Elon: Professor Squire & Online Insights

Elon: “Explaining how she works with data to identify trends, relationships and networks, Professor of Computer Science Megan Squire turned to a heap of Legos — disconnected and colorful, and seemingly without order. Sharing what she said was her “favorite graphic,” she explained that data science is the process of taking that pile of Legos, sorting them by color, arranging them so they make sense, and then presenting them in single-color stacks that allow you to hear what the data is trying to tell you.”

“The stories Squire told through her research have offered insight into the nature of the communications and connections among online communities, with recent work to demonstrate the overlapping memberships of groups such as neo-Nazis, white nationalists, anti-immigration and other extremists … Squire explained that an early project centered on humor — how computer programmers joked with each other as they interacted online.”

“In examining that data, Squire kept seeing the use of the phrase ‘Aunt Tillie,’ which she discovered had become widely used a phrase used by software developers for ‘an old lady who doesn’t know how to use their computer.’ That led her to begin examining how some language in these online communications was used to mock women and also racial minorities. It was a first step into exploring toxicity in online interactions.”

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Which Majors Pay Off Biggest?

CBS: “A student’s major as well as their college can make a significant impact on their career earnings, according to a new study from compensation site PayScale … Not surprisingly, the top-earning majors are squarely in the STEM-related fields, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Students who attend top-ranked schools like Ivy League colleges or those known for particular expertise, such as the U.S. Naval Academy, also tend to earn more than those who matriculate from middle-of-the-pack colleges.”

“But is it important to attend an elite or expensive college? Not necessarily, said Lydia Frank, vice president of content strategy at PayScale. For instance, a student who wants to study engineering — already a top-paying field — may not be hampered in her career if she attends a lower-ranked college because engineering skills are in strong demand.”

“As for the old-fashioned liberal arts degree, Frank said there’s still demand for the types of skills that students learn in such majors. ‘It’s about critical thinking and communication skills,’ she said. ‘When we ask employers about skills that are lacking in new college grads … what we hear from employers is often the new hires right out of college are lacking things that you think everyone in college should graduate with, which are communication skills and critical thinking’.”

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Late & Great: Mel Elfin

The New York Times: “Mel Elfin, a longtime Washington bureau chief for Newsweek who moved to the rival U.S. News & World Report in 1986 and helped build its college rankings feature into a major educational franchise, died on Saturday in Washington … The rankings had begun in a rudimentary way in 1983, but under Mr. Elfin’s stewardship their criteria were broadened, graduate schools were ranked and U.S. News’s Best Colleges guidebook was published, expanding on the information in the magazine (which is now published only online).”

“Mr. Elfin … faced pushback about the quality and meaning of the rankings. Some critics believed that the rankings formula created a false air of scientific certainty, caused colleges and universities to adjust their policies — or fudge their figures — to raise their rankings, and turned the choice of a college from an essentially educational issue to a high-stakes economic and social transaction. And some school officials howled when their institutions dropped in rank.”

“But Mr. Elfin defended the rankings as an effective way for students and parents to comparison-shop for higher education.” He commented: “When you buy a VCR for 200 bucks, you can buy Consumer Reports to find out what’s out there … When you spend 100 grand on four years of college, you should have some independent method of comparing different colleges. That’s what our readers want, and they’ve voted at the newsstand in favor of what we’re doing.” Mel Elfin was 89.

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Finally: An App for FAFSA

NPR: “At midnight, Oct. 1, the rush begins. That’s when first-time and returning college students can get their first look at the 2019-’20 FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Anyone who wants the government’s help paying for college has to finish the notoriously complicated form. But this year, in an effort to make it easier, the U.S. Department of Education has given the FAFSA a new look: a smartphone application.”

“Ultimately, the department hopes the app will be a one-stop shop for students. A place they can research colleges, check their loan balance and even make a payment. But the real game-changer comes soon, Oct. 1, when borrowers will be able to fill out the FAFSA on their phones using the new app … in the past, many students had no choice but to fill out the FAFSA in a school computer lab. They still can, especially if they’re getting help from a counselor, but now they can also take it home — for the questions that only a parent can answer. They’ll also be able to access the IRS’ data-retrieval tool, which helps students by autopopulating the FAFSA with key tax information.”

