An accidental Marianist
Lisa Rismiller, who works in the president’s office as secretary of the board of trustees, has called herself that. We asked her why.
I was born and raised in a town with no Catholic school.
My parish, where I attended Mass and less-than-inspirational catechism classes, didn’t feel welcoming and inclusive.
My high school sweetheart and I married in that same church where we’d grown up. We continued to attend Mass regularly; we dutifully raised our sons Catholic. But I never felt connected to the local parish. It felt like going through the motions.
And I started to realize — and resent — how sexism affected my life and career choices. A sense that women were sometimes treated as second-class citizens by the Catholic Church certainly didn’t help my connection to it.
Planning on a career in city management, I came to UD for a graduate degree. But an unforeseen opportunity arose — to be able work for then-president Brother Ray Fitz, S.M., while finishing my degree. Twenty-one years later, I’m still here.
Just as this Catholic, Marianist university forms students, it has formed me.
Here I’ve come to know, work with and learn from kind, compassionate, talented, hard-working and peace-loving Marianists — vowed and lay. Their world view, their passion for the Marianist charism and what it has to offer the world has seeped into my bones. I’ve learned how to “stay at the table” when the going gets rough, how to be a lifelong learner and how to give of myself in support of others.
My experience with Marianists, especially the immersive and ongoing formation as a Marianist Educational Associate, kept me not only at UD but also in the Catholic Church. I still struggle at times, but I’ve come to a place where the positives outweigh the challenges. I seek to be like some Catholic women I’ve come to know and admire; they’re challenged as I am but stay to be part of making the Church better for all.
I plan to stay, too, as I know walking with the Marianists will make me a better spouse, parent, colleague … a better human being. Call it a “happy
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.
Katharine Conway ’01 doesn’t wear a white physician’s coat or scrubs when she treats patients at Wright State Physicians Health Center in Fairborn, Ohio. She said she wants them to feel at ease and “have space to tell their story without feeling intimidated.”
After all, many of the men, women and children she works with are refugees from Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan and are
facing what Conway calls “the trifecta of illnesses.” These include chronic conditions like diabetes, infectious diseases and mental illness.
The patients have fled their home countries and yet they bring incredible resilience and deep culture to Ohio cities according to Conway. She admits, however, that treating refugees is a challenge for the U.S. health care system and health care workers. That’s why, at Wright State University where Conway teaches and overseas the Global Health curriculum program, medical students spend several weeks studying and working in places like Swaziland, Peru and Malawi.
By training medical students in global health care initiatives, Conway said, “I’m trying to connect the dots with training abroad and how to use that knowledge to improve health care.”
“We need to make global health care local,” said Conway, who believes that by meeting refugees’ health care needs more effectively, health care professsionals will help refugees become “our newest neighbors, to work and live independently in the community.”
Conway graduated with a degree in biology and was one of the first UD students to graduate with a minor in human rights. Conway said she didn’t want to go to UD. She only agreed, while on the area college tour circuit, to stop and visit the campus to appease her mother.
When they arrived on campus, “It was classic UD,” Conway said. “I fell in love.
“I really learned how to build a valuable life and serve my community too.No Comments
Since her days as a disc jockey at WVUD while a student, Patty Spitler ’76 has been in the communication business. After graduation, she broke the “vinyl ceiling” as one of the first female morning DJs in the country at a time when that coveted time slot was dominated by men.
The communication major eventually moved from radio to TV, anchoring news and entertainment programs at WISH–TV in Indianapolis. In 2005, a severe hearing loss caused Spitler to change her career path.
“I was depressed when I lost my hearing but decided to take what I knew and learn to adapt,” she said.
After that, her career literally went to the dogs. Actually, pets of all kinds. As host and producer of the nationally syndicated PetPalsTV, she reaches 8 million animal-loving households weekly with programming that promotes responsible pet ownership, tells heartwarming stories and offers advice from experts on animal-related topics. As the boss, she selects the co-hosts — like her dogs Mabel and Stewie, her constant companions.
Spitler’s new lifestyle program, “Great Day TV with Patty Spitler,” airs in Indiana markets including Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, with plans for the show to be more widely distributed. As an independent producer, Spitler has control over content and can advocate for issues close to her heart.
