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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

 

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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
Emily Nettesheim at the Capitol Building
Student-Centered

Why We Dance: Butler Student Researcher Refutes Her Generation’s Reputation

BY Marc D. Allan MFA ’18

PUBLISHED ON May 10 2019

Emily Nettesheim '19 has heard her generation called lazy, entitled, and selfish. Her research—which she presented in Washington, DC, in late April to an audience that included both of Indiana's Senators—suggests that those labels are misguided.

Since sophomore year, Nettesheim has been examining why so many students participate in Dance Marathon, the annual fundraiser benefiting Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a non-profit organization that raises funds and awareness for more than 170 pediatric hospitals across North America. This year at Butler University alone, more than 500 participants raised over $365,000.

"Especially in light of how millennials have been portrayed negatively in the media, I knew the passion, drive, and sacrifice I was seeing in Dance Marathon was counter-cultural and special," says Nettesheim, a Health Sciences and Spanish double major from Lafayette, Indiana.

In a survey of Butler, Ball State, and IUPUI students, she found that an overwhelming majority participated in Dance Marathon because they were acting on their values—and because participants have the opportunity to meet families affected by the hospital, and visit the hospitals for tours to see first-hand where the money is going.

"Millennials tend to be motivated if they can see the impact of the cause," she says.

More than 85 percent also said they benefited from participating by developing maturity and specific skills, such as communication and empathy, that they can use later in life, according to Nettesheim’s research.

 

*

Nettesheim's story starts not with Dance Marathon—her high school didn't participate—but with her interest in Indianapolis-based Riley Hospital for Children, the beneficiary of Indiana Dance Marathon events. When her parents' friends asked what she wanted to do when she grew up, she said she wanted to be in the medical field and work with kids.

In 2015, when she arrived on campus, she heard about Dance Marathon almost immediately at an event about campus organizations.

"It sounded like a great opportunity to get my foot in the door somewhere I wanted to work," she says.

She joined the Riley Relations Committee as a first-year student—the committee works directly with Riley families—and fell in love with the people, and what Dance Marathon stood for. Sophomore and junior years, she served as the director of Riley Relations, and senior year became president.

In fall of her sophomore year, she started thinking about a subject for her honors thesis. She met with Pharmacy Professor Chad Knoderer.Knoderer had never taught Nettesheim, but after talking to her and hearing about her interest in Dance Marathon, he suggested that it could be her focus.

"As I researched more," Nettesheim says, "I realized that nonprofits across the country are experiencing issues trying to recruit donors and volunteers, and that the Dance Marathon movement is the No. 14 fastest growing peer-to-peer campaign in the nation. It became really evident that something different and unique is happening. So I wanted to see if I could figure out why—or at least quantify it a little bit."

She and Knoderer worked together on how to design the thesis, roll it out, and make it realistic to be completed. With help from Butler's Center for High Achievement and Scholarly Engagement (CHASE), everything came into focus.

Normally, the final step in the work Nettesheim was doing would be to write and turn in her honors thesis. And she did that—a 35-page paper.

But she wanted to do more. So early this year, she submitted an abstract to present at Posters on the Hill, the Council on Undergraduate Research's annual undergraduate poster session on Capitol Hill.  Members of Congress and their staff gather at the presentations to learn about the importance of undergraduate research through talking directly with the student researchers themselves.

The selection process is extremely competitive, but Nettesheim beat the odds—becoming the first Butler student in memory to be invited to participate.

"I can’t say definitively that she’s the first," says Rusty Jones, the CHASE Faculty Director, "but she’s certainly the first that I know of. What’s especially great about the Posters on the Hill event is that they are highlighting the importance of undergraduate research to our lawmakers in DC."

 

*

Part of Nettesheim's goal was to detail her findings, but she was also in Washington to share the value of undergraduate research with members of the Senate and Congress, and their staffs.

Nettesheim's father worked at Purdue University, and being around research there got her interested in it from a young age. She chose Butler precisely because she wanted the opportunity to do her own projects.

"It's so cool that even at a small university, there have been so many opportunities for me to get involved in research," she says.

In addition to delving into students' motivations to participate in Dance Marathon, Nettesheim also has worked in the Neurobiology Lab at Butler with Associate Professor of Biology Jennifer Kowalski. She's studying microscopic roundworms known as C. elegans, which have nervous systems similar to humans.

"It’s exciting to share the impact of research in my life and be the face behind the cause of research," Nettesheim says. "I've had much more of an opportunity to get involved and have my research be my own here than I would have had the opportunity to do elsewhere."

And that, says Knoderer, is the takeaway: Butler encourages and supports undergraduate research.

"If you've got an idea, go for it," he says. "The sky's the limit. I knew what Dance Marathon was from working at Riley Hospital for a number of years, so I knew the organization and what it was, but I didn't necessarily know how to approach her question. But there are enough people to help support a student and see their project through."

Emily Nettesheim at the Capitol Building
Student-Centered

Why We Dance: Butler Student Researcher Refutes Her Generation’s Reputation

Millennials tend to be motivated if they can see the impact of the cause.

