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

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

 

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.

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

Students’ Summer Experiences Embolden Them for Future

By Tim Brouk

For Butler University students, summer is a time to learn, discover, inspire, and create. From analyzing viruses, to traveling for Fulbright programs, to interning in China, the Butler community didn’t let summer break go to waste.

Courtney Rousseau, a Career Advisor on campus, says the summer months provide great opportunities for students to explore new things and figure out what they want to pursue professionally. Whether through research or internships, students can work on building a network of connections while gaining hands-on experience.

Molly Roe in Glasgow, Scotland
Sophomore Molly Roe poses in Glasgow, Scotland.

Over summer 2019, Butler students spread out from downtown Indianapolis to Beijing. Some presented research for the first time, some boarded their first airplane flights, and others used the summer to focus on projects that turned into passions.

“I was very lucky,” says sophomore Molly Roe, who traveled to Scotland with the Fulbright UK Summer Institutes program to study the nation’s innovative technological advances at the University of Strathclyde. “It made me have a broader understanding of what’s going on in the world. After being in the same place my entire life, I was seeing things from different perspectives.”

Studying viruses

Senior Jenna Nosek spent more than two months with the Harvard University Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program, where she worked on analyzing viruses. Her summer research focused on the trichomonas vaginalis virus, which infects protozoa in sexually transmitted diseases. 

She also attended the Leadership Alliance National Symposium and presented a research poster on her findings after networking with faculty, graduate students, and fellow undergrads.

“It was, overall, an amazing experience for both an internship in research and understanding what it is like to do research at an R1 doctoral institute,” Nosek says. “This program also focused a lot on personal and professional development in regards to personal statements and application process for multiple programs.”

At Butler, Nosek is an undergraduate researcher in Assistant Professor of Biology Chris Stobart’s lab. Stobart loves giving students opportunities to expand their field experience.

In July, Stobart took seven young researchers to Minneapolis for the American Society of Virology annual meeting, where they presented talks and posters on recent lab findings on the respiratory syncytial and mouse hepatitus viruses. The students discussed the multi-faceted work, exploring the understanding and treatment of the viruses.

“This meeting is normally attended by graduate or postdoctoral students,” Stobart says. “So this was a great opportunity for them to both present and see how science is conducted and discussed in a real scientific meeting.”

Fulbright experiences

Roe wasn’t the only Butler student involved in a Fulbright summer program. Sophomores Josiah Lax and Emma Beavins explored the intersection of arts, activism, and social justice at the University of Bristol Summer Institute. This marked the fourth year in a row Butler had multiple undergraduates in Fulbright UK Summer Institutes.

Josiah Lax in Bristol, Enland
Dance Pedagogy sophomore Josiah Lax in Bristol, England

Dacia Charlesworth, Butler’s Director of Undergraduate Research and Prestigious Scholarships, says there are only 60 spots for the Fulbright UK Summer Institutes. And thousands of people apply.

Lax described his Fulbright experience at the University of Bristol as one he will cherish forever.

During his June stay, the broad curriculum ensured no day was the same. He worked with a Bristol activist to create sustainable fashion one day, then attended a Pan-African conference about decolonization the next.

“The biggest takeaway from my time in Bristol is that everybody has the power to make an impact and create change,” Lax says. “What makes us individual, and consequently, the unique paths we each choose, allows us to tackle various issues from new and effective angles.”

Now that Lax is back on Indiana time and entrenched in a new schedule of dance classes, the Fulbright experience is still close to his heart. The fact that only about 1 percent of applicants receive such an opportunity was not lost on him.

“Earning this opportunity was one of the most exciting moments in my life,” Lax says. “I think I may have even cried. I felt as though it was one of the first times I had individually been recognized with such an honor. I rarely feel proud of myself, but I can’t help it with this.” 

A summer of firsts

It was a summer of firsts for Gwen Valles, a junior majoring in International Studies and Spanish. To get to her first internship as part of the Mingdun Law Firm in Beijing, she had to board an airplane for the first time.

“It was intense,” says Valles, who represented Butler thanks to the Asia Summer Internship Program. “When we landed, it was just incredible.”

