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A breath of fresh air

Posted in Uncategorized by mrochele on March 22, 2009

There’s nothing like a stroll through a trace portal to start spring break

Spring break starts with a ‘slap’ in the face from airport security

It was around 4:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 14, when I walked into Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. I was exhausted; but, it had little to do with the time of day. If you read through this entire post – which I don’t recommend you do in one sitting – then you might get a glimpse as to why I was so fatigued.

I had been to this airport several times in the past year on trips to visit my brother, Chris, who graduated from the University of Massachusetts Amherst last spring and got his first job out of college in Dallas, Texas managing a greenhouse. I was headed there again to spend some time with Chris during spring break.

My flight was scheduled to leave by around 6 a.m. so I arrived at the airport at around 4:30. Now, having not slept all night, I was not in a fully conscious state of mind as I made my journey through airport security.

I had to do the usual routine. I took off my shoes and belt, emptied my pockets, filled up three different gray, rectangular bins of my stuff and temporarily abandoned it on the X-ray machine’s conveyor belt, while I tried my luck in the metal detector.

However, things took an interesting turn. Instead of grabbing my belongings, redressing and heading towards the gate like I had always done, I stumbled into what I at first believed was a some high-tech version of a metal detector.

What is that guy standing in? Well, if you don't know then don't expect to be forewarned by airport security when it happens to you. (Courtesy: Whitehouse.gov)

What is that guy standing in? Well, if you don't know then don't expect to be forewarned by airport security when it happens to you. (Courtesy: Whitehouse.gov)

It was almost like a telephone booth with glass doors on the other side, which were closed so people would know they had to pause inside and not just walk through.

I lined up my shoeless feet on top of the two foot-shaped markings on the machine’s floor and stood still waiting for the device to reconfirm I was metal-free and then open its doors. But, it wasn’t that simple. The weird machine began declaring the instructions I had to follow. I wish I remembered the exact wording because quoting a machine has always been a dream of mine. It said something like remain still and keep your hands at your sides and wait for my results. The one things it forgot to mention was what it was testing for and that I was about to get unexpectedly blasted in the face with several loud, strong puffs of air.

I was startled, but apparently kept still enough for the machine to give me the green light.

It turns out they are called explosive trace portals, which “analyze for trace amounts of explosives,” according to the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) Web site.

But, what about larger than trace amounts of explosives?

Nonetheless, the rest of my trip went well as I shared relaxing and spending time with Chris.

An hour with Chancellor Robert C. Holub

The day before my airport security fiasco, I sat down with UMass Amherst Chancellor Robert C. Holub to interview him for a profile piece published in The Massachusetts Daily Collegian and potentially use the interview as part of an end of the semester project in my magazine writing course.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Robert C. Holub (Courtesy: UMass.edu)

UMass Amherst Chancellor Robert C. Holub (Courtesy: UMass.edu)

I asked Holub several questions related to the budget, but the focus was more on him. I wanted to find out who he is, what else he does as chancellor besides working on the budget, how he likes his job, what he was like growing up, what he does in his spare time, why did he come to UMass, etc. And, over about an hour and 15 minutes, I learned a lot about him as he answered every one of my questions.

I think what struck me the most was how busy this man is. He told me about how he’s had at least 50 meetings on budget issues alone. His spring break was spent at development meetings in Florida. He’s often traveling back-and-forth to Boston to meet with top administrators from all five of the University’s campuses. He generally works from 8 a.m. to 6:30 or 7 p.m., goes home for dinner, checks his e-mail again, goes to bed and does the same thing the next day. His weekends are more relaxed, but rarely are they completely free. He frequently attends UMass sporting and fine arts events. Oh, and he lives on campus with his 86-year-old mother, his wife and three daughters – ages eight, six, and two – and he has a 30-year-old son from another marriage who lives in California.

Somehow he was able to squeeze me in to talk to him just a week after I e-mailed him my request to do so and then write a story about him. To keep on par with theme of how busy he is, our interview actually went a bit over the scheduled time and was broken up by his secretary who notified him that the next group of people wanting to see him was waiting outside his office.

