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Caring for Mental Health During COVID-19

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Apr 01 2020

In the midst of a global crisis that is very tangibly affecting everything from physical health to job security, it’s easy to neglect the invisible consequences a situation like this can have on mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Even for those who have never experienced clinical anxiety, the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic might be deeply disturbing. And that fear is multiplied among those who are prone to mental illness, especially now that several go-to coping strategies have become inaccessible.

But, according to these three Butler University experts, you can find comfort in not being alone: Everyone is experiencing this together. Plus, there are plenty of ways to stay healthy while staying inside.

 

Shana Markle
Counseling and Consultation Services (CCS)
Associate Director

How does the COVID-19 pandemic influence mental health?

I want to start by clarifying the difference between anxiety and worry. By definition, anxiety is an irrational fear. When there is a legitimate threat to our health, the feelings people experience might not be actual anxiety—you might be having a normal, legitimate response to a threat.

For some people, though, those concerns can be more irrational, leading to real anxiety. For individuals who are prone to anxiety or have other underlying mental health conditions, a situation like this would likely activate that.

Responses to crisis vary widely, but it’s not unusual for people to either maximize or minimize a situation like this. Some people are out living their lives like there’s nothing going on, while others are hunkering down and buying eight packs of toilet paper. Especially for those who are prone to anxiety, some people will try to do anything they can to fix things that are really out of their control.

There’s just a lot of ambiguity with this pandemic, and that’s something people don’t always tolerate very well. Not knowing something can be very unsettling, especially if you like to plan. With this particular situation, there’s also a lot of disappointment that things are being canceled and that you can’t do some of the things you want to do.

And then of course the social distancing, for some, is social isolating. It can lead to a sense of loneliness. But I think on the flip side, the fact that this is such a universal concern can draw people together. Almost every place you go—whether that’s going to the grocery store or walking outside—almost every person you see is going to be experiencing something similar. You can know you aren’t alone in this, which can help you feel protected.

What coping strategies do you recommend?

This might sound cliché, but I would really encourage people to get off of social media right now. There’s no benefit to exposing yourself to all those anxieties that other people have. Anxiety can be very contagious. And it’s important to stay informed, but because the news about COVID-19 is changing so rapidly, you might consider finding a reliable source and checking in with it just once a day or every couple days. I think we could all do ourselves a very big favor by limiting exposure to some of that anxiety that’s out there.

If you do find yourself in an anxiety spiral, there are a couple grounding techniques I like. For example, in the “5-4-3-2-1” technique, you look for five things you can see around you, and you say them out loud. And then you find four things that you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Going through your senses like that can bring you back to the present.

You can also look through this list of very common cognitive errors and recognize which ones you might be dealing with right now. This will help you challenge thoughts that aren’t helpful.

And you can just remember the basics of self-care. Go for a walk. Read a book. Set goals and accomplish some of those tasks you’ve been putting off. Make a list of things you’re grateful for. If you have a faith community, stay connected as much as possible. Make a playlist of songs you find encouraging.

For Butler students: The CCS phone and email lines are open. Teletherapy is now available for students currently residing in Indiana (as we are only legally able to practice in-state). However, we can provide over-the-phone consultations with both in-state and out-of-state students to help with talking through options and providing some support.

We also recommend these online resources that are available to anyone.

 

Marguerite Stanciu
Center for Faith and Vocation (CFV)
Assistant Director

How does this crisis affect spiritual and emotional well-being?

Obviously, the element of uncertainty is huge here. There is this vast unknown, and for many, that is combined with disappointment about all the things that need to be canceled or moved to a virtual space. People are also facing the need to quickly adjust in a variety of ways, including working or learning from home, which can be a strain.

How can people take care of themselves?

In general, it’s really important to start by building structure into your day. Get up at a regular time, get dressed, and observe your normal rituals. Adding that structure takes care of the three essential elements of mind, body, and spirit.

I think we also need to remember that this is a temporary situation. Although we don’t know exactly what the future holds, I encourage people to be resourceful in staying spiritually healthy. Reach out to others as you need to, and know that the faculty and staff at Butler are working very hard and thoughtfully to provide continuous support.

The CFV recently started offering Spiritual Care Conversations, which are available to faculty, staff, and students. Through this resource (which we have now moved online), you can request confidential or private conversations with CFV staff, advisors, or affiliates who can help you work through challenges, feelings, or questions. These conversations are open to people of various faith traditions, as well as those who are nonreligious.

We at the CFV are also working to create new content that we hope will be supportive and informative for the Butler community. We are sending out writing prompts, meditation videos, and information on how to practice mindfulness in your everyday life. You can find these resources by following us on social media (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook), or by signing up for our e-newsletter. Just reach out to us at cfv@butler.edu.

 

Brian Day
Assistant Professor of Psychology

What are the psychological impacts of this situation?

This crisis is consuming all the news we see. When people talk to their friends and families, they are all talking about the same thing. There’s this feeling of all-consumption, like COVID-19 is the only thing happening. It seems to be taking over everything and creating a new normal. It’s hard to think about anything else.

I’m not a clinical expert, but I know that for individuals who are prone to paranoia, this can really contribute to that. Maybe that means constant thoughts of “I need to wash my hands again” or, in states with lockdowns, “What will happen to me if I go outside?” At the grocery store, people might worry that every person they see is infected with the virus.

And even for those we would consider to be completely mentally healthy, a crisis like this can cause feelings of doubt or concern that might be unfamiliar for people who have never been scared to go to the grocery store. Fear isn’t something a lot of us deal with on a daily basis, so people are needing to learn to cope with it in new ways.

The biggest factor I’ve been hearing and reading about is the removal of social connections. Some psychologists have been advocating for a change in terminology from “social distancing” to “physical distancing.” They’re advocating for a focus on how we can still communicate, whether that’s through Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, or a phone call. I can get behind that relabeling: I want to remind people that we do still have opportunities to seek social contact with those who are important to us.

What other strategies can help people stay mentally healthy?

Make the best of every situation. I’ve been thinking about how I don’t want to be stuck in my basement all day long. I don’t want to be teaching online. There’s a lot of “I don’t want tos.” But this is what we’ve been presented with, so it’s time to buckle up and make do.

Another thing I’ve been focused on is that my schedule has changed drastically, which is the case for most people. But this actually provides an opportunity to change your behavior in a desired way. Now is a great time to build positive habits. With a little bit of mindfulness and determination, even in the face of changes you can’t control, you can introduce the change you want.

