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Tina Nazerian

OPINION 11/4/15 4:19am

R2: Powder

Editor’s Note: The phrase “taking a secret to your grave” has become colloquial to the point where we don’t stop to think about its deeper implications. While many of the pieces we received had outstandingly creative takes on that colloquial meaning, this story really stood out to us in its raw and real interpretation of what it means to take a secret to your grave — how sometimes, it is the secret itself that takes you to your grave.-Bailey Tulloch, R2 Monthly Contest Committee HeadI went to Iraq to tell a story. Two years ago, I had sat in the Big Boss’s office in New York, where he told me that if I reported on the war for  a while and gave him a stellar story, he’d give me what people in the business would kill for — the nightly news anchor chair. How long I’d be there, he didn’t know, but he assured me that the soldiers would keep my crew and me safe.The first month, seven American troops and 102 civilians died when a suicide bomber blew up a food market in the city’s center. The Big Boss loved the emotional touches in my story. The third month, the soldiers discovered two members of a suicide bomber network. The Big Boss applauded how my story showed America’s war progress. The fifth month, I overheard some troops at my base talk about how they raped the women when they burst into civilian homes. My story never ran. Eventually, I got a letter in the mail, a warning from the Big Boss to not push the line.I saw them on the outskirts of Baghdad, during the eight month. I’d been following two of the troops on a mission to kill a trainee suicide bomber, and we stopped on the road so one of them could pee. Less than half a mile away, we saw a father carrying his infant son. He was sunburned across his face, and was swaying as he walked, wheezing. After the soldier zipped up his pants, he pulled out his machine gun, firing twice. First at the father – to spare him the pain of watching his son die, he told me later that day – and next at the child.“It’s always good to eliminate any potential problems,” he explained.Those words kept cycling through my head that evening back at the base. They still do. Every time I finish reading the nightly news, I go back to my Manhattan apartment, wash off the powder, and sleep, only to have the words and the father and son creep into my dreams. Sometimes I play the tape of the story I reported that night – two American troops ended the life of a suicide bomber before he ended anyone else’s – and I press my fingernails hard against my skull, hoping for it to break. November Prompt: “Coming Home”We welcome everyone to submit a piece! Email a short story or poem up to 600 words in length to r2ricereview@gmail.com. Winners receive a $25 Coffeehouse gift card!

NEWS 6/25/15 7:58pm

Cortez wins Powell award

When Daniel Cortez (Jones ‘15) got several text messages from close friends one morning in April, a few weeks before graduation, he had “no idea” what they were congratulating him for. After one friend forwarded him an email from the Rice University Awards list, he found out that he was going to receive the 2015 Gen. Colin Powell Commencement Award for Leadership.“I was both very excited and confused at the same time,” Cortez said.At Rice, some of Cortez’s extracurriculars included interning in Texas Senator John Cornyn’s office through the Leadership Rice Mentorship Experience, volunteering with Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees and doing research at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy and the Religion and Public Life Program.“My time at Rice really was such a wonderful experience,” Cortez said. “In some ways the culture of excellence was a challenge. In high school I never really considered myself as being capable of too much. I always was naturally curious and like being involved in activities but I never saw myself as a ‘leader’ per se. Even now I don't think of myself as a leader, or even capable of affecting change.”When he won the award, Cortez said, he had many moments of self doubt.“I kept wondering what it said about me and if I really deserved it,” Cortez said. “Part of the reason for this feeling is that, at Rice, I feel like I am surrounded by so many incredible people. It's hard to think that I stand out among them.”Cortez did not receive the award on stage, instead meeting Gen. Powell at University President David Leebron’s house before the Saturday graduation ceremony.“It was amazing meeting someone who has had such a profound impact on the world we live in,” Cortez said.Komal Bansal, who Cortez described as a close friend, said she was not surprised when she found out Cortez was getting the award."He has always been committed to the cause of providing educational and leadership opportunities to Latino youth," Bansal (Jones ‘15) said. "His dedication to public service is admirable and inspiring."Cortez’s friend Mitchell Massey, who was also his roommate for two years, said Cortez’s integrity, passion, optimism and determination are evident to all who know him.“He is constantly thinking about what he can do to help others and to improve himself,” Massey (Jones ‘15) said. “As a friend, he is a great listener and will always give you honest advice. I am very proud of Daniel, and I am proud to be his friend. He is a tremendous guy with great values."Cortez will be working as a consultant in Houston at Deloitte for a few years before pursuing a master’s degree. He said in Washington, D.C. he learned that the intersection of government and business is pivotal.“In the long run, I think I’d like to work in government at the local level,” Cortez said. “But I’m keeping things pretty open. I want to use Deloitte as an opportunity to explore new industries.”Being a public servant, Cortez said, requires really understanding the people and communities you are serving.“And while I don't think I have that yet — and perhaps never will — I hope that I can immerse myself at the local level,” Cortez said. Read more about Cortez and the Powell Award at http://news.rice.edu/2015/05/16/daniel-cortez-honored-with-2015-gen-colin-powell-commencement-award-for-leadership.

