The risk of plagiarism

by Lexi Foldenauer
HORIZON Reporter

By now, we all know what plagiarism means – to plagiarize is to cheat, and so forth and so on. But is it possible to plagiarize without even knowing it? Like when a simple citation error is made, or when a teacher makes their own assumption about the truthfulness of a student’s work?

Linda Lambert, a librarian at Whatcom Community College, recalls a time when she was wrongly accused of plagiarism by a professor, during an English 101 course during her early college years.

“My teacher handed an essay back to me with an F on it because he said I had copied it,” she said. “He wrote that it sounded “too advanced” for a college freshman.”

Lambert says she had pulled a few vocabulary words from a column in Reader’s Digest called “Improving Your Word Power,” which she assumed was her professor’s reason for questioning the paper’s authenticity.

Though Lambert was able to salvage her grade after bringing in a copy of the article, similar accusations can occur on college campuses daily. Dr. Anne George, a French and humanities instructor here at Whatcom, offered some insight.

“I think a lot of students do not realize when they are lifting material, they are sometimes not aware that lifting, let’s say, two or three sentences, constitutes plagiarism,” said George. “But, just like in everything, there is a grey area.”

This so-called grey area describes the point in which a student enters plagiaristic territory, freely and knowingly.

Today, thanks to the Internet, it is simple to gather information for a wide variety of subjects. These tools make it much easier for college students to conduct research, as well as put papers together.

Contradictory to its use for research, however, the internet has also made it that much simpler for students to take information from other sources and falsely claim it.

Trish Onion, Vice President for Educational Studies at Whatcom, recalled about a dozen cases of plagiarism on campus within the last year. In a typical year, Onion says she deals with about ten to 12 students who have plagiarized papers in some way, ranging from minor to more serious situations.

“A lot of time students just make a mistake,” said Onion. It is only when a student presents what is known as an intent to deceive, like copying and pasting large amounts of information without citing it, that they will face more serious consequences.

Onion used a diagram called a “plagiarism continuum” to represent the range of severity in cases. The continuum ranged from unintentional to intent-to-deceive; each scenario resulting in a different outcome for the student.

Instructors at Whatcom are encouraged to include a brief statement about their personal tolerance regarding acceptable work, as well as the actions that Whatcom Community College takes when plagiarism occurs.

If a student makes significant citation errors in a paper, an instructor will usually either give them the chance to redo it, or give them a zero percent for that assignment, said Onion. When a teacher finds the writing in a student’s paper to be suspicious, they will first investigate.

If the paper’s information is proved stolen, a couple things happen. First, the student is contacted by their instructor, and a meeting is arranged for the student to review the material with both the instructor and Trish Onion.

“Part of my role is to uphold the student’s rights as well as responsibility,” Onion said. The student then leaves with a formal warning, but if there is an additional case of dishonesty, the student can later be faced with suspension.

“Instructors give their heart and soul to teaching and helping students to change their lives,” said Onion. “When a student is dishonest, it’s a real disappointment to instructors.”

So, knowing all of the outcomes of plagiarizing, why do so many college students continue to do it? “Maybe students are afraid that they won’t have any ideas of their own, and are stressed,” said Nick Santini, a student at Whatcom. Santini opts to take a five minute break when feeling anxious about a paper, then come back when he feels refreshed to take it on again.

Sherri Winans, English teacher at Whatcom, is close to celebrating her twenty-first year of teaching. Winans speculates that with all of the technological changes, it has become easier for students to just copy and paste, instead of focusing on their original ideas.

“I think that’s when the problem comes in, when we rely so heavily on the other sources,” she said. Along with teaching English, Winans also directs the Writing Center. She strongly recommends it as a helpful resource when feeling desperate and strapped for time on a paper. Factors like: paraphrasing, messy note-taking, and quoting, can result in problems for students, Winans said.

