Dear Ambassadors and Respected Representatives of UW-Madison and Education

In the back of my mind I’m always thinking about education and change. Below is an open letter written to some faculty members of my alma-mater about the importance in recognizing that change.

(Before reading this letter, please note that I will be making this letter publicly available on my blog. Also, kindly take note of the recipients.)
To: Chancellor Carolyn Martin – chancellor@news.wisc.edu
To: Provost Julie Underwood – junderwood@wisc.edu
To: Director of Admissions, Steve Amundson – samundson@uwmad.wisc.edu
To: Dean of Students, Lori Berquam – lberquam@odos.wisc.edu
To: Senior Policy and Planning Analyst, Hazel Wade – symonette@bascom.wisc.edu
To: Associate Dean of Students, Argyle Wade – awade@odos.wisc.edu

3/31/2009
Dear Ambassadors and Respected Representatives of UW-Madison and Education,

I am writing to you out of extreme concern for the future well being of my alma-mater and your home, UW-Madison. The admissions process, curriculum structure, and speed to iterate are overwhelmingly frustrating and alarming. The arguments and issues addressed throughout this letter only reflect my first hand experiences, but I firmly believe these issues are far-reaching and not specific to UW. Nevertheless, these issues exist and must be addressed, or at the very least, must be thoroughly considered. By way of introduction, my name is Dan Reich and I am a recent graduate (May 08’) from UW-Madison’s College of Engineering (Electrical). During my four year tenure at UW, I was able to accomplish some great things, including but not limited to:

Additionally, I have a younger brother Jeremy who is currently enrolled in UW’s school of business where he is double majoring in real estate and risk management. I also have a younger sister, who I would like to say is also a legacy, but was recently rejected by the UW admissions office. A sister who admittedly did not score as high as she could have on her SATs, but did have excellent remarks in school, as well as other critical skill sets and experiences (she also attended UW’s summer program). This is an individual who if assessed in relation to her peers, in my objective estimation, is a stronger candidate for success than most. Nevertheless, I believe the admissions process is critically flawed and this belief is not exclusively dependent upon my sister’s recent rejection.

While I believe the admissions process in general could be significantly improved, (which I’m more than happy and eager to discuss with any admissions officer at UW at any point in time), I will start my focus on the issue of networking in light of recent events.

As an individual who is currently working in a digital media and technology startup company specializing in social networks, emerging trends and technologies, I understand the importance of networks. Networks are literally changing the world. We see it happening everyday as companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, Etsy, Twitter and others utilize the power of what Mark Zuckerberg calls “elegant organization.” When a single node is affected on a network, those directly tied to that node, piece of information or person also feel a change. The connections are what is most important. So, how does this have any relevance to the admissions process?

UW-Madison, as well as other schools throughout our society, should know this answer better than anyone else. Since 1848, UW has been building a super network of students and alumni. Every year UW graduates about 10,000 students who go on into the working world thus strengthening the badger universe. These are people who are ambassadors to the UW brand and are lifelong members of the network, and additionally each member has numerous other networks that are additive in value to the primary group: what we call Badgers.

Now you might imagine what I was thinking when I heard that my sister was not admitted into UW. A school that had endured not only my sweat, blood and tears, but also that of my brother. A school in which I had given money, time, but most importantly, a tremendous amount of value through conversation and action. So again, when I heard that my sister did not get into UW, you might think my reaction was “Why didn’t she get in?” but instead, my reactions were:

  • Why is the school degrading the network it has worked so hard to build?
  • How do you review applications? Why do you do it that way?
  • Doesn’t the school consider an applicant’s legacy within the school, and more importantly, their track record (I had a 2.5 GPA first semester and graduated with honors)?
  • Why didn’t I get a phone call from the school saying, “Dan, we just wanted to take the time and let you know that your sister did not get into the school?” or “Dan, if you and your sister are willing, we would be more than happy to go over why she wasn’t accepted?”
  • Why would I want to continue to support an entity that I believe has poor judgment?

In one phone call, you could have showed that you still care about your network in a very personal and meaningful way. Instead of strengthening your network, you weakened it.

How do you expect to compete in a rapidly changing world using obsolete methods and practices? Students are beginning to realize getting a “degree” is less valuable than getting practical, real world work experience. They can take courses online and learn what they need to learn with companies like Phoenix, Kaplan, BigThink, Academic Earth and even YouTube. Why spend $500/semester on books when I can get the same information free online? Why would students want to pay full tuition to an accredited university when at the end of the day they are taught linear algebra by a teacher’s assistant that speaks poor English, makes continual mistakes (which were witnessed by a head of department), and has inconsistent grading (this happened to me junior year. That semester I had a 4.0 GPA until given a C by a TA)? Why implement practices that have students cramming for exams instead of using methods enabling true adoption of the material (I wrote a piece about this on my blog entitled, The University of Nothing. This post received over 60 comments from various communities and sites, and the consensus was that current education systems are in trouble. I’m also willing and eager to discuss this point further with any faculty member. In fact, I had this conversation with one of my engineering professors when he asked my opinion on “why the enrollment in engineering was decreasing.” He was giving a presentation to his peers on this very topic).

