Tag: alexander cooper

From Orientation to Graduation: A look at student experiences from start to finish at JSU

Alexander Cooper, Special to the Chanticleer

Austin Lovelace was just one of 1,352 students who received undergraduate degrees from Jacksonville State during the University’s 2016-2017 fiscal year. At the spring 2017 graduation ceremony, Lovelace received a degree in geography from the College of Arts and Sciences, successfully closing out his time at Jacksonville State that began in the fall of 2013.

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A graph shows that 1,792 students entered JSU as the Freshman class of 2013, but only 1,352 students graduated in 2017. Cooper’s article addresses the reasons that many students left (chart by The Chanticleer).

For many generations of Americans, this four-year journey to a college degree was the expectation. A degree at the end of four years of school fit like a period at the end of a sentence. According to JSU’s 2017-2018 fact book, however, Lovelace was a member of an enrollment class made up of around 1,792 students.

This puts Jacksonville State’s 4-year graduation rate at around 75%, and raises the question of what happened to the other 440 students whose take at JSU wasn’t punctuated with a graduation ceremony.

“Our graduation rate is not where it should be,” said Dr. Timothy King, the Vice President of Student Affairs at Jacksonville State. According to Dr. King, the most common struggle for students trying to get a degree is financial resources.

“[The question] ‘How am I going to pay for this semester?,’ and the stress that causes can interfere with their well-being and their ability to cope well with their classes and anything else they are trying to do,” he said. “That, to me, is the biggest factor that can have an impact on students, whether they are incoming freshman or continuing students.”

Not all students leave JSU for financial reasons, though. Cindy Chung started at JSU as a freshman in 2013 as well but transferred to Samford to attend pharmacy school. Samford and Auburn make up the only two universities in Alabama that offer pharmacy programs, so for Chung, transferring was a requirement for her to pursue the career she wanted.

“My goal is to become a pharmacist,” she said, “so I knew I’d have to go to pharmacy school. There were a lot of classes that I couldn’t have taken at JSU.”

While at JSU, Chung majored in pre-professional biology and took mostly general education courses.

“Jacksonville was close to home,” she said about why she chose to take her basic classes at the University, “and I got a really nice scholarship.”

According to Dr. King, scholarships are vital for students who attend Jacksonville State.

“Without them, I don’t think a lot of students could come to school,” he said. “College is expensive wherever you go, and the population of students that attend school here, for the most part, don’t have tons of money. Scholarships are key for us.”

While some students do end up leaving Jacksonville State for financial reasons, there are a few, like Michael Panik, who just decide that a college degree isn’t necessary for the career they want to pursue.

“I think JSU is a really fantastic place,” Panik said, “but I’m a staunch believer that college isn’t for everybody.”

Panik stopped attending Jacksonville State in the spring of 2016 after spending five years in school and now works as the chief of technology for Plexamedia, a web design company based out of Birmingham.

He says that he left of his own volition to work for the company full-time, and feels that most of the knowledge he relies on in his field didn’t come from Jacksonville State, but the persistence to teach himself.

“I was spending so much money on a degree that I wasn’t going to use,” he said about his time at JSU.

Panik also argues that with information in our age being more readily available than it ever has been, paths to a career, especially one in technology, that don’t include a college degree are becoming more viable.

“Go teach yourself,” he said.  “You’ve got to love what you do nowadays, and if you don’t care enough to educate yourself then you’re in the wrong field.”

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Another graph shows a visual representation of JSU’s graduation rate. For every four students who start at JSU, one will not graduate (chart by The Chanticleer).

Not everyone has the resolve or the resources to jump right into the workplace without spending some time at college. In addition, college classes can help students focus on what they really want to do. Austin Lovelace says his experience at JSU was instrumental in helping him determine which field he wanted to go into.

“As a freshman, I came in not knowing what to study,” he said. “It wasn’t until I got started with my major that I really found out what I wanted to do.”

Lovelace praises JSU’s geography department and its professors for helping him to figure out what he could do with his degree.

Now a graduate student at Clemson University studying city and regional planning, Lovelace mentioned that he finds himself going back to the knowledge he gained at JSU often.

“I think I learned a lot at JSU,” he said. “College is not easy, but in the end, I knew it would be worth it.”

Dr. King is also still a believer that a degree from JSU is worth it in the end, and he mentioned that the first year is where the university sees most students leave the school.

“If you start your first semester off bad it’s almost impossible to recover,” he said. “People can recover, but it takes a lot of effort.”

