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DNA research
AcademicsResearchUnleashed

Professor’s DNA Research Could Help Cure Genetic Diseases

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Sep 10 2019

Many life-threatening diseases come from slight variations in our genetic codes. A problem with the BRCA1 gene makes a person more prone to certain cancers, for example, and mutations of the hemoglobin-Beta gene can lead to sickle cell anemia.

Not everyone with genetic mutations will develop the associated conditions, but just having a variation can change a person’s life—they’ll need to get tests, take pills, go through surgeries, and constantly worry that doing all of these things still won’t be enough.

So, what if we could fix the problem at its root?

Using a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for more than $711,000, that’s what Butler University Pharmaceutical Sciences Professor Alex Erkine is trying to work toward. The project falls into NSF’s fairly new Rules of Life category, which aims to promote discoveries related to fundamental questions about how living things work.

Erkine says genes can have a wide range of functionality levels. Scientists already understand that the level of functionality depends both on certain aspects of the gene itself, as well as on the quality of the proteins that bind with the gene. These proteins work as activators, helping determine the gene’s level of functionality by dimming it up or down—imagine a light dimmer controlling the brightness in a room.

The problem is, biochemists have never completely understood how that gene-regulating dimmer works. If we don’t know how it works, we don’t know how to control or replicate it, and we can’t effectively edit a person’s DNA. Erkine’s project combines biochemistry with informatics, or machine learning, to try and change that.

In the physical lab, researchers will transfer strands of unique DNA sequences into cells. Then they’ll rate each cell based on how functional the DNA sequence is. In the past, similar tests have only been able to analyze a few DNA samples at a time, but using bioinformatics and machine learning will allow Erkine and his collaborators to compare more than 10,000 cells at once.

The ability to work with such a large group of DNA sequences is game-changing, Erkine says, because researchers can find patterns that never would have shown up when only comparing a few samples. Using bioinformatics tools makes this possible.

While scientists have been trying to understand the gene activator mechanism for decades, Erkine says both the DNA sequences and the ways they interact are highly variable and almost random—but not completely. Patterns do emerge within large enough data sets, which is why massive amounts of data are key. Erkine says computer-based tools are necessary in trying to understand these near-chaotic processes because finding those patterns will help us predict how genetic structures might interact after the activators are edited.

By identifying common features between strands with similar functionality scores, the informatics tools should help answer the question of what makes one gene functional and another gene cause disease.

The finished project is expected to shed some light on how genes are regulated and exactly how specific parts of a gene would need to be altered to prevent certain diseases. Scientists already know which part of the gene needs to be changed—as they can recognize mutations in DNA—and they now have the power to make those specific changes with the recent discovery of the CRISPR-Cas9 DNA editing system. But Erkine’s project is trying to answer the question of how to change sequences in ways that achieve the desired outcome of curing disease. So, we can already recognize and remove a genetic mutation, but what DNA sequences can we use to effectively replace it?

One of the project’s goals is to create a computational algorithm that will predict how certain changes to the gene activator mechanism (or the dimmer) will affect the genes it is working on.

“It sounds easy—just create an algorithm,” Erkine says. “But in reality, the problem is not trivial, because we do not fully understand how activators work. Our project, first of all, addresses the question about the mechanism of activator function. Then, as a byproduct, we hope to create a machine learning model (or algorithm) that can be used with CRISPR DNA editing for medical purposes.”

Some of this analytics process will take place at Butler, with help from PharmD students Brad Broyles and Andrew Gutierrez.

Broyles, who is in his third professional year of Butler’s Doctor of Pharmacy program, says working on this research has been the most valuable part of his time at Butler. He’s excited for the chance to learn about complicated aspects of biology while sharpening his computer skills, and he hopes the results will help make the field of biochemistry more receptive to new ideas.

Researchers at Purdue University also received close to $250,000 from the NSF to collaborate with Butler on this project. Purdue will handle most of the computer-based process Erkine calls the dry lab.

Back in 2015, Erkine had the chance to spend his sabbatical in Cambridge, England, with the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. He has continued collaborating with the institution ever since, publishing an article in 2018 that helped lay the foundation for his current project.

