Posted by: rcieri | August 10, 2010

Start-ups and Summer Reading

Baltimore and Washington SmartCEO magazines’ August issues include “What are you reading? Local CEOs recommend their favorite business books,” and “Start-up Stories: How to rev up a new business in a recession.”

Posted by: rcieri | May 29, 2010

Work for FutureWeb and Imagining the Internet

Elon University Communications Professor Janna Anderson led a group of more than 20 students in planning and implementing FutureWeb in Raleigh, N.C. April 28-30.

Rachel Cieri was part of a group of Elon University undergraduates who planned, implemented and produced near real-time coverage of FutureWeb, an international Internet conference (co-located with WWW2010). Sponsored by Imagining the Internet, Cieri served as a Senior Reporter, writing pre-conference features, live-blogs, full-length reports and tweets.

Cieri and other student journalists’ work can be found on the FutureWeb blog and Imagining the Internet website. Click the links below to view Cieri’s contributions.

Live blogs

Photo by Elon University Relations photographer Kim Walker.

Education experts say the future of learning will be determined by students

Photo by Elon University Relations photographer Kim Walker.

FutureWeb open source panel discusses its evolution, growth, governance

Photo by Elon University Relations Photographer Kim Walker.

Bob Young shares insights on future of publishing business model

Photo by Elon University Relations Photographer Kim Walker.

Values Panel discusses end-to-end principle, safety, governance

Photo by Elon University Relations Photographer Kim Walker.

Future of Entrepreneurship Panel discusses “platinum age”

Full-length reports for Imagining the Internet

Special Session: Tim Berners-Lee and Danny Weitzner

Special Session: Internet Visionary Vint Cerf Shares His Foresight

Special Session: ‘Cluetrain’ Co-author Doc Searls Shares His Foresight

Keynote Session: The Future of Print Publishing and the Internet

Panel Session: The Future of Open Source and the Internet

Graphic by Sarah Beth Costello

By Rachel Cieri

April 28, 2010

It was a typical Monday night at about 9:30 p.m. when Elon University junior Linda* returned to her Williamson Avenue house. In her usual after-gym routine, she jumped in the shower in her first-floor bathroom, completely unaware of the shock the next few minutes would bring.

Robe on and hair towel in hand, Linda saw an unfamiliar man open the bathroom door. She paused in surprise, thinking it might be her landlord.

“I kind of looked at him questioningly, and then I heard what he was saying,” Linda said. “He was kind of talking dirty and calling me ‘baby’ and kind of cooing. I looked down, and he was masturbating. My first instinct was just flight.”

The next thing she knew, Linda was sprinting across her front yard and into her neighbors’ open door to find the house empty. She barely remembers pushing past the man standing in the doorway.

“I ran around screaming their names, and it just kind of clicked that they weren’t there,” Linda said. “I went into the last room, and I turned back, and there was a deadbolt, so I deadbolted the door. I was freaking out for a solid 20 minutes not even knowing what to do.”

With no cell phone and only a dead laptop in the room she’d locked herself in, the only thing Linda could think to do was stay quiet. As she fled, she’d seen the intruder following her, and she was terrified he’d followed her into the house.

“I was just scared to leave that room and afraid to leave that house by myself if he was outside,” she said. “I was so terrified of what he was going to do to me.”

Meanwhile, Linda’s roommate had locked herself in her upstairs bedroom after hearing a scream. They had a similar incident this summer, so she didn’t want to take any chances. She called the police only for them to find the house empty and assume it was a false alarm. It wasn’t until her neighbors came home that they “put two and two together” and called the police again.

But this incident wasn’t to be the first or the last. It was just one in a series of indecent exposure crimes and intruders in student housing that left students at Elon fearing for their safety.

Hitting home

As Kelly* can attest, stories of the incidents don’t quite hit home until they happen to you.

“It’s something you read about with all the e-mails, but it’s still not really real to you,” she said. “And then to actually see someone like that out on your doorstep, it’s very strange.”

In mid-December, Kelly had a similar scare. One night close to the end of fall semester, Kelly walked home from a holiday party with a group of friends to her West College Avenue apartment, said
goodnight to her next-door neighbor and went inside. Just a few minutes later, she heard a knock.

