If you’re looking for a full day spent in a comfy recliner, look elsewhere. These five University of Dayton retirees have tapped into their happy to pursue everything from art to beekeeping. For some, retirement has launched a second career or built a second home.
It has also meant a role reversal. These experts in their respective fields, having spent decades as educators or administrators, found themselves starting over, often as novices in their new endeavors.
Time and persistence have paid off and gained them a proficiency that is only surpassed by their ongoing eagerness to live a happy retirement.
Phil Doepker ’64
His wish list was short but set in stone. Phil Doepker ’64, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, had long wanted to buy property: It
had to be in Ohio, be at least 10 acres, and have plenty of trees and water of some sort.
“I fell in love with every property I found,” he said with a smile. “My wife was my conscience,
making sure I got everything I was looking for and not settling.”
Several years and more than 25 property visits later, Doepker had found it — 22 densely wooded acres in Darke County, Ohio, about an hour northwest of Dayton.
“I called my wife and said, ‘I think this is it.’”
And it was.
They purchased the property in 2006 and planned to build a cabin near the pond. Doepker’s plans were waylaid a bit as he participated in the development of the University of Dayton China Institute shortly after his retirement in 2011. By 2013, the professor emeritus was consulting with a forester onsite. Walnut, oak, cherry, poplar and ash were all in great supply, which was ideal as he wanted to build the structures from the trees on his property. Initial thoughts were to build a modest 300- to 500-square-foot cabin, but when he realized that more than 100 ash trees would have to be harvested because of the emerald ash borer, his plan expanded.
The harvest amounted to 30,000 board feet of lumber. The modest cabin doubled in size, and a barn was also now on the drawing board.
“I came up with designs for the trusses and determined the strength of the materials,” he said. “I was doing on my property the kinds of things I taught in class. If I wanted to relax, I’d draw or make calculations.”
Doepker went from architect to project manager as he hired a construction team and acquired all the necessary permits. There was even a little of UD in his construction plans: A walk he took across campus nearly 20 years ago netted him some of the old St. Mary’s Hall windows discarded during the historic building’s renovation. He pulled them out of the dumpster and repurposed 10 of those windows — rounded tops and all — in their cabin.
The distance from the main road made running a power line cost-prohibitive, so Doepker decided to use solar panels to power his 904-square-foot cabin.
“With the exception of a delivery of propane once a year, we are pretty much off the grid,” said Doepker, 73.
Once the construction crew finished, Doepker went to work on the interior, including, most recently, an IKEA-designed kitchen.
While he and Bonnie — the couple just recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary — reside primarily in Springboro, Ohio, Doepker is at the cabin at least three times a week, spending a few nights a month.
“I could live out there,” he said. “And it has become a focal point for social gatherings with family and friends.”
And there is no better feeling than watching his adventurous 4-year-old granddaughter chasing frogs around the 1-acre pond — his 1-acre pond.
When her husband, John Schleppi, was offered a buyout from the School of Education and Allied Professions, Carroll Schleppi knew it was time to retire in 2001 from her position in the Department of Mathematics.
“There was no way I was going to get up to go to work if he wasn’t,” she said, smiling.
The professor emeritus, who taught at UD for 17 years, soon found another rewarding reason to get up in the morning.
“The first thing I did was pursue my love of art with quilts,” she said. “I would have loved to have studied art or philosophy when I went to college, but my dad said I needed to be able to make a living, so I went with math.”
The freedom of retirement finally let the now 76-year-old pursue her artistic passion. Fabric was a natural choice for the mother of three who took sewing lessons as a child and created clothes for her family when she was a stay-at-home mom. Schleppi’s idea of quilting, however, is not what many think of when they hear the term — no cookie cutter patterns or traditional designs. Schleppi is an art quilter — exactly what it sounds like — creating original works of art with fabric as her canvas.
“The first thing I found out about traditional quilting was that I didn’t like it because I don’t like to follow the rules,” she said. “I was drawn to art quilting because you don’t have rules.”
Schleppi, who lives in Kettering, Ohio, discovered the Miami Valley Art Quilt Network, and her passion was ignited.
“We consider ourselves fiber artists,” she said. “We paint with fabric instead of oils or acrylics.”
Her work is varied, from quirky puns to nature and history. She was part of a project celebrating the Negro Leagues and is currently working on a project celebrating the 19th Amendment. Each artist selected a suffragette to commemorate. Schleppi chose Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, an African-American poet, abolitionist and women’s rights advocate.
“I think it was her poetry that made me choose her — the fact that it was written so many years ago yet is contemporary today,” Schleppi said.
Schleppi’s work has won awards and been displayed in museums, but neither are the reason she creates. She is both an artist and a storyteller and said she enjoys the process more than the finished product. And she finds a way to interweave her many excursions into her quilts as she uses fabric she has gathered during her world travels. From a bag of scraps purchased from a silk factory in China to clothing found in European thrift stores and fabric bought at her favorite shop in the Caribbean island of Curacao, the quilts
are a product of her imagination and her travels.
While quilting brings her great joy, she keeps very few of her many finished pieces.
“Once I’m finished, I feel no ownership,” she said. “For me, the joy is in the creation, not in the result. When it’s over, I’m happy to let it go.”
And, then, it’s on to the next one.
Dick Ferguson ’73
“But I found that if I gently rubbed her hand and massaged her face, she was able to communicate and tell the story of her life,” he said. “It was dramatic to me, the change I saw in in her.”
Those cherished moments with his mom — Ferguson describes them as “spiritual” — contributed to his decision to pursue an encore career as a licensed massage therapist. After spending more than four decades on the University of Dayton campus — serving in a variety of positions including admission counselor, director of University communications, assistant dean of the School of Law, associate provost, assistant to the president and his final position as the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community executive director, from which he retired in 2014 — the Beavercreek, Ohio, resident was ready for a change.
“That first year after I retired I spent writing about leadership, but I found it to be a lonely experience,” he said. “I wanted to find something that was less cerebral after more than 40 years in higher education.”
Little did Ferguson know how academically rigorous his new pursuit would be. Challenging classes in anatomy, physiology, business and ethics filled his days. Of the 28 students who enrolled in the program with Ferguson, only nine graduated with him a year later and were licensed by the State Medical Board of Ohio.
“I was 65, in class with 22-year-olds, and it was an incredibly challenging experience,” he said. “I am jealous now of those in the medical profession. I think if I had taken anatomy and physiology in high school or college, I definitely would have gone into some kind of medicine.”
Ferguson has been practicing therapeutic massage since December 2016, giving more than 800 massages in his first 18 months. He practices in three facilities, working as many as six days a week. At 67 years old, however, he knows his limitations.
“Two or three massages per day is my limit so I can still feel retired and be able to stand,” he said with a smile.
The self-proclaimed “old guy in massage” cherishes the opportunity to introduce people to the many benefits of massage. He provides as many as 80 percent of his massages free of charge or at a significant discount to encourage people to give it a try. But his clients aren’t the only ones who reap the benefits of Ferguson’s encore career.
“I find this as rewarding as anything I’ve done professionally,” he said. “It’s a role I can play that’s a different kind of service to the community.
“And there’s just something about human touch that we really need in this world.”
Winters were challenging for outdoor enthusiast Patti Procuniar, so January and February meant regular kickboxing classes for many years to keep her busy and active. But when that class was canceled, she and her husband decided to take a beekeeping class offered by the Greene County, Ohio, Park District. Before long, Bill Procuniar built several hives on the couple’s Sugarcreek Township property, southeast of Dayton.
It’s not unusual for the couple to get a call from a neighbor and head out to collect a swarm — essentially a ball of bees surrounding a queen that has escaped from a hive. With a baseball bat, Bill Procuniar whacks the tree limb from which the swarm hangs, while Patti Procuniar — wearing a beekeeper’s veil — holds a box with a funnel attached to catch the falling swarm. The swarm usually weighs in at 4 or 5 pounds.
“We’re not the brave people climbing huge ladders, but catching a good swarm is really exciting,” she said.
Even after several years of beekeeping, however, Procuniar’s disbelief is still apparent.
“I never thought I could do this; it’s hard to imagine that we are actually beekeepers,” she said, smiling.
But beekeepers they are. In fact, a shipment of more than 10,000 bees that arrived in April got the couple’s 2018 hives going. By the end of the summer, that number will likely have increased to 45,000 in that one hive alone — 45,000 of her babies.
“We are also master gardeners, and when I’m outside, they will walk on my arms,” said Procuniar, who retired in 2015 as a program assistant with the Center for International Programs after working at UD for nearly 26 years. “They’re just very dear.”
That’s not to say they don’t misbehave at times; the 68-year-old has had as many as 11 stings on one hand. But the minor pain is no match for the payoff.
“We think it’s just wonderful for the environment and so important for pollination,” she said. “And they are such fascinating creatures.”
Even several years into her pastime/passion, that fascination continues to grow. As members of the Greene County Beekeepers, she and her husband attend monthly meetings, and the learning never ends.
“There is a class with the meeting, and it’s always good information,” Procuniar said. “Before we got started, it was hard to imagine us as beekeepers. Now it’s hard to imagine us not doing it.”
“I was 7 or 8 years old, and my mother had me take piano lessons,” said Strange ’57, who was on the UD math faculty for 41 years before retiring in 2000. “After a few weeks of not practicing, she said she wasn’t going to pay for lessons anymore. So, I went through the rest of my life, until I was 70,
enjoying music but not playing it.”
Strange and his wife of close to six decades, Hylda, both enjoy music. It was on a trip from the couple’s home in Centerville, Ohio, to their weekend house in Ripley, Ohio, that Strange became intrigued by a folk instrument known as a dulcimer.
“We had gone to a dulcimer concert, and I thought, ‘I really like the sound of that music,’” he said. “And a dulcimer only has three strings. I figured it had to be reasonably easy to play. I had this fantasy that I was going to showcase my musical talent and become a dulcimer player of some repute.”
For more than a decade, the professor emeritus has been fine-tuning his dulcimer skills. He plays with a small group on most weekends and practices daily. Strange said he knows 25 or 30 songs from memory, but he would be the last one to call himself a musician — more, he said, “like a robot that has been taught how to play music.”
“One thing I’ve discovered about myself as a result of this experiment is that I’m very poor at multitasking,” he said. “For example, I can’t read music and play at the same time. Some people think I’m a musician because I can memorize a piece and play it, but I don’t think that qualifies me as a
That’s not to say the 83-year-old isn’t having a great time playing the dulcimer.
“I really enjoyed being at UD; I can’t think of anything I could have done for 40 years that could have been better,” he said. “You might have thought someone who was so attached to the University would have a tough time adjusting to retirement, but when the time came, I pretty much gave up mathematics and teaching and put my energy into developing other interests — like playing the mountain dulcimer.”
It was the middle of the night in Dayton, Aug. 25, 2017, but Chelse Prather kept waking up to watch the live video feed of Hurricane Harvey slamming into Texas.
Problem was, it was the middle of the night in Galveston, too. All she could see on the screen was black.
“I was texting a lot with my friends when it was hitting. I was worried about our friends staying safe,” said ecologist Prather, an assistant professor of biology. “I was also worried about this experiment.”
Prather was more than two years into field work on a half-million-dollar research project. Like any good hurricane, Harvey had sucked up the warm waters of the ocean and let them rain down over land — in this case, on her experiment site, a coastal tallgrass prairie 13 miles inland from Galveston. In the next two days, 43 inches of rain would fall on the plants and animals living there.
First, there was the question of what the rain would wash away. But there were also questions about what the rain would bring, most likely calcium and sodium, abundant in seawater. Problem is, for the two previous years, Prather had carefully and deliberately manipulated the quantities of these and other nutrients on the prairie.
Her goal is to better understand the effects of human-induced environmental change, specifically if a combination of practices as common as agricultural fertilization and irrigation could be setting us up for a plant-eating insect boom — insects that devour food we intend for ourselves and our livestock. Planet-wide, humans are changing the distribution of plants and animals while also altering the abundance of nutrients available for life to grow.
What would become of her experiment?
“I call it the confounding factor of the hurricane,” Prather said.
So, with Harvey still raining down but much of the danger having passed, she asked friends in Texas to brave the rain and stake Tupperware containers to the ground to collect Harvey rainwater, and send water samples back to Dayton. If she could figure out what was in the water, she could use the information to adjust her data and just maybe collect one of the first before-and-after comparisons of the impact of hurricanes on the prairie.
She’d have to wait until May to see the prairie — and what the hurricane left behind — for herself.
More than 1,100 miles from
UD, the University of Houston Coastal Center is paradise for an ecologist looking to understand the relationships between plants, insects and the micronutrients — minerals such as calcium, potassium and sodium — both need to thrive.
Paradise, that is, if you overlook the suffocating heat, biting insects and dewberry thorns that tear at your flesh and open wounds ready to scream at the next application of sunscreen.
“It takes a certain kind of person to thrive,” said Prather, who for four summers has handpicked students to join the research project, supported by a $546,599 award from the National Science Foundation. “You have to be real comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Prather knows the Texas heat well. In 2011, she joined the UH Coastal Center as a postdoctoral fellow at a time when the center was looking to attract significant government funding. She and collaborator Steve Pennings, professor of biology at UH, submitted and refined the prairie micronutrient study three times before receiving the coveted and highly competitive grant.
The research is focusing on grasshoppers, important for the native ecosystem but a bane to ranchers and farmers, who spend $1 billion annually to control the plant-eating insects. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is interested in Prather’s results and added $150,000 in funding to monitor grasshopper diversity in a related collaboration with UH research assistant professor Angela Laws.
“This type of information could actually help us predict [grasshopper] outbreaks better and has lots of implications for how we manage these systems,” Prather said.
UD added funding through its STEM Catalyst Initiative — in 2017 for a collaboration with biology colleague Yvonne Sun to analyze how changes in nutrients affect the grasshopper’s gut, and in 2018 to support the related research of her graduate students.
One of those students, Ryan Reihart ’14, is focusing on the tawny crazy ant, named for its fast, erratic movements. It’s a non-native species that’s invading the South. In cities, it’s eating wiring and shorting out televisions in homes. In 2012, it scurried into Prather’s experiment site. Reihart is on the forefront of discovering how diet might either contain or encourage the ants.
Reihart, who trapped and counted 51,000 crazy ants last summer, was worried Hurricane Harvey might have drowned all of his prairie-dwellers. But a researcher visiting in winter reported some colonies had survived.