After a 15-hour plane ride, Valles got to work conducting research on intellectual property laws, collecting data, and learning about intellectual property laws in China. Her favorite part was policing knock-off products that mimicked items from Huda Beauty, a cosmetics line by YouTube star Huda Kattan. Valles found these bootlegged items in Mexico, Brazil, and India.

“People were taking Huda’s logo and making their own mock products,” she says. “They were even impersonating her online and were registering for trademarks. But we found the names filing were not her.”

Valles enjoyed the chance to use her multilingual skills with international cases. A student of Mandarin since eighth grade, Valles was able to practice the language in a professional office setting. And she was one of the few people in the office who could navigate websites written in Spanish.

From learning Excel to maintaining the brand of a YouTube giant, Valles will treasure her Chinese internship experience as an early, but major, stop on her career journey.

“I’m very interested in working for the U.S. government,” says Valles, adding that law school or a master’s degree in Public Policy are on the horizon. “The dream is to one day become a Supreme Court justice.”

‘It really inspired me’

A Political Science and International Studies major, Ashely Altman broadened her worldview without leaving Marion County. From May to August, the sophomore interned for attorney Fatima Skimin in downtown Indianapolis.

Altman worked with Skimin and about a dozen other lawyers in the office and online. She focused on immigration cases—something very personal to her. When she was a child, Altman witnessed the complicated process of attempts made by her mother and other relatives to immigrate from Mexico to the United States.

“That’s why I decided to go into this field,” Altman says. “At every law firm I go to, it’s something different. It’s something that further emphasizes my want and my need to do something about this topic and these issues.”

Altman’s cases worked with citizens from India, Africa, and the Middle East. She noticed that Skimin could speak four languages in order to better communicate with her clients, which inspired Altman to take an Arabic class to add to her Spanish and English.

“I got to see the entire immigration process from beginning to end,” Altman says. “It’s a big deal and very rewarding in the end.”

And that wasn’t the only thing that kept Altman busy this summer.

She managed to collaborate with online news outlet BuzzFeed for a piece on immigration and asylum-seekers in the U.S., which will be published soon. BuzzFeed interviewed Spanish-speakers around Indianapolis, and Altman served as an interpreter for the two-week project. She was on-hand for every interview, and she later transcribed every quote.

“I was there to facilitate anything they were trying to communicate with the reporter,” Altman says about the June assignment. “It really inspired me to become part of the change.”

Gwen Valles visits the Great Wall.
Student-Centered

Students’ Summer Experiences Embolden Them for Future

From study abroad to internships, Bulldog undergrads made their mark on the world this summer.

Melísenda Dixon's Fight to Improve Inclusive Curriculum

By Katie Grieze

When Melísenda Dixon wants something to change, she doesn’t keep quiet. She speaks up, starts a movement, and helps give others a voice—just like her mom taught her. 

Dixon spent her early childhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She grew up in a neighborhood where she witnessed violence and discrimination against racial minorities on a regular basis. Her parents taught her how to live in the world as a person of color—Dixon is Black and Mexican-American. They taught her how to speak up for herself, and when to let things go. 

But she says the lesson that stood out most was the importance of her voice. 

From a young age, she saw her mom advocate for a variety of causes, from teacher pay to gun violence prevention. Dixon would go along to the rallies, watching her mother protest injustices without ever getting too distracted by anger. She decided she wanted to be like that. 

So when Dixon was sexually assaulted during her first year of high school, she did something about it. 

Her family had moved to the small town of Pullman, Washington, the year before. There was only one public high school, which meant she couldn’t escape her two assaulters. After reporting the attack and filing a civil lawsuit, Dixon says all she got was a temporary protection order. That didn’t do much to help her feel safe.

The following year, Dixon wrote a research paper about sexual assault. Part of her paper involved a survey among classmates, which revealed that there was much more sexual misconduct at her school than she ever imagined. She asked some of the other survivors why they hadn’t reported their cases. Many said they had already seen how Dixon’s case was handled, and they didn’t have much hope of getting a different response from the school. Data in hand, Dixon went back to the school’s leaders. 

Look, she said, this isn’t just my voice that’s not being heard. It’s all of ours. You need to do something.

