Johns Hopkins Magazine -- September 1999
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Camp Inspiration
A meeting of the minds... in cybrespace
When aptitude goes unnurtured
Dishing up profits

Camp Inspiration

In a jammed gymnasium on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, a team of Arapaho and Shoshone teens recently went to the hoops with former pro-athletes, including Kansas City Chiefs' running back Christian Okowe and Philadelphia 76'ers guard Reggie Johnson. The game came down to a two-point shot.

The teens won. Second year in a row. "The pros are pretty much 0 and 2," says Paul Santomenna, of Hopkins's Center for American Indian and Alaskan Native Health.

The game was part of a weekend in mid-June that brought together about 350 American Indian youth with former NFL, NBA, soccer, volleyball, and other pro or college athletes in a sports and life skills camp meant to inspire discipline and confidence among the teens.

Among other tests of will: getting up at 6:30 a.m. to run with WINGS, a group of Native American runners. "It's using sports as a metaphor for life, the discipline you learn from running, or any activity, can be applied to your state of being," says Kristen Speakman, center media relations associate.

The center, created in 1991 at Hopkins's School of Public Health, works in partnership with Indian tribes to offer public health education, research, and training for Indian health professions. The center operates 11 health offices on five reservations in Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

The American Indian population, an estimated 2 million people, is comparatively young and often struggling. The median age is 24.2 years for Native Americans compared to 33 overall in the United States. Indians earn less money than the general population, with a median income of $19,900--about $11,000 less than the norm, and one- third live below the poverty line, studies show. Alcoholism and diabetes are common health problems on reservations, and American Indians ages 15 to 24 commit suicide at a rate nearly three times the national average.

The summer camp is the centerpiece of the center's Native Vision program, which focuses on getting teens to stay in school, and to avoid health problems through fitness and early health care. Among other efforts, the program creates tribal teen-produced radio shows, and parenting workshops.

At the June weekend camp, says Santomenna, the center's director of media programs, "one main message is staying in school and considering going on to college. A lot of the athletes came from challenging childhoods and even though all of these kids won't be pro-athletes, the [athletes] talk about how they needed their education to get where they are now."

The center hopes to expand the camp to include more arts, media, and other cultural endeavors. WJHU-FM radio talk show host Marc Steiner attended this year to help youths work on radio interviewing techniques. For more information online, visit: --Joanne P. Cavanaugh

A meeting of the minds... in cyberspace

Eighty-one years after its cessation, World War I remains a source of fascination and debate. That debate went electronic recently with an online discussion between noted critic and memoirist Paul Fussell and Eliot Cohen, director of the strategic studies program at Hopkins's Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

The conversation, conducted by fax and e-mail, was published in June by Slate, the online political and cultural magazine. What prompted it was publication of two notable books about the war: The First World War by John Keegan, and The Pity of War by Niall Ferguson. Keegan's book is a well-wrought standard narrative history of the conflict. Ferguson's volume, the more controversial of the two, draws on population theories, financial history, and a large volume of data to conclude, among other things, that Britain was as much to blame for the war as was Germany, and that, had Britain made a deal for peace after the Germans took Belgium in 1914, the horrors of 1915-18 could have been avoided and the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution might never have happened.

Each morning for four days, Slate published a letter from Fussell to Cohen. Each afternoon, it posted Cohen's response. The conversation was thoughtful, skeptical, not so much a debate as a meeting of minds.

Wrote Fussell of The Pity of War, "[Ferguson's] vast book seems distinctly an outcrop, if not a symptom, of the Information Age, in that its displays of information often outweigh its manifestations of common sense and judgment... The spirit of the business school seems to have imposed itself on what was once moral history." Cohen further criticized Ferguson's work: "...many of the sacred cows that he gleefully slays are papier-mâché construction--the unremitting claim that the conventional wisdom got it all wrong is both tiresome and incorrect."

