Todd Vogts

The Voice of the Vogts

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Getting a 2nd master’s degree with sights set on higher ed job

University of Missouri

This school year has been rough. My full-time gig as a high school journalism and English teacher hasn’t been bad, but I have been swamped by course work. This is because I am working on a second master’s degree. My first one is in education from Fort Hays State University. I got it because it moved me across the teaching pay scale. Other than that, it doesn’t do a whole lot for me. However, this second degree is in Media Management (journalism) from the University of Missouri, which is one of the best journalism schools in the country.

Obviously, a master’s degree in journalism is more up my alley. I love journalism. That’s why I became a teacher in the first place. It just makes more sense for me and my focus, and it allows me to better pursue my ultimate goal, which is to teach journalism at the college/university level.

Of course, a doctoral degree in journalism would allow for this too, and I almost went that route. I got accepted to the University of Kansas William Allen White Doctorate in Journalism and Mass Communication program a little more than a year ago. However, the timing wasn’t great, and I was unable to jump on the opportunity. Do I wish it had worked out differently? Sure, but that’s life. Besides, through the course of the interview for the program, I quickly felt I was underprepared to do the necessary research the doctoral program entailed. The kind folks at KU said I would be fine, but I wanted to be more than fine.

Hence my enrollment in the Mizzou program, which will culminate in me writing a thesis. That’s something I didn’t have to do through Fort Hays.

The thesis will give me great experience with conducting research, and the degree will make me qualified to teach journalism at the college/university level I aspire to be at. However, I don’t plan to stop at this master’s degree. I want to earn my doctorate. I want to be Dr. Todd Vogts, and I will be, one day.

As for the degree at hand, as of this writing, I am halfway done (most major assignments and other course work have been done for a week or more, actually, but I had one lingering final I had to take). I spent the Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 semesters killing myself with 9 graduate hours each. My beautiful and pregnant wife Kendall has been a grad school widow. I’ve experienced stress I am not used to, and I’ve often thought I couldn’t do it anymore. However, I am lucky enough to have a great supporter in my wife, and she has pushed me to keep working hard and has been gracious enough to proofread the hundreds of pages of papers I have written through the course of my classes. I don’t know what I would do without her.

This summer, I am taking 6 hours, which again is a pretty good load considering the summer classes are 8-week courses instead of the 16-week courses during the fall and spring semesters. Then, in Fall 2017, I will take 4 hours in order to wrap up a few classes before taking my 9-hour thesis in Spring 2018.

If all goes according to plan, I will be finishing up this time next year.

My students know I am working on this, and they know what my career goal is. I don’t look forward to the day when I say goodbye to them, but when that times come and I have secured a job at a college or university, farewells will have to be exchanged. They get it, though I’m sure when the day comes, the students won’t be particularly thrilled. In fact, I know that’s the case based upon another teacher in my building recently taking another job. As I’ve tried to explain to them, though, they can’t expect someone to stay forever. Change happens. People have to do what is best for them and their families. Besides, the students will, theoretically, be graduating and leaving one day too, so it is unfair for them to hold the teachers to a different standard. I understand where they are coming from. Change can be uncomfortable, but sometimes it can be a good thing.

So, I don’t know when I will get to move into the next level of teaching. Until it happens, I am just going to keep plugging away at my own self-improvement and the improvement of my students. And I will continue to do so with as much transparency as possible.

We’re having a baby girl!

Kendall and I posed for a quick picture after revealing the gender of our first child to be a girl. That’s why I’m holding a pink balloon and she’s holding a bow. The little outfit we are both holding is a baseball-themed onesie. No matter what, this girl will be a Cardinals fan!

OK. I know this might be old news for a lot of you. My wife Kendall and I started spreading the word about the fact we were expecting a while ago. And we revealed the gender on Easter via a Facebook Live video (I wanted to include that, but I can’t get it to download to my computer in order to share it on here). However, I still wanted to make a historical record of it on this blog.

Yes. I should have done so much sooner, but I’ve been swamped lately with grad school (stay tuned for another blog post soon about my reflections on that).

And, Kendall has already been covering the growth of our family pretty extensively on our blog at toddandkendall.com. It’s quite humorous to read. You should check it out.

However, assuming perhaps some of you haven’t heard the news, we are having a baby girl this September. We did the reveal by having my brother shoot an arrow at a balloon filled with the appropriate colored confetti. It was windy, but he nailed it on the first try and the pink confetti flew.

This was a nice way for all the family to find out at once instead of having to make countless telephone calls. For my parents, this is their first grandchild, and they are pretty pumped. My brother often gets called “Uncle Troy” by the children of his friends, so he’s excited to actually be an uncle.

I’ve had a lot of people ask Kendall and I if I’m excited. I don’t show a whole of emotion, unless I’m screaming profanity at the TV while watching St. Louis Cardinals baseball. However, I am excited about having a daughter. I can’t wait to meet her and watch her grow into a beautiful young woman. Sure, it’s going to entail some changes in my world, but I’m good with that. It’s going to be challenging and exciting. I say bring it on!

