Thursday, February 19, 2015

Q & A with a Library Student Worker: Der Thao

Hometown: North St. Paul
ELL Education Major, Hmong Studies Minor, Class of 2015

You are a senior so I have to ask - how are you feeling about your last semester?
It’s been really intimidating, honestly. I’m really ready to be done with this semester. But I’m kind of scared at the same time because real life starts. I’m going to have to start paying my loans off and I’m going to be a (semi) adult. I have a lot of decisions and things I have to do. But academically, I’m doing….I’m doing okay. I could be doing better! I have zero motivation right now! Maybe this isn't a good thing to be writing about!

What do you hope to do with your ELL major and Hmong Studies minor?
My original plan was to become an ELL teacher in the St. Paul school district, and I chose the Hmong Studies minor to help enhance my major. But we’ll see where life takes me. This fall semester I’m doing student teaching, and after that it’s either Peace Corps, AmeriCorps or teaching English abroad, either in Southeast Asia or in South Korea through the EPIK program. And then I could also just stay here in Minnesota and become a teacher, or start off small and become a teacher’s assistant, to see if I really do want to be in the schools.

What originally drew you to study ELL?
I was introduced to student leadership when I was a junior in high school. So after the whole experience of getting to facilitate workshops at such a young age, I wanted to work with youth and I wanted to impact them on a deeper level. And I wanted to travel. So I thought of becoming a teacher. I added the Hmong Studies major so that I could be a more effective teacher to the Hmong students in the St. Paul public school district. I was very passionate back then about the Hmong community. I lost a lot of my passion gradually, and so I would like to get back to that some day.

Tell me more about that passion.
It starts off from family. My parents have only been in America for 23 years now. I love them so much. I owe them everything. They have worked really hard in just the 23 years they've been here. You wouldn't know that they've only been here for 23 years, which is half their life. They basically grew up in the jungles of Laos, in villages, and they've never been to any formal schooling. And they were never able to get their GED because they’re always busy providing for their family. Where I am now...I owe them a lot. So I wanted to help Hmong youth understand where their parents are coming from, and how they can obtain a greater life. Which is what their parents had originally wanted for them, and why they came to America. I want them to bring themselves up. Of course, it’s a hard society to do that in, with all the systemic issues. So that’s my little snippet! I could go on for hours about this.

How are you active on campus?
There’s a Concordia Hmong Unity Student Association here, on campus, which I was an active member of my freshman and sophomore years, and I was also involved in UMOJA, which stands for United Minds of Joint Action. They would have panels, talks, and discussions, where we would talk about societal issues and that stuff intrigued me at the time. And it still does, it’s still a very important subject to me. I was also a member in Concordia Sisterhood of Empowerment. And then my sophomore year, I became one of the co-presidents of CHUSA and got involved in Student Senate as a senator. Then I studied abroad my junior year.

Tell me about your study abroad experience, and where you hope to travel next.
It was wonderful! I learned a lot about myself and what I'm capable of doing on my own. I was able to go to Germany and Italy, and I learned so much about different people and how we can cross-culturally connect. It was a great experience and I did a lot of things for the first time - I went to the club for the first time ever in Italy, and I drank for the first time in Germany. I think Europe is a great place of history. It’s so old, and so much has happened there. The best part of the whole experience was being with the people I was with. I was homesick a few times, but not as much as when I went to Japan (where I went the summer after sophomore year). In Japan I was a camp counselor, helping Japanese students ranging from pre-K to college at 3-day camps. We would go in and teach the kids camp activities and camp songs, and I loved that part, I have a horrible singing voice but the camp songs were the best part! It wasn't so much about teaching them English, but about creating a bridge between U.S. and Japanese students.

As for the future, I want to do my student teaching in Vietnam, and I also really want to go to South Korea. We’ll see if that works out! I've also really wanted to go to Australia and New Zealand because I want to see where the Lord of the Rings takes place. I want to go to the Shire! I just want to hit all the continents. Oooh - I have this weird fascination with Iceland and Greenland. Like, I really want to go there. and I have always wanted to go to an authentic Eskimo village. I think that would be so interesting, to see how they actually live their lives without any outside influences.

What's your favorite part about working in the library? 
The staff! I love the staff here. I love knowing you all, you all have your own quirks and your personalities are really fun to work with. And I love my coworkers. It’s been so fun getting to know everyone and having it be a normal thing in my life to come back to, after classes change.