May 10 2019 Read more
Haley Sumner and her dog Ezzie
Student-Centered

Finding Alternative Ways to Succeed

BY Marc D. Allan MFA ’18

PUBLISHED ON May 10 2019

When Mary Gospel found out she was going to be teaching a student who is blind, she wondered how that was going to work in a major—Communication Sciences and Disorders—that requires so much visual learning.

Then Haley Sumner came to class, and she had her answer.

"I've had Haley in class four times," says Gospel, Butler University Senior Clinical Faculty in Communications. "The only time I really even was thinking about her being vision-impaired was the first class. After that, you just forget because she handles everything so well. Outside of having a dog in the classroom, which is unusual, you just forget. She is such an amazing, strong student, and knows how to advocate for the things she needs to make the material in the classroom work for her."

That's precisely how Sumner wanted it. She has spent her life finding alternative ways to succeed, and she continued that at Butler.

She finished school in four years with a double major in Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) and Spanish. Along the way, she was involved in Student Government Association for three years, and  the Butler University Student Foundation.

"I've been able to develop work connections with graduates, and gotten an idea of what life will look like after college," she says. "If it wasn't for those organizations, it would have been harder for me to make connections, and feel comfortable with the next chapter of my life.”

In summer 2018, Sumner did an internship in the Human Resources department at Eskenazi Health. That spurred her interest in working for a large organization, like Eli Lilly and Co. or Salesforce when she graduates. She's now in the interviewing process.

*

Haley Sumner came to Butler from Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis. Sumner was born three months prematurely, weighing less than two pounds. She’s been blind since birth.

She started in Exploratory Studies, and chose CSD as a major because she had gone through speech therapy when she was young.

"I can't think of a day or even a moment in my life where I thought, 'I wish I could see this right now,'" she says. "I'm so grateful for the experiences I've had. I feel like we're all designed in a unique way."

She has navigated campus with help from her service dog, Ezzie. A text-to-speech machine turned her textbooks to audio. When she had classes that were heavily visual, she relied on tactile formats to feel what she couldn't see.

She says that in one class that dealt with topics such as anatomy and soundwaves, Butler's Student Disability Services office hired older students to draw diagrams she needed for exams and lectures. She has special paper that, when drawn on, makes raised lines, so she can feel what the picture is showing.

Sumner explains that for a drawing of a brain, for example, she can  feel where each lobe is located, and make a square or a circle in her mind, and then try  to put each part together to develop an understanding.

"Once I'm able to gauge where everything is mapped out on the page, then I'm able to make a mental image of it," she says.

*

Gospel says having Sumner in class made her a better teacher. She had to think more purposefully about how, and what, she taught. It forced her to prepare more thoroughly.

In one course, where students were expected to learn phonetic symbols instead of using alphabet letters, Gospel was flummoxed. She was unsure how to possibly make this accessible for Sumner.

Gospel teamed up with Kathleen Camire, Assistant Director of Student Disability Services, and Sumner. Not only were they able to come up with the necessary technology, but the three of them co-wrote a paper that Gospel presented at the American Speech and Hearing Association, about the technology and strategy needed to teach phonetics to a student with vision impairment.

Gospel says Sumner also made an enormous impact on the Butler Aphasia Community, a group of people who have had strokes who come to campus to work on their language skills with Butler students.

"They adored her," Gospel says. "She related to them so well, and they related to her. They saw how she was able to overcome obstacles with a positive attitude and sense of humor. They were inspired by her spirit.

Sumner says she comes at whatever she does with great empathy for others.

"Whenever I hear people complain or I hear them having a bad day, I try to get closer to them and help them find ways to make their situation positive or help them find a positive point in their day," she says.

Haley Sumner and her dog Ezzie
Student-Centered

Finding Alternative Ways to Succeed

Sumner says she comes at whatever she does with great empathy for others.

May 10 2019 Read more
Maddy Smith and her daughter Arabelle
Student-Centered

A Mother’s Promise: Against All Odds, Butler Senior is Ready to Graduate

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON May 09 2019

INDIANAPOLIS—Madeline Smith was in third grade when she attended her first college class. It was math. Finite, to be exact. And she loved it.

Her mom, Sarah Taylor, didn’t really have a choice but to bring her young daughter with her. She was a 30-year-old college student at Indiana University. She had returned to college years after giving birth to Smith and realizing, if she wanted to stop working 16-hour shifts and provide a better life for her daughter, a college degree would help. So, Taylor packed up her whole house, put everything in storage except for two tents, and headed to Yellowstone Woods in Bloomington, Indiana with Smith. They camped out for two months—Taylor and her 10-year-old. Taylor bused tables, saving up for an apartment. She had a friend watch Smith during most classes, but when she had to, Taylor brought an extra set of hands with her to class. Turns out those hands shot up in the air on more than one occasion when questions were asked. Especially during Finite.

“I knew I had to make a change to make Madeline’s life better in the long-run, and I am very thankful she was a resilient individual, because she powered through some tough times,” says Taylor, who has worked in Human Resources since graduating from IU. “She was my study buddy who would hold up flashcards for me during dinner, while I was doing laundry, everything. She took notes in her own notebook during Economics. She always loved learning and saw firsthand from those days that knowledge is power, and education can transform your life.”

