A Reflection on the FIOA Project

I started this FOIA experiment almost 11 weeks ago and have been walking you through every important point in the journey since. I have been documenting the process from the moment I first filed my requests until two weeks ago when I finally received some of the documents I was hoping for, which I showed you in my previous post. While the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Texas still has two days to respond to my FOIA request, I thought I would go ahead and reflect back on this entire process and what it has taught me about being a journalist.

The first lesson I learned is that FOIA requests take a long time. From the moment I filed the requests until I finally got the documents, the process took between eight and nine weeks for the Fort Worth Department of Planning and Development and still has not been concluded for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Therefore, as a journalist, it is important to give these requests ample time to reach their desired result. If you need data for a story and can only receive it through a FOIA request, then it is vital that you make that filing weeks and months in advance in order to allow time for any complications or back and forth communication with the agency about the requested documents.

The second lesson I learned was that these FOIA requests need to be incredibly specific. The complications and set backs I had in this process were all due to lack of specificity and a need for more clarification. These mishaps set my receiving of the documents I requested back several weeks, which could be too late if I had a story on deadline. Therefore, I learned how important it is to be clear, concise and specific in FOIA requests in order to better your chances of receiving the desired information in a timely manner.

Lastly, I learned that no matter the time and effort it takes to make a FOIA request, it is worth it. Receiving the documents and seeing concrete numbers and information that I would not have otherwise known showed me how important and beneficial data can be for an article. As I mentioned in my last post, numbers are the perfect supplementary information to a story to give it both relevance and credibility for the reader. Specific data can also put mere ideas into a concrete form that is easier for readers to picture and understand. Lastly, FOIA requests can give journalists information that people would not readily disclose on their own accord. However, since it is our right as citizens to know, we can find that information and educate ourselves on the issues at hand.

Therefore, this FOIA project has been incredibly beneficial and enlightening to me as a journalist. FOIA requests are something I will continue to use in my future articles and other writings, because I believe I have only barely scratched the surface of the possibilities of exercising this constitutional right as a citizen of the United States of America. There is so much information rightly available to us. All we have to do is ask for it.


What To Do With the Information You Actually Get

It has been 18 business days since I refiled FOIA requests to the Fort Worth Department of Planning and Development and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Texas. I have yet to receive any response from the U.S. Attorney’s Office regarding my request. However, I did get the documents I requested from the Fort Worth Department of Planning and Development about all building permits filed by Texas Christian University concerning the Worth Hills Building located at the address 3504 Pond Drive, Fort Worth, TX 76109, in the Worth Hills area of TCU’s campus. Just three days after making the request, the files were electronically delivered via email as asked. In the email, the department’s representative graciously relayed that while they have the right to charge a fee for the documents, I was not charged any money for their retrieval and delivery.

In response to my FOIA request, I received 34 pages worth of documents showing six different building permit filings by TCU. Four of these filings were made on October 24, 2012, and the other two were much more recent requests made on June 6, 2014. Of the October filings, one was for a demolition and remodeling of the existing building for $10,000, another for a construction addition to the existing building for a mechanical plant for $4,584,717 and the last two were for the construction of a cooling tower equalling $585,000. Therefore, the proposed total cost of this 2012 project was $5,179,717. You could use this information in an article about TCU’s past growth and how they are using their money on construction. You could also highlight what the specific remodeled aspects of the building were, or you could even write a story on the proposed cost of construction versus the actual cost of construction and how that is consistent or unusual for TCU’s other building projects across campus.

In the June 6, 2014, building permit filings, one document showed the plans for a remodeling of the data center proposed to equal $6,200,000, and the other concerned the construction of a fence and installation of generators for the building expected to reach $1,625,443. Therefore, the total cost of this remodeling project is expected to total a whopping $7,825,443 for one data center in Worth Hills. Numbers like these could be used as supplementary evidence and data points for an article on TCU’s spending habits with construction projects or campus spending in general. These numbers also seem to suggest, that if TCU is putting forth millions of dollars on a data center, then the rest of Worth Hills must also be receiving quite an upgrade. With more investigation, a reporter could probably find exact building floor plans and the proposed future of the entire Worth Hills area.

