How happiness and meaning in life start with a good story.
Illustrations by Elwood Smith
Every so often at a party in Chicago, when I was in my 20s and 30s, I had a particular revelation. The scene was similar: a packed house or apartment, music blaring, beer flowing. I would overhear someone utter “UD.” I might see a Dayton T-shirt or baseball cap. Maybe a UD banner on the wall. It became clear: I’m at a UD party. Again.
I could never figure out how I ended up at these parties. I didn’t know the host. I didn’t necessarily arrive with UD grads. I hadn’t gone to UD. I had a few high school friends who went to UD, but they didn’t live in Chicago. Perhaps people from Ohio end up at the same parties in Chicago? Perhaps graduates of Catholic colleges end up at the same parties anywhere? Perhaps UD grads just throw the best parties? (Probably so, but that wouldn’t explain why I would be there.) Perhaps UD was my destiny?
During those years I went to the wedding of two UD grads, a good friend from high school, John Konkoly ’89, and Lori Sauer, now Konkoly, ’89. They sat me at the same table as a particularly gorgeous woman, a friend of Lori’s named Tricia whom I remember to this day because now she’s my wife. Perhaps UD actually was my destiny.
After living in Chicago, Tricia and I moved to Flagstaff, Ariz., where we started a family and I started my career. We loved it there (sunny, friends). But it was too far from family — Tricia’s in Cincinnati and mine in Cleveland. Then UD gave me a job with an excellent work environment, fantastic students and colleagues, and ideal opportunities for professional growth, all while bringing our kids and us closer to family.
Fun, love and work. It is easy for me to view UD with a sense of gratitude and destiny.
Same facts, different story
I suppose I could tell that story another way. I could interpret my life in a way that scarcely mentions UD. For example, UD alums did not throw the only parties I went to in Chicago. UD introduced Tricia and me, but only indirectly, and UD didn’t exactly figure in our decision to date, much less get married. UD gave me a job, but the hire is a mutual exchange of goods and services.
This version of the story is also factual. But it feels less true, less full, less meaningful. UD plays a meaningful role in my life because I have interpreted my life that way, which is to say, I have constructed a personal narrative or story that says UD is personally meaningful. So it is, in fact, meaningful.
Usually we think that a story is a retelling of something. Factual events happen in life, and then we tell stories about those events. But life stories are primarily about meanings, not facts. A story’s meaning is not about who, what, where and when, but about why and how — about the intentions, dreams, reasons, motivations, ideals and conflicts that shape our feelings and interpretations of events. We identify and define ourselves in terms of these interpretations.
So the stories we tell about our lives are more than just stories. They’re what we know of our lives. Our stories become our lives.
The question is, what do we want our lives to become?
The answer: Good.
Good life = happiness + meaning
When people in studies were asked what constitutes a good life, they rated happiness and meaning highest, above things like status and lots of money.
This notion of a good life has deep roots, going back at least 2,400 years to Aristotle. For him, a good life, or eudaimonia, involved two things: pleasure and arete (translated as “excellence of character” or “maturity in virtue and meaning-making”). I’ll refer to these two simply as happiness and meaning.
Happiness is the feeling that life is good. Meaning deals with how one analyzes the life about which one feels good. For example, if you’re happy but you got that way by being selfish and cheating others, then suddenly “a good life” doesn’t seem so good.
Here’s an interesting fact: Happiness and meaning are not the same thing. In fact, they’re not even related. People with highly developed meanings in life are just as likely to be unhappy as happy. This finding has been replicated for decades. In other words, thinking complexly about life is different than feeling good about it.
Before we consider how all this relates to life stories, let’s look at some of the prerequisites of eudaimonia, the good life, because happiness and meaning are luxuries.
Hitting the cortical lottery
Aristotle said that eudaimonia is not simply a matter of effort. It’s also a matter of luck.
Like it or not, much of our happiness is genetic. Research shows that happiness levels are more similar for identical twins than for fraternal twins.
Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia calls this “the cortical lottery.” Fortunately the odds in this lottery are much better than in the state lottery. Roughly 60 percent of people report being happy routinely. But we have a biological “set point” for happiness. We may have short bursts or depletions of happiness, but eventually we slide back to our endowed set point. (Really, our genes set a range of likely happiness levels that seem to become more channeled as our lives unfold.)
While this may sound discouraging, on the bright side it’s part of what pulls us up when things go wrong. Plus, it’s very important to note that happiness is not all genetic. Set points can change permanently, and approximately
40 percent of happiness levels are tied to our own personal actions.
Whew. There’s hope.
Cost of living adjustments
Aristotle also said that eudaimonia comes about only when a person has ample leisure. Leisure allows for time to think deeply about life. Having leisure also means we’re probably not worrying about basic needs like food and shelter. And that’s where wealth comes in.
Overall, it’s clear that money goes a long way in bringing happiness, but only if you’re poor. In every country around the world, people who worry about food, shelter and safety are less happy than people who do not.
Once basic needs are met, it’s a much different story. People around the world then start to focus on “psychological needs,” such as seeking pleasure, a sense of belonging, a sense of personal competence and esteem, and meaning in life. When focused on these kinds of needs, it takes huge increases in income — upwards of $100,000 in a year — to see a just-noticeable difference in happiness, on average.
Not only that, but sudden increases in happiness generally don’t last. We adapt. The new income level quickly becomes the new baseline. This is called the hedonic treadmill. We keep moving forward and exhausting our energies to gain something pleasurable but end up right where we started. Of course, it’s great that we adapt when things go wrong. But when things go great (“I won the lottery!”), well, we adapt to that, too.
Finally, we should ask: Which comes first, increases in income or increases in happiness? A longitudinal study tracking individuals over many years shows that increases in happiness come before increases in income. Why? Perhaps it’s that happy people can get others to like them and their work more easily, can think more optimistically and creatively, and can invest in the future accordingly.
The story of a researcher
I’m a terrible storyteller. I can write well enough, but when it comes to telling a story in person, it never works unless it’s one that I’ve told a million times. Of course, by then it only works with people I’ve just met.
This drives me crazy because I love good storytellers. Maybe that’s why I study people’s life stories for a living.
I first got the idea to study people’s stories as the editor of a weekly newspaper in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Now, I don’t know how familiar you are with the U.P., but you may have heard of its unparalleled beauty. They call it “God’s Country.” And it is beautiful. It’s also quiet. Dead quiet, painfully quiet, especially for a 22-year-old who only months earlier had moved to Chicago because, and solely because, Chicago is so fun. But an editor job was too good to pass up, so I traded culture for nature and headed north (like three hours north of Green Bay, Wis., which is why I only got one television station and ironically missed the first season of Northern Exposure).
In addition to editor, I was the (not “a”) reporter, photographer and layout guy. My publisher was shrewd. I worked 60-70 hours per week for $13,000 a year, but this was enough not to worry about food and shelter. My rent was only $200 a month for the spacious top floor of a house, and I survived happily on cheap pizza and black bean soup, which I heated up by myself when feeling particularly domestic. And I loved my job. I liked writing editorials and sports — mostly high school sports and Little League Baseball, but also dog-sled racing and the popular “Call in Your Kill” listings in November. But I most loved doing feature stories of people’s lives.
The problem was that, when designing the layout of the page with the feature story, I inevitably realized that I had written too much. Time was short on press day, and so was the editing process: I had to cut paragraphs off the end of the story until it fit the space available. This was maddening. Here I had spent hours interviewing someone, doing background investigation and throwing myself into this person’s life for a week — all to just hack the story to make room for the police report (naturally the most popular column) or an announcement of a bake sale.
I wanted to study people’s life stories in more depth and more systematically.
Science of stories
I view the questions of a good life — of how we create happiness and meaning — as scientific questions. I love philosophy, literature, the arts, religion, history and other disciplines that study life’s big questions. But for me, these questions are begging for observable, quantitative data and statistical models showing how Variable A (say, personal narratives) predicts Variable B (say, happiness or meaning).
Can we actually measure these things as well as the physical sciences measure planets, plants and protons? Of course not, never mind the fact that astronomers are still arguing over what a planet is.
But can we measure happiness, meaning and life stories well enough to predict which people are likely to be happy years from now based on their stories today? Most definitely. Such research is already well established in the social sciences.
Here’s how: Life stories, like any story, use narrative themes to convey what is important and why it’s important. These themes can be identified systematically and quantified.
Three of the great themes in life stories and stories generally (think literature, film) are power, love and growth. People use these themes to give meaning to events in their lives. An event may be important “because I had an influence” or “because I proved I could do it” (power). An event may be important “because we shared
it” or “because it brought us together” (love). An event may be important “because I grew stronger” or “because we learned” (growth).
The more we use a particular theme to convey the importance of an event, the more we identify with that theme in our lives. We can measure a theme quantitatively by getting independent researchers to agree how frequently it is mentioned across the episodes of a person’s life story.
