Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Professor: Many of us suffer from ‘iDisorder,’ due to over-use of social media and mobile devices

Professor: Many of us suffer from ‘iDisorder,’ due to over-use of social media and mobile devices

March 11, 2012


Know anybody who can’t make it through dinner without checking his smartphone? Who has a tendency to boast a little on Facebook? Who is made a little melancholy by social media but still can’t pull herself away?

CSUDH professor Larry Rosen has become the go-to expert for all things social media. (Brittany Murray / Staff photographer)
CSUDH professor Larry Rosen has become the go-to expert for all things social media. (Brittany Murray / Staff photographer)

Is that person you?

A psychology professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, is gaining prominence for his argument that more and more of us are exhibiting signs of what he has coined an iDisorder. That is, we are, through the use of technology devices, manifesting symptoms of narcissism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, social phobia, hypochondria and other psychiatric maladies.

The professor, Larry Rosen — whose visibility as a “psychology of technology” expert is on the rise — says that in this age of hyper-connectivity, most people see a little of themselves in at least some of the telltale symptoms.

The good news, he says, is there are remedies — simple solutions that don’t require disconnecting and trying to live like it’s 1985. (Or aiming a handgun at your daughter’s laptop and shooting it full of holes, as one fed-up man actually did earlier this year in North Carolina.)

“What I’m on my high horse about is focus,” Rosen said in a recent phone interview, while sitting with a laptop in the waiting room of his auto mechanic — an irony that wasn’t lost on him. “This is the crux of my talk. I’ll show you how distracted you are, and how we can get you to focus better.”

Rosen has been a professor at CSU Dominguez Hills for decades. But in the past couple of years he’s become an international go-to expert on the topic of social media — and its effect on our brains.

His new book, “iDisorder” — co-authored by fellow CSU Dominguez Hills professors Nancy Cheever and L. Mark Carrier — recently received a favorable review in The New York Times.

Rosen is frequently quoted in national media outlets, and he clearly welcomes the attention. His website includes a list of media interviews he’s done this year, and it isn’t short. In May and June alone, the credits include The New York Times, Businessweek, The Boston Globe, the Sydney Morning Herald and PBS — and that barely scratches the surface.

The headlines can themselves be anxiety inducing.

“Are We Addicted to Facebook? It’s Complicated!” “Mobile Devices: A Constant Craving That May Be Changing Our Personalities.” “Do You Suffer From These 4 Tech Addictions?” “Too Much Technology for Kids is Bad for Development, Says New Study.”

Central to Rosen’s premise is the idea that technology doesn’t make us crazy, but often exacerbates our crazy tendencies, or even triggers their development.

Logging on to your laptop the minute you get home from work every day could be a warning sign for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Posting a dozen daily status updates on Facebook that make frequent use of the words “I” or “me” could be a byproduct of narcissism.

Writing updates that use more swear words, fewer positive-emotion words and more religious words correlates to depressive behavior. Missing meetings or deadlines at work because one has been surfing the Web raises a red flag for ADHD. (One study says more than three-quarters of computer-based task switching focuses on distracting, rather than work-related, activities.)

According to the book, each successive generation generally reports higher and higher levels of anxiety when separated from their technologies. With increased anxiety comes increased usage, and ever more opportunities to develop iDisorders.

Meanwhile, Rosen’s own research has indicated that nobody — regardless of their age or gender — is really all that good at multitasking. Although some forms of multitasking are easier than others.

“The trick is to know when to pay attention to one thing at a time and when it is OK to switch from one thing to another,” he said.

Far from believing technology is bad, Rosen is an early adopter.

In 1984, while an assistant professor at CSU Dominguez Hills, he showed the students a big computer in his classroom; he informed them they would be using it to do their statistics. The punch-card machines were large, bulky and foreboding.

“The students freaked out,” he said. “They were hesitant and scared of it.”

He’s the first to acknowledge he checks his Facebook account every half-hour at a minimum.

Rosen, 62, is a proponent of the tech break. But his idea of implementing such a thing is a little counterintuitive. For instance, in his classroom, Rosen encourages students not to put their cellphones away, but to take them out and use them for one minute at the beginning of class. Then, he instructs students to silence the gadgets and place them face-down on their desks.

“That way you can see it,” he said. “The phone becomes a stimulus to the brain: Don’t worry, you will get to check me in less than 15 minutes.”

He promotes using this technique at work, or the dinner table, or while trying to finish homework.

“It’s designed to get people to stop being distracted and focus,” he said.

On a related note, Rosen advises people to wait a couple of minutes before sending a written email — a technique he refers to as an “e-waiting period.”

“I’ve sent emails I regret,” he said. “Then I send five more emails trying to apologize or straighten it out.”

As for whether all this technology is, on the whole, good or bad for society, Rosen says it’s a wash.

On the positive side, he said, Facebook — despite encouraging narcissistic behavior — in some ways promotes a kinder, gentler society.

“That `like’ button is amazingly powerful,” he said. “People feel amazingly reinforced when 40 people like what they have posted.”

But he also believes there is truth to the idea that the proliferation of social media is taking a toll on our propensity for deep thinking.

Ultimately, the question of whether the digital revolution is good or bad is irrelevant; it’s here, just like the telephone, the TV or the automobile.

The more relevant question, according to Rosen: How do you handle the onslaught without losing your mind?

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Culinary classes explode in popularity thanks to TV chefs — but where are the jobs?

Culinary programs at community colleges explode in popularity thanks to TV chefs
published April 15, 2013

Pizza-making station at Los Angeles Harbor College's Culinary Arts program. Foreground, L to R are: Chazy Parra and Ayden Davis. (Brad Graverson / Staff Photographer)
Pizza-making station at Los Angeles Harbor College’s Culinary Arts program. Foreground, L to R are: Chazy Parra and Ayden Davis. (Brad Graverson / Staff Photographer)

It was 2006 when the pilot episode of “Top Chef” aired.

