So who will it be?

From unknown to friend

by Annamarie Frost (’13, ’14M)

Annamarie Frost ('13) (left) and her once-unknown roommate who became a friend.

Annamarie Frost (’13) (left) and her once-unknown roommate who became a friend.

So you’ve decided to attend JMU. You’ve gone to your Summer Springboard day, and your excitement about starting college is getting greater each day. Every time you walk into a store your eyes are immediately drawn to the dorm room displays, and you can’t wait to move into your dorm room. There’s only one thing missing…

You don’t know who your roommate will be!

Five years ago, I was in your same shoes. No one from my area was going to JMU, so I chose to get a random roommate assigned to me by the Office of Residence Life. I figured that this was going to be the one time in my life that I could leave my roommate fate in someone else’s hands. Plus, if the roommate pairing happened to not work out, I wouldn’t have to blame myself for choosing that person. And by living in a residence hall, I knew that I could always look to my RA for help sorting out a potential disagreement between the two of us, if needed. So I filled out the short survey about my habits and hoped that I would get a roommate who was compatible to me.

JMU%20winter-1My freshman year roommate and I were a great match from the beginning. She was from Maryland and I was from Georgia. We were both outgoing individuals who loved to stay up late but would then have trouble waking up to our early morning alarms. Her family even sent me little care packages around different holidays! We only lived together during our freshman year because I became an RA the following year. So in order to stay in communication with each other, we established our own tradition of having a weekly catch up meal at D Hall for Cheesy Thursday all the way up to our final week as undergrads at JMU. To this day, I am so glad I chose a random roommate because I had such a great experience with it and gained a friend for life.

The transition from high school to college is a big deal for everyone. Many of you will be adjusting from having your own room at home (and maybe even bathroom) to sharing those spaces with others. By living with a roommate, you have an immediate connection in your residence hall. Your roommate is an automatic buddy to join you for walks across campus to your morning classes, rides on the Shopper bus to Walmart and meals at the dining halls. You can attend sporting events or check out different JMU organizations together. Some of these activities are intimidating to do on your own, so having a roommate go with you can sometimes make it easier.

Annamarie Frost and Laura Hardiman on the last day of their year as freshmen roommates...but hardly their last day as  friends.

Annamarie Frost and Laura Hardiman on the last day of their year as freshmen roommates…but hardly their last day as

Between now and August 1st, enjoy the rest of your summer break and start shopping for those dorm essentials. (But let me recommend that you wait until your find out your roommate before making those larger purchases of the TV and mini fridge!) Before you know it, you’ll find out the name of your roommate, quickly Facebook friend them, and start getting to know the person you will share a space with from August to May.

And no matter how much time passes, this person will always have the title of roommate to you, but it is my hope that over time, they will gain the title of a friend as well.

DSC_0096ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Double Duke Annamarie Frost graduated in May 2013 with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies and minors in Elementary Education and General Music. While at JMU, she worked for the Office of Residence Life as an RA for 1 year and a hall director for 3 years. She was also very involved with Student Ambassadors, SGA, and The Madison Society. In May 2014, she earned her Master of Arts in Teaching. This fall, she’ll be a first year teacher in Loudoun County Public Schools. Annamarie will be teaching 3rd grade at Sully Elementary in Sterling, Va.


Where cold is hot


If you love sweet summer treats, something to take the hot out of summer, and something scrumptious to satisfy the palate, you’ll love what Sandra Tran (’12) and Gil Welsford (’12) have cooked up in Northern Virginia —  although cooked isn’t quite the right word.

They’ve created a concoction from delicious fresh and locally grown produce and added a dose of liquid nitrogen. It’s called NiceCream — a made-to-order-while-you-wait premium version of the summer delight that usually takes hours of elbow grease and rock salt — or a trip to the store.

With their business, The NiceCream Factory, Gil and Sandra are hoping to change the way you think about desserts.

Since last fall, they’ve been doing special events and pop-ups at places like farmers market. They also do catering, parties and take-out.

This summer, they’ve opened a brand new storefront in Arlington, Va. — The Nice Cream Factory. And it appears to be catching on. Reviews on their Facebook page are almost unanimously positive.

A cool place for a hot day.

A cool place for a hot day.

These two friends and partners met at JMU, both graduates of the College of Business, and share a spirit of entrepreneurship.

