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Jieya Wen

OPINION 9/13/16 10:42pm

Life at Rice can give gift of eco-awareness

Fall of 2016 marks my fourth year in Houston. To me, becoming a senior international student does not only mean being able to laugh at John Oliver’s jokes about Donald Trump or start singing "The Duck Song" as soon as I saw grapes in the servery, but most importantly, being a lot more conscious about sustainability and the environment.

NEWS 9/9/15 3:09pm

Rice pilots Canvas as alternative to Owlspace

Rice University is testing a new learning management system, Canvas, in 15 pilot courses involving 16 instructors and nearly 1,000 students, according to Director of Informational Technology and Access Services Diane Butler. Canvas could potentially replace Owlspace as the primary platform for learning management.“We are targeting faculty who use it in different ways,” Butler said. “Some use a lot of quizzes and tests. Some do more interactions and collaboration. We have [surveyed] across the board from large to small classes just to get a good idea.”The university is moving away from the open source Owlspace system currently in use to a vendor-supplied learning management system. Rice staff currently run the server that hosts Owlspace and maintain the service, while an independent vendor manages services for Canvas. “Owlspace is more than 10 years old,” Butler said. “Most of the [information technology] department is trying to move to cloud-based services. IT has posted a job, instructional designer ... to help faculty design courses [online] other than just putting a syllabus out there.”Butler said the pilot courses this semester test the possibility of moving web-based courses such as Computational Thinking (COMP 140) to Canvas without losing their current features. According to Scott Rixner, professor of computer science and the instructor of COMP 140, Canvas is significantly better than Owlspace because it allows instructors to release online material in parts in a way similar to Coursera, an online service previously used to teach COMP 140. “The biggest thing Canvas does is that it helps me to organize the material in a logical way and release it in stages,” Rixner said. According to Rixner, Canvas better meets the needs of on-campus teaching than Coursera by incorporating grades by teaching assistants.“[Canvas] is not as automated and as hands-off as Coursera is,” Rixner said. “Coursera expects you to never have a human grade anything. This causes problems for on-campus classes, when you do have TAs grading. So Canvas has facilities that have things that are automatically graded by machine and also allow you to grade things with TA. Canvas, in that sense, is better than Coursera.”Three courses in the summer session were the first pilot courses for Canvas. A working group consisting of representatives from Fondren Library, the Office of Digital Education and the Office of Information Technology has surveyed the classes’ students on their experiences. They will conduct further assessments on Canvas in the coming school year, according to Butler. “We did a pre-survey and we are going to do a post-survey,” Butler said. “In the middle, we are doing one-on-one assessments, some with students and with all the faculty who were teaching. [The assessments will] identify and help us move on to the next step.”Isabella Yang, a student in Biomedical Instrumentation Lab (BIOE 385), a pilot course for Canvas, said Canvas attempted to combine Owlspace and Piazza, an online course forum for discussion, but failed to integrate them efficiently. “There are options for Discussions, Conferences and Chat,” Yang, a McMurtry College junior, said. “Aren’t they necessarily the same?”Rixner said he agrees Canvas has redundant functions that might add to students’ confusion. “There is a lot of redundancy, but the instructor has the ability to pick and choose which ones you want to use for your course,” Rixner said.Steve An, a student in General Chemistry I (CHEM 121), another pilot course on Canvas, said Canvas is currently too rigid in the answers it accepts, which results in faulty grading. “Our answers have to be extremely specific,” An, a Martel College freshman, said. “My friend got points off because she put ‘grams’ instead of ‘g.’ Although she can tell the TAs and get the points back, we should not [have to] go through this extra process.”