I usually take care of my mental health by going to the gym and hanging out with friends. Of course, now, neither of those are options. But you can look for other solutions. Maybe you can’t go to the gym, but you can stay home and do yoga, pilates, pushups, or situps. Staying active is so important to feeling good.

The other thing I’ve been advocating for is making some sort of routine. I’ve found that regimenting my time—scheduling when I’ll be working and when I’ll be taking breaks—has helped me get things done and enjoy my days at home.

You can also work on that list of all the things you’ve been meaning to do, whether that’s reading a book or calling a friend from high school. Make time to watch that 15-minute TED Talk you’ve had bookmarked for a while.

And remember that humans get used to things. After a few weeks, we will be used to this. It just takes a little bit of time, so hang in there.

 

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

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Student-Centered

Caring for Mental Health During COVID-19

Three Butler experts explain the pandemic’s psychological impacts and offer advice for staying well

Apr 01 2020 Read more
taskforce
Student-Centered

Student Voice Shapes Sexual Misconduct Prevention at Butler

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Mar 27 2020

On a college campus, students are the ones who know better than anyone else what’s going on in their world. Whether that means having heard the buzz about the latest hit TV show or holding a deep understanding of the everyday challenges young people face, students can often relate to other students better than most staff and faculty ever will.

So, when it comes to preventing sexual misconduct, it’s essential to listen to what those students have to say.

At Butler University, campus leaders are inviting students to join conversations about this issue at monthly meetings of the Sexual Misconduct Prevention Taskforce. The group has been around for years, including a few student members who were directly invited based on previous involvement in prevention programming. But when leaders opened student membership up to a general application process last spring, the group gained a brand new life and momentum. The taskforce received 62 applications from students across the University, accepting about 10 student members plus representatives from key organizations such as the Student Government Association (SGA) and PAVE (Promoting Awareness | Victim Empowerment). Now, applications are open for the 2020–2021 academic year.

“The meetings this semester have had so many students present,” says Jules Arthur-Grable, Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Specialist. “I think that really indicates how important these issues are to them, how much they care, and how much they want to make a difference.”

Co-chaired by Arthur-Grable and Title IX Coordinator Maria Kanger, the taskforce works to unite prevention efforts already happening across the University, as well as to develop and promote new education programs that meet the needs of Butler students. Welcoming more student members who represent a broader range of the campus community has helped Arthur-Grable and Kanger learn more about what those needs are, which kinds of events might resonate best with students, and how to effectively spread the word about those events and other programming.

“Our students really care about this, even if they aren’t directly involved in student organizations or other groups that are focused on this all the time,” Kanger says. “They really do want to make a difference, and they feel like they can.”

This academic year, that student voice has led to the creation of a lot more programming based on pop culture and the things students see every day across all kinds of media. During welcome week, peer-facilitated workshops under the name “Sexy, Can I?” covered the basics of consent. In October, the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention (SARP) Office recognized National Domestic Violence Awareness Month with a discussion about the role social media can play in promoting unhealthy relationship behaviors. Another program analyzed the Netflix show You to talk about how students can recognize stalking, and a “bad date dinner” right before Valentine’s Day invited guests to think through specific situations and how they would respond.

“I’ve seen students on the taskforce take ownership of these programs and really get excited about them,” Kanger says. “They feel connected to this. The work of prevention is the work of the entire campus community.”

One recent TV-inspired event used episodes of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, pointing out examples of the contestants’ unhealthy behaviors—things like gaslighting, manipulation, isolation, or sabotage.

“We talked about the role this popular show has in how people perceive relationships in real life, and how it normalizes unhealthy behavior,” Arthur-Grable explains. “Afterward, some of the attendees asked for a list of healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors to take with them, so they could use it to continue the conversation while watching the show with their friends.”

As a student member of the taskforce, junior Ben Traverso feels like his input has been truly valued during program planning over the last few semesters. He says student involvement on the taskforce helps other students feel more comfortable asking for the help they need.

“We are there to say, ‘this is how students feel, this is why, and here’s what we can do to try to change that,’” says the Political Science and History major. “We are there to help build a bridge between the SARP Office, the Title IX Coordinator, and the student body.”

Junior Health Science major Lauren Lippert agrees, saying the taskforce is meant to be a central place for the Butler community to gather together, share ideas, and stay informed about the resources available on campus.

“I think it’s really important for students to be a part of that,” she says, “especially for the other students who feel more comfortable seeking help from someone their age—someone who could maybe relate a little more on their level.”

Kanger says that, while changing culture in ways that prevent sexual misconduct is a years-long project, providing a safe space where people can seek help is a vital first step.

“At the end of the day,” she says, “the goal for all our prevention efforts is to create a culture where consent is sought and received for every sexual activity, healthy relationships are the norm, and where everyone steps up and says something if they see something isn’t right.”

 

If you are a Butler student interested in joining the Sexual Misconduct Prevention Taskforce, you can apply here by April 13. Contact Jules Arthur-Grable (jearthur@butler.edu) or Maria Kanger (mkanger@butler.edu) with any questions.

 

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

taskforce
Student-Centered

Student Voice Shapes Sexual Misconduct Prevention at Butler

Student members of this taskforce have transformed how University leaders approach prevention programming

Mar 27 2020 Read more
Levenshus home office
Student-Centered

Butler Faculty Put Students First in Switch to Online Learning

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Mar 19 2020

While the suspension of on-campus classes in response to COVID-19 has been a letdown for students and educators across the nation, Butler University faculty are working hard to create new learning opportunities in the midst of crisis.

“It is deeply disappointing for many, if not all, members of our campus community that we will not learn and work together in person in the coming weeks,” wrote Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Kathryn Morris in a recent message to students, leading up to today’s launch of online learning. “Yet, by and large, people in our community are coming together virtually to make the best out of a truly challenging situation—with YOU, our students, at the heart of our efforts. Faculty have just spent three intensive days preparing for this transition. They are working harder than ever to provide you with the same high-quality educational experience you are accustomed to at Butler.”

For Abbey Levenshus, an Associate Professor of Strategic Communication, that means drawing on the current crisis to provide an up-close and personal case study for her students who are studying issues management.

Even before COVID-19 began to affect all of us in some way, Levenshus was using the outbreak as an example for how issues evolve over time. At first, the class looked at this as an early or “emergent” situation. Over the last several weeks, students watched as the issue progressed to “current,” and then “dominant,” and, now, “crisis.”

