Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Former FAU student pursues her love of music on the West Coast


SANTA MONICA, Calif. – It's open mic night at Unurban, an eclectic neighborhood cafĂ© here. Inside, former Florida Atlantic University student Alexx Calise is setting up onstage to perform as the featured artist.

Students sit on missmatched chairs and couches, their faces hidden behind laptops and books. Other regulars sip on chai lattes, an Unurban specialty, while appreciating the watercolor painted walls and stained glass windows that embellish the place.

Calise, 24, is unapologetic as she beats the first note out of her acoustic guitar. Her long black hair flings in the air unveiling piercing brown eyes and a fierce expression. The students sit upright and take notice. As she sings the first verse, more people gather around the small stage.

“Alexx is an amazing talent,” said James Mueller, an independent drummer working in the Los Angeles area. “She is one of the most innovative singers and songwriters of our time. She really has her own unique sound.”

Calise’s sound has been described by one of her peers as “hard rock and grunge meets urban-edged pop translated in angsty lyrics with an instantly identifiable vocal that is hauntingly beautiful and completely raw all at once.”

Calise’s journey as an aspiring singer and songwriter began early in her teens in her Fort Lauderdale home.

“I was a real shy kid growing up,” said the Staten Island native. “I would get lost in my notebook. Writing came first to me.”

Calise’s father, also a musician, was her first musical inspiration.

“I’d sit and watch him play the guitar for hours,” Calise said. “And I would practice and practice playing and singing because I wanted to be just like him.”

During her years at Deerfield Beach High School, Calise entered every singing contest and gave locals a taste of her developing skills in singing, music and lyric writing.

“Creating music was a way of facilitating my writings at first, a way to bring them to life,” she said.

Her transition from senior year at Deerfield High to first year at FAU was marked by a position as entertainment columnist for South Florida Sun Sentinel’s teen columns “Time Out,” “Next Generation” and “Teen Time.”

“One of my teachers referred me to John Dolen at Sun Sentinel,” said Calise, referring to the newspaper’s former arts and features editor. “I collaborated with him and got to blurb about local music events. I had a lot of fun doing it.”

Calise juggled her position at Sun Sentinel and earning credits towards a degree in multimedia journalism and commercial music until she left the newspaper in 2006.

“I played a lot of gigs at night and on weekends, anytime I didn’t have class,” Calise said. “FAU was flexible with my schedule, and I started taking online classes that allowed me to travel back and forth from L.A. to Florida while recording my first studio album.

In 2007, the aspiring singer was featured in both the Sun Sentinel and its affiliated paper, New Times, for her high profile shows at Hard Rock in Fort Lauderdale and her first CD release party.

Well into her third year at FAU, Calise reached the limit of online classes available for the completion of her degree and was forced to withdraw for the sake of pursuing her dream.

“I had made my decision,” she said. “I had a potential record deal and it drove me to finally make the move. So I flew into LA and slept on my producer’s couch, for six months.”

After arriving at Los Angeles International (LAX) and adding an extra “x” to her first name, Calise’s saw her career make a dramatic climb. She is currently endorsed by over 13 music gear and clothing manufacturers. Music from her 2007 critically acclaimed debut album, Morning Pill, is being played all over the world on TV networks such as VH1 and MTV and on thousands of charting radio stations.

Her last single, “Out of Sight” has been in regular rotation on Boston’s "No. 1-hit station," WXKS-108 FM. Calise also has recorded vocal tracks for many mainstream commercials and independent movies.

“I still write on a larger scale,” said Calise referring to her writing job as advice columnist for the L2P Network and GHS Guitar Strings E-Newsletter. “And I’m also a workout fanatic and I’m always reading.”

Currently, Calise is touring, writing and recording the follow up to her 2007 debut album and Sound of Cancer, her new music endeavor with accomplished drummer and songwriter, Dennis Morehouse. She’s also preparing to tour for the U.S. Armed Forces.

“I’m a busy girl,” Calise said with a smile. “But I don’t do it because of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. “I do it every minute of the day because I love it.”

She added: “I want to be a positive influence on kids and women. I want to be that hero kids need these days, and I want to show young girls that they can be who they are and be beautiful."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

FAU Parking Sparks Outrage, Possible Protests

By: Nina G. Wills

Contributions by: Gal Kal

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) students seem to have one major complaint this semester: parking.

“The parking situation at FAU Boca campus is atrocious. The University is simply irresponsible for blocking off multiple parking lot sections when there is a huge increase in student population,” Scott Ezra Nettboy, a senior in biology, said.

During the first weeks of classes, students were circling parking lots trying to find a space. Some resorted to parking in the grass, which at the time was not allowed and resulted in the student receiving a ticket.

