Feature: Nicholas A. Lauen

Courtesy: Nicholas A. Lauen

He sits upright, but relaxed: one black combat boot clad leg crossed over the other. His tattered black messenger bag sits on the table. He wears a khaki, supplex nylon shirt that looks a little out of place here in the Midwest where he looks more like he’s ready to clamber into a Land Cruiser and head into the sub-Saharan backcountry instead of sit through lectures and write papers.

Nicholas A. Lauen’s immediately stoic appearance downplays a knowledge and level of understanding that could only have been acquired through a stint in a war-torn, third world country. It all but obscures the character of an individual who hopes to dedicate his life to developing third world nations.

Lauen recently taught the honors seminar titled, International Development: Critical Perspectives and Frontline Experiences, in which he applied his own experiences in development to explore and critically examine the international aid and development business.

Much of the content of the seminar was based around the book “The Road To Hell” by journalist, Michael Maren along with Lauen’s firsthand experience in the Peace Corps. He focuesd on issues like the misuses of development funds and the difficulties that are overlooked by NGOs and humanitarian organizations. Lauen also shed light on issues the importance of understanding cultures and political climates in order to effectively help them.

Picture places like Liberia or Cameroon, both of which Lauen has spent a significant amount of his young life.

Cameroon is a small country in sub-Saharan Africa where graduate student in public administration, Lauen, spent several years as a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching mathematics at a rural technical teacher’s college. There, he overcame some substantial obstacles and gained an interesting perspective on life, which he gladly shared in his time as a former Peace Corps recruiter here at Iowa State.

“I learned to conquer adversity on so many levels that I couldn’t believe what I could accomplish or what I could handle,” Lauen said. “Whether it’s lack of infrastructure, lack of organizational practices, lack of proper medical care, dealing with different cultural norms, language barriers, things that people take for granted here in the United States such as getting your mail delivered to you or picking up a package, or even making photocopies would take such an enormous amount of time, that when I came back here to the United States, everything seems so easy.”

Nick applied to the Peace Corps after graduating from Minnesota State University at the age of 22. He was at a lull in his life, being between a career and college and was looking for something to give him a good experience and an edge in the job market.

Luckily, he stumbled across the Peace Corps and he was surprised by what he learned both about the world, and about himself.

His eyes light up and his rough exterier softens slightly as he begins to expel his condolences for the Corps while he reminisces on his experiences.

“Within our country there exists this popular idea of what the Peace Corps is: A government program where you go to other countries to do volunteer work,” Lauen said. “That’s all I new about it. It turned out to be exactly what I was looking for. Who I am today as a person is based so much around my experience in Cameroon that it is unimaginable for me to think of where my life would be at without those two years in Cameroon.”

He spent two years in Cameroon as a Peace Corps Volunteer and was soon promoted to head of the math department, at the age of 23. Despite the fact that he was very young and unprepared to lead a mathematics department, he grew into the position and inevitably benefited from the experience.

“I often think that people will step up to the challenges that are presented to them whether it’s physical challenges, academic challenges, or leadership challenges. And I was put in such a position in which I constantly questioned, ‘Oh my gosh, can I handle this?’ ”

Untimately, Nick could handle the challenges, and even implemented a few of his own ideas to improve the school. For example, when he arrived at the college, the pass rate for the teacher’s aptitude in mathematics was hovering somewhere in the single digits. In spite of the lack of an effective curriculum, he decided to implement his own which proved to be significantly more effective.

He also gained professional leadership experience that he says he could find nowhere else.

“Over the course of those two years I was so thankful for the level of leadership experience and project management experience that I had that there’s no way I could get something even close to this in the United States,” he said. “Who I am today as a person is based so much around my experience in Cameroon that it is unimaginable for me to think of where my life would be at without those two years in Cameroon.”

Lauen also recommended that students to consider the Peace Corps after graduation as a way to prepare for the highly competitive real world, and to gain a perspective that can’t be found anywhere else. However, he also stated that it isn’t for everyone, and it’s a very difficult experience to relate

“I can sit here and yammer on about the peace corps and show you videos and show you photos and hours and you will never, never understand what’s it’s actually like to step outside of your life in America, step into another culture and do work that you’re proud of and at the same time learn a lot about yourself. It’s an amazing experience in which recruitment videos can never capture what it’s like.”

Lauen has spend time in Liberia since his initial stay and Cameroon and hopes to continue a career in development and spend some more time in Africa in coming years.

Speaking at an assembly. Courtesy: Nicholas A. Lauen

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Iowa students lobby at sate Capitol

Four different student governments were represented at the capitol yesterday to lobby the legislators with regards to recent bills for budget cuts. More than 400 students stood in the rotunda of the Capitol to make their voices heard.

Source:City-Data.com

“I think it kind of hopefully opened students’ eyes to the fact that they do have a voice,” said Jessica Bruning, director if ISU GSB Ambassadors. “Legislators for the most part are open. They may not always to exactly what you want them to, but that’s part of the process.”

Representatives from the three regents schools claimed that the cuts are bad for universities and money should be drawn from elsewhere.

