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Published May 6, 2013 on USA TODAY College.

Volunteering is already a rewarding experience, but a home-cooked meal and camaraderie can make it slightly more enjoyable than your standard park cleanup.

Student volunteers in the Good Eats program at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., come together with members of the city’s ARC community — “Advocacy, Resources and Choices” for those with developmental disabilities — to cook fresh, healthy meals and enjoy each other’s company. The program is run by Kaitlyn Suarez, a sophomore geology major at Union.

“I come from a Greek family and my whole life, I grew up with a large family and food, and I was always in the kitchen wanting to help and prepare — that’s where all the commotion was going on. I’ve always had a passion for food,” Suarez said, 20, originally from Wading River, N.Y. “When I heard about the program, it hit home for me. I’m especially interested in healthy foods and healthy living and being active.”


Courtesy of Kaitlyn Suarez and Good Eats
From left: a Good Eats guest from Schenectady ARC, student volunteer Emanuel Storch, another Good Eats aprticipant and student volunteers Ariel Gomberg and Mary Arnold (Arnold in background). Student and guests come together to prepare the night’s menu of turkey burritos, green salad, guacamole and berry parfaits.

Two to four times a semester, six to seven Schenectady ARC guests visit the Minerva houses at Union College (special residence halls with a full kitchen and living room to complete the homey vibe) with eight to 12 student volunteers to work “side by side and (they) make the whole entire meal from start to scratch,” Suarez said, who makes a point not to do any prep work before the cooking sessions. The Good Eats guests do almost all of the preparation and cooking, while the student volunteers monitor safety and make sure foods such as chicken are properly cooked.

“It’s a hands-on learning experience from menu-planning to making meals and general techniques and health tips for cooking,” she said. “Many of the participants who come have never been able to use knives or cook or have the general freedom in the kitchen.”

Previous dishes include vegetable pizza, stir fry, chicken pasta primavera and lasagna, with desserts of fruits, yogurts and sorbets. Throughout the evening, Suarez gives tips and stresses the importance of local foods, whole grains, brown rice and whole-wheat products.

After the meals are done, “everyone sits down together, we eat and talk about the week and what’s going on, and it’s just like at home,” Suarez said. “And then it’s so nice for the students to have essentially home-cooked meals during school.”


Courtesy of Kaitlyn Suarez and Good Eats
Union College volunteer Ariel Gomberg helps a Good Eats participant prepare the main dish of turkey burritos.

Suarez spearheaded Good Eats at Union as a freshman after an email from the dean’s office sought student leaders to start the program. On top of doing all the organizing she does for Good Eats — shopping for the food, preparing the meal plans, rounding up the volunteers — Suarez also finds time for other activities such as Colleges Against Cancer, the environmental club and Octopus’ Garden. Oh yeah — she’s a finalist for 2013 National STUDENT-Athlete Day Giant Steps Awards, too, for her performance on the cross country and track and field teams. How does she balance it all?

“It’s definitely hard. It’s long nights, but it’s so gratifying. And everything that I do, it just keeps me going,” she said. “The program is unbelievable — so many people appreciate it and I know that when they’re living in the homes, they’re seeing the same faces and for them to come here … they get to see their friends that they may not see every day, and we get to get together as students here, so we see our friends. And we spend two hours together, relaxing cooking, talking about our weeks before we have to head back to school and do work.”

Suarez’s medical history also makes this program all the more meaningful. During high school she faced Hodgkin’s lymphoma three times and underwent a bone marrow transplant to beat the disease. Suarez is now cancer free.

“I spent a lot of time in hospitals when I was getting treatment. And I know for me, being in a hospital, when somebody came and there was an event that happened, it made my entire week and changed the course of my day,” Suarez said.

