For Patricia Russell, innovation comes in all forms. Not only has she taken risks professionally, starting her own consulting firm after a successful chemical engineering career, but her methods as a consultant concentrate on changing individual perspectives.
During her time as an undergraduate, Russell recorded a great deal of firsts. She helped found Minority Engineers for Advancement and was both the first woman from the Bahamas and the first African-American woman to graduate from the University with a chemical engineering degree.
After getting her master’s in chemical engineering and working in the field for several years, she discovered a different path.
“I loved chemical engineering — I liked the analytics and the numbers,” she said. “But while working as a chemical engineer, I discovered the type of work I really belonged in. It was always about people.”
Sixteen years ago, she made the leap. By starting The Russell Consulting Group, Russell was able to pursue the work she loved. Her firm works with companies, primarily in health care and higher education, to improve productivity and create a great place to work.
“A lot of consultants work on changing behavior, hoping that will impact results,” she said. “I focus on shifting thinking, on identifying thought patterns behind behaviors, on mastering ego to transform cultures.”
Russell’s engineering background has continued to serve her well, giving her firm a competitive edge.
“The strategic-thinking skills I learned help me survive the ups and downs of consulting work,” she said. “If you don’t have that strategic or critical-thinking talent, it’s almost impossible to adapt your business model.”1 Comment
In 2012, Robert Boeke and his wife, Rita, traveled to Haiti to teach a three-week math and English course. They didn’t intend to visit the island more than once. But in August 2014, they returned to facilitate a seminar that helped Haitian students plan for their futures.
Originally, the Boekes went to Haiti at the suggestion of Father Medard Laz, with whom they started a Catholic parish in Inverness, Illinois, in the 1980s. When Father Laz later became involved in a project in Haiti, he informed Bob Boeke that his math background would be a help at the University of the Nouvelle Grand’Anse (UNOGA) in Jeremie.
Upon arriving in Haiti, the Boekes realized almost immediately that their students had trouble envisioning the future in their work.
“We were concerned that university graduates in agronomy and business management would be hampered in their ability to start businesses, plan plantings and bring about change in Haiti,” Bob Boeke said.
He and his math educator colleague Mercedes McGowen planned a two-week seminar to stimulate multiple areas of the brain and help students become well-rounded independent leaders and thinkers.
After the Boekes returned to the U.S., the Divergent Thinking Seminar was approved by the UNOGA administration for Aug. 18-29, 2014.
UNOGA will continue to offer the seminar, after sending three Haitian employees to stay with the Boekes for a two-week training on presenting the material. Following the training, the Boekes plan to have daily Skype sessions with the teachers for support.
“Perhaps the most important ongoing result of the seminar is that the students have a sense of empowerment. They are talking among themselves and others about believing that they can change Haiti,” Bob Boeke said.No Comments
Pat Glaser Shea grew up privileged. “I had a family that loved me and parents who valued education,” Shea explained.
The daughter of a steel worker in West Virginia, Shea has been the CEO of YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee, the largest provider of domestic violence services in the state, for 10 years and sees the absence of such privilege every day.
In 1984, the UD marketing graduate settled in Nashville, Tennessee, and began to volunteer at the YWCA, where she saw firsthand the effects of violence and abuse on women and girls. “When women and girls aren’t able to live up to their potential due to abuse, we all lose out,” said Shea.
After a 20-year career in health care, Shea now focuses on ending gender violence by locating root causes. “We have been missing 50 percent of the population, thus half of the equation,” said Shea. “It is time to involve men, to invite good men to be part of the solution.”
Shea has become an outspoken advocate for engaging men in the effort to end violence against women and girls. In March 2015, she gave the TEDxNashville talk, “Violence Against Women: The End Begins with Men.”
In her talk, Shea states there are three things everyone can do: know the facts and elevate the issue, as violence against women is an epidemic; work to change our culture that belittles and devalues women and girls; and teach boys that loving and respecting women and girls is part of healthy masculinity. Shea said, “When women are valued and safe, we are able to be better mothers, sisters, daughters and partners. Everybody benefits.”No Comments
Some might say that Legos are toys meant only for the hands of children. Rafe Donahue would respectfully disagree.
