Let it Snow?

Now I get it. Our sweet friend, Hannah Orlansky, warned us before we moved up North that we would tire of winter and the hassle of snow. I didn’t believe her.

This week we got over 16 inches of snow in Cambridge. Now I believe her. The snow is beautiful and exciting when it is coming down fast and furious, but bundling up, stepping in slush and shoveling out your car … not so much. However ,what IS fun is Charlie in the snow, and Charlie wearing booties in the snow. We have gone on many walks, and he has probably ingested more snow that regular dog food over the last few days.

In addition to our snow adventures, we also celebrated Tom’s 27th Birthday! Hooray! We fixed Betty Allin’s red velvet cake, went to one of our favorite cocktail bars, Drink, and had dinner at Sportello with Nick and Becca. Drink (which we’ve written about before) is a really neat spot in Fort Point that sits just underground…though you can still see people walking down the street. Drink does not have a menu, but instead encourages you to share characteristics of drinks you like (‘Whiskey and Citrus’ or ‘I like a Vieux Carre’), and they whip up a lovely, often unfamiliar cocktail for you.

Sportello, which is right above Drink and overseen by the same chef, is a wonderfully yummy place for an Italian dinner full of fresh pastas and soups and…octopus. Nick, Tom and I had gotten the octopus appetizer at Kirkland Tap and Trotter a few weeks before and decided to brave Sportello’s octopus appetizer. We were not disappointed (well, Nick decided one bite was a enough), but it was definitely the first time I’ve eaten something with a suction cup still visible! Tom had a wonderful bowl of bolognese, and I had gnocchi with a cream sauce, mushroom ragou, and peas.

Tom also received two exceptional videos from down South to warm up his birthday – one from many of our friends in Jackson performing their recently composed lyrics to a one-of-a-kind birthday song, and one from our nephew, Maury, and niece, Sarah, performing ‘Happy Birthday’ with a very enthusiastic ‘Ta Da!’ at the end.

Now that the celebrating of Tom’s birth has passed, we are looking forward to our holiday trips to NC and MS even more. Tom has been making nut fingers – a Allin/Biggs winter dessert tradition – and I’ve been painting ceramic Christmas ornaments that have turned out far uglier than I expected. Who knows, maybe I’ll decide to give them to our friends and force them to hang them on their Christmas trees for many years to come.

Happy Holidays everyone! Stay warm out there.


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!


What Can Campaigns in Small Cities Learn from National Campaigning?

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

How can the internet be used to promote both political candidates and advocacy campaigns? We’ve recently started focusing on the ways email, online advertising and social media can be harnessed in presidential campaigns.

In a piece by JD Schlough & Co, the authors detail the way Harry Reid’s well financed Senate campaign in Nevada used personal data to target very specific campaign ads online. The reality is that targeting individuals with particular characteristics (age, gender, race, political party and/or geography) requires a large amount of cash from a campaign. Not all campaigns have these resources – particularly campaigns on the state and local level. However, there are some takeaways for local level campaigns in the strategy shared:

“On the Reid campaign, digital was treated like all the other elements of the media tool beltIt’s important to note that most of our (online) persuasion campaigns, even the early ones, were executed in conjunction with traditional media buys. We worked side-by-side with the Reid media team and often layered our online flights on top of broadcast and cable television buys, mirroring their messages and giving them additional frequency by running the ads online. Other times, we layered on top of mail.”

From email to Tumblr, the Internet unquestionably provides more paths for state and local candidates as well as elected officials to communicate their messages to the public. Candidates are also figuring out how to mobilize voters and add sophistication to field organizing through sites like VoteforChange.com and Neighbor to Neighbor. Seth Walls points out that with Neighbor to Neighbor, “you can log onto the system and in a matter of seconds have a list of undecided voters on your street, many of whom you probably know, that you can target for the campaign.”

Regardless of your feelings on publically displaying someone’s voting position (which is a different, but important, conversation to be had), the power of an online platform supplying this information is huge.

