Friday, January 11, 2019

Private, For-Profit Higher Education

I have worked for five colleges over the past 13 years.  All of them private.  Four of them for-profit.  

In these four institutions, I worked in Admissions, literally driving the business.  Recently, I lost my job abruptly when the college closed and left staff, employees and students without direction.  Here is my story and what I have learned in this fascinating sector.

Higher education is a an interesting commodity that falls into different categories around the world.  In some countries, it's such a vital part of society that it's heavily subsidized with the assumption that educating the people is wise for the economy.  In other countries, it's a privilege and students can make the decision to get a degree.  This is where it gets complicated and becomes a consumer issue.

In the United States, we have a complex system that sometimes serves as a barrier for students who wish to rise up, get a dream job or make the leap into another tax bracket.  The barrier can be difficult to overcome - it takes much determination and perseverance to figure it out, no matter which segment of the population you come from.  

For most, the community college to four-year institution is a good route to take.  The problems arise when classes are not scheduled appropriately and students are also maintaining a part time - usually minimum or low-wage job.  This means that they are either scheduling their courses around their work schedule, possibly taking classes they don't need to complete a degree or get proper transfer credit, OR, they have a flexible work schedule that agrees to schedule around their classes every term.  The other problem that comes up with community colleges is the issue of being in class with the same students from high school or in class with students that are not interested at all in pursuing a degree and perhaps would rather work or are only in class because their parents might kick them out otherwise.  These students tend to bring down the motivation levels of other students or cause boredom in students that otherwise would be interested in the class.  

**Overcoming this barrier is really difficult for an 18-20 year old**

For others, they have prepared to go straight into a four-year institution, bypassing the barriers associated with community college.  These students do not have an easier route, they have likely had to study their butts off in high school, take Honors courses and play a sport in order to get accepted.  Especially in California!  Then, they're expected to declare a major and plan out the next 4-5 years of their life.  This means they're either not working, working on campus, or their parents are paying for tuition, room and board, food, and the astronomically expensive textbooks.  

Vocational and trade schools are another option for students.  Within this realm, there are many choices for students to make; smaller community-based institutions run by locals, funded by either tax payer dollars or donors; programs within community colleges that offer shorter non-degree programs focused on the trade or vocation; and private, for-profit corporations that provide services every step of the way.  I am focusing on this type of college.  

When I first entered this sector, I worked for Career Education Corporation, as an Admissions Representative, enrolling students to study abroad in London, Paris, Florence, Dubai and sometimes Tokyo and Capetown.  It was thrilling because I love talking to people about studying abroad because it had such a huge impact on me.  As I got to know the business more, I understood that while our branch (we were called the red-headed step child of the company) was very student focused, the rest of the company was very profit focused.  One of the schools operated by the corporation, American InterContinental University, was put on probation by the accreditor and everyone in the organization had to change verbiage and marketing materials were revised.

We could no longer use the term, 'lead' for a student, they became 'prospective student', we were re-branded as Admissions Advisors, and we were watched very carefully. The company was constantly putting out fires before working on training or investing in human resources.  We had multiple talking heads come to our offices from 'corporate' to discuss new policies.  We were without a Director of Admissions until the organization hired a former Army recruiter who had no experience in our industry and provided absolutely no guidance.  After he left when he couldn't manage the office, we were left without direction, enrollment goals, or a local supervisor.  We reported to the Director of Admissions at the London campus.  When myself and another Advisor were laid off in September 2008, I fought for our in-house supervisor to finally get an office and the support she needed because the stress the job gave her (making enrollment budgets) had landed her in the hospital twice in recent months.  This was the beginning of the end for the red-headed stepchild of the company.  They officially closed the office in 2012.  

January 4th, 2019, a new settlement of $500M in loan forgiveness was awarded to students that attended CEC schools.  See more here.  

In October 2008, I conveniently landed another Admissions position at Everest College, a college operating under Corinthian Colleges Inc. - now defunct.  This college hadn't had the accreditation issues - yet - and I reverted back to calling prospective students 'leads' and when I first started there, we didn't have a CRM at all.  This college used television commercials conveniently located between Jerry Springer shows and daytime TV directly marketed toward students that needed a friendly voice on the other side of the phone.  Many came from low-income communities, were already on government assistance and had never had a counselor, advisor, or representative that supported them in their dreams.  I felt like a social worker and guidance counselor. I found myself giving out gas money so students to get to class and changing baby diapers on my desk.  I particularly remember a scenario with an 18-year old female prospective student came in with three children, no GED or HS diploma and told me precisely how she pays for bills.  

I was so excited to help these students!  I loved the work and it fueled my desire to do well, make my enrollment and start budgets and bring me high hopes to become a leader in the company.  The Campus President, well-known for his energy and for being the youngest campus president in the system insisted I was going to make a great campus president some day.  The regional Director of Admissions and I bonded over the fact that she dated black men too and thought it was great that I had a picture of me and my boyfriend in my office since it helped students to trust me.

Then the company dynamics changed, our DOA left us for a downtown Chicago campus and the President went to open another school in Wisconsin.  We then had another military recruiter for a DOA and the new campus president was transitioning from Best Buy to education.  Right, Corinthian Colleges hired a Best Buy VP to run a higher education institution.  She ran the place just like a Best Buy and it was the beginning of the end for Everest College.  I was let go along with four other Admissions Representatives in April 2010 for not making our enrollment budgets.  This was against the wishes of the Regional Director of Admissions who reminded our campus that I had been giving tours on crutches after ankle surgery.  About 18 months later, I was asked to write a letter about the behaviors of the Campus President who came from Best Buy.  Five years after letting me go, the organization ceased operations abruptly a month before filing for bankruptcy.  

I hadn't known the name Kamala Harris at the time, but she had stated in 2014 that Corinthian Colleges 'targeted single parents who were close to the poverty level, a demographic that its internal documents described as "composed of 'isolated,' 'impatient,' individuals with 'low self-esteem,' who have 'few people in their lives who care about them' and who are 'stuck' and 'unable to see and plan well for future,' through aggressive and persistent internet and telemarketing campaigns and through television ads on daytime shows like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich.'"