A doctoral student on Prather’s Insect Ecology Lab team who previously received an undergraduate degree from UD, Reihart headed to Texas in May for his second summer of prairie fieldwork. This summer he is joined by master’s student Emily Jones and recent May graduates Shania Hurst and Kiersten Angelos, plus four students from UH. They are spending long days setting traps for ants to fall into, counting and clipping plant species, digging soil samples and twisting insect nets through the breeze in a hypnotic dance. They are also helping Jones set up experiments that could determine if three interconnected invasive species, including the crazy ant, are helping one another to spread.
For Reihart, it’s a welcome opportunity to sink into the grasses and immerse himself in the field.
“We also try to have fun, too, while we’re out there,” Reihart said. “It can get hot, and we can get hungry and cranky, but we always just make it fun, like who can do [the task] the fastest. … It’s just awesome being outside, being with people who are fun in the field.”
In wet summers, prairie grasses can grow 8 feet tall, a sea of rustling green and nodding flower heads — first yellow sunflowers, then the brilliant green of the plant Rattlesnake Master, before finally erupting in the late-season purple blooms of the native Blazing Star. Long, hot, wet growing seasons result in lots of data for scientists to work with.
“These are really gorgeous prairies that have upwards of 600 species of plants, and we’ve recorded 800 species of insects,” Prather said.
Prather said it’s a rare privilege to work in a coastal tallgrass prairie — less than one-tenth of one percent of the nation’s coastal prairies still exist, primarily because they are so good at producing the rich soils coveted for agriculture.
This prairie survived Houston’s boom thanks in part to World War II. Formerly known as Camp Wallace, the site was used by the military for training antiaircraft units and then as a naval boot camp. In recent years, a garbage dump grew to the west, a dog-racing track to the north and a highway to the east, reserving the interior 1,000 acres of prairie and woods for today’s many researchers. Last year, the Texas state legislature acknowledged the importance of the center by designating
it the Texas Institute of Coastal Prairie Research and Education.
On Google maps, you get a bird’s eye view of the grid mowed into the interior prairie, more than 29 acres divided into 128 plots. It’s the beating heart of the Insect Ecology Lab’s work.
During 2016 and 2017, Prather and her students donned safety glasses and wrapped bandanas around their mouths and noses. By the handful or with the help of a four-wheeler, they spread 10 tons of fertilizer each year on the plots in different nutrient combinations. Among the choices for their fertilizer combination were the micronutrients calcium, potassium and sodium — required in trace amounts for plant and insect growth — and the macronutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, now abundant in most soils thanks to common agricultural practices.
The goal, Pennings said, is to determine if combinations of nutrients result in plots that are more habitable — and plants that are tastier — to the herbivore insects. These would be nutrient combinations ranchers and farmers might wish to avoid.
If certain fertilizer combinations result in less tasty plots, they could be used as an alternative to current methods of pest control, often involving blanket pesticides on cropland and ranchland.
Pennings, who is also director of the UH Coastal Center, said the results could have wider implications. Take the northern United States, where communities commonly treat icy roadways with products that include calcium and sodium. Or in the Plains States, where irrigation practices bring water higher in sodium to agricultural lands.
“If sodium or calcium turns out to be important, are we unwittingly increasing grasshopper populations?” Pennings asked.
Prather can sit in her office in Sherman Hall and share facts that would make most people squirm — like that the average home has 100 species of insects living among its humans. (She does point out that, without the insects that eat dead insects, you’d be more aware of just how many you cohabit with.)
It’s hard to believe there was once a time when every insect made her scream in terror.
When she was 5, her well-meaning father, intent on helping a young Chelse conquer her fear, had her extend a shaky finger to touch the shiny emerald armor of a docile Japanese beetle.
As she did, another beetle swooped down and snagged the green bug for its lunch.
“I was really freaked out, but I think it spurred something in me — ‘What in the world just happened?’” she said. “I needed to discover for myself that there was all this stuff going on in the natural world all around you all the time. You’re not thinking about it, and the fact is that most people are not thinking about it.”
As an undergraduate at University of Kentucky, Prather said fieldwork got her excited to pluck rocks from a stream and wonder at the multitude of insects living underneath. As a doctoral candidate at the University of Notre Dame, she followed insects called walking sticks through the forest floor in Puerto Rico to better understand their eating habits and how that influenced the rainforest ecology.
With her long blond hair pulled back in a perpetual braid, and her nails trimmed to the quick, she has an air of being ready to bolt outdoors at any moment.
“Most of us were the kids outside playing in the mud, catching every animal that we saw in the yard, and I’ve heard a lot of ecologists say we just never really grew out of that,” she said. “I love that that can be a permanent part of my job and that I get to introduce that to students.”
As an assistant professor at Radford University in Virginia from 2014 to 2016, she enjoyed making science accessible and applicable to her undergraduates. In one class, they updated the Wikipedia pages of the insects they were researching — and then counted the web hits. “By the end of the class, the pages that 13 students had updated had been viewed 1.5 million times,” she said. “It’s interesting and fun for the students to do work related to science that will have people other than
scientists as the receivers of that work.”
While at Radford, Prather realized her NSF grant required the intensive attention only graduate students could provide, and Radford did not have a graduate program in biology. She chose to make the move to the University of Dayton, in part because she said she takes the role of graduate mentor very seriously.
“You’re trying to teach somebody how to be an independent scientist,” she said of her graduate students. “The fact that it was a small program meant that I could give the students the type of attention they need — and deserve.”
She’s also maintained an interest in cultivating tomorrow’s researchers through opportunities for undergraduates. This year, nine undergraduates volunteered in Prather’s lab. Among them was Amanda Finke.
As a sophomore, Finke started work by pulling Ziploc bags of prairie soil from the freezer. She’d open the bags — letting free the sweet prairie scent trapped inside in Texas — and then carefully separate roots from soil.
Her volunteer duties were small tasks on the half-million-dollar micronutrient project, but Finke said Prather took the time to give her the big-picture explanation. Finke said it helped her understand how her work contributed, and also how the mind of an ecologist teases out tasks for such a complicated project.
Prather also encouraged Finke to find her own research path.
In May, Finke graduated with a bachelor’s in environmental biology and a year of Ohio prairie research under her belt. This summer, as a UD master’s student, Finke continues her investigation of insects found in Dayton area prairies. Just as Prather is doing, Finke is looking beyond the plants to the insects to gauge the health of the ecosystem.
“It’s what I do,” Finke said of her ecology research. “I can’t imagine not doing it now.”
She said Prather teaches students how to be good scientists while also navigating what it means to be a career scientist — including chasing the grants and writing the results.
“You can tell how passionate she is about her work,” Finke said, “and it gets you excited that she’s excited.”
Master’s student Jones used the words “driven” and “motivated” to describe Prather. In fieldwork last summer, Jones said she marveled at the speed at which Prather counted the species of plants growing there.
“We don’t know how she can possibly do everything she can, and that’s inspiring to be around someone that is capable of juggling all the things she does and is succeeding,” Jones said.
The 35-year-old mother of a 4-year-old son, Prather acknowledged that when the public and students alike conjure the image of an outdoor ecologist, her face does not spring to mind.
“I didn’t participate in science in high school because of this stigma — if you’re a scientist, you’re a dork,” she said. “And it’s a shame that part of it is still there, that stigma still exists. You can tell by the number of people who commonly participate in class.”
She’s also part of a change happening within the field. Pennings points to the NSF’s Long-Term Ecological Research Network. LTER is unraveling ecological science and sharing information in ways beneficial to other ecologists as well as policymakers and resource managers. Having participated in research at the Luquillo LTER site in Puerto Rico, Prather also imparts a new way of learning to her students.
“Chelse’s a prime example of carrying the mindset out into the ecological community and being comfortable as a collaborator, being comfortable with the idea of sharing data, which was not part of the ecological culture in the past,” Pennings said.
At a brown bag session, Prather asked her students their opinions on the major issues in ecology worth looking into. It was a daunting task, said one grad student, but it began to open for them the world of interrelationships — within nature and among researchers — that are vital for the field to evolve.
Prather will take her quest for collaboration a step further in coming months. After publication of her findings, she plans to make the raw data from her macronutrient experiment available online for anyone to access. It should help other researchers interested in building on her work or applying it to other ecosystems — or even other natural disasters.
“For me it’s important to understand these bigger patterns,” Prather said. “The interesting thing about asking these big, complex questions is whatever you’re trying to understand depends on the context. The question I think I’m more interested in is is there generality in that context dependency: Can we predict how things will act depending on a set of circumstances?”
Back in Texas, Prather and her students in May unloaded a couple of vehicles full of equipment and ventured out into the coastal tallgrass prairie, their first chance to collect data since Hurricane Harvey. Before they left Dayton, they knew the hurricane had destroyed the greenhouses and lab building. What they had yet to discover was if all the supplies — carefully labeled and stacked for this year’s fieldwork — could be salvaged, and how the plants and animals had responded to 43 inches of rain.
During the hurricane, Pennings was one of those standing outside collecting rainwater. As he watched the neighborhood bayou overflow and creep ever-closer to his house, Pennings placed a blue 5-gallon bucket on his concrete patio. “I had to empty it twice, 24 hours apart, because it was overflowing,” he said. He poured the water in Ziploc bags, and then mailed samples to Dayton.
Prather discovered the quantity of sodium and calcium that fell on her experiment in two days equaled half of the micronutrients she would expect the prairie to receive in a year from average rainfall.
Results from fieldwork in 2017 showed nutrients do indeed make a difference, both in the types of plants that grow and the insects that feed on them. Sodium was the surprising standout. In plots that received the common fertilizers nitrogen and phosphorous plus sodium, insects were 1.5 times more widespread. One species of katydid was especially happy with the combination and increased its population 400 percent. Reihart also uncovered a connection between calcium and crazy ants.
Said Pennings, “We found that micronutrients mattered. What’s less clear is the mechanism.”
Grasshoppers might have preferred the variety of plants that thrived in the sodium plots. It also could be that the leaves themselves taste better with more sodium, or that sodium is a nutrient the insects crave.
“In the same way as in human health, the first order thing you have to do is get enough food,” Pennings said. “But once you’ve got enough food, you start thinking about all the vitamins, is my diet balanced, am I getting the right mixture of different things.”
This summer, they’ll be trapping grasshoppers and giving them a buffet of food choices to better understand the attraction of a high-sodium diet. They’re also in the rare position to compare the prairie before and after a major hurricane. Prather said she expects plots treated with only nitrogen and phosphorous may start to resemble the macronutrient-plus-sodium plots from last year and have more grasshoppers and katydids.
It’s hard to predict. Nature has a lot of natural variability, Prather said. But that means when you find an influence on the environment, you’ve made a discovery in spite of the odds.
While this is the last summer for fieldwork on the NSF project, Prather is eyeing future research opportunities on the UH prairie. She’s also looking to build off the Dayton prairie research of her undergrads, uncovering even more about local insects and their role in the ecosystem.
As she sat in her office, she paused from discussing the project for just a moment, eyes focused on the trees beyond her window. It looks like she’s about to head outdoors again. There’s more to do.
“It really is something that you ask one question,” she said, “and it only uncovers 10 more.”
We asked former UD students to tell us about the impact retired faculty and staff have had on their lives. Here are four stories about how retires continue to inspire. Read more on their lives as retirees in the Summer 2018 UD Magazine story “Happy Retirement.”
It took just one water wiggle for Amy Marcotte ’03 to remember her time as a mechanical engineering major at the University of Dayton, specifically the mechanical design classes she took from professor Phil Doepker ’64. Marcotte’s daughter brought home the slippery blue plastic toy filled with glittery water and Marcotte was reminded of the water wiggles Doepker used to bring to class.
“[He emphasized] the ability to look past the toy and focus on the ability to move something through it without friction,” Marcotte said, describing how Doepker, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who retired in 2011, used the toy to explain laparoscopic medical devices.
Marcotte noted that she’s not sure how many people think of their mechanical engineering professor when their kid brings home a specific toy, but Doepker was never just a mechanical engineering professor.
“I will not hesitate to say that Phil Doepker was a professor that changed the lives of his students,” Marcotte said. “His astronomical passion for teaching and industry gave him the edge needed to influence others to change the world through engineering innovations.”
Sixteen years later, Marcotte still keeps in contact with her past professor, and said that the respect she has for him only increased after graduation.
In an office in the Kettering Labs, on a shelf among other belongings, is a framed cover of The New Yorker from 1998. This is the office of Becky Blust ’87, associate professor in the School of Engineering and direct of the Innovation Center.
The cover was a gift from Carroll Schleppi — first professor to, then colleague of Blust. It featured a nursing mother, something that was rare to see in public in the ’90s. To Blust, a rarity is the perfect representation of Schleppi herself.
“Carroll is very much a feminist,” Blust said. “She is very conscious of women’s rights issues and always has that in the forefront.”
From the first time Blust took a class with Schleppi, she liked the idea of having a strong female faculty member that was very good at her profession, mathematics, from which to learn.
In addition to womanhood, Schleppi was intense in all facets, something that Blust said helped shape her.
“Carroll was tough,” Blust said. “She set the tone for the rest of my college career. It was evident I wasn’t in high school anymore.”
After 12 years working in the industry, Blust was asked to come back to UD and apply for a position as professor. Schleppi was among the first to welcome her.
Blust continues to keep in contact with Schleppi today, still looking to her as a beacon to guide her through life when she needs it.
“She understands where I’m at right now, because she’s been there,” Blust said. “I can confide in her. If she gives me advice and I don’t take it, it isn’t offensive to her, and she will still counsel me the same after that.”
From professor, to colleague, to friend Schleppi has continued to be there for Blust throughout all of life’s trials.
Whether Alex Galluzzo ’12 knew it or not, his future began to happen when he joined the Rivers Institute at UD. As a River Steward, Galluzzo was one of the few business majors in a program that held a lot of engineering and biology students. However, Galluzzo discovered his life’s passion when engaging with Dick Ferguson ’73, executive director at the time of the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community.
“He opened my eyes to community engagement and development and how it could impact my major,” Galluzzo said. “He was the one that pushed me off campus as much as possible to interact with the city.”
Galluzzo spent the summer between his junior and senior year working on campus with the Rivers Institute, developing the concept of what is now the RiverMobile. He didn’t have a job lined up for after graduation, so Ferguson urged Galluzzo to stay on campus for a few years continuing his work with the Rivers Institute as a graduate assistant.
