James Mackenzie, AB’16 https://mag.uchicago.edu/author/james-mackenzie-ab16 en Red ambition https://mag.uchicago.edu/science-medicine/red-ambition <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img src="/sites/default/files/1509_Mackenzie_Red-ambition.png" width="1600" height="743" alt="Mars One" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span lang="" about="/profile/jmiller" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jmiller</span></span> <span>Fri, 09/18/2015 - 14:10</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">An artist<span style="line-height: 1.538em;">’</span><span style="line-height: 1.538em;">s impression of what the Mars One settlement might look like. (Illustration courtesy Mars One)</span></div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/james-mackenzie-ab16"> <a href="/author/james-mackenzie-ab16"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">James Mackenzie, AB’16</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/web-exclusives" hreflang="en">Web exclusives</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item"><p>09.18.2015</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">UChicago alum hopes to be among first colonists on Mars.</div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item">“I think all movies that go to Mars end in tragedy,” says <a href="https://community.mars-one.com/profile/692d2361-c297-4542-ada2-093f4555f079" target="_blank">Mead McCormick</a>, AB’09, reflecting on all the science fiction films and television shows she’s watched. “There are a lot of Shakespearian tragic deaths in space movies.” Cultural outlooks on space travel have changed dramatically in the past few decades, as <a href="https://www.nasa.gov" target="_blank">NASA</a> ramped down its operations to almost nothing. The romanticized journeys of <em><a href="http://www.startrek.com" target="_blank">Star Trek</a></em>, where space represents a new manifest destiny for humankind, have given way to the horrific catastrophes of <em><a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119081/" target="_blank">Event Horizon</a></em> and <em><a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0183523/" target="_blank">Mission to Mars</a></em>. As normalized space travel has seemed a less and less realistic proposition, it has also become a lot scarier. But McCormick isn’t scared off. <h5>[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_original","fid":"2827","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"503","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"500"}}]] Portrait of Mead McCormick, AB’09. (Photography—and haircut!—by Darrell Brett)</h5> She is among the 100 finalists for a spot on <a href="http://www.mars-one.com" target="_blank">Mars One</a>, a project founded by Dutch entrepreneur <a href="http://www.mars-one.com/about-mars-one/team/bas-lansdorp" target="_blank">Bas Lansdorp</a>, which plans to send a group of four colonists to Mars in 2026 for the purpose of establishing a permanent settlement. The hope is that it would grow into humanity’s first civilization on another world. The original four would never return to Earth. Mars One’s organizers opened up their application process to the public; McCormick and 2,760 others applied. But that open call also helped fuel the skepticism that the project has faced from professionals in space and aeronautics fields. The mission’s planned timeline has been pushed back more than once and hasn’t yet reached any significant benchmarks. And it still has to produce the necessary equipment and technology tailored to Mars’s environment (as Canadian astronaut <a href="http://chrishadfield.ca" target="_blank">Chris Hadfield</a> told <em>Newsweek</em>, “<a href="http://europe.newsweek.com/astronaut-chris-hadfield-questions-feasibility-mars-one-mission-289160" target="_blank">You can’t just go to SpaceMart and buy those things</a>”). The project’s estimated budget of $6 billion has been called outlandishly low—the <a href="http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/missions/index.html" target="_blank">Apollo program</a> of the 1960s and ’70s, for instance, cost roughly $24 billion, and that’s without adjusting for inflation. Nevertheless, Mars One has joined the wave of private projects, such as <a href="http://www.spacex.com" target="_blank">SpaceX</a> and <a href="http://www.virgingalactic.com" target="_blank">Virgin Galactic</a>, looking to pick up the slack of government programs that have lost funding. And although all have run into various problems, they are not at the mercy of tepid public opinion on space travel. <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/14/5-facts-about-americans-views-on-space-exploration/" target="_blank">According to surveys</a> by <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org" target="_blank">Pew Research</a>, around 70 percent of Americans favor either cutting spending on space exploration or keeping its funding at current low levels and spending more money instead on other programs. Only 20 percent favored increasing spending. McCormick’s interest in space and film have long intersected; she loves science fiction movies. If selected for the mission, she hopes to work on the planned reality television show that would chronicle the Mars One mission. Television is also McCormick’s plans for her life on Earth, if Mars is not in the cards. She lives in Los Angeles, where she is working on several independent film projects. Film and media, she says, are important tools for cultivating enthusiasm in endeavors like space travel, as science fiction did for her. Perhaps broadcasting the Mars One mission would do the same for others, she says. Meanwhile, here on Earth, the next major Hollywood film on space travel is <em><a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3659388/" target="_blank">The Martian</a></em>, coming in October. In it, <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000354/" target="_blank">Matt Damon</a>’s character is accidentally left behind by his crew on Mars, and he must survive there on his own while attempts at rescuing him are impeded by a surly mission control director played by <a href="http://www.jeffdaniels.com" target="_blank">Jeff Daniels</a>. Having read the <a href="http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18007564-the-martian" target="_blank">2011 novel</a> by Andy Weir on which the film is based, McCormick sees being stranded alone as one of her personal worst-case scenarios for the mission. The story also offers a unexpected parallel. “It’s funny because the character”—Mark Watney, played by Damon—“says he did his undergrad at the <a href="http://www.uchicago.edu" target="_blank">University of Chicago</a>,” she says, “But of course he’s an engineer, and Chicago doesn’t have an engineering school.” But then again, McCormick did not learn engineering at UChicago, nor anywhere. She studied English and cinema and media studies in the <a href="https://college.uchicago.edu" target="_blank">College</a> before earning a master’s in film directing at the <a href="https://calarts.edu" target="_blank">California Institute of Arts</a>. Astronauts have historically been veteran combat pilots or highly trained astrophysicists and engineers, but McCormick doesn’t feel any trepidation about her qualifications. Mars One’s staff “have made it very clear to me that they’re not looking for a group of scientists; they’re looking for a group of colonists,” she says. “They want people who can be very open-minded; they can be flexible; they want to be helpful; they want to contribute to the greater good of the community.” McCormick has heard the criticism, the concern from scientists that Mars One’s prospective crew would not be qualified for space travel, but she has confidence in the project. “History shows us that sometimes the greatest movements of mankind are made by one or a very few people in the face of adversity and skepticism from the rest of the world,” she says. McCormick has made at least one strange journey before. In the 1990s, she spent several years living in Siberia, where her father was working for <a href="https://www.usaid.gov" target="_blank">USAID</a> after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. She was seven years old when her family moved there from Virginia, and the language and culture were unfamiliar, as was the desolate landscape and bone-chilling winter. This Mars One endeavor is not a lark for her, she says. It remains to be seen whether space travel really is in her future, but she already has her mind in faraway places.</div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/science-medicine" hreflang="en">Science &amp; Medicine</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/mars" hreflang="en">Mars</a></div> </div> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="https://mag.uchicago.edu/science-medicine/red-ambition" data-a2a-title="Red ambition"><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_google_plus"></a><a class="a2a_button_print"></a><a class="a2a_dd addtoany_share_save" href="https://www.addtoany.com/share#url=https%3A%2F%2Fmag.uchicago.edu%2Fscience-medicine%2Fred-ambition&amp;title=Red%20ambition"></a></span> Fri, 18 Sep 2015 19:10:14 +0000 jmiller 4978 at https://mag.uchicago.edu A world of bells https://mag.uchicago.edu/university-news/world-bells <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img src="/sites/default/files/1508_Mackenzie_World-bells.jpg" width="725" height="325" alt="" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span