Saturday, December 25, 2010

Some concerns, some advantages.

Norris used to dread his weekly hour-long Metro trips between the University of Maryland and Bethesda. It took him an hour, using both the Green Line and Red Line. “The commute was horrible,” he said.

The Red Line’s infamous U-shape makes Metro trips twice as long than if driving straight across by car, which ultimately forced Norris to abandon Metro, except on rare occasions. Instead, he borrows his friend's cars instead to travel home, cutting his commuting time in half.

He and others yearn for the completion of the the Purple Line, which would eliminate the U-shape by connecting the east-west gap with a straight across route and a shorter ride for everyone.

Although the Purple Line has been hailed for its ability to cut commuter travel time, other state residents believe the transit line will have a negative impact on their communities.

The Purple Line, first designed in a method under study since 1992 to shorten the route between improve transportation between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, will be a 16-mile light rail line extending from Bethesda to New Carrollton.

Although the Purple Line will be welcomed by those seeking a shorter commuting time, it is not universally embraced. Many state residents are concerned that it will ruin a popular running and biking trail, and pose safety risks, among other things.

The Maryland Transit Administration has addressed community members' concerns in a series of meetings, drawing in property owners, developers and chambers of commerce members. Michael Madden, project manager of the Purple Line with the MTA, sought to ease their concerns by explaining that the line would have a minimum adverse impact.

On Nov. 9, Madden met with the Town of Chevy Chase Purple Line Mitigation Advisory Group to address concerns that Chevy Chase officials and residents expressed in a letter written by Mayor David Lublin.

“The Capital Crescent Trail is used by tens of thousands of users – like senior citizens, commuters and bikers,” said Patricia Burda, community liaison for the Town of Chevy Chase Town Council.

Burda raised concerns that the transit will decrease the width of the trail — used hourly by an estimated 240 people, which is twice the amount of the second most popular trail in the county - and make it more crowded than it is now, according to a study conducted by Capital Crescent Trail and Georgetown Branch Trail members in 2006

“The town is also particularly concerned about the right-of-way, which is particularly narrow,” Burda said. “Because it's so narrow, especially before the tunnel in the town, the transit will have to brake hard, causing a lot of noise.”

Also, the town is also worried about the potential noise from the railroad tracks.

To address concerns of noise and safety, the state said they would look into decreasing speeds of the light rail, which are generally around 45 miles per hour.

“Near East-West Highway, it's about 25 to 30 mph, but the state expressed they wouldn't go down that low,” Burda said. “All of these things are all up in the air - we're still negotiating.”

Madden, aware of Chevy Chase's safety concerns, said that the University of Maryland — which would be the Purple Line’s eighth stop from the east — has also expressed similar concerns.

Cory Krause, a student representative to the Purple Line, explained that the light rail line also could cause electromagnetic interference throughout campus.
“A lot of magnetism can mess with research equipment on campus,” Krause said.

To address this concern, Madden said that the University of Maryland and a MTA working group to design ways to reduce the interference - but Maryland has yet to approve it.

"We would place restrictions on the speeds of the LRT, down to 15 mph and place restrictions on the amount of steel mass in the LRT,” two factors that increase electromagnetic interference, Madden said.

The station would be located at Stamp Student Union, one of the busiest areas on campus along Campus Drive, raising concerns that the trains might pose a risk to pedestrian students in the area.

“The issue is that the transit will probably be very silent, and students could get killed if they don’t hear it coming,” Krause said.

He also said the trees along Campus Drive could cause leaves to fall especially during rainfall, leading to slippery rail — a condition in which moist leaves cling onto railroad tracks resulting in a loss of friction of the transit wheels and rail.

But, Madden said that wet leaves shouldn't become a hazard with this particular line, as it has with others.

“Leaves from trees is not an issue for a new light rail transit system, like the Purple Line, because newer LRT vehicles have improved braking systems that are not subject to slippage due to wet leaves,” he said. “We are also confident that all pedestrian safety concerns, as we continue to work closely with the UM community, can and will be addressed.”

Moreover, Krause said the line would provide countless benefits for the university. “It will increase mobility across campus, decrease noise pollution, and increase popularity for neighboring areas, which will cause a flourishing of economic prosperity,” he said.

Madden agrees that economic development will be a benefit. “The Purple Line connects key business districts and employments, such as downtown Bethesda, Silver Spring, Takoma Park, Langley Park, University of Maryland, College Park and New Carrollton,” he said.

Though these are the predicted popular stations, Madden said that there are a total number of 21 stations total, which should be a boon to area and surrounding businesses.

But the biggest boon will be in time saved commuting, Madden said.

“It will improve travel from east to west,” he said. “It will also provide mobility for people who don’t have it.”

