A Note from Jess ;-) Four years of experience makes all the difference

This column first appeared in the January 26, 2012 issue of the Setonian. It is the first of my “how-to-be-awesome” monthly column.

“You do too much.” These are the words that have plagued me since before college. Friends, co-workers, teachers, coaches–even my parents have tried to get me to take a break from at least one of my many endeavors because they thought I was spreading myself too thin. Then, and even now, I beg to differ.

I’m not going to say that I never took on more than I could handle, but I’ve always managed to sort out my priorities well enough to succeed in each and every thing that I do. There were definitely times when I did too much but fate always found a way to warn me…like when I managed to wreck not one but two vehicles over the span of four days during my first semester of college. That was a learning experience. If you really do too much, something has to give. At the time, I put working part-time on hiatus until breaks between the semester and breaks between seasons. Later, I traded my status as an athlete for some much-needed freedom to pursue additional resume building projects.

I’ve learned a lot in these four years, and I’m happy to share all of the secrets to my success…or at least, the majority of them 🙂

Prioritize your tasks and obligations. For much of my college career, I have scheduled my days practically down to the minute to allow myself ample time to complete all of my assignments and readings for classes.

Sleep is more important than writing a paper or studying for an exam. In 2010, NPR published an article outlining the benefits to having at least 10 hours of sleep per night. They summarized a study performed by Stanford University which showed not only an improvement for scholarly athletes’ grades but also an improvement in skills on the playing field.

I rarely had the opportunity to sleep for 10 hours, but I did my best to get at least seven. The philosophy behind my reasoning is simple: if I’m tired, I won’t feel like doing the work, so I’ll continue to put it off until I eventually give up and then I’ll have to wake up early to finish the paper anyway. So, rather than waste valuable sleep time, I plan to go to bed a little earlier so I can wake up refreshed and pound out the rest of the paper. Besides, I work better under pressure.

Work ahead when you get the chance. I know this doesn’t always work out because the last thing anyone wants to do when they have a homework-free day is more homework, but it really does help. Even if you’re just ahead in a single class, the workload will be incredibly lighter.

Enroll in a J-term or eight-week course. Even though they are technically viewed as more intensive courses, they lighten your semester significantly. In the spring semester of my sophomore year, I took two J-term courses and only had to worry about eight credits by the end of February, which worked out great with my busy sports schedule. Yes, it wasn’t “fun” starting school on January 1 rather than three weeks later with all my friends, but it was definitely worth it during finals week.

Use your time between classes efficiently–even if you’re just using it to take a much-needed nap. I don’t care how old you are, everyone could use a good nap now and again, especially when you feel overwhelmed or exhausted. Sometimes an extra hour of shut eye can make all the difference in your efforts to study for a big exam.

Unplug from the world when your studying or writing. I don’t care what you’re studying, in most cases, you don’t need Internet access to do it. I once took my laptop outside into my backyard to write an essay for my theology course because Facebook and StumbleUpon were just too tempting. That essay made the difference in getting an A- rather than a B- like I’d been fearing, and I owe it mostly to my discipline to eliminate distractions. Cutting out most of my technology also helped me to speed up the writing process significantly. In the past four years, multiple news reports have suggested that Facebook is often responsible for lower grades in college. Technically, it’s the undisciplined student who can’t prioritize, but still. This Lent, try giving up Facebook or Twitter to see what you can accomplish. You don’t have to be Catholic. It might be fun to see how much more productive you become!

Probably the most important suggestion or tip that I have is to save time to have some fun, whether it’s just hanging out with friends during a movie night or it’s going out for a night on the town. You deserve it! Just try not to go overboard. You’re in college to learn, not to party and flunk out, so make the most of your money and time. And remember…only you can determine if you really do too much.

Kindle Touch converts book addicts to e-book fanatic

This review first appeared in the January 26 issue of the Setonian, the Student Voice of Seton Hill University.

As a journalist, I have an obvious love for the written word—especially when it is printed in a beautiful hardcover book. But in the age of technology, even a bookworm like myself can come to terms with change and admit defeat. For a hardcore reader like myself, the Kindle Touch, one of Amazon’s new additions to the Kindle family, is a nearly perfect replacement to books filled with paper.