“I thought it was my neighbor just coming back to get something she’d left, so I went and answered the door without even thinking, and it was this random guy,” Kelly said.

When the man at her door asked who’d dropped her off, Kelly started to close the door, only to have the stranger push back.

“I didn’t know who he was, and he asked if he could come in, so I just slammed the door,” she said. “Then he moved into the window and started taking off his pants.”

Kelly ran screaming up the stairs to her bedroom and called 911.
Though she’d read the infamous “Smith Jackson e-mails,” sent from the dean of students to report any threats to campus safety, she’d never given them more than a passing glance until she became the subject of one.

Elon junior Alice*, another victim, agreed. Alice had stopped at the local Food Lion around 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 19 to find the parking lot overflowing with shoppers, so she parked in one of the last available spots. Walking to the store from the far end of the lot, she noticed a beige sedan following her.

“If I outstretched my arm, I could touch it. It was that close to me,” Alice said. “It was going just as fast as I was walking, and I thought it was just a crowded parking lot, but there were no cars in front of him.”

“My first thought was of the Smith Jackson e-mails,” she said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is happening to me right now. I’ve heard of it happening to other girls, but — oh, my gosh.'”

Linda expressed the same sentiment, saying that she’d even
contributed to the jokes her classmates made about the crimes before one of them happened to her.

Humor heals all?

“Those jokes do get old and kind of annoying, but I’m sure I was making them before it happened to me, so I can’t really get too mad about it,” Linda said.

Now, it’s not so funny when another student refers to “the ‘bater,” a nickname given to the man (or men) committing the indecent exposure crimes.

“It’s humorous in the fact that it’s a very strange crime,” Kelly
said, acknowledging her classmates’ responses. “But it was really scary.”

On the other hand, Alice won’t tolerate the joking.

“I honestly don’t think it’s a funny situation, having been there,” Alice said. “I find that really offensive. I know it’s in good fun, and I know it’s just them being silly, but it really bothers me.”

Shortly after the recent string of crimes, sophomore Adam Lawson
created a Facebook fan page devoted to making light of Smith Jackson e-mails. Alice was shocked when she saw a post about the incident she was involved in.

“The most recent ‘status’ was like, ‘Whoever that dumb bitch was who didn’t call the police’ Something like that,” Alice said. “And ‘What did she think would happen if she called a day late?’ I had to turn off my computer. I can’t believe someone would say something like that. You’re not in the situation. Granted, maybe they’re just saying that to draw attention to the group or to be vulgar for whatever reason. But that kind of took me aback.”

Leigh-Ann Royster, Elon’s coordinator for personal health programs and community well-being, has a different take on the joking, based on her 14 years of experience with victims of sexual violence.

“I think that it is a natural reaction, unfortunately, in our culture to
minimize incidents of sexual violence for other folks,” she said. “I think that it’s easy for people to joke about or minimize or blame the victim for choices that he or she has made because then it keeps them safe. It’s sort of like self-protection.”

Royster said this attitude is not unusual in any setting, but she thinks education about sexual violence will help the Elon community take it more seriously.

“It’s hard to imagine, in terms of how your safe environment feels shattered, until you’ve been the survivor of a crime like one of these,” Royster said.

Feeling unsafe in your own home

The safety of their environment is something Linda, Kelly and Alice have been forced to reevaluate in the past few months. Like most Elon students, they’d previously felt secure in a smalltown, suburban community. The crimes they experienced put a new perspective on the safety precautions they’d always been told to take.

“My dad was adamant about me getting a gun,” Kelly said jokingly,
noting that this particular solution would be a bit extreme. “But now I have the curtains loose over the windows, and I keep bear mace by the door.”

A tour guide for Elon’s Office of Admission, Kelly said it feels “weird” when the parents of prospective students ask her about campus safety.

“In general, I still do feel safe, but when I tell them that, (the crime) is always in the back of my head,” she said.

Linda, though, is still dealing with a fear of being alone in her own house.