Nothing changed. She went to the school board next. There, she says she just got questions about what the survivors were wearing at the time of their assaults. 

So she applied to the Youth Advisory Council for College Board, which helps students from across the U.S. work toward improving education. When she got accepted, she felt like she could finally use the voice her parents had always taught her to have. 

“I’m going to try to be a voice for people if they feel like they don’t have a voice,” she says. “I had already gone through a lot of abuse in Wisconsin, so when I was assaulted in Pullman, I couldn’t let it just destroy me. I needed to get myself up and continue to push through.”

With the national organization behind her, Dixon started making progress. She helped implement new sexual misconduct prevention curriculum at her school and at more than 500 other schools across the country. She organized for speakers from Alternatives to Violence to meet with students and discuss topics of consent. She advocated for teaching every child and teen, starting in elementary school, how to stay safe and speak up. 

The main message she wants to spread?

“It’s not your fault. I feel like that’s something people think is just so easy to know. People say, ‘Obviously it’s not your fault.’ But so many people blame you. So many people ask what you were wearing.”

And being a survivor of sexual assault doesn’t need to define who you are, Dixon says. 

“Just because I’m a survivor doesn’t mean my personality is made up solely of what has happened to me,” she says. “It’s what I’ve made of my situation. I’ve done so much more than be sexually assaulted. I’ve tried to impact others’ lives, and I’ve done that in multiple different ways.”

Yes, Dixon has made her voice heard in a variety of ways, including with issues beyond sexual misconduct. For example, after classmates told her to go back to Mexico—and that Mexicans were only good for picking fields and cleaning toilets—she realized how many other people in her town were facing racism every day.

Again, she wasn’t going to let it go. Working alongside a few friends, she established a Black Student Union at her school. The members often collaborated with similar student organizations at nearby Washington State University. They organized walk outs. They held discussions and forums. But they mostly just wanted to create a safe space for students to talk. 

“One of the most rewarding things was to see that we can come together if we are organized and we are really trying,” she says. “We can come together, and we can help each other.” 

When it came time to start applying for college, Butler was the only school Dixon applied to. Her brother, Nathaniel Dixon, graduated from the University in 2017, and she had already fallen in love with the campus and its diverse student body during her visits to Indianapolis. Still, her parents told her not to make up her mind so fast. 

“So then I applied to 22 schools,” she said, laughing. “And I got into 20.”

But she knew from the start that she wanted to go to Butler. She’s excited to start this fall as a Management Information Systems major with a minor in Healthcare Management. She eventually wants to help run a children’s hospital, but in the meantime, she plans to make the most of every moment at Butler. 

“At college, I want to make an impact,” Dixon says. “I want to feel like I didn’t just do academics—that I actually made an impact on Butler’s campus and also within the Indianapolis community.”

 

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.

Melísenda Dixon
Student-Centered

Melísenda Dixon's Fight to Improve Inclusive Curriculum

After surviving sexual assault and facing racism at her high school, she turned to advocating for others.

Changing Hearts with a Rainbow Sticker

By Katie Grieze

Dominic Conover didn’t see himself as an activist until 10:00 PM on a Saturday night in August 2018. 

He was at work, hosting guests at a Mexican restaurant, when his phone started ringing. The screen showed the name of a classmate he barely knew. 

Hanging up from the call, Conover stepped outside to take a breath and think about what he’d just heard. Shelly Fitzgerald, a counselor at Roncalli High School—the Catholic school Conover attended in Indianapolis—had been placed on administrative leave for being married to a woman. 

Conover decided he wasn’t going to deal with it.

He told his boss he needed to leave early, then rushed home and started a group chat with about 40 students he knew to be allies. Right away, they got to planning. 

In just more than 24 hours, they organized a Monday-morning rally at Roncalli High School. Conover went to church on Sunday, then spent the rest of the day calling every student in his contacts: Will you go buy some flowers and meet me by my car at 7:00 AM tomorrow? We’re going to protest.

The next morning, more than 200 rainbow-clad students flooded the parking lot, grabbed one of the Long’s Bakery donuts Conover had ordered, and lined up single-file as he blasted Pride music from his car speakers. Carrying bouquets for Fitzgerald, they marched to her office. 