However, the amount of time and money dedicated to the many online platforms may vary depending on the geographic reach of the campaign you are running.


Having closely followed the city of Jackson, Mississippi’s recent democratic mayoral run-off, I am tuned in to which of the lessons learned from wide-scale campaigns might apply to our nation’s smaller cities.

Candidates are more likely to have limited resources and capacity in elections in small and mid-sized cities than national platforms. This plays out in some visible signs from two Jackson campaigns in 2013. The website for one of the candidates is still live in its original form even though the election wrapped up in May. Another candidate’s Twitter account attracted only 672 followers out of 126,000 adults over the age of 18 in the city.

While a limited number of potential voters became Twitter followers, one candidate’s twitter feed does supply a look at the diverse ways local candidates are trying to connect with voters in today’s campaigns (see below).

Within a short time period on April 16, Mr. Lee’s campaign posts tweets promoting:

  • A traditional campaign event – Women for Jonathan Lee Sunset Social;
  • A Twitter Town Hall that evening and;
  • A new TV ad that is posted on YouTube for online followers to view.

Screenshot 2013-10-28 22.08.35

This small selection of tweets tells us that both traditional (in-person events and TV ads) and online (Twitter town hall, YouTube ads) efforts to advance the campaign’s message are used interchangeably. It does not show the same messaging coordination that Schlough mentions above, but it does hint at an evolution in local campaigns to use all available resources to advance a message – many of which are online. It also suggests that there is an opportunity for these campaigns to streamline messaging through all of these channels and better use traditional media to push voters toward online content.

Alignment of messaging through many channels – online advertising, email, traditional media, mail and events – is a replicable strategy for organizations with more limited resources. Our MPP Digital course also underscores the importance of reviewing the metrics of your online communication and refining your message – something that, in my experience, state advocacy organizations could unquestionably do better and with greater diligence.

Refining online interaction with invested audiences and expanding the online reach of advocacy organizations is a key goal of my time at HKS. Some of the tactics used by presidential campaigns require more followers and more money than local campaigns have at their disposal, but reviewing their tactics and finding strategies to better message, connect, and mobilize remains critical for organizations in communities across the South.

Until Next Time!

Note: If you are particularly interested in presidential campaign ads and their evolution over time, I would recommend going through the series of videos we analyzed in class here.

Blogging for the KSR

Because Mindy, Tom and I will be exploring Boston and Cambridge this weekend, there will be limited writing. BUT I did have a wonderful opportunity to do some writing for the Kennedy School Review this week. Read that instead! And follow @HarvardKSR on twitter for all the awesome articles they post by students at the Kennedy School.

Screenshot 2013-10-11 08.11.39

Until Next Time!


A Tale of Two Weekends

Tom and I have had two whole weekends of fun since our last post! Unfortunately, our weekends of fun were spent apart. This weekend Tom has been in Roanoke, Viriginia at the CityWorks (X)po. The tag line for the weekend is “A Gathering to Share Big Ideas for Better Cities.” While I was sipping wine alone at our dining room table, Tom was sending me pictures from Ed Walker‘s rooftop apartment and chatting it up with my HKS professors. Tom was living the dream.

Zika, Irene, Dina, Miya and Joanna

Zika, Irene, Dina, Miya and Joanna

Since Tom was out of town, I took some time to fulfill some personal priorities for my time in Cambridge. Saturday night marked my first Massachusetts dinner party. No boys were allowed (except Charlie). We had my mom’s yummy stuffed past shells and a great salad. Charlie largely behaved himself thanks to a Target bone purchased earlier in the day, and all six of us has a great evening of stories about skydiving, shark watching, and bungee jumping. I have no plan to do any of these things after hearing their tales. Needless to say they were a group of intelligent and bold women who made my home feel full even when Tom was away.

Charlie and I also got to check out some particularly interesting characters at the dog park. There was a great dane and a schnoodle named Einstein.