As undergraduates, they each made their mark on JMU before striking out to pursue their joint entrepreneurial venture. Gil created “Club Gilty,” a non-alcoholic night club for students, and Sandra, along with fellow Duke Dan Smokin (’11) started JMUTeach, a program where students design and teach semester-long courses for their peers.

Now that Gil and Sandra have teamed up, we’ll be watching. Anything this good is likely to spread because who does not like NiceCream?!

To learn more about NiceCream, visit their website: And to learn more about Gil, Sandra, check out this article by Taylor Deer (’13) on the College of Business website:

Better yet, if you’re in downtown Arlington — around 2831 Clarendon Blvd. — go by and try some NiceCream.
And let us know if it’s as good as it sounds….


Gratitude and hospitality

 Hospitality in Northern Ireland

 The first education practicum in Northern Ireland for James Madison University students continues. In today’s guest blog, participants reflect on their experience of hospitality, which you will read, is exceedingly warm, generous and welcoming…..

Newry, Northern Ireland (photo from Wikipedia)

Newry, Northern Ireland (photo from Wikipedia)

This is the first time that the Practicum Experience in Northern Ireland trip has been attempted, so naturally everyone on the trip was very nervous about how we would be received.   What we have found is a community that has embraced our mission as teachers experiencing a different culture and education system. Every person involved in the planning and carrying out of this trip is eager to learn from our interactions just as much as we want to learn from them.   Our mentor teachers, principals, cooks, bus drivers, maids, and all those we interact with have been so excited to welcome us and help us find our way in this new country. Due to the overwhelming welcome we have received in Newry, we wanted to put into words how much we appreciate everyone’s kindness and emphasize those who have made a difference in our stay. We believe that the best way to do this is to put into words personal statements from participants on our trip about people who have made our trip so amazing. There are many more people we owe a huge thank you to who are not mentioned in the stories shared, so we would like to thank all these people who have made a big impact on our stay. Thank you!

Rachel Berry, ELED, Class of 2014 – I flew into Dublin a few days before the program started and stayed in a guesthouse a little bit away from O’Connell street. My friend and I had both packed pretty heavy and were definitely struggling getting our bags into the house. The guesthouse was run by a sweet older woman named Elish and her son Steven. They were both so welcoming as soon as we walked in and she wasted no time asking about who we were, where we came from, and what we were doing here. She was about to hand us her keys, then she took one look at our bags and said, “Oh absolutely not you are not going to carry your bags all the way up to the 5th floor.” She promptly turned around and grabbed a new set of keys, to the biggest room on the first floor. It was a large room with a bathtub, a queen sized bed, and a TV. The room we were supposed to have was about half the size and didn’t have a connected bathroom. We went to give her extra money for the change and she refused, telling us that it wasn’t a problem at all and she was happy to do it. The day I needed to leave, I was about to call a cab to go to my new accommodations and she grabbed my bags and said, “I’ll drive you over there myself.” I tried to give her some money for helping me out but she wouldn’t take it. She was just happy to see me safely to my new place. I’d never experienced such kindness from someone I’ve never met before. I didn’t exchange information with her, but I wish I had because I would love to keep up with her.

Ellie Burnett, English, Class of 2015 – On one of our first official school days, three of the other girls and I were talking amongst ourselves in the staff lounge. One teacher came over to us, and we all began a conversation about our thoughts on Newry so far. Soon enough, during lunch that same teacher came back with maps, a sight list, and numbers of local cab and bus numbers. We were shocked; she had just used up her planning period to give us information on her hometown. The Newry people are so proud of their town, and it’s evident from how their faces light up when we speak highly of good restaurants we’ve been to. They want to simply share their favorite parts of Newry. It’s truly touching how helpful and hospitable everyone has been.

Amber Blakovich, Music Ed, Class of 2016 – Normally after school, we ride the bus and get off right across from St. Colman’s College, where we are staying. One day last week, we had decided to get on another bus and go into town to shop around. As soon as we got on the bus, the bus driver, who was different from our normal bus driver, immediately started talking to us and asking us different questions about our experience here and continued telling us stories about his life throughout the whole bus ride to the center of town. Upon arriving, a phrase that we kept hearing from the bus driver and the locals alike was, “you are very welcome to Newry”. The phrase meant a lot to us because it helped us feel like we had found a home away from home, a place where we already felt included in the culture. The hospitality here has been incredible.

