This is a mocha latte?

Supposedly, a mocha latte from the cafe at City College of New York.

The three times I’ve ordered a mocha latte, I’ve received something that looks like this. You’re doing it wrong, CCNY cafe.

New York State VTA and Financial Aid Hell

CCNY Queue Ticket, F085 8/23/16 9:50 AM

Going Back to School

A few months ago I started thinking about how I could best go about finishing my Master’s Degree. I had this idea that I could keep working and just take classes in the evening. I had a 9 AM to 6 PM job and if I was patient, I could take one Master’s Class at a time. I would need to pick one that began at 7 PM, to hopefully give myself enough time to make it. Hopefully, I would be able to deal with work, the fatigue from work, class, classwork and the field papers (in lieu of a thesis) all at the same time. I was planning on doing that, because I’d become accustomed to having plenty of spending money available.

The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized it wasn’t going to happen for me. I did take a class after work in the Fall of last year and I got a 4.0, but it was exhausting and I was frequently late, which really bothered me. I had to apologize profusely to the professor and explain what was going on. I didn’t want to go through that again. I didn’t want to rely on having a professor that was flexible with attendance and that would only grade me based on the work I turned in. I wanted to do it right. Also, I was at a point where things were getting out of hand at work. There was a change in management and the work requirements were spiraling into a micro-managed Hell, so I decided to move on. Today is going to be my first day of classes this semester. Pacific War, 4:50 PM. I’m looking forward to it.

The last few days have been mostly about winding down and getting ready for the semester. My last day at work was Monday. I tried to put in full effort, but by then I was more interested in forwarding emails and documents that I thought were worth keeping to a private email address. You never know when you might need copies of performance indexes and reviews after all. I did a little grocery shopping yesterday, but mostly tried to relax and decompress. Leaving that job… I felt like I’d been wearing a dirty blanket for a year and I’d finally shrugged it off my shoulders. It felt like I was actually feeling the sun for the first time in a long time, and that I was feeling life again. There was a lot of stress involved in what I was doing, but that’s a story for another time I suppose.

Why hasn’t my VTA been applied to my CUNYFirst balance?

This past Tuesday, I had to deal with a Financial Aid issue. I had applied for the New York State Veteran’s Tuition Assistance through the HESC website. I did it while doing the TAP application. Apparently, we made too much last year for me to qualify for FAFSA or TAP, but VTA is something I’m entitled to as a Veteran of the US Military. I kept checking my school’s student portal, CUNYFirst, but the award wasn’t applied towards the total balance due. I thought that somehow, they might have overlooked it and didn’t apply it, so I went up to City College to get in line to talk to someone in the Financial Aid office.

I got to the administrative building at 9:45 AM and pulled a ticket for F085 at 9:50 AM. A few minutes after I sat down, F020 was called. I didn’t think I would be there that long. I figured, an hour or so tops. Two hours and twenty minutes later, I was still sitting, and the number being called was just F037. I have no clue how they were managing the queues. There was a machine that printed out a ticket with a different letter number based on what your issue is. Some queues were being called very quickly, but an “F” queue number was only called about once every 20 minutes. It was absurd. I decided to go have lunch at the Chinese place on Amsterdam Ave.

Just by chance, I decided to eat my lunch in the Veterans’ office in Wingate Hall. While I was eating, the receptionist asked me if I needed any help. I briefly explained what was going on and she recommended I talk to Chris, the Veterans Adviser. Talking to him hadn’t crossed my mind, because I was out of Post 9/11 GI Bill funds. I had burned through them finishing a BA with a double major and most of my MA. I figured it couldn’t hurt, though. Even if he told me I just had to go wait, maybe he could pull some strings and get things done more quickly for me.

Chris let me know that VTA isn’t like TAP and it won’t show up as an award in CUNYFirst. It is something that he should be made aware of so he can send an email to a person who handles those awards. He said that awards for VTA are usually applied about halfway through the semester and whatever the difference was, I would be responsible for. I asked him if he had any suggestions for how to handle the balance due against my account right now. He said not to worry about it. He said that because I’m a Veteran, my classes won’t be dropped during this process. He did remind me that I would be responsible for any difference between the award amount and the tuition due, and it would impact my ability to enroll in classes in future semesters, but that makes sense anyway. It was a weight off my shoulders and I can walk into this semester focused on just getting my degree done.

