Sunday, August 29, 2010

Study Break

I have never studied so much in my life! I am one of those people who just skim their notes the day before a test and I generally do alright. That won't be happening this semetser. I am taking 15 hours of Spanish and no studying equals no passing.

This morning one of my classmates went to church with us and the pastor asked her if I was a good student. She responded, "yes," to which I responded, "maybe this semester." I have spent almost every single one of the last seven days in the library. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and today in the library. Generally it is from 7pm to 12 or 1am. Saturday it was from 12pm to 6pm. Then it was time for a nice study break.

One of our favorite things to do is meet new people by playing sports. We frequently do spur-of-the-moment sports events such as Ultimate Frisbee or Soccer. We play at the student union where a lot of students walk by and then invite random strangers to play with us. It is a great way to meet new people and make new friends. It is also just a lot of fun.

Last night we played Ultimate. It was probably the best game we have ever played in the past few years. The teams were evenly matched. When one team scored the other team scored. With the new grass, fewer injuries were sustained. It is important to call plays beforehand though otherwise we will get hurt. I found that out the hard way when two of us collided while going for the frisbee. I slid and slammed into her knee. We both went tumbling.

It is always a good team building opportunity. The teams are never the same and we must learn to work together, especially with those who we do not know. We have to learn each others strengths and weaknesses. We encourage each other. None of us can do it alone.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

En espanol con Ingles

Bueno, este semestre tengo quince horas de espanol! Cuando salgo la clase, quiero hablar en espanol. Ya ha venido cerca a hablando con los trabajadores en la cafeteria en espanol. Es un semestre muy dificil. Con las clases de espanol tengo un curso en las relaciones publicas en el Internet.

[Well, this semester I have fifteen hours of Spanish! When I leave class, I want to speak in Spanish. I have already come close to speaking with the workers in the cafeteria in Spanish. It is a difficult semester. With the Spanish classes I have a course in public relations online.]

Los dos dias principios, estudie con un amigo y companero de los clases en la biblioteca. Anoche, no podria concentrar. Pero, finalmente, a las tres en la madruga, termine la pelicula "Los Diarios Motocicletas," para mi clase de conversacion.

[The first two days, I studied con a friend and classmate in the library. Last night, I wasn't able to concentrate. But finally, at three in the morning, I finished the movie, "Motorcycle Diaries," for my conversation class.]

En el termino del semestre, quiero hablar espanol muy bien. Tengo que esperar para ver.

[At the end of the semester, I want to speak Spanish very good. I have to wait and see.]

Se la gramatica problamente es horible. Lo Calificuen en un comentario si quieren.

[I know the grammar is probably horrible. Correct it en a comment if you want.]

Monday, August 23, 2010

Semester Begins

Today was the day: that day that so many students dread, but some may look forward to. Today was the first day of the Fall 2010 semester. Today was the first day of a college career for many freshman. Today began the last semester for some seniors. Today was the day when people began to make more long-lasting connections with classmates and new friends.

To me, it is a bitter-sweet day. I don't mind going to classes (although 7 a.m. is not my favorite time of the day); it is all the homework and studying that gets to me. Classes mean I am learning. Classes mean I get to see my friends. Classes mean I get to make new friends. But then the homework and studying are a necessary evil. But I understand. Even when all the homework and studying, it isn't that bad. I have spent countless hours studying late into the night with my friends in the library.

This semester I am taking 18 hours of class: 15 hours of Spanish and a 3-hour online Public Relations class. Today I had twelve hours of Spanish. There is one person who I have all of my in-class courses with. The first class I was in this morning, the teacher began speaking in Spanish-only when she got to the door to unlock it. I don't think she said a word of English, and I understood 50-80 percent of what she said. When I got out of the Spanish classes, sure enough I was in a mode where I was thinking to some degree in Spanish and had to stop myself from talking to people in Spanish instead of English.

