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Stephanie Choporis

Stephanie is the Associate Board Chairman of the Chicago Journalists Association and a freelance journalist in the Windy City. With a background in Journalism and Communication and Media Studies from DePaul University, her work has appeared in various publications, including Concierge Preferred Magazine and the Chicago Tribune. When she is not writing, you can find her sampling new bites around the city, watching reruns of "The Big Bang Theory" and searching for the next story.

The Paid Gap Year Phenom

Schools are now paying for you to take a year off and explore

Are you hesitant about the breakless transition from high school to college because you feel burnt out or unsure about which career to pursue? Despite your parents’ thinking, taking a year off, also known as a gap year, before officially becoming a freshman may help to further define your goals. And with certain schools now offering subsidized gap year programs, you could have the chance to see the world and experience new cultures at lower costs.

Compared to 2006 data, the American Gap Year Association reported that gap year programs experienced a 20 percent increase when approximately 40,000 American students participated in such programs in 2013. While gap years have previously been more popular in Europe, U.S. schools are beginning to pay students to travel, volunteer or partake in internships nationally or abroad before entering college.

Most recently, Tufts University created plans for the “Tufts 1+4” curriculum to be launched this fall, in which the university will foot the bill for housing, airfare and visa costs while students are away. With such fees sometimes exceeding $30,000, Tufts hopes to provide this opportunity to students of all income levels and allow them to explore opportunities that may have otherwise been unattainable.

Other schools with programs similar to Tufts’ include Princeton University, St. Norbert College and the University of North Carolina.

“I think that students need sabbaticals at least as much as professors,” said The New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof, to Newsweek after his son Gregory visited China and Peru through Harvard’s gap year program. “I think if more universities encourage gap years, then probably fewer freshmen would spend their first month in college in an alcoholic haze.”

Not only can time away from the classroom reduce the possibility of early drinking habits, but experts say it also improves academic performance and shapes students into more mature, independent, motivated and worldly individuals.

“We often develop most when our understandings of ourselves and the world around us are challenged – when we engage with people and ideas that are different,” said Joe O’Shea, director of Florida State University’s Office of Undergraduate Research, in his article “Don’t go to college next year.”

Although universities promote a liberal arts foundation for expanding students’ worldly perspective, O’Shea feels that the classroom is “limited” in what can be offered.

If you are interested in taking advantage of a paid gap year program, research available opportunities at your chosen school and necessary steps for applying. To make the best use of time, prepare a plan detailing what you would like to learn, where in the world you hope to be situated, what tasks you want to complete, etc.

As tempting as it may seem to spend your days watching “Seinfeld” reruns while overlooking the Taj Mahal, your activities should instead be meaningful and help you gain skills that could not be acquired in a classroom.

Upon returning to campus, you will feel refreshed and ready to hit the books once again

The Ultimate How-To Guide for Finding Your Way Around Campus

Lost on campus? Here are some tips on how to get around

Drop your bags and settle in; it is campus move-in day and time to enjoy your new home for the next year. But don’t get too comfortable, since the semester begins in just a few days. Do you know where your classes are located? What about other facilities – such as the library, fitness center and cafeteria – that you will frequently be visiting?

            If you feel disoriented, don’t fret. This how-to guide will help you learn your campus like the back of your hand.

            Before venturing into the unknown territory of college grounds, grab a campus map, which might be found at the information desk in your school’s student center. If the campus is fairly large with buildings scattered across a several-block radius, consider dividing the layout into sections based on cardinal directions. Doing so may help you better visualize where buildings are situated.

            Another good suggestion is to check the university website for interactive maps. Since these often provide 3D images, you will get an idea of building sizes and structures as well as surrounding locations prior to class time.

            Now that you have well-researched your campus, you are ready for some light exploring. Even though you may have already received a school tour during orientation, you probably had much information to ingest that day. And how were you to take notice of the liberal arts college when your guide was discussing financial aid opportunities?