“Hearing loss and mental distress — I’ve suffered from both and had to hide that doing the news,” Spitler said. “Now I can offer hope and support. I don’t have to hide my disability, and it’s
a great stress reliever to be open.”
Spitler sits on the board of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and is an advocate and spokesperson for Hearing Indiana, an organization that focuses primarily on children’s auditory health.
Over the years, Spitler has developed a philosophy to deal with setbacks and loss: “I’m busy. I’m relevant. I’m happy. You don’t have to be like everyone else — you make yourself happy by doing what you love.”
We’ll bark to that.No Comments
The shipyard, auto plant and steel mill are gone. But Lorain remains Ohio’s 10th-largest city.
In Louisville, the largest city in Kentucky, college basketball is king — and queen.
Coolville, Ohio, does not have a stop sign.
The hometowns of Alex Harris, JaVonna Layfield and Jenna Burdette are very different. But, according to head coach Shauna Green, the three seniors on the Flyers women’s basketball team have one thing in common: “You know what you are going to get out of them every single night.”
And what that is has been very, very good.
Though the backgrounds of the three have many differences, the common factor of basketball has drawn them together.
Harris has always loved basketball.
“Even before kindergarten, a basketball hoop was her favorite toy,” her mother, Sandra Wright, said.
Harris’ first day of kindergarten was the first day of high school for her sister, Shayla Wright. The two were very close, partially because their mother worked two jobs. Kindergarten for Harris marked not only the beginning of school but the beginning of intensely following her sister’s basketball career.
Harris rode the team bus to games. As her sister recalled, Harris “sat on the end of the bench. Our coach called her our ‘little mascot.’” Later playing for the same high school, Harris — who, unlike her sister, grew to be 6-foot-3 — would pull in more than 1,000 rebounds.
“She’s so intense on the court,” Linda Bradshaw, her partner and longtime friend, said, “but not off. She’s the nicest person I know.”
That opinion is apparently shared by her niece. “Alex is her favorite person in the world,” Shayla Wright said. “When Alex is around, no one else exists.”
Harris is shy, her sister said. And quiet, according to her mother, who said that Penn State, where Harris went to school for two years, “was too big, considering where she’s from. She doesn’t show much emotion, but she did get homesick.”
Transferring to Dayton brought her closer to home and, her sister said, “brought out her full potential.”
At Dayton she would join the outgoing Layfield and the taciturn Burdette, two players whose freshman homesickness was the subject of a Dayton Daily News article in 2015 by Tom Archdeacon ’72. He described the first time that the roommates Burdette and Layfield caught each other crying. They hugged each other.
Layfield was born in Louisville, Kentucky, with basketball in her blood. Athletes run on both sides of her family; one uncle played for Louisville.
High-spirited and energetic, Layfield was always doing some activity. Her mother, Shanneca O’Bannon, said, “We told her, ‘You have to do something, whether it’s sport or debate. You don’t come home and sit on the couch.’”
“We were trying to tire her out,” her grandmother, Gail O’Bannon, said.
Like Harris, Layfield “was a big kid,” her mother said. “Through grade school and middle school she played with her back to the basket.” Then she stopped growing, prompting her AAU coach to work with her on playing facing the basket.
She learned that well, her senior year being named by the Louisville Courier-Journal First Team All-State. But having lived her whole life in Louisville, “she wasn’t sure about leaving,” her mother said. She considered staying in town and attending Bellarmine University, an NCAA Division II school.
Freshman year at Dayton was a struggle for her, her mother said, adding, “I struggled, too, but I didn’t let her see it. When she became fine, I did, too.
“But someone here in Louisville still has to hear her voice every day.”
Often that someone is her grandmother who, when they talk, makes sure Layfield is going to church.
“My mom,” Layfield’s mother said, “would live in the dorm with JaVonna if she could.”
And grandmother did make a lot of trips to Dayton that freshman year.
As did members of the Burdette family.
Coolville may be a lot different from Louisville, but one thing they do have in common — four years ago each had a future Flyer star who was not eager to leave her hometown.
Coolville, according to Jonathan Burdette, Jenna’s older brother, “is in the middle of nowhere.” More precisely it is in southeast Ohio, 30 miles from Ohio University in Athens, where Jonathan attends school.
And it is, as Jill Burdette, Jenna’s mother, said, “half an hour from any store.”