Even in emails to students regarding the logistics of switching to online learning, Levenshus has offered mini-lessons on how the pandemic is a living model of the concepts they have been learning all semester.

“But then I also remind them that this issue, too, will pass,” Levenshus says. “Eventually, this will be dormant. Right now, it’s very real, it’s very present, and it’s having a serious disruptive impact on our lives. But we’re going to be okay—we will figure this out.”

 

 

Levenshus records her first video message for students in the transition to online learning. She explains how she's adapting to this new normal, and she shares a tour of her new "office" in the basement of her home.

 

To move class content online over the last week, Levenshus started by inviting students to join the process. An email survey gathered data about the students’ living and learning situations: What technology can they access? Do they have textbooks? Have they ever taken an online class? She used the answers to those questions while deciding how to move forward with the semester.

“That really helped me because I felt like we were doing it as a team, even though we’re separated right now,” she says.

And Levenshus says it’s that separation—not the workload of moving online—that’s the hardest part.

“You know, you love these students,” she says. “I think one of the strengths of Butler is that you have these smaller classes where you really get to know one another. There is a deep sense of loss in terms of that classroom community. But part of my job is helping students gain perspective: If we can grieve our own losses while also looking for opportunities to be thankful, I think we will get through this even stronger together.”

Shelly Furuness, an Associate Professor of Education, is also grieving the loss of face-to-face interaction. Still, especially for the Butler seniors currently serving as student-teachers in K-12 schools, Furuness says students are gaining valuable experience in adapting through disruption.

“This is not about perfection,” she explains. “It’s about modeling how to teach in the face of the unexpected.”

For example, Butler students will continue supporting teachers at a Zionsville middle school with the design and creation of e-learning content. Furuness says the digital space can actually give educators more time to experiment with presenting the same material in a variety of ways, making the experience more accessible to students of all learning styles—something teachers don’t normally have the opportunity to do with face-to-face lessons.

“It is absolutely a challenge, because this is a personal disruption, too,” Furuness says. “But I think this gives us a good opportunity to show that the platform is less important than having a high-quality, flexible instructor. Even as we are modeling how to handle a crisis, we have the resources we need to help Butler students meet the same learning objectives we set back in January.”

 

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

Levenshus home office
Student-Centered

Butler Faculty Put Students First in Switch to Online Learning

Coronavirus pandemic forces cancellation of in-person classes, but professors make the best of a difficult situation

Mar 19 2020 Read more
strat comm
Student-Centered

Butler’s College of Communication Launches First Master’s Degree

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Feb 20 2020

As new media platforms rise and fall nearly every month, offering fresh avenues for organizations to communicate with audiences and one another, it can become more and more complicated to make sure every message stays true to key values and goals. It can be daunting, in an age that emphasizes traffic and engagements, to cut through the noise and find the feedback that matters most. And it can be tricky, especially in times of crisis, to make sure information is shared responsibly and in a cohesive voice.

That’s why Butler University’s new Master’s in Strategic Communication builds on the idea that lifelong learning is a must. Now open for applications, the online-only degree invites both up-and-coming communicators and seasoned professionals—creating a group of students who can learn from one another.

“In collaboration, our faculty and students will be exploring new practices, new vantage points, and new ideas,” says Strategic Communication Department Chair Mark Rademacher. “We really want to empower them to co-construct that learning experience. They’re the ones out there working in the field and bringing in real-world challenges to help us understand how these concepts work, not just in theory but in practice.”

The 30-credit-hour program prepares students for careers in a range of fields, from public relations, to advertising, to nonprofit work, and more. After five core classes covering the foundations of ethical, strategy-based communication—and how to use research and data to inform decisions—students can customize the program through five elective courses. These electives offer a deep dive into areas such as Crisis Communication, Branding, Media Relations, Social Media, and other timely topics.

Rademacher says strategic communication is about using research-based insights to understand the needs of key stakeholders, to communicate with them in an authentic way across a variety of channels, and to build trust and mutually beneficial relationships. Professionals in this field must be able to understand the process of how ideas are developed and received. It’s not just about advertising, or just about public relations—as professional organizations see increased crossover between these roles, Butler’s program reflects that shift.

The curriculum was developed based on market research that Rademacher and other Strategic Communication faculty began pursuing several years ago with the support of Butler’s Office of Academic Program Development and Innovation. They discovered a great deal of demand and excitement for this kind of program across the communication industry, among both employers and potential students. According to EAB, a company that collects data about trends and challenges facing the education industry, regional demand for degreed strategic communication professionals increased by 80 percent from September 2016 through February 2019. This growth is expected to continue over the next several years.

With the rise of new technologies and media platforms, some professionals without academic backgrounds in communication are finding themselves in communication-heavy roles. Others who have been in the field for years—or even decades—have watched those technologies change around them, and they are seeking opportunities to grow their skills while learning the most up-to-date strategies. And in a time when we have the ability to collect and analyze more information than ever before, communicators want to know how they can sort through all that data and use it in ways that will help them better serve their audiences.

“Increasingly in our communication environment,” Rademacher says, “we have access to so much data. We have so much insight into how people are using websites and how they are engaging via social media. That old adage of ‘I know what worked before, so let’s do that again’—that’s out the window. Using data and research isn’t just a crutch for communicating to executives that what you’re doing is a smart move: It really pervades everything we’re doing.”

Each class module lasts for seven weeks, allowing students to focus on one topic at a time, with week-long breaks between courses. If continuously enrolled, this means the program can be completed in as little as 20 months.

“We don’t want students to think this is a program that drags on, or that it will be a challenge to your ability to work full-time and balance family obligations,” Rademacher says. “We want you to come in, focus, and really invest in this experience. We believe that when you can do that in intensive, short bursts, that’s the most engaging way to do it.”

This is a degree for working professionals, with the goal of helping them do what they do better. Rademacher wants students to apply what they are learning each day, having an immediate impact in their workplaces or other spaces they are passionate about.

Even though the classes are entirely online—a feature meant to provide more flexibility—the program emphasizes learning through connections with peers, faculty, and industry professionals. Rademacher calls this the Butler online experience.

“For us, that means tapping into this idea that you can be online but not alone,” he says. “We’re working on elements of the program that help build a cohort mentality. We want students forming relationships with one another through group work and conversation.”

The Master’s in Strategic Communication will be truly hands-on. Classes will be project-based, focusing on the application of theory to the practice of strategic communication, which will allow students to pursue topics related to the challenges that are most relevant to their personal or professional goals.

