"How long does it take a tulip to bloom?"
"How do I get myself to be more open and not so shy? Is there something wrong with me?"
"My ex-girlfriend left me. And I am trying to get her to be my girlfriend again. I really love her. But I am only 12. So how can I get her to be my girlfriend again?"
"What are the general guidelines for dual-degreeing at Cornell?"
These are just some of the online posts answered in the Feb. 13, 2007, "Dear Uncle Ezra" advice column, which was launched 21 years ago as the world's first online advice column.
Over two decades "Dear Uncle Ezra" has posted answers to almost 20,000 queries, many from Cornell students but also from people in more than 30 countries. The advice column accepts questions from anyone, anywhere, on any topic (as long as there is no profanity and no homework answers involved), although its primary focus is on the Cornell community.
Queries range from Cornelliana and other trivia to animal care, credit cards and mental, physical and sexual health to local attractions, tuition, voting, grades, housing and relationships.
Dear Uncle Ezra was the brainchild of psychologist Jerry Feist, former assistant dean of students of students for counseling and training and former director of the Cornell Counseling Center, and computer scientist Steve Worona '70, M.S. '73. It was Worona who in 1982 created CUInfo, the universitywide information system that used to run off a mainframe disseminating information via two dozen terminals around campus. In September 1986, the pair (who have since co-edited "The Best of Uncle Ezra," Volumes I and II) made the system interactive by inviting students to query "Uncle Ezra."
New questions and answers are posted every Tuesday and Thursday, and all are archived and searchable at http://ezra.cornell.edu/, which gets over 9,000 hits and some 300 questions per month.
The actual Uncle Ezra is an anonymous Cornell staffer with a mental health background who posts answers to between 10 to 20 questions a week. Uncle Ezra either answers the questions himself or relies on the expertise of a Cornell professor or staff member for answers.
Over the years Uncle Ezra has answered almost 2,000 alumni questions, ranging from where to go camping in the Ithaca area to how to start an alumni network in Anchorage, Alaska. The column has helped worried parents fretting about GPAs and hazing and thousands of students worrying about a myriad of topics, from love and sex to whether graduate schools look at applicants' Facebook profiles.
It has counseled students talking about suicide, adults with such problems as one who felt a persistent desire to shoot holes in road signs and at least one wooer hesitant to pop the big question. It also has answered such questions as: Why are pistachio nuts colored red? Is there really asbestos in tampons? How do I get into the business of magazine writing? Why are hot dogs called hot dogs? Do any telescopes exist that are capable of seeing the United States flag that we placed on the moon?
"The column serves as another venue for students to feel heard and empowered, anonymously if they so choose, and to spread the caring spirit at Cornell," says the Uncle Ezra staffer. "By helping the one person who writes, many people get the benefit of the answer."
This story was written with research help by Masiray Koroma '07.