That love of learning was always on display. In elementary school, Smith preferred reading to riding bikes with her friends. And when she brought home her first B at Southport High School in Perry Township, Smith cried hysterically, studying all night, determined to bring her grade back up to an A.

When it came time to make a decision about college, Taylor was biased. She took her daughter back to Bloomington where the two had many fond memories. Smith earned a 21st Century Scholarship—up to four years of undergraduate tuition at participating universities in Indiana—so Taylor knew her daughter had options. They also visited Butler University.

“After being on campus, Butler became a no-brainer,” Smith says. “I loved the atmosphere here. I loved the fact that just six buildings make up the academic section. There was such a community feel right away. With larger institutions, it felt like you had to walk across an entire city to get to class. I didn’t want to be in a department where there are 25 professors and you never meet half of them, and they don’t know your name, and you are just another face. I wanted to be Maddy, and at Butler, it became instantly obvious to me the I would have that type of experience.”

Then, one day during Smith’s senior year of high school, she sat her mom down. She needed to talk to her. Smith was pregnant. They had a long talk—both cried and were scared—but, Smith made one thing clear: her goals would not shift, and she would go to Butler as planned. Taylor explained that she would understand if Smith needed to take a slightly different route, or adjust her timeline. But Smith was adamant. Nothing would change.

Four years later, Smith is on the cusp of graduation. She will join nearly 1,050 other students on Saturday for Butler’s 163rd Spring Commencement. She will fulfill the promise she not only made to her mom, but to herself, and to her daughter, Arabelle.

The Anthropology major and History minor will walk across the stage right on time, just as she planned four years ago. She is a bit more tired, but also incredibly grateful—for the scholarships, support from faculty and family—and proud—for trusting herself and sticking to her plan.

 

‘I’m exhausted’

The timing, actually, could not have been better for Smith. She was determined to not miss any significant class time, and her daughter was due in December, when Butler was closed for Winter Break.

So, Christmas 2015 arrived, she went to the hospital, and Arabelle arrived on December 27, 2015. Two weeks later, school started, and Smith was in class.

“It was really hard. To be honest, second semester of my first year is a blur,” Smith says, “It is recommended that you have six weeks of bonding time with your baby, and I had like two. But, I would have had to take medical leave if I missed school, and I wanted to graduate on time. It was really difficult, and exhausting, and things you don’t think about, like nursing, were messed up, but I knew I had to get through it.”

On top of having a newborn, Smith had to move to Kokomo during her second semester—about an hour from Butler’s campus—because her mom was relocated from Indianapolis to Tennessee for work. She moved in with her aunt and uncle, and then made the hour-each-way commute every day for classes.

Maddy's daughter, ArabelleShe learned traffic patterns very quickly, she says. She also learned time management.

Each day she woke up at about 5:00 AM, got ready for school, got her daughter ready for daycare, drove to campus for classes, and would return home to pick up her daughter from day care at around 5:00 PM. Then it was dinner time, bath time, bedtime for Arabelle, homework time for Smith, and, hopefully at a reasonable hour, bedtime for Smith.

“The way she has juggled everything has amazed me. But that is Madeline,” Taylor says. “I have seen her up until 2:00 AM working on a paper, or sometimes asleep in a book, trying to finish assignments. Her determination is what has gotten her to this point, and her love of learning.”

It wasn’t always clear to Smith that she made the right choice, though. There were times, she says, she missed out on things like parent-teacher conferences, or making snacks for her daughter’s daycare. Or other things, like homecoming, Greek Life, and just a typical social life on campus. Between classes and taking care of her daughter, Smith has juggled several jobs throughout her four years, such as working at a gas station, working at a fast food restaurant, the Butler IT Help Desk, pizza delivery driver, to name a few.

 

Tight-knit community

Elise Edwards has an adult son, and, after a day of teaching Anthropology as an Associate Professor at Butler, she is drained, she says. So, to see Smith, a first-year student who can juggle being a mom and keep up with her studies, amazed Edwards.

“Maddy is an incredibly smart student. She writes well, thinks well, and despite all of the outside pressures she faces, has remained incredibly focused,” Edwards says. “She is very intellectually curious and, miraculously, hasn’t allowed any additional challenges to get in her way.”

Edwards worked with Smith on an independent study project looking at the Anthropology of Africa. The two handpicked ethnographies on Africa and met weekly to discuss the readings. After graduation, Edwards says, she will really miss these conversations.

But it wasn’t just that Smith was able to keep up, Edwards says. She was often ahead of the class. On more than one occasion, Smith would raise her hand and remind the class that rough drafts were due in a week.

Instructor of German Michelle Stigter was the first person on campus Smith told about her pregnancy. Stigter was her First Year Seminar professor, and the two instantly connected.

“I am the child of teenage parents, and I know the odds are stacked against young women who get pregnant in terms of college completion,” Stigter says. “Being a mom and something else is hard enough, but being a mom and a college student is really difficult. Maddy has a tenacity to move forward and make life happen for her and her daughter that has been incredible to witness.”

Most who know Smith, Stigter says, aren’t even aware she has a daughter. She has been determined to be like every other student and not let her family situation influence her college experience.

It was Stigter who nominated Smith for the Betty Murnan-Smith Scholarship—given to single parents enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, who have at least a 3.0 GPA.

