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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

JBS emerges from tough rollout as successful program

Published: October 28, 2011
Section: News

The three summer 2011 Justice Brandeis Semester (JBS) programs completed a successful run Tuesday with student presentations detailing their accomplishments. The individual accomplishments of the programs—“JBS Mobile Applications and Game Development,” “JBS Goes South: Civil Rights and Racial Justice in Mississippi” and “JBS Filmmaking: From Script to Screen”—are, however, unremarkable; the remarkable thing is JBS’ success as a whole.

JBS got off to a rocky start in spring 2010 when it was first proposed. Eight programs were originally planned for summer 2010 but half that number were canceled due to lack of interest. They had each failed to attract the eight necessary applicants.

“There are many interesting opportunities for students during the summer, such as studying abroad, working, engaging in an internship and participating in JBS,” Alyssa Grinberg, program manager for the JBS project, said via e-mail. “We have learned from 2010 that the scale of the program is important and right now it appears that running 2-4 summer JBS programs will meet the demand of students.”

Scaling back the scope of the JBS program and choosing popular topics seem to have been key decisions for JBS’ success.

“There is a small committee that reviews the JBS program proposals,” Grinberg said, explaining how one JBS program is chosen over another. “The proposals are reviewed for approval based on the following criteria: academic coherence; excellence and feasibility; expected appeal to undergraduates; financial viability; and health and safety.”

The students who participated in this summer’s programs enjoyed themselves and learned a great deal.

“I definitely enjoyed my JBS experience and gained a tremendous wealth of knowledge and practical experience from it,” Taha Bakhtiyar ’13 wrote via e-mail. Bakhtiyar participated in the “Mobile Applications and Game Development” JBS program.

In this program, Bakhtiyar “learned how to design android applications [and] develop video games …” Bakhtiyar worked with two other students on Happy Track, a sub-program within the JBS program.

“Happy Track is an application that allows users to track their moods along with time, location and memos,” Bakhtiyar explained. “These moods can then be revisited using Google maps, pie charts or log-book interface.”

The six other students in this JBS program split to work on two other sub-programs: Giraffe and Vogueable.

While Bakhtiyar could not think of anything specific to improve with the program, he admitted “plenty of improvements and changes [are] possible, yet they are very technical and specific …”

Grinberg, however, after receiving student feedback, told The Hoot, “Based off of past participant feedback, the Web Services and Social Networks program [which has similarities to the “Mobile Applications and Game Development”] will be offered this coming summer as a 10-week program, rather than an eight-week program. This change will allow more depth and time for students to create their own Web-based programs.”

Edwin Gonzalez ’13 participated in the “JBS Goes South: Civil Rights and Racial Justice in Mississippi” program to learn about the Civil Rights movement, which can only complement his sociology major.

“The JBS program that I was a part of was a joint effort between Brandeis and Jackson State University,” Gonzalez explained. “The research that we conducted in Mississippi was an effort to help the Mississippi Truth Project.”

The Mississippi Truth Project is a statewide grassroots effort that began in 2008 and works to unveil racially motivated crimes and injustices committed in Mississippi between 1945 and 1975.

Like Bakhtiyar’s program, Gonzalez’s program was separated into sub-programs.

“Our group consisted of 10 Brandeis students and five Jackson State students and we were split up into three different teams,” Gonzalez said. “Each team had a set of goals and we decided how we would accomplish those set goals.

“I spent my eight weeks researching in the city of Jackson,” he said, “and I had an amazing time talking to local residents about their experience in the Civil Rights movement, plus collecting data from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.”

The “JBS Filmmaking: From Script to Screen” program culminated in the 10 students working to create a 20-minute film. Their film, “Evie,” was written by Karla Alvidrez ’13 and directed jointly by each student. They hired their actors from C.P. Casting, a Boston-based talent agency.

It was clear at the screening of their film that the students were proud of their accomplishment as their names flashed across the screen during the lengthy credits.

“Everyone got to do everything during the summer,” Hannah Pollack ’13, a program participant, told The Hoot after the screening. She explained that, as they made various clips and short films during the eight-week program, each person had the chance to write a script, to direct, to produce, etc.

“We chose Karla’s script but [the film] was a joint effort,” she said.

The film centered on Nikki, a student who was once a party-girl but has of late not been interested in the party scene. At a party, to which her friends drag her, Nikki meets Evie, a transfer student who seems to be looking after her, and runs into two boys, with whom she clearly has history.

Although the movie was well-written, it was somewhat predictable and, although the actors were professionals, perhaps the students should have acted in it themselves as they could have done no worse.

Though successful this summer, it remains to be seen if JBS will continue to thrive. On her Beacon Hill JBS program, which was canceled, Professor Eileen McNamara (JOUR) told The Hoot in 2010, “We’re in difficult economic times and most students did not seem to want to take a semester off to do JBS and, if not, ask their parents to assume a largely financial burden to do it.” When JBS was first suggested, it was meant to take place during the fall and the spring semesters in order to relieve overcrowding.

“I will perhaps not participate in another JBS program,” said Bakhtiyar, “however, this is only because it is offered during the summer and, as a junior, I must focus on securing an internship instead.”

Gonzalez, on the other hand, has already expressed interest in participating in another JBS program next summer.

“We will continue to explore the possibilities for future JBS programs and think that some of the past proposals have a lot of potential,” Grinberg said. “I think the upcoming three programs in 2012 will be strong in terms of their academic and experimental components.”