Today, Galluzzo is the program manager for the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education (SOCHE), where his focus is on getting students off campus and into meaningful internships and co-ops. His current work is with the Air Force Institute of Technology where he brings students from around the country into the Dayton region.
“Now, the work I’m doing is very much tied into community development, so (Dick is) starting to take some pride and feeling like he has some responsibility in that, which he definitely did,” Galluzzo said.
Galluzzo said that not only would he not be involved in community engagement if it weren’t for Ferguson, but he wouldn’t be living in Dayton. As a River Steward, Galluzzo spent a lot of time teaching other students about Dayton and how to have pride in your community.
“It’s hard to sell to students why Dayton is so great and then not feel a sense of pride living in Dayton,” Galluzzo said.
Since graduating, Galluzzo’s relationship with Ferguson has changed but has not weakened. He said his family is very close with the Fergusons, and that Dick was at both his wedding and his son’s baptism. For Galluzzo, what he once saw as a mentor relationship with Ferguson has evolved into a friendship.
It is not uncommon for UD students to seek out student employment during their time on campus. Megan Burian ’15 didn’t know her employment opportunity in the office of education abroad would mean hearing fascinating stories of life’s experiences. This was the case for Burian, thanks to Patti Procuniar.
Outside of work, one of Procuniar’s hobbies is beekeeping, and Burian recalls learning about the process, asking for updates on the hives, and even indulging in some of the honey when she had a sore throat.
“She inspires me to keep learning new things and has shown me that there is always room for new hobbies and experiences in life,” Burian said of Procuniar.
The two have been able to keep in touch through email, but Burian was able to attend one of Procuniar’s “walk parties,” which include a hike and chili dinner.
“She has a beautiful piece of property,” Burian said. “I enjoyed getting to catch up with her.”
From her diverse interests in beekeeping and astrology to her proclivity for completing diligent work, Procuniar continues to inspire Burian in her everyday life.
“[Her] hard-working attitude and openness to trying new things inspire me to possess these same qualities in my life,” Burian said. “She’s an overall great person with a spark for life.”
From student worker to English as a Second Language aide, Burian has been able to carry that spark for life and continue to let it inspire her.
The bullet left a small entry wound, but when the man was turned over, I realized he was missing a large part of the back of his head — an empty void where his hair, flesh, skull and brain should have been. The force of the bullet must have been terrific. I remember the blood that poured onto the concrete when he was pulled from the pickup truck. I knew my mind was unraveling when I sat and stared at the trail of blood long after he was carried away. I do not know why this particular murder affected me so deeply because I had seen much worse. After all, it was just another discarded body from the streets of Baghdad. I was a 23-year-old platoon leader far removed from Dayton.
It was 2007, and the level of sectarian bloodletting in Iraq was beyond crisis level. The killing between Shiite and Sunni factions was accentuated with bullets, car bombs and improvised explosive devices directed at American forces. Four years had passed since the initial invasion of Iraq, and the United States was struggling to hand over control of the country to the Iraqi government. The military response at the time was a “surge” of 20,000 soldiers. I was one of those soldiers, a paratrooper with the Second Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division.
Just a few months before, I was finishing my senior year at UD and completing the last steps to become a commissioned officer through our University’s Army R.O.T.C. program. I had entered the program a year after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Like many, I remember that day well. I was a senior in high school. My teacher turned on our classroom television, and the reception alternated between wavy black-and-white images and fully scrambled dots. Although distorted, I recognized the Twin Towers engulfed in smoke and flames. For me and for many future soldiers, it was the day Graham Greene’s novel The Power and the Glory describes: There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in. As the smoke cleared, the day’s images, far from distorted, were played on an endless high-definition loop. I felt anger, even hatred.
When I started at UD, the United States was already fighting in Afghanistan and the case for an invasion of Iraq, with its “weapons of mass destruction,” was being built. I knew little about the history of either country but did know the talking points for why we were fighting a “global war on terrorism.” I did not spend a lot of time thinking through the justification for either conflict. It did not matter. I was ready, even eager, to fight. I was naïve.
The purpose of the troop surge was to bring U.S. soldiers together with Iraqi forces to quell the violence in Baghdad and regain control of the city. Up to this point in the war, U.S. soldiers largely lived on massive bases far removed from the battlefield. These bases, replete with gyms, cafeterias, coffee shops, convenience stores, and Pizza Huts, were small-town America dropped into the desert. With the troop surge, we moved off these bases and into accommodations side-by-side with Iraqi forces in the same neighborhoods we were charged to protect and bring order to. Only razor wire and barriers several feet wide separated us from the outside. We referred to it as the Wild West, but it felt more like an island.
Our base was an active Iraqi police station, with an Iraqi army unit next door. Inside the front door, once past the police chief’s office, was the building’s only jail cell. I never went in, but at times I would peer through the iron bars at the top of the door. The smell would always strike me first. My eyes would then slowly adjust to the darkened, dirty, bare cell. Disheveled prisoners sat on the floor with bowls of leftover food and what I can only presume was human waste.
Past the cell, through an iron door, sat an American soldier as the gatekeeper between the Iraqi and American sides of the building. Once I was past the soldier, the conference room was on my left. Inside of this room with blue peeling paint we would plan patrols and keep each other apprised of what was happening outside. The reports I heard were often horrific; I had trouble believing that God could be working in this chaos. Eventually, I stopped thinking about God altogether.
In addition to patrolling and conducting raids in our assigned area of operations, our focus was training our partnered Iraqi forces. This was a daily challenge because Iraqi forces, to completely understate the divide, operated differently than we did. Take, for example, dealing with unexploded bombs. As a general rule of thumb, American forces, unless highly trained and knowing what they are doing, do not touch them. More than once, an Iraqi police officer or soldier attempted to hand me a grenade or part of a bomb that they had taken it upon themselves to pick up off the street. By the grace of God, I am still alive.
I remember the day I realized we were fighting an unwinnable war. Shortly after arriving, our brigade conducted a massive operation to capture or kill a known bomb maker in the city. This operation involved hundreds of soldiers, with the most technologically advanced equipment available, coupled with air support and drones. Our brigade fanned out across Baghdad to find this person. Despite our impressive manpower, despite our superior equipment and despite our tactical advantages, the mission was a failure. That day I saw firsthand the absurdity of the very notion of a “global war on terrorism.” We did not have the ability to find this single bomb maker, let alone capture or kill all people in the world who use terror to impose their ideology and will upon others.
In the days and months that followed, I came face-to-face with war. The reality of war is not something to be celebrated or romanticized. There are no adequate words to describe it; cruel, brutal, evil — they all fall short. Descriptions of the human cost are the only way to begin to articulate and understand its horror. War is a young girl scarred physically and emotionally after the vehicle she is standing next to explodes; war is the remains of a young man collected in a trash bag after he trips a roadside bomb; war is mothers, fathers, daughters, sons and friends who are shot, burned, stabbed, decapitated; war is the mother of a murdered child screaming out that there is no hope.
Hope. Where did I find hope in all this? At the time, my faith was nonexistent. I was raised Methodist, but I rarely attended church. In Iraq, I felt completely separated from God. I witnessed death and tragedy, and without faith, I had no way to process it. I had to bury it within me knowing full well that such sights, sounds and memories would not stay hidden. No matter how much I wanted to, I could not dig a hole in the sand and leave all of this pain in Iraq.
After a deployment of 15 months, I returned home — and brought the pain and memories back with me. Death was part of it, but some memories hurt much more than others. A memory that haunts me is a young girl who came to the police station a short time after she was burned. She was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and near the wrong vehicle when it exploded. The scars covered most of her body and face, but I knew from her eyes that underneath it all was a beautiful child, a victim of a war she did not choose.
It was a simple request — she needed advanced medical care. I wrote several reports and pressed my superiors to intervene, but we never helped her. She came to me for help, and I failed her. She would be 18 years old now, and sometimes I wonder what became of her life. My heart wants to believe she obtained the care she needed and is thriving, but in my head I know that she is probably dead. Such memories, coupled with the knowledge of the level of depravity we are capable of inflicting upon one another, led to my struggles with depression and post-traumatic stress. Instead of turning toward God, my solution was to turn inward and try to make sense of everything for myself.
Three years after the surge, I left the military. With the passage of time, I was able to face the pain I had buried. I realized I needed a power beyond my own to heal me. UD was my first introduction to the Catholic faith. While in school, I never had an epiphanic moment where God cast a spotlight on me and I saw the light. Rather, what I remember, and what planted a seed in me, were the Marianist brothers who taught several of my classes. With these brothers, I found kind, decent men. I respected that they were highly educated and that their knowledge was compatible with their faith.
UD was also where I met my wife, Michelle. She is Catholic, and from the beginning of our relationship she held out hope that I would convert. It was not until the birth of our first child that I seriously considered the possibility. We knew that we wanted to raise our son in a single faith, and we began to explore different churches to find a compromise. We started with the Methodist Church, sought middle ground in the Lutheran Church and finally found our home in the Catholic Church. Within the Catholic Church, my heart was drawn to the traditions, to the beauty of the sacraments and to the voice of moral authority in a world of relativism and indifference toward life-and-death decisions like going to war. I will be confirmed at this year’s Easter liturgy, and already Catholicism has led me to a closer relationship with God and has helped heal my brokenness from the war.
After witnessing the horror of war while serving as a chaplain on the Western Front in the First World War, Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy penned the poem “Waste” that captures the true essence of all wars, both just and unjust:
Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth,
Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears,
Waste of Youth’s most precious years,
Waste of ways the Saints have trod,
Waste of Glory, waste of God,—
Waste. Why did we wreck a country with no clear plan to fix it? What did my fellow soldiers, both Americans and Iraqis, die for? I still do not know. The surge was initially viewed as a success. The level of violence and killing in Baghdad decreased, and the country moved toward stability. But the longer the war dragged on with no satisfactory end in sight, the more public opinion turned against it. Now the war itself is either forgotten or dismissed as a “mistake.” The flag-draped coffins of 4,424 U.S. service members and the lost lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are simply a “mistake.” I do not know how or why we silently acquiesced to this dismissal.
I played my part in this mistake. Ten years ago, I placed country over God and blind patriotism over truth. Today, I have discovered two truths that sustain my hope in the face of my own and my country’s brokenness. The first is that the world that Jesus walked is the same world we live in today. Both were and are violent, sinful and fallen. But God loved us enough to send his son for our redemption so that we may live a life in full communion with him. We are not so fallen that we are out of reach.
The second truth is that we participate in the body of Christ. I have always been awestruck that God became man, but before I committed to Catholicism I thought God’s physical presence ended with Jesus’ ascension into heaven. In the Catholic Church, I discovered a living, breathing presence in the people around me and within myself. With Jesus as the head, infused and energized with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church is a force for good and love in the world that will not be extinguished by any military, bullet or bomb.
Jesse Bowman is an attorney who lives in Liberty Township, Ohio, with his wife, Michelle Carroll Bowman ’06, and their two children. This essay is adapted from his article “After the Surge,” published in the Nov. 27, 2017, issue of America.
Picture the expanse of outer space. You are flying through it, with views of asteroids, planets, stars, galaxies and nebulae swirling around you. As you are absorbing these images, I want you to recall the words of St. Paul to the Roman Church, that God’s nature is revealed through this created order, not just here on Earth, but beyond.
The 10 trillion galaxies reveal God to us. The septillion stars display divine energy, and the countless planets tell us of God’s creativity and love. As the psalmists wrote, it is these heavens that declare the glory of God, the skies that proclaim the work of God’s hands.
Ponder the power that was necessary to mold this universe. And then this same God populated the universe with solar systems, that gave rise to planets, some with liquid water, where every 10 drops of that water holds more molecules than the known universe has stars. And in this water on at least one world, but undoubtedly on many others, life arose and slowly adapted to the water and the weather and the environment, and in due course gave rise to us, to you, to me, giving us abilities to learn and think and speak and write and dream and travel to places eventually beyond the Earth.
For me, outer space and religion are intertwined — inseparable in their magnificence and wonder.
But not everyone sees it this way.
I am not an astronomer, nor an astronaut, nor even a theologian. I am a social scientist, a professor of political science. My job is to ask questions and answer them with public opinion data, wherein we learn of the multiplicity of views on topics as seemingly diverse as religion and space. When I asked the question “Does religion influence public support of U.S. space policy?” I was as curious about my own faith tradition as the nation as a whole. My findings demonstrate that we have vast opportunities to improve space education to religious constituencies. But public opinion also shows that our failure to act could imperil not only our nation but also the very existence of our species.
My own faith tradition often perplexes my students, who are majority Catholic. I was raised as an evangelical Protestant — Pentecostal to be specific. It is a tradition that is at best skeptical of biological science, if not science and higher education overall. I grew up reading books critical of evolutionary theory — and even defended creation science in a class assignment on persuasive public speaking. But I always had this other side, a part of me that saw science and space as exciting opportunities for exploration and adventure. I read books by astronomer and atheist Carl Sagan, who asserted alien civilizations undoubtedly flourished among the cosmos. My favorite TV series was the X-Files, and I loved the dystopian future world of the Alien movies.
Despite warnings from some family members that college would make me give up everything I believed in, I went. Once or twice I had crises of faith. But I came out on the other side, making adjustments within my faith to make it intellectually compatible with what we know about the world around us. I now see no problem with any findings of science, and politically I think and act very differently than when I was young. I now consider myself an ecumenical evangelical.
As a social scientist and an evangelical, I am interested in the role religion plays in public life. I began my graduate studies in public policy at Johns Hopkins, where I taught an undergraduate course on faith-based social policy. I even worked on the national Faith-Based and Community Initiative at the U.S. Department of Labor. In my doctoral dissertation for the Urban and Public Affairs program at the University of Louisville, I evaluated how religious participation might affect your support of city-county government consolidation.
Given my side interest in outer space, and the experiences of my religious upbringing, I was curious if my own tradition lags behind others when it comes to support for space policy. I began analyzing public opinion data from four publically available, nationally random surveys that asked U.S. adults questions about space and religion. But I set the project aside to focus on teaching and other research, until I read a 2014 blog post by creationist Ken Ham criticizing NASA efforts to find alien life. Ham’s post rekindled my desire to examine whether his views holding that Earth life is special and preeminent in the created order were widespread and associated with less support for space policy. I saw the film Interstellar later that year, in which Matthew McConaughey portrays an astronaut in search of an off-world home to save our species from extinction by environmental collapse. Inspired to complete the project, I returned from the movie theater and wrote into the morning.