What themes make up a good life story? Much of the answer depends on one’s culture, but if I had to pick one theme, I’d pick growth.
Growth is a major part of eudaimonia, and the concept of growth is deeply embedded in American ideals of progress and a good life. This is partly why self-help books have accounted for almost 50 percent of the best-selling nonfiction titles in the past 40 years. We love coming-of-age movies and stories of character development where the heroes realize the sins of their past and transform themselves into a force of good. Think of any story featuring character development where the protagonist tries to become a “better person.”
Our life stories can showcase growth in the past and in the planned future. In a week I will fly to Paris to participate in UD’s summer study abroad program. In this extraordinary program, UD students study abroad and are taught by UD professors, who propose the programs and locations. (While I was interviewing for my position at UD, Tricia discovered this program on UD’s website. She was clear on the phone that night: You get that job!)
When I did this program in Paris in 2009, my family joined me, and we all loved it. It was especially wonderful watching our kids (ages 6 and 4 at the time) explore a new city, new foods and new people.
On the academic side, I was reminded what it means to have a course come alive: Students were fully engaged in the class — I’ve never seen so often the expression of “OMG, I get it now, wow, life’s bigger than I thought” — as the course topics were linked to and energized by our experience in Paris. For me, Paris is Growth City.
It was for the students, too. Afterward, they wrote about their experiences. Growth themes were off the charts. Students uniformly saw the experience as a period of intense self-discovery and self-expansion. They wrote passionately about what they learned and how their appreciation deepened for other cultures and their American culture. They told stories of growing — experientially and intellectually.
The distinction is important. Recall that happiness and meaning are not the same thing. My colleagues and I have consistently found that personal growth stories lead down at least two broad paths. Stories emphasizing experiential growth (focusing on deepened experiences and relationships) lead toward feeling good about life (happiness). Stories emphasizing intellectual growth lead toward thinking deeply about life (meaning).
But there’s little cross-over. Growth stories and plans along one path are not likely to lead to growth along the other. Only the people whose stories emphasize both kinds of growth, like my students after Paris, tend to show evidence of both happiness and rich meaning in life — that is, to show evidence of eudaimonia.
Growing through grief
All this talk of growth sounds great. But what about when life gets tough? How much wiggle room is there in how we interpret the loss of a loved one or some traumatic event?
As it turns out, people going through the same tragic event, like 9/11 or personal abuse, tell very different stories. For some the event is simply tragic — that’s all, no growth. But for others, the tragic event also leads to something positive, some silver lining. Perhaps an important lesson or viewpoint about life. Perhaps strengthened relationships with family or friends. Perhaps personal strengths that were previously undiscovered. These people, whose stories convey themes of “post-traumatic growth,” are found to adjust better.
It’s important to note that growth is not the same thing as recovery. Almost everyone focuses on recovery during difficult times, but only some also focus on growth, and then with seemingly positive effects. But then did adjustment happen first, and the growth themes in narratives simply follow? Well, in one important study of psychotherapy, growth narratives came prior to improvements in psychological adjustment, and not the other way around.
Like James Brown said, ‘Get up offa that thang’
People who have growth stories seek growth in their lives. This is true for the old and the young, contrary to popular notions that “growth is for the young.” Plus, it’s not just that people tell stories about growth. It’s that these people do things that promote growth.
Certain kinds of activities are known for fostering eudaimonia. One is called “flow.” Flow is the experience of being in a groove, being immersed in something we find interesting, being focused on the present activity and not things like self-image or social status. Flow comes about when people do something that involves a high level of challenge but where their skills are up to that challenge.
Some of the most common examples include active leisure, such as sports and physical exercise, socializing (especially when it involves food), reading and sex. But watching TV does not; it produces inactivity, little excitement and little challenge.
Why then do we watch so much TV? Probably because at the end of a hard day, it’s much easier to click on the TV than to read a book or go for a run.
Flow activities take more initial effort, mentally and physically. But the initial investment pays off in terms of both meaning and happiness in life. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the great flow researcher, finds that the eudaimonic life comes when people routinely structure their lives to produce flow experiences.
Earlier I said essentially that money itself doesn’t buy happiness. But, some researchers find, money can buy happiness if we spend it right. We can spend money on either experiential purchases (activities) or material purchases (things). Here’s the payoff: Spending $100 on a baseball game or a concert is more likely to bring lasting happiness than spending $100 on a pair of shoes. When we purchase activities instead of things, we’re more likely to reminisce about them, to find meaning in them, to grow tired of them more slowly and to share them more with other people. That last one — other people — is key. If research has found one overarching key to happiness and meaning in life, it’s spending time with others.
So it seems that the American Dream of striving toward ever-newer cars and ever-bigger houses is a dream that we’re better to wake up from. In fact, research shows that pursuing this dream as a primary life goal may be an attempt to overcome a lack of more personally meaningful qualities in life. This leads to the question of why we do what we do.
Status, kids and what we emphasize
When it comes to happiness, it’s not so much the kind of activities we do as the reasons for doing them and for thinking they’re important. In study after study, in every age group, every income group and around the world, we see that happier people do things for person-oriented reasons more than for gaining material goods or social status.
Status and money aren’t necessarily problems in themselves. We all have both person-oriented and status-oriented reasons for doing what we do. For example, take the college student who wants to become a lawyer because she loves the legal process and feels she can help others (person oriented). She might also want to become a lawyer for the money and prestige (status oriented). What matters for her happiness is how much she emphasizes them in her life story.
This distinction is especially important when it comes to parenting. We all want our kids to be happy, but do we encourage our kids to pursue activities for the enrichment it brings for themselves and for others? Or for the acceptance and praise (think: grades) they’ll get from their parents, peers and teachers?
Chances are we’re doing both. After all, enrichment is good and noble, and it’s what brings happiness. But life in a complex society makes us jump through a lot of hoops, and status-motivated goals can help with that. Yet, such goals are not likely to bring happiness. Again, it’s a matter of which ones we emphasize in our life stories.
A related question: Are we as parents pushing our kids more for their own development as individuals or more to have them live out our ideals for our own lives? I try hard not to do the latter, but it’s not easy. On any given day I catch myself feeling proud or defensive, dishing out praise or punishment, because my children’s behaviors either reflect or contradict what I myself want to be. The hard part is that some of those ideals I would want for anyone (like being considerate or trying hard) and others I wouldn’t (like being controlling or perfectionism). And it’s not always easy to tell which is which when such situations spontaneously arise by the dozens each day. But it’s got to be worth the effort to try.
As far as I can tell, the only remedy is the age-old advice: “Know thyself.” Which brings us back to where we started: Examining our life stories.
What’s your story?
We have just scanned an enormous amount of research. Is there a simple conclusion for it all? A quick little piece of advice to jot down for future reference?
I don’t think so. Lives are complex. If I wanted to offer any insights that would actually be useful, I’d need to hear your particular story.
And if I already did hear it at one of those parties in Chicago, do you mind repeating it? It was pretty loud there, as I recall.
Jack Bauer (http://academic.udayton.edu/jackbauer) struggles daily to translate research findings into plain English. He holds the Roesch Chair in the Social Sciences and is an associate professor of psychology at UD. He is co-editor of the book Transcending Self-Interest: Psychological Explorations of the Quiet Ego and is currently writing about the topics in this article for a book on the ideal of growth in American life stories. Bauer is also an associate editor of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and, were this article to appear in that journal, he would have dutifully cited his research references in endnotes. He is happy to provide them to any interested readers.
Further reading suggested by Bauer:
Finding Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The Progress Paradox by Gregg Easterbrook
Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt
The High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser
The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
The Redemptive Self and George W. Bush and The Redemptive Dream by Dan P. McAdams
The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz2 Comments
The Dayton alumni chapter got a good price on a bunny suit. For years the members had been renting, but they finally got around to buying one for $100. Call it an investment in the future.
Each Easter more than a hundred children are let loose on the Kennedy Union lawn in search of 800-900 hollow plastic eggs filled with candy and four silver and gold eggs that will win them a plush bunny or chick. It’s what Dayton alumni chapter co-president Gloria Marano ’88 describes as “controlled mass chaos.”
“But it’s a good kind of crazy,” she added.
With 21,891 alumni in the area, the Dayton alumni chapter is easily the largest chapter around. The Palm Sunday Easter egg hunt, an annual event more than a decade in practice, is the kind of event only the Dayton alumni chapter could hold because it’s the only chapter with the UD campus in its backyard.
“We do everything,” said chapter co-president Aimee Kroll Forsythe ’99, a systems analyst for Avery Dennison who hails from Cleveland. She came to Dayton in 1995 and, like a lot of her friends, hasn’t left.
The proximity advantage has also allowed the chapter to launch Dinner with 5 Flyers, a Students Today, Alumni Tomorrow program which brings alumni and current students together for dinner discussions about life and UD.
