Butler Magazine

Fall 2019

DeJuan Winters

Worth the Wait

Monica Holb ’09

from Fall 2019

For DeJuan Winters, taking a two-year break between high school and college was not a dream deferred. Instead, it was a part of his dream realized. Since the death of his mother when he was just four years old, Winters has been wholeheartedly focused on two things: getting a good education and helping his family. Today, as he enters his sophomore year at Butler, he can say that he’s accomplished both.

In 2016, Winters applied to Butler University—the top and only college choice for the Indianapolis native. To his delight, he was accepted and even offered multiple scholarships. But his plan was to work, get a taste of the real world, and support his family. Instead of joining the class of 2021, Winters joined the dairy department at a local grocery store. “It was a lot of hard work,” he says of that time period.

Over time, the Butler bug returned, and Winters got the urge to refocus on his education. “I was fortunate to have the job that I did, but you need to move on and do more with your life if you’ve got the potential,” Winters says. “I was ready to take the next step.”

In 2018, Winters applied to Butler University again, and again, he was accepted—but this time with the offer of the Butler Tuition Guarantee scholarship, an award that guarantees gift assistance of full tuition each academic year when combined with all federal, state, and University scholarships and grants. Winters was recognized for this scholarship because of his need, his academic ability, and ultimately, because of his selfless dedication to his family.

The two years he spent working at the grocery may have seemed like a diversion, but they ended up being a critical piece of Winters’ path to success. Today, he is in his second year on campus, double-majoring in math and physics. On receiving the Tuition Guarantee scholarship, Winters says “I am appreciative of alumni and donors who want to pay it forward to us, and then we can carry that on to future generations.”

While Winters credits his scholarship for allowing him to attend Butler, he credits his mother for his ultimate success. “I felt like I could make her proud by coming to Butler. She knew that I would be able to bring something to the family. She called me her ‘little man,’ and now it is time to be my own man to set my goals and reach those goals.”

At the heart of Butler Beyond is a desire to increase student access and success, putting a Butler education within reach of all who desire to pursue it. With a focus on enhancing the overall student experience that is foundational to a Butler education, gifts to this pillar will grow student scholarships, elevate student support services, expand experiential learning opportunities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at

DeJuan Winters
Butler Beyond

Worth the Wait

For DeJuan Winters, taking a two-year break between high school and college was was a part of his dream realized.

by Monica Holb ’09

from Fall 2019

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Butler Blue III

Trip Tales

Butler Blue III


from Fall 2019

There’s lots of focus on scholarship in this issue of Butler Magazine, and rightfully so. The importance of providing aspiring students with ample scholarship opportunities cannot be overstated. After all, affording others the opportunity to enjoy the Butler experience speaks directly to the altruistic culture that is The Butler Way.

So why am I so passionate about scholarships? Well, because I’m essentially on scholarship myself, thanks to the private gifts and support that make my existence as mascot a reality.

And like my fellow students who receive such backing, I’ve been able to leverage the opportunity to go on and do some really big things. Did you know that the Butler Blue Live Mascot Program has become a national benchmark for innovation and activation by other collegiate live mascots?

It’s true, and none of that would be possible without strong support. So, thank you for supporting me and our great students. You’re providing more than just scholarships, you’re making an investment in our students’ futures.


Butler Blue III

Trip Tales


by Butler Blue III

from Fall 2019

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Playing for the Community

Dana Lee ’19

from Fall 2019

The guitars are propped fretboard down, resting on the lap of each student. In a Lilly Hall classroom, about 20 kids ages 7–11 sit in chairs arranged in a circle, their feet barely touching the ground. One boy swings his legs to keep time as students around him slap the wooden backs of their guitars, the resulting sound imitating the drum beat in Wipeout.

It’s one of their favorite songs—an upbeat, rolling, can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head, surftown anthem from the ’60s. It’s also one of the songs the Butler Community Arts School (BCAS) summer guitar camp will play in a mini recital. At the beginning of the week, many of them had little to no experience playing guitar.

“Remember concert etiquette,” says Brett Terrell, a Butler adjunct who serves as the guitar camp’s artistic director. Along with Terrell, four Butler students provide instruction.

“Take a bow,” Terrell says. He holds his guitar in an outstretched arm and the room follows his lead, folding at the waist. “One… two… three… and we’re up.”

An initiative of the Jordan College of the Arts, BCAS was founded to provide accessible arts instruction in the form of private lessons, group classes, and summer camps. Many are taught by Butler students serving as teaching fellows. Offered throughout the year, programs range from Intro to Stage Makeup to an adult Big-Band workshop.

“A community school by definition is to serve the general community population and to provide offerings that are accessible to everybody,” says Karen Thickstun, MM ’91, Director of BCAS. “That fits with Butler’s mission, too—to make the arts accessible and to provide community experience for students so they gain a more diverse teaching perspective.”

BCAS partners with about a dozen community sites that include Indianapolis Public Schools, charter schools, and United Way agencies like the Martin Luther King Center to provide classes off-campus. Altogether, programs reach as many as 2,000 participants yearly. More than half of the participants pay a reduced scholarship rate. Beyond the financial aspect, the school’s mission to make the arts accessible extends to providing piano lessons for children with autism.

Inside Lilly Hall, guitar camp has been dismissed and the room is nearly empty. Near the front, teaching fellow Austin Sandoval ’19 pulls up a chair to face 9-year-old Alyssa Weems.

It was Sandoval who first approached Thickstun two years ago and asked why BCAS didn’t offer summer guitar camp for beginners. Her response: “Well, why don’t we create one?” After graduating this past May, Sandoval stayed at Butler and is pursuing a master’s degree in guitar.

“Being able to teach as an undergraduate student has prepared me so well for what the real world is going to be,” Sandoval says.

Sandoval gestures at one of Weems’s wayward fingers.

“Take this one off,” Sandoval says, and Weems adjusts accordingly. “Now, press down a little harder.”

He plays the first line of Wipeout and Weems mirrors the movements of his fingers on her own guitar. Her mom, Alicia, watches nearby. Alyssa and her brother have taken piano lessons through BCAS at the International School of Indiana for the past two years, and when Alyssa’s older brother started to learn guitar, she wanted to play too.

“I was amazed,” Alicia says. “After the first day she came home and played Jingle Bells.”

Sandoval and Weems play through the melody of Wipeout once more. By the second time around, Weems hardly needs to look at Sandoval for cues. She finishes the rest of the song on her own.

Experiential Learning

Playing for the Community

Since 2002, Butler Community Arts School has given nearly a half million lessons to more than 11,000 students.

by Dana Lee ’19

from Fall 2019

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Using Science to Save the Arts

Rachel Stern

from Fall 2019

Michael Samide doesn’t have a background in art. Well, if you want to get technical—and the Butler University Professor of Chemistry likes to get technical—there was that one art history class. A British guy taught the class. It was after lunch, the room was dark, a slide projector was involved, and a fan would go on. Then, like clockwork, Samide would take a nap.

He ended up working in chemistry, which he figured meant he could steer clear of those sleepy afternoons. But after about 12 years of conducting one type of research at Butler, a visit from the new Senior Conservation Scientist at the Conservation Science Lab of the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields piqued Samide’s interest. Greg Smith had come to talk to Butler Chemistry faculty and students and explained that Newfields’ lab combines art history, science, analytical techniques, and research.

Samide was intrigued.

“I realized how lucky we were at Butler to have this lab 400 yards away,” Samide says. “My mind was blown after the presentation. I realized this unique, exciting realm takes all the techniques I have learned and applies them to solve real-world problems. It was time to learn something new.”

What has followed has been a seven-year partnership between the Conservation Science Lab at the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields and Butler’s Chemistry Department. From student internships, to research collaborations, to published papers, to lectures across the globe, the partnership has flourished since Smith walked into the chemistry classroom back in 2012.

The museum’s Conservation Science Lab started in 2012 and uses scientific tools to study the materials of art. The lab works in tandem with the conservation staff to make sure the materials and methods that are being used are effective as well as safe for the artwork. The team also collaborates with the curatorial department to analyze the different materials comprising a work of art.

“Locked up in the chemistry of objects are often the answers to who made this, how old is it, has it changed appearance, is it even real or is it fake,” Smith says.

Partially funded by a $2.6 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, the facility operates out of a spacious, 3,000-square-foot analytical and research lab on the first floor of Newfields. As one of only about 10 museum conservation labs like this in the country, the work performed at Newfields can have a significant impact beyond the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Smith, the museum’s sole full-time lab employee, relies on interns and partnerships to assist in his efforts.

The Butler team was a natural fit, he says. They immediately added their chemistry expertise, working on research projects with faculty and students on varied topics such as pollutants, curricular development, and dye synthesis.

Samide and Smith have focused a great deal of their research on how materials used in museums impact art. There is a plastic that museums use for gallery casings that, after a great deal of research, they found was tarnishing silver. To date, they have published two papers, and are working on a third on the potentially harmful effects.

The partnership provides numerous benefits to the museum, but it also provides important experiential learning opportunities for Butler students. Heidi Kastenholz ’19 started at Butler as a Chemistry major certain she wanted to be an optometrist. She heard about the Chemistry of Art course that had a short study abroad component, so she signed up.

The course focused on how pigments are made chemically. When she returned from traveling, Kastenholz did a Butler Summer Institute research project on one specific pigment. After she graduated, she was offered an internship with the Library of Congress in their conservation science department, and her goal now is to become a conservation scientist in a museum lab.

“I learned how applicable science was,” she says. “I never thought about science and art as things that were related.”

That is exactly what drew Samide to this area of chemistry, despite his shaky memories of art history class. His research used to have very little application. Now, it has a real impact on what is placed into gallery spaces, what materials should be used inside a museum, and how museums think about preserving historic pieces of art.

“You would be surprised how every area of chemistry has something to do with art,” Samide says. “The best artists are using science and the best scientists are very artistic people. It is about the coming together of the two disciplines, rather than telling people they are two separate things.”


Using Science to Save the Arts

The Chemistry Department and the Indianapolis Museum of Art have forged an exciting partnership. 

by Rachel Stern

from Fall 2019

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Ashleigh Doub

Of Funds and Food

Megan Ward, MS ’12

from Fall 2019

No one wants to need it, but when crisis strikes, you’re grateful it’s there. Butler’s Emergency Assistance Fund has helped students through hardships so they can continue to be successful both at Butler and in life. Established about a year ago, the fund has had 39 applications with 16 of those being approved.

Butler senior Ashleigh Doub shares she was one of those students when she and her husband found themselves out of work. “The emergency fund acted as a stop-gap for my bills. I was able to study during that time because much of the external stress was manageable.”

No stranger to food insecurity, Doub shares, “I was fighting food insecurity and working on improving food access in Indianapolis long before I needed the Emergency Assistance Fund.”

Now Doub is continuing that work on campus by collaborating with others to bring a food pantry to Butler. Of her many on- and off-campus cheerleaders, Doub credits Butler’s Dr. Margaret Brabant and the Center for Community and Citizenship for the initial push and support to move forward with the project.

With any project comes hurdles. For the food pantry, Doub believes it is location and donations. Ultimately, she says, “Wherever it ends up, I hope it is centrally located and easily accessible. This will help encourage students to use it when they need it.”

And that’s the goal of the Emergency Assistance Fund—for students to use it when they need it. Even if applicants aren’t approved for the fund, their circumstances may make them eligible for Federal gift assistance. Wrap-around support for applicants also is provided by the University to help address immediate and long-term needs of the students.

The Emergency Assistance Fund—just like the upcoming food pantry—is a valuable resource for Butler students.

As Doub states, “Using the pantry should be no different than visiting the Writer’s Studio when you need help writing a paper. We are better students when we aren’t hungry. This resource should be used by anyone who needs it, and it should be viewed just like every other resource we have on campus.”

Ashleigh Doub

Of Funds and Food

Butler’s Emergency Assistance Fund helps students through hardships so they can continue to be successful.

by Megan Ward, MS ’12

from Fall 2019

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U.S. News & World Report ranks Butler University’s current master’s degree program for physician assistants (MPAS) as 37th in the nation, up 60 spots in just six years. Now, starting in January 2020, the University will add to this success and expand its PA offerings with the launch of an online post-professional PA doctorate program—one of only five in the nation. Butler’s new Doctor of Medical Science (DMS) program is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

DMS Director Dr. Jennifer Snyder ’97 knows better than most how much PAs need this opportunity, especially via the convenience of online access.

Snyder graduated from Butler’s PA program and has worked in both family and emergency medicine. She said PAs have the full confidence of the patients they treat—but not necessarily of the practice managers and hiring professionals responsible for filling higher positions.

“When we investigated offering this degree, we discovered through focus groups that PAs are missing out on promotions and leadership positions because decision-makers assume that those holding doctorates are more qualified,” Snyder says.

Butler’s DMS program will give PAs the doctoral degree they need, along with business acumen to advance into leadership positions within their institutions or clinics. Additionally, it will give PAs an opportunity to critically evaluate medical literature and extend their medical knowledge to better serve their patients.

The module-based curriculum allows students to enter into the program at any one of six starting points in the academic calendar. And the online structure of the program, with no required campus residency, means that students can take classes in a way that best suits their schedule.


Same Butler rigor, easier access

Butler’s DMS program is a natural evolution of its MPAS degree, developed with the same rigor and quality. Both Snyder and Erin Vincent, Director of Academic Program Development, say living up to Butler’s reputation of educational excellence is paramount.

Vincent points to the structure and success of Butler’s latest online degree program, Master of Science in Risk and Insurance (, launched last year.

“Butler faculty is and has been brainstorming ways to creatively address the future of higher education across campus,” Vincent says. “We’re hoping to launch several more graduate programs very soon. The MSRI and the DMS are the start of a great, strong portfolio of advanced degrees at Butler University.”

Individuals are eligible to apply for the DMS program if they have earned an entry-level PA degree from an accredited program and have either a license to practice medicine or hold a national certification from the NCCPA.


Make That ‘Dr.’ Physician Assistant, Please

U.S. News & World Report ranks MPAS program as 37th in the nation, up 60 spots in just six years.

by Cindy Dashnaw

from Fall 2019

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Students in the new business building.

Designed for Collaboration

Katie Grieze

from Fall 2019

“I think if we ever do our students a disservice,” says Lacy School of Business (LSB) Dean Stephen Standifird, “it’s when we underestimate what they’re capable of.”

That value has built the foundation for LSB’s curriculum full of hands-on learning. The School’s focus on experiential opportunities sets it apart, and Standifird says faculty constantly adapt courses to add the complexity they know their students can handle.

But education also needs to shift with the realities of an ever-changing business world. In designing the building that gives a new home to the School this fall, LSB leaders wanted to create a space that inspired more meaningful connections with the people who can speak to those changes.

Standifird describes the building as “a living room for the business community.” LSB encourages Indianapolis professionals to visit and use the space, providing students more chances to immerse themselves in organic ways. Butler holds a unique spot in the city—right between Carmel and downtown Indianapolis—so Standifird says it’s a natural stop for business traffic.

“Collaborative collisions” between students, faculty, and professionals in the building’s creative spaces will enhance LSB’s already-robust program of learning outside the classroom. By graduation, Butler business students have completed two internships, received regular one-on-one career mentoring from people in the field, and had the chance to join several student-run firms that deal with real clients. And, perhaps the most unique distinction of LSB’s program, every student has launched and operated a real business.

During the Real Business Experience (RBE), a program most often taken during sophomore year, students work in teams to think up and prototype actual products or services. Throughout the semester, they learn about the different aspects of building a real business, from marketing, to accounting, to sales. Standifird says the program aims to help students understand the importance of each element, putting them in situations where they really feel the weight of running a business instead of just reading theories in a textbook.

“It’s not something that you can find at other universities,” says RBE Coordinator Jeff Durham, “especially with as many parts and pieces as we have.”

After students pay back loans from the University used to stock initial inventory, the course normally concludes with liquidating and closing the businesses. But Richie Berner, a 2019 Entrepreneurship & Innovation graduate, had a good feeling about his team’s Zotec-award winning project. He didn’t want it to end.

After Berner pitched his business idea during the first week of his RBE class, his team went on to sell more than 600 knit, branded scarves. Berner saw lasting potential in the product, so he bought out his partners’ shares and has continued to own and operate North Pole Scarves ever since. He says the experience gave him the confidence and know-how to try launching his own restaurant, which is already in the works just a few months after graduation.

Berner is still an outlier for continuing his RBE business after the class, but Standifird hopes the new building might help change that. The facility provides more workspace dedicated to RBE teams, housed at the northwest corner alongside a brand new showroom where students can display their products and services.

Two doors down, a recent partnership gives the Central Indiana Small Business Development Center a home at Butler. For students interested in taking their RBE business further, the resource they need could be just down the hall.

Students in the new business building.

Designed for Collaboration

The new Business Building encourages “collaborative collisions” between students, faculty, and professionals.

by Katie Grieze

from Fall 2019

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Students walking on campus

Butler Beyond2020

from Fall 2019

Last spring, Butler University President James Danko shared a personal story with a group of alumni and friends about a visit to Rochester, New York, he had made on a bitterly cold day in January 1993. He had just begun his very first higher education job, which entailed arranging 60 action learning projects per year for MBA students at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Two of the most successful companies in the world—Eastman Kodak and Xerox—were headquartered in Rochester (in 1993, Kodak was No. 19 on the Fortune 500 list, and Xerox No. 21). By the end of his visit, Danko had secured learning opportunities for students at both. While it was an exciting trip for that accomplishment, a much deeper impression was made on Danko by the preventable downfall of each company in the ensuing years.

Each company clung too tightly to tradition and ignored revolutionary inventions by their own people. Kodak failed to embrace the invention of the digital camera by one of its young engineers in 1975—insisting that print photos were the future. Thirty-seven years later, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.

Xerox, meanwhile, failed to embrace the potential of the personal computers developed by its own researchers in 1970. Nine years later, Steve Jobs struck a deal with Xerox to bring those innovators aboard his fledgling company—Apple. Today, Xerox is No. 318 on the Fortune 500 list, while Apple is No. 3.

These served as powerful cautionary tales for Danko as he advanced in his own academic leadership career. He believes that saying yes to smart new ideas and embracing innovation—even though it may present some risk—is fundamental to organizational success. Complacency is dangerous. And consistently defaulting to “what’s always worked before” is a recipe for disaster.

Continuing to study organizational leadership over the years, Danko has been equally inspired by stories of success. For instance, when National Geographic, long known for its iconic yellow-bound magazines featuring stunning color photographs, noticed a decline in subscriptions in the 1990s as cable television and the internet grew in popularity, the organization quickly reimagined itself for a new era. In 2001, it launched the National Geographic channel and found new online platforms for sharing the time-honored art of nature photography with a new generation.

Butler aims to forge a similar path—respecting the time-honored traditions and the particular strengths that have always defined a Butler education, while imagining new ways to deliver that education in a rapidly-changing landscape.

To help spur new ideas, Butler sought the guidance of experts, including Blair Sheppard, Dean Emeritus of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and current Global Strategy Lead with PwC, and Matthew Pellish, Managing Director of Strategic Research and Education for the Education Advisory Board.

Both were blunt about how college has grown too expensive, takes too long to finish, and hasn’t kept pace with cutting-edge workplace needs. These hard realities have forced several schools nationwide to close their doors.

“There will be winners and losers,” Pellish says. “No one is going to win by saying, ‘We’ve always done it this way so let’s continue.’”

Universities that survive will be inventive, flexible, responsive, and thoughtful, Pellish asserts, adding that Butler is all of those things. “Butler was founded on innovation,” he says. “Unleash these smart, dedicated, innovative people on these challenges, and they will find solutions.”

Butler is doing just that. The Butler Beyond strategic vision is comprised of multiple paths that, together, respect tradition yet embrace innovation. Butler aims to preserve and build upon the quality and strength of its long-time success in traditional, residential undergraduate programs, while innovating for the new realities of the world. At the core of each path is the question: What must Butler do to prepare the next generation of learners for what lies beyond today? The graphic below illustrates the paths of our strategic vision.

Pursuing these paths will not be easy, but Butler is up for the challenge. The University is engaging the brightest in the field, learning from others in the midst of transformation, and seeking those “radically different” ideas from its own creative faculty, staff, students, alumni, and partners—who will together move Butler beyond its current model.

We have no plans to abandon Butler’s character or the things we do best,” Danko says. “But future expectations of academic institutions will be very different. We have to incorporate new approaches to education that add value—not only for our students, but for our society.”

Students walking on campus
Butler Beyond

Butler Beyond2020

Butler will forge a new path—respecting traditions while innovating a new path.  

from Fall 2019

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Levi Smith looks through a microscope

Levi Smith was unstuck in time.

He’d been in the Yale University lab for who knows how long—sans sunlight, the 18-hour days were starting to bleed together. With some straining, he remembered: He was on his third day of four in this cycle.

A rustling startled him: It was the janitor, in for his 4:30 PM round. Another eight hours had elapsed.

It’s all going to be worth it soon, he thought.

He was exhausted—tired didn’t even begin to cover it. He was shellacked by numbers and formulas. His mind was a maze of molecules, the lab in front of him and the one in his mind swimming in a brain-fog limbo.

“He described to me that when he’s doing an experiment, he imagines in his mind how the molecules interact within the space of the tube or inside the cell,” Alex Erkine, a professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Butler University whose lab Smith worked in while investigating anti-cancer therapy, says. “As if his mind is a hugely magnifying microscope.”

That vision, Erkine, says, is the gold standard in molecular biology. It’s like perfect pitch in music.

“This quality to see the world of molecules and participate in it experimentally is the superb golden quality of a talented molecular biologist,” Erkine says.

Smith was immersed in a world of unbroken concentration, his body screaming for sleep, his brain eager to forge on.

And he couldn’t wait to do it again the next day. And the next.

This was the type of work, he realized, he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing.


The ‘Miracle of Tylenol’

Smith graduated from Yale in March with a doctorate in cell biology, one six years in the making. And he spent six years at Butler University before that, earning a master’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences and a doctorate of pharmacy, the first student in a dual-degree pilot program.

Now he’s a senior research scientist at Halda Therapeutics, a start-up biotech company based in New Haven, Connecticut.

But first, he had to get there.

Smith didn’t grow up in Silicon Valley, or on one of the coasts. He’s from Camden, Indiana, a town just under 90 minutes north of Indianapolis that has fewer residents than many high-school graduating classes (just over 600, according to the 2010 census).

Camden was a place where a “nerdy” kid who was dumbstruck by “the wonder of Tylenol” in middle school could stand out.

“I remember thinking how extraordinary it is that my back could hurt, and I could take Tylenol to fix it,” Smith says. “Or if my hand hurt, I could take Tylenol to feel better. It was that naiveté of ‘Wow, how does it know what to fix?’”

But there was one big obstacle to his scientific ambitions: Neither of his parents had graduated from college. His dad had been out of his life since he was 10, and his mother was taking classes online at Indiana State University while raising him and his year-younger brother solo.

Smith was never ashamed of his family’s financial situation, but he was aware they weren’t exactly well off. 

“I remember bringing groceries home from Dollar General once,” he says. “My mom sat down at the table with her checkbook, and we had to take some back because the check would’ve balanced if we’d have kept all of them.”

That moment that would later inspire him as a low he never wanted to return to.

“I didn’t want my mom to ever be in that situation again,” he says. “She was doing the most she could, not having a college degree.”

His mom worked as a teacher’s aide at his Camden elementary school, picking up cleaning jobs on the side. Smith delivered copies of the Logansport Pharos-Tribune newspaper on his bike for extra cash.

“Everyone in Camden knew me,” he says.

But it wasn’t enough to be known. He wanted to be liked.

Shannon Sterrett, a Camden classmate of Smith’s who’s known him since he was 2, says Smith always had a snarky comment at the ready.

“Which often times made his fellow students laugh, but his teacher, not always so much,” she says. “I can remember a time or two in middle school when he got sent out into the hall.”

Smith wasn’t, in other words, your stereotypical brownnoser. But neither was he popular with his classmates.

So he turned to drugs—the study of them, that is.

“I never got into [using] drugs because I feared losing my 21st Century scholarship,” he says. “That scared the hell out of me.”

But as for the chemistry and biology behind them? Now that he could digest.

He wanted to know how to make new medicine. And how to treat diseases. And just how, exactly, did Tylenol know what part of his body hurt, again?

And then he went all in.


Landing at Butler

Though neither of Smith’s parents graduated from college, it was always the assumed next step for him and his younger brother, he says. 

Smith’s mom was taking online classes through Indiana State when he was in middle and high school. She’d do homework in the bleachers at his soccer matches and track meets. 

“She was a single mom going to school online while raising two teenage boys,” Smith says. “How do you even do that?”

When she earned her bachelor’s degree in Human Resources from Indiana State in 2006, she was the first in Smith’s family to do so.

Now, it was Smith’s turn.

To understand how improbable Smith’s ascent from Camden to Butler to Yale is, you need to understand his mentality toward standardized testing. Yes, he took a few AP classes, but he didn’t realize studying for a test was something people did.

“In my naiveté, I thought you just showed up and demonstrated your intelligence,” he says. “It was only later that I realized, ‘Wait, people study for those?’”

When the navy-and-white envelope from Butler University arrived in his mailbox, it was good news.

He was headed to Indianapolis to study pre-pharmacy.


“Failure Was Not an Option”

This is the fanciest place I’ve ever been, Smith remembers thinking when he visited the Butler campus for the first time in 2007. The brick-and-glass buildings, the fieldhouse that could fit nearly 15 Camdens inside it, the meticulously manicured lawns…

He says Butler’s assistant director of financial aid, Jacque Mickel, was crucial to his success as a first-generation student—even when he felt like a fish out of water.

“My mom and I showed up to this nice-looking building for our first financial aid meeting, and I felt very out of place,” he says. “I was trying to walk so [Mickel] wouldn’t see the holes in the seat of my jeans when I left her office.”

What Mickel remembers about that meeting is that Smith took the lead.

“He is the one that led the discussion, not his mother,” she says. “The majority of the time students sit in financial aid meetings and don’t say a word…with Levi, this wasn’t the case. He took an active role in knowing about financial aid and the impact of loans, as he knew he was going to have to take them out.”

Smith says Mickel was the blessing he didn’t know he needed.

“I’d get emails from her like, ‘You’d be a perfect fit for this scholarship!’ or ‘Can you go to this breakfast on this day?’” he says.

At every opportunity, he took advantage. By the time he graduated from Butler in 2013 in the top 10% of his class, he’d received six scholarships, including the A.J.W. LeBien Scholarship from the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, the Thomas Stein Scholarship for fourth-year pharmacy students, and the Indiana 21st Century Scholars Scholarship.

And then came even better news.

“When we found out I got a stipend for grad school [at Butler], and I wasn’t going to have to take out any more loans, [Mickel] cried,” Smith says. “She really, really cared.”

Yet Mickel doesn’t get all the credit keeping Smith afloat financially. The frugal mindset from his Camden years never left him.

Before starting college, Smith remembers a heart-to-heart with his mom.

Some of the people you meet are going to be talking about vacations, or where they’re going on Christmas break, she told him. You know the fact we can’t do that doesn’t change—just know you’re going to have a different experience.

Yet Smith says he never remembers feeling “without.” He kept himself so busy he didn’t have time to spend money. And he had a pharmacist’s preference for generics over brand names.

“I was buying Great Value everything,” he says.

His lunch was a jar of Great Value peanut butter, spread on Great Value bread with Great Value chips.

But there was one exception to his Great Value mindset: Ritz crackers.

They were his holy grail. His grandma would bring the last few sleeves from a box every time she saw him. He was unwilling to splurge on a full box himself. 

“I was cognizant of my financial situation, and I wasn’t foolish enough to think it was any different than what it really was,” he says. “I’d cook food at home—it’s not hard to boil pasta. I had family in Crawfordsville about an hour away, and my grandma would bring me some food from her cupboard.”

HIs number one priority, bar none, was doing well in school. He knew he had one shot at college, and he wasn’t about to waste it.

His goal, he says, was to ensure future Levi would never be frustrated with past Levi.

“I worked very hard to never put myself in a position to disappoint myself,” he says. “There was no safety net if I didn’t do well.” 

And he was willing to work—whenever and wherever he could.

He was working in the lab at Butler. But he was also holding down a job as a weekend intern at a Wal-Mart pharmacy from 2009 to 2013 so he could pay his rent. He’d work Monday through Friday from 9 to 5 in the lab at Butler, then spend Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday working at the pharmacy.

“It was a way to get extra hours when I couldn’t get paid for all of my lab work,” he says.

When he started his clinical rotations working in a community pharmacy setting during his final year at Butler—only 10-hour days five days per week, he says—it actually felt like a break.

And he was curious about everything, so much so that he initially irritated a few of his professors, who mistook his intensity for arrogance.

“Just a bit too many questions,” is how Erkine, Smith’s research mentor at Butler, characterizes his first impression of Smith, who would later become his star student.

Medhane Cumbay, a former assistant professor of Pharmacology at Butler, met Smith in 2008, during the first semester of his freshman year. Cumbay helped develop a dual-degree program at Butler in 2011 that combines a doctorate in pharmacy with a master’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences, which Smith piloted.

The dual-degree program “was designed to attract students like Levi,” Cumbay says. Smith’s hybrid program combined the clinical knowledge of the PharmD program with the M.S. program’s training in science research skills.

Yes, it was a lot of additional work and late nights in the lab. But it was perfect for Smith.

Erkine, who worked with Smith to pilot the program, remembers Smith’s unparalleled work ethic. Smith injured his thumb while working in his home’s basement one day — and was exasperated, Erkine says, not because of the physical pain, but because he couldn’t hold a pipet.

“When he starts a lab procedure, he dives into it and can stay very late or come during the weekend to push it through,” Erkine says.

And when the opportunities he craved didn’t exist, Smith made his own.

“Levi doesn’t seem to see barriers,” Cumbay says.

And though he didn’t know it at the time, his extensive research experience coupled with his doctorate in pharmacy made him competitive for one of the top research programs in the country:



The Pipe Dream Becomes Reality

The results blinked back at him from atop the Google search: “Top 10 PhD programs in the U.S. for Cell Biology.”

Dream big or go home, Smith thought.

He applied to all of them.

Smith was in his last year of the dual-degree pharmacy program at Butler, ready to take the next step to doctoral research, one he says was necessary if he wanted to work in drug development. He knew Yale was a long shot because of his unconventional background — completing the dual degree program meant he had extensive research experience, but not the typical applicant’s bachelor’s degree in biology or prestige of having worked for a famous research university.

What, Yale committee members might wonder, did a pharmacist know about research?

Erkine believed in him—but Smith’s mentor also a realist.

“That’s a very good program,” he said when Smith told him he was applying to the doctoral program in Cell Biology at Yale.

A beat passed.

“No, I mean that’s a really good program,” Erkine said. “Maybe you should consider applying for a backup, just to be on the safe side.”

He needn’t have worried: Smith had that covered.

Each of the dozen-plus schools Smith applied to required three or four letters of recommendation. Cumbay and Erkine were up to the task.

Cumbay said his letter of recommendation for Smith for the Cell Biology program at Yale was “one of the most enjoyable” he’s ever written.

“It was a ringing endorsement,” he says.

Yale flew him out for an interview, one he worked extra hours in the Butler lab to make up for attending. He spent the intervening weeks trying to come to terms with what a rejection might mean. He read the rejection letter online. Once. Twice. Ten times.

He can still quote from it.

“You can tell I’ve read that a few times,” he says.

Rejection letters are infamously thin, compared to the thick packets Yale’s admitted students receive.

Finally, one afternoon, the mail arrived. Smith braced himself.

It was a thick packet.


Six Years, One Disease

It was the one puzzle he couldn’t solve.

“With most diseases, we have drugs that can correct something that’s going wrong,” Smith says. “We have disease-modifying drugs that, if your cholesterol is too high, will eat the rest of it. Or we can prescribe a statin, which inhibits the body’s production of cholesterol.”

But such a drug for Alzheimer’s sufferers has proved elusive.

“It’s the only one of the top 10 deadliest diseases [in America] that can’t be prevented or cured or even slowed,” Smith says.

He spent six years of his life trying.

He worked in Yale Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience Stephen Strittmatter’s lab as a doctoral candidate, parsing the mysteries of Alzheimer’s and drug discovery.

He developed a drug that would prevent two proteins from binding to one another to treat memory impairments in mice—the same mutations that cause Alzheimer’s disease in humans. He tested his drug on more than 100 mice using an experimental design known as the Morris water maze.

In the Morris water maze experiment, a mouse must swim through a pool of opaque water to a hidden escape platform. The platform is located in the same spot during each trial, but the mouse is released into the pool from different entry points, testing its ability to learn and recall spatial cues—that is, memory.

Smith performed the experiment both forward and in reverse, which means that after three days of the mouse learning the location of the hidden platform in one position, Smith moved the platform to the opposite side of the pool. So, now the mouse had to not only learn that the platform was no longer in the first location, it also had to learn and recall the new location.

“The first day was a 22-hour day of just doing the experiment nonstop,” Smith says. “Then the next was a 20-hour day, then day 3 was 18…I spent a total of 135 hours in the lab over eight days, doing the experiment both forward and in reverse. You’ve got to love it.”

Smith was encouraged by the result: His drug restored the memory of the mice with plaques in their brains.

“My drug goes in after neurological connections are lost and prevents a beta (what plaques are made from) from binding to neurons, so neurons can heal and make connections again, fixing memory” he says. “This test showed that my drug did that.”

Not only that, but the mice “completely recovered from their mental impairment and regained all their connections.”

If his drug could produce the same effect in humans, it would be a game changer.

Smith’s classmates would be impressed, but not necessarily surprised.

Santiago Salazar, a former classmate of Smith’s at Yale who is now a scientist at Alector, a San Francisco biotechnology firm, recalls a time he legitimately thought Smith was superhuman.

Salazar and Smith were racing the clock to beat a grant deadline. Their lab advisor asked Smith if he could perform the necessary experiment at the last minute—because Smith was the only one in the lab who knew how.

“Normally this experiment can take weeks, even months, to optimize, with hundreds of milligrams of material to burn through,” Salazar says. “Levi optimized and performed the experiment all in one week, with less than 5 mg of drug.”

But Smith’s success never went to his head, another friend, Nathan Williams, who attended graduate school with Smith at Yale, says.

“Levi stood out compared to the rest of our class because he didn’t come from money, or have Ph.D parents,” Williams says. “It’s extremely common for Yalies to look down on people who were not raised on the coasts. Levi was one of the few who didn’t implicitly or explicitly treat me differently because I was raised in Texas.”

Williams says that lack of pretension also spilled over into their conversations.

“Levi was the one person in our class with the courage to say what everyone was thinking,” Williams says, “which earned him respect from professors and me, and ire from some of our classmates.”


A Future in Biotech

Twelve years of higher education later, this spring, it was time to look for a job. Finally done with school at age 30, Smith found one right away.

He defended his doctoral thesis at Yale at the end of February—and started as a senior research scientist at the startup biotech company Halda Therapeutics in Connecticut at the end of March, less than five weeks later.

His Yale mentor founded the company, which Smith says is currently in the “very early stages,” but has grown from six to 14 employees over the past four months. Smith can’t disclose exactly what he’s working on at the moment (“We’re kind of in stealth mode,” he says), but rest assured he loves it.

“I always want to be involved in creating new medicines for diseases,” he says. “My thought is, ‘There’s no reason I don’t have a chance to be able to do something about this.’”

Smith will tell you he’s lucky. But the truth? He works hard. He goes long. He’d almost rather die than disappoint someone he cares about.

Sterrett, Smith’s former Camden classmate, remembers a day in their eighth grade Family and Consumer Sciences class when Smith told everyone he was going to get a doctoral degree and do pharmaceutical research.

“We all laughed at him when he told us it was going to be 12 to 14 years of post-high school education,” she says. “But he did everything he said he was going to do, and I couldn’t be prouder!” 

Jim Danko, Brad Stevens, and Adam Grant

Three successful leaders who are well known to the Butler community recently gathered with Butler’s Vice President for Strategy and Innovation, Melissa Beckwith ’00, to discuss innovation, leadership, and staying nimble in a constantly changing world. They explored what it means to be innovative, how to foster a culture that fuels creativity, and why Butler is uniquely positioned to navigate the higher education challenges ahead. The questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.

James Danko, Butler University President, 2011–Present

Brad Stevens, Boston Celtics Head Coach, 2013–Present (Butler Men’s Basketball Head Coach, 2007–2013)

Adam Grant, Organizational Psychologist, Wharton Professor, New York Times Bestselling Author, “WorkLife” Podcaster, and fan of The Butler Way (Butler Guest Speaker in 2017)


Q: We live in a time when many industries, including higher education, and organizations are experiencing significant change. We often hear there is a need to innovate or transform in order to survive. What do the words innovation and transformation mean to you?

Brad Stevens: Innovation and transformation mean that you are always a bit uncomfortable, in a good way. You recognize that if things aren’t going well there are changes that need to be made to get moving in the right direction, and if things are going well, the dip is right around the corner. You have to stay not only at pace with your competitors, but stay ahead in a lot of ways and be malleable, adjust on the fly, and have a foundation that you can lean on.

Adam Grant: Innovation is implementing ideas that are new and improved from the status quo. Transformation is making innovation routine, making it the norm, making it widespread, and preventing it from just happening in one pocket of your organization.

James Danko: Innovation is a way to move beyond the complacency inherent in many organizations. In higher education—where tradition is so highly valued and respected—there’s an inclination to depend upon the way things have always been done. Innovation allows people to consider possibilities, beyond past and current practices, and adapt to a shifting landscape while positioning their school for future success. Transformation is the outcome of innovation.

Q: Innovation is easy to talk about but can be difficult to achieve. How do you innovate?

Brad: I am more of a thief than an innovator. I try to keep up with best practices in the game around me. I work and study not only what is going on in the NBA and college game, but also internationally, and then try to fit those best practices to the strengths of the individuals on our team. There may be bits and pieces that I take from across the globe. To me that is not necessarily innovation as much as just studying and piecing a puzzle together, but I think that is the way I would view what I try to do. I don’t see it as rewriting a chapter or changing the narrative of things; itis applying small tweaks to what I’ve seen as best practices and putting it to best use for my team.

Adam: Brad is the most honest thief out there.

Jim: When we think of innovation, we often think there is a “eureka” moment that occurs and a new idea results. But innovation is often underpinned by hard work—research, assessment, perhaps benchmarking against different types of entities. While some people may get concerned that they are not creative or innovative enough, from my experience, I don’t see creativity as necessarily inherent. I believe you can nurture and encourage innovation through focused effort and perseverance.

Adam: My favorite way of capturing what it means to be creative is how Karl Weick describes it. Karl always said creativity is putting old things in new combinations, and new things in old combinations. In a way, that is what Brad just described. You go and borrow ideas from lots of different worlds, but it is all about the tailoring of those ideas. I think those re-combinations are fundamentally innovative acts. It is very much like being a chef. It takes ingenuity to use all the same ingredients that other people have access to, but maybe you apply them in a different way to create a different dish, and that sequencing, or repackaging, to me is what the innovation process might look like.

Q: An innovation process is important but having the right culture is crucial. What type of environment nurtures innovation?

Jim: The leadership team at Butler is very deliberate about fostering an environment that encourages innovation. From the Board of Trustees down, there is an atmosphere of open-mindedness and creativity about the way Butler moves ahead. We recognize that changes to higher education are occurring rapidly and will continue to do so—from student demographics, to learning styles, to wellness needs. Across all areas of campus, we have to embrace innovation if we’re going to make Butler stronger for future generations.

Brad: You are only going to be innovative if you are encouraged to be innovative. If you are working in a place that is stuck doing things the way things have always been done, it’s going to be hard to feel comfortable thinking outside of the box. It is important to be able to appropriately challenge the status quo on occasion, and say “How can we make this a lot better?”

Adam: I like to look at the exceptions. If you are not in an environment or culture that makes that easy, what can you do? There is a paper that I really love in my field on creative deviance, or looking at how sometimes people directly violate norms in order to get their ideas advanced. For example, the Pontiac Fiero was designed after a designer violated three separate orders from management to stop working on a prototype. Even The Godfather involved a filmmaker who basically violated every directive from Paramount Pictures about what the plot was supposed to be, who should be cast in it, what the budget should be, and where it should be filmed. So I think there is something to be learned from those examples. If you don’t create the psychological safety for people to take risks on new ideas, and if you don’t give them the freedom and resources to actually test them out and learn from them, you’re usually not going to get very far.

Q: Innovation requires change. Each of you have played a role in leading teams through change. What are the keys to successfully doing so?

Adam: A lot of the keys to success are about avoiding the systematic mistakes that a lot of us have made. The first mistake that I see too many leaders make is that they fail to create a sense of urgency for change. That happens because when you are leading a transformation or when you have an innovative idea, it is abundantly clear to you why that makes sense, and it is hard for you to imagine somebody not getting it. You tend to forget that most people are excited about the status quo, or at least they are attached to the status quo, because it is familiar and comfortable. To be effective, you can’t just convey all the good things that will happen with change; you have to make clear all the bad things that will happen without change. Then the status quo becomes a bit destabilized and people are more open to trying something new and different. The other big mistake that drives me crazy is when people run in with solutions before they have really carefully diagnosed the problem.

Brad: You are never as good as you think you are, you are never as bad as you think you are, and you are never far from either. At the end of the day, it is about knowing foundationally what works, the things that are critical to your team’s performance and to your organizational health, and prioritizing those things. The magic is in the work. Put your head down and work.

Jim: It’s important to both make a case for change, which often requires presenting the harsh reality of a situation, while also presenting the opportunities inherent within a challenging situation. In the case of higher education, there are clear signs of a difficult future, whether it’s seeing universities close at an accelerated pace or the national student debt exceeding 1.5 trillion dollars—situations that should worry everyone. But those challenges also present an opportunity to adapt and take the lead on new educational approaches. I am confident that at Butler, if we’re innovative and open ourselves to new opportunities, we will continue to benefit our students well into the future.

Q: Adam mentioned the need to carefully diagnose the problem before developing ideas. President Danko shared the staggering amount of national student debt and the recent closure of several universities. In light of this, what is the problem higher education needs to solve?

Adam: Higher education is the most important force for learning and teaching in the world. No one gets better at anything without being a dedicated learner and also without having and being a great teacher. The first threat is that there are more vehicles for both teaching and learning that now exist outside of higher education that didn’t exist in the past. It’s easier to learn online now, it’s easier to take non-degree courses, and in many ways, it’s like we have gone back half a millennium and it’s easier to apprentice yourself in your craft and to learn things on YouTube.

I think there is also a growing case to be made that the kinds of jobs that previously needed a college degree are no longer going to require an advanced education. So I think it is possible that a small subset of schools will gain more of a monopoly on higher education, and all the other schools will be struggling to recruit students. The last threat is the feasibility of distance learning. I think so much of the value added by a university is getting people together so they can have experiential learning, they can have extended debate, they can really challenge each other’s thinking. As it gets easier and easier for people to learn from a distance, it gets harder to draw them into a campus, and that makes the unique value of an institution of higher education harder to convey and harder to deliver.

Jim: In the past, many of our students had to physically go to a library to find information. Now information that was well beyond the capacity of a library is immediately available to students on their phones. A key role of universities is to transfer knowledge. In our technologically advancing world, it’s imperative that we make the case for the Butler approach to education, and the value inherent when people gather in person and learn from faculty and one another. I expect that approach to continue to be core.

But to be successful moving forward, we’ll need to be multidimensional in the way we transfer knowledge.

Of course, the challenges extend beyond the approach to education. Over the past 20 years, the average net tuition, room, and fees at private universities have risen by 23 percent while median household incomes have grown by only 3 percent. Between 2017 and 2029, experts predict there will be an 11 percent decline in demand for a regional private education due, in part, to the significant contraction in the number of 18-year-olds in the United States. Universities must face the reality that there will be fewer students attending college, and even fewer still that can afford the traditional, residential undergraduate model.

Q: What makes you feel confident Butler will successfully navigate the challenges ahead?

Brad: The same thing that has allowed Butler to navigate the challenges of the past and continue to progress and move forward and keep adding, is the people—leadership, faculty, staff, and students. My 13 years at Butler were some of the most influential years to help me learn, grow, and get better at what I ultimately wanted to pursue. It was such an empowering environment. I feel very confident that if a challenge presents itself, the people at Butler will figure it out.

Adam: It is hard to top that. But for my part, you have a couple of things going for you. You have a president who is an entrepreneur at heart and a doer. A lot of universities have great thinkers at the top who don’t get anything done. I also think that there is an advantage to your small size. You are a lot more nimble; it’s easier to make changes, as opposed to being stuck in a giant bureaucracy. Then there is the culture. When I think of The Butler Way, I think of the humility. There is a norm at Butler that gets set on the basketball court, but pervades the University. Everyone is excited to figure out what they don’t know and keep learning. I think that is kind of the wellspring of innovation. And then also, the generosity. Butler is a school of givers. You have a group of people who are drawn to the school because they are excited to try and figure out how they can help others and contribute to a meaningful mission. I have some data suggesting that when people are focused on solving problems, not just for themselves, but for others, they end up generating more innovative ideas because they do a lot more perspective-taking, they think about what different kinds of solutions might look like for different kinds of people, and that is all good for generating ideas that turn out to be novel and useful.

Jim Danko, Brad Stevens, and Adam Grant
Butler Beyond

A Conversation—Innovation and Leadership in Changing Times

James M. Danko, Brad Stevens, and Adam Grant discuss innovation.

from Fall 2019

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Scenic view of Florence, Italy

The Best of Both Worlds

Katie Grieze

from Fall 2019

Before Jane Gervasio ’88, PharmD ’95 designed a study abroad course focusing on the Mediterranean diet, pharmacy students at Butler often struggled to fit travel experiences into their schedules. In such a structured curriculum, heading abroad usually meant getting set back. But Gervasio, a Pharmacy Practice Professor, created a program that both fit into and resonated with the coursework.

Now in its sixth year, the 10-day trip takes about 15 students to Florence, Italy, to learn all things food. Immersed in the culture of the Tuscany region, students experience the history behind the cuisine. They focus most on the food’s potential for promoting wellness, from organic farming in Pienza, to a centuries-old pharmacy in Santa Maria, to cooking classes in Florence.

“We look at the health of the diet,” she says, “but we also look at the health of the culture.”

During the 2018–2019 academic year, more Butler students traveled abroad than ever before. Jill McKinney, Director of Study Abroad, says that’s at least in part because more faculty are designing their own programs, providing students with a wider selection of opportunities.

About 40 percent of Butler students travel abroad by the time they graduate, making the University ninth in the nation for undergraduate participation. Many students still choose to take semester-long trips through third-party institutes (read about Grace Hart’s experiences on the facing page), but now custom trips with Butler faculty have created more programs that fit into fall, winter, and spring breaks.

Over the last decade, the number of faculty-led programs has exploded from four to 30. McKinney says Butler faculty tend to design creative courses that appeal to both students and parents—studying engineering in Ireland, Spanish in Spain, or the Mediterranean diet in Italy.

Faculty-led programs take the best of on-campus teaching—think small class sizes and strong relationships—and transport it to a fresh, relevant location. Students can experience new cultures with the comforting bridge of familiar faces. Butler faculty also fill some of the gaps when it comes to how coursework abroad might connect to the community back home.

McKinney attributes much of the success of Butler’s study abroad programs to the University’s leaders, whose support of global education trickles down to faculty and students. Provost Kathryn Morris has created grants that provide faculty with seed money to complete the travel and research necessary to set up their own courses. Plus, the most recent strategic plans have been built on the fact that today’s students are graduating into a globalized world—a world that demands the ability to work and thrive across cultures.

Grace Hart in Iceland

From the Top of a Glacier

Grace Hart ’20 stared out at the white ice. She couldn’t see where it ended, but she noticed a blue tinge marking the Icelandic glacier’s age. It had lived a long life.

According to the guide who’d just led Hart’s hike to the top of the slope, that would probably change within the next 200 years.

Living in the Midwest, Hart had only ever heard news stories of the ice caps melting. Now, as part of her study abroad trip in spring 2019, she was seeing it happen live.

During the semester-long program through the School for International Training (SIT), Hart traveled around Greenland and Iceland to study topics related to climate change: what’s happening, how it affects people, and what we can do to help. She’d first read about the trip as a first-year Environmental Studies major. She had always wanted to go to Iceland, and the topic was right in line with her interests.

Calie Florek, Study Abroad Advisor at Butler, says SIT offers some of her favorite study abroad opportunities. Hart was the first Butler student to go to Iceland with SIT, but all of the school’s programs emphasize engaging with local communities. Through experiences such as internships, research projects, and home stays, SIT students really dive into a culture and learn about its people in ways not all study abroad programs offer.

When Hart first came to see Florek, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. After a rigorous fall semester, she decided to apply to the Iceland program in hopes of shaking things up.

The trip began in February, just missing the time of year when the sun never rises. The group started in Reykjavík, Iceland, studying climate modeling and glaciology before heading to Nuuk, Greenland. For two weeks, they learned about the country’s culture. Hart studied how climate research often excludes native people, and she loved learning the value of including diverse voices in those conversations.

For most of the semester, Hart followed a set program, but the last five weeks were dedicated to independent study. Hart chose to focus on food security, asking how an issue so prominent in Indianapolis might play out in a different climate.

Hart first learned about the subject through her classes and internships at Butler, where she spent a semester working on the campus farm.

She found that food security in Iceland isn’t really an economic issue: It’s a land issue. People there have started demanding foods that just can’t grow in the frigid climate, forcing residents to import most of what they eat. Her research offered some solutions, focusing mainly on shifting tastes back to what the land can support.

Hart believes her study could inspire change. She would like to return to Iceland and build a community outreach program, which she hopes would get Icelanders talking about their food in new ways, while giving her the chance to learn even more about the culture.

Scenic view of Florence, Italy
Experiential Learning

The Best of Both Worlds


by Katie Grieze

from Fall 2019

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Bulldog statue and the sky

Looking Beyond

James M. Danko


from Fall 2019

President James M. DankoAs the namesake year for our strategic plan is just a few weeks away, and our vision for the future evolves beyond, I have found myself reflecting upon my early months as President and the many conversations I had with alumni, students, faculty, and staff as I learned about this great University. Not only did I meet many wonderful people, but the active engagement led to a collective and exciting vision that became known as Butler 2020.

With our planning complete and attention turned toward achieving our vision, I was surprised one day by the reaction of a student who approached me in Starbucks. “Our new plan sounds great,” she said wistfully. “But I will graduate long before 2020, and I won’t benefit from the improvements.”

It never fails to amaze me—as a parent or as a president—that even in the midst of painstaking planning, meticulous research, and preparation for all manner of contingencies, a young-adult mind can hone in on a blindingly obvious insight that I had somehow managed to overlook.

Besides prompting me to make a mental note to never name a strategy after a future year, this student’s remark motivated me to do a better job of conveying to our students that today’s investments in our University do two important things. First, they ensure that our campus is continuously—and proactively—evolving to meet the needs of every incoming class. Second, they elevate the value of a Butler degree for all alumni—past, present, and future.

As you’ll read about in this special edition of Butler Magazine, we’ve gained unprecedented momentum through the successful implementation of Butler 2020. We have advanced Butler’s reputation for overall excellence, teaching, and innovation; enriched our academic, research, residential, performance, and athletic resources; and made a positive impact on global, regional, and local communities. Over the summer, the Lacy School of Business moved into its new 110,000-square-foot home. And earlier this month, we broke ground on a $100 million renovation and expansion for Butler’s new sciences complex.

The benefits of these improvements are not limited to those who live in a new residence hall or take classes in a new building today, however. They are part of an overarching cycle. They strengthen our brand as a University with great academics and great people. This, in turn, attracts the most talented students, faculty, and staff to Butler. This ultimately increases the value of a Butler degree. And like the generations of Bulldogs who came before us—those who enacted Butler’s commitment to inclusivity, who established outstanding academic and athletic programs, and who built beautiful campus buildings and gardens—we have assumed the mantle of good stewardship. This means that just as the Butler we enjoy today was built upon the shoulders of those who preceded us, we have a responsibility to make Butler better for the generations that will come after us.

As we look to these future generations, we will be guided by a new roadmap: Butler Beyond. Within these pages, you’ll learn more about the complex challenges within the higher education landscape that Butler Beyond will help us successfully navigate in the coming years, including changing student needs and demographic shifts. This new strategic vision includes the University’s commitments to make a Butler education more financially accessible to students and families; to offer students more efficient ways to learn and sharpen skills at all stages of life; to reach beyond our traditional-aged students and beyond our campus to pursue new markets, partners, and models of learning; and to complete the largest ever comprehensive fundraising campaign in the University’s history.

Thanks to alumni and friends like you, Butler is stronger than ever. We have built upon the hard work of past Bulldogs to benefit current students. We are deeply grateful for your support and we’re counting on you to be a part of our next bold leap forward. Thank you for joining us as we look beyond and dream big.

Bulldog statue and the sky
Butler Beyond

Looking Beyond

What's Beyond Butler2020? A letter from James M. Danko. 

by James M. Danko

from Fall 2019

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