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Posted: March 25th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: feature, higher education, Writing | Comments Off

ClickFrom the Winter 2014 issue of Saint John’s Magazine:

Assistant professor of math Robert Campbell likes to refer to himself as the “professor of impossible mathematics.” And as someone who teaches students mind-bending concepts like tangent fields and linear systems, he has always tried to find innovative ways to help his students master difficult material. So perhaps it’s no surprise that he’s pursued the idea of the “flipped classroom” so energetically. The idea is simple: students do much of the preliminary work outside of class, including watching recorded lectures and short videos online.

That leaves class time to wade through the most challenging ideas. Instead of trying to work their way through the hardest material by themselves in a dorm room, students learn it when Campbell is right there to help them. “I can help students recognize where their wall is and help them get over it,” he says. “I figure out where their misconceptions are and fix them right away.”

Smart? Definitely. Easy? Not at all. Zach Silbernick ’15, who took a course from Campbell, says that staying on top of the lessons required discipline, and for long stretches, he didn’t like the class at all. But as he’s moved forward in his academic career, he’s grown to appreciate how powerful the experience was. “Near the end of the semester and after the class, I realized how much I had actually learned,” he says. “[That approach] gave me the ability to persevere through struggles.” He says his current math classes—taught in the traditional format—are actually easier, because he’s become so much more adept at tackling the easier work on his own and maximizing classroom time to ask his professors the tough questions.

Read the full story here.

Case Study: Writers as Ambassadors

Posted: March 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: case study, feature, higher education, Writing | Comments Off

havlirSt. Olaf alumna Diane Havlir is considered one of the most influential AIDS researchers in the world. Last fall, her alma mater brought her back to campus to give her an alumni achievement award, and St. Olaf alumni magazine editor Carole Leigh Engblom contacted me to cover Havlir’s work and life in a feature story for the magazine. She wanted someone who could convey the importance of Havlir’s work in a way that was engaging and accessible to readers.

For a high-profile alumna like Havlir, it’s critically important for colleges to hire freelancers who won’t just do a great job, but who will represent the college well. No matter who I’m interviewing or what the story is, I know that part of my job is to be an ambassador for a school. In some cases, the writer is the only representative of the school that the source will communicate with, so I take great pains to ensure that their experience is a positive one.

To prepare for my conversation with Havlir on the technical aspects of her AIDS research, I spent hours poring through journal articles, interviews, and newspaper articles. I spent two hours on the road so I could see her give an hour-long talk. And I also prepared for some of the emotionally challenging aspects of Havlir’s story. Despite her massive successes and her critical work propelling the field forward, she’s had significant setbacks. Her front-page appearance on the New York Times, for example, came not after she’d perfected the critical “AIDS cocktail” — but after one of her most promising experiments failed. I wanted to talk with her not just about what it meant to succeed, but how she recovered from setbacks. In the interview and follow-ups, I made sure not to cover her life like it was a highlight reel; we dove deep into what it meant to her when she watched mothers sitting at hospital bedsides, helpless as they watched their young adult sons succumb to the disease.

The 2,500-word cover story covered not just her life’s work, but how her work fit into the larger trajectory of AIDS research, treatments, and someday, cures. Read it here.

Engblom called the finished piece “substantive and compelling,” and made it the cover story for the Winter 2014 issue of the magazine. Havlir was equally pleased with the result, writing, “This is a really well written piece, wow. I am so honored. You captured a part of me that does not surface in our traditional dry scientific biosketches.”

Alumni magazines have incredible opportunities to tell important stories that aren’t told elsewhere. And I believe it’s my job to do the deep work that helps alumni feel comfortable sharing those stories and build even stronger connections with their school.

Read the full story here.

The Best Advice I Ever Got

Posted: February 26th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: feature, higher education, Writing | Comments Off

adviceFrom the Winter 2014 issue of St. Edward’s University Magazine:

Associate Professor of Environmental Science and Policy Peter Beck has been more than a great professor to Janelle Sylvester ’14 — he’s been a catalyst for some of her most remarkable experiences at St. Edward’s. Although she’s always been a strong and driven student, she ticks off the many ways he’s made a difference. “He nominated me for the Summer Academic Excellence Award that gave me funding to go to Ecuador, he nominated me for [a] research award that sent me to Portland, Ore., for an academic conference, and he nominated me for the Dean’s Leadership Council,” she says. “He is the reason for many of my unique and enriching experiences.”