In 2006, the National Alumni Association named it Program of the Year. While it was once exclusive to Dayton, the initiative now is expanding to Philadelphia, New York and other cities where alumni chapters are thriving.
In addition to contributing to on-campus events like Christmas on Campus, the chapter holds game-watches throughout the basketball season and once a year fills 200 seats at the Dayton Dragons minor league baseball stadium.
Chapter members have provided meals for the homeless at St. Vincent de Paul hotel and dinner for the families of sick children of Ronald McDonald House. For the last two years, they have raised awareness for multiple sclerosis research through the MS Walk in Kettering, Ohio, with the Ray of Hope team in honor of former UD president Brother Raymond Fitz, S.M. ’64.
But it’s during the on-campus activities like the Easter egg hunt that alumni and their children get to engage most with the tradition and community of the University.
Those kids posing with a UD student wearing the $100-bunny suit might just be the next generation of Flyers.
1. The Oakwood Club “They have excellent food and excellent service. I’ve been going there since I was a little girl. I had my first Shirley Temple there with my dad.” —Anne Fahrendorf Sweeney ’71
2. National Museum of the U.S. Air Force “Not only do you get to learn about the Wright brothers, but you also get to see the modern jets. I suggest everybody visit the SR-71 Blackbird. It’s truly amazing — you can see the fastest jet in the world here in Dayton.” —Wayne Small ’02
3. RiverScape MetroPark “It’s a great place to take a stroll or hop on the bike trail and ride along the river. During the summer there are concerts, and in the winter you can go ice skating or join the Dayton Broomball Association.” —Jen Cadieux ’05
4. Boonshoft Museum of Discovery “A unique indoor zoo where you can interact with small animals, the wonderful planetarium and many engaging exhibits to help you understand the world — it’s the perfect place for a family with children.” —Julie Miller Walling ’80
5. John Bryan State Park and Clifton Gorge “They have a lot of hiking trails and streams that run through the parks. You can see layers of exposed rock from post-glacial canyon cutting.” —Kerry Glassmeyer Ulery ’99No Comments
Amy Lopez-Matthews ’86 answered the call in 2005 to become a Marianist Educational Associate, part of a lay community who steward Marianist and Catholic values on campus and integrate the charism into their professions. As director of student life and Kennedy Union, she employs 80 students annually and works with many more in UD’s 200 student organizations.
You have varied experiences of Marianist education — student at Chaminade Julienne High School, working summer conferences, classroom teaching, leading all of KU’s ministries at the heart of the campus. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned about being a Marianist educator? —Sister Laura Leming, F.M.I. ’87, UD professor
The Marianists talk about a community of equals. While I understand the unique role the faculty play in the classroom, we have staff members and people outside of campus who are completely dedicated to the mission of the Marianists and of the University. We can all have a part to play in educating students. Lots of people educate for values, but do they educate for formation in faith and combine that with the discipleship of equals? Do they combine that with our sense of hospitality? These come together at UD in a distinct way, and that’s what we’re all part of.
In a culture of change, how does the Mother of God give us a role model? —Robert Corgan, Maderia, Ohio
She lived in a culture of change. She didn’t question it, didn’t begrudge it, didn’t wish it away but accepted it and grew stronger through it — being there and saying “yes” and being so strong. I love the passage of the visitation where they talk about Mary’s confusion because I think we all have confusion and we think we shouldn’t. Many of us want clear-cut, even easy, answers. Think about it — what’s easy that we truly value?
What is one thing you appreciate that has endured throughout your time as a student and employee? —Leigh Hartley ’97, Chicago
It’s the sense of community that people feel here. When it comes down to it, they might describe it in ways that are different, but lots of people feel like it’s a place where they can be part of something bigger.
You have worked with students, staff and faculty on committees and initiatives at UD. What makes a group effective? —Kathy Watters, UD professor
If people are around the table because they value the work and if they have a commitment to it, it’s going to be effective. Students have been some of the most amazing contributors in that process. For the committee to recognize what the student experience can bring can be extremely helpful.
How are you able to provide your student workers with guidance and instruction while still allowing them the flexibility and independence to get the job done as they see fit? —BRIAN KOWALSKI ’99, Columbus, Ohio
We want and we need students to develop critical-thinking skills. If we prescribe every aspect of their job, they don’t learn as much as if we empower them to learn the job, make decisions, make mistakes. And jobs are dynamic. Students in the positions change, jobs themselves change, but that need to help students learn how to figure something out on their own is so important.
You have been an advocate for many students and for important justice issues. What motivates you? —Crystal Caruana Sullivan, UD campus ministry director
Have you ever seen The Book of Birthdays? [Opens book and reads Nov. 15, her birthday] “Ready to stand up for themselves and are champions for those who need protection … waiting for the right moment to act … make an issue of honorable behavior.” I just feel like it’s something I’m called to do. And we have examples of students all around us who feel compelled to act. They found organizations, they go lobby the statehouse. They are great motivators.
How do you continue to be gracious and kind, even when you have a lot of things going on? —Father Jerry Chinchar, S.M. ’66, UD campus minister
I try to keep my ungracious and unkind self behind a door because we all have moments. The work we are doing is pretty public work for the institution, and I feel like we have a responsibility to do that work with the models of graciousness and kindness we see in the Marianists, whether those are people we’ve read about or people whom we’ve observed or worked with on campus. I have a lot of models in my 23 years whom I’ve observed who are gracious and kind and still strong and do what they have to do in their jobs. And a sense of humor from Father Jerry doesn’t hurt either.
For our next issue ask Brother Tom Pieper, S.M. ’67, UD campus minister for Stuart Hall and its first-year students. He also moderates the UD Summer Appalachia Program, where 14 students live in community and serve children, teens and the elderly in Salyersville, Ky. He is planning the program’s 50th anniversary celebration for 2013. Email your question to: email@example.com.No Comments
Danny Srisawasdi’s mother inspires him by her selfless example.
Before immigrating to America, she harvested rice in Thailand’s paddy fields. Today, she works 12-hour days as a seamstress in Chicago. Her education didn’t go beyond eighth grade, yet she raised two children on her own.
“I come from a broken home, but that home is filled with love. My mother provided a healthy environment for her kids to be successful and happy,” he said during a break from his chemical engineering classes. “My mom came from nothing and created so much success. I don’t want to disappoint her.”
Thanks to the selflessness of another Chicago family — Cathy and Tim Babington — he hasn’t disappointed. Srisawasdi graduated this spring due, in part, to their financial help. They’ve endowed a scholarship fund in honor of Cathy’s parents, George and Kathleen Valenta, who made sure all eight of their children received what they valued the most — a Catholic education.
“My education was phenomenal,” Cathy Babington said. “I had such a fine education at the University of Dayton, and not just from the standpoint of academics. I grew as an individual and made lifelong friends. We’re giving back because we want to share that experience with other people. This is a great institution and getting better every day.”
Babington ’74, who serves on the UD board of trustees, earned a degree in dietetics and worked as a dietician before parlaying her knowledge and community-building skills into a career at Abbott Laboratories, a global health care company. She retired last year as vice president of public affairs for Abbott and president of the Abbott Fund, which invests millions to fight HIV/AIDS and expand health care in the developing world.
Srisawasdi and Babington, in separate conversations, repeat strikingly similar stories about what motivates them — and why they love the University of Dayton.
Srisawasdi says he studied engineering because of “a passion for the sciences and to simply help people and humanity.” The Babington family’s scholarship benefits underrepresented students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
“I would like to eventually start an engineering company that makes a difference,” said Srisawasdi, who was part of a service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, volunteered as a tutor at the Dakota Club and serves in the Ohio National Guard.
Babington traveled to Africa, India and China in Abbott’s effort to expand business in international markets while improving the health of people in impoverished villages. “It’s disturbing when you see people who need health care and clean water and can’t get it. There was a commitment at Abbott to making a difference. Our engineers often built wells and clinics. That became part of a broader health care initiative in these countries,” she said.
One day, Srisawasdi hopes to be in a financial position to help others, too — as gratitude for the scholarship he received and in honor of his mother. “Until I’ve paid off all my college loans and donated 75 percent of what I earn to charity, I’ll never feel I’ve done as much as my mother,” he said quietly.
“I’ve always been about giving back more.”No Comments
Four years of writing for Flyer News led me to this moment: signing a red metal mailbox.
The mailbox, stamped with the words CAMPUS MAIL ONLY, has been in the Flyer News office for almost a decade and on the UD campus even longer.
I talked to Tom Seifert, campus post office and mail room manager, to track down its history. Seifert has worked for the UD post office for 40 years, though the mailboxes have been here longer than that, probably since the late 1960s, he said.
Originally, there were two mailboxes in each academic building — the blue ones were for outgoing department mail, the red ones for campus mail. Around 1990, the University shelved the big metal mailboxes in favor of department mail service.