At the time, the now-overcrowded culinary arts program at Los Angeles Harbor College in Wilmington didn’t exist. The three-story, $40 million culinary arts complex at Los Angeles Mission College in the San Fernando Valley was but a blueprint. Nationwide enrollment at a group of 17 for-profit culinary schools owned by the company Career Education Corp. had yet to explode.

Is there a link between the blazing-hot popularity of food TV – led by “Top Chef” – and the booming market for culinary arts classes? Students and instructors alike say without a doubt.

Related story: Degree from expensive Pasadena culinary arts school no guarantee of a job

“It brought a business and industry to light that was pretty much behind the kitchen door,” said Steve Kasmar, chairman of the culinary and baking program at Los Angeles Trade Tech, home to the oldest continuously running culinary arts program in the nation. “They did glorify it. ”

Regardless, in just three years, the annual student load of the culinary curriculum at Los Angeles Mission College has more than doubled, from 250 to 600. And that’s not just because of the fancy new facility, which boasts seven spacious kitchens, each of them equipped with cutting-edge video technology a la the cooking shows. The surge is also happening at Trade Tech in downtown Los Angeles and Harbor College – the two other schools with culinary programs in the Los Angeles Community College District.

Both of those schools have multimillion-dollar kitchen remodels in the pipeline, largely to accommodate the onrush.

“I’m packed with more than 60 kids per class – the cap is supposed to be 25,” said Giovanni Delrosario, who runs the 5-year-old program at Harbor College. “We have 90 more students on the waiting list. It’s phenomenal; I’ve never seen anything like it. ”

Although the stampede for these classes is no doubt largely the product of an intangible trend – the term “gourmet” is becoming so ubiquitous it can even apply to ketchup – the food entertainment craze is a clear contributor. The popularity of TV cooking shows began heating up in the mid-2000s and reached a boiling point in 2012. (Soon after hitting an all-time high, ratings for the Food Network cooled slightly in the fourth quarter of the year.)

“It’s more glamorous now – we look at chefs like rock stars,” said Julie Valenta Kiritani,who recently finished a program at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena.

The problem is, the shine of the kitchens on TV seldom matches the grime of the ones in reality. While the culinary schools churn out a torrent of graduates, the job market into which they are released is far from flashy – or lucrative.

20130413__SGT-L-ONLINEIMAGEEXPORT~p1Job market limits

In 2010, cooks across the nation earned about $20,000 a year on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Food prep workers took home about $19,000 on average. For the kings of the kitchen – chefs and head cooks – yearly pay averaged $40,000, a livable wage, but hardly glamorous. What’s more, the bureau projects that job prospects for chefs and head cooks will contract by 1 percent in the next decade, even as the rest of the economy expands by 14 percent.

“Employment growth will be tempered as many restaurants, in an effort to lower costs, use lower-level cooks to perform the work normally done by chefs and head cooks,” the report concludes. “Workers with a combination of business skills, previous work experience, and creativity will have the best job prospects. ”

Kasmar of Los Angeles Trade Tech conceded that the past couple of years have been an employers’ market.

“They’ve been picking by hand who they want,” he said. “You go work for nothing and they see if they like you. ”

That certainly rings true to employer Ed Kasky, executive director of USC’s University Club that caters to faculty and staff. Kasky recently posted a job online for a sous chef and got 50 applicants.

“I can tell you that 75 percent of the people who applied were severely overqualified to be a sous chef,” he said.

Still, Los Angeles is generally considered one of the foodie capitals of the world, and instructors of the community college programs insist their students are heavily recruited. (None could provide job placement statistics for recent grads, though.)

“When Wolfgang Puck (catering service) wants to do an event for 15,000 people for the Oscars or the Grammys … they actually come and recruit at the school,” Kasmar said.

Delrosario, the instructor at Harbor College, says his graduates have been landing jobs all over the place – and not just in Los Angeles restaurants.

“I can’t crank out enough grads to fulfill all the needs,” he said.

Some of his students have gone to work in the homes of wealthy families on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, for instance.

Even more unique is the partnership Harbor College has forged with a group of restaurants in Australia, whose economy is booming. Since August, at least a dozen of the college’s students have taken jobs Down Under, where starting salaries run as high as $45,000.

One of Delrosario’s students, 23-year-old Minor De Leon of Gardena, even lucked into the Playboy Mansion, where he works as a junior chef making dishes for Hugh Hefner and his playmates.

“When I wake up in morning, I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m on my way to the Playboy Mansion,'” said De Leon, who was drawn to the profession by cooking shows such as “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” and “Emeril Live.” “How many people get to say that every day? ”

Louis Zandalasini, chairman of professional studies at Mission College (and a chef), said it isn’t uncommon for corporate chefs to take home $80,000 to $100,000, though not all students can expect to reach that level. However, students can realistically expect to make $40,000 to $60,000, he said.

“When you’re making that kind of money, you’ve usually been in that particular job as executive chef for 10, 12 or 15 years,” he said.

For the vast majority of entry-level cooks, though, the starting pay ranges from $10 to $12 an hour.

The good news for the tidal wave of chefs-in-training is that Food TV also has had a zeitgeist effect on the consumer. Hence, the explosion of affordable restaurants (and food trucks) offering all manner of cosmopolitan cuisine: French delicacies, premium gelato, spicy seafood dips, wood-grilled this or that, center-of-the-plate desserts.

“There are so many more food and wine festivals, where the food is now the star,” Kiritani said. “It used to be you’d go and see a band play, and that was more exciting than the food. Now it has completely shifted. ”

Kasmar of Los Angeles Trade Tech is thankful for the enrollment boost they’ve inspired. After all, it has fueled future plans for a $36 million renovation to his facility, whose new incarnation is scheduled to open in 2016. But there’s been a downside.

