Metal chairs with UD-colored cushions are used for a variety of reasons in Kennedy Union, but on Nov. 11, they were used to encourage conversation.
In light of the strong emotions sparked by the recent election results, a group of faculty and staff organized a flexible space for students, faculty and staff to share in personal reflection and dialogue of support. The forum was open to all — no matter who they supported.
Participants came and went as they found what they were looking for.
Gatherers were invited to write thoughts on sticky notes and anonymously plastered them around the virtually silent room.
“The last time I felt this way was Sept. 11, 2001,” one community member wrote.
“I wish I was more shocked. I wish I was more surprised,” another wrote.
As participants gathered back in their seats, conversations began to stir where participants were overheard saying, “I share that sentiment, I feel that” and “that really resonates with me.”
One group passed around a paper inviting participants — who were strangers to one another an hour or two before — to sign their email and stay in touch after the organized gathering.
On Nov. 10, University President Eric Spina wrote a letter to the campus community in which he encouraged the campus to work toward understanding and to show kindness with all.
“We are all called upon to respect the dignity of every person and to work together to strengthen our sense of community,” Spina wrote. “Now, more than ever, let us make an effort to engage each other, regardless of political views or identity, with respect, support, and empathy.”
Eric Spina, who spent most of his life in upstate New York, has turned into a walking billboard for the Dayton region and the university he heads — and he’s unapologetic about it.
“My wife Karen and I are incredibly happy here. People on campus and in the community have been very gracious and welcoming,” he told approximately 75 business leaders at a Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce’s breakfast briefing at the Racquet Club on Veteran’s Day. Students in the University’s ROTC program presented the colors at the event.
“As a newcomer and now a transplant, I’m impressed by the virtuousness of the people. They’re hard working, kind and generous. This region has a wonderful sense of place, and the culture in a community of this size is extraordinary,” said Spina, who has explored the parks, rivers, restaurants and his favorite go-to place as an aerospace engineer, the Air Force Museum.
Noting the economic and demographic challenges that have faced Dayton, Spina praised the region’s collaborative spirit, using the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance as an example of creative partnering. “But it’s not just in the performing arts,” he said. “I see that spirit throughout the region when there are community issues to address. People think of the greater good, rather than just themselves.
“This is a collaborative place, and there’s an optimism that’s remarkable.”
Spina got a laugh with this quip, “I’ve been in places with defensive pessimism. You assume it’s going to be bad and, if it isn’t, you’re pleasantly surprised. Not in Dayton.”
Turning to the University of Dayton’s role in the community, he noted, “This university understands the importance of the region. We’re not an Ivory Tower university up on the hill. We’re a national and international university that’s an anchor institution in Dayton. We won’t walk away from that.”
Much like the “listening sessions” Spina held in Chicago, Los Angeles, Dayton, Cleveland and Washington, D.C. with alumni, he asked community leaders to share the core values of UD that resonate with them, realistically differentiate what makes the University special and boldly lay out the areas of excellence the University will be known for in two decades.
“We’ve made transformative moves before,” Spina said. “After World War II, we went from being a small college to aspiring to be a major research university. Today, we’re ninth in the country in sponsored research among private, comprehensive research universities without medical schools. That’s extraordinary. Sixty years ago that was a dream.”
Business leaders said they want to work with UD to keep “young talent” in the region. Another said he appreciated the University’s willingness to think outside the box when the school worked with community leaders to attract GE Aviation and Emerson to campus.
“One of the greatest strengths — and I hope we never give this up — are the Marianist values,” said Phil Parker ’79, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. “I want UD to be known for a culture of servant-leadership.”
Spina assured the gathering that UD’s mission won’t change as the University transforms itself for the future.
“I wear a band on my wrist that I haven’t taken off since I arrived. It shows the chapel’s cupola and the words, Learn. Lead. Serve. It reminds me who we are,” he said.
Bridget Lally is a student writer and reporter for the University of Dayton Magazine and UDQuickly. She also served as a student volunteer during UD’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in April 2016.
Last spring, I scribbled and sketched out my career path during one of the most valuable experiences in my college career. I felt incredibly blessed to attend and receive a full scholarship for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
The scholarship, provided by the UD Alumni Association, gave me the opportunity to meet these amazing individuals. These instructors equipped me with tangible steps on how to write and publish a book, opening my eyes to new career aspirations. This workshop also provided instruction in writing style and voice.
