Bennion Center Takes Community Engaged Learning to a New Level of Speed

(Daily Utah Chronicle File Photo)

(Daily Utah Chronicle File Photo)


The Bennion Center is combining speed dating and community service into one event today.

The event will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. in the Bennion Center.

The Community Engaged Learning speed dating is an event hosted by the Bennion Center twice a semester with the help of academic departments of the U as well as community partners throughout the greater Salt Lake community. The event attempts to combine service with academic interests where students can find a fit for themselves within the Community Engaged Scholars program.

Scheduling for it typically takes place earlier in the semester to allow the community partners time to plan attendance.

Over 100 courses are dedicated to Community Engaged Learning at the U. Some of these courses are comprised entirely of community-engaged learning scholars while other courses have an added section with a community-engaged learning focus.

Faculty for the speed dating event are not all employed at the U. They are also men and women who are highly involved in community efforts. Professors involved work on integrating community learning into the curriculum and take students out into the community to take part in works of service.

Chris Jensen, the Community Engaged Learning coordinator for the Bennion Center, said the event is an important part of the service programs at the U.

“There are over 3,000 students at the U who are involved in some sort of community-based service learning,” Jensen said. “An event like this can help pair students with mentors who share their interests and provide them a way to get more involved in the community. Regardless of what a student is majoring in, there is a fit for them.”

Due to the short time allowed for this event and the amount of people who will be on-hand for the students to talk to, the Bennion Center has taken a speed-dating approach to make sure each student has a chance to maximize their opportunities for meeting and talking to the community partners and faculty.

“Really, the speed dating concept was adapted to be more efficient for the students,” Jensen said. “The students begin the event by pairing up with a community partner and talking with them. The Bennion Center staff on-hand have timers. When the timer dings, the student moves to the next community partner. It creates a fun atmosphere that is also really productive.”

Ying Tan, a sophomore in sociology and marketing, said the event sounds like a good time.

“I’ve never participated in anything like that before, but it sounds like a great way to get more involved,” Tan said. “Sometimes I think students want to get involved, but they don’t know exactly who to talk to or where to turn. Having a group of people who can help you find your path to being more community-engaged sounds like something more students should get involved in.”


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Students Struggle with the Stress of Finals Weeks

(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)


As finals week rapidly approaches, students are reaching for another energy drink and staying on campus more than any other time during the year.

Hannah Mika, a sophomore in chemistry and health promotion and education, said she feels an increase in headaches and a decrease in sleep.

“I do not handle stress well already,” Mika said. “Everyone handles it differently, but I don’t even know if I could find a way to handle my stress. My sleep is dramatically affected — I get way less sleep because I stay up later and need to wake up earlier to balance everything.”

But for other students, like Gustav Gochnour, a sophomore in international studies, finals week is far less stressful and even easier than other weeks.

“I have less stress this week than any other week,” Gochnour said. “I only have one assignment due, but for my friends it is opposite — one of them was in the library for 18 and a half hours.”

Susannah Nevison, a writing professor, said she thinks getting ready for finals can be difficult.

“I think, of course, it is hard to prep for finals,” Nevison said. “But if students begin at the beginning of the year and keep up, it is much more balanced.”

Campus during finals is typically a high-stress environment, Gochnour said.

“There is a much different vibe on campus this week,” he said. “Everyone is buckling down, and people are camped out at the library from dawn to dusk. I think people realize they’ve goofed around all semester, and now the future seems to ride on one week.”

Gochnour said he thinks the only way to solve the increased stress levels is to spread the stress more equally throughout the semester.

“I think it would be better to vary finals throughout the year,” he said. “It’s nice to only have one week of high stress, but if they were scattered, people would take school more seriously and study harder.”

Mika said she thinks having finals all in one week is a bad idea.

“Students are groggy and tired and trying to do everything to stay awake, which is not healthy at all,” Mika said. “I want winter break just so I’ll have time to breathe and not be so worried about one week.”

A lot of the pressure students feel comes from outside sources.

“Mainly the pressure for me is because I want to get into medical school,” Mika said. “And it’s not coming from my parents, but it is coming from my drive to get a better education, so I can get a better job.”


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Students Sell Back Textbooks to Get Back a Fraction of Their Money

(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)


Along with saying goodbye to classmates, the end of the semester also means getting rid of textbooks.

One option students have to get money back for their course materials is the Campus Store’s buyback period, from Dec. 12 to 20. Melanie Hortin, a junior in elementary education, has done this in previous semesters and was surprised by the amount she got in return.

