Saturday, April 30, 2011

The New HOPE

Gov. Nathan Deal has brought the new HOPE scholarship into effect, which will be effective fall 2011. Many have criticized this new plan, including both parents and students who are currently enrolled in college or soon going. Unlike the original HOPE, which was created years ago, under the watch of Zell Miller. The new HOPE isn’t quite as easy to obtain. A 3.7 grade point average is now required, which many believe could be very crucial for those students already enrolled in college. But along with the critics, there are others who believe that this could have a more positive effect.

Mark Branch, a student at Kennesaw State University, feels that the new HOPE could encourage students to work harder in school, “I think the change could actually create brighter students. In the past, HOPE scholarship has basically been given to students. A 3.0 isn’t the hardest GPA to obtain.”

Branch seems to be one of the few who believe that there is hope for HOPE, “Most people don’t like change, so when something new comes along which requires more work, people get scared and want to complain. I don’t believe that Gov. Nathan Deal did this to ruin the lives of students, but it will definitely make all students working towards it appreciate it more. We could easily be like the rest of the nation, and not even have a HOPE scholarship.

KSU financial aid worker Abbey Smith also feels positive about the change: “HOPE is something that students should definitely be grateful to have. Georgia is basically the only state that has anything like it.”

She continued, “I do understand student concern on every level, especially if that student has managed a 3.0 GPA the entire time. A switch up could be hard for anyone. I’m interested to see how this all turns out and how many students are still able to obtain it.”

I contacted the offices’ of Gov. Nathan Deal to see if I could speak to someone who could give me some more insight. The governor was unable to speak to me about the issue, but I did get to speak to one of the receptionists Julia McKenton.

Mckenton expressed her thoughts on the new HOPE, “The governor definitely values all of his Georgia students. He surely doesn’t have the intent to make it hard on any student to go to college.”

Only time will tell how this change effects Georgia students, but hopefully it will only be for the better.

HOPE Scholarship Changes

On March 15, 2011, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed House Bill 326 into law. The new law is in regards to HOPE scholarship changes, which will cut scholarships to 90 percent for all but the highest scoring students in Georgia. Graduating seniors who obtain a 3.7 grade point average and at least a 1200 on their SAT are guaranteed the full scholarship, while current college students won’t be able to qualify for the full reward.

The law was signed in an effort to save the lottery-funded college scholarship, weeks after unveiling the legislation. Both the HOPE scholarship and pre-K programs where on the verge of going broke, as lottery proceeds failed to stay on track with Georgia’s soaring college enrollment and high tuition costs.

Former Georgia State University financial aid advisor Jessica Clemons said, “I don’t fully agree with the changes made in the HOPE program, but I understand that it was necessary for the overall longevity of it.”

Clemons worked for GSU’s financial aid department for 3 years, and explained her experience with students and their HOPE. “I’ve always loved the idea of the program, because it has helped many students in Georgia get through college. I went to school in Florida, and I wish we had a scholarship like HOPE when I was attending,” said Clemons.

Georgia is the only state that offers this scholarship, which was created in 1993 under Gov. Zell Miller. Originally, HOPE was awarded to students who were graduates from HOPE eligible high schools and maintained a 3.0 GPA.

Rachel Thomas, a teacher at Wheeler High School in Marietta said, “I truly believe that HOPE scholarship has motivated many of my students to do their best. Most of them have a desire to attend college after high school, and have always known that by maintaining a 3.0 average, they are eligible to get money towards their tuition at any college or university in the state of Georgia.”

For many, a 3.0 has always been a very reasonable average for students to maintain, “The fact that there is a new law which says you can only get the full amount from HOPE if you maintain a 3.7 grade point average is pretty drastic. I feel that a 3.4 would be more reasonable,” said Thomas.

Before the official announcement was made about the new changes, it seemed that many agreed with the likes of Thomas. News coverage showed around 150 college students, whom marched from Georgia State University and protested in front of The Georgia State Capitol.

Chants such as “Shame on you!” and “Kill the bill!” were being yelled, while students marched up and down the block.

Christian Benet, one of the very students who decided to march to the Capitol, recalled the experience, “I’ve been at Georgia State for the past two years with the HOPE scholarship. I have two different jobs, an internship, and I help out with my family. I don’t feel it is right for lawmakers to come out of left field and pretty much tell us they’re changing the HOPE scholarship policy,” said Benet.
He then said, “right now I have a 3.5 GPA that I’ve been able to maintain throughout the year. For me that’s good, considering all of the different things I do outside of school. It’s very difficult for most college students to focus solely on school, when most of them have other things going on. Lawmakers don’t seem to realize that.”

