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Category: Writing

Graduate School Essays

Writing Examples

This essay was for my Craft of Popularization writing class at the University of Baltimore. We attended a worship service then wrote about what we saw. Our professor told us “not to settle for the externalities and to explore why people practice certain rites and rituals or recite certain prayers, what these rituals and prayers mean.” My professor gave me an A on this paper, noting it was “almost lyrical and certainly evocative.”

 

A Visit to Sri Siva Vishnu Temple

I visit the Hindu temple on a gloomy Saturday morning. Outside things are drab and gray. Inside there’s an explosion of colors, sounds and smells. Incense hangs heavy in the air. There are bunches bright yellow bananas, plastic jugs of white milk, wreaths of delicate flowers and glittery banners adorn rectangular structures scattered throughout the large room, each with its own mystical-looking deity statue tucked inside.

Sri Siva Vishnu Temple may be just a few miles outside D.C. in Lanham, Maryland, but it feels worlds away. Looming over visitors at the entrance to the temple is the Rajagopuram (the “Royal Tower”), which is a 56-foot ivory tower with multiple tiers rising to the sky. On each tier are dozens of intricately-carved depictions of Hindu deities. Yet the temple property and building are so discretely tucked into this residential neighborhood that at first I drove right by without seeing it.

Once inside, it takes me some time to for my apprehensions to fade away. I have done my research; I know its hard to offend these exceedingly tolerant Hindus. But everything is so foreign! There is no chapel, no clergy telling me what to say, no ushers telling me where to sit. Instead, there is a large room, filled with smaller temples housing beautiful onyx statues of strange gods. To my right old women are sitting in a corner, snipping flowers and stringing them into wreaths. To my left, about 15 people sit in a loose group, chanting in Sanskrit. The sound of chants also drifts in from the far right side of the temple. This is my first interaction with Hinduism and with puja, Hindu worship. And while it does seem foreign to me, its also quite relaxing.

Hinduism traces its roots to India, and there is no single founder or authority in the faith. Hindus may offer prayers or mantras to multiple deities, but those deities simply represent the many attributes of a single, supreme god.  Most Hindus believe in a cycle of birth, death and then a new birth determined by karma, a Sanskrit word for “action.” Karma dictates each successive incarnation of the soul, which will reincarnate as many times as necessary for that soul to become one with the Divine. The Vedas, which translates as “knowledge,” are Hindu ancient texts, created between 1700 and 100 BCE and passed down orally for generations before finally being written down.

Understanding Hinduism can be difficult for anyone used to the comparatively rigid structure of Western religions. The oddest but most fascinating aspect of Hinduism for me is the very personal approach most Hindus bring to their religious practices. Puja is often done at an individual pace, not communally as is done in Christian, Jewish or Muslim services. Hindu beliefs, practices and dogma vary greatly from person to person. But however a Hindu approaches their religion, that approach is valid because no authority dictates what Hindus believe or how they should worship.

“Our religion is very democratic,” Sri Siva Vishnu Temple administrative employee Mohan Sriram tells me. His use of “democratic” throws me at first. I don’t think of religion as a democracy. Yet, as I sit on the corner of a threadbare oriental rug beside the sacred structure to Siva, what I see is most definitely democratic. How else to describe the flow of the temple? Some people sit while others stand or walk from one statue of a deity to another. There is no particular order to how visitors work their way through the temple, but no one bothers or bumps into anyone else. It is at once chaotic and peaceful. Everyone follows their own path, at their own pace, and no one passes judgement.

This philosophy of individual belief is evident everywhere I look. It is obvious in people’s clothing—some worshipers wear beautiful, brightly-colored traditional clothing such as saris. Others are in jeans and t-shirts. The personal approach to religion is visible in people’s behavior—one young man checks his smartphone compulsively as the chants for Vishnu surround him. As he squints at his phone, I notice a middle-aged woman across the room rise and scurry away, quietly crying and discreetly wiping her tears away.