Erkine says our current lack of understanding about how some molecular mechanisms work has a lot to do with long-held beliefs in the field of biochemistry—beliefs about what is and what isn’t worth studying.

“In short, biochemistry is about specificity,” he explains. “It looks at specific structures interacting with other specific structures in specific ways—key-and-lock sorts of interactions. But this is simply because that’s easy to study. Everything that does not necessarily interact specifically or strongly is ignored by biochemistry. It is considered noise: noise that is nonessential, non-functional, detrimental—that essentially stands in the way of new biochemistry developments.”

Erkine wants researchers to think about things differently. The human cell is full of interactions that occur randomly, but that doesn’t make them any less important to understand. Because if his research works, he says, we’ll find a way to get to the root of diseases we’ve been trying to cure for decades.

 

Media contact:

Katie Grieze

News Content Manager

kgrieze@butler.edu

260-307-3403

 

Innovations in Teaching and Learning

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

DNA research
AcademicsResearchUnleashed

Professor’s DNA Research Could Help Cure Genetic Diseases

Alex Erkine receives more than $711,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study gene regulation.

Sep 10 2019 Read more
Class of 2023
Unleashed

Butler continues upward trend, set to welcome third-largest class ever

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Aug 26 2019

 

 

INDIANAPOLIS—Butler University will welcome its third-largest class ever this fall when approximately 1,125 first-year students begin classes on August 28.

The Class of 2023 is hardly an anomaly—Butler has been experiencing a surge in interest and enrollment during the last decade. The Class of 2022, with 1,336 first-year students, is the largest class in the University’s history. The second-largest is the Class of 2020. 

Since 2009, the number of applications to the University has increased by about 140 percent. This year, Butler received 14,896 first-year applications—the second-highest number ever received in an admission cycle. In 2018, the University received the most applications ever (16,431). Comparatively, in 2009, Butler received 6,243 first-year applications.

“Our growth aligns with the overall Butler 2020 strategic plan,” Vice President for Enrollment Management Lori Greene says. “We were asked to enroll 4,700 full-time undergraduate students by 2020. We are ahead of schedule. We hit 4,726 in fall 2018. Now, it is really more about sustainability and trying to determine what our ideal size is as an institution in terms of meeting the expectations of the student experience.”

So, how has Butler been able to achieve a prolonged increase in interest and enrollment when, across the nation, the benefit of a college degree is in question, college is more expensive than ever before, and private institutions face increased competition from several directions?

Greene credits Butler’s awareness of the changing landscape, as well as the University’s ability to increase its potential applicant pool.

“We have to be very mindful of all of the different choices a student has,” Greene says. “It is important that we try to engage students in deeper conversations about where they are, what they are looking to do and achieve, and how we can play a role in that on a much deeper level than ever before. Then, it comes down to expanding our markets and growing our pool to new areas.”

Expansion beyond the Midwest—where Butler has historically pulled most of its students from, Greene says—is reflected in out-of-state versus in-state application and enrollment numbers. 

The recruitment team has grown its efforts in Colorado and the Mid-Atlantic, for example, building on increased student interest, and utilizing other resources such as graduate connections. There are a select number of institutions that can truly say they have a full national reach, Greene says. There are pockets where Butler can grow when it comes to awareness, and that is what the focus is on now.

There is also the fact that high school graduates in the Midwest are declining, and students have many more choices when it comes to career paths, Greene says.

“Our out-of-state number will have to grow,” Greene says. 

For the Class of 2023, 55 percent come from out-of-state, and 45 percent of the class is from in-state. The majority of this year’s class is from Indiana and Illinois, but New York, Minnesota, California, and Colorado round out the top 10.

Since 2015, out-of-state applications to Butler have increased by 47 percent. There has been an increase in applications from Connecticut, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Texas, for example.

Incoming first-year students represent 35 states and eight countries (Mexico, Sweden, Brazil, Germany, Spain, South Korea, South Africa, and China).

Despite the increases in class size, quality has not shifted, Greene says.