This is a point that many college students can agree with. In today’s culture, college students are very busy. Not only are they trying to maintain their grades in their classes, but most students are involved in activities, have a job, or are working towards starting their careers. This includes internship programs, etc. Maybe lawmakers truly don’t understand, or maybe they feel that students should be able to conquer all aspects of their lives without a problem.

Clemons broke down the issue, “From what I’ve been told, it has nothing to do with getting back at college students or not understanding. The issue is that the lottery proceeds, in which the money for HOPE comes from, hasn’t been able to keep up with college enrollment and rising tuition costs. The result, make it more of a challenge for students to get it.”

But what if this entire time a 3.7 was the standard for HOPE, would students be as upset about this issue. The thing is, because students have always been told that if you maintain a 3.0 grade point average, you could keep it, that’s what most strived for. That if you just skid the surface and did the minimum, you would be given money towards your tuition.

Thomas responded to this logic, “That is definitely a valid point, and makes perfect sense. But the fact of the matter is, there are students who have maintained a 3.0 throughout both high school and college and now have to work ten times harder to get this money to pay towards their tuition. College is not cheap, and it’s definitely not easy to keep a 3.7 when you’re juggling many different things. This is something I’m sure most can agree on,” said Thomas.

This all leads to the next question. What is the good that will come from all of the changes in the HOPE Scholarship program? After all, there has to be more behind the switch from the lawmakers’ point of view. I’m sure they are not trying to completely make students give up on it all right? Most lawmakers, politicians, and other people in power have kids themselves. They wouldn’t want to see their children have to struggle to pay tuition semester after semester.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

On The Rise: Joyful Drake

There are many factors that come into play when trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood. You need to have drive, thick skin, and an undeniable quality that makes you shine over the rest. Joyful Drake, star on BET’s new hit series Let’s Stay Together, knew that acting was her calling and has possessed two of these necessary qualities since the age of six. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Drake was a small town girl who always knew that she wanted to be in the spotlight.

“I was very witty as a child, and would always find a way to keep my family and friends entertained. It was something that always came natural for me.” said Drake.

By the age of nine, Drake channeled that desire to entertain, and got involved in several school plays. The first on her resume; playing an orphan in Annie.

“This was such a big deal to me at the time, because it was my chance to show everyone that I was serious about acting. I practiced my lines in front of the mirror many times the night before, and even thought about different facial expressions that I wanted to make. I was ready.” she explained.

The small part boosted Drake’s overall confidence, as she received positive feedback from her family. It was in that moment, she realized that acting was the path that she wanted to follow.
As she continued her schooling, Drake became involved in many other activities. She was a cheerleader for her high school basketball team, and was even voted homecoming princess during her senior year. At the same time, Drake became interested in modeling, and dedicated her free time to local opportunities.

“There weren’t many acting gigs when I was living in Milwaukee. Modeling was the next best thing in which I could express myself in front of the camera. I did a couple of print ads for jcpenney’s and also a few local fashion shows. It was my way of putting myself out there, and getting some type of exposure.”

After graduating from high school, Drake attended college at the University of Wisconsin, which is also around the time she started dancing for the Milwaukee Bucks. She described the experience as:

“A time when I was again, trying to put myself out there, and show the world what I had to offer. Being a dancer for the Milwaukee Bucks boosted my confidence, and gave me even more drive to follow my dreams.”

Drake danced with the team for over two years, and then decided to pack her bags and move to New York to pursue acting full time.

Drake explained, “I was ready to go for it! New York seemed like the best place to get my feet wet, and make some things happen. I got a part time job at Columbia Records, working over artist’s accounts and I was taking acting classes at the same time.”

These acting classes were taken by Drake in Manhattan, with an acting coach by the name of Marion Thompson. Thompson described her first class with Drake,

“She seemed excited to learn and I was ready to prepare her for a future in the industry.”

The two worked together for a few months, before Drake landed her first role on the Showtime drama Soul Food.

“I taught Joyful how to connect with her inner feelings and express herself through her characters. As an actor you have to be completely open and unafraid, and that was something which came easy for her.” said Thompson.

Drake gives much credit to Thompson, and explained that,

“I probably wouldn’t be in this position today without her. She helped guide me, and showed me how to break out of my shell as an actor.”

Following her recurring role as Tamara on Soul Food, Drake landed roles on other hit television shows such as One on One and Cuts. She also appeared in her first major film in 2005, co-staring Queen Latifah and Alicia Silverstone titled Beauty Shop. Drake explained that,

“Working with Queen Latifah and Alicia Silverstone was a great experience. I sat there and watched them go, and thought about how blessed I was to even have a role in such a film.”

Drake’s former roommate, Diana Ashworth, recounts living with Drake during that time, and explained Drake’s mindset through it all.