“Butler’s Strategic Communication faculty provide that ideal balance of theory and practice,” says CCOM Dean Brooke Barnett. “They have created a graduate program that plays to their strengths. Students will benefit from the dynamic, relevant, and engaged learning techniques that are a hallmark of a Butler education.”

Classes for the program’s first cohort begin August 26, 2020. There are three application deadlines: April 1, June 1, and August 1. You can learn more or submit an application here.

 

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

strat comm
Student-Centered

Butler’s College of Communication Launches First Master’s Degree

The Master’s in Strategic Communication offers flexibility, professional networking, and project-based learning

Feb 20 2020 Read more
Sam Varie in Iowa
Student-Centered

Butler Student Embraces Campaign Trail

BY Meredith Sauter and Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Feb 17 2020

Getting stuck in a snowbank in rural Iowa didn’t freeze Sam Varie’s passion for politics in this presidential election year.

In January, the Butler University senior and former Student Government Association (SGA) President put his final semester on hold to volunteer for Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg. With only 12 credits left to graduate, Varie arrived in the Hawkeye State on January 20 to help canvas and phone bank for the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor.

Thanks to some kitty litter under his dad's car tires, Varie was able to escape the snow to continue his first foray into politics, a passion he developed during his years at Butler.

“In one of my classes, we studied marketing tactics in a political campaign. That was one of my first inside exposures to how a campaign operates,” says Varie, who will return to Butler next year to finish his senior year and receive his degree in Strategic Communication. “Mayor Pete’s entire marketing strategy is relational. He connects with people through empathy. That immediately grabbed my attention and was something I wanted to be a part of.”

Buttigieg team’s long hours and dedication were fruitful as Buttigieg narrowly defeated Bernie Sanders to win the Iowa Caucus. The results were delayed, but the outcome was savored. The momentum had Varie in good spirits while en route to the New Hampshire primary, which featured another strong showing from Buttigieg.

Varie’s role has now changed from a volunteer in field organizing to a staff member on the Advance Team. As an advance team member, he assists in event execution and management of town halls and rallies for Buttigieg’s campaign appearances. He is currently travelling across the United States.

Buttigieg talks to Iowa voters
Sam Varie is helping with Pete Buttigieg's campaign events. 

As expected, the first few weeks of campaign work felt like “drinking out of a firehose,” Varie says. He went door-to-door talking with potential voters, and he attended events to drum up support for Buttigieg. His main mission was to connect with voters. 

“Iowan voters take the job as an early state very seriously,” Varie says. “We would knock on a door and be welcomed into the voter’s home for 30 or 40 minutes. Although some voters had one too many volunteers knock on their door, they really listened to everyone.”

A crashed smartphone app and the delayed results overshadowed the Iowa Caucus, but in the end, Varie was a part of the winning movement.

“More than anything, having a gay mayor from Indiana on the leader board was the victory,” he says. “The major takeaway from the beginning has been that we can envision love and support for Pete beyond Indiana, and we hope to build momentum going forward.”

Strategic preparation

Varie, an Indianapolis native, says his three-plus years at Butler have served him well so far during his first month on the campaign trail—especially his courses in Strategic Communication.

“Strategic Communication is all about developing relationships and communicating in a meaningful way,” Varie says. “I have to do that every day on the campaign.”

Varie is also leaning on his nearly two terms as SGA president to help him during the long campaign hours.

“My time at Butler was all about connecting with students and understanding what they love about Butler or what the challenges they face. I worked with them to ensure that they are having a positive experience,” Varie says of his service as SGA President. “That's essentially what I'm doing on the campaign trail—connecting with community members, understanding their experiences, and talking with them about Pete's vision for the America that we need. That relational aspect has been crucial to my success here.”

Experience right now

Vice President for Student Affairs Frank Ross got to know Varie through the student’s work with SGA. Ross believes that experience is serving Varie well.

“Sam is incredibly passionate about making positive change in the world,” Ross says, “and he worked tirelessly as SGA president to help students learn about issues and become civically engaged. He has taken this passion and what he learned at Butler to the national level in joining this campaign.”

Abbey Levenshus, an Associate Professor of Strategic Communication, only taught Varie in her introductory Promotional Writing course, but she has been the student’s advisor since Varie declared his major. Having previously worked as a staff assistant for Rep. Rick Larsen of Washington on Capitol Hill, Levenshus supported Varie’s decision to work on a political campaign and offered her advice.

“You get this one life, and you have to decide how you’re going to spend it,” she says. “You can come back to campus. This place will be here if that’s the way you want to do it. That is the Butler Way. Go and get experience right now.”

Varie is unsure if politics will be a part of his career after graduation, but he plans on soaking up this campaign experience as much as possible.

“Right now, I'm really enjoying it—the fast-paced lifestyle, the people I'm meeting, and supporting a presidential candidate I believe in,” Varie says. “But I also really enjoy the higher ed experience. I’m not sure where my future will take me, but I’m enjoying all of the experiences right now.”

 

Photography provided by Sam Varie

 

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

 

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.

Sam Varie in Iowa
Student-Centered

Butler Student Embraces Campaign Trail

Senior, former SGA President Sam Varie took the semester off to gain experience on Pete Buttigieg’s staff

Feb 17 2020 Read more
Sorensons
Student-Centered

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

 

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
Student-Centered

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
signing event
Student-Centered

Gregory & Appel Establishes Largest Corporate Endowed Scholarship Ever at Butler

BY

PUBLISHED ON Dec 10 2019

INDIANAPOLIS – Gregory & Appel Insurance has given $500,000 to create the Gregory & Appel Endowed Scholarship for Risk Management and Insurance Education at Butler University, making it the largest corporate-sponsored endowed scholarship gift in University history.

The scholarship will benefit students studying risk management and insurance. Initiated by Gregory & Appel CEO Dan Appel and his wife, Kate, the scholarship is intended to help attract and develop new talent for the insurance industry in Indiana. Gregory & Appel announced yesterday that Dan Appel will be retiring as the company’s CEO at the end of 2019, but will serve as Non-Executive Board Chair. Andrew Appel will assume the role of CEO beginning January 1.

“We are extremely grateful to Gregory & Appel Insurance and Dan and Kate Appel for their investment in the lives of Butler students through this endowed scholarship gift,” President James Danko says. “Dan and Kate Appel are great friends to Butler University, and this scholarship is just the latest example of the many ways their influential leadership is making a difference in the Indianapolis community.”