This will be a hard, but fun semester. I look forward to making new friends in classes and during lunch breaks. (There were only 40 people in my apartment this weekend for a welcome back get together. We were surprised that many people showed up, and that they all fit in a 4-person Collegiate Park Apartment.)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Collegiate Park

I am officially a resident in Collegiate Park now. I moved in this morning. I like it a lot. The closet is a lot bigger which means the bedroom itself is a little bit smaller but honestly, it doesn't seem smaller. There seems to be a lot more storage space actually. The only thing I don't like in my bedroom is the bed can't be raised.

The bathroom is even a good arrangement. Unfortunately this morning I did have one problem. I left Conway at 7 am and checked in here at 9:15. I had my car unloaded by 10 am. At that point I went to take a shower and realized I'd forgotten something important: ASU no longer furnishes a shower curtain. I took a shower anyway and splattered water all over the place. But the showers are nice. They have shelves and everything built in. I did find the towel bar falls off the wall...

It will be a fun year.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rough Draft

This is the unedited, rough-draft of the paper I wrote in a few hours for my internship class. Hopefully there is not a lot of stuff to change, but I know I will need to take some stuff out to add other...

Sitting in classrooms at Arkansas State University, I often wondered why a professor was talking so much about some topics that seemed to have no value any more. Counting headlines seemed to be useless now, and no doubt, during my internship I did not have to count headlines. However, I did have a discussion with the editor on counting headlines. He remembered having to do so before computers simplified the process. I wondered why I had to learn so much about editing stories, other than my own. Now my question is answered. I wanted to be done with my general education courses such as history and political science. Now I wish I had paid closer attention and had the time to take more of those classes.

I have learned a lot about myself and my abilities during my internship at the Army News Service. I have learned a lot about why we learn what we do in our classes. I learned a lot from practicing those skills in a real-world setting. Coming to the internship, I really did not know what to expect. I did not know exactly what I would be doing at the internship or the type of people I would work with. I was not 100 percent clear on the audience. I was not 100 percent sure where all of the stories went. What I did know was some of the preparation I had to put into it. Before going to Washington, I had to fill out paperwork in order to receive security clearance and a building badge for the office and Pentagon upon arrival. I had to take two online security courses about protecting information, both personal and government. I soon found out the other stuff upon arrival.

The internship did not officially begin until the Wednesday June 9, but I made arrangements to meet with the editor the Monday beforehand. That is when the learning began. The first mistake was being in such a hurry that I boarded a train going the wrong direction. The lesson I learned: every metro station is different. Some have multiple levels for trains traveling in different directions. All metro stations have poles with directions to the correct track.

The next encounter was getting to the office from the metro station. The office is located between six and eight blocks from the station. I had looked at a map on Google to have a vague idea of what the area looked like. The problem was, ground-view was not an option for the street on which the office is located. I started walking. After finding what looked like the building I had seen online, I walked the block around it. The road names were unfamiliar. The signs around the building said nothing related to what they should, if the office even had signs. I asked several security guards around the building where the intersection was. None of them had any idea. Then I called the editor. He told me I had gone the wrong direction. Lessons learned: Handheld GPS devices do not work well in cities with tall buildings. Some areas have maps around the metro stations.
The editor said I was close to the Pentagon. I really had walked the wrong way. That is two metro stops from where I had exited the system. He said to walk to the Pentagon and he would send an employee over. I still had to get the building badge and since I was already over there, it might as well be at that time. During all of this, I was also with another person participating in the program and interning with the Army News Service. We waited, and after meeting the reporter, he escorted us into the Pentagon, and took us to the badge office. After we waited, we went into the office and proceeded to answer questions. I did not have my social security card on me, or even bring it to D.C. That was a problem. They would not give me the badge. What I learned: Though it may be a bad idea to carry your social security card regularly, when applying for a government identification card, it is important to have it. I had to have a photocopy emailed to the editor, and asked my mom to overnight it and my passport.

We took metro back to Crystal City and the employee, Todd Lopez, showed us how to walk to the office aboveground. As we exited the metro, he showed us the map and the direction we would go. He also pointed out there were tunnels underground that went all the way to the office. We arrived at the office and because I did not have clearance yet was required to go through security screening and check in as a visitor. At that time we met the editor.