“If I come home and the front door of the house is unlocked, I’ll just feel really uncomfortable and usually go over to a friend’s house and wait until someone gets back,” she said. “I still usually sleep with my roommate in her room. I’m still kind of scared to sleep
by myself in that room.”

Because Linda’s roommate was the victim of a similar incident in their house this summer, the coincidence has her convinced the intruder watches the house.

“Three of my roommates have boyfriends, and we have guy friends over all the time, and he’s never accidentally come when any friends or guys have been there,” she said.

Although Alice generally feels safe during the day, her job with Campus Recreation sometimes requires her to be at Koury Athletic Center by 5 a.m., when it is usually still dark. In the past, she’s always driven to work from her off-campus apartment, but when her
car was towed from the gym parking lot, she was told that she’d need another way of getting there.

“I’m not trying to be dramatic, but after that happened, I just don’t want to walk by myself when it’s dark out,” she said.

Official treatment

Other than this particular incident, Alice has been appreciative of the police force’s efforts to catch the man responsible for the crime at the Food Lion, saying that they’re serious about catching him. Kelly was also appreciative of their work, noting the quick response time and eagerness to help.

But at the same time, Kelly said she wishes they would pursue their leads more actively.

“I don’t think they’re doing the greatest job,” Linda said. “My dadactually came down a week or two after it happened, and it just seemed like they didn’t really know what they were doing. He said they constantly kept ruling people out that could easily be the guy. I feel like they’re jumping to conclusions so fast.”

Alice also expressed displeasure with an Elon Campus Safety and Police secretary that scolded her for reporting the Food Lion crime the next day.

“When she heard it happened the night before, she freaked out. She was like, ‘Why didn’t you call? I can’t believe you didn’t call 911.'” Alice said.

The late report syndrome

“The thing is, my first inclination was to run, not to stay in this parking lot and describe him,” Alice said. “It wasn’t even that I didn’t think to call the police. I just wanted to get out of there. I
didn’t think about calling anyone.”

The other two victims had similar reactions, wanting only to put as much distance as possible between them and their attackers as quickly as they could.

“I think that sometimes you lose your logic when you’re in a situation like this,” Alice said. “I remember when I read the e-mails, I was like, ‘Why didn’t you call the police? That could have helped so much.'”

In Alice’s first thoughts of panic, she worried that maybe it wasn’t “technically” indecent exposure since the criminal was in his own private property (his car), that calling the Burlington police would take them away from more dangerous crimes, and that calling Elon Campus Safety and Police wouldn’t be appropriate because it was out of their jurisdiction.

Although Kelly called the police as soon as she’d slammed her door, she remembers an impulse to call her boyfriend instead.

“But I do remember reading all those e-mails that are sent out all across campus that are like, ‘Call 911 first. Don’t call Campus Security, call 911,'”she said.

This impulse, Royster explained,comes from the stranger violation thatvictims of sexual violence feel.

“Sometimes when you’ve been assaulted by a stranger, then calling another stranger isn’t necessarily the first thing you want to do, even though we get those messages about calling 911 and making sure you do this immediately,” she said.

Royster also noted that as a general rule, people are more likely to question the actions of the victim in sexual crimes, and victims may question their own justification before seeking help.

Alice’s thought process involved self-doubt, but Kelly felt a sense of responsibility for what happened to her.

“It was stupid not to look who it was first (before opening the door),” she said. “Yeah, he shouldn’t be creeping around like that, but, you know, lock your door and be aware of your surroundings.”

Criminal at large

The crimes this winter certainly weren’t the first of their kind. For more than four years, indecent exposure incidents have been reported on and around campus, leading the community to ask, “Why hasn’t he been caught?”

The victims of these crimes agree when they were caught in the moment, they weren’t concentrating on the criminal’s face. This makes it hard for police to get a good description and even harder for them to make a positive identification.

Linda and Kelly said they think it is likely the same man who committed all of the crimes, but neither is sure she could identify him if she saw him again.

“I told them he looked like Alan from ‘The Hangover’ without the beard,” Kelly said. “But when they asked me questions like ‘Did he have freckles?’ I was like ‘Well, I don’t know. Maybe he did?'”

