Had it not been for cancer, divorce and the loss of a loved one, all devastatingly crammed into two years, Yvonne Burns Thevenot ’92 may have never reinvented herself.
But reinvent she did, and she hasn’t looked back.
Triumphing over adversity allowed Thevenot the courage to leave a high-paying position at JPMorgan in 2013 to return to school and pursue her dream of becoming an educator.
The New York resident is now founder and executive director of STEM Kids NYC, a nonprofit organization created in 2015 to help bridge the gap between inner-city schools and STEM opportunities for at-risk, underrepresented youth.
“I started to look inward, and I relied on faith and my relationship with God. And, I discovered that it didn’t matter how much money I made. I started to look at what made me happy,” she said.
She credits her time at UD as the foundation for her desire to encourage others.
“The gift UD gave me was my freedom of expression without fear,” she asserted.
She wants to pass on that confidence to the youth she encounters, who she says limit themselves by not seeing their potential outside stereotypes or educational expectations.
Thevenot holds a degree in management information systems and worked for more than two decades in IT and finance. She hopes her story of reinvention and faith gives students a chance to see themselves differently.
Just as she’s reinvented a STEM identity for herself — educator, innovator, motivator — Thevenot hopes to inspire others to not set limits by self-defined stereotypes.
“My dream is to generate interest within these kids so they see themselves differently — as scientists, engineers, mathematicians,” she said. “I want them to create a STEM identify for themselves.”
During Jonathan Dekar’s freshman year, a woman approached the School of Engineering with a question: Could something be done to improve mealtimes for her daughter, whose disability limited her motion and required a caregiver’s assistance?
This wasn’t the mechanical engineering major’s first exposure to this problem. Through his grandfather’s diagnosis with a degenerative disease, he had witnessed the challenges that independent eating posed for some individuals.
“It was a basic human need gone unfulfilled — you have to eat to stay alive,” said Dekar, who graduated in 2011. “This wasn’t just another engineering project, getting food from point A to point B. I wanted it to be emotionally empowering and inspiring.”
Through four years of technical coursework, prototyping and researching the market, Obi was born.
Obi is a tabletop device with an automated spoon, robotic arm and a four-course compartmentalized plate that moves with practiced precision.
After graduation, Dekar shifted his full attention into making this product, learning additional skills in finance management and regulatory compliance.
“An engineering education is a ‘license to learn,’ and with an engineering mindset you can learn to do just about anything. It’s a toolkit,” he said.
Formally launched in July 2016, Obi has already garnered accolades. It won the 54th annual R&D 100 awards in the category “mechanical and materials,” as sponsored by R&D magazine. It was also a finalist in the 2016 International Design Excellence Awards.
The engineering entrepreneur feels confident in the mission his company has undertaken — to continually improve the quality of life through exciting and usable consumer robotics.
Dekar said he feels others should never let fear of failure dissuade them from trying something difficult. He said, “Failure is an option, fear is not. College allows you to broaden your mind and explore, and when you find what drives you, you become the work you do.”
Read about how one group of UD students responded to the original challenge from inspiring children who wanted to feed themselves, originally published in the Dayton Engineer in 2006.No Comments
Lucas Keefer didn’t take his toaster with him when he moved from Dayton to Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Keefer, a post-doctoral research fellow in psychology at UD from August 2014 to June 2016, left to accept a tenure-track position at the University of Southern Mississippi. He also left behind the state where he has family, including a 1-year-old niece, within a three-hour drive.
Yet Keefer, who’s lived in four states during the past 10 years, is used to being in transit — and has studied the impact of just this type of mobility. While he was at UD, he co-wrote a paper with Omri Gillath, associate professor of psychology at the University of Kansas, that suggests highly mobile people are more likely to view possessions as disposable — and, in turn, friendships and romantic partners as well.
Keefer and Gillath outlined the findings from their four studies in the paper, published in the April 2016 journal Personal Relationships. Together, they suggest that people who are more mobile think of their belongings as disposable, which perhaps is what also leads them to think of their relationships as disposable.
“When you put it all together, mobility is indirectly affecting our commitment to our relationships because it changes how we feel about our material possessions and, likewise, how we feel about relationships,” said Keefer, who’s seen the study results play out somewhat in his own life.
“I definitely ascribe to that first part of the process, that people who move often are more willing to throw things away,” he said. “I would throw away all my belongings except my computer, books and guitar (when I move).
“But I don’t know if that’s affected my relationships,” he continued. “My data would suggest that it has, but if so I’m not aware of it.”
Molly Blake ’96 still mails friends and family handwritten birthday cards — despite the fact that, as the wife of a recently retired Marine, she has moved 11 times since college graduation. Her seventh-grade daughter has attended seven schools.
