Christine Powell

About Christine Powell

Christine is a journalism major with an online concentration and a business minor on her way to graduating in May. She is actively involved in many aspects of the journalism program and hopes to secure a job in Manhattan upon graduation, where she has always dreamed of working at a magazine. In her spare time, Christine enjoys spending time with her boyfriend, family and friends, drinking coffee and eating anything with chocolate in it, exploring new places, practicing photography and reading books.

Anatomical research project embraces new technologies

Maureen O'Leary, a member of the research team, is a professor of anatomical science at SBU. Photo Credit: Stony Brook University

Maureen O’Leary, a member of the research team, is a professor of anatomical science at SBU. Photo Credit: Stony Brook University

Technology like new software programs, social media and crowdsourcing has recently helped to connect the scientific research community worldwide and bring about progress in understanding the history of life.

Six years ago, a team of 23 international mammal evolution researchers linked up not only to answer some important scientific questions but to develop an effective way to share data with each other. From that came MorphoBank, an online, cloud-based database and workspace more advanced than any previously existing tool.

Now, the American Museum of Natural History, WNYC’s Radiolab and LiveScience.com are collaborating on an endeavor to have the public nickname Protungulatum donnae, the placental mammal common ancestor the team was able to identify thanks to MorphoBank, said Senior Director of Publicity at New York Public Radio Jennifer Houlihan.

Placental mammals, the branch of mammals that carry their young to term in a placenta, are a diverse group, ranging from whales to bats to horses and, not to mention, human beings. Given the wide variety within the group, there was a desire in the scientific community to discover the common ancestor that connects the nearly 4,000 species.

The team began by working, sometimes virtually, to create MorphoBank and what is essentially a “giant spreadsheet with species going across and features going down, like ‘presence of a certain tooth,’” Maureen O’Leary, leader of the project and an associate professor in the department of anatomical sciences in the School of Medicine, said.

What resulted was the world’s largest system of genetic and fossil data.

According to O’Leary, before MorphoBank, plenty of computer software existed for working with DNA, thanks in large part to the Human Genome Project, but nothing sophisticated was available to anatomists conducting work based on the fossil record.

John Wible, a member of the project and curator of mammals at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, said in an email that the project “could not have been done without a tool like MorphoBank,” a testament to its importance.

Artist Carl Buell's rendition of Protungulatum donnae, the common ancestor. Photo Credit: Stony Brook University

Artist Carl Buell’s rendition of Protungulatum donnae, the common ancestor. Photo Credit: Stony Brook University

After compiling the extensive data, the scientists ran an algorithm that created a tree, part of an effort by the National Science Foundation (NSF) called the Assembling the Tree of Life program. From there, they were able to trace back to the placental mammal common ancestor and identify its features.

The creature they identified was between the size of a mouse and the size of a rat, with a white-colored underbelly and a darker back. It ate insects and had a fleshy nose, a full set of teeth and a long, furred tail, O’Leary said. An artist, Carl Buell, has since drawn a rendition of it.

This tree also provided evidence that placental mammals developed later than commonly thought.

Within the scientific community, there exists an ongoing discussion of ‘rocks vs. clocks’ in regards to whether fossil-based data or DNA-based data should be used in models to reconstruct the timeline of life.

The molecular clock method, which is DNA-based, purports that placental mammals came about before the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, which occurred some 65 million years ago. But the recently published study, based on fossils, concluded that, in fact, they did not develop until 36 million years later than genetic data alone had estimated.

And since the team’s findings were published in the journal “Science” on Feb. 8, 2013, there’s been a call from the public to come up with a more colloquial name to call Protungulatum donnae by.

“It’s something that we hadn’t thought about, but it’s come up a ton since the paper appeared,” O’Leary said.

She said that names will be solicited, perhaps via Twitter, and then voted on.

Houlihan said the initiative would likely launch in the next week or so, but at press time no definitive date was available.

The National Science Foundation is also funding a new project, which O’Leary is part of, to use crowdsourcing to allow the public to participate in research.

