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Why would Muslim women want to study at a Catholic university? As they see it, there’s no better place to be than UD.
Just a light breeze is ruffling the leaves of the trees around Humanities Plaza on a June day. The sun is out, warming the low walls surrounding the green space. There’s plenty of space for the four women to sit and linger and catch up on the things that students do between classes. Head bent, one holds a BlackBerry with two hands, typing out text messages; the glittery purple phone case catches the sun and flashes with her movements. Another student, wearing a tropical print top, is studying, writing in a red University of Dayton notebook imprinted with the image of the Immaculate Conception Chapel and its distinctive cross-topped cupola.
The other two women look a bit like Jackie Kennedy Onassis with large-lens sunglasses masking much of their faces and large handbags embellished with designer logos at their feet. As classes change and the foot traffic heads to Kennedy Union, the women are people-watching, paying particular attention as the women go by, some clad in T-shirts, others in what looks like job-hunting skirts and heels.
“I don’t like those shoes with that outfit,” says one fashionista. “It’s very old-fashioned.”
The other nods her agreement. As the chapel bells ring the quarter hour, all four gather their books and notebooks, purses and cell phones, and head off to class.
Before they go, one tugs at a long black sleeve to pull the edge over her wrist. Another makes sure the snow-white scarf she’s wearing completely wraps her hair and covers her neck, framing her face and accenting her large, dark eyes.
As they walk into the shade toward Rike Center, their long skirts swing gently side to side. They appear to be gliding across the brick walkways. With the long skirts, long sleeves and covered heads, they evoke the statues and images of Mary, veiled and robed, that grace the campus.
Meet the international Muslim women of UD, comfortable on a campus where there’s a crucifix in every classroom, images of Jesus and Mary everywhere, and a deeply rooted identity as a faith-based university. They are both a part of and apart from life on a campus that is consciously encouraging globalization and embracing it as beneficial for the entire community. Which means it shouldn’t be surprising that a Catholic university is getting a reputation as a good place for Muslim students — especially women from even the most conservative countries.
“I don’t feel like I’m a stranger here,” said Sarah Abdullah, an Intensive English Program student from Saudi Arabia.
One woman, an undergraduate in the premed program, said she was drawn by UD’s high academic standards, and the fact that UD is a Catholic school also had appeal. “Actually, when I found out it was a Catholic college, I thought it might be a little better. Like I thought that it might have a little more stricter guidelines that Muslims … like more discipline and stronger morals — that might make it better for me. I respect religious people of any faith who are sincere.”
* * *
With their distinctive headscarves, or hijabs, these Muslim women are unmistakable evidence of the University of Dayton’s expanding global reach and growing reputation. Although the increase in Muslim women at Catholic colleges is a fairly new trend, research shows that the women are finding security and comfort on campuses where faith is honored and respected. They bring cultural, religious and linguistic variety to campus, enriching the learning environment and helping UD’s domestic students become citizens of the world.
“I was surprised I felt so comfortable here,” said Eelaf Aqeel, a civil engineering major from Kuwait. “People are nice, they talk and they say hi. They don’t make me feel different. I love how people respect people here.”
“We feel that this is a friendly place for Muslim women,” said Tuntas Hartini from Indonesia.
In 2012, the University enrolled more than 1,400 international students from 40 countries. Although UD doesn’t ask or track the religions of students, an analysis of enrollment from predominantly Muslim countries paints a picture. Nearly a quarter of today’s international students are from 14 predominantly Muslim countries. In 2010, there were 175 total students from predominantly Muslim countries. In 2012, that number nearly doubled to 326.
The growth is in line with national trends. The Institute of International Education estimated the number of international students in the U.S. from predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa increased 15 percent from 2010 to 2011. For 2009, the Higher Education Research Institute found that Catholic campuses had a higher percentage of Muslim students than the average four-year institution.
At UD, the increasing number of international Muslim women is even more striking, the estimate growing from just 27 in 2010 to 78 this year. Women from Saudi Arabia, considered among the most conservative Muslim countries, have increased from 18 to 55; 10 years ago, only two Saudi women were UD students. Seven Kuwaiti women are students this year — five of them undergraduates. Others come from Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Yemen, Pakistan, Indonesia and other countries.
The governments of most of the Middle Eastern students provide full scholarships to fund their overseas studies, and governments not only recommend — but also guide students to — schools that have good support systems and strong academic programs. One of those programs is the University’s Intensive English Program. IEP boosts language skills to fast-track students into their degree programs. Getting a high-quality degree as quickly as possible is imperative for the students because the governments have high expectations and the support comes with some limits.
Sarah Almalhem, from Saudi Arabia, is one of those. She’s been at UD only three months but has already moved into a high-level IEP course and is about ready to start her master’s coursework in computer science. While nearly all of the international women are here with a male family member — commonly a husband, brother or uncle, who is studying here — Almalhem is a bit different.
“I’m living here with my father and mother,” she said, explaining that her father retired so that she could study here. “When you get the scholarship, a condition is that you must have a male family member here.”
* * *
Most of the women are here to study engineering, some business, some computer science. A few are seeking degrees in educational leadership and political science. Riad Alakkad ’80, associate dean in the School of Engineering who helps with recruiting and acts as unofficial godfather to many students, says word is getting around, and the word of governments and male family members are deal-makers or deal-breakers.
“They’re hearing that UD is a good place, that it gives you all the support you need,” he said, adding that the University is building a strong reputation with the cultural offices in many countries that recommend and send students to school in the U.S. As their students report those positive experiences, countries send more. Kuwait, for example, customarily imposes a 35- to 50-student cap on schools until they develop a good track record for academics and support; that cap was lifted for the University last year and Alakkad expects a significant increase in Kuwaiti students in the future.
“I think they recognize that, as a campus, we do a good job for our students,” said Amy Anderson ’09, director of UD’s Center for International Programs.
Along with the enrollment, the University’s academic and support network for all international students has grown, with special attention given to accommodating the Muslim students’ faith practices. When Rike Center was renovated in 2011 for the Center for International Programs, a large classroom was outfitted for double-duty as a prayer room with a room divider to provide the required separation of men and women. A small adjoining room offers separate spaces for ablutions, the ritual washing of hands, feet, arms and face required before prayers.
Father James Fitz, S.M. ’68, vice president for mission and rector, said the accommodations are consistent with the University’s Catholic, Marianist tradition to welcome all people. Providing welcome, giving support and creating space to practice faith is in line with Catholic teaching and what Pope Benedict XVI has asked Muslim countries to do. “The pope called on Muslim countries to provide worship spaces for Roman Catholics,” Fitz said. “Creating a prayer room here is reciprocal. It’s a statement about religious freedom. If we ask that for ourselves, we should provide a space for them.”
He thinks the University of Dayton’s deep-rooted identity as a place of faith and religion sends a powerful message of welcome. “I understand why Muslim students feel comfortable here,” Fitz said. “It’s a faith-oriented campus; the atmosphere is not adverse to talking about faith. We respect their religious practices and we support them.”
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When Muslim women in hijabs first started appearing on campus about three years ago, Cynthia Shafer ’96 was intrigued. A self-confessed globetrotter throughout her life, she had spent months at a time traveling and living in a number of majority-Muslim countries, including Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and Indonesia. She had also spent time in other countries where Muslims were in the minority, and she saw firsthand the resulting friction when Muslim culture collided with other cultures. She wondered about the apparent incongruity and possible tension from highly visible Muslim women on a Catholic campus, and she wondered how they were adjusting.
Shafer is particularly attuned to student issues. In her eight years as the communication department’s director of academic advising, she had encountered scores of students with much more mainstream American backgrounds having trouble adapting to college life. She was curious about how Muslims from very different cultures coped with those challenges.
Outgoing, energetic, with blond hair that just grazes her shoulders, often dressed in a short skirt, she’s passionate about students and brings a nonjudgmental compassion to her work. As a doctoral student in educational leadership, she channeled her curiosity and focused her research on the experiences of Muslim women at UD. Shafer, who is now assistant dean in the College of Arts and Sciences, made exploration of their adjustment the center of her doctoral dissertation and began interviewing women at the University of Dayton and Xavier University in fall 2011.
She turned her attention to Muslim women — both international and domestic — because, while the numbers of men were greater, the challenges of women in adapting to campus were much more complicated. Shafer said the hijab many choose to wear make women much more visible and is in essence an identification badge, announcing to the world their devotion to their faith. “The Muslim men on campus wear western clothes, and they’re not obliged to make this public commitment to their faith,” she said. “Men can fly under the radar; women really can’t.”
Although the hijabs are outward signs of faith, they are more than just badges of identification. Islam’s holy book, the Quran, says women should cover their heads and most of their bodies as a sign of modesty, a very important aspect of the faith. While interpretations vary across Islam, covering is among the distinctive practices many adherents follow in their daily lives: praying five times a day, avoiding alcohol, fasting during monthlong Ramadan, washing before prayer, avoiding pork and other meats not ritually butchered, and maintaining social separation between unrelated men and women.
Shafer found the women for her research one by one, starting with a student she already knew, and asking her to connect Shafer with other women willing to be interviewed. As her circle grew, Shafer attended prayer services, was invited to parties and gatherings, and she developed genuine friendships.
She found that the schools’ Catholic identities were strong, positive selling points for the women because they signaled institutions that were not only faith-based, but which emphasized values that were closely aligned with their own. The fact that the distinctive image of the cupola of the Immaculate Conception Chapel on everything from notebook covers to letterhead doesn’t bother them in the least, they told her.
“I came here because I wanted to know the American people. And I wanted to know their religion, so I am really happy to go to a Catholic university. It’s a great experience for me,” said one of the international students Shafer interviewed.
While the women told Shafer they are happy here, they feel safe, comfortable and welcomed, she found that they essentially live on the margins of campus life and the campus community.
Their conservative lifestyles lead international students to form tight communities with women from their own countries. Their social gatherings are women-only, abiding by the Muslim requirement to keep separate from unrelated men.
A conservative lifestyle doesn’t equal a somber one. Shafer tells of a “surprisingly raucous” party of nearly 40 women in the basement of Virginia W. Kettering Residence Complex with loud music, dancing, food and children running around playing. Since there were no men present, it was a chance for the women to fully express their personalities and fashion sense. Even some of the most observant women were in western clothes with no headscarves, or elegant traditional clothes, wearing heavy gold and enameled jewelry.
“Some of the women wore revealing western clothes: tight dresses with plunging necklines and stiletto heels,” she wrote. “It was interesting for me to see women who outside this party room would be covered from head to toe in yards of loose fabric wearing skin-tight, cleavage-revealing dresses and wearing fully made up face and hair.”
Through these diametrically opposite modes of dress and behavior, Shafer saw the women expressing very distinct, complicated identities and being totally comfortable and at ease in both worlds. It seemed to her a great contradiction — like Muslims on a Catholic campus — but also shed light on the women’s abilities to navigate those apparent contradictions.
* * *
Shafer’s research and the phenomenon of Muslim women choosing and thriving at Catholic colleges caught the attention of The New York Times, which sent a reporter and photographer to Dayton in August to tour the campus and talk to Muslim women. The resulting Sept. 3 front-page story featured the University of Dayton leading a trend in Catholic schools in attracting and supporting Muslim women and emphasized how welcome the women feel on the campus.
“At those schools, Muslim students, from the United States or abroad, say they prefer a place where talk of religious beliefs and adherence to a religious code are accepted and even encouraged, socially and academically. Correctly or not, many of them say they believe that they are more accepted than they would be at secular schools,” reported the Times.
The story included four large photos of the women in conversation, walking across campus, all with headscarves and modest, head-to-toe coverings. It depicted some of the variety in how Muslim women at UD interpret the Quran’s requirement for a woman to dress modestly, covering her head and most of her body. The most conservative women are swathed in loose-fitting outer garments and veils that cloak all but their eyes. Others wear the hijab along with loose western clothes. Others wear a hijab with jeans and long-sleeved shirts. And still others are indistinguishable from most of the women students on campus in shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops.
Shafer said she found women who come to UD from abroad generally tend to wear the hijab as a barrier or as a signal of limits in interactions. Women born or raised in the U.S. tend to wear it as a flag and a demonstration of their identity as a Muslim.
The Quran’s injunction to dress modestly goes beyond just clothing — it includes piety, respect and modest behavior, according to Hadil Issa, a chemical engineering student born in Palestine but raised in Dayton since she was 12. When she started high school at the Dayton Early College Academy, she found it was part of the school’s culture for boys and girls to hug one another. But as she grew out of childhood, she increasingly defined her identity as a
Muslim woman. She turned to a decidedly modern solution.
“I had this problem with guys because they wanted to give me hugs,” she said. “When I decided I didn’t like that, I went on Facebook and Facebooked all the boys, telling them that they couldn’t try to hug me anymore, that it was part of my religion.” The hugging attempts stopped.
In fact, she said her experiences have made her much more thoughtful and aware about her religion. “Coming to America shaped me into who I am now. It challenged me and deepened my understanding of what it means to be a Muslim. Coming to America is what made me a better Muslim.”
The Muslim women don’t understand the attitude of some American women who perceive that they are oppressed by men or by their religion. Modesty and piety do not equal oppression in their eyes. Some said they feel cherished and protected by the men in their families. They’re proud of their religion and most say they’re comfortable with limits on clothing, behavior and contact with men. Those limits make life easier by providing clear lines and principles that aren’t crossed or are easy to enforce. They say they have choice and some flexibility, especially while they’re here in the U.S. and out of their own countries. Some have friends here who are men, which would be prohibited back home.
“We can be flexible on some things,” said Donia Almadani, a Saudi in the IEP program. “But there are some red lines and some principles that we don’t cross. We respect those limits. Those limits make life more easy.” Almadani said that by living in the U.S., she’s become more open-minded and more flexible. “In my country, women aren’t permitted to be friends with men. Here I have men friends from other countries.”
While they’re in the U.S., they’re going to take advantage of some aspects of life here. For the Saudi women, that means learning how to drive a car, which is prohibited for them in their country. Sarah Almalhem said her father has insisted that she learn to drive a car, and she recently acquired her learner’s permit. But she’s emphatic that she’s not violating any stricture of Islam, because the rule that women can’t drive isn’t based on religion, “it’s because of cultural reasons.”
Almalhem isn’t shy about talking about her faith and culture. She’s not alone. The women say they like being ambassadors for their faith and cultures and don’t mind it when people ask questions about their scarves, the Islamic faith or their country’s culture. In fact, they know that people are curious; the students seem to relish the opportunity to be a window on their world to others and, perhaps, change a few minds.
“I don’t mind it when people ask me about my scarf and my faith. I like to be asked about my culture and my religion,” said Aqeel, the Kuwaiti engineering student. “Ask me about where I’m from.”
