In Defense of University Liberal Arts

The joke is a familiar one: University liberal arts provide students the opportunity to grow uselessly knowledgeable about esoteric (usually left-leaning) subjects all while pouring thousands of dollars the drain. Okay, I didn’t say it was a particularly funny joke. But as someone who entered into college a devout English major at Drake, you better believe I’ve heard all the criticism before. Things like ”Why are you paying to read books? Wouldn’t a business degree be more helpful? So are you a socialist now? Who even cares about these old dead guys?” Although that last question has the hint of a valid point, overall, I’ve dismissed these challenges because I believed firmly in the value of my liberal arts education. And as a senior, I now stand vindicated in my beliefs. I mean, I haven’t gotten a job yet, so maybe I should hold off on the parade, but I do believe my humanities education has served me pretty well so far.

The thing is that as a Drake English major, I don’t learn facts or readings or poems or even novels. I learn new ways to think about the world around me. I’ve had my notions challenged, and have grown as a person because of it. I know the term “critical thinking” is a buzzword or sorts that gets thrown around a lot these days, but my Drake humanities classes really have helped me to critically consume information and express my thoughts about it. Although I don’t want to disparage the benefits of professionally-targeted degrees (I am also a journalism major after all), I know that because I chose to study liberal arts, I can now look at things from different points of view instead of just one. I’ve experienced philosophy, gender theory, history, politics, pop culture, science, classic literature, sociology, and a whole lot more in my Drake classes.

Because I’ve had these educational opportunities, I feel like I’m more engaged in the world. I’m a better citizen, a better person, and I’m even infinitely more prepared to enter the real world after college. It may sound counterintuitive, but my humanities classes are the reason I can problem solve, empathize, communicate with others, and approach issues from new perspectives. I’m not saying that I’ll get a job because I’ve studied the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, but I am saying the skills I used to read, understand, and discuss Heidegger should serve me well in whatever my future endeavors are.

So my advice? Study the liberal arts in some way, shape, or form. I was lucky because at Drake it’s easy to pick up a double major. I’ve gotten both some great practical experience from being a journalism student and all the other benefits of my English degree. But whatever the situation, just take liberal arts classes you’re interested in, even if, and especially if, they’re something new and challenging. I promise, it’ll serve you well in the long run. And as to those people who criticize your foray into the humanities? Well in the words of another brilliant philosopher, Miss Taylor Swift, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate.”

Tim Gunn Comes to Drake

This past week I had the privilege of chit chatting with fashion royalty. Well, to be fair, it was kind of a one sided conversation, but the fact remains that I got to see one of my heroes, Tim Gunn, speak at Drake University. Tim (as I call him because we’re such good friends and all) came to Drake as part of the Bucksbaum Lecture series which brings such incredible figures as Jimmy Carter, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Garrison Keillor to Drake to speak to students, the Drake community, and even all of Des Moines. Anyway, all of campus dressed in their finest to come hear about Tim’s tips on fashion, business, and making it work. Though I learned a ton from the talk, I’ve compiled some of my favorite Tim Gunn pieces of wisdom below:

Isn't he just the cutest, wisest human you've ever seen?

Isn’t he just the cutest, wisest human you’ve ever seen?

Take the High Road

Like the noble, classy gentleman he is, Tim advocated staying above the fray, even in the high-drama fashion world. In his footsteps, I really am trying to avoid going full Real Housewives in my daily life. Although it’s tough, I know Tim is right when he says you’ll lead a more fulfilling life if you eternally strive to be the bigger person.

But Banish When You Need To

I’m not entirely sure why Tim said this, but at one point during his lecture, he yelled the word “Banish” with a flourish of the hands. Like all Tim Gunn moments, it was pretty great, and inspired me to expand my vocabulary for dramatic effect when need be.

Don’t Wear Capri Cargo Pants

This one is kind of self-explanatory, and probably not new information, but important to keep in mind nonetheless.

Anna Wintour Can Rock A Manolo, But…

Tim Gunn told one of the best stories I’ve ever heard in my entire life. That sounds like an exaggeration, but trust me, it’s not. Anyway, for the full effect, you need to listen to Tim’s version of events, but the gist is that one New York Fashion Week, Tim was attending a show in a building on the fifth floor. The ice queen of fashion herself, Anna Wintour happened to be at the same show and when the events concluded, she simply could not bear to enter the freight elevator with all the commoners or descend the stairs like an absolute peasant. Thus, like any logical human, she had her bodyguards carry her down the five flights of stairs, out the door, and all the way down the street to her car. Just take a moment to let that visual sink in, will you?