Growing up, Jenna and Jonathan would show cattle from their grandfather’s farm. “Jenna would always take animals to the county fair,” Jonathan said.
And the two would play basketball.
For AAU ball, Jenna traveled 80 miles to Huntington, West Virginia, to play for the West Virginia Thunder; while she was playing for the team, it won its first national championship.
At Reedsville Eastern High School (enrollment about 200), Jenna’s coach was her dad, John. Jenna was four times first-team All-Ohio. In her senior year, she was Division IV Player of the Year, and Reedsville won the state championship.
When the time for college came, her mother said, Jenna made lists of what she wanted and did not want. She was looking for a relatively small Division I school. Dayton was within a three-hour drive; she liked the coaches; and the team needed a point guard.
She did for a while think, her mother said, that she’d be the only member of her class on the team. Then she had a roommate and teammate named Layfield — and two years later another teammate named Harris.
Their junior year, Harris’ first on the court, saw the Flyers, for the first time in program history, win both the A-10 regular season and championship titles. This year, as seniors, they went on a 16-game winning streak to again grab the A-10 regular season title, only to lose in the tournament semifinals to George Washington, 58-53. The seniors then turned their eyes toward a possible at-large bid in the NCAA tournament, in hopes of another day to play, together.
Editor’s note: The Flyers received an at-large bid to play in the 2018 NCAA tournament. The team lost in the first round to Marquette, 65-84.No Comments
The northwest Ohio alumni community has had a busy year. Last summer, alumni volunteered with the Toledo YES Project, where 120 to 150 youth and adult volunteers come together for four days of Christian service. Alumni hosted a speaker who gave tips on using LinkedIn. And the community organized gamewatch parties for the minor league baseball Toledo Mud Hens and Flyers basketball. When not volunteering or getting together, alumni experience the rich culture of Toledo with activities on Lake Erie, visiting the Toledo Museum of Art or Toledo Zoo, or paying homage to the city’s history of glass production by visiting the Glass Pavilion. And whenever possible, they stop at Tony Packo’s for a quick bite.
Made famous from its regular reference on the television show M*A*S*H, we asked alumni:
Are Tony Packo’s hot dogs really that good, and why?
“Tony Packo’s is the best! When you go, you have to order the chicken chili mac. It’s a lightly sweet chicken chili on top of their Hungarian dumplings. I devour it every time!”—Nicole Susdorf ’09
“Tony Packo’s is extremely similar to Skyline in the way the locals view it. People living in Cincinnati/Dayton love Skyline just as Toledo locals love Tony Packo’s. If you are ever in the area I would highly recommend going. Tony Packo’s dog is much better than Skyline’s Cheese Coney, and the wall decor of a bunch of hot dog buns being signed by famous celebrities is also a fun touch.”—Chris Alleman ’15
“Tony Packo’s hot dogs are as advertised. It’s a great local quality food that has a distinct flavor. Nothing beats their chili cheese dogs!” —David Theby ’09
Alumni by the numbers
Total Alumni 1,504
Flyer Fusions 145
Most 2000s (with 320)
Education & Health Sciences 554
Arts & Sciences 462
Law 23No Comments
A blog by Cameron Collins ’94
Collins never imagined that the success of his personal blog “Distilled History” — a St. Louis history and drinking blog — would lead to a book deal. The idea of the blog began when he wanted to learn more about the city’s rich history. But he also wanted to throw in a twist. Collins writes, “If you know me, you know I’m a big fan of two things: history and drinking. Specifically,
St. Louis history and, specifically, drinking well-made cocktails.” Collins hunts for bits of under-the-radar history and then stops for a drink on the way. His blog led to his first book, Lost Treasures of St. Louis. For more information, visit www.distilledhistory.com.
For a few days in March, UD Arena becomes more than just another venue hosting a major national sporting event. It turns into a 13,000-seat classroom.
During the First Four, the opening round of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament, UD students work behind the scenes with the Division of Athletics to assist with communications, facilities management, ticketing, athletic training and other functions necessary for successful event execution. Student journalists from University of Dayton Magazine also attend to cover the event for the alumni audience. (Follow their work on Twitter @daymag.)
And, during the last three years, the First Four has given one class an opportunity to integrate the NCAA tournament into its regular course work. Students from a sports media class spend an afternoon at the Arena attending press conferences, observing reporters at work and taking in the pregame buzz before that night’s First Four games.