In 2011, upon relocating to San Diego, I was offered two Admissions positions, one at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design, run by Laureate Inc., and another from Kaplan College, both offered nice pay and benefits.  I went with the NewSchool, they had degree programs in great fields, good reviews, and schools in Latin America.  There, I was titled an Enrollment Specialist but the role was exactly the same.  The organization, Laureate, had institutions all over the world, which attracted me but when I attempted to get a position working with our international students, I was denied.  We had regular not-so-friendly dialogues with the academic department, who wanted higher quality students, but because we were a for-profit institution, local high schools wouldn't allow us to present to their students. 

Additionally, the business office, based at Laureate headquarters, in Baltimore, MD, wanted higher enrollment numbers.  Transfer students were often given no credit or minimal credit, which meant students would probably attend another institution that provided them credit.  This put the Admissions office in a pickle.  We often had to explain why our 'start rates' were low - which refers to the percentage of students who enrolled for a particular start who actually started in that term.  Myself and a colleague worked diligently on a draft Articulation Agreement, which was supposed to help students determine which courses at their community college would transfer over.  We looked at student transcripts from community colleges and matched up course descriptions, we analyzed what grades were transferable and had to determine a baseline for this.  

In one instance, I had a brilliant student who had hoped to have a smooth transfer from a four-year state school in Arizona to the NewSchool.  She completed a whole year of the architecture program there, got As and Bs, stayed up many nights in her studio, and even had a debilitating illness.  She did not get any studio credit from NewSchool and I was put in a difficult position because she wanted to attend but her and her parents could not understand how her studio work wasn't acceptable credit.  After I mediated two meetings with the student and her mother and the Chair of the Undergraduate Architecture department, she was asked to attend our summer studio program in order to start in the 2nd year studio rather than repeating her first year studio with us.  

The worst part about working in the Admissions world is the performance reviews.  The accreditors and the Department of Education would like to see that our reviews are not based solely on our enrollment numbers.  So there are bits and pieces related to soft skills and other flimsy ways to measure how Admissions Specialists/Advisors/Representatives can create added benefits to the institution.  However, when it comes down to it, the enrollment numbers are the only things that have ever mattered.  

At AIU Study Abroad, I did my part by providing monthly training and even led exercises for our teams to try to boost morale when we were left without direction.  At Everest College, I started a walking group, volunteered on the graduation committee and hung all the new student photos in the hallway every month.  At the NewSchool, I worked with a genius Mexican architecture professor to coordinate the summer program he provided for Mexican architecture students.  

When I started to get aggravated with the NewSchool in May 2013. I bowed out politely and went on my way.  The following year, I heard that the articulation agreements still hadn't been signed and the same transfer credit issues were happening.  They also went through two more campus presidents in that time.

In February of 2018, when job prospects weren't looking so good for me, I looked up some Admissions jobs, and found Brightwood College.  Because of my past experience in Admissions and an inside colleague I had worked with at NewSchool, I was hired in a week and making more money than I had dreamed to make in the nonprofit sector, making precisely 140% more than what I was making at the University of San Diego.  

Nothing had changed at all. 

The training they sent me to in Sacramento was a copy of the trainings from other private for-profit admissions trainings.  The characters were the same.  I knew exactly what to say and do.  I was making more than any nonprofit job I had had in the recent years and yet felt like I had regressed back in my career.  They had the same system of live-calls - where all the representatives phones ring at once and whoever picks up first gets the live call coming from somewhere else in the country.  

They had the same kind of admissions phone guide/script on how the first call should go.  "Give them enough information to get them hooked but not too much so they don't have to come in for your appointment."  I placed a photo of my Mexican American husband and I in my office so that our hispanic students and families would feel comfortable with me.  I enjoyed conversations with students, I loved hearing their stories of their journies, I loved asking about their kids, and I loved when they enrolled after I told them what Brightwood could bring them.  I started thinking about them while driving, I told my husband about them and their families, and their children.  I helped out even the students my Director thought could never make it. Like the refugee student from Uganda who wasn't using financial aid, or the mother who couldn't afford to keep the electricity on her apartment in east county during the summer and failed our entrance exam three times.  We also had military spouses looking for their own path who had never thought college was for them.  

When Brightwood, formerly called Kaplan, now owned by Education Corporation of America, had their accreditor put on probation, they attempted to move all the schools over to another accreditor, at the same moment that the accreditor was taken off probation, we learned that while our school passed accreditation from the new accreditor, not all the campuses within the corporation did.  So, we had an accreditation visit in September, the same month we were told that the company was closing 26 schools nationwide.  We were also convinced that our campus, because of it's lucrative Associates Degree in Nursing - allowing students to become an RN, we wouldn't ever be shut down.

Then we learned that the Education Corporation of America sued the Department of Education in order to ensure that they could continue to use financial aid in order to not get any further into debt.  All the while, our bathrooms were a wreck - similar to the situation going on at the National Parks right now - we had no office supplies and I bought my own post-its and other supplies I needed; and students weren't even getting their scrubs until they were already nearly 2 months in.  They were told they were on 'backorder'.  In the coming days, we were told that we are no longer responsible for getting students fitted into their scrubs, rather, the instructors would do that when it was time.  When the lawsuit failed, we were told ECA was given a 'show cause'.  Literally meaning to show the Department of Education why we shouldn't shut down your schools right now. 

We were granted receivership, which meant that another organization could relieve ECA of it's colleges.  This also meant that the organization/company, would need to take on all of the debt.  We heard through rumors that some schools had been in fear of being kicked off their property.  Some of my colleagues feared for their careers and their families, one left out of instability, the DOA from another campus who had been there for 10+ years resigned when she got an offer somewhere else. 