“They glorified what we do, and what we do is really not glorious,” he said. “It’s hard friggin’ work. “

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

LMU grads trying to take hangover remedy to the big leagues

Loyola Marymount University grads trying to take hangover remedy to the big leagues

It was 2012, and a group of college buddies from Loyola Marymount University in Westchester had gone their separate ways.

While living it up in Las Vegas, Cameron Killeen noticed friends nursing their hangovers with Pedialyte — a hydration beverage meant for babies with diarrhea.

Founded and developed by three Loyola Marymount University graduates, Hayden Fulstone, Brandin Cohen, and Cameron Killeen, Liquid I.V. is a specially formulated, all-natural lemon-lime rehydration beverage.
Founded and developed by three Loyola Marymount University graduates, Hayden Fulstone, Brandin Cohen, and Cameron Killeen, Liquid I.V. is a specially formulated, all-natural lemon-lime rehydration beverage.

Brandin Cohen was in Arizona, working as a sales, marketing and branding expert with the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. In the locker room, he noticed players swigging a drink to stay hydrated. He took a closer look: Pedialyte.

When Killeen, Cohen and a third pal, Hayden Fulstone, reconnected, the recent grads swapped their Pedialyte stories and an idea was born. Why not create a drink that not only alleviates hangovers and rehydrates the body, but also spares the consumer the embarrassment of making a run to the baby aisle of a grocery store?

And thus was born the concept for what would come to be called Liquid I.V.

Advertised as “all natural lemon-lime rehydration beverage,” the product comes in two forms: a powder packet and a bottled drink that tastes a little bit like lemonade, a little bit like Gatorade, and a little bit like Emergen-C vitamin powder.

The powder form is billed as the hangover treatment; the liquid form is associated with the hydration, which is meant to appeal not only to athletes, but also military personnel and jet-lagged travelers.

“It started as a hobby,” Cohen said.

Now, it’s their life.

The three 25-year-old entrepreneurs — who graduated in 2010 and have been best friends since meeting in the dorms as freshmen — have put their careers on hold to focus full-time on their venture.

Fulstone quit his job in the marketing department at Gensler, the world’s largest architecture firm. Killeen had just passed the Chartered Financial Analyst exam for which he’d spent four years studying. Cohen was days away from moving to Boston University, where he had been accepted into its MBA program.

“Now we sit in a little room all day long and yell at each other,” Killeen joked.

They work out of an office in West Los Angeles, and store the product in a warehouse and distribution center in Long Beach.

Already, Liquid I.V. is sold at about 50 stores in and around the South Bay — mostly convenience stores and gyms such as El Segundo Athletic Club and Fit On Studios in Manhattan Beach.

Strong sales via the Internet (where eight packets sell for $24.99) and a healthy amount of capital investment have propelled them to the next level. Come mid-January, Liquid I.V. (powder) will be sold at about 150 convenience stores in and around 35 college campuses across the United States, from UCLA and USC in Southern California to Dartmouth in New Hampshire. They will hire three full-time employees.

Liquid I.V.’s initial sales data and online traction have caught the eye of business people in Las Vegas, the very city where the concept was conceived. In March, the trio will meet with representatives of a large hotel chain that — depending on the results of the upcoming launch — might sell the product in mini bars up and down the Las Vegas Strip.

Much of their success to date owes to a clever marketing campaign that befits a group of millennial men with pro-sports connections.

Liquid I.V. is used and marketed by more than 100 professional athletes — including St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha, winner of the 2013 National League Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award. The athletes receive the product for free in return for touting its merits on Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media.

Their nexus to the Major League Baseball circuit was Ryan Wheeler, a Torrance wunderkind and LMU alum who went on to play for the Arizona Diamondbacks before he was traded to his current team, the Colorado Rockies. Wheeler is now a partner in the company. Another enthusiast is famed basketball broadcaster Dick Vitale.

“It’s a great way to get a bigger following,” Fulstone said of the pro-athlete campaign. “Some have 50,000 or 100,000 followers (on Twitter). People see the Tweets and check out the website.”

Much as the pro players pimp the product online, students living near the college campuses where Liquid I.V. will be sold are set to serve as “ambassadors” who’ll spread the word to peers in return for receiving loads of it for free.

The LMU graduates owe some of their success to their alma mater. Last year, they enrolled in a new business incubator class offered by the university. The class, which kicked off in January, required businesses to create and market a prototype.

It was during that class that they, working with an experienced beverage chemist, finished the brew, a specific blend of glucose and electrolytes that the three founders say is clinically proven to rehydrate the body at a rate similar to an I.V.

So far, the track record of the seven start-up ventures that took the first class is pretty good: five are still in business.

One of them, a Web-based car-buying service called Nabthat, launched last week with some fanfare at the L.A. Auto Show.

Another, an ergonomic shovel, brought in $60,000 in seed money from a 40-day campaign on the crowd-funding site Kickstarter — putting the venture in the top 5 percent of successful Kickstarter projects.

Fulstone is careful to say that the beverage isn’t a “cure” for anything.

“When you say cure, it is stating that there is a disease and a hangover isn’t a disease,” he said. “We can only make structure-function claims such as what the drink helps with.”

But the group has gotten doctors to recommend it in lieu of more sugary drinks such as Gatorade.

To say the three friends spend a lot of time together is an understatement. In addition to having been dorm pals and roommates, they each clock in about 80 hours a week at the office.

“When we first came into the office, they told us it was only open from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday,” Killeen said. “We were like, I don’t think we can be here if that’s true. We had special keys made.”

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Hangover cure, tattoo brightener among business pitches of LMU students

Hangover cure, tattoo brightener, ergonomic shovel among business pitches of LMU students

Students in Loyola Marymount University's new business-incubator class demonstrate their product proposals to business professionals who critique their business plans. Students who invented Revita Ink pitch their product and business plan. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)
Students in Loyola Marymount University’s new business-incubator class demonstrate their product proposals to business professionals who critique their business plans. Students who invented Revita Ink pitch their product and business plan. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)

A miracle drink to cure hangovers. A cream that brightens the color on tattoos. An ergonomic shovel. A website that cuts the humble car salesman out of the deal.