The students, mostly juniors and seniors, are sport management majors in the Department of Health and Sport Science in the
School of Education and Health Sciences. Their class helps students understand the role of media and communications in the sports and recreation industry and prepares them for careers in the field.
“This is a great opportunity for students to take a look behind the scenes at a major sporting event,” said JoAn Scott, managing director of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship. “The University of Dayton does a great job in organizing and hosting the First Four games, and these students get a first-hand look at what it takes to conduct such a huge event.”
Doug Hauschild, director of athletics communications, works with the NCAA to secure short-term passes for the 10 to 15 students who attend the media availability. They arrive shortly after noon on Tuesday and attend the press conferences for the teams scheduled to play on Wednesday. The passes give students access to the media workroom, the press conference area, locker rooms and courtside media seating, where they can observe open practices and talk to professional communicators at work.
In 2017, students chatted with CBS/Turner Sports broadcaster and former NBA/college basketball star Steve Smith, who shared stories about his broadcast career and his pregame prep routine.
Since 2001, UD Arena has hosted at least one game in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, from the play-in game that ran 2001-10 to the First Four, which started in 2011 and is guaranteed to take place in Dayton until 2022. The facility has also hosted first- and second-round games in the men’s tournament and regional games in the women’s tournament. Because of the Arena’s prolific record as a tournament venue, UD students have been able to list NCAA tournament experience on their résumés in the relevant experience category, sometimes for four consecutive years.
“March Madness is a three-week run of tremendous college basketball, with many eyes of the nation and the world focused on the games,” Scott said. “We are happy to extend the students this opportunity, and who knows, one or more of them might be interested enough to someday work in event or media operations and maybe even on this tournament.”
Shannon Shelton Miller has served as the instructor for HSS 353: Sports Media and launched the student site visit during the 2016 First Four. She is a UD editor and a frequent contributor to University of Dayton Magazine. Her story appeared in the spring 2018 issue.
A book by Patrick Wensink ’02
Although Wensink has written five books for adults, Go Go Gorillas: A Romping Bedtime Tale (HarperCollins, 2017), is the writer’s
first children’s book. Wensink took inspiration from family trips to the zoo with his wife and then-2-year-old child. As his son kept asking why the gorillas were always sleeping, Wensink would make up stories about what made them so sleepy during the day. Eventually, the idea of apes who stayed up dancing all night took shape. During talks with his editor, he said, “Several times we said things like, ‘Would a gorilla really dance the watusi? What kind of records would a baby ape play if he were deejaying?’ These are silly conversations but also show how seriously we thought about children’s literature.” Wensink is currently putting the final touches on the sequel, Go Go Bananas, which is set to be published in 2018.
The relatively new Orange County, California, chapter is driven by service first, which is where the largest participation of alumni always occurs. The OC community volunteers with Second Harvest, a food bank, packing thousands of meals for homeless shelters throughout the area. The community also works with the Village of Hope, which shelters homeless families. Orange County is home to tourist attractions such as Anaheim and Disneyland. Not to be outdone by the inland activities, the Southern California coastline adds to quality of life through boating and other water activities, which even includes whale watching.
We asked a few alumni in the area:
If Rudy Flyer could choose one Disney character as his sidekick, who would it be and why?
“Buzz Lightyear, because they’d be able to fly around all day and hang out on porches all night!”—Mike Lamorgese ’14
“I think Rudy Flyer would pick Tinkerbell as his sidekick. She and Rudy share a love of flying; she is capable of supporting both Peter Pan and Rudy; and we could use some pixie dust to continue our postseason appearances.”—Steve Tomassi ’74
“I would say that Rudy would probably choose both Peter Pan and Aladdin for wingmen, primarily for their gravity-defeating abilities. Rudy’s relentless enthusiasm would be coupled greatly by Peter Pan’s curiosity and interest in mischief, as well as enhanced by the adventure-searching yet grounded diamond-in-the-rough qualities of Aladdin. No matter what adventures they may face as a team, it would be a fun trio to see in action.”—Stephanie Grant ’01
Alumni by the numbers
Total Alumni 453
Flyer Fusions 47
Most 1970s with 119
Arts & Sciences 136
Education & Health Sciences 68
Law 14No Comments