Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships at The Evergreen State College Offer Hands-On Work Experience

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships at The Evergreen State College Offer Hands-On Work Experience

Cody Blackketter is one of 15 students participating in a fellowship through The Evergreen State College’s SURF program this summer. The president is reportedly considering forcing Bytedance, the owner, to sell the app or banning it outright. Kids miss their friends. They’re stuck at home. They’re sleeping erratically. Not to mention the trauma of COVID-19 and economic collapse around them.

When Cody Blackketter returned to college after several years of working at a conservation park, he knew he wanted to get his hands dirty studying natural sciences. He did not expect to find an opportunity to do field research and contribute significantly to the completion of an ongoing study his first summer back in academia. Thanks to the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program at The Evergreen State College, that’s exactly what he’s doing.

Cody is one of 15 students participating in a fellowship through Evergreen’s SURF program this summer. He will work alongside Abir Biswas, a faculty member and researcher working on a project titled “Biogeochemical cycling in Pacific Northwest forest ecosystems.” Their field work takes place around Mount St. Helens. “I’m excited for this project because it will allow me to understand the pacing and rationale behind academic writing,” Cody explains. “I’ll also get experience with practical methods for deadline-driven research.”

This particular project started in 2013 with the support of SURF fellows and seeks to broaden our understanding of the toxic trace metal mercury and its cycling in forest soil as it relates to the presence of overstory vegetation. Soil samples collected around Mount St. Helens since 2013 have been analyzed by numerous SURF students. Cody will spend some time in the field this summer, but he will also spend a significant amount of his fellowship studying primary literature, interpreting data gathered in years past and composing the final manuscript presenting the findings of the study.

The SURF program represents a huge opportunity for undergraduates at Evergreen. It gives students like Cody the opportunity to participate in research that is, in many cases, destined to be published. Numerous student participants have had their name on finished papers and articles as undergraduates. “The connection to and oversight by respected researchers and faculty will help keep me on a productive track and give me insight into real-world issues,” Cody says.

Cody’s faculty leader Abir is an avid proponent of the SURF program. “Undergraduate research is really important to me,” Abir explains. “It was important to me as a student and it’s important to me to offer as a faculty member. The SURF program is beneficial to students, to the college and it also supports my research. I’ve been lucky to work with some fantastic students over the years.”

The SURF program at Evergreen started in 2013. Every summer since then, up to 16 students work with faculty members selected to host fellows on projects ranging from scientific field research to art installations. Candidates for the fellowship are subject to an application process and are ultimately selected by the college’s Academic Dean, Karen Gaul, in counsel with participating faculty.

“These are the kinds of opportunities that graduate students hope they can get,” Karen explains. “In some ways our entire curriculum is like this. We train and entrust students to do direct research on their own in ways that you would experience in graduate school. It really helps them get prepared for whatever is coming next for them.”

Each fellow receives a $3,000 living stipend for the summer, made possible by the college’s academic budget as well as donors to the Undergraduate Research Fund and the Evergreen Annual Fund at The Evergreen State College Foundation. Donors will often specify that their gift be put toward the SURF program because of how productive it is for students, faculty and the college as a whole. Students enjoy connecting with the donors who made their experience possible by way of a simple thank you note, and sometimes a meeting in person.

Participation in the SURF program has a lasting impact on Evergreen students and their careers. Pam MacEwan is the CEO of the Washington State Health Benefit Exchange and a regular donor to the SURF program. As a student at Evergreen before the formalization of the program, she had the opportunity to work in affiliation with the college during her summers there. “These opportunities expanded the classroom and gave me skills that helped me find work when I left college,” Pam explains. “As an alum, I want to help students who need the financial support. SURF means they can afford to take advantage of academic opportunities.”

In many ways, the SURF program encapsulates the Evergreen experience. It is a means of hands-on, experience-based learning. It develops real-world skills that prepare students for professional life in a variety of fields. It helps forge connections between thinkers that can last a lifetime. Karen Gaul fondly recalls her summer working with a SURF fellow. “There’s something so special about working in that team, for both the students and the faculty,” she says. “My work with the student that summer became a book, and we are friends to this day. We’re building relationships and I think that’s what’s at the heart of this wonderful work.”

Learn more about the SURF program on The Evergreen State College website. To support this program, you can donate to The Evergreen State College Foundation.



