Rocks, Rivers & Reggae

Here in the Khumbu, we like to climb steep ice, hike long days, and jam out to Bob Marley. Ty has introduced me to the wide world of reggae music, much to my moms dismay. I could literally hear her despair through the phone as I excitedly recounted my recently-gained knowledge of the nuanced music world.

So, after an evening spent jamming out in the tent to Bob, Prodige, and Chronixx, we awoke the next morning to a bluebird day and had a successful ascent of Island Peak (20,300 ft.). Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Although my first summit of a 20,000 foot peak was quite exciting, there are also many things that make this trip what it has been for me. One of such things is a newly acquired nickname, D.B.S. Said acronym stands for Dumpy Butt Singer, a result of the way my pants now fit my because of the unavoidable weight loss that comes with high altitude. But it isn’t all serious climbing and making fun of each other. Pasted below for your viewing pleasure is a beautiful poem Melissa composed as an ode to my power foods.

In the land of mountains and never ending trails, there are a few things that always make the tales. People question- from where does the power come? And where in the world do I find me some? You can get creative, or just go with what’s known, and get your power from the local things grown. It’s a simple fix of rice, lentils, and curry too, and it is the exact mix that will power you. Add the sweet crunch of a coconut biscuit, and you will find the energy that for any quit. Over passes, and all through the hills, Dal Baht and coconut Crunchies are what fills, not only the your belly but your heart too,
This is the Khumbu food that powers you.

So that about sums things up for now, but stay tuned for more coming up soon. Tomorrow we are going to make another attempt at Lobuche Peak (20,000 ft.) and try to sleep on the summit. More to come!

Bastadi! Bastadi!

That’s Nepali for slow. Which is pretty much how everything is up here. At 15,500 feet, nothing is moving very fast. Today we crossed the Renjo-La Pass, at 17,800 feet. Surprisingly, it was a relief, rather than a stress trip. The three peaks looming in my future, surrounding me every day, are constantly on my mind. Doubt, fear, and insecurity run through me. It’s slowly getting colder, and the discomfort only amplifies the worry. But today, even though it was hard, the strong feeling that I get when in the mountains seemed to resurface. Every step, although the air was thin, and the day long, gave me confidence. I still have a long way to go, but I am taking the small victories I can get.

Cold morning starts are the toughest, with the cold wind nestling itself deep into your bones. But every time the discomfort starts to take over, or the homesickness, or fatigue, I remember everybody back home. Everybody who believed in my crazy ideas, showed me how to be strong, read this blog, told me to go for it. I think of them, and each person who has given me that gift of belief has allowed me to put one foot in front of the other. Today was  a beginning. A beginning of hard days. A beginning of struggle. A beginning of cold. Of wind. Of heavy breathing. But also a beginning of strength. Of freedom. Of confidence. So we carry on, with the hopes that the days will carry some of both.

Selfies Helping Kids Fund College

Scholar Match gets a plug here:

A piece about kids crowdfunding their own college education. Scholar Match has a better way:

WHEN 18-year-old Kiana Neisig added up her expenses for college, she found herself short of funds, even after receiving grants and student loans. So in June, a friend set up a profile for her on a crowdfunding website to help her seek donations of roughly $2,000.

Ms. Neisig soon received 14 donations totaling $1,350, including a $500 gift from an anonymous donor. She has now started classes at George Fox University, a small college in Newberg, Ore., where yearly tuition and fees are more than $31,000. She plans to use the money to help cover living expenses next semester. The website made it easier to seek help, she said. “Personally, it would be difficult for me to approach even friends and close family and ask for money,” she said, adding that she was “honored” by the support she received.

The site she used, GoFundMe, is one of many crowdfunding sites that use the power of social media to raise money for a variety of purposes. But while sites like Kickstarter are geared toward funding creative projects and entrepreneurs, GoFundMe and other sites, like Crowdrise, let individuals pursue personal fund-raising. You create a profile, including a photo and an explanation of what you’re seeking the money for, and then spread the word on networks like Facebook and Twitter.

