The Gift of Their Life Story

Want to give your child a graduation gift that they’ll treasure forever? Give them a biography of their lives. I gave Nicole, my oldest daughter, her biography when she finished her ER residency and Jaclyn, my youngest, her biography when she completed her MBA. I’ve always kept a diary and continued when my girls were born. It was my way of sorting through my thoughts and debriefing when life threw obstacles in my path.  When the girls began to talk, I would ask them questions and take dictation as they responded. As they grew older, I would include their friends, and even their boyfriends as they became teens. When we read these biographies together today, it’s the little quotations and stories taken from their dictations that bring laughter and fond memories.

I made it a point to make journal entries at least once per month to catch up on all they were doing. It would only take me about 15 minutes, and I usually wrote after they went to bed. Back in the ‘80s when I started these biographies, we had film cameras, which required developing and waiting days to get the photos back. I’d rush to put the photos into photo albums and created over 150 to date. Knowing that photos only last about 30 years, my husband scanned the albums and I edited and organized the photos into folders on my computer by year, month and event. Then I added photos for every paragraph in their biographies. I even scanned poems they wrote, drawings and paintings, and holiday newsletters. I thought this would take a few months to prepare but it took 15 years!

Here’s my advice: Don’t wait until they’re ready to graduate to start their biographies! Write your biography using a word processor or desktop publishing software. Add high resolution photos (300 dpi) and documents directly to your biography right away so you don’t have to search through thousands of photos and documents in multiple locations later.  Add captions to indicate who’s in the photos and what they’re doing. You can publish these full-color books from on-demand publishers like IngramSpark for under $100.  If you don’t want to wait until graduation, you can give them biographies every birthday, or every five birthdays. Historians say that these biographies will be what future generations will read to learn about society today. This will be a gift they treasure forever.

Strong Soft Skills

In the near future, non-technical skills will become more valuable to employers because rote mechanical skills will be done by computers and robots. The top 5 skills companies are seeking in new recruits are creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and time management. All of these soft skills are in hot demand but creativity and collaboration are truly essential in our digital economy.

Marketing specialists, graphic designers, teachers, and project managers need creativity.

Teachers, project managers, customer service reps, and nurses need adaptability.

The ability to convince others that their idea or plan is worth pursuing requires the skill of persuasion.

Almost every job requires working with other people, some of whom are located in different parts of the world, which is why collaboration is critical.

The skill that ties most of the others together is time management - if an employee can't get organized enough to produce something, their other skills can't come into play.

Employers also want expertise in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, user-experience design, management, and analytical thinkers, however, hard skills have fallen aside.

According to Darrell West, director of Brookings’ Center for Technology Innovation,

                "Software designers need people who can translate their work and make devices easy to use by non-specialists. That means teams of technical and non-technical people who can work well together. One without the other will mean devices that are too complicated to use."

I certainly agree with West. Every time I clumsily fumble with new devices, I wonder what engineers designed the products without understanding what we consumers want. So don’t snub students who consider careers in the arts, social sciences and humanities.  Who knows - someday you may be applying for a job that requires that you have strong soft skills!


Misogyny and Sexism in Athletics

Remember the derogatory comments made about the Australian athlete Tayla Harris last month? You probably remember the photo of her kicking a ball in mid-air with perfect form and incredible athleticism. She received an influx of repulsive and sexist comments that she calls sexual abuse on social media, and the photo was removed (but later reposted). It appalls me that twisted people make misogynist statements about talented women, when men appear half naked and sweaty, but are revered as respected athletes.

My daughters competed on one of the best dance teams in the state (No Limits Dance and Performing Arts) and they consistently won at regional and national competitions. Not being a dancer myself, I was blown away by their choreography that required both athleticism and talent. I purchased professional cameras and became their teams’ photographer. I shot group and solo jumps, turns, and unique routines -- movements that didn’t seem physically possible to me. Capturing their gorgeous jumps, I shared the photos with the families.

Well, no good deed goes unpunished!

I distinctly remember one parent telling me that I shouldn’t take photos of the girls doing jumps or kicks if it showed their crotch area – even if their costumes completely covered the area. Like Harris, the dancers were powerful and amazing. This shocked me because this parent succumbed to sexist pressure that objectifies women, or girls, as sex objects. I guess this follows the train of thought that women who wear short skirts are enticing men to rape them. Both athletic and dance photos of women should be appreciated for their talent and skills, and not ridiculed by demented people.


Finals and Fasting Accommodations

I have a hard time fasting for one day – I find myself counting the hours and dreaming about BBQ salmon and a buttery baked potato! That’s why I feel for Muslim students who are observing Ramadan this year during finals, AP exams, and SATS. This year, Ramadan falls between May 5th and June 4th, and it is a Muslim holiday where they fast from dawn until dusk for a full month to become closer to Allah. Ramadan is especially difficult during the late spring and summer months because there is more daylight hours than during the winter, which translates to 15 hours of fasting vs 10 hours.

Several colleges give special accommodations to students who observe Ramadan by changing exam times to early in the morning or late at night to allow time for the students to have a meal before taking the exams. Any student who observes religious holidays or even students who have important events like weddings and funerals can work with their professors to arrange to take exams at times that work both for the student and the professor. 


Online Classes and Multitasking

Did you know that students who take online classes are less likely to learn concepts and benefit from lectures than students in traditional brick and mortar classrooms? Yup! Here’s why: Students in a classroom with a teacher or professor in the front of the room are not going to text their friends, email messages, play videogames, watching YouTube, or check their social media accounts when the teacher is looking right at them. Many teachers have rules against having smart phones, and even laptops or tablets in the classrooms for this reason.