He said STU 101, the freshman experience class, was developed as a result of the school trying to implement ways to make the transition from high school easier for students, especially those who might not have a lot of resources to fall back on.

“We have a lot of first-generation college students,” King said. “They are coming here without any kind of institutional knowledge. They depend on the university, and if the university can’t connect with that student then they are floundering, and they may flounder for two or three years until their financial aid runs out, so then they don’t graduate.”

King said that he has made a proposal for JSU to invest in predictive analytics software that would help the administration to meet students’ needs.

“It’s overwhelming for them; all of these different things they have to do,” he said, “and it’s overwhelming for us.”

King said that it has only been relatively recently that graduation rate has started to play a part in the amount of funding a school receives as well.

“For years graduation rate didn’t matter,” he said. “We were getting the same funding regardless, but now it does matter, and it matters not only because we aren’t getting funding, but it matters because it’s what we should be doing. We have to get everybody on the same page of believing that we work for the students.”

*Alexander Cooper graduated from JSU in December 2017 with a degree in Digital Journalism. This piece was written as part of his Advanced Reporting course*

5k raises 1k for suicide awareness

Alexander Cooper, Staff Writer

Jacksonville State’s Freshman Forum held its second annual Light Up a Life 5k on Friday, April 7 and raise over $1000 for the suicide awareness and prevention group To Write Love on Her Arms.

Freshman Forum Logo_Red

The purpose of the 5K was to help raise awareness on the issue of suicide, and all proceeds from the event, including donations and proceeds from a raffle drawn at the onset of the run, went towards To Write Love on Her Arms. This organization served as the Freshman Forum’s philanthropy for the year, and it is built on both raising awareness on the problem of suicide and consequently working to prevent it.

“We started planning this event in January,” said Keaton Glass, the Freshman Forum advisor. “It’s a race, and it’s an awareness thing for suicide prevention. That’s what this event is all about, and we wanted to get members of campus to come and hang out just to let them know they’re not alone, and suicide effects everyone.”

Suicide remains the second leading cause of death among college-aged people, and that is one of the big reasons why the Freshman chose to focus their fundraising efforts on suicide awareness and prevention.

“We want to shed light on that, and kind of start conversations about it,” said Glass “We just want to let people know that we are here from them and connect them to services that we have on campus as well.”

SGA Vice President of Student Senate Hayden Clay was there to support the Freshman Forum after running in the 5k last year.

“This kind of personally affects me”, Clay said. “My grandmother actually committed suicide when I was two, so this is important. It’s important to remind people that it is not just diseases that kill people, but there are other things that affect people like depression and anxiety.”

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Three sisters of Delta Zeta take a picture with the photo frame before the Light Up a Life 5k. (Delta Zeta at JSU/Instagram: @dzjsu)

Clay also stressed the importance of involving freshman in particular in events like the 5k: “College is hard, and a lot of students fall into anxiety and depression within their college years, so this is a group of people who are getting educated about these issues as they are just starting their college careers.”

Light Up a Life was the final event for Freshman Forum this semester. The race kicked off at 7:30 p.m. and saw the participants take up glow sticks to run the perimeter of the campus.

“It’s been a really nice experience,” said Lexi Tisdale, a Freshman Forum member who helped plan the event. “You just learn so much from hands-on stuff. I’ve learned so many things, so it’s hard to remember them all.”

Tisdale believes that her experience with Freshman Forum will translate into her college life later.

“It’s a great foundation for those who want to get involved in leadership,” Tisdale said. “It’s been a really great experience.”



Criminal Justice professor publishes second book


Alexander Cooper, Staff Writer

Jacksonville State University criminal justice professor Harald R. Duncan has recently published his second book chronicling his career in the field as a social worker and parole officer. Professor Duncan’s first book, “So You Want to Be: Memoirs of a Social Worker/Parole Officer in the Deep South,” was published in 2016. It is framed on the wall in his office, and it was published as a collection of his experiences primarily as a social worker dealing with child abuse cases.

Professor Duncan’s new book was released on January 20. (Photo from Amazon.com)

“Most of the information in my books deals with child abuse and neglect,” Duncan said. “I’d say a fourth of it is probation and parole work.”

The second book, released on January 20 of this year, is entitled “They Did What? More Memories of a Social Worker in the Deep South.”

Professor Duncan worked in child welfare for 15 years before transitioning into parole work for another ten years.

Duncan mentions that working as a social worker dealing with child abuse cases was particularly difficult.

