All posts by Laura Plantholt

Laura Plantholt is the managing editor of the San Francisco Foghorn. She is a junior at USF majoring in media studies and minoring in journalism. She has been contributing to the Foghorn for three years.

Foghorn Editor-in-Chief Says Goodbye

Three and a half years ago, I stepped into the Foghorn office with the vague idea that joining the school newspaper might be a good hobby. I got my first assignment from an editor and dutifully fulfilled it. I went back and got another. What can I say? I became hooked on seeing my name in print. Today I write my last ever article as editor in chief, as the Foghorn crew and I finish the last issue of my college career. It is an insignificant moment for most, but for me it is the end of an era. More than anything I’ve done at USF, working at the Foghorn is what I will remember and cherish most.

What didn’t I love about working at the Foghorn? The people are wonderful: smart, sarcastic, creative and sometimes  downright bizarre. I love the late, sleepless nights spent in the office, tweaking words and photos for hours until everything seems just so. I love the controversies, the arguments and the occasional stories that get us in trouble. Best of all, I love the rare but wonderful moments when a student or faculty member stops me and tells me something they liked about the paper.

While we had our share of typos and gaffes, I walk away extremely proud of the work the Foghorn has produced during my time here. We have covered a great many triumphs and tragedies, attempting to share as many stories of student achievements, athletic victories and artistic endeavors as possible. I only hope the members of the university community feel we’ve done them justice.

Working at the Foghorn has afforded me many great opportunities to meet impressive men and women from around the world – artists, authors, journalists, politicians – I even made a trip to Washington D.C. to interview House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. As much as I have appreciated these encounters, many of the USF students I have met through my work at the Foghorn have impressed me equally.

At USF we have students who start businesses, raise funds for the needy, fight for human rights, write books, create art, compete in athletics, travel the globe, grow their own food, and do a million and one other amazing things on a daily basis. Interviewing and writing about these people has inspired me and opened my eyes to a world of possibilities.

As I prepare to leave the Foghorn and USF, I owe many thanks to many people. First to the tireless workers who brew the coffee in the cafeteria, mow the lawns, clean the toilets, and put the books back on the shelves. I don’t think any of us ever thank you enough. Second, to the incredible faculty who have guided me and expanded my mind – I may have rolled my eyes when you assigned another essay or reading assignment, but in the end I am truly grateful. Third, to the wonderful students I have studied with and learned from. As I mentioned earlier, I have been continuously surprised and impressed by all that you can achieve. Finally to my professor and Foghorn advisor Teresa Moore. You have challenged me tremendously in and out of the classroom over the past four years, and I have consistently strived to live up to your high expectations. For as long as I live, I will most likely hear your voice in the back of my head every time I try to put words on paper. (And, if you are reading this column and thinking it sounds like a “bad Valedictorian speech,” I’m sorry!)

As the Foghorn moves on without me, I know it will be in good hands. As long as there is a team of intelligent, dedicated people to carry on its century-long legacy, the Foghorn will be an important presence at USF. I simply feel honored to have been a part of it all.

Freedom and fairness for life!

Female Scientists Encourage Next Generation

Students Bethany Goodrich and Noelle Brodeur welcomed Dr. Margaret Tempero, Millianne Lehmann, and Marjorie Balazs at the Women in Science panel. A large crowd turned out to see the prominent Bay Area scientists reflect on their careers and advise female scientists of the future. Photo Courtesy of Brandon Brown

USF took time to celebrate women who entered the male-dominated fields of math and science last Thursday, offering inspiration for the next generation of female scientists.

It was a room full of women, with a few men sprinkled in the crowded McLaren Hall as well. Sitting on the panel in the front of the room were five female scientists: two undergraduate science students and three professional scientists and mathematicians. A packed crowd of university and high school students listened intently to learn more about the role of women in science.

“Historically, women have been underrepresented in all science fields,” said junior Bethany Goodrich as she introduced the event. “Men and women are equal, but they offer very different perspectives.”