Fitzgerald wasn’t there—she’d already been suspended. Still, standing in the flower-filled room, Conover led a prayer for inclusivity. 

God, we ask that you end this division in our Church.

Conover, who is now starting his first year at Butler University, was one of six Roncalli students who launched the LGBTQ advocacy group Shelly’s Voice. While rooted in the original protest against Fitzgerald losing her job, the organization didn’t stop fighting when things died down. Instead, they’ve been expanding ever since to support other members of the Catholic Church who experience discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

Before Fitzgerald was suspended, Conover says he was “so blind to discrimination.” He knew it existed, but he had never witnessed it so directly within the LGBTQ community. Since then, he’s worked toward making sure all students at Roncalli and other Catholic schools feel loved and have access to the support systems they need. 

“It flipped everything,” Fitzgerald says about the work of Conover and his classmates. “It turned the most hurtful situation you can imagine into the most beautiful thing.”

Shelly’s Voice didn’t celebrate an official launch until December 4, but Conover says it started way before that. Between organizing protests and writing letters to Church leaders, the members began the school year by passing out rainbow-colored stickers to students and teachers all around Roncalli. The stickers became marks of encouragement for the school’s LGBTQ community, as students wore them to class and teachers placed them on their doors to show support. Conover, who is now the Chair of Event Coordination for Shelly’s Voice, collected the names of student allies he saw wearing the stickers over the next few days.

“Those were the students who were ready to start fighting, like we were,” he says.

Not long after the news broke about Fitzgerald, Conover and his friends spread the word to get about 300 students to wear rainbow colors to a home football game. He says school administrators had banned the word “Pride” from the event, but this only pushed the students to pass out even more stickers and Pride-themed bracelets up and down the bleachers. One of the football players, who is now a chair member for Shelly’s Voice, carried a rainbow flag onto the field when the team ran out. 

 

 

“We went into that football game and just started spreading our message,” Conover says. 

At the time, Conover thought that message was so positive no one would really challenge it. 

“I was mistaken,” he says.

After appearing on The Ellen Show in September and receiving a $25,000 donation from Shutterfly to help support the cause, the students of Shelly’s Voice were on a roll. They held a launch party in December, when Indiana Youth Group became their official fiduciary agent. Conover was at the height of his activism in the start of second semester, gathering letters to the Church and speaking with the media about the organization’s mission. Leaders at Roncalli had warned him to stop, but he didn’t want to keep quiet.

“To the administration,” he says, “I was being a little too loud.” 

In February 2019, Conover was called into a meeting for what he understood would be his last warning: Stop with the public statements, or don’t graduate. 

“They basically hung my diploma over my head for my silence,” he says.

And it worked. For the next three months, Conover didn’t want to jeopardize his chance to graduate and come to Butler in the fall. So he backed off, but he says staying silent was harder than being a voice for the LGBTQ community. 

“Your mental health can get so much worse when you aren’t able to advocate anymore,” Conover says. 

But through it all, Conover and Fitzgerald have been there for each other, reminding each other to always respond with kindness. 

“We’re not changing minds,” Fitzgerald says. “We’re changing hearts. And you can only change hearts by building relationships with people.” 

Almost a year after Fitzgerald lost her job, Indy’s Cathedral High School fired a gay teacher. To Fitzgerald, it was like ripping off a scab, and she started sharing some posts online that reflected her anger. 

One day that week when she was scheduled to meet with Conover and hadn’t replied to his emails, he sent her a text. 

Hey, are you mad? 

I’m okay. I just haven’t had time to respond to your message, she texted back.

No, Conover texted, I don’t mean mad at me. Just in general.

He went on to say that he’d noticed how her posts over those days had been different from normal, and he just wanted to remind her—like she had always reminded him—that they could only win with kindness.

As Conover starts at Butler with a major in Political Science, he’s looking forward to studying at a school that’s not only excited about his activism, but has recognized his work in Shelly’s Voice with a Morton-Finney Leadership Award. The scholarship, which Butler has been awarding for more than 20 years, honors students who have shown leadership in promoting diversity throughout their schools or communities. Receiving the award confirmed the commitment Conover first made to Butler when he saw the Efroymson Diversity Center during a campus visit at the beginning of his senior year. Looking into the room, he saw a sign with a message about Butler’s mission of inclusivity. 