Wednesday, December 5th, I showed up at work around 8:15am to a swarm of students discussing what had just happened.  An omnious student smoking a cigarette said to me; "It's true, it happened." The instructors literally walked into class and told the students the school was closing and to start making arrangements immediately.  I walked into the office and there was only one other Admissions Rep there, Teri, the most faithful, loyal rep a student could ever want.  She was already calming students down.  We looked at each other and I said, "Couldn't they have waited until after the Holidays?"  We hugged and cried together.

Later, our DOA came in and told us the official news and we spoke with others on campus.  Apparently the investors weighed the options between paying to do a 'teach-out', where students already enrolled can finish and graduate versus the cost of the lawsuits.  The lawsuits were estimated to be cheaper so they shut down immediately.  Leaving students two days to get transcripts, figure out financial aid and next steps.  The news showed up and got a clip of me and a coworker walking my belongings out to my car.  Other schools came and offered their support and we were told students could transfer and to come by with transcripts.  A former military student of mine came up after having dropped her baby off at the neighbors and needed advice.  Students using the GI Bill get a housing stipend as well.  So, she needed to figure something out fast.  

The official communication I eventually received at 8:31 was this:

Dear colleagues,

In early fall, we undertook a path to dramatically restructure ECA to best position ourselves for the future.  This plan entailed the teach out of 26 of our campuses and then the commitment of additional funds from investors

However, recently, the Department of Education added requirements that made operating our schools more challenging. In addition, last night ACICS suspended our schools’ accreditation with intent to withdraw. The uncertainty of these requirements resulted in an inability to acquire additional capital to operate our schools.

It is with extreme regret that this series of recent circumstances has forced us to discontinue the operations of our schools effective with the completion of the current module or term for most students.  There will also be a small group of employees to provide an orderly closure process for a short period thereafter. 

Please check with your functional leader or campus president for your last day of employment.  Attached are answers to common questions including benefits and related items.  All employees will receive wages for time worked along with accrued but unused vacation. 

I recognize this will have a dramatic effect on all of you, our students, and our many other partners and regret having to share this news.

Stu Reed

Stu Reed
Chief Executive Officer

Birmingham, AL  35209 
Education Corporation of America
410 Palisades Blvd.
direct 312.638.5889 | cell 847.208.1602 | fax 312.638.5834 | 
Please consider the environment - do you really need to print this email? 
Confidentiality Notice: This message is confidential and intended for the individual(s) named. If you are not that individual, do not disseminate, distribute or copy this email. If you believe you have received this message in error, please contact the sender immediately and delete this message.

With this, I was at least able to apply for Unemployment Benefits and could send this to Covered CA (ACA) to show that my income dropped to zero.  

I felt safe enough to use my work computer to send texts to students that I thought might need support and gave them my cell phone number just in case.  Unfortunately, I didn't have any answers for them.  In times like these, students can get their loans forgiven, they can transfer, the VA might help their students, etc.  What I still don't have answers to is regarding the students who were cash payers.  Like my Ugandan refugee student.

Additionally, Brightwood College graduated nearly 30 students every 3 months in the Registered Nurse program alone.  This, in addition to the Vocational Nursing and Allied Health programs, at a time when the health industry is still growing.  I can gain some solace in the fact that unemployment is below 4% and perhaps that's why the corporation couldn't get itself out of debt.  

Moving forward, I highly recommend that the state of California pursue a more aggressive agenda focused on apprenticeship training.  Higher Education as we know it does not work for everyone as previously discussed.  However, it's also very challenging for workers 18+ to gain valuable knowledge and skills to survive in an ever-more-competitive labor sector.  If they are surviving without quality skills, they are probably not in the best housing scenario as wages still lag way behind rent costs.  

The private for-profit higher education institutions or 'diploma mills' as some would call them do bridge a gap.  However, it comes with a high cost to the student as well as to the tax-payer.  How many hundreds or even thousands of millions of dollars in the federal student loan system have been forgiven?  This means that the American tax payer has funded the pockets of the executives of these organizations.  

For me, I know I'll likely not be able to get a job in the industry after this.  It's California, the land of opportunity.

Elizabeth Marquez

Monday, December 31, 2018

Into 2018

WHOA... publishing without more edits or finishing it up. 

It should be no surprise to anyone I know that 2017 was definitely a big year for me...

I got married!!  How did that happen?  I never imagined I would get married, probably because I never found a man that suits my needs.  Now, here I am, living in the house he raised his children with, driving my teenage stepson around, and friends - both real and FB - with his ex-wife.

Image result for omg wtf

Seriously, though.

My older stepson asked me how it feels the following day.  I said it felt 'organic'.  Because it is so natural it's weird.  I still wonder how it happened so easily.  I didn't even put up a fight!  The ring did have trouble getting on at the wedding but it was a hot day and my fingers were swollen!

This is one of my favorites, manipulated by our dear friend Eddie.  If you weren't invited, please don't think we didn't think of you.  It was hard to make those decisions when we wanted everyone there!  We had family and friends among the bridal party, the teenage stepson walked both our mothers down the aisle and my Dad flew out for the weekend - so happy!!!

The other big piece of news this year was Trump and his administration.  My family, specifically my husband and stepson, noticed my depression and anxiety after the inauguration.  I struggled with it and have struggled with it since he started winning in the primaries.  However, since the first time I posted about the election in August (I think) when my best friend, known as the 'voice of reason', and my aunt got into a public fight, I decided to remain silent.  Given the political bullshit, I hope that I can have a reprieve, I couldn't bare to see two people I love dearly to fight so viciously.  

Now, however, I am ready.  I am to show the world who I am. Not the American I so courageously defended during the Bush regime while abroad, not the American who wants to build a wall dividing families, not the American who is more comfortable with guns on a billboard than titties.  I am an Evangelical.  The kind that Christ would support, rather than deny.  The kind that loves everyone, not the one designed to force people into boxes.  

And the last of my 2017 comes down to my professional life in 2017.  While making money in a professional setting is important, it isn't everything.  My stepson made the mention a few weeks ago that ...

