were doing on Friday nights when they were my age. What was the 20 year old-Hilary Clinton doing on a Friday night?…She was probably reading a book or studying…. I should be reading.

Should everything in my life be productive behavior? Because this troubles me so often, I often spark these types of conversations with my friends and family to get their input. Often someone explains that, “One needs to take time for oneself.” and “It is important to be happy.” I usually walk a way from these conversations feeling like I am failing at happiness because I am too good at overloading myself with work, and then stressing myself out with my lack of time.

This week I read an article, “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy” and it eased some of my anxiety, and reassured me that my hard work will be worth it, even if the output is not my own happiness.

The simplified thesis of the article argues that meaning in life is more important than happiness in life, including “It is the very pursuit of happiness,that thwarts happiness.”

 Further the author explains that in a recent study in the Journal of Positive Psychology, tthat those living a happy life are more associated with being “takers” while those living a meaningful life are more associated with being “givers”

Often, I heard advice that I should pick a path that would make me the happiest. This often frustrates me because I cannot say that I am the “happiest” when I am stressed. Pushing myself to learn every neural mechanism is hard work, but learning this has meaning and could eventually have a profound impact, being a neurologist. If I were to simply “be happy”, I would take an easier path and relax more often.

Further that author writes,  “Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.”

My  critics on this article are that they too easily separate helping people with happiness. I think in many ways my definition of a meaningful life is a life with depth. I imagine that culmination of hard work and depth will lead to a happiness that is unknown on the superficial level. This article is promoting a life in which we should not expect immediate satisfaction.

I think a long as we can stay a float and keep pushing forward towards meaning there is no reason we should nor prioritize it. A meaninful life it seems to me will make the largest positive impact.

It is healthy to question whether happiness is worth more. I think questioning it is in the process of burning out and fully choosing happiness may be the ultimate tipping point.

Personally, I think I will continue to prioritize meaning and working through the stresses because I think that depth is worth more than a few Friday nights out.

Oct 14

We should all be feminists.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is considered to be one of the most influential writers of our generation. Most recently she wrote the novel, Americanah, which has been recognized as One of The New York Times’s Ten Best Books of the Year and also has won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Throughout her writing, Adichie will center around themes on identity, race, and gender creating a platform to spark conversations on these topics. She is articulate and remarkably poised. She incorportates charming witty anecdotes into her speeches on global issues. She is a leader and her words and writing make people think.

Her TED Talk, “We should all be feminists” is featured below.


In this talk Adiche defines feminism as “a man or a woman who says ‘Yes there is a problem with gender and we must fix it. We must do better’.” She also describes that her anger on the inequality and the manner in which anger can bring forth change. Her statements made me reflect, what am I angry about?

I am angry that I cannot travel the world alone safely.

I am angry that I fear walking home along at night.

I am angry that when I go out to dinner with my boyfriend they give the check.

I am angry that some conversations about my future involve questions about marriage and children instead of my passion for science and research.

Adiche closes this part of her speech with, “I am angry but I have hope”. She does not let her anger dampen her. She lets it inspire and empower her to make a difference.

Throughout her TED talk, she discusses the manner in which we teach young males and females to fit their roles.

She explains,  “We stifle the humanity of boys…We teach boys to be afraid of vulnerability.” In parallel she describes how “We teach girls to shrink themselves.” telling them “You can have ambition but not too much“.

Adiche makes it understood that sometimes people are not aware of the different manners in which we limit gender roles. She has continuously worked to spark conversations on how to improve the future.

As a part of the Penn State Reads Program, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will speak tomorrow at 7:30 pm in the Schwabb Auditorium. Any one who has the time should come listen.

Oct 14

Challenge Yourself to Do Great Things

In the past year I have felt so many questions on how I can make the most impact in this world and whether I could manage the challenge of becoming a physician. I have heard multiple doctors into the past explain that being a doctor is not what it used to be and that they are instead a slave to their paperwork and do not get enough time with their patients. I have had doctors straight up tell me, “If you think you could be happy doing anything else, do not become a doctor.” You can imagine how discouraging those sentiments could be and I entered junior year with a lot of doubt and questions about my future. However, this weekend I have met so many incredible role models for my future that have provided me with so much hope and confidence.