He showed the sign to his mom and said, I think this is the place I want to be.

“I looked in that room, and at that moment I noticed that this University was somewhere I could be me,” he says. “It was a university that would be proud of what I was doing.” grad caps

During the 2019 graduation ceremony at Roncalli, Conover and a friend snuck in large stickers of the phrase “Jesus Loves All,” with the last word printed in rainbow. After taking their seats in the front row, they pulled out the decals and stuck them to their mortar boards—an act that reignited the advocacy Conover had let go for most of the semester. 

And he picked up right where he left off. Over the last year, Shelly’s Voice established PRISM, a gender and sexuality alliance for high school students on Indy’s south side. They’ve hosted trainings to teach people how to be supportive and accepting allies of the LGBTQ community. They’ve held a rally at the building for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. And just a few weeks ago, Conover had the chance to tell his own story—his full story—as the keynote speaker at a Los Angeles event for the Ariadne Getty Foundation, which had provided some legal and publicity guidance to Shelly’s Voice members earlier in the year. 

After describing his months of both speaking out and being silenced, he said he would never forget that late July day in L.A., when he was able to open up about the difficulties he faced while trying to spread a message of equality. 

“It is on this day,” he said to the crowd, “that I can finally say I feel both proud and safe to be doing what I’m doing.”

Fitzgerald says that even though she would love to share Conover with the world, she’s proud he decided to stay in Indianapolis. 

“Our community needs people like him,” she says. “And I really anticipate that Butler is going to be a place for him to thrive. He can be here and feel accepted. But even more than that, he can belong. He’s going to make a difference here—I promise.”

 

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.

Shelly's Voice Advocacy Group
Student-Centered

Changing Hearts with a Rainbow Sticker

When Shelly Fitzgerald lost her job for being married to a woman, Dominic Conover helped create 'Shelly's Voice.'

A New Perspective on Service

By Larry Clow

In the summer of 2018, Hannah Kelly got an up-close look at the life she might have led. She and her sister, Grace, were adopted from China as young children. After growing up in Lexington, Kentucky, the siblings were back in their home country for a week of volunteering with OneSky for All Children, a children’s home in Beijing.

Each day, Kelly and her sister walked from their lodgings to the orphanage, where they spent hours playing with the kids. Despite the barriers that came with differences in languages and age, Kelly and her sister developed a rapport with the children in the home.

“We made a strong connection with them just by giving them attention and love,” Kelly says. “It definitely gave me a different perspective on myself, too. I could see what my life is like versus what it could’ve been. Seeing how the culture is in China, and what those children have to deal with versus my life here, it caused me to take a step back.”

Making connections with others and learning to see the world—and herself—from different perspectives are two of the many reasons Kelly loves volunteer work. 

“Volunteering is fun, especially when you do it with friends,” Kelly says. Throughout high school, she volunteered at local food pantries, the Lexington Humane Society, and other organizations. “Helping out in the community is a really important thing to do. I definitely want to keep up my volunteering while at Butler and help out the Indianapolis community.”

It’s something she will continue to pursue during her time at Butler as part of the 2019-2020 class of Morton-Finney Leadership Program Scholars.

“I’m honored to be part of the Morton-Finney Leadership Program,” she says. “I’m excited to promote diversity and inclusion on campus, just as I did in high school. Dr. John Morton-Finney had an amazing legacy that I hope to honor and respect through my time here at Butler.”

Kelly believes her outlook is a great fit for Butler. She visited campus for Butler Business Day and Butler Scholars Day, where she was able to meet other Bulldogs and fall in love with the community.

“Butler was everything I wanted.”

 

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.

Hannah Kelly
Student-Centered

A New Perspective on Service

Volunteering at an orphanage in China helped Hannah Kelly see her own life in a different way.

Bringing Water to the World

By Cindy Dashnaw

Nine-year-old Madeline Hoskins-Cumbey stood in shock at the local food pantry. She had never known that chicken came in cans or mashed potatoes in a box. Where were the apples and green beans?

