Total miles: 27,169.4. That’s a trip around the earth with 2,268.4 miles to spare. Or a jog across the Great Wall of China, twice. Or to the top of the Empire State Building 98,653 times. Or for UD MBA graduate Denny Fryman, that’s 1,038 marathons (and counting).
2018 marks Fryman’s 40th year running marathons. He credits his persistence to running partner and mentor Sy Mah, whom he met during his fourth marathon. Mah recognized Fryman’s potential to become a mega-marathoner, someone who competes many times a year, and encouraged him to keep running.
“After each race, Sy and I would celebrate and them immediately plan our next one,” Fryman said. Mah passed away in 1988 but his words continue to inspire Fryman to this day: “Always stay hungry.”
And he has. Running an average of 20 marathons a year has earned Fryman, 70, the rank of No. 4 in North America and No. 22 in the world for completed marathons.
“Running is part of my identity. I rarely run with anyone — it’s my alone time with God, nature and my surroundings to let go and sort things out,” Fryman said. “The runner’s high does exist. I call it being ‘in the zone,’ and it’s the main reason I continue to run.”
Fryman spent 30 years in banking and as an adjunct instructor at the college level before moving to Florida where he now
has a third career as a concierge with Disney. For more than 17 years he’s been greeting guests, always on the lookout for fellow Flyers. “I can’t wait to ‘talk UD’ with guests — we UD grads are amazing!”
Fryman also golfs, loves to read, mostly the Bible and inspirational or motivational books, and spending time with his wife of 45 years, Dorann, and their two daughters and grandchildren.
“Hopefully I can continue to run as long as I am physically able,” Fryman said. “I love the feeling of being ‘free’ that running gives me. I get in a place where my body, mind and spirit come together as one. The feeling is incredible.”
As of press time, Fryman has completed 1,047 marathons.No Comments
On April 4, 2018, eyes will turn to Memphis, Tennessee, to remember the tragic event that occurred 50 years prior and the legacy left by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., known as our nation’s great peacemaker. It occurred at the Lorraine Motel, now the location of the National Civil Rights Museum.
Terri Lee Freeman ’81 is president of the museum in Memphis, where she lives with her husband and youngest daughter. Freeman said she believes our country is at a pivotal point in history, and change is on the horizon.
“The legacy that Dr. King left us compels us to work with those people who are not necessarily of the same mindset and to communicate with those people and find a way to stem some of the personal biases we have. Because ultimately, it’s about creating human relationships,” Freeman said.
The communication major, who previously served as the president of The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region (aka Greater Washington Community Foundation), said she feels the country is more polarized than it’s ever been and worries that people are becoming rigid and inflexible in not wanting to understand opposing viewpoints or ideals.
She said she hopes her work at the museum helps visitors gain insight into another time in history when the nation was at odds with itself, to emphasize how important it is that people learn to work together, with respect and compassion, to achieve positive social change.
“I think that what is happening right now, both politically and culturally in this country, is not just a moment. I do believe it’s a movement,” she said.
Yet, as she looks at millennials and centennials, she said she is inspired.
“These young people are really engaged. They are a lot more informed about what’s going on than I was at their age. So, I’m optimistic.”No Comments
As free-speech battles play out on college campuses, in the public square and on social media, some may view engaging in respectful, civil dialogue and carefully listening to opposing viewpoints as a lost art.
I would say we’re reclaiming it at the University of Dayton, but, truthfully, it’s always been part of our fabric. It’s certainly a skill graduates need in today’s complex world.
The Marianists, many of whom live among the students in the neighborhoods, know that better than anyone else. They teach us daily how to value the dignity of every person.
Our communication professors who teach a nationally significant Communication 100 course to all undergraduates know that, too. (See story, Page 36.) In the class, students learn how to have meaningful conversations with others who hold different perspectives — all with the goal of understanding each other better.
Alumnus Timothy Shaffer ’06, who is assistant director of the Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy at Kansas State and recently edited a book about the use of dialogue and deliberation, also knows that. As a UD graduate student, he created a class in deliberation that found its way to the program at the Stander Symposium and helped launch his life’s work.
And I know that. When I read this issue’s “Let’s Talk” feature story, I’m heartened by the myriad ways we bring our students together to converse (which implies both speaking and listening) and build bridges across differences. We’re even considering developing a dialogue landing zone in Roesch Library, providing space for conversations on tough issues.
Last year, when a controversy erupted on campus over a student art project, the Student Government Association immediately organized a discussion. As I sat in the back of the room and listened to the challenging but respectful conversation, I grew more proud of our students by the minute. Rather than talking at each other, they engaged in dialogue — with respect, thoughtfulness and a desire to understand another person’s point of view. As a campus community, we didn’t shy away from having a difficult conversation.
The Marianists call that “staying at the table.” I call it courageous conversations.
It’s just what our world needs.No Comments
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.No Comments
For 30 years, the Pioneer 10 spacecraft toward then past Jupiter, sending Earth information about what lies in and
beyond our solar system. It could only do so because of the plutonium-238 nuclear battery powering its scientific
Bernard Kokenge ’61 received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UD in 1961 and his doctorate in chemistry from Ohio University in 1966. He then began his career as a research chemist with Monsanto Research Corp. at Mound Laboratory in Miamisburg, Ohio.
He began work on improving plutonium nuclear fuels for space application and received a patent on an improved plutonium-238 fuel form in 1972. That fuel has been used in nuclear batteries for several NASA missions including the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn.
“These nuclear heat source batteries were an integral part of many spacecrafts. Think of them as an on-board electrical utility — kind of like a mini DP&L in space,” Kokenge said, refering to Dayton’s local power company.
