Tag Archives: Academic

No Academic Competition, No Problem!

Eighth-grader Navneeth Murali was “totally shattered and devastated” when he learned in April that the Scripps National Spelling Bee to be held the following month was canceled. He has aged out of the competition and under current rules cannot participate next year. Like other competitive spellers, mathematicians, geography whizzes, and young scientists, it was a season of disappointments, as practically all academic competitions have been canceled.

When competitions are stopped and there seems nothing to win, it seems the students committed to these institutions do not stop studying.

We often think of studying after school to be a chore. The assumption is that youth want to do “fun” activities rather than academic ones. A school principal I spoke with said, “I can’t believe you’re going to find kids who are passionate about long division. I just don’t believe it.” The cancellation of these competitions presumably would give these kids a reason to finally relax.

Having interviewed dozens of children who compete in spelling bees and/or math competitions in elementary and middle school for my book, Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough, it is clear that they are passionate about what they are pursuing. Yes, studying is tedious. Even the most committed youth feel staring at worksheets can become “utter toil” at times. They put in hours each weekday and weekend — on top of homework — to these pursuits. 

But while many start their academic pursuit because parents drag them, those who stick with it have a sincere interest. As one spelling contestant at a national finals competition told me, “I just viewed it more as fun than work.” Years later, former contestants appreciate how much they learned not just in their particular subject but also about the process of learning. They had confidence that they could tackle major challenges.

Stopping would give the wrong message, that the only reason to bother reviewing German-origin words and quadratic equations was to win the championship. Educators know that the emphasis should on the studying process and effort, not the outcome. The best way to alleviate the sense that all that studying was a waste is for youth to keep studying, for it affirms the fact that the youth has an interest in the subject and gains through the process of studying.  

Just as a child should not stop practicing baseball or softball in the backyard because their championship game has been called off, the same applies to those training for academic competitions.

Rather than stop preparing, kids should study in a more relaxed manner. Children should find a new routine, one that dwells on the enjoyable parts of the subject rather than geared towards what weaknesses they need to work on in order to win. This should be a time to remind them what they enjoyed about their academic pursuits in the first place, before the pressure of the national competition came on, just like the ball player remembering what playing catch in the backyard used to feel like before the drills and practices for the big game got intense. 

What’s more, one never knows what the preparation will lead to. A few weeks after feeling devastated, Murali was crowned a spelling bee champion in a national virtual bee hosted by two former Scripps National Spelling Bee finalists. He has another chance later this summer to do it again in another national bee. The South Asian Spelling Bee (which Murali won last year) may also host an annual competition this summer.

Take it from a former Scripps National Spelling Bee finalist who has since coached spellers. Dev Jaiswal offered, “My advice for current eight-graders is to continue studying at a comfortable intensity. I would have been very disappointed if the spelling bee was ultimately canceled, but I would not think of my extra time spent studying as a waste.” 

Pawan Dhingra is a professor at Amherst College and author of Hyper Education: Why Good Schools, Good Grades, and Good Behavior Are Not Enough. He appears in the Netflix documentary, Spelling the Dream.

Of Bridges Crossed: My Fulbright Experience

I am an executive coach, motivational speaker, senior corporate trainer & English Announcer with the Overseas Division of All India Radio. I was also the youngest communication instructor of the award-winning all-women cabin crew of India’s largest airline. 

My childhood dream

I am the only son of a brave single mother, an Army daughter, who brought me up by herself, overcoming every challenge that life threw at us. My dad, an eminent barrister, passed away when I was very young and since then, I have seen life’s trials through formative experiences. I belong to a family of nation builders; my paternal grandfather N.B. Laha was a freedom fighter who received the prestigious Tamara Patra from the Indian Prime Minister and my maternal grandfather received several medals for distinguished service in the Army.  I always wanted to represent my nation abroad and that dream came true when I won the Fulbright scholarship, one of the most prestigious academic awards in the world.