Donahue, now senior director of statistics at Wright Medical in Franklin, Tennessee, used the popular building blocks to construct a structure iconic to UD’s campus: In 2014, Donahue built a miniature Lego model of the Chapel of Immaculate Conception. [Watch the video.]
“A couple of weeks after I had started building it, Paul Elloe in UD’s math department called me,” Rafe said. “He asked if I wanted to come to UD and give a speech, so I thought I’d also present the model while I was there.”
After graduating with a degree in mathematics from UD, Rafe went on to receive a doctorate in statistics from Colorado State University. To complete his Lego masterpieces, he needed to translate his knowledge of numbers and equations into the field of Lego architecture.
Rafe had an admiration of the chapel’s structure, inspiring his build. “Once I finished it, I immediately wanted to build more, so I made two more copies after giving one to the math department. One is with my sister, and the other I carry to Lego shows around the country.”
Donahue is grateful he was able to present UD with something to exemplify his appreciation of the school.
“I wanted to present all the amazing professors I had at UD with a gift that was really meaningful, something important and beautiful on that campus.”
Two models are currently displayed on campus: one in O’Reilly Hall, in the office of Maura Donahue, Rafe’s sister and director of budget and operations for the College of Arts and Sciences, and the original model, outside the mathematics office in the Science Center.No Comments
Wilbur Wright offered this advice to young people on how to succeed in life: “Pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.”
Adjunct professor Peter Newman would add to that, “and go to school at the University in Dayton.”
After all, we are the Flyers for a reason, Newman said. And so, in his course The Legal Environment of Business, Newman asked his students to read The Wright Brothers by David McCullough.
The 2015 book, Newman said, fleshes out the historical fact we all learned in second grade — that two brothers from Dayton invented powered, controlled flight — and gives us insight into both the rules of business and the personal traits required to be successful entrepreneurs.
“There is more to being successful than just following the rules,” said Newman, an adjunct professor in both business and law with more than three decades of experience in labor and employment law, corporate compliance and alternative dispute resolution. “You must be ethical, empathetic, optimistic, brave. The Wright brothers embody the traits of successful people that we should try to emulate.”
Newman wondered what lessons his students would find in the pages of the Wrights’ lives, so he had them write about it. Junior Nicolette Dahdah found inspiration.
“When we look back at the past, we should admire and seek to emulate the humbleness they carried to the enterprise, the dedication that made sure they saw it through to the end, and the perseverance to take the dream of flight and bring it into reality despite all their setbacks,” she wrote. “For what is an entrepreneur if not one who tests the limits of society’s thinking and wonders what barriers can man break today?”
In addition to reading McCullough’s book, students visited one of the Wright historic sites in the Dayton area and snapped a photograph. Students knelt at the brothers’ gravesites in Woodland Cemetery, posed in front of the Wright Cycle Co. shop and stood on the replica front porch of the boys’ childhood home less than 3 miles from campus.
The assignment, Newman said, also provided a historical context for their business education at UD. Students who knew nothing of Dayton’s history learned through McCullough that, in the era of the Wrights, Dayton inventors held more patents than those in any other city — good motivation for the next generation of entrepreneurs, Newman said.
Sophomore Ally Ayoob snapped a selfie at Hawthorn Hill where Orville spent his latter years. She wrote that, as she continues her education and enters into professional life, she will draw on the lessons she learned from the Wright brothers and from McCullough, who made their story come to life:
“As a University of Dayton entrepreneurship major, I am both humbled and inspired by the rich entrepreneurial history from which my university and its city draw so much pride.”