“I can imagine that living in a home for most of their lives, is kind of the same way when there’s something new that’s different and exciting. … I can just feel and imagine how much fun and deeply appreciative they are of being able to come to Union with college students and be able to spend the evening with us,” she said. “As small as it may be for us, I know that it’s a really big and powerful impact for them. And I’m sure it’s what they look forward to all week, which is an unbelievable feeling to give that to somebody.”

This article is part of USA TODAY College’s Spotlight Series, which features student bands, campus organizations, student entrepreneurs and start-ups, student-run media, student artists and any other students doing cool, admirable and proactive things. If you’d like to nominate a student or an organization, please submit here.

Published April 24, 2013 on USA TODAY College.

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Official poster designed by Morgan Wheaton

Deerhunter’s art-rock noise reverberated off the domed ceiling of D.C.’s Sixth & I Synagogue, under which the capital’s college radio community united for a first-ever collaborative concert this week.

American University’s WVAU, University of Maryland-College Park’s WMUC and George Washington University’s WRGW joined musical forces to bring ambient punk rockers Deerhunter back to D.C. for the first time since October 2010 in the unprecedented District College Radio Presents show. (Georgetown University’s WGTB did not officially participate, but the station helped promote the event.)

“Everyone had really interesting events going on, but there was never really an initiative to put these forces together. And especially because we are working with people who have really cool interests and [are] booking people and have these awesome ideas … I just wanted to meet other people from the stations and see what we could do together.” Paula Mejia, general manager of WRGW and a senior at GW, said.

What they could do together turned out to be not only booking a mesmerizing, dynamic headlining act and selling out an 800+ seat venue in little over one week, but also playing up each station’s strengths — which according to Mejia are: WMUC showcasing live local talent, WVAU booking “awesome” acts and WRGW’s working with businesses and nonprofits — to best reintroduce college radio on the D.C. scene.

“I think it was good for us to put all those things together, all the things we’re good at, and show the big D.C. community what we can do. I think it sets a good legacy for us that we did this first really big show,” Emily Thompson said, live music director at WMUC and a senior at UMD.

While WMUC still operates on a frequency, that’s not the norm for college radio, including their D.C. counterparts. The Internet gives the stations a greater opportunity to reach more people, though it can be difficult to make noise on the depths of the web — especially to the extent of college radio’s influence in the heydey of the late ’80s and early ’90s with launching bands like Black Flag and Mission of Burma, Mejia said.

WVAU General Manager Emily White mentions her station’s unofficial slogan, which continues the theme of college radio stepping up on the local music scene.

“Our joke tagline is always ‘We Exist.’ College radio now sort of exists more for the people within it than the people outside of it, and I think an event like this is important because of that shared communal excitement we get to have and feel ownership of something and do something really cool,” White said. “But it’s also that little ‘hey! College radio! We’re still here! We’re doing something really cool’ to the community.”

Though this was not just an opportunity for district college radio to increase their off-campus presence — on-campus, the stations experienced bumps of support, from members to non-members.

WRGW’s Mejia said several underclassmen expressed interest in joining the station and WVAU’s White said students at American are aware that the station is more than that hallway window into the studio people use to stare at DJs like a fishbowl.

Another bonus for the universities: a limited number of reduced ticket prices, and even free tickets, were made available for students, aiding college radio’s mission and love for sharing music.

The April 22 District College Radio Presents show also marked the first night of Deerhunter’s latest string of shows playing material off their newest record Monomania, set to be released May 7 and available to stream until then via NPR Music. It was only the second time Deerhunter performed since August 2011 — the first being a mysterious, noisy performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Experiencing Deerhunter’s performance was an hour-long visit to frontman Bradford Cox’s strange, wonderful mind, and the Sixth & I Synagogue setting only added to the spiritual vibes. Deerhunter opened their set with a warped jam that led into the trance-inducing “Cryptograms,” from their 2007 record of the same name, covering the surfaces of the venue with noise and distortion. Cox donned a black wig and a white cheetah-print blouse hung on his lanky frame which bent around the stage over his guitar, mic and tambourine (maracas also made an appearance).

