NEW ORLEANS – Coming to New Orleans was full of surprises and delays, for Dr. John Barthell, provost of the University of Central Oklahoma and I. The flight that we were supposed to catch out of Oklahoma City had been canceled, pushing us back four-hours. Due to the change we missed everything on the first night of the conference, but had a great flight and ride to our hotel.
We arrived at 8 p.m. and headed to baggage claim, but picked up another passenger. While waiting for our luggage a random student, who realized we were going to the same conference by the large posters we were carrying, came up to us. He asked if we could split an Uber to our hotels. The only problem is Barthell does not use Uber and I have yet to move past the signup page. We agreed to share a taxi instead, though in the end payed for his portion.
Once all of our luggage came out, we walked outside to look for a cab and a man stepped out asking if we needed a ride. The man said that he would give us a limo ride for a taxi price, though in total it cost $45, so on par with a normal taxi. We agreed, since both of us seemed ready to be at the hotel.
During the drive, Barthell and his new found science friend talked during the entire trip, sitting in the second row. So being a reporter, I quickly began asking the driver about his life. Our driver was from Nigeria and was extremely friendly; quickly opening up about his life.
The driver, whose name and business card I had lost after coming back to a cleaned hotel room, moved to the United States when he was a child. He grew up in New York and said that he sometimes misses the place that he said was a “little bit of everything,” and would like to go back. However, he moved to New Orleans after a cousin suggested the low cost of living.
Being a used car salesman, he works from sunup until sundown and said he never wastes time. While he has no children, he is hoping to have two in the near future, despite the wishes of having more by his wife, who he calls “boss”. He said that even though he does not have children, times have never been easy, especially after hurricane Katrina.
He remembers the hurricane like it was yesterday and said that nobody was prepared for the day, including himself who lost his entire business. Since then, he has rebuilt his used car business, and now started a taxi service on the side.
We arrived at our hotel in about 20 minutes, due to his high rate of speed, and dropped off our extra passenger. Barthell and I rested for a few moments and left for dinner.
By the time we left for dinner, it was after 10 p.m. and we both headed for the streets only to be greeted by the phrase “The guy across the street is still open,” which was never the case. After trying five different places that were closed, we gave up and went back to the hotel.
We ate at the hotel restaurant and I had forgotten that the word ‘hot’ means HOT in Louisiana, after ordering some hot wings. Despite having a fire in my mouth during the entire dinner, we had a great first day.
Having my alarm set for six-o’clock, my body decided that it should wake up an hour early and was ready for the day. I went to breakfast at 6 a.m. after I read that they opened at that time, only to find out that they did not. I now had an extra 30-minutes and set out for a newspaper, quickly finding two of them.
Breakfast was good and was the usual overpriced hotel meal.
At 7:20 a.m. Barthell and I met to go and set up my poster for the day, which we were early compared to most everybody else. I was placed on the front row, which was one of the best places to have.
My presentation was at 3:30 p.m., so I had plenty of time to begin working on an article about Oklahomans at the conference and I quickly found them.
I walked inside on of the presentation rooms and met Haley O’Brien, an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University Health Science Center in Tulsa, who would be presenting on an issue that could affect every Oklahoman. We had an interview after her presentation and it will appear in The Oklahoman soon.
After having the interview, I moseyed around to many different events, interviewing anybody from Oklahoma. I left to have a quick lunch, coming back to begin scouting out the posters which were being presented.
There was one in particular that jumped out at me, (literally) which was a 3D poster discussing the material found in the feathers of birds. The research had a particular connection to Oklahoma, as one of the birds they studied was the bald eagle, a growing pastime for many in the northeastern part of the state.
As the presentation time began, I stood by my poster and realized that I had obtained the goal that many scientists enjoy, which was presenting their research.
I had a good amount of people come by and speak with me, most being older professors. I quickly understood that they had a piece of knowledge that the young scientist did not, which was communication.
Every one of them who stopped by, implored me to tell everybody who came by that communication with the average person about their work is crucial.
It was enlightening to see that the understood the benefits of being noticed through a newspaper by the average person.
However, one young scientist came up to my poster, looked over it and asked “Why should I care about this, only my peers care about my work.” My parade of hope for my generation was diminished.
It reminded me though of the job that journalist have. Which is that we need to make sure that everybody understands the importance of communicating with one another, especially between the public and those who are trying to understand the unknown.
Just as my parade of hope was diminishing, Katie Markstein, a junior at Le Moyne College in New York, came up and said hello and asked what my poster was about. So I went through a brief synopsis of the poster.
While giving the synopsis, I saw that she had a fondness for my topic, which was embedding journalism and science together. She said that she had begun thinking about ways to market herself and the research that she does.
We had a great time talking to each other and her recent research in San Francisco, which was through the Research Experiences for Undergraduates, the same program that I had reported on.
It was great to see another person who understood the importance of marketing herself and future career. I hope that the advice that I gave her will help her.
The poster presentation ended at 5:30 p.m. and Barthell and I went back to the hotel. He had dinner in the hotel and I went out with the group of students.
CAPTION: John Hranitz, a professor at Bloomberg University in Pennsylvania, talks with Sarah Anderson, middle and student from the Kansas University, and Olivia Niedzialek, a student from Bard College in New York, during the poster presentation.
HEAD PHOTO CAPTION: John Hranitz, talks as John Barthell, provost of the University of Central Oklahoma, listens with Meredith Johnson, left and from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, and Olivia Niedzialek on the right.