Sunday, December 31, 2006


I definitely wouldn't give David Bowie or any other singer any sleepless nights with my singing ability, so I'll just type out the song hook in the subject! :)

For the readers outside the USA who are unfamiliar with the IRS - the IRS is the government body in the USA that handles taxes (similar to Inland Revenue in the UK). The IRS is also responsible for granting "corporate status" to organizations.

As we're about to start the new year (it's already the new year for some of you!), it's time for changes.

One of the goals that I have with My Mwalimu is to get not-for-profit status with the IRS, which will allow this site to grow and be involved with numerous opportunities. Right now, I am completely self-funding this project. While I don't have a problem with funding it, it limits me to what I can do with this site. I'm hesitant on accepting advertising on the site (although I do have Google AdSense on this blog) because I'd like to keep the site neutral and balanced like the American magazine publication Consumer Reports, which provides unbiased analyses on products and services. With a not-for-profit status, My Mwalimu will qualify for a number of grants, be eligible to participate in university projects, and be able to collect more contributions since the contributions (including my own financial contributions!) will be tax-deductible.

While there are a number of things that I need to do before filing for not-for-profit status, such as create financial disclosures and form a board of directors, one of the things that I can easily do now is form a brand image with My Mwalimu.

As part of the brand image process, the web site has been redesigned. If you visit the site, you will notice that it has been redesigned to be consistent with Mwalimu's Corner's design. I also made a few technical/marketing changes to make it more SEO friendly, like removing the iframes and creating a site map.

Another part of the brand image process is to use the My Mwalimu site more as a site that provides free technology tutorials. Mwalimu's Corner will be used to publish information for IT students to use that can't be categorized on the web site, such as:

  • Quick tips on various technology (like "how to do it....")

  • Reviews of technology products and publications

  • Essays on technology topics

  • Tips for navigating the post-secondary educational system

I'd like to wish all of you a very happy new year, and I hope that the new year brings you everything you've always wanted.

Best regards,

Jennifer Lewis
Founder, My Mwalimu

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Choosing the Right School - REVISITED

As we're getting ready to start a new year, it's a good time to revisit the subject of choosing a post-secondary institution. If you are a graduating senior in high school, this is the time where you are looking at your post-secondary education options. This is also a popular time of year for non-traditional students (ex: working adults returning to school) to view their options as well.
Before continuing with this article, read the post that I made in July: Choosing the Right School

I cannot stress the importance of future students to investigate all of their options before making a selection. Students have so many misconceptions that they end up making poor choices. Here are some of the biggest mistakes that I've seen students make regarding their post-secondary education choice:

  • Students quickly choose to attend a for-profit institution because they assume their grades or test scores were too poor to get accepted in a college or university.

  • Students invest too much money in a field of study when they decide, mid-way through their studies, that it's not what they wanted to do when they "grow up".

  • Students don't spend enough time with investigating their options. For example, they choose a school without interviewing the professors and existing students or without sitting in on a class to see what it's going to be like.

  • The motivation for choosing a particular school has nothing to do with the quality of education. For example, students choose to attend a particular school because it's a "party school" or "it's the same school where 3 generations of my family attended".

Regional vs. National Accreditation
If you are looking to attend a school for a short period of time and transfer to another institution (ex: you are going to go to community college for two years and transfer to a four-year institution), you want to pay attention to how the school is accredited. If a school is nationally accredited, the credits will have less chance of transferring to a "traditional" college or university than it would if the school is regionally accredited. Believe it or not, regional accreditation carries more weight with most colleges and universities than national accreditation because the standards to be regionally accredited are more stringent. The boards that provide regional accreditation are the same boards that provide accreditation to the primary (elementary) and secondary (high) schools.
If you are not interested in transferring to other schools, and you are only interested in a career education (brush up on existing skills, learn new skills for a different career path), make sure the school is either regionally or nationally accredited. Like I mentioned earlier, most employers don't care about where you got your degree. They only care if you got your degree from an accredited institution.

If you are going to invest tens of thousands of dollars in something, wouldn't you spend time investigating where you are going to get the best return on investment? Think of your post-secondary education as an investment. You need to thoroughly investigate all the options before making your choice. Here are some suggestions on what to investigate:

  1. Investigate the attrition (drop-out) rate of the school. If the attrition rate is high, that's a red flag.

  2. If you are looking at a for-profit school, investigate their job placement rating. Don't just look at a number; look at how they derive that number. For example, if you went to a school to study networking, and you are working at Best Buy, the school may marked you as "placed in your field".

