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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 an autistic child in augmenting behaviors for face to face interactions away from screens.

Children will play the yet-to-be-named game on computers at the Indianapolis center, located in St. Vincent Hospital. 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
CampusExperiential Learning

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

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 three of six.

 

The Farm at Butler probably looks different from any you’ve seen before. It’s not a wall of corn or wheat, the same crop filling miles of fields along the highway. Instead, the one-acre space—nestled on a floodplain between the White River and the Central Canal—looks more like a backyard garden. Plenty of space separates each of the long, narrow plant beds growing more than 70 kinds of plants, and woody shrubs crawl up the sides of a wood-plank fence. You won’t see a tractor here, or even a plough—all the work is done by hand. And with just one full-time farmer and a handful of student interns, there aren’t that many hands to do the work.

Still, The Farm produces about 10,000 pounds of food each year.

That’s because Farm Manager Tim Dorsey and other leaders in Butler’s Center for Urban Ecology and Sustainability (CUES) have decided to let nature do the heavy lifting. Below, learn more about how nearly every aspect of The Farm at Butler draws from other ecosystems for guidance on how to make the most of organic growing.

 

Agroecology:

The Farm is built on the idea of agroecology, a way of farming that looks to natural ecosystems for inspiration. Dorsey uses the forests and prairies surrounding The Farm as a guide, mimicking what he sees to create a diverse environment. For example, he tries to plant in a variety of layers, and he grows a mix of perennial and annual plants.

Dorsey has recently focused on adding more perennial permaculture elements, such as sturdy trees and shrubs, which live for years instead of requiring replanting each season. In addition to layering the canopy and providing shade as they grow, these more stable, low-maintenance plants minimize soil disturbance. Dorsey says this sort of farming is even healthier for the ecosystem than basic organic growing.

 

Caring for the soil:

A key element of sustainable, organic farming is protecting soil health. The more stable the soil, the less erosion and run-off will occur, the less pollution will take place, and the healthier the plants will be. At The Farm, Dorsey protects the soil in a variety of ways. For example, The Farm is on a nine-year crop rotation plan, which means a plot of soil grows a different plant each year for nine years. This gives the soil time to replenish itself with specific nutrients that were drained by previous plants. Some deep-rooted plants also serve the purpose of capturing the nutrients that have sunk to the lowest layers of the soil, then redistributing them to the upper layers, which helps make sure every nutrient gets used. And between plantings of different crops, they don’t use chemicals to kill remaining plants—they just lay down straw to smother out sunlight and conserve moisture.

During the winter, or when there is any gap in the regular rotation, Dorsey plants cover crops to keep the soil in shape. For example, as soon as they finished harvesting the onions this summer, they put in oats. Oats will grow a lot before winter, and they also have an extensive root system. Onions get the most fertilizer (from compost), and oat roots scavenge what’s left so that nothing is wasted. Then when the oats die in the winter, they easily become automatic mulch, making it easy to handle in the spring.

 

Making the most of bugs:

Most people understand the importance of pollinators such as bees and butterflies when it comes to growing a garden, and The Farm is always looking for ways to put nature’s workers to the task. Two bee hives on The Farm are home to many of its buzzing friends, and a plot of flowers—which are later sold at the market—attract several graceful butterflies at a time. When deciding which new crops to try, Dorsey often focuses on choosing ones that serve a secondary purpose of bringing in more good bugs. “If we can get things to perform more than one function,” he says, “that’s ideal.”

But some critters making their way onto the acre aren’t so friendly—some pests gnaw at the leaves and plant their eggs on the stems. So Dorsey also makes sure to use “companion planting,” incorporating flowering plants that attract the right predatory insects to kill the pests. You might think of a wasp as a nuisance—or just plain evil—but on the farm, it serves a useful purpose.

 

 

What grows on the farm?

Apples Cilantro Lemongrass Raspberries
Arugula Collard Lettuce Rhubarb
Asparagus Corn Melons Rosemary
Basil Cucumbers Mint Rutabaga
Beans Dill Mustard Sage
Beets Dwarf Korean pines Onions Scallions
Bok Choy Eggplant Oregano Spinach
Broccoli Fennel Parsley Squash
Brussels Sprouts Flowers Peas Strawberries
Cabbage Garlic Peaches Sunchokes
Carrots Gooseberries Peppers Sweet corn
Cauliflower Hazelnuts Peppermint Thyme
Celery Honeyberries Potatoes Tomatoes
Chard Kale Pumpkins Turnips
Chives Leeks Radishes Watermelon

 

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
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.

CampusExperiential Learning

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

The Farm goes beyond just sticking to organic methods, taking cues from nature to create a diverse space.

Nov 25 2019 Read more
The Farm at Butler classes
AcademicsExperiential Learning

Sustainability on the Syllabus

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 four of six.

 

Some of the classes held at The Farm might seem obvious—a biology course about soil health, an environmental studies course looking at urban food systems, or a chemistry class studying contaminants. And yes, all of those happen at The Farm. But especially since the CUES received a major grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) last June—totaling almost $600,000—its curriculum has placed a new emphasis on weaving The Farm into a wider range of classes across campus.

Led by CUES Director Julia Angstmann, the NSF-funded project aims to promote scientific literacy by integrating STEM-related topics into non-STEM courses at Butler. Based on the idea that all people would benefit from a basic understanding of science before working together to solve societal challenges, these courses use the power of place-based experiential learning to connect students with science. Down on The Farm, where you can watch things grow and help make it happen, the class content comes alive.