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Words of Wisdom from The 16th Dalai Lama - 1st Post

On Friday, June 16th, the San Diego community was embraced by the 14th Dalai Lama and given a key to the City of San Diego from Mayor Faulconer.  I was in the front row thanks to my gracious friends!

The Dalai Lama greeted the crowd as brothers and sisters and completed his greeting with the rationale for why we are all brothers and sisters.  Every human on this planet is part of a great family and by embracing one another, we are embracing ourselves and providing love for everyone.  

The very next note I have (because I was taking notes) is that "Everyone wants a happy life - it's our right".  The pursuit of happiness is literally written in the United States Declaration of Independence.  "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".  I could dissect this carefully but I'll leave the reader with something more simple:  How do you personally define happiness?  How do you pursue it?  

The Dalai Lama then went on to explain why we now have the problems we have that prevent every human on the planet from pursuing their own happiness and creating a world of brothers and sisters.  It is man-made.  (He added that it is not female-made because then we wouldn't have these issues - but MAN-MADE).  And- it comes from a lack of oneness of humanity.  

I couldn't agree more.  

As I see it, the issue that is tearing up not only our political spectrum but even families in the US society (because I can't speak for other countries), is that- lack of oneness of humanity.  A percentage of our citizens have decided to only care for their own communities, whether that means the town boundaries of where people live, their race, or their own particular country.  

I have had conversations with individuals where I state:

"We're all in this together" - because I truly believe that a team is only as strong as it's weakest member- and this extends to the entire country and planet. 

Only to be rebuked with: 

"No we're not". 

And just like that, one human's life is more important than anothers.

This, to me, brings on more questions.  

I do not believe that everyone who feels this way does not care about others.  Because these are loving people that would bring a meal to a neighbor in need or pray for the health of someone they do not know.  They probably also donate to local causes, shop at local stores and would hopefully help a bloody child at the neighborhood playground. 

The logical explanation is that they believe that by investing in their own communities, they will receive a return 'of sorts' from that investment.  The meal will help the family continue to thrive in the community, providing love (intangible) and a solid economy (more tangible and measureable).  The prayers will provide support within the faith-based community and theoretically heal the health of the ill individual.  

I admire that families, individuals - even voters - want to support their families and their communities.  

I have ran into someone that I graduated high school with while waiting in line to climb the tower of Notre Dame in Paris.  

I have transported clothes from one sister in the US to another sister of the same order in Slovakia.  

I have witnessed the challenges of working in a multinational company hoping to compete against other countries and companies doing the same.  

I have seen the destruction of exploitative companies and governments and the abuses that go along with it.

I fear for another's life when I buy a shirt made in Bangladesh.

I have sent university student who were paying my salary to a friend's restaurant in London.

I know how interconnected our world is.  

I have seen what our buying choices and energy waste can do to another economy and what that means for another community's pursuit of Happiness.

It also has effects locally too.  ("Bring jobs back")

Perhaps this is why the Dalai Lama's words were so impactful for me.  Because I have seen this and know it to be true.  Our 'lack of oneness of humanity' gives way to destruction in other places.  

However, the truth is that the indirect benefits of supporting other communities are visible!  How would the young girl from another town over ever do well in school and become a productive member of society without food?  (read: productive member of society = tax contributor) What about the corn growers in another state?  They need prayers too - and to know they are loved - because how else would we have abundant corn-on-the-cob over the summer?  And, helping a bloody child from an innocent fall at the playground means that they will feel loved, know that someone cares and theoretically be guided out of making not-so-innocent choices that could affect an entire country if joining a force of evil.  (terrorism or otherwise)

These are logical explanations for creating a oneness of humanity.  The emotional explanations are also strong!  If you feel for other humans, you should feel that we are all in this together.  "This" can be defined as life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  To do otherwise would make me and others believe that you simply don't care about other humans.

The 14th Dalai Lama implores us to find universal compassion based on a sense of oneness of humanity.  Please take his words to heart - he has lived in exile and has seen and experienced things that are unfathomable in our society.

I will leave you with one more note from His Holiness:

"Different cultures are like different flowers in a garden."

Friday, February 24, 2017

Reflections and Birthday Month Objective

I have failed.

I denied the people of America, my countryfolk, the moments and feelings that shaped me.

I used public funding to attend college and did not share the knowledge.

These past months have shown me that the price our military pays for our freedoms and the quality of life we enjoy is taken for granted by many Americans.

I know that sitting here on a hilltop in California eating a kale salad with filtered water is not something to take for granted.

I know because I've witnessed the alternative.

Because I used United States Department of State funding to tour Auschwitz.

I know because an immigrant mother with an ill child invited me into her home and there was no sign of kale but plenty of cockroaches.

Because African American families in Flint, Michigan have been drinking bottled water for 3 years.

I know because I became a resident of California so I could afford to take a course in Native Peoples of California on taxpayers dime.

This blog will serve to share some of what I have lived and to provide ideas for what we can all do in our lives to shape America.

This week was the hardest for me in the Trump administration.  New guidelines in Homeland Security, the removal of peaceful protesters in North Dakota and the revocation of rights for transgender students.  To top it off, I received an email from the Office of Student Affairs at the college I work for about two swastikas found drawn on campus - one in the building the Kroc School of Peace is housed.

I was raised Catholic yet it wasn't until a catechism teacher drew a circle with two other circles inside it that represented God, the world, and me - the smallest circle- that I really understood the purpose.  The same teacher brought us to a soup kitchen to volunteer and gifted me a book of Mother Theresa's journals.  It was in that context that I decided to serve the people.  To listen to everyone's stories, to have the courage to show empathy and patience, and to follow in the footsteps of a leader like Mother Theresa.

Along the journey that has brought me to this place, my identity has molded and I have grappled with the various models I've been provided.  I've grappled with the errors of my forefathers; like invading and destroying another's identity.  I've grappled with an American identity that I've had to verbally defend while abroad.  I've grappled with my Christian identity that doesn't always follow the teaching of Christ.  I've grappled with a caucasian identity that refuses to believe that racism still exists.  I've grappled with an Eastern European identity that has lived so much hardship.  Lastly, I've grappled with a human identity that seeks to work together to bring each other out of poverty knowing that other humans are profiting from it.