This year’s incoming class has 39 valedictorians, 24 Lilly Scholars, and 41 21st Century Scholars. About 20 percent graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school classes. The average GPA is 3.86.

“When you see schools go through a growth pattern, you might see quality drop,” she says. “But if anything, we are getting stronger each year. The typical Butler student is involved and is someone who is interested in raising their hand and being part of the conversation. That hasn’t changed at all.”

This year’s incoming class is also diverse, with 19 percent of the total class identifying as multicultural. This is a proportional increase from last year’s class, of which 17 percent identified as multicultural.

“That is very intentional,” Greene says. “We hope this continues to grow and we can attract students who are interested and willing in being part of a dialogue and conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion. This doesn’t just stop with admission: This is very much about retention, as well.”

 

A group of activists 

The Class of 2023 has also stuck out for another reason: They take an active role in the community around them and strive to shape the world they are living in.

Butler Admission Counselor Tim See visits about 100 high schools each fall. Most are on the West Coast, covering California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Alaska, Nevada, and Idaho. 

This class in particular, he says, had a common theme of activism and awareness of what was going on around them. 

“They had a much larger view of their role in a community and were ready to hit the ground running in terms of doing something to enact change instead of searching for their voice or their role,” See said. “This was seen over and over again in essays and letters of recommendation.”

Students were leading marches, protests, and walkouts. They were starting social advocacy groups and nonprofits. Many students talked about leading or taking part in The Women’s March, as well as organizing protests in response to school shootings. 

One Butler incoming first-year student, for example, volunteered at an orphanage in China, where she had been born and adopted from as a young child. One has helped bring healthy food and clean water to people in need, and another has been an advocate against racism and sexual misconduct. Right here in Indianapolis, one incoming student helped build an organization to defend his high school guidance counselor when she was fired for being married to a woman. 

In so many ways, the Class of 2023 has already made an impact across the country and the world.

“Students are much more globally minded and aware,” See says. “With social media and access to knowledge and news, they understand what is going on and want to be a generation that plays a major role in making change.”

Greene says a major difference she has seen is the idea of being very involved, but not just for the sake of involvement. Students are no longer just filling up their resumes with a laundry list of activities.

“I have seen much more meaningful involvement with this generation,” Greene says. “It is typically around issues that are core and central to them as individuals.”

Class of 2023
Unleashed

Butler continues upward trend, set to welcome third-largest class ever

About 1,125 students make up the Class of 2023, part of a surge in enrollment over the last decade.

Aug 26 2019 Read more

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
Unleashed

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
Unleashed

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
Unleashed

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
Unleashed

Bringing Water to the World

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

Grant signing ceremony on July 23
CommunityUnleashed

Two Butler Professors Receive Grant for National 10-Year Study

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Aug 01 2019

Through a partnership with the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), two Butler University professors are helping mothers stay informed.

Eileen Taylor, an Instructor in Communication and Media Studies, first started working with Associate Professor of Sociology Krista Cline about five years ago. After meeting at a Brown Bag Series event where Cline presented her research on the unattainable expectations mothers often face, the two women—one from the College of Communication and the other from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences—saw a chance to combine their expertise on a shared project.

Their initial research included a survey of the moms of high school student athletes within the state of Indiana, with the goal of understanding moms’ perspectives of their children’s participation in extracurricular activities. Now, a $361,007, ten-year longitudinal grant from Indianapolis-based membership organization NFHS will allow them to expand that research nationwide.

Cline, who has studied various kinds of role strain, says even mothers with full-time jobs usually cover most responsibilities at home. When a child is involved in activities outside the classroom, that can add even more strain.

“As I became a parent myself,” Cline says, “I started to recognize that the literature out there that says, ‘We put all these expectations onto moms, especially working moms,’ is true. We expect them to give 100 percent at home, and we expect them to give 100 percent at work, and those two worlds can’t merge.”

The original research, which Cline and Taylor plan to publish soon, focused on the roles mothers usually serve in high school athletics and how mothers felt about themselves as a result of that involvement. Also, did moms believe participation in athletics benefited their children?

