Ed-ICT Symposium: Seattle, Day Two

Ed-ICT Symposium- Seattle, Day Two

I cannot believe that the symposium is almost over! My check-out at 1:00pm PST, but my flight does not leave until 11:05pm PST. I hope they can keep my laptop safe in my backpack while I go get dinner after the day ends!

Also, remember those miniature waffles that I mentioned yesterday? I made some for breakfast. Apparently, waffles taste even better when they are small and cute!

These baby waffles are the perfect size to fit in my small hands!

Anyways, here is the run-down of how the second and final day of the Ed-ICT International Network Symposium went! Prepare for another unbelievably long post (even longer than yesterday’s)!

We started out the second day with a reflection on yesterday, and defining the goals of today. It really turned into a large-scale discussion on what we took away from yesterday. Additionally, we discussed the differences between countries, especially in terms of compliance and legal processes. For example, in the United States, it is not uncommon for students sue universities for discrimination based on disabilities. However, in Canada and the United Kingdom, that is virtually nonexistent.

Participant Panel Discussion: Design Issues

This panel had four participants, representing: Penn State (US), Carnegie Mellon (US), the University of Washington (US), and Utah State (US). Some of the key points that I took away from this panel were that web accessibility is, well, failing at being accessible, supporting students in all of their roles (classes, research, teaching, etc.), and motivating faculty, staff, and students to use accessibility practices. Website design has evolved so much in the past 20+ years that it is incredibly difficult to do now, in comparison to how it easy it used to be, making the role of web designers incredibly crucial.

Panelists

In terms of supporting students, a blind graduate student was on the panel and brought up her personal experiences. She shared that, in her role as a graduate student, she needs her courses to be accessible, but also her research, publishing, and teaching capacities. I think that this was very interesting to think about and discuss because I mainly hear about how courses, including their course materials, software, and exams, are being made accessible, but I have not heard before about making research, publishing, or teaching accessible. That confuses me because those roles are so key to graduate students, to professors, and to their chosen field, so I thought that those roles would be well taken care of. Coming from NC State, where research and graduate school programs are exceedingly important and publicized, I wonder how we make all of these key roles accessible to the entire population involved.

A panelist brought up that Penn State has a system where professors can submit their course materials to an outside entity, if they are accessible, to receive incentives. The graduate student spoke about how a great motivation to implement accessibility practices is to humanize the process. By giving a face to an issue and to these practices, it is easier to empathize and understand accessibility. Personally, I have found that meeting with others and sharing my own experiences allows the other party to become more open to new thoughts and ideas, and to asking questions about things that they may not fully comprehend.

Money as an Incentive

Sheryl Burgstahler brought up another key incentive: money. The University of Washington pays a $50 honorarium to each student that sits on a panel, and those students can sit on as many panels as they want or as they can. While I do this work because I am passionate about it and want to even the starting field for students with and without disabilities, I would be lying if I said that I did not really appreciate that honorarium! If NC State paid my group an honorarium for sitting on panels, maybe we would have more general members or make more time for this organization… A little extra money never hurts with a student budget!

Participant Panel Discussion: Transition Issues

The second panel was manned by four different panelists, from: Gallaudet (US), Microsoft (US), the University of Illinois (US), and the University of Washington (US). The woman from Microsoft seating this panel threw me for a loop because I think that she is the only individual here that did not come from a university, but she did bring a great perspective into the room about inclusive hiring processes and work environments. This panel mainly focused on the transition from an academic setting to a work setting, such as a full-time job, a part-time job, an internship, or a practicum. A few key points that were made would be the decision to self-disclose and the expectations that employers have for individuals with disabilities.

Self-Disclosing on a Job Application

If you have applied for the job, at least in the last two years (in my experience), chances are that you saw a section of the application regarding disabilities. There is some legal-looking form that gives you the option to self-disclose any disabilities that you may have. It is not required that you fill that out, but it is an option for you. The decision to self-disclose is a very personal one, often contingent on the scope of your disability and any accommodations that you may need. This option usually includes the description includes a statement about how the company is supported by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which does not allow discrimination based on several identities, such as disabilities, in the hiring process. During an interview, you may choose to disclose, but you always take a chance on unconscious biases skewing the hiring decisions.