While these numbers may not be an article in and of themselves, they would be an incredible resource to supplement the points in an article with concrete data figures and numbers. Every story is made stronger when evidence can be shown for the arguments that are being made, so having exact numbers is one way to provide that evidence and gain credibility with your readers. Although it takes more time to ask for and sort through data such as this, it can add so much to an article and show a side that other people may not have revealed in mere interviews. Plus, your readers will appreciate the hard work and diligence you put into making the story the best it could be. So, take the time to find the numbers, because they may end up being the key to your story.

Attached below are all of the documents I received from the Fort Worth Department of Planning and Development. Please feel free to look through them and come to your own conclusions. Enjoy!

Fort Worth Department of Planning and Development documents

FOIA Request Do-overs

For the past two weeks, I have been in communication with both the Fort Worth Department of Planning and Development and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Texas. I received a response from both agencies within the required time frame of 20 business days. However, I have yet to receive any documents due to a few needs for clarification.

First, the FOIA request I filed with the City of Fort Worth required an address in order to search the database. I then tried to ask if they could search within 3 miles of a specific address. However, according to a representative from the Department of Planning and Development, they can only search an exact address and cannot search by block or miles. Therefore, to accommodate this requirement, I resubmitted a FOIA request that only asked for building permits concerning the Worth Hills Building located in the Worth Hills area of TCU’s campus, which is supposedly going to be torn down within the next few years. I used that specific building as the exact address, because I know TCU is planning the further develop the entire area around that building. If received, the plans for the Worth Hills Building will give me a better idea of how the rest of the area is planning to be used.

The second problem I ran into was with the files I requested from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Texas. Assistant Director of the U.S. Department of Justice Susan B. Gerson replied to my request stating that the contents of my request could not be fulfilled because they were “concerning a third party (or third parties).” The letter read, “Records pertaining to a third party generally cannot be released absent express authorization and consent of the third party, proof that the subject of your request is deceased, or a clear demonstration that the public interest in disclosure outweighs the personal privacy interest and that significant public benefit would result from the disclosure of the requested records.” I can understand how the release of records concerning human trafficking victims would be a breach of the victims’ privacy. Therefore, I refiled a FOIA request asking for any public records concerning human trafficking cases, such as news clippings and court records, from January of 1995 to present. These should all be public records and subject to release by a FOIA request.

I was pleased with the responses I received. While I have yet to gain the information I was seeking in both of these FOIA requests, the responses I received were both polite and within the allotted time frame required for a response. Now, it is time to wait again, and this time, I have hopefully avoided any other complications or needs for clarification that could delay my receiving the requested information. However, we will just have to cross our fingers and wait and see.

Please click the link below to view the letter I received from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Texas in response to the first FOIA request I filed in October.


Frequently Asked FOIA Questions

It has been 11 days and 8 business days since I filed my two FOIA requests to the appropriate government agencies. However, I have not yet received a response from either agency. Therefore, for this post, I have decided to examine and answer several frequently asked questions that I have explored throughout this process concerning the Freedom of Information Act and how to better understand the rights it grants to citizens.

Who can file a FOIA request?

Anyone! United States citizens, foreign nationals, associations, organizations and universities are all considered as any “person” in the FOIA.

Are there any government agencies that are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act?

Yes. Congress, federal courts, and the Executive Office, which includes the President and all of his immediate advisors, are NOT subject to the federal FOIA. In addition, private agencies are not subject to FOIA requests either. The agencies that fall under the FOIA are all federal, state and local public agencies.

What can type of information can citizens request?

There are nine categories of information that are not required to be released under the FOIA, because they could be harmful to government or private interests. These nine exemptions include:

1. national security information

2. internal personal rules and practices

3. information prohibited from disclosure under other laws

4. confidential business information like trade secrets and financial information

5. inter or intra agency communication that is protected by legal privileges

6. personal privacy

7. information compiled for law enforcement purposes that could interfere with enforcement proceedings, including right to fair trial and unwarranted invasion of personal privacy

8. financial institutions

9. geological information

How much does it cost to file a FOIA request?

There is no initial fee for filing a request. However, agencies can charge for certain types of fees acquired during the process of fulfilling the request, including the time it takes to search for the records and for copying those records. Agencies will generally notify the filer if the charges are projected to exceed $25 in order to allow the individual to narrow or revise the request.

How long do agencies have to respond to a FOIA request?

Under the FIOA, agencies have 20 business days to respond to a FIOA request.

What can I do if I am unsatisfied with the response to my FOIA request?

Individuals can file administrative appeals if the agency’s response to the FIOA request is unsatisfactory. Appeals can be effective in challenging excessive processing delays, fee waiver denials and unwarranted withholding of information.