Almalhem said that she finds American students are interested but don’t know how to start a conversation or approach her. She’s been disappointed at how little Americans know about her religion and culture. “One asked me if I slept in my headscarf,” said Almalhem, adding that the coverings are for when women are in public or unrelated men are present.
Another woman added, “Sometimes like, they are so friendly and they are interested to hear about the Muslims. I notice that sometimes they look at me and they are amazed. They don’t smile. I think they don’t know about Muslims and they are worried about us. I think they don’t understand.”
* * *
Dayton Early College Academy graduate Issa literally grew up on the UD campus; her high school is located in the University’s College Park Center on Brown Street, where she rubbed shoulders with students, faculty and staff and had the opportunity to take classes at UD. She’s long experienced the friendly comfort of the campus environment. As a UD student, she said she’s never felt like an outsider.
But she echoes the other Muslim women, who say the academic acceptance they have felt doesn’t often cross into the social realm. “I’m totally comfortable in the classroom, but outside of there we had different ways of socializing,” she said, adding that being classmates doesn’t often translate into friendship.
Nearly all of the Muslim students at the University said they felt outside the mainstream of campus life not only because of where they live — most live off campus — but how they live. “I don’t drink, I don’t go out,” one told Shafer, testimony that the cultural and religious parameters that shape their lives are radically different from the ways many students socialize and form friendships.
“I think there could be meetings where like we get together and have discussions and talk about problems we’re facing,” said one. “Or maybe even … include other faiths and get to know more about each other.”
Another woman interviewed by Shafer said that while she’s made a few friends outside the local Muslim population, she would like to have more American friends. “I only have one classmate that I socialize with. I invite them to my house, but they are busy. I have one classmate who has come to my house several times.”
Fatema Sayed Hamzah, a Kuwaiti undergraduate, said, although she’d like to make American friends, after two years, she’s found it to be very difficult. “I would really like to. They don’t ask me questions about my life or my religion,” she said. “Sometimes women treat me like I was discriminated against in my country.”
That sort of attitude makes Issa mad, and she fires up, eyes blazing, talking rapidly and shaking her head. “There are a lot of misconceptions about my religion, that it oppresses women. Women are abused all over the world, but in Islam, women are treated with respect.”
Hamzah recounted an incident last February on Kuwait’s National Day, when the Kuwaitis set up two tables near Kennedy Union — one by the men and one by the women — to share information about their country and culture. The women gave away free cupcakes. “The girls’ table was barely touched. No one would take any of our cupcakes,” she said, with a puzzled touch of sadness. “It’s only a cupcake.”
* * *
The Muslim women are adding an important dimension to an increasingly multicultural campus, where a Marianist education is becoming more and more accessible to a global population and, at the same time, international students are bringing the world to Dayton, contributing to an enhanced learning environment for U.S. students. A hallmark of a University of Dayton education is appreciation and understanding of diversity to help prepare students as distinctive global citizens ready to learn, lead and serve in the world.
Anderson, of the Center for International Programs, said the Muslim women are also looking for ways to reach out and connect — to become part of that learn, lead and serve tradition. “The Saudi women would love to do a day of service to help them feel more a part of UD,” Anderson said. “They say this is a good place, this is a safe place. They want to give back to it. Giving to others is a pillar of Islam.”
Paul Benson, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said the opportunity to meet and interact with students who come to UD from around the world is an important learning experience for domestic students.
“A lot of our students are surprisingly sheltered in their prior experience before they come to UD,” said Benson. “They tell me, ‘I’ve never interacted with a Jew or a Muslim or a person of another faith.’ There’s value in simply broadening students’ perspectives, so they realize that most of the world’s people are not just like them.”
Benson said the religious diversity serves an important learning objective that ties into the new undergraduate curriculum currently under development, which requires familiarity with Catholic and other faith traditions. “Many people think that Christianity, Islam and Judaism are diametrically opposed, when in fact they are branches of a common tree. If we can foster greater dialogue among students about the great Abrahamic faith traditions, both Muslim students and Christian students can see they share many things in common.”
Crystal Sullivan, director of campus ministry, said religious diversity offers opportunities for all people to understand and deepen their own faith. A religiously diverse community also helps people enhance their appreciation of the different ways people experience and understand God as well as the sacred.
“The best way to understand your own faith is to encounter someone with different beliefs,” she said. “You find out ways that your beliefs are similar and ways they are different. You gain a new appreciation for who you are and for the sacred experiences of others.”
Accommodating and welcoming the devout of other faiths doesn’t diminish the University’s Catholic identity but carries out a fundamental charge from Vatican II, Fitz said, adding that dialogue among religions is essential in fostering understanding of the other side and helping people live in peace.
In many ways, the Muslim women at UD are on the cutting edge of increasing understanding, whether they’re engaged in an active discussion of their faith and culture, or whether they’re just walking across campus in hijabs. From initial uncertainty, they’re growing in understanding too.
“When I first came, I was worried. I felt weird and worried. I didn’t know the nature of Catholic people,” said Fatema Al-Balooshi from Bahrain, a doctoral engineering student. But she asked people she knew who were familiar with Catholic universities.
“I feel comfortable in this environment. It’s not that big, it’s a private university, it feels safe here. I’ve never felt uncomfortable because of the Catholic faith. Now, I feel lucky that I came here.”
Cilla Shindell grew up in a multicultural family in Dayton and has a lifelong interest in how people navigate the places where cultures touch. She is director of media relations for the University.
Commemorating the 100th anniversary of Dayton’s great flood
Rain. Flood. Fire.
The destruction of Dayton — and of other towns along the Great Miami River — took only three days as the early spring rains of 1913 rolled off saturated lands and converged in a torrent that tore houses from foundations and stripped babies from the arms of fleeing families. A half-trillion gallons of water — an amount that takes four days to flow over Niagara Falls — killed more than 350 people and caused property damage in excess of $100 million (in 1913 dollars).
St. Mary’s College was safe on its hill south of downtown. But the institution — which in 1920 would take the name of its beloved city — had a unique vantage point on the tragedy: flood, followed by fires resulting from gas leaks, followed by frigid nights that froze those left wet, cold and exposed. The stories of the college’s students, alumni and faculty give us glimpses of the event as vast as the acreage it inundated. And it also tells of the heart of a people intent not just on rebuilding but on ensuring that no such tragedy ever struck again. “For the love of Dayton” was on the ribbons residents wore as they pledged funds to build a protective system of dams, levees and preserved flood plains. One hundred years later, their love continues to protect.
St. Mary’s College Exponent, April-May 1913
“THE CAUSE OF THE DAYTON FLOOD”
Easter Sunday [March 23] had come and gone with its gloomy sky and steady downpour of rain. But nothing was thought of until Monday morning, when the hearts of the Dayton people went out in sympathy to the people of Omaha, who had suffered the ravages of the tornado. But while they shuddered as they felt themselves secure in the Gem City, it rained Monday morning as though the floodgates of heaven had been opened. … The river rose, but it had done so in the past. Those living on the hills could see the muddy waters over broader areas than usual, but no one thought of a flood. … As the city retired to rest at 10 p.m., it was ignorant that the river gauge registered 15.3 feet, with the waters ever rising.
… Heavy rains throughout the watershed that the Miami River drains, poured down in torrents for a distance of 93 miles to the north, swelling the Great Miami, the Mad, and the usually placid Stillwater. It was not such a wonder, then, that the river rose till at 7 a.m. Tuesday morning, as it lapped the tops of the levees, it registered 24 feet. … [N]o one dreamed that at midnight the gauge would register a height of 29 feet, with the City Beautiful submerged in surging waters six feet above the levees.
Joseph Pflaum ’09
Exponent, April-May 1913
“MAROONED IN THE CITY”
We located ourselves in the fire escape and watched the waters as they became alarmingly dangerous. Asphalt was rooted up from the streets in huge blocks; men were wading waist deep desperately making their way to safety. Overturned wagons, outside store cases, and hundreds of things which we could not distinguish, were carried pell-mell in the rush of these angry waters like so many toothpicks. …
The water soon took an awful rise, and one after another of the large windows on the south side of Third street gave way. Every window which was broken by the terrific rushing of the water sounded like an explosion of some huge boiler, and the water swished and roared as it engulfed the stores.
Exponent, April-May 1913
“TALES OF THE FLOOD”
The experience of the Rottermann family of Sycamore street exemplifies through what marooned families passed during the days of the flood. Louis, Eugene and Walter attend the college at the present time, while their brothers, Old Boys of the college, are well known to the Alumni of St. Mary’s. At their home they noted the water coming down the street at 5:30 Tuesday morning. Besides taking care of eight members of their own family, the Rottermanns invited ten neighbors, residing in a cottage near them, to take refuge in their two-story home. With the problem of feeding eighteen people before them, supplies were taken up from the cellar and then to the second floor, for the waters reached the first floor at 7:30 a.m., and the second floor at 5 p.m. As the water continued to rise till it reached a height of four feet on the second floor, without an indication that it would stop at that height, the eighteen were moved into a triangular attic, never used before, measuring five feet at its highest point. … Nothing, save joists, served as a floor, until the boys of the family came down to the second story, waded through the water, and caught a floating fence which was passing by, the boards of which were passed up to the attic to serve as flooring. … Gas, which escaped from broken pipes, threatened to suffocate them all, but fortunately the boys of the family, who waded through all the rooms of the second story, prevented this catastrophe by opening wide all the
Fred Stroop ’18
Exponent, April-May 1913
“RESCUE WORK IN SOUTH PARK”
I loaded my boat into my truck and started for Dayton. I reached it at 3:30, and my boat was manned immediately by two men already on the scene. Pistol shots on all sides from people marooned in the flooded section near the Fairgrounds told the story more graphically than words that one boat could not rescue all those endangered by the flood and the fire that was raging.
On looking around, I met Brother [Francis] O’Reilly, who proposed manning one of the big, flat-bottomed boats that the National Cash Register Company was turning out every seven minutes. Together with Russell Young, we started out east on Apple street, turned over Brady street to Burns avenue. The current was treacherous as we crossed streets, slapping us against houses on the one hand, or turning our course down stream on the other. In the latter case, it was only the good fortune of being able to grasp tops of high porches, or gutters of small houses, that saved us from being swept by the current directly into the burning buildings but a few hundred feet below us. Our boat leaked so badly that one of our party had to bail water all the time to keep pace with the water coming into the improvised flat-bottomed craft. We made several trips this way, taking from three to six women and children a trip from houses bordering on the fire district.
Dayton Daily News Flood Extra
Sunday, March 30, 1913
“ST. MARY’S COLLEGE SYSTEM AT WORK”
Rumors to the effect that Brother [Francis] O’Reilly, [brother] of the president of the college, had been drowned Tuesday night at 10 p.m., after working with Fred [Stroop] and Fred Patterson, son of John H. Patterson, is unfounded. Brother O’Reilly and four others were upset in a large steel boat at that late hour with the light of the flames to guide the rescuing party. He and others were picked up from trees 100 feet from the flames at 10:30. Just previous to the capsizing, Brother O’Reilly and Russell [Young] had towed the son of President Patterson and Fred [Stroop] of Hills and Dales, with three Gette girls, who were set firmly by a current against the [Gette] home, to a place of safety, making the rescue by these two boats between the hours of 5 and 9 p.m.
Joseph Pflaum ’09
Exponent, April-May 1913
“MAROONED IN THE CITY”
Turning to the west, we can see a roaring fire being fanned higher and higher every minute, and we think where will that fire end? Will it reach us? Smaller fires can be noted around us everywhere. The river has no shore. Everywhere is water. Many horses are swimming south on Main street from above. The men on the old court house steps call to them, and the horses try desperately to reach the men. A few of them succeed, but most of them fail and are swept away from our sight. The man who owns many of them is standing near us, and names each one as it goes by. Those that are saved are taken into the court house.
Turning to the north, we see a body of water as far as the eye will reach in this sort of a mist and haze. A street car is forced hard up against the Soldiers’ Monument. Houses in Riverdale have water in their second stories, and some of them are submerged to the eaves of the roof. And looking a little more to the east, we see a massive area of water and housetops. Some houses are submerged just to the second story and some almost to the eaves. We ask ourselves, what became of those people who thought the water would not rise so high, whose homes they almost cover? We are afraid to imagine, for we know there are no boats and that the rush of the waters sweeping over the levees is destructive.
Brother Andy Weber ’19
ORAL HISTORY RECORDED 1958
From our dormitory windows we could see some of the havoc that was caused by the rising waters, particularly by the fires that occurred during the flood. The college side was used as a shelter for flood refugees since the boarders were home on their Easter recess, and that space was there for use by the flood victims. Brother Louis Gravano did a magnificent job in helping out the sisters at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. He at times would have some narrow escapes, but he did manage to get to the hospital to bring them
relief and whatnot during the time of the flood.
Dayton Evening Herald
Tuesday, April 8, 1913
“SISTERS AND PATIENTS SUBSIST THREE DAYS ON SOUR MILK AND COFFEE”
St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, with its 400 patients and 300 refugees, was completely marooned the first three days of the flood. Motorcyclemen reported on Thursday that it was absolutely impossible to reach the hospital. Brother Rappel and Brother [Wohlleben], of St. Mary’s College, engaged the services of an expert motorboat man in the effort to find some way to reach the hospital. The expert declared, however, that it was impossible to cross the river in small motorboats, and late Thursday high-bodied wagons were secured to carry provisions, as motor trucks could not be used in the four feet of water that was met a great part of the way. Eight thousand pounds of provisions which arrived by motor trucks from Cincinnati, sent by St. Mary’s Hospital, Betts street, Cincinnati, were placed on these high-bodied wagons at St. Mary’s College, and double teams carried relief provisions by a circuitous way to Bomberger Park, down Third street, and thence to the hospital, the water frequently rising to the height of four feet in the path of the wagons.
“TALES OF THE FLOOD”
George Donovan [’17] of Hamilton relates a sad story of a family whose house floated away. A tree in its path stopped its progress, and the members of the family sought refuge in its branches. There they hung all night during a blizzard. Towards morning, the mother sank into the waters, followed by one of her daughters. The others desperately clung to the tree until the afternoon of the next day, when the father, unable to hold out longer, dropped out of the tree, carrying along his son, who tried to save him. One girl was still left, and she was rescued the next day, more dead than alive.
Dayton Evening Herald
Thursday, April 17, 1913
“STUDENTS, RETURNING TO CITY, SAY DAYTON WORST OF IT ALL”
St. Mary’s was fortunate in having its large student body of 450 away on Easter vacation. On the day of the catastrophe, Tuesday, March 25, the college was prepared to receive its students, who were to return two days later. … The college authorities immediately arranged with John H. Patterson to receive an unlimited number of flood sufferers, and by Wednesday night 400 refugees were given accommodations at the college, the number increasing to 600 within the next 24 hours. Before the close of the week, fully 800 refugees were registered.