I wanted to know the influence of religion, in its many forms, on public support for U.S. space policy. Would there be a difference based on religious belonging, beliefs, and behaviors when it came to knowledge of and support for space exploration? I would discover the answer was yes, and religious elements seemed to have the greatest influence in my own tradition — a negative influence.
Religion in general does not stand in the way of support for space exploration, but some traditions holding less knowledge of space give lower support to space exploration. Results indicate that evangelicals, or non-Catholic Christians with a born-again conversion experience, ranked consistently lower than the rest of the population on five of seven space measures: knowledge of space, funding support of space exploration, space benefits both general and national, and optimism about the future of space exploration.
Some of my findings include:
-Hindus, Buddhists, those of other Eastern traditions, and Jews represent strong advocates for space policy.
-Mainline Protestants, Jews, Eastern traditions and those with no religion scored significantly higher on space knowledge.
-Jews, Eastern traditions and religious “nones” all stand out positively on perceptions of general space benefits.
-Eastern traditions and the nones also rate higher on support for space funding.
-Eastern traditions are most interested in space.
-Catholics are higher than other religions on space nationalism, the belief that the U.S. should lead the way in exploration.
Evangelicals express a sort of “space pessimism.” This means that evangelicals hold higher expectations that an asteroid will hit the Earth during the next four decades, but lower expectations of the discovery of life away from Earth over the same period. In perhaps the most interesting finding on expectation, evangelicals are surer that Jesus will return to Earth before mid-century than they are about any of four space events occurring: an asteroid hitting Earth, scientists finding evidence of life elsewhere, ordinary people traveling to space, or astronauts landing on Mars.
In an interesting twist, support of one’s clergy member(s) for science makes a significant difference among this most skeptical religious group. If an evangelical’s pastor speaks negatively about science, the probability of agreeing with the statement “space exploration does more good than harm” is 47 percent. When a pastor speaks positively, the probability is 97 percent. While I do not remember ever hearing a sermon on space from the pulpit of my churches, the findings indicate a clear opportunity for inroads in both the understanding of space science and the support of space exploration.
As we dream of our cosmic future, we begin to wonder if further exploration of the cosmos is motivated by a practical desire to improve human conditions or an innate desire for discovery. The latter, while a powerful drive for scientific advancement, is a more difficult justification for public or private funding. The reality is that, despite private programs like SpaceX and visionaries like Elon Musk, we need public investment to make progress in space. We also need a sustained national, and likely international, effort. This will require a very long-term vision and funding model that transcends political cycles. Political science can, and should, help chart the way forward.
I taught, for the first time, an interdisciplinary course on the social, political and economic aspects of space exploration during the fall of 2017. We discussed the U.S. political cycle — how the party in power pursues its agenda, often by overturning the work of the previous power holders. Then we have an election, power shifts, and it all starts again. Take recent U.S. policy on returning to the moon. In 2004, President George W. Bush announced an effort to build a moon base as a steppingstone for deeper space exploration to Mars and beyond. President Barack Obama canceled the moon base in 2010, citing underfunding and delays that would make a return to the moon unrealistic until at least 2028. And in December, President Donald Trump ordered NASA to focus on getting back to the moon: “We will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and, perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond,” he said.
We also must contend with politicians from both parties who believe the problems down here, from health care to potholes, are more deserving of funding than space exploration. Granted, billions are currently going toward space science. While this sounds like a lot of money, it is less than one-half of 1 percent of the federal budget.
“Religion in general does not stand in the way of support for space exploration, but some traditions holding less knowledge of space give lower support to space exploration.”
So why should we go to space? Beyond the general benefit arguments that space science creates jobs and leads to innovations that improve our lives on Earth, there is the question of the survival of humankind. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, as well as NASA administrators, have stated that a one-planet species will not last long in the universe. “We are running out of space, and the only places to go to are other worlds,” Hawking stated during a 2017 lecture. As time goes on, the likelihood increases that disasters, either natural or manmade, could end life on Earth. From a purely survivalist point of view, funding off-world travel makes a lot of sense.
In political science, we talk about focusing events. These serve as motivating problems that demand attention that could lead to action. For example, when there is a mass shooting, gun policy gets closer to the agenda. Thus far, climate change and its threat to our species has not galvanized our response. So what will be our space exploration focusing event? It could be the near miss of an asteroid, or the discovery of life in outer space, or even a private venture that colonizes Mars.
We cannot talk about funding space science, or of public action for imminent threats, without bringing back into the conversation my findings about religious groups. Evangelicals are not just isolated space pessimists — they are, by some measures, up to a quarter of the U.S. electorate and an even greater share of the Republican Party’s base. So how can we ensure they are part of the space policy conversation?
One tact is to embrace the opportunities identified in the research. NASA, as well as organizations and businesses involved in space contracts in general, should participate in outreach and education to all religious constituencies, and to evangelicals in particular. In other words, they need to try harder. For too long, some of the most outspoken proponents of space exploration have been dismissive of if not antagonistic toward organized religion. Opportunities to inform clergy are especially important, as their sermons evidently influence the perceived benefit of space exploration.
Individuals who have resolved conflicts between their faith and their work as scientists can enhance the conversation and increase public knowledge. One such evangelical is Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project and current director of the National Institutes of Health. His organization BioLogos, which he left to lead the NIH, promotes harmony between biological science and biblical faith in its evolutionary understanding of God’s creation. It also strives for dialogue with those who hold other views and could be a model of how to have such conversations in other areas of science.
Evangelicals can also look to the Catholic Church as one example of a healthy marriage between church and space. The Vatican, with its own observatory and meteorite collection, also has a Jesuit brother as its chief astronomer, who not only explores extraterrestrial geology but also expounds on the relation between our Earthly selves and the whole of God’s creation. Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., wrote in his Vatican Observatory blog, “The intimate study of God’s creation, the act we call science, is thus an act of worship. Astronomy is not only an appropriate activity for a church to support, it is also something that’s right for individual humans to spend our whole lives doing, given the chance.”
As you may surmise, I advocate for increasing current spending and not waiting for the disaster of a focusing event to move our nation and our species closer to an off-world future. I believe religious actors and institutions should support humanity’s expansion into outer space because their future survival depends on it, and the space community should engage with religious publics so that they do not present obstacles to humanity’s cosmic future.
My evangelical community does not need to embrace a new theology, but simply bask in the glory of the cosmos. At a minimum, I argue that the church not stand in the way of space science, and that it contributes to a healthy dialogue between religious believers and the space community. It will require us to build on the attentive publics in many of the great world religions and work together as we embark on the greatest project humanity has ever pursued.
• • •
Interested in popular culture connecting space and religion? Professor Joshua Ambrosius recommends that you:
-Watch the film Contact (1997), adapted from the novel by Carl Sagan, about a scientist’s struggles with faith as she seeks to represent humanity as an interstellar ambassador.
-Read the novel The Sparrow (1996) by Ohio author Mary Doria Russell about Jesuits leading a mission of first contact with an alien civilization.
-Watch the new Amazon pilot for Oasis (2017), based on Dutch writer Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things (2014), about a
pastor asked to serve as chaplain to the colonists of a remote exoplanet.
Out of this world, and in this classroom
In fall 2017, I offered a new interdisciplinary course taught from three perspectives: political science, sociology and economics. Forty-four students enrolled in two sections of SSC 200, Space Exploration: Toward a Space-Faring Society, in which they learned about space policy
and how to research problems in space exploration.
Students enrolled in the course were, for the most part, genuinely interested in space exploration — hardly a surprise. But they also became more supportive of space policy as the course went on. About two-thirds came into the course believing that our government should spend more on space exploration than it currently does. After exposure to the actual space budget, which constitutes less than one-half of 1 percent of the federal budget, more than nine out of 10 students now believe we should increase space funding — a view shared by just one-fifth of U.S. adults, according to the 2016 General Social Survey.
What arguments could help get more of the public on board with space funding? When the students ranked what they believed would best convince space skeptics, they chose economic motivations:
-creation of spin-off companies and products
-new forms of energy
These “utilitarian” justifications contrast with exploration for the sake of exploration — including the search for answers to questions about universal origins and the proliferation of life in the universe. They also contrast with some of the students’ top personal motivations, including peace that could develop out of international cooperation.
I plan to teach the course again in upcoming semesters. It allows me to share my research on religion and space and also help implement one of my research conclusions: that those who believe in space exploration need to reach out to
religious constituencies as potential allies in our quest for the stars.
Some people are putting aside talking just to vent their feelings, to rally the like-minded, to persuade others they must agree with them. Others are still talking. But they are also listening. And they are trying to understand.
We offer on these pages four conversations on dialogue. It is more than talk. It is more than being nice. And it is hard.
The 1960s brought us fashion fads: bell bottom pants and paisley shirts and go-go boots. Many of the fads faded.
The same time also saw us as a divided nation on issues including the Vietnam War, race relations and women’s rights. Many people proposed replacing strife in the streets with nonviolent interaction. They “began to see dialogue as a means by which we should communicate with each other,” according to a chapter in the UD textbook now used in Communication 100: Principles of Oral Communication.
Dialogue has existed as long as language. But in the 1960s it took on a new dimension.
“Dialogue wasn’t just seen as a technique for communication,” reads the UD book chapter written by Jon Hess, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It was seen as an ethical requirement.”
But within a decade or so, such interest passed like just another fad. Perhaps too much was expected. Some momentous laws were passed. Some people bonded. But an age of peace and love did not come upon us. Maybe dialogue became viewed as just so much holding hands, singing “Kumbaya” and hoping for the best.
‘You can’t have good dialogue if you avoid conflict. If you avoid it, you can’t pursue truth.’
Whatever the case, when UD’s new general education curriculum, the Common Academic Program, was introduced, the courses in the Faith Traditions element of it required students to enter into dialogue. Kelly Johnson, associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies, was not impressed.
“I thought it soft intellectually,” she said. “I saw its focus being on niceness and acceptance and protecting feelings, not on the pursuit of truth.”
Her approach in class had been structured debate.
“I told my students,” she said, “‘I don’t want to hear you say that both sides made good points. I want to know which author wins.’
“We had a lot of fun.”
To her, a great value of debate is that debate is active learning and thus promotes retention.
And her academic training used critique and debate. Given that background, she said, “I had no idea how to do dialogue.”
So she went to see Joe Valenzano, now chair of the Department of Communication. Valenzano was the first director of the revised Communication 100 course, which has dialogue as one of its components.
The revision of the first-year communication course had not occurred in a vacuum. Hess recalls that, when in 2008 he came to UD to be chair of the communication department, “the University did not want to continue the traditional oral communication course.”
So a group of communication faculty members talked to departments across campus, asking them what their students needed. They found three results, according to Hess. The STEM areas wanted students to be able to explain complex ideas to others. Humanities and business departments wanted students to be able to make a persuasive argument as well as be able to critique one — skills learned in debate.
And, universitywide, faculty wanted students to be able to engage in dialogue with people whose perspectives are different from their own.
The course, in its third full year, is now directed by Jason Combs, a lecturer in the communication department. The course includes among its goals developing in students the abilities that other departments had desired:
And, important in the developing of all these abilities, is listening.
“Students must learn,” Combs said, “how to engage in critical analysis, how to think quickly.”
This past term, Combs’ students returned from Thanksgiving full of turkey, cold viruses, upcoming exam anxiety and the Communication 100 unit on dialogue.
Earlier in the term students in the class learned how to persuade others; they had made speeches advocating a position. The first class after Thanksgiving, students began to prepare for engaging in dialogue.
The following week, they broke into groups of six. Each member of a group chose a persuasive speech a classmate had given and delivered a three-minute response to it. The other five took notes. This process prepared them for a 15-minute dialogue that followed.
During the students’ three-minute responses, Combs said, professors want to see nonverbal behaviors such as looking at one’s audience consistently and directly and expressing conviction in one’s face and gestures. They look at how well the students summarize the arguments to which they are responding, how well they organize their responses, how well they support their own arguments with evidence from credible sources and how civilly they present their material.
During the 15-minute discussions, professors want to hear students build a supportive climate, ask good questions (including ones to clarify others’ views), paraphrase their peers’ positions before responding to them, assert their own views clearly and interact civilly with the other students. They also look, Combs said, “for nonverbal behaviors that can build a supportive climate and engage in effective listening, for example, consistent and direct eye contact with the others who are speaking, facial expressions, head nods to suggest attentiveness, smiling to create empathy.”
Watching one group begin its dialogue, one could see how the students dutifully used the techniques necessary to achieve the course’s objectives. As they talked and listened to others talk about speeches related to social media, they became more engaged. A tangential reference to net neutrality moved the discussion into a new area. The students became curious. They asked each other questions. They weren’t trying to win anything. And they were doing more than getting a grade; they were gaining understanding of complex issues; they were learning.
After talking to Valenzano, Johnson had also learned the value of dialogue for her
religious studies classes.
“I got won over gradually,” she said. “I came to realize that a lot more was involved than respect for the other person.”
That included speaking and listening, but a specific kind of speaking and listening.
“You have to speak so people can understand you,” she said. “You need to formulate what you think in a way that is clear to others.”
Listening is more than just hearing.
“You ask questions,” she said, “not trying to trip up opponents as in a debate, but so that you understand. The aim is to understand each other. If you don’t understand what the other is saying, you keep asking questions.”
She tells her students working in group dialogue that they are teammates, not competitors. That involves a certain amount of respect.
But, Johnson said, “it is more than being nice. And it is hard.”
One reason it’s hard, she thinks, is that UD students really are nice people.
“Whether it’s UD or the Midwest or whatever, most students here want to be nice,” she said. “They don’t want to offend anyone or stir up a heated disagreement. If you let them follow that instinct, what they are speaking may not be the truth and they may not understand what they are hearing.”
Before her conversion to dialogue as a method, Johnson had thought that dialogue avoided conflict.
“But,” she said, “you can’t have good dialogue if you avoid conflict. If you avoid it, you can’t pursue truth.”
She had been attracted to debate because it could lead to truth.
“In debate, you want students to step up to the plate, not to sidestep conflict by saying, ‘We all have good points.’ You want them to make hard judgments, to pick a winner. The subjects we debated in class weren’t ones on which the student already had positions. They became engaged. They learned.”
But she also recognized a downside to competitive debate.
“Sometimes they would massage their positions in order to win.”
Her use of dialogue differs from her previous use of debate in that students often present their own views. And the concept of winning is different.
In dialogue, she said, “Winning is understanding someone else and having them understand you.”
