New Haven, Conn. – Aug. 3,
San Francisco, Calif.
Wake up at 5:30 a.m., eat, dress in spandex and ride. Armed with a map of the day’s route, water, food and spare tires, juniors Steve Carlson and Evan Johnson biked 70 miles a day – before stopping for lunch. This describes an average morning for the two as they rode 4,000 miles across America this summer from New Haven, Conn. to San Francisco, Calif.
Carlson and Johnson joined 28 college students from around the nation to bike cross-country and help with homes built by Habitat for Humanity.
Carlson said spending the summer biking was a chance of a lifetime.
“It combined two things that I really enjoyed, biking and volunteering for charity, and it allowed us to see the parts of the country that most people would never see if they were simply driving across the U.S.”
The group stopped in Sunberry, Pa. to clean leftover construction material and in Emporia, Kan. to mow lawns and pick up around a Habitat home.
“In the past they built houses, but because of timing and the places we stopped, no houses were being built so we helped with other things around already-built houses,” Carlson explained.
After lunch the group would finish the rest of the ride, shower and eat dinner, which was usually provided by a town church. After knocking on a few doors, Carlson said some local residents in middle America would open their homes to the bikers for a quick shower.
“I found that the people in the small towns who have the least gave the most and made the most effort,” Johnson said.
Bedtime for the bikers was around 11:30 p.m., and if they did not stay in a church they camped out. The day’s biking was completed in about five to six hours, riding as much as 110 miles at a time.
The beautiful sights along the way added to the groups adventure. Johnson said he enjoyed the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and thought the canyons in Moab, Utah were breathtaking. Carlson said he liked biking out of Boulder, Colo. on Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous road in America, because he could see miles of beauty.
The men said they also learned that the Midwest is not as flat as most people think, especially Kansas.
Meeting the locals was sometimes amusement in itself. They had to make a quick stop in West Virginia for Carlson to change a flat tire and encountered a man who came out of a house covered with “Keep Out” and “Stay Away” signs. The man screamed someone had stolen his satellite bulb. Johnson said the man didn’t blame them and was only venting.
“He was absolutely crazy,” Johnson said. “He went on to tell us he was struck by lighting and he thought it was done by voodoo. He told us all this while trying to fix Steve’s bike.”
The biggest problems the bikers said they encountered along their trip were flat tires, strong head winds and dehydration. Some bikers were taken to the hospital by a support van that followed with their belongings. The two avoided this problem by drinking at least two gallons of water a day.
Throughout the grueling days, the group’s sense of humor and adventure did not wither. Johnson said just about everyone crossed the Mississippi River naked while people in cars took pictures. Johnson went cliff jumping 25 to 30 feet in Johnson’s Shut-in State Park in Missouri.
Another day, a few members of the group rented a jet ski in Grand Lake, Colo. and by the time they started biking it was 2 p.m. with another 85 miles to go for the day. The bikers also acquired 33 cases of beer from a bar that was closing down in Austin, Nev.
Carlson and Johnson said almost anyone could manage the ride.
“It’s a lot easier than you think it can be,” Johnson said. “There’s going to be hard days, but you can make it.”
Carlson emphasizes good training.
“Train before hand and don’t rush through the day,” Carlson said. “Enjoy where you are.”
When school is back in session Carlson and Johnson said they are interested in starting a bike trip next summer similar to Habitat’s with the help of GW.
University of Kansas,
May 22 – July 31
Senior Alison Alvarez spent the summer using artificial intelligence research to better diagnose melanoma, a tumor in melanin, the skin’s pigment.
Alvarez, a computer science and Japanese double major, received the Lila Madison Self Scholarship from the University of Kansas to perform the study. She was one of 22 fellows to receive the scholarship to sponsor scientists and Ph.D students at the University of Kansas.
Her research was to test 410 melanoma cases from Poland and mathematically find the best formula for Total Demographic Scope, an equation dermatologists use today to diagnose a mole for melanoma. TDS takes a particular mole and looks at 13 different factors, including color, symmetry, and border and rates each factor with a number from one to 10 or a true or false.
Each of the 13 results is multiplied by a different coefficient to measure the mole’s severity, which is where Alvarez became involved. Her job was to plug in different coefficients with each variable in order to eliminate the false positives and negatives to make the equation more accurate.
Alvarez said she tested about 20, 000 individual coefficients.
“If I just tested three values at a time it would have taken a year and a half and there are 13 coefficients,” said Alvarez. “So I’d test the first five for awhile, then deal with the remaining seven. My job was to find the best one.”
Alvarez said with all her work she found a better version of the TDS equation, which will hopefully lead to more accurate diagnoses of melanoma. She said her findings will be published next June by Der Springer, a German publishing company and she hopes her results will be presented in an artificial intelligence conference next June.
Alvarez said she found some of the work to be challenging, but mostly it was tedious.