Stigter nominated Smith in 2017, and since then, Smith has received the scholarship for the last three years.

“Without scholarships I never would have been able to come to Butler and receive the education I have received,” Smith says. “To have people that don’t even know you set up scholarships that you’ll eventually benefit from is something I am so grateful for. But, to then have professors looking out for you, and really advocating for you—it is all just so amazing.”

 

An education for everyone

Betty Murnan-Smith ’44 always loved to learn, too.

Born in Indianapolis in 1921, her father died of leukemia when she was 12. Suddenly left to raise Murnan-Smith alone, her mother moved them into the back room of a dried goods store to save money. The two shared a bed, her mother sewed their clothes, and a curtain enclosed their room.

Murnan-Smith rode her bike to school, always eager to get there, says her son, Timothy Smith. A high school English teacher of hers saw her talent as a writer and asked her if she planned to go to college. She said she couldn’t afford college, but her high school teacher told her she still could go, and introduced her to Butler.

“My mom worked her way through school. She had every kind of job you could imagine. She grinded magnesium for airplane parts, she was a soda jerk, an artist model, a Rosie the Riveter,” says Smith, who now lives in Los Angeles. “She was an uncommon woman of her time, one who was fiercely interested in women not following the well-traveled path but taking another option, and daring to do something great with their lives. She got that from her mother.”

Her favorite job, though, was on campus at Butler helping Professor of English Allegra Stewart grade papers. Stewart told Murnan-Smith that she had so much potential, and inspired her to become a professor, too. Murnan-Smith would go on to name her daughter Allegra, after Stewart.

“At a time when most women were becoming domesticated and looking for husbands, my mom went to Butler and had professors who showed her all the potential she had and all the options available to her—that she really could do anything,” Smith says.

Murnan-Smith would go on to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha. Later in her life she established the Betty Murnan-Smith Scholarship for single parents at Butler.

Her children didn’t even know about the scholarship until the end of their mother’s life, but it certainly doesn’t surprise them.

“It resonates with everything we understood about her. She would save pennies and dimes to help those who are trying to fulfill their dreams, despite challenges,” Smith says. “She taught us from a young age the importance of education. We were 12 and she was telling us the unexamined life is not worth living. She wanted to make sure she did her part to provide that for everyone. She actually sounds a lot like Maddy from the bit I have learned about her.”

 

‘A really special day’

Taylor will be at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday, watching her daughter graduate. Arabelle will not. She would be bouncing off the walls during a long ceremony like that, Smith says.

But, the day will be an emotional one.

“I couldn’t be prouder of my daughter,” Taylor says. “I have seen first hand all she has juggled with school, but also raising my granddaughter and being a wonderful mother, and sticking to her original goals and not wavering. She has always been so driven, but to see everything come to the final stages, it will be such a special day.”

After graduation, Smith is hoping to go into event planning, but she is still exploring her options. Whatever she ends up doing, though, she hopes to one day help others like her—sort of like Murnan-Smith.

Maddy Smith and her daughter Arabelle
Student-Centered

A Mother’s Promise: Against All Odds, Butler Senior is Ready to Graduate

Arabelle arrived on December 27, 2015. Two weeks later, school started, and Maddy Smith was in class.

May 09 2019 Read more
Maria De Leon

A Lifelong Activist

Sarah Bahr

from Spring 2019

  

Twelve-year-old Maria De Leon was on the phone with a doctor 40 years her senior.

She was translating a pain-pill prescription from English for her Spanish-speaking parents—but struggling with unfamiliar words like ‘hydrocodone’ and ‘acetaminophen.’

The language is rife with false cognates; each an opportunity for disaster.

‘Intoxicado’ doesn’t mean intoxicated, but ingested. ‘Embarazada’ means not embarrassed, but pregnant.

“That was something my parents didn’t understand,” she says. “Even though I do know English, I don’t know all the words.”

She would translate insurance claims, doctor’s appointments, sometimes even conversations with lawyers.

It was challenging, she says—her parents, who moved to the United States from Guatemala before she was born and have the equivalent of elementary-school educations, don’t speak enough English “to survive,” in her words.

Which meant that in high school, she was on her own to navigate the FAFSA, scholarships, SAT, and college application process.

But she didn’t end up a dropout.

She graduated salutatorian.

And won a full-tuition scholarship to any college in Indiana.

 

“Will Getting Arrested Keep me From Attending Butler?”

Except she almost didn’t.

Butler admission counselor Whitney Ramsay’s phone buzzed one morning last winter.

Will getting arrested keep me from attending Butler?

De Leon, then a senior in high school, was planning to participate in a sit-in protest in Washington, D.C. in January to lobby senators to approve a “clean” Dream Act, or one that creates a pathway to citizenship for immigrants without adding additional stipulations.

Would being arrested for civil disobedience, she wanted to know, affect her eligibility to attend Butler—and her Lilly scholarship?

Ramsay talked to her supervisor: De Leon’s admission decision wouldn’t automatically be rescinded, but any disciplinary infraction would be reviewed by a committee. (Butler later issued a statement reading: “Applicants to Butler University who respectfully engage in meaningful and authentic discourse regarding important issues within our society will not be penalized in the admission process”).

