Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Grad School Decision

As many of you may know, I've spent the last few months contemplating which grad school I will attend in August.  Until last month, I was left sitting at the edge of my seat, waiting for emails from 6 different schools.  I just missed being accepted into the top Geography program in the country, UCSB, so in the end, it became a three-horse race between U of Utah, South Carolina, and San Diego State. In the last 2 weeks, it has been between Utah and South Carolina, both powerhouses in hazards-based GIS, which will most likely be my focus.  I have wanted to live in South Carolina since I vacationed there with my parents when I was 12 (had my one and only hitchhiking experience there, too, but that's a whole other story), spending a few days in both Columbia and Charleston.  I fell in love with Charleston's deep history, beautifully colorful and elegant row houses and its relation to the ocean, of course.  As I've grown older, the prospect of moving "out west" has become very attractive.  Why?  I'm not exactly sure, honestly, but I think the quality of life has something to do with it.  The mindset of people is laid back and the lifestyle is very active, both of which describe the person I have become.  If U of South Carolina was in Charleston, this would have been a no-brainer.  Columbia just isn't as attractive of a city, although being within 2 hours of both mountains and the ocean would, no doubt, be awesome.  Within the last two weeks, I feel like my heart had already chosen Utah.  My visit in March and email conversations with faculty at Utah have already built a good rapport with the department and I absolutely love that the campus literally sits on the edge of the Wasatch Mountains.

Excuse the parking lot and dreary weather

As I neared my self-inflicted decision deadline, my mother reminded me of something I said a few years ago on a drive home together. She recalled me peering across the flat terrain of central Indiana at the clouds. It was dusk, and I was pretending the contrast the clouds created with the sky were, instead, mountains.  (Sometimes I wonder where my imagination has gone; I used to do this on my frequent drives from Muncie to Elkhart)  I took this recollection as a sign.  A foreshadow in the plot of my life.  I'm thrilled to say, in August, I will be calling Salt Lake City my home!

I'm excited to be living in a large city, as I've always enjoyed being in New York City and Chicago.  The true beauty of Salt Lake City, to me at least, is that there are endless possibilities for recreational activities surrounding the city.  Any day I choose, I can go hiking in the mountains or kayaking on the Great Salt Lake.  The amount of national parks and vast scenery within 4 hours of SLC is incredible.  Seriously, take a look at a map.  I will no doubt be investing in a mountain bike and a set of skis.  Hell, I dare to say I may even look forward to winter for the first time in my life. 

My next step is, of course, looking for housing.  I know I've been spoiled with my massive apartment here in Muncie for the last year, but I'm going into this search fully willing to sacrifice square footage for location.  The most important criteria in my housing search is walkability.  I want to be able to easily walk to a grocery store and a form of public transportation that will take me to campus.  Ultimately, I would like to live somewhere near Trolley Square, which has a Whole Foods and is very close to the trolley that runs straight to campus.

Thankfully, I've still got a few months to decide.  I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Throwing some Fun into the Mix

Stressful. The only way I can describe the last few weeks.  It's been quite the balancing act trying to study, complete projects and labs, and still manage to find time to hit the gym.  I've had to sacrifice a few workouts lately, which just makes me all the more tired throughout the day.  Mix in a terrible sleeping schedule and lack of coffee, and you've got my last Tuesday morning, where I slept the last 20 minutes of my first class, the 15 minute break until my next class, and the first 10 minutes of that class.  Thankfully, they are in the same room.  I've been trying to ween off of coffee lately, as I don't want to be dependent on it, but who am I kidding?? Most mornings I need it just so I don't feel like an extra on the set of "The Walking Dead"..

Last week was particularly stressful, but it at least didn't start off that way.  I've been told I'm pretty lucky, as I get to enjoy more trips/concerts/sporting events than most people.  I'll admit I've experienced some serious luck (see lucking into face-value, lower-level seats for the Cowboys-Colts game at a bar in Columbus, OH the night before the game), but I manage to have a lot of connections and.. HA, nevermind, it's a lot of luck.  Sometimes it's just good to be lucky and I sure as hell don't take it for granted.  On Monday, my Dad and I scored tickets to the Celtics-Pacers game.. fo' free! He got them through some crazy connection at work where this woman's mother does marketing for the Pacers or something along those lines.  I didn't care, I was just thrilled to make it to the game.  I had given up on attending when my latest budget crisis hit, and I slipped into a recession of canned chicken and tuna.  Thank goodness for parental bail-outs.