“Everything kind of happened back to back. First One on One, then Cuts and Beauty Shop. The thing about Joy that I respect is the fact that she’s persistent. When she wants something, she pushes for it and gets it. It’s how she has always been. Her success up to this point makes sense, because she’s worked hard for it.”

Ashworth goes on to state that,

“Joyful has never lost track of who she is, which is why people are drawn to her and want her in their TV shows and films. She’s talented, humble, and always excited to take on a new challenge.”

After her role in Beauty Shop, Drake acted in such films as Phat Girlz co-starring Mo’nique, and also Get Him to the Greek starring Russell Brand and Sean “Diddy” Combs. Today, Drake co-stars in BET’s new scripted television show Let’s Stay Together as Tasha Lawrence-Woodson, a sexy housewife and mother of twins. Drake explained how she feels about playing such a character,

“It’s a lot of fun. As an actor, I love playing characters that take me away from my normal self. So playing a housewife with twins is definitely new for me. I also enjoy the comedic aspect of the show, because I love a good laugh. Tasha is entertaining to watch, because she’s real and proves you can have multiple roles and still be sexy.”

The show is part of BET’s new Tuesday line-up, following the fan favorite The Game.

“I love how both shows come on during the same night. You’re able to get two different perspectives on relationships.”

Drake’s show Let’s Stay Together airs on Tuesdays at 10:30 PM on BET.

*photo courtesy of:*

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Competitive Edge of Walmart

In today’s economy, it’s a fight to stay consistent amongst retailers around the nation. In a time where consumers are constantly looking for the best deals before spending their hard earned money, it is now necessary to have a competitive attitude for any company in this tough market. Big businesses such as Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy are just a few of the major retailers who have been able to prosper and remain somewhat ahead of the curve compared to others. This in part is due to the simple fact that these three companies have been known for fitting their prices around the consumer. Majority of shoppers aren’t going to spend extra at one store, when they know they are guaranteed a low price at one of these locations. But even though Target and Best Buy have these low prices, neither have been able to truly compete with Wal-Mart, whose current slogan is “Save money. Live better”. This universal idea has led Wal-Mart to billions of dollars made in sales, and has even made it harder for any small business in the market trying to compete. Many of these small businesses have completely folded within the last few years, or have had to adjust their prices drastically to maintain.

Wal-Mart store manager Ryan Wilson explained, “Wal-Mart is a company that has always had the best interest of the customer. At this store in particular, we focus on giving the best customer service possible and also make sure that our rollback prices are up to date and are on clear display.” Over the years, Wal-Mart has advertised these rollback prices in all of their weekly flyers and many of their commercials and national ad campaigns. Most recently, the company created a fictional character by the name of Mr. Rollback for commercials, who highlights all the rollback prices in the store and showcases the customer excitement. Wilson added, “The whole idea of rollback prices is to show the original higher price compared to the much lower mark down price. When customers see this, they are able to get a better understanding of how much money they are actually saving.” Has this well-crafted marketing technique by Wal-Mart been effective? “It has definitely been effective. If we didn’t show rollback prices in the store, customers would be both unaware of how much they are saving and would more than likely question if other stores have lower prices on the same item. Another thing is this, if one of our competitors have a lower price on the same item, we can match that price with a valid ad from that particular store” said Wilson.

This brings up a valid point. Wal-Mart actually has had a competitive edge over many companies because they match prices. Other big retail chains such as Borders, a bookstore that is now going out of business, never matched prices on their books, movies, or music, which ultimately led to their fate today. In this type of economy, you have to match prices to stay in business, because the majority of consumers don’t mind making a trip to the stores with the lower prices. Retail chains like Best Buy have grasped this idea, and are now price matching without a problem. Target on the other hand does not do this, and continues to stick by the policies they made from the start. Wilson added, “If you walk into most Wal-Mart stores today, you will see an area that has every competitor ad from the weekly newspaper displayed. This is something that corporate makes top priority for all stores.”

Wal-Mart market manager Pam Johnson said, “When I visit the stores in my area, one of the main things I stress to all the store managers and assistant managers is to showcase competitor ads. The customers have to know that we match prices, but also need to see that we offer the best prices.” It’s hard to argue against Wal-Mart having the best prices, because typically they do. Johnson then added, “Because of rollback signs throughout the stores, competitor ad’s in front of the stores, and having associates in their areas who are knowledgeable about the great deals we offer, the market is doing fantastic.” When asked about how the company is doing as a whole, “Sales reports for most of the stores nationwide have been right on track. Based on proximity, some stores are doing better than others, but in my market alone sales have doubled within the past year.”