“The cry that anatomists keep coming back to is that our work takes so long and that’s why it’s hard to do,” O’Leary said. “The National Science Foundation thought ‘Is there anything we can try that’s big and bold to help change that?’ And in a workshop, this idea came up.”

Crowdsourcing is the concept of soliciting work or raising funds from a group of people, usually online. It is typically used for tedious work or to fundraise for projects.

The idea, O’Leary said, is to ask the public to complete small tasks, like scoring data and solving problems, much like the work she and her team did to trace back to the placental mammal common ancestor. The tasks are simple, but because there are so many of them, they can be rather time consuming.

The NSF is considering using Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing marketplace run by Amazon, according to O’Leary.

“You might get paid only one penny per task, but you might do a thousand of them and then you make a little money,” O’Leary said.

According to O’Leary, beta testing on the project should launch sometime next spring.

SBU police officer strikes pedestrian with patrol car

A Stony Brook Police Department cruiser is removed from a ditch near the Tabler Residence Quad after an officer struck a female student on the sidewalk. (ANUSHA MOOKERJEE / THE STATESMAN)

A Stony Brook Police Department cruiser is removed from a ditch near the Tabler Residence Quad after an officer struck a female student on the sidewalk. (ANUSHA MOOKERJEE / THE STATESMAN)

A University Police car struck Stony Brook student Brianna Bifone on the sidewalk near the Tabler West Bus Stop on Circle Road at 10:12 p.m. on Thursday while responding to an emergency call, according to multiple sources close to the situation.

The car continued into an embankment, pinning Bifone beneath the rear of the vehicle.

“According to eyewitness reports, the responding vehicle was traveling with its emergency lights activated when it struck a sidewalk which caused it to veer onto the opposite walkway, subsequently striking the student pedestrian,” Chief of Police Robert Lenahan said in a statement.

Daniel Wolbrom, chief of Stony Brook Volunteer Ambulance Corps (SBVAC), said Bifone’s legs were pinned beneath the car for about 30 minutes before she was extricated and moved to an ambulance.

Both Bifone and the police officer were taken to Stony Brook University Hospital for evaluation.

Bifone is reported to be in fair condition, while the police officer, who sustained minor injuries, was treated and released from the hospital, Lenahan said.

The identity of the police officer has yet to be released.

The police officer was responding to a call regarding a “large group” at the Student Union when he struck the student, Assistant Chief of Police Lawrence Zacarese said.

The accident is currently under investigation, but Zacarese said there was no reason to believe the police officer was under the influence at the time of the incident.

The police officer radioed for assistance and emergency vehicles from University Police, Stony Brook Fire Department, Setauket Fire Department, SBVAC and Suffolk County Police Department arrived on the scene.

Check back for updates to the story.

Jobs report: unemployment rate rose in October

Most students counting down the days to Thanksgiving break are looking forward to food, friends and sleep, but Marianna Savoca, director of the Career Center at Stony Brook, said that students hoping to secure an internship for the summer should use the break to jumpstart their plans.

“Be intentional about your Thanksgiving and winter breaks,” Savoca said in an email. “You can make connections and potentially interview while you are home, especially if you live far from campus and cannot do so during the school year.“

Savoca said that students should, at the very least, start to look over their resumés. If students see a gap in their experience, they can use the time during winter or spring break to participate in something that would improve their marketability.

According to a recent study by the National Association of College and Employers (NACE), 58.6 of employers who responded converted their class of 2011 interns into full-time employees and added that they expect to increase their internship hires in the next year.

Landing an internship, then, can be an important step toward entering one’s desired field after graduation, which many students worry about in the time of a slowly recovering economy.

In the latest jobs report, released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on Nov. 2, the unemployment rate ticked up slightly to 7.9 in October as compared to 7.8 in September. The reason the unemployment rate increased, though, is a positive one—more people joined the labor force. Additionally, 171,000 jobs were added.

Last month’s unemployment rate was notable, as it dipped below eight percent for the first time in nearly four years. While many found that figure encouraging, there was speculation in the media that, perhaps, the numbers had been skewed to help President Obama before the election.