It has been an amazing experience to be representing India as a Fulbright scholar and cultural ambassador in the United States. I vividly remember my excitement when I my plane touched down in Portland, Oregon. I instantly fell in love with the beautiful city of Eugene, where  I attended my summer orientation at the University of Oregon. I had a unique opportunity to meet so many people, from amazing professors to friendly fellow Fulbrighters from across the world. The evening of live country music next to the lake in a ranch setting shall remain etched in my memory forever. But most importantly, I held high the Indian flag, an honor that I had earned as a Fulbrighter.

As a Fulbright scholar, I am a faculty member at the School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University.. Living, working and studying in Washington DC has been a very fulfilling experience. Teaching American students Hindi in the political capital of the world gives me a chance to project my country in a positive manner and promote the best that Indian culture has to offer.

My first days in America were spent in hunting for rental accommodation. There were occasions when I felt like I was Harry Potter sitting on his trunk, waiting for the Knight Bus to arrive! I stayed in hotels and guest houses, before I finally found an apartment. The bright side of this itinerant experience  is that I managed to find a place, which is loated just 20 minutes from the White House.

When I first stepped into the classroom at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS)  at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, I immediately noticed how different the environment was, vis-a-vis India. Back home, students  wouldn’t dare to eat sandwiches and sip on coffee while attending a lecture, but here this behavior was considered to be totally normal. Almost every student carries a Macbook with them and during the lecture, they are constantly taking notes. Teaching Hindi to career-oriented future diplomats and policy-makers means that I have to make my native language easy and interesting for my students. Grammar can be tricky, so I use a lot of examples. Some students are really interested to learn the correct intonation for sentences, so that they sound like a native speaker when in India. In fact, they want to pronounce each word perfectly, even though we native speakers often take the liberty to play around with the pronunciation of many words. Students take keen interest in South Asia and the geo-political developments there. While many students are  “heritage learners,”- born to immigrant parents who want their children to learn Indian language and culture, there are others who seek to work in South Asia and are learning the language as it is crucial for their success. Being a cultural ambassador of my country, I strive to enhance their knowledge of the diversity in India, be it food, religion, culture, language or the surroundings. Moreover, I am a trained musician and singer, so I use old Hindi songs as a tool to explain language and culture.

In India, students often look up to teachers as the Guru, who takes the final decision about everything. Here in America, teachers are given a lot of respect, but students get an equal say in discussions. And they have the right to disagree with the professor’s view on a certain topic. In India, that’s something that might not be appreciated.  Before a professor takes a final decision about assignments, it is important to negotiate buy-in from students in the class, keeping in mind their tight schedule and exams.

Studying American foreign policy, English and French at Johns Hopkins University has certainly contributed to my growth as an academic scholar in a big way. I felt very happy the day my English professor, a former US Ambassador, told me that I was a gifted speaker. I learnt advanced speaking techniques for panel discussions, press briefings, persuasive speeches and policy debates.  The French classes at SAIS have helped me gain confidence as a novice French speaker and the song Je te le donne is one of my all-time favorites now! Attending panel discussions, conferences and events has become second nature to me..  I was proud to showcase Indian culture during the Fulbright mid-year conference, an event that brought together 400 Fulbright language teachers, where I even spoke to Assistant Secretary of State Ms. Marie Royce expressing my wish to meet the US President and that I aspire to become the Prime Minister of India in the future. She was very impressed and encouraged me to continue working towards my goal.

In the years to come, I shall remember celebrating Christmas night in Times Square, New York. To add to the excitement, I was able to give my mother the best birthday gift ever–an evening in Manhattan, on the world-famous Fifth Avenue, to be precise. The view of the Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty was truly one to remember, as were the taste of the one-dollar pizza and the experience of travelling on the NYC subway.  On the other hand, the Baltimore Harbor offered me the chance to enjoy fresh seafood and a chance to see submarines, ships and boats, all at the same place.