lang="" about="/profile/jmiller" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jmiller</span></span> <span>Tue, 08/11/2015 - 16:52</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">The carillon bells in the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. (Photography by Robert Kozloff/courtesy University of Chicago News Office)</div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/james-mackenzie-ab16"> <a href="/author/james-mackenzie-ab16"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">James Mackenzie, AB’16</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/web-exclusives" hreflang="en">Web exclusives</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item"><p>08.11.2015</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">A momentous summer concert season for Rockefeller’s carillon—and a summer-long farewell to UChicago’s longtime carillonneur.</div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item">It looked like it was going to rain—in fact it did, if only lightly and for a few minutes. Even when it was dry, the overcast skies did not seem conducive to picnics or outdoor concerts. And yet, several dozen people sat on the lawn outside <a href="http://rockefeller.uchicago.edu/the-carillon/the-50th-bells-of-summer" target="_blank">Rockefeller Memorial Chapel</a> on a gray Sunday evening in mid-July. There were older folks who brought blankets and wine, young couples who brought children in strollers, and a few students who brought only themselves. They had come for a performance of the <a href="http://rockefeller.uchicago.edu/the-carillon" target="_blank">Rockefeller carillon</a>, a giant apparatus of 72 small bells housed in the chapel tower. It was installed in 1932 and, with some renovations in the interim, has remained in the tower ever since. As part of the <a href="http://rockefeller.uchicago.edu/the-carillon/carillon-recitals-and-tower-tours" target="_blank">Bells of Summer</a> series put on by Rockefeller staff, carillonneurs from around the world are invited to play songs from their home countries on Rockefeller’s instrument every Sunday evening. The series lasts for 10 weeks, the equivalent to an academic quarter in which the only class is in bells. This year’s series marks the 50th anniversary of the internationally themed concerts, which run through August 23. That final concert will feature Wylie Crawford, who is retiring this year after 31 years as <a href="http://rockefeller.uchicago.edu/the-carillon/carillonneurs" target="_blank">University carillonneur</a>. It might be tempting, then, to make this summer all about him, but he’s not the type to hog the spotlight. In fact, Crawford says, he is honored by the talented musicians performing in this series. “I take pride in that,” he <a href="http://chicagomaroon.com/2015/02/17/carillonneur-carries-on-after-decades-of-playing-at-rockefeller-chapel/" target="_blank">told</a> the <em><a href="http://chicagomaroon.com" target="_blank">Chicago Maroon</a></em> earlier this year, “I want to have this instrument played by the best performers that I can find.” On the evening I attended, July 26, the visiting carilloneur was Olesya Rostovskaya, a Russian musician whose repertoire of obscure instruments also includes the <a href="http://www.britannica.com/art/theremin" target="_blank">theremin</a>, an electric musical device. Rostovskaya was situated high in the chapel’s tower, but listeners could watch her through a live video feed on a small TV just inside the chapel door. The act of playing the carillon is a visual spectacle; its keyboard-like apparatus is massive, requiring a level of dexterity and concentration that’s sure to make even a grand organ player sweat a little. Rostovskaya played a selection of Russian songs, some composed for the carillon, others arrangements of familiar classics. The scores of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff jump off the set list to the more casual listener but are featured no more prominently than the original compositions by Rostovskaya herself. Whether they be Orthodox hymns or the <em>Nutcracker</em>, Rostovskaya corrals and shapes each piece to her style, her sound. But the soundscape during the concert doesn’t belong to her completely. Cars pull out of the Harper Center parking lot down the block, a small child cries after tripping on some stone stairs, somewhere on the lawn a champagne cork pops. The concert is called the Bells of Summer, but listeners are treated to all the sounds of summer, and it’s hard to imagine that isn’t what the organizers had in mind.