Julia Kron, Studio Art, Class of 2015 – Mr. Pat Cullen is the catering manager at St. Colman’s College and he has been so lovely to us as we stay in the Priest’s Corridor. Every morning he greets us with a smile and gives us a warm breakfast. He always checks up on us and makes sure that we have enough food in our kitchenette. Also, for two nights every week Pat cooks us a full meal in the canteen area. He sets the tables for us and individually serves us all. He is such a nice person to talk to and has some fascinating life stories to share. One afternoon, he set up a bread making workshop where he taught us how to make Irish Soda Bread and Wheaten bread. We really appreciated learning a skill of his culture and he was very happy to share it with us. It was a very nice afternoon to spend with him in his kitchen. Also, he is very interested in our experiences and wants to know how we are getting along each time he runs into us. He is so kind to us and makes us feel very welcome during our stay at St. Colman’s College. I know that we all really appreciate how much time he takes out of his day and evening for us. Thank you so much, Pat!

Sarah Simmons, ELED, Class of 2014- Josephine McGrath the reception woman at the front desk at St. Colman’s has been extremely hospitable. I have had at least a 20-minute conversation with her each day. She has always asked me about my day and if I needed anything. She has also been giving us suggestions on places to go to eat and buy things. The most hospitable moment was when I mention that I needed to find a Christmas ornament for my mom and she started calling up places asking all the staff for places to find ornaments. She has gone above and beyond to make sure my stay is enjoyable and I am going to miss our daily conversations.

Tim Thomas: Just as all of us have experienced, I have been the beneficiary of great hospitality during our visit here. The first Friday in Newry, we all boarded the bus to Carlingsford, a locally famous medieval village less than a dozen miles south of Newry. As soon as the bus pulled away from the station, the driver caught my eye in the mirror and motioned me to the front of the bus. Despite the rules not to talk to the driver and to remain behind the white line, the driver spoke to me all the way to Carlingsford, pointing out sights along the way and providing advice about our visit to the area. The same man was driving the route as we jumped on the bus to return to Newry. As he was speaking to other riders buying tickets while we boarded, I went to the back of the bus to sit with our group. When I looked up, though, there was the driver – he had come down the aisle to inquire how well we had enjoyed our visit. His overwhelming attention to the quality of our experience is just one illustration of the welcome we have received.

Jesse Humphries, ELED, Class of 2014- One of the best parts of our experience in Northern Ireland so far has been being able to travel to new towns. Translink employee Gerry D’Arcy has been overwhelmingly helpful and involved with our travels to insure we are able to travel safely and inexpensively. Translink provided us with vouchers that enable us to tour the Newry District for free. Without this opportunity, I would not have been able to see so many different places. All of the bus drivers and Translink staff have been so helpful and friendly. Whenever there is somewhere I want to go or something I want to do, they direct to me to the best line to get me there. I have been able to see so much more of the area because of Gerry and the whole Translink team.

Maggie Leonard, ELED, Class of 2014 – I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and hard work the housekeepers at St. Colmans, Denise and Jenny, have put into making us comfortable during our stay. After a long day in the classroom, we are always welcomed by Denise, Valerie, Margret, and Joanie in the afternoon delivering our laundry, freshly made beds, and them checking in on how our day was and what our plans are for the evening. One housekeeper even took home one of the girl’s Irish wool sweaters and properly cleaned it to ensure that it was returned in pristine condition. These amazing ladies are another addition to all the acts of kindness that have made our trip much less stressful then it could have been.

Kathryn McCallum, ELED, Class of 2014 – Jariath Burns, the principal of St. Paul’s, obtained free tickets for us to the local Gaelic Football match which was already sold out.   Mr. Burns was so welcoming and helpful as he explained all the rules and traditions to us confused Americans. He even arranged for us to meet the President of the Ulster Gaelic Athletic Association, Martin McAviney and take a photo on the pitch (the field, during half time). The game was such an amazing experience and we’re so lucky to have been treated so great. Mr. Burns really wanted us to experience this part of the Northern Irish culture which he personally loves and in which he has participated as a star player for County Armagh.

Emily Vaughters, ELED, Class of 2015 – I had the opportunity to talk with a woman named Dierdre Graham while I was working in my school. In the past, she had worked at a school where she had the opportunity to participate in a program where students from Northern Ireland were able to go to Maryland and Virginia. She actively sought me out so that she could introduce herself and make a connection with me. She also gave me her contact information and invited me up for tea any time. This one interaction made me feel immediately more comfortable at my school.