How could so many people be in need?

“I just remember thinking that these were people my family might know,” says the Butler University first-year student. “It was a wake-up call: ‘Hey, people need your help. You can’t just sit back and not do anything.’”

So, during a museum trip in seventh grade, Hoskins-Cumbey found herself at a booth for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. She applied to join the organization, which works to make sure children have the resources they need to develop healthy habits, and she became the youngest member of the nonprofit Alliance’s youth advisory board. In this role, she has worked with schools, businesses, and communities to ensure that the places where children learn and play promote good health.

“The Alliance challenged us by asking, ‘What’s a problem in your community, and what can you do about it?’” Hoskins-Cumbey says. “I started with our elementary school and created a community garden. Then things really just grew from there.”

She recruited her brother for help, and they soon found themselves busy starting community gardens, volunteering at food pantries, and coordinating walks to bring water to remote villages. They even taught others how to help. Before Hoskins-Cumbey was even in eighth grade, a friend of her parents asked her to teach an eight-week summer class for younger kids.

“Of course, I said yes,” she laughed. “After a while, it just became easier to combine everything into one organization.”

That organization is SMART2bfit, formally launched by Madeline and Carter Hoskins-Cumbey at ages 9 and 6, respectively. The service-learning nonprofit is still going strong a decade later. SMART stands for Service, Multipurpose, Activity, Real hope, and Teaching.

Though they began with three main activities—camps, community gardens, and walks for water—they now focus on Walk4Water events, in which school, church, and community groups carry gallons of water on walks to raise funds for building wells in remote areas around the world.

Now in its 10th year, SMART2bfit has just completed its 10th well. In all, SMART2bfit has given 929 people access to water they never had before.

“It’s a very big milestone for me and my brother,” Hoskins-Cumbey says. “Our first project was for a tank extension in Kenya, and now we’re drilling actual wells. It’s so inspiring how water can completely change a community.”

She hasn’t been to visit any of the wells, but not for lack of desire.

“Because they’re in such remote locations,” she says, “we’d be able to drill three more wells for the cost of us to visit one, and we just can’t bring ourselves to spend the money like that.”

But if her educational and career plans work out, perhaps she’ll get closer to a well. Hoskins-Cumbey is starting this semester with a major in international business, and with a wish to enter the Peace Corps.

“I applied to 11 colleges,” she says. “Butler was the school I visited the most. The campus feels community-esque, the dorms are near each other so people can enjoy time with friends, and there are a lot of ways to get plugged in. I am looking forward to connecting with others who have similar interests, who know you can be business-minded and still be service-oriented.”

Hoskins-Cumbey believes that young people today are highly aware of social issues like climate change and the suffering of others, and they want to know how to help.

“It’s not so much that you do it because you need service hours,” she says. “I think people today are good at heart.”

And to make a difference, she says, you just need to start small.

“With time and effort and hard work—that’s how we got to where we are now,” she says.

Hoskins-Cumbey believes in a lifelong commitment to helping others.

“Sometimes as you get older,” she explains, “it becomes, ‘This isn’t my problem. I’ve done my part. The next generation will have to figure it out.’ But as a global community, we’re all in the same boat. One person’s impact cannot completely change patterns. A combined effort is where the most change will be seen.”

Madeline Hoskins-Cumbey
Student-Centered

Bringing Water to the World

At 9 years old, Madeline Hoskins-Cumbey launched a movement to bring food and water to those in need.

Tom Pieciak performs "I Fall in Love Too Easily" by Jule Styne, a song that is especially meaningful to him.
Student-Centered

In The Moment: Butler Summer Institute Student Explores Spirituality Through Jazz

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jul 18 2019

Tom Pieciak ‘21 can’t explain why he loves jazz. He just knows it makes him feel good.

To him, the genre is more than music. It’s a raw, organic expression of humanity, but perhaps it’s even more than that. For Pieciak, jazz is spirituality.

After watching Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary during his sophomore year at Butler University, Pieciak discovered this wasn’t uncommon.

“I saw how deeply spiritual his music was,” Pieciak says about the jazz saxophonist.

At the time, he was trying to decide which project to pursue during the 2019 Butler Summer Institute (BSI). The Jazz Studies major knew he wanted to research something relating to music, and he had been long fascinated with existential questions and philosophical topics, already starting to connect the two interests.

“It makes music an even more emotional experience for me,” he says of how philosophy affects his trumpet playing. “I really feel like what I’m doing is beyond me: I’m simply a vessel for this kind of creativity.”

After a meeting with Matthew Pivec, an Associate Professor of Music at Butler and Pieciak’s BSI faculty mentor, the two agreed there was something in the intersection between jazz and spirituality. For his project over the last two months, Pieciak interviewed musicians and listened to recordings to study why and how the genre can inspire such a spiritual experience. He also asked what it even means to be spiritual—how people express spirituality in different ways, and whether you can be spiritual without being religious.

Pieciak first started playing jazz in high school, when he fell in love with the freedom the style offers. So far in his research, he’s found it’s that space for creativity that might help set jazz apart when it comes to spiritual expression. He says the improvisatory nature of jazz—the room it grants for living in the moment—is similar to how humans handle spirituality.

“Within jazz,” Pieciak says, “I like to think that when I’m really in the element, I’m connecting myself to this bigger purpose.”

 

During the 2019 Butler Summer Institute, from May 19 - July 19, rising junior Tom Pieciak studied the power of jazz music to be a vehicle for spiritual expression. Pieciak feels this connection in his own music. Here, he performs "I Fall in Love Too Easily" by Jule Styne, a song that is especially meaningful to him.

 

Now, he and the rest of his quartet have the chance to perform every month at Monon Coffee Co. in Broad Ripple. While playing in a group, Pieciak often feels a different kind of spiritual connection in the community that emerges when the bass, drums, guitar, and trumpet all come together.

“You’re listening to each other,” he says. “You’re trusting each other.”

Based on this direct experience of how spirituality can show itself in different ways through jazz, Pieciak has broken the concept into three categories for his project: divine (anything relating to religion or a higher power), community (the spirituality involved in relationships between people), and individual (or, everything else). He assigned jazz songs to each of these categories, providing examples of their musical expressions.

At the beginning of the summer, Pieciak wasn’t sure he’d be able to find enough people to speak about his topic. But with a bit of digging and some help from Pivec’s network, he found five artists to study and had the chance to interview four of them. Some of these musicians are directly involved with church communities, with “one foot in jazz and one foot in religion,” like Indianapolis-based Rev. Marvin Chandler, and Ike Sturn, the music director for jazz ministry at a church in New York City. Pieciak also studied the history of spiritual expression in jazz, as well as identified recordings that reflect that relationship.

Pivec says with so many elements to consider and perspectives to balance, “it gets a little bit messy in the organization process.” And it isn’t the sort of project that will lead to any momentous discoveries. But that’s okay, Pivec says, because the project is giving Pieciak the chance to explore something meaningful.

“Really the biggest thing for the talented young people at the Butler Summer Institute is, in many ways, the transformative experience,” Pivec says.

During the regular school year, students take courses meant to fill certain requirements, often offering less freedom. But for this project, Pivec says “there’s nothing students are not capable of.” For Pieciak, he’s already felt the project’s influence.

“It has been affecting, already, the way I approach practicing and the way I approach writing,” he says. “It’s coming from a much more organic place.”

Scheduling constraints limited the number of interviews Pieciak could conduct this summer, but he plans for the BSI project to be just a stepping stone to a longer-term pursuit down the road. He will share his results at conferences, but rather than presenting any finite conclusions, he hopes he might encourage jazz musicians to embrace the spiritual nature of their music and change their crafts accordingly. He also hopes his research will prompt people to reflect on their own expressions of spirituality, even beyond the realm of jazz.

 

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.

Tom Pieciak performs "I Fall in Love Too Easily" by Jule Styne, a song that is especially meaningful to him.
Student-Centered

In The Moment: Butler Summer Institute Student Explores Spirituality Through Jazz

Through the Butler Summer Institute, Tom Pieciak had the chance to research something deeply meaningful to him.