Our mailbox’s history is murky until the mid-1990s when Doug Lain ’97 found it in the basement of a campus house he was cleaning. He moved it to his father’s garage, where it was again abandoned. Flyer News adviser Larry Lain threatened to give the mailbox to his son for Doug’s 1998 wedding but was unwilling to rent a trailer to drive it to Massachusetts.
So there it sat until some Flyer News staff members saw it in 2004 and asked to bring it into the office.
During the year, the mailbox collects dust and discarded printouts; last year, I used the belly to hide the sports editor’s rubberband ball. But it comes to life and becomes tradition on the last day of deadline. The graduating staff signs in black Sharpie on the fading red paint and, with that act, hands off the newspaper to the new staff. On April 10, I added my name, class year and position to the growing collection of signatures. Now I am part of the mailbox’s history, too.No Comments
Editor’s note 4-7-17: Noreen Fraser died March 27, 2017. Here’s a story about her life and her impact on fundraising to help fight cancer.
Noreen Fraser ’75 was a co-creator and co-producer for the 2008 Stand Up to Cancer network television show that raised more than $100 million for cancer research. Fraser, president and CEO of the Noreen Fraser Foundation, has a special interest in raising money for cancer patients; she happens to be one of them.
Here are some of her tips for bringing in the dough:
1. Realize fundraising is difficult After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, Fraser used her never-give-up attitude to begin raising money for cancer research. She says you can still raise money in a tough financial climate if you have the right mindset going in.
2. Be persistent On her website Fraser says, “What I’ve learned is that if you don’t back off and you don’t back away, and you become an activist for yourself and for others, chances are you’re going to live longer.” Or in this case, raise more money, as she credits confidence and aggressiveness as the keys to her success.
3. Develop contacts First, make a list of those people you think have the financial ability to give to you. Then, “Think about everyone you’re connected to and have a friend of a friend of a friend make some connections for you,” Fraser says. “Never leave any stone unturned.”
4. Narrow your focus Fraser’s No. 1 rule: “Never make a cold call.” Find people who you know have an interest in your passion and learn as much about them as possible. Then, make sure to meet with them in person to discuss the specifics.
5. Ask Before the final meeting you should be prepared to tell the potential donor what’s in it for them. “Tell them how they will be recognized. Then work up enough courage and ask,” Fraser says.
For one class, it’s air safety. The next, manure lagoons. Engineering students inside UD’s Innovation Center are getting real projects with real problems to solve. But the biggest thing may be how it’s changing lives — theirs included.
Spring wind blew a swarm of high school students around campus. With their parents a step behind, these prospective engineers peered through glass walls at the action happening inside Kettering Labs. Engineering students in suits stood in front of clients, mentors, professors and peers presenting results from a semester-long project to reduce water pollution from farms.
Chris Cornelius knows what it’s like to be on both sides of the glass. Five years ago as an Ottawa, Ohio, high school student, he took just such a tour. He fell in love with UD before growing to understand the potential of hands-on experience. The School of Engineering’s Innovation Center is the epitome of that. This windy day, he was one of the suits, explaining how his team’s results could help farmers, swimmers and his entrepreneur client. “We’re doing more than classroom learning — we’re solving problems,” he said.
With its northeast corner wrapped in glass, Kettering Labs and the innovation happening inside are visible each day to thousands of passing students. Getting an education changes students’ lives. Shouldn’t it change the lives of others as well?
At UD, it does both.
In the Innovation Center, the next big idea can come from just about anywhere — industry sponsors that need a product or process improved, a faculty member whose research requires more hands, an entrepreneur looking for the engineering expertise to move from concept to product. Each year, the Center takes on 80 projects guided by professors and mentors. Student teams may include engineers from multiple disciplines, business students creating business plans, even law students and professors helping with patent applications, all of whom work in conjunction with the sponsors.
More often that not, projects transform not only the students but also the lives of others. Dayton-area entrepreneur Ted Thieman turned to the Innovation Center after a calamity in June 2010 at Grand Lake St. Marys in northwest Ohio. Fertilizer runoff from nearby farms flowed into streams that emptied into the lake, taking with it nutrients to feed a toxic algae bloom. Signs dotted the shores: No Swimming. No boating. Thousands of dead fish were shoveled off the beaches. The danger and stench stunted the local economy, which usually reaps $150 million annually from lake recreation. Thieman knew he had to do something to help prevent this disaster from happening again, and UD was the partner to help.
Another team has been working with air traffic safety. Flying in the air can be scary enough. Passengers should not also have to worry about crashing into another airplane on the ground. Brought to the University two years ago by alumni working with Boeing, a project to determine the human threshold of LED light detection could help the Federal Aviation Administration develop new standards and implement an energy-saving and safety-promoting innovation in the illumination of aircraft wingtips.
Both of these projects happen in the Innovation Center, which brings together cross-functional teams from multiple areas of the University’s academic landscape. They alter the flow of knowledge from the normal professor-to-student path to a more dynamic current with new origins and new destinations. They provide the backdrop for innovative thinking, learning and creating. Perhaps most importantly, their goals are the same: to make the world a better place. Both projects have the potential to save lives. Both projects will improve lives. And, in the process, both projects will change the students involved.
Thieman grew up on a dairy farm in Mercer County, Ohio, where early settlers drained bog land and built homesteads. Fields gently roll toward either the headwaters of the Wabash River or the tributaries of Grand Lake St. Marys. It’s a bountiful land overloaded with phosphorous from decades of manure spread to enrich the soil and increase crop yield. Already in the business of removing phosphorus and nitrogen from sewage water produced by commercial plants, Thieman had the machine to help prevent Ohio’s largest manmade lake from again looking, as he described it, “like pea soup.” Connections to UD led him to the Innovation Center where, for $4,000 a semester, he funded research by two student teams to meet a specific challenge: remove solids from farm wastewater so his pellet reactor can pull out the nutrients and create a more sustainable fertilizer and a clean water byproduct.
“We’re going to take this waste and harness the nutrients,” Thieman said as he stood beside a manure lagoon. He brought students to this farm last winter to help them learn about life beyond the computer screen, he said. The farmer, Andy Bruggeman, collects waste from his 110 dairy cows in the covered lagoon. This spring, it was filled 8 feet deep and baking in the sunshine. He’ll pump out the waste — made up of 20 percent solids — and run it through a screw press, collecting solids for animal bedding. The remaining liquid, with 4 to 6 percent solids, Bruggeman loads up to spread on his fields.
Thieman wants to add another step to a farmer’s process — running the waste liquid through a filtration system designed by students to reduce the solids’ particle size and content to less than 1 percent so his pellet reactor can do its work. Thieman wants to reduce the concentration of phosphorous in the fertilizer and reduce runoff during snow melts and rain storms like the ones in 2010 that fed the algae bloom that gobbled up life in Grand Lake St. Marys.
Kevin Stanton, a senior mechanical engineering major, had never been on a farm before. “It was a pretty great sight — and some new smells,” he said of the farm visit, an important step in the students’ education and their understanding of how their solution could impact the farmer’s work. Stanton walked away with a manure sample from the lagoon and a newfound respect for the profession. “Working on a farm is a nonstop job … there is always work to be done,” he said. So his solution must take into account cost and workload of the farmer, too.
Back in the lab, the team pinched fingers over flared nostrils while running waste through several filtration options to test for the most efficient and cost-effective choice. “We got yelled at by other people,” said senior Sarah Coad, who worked with her teammates testing samples late into the night only to discover the smell lingered the next morning. Coad, a chemical engineering major, chose this project as an elective to supplement her interest in wastewater management. “You can’t be afraid to make mistakes and try several different options. … A lot of them didn’t work. You have to make mistakes to know what’s right.”
Her teammates cut cornhusks with scissors to see how this natural filter would fare; it failed. They then ran the wastewater through calcium carbonate; it got goopy and didn’t filter. After each setback the group met and talked through the next steps, every opinion given fair consideration. While some thought these options should be abandoned, as a group they agreed to retest before moving on. “I learned that, in order to have a good group dynamic, you need to just go with the flow and be willing to listen to others’ ideas,” she said.
At the group’s final presentation in December, students passed to the audience samples of walnut shells, corn stover and calcium carbonate. They covered the pros and cons of each filter, explaining how crushed walnut shells — a renewable, inexpensive resource — best collected the solids and could be backwashed to rejuvenate their filtering properties.
A good conclusion but, like many good ideas, more work needed to be done. So the project continued during the spring semester. Expanding on the fall semester results, the spring semester team invented a new system configured of a store-bought auger with a mesh housing that reduced the size of solids so the pellet reactor could do its work. The auger can be modified to a farm’s needs and, while it requires some engineering set-up, the cost of materials was less than other options presented.