Because of the current lack of quick east-west mobility, commuter Richard Layman bikes, avoiding both public transportation and the need to drive. He lives in Washington, DC near Takoma Park, and cycles Layman bikes seven miles each day to Bethesda for work-related trips.

“For trips less than ten miles, the bike compares favorably, if not faster than public transit,” he said.

Most of his trips Layman makes on his bike are less than ten miles, which he says takes him around 25 minutes. But it takes more than 30 minutes to make the same trip on the Red Line, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Trip Planner.

Another commuter, Sreya Sinha - and a frequent user of the Red Line - said she’s pro- anticipating the opening of the Purple Line - and with good reason.

“It will definitely allow me to save travel time if I want to travel home to Rockville from College Park because right now it takes almost two hours since the Red Line runs in a big U,” said Sinha, a student at the University of Maryland. “The proposed Purple Line will cut across that, hopefully halving my travel time.”

Sinha takes rides the Green Line from at the College Park station to Fort Totten, where she transfers to to get on the Red Line to get to Rockville - physically located just west of College Park. Because of the Red Line’s U-shape, she has to ride Sinha must travel south, and then north, and wait through 24 stops to finally reach her destination.

Commuters traveling from Silver Spring to Bethesda, two busy stations with popular business districts, will really feel the difference. Madden explained Silver Spring is considered one of the busiest stations of the Metro.

“Silver Spring and Bethesda on the Red Line...generate high levels of midday Metrorail travel,” according to Transit Ridership Trends and Markets by WMATA in March 2009.

WMATA recognized this high ridership, especially between the two business districts, Bethesda and Silver Spring. Currently, those riding traveling from Silver Spring to Bethesda must endure 17 stops on the Red Line, about 40 minutes.

In response to the long trips for a large amount of people, WMATA announced on Nov. 30 that Montgomery County residents will see additional service on the J2 buses between Silver Spring and Bethesda to “provide more frequent service,” according to a press release. This change will take effect on Dec. 19.

But the Purple Line will mean that there will only be five stops from Silver Spring to Bethesda.

The Purple Line will also be one of the first transit systems to connect multiple Metro trains, three MARC commuter train lines and the Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor line at New Carrollton, Madden said. It also has connections to regional and local bus routes.

This connectivity will allow the MTA to omit building new parking lots around the Purple Line. “Commuters can walk or bike, take the Amtrak, take a MARC train or a bus to get to the Purple Line,” Madden said. This will save a significant amount of money but Madden declined to comment on exactly how much.

Some believe that the benefits override any negative concerns that community members may have about the Purple Line.

“I believe that the Purple Line should be implemented on campus,'' Krause said. "The main concern is student safety, but this doesn't mean that the project should be discontinued because of it. ,” said Krause, referring to the university’s concerns. “There are plenty of innovations that can keep safety at a manageable level while increasing mobility and livability of a campus community.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Loco for Four Loko.

Amid the growing popularity of alcoholic energy drinks among college students and a recent string of student hospitalizations, both state liquor boards and university officials moved to ban the beverages.

The US Food and Drug Administration recognized these actions by announcing on Nov. 17 that caffeine in malt liquor drinks is an “unsafe food additive” and requesting that four major companies, including Four Loko maker Phusion Projects, remove the substance from their products to prevent seizure of their products.

Speculation over the drinks’ safety skyrocketed after several students at Central Washington University were hospitalized on Oct. 9 at an off-campus party. “Comments by students initially made were that people were ‘roofied’ and that students were warned to ‘stay away from the red cups,’” said Cle Elum Police Chief Scott Ferguson.

“The nine students were hospitalized with blood-alcohol levels ranging from 0.123 percent to 0.35 percent,” Ferguson said. “A BAC level of about .30 is considered to be lethal.”

One female student, sickened after consuming the drinks, was hospitalized in critical condition for more than 24 hours while the others were released overnight.

“The toxicology report showed that students were mixing the Four Lokos with other alcohol contents,” he said. “But the other students who drank just mixtures of rum and coke or other drinks were not the ones being hospitalized.”

Four Loko, which contains caffeine, taurine, guarana and alcohol, is typically sold in a 23.5-ounce can with 12 percent alcohol by volume -- or about four to six beers. They’re cheap, too: Each can runs at about $2.50.

Kimberly Caldeira, associate director of the Center on Young Adult Health and Development at the University of Maryland, explained that aside from high or lethal BAC levels, another concern about mixing caffeine and alcohol is the “wide-awake drunk” reaction.

“This is when all of the impairments to judgment and decision-making and reaction time are still there, but the caffeine masks them and you don’t notice them [impairments] as much, she said. “Essentially, this can cause students to drink more and more and have a risk of alcoholic poisoning.”

On Oct. 25, CWU President James L. Gaudino announced at a press conference that alcoholic energy drinks would be banned on the campus, according to the university’s Web site.