Unfortunately, my personal grapplings hasn't gotten us anywhere.  Not America, not Christians, not caucasians, not Eastern Europeans, and certainly not humans.

(I'm not going to go down the feminist route here- that's for another post)

Here we are, in a country where our vote is worth more than the lives of the people that were killed in the name of fast fashion in the Rana Plaza collapse.  More than the billions of Chinese migrants flocking to cities to find work and living literally underground.  More than the uncontacted tribes of the Yasuni National Park in the Amazon who are do not bother anyone until we want the resources underneath their land.  In case you don't understand:

Our American vote, a right not provided to every human on this planet; the vote we pay our military to protect, is stronger than all these forces.

Because honestly, nobody raised alarms when the Chinese had to move to underground cities to find work making our products.  The general public did not seem to care when humans decided to drill in an untouched region of the Amazon with more endemic species than anywhere else.  No one thought twice and while the press did report on it - New York Times today not allowed in White House Press Briefings - frankly, the world did not wake up when 1,127 dark-skinned people died in a building making clothes for us.  But when white America's identity is at risk, the vote turns out.

What's more interesting is the policies that led us to this point have usually been those of the free market wielding kind, namely, Republican.  See John Robb's well-made points about neoliberalism and how we got to this point.  Effectively, everyone can now identify as a 'marginalized' person.  This is why my personal identity is again in flux. Everything that made me proud to be an American is now at risk.  It is also why I cannot understand how Donald Trump identifies as a Republican.  (Oh yeah, no more EPA or publicly-funded schools.  I wouldn't be surprised if we see American child labor laws start to be unraveled.  Especially if they can't get lunch or use the bathroom anymore at school- put them to work - no white family wants to be seen working in a field anyway.)

It is because of these issues that I am proud to partake in an activity that has normally been reserved for liberals but should be for every American.  Because there is no 'Us versus Them' in my America.  What the data do not reflect is that Americans of all races want to buy American-made.  Unfortunately, the price point outweighs that desire and here we are asking government to fix it.

I am buying local for my birthday month and everything I consume will be as much American made and produced as labels and internet resources allow.  This means buying American sourced gasoline for my car - which I still have only vague ideas on how to do this - suggestions needed!  I will be checking labels on any processed and boxes groceries, any household items or clothes purchased during the month of March will be made in America, and produce will be meticulously bought at the local farmers' market.  If I cannot find something Made in America that I want to purchase, I do not need it.

This will be a difficult process because our markets are so intertwined, as we all know.  I've lived as a minimalist and have abolished disposables in the past so I am prepared for the unexpected.  I don't know about the rest of the household I now live with.  I will only subject them the food part of this experiment.  The most difficult will be giving up Chilean wine and coffee from other parts of the world.  Luckily, California produces wine, Kauai grows great coffee, and we have plenty of migrants working the fields (as of today) so I can still have organic kale.

In the process of reconciling the fact that I failed to share with the world what I learned, I realized that it is not too late.  I work at a Catholic university, with a Catholic president who has provided me the backbone to have the courage to believe in what I feel is right and just.

I cried on my way home Wednesday.  The same day I attended a Black History Month leadership luncheon with an African American gay man as the speaker who spoke about coming together; introduced by a student leader in the Student Leadership and Involvement Center, whose introduction also included directions to the transgender bathroom in the building.  Only to wake to an email the next morning about swastikas found on campus.

To echo another American president on inauguration day:

"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." - John F. Kennedy, inauguration address, January 1961

Falls right into place with Trump's "America First and Only" policy in my opinion.

Please, do what's right in the eyes of everything good and do your part in building your community and our country.  I will also continue to follow in Mother Theresa's footsteps while working in a Culture of Care promoting social justice and dignity of every person at the University of San Diego.

God Bless


Friday, September 11, 2015

A Day in the Life of Maximus

On a typical morning on The Chilean Miner I, Maximus stares down his Master, Elizabeth.  SSSSSTAAAAARE  SSSSSTAAAAARE.  Until she wakes up.  Eager with the anticipation of all the delicious treats he'll get on his morning walk, he starts panting.  Elizabeth attempts to slide the dog over to the left of the couch before putting up his ramp, otherwise, his head gets hit by the ramp, which never really seems to bother him but it bothers her.  Lifting the ramp, Maximus gets so excited he can't wait for the carpet to the rolled out.  The carpet that provides him the grip to get up the ramp.  Not the celebrity kind of carpet.  The carpet is rolled out and Maximus is able to climb, with some help from Mom.

YAY!  I'm out!  He gets so excited to go trick or treating on the dock that he can't wait and climbs around the winch to the deck and finds his way under the lifeline, falling rather than jumping to the dock from 3 feet up.  If not for his chest and shoulders being strong, his back legs wouldn't have allowed him to do it.  Not even 2 years ago.

WOOHOO!  I'm free!  Maximus starts to gallop down the dock, almost missing Tony's boat, he slides to an abrupt stop, his back end falling to a stop.  Getting back up he goes down Tony's finger.  Waiting and hoping the staring game will get him noticed, Tony does not show up and he decides to leave.  Bouncing over to Baron's boat, he drinks some water out of the bowl originally designated for the cat, Ito.  This is no ordinary water, Ito cannot drink the tap water, so this specific bowl comes from a bottle.  "Come on boy!" She pulls the leash.  No response.  "Let's go Maximus!"  Nothing  "BUTTHEAD!"

Taking advantage of all the cat's water, he is ready to go when it is gone.

Stopping briefly to see if someone familiar is on the Water Witch, he moves onto the next stop, Don and Carol's boat!!!  Maximus barges right up to the boat, nearly falling in every single time.  Carol sees him and immediately comes out of the boat to get a him treat.  Elizabeth attempts to make Maximus sit, (back when he could hear and was able to actually sit painless) as Carol slowly hands him the treat...  "gentle.... gentle..."

