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Student Profile: Fares Alrahji

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Hailing from Saudi Arabia, sophomore Fares Alrahji transferred to USF to receive a good education. (Melissa Stihl|Foghorn))

While the country Saudi Arabia may invoke memories of genies and princes in the Disney film “Aladdin,” it is also the home country of Fares Alrahji, a sophomore computer science major at USF.

Fares was born in northern Saudi Arabia, where he said there are more foreigners, which makes the area a bit different from the other conservative, deeply religious areas of Saudi Arabia. Saudia Arabia is an Arab country whose culture is in many ways defined by the dominant religion of Islam. For example, drinking alcohol is prohibited because it conflicts with an Islamic dietary law. Comparing Saudi Arabia and the United States, Fares said, “The cultures are really different, Saudi Arabia is very conservative. It’s becoming more liberal.” In 2005, Fares moved to London to attend St. Giles International, a school for international students who are learning to speak English. Fares said it took him approximately one year to learn the language. Shortly after, he moved to Michigan, which was “really cold” for him, since Saudi Arabia enjoys hot weather and a landscape of deserts.

Fares originally wanted to live in France, but decided to come to America instead. He said, “ I like the American lifestyle.” He especially likes California and its weather. He said his friends and family back in Saudi Arabia think that all of the United States is like California. Fares said that although college is free in Saudi Arabia, there are not that many schools. In addition, Fares said that the schools there are not as advanced in science and technology as are colleges in the United States. However, the new king, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, is “giving away scholarships to 30,000 students,” said Fares. He said that the complimentary education is good, but that education is better here in the United States.

Fares attended Chabot College in Hayward, California for one year. He considered transferring to another university like San Francisco State University or California State University at Hayward (East Bay), but when he saw the USF campus, he “really liked it.” After college, Fares said, “I would like to have the experience of working in the United States.” He plans to stay in San Francisco for two to three years and then move back to Saudi Arabia.

When he is not studying, Fares can be found “walking around downtown,” because he “[likes] the crowds.” He said “Hayward is really quiet,” so he enjoys the noise and sounds of a busy city.

Going Blind Never Slowed Down AJ Smith

AJ

Salsa dancing and rock climbing are two of sophomore AJ Smith’s favorite pastimes. He has little trouble navigating USF’s campus and plans to travel abroad by himself. (Melissa Stihl|Foghorn)

Freshman AJ Smith faced the typical trials of adjusting to life at USF when he began classes in August: meeting new friends, finding his classrooms and adjusting to the academic course load. But unlike most freshmen, Smith made this transition without the gift of sight. Smith is totally blind in both eyes. However, he has adjusted to his life at USF better than many of his full-sighted peers.

Though Smith was born legally blind, he was sighted enough to read large fonts and walk without a cane for most of his life, and even drove a car when he turned 16. However, over the course of four months during his senior year of high school, Smith suddenly went from being able to see somewhat well to going completely blind.

“It was tough,” Smith said of the sudden onset of blindness. The drastic change was something he was not prepared for, so after graduating high school, Smith spent a year at a school for the blind in the East Bay especially for people who go blind later in life. There they taught him daily living and mobility skills and how to read Braille, though he said it usually takes over 10 years to become very proficient at reading Braille.
After spending a year learning how to adapt to his new abilities, Smith was ready to acclimate to life in a university. For the most part, he has not found many difficulties making the adjustment, he said, scratching his head as he tried to think of the most difficult aspect of life at USF.

He had no problems meeting new friends. “I’m an outgoing person, so it’s been easy for me,” he said.
Finding his way around was also not an issue. He visited the campus regularly before attending classes, and said, “I’ve got the campus pretty much memorized by this point.” He is even able to make it up those Lone Mountain stairs.

Schoolwork is where some of the main difficulties come in. Reading from a textbook is something most students take for granted, if not complain about regularly. For Smith, reading from a textbook is not an option; all of his readings must be converted to an audio format or read aloud by a reader coordinated by Student Disability Services. His computer has ample programs to help him, including programs that read him his email and other text documents.

However another difficulty arises in becoming involved in extra-curricular activities. Because USF’s website is not compliant with the program that reads text to him, it is often difficult to know what is going on around campus. Also it is difficult getting clubs and organizations to understand how to accommodate things slightly to suit his needs. For example, filling out a paper application to run for ASUSF Senate was not possible, but simply by getting an electronic copy on his computer, he was able to fill it out and run for a position.