GoFundMe says it has raised $420 million across all categories since 2010; education is the second-most-popular category, after medical treatments. When asked via email how many students reach their initial fund-raising target, GoFundMe’s chief executive, Brad Damphousse, did not directly answer. Rather, he replied, the site’s users can change their goal whenever they want, and they don’t have to set a deadline for reaching it.

Unlike Kickstarter, which requires its users to meet a goal to get the money, GoFundMe and Crowdrise allow individuals to keep the donations whether or not the goal is met.

Crowdrise’s chief executive, Robert Wolfe, said his site had recently added an option for individuals — rather than recognized charities — to raise funds and that the educational category is growing.

Sebastian Summers, an aspiring actor and film producer from San Antonio, set up a profile on GoFundMe in June, with a goal of raising $10,000 to help cover his costs at the Chicago College of Performing Arts, part of Roosevelt University. (Scholarships are covering much of his tuition.) So far, he has received $350 and some encouraging notes. While he’s grateful for the support, he said, “To be honest, it was a little disappointing.” He speculated that perhaps his story lacked drama. “I’m just an art student going to college,” he said.

Heart-rending stories tend to gain the most attention and donations from beyond a student’s circle of friends. A Vanderbilt University student whose profile told of her mother’s suicide shortly before her freshman year raised $50,000, double her goal. And GoFundMe says its most successful campaign raised more than a million dollars for a child with a rare genetic disease.

Asking friends and family for cash can be challenging for students from low-income families, however, because they tend not to move in well-heeled circles. And more affluent strangers may be hesitant to open their wallets because it’s difficult to confirm the students’ financial situations.

Neither GoFundMe nor Crowdrise independently verifies the claims made in profiles. Mr. Damphousse of GoFundMe says most donors are friends and families of the students and are familiar with the details of their lives. However, he wrote in an email, “if we ever do receive a complaint, we will investigate accordingly.” Mr. Wolfe of Crowdrise says fabricated stories haven’t been an issue so far, but the site encourages donors to give to those they know personally.

Those kinds of factors led another education crowdfunding site, ScholarMatch, to take a different approach, said Diana Adamson, the site’s executive director. The nonprofit, which aims to match donors with low-income and first-generation college students, initially allowed students to post their own profiles. But donors often wanted more details about the students, she said, and some were reluctant to make donations to individuals because donations directly to individuals generally aren’t tax-deductible.

So now ScholarMatch vets applicants and verifies their eligibility, including financial details, and then posts their profiles on its website. Donors’ funds are pooled into a single scholarship fund, which is distributed by ScholarMatch. Donors can’t earmark their funds for a specific student, Ms. Adamson said, but the funds are directed to a student who best meets their preferences — say, a Hispanic woman who wants to study medicine.

The site, which was founded by the author Dave Eggers, who serves on its board, currently offers its services only to students from the San Francisco area but will soon expand to Los Angeles and has national ambitions, Ms. Adamson said.

Here are some questions about personal crowdfunding for college costs:

Do crowdfunding sites charge a fee?

For-profit sites typically keep a percentage of donations as a fee, so you should read the site’s rules for details. GoFundMe and Crowdrise, for instance, charge 5 percent, plus a processing fee of about 3 percent.

■ What if I don’t meet my fund-raising goal?

Personal fund-raising sites typically don’t penalize individuals if they fall short of their targets; you receive the amount you raised, less the site’s fee. Again, you should check details of the site’s policy.

Will raising college money from crowdfunding affect my financial aid package?

Possibly. Money received by crowdfunding should be taken into account when you fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or Fafsa, the form used to determine how much you and your family must contribute to the cost of your education, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of The funds would most likely fall into the “untaxed income” category, he said, and could reduce your eligibility for some need-based aid. “But most people probably aren’t reporting it,” he added. Receiving money through crowdsourcing could also have tax ramifications, so it’s wise to consult a tax professional.

Colleges that are Working to Bring Poor Kids

The “Education Gap” is a daunting problem. The increasing divide between rich and poor is being driven at some level by the difficulty poor kids face graduating college. Here’s a piece about schools that are trying to make a difference.