Given the personal nature of Hinduism, why even have temples? While Hindu worship can be, and often is, practiced at home, the temple offers something home rituals cannot—a consecration, a dedicated place devoted to worship by many souls making it sacred. That consecration manifests itself as powerful energy that you cannot experience at home where the distractions of real life are always fighting for your attention.

The energy at the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple is intense for Mohan. For him, the power of the temple was instantly evident. “I moved here [from Virginia] two years ago,” he says, “and as soon as I drove through the gate… Aaahhh, I felt at peace. I walked inside and felt instant happiness, even bliss.”

“Hinduism is both a religion and a way of life,” the temple’s website states. The Hindu idea that belief and behavior are intertwined resonates with me and with everything I experience at the temple. From the smell of burning incense to the sounds of melodic chanting to the cool tile beneath my feet, everything feels related, important and peaceful. Even as I leave the temple I am enveloped by a sense of goodwill instead of strict dogma as the Hindus I spoke with say goodbye not by blessing me, but by offering me their hope for my happiness and for whatever my heart desires.


 

This essay was for my Craft of Popularization writing class at the University of Baltimore. Our professor asked us to write an essay about “magic, mind reading, psychic phenomena, etc. Is this real? If not, why not and why do some people want it to be real?” My professor praised my essay as “exceptionally well done” and gave me an A.

 

Mysteriously Enchanted

At first there is nothing exciting about what I’m watching. The man is dropping coins into an empty fish bowl. Each time coins fall from his hands, they clink and clatter as they hit the bottom of the bowl. Then I start paying closer attention, and I realize he seems to be pulling the coins from thin air before dropping them into the fishbowl. Alright. Impressive sleight-of-hand  but no more than that.

Then I watch him take the bowl full of coins and drop them into a larger tank of water. At first, the coins slowly sink to the bottom of the tank and everything seems extremely ordinary. Then there’s a slight pause, and the man flicks his wrists and opens his hands into the tank of water (where I think he’s about to drop more coins in) and dozens of glittering live goldfish emerge. I know that he cannot turn coins into fish. But I am amazed that he made me think he did. That, to me, is magical.

Magic manifests itself in many ways, from a simple card trick to eerily accurate mind reading and everything in between. If you have ever played with a Ouija board or had someone guess which card from a deck of 52 that you’re holding, you have experienced magic.

So what is magic? One definition that I find particularly accurate is “mysteriously enchanting.” That lovely phrase perfectly captures the wonder I experienced when the silver coins turned into sparkling goldfish and I had no idea how.

Sure, logically you can tear the illusion apart and guess that there were mirrors. Or a false bottom in the tank. Or some distraction made it look like the coins disappeared and the goldfish appeared out of nowhere. But once you start analyzing the illusion, it ceases to be magic. It becomes a problem to be solved rather than a mystery that enchants you. It certainly is not hard to pull the curtain up on a magic trick and see its inner mechanics. In fact, “illusion” is defined as “something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality.” We know rationally that what we are seeing is a visual distortion of reality and there is a perfectly logical explanation for it. Unfortunately, that would steal the wonder from the experience.

Certain magical phenomenon, specifically mind reading and other “psychic” events, can be explained away if you understand ideomotor action. The ideomotor action principle, defined by William B. Carpenter in 1852, describes the “influence of suggestion in modifying and directing muscular action.” Or, as psychology professor Ray Hyman explains in his essay Ouija, Dowsing and Other Seductions of Ideomotor Action, through ideomotor activity “people often unwittingly provide clues about their thoughts, and others can unwittingly respond to such clues.”

The mechanics of unconscious movements, self-deception and masterful distractions mean that illusions are just tricks our eyes see that our minds cannot instantly analyze and explain. But they do not explain away magic—the wonder of seeing reality twist right before your eyes.

