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You Asked Monika, She Went to the U.S. National Arboretum

Last week, we started a new feature, asking our audience and readers to give us the name of a place, and we would visit it for them. Pretty cool, right?

Our first quest came from Mohamed Hussein.

"Please, I like to see U.S. National Arboretum."

First, I had to find it.

The arboretum is not part of the downtown Washington Mall area where 14 museums and institutions line the grassy and treed area that stretches from the Washington Monument (an obelisk) to the U.S Capitol. That's what you normally see on postcards.

Image via Google
Image via Google

The National Arboretum is more than 400 acres of trees, plants, herbs and flowers in the northeast part of the city, along the Anacostia River. It was established in 1927 and it's a living museum where trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes according to its website.

The arboretum -- "arbor" is a garden structure on which plants and vines can grow -- is divided into 10 themed gardens and collections such as Asian Collection, National Herb Garden, National Bonsai & Penjing Museum and others. It’s like taking a walk in a really big and well organized park, but with research labs.

Thanks to Google maps you can actually take a virtual stroll through the Arboretum.

We arrived in the morning and headed to the information center and asked for the four best things to see. The lady at the desk took our map and with a steady hand circled National Bonsai & Penjing Museum, National Herb Garden, National Capitol Columns and Asian Collection.

We started in the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. The difference between bonsai and penjing (or penzai) is that bonsai is the Japanese style of growing ornament trees and penjing is its Chinese precursor. Bonsai is the Japanese way of pronouncing penzai and thus the origin of the word. This artistic way of growing trees dates thousands of years back. For the grower it is an exercise of patience, consistency and ingenuity, and for the viewer it's a pure pleasure of looking at little ornamental trees. The miniature bonsai can be as small as 8 cm and the large can be as "big" as 200 cm, depends on the type. The age of the trees also depends on their type, but due to their need for delicate care, they can be killed fairly quickly. The collection in the National Arboretum is divided into three Pavilions (Japanese, Chinese, North American) and was started in 1976 by donation of 53 bonsai to the people of the United States.

When you're approaching the Herb Garden the smell of herbs just hits you (what a surprise). The Herb Garden began in 1980 as a gift to the people of the United States by the Herb Society of America. To this day, it is the largest design herb garden in the country. It contains over 800 kinds of herbs. Every plant in this garden is an herb, including trees.

However as you walk through you realize that you have no idea how each herb looks like, even the ones you normally use in kitchen, which makes you feel really smart. With that in mind I started looking for chili peppers. I was positive I would recognize at least those, but I did not find them. Not many people realize trees are also considered herbs as many of them are used as medicine and spices.

The perfect example would be Elder, Ginkgo, Lemon Tea Tree and Coffee plant. The coffee plant is considered herb because it's not used only to make our favorite coffee drink, but is also used as medicine. I ended up having a little love moment with the coffee plant as coffee is my daily live support and we headed over to the National Capitol Columns.

The cool thing about the Columns is that they have nothing to do with flora, yet they are the most photographed attraction in the National Arboretum. Nevertheless they are very majestic as they used to be part of the U.S. Capitol. The columns were built years before the dome of the U.S. Capitol. The dome ended up being bigger than planned and didn't match the columns. That is why they were replaced in 1958. The U.S. government held the original columns in storage until 1984 when the Department of Agriculture decided to display them in the National Arboretum. The steps leading up to the columns also used to be part of the east side of the Capitol.

After the columns the day was growing old and we ran out of time to visit other collections and had to end our visit at the National Arboretum.

The arboretum is a very large area. Even though there are streets connecting all its parts and you can get to different parts quicker, time is still of the essence. We spent over an hour enjoying the calm atmosphere of the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum and about the same time discovering herbs of the National Herb Garden. It is easy to loose track of time if you wonder around such beautiful surroundings, but every minute is worth it.

I want to thank Mohamed for sending me to the U.S. National Arboretum, because it is a truly beautiful place and I wish I could’ve spent the whole day there.