In reading The Wright Brothers, it is evident that Orville and Wilbur had a great deal of determination. Despite countless setbacks and negativism coming at them from every direction, the brothers never gave up on their dream. When it first became known that the Wrights were interested in building a flying machine, they immediately received negative feedback. People called them fools and cranks and thought they were trying to achieve the impossible. It wasn’t until nearly a decade later when people were able to witness the flights for themselves that they would rescind their comments. It would have been easy for the Wrights to become discouraged. Additionally, once Wilbur and Orville began building and testing their planes, they struggled for years in coming up with designs. Whether it be in designing the frame, wings, propellers, engines or any other aspect of the planes, each proved to be a great struggle. Wilbur and Orville could have concluded that, after multiple failed attempts in design (for each of the different parts), flight was simply not meant to be. They had to persevere through bad runs, failed attempts, and above all, plane crashes. The worst of these crashes, Sept. 17, 1908, left passenger Lt. Thomas Selfridge dead and Orville in critical condition. That Orville would later return to the air shows his commitment to aviation. —Carmen Bender, junior, international business management
A saying that their father constantly preached to them was “good mettle.” In other words, embrace the challenge in front of you. They met every project and task in front of them with a mindset full of passion and heart. This would result in heated arguments and isolation, but it would also consume them in a beneficial way. John T. Daniels, the amateur photographer whom the brothers had document their progress, once referred to Orville and Wilbur Wright as “the two workingest boys I ever knew.” Innovators today view their work as work, whereas the brothers viewed their work as life. When one shares this perspective, the discipline, the work ethic and perseverance come without question and without hesitation. —Patrick Duggan, sophomore, marketing
Otto Lilienthal, a pioneer who made great progress in flight from observing birds, provided the basis for all men pursuing flight. McCullough wrote of the Wright brothers’ use of Lilienthal’s data tables, “The difficulty was not to get into the air but to stay there, and they concluded that Lilienthal’s fatal problem had been an insufficient means of control — ‘his inability to properly balance his machine in the air,’ as Orville wrote.” At this moment, the Wright brothers decided to throw out Lilienthal’s data and start from scratch. The Wright brothers used their creativity and developed their own testing methods in a wind tunnel with small models. If the Wright brothers were not willing to challenge and change the status quo, they would not have been able to invent the
airplane. —Tianmu Luo, senior, marketing
Personality differences between Wilbur and Orville helped contribute to the success of the brothers. Wilbur, four years older than Orville, was the senior leader in the partnership. He was often described as critical, or, as McCullough wrote, “always ready to oppose an idea expressed by anybody.” In terms of business, critique is beyond important. Wilbur did not critique to offend anyone but to have, as McCullough wrote, a “new way of looking at things.” This critical attitude developed higher expectations, and when expectations were not met, Wilbur was often more discouraged than his younger brother. Wilbur became so discouraged that at one point he said, “Not in a thousand years would man ever fly.” Yet when discouraged by repeated failures, it was Orville’s spirit of ambition and generally optimistic attitude that brought Wilbur right back to the next calculation. While Wilbur had more confidence in his work as time progressed, Orville continuously displayed a high, hopeful, contagious spirit. —Kayla McLaughlin, junior, accounting and operations
The brothers did not believe they had what it took to be businessmen because they did not think they had any tenacity. Wilbur wrote, as conveyed by McCullough, that “the boys of the Wright family are all lacking in determination and push.” But the tenacity of the brothers was evident. As the brothers started to make headway in flight, people did not believe they had what it took to go any further. McCullough wrote that “as far as the reaction in Dayton, probably not one person in a hundred believed the brothers had actually flown in their machine, or if they had, it could only have been a fluke.” Hearing comments such as these would be enough to hinder many entrepreneurs, but for the brothers it was simply fuel to keep progressing. Instead of hanging their heads and giving up, the brothers continued innovating to show these doubters that they could and would achieve their goals. —Andrew Hoffman, sophomore, entrepreneurship
Orville and Wilbur needed a place to test their airplane in a place of high wind, no trees and sand where they could land. The brothers researched and contacted the weather bureau, and Wilbur asked Octave Chanute, a French-American civil engineer and aviation pioneer, for advice. They concluded that the small island of Kitty Hawk was the perfect secluded place for their test runs. Their creative place, though, was not always a perfect place. McCullough wrote that “they had endured violent storms, accidents, one disappointment after another, public indifference or ridicule, and clouds of demon mosquitoes. To get to and from their remote sand dune testing ground they had made five round trips from Dayton, a total of seven thousand miles by train, all to fly little more than half a mile.” Entrepreneurs need a place for their idea to be tested, a place for it to come to life and become a reality. —Corinne Cowan, junior, marketing