Trump targets TikTok: Everything you need to know

Trump targets TikTok: Everything you need to know

TikTok, popular among teens, lets users add music and effects to short videos. 

TikTok, an app known for quirky, short videos, is facing political heat because of its ties to China. 

US President Donald Trump has ramped up his campaign against the short-form video app. On Friday, the president was reportedly considering an order that would force its Chinese parent company to divest its US operations.  Microsoft is reportedly interested in buying the app, according to The New York Times. (Microsoft declined to comment and the White House didn’t provide additional comment.)

Hours later, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he’d prefer to ban the app, an idea his administration floated earlier this month. “We’re banning them from the United States,” the president said, according to CBS News. A transcript of the pool report, a report shared by media outlets, said Trump suggested he could emergency economic powers or an executive order to ban the app. (The White House didn’t immediately respond to a separate request for comment about the remarks.) 

Entertain your brain with the coolest news from streaming to superheroes, memes to video games.

Owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based tech company, TikTok has drawn the attention of the Trump administration, as well as other parts of the government, because of concerns it scoops up information on Americans that could be turned over to the Chinese government. The US Army and Navy have banned service members from downloading the app to government-issued phones. Earlier this month, the US House of Representatives voted to bar the use of TikTok on all government-issued phones. The Senate is expected to pass the measure. Two senators have also requested the Department of Justice open an investigation of TikTok, as well as Zoom. 

The US isn’t alone in its concerns. India has already banned TikTok, and Australia is also considering blocking the app.

Entertain your brain with the coolest news from streaming to superheroes, memes to video games.

The rising concerns come as TikTok sees its popularity explode. The app has gotten a new boost from the coronavirus pandemic, drawing in people looking to escape the boredom of lockdown. It’s been downloaded more than 2 billion times, according to research firm Sensor Tower, with 623 million coming during the first half of this year. India had been its largest market, followed by Brazil and the US. (TikTok isn’t available in China, where ByteDance distributes a domestic version called Douyin.)

In a move that could smooth things over with some lawmakers, TikTok on July 22 said it plans to hire 10,000 people in the US over the next three years. The company said it would add roles in engineering, sales, content moderation and customer service in California, New York, Texas, Florida and Tennessee. 

TikTok also suspended talks to house its international headquarters in the UK, amid worries about a trade war between Britain and China, according to The Guardian. 

Here’s what you need to know about the political backlash against TikTok:

Politicians are concerned that the Chinese government could use the video app to spy on US citizens. In an interview with Fox News that aired July 6, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said users who download the app are putting “private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” Trump cited a different reason: punishing China for its response to the coronavirus. Asked about Pompeo’s remarks, Trump confirmed the US is considering a TikTok ban. “It’s a big business,” Trump said during an interview with Gray Television. “Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world, is disgraceful.” He followed up on July 31 with his comments aboard Air Force One.

Generation China is a CNET series that looks at the areas of technology where the country is looking to take a leadership position. 

Trump’s and Pompeo’s remarks came after TikTok users and K-pop fans said they helped spoil attendance at a June presidential rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by reserving thousands of tickets online with no intention of attending. Trump supporters have a visible presence on TikTok, so banning the app could also work against the president during an election year.

On July 12, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox Business that TikTok and messaging app WeChat “are the biggest forms of censorship on the Chinese mainland” and to expect “strong action on that.” He didn’t specify if a ban was coming.

TikTok’s access to US users’ data may well be worth investigating. There’ll always be concerns when apps from foreign companies collect large amounts of user data, said tech policy expert Betsy Cooper, director of the Aspen Policy Hub.

But, she added, “it’s unclear how much effort the administration will put into actually investigating the seriousness of the specific security concerns with the app versus using this as a threat for broader geopolitical leverage.”

Concerns about privacy and national security aren’t new to TikTok, and it’s tried to push back against political scrutiny. In 2019 blog post, TikTok said all US user data is stored in the US with a backup in Singapore. TikTok also said its data centers are outside China and that none of its data is subject to Chinese law. 

“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the US,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement addressing Pompeo’s comments. “We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

In general, the federal government can demand the sale of a company through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. This panel, part of the US Department of Commerce, is already investigating TikTok in regard to national security concerns. The investigation, first reported in November 2019, could end up requiring changes to TikTok’s substantial operations inside the United States, including a sale of its US operations.