</div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/university-news" hreflang="en">University News</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/carillon" hreflang="en">Carillon</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/music" hreflang="en">Music</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refuchicago field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/rockefeller-memorial-chapel" hreflang="en">Rockefeller Memorial Chapel</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/university-history-0" hreflang="en">University history</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-relatedstories field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">“<a href="http://news.uchicago.edu/article/2015/06/30/rockefeller-chapel-s-bells-summer-concert-series-celebrates-50th-anniversary" target="_blank">Rockefeller Chapel’s Bells of Summer Concert Series Celebrates 50th Anniversary</a>” (University of Chicago News Office, 06.30.2015) “<a href="http://chicagomaroon.com/2015/02/17/carillonneur-carries-on-after-decades-of-playing-at-rockefeller-chapel/" target="_blank">Carillonneur Carries on After Decades of Playing at Rockefeller Chapel</a>” (<em>Chicago Maroon</em>, 02.17.2015) “<a href="../arts-humanities/grace-note" target="_blank">Grace Note</a>” (<em>University of Chicago Magazine</em>, Nov–Dec/14)</div> <div class="field field--name-field-storymedia field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><h2 class="media-icon media-icon-video">Video</h2> <iframe width="200" height="113" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/RarsphZl1b8?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><p>Wylie Crawford performs Pachelbel's Canon in D on the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Chapel Carillon.</p> <p> <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RarsphZl1b8&amp;feature=youtu.be" target="_blank" class="more-link">WATCH THE VIDEO AT YOUTUBE</a></p> </div> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="https://mag.uchicago.edu/university-news/world-bells" data-a2a-title="A world of bells"><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_google_plus"></a><a class="a2a_button_print"></a><a class="a2a_dd addtoany_share_save" href="https://www.addtoany.com/share#url=https%3A%2F%2Fmag.uchicago.edu%2Funiversity-news%2Fworld-bells&amp;title=A%20world%20of%20bells"></a></span> Tue, 11 Aug 2015 21:52:28 +0000 jmiller 4914 at https://mag.uchicago.edu Examination of an honor killing https://mag.uchicago.edu/law-policy-society/examination-honor-killing <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img src="/sites/default/files/1508_Mackenzie_Said.jpg" width="725" height="325" alt="" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span lang="" about="/profile/jmiller" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jmiller</span></span> <span>Tue, 08/04/2015 - 17:05</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Movie still. (Courtesy <em>The Price of Honor</em>)</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/james-mackenzie-ab16"> <a href="/author/james-mackenzie-ab16"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">James Mackenzie, AB’16</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/web-exclusives" hreflang="en">Web exclusives</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item">08.05.2015</div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><p>A Doc Films event sheds light on an international human rights issue on American shores.</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p><em><a href="http://www.thepriceofhonorfilm.com" target="_blank">The Price of Honor</a></em>, a documentary directed by <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2496744/" target="_blank">Xoel Pamos</a> and <a href="http://www.imdb.com/name/nm4103835/" target="_blank">Neena Nejad</a>, opens in grim and austere fashion. The audio of a desperate 911 call plays over a dark screen uninterrupted for several uncomfortable minutes. The voices are those of teenage sisters Amina and Sarah Said in what we will soon learn are their dying moments. They were allegedly shot by their father, Yaser Said, in the back of his cab in 2008, a crime for which he is still at large.</p> <p>The film was screened earlier this month at <a href="https://eventservices.uchicago.edu/page/ida-noyes-hall#max" target="_blank">Max Palevsky Cinema</a> as part of an event cohosted by <a href="http://docfilms.uchicago.edu/" target="_blank">Doc Films</a> and <a href="http://www.unicef.org" target="_blank">UNICEF</a>. Pamos and Nejad were present for a Q&amp;A on the issue at the heart of the film: honor killings.