Fortunately, St. Mary’s was well supplied with provisions laid in for the boarding students who were to arrive Thursday, and they proved to be invaluable to feed the large number of refugees housed [in] the early days of the flood when food supplies had not yet reached Dayton. The college was extremely fortunate in having its own spring water supply, infirmary, electric light and heating plant, and laundry, which enabled it to give sanitary and comfortable accommodations throughout the two weeks the college was dedicated to relief work. … The college kitchen was a busy place, for while the cooks were rushed to prepare meals for the 600 refugees, they found time to cook the provisions for the Miami Valley Hospital, brought on Cappel trucks during the few days that the hospital kitchen was crippled with lack of facilities for cooking. … In spite of many cases of illness incident to the flood, there were no fatalities at the college.
Reading rooms with literature of all kinds were opened on the second day of the flood, and were well patronized, as the flood sufferers quickly recovered from the nervous shocks occasioned by their sad experiences. In fact, a visitor at the college could scarcely believe, as little boys and girls romped through the halls, that the hundreds of men and women housed at the college had suffered in a flood. After the first few days, when members of families had been reunited, optimism seemed to be the feeling that was uppermost in the hearts of all. College discipline prevailed, for during the two weeks the college was a relief station, militia were conspicuous for their absence. All retired at 8 p.m., rose at 6 a.m., and regular college meals were served in the college dining rooms on scheduled time.
There was ever present an air of cheerfulness, and it was with feelings of regret that the refugees bade farewell when they left for their homes in the city. The college authorities and faculty had a strenuous two weeks’ siege of work to carry for their refugees, but all seemed happy that they were in position to care for so many destitute who were welcomed to the college halls.
Resident of 16 Lawnview Ave. after the flood
FROM “THROUGH FLOOD, THROUGH FIRE” BY CURT DALTON
One sees every conceivable thing on the streets and in freakish places. Dead horses are met at every turn. A chair hangs on a tree, a mattress is in the branches also; a wagon seat has got wedged above a doorway. There is a wrecked automobile overturned in a gutter. On the river bank, reclines a piano. Over the sign at the entrance of a prominent store is suspended a suit of underwear and outside another shop in an erect position is a milliner’s model, its tawdry drapery discolored and the painted face daubed with mud. Such a picture of complete ruin and destruction could barely be imagined.
A grocer whose store and all its content were ruined, was cleaning away the mud and debris when a friend passing by called out “Why John have you the courage to start again?” He replied “Yes, for I still have left my smile.”
Exponent, April-May 1913
“THE DAYTON FLOOD”
We have suffered, but we shall spend no time in further weeping or slumber. We have greater reason to be proud of Dayton citizenship than ever before. The flood has made stronger the bonds that have held us together in the past. The unbounded charity shown on all sides, by rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, Catholic and non-Catholic, without any distinction of color or creed, bespeaks of even a better era of good feeling. Optimism in the business world is heard and seen everywhere, and those who suggested much and those who lost all, are manfully and courageously setting about beginning life over.
But let us learn our lesson. Let the organized relief work under the active head of John H. Patterson, whose name deserves to be made immortal in the hearts of the people of Dayton, urge us to discard partisan politics, and to install as soon as possible a form of government that will be guided by and looked after by the keenest minds and the most disinterested men of this municipality.
John H. Patterson led a fundraising effort in May 1913 to remember the “promises made in the attic” — that the city and its citizens should never again endure such a disaster. In 23 days, the Miami Valley Flood Prevention Association, representing five counties, raised $2 million; St. Mary’s College pledged $2,200 to the fund. The Miami Conservancy District continues to oversee a system of five dams, constructed beginning in 1918, that protects tens of thousands of people in 40 municipalities and more than 48,000 properties.
Thanks to University archives, the collections of Dayton History, Curt Dalton, Glenn Walters and the Dayton Metro Library.
Hope on the Hill: Marianists and the 1913 Dayton Flood
An exhibit of UD photos, stories and artifacts related to the 1913 flood is on display in Roesch Library through June 17 or online at digital.udayton.edu.
Flood, Rescue and Recovery
On March 23, Carillon Park opens a new exhibit in the Rubicon Fireless Steam Locomotive exhibit building. Six themed areas will explore pre-flood industrial Dayton, the 1913 national weather phenomenon, breached and broken levees, survival and rescue, recovery, and lasting protection.
A Flood of Memories — One Hundred Years After the Flood: Images from 1913 and Today
The commemorative book, by the Miami Conservancy District, depicts photos of the flood with images of the same areas today as captured by Dayton photographer Andy Snow. The cities of Piqua, Troy, Dayton, West Carrollton, Miamisburg, Franklin, Middletown and Hamilton are included.
Pages explain the innovative system of dry dams, hydraulic jumps and retarding basins that protect the Miami Valley, plus information on ongoing initiatives including floodplain preservation, groundwater protection and recreational assets.
The Dayton History Digital Archive contains more than 2,000 images from the flood, including those from the NCR Archive, Kern Collection and Dayton History archives.
Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the 1913 Flood In and Around Dayton, Ohio
The Dayton Art Institute’s special exhibition includes three areas: “Storm,” paintings by April Gornik; “Watershed,” 100 years of river photography; and “A Riverbank,” photos exploring river-centered development. Open Feb. 23 through May 5.
The simple gesture of holding open a door has come to symbolize UD’s culture of uncommon courtesy.
Pennsylvanian, sociologist and Marianist sister Laura Leming, F.M.I. ’87, needed a good six months to puzzle through the strange phenomenon she experienced when she first arrived on UD’s campus in 1981.
As she went about her days minding her own business, perfect strangers on sidewalks and in hallways not only smiled at her as she passed, but they even said hello.
“I thought, ‘How do they know who I am?’” she said. “People in Philadelphia do not do that.”
This kindness and openness may be more striking to a newcomer, but anyone who has spent time on UD’s campus knows the experience. Flyers who pass through campus doorways do not let them slam behind. They pause, they glance, and if another person will soon pass through, they wait for what might seem like an unreasonable amount of time to perform the simple act of holding the door open for the next person.
There is a message in that act, an unspoken acknowledgment of a common community, even, and perhaps especially, for people we do not know personally. Holding a door puts the holder in the service of another, however briefly. It takes time. It subordinates. It serves. The act has become a shorthand way of describing UD as an uncommonly courteous place, something Flyers tell themselves and hear from others.
As Leming put it, “People continually tell us there’s something different here.”
* * *
But is there? Or is that just a feel-good myth convenient for recruiting students and tugging at alumni hearts? Perhaps students at Xavier, Georgetown or Notre Dame pat themselves on the back for the kindness permeating their campuses. Perhaps Flyers are mistaking as a UD phenomenon one more broadly felt at Catholic institutions or even most private institutions generally.
Professor David O’Brien doesn’t think so. During his four decades on faculty at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, he lectured at dozens of Catholic institutions across the country, including all 28 Jesuit schools. None of them, he thought, matched the warmth, hospitality and courtesy he experienced at his little tight-knit, Jesuit liberal arts school with just 2,400 students.
“Until I came to UD,” he said, when he became UD’s University Professor of Faith and Culture in 2009. “Here the Marianist charism of hospitality is everywhere, evident in UD students with their friendly greeting, excellent manners, and care for one another and for the University.”
UD’s size and scope — it’s several times larger than Holy Cross and much more institutionally diverse in the programs it offers — make this shared community and its culture of courtesy all the more remarkable, he said.
“This community spirit is not a matter of mere sentimentality: Community, like love, actually matters,” he said. “In the workplace and the public square, we learn, sometimes by their absence, that cooperation, mutual respect and commitment to common work are essential to success.”
But his sentiments are still anecdotal. It’s almost shocking, when you come to think of it, that no professor or enterprising graduate student has taken up the subject as a research project. The University conducts nearly $100 million in sponsored research a year. Its researchers have studied everything from Himalayan glaciers to sticky proteins and the Nuremberg trials, but none are known to have paused to examine the meaning of the door held open right in front of them.
“This everyday behavior has not been systematically studied before,” wrote researchers Joseph P. Santamaria and David A. Rosenbaum, who studied the practice of holding doors open at Penn State in 2011. They pointed a video camera at a campus door and recorded as 148 people passed through. They found that people were more likely to hold the door open for people who followed closely and that the number of people following behind made a difference.
They explained this using something called “the shared-effort hypothesis.” The idea here is that the first person passing through the door does a quick, unconscious mental calculation: Is the effort I’ll expend holding this door open less than the effort they’ll expend opening it again? The followers also participated in reducing the shared effort by hustling a bit faster when they saw the door being held. This conduct, they hypothesized, was “a means of reducing physical effort for the group.”
Being researchers, they recommended a follow-up study to see whether “door holders were found to engage in door holding selectively — holding doors only for people they find attractive, for example.”
That’s a rabbit hole these researchers declined to go down. If you Google “holding open doors,” what you’ll find is pages and pages of results focused on the gender implications of men holding doors open for women or, less commonly, women holding them open for men (typical result: “Open doors for women: How and when to do it” from the site artofmanliness.com). The deeper you dig, the more the results splinter into subgenres. When do you thank someone who holds a door open? What does it mean if your boyfriend holds a door open for another girl? What’s the etiquette in China?
The social uncertainty that these questions reveal is not surprising; in addition to everything else, the Internet is a place where we play out our anxieties. But anxieties have accompanied questions of courtesy since its emergence as a social code in Western Europe.
* * *
Though we think of courtesy as a form of social kindness, the rules that govern it are rooted in violence.
As strong, centralized leaders began to emerge in early medieval Europe, homage in the form of goods, services and oaths of loyalty was the price villages and lesser warriors paid to demonstrate allegiance and secure protection, writes Benet Davetian in his book Civility: A Cultural History. Such homage took the form of increasingly complex social rules that signaled cooperation or conflict at a time when Germanic invaders were still plundering villages with gruesome consequences. Courtesy was the new diplomacy.
The capacity to balance extreme violence on one hand with restraint and deference on the other became a trait of nobility, as seen in the portrait of the knight that Geoffrey Chaucer draws in his Canterbury Tales. Though “of mortal battles he’d fought 15” everywhere from Alexandria to Prussia, the knight still “bore himself as meekly as a maid … a truly perfect, gentle knight” now going on a religious pilgrimage.
Courtesy became an art to master as increasingly stronger monarchs tamed the knights; it also became a way for the nobility to distinguish themselves from coarse commoners. Courtly love and deference toward wives and daughters venerated the idealization of women and affirmed common values, sowing the seeds of today’s Googlers wondering whether holding a door for a woman is inherently sexist or, well, chivalrous. By the time Louis XIV was declaring his absolute power in France, courtly manners had developed into a cutthroat game of palace intrigue. Courtesy was anything but kind. It served not equality, but hierarchy.
Equality was an ideal that would sweep through France before long, not just toppling the monarchy but creating the chaos that led William Joseph Chaminade — who would go on to found the Society of Mary — to flee for his own safety to Zaragosa, Spain, for three years. In that flight, Sister Laura Leming sees possible roots of UD’s culture of courtesy, and particularly hospitality, as expressions of kindness and equality before God.
“The Benedictine tradition is very much about welcoming strangers as if they were Christ,” she said, describing Chaminade’s embrace of Benedictine principles as he built the Marianist order. “He had the experience of being in exile as he pondered how people in France could help one another and cultivate community.”
She sees the Biblical roots of this tradition in a story told in Luke’s Gospel in which Jesus visits the home of a Pharisee who, inhospitably, does not offer water to wash his feet. Jesus instead praises the “sinful woman” who wets his feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. Later, Jesus will wash his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.
The example of such loving, kind service to others “extends to the institution,” Leming says. She cites a familiar example: the experience of Joseph Saliba ’79, a young man who fled the Lebanese war and came to UD, speaking almost no English, to find a highly supportive faculty and community that went far beyond what was required to help him succeed. Today he has an engineering doctorate and is the University’s provost and a champion of its Marianist values.
* * *
Students on campus today offer their own anecdotal evidence of UD’s uncommon courtesy. “Dayton is seriously the nicest campus ever,” Stephanie Lutz ’15 said. “I probably have a daily instance happen either where someone holds the door or lets you get in front of them in line or says ‘bless you’ when you sneeze.”
That extra kindness helps especially on bad days, said Katy Utter ’14, a marketing and entrepreneurship major.
“Just the other day I woke up in a bad mood, and when walking to class random people smiled at me, said hi, held the door. People here are more courteous.”
Professor Steve Wilhoit in the English department has puzzled over the culture at UD. “I’ve noticed the door opening thing, too,” he said, “and being really polite in crowded hallways and staircases in the Humanities building between classes.”
When he asked students about it, they came back with a familiar refrain: “community.” It’s the word everyone uses when discussing UD’s culture.
“There is an ethos on this campus that dictates how people treat other people — what kind of behavior is expected,” Wilhoit said. “By and large, students embrace the idea of community and family — these are the metaphors that influence how we treat one another.”
Wilhoit also points to the role of students as keepers of culture: “It may also be the case that we recruit students who are like this, or it could be that students who are like this recognize UD as a place that ‘feels’ the same way, so they enroll. It could be a Midwest thing.”
Ah, the Midwest thing. Leming agrees there might be something there, too. She is not only a Marianist sister but also chair of the department of sociology, anthropology and social work. She suggests that there might be “an interaction effect,” a layering of Midwest friendliness over Marianist hospitality that creates a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
“You also might get something like that in Hawaii with its culture of ‘aloha,’” she said. “I would be hesitant to say that it’s all the Marianist piece.”
Whatever its origins, the culture of uncommon courtesy so pervasive on campus is more consequential than the effort spared when a stranger holds a door open for you.
“Love is first of all a verb, not a noun,” O’Brien said, “so the habit of smiling at strangers, reaching out a hand to people in need and listening when others speak are all acts of love with important cultural and political consequences. Commitment to community is at the center and not the edge of UD, and maybe someday such commitment will re-create our world.”
It manifests itself in the experience of Sterling Yates, a first-year mechanical engineering major from Chicago who arrived at the tutoring center in Marianist Hall just as it was closing for the night. It didn’t matter. An upperclassman stayed late to help him. “A lot of people at Dayton go out of their way and sacrifice so that your experience will be just as great as theirs,” Yates explained.
And there is the experience of Jonny Yadlosky ’10, who, during his first year, went to let his professor know he’d miss class because his grandfather in Pittsburgh had just died. “Jonny, you need to go home,” his professor said. “Take my car.” Then the professor tossed him the keys.
This depth of genuine compassion extends far beyond mere courtesy. It is a foreseeable consequence of the habit of kindness toward others, even strangers, that UD’s culture of courtesy nourishes.
Though there are no rigorous studies of these doors held open across UD’s campus, it is hard to believe that such a culture of kindness would not radiate out as students become alumni and scatter across the country and the world, that through the familiar welcome of alumni, San Francisco might feel less foreign, New York less daunting. Perhaps it radiates out to anyone near a Flyer and a door. Literal or metaphorical, a Flyer will always hold it open.