“There have definitely been people who I’ve been great friends with and have lost touch with, not for any malicious reason but because some people just are not great at keeping in touch,” Blake said. “I happen to be really good at keeping in touch. I learned that from my mom, but also from being in a military family. I work hard to cultivate my friendships because I’ve needed them. I had a baby while my husband was in Iraq, and it was the military connection that made it easier. Military families really rely on each other and create a very special bond.”
While a romantic relationship led to Blake’s move-a-lot lifestyle, Keefer and Gillath found romance may be a casualty for other highly mobile folks.
UD alumnus Paul Sozio ’15 agrees: “I was dating a girl when I was in Argentina and, while it was exciting at the time, we went back to our respective countries when we left Argentina,” said Sozio, who has lived in Honduras, Nicaragua and Argentina during study abroad programs and while working for nongovernmental organizations. “Going into it, you think, ‘This probably isn’t a permanent thing’ in the back of your head.
“But for me, you can’t put up a wall and think, ‘I don’t want to get close to anyone,’ because it’s more important to cherish the time you do have together and be present,” he added. “You have to know that the people you really click with, you’re going to stay in touch.”
Jake Muniak ’14 has moved between Ohio, Nicaragua, Denver and Seattle since graduation and is now a travel service consultant for South America Travel. He agrees that many friendships fade with frequent moves, but others remain solid.
“A real relationship takes a lot of work, and that becomes more so when you don’t see that person every day,” he said. “I visited my college roommate in Chicago when I was traveling from Ohio to Seattle and it was like, ‘Wow, I don’t know the next time I’ll see you.’ We made plans to meet up on St. Patrick’s Day 2017. He might have to come to Brazil to make that happen.
“Making plans is one thing. Following through is another ball game.”
After many years of a highly mobile lifestyle, Blake also has found certain friends — particularly those from her UD days — stand the test of time.
“Most people at the age of 42 have their group of friends they’ve had since they graduated from college and moved into their house,” Blake said. “We don’t have that. We have friends all over the place. We’ve never had family near us so we can’t be like, ‘Let’s go to my parents’ house on Sunday.’
“This is part of why I treasure my true friends so much,” she added. “My Dayton roommates and I just had our 20-year reunion. I love those girls. It means a lot to me that we can get together and hang out as if no time has gone by.”
Kaitlyn Ridel ’13 wanted to live in Washington, D.C. — and she does, although it’s taken some moves back and forth between there and her hometown of Cleveland, as well as between Boston and Dayton, to make it happen. Now, Ridel is a brand and communications specialist for FiscalNote.
“My family is very close, and they’re all in the Cleveland area,” she said. “I’m the only one who’s kind of stayed away so I feel like an oddball sometimes, but I’ve always loved politics and policy so D.C. seems like the right place for that. My career, for now, is going to come first, and my family understands that.
“I do love Ohio, but I need to see if I can make D.C. work,” she added. “I have a really great set of friends here and a great job and want to see where it goes.”
In their paper, Keefer and Gillath note that mobility can have two effects. Moves within the same community are unlikely to have much impact on social networks. Long-distance moves, on the other hand, are likely to result in both geographical and social network changes.
Today, young people such as Ridel and Muniak often focus on the places where they want to live, and then find jobs.
“Having a job where I can be mobile and make enough to pay off my student loans is a goal, and this job provides that,” Muniak said. “I’m at that stage in life where I can stay in a hostel with 30 people and sleep on the floor. One day, I will want to lay low and settle down, and I want to know I squeezed everything out of that time when I could be transient.”
Sozio grew up in Cleveland, where his parents planned trips that helped him catch the travel bug.
“I’ve been stateside for two weeks and I’m already wondering where my next trip will be to,” he said after returning from Nicaragua. “I need something to plan and look forward to.”
For Blake, after all her moving about, she’s ready to settle down in her new home in Littleton, Colorado — a place she and her husband selected for their love of the mountains and skiing and the fact that her family has a vacation home nearby.
“We bought a house that’s a bit of a renovation project,” she said. “We’ve never had a clean slate to make our own and build that dream deck and fire pit.”
Settling down also means Blake can add some color to her home’s style.
“Now we have this huge house, and we don’t have any furniture,” she said. “Before, everything we owned was beige or brown so if we lived in a historical charmer or a new hacienda house, it would fit.”
Yet Blake isn’t used to having much in the way of stuff.
“We’re lean and mean and ready to move at a moment’s notice,” she said. “If we can’t get both our cars in our garage because there’s too much crap in there, we almost lose our minds. We have drawers that are completely empty and closets with one thing in them.”
“We’ve had houses we’ve rented and sold and it was the same situation,” she added. “Even big stuff like a house — I still had no connection to it.”
Indeed, Keefer and Gillath found this to be typical of highly mobile people.