As the project unfolds over the next three years, Angstmann will evaluate how campus farms and other green spaces can become centers of learning for all students. The NSF often tries to develop ways for non-STEM majors to continue engaging with science in their careers and personal lives, and by bringing religious studies, communications, health, and other disciplines down to The Farm, Butler is doing just that.

 

Having Faith in Nature - RL 384

Brent Hege says Christians usually interact with nature in one of two ways: as a resource for humans, or as an equal being.

“There’s a lot of ambiguity in the Christian tradition about the relationship between Christianity and the environment,” explains the Lecturer of Religion. “Some Christians think the environment is ours to use as we see fit—that we can exploit it because it’s not really as important as human beings. Other Christians think that’s totally misguided—that stewardship means respect, care, and love for the environment.”

In the ecotheology class he teaches at Butler, Hege focuses on that second part—how can humans use religion to see nature through a “loving eye,” caring for the earth and treating all things equally?

For the next time the class meets, Hege has added more place-based learning to the syllabus. In a new unit at The Farm, students will study how farmers think about their relationships with nature. Through interviews with workers at The Farm and with people who buy food from it, they’ll see how urban agriculture highlights a range of perspectives about the environment.

Hege’s research on the relationship between environmentalism and Christianity hasn’t touched directly on sustainable farming. But growing up in Pennsylvania, he spent a lot of time working on family farms and eating local produce. It wasn’t always as easy to find small-scale, sustainably-grown food when he first moved to Indianapolis, so he’s excited for the chance to work with the CUES.

“I think one of the things about farming—or even about gardening—that I find so compelling is that it keeps us connected to rhythms, cycles, and patterns,” he says. “It reminds us that, as hard as we try, we’re not really in control of everything.”

Hege wants to show students how Christianity can be a resource for addressing environmental problems. He hopes they learn to be present in their surroundings, noticing more of what they walk past every day and considering the role they play among it all.

“All of us are part of this natural world,” he says. “So no matter where we’re coming from, we have an obligation to think about how we live impacts all these other things.”

 

From Farm to Twitter - ORG 358

Lindsay Ems knows social media can be destructive. She knows it can be used to tear people down and target minority groups. But in her service learning class that has partnered with Indianapolis organizations every semester for more than four years, Ems focuses on how social media can empower communities. 

In the course, the Assistant Professor of Communication pairs student groups with local organizations to help solve digital-media-based problems. Whether through live-Tweeting an event or developing a new campaign strategy, students help tell stories about the organizations.

The class has worked with a variety of Indy-based groups, including Cancer Support Community Central Indiana, Heartland Film, and Damien Center. They’ve partnered with The Farm at Butler about four times, and other food-related partners such as Indy Urban Acres, Keystone-Monon Community Garden, and Garcia’s Gardens.

As part of the NSF grant, the course will soon start working exclusively with farming-based groups. Ems says empowerment often comes down to food access, so it’s important for agricultural organizations to tell people what they do. She says there are so many places in Indianapolis trying to provide fresh, organic produce, but it won’t make a huge difference unless they can get the word out.

Social media can make the whole food experience more efficient. But posting on Instagram isn’t always a priority for farmers who just love being outside, so Ems says college students make a perfect match.

“When you get these organizations who are resource-strapped to begin with,” she says, “they see [social media] as something they don’t have time for. And we have students who are so good at it—so fluent and literate in the technologies.”

Erin Underwood, a senior majoring in Human Communication & Organizational Leadership, worked on The Farm team when she took ORG 358 last fall. Before the class, she knew The Farm existed, but she says she didn’t know much about it. That was exactly the issue her team worked to solve.

The group spent the semester building a social media plan for The Farm’s channels, dedicating each month to promoting a different value. They created content highlighting topics from how The Farm benefits individual and community health to how the methods used there help care for the earth. For each theme, they explained the importance of the value and told the story of how The Farm is living it out.

Erin says the chance to work with a real organization taught her to collaborate, instead of just building a plan without understanding what it needs to accomplish.

“You need to be there to learn about them, listen to them, and hear what they need,” she says. “You need to spend time understanding them so you can effectively make a social media plan in their voice. We could post the best content in the world, but if it doesn’t feel like it’s coming from The Farm, then I think it loses some of that spirit of what they really want to do with social media.”

Erin says there’s some value in classes that stick to hypothetical projects, building mock content and strategies for the sake of practice.

“But the fact that we were trusted as students to get experience with something like this made all the difference,” she says of ORG 358. “It felt like the work we did was valued and really appreciated by our community partner, which was a cool thing to see.”

Ems hopes the course helps students think more critically about their own social media use. She wants them to see that the same tools they use for posting memes, sharing animal videos, or chatting with friends can provide valuable ways to reach people in need.

 

Cultivating Well Being - PWB115-BI

Growing a garden does more for your health than convincing you to actually eat all the fruits and vegetables you spent weeks watering and weeding. Working in the sun and digging in the soil can improve overall well being in a variety of ways, and Butler students can earn class credit learning how.

In Cultivating Well Being, Farm Manager Tim Dorsey challenges students to think about where food comes from, how to grow healthy foods, and the role gardening can play in a lifetime of well being. After a few days of readings and discussions, students get their hands in the dirt right down on The Farm.

“We’re always looking for ways to be more a part of Butler’s academic life, so this was a good step into that for us,” Dorsey says about the class, now in its fifth year. “We’re able to engage students in a course that fills a requirement while exposing them to our space. They can see right where the food is coming from.”