The scene at the panel, From Classroom to Career: Success Stories of Women in Science and Technology, held last Thursday, looked nothing like the picture painted by national statistics. As Goodrich noted, even though women earn the majority of bachelors degrees overall, they fall behind men in both the number of science degrees earned and the number of careers held in the sciences. Most would consider this figure problematic.

The USF College of Arts and Sciences is employing a number of methods to increase female enrollment in the sciences, including hiring more female professors and hosting events like the one last Thursday.

This effort began 45 years ago, when the university hired its first female professor in mathematics, Millianne Lehmann. Lehmann, who came to speak on the Women in Science panel, recalled, “When I joined the faculty in 1965, I was entering a world of men. I had no social peers.”

Lehmann served as the only female mathematics professor until 2004, when she retired. She said of her gender, “It turned out to be no problem at all. At no time did I feel hindered by my gender.” Lehmann ended up serving as the first female chair of USF’s mathematics department, paving the way for women to enter the math and science fields.

But not all women on the panel viewed their gender as a non-issue in their careers. When Marjorie Balazs attended college in the 1950’s, she had a male chemistry professor tell her, “You’d might as well stop now,” implying that, as a woman, she would never make it far in science.

Defying his projection, Balazs went on to have an a prosperous career, founding Balazs Analytical and becoming the first female CEO in the semiconductor industry.

The words of discouragement Balazs heard from her professor did not ultimately hold her back. “As a person who faced a lot of adversity and had people tell me I couldn’t do it, I really challenge you to believe in yourselves,” she told the audience.

The panel was sponsored by the Women in Science club, an undergraduate organization that encourages young women to pursue careers in the traditionally male-dominated fields.

Noelle Brodeur, junior biology major and Women in Science club president, has worked with her group to encourage other young women to go into science-related careers. Inviting Bay Area high school girls to watch the speakers on the panel and become inspired was part of that mission.

Brodeur explained the personal importance of having strong female role models in science, especially at her university.  “Seeing so many successful female science faculty at USF definitely makes my future dreams seem more tangible,” she said. “And it helps make the difficulties of being a biology major seem as if they will pay off in the long run.”

In recent years, USF has improved its faculty gender ratios significantly, with female faculty now making up 25-percent of the total in the math, science and computer science majors according to an article in the Fall 2009 issue of USF Magazine. Increasing the number of women professors, in theory, will encourage more female students to enroll in the majors.

For Lehmann, this could not be more true. It was a female high school teacher who ultimately inspired her to study mathematics and go on to teach. All these years later, she remembered fondly, “It is the memory of her that helped me to succeed in my career at USF.”

Dr. Margaret Tempero, a USF alumna, also spoke at the panel. Tempero said she kind of stumbled into a career in sciences when she began working at a hospital and wanted to get her medical degree so she could understand what was going on. She emphasized being open to opportunities to find the right career. “You may not understand your mission in life now,” she told the crowd, “But you have one.” Tempero is now the Deputy Director of the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCSF.

Brodeur was pleased with the outcome of the panel. She said, “One of the main points I took away from the event was how lively and happy those women seemed. When I see women like that, it makes me so excited to find a career I am passionate about.”


Profile: Darrell Red Wing Grew up on Pine Ridge Reservation

Junior computer science major Darrell Red Wing embraces life at USF, but remembers fondly his life on Pine Ridge Indian reservation. Photo by Cass Krughoff/Foghorn

Millions of people each year make the patriotic pilgrimage to see Mount Rushmore, a monument made in celebration of U.S. history. But few are aware that within 100 miles of this attraction there exists a reminder of the darker side of that history, a side that most Americans would rather forget.

Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is home to members of the Lakota Sioux Native American tribe. Over a century ago, European settlers slaughtered the Sioux’s ancestors in gruesome battles. The settlers made treaties and broke them, leaving reservations of land for these native people. Over a century later, the reservation system still stands. One product of this system is USF Junior, Darrell Red Wing who calls Pine Ridge Indian Reservation home.