Sylvester is far from alone. The wisdom of faculty members — often just as valuable as recommendations and nominations — can be all a student needs to move forward. To find out more about the roles faculty mentors play, we asked students to share a favorite piece of advice they’ve gotten from a professor and how they have applied it. You might just find that their great advice applies to you, too.

Read the rest of the story here.

Everything is Going to Be Okay

Posted: February 17th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: higher education, Writing | Comments Off

From the Winter 2014 issue of Mt. Holyoke’s Alumnae Quarterly:

Whether you’re reading the paper or watching broadcast news, getting pinged with breaking updates from your smartphone or clicking on a link from an outraged Facebook friend, one thing is almost certain: you’re probably seeing plenty of bad news.

No matter where you get your information, you’re likely hearing the same things: Political progress has ground to a halt thanks to unending gridlock. Social Security is on the brink of catastrophe. Climate change threatens to destroy the planet.

It’s enough to make even those who see the world through rose-colored glasses despair.

But within the seemingly endless stream of negative updates, there are bright spots. To find those silver linings, we talked to five alumnae and faculty experts in fields ranging from economics to journalism to medicine to talk about what’s going right in the world.

Read the rest of the story here.

The History of the World in an App

Posted: February 12th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: feature, Writing | Comments Off

From the Winter 2014 issue of the HHMI Bulletin:

If you could hop into a time machine and travel back 100 years, how would our planet be different? What about 100 million years, or even a billion? Could you find New York City on a globe that, thanks to continental shifts, looks nothing like the one we know today? With HHMI’s EarthViewer app, hundreds of thousands of people are asking and answering questions like these for themselves.

For decades, HHMI has supported biomedical research and science education related to life on Earth. Recently, the Institute has started to think more about the “Earth” part of that mission, developing educational resources for the classroom, including a short film about the Mesozoic extinction and a DVD package of materials on the history of life on our 4.5 billion-year-old planet. But HHMI wanted to create something interactive, to really engage students, says Satoshi Amagai, a senior program officer in the Educational Resources Group. “We [wanted to have] an app that could [bring users] through time to see how the Earth has changed,” he says.

Read the rest of the story here.

Case Study: Creating an Award-Winning Story

Posted: January 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: case study, feature, higher education | Comments Off

st john's coverWhen Jean Scoon, editor of Saint John’s Magazine, contacted me about a writing a feature, she knew she wanted to highlight the work of five alumni educators who’d risen to the top of their fields. But she hadn’t settled on the best way to showcase their work.

She wasn’t interested in a series of traditional narrative profiles that laid out the sources’ accomplishments like a highlight reel; the profiles seemed to merit a more creative approach. Yet it was hard to know what angle to take without learning more about each teacher. I promised to dig into the reporting and come up with a few different ideas.

I conducted several wide-ranging interviews with the teachers to learn more about them. What came through in those interviews was their passion for some of the most important issues swirling in education today, from standardized testing to technology in the classroom. Their stories were interesting not only because the teachers had strong opinions and understood the most common arguments on each side of the issue, but because their thoughts were anchored by their personal experiences in the classroom.

Jean and I talked again after my initial interviews, and we decided it would work best to frame each profile as a Q&A.

I’d pose a single question to each teacher (“Does standardized testing shortchange students?” “Is it time to do away with age-based grade levels?”) and include their responses, edited for clarity. The photo that accompanied each profile included 50-word captions that highlighted their professional accomplishments. Check out the final result here.

The feature succeeded because of smart collaboration from start to finish. “I really valued your thoughtfulness about how to approach it,” Scoon says of the process. “You didn’t just write it—you provided invaluable help in honing the concept.”

The story went on to win a bronze award for profile writing from the Minnesota Magazine & Publishing Association.

Read the story here.

