Capturing the Holiday Spirit

Thanksgiving in the Allin household was a great triumph and success. The turkey came out brown and juicy. The sweet potato casserole had just the right amount of dark rum. Tom’s dressing/stuffing had enough butter in it for a small army, and the spinach madeline had just the right amount of spice.

We roasted a 12 pound Trader Joe’s turkey stuffed with lemons, carrots, celery, and onions for 3 long hours. Figuring out where are the giblets were inside of the turkey and how to stuff it was definitely an adventure. My mom couldn’t help but laugh at my descriptions of trying to stuff it over the phone, and told me it was more polite to call the holes ‘cavities’ instead of what I was identifying them as… The end product was a good, quiet meal in Cambridge topped off with an exceptional Egg Bowl victory that left a smile glued on Tom’s face for 24 hours.

Since our weekend of Thanksgiving eating was coming to a close, I also nagged Tom until he would go with me to the Christmas tree lot. Tom picked out an adorably short, gap filled tree for our living room. He noted that his mom’s strong feelings about not leaving any Christmas trees without a home regardless of what they look like led him to pick the underdog tree. We are very happy with our finished product even though Charlie keeps trying to steal the stuffed monkey ornament off the side of it. We are all ready for admiring the tree while drinking lots of cups of cider on the couch.

To walk off all our Thanksgiving eating, Charlie the Poodle, Tom and I took a BIG walk all around Cambridge and Boston this morning. The shots below give you a sense of the beautiful city we live in, and Charlie’s strong curiosity about ducks.

Happy Holidays to each of you!

Until Next Time!

Adventures in New Hampshire and Prepping for Thanksgiving

Today, Tom and I have been prepping for the first Thanksgiving when we will not have a real adult in charge of making the turkey (no, we still don’t count). So far we have pecan pie, Welker sweet potato casserole, River Road spinach madeline and stuffing…Tom: “no dressing”… Me: “stuffing”… Tom: “no dressing”… Me: Okay, okay….(but really…stuffing, duh). We will give a post-Thanksgiving day update complete with Tom’s reactions during tomorrow’s Egg Bowl.

In the mean time, we have some seriously fun adventures to report! We got to travel to Hampton, New Hampshire with our Boston loves Nick and Becca last weekend. Little did I know that New Hampshire only has about 18 miles of coastline. No, seriously, look. We spent the weekend in the currently frigid but entirely charming town of Hampton, NH. Not to be confused with THE Hamptons which I may or may not have originally conflated when we first moved to the Northeast. We played board games, took a long walk on the beach, ate fantastically overloaded bagels and survived poodle car drool.

HKS has been full of group project preparations as we get close to our last week of class. And thanks to a friend and classmate – Tommy Tobin – The Citizen, our school paper did an article on me (and Tom and Charlie) and our time at HKS, before HKS, and after HKS! Here is a little screen shot, but you can read it here if you’d like!

Screenshot 2013-11-27 22.42.08

Finally, three very important people celebrate their birthdays this week – my mom, my grandpa and our nephew, Maury. We are sending big hugs and kisses to each of them and wish we were there to celebrate.

Until next time!


Parties, Practice Tests and Pugs

Last week I blogged on the 5 Reasons I love Somerville dog parks. And for those of you who are not as avid about your dog love as me, I’ll keep my dog references more limited this time. However, today was the day of pugs at the dog park. There were 5 to be exact, and they were struttin their stuff with the best of the big dogs – under bites and all.

Charlie and Tom also fell in love with a miniature doodle puppy. Unfortunately, as Tom has pointed out to me, Charlie has no game with the girl poodles in the area, so he expressed his love by nibbling on her ears and barking in her face.

Although I rarely mention school, I am, in fact, still enrolled at HKS and have been a diligent student. This week brought our second statistics midterm, so many hours were spent in the library or at review sessions. I now know more about hypothesis testing and chi square distributions than I ever thought I would. That said, the teaching team works hard to connect our course content with real world applications, and its been one of my favorite classes at the Kennedy School so far.

To celebrate the end of a busy school week, Tom and I went to the HKS Dean’s Reception at the Court House in downtown Boston. There was a great view of the city skyline and a chance to see other students outside the classroom. The photos below show Tom and me and a great bunch of gals from my cohort (the group of about 60 students I take all my HKS courses with each day). This picture alone as amazing women from the UK, Lebanon, Germany, Venezuela and Nigeria. It speaks to the rich diversity of my HKS experience for which I’m so grateful.

Finally, outside of class one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had so far has been my work with the Kennedy School Review – a policy journal run by HKS students. This week we welcomed 10 new associate editors that will be helping us with both blog articles and print journal pieces. We also started a new effort to regularly email people that sign up through our website, so we are better connecting them with the pieces students are writing. I’m really proud to be a part of the team that is managing the KSR’s work – particularly because it connects me with ‘real world’ issues and allows me to help promote other students’ work.

