A Capstone About Cats: Reflections on Our Senior Capstone

By Claire Golden and Erika Nelson

It was complete coincidence that two PSU Chronicles bloggers — Erika and Claire — ended up in the same Senior Capstone, but we wanted to reflect on our experience. This was far and away the most involved class we’d ever taken, but it was also one of the most rewarding…in large part because our work impacted the real world.

Our class was called “Grant Writing for Shelter Pets.” In a Capstone, you work directly with a community partner — in our case, a non-profit cat shelter in Vancouver, Washington called Furry Friends. We worked in groups writing grant proposals for Furry Friends (Claire worked in the group seeking medical funding for seriously ill cats, and Erika was in the group focused on building a new “kitty condo” structure.) This wasn’t just another course–it had real-world ramifications. The fate of hundreds of cats were directly influenced by our commitment to the grantwriting process–for example, these grant proposals could be the difference between Furry Friends getting funding for life-threatening medical conditions, influencing whether cats live or die. 

This course was intense! Capstones always take up a lot of time and energy. We found it’s best to plan for contingencies that could affect your stamina and focus–life happens sometimes (sometimes in ways we can never anticipate), but you can try to be prepared for things likely to happen. Remember that this class is six credits, which is basically a class-and-a-half. So it’s going to take longer than you’re used to…and it’s a 400-level course. To be safe, treat this class as two regular classes and then you’ll know how to budget enough time.

A huge part of the class involved communication, and while we’d done group work in previous classes, it was nothing to this extent. It was tricky doing distance communication; although this was an online class even before most other classes were remote, not being able to meet with the whole group in person proved challenging. We found group emails, group texts, and Google Docs to be invaluable (pro tip: make sure everyone is looking at the same Google Doc to avoid confusion). It’s essential to communicate with your groupmates, your instructor, and the community partner. It’s way better to double-check something than to miss something.

It’s important to keep in mind that since Capstones involve community service, you might be emotionally affected by the project and the community partner’s stories. Be sure to practice self-care and make use of your support network if necessary. We read stories about animal abuse that made us feel sick, but that was just more motivation to work hard.

In the end, we’re both proud of our work and happy that we made the decision to take this Capstone. We both learned so much–not only about the grantwriting process, but about collaboration, research, and harnessing empathy to do good.

Not-So-Great Expectations: Adjusting Plans During the Pandemic

By Erika Nelson

I’m a list-maker: Homework assignments, goals, chores, funny things I overheard in the Park Blocks…you name it, I have a list for it! Four times a year, I create a “bucket list,” itemizing everything I want to do that season: swimming and barbeques in the summer. Haunted houses and pumpkin-picking in the fall. Holiday parties in the winter. Travel for spring break. 

At least, that’s what my bucket lists consisted of in simpler times. I now look back on my Spring 2020 bucket list—compiled just before the lockdown—and laugh: buy new warm-weather clothes? Pfft—fitting rooms were havens for germs even before the pandemic! Go to the gym every other day? Ridiculous—even if the rec center was open, I’d still want to stay home and social distance myself. Get involved in campus activities? Ha! I was so young and naïve six months ago. 

As fate would have it, Spring of 2020 was not a good time to make plans. Events were cancelled all over the world, and people abandoned their new years resolutions even faster than usual. Hopes that everything would quickly go back to normal were shattered when the days in quarantine turned to weeks and months. Needless to say, I didn’t bother creating a Summer 2020 bucket list. 

I’m trying to be optimistic for this autumn, though. I’m making two lists: one for if things stay as they are now, and places are open with social distancing measures, and another in case another shutdown happens. On the first list, I have things like socially-distant pumpkin picking and attending a limited-capacity haunted house. On the second list, I include seasonal things I can do on my own in my apartment, like decorating the outside of my door with paper skeletons and baking pumpkin cookies. 

2020 is the year of uncertainty. We don’t know what the world is going to be like in a week, a month, a year, or even tomorrow. It will be a long time before the novel coronavirus is fully understood. We might have to wear masks long-term, and we all need to make radical adjustments to how we socialize and celebrate (I’ve heard rumors that “Zoom-or-Treating” might be a thing, and the term “Halloween mask” has an entirely different meaning this year). But life goes on, and being flexible with your expectations is better than having no expectations. Even if you have to tweak your plans to comply with 2020’s new world, we all need things to look forward to. 

Nailing Stress

By Erika Nelson

“I actually used to be a nail tech … not that you can tell.” I force a laugh and brandish my bitten stubs. I admit it — I’m a nail biter. Gross and unattractive in the best of times, it’s a literal life-and-death habit in Corona times — a danger to not only myself by introducing new microbes to my system, but to other people as well. Each bite transfers germs from my mouth to what I touch. I don’t bite in public, sanitize regularly and thoroughly scrub my fingers with soap and water before leaving and after returning to my apartment. But when I’m at home, in front of my laptop … I find my fingers floating to my lips.  