How has working in the library enhanced your Concordia experience?
I know a lot about library resources! Now I understand the struggle of placing a book in the right place - no one will understand it until they work in the library - and I hate looking for missing books! I also love people watching. It's one of my hobbies. You know those weird out-of-mind things, where you imagine yourself as someone else? And you’re out of your body and imagining everything from their eyes, and you see how you look  - I’m being so weird! But I consider myself to be very social and I enjoy seeing people in the library everyday, and getting to talk to them all.

What will you miss most after graduation? What does graduation mean to you?
I'll miss the people. And the normalcy of everything. I have a love-hate relationship with the the routine of it, but I'll miss it overall. And being able to study abroad - because I won’t have that opportunity as an adult. For me, graduation means I’m ending a chapter in my life. It’s so bittersweet because we've been raised to believe that (besides getting married and having children) this is a pinnacle moment of our lives, and when college is over, many opportunities go too. I wish I was given more opportunities when I was here that were affordable and attainable, but I am proud of what I have achieved in my time here. I've succeeded in obtaining my Bachelor’s Degree! I’m moving on in my life.

What advice would you give your first year self?
I would say talk to everyone and anyone. It’s good to make connections early and to talk to random people. Oh, and study abroad as soon as you can and as much as you can!

What’s your favorite color?
I like navy blue a lot but I like looking at green.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Wordcraft with Leif Enger

By Jaclyn Martini
English Lit & Creative Writing Major '16, 
Library Student Worker
One of the most interesting things for any literature-lover, be they creator or consumer, is to hear a published author speak.  Readers love to hear about why this might have been included, or why some other thing wasn’t there; those who write are hoping to hear tips, perhaps even encouragement, simultaneously praying that today is not the day they put their foot so far into their mouth that their toes start digesting.  When Leif Enger, author of Peace Like a River, blessed Concordia with a visit on Friday, the events were attended by students, professors, and community members.  Enger visited two classrooms during the day and gave a lecture later that night, each event different, but all centered on the all-important craft of words.  From writing to story development to reading, Enger had a lot to say.

When Enger’s class period started, he took the front of the room; the audience became utterly his.  Mostly attended by students interested in writing – and their professors – the talk was easy and enlightening. Enger seemed to have answers for everything we asked.  He addressed work ethic – “Just keep pushing through!” – and nerves – “Take the risk!  If it doesn’t work out you can always re-imagine it.” 

All around the room, shoulders relaxed.  Of course it was that easy.  Why shouldn’t it be?  “Write what you love,” he said.  “Not just what you know.”  He told interesting anecdotes from his early co-authorship with his brother, he gave insight to how he wrote Peace Like a River, and it was easy to wonder how many of the books sitting on shelves just out the door had been written similarly.  Authors changed from distant, frightening people to human beings sitting up at three in the morning, muscling through something that just didn’t want to flow, hoping that for every word that was thrown away a better one would take its place.  Many of us looked at each other when he started talking about that.  Was he talking about himself, or us?

Enger’s second talk focused more on his book, more on plot and characters and the actual story.  When asked about some of his characters, he revealed Roxanna was intended to be a character who was seen only once, in passing; Swede appeared unexpectedly inside a car one day.  “Swede was sitting there, and . . . that’s kinda the first I knew about Swede,” he said.  “You’ve gotta allow for some freedom.  You’ve gotta write an outline and not be married to it.” 

The third talk, held in the evening, was attended by several community members in addition to the group of Concordia people.  Here Enger spoke about reading, especially about reading for pleasure. “It is worth our time and worth defending,” he said.  “The stuff I read for education is gone.  The stuff I read for understanding is mostly gone.  The things I loved are still there.”  There was time for questions, and several were asked with the same core worry – how can we make sure that the next generation keeps reading?  What is it that we should be doing? 

Enger’s answer was in two parts.  “You become a reader,” he said, “the first time a book just - just grabs you.”  Heads around the auditorium nodded, each person thinking of their own introduction to the world of words.  “Never elevate a book beyond the possibility of enjoyment,” Enger added firmly, listing some of the books assigned to him in school he didn’t touch until much later in life.  “I was reading [Moby Dick] and I thought, hang on,” he said.  “If I had known about the shrunken heads, I would have read it when I was twelve!”  It was nice, refreshing, to hear someone express the idea was that if reading was seen as enjoyable, readers would enjoy it.  “Sometimes you fall into a book like you fall out of a rowboat.  You thrash around and you’re just . . . in it.”  His words made me want to head to the library and check out as many books as I could carry.  How long since I – since anyone in the auditorium who wasn’t retired – had just read for fun?

