Recording in Studio | Butler Stories

Recording in Studio

Good things happen when there's a Butler Bulldog in the room. 

 

Thoughts turn into action. Ideas are elevated. And the potential of others is reached. 

 

Because we aren't just dreamers. We're doers. And when you UNLEASH a Butler Bulldog, good things happen. 

 

 

Ed Carpenter driving the #20 car
UnleashedIndy 500

Ed Carpenter, The Man of May

BY Michael Kaltenmark ’02, MS ’16

PUBLISHED ON May 23 2019

The Month Man of May

May in Indianapolis. The month that Ed Carpenter ’03 lives for. The month that drives him.  

In Carpenter’s world, everything—his marriage, his family, his friendships, his livelihood—revolves around May.

And the arrival of May this year brings the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 and Carpenter’s 16th attempt at what he hopes will be the culmination of a lifetime of hard work, determination, and the realization of life-long reverie.  

Carpenter has made it his job to win the very race that has made everything possible for him. The very race that is, well, more than a race to him. A task derived from a single burning desire.

One man’s mission to master one month.

 

Bulldogs Aren’t Born, They’re Made

Carpenter wasn’t born a racer, nor was he born in a racing family. He was acquired by one.

Born just across the Indiana state line in Marshall, Illinois, Carpenter caught the racing bug in grade school. The year was 1989, and Carpenter’s exposure to the sport came when his family moved to Indianapolis and his mother, Laura George, married Tony George—a name also synonymous with May in Indianapolis.

George is the son of Elmer George, a late 1950s and early 1960s era Indy 500 driver, and Mari Hulman George, the late matriarch of the Hulman George family which has owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1945.

With the George’s racing connections, and Carpenter’s desire to try his hand at his new family’s business, young Carpenter quickly discovered he had a knack behind the wheel.

So, Carpenter spent his formative years on local dirt tracks and backwoods ovals, turning circles and honing his craft, all while attending school at Park Tudor School in Indianapolis. Meanwhile, 16th & Georgetown became Carpenter’s playground, spending the May months of his youth amidst Gasoline Alley, and occupying his summers by cleaning golf carts at the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course.

“I was just having fun as a kid in Indy,” Carpenter says. “I wasn’t fully processing what it could be or what it takes to get somewhere like that. I always enjoyed being at the Speedway, but I don’t think I realized what it could be until I got a little further along in my career. As I moved through the ranks, then I really started to get it in my head that I could do that.”

Carpenter’s progression moved steadily. Racing quarter-midget cars led to midgets cars, then Silver Crown, and then sprint cars as Carpenter climbed the USAC ranks. And as the racing became more serious, so did Carpenter’s focus. From then on, his sights were set on the Indianapolis 500.

But, there was school, too. The parallel trajectories of racing and education would come to a head as Carpenter finished high school.

Carpenter was ready to continue racing. His mother had other ideas. They both got what they wanted.

 

Butler Bound for Indy Crown

“My choice in Butler was really just a matter of logistics,” Carpenter says. “It was the closest to my race shop. I wish there was a better reason as to why I chose Butler, but I’m still really happy with the decision.”

So in fall 1999, just a few miles from his childhood home and the historic speedway, Carpenter moved into his new home, Ross Hall.

The marketing major made quick work of his studies and homework so he could spend as much of his free time on racing as possible. Still, the classroom served its purpose for Carpenter, perhaps initially in the form of discipline and a worldly perspective, and later in the form of preparation for a career in racing beyond driving.

“Beyond just the learning that took place in the classroom, Butler really prepared me for the dual role situation that I’m in now,” he says.“I was a professional student and a professional racecar driver, so I had to learn how to manage both of those things stay on top of school work, the racing, and everything else I was doing. I don’t think I would’ve been able to sustain the type of career I’ve had without that experience.”

Carpenter raced all throughout his time at Butler and by May 2003, Carpenter’s mother got her wish as her son walked across the stage at Hinkle Fieldhouse to receive his diploma. A week later, Carpenter got his wish by driving to victory in the Freedom 100 at Indy. While it was a win in the Indy Lights Series, a step below Indy cars, it was still his first taste of winning at the Brickyard.