I’ve mostly been able to kick this habit. I say “mostly,” because no matter what methods I use to quit, I always come back to the form of tension-relief that borders on self-cannibalistic. If there’s a pervading collective emotion in the world today — it’s stress. Stress from isolation. Stress from economic turmoil and job insecurity. Stress from systemic injustice. Stress from having to “keep calm and carry on” with our regular lives, as if all of this is normal, when things are as abnormal as they’ve ever been. When I spoke with a PSU employee earlier this week, he summed up what I, and a lot of other people, are feeling: “a kind of stress I’ve never known.” We’re all bobbing along with the bumps and dips of the new-case graphs; paddling however we know how while the water continues to rise. 

Stress. So much stress. Meditation apps abound. #selfcare tips feature prominently across social media. The CDC even has a page on ways to deal with stress during the pandemic. I’ve tried pretty much everything I can to translate an unsanitary, destructive coping mechanism to something constructive that involves minimal microbe transfer … but gratitude journals and deep breathing never seem to be as instantly satisfying as shredding the tips of my fingernails with my teeth. 

The only thing that seems to work to curb the compulsive nibbling is engaging in what I used to do for a living — doing nails — but on myself. The process of meticulously applying polish is soothing, and forces me to slow down and exercise hand-eye coordination. Carefully placing polka dots and painting tiny flowers on my nails is just what I need to distract my thoughts — even for a few minutes — from everything else. When I’m done, I can’t bear to chip my painstaking work by biting!

Decorating (and maintaining) my nails has been helpful at chipping (haha) away at stress. Stress always comes back … but in the moments that I’m picking a color, filing, putting brush to nail … stress is on vacation. There are myriad reasons why I decided to ditch being a nail technician to go back to school — that’s a post for another day — but I still adore everything to do with it. There are many ways to de-escalate stress: for some people it’s yoga, video games or screaming into pillows. Some people are taking this time in quarantine to experiment with new hobbies or re-discover old ones. Thank goodness for my stockpile of polishes to get me through another day without mangling my own fingers.

Growing Pains: Turning Discomfort into Change

By Erika Nelson

This summer, I’m taking my senior Capstone, Grantwriting for Shelter Pets. Our community partner is Furry Friends, a no-kill cat shelter in Vancouver. Our mission this term is to draft the proposals that will compel donors to fund important shelter projects, such as medical care and a new kitty condo.

Before I signed up, I thought this would be a lighthearted, fun experience. I love animals, have a passion for animal rescue and love writing. It seemed like a no-brainer. I assumed that upsetting images and facts would be present in the coursework — after all, animal welfare is an emotionally fraught topic. What I didn’t anticipate was the extent of the information. To help us understand the real-life implications of the work we’re doing, a book and corresponding documentary about the history of animal shelters and the no-kill movement were assigned. These materials were difficult to get through — images of shaking, pacing animals in cages; upsetting statistics (millions of shelter pets are euthanized every year); graphic descriptions of euthanasia that turned my stomach and brought tears to my eyes.  

My discomfort in the first weeks of the Capstone made me question my involvement, and I thought maybe I should have signed up for a different Capstone altogether. However, I began to wonder: why is discomfort bad? Why do we avoid it, and seek out situations that avoid discomfort instead of facing it head-on? After all, change stems from discomfort in the first place. Just as we must face the discomfort of noticing and calling out oppressive institutions, we must push through to change things for the better — to harness that emotion and translate it into concrete actions. 

For example: no one becomes a veterinarian because they don’t have compassion and empathy for animals. Yet veterinarians regularly see sick, injured, neglected, or abused animals, and continue to do their jobs. Discomfort is a regular part of the profession, yet people find their calling in veterinary medicine. While vets no doubt are affected emotionally, the opportunities to improve animals’ health outweighs the discomfort from seeing suffering animals. 

It’s tempting to bury our heads in the sand and ignore the important issues in the world. Sure, you could purposely only sign up for innocuous courses with benign subject matter and tune out everything upsetting. Yet college is an opportunity to grow, and growth comes with growing pains. Knowledge and awareness of the injustices and difficulties of the world is a springboard to change. Ignorance is NOT bliss — ignorance only perpetuates the status quo, whatever it may be. 

The hard truth is that many aspects of life are inherently uncomfortable. This is inescapable. Instead of avoiding the negative emotions that come up in this Capstone, I’m choosing to embrace them. I’m challenging myself to persevere through discomfort to help these shelter cats, and I’m looking forward to documenting what I learn and how I grow along the way.

Crafting in Quarantine: “Quaranzines”

By Erika Nelson

Whether in mandatory or self-imposed isolation, people are turning to hobbies like arts and crafts to keep themselves occupied.  One fun project having a moment on social media is zine-making: The hashtag #quaranzine has over 5,000 hits on Instagram.

