Roosevelt University has overhauled the Early Alert system in order to help students struggling with their classes.

By Dominic Gwinn
Staff Reporter
from Roosevelt Torch

In an effort to aid students struggling with their courses, the university has overhauled its Early Alert system so that students in danger of failing courses have a chance to save their grades.

While aimed at freshman, the idea behind the Early Alert system is to help guide students at all grade levels, including those at the graduate level, through the rigors of academia by connecting them with faculty, staff and support programs.

“What we’re trying to do is just employ whatever means we can to get students to the support that they need,” said Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Linda Jones, who helped work with faculty and staff on building the new alert system.

According to Jones, many of the problems faced by newer students are resolved simply through letting them know about existing resources.

“They don’t know about the tutoring center or writing center,” said Jones. “If they’re not doing well in a class a lot of students just default to, ‘I’ll avoid it,’ ‘If they don’t see me it’s not a problem,’ ‘If I don’t think about it, it’s OK,’ That kind of thing.”

If an an instructor finds a student in danger of failing, explains Jones, their first step should be to address their concern with the student.

“They don’t need to send in an early alert to send them to the writing center or tutoring, but some conversation,” said Jones. “Even if it’s an email, that should precede the alert so that it’s not a surprise to the student. That’s off putting.”

If that fails, professors have the option of filing an Early Alert from within RU Access based on several criteria that range from academic performance, attendance, class participation, preparedness, comprehension, Midterm grades below a C, as several others. Professors then offer a best course of action for the student, such as seeking support at the Academic Success Center, Office of First Generation Student Support Services, the Writing, Center, or to make an appointment with their academic advisor. Instructors then their concerns in some detail, and a copy of the notification is sent to the student, their advisor, and the appropriate support service.

In a statement to the Torch, Student Information Systems Specialist Laura Kehoe explains that, “The intention is to give faculty a way to easily connect students with resources early enough in the term to help them be successful.”

While similar services are common at many universities, and Roosevelt has had an Early Alert system in the past, it has been rudimentary and unhelpful. Faculty attempting to aid students by filing Early Alerts found their their concerns often fell into a “blackhole”, according to Jones, due to the lack of connectivity between students, faculty and support staff.

This new system, while not perfect, does seeks to use existing school resources to establish a bridge for students in need. Because of Roosevelt’s ongoing budgetary constraints, Jones, Kehoe, and several other members of Roosevelt’s faculty and staff including Elizabeth Meadows, Associate Provost Megan Bernard, and Director of Undergraduate Academic Advising Alicia Butler, felt that something must be done to help address problems common in many first year students .

Students shouldn’t over react when they get this,” said Jones. “You’re getting an early alert because somebody cares about you. It doesn’t mean you’re flunking, it will offer you an out, it will give you some options, some ways to deal with things.


By Dominic Gwinn
Staff Reporter
from Roosevelt Torch

At the beginning of the Fall 2016 academic year, Roosevelt students utilizing the fifth floor of the Gage building found that their classrooms were under video surveillance.

Set unobtrusively in the ceilings of the classroom labs, the cameras were relatively unnoticed for the first few weeks of class with many students and professors simply unaware of their existence as there was never any notification from the Department of Communications or campus security.

Many students simply ignored the cameras and assumed that their installation was simply another layer of security, but when Roosevelt Journalism Professor John Fountain became aware that his classes were under constant surveillance he voiced his concerns within the Department of Communications, and in his weekly opinion column in the Chicago Sun-Times.

“There had been some departmental faculty discussion before the beginning of the semester about safety and security,” Fountain writes. “But I seem to have missed the memo on the decision to install cameras in Mac-equipped classrooms: two where courses are taught and that also serve as student computer labs; and another dedicated solely for student lab use.”

The Gage building’s fifth floor offers students enrolled in communications courses a variety of tools often required to complete assignments in journalism and media studies programs such as DSLR cameras, audio recorders and video cameras.

Labs within Gage’s fifth floor are also equipped with 27-inch Retina Display iMac computers that host photo, audio and video editing software required for students to complete class assignments. It is also home to student run media outfits like the Torch, the student radio and television operations, The Blaze, and RU Fire TV.

IMC Major Katie Hay wonders why no one was told about the cameras if they were indeed only to ensure the technology would be safe. “If it was for technology, why weren’t we told we were being filmed?” Hay said.

“I feel like it’s something more,” states 24-year-old Alexis Hauskin. “It’s not like someone’s going to carry out a whole desktop without someone noticing, you know?”