NEWS 4/15/15 10:08am

Graduate school mentorship introduced

The graduate/undergraduate mentorship program that intends to facilitate interaction and mentorship among graduate and undergraduate students attracted 207 undergraduate student applicants according to Chris Sabbagh, a former Jones College senator.Once the Graduate Student Association collects applications for graduate student mentors, the Student Association Academics Committee will pair graduate and undergraduate students before the program official begins next semester, Sabbagh, a Jones College sophomore, said.“The idea is to pair at most three undergraduate students with a graduate student,” Sabbagh said. “We will be considering the location of college, hopefully keeping them at a close area. Then we will also be considering the academic specialization that they want to go into.”According to Sabbagh, there will be an introductory kickoff event for undergraduate and graduate students to socialize in next semester. The program suggests the paired students meet three times during a semester. “We don’t want people signing up for this program and having nothing come out of it,” Sabbagh said. “We are thinking of sending out follow-up surveys saying, ‘Did you meet with your graduate students,’ ‘Did you feel this was beneficial to you’ and ‘What would you like to see in future meetings.’”The program will close with a “celebratory mixer” event, recognizing the work people did for this program and the students who get into graduate school.Sabbagh said he realized that Rice lacks in certain graduate programs, such as medical schools or journalism school, so the mentorship program cannot satisfy every students’ needs.  “The goal is to ultimately utilize the [graduate programs] that will be most beneficial to undergraduate students,” Sabbagh said. “I think what we are doing is focusing on what we do have right now, seeing if that is going to be successful and then in the future expand on that.”According to Director of Academic Advising Brian Gibson, statistics show about 70 percent of students at Rice will attend professional programs within five years after they graduate. Graduate students will be a good resource for students who want to apply for graduate schools, Sabbagh said.“One [aspect of this program] is a mentorship side, which is a way for undergraduate students to talk to graduate students about advice on how to apply to graduate school and what the culture of graduate school is like,” Sabbagh said.Sabbagh said the second aspect of the program is to increase interaction among graduate and undergraduate students. The mentorship program integrates graduate students into the associates program. “So through this program, graduate students will be like associates in the sense that they will be able to eat a limited amount of free meals at the colleges,” Sabbagh said. “They will be able to attend associates nights at their colleges. This would increase the personal connection between the graduate and the undergraduate students here.”Amritha Kanakamedala, former SA external vice president, said the program was initiated by students. The idea for the program was suggested by Mitchell Massey, a Jones College senior, who has worked on this program with Kanakamedala and Sabbagh since last semester. “This program has received a lot of support from students, both undergraduate and graduate students, as well as the administration,” Kanakamedala said. “We have support from the [Office of Academic Advising], Dean Hutchison’s office, as well as from the office of Dr. Matsuda, the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Students.”Sabbagh said there are more applicants than expected, as well as support from the administration that will ensure the longevity of this program.“Our hope is that we are formalizing this process so that it can happen every year,” Sabbagh said.Cassie Peretore, a Martel College junior, said she applied for the program, which she thinks would be beneficial for students who want to apply for graduate schools. “Rice has always had great resources for students on pre-med tracks or pre-law tracks,” Peretore said. “But those of us who are interested in different types of grad schools struggle a little more to find mentors. I’m really excited about this program because it’ll give me an opportunity to meet a grad student I never would have met and get valuable advice I never would’ve gotten. For those of us who applied to this program and are interested in grad school paths that are less ‘paved out,’ this will be really beneficial.”

NEWS 4/8/15 5:14pm

Budde named commencement speaker

Dennis Budde, a Baker College senior, will speak about improvisation as the student convocation speaker at the commencement ceremony on May 16. “[My speech] is about improvising and making sure that you leave some room for improvisation in your life,” Budde said. “But you also need to make sure you’re sticking to your plans and working hard. … Appreciate the balance.”Budde said he plans to talk about how he discovered improvisation in college. His experience in comedy groups, particularly Rice’s Kinda Sketchy, will be a major part of his speech. “I’m in the sketch comedy group here and I joined it freshmen year,” Budde said. “The people that I met in theater are the ones who encouraged me to start doing sketch comedy, and if I had just been just trying to stick to my plan, I wouldn’t have done that – it wasn’t anything I ever thought about doing. But instead I went for it. I improvised and it turned my life around.”Budde said he has always been interested in performing and writing. One of his writing principles, “the smaller you go, the bigger your audience ends up being,” helped him decide on the content of his speech. “If you are trying to make some big blanket statement then you will just get something wrong,” Budde said. “So I decided that I’ll just talk about something that’s important to me that I’ve personally learned and hoped that it worked.”One of the messages he wants to deliver to the graduating class is the balance between planning and improvisation, Budde said. “People don’t really think about improvising in their lives so much,” Budde said. “You want to set up your five-year plan and leave no room for improvisation. Maybe what you are doing next is what you had always been planning on doing, but don’t force yourself to stick with it if it’s not what you want.”Budde said it is important to him that the audience has fun listening to his speech. “One of the problems is that commencement speeches in general don’t keep people interested,” Budde said. “With that in mind, I really tried to make [my speech] entertaining as well.”