Jamy Ian Swiss, a magician’s magician and master of sleight-of-hand illusions, said in a 2008 New Yorker article about magic and magicians that “magic only ‘happens’ in a spectator’s mind.” So if magic is really in our mind, does it matter if the illusion or trick can be explained away? Maybe its best if we see something that defies logic and thoroughly enchants us. That, to me, is magical.

University of Baltimore

The Publications Design graduate degree program.

Programs & Tools

Microsoft Word

Results

I won the 2015 Excellence in Writing  award for all students graduating from the Publications Design graduate degree program.

American Horse Council

Challange

As the Director of Communications for the American Horse Council from 2006 to 2007, I created content for the organization’s web site, wrote, edited and designed the quarterly and yearly newsletters, and wrote up to a dozen press releases each month.

Some Examples of My Work


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 1, 2007

New Federal Legislation Affects Several Aspects of the Horse Industry

WASHINGTON, DC — It’s been a busy Spring in Washington and the American Horse Council (AHC) offices. Federal representatives introduced nine new bills in Congress affecting the horse industry in one short month between the end of April and the end of May.

The new legislation includes bills concerning immigration in the House and Senate, two bills regarding Internet gambling in the House, a bill regarding a change to the tax code for horse owners in the Senate, insurance protection for recreational riders and federal legislation on animal identification.

“The issues dealt with in these bills touches anyone involved with horses,” said Jay Hickey, AHC president. “There are several bills pertinent to the racing industry and a very important bill concerning recreational riders. And immigration is a hot issue in Washington right now and affects any business in the industry that utilizes immigrant and guest workers.”

“Some of these bills are similar or identical to bills that were introduced in the last Congress,” continued Hickey. “But others are new and it is important for anyone concerned with the horse industry to stay educated on legislation that could affect them.”

Do not forget that you can learn more about new bills and keep up to date on any pending federal legislation and regulations by visiting the AHC website at www.horsecouncil.org.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 18, 2006

USDA Re-Publishes Proposed Rules for Permanent Private Quarantine Facilities

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) re-published an updated proposal on December 13, 2006, that would permit the establishment and operation of permanent, privately-owned quarantine facilities under certain conditions.

The horse industry is an international one and increasingly more foreign horses are being brought into the U.S. for racing, showing, sale and breeding, and often there are not enough quarantine spaces to accommodate them all.

“There are presently three facilities through which horses may be brought into the U.S. permanently,” notes Kerry Thompson, the American Horse Council’s Director of Health and Regulatory Affairs. “The need for additional quarantine space has increased dramatically and more facilities are needed to handle the additional commerce. Once rules are adopted, private industry can step in under USDA requirements and fill that gap.

The American Horse Council and other equine groups have been calling for the USDA to re-publish the rule proposal that was originally proposed more than four years ago to respond to the need for more import facilities through privately-owned stations.

USDA has asked for public comment on the specifics of the proposed rules. To get a copy of the proposed rules, please contact Kerry Thompson at the American Horse Council.

Comments are due on or before February 12, 2007. TheAmerican Horse Council will be submitting comments. Anyone may submit comments directly to the USDA. There are several avenues you can use, including an online Federal eRulemaking Portal (www.regulations.gov), all of which can be found within the published proposal.

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Programs & Tools

Adobe Acrobat; Microsoft Word

Car-Free Friday

Challange

Encouraging a Community to Drive Less

This was an assignment in Words and Images at the University of Baltimore. I was tasked with identifying an issue or cause that affects members of my community. My town, Columbia, Maryland, was planned as a pedestrian-friendly community with more than 80 miles of neighborhood pathways. Yet Columbia residents often forget about the pathways and drive everywhere. So I created a call to action for Car-Free Fridays, urging people to leave their cars at home once a week. My campaign communications plan included a logo and brand identity, posters, postcards, magazine ads and a website.

University Of Baltimore

The Publications Design graduate degree program.

Programs & Tools

Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop; Canon Rebel XS SLR Camera

Results

I received an “A” on this project and my professors specifically praised my web design work.

