Wednesday, February 15, 2012

CAS Junior Reaches Globally with her New Non-Profit

Delia Rose Mandia is a busy NYU CAS sophomore double majoring in History and Language & Mind and double minoring in American Sign Language and Web Applications & Programming--while interning at the Alice Austin Museum this semester. Say that five times fast!

Mandia is no ordinary sophomore. Aside from double majoring, double minoring and interning, she sews at least one-hundred unique monster dolls per month for her newly formed non-profit, Night Night Monster (facebook). NNM.jpgUnlike many entrepreneurial ventures, Night Night Monster, which has spread both domestically and internationally, was not born from a moment of genius or the intention to "make it big." Rather, it started simply as a personal effort to rid herself of nightmares that she'd lived with since childhood. But as others observed and word-of-mouth grew, demand for these friendly stuffed-monsters stretched across the globe, and Night Night Monster was formed. And despite how new the organization is (formed in 2011), Mandia was recently selected to be in President Bill Clinton's Global Initiative Program for her work with Night Night Monster.

Last week, we talked to Mandia about Night Night Monster, how it was conceived, and how alumni might be able to get involved with this global initiative.  

Can you tell us what Night Night Monster is all about?

Night Night Monster (a dba of Night Night Dolls INC) is an incorporated nonprofit I started last year. We make dolls for children locally and abroad who suffer from severe nightmares and night terrors caused by trauma. Our dolls are used to neutralize the fear of monsters, including fear of the word monster. We make little whimsical Night Night Monster dolls that can be used by a child in any way he or she wants. Some kids say it helps them by guarding them, some say their Night Night Monster fights the bad monsters they see when they dream. And “Night Night” means bye-bye, meaning “Bye Bye Monster.” delia%20mandia.jpgI didn't know the dolls I was making could have that affect. But when I heard that was what one child was using it for, I jumped on the idea. I had nightmares and night terrors myself since I was very young. I had some health issues. I was on chemotherapy when I was little, and dealt with chronic pain (which I still live with). On top of this I didn't have the best home life. Now I'm in a safe place with my mom and grandma who love and support me no matter what. It wasn't until I was older, though, and in a better place that I realized not everyone is afraid to go to sleep. Not everyone wakes up screaming every night. I think that for me my daily hardships, my trauma, were translated into my dreams. I wish I had a doll like this when I was younger. Night Night Monsters are constructed using hypoallergenic, nontoxic materials.  

How long have you been managing Night Night monster, and how many dolls would you say you’ve created in that time? Is it a domestic operation, or do you ship them internationally as well?

I started it last year. I was home resting before and after a surgery. I wish I knew how many dolls I've made since starting Night Night Monster. In the beginning I wasn't thinking that this was going to be something that would actually catch on. So I wasn't keeping track. Whoever asked, I gave. By now I've certainly made into the hundreds. And yes, we ship internationally. We work a lot with Indian orphanages, for kids dealing with HIV/AIDs to leprosy. In the states we send to mainly hospitals and individual families, as well as to homes for children who have suffered from abuse. We've shipped to Haiti too. We send to whoever asks.

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 Do you ever get “thank you notes” from children?

 A lot of the dolls we send are to children whose first language is not English. I rather have a photo any day though. Seeing kids with something I made all the way on the other side of the world, smiling, is incredible. The first time I got photos back I cried. We do get letters all the time from the managers and social workers saying the children really enjoy the dolls.

From what I understand, you need to make at least 100 dolls every month (from your dorm room), on top of taking 18 credits, double majoring, double minoring, and interning at the Alice Austin museum. How do you get everything done!? And what is your strategy for finding helpers?