Ever since the Boston itinerary which included his bio came out I was  in awe of Dr. Price. First Dr. Bruce H. Price is an incredible neurologist and pioneer for intersecting the fields of neurology, psychiatry, neuropsychology, and neurosurgery. He is the co-founder and co-director of the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior. He went to Harvard University for his undergraduate degree, then attended the University of Cincinnati college of medicine. He has a remarkable list of accomplishments including once being the chief of the Department of Neurology at McLean Hospital, and now being an Associate in Neurology at Massachusetts General Hospital and being an Associate Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical school.

For those of you who know me, you may know the passion I have for neurology and how inspiring Dr. Bruce would be to me. Throughout his talk I sat with glee, repeating in my head, “Yes. I want to emulate his actions. ” Through out his talk he hit on 3 important life lessons:

  1. Overcome and Learn from Adversity
  2. Find Great Mentors
  3. Challenge Yourself to do Great Things

I hope to take this advice and run with it.

1. Everyone deals with hardships in their lives but it is how we handle those hardships that define our character. I would say my hardest adversity come in the form of my mother’s health. My mother endure Multiple Sclerosis and watching her trials and triumphs have been very testing for me at times but it has also infused a passion for neurology and neurodegenerative diseases into my heart. I am fascinated by the way the brain functions and I would love to dedicate my life to get answers on that disease.

2. My first goal is to have Dr. Price as my mentor. After the talk, I kept telling myself, “I need to talk to him”. I was inspired. I had so many thoughts and questions. I was intimidated but in the best way possible. I went up to him and introduced myself and have a small snapshot of my ambitions starting with, “I am an aspiring neurologist”. After only a few more moments, he told me to e-mail him and said that they hold internships at the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior. My body was shaking with excitement.  I would love to better understand his story and his goals for the field of neurology. I want to do everything in my power to inter at the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior this summer. If I felt this inspired by him just after a one hour speech, I cannot imagine how much I could learn from him in the long run.

3. I feel an incredible calling to be a neurologist, but the process to get there would not be an easy one. I would need to challenge myself to make the largest impact. I think not only would becoming a neurologist allow me to make a positive impact in the world of science but I hope in leaves me with even greater room to be a global citizen. I want to emulate Dr. Price and not only be recognized for a commitment in neurology but also as someone committed to society.




Sep 14

Prioritizing Principles

I feel compelled about the quality if my education.

What is the role of a professor?

  • To engage his students
  • To teach them
  • To challenge them
  • To care?
  • To encourage?
  • To inspire?

This is not the first time I have had a bad professor but this is one of the first times I have reflected so critically on it. My current professor

One of my current professors arguably does not teach during class. He reads off of the power points (something students can easily do on their own) which does not enhance the depth of the material. He often jokes that he is losing his memory and spends a substantial amount of time telling stories unrelated to the something matter. I understand that on a certain level professors may tell stories to engage their students, but in this case, it is distracting and irrelevant and it often leaves him lost as to where we were.

When students voice how they do not know or understand certain concepts, this professors will question, “How do you not know this already?”, “you should have learned this in X class”. Further in review, when I asked him to go over a problem, he asked me I  “day-dreamed” during class.  He has a habit of deflecting his responsibility to be a professor. No I do not day-dream. I am focused but the material is hard and I sometimes get confused which is why I come to reviews for clarification. 

The only reason I am doing well in this class is because I spend our googling explanations to the material. Lecture does not enhance my learning of the material.  I have watched youtube videos and gone to other professors sites. I think often because students want the good grade they work hard teaching themselves and get a good grade. The thing that motivates students is the structure of the grading system and the fear of failure so they will do more work on their own outside the course to learn.  This gives the professor the impression that he is doing something right when in actuality students are just using outside resources.

Maybe the lesson is that students need to learn how to teach themselves but I can learn that lesson elsewhere. When I am paying for a top ranked university education, I expect my professor to practice within that standard. Sometimes concepts are complex and students will not understand them for the first time on their own, and a professor should know how to dissect ideas and concepts and explain them easily. It is their job. If I am spending hours finding ways to be the best student, I expect my professor to reflect and spend hours figuring out the most effective way to teach.

Because of my frustrations, and because of so much reflection in the PLA on the value and standards of education, I decided I needed to do something. In our policy course last semester we often discussed in what ways we can improve the educational system and we discussed improving through open conversation and assessment. I was not going to wait for SRTEs so I decided open communication with the professor would be most effective. In the most diplomatic way possible, I tried to explain the challenges of the classroom to our professor. He seemed to hear me but not listen. He instead asked if I thought I was suited for this course. To me this was a question on my ability to learn.

What I wanted to say but did not do so, so bluntly is that I want excellence out of this university and want you to live up to that standard.