Currently, access to equipment is restricted to students majoring in degrees under Communications Department. Students seeking to check out equipment must first present a Roosevelt ID, and sign a release form which is logged into a system by a lab aide.

Equipment is rented out on a 24 hour basis. Lab computers are also limited to communications students, and monitored by a student lab aide Monday through Friday.

Paul Acosta, a 28-year-old junior, IMC major and military veteran, felt that the placement of cameras seemed odd. “A big part of security is being informed about security measures,” Acosta said. “The strangest thing to me is that we weren’t informed.”

“I was O.K. with them being in the labs,” admits 23-year-old RU Fire TV station manager Heather Rowlison, a senior Journalism major. “But when I found out that they were in the classroom it made me feel really uncomfortable because they had been running when we have had discussions in our classroom setting that, to me, I felt very secure and private.”

Rowlison’s disagreement with the cameras in the classrooms stems from the revelation of personal details about her life during the course of a class, and her lack of knowledge about the cameras.

“I would definitely say it made me feel very, very uncomfortable. I shared things in class that are part of my personal life, and I just would worry if someone were to hack into — years down the road, you know? Would it affect my chance of running for some sort of office? I don’t know that I will or won’t, but if they dig up some of this private stuff it would be very harmful to me.”

The camera’s footage, according to a source, are housed within the Communication Department’s private server, and any access is restricted to only a select group of trained Roosevelt staff. However, it remains unclear at this time what, if any, information was recorded, viewed or stored within the server.

Illinois state law does allow for video surveillance in public settings like classrooms, however audio recordings are restricted to “one-party” consent. Anyone wishing to record a conversation, according to the state law, must first obtain the permission from any individuals before recording.

The U.S. National Institute of Justice Research Report conducted on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice in 1999 concluded that cameras cannot be used in places where one has “a reasonable expectation of privacy,” and that while surveillance of classrooms is often a contentious topic, “it is probably wise to use cameras in classrooms only when the teacher is given an option and notification that a camera is to be used.”

The report further states that, “Signage can be an important legal component in the use of video cameras in schools.”

In a statement to the Torch, Professor Fountain states, “The presence of surveillance cameras in the classroom isn’t something I could ever support because it potentially inhibits or discourages free and open discourse which ought to occur in the sanctity of a university classroom. The idea of surveillance cameras in the classroom, particularly a journalism classroom, seems to undermine free speech, free expression, a free press and violates the assumption of privacy within the classroom, even at a private university, especially one where we embrace “social justice.”

Fountain questioned if being recorded made some students less likely to participate in classroom discussions on certain subjects.

“I’m sure they were. And as a professor, I found it disconcerting having an electronic eye over my shoulder,” Fountain said.

After pressure from students and faculty, the cameras were removed during the first week of October. A brief statement was sent to students outlining new security protocols for accessing the Gage’s fifth floor. Students are now required to tap their Roosevelt IDs to a small electronic lock when accessing the the floor, similar to how students, faculty and staff already must tap their ID’s when entering the Wabash or Auditorium Building.

In a statement to the Torch regarding the cameras and subsequent security measures, Marian Azzaro, Chair of the Department of Communications at Roosevelt stated, “The Department of Communication installed security cameras when the computer labs were upgraded. The purpose was to protect the university’s investment. When a member of the community voiced concern regarding the security cameras, we discussed and took steps to select an alternative method and that alternative is currently being implemented. If members of the community have thoughts on safety or security, we hope they will speak to Campus Safety or their Department Chair.”

“I wouldn’t mind tapping into to get into the communication labs,” Rowlison said of the newly implemented security measures. “I’m a communication student, I utilize the equipment; I utilize the labs, and I feel that extra security is good because we have a lot of valuable things on this floor.”

“Transparency equals trust,” Hay said. “When you are transparent about that, what you intend to use this information for then we can all feel confident and not have to question why they’re doing this.”



By Dominic Gwinn, Staff Reporter

Peter Thiel, co-founder of the internet payment system, Paypal, addressed an audience of students, faculty and alumni during Roosevelt University’s first ever American Dream: Reconsidered conference. The controversial businessman was joined by Roosevelt philosophy professor and director of the Montesquieu Forum for the Study of Civic Life, Stuart Warner, for a conversation about globalization, technology and progress sponsored by the Jack Miller Center.

Thiel expressed his views on a number of subjects ranging from globalization, the obsessive personalities prevalent in Silicon Valley, American exceptionalism, student debt, as well as a critique of collegiate institutions.

