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Ashley Altman in United Arab Emirates
ResearchUnleashed

Butler’s first Gilman Scholars embark for international study

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Jan 24 2020

Two Butler University students traveled a combined 15,000-plus miles to conduct research abroad, thanks to the U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarships. 

International Studies major Ashley Altman and Biology junior Dakotah Harris are the first Butler recipients of the nationally competitive scholarship, which enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad while gaining skills related to national security and economic prosperity. The program was established in 2000.

Dakotah Harris
Dakotah Harris

Altman left for Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on January 16. She is studying political science at the American University of Sharjah.

Harris is stationed in the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, where he’ll gain experience in public health. He will learn outside the classroom via one-on-one mentorships through April 4. Harris will also work with a volunteer group from the Human Sciences Research Council. Their mission will be to educate nearby populations about HIV while diagnosing and treating those with the disease.

“There’s a lot of very dangerous myths around HIV,” Harris says. “I’ll be working on getting information to the townships that don’t necessarily have all the resources they may need.”

Receiving $4,500 from the Gilman Scholarship, Altman’s trip is part of the International Student Exchange Programs. His time in South Africa will help pave a career path in epidemiology and the prevention of infectious diseases.

Harris says the opportunity will get him in on the “ground level” for his future work in public health.

“I’m excited for this life-changing experience. I’m ready to serve the people,” says Harris, who will leverage two years of research experience in Assistant Professor of Psychology Jennifer Berry’s lab for his work abroad.

“Dakotah's drive and dedication to research will help him further investigate vaccines. Specifically from my lab, Dakotah has learned several skills and techniques—like animal handling—that will be useful for him in his future research endeavors,” says Berry, adding that Harris has become a student leader in her lab. “I think this trip will give Dakotah a chance to help a lot of people, and that's what he's all about.”

About 40 percent of Butler students take advantage of study abroad opportunities. For Harris and Atlman, The Gilman Scholarship has made that easier.

“To me, receiving a Gilman means that the students are motivated personally and academically to jump any hurdle in order to study abroad,” says Jill McKinney, Director of Global Engagement at Butler. “Not only are the students likely going abroad for the first time, but they’re also going to locations that have significant cultural and linguistic differences.”

McKinney expects Altman and Harris to benefit from their experience by improving language and communication skills, gaining intercultural agility, and making contacts from around the world.

“Study abroad is a great talking point in job interviews,” McKinney says. “In fact, we’ve anecdotally heard from our former students that they are asked more about their study abroad experiences than anything else they list on their resumes.

“For many Gilman Scholarship recipients, this scholarship is the reason they can make study abroad happen.”

 

Student Access and Success

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 beyond.butler.edu.

 

Media contact:

Tim Brouk

Senior News Content Manager

tbrouk@butler.edu

765-977-3931 (cell)

Ashley Altman in United Arab Emirates
ResearchUnleashed

Butler’s first Gilman Scholars embark for international study

The awards will allow the students to complete research in South Africa and the United Arab Emirates

Jan 24 2020 Read more
lab school classroom
CommunityUnleashed

How Neuroscience Helps Kids Heal From Trauma

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jan 17 2020

On a mid-December morning at Butler University Laboratory School 55, a fifth-grade classroom falls silent. The shouting and chatter fades, little by little, replaced by the chime of calming music.

Around the room, students lie flat on the floor, blinking up through the cucumber slices pressed to their eyes. Some sprawl out, arms spread wide, as others fold their hands together or reach up to feel the fruit’s coolness.

Cucumbers do more than signal a spa day in the movies, the students are learning. Rather, the slices can act as an anti-inflammatory for a stressed-out brain in the same way that ice treats injuries. They can calm the mind and prepare it for learning—a perfect addition to the collection of relaxation strategies Lori Desautels has brought to classrooms in Indianapolis and across the nation.

Throughout fall 2019, the College of Education Assistant Professor visited those fifth-graders every week to teach them about the brain, how it works, why we experience stress, and how to regulate emotions. Students learned that the prefrontal cortex is the brain’s center of learning, decision making, and problem solving. They learned that the amygdala, formed by a small set of deep-brain neurons, causes powerful emotions such as anger and fear that can make it difficult to concentrate. And they learned that, through a range of activities that incorporate breathing, movement, or sound, they can control those emotions and relax their minds.

It’s all part of Desautels’ work in a field known as educational neuroscience, which focuses on finding the most effective strategies for working with students who have experienced adversity or trauma. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 60 percent of American children will experience at least one adverse childhood experience—or a potentially traumatic event—by the time they turn 18. About one in every six children will have four or more of these experiences, which can include circumstances such as violence, abuse, neglect, poverty, mental illness, food insecurity, or drug use, to name a few.

Beyond causing long-term consequences for overall health, trauma can affect a child’s ability to succeed in school as stress inhibits the brain from making decisions and building relationships. Some students respond to pain with aggression, while others exhibit high rates of absenteeism or keep their heads down during class.

“As the research points,” Desautels says, “anxiety has kind of become our nation’s new learning disability.”

Desautels tackles this problem from multiple fronts. Based on her research, she develops new strategies to help kids heal from trauma. She visits schools across Indiana, talking about the importance of caring for mental and emotional health in the classroom. Desautels works directly with children to help them succeed, and through leading workshops and teaching classes, she shows current and future educators how they can better support their students.

 

How to stay sensitive to trauma in the classroom

Desautels teaches a variety of strategies for responding to trauma in schools, but she says rethinking the discipline is the first step. When educators react with punishments based on frustration and arbitrary consequences, this usually reactivates a student’s stress response, leading to new trauma instead of new healing.

Change starts with teachers modeling the behavior they want to see from their students.

When a child’s actions require discipline, Desautels says the adult should always take some time to cool off. After reflecting on how the incident made them feel, they should explain to the student how they plan to calm down before addressing the situation.

I’m really frustrated, so we aren’t going to talk about this right now. I’ll count to four, and then I’ll take my two deep breaths, and then I’ll wait. And if my amygdala is still feeling angry, I’ll count to four again, until my cortex feels calm.

Teachers should also consider the power of non-verbal communication. Desautels says tone of voice is critical in calming a child’s nervous system, along with facial expressions, posture, and gestures.

“Emotions are contagious,” she says. “When a teacher is able to model a calm presence, students are less likely to react defensively.”

Once everyone feels relaxed, the teacher and student can discuss what happened, why it happened, and how they can repair the damage together. Consequences should follow naturally from the action in a meaningful way, Desautels says. For example, if the student was mean to a classmate, they could create something that shows kindness.

Desautels also stresses the need for listening to and validating the student throughout the process. If a child says, ‘This isn’t fair’ or ‘You are always picking on me,’ a validating comment might be, ‘That must feel so frustrating.’

“In the moment of rising tension,” she says, “when you feel someone hears you, that’s calming.”

But these strategies aren’t only for when there’s a problem. Building strong connections with students can help with easing their anxiety and preventing negative behavior from arising in the first place.