As you set out on your walk, bring a roommate or friend along for an extra pair of eyes and to make the experience more enjoyable. To start off, use your printed class schedule to locate classrooms, and take some test runs to know where you are headed and how much time is needed to arrive. You can never expect when an elevator may become jammed, so it is always recommended to give yourself a little leeway.

Providing there is extra time, travel through the rest of the campus and discover places, such as that little-known computer lab, that you may not have found otherwise.

For universities in larger cities, your how-to guide will involve an additional step in becoming acquainted with local transit systems. If you happen to have classes scheduled across town, find or print a map of train and bus routes and decide which mode is most convenient. With your travel buddy still by your side, test out these vehicles and familiarize yourself with arrival times, stops along the route, etc.

In the event that you are lost at any point during your trek, ask for assistance from security guards, professors, other school personnel or fellow students. For further questions, the registrar’s office can also serve as a good resource.

By following these simple tips, you will begin to feel more comfortable in your new surroundings. Even if one of your classrooms changes at the last minute, you will instantly know where to find it.  

‘X-Men’ director, Bryan Singer, accused for teen sexual abuse

Bryan Singer reportedly sexually abused an underage teenage boy 15 years ago

Successful “X-Men” director, Bryan Singer, was accused in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court Wednesday of sexually abusing a teenage boy in the late 1990s.

The incidents, which reportedly involved California mansion parties and two trips to Hawaii, took place in 1998 and 1999 when plaintiff, Michael Egan, was 17 years old.

If Egan complied with Singer’s sexual demands, he was promised a role in an “X-Men” film, commercials and other projects. Singer apparently threatened to destroy the boy’s career if he refused.

While using his power in the entertainment industry, the civil suit also claimed that Bryan Singer exploited Michael Egan through “drugs, alcohol, threats and inducements,” causing “catastrophic” psychological and emotional harm.

As director of two “X-Men” installments and producer of “Superman Returns” as well as the popular TV show, “House M.D.,” CNN considered Singer one of Hollywood’s most successful directors and producers.

Singer’s representative said such accusations were unwarranted and simply a publicity plot to coincide with the opening of Singer’s new film, “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” on May 23.

“We are very confident that Bryan will be vindicated in this absurd and defamatory lawsuit,” he said.

However, TheWrap.com added that Egan was not the only underage boy mentioned in the complaint, and Variety reported that Marc Collins-Rector, former Digital Entertainment Network chairman and registered sex offender, was also mentioned in court documents.

Egan’s attorney, Jeff Hartman, who represented plaintiffs in sexual abuse lawsuits against Sesame Street’s Elmo puppeteer, said he planned to file more claims against Egan and others involved at the parties.

The lawsuit requests an unspecified amount for damages.

Internet Archive digitizing woman's 40,000 video collection

Nonprofit, Internet Archive, is making four decades of taped news programs searchable and public

A Philadelphia woman’s video collection of more than 40,000 hand-labeled VHS and Betamax tapes is now becoming digital, public and searchable online through Internet Archive.

Starting in 1976, Marion Stokes recorded 35 years worth of television news programs, covering topics from the Reagan administration to Hurricane Katrina, that she thought would be important in the future.

Once a co-producer of “Input,” a Sunday morning Philadelphia talk show centering on political and social issues from 1968 to 1972, Stokes took an interest in the news. But it was the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis and launch of CNN, cable’s first 24-hour news network, that prompted her to tape around-the-clock coverage.

Closely following cable news stories on the likes of MSNBC, Fox and CSPAN, she reportedly used six-hour tapes daily and ran up to eight recorders simultaneously. As soon as a cassette became full, it was quickly replaced with another.

After Marion Stokes died in 2012 at age 83, her son Michael Metelits contacted Internet Archive, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that files just about everything from websites to television shows and makes them viewable and searchable to the public. With the help of volunteers, Stokes’ compilation is now going through this process.