Maximus is thinking, "watch your fingers... watch your fingers..."


Treat is gone in 0.7 seconds!  MAGIC

Making their way down the dock and up the ramp, Maximus anticipates his time to sniff the grass, make pee pee and spend time with people.  (He prefers to stay away from dogs- they annoy him) They walk down to the palm trees, get swayed by the people eating bacon at the sportfishers cafe, a few pets from kids that are always respectful and ask first if they can pet him.  When finally ready, Maximus, AKA Butthead, decides to take his morning poop.  He curves his back and starts walking...  stops and pushes and walks... Mommy prepares the poop bag... a turd!  More walking and pushing... another turd!  More walking... and 2 more turds and he's done.  "I wish you'd poop in one place, dog!"

Making their way around the grass, they return to the sportfishers and get some more pets and a few questions from on-lookers.  Someone has always had a labrador before and has a cute story to tell.  Maximus is getting tired at this point, but as soon as he sees the dockmaster's office, he gets a pep in his step!  John makes a point of coming out to greet us with a handful of treats... and the last one always goes 'to Mom'.  This is so she can lure him away from John.

"Now that you've had your morning treats, let's go eat breakfast!"  Maximus turns to look at John a few more times before reluctantly heading down the ramp... 'fine... I guess...'

Happily skipping down the dock, they arrive at their slip and get some more water before retiring to the cockpit for the day.  Elizabeth pulls the boat to the steps and Maximus hops up onto the deck, into the cockpit and onto his cushion.  Standing in the cockpit, waiting for his food, as it's being prepared he gets so anxious he can't control it anymore and starts drooling...  In a hurry, she mixes the sardines and oil into his food and serves it too him.  Maximus promptly gobbles it up.

He finds himself comfortably on his cushion until Mommy leaves for the day...  normally staring out over the water, smelling the bacon from neighbors or sometimes just passes out entirely in the morning air.

When it's time to go, Maximus gets woken up yet again after Mommy puts together his ramp and walks him down the ramp onto his soft bed, get a couple of big kisses and goes back to sleep while Mommy is out for the day.

5 o'clock is always a very important time on D Dock.  It's dinnertime and Maximus knows it.  Mommy does her best to get home then because he could very possibly be starving to death!  Sometimes, Maximus is so excited he can't even get out of the way long enough to get the ramp up!  This means he gets knocked in the head, sometimes falls off the couch or ends up getting lifted into the cockpit with Mommy's arms and hamstrings- careful not to sprain her back again!

The dinner cannot be served quick enough!  And it's gone even quicker than it was served!  Whoosh!  A few licks of the bowl to make sure he gets it all and he's ready to adventure on the afternoon walk!
Along the deck, under the lifeline and falling to the dock, he takes off!  WAIT!  He stops for water.  And more water... and more water... and it's gone...  

Tony!  Water Bowl!  Baron!  Water Bowl!  Carol!  

And up to the grass they go, with all the excitement imaginable.  This time, an even longer walk is in order as the evening unwinds and the sun goes down.  Sometimes the walk goes all the way to the Ventura Bridge and sometimes over to the lifeguard station to watch the sunset.

The Butthead sniffs everything, defying the leash every moment he can, hard-headed following his nose always.  Back on the boat, Maximus takes his place and gets ready as Mommy prepares her own dinner.  Sometimes she does meat and he can't simply lay and watch, he has to be a part of the action!

If he's lucky, he gets some human food, depending upon if there are guests or not.  If Grandma is visiting, he gets to lick the plates too!  One more evening walk before the day is done, and Mommy brings Maximus back into the boat where he waits, drooling, for the 3 little treats Mommy gives him every night, if he's been good!  The dog cannot go to sleep without these treats, he knows they are coming every night.  Afterwards, he promptly falls asleep after a long day of treat hunting, water drinking and walking.  Dreaming, he rejuvenates for the another day of the same fun.

Thank you for reading.  I wanted to memorialize him this way because he lived such a great life his last 2.5 years.  This dog never slept on a hard floor since I got him.  And he never went a day without a treat.  Getting a senior dog was actually really good for me.  He organized my schedule, taught me to stop at nothing to get what I want (TREATS), and he certainly kept me selfless with his hefty demands of walks, treats, sardines, injuries, and monthly baths!

There were those times when I had to be THAT person that couldn't stay to work on a research project at school or hang out after work because "My dog is going to kill me if I don't get home soon!"  

And who could forget the time he fell in the water, swam under the dock and then under the finger before anyone even knew he had disappeared!?  Or, the time he stole Cousin Dave's perfectly crafted sandwich from his dock box?  Or, the rare occasions he barked in the mountains, protecting us from the mountain lions?  

Thank you for everyone's support over the years in watching him when I was away, giving him a literally lifelong supply of treats and walking him when I couldn't get home quick enough or was injured myself.  He and I both appreciated it.

Good, good dog.  R.I.P. Maximus

Tuesday, March 31, 2015


What was the grand strategy?

Did the Castro's really believe that capitalism was going to fall?  Were they looking for power or did Fidel want to help his people and therefore built a 'revolution'?  How does Cuba's communism compare to other versions I've seen?  How are the reforms going?  Is their current 'opening' going to cause any environmental destruction or inequalities?  Will Cuba ever have private education?

Truth be told, I admire the regime.  They have done a better job of organizing the country than some Western countries.  From what I could tell, the oppression I was bracing for, doesn't exist.  Of course, I wasn't there in the in the 90s and I tend to believe that the 'not so good' areas of Cuba are hidden from tourists and/or Americans.  Either that, or I'm a socialist. 