In addition to dreaming up these inventions, students in Loyola Marymount University’s new business-incubator class created the prototypes.

The lab kicked off in January, and officially wraps up its first-ever semester next week.

“We don’t do much theory, we don’t do much lecturing, we don’t do too much documentation,” said the professor, David Choi. “We just work. ”

LMU’s College of Business Administration has long been home to one of the nation’s premier entrepreneurship programs. A regular presence on the best-of lists of such magazines as BusinessWeek and Princeton Review, the 40-year-old entrepreneurship program has always offered courses that educate students on the basics of launching an enterprise.

What’s different about the incubator lab is that it requires students to not only create a business plan, but also build a prototype and test it in the marketplace.

As a result, the line between classroom project and real-world sales pitch can be a little blurry. But that’s the appeal.

“I get to pursue my business model while pursuing my master’s degree, which is the coolest combination of all,” said Stephen Walden, a 23-year-old MBA student. He is the creator of the ergonomic shovel – an idea that hit him like a shock-wave of back pain while he was shoveling dirt at his parents’ home in San Diego a couple of years ago.

The design has already netted him $12,000 in prize money from a contest at San Diego State University, where he won first place. The idea is simple: equip the shovel with an adjustable central handle that better enables a person to use the appropriate muscles when heaving a load of dirt, snow or whatever payload you please.

Walden is among the students who has gone so far as to pony up thousands of dollars for a patent. For these students, the class is really only the beginning of a journey they hope will rocket them to entrepreneurial stardom.

On Thursday, the class had its culminating event: a mock sales pitch to a group of area business leaders – Choi jokingly refers to them as a panel of “mean old men” – who capped every presentation with a flurry of tough questions.

One presenter, Brandin Cohen, was so unnerved he had to calm his nerves with a nip of courage. Producing a bottle of liquor, he poured himself a shot and gulped it down in front of the group before launching into his spiel with a business partner, Hayden Fulstone.

In truth, the stunt was part of their pitch for a debaucherous business plan: a drink meant to cure hangovers.

“Your last hangover is here,” Cohen announced, while handing out bottles of their product.

Called M2, the rehydrating drink comes in a plastic bottle and tastes a little bit like lemonade, a little bit like Gatorade, and a little bit like Emergen-C vitamin powder.

They developed the brew after a fast-growing trend brought to their attention a void in the market. From coast to coast, they say, hung-over partiers have found an underground remedy in an unlikely product: Pedialyte.

They believe most of these revelers would much prefer to cure their pounding headaches without having to make that embarrassing trip to the baby aisle. Already selling the product on a trial basis is the El Segundo Athletic Club and a cycling center called Fit On Studios in Manhattan Beach. They are presumably selling the product for its rehydration qualities. The entrepreneurs also hope area bars will get on board for the hangover purpose.

The mean old men were intrigued, but skeptical.

If Pedialyte already has the remedy, what’s to stop them from marketing the product that way?

“It’s embarrassing,” Cohen said of having to buy baby food, though he admitted that same question sometimes costs him some sleep.

Another student, Jason Silbeberg, opened his presentation for a website with a photo of Danny Devito portraying a duplicitous car salesman in the 1996 movie “Matilda.” “Let’s talk about the car salesman,” he said. “We want to get rid of them. No more car salesmen, no more haggling. ”

Silbeberg’s product, a website called NabThat, would allow users to shop for new cars in a way similar to how people currently find hotels or flights using, where travelers find their deals by naming their price.

Silbeberg has already raised $100,000 for the product and had serious conversations with dealerships in Beverly Hills and elsewhere.

Student Nolan Simons dreamed up the idea for the tattoo cream. Called Revita Ink, it not only revitalizes the skin, but brightens the tattoo, he says. (Fun fact: 23 percent of all adult women in the United States have a tattoo, as do 19 percent of all U.S. men, according to them.) In a slide presentation, he showed photos of a woman sunbathing.

“This is a 30-year-old person, and her skin is looking beautiful,” he said, drawing unintentional chuckles for the implication that 30 is old. “The reds are popping, the greens are popping, the skin is looking young. ”

After the event, one of the “mean old men,” a very nice man named Michael Schoettle, said he enjoyed the event, but hesitated when asked if any of the products seemed viable.

“As an angel investor, I’m much more skeptical about early-stage companies, and so I think they are all very optimistic about the numbers,” said Schoettle, a member of TechCoast Angels. “It’s a much slower ramp-up than they were projecting. But there was energy and there was creativity and the ideas were original. “

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

New CSU Chancellor does a little break dancing during visit to local campus

New CSU Chancellor does a little break dancing during visit to local campus

Timothy White, the new chancellor of the California State University system, introduced his folksy brand of leadership Tuesday to the Dominguez Hills campus in Carson, where he wandered about and chatted up students, professors and janitors alike.

At one point, the 63-year-old former president of the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education even kicked off his shoes to gamely take a stab at performing the most rigorous of break-dancing moves: the backspin.

White, the seventh president of the nation’s largest university system – and the first who is the product of it – seemed genuinely at ease while shooting the breeze with students, even as a swarm of media cameras captured his every move.

“How are you going to make the world better?” he asked Evelyn Murillo, a junior in an anthropology class that was abruptly interrupted by the entourage.

“I want to become an FBI agent,” she answered shyly.