Top Colleges That Enroll Rich, Middle Class and Poor

SEPT. 8, 2014

David Leonhardt

Vassar has taken steps to hold down spending on faculty and staff. Amherst and the University of Florida have raised new money specifically to spend on financial aid for low-income students. American University reallocated scholarships from well-off students to needy ones. Grinnell set a floor on the share of every freshman class – 15 percent – whose parents didn’t go to college.

Over the last decade, dozens of colleges have proclaimed that recruiting a more economically diverse student body was a top priority. Many of those colleges have not matched their words with actions. But some have.

These colleges have changed policies and made compromises elsewhere to recruit the kind of talented poor students who have traditionally excelled in high school but not gone to top colleges. A surprising number of such students never graduate from any college.

This education gap is a problem not only for the teenagers on the wrong end of it. It’s a problem for the American economy. The economic differences between college graduates and everyone else have reached record levels. Yet for many low-income children – even many who get A’s in high school and do well on the SAT – college remains out of reach. No wonder that upward mobility is less common in the United States than in many other rich countries.

The Most Economically Diverse Top Colleges

To see which selective colleges are doing the most, and the least, to change the situation, The Upshot has analyzed data for every college with a four-year graduation rate of at least 75 percent. We combined data on enrollment and tuition costs to measure how hard each college is trying to attract and graduate poor and middle-class students. The result is our College Access Index.

Recruiting more high-achieving students from modest backgrounds, says Raynard Kington, the president of Grinnell, in central Iowa, “is the smart thing to do, because the country needs as much brainpower as we can get. And it’s the right thing to do, because it’s not fair that your ability to get a college education can be determined by your ability to buy an education.”

Vassar, the once all-female college in the Hudson River Valley, tops our index, with Grinnell placing second. About 23 percent of Vassar’s freshmen in recent years have received federal Pell grants (which mean they come from roughly the bottom 40 percent of the income distribution), up from 12 percent in 2007. After taking scholarships into account, the average annual cost of attending Vassar for lower-income students is about $6,000. Students cover much of that cost through campus jobs and loans.

The biggest theme to emerge from our analysis is that otherwise similar colleges often have very different levels of commitment to economic diversity. In this area, endowment is not destiny, and prestige is not destiny.

After Vassar, the top of the list includes some of the wealthiest colleges in the country, measured by endowment per student: Grinnell; Amherst College, in Massachusetts; Harvard; and Pomona, in Southern California. But other resource-rich colleges, including Swarthmore and the California Institute of Technology, have done substantially less.

Maybe the starkest example is Washington University in St. Louis, one of the hot colleges of recent years, having climbed to No. 14 in the U.S. News rankings last year. Only about 6 percent of the freshman class in recent years at Wash. U., as it’s known, have received Pell grants, even though it is one of the country’s 25 richest colleges on a per-student basis.

Colleges with many fewer resources, meanwhile, have become more diverse. Franklin and Marshall’s president, Dan Porterfield, has made it a priority to recruit top students regardless of income, and the share of low-income freshmen there has more than doubled. The numbers have also risen significantly for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Susquehanna, in Pennsylvania; and Wheaton, a Christian college outside of Chicago.

Economic diversity at top colleges started to receive more attention about a decade ago. With traditional, race-based affirmative action under attack, university administrators began to think about other ways to enroll diverse classes. At the same time, researchers were releasing data showing that although top colleges had become diverse in many ways – race, gender, religion, geography – many of them remained decidedly affluent.

In 2004, more freshmen at the most selective private universities had fathers who were doctors than had fathers who were hourly workers, teachers, clergy members, farmers and members of the military – combined. And it wasn’t simply because poor children struggled in school. Among low-income high-school seniors in 2008 who cracked the top 4 percent of students nationwide, based on grades and scores, only one of out every three attended a selective colleges, one large study found.

In the middle of last decade, Lawrence Summers, then the president of Harvard, called attention to the issue and made Harvard’s financial-aid policies much more generous. Given Harvard’s prominence, other colleges began to look at the situation as well.

Politics played a role, too. Senator Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican, held hearings in 2007, during which he asked whether affluent colleges were using their endowments to help students. A few years later, President Obama and Congress expanded the Pell-grant program. That expansion means that the number of recipients should have risen even at colleges that did nothing to recruit more low-income students.