Matthew Dewald is editor of the alumni magazine at the University of Richmond.
A stranger in McGinnis once offered a cup of laundry detergent to Meredith Hirt ’13, who contributed to the reporting in this article, to spare her the trouble of walking back all of the way to her house on the Darkside, where she’d left hers.
As the University of Dayton China Institute delegation’s tour bus snaked through the quiet Sunday-morning streets of Nanjing, another bus appeared beside it.
From the neighboring bus, Kurt Jackson leaped up out of his seat, pointed excitedly to his University of Dayton physical therapy shirt and waved with a big grin. What are the chances of running into a bus carrying seven doctor of physical therapy students and their professor from a campus on the other side of the world?
Nothing spoke more tellingly of the University of Dayton’s growing presence in China than that singular moment.
“We hadn’t seen any American people and happen to see you drive past us. It’s crazy,” said Andrew Lengerich of Cincinnati, who had spent nearly a week in August at Nanjing Medical University learning about acupuncture and other therapy techniques.
Just a few days earlier in a part of eastern China that was rice fields and farmland less than two decades ago, the University of Dayton opened a stand-alone center in the ultra-modern Suzhou Industrial Park. A typhoon had lashed eastern China earlier in the day, but all-day heavy rains and high winds could not deflate the day’s spirit.
As faculty, staff and students ducked out of the relentless rain and into the newly renovated University of Dayton China Institute, they pulled out cell phone cameras to capture shots of each other in front of the lobby’s bilingual sign.
“This is quite a theatrical backdrop for the opening, just a little drama,” said Tim Pelling, a freelance photographer who caught the last train that morning out of Shanghai to Suzhou before the weather halted service.
Later, music faculty and students teamed with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, artists-in-residence on campus, in a dedication concert at nearby Dushu Lake Theater that drew 400 people. The final movement of George Gershwin’s lilting “Rhapsody in Blue” filled the theater after music professor and concert pianist Eric Street opened the concert with a string of American ragtime tunes.
Dressed in an elegant red evening gown, Xing Lu, a student from Nanjing University of the Arts, raised the tempo a notch with a jig-inspiring piece on the traditional Chinese erhu, a two-stringed fiddle. With fingers stretched on mallets and her body bobbing between octaves, percussionist and junior Becky Welch coaxed harp-like music from a marimba borrowed from a family in nearby Changshu City who asked for her autograph on the concert’s program.
Senior music major Mitchell McCrady, who started playing the French horn in fifth grade, predicted UD’s Horn Quartet in its first trip to China would “knock their socks off.” With Street on piano, McCrady expressively tackled Franz Strauss’s horn reverie, “Fantasie, Opus 2.” And in a soaring finale, DCDC reprised “Os padroes,” a piece inspired by the artistry in the painting and sculpture of Willis “Bing” Davis that premiered in Dayton in February. They danced with joyful abandon.
Those moments on stage captured the spirit of the day.
“Today is a celebration,” President Daniel J. Curran told the largely Chinese crowd at the pre-concert grand opening ceremonies, conducted in English and Mandarin and capped with colorful bits of confetti. “There’s an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit in Suzhou Industrial Park that’s unlike any in the world.”
Curran’s ties to China run deep. The grand opening crowd included dozens of Chinese officials and scholars Curran had befriended during 25 years of cultivating research and education ties in a country that fascinates him. As a sociology professor at Saint Joseph’s University, Curran held a professorship at Nanjing University early in his academic career.
“China is such an economic force in the world that we should be here,” he said. “The China Institute is part of a larger globalization strategy that includes increasing our presence in numerous parts of the world. We’re taking a holistic view of international education, and this is one piece.”
Home to a third of the world’s Fortune 500 companies and just 75 miles from the world’s busiest port in Shanghai, the park opened in 1994 as a cooperative venture between the governments of China and Singapore. Nearly two dozen universities from all over the globe have committed to establishing a presence here, but the University of Dayton is the first American one.
“It’s like Disneyland. It’s a corporate theme park,” said Devon Schreiber, a 22-year-old MBA student from Cleveland when she caught her first glimpse of Suzhou Industrial Park. Row upon row of high-rise apartments, gleaming corporate buildings, a street full of banks, elegant hotels, natural lakes — even a Ferris wheel — popped before her eyes as the tour bus wound through miles of a landscaped oasis on the modern outskirts of the ancient city of Suzhou.
Others in the UD grand opening delegation had similar reactions. “When people in the U.S. say ‘industrial park,’ they’re thinking low-slung aluminum buildings in a farm field. Here, they’ve literally built a city from scratch,” said Ted Bucaro, UD director of government and regional relations, who helped organize the China Institute ceremony.
Former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, who now teaches on UD’s campus, said he was taken aback by the size of the endeavor. “When we compare an industrial park in Ohio to this, it’s just a postage stamp. This is unreal. It’s built on a superhuman scale. It’s almost like a company town, except it’s a megatown.”
In a section of the park called BioBay, home to 275 high-tech companies, the University of Dayton occupies a five-story, 68,000-square-foot building that’s slightly larger than Miriam Hall. It’s outfitted with eight specialized science and engineering labs, classrooms and space for a Marianist heritage center. Suzhou Industrial Park officials invested millions in the building’s renovation and have waived the rent for three years.
“Engineering students in our Innovation Center on campus have worked with about 120 American industries — many of which are already located in the park — on product development. That’s a model we’re replicating,” Curran said. “This is not about starting an international campus for the University of Dayton. It’s about providing our students with international opportunities few campuses can offer.”
Nearby, the University’s students and faculty will stay in subsidized, furnished apartments as they travel here to work on product development projects or to offer short courses to students and engineers who work for companies like Lilly Suzhou Pharmaceutical Co., Emerson Climate Technologies (Suzhou) Research and Development Co., Marian (Suzhou) Co., Ltd., and Makino (China) Co., Ltd.
In all, UD has signed memoranda of understanding for research and education partnerships with six American-based firms in the park.
In August, before the official grand opening, UD faculty delivered courses in energy-efficient manufacturing, project management, multidisciplinary design, and creative problem solving and decision analysis. The students included 40 employees from partner companies and eight UD students from China living and working in Suzhou.
As the China Institute takes shape, UD is considering offering English classes to Chinese students who want to study in the U.S. and in-service training in theology and philosophy for Catholic priests. Researchers and faculty from partner industries and universities are expected to share lab and office space in the building as the University taps into local expertise to collaborate on product development and teach courses.
Elsewhere in Suzhou Industrial Park, workers keep the gardens and lawns
vibrant in the shadows of dozens of construction cranes. The park is a magnet for foreign investment, and multinational companies are flocking to this highly competitive development zone that boasted a gross domestic product of $25.1 billion in 2011 — more than that of a country like Jamaica. With a population of around 700,000, Suzhou Industrial Park remains highly livable, too, without the congestion and smog of Shanghai and Beijing, goliath cities that teem with millions of people.
For first-time visitors, the sprawling 111-square-mile park has a distinctly entrepreneurial feel to it. While the government still owns land, banks and media in the world’s most populous nation, China pundits say this park stands out as a global model of how to transform a once-sleepy, largely rural city into an economic hot spot where public and private investment spark innovation and economic growth.
According to research by Z.H. STUDIO, media and marketing consultants in Beijing who study the Chinese economy,
Suzhou Industrial Park officials envision the park as an up-and-coming Silicon Valley. They’re focused on attracting and retaining talent and creating a culture of innovation.
“China, as a whole, is working to develop an upgraded workforce,” said Zhihua “Stephanie” Yan, a principal at Z.H. STUDIO. “People in Suzhou Industrial Park are working hard to educate and train potential employees for their companies, which are working on new technology that will allow them to compete globally.”
Company executives in the park told Phil Doepker ’67, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering who coordinates industrial and technical relations at the China Institute, that they’re struggling with a 30 percent employee turnover rate every year because these engineers are highly marketable. “They’re thirsty for our graduates,” he said. “Our message to our graduates, particularly those from China, is this: ‘You can get a top-notch education at the University of Dayton, work in Suzhou in the summers as interns and get a job right after you graduate.’”
According to a May 2012 report from the Institute of International Education, fewer than 4 percent of American engineering students participate in study-abroad programs. STEM graduates, the report concluded, are ill-prepared to “compete in an increasingly borderless marketplace.” The researchers recommended that universities develop “innovative programs to educate, develop and train the next generation of globally competent scientists and engineers.”
Provost Joe Saliba ’79 believes that University of Dayton graduates who’ve worked at the China Institute will stand out among their peers when seeking jobs. “Our students will have a competitive edge over students from other universities. I cannot think of a CEO or top manager in a major American company who doesn’t have global experience,” he said.
Weiping Wang, who’s overseen the University of Dayton’s initiatives in China since 2002 and helped increase enrollment of Chinese students to a record high, now serves as assistant provost and the executive director of the China Institute. She’s a well-connected and respected scholar with educational experience on multiple continents. She has traveled to China with trustees, administrators, faculty and students who are working together to attract projects and create academic offerings through the China Institute. More recently, she collaborated with Doepker and Scott Segalewitz, professor of engineering technology, to offer China-based multinational companies the University’s research and education expertise.
“We believe in starting small, building pilots and building upon that,” Saliba said. “We’re committed to Suzhou being our base in China.”
Back in Dayton, American, Chinese, Lebanese and Indian students in the School of Engineering’s Innovation Center have already gained experience solving problems for American companies in Suzhou Industrial Park. Negotiating a 12-hour time difference and a Chinese New Year celebration that halted progress for weeks, two teams spent the bulk of spring semester working with two companies.
For Lilly Suzhou Pharmaceutical Co., the students developed sustainability guidelines to reduce energy usage in Suzhou plants.
“If we had a couple people on the site, we could have had the data we needed (to do our calculations) quicker. There was a communication barrier,” said Dan Fink ’12, a mechanical engineering graduate from Cleveland who’s now earning a master’s degree in UD’s clean and renewable energy program.
“If they follow the guidelines, they can reduce energy substantially. I think they’ll benefit from this. It will get some wheels turning,” he said. “Having the opportunity to work with global companies on real-world issues is a great opportunity for undergraduate students. Working with Lilly on energy reduction helped reinforce the importance of efficiency in the manufacturing and business worlds.”
For an Emerson Climate Technologies plant in Suzhou, students worked on an oil separator for a refrigeration system.
The UD team included two Chinese students, who conducted bi-weekly conference calls in Mandarin. Still, the group managed to create only a simulation of how the oil separator should work. “Our biggest challenge was the testing conditions. We needed the actual machine,” said Jun Hou, a computer engineering technology major from Shanghai whose group gave the company three designs for prototyping and testing.
Tony Saliba ’81, dean of the School of Engineering who helped design the labs in the China Institute, said these communication hurdles can be alleviated by students traveling to China and working directly with clients. “We’re simulating the world for our students. In the real world, sometimes you have to deal with a 12-hour time difference with clients, and sometimes you have to visit the site. This allows them to actually come here and work directly with companies. It’s very important for our students to work across the globe.”
In September, three senior engineering students traveled to Suzhou to interview executives at Lilly Suzhou Pharmaceutical Co. about the types of courses its engineers need. This project, part of a capstone course, will help professors design curricula for working professionals.
At the same time, Wang and faculty members are working to develop internships and co-ops at partner companies and launch a six-week summer program in Suzhou, targeted to UD engineering and business students. Students selected for the program, which begins in May, will receive free international airfare and housing in apartments at Suzhou Industrial Park while they earn nine credit hours.
“They will take courses in project management, innovative design and entrepreneurship, and intercultural communications from UD professors,” Wang said. “They will visit our partner companies — and gain some practical experience in a global environment. We want both American and Chinese students to
apply for this program and take classes together. That’s why a course in intercultural communication is so important.”
While in China, students will attend seminars on Chinese culture and society, taught in English by professors from Nanjing University and other partner universities, and take cultural tours of Suzhou, Shanghai, Nanjing and other nearby cities.
In the future, Wang envisions UD faculty offering a variety of courses from across disciplines for both UD students desiring to study abroad and prospective students in China who want to continue their college education in Dayton.
It’s all designed to make global learning a hallmark of a UD education, administrators say.
Provost Saliba, who fled war-torn Lebanon without knowing a word of English, earned three degrees from the University of Dayton and rose to its top academic post, is as comfortable chatting with alumni at a gathering in Kuwait as he is discussing curricular reform at a faculty meeting. He expects the next generation of graduates to be comfortable working and living in all time zones.
“I cannot actually imagine a college student graduating without global competencies,” he said.
Then he mused, “If it weren’t for those four Marianists from Alsace-Lorraine who came to Dayton, we wouldn’t have the University of Dayton as we know it today. And if it weren’t for those two brothers from Dayton who invented flight, we wouldn’t be opening this center in China. They have shrunk the world.”
Teri Rizvi, part of a delegation that traveled to China in August, is associate vice president for University communications. She reported from Rome in 1991 when William Joseph Chaminade was beatified. As a freelance journalist, she’s extensively covered life and politics in Pakistan and worked as a London-based correspondent for McGraw-Hill World News and a researcher for ABC News early in her career.
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Like novelist John Steinbeck, who once embarked on a cross-country journey to discover the soul of America, Joe Watras jetted to China this summer to see for himself what he’d already absorbed through books and lectures.
“I went to the setting to paint the scene, to get a feel for the conditions. Without that, I’d be flying blind in the classroom,” says Watras, professor of teacher education.
During lunch in the Barrett Dining Room on campus, the soft-spoken Watras chatted amiably about why he chose to spend a year studying the political, social and economic landscape of China with seven other faculty members. Shortly before Memorial Day, they flew nearly 7,000 miles to Beijing for the beginning of an intense three-week immersion experience.
This is a study-abroad program — with a twist. It’s designed to change the way faculty teach.
“We’re creating a cadre of champions” for bringing the world into the classroom, says Amy Anderson ’09, director of the Center for International Programs. “Many of these faculty are exploring a place they’ve never been before. It’s outside their comfort zone. We’ll run one more program in China before exploring countries in Latin America, Africa or the Middle East before rotating back again.”
The program’s initial focus is apparent. China sends the largest number of international students to the U.S., and the University of Dayton’s international student population mirrors that trend. The University opened its doors this fall to more than 1,500 new and returning international students, with nearly half from China.
Watras became intrigued with the differing ways the U.S. and China approach the teaching of professional ethics to school administrators after Wu Hongkuan, a visiting professor from China Jiliang University, made a casual observation during a classroom discussion of Thomas Sergiovanni’s book Moral Leadership.