In any case, this letter is not intended to bad-mouth or criticize current practices at UW. It is however intended to act as a wake-up call. I only and respectfully ask two things:

  • Please reconsider how you value your network and remember that we among the network are all ambassadors to UW-Madison. We are your most valuable asset.
  • Please reconsider how UW-Madison can take the lead and become the most efficient and attractive educational institution of tomorrow. The world is changing and so should you.

Again, I’m happy to speak to anyone and everyone about these issues. Please feel free to leave comments on my blog or send me an email at reich.ny [at] gmail [dot] com. I most welcome a phone call and conversation.

My Very Best Regards,

Dan Reich

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Dear Jeff Jarvis – Here’s Some GoogleJuice

I recently finished reading What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis.

This book is important for so many reasons, but the most important point of the book is that fundamentally, business in general is changing. Economics, supply and demand, manufacturing, education, fashion, government, finance, all of it is changing and unless you understand these changes and adopt a newer way of thinking, you will be in for a rude awakening when you realize everything you learned in Econ 101 no longer applies.

From Jeff’s Book:

Many industries built their value on scarcity. Airlines, Broadway theaters, and universities had only so many seats, which meant they could charge what they wanted for them. They were scarce and thus more  valuable. Newspapers owned the only printing press in town and you didn’t, so they could charge you a fortune to reach their audience. Shelf space in grocery stores was limited, so manufacturers paid for the privilege of selling their boxes there. Television networks had finite number of minutes in the day with only so many eyeballs watching, so advertisers competed to buy their commercial time. Scarcity was about control: Those who controlled a scarce resource could set the price for it.

Not anymore. Want to sell your product to a targeted market? You don’t need to fight for a spot on the shelf in 1,00 stores; you can now sell to anyone in the world online. Looking for a dress everyone else doesn’t have when everyone else shops in the same mall? Today you can find no end of choice only a click and a UPS delivery away. Don’t want to buy The New York Times on the newsstand or pay for access to WSJ.com for news on your industry? There are countless sources of the same information. Even if The Journal reports a scoop behind its pay wall, once that knowledge is out – quoted, linked, blogged, aggregated, remixed, and emailed all over – it’s no longer exclusive and rare. It’s no longer possible to maintain that scarcity of information.”

As the world becomes flat we all become equalized and democratized. Success requires newer business models, stronger brands, and deeper focus. Google is only the beginning.

Well done Jeff. Well done.

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Be sure and cancel your credit cards before you die – $C

Citibank N.A.
Image via Wikipedia

This was too funny to not post…

(Sent to me from Rachel Glickman)

Be sure and cancel your credit cards before you die.

This is so priceless, and so, so easy to see happening, customer service being what it is today.

A lady died this past January, and Citibank billed her for February and March for its annual service charges on her credit card, and added late fees and interest on the monthly charge. The balance had been $0.00 when she died, but now somewhere around $60.00. A family member placed a call to Citibank.

Here is the exchange :

Family Member: ‘I am calling to tell you she died back in January.’

Citibank: ‘The account was never closed and the late fees and charges still apply.’

Family Member: ‘Maybe, you should turn it over to collections.’

Citibank: ‘Since it is two months past due, it already has been.’

Family Member: So, what will they do when they find out she is dead?’

Citibank: ‘Either report her account to frauds division or report her to the credit bureau, maybe both!’

Family Member: ‘Do you think God will be mad at her?’

Citibank: ‘Excuse me?’

Family Member: ‘Did you just get what I was telling you – the part about her being dead?’

Citibank: ‘Sir, you’ll have to speak to my supervisor.’

Supervisor gets on the phone:

Family Member: ‘I’m calling to tell you, she died back in January with a $0 balance.’

Citibank: ‘The account was never closed and late fees and charges still apply.’

Family Member: ‘You mean you want to collect from her estate?’

Citibank: (Stammer) ‘Are you her lawyer?’

Family Member: ‘No, I’m her great nephew.’ (Lawyer info was given)

Citibank: ‘Could you fax us a certificate of death?’

Family Member: ‘Sure.’ (Fax number was given )

After they get the fax :

Citibank: ‘Our system just isn’t set up for death. I don’t know what more I can do to help.’

Family Member: ‘Well, if you figure it out, great! If not, you could just keep billing her. She won’t care.’

Citibank: ‘Well, the late fees and charges will still apply.’

(What is wrong with these people?!?)

Family Member: ‘Would you like her new billing address?’

Citibank: ‘That might help…’

Family Member: ‘ Odessa Memorial Cemetery , Highway 129, Plot Number 69.’

Citibank: ‘Sir, that’s a cemetery!’

Family Member: ‘And what do you do with dead people on your planet???’

You wondered why Citi is going broke and need the feds to bail them out!!

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Looking for a job?

So is Jamie Varon

“My name is Jamie Varon and I’m living in Danville, CA (if you haven’t heard of it, no worries) right now, hoping to move into San Francisco soonish, rather than laterish. The sole purpose of this site is simple: I want to get hired at Twitter and the only way to stand out in this competitive job market is to do something unique.”