“You know, there are some amazing opportunities in the FBI,” White responded. “You use your brain, so it’s rewarding. And it’s steady. The work will never run out in today’s world. ”

Cal State University's new Chancellor Timothy White visited Cal State Dominguez Hills Tuesday to meet with faculty and students. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)
Cal State University’s new Chancellor Timothy White visited Cal State Dominguez Hills Tuesday to meet with faculty and students. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)

When he took the reins in December, White assumed the top job on the heels of the retirement of his polarizing predecessor, Charles Reed, who endured heavy criticism during an era that saw simultaneous tuition hikes for students and salary increases for incoming university presidents. The strife led to union strikes on the part of faculty and hunger strikes on the part of students. Rightly or wrongly, Reed was characterized as out of touch.

Perhaps in an attempt to distance himself from the acrimony, White set a certain tone in November when he requested a pay cut. The move shaved his salary from $421,500 to $380,000.

In keeping with that tone, White on Tuesday stressed the importance of staying in touch with the students and faculty he serves.

“I started college in 1966, and since that day – until I started this position – I’ve always been on a college campus, either as a student or a post-doc or a faculty member or administrator,” said White, who earned his bachelor’s at Fresno State, master’s at Cal State Hayward and doctorate at UC Berkeley. “So I’ve always had the intellectual life around me, the student life around me. Now I’m in an office that doesn’t have students. ”

White, of course, enjoys a luxury that his predecessor didn’t have: the November passage of Proposition 30, a statewide tax hike that essentially stopped the financial bleeding that sent tuition rates soaring.

It’s a blessing that he doesn’t forget to count.

“I think there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “(Prop. 30) allowed us to start investing in things that matter. … Voters in California have said enough is enough. I’m willing to pay more taxes. It may not help me personally, but it does help society.”

Still, he stopped short of making any guarantees that tuition won’t rise again after 2013-14.

“We can certainly commit to it this year and for next year,” he said. “What I want to be careful of is to not lock ourselves into financial economic boxes that we can’t get out of. ”

White seemed to make a good impression on students. On Tuesday, he was sought out by a female student who’d heard about his break-dancing stunt in which White, following a flash mob organized by the university’s dance department, allowed himself to be coached on how to perform a backspin.

After effusively shaking White’s hand and having a brief chat, 46-year-old Yvette Lee explained her enthusiasm to reporters as White – his salt-and-pepper hair still mussed up from the backspin stunt – walked into a classroom.

“Having a real person who is so important taking the time to walk through – he’s interested,” she said. “He’s really interested. ”

Also impressed with White so far is Dave Bradfield, head of the faculty union at Dominguez Hills.

“It’s a positive change in style, and I hope there’s a change in substance as well,” he said.

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Degree from expensive Pasadena culinary arts school no guarantee of a job

Degree from expensive Pasadena culinary arts school no guarantee of a job

While a student at Animo Leadership High School in Lennox, Diana Rivera was accepted to several CSU schools. But she decided to go to chef school with the idea that she could get a job within a year. The Hawthorne resident enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. Rivera's original debt for the yearlong program was 50,000, but over time it has swelled out of control to 80,000. Now, she has a part-time job as a cooking instructor at the South Bay School of Cooking. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)
While a student at Animo Leadership High School in Lennox, Diana Rivera was accepted to several CSU schools. But she decided to go to chef school with the idea that she could get a job within a year. The Hawthorne resident enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena. Rivera’s original debt for the yearlong program was 50,000, but over time it has swelled out of control to 80,000. Now, she has a part-time job as a cooking instructor at the South Bay School of Cooking. (Steve McCrank / Staff Photographer)

After graduating with honors from Animo Leadership Charter High School in Inglewood, Diana Rivera had no shortage of options.

That spring, congratulatory acceptance packets from three California State University campuses had landed in her mailbox.

Related story: Culinary programs at community colleges explode in popularity thanks to TV chefs

But Rivera – who is now 25 – decided to go another route.

Inspired by cooking shows starring celebrity chefs such as Jacques Pepin and Julia Child, Rivera enrolled in a Pasadena school then known as California School of Culinary Arts, now called Le Cordon Bleu.

“I’d always enjoyed cooking, and thought it was kind of like an artistic outlet,” she said. “I wanted to explore it more. ”

She took out a $50,000 loan, which was co-signed by her stepfather, who works as a mechanic. Over the course of the next two years, that debt would balloon to $82,000. Despite the associate of occupational studies degree she’d earned at the college, finding a job that paid more than $10 to $12 an hour proved elusive.

Soon enough, a not-so-congratulatory kind of letter started landing in her stepfather’s mailbox.

“They sent letters saying they are going to put him in jail, because the loan is in his name,” she said.

Rivera is among 1,300 former students who in 2008 sued the for-profit school, claiming it essentially tricked them into paying sky-high tuition – as much as $42,000 for the 21-month associate degree program – by touting misleading job placement statistics.

“We believe the school tried to convince people it made good, sound economic sense to go to that school, and we believe that the school knew it wasn’t true,” said Ray Gallo, one of the two attorneys representing the students at Le Cordon Bleu.

The case against Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena is ongoing, and the school has had some vindication. About a year ago, a judge denied Gallo’s attempt to obtain class-action status, a school spokesman pointed out.

“The decision shows the allegations of some former students should not be considered representative of the experience of all students, the majority of whom we believe are satisfied with their education,” said Mark Spencer, the parent company’s director of corporate communications.

But the suit illustrates how lofty expectations in the culinary arts world often clash with harsh reality.

Gallo lays much of the blame on the table of the TV cooking shows.

“It glamorizes the profession – cooking is a manual job that doesn’t pay well,” he said. “Some people may get to be managers, and, depending on the size of the company, may be highly compensated, but that is not the majority of people who have anything to do with food preparation for a living.”

As for the for-profit school, it has taken a beating in the courts and in the press over the years.

Le Cordon Bleu is actually a limb of Career Education Corp., which runs a nationwide chain of 17 culinary academies whose collective enrollment nearly doubled from 2008 to 2010.

