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Those of my great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States came here looking for the American dream, but their grandchildren grew up in poverty. My parents never thought they would attend college, and they took the untraditional route when they did. My Dad earned his associate’s degree online while working full time. My Mom had her first child when she was about my age, but she used a federal Pell Grant to attend nursing school and worked her way through 21 credit hours a semester.
My parents were strong. It certainly wasn’t easy, but a college degree was important to them, because they wanted to give their children a better life.
I am thankful for them. But I know there are still millions struggling right here in the United States who can’t even afford basic healthcare or food. If we gave them access to higher education, we could put, maybe not the American dream, but their dreams, within their grasp.
Most of us can’t actually afford our degree, but we all dream of a well-paying job. So over half of all IU students take on debt, and jump through endless hoops to get scholarships and financial aid to ease some of the burden.
There are many for whom this is not enough. Those who borrow still end up paying $26,201 on average, according to IU President Pamela Whitten.
It is evident, then, that financial aid is insufficient to ease the burden on those who most need it. A government-funded, debt-free program would fix this by encouraging more low-income students to attend college as well as helping them succeed, and their success will be our nation’s greatest success.
We would once more set the example for what a democracy should look like if we made college a reality for the poorest in our nation.
Doing so would provide a multitude with financial stability. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, college graduates even gained jobs during the 2008 recession.
This stability allows college graduates to invest, volunteer, and donate to charity more, while also committing less crime than non-graduates, according to economist Philip Trostel. If we could give low-income communities that sort of stability, our society would be much better off.
Unfortunately, the government cannot, and probably should not, just make college free. At least not for all of us, because it is neither sustainable nor equitable. According to the report “Senate Bill 81: The First Term of the Oregon Promise,” 60% of the benefit of Oregon’s free college program went to the top 40% of income earners in 2016, yet the program, like Pell Grants and our own 21st Century Scholarship, leaves low income students to worry about room and board, books, and fees.
So many are left struggling to attend classes during the day, and working at night to make ends meet, while fitting in studying and homework somewhere in between. It's no wonder, then, that 38% of college dropouts cite financial pressures as the reason for leaving, and many more academic disqualifications, according to research analyst Melanie Hansen in her 2021 report “College Dropout Rates.”
That burden presents a major problem, but I come to you today with a potential solution.
The solution is to go debt-free. As a start, anyone whose household makes under $60,000 should pay nothing to attend college, and those that make more should pay more in a tiered system, much like the Ivy League Universities. The government could cover the full cost, from tuition, to room and board, to fees, and books as well as a $200 per month living stipend for all full-time enrolled low-income students, and a percentage of that for those not full-time enrolled.
This life-changing grant would enable low-income students to attend any public school in the nation without cost, making them much more likely to attend and much less likely to drop out.
According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, a debt-free college program like this would only cost 75 billion dollars per year. While that may seem like a big number, according to the Treasury Department, the richest 1% of Americans are simply choosing not to pay 163 billion in taxes a year, through tax fraud and loopholes. If the IRS were given more resources to combat this then this debt-free plan could easily be paid for.
This could be accompanied by lowering the corporate tax rate and progressively raising the income tax. Businesses can avoid taxes way too easily, or pass it on to consumers like us by raising prices, or to their workers through lower wages. Therefore, focusing on raising the income tax (and capital gains tax) on those who benefit most from an educated workforce (the uber-wealthy) could help pay for this plan, and increase investment in American businesses by getting rid of the double taxation (money made by businesses is taxed, and then the earnings that the stockholders make are also taxed) that so often discourages potential investors from investing in America.
A higher estate tax on the wealthy could also force them to spend, invest, and donate their money before they pass away to do good with it in their lifetimes, rather than passing it all on to their children.
The upfront cost would be large, but as time goes on debt-free college would pay for itself, while changing people’s lives for the better.
If we ensure that the forgotten millions in our nation are able to attend college and make successful careers for themselves, they could declare independence from poverty, debt, and government assistance, like my parents.
If we leave things the way they are, the divide between the rich and the poor will continue growing, and communities of color will continue to be the hardest hit, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy. As fewer and fewer people yield more and more power, our nation will become apathetic and weak.
In the end, America will fall behind the rest of the world if something is not done. If that happens, we are without excuse. We know the problem, and we have the means to fix it.
If we gave all of America’s forgotten talent the opportunity to get a degree, we might just discover the next George Washington Carver, Marie Curie, or even Albert Einstein.