Merriam-Webster defines a zine as “a noncommercial often homemade or online publication usually devoted to specialized and often unconventional subject matter.” There is no right or wrong way to make a zine — it can be handmade or digital; thrown together or carefully planned. Zines can be anything you want — a mini-book of self-published poetry, a political manifesto, your own comic book…the possibilities are only limited by your imagination and materials available. 

I made two different zines using this paper-folding tutorial. One is called This is Your Life Now, and I used acrylic paint and magazine clippings to create a tongue-in-cheek manual for embracing the new normal. 

I included a spread featuring things I do in quarantine, such as sleep, play games… 

…and fantasize about being productive. 

My second zine was a parody of Time magazine: The cover features an image of more innocent times — a crowded beach — and the headline, “There will be no summer (and probably no autumn).” 

Of  course, I had to include fake advertisements. 

I encourage everyone to try making their own quaranzines! Arts and crafts do more than just fill free hours — they can be therapeutic during scary and uncertain times, and sharing your art on social media can help foster community in a time of isolation. So grab some art supplies, fire up the publishing software, or simply use a paper and pen — let’s do some quarantine crafting!

Now Is Not The Time For Silence

Version 2 By: Anna Sobczyk

Had you asked me a year ago what my last blog for PSU Chronicles would be about, I would’ve said my upcoming graduation. Instead, the recent protests and riots against police brutality and racism that have rocked our nation have completely occupied my mind and heart. 

When I moved to Portland from Idaho, my eyes were opened to my privilege and the many racial injustices embedded in the criminal justice system. I have spent my years here listening and learning as much as I can. In those same years, I also allowed the fear of saying the wrong thing strangle me into silence. Once I realized my silence enables an oppressive system, I felt even more shame. A broken system can only find true long-term reformation if we fight for change in the system and within ourselves.

I have witnessed many who speak, “Well, in my experience…” in an attempt to use their personal reality to disregard the experiences of communities with identities different from them. In order to change, we need to let go of defensive tendencies that manifest themselves in phrases like “not all cops are bad” or “All Lives Matter.” Defending the reputation of good cops is not the priority, focus, or issue; police brutality is. Black Lives Matter because as a white person, I will never understand what it feels like to fear death by the very hands put in place to protect me. 

Just to feel anger, horror, and outrage at the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others is no longer enough. As the protests and riots unfolded, I thought to myself that “this time feels different.” But why? Perhaps, for the first time, I understood that in order to help make any difference that I can’t simply feel outraged or listen and learn from afar; I must join the discussion. We all must so that when our nation finally undergoes the changes it needs, no individual will allow it to fail again.

Lockdown in Student Housing

By Erika Nelson

In March, Housing and Residence life sent out a mass email encouraging those of us in student housing to move if feasible. By doing so, we’d be lowering the amount of interpersonal contact in the buildings, and therefore lowering the chance that COVID-19 could spread among us.  The result was a mass exodus of student residents. For the last few weeks of winter term and throughout spring break, students hauled boxes and furniture out of their apartments. Many people abandoned their belongings altogether — and common areas quickly became littered with discarded microwaves, bedding, and half-used bottles of hot sauce. At first, the refuse left behind was annoying. But then the custodial staff removed it all, taking along with them any items that residents used to socialize and bond, such as the puzzles left out on tables for everyone to work on. This served only as a stark reminder of the tenants’ absences.

There are some perks that come from living in an almost-empty building — solo elevator rides save time, and I have yet to have to wait for access to a washing machine. The sheer emptiness of the building is palpable — instead of hearing music and muffled conversations when walking down the halls, there is a conspicuous silence. Common areas are empty. There are no more University Success events in the lobby. Even though those of us who remain are still in our rooms, typing on our laptops and having Zoom classes, it’s hard to ignore that the absence of so many residents is a symptom of the larger changes in the world.

I don’t have family close by. I wasn’t lucky enough (or unfortunate enough, depending on how well you get along with your family) to be able to crash somewhere else while still remaining in Portland’s orbit. Sure, I could pay to rent a car and haul all my stuff back to Southern Oregon, and there’s no doubt that I miss my friends and family … but Portland is my home now. I’ve set up roots, and I’d rather try and stick out the pandemic locally rather than going through the added stress and expense of moving back and forth. 

There are times when I regret that decision. Being cooped up is weighing on me emotionally. I miss my loved ones. I miss socializing. I miss human touch. So many of the things that made me fall in love with the city, like restaurants and the county library, are closed for the foreseeable future. The truth is, no one knows how long this lockdown will last, and if things will ever go back to normal. Public officials are cautious about ending the stay-at-home order too soon. Not knowing a timeline and being able to count down days is disheartening. However, I have hope that we will all get through this and be stronger because of it. Even though the building is lonely, I know I’m not alone in feeling alone.