Zach Madere, a senior Pharmacy major taking the class this fall, makes the most of that experience by visiting the Farm Stand each week to buy some of the produce he helped grow. Back in his kitchen, he cooks his own meals using cilantro, arugula, onions, and spinach that couldn’t be much more local.

“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” he says. “I think it’s so cool that The Farm is literally in our backyard. I think it’s awesome to be a part of that—to grow something—then to actually use what we grow.”

But the class content goes beyond just a how-to on home-grown vegetables. Students also learn about broader societal issues in agriculture and food production, considering ways they can help face global challenges.

“I’d like to see them consider how the ways we answer questions in society—specifically relating to food systems, consumer choices, and government policies—not only affect society,” Dorsey says, “but have an impact on communities, families, and individuals.”

 

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
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.

The Farm at Butler classes
AcademicsExperiential Learning

Sustainability on the Syllabus

As The Farm shifts to a primary focus on education, classes across the Butler curriculum find ways to use the space.

Nov 25 2019 Read more
GuideDawg 2.0 icon on a phone
Experiential LearningUnleashed

New App to Help Blind, Visually-Impaired Butler Students, Visitors

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Nov 14 2019

Haley Sumner’s first few weeks at Butler University were spent navigating campus—learning routes between buildings,figuring out where to go for coffee, and learning how to use her student ID card. Most new students could always use a head start but Sumner, who graduated in May 2019, is blind. She needed three weeks before the start of classes to feel comfortable with her new academic environment.

Sumner admits there were challenges as construction changed her routes every year. The young graduate had to be mindful of twisting sidewalks, changes in ground surfaces and certain doors being made unavailable, again due to construction.

“Having a guide dog was an asset,” Sumner remembers. “It was incredible to work with a guide dog. I thought campus was very accessible.”

Haley Sumner on campus
Haley Sumner '19 was instrumental in GuideDawg 2.0's development.

But not all blind or visually impaired people have access to a guide dog, and those that do use guide dogs may not have weeks to learn Butler’s campus. What if a visually impaired prospective student wants to find their way around? What if a blind person wants to attend a concert at Clowes Memorial Hall?

A team of undergraduate software developers are working on an answer. Led by Computer Science and Software Engineering Professor Panos Linos, the team is creating a digital guide for the blind and visually impaired. Inspired by its four-legged predecessors, GuideDawg 2.0 will be a mobile prototype application available in time for fall 2020 classes. The app will work on any smartphone.

Initial coding started in fall 2018 and Linos says the students will have enough of GuideDawg 2.0 complete to present at conferences next semester. The app will vocally tell users the best route to take from class to class or the cafeteria to Starbucks in Atherton Union. Custom digital mapping installed in the software combined with GPS location will serve as guidance but with features that stretch beyond Google Maps.

“They are eager to push the envelope,” he says. “Throughout this project, it wasn’t just about finding the answers but also finding the questions. We are really figuring out what it means to have people differently abled than us. These students are all here because of their willingness to learn, to explore, and to communicate.”

Serving the community

GuideDawg 1.0 was developed by Linos and other students for the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in 2015. Blind students at the school were assisted by navigation instructors to get around, but they weren’t getting detailed directions once outside the classroom and on their own. GuideDawg helped them get from classroom to classroom as it gave directions step by step.

Linos and his students had to develop a completely different user experience than typical apps they developed in class. They also had to factor the cadence of the app’s vocalizations with voice-to-text and text-to-voice development, while eliminating as many touches as possible.

“They can hear—and prefer—much faster speech for their apps,” Linos says. “We had to speed up the voice for the app.”

For GuideDawg 1.0, Linos had his students wear blindfolds in early meetings.

“Everybody was wearing them while holding their phones,” Linos says. “That experience reminds us of who the actual user will be. We had ideas that would work for you and me, but not for someone who is differently-abled. Would a blind student be able to use this?”

Tech details

A major key to GuideDawg 2.0 will be data collection by Linos’ students. They are in the process of gathering the latitude and longitude of every door on Butler’s campus—every classroom, every entrance to Atherton Union, every bathroom. The data will be entered into a database that GuideDawg 2.0 will pull from via Microsoft Azure cloud. A pre-existing database of every room at Butler that contains technology was also utilized courtesy of Butler Information Technology.

Bluetooth-activated, weatherproof sensors were purchased and will be placed at construction sites and other “hazardous” areas on campus. The sensors work as beacons to trigger GuideDawg 2.0 and are designed to blend in with walls and doorways.

“It’s an interesting challenge,” says Ryan Graham, a senior studying Computer Science on the GuideDawg 2.0 team, “to try to make it so users can understand where buttons are very efficiently and effectively without seeing them. It can’t be clunky with a billion buttons on the front. It has to be very minimal but extremely functional."

Prof. Linos and student
Professor Panos Linos, left, shows Bluetooth-activated beacons to student Gabbi Forsythe.

GuideDawg 2.0 must be nimble and able to change with a growing campus. In just the last year, the new building for the Andre B. Lacy School of Business and the expansion and renovation of the sciences buildings were added to maps.

“I think Butler is really big on inclusivity and this is just another step in becoming more inclusive,” says Gabbi Forsythe, a Software Engineering senior developing the web interface of the app, “so everyone can get around campus.”

Michele Atterson, Director of the Office of Student Disability Services (SDS), concurs that GuideDawg 2.0 will only improve a campus that has received favorable accessibility feedback, even at active construction sites. She says, “I had many conversations with the project managers for the (sciences complex construction) to ensure the color contrast, font, and size of the detour signage was also accessible to people with vision impairments—as well as those with mobility impairments.