This April, Senator Brian Schatz introduced a bill called the “Debt-Free College Act of 2021.” Like myself, he fervently believes that “we ought to cover the full cost of college for people who can’t afford it before we cover tuition for people who can,” and his plan includes much of what I have spoken about here.
The first step we can all take, then, to reduce the burden of college debt on low-income students is to sign the petition to support this Bill. You can also make sure to call Indiana Senators Todd Young and Mike Braun and show them your support for this bill. And, when the time comes, make sure to vote in the primary elections on May 3rd. That way you can make sure, regardless of your political affiliation, that your party’s candidates actually represent you, as a college student.
These actions need to be taken because the price of college is a severe problem, and the scholarships and financial aid we have now are not doing enough. If we enacted a debt-free college plan, it would lift a multitude out of poverty, and fulfill the dreams of many parents like my own to give their children a better life. If we want to see a more inclusive future for America, together, we must keep our elected leaders accountable.
Music has had the power to bring joy into my life in the darkest moments. Nine years ago, after my mom passed away from a brain tumor, it was the Christian hymns of my youth that I turned to for hope and comfort in that time of loss and loneliness. I still return to the words of “It is Well,” a beautiful piece written by Horatio Spafford, in turbulent times today.
Often music makes us happy. Sometimes music makes us sad. Sometimes it even makes us fall in love. Chances are that unless you are Sigmund Freud (who famously hated music), music has shaped your perceptions, influenced your memories, and maybe even changed your life.
As a neuroscience major with a background in clarinet, piano, guitar and voice, I was extremely honored to be given the opportunity to interview neuroscientist and professional vocalist Colleen McGonigle this week.
Jacob: “So, Ms. McGonigle, can you give me a bit of your professional background?”
Colleen: “I’ve been performing and taking music lessons since I was in second grade. I’ve studied piano, violin, French horn and voice. I double-majored in voice performance and neuroscience in my undergraduate program at Bucknell University and went on to receive a master’s degree in vocal performance from Peabody Conservatory. My performing career has taken me across the country and to Europe multiple times. And I taught music lessons full-time before entering the addiction neuroscience doctorate program here at IUPUI.”
I myself had always found the connection between music and neuroscience interesting, but I never thought I would find so many neuroscientists at IUPUI with backgrounds in music. I had met neuroscientist Dr. Ardalan Vossoughi, M.D. just a month prior. Our meeting went in the strangest fashion at the University Tower piano. First, he played a beautiful piece by Johann Sebastian Bach, and then he told me about his background in neuroscience. What an interesting conversation that made!
For as long as University Tower had been a part of IUPUI, meetings just like that had happened among strangers: students and faculty, at the beautiful, ebony grand piano that once graced its halls. In that ballroom I saw firsthand others experiencing the “peace like a river” that comes with making music with others and for others.
That is why it came as such a shock to so many when Residence Life removed the piano. After calling the manager of the music technology department, I discovered that they had not only moved the piano to the IT Building but also hidden it from public access. This is a tragedy because music has a place in all of our lives, not just those majoring in music.
Jacob: “So, then, what led you to connect neuroscience and music?”
Colleen: “My path with music and neuroscience is winding. I’ve always been interested in both science and music, which intersect directly in the field of music cognition, which focuses on how the brain processes music. I selected an undergraduate education that would allow me to study both music and neuroscience as well as do research in a music cognition lab.
My personal experience with this research showed me that combining my two interests in one field decreased my enjoyment of both areas. So, I stepped away from music cognition work and refocused on the two fields separately; I got a lot more serious about my performances and joined a behavioral neuroscience lab that did alcohol addiction research. I did take several years away from science to complete my Master of Music degree, but my plan was always to return to neuroscience after that program. The majority of musicians have full-time careers that are not related to music and perform on the side. I’m lucky to have a passion for neuroscience and therefore have the opportunity to pair a career in neuroscience with one in music.”
Nathan Johnson, a freshman at IUPUI, is another example of someone who has been able to pair a love of music with other career goals. Once a frequent visitor of the piano in University Tower, he juggles the responsibilities of being an interior design technology major with being a worship leader at his church.
Jacob: “Nathan, could you tell me a little bit about your music background?”
Nathan: “Well, I’ve played piano as a hobby for eight and a half years, guitar for five, and sang for nine.”
Jacob: “I know you frequented the University Tower Piano. Can you tell me how it added to your college experience, and how it benefited you being able to express yourself creatively in public?”
Nathan: “It definitely calmed me down in times of stress. It also helped me to make friends, and I know others were able to come in and enjoy themselves listening to music”
Jacob: “How would you feel if IUPUI invested in a new, public piano?”