But it wasn’t long before the Washington State Liquor Control Board stepped in and revealed a statewide ban on alcoholic energy drinks.

The liquor board enacted the ban on Nov. 18, one day after the FDA’s decision, said WSLCB spokesman Brian Smith. In regards to reversing the ban once the caffeine is taken out of the beverages, he said: “The Board will review the new formulations and act on those soon.”

When asked about the long gap between the CWU hospitalizations and the ban nearly one month later, he explained that the “toxicology reports were only revealed about two weeks ago, which confirmed that the cause was not date rape drugs, but rather Four Loko with a combination of hard alcohol.”

Washington state was soon joined by Michigan, which became concerned after a Michigan girl said she drank a Four Loko mixed with rum before being sexually assaulted, said Andrea Miller, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Liquor Control Commission.

The incident prompted the commission to ban 55 alcoholic energy drinks, including Four Loko. “The ban will stop sales of the 55 drinks at statewide beer and wine stores, liquor stores, bars and any restaurants,” Miller said.

“The commission announced the ban on Nov. 4, but it won’t take effect until Dec. 3 at midnight,” she explained before adding that the ban hasn't changed, even with the FDA's decision.Although the beverages could eventually be sold without the caffeine contents, Miller said, “The commission won't automatically approve it unless the labeling is fixed.”

Many have argued that the actual can resembles an energy drink, just with small print noting the alcohol content levels, which may mislead users to underestimate the drink’s potency.

Sam Gogan, a 20-year-old junior at the University of Maryland, disagreed.
“To me, [Four Loko] doesn't look like an energy drink since it's grouped together with other alcoholic beverages,” he said. ”I knew the first time I had one that there was alcohol in it.”

“It’s ridiculous that people don’t know their own limits and now this ban is causing everyone else’s fun to be ruined,” said Barbara Sparklin, a 21-year-old senior at Salisbury University.

Sparklin said she would continue to buy the drinks even without the caffeine because “you can pay just 5 dollars [about 2 cans of Four Loko] to have a good time.”

Nikolaj Birman, a 21-year-old senior at the University of Maryland and a frequent buyer of Four Loko, certainly knows his limits when it comes to consuming the drink.

“I drink one can to feel good, two cans if I want to get crazy, and three cans if I don't want to remember the night,” he said.

After drinking the first Four Loko, Birman added, “I always talk about how I feel like I'll have a heart attack if I have another one.”

Four Loko maker Phusion Projects argued against the claims that its drink has caused many to become ill, especially after the CWU incident. The company compared its alcohol-caffeine mixture to “having coffee after a meal with wine, or consuming rum and cola, an Irish coffee or a Red Bull and vodka,” which its Web site claims are all popular practices.

That explanation, however, did not convince the FDA.

”The FDA said peer-reviewed studies suggest that the consumption of beverages containing added caffeine and alcohol is associated with risky behaviors that may lead to hazardous and life-threatening situations,” according to the Nov. 17 press release.
The CWU hospitalizations may have proved just that.

Friday, November 12, 2010

LGBT Tragedies

In the aftermath of recent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teen suicides prompted by bullying, universities nationwide have stepped up efforts to prevent similar tragedies on their own campuses.

Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi jumped from the George Washington Bridge Sept. 22 after his roommate broadcast his sexual encounter with another man on the Internet. The roommate, Dharun Ravi, and Ravi’s friend Molly Wei, have been charged with invasion of privacy and cybersnooping and could face up to 5 years in prison if convicted.

Among ceremonies nationwide, candlelight vigils were organized (avoid passive voice) in Wisconsin and Michigan to honor the victims, like Clementi. At the University of Maryland, the Pride Alliance and 200 students, faculty and staffers also held a vigil earlier last month.

At the vigil, “we wanted to send a message of support to all students, especially those who may be struggling with harassment or feeling alone and depressed,” said Pride Alliance President Spencer Brennen. “The vigil consisted of two parts: a lighting of candles and reciting of poetry or other inspirational thoughts by attendees that they deemed appropriate,” he said.

“I wanted the event to be ¬heartfelt and thus didn't have a scheduled speaker, but wanted people to be moved to speak in response to such emotional circumstances,” he added.
Aside from the vigil, Pride Alliance organizes social events, movies, lecture series, films, activism and community service. “We constantly work to create a safe and welcoming environment on campus,” he said.

Another response to the suicides has been the university’s “The One Project,” a first-year experience program for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and ally (LGBTQA) students in College Park. The group created videos on YouTube as part of a series called “It Gets Better,” where supporters speak about their own experiences with coming out and being bullied and inspire viewers to overcome these hurdles -- essentially how “it gets better.”

The project, which caught the attention of the National Orientation Directors Association, received the 2010 NODA Initiative Program Award in October.

