Alright readers, now it is time to fill you in on the other eight credits that made second semester the craziest one ever for me! Looking back on my semester now, I realize that while my politics classes were extremely demanding, which I talked about in last Monday’s entry, one advantage to the politics classes that made them a little more manageable was the fact that they met four times a week for fifty minutes. The fact that these classes met so regularly meant that even though they still kept me up all hours of the night, at least with these classes, it was a little easier to pace myself and not fall behind because even if there weren’t assignments due everyday, just being in the class and seeing the teacher almost every day reminded me what was due when so I could stay on track. But my other two classes last semester were a different story. My environmental science class met two days a week for about two hours, and my Investigative Journalism class only met once a week from 6:00 to 9:35 in the evening. Having class less frequently meant that it was all too easy for me to forget that I had assignments for these classes until the last minute, and these teachers immediately dashed my hopes that meeting less frequently would mean less work in the class. As I mentioned in last Monday’s entry, my teacher for environmental science sent an e-mail the Saturday before the start of classes telling us to have chapter one read for the first class because there would be a quiz. I didn’t have any books sent to me from the disability services office at that time, but that was alright with me because I had no intention of starting to read the chapter until Tuesday anyway, the day when classes officially started, and my first environmental science class was on Thursday. After all, classes keep me so insanely busy as it is during the semester that I don’t think I should have to devote one second of my vacations to schoolwork. Besides, the catalog number for this course was Env120, a level 1 course, so even if I couldn’t get the chapter read, I figured the quiz shouldn’t be that hard to guess on.
Because I really am a serious student despite how much I vent about school in this journal, I sent an e-mail to the teacher telling her that I would be in her class and that I was blind. She replied right away and we arranged a meeting in her office Tuesday afternoon to discuss accommodations. I also e-mailed the disability services office and told them to make chapter one of the environmental science book a priority, and try to send it as soon as possible. The office sent it right away Monday morning, and as much as I was dreading getting back to the grind of schoolwork, vacations always help me to clear my head and forget about the stresses of the previous semester so I can start the new semester with renewed motivation. So I detached chapter 1 from the e-mail, ready to hit the ground running on it during a break between my politics classes from 10:00 to 12:00 the next morning. I shouldn’t have expected this plan to go so smoothly when this semester already promised to be a stressful one, or maybe I shouldn’t have ruined my last day of vacation with my decision to open the files after they were detached to make sure they read properly. Anyway, to make a long story short, the files that opened and read perfectly my first year and a half of college chose this semester to be weird. File after file that I opened gave me this weird message saying something about an “exception violation” and “data misalignment” whatever the heck that means. So I sent an e-mail to the disability services office informing them of this issue, and the lady who scans my books said she didn’t do anything different than what she has always done when converting the files, but tried something else and sent them again. Again they didn’t work, so the next morning instead of reading chapter 1 of environmental science on my braillenote, I had to have it read by the obnoxious Jaws man on a school computer. Actually, I take that back. By the end of the first paragraph of the chapter, I had enough of the Jaws man, so I selected the text of that file and a couple of others and pasted the text in the body of an e-mail, and for some reason, then I was able to read the files on my braillenote once I got home. Eventually the problem was resolved. I guess the original textbook files were PDF files which had to be converted in to microsoft word files, and we figured out that when the disability services lady converted the files and sent the original file, that caused the problems, but when she converted the file, and pasted the text in to a new word file, it seemed to work, or something like that. Anyway, that was the beginning of my semester. When I got home from that first day at about 1:30, I started reading chapter 1, but couldn’t get much read because I was overwhelmed and exhausted as I always am at the beginning of a new semester with new teachers and expectations. And I still had to go back to school that night for my first Investigative Reporting class.