One of the early researchers to call attention to the lack of economic diversity was an economist named Catharine Bond Hill. In 2006, she left her post at Williams College to become president of Vassar. When she did, she said, she found a campus where people wanted a diverse student body and believed they had one – but didn’t quite.

Endowment Doesn’t Determine Economic Diversity

Colleges with similar resources admit very different numbers of low-income undergraduates. Some wealthy colleges admit many such students, but others do not. At Wesleyan, Susquehanna and some other colleges with relatively small endowments, lower-income students make up a relatively large share of the student body.

“Where we’ve come to is a greater recognition that maybe we weren’t living up to what we thought we were doing,” Ms. Hill told me. Simply announcing that the college offered scholarships wasn’t enough to persuade students to apply. The college began working harder to recruit top students from all backgrounds and also increased its financial-aid budget, even when it meant saying no to other exciting ways to spend money.

“Talented, low-income kids are out there, and talented middle-income kids are out there,” she said. “But the problem for schools is when you admit one of those kids, you forgo $50,000 a year that you could use for other things.”

Those other things – sleek buildings, new academic programs – also happen to be the things that can help colleges woo professors and climb the rankings. So why would a college expand its financial-aid budget, I asked Ms. Hill.

“We are being supported by the federal government and the state government as a nonprofit,” she said. “They’re doing that because of our nation’s commitment to equal opportunity and social mobility, and part of our obligation is living up to making that more of a reality in the United States.”

Even when low-income students are admitted to a place like Vassar, Harvard or Grinnell, they still face challenges. They find themselves away from home, in a very different environment, juggling classwork, new friends and logistical issues unknown to more affluent students.

Sebastian Rivera, the son of a carpenter and a housekeeper in Chicago, was admitted to Grinnell last spring. But he couldn’t fathom how his parents could afford the $11,000 out of pocket that the college asked them to pay. Only after a high-school English teacher named Rachael Wenz – whom he calls “my support network” – told him that he could appeal his financial-aid award did he do so.

He won the appeal. His family pays only $233 a year, while he will pay about $5,000 more, through an on-campus job and a loan. He started at Grinnell a few weeks ago and told me he wants to become an international economist.

If the number of college graduates from low-income backgrounds is going to rise sharply, it’s true that most of them won’t come from selective colleges like Grinnell. But those colleges still have an outsize role.

For one thing, the low-income students who enroll there tend to graduate. For another, research has shown that the individual college attended by upper-middle-class students has little effect on their eventual earnings, after controlling for their SAT scores. But it does seem to matter for poor students. They get something extra from a top college.

That is why it’s worrisome that so many students are falling through the cracks – and that the student body at many elite campuses remains largely affluent. But it may not always be so. In the course of compiling this data and talking to officials at dozens at colleges, I couldn’t help noticing that most of them insisted they wanted to do better.

Wash. U. emphasized that its share of Pell recipients has risen to 8 percent among this fall’s freshman – from 6 percent and 5 percent in the previous two years – and acknowledged it still had work to do. At Washington and Lee, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, only 3 percent of freshmen received Pell grants in 2007. Last fall, the share reached 10 percent, partly as a result of a new financial-aid program.

“I’d be the first concede we have room to improve,” Kenneth Ruscio, Washington and Lee’s president, said. “But we are on the right path.”

It’s possible, of course, that some of the colleges saying they value economic diversity – and meritocracy, regardless of a student’s background – won’t match their words to actions. It’s also possible that top colleges are in the early stages of changing.

“Birth Lottery” intact in America

From Jim Tankersley in today’s Washington Post:

Children growing up in America today are just as likely — no more, no less — to climb the economic ladder as children born more than a half-century ago, a team of economists reported Thursday. Even though social movements have delivered better career opportunities for women and minorities and government grants have made college more accessible, one thing has stayed constant: If you are growing up poor today, you appear to have the same odds of staying poor in adulthood that your grandparents did.

The landmark new study, from a group led by Harvard’s Raj Chetty, suggests that any advances in opportunity provided by expanded social programs have been offset by other changes in economic conditions. Increased trade and advanced technology, for instance, have closed off traditional sources of middle-income jobs.