In addition to the suggestive nature of police questioning, Linda said she’s not able to recall the incident in complete detail.

“I feel like I just try to block out what happened so much that it’s fuzzy,” she said. “I feel like it could either all come back and click, or, I don’t know. My mom wanted me to make a composite of him, but I couldn’t even do that.”

All three victims said that they’d read through old Smith Jackson e-mails to check if the descriptions matched the man they’d seen, and while Linda and Kelly saw strong similarities, Alice noticed enough differences to make her think not all of the crimes were
committed by the same man.

“As creepy as it is,”she said. “I think there is more than one person out there doing this.”

Editor’s note: Names have been changed to protect the safety and identities of the victims.

Photo courtesy of Duke Photography.

By Rachel Cieri

This post was originally written for and published on the FutureWeb Conference blog. Co-located with WWW2010, this international industry conference will be held at the Raleigh Convention Center April 28-30. Click here to register.

Duke University professor and social media expert Negar Mottahedeh started using Facebook to appease her mother. Little did she know, she’d be using the website to find safe havens for victims of violence in the Iranian election protest last summer.

Originally from Iran, most of Mottahedeh’s family managed to leave the country before the revolution in 1979, and since then, they’ve spread all over the world, from Norway to Kenya to Chile.

“I originally saw it as a way to unite the family and organized get togethers,” she said.

But she quickly recognized that social media could be used in even more powerful ways. In her work as an educator, she had her film students blog responses to movies, post comments on their readings and tweet their work to the “outside world.”

“Most Duke students come from a place of privilege,” Mottahedeh said. “Many already know a great deal, and they are there to get evidence for the fact that they know a great deal.”

With that in mind, her Introduction to Film Studies class organized the first-ever Twitter Film Festival to share their knowledge with the public. The class made segments and analysis from 35 of their favorite films public on the class blog, tweeting links to each and attracting more than 300 followers from all walks of life.

“Within the field of academics, I think [social media] will change the way we do research and the way we think about writing,” Mottahedeh said. “I think it will connect us as academics and help us stick alongside people who are not in academics.”

It wasn’t until last summer, though, that she and thousands of others watched as Twitter, Facebook and Google Maps were used to spread a global message in the Iranian presidential elections. As the incumbent regime suppressed protests on the ground, hundreds of thousands were tweeting their support or opposition.

Though Mottahedeh said she did not want to take sides in the political activism because it did not directly affect her, she became concerned by reports that the military police were taking the wounded to prison instead of hospitals.

“I joined the humanitarian effort to identify on Google Maps safe havens, directions and address for the injured to receive treatment,” she said.

In an effort to conceal their whereabouts, thousands of people tweeting from the ground changed their time zones, so only early followers like Mottahedeh knew where the information was coming from. She served as an active observer, posting her take on the use of social media in the crisis on her blog, The Negarponti Files.

Mottahedeh watched with the rest of the world as Iranian activists showed their support in unprecedented ways. In the past, protestors had worked to conceal their identities, but a new movement emerged in which tweeters showed their support by adding a green overlay to their avatars, with their faces turned straight to the camera.

Perhaps the most surprising movement came after a student was arrested for speaking about reform and human rights. The government-owned newspaper published photos of him wearing a woman’s veil, saying that he’d donned women’s clothing to escape persecution. Rumors to the contrary said the government forced him to wear the veil in an attempt to demean him.

In response, thousands of Iranian men changed their avatars to straight-on photos in women’s clothing. And it didn’t just stay online. All over the world, cross-dressed men gathered in person in demonstration of their support.

It was a statement saying, ‘I stand here in opposition to government. I stand against violations in human rights,’” Mottahedeh said. “I doubt that this kind of protest would be possible without social media.”

Mottahedeh will speak more about her observations and insights during the Future of Social Networks panel at FutureWeb April 29.

Posted by: rcieri | April 22, 2010

Replacements, Ltd.: A virtual tour

By Cyntra Brown and Rachel Cieri

For Vivian Koontz, working at Replacements is more than just her job – it’s a way to connect with her two teenage daughters.