Charlie also got to go to Friday’s HKS Quorum Call and became a complete ladies’ dog (credit to Chris Myers for the name). He got lots of treats from fellow students and dug one too many holes in the HKS lawn. He will definitely make another appearance soon.

Last weekend I was very fortunate to travel to Cape Cod with some fellow Kennedy School students. We spent a weekend focused on leadership development, but there was some fun spread across days as well. We did improv exercises and got to travel to David Gergen’s home on the Cape for a night of kayaking, volleyball playing and lobster eating. I had never had a lobster before (or at least one I had to break open!), so I was a bit overexcited about the process. The other students humored me by taking my picture with the lobster before I dug in. Our time on the Cape was very special and helped me form closer relationships with the CPL fellows. Plus, playing volleyball with David Gergen on your team never hurt anyone.

Next weekend our close friend from Jackson, Mindy Waldrop, is visiting Boston, so get excited for shots of us gallivanting around town.

Until next time!


Becoming a Wikipedia-er

This post is an assignment for Nicco Mele’s course, “Media, Politics and Power in the Digital Age” at the Kennedy School of Government. Our assignment is to review and analyze a Wikipedia article for several different factors. Family beware- this blog might not be a particularly enjoyable read.

For many 20-somethings it is hard to remember a time when Wikipedia did not exist… but how many of us have ever edited a Wikipedia article? If you haven’t, you would not be alone. I created a Wikipedia user page for a current HKS course, but I can’t say I would have thought about doing so otherwise.

With my new found Wikipedia editing power in hand, I went to the page of a policy topic near to my heart: remedial education. I was fortunate to write several policy reports and blogs on the topic when I was at the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, so it made sense for an evaluation of a Wikipedia entry (which is the assignment).

My first reaction was that the article lacked the basics about remedial education courses that are critical for someone trying to build knowledge of the subject. What subjects are remedial courses usually available in? How do colleges usually place students in remedial courses? How are remedial courses delivered differently at two-year community colleges vs. four-year universities? These seem like key background questions that need to be included, and much of this information is not.

Seven out of ten of the sources for the Wikipedia entry were scholarly journal articles that contained evaluations or findings on remedial program effectiveness. This bodes well for the accuracy of the limited information provided; however, without any hyperlinks, readers could not easily access the pieces if they were interested in digging deeper on the subject. One of the sources provided was from a leading social policy center in the area of adult education, The Center on Law and Social Policy (CLASP). Having CLASP articles as a source provides readers an example of the active policy debate surrounding remedial education. Unfortunately, little about the current debate is outlined in the article.

Outside of sources, a large portion of the article focused on the advantages and disadvantages of delivering remedial courses online. Clearly, a Wikipedia user has contributed their expertise on this area of remediation (which is an area open for debate currently). However, the large amount of content about online remedial learning skews the article – making it seem that this is one of the key topics to focus on the remedial education. The weight in the article is online learning does not necessarily reflect the broader national discussion on the topic.

For someone just learning about a large system like remedial education, a visual for how these courses fit within the overall course offerings at a community college or university could be helpful. The Wikipedia article contains no visual for how remediation connects to other courses or the trajectory of students that start in remedial courses. The map of courses below outlines remedial courses in math and English and connects them through to college-level courses. Similar course diagrams could make the large number of developmental courses and the long path to college-readiness for some students more transparent.

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 12.35.06 PM

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 5.48.56 PMSimilarly, there are many visuals that trace the current trajectory of students starting in remediation that could highlight the debate about course/program effectiveness (see info-graphic). There is also a very large amount of state-level innovation and evaluation of remedial courses, and this trend is not mentioned in the Wikipedia article.

Ultimately, the Wikipedia entry on remedial education contains accurate, but incomplete background on the design of remedial education, the effectiveness of remedial programs and current efforts to improve their design and the outcomes of students.

If readers are interested in learning more about the ongoing debate around improving remedial courses there are several good resources through the Community College Research Center. Perhaps in the days ahead I will add some of these resources to the Wikipedia page and become a more active user!

Until Next Time!