The matching gift opportunity now being offered to sustain the biennial workshop is a strong testament to the benefits of this one-of-a-kind writing experience. The impacts of gifts — from any source, including the current campaign’s anonymous matching donor — are monumental to my education and provide inspirational opportunities to every writer of every level.
The best part of this workshop was learning about the life and career of noted humorist Erma Fiste Bombeck ’49 herself. Those three little words that inspired Erma — “You can write!” — continue to inspire me today. In fact, I have a coffee mug from the workshop that serves as a constant visible reminder.
For more information on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop matching gift drive and #GivingTuesday opportunity, click here.
“What are you planning on doing this weekend for Halloween? What do you think about Halloween? Do you believe in ghosts?”
These were some of the discussion questions posed to prompt a cross-cultural dialogue in the Rike Center in late October during a gathering hosted by UD’s Intensive English Program in the Center for International Programs
World Exchange is a weekly conversation group organized so U.S. and international students can take part in structured and open discussions together. The larger purpose of the gatherings is to help international students practice their English by engaging in dialogue with native English speakers.
But the added benefit that one may not expect to receive is how much the native English speakers get to learn about different cultures during their conversations with international students.
The theme of the Oct. 26’s group discussion was Halloween.
A prime example of how conversation is a two-way street: One American student explained to a Chinese student how at the time a student enters college, it’s no longer socially acceptable for him/her to go trick-or-treating; how that custom is reserved for younger children. The Halloween holiday was completely foreign to this student, much like many of the other Chinese or Kuwait students in the room. In turn, the American students learned how something as common in this country as Halloween does not occur overseas.
The brief cultural encounter provided a welcoming environment in which both Americans and international students learned several new things about each other’s cultural customs. The next World Exchange meetings are scheduled for Nov. 9 and Nov. 18.
This year’s presidential election is a critical one, coming to a close tomorrow—Nov. 8— after being plagued by months of back-and-forth between the two primary candidates. On Oct. 25, a timely two weeks before Election Day, University friend Jim Dicke and Bob Taft, former Ohio governor, joined together to discuss the history of the American presidency and its elections.
Moderated by Dr. Roger Crum, a professor of art history and Liaison for Global and Intercultural Initiatives at UD, the hour-long talk was held in conjunction with the exhibition “U.S. Presidential Imagery and Memorabilia from The Dicke Collection and the Collection of Governor Bob Taft,” which is currently on display in O’Reily Hall.
Taft and Dicke began by speaking to the history of the exhibit, including a discussion on a few of the inaugural medals that Dicke had collected over the years. Dicke credits his father for pursuing the medals, saying “When I was a kid, my father had an Eisenhower inaugural medal that he used as a paperweight. I found it fascinating, so I started collecting medals over the years, and there are some in the exhibit.”
Later on during the panel, Crum asked Dicke and Taft about the American electoral process, and whether or not they thought our nation would learn anything from this particular election cycle.
Dicke said, “I believe that when this election is over, both parties will set up committees to study the lessons learned from this cycle. There is going to be a reappraisal on both sides, which can only be helpful to our country as a whole.”
Taft and Dicke also offered some college advice to the young men and women in attendance. To stay true to the discussion’s theme, both men emphasized how important it was to vote.
“Take your vote seriously and try to be an informed voter,” Taft said. “People are definitely turned off by both candidates this year, but don’t get too cynical by the politics.”
The two speakers concluded that even though this election poses an incredibly tough choice, it’s important for voters to spend time researching the candidates’ policies and thinking about each candidate’s character when voting.
It’s never too late to reinvent your life. Just ask Karen Spina, who’s living out the advice she gives her own children: “Find your passion and follow it.”
In her early days at the University of Dayton, she’s taken a highly visible role in her husband’s presidency as they forge a path together at a dizzying pace.
The couple has criss-crossed the country, from Chicago to Los Angeles, to meet alumni. They’ve shared dinners at Marianist student communities, kayaked with the president’s emissaries on the Great Miami River, opened up the president’s residence for gatherings, joined students, faculty and alumni at the 10 a.m. Sunday Mass in the chapel, cheered on the Flyer football team and socialized at faculty receptions.
“I was ready for the next chapter in our lives. Even Eric says I’m reborn,” says Spina, who juggled a 22-year career as a software engineer with raising two children, both now at Skidmore College. “Eric and I really are partners. I love the fact we’re doing this together.”