Michael Zweig, an economics professor and founder and director of the Center for the Study of Working Class Life at Stony Brook, said that the numbers were not illegitimate, though.

“It has nothing to do with the political needs of the administration,” Zweig said in a phone interview. “The BLS doesn’t operate that way and hasn’t operated that way for any president.”

In the latest report, the BLS also revised employment gains for August and September from 142,000 to 192,000 and 114,000 to 148,000 respectively. This, plus the fact that October’s unemployment rate remained at less than eight percent, indicates that the economy is continuing on its path to recovery, perhaps at an even faster rate than previously calculated.

“When they revise upward, it indicates that things are getting stronger faster than had earlier been anticipated,” Zweig said.

Savoca advised students to combat the relatively weak economy and land internships by simply starting to look for them.

ZebraNet, various job websites, professional associations, family and friends are all good resources when searching for internships, Savoca said.

“We have had several companies recruiting for next summer’s internships already,” Savoca said in an email, citing companies like GE Transportation, Google, Travelers Insurance and JPMorgan Chase.

Savoca said that an internship is an “opportunity to test-drive a career idea, apply what you’re learning in class to real world problems, hone your skills and learn new ones that are valued by employers, meet professionals in your field, acquire mentors, get recommendations for your future, and understand the field from the inside.”

And while the biggest, most competitive companies have already been recruiting, Savoca said that many more will continue to post job opportunities to ZebraNet or visit campus in the coming months and during the spring semester.

President Barack Obama re-elected for a second term

Barack Obama was re-elected President of the United States on Nov. 6 with a total of 303 electoral votes, defeating Republican candidate Mitt Romney by carrying swing states like Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and New Hampshire. Complications have prevented key player Florida, however, from concluding which candidate won the state’s 29 electoral votes.

Accordingly, there is not yet an official word on the results of the popular vote. However, Obama led 60,193,076 (50.4 percent) to 57,468,587 (48.1 percent) as of press time. Obama carried 69 million popular votes to John McCain’s 59 million in 2008. The race, then, was much closer for Obama, who faced low voter enthusiasm and the nation’s frustration with slow economic recovery.

“Whether I earned your vote or not, I have listened to you, I have learned from you, and you’ve made me a better president,” Obama, 51, said early Wednesday during his acceptance speech in Chicago. “And with your stories and your struggles, I return to the White House more determined and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do and the future that lies ahead.”

Exit polls indicated that Obama garnered fewer votes from demographics like 18-29 year olds, blacks and Catholics than in the 2008 election. However, votes from Hispanics, Democrats and Asians ticked upward.

Romney dominated the male vote with 52 percent, while Obama took the female vote with 55 percent. Romney also won 59 percent of white voters, who this year cast 72 percent of total votes, the best a Republican candidate has done since 1988.

Although television networks like MSNBC, CBS and CNN projected that Obama had won the election around 11:20 p.m. on Tuesday, Romney waited until close to 1 a.m. on Wednesday to concede, after he and his staff had concluded that no recounting of close votes could declare him victorious.

“This election is over, but our principles endure,” Romney, 65, said during his concession speech in Boston. “I believe that the principles upon which this nation was founded are the only sure guide to a resurgent economy and to a renewed greatness.”

Regarding voter turnout overall, preliminary figures by the Associated Press demonstrated that more than 118 million people voted in the presidential race, although that figure will rise as ballots continue to be counted. According to the Federal Election Commission, 131 million citizens voted in 2008.

Another preliminary study out of George Mason University estimated the 2012 voter turnout rate to account for about 60 percent of all eligible voters. American University’s analysis found that turnout rates in states like New York and New Jersey were lower than normal because of superstorm Sandy, as the states are still struggling to recover. Estimates gauged that New Jersey’s voter turnout was 12 percent less than in 2008, while in New York the turnout was 15 percent lower.