“What we try to throughout our campaign, at least in Iowa City, is that higher education funding should be a non partisan issue,” said John Rigby, president of University of Iowa Student Government. “I think that higher education is one of the most important things the state can invest in. We’re been trying to emphasize that, both republicans and democrats.”

Jennifer Nulty, Director of Governmental Relations of the University of Northern Iowa Student Government brought a slightly different approach to the capitol. Students from UNI wanted to show the direct influence the cuts have on students.

“Our goal is to put a personal face to the university and say why UNI is a great place to go to school, why is it a good investment for the state,” Nulty said. “When we get cut this is what happens to me and make it more of a personal thing.”

Accordingly, she also cited the fact that something other than personal opinion may have an effect on the decision to proceed with budget cuts. Instead, she criticized some of the student groups that supported the cuts.

“It’s their political opinion,” Nulty said. “Mine differs. The thing is, is that they don’t have a personal story about it. They’re still going to see an increase in class sizes, their tuition is still going to go up next year. It’s both political and personal, and our goal here is to make it personal.”

However, not all students present were protesting against budget cuts. One group, the Iowa State College Republicans was in favor of the cuts and instead, criticized universities for inefficient spending.

“You know, we’re just down here to show legislators that there are students that support what they’re doing and that understand and realize that we can’t afford it anymore,” said Logan Pals, President of ISU Republicans. “We’re broke and that stuff needs to be changed.” Pals continued to describe that the responsibility to overcome the budget cuts lies within the university and that they need to be more streamlined.

For now, he says that instead of reforming the entire system, Iowa Legislature is taking small steps like budget cuts.

“What the legislators are trying to do is make it easier by taking the cuts right now so they don’t have to take drastic measures later on,” Laws said.

Despite the staunch opposition between the parties, the mood remained fairly positive and everyone wanted to “just have fun” and make a statement to represent their interests. It also had an impact on legislators, however, whether or not it swayed their opinions has yet to be seen.

“It’s showing to me that people want to be engaged no matter what side of the particular issue of the people that are here, they like to be engaged,” says Representative Annette Sweeney, (R).

However, she was still in support of the budget cuts as a solution to short term fiscal issues and was optimistic about a financial turnaround in the near future. “We need to look where we can cut wasteful spending, and we need to look at the budget,” Sweeney said.

Union workers converge on Des Moines to demand human rights

Iowa civil service employees will be rallying Tuesday at the Iowa Capitol building in Des Moines to make Iowa lawmakers aware of their solidarity as civil employees.

The We Are One Rally is a response to recent events in Wisconsin that have sparked large-scale strikes and protests by civil employees and teachers that is estimated to have reached almost 30,000 people.

Although Iowa labor union rights prevent them from striking, members of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, the South Central Federation of Labor and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Iowa Council 61, along with many others will be standing on the west steps of the Iowa Capitol to bring attention to the grievances of their Wisconsin counterparts.

“It’s nothing but a show of support for the public sector workers in Wisconsin who are having their right to collectively bargain and talk to their employer gutted by [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker and the Republicans and the Wisconsin legislature,” said Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61.

However, things are going to play out slightly differently in Iowa than in Wisconsin. Andy Bock, president of the AFSCME Local 96, ISU chapter, and library assistant for Parks Library, wants to make it explicitly clear that union employees at Iowa State have no intention to strike or to leave work without authorization so far.

“We do not do anything to impair our work assignments, but some of us are planning to attend,” Bock said. “It’s a benefit to Iowans to know that when there’s a blizzard, they’ll have snow plow drivers.”

Bock and a few other employees will be using personal days while attending the rally in order to avoid conflict with their employers. Although he isn’t planning on leading anything drastic, Bock still asserted that he supports his colleagues up north.

“We are public employees who are represented by a strong contract and are in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin,” Bock said. “We’re doing what we can to not have that division come here to Iowa.”

Walker, R-Wisc., proposed a bill that currently threatens civil employees’ collective bargaining rights and holds them accountable for paying for about one-eighth of their health benefits and decreasing their pensions.

Collective bargaining is a voluntary negotiation between employees and their employers with the intention of preserving the rights and responsibilities of both parties.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state being affected by the budget crunch. Almost every state in the country is having issues dealing with their respective budget deficits, and many are looking toward cuts in the public sector. Unfortunately for union members, other states such as Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Maine and Missouri are also looking to limit union benefits.

To put it in perspective, nearly 1,500 ISU employees are union members, who can be in positions from clerical to custodial to groundskeeping. AFSCME Iowa Council 61 alone represents 40,000 civil service employees, and therefore, Homan is worried about the bill’s potential to affect Iowans.

“If Rep. Lance Horbach‘s bill [House Study Bill 726], which is an attempt to gut the heart out of Iowa’s collective bargaining law, would get passed, I don’t know what will happen,” Homan said. “But I believe that public sector employees and our counterparts in the private sector should be equally concerned with what Horbach is attempting to do with his bill that will gut collective bargaining and tilt the table.”