Whether over a cup of coffee at a local cafe or at a pizza dinner with students in her home, Spina exudes warmth, humility and unpretentiousness. What makes her tick? While she insists to a visitor that she doesn’t think of herself as an athlete, artist or educator, consider her life’s narrative.
At the age of 42, she earned her black belt in karate after her children expressed an interest in learning the martial arts. The following year, she trained and competed in the IronGirl triathalon — swimming a mile, biking 20 miles and finishing with a 5K run.
“In high school, I was so not athletic,” she remembers with a laugh. “When I did the IronGirl, I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this thing. I was not super serious about the competition side. I trained hard simply because it was something I decided to take on and had set a personal goal of completing the race in under two hours. Surprisingly, I did and got my name in the paper to boot. I couldn’t imagine at age 43 I’d have my name in the paper for a sports-related thing.”
Today, she runs four or five miles daily, enjoys yoga and Pilates, and, even as the days grow cooler, meets friends for water-treading workouts in a neighbor’s backyard pool. It was here that she learned about the “Scarecrow Row” display at Oakwood’s annual Family Fall Festival. She invited students to the house, cooked brunch and worked with them to create a jaunty Rudy Flyer scarecrow, complete with a pumpkin in his arm, for the exhibit.
“It was so much fun. Both of our kids are great artists, and Eric’s mother was an art teacher. I always had an artist’s closet full of supplies because I love to create,” she says.
And, at heart, she’s a teacher, too. The youngest of four children, she grew up in Wayne, New Jersey, with an engineer father and a stay-at-home mother. After earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Rutgers University, she entered graduate school at the University of Rochester, where she studied computer science, but also took sign language classes. “I wanted to be a math teacher for deaf students,” she says.
Instead, she became a software engineer, who eventually “fell into teaching math” at her children’s school when a teacher unexpectedly went on medical leave. Later, she worked one-on-one as a math tutor for 25 children. “I really felt that was my true calling,” she says. “Computer engineering stimulates the mind, but I worked in a cubicle and didn’t interact with people. I’m an extrovert.”
Spina, who says her family is the most important part of her life, met her husband through her brother, Ed, who taught with him in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department at Syracuse University.
“I met Eric when visiting my brother but got to know him better when my brother asked us both to be godparents for his son. One weekend we babysat together, then Eric asked my brother for permission to ask me out,” she recounts. I knew on the first date I wanted to marry him. We planned to go to dinner, a play and a jazz club, but ended up talking for hours over dinner.
“He’s the complete package — a good person who’s kind and a wonderful listener.”
The couple found the University of Dayton to be the complete package, too.
“It’s the first place he interviewed once determining he would consider a presidency, and we said, ‘This is it,’” Spina says. “The Marianists are so warm and welcoming. The students are engaging, the community and University programs are fantastic, and the campus is gorgeous. It just felt right.”
(This piece appears in the Nov. 4, 2016, issue of Campus Report.)
On Sept. 9 near the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, it was only fitting that a honey locust tree was planted in honor of Father Norbert Burns, S.M. ’45, a former religious studies professor who taught more than 27,000 UD students for over 50 years. A tree just seemed to be the only thing that would have roots quite as enduring as Father Burns’ have been.
Besides teaching his Christian Marriage course, Father Burns also spent 45 years providing marriage counseling in his office until midnight. This passion for fostering and helping relationships blossomed at a young age for the long-loved Marianist.
“I went to a Marianist high school, a branch of Catholicism founded by Chaminade,” said Burns from his home on Sawmill Road. “Chaminade felt that the answer to life could be found in oneness with one another and in each other’s understanding of God and community.”
Chaminade’s beliefs appealed to Burns, so much so he decided he wanted to spend the rest of his life trying to bring people together. Arriving at UD in 1958 with a mission in helping young people’s understanding of relationships, Burns quickly took over the Christian Marriage course to teach his beliefs.
“I believe in practicing in my class what I teach, so I greeted my students at the door as they came in and hugged them at the end of class, if they let me,” Father Burns said. “The class formed a wonderful bond of oneness, and discussed the challenges and difficulties of marriage and relationships in the context of the Catholic Church.”
As he looks back on his life, Father Burns is happy with what he’s done and the help that he’s given to people.