The arboretum is open every day (although I recommend to check their website as there might be exceptions) and the admission is free. It is a perfect place to take an afternoon walk if you want to get away from busy city.

If there’s anything else you want us to see or do, leave a comment and we’ll go right ahead and do it. Next VOA Student U guide is our Liz K!

Please leave a comment here, and visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, thanks!

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US advisory council ends Nigeria visit, signs student exchange deal

Deniece Laurent-Mantey is the executive director of U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement.
Deniece Laurent-Mantey is the executive director of U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement.

Members of a U.S. presidential advisory council have approved a student exchange deal between an American college and a Nigerian university as part of the council's effort to strengthen collaboration on education, health, entrepreneurship and development between Africa and Africans living abroad.

The council also visited a health facility supported by the United States Agency for International Development in the capital.

Nigerian authorities and visitors chatted with members of the U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement as they toured a healthcare facility in Karu, a suburb of Abuja, on the last day of the council's three-day visit to Abuja and Lagos.

The facility is one of many supported by the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, to improve the management of childhood illnesses, family planning, immunization and delivery.

The tour was part of the council's effort to promote African diaspora-led investments in technology entrepreneurship, education and healthcare delivery.

"They're doing a phenomenal job there, it really gave us a sense of what the healthcare system is in Nigeria," said Deniece Laurent-Mantey, executive director of the advisory council. "This is our first trip as a council to the continent and we chose Nigeria for a reason — the diaspora in Nigeria is very active, very influential, and they're really a source of strength when it comes to our U.S.-Africa policy. And so for us coming to Nigeria was very intentional."

The council was created by President Joe Biden in September to improve collaboration between Africa and its diaspora in terms of economic and social development.

Akila Udoji, manager of the Primary Healthcare Centre of Karu, said officials in Nigeria were pleased that the council members were able to visit.

"We're happy that they have seen what the money they have given to us to work with has been used to do, because they have been able to assist us in capacity-building, trainings, equipment supply and the makeover of the facility," Udoji said.

Earlier, the council signed a deal for a student exchange program between Spelman College in the southern U.S. city of Atlanta and Nigeria's University of Lagos.

Laurent-Mantey said education exchanges are one of the council's top priorities.

"In Lagos, we had the president of Spelman College — she's also a member of our council — she signed an agreement with the University of Lagos to further education exchange programs in STEM and creative industries between those two universities," Laurent-Mantey said. "And I think for us it's very important, because Spelman College is a historically Black university, and so here we are promoting the importance of collaboration between African Americans and Africans."

In March, the advisory council adopted its first set of recommendations for the U.S. president, including the student exchange initiative, advocating for more U.S. government support for Africa, climate-focused initiatives, and improving U.S. visa access for Africans.

The council met with Nigerian health and foreign affairs officials during the visit before leaving the country on Wednesday.

American Academy of the Arts College announces closure

FILE - Signs and writing denouncing the closure of the University of the Arts are seen at Dorrance Hamilton Hall on June 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. More recently, the American Academy of the Arts College in Chicago announced it would close.
FILE - Signs and writing denouncing the closure of the University of the Arts are seen at Dorrance Hamilton Hall on June 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. More recently, the American Academy of the Arts College in Chicago announced it would close.

The American Academy of Art College in Chicago announced it would be closing after 101 years of preparing students for careers in art and illustration.

WTTW news reported that like other art colleges, the academy saw enrollment drop after the pandemic, and officials made the decision to close the college last month. (July 2024)


5 killed, dozens injured in clashes over Bangladesh jobs quota system

Protesters of Bangladesh's quota system for government jobs clash with students who back the ruling Awami League party in Dhaka on July 16, 2024.
Protesters of Bangladesh's quota system for government jobs clash with students who back the ruling Awami League party in Dhaka on July 16, 2024.

At least 5 people were killed and dozens injured in two separate incidents in Bangladesh as violence continued Tuesday on university campuses in the nation's capital and elsewhere over a government jobs quota system, local media reports said quoting officials.