At Butler, Desautels has created a graduate certificate in Applied Educational Neuroscience to teach these strategies to educators, medical professionals, and others who work closely with children who have experienced trauma. The nine-credit-hour program launched in 2016 and has grown from just six students in the first cohort to more than 70 today. The classes explore the most recent research in neuroscience and attachment, then shift to how that research can be used to help students.

“And these strategies aren’t just useful for working with children,” Desautels says. “We are all dealing with more and more adversity and stress. Everyone taking this certificate is trying to improve on their professional practices, but I often hear feedback about how helpful it has been personally.”

 

 

A new way of teaching

Until a couple years ago, Emily Wilkerson didn’t know anything about neuroscience. She didn’t think she needed to.

Then, as an Elementary Education major at Butler, she met Lori Desautels.

“It wasn’t until my junior year of college that I realized teaching isn’t just about math, reading, writing, science, and social studies,” Wilkerson says. “Kids need so much more than academic content.”

So shortly after graduating in 2018 and taking a position with the then-new Butler Lab School 55, Wilkerson enrolled in Butler’s Applied Educational Neuroscience certificate. Right away, she started practicing the techniques in her fifth-grade classroom—the same classroom Desautels worked with last semester.

Together, Desautels and Wilkerson taught the students about three key regions of the brain and what it looks like to “be” in each one. In the prefrontal cortex, located near the forehead, the mind feels calm and creative. In the limbic system, closer to the center of the brain, you might start to be distracted by emotions such as fear, irritation, or embarrassment.

On the back of the neck, near the hairline, is the brain stem. Once here, you’re basically frozen. You might feel hopeless or disconnected. You might lash out, or you might run away.

“When a student has experienced trauma, we know that their brain is most likely not in the prefrontal cortex throughout the day,” Wilkerson says. “There could be triggers in the classroom, or they could just think about something traumatic that happened to them, and that could completely spiral their day. If they are locked into that anxiety or fear, they are inclined to stay in that brain state—unless they know that they can regulate their brain.”

So, the students learned how to do just that.

Every time Desautels visited Wilkerson’s class, she brought a new focused attention practice. These activities quiet the mind by having kids focus on a specific stimulus, whether that is a sound, a sight, a taste, or a breath—similar to meditation. This helps soothe the nervous system in a way that makes it easier to cope with challenges.

For example, the class could spend a few minutes with a breathing exercise that matches movement to the rhythm of the breath, lifting their arms high on the inhale and dropping them on the exhale. They could place their non-dominant hands flat on pieces of paper, tracing the outlines repeatedly until their minds feel calm. Or, the students could put ice cubes in their mouths, imagining their stress fading as they feel the ice slowly melt away.

Desautels also uses “brain breaks.” These exercises introduce new challenges or novel sensations to help break up the routine of a school day, training the mind to see things through new perspectives.

Desautels always carries a bag of assorted household objects—markers, paper, shoelaces, and so on. After picking an item, students imagine two ways it could be used for something other than its intended purpose. Another brain break involves asking the kids to peel a tangerine with their eyes closed, then to eat the fruit while focusing on its smell and taste. The more senses these activities draw on, the more effective they will be for regulating the brain.

The students learned to be more aware of how they feel throughout the day. Desautels introduced brain reflection sheets, which help both students and teachers evaluate their current brain states and figure out what they might need to feel better in that moment.

“If I’m feeling frustrated,” Wilkerson says, “I’m going to go sit in the reset corner and take 10 deep breaths, or roll playdough in my hands, because that might be something that feels good to me. But you can regulate a brain in a thousand different ways.”

Most of the fifth-grade students now use the language of neuroscience throughout the school day. And since Desautels first visited, Wilkerson has noticed an overall shift in classroom culture.

“We as elementary school teachers have the opportunity, if we are using the language of neuroscience in our classrooms, to really set students up for a greater level of success throughout their whole lives,” Wilkerson says. “I can’t imagine, if I could go back in time and learn about all this neuroscience during fifth grade, how that would have impacted me in middle school, high school, college, and adulthood.”

Beyond her work at Butler and in Indianapolis classrooms, Desautels visits schools across the state to speak about the trauma-responsive strategies she has developed. She’s also published three books about the human side of education, with a fourth expected to release in 2021.

Nationally, Desautels’ work has inspired hundreds of schools to build what she calls amygdala first aid stations. Typically set up at a designated table or corner of the classroom, these spaces give students a place to go to calm down or recharge. They might offer stationary bikes, yoga mats, art materials, or headphones. Others have bean bag chairs where students can relax with weighted blankets while smelling lavender-scented cotton balls.

Since she first started co-teaching six years ago, Desautels has worked with 13 classes ranging from preschool to 12th grade. It has become more common for schools to address mental and emotional wellbeing, but Desautels says her work is unique for its focus on actually teaching kids the science behind how their brains work.

“Teaching students about their amygdala and their fear response is so empowering,” she says. “When we understand that this biology is thousands of years in the making, hardwired to protect us, our minds begin to relax through knowing that our reactions to negative experiences are natural and common. Many of our children report a sense of relief to know there’s nothing wrong with them.”

 

Media Contact:

Katie Grieze

News Content Manager

kgrieze@butler.edu

260-307-3403 (cell)

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu

lab school classroom
CommunityUnleashed

How Neuroscience Helps Kids Heal From Trauma

Lori Desautels, an Assistant Professor in Butler's COE, visits classrooms to teach students about their brains.

Jan 17 2020 Read more
Wallabies in burned landscape
ResearchUnleashed

Butler Biologist: Australia’s Ecology to Suffer for Years

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Jan 17 2020

“Catastrophic” was the first word Butler University Biological Sciences Professor Carmen Salsbury could attach to the ongoing Australian bushfire devastation.

More than 1 billion animals have perished, along with 29 humans in the estimated 100 blazes that have ignited since September, burning 46 million acres as of mid-January. The ecology of Australia will never be the same, at least not for a very long time, says Salsbury, who has researched forest mammals and urban wildlife for decades.

Professor Carmen Salsbury talks in her office.
Professor Carmen Salsbury says the Australian landscape will be forever changed.

“The unfortunate thing is that the catastrophe has just started. Once the fires are out, it’s not over,” Salsbury says. “There is some evidence that we may lose some species altogether to extinction because of this tragedy.”

The researcher says climate change is the biggest culprit behind the historic loss of environment. The combination of extreme heat, wind, and drought has been ramping up for years in Australia, and the conditions have allowed for continent-wide blazes.

While the plants will grow back and animals will return in time, the ecology in some areas will take many years to fully recover. Animals like the endangered glossy black cockatoo and the dunnart, a mouse-sized marsupial, are now thought to be extinct, according to Salsbury. New predators, such as feral cats, may move in to rattle the food chain as shelter and food becomes scarce for surviving prey animals. The “connectivity” of the ecology has been severed.

“Species rely on one-another in lots of different ways—for food, shelter, etc.,” Salsbury says. “You pull one of those things out, and it ripples through the ecosystem and has major impacts on other species.”