Contact me at erin [at] erinpeterson.com to discuss taking your story ideas to the next level.

All the Right Moves

Posted: January 21st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: feature, higher education, Writing | Comments Off

From the Fall 2013 issue of Macalester Today:

In the soft light of the vast Cinema Ballroom, Jon Chen ’11 and partner Nadine Messenger are putting the finishing touches on their performance for an upcoming ballroom showcase.

Chen, in a ragged black tank top, wide-legged dance pants, and Cuban heels, sharpens his back-spot turns, crossovers, and rondés as his partner, a fellow dance instructor, does the same. A competitor in the American rhythm category, Chen focuses on the cha-cha, rumba, East Coast swing, bolero, and mambo. His performance is smooth and powerful, and for Chen, it’s serious business. With strong performances in ballroom competitions across the country, he and Messenger are beginning to attract attention. “I eat, breathe, and sleep dance,” Chen says. “If you want to be successful, that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Read the rest of the story here.

A Different Kind of Fish Tale​​​​​​

Posted: January 14th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: feature, higher education, profile, Writing | Comments Off

From the December 2013 issue of Washington Magazine at Washington University of St. Louis:

For years, Paul Moinester, AB ’08, had worked tirelessly for environmental causes. As a senior legislative assistant to U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), for example, he helped lead the fight in the U.S. House of Representatives against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, a controversial system to transport tar sands oil from Canada to the United States. He listened to countless stories of concerned citizens, met with environmental leaders, and organized a coalition of dozens of members of Congress fighting for a clean energy future.

But toiling away in Beltway politics, Moinester felt disconnected from the very nature he was working to protect. “It’s one thing to learn about issues from a leatherback chair in an office in Washington,” he says. “It’s another thing to see them with your own two eyes.”

His desire to get a deeper understanding of the environmental causes he’d been fighting for spurred him to plan what ultimately became a six-month, 28,000-mile fly-fishing odyssey from Florida to Alaska. Though Moinester had learned to fly fish just two years earlier, he had daydreamed about just such a trip almost from the moment he learned the skill.

Read the rest of the story here.

Bluffs for a Better World

Posted: January 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: feature, higher education, Writing | Comments Off

From the Fall 2013 issue of the Denison Magazine:

The daily news is filled with tales of those who seek to deceive, from Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal to the political resurrection of the Appalachian Trail-hiking former guv Mark Sanford to Harvard’s academic cheating scandal. And most would agree these deceptions are no good; they’re simply lies rooted in a desire for folks to get what they want—and get it now.

But is deception ever a good thing? Well, yes, says Mark Moller, dean of first-year students and associate professor of philosophy. His example: If you let a friend into your house, and a killer soon follows and asks if your friend is there, what would you say? “Can you lie to save the life of another person?” Moller asks. “We need to think about intentions and the consequences,” he says.

Certainly not all deception has such high stakes. We love the red herrings in mystery novels and the optical illusions that scramble our brains. The fact is that disregarding the rules—or rewriting them entirely—can have all sorts of interesting and even positive results. And it happens all the time: Parents, animals, and the tiniest cells in our bodies are using deception to make the world a more interesting, vibrant, and sometimes magical place.

Read the rest of the story here.


Oles Rock

Posted: January 2nd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: feature, higher education, Writing | Comments Off

From the Fall 2013 issue of St. Olaf Magazine:

For generations, St. Olaf College has been known as a musical juggernaut: its world-class choir, orchestra, band, and other ensembles attract talented students from around the world.

But student’s musical ambitions aren’t limited to these options. Many Oles hone their musical skills rocking the stage at The Lion’s Pause or strumming folk tunes on a guitar at Hogan Brothers Cafe in downtown Northfield. For some, it’s a sideline to their studies, But for many others, these performances spark a real passion that can take on a life of its own.

Today, dozens of alumni are using their musical skills and business savvy to make a career of writing and performing music, touring nationally and internationally, releasing award-winning albums, and packing the house at Twin Cities’ institutions like First Avenue and the Fitzgerald Theater.

We recently talked with some of these music-making Oles to find out what it feels like to be in their shoes.

Read the rest of the story here.