Yes, according to responses from nearly 450 mothers across the state. And beyond just the competencies and education these activities create for students (such as team-building or problem-solving), most mothers loved the chance to get involved and watch their children grow. That’s called role enhancement: when mom’s felt like they were doing something good for their kids by getting them involved in sports.

Other moms, however, felt a sense of role strain. These parents felt like their kids’ extracurricular participation created too much to balance, especially when it came to time and finances. They often felt unsupported and uninformed. That’s where Taylor and Cline’s new research is expected to come in.

By learning more about the experience of mothers, this study will provide insight on how to better communicate with and support them. Why do some moms of high school athletes feel role strain? What information do they need? How can NFHS, which works to develop and standardize high school sports and performing arts organizations across the country, collaborate with mothers to provide more support for whole families?

 

On July 23, leaders and students from the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) gathered on Butler University's campus to celebrate the organization's partnership with professors Eileen Taylor and Krista Cline. They signed a $361,007-grant, which will fund a national study of mothers' experiences regarding their high school students' participation in extracurricular activities.

 

Throughout the study, the researchers will follow the perspectives of mothers from the start of their student-athletes’ freshman year though the end of their first 90 days in the workforce following high school or college.

Drawing on Taylor and Cline’s research over the next 10 years, NFHS members plan to develop a better system for communicating with mothers, who they hope will become a point of messaging for the NFHS within every household. The organization will also use the research as evidence of the benefits of participation in high school extracurricular activities, and they hope to go through mothers to educate student athletes about the reasoning behind rules and academic requirements. This should help improve relationships between parents and athletic officials, as well as make sure families have all the necessary information to make informed decisions about their students’ futures.

For example, when Taylor’s first child played football in high school, she didn’t find out until the end of his last season that athletic scholarships for college have academic eligibility requirements. While most mothers in the initial research did know about these requirements, Taylor says many didn’t understand quite how competitive those athletic scholarships are. She hopes the system this research helps create will help mothers make more informed decisions when encouraging their kids to play sports, spreading the understanding that while athletic scholarships might be tough to get, sports teach valuable skills that students will take into college and beyond.

Taylor explained that the focus on mothers came from the idea that, when it comes to high school athletics, fathers are often involved in more obvious ways. Moms, on the other hand, tend to be part of a “silent organization” that’s involved in more nuanced ways: transportation, food preparation, laundry, and so on.

“Mothers are kind of the biggest pieces of their children’s extracurricular athletic lives in high school,” Cline says. “Oftentimes, they’re the ones getting their kids to practices and games. They’re the ones putting the money in for their kids to participate. But they are often overlooked.”

Based on the idea that moms tend to be the closest and most consistent messengers to students, Taylor and Cline want to help make sure athletic officials include moms in more intentional, valuable ways.

“It’s research of moms, by moms, with diversity of perspective,” Taylor says.

 

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.

Grant signing ceremony on July 23
CommunityUnleashed

Two Butler Professors Receive Grant for National 10-Year Study

Eileen Taylor and Krista Cline to research benefits of high school extracurriculars through perspectives of mothers

Aug 01 2019 Read more

Alum Works to Create ‘Next Big Thing in Solar Power’

By Larry Clow

When Dan Kroupa ’12 walked into Professor Todd Hopkins’ chemistry research lab 11 years ago, he realized for the first time that his passion for science and chemistry could lead to a career. But he didn’t know that such a career would prompt him to tackle one of the most pressing issues in history—or that it would earn him accolades from Forbes Magazine.

Kroupa, now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington’s Clean Energy Institute, was recently named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30: Energy” list for his work on next-generation solar energy technology.

“We’re developing entirely new semiconductor materials that enhance, and could one day replace, current solar absorbers,” he says.

The technology that Kroupa is working on will make today’s solar cells more efficient and easier to produce. The sun is a tremendous source of energy: According to Kroupa, the solar energy that hits the earth in less than two hours contains more power than all the energy humans consume in a year.

The problem is that solar energy is diffuse. Current commercial solar technology doesn’t capture as much of the solar spectrum as it could, and producing solar panels is capital-intensive. While the cost to produce solar panels is declining, Kroupa says panels will need to become even cheaper and more efficient before they’ll be widely adopted.