Perhaps most importantly, Chris let me know that I didn’t have to go back to sitting in that ridiculously long Financial Aid queue. I could save the rest of my day and head home. I still can’t get over the queue only going up by 17 people in two and a half hours. Another reason to be thankful to the Veteran’s Administration, I suppose. I don’t have to deal with that. /salute

The Takeaway

If you showed up here trying to figure out what’s going on with your New York State Veteran’s Tuition Assistance, don’t go to your Financial Aid office. VTA is applied halfway through the semester but is more than likely going to require some input from your Veterans Adviser. Go directly to him or her. Otherwise, you might spend 7 hours in a Financial Aid queue just to be told to go talk to your Veterans Adviser. Check with your adviser regarding your school’s policies about carrying a tuition due balance and dropped classes in regards to Veterans and Veteran tuition awards.

Conversation with a Descendant of Nazis

Today was the first day of a series of Thursday afternoon lectures and special events in the Jewish Studies department at the City College of the City University of New York. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but it certainly sounded interesting. The event was a Skype call with a woman in Germany named Barbel Pfeiffer who had discovered that her family had worked closely with the Nazis and had made serious contributions to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp.

Barbel spoke to us via Skype in German, while a translator on our end here in New York related her story to us bit by bit. She began by giving us a brief overview of antisemitism in Germany, starting in the 1300s. That part was a bit dry, but when she began to tell us about her family’s personal involvement in the Holocaust, the tension in the room increased. Her story was riveting.

She began by telling us that she didn’t know about this part of her family’s history and only found out through a series of discoveries and revelations prompted by direct questioning of relatives, including finding correspondence between her deceased great-uncle and Adolph Hitler. Her great-uncle had requested permission to make Hitler an honorary citizen of the town as a reward for being the first “Jew-free” town in Germany. I forget the name of the town, but according to a little Internet research, thousands of towns gave Hitler honorary citizenship and, as that fact comes to light, many town councils are voting to rescind that honor. Some people argue that removing Hitler’s honorary citizenship is an attempt to whitewash history and hide the crimes of the past, while others argue that keeping him on the rolls is an insult to the people that he tried to destroy and glorifies his crimes.

Barbel also spoke about her grandfather, who built the electrified fence around Auschwitz that many Jews threw themselves onto in order to commit suicide. She related a story to us about children taken from the camp for experimentation by Joseph Mengele and how, when the children were returned to their mothers damaged and barely alive, many of those women commit suicide on the fence that her grandfather built. Her grandfather also designed and installed the tubing that carried Zyklon B gas into the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

Barbel talked to us about how this impacted her personally. She said that it was a terrible thing to find out and she said she wasn’t sure for a while that she was going to be able to live with this knowledge in her head. Even though she herself didn’t take part in the Holocaust, she feels that she has an obligation to try to do something about it, to make up for it and make sure that people do not repeat the actions of the past.

As a way of atoning for the sins of her ancestors and to try to build bridges between the Jewish and non-Jewish communities in Germany, she participates in speaking events, talking about the history of her family, what it means for her, and asks for forgiveness from those who her family had a direct role in harming. She said that times were different back then, but people all made choices that led them to do the things they chose to do. So now, she’s choosing to try to heal those old wounds the best way she knows how.

In addition to speaking engagements, Barbel takes part in an event called the March of Life, a program that brings people to Holocaust remembrance sites, like Auschwitz, in an effort to keep the results of the Holocaust in the public mind and to say that anti-semitism is not ok.

At the end of her story, Barbel took questions from the audience and in response revealed a bit more about herself, her family, how speaking out has affected her personally and how it affects others. According to Barbel, admitting to having a family history that involves the Nazis is a taboo for some families, because it is a source of shame. Barbel said that it is important that people not be silent about the past, however, because anti-semitism is still very embedded in the culture.

Overall, I was really impressed with the event. It was difficult to listen to her story at some points, but it was informative and encouraging. The world is full of people who think nothing of engaging in genocide or even promote it as something honorable and righteous, but in Germany there are people who are very aware of the past and are trying to ensure that something like the Holocaust never happens again.

For more information, I found an article on the Times of Israel about Barbel Pfeiffer and the March of Life Event: “Grandpa, who helped install the gas chambers

The Encyclopaedia Judaica Dustica – Physical Copy

Last week, I had to do some research in a group for the last assignment for a course I’m taking this semester called “Jesus the Jew.” We spent the semester studying Jesus in the Jewish context he was born in, including society, government, religion, and politics. We also looked at the gospel narratives and examined what they said about Jesus, who the authors were, how they differed in their views of Jesus and talked about what that means in terms of early Christianity. It was all very fascinating and I’ll probably post some of my research here later, but for now I wanted to share this picture:


This is a photo of a few volumes of the Encylopaedia Judaica from the City College of New York library. The dust on top was at least a quarter-inch thick. I can’t imagine anyone has opened these things in at least 10 years. The E.J. is available online in full as a free resource because it was originally published around 1916 (I think). The only reason we got physical copies was because we couldn’t connect to the school’s wifi. Not surprising. The school has been getting its internet system upgraded but I’ll probably get my MA before they finish that project.