Tips for Writing and Filing a FOI Request

FIO Request confirmation from the City of Fort Worth department of Planning and Development.

FIO Request confirmation from the City of Fort Worth department of Planning and Development.

I filed both FOI requests today and have attached the submitted documents to this post in order for you to see my specific requests.

When filing a FOI request, it is important to remember several key tips…

1. Address the right department: When filing a FOI request, it is important to send the request to the right department in order to make sure you get the information you need from the appropriate people. Also, address the request to the individual person in charge of handling FOI requests in order to give the document a pointed message and show that you have researched your target department.

2. Be specific: Be specific in your requests. Highlight exactly what you need by spelling it out in sections and points in order to avoid an overwhelming mass of information flooding your inbox or being charged for information you might not necessarily need.

3. Include a note: At the end of the FOI request, include a note asking to be notified of possible charges and requesting the release of the information as it becomes available and not as a whole. In some instances, pieces of the requested information may be more readily available than other portions. The department may choose to hold all of the documents until each piece is ready. However, such practices could take too long and leave you without the information you need. Therefore, include this note to ensure you are receiving information as it becomes available.

4. Thank them: Lastly, a polite thank you can go a long way.

Now that these two FOI requests have been filed, it is time to wait. I will check back in with updates to see how the process is going.

FOI Request for TCU Building Permit Requests

FOI Request to US Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Texas

How to Actually Act on the Freedom of Information Act

In my Mass Communication Law and Ethics class, we are learning about the Freedom of Information Act and how to actually ask for the information we need as journalists. There is an abundant array of data accessible by law to the general public, and all it takes is a simple “please” in order to get that information. Well, it’s actually a little bit more complicated than that considering there are formal requests that have to be made in a certain structure and rules concerning various information that is off limits. But, in the simplest explanation possible, all it takes is asking in order to get data that could not only give writers story ideas, but could also change the way we view reporting and information gathering as a whole.

Therefore, in order to put this right into action and view the process of FOI requests firsthand, I am going to file two different FOI requests. Throughout the process, I will analyze which one is answered, how much information I actually receive and investigate ways to utilize that information in order to better supplement a story or begin a whole new article.

The first requests focuses on information solely concerning my school and the neighborhoods surrounding the university. In this FOI request, I will ask for all building permit requests and any other development applications and forms submitted by Texas Christian University to the Fort Worth department of Planning and Development from January 2012 to present. I hope to use the requested information to analyze any unreleased, future development plans for Texas Christian University’s campus. The requested material would show where the building would be located and its proposed use. After receiving such information, I could investigate more into the impact any expansion or development would have on the surrounding neighborhoods, zoning expansions or university spending and talk to TCU administrators about the building plans.

The second request impacts a larger community and might be harder information to gather due to its content. In this FOI request, I will ask The United States Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas for reports documenting human trafficking victims rescued in the Dallas-Fort Worth area since the formation of the North Texas Anti-Trafficking Taskforce in 2005. I would then compare those numbers to the number of human trafficking victims rescued in the DFW area between 1995 and 2004. In light of the recent surge of undocumented children migrating through Texas, I would also like to ask for reports of those rescued victims who were unaccompanied children that had crossed the Texas-Mexico border. I hope to analyze how the number immigrant children and the rise or fall in human trafficking reports are correlated.

These two stories are obviously quite different and embody a range of information. Therefore, it will be interesting to see how each request is handled similarly or differently than the other and why those correlations occur. I look forward to witnessing how freely information actually flows despite our constitutional rights as journalists and citizens. Until then, however, we wait.

The Future Starts Now: how college students can get published in a magazine


With the slew of campus activities, course work and social opportunities vying for college students’ time and attention, many ambitious writing students have little free time to devote to future aspirations. However, Harvey Rachlin argues in his article for The Writer, “The College Try,” that any college student determined to become a writer must find the time and opportunities to get published now.

Some may assume college students would have a harder time entering the publishing world due to their youthful age, but there is no other time in a young writer’s career when he or she will be surrounded by so many qualified mentors and professionals who are willing and able to proof writings, offer advice and make recommendations. Universities are a prime opportunity to network with seasoned professionals and make contacts for the future through professors, clubs, career services and seminars. All of these expose students to people who may help open company doors in later years.

There are also a number of on-campus resources for students to embrace that may capture the attention of larger publications and build reader bases for the future. Campus newspapers, alumni magazines, literary journals, ect. all offer college students the writing experience and networking connections necessary to break into the magazine writing world. While some universities require article contributors to be upperclassmen journalism or writing majors, other student media opportunities like those at Texas Christian University allow even first-year students to produce content for publication in the campus newspaper, The Daily Skiff, and online site at TCU360.com. Individuals should check with their specific colleges in order to find out how to get involved with their particular student media.

Social media is another great outlet to utilize as a college journalist. Students can publicize their writings through social network posts, the university website, or readings on and off campus, and such personal marketing is a gateway for others to notice, read and share written work. The more an article is shared, the more a writer’s fan base grows and the more likely it is that the article will be noticed by another magazine publication. Also, blogging helps students develop voice, demonstrate knowledge about the industry and make connections with followers. Even if you don’t want to start your own blog, popular blogs for college students like The Thesis Whisperer and College Thrive welcome student contributors.

Today’s college students not only have ample avenues for getting published on campus, but there are also a number of ways beyond the college world for students to enter the magazine writing sphere while still in school. First, there is the traditional method of pitching work to publications through query letters. There are a number of “how to’s” and “step-by-step” directions for writing a query letter online, but in order to be seriously considered by magazines as such a young writer, college students must go above and beyond to stand out amongst other contributors. To do this, they should include more than one idea or provide links to sample work online in order to increase the likelihood of getting a response from the editor. Above all, they must be prepared to act like the professional they are trying to become in the future.

Finally, the last and probably most helpful tool for getting published in a magazine as a college student is a writing internship. Internships are the golden door to insider views of the magazine publishing world. Many magazine internship programs, like D Magazine’s in Dallas, Texas, often offer opportunities for interns to practice story writing, develop article ideas and even produce content for the publication. These internships that offer professional experience as opposed to coffee making or errand running tasks are the perfect chance for students to gain writing experience for the future and get a foot in the door of the desired magazine. Specifics of different internships are often found on the company’s individual website.

While many may consider college students too young to be competitive writers in the professional world, universities actually offer students ample opportunities to be published in both on and off-campus publications while still in school and provide a number of exceptional resources to be utilized in a writer’s future career. Young writers must find time in the midst of the chaos of college to write and exploit all of these resources readily available at their fingertips. There is no reason to wait when college students can begin getting published now.



The screen was blank.

The black curser blinked in and out of visibility, beckoning me like the distant light from a lighthouse.

I sat at my computer, but the commotion from the past hour cluttered my brain. Words. Words. All I needed were words to describe the unexpected event, and yet rolls of memory were all that seemed to replay in my mind.

I could see myself walking through the archway under the Sid-Richardson building and toward the library steps. My sandals shuffled instead of flip-flopped across the pavement as I readjusted my jean shorts, which were scandalously hiked up by the book bag’s steady bouncing against my back when I walked. In my peripheral vision, two students, a guy and a girl, huddled in front of the construction fence nearby, pulling something through one of the diamond-shaped openings. Curious, I drew closer.


There, cupped close to the chest of the girl, was a kitten. Its ivory body reflected the bright Texas sun as a few stripes of grey broke through the white fur. The small, pebble-like eyes were only halfway visible under eyelids pulled down like shades to block the sun.

I could hear the voice of my reporting professor in my head saying, “Everything is a story.” I rummaged through my bag for some form of paper, pulled out my Astronomy notebook and started taking notes.

“I walked past and heard it meowing frantically,” Jordan Warnement, a senior kinesiology major, explained. “I turned to the guy behind me and said, ‘Do you hear that cat?’”

I frantically scribbled the details of Warnement’s description, and students began to collect around the newly found kitten. The ooh’s and awe’s of the spectators were quick distractions from my continuous questions as I tried to piece together the unfolding story.

Then, we heard another meow. This time, it was louder, stronger and coming from behind the fence. Several students and I peered through opaque netting to see what we assumed to be the mother cat pacing back and forth along the other side of the barrier. Travis Gauntt, a junior finance major, pointed out a small divot further down the fence, where we could return the kitten to its home.

The group of now five to seven students gathered around the opening. As Warnement knelt in preparation and Gauntt lifted the bottom wiring for the exchange, the mother cat darted through the gap under the fence and ran away.

Warnement was left with the kitten in her arms, her computer on the ground and a paper due in less than an hour.