I'm actually taking 21 credits now! Over the limit- I needed special approval. I know, it's crazy. But I'm from the Multi-Task Generation. I can't do just one thing at once. While studying, I sew and watch sci-fi TV shows (mainly from the Stargate franchise... I'm a total nerd) or play video games. nnm%20materials.jpg I keep a 3.7+ GPA and am in the process of getting together an Honors Thesis for both of my majors. It's all about strategy and keeping an agenda. Granted I don't go out to parties like other college students, but frankly I wouldn't want to anyway. I rather be in my room working on bettering myself and helping others, than at a bar. I was raised to have certain values by my mom and grandma too, and I stick to them. My foundation is strong thanks to them. Studying and sewing is fun for me anyway. I love what I do. I'm lucky to have a great Lead Volunteer and friend, Danielle Amodeo. Also NYU has been so kind. We've had events with NYU's Palladium dorm and the Commuter Escape. Right now we have two great volunteer/interns from NYU. They are helping me a lot by making dolls and with media. The hardest part of running a nonprofit, and I imagine a small business too since there are a lot of similarities, is knowing when to delegate. That's the only way to grow and not drown in work overload. Learned that pretty quickly.  

Where did you learn how to sew?

I've always been into the arts, though I don't consider myself an artist. I paint and do embroidery. My poetry and photography have been published. Doll making was a natural extension. It was organic. I just picked up a needle like I picked up a paint brush or a pen and went at it. Though I do have grandmothers who were seamstresses. Maybe it runs in the family. My goal this summer is to make my two cousins and my best friend a dress. We'll see if that works out. I doubt it. The human body is a lot different than a little monster's body! And I hope to be working in a brain research center for some lab experience towards my 2nd major, Language & Mind.  

How long does it take to make each doll?

I don't really time myself because each doll is different and has different needs. I do run it like an assembly line. So I'll do all the cutting in one session, then the stitching in the next, the stuffing later, etc. Waiting for the paint to dry takes up the longest time. I guess maybe each doll I have my hands on for about ten or fifteen minutes. Again, this really varies. It also depends on how stiff my hands are. They don't always work right, so each doll looks different which works in my favor.

Have you learned anything since Night Night Monster’s conception?

Absolutely. People care a lot more than I thought. I heard the statistics about how we in the States give the most to charity independently, but I never took it seriously. On the news everything is about somebody being greedy or stealing. I've found the everyday person isn't like that. So many people have supported me, whether its by wishing me well, helping us make a doll, or giving a small contribution- all without me asking. I've learned people are inherantly good and want to help.

nnm%20doll.jpgDo you see yourself continuing along this path of social entrepreneurship upon graduating from CAS?

A life without service is a life not worth living. I don't remember who said that, but it's true. I can't imagine myself not being involved in some cause. I live my life this way, and always have because that's how I was raised by my mom and grandma. A life not involved with social entrepreneurship would be boring in any case, so why not go all in and make a difference? Why not leave a mark on the world by making one less child feel afraid? Our goal is to eliminate nightmares, one monster at a time.  

Is there any way interested NYU alumni would be able to help with Night Night Monster?

They can email me at drm355@nyu.edu or delia@NightNightMonster.org. Our website is www.NightNightMonster.org. We are always looking for extra hands, and since I have no experience with business any advice would be great. They could also make a donation to us through the website or email me (I rather email because PayPal takes a hefty percentage and we need every penny we can get for shipping and supplies. That's all we use the money for, period.)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Social Media for Social Change?: Professor Clay Shirky

It's safe to say that new digital media has altered the way we react to social issues. From Occupy Wall Street marches organized on Twitter and Facebook to the digitized SOPA and PIPA petitioning, social media has had a definite effect on how we protest. However, is this change for the better or for the worse?

Clay Shirky is an NYU professor of new media at Tisch and the Arts & Science Journalism Institute, and he is considered an expert on the affects of emerging digital media technologies on society and the economy. socialmedia.png

On Monday this week, Professor Shirky was featured by National Public Radio speaking on how social media allows current events to be shared much more rapidly than traditional media. Shirky explains that such sharing initiates quick emotional responses that often cause the social media world to either bolster or denounce a given news item. And although online communication can quickly generate interest in a given topic, digital supporters of an issue are typically not as committed as traditional activists.

