Author Archives: Gavin Schlissel

After ‘Admission,’ the question remains: What’s it really like?

PAW blogger Gavin Schlissel ’13 checks in with his impressions of the film Admission, set (and in part, filmed) at the University.

Princeton returned to the big screen last week for the first time since Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen with the release of Admission, a new movie starring Tina Fey and Paul Rudd as a pair of star-crossed lovers on opposite ends of the college admissions process.

From left, big-screen admission officers Tina Fey, Wallace Shawn, and Gloria Reuben. (Photo: Courtesy Focus Features)

The film, more of a romantic comedy than a documentary tell-all, follows a college admissions officer with a scattered personal life (Fey) and a high school director (Rudd) with what can only be described as a chronic need to solve other peoples’ problems.

Though the movie is far from documentary, it does invite reconsideration of the college admissions process from the perspective of an admissions officer. Notably, the admissions committee meeting (chaired by a pink-faced, balding admissions dean who could not be more dissimilar from our Dean Janet Rapelye in physical appearance or personal presentation) cast the admissions decisions as some kind of petty political game, in which officers have a personal interest in the fate of individual students and trade favors to secure votes for their favorite applicants.

In a theater full of Princeton undergraduates, scenes like the admissions committee meeting drew awkward giggles from students imagining their own application files in front of admissions officers. As applicants with perfect test scores and umpteen extra-curricular activities were discussed and often denied admission, murmurs of “I know a kid like that,” or “Oh my god, that seems just like bicker” rippled through the theater.

Though the movie was fiction rather than journalism, many students could not avoid watching the movie in the context of their own (successful) Princeton admissions bid. “I still can’t believe how lucky I am that I got in,” said Lauren Piana ’14 immediately after the screening. “The movie makes the whole process seem so arbitrary. I wonder what it’s really like.”

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@jack comes to Princeton to talk Twitter, Square


Editor’s note: On Sept. 25 Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and Square, visited campus at the invitation of the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club to speak about his experiences as a tech entrepreneur. As an homage to Twitter, PAW blog contributor Gavin Schlissel ’13 covered the event in a series of 140-characters-or-less observations and quotations.


Walking in the door, 15 minutes to showtime. Greeter thrusts brand new, free “Square” into my hand

10 minutes to showtime: “hello! im @jack” on the projector, “Beautiful day” on the surround sound

The event is hosted by @princetoneclub — the group also hosts hackathons on campus & leads trips to Silicon Valley

Are we here to see him or vice versa? @Square marketing team showed up in force

Dorsey ( @jack ) steps out into wing, gray sport coat with one button buttoned … He looks like he’s done this before

.@jack panders to @Princeton “one of the most beautiful campuses I’ve ever seen” #true

Completely packed house — I’ve never seen McCosh 10 this full or this quiet. Dean Dunne, President Tilghman on hand

Setting the context for the talk: it’s going to be about “how do we change something that affects every single person on earth?” >>

<< @jack has done this twice >>

<< First by untethering people from mass media (Twitter) then by delivering merchants from archaic credit-card policies (Square).

.@jack : creativity is an ongoing process. Projector shows an unfinished painting—a heavy-handed metaphor but fitting and well-received

.@jack : “An idea that changes the course of the company can come from anywhere.” Companies should embrace new ideas.

Dorsey borrows Steve Jobs’ phrase about the culture of continuing innovation: “It has to be built into the DNA of the company”

Motivation for square: credit card payment should be easier: “The industry that created it has not innovated at all” in 60+ years.