Nathan: “ I would LOVE it... I would enjoy college so much more, and it would definitely bring a light to campus in a new and different way.”
It is clear then, that Nathan felt the calming impact of music in his life. Stress, which is a major impediment to brain function, returns us back to the connection between neuroscience and music.
Jacob: “So, scientifically speaking, what is the connection between neuroscience and music?”
Colleen: “Music is freely available in our culture and is something with which almost everyone engages regularly and is therefore appealing to study from sociological and perceptual perspectives. It relies on complex neural mechanisms and has successfully been used in therapeutic settings for a range of psychological conditions. A large branch of neuroscience is focused on how the brain receives sensory information and processes that information in a meaningful way. Music is a complex stimulus that’s important to our culture, so understanding how the brain processes and derives meaning from music is a really interesting question.”
Jacob: “In a more general sense, then, could you explain the benefits of music in education?”
Colleen: “We hear talk about people being “right-brained” or “left-brained,” referring to people who are dominantly creative or analytical, respectively, in their thinking. Education dominantly focuses on the “left-brained” skills, but music and art courses allow for people who may be more “right-brained” to thrive and find meaning in their education. Creativity is also valued across all industries now, as we emphasize entrepreneurial skills for everyone. Beyond exercising creativity, music also develops skills in teamwork and collaboration since performance relies on cooperation among many individuals in an orchestra, choir, or band.”
The University Tower piano did just that: it brought together a large and diverse group of students united by a simple fascination with melody. For this reason, IUPUI ought to invest in a new public piano to further its educational mission and make our beautiful campus's culture more inclusive. Such cooperation would not only benefit the culture of campus, but it would also benefit the individual minds of those using it.
Jacob: “What is it about music that has such a benefit on the brain?”
Colleen: “Music activates many regions of the brain at once, and in some ways the rhythmic nature of music can provide the brain with something like a massage. It can activate the motor networks that control our movements, which is one of the reasons that music makes people want to dance. Singing also relies upon the speech centers in our brain, which is how it can be used in speech therapy to assist people who have lost the ability to speak from a stroke or similar assault. Maybe more importantly, music activates the regions of our brain responsible for emotions and for memory and can have strong, often therapeutic effects on these brain regions. The activation of so many brain regions at once is somewhat unique to music and listening to or performing music can act as a ‘total brain workout.’”
Jacob: “So what psychological or social benefits could there be in having a public space for people to express themselves creatively, in particular through music? Do you think a public piano would benefit the students at IUPUI?”
Colleen: “Music is beneficial both for people listening to music and for those performing the music. On both sides of the coin, music can alleviate stress and depression, can exercise that creative side of the mind, and can bring people together. Especially in a collegiate setting, access to music is essential. Students are stressed and relying heavily each day on the analytical parts of their mind. Engaging with music can alleviate these pressures and provide a much-needed break to rejuvenate and refocus before returning to their studies. Instruments, especially large ones such as pianos, are challenging to access if they are not publicly available. Without accessible instruments, students cannot reap the benefits of performing music, which in turn limits the access of others to listen to live music.”
Looking through the perspective of a neuroscientist, it is easy to appreciate the connection between music and our brains. It seems evident then that a new, public piano would lead to directly applicable benefits to the health of the student body and the cultural soul of campus.
On a practical level, there would be several great public spots for this piano. Speaking with a resident assistant last week I discovered that the piano was housed near the north entrance of Hine Hall three years ago, which seems like the perfect place to put a new one.
Other possible locations include the Dean’s Room on the second floor of the University Tower, the basement of University Library outside of the Honors College or in the Campus Center near the dance floor. At any of these locations, students from all walks of life could take a break from studying just to listen or play and rest their minds. This would be a well-used investment that would pay many dividends in years to come.
I implore the faculty of IUPUI to support and quickly implement such a plan. This public space for individuals of all walks of life to meet and express themselves creatively would follow IUPUI’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. These benefits far outweigh the costs of a new piano, because music is a vital part of the physical, mental and cultural health of our campus.