Being in the Work Environment

As if all of that was not complicated enough, you also have to worry about gaining accommodations in your workplace after being hired and a possibly uncomfortable social environment. An example that was given was that a blind student studying Social Work who uses a speech recognition software may go into a clinical internship in a hospital, which probably will have incompatible software and case notes that are inaccessible. As a student who has to complete an internship to graduate, and as a Social Work minor who is familiar with their similar environments for the majors, this makes things very difficult for students who have to undergo a non-traditional, potentially uncomfortable, work experience because of inaccessibility.

To explore another facet of the work environment, there is often a great deal of confusion as to employers’ expectations for employees with disabilities, with or without accommodations. An instance in which this occurred, according to the panelist from the University of Washington, would be to submit his time-sheet to the cashier’s office. The software that he must use to log his hours and submit his time-sheet is inaccessible for the blind. To remedy this, his employer implemented a process in which he would get a student worker to assist him in filling these things out so that he can get paid. At NC State, we use a software to do the same thing, and I am of the impression that it may not be accessible. I honestly am unsure of that, though, so that would need to be explored and ensured.

Final Remarks

The panel ended with a few more miscellaneous remarks about the transition from an academic setting to a work setting. What I gathered from this was that there is a great deal of work that still needs to be done to ease the transition and ensure that all involved parties are on the same page. That is all fine and dandy to say, but I know that this will be an uphill battle, involving much more time and energy than I have, plus a small army of people working on it.

Participant Panel Discussion: Student Issues

The student panel was staffed by five students, one from Penn State, one from UCLA, and three from the University of Washington, and started with an overview of the same comments from students that were listed on the presentation yesterday. The panelists were asked to introduce themselves and talk about their experiences. The first panelist spoke about the struggles of being blind, coupled with the struggles of being an international student. The second panelist discussed about how technology has progressed from its infancy when he used it in his education to where it is now. The third panelist just finished her last week of undergrad (congratulations!) and shared how her deafness impacts her educational experience. The fourth panelist discussed how they used technology to type because it was easier and faster than writing.

Upon getting into the DO-IT program, they received a laptop to allow for easier typing of notes and assignments, as well as for easier transport. The fifth panelist expressed his issues with his first experiences with assistive technology and how speech recognition software made many of his daily activities much easier. The journey of the development of assistive technology has been shown that, while progress has definitely been made, much work is still to be done.

Common Themes

Two very common themes that I noticed through this panel were that the transition from high school to college to employment, in terms of self-advocacy and requesting or receiving accommodations, and that some subjects are harder than others to make accessible. The most common course perpetrator: math. Given that math is full of graphs, equations, and symbols, it is very difficult to type up, at least in any sort of timely manner, and to keep up with notes on. Does this call for a movement to end math forever? Probably not, but I can dream!

Sidebar

I think that it was a little  strange that the first three panels of today consisted of panelists only from the United States, without including any of the representatives from Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, or Germany. When I expressed this concern, I was informed that the application to attend apparently asked for volunteers, so most of the panelists were volunteers, but some were invited. Given that there was an international panel yesterday, they wanted to give the representatives from the United States a voice. My problem with this, however, is that there was one international panel and three effectively domestic panels, which is not an even balance. I feel like there could have been many great discussions and much more depth with the input of the other four of five countries.

World Café: Mind Mapping on Future Research and Practices

For this activity, there were seven flip-chart pads passed around. Each piece of paper had a statement written on it, and we were charged with writing down our reactions and thoughts. I have included these statements and my responses below, with the hopes that it will shed insight on what I have taken away from this experience and how this has impacted my critical thinking.

⇾ An important part of the solution to accessibility and inclusion is to adopt both a top-down and bottom-up approach.