The Writing Center, located within the Learning Center, provides tutoring in the areas of both APA and MLA citation, along with a variety of other areas in writing. Fully equipped with computers, work tables, tutors, and handbooks in both APA and MLA formatting, the center helps students learn how to cite their sources properly. Along with helping to cite your sources, the tutors are available to assist students with anything from a resume to a personal statement for a university application.

Winans, who has been directing the Writing Center for about 10 years, says the one factor that makes it so helpful to students is that the tutors work one-on-one in any area which the student may be struggling in. She explained that the tutors will first have the student give as much information about what they are writing as they can, and follow with formatting later. This allows the student to start getting their thoughts down, and discover their own creative ideas, which is crucial to developing strong original work.

Whether you are hurriedly trying to meet a deadline, or are stressed about perfecting your resume – the Writing Center can help. If you don’t have the time to make it there in person, there is an online resource available as well. While there is no way to fully prevent occurrences of plagiarism, colleges and universities everywhere will continue to educate their students on the ramifications that come along with the act, and also ways to avoid it altogether.

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Whatcom’s Sports Brief

Men’s Basketball

The Orca men’s basketball team is currently tied for third place in the NWAACC North Region standings with a league record of 4-3. The team most recently defeated Skagit Valley College, 70-67, on Jan. 23. The Orcas will try to extend their winning streak to three consecutive games, when they face Olympic Community College on Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. in the Pavilion.

Women’s Basketball

The Orca women’s basketball team, meanwhile, finds themselves 3-4 in league competition and in the middle of the NWAACC’s North Region standings after a 73-64 loss to Skagit Valley College on Jan. 23. They will hit the hardwood next on Jan. 27 at 5 p.m. in the Pavilion, against Olympic Community College.

Nims released as women’s head coach; Rawlins named interim coach

The Whatcom women’s basketball team has a new head coach. Becky Rawlings, who served as head coach for the first 11 years of the athletic program, will replace the coach who succeeded her in 2007, Piper Nims.

Rawlings, who is currently human resources director at Whatcom, will finish out the season with the team while a permanent replacement is sought. Rawlings will help the new head coach transition to the team once hired. A Jan. 22 press release said that Whatcom plans to conduct a full search for the position “immediately.”

Nims was released from her contract with the college on Jan. 21, although Nathan Langstraat, associate director for advancement at Whatcom, said that the remainder of Nims’ contract would be paid out. She was assistant coach under Rawlings for three seasons before becoming head coach beginning with the 2007-2008 season.

The women’s team finished last season with an 11-5 record, good enough for third in the NWAACC North Region standings. Nims’ record with the team, including their 3-4 record as of press time, was 22-17.

Rawlings, tenure as coach resulted in one division championship, which came during the 2000-2001 season after a 15-1 league record. She also led the team to two co-championships, and holds a career record of 177-138.

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Textbooks at

by Emily Huntington

Imagine a world where you can rent textbooks for a quarter, and return them when you’re done. Imagine saving more than $200 or more for renting a book for three months.

This is possible through a Web site I never knew existed. It is called, and you can find any book you need by entering the ISBN number, author, or title of the book. Once you found the ones you need, you select how long you’ll need it for (either by the semester, quarter, or 60-day rental, and if you need additional days you simply enter that in), then check out.
After that, you choose the shipping option you need. Shipping is free, but it takes about 4 to 7 business days to arrive. If you need the book sooner, you pay $7.99 for shipping and it takes about three days. This is what most people choose, especially if you order at the last minute.

The most expensive option is UPS next day shipping, which is $15.99. You then enter your credit card information and confirm your order. guarantees a certain quality from their textbooks. Therefore, there are guidelines to follow in order to keep the books in “good” condition. They ask that students limit their use of highlighting, don’t write in the books, and guard it with their lives to ensure that it doesn’t get lost or stolen (Well, okay, they’re not THAT extreme, they just want to make sure it gets returned in the same condition that it was rented). If you find you really enjoy the book, you can buy it. It is of course more expensive to do this, but less expensive than buying it from the bookstore. For example, a used psychology textbook at Whatcom’s bookstore is $95. On, it is $85.55. If you decide not to return the book, there is a replacement fee for the same amount. They have your credit card information on file so that they can charge you accordingly if need be. So regardless, you’d be paying less, but save yourself the trouble and just return the book.