Danielle Gallagher, Mathematics, Class of 2015 – The first Sunday we were in Newry another girl on the trip and I went to mass at the Cathedral in town.   During the mass I noticed the Bishop looking at us strangely and then afterwards he grabbed my hand and asked who I was. After explaining that we were part of the study abroad group that is teaching in Newry he asked us to join him for tea. Bishop John McAreavey was so interested in everything we had to say and had some great stories of his own to tell. He even offered to drive us home after hearing that we were staying at Saint Colman’s College, which is a thirty minute walk from the cathedral. I am still impressed that he was able to pick our faces out of a huge crowd and make sure that he welcomed us at the end of mass.

Megan Makarowski, ELED, Class of 2014- The lunch ladies in my school, Bessbrook Primary have been so nice and welcoming to me. The entire school staff had been overwhelmingly positive to my visit and these ladies were the last of the staff that I met. I didn’t pack my lunch one day for school and didn’t buy anything on the way there; I wanted to buy the school lunch to see what it was like. Because so many of the children had left early due to Sports Day (like an American field day) they gave me lunch free of charge. When I returned my plate to them they engaged me in conversation, really wanting to know everything about my stay here in Ireland. They were so sweet and attentive and when I went to leave they said, “We will see you tomorrow at lunch!” They were excited for me to come back and eat with them again. It was awesome that they cared so much.

Dr. Frazier: I have had many instances of helpfulness and generosity from those who live and work in Newry from the faculty members and staff that Dr. Carrington and I met last spring at Newry High School to those who work here at St. Colman’s College who have gone out of their way to make us feel comfortable like Peter, the Ground’s Keeper, Pat, the Cook, and Denise and Jenny, the housekeepers, who have provided us with both stories and support. We have had support from Gerry at the bus station and from complete strangers who find our accents to be like those of “movie stars.” There are many others here as well. Richard Melaniphy, Associate Principal and Iestyn Brown, the Principal at Newry High School whose tireless dedication brought this program into being. They were the point persons to make the local arrangements with all of the participating schools and negotiated gratis transportation for us with Gerry D’Arcey and Greg Donovan from Translink. Perhaps one of the most supportive persons has been Cormac McKinney, principal at St. Colman’s who agreed to reconstruct the Priest’s Corridor to accommodate our group and provide us with meals, laundry support, and security as well. His support and that of Derrick Campbell, Comptroller at St. Colmans College have been instrumental in helping us to establish this program in Newry. The real stars of this program though are our students, whose good humor, persistence and willingness to take risks, are the unsung heroes of this experience. They have made this an “amazing experience” for all of us!


A foreigner in a fishbowl

Last year, Meaghan Eicher (’13) was riding a roller coaster of time, emotion and effort. The JMU English graduate with a minor in humanitarian affairs was eagerly seeking a spot in the American Peace Corps. Recently, we heard from a jubilant Meaghan who has finally finished the extensive application and interview process, finally gotten her invitation to join, and finally — in a matter of days — will begin her Peace Corps service. She’ll be traveling to the Republic of Benin in West Africa, on the adventure of a lifetime. While in Benin, Meaghan will serve as a secondary education English volunteer. She’ll be keeping a blog while she’s gone, and we will be following her.  

Today in a guest blog, Meaghan explains more of the process that has her headed to West Africa…..

Becoming a foreigner in a fishbowl

by Meaghan Eicher (’13)

Meaghan Eicher, JMU alum, is now headed to Benin

Meaghan Eicher, JMU alum, is now headed to Benin

If anyone decides to apply to the Peace Corps, my advice to you would be: buckle up, it’s going to be a long ride. But I promise you, it’ll be worth it.

The Peace Corps application process will test your patience. It will have you sitting on the edge of your chair every moment of every day. You will wonder if in the end it’s all worth the pain and agony of not knowing. Many people drop out of the process because other opportunities arise, they aren’t medically cleared, or the process simply takes too long. It’s not for the faint of heart, but don’t let it deter you. If you have the volunteer experience, if you are healthy, and if you have the desire to serve and see it through, then you have a fighting chance.

My application was on the tail end of the Peace Corps’ old system. This simply means that in my interview, I was not told what I would be nominated for or the region where I would be going. It wasn’t until months later during my placement interview that they told me the general region and the sector. The exact country and program finally came on my Invitation. The newer system, now in place, allows prospective candidates to choose and rank the countries that they would be interested in, based on their qualifications and what programs are open. This isn’t to say the country you choose is the definite location, as anything can change. But it gives you some sense and a general idea of where you’d be going and what you would be doing.