We arrived at the office Wednesday morning and immediately went to the editor’s office. We went over a contract that The Fund For American Studies gave us and everyone had to agree to and sign. He told us a little about what we would be doing in the internship and told us about the organization. The Army News Service is “internal media.” It is owned by the Department of Defense. The audience is primarily Soldiers and their Families. (I capitalized those in staying with ARNews style.) The stories are posted to the website where the entire world can see them. The editor also emails a list out to military publications. The audience is not the one to whom publications such as the New York Times, or National Geographic or other community publications write. That meant a different way of looking at things.


The first day was spent clipping articles that had been published in newspapers around the country and getting my badge. It was not long before we were able to attend an actual event and help cover it. That is where we really learned about the different angles. In June there were stories about management changes at Arlington Cemetery. Graves had been mismarked, more than one person may have been buried in a grave and the management received heat. Lopez told us the difference in the stories would be something like this: most of the publications would focus on the problems at the cemetery. The Army News Service would focus on what the Army is doing to improve the situation.

Adjusting to a new audience was one of the biggest learning processes for me and even at the end of the internship I still struggle with it. I have tried to adjust, but still fall short. One story I wrote was about a senate hearing on funds for the protection of convoys in Afghanistan. Most news outlets would focus on the problems; a lot of the money was going to warlords. But realizing a different audience I focused on the senate holding the hearing and investigating. It was still the wrong approach. The correct approach was focusing on what the military officials said to the senate and what they were doing to fix the problem. There were at least three different angles to approach the story.

The service is not public relations, but there are some restrictions. We have had discussions at different points during travel and even in the office about two that stand out. When we attend meetings at the Pentagon, if there is limited space they cater to the external media. Even if we were there two hours early and ten minutes before a speech a crowd of external media came, we may be told to leave. I asked if the Freedom of Information Act would not apply to that. The response I received was that a government agency cannot file FOIA against another government agency.

The second difference was in attribution. Within the Army, there are many offices that work on a project. The first step is often calling OCPA (Office of the Chief of Public Affairs), who will help us get in contact with the right sources. If the sources refuse to talk with us, we do not have the leverage that external media has. We are not allowed to write things like, “source name refused to comment.”

Another important skill I continued to develop at the internship is research. It is a aspect that, though encouraged to do, does not require a lot of effort when working at The Herald. Stories are relatively simple. In mid-June I was sent to a three-day conference hosted by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement. The Command and Control Summit focused a lot on technology. I learned a lot from these assignments. I did not know what to expect at the conference and had problems researching topics beforehand. I did not know what the story would be. I knew nothing about military technology. It was all new(s) to me.

The first day of the conference, the editor decided to kill the story because it was from the private sector. The second day I wrote a story about what the speakers had in common. They both spoke about the necessity to consolidate systems that the Soldiers are using. After writing the story, the editor called me in his office and asked me, “What’s the news?” Because I was unfamiliar with the topic, I thought I had written it clearly. He said it was not new. So I skimmed what I had written, in effort to pull something else out. I decided on the technology that the Army wanted out by October.

I got that information by asking a question at the end of the presentation. Again, I did not know anything about LandWarNet, one of the focuses in the presentations. I asked a question along the lines of, “When do you want this to be released to Soldiers in the field?” With that, I could hear laughter in the room and wondered what was so funny. He answered the question, and it sparked another question from someone else about security. I continued in my ignorance.

It was not until writing the story I did more research on what LandWarNet really is. That research led in an entire new direction, one that would change the story from being focused on the conference to one that is on the technology itself. I spent at least a week and a half researching the topic which I had found was not concise as I had imagined it. LandWarNet turned out to be much broader. A diagram I found showed it as a cylinder with many other systems and levels within it. As a network I pictured it like an internet router. Not only did I have the wrong image of it, it was already in use. The project began in 2005. It is supposed to be complete in 2015, with additional technology being added to it. A lack of research embarrassed me.

The internship has helped me in other ways than just factual knowledge. It has also helped me personally. Hard news has been my forte since I began journalism in high school. I absolutely hated feature writing. I enjoyed writing opinions if I had one. But news was what I wrote most of the time. Since then, things have changed, especially after the internship.

