Sunday, April 26, 2015

Assignment- Past, Present, and Future

Apropos of nothing, I thought I'd share an assignment I came up with for my honors college course. It's called "Adaptation in a Changing World" and uses an integrated approach to learning that also encourages reflective and creative thinking and combines it with developing research skills. So I thought I'd share it too. I think my students will like it. What are your thoughts?

Past, Present, and Future
DHC 270 Integrated Learning 
Research Assignment 
Adaptation in a Changing World

This research paper takes an integrated approach to predicting the future of a given field of study or work. 

Take for instance the field of aerospace engineering (also see “rocket science”).  

Introduction: You might look up some background and context for the field, and think of definitions related to this field.  You do not need to justify your interest in this field; your choice to research it is justification enough. In aerospace engineering, you’d look up terms like astrodynamics, electrotechnology, materials science, aircraft structural and design, avionics, software, and fluid mechanics. Maybe you’d like to see what sorts of jobs are available in this field. Narrow this a bit- instead of aircraft and spacecraft, think just of one field- spacecraft (because why not?)

Next, think of the history of your field. You should be creative here. For example, in aerospace engineering, there is a raft of history, cultural significance, and research; so much so that you’d have to pi ck and choose. I personally would begin with thoughts of Galileo, and Copernicus, then move to mythology and stargazing (astronomy? astrology?!) and flow into speculative fiction, such as the works of Philip K. Dick, Arthur C. Clark, Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison. While I’m at it, I’d swing by the original Star Trek television show by Gene Roddenberry. 

This is not fancy, however, as art and speculation often prompt real world development. Think of the communicators from Star Trek, as seen below left. 

Visual elements are encouraged. 

Dr. Martin Cooper, who invented the first handheld mobile phone, credits the Star Trek communicators for his inspiration. Flip phone, anyone? Imagination and creativity are what spark innovation. Negative outcomes are still valuable outcomes. Do keep that in mind. 

There should be a point in your paper in which you describe the general trajectory of your chosen field. For instance, in aerospace engineering, they have gone from myth to speculation to steps towards space flight to actual space flight, landing on the moon and landing a rover on Mars. 

Then the paper gets fun. You’ll need to do some speculation of your own. You may consult the stars (not really), but perhaps your paper would be better served with primary and secondary research. Your speculation may take the form of where this particular branch is heading- in our example, I would consider space tourism, a colony on the moon, the likelihood of a manned space flight to Mars, and exploration outside of our solar system. This won’t happen in our lifetimes, but perhaps we can imagine what will take place eventually.  Incidentally, I recommend a book called “The Martian”, by Andy Weir. It’s speculative, as scientifically accurate as possible, and comments on the human condition, even when someone is stranded on Mars alone and far from home. 

In the conclusion, you might imagine your place in this field. My place in this field is to encourage others to follow their dreams and shoot for the stars. If my life were arranged differently, I might have been an astronaut. 

There is no minimum page count, though you may not exceed 15 pages not including the works cited.  Use MLA format and make sure you conform to the conventions of research and writing. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

April Showers

I'm sure you remember how much I do not like the month of April. I sort of crouch down, hide behind the couch and wait for it to be over. April is always filled with disparate images of life and death and regeneration. It teaches me something though, a lesson I hold onto with all I've got. It's the crocuses. Even in the midst of loss and sadness, and a fear that nothing will ever get better, these tiny blue, purple, and yellow flowers push up past the old pine needles, hold aside the dead leaves from last fall, and declare themselves. They are not tall, nor flashy, nor even particularly spectacular. But they are a quiet spot of hope in a sea of decomposition.

In my early twenties- a lifetime ago it seems now- I lost my great aunt and cousin to a drunk driver the very same month as an ex-boyfriend committed suicide. I am loathe to think of those times and those sad, dark days. Let's just say it's more complicated than those few words. I didn't have a support network and did most of that healing on my own. I did it badly and it took a long time.

Anyway, April hasn't been a great month since then.

This last week has been particularly rough, and it doesn't help that I hold these things in. I'm trying to let them out. I promise. It's always been important that I compartmentalize and not feel things for awhile. So when I hear news such as this, I just sort of go on for the day or week. Then at a juncture which is quiet and in which I am alone, the feelings leap up and and the scream that's been sitting at the base of my throat will suddenly find its voice.  This week, in three days, I know three people who died. One from natural causes; two from suicide. All pretty devastating for their families.  As I type this, ever keystroke feels as though it's hitting a bruise. None of these men knew each other, but I knew each one.

There is always a crocus though.


I have been very fortunate in my life, given my background and history. People sometimes ask me how my life turned out differently than those around me. I tell them this: I have amazing women friends.  I seek out positive women who exhibit kindness and generosity of their spirit and I befriend them. I mentor younger women. This is the difference between me now and me twenty years ago.

I tagged along with my friend Joy for a road trip to Yakima. No big deal, just a beautiful drive, lunch, time to talk and a bit of shopping. We listen to each other and we are vulnerable to one another and we plot revenge on our enemies and celebrate the good parts of our lives.  If Charlotte or Cathy or Patricia or any of my Oklahoma friends had been close by, I could have gone on this same road trip with them.

This is not to say that G isn't my biggest supporter. He is. He is who I run to when I have good news and bad, as my best friend through everything. And he has cheered me up this week and made me laugh and just sat on the couch and held me because believe me when I say that I crawled into my pajamas at 4:00 and didn't leave the house thereafter. That's love.

It's Joy who will scream obscenities out a car window with me. Maybe not a flashy friendship, but one which pushes aside the sadness and says that we will make it through another spring.