This is correct. By implementing two separate, effectively opposite, approaches, you invite more people from each level of the institution to be more involved. This also contributes to more diverse perspectives being expressed and taken into account throughout the process.

Follow up question: When trying to implement a bottom-up approach, how do you get the students, who are traditionally in a more quiet and subordinate role, to feel confident and comfortable making their voices heard to enact a push for large-scale change?

⇾ Adopting both a reactive and proactive approach to accessibility and inclusion is the best approach.

Proactive and reactive approaches are important. With a proactive approach, you can anticipate future issues and solutions in order to be prepared or to avoid the issues altogether. However, a proactive approach requires you to have a large bank of knowledge in advance so that you can give everything adequate forethought. A reactive approach is important because it allows you to think on your feet for each issue as it comes along given that you cannot anticipate every issue. These approaches can be more or less effective for different environments, situations, or populations. I do not believe that any institution can be completely proactive or reactive because these two exist on a spectrum.

⇾ We do not need one single model or framework, we need different ones for different problems, contexts, or audiences.

I think that having an overarching model with the capacity to be adapted for different needs is important because it gives groups a starting point and the ability to think openly about ways that they could adjust to meet their specific needs.

⇾ The only models worth having or developing are those that are testable.

Who defines “testable”? How do you determine how well it performs on this test? Are you testing the model as a whole, or its individual components? If the model overall performs poorly, but one component really shines, do you scrap the whole thing or do you keep that component? I think that it is important to develop any effective models in order to take into account other ideas and perspectives. Maybe a model is not testable now, but what if it will be in the future with advances in technology or more in-depth thought?

⇾ We need a model that will guide senior managers regarding best practice in relation to policy, strategy, and governance.

Do younger, newer, or lower level managers not need any guidance? Why do we have to single out one level of management? Can we not provide information and training to all levels of management and workers?

⇾ A successful model or framework is one that stimulates a PSE institution to transform its systems and processes, rather than enable it to carry on doing what it already does.

Are there any truly successful models? Are all models not really just theories about how something could work? Who defines “success”? What if “what it already does” is effective? What if it is more effective than the model you choose to implement and replace current practices with?

⇾ We need to develop our existing models and frameworks, rather than coming up with new ones.

We need to develop existing models to ensure that they are effective. However, by using just one specific model, you risk it becoming outdated in the presence of new technology and ideas. Also, that may cut you off from being open to outside information at all!

Reflection

I am so glad that I got the opportunity to have this fantastic experience. I have been able to connect with so many wonderful and diverse individuals here. That has really helped me think about how I can take these principles and ideas back to NC State.

Some Important Ideas

There are a few of my ideas that I would like to definitely implement. The first would be to record Allies for Students with Disabilities (ASD) meetings and caption them. Then, they would be posted on our website so that students who are not present can still be involved. Also, I want to figure out how to start a blog for ASD so that individuals can share their experiences. It would allow students to become more informed about their rights as a student on campus with a disability. In addition, I want to speak with the Gregg Museum of Art and Design, which ASD is working with. I want to see which kinds of technology that they plan to use in their facilities. Ensuring that those technologies are accessible and effective is important to me.

I have a million more thoughts racing through my mind, but I am still working on how to put those in words cohesively. I am so very appreciative of all of the people that attended this symposium and shared their personal experiences and knowledge. That gave me the confidence to speak up, as well, and gave me a more intimate understanding of what others have gone through or are going through now. The international approach to this symposium was honestly amazing because it allowed each country’s representatives to be exposed to other ways of thinking and processes, which can be taken back to their home countries and possibly implemented there.

Closing Thoughts

I would like to thank the Ed-ICT International Network, the Leverhulme Trust, and the NCSU Allies for Students with Disabilities. Without these organizations providing the funding, I could not have attended this symposium and have this remarkable experience! I would also like to thank all of the participants at this symposium. Their openness with me and assistance in thinking of new ways to view issues and solutions! Thank you, Seattle!