Later that fall, Carpenter made his first NTT Data IndyCar Series start at Chicagoland Speedway. The following season, Red Bull Cheever Racing signed Carpenter for his rookie season, and he’s been driving in IndyCar ever since. As Carpenter found success behind the wheel, he also set his sights on new opportunities outside the cockpit.

 

The Butler Way

In late 2011, Carpenter had the opportunity to partner with step-father Tony George, and local businessman Stuart Reed to start his own team, Ed Carpenter Racing. The multi-car operation, complete with full crew, equipment, and resources, has allowed Carpenter to secure his seat at Indianapolis for the foreseeable future.  

And with that, Carpenter not only became one of the few college graduates in the field, he also became the only driver/owner in IndyCar. Because of his dual role, Carpenter holds a unique position in the paddock. In one instance Carpenter may be head-to-head with his driving competitors, and the next he’s shoulder-to-shoulder with the sport’s other powerful team owners.

That can be heady stuff for a thirty-something in any profession, but Carpenter understands that racing is a people business, no matter his role. Whether as driver or owner, Carpenter is focused on how to be operate, manage, and motivate his own team. His Butler experience offered him insight into his approach.

“I think there’s a Butler influence, at least in a subconscious way,” Carpenter says. “The emphasis that Butler puts on culture, especially in athletics, is something I subscribe to and believe in. A lot of people talk about culture, but it's something that really requires follow through and trust. That’s my focus as a leader of my team.”

Carpenter’s ability to motivate and retain his crew at Ed Carpenter Racing is evident in the familiar faces that have been with the team since the beginning. That continuity has also attributed to the team’s recent success at Indianapolis which now boasts multiple front row starts and Top 10 finishes at the Brickyard.

In Ed Carpenter Racing, Carpenter has found strength in numbers. By sharing his vision for success at Indianapolis, he’s brought his team along for the ride. Each May they are serious contenders. This year more than ever.  

 

Unleashed

Carpenter’s Front Row starting position for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 will be his third consecutive at Indianapolis, and his fifth time in seven years. Moreover, teammates Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones will start just behind him in positions third and fourth, making Ed Carpenter Racing the collective best in the field.

Results like this are proof of Carpenter’s hard work, determination, and Bulldog mentality, which is fitting for a guy that will don a Bulldog logo and other Butler marks on his helmet for this year’s race. In 16 tries at Indianapolis, Carpenter has gone from Indy 500 back-marker, to underdog, to black horse, and now perennial favorite, in more than one sense of the word.

Certainly, his speed makes him a likely winner, but it’s Carpenter’s humble and relentless pursuit of success at Indy that has endeared him to those that fill the stands on race day; to those that revere this race just like he does.

“I dream about winning at Indy all the time. So, I just stay focused on that and do the work necessary to make that dream a reality.”

Anything can happen over the course of 500 miles, including victory. That’s the only outcome that will appease Carpenter this May. And it’s just the sort of outcome to expect when you unleash a Bulldog with a dream and a really fast car.

 

Photo Credit: IMS Photography

Ed Carpenter driving the #20 car
UnleashedIndy 500

Ed Carpenter, The Man of May

One man’s mission to master one month.

May 23 2019 Read more
Emily Nettesheim at the Capitol Building
UnleashedAcademics

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
UnleashedAcademics

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
Brooke Kandel-Cisco
UnleashedPeople

Brooke Kandel-Cisco, Determined to Make An Impact, Will Now Lead the COE

BY Rachel Stern

PUBLISHED ON Apr 26 2019

INDIANAPOLIS—Brooke Kandel-Cisco was first drawn to the field of education as a 22-year-old immigration advocate, working on behalf of undocumented women who were abused by their husbands, but threatened by those same men with their status if they took action against the abuse.

Working alongside an immigration attorney, she didn’t get a lot of cases approved by the courts. She saw firsthand the complexities of the system and how things were far from fair. She wanted to help illuminate the glaring systemic issues, and then somehow work toward creating more just and equitable systems.

