A $5 million challenge to help community college students graduate

TED Blog

Ani Okkasian was the first in her family to go to college. “My parents escaped a communist country and got to the [United] States with $700 in their pocket,” she says. And so, when she participated in a TEDActive 2014 workshop held by the Robin Hood Foundation to brainstorm ways to help community college students graduate, she offered an insight from her own college experience: these students may feel like they’re floating on their own.

Community colleges offer access to higher education for more than 8 million students a year in the United States, many of them from low-income backgrounds and, like Okkasian, the first in their family to go to college. Robin Hood has identified a pattern at play on community college campuses; a large number of students require remedial classes before moving on, but only 28% of students who take them earn their degree, even 8.5 years later…

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The science of willpower: Kelly McGonigal on why it’s so dang hard to stick to a resolution

TED Blog

KellyMcGonigal_Q&A It’s the second week in January and, at about this time, that resolution that seemed so reasonable a week ago — go to the gym every other day, read a book a week, only drink alcohol on weekends — is starting to seem very … hard. As you are teetering on the edge of abandoning it all together, Kelly McGonigal is here to help. This Stanford University psychologist — who shared last year how you can make stress your friend — wants you to know that you’re not having a hard time sticking to a resolution because you are a terrible person. Perhaps you’ve just formulated the wrong resolution.

McGonigal has, for years, taught a course called “The Science of Willpower” through Stanford’s Continuing Studies program and, in 2011, she spun it into a book, The Willpower Instinct. The TED Blog spoke to McGonigal this week about how willpower…

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Meeting the neighbors.

In 2007 I sought out to meet my neighbors and let me tell you, it wasn’t as foreign and scary as I thought. My neighbors were extremely friendly and in conversation I came to find that my neighbors felt the same way about meeting new people. I set out to meet most of my neighbors on my block from right to left, across the street and catty-corners. My goal was to bring a real sense of community and establish new friendships. Now we do more than just wave at each other in passing, we spend quality time together like watching football games, hosting BBQ’s and shooting pool.
I am a dog lover and so are my neighbors. I have a little buddy named Jake, a french Mastiff…I guess he isn’t really very little at all. Jake came into my life when he was a 7 week old pup, I knew he was going to be a big boy so training was immediate.
I can always tell when the neighbors were outside in there yards with their dogs because I could hear them barking at Jake from afar. Jake would sit up and just look in their direction every time they would start barking.  So I decided to whisper to Jake, who was already excited, to “Go get ‘em!”  I didn’t yell at him to come back. Well I did, but very quietly so he couldn’t hear me.   I just put my hands up in the air so that they could see that “I tried”.  My neighbors knew of Jake because the neighborhood kids would come to the yard to play fetch and football with Jake.  So they knew that he was quite friendly.  Jake was an instant hit.  Once he got over there, Jake and the Labrador were instant friends and started playing in turn, the owners of that Lab and I became good friends too.

Since Jake made me so proud, I started bringing him along with me on walks around the neighborhood, to check the mail, to the grocery store.  Over time, we made contact with all of our neighbors that were around us.

Once we established that basic common interest which I called, the golden ticket,  establishing other connections was simple. I realized that all of my neighbors and I had so much more in common.  There were other Marines, active and veterans,  retired Army guys, sons which were going to the Navy, business owners, avid fitness types, avid mountain climbers, motorcycle enthusiasts. We all became close and forged the necessary bond that neighbors, today, should have.

In October 2010, I headed overseas for a  job I was offered after having to close my dry cleaning business.  I could not bring Jake with me and I became concerned with his placement. To my surprise my neighbors insisted that Jake stay with them.  Chad and Jessica were in their 30′s and they are the ones that I grew the closest with.  They  had two kids and a dog the same age as Jake.  It was perfect!  It just made sense for Jake to stay with them, I knew he would be cared for. Jake is a 80-90 lbs French Mastiff and they wanted to care for hime while I was gone, you know you have true friends when they do things out of the kindness of their heart.  I will always be grateful for them.

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A Different Kind of Life – Blog it!

I have to say, I am kind of nervous about this blogging experience.  Never have I written in a book that wasn’t graded.  I suppose, in a sense,  this will be graded as well. You know that feeling you get on the first day of 9th grade?  Well, I have that feeling right now.  The night before, you placed all of your clothes on the bed, trying to see which one was fitting for the first day of school.  You couldn’t wear the best thing you had, because you would not be able to top that the following day.  You definitely couldn’t wear your least favorite either.  Well that is how I feel right at this moment.

I spent 10 years in the Marine Corps. (1997-2007) During that time, I met some incredible people.  Friends for life.  There is a reason why the Marines are considered a band of brothers.  We form bonds that are impenetrable.  After leaving the Marine Corps in 2007, I was faced with a harsh realization.  Though this Robin Hood affair ran deep I was leaving.  My time in the Marine Corps had come to an end.  I will discuss why at a later time, but I was about to leave my friends, my brothers and sisters.  I  was about to embark on a life that was as foreign to me as Tatar, a language which only has about 5 million native speakers. I was embarking on life as civilian.

At age 28, this was the first time in my life I was alone.  My family, where I grew up, are all in Houston.  I stayed in southern California after I left the Marine Corps. Though,  my friends in the marines were around, they lived an hour or 2 away. And I saw them on certain occasions, once or twice a month.   I soon realized that this civilian thing was not going to be as easy as I thought it was going to be.

Since I had no friends in the area in which I lived, Hemet, Ca, I set out to make some.   On Thursday nights, since I love karaoke,   I would go to this bar called the Bum Steer.  Hoping that maybe I would find cool friends eventually.    I would go to the local bars.  Well they all happen to be dive bars.  Anyway, I would go there on the weekends to meet new people.  Befriend the bartenders and the locals that frequented these places.  You see, I thought the best way to meet new friends was to go to these places, have a good time, meet new people, invite them back to my home to continue the party.  I was a bachelor, living the bachelor life.  I had a pool in the back yard, a stocked fridge that stayed stocked with drinks, any wine you wanted to drink, a full size pool table, a huge projection screen which usually played video games, or Pay per View Sports.  I had it all, so I thought.  Well, I also though they would see how “cool” I was and want to be friends, for me.  Not for what I had.    Well the only thing that came out of that whole mess, each time, were fun nights and a dirty house that I would have to clean up alone the following morning.

I didn’t realize that making new friends in a new area was supposed to be difficult.  I didn’t even know my neighbors. We waved at each other in passing. Salutations, when we were mowing our grass on the weekends.   You remember, in the 80s, early 90s when we knew our neighbors.  We played outside together with their kids. We stopped and talked and laughed about nonsense.   We did favors for each other.  What happened to that?  Why did we change?So I sought out to try something a little different.  Something so unorthodox, something so crazy; a concept of old; meet my neighbors.

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