“Silicon absorbers make up 90 percent of the market. These things are extremely expensive to make and fabricate, and kind of big and rigid. We need to have a very vast amount of solar cells deployed to capture a sufficient amount of that solar radiation,” Kroupa explains. But the results would be worth it. “If we could harvest just a small fraction of solar radiation, we’d be set for a long time.”

Kroupa’s research has found an answer to both challenges through something called quantum cutting. As part of the process, a layer of perovskite (a compound made from common elements) is applied to a silicon solar cell. That coating, applied via a special ink, manipulates the sunlight so that the solar cell can more easily absorb it and convert it into electricity.

“We’re taking high-energy solar photons and converting them into multiple lower-energy photons,” Kroupa says. “It’s a fancy way of saying that we’re getting two-for-one. And if we apply that coating on the surface of the solar cell, we can see improved performance.”

It was Butler that helped guide Kroupa to cutting-edge solar technology research.

“Butler was where I saw that I could apply this unique skill set to solving specific big problems, and one of the areas that I saw could use help was solar energy conversion,” he says. The University is also where he met his wife, Madalyn (Menor) Kroupa ’12, and developed the leadership skills he now uses to guide researchers in the laboratory.

After graduating from Butler, Kroupa earned his PhD at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he worked on next-generation solar technology as a researcher at the federal National Renewable Energy Lab.

The scope of renewable energy projects can be large, and the stakes are high. With so many pressing problems, it can be challenging to remain optimistic while plugging away in the lab. The key, Kroupa says, is to keep things in perspective—and to make a list of what you can accomplish each day.

“The idea is to look at the big picture, but develop a plan for the things you can do to start chipping away at the problem,” he says. “You need to focus on the important things to accomplish for your specific problem while keeping an eye on what you’re working toward. Everything we do in the lab is driven by that.”

Being named to the Forbes list was “exciting,” Kroupa says. “It was the first validation that what we’re trying to do as a company might be a good idea. Getting on the list definitely raised our company profile a little bit. As a startup, you’re always looking for credibility, so any way you can demonstrate that external validation is good.”

Kroupa’s research is being spun off into a private company, BlueDot Photonics, where he is the Chief Technology Officer. There are plenty of challenges ahead, as Kroupa and his team work on refining the technology, finding investors, and determining the best way to bring their product to market. But, he’s optimistic. “It’s going to be the next big thing in solar power,” he says. “It’s just a matter of figuring out how to scale it up and prove it out.”

Dan Kroupa ’12 named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30: Energy” for research on more efficient solar cell
UnleashedAlumni Outcomes

Alum Works to Create ‘Next Big Thing in Solar Power’

Dan Kroupa ’12 named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30: Energy” for research on more efficient solar cell

Photo by Mike Dickbernd
UnleashedCommunity

Brain Club Fights Stigma of Mental Illness

BY Larry Clow

PUBLISHED ON Jul 19 2019

In her classroom at Riley Hospital for Children, Sara Midura ‘16, MS ‘20 sets aside Fridays for one of her students’ favorite activities: Brain Club.

The Educational Liaison for Riley’s Simon Skjodt Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Unit, Midura works with children and teens coming out of behavioral health crises. It’s often a scary, uncertain time for the kids. That’s where Brain Club comes in.

In the hour-long weekly sessions, psychologists help students develop dialectical and cognitive behavioral therapy-based skills to cope with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.

“It’s a lot easier to talk about your brain and how it functions rather than say, ‘I have anxiety,’” Midura says. Brain Club teaches students how to remove the stigma from their diagnoses. Issues such as eating disorders or suicidal thoughts aren’t personal failings—just different things a person’s brain can do. And with the right kind of coping skills, students can respond to life’s difficulties in healthier ways.

Midura can see the relief on students’ faces after Brain Club. “It makes things less vulnerable for them,” she says.

Midura’s path to teaching and working with youth at Riley was “like divine intervention,” she says—with a little help from Butler’s College of Education faculty. Midura always knew she wanted to be an educator, but she thought she’d be an elementary school teacher in a more traditional classroom setting. She says Lecturer Theresa Meyer pushed her to get a special education certification.