Springtime in PDX

By Maya Young

It’s that time of the term again. Finals are right around the corner, assignment deadlines are looming, and the time slot to complete all of these tasks is decreasing with each passing day. Now here we are, nine weeks into winter term with only two more to go. For some of us, myself included, these upcoming weeks bring in an odd combination of stress and excitement as we look forward to the completion of a term but worry about the process getting there. To take some much-needed rest and decompress before spring term, here are some fun examples of what I like to do in Portland as it gets warmer.

1. Try new food

Portland is well-known for its food carts, and with so many to choose from, it is very easy to get out there and try new things. For me, I love some of the local food carts on-campus including Poompui Thai, Portland Gyro, and La Casita. 

2. Go to the Portland Markets

Portland has a large community dedicated to homemade goods, crafted products, and locally sourced ingredients. Two of my favorite markets are the Portland Farmers Market at PSU and the Portland Saturday Market down at the waterfront. For foodies who want to try new cuisines and get freshly grown ingredients, the farmers market is the place for you! The market at the waterfront is an excellent spot to listen to music, try new foods, and explore works from many local artists.

3. Take a hike

Portland has so many scenic hikes that are worth going on, and some are very close to campus! Take a trip to Council Crest, Washington Park, and even hike up to the Pittock Mansion. It’s great to take advantage of the nice Portland weather to explore what the city and surrounding areas have to offer.

Go Thorns!

by Beth Royston

It’s February, which means my fingers twitch toward the bookmark in my web browser, wanting to carry out the urge to check it one more time, despite knowing  I’ll get an email anyway. I have to smile at myself — years ago, if I knew I’d be frothing at the mouth to get my hands on good seats for a soccer match, I would have denied it. 

I played sports as a kid, but organized events were another thing entirely. I also hated growing up in my California hometown, so I never felt any real pride for local sports teams. My mom is an avid soccer fan, but I didn’t often watch with her, instead preferring to preserve my own life force. Sometimes she would get so excited I feared she would squeeze all the air out of my lungs (Love you, Mom). 

However, since coming to Portland, I knew I should eventually take part in a Portland rite of passage — seeing a soccer match at Providence Park. Needless to say, I was hooked. I’ve now been to both Timbers and Thorns games, but I prefer the Thorns. It’s a really wholesome atmosphere — you can’t look anywhere in the arena without seeing a giant pride flag being waved vigorously, and the energy of the cheering crowd is infectious. Our team is good, too, and a lot of fun to watch. I feel represented and welcomed in the crowd, where the atmosphere is never murderous even in the face of a loss. I feel represented in the team, too. 

I’d recommend going to a match this spring when the Thorns start playing again. Maybe you’ll too join the ranks of fans who give in for an overpriced beverage and a scarf. It’s worth it for the experience, I promise.

I imagine much of my joy comes from feeling like I’m part of something, feeling pride in my home team and getting to watch these amazing, diverse women excel. I’m sure it would be dangerous for my mom and I to both go to a soccer match, we’d probably be cutting off each other’s circulation out of excitement, but we’ll probably do it anyway. 

New Beginnings

by Beth Royston

I’ve blossomed into a self-disciplined person who is nearly unrecognizable from my high school self. For a while during high school, I suffered from severe depression and social anxiety; I was very unmotivated to pursue college and a career, and felt hopeless about my life. I wasn’t that much of an outsider and had a lot of friends, but simultaneously felt like I didn’t fit in or belong. 

I remember when I began to unenthusiastically research schools, Portland State caught my eye immediately. Having always lived in a suburban area, the idea of being directly in the city was appealing, and the lush, green, forested surroundings sounded like a dream. I had been half-interested in psychology, but once I sat down and really started to evaluate what I’d want to study, it seemed instinctually right. A fire was lit under me when I took AP Psychology, and plans formed to make my dream more realistic by the day. I remember I was so anxious about getting accepted to PSU because I wasn’t confident about the grades on my application. I think I submitted too many letters of recommendation and didn’t sleep right at all while I was waiting. The morning I found out I was accepted, I cried. It felt like my ticket out of how awful I was constantly feeling and how out of place I felt, and my first real dreams were forming.

Now I’m a college junior, majoring in Psychology and “flourishing” is the perfect word to describe my college experience. I have a high GPA and, more importantly, a new take on life. While my mental illness struggles never really went away entirely, they drastically improved. I look at things differently and really enjoy the flexibility of college. I get to choose what I study, especially in my upper level years, and make my own schedule. The stress of finding my own apartment and paying bills turned out to be the kind of struggle that turned into grit. The responsibilities of my own adult life made me take on discipline and genuine care for my own education and future. College isn’t for everyone, but I was really transformed by the lifestyle change when I was having the hardest of times, and that’s definitely something to be grateful for.