“ I think [College Park] is a very supportive campus in general,” Brennen said. “I have very rarely come across any hostile behavior, but I think a lot of LGBT students are more conscious or worried about their safety than straight students.”
In fact, only one on-campus hate crime involving a student’s sexual orientation was reported at the university in 2009, according to Clery Act statistics, a compilation of campus crime statistics.

“It involved “malicious destruction of property,” said Capt. Marc Limansky, a spokesman for the university police. “A male [resident assistant] called in a report that someone ...wrote anti-homosexual remarks on the exterior of their door permanently on their dry erase board that said 'Welcome to the gay house,’ along with a drawing of a penis” he said.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison also is working to combat issues of homosexual bullying and harassment.

About 350 people attended the university’s candlelight vigil on Oct. 20 as part of their ``Stop the Silence'' anti-bullying campaign, a forum where students, faculty and administrators shared their own experiences of bullying.

One-third of LGBTQ, or 33 percent, and transgender, 38 percent, of students, faculty and staff have considered leaving their institution due to the ``challenging'' climate, according to statistics reported by Campus Pride's 2010 State of Higher Education for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People.

“We wanted to honor those who have been impacted or who have committed suicide,” said Robin Matthies, interim director of the LGBT Campus Center.

Matthies believes that even though there aren’t statistics to show frequent hate crimes, some incidents go unreported. “There are housing incidents where people are bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” she said. “They’re more subtle but it doesn’t mean they don’t have an impact on our students.”

Next semester the school of education will host author James St. James, who wrote Freak Show, a novel that follows a gay student who is tormented and bullied.

“There will be book discussions on this so that the School of Education can work with students, who are going to be future teachers, on topics of sexual orientation discrimination,” she said.

At Michigan State University, the LGBT Resource Center also held a candlelight vigil last month (?) called “Make It Better: A Vigil to End Homophobia and Transphobia.” An estimated 225 people attended.

"We lit candles and had a moment of silence,” said Deanna Hurlbert, assistant director/LGBT Resource Center Liaison. “We also plan to increase depression and suicide training and outreach within the LBGT student leader community and staff of the LGBTRC,” she said.

Maryland is listed on the honor role of the Campus Climate Index, a Web site that rates colleges for their LGBT-friendliness, with a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars according to Luke Jensen, director of Maryland’s LGBT Equity. “But that doesn't mean there isn't still plenty of work to do here,'' he said.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New director of Stamp Student Union

Dr. Marsha A. Guenzler-Stevens, the new director of Adele H. Stamp Student Union, is not an underachiever. In fact, her middle name might even be ‘Ambitious.'

At 54-years-old, she’s always on the go. Since her time at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, she’s actively participated in higher education-oriented organizations that aimed to improve all students’ university experiences. This never changed.

“My family taught us that in order to make a difference, you had to be engaged in people’s lives and in causes and organizations,” she said. There’s no doubt that her gumption and drive derived from this family motto.

Guenzler-Stevens graduated with honors from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1978 with a degree in biology. While in college, she was part of the student senate, a member of Alpha Omicron Phi, a class officer, student coordinator of orientation and involved in a few musical groups. She was an admissions counselor, too, which allowed her to travel around the Midwest to recruit students.

But, this wasn’t enough. She was a member who founded the organization Council for IWU Women, which still remains at the university to this day. “Women’s self-esteem has always lagged behind men,” she said. This was her motivation for creating the organization to allow university women to work together on this prevalent issue.

Guenzler-Stevens, still an active member of the organization, admits it was the exposure to feminism as an undergraduate that sparked her interest in such a topic.
Guenzler-Stevens’ participation in leading and authoritative roles made her rethink her career path.

In 1982, she earned a master’s degree in counseling and personnel services from Miami University in Ohio and then came to the University of Maryland, College Park as the assistant director of campus activities. She was responsible for nearly 4,200 students, including 21-university-owned and 22 privately owned sorority and fraternity houses, and advised students within the Panhellenic community.

Between 1987 and 1990, she was the Stamp Student Union’s assistant director of development. Her responsibilities included marketing, staff development, fundraising development and more. “I did anything with the word development,” said Guenzler-Stevens.

She was promoted to associate director of Stamp Student Union in 1990--a position that quickly changed when “the former Office of Campus Activities and the Stamp Student Union merged in 1992 and Marsha became Director of Activities and Associate Director of the Stamp Student Union,” said James Osteen, the assistant vice president of student affairs.

Rather than solely maintaining a career at Maryland, Guenzler-Stevens decided to pursue a doctorate in higher education policy and planning and administration, which she earned in 1992. In 1993, she was recognized as the university’s “Outstanding Associate Staff Member,” according to

Now the director of Stamp Student Union, Guenzler-Stevens is relieved knowing she can focus on bigger projects rather than many smaller duties, as she had done in her past positions: “I have stopped taking on multiple tasks and now I am more clear-focused, while working one project at a time.”