“Sergiovanni recommended that school principals emphasize developing a spirit of curiosity among students, looking at conditions that impede learning as problems to solve and developing attitudes of respect among students and teachers. He wanted principals to use these characteristics to rate the performance of the teachers. Some critics complained the model was authoritarian,” Watras says. “Most of my graduate students approved of these ideas, and Mr. Wu thought this was the way that members of the Chinese Communist Party tried to work.
“I thought we could work together to flesh out his observations.”
When Watras visited China Jiliang University in Hangzhou, “officials greeted us like we were visiting royalty.” Watras, whose own lifelong research has focused around school integration, discovered “friendliness, openness and concern for higher values.” It made him reconsider “my prejudice that the Chinese political system was oppressive.”
“There may be elements of repression,” he notes, “but there seems to be a consistent drive for personal achievement and social growth that is consistent with the best elements of democracy. The people told me we’re trying to blend Eastern and Western views of ethics.”
The Global Education Seminar, now in its second year, opened up the eyes of other professors, too. As music therapy professor Susan Gardstrom stepped last summer into a therapy center for children with autism, she was surprised to hear children singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
“Growing up, the only information I remember getting about China was that the Chinese were going to take over the American auto industry,” she says. “Obviously that was a narrow and biased perspective, so I relished this opportunity for personal growth. This visit stimulated a desire to learn more about the country, heightened my cultural sensitivity and developed in me a sense that we are all in this together.”
Gardstrom interviewed music therapists in psychiatric and educational settings. She exchanged ideas with two professors at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and a therapist who traveled to Sichuan as part of an earthquake crisis intervention team. She also led a workshop on clinical improvisation and delivered two research presentations.
Gardstrom and Watras are part of a growing number of faculty who are strengthening the University’s network of international relationships — and enriching curriculum revision, scholarly study and collaborations.
“There is great value to have study-abroad programs for students, but we can have a greater effect on more students if we change the way we teach in the classrooms here on campus,” says Don Pair, associate dean for integrated learning and curriculum in the College of Arts and Sciences. “The effects are immediate: faculty from last summer have already changed what they are doing in the classroom as a result of their experience.”
For example, history professor Chris Agnew has created three new courses and plans to develop an Asian studies minor. Agnew teaches Asian history with a specialty in Chinese history, and he took advantage of the trip to conduct research and sort through ancient texts in libraries.
Engineering technology professor Sean Falkowski had no previous experience with China before his participation in the Global Education Seminar. He used the trip to understand how sustainability works in China. He plans to apply what he learned to the University’s redesigned program in global manufacturing systems.
For Watras, the experience sparked a desire to apply for a six-week Fulbright grant and return to the country for more intensive research.
From the pace of new construction (“buildings pop up like mushrooms after a rain”) to the diligence of the people (“green tea blooms on hillsides as steep as buildings”), Watras can now paint a scene of China for his American students.
“We weren’t tourists,” he says. “It was an opportunity to learn and grow — and bring those ideas back to our disciplines.”
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Scott Segalewitz knows only a few words in Mandarin, but he’s taken one to heart — “guanxi.”
Loosely translated, guanxi means connections. “In China, it’s all about relationships,” says Segalewitz, professor and former chair of UD’s engineering technology program.
In 2006, Segalewitz helped start what’s become the University of Dayton’s longest-running partnership in China, one that set the stage for the University’s growing footprint in a country on the economic rise across the globe.
A select number of engineering students at Shanghai Normal University, which enrolls triple the number of full-time students as the University of Dayton, study for three years at the Fengxian campus that sits on the edge of a picturesque lake. For their final year, they transfer to UD’s largely residential campus in the heart of the American Midwest.
Many have never stepped foot on American soil before, and they’re not used to living in a city that’s a sliver of the size of Shanghai. They take intensive courses in communication and English composition in the summer before starting classes in the fall in either electronic or manufacturing technology.
At the end of their year, they earn diplomas from Shanghai Normal and the University of Dayton — and a greater shot at the top engineering jobs in their own country, where many now work for multinational companies like Mitsubishi and Exxon.
That’s what inspired Yongxu Shen, who’s adopted the American name “Cecilia,” to trade life in arguably one of the fastest-developing cities in the world for a year on a Catholic campus that prides itself as much for its welcoming atmosphere as for its engineering school’s reputation.
“I’m a little nervous,” Cecilia concedes during Segalewitz’s orientation class in early August. “I’ve never been outside China, but I want to improve my knowledge of the language. I want the experience.”
Classmate Wei “Harry” Zhang says he’s impressed with the engineering labs. “We took a tour, and they’re more modern. I want to learn more about American technology.”
On this humid summer day, just three weeks before thousands of University of Dayton students move back to campus, 20 students listen intently to Segalewitz as he talks about the importance of professional ethics. But first, he gives them a little fatherly advice.
“I always tell my students that if you’re doing something your mother wouldn’t approve, it’s probably not right,” he says to start off his midday class. “We need to treat people fairly. It doesn’t matter where we come from. Ethics is about doing what is right.”
Segalewitz launches into an animated lecture that ranges from amusing stories about the Pirate Code of Conduct to candid observations of unethical behavior of athletes at the London Olympics to a more serious viewing of a video showing one of the greatest engineering disasters of all time — the July 17, 1981, collapse of a suspended skywalk at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Kansas City.
Segalewitz had no experience teaching a roomful of international students before UD launched the joint degree program, but he’s developed a comfort level and a rapport with the students, many of whom he taught in China during a faculty exchange. “Their conversational English is very good, but their technical English tends to be what we stress,” he notes. “We go over to China to teach to give them an ear for the technical language.”
While not all professors travel to other countries to teach, many have students from abroad in their classes. That’s why Segalewitz gave his faculty a 593-page cultural handbook, Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands: The Bestselling Guide to Doing Business in More Than 60 Countries.
Now that Segalewitz has stepped down as chair of the engineering technology department, he’s turning his attention to teaching and helping Phil Doepker ’67, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering, coordinate industrial and technical relations at the newly opened University of Dayton China Institute. They’re working closely with multinational companies in Suzhou Industrial Park to develop research projects and courses.
“Engineering doesn’t just happen in Dayton, Ohio,” he says. “It’s a worldwide profession. The more experience we give our students — international and American — the more marketable they’ll be.”
Xujun “Daniel” Peng agrees: “This year will change my life.”
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In our era, technology often separates us from the art, from the sense of creation. But for members of this creative class, traditional skills and tools can feed a hands-on creative process that produces often messy, sometimes complicated and always classically wonderful art. Through their hands, we reconnect with our history, giving us appreciation for the beauty and wonder of our world.
Michael Lauer ’97 | WITH THESE HANDS
While tourists explored New Orleans’ French Quarter during the summer, Michael Lauer toiled inside a historic theater repairing pieces of ornamental plaster to their original state of elegance. Other days he worked in homes, using his hands to craft new decorative pieces for future generations to enjoy.
His hands are often covered in plaster these days, as Lauer reinvented himself in 2007 as an architectural plasterer specializing in ornamental, decorative and plain plaster, or flatwork. He eschews drywall and sheetrock, the typical materials used in most modern structures.
A visual communication design graduate, Lauer spent 10 years as a graphic designer for multiple organizations but longed to find an enduring craft that would remain with viewers long after completing his work.
“I got tired of sitting behind a computer and wanted to use my God-given talents to work with my hands,” he says.
Lauer discovered the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston, S.C., a school offering architectural specializations in six construction areas using traditional artisan practices. He planned to pursue carpentry, but after arriving, he “fell in love” with plaster. He opened his own studio in Charleston in May 2011 after earning a bachelor’s degree in architectural plaster working.
“Of all the artisan techniques, plaster work was the most artistic,” he says. Using his graphic design background, he adapted the process of creating intricate designs on a computer to envisioning them in plaster as he drew up blueprints for his new projects.
His student and professional projects have included replicating old cornice pieces in a Long Island mansion and a Charleston dwelling, using flatwork to restore a circa 1814 Charleston home turned bed-and-breakfast, creating decorative medallions for chandelier bases, and completing repairs on the ornamental plaster ceiling in Garrett Hall, a 100-year-old building on the University of Virginia campus.
Each time a visitor gazes at his restorative work or customers ask for a new piece for their homes, Lauer accomplishes what he imagined the moment he left his graphic design job — creating an artistic legacy that can’t be erased by pushing delete.
Margaret Brenner Neff ’85 | SALVE FOR THE SKIN
Sensitive skin and allergies plagued Margaret Neff for much of her life. Soaps, laundry detergents and dishwashing liquids led to breakouts of rashes or hives.
“I was allergic to everything in the world,” she says.
Without those allergies, though, Neff might not have experimented with natural products to find more skin-friendly formulations. And without such experimentation, which began more than 20 years ago, she wouldn’t have started Nature’s Touch Soaps, the business she’s run from her home in Cedarville, Ohio, since 2001.
“I was just making soap and giving it away,” she says. “It kind of just happened as opposed to something I had a business plan for.”
Neff, who earned a master’s degree in education from UD, spent 32 years as a special education teacher. After her retirement in 2007, she dedicated more time to soap making, mixing different formulas and
recipes in her kitchen. She often gave samples to friends, who began joining her for soap-making sessions.
As the demand for samples grew, Neff realized she had the base for a thriving business. She recently expanded to a studio outside her home, where she makes up to 96 bars in one session and can produce more than 1,000 in a week. All bars are blended, molded, cut and wrapped by hand.
Neff says she stays true to the processes soap makers used 200 years ago, using plant-based essential oils rather than chemically based fragrance oils, for example, and leaving in moisturizing byproducts like glycerin, which many manufacturers remove to sell separately for greater profit.
She’s also committed to using environmentally friendly processes and working with local suppliers. In addition to soap, she produces private-label products for other companies and sells lotions, creams, scrubs, salts, herbal bags and hooded towels.
The business is a family endeavor, with daughter Kara handling social media and Internet promotion and husband Nolan managing some of the financial transactions. Nolan calls his wife the “chief cook and bottle washer.”
It’s a job description she happily accepts, and her skin is probably just as appreciative.
Beth Doyle ’89 | BY THE BOOK
One day, a visitor could present an 18th-century leather-bound volume covered in clear Scotch tape. Another day brings in an old book with brittle pages hanging on by a few threads.
It’s up to Beth Doyle, head of the conservation services department for Duke University Libraries, to determine how to repair such items, including fixing haphazard efforts done with adhesives or staples.
Bookbinding involves more than sewing skills. An organic chemistry background helps her identify degrees of fabric degradation, and she sifts through leather swatches to find pieces closest to the book’s original treatment.
“I love that conservation is a mix of old-world craftwork and modern technologies,” she says. “I’m doing the same thing that bookbinders did in the 15th century or even the fourth century.”
Entering her 10th year at Duke, Doyle conserves materials as varied as an early 20th-century collection of hand-drawn and colored maps of North Carolina to ancient Egyptian papyri. The Duke Libraries boast the fifth-oldest collection of papyri in the world, with pieces dating to the third century A.D. From works of literature to private letters and tax receipts, the papyri display slices of everyday life in the ancient world.
Doyle majored in photography at UD and took a bookbinding course to make books to display her photos. The handiwork appealed to her love of history, and bookbinding and printmaking were among her areas of interest.
After graduation, Doyle operated a letterpress as an apprentice in a Chicago print shop, work that differed little from what Johannes Gutenberg did in the 15th century.
During summer 2012, Doyle began binding a collection of manuscript letters Louisa Whitman wrote in the 1860s to her son Walt, the famous poet. Doyle doesn’t often read the works she repairs, but Louisa’s amusing recollections of the mundane, such as annoyances with another son, made the assignment a page-turner.
When Doyle is done, future visitors can enjoy Louisa’s musings for themselves. As with her other projects, each painstaking restoration revives a once-lost piece of history, one that now endures to enlighten, entertain and educate generations to come.
Richard Mark French ’88 | MUSIC MAN
Richard Mark French’s work in the mechanics of musical instruments, particularly guitars, shaped his career as a mechanical engineering technology professor at Purdue University. He’s published books, developed an on-campus test facility and run summer workshops for youth to use guitar making as a gateway to science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers.
Despite having access to the best materials in music technology, the former aerospace and automotive engineer finds it more fulfilling to step away from them.
“I read somewhere that making musical instruments should be a quiet art,” he says. “When I’m just building for my own enjoyment, I try to keep it that way. I like using traditional methods and building the hand skills that true artisans need.”
A self-proclaimed “wood junkie” and “wood snob,” he’s even cut trees and sliced them into rounds, then sealed and seasoned the wood before crafting it into a guitar. As a luthier, he experiments with various hand tools, finding a 125-year-old saw to be among the best in his toolbox.
He’s given guitars to friends, allowing others to enjoy the fruits of his work. And his skill has come in handy during workshops with teenagers raised in the digital age. When one group struggled with a piece of machinery in a guitar-making workshop, French whipped out a chisel and saw and cut the wood himself.
“I think that gave me some credibility,” French says.
When French pursued his doctorate at UD, the manager of the photomechanics lab where he worked told French he could use the equipment to indulge his hobby of exploring the dynamic behavior of a guitar —
as long as he finished his degree, which he did in 1993.
French later tinkered with acoustic technology as a noise vibration engineer in the auto industry, and music industry professionals began contacting him for structural testing using lasers or acoustic testing using sound chambers. French accepted the jobs for free, and he later used that knowledge for his own acoustic work.
Still, he says there’s nothing better than getting out the chisels, scrapers and files and building things by hand. As French demonstrated to his students, technology doesn’t supersede the need for basic craftsmanship.
Janelle Young ’88 | FINDING LIGHT IN THE DARK
The janitor gives Janelle Young her final warning. She’s failed to heed earlier ones and he insists that she must leave.
“I’m locking the door in 15 minutes,” he says.
This back-and-forth exchange takes place almost every time Young makes after-hours visits to the darkroom at Stivers School for the Arts near downtown Dayton. As the director of the school’s photography program, she has access to one of the few places in the city where she can indulge her passion for film photography.
At UD, Young practiced her craft in the darkroom; digital photography was an elective. As her photography classmates shot exclusively in digital after graduation, though, Young scouted the city for community darkrooms, booking any available time outside her hours as an office manager at the Dayton Visual Arts Center.
Emerging from the darkness, clothing stinking of chemicals and stained by developing fluid, her dedication to film photography grew with each session.
“Even as technology advances and the printers and scanners are better, there’s nothing like a silver gelatin print,” she says. “In the image, there are clumps of silver embedded in the paper. In digital photography, the ink lays on the surface. There’s just a different look and feel.”
During her four years at DVAC, she decided to exclusively use film for her professional work. Her current project is a series of a black-and-white illusions of landscapes created by capturing the reflection of sunlight on a white background. At Stivers, where she’s entering her third year, she teaches film photography to high school students.
Her dedication to tradition can create additional burdens. Finding chemicals, film, paper and color processors is a daunting task, and a roll of 12-exposure film is $6.