Tom and I also were really lucky to have Brian, our KSR editor in chief, and his wife and another managing editor, Patrick, for dinner. With true Southern love, we amde Frank Stitt’s seasoned pecans and Parlor Market Vieux Carres. Charlie expressed his happiness about having company by trying to eat Brian. Overall, a great dinner success.

It’s been a long, full week for all the members of the Allin fam. So we’ll leave you with an image that sums up how we plan to spend our Saturday.

Until next time!


Final Project: Wikipedia and Remedial Education

Note: This post is an assignment for Nicco Mele’s Course – Media, Politics and Power in the Digital Age – it summarizes a proposal for my final project.

Throughout our semester in MPP Digital course, I’ve been really interested in Nicco Mele’s assertion that (paraphrased) if you care about a policy issue, you better also care a lot about what it says on that issue’s Wikipedia page. More people go to a Wikipedia page on a topic on any given day than a report you write, a blog you draft or a think-tank’s website.

Earlier in the semester I did a blog analyzing Wikipedia’s page on remedial education. Remedial education is the broad label for courses that students on community college or university campuses take when they enter with ACT or SAT scores below a certain pre-determined threshold.

In 2011, over 22,000 Mississippi community college students took a remedial course in math or english or both subjects. We know that students that start college under-prepared, and that as a result need remedial courses, are substantially less likely to graduate than their college-ready counterparts.

For my final project, I would really like to focus on expanding the current scope of the remedial education writing on Wikipedia. So far, I’ve been interacting on the talk page of the WikiEducation Project to ask questions about making additions to the current page. However, the current page on remedial education deliberately has a worldwide focus and a narrow subsection for the United States. A czar for the Wikipedia Education project asked me last week if I was planning to edit the current remediation page or start a new Wikipedia page just about remediation in the US. I certainly think that given the current research and investment in remedial programs across the country, there would be enough to talk about remedial education specific to the US, but starting a new page feels a bit daunting.

Below is my interaction (as AllinCharlie) with the czar and others about adapting the current remedial education page on Wikipedia. This discussion also shifts to the question about creating a new US-specific page:

Screenshot 2013-11-12 20.49.24

Following the czar’s request, I also posted the question on the talk page for the current remedial education page on November 3rd and haven’t yet received any responses:

Screenshot 2013-11-12 20.48.47I have tried to be very sensitive and conscious of the other users of the Wikipedia community as I move forward with the additions. Ideally, I would like to create a new, US remedial education page that is structured with information about many of the issues I outline on the WikiProject Education talk page. For example:

  1. What remedial courses are typically taught and through what class environment,
  2. Background on the portion of students needing remedial support at colleges/universities.
  3. Research on persistence/graduation rates of remedial students,
  4. The differences between remedial education at community colleges and universities,
  5. Philanthropic (and federal) efforts to strengthen remedial education, and
  6. Research on various interventions with remedial students and their outcomes.

Some of the resources I plan to tap for drafting the entry/entries include: the Community College Research Center, the National Center for Education Statistics, the Kresge Foundation, the Gates Foundation, the National Governor’s Association, the Harvard Kennedy School Online Journal Subscriptions, and resources from Complete College America.

I welcome any thoughts on next steps given my current vision and current interaction with the Wikipedia community! I’ve already made several additions to the current remedial education page, and it has been a fun process. Looking forward to moving ahead and working on beefing up the content on an area I feel is very important to the success of students in higher education.

Until Next Time!


5 Reasons I Love Somerville Dog Parks

Every weekend Charlie the Poodle, Tom and I get to go to the dog park here in Somerville. It is pretty much my favorite hour of the weekend. Here are 5 reasons why.

1. We meet all kinds of crazy creatures.

2. The people are incredibly friendly to dogs and humans alike.

IMG_12153. There is always a dog or two that is worse behaved than ours.

4. Every so often we get to see an owner that matches their pet.

IMG_10025. Charlie the Poodle believes the dog park is heaven on earth.

I could keep the reasons going (with pictures to match). If you live in Somerville or Cambridge and would like to get more tuned in to all things dog, I would highly recommend connecting with som|dog – a great resource for events and dog needs. They also have a facebook page that has good info without a membership fee.

Until Next Time!

Digital Media & Amplifying Policy Analysis

In the 21st century, it will be increasingly impossible to do political analyses without discussing social media dynamics as an integral part of the story. ––Zeynep Tufekci

I’ve mentioned before that one of my aims during my Kennedy School time is to think more deliberately about how to communicate well-crafted policy solutions to a broader audience.

This week our MPP Digital course had a series of readings that focused on the Arab Spring. Basem Fathy reported on how email and social media interacted with the offline growth in Egpytian protests from 2000 to 2011. Zeynep Tufekci, a UNC professor, walks through how the internet – and particularly Twitter – was/is a path to disseminating information when journalists or protestors encountered the dangers of arrest during protests.

