Category Archives: Lecture Post

Millennials in a Changing Society

The conference on the role of millennials in today’s society addressed a very relevant issue. Much of society questions the way millennials interact with society. An affinity for new technology, different social expectations, and a variety of new perspectives are a source of apprehension in older generations. However, this conference higlighted how millenials approach the concept of “service” differently than other generations. According to the speakers at the conference, Millennials view the military, coporate responsibility, and service as sectors of society that are not necessarily separate. Each of the speakers mentioned changes that millennials have brought or have sparked discussion about. From making service mandatory and giving individuals a choice to serve the community or the military, to running non-profits more like corporations, millenniasl are changing the way society functions.

This issue of leadership is vital because it demonstrates the impact that generational differences can have in different environments. On a societal level, the new perspectives of younger generations eventually leads to positive progress. On a smaller scale, millennials may often struggle to work within traditional buisness models. One of the speakers praised a group of millenials that  made a non-profit they volunteered for more efficient through the use of technology. However, this raises an important question. Is the change that millennials bring with them only positive in failing systems? Do sucessful systems need to make changes to anticipate problems? In Jared Diamond’s “Collapse,” systems and societies often fail to anticipate problems and proactively make changes. However, if a company continues to make changes can they really ever establish themself?

Ubuntu and a Changing Africa

In his lecture about corporate development in Africa, Dr. Ntibagirirwa rasied questions about a Southern Africa identity expressed through the concept of Ubuntu. While he focused significantly on the root of the word and its different implications, Dr. Ntibagirirwa discussed leadership implications most directly through his talk about companies and expansion in southern Africa. By proposing that corporations should work to be sensitive to African culture and create a cohesive idenitiy, Dr. Ntibagirirwa raises several questions related to group dynamics and the Rwandan genocide.

Though a discussion about the continued effects of colonialism through corporate influence may be necessary, it is not eniterely relevant in this matter. Whether or not Western corporations’ influence in Africa is right or wrong, it is a reality and should be dealt with as such. Thus, Dr. Ntibagirirwa’s discussion both serves as a way to keep corporate influence from becoming a destructive force in African society, but also uses it as an avenue to help fix past problems. There is no question that corporations are changing and shaping African culture. Therefore, by moulding corporations to include a positive aspect of African society, ubuntu, corporations would not only better integrate themselves in the society and perhaps become more receptive to community needs, but also continue to enforce the concept of a pan-southern African identity. This would not only help to soothe the struggles between ethnic groups aggravated by colonialism and incidents like the Rwandan genocide, but as the society adapts to include corporatism, they would also adapt the idea of a larger identity.

John Stuart Mill and the Journey to Socialism

University College London’s Professor Frederick Rosen gave a  lecture about John Stuart Mill and his views on economics and social responsiblility. The foundation for Rosen’s lecture was based on an active interpretation of several quotes from Mill. Rosen’s interpretation of Mill made several points very evident. First, Mill rejected democracy in practice but did not abandon the abstract idea. Apparantly, he believed that democracy does not secure freedom and is instead part of the problem. Mill referred often to the idea of “active character, ” which emphasized personal accountability. Rosen also highlighted Mill’s support of the working class by explaining that that the develpment of this group as a whole impacted the character of the entire society.

In his lecture,  Rosen wanted to focus on the question of whether or not Mills was a socialist. However, his conclusion was that there is no straightforward answer. Rosen questioned whether Mill can be “all things to all men because he did not commit himself?” or perhaps he “just sensed socialism coming?” Rosen’s unique interpretation of Mill has several implications for leadership. Though Mill’s theories have had a significant impact in the area of ethics, Rosen is proposing that perhaps Mill’s economic views are puropsefully ambigous. Mill is and was seen as a public leader during his time. This then raises the question of wheter leaders need to have a position on everything. For example, should we expect our president to have an opinion on every public issue? Should we allow our leaders to keep some opinions to themselves? If we expect our leaders to always declare their opinins and positions, should we make allowances for later position changes? Rosen’s interprentation of Mill raises the question of whether leaders are allowed to remain cryptic and how this alters the public’s perception of them.

Other Desert Cities

Last night I went to see “Other Desert Cities” which is a play about a political family that is kind of dysfunctional. They live in the deserts of CA away from people.  It is Christmas-time and Brooke, the daughter, comes home from the East Coast. She moved away and the family wants her to move back. Long story short her brother was involved in terroristic acts and she wrote a memoir about what she thought was correct and it was bashing her parents. At the end of the play she finds out that her political parents actually helped hide him in another country and effectively they aided and abetted a fugitive.

The entire time there were so many different things running through my mind. One of the things I thought about was how politics can shape people and even affect their own families. The parents are extremely conservative and Brooke, the daughter, is not. They were actually going to disown her because of this book, until she discovered the truth. On the other hand, it is truly amazing what people will do for the ones they care about.  They were willing to risk everything and hide their son.  This is often found in politics where people are constantly covering things up that they don’t want found. There are scandals all of the time which can show how power influences people in many ways.