Once all that is finished, you get to plant a tree, which I think is really great! You get, and you give back, so it’s a win-win. To ship the books back is free, all you need is the return label from your order.

I rented two books, totaling at $88 for the quarter. I saved a total of $200.73, and planted two trees. You can also sell older books, which is nice, especially when the bookstore won’t take editions of the textbook you have if the class isn’t using it anymore.

I recommend this Web site to anyone. It doesn’t take long at all, and saves people so much money!

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An Old School Read

Book Review
by Matt Benoit

This year’s Whatcom Reads! book, Tobias Wolff’s “Old School,” is a novel about many things. It is not just a novel about literature, famous authors, and writing, but also about truths and deception, seemingly harmless actions and their sometimes unintended consequences, and about not only the way people perceive us, but how we perceive ourselves.

The story’s narrator, who is never mentioned by name, is in his senior year at a boy’s prep school in New England in 1960-61. The school brings in several famous authors each year to speak, and with each visiting writer comes a writing contest. After all the submissions are reviewed, the visiting wordsmith picks one story or poem as the winner, with its lucky author receiving a private audience with the famous writer.

The appearances of Robert Frost and Ayn Rand bring a fair share of excitement to the school, but it is the announcement that Ernest Hemingway (whom the school’s dean, Arch Makepeace, is said to be a personal friend of) will visit in May that sends all the students into a frenzy of competition to be the winner of the literary contest.

I won’t tell you what happens from this point, but I will tell you that Wolff’s writing is flawless as always, and the characters and situations feel honest and real enough that it almost becomes easy to believe he actually encountered them. It was also easy for me to relate to various stages of the narrator’s struggles in coming of age—if one is of a similar mind I believe you’ll have no trouble putting yourself in his shoes at certain points.

Now, I am not the most literary type of person, especially when it comes to fiction. In fact, I must shamefully confess that, while I’ve read some Robert Frost poems, I’ve never read any books by Ernest Hemingway or Ayn Rand. But, I must say reading this novel really makes one want to become further acquainted with their work. So, although you might find “Old School” a bit slow to get going or to make a connection with, it slowly but surely will draw you in. It did for me, anyway.

The one thing I found to be a bit prickly in “Old School” was the fact that, much like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road,” there are no quotation marks incasing dialogue. While I suppose it can help to engage the reader in some dialogue scenes by eliminating any excess characters or punctuation (“he said,” etc), it can also make one lose track of which character is saying what. I had to re-read a couple of conversations because it became confusing as to which character spoke which line.
Also, if you don’t care for reading books that are roughly the length of a presidential memoir, you’ll be happy to know that “Old School” is relatively short at 195 pages.

Overall, it is an intriguing story that slowly but surely sucks you in. It was a fantastic pick for Whatcom Reads!, and if you haven’t read it yet, there is no better time than the present.

-Editor’s note: Tobias Wolff will visit the Whatcom Community College campus on Monday, Feb. 8. He will speak in the Syre Student Center Auditorium from 7:30 to 9 p.m. The event is free and will be open to the general public.

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Pick that school and really fight!

By Matt Benoit

This time of year, many of you are no doubt caught up in the mind-numbing, teeth-grinding, fingernail-biting, hair-pulling, and possibly even eye-gouging anxiety of deciding which colleges to apply to.

There’s a lot at stake; after all, this is your future—a totally gnarly future chock full of all-night toga parties, flaming jello shots, mindless orgies, and…whoops! Ha, ha, ha, of course we are only kidding, as we did not realize mom and dad were reading this column.

That last part should be changed to “chock full of all-night study parties, caffeinated, non-alcoholic beverages, lots of hand-holding, and otherwise rational, perfectly legal activities.”