“I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe,” Obama said in the conclusion to his speech. “We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”

On Wednesday, Obama returned to work by opening negotiations with Congress, which remained in Republican hands after the election, regarding the looming fiscal crisis.

Election 2012: Breaking down the economy issue

Each month since 1915, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an independent federal agency that measures labor market activity, has collected, analyzed and released information on the total number and characteristics of employed and unemployed Americans.

The agency surveys about 141,000 government agencies and businesses, which are representative of approximately 486,000 individual work sites, to gather data on the employment, hours and earnings of workers and releases it in a report, “The Employment Situation.”

The BLS considers someone unemployed if they do not have a job despite being available to work and have actively searched for a job in the four weeks preceding the survey.

When the number of people that are unemployed is divided by the number of people currently in the labor force (everyone older than 16 who is neither in an institution nor on active duty), the unemployment rate is calculated. Those who are not working but not looking for work are not considered part of the unemployed population.

The report also calculates how many jobs were added, and that figure, along with the unemployment rate, tends to get the most attention.

In the September report, the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent, dipping below 8 percent for the first time in 43 months, and 114,000 new jobs were added by employers. Employers have added an average of 146,000 jobs per month in 2012, compared to 153,000 in 2011.

How much the latest unemployment rate should be praised depends upon who you ask, but long term trends do demonstrate that the economy is improving. The change may be slow, but it is evident. Compared with a year ago, there are 1.94 million more people working. While there are no booming job openings, the nation isn’t really losing any, either. The average monthly employment growth is at about a break-even level to keep up with the natural increase in population.

But there are many other valuable data in the monthly reports, too, like the number of involuntary part-time workers and discouraged workers, or the tables that break down the numbers by race, age or educational attainment.

Additionally, the reports indicate more specific trends over time. Government employment, for example, has been on a downward trend, but the private sector has added jobs steadily. The health care industry is booming.

Those workers without high school diplomas are three times as likely to be unemployed as those with a bachelor’s degree. The unemployment rate for African Americans is also nearly double that of whites (13.4 percent versus 7 percent).

Forming an opinion on the state of the economy and who is best equipped to repair it, however, is difficult if the jobs numbers are not put into context; in 2008, the unemployment rate was 5 percent, and when President Obama took office in January of 2009 it was the same as it is now, 7.8 percent. In October of that year, the unemployment rate reached its peak at 10 percent.

Today, the price of gasoline, food stamp use, the federal debt and the rate of poverty are faring worse than when Obama took office. Comparatively, though, the levels of consumer debt, corporate profits and mortgage rates are better. The data are, across the board, mixed.

Both Obama and Romney’s campaigns have focused heavily on the economy, and both boast the ability to spur improvement. Generally, the Republican party is perceived as pro-business and pro-job creation. According to U.S. Department of Labor data, though, Democratic presidents have created more jobs per year than Republican presidents have.

Democratic presidents averaged 1.83 million jobs added per year over 40 years in office as compared to the Republican party, which added an average of 966,388 per year throughout 36 years in office.

Unemployment rates down, part-time employment up

In a struggling economy, simply finding a job can be more of a priority than finding a job that requires you to use your college degree or maximize your full potential.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) September jobs report, the unemployment rate dipped to 7.8 percent; this is the first time the rate has fallen to less than eight percent in nearly four years, arguably boosting President Obama’s potential for re-election. Additionally, employers added 114,000 jobs and, overall, the total number of people who said that they were employed rose by 873,000.

But while the report seems to demonstrate a step in the right direction, it’s important to recognize the finer implications.

The number of involuntary part-time workers, or persons employed part-time for economic reasons, rose to 8.6 million in September from 8 million in August.

“The general good news is more jobs and a lower unemployment rate,” Michael Zweig, a professor of economics and founder and director of the Center for the Study of Working Class Life at Stony Brook, said. “But then you look at what kind of jobs we are adding. There’s a big increase in involuntary part time employment.”

Many who need full-time work, the report suggests, are now taking part-time positions to avoid long-term unemployment.