Currently, she is working on a strategic review process that previous director Gretchen Metzelaars started. “There are unfinished tasks left from Gretchen, but that is because the student union is a living group with half-done things,” said Guenzler-Stevens. The strategic review process allows Stamp employees to review themselves internally and externally.

One area that needs improvement, she says, is to better support a learning environment. “I have a ton of crazy ideas for this,” she said. “We have a living and learning program for students in residence halls and we want these based in Stamp for nonresidential students, transfers and commuters. This way we can let them know, yes, you do matter.”

Her concern for students’ well being and overall university experience doesn’t go unnoticed. Ruth Anne Watkins, a junior theatre major, once worked in the Office of Campus Programs and compiled Guenzler-Stevens’ survey results after she led a workshop. “The students had nothing but wonderful things to say about her. She has the utmost respect for every person and always brings out the best in people,” said Watkins.

But, it’s not only students who are her biggest fan. “I see her as very competent and extremely capable of performing the duties of her position,” said Osteen, who has known Guenzler-Stevens since 1982. “She is an inspirational leader who is beloved by students and colleagues alike, making her an exceptional choice for this position.”

Dedication is undoubtedly a priority in Guenzler-Stevens’ life. Coming from Stevenson, Md., in Baltimore County at 6 a.m. every morning, she arrives at 7 a.m. and leaves around 6:30 p.m. Working an average of 60 hours per week leaves little room for any free time.

In fact, her idea of leisure is much different than the average person’s. Outside of work, Guenzler-Stevens participates in many organizations. For the past 16 years, she has been a board member of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C. With this role comes great responsibility: “For Veteran’s Day, I organized getting together Vietnam vets to do storytelling for the children.”

At her alma mater, Guenzler-Stevens is also president of the alumni association executive board and serves on the board of trustees. She teaches at Maryland, too, including a freshman orientation course for chemistry and life and sciences majors, which she has done for the past 25 years and a graduate course in the summer called Apprenticeship in Counseling and Personnel Services: College Student Personnel.

“But life is more than work,” she said. “I realized in my early 40s that you need to enjoy life to the fullest and spend time with the people you love.”
Born on Aug. 19, 1956, she was raised by her father and mother in the suburbs of Chicago. Her mother, Mary Ann, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1978, which makes it difficult for Guenzler-Stevens to live a few states away. “I call her after work every day and I like to visit her every few months,” she said.

Guenzler-Stevens is married to Randy Stevens, head of St. Timothy’s School, an all-girls private boarding school located in Stevenson. “I’m married to a cool guy,” she said. “We don’t have any children but me and my husband like to say that we are raising many other children.” To support his career, she makes an effort to eat a 4:30 p.m. dinner with the girls and her husband every week.

The token amount of time spent at home is when Guenzler-Stevens likes to spend time with her golden retrievers, named Eleanor Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, read a good book or watch a movie. “I like a thoughtful read or books that are socially redemptive,” she said, like Freedom Writers. “I also enjoy movies that profoundly move me, such as the movie Philadelphia with Tom Hanks.” A lover of chick flicks, she said, “I could watch When Harry Met Sally 100 times.”

Her free time may be minimal, but Guenzler-Stevens admits she enjoys what she does, which makes it all worthwhile: “What motivates me the most is the desire to do a good job and the sense that you are helping students to learn and grow. Making the world--or at least College Park--work for students is my base motivation.”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Not your typical college students

They wear matching cobalt blue polos and navy blue tactical pants. They roam the streets of College Park until 2 a.m. to maintain civility among people of the town. They despise the drunken students scattered along Route 1 on the weekends. They’re the University of Maryland Student Police Aides.

To begin their 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift, SPA’s meet with their supervisors to discuss what location they will be patrolling either by foot or car and what radios will be assigned to them. Tonight, it will be by foot and I will join seniors Eric Dorcey, 21 and Danielle George, 27, on the South Campus Route where we will patrol from Campus Drive to Guilford Road. After leaving the break room containing desks full of paperwork, SPA’s playing Call of Duty and a broken foosball table, I was on my way to walk an entire three hours by foot to make sure the town of College Park and its people were acting in a civil manner.

With Dorcey’s Monster energy drink in hand and George’s time log to record what would happen during the night, we were ready to go. I was glad I wore two shirts and my winter jacket because it was going to be a bitter cold night, but the other two seemed to be grateful for the clear skies. “We have to patrol in the rain usually.