My time at Johns Hopkins University has been very eventful. I recently attended the India Initiative conference at Georgetown University, where I got a chance to meet the charismatic former US Ambassador to India Richard Verma and the historian Ramachandra Guha, among others.  My experience as a champion debater was put to great use when I coached SAIS students who are participating in this year’s Hindi debate at Yale University. And to top it all, I was invited to speak as a panelist at the main campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where I shared my Fulbright experience with current students, encouraging them to explore their interest in India through a Fulbright grant. At the end of my address, a student walked up to me. She was from Africa and told me that she could really connect with what I said and felt really inspired to do something for her country.  The university now plans to make this an annual event and administrators thanked me for this idea.

My Fulbright year ends next month, but I shall take back with me an incredible experience, many fond memories and yes, a congratulatory letter from the US President. The initial culture shock, shopping at the supermarket, attending classes at SAIS, promoting my language and culture, stringing together words in French and excelling in my English classes – each experience has been valuable. The United States shall always have a special place in my heart, for it is a country that recognizes and rewards real talent.

Gaurav Laha is a Fulbright scholar working at Johns Hopkins University. 

Las Positas College: Spring Session Begins January 14th Sign Up Today!

Las Positas College currently enrolls nearly 8,500 day and evening students. The College offers curriculum for students seeking career preparation, transfer to a four-year college or university, or personal enrichment. The College provides university transfer classes, retraining classes for those in need of employment or career advancement, a first-time educational opportunity for many adults, enrichment classes for those seeking a broader perspective, and career and technical training for those entering the technical and paraprofessional work force. Las Positas College excels in helping students transfer to the University of California system, the California State University system, and other four-year institutions.

Students who come to the College can choose any of 24 Occupational Associate Degrees, 17 Transfer Associate Degrees, and 44 Certificate Programs. In addition, the College offers community education courses geared toward personal development and cultural enrichment.

Academic rigor is maintained in a friendly, personal atmosphere. Las Positas College faculty and staff are distinguished by their energy, creativity, and commitment to making a difference in the lives of the students they serve.

Las Positas College is a learning-centered institution focused on excellence and student success, and is fully committed to supporting all Tri-Valley residents in their quest for education and advancement.

The campus is accessible from BART and Interstate 580. Students can take buses from the Pleasanton-Dublin BART station and from many locations in Livermore and Pleasanton. The College is proud of its exceptional safety record, which has made it one of the safest colleges in the Bay Area, and its commitment to sustainability, including LEED facilities, recycling and paper reduction practices, and photovoltaic (solar) parking structures generating one megawatt of energy.

http://www.laspositascollege.edu

 

Chabot College: Spring Session Begins January 14th

Chabot College is a learning-centered institution with a culture of thoughtfulness and academic excellence, committed to creating a vibrant community of life-long learners.

Chabot College is a public comprehensive community college that prepares students to succeed in their education, progress in the workplace, and engage in the civic and cultural life of the community. Our students contribute to the intellectual, cultural, physical, and economic vitality of the region.

The college responds to the educational and workforce development needs of our regional population and economy. As a leader in higher education, we promote excellence and equity in our academic and student support services. We are dedicated to student learning inside and outside the classroom to support students’ achievement of their educational goals.

The colleges’ vision and mission are supported by the following collective values:

Learning and Teaching

  • supporting a variety of teaching philosophies and learning modalities
  • providing an environment conducive to intellectual curiosity and innovation
  • encouraging collaboration that fosters learning
  • engaging in ongoing reflection on learning, by students and by staff
  • cultivating critical thinking in various contexts
  • supporting the development of the whole person

Community and Diversity

  • building a safe and supportive campus community
  • treating one another with respect, dignity, and integrity
  • practicing our work in an ethical and reflective manner
  • honoring and respecting cultural diversity
  • encouraging diversity in our curriculum and community of learners

Individual and Collective Responsibility

  • taking individual responsibility for our own learning
  • cultivating a sense of social and individual responsibility
  • developing reflective, responsible and compassionate citizens
  • playing a leadership role in the larger community
  • embracing thoughtful change and innovation

http://www.chabotcollege.edu/