Aside from the usual scholastic and extracurricular activities, Smith enjoys a full calendar that includes time for painting, indoor rock climbing and Argentine tango dancing in the Mission, all unconventional hobbies for the visually impaired but ones he enjoys without difficulty.

This is the message Smith most wants people to know about him; although he is unable to see, there is almost nothing he cannot find some way to do. “A lot of times people try to tell me what’s best for me, but if I want to do something I’m going to do it. People may say ‘How can you do that?’ – I say why not?”
With this spirit, Smith plans on spending the summer in Argentina by himself, staying in hostels and going out salsa dancing every night.

Smith is also concerned by the apathy of his fellow students. “I go out dancing, I go rock climbing, I paint, I do all this stuff and look at what some students do: most of their social lives revolve around staying here on campus – maybe going out to a party and drinking,” he said. “That may be fine for them for now, but I want more.”

Student-Athletes Helped by Lawsuit Against NCAA

USF Associate Professor of Sport Management Dan Rascher, in tandem with L.A. based law firm Susman Godfrey, won a lawsuit earlier this year against the NCAA that will benefit student-athletes both at USF and at colleges and universities throughout the country.

In 1999, Professor Raschner and a colleague at an economic consulting firm took note of how much money college football coaches were being paid per year at Division 1 schools.

According to USA Today, five of the 199 Division 1-A head football coaches were earning over $1 million in 1999. This past season, USA Today reported that at least 42 of the 119 are earning over $1 million.

Under NCAA rules, student-athletes cannot be paid for playing sports.

The issue over student-athletes being paid has long been debated, with the usual conclusion being that they are getting paid through scholarships covering their education.

Professor Raschner believed the current rules to be unfair for student-athletes since many student scholarships did not cover all expenses or all the years that student-athletes were staying in school.

He decided to sue the NCAA rather than each school individually since the schools were following NCAA rules.

The main outcome of the settlement is that the NCAA will give $218 million to NCAA Division 1 schools on top of what they already give for scholarships.

This money will cover the 2007-08 through 2012-2013 academic years.

In addition, the NCAA will disburse $10 million over the next three years to former student-athletes for reimbursement of certain educational expenses that was not covered.

The NCAA also adopted year-round comprehensive health insurance for student-athletes and will explore the possibility of offering student-athletes multiyear scholarships and financial aid through graduation.

At USF, this means that student-athletes can be offered additional aid for emergencies and other academic related purposes, according to USF Athletics Director Deborah Gore-Mann.

The Foghorn commends Professor Rascher for his work and determination on behalf of the student-athletes at USF and throughout the country. When college coaches are making millions doing their job, we know that the collegiate sports industry must be thriving. The players who are making the industry a successful one should be rewarded not with payment, but with education.

Collegiate sports are an asset to each university. Sports are a large part of a university’s identity and help institutions financially.

They help with marketing the school, bringing in advertisements, money from selling tickets to sporting events and school merchandise sales only to name a few of the ways.

At this time of year in particular, during the NCAA basketball tournament, we see how much interest and recognition collegiate sports bring to universities. The hard work of these student-athletes should not go unnoticed, and with the work of Professor Raschner, they will not.

International Students Feel Squeezed by U.S. Recession

When it comes to equality in college financial aid, international students get the short end of the stick, even at USF, with its global social justice mission. International students are not eligible for federal financial aid or college scholarships and must document their ability to pay all four years of full-priced tuition before they are admitted to U.S. colleges. At USF this amounts to more than $180,000, before books, travel and other expenses and means that only the wealthiest foreign students can afford the luxury of a USF education. However, with the current economic downturn hitting the U.S., international students are bracing for a financial crisis at home and many are being told by parents to conserve cash or find an on-campus job.

Neither Gizelle Pei Gim or Erick Irigoyen, international student representatives of ASUSF knew of any international students who have left the university recently due to financial difficulty at home, however, students have contacted the university through the USFcares email address asking for financial assistance or flexible payment plans and USF has worked with “about two dozen international students to help them enroll for spring 2009,” according to Susan Murphy, senior dean of academic and enrollment services.

USF also has an $82,900 emergency grant fund for international students facing financial hardship, however all of those funds have been allocated to students for the year, which is typical even in good economic times, said Murphy.

Pei Gim said she knew of many international students who are worried about what the deepening U.S. recession will mean for the economies of their own countries. She said she had also spoken to many students whose parents were earning less money now than in the past few years and had warned their children at USF to rein in spending and find an on-campus job to earn spending money. International students who, in the past, have enjoyed downtown shopping sprees, returning to campus laden with bags from Neiman Marcus, Saks and Gucci, have become far more frugal, she said.