The lack of vegetation will enhance erosion and the chance of mudslides. The sediment could invade watersheds, affecting drinking water as well as aquatic life.

“Even after things start to green up,” Salsbury says, “we’re still going to see some serious impact on many of the plants and animals, all of those things at the base of a functioning ecosystem.”

The different roles of wildfires

Western parts of the United States have experienced similar wildfires. In October, 10 wildfires engulfed 113,931 acres of California forest in flames, killing three, and destroying 517 homes and other buildings.

The 2019 events and Australia are tragic byproducts of climate change, but smaller wildfires have their place in ecology, Salsbury says.

“There are a lot of plant communities that have actually evolved to be fire tolerant. In fact, there are some plants that require fire for their seeds to germinate,” she adds. “A lot of plants are meant to burn and some of them have terpene compounds in their wood to promote fire.”

The fires happen naturally from lightning strikes and manmade controlled fires, and serve to replenish small ecosystems. Controlled burns eliminate fuel that would cause larger, widespread burns.

“The point is that intermediate levels of disturbance are actually good things for biodiversity in ecosystems,” Salsbury says. “The problem is when you get really wide-scale, broad, and frequent types of disturbances. And that's what we're seeing now in our part of the world (California) but especially in Australia.”

Biology Associate Professor Andrew Stoehr and Biological Science Professor Travis Ryan will lead a March controlled burn of the Butler Prairie near campus. It will be the first burn of the three-acre natural prairie space in seven years. Weather conditions will play a factor when the burn takes place but Stoehr concurs that control burns are advantageous in rejuvenating some ecosystems.

“Ideally, it would be every spring,” Stoehr says. “One of the main effects is that it cuts down on the gradual invasion of trees. Gradually, prairies convert from grassy species and wildflowers over to wooded area. Burns also kill other kinds of invasive or undesirable species. By gleaning off all of that vegetation, it exposes the soil to more sunlight in springtime. The soil will warm up earlier, which tends to benefit the desired prairie plants more than the undesirable species. The seeds are already in the soil and will start to germinate after the clearing.”

But not every ecosystem benefits from controlled burns and many of those have been affected in Australia, like tropical forest. The fires are too widespread to cause anything but negative impact on the continent.

How to help

As of mid-January, more than $200 million has been raised to help fight the fires and to aid injured wildlife. Salsbury says donating to the causes are a positive step, but so is reducing your carbon footprint.

“These fires,” Salsbury says, “are a textbook example of what happens when you have a lot of factors that come together and make the perfect storm and the No. 1 factor, of course, that’s really compounding the problem is climate change.”

Minimizing carbon emissions and other greenhouse gasses and other practices in fighting climate change can reduce the risk of such widespread fires occurring again, Salsbury says.

“If there is anything good that can come from this, it is that it could motivate people into action,” Salsbury adds. “Unfortunately these type of events may help us direct our focus a little bit. Maybe it will highlight the desperate need. It’s past due.”

 

Community Partnerships

Through collaboration and strong partnerships, Butler Beyond will unleash the potential of our brilliant faculty and students on the complex issues facing our community. Support for this pillar will expand Butler’s reach and roots in the Indianapolis community and beyond by cultivating deeper integration with local organizations and businesses, increasing experiential learning opportunities for students, nurturing new ventures, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

 

Media Contact:

Tim Brouk

Senior News Content Manager

tbrouk@butler.edu

765-977-3931 (cell)

Wallabies in burned landscape
ResearchUnleashed

Butler Biologist: Australia’s Ecology to Suffer for Years

Professor Carmen Salsbury says the loss of ‘connectivity’ will devastate ecosystems after bushfires are extinguished

Jan 17 2020 Read more
Tyler Shultz
Experiential LearningUnleashed

New LSB Speaker Series to Promote Business Ethics

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Jan 15 2020

All Andre B. Lacy School of Business students must take the 200-level Business Ethics course. A new speaker series will enhance that experience.

This semester, the Lacy School of Business Ethics Series will feature two events and the series will return for the 2020-2021 academic year. Each semester will feature a keynote speaker as well as smaller, fireside chat-style events. The Ethics Series will bring in alumni, Indianapolis business leaders, and entrepreneurs from across the nation to share their experiences and training for all Butler students, staff, faculty, and the community to consider.

Tyler Shultz will be the first keynote speaker at 8:00 PM February 11 at the Schrott Center for the Arts. The event kicks off the series, which will continue in April with a student-focused talk in the Business Building. All Ethics Series events are free. No tickets are required.

Shultz was a 23-year-old employee for Theranos, the infamous $9 billion start-up that claimed to have technology that could detect diseases from one drop of blood. However, the technology never worked despite years of smoke and mirrors from founder Elizabeth Holmes. Shultz came forward to the Wall Street Journal. The article by John Carreyrou revealed research too good to be true and revenue that never was. The fiasco led to the HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley and Carreyrou’s subsequent book, Bad Blood.

Associate Professor of Business Law Hilary Buttrick will moderate Shultz’s talk as well as a question-and-answer segment at the end of the event. She says students will get to experience how important being ethical in business practices can be from an entrepreneur only a handful of years older than them.

“Theranos was his first job out of college,” Buttrick says. “He was really going up against Goliath.

“I think that type of ethical fortitude, that type of ability to trust yourself to say ‘This isn’t right,’ that’s a really important lesson for students to learn. Even though you’re young and new, you  have the power, the right, and the obligation to stand up when things are wrong, even if you’re at the bottom of the corporate ladder. We think (Shultz) has a really important story to tell our students.”

Shultz landed well after the Theranos dust settled. He is the CEO and co-founder of Flux Biosciences, Inc., a Bay-Area start-up specializing in bringing medical-grade diagnostics into the homes of consumers by using technology to measure biomarkers related to stress, exercise, and fertility. His efforts were recognized by Forbes when he was named to their “30 under 30” Health Care 2017 list.

Buttrick says the speaker series will be integrated into class curriculum, in turn enhancing the learning experience.

“I can’t think of a better case study,” says Buttrick, adding that the February 11 event will count as a Butler Cultural Requirement. “Think about the things you’re learning in Business Ethics class; this guy had to do it.”

Lacy School of Business Dean Stephen Standiford says the Ethics Series will be a major part of the program’s push to be a Midwestern leader in business ethics education.

“Our goal,” he adds, “is to continue to infuse ethical practice and leadership development with our students, future leaders, and community as a whole.”

The Lacy School of Business Ethics speaker series is sponsored by Old National Bank.

 

Student Access and Success

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 beyond.butler.edu.

 

Media Contact:

Tim Brouk

Senior News Content Manager

tbrouk@butler.edu

765-977-3931 (cell)

Tyler Shultz
Experiential LearningUnleashed

New LSB Speaker Series to Promote Business Ethics

Series will focus on ethical business practices with the help of alumni, Indy business leaders, and keynote speakers

Jan 15 2020 Read more
neville and wakefield
Arts & CultureUnleashed

New Butler-Produced Podcast to Capture Best-Selling Stories, Memories

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Jan 15 2020

For the past several months, Butler University English Professor Susan Neville has become a fixture in the Irwin Library for her latest literary project.