NEWS 3/25/15 4:49pm

Coadvisor apps increase to more than 400, acceptance rate at 25 percent

 Orientation Week 2015 received more than 400 co-advisor applications campus-wide, an increase from 375 in 2014. Colleges received 90 to 140 applicants each, according to Chris Landry, assistant director of First Year Programs. Landry said each college has 10 to 13 spots, so about a quarter of the applicants are offered a position.Mohammad Kassim, a Martel College O-Week coordinator, said his college received approximately 95 co-advisor applications. Around 60 students applied to co-advise at Martel in 2014, according to Thomas Plackemeier, a junior and former Martel O-Week coordinator.“We initially did some paper cuts, and then we offered around 60 first-round interviews,” Kassim, a Martel College junior, said. “You have a bigger pool now, so it’s hard to cut people. Especially when you have only 12 [available positions], you want to get the best of the best.”Bridget Schilling, a Lovett College O-Week coordinator, said Lovett received more applications than last year too but declined to reveal the number of applications. “There was a lot of crossover this year,” Schilling, a Lovett junior, said. “A lot of people applied to multiple colleges. [Many] got up to second round for multiple colleges too.”Schilling said she thinks the online common application for co-advising contributed to the increase. “[The common application] makes it easier for people to apply,” Schilling said. “The paper application was a little bit harder. [It] took more effort to fill out. It did make it easier for people who are abroad to access all the applications.”The online application additionally provided every college’s mission statement for O-Week, a factor that may have made students consider more options when applying to co-advise, Schilling said. “Being able to have listed our mission statement, versus having to pick up the application, [gave] people who would otherwise not consider Lovett a platform to look at our mission statement and think, ‘I can relate to that and I might want to be a part of this O-Week,’” Schilling said. Both Schilling and Kassim said the pool of applicants was more diverse this year. “I thought we got a good number of international students, a number of typically less-represented Rice population applying,” Schilling said. “That could be through a combination of outreach and accessibility.”

NEWS 2/24/15 2:06pm

New common app for co-advisors hits roadbumps

First Year Programs is implementing a new online platform for the Orientation Week 2015 co-advising application. According to Chris Landry, Associate Director of FYP, the application consists of a series of common questions followed by supplements for each individual college. Applicants may apply for up to four colleges.However, some students have reported issues with the application. McMurtry College junior Will Eldridge said he unwittingly submitted his incomplete application when he unsuccessfully tried to go back through the application to review his answers. After attempting to resubmit his application with changes, his old application was not replaced.“It obviously doesn’t work as planned,” Eldridge said. “I don’t even know why they do it if the normal advisor applications worked. Obviously they want to streamline it, but they should keep it the way it’s been working for several years.”The application has since been updated to include a confirmation before submission.Landry said the common application streamlines the application process and saves time for both applicants and O-Week coordinators.“In previous years, applicants would have to complete a full paper application for each college to which they wanted to apply; many times these included similar or identical questions,” Landry said. “They would then have to return it in person to the colleges. ”Sneha Kohirkar, Student Director of O-Week 2015, said the four-college limit makes the application process more effective.“The coordinators were able to select what [their college’s supplement] would look like,” Kohirkar, a McMurtry College senior, said. “This allows for individual colleges to still have the chance to use their theme and ask for specific information.”Kohirkar said the common application gives students more time to apply to co-advise should they be rejected from advising at their own colleges.“We know there is always a quick turnover from advising decisions to co-advisor application deadline,” Kohirkar said.Because the Common Application for college admission has increased applicants for many universities, FYP is interested to see whether this change will increase the number of applicants for co-advising.“As with any new program, there have been a few minor glitches in the survey, but we are responding to issues as quickly as they are reported with our partners in the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Qualtrics (the survey company),” Landry said.

NEWS 2/18/15 4:09pm

McMurtry addresses surplus housing with proposal to remove point bonus

The McMurtry College government will vote on a proposal designed to encourage students to remain on campus at their Town Hall meeting on Feb. 17, according to McMurtry College Internal Vice President Sean Harger. The proposal intends to address McMurtry’s current housing surplus issue.The proposal removes housing point bonuses given to students the year after they move off campus, which Harger said encourages students to move off campus. Therefore, one proposal is to remove the bonus for the people who move off campus voluntarily but keep the bonus for people who apply for on- campus housing but fail to get eligibility.“We will no longer incentivize people to move off in order to encourage as many people to try to get on campus as possible,” Harger said. Whether to keep the bonus for students who get kicked off campus instead of voluntarily move off campus is more questionable, according to Harger. “The process of eligibility and being kicked off campus is as fair as it can be, and a bit impersonal,” Harger said. “That’s going to be a decision the college is going to have to come to.”According to Harger, there are 324 beds at McMurtry, of which 100 are for freshmen, leaving 224 beds for current McMurtry students. Last year, the number of students who applied for on-campus housing was less than the number of available beds, Harger said.“We don’t want to ever be in a situation again where we have to ask people to move back on campus, and it’s an awkward situation because they moved off, [so] they got a bonus,” Harger said. “We don’t know whether we should let them keep the bonus and move back or get rid of the bonus we promised them.”Harger said the number of vacant beds led to non-McMurtry students living at McMurtry and some on-campus McMurtry students getting off-campus point bonuses. McMurtry sophomore Seth Berggren said he supports the removal of point bonuses for moving off campus to avoid repeating last year’s situation. “If we disincentivize people going off campus, we can hopefully retain more people on campus, which I feel would be a very valuable asset to college culture,” Berggren said. McMurtry sophomore Seyeon Cho said she does not support the proposal because she believes the removal of the point bonuses will make on-campus housing overly competitive and will not accurately reflect students’ preference. “Do you have to incentivize students to live on campus in order to improve the culture?” Cho said. “I feel like the order of problem and solution should be the other way around.”At McMurtry, people who have declared senior status, as well as the college president, internal vice president, external vice president, the chief justice, scholarship athletes and students with documented disability have automatic eligibility for on-campus housing. Other McMurtry students will go through the eligibility jack, according to Harger. “We order those people by oldest, in terms of how long they have been at McMurtry,” Harger said. “The people who have been here the longest will be most likely to be kicked off campus. The only exception to this is anybody who declared senior status. In practice, the juniors are most likely to be kicked off.”