Cost is just one factor considered by the business students on each team. The business plan development is one way the Innovation Center has evolved to better serve its students and sponsors. Well-crafted business plans take into account competitors, market, industry trends, financials and critical risks. Thieman’s challenge was to take a technology the size of a grain silo and scale it down into a bucket-sized pellet reactor marketable to small and mid-sized farmers for whom a one-time installation fee is the most realistic option. And with the help of the Innovation Center students, he believes they’ve done it. He plans to have the first farm pellet reactor running this summer, boating season on Grand Lake St. Marys.
On April 11, 2011, at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, a taxiing Air France jumbo jet wing clipped the tail of a Delta Comair commuter plane and sent it spinning on the runway; 586 passengers and crew members were aboard the two aircraft, and no one was injured. Such runway accidents are among the 10 most significant safety issues facing air travelers, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. While the cause of the JFK crash is under investigation, students in the Innovation Center are investigating a change in exterior anti-collision aircraft lights for both in-flight and ground operations that might prevent such accidents. Such a solution could also benefit the environment by reducing an aircraft’s power needs.
Brought to the University two years ago by several alumni working with Boeing, the project is now sponsored in the Innovation Center by the Federal Aviation Administration Civil Aerospace Institute. The goal for UD’s student team is to find the human threshold for seeing LED lighting. LEDs could replace the current incandescent or strobe anti-collision lighting used on the wingtips of aircraft, saving energy and promoting safety.
And to find the human threshold, the team needed human test subjects and the data they produce.
The engineering students took over an area on the ground floor of Kettering Labs and constructed a testing site by hanging black and blue bed sheets from the ceiling using clothes hangers and duct tape. Once the entrance was closed, the room swallowed all light. The method of construction was recommended by one of the team’s mentors at the FAA. “Duct tape is your friend,” he advised during one of the weekly conference calls. As for the multicolored sheets, the students admitted they began using blue after they bought Wal-Mart out of the black ones.
As a Flyers football defensive end, fall semester group member Brandon Wingeier had access to a team’s worth of potential subjects, but being enclosed in a 50-foot pitch-black closet isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. For an incentive, Wingeier offered the players a $10 Milano’s gift card for their time, and the sign-up list filled quickly. After a visual acuity test, the test subjects sat in the darkened room for an hour responding to light and sound signals and pressing buttons to indicate when they saw a light in the distance.
Sitting outside the closet and staring at a computer while saying nothing for an hour except the occasional, “Take a short break … are you ready?” may sound even less enticing than being the subject swallowed by the darkness. Not so, said the team members. “It’s a new morning every morning,” said senior Ali Hashemi, his eyes shining brighter than the fluorescent lights soon to be extinguished. The test must be run. The rough data recorded during the test must be organized and the results converted from numbers to useful knowledge. The final presentation must be put together and polished for the federal agency responsible for civil aviation safety.
To convert each subject’s test data to meaningful box plots and line graphs, the team adapted a formula used for measuring the brightness of incandescent lighting. The Blondel-Rey equation, discovered in 1911, measures effective intensity of light as a function of the instantaneous luminous intensity and duration of the flash, making it possible to compare current aircraft lighting with the LED option. But the original report was in French, so the Innovation Center hired a translator to transcribe an English version for the students.
The hope is that the LEDs will increase visibility across long distances for the controllers in the airport tower and between pilots operating different airplanes. The spring semester team verified that the testing procedure was reliable and made recommendations, including additional testing using colored LEDs and multiple flashes rather than single ones.
At the end of spring semester, Innovation Center founding director Phil Doepker, now retired, and representatives from the FAA considered the team’s goals accomplished. Though research will continue, during the final presentation in April Doepker said that since the start of the project two years ago, the information supported by the data has gotten closer and closer to the original goal of establishing a human threshold for LED visible lighting. Listening to the presentation over the phone, an FAA employee congratulated the team: “Very professionally done and efficiently carried out — I’m proud of you guys.”
A fundamental element of both projects was the guidance provided to the Innovation Center teams by their professors and mentors. Lecturer John Hageman isn’t often the tallest person in any room, but there’s a good reason students look up to him. His jokes are tempered with the facts: Pay attention, he says, because what I’m telling you matters, even if you don’t understand it yet. Instead of being at the head of the room, he’s usually standing next to teammates at their tables, sitting with them during their conference calls or leaning toward them as he listens thoughtfully to their problems.
“What have you accomplished and what information are you trying to convey?” Hageman asked the fall FAA student team during the practice run of its final presentation in December. His question led the team to important lessons about the format and execution of their final presentation. After spending most of his career as a development engineer at General Motors and Delphi, Hageman has plenty of industry experience to offer to students. The ways his employers developed new products are very similar to how the students attacked their prototype development step. In addition to their responsibility for grading the teams’ work throughout the semester, Hageman and the other faculty of the Innovation Center are also valuable resources for students when they encounter obstacles in their projects.
A common obstacle in developing relationships with customers is communicating in terms a non-engineer can understand without losing the importance of the technical side. Hageman taught the teams how to strike the right balance. When Hageman said the spring semester filtration team offered an abundance of slides too long and detailed for the client presentation, Cornelius shrugged, nonchalantly suggesting, “We can gloss over the research.” Hageman jumped in: “No! Don’t do that.” Instead of cutting out necessary information, Hageman advised the teams on how their vocabulary and visuals could communicate all of the relevant information in a more accessible way.
“One of the biggest mistakes we make as engineers is assuming people know what we’re talking about,” he said.
He taught the engineers the art of translating their equations and calculations into layman’s terms. First, tell the audience members why you’re there. Make sure they know what is going to be talked about and why they should care. When presenting new information, give the answer before explaining the path that led to that conclusion. Pictures and illustrations are important; no one wants to bore the audience they’re attempting to impress. For each formula used, include a chart. The numbers will lack meaning if they’re standing alone. When a slide appeared too wordy, Hageman asked the students what they were trying to say. Their verbal explanation was usually much simpler, so they transferred that to the slide.
Then Hageman presented the golden tip that every public speaker learns. “Wherever you’re going, be committed to your position. Don’t use ‘if, and, or but.’” Especially applicable in the business world, he explained, “When presenting to a customer, have confidence. Not ‘hopefully, maybe, probably.’” Hageman described the teams’ final presentations as their sales day — they’ve already done their work and convinced him. Now’s the time to sell the idea and convince the customer they’ve done a good job.
It took the closing of a favorite watering hole last summer to alert a local entrepreneur to the pressing issue of farm waste pollution. However, with the efforts of Thieman and his UD engineers, one solution is being put in place. Similarly, the FAA team is providing a safety tool that may not be on the radar for most Americans but will keep them safer when flying. For the students involved, learning is not only a theoretical process, but a tangible one.
Though each project was vastly different, their foundations had much in common. Both teams were in constant contact with their mentors through conference calls and email updates. Both teams had to step out of their departments to interact with others on campus. The University’s psychology department had to approve the FAA team’s use of human test subjects, and business students were integral in the water filtration team’s final presentation. Coad, the only chemical engineering major in a group of mechanical engineers, said working with peers on the prototype was the best part. “You’re given a problem and it’s your task to come up with a solution and to test prototypes — that’s something I really enjoyed,” she said.
For one student, lessons are already being applied at a new job in Denver. Hashemi uses the sales tips provided by Hageman when he sells Eaton Corporation’s circuit breakers, safety switches, electric vehicle charging stations and other products. Working with the FAA gave him insight into federal agencies that regulate purchasing by his current customers. At the Innovation Center, he saw the entire engineering process from the inside, so he understands the standards that govern his products’ designs.
Two other students on the FAA project are also moving up their career ladders. Fall semester team member John Putmann became a mentor to the spring semester group. Now getting his doctorate in engineering from UD, Chris Yakopcic worked on two other Innovation Center projects as an undergrad and is now in his third semester mentoring the FAA team. He also presented the project with Putmann at Wright State University’s International Symposium for Aviation Psychology in May.
Coad, who graduated in May, expected her experience with the filtration project to help her significantly after graduation. “It was so unique; if we weren’t doing it hands-on, we may have found no solution. … The project will work … and it will help me with finding a job in environmental engineering,” she said.
“I always wanted to impact people and the world around me.”
UD taught Hashemi a similar lesson: “If what I’m doing isn’t helping people, then I’m doing something wrong.”
Meredith Hirt ’13 was raised in a family of engineers. Duct tape was a common household tool, and her favorite toy was a screwdriver. A frequent flier between UD and her home in Mississippi, Hirt has more recently developed an appreciation for the FAA.
About the Innovation Center
The Innovation Center has been singled out as best-in-class in project-based learning by the KEEN Foundation, which fosters innovative engineering education.
“Project-based learning with a real client that students are responsible to is a fantastic learning experience,” said Ken Bloemer, Innovation Center director. “Students are used to being told what to do. Here, they must write a proposal — this is our understanding of the problem, this is how we’re going to tackle it and this is what we’re going to deliver in the end. The pressure’s on.”