One of the earliest examples of ingenuity in the lives of the Wright brothers is described by McCullough; while still in high school, “Interested in printing for some while, Orville had worked for two summers as an apprentice at a local print shop. He designed and built his own press using a discarded tombstone, a buggy spring, and scrap metal.” Orville exemplified that self-drive has no age requirement, an important lesson to all aspiring entrepreneurs. Later in their journey, Wilbur had to rely on his ingenuity when The Flyer arrived to the Bollee factory in shambles. McCullough described, “Those who worked with him at the factory marveled at his meticulous craftsmanship, how he would make his own parts when needed, even a needle if necessary.” He took matters into his own hands and fixed the problem himself. —Megan O’Kane, sophomore, marketing
Everyone is very quick to praise the risks the Wright brothers did take but often overlook their more important ability to identify the risks they were not willing to take. From the beginning, Wilbur and Orville decided that they would never fly together. That way, if tragedy were to strike, one of them would still be around to carry on the legacy. They realized that their work was far more important than the enjoyment they would experience flying together. It was not until 1910, shortly before Wilbur’s death, that they flew together for the first and last time. Their risk management abilities were also seen in their everyday work. The brothers never let the opinions or wants of others affect their work. It did not matter who was watching or how big the crowd was — including a planned demonstration for the U.S. Senate and others at Fort Myer — they would not fly in poor conditions or take unnecessary risks just to please the crowd. Risk
management is vital to the success of any business. Not only their success but also their lives relied on their ability to judge risk. —Mary DeCrane, sophomore, leadership
At no point during their experimentations and successes did the Wright brothers seek to lord their performance over another member of the field, nor did they boast in their own time of their accomplishments. They offer us a lesson in humility. When we contrast that to how today’s business practices work, it’s a startling and shameful difference. The Wright brothers spent $1,000 on their flight venture; aviation pioneer Samuel Langley spent $70,000 on his failed attempt. “[B]eing the kind of men they were, neither said the stunning contrast between their success and Samuel Langley’s full-scale failure just days before made what they had done on their own all the more remarkable,” McCullough wrote. More importantly, instead of belittling one of the key figures who had inadvertently competed with them to be the first to achieve the power of flight, they praised him for being so generous to their cause and assisting them in their own efforts. Wilbur even stated that Langley deserved credit beyond the jeering and cruel amusement his failings brought him from the community because he shared with the brothers the drive to pursue a dream that many found foolish and impossible. If competing businesses worked hand in hand to pool resources and intellect in order to harness the vast shared knowledge between them, humbling themselves to put aside differences and work for mutual gain, the atmosphere of the marketplace would be astonishingly changed. —Nicolette Dahdah, junior, communication
Although Wilbur and Orville maintained ownership of their machine and depended on each other instead of outside sources, the brothers made the right friends and hired the right employees, both of which were crucial in their success. The Tate family, friendly Kitty Hawk locals who allowed Wilbur to stay with them when he first arrived in North Carolina, often helped the brothers build structures and execute experiments on the dunes, McCullough wrote. Charlie Taylor was an employee of the Wright Cycle Co. who proved to be, as McCullough wrote, “more than a clever mechanic, he was a brilliant mechanic and for the brothers a godsend.” It was Taylor who built the engine that would allow the brothers to make aeronautic history Dec. 17, 1903. Invested, excited, innovative employees such as Taylor are at the heart of a business. Personal relationships are also incredibly important, especially to new businesses. Friends and family are usually a business’s first supporters, first sales and first marketing resource. They provide advice and goodwill and may even volunteer time and resources to the venture. Without the Tate family and Charlie Taylor, the Wright brothers’ path to creating the airplane could have looked much different. Entrepreneurs need to recognize just how important friends, family and employees are to their businesses and utilize these relationships as influential assets. —Ally Ayoob, sophomore, entrepreneurship
A little bit of Lourdes sits on my dining room shelf — a half ounce, to be exact, water from the grotto in France where the Virgin Mary revealed herself to a 14-year-old peasant girl in 1858.