“The worst case I ever dealt,” he recalled, “was where a man was living with a lady and her two children. He didn’t like the boy because he would talk back to him, but the girl who was younger had a good relationship with the mother’s boyfriend. One day when the mother was at work the girl, for whatever reason went into the brother’s bedroom and laid on his bed. This man thought it was the boy laying there, and he ran a garden hose through the crack in the window unit over her face and poured battery acid down the hose.”

“Not too long after I switched to probation and parole,” Duncan said.

This case and many other experiences like it are cataloged in Duncan’s books.

“I saw everything,” he said. “You become callous, because if you didn’t, you would not survive the job.”

Duncan explains that reading a textbook about a particular field doesn’t really do justice to the actual experiences that a student will face when he or she is out doing a job.

“I’m a firm believer in doing internships while you are doing your studies so you can see exactly what is taking place,” said Duncan.

Duncan explains that the criminal justice department does place students in probation and parole internships in Anniston so that the students planning to go into the field can have an understanding of what a day on the job actually looks like. He also praises the department as a whole for being able to find jobs for the students who graduate with degrees in criminal justice.

“I have have helped at least a dozen students get jobs doing probation and parole,” Duncan said. “They confide in me, and I tell them just like it is. This is a super department to try and help students to try and get jobs. We have a lot of connections, and we are well known to try and help good students become employed when they leave here.”

Jacksonville State criminal justice professor Harald R. Duncan, who was a social worker and parole officer prior to coming to JSU. (Photo from JSU.edu)

“If I’m going to write another book I don’t know,” Duncan chuckled. “It takes a long time to write a book, and I will have to take a long break before I write another one…if I write another one.”

“The second book, to me, is much more interesting than the first one,” Duncan said. “It shows my personality.”

Duncan points to a framed picture of him with his family posing on the set of Family Feud. The Duncan family appeared on the game show in 2015.

“I can be a mess,” Duncan said. “Steve Harvey there said that was probably one of the craziest people he had on [the show], and I take that as a compliment coming from him.”

“It was on my bucket list,” he says about getting his book published. “It’s tough writing a book, and it’s tough reading a book if it isn’t interesting. Most people will not read [a book] if you cannot keep their attention, and I think I’ve been able to do that in my books.”

Duncan’s books can be ordered from Amazon:

“So You Want to Be: Memoirs of a Social Worker/Parole Officer in the Deep South”

“They Did What? More Memories of a Social Worker in the Deep South”

An Immigrant’s Journey

Alexander Cooper

The year is 1975. The Vietnam war is in its final days. North Vietnamese soldiers have taken the South Vietnamese capital city of Saigon, and the South Vietnamese soldiers in the country have stopped fighting, and started running. 20-year-old soldier Phu Nguyen is among them. He had volunteered to join the military in 1972 when he was 17 years old and still in high school in order to fight for the freedom of his homeland. Now, about three years and three gunshot wounds later, he was one member of a frantic stampede of men, women, and children all scrambling towards the ocean, and the American ships that were docked there. At the coast, a small fishing boat captain ferries a few people that include Nguyen, his wife Thi, and her 5-year-old nephew across the angry waves, littered with debris and even bodies, that separated them from the towering U.S. ship that waited in the sea. Nguyen, the son of farmers from the small village of Quang Tri in Central Vietnam, can’t help but be awestruck by this floating fortress; this warship that is serving as a makeshift ark for around 1,000 Vietnamese refugees.

He climbed the ladder leading up the largest structure that he had ever seen with a pack of supplies around his back, a rifle and .45 on his side, and his wife’s young nephew hanging from his neck. From the deck someone shouts down to him that weapons aren’t allowed on board. Without hesitation, the young soldier tosses his rifle and .45 into the ocean where they join the other relics of a dying war scattered among the waves.

The ship that Phu Nguyen boards is bound for Guam, but for he and his wife Guam will only be one stop in their journey to the United States. The country where they would live most of their lives, raise a family, and where Phu would come to be identified by the titles “good husband”, “good father”, and “good neighbor”.

40-some odd years later, Phu Nguyen, now in his sixties rocks back and forth in the comfortable recliner that sits in the quiet living room of his home in Rainbow City, Alabama. Clutching a tissue in his right hand and staring with teared stained eyes out the window across from him he remembers that day in April 1975, alongside a flood of memories from the days that came before it, many of these memories had come back to him uninvited.