Using hands-on experiences, students in the School of Engineering not only solve real-world problems. They also develop communication, project-management and leadership skills. They are taught to move the project closer to the marketplace, which is a key part of engineering success — not only acquiring the technical skills but also the other skills that will enable them to become successful professionals.
Located in Kettering Labs, the Innovation Center grew out of the Design and Manufacturing Clinic, founded in 1996. Since then, students have solved more than 700 innovation challenges for 130 different clients. They’ve met or exceeded client expectations more than 90 percent of the time. Projects last one or multiple semesters and cost clients less than $5,000.
And the Innovation Center is always looking for more projects. Bloemer said alumni are the best source for student projects. “If they’d like to come back to campus and have students work on their projects, they should contact me directly,” he said. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.No Comments
The window of time for hiring a men’s basketball coach is much smaller than what one could expect for any other University position.
While searches for new deans and faculty members can take months, one week is about all the time an athletics director might get to hire a basketball coach.
Any longer than that means that few — if any — of a school’s desired candidates will be available and valuable recruiting time is lost.
With that in mind, Athletics Director Tim Wabler began the search for Brian Gregory’s successor Monday, March 28, and hired a coach six days later. Throughout the process, University President Daniel J. Curran was updated continually.
The University developed the framework for this process in the mid-1990s working with the human resources division. The process has been used to hire the last three men’s basketball coaches and one women’s basketball coach.
“Because all these jobs open up at the same time and we have a high-profile job and we’re talking with high-profile coaches, there are a number of jobs being discussed and filled simultaneously,” Wabler said. “Time is of the essence.”
March 28 — Brian Gregory leaves Dayton to become head coach at Georgia Tech.
March 29 — Wabler and assistant athletics director Dave Harper leave for Houston, the site of the 2011 Final Four. They have a list of five to seven candidates, and interviews take place there.
March 30 — Wabler interviews Archie Miller at a Houston hotel. “Archie just jumped off the page,” Wabler said.
April 1 — Wabler and Miller have a follow-up conversation. Curran, who is on a University-related trip to China, talks with Miller by phone.
April 2 — The UD search team flies to Cincinnati and meets with Miller for a final time and offers him the job.
April 3 —The University introduces Miller as the Flyers new men’s basketball coach.
This article is a sidebar to our Summer 2011 feature story, “Strong Suit.”No Comments
Archie Miller has high expectations for himself, his players and Flyer basketball. Which is good, because the Flyer Faithful do, too.
Archie Miller’s flight was scheduled for 7:15 a.m.
At that hour, passengers tend to range from caffeine-fueled, suit-clad executives on a short hop to a regional business meeting to bleary-eyed leisure travelers not quite ready to face the morning. Then there was Miller, just a few days into his new job as the men’s basketball coach at the University of Dayton, on a recruiting trip.
So much had changed in Miller’s life during those few weeks that the flights he took then all seem to run together, so much that when he told this story a month later, he didn’t remember exactly where he was going.
But he remembered the woman who was alert enough to notice his UD windbreaker and ask him whether he was the new Flyers coach. Miller replied that yes, indeed he was.
She started clapping.
“Wow,” Miller said he thought to himself. “Is it like this all the time?”
For a few more months, at least, it will be. Miller’s effectiveness on the sidelines will ultimately determine how long these halcyon days continue through his tenure at Dayton, but his reception in his first few months here continually reminds him of the magnitude of the role he accepted in early April.
“It’s been overwhelming in terms of the support,” Miller said. “It’s obviously something you hear about — the University of Dayton, its basketball program, its community and great fan base, but I don’t think I even understood the amount of attention that our program gets or a coach in the community gets. I’m learning on the fly what a big deal this place is.
“The people know who you are and know what you’re supposed to be doing. All eyes are on us.”
Since the University hired Miller April 3 to replace Brian Gregory, who departed to take the head coaching position at Georgia Tech a week earlier, he has inherited the hopes and dreams of a fan base continually envisioning bigger and better outcomes for the program than what it’s experienced in recent years.
Right from the start, Miller has said all of the right things, peppering his introductory press conference with talk of competing for conference championships and winning a fair share of them. His words also provided a measure of satisfaction for a group frustrated by frequent National Invitation Tournament bids and twice-per-decade NCAA Tournament appearances — maybe this guy would be the coach who’d make the Flyers a regular presence on CBS in March.
Although Flyer fans have, by nature, been more expressive about their desires for the program, their expectations don’t differ much from those of the University administration.
“He’s got a plan,” said Athletics Director Tim Wabler. “He really understands the challenge here at Dayton and what it would take to come from where we are right now — a team that isn’t in the postseason every year — to moving it forward so we can be in the NCAA more often than not. He wanted to confront that challenge head on. That just jumped out at me. He believes it can be done.”
It’s Miller’s first job as a head coach, and at age 32, he is one of the youngest coaches in Division I men’s basketball. As a newcomer to the head coaching fraternity, he knows he’ll hear comparisons to leaders more than twice his age and will become accustomed to seeing his name accompanied by adjectives like “doe-eyed,” “youthful” and “baby-faced” as the 2011-12 season draws closer.
His previous employer insists, though, that “inexperienced” should not be one of the terms used to describe Archie Miller: “His experience can’t be quantified in how many years he’s coached and how old he is. He’s worked for so many great coaches and in so many good places. He has a unique perspective on the game and understands how to win.”
That endorsement came unprompted from one Sean Miller, the current Arizona Wildcats coach, the former Flyers foil as the head coach at Xavier and, yes, Archie’s older brother. Archie was an assistant coach with the Wildcats during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons and was part of the staff that coached the Wildcats to an Elite Eight appearance in the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
A look at Archie’s coaching résumé backs Sean’s recommendation. Archie’s coached in three “power” conferences — the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Ten and the Pac-10 — worked for four widely respected coaches and developed valuable recruiting connections at each institution.
But Archie Miller’s story begins long before Arizona or his previous stint at Ohio State with another former Xavier coach, Thad Matta. It pre-dates his lengthy tutelage as an assistant with his own college coach, Herb Sendek, and his days as a college basketball player.
It starts at a high school outside Pittsburgh, where one man made the Miller name synonymous with success.
‘Always sort of an ornery little guy’
There are families of doctors, families of attorneys and families of educators.
At the Miller home in Beaver Falls, Pa., basketball was the family business.
When John Miller retired in 2005 at age 62 after 35 years coaching boys basketball at Blackhawk High School, his résumé included a 657-280 career win-loss record, state championships in 1992, 1995, 1996 and 1999, and eight Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League titles in its classification. For 21 consecutive seasons, Blackhawk was a fixture in the state playoffs, and the program went 104-29 in postseason play.
John Miller and his wife, Barb, had four children, Sean, Dana, Ryan and Lisa. Of the 40-plus players Miller sent to college basketball programs through his work at Blackhawk or other coaching experiences, Sean, Ryan and Lisa have made him the most proud. Dana, the second-oldest of his four children, didn’t catch the basketball bug but was a skilled high school tennis player.
As for the third child, only Barb, Dana and Lisa use the name “Ryan” when referring to him. He’s “Archie” to the men in his family, his wife Morgan and everyone else he’s encountered in his basketball career.
It’s a nod to the crotchety nature of the Archie Bunker character in the 1970s television sitcom All in the Family, as John Miller said that Ryan was “always sort of an ornery little guy.” The nickname stuck, and that’s the reason why the Flyer Faithful will cheer for Archie, or “Arch,” despite his possession of a driver’s license that reads “Ryan Joseph Miller.”
That ornery little guy enjoyed being around his father and Sean, who’s 10 years older, when they went to the gym, and John took Archie along when he traveled to coach at clinics across the region. Archie carried the bag of basketballs and other equipment for his father, and as his reward for being such a good helper, he earned a front-row seat to watch the winning process in action.
Sean, at 6-foot-3, left Blackhawk High to become one of the most popular players in University of Pittsburgh history and from there began taking the steps that would help him launch a successful coaching career. Although also a point guard, Archie was smaller at 5-foot-9, a measurement that created more adversity as he attempted to follow a similar path.
It might have been a blessing in disguise.
“He was undersized, so when he began to play, he became sort of that tough-nosed player that battled for everything,” John Miller said. “He’s always had that bit of aggressiveness. I don’t think losing ever enters his mind.”
As Blackhawk High’s point guard, Archie led the Cougars to back-to-back state titles in 1995 and 1996, his sophomore and junior years. That’s two more state titles than Sean can claim.
College coaches were noticing. Herb Sendek, a Pittsburgh native who attended rival Penn Hills High School in the 1970s and early ’80s, was well acquainted with the Miller family through the high school and Amateur Athletic Union coaching circuits. He attempted to recruit Sean in the late 1980s when he was an assistant coach at Providence College in Rhode Island.