Wednesday, I had no classes, so I should have devoted that day to reading Environmental Science, but there are only so many hours in a day, and not wanting to fall behind in my politics classes, I spent the whole day reading Chapter 3 of my American Politics textbook “Keeping the Republic”, and looking for copies of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence,, Federalist Papers, and the Gettysburg Address in braille. So, I walked in to my first Environmental Science class, already falling behind. It only got more stressful from there. One of the things I had come to like about college classes is that even though there is a lot of reading, there are generally only a few written assignments, and only one major project that you have the whole semester to work on, making it pretty manageable. But in Environmental Science, I felt like I was back in high school because there was a new assignment to do every day, and every assignment was a research project! In a biodiversity unit, despite the fact that the textbook had a lengthy description of dead zones where an excess of nitrogen from the use of fertilizers in agriculture depletes oxygen in water, and a detailed description of the most wellknown dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, everyone had to find another scholarly article about this dead zone and answer some questions about it. Another project for the same unit required us to do our own “self study” project by doing more research on biodiversity and presenting it in a creative way. I did some research on the Galapagos Islands and slopped together a brochure, which I got a B on because I didn’t present enough information, and possibly because I made no effort to get help to make it interesting with pictures or charts or anything. I just didn’t have the time, and frankly, was not going to devote all of my time to a class that was just for the university’s general science requirement, and neglect the other three classes that I would actually need for my major. There was also an assignment for that unit requiring research on the history and evolution of life on earth, using a website that was so overwhelmingly packed with links and information that my dad had to help me with the assignment. In the water unit, despite the fact that we had watched countless videos about water scarcity around the world, and read about countless situations in the textbook, we had to research three examples of water scarcity and steps that were being taken to address it, writing a detailed paragraph about each. And to add fuel to my frustration, this assignment was due the day we got back from spring break. For the unit on global climate change, we had to pick a country and complete a lengthy worksheet about the effects of global climate change in that country using research. In addition, this teacher assigned four reflective journal assignments where we were supposed to write about how we were doing on various aspects of our research for these projects, why we chose the topic we did for the “semester project”, which I will get to shortly, even how cohesive our group was for this project. Now in the grand scheme of things, writing these reflective journals wasn’t that hard, but it just seemed annoying to have to set aside time for reflecting, when I could have used that time actually doing the project. In addition, this teacher also had a “lifelong learning” requirement which meant we had to devote three hours to environmental science related activities outside class. I had no problem fulfilling this requirement because I went to a two hour presentation done by an advocate for plasmic gasification, a technique where garbage that would otherwise go to landfills can be incinerated using a special method where the energy can be converted to electricity. For the other hour, I went to a film presented by the United Nations Film Festival which comes to our college every year. The film was a documentary called “Seed Hunters”, and talked about how the vast majority of the food supply today comes from crop seeds that agriculture scientists bred to increase their yield, which they thought would address the famine issues that so many developing countries face. An unintended consequence of this however was that while breeding increased yield, it decreased the ability for plants to resist harsh climate conditions like heat, droughts and flooding, conditions that are becoming ever more severe and common because of global climate change. Some countries are already facing famine because of global climate change, and in an effort to address the issue before it gets worse, as well as save the world in the even of other catastrophes like nuclear war, there is an underground bunker which would be safe from any calamity, where the seeds for millions of grain, fruit and produce are collected, frozen and preserved. It is the goal of a small group of scientists to hunt down seeds for plants that modern farmers have stopped using years ago when they were encouraged to use seeds that produced a higher crop yield. These forgotten seed varieties could withstand harsher conditions, and with a little genetic engineering, scientists believe they could create seeds that can withstand harsh conditions and produce a high yield to continue feeding the growing human population worldwide. I suppose you readers could have done without all that explanation, but the moral of it is that these lifelong learning hours were interesting I guess. I just could have done without another thing I had to do that only exacerbated my mountain of assignments all semester.
Then, there was the science lab which I complained about having to take briefly in my statistics entry back in January, but it actually was not as horrible as I thought it would be. The worst aspect of it was the time it was held, 1:00 to 4:00 every Friday afternoon, so I had to listen to my friends talk excitedly about being done with their classes and going home to start their weekend at 11:00 in the morning while I ate lunch, knowing I still potentially had five more hours of class to go. There were a lot of boring visual activities like identifying bacteria under a microscope, and using kits to test the chemistry of water. But there were some fun times too, like when we went outside to count how many kinds of trees there were on the campus grounds, and I got to feel all kinds of samples of tree bark, or when I got to wade out in a muddy creek with some friends to kick bugs in to a net, and later feel the bugs we had caught. In a wonderful contrast to the teacher of the regular class, this teacher never gave homework and let us out an hour or so early almost every week. He was also a lot of fun to talk to after class while waiting for my dad to pick me up because he shared my enthusiasm for music, something that most science teachers in the past never seemed to care about, or at least never talked about. I also found plenty of time during this lab where I was not needed for recording and the activities were too visual for other students to describe to me, and this time I put to good use doing homework for other classes! But I couldn’t bank on getting this work time every week, so as much as I liked the teacher, and parts of the class, it was yet another annoying requirement in a schedule that was crazy enough already, almost like having an additional class, accept that since it was part of the Environmental Science class, I didn’t get any additional credit for this extra time! But the annoyance of having an extra class was nothing compared to the annoyance of the “semester project”.