NEWS 4/8/15 5:06pm

Rice alumnus Josh Earnest recalls path to White House

When Josh Earnest first moved from Houston to Washington, D.C. in January 2001, he spent about six weeks sleeping on the floor of a friend’s spare bedroom.He had no job prospects, only a few contacts and friends and had left the life he had known since graduation — working in politics in Houston.What he found, however, were new possibilities.“I drove here from Houston,” Earnest (Sid Richardson ‘97) said. “And I still remember driving around town and even driving in front of the White House at that point sort of thinking about how what a tremendous experience and honor it would be to work at the White House.” Now, as White House press secretary, the 40-year-old Kansas City, Missouri native wakes up early to prepare for the White House’s daily press briefings, where he answers reporters’ questions about both the administration and its reaction to current events. Meetings pack his mornings, such as a 7:45 a.m. meeting with senior White House staff during which he asks them questions about news he had read about the night before.“It’s an opportunity for me to … ask the national security advisor or the president’s top homeland security advisor about news that occurred overnight that’s related to national security,” Earnest, dressed in a dark suit and green tie, said in his West Wing office.  Earnest said he received thorough academic training and learned a lot about writing as a political science and policy studies major at Rice. His extracurriculars included some writing for the Thresher and serving as campus-wide Beer Bike coordinator. “My Rice experience ... genuinely broadened my horizons,” Earnest said.During his senior year, Earnest took a course that sent him to Israel and Gaza for spring break. In Jerusalem, he went to a memorial dedicated to the Holocaust’s lost children at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum. In Gaza, Earnest visited locals and learned about the territory’s public health conditions when he went to a center for deaf children. One of his first times overseas, the trip deeply impacted him. “I learned a lot about [the Israeli-Palestinian] situation, and it continues to form the basis of a lot of my knowledge about that situation that I draw upon in the context of this job in particular,” Earnest said.However, Earnest did more than just advance his knowledge of public policy and politics in and out of the classroom. His favorite memory at Sid Richardson College was going to what used to be an annual early-winter “tower party,” in which every floor would have a different theme, such as a piano bar theme or a country western theme.  Prior to being named White House press secretary, Earnest’s jobs included being then-Senator Barack Obama’s Iowa communications director and working for Jay Carney, now his predecessor, as the principal deputy press secretary. “I wouldn’t say that every step of my career has been easy, by any means,” Earnest said. “But I don’t think there’s anything that I regret.” Earnest’s ascent to the press secretary position became a real possibility when Carney left the White House. Very few people knew Carney was stepping down. “I had been involved in an interview process that had only involved a small number of people,” Earnest said. Right before he found out he got the job, which he assumed on June 20, 2014, Earnest was in the middle of an energetic discussion in his office with Jonathan Karl, the chief White House correspondent for ABC News. Brian Mosteller, one of the president’s assistants, opened his office door and told him he was needed upstairs, not wanting to say the president wanted to see Earnest in front of the reporter. Earnest asked Mosteller if he needed to come up immediately, and Mosteller said he did. As Karl started to leave the office, so did Earnest. Earnest, who was not wearing his suit jacket, had taken one step out of his office when Mosteller looked at him and said, “Don’t you think you should put on your suit jacket?” “I thought, oh, yeah, I guess I probably should,” Earnest said. “So I reached for my jacket, and went into the Oval Office and had a conversation with the president, where he offered me the job.”After Earnest returned to his office, he saw that he had missed calls from his wife, Natalie Wyeth, who was then six months pregnant with their first child. She was dealing with an air conditioning repairman at their new townhouse in Alexandria, Virginia. “I called her back, and I said — she obviously knew what was going on — and I said, sweetheart, I’m sorry I wasn’t here to take your calls, but I have the best possible excuse for not being by my cell phone,” Earnest said. “And she knew exactly what I was talking about and she was very excited.” Earnest has had to answer hundreds of questions during his time at White House press briefings, but his favorite response came after 2015 Super Bowl semi-playoff. Referencing New England Patriots’ Tom Brady’s press conference after “DeflateGate,” Earnest answered a CNN reporter, “The one thing I can tell you is that for years it’s been clear that there is no risk that I was gonna take Tom Brady’s job as quarterback of the New England Patriots, but I can tell you that as of today, it’s pretty clear that there’s no risk of him taking my job, either.” His line on Brady elicited comments from many people, including emails from Earnest’s two brothers and friends from other jobs — and a response from the president on Air Force One before traveling to India.  “I was sitting in the conference room,” Earnest said. “And I could hear the president get on the plane and bellow down the hallway, ‘Josh, why [are] you being so mean to Tom Brady?’” Earnest encouraged Rice students to take their academic pursuits seriously, but not too seriously, and to take advantage of as many opportunities at the university as they can to expand their horizons — including faculty. Earnest, who was not a “political junkie” as a teenager, said he got his first political job because of his advisor at Rice, Robert Stein, the Lena Gohlman Fox Professor of political science. Stein not only influenced his interest in public policy and politics, but also introduced him to people involved in politics around town.  “You can’t put a price tag on something like that,” Earnest said. “Somebody who’s willing to inspire you in that way, and who’s willing to mentor you in that way.” Stein said Earnest was a smart and empathetic student whom “everybody” wanted to work with on class team papers. And Stein’s reaction when he found out his former student had become the White House press secretary? Not shocked at all. “Trust me, this kid was born to have a political career.”Edit (4/13/2014, 11 AM): It was previously stated Earnest was 38. This is incorrect. He is currently 40.