The trance continued through the main set closer, lead single and title track off the upcoming Monomania. Though a bit obvious to end with the new single, the song is perfect for that role, with continuous shouts “mono-monomania” and loud, psychedelic droning that likely left ears ringing for days. Before the song ended, Cox slinked off the stage leaving his band members to continue blowing minds (and ears).

New York’s experimental electronic artist MAS YSA was the first opener, appropriately setting the night’s tone with sampling choirs and Counting Crow’s emotional “Colorblind” piano track over dance beats. It’s easy to see why Deerhunter picked the second act Jackson Scott to open their upcoming shows; his odd presence and ambient rock is obviously Cox-inspired, though no where near as fully formed yet — Deerhunter’s soundcheck was noticeably more complete.

Fortunately the headliners weeded out any negativity and promptly set the audience in an hour-long daze.

A ticket to the hypnotic performance was much coveted and understandably so. WRGW GM Mejia said, “Our old GM posted on my Facebook that people were selling tickets on Craigslist, and he’s like, ‘There’s a black market for tickets. Good job.’ We made it.”

Full disclosure: Marissa Cetin is Web Director and a DJ at WVAU.

This article is part of USA TODAY College’s Spotlight Series, which features student bands, campus organizations, student entrepreneurs and start-ups, student-run media, student artists and any other students doing cool, admirable and proactive things. If you’d like to nominate a student or an organization, please submit here.

Published April 3, 2013 on USA TODAY College.

Twenty-one credits, three jobs (including a Microsoft internship), full academic scholarship at California University of Pennsylvania, president of a student activities organization and the beginnings of a clothing line haven’t prevented Daeshawn Ballard from putting out his fifth studio album under his stage name, LiL-D Da Prince.

“This is just the [fifth] one that we’ve [released].” Ballard, 21, said recently from Pittsburgh, Pa. “I’ve got at least six CDs that I have not put out yet. I write a lot.”

Courtesy of LiL-D Da Prince
“The thing about recording five studio albums is I can’t get enough of it. I’m even more excited than I [was] on the last project that I worked on, so getting back into the studio every time is a blessing, and it’s so much fun, and I love it so it never feels like work” Ballard said.

Ballard — studying business administration major with concentration in marketing and a computer science minor — is not only busy in the studio, he’s active on campus.

The Cal U junior is president of Underground Cafe, a part of the university’s student activities organization which organizes open mics nights and concerts, a campus entertainment intern at Microsoft and demonstrates products on campus before their releases, while also finding time to be a business and marketing intern at Cal U’s entrepreneurial office.

It’s a lot for one person to balance.

“It’s pretty much a lot of prayer, a lot of time management and no sleep,” Ballard said.

Meeting people appears to come naturally to Ballard, which is helpful in amping up his presence on campus.

“I remember the first day we [his friend, O’Shea Browner] were sitting in our dorm room… we were just bored, and I was like, let’s go meet people.” Ballard and Browner began knocking on doors in their dorm. “Next thing you know, we’ve got a group of 70 people following us and people gained friends from that.”

Ballard is also successful on the local Pittsburgh scene. He won “Pittsburgh’s Best Hip-Hop Artist under 21” in 2011, after losing to Mac Miller in 2010. LiL-D Da Prince has also performed with artists as diverse as Kenny Rogers, Peter Yarrow (of classic folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary) at a senior citizen show, hip-hop duo Black Violin and with “very talented kids” from Hope Academy, he said.

Ballard could not speak more highly of his father, Meach, who inspired him to begin making music nine years ago. His father owns his own barbershop, is a hip-hop musician currently under the stagename Big Meach and co-founder of the L.E.U. (“life expectancy unknown”) Entertainment group.

“One day in our dining room, he was like, you know what, imma write you a song today. I was so excited. I remember this song, we sat down, he wrote it for me, I recited it. We went to the studio for the first time when I was 12 and made a video for it,” Ballard said. “After that his energy and passion for it transferred over to me and I started to take it upon myself to write my own music at a young age of 14. And it’s been growing ever since.”