In 1994, Sendek snagged his first head coaching position, getting the call at age 30 to lead the Miami (Ohio) program. Sendek hired Sean Miller to his RedHawks staff, and two years later he moved south, taking over at North Carolina State.
Sendek hired Sean again as an assistant and recruited Archie to play for the Wolfpack. Sean was there for most of his brother’s college career, leaving after the 2001 season to become an assistant at Xavier.
For Archie, the connection with Sendek was the beginning of a relationship that would transcend its initial incarnation as coach-player and eventually become one of professional colleagues and even friendly rivals when Sendek landed at Arizona State and Archie became an assistant on Sean’s staff at Arizona.
“Basketball was coded in Archie’s DNA,” Sendek said. “He grew up with it day in and day out. I have great respect for him. He was a self-made Atlantic Coast Conference player who overcame a lot and did it through hard work. He was one of the best shooters I’ve ever had the chance to coach.”
Going coast to coast
Morgan Cruse, a track and field and cross-country athlete, arrived at N.C. State in 1999. Before she enrolled, she and her father Steve visited the school. Steve Cruse noticed Archie shooting in the gym and said hello.
Morgan and Archie were connected long before they met, although they didn’t know it at the time. John Miller played baseball at Pfeiffer College in Salisbury, N.C., for a man who also coached Steve Cruse’s American Legion baseball squad.
Steve Cruse told his daughter, “I think I met the guy you’re gonna date next year.”
Morgan brushed off the comment, but soon after her arrival on campus as a student, one of Archie’s teammates arranged a blind date between the two. She called her father and told him she was going on a date. With “Arch.”
“See, I told you so,” he said.
Father knew best. Morgan and Archie Miller will celebrate eight years of marriage Aug. 30.
As an athlete herself, Morgan understood the demands of Archie’s schedule. She was a supportive presence as Archie completed a productive collegiate career that ended with a 2002 NCAA Tournament berth. From 1998-2002, he had 218 career 3-pointers, third-best in Wolfpack history, and a career 42.8 percent 3-point average, ranking him sixth all-time. Archie is ranked second on the school’s all-time free-throw percentage list (84.6 percent) and holds the second-best 3-point field goal percentage for one season, making 59 of 102 (57.5 percent) of his attempts during the 2000-01 season.
Near the end of his college career, Archie began to consider his options for the future. His days as a basketball player would end at N.C. State, but Archie decided not to leave the game behind entirely.
He was going to join the family business.
“It just seemed like a natural progression to get into coaching,” Archie said. “It’s one of the things I like to do … one of the strengths I’ve always had was being able to communicate and teach the game. When you’re around a coach every day of your life, you learn to talk like him, think like him, you see the game like him.”
His position as a point guard also helped him make the transition.
“Being a perimeter player/point guard, you see the game like a coach,” he said. “You’re a coach on the floor. When I got into coaching, it was seamless in terms of what I knew was going on.”
He was a coaching intern under Sendek at N.C. State for the 2002-03 season and became director of basketball operations at Western Kentucky under Darrin Horn in 2003-04. Sendek brought Archie back to N.C. State the following season, hiring him as a full-time assistant coach. Morgan and Archie welcomed a daughter, Leah Grace, in 2004.
When Sendek left N.C. State at the end of the 2005-06 season, he moved west to become head coach at Arizona State. He again added Archie to his staff, and the young couple spent the 2006-07 season in Tempe, Ariz.
Archie returned to the Midwest the next season to work for Ohio State coach Thad Matta, who had been a Sendek assistant at Miami. Matta became Xavier’s head coach in 2001, hired Sean Miller as an assistant and shared an office with him. When Matta left for Columbus in 2004, Sean earned a promotion and snagged his first head coaching position.
Archie thought that coaching in Ohio would help expand his recruiting base and expose him to the style of play in a different conference under yet another coach considered to be a young, rising star. With Matta’s connection to Sendek and his brother Sean, Ohio State was an easy choice for Archie.
He made an impact with the Buckeyes immediately, Matta said.
“You just knew he had ‘it,’” Matta said. “I love the fact that when he came to Ohio State, he hit the ground running. It was like he had been here for three years. His ability to read people and communicate with them is one of his strengths. He didn’t need much direction from me.”
Archie and Morgan also saw Columbus as part of a longer-term plan. With a young family and closer proximity to family in Pittsburgh and North Carolina, the idea of settling in the Midwest for a few years was quite appealing.
“As we got married and started getting into the early years, I think we all understood that early on we were going to try to make some moves,” Morgan said. “I think that every place we’ve ever been, though, we felt like we’d be there for a while and ended up not being there for a while.”
Two seasons later, the coaching carousel began spinning again in the state of Arizona, this time at the University of Arizona. When it stopped in 2009, that school announced the hiring of Sean Miller as its new head coach.
It was a potentially risky move for Sean, considering that the Wildcats program had completed a tumultuous two-season stretch with two interim coaches, and fans in Tucson wanted a long-term leader who would return the program to its glory days under legendary coach Lute Olson, who led the team to four Final Fours and an NCAA Championship in 1997.
When it was time for Sean to assemble his staff, he picked up the phone and placed a call to Columbus.
‘He’s not a bad guy’
From 2004-09, Sean Miller was Enemy No. 1 in Dayton, continuing Xavier’s decades-long winning record over the Flyers in Cincinnati and sending the Flyer Faithful home in frustration from UD Arena twice during his five years as the Musketeers head coach.
Archie jokingly alluded to the family connection during his introductory press conference at Dayton, saying his brother and former boss “wasn’t a bad guy.”
And now, Sean Miller is a Dayton fan.
“I have the utmost respect for Dayton and its program,” Sean said. “I’m going to cheer as hard as I can for them.”
Even when the Flyers play Xavier.
Those tough nights at UD Arena in the mid-2000s left such an impression on Sean that he asked his brother for a favor when he got on
Dayton’s campus: Go see the pep band director who plays the saxophone for the national anthem, associate music professor Willie Morris III.
“(Sean) felt like it was the most awesome thing he’d ever seen,” Archie said.
If Sean had his way, Archie would have been working with him much earlier. He tried to get Archie on his staff at Xavier, but the school had a nepotism policy that prohibited such hires.
With no such issue at Arizona, Sean extended an offer to his brother in April 2009, and once again, Archie and Morgan were back in the desert.
“Personally and professionally, I felt like if I didn’t do it, I would regret it,” Archie said. “So I made the move, and it turned out for the best for everyone. It was a unique opportunity.”
Said Sean: “Arch didn’t have to come to Arizona. He was in a great place with Thad Matta and doing a great job recruiting. He came because he wanted to help me. I appreciate the fact he came out here in the first place.”
Sean and Archie were always close despite their 10-year age gap, but their relationship often resembled a mentor-student collaboration, especially when Sean worked as an assistant at N.C. State.
On the positive side, the age gap prevented the usual manifestations of sibling rivalry from sprouting and eventually led to the strong working relationship the two developed at Arizona.
“Ten years older is a lot older, especially in sports,” Archie said. “When I was coming up as a youngster, he was playing at Pitt as a basketball player. When he gets out of college and I’m coming up through junior high and high school, he was a college coach. To me, he’s always been my brother, but at the same time, he’s always been a mentor and a guy you want to take after.”
The Wildcats finished with a 16-15 record in the Millers’ first year. The team failed to make the NCAA Tournament that season, breaking a 25-year streak of NCAA appearances, the longest in Division I at that time. It was the proverbial rebuilding season, but one that laid the foundation for one of the biggest turnarounds for a college basketball program in 2010-11.
Arizona won the Pac-10 regular season title and sophomore Derrick Williams, now a projected top-5 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, won the Pac-10 Player of the Year award. Shortly before the postseason, it was Williams who made a particularly prescient comment to the Associated Press about Archie’s coaching prowess.
“I think sometimes Archie tries to take over, but Coach (Sean) Miller has his own opinions,” Williams said. “Sometimes they headbutt each other, but they’re two great coaches and they always end up doing what’s best for the team.”
In the 2011 NCAA Tournament, Arizona earned a No. 5 seed. The Wildcats beat Memphis and Texas in the first two rounds to advance to the Sweet 16 and play reigning national champion Duke.
The next weekend was one of the more memorable experiences for the extended Miller clan. Arizona throttled top-seeded Duke in spectacular fashion, a win that Morgan Miller said she savored even more than usual as an N.C. State grad.
Arizona fans reveled in the 93-77 victory. Morgan told Leah Grace that they were going to Disneyland since Arizona was playing in the West Regional in Anaheim, Calif. Sean was the new hero in Tucson, and once again, Archie played a significant role in a program’s success.
The Wildcats came two points from making the Final Four, losing, 65-63, to eventual champion Connecticut in the Elite Eight. But it was a magical season nonetheless, as Arizona finished the year with a 30-8 record and the Millers looked forward to greater things to come.