The buildings are dilapidated and an urban planner showed us precisely why.  The average salary is $20 USD a month.  A gallon of paint is roughly $7.  That doesn't leave much to live on if you want to feed your family.  The restriction on cars is fascinating.  There are only old American cars from the 50s, a collection of Soviet-era cars and then new ones that Raul has decided to allow in 2008, BMW, Mercedes, Geely (Chinese).  I even saw a few Skodas.  Every dashboard, aside for the well -refurbished ones we toured in for an afternoon, has a mish-mash of parts; made in Czechoslovakia, Cyrillic writing and Honda cooling systems.  And, of course, the highly educated Cubans who are doctors and lawyers are not the top of the socio-economic ladder, it's the ones who work in tourism and deal with the CUC (the currency used for tourist and foreign investors- CUP being the national currency)  We met an English catering gynecologist who was working as a waiter because it pays better.  These are all reasons why the regime has started to make reforms and has invited foreign investment, on their own terms of course.

It can be argued that the huge influx of American tourists will bring about the ugly changes that no one likes in an overly touristic community (pick-pocketing, swindling, over-charging, etc), but, as the woman of the casa particular I stayed in, who was a very opinionated woman, told me, "We've always had tourists".  It's just the Americans that haven't been around for decades.  We're also the likely candidates to turn in a car once it's passed 100K miles.  Or once the muffler rusts through, or the dash doesn't work, or it's been totaled by two deer.  The Cubans are incredibly resourceful and
just like the cars, they already have in place a Marine Protection Agency, which cites a study done over 40 years of the destruction of the Florida Keys coral and marine life using GIS.  This is according to an Economist who works for the University of Cuba- he may or may not have been simply telling us a story to show they are prepared for reform; I've also heard they have let a lot of the coastline self-degrade. 

The bars we went to in La Habana seemed no different than higher end bars in developing countries.  The Fabrica de Arte Cubana was truly an experience, a place where youth gather, wait in line in mini-skirts, pay a cover, grab a mojito or rum and coke and look at art or dance all night.  Inside, it felt like a combination of the Nacional in Madrid, Double Deuce downtown San Diego and Dali's museum in Figueres.  Nevermind that the bar is a creation of the government.  I only wish I had used the bathroom there, I was dehydrated for the first few days due to the humidity and not having the first world luxury of drinking from the faucet and therefore did not use it.  I can say, however, that myself and two others had stopped into a restaurant/bar on the way home one day to use the bathroom and it was so nice we just had to have a drink inside.  They also served gazpacho and while it was good, it was not as good as mine or others I've had.  That bar, a private bar, was most likely sponsored by a Cuban living abroad and once we stopped in there and then later went there at night with the group, I started to see stickers for the place on cars around town, very clever marketing in a country where Yelp doesn't exist.  It's called Sarao if you're interested and it's in Vedado from what I can tell.

The other stickers found in and on cars, even the old ones, were both Playboy stickers and the Apple sticker.  Peculiarly with the American flag backdrop.  I guess Apple has been clever as well.  Viva California!  Playboy and Apple at least...  and Google... gmail at least is alive and well according to some emails I received.

We spent some time in the tobacco fields (an experience that got me choked up) and on the coast snorkeling on the reef mid-week.  I thought I was being smart by only paying 2 CUC at the gas station we stopped at on the way for a large bottle of water and a small juice box container of rum.  Until I tried getting away with a free pineapple juice from the man on the beach who looked into my eyes and told me how I beautiful I was and then charged me $2.50!!  I put up a fight and he threw in a banana.  (I needed the potassium anyway after having swam out to the reef and back).  I did do an interesting swap of goods at the beach too, my swim googles for a Cuban Red Cross cap and t-shirt, brokered with the assistance of a classmate.  Apparently, my $5 goggles I got from Big Five two years ago are incredibly amazing.  I promptly suggested I organize I triathlon in the area since triathletes care about the environment and would be best suited to bring in healthy development.

Back in La Habana, I finally had a chance to talk to people that I wasn't introduced to and spent two hours in one plaza gathering information.  Normally the people that sell antique oddities, books, coins and stamps/postcards are also relatively old.  However, this plaza was full of young men that were well suited for my mother, if you know what I mean.  Probably because they make more money in tourism than working as an Engineer for the government.  It felt like a Prague square 10 years ago and there were actually hundreds of old Soviet lapel pins.  I bought one from Bulgaria, Romania and finally found one from Poland.  I found a postcard that had been sent from New York City in 1910 to La Habana.  I found a very fascinating piece of propaganda from the 50s that I bought for my post-communist BFF.  And then I found myself in conversation with a man who must have been in his 50s, called Sixto Valon.  He seemed like any normal black Cuban man, he and his younger counterparts offered me a fermented drink made from a root, called pru. 

This man helped me find my way to the Marina Hemingway, answered some sociological and cultural questions I had and then asked me about the police in the United States who kill black men.  Of all the pressing questions, this was on the top of his mind.  He asked me how many times it has happened since Obama was elected, as if his presidency has prompted it.  When I went in to explain the socio-economic reasons and the racism behind it, he was mesmerized.  Luckily for him, I was able to use some of the skills I learned in my Ethnicity class last quarter on the fails of policies directed toward minorities.  Like a proud revolutionary, or a speculating bookseller, he told me that their are no poor areas of Cuba made up of purely blacks or any other minority and these kind of murders simply don't happen.  (Nevermind the human rights violations committed by the Castros)While I couldn't answer his question of how many blacks have been killed by police in the United States since Obama has been president with a solid number, we both walked away with a deeper understanding of each other's culture.  There were many other topics we discussed as well.  In addition, his email address is a gmail.

When the American journalist we met with, who has been writing from Cuba for Reuters for 25 years, told us that Fidel was never after money, only power, I asked if that was why, using my fingers as quotes, the revolution has been so 'successful' all these years.  He questioned my use of words and I explained that as I saw it, there have been no uprisings, civil wars, ethnic cleansing, after 57 years.  Perhaps they have all been hidden from Western eyes and ears HOWEVER, a man living in Cuba as a journalist for so many years wasn't able to give me any reasons aside for the collapse of the Soviet Union causing rafts of Cubans to show up in the 90s and the current 'brain drain' going on among the youth to believe that change will cause violence or vice versa.  (There is an opportunity to quote Petersen's Resistance and Rebellion here to prove that there are not enough oppressed groups to form cleavages that would cause any uprisings)  As a matter of fact, as the Economist we met with explained to us that instead of organizing society using doctors and teachers, the Cuban government is poised to use economic models to organize society using mojitos and Guantanamera players to guide tourism in the way that only a Socialist society can. 