UMass students protest possible fee increase, meanwhile Holub attempts to clarify fee increase confusion

Signs posted on the steps of Machmer Hall in protest of what was a proposed $1,500 student fee increase, which was passed several days later (Matt Rocheleau/Collegian)

Signs posted on the steps of Machmer Hall in protest of what was a proposed $1,500 student fee increase, which was passed several days later (Matt Rocheleau/ The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 25, 2009)

My plan was to head back to my apartment for a mid-afternoon nap before my next class, however a group of around 50 protesters standing atop the steps of Machmer Hall changed that.

Like what happened earlier this year with the library fires and would happen again later – which you can read about if you scroll down to the next section – I reached for my camera, notepad and pen and began reporting for The Collegian.

The students were holding signs, passing out flyers and talking into megaphones in an effort to delay a vote by the Board of Trustees on whether or not to raise student fees by $1,500. The vote was scheduled for that Friday, and the protesters were trying to rally support to join them on a bus trip to have their voices heard at the board’s meeting at UMass-Dartmouth.

Within several hours of the demonstration, the chancellor sent a campus-wide e-mail aimed at attempting confusion over who exactly would be affected by the fee increase and how.

Protesters aim to gather support for a bus trip to UMass-Dartmouth to protest before the Board of Trustees during their vote on the fee increase (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 25, 2009)

Protesters aim to gather support for a bus trip to UMass-Dartmouth to protest before the Board of Trustees during their vote on the fee increase (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 25, 2009)

So, initially I thought I could tie the two into one another in one mega article; however the e-mail was rather lengthy and complex, and deserved its own article separate from the protests. It turns out, according to University spokesman Ed Blaguszewski, the day’s protests were not the direct cause of the e-mail, which had been in the works for several days. Rather, he said, it was meant to address general concerns the administration had been made aware of.

Ironically, the cost of the protesters’ three-hour bus ride to and from Dartmouth was being paid for by several Registered Student Organizations (RSOs), which are funded by student fees.

The trip apparently did not have much of an impact on the board members as they voted to pass the fee increase for next semester. There is a possibility that students may be reimbursed depending on how much money is given to state higher education through the federal stimulus package. According to The Boston Globe and other sources, Gov. Deval Patrick has said he wants to focus on education when he allocates the stimulus money, but no word yet on how much will be given to higher education.

UMass football squad recruits for bone marrow donor registration

Why did I decide to subject myself to an impromptu bone marrow test kit?

Well, as one student put it so accurately, “I was recruited by a large football player.”

Additionally, I was intrigued as to why there was a bunch of guys dressed in football jerseys walking up to apparent strangers in the Campus Center, and I’m a journalist.

The players were recruiting anyone walking through the building’s lobby – which is quite a lot during the middle of the day – to participate in the bone marrow donor registration drive.

Sophomore quarterback Octavious Hawkins helps students use their test kits during the football team's bone marrow registration drive. (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Mar. 11, 2009)

Sophomore quarterback Octavious Hawkins helps students use their test kits during the football team's bone marrow registration drive. (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Mar. 11, 2009)

The test was rather quick and simple. I had to fill out some paperwork, which took me about five minutes, then swabbed the corners of my mouth with four different cotton swabs. Those were sealed up in an envelope to be sent to a lab for testing to see if I’m a match for someone in need of a bone marrow transplant by entering my info and test results into a national database.

The best part of this whole story was the players’ game-time-like motivation.

Head coach Kevin Morris came up with the idea to have the players not only compete with other schools in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) conference, but also with one another. Morris divided his players up into groups, which were named after NFL teams, to see who could sign-up the most people at the drive. The players would bring the people they managed to recruit and shout out their group’s name – like “Steelers” or “Lions” – as they walked by Morris who kept score on his clipboard.

Granted the team was likely also motivated by helping out a good cause, but a little friendly contest never hurts.

Students abuzz over new brew

A new kind of brew debuts as two local companies, Ridebuzz and Dean's Bean's Coffee, join forces (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 24, 2009)

A new kind of brew debuts as two local companies, Ridebuzz and Dean's Bean's Coffee, join forces (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 24, 2009)

What I regret most about this article is not getting to try the coffee that was debuted to students in a UMass marketing class as Dean’s Beans Coffee and Ridebuzz announced a business partnership.

I was juggling a notepad and camera, and the line was rather long.

Most of the students I spoke to there said the coffee tasted OK but was not really anything special. Some even said it was sub-par. Though I later heard from someone else that the coffee was some of the best they had ever tired, and they drink the stuff on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.