All of that sounded familiar to Kandel-Cisco—it sounded like the work of an educator. The Illinois native comes from a long line of teachers—both her grandmothers, aunts, uncles—but her 18-year-old self wanted to go against the family grain. So, she majored in Psychology and minored in Spanish at Goshen College. After she graduated, Kandel-Cisco joined AmeriCorps and headed to the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, where she battled the courts to try and help women who came to the United States and were abused by their husbands, but struggled to get justice.

“Advocating for women and seeing these huge systemic issues every day really piqued my interest in education and in working with immigrant and refugee students,” Kandel-Cisco says. “I was always told I should be a teacher, and I think my work after college showed me how important it is to try and work to address systemic issues. I saw education as one way of doing just that.”

Kandel-Cisco has been doing that ever since. She will start as the Interim Dean of Butler University’s College of Education on May 1 replacing Ena Shelley, who will retire after 15 years as Dean of the College, and 37 years at the University.

Kandel-Cisco started at Butler in 2009 as a faculty member, and throughout her decade on campus has served as Director of the Master of Science in Effective Teaching and Learning Program, Chair of the COE Graduate Programs, and Program Coordinator for COE Graduate Programs.

She teaches courses in English as a second language (ESL) within the COE, works closely with teachers in Washington Township schools’ ESL and Newcomer Programs, which works with students who have recently arrived in the country and are learning English, and is the President of the Indiana Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

When Shelley announced her retirement, Kandel-Cisco’s name was put forward by colleagues in the COE as a potential Interim Dean.

Her first reaction upon hearing that Shelley was retiring?

“Oh I pity the person who follows Ena,” Kandel-Cisco says. “But now that it’s me, I will do my best.”

Shelley, on the other hand, says this was a long time coming.

For years, Shelley says, she has been presenting Kandel-Cisco with “opportunities.” There was the time she called Kandel-Cisco in to tell her she had an “opportunity” for her to work on an International Baccalaureate certification process.

“Brooke’s reaction was ‘OK, my child goes to an IB school, but I don’t really know much about IB’,” Shelley says, laughing. “But, in typical Brooke fashion, she rolled up her sleeves and got to work like crazy to get this in place. She always gives it her best shot, and her best shot is always wonderful.”

Shelley would continue over the years to use that phrase on Kandel-Cisco. Finally, she explained that early on in her career she was offered “opportunities” constantly by her Dean at the time. It was clear these “opportunities” were just challenging projects. Her Dean explained she was giving them to Shelley to prepare her to be a Dean one day.

It turns out, that is exactly what Shelley was doing with Kandel-Cisco.

“I know a lot of people use these words a lot, but Brooke is really a visionary, and extremely wise,” Shelley says. “She is very inclusive of people and ideas, a keen listener, which is key as an educator and leader. Someone asked me if this is bittersweet, and I can honestly say no. My heart is happy knowing I am leaving the College in great shape with a strong leader and strong staff.”

It is that great staff that Kandel-Cisco says she will rely on to help move the College forward as Interim Dean. She is looking forward to thinking through how the College fits into Butler’s strategic plan, as well as focusing on a number of new initiatives: a new major, global opportunities for students and faculty, partnerships in the community.

“This is all about making yourself vulnerable and trying new things, which might not be comfortable,” she says. “It is much easier to do because I have amazing colleagues who are supportive and will help move our College forward.”

When Kandel-Cisco was back in Texas working as an immigrant advocate, she realized she wanted to be a teacher. After obtaining her ESL and bilingual education teaching license, she went on to teach ESL students in Houston. After several years of teaching, she applied to doctoral programs.

She transitioned to a full-time doctoral student at Texas A&M, and later became a senior research associate, studying state education data on things like teacher attrition and achievement scores. All of this highlighted more systemic issues in education. And, it became clear again, she wanted to be in a classroom.

On another whim, she applied to several faculty positions, including one at Butler. On campus, she interviewed with Ena Shelley.

“For me, it was about the people,” she says. “Ena, just the way she looks in your eyes, it just felt authentic, and the College was doing educator preparation in a high-quality way. That’s not to say there is one right way to do it, because I don’t believe there is, but the COE approach was in line with my values. And that’s what brought me to Butler.”

Brooke Kandel-Cisco
UnleashedPeople

Brooke Kandel-Cisco, Determined to Make An Impact, Will Now Lead the COE

Kandel-Cisco will start as the Interim Dean of the College of Education on May 1.

Apr 26 2019 Read more

Butler Blue III: A Dog with a Nose for Service

By Sarah Bahr

Hoops

Butler Blue III’s best moment was also his worst.

When Butler University’s then 3-year-old bulldog mascot threw up on the court at Madison Square Garden before a 2015 Big East men’s basketball tournament loss to Xavier, it brought him national notoriety. 

Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, and The Washington Post all poked fun at the pint-sized puker, but Blue III, also known as Trip, took to Twitter to rally the troops.

“Puke and rally. Give me some water. I’ve got a #BIGEASTTourney game to win. #GoDawgs,” Michael Kaltenmark, Trip’s caretaker and Butler’s Director of External Relations, tweeted on his behalf.

Kaltenmark says the 65-pound bulldog, who typically paces the Butler sidelines during most men’s football and basketball games, lapping up popcorn, head pats, and praise, was overwhelmed by the moment.

“He goes hard,” Kaltenmark says, “which sometimes equates to him getting overheated and overexcited.”

But, tongue lolling and tail wagging, Trip quickly recovered—and shot Butler into the national spotlight.

“Vomiting on the court at Madison Square Garden might be the best thing he ever did publicity-wise,” Kaltenmark said. “He has so much heart.”

On and off the court.

 

Hospital

It isn’t hard to imagine the utility of a floppy-eared, doe-eyed, Pikachu costume-clad bulldog skidding down a hospital hallway for cheering up a patient.

As a member of the Eskenazi Hospital pet therapy team, Trip visits patients at the downtown Indianapolis campus once a month.

“He’s gentle and patient,” Kaltenmark says. “He acts like he was raised as a therapy dog.”

In addition to raising the spirits of hospital residents, Kaltenmark says Trip receives numerous requests for charity event appearances at schools and businesses — “none of which we really turn down,” he says.

Kaltenmark and Trip head to elementary school classrooms to read Blue's children’s book, Good Boy, Blue!, and stop by Gleaners Food Bank, where they help sort donations.

But Trip—and Kaltenmark’s—favorite community initiative might be the Butler acceptance letters the duo deliver to admitted students’ doors.

The two cruise the city in Trip’s “Blue Mobile,” a white Ford Transit covered in decals of Trip’s face that sports a “Blue 3” license plate. Kaltenmark and Trip have taken the van all over the country, from Butler men’s basketball games in Florida to frozen custard runs at Kopp’s Frozen Custard in Milwaukee.

They’ve been making the doorstep visits to admitted students since 2014, logging about 100 visits annually, October through March, Kaltenmark says.

Most of the visits happen in greater Indianapolis, including one earlier this fall to a senior from North Central High School, Tatum Parker, who beat cancer—twice—and then started a foundation that has delivered more than 3,500 game-and-goodie-stuffed backpacks to kids with cancer.

Special visits to students like Parker stand out, Kaltenmark says. 

“Any time you can make a kid cry, those are good,” he says. “When he or she is so excited about getting in to Butler that they’re moved to tears.”

 

Hashtags

In addition to his charity and community work, Trip has a loyal following of virtual fans who track his every bark on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.

Kaltenmark posts daily updates on Twitter, where Trip’s more than 31,000 followers like and laugh about photos, videos, and GIFs of the bulldog lapping up ice cream, wading through a ball pit, and posing with Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.

Unlike in real life, in which Kaltenmark says Trip is “sort of a diva” who’s a bit select about who he’ll associate with, he has legions of canine friends on social media, including the governor’s dog, Henry Holcomb, and fellow mascots like Yale’s Handsome Dan and the University of Redlands’ first female bulldog mascot, Addie, who Kaltenmark says is Trip’s “girlfriend.”

But Trip doesn’t just lap up the likes: Kaltenmark uses social media as a force for good.

When Trip celebrated his seventh birthday December 23, a Twitter campaign encouraging people to donate non-perishable food items to Gleaners Food Pantry at the December 21 men’s basketball game netted six full bins of donations and $200 in cash.

And Trip’s Twitter updates allow followers a glimpse of his home life when he isn’t pounding the paint, from bathtime to balloon-popping to standing guard over one of Kaltenmark’s sick sons, asleep on the couch under a Star Wars blanket with a bulldog atop his back.