After talking with my professor and realizing the lack of impact I had made because of the seemingly lack of credibility my professor gave me, I decided to contact the department head. In doing this I felt a little extreme. I questioned, is this really worth it? People I talked to explained, “there are tons of professors that teach this way. You just need to deal with them.”

But I do not want to ignore a problem and ride it out. I want to fix the problem and enhance our education. I know somewhere there is a remarkable professor who teaches this material and that the students become more passionate because of this. Those students will be a step ahead of me.

I talked to the department head who immediately after I voiced my concerns said, “This is not excellence. This is mediocrity.” After a long conversation the department head explained that this is what we need to create progress. He has already assured me he is going to move forward to make changes given the context of my concerns. He is going to have people visit and observe the class and also talk to my professor. I do not dislike my professor as a human but I just want him passionately care about how effective his teaching style is.

In doing this I felt a little extreme demanding excellence but I think we need to set those standards and live up to them. Standing up  and taking action alone isn’t easy. It can sometimes be isolating. Even if you know it was the right thing to do, it may not feel good while doing it. Leadership isn’t easy nor it is always fun. A few of my classmates were incredibly confused on why I was doing such a thing. Leadership is prioritizing principles over your own ego.  I know other students in my class were frustrated but it was not pushing enough. Every one is busy and taking this action required my time. I want to continue to live a life where I prioritize principle and progress over anything else. I think that in this case taking action will ultimately make a positive impact even if it requires further discourse.

Sep 14

Room for Vulnerability.

It seems often when we discuss leadership, we ask the question, “What kind of leader do I want to be?”

In many ways this question does not get you far. It may make you question a lot. You may have many thoughts when you ask this question, but you are not making strides in leadership.

Instead I think we should ask ourselves, “What type of leader should I be in this moment?”, “In these circumstances, what skills do I have to make a positive impact?”

While this may be common knowledge to some people, I think it is important to point out and remind ourselves that different people have different leadership styles and that different positions require different leadership styles. And further to be even for specific, different circumstances need different leadership styles. In this light, the “best” leader is adaptable and versatile having a tool box of skills to pick from when the event presents itself.

Previously, I have often questioned the role of vulnerability in leadership. In my head I would generalize and ask, “Should leaders be vulnerable?”. After watching Brene Brown’s TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability, and reading her book Daring Greatly, the conclusion I came to was Yes, leaders should be vulnerable. However, no my opinion is shifting and instead I think leaders should have the option to be vulnerable, and reveal vulnerability when it is most useful.

However it some roles it seems vulnerability is limited. For example in many ways the role of President of the United States leaves little circumstances to reveal vulnerability.

Vulnerability by a presidency in not taken well often.Time and time again President’s keep their perceived weaknesses hidden (e.g. FDR’s paralysis). Recently, Obama endured harsh criticisms, when he revealed he did not have a plan of attack for ISIS. Some may simply just see this as disorganization, but I see it as Obama mistakenly deciding to reveal vulnerability in a time when people needed strength.

Reasonably, no one has a perfect plan of attack for ISIS so admitting a lack of plan is understandable for most people– just not when you are the president of the United States. It is a complex problem and being overly confident in knowing how to solve the problem is disingenuine. Vulnerability is a medium of revealing our genuine humane nature but in cases on national security, vulnerability and weakness should be advised to be excluded. In Obama’s case, it seemed his options were admit struggle or announce further military action, and in many eyes he made the wrong choice.

As President of the Unites States, it is his job in many ways to have the answers, the plans, the solutions to the complex problems in the world. For example, Obama admitted, ““If you watch the nightly news, it feels like the world is falling apart.” and also said, “we don’t have a strategy yet” in combating the Islamic state (New York Times). While both of these statements are genuine and vulnerable, in neither of these statements is Obama fulfilling his desired leadership role as president. In this case, being vulnerable is not useful.

Many people turn to the United States and particularly to the President of the United States for protection. As of yesterday, it seems Obama has changed his leadership style in dealing with ISIS and is now being an unwavering pillar of strength with rhetoric explaining he will “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Whether this is ultimately going to make the best impact is up to the future to decide. Ideally both sides would admit vulnerability and military action would not need to take place. Instead this world is designed to fight with strength and power and in order to remain on top the Obama administration is choosing to “degrade and ultimately destroy”. There is no solution in this case, for now Obama will and the U.S. will get criticized for being militarily involved, yet if we chose to do nothing we would be perceived as weak.


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