The scholarship gift builds on Gregory & Appel’s long history of partnership with Butler. John J. Appel and his son, Fred G. Appel, were two of the 41 prominent local businessmen who financed the construction of Hinkle Fieldhouse on Butler’s campus in 1928. Now a National Historic Landmark, Hinkle has been a beloved community gathering place for more than 90 years.

In addition, Gregory & Appel has provided financial support to the Davey Risk Management and Insurance Program in the Andre B. Lacy School of Business. As one of only 58 risk management and insurance programs in the country, the Davey program is playing a crucial role in preparing a new generation of talent for an industry challenged by an aging workforce. Gregory & Appel regularly employs Butler students as interns, and a number of Butler graduates have found their professional home at the firm. In January 2019, Butler launched an online Master of Science in Risk and Insurance program to help address the industry’s talent gap.

“Gregory & Appel Insurance has been an incredible partner in the work of preparing our students for successful careers in the insurance industry,” says Lacy School of Business Dean Steve Standifird. “Their investment in the Davey Risk Management and Insurance Program as well as this new scholarship gift demonstrates their significant commitment to developing a talent pipeline of qualified future professionals. We are proud to collaborate in this effort with a company that shares our Butler values.”

Along with supporting the development of new talent for the insurance industry, the gift also enhances Butler’s scholarship endowment, a key priority of the University’s Butler Beyond strategic direction and comprehensive fundraising campaign. In an effort to broaden student access and success, the University is aiming to address the issue of affordability. Central to this goal is ensuring the long-term sustainability of the University’s robust financial aid program. Gregory & Appel’s scholarship gift is a significant step toward the University’s goal of putting a Butler education within reach of all students, regardless of financial circumstances.

For more than a decade, Gregory & Appel Insurance has been named a “Company that Cares” by the United Way of Central Indiana for their extensive involvement and investment in the local community. In recognition of exceptional volunteer and financial support, the United Way of Central Indiana awarded Gregory & Appel in 2017 with the Spirit United Award, its most prestigious recognition.

“It is my hope that this scholarship will support the development of our next generation of young leaders in insurance,” says Gregory & Appel CEO & Chairman Dan Appel. “The Davey Risk Management and Insurance Program is among the top in the nation and will deliver the best and brightest talent to our industry.  We are honored and humbled to be part of a legacy that will innovate the future of insurance.”

 

Media Contact:
Rachel Stern
Director of Strategic Communications
rstern@butler.edu
914-815-5656

 

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

signing event
Student-Centered

Gregory & Appel Establishes Largest Corporate Endowed Scholarship Ever at Butler

The scholarship will benefit students studying risk management and insurance.

Dec 10 2019 Read more
sandeep das percussion ensemble Butler University
Student-Centered

Seeing Yourself On Stage: Students Dance and Play Alongside Guest Artists

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Oct 31 2019

 

 

“Whatever is written is just a suggestion,” Sandeep Das, a world-renowned Indian tabla musician, tells the small group of Butler University percussion students during their Wednesday-afternoon rehearsal. “You have to make it dance. Make it breathe.

And let’s try it one more time.”

Das visited campus in late October as part of the JCA Signature Series, an artist residency program organized through Butler’s Jordan College of the Arts. Featuring guests from the worlds of art, theatre, music, and dance, the series is designed to serve the Indianapolis community through high-quality public performances, while also providing opportunities for students to interact with and learn from artists in the classroom.

For Das, the three-day visit to Butler felt like coming back home. He first performed at the University in 2017, and JCA Dean Lisa Brooks says students haven’t stopped talking about Das and his joyful teaching style ever since.

“He’s so giving,” Brooks says. “When he sits and talks with students, it’s not like, ‘I am so successful. I played with the Silkroad Ensemble—one of the most famous music groups in the world.’ There’s none of that. He is just this incredibly warm human being.”

This time around, Das didn’t just bring his tabla—a traditional Indian hand drum resembling a pair of unattached bongos, but ringing with a more vibrant, melodic sound. He also brought along two fellow Indian performers: sitar player Rajib Karmakar and Kathak dancer Antara Bhardwaj.

Beyond a main performance featuring all three guests, the artists spent time working directly with students through rehearsals and master classes—a key element of the JCA Signature Series. The performers led classroom-based demonstrations and interactive lessons, playing and dancing right alongside students.

“They come and work with you in your class, and then you go watch them perform, and you are going to see yourself on that stage,” Brooks says.

Sometimes, you’ll actually be on that stage, soloing in an Indian song about the creation of the universe while standing just a few feet away from the person who wrote it. 

 

Forget About the Paper

For the night, Robby Buetow is Shiva. As part of a concert from Butler’s Percussion Ensemble, Das has left his front-row seat to join students for a performance of Shristi, a piece he created during his time with Yo Yo Ma and the Silkroad Ensemble. From Buetow’s spot holding down the beat on tom-toms—a role based on the universe-creating Hindu god Shiva—the Percussion Performance junior can’t help but smile every time he looks over at Das drumming on tabla and nodding along to the complex rhythms.

And Das never stops smiling back.

“Shabash!” he shouts—an Indian term for “bravo.”

He’s glad to see the students looking up at him instead of down at their music. It’s a change from the day before, when he’d asked them during rehearsal to forget about the paper and just feel the groove. And they listened, approaching Das before the concert to leave all the sheet music in a pile at his feet.

“When Das is on stage with students, there is just this feeling of, ‘We did this together,’” Brooks says. “It’s not just a gig for him, and the kids pick up on that. He inspires them with the sheer force of his love for music.”

Das first started teaching when he began to feel like just playing music wasn’t enough. He feels responsible for passing what he’s learned on to younger generations, and he sees music as a way to help students learn more about people who are different from them.

“We might play different instruments,” he says. “We might sing different songs. But at the end of it all, we are humans first.”

 

Not an Everyday Experience

“The body that dances on this earth is for the divine,” translates Antara Bhardwaj.

She’s teaching a class of about 30 Butler students how to consecrate their dance space—common practice within Kathak, a classical Indian dance style. The poem she chants matches the choppy but powerful stomps of her feet, which just barely leave the floor with each step.

 

 

As she goes on to demonstrate a storytelling dance about the flute-playing Hindu god Krishna dancing on the banks of a river, the fluid waves of her arms offer contrast to the strength of her legs. She explains the sounds of the dance, from a flat-footed slap on the ground to a heel stomp that brings out a deep echo from the floor.