OPINION 3/17/15 7:00pm

You need not travel far to study abroad

Last Wednesday, I stood in front of the White House press gate for at least 30 minutes among photographers, other journalists and later, with three of my classmates. Eventually, a White House staffer led us into a room decorated with white chandeliers and golden curtains. After 15 minutes or so, out came first lady Michelle Obama.  The occasion was the first lady’s Nowruz, or Persian New Year, celebration, which is also observed by people in Eastern Europe, Asia and other Middle Eastern countries. As an Iranian American, it was beyond incredible listening to her say “Nowruzetan Mobarak” and give remarks about a holiday my family and I celebrate. With all the political news about Iran, it was a nice change listening to someone in the administration touch on cultural aspects of the country. I was able to have this experience because of one of my amazingly resourceful professors in my study abroad program. Well, let me back up. Instead of actually leaving the U.S., I chose to study in Washington, D.C. through American University’s Washington Semester Program in Journalism and New Media. I did have some initial concern about missing out on living and learning internationally — in fact, I remember bringing that up the day I finalized my application with the Study Abroad Office. By choosing to stay within the country’s borders, I did miss out on being immersed in a totally new culture for a semester. However, I’ve now been in D.C. for more than two months, and I hold zero regrets. And because no study “abroad” is complete without the participant telling you why you, yes you, should also do it, here is my spiel. While studying abroad in a foreign country does have a lot of value, such as language and cultural immersion, it may not be for everyone. For some, a semester away from Rice University might mean reaching Spanish fluency in Spain or learning about state formation in Bosnia, and I’m all for that, because such particular interests are best explored abroad. However, for others, like me, studying internationally is not the best fit. Had I gone to London or Rabat, I would not be where I want to be in my journalism career. Living and working in the nation’s capital has been educational, fun, challenging and something that will give me a jump-start when I’m job-hunting in several months.At Rice there is a mindset of “unconventional wisdom,” or so people claim. I believe studying abroad, or away from Rice, for a semester is a vital addition to the Rice experience, provided that you can find a way to make it work with your major and finances. In choosing a study abroad program, do your research and pick one that caters best to your needs and goals. Furthermore, do not be afraid to think domestic. D.C. may not be “abroad,” but it has opened doors to a world that I would never have been able to imagine sitting in my room at McMurtry College last semester. 

OPINION 1/14/15 3:50am

Charlie Hebdo attacks affirm place of free speech

For its Jan. 19, 2015 edition, The New Yorker chose the sketch “Solidarité,” by a Spanish artist named Ana Juan. Below the Eiffel Tower is a sea of blood, and the tower itself is dark, only becoming grey when it starts morphing into a pencil — a pencil that writes in red.

OPINION 11/5/14 5:49am

Institutionalized activities don’t define Rice experience

I remember the first time I got rejected from co-advising. Having just left my FWIS class, I was on the steps of Fondren Library, heading toward the quad, when I got the email informing me I had not been selected. I slumped my way back to McMurtry College; I had really wanted to advise. This was not the first, nor last, rejection I received. Advising is one of the institutionalized experiences that Rice students apply for, and get disappointed if they are rejected.