The report also showed that the number of people unemployed for less than five weeks declined by 302,000 to 2.5 million, but the number of long-term unemployed people, 4.8 million, changed little.

These two figures suggest another trend, according to Zweig,

“When there’s an increase in employment, the most recently unemployed are hired back first,” Zweig said. “The people who have been unemployed long-term have an especially hard time returning. So if someone loses a job, they need to get a different job as fast as they can.”

While not an ideal situation, Marianna Savoca, director of the career center at Stony Brook, said that those students who recently graduated or are coming up on graduation should try to make their best of part-time positions.

“Use this part-time gig to establish yourself as a good worker and establish yourself by taking it seriously,” Savoca said. “You could miss out on an opportunity to showcase your professionalism, and you never know how that could work out for you in the long-term.”

She also said that if you take a job in an industry that is not related to your career intention, it is important to dedicate a few hours per week to some volunteer work in the area you’re looking to enter.

“It’s a small but significant opportunity for these young professionals to get exposure,” Savoca said. “There are communities you can help serve that will add to your résumé and connect you to good people and build your network. It’s important to understand that a service activity could be a better return investment for them than searching for jobs on monster.com”

Ultimately, Savoca said the cliché that “it’s all about who you know and who knows you” is true.

To find such opportunities, Savoca said that both students and alumni of Stony Brook should look at ZebraNet, an online tool provided by the Career Center that has both job or volunteer listings and a database of employers.

Even if jobs are not posted under the listings, Savoca said it is key to become familiar with the employer directory. From there, students or recent graduates have access to more than 7,000 employers who post their information.

“It’s a tool to learn more about what companies are out there,” Savoca said. “Go through the directory, learn about the companies, go to their websites, see if they have volunteer opportunities or even positions that aren’t in the job listings.”

In September alone, 640 jobs were posted to ZebraNet. Among those, 216 were full-time, entry-level positions, 160 were full-time experienced, 112 were part-time and 130 were internships.

Voter sign-up deadline nears

Ben DeAngelis, a regional campus supervisor for NYPIRG, is helping Stony Brook students register to vote for the upcoming presidential election. Taylor Bouraad/The Statesman

Election day, Nov. 6, is fast approaching and the window of opportunity to get involved is closing quickly.

According to The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), which conducts research on the political and civic engagement of young people out of Tufts University in Massachusetts, there are 46 million people ages 18-29 years old who are eligible to vote. That demographic makes up 24 percent of the eligible voting population in the United States.

In 2008, 51 percent of the youth voting population came out to vote, which was a 2 percent increase from the 2004 election numbers and an 11 percent increase from those of the 2000 election. While this number is low compared to the adult demographic, in 2008, 84 percent of young people who were registered to vote cast a ballot.

The key to improving the youth vote, then, is not encouraging the young to get to their polling place on election day; it is, rather, encouraging them to register and educating them on how to do so.

The deadline to register to vote in New York State is 25 days before the election, or, this year, Oct. 12.

Ben DeAngelis, regional campus

supervisor for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a non-partisan, student-directed research and advocacy organization, said that one of the most popular questions from students that he helps to register is whether or not to register under their Stony Brook University address or their home address.

DeAngelis said that he encourages people to register under their campus address. Students spend the majority of their year here, he argues, and it allows you to get your vote in more easily when you can walk to the Student Activities Center instead of sending in an absentee ballot or driving home.

But DeAngelis also said that by voting under their campus address, students can directly influence policies that affect the State University of New York system.

“There’s a real correlation between the politicians who invest in SUNY and the amount of young people registered in their districts,” he said. “The more students we register here, the stronger the message we send to local politicians that they’re accountable to students.”

However, DeAngelis stressed that the most important thing is simply voting in the first place.

“I don’t care who you vote for or what you vote on, just recognize that the election not just about presidents,” DeAngelis said. “It’s really important that people pay attention to all of the issues and all of the candidates, not just what they see on ‘The Daily Show.’”