Combining those rapid foot rhythms with the intricate hand movements is the hardest part for senior Dance Pedagogy major Elizabeth Labovitz, who has never taken an Indian dance class before now. But the students catch on fast, learning in an hour what Bhardwaj usually teaches throughout a semester.

“I’m really glad Butler provided this opportunity for us, and that they are trying to bring in dancers outside of what we normally do,” Labovits says. “I thought the teacher was fantastic. She broke it down very easily and made it accessible to people who don’t have any background in this. It was super cool to explore a different dance style and culture from what I do everyday.”

Creating these out-of-the-ordinary experiences for students is a main goal of the JCA Signature Series, but the program also serves and inspires community members through a full lineup of performances. See below for details about upcoming events.

 

Remaining performances, 2019-2020 JCA Signature Series:

 

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.

sandeep das percussion ensemble Butler University
Student-Centered

Seeing Yourself On Stage: Students Dance and Play Alongside Guest Artists

World-renowned musician Sandeep Das and dancer Antara Bhardwaj visit Butler classrooms for JCA Signature Series.

Oct 31 2019 Read more
Megan Franke helps a girl with an experiment.
Student-Centered

Butler Biology and Chemistry Students Inspire Future Scientists at Celebrate Science Indiana

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Oct 16 2019

From lattes to scented dog shampoo, pumpkins are everywhere this time of year—even starring in science experiments led by Butler University students.

In a take on the classic potato electricity experiment, students of Chemistry Lecturer Paul Morgan brought mini pumpkins to their tabletop station at the annual Celebrate Science Indiana event, October 5 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. At the event that brings hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics displays under one roof, Butler Chemistry and Biology students led 10 interactive science experiments designed to help children learn about simple scientific reactions and concepts, like how pumpkins can be wired up to make an LED light glow.

“I didn’t know if the pumpkins would work, but lo and behold, they did,” Morgan says. “The wire is one medium to carry the electricity. The pumpkins themselves have different-charged particles inside of them that will allow the current to flow through.”

Benjamin Nick leads an experiment
Biology and Chemistry Senior Benjamin Nick, center, leads a pumpkin experiment for children.

By volunteering at Celebrate Science Indiana, the Butler students worked toward fulfilling their Indianapolis Community Requirement while gaining experience talking about science in plain language to the hundreds of potential scientists in attendance. The event included science-based companies, nonprofit organizations, and university programs from all over the state.

Morgan’s Chemistry in the Community students were joined by students from the Biology Indianapolis Outreach course, taught by Biological Sciences Senior Lecturer Erin Gerecke.

A steady stream of families checked out the experiments throughout the day. Guests made slime while learning about slugs, tried to pick up golf balls with tongs to simulate how birds eat, and marveled at a tiny motor consisting of an AA battery, copper wire, and magnets.

The experiments will be reprised for several more upcoming events. Morgan’s students will wow future chemists November 2 at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, while Gerecke’s Biology students will share their knowledge for the general public again November 16 at the Indiana State Museum.

“Just getting the children interested in science is the best thing,” Morgan says. “It’s about pulling them in and having something to talk about, to spur that interest, that curiosity. I even learn a few things from doing this every once and a while.”

Science communication is key

Gerecke says the ability to explain science to different audiences without dumbing it down is a skill students will need as they enter the field.

 “This is a very interesting audience because you have children of different ages, and adults,” adds Gerecke while watching her students interact with families at Celebrate Science. “Every person that comes up, you have to start over and figure out how to engage with them.”

Melissa Evans and her classmates chose to promote neuroscience in their display about the four lobes of the brain: That’s the occipital for vision, temporal for speech, frontal for high-level cognition, and parietal for coordination. A plastic model of the human brain fascinated parents and older students while younger children colored pictures of brain halves, attached them to construction paper, and wore them as brainy headbands. 

“We’ve had kids who already know the lobes of the brain and kids who don’t even know what a brain is,” says Evans, a Psychology and Critical Communication major with a Neuroscience minor. “We also had a freshman in high school talk to us about our program because she’s interested in coming to Butler.”

Biology senior Kristen Spolyar believes events like Celebrate Science can only give young students a headstart in their STEM classes.

“I never experienced anything like this,” Spolyar said during a short break from running a booth on recycling and sustainability. “I think it’s really cool to have the opportunity for kids to go around, have fun, and experiment with things.”

Sparking scientific interest

Beyond the Butler stations, the entire Celebrate Science event corralled an energetic atmosphere of discovery.

Butler students show a girl experiments
Butler Chemistry students show a future scientist experiments in magnetism and simple motors.

Cody Carley might be a senior studying Biology and Chemistry at Butler, but he felt like a kid again at Celebrate Science. 

“Walking around, I’m enthralled by all of this stuff, too,” Carley says. “It’s still exciting for people my age… It’s nice to see what we’re learning does have some applicability and some meaning outside of an academic sense.”

Jenny Luerkins of Indianapolis and her young daughters, Etta and Helen, were among the hundreds who visited the Butler tables, and among the thousands at Celebrate Science 2019. It was their third time attending the event.

“What I really enjoy is that each time we come here, they get to see kids that aren’t much older than them interested in science,” she says. “It’s different than a teacher talking to them or a parent talking to them about science. They’ve got good role models to make science fun in a lot of different ways.”

 

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.

Megan Franke helps a girl with an experiment.
Student-Centered

Butler Biology and Chemistry Students Inspire Future Scientists at Celebrate Science Indiana

As part of their Indianapolis Community Requirement, students engaged with children through hands-on experiments.

Oct 16 2019 Read more
Ashleigh Doub

Of Funds and Food

Megan Ward, MS ’12

from Fall 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashleigh Doub
Student-Centered

Of Funds and Food

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

by Megan Ward, MS ’12

from Fall 2019

Read more
A scene from a Butler Improv practice
Student-Centered

Butler Improv Troupe Specializes in Unscripted Laughs

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Sep 26 2019

Sometimes there’s a payoff to not thinking.

For members of the Butler University Improv Troupe, not thinking tends to get the biggest laughs. The student organization—inspired by Whose Line Is It Anyway?, The Second City, and Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre—specializes in bringing the funny through off-the-cuff jokes in scenes and games on stage. The premises are fueled by audience suggestion.

“To me, at least, improv is not thinking too hard about it,” says Kitty Compton, a junior Theatre major. “If you think too hard, it won’t be as good. Every improv teacher ever will tell you, ‘Get out of your head. Don’t think about it too hard. Just say what comes to your mind.’ The worst thing you can do is try to be funny.”