They just give us ponchos,” Dorcey said.
While walking by dorms, apartments, fraternity and sorority houses at 7 p.m., I began to hear the noises of the latest musical hits and students giggling, while chugging down beers before a night of fun at the bars. I couldn’t help but notice the annoyed looks of Dorcey and George, as if the sounds were causing them harm.

Dorcey later explained to me the duties they should fulfill during the night and how he sometimes wished they had more authority. Making sure cars were not parked in illegal places, escorting students to their dorm or car and making sure “Blue lights” [lights that one can press in cases of an emergency to immediately notify the police to come to the scene] on campus are functioning correctly are among the core duties of an SPA.

Dorcey and George have also had the duties to direct traffic and to prevent any horseplay before football or basketball games. “We go before and after the game to keep an eye on everyone,” said George, who added that this is usually the longest shift they have, more than 8 hours consecutively.

SPA’s are also the students who check identification at the entrance of Campus Drive from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. to keep out strangers with no need to be on the campus. “If you have no place to be, you’re turning around,” said George. “If they’re here for a party, we’re turning them down.”

Dorcey said he also has the authority to tell students to pour out an alcoholic beverage in hand while on campus. When asked why these two aren’t the ones with the alcoholic beverage in hand on the weekend, they both admitted that they are not interested in this particular lifestyle. On a rare occasion, some of the SPA’s meet for a drink after a long night’s shift, but Dorcey and George are not fans of the partying scene and the behavior that it comes with.

“The zombies are out,” said George around 10 p.m. when she saw drunken students’ silhouettes glaring in front of a car beeping to get by the large crowd.

George, who spends her free time caring for her grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease, said she doesn’t have the time for or interest in activities involving alcohol. In fact, George has had a lot of setbacks in her life that have caused her to delay her education. She took a break from college in 2003 when she was diagnosed with ADHD. She then worked at a podiatrist’s office for two years and then decided to re-enroll at the university. She has been at the university since while working as a Student Police Aide, caring for sick grandmother and working to obtain her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

For Dorcey, he admitted that the absence of alcohol in his childhood home is one reason he lacks an interest in drinking. His parents never took much of an interest in it and he has followed their footsteps. “Since I practically grew up a few blocks from UMD, I saw at a reasonable age how retarded college students could get with the assistance of alcohol and the absence of parental controls nearby,” he said. He admits the only time he would ever go out is if his co-workers were to join him at a low-key venue. Besides that, he is not interested.

Dorcey has been working as an SPA for a little over a year. As a criminal justice major, he knew being a Student Police Aide would provide him the experience needed for his future in law enforcement. But, he also wants to make money. Dorcey started at 8 dollars an hour when he began the job. “SPAs are part of the Police Auxiliary Bureau of the University Of Maryland Department Of Public Safety. The UMPD is part of the Department of Public Safety and Lieutenant Killion of the UMPD is in charge of the Police Auxiliary, so technically, we're headed by an officer,” said Dorcey. “There are about thirty to forty SPA’s at the University of Maryland.” He said that qualifications include being a student at the university and passing the screening test. According to a campus case study, 75% of SPA’s are on a law enforcement career track.

Dorcey explained that “training depends on the specific shift contract that you're signed up to work. They all involve being familiar with the contract manual for the shift, which details all of the information concerning the security needs of the building/shift. In addition, you have to be trained on the shift itself, which often entails a one-on-one orientation to the contract, where another SPA or a supervisor teaches you how to perform the required tasks.” According to the campus case study, University of Maryland Department of Public Safety Capt. John Brandt states “We use the Auxiliary to staff about 20,000 hours of security jobs all over the campus 365 days a year.”

For Dorcey, he typically works 30 hours a week while being enrolled in five courses. Although constantly busy, Dorcey enjoys being part of a workforce that could potentially “make a difference.” “We’re out in the community and actually doing something,” he said. Dorcey believes that by doing his job, he allows police to have more time to fulfill more important tasks, such as investigations and traffic stops.

With regrets of little time spent with his family and his girlfriend, Robyn, he admits that the camaraderie factor is what keeps him around. “The connections you make with other co-workers are great,” he said. “We’re able to swap stories and learn a lot about each other and really develop closeness.”

Developing closeness with people of the community is not unusual for SPA’s either. During the night, we came across a man parked illegally in front of the street on Princeton Avenue. As part of their trafficking duty, George and Dorcey were sure to ask him if he was going to move his truck out of the street. The man sported a handlebar mustache, was dressed in a plaid shirt, a cowboy hat, jeans and cowboy boots. It turns out it was Bill Coleman from Bill’s Backyard Barbeque, a Washington D.C catering business. Bill is known for making calls down to the police station whenever he has leftovers for the cops to come grab.

He invited us over to eat everything from brisket, pulled pork to pork ribs. He wouldn’t take no for an answer and explained that this was a replication of the food from Texas. He was proud to admit he has catered for former president George W. Bush and his family.