Due to the shortage of parking spaces and the closing of Lot 23 by the Indian River building, FAU’s Division of Parking and Transportation Services were prompted to create new parking guidelines that permit students to park on the grass in designated areas. Students were informed of these new rules via e-mail on Sept. 4.

Some students, though, are taking action to express their outrage over the parking issue. A parking protest is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 24 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in front of the Baldwin House, home of the FAU president.

Jake Ades, a 23 year old business major, is spear heading the protest. He used the social networking site Facebook to start a group criticizing the parking situation.

“I invited a few friends. Next thing you know hundreds of people are signed up. The people have spoken,” Ades said.

Facebook has become complaint central for FAU students’ frustration with parking at the Boca campus. The phenomenon of using Facebook as a venting outlet is nothing new. Since early 2007, students created Facebook groups such as “FAU needs more parking” and “FAU new parking rules BLOW.” The latest groups are “FAU Parking Protest” created by Jake Ades and “FAU Parking Solution” created by Neil Parsont.

The “FAU Parking Solution” group has designed t-shirts that list the top ten reasons why students are late to class. The reason “FAU parking” is listed in each spot. T-shirts can be purchased for $10 and organizers are asking that FAU students wear them on Oct. 13. The group’s goal is to raise $20,000 and $30,000 “to assist in the FAU parking problem.”

Other FAU students have said that the parking problem has been overblown and is not a real issue.

“GET OVER IT! It is not that big of a deal to park farther out and walk your lazy butts to class!” commented LyTysha on the “FAU’s Parking Protest” Facebook page.

“We are allowed to park in the grass, and they shuttle you to campus if you’re parked far away. I don’t see the big issue,” John Broward Atwater, a senior in secondary education, said.

Still, Jake Ades believes there is just one solution: “The simple answer: lay some asphalt.”

Saturday, April 18, 2009

State 'Brain Drain' Hurts FAU

By: Stephanie Delcorio

Florida universities have been experiencing a ‘brain drain’, with faculty members leaving the state university system at three times the rate in 2008 compared with 2007, according to a United Faculty of Florida (UFF) newsletter.

Over the past few years, a growing number of professors have left Florida’s public universities for states offering higher salaries and better resources. Florida Atlantic University has approximately 25 faculty members leave each year for various reasons. In 2008, the Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s university system, approved $65 million to retain faculty and staff for the 2009-2010 budget year.

According to Board of Governors documents, Florida ranks last nationally in tenured and tenure track faculty, falling 45 percent since 1989-90.

“Professors aren’t ‘making it rain’,” former FAU professor Robert Watson said. Watson received his Ph.D. in political science from FAU. After teaching at several other universities, Watson returned to FAU in 2001 as an associate professor.

Watson was denied promotion and tenure (P&T) in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

“It was humiliating and unbelievable that someone of my record and service was not flying through the process with widespread support,” Watson said.

Watson won the distinguished teacher of the year award and the faculty service award twice. According the university’s Student Perception of Teaching (SPOT) reports in spring 2007, 67.8 percent of students said Watson was one of the most effective professors they have had.

Watson left FAU in 2007 for a teaching position at Lynn University, a private Florida university.

Diane Alperin, associate provost of personnel and programs, said she could not comment on specific personnel situations. However, she said all associate professors are hired on a pre-tenured track. After three years of employment, professors submit a portfolio for review by department chair, college committee, college dean, provost and finally a university committee. The committee is made up of representatives from each of the colleges, who make a recommendation to the president of FAU. If the recommendation is negative, professors have an opportunity to explain and refute the recommendation.

FAU salaries on average are 10 percent behind peer institutions, even though each group is funded in the same way by the state government. This has direct effects on the quality of education, leading to large classes and high faculty turnover, which itself is costly and unnecessary, according to a UFF presentation at the impasse hearing on February 24.

“The amount of bureaucracy at the University has increased without any real benefit to students. The legal staff, the marketing and communications staff all adds to cost. I often feel that instead of actually providing a quality education, we are trying to sell people on the idea that we are providing a quality education,” said Sharmila Vishwarsrao, associate professor of economics and chief negotiator for the UFF bargaining team.

“We have offered raises in the context of the economic times, a one percent raise and $1,000 stipend,” Alperin said. “Would we love to do more? Yes, because we don’t want to lose the good faculty.”

University of Florida, Florida State University and The University of South Florida have all noticed an exodus of professors from the state, according to the Board of Governors.

“Academia is a small world,” Watson said. “And Florida has a bad reputation for education.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Iguanas Take Over Florida Atlantic University Campus

By: John Hallihan

Watch out burrowing owls, wild iguanas are rapidly becoming the most recognizable and widespread wild life on Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus.

Students and faculty at FAU have been observing the iguana population’s increase for some time now. Most students are unaccustomed to seeing the large numbers of iguanas and some, driven by this fascination, take souvenir photos of the creatures using camera phones.