I find that I really enjoy writing features and news-features. Three of the best examples I can give are two news-feature stories on the Army Birthday and the Korean War anniversary celebration, and the feature on Task Force Smith.

The news-features were relatively simple. The first story was a shared byline. The second we coordinated and I took photos. But both were events. We went to the event, did interviews on the spot, returned and wrote the stories. The feature was different.

For the feature, I first did some background research on the internet about Task Force Smith. After having a general idea of what it was, I began searching for a few names of veterans. That led me to a Korean War Veterans Association based in Texas. I emailed the two leaders and asked if they were part of Task Force Smith; they shared the name of some veterans I had found listed online. They were not, but did send me the contact information of another person who was and also held a leadership position with another group. I called him and we talked for a few minutes. He gave me the name of a veteran close to D.C., but told me he was not sure of his condition, that he was in a retirement home but was undergoing treatments for cancer.
The leader, Phil Burke, told me he and his wife would be at the ceremony at the end of the week. At the ceremony (the same as we did a news-feature on), I found him and did an interview. It was horrible. Because of his age, it was hard for him to hear and difficult for me to understand him. To make things worse, a generator was running in the background. We proceeded with the interview and I got useful information for the story. The group had to leave and the interview was cut short.

After returning to the office I began work to track down the veteran in the retirement home, Jack Doody. I searched for the retirement home by the location around Fort Belvoir. After a little searching, I found a phone number and made a call. It was the wrong place. I continued searching and then made another phone call. They told me he did live there and was in good condition. They transferred my call and we set up an appointment for an interview.

A week later, after a train and two busses, I arrived at The Fairfax by Fort Belvoir for the interview. I went into the interview prepared with questions. That is not how the interview went. It could be summarized with this statement: “Tell me your story.” When I arrived and got my notebook out he asked me a little about the publication and why I chose the story. I answered his question and then he just started talking about his experience. During the next hour and a half he showed me maps, and told his story.

That lasted until lunchtime. The area I entered was the same as where the dining room was. I asked a couple of questions on the walk from his apartment to the dining room. I was so excited about the story that I pulled out my laptop on the bus ride back to the office and began working. I was already thinking of how I was going to write the story as I took the 15-minute hike back to the bus stop. The story turned out to be one of the least changed stories I wrote on the internship.

The story left me questioning whether I want to focus on news or features. The experience at the internship left me with no doubt I do not want to cover technology when I can avoid it.

Before Washington, I was willing to relocate to find a job. My desire was to stay within an eight-hour drive from Little Rock. Eventually I would move further away and try to work myself to a more nationally-known publication. It was never my desire to live in a big city. I could see myself working somewhere like Philadelphia and living in the suburbs. But living in a place like New York or Washington was a definite no. I had no desire to live in the city.

Washington has changed that. It has broadened my horizons. I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. During the week it is internship in the morning and afternoon and class in the evening. But on the weekend the choice is mine. I can sleep. I can cook. I can go out and see the city. I can study. Even sticking with commitments I made before entering college I am still able to enjoy the experience. Even without bars, D.C. can be a fun place at night.

I had the opportunity to see the Pentagon Memorial one night. Other nights I spent just walking around the Georgetown area. Because I did not have a car in Washington, I relied heavily on public transportation and walking. Georgetown University was within walking distance of the grocery store. Friday nights were often the time to shop. There was never a hardship in coming up with blog ideas. In fact, I had to write three in one night because I had too many things in the same night.

The transportation itself was an adventure. The thought crossed my mind multiple times to take advantage of free bus transfers and get on random busses and transfer all day to see where I end up. Truly getting lost in Washington is a difficult task. Just get on another bus heading the opposite direction and eventually a familiar street will pop up. I never did the random transfers for an entire day, but I did familiarize myself with the bus system by using different features offered by the agency. It is an important piece of knowledge, especially if I consider working in Washington sometime in the future.

There is no doubt that almost all of the classes I have taken at ASU have helped me some way in Washington. I never did well on AP-Style quizzes. But I learned how to navigate the book. I find myself going to some pages in the guide so often that when I open the book, I open straight to the page. I finally put a paper clip as a bookmark on some of the pages such as state abbreviations.