Cohen and Fussell also discussed the war itself and the continued fascination with it. Wrote Cohen, "...the real interest of the war lies, I think, in that sense of clanking inevitability in its outbreak, and the inability of fairly decent and competent politicians and, as we now learn, reasonably intelligent generals to get themselves out of that mess...there is something in our own world that again draws our attention to the catastrophe that befell turbulent, economically thriving, democratizing states, supercharged on nationalism, and possessed of technologies they could not fully comprehend."

Cohen enjoyed the exchange with Fussell. "E-mail creates a kind of informality and impromptu exchange that appeals to me," he says. What did he take away from his online conversation? "The pleasure of interacting with a sophisticated and cultured mind. Happily or regrettably, such conversation may be easier to arrange in cyberspace than in real space."

To read the complete discussion, visit Slate ( Go to the "search" feature at the bottom of the page, and key in "reason and folly" (include quote marks). --Dale Keiger

When aptitude goes unnurtured

Each year, thousands of bright, talented low-income high school seniors do not go to college. A recent Hopkins study of this so-called "talent loss" came to a surprising conclusion: These high achievers don't miss out on college because they can't afford it, but because they didn't know to plan for it.

Will Jordan and Stephen Plank, researchers for Hopkins's Center for Social Organization of Schools (CSOS), found that, nationwide, out of 105,000 low-income members of the class of 1992 whose academic achievement placed them in the top 20 percent of the nation's graduates, approximately 21,000 did not enroll in college. The predominant reasons: poor planning and a lack of guidance and encouragement. Students failed to take necessary high school courses and the SAT or other achievement tests. They didn't know about financial aid and thus assumed they could not afford college. And they did not receive sufficient encouragement from home or at school.

Jordan and Plank combined an analysis of data from the National Education Longitudinal Survey with extensive interviews of guidance counselors in four Baltimore inner city high schools. The schools were regular comprehensive schools, not magnet schools. "We looked at whether the guidance that kids received was early and sustained," Jordan says.

What they found was that too often a student with good grades doesn't get advice about college until the 11th or 12th grade, which is usually too late. Says Jordan, "Counselors working with juniors or seniors say, 'Why did you not take calculus, instead of the basket-weaving course you took?'"

"In middle-class households," he continues, "the dinner conversation with middle school kids is not whether a kid is going to college but which school." Those conversations tend not to happen in low-income families, he says. "So for too many poor kids, it's the schools that have to do it, and the schools don't have the resources."

Typically, a single guidance counselor is responsible for 500 students, Jordan and Plank found. These beleaguered counselors spend most of their time trying to keep kids from dropping out, leaving little time to nurture promising students toward college. Notes Jordan, "They say, 'I'm drained just trying to save their educational lives, much less get them to go to college.'"

To begin to correct the problem, Jordan says, schools ought to offer a common core curriculum with high standards for all students, so that even students reached late in the game will have taken necessary courses like algebra and a foreign language.

Apart from that, counselors need help. Plank believes that teachers could play a bigger role if they were provided with information about things like SAT deadlines, and were assigned students to monitor and advise.

"There has to be real parent involvement," Jordan adds. "It's hard to impress upon parents who may be high school dropouts themselves that they need to provide support at home." -- DK

Photo by
Kavek Sardari
Dishing up profits

Andrew Reed has a cultured idea for the Caucasus region: A yogurt factory.

Reed is the winner of the first annual Ernest Kepper Prize, drawn from a venture capital fund run by the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at SAIS, Hopkins's School of Advanced International Studies. Reed, a second-year SAIS student, will get a $22,000, interest-free loan to create a commercial yogurt factory in Georgia, the southern break-off nation of the former Soviet Union.

The fund, which was created by Ernest Kepper, an international finance consultant and World Bank official, has one particularly unique feature: Reed only has to pay off the loan if the enterprise is successful.

The fund was set up to help jump start entrepreneurial projects that would likely have trouble getting funding from banks or other agencies, and to help bring technology to developing nations in the region. Reed had to submit a detailed business proposal, and he's already on the move: He bought yogurt- and cheese- making equipment from, where else, France. -- JPC