A class-action suit against the same company’s San Francisco location ended in 2011 with a $40 million settlement from the school. (Gallo represented the students in that case, too. ) In that suit, about 8,500 students received reimbursement payments of up to $20,000 each.

And the company’s Portland locale – Western Culinary Institute – was the target of a class-action suit in 2009 that, like the Pasadena case, is ongoing.

In the past couple of years, Career Education Corp.’s culinary programs have dialed it back on tuition, by about 10 percent. (At $37,850, the school’s 21-month associate degree program is still about 10 times as expensive as those offered at the community colleges.)

Meanwhile, enrollment has gravitated back to earth, to 8,500 from a peak two years ago of 13,000.

That’s not to say the school doesn’t have satisfied graduates. One is Julie Valenta Kiritani, a student in her 40s who has long worked in restaurants.

“My knife skills are way, way better than they were,” said Kiritani, who is chasing a dream to open a fast-casual restaurant that would specialize in pancakes and sushi. “I learned about sauces, baking, pastries, buffet service, catering services, and different cuisines from all over the world.”

Spencer, the company spokesman, noted that the quality of the school’s instruction is not in question.

“As with any school, the instruction we provide affords opportunity, but is no guarantee of personal success,” he said.

Rivera maintains that that isn’t the message representatives from the school told her stepfather before he co-signed her loan.

“They said, ‘She can be a personal chef, she can work in a high-end restaurant,’ ” Rivera remembers. “In reality, only the chef gets good pay, and there’s only one chef per corporation. “

Los Angeles News Group / Daily Breeze

Group Tries to Narrow College Gender Gap

CSUDH group looks to counter lagging male higher education success rate

At colleges across the nation, women are leaving men behind, especially Latino and black men, and California State University, Dominguez Hills, is no exception.

But this year, a growing effort is under way on the Carson campus to narrow the gap.

Called the Male Success Alliance, the organization aims to combat some of the cultural forces working against men of color, such as a lack of male role models in their lives and the notion that studying isn’t masculine.

At California State University Dominguez Hills, a group is ramping up its efforts to improve the academic performance of African American and Latino men. Called the Male Success Alliance, it aims to combat some of the cultural forces working against men of color. Two students are primarily responsible for this year's efforts: CSUDH student body president Mardell Baldwin, right, and David Lopez, president of the Male Success Alliance.   Daily Breeze Photo: Robert Casillas
At California State University Dominguez Hills, a group is ramping up its efforts to improve the academic performance of African American and Latino men. Called the Male Success Alliance, it aims to combat some of the cultural forces working against men of color. Two students are primarily responsible for this year's efforts: CSUDH student body president Mardell Baldwin, right, and David Lopez, president of the Male Success Alliance. Daily Breeze Photo: Robert Casillas

“I think women are a little more focused than us, I hate to say it,” said Mardel Baldwin, student body president at Dominguez Hills, and himself an African American. “Maybe it’s because they had their mothers, and kind of had that positive role model in their lives.”

Whatever the reason, the disparity is striking. Nationwide, women earned 57 percent of all bachelor degrees in the decade that ended in 2010, according to the American Council on Education, a research organization.

At CSU-Dominguez Hills, there are literally two girls for every boy, but the lopsided enrollment in itself isn’t a surprise: two signature majors at the school are education and nursing – professions dominated by women. More worrisome is the gender gap in their respective rates of success. At Dominguez Hills, 38 percent of female freshmen graduate within six years, while the corresponding figure for men is just 27 percent.

The organization at Dominguez Hills was launched in fall 2010 by the administration. But it wasn’t until Baldwin took an interest in it that the group has begun to really come to life.

Baldwin was concerned about the issue of lagging male success even before he knew about the Male Success Alliance, so much so that, shortly after his election to the post, he penned a letter to the administration expressing his dissatisfaction with the lack of minority men graduating from college.

“I really wanted to bring that to people’s attention: We’re coming but we’re not leaving with that degree,” he said.

Baldwin was immediately put in touch with the administrator in charge of the group, and helped expand the organization into something that was more student driven.

Now, the roughly 30 members of the group’s new student-club component hold regular meetings, gather to study together in the library, schedule workshops and reach out to other organizations on campus, such as fraternities. The members even dress spiffy every other Monday: burgundy ties, white dress shirts, black sport coats.

(The group just launched a tie drive on campus for men who don’t own one.)

In an effort to preach what they are trying to practice, the group also plans to put on an ambitious summit this spring for high school males from across the region. To eliminate the transportation excuse, they plan to send school buses to the high schools to pick up the young men.

The broad idea is to create for each other what many of their families have failed to provide for them: a support network.

David Lopez, the president of the new student club, knows about this firsthand. The senior was raised without a father figure in a hardscrabble Watts neighborhood.

“I used to wake up for school and my dad was already gone,” he said. “By the time my dad came back, I was asleep. The only time I saw him was every other Sunday. It got to the point where he moved on to live with some other lady.”

Lopez nonetheless persevered in high school. But when he got to college, the hand of fate tried several times to knock him off his path.

Once, his financial aid failed to kick in, and he was nearly forced to drop all of his classes. Another time, his home life intervened.

It was the day of finals two years ago, and Lopez was earning B’s or better in his classes. Then came a family emergency: His brother – who, unlike Lopez was an illegal immigrant – had been arrested and was in danger of being deported. He needed Lopez to testify for him in court. Lopez skipped his finals to do so and flunked most of his classes.

“I just felt like my family really needed my assistance,” he said.

His brother was ultimately deported, but Lopez bounced back, and is now a senior majoring in marketing. He has an internship with an investment company under his belt. The future is looking brighter.

Baldwin, meanwhile, was lucky enough to grow up in a stable family, with a father who’d gone to college and works as an engineer. Many of his friends in his native Long Beach weren’t so lucky. While some of them got caught up with drugs and gangs, he never felt the pull.