I’ve heard many stories lately from people my age that have either lost their job, are about to lose their job, or haven’t found a job in the first place.

According to Forbes and their layoff tracker (as of this writing), there have been 511,925 layoffs since Nov. 1 2008 at America’s 500 largest public companies.

Something tells me that simply submitting resumes online and wearing a suit to interviews (if your lucky) isn’t going to cut it anymore. Time to think way outside the box and do something that demonstrates your expertise in your field. In the case of the recent graduates, many of us haven’t had enough work experience to substantiate a worth while track record.

So what to do?

Be different.

Things I might do if I wanted to be in…

  • Finance: Invest a small amount of money and demonstrate that you have the ability to earn good returns. Percentages not dollars.  See Stocktwits
  • Real Estate: Find a building you think is worth buying. Asses its value. Record its cash flow. Demonstrate why and how you know this is a good deal in a mini business plan.
  • Digital Media: See Jamie Varon – Screenshot of her site below
  • Doctor:  Study very, very, very hard for your MCATs.
  • Lawyer:  Study very, very, very hard for your LSATs.
  • Technology: Build something. Patent something.
  • Journalist:  Start a blog and a good one. Better yet, start a digital magazine and get some of your peers to be contributors.
  • Fashion/Artist: Create your own portfolio. Make it available online. Go to trade shows and network.

What can you do?

Here is a screen shot of Jamie’s site.

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Google Search Your Idea

Google Search homepage
Image via Wikipedia

Do you have a really cool idea? Are you involved in a start up? Are you looking to add value to your current business or organization?

Try this exercise:

Do a Google search of “your idea” and see what comes up. Think about the opportunities around partnerships, advertising, events, media, etc with the people and companies that show up in the results. Think about if, how and what you would say if you were to reach out to the companies or people that appear in the results.

Most importantly, think about “their idea” vs. “your idea” and how you can make “your idea” better.

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HOW TO: Build A Custom Website With WordPress and GoDaddy

Image representing GoDaddy as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

Lately, people have been asking me about websites and internet businesses in general. Is their internet idea a good one? Is it realistic? How to build it? Who to involve? But in all of these conversations I’ve been asked every single time “How could I build my own website?”

Today, you don’t have to be a computer expert, graphic artist or an electrical engineer to build a website. We are no longer in the HTML only days and there are enough tools available that can help you look like a sophisticated internet guru or savvy businessperson in this so called knowledge era. Starting a business? Creating a web presence for yourself? Blog? eCommerce Site? You can do all of this yourself. Ain’t that complicated.

If you have a few bucks to spare and are willing to learn a thing or two about web development and hosting, I would encourage you to read my quick guide below to building a killer site using wordpress (note: there are many other ways, free ones at that, which could enable you to build your own site. I prefer to use wordpress.org and this guide is all about wordpress and godaddy).

Things you need:

  • Willingness to learn and explore new things
  • About $25.00

Let’s Begin. We will build this site using the WordPress platform, using wordpress.org (open source) files. We will also be using Godaddy as our hosting service provider.

1. Head over to GoDaddy.com, create an account and register your domain name. You can get a domain for about $10.00/year

2. After you purchase a domain name, and your still logged in to your account, go to “Hosting” -> “Hosting Plan” -> “Website Hosting”

3. Buy a Linux Economy Plan for 3 months @ $4.99/month. (As you check out you will be blinded by hundreds of extra bells and whistles. You don’t need any of these. Scroll to the bottom of the screen and click “NO THANKS..CONTINUE TO CHECKOUT”). You will now officially own your very own domain name and a hosting plan.

4. Once you’ve obtained your domain name and your economy hosting plan, go to “Hosting” -> “My Hosting Account” -> “Setup Account”. Here you will follow the steps in order to link the Linux Economy Plan with your domain.

5. Once the Linux Economy Plan is linked to the domain, you can now follow instructions right off of Godaddy’s site.

To Install WordPress on Your Hosting Account

  1. Log in to your Account Manager.
  2. In the My Products section, select Hosting.
  3. Next to the hosting account you want to modify, click Manage Account.
  4. On the Hosting Control Center home page, click Your Applications or click GoDaddy Hosting Connection
  5. Click the Blogs category on the left, and then click WordPress.
  6. Click Install Now.
  7. NOTE: The Install Now button displays only when the selected value application is compatible with one of more hosting plans in your account.

  8. Read the End User License Agreement, and then click I Agree.
  9. Choose the domain to install WordPress to.
  10. Enter a database description and password, and then click Next.
  11. Choose an installation directory, and then click Next.
  12. Enter the Admin Name, Admin Password, Email and Blog Title for your WordPress installation. Click Finish.

WordPress will be installed to your hosting account with the options you selected. When it is complete, you will receive a confirmation email.

At this point you have successfully built your own website. Now its time to customize. To do this, you will want to play around with different themes, widgets and plugins, all of which you can download and install directly from your wordpress administrator panel. Another post to come on themes.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section.