The findings also suggest that who your parents are and how much they earn is more consequential for American youths today than ever before. That’s because the difference between the bottom and the top of the economic ladder has grown much more stark, but climbing the ladder hasn’t gotten any easier.Those findings add up to a surprising take on the status of the iconic American Dream, and they cast Washington’s roiling debate about the consequences of economic inequality in a new light.The paper suggests that “it is not true that mobility itself is getting lower,” said Lawrence F. Katz, a Harvard economist and mobility scholar who was not one of the paper’s authors but has reviewed the findings. “What’s really changed is the consequences of it. Because there’s so much inequality, people born near the bottom tend to stay near the bottom, and that’s much more consequential than it was 50 years ago.”

Read the full article,
Economic mobility hasn’t changed in a half-century in America, economists declare

My breakfast woes…Maybe not as bad as I think?

From Yesterday’s WSJ Opinion:

A Hearty Breakfast of Google and YouTube

At 15, I stared at the back of a Cap’n Crunch cereal box. My son has a few million more options.


Lenore Skenazy
Jan. 8, 2014 6:47 p.m. ET
This is a tale of two breakfasts.Breakfast when I was 15, staring at the back of a cereal box: “Hey kids! Help the Cap’n find his way home!”

Breakfast this morning with my son, 15: “Hey mom! Let me show you this commercial I saw during the game!”

He hops online, searches YouTube for a good 10th of a second, and immediately we are watching a very clever commercial for (sigh) PlayStation 4. It features two young men singing Lou Reed’s sweet, dark song, “Perfect Day,” while smiting each other in a ridiculously violent videogame.

I love it. One of Reed’s lyrics, “You keep me hanging on,” reminds me of the Supremes song with that refrain, so it is my turn to search YouTube to play my son a clip of them.

He (being 15) has never seen the Supremes. He likes the song. It reminds him—God knows how—of an Eminem song, so we watch a clip of that, in which Eminem samples Aerosmith. Which reminds me of an article I read in the other day in the Jewish newspaper the Forward about how Aerosmith came up with its hit “Walk This Way.” I Google GOOG -0.53% it and two seconds later read the article aloud:

Mother and son using laptop

“The inspiration for the song’s title came from the Mel Brooks horror-movie parody, ‘Young Frankenstein.’ In the film, Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant, the hunchback Igor, played by the bug-eyed actor, Marty Feldman, wants Frankenstein, played by Gene Wilder, to follow him, and says, ‘Walk this way.’ Frankenstein obliges for a few steps, walking hunched over with a cane, like Igor. The joke itself is based on an old vaudeville routine.”

Naturally, we Google the movie clip and watch it: 22 seconds of genius. Returning to the Aerosmith article, we learn that, “During the recording of ‘Toys in the Attic’ the group had taken a break and went to a late-night showing of the film. When they got back to the studio, they integrated the line into a song they were working on.”

But wait, says son: Run DMC did a version of “Walk This Way” too!

Like 12,004,642 people before us, we now watch this 1986 video. It deserves all those views. That DMC cover brought Aerosmith back from oblivion, even while launching rap into the mainstream—or so we learn from reading yet more about the video.

There are some who say that the Internet is rotting our brains, ruining conversation, zombifying our youth, etc. But Clive Thompson, author of the new book “Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better,” contends that looking up things that lead us to other things is not just engaging, it’s enriching.

“Encyclopaedia Britannica once did a study of its users and they found that the average number of times that the average users looks at the encyclopedia was once a year,” he says. “Why? Because it’s a pain in the butt.”

Googling YouTube clips is just the opposite—simple, fun, immediate. “The proximity of this knowledge turns out to be enormously valuable,” says Mr. Thompson. It’s like having the encyclopedia at the breakfast table . . . but better. We’re not just reading about the Supremes, we’re seeing and hearing them. We’re studying musical influences. But because there isn’t a word yet for this kind of impromptu education, says Mr. Thompson, “we’re prone to feel shameful about it.”

In other words, since it’s not book-larnin’, it looks like a waste of time.

But compared with reading the Cap’n Crunch box? I’m not so sure.

Ms. Skenazy is a public speaker and the author of “Free-Range Kids” ( Wiley, 2010).