Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Critical Thinking at the Cook Library Center

Through a variety of tried and true methods such as market research and psychographics, media outlets deliberately target their advertising to certain audiences. Although most adults are able to consume media with this in mind, it is typically a far different story for youth. In fact, child psychologist James McNeal has established that children are by far the most impressionable marketable age due to their inability to distinguish fantasy from reality.

That is why one Thursday a month GAAH welcomes Jeff Smith, founder of Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID), to speak to teens in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood about the important distinction between reality and what is portrayed in the wide array of media that is consumed on a daily basis.

Covering topics ranging from racism to brand loyalty to beauty standards, these workshops challenge the viewpoints of the teens who choose to attend. The 90-minute sessions are packed with information and live-viewing sessions of product placement, advertisement critiques, and more. And although the concepts are new to the students, this is an exciting topic to them and they have been catching on quickly, learning how to consume media with a more critical eye.

During one workshop, after discussing synergistic product placement within Universal Studios’ ET, the class proceeded to view similar instances in The Grinch, Men in Black, Transformers, and the Hunger Games. They examined placements from products such as Phillip Morris, Hostess, Chevy, Target, Budweiser, Beats by Dre, and more. There were discussions of physical placement of the ads on billboards and blimps, on sports fields, at certain heights in grocery stores, on buildings, and even on gas pumps. Several students even came up with examples of their own.  

At the December workshop Jeff recorded some of the teens summarizing what they had learned so far. He says that next semester they will be focusing on creating their own media rather than analyzing the media that already exists. All of the students in attendance said they are planning to return.


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Thursday, December 11, 2014

Mimi, Volunteer at the Cook Library Center, Finds Refuge There


It’s not every day that you meet a college student quite like Mimi (aka Michelle). According to her mother, Mimi is a “book eater.” Although Mimi was a very petite child who had to ride in the baby carriage until she was almost two years old, she began talking before anyone else her age. Her mother called her a “bright child” and said that she was forming full sentences early in her development. At a young age, Mimi’s mother would have to take books away to get her to focus on other things. Even then “She would read the cereal box, the tags on the back of the sofa, and other things in the house. That's just her!" her mother explained, fondly laughing. Nowadays, even after spending a long day on homework, Mimi goes to take a break only to find herself diving into yet another book. Mimi insists that it’s “recreational reading.” Her favorite books are The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion, all written by J. R. R. Tolkien. In fact, when she first received the trilogy, she read it in less than 48 hours. 

Although she was born in Evergreen, Illinois, Mimi has lived all over the United States due to her mother’s occupation in campground management. In fact, they have seen every state in the United States twice and visited both oceans within the course of a year. Growing up, Mimi attended various schools and also attempted homeschooling throughout her K-12 education. “A lot of kids didn't like me in high school,” Mimi said. She feels that her good grades were to blame. She and her best friend Ruth, who suffers from a terminal illness, “broke the curve on every single test, making it difficult for the rest of the class to do well.”

Following the trend of her earlier education, Mimi was a student at several higher education institutions including Aquinas College and Northwest Michigan College. Mimi now finds herself studying at Grand Valley State University. This self-proclaimed “nerd” is majoring in English Language and Literature and minoring in East Asian Studies with an emphasis on Japan. She would eventually like to translate books and websites from Japanese to English and vice versa but plans to get her career started as an assistant English teacher in Japan. In fact, while studying there she interned at Rice Ball Daycare where she spent two days a week reading, talking, and playing with Japanese elementary kids. This experience created a path toward exceptional volunteerism at the Cook Library Center, where Mimi brings the same joy and wisdom to the young students in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood.

Mimi got into habit of volunteering very early, starting at a local library in Manelona, Michigan, in 7th grade. She later became involved with the National Honor Society in high school, which included volunteer hours as the service component of the program. At Aquinas College she undertook another project in order to continue receiving the Monsignor Bukowski scholarship. She traveled to Lasana, Mississippi, where she relieved people from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2008. “I helped people who got ignored,” she said, “There was one elderly couple whose shed fell off its foundation, and no one helped them to put it back up. So we pushed the shed back up and set things right.” Mimi later received a certificate for her community service.

Although her current educational experience at GVSU is excellent, Mimi faces a few barriers. Mimi’s mother, who suffers from an inoperable brain stem malformation, requires countless visits to the hospital. Because Mimi’s biological father passed away from diabetes when she was young, she finds her mother frequently under her care. In addition to this difficulty at home, Mimi also began to struggle with interpersonal issues with her roommates. As a result, Mimi has decided to find other ways to spend her time outside of class.

Fortunately she found the Cook Library Center, where her opportunity to volunteer with the children provides a healthy escape. ”The Library Center has reminded me how much I love going out and spending time with people,” she explained, smiling. "It's nice to stop hurting for a moment and enjoy life with the kids. It helps me let everything go for a while … knowing that I’m making life better for them.” She said, “Coming from an all-white neighborhood with all-white kids, there was no program like this where I could be with other people like me.” Excluded from social life in most of the places where she lived, Mimi says that she believes that the Cook Library Center gives the kids an opportunity to make friends with one other. “They are not alone here,” she said. “If I had something like this, I think about how much further I could have gone."