After hearing his story about being an ex-Marine and how his catering business is doing quite well, Bill handed us a souvenir of his homemade barbeque sauce that took him six months to concoct. With a full stomach, we were ready to hit the road and continue our search for kids up to mischief.

Another two weeks later, I had another shift with Dorcey again and a different SPA named Chad Seering. When walking around campus, students tensed up at the site of Dorcey and senior Seering, 22, who are the complete opposite in body physique. Dorcey, at a height of 6’7,” and athletic Seering, at a height of 5’9,” are an intimidating duo.

Dorcey exclaimed bluntly that Seering was a health freak. Seering wasn’t going to disagree. “His body is like a Greek god,” Dorcey said. Seering proudly announced that he exercises every day and eats only healthy foods. He’s not a fan of the drinking scene at College Park either and drinks only with family or close friends. “There are immature kids at the university,” he said. “They act stupid when drunk and I hate that.”

This was certainly apparent when we pushed through a large crowd that elongated from Potbelly’s to Yogiberry, a normal weekend night occurrence. Slurred speech, boys flirting with skimpy-dressed girls, reddened eyes and the lingering of alcohol odors was quite the scene to see.

Seering, a senior, admitted while walking through the crowd that he enjoys being the one who can serve as a ‘visual deterrence’ and potentially keeping students from committing illegal or stupid acts. He is also a criminal justice major and hopes to one day be involved in investigations of abused and neglected children.

After spending hours of my time with these three students, I found a trend among these Student Police Aides. I found that after they see the behavior of intoxicated students on a day-to-day basis, they become completely turned off with this lifestyle.

And although we weren’t able to stop riots or force students to pour out the beer in their conspicuous red cup, I was able to see how serious the Student Police Aides are about their jobs and how their duties are always their first priorities. They had no shame in telling fellow students what they were doing is wrong and were proud about being a part of a different kind of clique.

Friday, May 14, 2010

For the love of ‘fresh’ orange chicken

Hispanic employees, Americanized orange chicken, food cooked in a wok and called “Gourmet Chinese Food.” It can’t get more authentic than this. Welcome to Panda Express.

Though authenticity doesn’t seem to be its forte, the freshness of Panda Express’ food and the ability to see the food being cooked seems to be a recipe for this thriving fast-food chain’s success and a common reason that customers keep coming back. In fact, the hype for Panda Express is certainly apparent at the University of Maryland Stamp Student Union. On a Friday afternoon, the line was double that of any other restaurants, with over 20 customers. People of all ethnicities and ages awaited the taste of the trademarked orange chicken on their taste buds. Any student will tell you, its smell is most distinct too.

There is an open kitchen where customers can stand and watch exactly how their food is being cooked, which provides a sense of comfort compared to Chick-fil-A, where all you can see is your food thrown down a metal slide. The food is then set onto electric burners and replaced quite often, which represents the freshness of the food.

What makes Panda Express so different from McDonalds, Saladworks, Sbarro, or Chick-fil-A Express?

Well, taking a look at Chick-fil-A Express and McDonalds, we are rarely aware of what is going on behind the counter when in the food-making process. Also, one may notice that Sbarro’s pizza is always magically there, but rarely does one see the chef twirling the crust above their head. But, at Panda Express, you see chefs in aprons and tall hats, while frying orange chicken in a wok. Knowing that customers can see what is being cooked may make customers more at ease to spend the extra buck for a meal that is made right and “hygienically.”

“The food seems to be fresh because it is consistently being replaced,” said junior Zemen Habtemarian. This is true because the food is seemingly so often bought that the employees replace trays with fresh new food.

Though freshness seems to be its strong point, the restaurant certainly isn’t flawless. One misleading point that appears on the menu is that there are 250 calories per serving of each entrée, but what they don’t tell you is how many servings are in each entrée. Most students know the food is to be healthy, but still seem to come back.

Senior Jonnie Corrado, who eats at Panda Express occasionally, mentioned “it almost always makes me feel sick.” Another student, junior Ethan Rothstein, ordered a side of chow mein with Sweetfire Chicken Breast and Beijing Beef. When asked why he didn’t order the infamous orange chicken, he said that it does not have the redeeming quality of other entrees that combine vegetables to mitigate bad fats. He also admitted that after eating orange chicken, he rarely feels well. Is there a trend here?

After using Panda Express’ nutritional calculator, there were 1,220 calories in my meal. That’s more than half than most people’s daily recommended calorie intake. My meal consisted of Orange Chicken, Black Pepper Chicken and fried rice. The Black Pepper Chicken was a combination of both tender and juicy meat with a spicy aftertaste. The Orange Chicken was also tender and the flavor quite sweet and tangy.