Neville is not poring over books, however. She is not researching her next novel. The Creative Writing professor is adjusting microphone volume levels in a cozy soundproof booth in the library’s lower level. To her right is best-selling author Dan Wakefield, who penned Going All the Way and Starting Over, covered historic events like the first foreign press interview with former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, wrote about the Emmett Till trial for magazines like The Atlantic and The Nation, and is considered Kurt Vonnegut’s oldest living friend.

Neville and Wakefield
Professor Susan Neville, left, prepares to interview best-selling author Dan Wakefield.

Neville and Wakefield are about halfway through recording Naptown Season One: A Memoir of the 20th Century. The podcast will consist of 20 episodes featuring different chapters of Wakefield’s life, which started in Broad Ripple, Indiana, continued to New York City as a journalist, novelist, and screenwriter, then to academia in Florida, and now back to Indianapolis. All 20 episodes will be released at once on iTunes, Wakefield’s website, Irwin Library’s website, and Butler’s Digital Commons in May for maximum binge listening, and to celebrate Wakefield’s 88th birthday.

“He’s a great storyteller and I wanted to capture those stories,” says Neville, who received a $2,000 grant from the Indiana Humanities Council to assist with the production. “These episodes will be kind of his memoir, only done through interviews.”

The soundbooth only fits two people, but the results are as high-level as anything on Podcast One. Neville and Wakefield mapped out every episode, about an hour in length each. So far, they’ve completed episodes focusing on Vonnegut, novelist James Baldwin, and a trio of Wakefield’s mentors from his undergraduate days at Columbia College: Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mark Van Doren, literary critic Lionel Trilling, and famed sociologist C. Wright Mills, who Wakefield served as a research assistant.

Neville enlisted the help of Academic Technology Specialist Megan Grady-Rutledge to help edit each episode, which starts with music and short introductions and outros from Neville. The rest is all Wakefield answering Neville’s questions, recalling major career milestones, and reading from his published works.

“Once he gets on a roll, he gets on a roll,” says Neville with a laugh. “I was a journalism major as an undergrad and have written a lot of freelance feature articles, so I’m used to doing interviews. Recording a podcast is a combination of radio and the print journalism I’m used to.”

Neville reveals that Season Two will consist of Vonnegut interviews she conducted in 1989 and 1990. Those conversations currently live on microcassettes, but will be transferred to a digital format after Season One launches.

“Talking with Susan, I’m remembering a lot of things,” Wakefield says. “I feel like there’s a big hole in our history and in Indianapolis, like the great jazz scene we had here. A lot of if isn’t mentioned in a lot of places so I’m glad to be able to talk about that.” 

Part of the author’s comfort in the recording booth stems from Wakefield’s connection with Neville. They first met when Wakefield was still a graduate writing professor at Florida International University and Neville was a guest speaker at the Seaside Writers Conference. Wakefield has paid close attention to Neville’s career, which includes creative nonfiction works Sailing the Inland Sea, Iconography, and Indiana Winter.

“Susan Neville is the best author today in this city and state,” says Wakefield, noting her 2019 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction award for her collection of short stories The Town of Whispering Dolls. “I feel very lucky to be doing this with her. I feel very comfortable. We have sort of the same literary outlook and framework. We share the same prejudices about writers we like and admire. I know whatever I talk about, she will understand what I’m talking about.”

Naptown is recorded with Audacity and just a few clicks. The writers test their speaking levels for a few minutes, listen to the playback, and then start to record the episode.

For a December 10 session, Wakefield was prepared to speak on his former influential professors. Among his notes, Wakefield brought the March 1968 copy of The Atlantic, which consisted solely of Wakefield’s long-form article on the Vietnam War. The piece, Supernation at Peace and War, mentions some of his former Columbia University professors.

Before the session, Wakefield was a guest at Neville’s first-year seminar on Vonnegut. The students had been reading Slaughterhouse-Five, Mother Night, and God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, and they poured over Wakefield’s essay on his old friend titled Kurt Vonnegut, Christ-Loving Atheist.

“They were in awe of him,” Neville says. “He told stories about Kurt and his family, and he brought fresh insights to the books they’d been reading all semester. They were amazed.”

And the students will get to know much more about Wakefield, Vonnegut, and 20th century American literature in a fresh format thanks to Neville and Naptown.

 

Media Contact:
Tim Brouk
Senior News Content Manager
tbrouk@butler.edu
765-977-3931 (cell)

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

neville and wakefield
Arts & CultureUnleashed

New Butler-Produced Podcast to Capture Best-Selling Stories, Memories

Creative Writing Professor Susan Neville hosts Naptown series featuring author and Indianapolis native Dan Wakefield

Jan 15 2020 Read more
RMI students prepare a case study.
Experiential LearningUnleashed

Butler’s Risk Management Programs Earn Top-10 Recognition from Business Insurance Magazine

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Jan 06 2020

Butler University’s programs for risk management and insurance professionals have been recognized by Business Insurance magazine as one of the top-10 in the nation for the most graduates in 2019.

The magazine tabbed Butler No. 9 for most Actuarial Science and Risk Management and Insurance graduates. The ranking combines the two related programs–Butler’s Davey Risk Management and Insurance (RMI) and Actuarial Science majors–that assess risk for insurance purposes from qualitative and quantitative sides of the risk management coin.

“These rankings recognize the collaborative efforts of the Davey Risk and Insurance Program and the Actuarial Science program at Butler University to recruit the future leaders of the RMI industry,” says Dr. Victor Puleo, Associate Professor and Davey Chair of Risk Management and Insurance. “I am very pleased to see Butler University listed alongside the other universities and colleges that share in this mission.”

The national ranking released in December 2019 is the first top-10 national honor for the Andre B. Lacy School of Business.

The Davey Risk Management and Insurance program was established in the Lacy School of Business in 2012. It graduated 34 students in the 2018-19 school year, which was combined with Actuarial Science’s 20 graduates for that top-10 ranking. Business Insurance also listed Butler at No. 13 for the largest “risk management program” overall based on student enrollment.

“We’re probably the smallest university on the list,” says Zach Finn, Clinical Professor of Risk Management and Insurance, “but the Lacy School of Business has an efficacy for recruiting. We’re retaining students all the way to graduation while maintaining a high rate of growth.”

According to Risk Management magazine, job growth in the risk management and insurance industry is up 60 percent since 2013. These positions include risk management analysts, underwriters, and brokers for companies like Aon, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Northwestern Mutual, and State Farm Insurance. A 16 percent job rate increase is still expected by 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As the industry grows, a wave of insurance underwriters and brokers are nearing retirement age, which will open thousands more positions for young, expertly trained professionals like Butler graduates, Finn says.

The Lacy School of Business recently launched a Master of Science in Risk and Insurance (MSRI) online degree program, which is further evidence of the University’s commitment to be a national leader in risk management and insurance. Part of the buzz around the industry includes the insurance of new business concepts. From electric scooter rental services to pizza-delivering drones, there is an insurance side to every game-changing business venture. Professionals trained in risk management are needed now more than ever to establish what kind and how much insurance policies should be, Finn says.

Senior Kyle Niemiec just wrapped up his third internship. A Finance major, his experience at Encova Insurance in Naperville, Illinois, made him change his focus to risk management.  

“No business can run without insurance,” Niemiec says. “It’s also helping people. I’ve fully invested myself into insurance as a whole. I was in financial planning, but getting to see behind the scenes aspects, I knew I wanted to do insurance.” 

Businesses have noticed Butler’s strength in risk management. MJ Insurance helped fund the first student-run captive insurance company at Butler. Students benefit from experiential learning by taking on real risks and real underwriting, while also gaining insight into starting and running a business.

“MJ Insurance had the confidence that our students were up to the task in deploying those funds,” says Finn, “and that gift helped put us on the map.”

As chair of the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Actuarial Science, Associate Professor Chris Wilson has led a student experience for Actuarial Science students. Undergrads are given opportunities to take four Society of Actuaries credentialing exams before graduation. The more exams completed, the more actuarial job opportunities become available to the students in the risk management field.

“We’ve had examples where a student has gotten a job, passed an exam, and gotten a raise before they even started work,” says Wilson, who has seen the number of Actuarial Science graduates quadruple since he joined Butler in 2007. “It’s people who are aware they are high-achieving students and they’re ready for a challenging major. They want to do something to develop their quantitative skills and enjoy problem solving.”

 

Student Access and Success

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 beyond.butler.edu.

 

Media Contact:

Tim Brouk

Senior News Content Manager

tbrouk@butler.edu

765-977-3931 (cell)

RMI students prepare a case study.
Experiential LearningUnleashed

Butler’s Risk Management Programs Earn Top-10 Recognition from Business Insurance Magazine

Publication recognizes Risk Management and Insurance and Actuarial Science programs for number of graduates

Jan 06 2020 Read more
Amia Foston
ResearchUnleashed

Foston Takes Reins of Butler Data for the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Dec 16 2019

When it comes to elevating Butler University’s national reputation, it’s best to follow the data. That’s according to Amia Foston, the University’s new Director of the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA). 

Foston, who served as Butler’s Assistant Director for OIRA from 2014 to 2017, returns at a pivotal time. He and his team are tasked with making sense of thousands of data points to help inform strategic decisions in monitoring enrollment trends, funding programs, or creating new sections for popular classes.

“We want to make sure any sort of analysis this office provides has insights that are very digestible that people can run with,” Foston says. “Because our work in institutional research and assessment consistently requires us to work with colleagues across the entire campus, we can sometimes notice things and connect dots others might not.”

Foston adds that universities nationwide are relying more on internal data to guide operational, tactical, and strategic decision-making. Foston and his team will be working closely with Butler leadership for every upcoming initiative.

Through computer programs like Tableau, he wants users to see the numbers dance with more interactivity and customization. Instead of static PDFs, OIRA is working to make Butler’s traditional Fact Book information available through data visualizations and dashboards. Staff, faculty, students, and alumni who wish to access Butler’s data are busy, and Foston says users don’t have time to scan massive tables. Organizing the data in clear, concise graphics will help users be able to quickly manipulate enrollment data, for example, by gender, ethnicity, home state, and many other options. 

Foston says OIRA will soon launch an online process for submitting data requests, similar to services provided by Human Resources and Information Technology. Another step in making Butler’s data more accessible will be establishing a frequently asked questions feature of the most common data requests.

Provost Kathryn Morris says the University will only benefit from Foston’s return as he works to conduct research and distill findings into actionable insights. His analytical, project management, and leadership skills come at a pivotal time.

“OIRA plays a key role in collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data that are directly relevant to the decisions people need to make at Butler,” Morris says, “and to demonstrating our value to current and prospective students, their families, and our alumni, donors, and friends.”

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

Amia Foston
ResearchUnleashed

Foston Takes Reins of Butler Data for the Office of Institutional Research and Assessment

New OIRA Director Amia Foston’s goals: making University data digestible, available to inform program decisions

Dec 16 2019 Read more
Sorensons
ResearchUnleashed

Algorithmic Number Theory Research Runs in the Family at Butler

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Dec 13 2019

It’s daughter-like-father when it comes to algorithmic number theory at Butler University.

Long before algorithms organized that cat video content you crave on your social media feeds, mathematicians and computer scientists created and utilized algorithms for faster and more precise calculations. The Department of Computer Science studies these algorithms to improve on existing methodology or to create new ways to compute.

Butler Computer Science Professor Jonathan Sorenson and his daughter, senior Brianna Sorenson, decided to take on Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos and American mathematician John Selfridge’s 1974 algorithmic function for calculating prime factors of binomial coefficients. The research explored the possibilities of the 45-year-old problem. Father and daughter sought to expand the possible solutions and the speed in solving the problem, which hadn’t been challenged since 1999. With decades of computing breakthroughs at their disposal, the Sorensons got to work in the summer of 2018. 

“Algorithmic means you have problems in the area of number theory and you want to solve them using computer algorithms. The object of study is those computer algorithms,” Jonathan Sorenson says.

The Sorensons’ paper, An Algorithm and Estimates for the Erdos-Selfridge Function, will be submitted this winter to the 2020 Algorithmic Number Theory Symposium (ANTS), which is set for June 30 to July 4 in Auckland, New Zealand. 

Established by Cornell University as an intersection of mathematics and computer science fields, ANTS is the place where researchers explore the possibilities of challenging number theoretic problems like the Erdos and Selfridge problem the Sorensons studied, which identifies g (k) as the least integer bigger than k + 1 such that the binomial coefficient C(g(k), k) has no prime divisors larger than k.

Previous researchers computed the first 200 values of the Erdos-Selfridge function. In collaboration with Mathematics and Actuarial Science Professor Jonathan Webster, the Sorensons coded an original algorithm for faster computation for the problem. The work was successful as 157 more known binomial coefficients were discovered. That was almost twice as many numbers that mathematicians and computer scientists previously found.

“The 356th is 31 digits long,” Jon Sorenson says, “and it is the smallest such example larger than 357.”

The work was moved to the Big Dawg cluster supercomputer, which did the heavy lifting with the code written by the Butler team. The supercomputer took 12 days to find integer No. 355 but No. 356 was discovered four days later. Big Dawg had been working since Nov. 11 to find integer No. 357 and it finally discovered g(357)=2808033466727432757706599807359 almost a month later.

Binomial coefficients can break calculators when they reach as high as the Butler team took them to explore Erdos and Selfridge’s function. Jon Sorenson explains the process:

“If you have 10 different hats in your closet, then the binomial coefficient C(10,3) is the number of ways of selecting 3 hats from your closet. This is 120. There are 10 choices for the first hat, then 9 for the second, then 8 for the third, so 10*9*8.  But order doesn't matter, so we have to divide by the number of ways of rearranging 3 things, which is 3!=6. We get 10*9*8/6=120.”