Dialogue may not bring peace and love to the world, but a little understanding might make it a little better.
Johnson recalls a class that was looking at contemporary moral questions related to slavery. Some people read Pope Francis’ speech about human trafficking; some read about laws that would improve our ability to trace whether slavery was used in a supply chain.
Each student wrote a response to a contemporary article. They then broke into groups, determined by the paper each had picked.
Two members of one group were bright, white, male undergrads who wrote about the issue of whether there should be a national conversation about reparations.
“Each of their papers,” Johnson said, “said that race is over and talk of reparations would just stir up trouble.”
The other student was an African-American woman.
“It was one of the most transformative moments of dialogue I’ve ever seen,” Johnson said.
The men listened to the woman tell of her experience with racism, to her saying it was not over. Each student spoke. Each student listened. They did not try to change each other’s minds.
They tried to understand.
Carroll A. “Ted” Hochwalt ’20
-Morton’s salt iodization process
-Non-freezing fire extinguisher
-Rapid distillation process for whiskey
-Tetraethyl lead gasoline octane booster
-Metal grinding and stamping lubricants
-Waterproof and mildew-proof textiles
-Low-sudsing All laundry detergent
Alphonse H. Mahrt ’12
Taking the ball & running with it
“No man ever possessed more drive, honesty and integrity than Al.” That’s how the board chairman for Mead Corp. honored Mahrt at his retirement after 39 years with Mead, which named a paper mill in Alabama in his honor. As a student, Mahrt was known as one of the University’s first great athletes, playing baseball, basketball and football. After graduation, Mahrt was a founding member and the first captain of the Dayton Triangles football team, one of the first teams in the NFL.
Edwin G. Becker ’14
Service to college & community
Becker served as a judge of the Court of the Common Pleas of Hamilton County, Ohio, a chemical superintendent with Procter & Gamble Co.; a lay leader in the Cincinnati Archdiocese; and a member of the University lay board of trustees.
Joseph D. Park ’29
Father of Freon
For Frigidaire, Park helped develop Freon to revolutionize refrigeration. For DuPont, he flipped kitchen conventions with the creation of nonstick Teflon. In 1947, Park turned his focus to education as a professor at the University of Colorado.
John B. Alexander ’25
A longtime chemist and vice president with Southwestern Portland Cement Co., Alexander helped develop the concrete for the Hoover Dam.
Martin J. Hillenbrand ’37
First U.S. ambassador to Hungary
“I have served as a diplomat under seven presidents and nine secretaries of state. … The interplay of people and events, of decision making and ineluctable external causation that constitutes the historical process, is fraught with both personal tragedy and achievement. Things never quite work out as we would wish.”
— Hillenbrand, from Fragments of Our Time: Memoirs of a Diplomat
Col. Edward L. Buescher ’45
Isolated & characterized the rubella virus, cause of German measles
U.S. rubella timeline:
-1962: Virus characterized by scientists at Walter Reed Army Hospital
-1964: 12.5 million cases
-1969: 57,686 cases; rubella vaccine licensed; Buescher receives the Legion of Merit
-1983: 1,000 cases
-2004: Measles no longer endemic in the U.S.
-Today: <10 cases each year
Father Raymond A. Roesch, S.M. ’36
University’s 16th president
He was called “the founder of the modern University of Dayton” by Brother Raymond L. Fitz, S.M., the University’s 17th president. Roesch, as president from 1959 to 1979, added nine academic departments; six associate, 18 bachelor’s and 44 master’s degree programs; reopened the School of Law; and was instrumental in the construction of Kennedy Union, Miriam Hall, Roesch Library, UD Arena, Marycrest Hall, Stuart Hall and Campus South.
George E. Freitas ’29
Among his companies: Hawaii Corp., Pacific Development Co., Pacific Construction Co., Pacific Utility Contractors and Community Equipment Inc., VHY, Moanalua Shopping Inc., Rosalei Apartments Inc., First Hawaiian Bank, Hawaiian Western Steel, Johnston and Buscher Inc., Pacific-Peru Construction Corp., Von Hamm-Young Inc., Hawaiian Textiles Inc., Pacco.
Clement G. Jauch ’08
His indelible stamp
Jauch, a member of the University of Dayton alumni board of directors, founded the Dayton Stencil Works Co., which continues to operate on East Second Street in the same building it has occupied since the early 1900s.
Charles W. Whalen Jr. ’42
Six-term U.S. congressman
“We’ve come to realize there is a limit to our powers. We have a feeling that we’re not as powerful as we thought we were.”
— Whalen to The New York Times on his decision in 1978 not to run for re-election; Whalen led the Republican opposition to the Vietnam War
Erma Fiste Bombeck ’49
Mother of suburban wit
“When Humor Goes, There Goes Civilization”
“Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved of the dessert cart.”
“All of us have moments in our lives that test our courage. Taking children into a house with a white carpet is one of them.”
“Insanity is hereditary. You can catch it from your kids.”
Soichi Kawazoe ’30
Executive vice president of Nissan Motors Corp., USA
After earning degrees from UD and MIT, Kawazoe returned to Japan, where he worked as an engineer for General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Nissan before being drafted into service with the Japanese army and becoming a prisoner of war of the Chinese Communists for eight years. His advice to Nissan to open an American sales branch led to the selling of 150,859 Datsun cars in the U.S. in 1970, the first year Kawazoe donated a Datsun to UD.
Torrence A. Makley Jr. ’40
Cataract surgery pioneer
Dr. Makley, professor of ophthalmology at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, pioneered the use of the revolutionary, less-invasive cataract treatment known as phacoemulsification.
Barry A. Shillito ’49
World War II Army Air Corps POW
A career in the aircraft industry and defense logistics included his appointments as the assistant secretary of the Navy in 1968 and the assistant secretary of defense in 1969 during the Vietnam War.
Brother Joseph F. Buettner, S.M. ’36
In his 51 years of service in the Society of Mary, Buettner served the mission of education, including his last 38 years in Puerto Rico. Said his secretary at Colegio San Jose in San Juan, Puerto Rico, upon Buettner’s death in 1979, “This is a man that God tries and finds worthy.”
George K. Houghtailing ’29
Director of planning, Honolulu
“It made me understand that people are people, and you have to look and plan for people, and work with people.”
Carl J. Crane ’24
Aviation pioneer & inventor
At age 10, Crane witnessed the flight of a Wright brothers biplane. He went on to a career of more than 60 years as a pilot, during which he flew almost every experimental and production craft, from the early biplanes to jet aircraft. He also helped write the world’s first manual on instrument flight and, in 1937, made the first fully automated landing at what is now Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Rita Rapp ’50
Space physiology pioneer
She joined the NASA Space Task Force at Langley Field in 1961 and was transferred the following year to the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center. She designed and implemented biomedical experiments, inflight medical kits and in-flight exercises for the astronauts, in addition to designing their meals and packaging their foods for the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs. In 1971, she received the Federal Women’s Award, the highest honor for a professional woman in the federal government.
Charles H. “Chuck” Noll ’53
Super Bowl legend
“Our goal is to win Super Bowls, and to win the Super Bowl you must start at the beginning. … Chuck [Noll] always preached about getting back to the basics. … Chuck Noll was always the teacher.”
— Dan Rooney, chairman, Pittsburgh Steelers, in 2014 remembering the Flyer who coached the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl championships.
Simon “Si” Burick ’30
Burick came to the University to become a doctor; instead, at age 19, he left UD to join the Dayton Daily News as sports editor, a position he held until his death in 1986. “After five decades, I confess there have been no regrets on my part,” he said some years before his death. Among his many accolades was Burick’s 1983 induction into the writers section of the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York; he was the only honoree who came from a city with no major league team. Burick finally received a UD degree in 1977 — an honorary doctorate in humane letters.
Simon Nathan ’42
Nathan, a noted photographer, contributed to his profession through his “Simon Sez” photography column, photography instruction books and the development of a hand-held panoramic camera.
Richard H. Finan ’54
Former president, Ohio Senate
“I’m most proud of riding herd over the renovation of the Statehouse. Anybody can pass a bill, but not anybody could do this. … Every time I come into the building, my chest swells with pride.”
Bernard L. Whelan ’08
‘Early bird’ of aviation
Whelan was among those who soloed in the first 13 years of powered flight; he later served as president of the Early Birds. An exhibition flier, Army Air Corps instructor and test pilot, Whelan went on to become vice president of the United Aircraft Corp.
Donald M. Knowlan ’51
Former team physician for the Washington Redskins and current professor emeritus of medicine at Georgetown University, Dr. Knowlan was inducted as a master of the American College of Physicians in 2008. He continues to participate in white coat ceremonies for GW’s medical students. “Today, the future of medicine is in their imagination,” he said of the Class of 2016.
Shirley A. Pohl ’57
Lifetime of clinical laboratory excellence
Pohl, a contributor to UD’s undergraduate and graduate programs in medical technology, shared her expertise with the world through service with MEDICO/CARE, which provides medical teams to developing countries, and the World Health Organization, where she served as a temporary adviser.
John R. Westerheide ’47
UD Research Institute founding director
“If some of us left a few fingerprints around, he left a full-body cast.”
— Al Ray, division of materials, metals and ceramics, about the impact of Westerheide throughout the institute
Ronald W. Collins ’57
Scholar in instructional computer usage
Collins was honored for his contributions to the fields of chemistry, chemical education, computers, computer-assisted instruction and university administration; he served on the faculty of Eastern Michigan University for 35 years.
John E. Condon ’51
Chief quality officer
Condon’s career in quality control included positions in industry and the government, including responsibility for the reliability of NASA’s space program from 1962-1972 and national leadership as president of the American Society for Quality Control.
Charles R. Wilke ’40
Chemical engineering education pioneer
“I feel it’s important to support future students and to encourage them to engage in research work that will improve human life, the profession and the economy.”
— Wilke, founder, department of chemical engineering, University of California, Berkeley
Irmengard P. Rauch ’55
Professor of German linguistics
An author of publications on historical and modern German linguistics and a professor at University of California, Berkeley, Rauch received honors including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1982 and the 1999 Festschrift Interdigitations: Essays for Irmengard Rauch.
Donald W. Wigal ’55
Specializing in modern & Western art
“I now believe art can lead to and flow from spirituality, from a simple household chore, for example, to the building of a grand Gothic edifice — not only cathedrals, but environments for all sorts of human expressions of truth and beauty.”
Brother Howard L. Hughes, S.M. ’51
Praising Mary through song
Hughes was a teacher, organist and glee club director in Washington, D.C.; Cleveland; Mineola, New York; and San Antonio. While serving on the Curia Generalizia in Rome, he was superior of the Marianist community there. In 2013, he was named Musician of the Year by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians.
Joseph E. Keller ’29
Washington, D.C., lawyer & law educator
“I’ve always been interested in helping people to be good lawyers. My roots came from the University of Dayton. It’s the only place I feel I ever got an education.”
— Keller, namesake for the building housing the UD School of Law
Sanford M. Shapero ’50
A civil rights activist who marched with Martin Luther King Jr., Shapero went on to lead private and nonprofit organizations, including City of Hope and Spirit of America Worldwide.
Charles J. Pedersen ’26
Pedersen, while working as an organic chemist for DuPont, discovered methods for synthesizing crown ethers, today used in many applications including removing mercury from drinking water.
Joseph E. Stermer ’31
Giving it his all
Stermer served in 27 countries abroad during his time in the Army. After the Korean Conflict, he helped establish a judicial system there based on the American model. He retired as colonel and practiced law in Michigan.
Charles L. “Chuck” Weber ’58
Radar & communications systems
“Chuck was kind, gentle and a great mentor to students, faculty and staff. He was a cheerful, positive person who cared deeply about his friends and colleagues and always brought out and encouraged the best qualities in people.”
— Alexander Sawchuck, University of Southern California, a fellow electrical engineering faculty member
Brother Donald R. Geiger, S.M. ’55
Professor emeritus of biology, Geiger has led numerous research projects to benefit the earth’s plants, people and other animals. Projects include land management in West Africa, food production in China, and natural area restoration in wetlands, prairies, parks and a former nuclear facility. Now retired, Geiger can still be found teaching through the UD River Stewards and the Marianist Environmental Education Center.
George E. Thoma ’43
Pioneer in nuclear medicine
“A tireless advocate of opportunities in science to inspire and encourage the next generation.”
— Mary Burke, CEO of the Academy of Science
Doris I. Shields Charles ’52
Champion for student health
Dr. Charles began her career as a clinical instructor of nursing arts at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. She was the only woman in Ohio to head the health services at two major universities, University of Cincinnati and Ohio State University, where she was also named team physician. Her excellence was recognized by the Ohio College Health Association.
Frank F. Ledford Jr. ’55
After a military medical career that included an appointment as Surgeon General of the U.S. Army, Dr. Ledford became president of the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, where he grew the foundation’s annual grant and contract income from $14.6 million in 1992 to $42.6 million in 2003.
Thomas C. Kennedy ’59
Lover of history & life
“He loved teaching, more perhaps than some of his students loved learning, but in that cast of thousands, there were some he never forgot and a few who gained high places in the world of men and women.”
— obituary from the University of Arkansas
William E. Hammer Jr. ’62
As a leader in his profession, Hammer held positions as vice president of the board of governors of the Dayton Engineers Club and among the leadership of the Institute of Industrial Engineers. He practiced, taught and wrote about information systems and data processing.
John L. O’Grady ’68
O’Grady spent nearly his entire investment career with Salomon Brothers, including positions as a managing director and general partner. The O’Grady Scholarship, established after his death, provides inner-city New York youth with full-tuition scholarships to UD.
James C. Herbert ’63
After an early career as a college instructor, Herbert researched and analyzed higher education policy, for which he received eight fellowships. Herbert was a senior adviser on joint activities to the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, helping create their interagency partnership for documenting endangered languages.
Ralph D. Delaney ’55
Advocate for the poor
“He was what his heroes, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, would have called a nonviolent soldier.”
— Cleveland Magazine on Delaney, who was murdered in 1990 while videotaping dilapidated living conditions in public housing
John T. Makley ’57
Physician & teacher
An orthopedic surgeon at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals, Dr. Makley devoted nearly five decades to the care of patients and the education of residents and fellows. As an orthopedic oncologist, he has helped shape national perspective on bone banking and treatment of patients with bone and soft-tissue tumors.