Their paper also notes one practical aspect of moving has received little attention in existing residential mobility research: When moving, people must decide what possessions are worth moving and what can be left behind.
“If we were to time travel to a place when everything we owned was a family heirloom, perhaps we wouldn’t throw things out,” Keefer said. “So potentially in places high in residential mobility, we
also have a culture of easily replaceable consumer goods. But those and other implications are still open questions.”
Ridel, Muniak and Sozio are with Blake when it comes to traveling light. Ridel has moved photo albums and a good Italian cooking pan from place to place but otherwise rents furnished apartments. Muniak and Sozio move functional things, such as solid boots and a good rain jacket and,in Sozio’s case, a guitar.
“I’m not a very good interior decorator because everything I have is secondhand,” Muniak said.
For Sozio, living and working in places such as Honduras and Nicaragua where many people are impoverished also caused him to look at his belongings in a different way. “You look at your own material possessions and reconsider what you really need and what is really valuable,” he said. “There are some things you should cherish, but generally speaking it makes you less attached to stuff.”
So what does this research say about the human experience?
“The conceptual thread connecting these is the similarities between our relationships and objects,” Keefer said. “We have a willingness to throw things away and a willingness to get rid of relationships. In a way, we’re treating people as objects, and that’s what draws this together.”
But finding the big picture would require additional research.
“Whatever connects mobility to whether or not we keep relationships is more complicated than we have the data to tell,” Keefer said. “The connection to moving and keeping relationships is complex. The human story and why this is important is a question that is still a bit open.”
And with this study, he added, no conclusions can be drawn about whether or not this willingness to dispose of belongings, and therefore relationships, is healthy or unhealthy. Nor does the study take into account the ever-growing influence of technology and social media on our relationships and ability to maintain them.
Gillath noted the research findings show “we need to pay more attention to people’s moves and mobility, and we need to think about the ease of moving and the ease of getting rid of things and of ties, because it might result in various relational difficulties down the line.
“There is a connection between how we view our lives and our physical surroundings and how we perceive our social ties,” he added. “And we pay a price for the ease of mobility and the tendency of people to dispose of things in their lives.”
For Keefer, “Maintaining old ties seems like a double-edged sword. It can meet some social needs to stay in touch, but it can be stifling to forming new social circles in the new location. There is some advantage to knowing someone nearby who can feed your cat when you’re out of town. Ultimately, we are social beings.”
Beings who, when settling in a new home, have a much easier time getting a new toaster than finding new friends to feed that cat — and so much more.
To read more on the research article this article is based on, please here .1 Comment
What we keep, and what we leave behind: Findings from the residential mobility research
The paper published in the April 2016 journal Personal Relationships by Lucas Keefer and Omri Gillath was a merger of their interests.
Keefer’s research focuses on attachment to objects, and Gillath’s on attachment to friends and romantic partners. After working together in a University of Kansas lab, they decided to join forces to examine the question of how mobility relates to our material possessions and how we relate to close
They also looked to past research conducted by Jewish German psychologist Kurt Lewin, who wrote in a 1936 paper about Americans’ penchant to quickly make — and discard — friends. They also examined more recent research by Shigehiro Oishi of the University of Virginia and others.
“We had this idea about how mobility relates to material possessions and human relationships, and we found that research from 80 years ago is still very applicable,” Keefer said.
To build on the work of Lewin and others, Keefer and Gillath conducted studies in which participants completed questionnaires, including a “Willingness to Dispose Inventory” designed to assess people’s willingness to dispose of objects and close relationships (friends and romantic partners). Participants also were asked about their history of moving.
Studies were held starting in 2009 at the University of Kansas, where Keefer did his graduate work before coming to UD. Another three studies were held every year or two as Keefer and Gillath tweaked and added to their body of work and research findings.
Four studies were part of the research presented in their paper, “Generalizing Disposability: Residential Mobility and the Willingness to Dissolve Social Ties.”
Study one examined whether the perception of objects as disposable is associated with perceiving friends in a similar way. It showed people’s tendencies to dispose of objects and social ties are related.
Studies two and three tested whether high residential mobility makes people more likely to dispose of objects, which in turn results in an increased willingness to cut certain social ties. The studies demonstrated that a history of residential mobility (study two) and increasing residential mobility (study three) likewise increase the willingness to dispose of objects and, through that, dispose of social ties.
Study four compared the geographic and relationship aspects of residential mobility and tested whether changes in social networks have a direct effect on what the researchers called “relational disposability.” This study showed that the relationship aspect of residential mobility is crucial in affecting relational disposability.
“The more a person has moved or relocated, the more he or she had to dispose of his or her possessions (at least some),” Keefer and Gillath write in their paper. “The more he or she disposed of possessions, the more likely he or she is to see possessions or objects as disposable. Once such a disposable approach was adopted, it may be extended or generalized to social ties, coloring the perception of people or social ties as more ephemeral and easily ‘disposed.’