Courtesy of LiL-D Da Prince
Ballard’s fifth studio album drops April 28.

Five studio albums later — including the April release The King’s Son, which was produced by Wiz Khalifa’s producer Sledgren — Ballard sees music staying in his life for a long time.

“I want to work with people and technology, those are my two favorite things aside from music,” Ballard said. “I would love to continue to make music for the rest of my life, but I also want to use it as a platform for when I achieve the dream, which is to be big, but to also use it as a platform to create different things. I have aspirations of owning my own production company as far as films, because my and my father love movies…My music is me, and as long as I live, it lives.” Ballard said.

Ballard’s upcoming projects include starting a clothing company with friends called Something We All Got (S.W.A.G.) and trying to perform more shows over the summer and attend festivals to get his name out there and “represent [his] city well,” he said.

For someone constantly working and making music, it’s amazing he has time to listen to it. Ballard said his favorite artist “hands down” is Drake. “His creativity astounds me every time, and I can really relate to his music.”

The message behind his own music is also important to Ballard, who aims for a positive message — sans curse words.

“You wouldn’t typically hear a 12-year-old cussing, so that’s where it started from. And that’s just how it was instilled in me to perform and write and create. I’ve seen [my music] reach various audiences from grandmothers to little kids, and no one has to worry about turning it down at a certain part; They can enjoy it all the way through,” he says.

“And my music is my tool that I use to inspire and motivate. If you listen to most of my songs, they’re fun, some are really emotional, some have that rough edge around them and you’re feeling hyper and ready to go. The underlying message of all of them is motivation and there’s a way out of where you’re at now no matter at which stage you are in life to excel and be better tomorrow.”

This is part of USA TODAY College’s Spotlight Series, which features student bands, campus organizations, student entrepreneurs and start-ups, student-run media, student artists and any other students doing cool, admirable and proactive things. If you’d like to nominate a student or an organization, please submit here.

Published March 25, 2013 on USA TODAY College.

Students at the University of Arkansas are encouraging young girls in the local school districts to dream B.I.G. — Dream Believing In Girls, that is.

Part of the Alternative Service Break program and Volunteer Action Center at the university, Dream B.I.G. started in 2010 after the request from the community of Elaine, Ark.

“It [started as] a day camp and it addressed goal setting, self-esteem and making healthy decisions. We brought 10 students to the community to facilitate the camp,” said Amanda Finch, program coordinator for the university’s Center for Community Engagement. Originally set up to be a camp for girls 9-13 years old, Finch said it quickly expanded.

“We opened camp on the first today and we had 50 kids show up from babies to 18-year-olds, boys and girls because they were just looking for something to do” as there is very little for the kids in the community, Finch said. “The community center where we were placed was a trailer with no running water and a non-functioning bathroom.”


The last day of Dream B.I.G.’s 2012 camp. — Photo courtesy of Dream B.I.G.

This pilot version of what would become Fayetteville, Ark.,’s Dream B.I.G. program sought to inspire the children to make healthy choices and set career goals.

“We played games with them and we listened to them. We learned that they don’t have a very helpful outlook on life,” Finch said. “Some of the things we tried to do was goal settings — thinking about where you wanted to live when you grow up, what you want to be. A lot of the kids could not … conceptualize any place farther than Little Rock, which is about three hours from the Delta.”

Three years later, Dream B.I.G. has just wrapped up its third overnight camp from March 16-20, this year with 44 girls in grades 6-12, including 16 girls who are returning from last spring’s program.

This year’s theme was the Dream B.I.G. Galaxy, which centered around “reflecting on your past, living in the present and planning for your future.” Girls are divided into Dream Teams named after planets and lead by trained student mentors.