“My subject area was teaching computers to talk and speak, but really that’s not what I want to do with my life,” said Alvarez.
With graduate school, possibly at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the near future, she said she likes statistical research, but she would also like to work with people.
New York, N.Y.
June 2 – Aug. 3
and May 15 – Aug. 23
Senior Devon Tutak learned business tricks of the trade from some of the country’s most successful broadcasting entrepreneurs in New York this summer. Tutak was one of 34 fellows chosen from 600 applicants to attend the International Radio and Television Society Foundation’s Summer Fellowship Program.
“The biggest thing for me was being able to work in the television industry in New York,” said Tutak. “That’s the Mecca for the TV industry as far as I’m concerned.”
The nine-week fellowship focused on enhancing career planning through improving resume writing, interviewing and networking skills.
During the one-week orientation participants questioned industry professionals at panels, lectures and discussions. Students met with Larry Divney, the CEO of Comedy Central; L. Lowry Mays, the head of Clear Channel and ABC commentator Sam Donaldson.
Tutak said she found Divney to be the most interesting person she met. Tutak said he told them about his dream to work his way up and how he did it by starting in marketing at MTV.
“Anything and everything you asked him he would answer honestly,” she said.
Tutak said Divney had a welcome party for the fellows, paid for out of his own pocket, at the beginning of the summer.
“No one asked him to do it he just did,” Tutak said. “Who would think the CEO of a major network would want to talk to college students? You wouldn’t think he’s willing to give so much.”
IRTS placed the fellows for the remaining eight weeks in forty-hour-a-week internships to gain hands on experience.
“They have so many connections that they can find you a job anywhere from Comedy Central to the mayor’s office,” Tutak said.
Tutak worked Mondays and Tuesdays at WNET 13, the local PBS affiliate, and Wednesday through Friday at Sesame Workshop.
At WNET, Tutak interned for the animated show aimed at fourth graders called Cyberchase. Tutak said she sat in on meetings and did research, but the most exciting thing she did was sit in the recording session with Christopher Lloyd, who provided the villain’s voice for the series.
At the Sesame Street Home Video studio Tutak said her department was small, but her coworkers were extremely generous and she never felt more appreciated as an intern.
“I didn’t make life-changeing differences, but they cared about what I thought and made sure I knew what was going on,” Tutak said.
Tutak said the program taught her better interviewing and networking skills, how to present herself and provided her with numerous contacts.
She said she felt refreshed to be out of the political realm of the Beltway.
Tutak said she wants to go to graduate school to study educational communication, and hopefully be asked back to Sesame Street.
Philadelphia, Pa. July 1 – Aug. 9
Sophomore Matthew Mezzacappa helped low-income children ages 11 to 14 make something out of nothing this summer, teaching them how to create plays at Young Scholars Charter. With the help of AmeriCorps, the school was able to hire Mezzacappa and other teachers for minimal pay.
“There would be little opportunity to study theater without this summer program,” said Mezzacappa. “The school doesn’t have enough money.”
Mezzacappa, who is considering majoring in theater, said there were 12 students in his class, but it seemed like more because of their age, discipline problems and lack of opportunity.
Mezzacappa said he encountered a lot of obstacles when teaching the children. Many students did not know how to read. Some students did not understand the concept of an audience. Respect was another problem.
“One day they were just so rude to each other I tried to get them to sit down and explain we weren’t accomplishing anything,” said Mezzacappa.
“I was miserable at times because I didn’t know if I was accomplishing anything.”
Mezzacappa said he would often spend time with one or two students to try to make a small impression and go from there. He said he tried not to raise his voice and to treat the students with respect so that they would respect each other, but most of the time it resulted in frustration because they would take advantage of him.
Mezzacappa said he would try to get their attention with acting games, but many times they did not want to play by the rules.
“One day they were really enthusiastic and the next day they’d scream at you,” said Mezzacappa.
He said he took one day at a time and if he could get a child to focus who hadn’t before it was a good day. He said the worst part was the uncertainty of the end result, the play.
Mezzacappa said he started by having the students create scenes and characters, which would develop into short plays. He asked the students to choose a problem in society that they wished to change. They chose homelessness and brainstormed ways to create a play to address the problem. Mezzacappa said he suggested having a homeless man fall in love with a rich woman.
Through all the frustration, the teaching did have its rewards. Mezzacappa taught the student who was playing the homeless man two lines from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to recite in the skit. The student practiced them every day but could never recite them correctly. Mezzacappa said he came in one Monday after weeks of practicing and he spoke them perfectly.
“It was really special. He wasn’t just reciting them from memory, but did them slowly and with confidence,” Mezzacappa said. “He was just good with words.”
Mezzacappa said the end result paid off because they performed beautifully and the parents were appreciative.
“You could see there was talent in these kids,” Mezzacappa said. “I know one of those kids, if not more, will become famous.”
This December Mezzacappa is directing Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors at GW with 14th Grade Theatre Company.