  3. See if you can interview professors and other students independently. The recruiter may bring in shills that will talk positively of the school, so you want to be able to talk to a sample yourself so you can get an HONEST opinion.

  4. Talk to people that work in the field that you're interested in and get their perspective of schools. For example, if you are going to study computer programming, talk to some software engineers and computer programmers and get their opinion on schools that interest you.

  5. DO A COST COMPARISON Remember that "expensive" doesn't mean the "best", and "cheap" doesn't mean the "worst"

If you have any questions, please contact me or leave a comment. I'll be glad to help you as much as you can.

The Common Misconceptions Students Have Regarding Schools

  • My grades/SAT scores/ACT scores were too poor to get into a "regular" college
    If you have had less-than-stellar grades or testing scores, you may not have a really good chance with getting into Harvard or MIT, but you will still be able to go to a community college. Nearly all community colleges don't look at testing scores or grades for admission criteria. You may have to take some remedial classes, but this can be your opportunity to redeem yourself. If you are going to a four-year institution after you finish community college, the four-year institution will look at your record at community college for admission.

  • Community College is for losers; employers won't take that degree seriously
    First point: very few employers care about where you went to school or where you got your degree. The only thing that they care about regarding your degree is whether it came from an accredited institution. Community colleges are accredited by the same boards that accreditate the four-plus year universities. Second point: you can use that two year degree as a stepping stone to a four-year degree from a university. Here's a brain-teaser: What do you call the Harvard graduate who spent two years at a community college and finished his/her schooling at Harvard? Answer: A Harvard graduate.

  • For-profit learning institutions are a scam
    Not so fast. While I prefer community and non-profit colleges over the for-profit colleges, they are not a complete "scam". For-profit colleges are starting to act as their non-profit cousins. Some are going so far as to get accredited by the same boards that accreditate the non-profit universities, which gives a student more options should s/he decide to transfer or further his/her education. I would recommend a for-profit institution if:

    • You already work in the field in which you are studying and you need to quickly update your skillset, AND you are able to get enough funding for the school where you are able to go for almost free or free

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The (Post-Secondary Educational) Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Post-secondary education (University or trade school) in the United States is very expensive compared to a post-secondary education in other countries. In some countries, a post-secondary education is free for its citizens. There is a revolution happening in a few US cities, including the city in which I live - Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is offering an educational plan for its citizens called The Pittsburgh Promise. If you live in the city of Pittsburgh, and you graduate from their public school system (and don't get into legal trouble), you will get a FREE post-secondary education. The idea was inspired by a plan that was launched in 2005 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the results in Kalamazoo were amazing (reversed attendance declines, reduction in the school dropout rate, and increased home sales in the city).

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Pittsburgh Public School's Superintendent Mark Roosevelt are hoping to implement this plan for the 2008 graduates of the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

If this works, I believe that this will start a trend in other cities in the United States to do the same thing because of the benefit for the city, school district, and citizens.

  • Declining cities making a comeback (like Pittsburgh) will see this as a way to increase residency, which will increase the tax base.

  • The school district will get a surge in student population, which will get them more federal funding.

  • Parents will not have to worry about how they will pay for a post-secondary education for their children, and children will be inspired to do their work.

I know what critics will say - "well, people's taxes will go up, and we're already being taxed enough!" Right now, it is too early to tell whether the existing taxes will be raised to cover this program. In Pittsburgh, Mayor Ravenstahl is currently looking for private funding from corporations to help launch this program.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Web Names are Changing

The AP is reporting that ICANN is revising standards for web names. Mostly, they are removing extensions for the former Soviet Union and for countries that do not exist anymore (such as Yugoslavia and Czechloslovakia), but they are also removing extensions that are no longer in use, such as .gb. ICANN is also looking into new name extensions as well.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Space...the Final Frontier

This morning on the news I heard a fascinating story about NASA's plans to build a colony on the moon in 2020 that will allow astronauts to stay on the moon for longer than a few days. The inspiration for this task was sprouted from the discovery of water on Mars. Not just ice and vapors - water. This discovery increases the possibility of setting up colonies on other celestial bodies, because where there's water, there's a chance to sustain life and a possibility of existing life forms (probably not little green men with three heads, but other small life forms). NASA wants to set up stations on the moon to allow astronauts to continue studying Mars and eventually set up stations and colonies on Mars.