“Be more economical,” was the advice given to first-year graduate student Sarinda Kasamet by her parents, both of whom work in chemical distribution in her home country of Thailand. The economy in Thailand has been slowing along with the global recession, and has been made worse by recent political instability in the country. The international airport in Bangkok was overrun by protesters and closed for nearly two weeks last December, an example of how rival political factions have forced the country and its economy into gridlock. Kasamet, who is studying financial analysis at USF has been trying to find an on-campus job to earn extra money. She said she applied to two jobs last week, one as an administrative assistant and the other as an audiovisual technician, helping with the setup of video recorders and classroom technology, but has yet to hear back.

International students are only authorized to work on-campus and do not have the visa status to work elsewhere in the U.S.

Other international students who have jobs on campus have had their hours cut. Ginny Chen, a senior from Taiwan who works as an administrative assistant in the School of Nursing, said that last semester her hours were reduced to 10 a week, down from 20 the previous semester. Chen said all of her student co-workers also had their hours cut as part of wider university expense trimming. However, some departments on campus prefer to reduce hours for international students before other students because many domestic students have federal work-study, which kicks in some of the cost.

Pei Gim said she had been working eight to 10 hours per week at ITS but recently was told she could work no more than five. She said that student employees with work-study had their hours reduced, but not by as many as students without work-study, including all international student employees. Like many international students, Pei Gim is looking for more work hours on-campus. She has been warned by her father back in Malaysia that business at his construction company has been steadily declining and that she needs to do more to support herself.

Irigoyen said that while he does not believe all international students are struggling, “Most of them are making changes in their budgets and trying to save as much as they can to stay at USF.” Many international students including Pei Gim and Irigoyen expect the U.S. financial crisis to spread further around the world in the coming months and are concerned for themselves and fellow international students.

USF tries to work with international students who are having financial trouble and created an emergency fund for these students more than 20 years ago. The International Student Grant Program is available to foreign students who have finished at least their sophomore year and are able to prove unforeseen financial problems. The grant has a budget of five times the yearly tuition, which currently amounts to $82,900 and typically allocates money to students who have experienced the death, disability or forced retirement of a parent or sponsor, according to Murphy. The fund goes to undergraduates first and graduate students are only considered if there is money left over. The fund has helped as few as four and as many as 12 students per year in the past few years and has helped 250 international students in total thus far, according to Murphy.

Pei Gim and Irigoyen are now working with International Student and Scholar Services to identify international students who may be experiencing financial hardship. ISSS is planning to host an international student focus group on Friday, Feb. 20 from 1 to 2 p.m. “I am afraid it is too early to say if international students are struggling right now,” Irigoyen said. “I think we will know the real magnitude in the coming semesters.” He hopes that USF will do a better job informing international students about the support channels that are available to them. “I was surprised to learn about the existence of the [Grant] fund since it was my understanding from the first time I got to USF that international students cannot apply for any financial aid,” he said.

The Student Handbook to Surviving an Economic Crisis

As if college students didn’t have a hard enough time affording life in San Francisco, let’s add and an economic crisis on top of it all. And, with the holiday season in full bloom, it seems as if students everywhere are in an uphill battle against the financial blues. However, because we are all going through this penny-pinching process together, it seems as if the only way out of this situation is collectively strategizing the best ways to save some of our quickly diminishing funds.

I have found that one of the fastest ways to burn through the dough is eating out. I know it’s tempting walking past your favorite taqueria in the Mission while smelling the pulled pork and watching giggling young folks sip on their cervezas, but there are more affordable alternatives that can be just as much (if not more) fun for you and your friends. Instead of paying for somebody else to prepare your food and the table that you’d eat at, make your own tacos and head to Dolores Park. Even if you aren’t confident in your culinary skills, there are thousands of recipes on the Internet for the not-so-savy cook in the making.

When it comes to the gift-giving time of the year, some people forget their holiday cheer after looking at the price tags of the items on their loved ones lists. But instead of getting dragged down by those run-of-the-mill gifts, get creative and make someone smile with a one-of-a-kind present! Pull out the scissors, glue, and construction paper and make a photo album for old friends or family members. They will certainly appreciate the extra time and thought that you put into making them a gift.