New Semester, New Books

A stack of some of my college books for Fall Semester.

Fall Semester started yesterday.  I didn’t have much of a break, since I took courses over the Summer, but two and a half weeks off seemed long enough to me.  I spent most of that time rotting my brain with video games.  I haven’t sat around playing video games for hours on end in years and it was great!  Besides a game called Vindictus (by Nexon) that I’ve been playing casually since around March, I started using ‘Steam’ (My Profile) and played Team Fortress 2, Left For Dead 2, and Borderlands, among others.  Hopefully I’ll still have a little time to hack up zombies and make bandits’ heads explode with a shotgun, but considering how thick some of the books are, I’m glad I have one of those nifty book lights that clips on, because I foresee a lot of late night reading.

Some good news is, I finally decided what I want to do and declared my major as History.  I still have to figure out what particular area of history I want to focus on, though I’m leaning towards Islamic or Medieval History.  I’m also considering doing a double major since a history major only requires 11 courses (33 credit hours) out of the total of 120 credit hours required to get a BA. 

This semester I’m going to be taking two history courses that will count towards my major:  Middle East Under Islam and Traditional Civilizations of India.  The books in the picture above are for those two courses.

I’m also taking a 6 credit course involving English and Writing.  It’s called ‘Our City’ and focuses on literary perspectives on New York City.  I live here, so why not?  It might help me discover some of the history behind New York City.  Also, it fills a requirement.  I’d rather have taken a course that covers dystopian literature, but it wasn’t available and I want to get that requirement out of the way.

I also wanted to mention that Hurricane Irene is affecting the school systems here in NYC, obviously.  I got an SMS, an email and three phone calls from the CUNY alert system letting me know that CCNY will be closed today, tomorrow, and possibly Monday.  I don’t really care that the school is closed today or tomorrow.  In fact, it might not even be bad if it’s closed on Monday, since the first day of a class is usually a ‘get to know each other’ kind of thing.

Hurricane Irene has New Yorkers panicking.  By now, all mass transit will have shut down, including the airports and Amtrak.  There are mandatory evacuation zones and they may even cut power to prevent the power grid from being annihilated by salt water inundation.  I also looked at a map and discovered that the block my apartment building is on is just inside an evacuation zone.  The evacuation zone area cuts inland only for my block.  I don’t know how to feel about that, but if the block south of me and the one north of me aren’t in an evacuation zone, then WTF?  I can see them from the window and could hit them if I threw a stone.  They’re also on the same level as this building, altitude-wise.  I think I’ll stay put.

Please, Put Crappy Writing Here

Please, put crappy writing here.

This sign, above this trashcan, is located in the Compton-Goethals hall at City College of New York.  I’m not sure who put it up, but it’s a good reminder that if you’re not going to write well, you shouldn’t even bother to turn your paper in.  With the end of the semester upon us, and many papers due, this sign has a lot more meaning than usual.  I’m doing pretty good.  I only have one more to write and then I can completely focus on studying for finals.

My wife tells me all the time that I write well.  I figure she’s biased, but I did always get good grades on writing assignments in high school and in the college level courses I took online.  Now that I’m physically attending classes, I thought maybe the ‘truth’ about my writing ability would come out.  I guess I just underestimate myself, because the papers I turn in always come back with good grades.

I’ll try to not let my ego blow up too big, but I’ve even had people come to me for help with their papers, and after guiding them through revisions I’ve been thanked profusely.  I was even told I should be a teacher.  That’s kind of funny, because another guy at the school mistook me for a teacher.  That could just be because I’m older than most students and have a beard though.  Ha!  If you’re wondering, I was in the Army for nearly a decade and now I’m using the Post 9/11 GI Bill to complete my tertiary education.  That bill is a godsend.  I’m really enjoying the whole college experience, and it’s only possible because of that bill.

Anyhow, summer’s coming.  I thought about taking a break, but I just don’t think I want one, so I signed up for summer courses.  For the first session, I’m just going  to fill a graduation requirement, Speech Foundations.  I hear it’s a fun and worthwhile class, though.  For the second session I’m going to take World Civilizations: Pre-History to 1500 AD.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to wind up majoring in History, so that should help me out.  I haven’t officially matriculated yet, so I don’t know exactly what the degree requirements are.  I’ll find out when Fall semester starts.