“Raising disability awareness is a mission of SDS. Overall, we have a community that is committed to welcoming people with disabilities.”

The students presented their progress on GuideDawg 2.0 at the October 25 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Advisory Committee meeting and were met with enthusiastic, positive feedback. The project was given a $500 donation from committee chair Michael Swarzman ’74 and his wife, Barbara Grier, on the spot.

“You can’t help but respect the innovation a project like that demands,” Swarzman says. “It is an obvious commitment for the professor and the students. Expanding on need of inclusivity and diversity is applaudable and the broader application to it is exactly what my family wants to support.”

‘Very beneficial’

During her senior year at Butler, Sumner served as a consultant for GuideDawg 2.0’s early development. She took the developers on her campus routes and pointed out landmarks like a loud air conditioner near Jordan Hall. Sumner noted doors that were difficult for her to open. The GuideDawg team implemented these details into the app to alert users when they approach potential problem areas.

“I think this will be very beneficial for step-by-step routes between buildings,” Sumner says. “Hopefully it will have a very smooth transition.”

Sumner adds that apps like Google Maps don’t have enough spatial awareness for blind users. Like the young students at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Sumner couldn’t rely on Apple Maps for which doors to use and what hallways to take to reach her Communications Sciences and Disorders classes on time.

But accessible technology has come a long way and is improving rapidly. Sumner has noticed a marked improvement in the quality of apps and screen-reading software. GuideDawg 2.0 will be part of the further advancement in technological accessibility. Sumner still lives around Butler and she is excited to download the app next year.

“Technology has come a long way,” says Sumner, who is pursuing certification as a life coach. “It needs to continue to be equal and inclusive for everyone. It will cultivate empowerment and diminish stigma.”

 

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.

GuideDawg 2.0 icon on a phone
Experiential LearningUnleashed

New App to Help Blind, Visually-Impaired Butler Students, Visitors

Launching in fall 2020, the GuideDawg app measures steps between classrooms and warns of construction sites

Nov 14 2019 Read more
Students get a tour on the Detroit Trek
Experiential LearningUnleashed

LSB Treks Allow Students to Get Inside Peek in New York, Detroit

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Nov 11 2019

Detroit, Michigan, has gone by many names: the Motor City, Hockeytown, and The D, just to name a few. Comeback City is its latest, and that moniker was witnessed by Butler University students.

With the help of alumni like Steve Hamp ‘70, Detroit caught the eye of the Andre B. Lacy School of Business’ Trek program. During Fall Break, nine Business students took part in the second annual Detroit Trek. Hosted by Butler grads, the students met professionals and toured national companies and venues like Quicken Loans, General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Ford Field, NYX Inc., and the Detroit Empowerment Plan, where homeless women craft specialized coats to combat global homelessness.

“Trips like this are exciting and fun and advertise Detroit as a destination for graduates to participate and be a part of its renaissance,” says Hamp, who coordinated the Ford Field and Ford Motor Company visits.

The Detroit Trek is the second such trip of its kind within the LSB. A New York Trek has enjoyed a successful five-year run. It concentrates on Wall Street and the world of finance. The 2020 New York Trek will take 10 more Business students to the Big Apple in March.

Both Treks were funded by alumni donations before Michigan native Amy Wierenga ‘01 and her husband, Luis Felipe Perez-Costa, established a $100,000 endowment to ensure the Treks’ continuation.

“It’s so valuable for students to be able to experience the culture of several different firms first hand—to directly interact with people in different kinds of roles in a low-pressure setting,” says Wierenga, who is a Butler Trustee. “Many students don’t realize how diverse the potential opportunities are within and across firms, how many different ways there are to apply their talents and plug into a career. Thanks to the Treks, students get exposed to, and can explore seeing themselves in different seats. They can say ‘I could see that being me in five or 10 years.’”

From trains to electric autonomous vehicles

Hamp, who earned an American History degree from Butler before spending the last four decades in Detroit, introduced Pamela Lewis, director of the New Economy Initiative, to talk about entrepreneurialism with the students over lunch before a behind-the-scenes look at Ford’s development of the old Michigan Central Station. The 105-year-old landmark will be the new home of the car manufacturer’s electric autonomous vehicle research and development.

At Ford Field, the students experienced a rare glimpse of the inner-workings of an NFL franchise in midseason. They met Detroit Lions President Rod Wood, and took a tour of the stadium, which included the opportunity to walk on the turf and stand in the end zones where Lions Quarterback Matthew Stafford has thrown 141 touchdown passes and counting.

Whether picking professionals’ brains or conversing with alumni over dinner, almost every interaction had a common thread for the students.

Bradley Herzog in Detroit
Senior Bradley Herzog stands inside Michigan Central Station, a future home to Ford vehicle research.

“Everyone we talked to was very passionate about the city and the direction it’s going,” says Bradley Herzog, a senior studying International Business and Spanish. “It was great to see people moving back into the city and finding jobs there. There’s a lot of positive things to say about Detroit.”

Herzog and sophomore Emma Ryan cited the visit to the Empowerment Plan as especially impactful. CEO Veronika Scott was studying fashion design in college when she came up with the idea to create coats that convert to sleeping bags. More than a decade later, the Plan has grown into much more than coats. Ryan was impressed with the tremendous social impact a young entrepreneur has made in a major city.

“Many of the people making the coats were domestic violence victims,” says Ryan, a Finance and Marketing major. “It was a safe place for them with a full kitchen and supportive environment. They were paying them to make coats, but also to unwind and recharge. There was yoga and classes to earn their GED. They could stay for two years and get back on their feet.”