“I told her to be safe, be smart, and listen to her gut,” Ramsay says.

De Leon ultimately decided to stop short of being arrested—though some of her fellow protesters were.

“I felt like me going and protesting was enough at that moment,” she says.

De Leon’s passion for civic engagement started at Crispus Attucks High School on the northwest side of Indianapolis. She was a community ambassador for the Central Indiana Community Foundation, researching Indianapolis’ Hispanic and Latino communities to discover their biggest challenges. She interviewed student DACA recipients, as well as police officers who worked in the Hispanic community.

She also volunteered with the Domestic Violence Youth Network and became a leader of Crispus Attucks’ NO MORE Club, which raises awareness of teen dating violence and sexual assault.

But De Leon wanted to do more than just join a club. Why, she wondered, did Indianapolis Public Schools not have a teen dating violence prevention and response policy?

According to a 2017 Indiana Youth Institute Report, one in eight high school students said they had been “forced to do sexual things they did not want to do by someone they were dating or going out with.” That’s higher than the one in 10 national average.

De Leon worked with Lindsay Stawick, the Youth Program Manager at the Domestic Violence Network, and three other students to draft a policy. It took eight months.

When the policy was enacted at IPS schools this fall, it was the first teen dating violence prevention and response policy in Indianapolis, Stawick says. It holds school staff accountable for preventing abusive behavior and punishes students who participate in it. It also mandates training for teachers and places a teen dating abuse advocate in every IPS school. 

That policy was possibly De Leon’s most significant achievement at Crispus Attucks, but she didn’t wait until her senior year to get involved with organizations she was passionate about.

She began volunteering at TeenWorks, an Indianapolis college-and-career readiness and youth employment nonprofit serving at-risk Marion County teens, her freshman year of high school.

TeenWorks President and CEO Tammie Barney says De Leon can reach the students in a way the adult volunteers can’t.

“It’s rare to see that level of boldness and leadership in such a young person,” Barney says. “She seizes the day to get the most out of every opportunity.”

Her go-getter attitude is one the reasons De Leon says Butler has been a perfect fit.

“I’ve learned that Indy is a city where if an opportunity isn’t there, you can create it,” she says.

 

A DIY Education

Just because her parents didn’t speak English doesn’t mean they weren’t her fiercest academic cheerleaders, De Leon says.

They accompanied her to the many college preparation programs she’d enrolled in as a show of support—even though they couldn’t understand what her instructors were saying.

When De Leon graduated from Crispus Attucks last spring—the first in her family to graduate high school—her parents, two younger brothers, and younger sister were all there to see her walk across the stage.

She gave the second half of her salutatorian speech in Spanish to honor her parents. She was proud to be a role model for her siblings, and the ear-to-ear smiles on her mom’s and dad’s faces said it all.

Her mom’s mantra growing up—and one that De Leon included in her personal statement for Butler—was that her daughter’s U.S. citizenship wouldn’t matter if she didn’t pursue an education.

So De Leon networked like her life depended on it in high school, printing professional business cards and job-shadowing mentors. She knocked out a semester’s worth of college credits from dual-credit courses before ever arriving on the Butler campus.

But sweetest of all?

A full-tuition, four-year Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship, which 143 Indiana students from the state’s 92 counties receive each year. Scholars must be leaders, civically engaged, and academic all-stars—all boxes De Leon checked.

But she didn’t think she had a chance at the scholarship after she found out the valedictorian had also applied.

“We thought only one of us was going to get it,” De Leon says. “But then we both got it, which is crazy!”

 

Look Out, Joe Hogsett

When former first lady Michelle Obama spoke in Indianapolis last February, De Leon was in the audience. The quote that stuck with her?

“If there’s not a chair at the table, bring your own.”

That’s what De Leon is trying to do at Butler; The Political Science and Critical Communication & Media Studies double major recently established a Latino chapter of Butler’s Leading Women of Tomorrow initiative, a group focused on empowering women to seek public service careers. She applied to be vice president or secretary.

She was asked to serve as president.

And De Leon continues to volunteer with the organizations that triggered her passion for activism four years ago.

She’s a mentor with the Domestic Violence Youth Network, where she volunteers twice per month and during breaks, and she plans to continue to help with TeenWorks events this summer, from conducting mock interviews to providing resume advice.

De Leon’s goal is to work in politics after she graduates in 2022. She’d love to be the president of a youth-focused nonprofit organization like TeenWorks, but she’s also considering a run for mayor of Indianapolis.

Look out, Joe Hogsett.

Maria De Leon
Student-Centered

A Lifelong Activist

As a daughter, student, and mentor, first-year Maria De Leon works hard for herself and others. 

by Sarah Bahr

from Spring 2019

Read more
Shelvin Mack and Brad Stevens

Shelvin Mack's Homecoming

Rachel Stern

from Spring 2019

  

Emerson Kampen will never forget Shelvin Mack’s bachelor party in Las Vegas. But before any assumptions are made, Kampen wasn’t even there.

He called his former Butler University roommate and basketball teammate one morning, East Coast time, which must have been, “like 6:00 AM or 7:00 AM Vegas time,” he says, shock still audible in his voice, and Mack picked up.