Weekly practices help students relieve stress through creative performing. Formed in 2017, the all-female group of about 10, hosts shows on-campus at the end of every semester.

Kitty Compton gets laughs at improv practice.
Kitty Compton, second from left, brings the funny at Butler Improv practice.

Already, the improvisers have benefited from the chance to see touring and local acts that visit Butler stages. Performers from ComedySportz Indianapolis, Indianapolis’ only professional improv comedy group, offered expertise as guest mentors at past meetings. Members attended the August taping of the Hello from the Magic Tavern improv podcast at the Schrott Center for the Arts, and Clowes Memorial Hall will host a live performance of Mystery Science Theater 3000 with comedy actor Joel Hodgson, who made a living from using improv when riffing on bad movies.

Successful improvisations do require some thinking, of course. It just has to be lightning quick. Not all of the jokes land, but members provide one another with helpful feedback. Inspired by Tina Fey’s improv insights within her book Bossypants, the troupe’s first rule is to agree. Their “Yes and … ” mantra creates wide-open scenes and fewer trainwrecks on stage.

The experience of thinking on the fly has helped with the students’ academics. Kait Wilbur, a senior studying Strategic Communication and the troupe’s co-leader, says even bad ideas can inspire her academic work. Her years of improvisation have assisted in writing ad copy at her internship at Young and Laramore, a downtown Indianapolis advertising agency. The exploration has enhanced her creativity. Ideas flow easier. 

“This has been helpful in the generative process,” Wilbur says. “I’m not ditching any ideas because they’re dumb, but just letting them exist. You do that in improv because you have to think really fast.”

Funny women

Since its formation, the troupe has had an all-female cast, but not on purpose. Male improvisers are always welcome.

Wilbur believes the strong female cast members of Saturday Night Live and other comedy shows have inspired young women to take the stage, from Butler and beyond.

“I idolized Tina Fey,” Wilbur says. “I did a deep dive into comedy in junior high, and improv was a part of that. I saw it as a good way in.”

Compton is the only theater major in the troupe. Among the founding members, the Evansville, Indiana, native has honed her improv skills over the years. She considers improv an essential weapon in her performance arsenal.

“I think every actor needs to be able to improvise,” Compton says. “You need to at least be able to recover if something bad happens, and if you’re able to improvise, you can add a lot of personality to a role.”

Mae-Mae Han is a first-year Pre-Pharmacy student. Since middle school, she has successfully balanced theater, comedy, music, and STEM studies, and Han will continue to do so at Butler.

Mae-Mae Han leads a scene at improv practice.
First-year Pre-Pharmacy student Mae-Mae Han, center, leads a scene.

“When it comes to comedy and acting, it’s very energizing for me,” she says. “At the end of the day, being able to have fun, laugh, and bounce off of other people’s energies is super beneficial for my mental health.”

‘Bologna danger’

Troupe co-leader and senior Composition major Jessie Lause joyfully orchestrated a recent Monday night group meeting in Jordan Hall. During the “Conducted Story” game, Lause pointed to a performer to start telling a story using the phrase “bologna danger” for inspiration. After a few lines, Lause would point to another troupe member to continue the story, which included a man named Jack Danger and his crimes involving processed meats. Aliens were somehow in the mix, too.

“It helps me let loose,” says Lause, who is also studying Arts Administration. “I get really caught up in the sophistication level of my collegiate work. This is a way that I can step out of that.”

Another game saw the women giving their best impressions of The B-52’s Fred Schneider while singing about mowing the lawn and going grocery shopping.

Wilbur says she’s proud to have performed unscripted in front of friends and strangers, just like her heroes Fey, Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, and Catherine O’Hara did years ago.

“This is something that bonds me to the people I look up to,” Wilbur says. “We’re all participating in a similar tradition. It makes me feel self-actualized, in a sense. Sometimes it can be hard to have goals that you aspire to accomplish. Then you actually accomplish them. I’m engaging with that part of myself.”

And that is no bologna.

 

Great moments in improv, according to BuzzFeed.com

These iconic lines and actions are entrenched in pop culture, thanks to improvisation. 

  • Willy Wonka’s entrance, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — Gene Wilder walks like an old man before tumbling into an acrobatic somersault. Wilder said the stunt was meant to set up the mysterious nature of the character. Is the candy magnate lying or telling the truth throughout the film?
  • Jewelry box close, Pretty Woman — Richard Gere’s snap of the necklace box wasn’t planned, which drew the famous laugh from Julia Roberts.
  • “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” Jaws — Roy Scheider’s cryptic line was not in the script.
  • “I’m walking here!”, Midnight Cowboy — Dustin Hoffman’s reaction was in real New York City traffic. The cab got in the way of the shot and Hoffman delivered the line your dad always says when crossing a busy street.
  • “You talking to me?”, Taxi Driver — Robert DeNiro’s intense scene was given with just the note “speaks to himself in the mirror.”
  • “Here’s Johnny!”, The Shining — Jack Nicholson tossed in the line, which made it perhaps more famous than Ed McMahon’s call for the The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson at the time.
  • “Tears in the rain” scene, Blade Runner — Rutger Hauer’s largely improvised delivery defined the late actor’s career.

 

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

A scene from a Butler Improv practice
Student-Centered

Butler Improv Troupe Specializes in Unscripted Laughs

At meetings and shows, the student organization’s all-female cast thrives in creating comedy instantaneously.

Sep 26 2019 Read more
Scooter and Shana
Student-Centered

How Butler’s New Therapy Dog is Breaking Down Barriers to Seeking Support

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Sep 17 2019

Floppy black ears bouncing in the sunlight, Scooter trots down a busy sidewalk at Butler University. Students pass by, winding down from the chaos that comes with the first full week of classes. Scooter looks up at them from the end of his Butler-themed leash, giving that look that only dogs can give.

And for student after student, just seeing Scooter brings instant joy. Their faces transform as they smile back. While some walk away grinning after just a quick pet, others stop in their tracks for the chance to rub Scooter’s belly or feed him a treat from the bag Shana Markle carries with her on their afternoon walk through campus.

Scooter, a one-year-old Cavachon, joined the Butler University Counseling Center as a therapy dog in August 2019. He’s cared for by Markle, the Center’s Associate Director. Markle says it’s not rare for universities to offer this service, but it isn’t common, either, and the counseling staff at Butler wanted to stay ahead of the game when it comes to supporting student health.