“It was easier than I thought,” she said. “I brought in three books and was able to sell two of them for $150, which was way more than I thought I would get back.”

Paige Westenskow, a student supervisor in the textbook section of the Campus Store, said students can bring in their textbooks to the designated buyback counter, where they will be scanned and inspected. If the books are deemed “readable,” the individual will receive a cash amount. Westenskow said readability depends on whether or not the book was damaged and if covers are left intact.

Hailey Draxler, a junior in psychology and sociology, said she once paid $200 for a book and got just $3 during buyback.

“It’s one of the easiest ways [to return textbooks], but not necessarily the best,” she said.

Representatives from the Campus Store could not give figures as to how many students sold to the bookstore or the sales made in previous years. The only direct amount the U can guarantee for a buyback is up to 50 percent. Titles that are guaranteed this price are listed on the bookstore’s website. If an instructor has notified the Campus Store that a specific textbook will be reused, students will usually receive a higher return for those books until quantities are met. The cash amount a student receives for a book also depends on who purchases it, which could be the U or a wholesaler.

An alternative to selling in person is selling to an online retailer, such as Amazon or Chegg. Karriann Johnson, a sophomore in gender studies and sociology, said students should explore more of these kinds of options.

“There are plenty of other alternatives to buy and sell textbooks,” Johnson said. “A lot of people — younger undergrads in particular — don’t know that, but it might save them a lot of money down the line.”

Katie Guido, a sophomore in biomedical engineering, said she tends to keep her books but is planning to sell her math textbook to someone on campus.

“It’s a special edition to the U, and I don’t think I’ll have a hard time finding someone who needs it for next semester,” she said.

Guido has never sold to the bookstore but feels other selling alternatives are more effective.

“I feel like you’d get a decent amount from Amazon,” she said, “rather than the bookstore because you can do your own listing price.”


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U Students Win Video Game Competition with “Cyber Heist”

(Photo Courtesy of Jake Muehle)

(Photo Courtesy of Jake Muehle)


The U has claimed national honors yet again — this time for video games.

A group of U students traveled to Orlando, Fla. to take part in an annual competition called the Serious Games Showcase & Challenge. Eighteen games were selected as finalists. “Cyber Heist,” the video game created by U students, came out on top for the student category.

The team was composed of 13 graduate students: nine engineers, one artist and three producers. Jake Muehle, the lead designer of “Cyber Heist,” said the goal of their game is to eliminate student debt, something he thinks is relatable for many college students. It is set in the future, and two players can work together.

“Players have to learn to communicate and cooperate to make their way through each level,” Muehle said. “[They] frequently find themselves improvising ways out of difficult and stressful situations.”

As part of the entertainment arts and engineering graduate program, students began working on the prototype of “Cyber Heist” in January 2013 and published the game to in April 2014. In November of this year, “Cyber Heist” was put on Steam Greenlight to drum up additional support.

Vincent Horiuchi, spokesperson for the U’s College of Engineering, said the video game team focused on effective collaboration in creating “Cyber Heist,” which aided in their success. In addition to the 2014 Best Student Game Award from the Serious Games Showcase & Challenge, the team was awarded four copies of Autodesk Creative Suite, design software valued at $30,000 in total. The 3D modeling program included in the package will help the team create additional content for the game.

Muehle said “Cyber Heist” is important, apart from the awards, because it fostered collaboration between the team members, and he hopes it will do the same for those who play the game.

“Bringing additional recognition to the U’s nationally-ranked EAE program is something that each member of our team is proud to do,” he said.


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Holidays Around the World

(Photo by Brent Uberty)

(Photo by Brent Uberty)


The holiday season is often associated with the Christian holiday Christmas. However, contrary to commercialized belief, there is not one correct way to experience Christmas, and it’s also not the only holiday celebrated around this time of year.

Vishnu Reddy, a senior in pre-dental, is an undergraduate student from India. Reddy said Christmas in India is a holiday but is not celebrated in the same way.

“Everybody gets off for Christmas because we know it’s a major holiday, just like we have time off for Eid and Diwali, the other two major holidays,” Reddy said. “Each family celebrates it differently, but all the shopping malls are very lit up, and it’s festive just like it is during the other holidays.”

Sam Hawe, a junior in international studies, spent a semester in the Dominican Republic. Hawe said even though Christmas is also commercialized in Santo Domingo, there was one main difference.