Of course, nothing, and I repeat nothing, can replace the look, feel and, especially, the smell of a book. I would never think of trading my hardback first editions of each of the seven “Harry Potter” books for e-versions of them. Sure, I might consider repurchasing them in electronic format, but I’ll carry those books with me to every future place that I will call home.

Having said that, there’s a natural attraction to an e-Reader that cannot be denied. It’s simply convenient to be able to carry an entire library of books around on a single 7.8 ounce device.

I know what you’re thinking: Why get a Kindle Touch when you already have an iPad, provided graciously by none other than Seton Hill University? That’s simple. The Kindle Touch’s 6” display features the most advanced E Ink Pearl to date. The biggest advantage to E Ink is it’s anti-glare feature. While there will still be some glare depending on how you hold the device in the sunlight, it’s a huge improvement compared to the iPad’s glossy full-color display. Sure it’s an obvious drawback that it’s completely grayscale, but at the same time, I’m not using the Kindle to look at pretty pictures—I’m using it to read novels.

What’s more, because of the Kindle’s E Ink display, the device’s battery life is remarkable. I’ve only had to charge my Kindle twice since I powered it up on Christmas Day, and I use for at least an hour every day and have never turned off my wireless.  According to Amazon.com, the battery life can last up to two months with wireless turned off.

Still not convinced? The Kindle Touch features the same swipe action we all know and love on the iPad’s iBooks app. Swipe left or right to flip pages, and swipe up or down to skip to the next or previous chapter. My favorite feature, however, is the built-in dictionary. While reading “A Game of Thrones: A Song of Fire and Ice,” I came across numerous archaic names for animals and structures that were unfamiliar to me. When I read a traditional book, I never bother to look up definitions, but it’s so easy with the Kindle Touch! Simply press your finger on the questionable word and viola!—multiple definitions appear on your screen.

According to Amazon.com, the Kindle Touch can hold up to 3,000 books or 4 GB worth of books and other e-printed materials. Users still concerned that they don’t have enough room have nothing to fear because they also receive access to free Amazon Cloud storage for all media purchased on Amazon.

But why buy a book that you’re going to be stuck with forever—you can’t resell it and you definitely don’t want to give your best friend your Kindle for a week or even a month so she can read the latest NY Times Best Seller. Never fear! There are countless free books as well as daily deals for some of the more popular titles out there on the Internet.

Still not convinced? Users have the ability to not only lend books to their friends but can also check out books from the library, including the Greensburg-Hempfield Public Library. Amazon Prime (free to students for a year) users can also rent one novel per month with no due date or late fees.

For just $99, you can be the proud owner of your own Kindle Touch with Special Offers. You can buy the Kindle without special offers for $139, but honestly, the special offers are no bother at all—they just show advertisements for products or books that might peak the user’s interest. In many cases, the ads are for Amazon, and these ads are only present when the Kindle is in standby mode—no ads appear on the screen while the user is reading.

I would recommend a Kindle to any bookworm who is eager or even slightly hesitant to embrace the future of books and other written media. Whether we like it or not, electronic publications are quickly replacing printed and we will eventually be forced to adapt. Do yourself a favor and jump on board early—you won’t regret it!

Growing up and moving on…stepping down from my position as EIC

Being editor-in-chief of The Setonian is one of the most rewarding experiences a journalism student could ask for. Having said that, I welcomed my successor, Katelyn with open arms. One year of stress is enough but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. A few weeks ago, I looked through some of our back issues from my time as editor as I prepared to submit the Setonian into a national contest.

I am amazed at our growth.

One of the first changes I implemented was a complete redeisgn of the layout and elements within the paper. We were holding onto a design that was decades old and no longer suited our readers’ needs. With the help of some staff members, we transformed the Setonian into an attractive newspaper that in turn recruited new readers as well as writers.

When I began as editor, I don’t want to say we were in terrible shape, but the paper’s staff list was pretty short. Already, Katy had recruited a few of her friends as I had but the big surprises came as the semester went on and we continued to grow. This past semester, we welcomed two new staff members who are already going to take positions of leadership in the spring.