.@jack breaks down credit cards: merchants pay 3-7% on transactions to cover credit card fees that just fund reward programs 

Square philosophy: buying things should be really easy: “It feels like stealing… it feels really great. Not that stealing is great…”

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New eLab program helps student startups prepare for launch

From left, Christine Baluvelt ’12, Arielle Sandor ’12, Luke Paulsen ’14, and Eric Kuto ’12 of the startup Duma present at the eLab demo program Aug. 15. (Photo: Gavin Schlissel ’13)
The Princeton entrepreneurship lab (or eLab) hosted its inaugural demo day Aug. 15, showcasing startups founded by Princeton students. The presentations were the culmination of 10 weeks spent in the Keller Center’s new startup incubator, which grants summer fellowships for Princeton students to found companies under the guidance of professors and local entrepreneurs.
This summer’s startups included two social entrepreneurship ventures — one aimed at the Kenyan job market and another designed to incentivize academic achievement for at-risk children — as well as a new web library and a digital marketplace.
The eLab incubator funds students to stay at Princeton over the summer while they build businesses. Cornelia Huellstrunk, associate director of the Keller Center and administrator of the eLab program, explained that creating a community of entrepreneurs was critical to developing eLab’s first group of startups. Sharing work space, collaborating with peers, and participating in entrepreneurial training “gave students a unique opportunity to develop their ventures,” Huellstrunk said.
The summer eLab program is an offshoot of recent demand on campus for a stronger culture of entrepreneurism. For Duma, a text-message based job placement service in Kenya, the summer at eLab was the culmination of a plan that hatched at a Princeton hackathon — a kind of 24-hour jumpstart event designed to expose budding entrepreneurs to industry mentors.
Duma cofounder Arielle Sandor ’12 explained that the long-term, highly specialized mentorship eLab participants received distinguished it from the more informal hackathon setting. “Hackathons are short and you get the minimum viable product out, and don’t really focus on business model,” said Sandor. Over the summer, Sandor explained, eLab offered “a very different kind of mentorship — much more holistic.”

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From chocolate to the Occupy protests, student-led seders draw on creative themes

At the chocolate seder, traditional Manischewitz was served, but most guests preferred to stick to the theme, drinking chocolate milk instead of wine. (Photo: Gavin Schlissel ’13)
For Jews, a Passover seder is a time to reflect on the hardship endured by ancient Israelites as they left Egypt. This year at Princeton’s Center for Jewish Life (CJL), students led Passover seders that brought guests together to share the song and prayer of the Haggadah (the Hebrew text describing the delivery of the Jews from Egypt) in perhaps the most unorthodox way possible — over chocolate.
The chocolate seder, organized by Elliott Eggan ’14, Alex Jaffe ’14, and Jake Jackson ’14, was the last of nine seders hosted over two days at the CJL that catered to every manner of Jew and many goyim (Hebrew for non-Jews).
But the chocolate seder stood alone in many respects — most notably in that it was the only seder to replace traditional foods like charoset (a fruit and nut spread eaten with matzo) with chocolate charoset made of bits of dark, milk, and white chocolate eaten atop chocolate-covered matzo. Even the traditional wine was replaced with chocolate milk.
Inspiration for the seder came from Jackson, who was the only of the organizers who had ever been to a chocolate seder before the CJL event. In addition to rethinking traditional foods, Jackson assembled a list of readings to guide the service with references to traditional foods replaced with references to their chocolate counterparts. For example the blessing of the wine, that praises God for the “fruit of the vine,” was replaced in Jackson’s Haggadah with the blessing of the chocolate milk, and praises God for the “juice of the cow.”

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Teacher of the Year Shearer ’95 meets with Teacher Prep students

Michelle Shearer ’95, center, in blue shirt, met with students, alumni, faculty, and staff during her visit to campus this week. (Photo: Gavin Schlissel ’13)
Answering a reporter’s questions in the White House Rose Garden last year, Michelle Shearer ’95 spoke of the need to “elevate the teaching profession.” Teachers, she said, are not adequately recognized for their service, and the teaching profession is looked down on as a lesser calling, for smart people who just didn’t have what it take in areas like medicine or business.
Shearer has been rising above those preconceived notions since she first set out to become a teacher. A pre-medical student early in her Princeton career, Shearer volunteered at Trenton’s Marie Katzenbach School for the Deaf and eventually decided that teaching — not medicine — was her life’s passion. Since then her biography has included stops at the Maryland School for the Deaf, where she taught advanced placement chemistry, and at a Maryland public high school, where she taught chemistry in the international baccalaureate program.
Last May, Shearer was honored at the White House as the National Teacher of the Year, and since then, she has traveled throughout the United States and to China and Japan, speaking about how to improve the standard of education around the world. On Feb. 21, she spoke to a group of students, alumni, and faculty from Princeton’s Program in Teacher Preparation on what it meant for her to pursue K-12 teaching at a time when her classmates at Princeton were preparing for law school, medical school, or business.