Make it Work

Okay, sorry. I had to say it. But though Tim’s signature catchphrase is a little trite at this point, it still holds its worth. As Gunn so beautifully explained, “Make it Work” is the perfect allegory for his experience at Parsons and the college experience in general. Things won’t always be perfect, and they certainly won’t always go according to plan. But the important thing is that you keep pushing through the difficult moments and find a way to… you guessed it, make it work.

Famous Drake Alumni

Today, Billy Cundiff kicked a 29-yard field goal with 3 seconds remaining to give the Cleveland Browns the win over the New Orleans Saints. As if the Browns beating the Saints isn’t newsworthy enough, the game attracted my attention for one other special reason: Billy Cundiff is a Drake grad and former Bulldog football player. Pretty cool, right? The correct answer is yes, very cool.

And Cundiff isn’t alone among awesome Drake grads. In fact there’s a huge collection of famous Bulldogs across Hollywood and the sports world. I mean, we’re not USC, but there’s an impressive number of superstars who trace their careers right back to Des Moines. Case in point:

Jeremy Piven

Okay, I think we can all agree that Entourage didn’t exactly showcase the best of human nature, but the good news is that Jeremy Piven is no Ari Gold. In fact, he seems like a very cool guy and a testament to the strength of Drake’s awesome theater program. While at Drake, Piven acted in productions like Julius Caesar, and now he’s sporting top hats on PBS as Mr. Selfridge, bro.

Zach Johnson

I generally try to stick more to mini-golf myself, but I make an exception to watch Drake alum Zach Johnson on the PGA tour. The Iowa City native has 11 tour victories, and even won the Masters. And even after all the success, he still remains a proud Bulldog.

Drake

Just kidding. He didn’t go here. Not yet, anyway….

Michael Emerson

Ben Linus, guys. BEN LINUS. Where do you think he picked up the necessary smarts to manipulate an entire island of people? That’s right. Drake University. I may be confusing fiction and reality here a bit, but the fact is that I am tangentially connected to LOST and that’s all that matters.

Kourtney Hansen

If you’re not watching Nashville, you’re not doing TV right. Tune in for the drama, the music, the drama, and appearances by Drake’s own Kourtney Hansen. She started working in radio while studying theater at Drake and now has an incredible career as a dancer, actress, CMT correspondent, and Predators broadcaster. I actually got to interview her for Drake Magazine a while back and let me tell you, she couldn’t be nicer.

Steve Allen

Okay, for all you youngsters out there, this one may not seem as cool, but for me, it was a big deal to discover that Steve Allen was a Bulldog. Apparently, it was even a radio class at Drake in the 40s that inspired him to get into the media biz, and ultimately use his comedy chops as to become the first host of The Tonight Show.

John August

In yet another Drake Hollywood success story, John August studied journalism at Drake before hitting the big screen as a writer and director. Today, he often works with the frightening/frighteningly brilliant Mr. Tim Burton. But my personal John August favorite will always be his adaptation of the eternally cool Big Fish.

Obviously, a lot of really awesome stars got their start at Drake, but celebrity of not, there seems to be something about the Drake education that produces really cool, interesting, and successful people. I’m probably not qualified to venture why that is, but I will say that Drake allows you explore what you love and learn about new things you never knew you’d love. And if that process happens to lead to becoming an ESPN or Hollywood staple, then so be it. I mean, I will be graduating soon, if superstardom should come calling.

College Helicopter Parents

It’s tough being a national media star, but someone’s got to do it. You see, this week I took my turn in the spotlight after being quoted in a little publication called The Washington Post. I don’t know, you may have heard of it. Whatever. In all seriousness, it was a really interesting piece about helicopter parents in college, and I was interviewed as well as my parents, about our experiences. Turns out, the article has really struck a nerve. In the wake of the piece, an interesting dialogue has emerged about student independence in college and reaching the right balance of “letting go” for parents. For all the info and advice, read the article here or check out the subsequent Today Show piece.

Me and my  parents in front of Cowles Library during my first year at Drake. Aren't they cute?!

Me and my parents in front of Cowles Library during my first year at Drake. Aren’t they cute?!