Thomas J. Frericks ’53
He built basketball
One of the most influential lay persons in UD’s history, Frericks served his alma mater in various administrative positions from 1964 to his death in 1992. He oversaw the construction of UD Arena and served as chair of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. The Frericks Center, home to University athletics, is named in his honor.
Thomas Eggemeier ’67
In service to UD
An expert in human factors and ergonomics, Eggemeier led UD’s psychology department, served as an associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, and retired in 2013 as dean of the Graduate School. In 2008, he received UD’s Lackner Award, which honors lay people who embody the Marianist spirit on campus.
Cordell W. Hull ’56
Hull served two terms on UD’s board of trustees. His career in global construction, infrastructure and financing includes his most recent position as principal with InfrastructureWorld, from which he has retired. For 20 years, students in the University Honors and Berry Scholars programs have studied and conducted research abroad thanks to the Cordell W. Hull International Fellows Fund, named in honor of his service and generosity to UD.
Brother John J. Lucier, S.M. ’37
“Brother John Lucier was a scholar, a scientist, a dedicated teacher and a man of faith.”
— Father James L. Heft, S.M. ’66, on Lucier, former chemistry department chair who joined the faculty in 1945
Colombe M. Nicholas ’64
Having distinguished herself as one of the most influential leaders in the international fashion and retail industries, Nicholas held top posts at Anne Klein, Giorgio Armani, Health-Tex and Christian Dior.
James R. Spotila ’66
Spotila, founding president of the International Sea Turtle Society and chair of The Leatherback Trust, has spent his career working in environmental science, biodiversity and conservation biophysical ecology. He is a professor of environmental science at Drexel University.
John A. Lombardo ’71
Dr. Lombardo, in his nearly 30 years experience as a team physician, has helped heal athletes from the Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Ballet, 1998 Winter Olympics and Ohio State University, among others. A founding member of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, Lombardo continues to serve as the NFL’s drug adviser for anabolic steroids and as a clinical professor at Ohio State University College of Medicine.
Paul W. Armstrong ’67
Life & the law
Armstrong, a retired judge on the Somerset County, New Jersey, Superior Court, is known for his seminal work on cases that impact how the law deals with medicine and science. In the 1976 case involving Karen Ann Quinlan, Armstrong argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court the Catholic moral theology perspective that “extraordinary means” need not be employed in preserving a patient’s life. “What emanated from the Quinlan case was the hospice movement,” Armstrong told NJ.com. “We set a standard for how we care for one another at the end of life.”
Paul V. McEnroe ’59
Father of the UPC
“What can you invent that touches more people?”
— McEnroe, inventor of the bar code and scanning system; last he heard, the world was scanning 5 billion bar codes daily
John L. Lahey ’68
Higher ed leader
Lahey will retire in 2018 having served 31 years as president of Quinnipiac University, where he increased enrollment, fundraising, campus size and degree offerings. Lahey also helped oversee the creation of Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum.
Theodore Q. Miller Jr. ’68
Diversifying the sciences
Dr. Miller retired from Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science in 2006, having served as a professor of radiology, associate dean of student affairs and director of admissions. He helped establish the King/Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science in South Central Los Angeles, which attracts students at risk of not graduating from high school. He also started the Saturday Science Academy for preteen children.
Richard M. Schoen ’72
Mathematics of spacetime
Schoen unravels the mysteries of differential geometry and ideas of spacetime, including questions about the curvature of the universe. In 2017 alone, he won three of the world’s most prestigious international mathematics awards. He teaches at University of California, Irvine.
Richard A. Abdoo ’65
Lead with integrity
President of the environmental and energy consulting firm R.A. Abdoo & Co., Abdoo previously served as chief executive for several Wisconsin energy companies. He was UD’s first business vocation executive-in-residence.
Brother Raymond L. Fitz, S.M. ’64
University’s 17th president
“I saw if we were going to be a great Catholic university, we needed conversations about mission and vision. So we began planning.”
— Fitz, UD’s longest-serving president (1979-2002); he continues to connect Catholic social teaching and the social sciences through the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community
Eugene Steuerle ’68
Creating good from grief
In memory of wife Norma Lang Steuerle, who died on 9/11 in the Pentagon attack, Steuerle and his daughters founded two nonprofits: Alexandria Community Trust, which supports charities in northern Virginia, and Our Voices Together, which fights terrorism by building a safer, more compassionate world.
Peter A. Luongo ’65
It’s not just about winning
Retired president and CEO of The Berry Co., the nation’s largest Yellow Pages advertising sales agency, Luongo is author of 10 Truths About Leadership and former executive director of UD’s Center for Leadership.
Eileen Dolan ’79
“A patient’s genetics sheds light on po-tential targets for new drugs to prevent or treat these devastating toxicities.”
— Dolan, professor of medicine at University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center, on identifying hereditary predisposition for toxic side effects of chemotherapy
David C. Phillips ’62
In 1996, Phillips founded Cincinnati Works with his wife, Liane. Cincinnati Works helps residents find jobs through a comprehensive program that includes assistance with child care, transportation, work clothes, and mental and physical health care for the entire family, as well as assistance with any other barriers to employment.
John F. McHale ’78
The next innovation
McHale sold his first business to Compaq and his second to Cisco Systems, part of his pattern for doing business: Invent cutting-edge technology, develop the business, sell it to a company that can expand the product market and reinvest to begin again. He also helped found Genesis Inventions to provide investment and funding services to other inventors.
Gordon Roberts ’74
The Medal of Honor citation for Roberts praises his “gallant and selfless actions … in keeping with the highest traditions of the service.” In Vietnam in 1969, that meant extraordinary heroism that saved fellow soldiers pinned down on a hillside. At Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 2009, it meant commanding 2,500 caregivers. He retired as a colonel in 2012 after 44 years of Army service.
Richard P. Davis ’72
In 1984, Davis co-founded Flagship Financial, which grew to manage $5.4 billion in assets for more than 100,000 investors by 1996. His gifts to UD provide students with hands-on investment education through the Davis Center for Portfolio Management in the School of Business Administration.
Michele Mariscalco ’77
In care of others
A recipient of the 2010 Barry A. Shapiro Memorial Award for Excellence in Critical Care Management, Dr. Mariscalco has dedicated herself to integrating research and scholarship with quality patient care and education. Grants she received from the National Institutes of Health have supported research training in pediatric critical care medicine to train the next generation of physician-scientists. After previous appointments at the schools of medicine for Baylor College and University of Kansas in Wichita, Mariscalco is regional dean of the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Urbana.
Ricardo Bressani ’48
Food for thought
As a researcher in nutrition and food sciences, Bressani’s life was devoted to improving health outcomes for children in his native Guatemala. His research into plant-based proteins, cooking methods to maximize nutrition and the benefits of ancestral diets, and his invention of nutrition-fortified foods, continue to nourish children around the world.
David J. Bradley ’71
Inventor of ctrl-alt-del
“One of my favorite time-wasters is taking a PC apart to make it run faster or better.”
— Bradley, who holds 10 patents related to computer design and was one of the original 12 engineers who began work on the IBM personal computer in 1980
Sean P. Donahue ’84
Vision for a better future
Dr. Donahue’s research helps find new technologies that detect eye problems in preliterate children. Through his work with the Lions Club International Foundation Pediatric Cataract Initiative, he has traveled the globe to train doctors in the recognition, prevention and treatment of cataracts. He is a professor of ophthalmology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Katherine A. Schipper ’71
One of the world’s renowned accounting educators, Schipper has served as editor of the Journal of Accounting Research and as a member of the Financial Accounting Standards Board. Inducted into the international Accounting Hall of Fame in 2007, Schipper holds an endowed professorship at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business.
Fred C. Tenover ’76
Faith & science
“My Catholic faith is fundamental to my science. I see the two as interconnected — the integration of faith and science makes sense to me.”
— Tenover, former director of the office of antimicrobial resistance for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Joseph R. Desch ’29
An electrical engineer and inventor, Desch served the country during World War II by developing an electro-mechanical code-breaking machine. Dubbed the Bombe, it was responsible for the destruction of up to 54 German U-boats, based on some historian accounts. Of 121 Bombes built, only one machine remains intact, housed in the NSA Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, Maryland. Desch received the Medal of Merit from President Harry S. Truman July 16, 1947.
Science needs a new model for testing how cells react, both to things that can cure us and things that can kill us. With her half-million-dollar grant, assistant professor Kristen Comfort ’02 is developing a human model with dynamic potential.
Kristen Comfort wanted to build a city for tiny bits of life, a comfortable habitat where free-ranging cells could grow as naturally as they do tucked inside our bodies.
It was serious science — with significant promise for environmental research and a host of human health studies — but to the assistant professor in chemical and materials engineering, it felt like play: squirting a liquid gel into one-inch diameter cylinders, watching the gel cure like Jell-O in the fridge, then adding the cells to weave their way into the porous material.
And it worked. The lung and immune cells she put in the wiggly culture moved in and took up housekeeping. Then she turned on a pump to move liquid through the system to the pulsing rhythms of a beating heart.
Disaster. Her formerly tidy cylinders were ragged ruins, the cell’s once happy home ready for a tiny wrecking ball. It looked like B-roll on a disaster news broadcast.
“I don’t consider it lost time,” she said after this and other efforts to create cell high-rises failed. Every failure is one step closer to success. This is how the science game is played.
Still, there’s a great deal at stake. The National Science Foundation has awarded her more than a half-million dollars over the next five years to create a new laboratory test system, one that better predicts how our bodies and our cells react to potentially toxic compounds or potentially helpful ones. NSF called it work with potentially “deep scientific impact” across many disciplines. If the system is successful, Comfort predicts, it could reduce the need for animal studies and provide a more accurate appraisal of our body’s reaction to new substances than the usual laboratory approach. It could even help treat cancer.
Her office on the fifth floor of Kettering Labs is decorated with artwork from her three daughters, Holly, 9; Megan, 8; and Caitlin, 7. Rainbow drawings. Sweet notes with childish printing, “I love you Momme.” Paper hearts. Handprint flowers. Paper plate picture frames. And dead center between two long to-do lists on her office white board, a heart scrawled in green, now a few months old. It said, “I love you so much Mommy.” (“I can’t find it in my heart to erase it,” Comfort said.)
Comfort, director of the graduate bioengineering program, came to her passion for science naturally. As an 8- or 9-year-old she corralled the family’s Barbies — with three girls in the house, she had an army of them — pulled off an arm here, a leg there, and created a Barbie hospital. When she was 8, she asked for a microscope for her birthday and subjected everything she could think of to its low-power scrutiny. Before that, the whole family overslept one morning because 7-year-old Kristen had taken apart her mother’s alarm clock to see how it worked, then failed to put it back together again. Somewhere along the way, her native curiosity joined forces with imagination, and the problem-solving demands of science drew her in. That led Kristen Krupa, as she was then known, to the University of Dayton, where she earned a chemical engineering degree in 2002, which eventually led to her present project: Think of it as human-in-a-box.
Her goal is to improve the way laboratories test cells. Typically, studying the biological impact of any chemical or drug involves squirting it onto a flat dish carpeted with identical, growing cells, then watching what happens. Do the cells emit chemical help signals? Do they change shape, alter structurally, stop multiplying, multiply faster? Do they use less oxygen or require fewer nutrients? Do communications between cells break down? Do they die? Or does everything tick along smoothly?
Theoretically, the way that pancake of cells responds predicts the way our bodies will respond to the same chemical. It seems a reasonable supposition. And if we were cell pancakes, it would be. But too often, laboratory studies aren’t borne out when scientists take the research to the next level — usually studies in rodents. That’s certainly been the case for silver nanoparticles, which is what Comfort plans to test in the experimental system she’s creating. In cell pancakes, silver nanoparticles are bad actors. Cells exposed to these tiny creations of 1 to 100 nanometers — 600 times smaller than the width of a human hair — look stressed, act weird and die. But expose mice to these same tiny bits of silver and — nothing, or very little. The mice carry on their little mouse lives with their usual brio. Clearly, something isn’t translating between culture dish and four-footed human stand-in.
Comfort looked at the cell cultures, and the problem seemed obvious: “It’s just sitting there,” she said. “Nothing is moving. And you’re trying to correlate the results from a cell culture to the three-dimensional, dynamic, multicellular system of a living thing? No wonder it falls apart. Especially when you’re talking about nanoparticles. Because they’re so small, any little influence changes how they interact with cells.” Yet it’s not practical to go straight to testing in mice. Such a solution would be both costly and involve an awful lot of mice.
Comfort hopes to create a bridge, a span to carry her from the oversimplified world of cells in a dish to the complexity of a mouse
by adding in the cellular interactions that make our human bodies run.
Comfort grew interested in the problems of cell culture during her post-doctoral research year at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base while working in the laboratory of another UD alumna, Laura K. Braydich-Stolle ’01, a biologist in the Molecular Bioeffects Branch at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Comfort and her husband, Donald, had arrived in the Dayton area in 2008. Donald was further along in his professional life than Kristen, having completed both his doctorate and post-graduate research, and was beginning at UD in a tenure-track position. When her husband’s job offer came through, Kristen had a freshly minted doctorate from North Carolina State University. When she moved to Dayton, she took what was on offer: part-time teaching at the University of Dayton. She had zero teaching experience and zero teacher training. “They threw me into thermodynamics — which is not the easiest,” she said. “I loved it, loved it, loved it!”
She had never intended to teach, always dreaming of working in industry, but at UD she realized her extrovert tendencies — not exactly common among engineers, she said — were a perfect fit. “My husband says I can talk to a blank wall,” she said. “Teaching is a way I get my words out. I love that interaction. I feed off that energy.”
After completing her post-doc with Braydich-Stolle in 2012, Comfort was hired at UD. This year, she’s preparing for tenure review.
Braydich-Stolle said Wright-Patterson had hoped to keep Comfort. Comfort’s research colleague called her “very high energy, and extremely focused … a very meticulous scientist.” But Braydich-Stolle saw her deep love for teaching, and that’s how Wright-Patterson lost out to UD. Comfort wanted to get her words out.
She and Braydich-Stolle continue to collaborate. On the NSF grant project, they create cell cultures that live, not as cell pancakes, but in three dimensions. To add to the authenticity of their experimental system, they will employ several cell types in a single test, including immune cells known as macrophages.