But students taking online classes – even those with cyber lectures -- are more inclined to multitask during lectures. They’ll often listen to lectures while playing videogames or texting friends. Because social media and staying connected with their friends and family sucks them into a cyberworld that is disconnected from the class lecture, the student’s focus goes between the class lecture and their multitasking activities. Your brain can’t do both at the same time – it goes back and forth, which means that they’re not hearing, engaging, learning, or retaining information at the depth they need to for the class. 

Studies conducted at Kent State and Purdue Univ found that students are 25% more likely to multitask in online settings than in-person settings. I’ve found that when students are listening to lectures, researching concepts, writing papers, or studying for exams, they are more efficient if they do the work completely without social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, email) and cyber distractions (YouTube, videogames, Netflix, online shopping). In other words, they’ll learn at a deeper level, get better grades, and retain the concepts for tests and finals – and they’ll do it quicker!  Students should take classes and study void of all distractions, and then enjoy all of their social media and gaming when they’re done. 

Parents, set the rules to get homework and studying done first so your child will do better in school and have more time for social media later.


SPF is Your BFF. Have a Safe Don't Fry Day!

What is National Don’t Fry Day?

To help reduce rising rates of skin cancer from overexposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun, the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention has designated the Friday before Memorial Day as “Don’t Fry Day” to encourage sun safety awareness and to remind everyone to protect their skin while enjoying the outdoors.

Who is the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention?

The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention has been a trusted resource for the nation’s skin cancer prevention community since 1998. The National Council brings support, encouragement, and connection to more than 45 organizations, agencies, and associations.

Who is IMPACT Melanoma?

IMPACT Melanoma provides education, prevention, and support for the most serious form of skin cancer. We are a national non-profit organization dedicated to working to reduce the incidence of melanoma. Committed to skin cancer prevention and early detection, we provide a variety of award-winning programs which aim to raise awareness and educate the public about skin cancer, as well as support services for those struggling with the disease.

[Visit Impact Melanoma for more information]

It's Time to Start Thinking About Summer School!

With 3 months off from the rigor of school, extracurricular activities, and that dreaded homework, plan time for your kids to discover new interests. 

Just because your kids prefer computer games, that doesn’t mean that you need to stuff them into computer camps all summer.  Try giving them new experiences to possibly tap a hidden passion

Merit Academy builds summer programs around each child to encourage this type of exploration.  Think: robotics, aquaponics, arduino, stained glass, environmental science, and more! We also have unique academic programs that focus on writing essays, reading comprehension, and math foundation building. 

Our one-on-one classes are scheduled around your other summer plans and vacations.  It’s time to find that niche class to spark your child’s interest in something new!

Learn more about specific classes and the many ways we can make your child's summer the turning point in their academic careers!

[Check out the brochure here!]

Community College Helps Students Select Classes for Majors

Finally, a community college is helping freshmen pick out course schedules based on their majors to encourage them to enroll fulltime and graduate quicker. Consumnes River College, a California community college, is doing what high schools do for their students: lay out a plan to make sure students know what courses they need to take to graduate. If all colleges laid out a 4-year plan with their students during freshman orientation, students would be more engaged, take a full load, and graduate on time.

Many students who attend community colleges take 12 credits or less each semester when 15 credits is considered full time. When students take 15 credits per semester, they can transfer to a 4-year college in 2 years with the required 60-credits. Otherwise, students who take 12 credits per term only have 48 credits after 2 years, making them have to continue at the community college for another semester. That’s really wasting a full year because most colleges don’t accept spring transfers.

I find that when students choose courses every semester by looking at what’s offered and referring to their general ed and major requirements, they accidentally take classes that they don’t need because they were satisfied by courses they’ve already taken or will need to take as a prerequisite in the future. That’s wasting Mom and Dad’s money and their precious time.

Now that college-bound students are heading off to start college in August or September, this is the ideal time to lay out their 4-year plans. By organizing both general ed and major courses (lower and upper division) before starting college, they’ll understand how to take advantage of the many opportunities available to them once they arrive. It’ll ensure the best ROI (return on investment) for Mom and Dad. Merit helps students choose majors, lay out 4-year plans, and even include study abroad, internships, and research.

Big Bang Theory Cast Supports STEM with Scholarships at UCLA

I still cover my eyes when there’s blood or violence on TV, and I walk out of the room when the music escalates because I can’t handle psychological thrillers. So I can only watch a handful of shows, and two of them are The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon. That’s why I’m disappointed that The Big Bang Theory has ended after 12 seasons. I loved watching quirky young physicists – and 2 of them women -- interact in a brilliant comedy show.

The cast and crew have raised $4 million for the Big Bang Theory Scholarship Endowment for science students at UCLA. Five admitted students studying STEM at UCLA will be selected every year to receive need-based financial to bridge the gap between regular financial aid and the cost of attendance.

Mayim Bialik, actress who portrays Amy Fowler, earned her PhD in neuroscience from UCLA, and David Saltzberg, the program’s science consultant, is a UCLA professor of physics and astronomy. Love to see philanthropists support the sciences!


Local Radio Interview with Susan

Earlier this week, Susan was interviewed by Brad Kava for KSQD's "Talk of the Bay" program.  The hour-long interview covers a lot of ground, including how Susan started Merit Academy, how she was able to get free childcare for her kids, the books she's written to help other parents, and even the shoe carousel and furniture she designed and made! 

Listen here: 

or listen to the May 13th show on KSQD here: