Helpful student resources for distance learning transition during COVID-19

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By Pinn Duong

Due to the increasing number of campus closures of universities/colleges as the result of COVID-19 outbreak, several companies have begun to offer short-term resources to support students’ urgent needs and ease their transition to distance-learning.

Frontier airline: buy-1-get-1-free for selected flights

  • Who: students with valid edu email address
  • When: Tickets must be purchased by March 22, 2020. Travel is valid Monday through Thursday, and Saturdays through May 31, 2020, for round-trip domestic nonstop travel within the continental United States
  • How: one student can fly free for every one-way or round-trip Discount Den Fare purchased on qualifying flights and dates using promo code. Carefully read their details & restrictions here and here before booking flights 

Spectrum: free 60-day internet for new subscribers

  • Who: for households with children in grades K-12 or in college who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription at any service level up to 100 Mbps
  • When: starting Monday, March 16th
  • How: Families can call (844) 488-8395 to enroll. Installation fees will be waived for new student households

U-Haul: 30 Days Free Self-Storage

This 30 days free self-storage offer is typically offered  to communities impacted by a natural disaster. This is the first time U-Haul has extended the offer Company-wide. “More and more universities are giving instructions to leave campus and go home. Students and their parents are in need of moving and storage solutions. We have the expertise and network to help, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.” said U-Haul president John Taylor.

  • Who: new customers with college IDs, subject to availability  
  • When: unspecified
  • How:  create an account at Collegeboxes.com to initiate an order. Boxes and packing supplies will then be delivered to a student’s residence. Once packed, an at-home service will pick up the boxes from the dorm or apartment at no additional charge.

Enterprise: discounted travel rental fees 

Enterprise offers travel assistance to students whose colleges/universities announced closures, by waiving the young renter fees for rentals and reduce the age minimum

  • Who:  College Students 18 – 24 years of age
  • When: until May 31, 2020
  • How: book online at link above

Of course, there’s no point in utilizing those distance-learning resources without doing the basics – protect yourself and others from the infections. 

CDC: prevent illness for yourself and others

  • Who: everyone
  • When: until COVID-19 is no longer a threat 
  • How: wash hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces  with disposable gloves, wear masks. Here’s a great reminder if you are young and unafraid of the coronavirus.

Share with us any other helpful resources that you know of to help other students, too!

Featured image by Capital Markets on Medium

Data Privacy Day 2020

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By Pinn Duong

Initiated by The Council in Europe in 2007 and recognized by the US House of Representative in 2009, Data Privacy Day is observed annually on January 28th and became an international effort to inspire discussions and raise awareness of privacy rights and data protection.

1. PROTECT YOURSELF ONLINE

When you are outside: 

Avoid using unsecured (free) Wifi, which is often the case at coffee shops or convenience stores.  Consider using virtual private network (VPN) or mobile hotspot for secure connection.

(Image: mytechquest)  2012 Norton Cybercrime Report

On your personal device

Keep your device(s) and software up-to-date, which include operating system, web browser, apps. Even when you never need the new features that the latest updates offers, updates provides better security and defense against online threats and malware.

Delete when done: some apps are only for a single-use or a short-term, delete them after they are no longer useful 

Use antivirus software: no antivirus can guarantee to protect your device(s) from all threats, but I can provide a basic protection against common malware via periodical scans.

When you’re online surfing / shopping

Strong  passwords: use long & complex passcodes to lock your devices and don’t reuse the password across different accounts. Here’s a tip to a stronger password without forgetting them: use a phrase instead of codes 

A passphrase can contain symbols, and does not have to be a proper sentence. A passphrase is longer than any random string of passcode, easier to remember, satisfy complex rules and next to impossible to crack. Try to reach a minimum of 10 characters for passwords/phrases.

Change password after news of data breach: as digital consumers we are informed of data breaches and are advised to change our password by the company. It’s important to not ignore those messages to ensure your old data become useless even when stolen

Spot email phishing scams

Be alertful whenever you are online so you will be able to detect sneaky scams such as similar but not identical senders/domain names.

An example of an email from a scam sender. Can you spot the mistake?

There are 3 simple rules to spot phishing schemes:

  • Ignore emails, phone calls and websites that create a sense of urgency or requires you to respond to a crisis immediately .
  • Completely ignore what an email looks like: every single detail in a scam email is intricately designed to trick its readers (from logo, brand banner/fonts/image/text, sign-in buttons).
  • Figure out where the destination of the link URL direct to without clicking.

Identical looking button/link can lead to different destination websites (such as the 2 links below). Once you click on a link in a scam email, depends on what the scam click was designed to do, it can direct you to an infected website, access and private data on your device, or open an attachment. We are all susceptible to clicking phishing links when we are unalert online.

Office 365 Login

Office 365 Login

There are several ways you can figure out the destination link without clicking:

  1. Hover over – but do not click – an image/text link to display its actual destination.
  2. Right-click the link to select t “Copy Hyperlink” (Outlook), “Copy Link Location” (Firefox), “Copy Link” (Edge), or “Copy Link Address” (Chrome), and paste it somewhere else to see the text link.
(Image: Digital Check) Hover over a image/text to see the destination link appear

Have a quick read here to learn how to distinguish between a legitimate URL and a fake URL. Above are only a few ways to help you stay safe online, there are soooo many more crucial tips that extend beyond the length that this blog allows. The classic quote by Spiderman’s Uncle Ben fits right into our high-tech life, “With great power convenience, comes great responsibility.”

2. MASS DATA COLLECTION & SURVEILLANCE

But even if you are a tech-savvy person who draconianly follows all the online privacy protection rules above, you can only protect yourself from illegal hackers, not the legal tech companies that seek out and monetize on your privacy.

If it was a decade ago, the invaders of our data privacy were black hat hackers, but as we enter the third decade of the 21st century, we will have to add tech giants and federal surveillance to our list of invaders as well.

When you  contemplate on what tech giants such as Google and Facebook can collect about you, how much data your phones and devices have on you, all the modern advancements and convenience you are enjoying becomes more Orwellian. The all-knowing ad engines of Google keep tabs on your searches, videos you watch, your locations (via map), your communications and connections (mail & hangout), your (in)decisions ‘to buy or not to buy,’ your previous and future plans (calendar). Even when you have navigated carefully through the rainforest of privacy settings that allows you to limit Google’s control of your data, it’s still unclear what you’re actually permitting Google (not) to do and to what extent is it complying with your permission.

Accompanying the intense growth in big data technologies in the last decade is a plethora of shocking revelations of  behind-the-scene data privacy violations occurred on a tremendous scale.

  • 2013: Edward Snowden disclosed to the media about CIA & NSA ‘s extensive phone & internet spying surveillance on Americans & foreign countries.
  • 2016: Facebook collected data of 50 million Facebook users and indiscriminately shared it with Cambridge Analytica (a political data analytics company) who stored and used it for political advertising without users’ consent. It’s important to note that this was not a breach, but was designed to do so.
  • 2018: Tech companies sneaking into your wallets: Google bought credit card transaction data of approximately 2 billion card holders from Mastercard and shared it with advertisers to track how online ads lead to real-world sales. Not to lose out on the race, Facebook asked US banks to share their customers’ financial data to increase user engagement on its marketplace.
(Image: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch)

It might seem hysterical or paranoid by some as to why we should be worried about mass surveillance, as if there’s some heinous hidden scheme underway to seek control or revenge upon us. But it’s critical to be aware of the current tech infrastructure already in place that makes it possible for companies to profile most of us via our cell phone use, and how this growing infrastructure can manipulate / influence our daily life and decisions.

Sources:

Featured image: from cnet

Student Discounts & Tips you should know

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By Pinn Duong

If there’s one New Year’s resolution that will be repeated every year and will sustain you the most in the long-term and the short-term, it’s making a vow to save more money. Budgeting as a student is an endless problems (that is, until your student life ends), but knowing a few tricks and tools can relieve the stress.

Unidays

Unidays partners with various popular brands (in tech, fashion, beauty, fitness) to offer discounts and exclusive deals to students. The most common discount rate is 10-15% off, but deals can be as high as 60%. But don’t be blinded with all the discount numbers, as discounts do not automatically guarantee the best prices, so always shop around before swiping your card.

Cash Back Credit Cards

Thanks to a previous GCC international student blogger, Zerin Firoze, who shared some of her money-saving tips as an international student, I learned about building a good credit score and cash back rewards. If you are an international student or without an SSN, you should research and compare different (secured) credit cards before deciding which suits you best.

Extra note for international students: if you plan on residing in the US for the next several years, it’s important and almost necessary to build good credit history to prove that you are a reliable borrower, which determines whether and how well you can get loans, rent a desirable apartment or buy high-priced items like cars. 

After much research and from personal experiences, Discover it Student Cash Back arguably offers the highest rewards, cashback and perks for students and beginners who are learning to build credit.

  • 5% cashback in rotating categories each quarter: For example, it’s January right now so you’ll be able to earn 5% cashback from groceries stores until end of March. This is in addition to unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases.
  • Good Grades Rewards: $20 statement credit each school year your GPA is at least 3.0 for up to the next 5 years.
  • Other perks: cashback match at the end of the first year, free FICO score, low fees and forgiveness for your first late payment.

Greyhound Student Advantage for bus rides

If you are car-less (like me) and rely on buses to travel during vacations, a Greyhound Student Advantage Card, which costs $30 per year, offers 10% off tickets and 15% off nationwide shipping. The Student Advantage Discount Card also offer students exclusive discounts from major retailers, travel and entertainment providers partners. You can find their up-to-date lists of partnership with national brands here.

Additionally, Greyhound also offers a road reward program in which you collect points every time you travel. The points add up quick, you receive 1 point per one-way Economy trip (or 3 points per one-way Flexible fare). The higher the points, the higher the rewards (This program is for anyone who signs up for it, not just students.)

Freebird for Uber/Lyft rides 

Again, if you are car-less, you either rely on buses for long trips and Uber/Lyft for short rides. Freebird allows you to earn points/rewards for every ride you take with Uber or Lyft, in addition to generous promo bonuses during special occasions. Highly rated on both Google Play Store and Apple Store (4.7 and 4.8, respectively), Freebird is much more generous in rewards and cashback than Uber built-in systems. Specifically, you can cash back at least $10 (which equates to 5000 points) after 20 rides (250 points/ride).

Cons: you can only connect the app to either Lyft or Uber one at a time, not both. This is a detriment since many people are connected to Uber, but Lyft often offers cheaper rides. Also, Freebird ‘s rewards 250 points per ride regardless of the distance, whether it’s 4 miles or 30 miles. On the bright side, Freebird doubles up the points during special occasions or holidays.

This app is also something I learned from GCC international student blog post by Zerin.

Student Universe for flights

This online travel agency offers cheap flights for students and faculty. To get the best price, it’s advisable to book ticket at least 1.5-2  months in advance. As a trade-off for their super cheap fares, there are many restrictions: tickets are mostly non-refundable, and it will be very costly to change ticket details (such as dates, destination, passenger). So only book on Student Universe if you are dead sure your trip details will not change later on. I had comfortable and affordable experiences using Student Universe so far, but that is because there were not any post-booking or last-minute changes to my trips/flights and I luckily never had to deal with the reputably unfriendly customer service. 

This is an example of ticket fares for a round-trip flight from JFK to LAX booking 1.5 months in advance.

If you’re looking for more money-saving tips, I recommend you to check out Zerin’s previous blog posts (part 1, part 2) on the topic.

I personally have used all of these services at least three times and have had positive experiences with them in my money-saving battle, so rest assured none of those recommendations are monetized ads. Happy 2020 and happy savings!

Featured image by kstudio from Freepik.

Tech tips in the Digital Age

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By Pinn Duong

In this rushed and overloaded digital age, speed and productivity is power. Some of the tech tools below can be the very hacks you need for productivity so you can optimize your time and effort, and save more quality time for more quality tasks. 

Unroll.me

Unroll.me makes it super easy for you to unsubscribe from junk / spam emails without having to delete them manually so often. When you sign up for the service, it will scan through your email to display a list of subscriptions that are filling up your inbox, including subscriptions that you never knew you signed up for. It also helps to remove scam emails whose unsubscribe button doesn’t actually work.

It helps you waste less time skimming and sorting through your crowded mailbox every day.

  • Available as: website
  • Charge: Free

Canva 

“The design tool for non-designers,” this popular web-based graphic design platform allows users to create their own designs & customize graphics, prints, presentation slides from hundreds of professional layouts and templates. If you would like to create an eye-catching poster for an event or an enviable presentation without spending too much time or dabbing into more complicated software such as Adobe, Canva is the place.

For an individual who’s looking to create a quick professional-look design, free version of Canva is plentiful. You can compare their free & upgraded features here. Also, you’ll need to sign up for Google or Facebook account before using.

  • Available as: website & app (ios & android)
  • Charge: Free & paid
Plenty of design templates from Canva

Print Friendly 

As the name suggests, the service helps you remove any navigation, ads, and junk to print a clean-looking article. You can also customize or delete the text and image deemed unnecessary before printing.

Equally important, if you don’t read the New York Times article frequently enough but already exceeded your limit of 10 free articles per month, you can paste the blocked article link into Print Friendly and see its entirety.

  • Available as: website & browser extension (chrome & firefox)
  • Charge: Free
A blocked New York Times article which requires subscription to view
Goes to Print Friendly and paste the article link, the whole article is viewable!

Scanner Pro 

There is a good reason why this app is ranked at #2 on IOS App Store for Business category. Scanner Pro produces top quality scans, offering accurate intelligent character recognition (detects readable text and convert them into machine-encoded text), and doing it all with a smooth interface. It automatically detects borders, reduces distortions, lets you export it as jpg and pdf and share/upload right inside the app.

Since using this app, I feel like those bulky document scanner in the office and library will become museum artifacts in the near decades.

  • Available as: app (ios)(there are many different apps on both ios & google play store for the same purpose of different price range for you to pick from)
  • Free & Paid (one-time payment of $3.99)

Video speed controller

In this overwhelming information age, speed listening is the trick to learning more and quicker from multimedia such as videos and podcasts. If you find it torturous and distracted to sit and listen to an online lecture/video of a slow pace, or if you’re more engaged and focused in high-speed informative listening, this video speed controller is a must. A video speed controller also helps you quickly ‘skim’ through unimportant video sections without skipping/missing its main points. Equally important, this extension allows you to customize hotkey (keyboard shortcuts) to increase/decrease speed and skip forward/backwards without touching the mouse.

  • Available as: Chrome browser extension (Firefox also has similar add-on)
  • Charge: free

Pop-up dictionary/translator

If you’re learning a new language or looking to improve your vocabulary through voracious reading, pop-up dictionary and translator helps to reduce interruptions of looking up a word. There are multiple chrome extensions available for this feature, including but not limited to, Good Word Guide, Dictionarist, Google Dictionary (multiple languages). Personally, I used 3 different pop-up dictionary extensions so that I can be exposed to different ways a word is defined.

  • Available as: Chrome browser extension (Firefox also has similar add-on)
  • Charge: free
Google pop-up translator from Chinese to English
Multiple pop-up definitions from different apps

I have personally used all the tools listed in this blog, and have loved them enough to recommend them to you! I hope you find them useful as well!

Feature image: vector created by Rawpixel from freepik.com

Mental Health on Campus

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By Dennis Austin

College marks an important period in a student’s life. As students begin to transition into adulthood, college is a playground of sorts, a place where experimentation, deep thought, and pondering on what lies ahead are all on the menu. Some students define their college experience through partying, sexual exploration, intense academic rigor, or a combination of sorts. However, for many students they are not in the least concerned with these activities as their energy is more focused on getting themselves out of bed, dealing with an anxiety attack or flirting with the idea of suicide.

Over the past few years mental health has become a hallmark on college campuses across the world. More attention and resources have now been dedicated in assisting students who struggle with their internal demons, which for many, is a case of life and death. Here at Genesee Community College, there is a noticeable sense of despair which afflicts much of the student body. I myself have seen people in my own social circle openly admit to cutting themselves, failed suicide attempts, amongst many other tragic stories. One student in particular had cut themselves multiple times in their abdomen, an event which required an overnight hospital stay.

Earlier this month at the behest of GCC President James Sunser, me and College Village Resident Assistant Randy Bumbury, visited Monroe Community College and advocated for more resources on campus to deal with this crisis. In a room filled with State legislators across various regions we plead our case as to why this issue requires urgent action. Jeanie Burdick is a fine counselor here at GCC and has performed her job well, but she is only one individual. Given that our estimated student population is well over 1,000 (more if our campus centers and distance learning students are calculated), there is simply not enough resources available to address the needs of students.

To be blunt, we need money. Monetary backing would ensure we could afford more than one full-time, qualified counselor as well as expanding our services at the Counseling Center. Thus, GCC could provide more options for students to better manage their health outside of what currently exists, such as Therapy Assist Online, a useful tool students can use, but doesn’t completely solve the problem. The issue we have is not a lack of motivation or skill. That much among faculty is present. We just don’t have the “cache” if you will, to go beyond our constraints and truly make a difference.

Dennis Austin is a graduating sophomore, majoring in Liberal Arts & Sciences. He is graduating this semester and will be attending the University of Illinois in January.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 911. If you need to make an appointment with our Counseling Center, please contact Jeanie Burdick at jlburdick@genesee.edu or call (585)-343-0055 ext. 6219. The Counseling Center is open weekdays, Monday-Friday, from 9 AM to 4:30 PM.

How I saved hundreds of dollars in the cost of living in the US as an International student.

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For the last one year, I did not pay a dime for heat, electric, garbage pick-up, laundry and gas without any roommates. I am successfully graduating from GCC this fall and I managed to do it by saving hundreds of dollars in the cost of living. Most Americans and International students alike, stare at me in disbelief when I tell them that I pay nothing for utilities and I managed to do so without a roommate. Do I sound too good to be true? I certainly do. Let me show you how I made frugal living a reality in this outrageously exorbitant economy. According to a news report by the national low-income housing coalition, a full-time minimum wage job won’t get you a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in America. A lot of one bedroom apartments in Batavia range between $500-650 plus you will have to pay for heat, electric, Internet, phone bill and fuel separately.

I have spent the first one year at GCC building friendships. I have spoken with everyone and I got to know everyone around me. I am a keen observer of people around me and I am a pretty decent judge of character. It did not take me long to figure out people who would be genuinely helpful to me. I like helping people as well and I am usually extra kind and respectful to elderly folks. I live away from my parents and whenever I come across an elderly person I suddenly miss my parents. South Asian children like me usually live with their parents until their parents pass away. South Asian culture also emphasizes a lot on family values. Very quickly, I got to know a lot of elderly folks with empty houses in Batavia and Oakfield because their children moved out. Many of these elderly, soon to be retired folks were impressed by me and offered me to live in the basement of their large, empty houses to pay off their mortgage. It did not take me long to figure out that it is way cheaper for me to lease one bedroom and bathroom space in a large empty house, instead of, leasing a whole apartment. I pay only $500 for rent without any roommates. Electric, heat, laundry, garbage pick-up and everything else is included with it. I do not deal with electric or fuel companies at all.

I know a lot of International students who pay $300-400 for off-campus housing but they are forced to put up with roommates and additionally need to pay for heat, electric and other necessities separately. On-campus housing is extremely expensive and if you are like me who is not at all interested in dealing with roommates, residential assistants then, yes, off-campus housing is for you. Some International students almost get free on-campus housing if they choose to be a residential assistant on campus. However, all students do not get the job of being a residential assistant. International students also do not get financial aid from the US government to live on-campus. Personally, the job of being a residential assistant and dealing with on-campus drama never appealed to me. Never mind, how much you dangle the offer of a free on-campus housing to me. I simply refuse to have roommates. Hence, I never considered applying for a residential assistant job.