The committee has jurisdiction because it reviews foreign ownership and control of companies in the US. ByteDance got its foothold in the United States when it purchased, a US company that ByteDance acquired in 2017 for $800 million and subsequently rebranded as TikTok. The acquisition helped TikTok gain traction with US teens.

There’s recent precedent for Chinese companies selling off sections of their businesses. In March, Chinese company Kunlun agreed to sell its controlling stake in gay dating app Grindr after the committee raised national security concerns.

The government could also try to find a legally sound reason to request that Apple and Google pull TikTok from their app stores, according to analysts. And the companies could put up a fight. 

“The tech community will be very hesitant to go along with this app ban,” said Wayne Lam, an independent technology analyst. “It sets a precedent for the government to ban other apps or even for other global apps to be inaccessible to the US market.”

Even if the app were banned, users can install apps on Android devices without downloading them from the Google Play Store, said Carolina Milanesi, a tech analyst at Creative Strategies. 

“I don’t know at that point how you police that,” Milanesi said.

The US Commerce Department could also put TikTok on its “entity” list, restricting the company’s access to US technology, she said. Chinese tech company Huawei is already on that list. Adding TikTok to the list would mean the app wouldn’t be allowed on Google’s or Apple’s store, she said. 

Lam said that the US government could block traffic to TikTok but that such an approach would be “unlikely to succeed given our legal systems.”

The New York Times, citing people familiar with the deliberations, reported that the Trump administration is looking to make a move against TikTok under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. That law allows the president to regulate international commerce after declaring a national emergency in response to any unusual or extraordinary threat to the US.

The administration has limited authority to make illegal any specific piece of software, like an app. But it could potentially lobby Congress to enact legislation that targets TikTok, said Kurt Opsahl, general counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group.

Currently, Opsahl said, “there is no law that would authorize the federal government to ban ordinary Americans from using an app.”

Other countries do ban specific apps, and some have the ability to block them from working on the internet at the network level. This would be extremely difficult to accomplish in the US, said Arturo Filasto, a co-founder of the Open Observatory of Network Interference, who analyzes internet censorship in countries around the world. “There is no central place where you can go to and implement a unified filtering strategy, like there is in places like China and Iran,” Filasto said.

Instead, the government would have to order all ISPs in the country to block the app. Even if they all complied with the order, there’s no guarantee that TikTok wouldn’t find a way to get around those blocking efforts, Filasto said.

Any scenario would create opportunities for legal challenges. A law or executive order that targets TikTok could spur a challenge under the First Amendment, Opsahl said. The challenges would be based on previous court rulings that show “code is speech,” Opsahl said. Such rulings include Bernstein v. DOJ, in which the court found a computer scientist had the First Amendment right to publish an encryption algorithm.

Additionally, Apple and Google could push back on any orders to remove TikTok from their app stores, challenging a potential executive order or any fines charged by the Commerce Department after placing TikTok on the entity list.


Author: Queenie Wong

Kids' mental health can struggle during online school. Here's how teachers are planning ahead.

Kids’ mental health can struggle during online school. Here’s how teachers are planning ahead.

When her South Carolina high school went online this spring, Maya Green struggled through the same emotions as many of her fellow seniors: She missed her friends. Her online assignments were too easy. She struggled to stay focused.

But Green, 18, also found herself working harder for the teachers who knew her well and cared about her. 

“My school doesn’t do a ton of lessons on social and emotional learning,” said Green, who just graduated from Charleston County School of the Arts, a magnet school, and is headed to Stanford University. “But I grew up in this creative writing program, and I’m really close to my teachers there, and we had at least one purposeful conversation about my emotions after we moved online.”

From the other teachers, Green didn’t hear much to support her mental health.

This was a common complaint among parents when classes went online in March to stem the spread of coronavirus. With the sudden halt to in-person learning, many students missed their friends, yearned to be out of the house, developed erratic sleep habits and drove their (often, working) parents crazy. On top of that, many were dealing with the trauma of sick or dying family members, economic hardship and disruption to the life they once had.

‘This is hell’:Parents and kids hate online learning, but many face more of it

As the pandemic drags on, it’s clear that not all kids are all right. Nearly 3 in 10 parents said their child is experiencing emotional or mental harm because of social distancing and school closures, according to a nationwide Gallup poll in June. 

“‘Unmoored’ is the best way I can describe it,” said Michael Rich, associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. He’s seen a rise in young patients with anxiety and depression during the pandemic.