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Computer science students hack for fashion

i-16f0b5286c4f9bdb8bbd95c5fa4aedd4-wb_campus.jpgFour Princeton undergrads traveled to Palo Alto, Calif., last weekend to compete at Facebook’s campus in a national hackathon programming competition. They ended the weekend with top honors for their program “Color Me Bold,” and a head start on a potential future business dispensing algorithmic fashion advice to end users over the Internet.
The platform, created by Daniel Chyan ’14, Angela Dai ’13, Tiantian Zha ’13 and Amy Zhou ’13, would allow users to take a photograph of an outfit and upload it a website that then recommends modifications to the outfit based on complementary color schemes.
If the idea seems fanciful or trivial, consider the technical obstacles the group overcame: The program first reads the photograph, then normalizes for the lighting, identifies colors and articles of clothing or accessories like ties or jewelry, generates advice based on color coordination algorithms, and finally displays the recommendation in a visually appealing format. And the team designed and built the program in a period of 24 hours.

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Entrepreneurs develop ideas on deadline at Startup Weekend

Laptops open and ready, students developed ideas for new Web ventures during Startup Weekend at the Friend Center Auditorium. (Gavin Schlissel ’13)
More than 80 budding Web entrepreneurs, including Princeton undergrads as well as students from nearby universities and professional developers, participated in the University’s first Startup Weekend Nov. 11-13.
The open competition challenged teams to start a Web-based company and pitch it to industry leaders. In addition to $1,500 and a head start on a new business venture, the team that won first place earned the attention of Internet developers, including investors and Web entrepreneurs who spent the weekend mentoring the teams and judging their final presentations.
According to Momchil Tomov ’14, one of the event’s student organizers, the program aimed to “help people overcome the initial barrier of realizing an idea.” Startup Weekend gave students a deadline, which often seems to be the most effective motivator for goal-oriented Princetonians. It encourages people to set aside time for an elective project, and possibly start a business in the process. “This event lets people dip their toe in the amazing world of startups in a creative environment,” Tomov explained. team included Princeton students, a University of Pennsylvania undergrad, and one professional developer. Their startup is a news website that tries to “let you engage actively with your community in exploring the events around you” by adopting a kind of wiki-news open-source format that would let readers contribute to and edit live stories.

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Crumpton ’08 films thrills, spills of mountain sports

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Nathan Crumpton ’08, snowboarding in the Rockies. (Courtesy Nathan Crumpton ’08)
Counting down the days to winter means different things for different alumni. For those who work in the private sector, year-end bonuses may be on the way. For others, the bonus is time with family over the holidays.
Nathan Crumpton ’08 — a backcountry snowboarder, budding Olympic skeleton-racer, and self-trained filmmaker — looks forward to winter, too. But for Crumpton, the bonus is fresh powder on the mountains and fresh ice on the skeleton track.
The mountains have been a part of Crumpton’s life since his family moved to Switzerland from Tanzania when he was 5. Although he started on skis, Crumpton transitioned to snowboarding during his high school years, and he learned the mechanics over thousands of hours of rigorous “trail and error,” as he describes it.
“Trail and error” is a recurring theme in Alpine Nirvana, a 12-minute compilation of Crumpton’s 2010-11 skiing and snowboarding footage taken around his new home ski area in the Rocky Mountains. (See video below.)