Several of the observers dispersed to return to their noon classes, while the rest of us made a plan.

“We are going to hide her behind us and walk into the library, so she can print off her paper before class,” Gauntt said about Warnement.

Doing just that, we formed a discrete wall in front of Warnement and trooped into the library like bodyguards. The kitten rested in her hand behind a notebook covering as we all stood on edge by the printers, looking out for suspicious staff members at the “Information” desk nearby. Warnement quickly signed into the computer to retrieve her paper, and the following high pitched “weeee” “woooo” of the printer helped mask a soft meow.

After mere minutes, we exited the library as alert as we came in, mission accomplished.

Before we parted ways, however, I asked Warnement one last question.

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m allergic to cats, but I have a friend who is looking for a kitten,” Warnement said. “If she can’t keep it, then I’ll take it to a shelter.”

Warnement then disappeared with the kitten in hand, and as I walked away, I knew I had a story to write.

The things they’ve seen: facing tragedy, hope and reality as a 20-year-old nursing major

© Copyright 2012 CorbisCorporation

Shannon Thompson’s heart beat faster as the door of the patient’s room opened before them. Nine. It had been nine days since the woman had last been bathed, and the aroma of body odor coming from inside the room was an evident contrast to the smells of alcohol rub and soap Thompson was accustomed to smelling in the hospital’s sanitized hallways.

“You two will be in here,” the nurse said as she directed the clinical students into the patient’s room.

Thompson and a fellow nursing student from Texas Christian University, Joey Micci, carried their buckets of washcloths, water and soap to the bedside and began to work.

They scrubbed the woman’s pale, wrinkled skin, and Thompson tried not to scrunch her nose as she twisted the used rag above the bucket, causing a stream of brownish liquid to fall into the water. She looked across bare skin at Micci and then back down at the patient: 80-years-old, heart failure, most likely terminal.

Not many college students in their early twenties have hands-on learning experiences outside of the classroom, and Thompson had to remind herself that she was not a normal 20-year-old; she was a nursing student. According to data from the National Center on Education Statistics, students in health profession majors accounted for only 8 percent of college undergraduates in 2012. That number was so small mainly because few can handle the academic rigor and intense hospital environment day in and day out. Thompson, however, was part of that minority, and the coursework preparing her for such a life was just this, working in the hospital and caring for patients, even if that meant bathing an older woman as part of course requirements.

“This is my normal now,” Thompson thought. “She needs a bath. You do whatever.”

Micci and Thompson continued their duty.

Thompson had never had a boyfriend or even kissed a guy before, and now here she was, bathing a completely naked 80-year-old woman with her 20-year-old, perfectly eligible, male classmate. What a first date.

She could have talked. She could have flirted, but the two students just worked repetitively until their third companion broke the silence.

“Thank you. Thank you,” the woman repeated. “Thank you.”

Thompson smiled as she picked up the bucket of water, dirt and washcloths.

“Even doing the smallest things you feel so accomplished,” Thompson said. “I guarantee we made that person’s day.”


“We all have different stories in nursing. I’m preparing that person like they’re going to have to take care of my family. We need more nurses. There’s a lot of opportunities for women beyond what there was years ago, so I want the best nurses taking care of me. And it’s not just the science part of nursing but the art of nursing.” – Professor Barbara Patten

Thompson had been in hospitals regularly since she was 16-years-old, and the goose-bumps lining her arms as she walked through the cold, whitewashed hallways were all too familiar to her.

She grew up in Dallas, Texas, with her parents and two siblings. Thompson’s Highland Park world, however, was flipped upside down when her younger brother, Justin, was diagnosed with leukemia in 2009. He was only 10-years-old. For the next four years, Thompson and her family were regulars at Dallas Children’s Medical Center where her brother underwent treatment.

“I vividly remember it all,” Thomson said. “On some nights when my mom needed to spend the night at home or take care of the dogs or something, I would spend the night with my brother in the hospital.”

It wasn’t abnormal for siblings like Thompson to stay the night with sick younger brothers and sisters. It happened a lot on that floor at Children’s Medical Center, because most of the patient’s were just like Justin: 10-years-old, leukemia, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

It was the best part of Thompson’s day, though, seeing Justin laugh even at 3:00 a.m. as a nurse came in to check on him. Thompson knew her brother’s mood depended on how good or bad the nurse’s interaction was with him that day, and the most helpful thing they could do was treat him like a friend, not a patient.