I don’t pretend to be some kind of expert who has these issues all figured out. And honestly, I’m not qualified to give parenting advice of any kind. I mean, I can nanny with the best of them, but issues of parental involvement are a whole lot more complicated than doling out fruit snacks. What I do know is that my parents are the reason I am who I am today. They are still the most important people in my life, and I always want to maintain our great bond.

Simultaneously, I also know that I need to take ownership of my own life. We can’t all pull a Peter Pan and retain the simplicity of youth forever. So I decided to leave home and go away to college at Drake. I decided to live as independently as possible and make my own way in the world. And most importantly, my parents decided to let me do just that. I’m forever grateful for their support and encouragement, but equally as grateful for their distance and understanding. My apologies for the Dr. Phil-esque tone here, but I really do mean it. The transition to college is difficult, I’m not gonna lie to you. But with enough room to live and explore, and yes, even make mistakes, it can be a great experience for kids—and parents—to set the stage for the future.

College Room Decoration

So, full disclosure: I watch a lot of HGTV. At this point, it’s really not just a hobby, but more of a lifestyle or a mindset. I mean, predicting which House Hunters property will win is my version of high adrenaline gambling. Oh, and don’t even get me started on a Property Brothers marathon, because I will be there all day as those crazy bros trick people into buying run-down houses with terrible infrastructure.

After years of watching HGTV with my family and friends, I’ve developed a love for all things home design. I’m enthralled by renovations, and thrilled by the prospect of furniture shopping. I live for a good DIY project, and almost even considered listing throw pillow arrangement on my resume. And while that’s all well and good, there’s traditionally not much room for such a decorating hobby in the college sphere. Living spaces are close and usually shared, the residences are impermanent, and the budget is tight.

A peek inside my apartment. Unless you don't like it in which case it's definitely somebody else's.

A peek inside my apartment. Unless you don’t like it, in which case it’s definitely somebody else’s.

But in my eyes, college is all about branching out on your own and making a life for yourself. And what better way to do that than by decorating your living space? So when I came to Drake, I knew I wanted to make my space my own and try to take residence hall and apartment living to the max. But I realize everyone is not the same. Some Drake students couldn’t care less about what their living space look like, while others like me may spend hours dreaming of a Home Goods shopping spree. The point is, that no matter who you are, you want to have a nice, comfortable place to live during your college years. Here’s my tips to help you do just that.

1. Make it Personal

Nobody wants to live in a boring, generic space. So make your room, apartment, or house about you. Hang up art, tape photos on the wall, display important objects, and work to create a style that’s all about you. It should be easy. After all, we’re millennials, so selfishness comes naturally, right?

2. Comfort Above All

There’s no doubt that college can be stressful. It’s important to have a comfortable place to come back to and relax after a long week of school, work, and activities. Make sure you have plenty of comfortable seating for yourself and friends and cozy up your space with blankets and pillows. If I’ve learned one thing during my time at Drake, it’s that come the Iowa winter, you can never have enough chic (and warm) throws.

3. Build for the Future

While we’re only at college for a short while, soon we’ll all be out in the world looking to furnish our own apartments or houses (if all goes according to plan). So don’t only buy cheap furniture pieces designed for residence hall life. Invest in a couple of good, classic pieces of furniture like tables or a bookcase so you’ll have something to build your new, adult life around.

4. Design on a Dime

That being said, as college students, we’re not made of money. Most of us can’t afford to pop over to the Ethan Allen for a new armoire. Instead, be smart about your purchases. Shop around to find the lowest price, and never commit to anything for your space without thinking it over for a while. And may I recommend RetailMeNot Coupons, Target, and the clearance aisle?

5. Get the Essentials

Decorating for college rooms isn’t like decorating in the real world. There’s a smaller space and you can’t make any permanent changes, which does complicate the decorating process. But stock up on some important tools like command strips, painter’s tape, and magnets to spruce up your space without leaving a mark.

Last First Day of School

When you think about it, today’s kind of a big milestone. It’s my last ever first day of school. Sure, I’ll have next semester, but this is the final time I’ll get that August back-to-school experience with the summer weather, the new notebooks, and the promise of a whole new year in front of me. In honor of the occasion, I even did a little math, and turns out this is my 17th first day of school (I think). Anyway, feel free to alert the media. It’s kind of a big deal.

You would think that after being in school for so long the novelty would eventually wear off. But honestly, it really has not. Today I find myself just as nervous and excited as I was prior to my first year at Drake or even my first year at high school. I’m a little unsettled, a tad jittery, and ready to get to class 30 minutes ahead of time. I mean, I won’t. I’m gonna play it cool and just get there 20 minutes early.