I’ve been thinking often about that water since Myron Achbach ’58 called me six months ago. A longtime UD director of admission, his Flyer network spiders across the globe. Along these threads he senses good stories and sends them my way.
So when Myron called, I thought I was in for a treat. Instead, I was heartbroken.
A young alumna, Coral Flamand ’13, had been in a horrible car accident, he said. Her family — including the Flyer family — was organizing a service at UD’s chapel to pray for a miracle.
And when that miracle happens, Myron said, they will have documentation in place to ascribe it to the intercession of William Joseph Chaminade, founder of the Society of Mary, which founded UD.
In my mind, it is hard for these two things to occupy the same space: a miracle, by definition something neither logical nor anticipated, and a documentation process as rational and detailed as an IRS audit.
Yet not only do I have one bottle from Lourdes, but I had a second, which I filled for a friend’s mother who was battling multiple myeloma. She accepted the bottle, thanked me and rose to place it on her dining room shelf, with so many other bottles brought to her by the legions who love her. Her action gave me no reassurance she believed, and no indication she did not.
I had filled those bottles while traveling with the Marianist Educational Associates on a pilgrimage to France. We were there to deepen our faith and understanding. Outside the gates to the sanctuary in Lourdes, I was skeptical, seeing how hope distorted into profit in every corner shop (including the one where I purchased my bottles). But inside, it was holy. I looked down from the basilica at the lines of wheelchairs ribboning through the grounds. The faithful, pushed by their attendants, waited to receive the holy water and be immersed in God’s love. I witnessed no spontaneous healing, but there were tears of joy and fullness of hearts.
So, do I believe in miracles, the kind that happen not in books of old but in our world today? As Matthew Dewald writes in our cover story on miracles, faith is not having the evidence in hand, yet believing anyway.
And so I will pray for Coral the beautiful prayer a Marianist priest wrote for her. I have no evidence that the intercession of saints will heal her mind or her body. But, like her family — and her Flyer family — I have faith.1 Comment
A sociologist at heart, Curran reshaped the University in his 14-year tenure as president
Daniel J. Curran traveled to China in the spring of 2002 with an eye on the future. The cadence of the trip itself was familiar — an academic exchange filled with formalities to help bridge a cultural divide. But this time, just two months before he would become the University of Dayton’s 18th president, Curran envisioned a grander path of globalization.
He traveled with Fred Pestello, who was provost at the University of Dayton, and Greg Dell’Omo, associate vice president at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where Curran served as executive vice president and vice president for academic affairs. As Curran participated in a signing ceremony between the University of Dayton and Nanjing University, a ritual that signals the start of a relationship, Pestello leaned over to Dell’Omo and whispered, “Can he do that? He isn’t even president yet.”
“Welcome to the world of Dan Curran,” replied Dell’Omo, who is now president of Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
Bold and strategic, high-energy and personable, Curran doesn’t like to wait. He had a vision for the future of higher education, a streak of impatience and the tenacity to make things happen — characteristics that would enable him to bring meaningful change to the University as it embarked on a new millennium.
“It was clear that Dan was going to be an ambitious president who was going to push the University in new and exciting directions,” recalls Pestello, who is now president of Saint Louis University. “Today, there are hundreds and hundreds of Chinese students studying at the University of Dayton as a result of the initiatives that began with that first trip in 2002.”
The China visit, the first of many in Curran’s 14-year tenure, set the stage for his presidency, an era in which the University of Dayton opened to the world and experienced unprecedented growth. Curran brought a global perspective — and so much more.
His legacy can be summed up most easily by the numbers: From 7,000 undergraduate applicants to nearly 17,000. From 42 undergraduate international students to 939. From a campus of 212 acres to 388 acres. From $47.5 million in sponsored research to $98.6 million. From an endowment of $254 million to $500.4 million. While other universities had cutbacks and furloughs during the Great Recession, the University of Dayton had its pick of top-choice candidates, growing the faculty while expanding diversity, academic depth and program breadth.