NEWS 10/28/14 4:56pm

Alumni return to campus in various roles

For some Rice University students, being at Rice on an almost daily basis does not stop at graduation. Some, like Andrew Bowen, director of the Levant Program for the Baker Institute’s Center for the Middle East; Dylan McNally, research analyst for the Baker Institute’s Mexico Center; and Neely Atkinson, senior lecturer in statistics, come back to research or teach at Rice.

NEWS 10/21/14 4:09pm

LPAP POD debates requirement

The SA Senate will continue evaluating the Lifetime Physical Activity Program requirement, especially for student athletes.According to LPAP Pod member Andy Yuwen, the Pod advised the SA Senate to create a committee to look into this issue further. “I would describe the current state of the LPAP as a requirement that attempts to fulfill an idealistic goal, and could do with some adjustments,” Yuwen, a Lovett College freshman, said.  LPAP: Past In February 2012, the Thresher reported the SA was evaluating the LPAP requirement. After discussion, the Faculty Senate changed the LPAP requirement from a two-credit requirement to only one.“In the spring of 2012, the SA worked with the Recreation Center to conduct a brief survey of the undergraduate population to determine the usefulness of the LPAP requirement,” Associate Director of Recreation Center Programs Elizabeth Slator said. “It was overwhelmingly supported, but most students wished to have the requirements changed from two classes to one. ”Slator said Rice has had a physical education program in one form or another since it was founded in 1912. Originally, LPAPs and all of the Recreation Center was under the Kinesiology Department, until 2001, when Recreation became its own department and gained control of the LPAP program. John Boles (Will Rice ’65), the William P. Hobby Professor of History and author of three books on Rice’s history, said during his time at Rice, what is now called the LPAP was a required, year-long course that introduced students to a variety of recreational activities. “The idea [was] many of them would have had no experience with some of these sports, and that hopefully, people would find one or more [activities] that they would be able to participate in the rest of their lives,” Boles said.  LPAP: FutureAccording to Slator, LPAP course offerings have evolved with the student interest, fitness trends and the availability of space.Slator said she thinks it is important to continually evaluate the effectiveness of LPAP instructors and the courses offered. However, she said she does not think it is necessary to continue a conversation about the LPAP requirement. “It has been decided repeatedly, and I do mean repeatedly, by both the Faculty Senate and the Student Association that the LPAP requirement should stand,” Slator said. Slator said most individuals, especially American college students, do not participate in physical activity that provides health benefits. “Given the tremendous amount of stress that Rice students suffer from and [its] physiological and psychological ramifications, offering courses that can potentially alleviate this problem are imperative,” Slator said. LPAP Pod DiscussionAccording to Yuwen, a small, rudimentary poll revealed the majority of the student community is strongly against a mandatory LPAP requirement for athletes, but almost all supported an option for student-athletes to take LPAP courses. Yuwen said within the Pod, he was the only supporter of removing student-athletes’ LPAP requirement.Yuwen said the main arguments in support of athletes’ LPAP requirement are to preserve their fifth year of eligibility by taking their LPAP requirement in their fifth year, to connect to the community and to demonstrate a full commitment to all aspects of lifetime fitness. “Student athletes at other universities pursue Master’s degrees or leave other major requirements for their fifth year of eligibility,” Yuwen said. “Not all student athletes feel disconnected from the community. Some choose to associate themselves with the team, and an optional LPAP requirement would solve this potentially perceived problem. The final argument [is one] I found blatantly disrespectful to Rice’s student-athletes. In my opinion, every Rice student-athlete has demonstrated enough commitment to lifetime fitness to at least be considered for exemption from the LPAP requirement.”  Student Opinions According to Rice swimmer Taylor Armstrong, exercise is an important component in life, and the LPAP should be a Rice requirement. “Students forget that life consists [of things] outside of studying,” Armstrong, a Martel College junior, said. “Rice students forego their health for good grades, and taking an LPAP is a good reminder and introduction to healthier living.”However, Armstrong said she thinks the LPAP should be optional for athletes.“I know this may seem like a double standard, but we literally work out six days a week for a minimum of 2.5 hours at a time anyway,” Armstrong said. “Making [the LPAP] a requirement adds extra pressure and stress for us to fulfill graduation requirements that we don’t necessarily need.”Fifth-year senior Gabe Baker, a safety on the Rice football team, said he thinks LPAPs are an important component of the Rice experience but should not be required for athletes. “They do provide the opportunity for athletes to save the LPAP required class for their last, redshirt semester, like myself,” Baker, a resident of Brown College, said. “The only problem is the difficulty with registering and getting into an LPAP. If they gave a higher priority to students who need to fulfill their requirement, that would be better.”