A Computer Science and Mathematics major, Brianna Sorenson’s talent at solving problems with binomial coefficients led to the Erdos-Selfridge function research idea before the 2018 ANTS, which her father co-chaired. Only 19 years old at the time, she noted the function had been untouched since 1999. Why not explore it after 20 years of technological advancement and mathematical discovery?

The younger Sorenson spoke on the Erdos-Selfridge Function work at The Ohio State University Young Mathematicians Conference in August. The event was competitive to get into but Sorenson impressed with her algorithmic number theory work. The experience has been key as the senior prepares her graduate school applications, and being “alphabetically superior,” the younger Sorenson will be listed first.

“I can say ‘Look at this paper I’m in,’” Brianna Sorenson says with a laugh. “I think it’s really helpful to get this kind of experience. I’m wanting to get a PhD in computer science and that involves doing research and writing a thesis. This research was sort of a preview to it.”

Webster also collaborated with senior David Purdum, a Computer Science, Mathematics, and Statistics major, on a research paper, which will be submitted for ANTS 2020. Algorithms for the Multiplication Table Problem explores new ways to solve classic multiplication tables. By helping produce these papers, Purdum and Brianna Sorenson received experience that no coursework could provide. The process of publishing in the field of algorithmic number theory takes years, from selecting the problem to the final peer review of the paper. 

“This is intense and original thinking,” Webster says. “Each of these projects from start to finish take more than two years. With these multi-year projects, it’s difficult to see them through.”

By identifying the problems early in their Butler careers, Purdum and Brianna Sorrenson can count on submitting their high-level research as highlights to their final year as undergrads two years later. 

And for Jon Sorenson, he can count working with his daughter on high-level algorithmic number theory as a career highlight.

“You don’t often get to publish a paper with your kid,” the professor says. “It’s a dream come true.”

 

Media Contact:
Tim Brouk
Senior News Content Manager
tbrouk@butler.edu
765-977-3931 (cell)

 

Student Access and Success

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 beyond.butler.edu.

Sorensons
ResearchUnleashed

Algorithmic Number Theory Research Runs in the Family at Butler

Professor Jon Sorenson and daughter, senior Brianna Sorenson, tackle high math for international conference

Dec 13 2019 Read more
Hala Fadda in her lab
ResearchUnleashed

COPHS Researcher Leads New Treatment of Recurring C. Diff

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Dec 12 2019

Close to half-a-million people a year suffer from Clostridioides difficile, or C. diff, and more than 29,000 of them died from the bacteria, according to the Center for Disease Control. C. diff results from disruption of healthy, normal bacteria in the colon, often from antibiotics, and causes diarrhea, stomach pain, and fever. In the most severe cases, C. diff can damage the colon and be fatal.

Most cases can be treated with antibiotics. But for patients who suffer recurring cases of C. diff, the path to recovery is a bit more complex. New guidelines for this group, introduced in 2011, recommend fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT), or a procedure in which fecal matter is collected from a healthy donor and placed into the gastrointestinal tract of a patient. These transplants can help replenish the bacterial balance in the gut through colonoscopy or capsules.

Most C. diff patients are elderly and had spent time in healthcare settings under the treatment of antibiotics. While the antibiotics wipe out bad bacteria in the patient, good bacteria resilient to C. diff are also destroyed during the process. Results have been favorable in treating recurrent C. diff with FMT, but Butler University Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Hala Fadda is part of a team that has improved cure rates with oral FMT products, while significantly reducing the amount of capsules a C. diff patient must take.

hala fadda
Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Hala Fadda.

Published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences, Fadda and collaborators designed a capsule coating that dissolves in the colon instead of the stomach. This allows for site-specific delivery to the colon and was found to better restore the gut microbial diversity. These new capsules had faster and more successful cure rates compared to standard capsules that dissolve in the stomach in five minutes.

Published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences, Fadda and collaborators designed a capsule coating that dissolves in the colon instead of the stomach. This allows for site-specific delivery to the colon, which has been found to better restore the gut microbial diversity. These new capsules had faster and more successful cure rates compared to standard capsules that dissolve in the stomach in five minutes.

“The coating is essentially a high fiber starch polymer,” says Fadda, who’s gained expertise through researching how patients consume medicine. “The enzymes produced by colonic bacteria start to chomp away and digest that starch, even with C. diff patients’ lowered bacteria diversity. These enzymes, which break up the starch, are abundant in the colon.”

FMT has been adopted by many hospitals, but Fadda says access to the treatment can be improved. Her new capsules are less invasive and more affordable than a colonoscopy, and they can be shipped from specialist centers around the world.

Healthy donors only

Fadda says there is only a 2.5 percent acceptance rate for fecal donors because the criteria is so strict for FMT. Stool banks like OpenBiome in Boston, Massachusetts, don’t accept potential donors who have traveled to places with communicable diseases in the past six months. They also don’t accept donors who have suffered from digestive diseases, metabolic syndromes, and other conditions.

“You can’t have taken antibiotics in the past three months, and body mass index must be less than 30,” Fadda says. “Evidence suggests a correlation between weight and gut microbial communities.” 

As of 2018, 43,000 FMT treatments were issued by OpenBiome, Fada says. However, this number is not representative of total FMT treatments, as some hospitals prepare their own FMT products.

How C. diff spreads

The spores that cause C. diff are abundant in hospitals. They can be spread by visitors, or by healthcare professionals. After the resistant spores are transmitted to patients, they can germinate into vegetative bacterial cells in the colons of vulnerable individuals, and the bacteria produces toxins.

Fadda and her team’s breakthrough will help shorten return hospital stays for many patients suffering from recurrent C. diff. The capsule approach provides an alternative to a colonoscopy—an expensive and invasive procedure some patients might want to avoid—and it looks to be a quick and effective treatment to C. diff while restoring microbiome diversity in the gut.

“Fecal microbiota transplant has been adopted by lots of hospitals,” Fada says. “It’s common in the U.S. and Europe, but accessibility is still an issue. That’s why this capsule offers a significant advantage because it makes FMT more accessible.”

how the FMT works

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

 

Media Contact:
Tim Brouk
Senior News Content Manager
tbrouk@butler.edu
765-977-3931 (cell)

Hala Fadda in her lab
ResearchUnleashed

COPHS Researcher Leads New Treatment of Recurring C. Diff

Professor Hala Fadda has developed capsules that dissolve in the colon to better fight Clostridioides difficile

Dec 12 2019 Read more
Wendy Meaden holds masks.
ResearchUnleashed

Theatre Professor Writing the Textbook on ‘Masks Inside Out’

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Dec 11 2019

Butler Theatre Professor Wendy Meaden was one of the almost 10 million viewers for the premier of reality competition show The Masked Singer. The program, which is now in its second season and was renewed for a third in 2020, pits disguised celebrities in elaborate costumes singing in front of a panel of judges and a live audience.

Being a costume designer and professor whose work has included mask design, creation, and research for more than 20 years, Meaden felt like she had to watch The Masked Singer. But she didn’t make it past the second episode. She enjoyed the show’s mask designs, which are created by artist  Marina Toybina, but Meaden was hoping for more emphasis on the masks themselves.

“I can understand the spectacle, and her designs are really good,” says Meaden, who has designed masks for Butler Theatre plays and leads the Masks class in the Department of Theatre, “but it seems to be design for design’s sake. When masks are designed, there is usually some reason or connection for the aesthetic choice.”

Meaden says creating theatrical masks banks on the audience meeting the performers halfway. It takes a lot of practice to be able to design masks that draw audiences to use their imagination and let themselves be transported into the story.

To help future mask makers understand that dynamic, Meaden is in the process of writing a textbook, Masks Inside Out. She knows there are lots of books about masks already, but she says they concentrate on individual aspects: history, cultural significance, design, and how to perform while wearing one. Meaden aims to create one book that combines it all.

Meaden wears a mask.
Theatre Professor Wendy Meaden wears one of her masks.

“There is so much to learn about masks, but there is no textbook on the market to address masks the way I want to,” Meaden says.

In collaboration with Michael Brown, a former Indianapolis artist now teaching at Columbia College Chicago, Meaden will submit the final manuscript next summer, and she expects to publish it by late 2020.

Masks in the Core Curriculum

Growing up, Meaden never wore masks for Halloween. She remembers noticing masks for the first time when she saw Adam West and Burt Ward’s wearing them in the old Batman TV show.

“I remember thinking ‘They’re not disguised at all. It’s clear who they are,’” Meaden says, laughing.

Meaden created her first masks while she worked as a costume designer for The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which needed billy goat masks for a performance called Three’s Please. She’d never made a mask before, but it seemed like a natural next step to the costume design she’d been doing since 1986.

“As a costume designer,” Meaden says, “I’ve always been interested in presenting characters and transforming actors, and I love the process of creating costumes. Sculpting masks is an extension of that passion.”

Meaden’s masks made their Butler debut during the 2001 production of Hamlet. Made of plaster and cardboard, they portrayed the characters of the Duke of Vienna Gonzago, his wife Baptista, and their murderous nephew, Lucianus. They were then given a worn, weathered appearance of being buried in the dirt, just like poor old Yorick’s skull.

Theatre students that worked on plays with Meaden were enthusiastic to learn more about mask-making and the Masks class at Butler was established in 2003. It’s now part of the Perspectives in the Creative Arts Core Curriculum. Some Theatre majors still take the class as an elective, but many students outside of the Jordan College of Arts enroll, too.

On just the second day of class, students start by creating masks of their own. After protecting their hair with bandanas or plastic bags, they start gluing cardboard and paper over their faces.

“They sit and look in the mirror,” Meaden says. “The class is usually chatty to start, and then there’s a quiet. Everyone stops talking as they are totally focused on the mirror and putting things over their face. What’s fascinating is their sense of transformation—to understand that you can put something on that is your face, but it’s not your face. I am me but I am not me.”

How the brain reacts to masks

In the first chapter of Masks Inside Out, Meaden  explains why people are often either intrigued or repelled by someone wearing a mask. 

“How does your amygdala react?” Meaden asks. “Your brain’s initial reaction is usually fight or flight, but then your neocortex kicks in and tells you it’s a thing on a person. You’re going to be safe, you laugh, and you enjoy.”

Meaden’s research has found that masks are an extension of humans’ fascination for seeing faces—from selfies to picturing faces in inanimate objects. Faces are why we connect to other people, she says, and a mask on a human face usually brings about feelings of mystery, intrigue, or creepiness.

“Faces are how we judge our safety, how we pick potential partners, and identify family. Our aesthetics are wrapped up in how we perceive faces. And masks are a way we tell stories. They are potent ways to communicate. They are a way of connecting with nature, the spirits, ancestors, the gods, disguise, and protection. We use them in so many ways. They are universal.”

While The Masked Singer relies on glitz, glamour, and reality TV brassiness, millions of brains are reacting to the masks, no matter which celebrities are behind them.

Meaden with many masks
Meaden stands with masks she has made and collected.

 

 

Media Contact:
Tim Brouk
Senior News Content Manager
tbrouk@butler.edu
765-977-3931 (cell)

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

One of the distinguishing features of a Butler education has always been the meaningful and enduring relationships between our faculty and students. Gifts to this pillar during Butler Beyond will accelerate our commitment to investing in faculty excellence by adding endowed positions, supporting faculty scholarship and research, renovating and expanding state-of-the-art teaching facilities, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

Wendy Meaden holds masks.
ResearchUnleashed

Theatre Professor Writing the Textbook on ‘Masks Inside Out’

From early man to ‘Masked Singers,’ Wendy Meaden analyzes masks’ history, cultural significance, and theater roles.

Dec 11 2019 Read more
Experiential LearningUnleashed

Butler EPICS Students Develop Video Game to Help Children with Autism

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Dec 04 2019

A trio of Butler Software Engineering and Computer Science students are developing a fantasy adventure computer game with the goal of helping Indianapolis children with autism.

As part of Butler University's Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program, Matthew O’Hern, Maya Sanchez, and Parker Winters will deliver the game, which mixes in communication cues along with classic battle play similar to the classic Nintendo Entertainment System games The Legend of Zelda, to Sycamore Services, Inc., a nonprofit organization that offers services to adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Matthew O'Hern and Parker Winters
EPICS student developers Matthew O'Hern, left, and Parker Winters went old-school for their project.

With Winters creating the maps and environment design, Sanchez and O’Hern developed the main character as well as the artificial intelligence code that drives the baddies—skeletons, zombies, goblins, and evil knights. Along the way, the hero interacts with shopkeepers, travelers, and allies that change facial expressions during these digital conversations. The students and Sycamore Services believe that video gaming can reach a child with autism in augmenting behaviors for face to face interactions away from screens.

Children will play the yet-to-be-named game on Sycamore Services' computers. The game contains battle modes, more than 40 world maps, and 600 portraits of characters within a dialogue system where characters in the video game converse—the driving force behind the game’s creation.

“When the opportunity was presented, I couldn’t say ‘no’ to it,” says O’Hern, a Software Engineering sophomore. “We’re developing it as an instructional source to help children grow their social skills.”

Established almost 20 years ago, EPICS classes provide free information technology services to nonprofit organizations and Butler programs. The class started with just four students as an elective, but it has since quintupled in enrollment, growing into a required class for Computer Science and Software Engineering students. Students get early experience working with clients on developing a website, app, or videogame. The fall 2019 class features five student teams working on projects on and off campus. The students selected their preferred project after organizations presented their needs in the beginning of the semester.

O’Hern has already taken the EPICS class twice. His first experience was leading the development of an interface that helps doctors share and gather data for the InVascular project at IUPUI. And this fall’s project has been even more fulfilling, leading to potential internship opportunities.

Most EPICS projects will allow future students to update them. O’Hern said his video game will be left open for future developers to add levels, characters, and more facial expressions for the children to learn from.