After you receive a nomination, then you must provide your medical history. You will obtain and submit various doctors’ notes, and the PC medical office will review your file and pre-medically clear you. At this time, you will also fill out paperwork for a legal clearance. If you are pre-medically cleared, your application is then moved to the placement queue. They will ask you additional questions about your volunteer experience and about your goals and expectations. A Placement Officer will then contact you and interview you for a placement. If you are deemed qualified, and upon accepting an invitation for service, you must then go through the final medical clearance process. This is when you have to get all the necessary check-ups and shots. Nothing is set-in-stone until you receive that final medical clearance. Though the whole application process can seem lengthy, it is created that way for a reason. Upon receiving final medical clearance, the last step is simply to get ready, physically and mentally.

Preparations too, vary from person to person. One volunteer could end up living in an urban city in a nice apartment with hot water and electricity, while another volunteer could end up living in a little bungalow on a small island with no running water and no electricity. It all depends on the region and the specific site placement. But each volunteer knows that he or she needs to pack smartly — and lightly. You just don’t know what your site placement will be or what you’ll have access to until you arrive and are assigned a site. So, pack culturally appropriate clothes, the proper electronics, and only the essentials but enough of them until you can figure out where and if you can restock. Sound confusing? Yes, it kind of is. But many current volunteers will share packing list ideas with the future volunteers, so in the grand scheme of things, packing is the least of the preparation worries. The most important pre-departure preparation is to spend as much time as possible with friends and family. Their love and support are the biggest things that you will need to take with you when you go.

The last piece to pre-departure preparation is mental. Yet this is something that starts way before the application process — when that first inkling of an idea forms in the back of your mind that you might want to join the Peace Corps. That’s when it starts. Living in a developing country alongside your community members will not be easy. You will be a foreigner, and you will live in a fishbowl with all eyes on you, all the time. You will have to work hard to dispel common stereotypes, and integrate into your community as best you can. You will have to learn a new language, sometimes two, and adjust to a simpler way of living. You might be the only volunteer in your community, and you might have to travel long distances to visit a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer. But they say that the physical hardships will get easier. You adapt and adjust to the weather, the food, washing your clothes by hand, and taking bucket baths. Though tough at first, that turns into the easy part. They say that it will often be difficult in ways that you do not expect. You will have to work within very limited resources, with limited supervision. Working amidst the cultural norms that you don’t agree with will be hard; It will be completely different from everything you were taught and grew up with. It will challenge you mentally and force you to analyze your own culture and question everything you thought you knew.

You will experience culture shock when you arrive in a country, and reverse culture shock when you return home. You will wonder and question what your role is, and what impact you are having.

Yet amidst all the questions, the nerves, the packing, and the saying goodbyes, there is a thread of excitement. There is this prospect of adventure, and wonder, and this mysterious feeling of not-knowing. You will get the opportunity to be challenged in ways you never thought possible, and you will grow from those experiences. You will learn about a new culture, rich with history. Your community will share their culture, and you will share yours. You will get to work and live alongside people completely different from you; they will teach you, and you will teach them. You will share skills, and work side-by-side toward a common goal. You don’t go into the Peace Corps expecting to change the world… that isn’t a realistic expectation. But you can go in with the expectation that you will be able to assist a community with their goals and projects. It will be difficult, but it will be life changing. There’s a reason they call it “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”

One thing to keep in mind is that everyone’s volunteer experience will be different. You could have read a million different PCV blogs (like I did) to gain a sense of what it might be like to serve overseas. You could read some of the hundreds of memoirs and books published about PCVs. Many do offer great insights and realistic views of the PCV life. But while there may be similar themes found throughout each volunteer’s story, each service will be unique and no two people will have the same experiences. Sometimes you just have to take that leap of faith, and let your own story unfold before you.

You can find and follow Meghan’s Benin adventure at her blog:




Learning in Northern Ireland

Critical learning often occurs when you change your perspective and dig deeper into your chosen field. That’s what is happening now in  Northern Ireland, where, for the first time, 12 students from James Madison University’s College of Education are completing practicums. They are examining and learning about schools and practices in Newry, a town between Dublin and Belfast, along the River Clanrye. “So far,” write Hood Frazier and Tim Thomas, JMU professors who are traveling with the group during the month-long practicum, “they have welcomed us with a grand reception at the Newry High School with the director of education for the region, and where we received a plaque from the Deputy Major of the City of Newry.” The JMU group has also been featured in the local news.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll follow their experience and post more of their observations. In today’s post, students Sarah Simmons (’14) and Emily Vaughters (’15)  offer their initial impressions of Northern Ireland schools.

