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Posted at 8:30 AM ET, 10/10/2009

College Pays Students NOT to Attend ... (And More Things I Learned This Week)

By Valerie Strauss

Here are some of the things I learned this week:

1) A college in New York is paying students NOT to attend the school this fall.

This admissions office nightmare happened at Ithaca College when more students decided to attend than officials had projected, according to a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Ithaca had aimed to enroll up to 1,750 freshmen but wound up with a class of 2,027 for this fall.

It paid 31 students, forking over as much as $10,000 each, to wait a year to enroll. It is, not surprisingly, adjusting the way it does admissions.

2) Animals have mathematical capabilities.

That’s what it says in a book called “Where Mathematics Comes From,” by George Lakoff and Rafael E. Nunez.

The Answer Sheet did not get far enough into the book to learn where, in fact, math does come from, but learned that animals such as raccoons, rats, parrots and pigeons--and not just primates--have numerical abilities.

How do we know? Since we can’t ask, through indirect evidence obtained during experiments.

Rats, for example, learned how many times to pull a lever to get food, and researchers were able to determine that the relevant parameter was number and not something else, such as duration of time.

3) Babies have math ability too.

The same book calls this finding “startling” and indeed it is. Babies can, at 3 or 4 days, “discriminate between collections of two and three items, and by 4 1/2 months “can tell” that one plus one is two and that two minus one is one. To find out how we know, read the book.

4) The sun affects our electricity bills.

Catholic University’s Kevin Forbes, an associate professor of economics, won a grant of more than $400,000 from the National Science Foundation to continue work on how space weather affects the flow of electricity, power grid operations and, ultimately, the price of electricity.

Forbes has been researching how geomagnetic storms that are caused by the sun affect power grids on Earth. His findings should lead to better management of electricity grids, which could have significant economic benefits.

When I first read about this, I wondered how an economics professor was doing this kind of research.

Here’s how: His collaborator is astrophysicist Chris St. Cyr of the Heliophysics Science Division of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and adjunct research professor with Catholic University’s Institute for Astrophysics and Computational Sciences.

5) A federal law called “Michelle’s Law” just went into effect that allows college students to take up to a year off of school for serious medical reasons and remain on their family’s health insurance plan.

The law was named for Michelle Morse, who died of colon cancer at age 22 in 2005, six months after graduating from Plymouth State University, the Associated Press reported.

Morse, who had wanted to be a teacher, ignored her doctor’s advice and kept up a full course load while she underwent chemotherapy. Had she left school during treatment, she would have been dropped from her parents’ health plan.

Her mom, AnnMarie Morse, pushed for the law to spare other families the same agony. The federal law passed this year and went into effect on Friday.

“Can one person make a difference? The answer, profoundly and in front of us, is ‘yes,’ ” said Sara Jayne Steen, president of Plymouth State University.

6) The 150th anniversary of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry is on Oct. 16.

The raid on a Union arsenal at Harpers Ferry in Virginia was an attempt by John Brown, a white abolitionist, to start an armed slave revolt, but it was defeated by soldiers led by Col. Robert E. Lee. It is now considered an important precusor to the Civil War.
Events marking the raid run from today through Oct. 18 in West Virginia and Maryland. They include a six-mile march on Oct. 16 over the same territory that Brown’s raiders made from Sharpsburg to Harpers Ferry.

7) The Boy Scouts are trying to branch out--in Spanish.

In order to attract Hispanics, the largest youth organization in the country just launched an ad campaign in Spanish and plans to introduce a handbook in Spanish.

The campaign is called “Valores para toda la vida,” translated as “Values for life,” the Associated Press reported.

Boy Scouts of America has 2.8 million members, half of its membership in 1972, its peak year. Hispanics make up one in five children in the United States, according to the U.S. Census, but only 3 percent of Scouts.

The organization is trying to incorporate practices that resonate with Hispanic culture. For example, the AP said, family members will be welcome on traditional scouting activities, a recognition of the importance of family in the Hispanic community.

By Valerie Strauss  | October 10, 2009; 8:30 AM ET
Tags:  Things I Learned This Week  
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