Growing up on the reservation, Red Wing experienced what most would consider a hard life. Surrounded by poverty, with 49% of the population below poverty level according to the 2000 U.S. Census, Red Wing said the reservation felt like a third world country. “It’s one of the ugliest kept secrets in America,” he said. “I knew people without phones or electricity. I knew a family that slept on the floor. And they didn’t even have a floor, it was just dirt.”

The Lakota Sioux seem to never have fully recovered from their unjust past. Pine Ridge is the poorest of the Indian reservations, located in the second poorest county in the United States. Its unemployment rate hovers around 80%. It is plagued by the problems of poverty, such as gangs, drugs and violence. “We’re a broken tribe,” Red Wing said as an explanation for these troubles. “We’ve lost touch with our culture.”

Red Wing saw many of his childhood friends give in to the dominant lifestyle of dealing and using drugs and joining gangs for protection. Though he got in the occasional scuffle, for the most part Red Wing steered clear. “I just grew up with a good sense not to do all that,” he said. He attributes his success to the strong role modeling of his mother and grandfather, who didn’t do drugs and made sure he didn’t either.

Staying clean paid off for Red Wing. After two years in Oglala Lakota College, a school located on the reservation, Red Wing was able to transfer to USF with full scholarships from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

People who identify as Native American make up the smallest minority at USF, at about 1% of the student body. This is in line with the national average. According to the American Indian College Fund, the number of Native Americans earning bachelor’s degrees is growing, however they are still underrepresented.

Red Wing chose to come to USF because he wanted to experience city life, but also get the natural beauty of the beach and Golden Gate Park. He also enjoys USF’s campus. The most memorable part of his first campus visit was the high tech computer science lab, which he now spends a lot of time in as a computer science major.

But attending USF has broadened his horizons beyond the world of computers. “Since coming here, I’ve gotten to take a lot of other classes like philosophy and sociology,” he said. One of his favorite classes he is taking is Contact Improv, a modern dance class in which partners work together to improvise a dance. “I like not knowing what you’re going to do next,” he said.

As in dance, Red Wing does not know what life holds for him next. He may go to graduate school if he can secure funding and considers staying within the computer realm, or he may do something else.

For now, he is content just to be here. Red Wing said he feels a great sense of community at USF. “The people here are somewhat close, like the tribe,” he said, “And everyone’s really nice. Here, you don’t always have to watch your back.”

Red Wing said at the reservation, you had to always be on alert. So much as look at someone the wrong way and they might want to pick a fight. Despite all this, Red Wing still misses the reservation and thinks of it fondly. “I miss the family and the closeness, and the culture. Even though there’s gangs and fighting, the people you connect with are like your brothers and sisters,” he said.

“Even though it is how it is, I still love it with all my heart.”

USF’s Own Ani Serebrakian Competes in 2010 Olympics

Dons tuning in to the Olympics Feb. 24 or 26 might think they see a familiar face speeding down the slopes – and they aren’t imagining it. One may have seen her strolling across Harney Plaza just a month ago. Now she is in Vancouver, British Columbia, rubbing elbows with top athletes and preparing to compete in the largest athletic competition in the world. This week, sophomore Ani Serebrakian will be skiing in two Olympic events, representing the Republic of Armenia.

Serebrakian, an exercise and sports science major at USF, grew up in Marin County, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Her parents are from Armenia, and she holds dual citizenship in Armenia and the United States.

Throughout her childhood, Serebrakian skied with her family regularly at northern California snow parks such as Northstar at Tahoe and Squaw Valley. She came to USF as a freshman, already with a slew of skiing competitions under her belt, and continued to train on weekends.

Now all of her hard work has paid off. Serebrakian is skiing in two Alpine skiing events, women’s slalom and women’s giant slalom, in the world’s top competition.