“There’s this huge sponsorship of the only beer company in the nation, Presidente,” Hawe said. “I lived a block away from a park called Christmas Village with this huge, light-up Presidente bottle.”

Hawe said it was a sign of national pride.

“It’s everywhere,” he said. “Presidente sponsors all the big music and cultural festivals, so it would make sense they would sponsor the big Christmas Village. It’s a patriotic thing, I guess.”

Haoran Yu, a sophomore in communications, is an international student from northern China. Yu said Christmas in mainland China is nowhere near as huge as it is in the United States.

“We don’t celebrate it because it’s more of a religion based holiday and China is a non-religious country,” Yu said. “However, recently they’ve started to use the holidays as a good time to sell products. Some people do celebrate it but don’t get a break for that day.”

Within Salt Lake, there are several Christmas alternatives. Atheists of Utah will be holding a Winter Solstice event on Dec. 20.

Lisa Baggerly, secretary of the organization, said the gathering is “essentially a Christmas party simply celebrating the calendar day but not the religious connotations.”

The Pagan community, Salt Lake Witches, will be holding their third annual Crone’s Hollow Festivus Occasion of Merriment. The holiday is derived from the sitcom “Seinfeld” and the occasion will consist of “festivius events” such as an undecorated traditional metal pole, a feast, singing and a loud venting session called “airing of grievances.”

Another alternative is Bodhi, where some practitioners of Buddhism celebrate Buddha’s enlightenment sitting underneath a fig or Bodhi tree. The commemoration is typically held on Dec. 8 and the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple has been known to hold a service in honor of the day. The temple could not be reached for comment on specific traditions or methods of celebration.

Hawe has studied abroad in several countries over the past couple years and experienced different holiday festivities and gatherings this time of year from all cultures.

“I think the December holidays are an awesome celebration of family and love,” Hawe said. “Seeing things all lit up makes me feel like I’m at home, no matter where in the world I am.”


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Fair Trade Coffee: Caffeinated with Care

(Photo by Preston Zubal)

(Photo by Preston Zubal)


With a coffee shop in almost every building, U students should have no shortage of caffeine fixes to power them through finals. But with the plethora of choices, students concerned with sustainability may find it difficult to choose.

Fair trade coffee meets the labor, developmental and environmental standards of Fairtrade certification, which looks to improve the lives of poor farmers throughout the global economy. Many coffee locations on the U’s campus use coffee from companies with Fairtrade certification.

While buying from Fairtrade suppliers falls in line with the U’s effort to promote sustainability through food, those involved with sustainability on campus have to weigh the debated effectiveness of Fairtrade with the desire to promote a healthier environment and economy.

Jen Colby, sustainability coordinator in the U’s Sustainability Office, said she is aware of issues surrounding fair trade debate and thinks it is beneficial to have people thinking environmentally and globally.

“My perspective tends to be is that all of this is a continuum,” Colby said. “Not just a black or white kind of thing, so we’re all on a journey for fair trade practices.”

Many people who purchase Fairtrade certified coffee do it because it is seen as an ethical buying practice.

Jessica Arthurs, a sophomore in Middle Eastern studies, international studies and political science said she drinks coffee at least three times a day. Arthurs said, while she doesn’t actively think about buying sustainable coffee, she will go for the fair trade option if it is offered.

“I think we should all be drinking Fairtrade coffee and things like that,” Arthurs said. “It’s important to make sure the things we’re drinking, especially on a campus, are good products and are coming from good places.”

Despite being perceived as a way to drink coffee while remaining environmentally and ethically conscious, Fairtrade-certified coffee has been criticized as not being as ethical as it is perceived to be. Fairtrade has been accused of not making a noticeable and positive impact for the workers who grow the coffee beans.

Pro-Fairtrade researcher Alastair Smith said while some of the criticism against fair trade issues are valid and deserve attention, many are unfounded and lack the proper amount of factual evidence.

Kathleen Hunt, a graduate student and the sustainability coordinator for the U’s Dining Services, said by virtue of buying coffee, the U has to participate in the global economy and has to embrace these issues. The Dining Services and the venues it runs on campus receive their coffee from Caffe Ibis, a coffee-roasting company centered in Utah.

“Fair trade does have some of its pros and cons, which is incredibly difficult in our global system,” Hunt said. “In Utah, you can’t grow coffee. So whatever you do, you’re sort of bound to this global system.”

Hunt said the U has participated in the Real Food Challenge, a national organization which aims to shift university food budgets toward locally based, fair, humane and ecologically sound food sources. The organization also looks to engage students in the change. Its goal is to shift $1 billion in university funds by 2020 towards these food sources, which it calls “real food.”