“Globalization tells people the lie that they will get to rule the world,” commented Thiel. “It’s this really big place, and it’s really exciting because you get to rule the world, you just have to live in New York and then you get to rule the world. Once you get to New York it turns out that a lot of people have been told that lie.”

Thiel lamented the concept of exceptionalism inherent within the American Dream, stating that the idea will more likely foster an attitude of laziness rather than one of successful innovation and progress.

“In the past there’s more opportunity and more freedom to do more things,” Thiel opined about the American Dream. “It can very easily flip to something where it becomes, we’re exceptional so we don’t need to do anything…[then] they’re exceptionally convinced that they’re exceptional, which may make them exceptionally unexceptional.”

In a brief comment to The Torch, Roosevelt President Ali Malekzadeh, stated that Thiel had, “interesting opinions,” and that, as a successful businessman, the university was, “glad to have him here.”

Nineteen year-old sophomore and computer science major, Drew Wilson, offered praise for Thiel’s criticisms.

“It was honestly amazing,” Wilson beamed. “He said a lot of things that I agreed with, a lot of things that I think needed to be said. It was definitely a worthwhile experience.”

During a lengthy statement on the state of colleges and student debt, Thiel likened the current state of higher education to insurance, insisting that college has become less of a investment in the future and more of purchased commodity that aids students in avoiding the pitfalls of society.

“So, even if it’s not a great investment it’s still important to our insurance,” stated Thiel. “It’s why parents take up so much money to send their kids on take up so much institutional debt. Whenever we’re spending this much on insurance I think we should be asking the underlying question, why have the cracks in our society gotten so big that the people are spending more and more on insurance? That would be a good question to ask, and it gets obscured by education.”

Thiel concluded that college, in his view, had become a club of exclusivity, and that most institutions maintain growth by purposefully keeping enrollment numbers low, thereby increasing demand at elite institutions.

“What they really are is like a Studio 54 nightclub with an enormous line of people outside waiting to get in,” Thiel joked. “That’s what a college looks like, and that’s where you get an insurance policy. It’s when you conflate a college with an insurance policy I think you end up with some really rash decisions.”

Sophomore Charlie Sell, a 19 year-old Psychology major, enjoyed the presentation. “I thought it was fantastic. I really thought that the way Professor Warner engaged the interview with Peter Thiel was very well done. I thought a lot of the topics discussed were really crucial to a lot of things going on in our country and the world today.”

Not everyone was entirely pleased with Thiel’s comments though. Psychology major Essyl Ghim, a 30 year-old senior, felt that Thiel’s beliefs about technology were ill informed from historical context.

“I think it’s always important to hear it from another angle because it broadens the way you think,” said Ghim upon reflection. “I’ll definitely have more things to talk about when people bring up globalism.”

Earlier this summer Thiel spoke at the Republican National Convention where he expressed support for the Republican presidential nominee, Donald J. Trump, and called for a relaxation of government regulations to foster the growth of private industries, a sentiment echoed several times throughout the conversation.

City officials and community hope to create more immigrant friendly Chicago

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Aug 27, 2015.

Alderman Carlos Rosa announced the establishment of an Immigration Policy Working Group which seeks to analyze and reform Chicago’s policy towards illegal residents.
Photo by Dominic Gwinn

In an effort to create a more immigrant friendly city, Chicago Aldermen Carlos Rosa, Susan Sadlowski Garza and Ricardo Munoz announced Tuesday that they have begun working on a comprehensive immigration plan for some of Chicago’s most disenfranchised residents.

The Immigration Policy Working Group, composed of 14 different non-governmental and community organizations, will be working with the aldermen, as well as Mayor Emmanuel, to craft legislation around a six-point plan that will increase support for pro bono legal representation in Chicago’s immigration courts and to amend the city’s “Welcoming City” Ordinance so it applies to all residents.

The Chicago City Council approved the “Welcoming City” ordinance in 2012, which was designed to protect undocumented immigrants from being unfairly detained or deported and protects undocumented immigrants from being held for immigration authorities, unless they have been convicted of a serious crime or are being sought on a criminal warrant.

Rogers Park Ald. Joe Moore sponsored the original “Welcoming City” ordinance and said it was designed so immigrants will not be afraid of deportation when they report crimes to police.

The proposed amendments to the ordinance would ensure consistency between municipal and county policy, create more access to multi-lingual emergency services, establish a municipal ID for all Chicagoans, make deferred action relief programs more accessible and affordable to communities, and improve access to city services for immigrant victims of crimes and rights violations.