 

GFP: Lighting Up Life

Last week I was in Gottwald, and I noticed there was a speaker scheduled. After further investigation, I found out this speaker was Marty Chalfie, a professor and chair of the department of biological sciences at Columbia University, and a winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The sign said Chalfie’s speech was titled GFP: Lighting Up Life, and he was going to be speaking about the scientific impact of the discovery and use of the green fluorescent protein. I was nervous that his speech would be full of science vocabulary that I didn’t under stand, but thankfully I was wrong.

Chalfie started his speech by recapping preconceived notions, usually taught in high school, about experiments and the scientific method. He then went on to share the series of events that occurred that lead to the discovery of green florescent protein (GFP). He ended his speech by saying he hoped that from his speech we gathered that scientific success comes in many different way, many discoveries are accidental, ignorance, stubborness, and a willingness to try help, and that scientific progress is cumulative.

After reflecting on his speech, I noticed the strongest connection to leadership I saw was in Chalfie’s ideology. Chalfie made a point through out his presentation to explain that science and science experiences are never only one person working alone. I really enjoyed that, even though he was a Nobel Prize winner, he gave recognition to all individuals who had a part in the discovery of GFP. He could have very easily made a speech giving himself recognition and explaining his accomplishments, but he did not. Chalfie is a great leader in the field of science in my opinion. By teaching and speaking to young science students in the modest way he does, he is encouraging students (followers) to strive for success. He goes out of his way to relate to students who may feel weaker than others by explaining that he had horrible grades in school and now he has a Nobel Prize. He also encourages students to challenge preconceived notions and accepted “facts,” look at problems from other points of view, and to look for inspiration in unlikely places. From his speech I would label Chalfie as a charismatic and innovative leader.

 

Geography Senior Projects Lecture Post

This morning I attended the presentations of many senior geography projects.  Topics ranged from emissions and study abroad, including basic recycling and environmentally friendly transportation techniques in FYS seminars, and collecting rainwater off of Booker Hall’s roof to use in irrigation across campus.  It was great to see this kind of imagination and creativity to tackle problems that I had never even considered myself.

After attending the presentations, I am excited to take part in those projects two years from now.  There are so many cool things that I am interested in studying!

These presentations not only made me more aware of the complex and varied problems this campus faces, but gave me confidence in the ingenuity of the students in this school.  Looking toward the future to how we can better the planet, but also our school or community is a skill required by leaders.  Maybe we really do have some great leaders among us that will keep the world from crumbling on top of us.

I feel lucky to be able to attend this school that has so many promising students.  I am excited to see what everyone ends up doing with their potential!

In Organic We Trust

Last Monday, I attended the screening of the documentary In Organic We Trust. The film examined the philosophy behind organic farming and explained the USDA requirements for companies to name their products “organic.” I was surprised to learn that organic food still contains pesticides and herbicides. My family definitely joined the ‘organic’ bandwagon, so it was nice to learn that organic farms do remove the most dangerous chemicals from their farming process.

In Organic We Trust tried to contrast the original organic philosophy with its current techinical definition, but sometimes went through exaggerated lengths to do so. For example, images of corporate ‘organic’ farms were accompanied by ominous, scary music (as were depictions of the USDA). The filmmaker tried to convince viewers that the USDA cancelled a meeting to “duck” the filmed discussion of such a political topic, but there were likely legitimate reasons for the cancellation. He also tried to paint our country’s dietary information as disastrous, making the questionable claim that most urban children don’t know that vegetables come from plants.

There were only three convincing pieces of incriminating evidence for the organic industry. First, the USDA gets paid to certify farms as organic, which means they have no incentive to hold the farms to the proper standards. In one year, 13,000 farms were inspected, and only 10 had their certification revoked. Next, industrial organic farms are not any better for the environment than non-organic farms. Finally, there no conclusive evidence has suggested that organic food is more nutritious than inorganic food. These pieces of evidence, at the very least, should lead one to question their reasoning for purchasing organic food. It’s perfectly reasonably to purchase organic for the sake of avoiding dangerous pesticides. However, if you purchase organic to protect the environment or improve your nutrition, there are probably better ways to do so, like growing your own food or purchasing locally-grown food.

Yusef Komunyakaa

Last weekend, I attended “An Evening with Yusef Komunyakaa.” Having never been to this sort of event, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the prize-winning author and poet did not disappoint. Komunyakaa’s work eloquently addresses a wide range of on subjects, from simple love poems to politically loaded subjects such as war and civil rights. The most entertaining part of listening to Komunyakaa was the rhythm within his spoken poetry. In the following Q&A, Komunyakaa commented on this sense of rhythm. His work has been called “jazz poetry,” and he believes that “jazz informs his rhythm.” Komunyakaa continued that the “music of the poem becomes tangible, physical. We feel it.” His ability to think and present his ideas in this musical style was remarkable.