“She literally cornered me at an event and said, ‘I cannot believe you’re not getting your special education certification. You have to!’” Midura recalls. It was during one of Meyer’s classes that Midura first visited Riley Hospital, and from there, her career path took shape.

“Everything opened up,” she says. “It was really clear that was where I wanted to be. I was lucky to be able to student-teach there. I can remember all the classes and things I learned at Butler, but it was really the people who changed me, supported me, and made me think bigger.”

Any given day might find Midura working one-on-one with students, advising parents on how to help their children transition back to school, or providing teachers and schools with the tools to help students succeed once they’re back in the classroom. She also collaborates with physicians, psychologists, behaviorists, and social workers on treatment plans.

But like for many teachers, Midura’s most rewarding moments come from the students.

“The kids are obviously the best part of my job,” she says. “They teach me so much, and their resilience is really incredible. The biggest challenge is the time—I love forming those relationships with kids and their teachers, but it’s hard to support both in the way they truly need in the limited time I have with them.”

That support for students and teachers is crucial, and it has informed Midura’s approach to her work.

In the past, teachers in Midura’s role focused mainly on academics, helping students keep up with missed school work. But now, Midura concentrates on long-term solutions. Her work has attracted some positive attention, making her a top-25 finalist for Indiana Teacher of the Year 2019. She has also collaborated with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and a hospital system in Portland, Oregon, to build a framework that helps teachers support students who are coming back to school following treatment in behavioral health units.

“One week of missing school is not going to be as detrimental as not setting students up with a long-term plan, or making sure the people in their lives understand what they need,” she says. “And if we’re expecting parents to follow a treatment plan, we have to give that same information to teachers because it’s the only way kids will be able to change their behavior and build up their resiliency.”

And that’s Midura’s ultimate goal. Among the many challenges that come with facing a mental health crisis, one of the most difficult is a feeling of powerlessness. It’s especially true for children and teens, Midura says, but the work she does at Riley “gives them their power back. And that’s huge.”

 

Photo by Mike Dickbernd

Photo by Mike Dickbernd
UnleashedCommunity

Brain Club Fights Stigma of Mental Illness

At Riley Hospital, Sara Midura works with students coming out of behavioral health crises.

Jul 19 2019 Read more
Hopkins is studying which aspects of music education curricula proved most helpful for preparing students to face the realities of the field.
AcademicsResearchUnleashed

Are Music Education Grads Ready for Reality?

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Jul 15 2019

During her last two years at a small high school in Villa Grove, Illinois, Abigail Hopkins rarely went to class.

But that was okay. Her teachers knew where she was.

Hopkins had stepped in to help when the music program at her school faced budget cuts. The general music teacher there, who had to take over band, choir, and other music classes at all levels of the K-12 school, didn’t know how to play any band instruments. Hopkins was a star in the band room and had been playing violin for years, so the teacher asked her to help out as a Teaching Assistant during the hour she was scheduled for band class each day.

One hour snowballed into five. Hopkins got caught up sautering sousaphones and meeting with music shops, and she eventually became known as the school’s unpaid band director. She had an office and everything.

“If I didn’t have to be in the classroom, I was in the band room,” she says.

Beyond repairing instruments, Hopkins sometimes conducted rehearsals for the junior high ensembles or helped coordinate concerts. She loved helping, but she worried what might happen when she graduated. Through researching for a paper in her high school English class, she learned the situation wasn’t unique.

Now a rising sophomore at Butler University, Hopkins hasn’t let it go. The Violin Performance major would love to be a full-time performer, but she says she knows she’ll probably end up teaching. She wants to be ready.

That’s why she took on a project through this year’s Butler Summer Institute (BSI), a program allowing students to stay on campus for two months in pursuit of significant research questions. Through interviews with recent graduates of music education programs at several Indiana universities, Hopkins is studying which aspects of the curricula proved most helpful for preparing students to face the realities of the field, along with which areas might have been neglected.

“My overall goal is to prolong the life of music education,” she says. “Because, sadly, it’s the first thing to be cut when there’s some sort of budget crisis.”