“Two years ago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel stated that he is committed to making Chicago the most immigration friendly city in the United States,” stated 35th Ward Ald. Carlos Rosa. As the Chicago Immigration Working Group, we share that commitment, and we’re excited to work alongside the mayor to fulfill that goal.”

Many aspects of the new plan, according to Fred Tsao of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, are modeled after similar efforts recently enacted in New York, such as a city ID that identifies individuals without necessarily requiring a fixed address. This can result in increased wages, and helping undocumented residents along the path to naturalization or simply purchasing medication.

“Chicago is a place that’s always understood itself to be a city of immigrants,” said Ana Guajardo, executive director of the south-side based Immigrant Worker’s Project / Centro de Trabajadores Unidos. “With a mayoral promise to make Chicago the most welcoming, a city council dedicated to equal treatment for all of our residents, and leadership from the community itself, we are ready to not just follow the examples of New York City and other places but to be a leader in best practices for immigrant integration at the local level.”

Chicago is currently designated as a sanctuary city, and does not allow local law enforcement or municipal authorities to ask about a resident’s current legal status. Sanctuary city policies have recently come under scrutiny from federal officials due to President Barack Obama Administration’s mandate that immigration authorities should not pursue non-violent undocumented immigrants.

This post is also available in: Spanish

Icebox Derby girls burn competition

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on Aug 30, 2015.

Icebox Derby.jpg
The Icebox Derby girls 2015. Courtesy of Dominic Gwinn

With fans, parents and local leaders cheering, and the Blue Angels roaring high above the city, this past Saturday, the second annual Icebox Derby Challenge was won by team Flaming Zing.

An academic and engineering competition for young girls with an interest in science, technology and mathematics careers, the race saw 30 girls ages 13 to 19 build and race electronically-powered cars made from recycled refrigerators around a pop-up track at the Field Museum of Natural History.

Sponsored by ComEd, and in partnership with the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago, Girls for Science, Operation PUSH and the Chicago Urban League, the 30 girls were arranged in teams of six. Each team was paired with engineering mentors from ComEd, as well as local university students currently majoring in STEM fields.

Instead of lounging around, the girls spent their summers learning how to work as a team while building their 48-volt derby car, complete with functioning lights, power indicators and gears.

“Each week, we found it easier to bond and goof around,” remembered Carissa Lehning. “The first week, we were kind of shy around each other; the third week we were caught dancing on video. It’s just about having fun.”

The race, comprised of three heats, required the girls to utilize the skills they learned throughout the build competition. After each lap, teams switched drivers after completing an academic exercise, such as assembling a bicycle, creating working circuit boards, inflating tires to their correct P.S.I., and calculating miles per hour based on gear ratios and links in bicycle chain.

Each girl was awarded $1,000 towards a scholarship, with the winning team receiving a trip to a technology and innovation camp at Chicago technology start-up incubator, 1871, as well as new MacBook Air laptops.

“The whole idea behind this is to raise awareness of STEM,” commented ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore. “Give the girls a hands-on experience project so that they can really take it out of the classroom and apply it. We hope that creates more excitement… There are no losers. They all walk away with a great experience and some scholarship money, and we hopefully sparked an interest in an opportunity in STEM.”

“At the end of the day, I get to say I built a race car out of a refrigerator,” said a gleeful RaMaya Johnson of the team Royal Burn. “Not every girl gets to do that, so I’m proud of that.”

Her mentor, Sabeen Admani, a student at Northwestern University majoring in Robotics, was drawn to the competition because of her own experiences growing up with her father and two brothers. “My Dad always tried to include me. Everything they were doing he let me do too, but I knew a lot of the girls didn’t have that same experience, so I wanted to give them that.”

“It’s been the most wonderful experience for all of us,” beamed Frances Lehning, the mother of Carissa Lehning. “It’s nice and wonderful what the kids have learned; they’ve had hands on experience… It’s not a bad way to spend the summer at all!”

This post is also available in: Spanish

Icebox Derby Girls set their marks

The following story originally appeared in EXTRA News, a bi-lingual community newspaper in Chicago, IL, on July 2, 2015.


A packed house greeted this year’s contestants at the kickoff for the second annual Icebox Derby, an engineering and academic competition geared towards generating interest for young girls in science, technology and mathematics careers.In partnership with Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago, Girls for Science, Operation PUSH and the Chicago Urban League, 30 girls ages 13 to 19 from across Chicagoland will be assigned to six teams, and compete for a number of prizes such as scholarships, and a grand prize trip to National Flight School in Pensacola, Fla. Each team of five girls will be assigned female mentors from COMED currently working in STEM careers, as well local university students currently majoring in STEM fields.