Although not very useful in college, knowing names in a given hierarchy is helpful. I had to familiarize myself with Army leadership on the job. In interviews people would refer to “the vice” or the “ASAALT.” It is important to know that when they refer to the vice, they are talking about Vice Chief of Staff General Peter Chiarelli. When they refer to the ASAALT they are talking about the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

I took both photography and photojournalism. Having these classes gave me an advantage at the internship. I had knowledge of how the camera worked. I knew about shutter speeds and apertures. I knew the rule of thirds. The reporters at the news service generally cover the story and take the photos.

Classes such as feature writing, news writing, news reporting, and communication law and ethics helped me when it came to writing stories and taking photos. I knew to write a lead. I knew what I was able to take pictures of and what I couldn’t. I knew what I could write about and what I couldn’t. I was able to apply skills I learned in news-editing at the internship. Part of our responsibilities included editing stories that came in from around the country and around the world and posting them to the system.

Other classes just provided more of an entertainment and education opportunities while I was in the district. The most interesting thing about history is being where something happened. Learning about the assassination of President Lincoln is one thing. To sit in the theatre where it happened, with a storyteller pointing to the room is entirely different. It brings it to life. I had that opportunity. I had to see businesses used in the classroom such as Blackboard and the Newseum. I had to opportunity to see the Gutenberg bible at the Library of Congress. I had the opportunity to use skills I am learning in my minor/other major, Spanish, while attending a cultural festival.

There is no doubt if I had participated in this internship after my freshman year I would be lost. I would not have the skills to be successful. Though there are future sophomores in the program, I am thankful I am not one of them. As important as the skills learned on the job are, the skills provided in classes are important in preparing for the experiences in the job. Without those classes, I would not have been able to get the internship. Without the classes, I would have been unprepared to successfully write stories, take photos and edit other people’s stories.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Faith (part 2)

(If you have not seen yesterday's post you can view it here)

Starting college was a very difficult thing for me. It meant living on my own for the first time. It meant leaving my support group at church. It meant leaving all of my friends behind. Those were hard things to do, especially with my timid personality. I had a lot of obstacles thrown at me that first year.

Struggles that I had, became even bigger. I began trying new churches my first Sunday. Again I ran into the issue of finding a church that fit me. I rarely went half of the time because I was frustrated. It took until the end of my sophomore year to find a church I could call home.

I made friends fairly quickly at school. Some were Christians and some weren't. I did my best to try and keep from slipping. Some of the problems I had in high school were past. I had a fresh start. I didn't have to be involved with coarse joking which was a big struggle in high school. It worked for a while. I even had a friend that when I would get involved threw stuff at me. Most of the time I would get up and leave.

But I was not plugged in. I went to the Baptist Collegiate Ministry occasionally. I went to family groups on Monday nights regularly. When I could, I went to TNT. But again, actually going to church was few and far between. I wasn't really growing all that much spiritually. I felt like I had walked backwards. During a few of the breaks I would sit in with the youth group at my "home church" in Conway.

In short I absolutely hated college. I didn't want to go there. I wanted to go home. It wasn't until second semester that things began to change. Around February or March some people came to the cafeteria table where I was sitting with a group of friends. God sent them there. They proceeded to ask us a trick question, one I knew the answer to because I had done it before. They were using tracts from a ministry I was familiar with. I pulled out one of my own and gave to them. They invited me to a student led, non-sponsored, non-denominational bible study group whose sole intention was to reach out to the lost.

I decided to go. That semester I went sporadically. It wasn't always a regular thing, but it was better than nothing. The following year, my sophomore year I made some new friends. I continued to attend the bible study and more regularly. Eventually I told a friend about it who also came.

As I attended more and more relationships grew within the group. Finally during my junior year I considered them close friends. These were my brothers and sisters in Christ. I felt a love and trust in that group. The focus has gradually changed in the group. We are still all about evangelism but it has transformed into a different aspect. It is lifestyle yet intentional evangelism. We still invite non-Christians to come. We won't tell them to leave. But that is no longer the focus. The group transformed into one for Christians to come together and go out to our non-Christian friends to share the gospel. Non-Christians feel awkward attending, much like they might at church, so though the door is always open, we no longer ask people to come to learn more. We try to do that in our own relationships with them.