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Primed and painted, students keep RAWR-ing at football games

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If you’ve been to a Princeton home football game you’ve probably heard them. They provide the shouts that punctuate the moments between plays. Or maybe you’ve even seen them: Their neon body paint reflects the fluorescent stadium light, framing the front rows of the student section with a dim orange halo.


RAWR co-founder Bianca Reo ’12 paints a fellow fan before the Bucknell game Sept. 24. (Gavin Schlissel ’13)

They are a band of cheerleaders – but they aren’t the band, and they aren’t the cheerleaders. They call themselves RAWR, and they are an unofficial student group dedicated to spreading school spirit – especially at sporting events.

The group formed last year when Bianca Reo ’12 and Adeline Brown ’13 started an informal email list advertising body paint and “rabble rousing” on football game days. The club was a hit, attracting a core group of about 20 students who meet at Frist Campus Center to paint each other and plan chants for the game.
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Touring North America, one Princetonian’s couch at a time

Rachel Blum ’11, seen here at the north rim of the Grand Canyon, plans to stay with about two dozen alumni on her trip around North America. (Courtesy Rachel Blum ’11)
In May of this year, when her friends asked her what her plans were after graduation, Rachel Blum ’11 would answer simply, “I don’t really know yet.”
She didn’t have a job lined up and, despite 16 years of schooling, still wasn’t ready to decide what kind of work she even wanted to look for. So instead she decided to do something that by her own admission is “kinda crazy.” Blum would spend her summer “getting some alone time,” by traveling the country in her green 2001 Honda Civic, sleeping on the floors and couches and guest beds of Princeton alumni in every city she visited.
She has traveled clockwise from her home in Jacksonville, Fla., through the Southwest to California, then up the coast to Vancouver, where she was yesterday. In the coming weeks she’ll complete the circuit, driving to New England via the Northern states before heading south, back home to Jacksonville. In all, she estimates she’ll stay with about two dozen Princeton alumni during her trip, and a handful of friends and relatives as well.
Mark Zee ’03, who hosted Blum in Houston, said he was excited to help her as a way to give back to the Princeton community. “I did Princeton in Asia, and I crashed at so many Princetonians’ houses all over Asia, so it was pretty easy for me to say yes,” Zee said.
To Zee – and to most of Blum’s hosts – Blum was a complete stranger when she e-mailed him asking for a roof for a night. “When I get to a city where I know someone, of course I try to stay with them,” explained Blum. “But otherwise I just send an e-mail to a bunch of alumni and see who writes back.”

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Summer research: The ocean as classroom

Eric Traub ’14 conducts a fish survey on one of Bermuda’s rim reefs. (Courtesy Chelsea Parker ’14)

By 2 a.m. our fingers became listless from a day of typing lab reports and scribbling flash cards. We’d get up and walk slowly the hundred paces from the library to the coffee machine, and chat or complain about the course. “Their expectations are just unreasonable,” I whined. “There is just way too much time pressure.”

Those complaints turned out to be fleeting. When I think back on summer school now, I don’t think about the late nights or the early mornings or the three-hour midterm or the 14-page lab reports. Now when people ask me what Bermuda was like, the only words that come to mind are from my good friend and roommate Chris Luminais ’13: “It’s definitely the most fun I’ve ever had while being bludgeoned repeatedly with a textbook.”
This summer I was one of 15 students in Princeton’s Marine Biology Summer Seminar, a four-week course taught 782 miles southeast of Nassau Hall at the Bermuda Institute for Ocean Sciences (BIOS). The course is the brainchild of Professor Jim Gould, who brought along his wife, Carol (Dr. Carol, to us), as a self-described “de facto mother” for the group. Neither seems capable of discussing aquatic ecosystems without referencing Finding Nemo, if only to make a delightfully dry ironic comparison. In Bermuda, the two taught alongside Dr. Samantha de Putron (Dr. Sam) who was a coral reef biologist on the faculty at BIOS, as well as an undergraduate teaching assistant who put in even longer hours than we did.

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