“They don’t feel like getting up and going to another Zoom class,” Rich said. “They don’t feel like finishing their college applications.”

As more districts are electing to start the school year virtually, teachers will have to get better at delivering new academic content online while also meeting students’ social and emotional needs.

Schools, Rich said, should think about using the virtual environment to create new relationships between teachers and students.

“Not just one where kids can get help with algebra, but where kids are talking to teachers about what’s going on.”

Coronavirus and kid mental health:Kids can bounce back, but it’s easier if they have good supports

In normal times, many schools didn’t deliberately set aside time for teaching non-academic “soft skills” such as empathy, determination and self-care. That makes ramping up the focus in a virtual setting, amid a set of challenging circumstances, even more daunting. 

But the world is a stressful place right now, given the global health crisis, economic downturn and continued protests over racial injustice. It’s important for school staff to nurture emotional connections, child psychologists and mental-health experts say, even if addressing students’ academic slide seems more urgent.

There’s a lot of fear and consternation and confusion, but not everyone is living the same pandemic, said Frank Ghinassi, behavioral health leader at RWJBarnabas Health and Rutgers University.

The children most negatively affected, he said, are those who were already disadvantaged by food or housing instability, domestic violence, unsafe neighborhoods, fragmented families or absent role models.

“The dilemma teachers face in a virtual environment is that they likely know who struggles the most with poverty and other difficulties, and yet virtually they have to treat everyone more or less equal,” Ghinassi said.

That’s why some districts are stressing the emotional side of learning for all kids, before asking them to hit the books.

In Falls Church City Public Schools in Virginia, the district of about 2,800 students will start online Aug. 24 and spend the entire first week establishing class expectations, procedures, behaviors and simply getting all students accustomed to going to class and learning again, said Superintendent Peter Noonan in a memo July 24.

Philadelphia Public Schools is sponsoring a free mental health hotline to connect kids and families to grief support services to cope with the trauma of the pandemic, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The service is a partnership with Uplift Center for Grieving Children, a local agency that staffs the line with master’s level clinicians. 

In El Paso, Texas, schools are planning a 30- to 45-minute weekly block for students to connect with their teachers around social and emotional skills. And each day will include a short, live session on connection and community building, said Ray Lozano, executive director of student and family empowerment for the El Paso Independent School District.

Lozano said time spent on those skills will be more structured than in spring. 

Teaching and learning, especially this year, needs to be “more relational and less transactional,” he said.

What is your school’s online program like? 9 questions to help vet your back-to-school choices

In recent years, “social and emotional learning” has become a buzzword in schools, but it doesn’t get as much attention as academic learning because it’s harder to measure progress and results.

But a growing body of research, as well as anecdotal evidence from schools, suggests students perform better academically when they’re taught how to control their emotions and how to develop traits like empathy, determination, a collaborative spirit and the ability to navigate conflict.

“We’re talking about fostering an inclusive environment and caring relationships that elevate student voice and agency,” said Justina Schlund, director of field learning for the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, a nonprofit in Chicago. “They can contribute to their own learning, but also contribute to their school and their community.”

The challenge: how to do that when classes are starting virtually, before teachers have ever met some or all of their students, and before the students know each other well. 

Austin Achieve Public Schools, a charter school network in Texas, plans to start each morning with 45 minutes of social and emotional learning. The network will adapt its tradition of “circle time” — where kids sit in a circle for a moderated talk, and where just one student speaks at a time — to an online setting.

Usually, those in a circle pass around a token known as the “talking piece,” but when circling up via videoconference, teachers will have to get better at using the mute button on everyone but the speaker, said Danielle Owens, restorative justice coordinator at Austin Achieve.

In California’s Oakland Unified School District, which will open Aug. 10 with all students learning remotely, virtual morning meetings will be held for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the grade level, said Sonny Kim, who coordinates the Office of Social and Emotional Learning.

The plan is to have teachers greet every student individually, set the tone and purpose of the day and teach or practice a social skill through a virtual activity. The district hopes to create a sense of belonging and build inclusion, Kim said. 

“The goal is more student talk than teacher talk,” he said. “We want to be asking, ‘Who else agrees and why?’ and ‘Who has something to add to what was just said?'”