“My father and mother were really on me,” he said. “Plus I’m not the kind of guy who just follows people because it’s cool.”

Still, Baldwin admits his academic discipline in high school was lacking. He went to Long Beach City College, where he remained somewhat uninspired but still managed to obtain an associate’s degree in business management. The jolt of reality came when he started looking for jobs. He didn’t even apply to very many, so unqualified was he.

“I couldn’t even put my name in the drawing because I didn’t have the qualifications,” he said. “That was an eye-opener for me.”

He took a job at UPS and pondered his future, ultimately opting to transfer to Dominguez Hills.

While evidence for the gender gap is plentiful, research on the reasons behind it is lacking.

But William Franklin, associate vice president for student success at Dominguez Hills, has a few theories.

“We can go all the way back to K-12 education,” he said. “Right now over 80 percent of the teachers are female.”

(Indeed, males also lag in K-12 education. In California, girls outperform boys in English, though the genders have long been neck-and-neck in math.)

Media messages also are to blame, added Franklin, who launched the Male Success Alliance last school year at the behest of Dominguez Hills President Mildred Garcia.

“How many times have you seen a TV program where African American and Latino males are sitting at a desk and studying together?” he said.

For his part, Lopez has a hypothesis that involves an unintended consequence of positive social change.

“When women gained equal rights, men lost their role,” he said. “When they got that sense of empowerment, males felt like they didn’t need to be as responsible as they used to.”

Pacific Standard Magazine

The Trouble With Genius

Students diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism, perform as well as or better than their peers academically but, despite their large vocabularies, struggle with social interaction. The Koegel Autism Center, long a world leader on autism research, hopes to teach the students the art of conversation.

The Trouble With Genius

In many ways, Paul Griffin is typical of a talented college freshman.

A gifted artist, perceptive reader and nimble athlete who jumps horses competitively, Paul graduated from high school with a 3.8 grade-point average. He wants to join a fraternity and relishes — only half-jokingly — the thought of “girls and beer.”

Yet, if you talk to him for less than a minute, you realize something is amiss. Paul is one of eight freshmen at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild form of autism characterized by difficulties in social communication.

It is no accident that he and most of the others attend UCSB. Long a world leader on research for autism, the university is expanding its focus into the largely uncharted waters of Asperger’s.

For people with the disorder, the key to reducing suffering in later life is early intervention, researchers say. Research on the topic remains limited, however, and in many states, people with Asperger’s — unlike those with autism — do not qualify for government assistance to pay for home visits or behavioral therapy.

“It’s considered a more mild disability,” said Dr. Lynn Koegel, who, with her husband Bob, runs the UCSB Koegel Autism Center. “But it can be as big of an issue as any other disability. If a person can’t get a job or interact socially with other people, their choices are pretty limited.”

Last year, UCSB’s autism center received a nearly $1 million grant to create one of the first research centers for Asperger’s in the nation. In the past year, the center joined a handful of institutions — such as the Asperger’s Study Group at New Hampshire’s Keene State College — in the forefront of a neglected area of study.

In recent years, psychologists and public schools have gotten better at identifying children with autism. But Asperger’s remains elusive, as those who exhibit the traits tend to perform on par with or better than their peers academically. Their struggles tend to be strictly social, and as children, they tend to be quiet.

“It’s so common to see them walking around the playground, sitting alone in the library — anything that’s anti-social,” said Koegel. “The kids that are troublemakers — they have whole teams working on them. But the kids with Asperger’s, who don’t do any talking, often slip through the cracks.”

Sometimes, such people thrive, perhaps owing to their intense single-minded focus. Indeed, several famous people, alive and dead, are widely believed to be part of the Asperger’s club, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates; Craig Nicholls, frontman of the band The Vines; Andy Warhol; and Albert Einstein.

For most people with the disorder, however, the solitude over time can exact a toll. Adults with Asperger’s syndrome tend to suffer from loneliness or depression. Many never marry, and some never date, even though they’d like to.

With this in mind, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation asked the UCSB center to develop new treatment models that can eventually be used to help Asperger’s clients of all ages around the world.

In meeting Paul and his father, the first thing that stood out was Paul’s inflection, even in a downtown restaurant. Asked about the length of the drive from their home near the greater Los Angeles city of Thousand Oaks to Santa Barbara, Paul provided a monotone answer that everyone in the restaurant could hear: “Oh, I’d say about an hour or so!”

An amiable 19-year-old with an intense gaze, Paul clutched a little bag filled with shiny rocks as he talked. Occasionally he’d take one out and rub it — for good luck, he said. Sometimes, in the middle of a conversation, his eyes would drift dreamily toward a window. When this happened, his dad would gently bring him back into the discussion.

Although Paul can hold his own in a conversation, at times he veers onto strange tangents. While talking about his hopes and fears about college, for instance, Paul at one point got on the topic of world travel. He listed some of the places he’s visited with his family: Australia, England, Hong Kong, South Africa, Singapore.

“London is very clean,” he said. “Singapore also. In Singapore, if you do road rage, you get caned — which I like.”

Paul, who has his driver’s license, went on to describe an unpleasant experience in his hometown in which a motorist yelled at him at an intersection. “If that man had been in Singapore, he’d be caned, and he’d be crying like a little schoolgirl,” he said, loudly.

His dad interjected, in a soothing tone. “Paul, calm down. All you have to do is drive away — say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and just ride on.”

Paul responded, “Yeah, yeah. That’s what the nice thing about Singapore is.

Society Slow to Understand Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger’s syndrome is named after the Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger, who in the 1940s wrote a paper describing the “odd” behavior of four boys whom he referred to as “little professors.” In 1981, the term Asperger’s syndrome was coined by an English psychiatrist named Lorna Wing. Professionals, however, didn’t recognize it as an official neuropsychiatric disorder until 1994.