Rather than following fair trade standards, Hunt said the U’s Dining Services follows “real food” criteria, which also includes considering fair wages for workers and organic and sustainable standards. Hunt said Dining Services does meet Real Food standards, but many coffee vendors at the U run independently of Dining Services.

Colby said the U hasn’t officially joined the Real Food Challenge yet. Colby said if students want to know more about the sustainability of the coffee they’re buying, they should contact the vendors and ask. Colby also said customer pressure for more sustainable coffee can really help push for more environmentally conscious vendors.

“A lot of customers have a lot of influence on that,” Colby said. “Asking for that can really be beneficial.”

Direct trade offers an alternative to students who still desire to buy coffee but do not agree with Fairtrade organizations. Direct trade works as a direct source for farmers, though the exact standards of the trade vary between products.

“Often direct trade are really big organizations who have the kind of money to invest in it,” Colby said. “Or they’re really small and they really want to know where their coffee is coming from.”

Direct trade addresses issues of Fairtrade such as premiums paid to farmers, the lack of tangible benefits to farmers and the limitations on individual farms who cannot afford to belong to a Fairtrade company. However, unlike fair trade coffee, there isn’t a third party certification.

Hunt said she hopes students think about where all their coffee is coming from.

“It would behoove [students] to think critically about food on campus,” Hunt said. “Whether you’re simply a student on campus or living in the dorms, you’re part of the community.”

Colby said students knowing where their coffee comes is part of being part of an informed member of being the campus community.

“We’re looking to create a culture of sustainability on campus,” she said.


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Going Home for the Winter Holidays

(Photo by Cole Tan)

(Photo by Cole Tan)


As the jingle bells ring and the halls are decked with boughs of holly, students from outside Utah are looking forward to returning home for the holidays while others will be staying here.

Chase Peterson, a freshman in engineering, said he is excited to go home.

“The entire semester as a whole has made me want to go home and be with family,” Peterson said.

The Housing and Residential Office asks students to evacuate the dorms for the break, but Peterson said even if they didn’t he would still choose to go back home to Morgan, Utah.

“You can’t be in the dorms at all during winter break, so I am staying at my parents’ house,” Peterson said. “But I’d rather do that then stay in the dorms anyway because my family is super close.”

Peterson said he thinks not all students choose to go home.

“I think every student needs to make a personal choice on whether or not they go home and be with family or go and create their own traditions and adventures,” he said.

For other students, like Evan Wilson, a senior in electrical engineering, the break will only include a small percentage of time with family and the rest will be dedicated to lingering projects.

“I’m going home to Connecticut for a few days, but I have to work on a project, so I need to stay in Utah for most of the break,” Wilson said. “I only get to see my East Coast family twice a year, so it’s important to go back and see them and make sure they are doing well. I like going back to my roots — it’s nostalgic for me.”

Peterson said he thinks the four weeks of break might be too long.

“The break is beneficial because we need the weeks of vacation,” Peterson said. “But it might be hard to get into a new routine for a bit and then have to go back to school. [The] shorter the break, the easier [it is] to get back to the school-life.”

Wilson said he thinks the break is needed to rejuvenate before Spring Semester.

“Having a break to go home allows a break from college life,” Wilson said. “And it gives you a chance to restart.”


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Will It Be a White Christmas?

(Photo by Conor Barry)

(Photo by Conor Barry)


It’s finals week and the campus is empty — not of students, but of snow.

This December has been unusual in that regard. The United States Department of Agriculture reported that Utah’s overall precipitation is well below average for 2014. Most measurement points fall 50 percent below normal.

Derek Hodges, a senior in atmospheric science, said the lack of snow is caused by high pressure — an area with lots of atmospheric mass pressing onto the surface — in the west. Eastbound storms split at the high pressure area, “and some go north into Canada, and some go south, and basically that leaves us in between.”

This year’s precipitation corresponds to, but doesn’t prove or disprove, larger snowpack or temperature trends.

“You can’t tie an individual year as meaning everything, really,” Hodges said. “A couple years ago we had one of the biggest snowpacks on record, and before that one of the least. The big picture seems to be for an overall slow decline [in snowpack].”

According to a 2012 study conducted by the Utah Climate Center at Utah State University, average winter snowfall has declined nine percent in the last century. Increasing temperatures leave precipitation falling as rain, instead of snow. However, rain is expected Saturday, which could bring snow to the valley.