“The fact is, this form still won’t be easy for everyone. It never will be — unless Congress radically rewrites the FAFSA. For now, though, students can take some comfort knowing that it may not be easy, but it did just get easier.”

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Brandeis: A Culture of Exploration

Brandeis: “Whenever the entrepreneurial spirit arises in Brandeis students and faculty, it often leads to something big: companies that promise to both reap significant financial rewards and transform society … Research by professor emeritus of biology K.C. Hayes and biophysicist Daniel Perlman resulted in the ‘healthy fats’ used in Smart Balance spread. Adam Cheyer ’88 co-founded the company Siri, which developed the digital personal assistant now on hundreds of millions of iPhones around the world.”

“Today, there’s a new crop of startups out there, some still in their infancy, others marketing products and making profits. Though known for their commitment to social justice and altruism, Brandeisians exhibit no shortage of business daring or acumen. ‘Brandeis supports a culture of exploration,’ says Rebecca Menapace, associate provost for innovation.”

Among the Brandeis Startups: “Werk has developed a methodology for helping companies assess the need and desire for flexibility among employees. The consulting firm then suggests policies to implement. It has also developed a training program for human resources executives and others, and runs a job board that helps employees looking for flexible workplaces search for opportunities … Raised $4 million. Featured in The New York Times and Fast Company, and on CNBC.”

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University of Delaware: Students Pitch Toy Ideas

University of Delaware: “Engineering students at the University of Delaware recently pitched their own inventions to representatives from a major toy company. A trio of professionals from Melissa and Doug, a toymaker with revenue of more than $350 million per year, visited UD to evaluate toy prototypes made by mechanical engineering students with help from early childhood education students. Companies like Melissa and Doug employ mechanical engineers because they have foundations in product design, mechanics, dynamics and other skills that are useful when making tiny consumer products.”

“The students made toys that were functional, fun and educational, like the Carpet Circuit, which was designed to teach the basics of circuitry … The team created a mat that can be laid on a classroom floor or hung from a chalkboard. The mat is covered with detachable pieces — held on with Velcro — that illustrate the basics of electronics. For example, you can connect a battery-shaped piece to a lightbulb-shaped piece using a rope that represents a wire.”

“Another toy, the Farmyard Friends Puzzle, a 12-piece 3D pig-shaped puzzle, was designed to increase literacy by helping children recognize letters while also developing fine motor skills. Each piece of the wooden puzzle features uppercase and lowercase letters. The team is also interested in making a prototype out of 3D printed polymer. The representatives from Melissa and Doug asked the Farmyard Friends Puzzle team a lot of questions — and asked for more information after the showcase.”

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College Tour Tips

US News: “The fall months – September through early December – can be extremely busy for high school juniors and seniors … In light of this scheduling load, it might make sense to zip through college tours. Madeline Dyke, a sophomore at Williams College, urges students to do the opposite.” She suggests “that this can include staying in a dorm overnight and sitting in on several classes … attending one or more class sessions, with permission, can inform your understanding of teaching styles at the college or university Similarly, an ‘overnight visit will give students a good idea of the campus culture and social life,’ she says.”

“Alexis Miller, a junior at Indiana University—Bloomington, toured four schools in the fall, including her current collegiate home. She says that it is critical for current high school students to assess colleges with an eye toward the long term … For example, it may be tempting to select the university that houses freshmen in new dorm rooms with semiprivate bathrooms. However, will this ultimately be more valuable than a strong program in your major of interest or access to robust internship offerings?”

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College Coupons: Some Schools Discount Tuition

The Wall Street Journal: “Escalating the heated battle for students, some private colleges are offering to match public in-state tuition … The discounts aren’t limited to private schools. Public universities in Michigan, South Dakota and Nebraska now let students from other states pay as if they were locals.”

“Some colleges, facing dwindling populations of local high school graduates, are motivated to attract students from across the country. Others are battling the perception they aren’t affordable or looking to boost their academic profiles.”

“The price-match guarantee, a sales tactic borrowed from retailers, illustrates how fiercely competitive higher education has become. It also adds to the confusion over how much college really costs, especially at private schools. Although the pricing campaigns suggest major savings, already generous financial-aid packages mean the net price for many students won’t change by much.”

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