“We talk a lot about being innovative and just trying to provide the students with the best experience we can,” Markle says. “For us, it’s an opportunity to provide a better experience for them, and also to remove barriers and be more accessible. There’s still a stigma related to coming to counseling, and this makes it a little easier for people to come in who might not otherwise.”

With depression and anxiety on the rise among teens and young adults, many university counseling centers have a hard time keeping up with the demand for care. Average counseling center usage increased by up to 40 percent between 2009 and 2015, according to the Center for Collegiate Mental Health, while school enrollment only rose by 5 percent.

While adding Scooter to the mix won’t magically solve these issues at Butler, it does make the Center more well-rounded by introducing a new approach when it comes to this very real challenge of how best to care for mental health, Markle says. For students who don’t need clinical care, just petting a dog can be enough to reduce stress. And within regular counseling sessions, having a dog around will allow Markle to implement new forms of therapy for students with more serious illnesses.

Animal-assisted therapy goes deeper than just having a furry thing to pet. Interacting with dogs in a clinical setting can provide relief to students who’ve struggled with leaving pets behind at home, or who are going through trauma and other diagnosable mental issues.

According to Pet Partners, a national nonprofit organization that trains and registers therapy animals and their handlers, humans and animals can bond in beneficial ways. Research shows that therapy dogs can help relieve pain, improve mood, encourage more social behavior, and lower blood pressure. Plus, by stimulating the release of endorphins, dogs usually just make people feel happy.

Plans to bring a therapy dog to Butler began taking shape during the 2017-18 academic year, when one of the Counseling Center’s doctoral fellows brought her expertise in animal-assisted therapy to campus. Student Affairs leaders at the University carefully studied the benefits and potential risks of such a program, considering what has worked best on other campuses in order to shape policies for animal-assisted therapy at Butler. Soon enough, it was time to pick a puppy and decide who would take the dog home each night.

Of the three full-time staff members, Markle was in the best position to take on a new pet. She says it took as much effort to convince her husband as it did to convince her colleagues, but after some time—and some begging from their teenage son—the couple decided to take a chance. On Labor Day 2018, they brought an eight-week-old Scooter home.

Over the next year, there was a lot of paperwork for Markle and training for Scooter. A therapy dog’s role goes deeper than that of an emotional-support dog—the use is more intentional and clinical, which meant Scooter needed to be certified with a pet therapy organization.

Scooter started taking obedience courses at just 12 weeks old, one of the youngest students in his classes. Despite having the extra playfulness of a puppy, Markle says he did a great job. He was trained and tested in a range of skills, from following basic commands like sit and stay to remaining calm in a crowd of strangers, before becoming registered with the American Kennel Club as both a “S.T.A.R. Puppy” and a “Canine Good Citizen.” He also passed an evaluation for dogs who demonstrate advanced skills in urban settings. After a little more practice interacting with other dogs, Scooter will likely become certified by Pet Partners, one of the most well-known and respected national pet therapy organizations.

But all the effort was worth it, Markle says, because when students interact with Scooter, she can see their stress melt away.

 

Scooter and Shana

 

During therapy sessions, it can be therapeutic for patients to breathe along with Scooter, or hold onto him to stay mentally grounded while discussing traumatic experiences. Students know Scooter will never judge what they say.

"Human connection is very important to our well-being, but relationships can also be a source of stress,” Markle says. “Even healthy relationships require effort to maintain and can be quite challenging.”

With a dog, the relationship will be genuine, accepting, and unconditional.

Students can play with Scooter or brush his curly black-and-white fur. They can try to teach him a new skill or just let him curl up at their feet. Or, for students who would rather not interact with a dog, he doesn’t need to be in the room. The animal-assisted therapy service will be carefully tailored to each student’s needs.

“To me, Scooter represents more than the day-to-day assistance he’ll be able to provide,” says Scott Peden, Executive Director of Student Health & Recreation. “It’s kind of a representation of our efforts to meet the students where they are and address whatever barriers they face when seeking out our services.”

Peden says Scooter has already had an unexpected impact on the Counseling Center staff. After a tough session, therapists can relax by rubbing Scooter’s ears or taking him outside for a walk.

“Therapists need therapists, because what they do is really a tough job,” Peden says. “So it’s nice to have Scooter in-house to be a support mechanism.”

But animal-assisted therapy isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. Markle and the other counselors are more than happy to make any accommodations necessary. Scooter is hypoallergenic and doesn’t shed, but there will still be some campus offices he never visits. A sign on the Counseling Center’s door also informs guests how to ask that Scooter be put away before they enter.

“It’s so important for us, as a Center, to be a support for everyone on campus,” Markle says. “We’re there for everyone. We would not want the presence of a therapy dog to be a barrier for others.”

The animal-assisted therapy program fits into Butler’s emphasis on mind and body wellness, one of the eight dimensions included under the BUBeWell student experience model that was introduced last year. This initiative aims to help students grow and learn, both inside and outside of the classroom.

“Right now in higher education,” says Vice President for Student Affairs Frank Ross, “there’s a significant movement looking at student wellbeing as the foundation for student success. We’ve taken that framework to heart here by creating BUBeWell. It’s comprised of eight dimensions that we feel are important holistically for student development.”

ScooterWithin the mind and body dimension, the Counseling Center will be expanding outreach in a variety of ways throughout the next year. Scooter is just one part of that. Staff members are also introducing a series called Let’s Talk, providing opportunities for groups of students to gather and share whatever is on their minds. Counseling staff will be visiting the Efroymson Diversity Center, too, hosting sessions that address topics specific to students of color.

Ultimately, the goal is to make resources for maintaining mental wellbeing more accessible to students. That often means getting out of the Counseling Center and meeting students where they’re at, whether that’s in another campus office or right by the sidewalk on a sunny afternoon.

Olivia Jacobs, a Community Assistant in her junior year at Butler, first met Scooter during a training about how to help fellow students find the best on-campus mental health resources.

“Having Scooter here shows me that Butler’s Counseling and Consultation Services is innovating,” Jacobs says. “It’s so exciting that they are looking at different routes for making student mental health a priority. And by the intentional ways they are implementing Scooter, it also shows me that they are still accommodating to everyone. I would just encourage people—if they see Scooter around campus—to go up and say hi, and to go pet him, because it’s his job to be a support.”

 

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

 

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Scooter and Shana
Student-Centered

How Butler’s New Therapy Dog is Breaking Down Barriers to Seeking Support

This fall, Counseling Center staff introduce animal-assisted therapy. Meet Scooter, their newest co-worker.

Sep 17 2019 Read more

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