Picture a six-cup muffin tin made of clear plastic, but with slots between each cup so that batter can flow between them, and you have a fairly good idea what this pilot system looks like. Two of the cups are needed to cycle liquid in and out of the system. The other four could each become home to particular cell types. For instance, to test silver nanoparticles, chamber No. 1 will hold three-dimensional lung cell cultures, chamber No. 2 will feature liver cells growing on 3-D structures, and chamber No. 3 will be home to 3-D skin cell cities. (The fourth chamber won’t be used.) The pulsatile pump will push liquid through the system. Finally, macrophages will travel in the liquid, cycling through each cell chamber. Then the nanoparticles will cycle through.
The tissue arrangement isn’t a whim. The nanoparticles will travel to lung, liver, then skin — the same order human tissues experience inhaled nanoparticles. Adding macrophages to the mix may challenge all assumptions: Do they gobble up invading particles or ignore them completely?
Although “nanoparticles” sound exotic, they’ve become increasingly common in consumer products during the last 10 years as the tools to image them — things like high-powered microscopes — developed. As we got better at seeing them, we began to understand their properties, such as strength, durability and low weight, and engineer them more precisely to meet our needs. Thus, they’ve made their way into hundreds of applications, including cell phone cases, toothbrush bristles and even the fur of some stuffed animals, according to a study by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Between 2006 and 2014 — the most recent data available — the number of products with nanomaterials increased 521 percent to encompass 1,317 items. About a quarter of those use silver nanoparticles. “It’s used for coatings, cosmetics, anything designed to kill bacteria,” Comfort said. “It’s something we’re in contact with on a daily basis.”
But what happens when we inhale these infinitesimal particles isn’t certain. They’re so small, there’s hardly anything they can’t get into. A silver nanoparticle sized 10 nanometers or smaller is half the size of most virus particles, and it can pass into a cell
like a needle through fabric, like a ghost through a wall. It doesn’t even need a door.
Yet with their small size comes giant opportunities. Gold nanoparticles, for instance, could serve as drug delivery mechanisms. In traditional cell cultures, Comfort said, they work like a charm. “But put them in an animal model and the particles disappear. The macrophages eat them.” With her laboratory system, Comfort said, she could see what percentage of gold nanoparticles the macrophages leave behind. That would help determine how many particles would be required to still sneak some past the macrophages and to the targeted tissue.
Comfort is also working with a group of UD chemistry researchers on the creation and testing of compounds to treat non-small-cell lung cancer, a very aggressive, treatment-resistant disease. They are using specially engineered inorganic chemistry compounds. Once in the airways, these compounds are engineered to behave like smart bombs, adhering to lung cancer cells. Finally, laser light tuned to a specific wavelength triggers the kill signal. Comfort said her system will help determine the ideal compound dose to evade destruction by the immune system.
It’s one of the many ways Comfort’s system can be adapted to meet multiple research needs.
For instance, the system isn’t limited to nanomaterials. In a study led by Braydich-Stolle, they will use their cupcake pan-like assembly to follow the biological path of the toxic heavy metals. Metal ions leach from airplane parts, elevating metal exposures in airmen to much higher levels than experienced in the general population. To test for metal toxicity, Stolle will use liver, kidney, spleen and immune cells — the critical
pathway for metal toxicity.
“There are innumerable ways we can use this system,” Comfort said. “That’s the thing I love about this project.” And, there’s potential to expand to even more types of cells. “We could focus on an airway model. We have a detox model. We could focus on tumor models. Any cell type you want to put together, you can create a focused, individualized system,” Comfort said.
Still, several challenges remain. While the problem of the cell gelatin high-rises has, for the moment, been solved with off-the-shelf materials, Comfort would rather create her own. Describing silver nanoparticle behavior in the new system will take up much of the final few years of the project. Ultimately, she hopes to compare her results with results in mice exposed to silver nanoparticles. This will tell her just how close her human-in-a-box comes to emulating life.
From watching her own children, Comfort knows that an interest in science has to start early. Her oldest daughter, Holly, nicknamed “the lawyer” for her ability to argue, wants to be a marine biologist and an artist. Megan, the middle child, is “the engineer,” undoing baby locks when she was a toddler, and taking apart an expensive toy using her plastic Black & Decker tools. “I was angry and proud at the same time,” Comfort said. Even youngest sister Caitlin, officially “the troublemaker,” has a knack for experimentation. She discovered that if she pushed the toilet seat up, she could get daddy, the only male in the house, in trouble. How fun is that?
If a child isn’t turned on to science by second grade, research shows, it’s too late, Comfort said. So she makes outreach to children a goal, visiting her children’s day care in summer and their schools in the school year with quick, fun experiments, such as demonstrating the engineering perfection of an egg by standing on a grid of them, or piling up books atop an eggshell.
She’s also helping train today the next generation of researchers. Comfort is active in UD’s Minority Leaders Program that pairs minority students with research mentors. And the NSF grant is helping fund positions for an additional graduate student and two undergraduate students in her lab.
Katie Burns, who is completing her master’s degree in bioengineering in Comfort’s lab, feels like she lucked out when she began working with Comfort. “To see the things she’s doing, and being successful, and at the same time having a family, it’s just pretty great to have somebody like that as my mentor,” Burns said. “I found a mentor who embodies so much of what I hope to be in the future.”
In budding researchers and precocious children, Comfort also sees the future. Each July, Comfort is part of the annual University of Dayton Women in Engineering camp. Young women from at least 20 states attend the program, living in dorms for the week while they complete experiments and learn from professional engineers. It’s one of her favorite weeks in the summer.
“You see these 16-year-olds who are, ‘I’m gonna go and I’m gonna cure cancer,’” she said.
And when they’re ready, Comfort plans to have the cell model ready for them to test their cures.
Jenni Laidman is a freelance writer specializing in science and medicine.
In early May, archaeologist Dorian Borbonus drove two visitors from central Rome out to the countryside and parked. A stray dog wandered the edge of an ancient wall as we got out and stretched our legs. Beneath our feet were dark, glass-smooth stones the size of manhole covers laid by Roman workers two millennia ago. We were at the bottom of a hill on the ancient Appian Way, one of the most important Roman roads. The incline we were about to climb, Borbonus explained, was formed by 260,000-year-old lava flow that originated in the Alban Hills and stopped at this very spot.
We began to make our way uphill on Via Appia Antica. Ahead of us, our destination peeked out over the tree tops against a blue sky. We were coming to see what was meant to be the last resting place of a woman named Caecilia Metella.
Caecilia Metella is today one of the most widely known women of ancient Rome. Yet, experts know almost nothing about her. Every trace of evidence about the life she lived is lost to history except one, which stood on the crest of the hill we were approaching. It is a funerary monument erected after her death, a cylindrical mausoleum about three stories high and 100 feet in diameter ringed with limestone slabs.
Caecilia Metella’s tomb is one of hundreds of Roman funerary sites that Borbonus, a UD associate professor of history, has visited during more than a decade of research. Few are as grand as hers, but then few Romans lived in the luxury she presumably did. Mausoleums such as this were for members of Rome’s elite families, which numbered several hundred families in the first century. But Rome’s population reached as high as a million in that period. The vast majority of people were buried more simply. As was the custom of the time, they were cremated, and their ashes were placed, by law, beyond the city walls.
While scholars have studied individual sites, none has so far done what Borbonus spent the 2016-17 academic year in Rome laying the groundwork to do. His vision and plan is to develop the first-ever study of life in ancient Rome over a 400-year period as it can be understood through its changing burial practices. If Borbonus is successful — and he openly admits he is not sure he will be — his history will slash across social class because it will have at its roots the one experience inescapable for everyone rich and poor, free and slave, high and low. Everyone dies.
Caecilia’s family must’ve thought she was very special, I speculated.
Maybe or maybe not, Borbonus replied. “This is just meant to be a super-public tomb. It’s hard to get the whole tomb in your point of view, and it really exploits its position on top of the hill.”
The real point of the monument was how it displayed the family’s importance, he said. They wanted everyone who passed by to see their wealth and power.
We bought our tickets and went inside. Her crypt was empty, likely looted centuries ago.
Mausoleums, crypts, remains.
Why study funerary culture? Borbonus admits it can be a macabre and sometimes creepy experience. Descending into the underground tombs so common in Rome can feel “otherwordly,” he once wrote.
One reason is that studies of ancient Rome suffer from an understandable bias toward elites. Emperors, senators and families like Caecilia Metella’s are the people about whom Tacitus, Seneca and such wrote. Much less is known about the vast majority of Romans who were not elite. For many, a funerary inscription is the only writing about them that survives, if it exists at all. Even in their absence, funerary practices offer other clues. Are tombs hidden or monumental? Are people buried singly or with others? What do decorations suggest was important to them? The ways in which even anonymous people were buried offers a rare avenue for learning about their lives.
Borbonus finds himself empathizing with people whose inscriptions he reads while at the same time seeing how different their social experience was from ours. This recognition allows him to step out of our modern life and reflect on it from afar.
“One of the things I think about death and burial in antiquity is that it’s much more integrated with life,” he said. “I can recognize this only by studying it and reflecting on modern societies and being struck by how, you know, old people don’t live with their families anymore but are in a home, for example. We try to push old age, the process of dying, death and how to cope with it away. Or, at least it’s compartmentalized much more than in ancient society. I think I learn something about modern societies by studying the Romans.”
The chief difficulty with studying funerary culture in Rome is partly administrative — five bureaucracies manage the sites around the city — and partly historical. Roman ruins have been excavated and put on display for centuries. But excavation, Borbonus said, is an act of destruction. Once someone digs out a site, no one else can redig it.
The American Academy in Rome sits atop Gianicolo, a hill just west of the Tiber River that offers sweeping views of the city that often make the covers of tourist guidebooks. The academy traces its history to the late 19th century, when a group of American scholars sought a European base for studying classical art. Today, it hosts residents, fellows and, each year, up to 30 recipients of the prestigious Rome Prize, which provides a stipend, room and board and other benefits for 11 months to support innovative scholarly and creative projects.
Borbonus, a German citizen, snagged the only 2016-17 Rome Prize available to a non-U.S. citizen. Midway through his time in Rome, his spouse, Myrna Gabbe, a UD associate professor of ancient philosophy, and their two children joined him. The couple met in graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania, where their first conversation was about her upcoming interview for a faculty position at UD. She landed the job, and he followed, eventually earning a full-time position in the history department, where he teaches courses on ancient Greek and Roman history.
In a courtyard in the American Academy’s main building, Borbonus stood in front of inscriptions on marble slabs on the wall, many just a little smaller than a standard diner booth tabletop. To my untrained eye, they were fascinating but inscrutable. With his arm outstretched from the sleeve of his black leather jacket, Borbonus pointed and began deciphering what many of them had in common. The giveaway was the writing at the
top of many of them, either “DM” or the words that these letters abbreviate: “Dis Manibus.”
“It means ‘to the spirits of the deceased,’” he said. These were all funerary inscriptions that once adorned burial sites. “This invocation probably honors both the deceased mentioned in the inscriptions and potentially all other deceased ancestors of the family.”
The inscriptions on the slabs hanging here have value, but for Borbonus it’s limited. He illustrated the point two days later in Villa Borghese, a rambling public park in central Rome. As we walked along a gravel path toward a playground, families pedaling four-seater carriages like bicycles rolled past. “There’s a monument just up ahead,” Borbonus said.
I looked, but all I saw was a small fountain.
“This is it,” he said as we came up to the fountain. At the top, springwater flowed from the mouth of a man flanked by two fish on his shoulders. The water fell into a rectangular marble box with reliefs carved on the side. It was the size of a small steamer trunk. “You see here. This is definitely a sarcophagus.” He was pointing at the marble box. “The top is a later addition, obviously.”
I’d heard that “obviously” before. He used it at Caecilia Metella’s tomb and another shaped like a pyramid. “Obviously” was his linguistic tool for dismissing a Renaissance or modern — and, hence, irrelevant to him — element of a structure. The additions were never obvious to me, but his adverb became an entry point into understanding how he reads evidence. Where I saw a single fountain, he saw an assemblage of historical phases that told him a story over time. But, as was the case here, not every story they told was much help to his research.
This sarcophagus, he said, had likely been unearthed centuries earlier, in medieval or even ancient times. Were it uncovered today, archaeologists would record significant data to establish its provenance. The sarcophagus was likely brought here to Villa Borghese sometime during the Renaissance, when this land was part of the estate of a wealthy cardinal and famed art collector. When this artifact was moved from its original location, it was separated from the context that gave it any archaeological meaning. Borbonus couldn’t even say whether the sarcophagus had probably come from somewhere near Rome.
Like the slabs hanging on the wall of the American Academy, this was a relic without a context. Despite the cost and care that went into creating it 20 or so centuries ago, it was now more useful as a fountain decoration than as an object for archaeological study.
Archaeologists, treasure hunters and thieves have been excavating Rome for centuries, but there remain places that are little-touched. Borbonus became interested in one narrow category of them when, working on a collaborative research project with his adviser, he was studying maps of the land along the Via Appia. The maps recorded a number of ancient, underground vaults recessed into walls for the burial of ashes — called columbaria — where nonelite Romans, often slaves and freed slaves attached to an aristocratic household, were buried. One intriguing aspect of this style of columbaria was how suddenly it appeared during the reign of Emperor Augustus and then, a generation or two later,
almost as suddenly disappeared.
In a book-length study of them, Borbonus described a typical one: “High interior walls are covered with an unbroken grid of little arched niches that give access to terra-cotta urns, usually two, immured in the wall, and their occupants are identified by little plaques with brief funerary inscriptions below the niche.” These columbaria, he further wrote, “may be less spectacular than the monuments of Rome’s political elite, but they are no less original.” Unlike the sarcophagus at Villa Borghese, this was evidence he could work with.
When Borbonus looked into them more, he found very little information. “There was not a ton published, and everybody said the same thing. The same three or four pieces of information were repeated over and over again.”
Finding them to study firsthand can be difficult. They’re often recognizable from above ground only by tell-tale undulations in a grassy field. Once found, they’re not easy to access. “None of them is open to the public, so you have to get a special permit. They’re all on private property, sometimes in the most exclusive suburbs of Rome, so it can be difficult to get in. Once I got in, I would have maybe 20 minutes to an hour to look at one of them,” he said.
In the first columbarium he climbed down into, he looked around as quickly as he could, reading inscriptions and looking for changes in the architecture over time.
“But then I ran out of time,” he said, so he simplified his tactics in his next visits. “I just reverted to taking pictures. Digital cameras were new. I only had a film camera. I developed so much film. I would survey the entire tomb just taking pictures I could look at later on. That was the best way to study them. It’s not ideal.”