“Taken together, the four studies provide consistent support for the idea that higher residential mobility results in higher willingness and tendency to dispose of social ties,” the paper reads. “Our studies provide support not only for an association between attitudes toward objects and people but also provide evidence that this perspective has important implications for the study of close relationships. Pressure to act in specific ways toward material objects — in this case, to dispose of them — may have subtle yet important implications for how people act toward other humans.”
To read the full article, “Traveling Light,” click here .No Comments
Mark Backs, Class of 1948, wakes up at 5 a.m. for his daily 1 ½-mile walk with his dog, Nemo, then returns home for breakfast to fuel his morning workout sessions with a personal trainer at the gym. Backs, age 88, finishes with a yoga session before settling in for the afternoon.
“That’s when you hibernate,” he says. “You don’t go out until evening.”
Summers are scorchers, but three temperate seasons make life in Tucson, Arizona, worth it, Backs says. He’s lived in Arizona for more than 20 years, moving shortly after retiring in 1989.
Born in Minster, Ohio, Backs and his brother, Alton, both attended UD and graduated in 1948. They earned medical degrees from Loyola University in Chicago, and Alton pursued a career in radiology while Mark became an anesthesiologist. Mark served in the Army Medical Corps, while Alton is a Navy veteran.
“I loved UD,” Backs said. “I still do. It was a great experience and I had great teachers who made my medical career possible. I remember using my notes from biochemistry and other science classes at UD while I was in med school.”
Backs spent most of his career in Madison, Wisconsin, where he and his wife, Adele, raised six children. They enjoyed traveling and visited Italy 10 times — Adele was the daughter of an Italian-immigrant father and Italian-American mother, and became fluent in Italian herself after studying in college.
They were married 62 years before Adele died in 2015, and Backs now spends much of his time with Nemo and his daughter Tammy, who lives in Tucson. Travel is still in his blood though, and he had Dayton on his itinerary in spring 2016, making his first visit to campus in seven years.
“I plan to go back there again,” he says. “When I’m in my 90s.”
What can we do?
We asked that of Caitlin Cipolla-McCulloch, nF.M.I. ’12, and Gabrielle Bibeau, nF.M.I. ’11, two novices of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate, the Marianist sisters.
“‘A peacemaker prays,’ said the spiritual writer Father Henri Nouwen,” according to Bibeau. “Part of the novitiate is focusing intensely on your prayer life, which includes an hour a day in silent prayer as well as studying the charism and doing spiritual reading.
“In these times of political turmoil and fear of the ‘other,’ I am reminded of how important prayer is for us to be people of peace. Spending time each day with God is where I gain the energy to speak the truth in humility and to love those with whom I strongly disagree. And my prayer is best when it reminds me to remember the sufferings and trials of people around the world and to live my life in a way that can, I hope, have a positive impact.”
“It is disheartening,” Cipolla-McCulloch said, “to see the many acts of violence occurring in the human family. The founders of the Marianist family, however, also lived in violent times. The founders responded by forming small communities of faith. Our communities, our families, are our first places where we can practice nonviolence.
“We can be people of prayer who seek to understand the differences among ourselves. We can be people of hospitality welcoming all kinds of people to our tables and homes. We can follow Mary’s example of pondering in our hearts. We can strive to be on the margins, advocating for those who are persecuted.
“We can form ourselves in faith and hope so that we can share this faith and hope with our church and our world.
“Our communities can help us share, help us gain perspective and challenge us to think about new, exciting ways to be people of peace.”No Comments
In the nine years since returning to his hometown of Cleveland, former UD student Jonathon Sawyer has emerged as one of the nation’s most renowned chefs and a dynamic force in Cleveland’s swelling 21st century renaissance.
Sawyer’s Greenhouse Tavern and Trentina have both earned “Best New Restaurant” nods from Bon Appétit and Esquire, respectively, while Sawyer himself captured the 2015 Best Chef: Great Lakes award from the James Beard Foundation, the Oscars of the food world.
It’s a spirited journey that began during Sawyer’s junior year at the University of Dayton.
An industrial engineering major, Sawyer recalls sitting in an engineering course in 2000 entering coordinates into AutoCAD,“respecting the work,” but not enjoying it, he says.
Around that same time, his boss at Dayton’s Café Boulevard — a curmudgeonly, though classically trained chef — told Sawyer he “wasn’t too bad at cooking.”
Those experiences combined with a frugal Eastern European heritage that celebrated home cooking ignited Sawyer’s culinary pursuits.
He left Dayton, where he was on track to graduate in 2002, and enrolled at the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts, the first step in a professional odyssey that led him to acclaimed restaurants in New York and Miami, back to Cleveland and appearances on national television shows such as Iron Chef America and Dinner: Impossible.
