Reading and Writing

For the first time in I can’t remember how long, I managed to read a pleasure book cover to cover on consecutive weekends. The first was a recent gift from a dear friend, made all the more special because she wrote it. The second was one I rediscovered earlier this week in my desk at work, made doubly special not only because it was written by a longtime family friend but also because its inside front cover harbored a hidden PostIt note from my mom, hands down the best writer in the family.

Thanks in large part to Mom’s steadfast encouragement of my childhood bookworm tendencies, I’m a firm believer that being an avid reader goes hand in hand with being a good writer. Interestingly enough, the New York Times recently detailed a German study on the science of creativity using writing as the medium. Reactions to the results are mixed, with most agreeing it’s an intriguing topic if not a start.

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Me, I’m thrilled beyond words creative or otherwise that my oldest son appears to be well on his way to following in his grandmother’s dog-eared, ink-stained footsteps. Just this past week, he devoured the 487-page Divergent, plus 72 pages of bonus material.

I’m not sure if his grandmother would be proud, amused or slightly alarmed by last weekend’s topic of discussion: the comparative literary merits of Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King, courtesy of Epic Rap Battles of History. (Who says this Internet thing is all bad?!) Although my son is intimately familiar with the works of neither author, he is absolutely curious and eagerly anticipating the big moment when his dad and I pronounce him old enough to read such suspenseful classics without the 100 percent guarantee of nightmares.

All the talk of Poe instantly transported me back to high school and the many great short stories we read as parts of some amazing anthologies that, although assigned reading, imparted what for me were lifelong lessons in the exploration of creative voice and artistic expression. I mean, who could forget The Cask of Amontillado or The Telltale Heart?

But beyond them, there could be no better introduction to the fine art of foreshadowing than The Monkey’s Paw or Lamb to the Slaughter. I decided he was old enough for the latter, so I sent him the link.

Now, as for remembering to check his email? That jury’s still out.

This was us growing up (minus the pets), but all with our magazines! So glad Mom and Daddy allowed reading at the table during meals. Goodness knows we all got our fair share of bonding in over farm, ranch and dairy chores.

This was us growing up (minus the pets), but all with our magazines! So glad Mom and Daddy allowed reading at the table during meals. Goodness knows we all got our fair share of bonding in over farm, ranch and dairy chores.

The Write Stuff

As another school year winds down for K-16 students across the country, I find myself pondering such altruistic, open-ended concepts as limitless potential and freedom of/in choice. At the same time, I’m doing my best to encourage my own children to close out these last few weeks in style by pressing through and persevering, when I know all they want to do is turn it in and get on with summer.

My oldest is a lot like me, particularly when it comes to his love of reading and writing. On a recent trip home from school, we were discussing the concept of writing books for a living, which he says he wants to do and thinks I should, too. (In his defense, we watch a lot of “Castle” — yes, for the writing/storylines more so than the eye candy for both sexes.) I love that he’s naïve enough to believe that anything you set your mind to, you can achieve. I love that he sees all the beauty where all I see are the obstacles which I like to label (perhaps too easily and conveniently) reality. Most of all, I love his boundless enthusiasm and unshakable belief in his mom. It’s in his DNA on both sides.

At one point in our conversation, he said to me, “But, Mom, think about it — you could write about what you love!” A heady thought, I suppose, particularly for a kid who’s told what to do and how to do it in the majority of his classes. Ever the practical realist, I replied, “Yes, but then there’s the ultimate question: Would it sell?” (Forgive me, Jonas Eriksson, but one of us has yet to write that bestseller, much less start that college fund. Uh, let’s not mention that to the aspiring author, please.) He agreed that was a critical point to consider, and then, just as quickly as the traffic signal turned from red to green, we shifted our focus to another, more pressing issue — the homework he had due for the next day and rest of the week.

Somewhere lost in the mental shuffle was what I should have told him and will. That I do write about what I love, because writing is what I love. That therein lies the beauty of writing and true love of words — it’s a passion so often and so fluidly fulfilled, regardless of topic, medium or deadline. Much like “Green Eggs and Ham,” I’ve found that I like words in a blog. I do, I do like them in a press release or magazine-length feature. I even like them in 140 characters or less, with or without hashtags, and as status updates. And who could resist headlines?!? For me, the variety is the challenge and appeal as much as the subject matter. Which, for the past decade or so has been science, so I’ve got my work more than cut out for me — and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Words have the power to educate, encourage and inspire. Yep, it’s official: A quarter century or so removed from having to declare a major, I’m still sold on my decision. Here’s hoping he can say the same at my age — and that I’m still around, not only to see it but more so to write about it using whatever the latest technology of the moment is by then.

Credit: Hal Schade.

(Credit: Hal Schade.)

The Right to Wonder

Wise words from author William C. Martin from his bestselling book, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents. And not just for children and their parents, either.

To me, he’s describing science in a nutshell here. Uncannily like the opening sentence in the About section of this blog. Small world/wonder.

Oh, and did I mention that before he became a writer, Martin got his bachelor’s in engineering from the University of California at Berkeley?

Let’s be curious out there, folks. And encourage others, regardless of age, to do the same.

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“Do you have agendas for your children that are more important than the children themselves? Lost in the shuffle of uniforms, practices, games, recitals, and performances can be the creative and joyful soul of your child. Watch and listen carefully. Do they have time to daydream? From their dreams will emerge the practices and activities that will make self-discipline as natural as breathing.”

Dakotalapse

“We fail in even the simplest of all scientific observations — nobody looks up anymore.” – Neil deGrasse Tyson

I came across this incredible time-lapse video by Randy Halverson while doing research for a story. Mesmerizing doesn’t quite do it justice. In fact, I’m not sure I have the words that would. Sit back and enjoy, preferably while watching in full-screen mode. You’ll thank me later.