Jul 18 2019 Read more
Grace Hart studied in Greenland and Iceland for the spring 2019 semester.
Student-Centered

From the Top of a Glacier: Grace Hart Feels Climate Change Up Close

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jun 26 2019

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

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

I want you all to spend a minute taking in your surroundings, the guide said before leading the group back down the trail. Think about where you are right now. Because this glacier changes every single day, and some day, it’s going to be gone.

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

The guide broke the silence.

Remember this feeling, he said. When you’re trying to explain to someone why it’s important to slow down climate change, remember this.

Hart knows she will.

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

Hart says her choice to study climate change started with “a love of nature and a sadness that people were trying to destroy it.” Butler taught her about the real consequences climate change has already caused, even in Indianapolis.

“Seeing that in my own community cemented my goals of advocating for the environment and those who have been negatively affected by the irresponsible actions of people who are careless with the earth's resources,” Hart says.

Through almost-daily discussions about climate change in her environmental studies classes, Hart sometimes loses hope that things will get better. She believed visiting Iceland and Greenland would break that cycle and give her the skills to do something.

“I thought it would be really cool to learn about climate change from a place that is typically seen as very sustainable and environmentally friendly,” Hart says. “It’s a different conversation than happens in the U.S., where we have a long way to go.”

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

When Hart first came to see Florek, she knew exactly what she wanted to do. She’d had a challenging fall semester during junior year, and she decided to apply to the Iceland program in hopes of shaking things up. Commiting to a three-and-a-half-month trip with a group of strangers scared her, but she looked forward to feeling independent. 

The trip began in February, just missing the time of year when the sun never rises. They started in Reykjavík, Iceland, studying climate modeling and glaciology before heading to Nuuk, Greenland. For two weeks, the group learned about the country’s culture. Hart studied how climate research often excludes native people, and she loved learning the value of including diverse voices in those conversations. She says you shouldn’t make decisions about the land without asking the people who’ve been working with it for centuries.

There was also time for some fun. During a brief stay in Akureyri, Iceland (where Hart would return for the final part of her program), she traveled far enough north to see the arctic circle. She loved Akureyri for its beautiful location, deep in a fjord with mountains all around. Actual trees grow there, too, which can be hard to find in Iceland.

But Hart’s favorite thing was the endless light. At sunset, the sky turned orange and pink, then it just stayed that way for hours.

“At a certain point, I think I kind of got used to the fact that it was so pretty,” Hart says. “I had to think about it again and realize how cool it was that I got to be there.”

In her free time, she swam in geothermal pools, visited art museums, tried out new restaurants, and learned how to knit a sweater. She saw waterfalls and volcanoes. She snowshoed up a mountain. She even tried her hand at some Greenlandic dishes.

For most of the semester, Hart followed a set program, but the last five weeks were up to her.

 

 

Comparing Iceland to Indy

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

“I really became passionate about it because the faculty at Butler are passionate about it,” she says.

During the last five weeks of her study abroad trip, which were dedicated to independent study, she wanted to see how an issue so prominent in Indianapolis might play out in a different climate.

Mostly through secondary research, Hart found that food security in Iceland isn’t really an economic issue: It’s a land issue. People there have started demanding foods that just can’t grow in the frigid climate, forcing residents to import most of what they eat. Beyond harming the environment, Hart says, importing can make the country especially vulnerable whenever trade gets disrupted.

Her study offered some solutions. She focused mainly on changes that might shift tastes back to what the land can support, such as subsidizing and labeling local foods. She also suggests more Icelanders rent garden pots to grow their own produce. Ultimately, she says, the country should try to become self-sufficient.

For now, Hart’s research is more of a personal exploration. She wasn’t able to share it with anyone outside of the study abroad group, but she believes her study could inspire change.

Hart would like to return to Iceland and build a community outreach program, which she hopes would get Icelanders talking about their food in ways they might not have before.

 

 

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Grace Hart studied in Greenland and Iceland for the spring 2019 semester.
Student-Centered

From the Top of a Glacier: Grace Hart Feels Climate Change Up Close

Butler student travels to Iceland and Greenland for program with the School for International Training.

Jun 26 2019 Read more

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