All of these different opinions make me feel that much more left out for having not tried one of the free cups of joe.

But, I can’t complain because the partnership was announced in my marketing course allowing me to kill two birds with one stone by writing a story and shooting photos for The Collegian, while attending my class.

Annual Goshen meltdown draws interest from afar

Bob Labrie places among the most interesting characters I’ve spoken to in my reporting career.

A firefighter in the small western Mass. town of Goshen, where Labrie lives, he started this betting competition five years ago to help raise money for a different cause of his choosing each year.

Bob Labrie, the Hammond Pond superintendent, stands with a rescue boat near the concrete block used for the 2008 Meltdown. (Courtesy: The Daily Hampshire Gazette, Carol Lollis)

Bob Labrie, the Hammond Pond superintendent, stands with a rescue boat near the concrete block used for the 2008 Meltdown. (Courtesy: Carol Lollis/The Daily Hampshire Gazette)

In mid winter, when the ice is safe enough to walk on, Labrie lugs a 69-pound block into the center of Hammon Pond. He places it on a wooden pallet and attaches a golf flag on top so the block’s location can still be known should snow cover it.

Locals then pay $1 per entry to guess the exact date and time the block will collapse through the pond when the ice melts. However, what Labrie called “the Price is Right rule,” the winning guess must come closest without going over. The winner receives half the proceeds.

This year the other half of the money being raised will go to the Northampton Survival Center’s Hilltown Pantry, which serves Goshen and surrounding towns.

I was constantly laughing during the lengthy phone call I had with Labrie. Part of the reason was the whole contest was as odd as it was intriguing, and Labrie was not afraid to speak his mind. He had a great sense of humor, acknowledging that the whole thing was “kind of hokey” as he put it in the Gazette piece I wrote.

Nonetheless, he seemed to genuinely enjoy the work that goes into setting up the contest each year, which includes taking photos of the block, updating his Web site, www.goshenmafire.com, and sending out weekly e-mails to anyone who subscribes to his updates.

What excited him most was not just that the event raised money for a good cause, but also that he was able to get members of the surrounding community involved and it seemed to put a smile on people’s faces to help them get through the finals months of what tend to be long winters.

“It’s got to be fun or I wouldn’t be doing it,” he said. “A lot of my friends tell me they would buy tickets to see when the ice won’t be strong enough to hold Bob anymore when he goes out there with his 70-pound block.”

Through Florence Savings, 37 nonprofits share $50K donation

Northampton's Friends of Forbes Library was the top recipient for the first time. The library is shown. (Courtesy: The Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Northampton's Friends of Forbes Library was the top recipient for the first time. The library is shown. (Courtesy: The Daily Hampshire Gazette)

For this Gazette article I wrote basically I was supposed to list the nonprofits who received donations from Florence Savings Bank, how much they received and how the decision was made on which organizations were funded and to what amount.

It seemed kind of boring at first, but it turns out the bank had its customers vote either at one of the branches, by mail or online to determine how donations were allocated. And, after receiving money in six of the seven years the donation program has been around, this year’s top recipient was the Friends of Forbes Library in Northampton.

PVTA lands $16.2 million stimulus windfall

Guess around how much this bus costs ... If you said anything less than a whopping $370,000, you're wrong - like I was. (Courtesy: UMass.edu)

Guess around how much this bus costs ... If you said anything less than a whopping $370,000, you're wrong - like I was. (Courtesy: UMass.edu)

The Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) was given $16.2 million from the federal stimulus package to help purchase new buses.

You would think that would be enough money to buy a whole busload of vehicles. Well, not exactly.

Try 29. The buses cost around $370,000 each, according to a PVTA official cited in the story for The Gazette.

Next time, I think the PVTA should use the money to buy some decent cars for around $10,000 a piece and tie them to one another so they are more bus-like, because 1,073 cars for $16.2 million sounds a lot better to me than 29 buses.

Now, I know this solution is not very eco-friendly, but it would help the auto industry, and maybe it would cause bus-makers to reduce their prices low enough so that I could afford a bus. I’ve always wanted one.

As solar power rises, WMECO proposes UMass site

Being a UMass student who expects to dish out a cool $1,500 extra in fees next semester, I can’t help but root for this project.

The Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO) listed UMass among eight possible host locations for a large-scale solar energy program, as this Gazette story says.

It’s not really a matter of whether I think solar power is cool or not or if it’s efficient or not. What excites me is it could help reduce the cost of electricity for both UMass and my nearby apartment, and best of all, if it all goes according to plan, WMECO would pay UMass to lease the roof of the Fine Arts Center so they could install some panels to do their solar energy experiment.

It’s a win-win for UMass. They have basically no responsibility to help WMECO with the project, they get paid to allow it and it adds to a list of the University’s attempts to become more Green.

Beer pong linked to herpes – wait, never mind

One of the best photo's I've ever taken was part of an accidental hoax article written by another Collegian staff member. (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 24, 2009)

One of the best photo's I've ever taken was part of an accidental hoax article written by another Collegian staff member. (Matt Rocheleau/The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, Feb. 23, 2009)

I swear; I only took the photo to go along with this article.

Several weeks ago, we at The Collegian accidentally published a hoax story based off of another article on UWire, a college newspaper wire service. However, we were not the lone victims.

Several other college papers – including The Lantern at Ohio State University who first published the false article before UWire picked it up – and TV networks – including FOX News and Los Angeles NBC news affiliate KNBC – fell for the story.

The day the story was published, we became aware that the article we had seen on UWire was a hoax and promptly removed the online version and ran a long correction in the following day’s paper explaining the mishap.

One bright side to the story was the sweet picture I took to go along with it. It took me a couple of tries, but I finally got the shot I wanted, and it turned out to be one of the better photos I’ve ever taken.

Off the record: the Ed Blaguszewski profile piece

Similar to my interview with Chancellor Holub, I recently sat down with the University’s Director of News and Media Relations, Ed Blaguszewski to write a profile story.

However, I will stop myself there since Blaguszewski and I agreed that what he said would only be for me to use for an assignment in my magazine writing class. I tried to persuade him a bit to allow me to publish it in either The Collegian or The Gazette, but he politely declined.

I have a lot of respect for things said off the record. So, unless he calls me up and decides he would like the piece to be published – which I highly, highly doubt – then my lips are sealed. You can now regret wasting your time reading that last four sentences, and this one, too.

The Boston Globe co-op

I’ve always loved to write, and I’ve always lived in Massachusetts, about an hour or so outside of Boston.

With those two things coupled together, I’ve always thought it would be pretty cool to see my name someone where in The Boston Globe – the biggest of my hometown papers and well-regarded throughout the nation.

And, after being accepted to a six-month co-op program for the Globe West bureau in Framingham, Mass., fortunately my name will debut in the place the Globe reserves for writers and not the places reserved for crime stories, obituaries and other bad news.

This also marks the first time in Matt Rocheleau’s journalistic career that he will be paid for his work.

How the hell did that happen? Here’s a recap of the road toward me getting paid to write:

My fifth grade teacher Mrs. Gazaille was my first really good English teacher. Along with many other things, I remember learning that year that a lot is two words and not “alot.”

My eighth grade teacher Mrs. Flansburg was a stickler for grammar and helped me truly understand, not just memorize, things like direct objects, indirect objects and prepositions.

In my sophomore year of high school, Mr. Smith was the first teacher to really criticize my writing. I never enjoyed the comments on my paper much then, but now I appreciate him not holding back to tell me which areas of my writing sucked.

Then came Carson Cistulli. In the second semester of my first year at UMass, he taught me more about writing and creativity, while making me more confident in my work, than any other teacher. If it weren’t for his freshman year English Writing course, I would have never realized how much I enjoy writing, I would have never chosen a career path in writing and I would have never joined the journalism major a semester later.

Since then, George Forcier’s News Writing and Reporting course gave me the most useful skills in journalistic writing than any other course. In two courses with Ralph Whitehead, I’ve learned so much about the on-going crisis for print newspapers and he’s made my writing clearer.

The staff at The Sun Chronicle gave me my first shot at published writing. The Collegian didn’t know who I was, let me write and then made me an editor. The Gazette gave me experience at both the sports and news desks.

So, thanks to everyone mentioned above, but no you won’t be getting a cut of my pay.

(Links to stories on DailyCollegian.com were removed from this post because the site has since been completely redesigned which has altered the link paths to these stories, and not all of the archives have transitioned over to the new site yet.)

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