The project’s interviewees all have between one and five years of professional teaching experience, and they all come from undergraduate music education programs at Butler, Indiana University, Ball State University, or Indiana State University.

Hopkins hopes her findings will inform recommendations for schools to incorporate a wider variety of classes into each music concentration, better preparing graduates to take on what might be expected of them when funding gets cut.

So far, Hopkins has confirmed conversations with 10 recent graduates. Beyond questions about their college programs, she’s asking if the things they’re doing in their jobs today align with what they expected when they pursued careers in music education. She hopes she can make their feedback available for incoming students, who still have time to adapt their studies accordingly.

After completing the interviews, Hopkins and faculty mentor Dr. Becky Marsh will code the answers to find common themes. When the nine-week program ends on July 19, Hopkins will present her findings as a poster. She says the results can apply beyond Indiana, however, and she hopes to share the conclusions at music education conferences across the country.

 

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.

Hopkins is studying which aspects of music education curricula proved most helpful for preparing students to face the realities of the field.
AcademicsResearchUnleashed

Are Music Education Grads Ready for Reality?

Butler student interviews recent Indiana grads for Butler Summer Institute project.

Jul 15 2019 Read more
The Tropical Field Biology Coral Reef program has changed since 1969, but its purpose stays the same.
UnleashedAcademics

Butler’s Oldest Study Abroad Trip Watches Climate Change Through Coral

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Jun 27 2019

Back in 1969, they met at Butler University, loaded up five cars with camping gear, and were off to the Florida Keys for the inaugural Tropical Field Biology Coral Reef study abroad trip. Nearly everyone took a turn at the wheel—including students and the chairs of the Chemistry and Zoology Departments at the time—and they made it to Cordele, Georgia, the first night. Then, on to the Keys.

Before hitting the road, the students learned how to snorkel in the old Hinkle Fieldhouse pool, where Professor Emeritus of Biology James Berry transformed from Biology Professor to underwater guru. The week-long trip cost students about $45 that first year. They cooked their own meals. They shared one shower. They pitched their own tents.

Berry says he was inspired to start the trip when a student revealed he had never been south of Bloomington, Indiana.

“We wanted to show these students what the rest of the world looked like,” says Berry.

Fifty years later, the Tropical Field Biology trip is Butler’s longest-running study abroad program. Though the backdrop has changed—the class has gone to the Florida Keys, then Pigeon Key, then Jamaica, now Belize—the original reason for packing up those cars has not. The trip gives students a chance to see everything they learn about in a classroom up close.

Oh, that fish we read about in the textbook back in Indianapolis, it is swimming right next to me, and now I have to identify it and explain that it is important to this ecosystem because...

The study abroad trip has also morphed into a 50-year study, of sorts, on the effects of climate change.

“Back in the 1970s, we weren’t thinking much about global warming,” says Dave Daniell, who was part of the original trip in 1969 and is now Professor Emeritus of Biology. “We certainly heard about the possibility back then, but it was a relatively new concept. We were starting to chart out areas of the world that it might effect. As the years went on, it became clear that you could really see the effects on corals, as they were sensitive to a few degrees in temperature change. This trip, then, became a way to observe how corals were changing over time, year after year.”

Students are no longer paying $45 to go to Belize. They are not driving themselves. They are not cooking their own meals, pitching their own tents, or sharing a single shower. But the impact of the trip has not changed a bit since 1969.

In fact, because the effects of climate change have become increasingly apparent and detrimental with each passing year, the impact of the trip has only become more immediate and intense, says senior Matt Warren, who went on the trip this spring.

“The fragility of the ecosystem becomes so clear when it is right in front of you,” Warren says. “Let’s say we are only seeing 20 percent of it, because the other 80 percent has been damaged. What will the next generation see 10, 15, 20 years down the line? Will we even have this ecosystem anymore? And if so, what will it look like? When you are in Belize learning about everything this ecosystem does and impacts, it becomes impossible to not start wondering about all the things we are doing to ruin it, but then start thinking, how can we make positive change?