“I’m in Vegas at my bachelor party,” Mack told Kampen. “I have this paper to do. I’m trying to knock it out this morning.”

And that is when Kampen knew his friend was serious about completing his Butler degree.

“Shel is as motivated as anybody, as self-driven as anybody I have ever met,” says Kampen, who is now an Assistant Coach on the Butler men’s basketball team. “When he says he will get something done, he will, and that attitude carries over to all areas of his life. When he said he was going to make the NBA, he did. When he said he was going to finish his degree, despite the demands of an NBA schedule, I knew he would do it. Now, in Vegas, I don’t know how good the paper ended up being, but I do know he was getting it done.”

Mack, who left Butler after his junior year in 2011, to enter the NBA Draft, has played for six teams, and most recently signed a one-year deal with the Memphis Grizzlies. Many players drafted in the second round like Mack have come and gone, but former teammates, coaches, friends, and family members say his work ethic and ambition separate him.

Those same traits that turned him into an 8-year NBA veteran, have motivated him to complete his Butler degree in Digital Media Production, he says. As he sees his sisters graduate, and all his friends flaunt their Butler degrees, as well as his wife, his competitive juices kick in. But it is also more than that—a love of Butler, a desire to better himself, and a promise he made to his mom.

“I always wanted to get my college degree, for myself and for my mom, but it was hard to balance my time when I first got into the league and figure out how to take classes without being at Butler,” Mack says. “Now that everything is sorted out, it was something I knew I had to do because I came to Butler because of the education and the fact that basketball won’t last forever. Now I know taking classes is part of bettering myself and my future.”

 

THE RECRUIT

Brad Stevens remembers meeting Victoria Guy, Shelvin’s mom, for the first time. He was in Lexington, Kentucky visiting Shelvin at his home.

Let’s just say Mack and his mom had slightly different questions as they sat in their living room with Stevens.

“She didn’t care about playing time, or TV games, or what kind of gym we were going to be playing in,” Stevens says. “She wanted Shelvin to get his college degree and work hard in the classroom. She asked about graduation rates and class sizes.”

Stevens had answers. A big part of the presentation at the time focused beyond what the team accomplished on the court, Stevens says.

They talked a lot about how successful players were after they graduated. Stevens shared graduation rates, and players’ majors, and the fact that practices were run around class schedules—not the other way around. 

The answers mattered. At the last second, the University of Kentucky swooped in, Guy says, and Mack was torn. He asked his mom for advice. She wanted the decision to be her son’s, but the only thing she did share with him was the value of a smaller, tight knit campus.

“He stuck with Butler and it worked out perfectly,” Guy says.

So, when Mack told Stevens he was going to finish his degree over a meal last summer, he wasn’t that surprised.

“Shelvin is very, very driven and usually that is hard to turn off. When you have an ambitious kid, they will usually be ambitious in everything they do and he certainly is that,” Stevens says. “I never dreamed he would have been good enough to leave after three years, but he did it because he was determined to.”

But Stevens also knows his mom is right there, ever-present, making sure her son is getting it done.

 

LIFE AT BUTLER

Kampen and Mack first met in 2008, two freshmen on the men’s basketball team in need of physicals. So, they hopped in Kampen’s car and headed to the doctor’s office. They made small talk and Kampen remembers how it wasn’t awkward—Mack always made everyone feel comfortable.

Kampen learned quickly that Mack was determined to make it to the NBA. But, he says, he and others didn’t really see it.

“He was obviously a really good player, but he was a bit chubby when he walked in. We all should have known when he says he will get something done, he will do it,” Kampen says.

Mack’s work ethic was always on display. He spent more time in the gym than anyone else on the team. They would be playing video games and Mack would have a 30-pound weight in his hands, doing curls while the game was loading, or while there was a pause in the game. He was always working.

Kampen wasn’t surprised when he found out Mack was finishing up his degree. He knows how much his friend loves Butler and values education. He also knows he can’t stand to have something go unfinished.

“I think one day he will be a coach,” Kampen says. “I always have tons of texts from him during the season, analyzing what we did in a game, and why we could have done this or done that. He is always the first to let me know about a decision we should have made.”

As a student, Mack took his work very seriously, Christine Taylor, Associate Professor of Entertainment Media and Journalism, says. She had Mack as a student in her directing and production classes. Now, Taylor is Mack’s academic advisor.

“He was very well-liked and a great team player in my classes,” Taylor says. “He also put his own creative stamp on the work. He had a creative identity of his own. He took his work seriously and was a very good student. So, when he reached out a few years ago, I was not really surprised at all. It was more about figuring out how we could make it happen logistically.”

 

LIFE IN THE NBA

When Mack decided to leave school early, his mom fully supported him, but said he had five years to finish his degree. As the years marched on, she kept checking on him. Mack claimed he was trying, but certain classes he needed weren’t offered by Butler online at the time, Guy says.

She did some fact checking.

“At first, I wasn’t buying it, so I called Coach Stevens,” Guy says. “I talked to Coach Stevens just to make sure Butler wasn’t offering the classes online and then I felt better.”