Koontz, who has worked in retail at the world’s largest china retailer for 6 months, has already picked out her daughters’ china sets, the British Portmeirion Botanic Garden set from the warehouse’s thousands of patterns.

“One gets the flowers and one gets the fruit,” Koontz said of her 15 and 17-year-olds. “That way they can’t mix them up.”

Replacements has been selling old and new china, silver and collectibles to people like Koontz for more than 25 years. Founded by CEO Bob Page in 1981, the company started as a one-man business with Page making just enough to survive by collecting old china pieces from flea markets, but four years in, he’d made $4 million.

Today, Replacements sports a 415,000-square-foot facility and a 12,000-square-foot showroom that displays more than 300,000 different china patterns. In the next year, the facility plans to triple its size, expanding the McLeansville warehouse across Knox Road.

Watch the virtual tour or visit Replacements to see it for yourself.

Posted by: rcieri | March 29, 2010

Featured Female Startup: Michelle Edgar, Music Unites

The following was originally published on and exclusively owned by, an online magazine for college women. View the article on Her Campus by clicking here.

March 27, 2010

By Rachel Cieri

Michelle Edgar has always known she wanted to contribute to philanthropic music organizations, but if you’d asked her in college, she never would have thought she’d start her own charity.

The Northwestern University graduate has been involved with the arts since childhood, training in classical piano since age five and graduating from the Manhattan School of Music. But when she looked for an organization worth her support, her search came up short.

“None were true to what I stood for,” said Edgar.

What she does stand for is bringing people together to support underserved communities through all genres of music – be it classical, rock or hip hop – and that’s exactly what Music Unites does.

Edgar said the big idea came to her in 2008 after a special benefit concert for the Rainforest Foundation, a philanthropic organization started by rock phenomenon Sting and his wife Trudy. The show featured well-known artists like James Taylor and Billy Joel, but had classical artists and the artists’ children programmed into it as well.

“It was a totally different way to experience classical music,” said Edgar. “It changed the way I listened to everything.”

From there, the light bulb was lit, and she organized a group that promotes emerging artists while bringing together people from all walks of life. In April 2009, New York City-based Music Unites was born.

“People asked me, ‘Why now, in a recession?’” said Edgar. “But you just have to listen to yourself. I’m a firm believer in pursuing your dreams.”

One of the group’s first major projects was organizing a high school Youth Choir that brings together students from all five boroughs, giving them opportunities to meet and perform with emerging artists.

“It’s for children who might not have the opportunity to learn music,” said Edgar. “In a recession, the music program is one of the first things to be cut. [The artists] can teach the children how to perfect their music.”

Edgar said Music Unites looks for artists from any number of genres but they all have one thing in common: the desire to break through traditional barriers and become mentors and role models.

Acoustic performer John Forte is just one of the many who gave intimate, unplugged performances to raise money for the Youth Choir. Another is Joshua Bell, the celebrated Grammy-winning violinist, who gave a performance in his own apartment to benefit the cause.

“I’m like a child at Christmas when it comes to our events,” said Edgar. “They’re all special for different reasons.”

So What’s Next?

Melanie Fiona, a new artist set to tour with Alicia Keys, will perform in an artist showcase as a part of Music Unites’s Women’s Empower Initiative at Cooper Square Penthouse. The performance is co-sponsored by OK! Magazine, where Edgar has her “day job.”

n the more distant future, Edgar said the group is working to establish a scholarship-based summer camp and accompanying festival, first in New York and then expanding beyond major cities. The group also hopes to explore ways new artists can make a living in this digital age without signing with major record labels.

“It’s my passion,” she said. “I want it to grow beyond New York and take it nationally and internationally.”

How YOU Can Help

Music Unites is always looking for young people to contribute their bright new ideas.

“We’re focusing on outreach – getting on the right blogs and Twitter,” said Edgar. “We’re interested in expanding our team, especially in PR and marketing.”

For more information, check out Music Unites’s Web site.

You can also help Music Unites with its newest funding endeavor. The group is participating in the Pepsi Refresh Project, an online contest that could win Music Unites a much-needed financial boost with your votes. Visit the Pepsi Refresh site to help.