Thank you for reading all the way to the end, or at least for scrolling to the bottom to read the reflection and see how it ends!

Ed-ICT Symposium: Seattle, Day One

Ed-ICT Symposium: Seattle, Day One

As I write this, I am in Seattle, Washington for the first time! Actually, this is my first time on the west coast (and my first time further west than New Orleans, Louisiana)!

I got up at 4:30am EST yesterday morning to get ready and get to the airport for my 6:30am EST flight from Raleigh to Boston. After a two hour layover, I boarded my flight from Boston to Seattle, which was about seven hours long! Once I landed, I had to take almost one and a half hours’ worth of public transportation to get to my hotel. Needless to say, I was exhausted after that. After getting dinner with a colleague from NC State and realizing that I had been awake for nearly 21 hours, I just completely passed out!

My first view of Washington state from the plane!

This morning, I woke up at 7:00am PST and slowly made my way down to breakfast. Let me tell you, Residence Inn knows how to have a complimentary breakfast! They even have a waffle maker that makes FOUR MINIATURE WAFFLES at a time. We live in a beautiful age, guys.

At 8:30am PST, I checked in to the Ed-ICT International Network Symposium. For background, the Ed-ICT symposium is focused on how information and communication technologies (ICT) can create or remove barriers and decrease disadvantages for individuals with disabilities  in post-secondary education and employment, in relation to social, emotional, and educational outcomes. This symposium, hosted in Seattle, Washington, is the first of five symposiums set to be held in the next three years. The next four will be hosted in each of the following countries: Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Speaking solely for the Seattle symposium, there are researchers, professors, students, and other individuals representing the United States and each of the four aforementioned countries to provide more international views on strengths and weaknesses of different models and frameworks and to work towards unifying the accessibility and inclusion process.

I have broken this post into different sections because it ended up being just a giant wall of text, which was a intimidating and vaguely difficult to read! I hope you enjoy!

Jane Seale Presentation

After the introductory icebreaker activities, Jane Seale, a professor at The Open University in the United Kingdom and the leader of the Ed-ICT International Network, gave a presentation of her paper to introduce readers to the Ed-ICT International Network and its funding body, the Leverhulme Trust, and to critically evaluate the value and efficacy of existing models and frameworks. Her presentation went over these models and frameworks as tools for practitioners to develop resources and practices that focus on accessibility and inclusivity. The differences between these existing tools are that they have different levels of focus, processes of development and implementation, levels of validity and efficacy, and outcomes, both in gravity and scope of effect. While Ms. Seale’s paper is still in the draft stage and, therefore, cannot be shared in great detail, those were the overarching themes and description baseis. I believe that this paper will be very helpful in shifting the focus of institutions from implementing models and frameworks that they believe will work effectively to implementing those that will actually work effectively. However, that did bring about a large range of new questions in my mind.

⇾ Who decides which outcomes are desirable? Policymakers, institutions, professors, students, accountants… Each of these people may have different outcomes that are desirable. So, which opinion is the deciding factor? Is there a middle ground between all of the opinions?

⇾ How do the decision makers’ unconscious biases play into their opinions and practices? To what degree do preconceived notions affect how practitioners treat individuals with disabilities and accessibility practices?

⇾ How much weight do funding constraints put into implementation decisions and practices?

⇾ Do more practitioners focus on the bare minimum of compliance standards, or on what individuals really need? How many corners are cut in practices?

International Panel Presentation

After a short break, the next order of business was an international panel presentation.  The panelists were: Tali Heimann of Israel, Alice Havel of Canada, Chetz Colwell of the United Kingdom, Dan Comden of the United States, and Christian Bühler of Germany. Each panelist gave a short presentation about where their respective country and institution is at in terms of accessibility and disability treatment. This was extremely informative because each panelist gave an overview of their models and frameworks, including their strengths and their weaknesses. By having this information presented from country, new discussions began on how practices could be shared between countries to promote greater accessibility and success overall. It was interesting to hear about how different countries decide on which models and frameworks to use, how legislation plays a roll in that, and how they measure success and performance, as well as the brutal truth from panelists’ personal experiences and thoughts. It gave me a lot of food for thought, right before lunch when I got food for my stomach!