Young shoots five rolls a week to capture three or four quality images. The numerical limitations of film make every shot precious, and such necessity sharpens her view of the world, giving her a broader perspective on nature and the human condition.
Still, Young persists in keeping the art alive through teaching — and by continuing to bargain with the janitors for just one more minute in the dark.
Walk on campus in May and the dogwoods burst with color, chasing the magnolia’s papery pink petals and foretelling the shock of crabapple red and white against a blue spring sky. Come back for Family Weekend, and everywhere summer flames out in brilliant reds and yellows against the bronze oak leaves that will rustle until early winter above the heads of students rushing to class.
Visit campus any season, and you’ll see the balance of nature and nurture, beauty in landscape complementing the growing of minds.
But stay away for 50 years, and what happens?
A forest sprouts. A campus expands to the river. And one man grows into an international authority on our relationship to the trees that define our space and feed our breath. Through his eyes, we gain perspective on a university more than 150 years old and watch familiar scenes change with the seasons and the years. In his journey, we discover our dot on the timeline of a campus we know as one of the nation’s most beautiful, and we glimpse what it will become.
James Kielbaso ’62, professor emeritus of urban forestry and arboriculture at Michigan State University, had been away too long. He had grown up tall and lithe in north Dayton but moved to Michigan for grad school and never again walked the academic pathways of his youth.
Until this past June.
His journey begins at the Fieldhouse, where he remembers its roaring basketball crowds. He talks of the old student union and of studying — and playing pingpong — while music plays. And on the library lawn, he looks for a black maple that taught him to be a careful observer.
The distinctions between it and a sugar maple are slight — waxy twigs, wider leaves. “I can remember as a student learning a black maple,” he says near the gazebo on the library lawn. “It was in this general area.”
Kielbaso, an education major at UD, has since taught tree identification to generations of students. He has also traveled the world to discuss the status of street trees, urban forestry, and remedies for disease and nutrient deficiencies. But he has also studied us — how we, as city dwellers, neighbors, park lovers — feel about our trees. He has discovered that when we compare photos with trees to those without, the tree images more often evoke the words “happy,” “harmony,” “pleasant,” “peaceful.”
Which brings us to the aptly named Serenity Pines.
Kielbaso reaches his hands to touch the gnarled bark. In Serenity Pines, only paces from Marycrest Residence Complex’s towering south wing, Austrian pines stretch five stories high. Decades of winters have broken many of their lower branches, leaving their tops gracefully twisted. But at eye level, Kielbaso is admiring the bark — textured and sensual and ringed by neat rows of pencil-sized holes punched by sapsuckers, woodpeckers that share Serenity Pines with rabbits, squirrels and other birds.
Serenity Pines surprises Kielbaso. He says the campus of his youth looked very different. The union was in a temporary structure set where Kennedy Union Plaza is now. Sherman Hall was state of the art, having been dedicated in 1960. And he likely never walked through the pine forest, which separated the campus’s largest construction site, Marycrest, from the Marianist cemetery on the gentle hill on the east edge of campus.
But the pines have been here for generations. In photos from 1900, the statue of Our Lady of the Pines stands taller than the new trees around her. The statue was dedicated in 1890 in thanksgiving for the chapel surviving a fire that burned the adjacent St. Mary’s Convent. Today, the land is dedicated in loving memory of former administrator Joe Belle ’73 and all other students, faculty and staff who die while at UD. While the pine trees we see today are not the original pines, they are a deliberate choice in landscaping that has endured through the University’s history. The Marianists chose pines and, in doing so, defined the spirit of the land.
It’s a quiet place to contemplate, but it’s also the perfect place to lounge. It became more park and less forest in 1997 when campus added grills and picnic tables. In 2001, UD dedicated Serenity Pines, transforming the park’s entrance with walkways, benches, a gurgling stone fountain and landscaping that envelops the visitor in a natural world.
“It’s very pleasant here — you’ve got hemlock, you’ve got spruce, you’ve got pines, old Austrian pines get this really neat gnarled look. … You’ve got a nice variety of trees here,” Kielbaso says to two UD groundskeepers who have joined his journey through time. “This is a lovely, pleasant place.”
Rob Eichenauer takes pride in such praise; it’s his favorite place on campus, and as assistant director of grounds, he is responsible for keeping it beautiful. He points to those same Austrian pines, along with hemlock, white pine and Norway spruce. “Pines like this you don’t see often at this age,” he says, a testament to how cared for and protected they are.
When planning a natural space, he and his co-workers consider what will last long term, what will be hearty and what is native to the area. They also consider a range of colors and textures that will beautify a spot year round. In Serenity Pines, the towering older trees complement ornamental silverbell trees and their lantern-style seedpods. It’s a delicate tree perfect for the serene atmosphere.
“A lot of times [students] sit, just get away,” Eichenauer says. “Even though there’s a dorm right next door, 50 feet away, it’s quiet.”
And on cue, a hummingbird flits by a Wentworth viburnum, buzzing past its oranging berries and looking for the last blooms of a dry summer. And then comes a student, spiral notebook in hand, taking his seat beside the fountain whose murmur masks our voices.
Kielbaso doesn’t look only for beauty on this campus. A pre-eminent troubleshooter, he gazes up to see diplodia — a fungus that kills new shoots and can eventually destroy mature trees — attacking the tips of the august Austrian pines. He looks toward Marycrest and sees a yellowing maple, which he surmises suffers from a manganese deficiency (and offers the UD grounds crew a simple test involving a 2-gallon pickle Mason jar). And he sees ash trees, that mast-straight American hardwood in danger of annihilation from a pernicious green insect that first landed from abroad in his state of Michigan.
The larvae of the emerald ash borer worm under the bark of ash trees and eat through the cambium layer. Cambium is like the heart of the tree, a single-cell layer that continually divides to form xylem (wood) inside and phloem (bark) to the outside. It may take three to five years, but larvae will girdle the tree, completing a circle of cambium destruction and killing its home.
Arborists differ in their prognosis for the species. Kielbaso has talked to many an urban planner who has decided to proactively remove ash trees from an urban environment before the insects turn trees into what Kielbaso describes as “widow-makers,” with dead wood in danger of crushing those standing
At UD, the tactic is different. Every year, ash trees on campus are treated with Tree-äge, which uses that same cambium-centered nutrient highway to poison the larvae. Trees are also regularly cleared of deadwood to prevent injuries. With 300 ash trees on campus, it’s a big job, but it’s part of protecting some of the most iconic autumn views of campus, including the golden row demarcating the south side of Baujan field that provides shade to fans during the last warm, afternoon games before the October chill drives us beneath stadium blankets.
Ashes also glow yellow on either side of Stewart Street along Garden Apartments. These trees are a particular test of UD’s arbor skills, as they were infested with the borer before pesticide treatments began.
There’s a larger question looming between the annual treatments. No matter the effort, will ash trees eventually go the way of the American chestnut? “Are we just prolonging the inevitable?” asks Brian Coulter, UD director of grounds.
Kielbaso is optimistic. For seven years, he’s walked out his back door, across two former fairways and down to the bank of the Red Cedar River to a stand of green ash trees. There he is testing an insecticide delivered through Acecaps — essentially horse pills he inserts into holes drilled into the tree.
“Emerald ash borer has killed all the trees upstream, downstream, across the river, in the whole area,” he says, “and I still have some ash that are surviving.”
He also has faith in entomologists, who have had some success breeding a parasitoid wasp whose larvae prey on the borer. “I’m not sure what my old prof here, Dr. Noland, would say about a parasitoid,” says Kielbaso, “but they’ve begun to release them, and some of them are surviving. And if they are finally able to handle emerald ash borer, then cutting down in advance looks foolish.”
He has a similar outlook as he walks around campus. He sees trees with damage or disease and, after foretelling a short life, suggests the plants have the resiliency to prove him wrong by sheltering students for decades more.
Trees are important; they make a place and they make a place better. But among his years of research, Kielbaso has also studied people and what trees mean to them.
In a study published in 1982 in the Journal of Arboriculture, Kielbaso and his co-authors identified inner-city attitudes toward urban forestry and tree programs. It is most important for governments to provide tree-lined streets, the survey concluded, with eight out of 10 respondents indicating that trees would influence the choice of a place to live, and nearly 90 percent of the respondents reporting that trees increased property values in excess of 10 percent.
In UD’s student neighborhood, Kielbaso walks through a pocket of trees that make the more park-like settings some study respondents reported preferring. At the corner of Kiefaber and Stonemill, back yards are shaded by silver maple and black walnut stretching skinny because low branches are trimmed to prevent injuries — to the students and the trees. Kielbaso says people used to talk primarily of trees for their beauty. Today, there’s also talk of pollution abatement and energy savings. “People appreciate trees for their cooling, pleasant appearance,” says Kielbaso, an inaugural member of the American Forests science advisory board. “This would be a sterile back yard if not for the trees.”
Trees also make us happy, and there is something about medium and large trees that is more pleasing, he found in a 1979 study. But you can’t plant a 50-foot oak. So, says Kielbaso, we must choose between slow-growing and fast-growing trees. “The faster the tree grows, the faster it breaks apart and dies.” The slower the tree growth, the stronger the structure and the longer its life.
In new neighborhoods, this choice often results in lots of silver maples, since residents want instant shade. But on a campus 162 years old, groundskeepers can take a longer view. In the redesigned Central Mall between Kennedy Union and Marycrest, UD planted nearly 100 trees. It was a conscious decision to make a park-like place, much like the earlier decision to create what became Serenity Pines. In front of Marycrest, strong tulip poplars will grow the fastest, reaching maturity in 50 years. Along the edges, rows of maples and oaks will slowly spread over the next 100 years.
“This is very nice — they will offer a lot of shade along here,” Kielbaso says, naming the species. While he personally likes the formality of a row of all maples, he balances that with a need to prevent disease and loss. “I have students who have been city foresters at various cities, and they have a policy: never any of the two same trees adjacent to each other. I don’t go quite that far.
With 1,545 trees on the historic campus — not counting the recent acquisitions of Old River Park and 1700 South Patterson — he could spend all day, all week, getting reacquainted with campus. But it’s getting late. Gloria Hewitt Kielbaso ’63, who taught for two years in UD’s business school before making her career in higher education administration, has already been waiting hours for her husband to finish his tour so the couple can drive home.
She’s so patient, he says, especially when he gets talking of trees. Together, they have traveled the world, his work taking him from Brazil to China. And what does he always bring back as souvenirs? “Just ask Gloria,” he says. “Photos of trees.”
To UD he brought a souvenir of Michigan — seedlings from one of the largest living catalpa trees, planted on the state capitol lawn in 1873. They’re being cared for at Old River Park — UD’s largest expanse of trees — where the seedlings will be sheltered until they grow large enough to transplant to a more public spot.
It’s been 50 years since he last walked the academic pathways of his youth, and so much has changed, Kielbaso says. Individual trees may be more fleeting than brick and mortar, but their care and planning can produce deep roots on which a campus can grow. It happened with Serenity Pines, is happening in the Central Mall, and will continue to happen with every new tree, including his catalpas.
If Michelle Tedford swings high enough, she can touch with the tips of her toes the leaves of the century-old red oak tree in her backyard.
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“The goal is for the University to remain beautiful and natural for the alumni to enjoy, new and old,” says Rob Eichenauer, assistant director of grounds.
To accomplish this, UD employs 18 groundskeepers. Some have horticulture degrees, and each is responsible for his or her corner of campus.
As UD has grown in acreage — from 120 in the historic campus core to 388 including the NCR and Frank Z land purchases — the staff has grown slowly, but is still far under the employees per acre average for colleges.
That’s why they look at plantings that will get the most bang — color, variety, texture — for the buck, and what requires the least water and care. Often, they are the native trees — oaks, maples and, until recently, ash.
For its work, the grounds crew has received numerous awards, including the American Society of Landscape Architects Centennial Medal for campus beauty in 1999.
“If we get the opportunity to improve the area — due to construction, disaster or natural loss — let’s take advantage of it,” says Eichenauer, who is looking forward to the fall burst of color from a new variety of sweetgums planted at the Caldwell Street Apartments.
“Planting is one of the easiest things to do right or wrong,” says James Kielbaso ’62. Whether you buy a tree balled or in a container, he recommends knocking off most of the dirt and planting it bareroot.
Chances are the tree started in a small container. The roots grow to the size of the container, hit the edge and turn the corner. The tree, moved to larger and larger containers, continues to grow, roots turning the corner and wrapping around itself. “You can strangle your tree in 20 years just because of the way it’s planted,” he says.
So, dig a big, wide hole. Gently knock off the dirt from the roots, preferably with water from a hose, and keep them moist throughout the planting process. Set the tree and spread the roots to radiate out straight from the trunk. Cover with good soil only up to the root collar — the point where roots begin. Then stake it for support while allowing for small movements, which help strengthen the trunk. And remember to water well, especially during dry periods.
Follow Eric Benbow ’94 into the woods, where he’s challenging students to move beyond the suspect world of TV forensic science and answer questions that could give new life to the study of death.
“So what? Who cares?”
The questions came two decades ago from the back of the room — a senior, tall with black hair and glasses. Two dozen bored faces that only moments ago had been watching the clock were now fixed on Eric Benbow, a junior transfer student completing his first year as a biology major at UD. He stood alone at the front of the classroom.
Twenty minutes earlier, he had dimmed the lights and flipped on the overhead projector. The illuminated screen showed an aquatic insect that filters water through fans on its head in search of bacteria to eat. With chalk in hand, Benbow had filled the blackboard with crude drawings, formulas and key points, hypothesizing how water flow might affect the insect’s life cycle. Then came the questions.
“I said something, but it wasn’t very good,” said Benbow ’94, now an assistant professor in UD’s biology department. “Probably to the effect of, ‘Understanding stream flow characteristics and the insect’s responses to changes in flow could lead to the ability to control their population.’ I forget exactly.”
But he hasn’t forgotten the questions. They have followed him through life — in Ohio woodlands, through Ghanaian streams, into labs and classrooms — and directed his mission as a researcher and an educator answering his own questions and sparking new ones in the minds of the next generation of scientists.
I spy a fly
Benbow and two students hunched over a pig carcass, not believing what they were seeing.
It was late May 2011, unseasonably cold, and the sky had been dumping rain all night. Their lanterns looked thin in the blackness. Three-inch thorns on honey locust trees stretched to shred their yellow ponchos. Slippery mud sent them sprawling. Low-hanging limbs slapped their wet faces.
Roughly four hours earlier, they had placed six fresh pig carcasses in woods outside of Dayton. They were returning now, just before midnight, to study the progress of their decomposition. The trio was studying how bacteria and insects, particularly blow flies, interact in decomposition and how that information can be used to improve estimates of how long an organism — be it a pig in a science experiment or a murder victim dumped in the woods — has been dead.