 

Underwater tests

Since 1997, the class has been visiting Ambergris Caye, Belize, home to the world’s second-longest barrier reef. The Butler group stays at the Belize Marine Tropical Research and Education Center, where the staff serve as hosts, providing the boats and leading the group to different reefs.

A typical day starts around 9:00 AM with breakfast, then a boat ride to the day’s snorkeling location. The class usually snorkels for about two hours before a lunch break. Then, it’s on to the next snorkeling spot. The goal is to snorkel in as many different ecosystems as possible. After a few more hours under the water, it’s back to the house for dinner and lectures until around 8:30 PM.

Shelley Etnier, Associate Professor of Biology, has been leading the trip since 2003. A lot of the learning happens before, during, and after the trip, she explains.

“We ask our students to learn more than 200 organisms before we even arrive in Belize,” Etnier says. “We have exams at Butler before we leave, lectures on the boat once we are there, exams underwater on slates with a mask and snorkel on while swimming, an exam at the airport. We write up every organism we see when we get back from snorkeling. If you go and snorkel for five hours and don’t know anything, you just think you saw a bunch of cool fish. But we know all of the fish, the algae, the coral, and invertebrates, and as a result, we become much more invested.”

Beyond biology, the course discusses what has shaped Belize, the ecotourism industry, the challenges the country is facing, the government, and what life in Belize is like.

All of this helps the students understand the social, cultural, political, and economic forces that influence the health of marine ecosystems. And it helps paint a full picture of how what they are seeing in the water every day has an impact on the entire country.

 

Drastic changes over the years

Etnier used to send out the same packing list to her students year after year. Historically, the weather in Belize was very predictable: Always leave the raincoat at home. Now, Etnier says, she makes sure students are ready for the elements.

“We never used to see cool, rainy weather before,” Etnier says. “But now, things aren’t as predictable as they were before. That is all associated with climate change.”

The trip’s location hopping wasn’t without reason, either. The effects of climate change had left them with less to study while snorkeling. In some places, hurricanes damaged the reefs, but the most common occurrence has been coral bleaching.

When temperatures get too hot, corals get stressed, causing them to spit out algae inside of them, which makes them lose their color and turn white. Corals can recover from a temporary stressor. But if the stressor is consistent, corals become weak and will not recover.

“Belize definitely doesn’t look like what it did in 2003,” Etnier says. “It is not as pristine. The country has done a great job protecting their reefs, but we still see major differences.”

Since 2013, the group has also seen an increase in floating algae. With a very rough, almost sandpapery texture, floating algae used to pop up here and there—maybe a piece or two. Now, Etnier says, it is everywhere. Giant tennis-court-size pieces of it, about six inches deep. The people of Belize need bulldozers to scrape it off the beaches.

Sam Ross, a senior at Butler, has always loved animals. He grew up watching The Crocodile Hunter and knew he wanted to get involved in biology and study animals in college.

But after taking Tropical Field Biology and going to Belize this past spring, everything changed for him.

“It made me really sad to come face to face with the reality that we continue to do things every day, even with the knowledge that what we are doing is incredibly damaging,” says Ross, a Biology major. “One might think a couple-degree change in temperature isn’t a big deal. But when we see the impact on the life in the ocean, it is a huge deal. And when we learn about everything that impacts an entire country’s way of life, you start to look at things differently.”

Ross still wants to study animals, but he now wants his research to be more impactful. Instead of just looking at snakes, for example, he wants to go to graduate school, get his doctorate in ecology, and teach at the college level. He wants to look at entire ecosystems, not just one species, and study how humans affect their lives and their existence.

“This course and experience made me really take a step back and look at the broader picture,” he says. “I might have known I always loved animals, but I never thought about the bigger picture and how everything is connected. Everything impacts everything else, and we need to take ownership and make change because no one else will.”

The Tropical Field Biology Coral Reef program has changed since 1969, but its purpose stays the same.
UnleashedAcademics

Butler’s Oldest Study Abroad Trip Watches Climate Change Through Coral

The Tropical Field Biology Coral Reef program has changed since 1969, but its purpose stays the same.

Jun 27 2019 Read more

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