University of Arkansas students can get involved via four paid part-time positions, as well as through volunteer mentor positions. These student coordinators organize all aspects of the camp, including planning guest speakers (Dream B.I.G. holds an Oprah-inspired “Legends Lunch” and invited women in the community who came from similar situations as the girls in the program and now work as professors, lawyers, poets and business leaders, including the C.E.O. of Sam’s Club and the local pastor), assigning roommates, sorting out travel, creating breakout sessions, social media marketing and recruitment and training other student mentors.

In addition to the program’s focus on goal setting and building healthy relationships and lifestyles (with Zumba and yoga classes), the girls at camp this year took the Clifton strength assessment, which is a personality test that identifies the girl’s top five (or top three for the girls in eighth grade or under) things they’re “uniquely good at,” Finch said. She adds that the student mentors will use these qualities in all of the Dream Team activities to help build the girls’ self-esteem and awareness.

The Dream B.I.G. caught the attention of Chicago-based bloggers Six Brown Chicks who reached out to the program and asked if they could participate in the March camp.

“It’s really exciting because these women are professional relationship experts. They’ve experienced many different things in their lives that are very similar to what the girls have experienced,” Finch said. “They’re going to help facilitate a healthy relationship seminar and a conflict and bullying resolution seminar.”

The writers of Six Brown Chicks promote the positive motto of “Being Responsible Obedient Willingly Now. Choosing Honesty Integrity Commitment Kindness and Self-worth,” making them a perfect fit for the Dream B.I.G. program.

“It’s not only an opportunity for our girls who are coming to receive that mentorship, but it’s also a unique opportunity for our students to be able to interact with these women, and I think there’s a possibility for internships and jobs and professional networks and just seeing where they can go after college.”

This is part of USA TODAY College’s Spotlight Series, which features student bands, campus organizations, student entrepreneurs and start-ups, student-run media, student artists and any other students doing cool, admirable and proactive things. If you’d like to nominate a student or an organization, please submit here.

Published March 25, 2013 on USA TODAY College.

Time magazine published its annual roundup of the top Twitter feeds today, bestowing the honor of the most consistent 140 characters of “wit and wisdom” on, an appropriate, 140 accounts.

It’s a bit daunting to click through 140 slides (when did a “see all” view become passé?), so we picked a few of standout accounts from each of the 14 categories Time assigned.

Activists

1. @NonprofitOrgs exclusively follows non-profit organizations and staffers, so it caters to bring news and tips to the organizations while also sharing general non-profit news.

2. Longtime actress @MiaFarrow now focuses on her humanitarian work as a UNICEF Goodwill ambassador, tweeting news, quotes and commentary about Africa, LGBT and other issues.

Art and Photography

3. Not many people have figured Vine out, but @ManBartlett‘s got an interesting take on it. The “post-artist” can also be seen “asking for friend.”

Read More

Published Dec. 18, 2012 on USA TODAY College.

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I don’t want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need…

And it is to never hear All I Want for Christmas Is You ever, ever again.

That may be dreaming big, considering it is hard to avoid the song short of never stepping out in public, but from the shelter of your own headphones you can be festive without hearing Christmas songs that turn you into a Grinch.

I present to you an incomplete guide to holiday tunes that you’re not as likely to hear over the Macy’s soundsystem. At the bottom of the page lies a Spotify playlist with these jingle jams and more, as my gift to you.

Albums:

• Sufjan Stevens – Silver & Gold and Songs for Christmas
There is no bigger fan of Christmas in the music industry than Sufjan Stevens. Proof: He’s released two five-volume Christmas box sets, Songs for Christmas in 2006 and Silver & Gold this past November.

Stevens’ ode-to-Santa marathon features covers of the classics, fresh takes on the most traditional carols and hymns and his own wacky original songs, such as Come on! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance! and Christmas Unicorn. (Also wacky, this series of infomercials he created to “promote” Silver & Gold.) Through all the songs, Stevens remains true to his experimental folk ways, continuing to play with electronic sounds on Silver & Gold as he first did on his 2010 critically acclaimed solo album The Age of Adz.