When I look back at all that we accomplished, one event, one issue stands out— 9/11. I led a group of my most experienced journalists to Shanksville, Pa to witness the dedication of the momument for the heroes of Flight 93. While there, we shot video and photos, recorded audio and caught a glimpse of President Obama. After the close of the ceremonies, we even interviewed a few of the family members who lost loved ones on Flight 93.

This experience, above all, has prepared me for the real world. I not only took my journalism buddies to the event but also communicated with the media relations department to secure four press passes for our trip. What made it even more rewarding was we made the trip on Katy’s birthday and I’m sure it will be a lasting memory for all of us.

The experience itself was moving. We met people and cried with them as they shared their stories. By the end of the day, we were all in need of a decent nap after such an emotionally trying day.

As last semester came to a close, I felt hesitant at the thought of giving up my position as editor. I worked very hard to get the paper where it stands today but I realize that giving up something that I love will open additional doors for me. While I was editor, I had less time to write news, reviews or even write about whatever I feel passionate about. Editors are leaders, not writers—except for writing the staff editorial.

Now, as a senior staff writer, I have even more room for growth as I begin my own column—a how-to guide on being a successful and busy student on campus.

We’re also looking forward to a special issue of the Setonian in May: a magazine-style issue for Graduation. I’ll be heading that project as well. Because of that committment, I felt a little more relaxed at the thought of giving up my title as editor-in-chief. For the magazine, I’ll have a new title, publishing editor, because I’ll be in charge of most of the mechanics, layout, story selection, etc. while Katy concentrates on her new baby, The 2012 Setonian.

So congrats to my successor. I’m sure you’ll be an even better editor than I was (because you’re so organized and driven). I look forward to writing for you and for continuing to see the Setonian grow. I wonder where we’ll all go next.

Generate Informed Opinions!

Research your facts, study the whole story before judging others or speaking your mind
In the age of technology, we are surrounded by noise, or interference, when it comes to creating an informed opinion. It is far too easy to simply listen to what a friend says or read an article by the news media and develop an opinion based on a single argument.In reality, to form a truly informed opinion, an individual must conduct his own opinion by seeking out influence from not only the news media but also from the voice of the people, more commonly known as social media now-a-days.
It’s important to acknowledge the fact that members of the news media are prone to going for shock value.Ever heard of the phrase “If it bleeds, it leads?” As journalists, this is our mantra. So, what happens when the story in question just isn’t quite as scandalous as we’d like? Well, some journalists’ word choice will make up for the missing content while others will hunt down more facts.Contrary to popular belief, numbers are a journalist’s best friend. Any statistic can be fabricated to fit the angle of the story. When a journalist says “majority vote,” the statistic could range from 51 percent to 99 percent, so be wary.

It’s not wrong to spruce up a story, but it’s also important for readers to understand that they must read as much as possible about a developing story to get the real facts. And, even when doing so, keep in mind that the world of journalism is cut throat.

News outlets compete not only to post the first story but also to have the most sensational story. Remember that the media can also only report on what it has access to, so in many cases, information is missing.

Social media is powerful but dangerous. Look at Egypt; an entire revolution was organized and implemented through social media networks. Wow. In today’s society, you’re pretty much considered weird if you aren’t connected electronically in some way.

When news breaks, one lucky individual is responsible for the start of a new trend. She posts a link on her social media network of choice and boom. Instant viral link. Soon, everyone is talking about it and retweeting or posting the same link. Forget researching for new developments. And of course, everyone has something to say about the latest scandal on the rise.

Keep in mind that your friends’ opinions aren’t always backed up by fact. Social media is a giant outlet for people to rant and complain. Angry people feed on each other’s emotions and soon an issue can escalate as a result.

Social media may be an excellent resource for spreading information and organizing events but it falls short where liability is concerned. There’s a lack of restraint when tweeting or posting status updates on Facebook.

Don’t be the next victim of ignorance. Avoid complacency in our technology based “Brave New World.”


This article originally appeared in the Nov. 10 issue of the Setonian. Although it has no byline, I wrote the article based on the opinions and emotions of our editorial staff.

Check out my other article from this issue…

Federal authorities deny bail for professor This is a developing story at Seton Hill University.