As for those day-to-day expenses, you’ve just got to be prepared. Bring snacks with you when you go out for the day. This way, you won’t end up buying over-priced muffins at the ritzy boulange across the street when your stomach starts rumbling and its half an hour until the next Muni comes. And plan ahead so that you can take the Muni and save a couple bucks. It may take a bit more time than a taxi, but you’re almost guaranteed to walk away from it with a memorable story to share at the dinner table that night.

Instead of getting depressed over the state of the economy, get creative. There is usually a less expensive way of living if you just take the time to look for it. And remember that laughing is always free, so when there is nothing else to do, get together with a good group of friends and see where your brainstorming takes you.

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TFA Popular With USF Grads

Teach for America
Casey Farmer, a USF alumna, poses with two students on the day of their high school graduation. Farmer is working as a Teach for America teacher in Oakland. (Hunter Patterson|Foghorn)

USF students are drawn to Teach For America, the prestigious program that places recent college graduates as teachers in under performing schools around the country in an attempt to tackle the achievement gap in education.

Three USF students have been admitted to Teach For America so far this year, and the university enjoys an above average acceptance rate into the program. TFA admits about one in three USF applicants while the national average is closer to 20 percent, according to Emily Lewis-LaMonica, a recruitment director for the program.

USF students seem to be well qualified to undertake the tough, street-level social justice activism preached by the organization. USF’s mission and values, the idea of using education received here to better the world, are closely aligned with the goals of TFA, said LaMonica, who recruits at USF and a few other West Coast colleges.
Yet, while working with students at failing schools, many of whom are poor minorities sounds like an ideal way to help create positive change in the world, TFA teachers learn quickly that their work can be incredibly difficult.
Overcoming unruly students, fighting and other forms of violence in the classroom, as well as apathetic parents and the under-funded public school system is incredibly challenging said Casey Farmer, a USF alumna and second year TFA teacher who works with students with learning disabilities and behavior problems at an East Oakland high school.
Farmer said she applied to TFA because she wanted to get out of the white suburban bubble in which she was raised and experience the things she had studied as a sociology major in college. “TFA exposes you to serious social problems, problems we don’t see as middle income people,” she said.
Farmer said her students are subjected to the violence that happens in their East Oakland neighborhood. Some of her students have not been to a doctor in years and others are practically starving, she said.
Galen Wilson, another USF alumnus who teaches for TFA in Oakland said the majority of his students receive free breakfast and lunch from the school, and that one day earlier this semester food was never delivered so students went hungry all day. On other days the school lunch has consisted of only yogurt and cold cuts, he said.
TFA teachers face these difficult challenges with minimal training. After completing a five week teaching boot camp over the summer, teachers are shipped off to their respective schools in depressed communities around the U.S. to take the helm of their own classroom.
Yet despite the immense challenges faced by TFA teachers, the program is popular with new graduates, and skills developed during the two year teaching stint are highly regarded by employers.
Last year, TFA received 25,000 applicants for roughly 3,700 positions, and applications are up 50% so far this year. LaMonica said trouble in the financial system and fewer entry level positions for new grads as well as President-Elect Barack Obama’s message of service have spurred interest in the program.

TFA has established itself as a recruiting powerhouse, standing rank and file with Goldman Sachs, The US State Department and the Peace Corps in Business Week’s Best Places to Launch a Career list. TFA alumni are sought after by top flight investment banks and consulting firms and enjoy waived admissions fees at some of the country’s best business schools.
Wilson, a USF alumnus from the class of 2007 who majored in finance, interned with Lehmann Brothers before deciding to pursue a position with TFA. He is currently teaching sixth grade in West Oakland and joked that if he had taken a career in finance he would most likely be out of a job right now; Lehmann Brothers filed for bankruptcy earlier this year.
While some TFA teachers view the program as a mark of pedigree and a means to a big time Wall Street job, the company stands by its assertion that its teachers make a significant and lasting impact on the students they teach, pointing to the fact that one third of TFA alumni stay in teaching and two thirds stay in some kind of education related role.
While neither Farmer nor Wilson plan to stay in teaching when they complete their two year commitment with the program, they are both glad to have done the program and are optimistic about the doors it might open for them in the future.
Farmer, who wants to pursue graduate studies in public policy, said, “I feel that when I put TFA on my resume it means something. I’m confident about my future because of it.”
And as for post-grad life, she said, “It’s good, I’m grading papers all the time, but it’s good.”
Teach For America is still accepting applications. Their next deadline is January 7 and the application is available on their website.