Ryan was also impressed at the number of young women represented at major companies at every level. Two recent college graduates at GM spoke to her about finance and what their job paths have consisted of. In the two young businesswomen, Ryan found inspiration and confidence in her own career path, which now might include Detroit.

“After graduation, I was planning on moving to Chicago or New York,” says the Evansville, Indiana, native, “but after this trip, I saw a different side of Detroit: I saw the booming business side.”

Next Treks: Windy City? Bay Area?

Graham Honaker, Executive Director of Principal Gifts for Butler Advancement, revealed the Trek program could extend to Chicago and the Bay Area. Applications for the New York Trek number in the dozens and Detroit is not far behind. Not bad for a program that started with a cup of Starbucks coffee. Honaker met up with Michael Bennett ‘09, then an analyst with JP Morgan Chase & Co., in Manhattan. The young alumnus spoke about bringing Butler Business students to New York to get an early taste of what working on Wall Street is like.

“It’s so competitive to get into the financial sector in New York,” Honaker says. “From that Starbucks, we outlined the program and launched it a couple years later.”

Bennett is thrilled to see the Treks grow. Only 10 years removed from his own Butler graduation, he is happy to help bring Butler students to the Big Apple for the Trek and, later, as professionals.

“It’s how to get your foot in the door; you have to be there to make that happen,” says Bennett, now director of investment counseling for Citibank. “During these Treks, they have proximity to companies and alumni. It’s engaging and fun, and there’s some elements of excitement around it. It’s a major recruitment tool.”

Whether it’s Detroit Rock City, the City That Never Sleeps, or any other market brimming with Butler alumni, LSB Treks are worth every mile.

“I would highly recommend attending as many as you can,” Herzog says. “There’s no downside. You get the opportunity to see so many companies inside the city. We were really privileged to see and talk to so many successful professionals. It’s an opportunity you don't get at a lot of colleges.”

 

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.

Students get a tour on the Detroit Trek
Experiential LearningUnleashed

LSB Treks Allow Students to Get Inside Peek in New York, Detroit

Business students tour companies and network with alumni

Nov 11 2019 Read more
Butler in Asia (Singapore)
AcademicsExperiential Learning

Renewed Grant to Butler in Asia Sets Total Funding at More Than $1 Million

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Nov 07 2019

When Su-Mei Ooi first started teaching at Butler University, she never imagined she’d have the chance to travel with students back to where she grew up in the city-state of Singapore.

“Indianapolis just seems so far away from there,” says the Associate Professor of Political Science.

But in 2017, Ooi joined the Butler in Asia study abroad experience as a Faculty Director. The program, which places students at six-week internships in Asian cities, had just developed a Singapore option to add to the China trips it first launched in 2015.

Now, the program is growing again. The Freeman Foundation has renewed its grant to Butler in Asia, awarding $400,000 that will fund the internship experience for the next two years and support new trips to Tokyo starting next summer.

About 40 percent of Butler students travel abroad by the time they graduate—making the University ninth in the nation for undergraduate participation. More than 700 students studied abroad from summer 2018 through spring 2019, an increase of 34 percent from the year before. And with continued support from organizations like the Freeman Foundation, those numbers are only continuing to grow.

The Freeman Foundation is dedicated to strengthening relationships between the United States and nations in East Asia. It has provided grants to Butler in Asia since 2014, with the most recent award setting Butler’s total funding from the foundation at more than $1 million.

“Finances continue to be the largest deterrent for students to be able to go abroad,” says Butler Director of Global Engagement Jill McKinney. “The Freeman Foundation has helped remove this barrier to make this culturally complex region of the world more accessible to more students.”

Since the start of the relationship, 146 Butler students have participated. A total of 72 more students are expected to travel with the program over the next two years.

The Freeman Foundation aims to provide U.S. college students with experiences in East and Southeast Asia, locations that aren’t typical study abroad destinations.

“These countries have rich histories and are also important contemporary influences in the world,” McKinney says. “With their ongoing financial support, the Freeman Foundation has literally opened this part of the world up to our students.”

But just going to these places isn’t enough: Freeman Foundation members want students to really engage in the cultures and interact with the people. That cultural engagement is a core part of the program at Butler, one of just 23 U.S. universities that receive funding from the Freeman Foundation.

Through Butler in Asia, students are placed in workplace experiences relevant to their majors. But that’s not the only selling point. The program also pairs students with faculty members who travel with them, teach them about the complexities of local culture, and mentor them through the first few weeks of their trip.

“This structure has allowed more students to envision themselves taking on a study abroad location they might not have otherwise considered,” McKinney says.

As a Faculty Director, Ooi takes groups of 10 to 15 students back to her home country every summer. She leads a week of regional travel before the internships begin, teaches students about the social issues affecting Singapore, and provides moral support as students acclimate to the culture and workplace.

Kelly Stone, a sophomore who traveled to Singapore with Butler in Asia last summer, says she learned a lot from Ooi that she wouldn’t have otherwise understood.

“She was able to tell us about the behind-the-scenes context on things,” Stone says. “She had so much to teach us, and she was also really helpful in preparing us for the trip.”

Stone, who studies Marketing and Entrepreneurship & Innovation at Butler, spent her internship with a local Singaporean marketing firm called ENCE Marketing Group. She’d been itching to travel again since first going abroad during a gap year after high school. She says actually having the chance to work in another country rounded out her other international experiences, which she had mostly spent volunteering or just exploring. Plus, it gave her a taste of what it might be like to move abroad later in her career.