“Some would come into the room and just do their job,” Thompson said, “but others would come in and make him laugh and just love him.”

It was in Children’s Medical Center that Thompson decided she wanted to work in a hospital for the rest of her life.

“I want to help people,” Thompson thought. “I want to be that good nurse.”


“What I like about it is, in this first semester, you get to see a lot of lightbulb moments. Students get to do something that I might take for granted that is very exciting but as simple as getting to give your medication for the first time or getting to listen to somebody’s heart or getting to see a wound dressing change or give an injection. We are preparing them to be professionals, so part of that is being on time, being prepared and ready to go.” – Professor Barbara Patten

“What are his medications?” the clinical instructor asked the group of eight students who were waiting in the hospital lobby to meet the nurse they were scheduled to follow that day. These pre-conferences were mandatory before each day of clinical work, and the instructor would test each student on the details of the patient he or she would be tending to throughout the day, including the person’s age, health condition, and the necessary medicines and dosages for treatment.

The night before, Thompson had spent three hours searching through the hospital’s database of patients’ charts, all to pick this one: 20-years-old, sickle cell anemia, sickle cell crisis, excruciating pain.

“Hydromorphone,” Thompson sounded out to her instructor. She allowed a sigh of relief as the instructor continued down the line.

It was 6:00 a.m. The bustle of the nurses changing shifts added life to the usually quiet hallways as they talked and debriefed on patient reports and updates. Thompson followed her nurse up to their floor to perform a morning full body assessment of the patient.

Entering the room, Thompson saw a young man who she thought could be in her biology class, laying between the sheets, barely moving.

He groaned as she approached the bedside. Listening through her stethoscope, Thompson made sure to check all of the key points, but heart beats, lung sounds and pulses were difficult to hear over the grunts and moans of the young man.

On a normal day, the patient would have been studying mechanical engineering and going to class like an ordinary college student, but today, crisis was normal. Living since birth with sickle cell anemia, he knew to come to the hospital on days like this, he knew his blood cells were getting stuck in veins all over his body, and he knew it would be excruciatingly painful. All Thompson knew was to give him pain medicine.

Thompson distributed the hydromorphone and watched as the young man relaxed in anticipation of relief, calming down enough to talk a few moments with the inexperienced nurse curious to know about his life.

“My life isn’t normal,” he said. “I’m in the hospital on so much pain medication that I’m like a vegetable. I can’t function because I’m so out of it.”

When she left to follow her nurse throughout the rest of her day, all Thompson could think was, ‘“I’ll never take a healthy body for granted.”


“Think about the pilot you have out there that’s flying your plane. He didn’t learn how to fly the plane in the plane. He had to go be in a simulation environment with a lot of the technology that is the same as what he would use if he were flying the plane. It’s a safe environment. You’re not going to kill anyone, literally.” – Professor Barbara Patten

She was going to die, probably within the next three hours.

No one was in the room when Thompson and her nurse came in to check on the patient: stage four lung cancer, terminal.

Thompson slid the pulse oximeter onto the woman’s finger and noticed immediately that the oxygen saturation was abnormally low.

“It’s usually supposed to be between 98 and 100 percent,” Thompson said, “but hers was in the 70’s.”

A reading wasn’t necessary to know the end was in sight. Doctors and family deliberated whether or not to take the woman off of the ventilator that had been sustaining her life, but the grey-blue tint of her skin was evidence of the cancer forging its final attack. In the end, the decision was made, and the cancer won with each IV, cord and machine Thompson unplugged from the woman’s body.

She was unconscious as Thompson and her nurse rolled the woman to hospice, a nicer, more homelike hospital room where most patients are taken when they are about to die. As strange as it was seeing a person on the verge of death lying in the bed Thompson pushed through the hallways like a cart in a grocery store, something else disturbed the 20-year-old even more.

“No family was there,” Thompson said. “She had no one with her.”


“One of the things we say to them is that they then have the license to continue to learn. We can’t teach all the different areas, but it’s learning the nursing care for that population that you are working with, and it can be very specific. If you learn these basic skills, you should be able to apply them.” – Professor Barbara Patten

“Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.”

The alarm of the cardiac monitor grew faster and faster as the man’s blood pressure fell and fever spiked. Nurses rushed in to assess the situation and aid in any ways they could, as the doctor yelled commands across the room.