And that recent 58-track, almost three-hour long Christmas extravaganza didn’t tire Sufjan Stevens out; he collaborated with rappers Heems, Kitty Pryde, Busdriver and others on a mixtape of Silver & Gold wordplayfully entitled Chopped & Scrooged.

• The O.C. Mix 3: Have A Very Merry Chrismukkah
Like many of my peers, The O.C. introduced me to so much new music in my impressionable middle school years via Death Cab for Cutie obsessive Seth Cohen. (I still have almost all the compilations on CD.) The Chrismukkah episodes are objectively the best ones of the early 2000s teen soap opera, so naturally the holiday compilation is equally great. Ron Sexsmith’s Maybe This Christmas still makes me want to run around with Ryan and Marissa in that ritzy Orange County mall, and indie vets Low shine bright on Just Like Christmas. (I’ll highlight Jimmy Eat World’s Last Christmas WHAM! cover later as it deserves its own section.)

Holidays Rule compilation
Just before Halloween, Starbucks’ label Hear Music and Concord Music Group released a 17-song holiday compilation boasting an eclectic mix of artists. The standout track is the Sharon Van Etten and Rufus Wainwright duet Baby, It’s Cold Outside, so much so that I have to feature it here:

The always-great Eleanor Friedberger performs a jazzy Santa, Bring My Baby Back (To Me) and The Shins’ James Mercer’s airy voice well suits the band’s cover of Wonderful Christmastime.

• She & Him – A Very She & Him Christmas
Zooey Deschanel’s sweet croon and M. Ward’s smooth blues guitar complement each other and — surprisingly — Christmas music very well, especially and appropriately on the song made famous by Elvis, Blue Christmas. The duo’s take on The Christmas Song also holds up with M. Ward’s smooth guitar pickings oozing through the song under Deschanel’s hushed warm vocals. Fortunately, this Christmas album successfully avoids the too-cutesy territory that plagues She & Him’s original material.

Songs:

• Fiona Apple – Frosty the Snowman
Possibly the best Christmas cover ever (read: My favorite Christmas cover ever), Fiona Apple’s bluesy voice, accompanied by only an acoustic guitar, beautifully tells the story of that magical, pipe-toting snowman. Apple’s vocal stylings, flowing from sweet and soprano to staccato and shouting to soft and soulful, bring real, wonderful life to a silly song about a sprung-to-life snowman and his magic hat.

• The Format – Holly Jolly Christmas
Nate Ruess’ latest band, fun., is featured on the Holidays Rule compilation, but before the days of uncapitalized good times, Ruess fronted The Format with Sam Means and, boy, were they a great act. Ruess’ powerful boyish vocals perfectly suit the classic by Burl Ives, and Means’ multi-instrumental talents provide the most jolly music.

• Jimmy Eat World – Last Christmas
Yes, WHAM! is a little cheesy, but that is why we love them. Alt-emo rockers Jimmy Eat World somehow manage to embrace the cheese and avoid being tacky. Maybe it’s because they’ve never tried to take themselves too seriously. (Something that likely makes London minimalist electro act The xx’s new take on the song fall flat.) Dancey and heartfelt, Jimmy Eat World lays their feelings on the line in this Christmas love song — though it would be crazy to expect anything less from these emo pros.

• The Polyphonic Spree – Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
Covering a John Lennon song is an ambitious undertaking, but I suppose when your band has 20+ members, it is not as daunting a task. The Polyphonic Spree’s characteristic purely joyful symphonic-pop and massive ensemble is a perfect match for the children’s chorus supporting in Lennon’s original. The group’s layered instrumentals, highlighting brass and percussion, and inherent euphoric feeling adds an air of whimsy to the track unmatched by other attempted Lennon-coverers.

Which holiday tunes would you add to this mix?