</p> <p>As the film explains, honor killings are communally approved murders, usually of young women, by a close family member or acquaintance in response to perceived sexual misconduct or other “shameful” activity. Women have been killed for dating men or losing their virginity, for refusing arranged marriages or seeking divorce, for being the victims of rape. Honor killings are most prevalent in North African and Middle Eastern countries and the diasporic communities of those regions around the world. The Saids were just such a case—Yaser was one of five brothers who immigrated to Texas from Egypt. He married an American woman and had three children: Amina, Sarah, and a son named Islam, all born and raised in Texas.</p> <p>While they have received more media attention in the past few years, honor killings are still less well known than some other human rights issues. Pamos, an actor and director who before this film was primarily active in his native Spain, was not aware of the phenomenon until shortly before the project began; it was explained to him by his directing partner Nejad, whose parents are Iranian. They had been planning to make a film on women’s rights and eventually settled on honor killings and then on the Said case. “Originally, we were going to do something more globally,” said Pamos during the Q&amp;A, “but as we got into the story of Amina and Sarah … the fact that Yaser Said is still out there, it kind of only made sense to tell their story.”</p> <p>Using firsthand testimony from friends and relatives and documents—police records, personal emails, text messages, and home videos—the film briefly recounts the girls’ early lives before delving into a detailed chronicle of the events leading up to their deaths. Interviews maintain the pathos, while the silent text of the documents builds dread that is hard to shake. Yaser was alleged to have abused the girls when they were younger, but his controlling behavior was not fully apparent until they started dating American boys. Yaser attempted to marry the girls off in Egypt; when this failed, he allegedly shot them. Yaser is among the <a href="https://www.fbi.gov/wanted/topten" target="_blank">top 10 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list</a>.</p> <p>The crowd at Doc, a small but diverse group that included social workers, Muslims, and interested students, asked the directors difficult and sometimes combative questions during the Q&amp;A. A few in the audience wondered about the “honor killing” label used by the filmmakers, suggesting that it unfairly singled out Muslim communities for broader crimes against women that happen in all cultures. Another sparred with Pamos over Pamos’s assertion that the girls’ mother was tacitly responsible for their deaths because she failed to keep them out of harm’s way.</p> <p>Both directors said they were encouraged by the film’s reception—it has garnered praise from human rights groups and attracted great interest on social media—but are wary of the deeply ingrained cultural mind-sets that keep such atrocities in common practice. “Growing up, friends say, ‘Oh my god my dad would kill me if he found out,’ but for me, that was a reality,” said Nejad in response to a question about how to tackle the issue in the future. “At a young age, I knew if I ever did anything that was considered dishonorable I would just be better off dead. So it’s a mentality that’s so ingrained in us; how do we change that? And honestly I don’t know.”</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/law-policy-society" hreflang="en">Law, Policy &amp; Society</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/human-rights" hreflang="en">Human Rights</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/womens-rights" hreflang="en">women’s rights</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/film" hreflang="en">Film</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refuchicago field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/doc-films" hreflang="en">Doc Films</a></div> </div> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="https://mag.uchicago.edu/law-policy-society/examination-honor-killing" data-a2a-title="Examination of an honor killing"><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_google_plus"></a><a class="a2a_button_print"></a><a class="a2a_dd addtoany_share_save" href="https://www.addtoany.com/share#url=https%3A%2F%2Fmag.uchicago.edu%2Flaw-policy-society%2Fexamination-honor-killing&amp;title=Examination%20of%20an%20honor%20killing"></a></span> Tue, 04 Aug 2015 22:05:33 +0000 jmiller 4904 at https://mag.uchicago.edu Poll prep https://mag.uchicago.edu/law-policy-society/poll-prep <div class="field field--name-field-letter-box-story-image field--type-image field--label-hidden field--item"> <img src="/sites/default/files/1507_Mackenzie_Poll-prep.jpg" width="700" height="325" alt="" typeof="foaf:Image" class="img-responsive" /> </div> <span><span lang="" about="/profile/jmiller" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">jmiller</span></span> <span>Tue, 