On the menu, entrees include broccoli beef, veggie spring rolls, mushroom chicken, black pepper chicken and much more. Sides include mixed vegetables, chow mein, steamed rice, or fried rice.

Two entrees and one side run at $5.99 whereas three entrees and one side run at $7.99. It seems like a good deal, but if you plan to wash all of that fried food down, be prepared to spend another dollar or two for a drink. In reality, meals actually range from around 7 to 9 bucks.

Though a bit pricey, Americanized and possibly unhealthy for one’s body, everyone can agree that Panda Express’ food tends to seem a bit fresher than any other restaurants with obscure kitchens. Maybe this is why the restaurant is considered to be one of the fastest growing food-chains in the United States, according to the Panda Express Web site.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Your guide to live like Batman

An underground cave with a crime-solving computer, a supersonic jet, and a Batmobile may not be attainable, but revolving fireplaces and secret knock detecting door locks sure are.

Making a secret entrance is always the first step to creating your own superhero’s lair. Maybe this is just a Steve thing, but Steven Humble and Steve Hoefer have created two innovative pieces of technology that can make anyone feel like they’re about to enter Batman’s Batcave.

Humble began his Arizona-based business Creative Home Engineering in 2004 after researching and finding that many people desired either a revolving fireplace or a secret passage bookcase in their homes. With a mechanical engineering degree and $5,000 in the bank, Humble was able to begin a unique business.

Although copycat businesses have been created since then, Humble claims his company creates “high-dollar projects where they can twist a candlestick or rotate a fireplace.”

“My inspiration to making these features are a lot of movies, such as “Indiana Jones,” “The Saint” and “James Bond,” he said. “Everyone loves the bookcase that opens after you grab the book.” Bookcases start at $6,000, but the average price is about $10,000.

“Our cheapest feature starts at $2,000 and this is a secret door behind a mirror,” he said. If you’re looking to make a bigger investment, Humble admits that the rotating fireplace ranges from $30,000 to $50,000. The rotating fireplace allows you to enter into a whole new room. They even match any existing woodwork.

But this is not all the company has to offer. They have been known to build secret doors behind dressers, paintings, mirrors, wardrobes and grandfather clocks. The company’s motto is: “If you can dream it, we can build it.”

“Our customers usually buy these features to hide their high-security vault room or just something fun for their kids – it is 50/50,” Humble said. The company has provided service to people across the world and also to celebrities.

“Last week, we installed a feature for Bill Gates at his home in Seattle,” he said. He has also installed features for race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and movie producer J.J. Abrams.

Hoefer, of San Francisco, does things a bit differently from Humble. He provides DIY directions for creating one’s own secret knock detecting door lock.

The lock is a contraption placed inside of the door that connects to the handle and that records your secret knock pattern. The only way to get access through the door with this contraption is to perfectly mimic the knock you recorded.

“I was looking for a project that would help me learn more about physical computing,” Hoefer said, on how he became interested in making the lock. After figuring out how to create it, “I thought that would be the end of it, but I was surprised to find it struck a chord with so many people.”

Though he provides directions on how to make the lock on his blog, he recently decided to make a kit that is easy and affordable for people to purchase.
“It won’t be available until the summer, but in the meantime people have been creating their own,” he said.

Hoefer claims that using his contraption would go great with secret passage bookcases to provide extra security, which is where Humble comes in. “I’ve always wanted to do this since I was a kid,” he said.

In fact, Hoefer claims this may be a better choice than simply pulling a book from the bookcase to get access because “the unlock mechanism is completely invisible and only someone who knows where and how to knock can get in.”

So you’ve got the clandestine entrance, but there are other essential items you can add to your home to feel like you’re living in a superhero’s lair.

1) Lorex – Digital Wireless Video Monitoring System – - $129.99-149.99 – Surveying your lair from the evil villains of Gotham City is never a bad idea – This wireless video monitoring system features a micro receiver that plugs directly into the back of most DVRs, TVs or monitors and a surveillance camera with a CMOS image sensor for clear, detailed images.

2) Electric projector screen - - Starting at $175 – Batman owned a state-of-the-art hologram projector and well, this is close enough and of course, a lot cheaper. Hook it up to your digital system and see the a maximized version of what's going on around your lair. - Once the screen is pulled down, enjoy the screen's matte white viewing surface, which diffuses projected light uniformly over the screen creating ideal viewing from any angle.

3) 21.5” iMac computer- $1,199.00 - Maybe you won’t fight actual crime, but you can always pretend while playing crime-fighting video games on this PC. –
Comes with a 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4BG memory, 1920 x 1080 resolution, 500GB hard drive, big LED-backlit displays, wireless keyboard and magic mouse standard, environmentally friendly and the overall best iMac yet.

Meet Steve Humble:

and Steve Hoefer: