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Wabash Meets Lake Wobegon

Steve Charles—I was editing the upcoming issue of Wabash Magazine with its focus on men’s health and all I could think about was Garrison Keillor.

The author, humorist, and host of A Prairie Home Companion also hosts The Writer’s Almanac, heard daily on NPR stations across the country. It’s one of my favorite moments of the day, a settling reminder that there have always been people who see contemplation, words, and stories as a way of life, and he signs off with “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

I’d already decided we’d call this issue “Be Well," but thinking of Garrison saying it as both admonition and blessing affirmed my choice. It got me wondering, too, how he might answer the question my colleague Kim Johnson had asked dozens of alumni for this edition: “How do you define well-being?” In other words, I wanted to ask him, “What do you mean when you say, “Be well?”

So I did.

There’s a place on his Web site called “Post the Host” where Garrison answers questions from listeners—some really interesting answers, too. They get a lot of questions and only post a few, but I thought, It can’t hurt to try. So I sent in my question, got an out of office reply back (this was right around Christmas Day), and figured that was that.

Until Math Professor Will Turner emailed me Friday with a link to the “Post the Host” page and Garrison Keillor’s answer to that very question we’d asked our Wabash alumni, students, and faculty. Because I indicated I was from Wabash College, he must have thought I was a student (and I always will be, so that’s fine by me), but his advice is no less relevant regardless of one’s age, and I couldn’t be more grateful for his thoughtful words.

So take a look at this “Wabash Meets Lake Wobegon” moment and Garrison’s thoughtfui answer (and good advice for students young and old). Here’s an excerpt:

"What you hope for in life is a sense of a calling, a vocation, which simply means that one goes to one’s work gratefully, not out of fear or habit but with a whole heart. It’s the whole-heartedness that makes for well-being. Everyone has to live with a degree of doubt and restlessness, but there’s nothing like enthusiasm, especially when you’re 67."

Take a look at the comments, too—a lot of folks had their own take on our question.

And if you’ve got a second, let us know how you would answer that question: How do you define well-being, and what do you do to achieve it?

Just post a comment or send your thoughts directly to me at charless@wabash.edu

And that’s the news from Wabash, where all the students are above average.


What’s That One Comps Question You’ll Never Forget?

Steve Charles—In the Allen Center locker room today I heard Steve Hoffman ’85 and professors David Polley and Tobey Herzog talking about oral comps [the oral comprehensive exams required of all Wabash seniors].

“I can’t believe that was 25 years ago,” Steve said recalling his own experience, noting that Professor Polley had been one of the three professors on his comps board.

“I was nervous, I don’t remember who was in it besides Professor Polley, and it was difficult while I was there,” Steve said. “But I wouldn’t change it for anything. From today’s seniors to alumni from the classes of the 40s and 50s, it’s a common thread. A common bond.”

Senior Daniel King, who just finished his oral comps wrote about the experience on his blog. Here’s a quote: “I had a great experience. My oral comps board were friendly, and we had a great conversation for an hour. We talked about everything from my favorite psychology class to studying in Italy to C&T. It was honestly fun.”

Daniel said being finished was an “odd” feeling: “I’m relieved. But what do I now? I don’t have any papers to write. I dont have any tests to study for. I can just relax…. I guess I’m just not used to that.”

Steve is a major gifts officer for the College now and visits with a lot of alumni. He said that even if they don’t remember all the professors who were in the room, they always remember one question.

For Steve, who majored in biology but had also taken theater classes, that question was: “How do biology and theater complement one another?”

Apparently, comps questions jog professors’ memories, too, for as soon as Steve recalled that question, Dave Polley practically shouted out, “I remember that one!”

The exchange made me want to test Steve’s theory.

So, for all Wabash alumni out there: What’s that one question you remember from your oral comps? Any other memorable moments from the experience?

We’d love to hear them, either as a Comment below, or as an email to me at charless@wabash.edu

In photo: Steve Hoffman ’85 (center) with fellow Sphinx Club members Nate Powell ’09 and Mike Raters ’85 judge another Wabash tradition that brings together the generations: Alumni Chapel Sing.

 


Learning “the Wabash Way”

Steve Charles—Just got back from a talk about last year’s summer study in Ecuador program—12 students and four faculty members who spent two weeks teaching English as a second language to high schoolers in a rough part of Quito and in the Amazon Rainforest.

You’ll get the stories about the tough work the students completed (and a pretty cool photo of Victor Nava ’10 surrounded by his Ecuadorian students) in the upcoming issue of Wabash Magazine. From what I heard interviewing students and faculty, this “teaching module” may have been the most effective and meaningful iteration of the program thus far. Both for learning a second language, and for learning how to live wisely and humanely in a difficult world.

Today Ryan Bowerman ’11 said, “I learned more Spanish in the classroom teaching English [to Spanish speakers] than I did in the Spanish classroom.” Program Co-Director Jane Hardy believes this service component forces our students to speak the language they’re trying to learn at a much deeper level. She now recommends service work or an internship that gets students working alongside native speakers for those serious about learning a second language.

But what stays with me from the colloquium I just attended was something I couldn’t see in the one-on-one interviews of students and professors I conducted for the magazine story. This noontime presentation was the first time I had seen them all together—these students and faculty who comprised a mobile learning laboratory in Ecuador last summer. (See photos from the session here.) Professor of Spanish and the Program Director Dan Rogers noticed it before I did, of course, and he put it best:

“The subtext here is the learning that happens for both students and faculty when they study abroad together,” Dan said after the question and answer session, during which students and their professors shared some of the funnier and less publicized moments from the trip. They were laughing together, the way fellow travelers do when they’ve been on a journey of many unexpected, sometimes difficult, sometimes wonder-causing twists and turns. The way you laugh when the journey has changed you in good and fundamental ways, sometimes in ways only your fellow travelers understand.

Of course, they told stories on each other, on themselves. I’ll post a couple of photos here that begin to capture the fun of that.

But the good humor was an indicator of something deeper.

“It’s wonderful to watch the way you are all interacting here,” Dan told the group “It’s interesting the ways this shared experience between faculty and students creates this community that persists way beyond the experience itself. It’s cool to see that community reunited here today.”

One of the Powerpoint slides’ for the presentation read “Learning Through Play, the Wabash Way.” The reference was to the two afternoons Wabash students played soccer with the Ecuadorians (they were going to play basketball, but the Ecuadorian students took one look at the tall Americans and said, “Futbol.”)

But this "Wabash Way of Learning" Dan described is something I’ve seen in the laboratory here, as when Professor of Chemistry Scott Feller says, "The best part of the undergraduate experience is when students realize I don’t know the answer to the problem they’re working on."

I just saw it a month ago in Colloquium, as Professor of Psychology Preston Bost and Dan spent an hour and a half “exploring” Augustine’s Confessions one late weekday night alongside 16 seniors.

I read about it on the Wabash Web site last summer, when Professor of Political Science David Hadley and Professor of Biology joined their freshmen in a plunge from a bridge into the Yellowstone River to celebrate a week spent together learning side-by-side.

In the upcoming issue of Wabash Magazine, President Pat White describes a Wabash faculty “willing to stick their hands in the lives of these young men up to their elbows.” That “close engagement” his Strategic Plan proclaims rewards the professor just as it enriches the student. Students become teachers, professors become students, all fellow learners on a formative journey.

This does happen in the Wabash classroom, to be sure. But in these mobile learning communities moving through a world where the environment is so often out of your control, you’re more likely to encounter that leveling, role-reversal,  or co-learning that teaches students they’re not only responsible for their own education, but may be responsible for others, too.

Pat Garrett ’12 described his experience teaching in Ecuador (the first time he’d ever taught) this way: “To me it was an example of what it means to be a Wabash man. Until now, I couldn’t quite grasp the College’s mission statement. But now I get it. It’s something that has to be lived and experienced, and that is what I am doing!”

That’s learning, the Wabash way.

In photos: Ryan Bowerman ’11 enjoys Professor Pittard’s story; Assistant Professor of Teacher Education Michele Pittard; Bowerman tells a story of his own; Josh Johnson ’11


Vic Powell at 90: “A Sense of Wonder”

Steve Charles—Vic Powell H’55—Professor of Speech Emeritus, Dean of the College Emeritus, Acting President of the College Emeritus—will be 90 years old next Wednesday, November 25. The day before Thanksgiving.

I discovered this last June at the Big Bash Reunion, where Vic and his wife, Marian, were guests of honor at the Class of 1959’s 50th Reunion. Just as they had been guests of honor at the 50th reunions for almost every one of the classes from that decade. In fact, Vic’s name almost always comes up when I travel to interview alumni, whether they’re from the 50s and 60s or from generations after he’d retired from formal teaching.

Still, it is hard to believe that this man I see almost daily from my Kane House window walking the two-plus miles from his home to campus and back is turning 90.

Read the NAWM’s Resolution honoring Vic Powell on his 90th birthday here.

So when we began putting together an issue of Wabash Magazine on “men’s health,” I thought, Why not sit down and talk with someone whose life is evidence that he knows something about the topic?

We’ll print highlights from that interview in the Winter 2010 issue of WM, but here is one of my favorite moments from our talk.

About halfway through the interview I asked Vic to define “well-being.” He’d actually been doing this through stories about his and Marian’s long walks and his wonderful friendships with Professors Butch Shearer and Jack Charles, dinners with the Degitzes and the Strawns, but I wanted to hear him sum it all up.

“I suppose you would want at least a fair measure of health, but beyond that, the network of relationships is so important. I think isolation would be soul-destroying,” Vic said. “There’s family—I’m blessed with two great daughters who call every single week—and a network of friends. A sense of well-being means you have a sense of community, people whose companionship you enjoy.”

Then he included something I hadn’t expected as being “important to one’s well-being.” He told the story of a debate he had one day with Professor of Political Science Phil Wilder at the round table in the Scarlet Inn:

“Phil and I were at opposite poles politically… and we got into it, not in a nasty way, but a real knockdown political argument. By the time the bell rang for class, there were students and faculty crowded around that table just following this argument.”

“I thought it was important that students see faculty disagree with each other, argue with each other, but clearly respecting each other and enjoying each other’s company.

“Disagreement didn’t mean disregard or enmity. We could disagree and argue but there was a fundamental respect for each other.”

I was moved by what I heard Vic saying: That this capacity of respectful but often vigorous disagreement that’s so essential to the well-being of a community is equally essential to the well-being of the individuals in that place.

I thought of something else Vic had mentioned earlier in our talk: Butch Shearer would often drop in on the Powells to listen to St. Louis Cardinals games with Vic (a love of the Cardinals and of Wabash College being the only two things these men had in common, Vic has often said.) One night one of Vic’s daughters heard the two men downstairs, their voices raised, debating one thing or another. The little girl ran to her mother. “I thought Daddy and Mr. Shearer were friends,” she said. And they were. Good friends. They just had an unusual way of showing it!

Vic also called Professor Jack Charles “as close a friend as I’ve had.”

“We would meet every Sunday morning in his office, smoke at each other, and solve al the problems in the world, “ Vic said. “He was the most learned man I’ve ever known in my life.”

Vic would try to stump Jack during Scarlet Inn conversations:

“No topic would come up that he didn’t know,” Vic said. “So I was gonna get him. I took out the encyclopedia and, thumbing through it, I found what I thought was an obscure queen from around 1100. It wasn’t easy dropping that into an Inn conversation, I’ll tell you that right now. But I bided my time and saw an opening and I dropped a casual reference to this queen. Charles says, “Oh yeah; she drowned her husband in a bathtub. Just like that!”

Vic laughed as he recalled the moment, then added, “He was a very special man to me.”

Finally, a few stand-alone quotes from our conversation:

On walking: “You can solve a dozen problems a day just walking, you know. Sometimes I get up feeling lethargic, but by the time I’ve walked down to the school, picked up the New York Times, go to the Inn, with my colleagues around, I’m restored.”

On “working” at Wabash: “There wasn’t a day that I wasn’t eager to get down here to teach. It wasn’t a job. I feel sorry for people who have jobs. I thought Wabash students were the world’s best, the faculty colleagues were wonderful.”

On life: “There is a sense of spirituality about life, a wonderment… a sense of wonder about the world. No, I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t think anyone else does. But there are lots of wonderful questions to think about, turn over in your mind, and pursue in all sorts of ways.”

On the family dog:
Me: What kind of dog is it?
Vic: That’s a good question. [laughs] A very democratic dog!

Vic ended our conversation, not surprisingly, with a story about Wabash students—one he calls “a wonderful vignette of Wabash students at their best.” But I’m way over the limit for blogs here, so that’s a story for another day. We’ll have more in the Winter 2010 WM.

It’s ironic, perhaps providential, the Vic’s 90 birthday comes the day before Thanksgiving this year, for there are not many men in this College’s history for whom we could be more thankful. We’ve had our share of loss this past year; watching Vic as we talked, his leg flopped over the arm of his chair, and listening to his wisdom and stories, reminded me of how rich we are at Wabash in the things that matter, and what wonderful lives we’ve been given to share. A moment and a man to celebrate.

If you’d like to wish Vic happy birthday (and I realize that I invite this at the risk of being reprimanded by Vic himself!) you can reach him by email at: powellv@wabash.edu

Or
just stop by the Scarlet Inn!


Running the Path Home

Steve Charles—Last June, Professor Greg Redding ’88 ran a race of 100 miles up and down the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. He told me a little bit about it in the Allen Center locker room after he’d finished a “short” training run of 10 miles or so. 

I didn’t realize people even dared such things. It sounded more like the kind of running the Tarahumara people of Mexico would do in the canyons of the Sierra Madre, not the avocation of a Wabash German professor.

"Very few people have any idea what it’s like to run 100 miles,” I told Greg, and asked him to write about it. I’ve seen a draft, and we’ll have his story in the Winter 2010 issue of Wabash Magazine. It’s a piece you’ll not want to miss.

One of my favorite scenes has Greg running at night under a canopy of more stars than he’s ever seen, the bobbing headlamps of a few fellow runners flashing like fireflies in the valley below him. Every time I talk with Greg he recalls another intriguing detail.

The only problem I’ve had with the piece is figuring how to illustrate it. The one shot Greg’s running partner tried to take of him on the trail didn’t turn out, and I was hoping for something dramatic to accompany a story about a 30-plus hour 100 mile run through some of the most beautiful country in America.

Then I found out that Greg trains for these runs in Shades State Park. It’s not the Bighorn Mountains, but Shades has a quiet, deep beauty of its own. Ancient hemlock groves and hiding places even the Ice Age glaciers couldn’t find. Standing with Mike Bachner ’70 on the banks of Sugar Creek several years ago, the western naturalist and writer Terry Tempest Williams declared, “Wildness resides in the heartland of America.”

Greg has logged far more than 100 miles on the trails of this wildness, so with the fall colors fading I drove down Wednesday and photographed his training run up Trail 8 through Shawnee Canyon.

Here’s an album of photos from the day.

Splashing through the rain-swollen springs trying to photograph Greg, I learned a bit more about training for trail running. It’s less about speed than foot placement. If you’re going to be running over rocky terrain in the midnight darkness at 10,000 feet, you’d better learn how to pick your way through in all kinds of weather.

And the canyons at Shades with their running water, slippery rocks, and leaf-covered paths force you to focus on exactly where to put your feet, how to recover when you slip, when to slow down, how to resist that temptation to leap to a rock hiding a slippery edge that can knock you on your butt, or shoulder, or head. You build up the muscle strength in ankles and feet that you’ll need when you’re at high altitude, haven’t slept for 30 hours, and treading difficult terrain at speed has to become second nature.

“This is my home park,” Greg told me, recalling many two hour runs through Shades during late fall, winter, and early spring when he’s been the only one there. I recalled his interest, ever since he returned to Indiana in 2002 from Pennsylvania, in the German-Americans who settled in Indiana, how he’s taken students across the state to get them acquainted with these places, how he helped bring Indiana poet laureate Norbert Kropf to campus last year. The goal of these long training runs in Shades may be racing in the mountains of the west, but they also bring an Indiana boy back to the state of his birth, and perhaps back to the reason he began running in the first place, now decades and many Wabash cross country races and many marathons ago.

Greg calls trail running “getting back to my cross country roots,” and the smile on his face as he rock hops and picks his way up Shawnee Canyon made me think of the fun I found as a boy running up desert canyons in Arizona and hopping the rocks in Oak Creek. The sheer joy of leaping and running like a kid through beautiful country.

Even walking through Shades, a place I, too, spent many hours hiking and weeks camping when my kids were younger, I was able to re-collect myself, slow down and breathe deeply enough to take in the beauty of the rocks, streams, the last leaves falling from canopy trees, the paw paws in the understory stubbornly hanging onto theirs.

Walking through Greg’s “home park” made it my own for a few hours. But just as I can only imagine what it’s like for Greg to run 100 miles, I can only imagine what it’s like for him to have been born in this state, to have run these hills and canyons as a young man then left for almost a decade, only to return to them now.

During my early morning reading the next day I encountered this quote from the writer Peter Matthiesson on the frontispiece of Scott Russell Sanders’ book The Force of Spirit. Maybe it fits here, maybe not. But they’re good words to end on.

“The search may begin with a restless feeling, as if one were being watched. One turns in all directions and sees nothing. Yet one senses there is a source for this deep restlessness, and the path that leads there is not a path to a strange place, but the path home.”

Greg’s article will appear in the Winter 2010 issue of Wabash Magazine, which mails in March.

 


Kicking the Leaves with Jud Scott ’80

Steve Charles—I spent a gorgeous autumn afternoon this week with Jud Scott ’80, one of only two registered consulting arborists in Indiana and founder and CEO of Vine and Branch, Inc. in Indianapolis.
I’ve wanted to interview Jud ever since a press release about one of several awards Vine and Branch has won alerted me to his vocation several years ago. But I wanted the story to be accompanied by photos taken in the fall, when the trees Jud takes care of in Indiana (several of the most historic trees in the state) are at their most beautiful, and it seems like every fall something would come up and we’d be into the winter before Jud and I could get together.
Not this year.
Jud was kind enough to take time on short notice to show me one of his favorite trees, the 150-year-old oak in front of the President Benjamin Harrison House in Indianapolis (in photo). Also drove up to Crown Hill Cemetery to see two species I’ve never seen before—an ironwood tree (the largest in the state) and a cucumber tree.
We also took a look at the city from the hill that gives the cemetery its name, and Jud noted that “Indianapolis really is a green city; that’s something people often miss. But you can look 360 degrees here and see trees spreading out in every direction.”
As I’m writing this, I realize I missed that photo. But it’s a gorgeous view I recommend it if you haven’t taken it in. And Jud’s right—an impressive amount of green space in that city. Changes the way I think of Indy, and I lived there for 15 years.
Jud’s path from Wabash history major to professional arborist is a true Wabash story, and we’ll have it for you this spring. For now, here are some photos from that afternoon.
Will also throw in a few from Wabash on a late Friday afternoon, about dinnertime, wind tossing rain-soaked leaves onto the ground.
Remember these kinds of days?

No Small Thing

Steve Charles—For the past four years of W.A.B.A.S.H. Days, I’ve scoured the list of projects and tried to find a “big one” to photograph and chronicle: The Evansville guys building a playground set at a family crisis shelter under the leadership of Thom Liffick ’73;  Herm Haffner ’77 and two shifts of Wabash students working on a house for Habitat for Humanity just up the road in Linden. Indianapolis alumni handing out food for Gleaner for those in need and cleaning up vehicles for the Second Helpings kitchen; Tim Craft ’00 and more than a dozen alums organizing, running, and referring the flag football weekend at Damar Services, restarting a tradition for Special Olympians across the state; Charlie Lopez ’05 in Greenfield starting a new project with the Hancock Hope House Homeless Shelter.
I love this day for many reasons. I get to see Wabash alumni in a new light. One of my favorite photos of the late Dr. Tom Topper I took while he was standing not in an operating room, but on top of the gym set he’d just helped complete. There’s that photo of Herm Haffner covered with sweat and grime, yanking roofing nails from the house he’s rehabbing, another of John Bridge ’72 handing out food to the homeless at St. Richard’s school

And it’s encouraging, in the middle of a busy semester, to see how much good can be done by a few caring people in just a few hours.

This year with a magazine deadline and Wabash Day activities converging, I had only a few hours to get away on Saturday and Sunday, so I thought I’d try a different angle—to see a couple of the “smaller” projects, and those led by younger alumni.

(See a photo album here.)

And I learned that there are no small projects when Little Giants are involved, even when just two or three come together.

First stop was Lafayette, where I met Matt McFarland, Lou Fenoglio ’81, and Michael Pugh ’00 as they collected food at the eastside Payless grocery store. The job: Hand out a flyer to customers as they enter the store, tell them about the Food Finders foodbank, and invite them to drop off an item of two in the Wabash Day/Food Finders cart. Simple enough, except that not every customer likes being jumped the minute they enter the store. Most are polite, some even enthusiastic. But others think you’ve got a coupon, and those folks can get cranky when they find out you’re asking for something from them instead; others act like your asking for money or serving a summons and run from you like you’ve got the H1N1. 
McFarland, a friend of Lafayette Wabash Day organizer Joe Trebley ’01, learned to read customers’ body language well enough to at least get a flyer in almost everyone’s hands. It was fun to watch him work, even better when someone he’d approached returned a few minutes later with a can or box of food.
And Matt’s not even an alumnus! An Ohio Northern grad, he was joining us because of his friendship with Joe and, as he says, there aren’t a lot of Ohio Northern gatherings in Lafayette.

Next was the West Lafayette payless, where Joe and Mary Trebley placed their Wabash rug and banners in the middle Purdue’s Homecoming celebration with customers flowing into store so frequently that the couple could barely greet each one and hand out the flyers. They were positioned at the front of the store in such a way that few could get past them, though, and their warm welcome drew in those who might have otherwise turned the other way.

Mary is a pharmacist at the CVS across the street and seemed to know half the customers who walked in, often ending the conversations with a hug. In less than two hours they had collected almost three full carts of groceries for the food bank, and more were pouring in as I left.

“You’ll notice that a lot of parents will have their kids drop off the bags,” Mary told me, seconds before a little girl approached with her own gift of food items. Parents seemed to use the occasion to teach their children about giving, caring about others. And Mary’s warm “thank you” to each of the kids let them know they were really helping out. For those kids and their parents, it’s an interesting introduction to Wabash College!

Sunday I drove to Bloomington and the Middle Way House, whose mission is ‘to end violence, both structural and interpersonal, in the lives of women and children.” There I met Parker Collins ’05, who had driven from Indy to lead the project, along with his dad, Bloomington county attorney Dave Schilling ’82.

"Anyone else here?” I asked as I took my camera out of the case.
"If you join us, that makes three," Dave said, though soon Todd Rowland ’85 and his son,  Price, rode up on their tandem bike and lent a hand.

After I took my photos, I joined the crew, making this the first year I actually get to work on one of these things.

Middle House hasn’t asked for much—just some hedge trimming, weeding, and yard cleanup. Fairly mindless tasks that allow for some enjoyable conversation with Todd and Dave, and give me time to think about the place where we’re working.

Middle House offers help, housing, and hope to victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse. Lifesaving, heartbreaking, and heartening work is done in this old house off downtown Bloomington, and we’re just five guys cleaning up the yard. Maybe it sends some kind of message, five guys in Wabash sweatshirts crawling on our hands and knees, pulling up weeds around a house where women who have been raped and kids who have been beaten up, usually by men, come for shelter and healing, but doing yard work feels like a drop in the bucket. Maybe outside the bucket.

Yet three times women coming in or out of the house stop to thank me. The first time I respond “you’re welcome” but pass it off for polite small talk, the second time I take it a little deeper, regardless of how small I feel, and the third time I thank the women for their work, then realize I have no idea if I’m talking to administrators, counselors, or victims, if I’m thanking them for the work of running this place, comforting others, or healing.

It’s a small thing, I know, but listening to the Colts wrap-up show on the radio on the drive back to Bloomington Sunday afternoon, I’m grateful for the chance to finally do something on Wabash Day besides taking pictures. I’m grateful for Jon Pactor envisioning this day years ago, and for the now hundreds of Wabash men, families, and friends who participate. I look forward to getting back to the office and reading about all the good things that have been done on this day, “spreading the fame,” living the mission of this place.

And I’m glad my first one was a “small” project. I come from a "small&q
uot; school where each member of the community and each teachable moment matters; where we call ourselves Little Giants. Which may be a good way to describe each of these projects.

In photos: Joe and Mary Trebley and two of the shopping carts they filled with donations for Food Finders in West Lafayette; Matt McFarland, Mike Pugh, and Lou Fenoglio chat while manning the Food Finders station in Lafayette; Dave Schilling trims up Middle House; Todd Rowland and son, Price, join the cleanup in Bloomington.


The Difference Alumni Make: A Student’s Short List

Steve Charles—Senior Will Hoffman’s speech at Saturday’s Celebrating Leadership Luncheon got straight to the point about how essential giving by alumni, parents, friends, faculty, and staff is to every student who attends Wabash. 
Of course, as Will points out in his talk, he is a triplet—so getting right to the crux of the matter is perhaps a practical necessity.
In fact, Will arrived at the Celebrating Leadership Luncheon fresh off the successful completion of the first Wabash-St. Mary’s Homecoming Community Service Day, which Will co-organized with his sister, Jenny, a student at St. Mary’s.
I thought you might like to read Will’s short talk, and what he found out when he emailed his fellow members of Beta Theta Pi and the Sphinx Club, as well as teammates on the rugby team, and asked how their lives at the College had been "impacted by support from alumni and friends."
You can see a photo album from the luncheon here. (Some good baby shots there, too—don’t miss Joe Klen with his son, Connor, or the newest member of the Castanias family, Ella-Anne.)
And here are Will’s remarks:
"When the members of the Advancement staff asked me to do this talk, I emailed members of Beta Theta Pi, The Sphinx Club, and the rugby team asking how support from alumni and friends has impacted them in their time at Wabash. 
"Of the 120 classmates involved in these groups, I received 65 e-mail responses telling me how alumni and friend support has affected them in their time here at Wabash.  Here are just a few stories:
"Students for Sustainability President Will Logan traveled to Costa Rica for a zoology and conservation study last summer;
"Senior baseball captain Nate Schrader had an internship in Indianapolis along with 30 other students who participated in the Small Business Internship fund this past summer;
"Samar Kawak will be the first Wabash student to study in Dubai this coming spring;
"20 students travel each fall break to New York for a Corporate site and networking trip to meet and shadow alumni;
"Junior Jake Ezell, member of Lambda Chi is currently traveling in Europe studying on a scholarship that allows him to go as many places and see as much art as he can:
"A networking externship and employer visit site for students to Washington D.C. each spring break;
"197 suits, shirts, ties, dress pants, and shoes that have been donated that are available for students for the SuitYourself program in Career Services;
"Senior Sphinx Club member John Dewart has studied in the Amazon Rain Forest, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, and most recently Western Europe;
"380 alumni that have joined the online Alumni/Student Networking System with new alumni participants joining each week."
"These names and stories are just a small sampling of how your gifts impact Wabash men every day.  Thank you for participating in the Annual Fund and giving gifts to the college to help make all of these opportunities and many more possible for the students of this college. 
"My story is not much different than the rest of the students I have already mentioned:
"Growing up as a triplet, money has always been tight in my family. With three of us in a private school all the way through high school, college really didn’t help the budget at all. My sister attends Saint Mary’s College in South Bend and my brother decided to attend Miami of Ohio.  Without the help of Alumni and friends of the college, it would be near impossible for me to attend Wabash. 
"People often focus on the monetary aspect of support to the college.  After freshman year, I really began to see support from alumni in different ways; most importantly, through their time. From coming back to mentor young students and giving talks on different topics, to volunteering their time to drive to campus and participate in events in Career Services, to even just coming back for Big Bash each summer to support the college, alumni are always active in what is going on at this special place.
"Most recently, I have seen this strong support with my internship this past summer. I interned for John Reuter, Class of 1980 at Raymond James and Associates in Indianapolis. What amazed me most was not the generosity and willingness to help out a fellow Wabash man from Mr. Reuter, but it was how many Wabash connections he still stayed in touch with and used on a daily basis. 
"Yes, this school may be small, but I believe the support of our alumni and friends is stronger than any other college.
"These examples and stories represent only a handful of students who have had their Wabash career impacted by gifts to the college. There are hundreds of other students at this school who benefit daily from this support and take advantage of the great alumni network that Wabash has.
"I hope these stories illustrate why your investment in the students of Wabash College is worth it."


Lawyers and Students Discuss the Future of the Law

 

Steve Charles—I was talking with a campus visitor Saturday morning and mentioned that I was on my way to photograph the 2009 Wabash College Lawyer’s Reunion, and that the turnout had been even better than we’d expected.
“How do you get so many lawyers to come back to college?” the visitor asked. It sounded like a set-up for a joke, but I resisted the temptation find the gag line (and attorney David Kendall ’66 had used up all the lawyer jokes during his keynote address at the previous night’s dinner).

Instead, I mentioned the hard work and years it had taken for those organizing it to put this together; I told him about the ICLEF sessions, and the panel the day before featuring Kendall, Greg Castanias ’87, Seamus Boyce, and Indiana Solicitor General Tom Fisher ’91, all who had argued or contributed to arguments before the Supreme Court.

The visitor was surprised that such folks came from this “small” campus, and was impressed when I told him I was on my way to photograph a similarly accomplished group about to spend almost two hours with our students. 
 
See a photo album from the session here.
He would have been even more impressed had he attended that session. The enthusiasm for the work, for encouraging the next generation of their profession, was like few exchanges I’ve seen between alumni and students here. And I’ve seen some excellent ones.

In fact, such excellence is the norm.

What set this one apart for me though—beside the fact that the questions and informal conversation kept going long after the event was over, and beside Professor Scott Himsel’s thoughtful and well-paced moderating of the panel—was the passion. To a man, these guys love their work (though not always the job, one alum admitted.) And you could see that as they reached out to this next generation.
I’ll put this all together in a more organized, reader-friendly form for the "Back on Campus" section in the next Wabash Magazine. For now, let me share a few of the quotes I scribbled down as these attorneys—and students were talking:
 
Bob Wright ’87 of Dean-Webster, Wright, & Kite LLP in Indianapolis, shared a hilarious “Perry Mason “ moment, then offered this advice to students fresh out of law school and looking for their first job: "It’s like meeting a bear in the woods—you don’t have to beat the bear, just the guy next to you.

"If you graduate from law school and pass the bar, you’re a lawyer. And people need lawyers. You can help a lot of people early on; the money will eventually come in if you do the work."

Northern Kentucky University Chase College of Law Professor Roger Billings ’59 offered this on the same topic to the "90% of law students who aren’t in the top 10% of their classes": "Sometimes you have to find a way in the back door. What do you do? Look at niches. Add a CPA to your law degree, or internationalize—learn a second language, particularly chinese or spanish.

 
"Find a niche and make yourself an expert in one of those."
 
Scott Himsel ’85, who teaches constitutional law at the College and is a partner at Baker & Daniels in Indianapolis, added, "the fun is learning the odd niche. These specialities are so much fun.
 
"The law is about teaching and learning—being the best student you can be, then figuring out how to teach it—to your client, to the court, and to the jury."
 
Nelson Alexander of Frost Brown Todd LLC warned that "a lack of mentoring is undermining the education of young laywers—and that’s got to change.”
 
Rick Cavanaugh ’76 described his work as associate counsel for Duke Energy, most recently the rapid-development of wind energy farms. 
 
And Steve Bowen ’68, partner at Latham & Watkins in Chicago and chairman of the College’s Board of Trustees, added this advice to current students:
 
"If you do nothing else, learn to write. The inability to do so is the most frequent shortcoming I see in young lawyers. Enjoy your liberal arts education to the fullest. You’ll find that the law is just another liberal art. But learn to write.
 
"Pick the best law school you can get into, but also realize that in 20 years, all that doesn’t matter. A lot of legal education is self-education, you have to do the work—great lawyers come from everywhere.
 
"Clients hire individuals, not firms; but the practice of law is teamwork. Our firm wouldn’t be worth a damn without the team.
 
"You need to learn a lot of things about the law to do the one thing you’re going to specialize in. You get really good at something, then 20 years down the road your client will ask your opinion about something outside that speciality .’I don’t specialize in that’ is not the right answer in that situation! Over time, you develop a relationship, become more involved in your client’s problems and legal needs, and they’ll come to you with those. That’s when you know you’re practicing law.”
 
Most of the students stayed long after the “formal” discussion was over, their chance to ask their own personal questions. One student I talked with said his conversation with Roger Billings had both clarified the direction he wished to pursue and reaffirmed his desire to practice the law. Others were still in conversation as I left for Homecoming Chapel.
 
I’ve known several of these alumni for a while, but I’ve never had the opportunity to watch them practice their trade, much less reach out to and teach our students. If practicing law is, as Scott Himsel says, "about teaching and learning," these guys are among the best.
 
 

 


Keon Gilbert ’01: Finding His Calling in Public Health

Steve Charles—Keon Gilbert ’01 was three weeks into classes for his doctorate in public health at the University of Pittsburgh in 2004 when he experienced… well, it’s better the way he tells it:

“I had this ‘aha’ moment. I realized, this is exactly what I want to do—what we’re talking about in class, what people in public health do. This is exactly IT!”