Take a look at the points raised by Professor Shirky and NPR's Audie Cornish in the interview below. (Or listen to the interview here.) And be sure to let us know what you think: Is social media good or bad for social change? Post a comment! 

CORNISH: We've heard plenty about the role that Facebook in particular has played in the Arab Spring uprising. But over the past few months, social media have also led to a very different kind of revolution here at home. Late last year, a social media-fueled backlash forced Bank of America and Verizon both to drop proposed fees. Last month, Congress found itself similarly flooded with complaints and reversed course on a pair of anti-piracy bills. Then, just last week, it was the breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure backing off plans to cut funding to Planned Parenthood. For more on what this all means, we're joined by Clay Shirky. He's a professor of New Media at New York University. Welcome, Clay.
CLAY SHIRKY: Thanks so much, Audie. Thanks for having me.
CORNISH: So, has social networking really made a difference or is it just ramping up the speed of things?
SHIRKY: Well, I think that those questions can't be asked in that way because faster is different. If you look back at, say, what Kate Hanni did with the Flyers Bill of Rights starting in 2006. She was the woman who was stuck on the tarmac for eight hours. Got enraged, started a political movement using, in the day, blogs and email to pressure Congress to alter their policy. That took her years to do that. And you look at the Susan Komen thing and that took something like 48 hours to get them to reverse course on a fairly major decision. So, faster protests are different kinds of protests, in part because our emotions work much faster than our intellect. So, when you get people angry quickly, things can spread like wildfire, in a way that they can't on slower media.  
CORNISH: Looking at the issues that we brought up - the Komen issue, Verizon, Bank of America...  
SHIRKY: BoA.  
CORNISH: Yeah, even the SOPA protest about anti-piracy bills. These issues are so different, but what is the common denominator in how those protests caught on?  
SHIRKY: The common denominator is that the public has a medium in which they can synchronize real action on an issue, without requiring everybody to be activists in some kind of general ongoing way.  
CORNISH: Which must be huge. I mean, if you think about standing on the street and trying to gather signatures for a petition. That's a lot less fun than just asking someone to post such and such a thing on their Facebook.  
SHIRKY: Yes. And so not needing everyone to be a committed activist, to get them to decide to take action, is a big change. On the other hand, people can get on to issues much quicker but they can get off of those issues much quicker, as well. So it's actually a very different dynamic.  
CORNISH: Yeah, and what's the danger of that? Because, you know, after Komen for the Cure, Super Bowl was the trending topic. It seems as though, you know, these waves can shift pretty rapidly.  
SHIRKY: Right. No, absolutely. The danger is that the inconsistent attention that comes from a mass of people has some salutary effects for democracy, but also carry some risks. And the risks are that we get a set of policies that are entirely subject to the whims of people's readily activated emotions. But the overall change has been that the people's potential oversight and involvement is simply at a higher level now, because everyone can see the outrage. And so, there's no way for the target of the outrage to sort of say, well, some people are calling us against us, but other people are calling us pro - so it's about even. Right? When the Susan Komen thing happened there was no way for Komen to stage-manage the issue.  
CORNISH: That's Clay Shirky. He's a professor of new media at New York University. Clay, thanks so much.  
SHIRKY: Thank you, Audie. Thanks for having me.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Photographing the Ocean: Joseph Tepper (CAS '14)

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Joseph Tepper (CAS '14) is an ocean-loving, adventure-seeking A&S undergrad and underwater photographer. He is also the assistant editor at Divephotoguide.com, a popular underwater imaging website, and Scuba Diver- Through the Lens, the world's only underwater photo magazine. Since his first dive at the ripe age of ten years, he has fallen in love with exploring the underwater world and capturing his dives with beautiful images. In fact, last year, Tepper was honored by the 2011 38th Festival of Underwater Images Marseille as the recipient of the Our World Underwater Scholarship Society Prize.

This fearless diver has seen a lot down there--sting rays, sharks, and even penguins! Just take a look at some of his photographs...