Over the years, many people with the disorder have been misdiagnosed as having depression, schizophrenia or attention-deficit disorder. Due to the past obscurity of Asperger’s, many of the newly diagnosed are adults.

A study of Finnish youth in the May 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found that about one in 400 children are diagnosed with Asperger’s. The majority are male.

Asperger’s clients tend to be flummoxed by the nuances of social interaction. While most have an average to above-average vocabulary, they often struggle with things like eye contact, facial expressions, slang and humor.

In addition to crippling their love lives, the disorder can ruin their careers (although the focus that accompanies the syndrome has proven positive in areas like information technology). A couple times a year, Koegel said, she receives a call from the county jail on behalf of a client with Asperger’s.

“Some adult that has Asperger’s will get antagonized at work and explode,” she said. “And just as bad are the calls from people who are saying they don’t have any friends or are having trouble getting jobs because they don’t come across well in the interview. They don’t understand what they are doing wrong.”

The Center
Founded in the early 1970s by Bob Koegel, the UCSB Koegel Autism Center marks the spot of the nation’s first special-education classroom for students with autism. (Lynn Koegel started working there in the late 1970s.) In the 1980s, actor Dustin Hoffman visited the center in his quest to nail down the lead part in the movie Rain Man, for which he earned an Academy Award. The movie is widely credited for introducing the concept of autism to mainstream America.

At the time of the center’s inception, most clinicians in the United States attributed the cause of the disorder to bad parenting and sent the vast majority of children with autism to mental institutions. Koegel, however, was convinced that those children could learn and therefore created the classroom.

The Koegels’ research gained steam and exposure as the number of children diagnosed with a form of autism mushroomed over 20 years from one in 10,000 children to the current one in 150.

Having developed a widely used technique called “pivotal response” treatment, in which children with autism are offered incentives, such as colored candy, to talk about certain things, such as their favorite color, the Koegels are now setting out to make similar advances on treating Asperger’s.

The students they are working with tend to be bright; many have aced their SATs. Still, they clearly will not be able to figure out on their own how to talk to people.

To help them, the Koegels this year began videotaping the students conversing with peers in a living room-type setting with couches and chairs.

Afterward, the students watch the tapes with researchers, who help highlight their strengths and gaffes, which range from being argumentative to consistently failing to fill long pauses. One young man was pleased to see that he scored well on being cordial (“I love Italian food,” “Hey, I do too”) but winced at the awkward silences that resulted from his failure to ever ask a question (“So, what’s your favorite restaurant?”). He also realized that he spoke in a monotonic voice.

For the next step, the Koegels will observe the students in a live social setting — in this case, a series of bowling outings. Ultimately, they hope to get the students to a point at which they have real friends and are dating.

For many, going from a laboratory setting to a budding relationship is a slow process, but some have already arrived.

One such student had tried to commit suicide several times before meeting with Lynn Koegel. Like many with Asperger’s, the student had no trouble with academics: He earned straight As but was virtually incapable of talking about anything besides his favorite movie.

As part of his therapy, Koegel began teaching the student how to hold a normal conversation. “If I said, ‘Oh, I had such a good lunch today,’ he had to say, ‘What did you have for lunch?’” she explained.

To be sure, his transformation was far from instantaneous. At one point, he seemed to have become a perfect conversationalist, but it turned out he only thrived in a clinical setting. This limitation became awkwardly apparent when Koegel commended his skills.

“He replied, ‘Yeah, but it’s easy with you, because you’re old,’” she said, laughing. “This happens a lot with people with Asperger’s. They might comment on skin color when it’s not appropriate, or weight. My feeling, or theory, is that they haven’t been socializing for that long, and the only way you learn to socialize is by socializing.”

Still, the student wound up putting his skills to good use: By the end of the year, he was dating.

A Little Professor
The program will also focus on younger children, who, to this day, are still often referred to by experts as “little professors.”

At a university summer camp, Koegel introduced Liam, a precocious 7-year-old with high-functioning autism. (Scientists debate whether high-functioning autism and Asperger’s are really the same thing.) Instead of saying “Hi,” Liam turned his hands into a telescope, closed one eye and began slowly scanning the clouds. Koegel coaxed him into saying hello. He complied, without making eye contact, and then informed me that, while Uranus has only 11 rings, Saturn has 10,000 or more.

He added, in a slow, meticulous cadence, that the rings of Uranus are vertical, not horizontal, as one might expect. “Some scientists believe that something hit (Uranus) that tipped it sideways,” he said, spreading his arms out and turning — like an airplane — to illustrate the tipping planet.

Did he like coming to the summer camp?

“Yes,” he said, “but there are nine planets in our solar system, not eight.” He was referring to the ongoing scientific argument about whether Pluto is a planet or just a moon.

How did he get to know so much about planets?

“Actually,” he answered, “I read a small book about each planet and different areas in space — even far out of our solar system.”

Then, abruptly, he turned around and ambled over to his mother without saying goodbye.
As he walked away, Koegel whispered, “Most kids going into second grade don’t start sentences with the word ‘actually.’”

Liam’s case seems to show how the line between Asperger’s syndrome and autism can be fuzzy.

Like many children with Asperger’s, Liam started reading extremely early, at age 2 or 3. (Most children don’t learn to read until, at the earliest, first or second grade.). In fact, at age 2, Liam could recite Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”

Still, when it came to practical communication, his language development was delayed — a key sign of autism.

“He had a big vocabulary; he could recite poetry,” said his mother, Kelley, who asked that her last name not be used. “But he couldn’t ask for a glass of juice.”

Meanwhile, as is the case with many Asperger’s patients, Liam’s interests are intensely narrow. Lately, he’s immersed himself in astronomy. Last year, geography: Liam could locate every country on a globe.

“He’s a little genius — that’s one of the problems,” Koegel said. “A lot of the kids aren’t interested in ancient Egypt.”