Kendall has already started getting the nursery ready. She’s painting the walls a new color. I’m not much help in this department because I despise painting and don’t understand why we need to paint a wall that was freshly painted just about a year ago when we bought our house. But I’m just a dumb guy. What do I know about this sort of thing?

Oh, and during the sonogram where we confirmed the gender, she waved at us. She also flopped around a lot so we couldn’t get a good look at her face using the 3D sonogram feature. The wave was cool. The being difficult made it clear she is her mother’s daughter.

Another Kendall is coming into the world . . . Send good vibes my way if you feel so inclined.

REVIEW: ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir

I’m late to the game, but I finally had the chance to read “The Martian” by Andy Weir,  and I loved it. From the opening lines of this 2011 science fiction tale written by a self-described space nerd, I was hooked and rocketing off into the world of the main character, Mark Watney.

Watney’s plight — stranded on Mars with no real hope of survival or rescue — was interesting, but it was the style of Weir’s writing that I loved. The prose were funny and light hearted, despite the subject matter being quite serious (just read the first lines of the book). There was some serious science packed into the fiction. All of the technology in the novel was modeled after real technology. The way Watney survived on Mars relied upon real science, which allowed him to, among other things, grow potatoes in the harsh conditions of the Red Planet. As an article from The Washington Post pointed out, Weir took extra steps to make his story realistic:

Weir developed a computer program to calculate all the orbital trajectories of the spacecraft in his story. He did his math meticulously, and “The Martian” is like an advertisement for the importance of STEM education. The story strives to be factually accurate, with one major exception: The thin atmosphere on Mars would make the novel’s early windstorm much less destructive, indeed rather feeble. Weir said he decided to overlook that fact purely for dramatic purposes.

Weir was able to make such a computer program because he was a computer programmer before he became a full-time author thanks to the success of his literary debut.

Of course, the science wasn’t the only thing relating to real life. In one interview, Weir said his main character’s personality was based upon his own. Watney was a smart aleck who took the lemons of what was basically a death sentence and made lemonade. He took everything in stride . He never gave up, even when he knew it was unlikely he would survive and had no viable communication method with Earth. He was the type of guy that would be fun to just hang out with. He was, and I can’t stress this enough, funny (seriously, read the first lines of the book). I read a lot, and I haven’t come across many characters that were this funny and yet this smart.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a fun, science fiction story that is scientifically accurate. There is some adult language, but it fits the character so well that it doesn’t distract from the story. And, at the risk of giving away the ending, the story does conclude happily, so don’t skip this book if you are worried about it ending with a dead body somewhere out in the cosmos.

Besides how much I enjoyed it, how it came to be a bestseller is even more intriguing to me. Weir first wrote it as a serial on his blog. His readers enjoyed it, and he eventually put it up for sale on Amazon. That’s when things took off. He quickly got a book deal and a movie deal, and the rest, as they say, is history. He even has another book in the works.

As an author myself, I admit I’m a bit jealous of how his success came to be, but I’m not so jealous as to be bitter. If anything, I am inspired to keep writing and working on my craft. He gives me hope that one day I too can see success with my writing, even if it isn’t to the same level as he has seen.

Oh, and I mentioned a movie deal. I made myself wait to watch  the movie until I had read the book, and I’m glad I did. The movie was just as good as the book, but it had to drop and condense parts for the sake of brevity on the big screen. Also, the ending of the book and movie is vastly different. The movie takes the story a step further than the book. It makes sense to give the movie more closure, but I thought the book ended at just the right spot.

Now, if you haven’t already, go read this book! You won’t be disappointed.

‘The Girl on the Train’ shows darker side of suburbia

girlontrainposterThe mystery genre is full of stories capitalizing on the words of unreliable witnesses to crimes. “The Girl on the the Train” puts a different spin on this concept by having the main character be an alcoholic who often wants to be a witness but can’t remember if she actually saw anything or not.

Rachel Watson (played be Emily Blunt) misses her idyllic life married to Tom Watson (played by Justin Theroux). But that’s gone. He’s remarried to Anna Watson (played by Rebecca Ferguson), and the two have a child together. Rachel spends her days riding the train into town from her suburban home while sipping vodka in order to keep the shakes and memories at bay.

On these train rides, going to an imaginary job to keep her roommate content about her ability to continue to pay rent, Rachel imagines what life could have been by staring out at the rows of houses along the train tracks. Her former home is there, along with her ex-husband and his new wife. A couple houses down is the home of the ideal couple. Rachel gives them names and imagines how their lives are progressing. She becomes close, even intimate, with them without ever meeting them for real.

That perfect couple in Rachel’s eyes is actually Scott and Megan Hipwell (played by Luke Evans and Haley Bennett), and Megan goes missing. Rachel is an obvious suspect because she is often seen in the neighborhood while being drunk because of her hobby harassing Tom and Anna. Rachel doesn’t think she could ever hurt someone she considers a friend, but, the night of Megan’s disappearance, Rachel was in rare form. She remembers nothing except she woke up bloodied and dirty.