Allison Grill, a third-grade teacher at Emerson Elementary in Oakland, started adapting social and emotional learning to an online space in spring. She and her fellow third-grade teacher even devised a “virtual recess” for students. 

The teachers would mute themselves in the video-conference program and encourage the students to talk live and chat live in the application with each other — about anything they liked.

Also, each morning in a quick online form, they’d have students pick a color that described their feelings, like red for angry, yellow for high energy but positive, green for focused, calm and ready to learn.

“We’d ask them: ‘Is there anything you want your teacher to know about you today?'” Grill said. “And we then asked a question to start the day, like, ‘What TikTok dance do you want to learn this week?’ Or, ‘What’s your favorite ice cream?'”

In the spring, students had already gotten to know their teachers in person.So for this fall, Emerson’s teachers are working more closely with their colleagues in the previous grade to understand the individual personalities of incoming students. That’s easier at Emerson, Grill said, because teacher retention is high and there are only two classes of students per grade.

Another idea that’s brewing in Oakland: Teachers might make home visits — either in-person outside, or virtually — to all their students’ families at the beginning of the school year, to try to foster strong relationships.

Teachers wanted respect:It only took a coronavirus pandemic and worldwide economic collapse

Because so much development is happening at home right now, parents and caregivers can do a lot to encourage good mental health, several behavioral health experts said.

That means enforcing regular times for sleeping, eating, and exercising. And sit-down family meals are still important, said Rich, who also runs a specialty clinic for children with internet use disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Parents also must put down their own devices and listen to their kids, he added.

“Ask how they’re doing,” Rich said. “Observe them. I am as concerned about parental screen time as kid screen time. It erodes our connectedness with each other.”

Teachers can model good at-home behaviors, too, said Ghinassi, from Rutgers.

During virtual connections with students, teachers can encourage kids to do jumping jacks before focusing on their work. Teachers and staff can talk about having gone for a walk or run that morning, and they can stress to students how they keep their own consistent bedtimes and wake-up times, he said.

“With older kids, you can convince them at the beginning or end of class to go through a deep breathing exercise or a mindfulness strategy,” Ghinassi said.

One problem, however, is that parents are already overwhelmed right now. 

In Randolph, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, Yahaira Lopez is the mom of twin boys headed into fifth grade. One has attention deficit disorder and the other has autism, and both rely heavily on social and emotional supports at school.

Through the pandemic, she said, one of her sons has become convinced he has to eat every two hours, while the other has become addicted to online games. If Lopez doesn’t sit next to her sons while they’re doing schoolwork, they’ll open another tab on their computers and goof around instead of doing their work. 

“They’re bored at home, and they don’t want to be here,” Lopez said.

But the boys also feel safer at home and don’t want to go back to a school building, she said.

Lopez hopes the boys’ new teachers figure out ways to help them express their anxiety and uncertainty through art or music or books when school starts virtually.

“I feel like they need something creative that helps them understand their world,” Lopez said. “Their music teacher gave them an app that let them download their own beats in the spring. They loved that. Could they sing a song and upload it?”

One of the most overlooked areas of social and emotional learning, several experts said, is how much schools need to foster it among teachers and staff. 

School staff have faced their own trauma since March, including economic uncertainty, the challenges of remote learning, managing their own children while working remotely, caring for sick family members or being sick themselves. 

School reopenings:Teachers fear for their safety

Because much of the teaching that happened in spring was chaotic and disorganized, teachers need to feel a sense of safety and belonging before they can discuss among their peers and superiors what didn’t work — and how they can improve, said Grill, from Oakland.

The first virtual back-to-school staff meeting at her school didn’t go very well, because teachers just dove into talking about how to reinvent school this fall, Grill said.

“We all forgot to stop and do the kind of community building among ourselves that we do so well with students,” she said.

When the staff reconvened virtually two days later, they started with a check-in about everyone’s emotions, and they played a little game. That helped build connection and trust, and the talks about how to improve online school this fall went much more smoothly, Grill said.

Adults need this kind of support before they can foster it in students, said Schlund, of the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning.

“It might sound basic to say: ‘Let’s have adults sit in a circle and talk about our feelings,'” Schlund said.

“But we’re seeing that these are really important moments, especially when talking about race and identity and being able to develop the type of community who can have difficult conversations and work with each other to solve problems.”

Education coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Gates Foundation does not provide editorial input.


Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships at The Evergreen State College Offer Hands-On Work Experience

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