“To be out there at the same time, inheriting something that was really bleak and, in a short 24 months, turning it into something that wasn’t so bleak anymore, it was really an awesome turnaround,” Archie said. “Sometimes the process is more gratifying than actually winning the games.”
Although Archie didn’t coach the Wildcats in the Final Four in Houston the next week, he still made the trip to Texas for what would be a life-changing experience.
Morgan sensed that her family’s life would be changing after that weekend in Anaheim. Call it a coach’s wife’s intuition.
She had settled into life in Tucson, made new friends and found a school that she and Leah Grace equally adored. Arizona was again one of the “it” teams in college basketball, and Sean’s success ensured that his staff of assistants didn’t have to worry about job security in the near future.
But Morgan knew from experience that top assistants at those “it” programs were often the first ones a school looking for a young and hungry head coach sought out, and Archie fit the bill as well as any.
“As any college basketball wife would tell you, that’s when you feel in your gut that something’s going to happen,” she said.
It happened when they had gotten comfortable with Columbus and Sean called his brother to offer him a job in Arizona. It happened during their first stint in the Grand Canyon State, after Archie decided to leave Sendek and Arizona State behind to go to Ohio State.
In Dayton, Wabler said Archie was on the short list of coaches he’d compiled at the start of the season in case the Flyers found themselves in need of a new head coach by the end of the year — especially if Gregory parlayed the Flyers 2010 NIT championship into an NCAA Tournament berth.
Although that didn’t happen and the Flyers season ended with a first-round NIT exit, Georgia Tech came calling anyway for Gregory, and Wabler prepared to hire a new coach.
Days after Arizona’s victory over Duke and the near-miss against Connecticut, Archie was eating dinner with Wabler in Houston, talking about his plan for the Flyers. In order to keep the process as private as possible, the two met Wednesday, March 30, at a hotel far from the official coaches’ lodging in Houston. They met again Saturday, April 2, in Cincinnati to finalize the process.
Archie called his wife that night and told her to get to Dayton. Morgan and Leah Grace drove more than two hours to Phoenix to catch a flight, and on Sunday afternoon, they watched with pride at UD Arena as Wabler announced that Archie Miller was the new men’s basketball coach at the University of Dayton.
Ready to fly
Miller said he never envisioned the exact age at which he’d become a head coach, although the idea became more of a reality after his stints at Ohio State and Arizona.
“I think you start thinking about it a little more and feel you’re probably ready,” Miller said. “I was never the guy who worked at a place and said, ‘Hey, I’d like to be a head coach at 32.’ That was never my goal. My goal was to have an opportunity to get a head coaching position and, when I got it, I’d be ready. I didn’t know when it would come or where it would be, but I know this. I’m at a great place, and I couldn’t be more excited to be the head coach here and represent this place.”
If anything, the recent success of head coaches born during the Jimmy Carter administration might make an early 30-something a hot commodity. The 2011 Final Four featured two such examples — Butler’s Brad Stevens (1976) and Virginia Commonwealth’s Shaka Smart (1977). The latter coach’s path went through Dayton, as Smart served as the Flyers’ director of basketball operations from 2001-03.
Neither bolted for Bowl Championship Series conference programs during the offseason, sending the message that conference affiliation matters little for a young coach looking to build a program and stick around to see it grow.
Miller plans to run an up-tempo offense, dryly noting that no coach worth his salt would ever boast that his team would be slow and plodding on the court.
“We’re going to play fast, play with a lot of movement on offense,” Miller said. “I want our guys to learn how to play. I want them to be taught how to play, I want them to develop and, as they get older, I want them to be able to branch and grow into their roles.”
Defensively, the Flyers will be a “man-to-man” program, as Miller has no intention of abandoning the blue-collar mentality embraced by the coaches with Western Pennsylvania roots that mentored him as a player and coach.
“We’re gonna be tough-minded,” Miller said. “To win championships at the highest level, which is what we’re trying to do, we have to be a team that’s based on defense.”
Off the court, Miller also spoke of maintaining the program’s high academic standards and strong graduation rate. UD has graduated every men’s basketball senior but one since 1979 and ranks in the NCAA’s Top 10 in Academic Progress.
“We are about the highest standards of excellence when we’re operating and representing the University of Dayton,” Miller said during his press conference. “Our degree is as prominent and powerful as any in the country. Our young men who come in here and achieve their degree will have a weapon for life. They’re not going to leave unprepared and unable to attack the real world when the ball stops bouncing.”
Miller’s work began immediately, and he spent his first month hiring a staff of assistants, visiting recruits that had committed under Gregory — and in some cases, had reopened those commitments to consider other schools — and working to bring new recruits into the fold.
The requisite rounds of media interviews have been ongoing, and in August, Miller will lead the current players on a pre-scheduled tour of Europe, giving him a chance to bond with his new charges in a unique atmosphere.
Morgan is handling the house hunting and school scouting for Leah Grace, who will enter first grade this fall. As adept as she is at the process, Morgan hopes this will be the time when she and her family get to stay in a community for much longer than a year or two.
Flyer fans and supporters certainly echo that sentiment.
Reaction in the rough-and-tumble online chat world has been generally positive, even though a few concerns have surfaced about Miller’s relative youth and lack of head coaching experience. John Miller, Archie’s father, said he’s surveyed the sports blogosphere and message-board land, and has seen a few references to his son’s possible “Napoleon complex.”
He smiles at the description. Knowing his son, the ornery little guy who was always cranky, always fighting and always showing his mettle, John Miller is confident those Flyers fans won’t be disappointed in the product his son puts on the court this winter.
“I think Arch is that type of guy,” John Miller said. “You don’t have a wet-noodle type of guy over there. He’s not gonna back off. He’s going to go for the jugular.”
Shannon Shelton Miller joined the staff of the University’s communications office in December. She was previously a sportswriter at the Detroit Free Press, where she covered Big Ten football and basketball, and at the Orlando Sentinel. She looks forward to her first UD men’s basketball game this season.
Archie Miller is only the sixth head coach in the last 64 years of Dayton men’s basketball. Here are the other five:
• Tom Blackburn, 1947-64, 352-141, 10 NITs (1962 NIT Champion), 1 NCAA
• Don Donoher, 1964-89, 437-275, 8 NCAAs, 7 NITs (1968 NIT Champion)
• Jim O’Brien, 1989-94, 61-87, 1 NCAA
• Oliver Purnell, 1994-2003,155-116, 2 NCAAs, 3 NITs
• Brian Gregory, 2003-11, 125-68, 2 NCAAs, 3 NITs (2010 NIT Champion)
From 1903, Dayton’s first basketball season, to 1947, the Flyers had 13 head coaches, including Harry Baujan from 1923-28. The team had no coach from 1903-09.1 Comment
“Are you happy?” You probably don’t hear that question very often.
What about, “How are you?” You’ve probably heard that already today, that polite question we use to greet strangers and friends alike. But these “how are you” exchanges don’t really tell us any more about happiness than today’s weather tells us about the season. Sometimes it snows in July, after all.
But, “Are you happy?” Now, that’s a different, deeper question, the kind you save for after all the other guests have left the party, when you’re settling in for the wee hours with a dear, old friend. In the act of taking stock — of wandering through longings and joys, through sadnesses, setbacks, and moments of revelation and accomplishment — there is an intimacy that begets further love and friendship. I could ask any acquaintance or stranger, “How are you?” But, “Are you happy?” — that’s something I’d ask only a real friend.
The human desire for happiness is nothing new, of course. Questions about what it is and how to attain it stretch at least as far back as Aristotle and the ancient Stoics, who each had their own answers. UD professor Jack Bauer is one of a group of current social scientists applying the scientific method to the study of happiness, and in this issue he offers some of what he and his colleagues have learned. Bauer’s research, and his story here, focuses on stories — how the ways in which we make sense of the facts
and experiences of our lives affect our happiness.
Though the research is complex, the conclusions might not surprise you. While a multibillion-dollar marketing industry works 24/7 to persuade us that the things it’s selling will make us happier, Bauer’s research points to head-scratchingly obvious advice we all too often forget: Look for experiences that help you change and grow. Do things on behalf of others. Spend time doing what you enjoy with friends and family you love. All easier said than done with the pressures and expectations of our lives, not to mention our immersion in a culture of buy-more-stuff-now. But if you can funnel out the noise and pull it off, you increase your chances of finding more happiness, more often.
And isn’t that advice another way of talking about what we often call “community” at UD? Years after walking in the graduation line, what remains with alumni across generations, more than anything, are people and experiences. Tossing a football on the KU lawn. Getting that concept down before the exam or that scholarship letter in the mail. Figuring out coin-operated laundry machines. Going on that retreat or planning that charity 5K. Fending off crushes and falling in real love. Finding the friends still with us today.
Bauer might call those stories of growth. We call it UD.No Comments