But I’m not the only one who’s excited today. Campus is absolutely buzzing with Drake students, both new and old, who are genuinely happy to be back on campus. As classes kick off today, we have the opportunity to meet new people, learn new things, and share new experiences. Thus, though we’ve all been at school for years, Drake still manages to make the first day new again. I think it’s a pretty unique experience to be able to say that even the seniors feel invigorated and ready to go come the end of August. But I think that phenomenon is due to the element of the unexpected inherent in the college experience and especially the Drake experience. There’s always surprise classes you end up loving or an activity you joined on a whim. There’s people you never thought you’d become friends with and unexpected moments waiting around every corner. Not in a scary way, but in a fun way. The reason I and so many others are excited and nervous today is because we can’t predict what’s coming this year at Drake.  But I can’t wait to find out.

Senior Moment

I realize it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, but in my defense, I have been very busy doing some very important things. Okay, mainly I’ve just been moving back to Des Moines, but that is important. Anyway, now that I’m back at Drake and getting settled in for my final year, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that…this is my final year.

It’s something I’ve logically known for a while. I mean I’m no math genius, but I can (usually) count to four. As anyone will tell you though, there’s a huge difference between knowing something is true and feeling the truth of it. And the later half of that process is only now starting to sink in for me.

After a summer full of talking about my senior status, I should’ve been prepared. Everyone from my family and friends to even my dentist have asked me “How are you felling about your senior year?” Honestly, I didn’t know what to tell them and I still don’t think I can articulate an answer. I’m feeling excited, worried, happy, nostalgic, and a whole mix of other things when I think about the months ahead. The only thing that really captures the shock I’m feeling is some expressions straight out of Scooby Doo. If “jinkies!” were more socially acceptable, I’d probably use that to explain my pre-senior year thoughts.

And while it’s been a pretty great journey at Drake so far, I also have to remember that’s it’s not over yet. There’s plenty of learning, work, activities, friends, and fun in store for me this year. So for now, I’m gonna stop trying to think about how I’m feeling or will be feeling and just enjoy the ride.

College Packing Tips

Full disclosure: I am not the best packer. You’d think with three plus year of experience moving back and forth from Drake I’d get the hang of it, but I really haven’t. Yet, there are extenuating circumstances. To put it delicately, I’m not exactly a minimalist, and to just be honest, I have a lot of stuff. I mean, there’s no need to call Hoarders or anything, it’s just that like any good American, I like my material things. And by the time I get all my books and clothes and throw pillows together, it’s pretty much a carful. But luckily, I have learned a few things along the way to make the process a little smoother. And as I prepare to move back to Drake for the final time, I realize how far I’ve come since my first year move-in. I now attempt to share some of that wisdom in the hopes that it will spare some of the pains of packing.

 Do Bring: 

  •  Command Strips  All of the Command Strips. I know I sound like a 3M commercial right now, but these thing are storage lifesavers and the only effective way to decorate your college room.
  • Cart or dolly  This one we all took a little while to learn, but by the time I moved out last year, they were everywhere. Grab one from the Home Depot and load up all your boxes and bins straight from the car. It will save you time, energy, and probably some back injuries.
  •  Rain Boots Let me tell you something, the rain really does fall mainly on the plain. And that plain is Iowa.Walking around campus, you’ll want some sturdy rain shoes to stand up to the elements.

Don’t Bring

  • All of the books you’ve ever read Now as an English major, this one is tough for me. Obviously, my books are necessary tools of the trade. But just pare it down a little. And if you do end up bringing a lot of books, don’t try to pack them all in the same boxes. That might sound obvious, but it was not so clear to a certain Drake sophomore a couple years ago.
  • 8 different pairs of sandals You’re really not going to wear all those sandals.
  • T-shirts Okay, maybe bring a few t-shirts. But believe me, the college experience is good for nothing if not copious amounts of free t-shirts.

Best Food in Des Moines

This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting lovely Des Moines to catch up with friends, eat, set up a new apartment, eat, and also do some eating. Honestly, I didn’t realize how much I missed the food of Des Moines until I came back into the fold over these past couple days. Now I’m no culinary expert, but I have seen some Top Chef in my day, and let me tell you, the ‘ol DSM can dish up some meals worthy of the flawless Padma Lakshmi. I’ve listed some of my current favorites below, but what are your top DSM restaurant picks? Where do I still need to try?