During Curran’s tenure, the University adapted its academic program to meet the changing times. It launched the nation’s first accelerated law degree; started physical therapy doctoral and physician assistant practice master’s programs; introduced one of the nation’s first bachelor’s degrees in human rights studies; and offered the state’s first master’s program in clean and renewable energy. It was the first American university to open a freestanding institute in Suzhou, China. Today, the University of Dayton China Institute hosts research and educational opportunities for students and faculty and provides educational services to the workforce of multinational companies at Suzhou Industrial Park.
In addition, the University redesigned its undergraduate general education curriculum, the Common Academic Program; launched the Dayton Early College Academy, a charter school serving urban students underrepresented in higher education; and instituted a Human Rights Center and the Hanley Sustainability Institute.
“It’s been a pretty amazing 14 years of change,” says Sandra Yocum, associate professor of religious studies, who was on the presidential search committee that recommended Curran.
His time in Dayton also can be measured by his accolades: Leader of the Year from the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce; Most Outstanding Volunteer Citizen from the Dayton Development Coalition for 2006 and 2015; and the Joseph E. Lowery Human Rights Legacy Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a civil rights organization founded by Martin Luther King Jr. In 2011, he was named one of the 10 most influential people in Dayton. He is the only person to twice receive the Regional Leader of the Year award from the Dayton Business Journal.
Yet in keeping with the Marianist spirit that he has honored at the University, Curran shares the credit. “I came into the right situation — a solid foundation built on [former president Brother] Ray Fitz’s legacy, a board that said, ‘We want you to be bold; we want you to be yourself,’” he says. “It just allowed me to move quickly.”
When Curran became president of the University of Dayton, some may have wondered how the first lay president would maintain the University’s deeply held identity. They needn’t have worried. Faith and community — core Marianist values — have always been at the center of Curran’s life.
One of three children, Curran grew up in suburban Philadelphia, where he attended Catholic schools. In his early childhood, he belonged to Our Mother of Good Counsel parish in Bryn Mawr and lived on Dayton Road — perhaps foreshadowing things to come.
Curran was a first-generation college student, and he originally considered studying engineering. Instead, he decided to major in business at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. His father, a truck driver, wasn’t happy when he later announced that he was switching to sociology.
“What job will a sociologist get?” his father asked him.
“I’ll be a professor,” replied Curran, who had an abiding interest in criminology, poverty and social issues.
That would be the first step on a path to university president.
Curran, 65, spent 23 years at Saint Joseph’s, a place where he collaborated academically with his wife, Claire Renzetti, who is also a sociologist (and is now the sociology department chair and Judi Conway Patton Endowed Chair in the Center for Research on Violence Against Women at the University of Kentucky). They met while doctoral students at the University of Delaware, and together taught and wrote textbooks, such as Women, Men & Society, an exploration of gender issues.
Curran made his first trip to China as part of their honeymoon tour of Asia in 1985, a time when the Communist nation was still a closed society and few Americans ventured there. He was fascinated by China’s internal migrants, the “floating population” who flouted state rules about where they must live and traveled alone to other parts of the country. He saw the potential to collaborate on criminology research with Chinese academics.
Curran had a sense that China, the most populous country in the world, would grow as a global force. Since then, he has made about 50 trips. “Much of what happens with any relationship with China is built on personal relationships. It’s very important that they know you,” Renzetti says. “He feels very comfortable in Chinese culture.”
Meanwhile, as a professor at Saint Joseph’s, Curran took on roles that built his administrative and organizational skills and that brought him closer to students — serving as director of first-year orientation and academic adviser of the men’s and women’s basketball teams. Eventually, Curran moved into leadership posts: dean, vice president for academic affairs, executive vice president.
When the University of Dayton began its presidential search in 2001, the search firm contacted Curran, but it wasn’t the right time. The president of Saint Joseph’s had just been diagnosed with a serious illness, and Curran and Renzetti were building their dream house and hadn’t even moved in.
But the search failed to identify a suitable candidate, someone who could connect with faculty, staff and students and shepherd the University through the emerging challenges of higher education while remaining true to the Marianist tradition. The recruiter contacted Curran again, and he agreed to visit.