In Mack’s defense, it wasn’t just the logistics of figuring how to fulfill his major requirements. After he got drafted in 2011 by the Washington Wizards, by his estimate, he was moving around about once a year. He had a stint with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Atlanta Hawks, the Utah Jazz, the Orlando Magic, the Memphis Grizzlies, and now the Charlotte Hornets. It was also adjusting to life in the NBA.

“It was something I always wanted to do, but I could never find the time,” Mack says. “I wasn’t great with time management, I was adjusting to NBA life, and probably not spending my time as wisely as I could have.”

Once Mack had his daughter, things changed, he says. He was on a strict schedule, going to bed early, waking up early, working out, taking care of her. Then, he realized, he could work school in. His daughter helped him manage his time, and he wanted to make sure he set a good example for her when it came to education.

Butler also started to work with him. A few years ago, when he tried to work on his degree, classes he needed weren’t offered online. A lot has changed over the last few years, says Taylor, his academic advisor, as more classes are offered online.

“Our philosophy is that we should partner with students so they can reach their goals,” Taylor says. “Obviously there is course work they must fully complete, but people are people and circumstances change for individuals and we will do our best to help them realize their goals of getting a Butler degree. This is simply us recognizing an individuals’ circumstance changes and we are as supportive as we can be within the rules to help them recognize their short and long-term goals.”

With Mack, Taylor sees someone who has a strong love for Butler and desire to complete a degree he has, in large part, already earned.

“For Shelvin, this has been part of the process of his development as a person and what kind of individual he wants to be,” Taylor says. “In times when the larger world is questioning the value of a degree from a four-year institution, I always find it really gratifying that people like Shelvin still place such a high value on education. It has been so uplifting to work with him…He is doing this to better himself because what happens in a classroom makes a difference, and he realizes that. That is really gratifying to know, and it reinforces that the conversations and lessons we have make a difference.”

 

FUTURE PROMISES

This summer, Mack finished his major by taking Entertainment Media and the Law.

He spent a couple months watching YouTube videos of different cases, reading case law, writing papers, learning why some people can sue, and others cannot. And, sometimes forgetting he had assignments due. Like many new students, he had to readjust to college life.

“Luckily, I had plenty of people around me reminding me and keeping me in check,” he says.

This fall, as the NBA season kicks off, Mack will be crisscrossing the U.S. on planes, playing in back-to-back games, and squeezing in time to read his textbooks. He will take two online courses, hoping to complete his degree in the next three years. But most importantly, before his youngest sister, Keionna, graduates in 2020. His mom is quick to remind him that he already missed his middle sister, Sierra, who graduated this past May.

To assure mom he is all over it, he had his textbooks sent to her house ‘by accident’ this summer. She isn’t so sure it was an accident.

“I know the degree isn’t everything, but it opens a lot of doors that won’t otherwise be there for you,” Guy says. “He could break a leg today and basketball could be over. I know he has thought about coaching, broadcast, and I want him to have that degree and those courses to fall back on.”

He will continue to take online courses throughout the season. As of now, he says, he would like a career in broadcast after his playing days are over. But coaching interests him, too. He looks forward to the day when he can just walk in the house and show his wife, a Butler grad and former hoops player, his degree.

But to his mom, who he says drove him around to “a million” basketball tournaments when he was young, and always supported him, it will mean everything.

Asked how she will feel when her son officially graduates from Butler, Guy is quiet for a moment.

“Oh my god. I will be super excited. Super excited. He will be the first male in his generation to have a college degree. He is behind schedule, but he needs to follow through. I need him to be better than average and I know he expects that out of himself, too.”

But there is one more thing that is bothering her. Mack pursuing his degree has motivated his mom to finish her degree. He has always motivated her to go after her dreams, just as she has always motivated him, he says.

“After two years of college, I had my son, and he was my number one priority, so I am going to go back after all of this and get my degree in business management,” Guy says.

Her son has given her a three-year window.   

 

Images courtesy of Shelvin Mack. 

Shelvin Mack and Brad Stevens
Student-Centered

Shelvin Mack's Homecoming

NBA Player and former Butler Men's Basketball star Shelvin Mack is committed to completing his Butler degree. 

by Rachel Stern

from Spring 2019

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Students playing video games

The Rise of Esports

Michael Kaltenmark ’02, MA ’16

from Spring 2019

As stereotypes go, it’s said that too much time with videogames leads to such things as poor social skills and long-term accommodations in the parents’ basement. However, the reality at Butler University is quite the contrary. Sophomore Luke Renchik and fellow members of the Butler Esports team represent a new generation of college students who are rapidly debunking these myths.

While Renchik and teammates might spend upwards of four to eight hours a day honing their gaming craft, they do so while successfully balancing the demands of a Butler education. “Playing a game at a high level and success in school go hand-in-hand,” Renchik says. “Your ability to problem-solve and learn effectively are important skills that can help improve your gaming.”

An Economics and Finance major from Clarkston, Michigan, Renchik is not only a member of Butler’s relatively new Esports team, but also a member of Butler’s quickly growing Esports Club, which now boasts more than 200 members in just two years. The rise in club membership is a microcosm of a broader national trend among Renchik’s peers with videogame prowess who are looking to supplement their college pursuits with gaming competition.