Best Pizza Joint- Gusto

Though it might not technically be in the Drake neighborhood, Gusto really is the perfect local pizza place. With cool Italian-inspired pizza combinations (like my fav The Stallion) and perfect location just minutes from campus, it really has become my weekend go-to. One time I even saw a professor and her family there, so if that isn’t cute I don’t know what is.

Best Ice Cream- Snookies

Okay, so ice cream may not formally be considered food, but to me, it’s the most important food there is. And Snookies does it better than anybody. An old-fashioned malt shop with awesome dipped cones, the place is a Drake neighborhood must. In fact, it’s one of the earliest places I visited with my FYS during welcome weekend my first year. Seeing the families, students, kids, and even dogs all hanging out eating ice cream together made me know I made the right college decision.

The awesome, quirky back deck at Centro. Just kidding! It's Mullet's.

The awesome, quirky back deck at Centro. Just kidding! It’s Mullet’s.

Best Fancy Dinner- Centro

I’m not gonna lie to you, this place is not exactly budget friendly (unless you have the budget of a midwestern James Bond). But it is the place to celebrate big occasions or simply splurge a little on incredible food. And now that I’ve finally figured out how to pronounce “Centro”, I’m excited to go back. Wait, it’s “chen-tro”, right? Oh, no. I’m still not sure.

Best Game-Day Food- Mullet’s

The game in this case is baseball, but really, Mullet’s is good anytime. It’s a quirky place with a beautiful outdoor deck overlooking the river and Iowa Cubs stadium. And while all that is nice, it’s not as nice as the delicious sweet potato tots you can get there. Oh, and did I mention the copious photos of mullet-clad gentlemen that line the walls?

Best Location- Dos Rios

I know this makes me sound a little basic, but you really cannot beat Dos Rios chips and guac. Seriously, they’re the best. Plus, there’s nothing like sitting out on the patio in the heart of downtown Des Moines’s Court Avenue district with all the people, all the restaurants, and all the guac.

That Intern Life

Ah, summertime. It’s the season for relaxation, long days by the pool, and simply having fun. For these three months in the year, one can simply unwind, sleep, and eat excessive amounts of ice cream. JOKES! Sadly, as a burgeoning real-life adult, I have sacrificed summer fun in the name of work. No longer are my days spent lounging and soaking in the sun. Instead, I have joined the workforce, hoping to build my professional skills and make the world a better place. Call me a hero if you will, but…no actually, I am kind of a hero.

Seriously, though, I’ve had an amazing summer thanks to a couple of incredible opportunities to work in my dream field. I’m learning the ropes of non-profit communications in the best way possible: doing meaningful work for some awesome organizations in my hometown of St. Louis. My two summertime internships are very different experiences, but equally rewarding ones. And despite the loss of sun and ice cream time, I honestly wouldn’t want to spend my summer any other way.

The view from the rooftop deck at MCE, overlooking St. Louis' beautiful South Grand neighborhood. It's basically the penthouse of the non-profit world.

The view from the rooftop deck at MCE, overlooking St. Louis’ beautiful South Grand neighborhood. It’s basically the penthouse of the non-profit world.

My first job is as a communications intern with the Missouri Coalition for The Environment. I’m working specifically on a healthy food systems project to edit, promote, and distribute MCE’s St. Louis Regional Food Study. As I’m working to help educate others, I’m also learning a ton myself about our how our environment and health are connected. The internship allows me to combine traditional PR skills with editing with public outreach (my favorite component). In fact, next week, I’ll be facilitating a roundtable discussion among local organizations to brainstorm ways we can make our food healthier and safer. And did I mention the discussion will be held on MCE’s beautiful rooftop deck? Nbd.

As much as I love my work with MCE, I’m equally enthralled with my other summer internship at Pedal the Cause. Pedal is another St. Louis non-profit that hosts an annual bike ride for local cancer research. And maybe the coolest part? 100 percent of the funds raised through the ride go directly to cancer research. I’m working as a marketing and journalism intern to run social media accounts and write and pitch stories about Pedal participants. It’s a lot of responsibility, but I could not be more excited about it. Yet, again, I’m learning from incredible people, getting to do incredible work, in an incredible location…just steps from the lovely Busch Stadium.

So, in retrospect, maybe summer is still pretty great after all.