At least three of the dead were students and one was a pedestrian, the media reports said. Another man who died in Dhaka remained unidentified.

The deaths were reported Tuesday after overnight violence at a public university near Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. The violence involved members of a pro-government student body and other students, when police fired tear gas and charged the protesters with batons during the clashes, which spread at Jahangir Nagar University in Savar, outside Dhaka, according to students and authorities.

Protesters have been demanding an end to a quota reserved for family members of veterans who fought in Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971, which allows them to take up 30% of governmental jobs.

They argue that quota appointments are discriminatory and should be merit-based. Some said the current system benefits groups supporting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Some Cabinet ministers criticized the protesters, saying they played on students' emotions.

The Bengali-language Prothom Alo daily newspaper reported that one person died in Dhaka and three others, including a pedestrian, were killed after they suffered injuries during violence in Chattogram, a southeastern district, on Tuesday.

Prothom Alo and other media reports also said that a 22-year-old protester died in the northern district of Rangpur.

Details of the casualties could not be confirmed immediately.

Students clash over the quota system for government jobs in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 16, 2024.
Students clash over the quota system for government jobs in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 16, 2024.

While job opportunities have expanded in Bangladesh's private sector, many find government jobs stable and lucrative. Each year, some 3,000 such jobs open up to nearly 400,000 graduates.

Hasina said Tuesday that war veterans — commonly known as "freedom fighters" — should receive the highest respect for their sacrifice in 1971 regardless of their current political ideologies.

"Abandoning the dream of their own life, leaving behind their families, parents and everything, they joined the war with whatever they had," she said during an event at her office in Dhaka.

Protesters gathered in front of the university's official residence of the vice chancellor early Tuesday when violence broke out. Demonstrators accused the Bangladesh Chhatra League, a student wing of Hasina's ruling Awami League party, of attacking their "peaceful protests." According to local media reports, police and the ruling party-backed student wing attacked the protesters.

But Abdullahil Kafi, a senior police official, told the country's leading English-language newspaper Daily Star that they fired tear gas and "blank rounds" as protesters attacked the police. He said up to 15 police officers were injured.

More than 50 people were treated at Enam Medical College Hospital near Jahangir Nagar University as the violence continued for hours, said Ali Bin Solaiman, a medical officer of the hospital. He said at least 30 of them suffered pellet wounds.

On Monday, violence also spread at Dhaka University, the country's leading public university, as clashes gripped the campus in the capital. More than 100 students were injured in the clashes, police said.

On Tuesday, protesters blocked railways and some highways across the country, and in Dhaka, they halted traffic in many areas as they vowed to continue demonstrating until the demands were met.

Local media said police forces were spread across the capital to safeguard the peace.

Swapon, a protester and student at Dhaka University who gave only his first name, said they want the "rational reformation of the quota scheme." He said that after studying for six years, if he can't find a job, "it will cause me and my family to suffer."

Protesters say they are apolitical, but leaders of the ruling parties accused the opposition of using the demonstrations for political gains.

A ruling party-backed student activist, who refused to give his name, told The Associated Press that the protesters with the help of "goons" of the opposition's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami party vandalized their rooms at the student dormitories near the Curzon Hall of Dhaka University.

The family-of-the-veterans quota system was halted following a court order after mass student protests in 2018. But last month, Bangladesh's High Court nulled the decision to reinstate the system once more, angering scores of students and triggering protests.

Last week, the Supreme Court suspended the High Court's order for four weeks and the chief justice asked protesting students to return to their classes, saying the court would issue a decision in four weeks.

However, the protests have continued daily, halting traffic in Dhaka.

The quota system also reserves government jobs for women, disabled people and ethnic minority groups, but students have protested against only the veterans system.

Hasina maintained power in an election in January that was again boycotted by the country's main opposition party and its allies due to Hasina's refusal to step down and hand over power to a caretaker government to oversee the election.

Her party favors keeping the quota for the families of the 1971 war heroes after her Awami League party, under the leadership of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, led the independence war with the help of India. Rahman was assassinated along with most of his family members in a military coup in 1975.