“One of the really important things about the way the Internet Archive is cataloging this is it’s going to enable people who maybe have a narrow view of events to get a sense of the historical sweep,” Metelits told The Daily Dot.

“My hope is that [the archive] deepens public perception of not only how news was made, but the actual politics underlying the news, to help people have a more informed, intelligent engagement with politics. That was my mother’s dream for it.”

For Internet Archive volunteer Trevor von Stein, who kept a relatively large digital music and photo library, he felt a quick connection to Stokes.  “From one kindred spirit to another,” he told Fast Company. “I thought we had to do it justice.”

Fast Company expects the entire digitization process to total about $500,000, with most of the money yet to be raised.

So far, von Stein has already digitized all “Input” episodes, and they are now available for free download on the Archive’s Web site.

Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher pregnant

Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher are expecting their first child

She may be recognized as the new face of Jim Beam bourbon, but actress Mila Kunis will soon be entering a world of baby bottles, booties and pacifiers within the next nine months.

Despite rumors of twins, a source told E! News Sunday that Kunis, 30, and fiancé Ashton Kutcher, 36, will be expecting their first child together later this year.

“[Having a baby] is something they both wanted,” a contact close to the couple confirmed to Us Weekly. “They are both so happy.”

Kutcher’s divorce from previous wife Demi Moore, 51, was finalized last November. During their eight-year marriage, Moore’s frustration with the inability to conceive a child was widely publicized. However, Moore reportedly felt closure about her relationship upon hearing the pregnancy news.

As for the elated couple, “It was a total shock for both of them, but they feel up for the challenge,” a friend said to OK! Magazine. “It didn’t seem like it was possible for them to fall any deeper in love, but the prospect of raising an insta-family together has solidified their commitment to each other.”

Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher’s friendship began when co-starring on the hit series “That ‘70s Show,” which aired from 1998 to 2006. The couple had been dating for approximately two years before announcing an engagement last month.

Toyota Motor Corporation faced with criminal charge and $1 billion penalty

Toyota Motor Corporation’s penalty a result of deceiving customers

The FBI issued a criminal wire fraud charge against Toyota Motor Corporation Wednesday, saying the Japanese automotive giant misled customers in 2009 and 2010 by releasing deceptive statements about vehicle safety issues, specifically those that resulted in unintended acceleration.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced a deferred prosecution agreement that instructs Toyota to pay $1.2 billion, making it the largest financial penalty to ever be required of an automotive company. The settlement also involves an independent monitor to review and evaluate company policies and practices regarding safety-related public statements and reporting responsibilities.

For the agreement to take effect, Toyota Motor Corporation must admit that it issued misleading statements to customers regarding problems with unintended acceleration.

In 2009, a family of four in a Lexus ES350 was killed in a widely-publicized San Diego accident reportedly due to floor mat entrapment, a condition where an improperly secured or incompatible floor mat catches a depressed gas pedal and leads to acceleration at high speeds.

Based on documents filed at the Manhattan federal court, Toyota “addressed” the “root cause” of the problem by recalling eight vehicle models. However, the company apparently knew that it did not recall other models with similar features that could also lead to the same issue.

At the same time, Toyota was also reportedly hiding a problem with “sticky pedals” from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In such a situation, the gas pedal could become immovable when partially depressed due to a plastic material used in the pedal’s construction.

“Rather than promptly disclosing and correcting safety issues about which they were aware, Toyota made misleading public statements to consumers and gave inaccurate facts to members of Congress,” said U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

“When car owners get behind the wheel, they have a right to expect that their vehicle is safe. If any part of the automobile turns out to have safety issues, the car company has a duty to be upfront about them, to fix them quickly, and to immediately tell the truth about the problem and its scope. Toyota violated that basic compact.”

Holder also warned fellow car companies to avoid Toyota’s same mistake. While a recall may damage a company’s reputation, he said defrauding customers causes more permanent damage.