“I’ve had such a great life, and have done exactly what I wanted to do,” said Burns, to whom the University dedicated the tree planting. “The tree is a symbol of life, of the embrace of God and creation. Since I had spent my whole preaching life in oneness, it just seemed that the tree was the best symbol of all that.”
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” — aboriginal elder, activist and educator Lilla Watson, 1985.
This quote was printed on the back of purple teeshirts which student organizers of the Crossroads and Intersecting Identities Conference wore on Saturday, Oct. 22.
The conference, held at the Jesse Philips Humanities Center, was sponsored by students in the Creating Inclusive Communities initiative, part of the Center for International Programs.
The keynote speaker was James Loewen, a best-selling author who wrote Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Got Wrong.
Loewen is an educator holding a doctorate in sociology from Harvard University. He has taught race relations for more than 20 years. During his keynote presentation, he informed the audience how the distorted history we receive in schools while we are young impacts the negative state of race relations which exists today.
A “safe room” was provided for guests, in the case the workshops or panel discussions brought about fear, anxiety or any type of personal unease.
Junior Lauren Durnwald, a psychology major, attended the conference and was moved by one session in particular, titled “She’s Such a Slut!: Analyzing our gendered language choices and their impact” facilitated by Kristen Keen, the assistant dean of students.
“It was interactive. That surprised me because I thought it would be lecture-based,” said Durnwald. “[Conversation] adds a different element to it, and I think that’s important.”
In another session, “Creating Community through Reciprocity and Relationships: The Case of Kettering Circles,” students participated in a role-play demonstration of the challenging balancing act that the world presents to people living in poverty. Dr. Teri Thompson, a full-time professor in the department of communication, facilitated this session.
Education major and sophomore Taylor Tovey enjoyed this presentation about reciprocity.
“I learned about community unity,” said Tovey. “If you just try to help me, that’s not getting us anywhere. I enjoyed learning about the concept of working with people.”
It’s a warm, sunny night, the sun is hanging on the mountain range in the distance, and Molly McKinley ’01 is rolling down the tundra.
Tundra rolling may be a time-honored tradition more often carried out by children and the resident grizzly bears, but it’s also how McKinley likes to celebrate a warm summer night in Alaska: going side-over-side down the alpine biome. Throw in a handful of wild blueberries and she might just be in heaven.
Welcome to 99-year-old Denali National Park, one of the amazing American places protected by the National Park Service.
It has been 100 years since the National Park Service was founded, and in that time 412 wilderness areas and historic sites, natural wonders and national monuments have been created, recognized and protected. The oldest, the National Mall, was designated 226 years ago and grandfathered into the Park Service; the newest, Stonewall National Monument, was inducted June 24 of this year. Dubbed “America’s best idea” by writer Wallace Stegner, the National Parks model has been exported to countries around the world.
While the National Parks are full of monuments and glaciers, endangered species and civil rights memorials, perhaps their most important assets are their stories. Stories that celebrate natural wonders, such as the bristled trees of Joshua Tree National Park, and stories that reveal devastating human histories, such as the slaughter of 300 people in Sand Creek, South Dakota, and the internment of 117,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
Those stories are at the core of the National Park Service mission: to preserve, “unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
As the National Park Service prepared for its centennial celebration in August, University of Dayton alumni reflected on the important roles our parks play in society today and regaled us with their own stories of the National Parks and its mission.
Discover History: Preserving
Perhaps it’s natural that history major Ann Honious ’00 ended up working for the National Park Service, a leader in historic preservation and responsible for preserving everything from the stories of Paleo-Indians in North America 12,000 years ago to the Chesapeake Bay landscape associated with both the beginning and end of slavery in the United States to the Wright brothers bicycle shop.
Honious began at the Park Service in 1992, surveying historic buildings and parks and cataloguing historic structures. She worked at the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park before becoming the second employee at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park. She then went to the Gateway Arch — formally the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial — where she oversaw for nearly six years the history, museum and ranger programs.
Today, she’s the deputy superintendent of Capitol Parks East in D.C. and the administrator for roughly 15 parks east of the Capitol, including the historic home of Frederick Douglass and Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.
“I’ve always been interested in telling stories, and the National Park Service gives an opportunity to tell those stories where they happened,” says Honious. That’s the National Parks’ purpose: “They help you find or get to know your country — whether that be on a hike in the Grand Canyon or a visit to Independence Hall.”