 

Registering to vote

 

There are many ways to register to vote both in person and online. On campus, both the University Student Government office and the NYPIRG office distribute applications, and once they’re filled out the offices will mail or deliver them to the appropriate location for you. Additionally, the Stony Brook College Democrats register voters from a table in the SAC lobby most days.

Otherwise, you can go in person to your local County Board of Elections or Department of Motor Vehicles.

There are also many methods online. Two popular and user-friendly websites that register voters are rockthevote.org and vote411.org, a project of the League of Women Voters.

 

Knowing your candidates

 

There are many ways to educate yourself about the candidates, including visiting their official websites. But there are also websites that personalize and streamline the process for voters.

Vote411.org allows you to enter your address and then brings up a list of all the candidates that will appear on your ballot. From there, you can compare two candidates running for a position at a time by seeing their responses to questions about key issues side by side. Additionally, you can ‘choose’ your preferred candidate as you move through the varied positions, and then print out or email yourself a list of your choices to bring with you to the polls.

Alternatively, votesmart.org/voteeasy offers an interactive tool. You are prompted to answer questions on issues like abortion, immigration and education, and indicate how important each issue is to you. The tool also provides a short summary of why people generally agree with or object to the question at hand.

Meanwhile, the candidates are displayed at the bottom of the screen, and as you answer questions a percentage of “how similar they are to you” is calculated. At the end, you are given a ‘“best match.” You can then further explore information about the candidates, which ranges from their basic information to their voting records and campaign finances. The tool works for both presidential and state candidates.

Additionally, isidewith.com offers voters what is, essentially, a survey. There are a series of questions to answer and, again, you are prompted to put a weight on the significance of each topic. In the end, you are given results of how all the candidates stack up in comparison to you, measured by a percentage. The results also break down by percentage which parties you side with. Currently, though, the survey is only offered for presidential candidates.

PASS tutoring program expected to resume

Providing Academic Support to Students (PASS), a tutoring program run by the Undergraduate Student Government, will resume operations in the coming weeks, said Derek Cope, current vice president of academic affairs, who oversees PASS.

The program, which supplements various tutoring services on campus, was launched in 2007 to provide students with one-on-one assistance, but it only ran for a short time last year before operations stopped.

Adil Hussain told The Statesman in April that before he was elected to the position in the fall of 2011, his predecessor, Shamell Forbes, had depleted the program’s budget. This forced the program to be shut down because tutors could not be paid.

Cope said he believes that the $20,000 budget ran out prematurely because tutors were being dishonest about the number of hours they were with their students and were receiving weekly paychecks of $450.

Records of how Forbes used the budget and how tutors were misusing the program no longer exist, Cope said.

According to Cope, tutors get paid $15.00 per hour to work with up to three students, and each student can receive up to 10 hours of assistance per week.

As new vice president of academic affairs, Cope said he is trying to revise the bylaws of the program “to maximize the budget so that more students can get tutoring and the budget can last for a longer amount of time.”

This year’s budget for PASS, which is funded by the mandatory Student Activity Fee, is $30,000.

Cope said he plans to change the bylaws to decrease how many hours per week students can receive tutoring from 10 to three and pay for tutors $10 an hour instead of $15.

In addition to such changes, Cope said he plans to implement procedures to safeguard against continued dishonesty by tutors.

“Now there are going to be time sheets that each tutor has to fill out and the tutee has to sign,” Cope said, “and the student liaison will sit in and evaluate the tutor on a monthly basis to make sure they’re providing an adequate tutoring service and being truthful about the amount of hours they tutor.”

Cope also said that any tutors caught trying to cheat the bylaws would be fired.

If the USG Senate does not approve his proposal, Cope said that the current bylaws will have to remain in place. If that is the case, Cope will limit the number of students tutored each per week so that the budget lasts until May and PASS remains operational.

“It’s a limited budget of $30,000, which means $15,000 per semester,” Cope said. “If I pay the tutors $10 an hour, that means at max 90 hours of tutoring per week, which is only 30 students. It might have to come down to first come first serve.”