“They’re taking over,” said Victoria Hammond, an FAU sophomore, “They look like scary little dinosaurs.”

The invading iguanas can be found lounging in a variety of locations on the Boca Campus, but they have staked their main claim in and around the retention ponds surrounding the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, the Dorothy F. Schmidt Visual Arts Building, and Parking Garage II. Some students said they have seen over 30 iguanas sunbathing at a given time or munching on the lawn.

So far FAU has no written policies in regard to the iguanas found on campus.

"These are wild animals," said Frank Woodward, hazardous materials maintenance manager in the environmental and safety department at FAU. “We have no more control over [the iguanas] than we do the raccoons that come on campus, or the snakes and insects or anything else out there in nature,” said Woodward.

Unlike FAU’s proud mascot, the burrowing owls, iguanas are not native to Florida.

“They are a result of the exotic pet trade that has become prevalent in South Florida,” said Kyla Makela, director of education at the SPCA Wildlife Care Center in Fort Lauderdale. After buying the trendy pet, people intentionally released the iguanas after they grow larger than the owner preferred or the iguanas accidentally escape into the wild.

Once in the wild, the iguanas adapt well to Florida’s subtropical climate and multiply. Since iguanas are not part Florida’s natural ecosystem there are no natural predators to control the increasing population, according to Makela.

As the iguana population rises at FAU, the animals have become increasingly larger in size as well.

“I’ve never seen an iguana that big before,” said Zoe Ramos, an FAU sophomore. “I’ve also seen them jump out of trees, which was something new,” Ramos said.

Though in the eyes of an onlooker, it appears the creature’s size and numbers are escalating, they remain intimidating yet welcome guests at FAU. “Some people don't much care for iguanas eating their flowers and leaving feces behind. Other people enjoy having the prehistoric looking lizards around,” said Jeanette Wyneken, Ph.D., Associate Professor of biological sciences at FAU.

Iguanas are not listed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a species of special concern (Florida Administrative Code [F.A.C.] 68A-27.005), like the burrowing owl is. However, they are protected by Florida anti-cruelty laws.

“It is a felony to harm an iguana in any way,” Makela said.

If FAU administrators are so inclined, the university could hire a trapper to remove and terminate the iguanas, providing the opportunity for new iguanas to claim their turf. Since these resident lizards pose no threat to students or faculty, and the university is suffering from the current recession, the iguana’s costly removal seems unnecessary and unlikely. It appears these docile reptiles will remain FAU’s second mascot.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Florida Atlantic University Faculty Say 1% Raise Is Not Enough

By: Stephanie Delcorio and Nina G. Wills

Florida Atlantic University faculty members are frustrated that an agreement could not be reached with the administration regarding salary increases.

After the recent round of negotiations, FAU’s administration declared an impasse forcing a special magistrate to be called in to conduct a special hearing on Feb. 24.

“Faculty are very frustrated. There doesn’t seem to be a long term plan by the FAU administration,” said Anita Pritchard, president of the FAU chapter of the United Faculty of Florida (UFF).

FAU faculty salaries have fallen below state and national averages, the faculty has not received raises in two years and the average cost of living has increased by over 10 percent, according to a UFF press release.

The faculty’s frustration escalated in September 2008 when the Board of Trustees unanimously approved a six-year contract extension for President Frank Brogan, which includes a 10 percent raise and will raise his base salary to $357,000 a year. The board has offered the in-unit faculty only a one percent raise and $1,000 stipend.

“Who would have imagined that my contract would expire during the worst economic period in the state? It’s tough, but we’re going to have to do whatever it takes. The faculty are the backbone of this university. Are they worth it? Every dime, they are fabulous,” Brogan said.

Brogan’s contract is funded through the FAU foundation, but faculty salaries are funded through the general operating budget, which has suffered almost $19 million in cuts since 2007. Increasing faculty salaries by 10 percent for one year would cost the university $ 9 million and is not viable due to today’s budgetary environment and constraints.

“For his accomplishments, I think President Brogan deserved his raise. I also think for their accomplishments, the faculty deserves a more significant raise than one percent,” said Eric Shaw, professor of marketing and president of the university faculty senate.

Some faculty believe Brogan should not accept the 10 percent raise.

“He should either turn down the raise to symbolize his solidarity with faculty and in appreciation of our loads and decreasing resources, or offer us substantial raises or at least offer raises to those of us able to prove we are also doing our jobs well,” said Meredith Mountford, associate professor of education.

Brogan has refused all raises except for one in 2006, which he donated to the FAU foundation. He has declined a $50,000 bonus and postponed his contract raise until March 2010.

“I am not going to take my salary adjustment until all staff and faculty are satisfied with their contracts. I’m not noble; it’s the right thing to do, Brogan said.