Almost forgot to mention the best part: these seats were 4 rows behind the Pacers bench.  By far the best seats I've ever had to a professional sporting event.
 Considering we were in hostile territory, and the seats were a gift, we kept our cool and tried not to cheer too loudly.  Not a good idea to piss off the Pacers front office people sitting around us.  Being the competitive fan that I am, though, I couldn't help but return a chant to a fan yelling, "Reggie's better" (at Ray Allen) with "Ray's got a ring!"  Sorry, Pacers fans.  The coolest part about our seats was that it allowed us to walk over to Larry "Legend" Bird's seat and have him autograph our tickets.  I was ecstatic.  I know my father was pretty thrilled, as well, considering Larry is the reason he is a Celtics fan, which naturally rubbed off on me. 

Larry Bird, himself

Larry's autograph on my ticket!

Ray Allen!

Despite a loss by my Celtics (who have been playing sporadically since trading Kendrick Perkins, a trade I despised), I still had an awesome time.  Hard to not enjoy yourself from seats like that.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Back to Reality & Its Never-ending to-do List

The weeks since my trip out west have been exhausting, to say the least.  I returned to my usual sleep-deprived schedule due to a nice case of jet-lag (only 2 hours of sleep my first night back).  By Tuesday afternoon, I could already see how daunting my next few weeks would be, as homework and exams began to pile up.  Not to mention, procrastination had gotten the best of me in regards to my online class; 2 weeks to finish 4 assignments, 2 exams and a 6-page paper.  At least amidst all this stress came some good news.. and maybe a tad bit more stress..

My main reason for the roadtrip out west, aside from getting out of the shithole that is Muncie, was to visit graduate school programs and help set myself apart from other applicants.  As mentioned before, my visits at my top 2 choices (UCSB and Utah) went well, but the only official word I had received at this point was my acceptance letter from Utah and denied admissions at Wisconsin-Madison.  On my way back to Muncie from the airport Monday night, I opened an email on my phone from a professor at U of South Carolina.  She went on to describe some micro-meteorological research she was working on that she thought I'd be perfect for as a research assistant.  I was shocked, as I had spent the last week trying to woo my top 2 programs, completely forgetting about the other 3 programs on my list.  I replied showing some general interest in the work and was met with an admissions letter and assistantship offer 2 days later.  I was elated! It was an incredible relief to know that, no matter the other news I may receive concerning my applications, I was getting funding somewhere.  The offer came with a tuition waiver and $11,000 stipend for 9 months; just the kind of offer I was counting on.  The program at USC is almost a mirror image of Utah's program, with just a few more faculty that make the program both more diverse and prestigious. Now I just had to play the waiting game with the other schools.. well, mostly waiting, as I gave Utah a little push by letting them know I already had an offer.

My first weekend back was spent at home in Elkhart/South Bend, instead of staggering through the streets of Muncie in the white trash bash that is Muncie Gras.  My friend John was visiting from Wisconsin and I hadn't seen the rest of my friends since January.  I also had countless tasks that I needed to accomplish and knew none of them would be possible with a raging hangover.  I spent Friday night surrounded with old friends (and the unfortunate guests of one of those friends) in Tony's garage.  Around 9:00, I got a phone call from a random number with an unfamiliar area code.  The music was blaring and an intense game of flip cup was in progress, so I stepped out to the backyard to take the call. I'm very glad I did.  It was the Graduate Program Director at San Diego State calling to tell me that they had just gotten out of their meetings and would like to offer me a funded position.  Needless to say, I was kind of speechless.  Not only because of it was my second offer of the week, but also that I was totally unprepared to get that kind of news in that setting.  Nonetheless, I was excited to now officially have choices in programs.

 The rest of my weekend was spent relaxing, playing the usual Call of Duty with Jake, and catching up on some school work.  I didn't leave my Mom's until almost 10:00pm Sunday night because I just wasn't ready to get back to another week crammed full of work.  Like the rest of us students this close to the end of the semester, I pulled my chin up and pressed forward.  The drive back to Muncie was one of the best I've had.  My iPod was on shuffle, constantly putting out good song after good song, and the sky around me was constantly lit up by intense cloud-to-ground lightning strikes.  I managed to stay dry until I got to the Muncie exit. Thanks Mother Nature, I was already depressed enough to be back here without you pissing all over my welcome back.