My favorite part of the night was during the Q&A, when Komunyakaa addressed the sort of things that inspire him.  Understanding why people think the way they do is a big part of Critical Thinking, and I’ve always been interested in what motivates and inspires people. Komunyakaa said that “languages beckon, images beckon,” and that he was moved he was moved by images of the “social and cultural history, as well as the history and significance of the landscape.” Komunyakaa’s poetry presents a personal, emotional response to shared social and cultural experiences. Komunyakaa isn’t a leader in the political or organizational sense, but he is certainly an intellectual leader. His work allows us to better understand the thoughts and feelings of those who experienced the major conflicts of his generation. His lyrical poetry keeps these issues relevant, allowing us to learn from them in the future.

 

In Organic We Trust

Last Monday there was the screening of the documentary In Organic We Trust which focused on the topic of “Organic” labeled food products. This documentary talked about the history behind “Organic” saying that growing organic began as a method of growing food that was grown with principles such as no toxic chemicals used for pesticides and fertilizers and enviornmentally friendly practices. The documentary goes on to talk about the now government label of “organic’ and the parameters that surround it. The film explained that the FDA uses contractors to inspect “organic’ farms and there are guidelines that the farms have to meet to be considered by the government to be “organic.” Then it goes on to highlight that big corporations like Coca-cola own products that are considered by the government to be “organic” would not be considered organic according the original methods of organic growers.

This documentary was clearly not an objective in the portrayal of the facts. Instead this documentary was a bit sided with its approach to the subject of organic farms and the label of organic. The documentary was looking critically at the label of “organic” and examining wether there is much legitamate benefit in organic food  over traditionally mass produced food. the main points of emphasis was the descrepancy between the original meaning of organic and the goverment standard for organic, and also compararing the nutritional value of “organic” food and regualar food. During the film it seemed that the narrator who claimed to been an organic eater was framing the label of “organic” to be misleading. The documentary highlighted the fact that corporations have organic products and used that as evidence to why organic may be misleading. It also used the contracted inspections as evidence because the farmers have to pay to be inspected and certified and made the argument that was further proof to suggest the organic label as just a tool to increase price.

Richmond City Council: A Circus or A Government?

Tonight, I attended my second Richmond City Council meeting of the semester, which was very different from the first. Before I even entered the chamber, I saw Don Coleman, head of the School Board, who recognized me and greeted me. Knowing the stakeholders in City Hall has changed my perspective and allowed me to better understand the dynamics of City Council.

The meeting began normally. Although it was clear from the banners in the rear of the room that there were going to be passionate speakers and Council was a little bit late, there was nothing out of the ordinary. That changed about 10-15 minutes into the meeting, when there was a commotion in the press box to the left of Council. Chris Dorsey, an outspoken critic of the Council, decided to sit in the Press Box and was forcibly removed from the Council chamber after an argument with a council staff member. As Dorsey was carried from the chamber screaming, “I am being assaulted; I am being kidnapped” repeatedly, I wondered what the public perception of the City Council meeting would be. Would they remember the actual policy discussed at the meeting? Probably not. (True to my prediction, the consistent headline in local news outlets about the meeting was in regard to Dorsey’s removal)

My second thought about the removal of Dorsey concerned the difficulty of Council members’ jobs. After meeting with Council members individually, it’s clear that they work incredibly hard for a relatively small salary. Yet, in this meeting, I realized that the challenges of the job extend beyond the long hours and small salary. Dorsey made threats against the council members and their families, which places additional stress on those council members. In essence, Dorsey made me realize that the Council members have even more stress to handle on top of their challenging jobs.

Even once Dorsey was removed from the room, the meeting was still eventful. Several minutes after Dorsey was removed, a speaker came up to the podium. He was speaking on the consent agenda—a part of the meeting that is supposed to be non-controversial—and began to ramble, quoting the Bible and talking about how Jesus would look down on the Monroe Park lease. Council President Samuels told him to stop because he was not speaking about the agenda. When he kept speaking, Samuels gaveled a recess and left the room. It’s unusual to see a Council President so irritated as to gavel a recess and leave the room, but Samuels was clearly wound up. Admittedly, it had already been a stressful meeting and this speaker was not helping. Unfortunately, a part of being a public leader is to listen to your constituents. Samuels invoked a technicality to call a recess. While legally valid, is it ethically valid? I think it falls into a gray area. Samuels should probably have just let the speaker finish, yet was somewhat justified in calling the recess since the speaker was so abrasive.

Reflecting on this Council meeting, it occurred to me that the dramatic events in the chamber overshadowed much of the actual meeting. The Council ended up approving the Monroe Park lease, a big and contentious decision, but the actual decision was overshadowed by the events that preceded it. If anything, this Council meeting reminded me that municipal leaders are in an extremely challenging position, as they try to balance the difficulty of their job with the small salary it pays. Furthermore, it reminded me that the media will focus on the “interesting” pieces of the meeting, while often neglecting to mention the important decisions that were reached. Hopefully, the next meeting of City Council will be slightly more routine.