He explains that the moments he remembers from the war are as still clear to him as if they happened yesterday. He reflects on seeing his home village of Quang Tri desolated by bombs that fell in the area; looking out to describe the utter destruction that it seems only he can see on the other side of his window. “They…they…they just leveled her” he says. He also looks back on a photograph, usually tucked away in his desk, of he and the men who he fought with during the war. The picture, taken in 1973, depicts Phu Nguyen and three other boys; all around the age of 18 and all dressed in military fatigues. Nguyen begins to go through the picture, pointing to the each of the two boys standing to his left saying “he died” …” he died”, taking a somber, silent pause after each remark.

One of these young men that Nguyen points to is wearing a hat that is noticeably a couple of sizes too big for him. Nguyen points out with a chuckle that the hat actually belonged to him, and a close look at the photograph reveals Nguyen’s first name written in Vietnamese on the side of it. His chuckle soon fades, however, and the somber look falls back onto his face. “I lost a lot of good friend” he says after taking a moment to let out a sigh.

His breathing gets heavier and begins to sharpen as he continues to talk about the friend who wears his hat in the picture. “I remember one day we sit down and we talk”. Nguyen recalls. “He said ‘Hey Phu, we still young men, but with the war…I don’t know. You and me, maybe you or me, you never know. Maybe tomorrow we get killed. We don’t have a future for nothing.’

As he continues to talk his breaths grow increasingly shorter and faster, “One week later,

North Vietnamese artillery…BOOM!” The sound shatters the silence of Nguyen’s quiet living room. It is one that is very out of place here. “I still remember he was hit somewhere on the neck” he says while putting his hands around his own neck as if to cover a wound that isn’t there. “It went through here and blood got out, a medic come in, but blood come out real bad, real bad.” “I remember I hold his hand. They brought in helicopter. I tried to hop in the helicopter to go with him, but they wouldn’t let me. A week later they tell me that he already passed away, and they already buried him.”

Nguyen says that conversations like the one that he had with his friend before that artillery attack were common among he and his friends during the war. “We just talk a lot.” he says. “We would drink coffee and talk about war and that you never know what could happen tomorrow.”

For Phu Nguyen though, the tomorrows kept coming. Days that saw him eventually meet Thi, his wife, and led up their leaving their home country together on that chaotic April day. The war had taken the lives of two of Thi Nguyen’s brothers, and had left her and her mother to survive on their own. “I didn’t want to leave my mamma” she remembers. On the ship bound for Guam Thi already wanted to return to Vietnam. “[Phu] wouldn’t let me” she says. “he said I can’t live without you, so you have to stay, so I listened to my husband.”

Thi ended up sending her nephew back to be with her mother instead, so she and Phu headed to Guam, then to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, and finally to Rainbow City. Where they tried to settle in a country that was foreign to them. Here in their new home they were equipped with very little knowledge of the English language, only what they could carry with them, and absolutely no means of contacting their family.

It would be Christmas eve 1992, 20 years from the time that Phu had left his family, when he would finally get a letter in the mail from Vietnam. He remembers his daughter, Hester, bringing the letter to him, excitedly telling him where it was from. “I look and it was my brother that had sent me the letter.” He recalls “I kept reading it, back and forth, and back and forth to make sure it was his handwriting. To make sure that it was him writing.”

Mrs. Nguyen, Hester, and Nguyen’s son Vien all left that Christmas Eve night to go have dinner, but Phu Nguyen stayed behind. He just sat at home and poured over the same letter over and over again. “I wanted to make sure that whole family was still there.” From the time he enlisted in 1972 to that night Phu hadn’t heard a word from them. “People had told my family that they saw me killed on a beach nearby” he says, but from their arrival in the country to the arrival of that letter the only family Thi and Phu Nguyen had was each other, and the “Land of the Free” had brought with it its own set of hardships for the couple to endure.

Nguyen still vividly remembers people’s first reactions to him being Vietnamese when he and his wife came to the United States in the 70’s. “Some people they thought I was bad guy too” he says with hints of confusion and frustration flickering in his voice. “They didn’t understand the war! They saw Vietnamese and I looked like the bad guy, but they didn’t know what I went through.”

To Thi, who was pregnant during the couple’s first year in the country, the biggest struggle was getting food. She was pregnant with her daughter Hester, who remembers hearing about her mother’s cravings for things that she couldn’t get. “My mother was craving things like boiled rice, and they didn’t have that. It was a difficult time” she says. “They had to learn everything”. She remembers coming home from school and helping her parent’s to learn English by just talking to them in the language.