And with real money at stake, it’s no wonder why students like Renchik are making their college choice with gaming in mind. Forbes reports that esports industry revenues will exceed $1 billion in 2019, and higher education is piggybacking on that growth. Some schools are now offering esports scholarships to recruit students, and once on campus, esports competitors are playing for lucrative prize monies being offered by gaming companies.

Butler’s growing, yet modest, Esports team maintains affiliation with the BIG EAST Conference, where they’re holding their own against counterparts from other member schools. Teams are playing popular gaming titles such as League of Legends (Renchik’s specialty), Rocket League, Call of Duty, and more. Meanwhile, fall and spring seasons feature different game championships, complete with live action broadcasts on Twitch and YouTube.

“We’re definitely very good for the size of our school,” Renchik notes. “It’s fun to be a part of it all at the ground level and to have that underdog mentality going into tournaments. There aren’t a lot of people expecting you to do well so it makes it especially exciting when we do win.”

So, what’s the next level for Butler’s esports scene? Hopefully more marquee wins like last fall’s BIG EAST Invitational victory for the Rocket League squad, engaging content for curious online spectators, perhaps a new academic curriculum, and even a dedicated physical space for this virtual enterprise.

Currently, team members compete on their own custom-built hardware from the confines of their rooms in campus residence halls. The dream for Renchik and his peers is a campus gaming center to foster community, competition, practice, and course instruction.

For now, these gaming pioneers will be feverishly wrapping up homework so they can hop online and practice for the next competition, all while redefining the perception of what it means to be a gamer.

Students playing video games
Student-Centered

The Rise of Esports

  

by Michael Kaltenmark ’02, MA ’16

from Spring 2019

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Student-Centered

Scholarship Supports Student's Research of Refugees in Germany

BY Marc Allan MFA `18

PUBLISHED ON Apr 03 2019

On a Butler University Honors Program and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures-sponsored “Bulldogs to Berlin” spring break trip in 2018, Addy McKown ’21 became fascinated by how the Germans had taken in 2 million Syrian and Turkish refugees, and how those refugees have integrated and assimilated.

“I saw neighborhoods that were devoted to thousands of people from Turkey and Syria and how the city swallows them up and lets German culture wash over them,” she says. “Yet their native cultures are still prevalent in their neighborhoods with their markets, with their restaurants and cafés, and how they garden. They let them adjust to their new life while retaining the fondness and heritage of their old life.”

Her observation became the impetus for her honors thesis, A Cross-Cultural Comparison of the Assimilation of Twenty-First Century Refugees in Modern Cultures. It also earned her the annual Bruce and Lucy Gerstein Holocaust Education Travel Fund, an endowed fund established by Indianapolis dermatologist and friend of the University Dr. David Gerstein. The Fund, named for Gerstein’s parents, supports travel and research related to the Holocaust.

For her thesis, McKown is comparing how Germany and the United States are handling the current refugee crisis, and how the Holocaust left residual effects on Germany’s foreign policy and relief aid efforts.

McKown, a double major in Critical Communications and Media Studies and Human Communication and Organizational Leadership, is spending the spring 2019 semester at Humboldt University in Germany. She’s also traveled on weekends to Vienna, Prague, and Dresden to see how they're taking in refugees.

In Berlin, she’s visited Tempelhof Airport, where some refugees have been housed in hangars, and she’s planning to go back to talk to people living there.

McKown, who’s from New Castle, Indiana, says she chose Butler after visiting campus and meeting representatives of the study abroad and honors programs, and her future faculty advisor, Associate Professor of Communications Allison Harthcock.

“I immediately fell in love with the possibilities,” she says. “I love to travel. I was fortunate to have parents who exposed me to that from a young age. So hearing about all the study abroad opportunities was great. I came here and you feel like a family, but a family that's going to push you and not let you settle for mediocre. That was really important to me.”

Jason Lantzer, Assistant Director of the University Honors Program, describes McKown as “a wonderful student and a terrific representation of our Honors Program.” He’s taught her in a couple of classes and was one of the professors who led the first trip she took to Germany.

“The Gerstein Fund not only helped her achieve her goal of going back, but is helping to lay the groundwork for her planned honors thesis,” Lantzer says. “Having just returned from the second time of Bulldogs to Berlin, it was great to get to see Addy while we were in the city and see just how much she has grown in the year since she first arrived.”

McKown says she’s unsure of her plans after graduation—she might apply for a Fulbright Award, go to graduate school, or find a job. She’s interested in working within outreach programs, a liaison between the public and the organization.

“I want to be on the people side of things, whether that's organizing training, doing research sessions in groups to find out how to better market products or word our statements,” she says.

In the meantime, she plans to keep her options open and explore the world. She thinks others should do the same.

“It's OK to explore something that hasn't been explored yet,” she says. “To witness this refugee crisis firsthand, to see what such a crisis is doing to the world, you can get involved and step in in some sort of way, whether that just ends up educating yourself or if you come over here and start a thesis, if you join the Peace Corps. Whatever it is, I think it's just important to open your eyes up and see the world and see what you can do with it.”

 

Student-Centered

Scholarship Supports Student's Research of Refugees in Germany

Addy McKown '21 has been awarded a scholarship from the Bruce and Lucy Gerstein Holocaust Education Travel Fund.

Apr 03 2019 Read more

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