National Student Clearinghouse

Challange

User Experience & Interface Design for Web Applications

The National Student Clearinghouse (a nonprofit formed in 1993) is the trusted source for and leading provider of higher education verifications and electronic education record exchanges, handling more than 700 million verification requests and over 250 million education record exchanges annually. The Clearinghouse serves as a single point of contact for the collection and timely exchange of accurate and comprehensive enrollment, degree, and certificate records on behalf of its more than 3,600 participating higher education institutions, which represent 98 percent of all students in public and private U.S. institutions. The Clearinghouse also provides thousands of high schools and districts with continuing collegiate enrollment, progression, and completion statistics on their alumni.

I provided User Experience (UX) & User Interface (UI) Design consultation services for the National Student Clearinghouse on two projects — StudentTracker for Colleges & Universities and the Student Academic Portal.

As part of the UX/UI design process, I created the following deliverables:

  • Created a competitive analysis
  • Conducted user interviews and created user personas
  • Developed case studies and process flows
  • Created paper prototypes
  • Created multiple decks of wireframes in balsamiq
  • Designed UI mockups in Photoshop

Programs & Tools

Balsamiq; Adobe Acrobat, InDesign, Photoshop; Microsoft Word

Alpha Farrier Services

Challange

Branding & Marketing for a Maryland Horseshoer

Alpha Farrier Services is a small business owned by farrier Mike Poe in Central Maryland. When Mike started the business in 2008, his initial goals were to acquire new clients in a specific demographic and provide much-needed educational resources on the web for horse owners about farriers and farriery. For the business launch, I designed, developed and wrote the content for his website and created print ads to run in local equine publications. In 2013, I updated the logo, redesigned the website, began using a customized and responsive WordPress theme, and focused on expanding the business’s Facebook presence.

Programs & Tools

Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Dreamweaver; WordPress CMS; Canon Rebel XS SLR Camera

Results

The first version of the website launched on April 23, 2008. Within two weeks, the website was showing up in Google searches using targeted keywords and Mike received his first web contact from a potential client. Within one month his client list was at 30 horses. Within a year his business was at full capacity and he had a wait list of interested clients. As of March 2015, the business’s Facebook page has more than 350 likes, there continues to be a wait list for interested horse owners and Mike Poe is known internationally for his work.

The Reef Project

Challange

Winner of the 2015 Best Seminar Project

PBDS 740 Seminar is the capstone course of the University of Baltimore’s Publications Design M.A. program. This course tests and stretches all knowledge and skills students have been learning up to this point. Students conceive a non-profit organization that fills a need in the community (local or international) and then work in teams to analyze its audience, develop a plan for making it public via print and/or other media, and design and write working prototypes.

I conceived The Reef Project after I was lucky enough to see the gorgeous coral reefs of the Caribbean and the Maldives in person. I fell in love with the beauty of coral reefs and all the exotic marine life you can find there. This inspired me to think of ways that anyone, whether they lived near a coral reef or not, could help save this precious natural resource.

As team leader of The Reef Project, I…

  • Created audience profiles
  • Determined the organization’s mission and wrote the vision statement
  • Developed guidelines for measuring the success of initiatives
  • Collaborated on the logo design with team member Becky Ohlhaver
  • Created and designed the Coral Reef Activity Packet (PDF) and Answer Key 
  • Created and designed the Coral Reef Campaign Starter Kit (PDF)
  • Designed and developed The Reef Project’s website and wrote all the web content
  • Wrote the Final Project Document (PDF)
  • Presented the completed project, first to classmates and then to judges
  • Managed schedules and other administrative duties

University of Baltimore

The Publications Design graduate degree program.

Programs & Tools

Adobe Acrobat, InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop; Power Point; WordPress CMS

Result

The Seminar class of 2015 started with seven teams. After presentations to the class and faculty at the end of the semester, four teams, including The Reef Project, moved on to present their work to a panel of judges from the professional community. Those judges selected The Reef Project as the winner of the 2015 Kvedar Award for Best Seminar Project.