Or on a tour of one of the nation’s 11 National Battlefields.
When Dale Floyd ’68 walked the parks and fields of the American South back in the mid-1990s, he wasn’t looking at the trees or the animals, he was mapping Civil War battlefields in his mind’s eye. And on paper.
For nearly five years the historian served on the Park Service’s Civil War sites advisory commission, helping determine the nation’s most important Civil War battle sites. The Army had already done much of the heavy lifting, identifying 10,500 Civil War battles, and Floyd and colleagues used that documentation as a jumping off point. They narrowed the list to about 500 sites of import and set out to investigate.
With U.S. Geological Survey maps in hand, Floyd walked the sites, inspecting fields and pastures, determining the significance of the battles waged, and the condition of the land and any remaining artifacts. He evaluated what threats existed to the sites, and what might in the future. Some of the battlefields were mostly gone, developed or encroached upon. Artifacts at others had been mined by individuals.
In the end, Floyd and his co-authors drew up an argument for preservation of many of the sites. Without it, the report said, the nation stood to lose fully two-thirds of its major Civil War battlefields. Soon, the American Battlefield Protection Program was established and, in 1996, Congress signed into law the American Battlefield Protection Act. Under the National Park Service, the ABPP “promotes the preservation of significant historic battlefields associated with wars on American soil.”
Today, the Park Service oversees 11 National Battlefields, four National Battlefield Parks and one National Battlefield Site. While not all of the nation’s Civil War and Revolutionary battle sites are encompassed within the National Parks, many are. Antietam National Battlefield, for example, commemorates the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, a day where 23,000 soldiers were declared dead, wounded or missing after 12 hours of battle. Preserving such history is part of the Parks’ mission — and value.
“The Park Service is custodian of important properties,” says Floyd, who has since retired. “And the Parks are the conservators of what are supposed to be our most important historical properties.”
That historic conservation extends to manmade technology and its consequences. For instance, there’s the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park, which “preserves and interprets the history and legacies” of the Wright brothers and one of America’s great African-American poets, Paul Laurence Dunbar. Kimberly Juhnke ’02 is one of many UD alumni to intern as an interpretive ranger — think educator in a uniform — at Dayton Aviation.
To Juhnke, having a program that tells the story of the people and experiences that changed America is critical.
“Each site you go to you learn something new. It’s important to know where you came from, and what happened in our country,” says Juhnke. “The Wright brothers, for example, were such innovative men, and they never even graduated from high school. That’s a testament to that time period.”
While some sites celebrate innovation and American spirit, others serve as testament to American ingenuity gone unchecked, including the Johnstown Flood Memorial.
In the late 1800s, the wealthy citizens of Pittsburgh bought a reservoir, converted a dam and created a massive lake for a private resort. They altered the dam but failed to maintain it properly and, in 1889, a storm destroyed the dam, killing 2,209 civilians below. The Great Flood, as it’s known, also led to the creation of the Army Corps of Engineers. And yet, says Juhnke — who worked at Johnstown, Allegheny Portage Railroad National Site and the Flight 93 Memorial for a year after graduation — few would really know about that flood, or that devastation, were it not for the National Parks preserved memorial.
Preserving cultural and natural places may be core aspects of the Parks’ mission, but education is paramount. Education — about wild plants and animals or about historic events — inspires people to protect the parks for the future. It also shapes dreams.
Steven Roberts ’97 knows this firsthand.
It was a balmy Florida evening in 1997 when Roberts, alongside Greg Leingang ’97 and Brian Boynton ’98, first discovered the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. The classmates had mapped their spring break by National Parks, arriving seven parks later at the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine.
Studying history growing up, Roberts had learned about Jamestown and about the Mayflower, but no one had ever taught him about the influence of the Spanish. As the lights burned below the walls of the Castillo, turning it into a glowing castle, Roberts knew he’d be back someday.
“The Castillo, built more than 300 years ago, isn’t just an old building, it tells special stories about freedom, about defending family, about sacrifice,” says Roberts. “Creating those experiences in real places has a huge power to help people find their own values, to find their own meanings in America’s special places.”
Roberts has spent the 20 years since that visit sharing the stories of America’s past through National Parks, beginning at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park where he worked as a seasonal park ranger. Later, at Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial, he revealed the lives of those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. He worked at James A. Garfield National Historic Site and Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
“I found specialness in the places,” says Roberts. “These were authentic places that had real stories of America for people to experience and actually become a part of during their visit.”