“Flies don’t fly in the dark, though we don’t fully understand why,” Benbow said. “Because of this, it’s generally accepted among forensic entomologists that flies don’t lay eggs at night, or in cold weather or the rain. If you find a maggot on a carcass in the morning, it is assumed eggs were laid that morning or before nightfall the day before.”
The waterlogged team expected to confirm this. Instead, they witnessed a female blow fly walk out of the pig’s nostril, scamper a few feet and then disappear. Shining a flashlight into the nose, the three scientists saw what looked like 30 to 50 small grains of white rice, arranged in a pea-sized clump: blow fly eggs.
“Write this down,” Benbow told his students. “What you just saw isn’t supposed to happen.”
So what? Just a month before their nocturnal discovery, a criminal case was decided based in part on evidence of blow fly larvae on a dead body. A forensic entomologist testified about time of death. What were the chances, he was asked, of flies laying eggs on the victim’s body in the middle of the night under dry, warm conditions?
“He said it was incredibly unlikely or would never happen,” Benbow said. “But there we were, under the harshest conditions. We saw it. If a criminal investigator assumes eggs were laid in the morning when they were actually laid the night before, the post-mortem interval would be off by 12 hours.”
Who cares? Senior biology major Maureen Berg ’12, who was with Benbow that night. She followed up on the unusual incident with a research project of her own. Returning to the same woods at nightfall, she set out several baits — some on the ground and some suspended 3 feet off the ground — under high light, low light and no light conditions. The experiment tested which conditions were most favorable for a blow fly to lay eggs at night.
Berg observed no nocturnal egg laying, even under high light; however, the baits on the ground and with the most light were consistently the first to have eggs deposited in the morning. She is working the results into a paper she plans to submit for publication. Benbow encourages his students to explore new ideas and pursue work of professional quality.
“There are times students see something in the field that I’ve taken for granted, but they see something because their eyes are fresh,” he said. “I always make sure they get credit.”
Pebble in a stream
As a boy, Benbow spent summer days wading and digging in the streams of State Farm Park in northeast Kettering, Ohio. He’d bring crayfish, minnows, leeches and other creek creatures home, where his mother allowed him to keep them.
Years later, when he once described his fieldwork to his mother, he said, “You know when I used to go out to the creek to hunt for crayfish and catch minnows? I’m doing that now but with a $10,000 piece of equipment instead of a Styrofoam cup.”
He still visits those streams with students and also with his 4-year-old daughter, Arielle, whose favorite activity with Daddy is putting on flip-flops to wade in the water and dig up critters.
“At a recent parent-teacher conference at Arielle’s preschool, I learned that she is always digging up worms and bugs to show to the other kids,” he said with a proud smile. “And she does it in heels and a dress.”
Both of his daughters — Alia is 1 — will be entomologists, he said, only half joking. “I at least want them to appreciate insects, not to be afraid.”
So far, so good. Arielle confidently picks up millipedes, but she avoids centipedes (she knows they bite). And when Benbow’s wife, Melissa Fortman Benbow ’04, finds a spider crawling in a corner, it’s Arielle who runs to her rescue.
“You know, Mommy, this one won’t bite,” she’ll say as she scoops it up in her hand and releases it outside.
Still, there is a flyswatter in Benbow’s home: “Flies carry pathogens,” he said.
Death becomes him
Forensic science is under the microscope. In 2009, the National Research Council issued what Benbow characterized as a scathing report criticizing the forensic sciences for a lack of sound scientific research.
Benbow is among a team of researchers at the forefront of responding to this report with two articles published in 2011 on the future of forensic science research. That same year, he received a grant from the National Institute of Justice (in collaboration with Texas A&M University and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service) to fund his research on the interaction of insects and microbes in body decomposition. The nearly half-million-dollar grant was UD’s first from the NIJ and its first for forensic research.
“DNA fingerprinting was the only one that escaped strong criticism from the NRC,” Benbow said. “But for the rest of the forensic sciences, too much evidence is anecdotal, and there is virtually no data on error rates. We don’t know how often these techniques are wrong.”
Meanwhile, thanks to popular TV shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the general public is fed the perception that forensics can pick out the tiniest of threads to unravel an entire case.
“It’s a glammed-up, fabricated portrayal of forensics, and this can hurt cases,” said Benbow, who has worked on several cases and testified in one. “Juries have an unrealistic expectation of evidence, that a scientist can simply go out to a crime scene, find all of the evidence and close the case. But it’s a lot of work, and the data aren’t always crisp and clean.”
In a recent experiment, Benbow and graduate student Andy Lewis ’08 — the third person with Benbow and Berg that night in the woods — found that for a person on trial, the difference between “guilty” and “not guilty” could be 85 feet.
Blow flies are often the first insects to lay eggs on decomposing remains, usually within hours or even minutes after death. The larvae hatch and develop through life stages — called instars — at a rate closely linked to temperature. The warmer the air and soil, the more quickly they grow.
From the time they hatch until they reach the third instar, they are simply growing bigger — about the size of a grain of rice at first instar to 10 times larger by third instar — feeding on the rapidly decomposing carcass. During the third instar, they stop feeding and crawl away in search of a dark, moist place to burrow, become pupae and begin the process of metamorphosis to become flies.
On average, in Ohio’s summer climate, the entire process — from first instar to pupae — takes five to seven days.
Combining the size of the oldest blow fly larvae with data on temperature and other environmental conditions, forensic entomologists can calculate the age of larvae and thus determine the time of initial colonization, biological data that then assists in establishing a time of death.
“It is, therefore, essential that investigators locate the oldest larvae at a crime scene, otherwise the interpretation of the insect data can be compromised and erroneous,” Benbow said.
When forensic entomologists arrive at a scene, they search for the oldest larvae, looking under leaf debris and digging up soil samples. They collect the larvae using forceps or common tablespoons and often kill them by dropping them in ethanol or boiling them in water to stop their growth. For this, some entomologists carry camp stoves into the field.
Most forensic entomologists recommend a search radius of 10 meters for the oldest larvae. Like with flies and egg laying, it’s conventional wisdom that larvae burrow into the ground to begin pupation within 2 to 10 meters of the carcass.
But in Benbow and Lewis’ study, the larvae from two of six pig carcasses moved farther, with one larval mass traveling 14 meters and the other 26 meters — about 85 feet.
“Our study suggests that in a forensic case with insect evidence, there would be a one-in-three chance that the oldest larvae would not be collected if the search stayed within the current recommendation of 10 meters,” Benbow said.
Missing the oldest larvae could affect a time-of-death estimate that might bolster or contradict an alibi.
Still, even with improved research, Benbow knows there will always be uncertainty. Expert testimony will always be expert opinion. But what he hopes he can offer is solid, objective data that can establish a degree of certainty.
“If we can go from making estimates with, for instance, a 50/50 probability to something like 85 percent based on research and data, then you can start giving juries something more concrete to consider, something more objective,” he said.
Forensic entomology has long been an isolated field of study, but Benbow and his colleagues are finding ways to link it to other disciplines. Benbow considers himself a forensic ecologist because of his research on the interactions between microbes and insects. How does the soil composition of where the body is laid affect insect behavior? How do bacteria interact with — even communicate with — insects? What if a body is dumped in the water?
This last question nagged at Jen Lang ’10, now a graduate student in Benbow’s lab. The research on decomposition in water is remarkably slim, and even fewer studies have focused on the role of bacteria. But as a microbiologist who “likes going outside,” Lang couldn’t resist pursuing an answer.
She studies biofilm — the slime on rocks — which is rich in biological diversity. “It’s like a rainforest on a smaller scale,” she said.
Under Benbow, whom she describes as a mentor, she has linked her biofilm research and aquatic insect behavior to estimates of post-mortem interval, or time after death. This new approach caught the attention of the American Society of Forensic Sciences, which awarded Lang, Benbow and collaborators a small grant this summer to explore interactions of aquatic insects and biofilm formation on decomposing pig carcasses.
Lang is also organizing a session on aquatic entomology at the Entomological Society of America’s annual meeting in November. She enjoys dabbling in multiple disciplines, likening her work to quiltmaking: “I’m looking at data and research from different disciplines, synthesizing that information and using it to explain new ideas.”
Her approach is essential to good science, Benbow insists, and he urges all his students to think beyond a narrow focus.
“Don’t get me wrong. I still believe in becoming highly specialized, knowing how to do your part really well,” he said, “but you need to know how to connect that with what others are doing. Not everyone can do that, but that’s what I teach my students.”
Even with the National Research Council report, Benbow and his colleagues have met some resistance toward their novel, collaborative approach, often from fellow scientists asking pointed, emotional questions at conferences. But he welcomes it.
“No one has ever tried to look at the interactions between microbes and flies, so I get some scrutiny, but that’s good for the science. That’s the whole point of the NRC criticism, that forensic science had gone unchallenged for so long. We’re just advocating for better science.”
For the living
Benbow received his doctorate from UD in 1999. Soon after, his phone rang. On the other end of the line was Richard Merritt, a Michigan State University professor who at the time was one of just six scientists certified by the American Board of Forensic Entomologists.
Merritt had just received a grant to study the effect of road salt on aquatic insects, and he had been discussing the topic with UD biology professor Al Burky, Benbow’s doctoral adviser. Within days, Merritt hired Benbow to do postdoctoral work in his lab.
Benbow quickly saw the connection between such research and forensic entomology. “It was just a different group of insects in a different environment,” he said.
A few years later, Benbow and Merritt applied the same set of knowledge to a different problem: Buruli ulcer, a disfiguring tropical skin disease thought to be transmitted by a biting water bug.
“I knew nothing of disease ecology, but I was interested in this case,” Benbow said. “I approached it as a microbe/insect question.”
Victims of Buruli ulcer suffer raw, gaping wounds that can overtake an entire limb and force amputation. Children younger than 15 in sub-Saharan Africa and the elderly in Australia are its primary victims. The social stigma can be profound, with permanent disfigurement making it difficult to find a spouse or a job in developing countries of Africa. Scientists have long recognized a connection between the disease and bodies of water such as slowly flowing rivers, ponds, swamps and lakes, but the exact mode of transmission is unknown.
In Ghana, Benbow was part of a team of researchers to run tests in the field. Until then, all of the experiments that implicated the biting water bug had been done in the lab. Wearing waders to protect against infection, Benbow spent hours in ponds and streams collecting bugs and water samples. It got so hot, Benbow recalled, that he often wondered whether his waders were leaking as they filled with sweat up to his calves.
His research produced no strong evidence to support the water bug hypothesis. The disease remains a mystery, but Benbow is today among the top researchers in the world studying the transmission of Buruli ulcer into human populations, acting as a consultant for the World Health Organization, which labels Buruli ulcer as one of the most neglected but treatable tropical diseases. More than 50,000 people in 30 countries have contracted the disease, though it often goes unreported.
“The interaction between bacteria and insects affects all kinds of systems,” he said. “The more we understand these interactions, the better we can apply it to forensics, disease prevention, the health of our water systems; the possibilities go on and on.”
In a Science Center classroom full of first-year biology students, Benbow put up a slide of an aquatic insect with the filtering fan on its head — the same one he put up decades ago in the room right across the hall.
He told his students the story of his junior-year presentation. He told them about the questions: “So what? Who cares?”
Then he pointed to the insect and asked them, “Do you know what this is? It’s a black fly larva.”
It carries disease to hundreds of thousands of people all over Africa, he told them: river blindness. It uses the fans on its head to filter water and feed on the bacteria. Could this natural process be used against it? If an insecticide were developed that could be dropped into streams, would the larvae feed on the particles the way they naturally do? Would that kill them? If so, thousands of people could be spared from disease.
Then he told them about mosquitoes, which lay eggs in aquatic habitats and whose larvae feed on algae and bacteria. What if you could disrupt their feeding through a better understanding of how the microbial communities interact with early larval development, he asked them. Would that reduce the spread of malaria?
“So what? Who cares?”
Nearly 20 years after he stumbled through a response to that simple challenge, after 20 years of research in aquatic habitats, disease ecology and forensics, Benbow has a list of ready answers: Buruli ulcer. Disease transmission. Scientific inquiry. Crime victims’ loved ones. Students asking big questions.
“A lot of scientists are in it just for the data, they’re not interested in how their data can be useful. Yes, the science is interesting, but once you’ve testified in court, once you’ve visited victims of Buruli ulcer, once you’ve seen how your data can have an impact on people’s lives, that’s what keeps pushing you forward. That’s why it matters.”
Cameron Fullam is assistant director of media relations at UD. He writes stories about science, the arts, education and the University’s Catholic identity.
Take the most elemental force:
Mix it with
In the face of grave struggles, it is a miracle when human nature does not crumple but instead rises, compelled to make a difference. Here are stories of alumni who turned sorrow into service.
When Mary Lauterbach ’94 steps in front of a microphone or a member of Congress — as she has done many times, in many places, since January 2008 when a detective uncovered her daughter’s murdered body in a shallow backyard grave — she senses a hand on her shoulder. “I feel that it is the Holy Spirit speaking through me,” says Mary. “It is not me.”
However the words come, she speaks about the life and death of her daughter, Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach. How in May 2007, Mary had urged Maria to report that she had been raped by a Marine superior, Cpl. Cesar Laurean, at Camp Lejeune. And how Maria was belittled, minimized and further traumatized after she came forward with that allegation.
Bringing attention to sexual violence was not part of the Marine culture.
Twenty-year-old Maria was slain Dec. 14, 200
7. In August 2010, Laurean, her accused rapist, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
The basics of the case may sound familiar; the media heavily followed the gruesome murder and trial, with varied and sometimes contradictory facts.
And as the tragic story became public, back in Vandalia, Ohio, Mary’s phone started ringing. She took more than 100 phone calls, from military women and a few men in different branches of service across the country who wanted to tell her what had happened when they had reported sexual assault. The common threads: They had no credibility with their superiors. Their truthfulness was questioned; their careers were derailed.
“It was like a broken record,” says Mary.
Mary was reeling from shock, grief and regret. Regret, because a month after the rape, an emotionally traumatized Maria had confided to her mother about what had happened. Mary had encouraged her daughter to report it, though belatedly, to her superiors.
“A month after the fact, Maria, no way you will get a conviction,” Mary remembers telling her daughter, “but get this guy a record.”
“It’s the worst advice I’ve ever given in my life,” Mary says. “I didn’t realize that I was telling her to do something dangerous. I feel responsible for her death in that.”
But as the phone rang with these callers, Mary saw that Maria’s experience was not isolated. She decided it was important to talk openly and frankly about Maria — her qualities and her imperfections — so she might be a vehicle for prompting improvements in the military’s attitudes about and actions after reports of sexual violence.
“At that moment in my life, I felt I was handed that mission. And it won’t stop, because I am being called to do that,” says Mary, an assistant director in donor relations at UD.