Sheryl Burgstahler Presentation

Sheryl Burgstahler, the Director of Accessible Technology Services at the University of Washington, then gave a presentation about how design framework and models have informed her work. In essence, she went over definitions of terms, including accommodations and universal design, values and goals of models and frameworks, ability as a continuum related to diversity inclusion, the differences between K-12 and post-secondary education, and universal design as used at the University of Washington. The most common ICT accommodations at the University of Washington are creating accessible documents and captioning videos, according to Ms. Burgstahler. Two important principles of implementing universal design into ICT are that it builds in accessibility features and is compatible with assistive technology (AT). A few exemplary practices that she cited were: promote accessibility within context of universal design, social justice, civil rights, and inclusive campus culture; develop IT accessibility policy, guidelines, checklist, and procedures; create a campus-wide IT Accessibility Task Force with IT Accessibility Liaisons; and undertake projects that are reactive and proactive, and from the top-down and the bottom-up. There are ways to support the efficacy of universal design, such as offering training, supporting user groups, proactively test websites and PDFs, and offer incentives, including free video captioning, free PDF remediation, and Lynda courses. Ms. Burgstahler ended her presentation with some comments that students have made in regards to accessibility on their campuses. The examples that spoke to me the most were: “Often AT does not integrate well with mainstream ICT because they aren’t made with each other in mind;” and “Accessibility should be an important component for all ICT, not tacked on at the end as an afterthought or a “feature.”” I think that these comments are very insightful and important to take into account when creating and implementing accessibility practices because assistive technology, which specifically includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for individuals with disabilities, and other forms of information and communication technology seem like they would go very obviously hand-in-hand, but they are created as separate entities. This separation then contributes to issues in which the technologies do not marry well and a gap forms where individuals are lost in the middle. For example, having PDFs online is important for students to be able to access course material in a way that works well for them, but may not be remediated in a way that allows the PDFs to be accessible for all individuals. While those PDFs can undergo remediation in a separate office, there is still a disconnect between that office and the original source. That plays into the second comment that I identified because the new, accessibly PDF is created at the last minute on an individual basis, rather than having that PDF be distributed by original source, rendering it more as an “added feature,” in my mind.

Round-Table Discussion

The first day ended with round-table discussions and a plenary to share said discussions. The aim of these discussions was to discuss which models, frameworks, or approaches individuals use in their own practice, how they use them, and the factors that influence the value and utility of these practices. My group sort of followed the prompt, but really just began to discuss what we do at our individual institutions and how effective our actions are. A common theme that I heard was that my group seemed very confused on what defined a model or framework. Due to this, we really focused on approaches. We discussed how funding and time constraints play a role in how disabilities are addressed, given that there is honestly never enough money or time to do everything that we really want to do. Technology is making great leaps and bounds, but we just do not have the time or money to become well versed in every piece of software and provide the software or its instructions to all students. Meanwhile, we all agreed that models, frameworks, and approaches need a great deal of work to get to an ideal place, and that we need to train instructors on how to implement these practices in their courses effectively. The number one thing about this discussion that really surprised me was finding out that some universities in Quebec have what they call “ambassadors,” who advocate on students’ behalves and educate instructors about various disabilities. When I was listening to this, it really hit home for me because it sounds a lot like what I do in the Allies for Students with Disabilities at NC State. I guess I just never really thought about other universities having similar organizations. Maybe we could get an international network for student advocacy organizations going?