NEWS 2/3/15 2:04pm

Blanket tax crack team finalizes proposal for ballot

Jieya WenThresher StaffThe Blanket Tax Crack Team is currently collecting student signatures for a petition to bring the “pot of gold” blanket tax proposal to a vote, according to Nick Cornell, chair of the BTCT. The petition requires the signatures of 200 students, or 5 percent of the student body, to be included on the General Election ballot. The proposal requires a 20 percent referendum and two-thirds in favor to pass.Under the proposal, current blanket tax organizations would become subsidiary organizations. The estimated total blanket tax fee will be $85 per student, not including a $20 intramural fee. Subsidiary organizations would have their budgets approved by the standing committee and would not be allocated less than 75 percent of its budget from the previous year. Organizations could apply for further funds from the “pot of gold,” which would consist of unallocated funds. If funds are not used in their entirety, surplus above 125 percent would be returned to the pot of gold. “The biggest risk is we don’t have enough turnout at all,” Cornell, Sid Richardson College president, said. “The Crack Team will be visiting college government meetings to talk to students who want to know more or have questions about the system.”The BTCT presented details of the proposal at the SA meeting on Jan. 28, including the timeline of the blanket tax process, the composition of the blanket tax standing committee and ways to handle blanket tax surplus. “The standing committee is chaired by the SA treasurer, [who is a voting member,]” Cornell said. “The voting members [also include] two student members that are officers, treasurers or presidents of blanket tax organizations, two students in at large positions who are not officers of blanket tax organizations, a college president or senator and one staff advisor to a blanket tax organization. Two members of the committee are non-voting: a SA parliamentarian and the SA advisor, who advises on the process.”The standing committee would review subsidiary organizations’ budgets in April. Initiative funding applications will be available in late September for fall semesters and late February for spring semesters. On Jan. 21 and 22, the Crack Team held sessions to answer questions and gather feedback on the proposal. Cornell said students were interested in how new organizations could become a subsidiary organization under the new system. Under the current blanket tax system, organizations must petition through the General Election in order to gain more funding.“An organization can become a subsidiary organization without necessitating a funding increase,” Cornell, a senior, said. “Simultaneously, a funding increase can happen without adding any new organization or tying that funding increase to a specific organization. So, now the blanket tax funding serves student interests.”The Crack Team addressed how current blanket tax organizations would apply for more funding. Cornell said the standing committee can sign off on organizations’ requests for more money.“In the case that it’s a significant increase, they would meet with the standing committee to discuss [the budget],” Cornell said. “The committee’s job is to evaluate the proposed increase and how well it serves its missions and the mission of blanket tax, in line with Rice’s spending policies as well. So it’s not a competitive process.”Cornell said subsidiary organizations have priority on funds, and any other student organizations requiring funding for events can apply for funds from the remaining initiative fund. Julie Neisler, advisor of Rice Program Council, said RPC is excited about the new blanket tax proposal and is confident that RPC’s budget will receive full funding under the new blanket tax model. Neisler said RPC does not get enough funding under the current blanket tax process and that it is hard to convince students to vote for an increase in their blanket tax.According to Neisler, RPC requires extra funding beyond blanket tax in order to provide sufficient programming, but the proposed model will make funding requests easier for subsidiary organizations. “With the opportunity for additional funding, RPC would be able to bring back some programs that were cut, create new programs and not need to depend on Student Activities President’s Programming funding for late-night substance-free programming,” Neisler said.

NEWS 1/28/15 3:08pm

Class size growth prompts concerns

The size of Rice University’s student body has increased by 36 percent over the last 12 years as called for by President David Leebron’s Vision for the Second Century; however, the growth has prompted some students and faculty to express concerns about class sizes. According to Leebron and Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson, the administration has addressed this by hiring more faculty and looking further into optimal class sizes.