Hers and other voices are being heard in Congress and the Pentagon. A report issued October 2011 by the Department of Defense’s inspector general took a hard, critical look at Camp Lejeune’s response to Maria’s rape allegation. In December, Congress’ defense budget included measures for improved sexual assault prevention and response. And on April 16, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced strong new measures to combat sexual assault in the ranks.
Officials, Mary says, have acknowledged that several of the changes are a direct response to Maria’s situation.
“I’ve always been a person of great faith,” says Mary, her voice in a near-whisper. “And I really believe Maria is in a better place. This brings meaning to Maria’s short life, and I am trying to extend that because her life has had an impact on more people and institutions than any of ours will, put together.
“Because of her, lives could be saved.”
The pediatrician kept her office open after hours so Shaun Westfall ’02 and Alison Kelly Westfall ’02 could bring in 11-day-old Carson for yet another weigh-in.
Baby Carson was not gaining weight the way a healthy newborn should. And now the doctor had received abnormal results from one of the newborn screening tests.
In March 2009 in the quiet of t
he deserted office, the pediatrician broke the news: “Carson is testing positive for cystic fibrosis.”
“And we were, ‘OK, what’s cystic fibrosis?’ We had no idea what it was,” says Alison. “And she said, ‘The worst thing you can do is go home and look on the Internet about this.’
“So we went home and looked at the Internet,” Alison says, laughing, “and read all the different terms and about the short lifespan, and just started to freak out.”
But freaking out is not a way of life for Shaun and Alison, who met while running cross-country for UD.
Further testing had confirmed that Carson had inherited a particular gene defect from both of them. Shaun and Alison, it turned out, are among the 10 million Americans who silently carry a single defective, recessive gene. The faulty gene improperly regulates a protein involved in moving certain fluids through cell walls. With two faulty genes, Carson’s body produces thick, sticky mucus capable of clogging his lungs and leading to life-threatening lung infections. Without treatment, other thickened byproducts would obstruct his pancreas and stop natural enzymes from helping his body break down and absorb food.
But less than two months after Carson’s diagnosis — while Alison was on maternity leave and the couple was still trying to get their baby’s treatments under control — they jumped into a Dayton fundraising walk, benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. With family and friends, they created a team, christening it Carson’s Crew.
Coincidentally, Ohio is home to a second Carson’s Crew: a family in a small northern Ohio town whose two children have CF. In fall 2010, Shaun and Alison drove up to attend a CF Foundation benefit that family had organized. They were moved — and inspired.
“The next day we were driving home,” Alison says, “and we said, ‘We could do that.’”
And they did, with help from their parents, a ton of friends and generous Dayton-area businesses. In late September 2011, 220 supporters showed up at the UD Arena Flight Deck for Flying Towards a Cure. The evening included a buffet, silent auction, basket raffle and video that Shaun made about a typical day with Carson — from his lung treatment regimen and diet to his tearing around the house like a typical, adorable 3-year-old boy.
The event netted $20,600, part of the $36,636.54 that Carson’s Crew has donated to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation since May 2009.
Alison, a graphic design project manager, and Shaun, who works in information technology, are deep into plans for the second Flying
Towards a Cure, Sept. 15, again on the Flight Deck of UD Arena.
The couple’s motivation is simple. They want a cure. Ninety percent of donations to the CF Foundation go to research, Alison says: “And we both feel really strongly that we are seeing the benefits of that research really quickly, and that right there is an amazing thing. It pushes us to want to do more and give them everything we can think of to continue that research.”
This past January, the federal Food and Drug Administration approved Kalydeco, a drug that treats one of the less-common of the hundreds of cystic fibrosis mutations. Carson suffers from a more-common mutation, which would need two mechanisms corrected. The Westfalls are thrilled because clinical trials are under way that combine Kalydeco with a second drug.
The Kalydeco breakthrough, on the heels of their benefit, filled the Westfalls with a sense of purpose and accomplishment. And, says Shaun, they have been surprised and humbled by the number of individuals and Dayton businesses eager to join them in their efforts, even though CF is but one of many worthy causes in the world today.
Such support, he says, “makes the ‘work’ seem easy.”
At 12:30 a.m. one summer night in 1991, Gail Brown Callaway ’81 was running laps in San Jose, Calif., along with 30 other volunteers. As she rhythmically circled the track — her leg of the American Cancer Society’s fundraising 24-Hour Run, as the Relay for Life was called back then — a realization struck her.
“Something,” she thought, “isn’t right in my life.”
But what? An electrical engineer, Gail had gone to work for Hewlett-Packard straight out of UD, advanced to R&D, then to teaching field-service engineers. Her work had taken her to Australia and Hong Kong; her lifestyle allowed for fundraising activities such as the run. A problem solver by nature, she puzzled through that lingering thought as the summer wore on.
Shortly after the run, her brother and only sibling Gary ’79 flew out from Columbus, Ohio, for a Bay Area visit. Gary had been diagnosed three years earlier with multiple sclerosis, a chronic, unpredictable disease that attacks the central nervous system. During the visit, Gail was struck by her brother’s physical struggles. He used a cane, he moved slowly and he had bladder issues that left her waiting a very long time outside the men’s room at a San Francisco Giants game.
That fall, HP presented a severance offer: A year’s salary for employees who left. With that news, Gail knocked on the door of admissions at San Jose State University and landed with the chair of the biology department. She wanted to study physical therapy, she told him, so she could become the family expert on her brother’s condition and a resource for helping him deal with increasing disability.
The chair shook his head. “You are a troubleshooter,” he told her. “You want to figure out what is going on with your brother? You should be a doctor.” He took out a pad and pencil and laid out the course of study that would turn an electrical engineer into a medical school candidate.
Six years later, in 1997, Gail graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, chosen because of its proximity to her brother’s Columbus home. She did her residency in internal medicine and pediatrics. And now, in western Maryland, where she practices at Smithsburg Family Medical Center, she has a reputation as a primary care physician who is skillful with treating MS.
Gail thanks her brother for inspiring her to circle back to her high school love of biology and for her deep interest in MS. However, Gary was unable to keep an early promise he made to her, that his disease would not be fatal. In 2002, at age 44, he died from complications of MS.
With his death, Gail found a new cause: raising money to support research funded by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. She started with the Walk MS, and then in 2005, Bike MS — a two-day, 150-mile ride that takes place on different routes throughout the U.S. Taking to her bike was fitting because, each summer day as kids, she and her big brother pedaled to the neighborhood pool in the Chicago suburb of Niles, Ill.
When Gail and her husband, Lee Callaway, train for Bike MS, “it helps me remember my brother,” she says. “Even though he’s not here anymore, it’s great motivation to help people after him — and hopefully find a cure so people don’t have to endure what he did.”
In her seven Bike MS rides — with 2012’s to come — Gail has raised $76,605, mainly from modest donations. Local companies provide items for a raffle, and for three months her medical office sells tickets for the drawing at $1 each. She asks friends via email or postcards to sponsor her.
And she organizes an annual Girls Night Out with an admission fee and activities such as manicures, massages and jewelry making. Professionals donate their serv
ices, Gail pays for the food and drink, and the gate all goes to the MS Society.
Back in her office, Gail is mindful of how she felt during her 14 years as the sister of an MS patient. She wanted things explained clearly to her. She wanted to know about resources such as information, equipment and family support. She knows too well how tough a serious disease is on loved ones.
As a lasting gift from her brother, says the engineer-turned-healer, “I have more compassion.”
The details of the mishandled birth of Adam Susser, detailed in Florida Senate Bill No. 38, are such a horrifying case of medical negligence that reading them is almost too much to bear.
So it is enough to know that Gary ’79 and Judy Susser’s fraternal twin boys were born on July 10, 2000, in Coral Springs, Fla. After two weeks in neonatal intensive care, baby Brandon was fine; today he is a soccer-playing honor-roll student.
Adam, however, was severely oxygen-deprived. He is now wheelchair bound, uses a feeding tube and will forever require vigilant attention and help with basic daily activities. He can speak but a handful of words.
A trust established by the court provides an annuity that helps support his needs. But the reality remains for Adam that he is cortically blind; that means brain damage caused his vision loss. And the prolonged lack of oxygen during birth left him with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, a disorder caused by damage to the developing brain.
“He can see with his heart and with his ears. So basically we surround him with love and affection,” says Gary, a consumer rights lawyer in Boynton Beach, Fla. “We were blessed with two special sons.”
In July 2004, Gary and Judy started a foundation in Adam’s name, “to promote awareness and to help others,” he says, “including the college students who want to help these
Adam, who turns 12 in July, has a heart-melting smile and thick dark hair. While he continues to live with severe deficits, he has made progress, thanks to good nutrition, education, enrichment activities and medical care.
At age 3, a month after a stem cell transplant in Mexico with umbilical cord blood cells from a U.S. lab, Adam gained a limited amount of vision. Whether it was by coincidence or cause-and-effect his parents cannot say for sure, but they are elated. His eye health improved further with experimental laser surgery at Washington University’s medical complex in St. Louis. Double hip surgeries and regular physical therapy have enabled him to walk by being placced into a custom walker. He attends special classes in public school.
A core value of the Adam Susser Foundation is to support students who choose careers devoted to assisting the developmentally disabled. The foundation funds scholarships for r
ecipients selected by Florida Atlantic and Florida International universities who are studying occupational and physical therapy, speech therapy and special education.
Over the years, the foundation’s mission has evolved into raising public awareness and public involvement for special needs children, advocating for legitimate stem cell research, and counseling other families, particularly against fraudulent treatments.
“My wife is very involved and speaks out, as do I,” says Gary. “But I attend more of the political events because I am not afraid to speak up, and I don’t give a rat’s patootie about crossing swords.”
At age 4, Adam appeared on Oprah — wheeled onto the set by his devoted twin — for a segment about medical malpractice and patient protection laws. In January, 60 Minutes broadcast an investigation of bogus offshore labs selling stem cell cures. The producers worked with Gary and Judy, who arranged for the first of four stem cell purchases.
When Duke University tested the cells, results showed that only 100 out of the 20 million purchased were still alive. The cost: $5,000 for each purchase, plus medical fees. Cash. Hope can carry a high price tag.
“Adam cuts across so many issues,” says Gary. “Stem cell research, medical malpractice, limitation on damages, children’s rights, rights of the disabled, education.”
The Sussers cannot recall a particular moment that prompted them to start a foundation. The need was as obvious as a hurricane. Their efforts are not a form of emotional healing. In fact, the couple’s sense of heartache and anguish has grown, says Gary, because the more he and Judy give, it “just gives more insight into what the need is, and how our society and our government have failed those in need.”
His parents and Judaism, he says, taught him a responsibility to help others.
“My wife and I don’t tithe per se,” Gary says, “but we give thousands of dollars to charities that deal with children. We love doing that. Everything you can think of, we get involved in.
“And we speak out, because there’s not enough being done for these kids, in our opinion. Because they are all innocents.”
Domus Pacis Family Respite, a nonprofit program in the majestic mountains of Colorado, had many beginnings before it actually began.
In a way, the seed for Domus Pacis — Latin for “House of Peace” — was planted in 1990, during the year that Vince White-Petteruti ’73 drove between Chicago and Cleveland nearly every weekend to be with his ailing father and offer comfort to his mother. Later, Vince treasured the sense of peace he felt from having spent that time together.
After Vince’s dad died, there was the suggestion of his wife that they take a short break to cross-country ski in Colorado. When the couple arrived in December 1990, the ski town of Breckenridge had no snow. So instead, they looked at property. By the time Vince and Marylouise returned to their kids and corporate lives in Chicago, they had bought 10 forested acres with a view of Baldy Mountain and an intention to relocate there in retirement.
There was also the last-minute girls’ getaway to Vail, Colo., that Marylouise — known as “Duck”— organized in July 1997 with her two sisters and mother. Her mother had advanced lung cancer, and doctors warned this was her last opportunity to travel.
Duck learned two things from that Vail trip: First, it is very complicated to plan a medically safe, enjoyable vacation for someone seriously ill — yet it is critical that the honored guest see none of that effort. And second, that the joy from a relaxing week with family was long lived. Duck was heartened by the post-trip glow that her mother carried through her final days.
All those experiences melded together one sunny Colorado day in 2001. Duck and Vince, now retired, had just cleared the footprint for their mountain cabin. Vince left with their son Nic and daughter Sarah ’01 on a weeklong hike to maintain forest trails. Alone, Duck turned to the July sky and asked the Lord why they had been able to move here as planned, why their children were doing well, why she and Vince felt secure enough financially and emotionally to leave corporate America.
“And as soon as I let go of that thought,” Duck says, “it came back to me: ‘Do for other families as you did for yours.’ And I knew without a doubt, it was the respite.”
That meant devoting their blessings to provide other families the happy memories of a week together, cradled by nature and caring strangers. Duck spent the rest of the day formulating the strategic plan.
When Vince emerged from the backcountry, she informed him of this revelation. They immediately called the architect, who redesigned their home to easily host visiting families and donor activities.
Their resulting nonprofit, Domus Pacis Family Respite (DO-mus PAH-chis), extends a free week in Colorado High Country for families in the throes of cancer, celebrating the end of treatment or in hospice care. Duck, a former senior vice president in global advertising, is executive director; Vince, a former steel industry executive, is treasurer. The community of Summit County, Colo., acts as volunteer pool and patron. Domus Pacis welcomed eight families in 2008 and has grown each year, to 58 in 2011 and potentially 100 this year. Patients have ranged in age from 8 months to 87 years, says Vince, and “we let the patient decide who ‘family’ is.”
Duck and Vince made good use of their business acumen in planning the practicalities. Through churches, synagogues and property managers, they have built a list of more than 80 available properties; many mountain vacation homes are normally occupied only a few weeks a year. More than 75 partners from Colorado’s medical and social work worlds provide the patient/family referrals, a process that reassures everyone from the IRS to donors.
Summit County businesses, residents and youth groups donate meals and recreation passes, fill welcome baskets and bake treats. In 2011, Domus Pacis was named Outstanding Nonprofit of the Year as part of the local Summit Foundation’s Community Collaboration Awards. “The project is also a way to teach philanthropy,” Duck says, “across all generations and economic levels.”
At times, it is tough to face so much suffering, especially when the patients are children. But Duck finds comfort in knowing that she and Vince recognized and met their life’s purpose.
Excerpts of heartfelt letters fill the Domus Pacis website. The landscape itself builds a sense of peace, says Vince: “Nature and God and the mountains, the lakes and the flowers: They just all contribute.”
Janet Filips ’77 has done thousands of interviews in her journalism career, which began at The Journal Herald and Dayton Daily News and continued in Portland and Eugene, Ore. She remains interested in hearing people’s stories because of human beings’ incredible capacity to persevere, inspire and amaze. This article made her feel extra proud to be a UD alumna. Janet is also author of The Luscious Cookbook.