 

Home

Kaltenmark began caring for Butler’s second live mascot of the modern era, Blue II, in 2004. After donning the Butler mascot suit as an undergraduate, the Butler alum (‘02) knew he was ready for the real thing.

“My wife and I knew when we got married that we wanted to get a bulldog,” Kaltenmark says. “I just didn’t know we would get THE bulldog.”

After the 9-year-old Blue II, whom ESPN called the “undisputed star” of Butler basketball, died of congestive heart failure in 2013, Trip stepped into the role and became Blue III.

Kaltenmark says he wouldn’t be surprised if, between Butler basketball and football games, hospital visits, doorstep deliveries, charity events, and award dinners, Trip clocked 365 appearances per year.

“You name it, he goes to it,” Kaltenmark says. “And he has an outfit for everything.”

Blue III’s wardrobe is comprised of tuxedos, jerseys, white coats, and two overflowing tubs of Halloween costumes, including sushi roll and hot-dog getups (“I wish Halloween was more than one day a year,” Kaltenmark says).

Being the personal assistant for a bulldog takes more time than you’d think.

“It’s a lot to juggle,” Kaltenmark says. “I wish there were three of me. But it doesn’t feel like work because I love all the things I do.”

Trip has had the chance to meet T-Pain, Kesha, John Green, and Jay Leno, and has traveled to New York City, St. Louis, Detroit, Milwaukee, and a bevy of other Midwest cities. He counts Hogsett, Andrew Luck, and Gordon Hayward as fans. 

But humble? That’s one word Kaltenmark wouldn’t use to describe his diva dog.

“He thinks it’s all for him,” Kaltenmark says. “The plane he sometimes travels with the basketball team on, the applause [at games] … ”

Of course, it doesn’t help that Trip has a personal van with his face plastered on it, or that the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame sells a $650 life-size bobblehead of the bulldog, or that he’s been featured on NBC Nightly News, or that he’s photographed more often than a fashion model.

“It is exhausting being this beautiful,” the caption on a Twitter photo of him lying on his back in his bed reads.

But, at the end of the day, he’s all about simple pleasures. Give him a cardboard box to crawl into, a bag of popcorn to snarf, or a hospital patient to hug, and he’s a happy-go-lucky pooch.

“I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. I love my job. #GoDawgs,” he tweeted Dec. 5.

If he hadn’t hit the character limit, he might still be writing.

  

Trip in a tux
Unleashed

Butler Blue III: A Dog with a Nose for Service

Butler's live mascot, a.k.a. Trip, spreads love (and drool) wherever he goes. 

Fait Muedini: Helping Half a World Away

by Sarah Bahr

For LGBTI individuals in Turkey, days revolve around these thoughts: How can I get food on the table? How can I walk down the street without being attacked? Where can I get medical treatment from a doctor who won’t discriminate against me?

It’d be easy for Americans to dismiss human-rights violations committed against citizens of a country 6,000 miles away. But Butler University Director of International Studies Fait Muedini, who published a book in December about LGBTI rights in Turkey, believes Americans must care about Turkish atrocities the same way they would if they’d occurred in the United States.

“If Americans were told we couldn’t live freely, we’d be furious,” he says. “We need to fight for the freedom of everyone.”

Muedini traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, in Summer 2015 to talk to LGBTI leaders and human rights activists first-hand about the issues he’d devote the next several years of his life to studying. It wasn’t enough to read about the taunts, slurs, and threats directed at LGBTI individuals half a world away. He wanted to know what he could do to help. Muedini’s passionate activism generated his critical work on the subject, and in December 2018, Cambridge University Press published LGBTI Rights in Turkey: Sexuality and the State in the Middle East. Muedini’s scholarship underscores the importance of research in generating new knowledge and shaping conversations that can have an important effect on people’s lives.

Born in America, with a Heart in the Middle East

Though Muedini grew up in Michigan, just outside Detroit, his parents are ethnic Albanians from southwest Macedonia, a southern European country with a history of ethnic tensions between Albanians and Macedonians over rights for the minority ethnic Albanians.