To qualify for the position, tutors must have received at least an A- in the course they wish to tutor or get a letter of recommendation from a professor who teaches the course.

Cope said that interviews for tutors have already been conducted, but none of the positions can be filled until the Senate approves them.

He also said that he has noticed a need for a tutoring center at SBU and is working to organize such a resource for students.

“As of now there is no center on campus that centralizes tutoring,” Cope said. “I have been meeting with Dr. Charlie Robbins, vice provost, and we are working on a project for that.”

Sandy Ren, a sophomore nursing major, said that she would like to see a centralized tutoring location on campus.

“I feel like it would be a lot easier if you could have people from each department in one location,” Ren said. “Then if you need physics and calculus tutoring, it’s in the same place instead of going all the way to different ends of the campus.”

Satabdi Sugandha, a sophomore English major, said that tutoring should be mandatory.

“Just one mandatory fifteen minute session,” Sugandha said. “Getting students there is the hardest part, but I think after that everything would flow and students would be doing a lot better.”

Students stay in school to avoid job market

Every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts out a jobs report describing the current job climate. Christine Powell will analyze and contextualize the report each month for Stony Brook University students.

With the presidential election fast approaching, the data published last week in the monthly Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report, one of the most heavily weighed indicators of the state of the economy, have received increased attention.

The two pieces of information that tend to attract the most focus when the report is released are the unemployment rate and the number of added jobs.

August’s numbers, which were released on Friday, show that the unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July.

However, the government only considers people unemployed if they have actively searched for work in the past four weeks, and the findings demonstrate that the percentage dropped because more people gave up their search for a job.

Employers also added 96,000 jobs in the month of August, according to the government. The average monthly employment growth for the year 2012 so far has been 139,000, compared to a monthly average of 153,000 in 2011. These two figures, however, are broad national averages and are not specifically applicable to college students.

The report also noted that many young people are staying in school to avoid the weak job market.

Marianna Savoca, director of the Career Center at Stony Brook University, said that in recent years, her office has seen an increase in the number of students pursuing a graduate degree.

“That’s an indicator that if college students are feeling pressure they decide to stay in school and wait it out,” Savoca said. “Our philosophy here in the Career Center is that waiting out the economy by attending grad school is not a good idea.”

A survey conducted in March by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a professional association that collects data about employment among college educated young people, showed that 32.7 percent of employers plan to hire more recent graduates this fall than they did last year, and 40.9 percent said they plan to hire the same amount—welcome news for those students feeling pressure.

While Savoca said that she encourages students to go to graduate school, they should only pursue higher degrees if doing so is purposeful, not to prolong entering the job market.

“While a graduate degree can be an aspect of a student’s marketability, marketability does not come only from a degree,” Savoca said.

Savoca also said that it is important to remember that each industry varies, and job opportunities and salaries are dependent on what industry students are looking to enter. This means, she said, that a higher degree does not necessarily lend to higher salary.

The average salary for a candidate with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering is $79,923, according to Payscale.com. In comparison, the average salary for someone with a master’s degree in social work is $48,547, according to the website.

“A master’s degree does not always equal more money right away,” Savoca said. “Data shows that those with graduate degrees will earn more money over time, but it is entirely industry specific.”

Michael Zweig, a professor of economics and director of the Center for the Study of Working Class Life at SBU, said that despite the month-to-month variations of a weak and slow-recovering economy, the long-term trends show stable improvement.

“Let’s not get completely out of joint when something goes up or goes down in one particular month,” Zweig said.

The report also demonstrated that the labor force participation rate has dropped to 63.5 percent, which is a 31-year low. The labor force participation is a measure of the number of people who are in the labor force (those who are either employed or looking for employment) as a fraction of the population. Zweig said that the makeup of the population affects that number.

“As we’ve seen there is a larger fraction of young people who are in school compared to the past, and a larger fraction of the population is retired now because of the aging of the population and the baby boomers,” Zweig said. “It follows, then, because you’ve got growing fractions of the population who are not in the labor force, that you have fewer people as a percentage working, and that’s the number that you see.”