As an American student who is studying to become a teacher……

… the first difference that you will notice after walking into a Northern Ireland School is the variation in the age groupings within each school. In Northern Ireland, nursery schools, the equivalent of American preschools, are separate from any other schools. According to Richard Melaniphy, vice principal of Newry High School, primary schools hold students from P1 to P7, which is from the age of 5 (kindergarten) all the way to age 12, or sixth grade. These students then move directly to a high school instead of first attending a middle school. They have to attend the high school for five years, until they are sixteen. Once students reach this age, additional schooling is optional for students.

Students and faculty during a Gaelic football game in Newry, Northern Ireland

During a Gaelic football game, JMU practicum students and faculty are flanked on the right by Cormac McKinney, principal of St. Colman’s College, and Richard Melaniphy of Newry High (in black). On the left is Martin McAviney, president of the Ulster Gaelic Athletic Association, and Jariath Burns, the principal of St. Paul’s High School. Also pictured are Iestin Brown of Newry High School, 6th from the right. JMU professors Tim Thomas and Hood Frazier appear 4th and 7th from left, respectively.

There are also many different types of schools in Northern Ireland. One type is a controlled school. The Education Library Board, which is a board of local members whose goal is to guarantee the best education possible, monitors these controlled schools. These schools tend to be non-selective and have a strong Christian ethos though they have no official religious affiliation. There are also maintained schools, which are controlled by the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS). These schools openly display Catholic values. Another difference is that there are also composite classes, where two or more age groups are combined into one classroom because enrollment is not high enough, likely due to the large number of schools in the area.

Another difference from many public schools in the United States is the strong emphasis on carrying out their mission statement. Because many schools in this area have strong religious ties, they may have a faith-based ethos, which is clearly reflected in the missions statements of each individual school. Most of their values are based around providing skills for their students to succeed in their future, whether they attend university or enter a vocation. Whereas, in the United States, there has been a strong focus on test scores and getting everyone to attend a university.

Untitled2Another huge difference is the aspect of choice. Though all the Northern Ireland schools are public, they are not organized by regional districts as they are in the U.S., and students don’t have to attend, based on the district in which they reside. Instead the students may apply to various schools, some selective and some not. Also according to Melaniphy, students rank their top five choices and attend the school they get into that is highest on the list. If they did not attain high test scores, some students may be forced to attend a school they didn’t rank highly.

Some schools, however, are non-selective and will take anyone. Some examples of this are Newry High School or St. Paul’s High School, where some of us are placed. According to Danielle Gallagher (’15) from Suffolk, Va., who is at Newry High school, the students at Newry can be compared to the students in public high schools in America. They display a mix of cultures, abilities and backgrounds. Many parents, however, chose for their children not to sit for the transfer tests (as they are optional) and will send their children to a non-selective school such as St. Paul’s or Newry High.

After coming up with some of the distinct differences, we asked some of our peers about the differences that they noticed in their first week of teaching in Northern Ireland.

Megan Makarowski (’14) from Fredericksburg, Va., said that she was shocked by how the Irish students had to choose their path in life by the age of 14. In Northern Ireland, a student takes General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) exams. If they pass these, they are able to take that subject as an A-Level, which can be compared to the Advanced Placement level courses in the United States. This choice is solidified after this point and cannot be changed. Their choice at this stage affects what they can study in university because programs at university require A-Level experience. Megan also found that tracking was used in Northern Ireland even though teachers tend to disagree with the practice.

Twelve JMU practicum students welcomed to Northern Ireland

Twelve JMU practicum students welcomed to Northern Ireland

Jessica Humphries (’14) from Leesburg, Va., talked about the idea of religion and how, though it is not always stated so, it is clear with which religion a school associates. Many of the schools in Newry have values that come from the standards in the Catholic and Protestant religions, and these values define how things work. Although you don’t have to be a Catholic to attend that school, Catholic values play a significant role in the school’s ethos. These religious values define smaller aspects of the citizens lives. For instance, those in the Catholic community lean toward the GAA or Gaelic games, such as Gaelic football.