Curran, Renzetti and their two boys came to campus just before Christmas in 2001. They met three times with then-President Brother Raymond L. Fitz, S.M. ’64. “I was struck by how humble he was and his emphasis on community,” recalls Curran. He also saw a university with a strong base for growth.
In February 2002, Curran accepted the offer and would begin in July. At the formal installation the following spring, the University of Dayton rector, Father Gene Contadino, S.M. ’62, gave Curran a lapel pin that the Marianists had designed for him. It features the University’s chapel dome and the Marianist cross.
“He went out of his way to do this to say, ‘You’re part of the Marianist family,’” says Curran, who wears the pin every day. “From the very beginning, I felt the Marianists were around me all the time. You never feel alone.”
At the same time, Curran had the freedom to act decisively and make the changes he felt the University needed to remain competitive. He moved with the swiftness of a CEO, not the ruminative pace of an academic. That came as a bit of a jolt to the faculty and staff, who had yet to grow accustomed to his style.
Beth Keyes, vice president for facilities and campus operations, recalls that shortly after his arrival, Curran shared his concerns about the look and feel of the campus. Why were trucks parked in the center of campus? And what about those dreadful tennis courts, surrounded by a chain-link fence? The core of the campus should be a unifying spot for students, he said.
“I learned early on that just a passing comment from him is not a passing comment,” Keyes says. The trucks and tennis courts were soon moved, replaced by an expansive grassy mall — and later, a statue of Marianist founder Blessed William Joseph Chaminade was added, donated by Curran and Renzetti.
In December 2002, just months after taking office, Curran told Keyes he wanted a new residence hall. It would provide updated space and enable the University to move students out of older buildings, which could then be renovated. It would contain classroom space and a bookstore.
And he wanted it to open within 18 months. “There’s no way we can plan that and have it open in 18 months,” Keyes remembers thinking. But Curran stayed firm. Instead of spending a year just in design, the project used a speedier design-build process. Construction began on Marianist Hall in May 2003, and it opened in August 2004.
In fact, the timeline inspired the builders of ArtStreet to accelerate their work so the housing and multi-arts facility in the student neighborhood could also open in 2004.
Capitalizing on other opportunities required both pragmatic reflection and swift action. Shortly after Curran was selected, he learned about ongoing negotiations for a 49-acre site owned by NCR Corp. that could greatly expand the campus. The catch: Part of the property was a “brownfield,” a former
factory zone with contaminated soil and asbestos in the remaining buildings.
After much study, Curran recommended going forward with the $25 million purchase. The board of trustees agreed unanimously, and the sale was finalized in 2005. In partnership with the city of Dayton, the University obtained about $5.5 million from two Clean Ohio Revitalization Fund grants to assist in the cleanup.
In 2010, he proudly announced that GE Aviation would open a major research facility there. This spring,
Emerson Climate Technologies opened its own innovation center, The Helix, which it built on the site.
In 2009, with Dayton still reeling from the Great Recession, the city lost its largest company. While NCR announced its move to Georgia, the University underscored its commitment to the city by purchasing NCR’s former world headquarters. The 115-acre site contained a sprawling building with 455,000 square feet of space. The University of Dayton Research Institute moved into the building. “This is an exceptional opportunity for the University of Dayton to invest in our future — and this region’s destiny,” he said.
No one was surprised that Curran had stepped forward to boost the region’s fortunes. He had served on the boards of numerous community organizations, including as chair of the Dayton Development Coalition and as a member of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. “Dan is looked at throughout the community as one of the top leaders in the entire region,” says Jeff Hoagland ’91, president and CEO of the coalition. And the University “has been the economic driver that has changed the way people perceive the city of Dayton and the entire region,” he says.
For Curran, improving and expanding campus was part of a greater vision for the future. Most of the student body came from Ohio and the Midwest — a demographic that was shrinking. Curran saw that geographic diversity would strengthen the University while enriching the student experience.