Slalom skiing is a technical sport that focuses on speed and accuracy. The athlete’s goal is to ski through a series of poles, or gates, as quickly as possible. Giant slalom is like slalom but the gates are fewer and more spread apart.

Though she is competing in events toward the end of the Olympic Games, Serebrakian has been in Vancouver since Feb. 5. She has been documenting the experience via postcards to “The Novato Advance,” the local Novato newspaper, in which she has talked about marching in the Opening Ceremony, meeting her Armenian teammates, practicing for the competition and living life at the Olympic Village.

Interestingly, Serebrakian is not the only Don in recent history to compete in the Olympics. Just a year and a half ago, sophomore Haley Nemra competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics for the Marshall Islands. Like Serebrakian, Nemra grew up in the United States, but competed for the country in which her father was born and raised. Nemra ran the women’s 800 meter dash for the small island country.

Armenia is a relatively new country to the Olympics. Stepping into the arena in 1994, shortly after declaring its independence from the Soviet Union, Armenia has yet to win a gold medal.

This year, the country sent four athletes to compete in the Olympic games. Serebrakian said she was grateful to be one of them. She told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I’m kind of still in awe that I’m here… My whole goal was to make it to the Olympics. Qualifying for it, I feel I’ve achieved so much already.”


No Shame in Slumming it this Summer

The summer after my sophomore year, despite high hopes of résumé-boosting internships, or at least a well-paying restaurant job, I ended up working in the dreaded fast food industry. One moment I was a stellar student at a four year university, the next I was literally asking, “Do you want fries with that?” This was obviously not the glamorous summer that I had spent spring semester dreaming of. However, amidst that greasy fast food haven, I ended up learning about more than flipping burgers.

I didn’t set out to work at a fast food establishment, but as luck would have it, a couple of internships I applied for fell through, and the coffee shop I worked at throughout high school was fully staffed.

I began my job hunt as soon as school let out. In my arrogance, I drove right past the fast food joints, which line every other corner of my suburban hometown. However, on my pursuit one day, I stopped into one particular location for a cold beverage. The clerk handed me an application when I mentioned to him that I was job-hunting. I turned it in the next day and was hired on the spot. Swallowing my pride, I donned a primary-colored tee-shirt and a visor, and began my career in the fast food industry.

I spent that summer taking orders, salting french fries, mopping floors and making countless milkshakes. Every two weeks, I collected a dismally low paycheck, and the cycle continued.
At times, my ethics were challenged at this job. I was well aware of the fact that overproduction of beef and corn is detrimental to the Earth’s environment, as are the copious amounts of paper, plastic and styrofoam we used to package each item. I also knew the nutritionally void food products we sold were detrimental to people’s health. I had a crisis of conscience every time I asked an obese customer, “Would you like to add bacon on your double cheeseburger?”

But of course there were the entertaining moments as well. My co-workers were the beacons of light, adding fun to a mind-numbingly dull job. I learned from them that working in the drive-through is much more fun if you make up a fake name or speak in a fictitious accent, and writing alternate lyrics to the pop songs that played on repeat can pass the time nicely.

On our ten minute breaks, I learned about their hardships, which dwarfed mine in comparison. Supporting children on a minimum wage income, overcoming addiction or living with an abusive boyfriend were some of the situations my co-workers faced, and they were around my age. It made me think how different my life might have been if I were born into slightly different circumstances, or made a few different choices…

As I came back to USF that fall, I felt ashamed to admit how I spent my summer vacation to my classmates. I listened to others talk of their trips abroad, backpacking through Europe or helping orphans in Latin America. When asked what I did all summer, I wanted to mumble unintelligibly and quickly change the subject. As much as I ultimately enjoyed my work that summer, I didn’t think my worldly and sophisticated peers at USF would understand all that I had experienced. In retrospect, however, I learned almost as much as they did that summer, and perhaps should have shared some of my insights.