Leasing a basement or a separate unit in a large, empty house with no children is the best way to save money on the cost of living, instead of, renting a separate house or one bedroom apartment all by yourself and being responsible for your own heat and electric. I live in a basement of a large house with my own kitchen, bathroom, study room, and bedroom. I have a nice backyard and parking space as well. I almost never see my landlord who lives upstairs. I have my own separate entrance. There is no way I would be charged a separate electric or heat bill as there is usually only one meter per house. However, be respectful. Try to conserve energy and heat. Do not abuse anybody’s generosity and trust. I keep all my lights off when I do not need it and I use as little water as possible. Do not tamper or raise the thermostat. You certainly do not want to upset a landlord who is willing to pay for your heat, electric, garbage pick-up, and laundry.

Thus, the moral of the story is to be nice to people in general. Do not pretend to be nice to people just because you have an ulterior motive. People will quickly realize your motive and turn away from you. If you want to successfully live in a place for a year or two like me, then focus on building a good relationship with your landlord. Good behavior will take you a long way in life. Do a background check and make sure you really know the person you are living with. You will definitely come across good-hearted people who will offer you almost free-housing or housing at a lower cost. I am graduating this fall from GCC and I am moving to another state. I will be a house-aide at an elderly person’s house and I will be paying nothing for rent, electric, heat, garbage- pick up and other expenses. Now, I have decreased my cost of living from $500 to zero dollar. I repeat again, “Be nice to elderly people!”

Part-2 How International Students can save money while being at GCC

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Earn money and/or gift cards just by watching videos online and by taking quick surveys:

I wasted thousands of dollars during my Freshman year at college because I knew nothing about coupons or how to rack up points and free gift cards. Sign up for MyPoints accounts. You can earn points just by completing daily activities which includes taking a survey, voting on a poll, watching videos, checking out deals, printing coupons etc. Whenever, I need to shop or sign up for a subscription like Hulu, Sephora and others I usually do it through MyPoints accounts. I always keep MyPoints tab open in my browser and I rack up points all day. It is very easy to rack up thousands of points very quickly by taking advantage of deals from popular stores like Amazon, Kohl’s where you would shop for basic necessities anyway. Other great legitimate sites for taking surveys are I-psos, Inbox Dollars, Survey Junkie, YouGov and I-Polls. College textbooks are very expensive in the USA. Last semester I brought books worth $1000 for free using Amazon gift card balance. You can easily knock off a thousand dollar  bill by using these sites religiously every day. Next time, whenever you are waiting for an appointment try taking a survey or two.

Earn Amazon gift cards just by walking:

Just think how many flights of stairs do you use every day? How many miles do you walk every day when you are rushing from one classroom to another in huge college campuses?  GCC has a pretty huge campus with a college dorm. I keep Steps Cash apps always activated on my I-Phone and I rack up points for Amazon gift cards just by walking to and from one class to another and from one campus building to another building. This is a great app to make sure you exercise by walking every day and you also earn Amazon gifts just by walking. Stay fit and happy walking!

Download FreeBird to get discount Uber rides and to earn cashbacks:

You will probably have to use a lot of Uber rides if you are an International student without a car. Uber rides are very expensive. FreeBird  gives discounts and cashback for Uber rides and restaurants.

Get a secured credit card:

You better start building up your credit history if you are going to live in the USA for the next five or more years to earn a US degree. Credit score is used to analyze everything in the US. You cannot even rent your desired apartment unless you have a good credit score. I knew nothing about credit history when I came to the US.  I wasted one and a half year without building my credit history even though I was paying all my bills on time. I remember asking a bank employee how to get a credit card. The bank employee smirked at me and told me that I cannot get a credit card because I am not a US citizen. The bank employee did not even bother to suggest me to apply for a secured credit card. You do not have to be a US citizen to apply for a secured credit card. You only need a social security number or tax identification number (TIN). So, apply for a secured credit card as soon as you land in the US. Start looking for on-campus jobs as well as soon as you start your semester. It takes several months to get a social security number. You cannot work on campus without a social security number. It is extremely difficult to apply for online credit/debit card with higher cashback value without a social security number.

When I first came to the USA I did not have access to these survival tips. I hope these tips will help you to make the most of your time and money in the US.