The University would need to shed some modesty and spread its message. A new viewbook for prospective students projected a bold image. “THIS BOOK DOES NOT HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS” it said in bright red letters on the cover. Inside, amid provocative questions (“Do you perform community service because it feels good or because it looks good on your résumé?”) and an eye-catching design, the viewbook touted the University’s accomplishments and unique attributes.
Affordability arose as a major concern nationally, and the University responded with a tuition guarantee: University-funded scholarships and grants are adjusted every year so that net tuition stays the same for the entire four years.
Today, the student loan debt burden of University of Dayton families has declined while the first-to second-year retention rate reached 91 percent, an all-time high. The retention rate is even higher — above 92 percent — for entering African-American and Hispanic students. About 57 percent of first-year students are from outside Ohio, compared with just 37 percent in 2007. The number of applicants continues to rise, boosting the University’s selectivity. International students come from more than 50 countries. “For the student who can’t study abroad, they do have various slices of the world here in Dayton, Ohio,” says Interim Provost Paul Benson.
Meanwhile, Curran endorsed a collaborative approach to emerging issues when he re-established the University’s Educational Leadership Council with strong faculty representation. It is co-chaired by the University president and the president of the Academic Senate and includes the provost, deans, and vice president for finance and administrative services as well as faculty and student members of the executive committee and committee chairs of the Academic Senate.
Curran’s move was “very Marianist,” says Carissa Krane, professor of biology and president of the Academic Senate. “In a very true and tangible way, faculty have a seat at the table for strategic discussions,” she says.
As Curran worked to strengthen the University of Dayton community, he kept students and the student experience at the core of every decision. He has a professor’s sensibilities and can’t walk across campus without pausing to greet students who call him “Dr. Dan.” He formalized a student connection to the president’s office by creating the President’s Emissaries, and he regularly dines with students — in his house or theirs.
Curran showed his comfort level with students when he attended a fall 2015 rally in support of students at the University of Missouri who had toppled their own president over a failure to adequately address racial tensions on campus.
“I’m here as a sign of solidarity with the students, faculty and staff,” Curran told a student reporter with Flyer News as they all braced themselves against a brisk wind off the Central Mall outside Kennedy Union. “I think the statement they’re making about dignity is very important for the University of Dayton. It’s at the heart of our mission.”
When racial concerns have emerged in recent years at the University, Curran became directly involved and opened his office as an avenue to address the issues, says Mike Lofton ’05, vice president for partnerships for myEDmatch, a job-matching website for teachers and schools. “He’s never run away from any hard issue as it concerns students on campus,” he says.
Lofton was one of the first emissaries and vice president of the Student Government Association. Curran became a mentor and friend. “I look up to him so very much in all phases of life,” says Lofton, who is now on the board of directors of the University of Dayton Alumni Association.
In 2014, Curran waded into a very different student gathering when a celebratory throng poured out of houses and residence halls to party in the street after Dayton defeated Syracuse to advance to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. For a few moments, students held Curran aloft as they chanted “Dr. Dan! Dr. Dan!
Dr. Dan!” The incident made the national news.
“A person asked me, ‘Weren’t you frightened to walk into a crowd of students?’” Curran says. “No, it was a natural thing to do. It’s just not the way I’ve ever felt about the students. They care about me, and I care about them.”
When he steps down at the end of the academic year, Curran plans to take a yearlong sabbatical, which will include resumption of his academic work in China. A long-distance bicyclist, he has already checked out the bike shops in Suzhou.
As president, he says he finds his greatest joy in seeing the success of students, faculty and staff. Now he is looking forward to
returning to the place where he began — the classroom.
It won’t be hard to find Professor Dan Curran at the University of Dayton. On game days, he’ll be in the stands, cheering for the Flyers. His contract as president included a clause guaranteeing him basketball tickets for life.
Otherwise, he’ll be doing what sociologists do: Studying concepts of social justice. Mentoring students. Building community. He’s ready for the next chapter. “Who knows what the future brings?” says Curran.
Michele Cohen Marill is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. As someone who grew up with the ideal of Southern hospitality, she was touched by the great Marianist spirit of caring and community at the University of Dayton.No Comments