Some of the new things we do are things like Ultimate and Soccer. We get a crowd of people to play a game and then get contact information and build relationships with them. It then gives us an opportunity to share the gospel with them.

Along with the new focus, we became a closer group. Often we split off into guy and girls. That gave us opportunities to talk about what we were going through as men and women, apart from the other sex. Again this helped us build trust and strengthen our relations. I had a major issue just this past year that without the support of one of my Christian brothers in that group could have ended very badly.

Also in January I made a decision to become a member of Highland Drive Baptist Church. That is yet another decision I have no regrets on. Whether I really consider myself a Baptist or not, it is theologically sound. Yes, there will be things I disagree on. If there weren't there would be something wrong there. If a person agrees with everything a preacher says, they probably aren't reading the Bible and spending any time on their own with the Lord. But I have a church home. 

Some things come at the end of ever semester though. Bad things in a sense: break!

During the summer the support network is not built up. We all go our separate ways and do not have the accountability. That is something that I need to work on in my life. I need to be able to hold my own, without other Christians around. That is not to downplay the importance of having a network of Christian brothers and sisters. Fellowship will always be important.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Going to college is one of the most trying times for a Christian. It is often the time students leave their parents and begin life on their own. College throws temptations out there: drugs, alcohol, etc. It throws the temptations of not doing things out as well. The decision whether to attend church or not is in the student's hands. It is at this time that most make their faith their own.

I was "saved" during high school. I grew up in the church to some degree. I did not attend regularly, but I did go to Sunday School at my grandparents church every now and then. After my sixth grade year my parents and I moved to Conway.

All of this time I knew about God. I did not deny his existence. I believed in heaven, I believed in hell. I even had a desire to know more, and even go to church. But during middle school when one of my friends asked me to go to church with him I kept making excuses. I was nervous about the dress and things like that on a Wednesday night. I had never been before.

Finally, my ninth grade year, he convinced me to go. It wasn't bad. It wasn't what I expected. I liked it. So I started going to youth group on Wednesday nights. Eventually I started going to Sunday morning services. That lasted maybe 6 months or so. Then the youth pastor left to start another church. I stuck around a little while, but without a new youth pastor, ended up leaving the church to try and find another.

I was never able to find one quite right for me. My eleventh grade year, some of my friends that still went to that church told me they had a new youth pastor. I went back and again loved the group. I stuck around again. And I am so glad I did.

In the youth group we talked a lot about missions. I began to feel a tug on my heart in that direction, but I knew I had to get some stuff straightened out first. I knew that I did not know enough about the bible. I began to realize the reason I had some of the depressed feelings was because of sin in my life.

One Sunday morning the pastor used an analogy to describe our relationship with Christ. He said that Salvation was like a life preserver. A person could fall overboard on a ship and a shipmate might throw a preserver. The victim can know all day long it will keep him afloat, but unless he actually makes an effort and grabs hold he is drowning. I hadn't grabbed hold of Christ yet. I was in that stage of just knowing facts about him. It was time to grab hold.

I was saved during my senior year of high school, after calling myself a Christian my entire life. And there were so many times before then that I should have died. One of the things that will forever stick in my mind happened one November (or December) during what must have been my eighth or ninth grade year. We were preparing to go hunting so my Dad sent me upstairs to pack the guns. One of them was a .22 revolver.

I wanted to make sure it wasn't loaded so being a stupid kid I cocked the gun. I had it pointed in every direction, including my face. I tried to see inside the revolver whether it was loaded but could not tell. I eventually pointed it forward, away from me, the ceiling and the floor and pulled the trigger. It fired.

That is just one story where I should have died. But God had other plans. In the summer of 2007 I went on my first mission trip. I made another decision after returning. On August 5, 2007 I was baptized. A few weeks later I embarked on a new journey: college.

to be continued... (Part 2, tomorrow)