In 2009, Sawyer and his wife, Amelia, opened The Greenhouse Tavern in downtown Cleveland.
“The most impactful address I could have ever picked,” he says.
In addition to serving up New American fare that’s fueled Cleveland’s rising culinary credibility, the eatery also exemplifies Sawyer’s passion for running an environmentally conscious restaurant — Ohio’s first certified green restaurant, in fact. He sources ingredients from area farms and a rooftop garden, boasts a robust recycling and composting program, and supports responsible animal
“I wanted to be part of something positive, something bigger than myself, and I’m grateful to be doing just that,” Sawyer says.
It’s a warm, sunny night, the sun is hanging on the mountain range in the distance, and Molly McKinley ’01 is rolling down the tundra.
Tundra rolling may be a time-honored tradition more often carried out by children and the resident grizzly bears, but it’s also how McKinley likes to celebrate a warm summer night in Alaska: going side-over-side down the alpine biome. Throw in a handful of wild blueberries and she might just be in heaven.
Welcome to 99-year-old Denali National Park, one of the amazing American places protected by the National Park Service.
It has been 100 years since the National Park Service was founded, and in that time 412 wilderness areas and historic sites, natural wonders and national monuments have been created, recognized and protected. The oldest, the National Mall, was designated 226 years ago and grandfathered into the Park Service; the newest, Stonewall National Monument, was inducted June 24 of this year. Dubbed “America’s best idea” by writer Wallace Stegner, the National Parks model has been exported to countries around the world.
While the National Parks are full of monuments and glaciers, endangered species and civil rights memorials, perhaps their most important assets are their stories. Stories that celebrate natural wonders, such as the bristled trees of Joshua Tree National Park, and stories that reveal devastating human histories, such as the slaughter of 300 people in Sand Creek, South Dakota, and the internment of 117,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
Those stories are at the core of the National Park Service mission: to preserve, “unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
As the National Park Service prepared for its centennial celebration in August, University of Dayton alumni reflected on the important roles our parks play in society today and regaled us with their own stories of the National Parks and its mission.
Discover History: Preserving
Perhaps it’s natural that history major Ann Honious ’00 ended up working for the National Park Service, a leader in historic preservation and responsible for preserving everything from the stories of Paleo-Indians in North America 12,000 years ago to the Chesapeake Bay landscape associated with both the beginning and end of slavery in the United States to the Wright brothers bicycle shop.
Honious began at the Park Service in 1992, surveying historic buildings and parks and cataloguing historic structures. She worked at the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park before becoming the second employee at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park. She then went to the Gateway Arch — formally the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial — where she oversaw for nearly six years the history, museum and ranger programs.
Today, she’s the deputy superintendent of Capitol Parks East in D.C. and the administrator for roughly 15 parks east of the Capitol, including the historic home of Frederick Douglass and Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens.
“I’ve always been interested in telling stories, and the National Park Service gives an opportunity to tell those stories where they happened,” says Honious. That’s the National Parks’ purpose: “They help you find or get to know your country — whether that be on a hike in the Grand Canyon or a visit to Independence Hall.”
Or on a tour of one of the nation’s 11 National Battlefields.
When Dale Floyd ’68 walked the parks and fields of the American South back in the mid-1990s, he wasn’t looking at the trees or the animals, he was mapping Civil War battlefields in his mind’s eye. And on paper.
For nearly five years the historian served on the Park Service’s Civil War sites advisory commission, helping determine the nation’s most important Civil War battle sites. The Army had already done much of the heavy lifting, identifying 10,500 Civil War battles, and Floyd and colleagues used that documentation as a jumping off point. They narrowed the list to about 500 sites of import and set out to investigate.
With U.S. Geological Survey maps in hand, Floyd walked the sites, inspecting fields and pastures, determining the significance of the battles waged, and the condition of the land and any remaining artifacts. He evaluated what threats existed to the sites, and what might in the future. Some of the battlefields were mostly gone, developed or encroached upon. Artifacts at others had been mined by individuals.
In the end, Floyd and his co-authors drew up an argument for preservation of many of the sites. Without it, the report said, the nation stood to lose fully two-thirds of its major Civil War battlefields. Soon, the American Battlefield Protection Program was established and, in 1996, Congress signed into law the American Battlefield Protection Act. Under the National Park Service, the ABPP “promotes the preservation of significant historic battlefields associated with wars on American soil.”
Today, the Park Service oversees 11 National Battlefields, four National Battlefield Parks and one National Battlefield Site. While not all of the nation’s Civil War and Revolutionary battle sites are encompassed within the National Parks, many are. Antietam National Battlefield, for example, commemorates the bloodiest one-day battle in American history, a day where 23,000 soldiers were declared dead, wounded or missing after 12 hours of battle. Preserving such history is part of the Parks’ mission — and value.