Police open hazing investigation after Dartmouth student found dead

FILE - A student walks on the campus of Dartmouth College, Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Hanover, N.H.
FILE - A student walks on the campus of Dartmouth College, Tuesday, March 5, 2024, in Hanover, N.H.

Police have opened a hazing investigation after a Dartmouth College student was found dead in a river in early July.

Police received a tip that hazing was involved, and there was evidence that alcohol might have been involved in the death, USA Today reported. (July 2024)

Americans' confidence in higher education falls, poll shows

FILE - A passer-by walks through a gate to the Harvard University campus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jan. 2, 2024.
FILE - A passer-by walks through a gate to the Harvard University campus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jan. 2, 2024.

Confidence in higher education among Americans is declining, according to a recent poll that found 36% of adults expressed a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in higher education, down from 57% in 2015.

The Gallup and the Lumina Foundation poll also revealed that more than two-thirds (68%) of adults feel the U.S. higher education system is heading in the “wrong direction” vs. 31% of those respondents saying it is going in the “right direction.”

The poll, conducted June 3-23, surveyed 1,005 Americans aged 18 and older.

Declining enrollment mirrors concerns voiced by some Americans about colleges focusing on political agendas, neglecting relevant skills and being overly expensive.

Nathan Wyand, a software engineer in Charlottesville, Virginia, told VOA News he chose not to attend college due to high costs and the challenging curriculum.

“The mode of learning was very stressful. Every month and a half, I would break down in tears,” Wyand said, adding, “I didn’t want to deal with the debt and lack of freedom in choosing what to learn.”

Post-high school, Wyand said he explored different jobs before pursuing software development through a 10-month data science bootcamp at Flatiron School in New York.

“I took online courses at Flatiron, learning about software development. In my current role, I have practical experience, though less theoretical knowledge than peers with computer science degrees,” Wyand noted.

Wyand valued freedom in learning over being told what to learn in a structured classroom.

“I didn't want other people to tell me what I was going to learn, I was tired of that and ready to take charge of my education,” he said.

While costs influenced Wyand’s decision against college, he advises against dismissing it solely due to expenses.

“Don’t avoid college because you’re lazy or because it’s expensive. Avoid college if you feel that there is something better or more interesting to you that you can pursue instead. It’s important to have an objective,” he said.

The survey conducted last month reaffirms that 36% of adults maintain strong confidence in higher education, unchanged from the previous year.

“At a time where the U.S. needs more skilled Americans to fulfill our labor market needs of today and tomorrow it is concerning to see that they are losing confidence that higher education can deliver what they need,” Courtney Brown, vice president at Lumina, an education nonprofit, told VOA News.

Researchers are concerned by fewer Americans expressing “some” confidence and more reporting of “very little” or “none.”

“This year’s findings show a notable increase in those with little to no confidence, now at 32%, compared to 10% in 2015. This trend is alarming and must be reversed,” Brown said.

Brown stressed the need to address concerns about perceived political influences and lack of relevant skills in higher education.

“Society must tackle college costs directly. Many find college unaffordable, leading to crippling debt. I do believe higher ed can transform and ensure it meets the needs of students, but to do so we must pay attention to these data and address these concerns head on – the stakes of not doing so are far too great for individuals, communities and our nation,” Brown added.

John Pollock, a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago, told VOA he agrees with the poll’s findings.

“College is a business, not a guarantee for jobs or debt repayment. Many our age see multiple paths to success,” Pollock said. He added that networking opportunities are one value that colleges offer.

Of the roughly one-third of Americans who expressed a “great deal/quite a lot” of confidence in higher education, 27% said it is important for individuals and society to be educated.

Of the roughly one-third of Americans who said their confidence in higher education was “very little/none,” 41% cited colleges as being “too liberal,” or trying to “indoctrinate” or “brainwash” students as reasons for their replies.

Overall, 68% of respondents believe higher education is on the wrong track, contrasting with 31% who see it heading in the right direction.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

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