Using the cross-platform game engine Unity, O’Hern and his team created a fantasy world with swords that light up to vanquish skeletons and zombies. While helping children is the ultimate goal, adding the retro spin has been fulfilling for the students. The simple, old-school Nintendo vibe of the game also ensures that gameplay will work on almost any computer.

The battles, the interactions and dialogues with the characters, and the movement of the main character, which the player will be able to name, were all created to be easy yet engaging. O’Hern says the gameplay “disguises” its educational aspects.

Digital costuming

The Department of Theatre’s costume shop is brimming with thousands of hats, dresses, suits, and shoes to clothe actors and actresses. A paper-based system has successfully organized the garments for decades, but an EPICS team led by senior Maya Grandstaff is making strides in digitizing the process. 

The Marketing and Management Information Systems major and her classmates are developing a website where users can search for specific garments by size, color, and style while finding the garments’ locations in the tall hanging racks. Directors, show designers, and outside clients looking to rent costumes can access the massive inventory from the comfort of their couch.

Team members Eromo Algibe and Kameron Leisure spent weeks creating the framework of a database to be filled by Theatre staff and faculty members. By the end of the semester, the frontend user application will feature forms to filter searches. The team is testing basic queries from the front end, which will reach back to the huge database.

“They can just click submit and see what they have,” Grandstaff says. “It’s really cool now to go to a show and see all the costumes, components, and changes that go into it. It really helps you understand how diverse the program is.”

Eromo Algibe works on a project.
EPICS student developer Eromo Algibe works in the Butler Theatre costume shop.

Sam Royal didn’t think sifting through old Renaissance-replica gowns and 1930s-style men’s suits would help his career at first, but a recent job interview proved otherwise. The senior says the job recruiter was particularly interested in his EPICS work.

“It’s all about getting that experience but helping someone out at the same time,” says Royal, a senior studying Management Information Systems.

Panos Linos, Professor of Software Engineering and Computer Science, is pleased to see the program that he is coordinating continue to grow.

“Students need to have a platform to use the skills they learn in their classes, and to apply them in a real setting,” Linos says. “The value of a Software Engineering education comes from applying it to real life. And EPICS is a great platform for that.”

Other EPICS projects in the works this fall:

  • Working with Indy Hunger Network, a team is developing an online calculator for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Users will be able to track their available credits for the most efficient and nutritious ways to feed their families.
  • Participants in Butler’s Healthy Horizons program will receive a new digital process to keep track of activities, points, and incentives. The online component will be more interactive than its print and PDF predecessors.
  • A team of EPICS developers are creating an online memorial for Holocaust survivor Eva Kor, who died July 4 at 85. An active public speaker until just months before her death, Kor gave the Butler Spring 2015 Commencement address, promoting messages of forgiveness, strength, and survival. The website will allow users to “plant” digital flowers in a garden. Each purple flower will contain the name of the person being remembered, the date, and a message. 

 

Media Contact:
Tim Brouk
Senior News Content Manager
tbrouk@butler.edu
765-977-3931 (cell)

 

Community Partnerships

Through collaboration and strong partnerships, Butler Beyond will unleash the potential of our brilliant faculty and students on the complex issues facing our community. Support for this pillar will expand Butler’s reach and roots in the Indianapolis community and beyond by cultivating deeper integration with local organizations and businesses, increasing experiential learning opportunities for students, nurturing new ventures, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

Experiential LearningUnleashed

Butler EPICS Students Develop Video Game to Help Children with Autism

As part of the Engineering Projects in Community Service program, students provide free IT work to the community

Dec 04 2019 Read more
The Farm at Butler FFA tour
CommunityUnleashed

A Model for Urban Farming in Indianapolis

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Nov 25 2019

This story is part of a mini-series exploring The Farm at Butler, its methods, and its mission. Part five of six. 

 

On a frosty morning in early November, about 50 high school students from across the nation visited Butler University to learn about a different kind of farming—a kind that can meet the needs of humans and nature alike.

The students traveled from as far away as Maryland and California to spend the day in Indianapolis for the 2019 National FFA Convention & Expo, an annual celebration of student accomplishments within the organization for young people who are interested in agriculture and leadership. Throughout two hours of exploring The Farm at Butler and hearing from staff at the Center for Urban Ecology & Sustainability (CUES), they learned how the chemical-free, planet-friendly growing methods used on Butler's one-acre space could be applied at a larger scale.

These annual tours first started several years ago, when FFA was on the hunt for powerful examples of urban agriculture. As part of the yearly FFA convention in Indianapolis, the organization’s leaders wanted to help teach members about the variety of ways they could approach food production. With a focus on agroecology and sustainability, and a mission based on education, The Farm at Butler became a lasting match.

But the FFA tour is just one of about 30 educational sessions the CUES staff lead each year. Even as The Farm’s main focus shifts to serving Butler students through internships and classes, the urban agriculture project still holds down its role as a community model of all that can be grown on just one diversified acre.

Roughly half of The Farm’s tours each year are for elementary school students, teaching young people how farmers grow the ingredients for pizza and other favorite foods. Another 10 or so tours are for groups on Butler’s campus, who usually learn about the role of local agriculture in the food system or how everyday food choices can influence the environment. The CUES also leads a handful of farm tours with other Indianapolis organizations.

 

 

For a more in-depth experience, The Farm hosts workshops through a science education network called Purdue Extension, helping train the next generation of gardeners and farmers to grow food in ecologically sound ways. Butler is also working alongside three other local farms—Mother Love’s Garden, Fitness Farm, and Growing Places Indy—to explore urban mushroom production. The project, which was funded by a USDA-SARE partnership grant in 2017, has helped these groups understand and share their findings on the most effective ways to grow mushrooms in Indianapolis.

“Overall, we want to educate the public about healthy eating, how food is grown, and the implications of different food production methods,” says CUES Director Julia Angstmann. “We want to help people understand how they, as individuals, can make food choices that benefit themselves, the environment, and society.”

 

READ MORE:

Part 1: Getting To The Root of It: How Butler’s One-Acre Farm Has Evolved In a Decade

Part 2: Farming Full-Time: How Tim Dorsey Discovered the World Through Agriculture

Part 3: A Crash Course on Nature-Focused, Hands-In-The-Dirt Growing

Part 4: Sustainability on the Syllabus

Part 5: A Model for Urban Farming in Indianapolis

Part 6: So, Where Does All The Food Go?

 

Explore the full Farm at Butler mini-series here

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
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Community Partnerships

Through collaboration and strong partnerships, Butler Beyond will unleash the potential of our brilliant faculty and students on the complex issues facing our community. Support for this pillar will expand Butler’s reach and roots in the Indianapolis community and beyond by cultivating deeper integration with local organizations and businesses, increasing experiential learning opportunities for students, nurturing new ventures, and more. Learn more, make a gift, and read other stories like this one at beyond.butler.edu.

The Farm at Butler FFA tour
CommunityUnleashed

A Model for Urban Farming in Indianapolis

The Farm at Butler leads educational tours for local organizations, up-and-coming farmers, and students of all ages.

Nov 25 2019 Read more

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