“The Park Service is custodian of important properties,” says Floyd, who has since retired. “And the Parks are the conservators of what are supposed to be our most important historical properties.”
That historic conservation extends to manmade technology and its consequences. For instance, there’s the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park, which “preserves and interprets the history and legacies” of the Wright brothers and one of America’s great African-American poets, Paul Laurence Dunbar. Kimberly Juhnke ’02 is one of many UD alumni to intern as an interpretive ranger — think educator in a uniform — at Dayton Aviation.
To Juhnke, having a program that tells the story of the people and experiences that changed America is critical.
“Each site you go to you learn something new. It’s important to know where you came from, and what happened in our country,” says Juhnke. “The Wright brothers, for example, were such innovative men, and they never even graduated from high school. That’s a testament to that time period.”
While some sites celebrate innovation and American spirit, others serve as testament to American ingenuity gone unchecked, including the Johnstown Flood Memorial.
In the late 1800s, the wealthy citizens of Pittsburgh bought a reservoir, converted a dam and created a massive lake for a private resort. They altered the dam but failed to maintain it properly and, in 1889, a storm destroyed the dam, killing 2,209 civilians below. The Great Flood, as it’s known, also led to the creation of the Army Corps of Engineers. And yet, says Juhnke — who worked at Johnstown, Allegheny Portage Railroad National Site and the Flight 93 Memorial for a year after graduation — few would really know about that flood, or that devastation, were it not for the National Parks preserved memorial.
Preserving cultural and natural places may be core aspects of the Parks’ mission, but education is paramount. Education — about wild plants and animals or about historic events — inspires people to protect the parks for the future. It also shapes dreams.
Steven Roberts ’97 knows this firsthand.
It was a balmy Florida evening in 1997 when Roberts, alongside Greg Leingang ’97 and Brian Boynton ’98, first discovered the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. The classmates had mapped their spring break by National Parks, arriving seven parks later at the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine.
Studying history growing up, Roberts had learned about Jamestown and about the Mayflower, but no one had ever taught him about the influence of the Spanish. As the lights burned below the walls of the Castillo, turning it into a glowing castle, Roberts knew he’d be back someday.
“The Castillo, built more than 300 years ago, isn’t just an old building, it tells special stories about freedom, about defending family, about sacrifice,” says Roberts. “Creating those experiences in real places has a huge power to help people find their own values, to find their own meanings in America’s special places.”
Roberts has spent the 20 years since that visit sharing the stories of America’s past through National Parks, beginning at the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historic Park where he worked as a seasonal park ranger. Later, at Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial, he revealed the lives of those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. He worked at James A. Garfield National Historic Site and Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
“I found specialness in the places,” says Roberts. “These were authentic places that had real stories of America for people to experience and actually become a part of during their visit.”
That Parks mission of education — and of sharing something important about America’s past with visitors from around the world — is ingrained in Roberts. “We help people care about their national parks, and about these national stories, and about these special resources. We hope they will get excited about them and also want to share these stories and become stewards of their own national parks. These are the people’s parks.”
Now, 20 years after that initial visit, Roberts is back at the Castillo where he serves as chief of interpretation and education.
If the Spanish arrival to America and their influence on the United States seems like ancient history, try donning Jeff Malik’s ranger hat.
In the high, cold desert of Kemmerer, Wyoming, there’s neither cactus nor bare earth in sight. Instead, sagebrush and mesquite and hardy vegetation clings to the earth, and prairie dogs run wild. A rock outcropping, Fossil Butte, hangs above the remains of an ancient lake. In that ancient lake are the fossilized remains of palm trees and alligators.
Malik, who is currently completing his master’s in public administration at UD, spent the summers of 2009 and 2010 at Fossil Butte National Monument, working as an interpretive officer, doing everything from leading tours to managing invasive species. The most exciting part of the job, however, was providing environmental education and especially fossil education.
Fossil Butte is home to 50-million-year-old fossils — among the best preserved in the world — and as such, it’s a destination for many families. One trail leads to an active resource quarry where researchers dig for fossilized fish. Visitors can watch the dig and, perhaps more important, rangers and researchers let kids lift up slabs of rock, look for fish and measure the fossils found.
To Malik, that kind of firsthand education is what makes the National Parks so important. They’re an opportunity for people to directly connect with nature, and with some of the most important parts of America.
“I mean that both in a natural environment setting and in a historic setting. It lets people experience these places firsthand, in a way that there’s no other chance for them to otherwise,” says Malik. “There’s just nothing that can compare to a kid going camping for the first time or seeing herds of bison in Yellowstone or viewing the Grand Canyon.
“That’s where the power is; that potential for a transformative experience.”
Which perhaps explains why the National Park Service is celebrating its centennial.