Preview: We Are One Rally

Iowa civil service employees will be rallying at the Iowa Capitol building in Des Moines today to make Iowa lawmakers aware of their solidarity as civil employees. The We Are One Rally, is a response to recent events in Wisconsin that have sparked large-scale strike and protest by civil employees and teachers that is estimated to have reached almost 30,000 people.

Although Iowa labor union rights prevent them from striking, members of the Iowa Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, South Central Federation of Labor, AFSCME Iowa Council 61 along with many others  will be standing on the west steps of the Iowa Capitol to bring attention to the grievances of their Wisconsin counterparts.

“It’s nothing but a show of support for the public sector workers in Wisconsin who are having their right to collectively bargain and talk to their employer gutted by Scott Walker and the Republicans and the Wisconsin legislature,” said Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61.

However, things are going to play out slightly differently in Iowa than in Wisconsin. Andy Bock, president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees wants to make it explicitly clear that union employees at Iowa State have no intention to strike or to leave work without authorization so far.

“We do not do anything to impair our work assignments, but some of us are planning to attend,” says Bock. “It’s a benefit to Iowans to know that when there’s a blizzard, they’ll have snow plow drivers.”

Bock and a few other employees will be using personal days while attending the rally in order to avoid conflict with their employers. Although he isn’t planning on leading anything drastic, Bock still asserts that he supports his colleagues up north.

“We as public employees who are represented by a strong contract and are in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin,” Bock said. “We’re doing what we can to not have that division come here to Iowa.”

Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker (R) proposed a bill that currently threatens civil employees’ collective bargaining rights and to hold them accountable for paying for about 1/8 of their health benefits and decreasing their pensions.

Collective bargaining is a voluntary negotiation between employees and their employers in with the intention of preserving the rights and responsibilities of both parties.

Wisconsin isn’t the only state being affected by the budget crunch. Almost every state in the country is having issues dealing with their respective budget deficits, and many are looking toward cuts in the public sector. Unfortunately for union members, other states like, Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Maine and Missouri are also looking to limit union benefits.

To put it in perspective nearly1,500 employees are union members that can be from positions like clerical positions to custodians and groundskeepers. The AFSCME alone represents 40,000 civil service employees, and therefore, Danny Homan is worried about the bill’s potential to affect Iowans.

“If Representative Horbach’s bill, which is an attempt to gut the heart out of Iowa’s collective bargaining law would to get passed, I don’t know what will happen,” says Homan. “But I believe that public sector employees and our counterparts in the private sector should be equally concerned with what senator Horbach is attempting to do with his bill that will gut collective bargaining and tilt the table.”

Christian Landler: there’s more to his work than “Stuff White People Like”

Photo by Yue Wu, Iowa State Daily

“That’s it. It’s blog time.”

It all began with a debate between copywriters at an interactive law firm.

Stuff White people Like” is a blog (and a book) by Christian Lander designed to pick fun at the stereotypes associated with white people. However, there is an underlying message to his inimical commentary that raises social questions that are easy to overlook.

“The fact of the matter is is that this book is proof that upper middle class liberal and white are interchangeable,” Lander said. “The fact that I can put all these things together that imply over education, that imply wealth, that imply the ability to have these creative freedoms backed up by financial needs.”

Instead he says, things like free trade coffee, raising awareness and driving a hybrid (all from his list of things white people like) are just another way for white people to compete.

“What we want to tell ourselves is that our economic freedom brought about by the wealth of our parents’ wealth has enabled us to become above money.

In other words, rather than the “competing with the Jones” mentality, white Americans have taken altruistic things like charity and human rights, and turned them into competition.Therefore, Lander assembled a list of things white people like in an effort to pick fun at white people and call attention to their new emphasis on material wealth.

However, the story of “What White People Like” has humble beginnings.

The book began as a blog that has been gaining momentum and has topped nearly 80 million hits and is continuing to rise. The enterprise sprung up almost overnight and helped Lander’s dream of being a comedy writer come true.

“I’d done it. I’d made this little blip on the culture of the internet,” said Lander “This is amazing.”

After being published, the book topped the New York Times Bestseller list within weeks and is even been published in three languages, including Japanese. Accordingly he confessed that he secretly hopes that it will become a textbook for Japanese business English.

The site began as a WordPress blog that was fairly popular, and in an effort to gain hits, he sent it out to 25 of his friends.

Soon, traffic jumped from 150 hits to 1000 hits a day then to 30,000 hits. By the end of February, he was topping 60,000 hits a day had been contacted by several major talent agencies in Hollywood.

“Six months,” Lander said. “Six months from literally dicking around on the internet with my friend Miles to the New York Times bestseller list.”

He spent most of the rest of the lecture picking fun of white people for liking things like Coffee, religions that parents don’t belong to, diversity, public radio, having 2 last names, the idea of soccer, expensive sandwiches, awareness, hating corporations and shorts.”

Despite the light-hearted tone of the lecture, he left the audience with a heavy feeling brought on by a deeper message from his satirical depiction of American white people and feelings of entitlement brought on by wealth.

“We need to stop demanding so much recognition for doing the right thing. Because as white people, we won’t do the right thing unless we get a rubber bracelet out of it.”

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