This sets off a series of events in which Rachel attempts to remember. Along the way she lies her way into quasi-friendship with the prime suspect, attends therapy sessions for dubious reasons, alienates her roommate and makes a new ally, all culminating in surprise revelations about Megan and several others.

“Girl” proves to be a slowly opening flower. Each new development leads to the next until everything is exposed. The twists are turns are fun, and even when you think you might have it figured out, you can’t be sure until the end when everything starts to fall into place.

This movie isn’t a masterpiece by any means. It is just a good bit of entertainment based upon a wildly successful novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins. I had read the novel months prior, and I enjoyed it. It drug on in a few places, but it truly built up the suspenseful twist ending. The movie does an OK job of this. The format allows for the slower parts of the book to sped up, but the movie did seem to rush the suspense toward the end.

None of the characters are likable. However, as the story begins to progress, you do feel a bit of sympathy for a few of them. For me, this was particularly the case when it came to Rachel and Megan.

One glaring difference between the book and the movie was the setting. The book was set in England, but the book was set in New York. I don’t know why this change had to be made, but it worked well enough because the point isn’t the setting. The point is how nothing is at it seems.

The book came out in January 2015, following the success of the June 2012 bestseller by Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl”. These two mystery stories are undoubtedly going to be compared, and it makes sense. Both have leading female characters, and both highlight how even if people seem perfect on the surface, the truth is usually vastly different. However, you can’t compare them directly.

“The Girl on the Train” focuses on Rachel’s life spiraling out of control and her inability to remember what happened, even though she knows deep down she was present at Megan’s disappearance. She doesn’t know if she was involved or not. In “Gone Girl,” the story centers on a marriage in trouble and only the victim truly knows what happened. Similar, but these are key differences that cast an entirely different light on the situation.

“The Girl on the Train” is rated R for its language, nudity and adult situations. It has a runtime of 1 hour, 45 minutes. It isn’t a family movie, but it would make a great date-night flick. This is one psychological thriller you should see. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.

‘Secret Life of Pets’ takes viewers on fun jaunt

SecretLifeofPets02Have you ever wondered what your pets do all day while you are at work or otherwise away from the house?

The folks at Illumination Entertainment, which created “Despicable Me,” took a run at answering that question with “The Secret Life of Pets,” and what they came up with is fun for the whole family.

The story follows a terrier named Max (voiced by Louis C.K.) who’s comfortable life with his adoring owner Katie (voiced by Ellie Kemper) is upended when she brings home a stray named Duke (voiced by Eric Stonestreet). Max doesn’t like Katie’s attention being diverted from him, especially by a huge, hairy beast like Duke.

The two instantly become enemies and Max attempts to get Duke kicked out of the house, but all of this is short lived because when Duke retaliates while at the dog park with their walker, they end up being chased by bumbling animal control officers.

Hilarity ensues as they escape, but the differences they had with each other are fading and quickly go away all together as they encounter more peril, this time in the form of a cute little bunny with homicidal tendencies, in their attempt to get home.

That bunny is named Snowball (voiced by Kevin Hart), and he is building an army of abandoned pets, a cult called “The Flushed Pets” to take revenge on humans. At first he takes Max and Duke into his folds, but when he finds out they aren’t  abandoned like they said they were. Snowball vows revenge on them as well, so the two new friends begin working together to escape Snowball and his motley crew, which includes a tattooed pig and other discarded animals.

Another encounter with animal control leads to Dukes capture, so Max sets out to rescue him.

Of course, unbeknownst to him, Max’s friends are also looking for him, led by Gidget, a white Pomeranian who has a crush on Max (voice by Jenny Slate). This rescue party includes overweight tabby cat Chloe (voiced by Lake Bell), hyperactive pug Mel (voiced by Bobby Moynihan), laid-back dachshund Buddy (voiced by Hannibal Buress), and lone bird Sweet Pea (voiced by Tara Strong). Gidget even convinces red-tailed hawk Tiberius (voiced by Albert Brooks) to help.

There are touching moments between Max and Duke, including a raid on a sausage factory to get some food and Duke telling Max about his past, but the laughs rarely stop as the movie quickly reaches its end, which finds all the animals back with their owners, Max and Gidget being in love, Max and Duke being friends, and even Snowball finding the love of a small girl who finds him and decides she’s taking him home.

The storyline was rather predictable. Adults will go into it pretty much knowing how it will all turn out. However, this movie isn’t one you should go see for the inventive plot.

No. You should go for the comedy and the animation.

The jokes and slapstick comedy didn’t stop. They might have slowed down a bit when Duke talked about his previous owner, but it was a momentary lapse in the laughs.

The animation was superb. The animals were talking and demonstrating human-like facial expressions, but the animators managed to do this without it becoming weird and the animals losing their animal traits.

“The Secret Life of Pets” is rated PG.  It has a run time of 90 minutes, and it is a fast-paced 90 minutes. The action and comedy speed the shallow storyline along. Children of all ages will love it, and so will the adults taking them.

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