“I think it’s important for the girls to learn that STEM is for everyone,” commented Haley Widel, a UIC student majoring in bioengineering, and mentor for the Spark Catchers. “There aren’t enough women who are in the STEM fields in general, and I think it’s important for them to be comfortable with it because it’s an intimidating field.”

The race will be held on Aug. 15 at the Field Museum of Natural History. Each team will complete five laps, pausing between each lap to solve a “STEM Stop” challenge question and switch drivers before finishing. Teams will be given bonuses for increased interest through social media sharing via the hashtag, #IceboxDerby.

“Building a regular soapbox derby car is already a challenge, but you give these girls power tools, like a Sawzall and ‘fridge, and it’s a whole other picture. I’m really proud of them!” beamed Jeremy Fountain, father of Samantha Fountain, a member of last year’s winning team, “Sonic Doom.”

A number of improvements over the previous years’ cars have been implemented, according to COMED Engineer Sam Torina. A longer, wider and more uniform chassis has been introduced, as well as hydraulic braking systems and roll cages for increased safety. MP3 players, lights, power indicators and a 1000w battery will also have to be installed before race day.

“We’ve expanded their challenges, so that as they build this year, they’ll also be faced with technical questions, STEM technical questions to earn points,” said Torina. “So, it’s not just the race, it’s what they’re going to learn as they’re building it.”

“I would say take it all in because this is a once in a lifetime experience,” Samantha Fountain, member of last year’s winning team, Sonic Boom, advised. “You really want to slow down. It feels like a long time even though it’s only a few hours, so it goes by real quick and then you’re done with it. I wish I could do it all over again. There’s no other time you can make a racing car out of a refrigerator.”

“Women represent about 24 percent of the STEM jobs, so we’d like to see more women in the area,” stated COMED President and CEO Anne Pramaggiore. “It’s a great area; there are a lot of great jobs, and we look at this as our workforce of the future. We’re really reaching out to these girls to get them engaged, to excite them about these technical careers to start to develop our workforce of the future early.

This post is also available in: Spanish

An Irritating Sound

Those new Sirens that the D.C. Police use, the ones that make your brain vibrate, and your bones rattle are truly a modern marvel. The Rumbler Sirens maker says, “[its] vibrating tones provide feel with emergency warning sound” is seems like an absurd statement until your walking down the street and see a cop flying towards you, making you actually feel the dread of police presence instead of just the standard emotional drawback.

It makes me wonder, What’s next? Is this new siren capable of weaponization? Could tomorrows cops and G.I.’s be carrying Sonic-Rifles that make you compulsively shit your pants or rattle your brain until your head explodes? The thought of a weaponized “Brown Noise” is both hilarious and terrifying (unless you work for Fruit-of-the-Loom or sell washing machines that is).

I can see the merit that the police have with installing this on some their cruisers, though. I myself have grown accustomed to the high-pitched whines of emergency-service crews racing through city streets. It’s just something you inevitably adapt to when living in an city ripe with urban sprawl (if not you’ll probably go insane and begin shouting at innocent people from some umpteenth-story apartment window). More over, as people today tend to become lost in an audio abyss as they carry out their commute listening to iPods and car radios with sub-woofers, it seems pertinent to gain the attention of distracted motorists and mildly-deaf pedestrians for the benefit of society as a whole by any means necessary. It’s an emergency, after all, so wake up and get the hell out of the way.

I mean, I’d be kind of upset if I were laying in the back of an ambulance, hemorrhaging enough blood to rival old-faithful, while some prick in a Mercedes was too busy rocking down to Electric Avenue on a one way street.

Despite this, however, I can close my eyes and imagine police in riot gear shooting sonic waves at protesters. The scene would horrible: hordes of political dissidents shitting themselves uncontrollably as riot police bring protesters literally to their knees in puddles of their own crap. The smell would spread with wind, entire city blocks would be forced indoors as an irradiated stench smothers the senses.

“What if someones rectum prolapses?”, I wonder, “What if some poor old lady is shot with a sound wave and she just shits herself so hard that her anus literally falls out of her body?” Technically speaking, you can live if your rectum prolapses, but you’d undeniably be in a considerable amount of pain. Does this make it cruel and unusual punishment or effective, non-lethal crowd control? Is something that makes you wish for really death non-lethal?