That Parks mission of education — and of sharing something important about America’s past with visitors from around the world — is ingrained in Roberts. “We help people care about their national parks, and about these national stories, and about these special resources. We hope they will get excited about them and also want to share these stories and become stewards of their own national parks. These are the people’s parks.”
Now, 20 years after that initial visit, Roberts is back at the Castillo where he serves as chief of interpretation and education.
If the Spanish arrival to America and their influence on the United States seems like ancient history, try donning Jeff Malik’s ranger hat.
In the high, cold desert of Kemmerer, Wyoming, there’s neither cactus nor bare earth in sight. Instead, sagebrush and mesquite and hardy vegetation clings to the earth, and prairie dogs run wild. A rock outcropping, Fossil Butte, hangs above the remains of an ancient lake. In that ancient lake are the fossilized remains of palm trees and alligators.
Malik, who is currently completing his master’s in public administration at UD, spent the summers of 2009 and 2010 at Fossil Butte National Monument, working as an interpretive officer, doing everything from leading tours to managing invasive species. The most exciting part of the job, however, was providing environmental education and especially fossil education.
Fossil Butte is home to 50-million-year-old fossils — among the best preserved in the world — and as such, it’s a destination for many families. One trail leads to an active resource quarry where researchers dig for fossilized fish. Visitors can watch the dig and, perhaps more important, rangers and researchers let kids lift up slabs of rock, look for fish and measure the fossils found.
To Malik, that kind of firsthand education is what makes the National Parks so important. They’re an opportunity for people to directly connect with nature, and with some of the most important parts of America.
“I mean that both in a natural environment setting and in a historic setting. It lets people experience these places firsthand, in a way that there’s no other chance for them to otherwise,” says Malik. “There’s just nothing that can compare to a kid going camping for the first time or seeing herds of bison in Yellowstone or viewing the Grand Canyon.
“That’s where the power is; that potential for a transformative experience.”
Which perhaps explains why the National Park Service is celebrating its centennial.
Explore nature: preserving
Today, 480 threatened and endangered plant and animal species exist within the areas protected by the National Parks, and the Park Service is charged with reducing the risk of their extinction while simultaneously telling the stories of these places, plants and animals to those responsible for preventing that extinction — the public.
McKinley, outdoor recreation planner at Denali National Park and resident tundra roller, has countless tales about the National Parks and run-ins with endangered species. The view from her office window in the woods offers spruce and alder and, quite routinely, a moose, but a short drive or hike leads to a world covered in tundra. Denali is green in summer, white in winter, and brown during spring — or mud season. Then, for a short time in autumn, there’s an explosion of color as the tundra comes alive in a way most people don’t expect. There’s a fabric to the place, says McKinley, a carpet of purples and reds and oranges.
During her Park Service career McKinley has spent a day perched on a glacier using a battery-operated chainsaw disassembling a decades-old plane crash for recycling. She has come upon a moose kill and a bear dining on that kill, and she has learned, midway through a river crossing, that caribou huff through their nostrils at humans. And, there was the day that, while surveying a new trail location, she looked up to discover one of those
endangered species the Parks seek to protect — a lynx — just 15 feet away.
“One of our goals is to not interrupt the activity of the wildlife if no one’s in danger, so I was just hanging out with this lynx,” she says. “Me and a lynx, for kind of a long time, and the lynx wasn’t scared of me and I wasn’t scared of it. But there’s this huge beautiful cat, with tufts of fur coming out of its ears, and huge paws that allow it to walk on the snow in the winter, and to be that close to such a different, beautiful, amazing creature is really special. I feel really blessed by those opportunities.”
Coming to Alaska is striking and sometimes hard to wrap our heads around, she says, but that’s part of the enjoyment: “Everything here is so darn big. The mountains are big, the landscape is big, the mammals are big. I think for some people it creates a baseline shift in how the world around us can feel. And, when the world around us feels really big, it can make you feel really small. Or, it can make you feel awed and inspired.”
Which is what the Parks are after: preserving natural places for education, enjoyment and inspiration. In fact, the National Parks stewards, and celebrates, some of the most spectacular scenic places in the United States. There’s the windswept Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, one of the of the 88 coastal and ocean parks in the system; the 4,700 caves and karsts scattered across the country, such as the lava tubes at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho; and the star-filled skies over the buttes of Canyonlands National Park. And then there’s Old Faithful.