Recent news reports have criticized Wal-Mart for taking away sales from many small businesses around the nation. The fact that the popular retail chain mainly consists of supercenters which sell groceries, apparel, electronics, and much more, has completely eliminated the need for most people to go to smaller stores. Residents in New York City seem to be against the addition of Wal-Mart supercenters, in that it would take away from successful small businesses that have been thriving for years. Johnson explained, “Wal-Mart is a one stop shop, that’s how they’ve been set up. Families visit our stores and purchase everything they need all at once. You can get your groceries, a new TV, and even items for your home without having to travel from store to store.” Wal-Mart has also helped eliminate many of the popular movie rental locations such as Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, due to the fact that the stores now carry Redbox, in which you can rent movies for only one dollar.

Jon Anderson, store manager of one of the Blockbuster’s currently in the process of closing said, “Wal-Mart has definitely had an effect on Blockbuster, along with Netflix and other things. Why rent a new release for five dollars, when you can rent it for cheap.” Anderson made a valid point. Along with updates in technology, where you can rent movies through Netflix, the Redbox has been crushing competition. “It doesn’t make sense to drive to Blockbuster from Wal-Mart to get a movie anymore. The Redbox is right there as you’re leaving the store” added Johnson.

Ultimately, Wal-Mart is a thriving business that has been able to maintain itself throughout the economic downturn. By grasping the idea “everything goes,” the company continues to have a true competitive edge.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Power of Organic Foods

In today’s culture, most of us have little time to think organic. We are a society that’s constantly on the go, in which we naturally think of convenient solutions. That includes unhealthy choices, such as eating at the nearest fast food restaurant or choosing snacks from vending machines that are high in sugar instead of nutrients. Research has shown that most of us are moment thinkers, in which we make fast decisions based on that particular moment.
Atlanta nutritionist Richard Villaire says “people like a quick fix, especially when it comes to hunger. We are moment thinkers, where the priority becomes satisfying that hunger quickly and not smart.” He then adds “there are healthy options out there that people could easily incorporate in their diet. One of which are organic foods, which are not farmed with antibiotics or pesticides.”
Coincidentally, organic food chains are beginning to appear around the nation, with one of the most well-known carriers being Whole Foods. According to Reuters, a prominent online news website, Whole Foods is “the biggest seller of organic and natural food products in the United States.” (Baertlein, 2011, Reuters) Whole Foods store manager, Stacie Clark, says “our store has seen a lot of growth within the last two years. Customers are starting to realize that there is a vast amount of organic alternatives for many of their favorite foods.” However, those of us who are still on the fence about switching to organic, wonder if there is an extreme difference in the taste within these foods. Clark mentioned how “most people automatically associate healthy foods with a bitter taste, which is why they never give it a try. Many of the products that we sell here at Whole Foods taste just as good as some of the non-organic products out there.”
Of course there is going to be a natural difference in taste with produce. But for all other foods, it shouldn’t be too drastic. With snack foods, organic is a better route to take, in that they don’t contain all the sugar that non-organic snacks tend to have. You can still consume your favorites: popcorn, cookies, chocolate bars, etc. They just won’t be damaging to your body, because they are made with organic ingredients and typically have higher levels of both vitamins and nutrients. Other snack options include both organic fruits and peanuts.
Clark stated that at her Whole Foods location, “both organic fruits and dried snacks such as peanuts, trail mix, etc., have had an increase in sales within the last three months.” She also said that “most of these sales are coming from the younger consumers such as college students.” Is it a fad? Or are these younger consumers starting to realize the benefits organic foods have on both the body and their long term health. Nutritionist Richard Villaire seems to think that the younger generation “is starting to understand the effects of eating bad foods.” He goes on to say “We live during a time where many people are concerned about their appearance and will do whatever it takes to maintain it. If that includes eating organic foods, some are definitely willing to do just that.”
There are also a variety of restaurants in the Atlanta area, that cater to such individuals, who are on the go and don’t have time to pick up organic snacks or prepare their own meals. Organic restaurants such as R. Thomas Deluxe Grill, Urban pL8 and Evos are just a few that are becoming popular around town with consumers. These locations sell such foods as organic sandwiches, baked goods, and even popular entrees.
Former store manager of Evos, Mirta Lawes, stated that “At first business was slow when I first started managing Evos. People weren’t about organic foods yet and eating healthy. Everyone still wanted a burger from fast food spots like McDonald’s.” She then went on to describe how “with time, word of mouth spread, and more people started to come to the restaurant. It was fantastic, people became aware of the great food we sold at Evos and how it’s possible to eat well, yet healthy.”
Will organic foods replace the favorites of many? That is still unknown. But what is known is that in order to live a healthier lifestyle, you have to open your mind and make the change.