The project consisted of three components. On the first day of class, the teacher gave us a survey asking about our interests and what we hoped to get out of this class. Based on our responses to this survey, we were divided in to four groups. One group would focus on issues related to waste and recycling, another group would focus on food production and land use, and another would focus on energy. My group focused on environmental health and toxicology. Then there was a day in class when each group was to come to class having read different textbook chapters that related to their topic, and each of the four groups had a different reading quiz to take. The environmental health and toxicology chapters talked about all of the chemicals present in our everyday lives, in every product that we use, and how for many of these chemicals, their effects on longterm human health are still largely unknown. The chapters also talked about chemicals that scientists already know are harmful like mercury, lead and chemicals found in plastics like baby bottles that mess up hormones. After the quiz, each group had to get together, condense all of the information from these chapters, and put it in to our own words. Then we had to use this information to create a “wiki” on this website called wikispaces.com. Wikispaces is kind of like wikipedia, but it caters to a more academic audience, so a lot of colleges and universities use this site for students to educate the general public about what they are studying. Anyway, our wiki would be graded by the teacher, and a small group of other students based on the accuracy of our information, our clarity in how it is presented on the web page, and again, creativity through the use of pictures, or links to videos to emphasize important points. Fortunately, this part of the project wasn’t too demanding for me because we got time to work on it in class, and while I helped with brainstorming and condensing information, the other group members took care of laying out our wiki page. But that was only the first component of the project. The second and third components were a different story. For the second component of the project, each group member was given a list of questions related to their topic based on current environmental issues in the news. From this list of questions, each of us had to select one question to investigate on our own. The question that I thought would be most interesting was “is a disproportionate amount of industrial waste dumped in areas where minorities and people of a lower socioeconomic status live?” The second component of the project required each group member to create an individual wiki page addressing this question using evidence from ten, yes ten, scholarly sources! To put it in perspective, a communication course I had to take first semester had a major research project, but that course number was 150 which should have been more demanding than a course numbered 120, and yet that course only required six scholarly sources! When we were given a chance to ask the teacher questions about what we needed to do for the project, a couple of other students clarified with the teacher that they had read the project instructions correctly, and unfortunately, that number was read correctly, and was not a typo. Despite the fact that I had two months to work on this project, the sheer number of sources I had to find on a college online library that takes forever to navigate with Jaws, on top of the other research assignments for this class, and the assignments for my other classes meant that research which should have been interesting and somewhat enjoyable could only be described as frantic. But I obviously wasn’t alone in my desperation because just before spring break, about halfway through the semester, the teacher announced that she had found an environmental science tutor who would be available on Tuesday afternoons and Wednesday mornings in the learning center. As embarrassed as I was to admit that I needed a tutor for a subject other than math, I swallowed my pride and went to this tutor twice. The first time I went because there was only one month left to work on the project, a point in time when I hoped to have five or six sources of information, but only had two. I couldn’t just go in to the environmental science database, search environmental racism and pick the first ten articles I saw because a lot of them weren’t relevant to what I needed for the assignment, and because when I told my teacher about the articles I had found in a reflective journal entry, she said that I had a good start, but I needed articles that supported the argument that no, minorities and people of a lower socioeconomic status are not subjected to more industrial pollution. I looked in several databases, but every single article presented evidence that there was environmental racism, so I realized I needed the tutor. The tutor was wonderful, but she could not find any evidence disputing the presence of environmental racism in the college databases either, so she pointed me to a really good article on google scholar, a database of academic articles on google. The article talked about how committees who make decisions about industry location, like zoning boards and land developers, are predominantly comprised of white people, so the interests of minorities are often unrepresented. She also pointed out some articles that I had skimmed over before because I wasn’t sure if they were relevant enough, and gave me advice on how I could use those. So, by the end of the tutoring section, I was feeling a little better. The score now was five sources, four arguing that environmental racism is present in society, but only one disputing this argument. As demanding as this class was, I will give my teacher credit for being extremely helpful because when I told her that even the tutor couldn’t find much evidence disputing environmental racism, she agreed that there is not as much disputing evidence out there, and then she actually sent me three articles that she found her own, two of which I was able to use bringing my source total to seven! One article didn’t exactly dispute the presence of environmental racism, but argued an interesting angle, which is that if too much legislation is passed that make it difficult for industries to operate in urban areas where poor people often live because of lower housing prices, and if industries do move to more rural or wealthy areas, minorities and poor people would actually be negatively impacted. This is because these people often depend on these industries for jobs, and if industries relocated to rural or wealthy areas, the jobs would leave too. The author made an argument, backed up with statistical data, that poverty shortens a person’s lifespan a lot more than the negative health effects of industry. The other article used statistical data to point out that in some areas of the United States, white people are actually the ones located closer to industries with potentially harmful health effects. So now, with only three sources left to go, I was feeling a lot more optimistic about being able to complete this project and not fail the course. I gathered a couple more random articles from the library database, and a chapter from a book I found on bookshare, an online library for people with print disabilities which I am a member of. But once I had all of my sources gathered, I was faced with another problem.