If you are interested in getting involved in research with a lab on campus, studying the field of music cognition, or sharing a story of how music has impacted your life, you are welcome to leave a comment on this article or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's time to go Labhopping! Join Jacob Stewart and Laura Cross as they sit down with Dr. Susan Walsh as they discuss how she first became fascinated with science, her career and her DNA/Phenotype Lab.There is nothing like a fire drill on a rainy day to bring two people together. As I was setting up for an interview with Dr. Susan Walsh, an associate professor here at IUPUI, a lab somewhere in the science building triggered the fire alarm and caused the entire complex to evacuate. That sent Dr. Walsh and I down three stories and into the cold, rainy weather outside, as firefighters came to check out the scene. In the meantime, we got the chance to just talk, like two people, without a camera. The topics ranged from her education all across Europe and her career to how she met her husband while he was stationed on a Navy base in the Netherlands. It was a good opportunity to get to know Dr. Walsh not just as a researcher, but as a person. Eventually, we were able to go back inside and get the interview recorded, which is also on the Campus Citizen website. One question that I asked her that stuck out to me, near the end, which did not make the cut for the video, was “Do you have any advice for students considering graduate studies?” And to put it shortly, she gave a notable answer drawing from her own experiences. In essence, she said do not rush into these things. A lot of students think they have to go straight from school to school to a job, but according to Dr. Walsh, this is not the case. She recommends traveling the world, figuring out who you are and what you enjoy. Life almost never goes the way we plan, so let life (and a little luck) lead you to a fulfilling career. In addition to Dr. Walsh, we were able to interview three other members of her lab, Kyra Mullins, an undergraduate researcher and biology major, as well as two Ph.D. students, Frankie Wilkie and Noah Herrick. While they gave us a tour of the lab and scanned our faces with their 3D camera, we asked them a few questions. Laura Cross: “So what is an everyday scenario like for you here at the lab, Frankie?” Frankie Wilkie: “Most of it is just computer work. I analyze the 3D scans of faces for differences in European ancestry, so like North/South/East/West ancestries show differences in facial features, so usually in Matlab [a computer application used for collecting laboratory data] I’m doing data analysis or statistics. At the moment I’m writing up a critical review of the literature for my first [Ph.D.] exam. . .”Laura Cross: “How many hours do you usually spend a day in the lab?” Frankie Wilkie: “Nine to five every day. Except when we have classes... I’m the only one [in the lab] who doesn’t have to T.A. [teacher assist] so I get more time (laughs).”Laura Cross: “So do you really like your position, then?” Frankie Wilkie: “I do, I’m from Germany, so I came here because they really don’t have forensics in Germany... and Ph.D. programs are extremely difficult to find funding for.” Laura Cross: “Yes! It’s very rare even in the U.S, Indiana is one of the few states that has a forensics program.” Frankie Wilkie: “Yeah, I applied pretty much everywhere in Europe, and one professor didn’t have a position open, but he forwarded me here and was like ‘do you want to move to America?’ and I was like ‘Hell yes!’” Laura Cross: “(laughs) That’s awesome! So Kyra, what do you do on a daily basis in the lab?” Kyra Mullins: “I’m primarily on a dry lab basis, so Noah is my mentor, and we’re working with the data side of things, like analyzing and building dual pipelines on my end... which take the raw data and put it into a usable format.”Laura Cross: “So how long do you usually work each day?” Kyra Mullins: “I have no set amount. But the good part about dry lab is that it is really flexible if you have a computer – I’m doing most of my stuff on Chromebook! (laughs) So you can take it with you most places...” Laura Cross: “What made you come here to the Walsh Lab?” Kyra Mullins: “Kind of accidental, but a great accident! Last semester Noah was a teacher’s assistant for a cell biology lab that my friend was in, and I mentioned to her that I like computers. And she mentioned to Noah, ‘hey, I have a friend that likes biology and computers!’” Laura Cross: “So then, Noah, what do you do on a daily basis in the lab?” Noah Herrick: “I am a bioinformatics scientist, so I analyze genomic data, whether its whole genomic sequence, or genotyping array data, and we take that to try and help identify people. Laura Cross: “Like with case studies and missing persons, right?” Noah Herrick: “Absolutely! We use it for forensics applications, novel discovery for phenotypic traits, clinical settings, etc.” Laura Cross: “How long do you usually spend in the lab each day?” Noah Herrick: “About eight to ten hours. And a lot of work outside of the lab too, on computers, so you can work from home.” Laura Cross: “Definitely a big commitment. So what made you come to the Walsh Lab?” Noah Herrick: “Well, I actually joined when I was an undergraduate student as a junior volunteer, then I did my senior capstone research in the lab. And I stayed on for a master’s project and she [Dr. Walsh] convinced me to switch to a Ph.D. (laughs)” Dr. Walsh’s research might be the coolest thing since sliced bread to you, or it may not be your thing. Either way, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved on campus. No matter your major, there is something here for you. If science is your thing, there are plenty of labs on campus waiting to be explored, many of which are in need of undergraduate volunteers. If volunteering is something you would be interested in, contact me at email@example.com and I can try to help you through that process.