The next 10 weeks is really going to be fascinating, as we are now in the spring quarter and are taking the Cuba; Revolution and Reform class.  I am also taking in conjunction, a Human Rights class and either Mexican Policy Making or Managing a Non-Profit.  Perhaps I should return over the summer.  With some real numbers on those murders on black people in the US. 

This was written with haste and I have been hesitant to write anything since I've started graduate school since my ramblings seem to have less importance than the academic stuff I've been reading and writing.   (This is considered an op-ed and I am by no means a Socialist) :)

Monday, May 19, 2014

I believe in God. I believe in Love. I believe in Humanity.

I have always been someone who takes quotes and inspirational ideas to heart.  In 5th grade, I participated in a play that took place during The Great Depression and we sang a song called, "Nothing's Impossible".  The idea was to instill faith in yourself and in your hard work in order to overcome life's challenges.  I remember all the lessons from that play.  Especially that song.  I can still sing the melody.  Plus, I knew that I could achieve any dream, no matter how possible or impossible it seemed to society.  In addition, I believed and still believe that as a society, we can overcome our challenges together.  (diseases, wars, even poverty...?)

But those intangibles?  Something that cannot be measured in economics, or put into statistics or objectives to be met.  

I knew that in the end, we are all just here floating around, trying to figure something out and then we're gone.  Therefore, what does it matter what we do with our life?  Who cares if there is a God or not?  What's the point?  Especially in our society where we rush to get to work, hate our jobs, rush home to do chores and errands and have weekends full of crap to do.  In a world where I can justify hating my job because others do and also justify leaving my job because I know I shouldn't live like that and don't want to... because... I'll be gone soon... 

Digressing, my point is that I always had trouble believing in both God and Love.  It just seemed like that job.  A dogma.  Going to church and praying is like falling in love and getting married.  Do you go along with society because that's what you do?  Or do you question why we do these things.  Does it matter in the end anyway???

Over the years and through self-exploration, God has become closer to me and I finally feel like he's a friend.  I knew there was a point in praying and just like training for a race, the dogma of doing it has become real. We make agreements, he takes care of me as long as I take care of myself and we get along.  I finally understand the phrase, "Everything through prayer."  I use my time alone to have those conversations and being able to be entirely open with a true friend has become very special to me.  I hope to continue to develop my relationship with God and look forward to getting closer.  Some of the traditional dogma still doesn't appeal to me but I am open to exploration regardless.

The idea of Love has haunted me.  Unconditional love from family makes total sense to me.  But, in a romantic relationship, I questioned it the same as I questioned God.  I've never been the first to say "I love you." because, as much as I enjoyed being with someone, I never felt compelled to declare my love.  It seemed absurd to me.  I felt that they were just obsessed, they wanted something from me or they were trying to manipulate me.  Or just crazy.  

However, there are people that believe in Love but don't believe in other intangibles.  So, that told me that Love is an emotion that logic cannot get around.  Where logic can tell you there is no man up in the sky maneuvering our lives, it's hard to argue an emotion that pulls you towards someone else, gives you butterflies and causes you to miss someone when they're gone.  It's a different kind of intangible.  In some scientific circles, it can be measured as well.  I'm sure there is an equation that measures heart rate, body temperature and other senses to determine the amount of love someone is experiencing.  

I now understand why someone would feel compelled to proclaim their love.  The emotion is so strong, they cannot resist the urge to share the feeling with the other person.  Which makes obvious sense but I now have a deeper meaning of what that means.  Which is also why the follow-up question, days and weeks later is always a variation of, "Do you love me".  Because the idea is to share that emotion with the other person.  Otherwise, there is no point of being in love, if it cannot be shared.  That person encompasses and completes you.  So, it needs to be mutual in order to be considered legitimate love.  I finally get it.  

Humanity, well, we have a lot of work to do.  Knowing that we are only going to die and in the end and nothing matters, I have such a hard time accepting the fact that there are entire societies living in utter poverty and suffering while the rest of the developed world keeps going at rates impossible to keep up with.  So we have a polio vaccine.  Too bad parts of the Middle East and Africa are still suffering from it.  But, it's alright since we're creating more health issues to solve in the US by producing food products with less actual food in them and creating more and more sugar addicts.  (I have a product that fights this- from my chiropractor)

However, just like the partnerships of oneself with God and love with another person, Humanity cannot solve it's own problems.  You cannot allow it to go on without your help.  "Be the change you wish to see in the world." said Gandhi.  He refused to sit back and watch society destroy itself.  If you disagree with the way we are evolving, do something about it.  I recycle the water I boil potatoes in.  I know how much water California doesn't have and the Colorado River is not replenishing.  If you want to leave more for the following generations, it starts with simple acts of saving food.  Don't buy more than you're going to eat and eat what you buy.  If you take home your leftovers, which you should, eat it.  And bring your own containers!  Styrofoam should be eliminated like polio.

If we work together on these little things, we will get somewhere.  If everyone threw a piece of garbage out of the window every day, can you imagine how much garbage we'd have everywhere??  So, the positive actions work the same way.  If everyone conserved their food, can you imagine how much food, energy it takes to make the food, money it takes to pay the laborers, and water it takes to feed/water the food we could save!!???

I believe, just as Gene Roddenberry did, (a surrealist version of Spock it sitting next to me at the cafe I'm at), that we can develop into a better society.  One that allows us to believe in whatever God we want, love whomever we fall in love with and trust in one another to bring Humanity to that point.  


Check it out, UNICORNS:
Bret Barrett: -  Spock, Dali and Warhol