Reflection

Overall, I believe that the first day of the Ed-ICT Symposium was incredible and eye-opening. As an undergraduate student, I was very intimidated at first to be in a room of professionals from all over the world, who actually work in this field and know what they are doing. However, I was met with a lot of warmth and appreciation for my contributions. As a student, my comments and questions added to the discussions because I had personal experience on the opposite side of the field from these professionals. When I was asked about my role (also read as: why are you here?), I was hesitant to reveal that I am an undergraduate student because I was afraid that I would not be taken seriously, due to the all-too-familiar ageism. Revealing that I am the president of the Allies for Students with Disabilities, though, led to an even greater depth of discussion because I work directly with students and with the university, so I can see students’ actual needs and how the university either meets or fails to meet these needs. In the end, I felt very welcome at the symposium and I am very appreciative to the Ed-ICT International Network, the Leverhulme Trust, and the NC State University Allies for Students with Disabilities for providing the funding to allow me to attend this amazing event!

I am already ready for the second day (although, not for my red-eye flights which have me leaving at 11:05pm PST and getting back to Raleigh at 9:05am EST…)! Be on the lookout for another, incredibly long post about the remainder of the symposium tomorrow! If you have made it to the end of this, good job and thank you for reading!

10 Tips and Tricks to Handle a Busy College Semester

10 Tips and Tricks to Handle a Busy College Semester

College can be a very stressful time for a lot of students. Next week is Spring Break, and I should be super excited and happy. If only it weren’t a week of midterms! March starts tomorrow, and I am really not ready for that! If you’re as stressed as I am right now (or more so!), maybe these tips that I’ve come up with will help you out!

My Favorite Tips and Tricks

1. Get some greenery!

I am fortunate enough to have an apartment with a pretty big windowsill in my bedroom. What better to help me out of a low-point than seeing the life that my care brings to these plants? Well, except for the little succulents that I have. Somehow I’m killing those (by underwatering them!?)…

I have some baby succulents from Home Depot in the large beaker to the left, which are slowly dying. The rest of them seem to be doing alright, so maybe there’s some hope for me yet!

2. Go for a walk in nature!

Luckily, my class is doing inventory on a plot of land, so I get to go out on a hike for several hours every week. However, you don’t need to go on a hike to get out in nature. Sometimes I’ll simply walk around the sidewalk trails that wind around my building, or just aimlessly around campus. Also, you can find really cool plants or spots for reflection!

I found this really pretty tree while out on a hike!

3. Eat a good breakfast!

By good, I don’t just mean tasty. Make sure that it has some sort of protein, and maybe add in a healthy treat, like fruit!

4. Write down all of your assignments in a place where you can see them.

For example, I make sure to take each of my syllabi and write down each of my assignments, how much my professor has weighted them, due dates, and the grades that I got.

This is the back of my door right now. I can just sit at my desk and look to the left to see where I’m at in the semester. The list and calendar allow for two different ways to view the same information.

5. I also keep up with a wall calendar above my desk to help me keep everything straight in my head!

This hands above my desk everyday.

6. Now, if you really want to take this organization to the next level, you can also keep a day planner and an updated Google Calendar like I do!

While this may seem a little excessive, it really does help me figure out when I need to get things done and keep all of my assignments straight in my head.

This is what my day planner looks like for March! I have a lot of travel coming up!

7. Get some exercise!

I recently joined a health and fitness program at my school. It’s an eight week program where I get a mentor, who is a Nutrition major and a competitive power-lifter, to help me build better habits for my nutrition and fitness. She helps me set goals for myself every week and is always there to give me advice or answer my questions. It’s really helpful because it eases my anxiety and helps me make better choices!

These may not be the most healthy snack, but they’re much better than cookies! These are my two favorite flavors so far.

8. Don’t refrain from getting help, if you need it.

Seeing a counselor can be very helpful for sorting out your emotions and thoughts. I used to see one more regularly, but now I have the occasional appointment every few weeks to check in. In addition, I like to journal. It’s helpful to get my thoughts out of my head and figure out what I want to talk to my counselor about. Actually, I hope to someday use my journal to write a book!

This is my private journal, which I keep next to my desk. It’s from Barnes and Noble, if you want to try and find this design!