Explore nature: preserving
Today, 480 threatened and endangered plant and animal species exist within the areas protected by the National Parks, and the Park Service is charged with reducing the risk of their extinction while simultaneously telling the stories of these places, plants and animals to those responsible for preventing that extinction — the public.
McKinley, outdoor recreation planner at Denali National Park and resident tundra roller, has countless tales about the National Parks and run-ins with endangered species. The view from her office window in the woods offers spruce and alder and, quite routinely, a moose, but a short drive or hike leads to a world covered in tundra. Denali is green in summer, white in winter, and brown during spring — or mud season. Then, for a short time in autumn, there’s an explosion of color as the tundra comes alive in a way most people don’t expect. There’s a fabric to the place, says McKinley, a carpet of purples and reds and oranges.
During her Park Service career McKinley has spent a day perched on a glacier using a battery-operated chainsaw disassembling a decades-old plane crash for recycling. She has come upon a moose kill and a bear dining on that kill, and she has learned, midway through a river crossing, that caribou huff through their nostrils at humans. And, there was the day that, while surveying a new trail location, she looked up to discover one of those
endangered species the Parks seek to protect — a lynx — just 15 feet away.
“One of our goals is to not interrupt the activity of the wildlife if no one’s in danger, so I was just hanging out with this lynx,” she says. “Me and a lynx, for kind of a long time, and the lynx wasn’t scared of me and I wasn’t scared of it. But there’s this huge beautiful cat, with tufts of fur coming out of its ears, and huge paws that allow it to walk on the snow in the winter, and to be that close to such a different, beautiful, amazing creature is really special. I feel really blessed by those opportunities.”
Coming to Alaska is striking and sometimes hard to wrap our heads around, she says, but that’s part of the enjoyment: “Everything here is so darn big. The mountains are big, the landscape is big, the mammals are big. I think for some people it creates a baseline shift in how the world around us can feel. And, when the world around us feels really big, it can make you feel really small. Or, it can make you feel awed and inspired.”
Which is what the Parks are after: preserving natural places for education, enjoyment and inspiration. In fact, the National Parks stewards, and celebrates, some of the most spectacular scenic places in the United States. There’s the windswept Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan, one of the of the 88 coastal and ocean parks in the system; the 4,700 caves and karsts scattered across the country, such as the lava tubes at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho; and the star-filled skies over the buttes of Canyonlands National Park. And then there’s Old Faithful.
Yellowstone National Park, home to Old Faithful, became the world’s first national park in 1872, decades before the creation of the National Park Service. In August 1916, the Department of the Interior was overseeing 21 national monuments, 14 national parks and two national reservations, with no umbrella organization to run or manage them. With support from journalists, the National Geographic Society and more, Congress passed the Organic Act, establishing the National Park Service, and placing the 37 parks under its protection. Chief among those was Yellowstone. Today, Yellowstone encompasses 3,472 square miles, 500 active geysers, 900 historic buildings, 1,800 known archeological sites and two endangered species: the Canada lynx and the grizzly bear.
Melissa McAdam ’83 has seen much of this and more. Some of it from her office window, which on this day offers a view of a grazing female elk framed against a backdrop of historic buildings. Nearby, a tree bears the weight of a giant owl condo. The nests there have produced multiple flocks, and a parliament of owlets is fluttering among the branches. Tourists stand below, cameras trained on the baby birds, oblivious to the elk grazing nearby.
McAdam landed at the world’s first national park in the early 1980s on a lark. A friend had returned to UD raving about her summer working at Yellowstone, and so McAdam followed suit. In 1982, between her junior and senior years, she spent the summer working in reservations at Yellowstone. She returned in 1983 (and met her now husband, Rick), then left for a while to “try to do the real job thing.”
But Yellowstone beckoned. By 1985 they had returned for good.
“For us it’s the scenery, the feeling of openness, of spaciousness. When you grow up in the suburbs of the east, as I did, this is a different experience. It’s a feeling you can breathe,” she says of her decision to make Yellowstone home.
McAdam began her career as an accounting technician, then volunteered in the public affairs office before landing a job in the emergency communications center. She’s been working full time for Yellowstone National Park ever since and today holds the title of supervisory budget analyst. Her staff handles everything from human resources to procurement to budget management for the resource management and science branches of Yellowstone. Or the animal, vegetable, mineral branch, as she calls it.
“I like the idea of being part of a community — such a tight knit community — that’s also tied to a mission,” she says. “I’m still amazed by the wildlife. And the features — I don’t spend enough time at Old Faithful, but the features are unlike any other in the world.”