The vimeo link includes some great background information from Mr. Halverson as well as appropriate credits.

Beyond that, um, wow. I’ll say it again, backwards. Wow. Totally blown away.

In a Word

Don’t look now, folks, but science is on the rise, according to Merriam-Webster, which has crowned a new word king for 2013: science.

ScienceRulesRather than settling for the more traditional (not to mention highly subjective) pulse measurement of popular culture method, officials at Merriam-Webster went with metrics a little nearer and dearer to our disciplinary hearts: analytics gleaned from actual online searches at Merriam-Webster.com. The word with the greatest increase in look-ups — a whopping 176 percent, mind you — was science.

We have arrived, but now, the real work toward maximizing this opportunity begins — in true finals week fashion with a pop quiz: What are your ideas on how to get people hooked on science and related lifelong learning? Inquiring minds clearly want to know.

If I Had a Million Dollars

As we put the wraps on the first week of a new semester here in Aggieland, there’s a lot of good news beyond the resolution of 2012 Heisman Trophy-winning sensation Johnny Manziel’s future at quarterback.

By all indications, both incoming freshmen and their families have reason to feel secure about their educational investment, thanks to far bigger breaking news than who’s under center this season. In case you haven’t heard, Texas A&M ranks as the top university in Texas (second overall to Rice University, which is private) and fourth in the nation among public institutions for return on investment for a degree, according to AffordableCollegesOnline, a national website that tracks college pricing and, as the name suggests, overall affordability. Matter of fact, after all their algorithms are said and done, that choice to attend Texas A&M could translate to being $1 million richer. Holy future bargaining, Bat Man!

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Judging from local real estate sales to traffic (vehicle and foot), the secret of Aggieland’s allure appears to be out – or at least well on its way. Another study from SquareFoot.com pegs College Station as the second-fastest-growing college town in the country behind Raleigh, North Carolina, one of three anchors in the coveted Research Triangle. In fact, the home of Texas A&M University is expected to top 100,000 during the next couple of months, and that’s not even taking into account the weekend swell for home football games.

Yep, by all accounts, it’s a good time to be a Texas Aggie. Of course, I thought so 25 years ago when I fell in love with the place my older brother called his collegiate home while I was here for a summer honors program. I applied later that fall, was accepted, enrolled for my freshman year in 1989, and never looked back. Now that I’m still here and raising my own family, I have to admit, it’s one decision in life that I’ve never regretted, let alone even second-guessed. The older I get, the more I realize that’s the kind of peace of mind money can’t buy.

Thanks and gig ‘em, Aggies!

Leaders With Character

As August, the Sunday of summer, dawns hot and humid and another school year is upon us, I can’t help but think back to my own days as a freshman in Aggieland and everything I’ve lived and learned since that time — save obviously the way out of town after graduation, despite the infamous Aggie adage about Highway 6 running both ways. (It does, Mom; and I apologize, both in retrospect and advance.)

An article I received today from a friend reminded me of another classic Aggie-ism:

Q. What do you call an Aggie five years after graduation? A: Boss.

It then dawned on me as I skimmed through Inc.com’s aforementioned best-boss attributes that, by virtue of staying in Aggieland after earning my Texas A&M degree, the majority of my bosses have been Aggies. I’ve learned a lot from each of them, with the good far outweighing the bad. None more so than Dean of Science Joe Newton, my first thought in reading 21st century tips on how to manage like a boss.

Dr. Newton is a rare bird, and not just because he lives in both hemispheres of his brain (while I struggle on good days to function in one) and can flit effortlessly and eloquently from side to side and throughout all neural synapses in between. Admittedly, I’m biased, but I happen to have one extraordinary boss who trusts me enough to let me do the job he hired me to do (not once but twice, but that’s another story altogether.) Novel yet seemingly terrifying concept for some people both ways, not to mention one that speaks volumes in a unit where professional expertise is king. And yes, we have fun doing it!

Dean of Science Joe Newton, being "crowned" by Executive Associate Dean Michael Hall in 2002, when he officially became Dean of the College of Science at Texas A&M University. In January, Dr. Newton celebrated his 15th year of service as a member of the Texas A&M Science Dean's Office.

Dean of Science Joe Newton, being “crowned” by Executive Associate Dean Michael Hall in 2002, when he officially became Dean of the College of Science at Texas A&M University. In January, Dr. Newton celebrated his 15th year of service as a member of the Texas A&M Science Dean’s Office.

In my high school days, Mom once jokingly (at least I think) threatened to get me a copy of the classic poster featuring a pig and the slogan “You are a product of your environment.” Here’s hoping she was right and that I have another 20 years or so to absorb, evolve and enjoy!

The Rest of the Stories

FranklinQuoteEver feel like there’s more to the story when reading an article on a particular topic, person or program in higher education? So do we. In fact, more often than not, we know it for a fact and would love to share that knowledge, except there’s no place for it in the press release.

Behold, this blog! In addition to our usual fare of news and feature stories available on our official website to highlight all the latest breakthoughs, accomplishments and milestones of note for our faculty, staff and students, we will attempt to bring you occasional bonus coverage showcasing other news that’s equally fit to print — from tidbits and testimony, to anecdotes and insights, to stuff that we find just plain interesting. After all, when it comes to motivation, we writers are in it much for the same reasons as our subjects here in Texas A&M Science — curiosity.

In the meantime, chew on this noteworthy nugget: Many of our subjects are just as curious about writing as they are about math and science, and (go figure) they’re equally as good at it. We hear good things come to those who wait, so stay tuned as we add both entries and voices in hopes of broadening your perspective of all things Texas A&M Science!