If you’d like to donate directly, use the options on the organization’s donation page.

Posted by: rcieri | March 4, 2010

Late to the Party?

Super-powered social media tool Google Buzz released, raises privacy concerns

March 4, 2010

By Rachel Cieri

This post was originally written for and published on the FutureWeb Conference blog. Co-located with WWW2010, this international industry conference will be held at the Raleigh Convention Center April 28-30. Click here to register.

The logo appeared as a tab in Gmail users' inboxes Feb. 9, prompting them to "follow" their contacts in a fashion similar to Twitter.

Lately, it seems, every social media mogul has jumped on the Twitter train, and search engine giant Google is no exception. The company releasedGoogle Buzz, its own microblogging tool, Feb. 9, allowing users to share photos, videos, links and status updates – this time with no 140-character limit.

Unlike other social networks, Buzz started with a built-in user base. Anyone with a Gmail account was automatically enrolled into the network, inviting some serious privacy concerns. Gmail users who thought their contact lists were private now run the risk of exposing who they’ve been in contact with. The privacy policy states, “When you first enter Google Buzz, to make the startup experience easier, we may automatically select people for you to follow based on the people you e-mail and chat with most.”

Users are shown are preview of the landing interface on Google Buzz's Web site. Photo courtesy of Google.

To most, this sounds helpful, but to professionals like journalists and lawyers with confidential sources and clients, it threatens to unravel entire private networks.

FutureWeb keynote speaker and social media expert danah boyd recognized this oversight quickly, Tweeting a link to an article that gives users a step-by-step guide to turning down the noise.

“Privacy isn’t a technological binary that you turn off and on,” boyd has said. “Privacy is about having control of a situation. It’s about controlling what information flows where and adjusting measures of trust when things flow in unexpected ways.”

For those unsatisfied with Buzz’s current form, Google has launched an official product ideas Web site on which users can make suggestions. More than 900 have already contributed.

But far from the privacy threat some perceive it to be, Google calls its social tool a new way for users to connect with the networks they already have.

“Buzz is like an entirely new world inside of Gmail,” product manager Todd Jackson said. “Organizing the worlds’ social information has become a large-scale problem, the kind Google likes to solve.”

Google Buzz has been integrated for mobile use. Photo courtesy of Google.

Striving to be more sophisticated than its competitors, the network uses an algorithm to filter through posts and publish only the information it deems a particular user would find interesting. It might even “recommend” posts from people a user is not following based on the people who comment. Like other social networks, it is integrated for mobile use, and plans for expansion are in the works.

Buzz is set to hit the Middle East in the near future, with an expected launch in Arabic.

“The service will be available across the world,” Google Chief Internet Evangelist andFutureWeb keynote Vint Cerf told reporters in Dubai.

Posted by: rcieri | February 24, 2010

Distance and Duties: The lives of military girlfriends

Feb. 24, 2010

By Rachel Cieri

The following was originally published on and exclusively owned, an online magazine for college women. View the article on by clicking here.

Lifetime’s “Army Wives” might be a little melodramatic (not to mention filled with bad acting), but the show’s emotion-filled episodes aren’t always far off base.

Her Campus talked with two experienced military girlfriends to find out what it’s like to have a camo-clad boyfriend.

Meagan’s story

For University of Maryland sophomore Meagan Keller, long-term separations and deployment decisions are a daily reality.

“It definitely has its ups and downs, but I know he’s eventually going to come home,” Keller said of Eric Goldenthal, her boyfriend of 11 months.

Goldenthal, a U.S. Army combat engineer, has been stationed in Heidelberg, Germany since July 2009, and Keller’s still waiting for the day he gets orders to a war zone.

“We haven’t gotten to deployment yet, but he could possibly see combat,” she said. “I don’t like having to worry if he’s coming home.”

The typical college girl might pine for her man while they’re separated for winter break, but Keller has endured six long months without so much as a hug from her boyfriend, a feat even veteran long-distance couples would admire.

So how has she done it?

In the beginning, “rough” wouldn’t come close to describing the effect on their relationship.