While I admit the Arab Spring and my broader Kennedy School goals are very different from one another, Tufekci talks a great deal about how to focus attention on a topic – in her case a reported arrested during Egyptian protests – in an increasing chaotic social media universe.

One challenge of new media environments is that they scatter attention and consequently tools and channels which can unite and focus attention are key to harnessing their power. Hashtags and trending topics are one way in which people can focus among the billions of tweets floating in cyberspace. In fact, a key dynamic in  “social media” is that it works best when coordinated with “focusers”.

Obviously, in the environment of policy analysis/advocacy there is a need for more than focusers, but I do think that Tufekci’s point that there must be a way to centralize the flow of information and create an identifiable word or resource that people know to access to monitor the debate on an issue.

Tufeki’s words aren’t the only ones bouncing around in my head this week. Tammy Haddad ­­– a D.C. based media and production guru – also visited the Kennedy School this week. Her experiences in television and video media lead her to emphasize the importance of video and a messenger in advancing a political or policy message.

This is easier said than done for many state-based policy groups with limited resources and capacity. However, the reality is that generating video content and pushing it out are less expensive than a decade ago.

Ethan Zuckerman points out in his 2011 Vancouver Human Rights Lecture that:

Participatory media is makes it possible for people to create media at very, very low cost. And then if they are able to use that complicated network (of more traditional media outlets), it is possible sometimes, and not always, to get that media out and get it amplified to the point that it reaches enough people that you are able to have a coordinating function.

Both Zuckerman and Haddad have hit on the theme of groups generating their own content through media creation and then using social media/email to promote the content. Eventually, more traditional media outlets with larger audiences may pick up the content, but the platform where groups share their analysis and perspectives can also be accessed by interested individuals.

In the quest for state-based examples of this approach, I came across NC Policy Watch. The site, which is aligned with the North Carolina Justice Center, has video content, op-eds, editorial cartoons, images, and blog content that all align around key advocacy priorities for the NC Justice Center.  Their video content includes experts from both the Center and partner organizations and effectively puts a face with many key issue areas.

Screenshot 2013-11-05 09.38.37

Between readings, class and visiting experts, this week provided lots of food for thought about how to better communicate substantive policy issues. I’m excited to learn more as these 2 years at the Kennedy School continue.

Until Next Time.



Note: This post is for Nicco Mele’s course – Media Politics and Power in the Digital Age – at the Kennedy School of government.

From Franklin to the World Series

Whew! Have we had a full week. We have bounced from western North Carolina and back, played 3D dodgeball, and seen our very first World Series game in the flesh.

We traveled to Franklin, NC last weekend to see Matt Garza & Kaila Ramsey – two close UNC friends – become the Ramsey-Garzas. Franklin is a town of 3,800 people very close to western-most tip of NC. It takes about 5 hours to drive from Winston-Salem (in the middle of the state) to Franklin, and it probably makes the list of top 10 hardest places to get to in the U.S. However, to get there you drive through the Appalachian Mountains, and now is the prime time for –as Bostonians like to say– high quality leaf peeping. Lots of pieces of Franklin presented themselves in Matt & Kaila’s wedding from the barn their marriage ceremony and reception were in, to the quilt her mom made to serve as their guestbook, and the moonshine that Tom got to sip at the reception. Their signature cocktails included an Autumn Garza and Ramsey Fiz – both of which facilitated dancing well into the night.

My favorite part of going to a wedding with Tom is seeing him deliver an exceptional toast. Tom’s toast for Matt and Kaila walked through the 3 reasons why he felt Matt deserved the Nobel Prize in Economics over the ‘thieves’ awarded every year. Matt’s brother also toasted with the 3 chapters of Matt’s life. Among his advice for Matt and Kaila about marriage:

  • Remember to lie sometimes.
  • Don’t go to bed without making your closing arguments.
  • Don’t set your expectations for chores too high.*
  • Her happiness is simply more important than his happiness.

* Chris’ wife strongly disagrees with this one.

It was a really wonderful weekend to celebrate Matt and Kaila, reconnect with UNC friends and dance like college kids with animal masks. Franklin definitely gets a two thumbs up from the Allins.

In addition to a great weekend in Franklin, Tom and I had the UNREAL offer to join some other HKS students/alumni/staff at game 6 of the World Series between the Sox and the Cardinals. Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity. The city is still celebrating from the Red Sox win, and it will be a long time before I forget the game or the man behind me shouting ‘What’d I tell ya!’ after every good thing the Red Sox did as if he had predicted it each time.

Last weekend we missed out on taking Charlie to the dog park because we were out of town, but this weekend we are back in full swing. There were some real dog gems at Nunziato this morning… particularly the a keeshond puppy that Tom now adores.

Until Next Time!