“They have always worked hard” Hester argues. “They taught themselves how to live in America.” Phu Nguyen learned to work on and repair small engines and Thi worked in a factory,

and after a few years their hard work eventually led the Nguyen family to purchase the home that they live in now. The place where Phu can work on broken lawnmower engines in the back yard, and Thi can cultivate the plants that line the walls in front of their home.

It is this house that Phu and Thi Nguyen’s son, Vien, remembers as the place where he spent his childhood. “I lived in the same house from day one.” He says. “Overall it was a great experience.” Vien was born in 1981, and by that time his mother and father had already been in the country for a few years. The hardest times for the family were beginning to fall behind them.

Vien Nguyen is quick to point out that even though his parents had in many ways achieved the American dream through their hard work alone; that their character had not been diminished. “One thing I admire about my parents is how loving, caring, generous, and humble that they are.”

Speaking about that generosity, both Vien and Hester recall their father’s first trip back to Vietnam after he and his wife had left in 1975. Nguyen went back to his home country a little after Christmas one year carrying with him many of his nice clothes. “I remember picking him up from the airport when he got back” Hester recalls. When she saw her father she noticed that he was wearing clothes that were not his and shoes that were far too small. “He had given away everything” she says “even his watch and wedding band.”

The Nguyen’s next door neighbor, Anita Cooper, has seen evidence of that generosity firsthand. “They were the first people to greet us when we moved to the neighborhood” she recalls. “They would do anything for anyone. They are just selfless and considerate people.”

She says that Phu Nguyen would mow her grass to test the lawnmower engines he was working on, and that he and his wife would even host a dinner for the entire neighborhood on the 4th of July. “[The neighborhood] would be very different if they weren’t here” she says. “Even people who have moved away still keep in touch with Thi and Phu.”

“I’m real happy” says Nguyen as he leans back in his recliner, continuing to softly rock back and forth. “When you come to another country it’s not easy, but we are doing good.” “We have good friends and good neighbors.”

Always hard workers and selfless neighbors, Phu Nguyen, and his wife Thi have earned every piece of the happiness that they now enjoy. They live unremarkably now, in a sense, relaxing and in the quiet home they bought many years ago, in the quiet neighborhood where they are known for their generosity, but the one thing that Phu Nguyen is most grateful for is his freedom. He began the fight for it when he left high school all those years ago in Vietnam, and now as he sits back in his recliner, or plays with his granddaughter on the front porch it’s clear that in so many ways he finally won it.

Student Research Symposium puts spotlight on students


Alexander Cooper, Staff Writer

Jacksonville State University held its student research symposium on the 11th floor of the Houston Cole Library this week. The seminar lasted from Monday, February 14th to Thursday, February 16. Students presented throughout the day with and featured presentations on various research topics at regular intervals.

The seminar has been going on Jacksonville State since 1995, and it is meant to serve as a platform for students from all departments, both at an undergraduate and graduate level, to give presentations on topics which they are passionate about or have put time into.

The inclusion of different departments at the presentations means that the topics cover anything from music and literature to biology and math.

Wednesday’s presentations kicked off with a study on the life and death of the Biblical figure Joab and progressed into students talking about topics that included the Apocryphal book of Enoch and modern flute techniques.

“[The symposium] started out mostly just in the sciences,” said Dr. Jan Case , who has been the director of the symposium for over ten years, “students who had done some work outside of class would just present to the department or whoever was interested, but over the years it has expanded to include first Arts and Sciences, and with the recent reorganization of schools we’ve decided to open it to the whole university. This is the first year that it has been open to everyone.”

The presentations typically started out as unique or outstanding class projects but now include more out of class research.

Joshua Duckworth, who gave the presentation on the book of Enoch, says that his presentation was born out of his independent study on the Apocrypha as a whole.

“It helps to have a goal,” Duckworth mentioned, and he said he thought of his presentation as one good way to stay motivated.

“It’s nice once you’ve done all that work to be able to share it,” Case added.

While Case is the director of the symposium, she is also part of a committee that meets twice a year to help plan and tweak each year’s event.

“It’s really a group effort,” Case said when talking about what it takes to make the event happen. “I’m in charge, but a lot of other people are doing work to make it all come together.”

The symposium is open to the public as well JSU students and faculty.

“I think it builds community,” said Case. “This kind of gives me a chance to see the connections that are made between different fields.”

With the potential for a diverse array of topics being represented the symposium offers a very eclectic survey of some of the research being done by JSU students.

“It’s always my favorite couple of days out of the year because I have learned so much stuff!” said Case. “It’s so nice to see the work that is being done by our students.”