“My parents were progressive; many Muslim societies are not,” he says. “They stressed the importance of the American Dream and focused on the freedoms of being in the U.S.”

Just as in Turkey, homosexuality is not illegal in Macedonia. But, Muedini says, that doesn’t mean LGBTI individuals don’t face daily discrimination and other forms of retribution.

Even as a child, Muedini knew he wanted to make social justice his life’s work. Human-rights violations and social inequality tore at him.

“College only fortified that position,” he says.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Wayne State University in Detroit, but was conflicted between a career in policy or academia. It was the Iraq War and conversations with a political science professor that made the now-37-year-old Muedini realize he wanted to be a professor himself.

“I started getting involved in protests [at Wayne State University],” he says. “I enjoyed having conversations about contemporary international issues in my classes, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to have these sorts of conversations with students and colleagues throughout my life?’”

After earning a master’s degree in International Affairs from the American University School of International Service in Washington, D.C., and a doctorate in Political Science from the University at Buffalo in New York, he headed to Butler in 2014.

“Butler students are just absolutely fantastic,” he says. “They’re passionate about social justice, prepared, and want to keep learning.”

Lynn Alsatie, a senior International Studies and French major, who’s worked with Muedini on research about the politics of Ramadan, says Muedini’s discussion-based teaching format is key to his effectiveness as an educator.

“You know he isn’t going to judge you if you make a mistake,” she says. “He’s there only to teach you and encourage, not to put you down if you don’t know the answer.”

Katie Morford, a 2016 Butler graduate who worked with Muedini on his LGBTI Rights in Turkey book during her senior year, says Muedini was her favorite professor.

“He’s so nice, and so freaking smart,” she says.

Putting Pen to Paper

Before focusing on LGBTI rights in the Islamic community for the past few years, Muedini published a book in 2015 entitled Human Rights and Universal Child Primary Education.

“Millions of children don’t have access to basic elementary education, and I wanted to understand why,” he says.

His attraction to investigating the treatment of LGBTI individuals in Turkey was similar: If homosexuality isn’t illegal, why are LGBTI individuals treated so poorly?

He examined Turkey’s hate-crimes penalties, interrogated human-rights abuses against LGBTI individuals, and investigated the Islamist AKP party’s approach to LGBTI rights in the country. He focused on Turkey specifically, rather than Islamic countries more broadly, after noting a surprising statistic.

Less than 10 percent of the majority-Muslim country’s population found the idea of LGBTI equality permissible.

The other 90 percent believed homosexuality was a sin. Something didn’t square with Turkey’s otherwise liberal image among Middle East countries.

“Turkey is a very liberal society,” Muedini says. “But on the other hand, you have significant ignorance of the repression of LGBTI equality. You have a country that claims to be one thing, but isn’t providing rights for sexual minorities and making it more difficult to live faithfully and freely.”

Homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey, as it is in many other countries (though same-sex marriage is). But the image of a progressive state is a sham, Muedini says.

“There’s no criminal penalty for identifying as LGBTI, but the constitution doesn’t specify LGBTI as a protected group,” Muedini says. “There’s no hate-crimes law [that specifically protects those targeted for their sexual orientation], and when an LGBTI individual is attacked in Turkey, they can be hurt severely or killed.”

There are also no laws in housing, health care, education, or employment that protect LGBTI individuals from discriminatory treatment.

Turkey currently ranks 47 among 49 European countries in the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association’s human-rights ranking for LGBTI individuals. The countries are ranked on a scale ranging from 0 to 100 percent, with 100 percent indicating full equality and respect for human rights, and 0 percent “gross violations of human rights and discrimination.” Turkey scored a dismal 8.6 percent.

Morford, the research assistant on the book project who often transcribed interviews for Muedini, says she’s inspired by the impact of Muedini’s work.

“It’s important that [his research] is on the international stage because of the perspective it gives,” she says. “LGBTQ individuals are still fighting for rights, so it’s important that there is research like Muedini’s out there so people can learn about it.”

Boots on the Ground

The statistics painted a depressing picture of life under an increasingly authoritarian regime. In 2015, Muedini traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, for a week-and-a-half to meet with human-rights activists and draw his own conclusions.

Was he concerned for his safety?