Five years later, Keon returned to the Wabash campus last Friday to deliver the biology department’s first Cole Lecture Series of the year, "The Souls of Black Men: A Multi-Method Approach to Understanding Social Capital and the Health of Black Men."

Dr. Gilbert told faculty and students about Brother’s Keeper, his post-doctoral research and one of several community-based research projects he is involved with. Funded by the National Centers for Minority Health Disparities and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the project is working with four black churches to explore whether sermon, scripture, prayer, and song in those churches affects the outcomes of cardiovascular disease in African American men, a population which has the highest mortality rate from cardiovascular disease in the nation. 

The study is also creating a lay-health advisor intervention to build a social support network of men to encourage African American men to seek help in managing and controlling heart disease.

The community-based research model is a perfect fit for Keon. Unlike randomized sampling or other “drive-by research,” community-based research sees the people being studied and their communities as partners in the work and seeks to improve their quality of life—it’s an approach that embraces research, education, and action.

Listening to him speak, I marveled at how Keon’s many interests when he was a student at Wabash have converged in his vocation. So at an afternoon reception in his honor in Hays Science Hall, I asked him to reflect on what he calls “a very non-traditional path” to his calling.

Like many Wabash biology majors, Keon had planned to become a medical doctor. It was the dream of his childhood, and in his junior year of high school, he’d even assisted in supervised medical research, of sorts, studying disparities in the treatment of African American amputees when compared to white patients. When he looks back on it now, he realizes the seed of his public health work were planted even then.

In his junior year at Wabash, Keon faced a decision that would prove crucial to his calling—whether to study abroad in Australia for the semester, or stay on campus to prepare for MCATs and focus on his GPA for medical school. He credits Professor David Polley for the advice that not only enriched his college education, but led him eventually to public health.

“Dr. Polley said that he thought if I didn’t go, I might regret it the rest of my life,” Keon told me.
We had talked with Keon later that year for an article in Wabash Magazine. Here’s what he had to say about the experience in 2001:

“I spent last year in Australia, where the indigenous population was only given citizenship in 1967; they are still, in many ways, second-class citizens, as African Americans were in the 1960s in America. That gave me new appreciation for why it’s so important for me to be politically and socially active—to understand ourselves and project that to others, so that they will understand and respect who we are. You can’t take that for granted.”

That same year, Keon had another one of those “aha” moments as he finished his Wabash degree.
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“I began to struggle with the question of whether medicine was the right path for me. But I didn’t know what else to do. Ever since I was five years old, I’d wanted to be a doctor. I’d structured my life around that.

“But with my experience in Australia, and being involved in some controversies here at Wabash, I realized that I was interested in systems, in bureaucracies, and how they can be changed. I still felt it was important to treat people for disease, but I began to understand that I was most interested in knowing how and why people got sick, particularly how and why certain diseases—like heart attack and stroke—the faces of those diseases are the faces of black people.”

Later that year, Keon made a rare decision for a biology major—to pursue a joint master’s degree in African American studies and public affairs.
 
“I came from a background in biology, and the other candidates were likely all from the arts or cultural studies,” Keon said. He recalled the ways his professors and advisors, including professors Warren Rosenberg and Peter Frederick, as well as Visiting Professor of History Lori Pierce, encouraged him.

“They said that I had a certain set of skills I’d gained as a bio major—being  able think critically and analytically, to write that way as well—and that I needed to play up those strengths.”

Keon was not only accepted at both Indiana University and Columbia; he became the first to graduate from IU with such a degree.

But once he got it, he wasn’t sure what to do with it. His options seemed few, and the most obvious—pursuing a PhD in African American studies—didn’t satisfy his desire to make changes in the system or intervene to improve people’s health.

A chance encounter with a recent arrival at IU clarified his path.

 
“I was in my last year of my master’s program, sitting at a brunch sponsored by one of the chancellors, and a new faculty member, an African American woman in the public health field, came to sit at the table. She asked me what I was interested in, and I told her I was interested in rural African American health issues. She was amazed to find an African American man interested in health issues, and when she found out I was uncertain about what I was going to next, she urged me to consider public health. Listening to my interests, she asked me, almost in disbelief, why I hadn’t considered public health in the first place.”

After reading about the program at the University of Pittsburgh, Keon asked himself the same question. That eureka moment and the realization that “this is it” followed soon after he joined the program. Now, having completed his DrPH at Pittsburgh, Keon also has earned a two-year Kellogg Health Fellowship, which seeks to develop leaders in “the effort to reduce and eliminate health disparities and to secure equal access to the conditions and services essential for achieving healthy communities.”

On Friday, Keon smiled as he told one student, “For the first time in my life, I’m actually finished with school.” Now he’ll be teaching others, continuing to learn about the causes of disease and of disparities within the health care system, and seeking ways to change and improve that system and the quality of people’s lives. 

“More and more I see how my experiences at Wabash, in and out of the classroom, and my experiences at IU and at the University of Pittsburgh are finally coming together,” Keon said. “This is it. This is my moment.”