Decreased snowpack also has an effect on water supply. Most of Salt Lake City’s water comes from mountain reservoirs filled by snowpack, according to the journal Earth Interactions. But a U.S. Geological Survey study found that Utah’s water usage has increased seven percent since 2005. This makes Utah the “thirstiest state in the nation at 248 gallons per person per day,” according to a KUER news story.

Hodges doesn’t ski, so for him, the lesson to learn from a decreasing snowpack is water conservation.

“People should pay attention,” he said. “And if things don’t turn around people should be careful about their water usage.”



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Finals Take a Backseat to Social Media Distractions

(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)

(Photo by Kiffer Creveling)


“I know I’m not the only one who takes little Facebook breaks,” said Mikel Hanni, a sophomore in biology.

A quick glance at computer screens in the Marriott Library or the Union confirms Hanni’s observation. Students are logging onto social media as finals approach.

“I have been studying biology for five hours and just need a quick break, so I turn to Facebook for some release,” Hanni said. “Besides, everyone is posting about how finals [are] the worst or how they hate studying and pulling all-nighters.”

Sean Long, a junior in parks, recreation and tourism, blames Netflix for his distraction.

“I just needed to listen to ‘Breaking Bad’ for background noise, then the next thing you know, it’s 3 a.m., I’m two seasons in, and I still need to write my paper,” he said.

During class, these distractions can take away from the lectures. Richard Chung, a TA in chemistry, said he sees more students on Facebook and Twitter than taking notes.

“I don’t understand why students even come to class if they are just going to be on their computers the whole time,” Chung said. “Class is a place to learn, not a place to go on the Internet.”

Cam Williams, an undeclared freshman, said he tries to pay attention when he is paying for class, but feels he can learn stuff online by himself.

“Even when I really want to focus, I just get so bored and end up checking out my news feed,” Williams said.

Ashley Wilson, a sophomore in biology, said she has a series of steps to avoid being distracted.

“If I need to use my phone or laptop at all I only allow myself certain windows of distractions to use them,” she said. “I also make lists so that every time I complete an objective I can check it off and reward myself with a Snapchat or sending out tweets.”

Wilson said the constant influx of messages is the most distracting part for her.

“If my friends tweet me or send a text, I feel like I have to respond immediately,” she said. “That gets really time-consuming after a while. The only way I avoid that is to turn my cell on airplane mode.”


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U Alumni Campaign to Change Pop Culture Image of Beauty

(Photo Courtesy of Beauty Redefined)

(Photo Courtesy of Beauty Redefined)


Twin sisters Lexie and Lindsay Kite, who recently graduated from the U, have taken action against the portrayal of women in the media, including magazines and television.

The sisters started their own organization, called Beauty Redefined. They began by writing about ways women should rethink beauty and feel more confident, but the blog took them much further. Now the sisters travel across the country speaking at different middle and high schools, college campuses and groups directed at young girls. Their blog draws attention to the different standards for the portrayal of females in the media and how it affects their life trajectories.

The Kite sisters’ work has made an impact on Jessie Danninger, a freshman in health promotion and education.

“Girls are all going to look up to different types of women,” she said. “But I think it’s more empowering for women, especially collegiate women, to see strong, independent, smart women as the leaders they aspire to be like.”

The twin sisters began their company after they co-authored their master’s thesis together. They both graduated from the U with Ph.D.s in the study of body image and media. The two were unavailable for comment, but their FAQ page outlines their goal of promoting a healthy body image.

“One of the most important and far-reaching things we do is share our research through our website,” the page states. “We tailor all of it for a diverse audience of people of all ages interested in the ways media affects body image and how people can recognize and reject harmful messages.”

Danninger has mixed emotions on these messages published in the media.

“The images can be positive and negative too,” she said. “But it can be inspiring to see girls embrace their differences.”

Julianne Gentry, a freshman in health promotion and education, said the sisters’ work is “uplifting.” She has seen firsthand the effects the media can have on those around her.

“I’m not focused on looking a certain way,” she said. “Pop culture and the way women should look or do look doesn’t control my life, but it does control women around me. Instead of unrealistic images, I think we need to showcase different types of expression and showcase more talents and brains than bodies.”

The sisters challenge women through their blog to think about how much media is affecting their lives.

“We need to feel an obligation to put media under closer inspection for the influence it has in our lives,” the page states. “Next time you are flipping through a magazine or watching a movie, train yourself to ask important questions. If you don’t like the answers you find, remember you can turn away from the messages that hurt.”


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