07/14/2015 - 15:44</span> <div class="field field--name-field-caption field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">(Photo collage by Joy Olivia Miller)</div> <div class="field field--name-field-refauthors field--type-entity-reference field--label-visually_hidden"> <div class="field--label sr-only">Author</div> <div class="field__items"> <div class="field--item"> <div about="/author/james-mackenzie-ab16"> <a href="/author/james-mackenzie-ab16"> <div class="field field--name-name field--type-string field--label-hidden field--item">James Mackenzie, AB’16</div> </a> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refsource field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/publication-sources/web-exclusives" hreflang="en">Web exclusives</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-issue field--type-text field--label-hidden field--item"><p>07.14.2015</p> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-subhead field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item">Amassing data on candidates nationwide, a new UChicago start-up helps voters navigate their local ballots.</div> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item">“In my mind when it first became an official thing was when we all met at <a href="http://mag.uchicago.edu/jimmys" target="_blank">Jimmy’s</a>,” says Sebastian Ellefson, AB’03, recalling the early days of <a href="http://www.ballotready.org" target="_blank">BallotReady</a>, the start-up he joined last summer. Coming up with that name was all that he and his fellow cofounders accomplished on that day over drinks, but less than a year later they would find themselves with <a href="http://harris.uchicago.edu/directory/faculty/david_axelrod" target="_blank">David Axelrod</a>, AB’76, on their board of directors and a $30,000 grant from the University. BallotReady is an online database that compiles research on political candidates, with an emphasis on those running for local offices. The idea originated with Alex Niemczewski, AB’09, on Election Day 2010 in <a href="http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en.html" target="_blank">Chicago</a>. “There were over a hundred candidates on my ballot; I knew who to vote for for governor, maybe treasurer,” she says. But below that she needed help. Drawing on her experiences in the tech world (since graduating, she has taught web development classes for <a href="http://www.chicagobooth.edu" target="_blank">Chicago Booth</a> among other pursuits), Niemczewski saw her answer in data. “I started doing my own research, which took a lot of time, so I started making a very simple prototype.” That prototype was a website, a sort of encyclopedia of political candidates. But not just presidential candidates and congressmen. The focus of BallotReady would instead be on scrutinizing the unheralded but influential aldermen, judges, and school council members who shape the day-to-day lives of cities and towns. And yet these politicians remain relatively anonymous. The media mostly focuses on higher level politics. BallotReady aims to fill that gap, providing information such as voting records, statements, and local news coverage to give citizens a fuller picture of just who they are voting for. The idea is to create a more informed electorate by compiling vast and disparate data and making it accessible on one platform. Users can look up all the candidates in their area and, using the research available, decide who to vote for before approaching a ballot. “It’s so much information and what [some] people find useful might be different from what you or I find useful,” says <a href="http://harris.uchicago.edu/directory/students/aviva_rosman" target="_blank">Aviva Rosman</a>, AB’10, one of BallotReady’s three founding members. “This is a tool that people say, whenever we talk to them, ‘Yes, this is something I need.’” BallotReady’s founders hope the project can work toward greater social good, and the University seems to have faith in the idea, awarding BallotReady first place in the <a href="http://research.chicagobooth.edu/sei/about-sei/highlights/2014/2015-04-03-snvc-2015-teams" target="_blank">2015 Social New Venture Challenge</a> program. A 2011 spin-off from Chicago Booth’s <a href="https://research.chicagobooth.edu/nvc/" target="_blank">New Venture Challenge</a>, which began in 1996 to help student-entrepreneurs launch new companies, the <a href="https://research.chicagobooth.edu/nvc/socialnvc/" target="_blank">Social New Venture Challenge</a> is geared specifically toward tech start-ups with a focus on public service and social impact. Rosman’s interests in electoral politics go back a long time. She grew up in <a href="http://www.mass.gov/portal/" target="_blank">Massachusetts</a>, and she recalls