Kokenge worked at Mound for more than 20 years in high-level management positions in charge of the research, fabrication and delivery of these nuclear heat source packages to the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA. He left in 1986 as the associate director of Mound Laboratory.
He now works as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Labor on classifying chemicals used by workers at the various U.S. government nuclear sites from the early 1940s to the
Kokenge said he appreciates the solid education he received at UD, the encouragement of its professors and the support of his wife, Joy, throughout his career.
Somewhere, an estimated 10 billion miles away, Pioneer 10 is still floating, heading out of our solar system. And inside is a capsule that holds the names of all the people, including Kokenge, involved with its mission.
Proof that a Flyer’s impact can truly be out of this world.No Comments
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.1 Comment
A Chronological Commentary of Revelation
Barry Dysert ’85
Many people find the book of Revelation to be the most mysterious in the Bible. A Chronological Commentary of Revelation reorganizes the biblical text and makes it easy to read from beginning to end, almost like a story. “I’ve been studying and teaching Revelation for most of my life,” Dysert said. “I came up with the idea of teaching it in chronological order as a tool to use during the classes I teach.” Approached from a literal point of view, the book abounds with Scriptural references so that the reader can look up for himself or herself how Revelation can be interpreted. The book was published in April 2017 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing.
The Unbeaten Path
Sean Sechrist ’12
When minoring in entrepreneurship at UD, Sechrist knew he eventually wanted to apply what he’d learned and strike out on his own. A post-graduation move to Chicago after landing a dream job in the corporate world deferred that plan. The work wasn’t fulfilling, and Sechrist decided to make a change. Last October he started an online podcast business called the Unbeaten Path. The site features interviews with individuals who have created the life they want on their own terms. “This includes dream chasers, entrepreneurs, people pursuing a life of personal fulfillment and success over status or money, and everything in between,” Sechrist said. “It is based on my belief that if you desire to experience personal success and true fulfillment in your life, then take action toward the life you want and not the life others expect you to live is key.” The show debuted in the top 20 on the careers chart and top 50 in the overall business chart on iTunes. Check it out at www.ubpath.com.
A Barefoot Boy in the Mango Tree: A Memoir of Maui and Me
Wayne Moniz ’68
Barefoot Boy is the memoir of Maui-born author and playwright Wayne Moniz from 1945 to the present. Moniz takes readers on a sentimental journey as his idyllic home transforms from a simple, uncomplicated island to the tourist mecca that it is today. It mirrors the transformation of how an unassuming island boy morphed into a complex and respected author, playwright and teacher. Moniz is a holder of the Cades Award, Hawaii’s most honored writing prize, for his body of work. Barefoot Boy was self-published in May 2017.No Comments
As the opioid epidemic sweeps across the nation, estate attorney Kelli E. Brown ’93 sees the anxiety of clients who have children addicted to drugs or alcohol.
As Brown continues to see the number of clients with this problem increasing, she’s realized that parents struggle with knowing how to responsibly divide their estate since an addicted child may not handle a large amount of wealth appropriately.
“More and more, middle and wealthy families have adult children that are struggling with addiction issues. They come to me and I tell them there are so many things they can do,” Brown said. However, it’s the ones who do not have estate planning who Brown worries about.
In 2017, Brown wrote Estate Planning When You Have an Addicted Child to help explain to parents how they could decide in a responsible way to keep addicted children in the will or to exclude them.
Some of those options include placing assets in a trust, designating early on who gets personal property and finding a responsible person to be in charge even if he/she is not a relative.
After taking a media law class with Judge James Brogan while at UD, Brown knew she wanted to go to law school. Brown attended Chase Law School at Northern Kentucky University followed by the University of Miami, Coral Gables, where she earned a Master of Laws in estate planning.
Brown has been practicing trusts and estate law for 21 years. She is currently a partner at Goldberg Simpson LLC, a law firm in Louisville, Kentucky, where she is the chair of the trusts and estates department.
“The purpose of my book is to provide information to the average person who may have a loved one struggling with addiction. I want them to have the resources they need to make good decisions. They need to know there are many options,” Brown said.No Comments
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.
Alumni living in southwest Florida enjoy some of the best beaches this country has to offer. Boating trips to Key West are common, and baseball fans can enjoy the fact that the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins hold spring training in that region. With hundreds of public golf courses and dozens of marinas, alumni are rarely indoors. As a group, the Southwest Florida Alumni Community volunteered at the Harry Chapin Food Bank to distribute meals to the community after Hurricane Irma and are planning to do a beach cleanup this spring or volunteer at the Manatee Reserve Park.
Question: What makes southwest Florida such a great place for UD alumni to live?
“People living in this area love to be outdoor folks. We get to enjoy the milder temperatures of Florida in this area, which is great. We have a lot of recreational activities that you can take part in because of the weather afforded to us here. We love the water and enjoy going out on boat rides. There’s a lot of alumni in the area so there are a lot of friendly faces around.” —Rick Granite ’88
“With an average year-round temperature of 75 degrees, southwest Florida is paradise! There are miles of beaches, rivers and bay for fun outdoor activities. We are a short drive away from Tampa, Naples, Captiva and Sanibel Islands, Miami and Key West. You can be a part of the city life or find an escape from it.” —Emily Spicer ’08
“With endless outdoor activities available year round, you are never without a fun activity to try. The cities in the area offer great culture, restaurants, craft breweries and bars. It’s easy to see how this area was voted one of the happiest and healthiest places to live in the U.S.” —Jennifer Graul Granite ’12No Comments