And then, there is the intersection of exploring nature and discovering history; of cultural and environmental preservation. Saratoga National Historical Park — one of the nation’s 50 National Historic Parks — melds cultural preservation and natural exploration. The park, in upstate New York, is rural, and the Revolutionary War battlefield that comprises the majority of the park has been protected from much of the encroachment that has happened at other historic sites. Saratoga has one big looping road that encompasses much of where the fighting happened in 1777. There are 10 places you can stop to see significant battle sites, and trails — paved and unpaved — jut out from each.
It looks much as it would have in the 1700s, says Jason Huarte ’02, and that means this park has given him an appreciation for the American Revolution and how difficult life was.
“It makes you pretty grateful for what we have now,” says Huarte. “Just a couple hundred years ago there were guys cutting down trees and building walls so lead balls didn’t go through their bellies.”
Huarte, an engineer and the supervisory facilities operation specialist at Saratoga, has seen his share of National Parks. He was sent to the Statue of Liberty after Hurricane Sandy and helped the National Park Service design a whole new docking system at Ellis and Liberty Islands. He has seen the massive red sandstone cliffs and narrow slot canyons of Zion National Park and most of the monuments in Washington, D.C. And of course, there were the years he spent as an engineer with the National Park Service in Alaska, flying on four-seat floatplanes to the wilds for a project, or helicoptering into the middle of nowhere to oversee construction.
“You see bears fishing in rivers, hear wolves at night. … And you’re on the clock. People save their entire lives to go see the things I saw while on the job,” he says.
Such wildlife may be why Huarte’s veneration extends beyond Saratoga and to the Parks in general.
“It makes you appreciate how rich of a country we are in natural resources. You have Alaska with glaciers, and then you have Death Valley — all in one country.”
The proud holder of a National Parks Passport — a little booklet filled with stamps that track every check-in at every National Park, Monument or Site — Huarte has already been to 112 of the 412 National Parks. Like many alumni, whether they work for the Park Service or not, his life goal is to visit them all.
“They call the National Parks America’s greatest idea,” he says. “I think it’s true.”No Comments
During his earlier stints in the corporate world, David Wise ’75 helped turn around faltering businesses near the end of their life cycles. Now he’s enjoying his own turnaround — after “retiring” in 2014, he’s funding startups across Baltimore and serves as chief executive officer for a company developing a vaccine for Zika and other tropical viruses.
Last December, Wise joined Pharos Biologicals, LLC, a startup founded by a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine professor to develop a Zika vaccine. Pharos has also earned exclusive worldwide licenses for a patented Lysosome-Associated Membrane Protein (LAMP) DNA vaccine technology to fight influenza and flaviviruses, a genus of yellow fever-related viruses such as Zika, dengue and West Nile. Phase 1 clinical trials for the Zika vaccine are scheduled this fall.
While he works to raise money for Pharos, Wise also serves as a venture adviser for The Abell Foundation, an organization that helps new businesses secure funding to build what the group calls an “innovation ecosystem” in Baltimore.
“Most of the companies we’re creating don’t even have revenue yet,” Wise says. “It’s exciting to conceive of possibilities and what could happen.”
At UD, Wise majored at UD in political science and was active in national politics, campaigning for delegate spots at the 1972 and 1976 Democratic National Conventions. A short time in law school shifted Wise away from a legal career, and he decided to explore the intersection of policy and business by earning a master’s of arts in law and diplomacy from Tufts University in 1982.
Wise’s post-retirement career has provided him with the ideal opportunities to put that philosophy into action, as he sees his work with Pharos and Abell as more than just raising and awarding funds to get organizations running.
“We’re not just trying to make companies work, we’re trying to make Baltimore work,” Wise says.1 Comment
The city of Philadelphia is the birthplace of the nation, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written, debated and signed at Independence Hall. All the major U.S. professional sports are represented, including their own Flyers. “You can’t just say ‘I went to UD,’ or people might be confused with the other UD in the area, University of Delaware,” said alumni community leader Kris McCarthy McNicholas ’86.
Having schools in the area that are part of the A-10 conference brings fellow UD Flyers to the region often, with gamewatches being the most well-attended events this chapter holds. There are more than 25 universities in the geographic region, but clearly this chapter has its favorite.
How do you show your UD love in the city of brotherly love?
“I love UD, and I show my love by watching the UD games and wearing my Dayton Flyer attire to work on game days. I also attend events for prospective students and tell them my experiences and give them advice on what to expect.” —Aidan Curran ’13
“Not many people in the Philly area are familiar with UD, so I show my love for the Flyers by spreading the word. I do this in little ways like having a UD license plate border on my car, bringing a UD water bottle to work, and having UD stickers on my computer. Sometimes, these little things make great conversation starters. Even if they don’t, I find myself referencing my experiences at UD quite often in conversation.” —Christine Cirillo ’14
By the Numbers
Total Alumni: 1,692
Flyer fusions: 259
Most: 1980s with 528
Arts & Sciences 726
Education & Health Sciences 244
Law 123No Comments