It may be a bit early to start discussing summer vacation. However, I tell you this tale in order to let you know that if your ideal summer plans do fall through, and you don’t get to explore exotic lands or intern at Fortune 500 companies, you just might find adventure in the greasy kitchen at a fast food establishment near you.

USF Neighbor Opposes Removal of Cypress Trees

This Monterrey Cypress tree, on the corner of Golden Gate and Masonic, is one of three that stands to be cut down, pending a city hearing to be held in February.  Photo by Chelsea Sterling/Foghorn

This Monterrey Cypress tree, on the corner of Golden Gate and Masonic, is one of three that stands to be cut down, pending a city hearing to be held in February. Photo by Chelsea Sterling/Foghorn

Tall trees are rare in big cities like San Francisco. Three such tall trees, native species Monterey Cypresses, have stood on USF property by the corner of Golden Gate and Masonic for over 70 years, and have grown to be 80-90 feet tall. Now, USF is fighting to remove these trees. However, one concerned neighbor is organizing against this process. He believes that these trees’ lives can be saved, and is protesting at an upcoming city hearing.

Glenn Loomis, director of community relations and chair of the USF Green Team, says the trees are getting taller, are top-heavy, and are possibly diseased. These conditions increase their risk for falling over in heavy winds, which would make them a potential danger to any people or property in their path.

Loomis is pushing for the trees’ removal because he is afraid of the danger that would come from them falling. Because the trees are positioned on a slope and the winds blow in from the Pacific Ocean to the west, it is likely that trees would fall right into Masonic Avenue. Loomis said, “That’s four to five lanes of traffic depending on the time of day. It’s very heavily traveled. We’re concerned that someone will be injured, or worse.”

Normally, Loomis said, USF does not ask permission from the city when trees on university property are removed. However, when trees lie within 10  feet of city property, they must seek city approval and notify neighbors. One such neighbor took issue with these trees being removed, in his opinion without reasonable cause.

Curtis Speck, the concerned neighbor, is not just an impartial passerby. Speck has been invested in USF’s foliage for over ten years. He began a garden on a plot of USF’s land, located behind the ROTC building, in 1995. Speck has a spiritual reverence for nature and plants, and gardens at USF about four mornings a week. Speck said when he heard USF planned to remove the trees, he wanted to make sure it was really necessary.

Speck said, “If we can save these trees for just a few more years, it will be worth it.”

After investigating the trees, Speck did not believe the trees needed to be removed yet. Though he is not formally educated in arboriculture, he theorizes a series of cables to hold the trees up could prevent them from falling in heavy winds. Furthermore, he believes the majority of wind is blocked by the Hayes Healy residence hall up the hill. He said, “My thinking is, are there alternatives? Are there other possibilities that we can at least consider?”

But USF has employed a professional arborist to consult on these trees, and his diagnosis is that the trees are no longer stable. Loomis said, “These are folks who are in the business not of cutting down tress, but of saving trees.” A city arborist confirmed the findings of the USF-hired arborist.

According to Loomis, the trees have consistently been maintained throughout the years, and believes their lives have already been prolonged due to proper care. However, it is simply too risky to keep them. “It’s not a matter of if the trees fall down. It’s a matter of when. And when they do, there is no question of where they will fall.”

When USF proposed the trees’ removal, the Department of Urban Forestry approved USF’s decision. Speck appealed that decision to an administrative hearing officer, but the city stood by their original decision. Then Speck took his appeal to the Board of Appeals, a higher level appeal process. This appeal gave Speck one last chance to fight for the trees he wishes to save.

Speck will argue against Loomis and other USF representatives at an upcoming hearing. The hearing will be held Feb. 3 at City Hall. If Speck hopes to see the trees stay put, he will need the votes of four out of five council members.

Loomis said, “Our position is that we want to save these trees as well, but we also want to have a neighborhood that’s safe for the students and also for the public.”