Finally, Rachel Berry (’15) from South Riding, Va., said that the atmospheres of the schools are much more relaxed in that they tend to move at a slower pace and have more frequent breaks. It seems that it is understood that both students and teachers need time to rest throughout the day, and that time is given through tea breaks and other small breaks throughout the day. This also shows how teachers are more appreciated and respected.

This first week has allowed for our knowledge of Northern Ireland schools to grow and we are certain that through the upcoming weeks we will learn more and discover key differences between the schools in the United States and these in Northern Ireland.

 If you’re curious about Newry High School, visit their website at

Or delve deeper in the school’s prospectus:







An app for all regions


Not long ago listening to National Public Radio while traveling required hitting the scan button and jumping from station to station, listening to the feed diminish to static and then hitting the button again. Now, however, fans of local NPR station WMRA can listen from anywhere. Harrisonburg. Seattle. Tokyo. Perth. Or anywhere in between — thanks to JMU student Linzy Cumbia (’17). When Linzy got wind of a need in the community, he stepped up. And when communications major Daniel Vieth (’15) heard about it, he wrote a great story about Linzy — and it’s all worth sharing. Linzy is changing the landscape for a local radio station and Daniel is making sure we all know about it……

An app for all regions

By Daniel Vieth

Since Apple Inc. released the first iPhone back in 2007, the trend of smartphone ownership has continued to explode. According to Dara Kerr of technology and media website CNET, the number of American adults with smartphones was 56 percent in 2013. Part of what makes these phones so useful and almost necessary for many of us are the programs on the devices called “applications,” or “apps” for short. These apps are used to read emails, check the stock market, find out the weather, play Angry Birds at work, and keep up with the news. Many companies now are discovering the benefits of having an app built for them. Just like any computer program, however, each of these apps needs someone to take the time to write out its language, or code. When WMRA, Harrisonburg’s local NPR radio station, decided they wanted an iPhone app built for them, they made a bold decision about who they would hire to write this code. Instead of contracting a software company, WMRA hired talented JMU freshman Computer Science major, Linzy Cumbia, to develop their app.

As an affiliate of JMU, WMRA had considered the idea of seeking out a student to build their app from the beginning. “I had heard a lot of students were building apps,” explained Al Bartholet, executive director of WMRA. “We could have had it done commercially, but I wanted a computer science student to do it.” After WMRA sent out an email through JMU’s Information Server asking students if they would be interested in developing their app, Cumbia responded with enthusiasm. “I emailed back with a little portfolio of what I had done before, and they asked me to come in,” said Cumbia. Excited about Cumbia’s knowledge and skill in App development, WMRA immediately hired him. “I was so impressed with his knowledge and him as a person,” exclaimed Bartholet. “He had a maturity about him. He didn’t do it for monetary reasons, but to serve the community.”

With an interest in computer science and software development that goes back as far as he can remember, Cumbia taught himself how to develop apps during high school. “It took a while,” he confessed. “The first time I was looking at [the coding] like ‘it makes no sense,’ but then it finally clicked.” While WMRA’s project is Cumbia’s first app to be finalized and sold on the iPhone store, it is actually the third he has developed. “The first [app] that I did was for livestock management, because my family owns a farm in the Shenandoah Valley area and we have cows,” he explained. Once completed, this app will help farmers track and manage their animal’s location and health. Cumbia also began work on a restaurant app that will simplify the process of sending food orders from the wait staff to the kitchen. “Instead of having a pad of paper, the waiter has a phone that can wirelessly send the order to the kitchen, so that makes everything faster,” Cumbia continued.

photoThe app that Cumbia developed for WMRA connects to the station’s website, downloads the information about what is currently playing, and streams the audio for people to listen to on their device. “It starts playing audio and displays what programs are on and how long it’s going to be running,” Cumbia explained. “It’s pretty straightforward.” The app was officially launched in late November of 2013, though WMRA only began heavily advertising it in late February. [It is available for iPhones and iPads.] Describing how it felt when the app finally went live, Cumbia said “that was pretty cool, because it was the first one I had gotten all the way to the store.” Since the app has launched, it has been downloaded by over 455* people.