Was Gene Roddenberry ahead of his time? Many people in technology admit that Star Trek was their inspiration, and it shows in the technology that we see today:

  • Small mobile phones

  • Electronic sensors to automatically open and close doors

  • Biometric scans (ex: fingerprints and retina scans

  • Biotechnology

This is a fascinating story to me. I never thought that this could happen in my lifetime, but it will. While fully functional colonies will not happen in my lifetime (or yours), we are still lucky to see the beginnings of this process.

Here is some information that fascinated me as a technology professional/student/teacher:

  • NASA will be going retro with the spacecraft. They are retiring the space shuttles and replacing them with the former Apollo rocket models. In order to make setting up stations and colonies on the moon feasible, NASA needs an Apollo rocket to be able to transport all the equipment and the supplies to the moon. The space shuttles cannot handle the load. Techology buffs always go for the latest ad greatest. NASA's decision is an example that the latest and greatest is not always the best solution.

  • On the other hand, the latest and greatest technology is what helped NASA make the discoveries on Mars, and it will also be used to help build the stations and colonies on the moon (and eventually Mars).

  • If the stations and colonies prove to be successful, is developing techology to perfect space travel the next step? NASA only sent manned spacecraft to the moon for a number of reasons:

    • The moon is close to the Earth.

    • NASA has enough evidence that sending manned spacecraft to Mercury and Venus wasn't feasible (both of those planets are mostly gas)

    • NASA wasn't sure if a manned spacecraft could land on Mars

    • In order to travel to celestial bodies past Mars, it would take YEARS to reach the destination with the technology that NASA currently has.

    Within the near future, perhaps in my lifetime, NASA will probably begin sending manned spacecraft to Mars (based on their further findings). If this works, will NASA begin to start studying ways to be able to travel to celestial bodies past Mars in days or weeks instead of years?

The resurrection of space exploration is an interesting topic to everyone. There are so many items to be addressed with this discovery other than technology: science, history, politics, and ethics.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

James Kim - 1971-2006

For those of you who don't know who James Kim is, James Kim was the senior editor for C-Net magazine. He and his family have been on the (United States) national news because they have been lost in the wilderness over the past few days. His wife and his two young children were found alive yesterday. Unfortunately, authorities found the body of Mr. Kim today.

I would like to extend my sympathies to the Kim family for their loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006 Site News: Looking for Volunteers

Mwalimu: Swahili word for "teacher"

When I founded My Mwalimu, my mission was to assist students and instructors in Information Technology by providing free interactive tutorials and free information such as links to other free tutorials. I chose the word Mwalimu to honor a Zambian friend of mine who used to call me that because I taught at post-secondary institutions.

Currently, the site is completely self-maintained. I'm funding the site, designing and developing the site, and designing and developing the tutorials. While I don't mind doing this, it gets difficult to frequently update the site. Therefore, I'm asking for help. I'm looking for volunteers with one or a few of the following skill sets:

  • Marketing and SEO skills

  • Training and tutorial development

    • Currently, I'm looking for tutorial development skills in IT subjects, although in the future, I would like to find tutorial development skills in mathematics and foreign language

  • Flash development skills

  • PHP skills

  • HTML and CSS skills

  • Technical writing skills

I know what you may be thinking: why should I help, and if I do help, what will I get out of it? There are a few things that you will "get out of it":

  • Your profile increases because you will have published work

  • You will have more work to add to your portfolio to help build your career

  • You will be helping other IT professionals, particularly students and teachers, enhance their education without breaking the bank

In 2007, I would really like to see this site grow. I'm currently working on getting a non-profit status so I will be able to get more funding for the site, since donations will be tax-deductible if the site has a non-profit status. I would also like to expand from the IT community by providing free tutorials to mathematics and foreign language students.

If you are interested in volunteering, please send an e-mail to Put the word "Volunteer" in the subject, and indicate what you would like to do in the body.

Thanks for your time and best regards,
Jennifer Lewis
Founder, My Mwalimu