No, he says, though his hope had been to make a return visit to conduct follow-up interviews with the LGBTI leaders and activists. But the political situation in Turkey grew more challenging, and the vitriol directed at academics and journalists more toxic. He elected to conduct follow-up interviews over Skype instead.

Despite only spending nine days in the country, Muedini was struck by the resilience of the activists. Facing threats from ISIS and government crackdowns on ‘Pride’ parades, the Turks refused to hide. After all, what was safety if they couldn’t be themselves?

“Nothing stopped them from risking their lives for human rights,” he says. “That stayed with me.”

Sufism and Tupac Shakur

After more than two years of writing and revising, Cambridge University Press published Muedini’s book LGBTI Rights in Turkey: Sexuality and the State in the Middle East in December 2018.

“It’s the first of its kind,” Muedini says. “There’s literally nothing else like it.”

But even with his third book under his belt, Muedini isn’t resting on his laurels. His next project?

“I’m thinking about the idea of freedom in art,” he says. “The notion of oneness and the beauty of the divine in Islam, and the commonalities with Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism.”

Now seems like a good time to mention one of his other research interests: mystic Sufi poetry. And a better time to mention one of his personal interests: hip hop.

Muedini pens Sufi poetry (he published his second book on Sufism and politics). He is also a big fan of artists like Tupac Shakur, Jay-Z, and Kendrick Lamar.

“I try to find conscious rap whenever possible,” he says

But ask him what his favorite thing to do in his free time is, and after offering an immediate ‘spend time with my family’ response — he has two children, Edon, 8, and Dua, 4, whom he plays with “for hours” after work — his close second is:

Researching...for fun.

“I feel very privileged to go to work every morning,” he says. “I always tell my students I’m thankful for their conversation, and for the opportunity to learn from them.”

And they him.

Unleashed

Fait Muedini: Helping Half a World Away

Even as a child, Muedini knew he wanted to make social justice his life’s work.

Ryan Tsai: An Unstoppable Problem Solver

by Sarah Bahr

The security alert scrolled across Butler senior Ryan Tsai’s computer screen on the first day of his summer internship as an actuary at Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance (IFBI):

“Error: User is not authorized to access database.”

The company’s system was disabled. Any time an IFBI employee tried to log in, they’d be met with an error message.

Oh, no, he panicked. They’re going to fire me.

Intern mishaps are typical on the first day. Some forget the creamer in the coffee; some jam the copier.

Tsai accidentally caused an all-day security shutdown.

“I was playing around in the security system, trying to figure out what data was stored in it,” the 22-year-old Actuarial Science major says. “I ran a command to return the names of everything in the system, and the system flagged it as risky. It was definitely my fault.” 

The puzzling part? Tsai’s supervisor had given him read-only access to the system, so he theoretically shouldn't have been able to mess anything up.

He outsmarted the security system.

Oops.

The company was able to fix his mistake—several hours later, at the end of the day.

It was a harmless error, Eric Skirvin, Tsai’s supervisor, says, but it clued IFBI staff in that Tsai knew more than the average intern.

“After that we knew that he was definitely savvy around a computer,” he says.

 

An Unstoppable Problem Solver

Long division was a Stonehenge-level enigma, the numbers swirling around in Tsai’s brain like a puzzle missing a crucial piece.

He came home from kindergarten in tears because he couldn’t intuit the second-grade math his two-years-older sister, Heather, was doing.

“I was crying because I couldn’t figure out long division,” he says. “I thought it was the hardest thing in the world.”

But he was hooked. Math became his addiction, life a series of problems to be solved.

When Tsai took Butler’s Introduction to Computer Science course his freshman year, he came across a challenge that both confused and consumed him: artificial intelligence (AI). He thought his final AI project needed to be perfect.

Just one problem: That isn’t currently possible.

He stayed up night after night trying to perfect his work. And his professor told him he came close.

“But I didn’t need to work that hard,” he says. “I got the assignment wrong—successful AI just means it’s able to work and make any move. But I interpreted that as perfect.”

 

Coding for Fun

Tsai settled on his major, Actuarial Science, because he found it challenging. No kidding: Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman once called actuarial exams “just the hardest examinations in the world.”