“We were feeling the stretch,” she said. “We wouldn’t talk every day because it was expensive and there was such a time difference. I didn’t see anything of him for months, just the pictures his friends posted, and that wasn’t even very often. We had to make the decision to take the extra effort and talk every day or it wouldn’t work.”

Then they discovered the joys of modern technology. If you ask Keller, she wouldn’t say she hasn’t “seen” her boyfriend in six months because she sees his face on a daily basis – on her computer screen.

Catherine’s story

Even with the distance, a virtual requirement for a relationship with a military man, girlfriends attest that there’s something about a man in uniform they just can’t resist.

Before Elon University senior Catherine Melendez even met her boyfriend, she watched him from afar at church, joking with her sisters every time she saw him. “Look, there’s Navy Guy!” they’d giggle. There weren’t many young people in their congregation to begin with, so Melendez jumped at her first opportunity to strike up a conversation when Matt Ramsey held the door for her one day.

Five months later, the two take turns driving the six hours between North Carolina and Maryland, where Ramsey is stationed and working as a civil engineer for the U.S. Navy.

Because Melendez’s parents are both in the Army, she knew what she was getting into.

“I talked to my mom about it – the sacrifices you have to make and the fact that you have to be a strong-willed person,” she said.

So when she wanted to take Ramsey to Puerto Rico with her family, she knew to tell him three months in advance so he could take leave (ask for vacation time), even though she wishes it could have been a surprise.

And because of her family history with the army, Melendez and Ramsey share a friendly Army-Navy rivalry. When the two went to the Navy Ball and the other officers found out about Melendez’s Army connection, they teased, “We won’t hold it against you.”

“Matt bought me a Navy hat to try and speed up the transition,” Melendez joked. “My dad wasn’t too happy about that. But most of the time they’ll say that we’re all in the same military, fighting for the same cause.”

The Perks

There’s no doubt that dating someone in the military can be as tough as an organic chemistry class, but it’s got its perks, too.

“I like that he has an established career, he knows what he wants, and he’s very patriotic about it,” Melendez says. “He has the same mentality my dad grew up with.”

And Keller says her man’s military mentality makes him all the more attractive.

“He’s independent and doesn’t need someone else to provide his food and clothing,” she said. “He doesn’t show fear, which I guess can be a plus and minus, but he’s stable through hard times.

The Military Girlfriend’s Handbook

Thinking about starting a romance with a man in uniform? Melendez and Keller give Her Campus their two cents on building a successful relationship when the military is involved.

Consider the Consequences

Keller says she has seen too many military girlfriends hang around for the wrong reasons, clinging to a fantasy before realizing their relationships aren’t likely to be as glamorous as Channing Tatum and Amanda Seyfried’s. Men in uniform are real people, not romantic movie characters.

“Consider the long-term effects,” Keller says. “Make sure this is something you want to do and that you want to be there to support him.”

Like all relationships, military relationships aren’t always easy. Any member of the military is likely to deploy or relocate at some point in his career, leaving a relationship in imminent danger of becoming long-distance.

Learn the Language

Melendez admits that on her first date with Ramsey, she embarrassed herself by pronouncing his rank incorrectly. “Apparently, everyone in the English-speaking world knows [how to pronounce it] but me,” she said.

It’s funny now, but no military man will be impressed when you inadvertently insult him by throwing around terms you don’t understand. Take an interest in the military jargon he uses so you can understand and contribute to conversations about his work.

Be Flexible

Melendez puts it bluntly: “The military owns you.”

According to her, building a successful relationship means accepting that fact.

“It’s a matter of knowing that what they’re doing is important,” she says. “You have to be more selfless. In a normal relationship, you’re used to having things your way. Sometimes you have to take the back seat and support the person you care about.”


Meagan Keller, sophomore at University of Maryland

Catherine Melendez, senior at Elon University

Posted by: rcieri | February 23, 2010

Photo story: ‘That’s ostriches for ya’

Drive too fast and you’ll miss it. 86-year-old Jake Perkins owns Rockingham County’s only ostrich farm in Reidsville, N.C.