At her internship, Stone worked mostly with the public relations team. Beyond providing her first-ever internship experience, the time in Singapore helped Stone grow more confident in working through cultural barriers or differences. With the goal of starting her own business one day, she also valued the chance to be part of a small company, where she worked closely with the person who had launched the firm.

Like Stone, roughly half of the students who travel with Butler in Asia each year are from the Lacy School of Business (LSB). Bill Templeton, the Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs in LSB, says he works to promote the program among business students as a way to complete one of their two required internships in cities that are central to the business world.

“Most of our graduates will likely encounter doing business with Asian counterparts,” he says. “The opportunity to actually go to Asia, and to get a sense of the economic and business climate there, is a huge advantage for our students.”

Applications for the Summer 2020 Butler in Asia trips are due December 4, 2019. Students can apply here for Shanghai, here for Singapore, or here for Tokyo. Feel free to contact Jill McKinney (jsmckinn@butler.edu) with any questions.

 

Media Contact:
Katie Grieze
News Content Manager
kgrieze@butler.edu
260-307-3403 (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.

Butler in Asia (Singapore)
AcademicsExperiential Learning

Renewed Grant to Butler in Asia Sets Total Funding at More Than $1 Million

Support from the Freeman Foundation helps Butler place students at internships in East Asia.

Nov 07 2019 Read more
A Sparki robot used in the Analytical Reasoning course
Experiential LearningUnleashed

Robots Enhance Coding Prowess, Passion in the Core Curriculum

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Nov 01 2019

Getting Butler University Dance majors to learn computer coding was as easy as a plié in first position, thanks to robots.

In Computer Science Professor Panos Linos’ pilot Analytical Reasoning course in 2010, part of the Butler Core Curriculum, the goal was to give students not majoring in Computer Science or Software Engineering some experience in coding. So, Linos employed robots, something he thought would get non-majors excited about using things foreign to almost everyone in the class, such as the Python language. The class, now in its ninth year, teaches students to program robots to do small tasks like drawing shapes, making a sequence of noises, and flashing lights in a pattern.

A recent final project saw a group of Dance majors choreograph their robots to “dance” a routine, something they could all relate to. The students had a classical music score to back up the bots.

“All five robots performed a ballet together,” says Linos, with a laugh. “It’s very challenging to synchronize all of these robots to do the same routine.”

Adjunct Professor in Computer Science Jeremy Eglen now leads the course with a new robot—Sparki. Each student gets their own small robot, which is equipped with motorized wheels, an LCD screen, and little arms for gripping small objects. They also have sensors to help them see light, identify objects, and follow the lines of a maze or edge of a table.

Most of the work is done in groups. The students help one another on assignments with colorful names like Back-Up Bot, Episode 1: The Phantom Obstacle—one that involves writing a program that makes the robot move backward for two seconds without crashing into an obstacle.

The robots have been effective in getting students hooked on coding. Linos says the students treat their bots like their pets, carrying them around and celebrating new tricks that took hours to compute. While some students might have taken a coding class in high school, Analytical Reasoning is more hands-on. They can see their hours of meticulous coding create action for Sparki.

“You can sense the excitement of the students,” Linos says. “The motivation and passion I saw in the students was a great measure of this class’ success.”

Coding encoded in most careers

Whether future teachers or rising anthropologists, students in Eglen’s class realize the importance of basic coding

Jeremy Eglen instructs his students.
Computer Science faculty member Jeremy Eglen, second from left, helps his students code.

Journalism sophomore David Brown already knows the need for coding experience in a competitive job market. He found Analytical Reasoning as an ideal fit.

“Coding seemed so inaccessible to me,” he says. “But it’s a lot easier than I thought it would be. If you put your time into it, it’s doable.”

Despite taking a coding class in high school, first-year Journalism major Brook Tracy admitted feeling intimidated by early coding assignments. But after early success in getting Sparki to move around in response to her coding, that changed.

“I thought learning how to code was way out of reach. There was no way I could do that,” Tracy says. “But it is something that’s attainable. You don’t need to be a crazy genius to learn how to do it, but my family and friends are still amazed at what I can do now. You just have to be detail-oriented and listen to instructions, and you can figure it out.

“And If you’re the person at the office who can code, your human capital goes up. Whatever field you go into, this experience will boost your resume even higher.”

Eglen agrees. He says there aren’t many jobs that don’t require computers and the ability to work them.

“Knowledge of programming is going to help you, no matter what your career is,” Eglen says. “And some of the students find out they actually like it.”

‘Still Alive’

Students program their robot.
Students program their Sparki robot in the Analytical Reasoning course.

First-year student Hannah Goergens, a Creative Writing and Computer Science major, enjoys the creative atmosphere in the Analytical Reasoning class, which serves as an appetizer before her Computer Science main courses.

In her spare time, Goergens programmed her robot to “sing” a tune called Still Alive from the video game Portal. She downloaded sheet music for the song, which is sung from the perspective of a robot, and got to work scripting every note, pitching Sparki’s bleeps to match the melody.

“This took me a week,” Goergens says, “right after we learned we could make it learn music. I’m just a big Portal fan, so I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Inspiring the coder within

The Sparki robots used in the class run about $150 a piece, and they are covered by Core Curriculum grants. The Core Curriculum covers a broad student educational experience, which includes getting STEM students into art classes and vice versa. Analytical Reasoning has been especially effective, says James McGrath, Faculty Director of the Core Curriculum. He has seen positive results when students are taken outside of their comfort zones.