In his photos from multiple columbaria, he examined the architecture, the size and composition of inscriptions, the drawings and any other decorative elements. The earliest columbaria show great architectural simplicity and regularity, epitaphs are brief, and decoration is minimal. Furthermore, they are underground. All of this data, he wrote, “squarely inverts the keen demand for attention” demanded by sites like Caecilia Metella’s monument. In the columbaria’s collective burial, Borbonus saw egalitarianism that signaled a moment of collective identity and social cohesion among Rome’s non-elite.
But it didn’t last long, just a few decades.
“At some point, people start to change the architecture,” Borbonus said. “You actually see that the columbaria style became outdated very quickly, and another style of burial became popular, namely, a marble object with nice decorations sculpted and an inscription right on it. A marble object is
always costly, right? So it becomes sort of more flashy. So you see that they introduce a hierarchy later on.”
With time, members of this social class of Romans began retrofitting existing columbaria to match emerging styles, making alterations to accommodate larger urns and building new types of funerary sites.
“They want a tomb with a large niche in the center where somebody who thinks they’re more important for whatever reason can be buried, whether it’s the owner of the tomb who has his slaves and freedmen buried on the sides or whether it’s somebody whose loss was particularly heartfelt.”
One possible explanation for the change, he suggests, is that these occupants “never solidified into a coherent social class,” perhaps because of the diversity of their circumstances.
Just as Borbonus used close STUDY of these columbaria to make conclusions about a narrow class of Romans over a short time period, he is now working to expand his scope to 400 years of Roman funerary culture at the height of its power, roughly 200 B.C. to the second century after Christ’s birth.
During his Rome Prize fellowship year, he visited every funerary site in Rome to which he could get. As with his early, feverish attempts to photograph columbaria on 20-minute visits, analysis would come later. The fellowship year was all about data gathering. Some sites are well-known, but others required special permits or pleading with reluctant landowners. And, every once in a while, a just-right opportunity came along.
Nine months into his 11-month fellowship with the American Academy of Rome, Borbonus stood outside a fence in the shadow of San Paolo Fuori le Mura, the second-largest of Rome’s four papal basilicas. Underground somewhere near his feet ran the ancient Via Ostiensis, a Roman road that led to an ancient port through which centuries of grain and other goods flowed from the empire’s far reaches to its center.
Like the Via Appia, this road out of the city was once lined with cemeteries. One of them — called Necropoli San Paolo, excavated a century ago and largely left alone since — was just on the other side of the fence in front of Borbonus. He’d secured a permit and funding to spend two weeks of intense study here, which he’d begin in a few days. He was eager to get started.
The site had roughly the same footprint as Liberty Hall on UD’s campus. It sat sunken in the ground but would have been at street level in Roman times, before centuries of Tiber River flooding added silt and 10 or so feet of elevation. Inside was a wealth of arches, urns, decorations, inscriptions and walkways that Borbonus would piece together into a story about how Romans used this tomb.
Two weeks was not a lot of time, but it was comparatively luxurious for him, so he indulged in a form of super-notetaking. Using specialized equipment, he gathered thousands of photographs and minute measurements, data points sufficient for creating a three-dimensional digital version of the cemetery. With it, he could study the cemetery more intensely later or, he dreamed, make it available online to other scholars and students. He suspected he could even simulate what it would have been like during one of the infamous floods of the Tiber.
The data he gathered here became one star in a constellation of data points about Roman funerary culture that he hopes will coalesce into a previously unseen story. Its outlines are not yet apparent to Borbonus, who returned to Dayton in July to begin his analysis and resume his teaching. It may be another 10 years before he has another opportunity like this, he said.
“I’m not solving the world’s problems,” he said. “It’s not going to change the world dramatically, but [through it] I think we can learn something about the world’s past and something about ourselves today.”
“It’s something that everybody faces, no matter who it is, where they live, no matter which time period they come from. It’s something that people faced in antiquity. It’s something that people face today. It’s a human experience.”
Matthew Dewald is a writer and editor based in Richmond, Virginia. In 2009, he reported for this magazine from Barombi, a small village in Cameroon, West Africa, on six UD engineering students who worked with villagers to construct a pipeline to supply fresh water to the village. The pipeline is still operating today.
In 1942, German U-boats were picking off Allied supply ships crossing the Atlantic, putting the blockaded British in dire straits and ravaging the Allied fleet. Polish mathematicians, followed by British engineers, had worked on the intelligence project known as Ultra to decrypt enemy messages. But their success was stymied by the sophisticated German naval code, and the U.S. Navy decided to embark on its own codebreaking effort. This story originally appeared in the Autumn 2004 UD Quarterly.
Among the greatest enemies of German U-boats during World War II was the ingenious mind of 1929 UD graduate Joseph “Joe” Desch and the codebreaking machines he designed, assembled a mile from campus in NCR’s Building 26 along the Great Miami River.
It’s a surprising tale even to many war scholars. That’s because, for 50 years after the war, no one working on the top-secret project uttered a word.
Now, their stories of loyalty, invention and sacrifice are being revealed to a national audience through the April 2004 release of the book The Secret in Building 26 and the documentary Dayton Codebreakers, being released this fall. It’s a familiar tale of Dayton ingenuity and hard work, with roots in a Midwestern sensibility and Marianist education that provided Desch with the tools to crack the code.
An impossible task
In 1942, German U-boats were picking off Allied supply ships crossing the Atlantic, putting the blockaded British in dire straits and ravaging the Allied fleet.
Polish mathematicians, followed by British engineers, had worked on the intelligence project known as Ultra to decrypt enemy messages. But their success was stymied by the sophisticated German naval code, and the U.S. Navy decided to embark on its own codebreaking effort.
Enter Joe Desch and Dayton’s National Cash Register Co.
Desch had been building a reputation for himself since he joined NCR in 1938. In an effort to speed the calculations of NCR’s cash registers, his engineering team created the first electronic counter that could log a million counts per second. His work foreshadowed the coming computer age, and the Navy wanted to use that technology to break the German code, known as Enigma.
The intellectual, physical and spiritual struggles that ensued during those 14 months were as monumental as the innovation, and they only started to be revealed in the last 15 years. Debbie Desch Anderson, who was born in 1950 and didn’t know during her father’s lifetime of his war contributions, responded to a challenge her father issued before his death in 1987.
“Dad used to say, ‘Honey, you’ll never figure out what I did,’ and that was the wrong thing to say to me,” says the 1971 UD graduate. “He underestimated me.”
Her task, at times, was almost as daunting as her father’s. During a 1993 visit to Washington, D.C., she went to the National Security Agency with an armload of classified documents she found among her father’s possessions. Seeking answers, she instead endured hours of questioning and the ultimate confiscation of her records.
In 2001, at the National Archives in Washington, Anderson found a memo signed by her father’s hand.
“I started crying, because he’s a historical figure, and he’s my dad,” she says.
Through her research, Anderson learned that the Navy pushed repeatedly for an all-electronic decipher machine, while Desch insisted that an electromechanical hybrid could do the same job and take less time to produce. It was an intellectual struggle that wore on him, further strained by the moral obligation he felt to the men who were dying on warships, waiting for intelligence that would allow them to evade the U-boats.
But Desch was prepared to fight for his electromechanical hybrid and succeed. He had behind him an army of 600 WAVES — Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service — to assemble the deciphering machines, called “Bombes,” and an engineering staff of 24, whom he managed with deftness and grace. Edward DeLaet, an engineering technician, remembers how Desch handled one of the numerous demands placed on him by the Navy. For the documentary, DeLaet recalls Desch saying, “They just gave me another impossible job. Impossible jobs I can do; it will just take me a little longer.”
Breaking the German Engima was a herculean task. When Desch worked on Ultra, the Germans had progressed from a three-rotor to a four-rotor encryption machine. The alphabetized rotors and plugboard settings — which transposed individual letters, further confusing the message — were changed daily. The German code clerk chose which four letters were to appear through small windows next to the rotors. These letters indicated the initial rotor settings for any given message, and the code clerk changed those settings with every message he sent. The resulting message looked like a string of completely random letters to anyone not knowing the day’s settings.
To understand how difficult it is to arrive at the right combination of rotor and plugboard positions to decode a message, Wittenberg University physics assistant professor Dan Fleisch related it to the number of atoms in the universe. The number of possible combinations for the Enigma machine was 10 to the 145th power, compared to 10 to the 81st power, the number of atoms in “all the 50 billion galaxies,” Fleisch says.
“Imagine trying to find one specific atom out of all the atoms in all the stars in all the galaxies in the universe,” he says in the documentary now being completed for public television. “You are trying to find that one that represents the setting of the machine on that day. It is an impossible task unless you have some advantage other than simply trying all the possible sequences.”
The machine to do it was dubbed the “Bombe,” possibly after a frozen dessert fancied by the original Polish codebreakers. Just as Desch required an army of workers to build the machine, Anderson needed a host of scientists, historians, intelligence agents and Bombe workers to fit together the pieces of Desch’s life and tell the story of Dayton’s codebreakers.
Cradled in creativity
To understand Desch, Dayton Codebreakers roots him firmly in his Kirkham Street house wedged among three rail lines in the Edgemont neighborhood that sheltered Italians, Jews, Germans and African-Americans.
Anderson says her father may have caught the creative genius from his father, one of a long line of wagon makers, or was thrust into it by his mother, a German immigrant who insisted on a Catholic education for her son.
“Living on the West Side and being exposed to all the different populations, the different businesses, gave him the confidence and even the imagination” he needed to invent, she said.
As a teenager, Desch taught himself how to blow glass to create vacuum tubes. He would order so many unusual chemicals for experiments that, one day, a chemical company representative showed up on his parents’ doorstep looking for the chemist “Mr. Desch.” His parents directed the man to the boy in his basement lab.
The documentary also sets Desch in a city that fostered great minds and unusual solutions to extraordinary challenges. Desch lived only blocks from where the Wright brothers were testing airplane water landings on the Great Miami River and just across the river from NCR, where John Patterson created new models for business and hired men who would go on to found or lead IBM, Delco, Packard and Standard Register.
It was a combination of a Midwestern work ethic and ingenious know-how that cultivated such inventors, said Paul J. Morman, a UD history professor with a special interest in regional innovation early in the century.
“There’s something about the Midwest that fostered a creative genius that was willing to rethink problems in a fundamentally different way and could do so without established wisdom saying, ‘That’s not the way you do it,’” Morman says.
In the documentary, Anderson describes her father as humorous, opinionated, stubborn and charming. Even as a child, the traits that defined the man she knew were evident. He thrived at Emmanuel Elementary School, where the Marianists stressed quality and creativity with an ethical base. Despite an episode in which he slugged a Marianist who disagreed with him on a math equation, Desch attended UD’s preparatory school on scholarship and gravitated toward an experimental field of electrical engineering, studying toward a bachelor’s degree under Brother Louis Rose, S.M.
“He was Dad’s engineering professor, but it was a brand-new field, and they were learning together,” Anderson says. “The whole love-of-learning thing was part of Dad’s personality, but it was further developed while he was (at UD).”
Desch developed a special relationship with other young Marianists, including Brother Lawrence Boll, who taught Shakespeare, and Brothers Ulrich Rappel and William Bellmer, who shared Desch’s love for science. Anderson says her father would meet with them after school hours to “goof off” and experiment with ham radios.
While he held only a bachelor’s degree, Desch was folded into circles with some of the brightest minds in the nation. Anderson’s mother would tell the story of attending a function at MIT, where he would be introduced as “Dr.” Desch.
“They couldn’t understand that someone so brilliant had only an undergraduate degree,” Dorothy Desch would say.
The highest credit
Desch taught one term of physics at UD before moving on to work at Frigidaire, and then at NCR. Wartime interrupted his cash register work, and the Bombe became one of more than a dozen war assignments for Desch.
The Bombe proved a messy, hot, cranky challenge with a tight timetable. Desch’s service to the Navy began on March 9, 1942. He endured long hours, a severing of ties with his German relatives and constant personal surveillance, including officers assigned to live in the two-bedroom home Desch shared with his wife.
By May 28, 1943, his first two Bombe prototypes — dubbed “Adam” and “Eve” — registered “hits,” highlighting the encryption pattern that could be used to decipher all intercepted transmissions on that day.
The Bombe was taller than a person and twice as long, a cast iron and steel machine with miles of wiring attached to thousands of vacuum tubes. It would whir and grind as it spun out the possible letter combinations, joining with other Bombes on the floor to create a deafening noise.
Shirley McKenzie Anderson (no relation to Debbie Anderson) was one of the WAVES stationed in Dayton. She later traveled to Washington, D.C., to operate the machines.
“It was a clanking sound, with all those machines going at different times and clanking at different times,” she says for the documentary. When the Bombe would hit a pattern that made sense of the code, “it was crash, boom, bang,” she says, reversing itself and halting at the combination where the hit was made.
Desch’s engineering team and the WAVES constructed 121 Bombes and sent them by rail to Washington, D.C. Of those 121, only one machine remains intact, housed in the NSA Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade, Md.
The Bombe’s contribution to the war is hotly debated, but Baylor University associate professor of history Eric Rust gives the Bombe project the credit he believes it’s due. The son of a German U-boat officer and a former member of the German military who has experience with Enigma encryption technology, Rust calls the Bombe’s effect “tremendous.”
“The Dayton operation gave the Allied side, especially Americans, a tremendous advantage by saving the Allies time, by not wasting resources on operations that would have otherwise not been necessary had there been no Enigma intercepts,” says Rust, who is featured in Dayton Codebreakers. “It saved personnel and it saved lives because fewer were exposed to the dangers of the war.”
Based on the combined efforts of the Bombes operating in Washington and the Ultra project in England’s Bletchley Park, Rust says that up to 54 U-boats were destroyed.
Desch’s contributions were also noted by President Harry S. Truman, who signed Desch’s 1947 National Medal of Merit citation.
“By his brilliant originality, superb skill and immeasurable perseverance, he contributed essentially to the effectiveness of important technical developments of great significance in the successful conclusion of the war,” the citation reads. “Mr. Desch’s technical skill and fine professional judgment reflect the highest credit upon him, and upon the scientific tradition of the United States.”
Such glowing words grace a piece of paper yellowed with age and once forgotten. It’s a story that’s no longer top-secret, ready to be classified among America’s greatest success stories.
Michelle Tedford inherited her love for military history from her father, Clint Tedford, the first to tell her the story of the 1835 Toledo War.