Click here to view a Soundslides photo story. Use the “captions” link the bottom right corner to read explanations for the photos of this agricultural oddity.

Elon alumna Leela J. Gray bid farewell with to her family, including her daughter Bailey, before departing from the Tampa airport for Iraq.

January 20, 2010

By Rachel Cieri

Even after graduating, most college students spend years before they know what they’ll be doing the rest of their lives, but U.S. Army Lt. Col. Leela Gray knew her path by the time she was a sophomore at Elon.

Currently assigned to the Multinational Corps Iraq in Baghdad, Gray shares her insight on using her Elon education for a career in the military.

The Pendulum: What was your time at Elon like?

Leela J. Gray: Paying for college on my own meant working two jobs at times and taking student loans and the Pell Grant every semester. During my sophomore year, I was fortunate enough to be offered a two-year ROTC scholarship because of my grades and potential.  Juggling a 15-18 hour per semester school load, part-time jobs, ROTC and then having the privilege and opportunity to start an Alpha Omicron Pi chapter kept me very busy and laid the groundwork for my organizational skills I use today.

P: How has Elon changed since you attended?

LG: My husband, daughter and I visited Elon this June as we were driving on our move back to Tampa, Fl. from our year at the Army War College in Pennsylvania. The campus has grown immensely since 1988 but has retained the charm and character of the college I knew.

P: How have you been able to use what you learned at Elon as a mass communications major?

LG: I loved mass communications and think the courses gave me a wonderful baseline of knowledge from which to operate. My favorites were anything dealing with video. Of course technologies and techniques have dramatically leapt forward, but many of the communication principles remain constant.

What led you to join the armed forces?

LG: Initially I joined for the scholarship money to pay for two years of tuition.  But after a few years of serving, it was the quality of the people and the fulfillment of the work that kept me serving. This was especially true after I left active duty and realized how much I missed the caliber of people I was used to working with.  It drove me to join the Army Reserve.

P: What is your role in the Army?

LG: I provide tactical and operational planning and support to the soldiers and commanders that conduct operations with the Iraqi Security Forces (that combat) terrorist and insurgent networks that seek to discredit the legitimacy of the government of Iraq.

Gray works at Al Faw Palace in Baghdad, Iraq, providing tactical and operational planning and support for the U.S. Army.

P: Have you ever had to serve abroad or away from your family before?

LG: I’ve been blessed to have spent a year in the Sinai, Egypt in the Multinational Force and Observes peacekeeping mission and a year in support of Operation Joint Endeavor in the Balkans, but (I) did not have a family that I had to leave behind. This deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom was a choice that I made in conjunction with my husband and has proved more challenging since I have a family back home and because Iraq is a very complex operational environment.

P: How does your family feel about your deployment?

LG: My husband has always encouraged my Army career pursuits.  His willingness to be a single parent while managing his career is a testament to his conviction and support.  Additionally, many friends and family always come through when we need help juggling our career requirements like traveling out of town, or just as important, when it comes time for us to have some quality alone time like date nights.  My mom and sister always seem to be there for us when we want to get away for a few days as well.

P: What have been the best and worst parts of your job?

LG: The best part of this job is seeing the positive differences and changes in Iraq because of our hard work and commitment to improving security and stability to support the government of Iraq and its people.  The worst part, as expected, is being separated from your family for such a long period of time coupled with the long hours and weeks that can leave you exhausted. There is not much reprieve from the routine.

P: Do you have any stories or memories from your time in that particularly stand out?

LG: After 21 years in the Army, I have a lot of memories —many funny, many rewarding.  But in general, what strikes me as the most memorable is the amazing life I’ve gotten to lead while experiencing incredible places such as Egypt, Israel, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Germany, Hungary, France, Italy, Turkey, Iraq and Kuwait.  I’ve had just as many neat experiences serving here in the United States and representing the U.S. Army at events and ceremonies throughout the country.

P: What are you most looking forward to in the future?

LG: The immediate future —a few months from now —holds time with my family and friends in Tampa, Fl. when I return in spring 2010.   In my long term future, I expect to enjoy continued adventures in service to our country as an Army Reserve Soldier.

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