As silly as this may sound, I did not anticipate how long it would take to fully read all of my sources because when I was looking for them, I was in fullfledged gathering mode, so I had really only read the abstracts for each article. I was so relieved to have gathered all of my sources that I had let myself become complacent about staying on top of the project, and it wasn’t until the week after Easter when I realized I only had a week and a half to go before everything was due that it occurred to me I better get going. But with all that I had to do for other classes, getting these articles read was easier said than done. I did the bare minimum amount of reading to get by in my politics classes. I read late in to the evening at the kitchen table so I would not fall asleep or be as distracted by the television. I read in the car on the trips to and from school, and I read when I got to class early until the professor started talking, and even then, sometimes I would keep reading a little bit. Reading for pleasure was out of the question, even on weekends, and every night was a late night. I felt guilty if I stopped too long to eat meals, take walks or enjoy little things like when Gilbert would flop down on the floor next to me and roll on to his back with his mouth hanging open, his way of saying “rub my belly Mommy!” But I knew that if I didn’t stop and savor these moments of pleasure, I would have lost my mind because those articles were long, and often so packed full of terminology and data analysis that my brain was fried when I got to bed each night. My individual wiki page, along with an annotated bibliography with a paragraph under each source telling about the kind of information we got out of it, and a glossary with ten terms related to our topic defined in our own words were due on tax day, but on April 13 when I still had four sources to read, I was frantic again, because even I was smart enough to realize that I could not put together a wiki page, annotated bibliography and glossary in one night. So on Tuesday morning on my two hour break, I whipped up a glossary based on the sources I had read. Tuesday night, I tried to finish the articles, but with my Journalism class that night, I didn’t have time, and after class, all I could think about was sleep, so Wednesday morning, I frantically read a couple pages of each source and decided that I would have to make do with that. That was also the morning I realized that I had no idea how to format my bibliography because the style manual the teacher wanted us to use was not available electronically for me yet, so back to the tutor I went. Once again she was extremely helpful, and I was able to type up the bibliography relatively quickly. I asked my parents if I could stay at school until my wiki was done because a couple of my group members and I wanted to ask the teacher a few last minute questions, but also because I so desperately needed to get this project done that if my home computer decided to do something stupid like not access the internet, or erase my work, my mood would not be pretty. Sure, there could still be issues with the school computers, but at least I would have access to professionals who would know how to resolve the situation or at least keep me calm better than myself or my parents could, and computer issues often effect a whole system so I would not be alone in my frustration. So I stayed at school until 6:30 that evening on a day that was usually a peaceful day at home since I didn’t have classes, writing up all of my research findings, putting them in to bullet points, and pasting it in to my wiki page along with my bibliography. Once again, my wiki wasn’t spectacular because despite all of the time I had put in to it, I had no time or energy left to care about my creativity grade. But I had reached that point in the semester where all that mattered was that it was done, a weight off my shoulders! In a week and a half, there would be one more component of the project, an oral presentation for the class, but I slept a beautiful sleep that night because the hardest work was done! Now I am always excited at the end of a semester, or when I finish a huge project for a class. But since this class took the meaning of demanding classes and huge projects to a whole new level for me, I was so excited, I was almost giddy as I sat down after my presentation. There was a final exam for this class a week later, but I had no ambition left to study, and I think that for the first time all semester, the teacher felt sorry for those of us who were misled by the course number because the test was a breeze. Well, I apologize that this entry has gotten longer than I meant for it to, and I still have four credits to go! So don’t go away readers. I guess this crazy semester still necesitates one more entry because on top of the political pressure, and the environmental stress of a level 1 course that all of my friends and I agreed should have been classified as a level 3 course, I still had to make time for Investigative Journalism.