Now, some people say these college years will turn out to be “the best years of our lives,” but I’m not entirely sure about that. If this is true, it would lead me to believe that my life after college will turn out to be a spiraling abyss of shattered dreams, continual letdowns, and repeated failures in every facet of my existence. I can’t wait.

So that’s why I’m here to help you define a few key points to keep in mind when applying to colleges. You should and probably do have a lot of questions to answer in deciding which university is right for you, so let’s begin:

There are, of course, many steps in applying. To help pay for your education, you’ll want to apply for scholarships, which today are about as easily obtainable as a sexually-transmitted disease.

There are scholarships for being of a certain ethnicity, being in a certain major, being from a certain location and having a dog named Gertrude McPoodlePuppy—there are probably scholarships for applying for scholarships. My high school actually offered a scholarship to students whose family members owned a Harley. I wish I was making that up.

Besides being decided on a major at this point, it’s also important to consider your minor, which is important because—if you are a still a minor—you’ll have to have someone else buy your booze for you.

Now, I could drone on about all the academic requirements, but who cares, right? I mean, the university may ask you clarifying questions about your transcript (i.e. “Why is your GPA to the right of the decimal point?”), but all you have to do is just make some good excuses (i.e. “That MUST be a typo!”)

After all, there’s always other, perhaps more criteria to consider, including:

1) Are there places other than your dorm room to drink lots of beer, have sex, or get high?

In some cases, the answer is no. Take Central Washington University in Ellensburg, for example. If you stand in the middle of the street at midnight (and trust me, you can—there is virtually no traffic) and listen carefully enough, you can actually hear tumbleweeds conversing with one another.

In fact, the city’s official tourism slogan is: “If it weren’t for this university, only about 15 people would live here.”

2) What kind of mascot do they have?

It is important to think about what type of lively character you will have representing your school and supporting your athletic teams during home games. Whatever they are, the type of mascot will usually have the word “fighting” in front of it, even if the school is full of pacifists. Here are just a few to mull over:

-The University of New Mexico is home to the legendary “Fighting Quesadillas.” On really hot days, the mascot’s cheese will melt and bubble. After athletic victories, the team’s coaches are “showered” with a celebratory nacho cheese bath.

-The University of Idaho’s mascot is a giant potato named Spud that likes to get baked after games.

The University of Alaska is home to the “Fighting Lipstick Pit-Bulls.” Their mascot is Sarah Palin, and the school’s motto is “Going Rogue.” I have it on good authority that, if you really squint really hard towards the horizon, you can actually see Russia from the third-floor chemistry lab in the science building.

The University of Puget Sound is home to the Geoducks, which, as we all know, closely resemble clams with prescriptions for Cialis.

-Last but not least, there is UC Santa Cruz, whose mascot is—no joke—a banana slug. The mascot is not allowed to get near perspiring basketball players for obvious reasons:

SPORTS ANNOUNCER: “Wow, Bob! Looks like the SC mascot’s really having a meltdown over there! They really shouldn’t have made him hold the player’s sweaty towels!”

Another consideration is a school’s “alma mater” (Latin for “drinking song”). This, of course, is a musical composition full of beautiful verses that pay tribute to your educational home, and which nobody ever remembers how to sing properly and usually butchers at sporting events after a few beers. Here is an example:

College, College

A place of higher knowledge

For every lesson taught

There was that beer I bought

Where I got along

With that great water bong

Where I paid the tuition

But getting tail was my mission

You see how this works. Anyway, I don’t think I need to belittle you with anymore advice. In closing, I want to wish you only the best of luck.

After all, it won’t be long now before you’re wandering through the isles of some esteemed bastion off academia known as a college bookstore, purchasing overpriced textbooks and other literary-inspired products like the Ernest Hemingway-brand dandruff shampoo (“A FAREWELL TO DANDRUFF”), or John Steinbeck-brand fruit juices with flavors like “WHITE GRAPE WRATH.”

This, my friends, is your time. And, if you’re lucky, someone else’s money.

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The official student newspaper of Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, Washington