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Pretty cool huh? Well, we knew you'd think so--so, we contacted him and asked him a few questions. In the Q&A below, we talk to Tepper about the diving experience and what his time at NYU has been like so far:

You’ve stated before that you first started diving at age ten. When/where was your most memorable/life-changing dive?

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While I have accrued more than 1,000 dives in the last ten years, one of the most special remains the first time I strapped the tank on my back and jumped in the ocean. Only ten years old, I was on vacation with my family in Hawaii where I saw a handful of people learning to dive in the resort pool. When I had tired of holding my breath and diving down 12 feet to say “hi” to the neaveau divers, I tried signing up for a lesson of my own, only to discover I was two years too young. Luckily, my devoted mother and accomplice convinced the staff that I was actually 12 years old who happened to be 4-feet tall and weighing in at 95 pounds soaking wet (which I soon would be). Wading into the water off the hotel beach I remember feeling the weight of the 50-pound tank on my back disappear and thinking, “see, this wasn’t such a bad idea after all.” It was only after crawling hands and knees back onto the shore after my first dive that I realized two things—diving in the ocean was much better than watching people in the pool, and I was ready for a growth spurt.

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Have you ever been in a dangerous situation underwater?


tepper%20image%20manta.jpgDespite fears of sharks, claustrophobia and the lochness monster, diving is a very safe pastime—sharks rarely bite divers, the ocean is surprisingly open and we’re still waiting to hear from “locky.” What people may look at as dangerous underwater – getting caught up in a feeding frenzy of sharks or fast moving current, for example – photographers see as prime shooting opportunities. It is safe to say that, in general, what separates photographers from the average observer is the gut-wrenching urge to run towards danger to get that one shot.

When did you become interested in photography, and how has it changed the diving experience for you?

I purchased one of those blue, disposable underwater cameras from the hotel gift shop and began snapping away on my first dive, running out of film only minutes into the water. Needless to say, I have improved my equipment slightly since that first camera, but my eagerness to capture the underwater world on a dive in the middle of the South Pacific, waterfall in central park or a quarry in southern Illinois is just as strong as the day I bought that disposable camera.

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Can you talk a bit about your typical process when going on a dive?

The thing I love most about underwater photography is the absence of anything typical. Some photo-shoots involve weeks of scouting, coordinating with human models and hoping the elements cooperate, while some of the best opportunities are found by just grabbing a camera and winging it. During a break on a photo expedition to the Galapagos I noticed about two dozen “Silky” sharks hanging off the back of our boat and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to jump in. Unfortunately, the crew was not to thrilled with my idea of jumping in and tying myself to the ship, so I had to settle with dunking half my body and camera off the back deck while a lucky volunteer held my feet. The end result was a series of dramatic shark photos and some unhappy parents.

What made you choose to attend NYU?

tepper%20image%20ghost%20pipefish.jpgThe college search for me was very much a blur: applications going out, letters flying in. By the time all was said and done, I realized that going to college in a place that allowed me to explore myself mattered as much as my major. It’s funny how things work out. You can have a plan to be a biology major at a school in New Haven, Boston (well outside Boston) or any of those other places where people don’t actually say the name of the school, but sometimes the best thing to do is not follow a plan.

How have your studies at NYU influenced or changed your approach to underwater photography?

I have actually only taken one photography course at NYU so far, but so much about photography cannot be learned in a classroom. Having daily access to one of the world’s most active and photogenic cities has been as valuable as any formal training. Much of the technique and artistic flare used in underwater photography can be applied land-lubbing subjects. I also took an Environmental Journalism class Junior year, which allowed me to use my writing as a tool to compliment my photography in my efforts to show the beauty of the troubled underwater environment

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

tepper%20image%20goby%20fish.jpgI would like to say I have a clear picture of myself in ten years, but there are some images that I just can’t visualize. Photography and journalism are experiencing tumult with the transition to digital media, and the ocean is in similarly troubled waters. The good news is powerful photography and poignant journalism continue to affect change in our world—so all I can hope to do is get a little closer to that level in the coming decade.

Be sure to follow Joseph Tepper on Twitter and Tumblr!