He was one of those patients you see only in textbooks: 45-years-old, paraplegic, stage four pressure ulcer on sacrum, bone exposed, sepsis infection, possibly terminal.

A motorcycle accident 20 years earlier paralyzed this man from the chest down, and now, here he was in the hospital again, but for a different reason.

He came into the Emergency Room with no pain. The ulcer pulling and gaping on his back had caused an infection of the blood that sent the man into septic shock, and yet he couldn’t even feel it.

Thompson could see the bone as it lay exposed through the ulcer. What normally would be a stage one pressure ulcer had progressed to a stage four, all because the man couldn’t know his flesh was being torn away the longer he sat still.

“He’s just a perfectly normal guy,” Thompson thought as the Texas Ranger’s hat lay by his bedside. “Sporty,” she noticed, “but he couldn’t get out of bed to go brush his teeth.”

Despite the wound, what stood out most to Thompson was the anxiety and depression she could see in his face even 20 years after the accident.

“He’s probably the saddest case I’ve seen, but like all the other patients, I just have to rely on the fact that there are people in his life who love him and care for him,” Thompson said, “just like when it was my brother.”


“It’s hard to see the things I see and to go home at night and not take the baggage with me. I have to remember that the place I can help is in the hospital. I’m passionate about nursing, because I see how it makes a difference in people’s lives.” – Shannon Thompson


To work or not to work: when expectations get in the way of a writer’s paycheck, however mediocre


As the fall semester comes to a close and my reunion with a slew of see-once-a-year relatives for holiday dinners is pending, the inevitable small talk question of “What are your plans after graduation?” looms over me. While I would like to reply with phrases such as “I’m going to work for so-and-so magazine” or “I was just asked to publish so-and-so book”, the reality is that the global community is in an economic recession that warns us college students of unemployment or “underemployment” after graduation. Being a writer, I am almost guaranteed one or the other. 

The thought of answering such questions with the wretched response of “I don’t know what I’m doing after graduation” or “I don’t have a job yet” is gut-wrenching, because for students hoping to pursue a career in writing, the job market for our field is quickly dying. In an article for the Huffington Post, Roger Wright writes, “Stand at the corner of Publishing Street and Job Market Avenue and you’ll see an endless stream of corporate or organizational writers, copy editors, freelancers, self-promoters, bloggers and people who write because they can’t imagine a world where they didn’t write. You’ll also see a lot of unemployed people.” 

While I, like many of you, cannot imagine not writing after graduation, I would like to propose that we must open ourselves up to a realm of other possibilities, not necessarily in place of writing but in addition to it, as writers can maintain a steady job while still doing freelance work on the side. Freelance writer Courtney Carpenter wrote in an article for Writers Digest, “There are hundreds of full-time freelancers who make good livings but who started slow—freelancing on the side while holding down a day job.”

To some, it may seem unfortunate to simply do freelance work, but there are a number of advantages to pursuing freelance writing jobs. First, you are your own boss, controlling the amount of hours you work and essentially the amount of money you make. Also, you choose what you write about. Freelance writing allows you to be creative and get paid for something you love to do while still maintaining a steady job in another profession if needed. Websites like freelancewriting.com and thewritelife.com offer advice for freelancers and job postings with pay ranging from $10 to $34 per hour, and they have a number of negotiable pay options as well. 

The last piece of good news is that you are not alone. Some of the greatest writers in history worked odd, if not dismal, jobs before becoming a few of the most well-respected authors to present, and we, as young college students, should be open and willing to do the same. H.G. Wells left school to work as a draper’s apprentice, which was only the first of a series of nightmarish jobs. He supported himself as a teacher and educated himself until he became the famed science fiction novelist of The War of the Worlds. After an impoverished childhood, debtor’s prison and sporadic factory jobs, Charles Dickens spent time as a less than glamorous freelance reporter. William Faulkner worked as a postmaster and bookseller’s assistant, and did not publish his poetry until he was 27-years-old or write his first novel until he was 28.

Each of these writers are a testament that every experience, no matter how seemingly mediocre, is valuable. We are in college, and we are writers. Our futures are most likely bound to be ones of either various misfortunes or unexpected fame, but today, the job market for full-time writers is slim, and we must be open to other paying possibilities while finding time to further our passion through opportunities like freelance writing. As authors, we are not called to become famous. We are simply called to write. So, no matter what your day job entails, carry your notebook everywhere you go, write down everything you can think of, and make as many skinny vanilla lattes as you’re asked.