9. Try to take some time away from school.

Last year, my boyfriend and I started a tradition of going back to the city where we first got together in the eighth grade. We head down to the coast for a weekend and stay at a very nice (yet very cheap!) hotel on the waterfront. It’s a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We get to forget about college, work, and responsibilities for a while. I love being able to take some time away from everything and just focus on my relationship.

I wish this picture would do justice to the beautiful sunset that we saw while talking a nice walk by the pier!

10. Just realize that college isn’t forever.

This is honestly the hardest thing to do. In the moment, it seems like college will never end. This semester is the fourth semester of university for me (fifth if you count the classes that I look last summer!). However, I was dual enrolled at community college for my last two years of high school and took one summer term there. So, I guess I have completed eight traditional semesters of college courses and two summer terms thus far. I still won’t graduate until December of 2018, so it seems like college is going on forever. In the end, though, the drama of your friends, the bad grades, the occasional mental breakdown… they’re all fleeting. You’ll graduate at some point and move on from college life to professional life.

 

Somethings in college will last a lifetime, like friendships with wonderful people! However, most things are fleeting, such as those calories from the cheesecake that made my roommate question our life choices for a moment!

These are some of the things that I do on a regular basis to try and manage my stress in college. Maybe these will help some people, or maybe they won’t. Really, you just need to find what works for you and then stick with it. I hope that these at least gave you a starting point. Breathe and take some time to clear your head, so that you can figure out what you need!

Reflecting on 2016

Reflecting on 2016

I know that most people have already made these posts, given that it’s already past January! However, I just wanted to publish this in my new blog!

Honestly, 2016 was an amazing year for me. Sure, some things happened that could’ve gone better or that could’ve just not happened at all, but most of the year was great. Looking back on the milestones and events that occurred, I am just so proud of myself and I hope that 2017 can hold some great new adventures, as well!

2016 Milestones

⇾ I turned 19! My cake had monster-shaped candles, which were super cool.

⇾ I cored a tree for the first time in my forestry class.

⇾ I joined the GLBT Advocate Staff Program.

⇾ I switched to cruelty-free products.

⇾ I ate a lot of really great food, including some wonderful brunch dates with my roommate, Margaret!

⇾ I went on my first weekend away with my boyfriend, Ayush, to Morehead City, North Carolina, where we originally started dating in April of 2011.

⇾ I saw firsthand how beautiful and terrifying hurricanes and tornadoes could be.

⇾ I donated over 12″ of my hair and dyed the rest bright purple.

⇾ I went to a trampoline park for the first time in years!

⇾ I went to NC State’s Holi festival.

⇾ I survived my first 5k! (Just barely, considering I got to the end of the race and collapsed onto the ground for about 30 minutes!)

⇾ I had a snowcone flavored with Butterfly Kiss, Dinosaur, and Pimp Juice syrups!

⇾ I saw the July 4th fireworks with my boyfriend and his family in Raleigh, North Carolina.

⇾ I got into a regular exercise routine, until I hurt my back in physical therapy.

⇾ I voted in my first presidential election.

⇾ I had a beautiful baby squash with Margaret, which was actually kind of tasty until I dropped the container of leftovers all over the kitchen floor.

⇾ I rode ferris wheels and carousels at the NC State Fair with Ayush!

⇾ I networked and built my resume through interviews and career fairs.

⇾ I changed majors from Paper Science and Engineering to Natural Resources Policy and Administration. I am so much happier now!

⇾ I visited the Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens for the second year in a row with Ayush.

⇾ I joined and became the President of the Allies for Students with Disabilities. I worked with several classes on panels and with the University of Washington.

⇾ I had laparoscopic surgery and found out that I do not have cancer or endometriosis!

⇾ I found out that I have a “beautiful spine,” by orthopedic standards!

⇾ I made a really great pecan pie and saved Thanksgiving (you’re welcome, family).

⇾ I met a lot of great people that I had amazing adventures with. Thank you all for being so wonderful!