The next step for Cumbia and WMRA will be the development of an Android version of the App, which is not as easy as it sounds. “The language is completely different,” Cumbia explained, “you just have to totally rewrite the code.” Despite the fact that this process involves nearly creating another app from scratch, Cumbia is ready to tackle the challenge.  “It doesn’t intimidate me, nor does it intimidate him,” said Bartholet. For Cumbia, the development of this app was a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate his skills and gain practical experience. “This is not just a project that ends with a class,” said Bartholet. “It is something that would last.” With a project of this scale under his belt already, Linzy Cumbia is sure to do great things in his career.

*[Editor’s note: The count of downloads as of today is 748 and growing, plus the Android App is finished and available. In addition, Linzy is working on adding an “alarm clock” component. He’s also adding a reminder function that will automatically notify listeners when their favorite programs are about to air, as well as a news feature. These new features, Linzy says, “are coming soon.”

Daniel Vieth, whose story was originally posted on JMU’s Computer Science Department’s website in April, is a communications major with a concentration in public relations and a minor in writing and rhetoric. A senior from Roanoke, Va., Daniel says he hopes “to be able to take what I learn here at JMU and apply it to a career that I really enjoy working at every day.” He’s practicing up this summer, working as office assistant in the Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center.

To download the FREE WMRA app, go to the iTunes store:

To listen to an interview with Linzy by WMRA’s Martha Woodroof, go to:



Crashing Ustream and shout-outs from Mia Hamm

Mia Hamm understands teamwork. Maybe that’s why she gave then-senior and now-JMU alumnus Navid Attayan (’14) a shout-out during his 24-hour cycling marathon two weeks ago.

Last month, we told you about his upcoming ride, one part of Navid’s determined quest to change the lives of children and their families battling childhood cancer. Now here’s the rest of the story of Navid Attayan (’13) and the Cure de 24 ….

1504243_10201882424962577_6430665349538203660_oOn April 29 at high noon, Navid clipped into the pedals of his bike that was suspended on a stationery platform and he started riding. Two hours. Ten hours. He rode through the day and into the night, battling weather that was cold and stormy. Fifteen hours. At his side was the team that had helped him get to this point and that was determined to see him to the end of the 24-hour ride.

Leading up to the Cure de 24, Navid’s team helped publicize the event and drum up support across the university and beyond. The team lined up food and activities, set up a tent on the Common, and offered hands-on and moral support. Fellow classmate Jake Williams (’14)  promoted the project through digital media (filming and photography). Jake was also on the support crew.  Sara Robbins (’15) was the operations director, responsible for planning and coordinating the event. She was also on the support crew. James Orrigo (’13), a performer and friend, helped with everything, including massaging Navid’s legs for hours to keep him going throughout the grueling 217-mile ride — during which Navid passed out eight times. Freshman Addison Shepard (’18) rode alongside Navid for the last two hours to help him keep going.

Navid Attayan ('13) and Addison Shepard ('18)

Navid Attayan (’13) and Addison Shepard (’18)

“Those guys were the key people,” Navid writes. “Plenty of others joined the day of the ride that helped out — but the list will go on forever. We reached an audience of over 35,000 people on Facebook alone. We also CRASHED Ustream, the live streaming service we were using, because so many people were tuning in from around the world. Over 29 countries were viewing; this project went viral. Celebrities Mia Hamm, Hope Solo, Evelyn Stevens, and Lil John tweeted about the event. We united the campus toward a commons cause. It was amazing.” (Check out the video of the final hour here:

Navid and friends raised $5,098 for the Smashing Walnuts Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness and funding for pediatric cancer in memory of 10-year-old Gabriella Miller. Smashing Walnuts is responsible for the new bi-partisan “Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act” that was signed into law on April 3.

All in all, Navid, his friend’s, and the campus that rallied around them was pretty amazing. Even Dr. Mark Warner, senior vice president for academic affairs, came to offer his support on the day of the event.

Soon, we’ll tell you about another JMU alumnus with a team and a goal for positive change. Stefan Peierls (’13)  who — along with friends — will travel the country this summer on a mission to promote volunteerism. He writes: “Our mission is to encourage college student to engage in long-term volunteering opportunities. We will be traveling throughout the U.S. and volunteering with organization that impact the lives of children. All the while, we will be capturing our journey through GoPro videos and making a social documentary online.”

You can follow Stefan at his website  We’ll be following as well!

If you’re sensing a common theme here, it’s simple: Few people change the world without the help of others or without engaging in the lives of those around them. No one does it alone — not Navid, not Stefan, no one. It takes a team — a good and committed team — to change the world for the better.




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