“Lots of students think they’re not good at math, music, or writing,” McGrath says. “One of the purposes of the Core is to foster students to be well-rounded, no matter their focus of study. In these classes, they’re actually approaching the subject in ways not thought of. They may find they’re good at something they didn't know. They’re using a whole other part of their brains.”

Linos says programming drones would be a natural next step for the course, but whether they fly or dance, the robots are making some former Analytical Reasoning students change majors to Computer Science or Software Engineering. The class gave them the confidence that they can—and should—code. 

“It was very gratifying to me—as an educator, as a facilitator of their learning—to see them learning how to write code in a fun way,” Linos says.

 

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.

A Sparki robot used in the Analytical Reasoning course
Experiential LearningUnleashed

Robots Enhance Coding Prowess, Passion in the Core Curriculum

Designed for humanities majors, the Analytical Reasoning course teaches coding with an assist from robots.

Nov 01 2019 Read more
Students visit IU Health warehouse
Experiential LearningUnleashed

From Beer to Cars to Medical Supplies, Students get a Broad Look at Business

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Oct 23 2019

Instructors of the Operations and Global Supply Chain Management course within Butler University’s Andre B. Lacy School of Business realized no PowerPoint presentation could compete with sending students out to explore 300,000 square feet of industry.

The goal of the class is to expose Business students to operations concepts by giving them opportunities to tour the facilities of companies and soak up the knowledge of professionals first hand at their workplace.

Led by Assistant Professor Janaina Siegler and Faculty Lecturer Matthew Caito, the class has taken students on site visits of companies all over Indiana. These trips help students understand concepts of distribution, profit maximization, and waste minimization. They also help students see what life is like inside some of top corporations by giving them a behind-the-scenes look at what makes these businesses truly function.

Students walk in IU Health warehouse.
Business students walk in the huge IU Health Distribution Center warehouse in Plainfield, Indiana.

A recent visit to the Indiana University Health Distribution Center in Plainfield, Indiana, found Caden Castellon and some classmates in a warehouse of the 300,000-square-foot facility, where medical supplies are prepared for shipment to 17 Indiana hospitals. From hospital beds to tongue depressors, the supplies were organized on palettes, conveyor belts, and bins, all of which were moved around by robots the size of Butler Blue III. Shelving soared at least two stories tall, and the facility was cooled by ceiling fans larger than helicopter blades.

“Actually going to the site and seeing how things work is always eye-opening,” says Castellon, a junior studying Finance. “It just broadens the picture of business.”

By the end of the semester, the students will have seen how seven different companies organize their logistics with the ultimate goal of saving time, labor, and money.

Whether Finance, Marketing, or Accounting majors, all Business students take the Operations and Global Supply Chain Management course.

“Marketing people find the money, the finance people count the money, and it’s up to operations people to save the money,” Caito says. “This is an easy class to get engaged with because so much of it is experiential.”

Before the students toured the facility, Derrick Williams, Executive Director of Supply Chain Logistics for IU Health, explained how investing in a distribution center has saved millions of dollars in just two years by consolidating operations in a one-stop-shop. The facility’s AutoStore robots help keep things organized, making the most of available technology. Students were able to see that efficiency first-hand.

A student watches an AutoStore robot.
Finance junior Caden Castellon watches IU Health's AutoStore robots prepare hospital shipments. 

“I personally love having the opportunity to go out and visit somewhere like this,” says Ben Greenblatt, a junior studying Finance. “It gives you a lot of new information that I had no idea about.” 

Opportunities everywhere

Like the clockwork of a well-run facility, Caito says students start seeing operations and supply chain management concepts everywhere they go. They see why certain products are placed along the perimeter of the grocery store (consumers tend to buy more from those areas) or how concession stands at Indiana Pacers games are staffed to meet fans’ hunger and thirst demands.

“After they go to the tours, they’ll come back impressed at all the details that have to happen in order to be successful,” Caito says. “It makes sense, and I hope in five, 10, 15 years, a student can reflect back on the class and say, ‘that’s where I learned where theory is important, but also that doing things that makes sense is really important—anticipating what the needs are going to be.’”

The variety of companies that have partnered with the course are diverse in product, service, and size. Tours of Sun King Brewery had to be divided up to fit all of the students interested in how the popular Indianapolis brewer makes its beers and ships bottles, cans, and kegs all over Indiana. A visit to the UPS World Port started at 11:00 PM on October 4 and extended into the early morning of October 5, when the airport was at its busiest.

Other Indiana visits this fall have included the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Jeffersonville, Subaru Indiana Automotive in Lafayette, and Cummins in Columbus.

Join the club

The course’s popularity has led to the formation of the Butler Global Supply Chain Club. The student-run organization’s meetings often consist of case studies, guest speakers, and networking opportunities. 

Club President Tim Evely took Operations and Global Supply Chain Management a year ago. The experience inspired him to lead the club, which allows members to take Caito and Siegler’s class tours without being enrolled in the class. 

“Supply chain is applicable everywhere, in any business,” says Evely, a senior majoring in Finance and Accounting. “In any decision-making process, supply chain opportunities must be considered.”

Evely’s class also visited sites around the Hoosier State. A tour of the Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing plant in Columbus, Indiana, was especially impactful. Like the IU Health Distribution Center, the sheer size of the Toyota facility astounded Evely and his classmates. They encountered a complex that measured 10 football fields long, which would take a full hour to walk around. Watching the assembly line in action and getting to see a finished product was something he could not have experienced in the classroom.

“We got to see what we’re working on in school translate in the industry,” Evely says. “It’s a good feeling to get out of the classroom and see the real-world applications.”

Upcoming Operations and Supply Chain Management events

  • III International Symposium on Supply Chain 4.0, October 24-28, Lacy School of Business Building
  • Guest speakers Clay Robinson, Co-Founder and CEO of Sun King Brewing Company, and Cameron Panther of Celadon Logistics will discuss entrepreneurship, distribution, and manufacturing processes from 5:00–7:00 PM November 7 at the new building for the Lacy School of Business.

 

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.

Students visit IU Health warehouse
Experiential LearningUnleashed

From Beer to Cars to Medical Supplies, Students get a Broad Look at Business

Students experience operational techniques up close during visits to Amazon, Sun King Brewery, and more.

Oct 23 2019 Read more
Venue Management students get a tour.
Arts & CultureExperiential Learning

The Show Must, And Will, go on Thanks to Butler Venue Management Students

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Sep 19 2019

Despite graduating in just three months, Drew Soukup’s final bow at Butler University won’t take place until fall 2020.

The Arts Administration major and his six classmates in Assistant Professor of Arts Administration Brenda Lee Johnston’s Venue Management course are already working on their final group project — select a show that will be presented as part of next season’s Jordan College of the Arts Signature Series in Schrott Center for the Arts.

Patrons will purchase tickets just like any show at the Butler Arts Center. The only difference is the show will be discovered, booked, and marketed by Johnston’s class of juniors and seniors.

“It’s going to be wild to come back and see it,” Soukup says. “I’ll be able to say ‘This is something I was able to start from the ground-up.’”

Students in the fall 2020 edition of the Venue Management class will market the event that this year’s class selects, and then work front- and back-of-house duties at the show. The experience will roll on each following fall.

Students explore the Schrott Center catwalk.
Venue Management students explore the catwalk above Schrott Center.

To fund the endeavor, JCA Dean Lisa Brooks gave the class a $10,000 budget to bring the act to the 476-seat theater. But the students must also make sure the money covers marketing and hospitality expenses. 

On a recent Wednesday morning class, students pitched their initial ideas for what artists to present. Most already contacted talent agencies to gather initial specs: cost, routing, travel, visa issues, hotel rooms, technological requirements, average attendance, and typical ticket costs.

The students’ ideas ranged from 2015 Butler alumnus Josh Turner’s folk music group to accordion and clarinet entertainers Double Double Duo, hip-hop flamenco dancers Titanium to a cappella singers Voctave. Eventually, the students will have to unite to bring in the act that’s the best fit. The show selection will be presented to JCA Department Heads in late October.

Johnston says a crucial part of booking the right show is thinking beyond your personal tastes. Arts administrators must take a step outside of themselves to consider what their audiences want to see most. Broad appeal is factored into the formula of show booking. The students must consider if the show is a good fit for the series, the venue, and Butler.

“You have to know how to sell it and build an audience around it,” Johnston says. “You put your tastes aside and you think about who would enjoy this.”

Johnston, who directed the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center and other Milwaukee arts venues for years before joining Butler, explains to the class that having a passion for live performance is crucial, but effective venue management is all about the details. So many different factors can cause bravos or boos.

“You get to know your audience so well,” Johnston says. “My vision as a presenter is to represent the artistic conscience of my community, while also expanding their artistic vision. That means presenting things they’re interested in, but also expanding their horizons. You have to build that trust so that they will come to new things and try it out.

“The greatest compliments I ever get are when you have your regulars who tell you ‘That really wasn’t my cup of tea, but I really appreciated and enjoyed it.’ They come to everything because of that, even if they think they may not like it.”

After just a few class meetings, Johnston and her students mingled with professional booking agents and artists at the 2019 Arts Midwest Conference in Minneapolis. Kelsey Dunn, Programming Coordinator for the Butler Arts Center, introduced the students to talent agencies, which present bands, comedians, dance ensembles, and even eSports stars and YouTube influencers. The students waded through the more than 300 presenters for acts that would be a good fit for their booking. 

“The agents were really great about answering their questions,” Johnston says. “They were able to ask questions to presenters. And, now we are ready to go. We are at the stage of  trying to figure out a show.”

Aaron Hurt, Executive Director for the Butler Arts Center, is a 2008 graduate of Butler’s Arts Administration program. Most of his career experience has come within the walls of Clowes Memorial Hall.

“We have these venues on this campus,” says Hurt, who co-taught the class with Johnston in 2016. “Why aren’t we pumping out people in theater management all the time because we have this access?”

When Hurt was officially named Executive Director in January, one of his goals was to hire more students as interns, ushers, box office personnel, and backstage crew. Most of the students in the Venue Management classes have been Butler Arts Center employees.

Soukup is one of those employees. Starting as a first-year usher, he has worked in the Schrott Center throughout his time at Butler. He will soon be able to add show presenter to his resume.

“I think having Clowes, Schrott, and the whole Butler Arts Center here on campus has been one of the most rewarding parts about coming to Butler,” Soukup says. “It’s been constant involvement. I’m graduating a semester early, but part of me would like to stay a little longer.”

Butler Arts Center Executive Director Aaron Hurt leads a tour.
Butler Arts Center Executive Director Aaron Hurt, right, shows Venue Management students the Schrott Center stage.
Venue Management students get a tour.
Arts & CultureExperiential Learning

The Show Must, And Will, go on Thanks to Butler Venue Management Students

For the class’ final project, undergrads will book a real concert for Fall 2020 at the Schrott Center for the Arts.

Sep 19 2019 Read more