To further explain why Toyota is faced with something as severe as a criminal offense, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said it is “because it [Toyota] cared more about savings than safety and more about its own brand and bottom line than the truth.”

The settlement comes at the end of a four-year investigation, throughout which Toyota Motor Corporation has paid millions of dollars in lawsuits, reporting delays, fines to the NHTSA, among others.

If the company complies with all listings in agreement, the government will postpone its prosecution on the information for three years and later pursue dismissal of the charge.

Although Toyota has turned over a decent amount of its earnings, the automaker raked in $5.2 billion solely in the previous fiscal quarter and still maintains strong global sales. Considering that, the settlement may only put a mere dent in its financial standings.

Pi Day: a mathematical celebration

How people across the U.S. can honor Pi Day

St. Patrick’s Day may be just around the corner, but that is not stopping folks from recognizing Pi Day through various events across the country.

National Pi Day is always celebrated in conjunction with Albert Einstein’s birthday on March 14, and serves to promote math education as well as remind students that math is just as important in the real world as in the classroom.

As a refresher to those who may not have seen the popular mathematic symbol since high school, pi is commonly abbreviated to 3.14 and represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference in relation to its diameter.

The first Pi Day celebration was recorded in 1988 at the San Francisco Exploratorium, and the phenomenon has since expanded to museums, schools and businesses throughout the globe.

A couple of unique examples are the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which issues its admission decision letters on Pi Day, and 91-year-old major American defense contractor Raytheon, which has previously delivered hundreds of apple pies to math and science teachers within a 3.14-mile radius of the company’s nationwide offices.

But things do not end there.

While the Museum of Mathematics in New York, New York is hosting lectures Friday, certain California locations of Blaze Pizza and other nearby pie shops are selling items for $3.14.

For the more athletically-inclined, Carson City, Nev. and Chicago, Ill. are hosting 3.14-mile Pi Day runs/walks, with Carson City promising a pizza pie slice for all participants and a full pie for the runner finishing closest to 30 minutes, 14 seconds. As an added perk, the Chicago contest will offer discounts to any individuals named Albert, Alberta or Albertina.

In honor of Einstein’s birthday, Princeton, New Jersey is dedicating the entire weekend to pi. A walking tour of the scientist’s former neighborhood and pie-eating contest are just some of the scheduled festivities.

And to celebrate its 26th annual Pi Day, the San Francisco Exploratorium is waiving admission and offering several pi-related activities, such as a pizza pie dough-tossing demonstration. If anyone happens to miss this, other “irrational” events will begin at 8 p.m. SLT. Since pi is considered an irrational number, fireworks and dancing may be involved.

Check your local establishments to see what Pi Day specials are in your area.

Facebook and Instagram cracking down on illegal gun sales

Facebook issued new regulations that limits posts to users over 18

With new regulations in place, Facebook and Instagram are trying to put a stop to illegal gun sales through their social networks.

In a Wednesday announcement, Facebook said it would “not permit people to post offers to sell regulated items that indicate a willingness to evade or help others evade the law.”

More specifically, the social media giant plans to make posts regarding firearm transactions only viewable to users over 18, warn individuals promoting weapon sales to adhere to laws, and introduce “in-app” education on Instagram for those who search for gun promotions.

Forbes reports that Facebook and Instagram will also delete posts offering to buy or sell guns without background checks, as this is often an indicator that the buyer or seller could be a minor or felon trying to dodge the law.

Until now, social media users of all ages were allowed to freely post pictures of weapons. In fact, the Daily Beast reported last year that firearms purchasers could easily search for Instagram items by combining hashtags, such as “#rifle” and “#forsale,” before privately arranging payment and delivery.

Facebook worked with several groups and individuals to implement these changes, including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Sandy Hook Promise and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

However, the National Rifle Association (NRA) finds the new measures unconstitutional for gun owners. Chris Cox, executive director for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, said such organizations “tried to pressure Facebook into shutting down discussion of Second Amendment issues on its social media platforms.”