her father bringing her as a young child to <a href="https://www.nh.gov" target="_blank">New Hampshire</a> to knock on doors for candidates during primary season. In high school she traveled as far as Florida to canvas for John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. Now entering her second year at the <a href="http://harris.uchicago.edu" target="_blank">Chicago Harris</a>, Rosman says, “This is something I care about, it’s in my blood.” Rosman was the first person Niemczewski called with her idea; the two were friends from their undergrad years in <a href="http://housing.uchicago.edu/houses_houses/new_graduate_residence_hall/tufts_house/" target="_blank">Tufts House</a>. The second call was to Ellefson, who after graduating from the <a href="https://college.uchicago.edu" target="_blank">College</a> had returned to his home state of <a href="http://mn.gov/portal/" target="_blank">Minnesota</a> to study law. But as the city’s four stars tattooed on his arm attest, Chicago has a way of drawing him back. “In my experience Chicagoans seem more politically active than your average urbanite,” he says. “Everyone seems to know who their alderman is. They really know the answer to fix [their] grievances is through politics.” But BallotReady’s ambitions extend beyond its city of origin. Set to go live in time for this year’s election cycle, it will cover local races in <a href="http://kentucky.gov/Pages/home.aspx" target="_blank">Kentucky</a>, <a href="http://www.in.gov/core/" target="_blank">Indiana</a>, and <a href="http://www.virginia.gov" target="_blank">Virginia</a>, with research conducted through partnerships with universities in those states. Next year Niemczewski, Rosman, and Ellefson hope to cover several more states in addition to national races. Although they acknowledge that the expensive campaigning of the presidential and congressional races threatens to drown out the smaller elections, they are optimistic that in addition to increasing voter awareness about local candidates, they can also make headway against the big money being spent on elections. “There’s going to be a lot of voter engagement,” says Niemczewski, “We think it’s an opportunity for us to talk to local people who might get ignored.” As Rosman puts it, “One thing we’re hoping is that we can level the playing field a little. Big-funded candidates, candidates with no money, everyone can have their bio and their issues and people can vote based on that.”</div> <div class="field field--name-field-reftopic field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--item"><a href="/topics/law-policy-society" hreflang="en">Law, Policy &amp; Society</a></div> <div class="field field--name-field-tags field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/politics" hreflang="en">Politics</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/data" hreflang="en">Data</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/tags/elections" hreflang="en">Elections</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-refuchicago field--type-entity-reference field--label-hidden field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/chicago-booth" hreflang="en">Chicago Booth</a></div> <div class="field--item"><a href="/chicago-harris" hreflang="en">Harris Public Policy</a></div> </div> <div class="field field--name-field-relatedstories field--type-text-long field--label-hidden field--item"><span style="line-height: 1.538em;">“</span><a style="line-height: 1.538em;" href="http://mag.uchicago.edu/law-policy-society/following-money" target="_blank">Following the Money</a><span style="line-height: 1.538em;">” (</span><em style="line-height: 1.538em;">University of Chicago Magazine</em><span style="line-height: 1.538em;">, Mar–Apr/15)</span> “<a href="http://mag.uchicago.edu/law-policy-society/political-education" target="_blank">A Political Education</a>” (<em>University of Chicago Magazine</em>, Jan–Feb/15) “<a href="http://mag.uchicago.edu/law-policy-society/joining-forces" target="_blank">Joining Forces</a>” (<em>Dialogo</em>, Fall 2014/Winter 2015) “<a href="http://mag.uchicago.edu/law-policy-society/political-animals" target="_blank">Political Animals</a>” (<em>University of Chicago Magazine</em>, Jan–Feb/13)</div> <span class="a2a_kit a2a_kit_size_32 addtoany_list" data-a2a-url="https://mag.uchicago.edu/law-policy-society/poll-prep" data-a2a-title="Poll prep"><a class="a2a_button_facebook"></a><a class="a2a_button_twitter"></a><a class="a2a_button_google_plus"></a><a class="a2a_button_print"></a><a class="a2a_dd addtoany_share_save" href="https://www.addtoany.com/share#url=https%3A%2F%2Fmag.uchicago.edu%2Flaw-policy-society%2Fpoll-prep&amp;title=Poll%20prep"></a></span> Tue, 14 Jul 2015 20:44:41 +0000 jmiller 4848 at https://mag.uchicago.edu