As the event came to a close, Enger thanked us for having him, for our questions, for our time.  However, it is the university who should be thanking him. Who knows which student might write the next great American novel, perhaps inspired or bolstered by his words?  Perhaps in ten or twenty years, several books on the library shelf will be Concordia alumni publications – any of them, when asked, might say in an interview that one time, Leif Enger had come to their university and answered some questions, and that they had been taking the risk ever since. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Announcing the Youth Media Awards!

The American Library Association has announced the winners of the Youth Media Awards, including the Newbery Medal and the Caldecott Medal. Some highlights include:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, a winner of the Alex Awards "Doerr weaves together the stories of a French girl named Marie-Laure who has lost her eyesight and a German orphan named Werner. As Hitler’s occupied territory grows, Marie-Laure and Werner’s lives and families are torn apart by the war, yet this gorgeous novel is the story of people who, against the odds, find good in one another."

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, winner of the 2015 John Newbery Medal
"With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I'm delivering," announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood. Josh and Jordan must come to grips with growing up on and off the court to realize breaking the rules comes at a terrible price, as their story's heart-stopping climax proves a game-changer for the entire family."

Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen, winner of the 2015 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults
"Stuck at the bottom of the social ladder at pretty much the lowest level of people at school who aren’t paid to be here,” Maya Van Wagenen decided to begin a unique social experiment: spend the school year following a 1950s popularity guide, written by former teen model Betty Cornell. Can curlers, girdles, Vaseline, and a strand of pearls help Maya on her quest to be popular?" 

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the 2015 National Book Award and the Corretta Scott King Author Award in addition to being named a Newbery Medal and Siebert Medal honor book! "Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become."

Look for the winners and honor books of the following awards to arrive at the library soon: Newbery Medal, Caldecott Medal, Coretta Scott King Book Awards, Batchelder Award, Belpre Awards, Siebert Medal, and Geisel Award. The library already has a copy of the highly-awarded Brown Girl Dreaming!

Monday, February 2, 2015

President Lincoln at Concordia University

The library is happy to announce that we have received a grant from the American Library Association to host a travelling exhibition on President Lincoln, the Constitution, and the Civil War. On February 4th at 10:30 a.m. in the BEC, Dr. David Woodard will lead a  convocation introducing the exhibit and Lincoln's role in American history. 

In anticipation of the kick-off event, we asked Dr. Woodard and Library Director Charlotte Knoche to tell us more about how President Lincoln's legacy continues to affect us all. 

What interests you about Lincoln and this time in American history? 

Woodard: Lincoln is the most interesting individual in American history! Everyone should know something about him. From his youth on the prairie to his leadership skills—he is the consummate American icon. Students should also know something about the Civil War. Over 650,000 Americans died in this conflict—why? This war made the nation what it is today. It is essential to understand it. We can’t possibly understand the present if we have no historical context. 
Knoche: Abraham Lincoln serves as such a wonderful role model for today’s politicians – and for all of us.  His leadership style was not autocratic or heavy handed, but based in a desire to serve and humility.  His gentle storytelling was persuasive and enabled others to understand his perspective without losing face.  He rose to the top office of the land but was able to remember his roots and what it was like to be a common man.  He was motivated by service and not by greed.  Many of our politicians today, and all of us, could learn a lot from him. 

What excited you most about hosting this exhibit? 

Woodard: The exhibit is so professional, so well-organized, and contains so much important information. It gives our students the opportunity to examine Lincoln and the Civil War in a non-classroom setting. What a great way to gain an introduction into these topics. Everyone on campus should go see this exhibit.

How does the exhibit complement the library's mission? What about Concordia's mission?

Knoche: As an educational institution, we look for ways to present relevant information to our students in a variety of formats.  This exhibit, put together by the Constitution Center, The National Endowment for the Humanities, and the American Library Association was obviously very carefully thought out and designed.  It is really a class act and packs a lot of information in a delightful, easy-to-read fashion.  I believe that all of us will enjoy visiting this exhibit multiple times.  There is so much in it, it is almost impossible to take it all in in one visit. 

What are some reasons students should check it out? 

Woodard: Most students will probably not read a book about Lincoln, the Civil War, or the constitution. But they might walk through an exhibit and see some issues that interest them. It gives them a gateway into these topics.  

Anything else you want to share? 

Knoche: Only 50 libraries were selected throughout the country.  It is uplifting that the grantors considered us worthy of being one of the selected sites.  I believe that this is because they value our mission and the diversity of our campus. 
Woodard: Come to my convocation on Wednesday! 

The exhibit will be on display throughout February. Admission is free. Check it out in the BEC between 11 AM and 1 PM on weekdays, or by special request.