In its statement, Facebook considered the decision challenging, saying “this is one of many areas where we face a difficult challenge balancing individuals’ desire to express themselves on our services, and recognizing that this speech may have negative consequences elsewhere.”

The new regulations are expected to take effect in the next few weeks.

Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ video offends many with religious symbol

More than 50,000 people have signed a petition to remove Katy Perry’s video from YouTube

From helping deliver a baby to splitting from John Mayer, pop singer Katy Perry has had quite a week. To add to that, her “Dark Horse” video has caused controversy and resulted in an online petition that demands removal of the video from YouTube.

More than 50,000 Muslims have signed the Change.org plea and labeled the video as offensive, particularly a scene in which an Islamic necklace forming the word “Allah,” meaning “God” in Arabic, is burned by lightning fired from Perry’s fingers.

“Such goes to show that blasphemy is clearly conveyed in the video, since Katy Perry (who appears to be representing an opposition of God) engulfs the believer and the word God in flames” Shazad Iqbal of northern England wrote in the petition he started. “Using the name of God in an irrelevant and distasteful manner would be considered inappropriate by any religion.”

The “Dark Horse” video, which has already garnered 30 million views, also includes scenes of Perry pole-dancing with cat-human-like bodyguards.

Residents of Britain make up the majority of signatures so far. However, countries such as Pakistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have also joined the dispute.

Faeezah Shaik of South Africa said in a comment, “Artists should consider the impact their ‘art’ would have on society and not just go ahead and do things for the sake of being controversial.”

While the video has not been deleted, it has since been edited and republished without the “Allah” necklace. A source close to YouTube told Fox News that the site will only intervene and remove a video if it violates the rules and regulations.

Others have rather different opinions of the situation. “The image of the pendant goes by so fast it’s almost impossible to even notice,” said Dan Gainor, vice president of business and culture at the Media Research Center. “YouTube isn’t perfect, but this is ridiculous.”

By now, Perry is most likely used to cultural backlash. Last November, she received disapproval for her Geisha-themed performance of “Unconditionally” at the American Music Awards

Despite such criticism, Perry began her career singing Christian gospel music, coming from a family of traveling Pentecostal ministers. And although she admitted to not identifying with a specific religion, she recently told Marie Claire that she still maintains “a deep connection with God.”

Chick-fil-A workers help to find runaway teenager

Florida Chick-fil-A employees use Facebook to locate the girl’s whereabouts

Chick-fil-A workers in Florida are being praised for helping to locate and safely return a runaway teenage girl to her family last week.

After finding a note saying that their 16-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn Harp, had run away with 19-year-old Daniel Bridgeman, Steve and Tammy Harp turned to Instagram to find a photo of the young couple, who had met online only several months earlier.

Bridgeman was pictured with a Chick-fil-A shirt, and this led the Harps to their local restaurant in Jacksonville to ask if anyone had seen the twosome.

Once connected to another Chick-fil-A in Yulee, the franchise manager posted the Instagram photo to the company’s Facebook page in hopes of alerting other store operators across the state.

Within a few hours of the posting, Elio Florin, a Chick-fil-A manager in Winter Haven, recognized Bridgeman as one of his employees and told Bridgeman to make Kaitlyn Harp contact her family.

Florin then drove her 200 miles back to her Jacksonville home and brought Bridgeman along for the ride.

“Tears were shed on our driveway this morning,” Tammy Harp told USA Today. “He [Florin] couldn’t sleep. He is a father too. He could not go to bed without resting, knowing that she was home safe.”

The runaway began when Bridgeman drove from Winter Haven to pick up Kaitlyn Harp in the middle of the night. He reportedly faced no charges, but the Harps said he received a stern lecture from police officers waiting at their home when Florin arrived with the couple.

“Because of their involvement, what could have taken days, weeks or months only took a matter of two or three hours once they got involved,” Steve Harp said to First Coast News. “It is beyond words. As a parent, this is your worst nightmare.”