Yellowstone National Park, home to Old Faithful, became the world’s first national park in 1872, decades before the creation of the National Park Service. In August 1916, the Department of the Interior was overseeing 21 national monuments, 14 national parks and two national reservations, with no umbrella organization to run or manage them. With support from journalists, the National Geographic Society and more, Congress passed the Organic Act, establishing the National Park Service, and placing the 37 parks under its protection. Chief among those was Yellowstone. Today, Yellowstone encompasses 3,472 square miles, 500 active geysers, 900 historic buildings, 1,800 known archeological sites and two endangered species: the Canada lynx and the grizzly bear.
Melissa McAdam ’83 has seen much of this and more. Some of it from her office window, which on this day offers a view of a grazing female elk framed against a backdrop of historic buildings. Nearby, a tree bears the weight of a giant owl condo. The nests there have produced multiple flocks, and a parliament of owlets is fluttering among the branches. Tourists stand below, cameras trained on the baby birds, oblivious to the elk grazing nearby.
McAdam landed at the world’s first national park in the early 1980s on a lark. A friend had returned to UD raving about her summer working at Yellowstone, and so McAdam followed suit. In 1982, between her junior and senior years, she spent the summer working in reservations at Yellowstone. She returned in 1983 (and met her now husband, Rick), then left for a while to “try to do the real job thing.”
But Yellowstone beckoned. By 1985 they had returned for good.
“For us it’s the scenery, the feeling of openness, of spaciousness. When you grow up in the suburbs of the east, as I did, this is a different experience. It’s a feeling you can breathe,” she says of her decision to make Yellowstone home.
McAdam began her career as an accounting technician, then volunteered in the public affairs office before landing a job in the emergency communications center. She’s been working full time for Yellowstone National Park ever since and today holds the title of supervisory budget analyst. Her staff handles everything from human resources to procurement to budget management for the resource management and science branches of Yellowstone. Or the animal, vegetable, mineral branch, as she calls it.
“I like the idea of being part of a community — such a tight knit community — that’s also tied to a mission,” she says. “I’m still amazed by the wildlife. And the features — I don’t spend enough time at Old Faithful, but the features are unlike any other in the world.”
And then, there is the intersection of exploring nature and discovering history; of cultural and environmental preservation. Saratoga National Historical Park — one of the nation’s 50 National Historic Parks — melds cultural preservation and natural exploration. The park, in upstate New York, is rural, and the Revolutionary War battlefield that comprises the majority of the park has been protected from much of the encroachment that has happened at other historic sites. Saratoga has one big looping road that encompasses much of where the fighting happened in 1777. There are 10 places you can stop to see significant battle sites, and trails — paved and unpaved — jut out from each.
It looks much as it would have in the 1700s, says Jason Huarte ’02, and that means this park has given him an appreciation for the American Revolution and how difficult life was.
“It makes you pretty grateful for what we have now,” says Huarte. “Just a couple hundred years ago there were guys cutting down trees and building walls so lead balls didn’t go through their bellies.”
Huarte, an engineer and the supervisory facilities operation specialist at Saratoga, has seen his share of National Parks. He was sent to the Statue of Liberty after Hurricane Sandy and helped the National Park Service design a whole new docking system at Ellis and Liberty Islands. He has seen the massive red sandstone cliffs and narrow slot canyons of Zion National Park and most of the monuments in Washington, D.C. And of course, there were the years he spent as an engineer with the National Park Service in Alaska, flying on four-seat floatplanes to the wilds for a project, or helicoptering into the middle of nowhere to oversee construction.
“You see bears fishing in rivers, hear wolves at night. … And you’re on the clock. People save their entire lives to go see the things I saw while on the job,” he says.
Such wildlife may be why Huarte’s veneration extends beyond Saratoga and to the Parks in general.
“It makes you appreciate how rich of a country we are in natural resources. You have Alaska with glaciers, and then you have Death Valley — all in one country.”
The proud holder of a National Parks Passport — a little booklet filled with stamps that track every check-in at every National Park, Monument or Site — Huarte has already been to 112 of the 412 National Parks. Like many alumni, whether they work for the Park Service or not, his life goal is to visit them all.
“They call the National Parks America’s greatest idea,” he says. “I think it’s true.”