Actuaries, who work in the insurance industry, perform statistical evaluations of the risks involved in hypothetical scenarios and then advise clients how to reduce financial losses.

Tsai wades through mountains of probabilities amid tight deadlines. But he thrives on pressure, which is more coffee than Kryptonite.

The same goes for coding—he took Butler’s “extremely difficult” Computer Science capstone course for fun, putting himself through long nights of frustration and failure.

He credits Butler professor Dr. Chris Wilson’s Actuarial Mathematics and Financial Derivatives courses and the Actuarial Science department for preparing him with the lingo, Excel and Access training, and programming experience he needed to blow the IFBI folks out of the water last summer.

But he’s made an equally strong impression on them. Actuarial Science professor Dr. Mary Krohn, who met Tsai as a junior, lauds both his work ethic—and his selflessness.

“He made an amazing computer program that would randomize the questions [from my Financial Mathematics for Actuarial Science class] and correlate the solutions,” she says. “Then he selflessly made these files available to students in the class.”

But Tsai isn’t just an IT whiz—Krohn says he also has the baking skills of Bobby Flay.

He whipped up homemade macaroons one holiday to share with the Actuarial Science department. After the department administrator raved about their tastiness, he made a second batch just for her—and now brings them in regularly, Krohn says.

But his cookie baking wasn’t going to give him the edge in the biggest coding competition of his life.

 

The Big Test

Tsai had always been a shy person, more inclined to absorb knowledge like a sponge than expel it like a T-shirt cannon.

So when he signed up for IFBI’s 24-hour Hackathon last summer—the only one of 25 interns to do so—he was decidedly out of his element.

“I was really worried I was going to be useless, because I didn’t know too much about Computer Science,” he says.

The goal of the Hackathon was for teams of five coders to devise an IT solution to a problem a business was having as quickly, efficiently, and ingeniously as possible.

Their first task? Tsai’s team was trying to program a smart outlet to determine the wattage used by a washing machine, but something was out of whack. The machine was drawing more power than it was supposed to, and was shaking and vibrating like the Gravitron. They had to find a way to shut it off.

Then a house burned down, and Tsai’s team had to determine what caused the fire.

‘Basically, something awful happens, and you have to figure out how to stop it—and maybe even prevent it,” Tsai says.

The challenges continued for 24 hours, stretching from Friday into Saturday, one problem after another.

“It was both the best and worst time of my life,” Tsai says. “I was miserable in the moment, but in hindsight, I realized how much I learned.”

At the end of the event, each team presented their ideas to a panel of judges, attempting to convince them that their “hacks” were the best solutions. Ingenuity, Tsai says, won the day—using drones to provide an aerial view of fires, for instance.

“But it’s also like gymnastics, so you earn more points if you solve a more difficult problem,” he says.

Tsai’s team didn’t win, but Skirvin, his supervisor, has no doubt Tsai held his own.

Tsai’s assessment is more humble.

“I’m just proud I wasn’t useless,” he says.

Far from it.

“He has very strong programming skills,” Skirvin says. “[During his internship], he took full control and gave us a very impressive set of outputs.”

Skrivin says Tsai was invaluable to the IFBI team. He reviewed the insurance coverage policies of companies, looking for potential issues, and overhauled IFBI’s Reinsurance Billing Process using Excel, Access, Java, and SQL.

Tsai couldn’t believe his luck: He’d scored his perfect internship on the first try.

“It wasn’t a set ‘Here’s what we want you to do; can you do it for us?’” Tsai says. “I had a lot of freedom to find problems and attack them using solutions I came up with on my own.”

 

“I’d Return in a Heartbeat”

While he says he’d be honored to be back at IFBI, it turns out Tsai may be strolling the Butler halls a little while longer.

“I’m thinking about coming back to Butler for my MBA [Master’s of Business Administration],” he says. “But I’m not sure my mom’s too happy about that—she wants me to have a job.”

But if IFBI comes calling, Tsai says he’d return in a heartbeat.

“The best compliment my boss gave me last summer was that he’d hire me if he had the space,” he says.

Unleashed

Ryan Tsai: An Unstoppable Problem Solver

The Computer Science major made a huge difference while only an intern at Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance. 

Stephanie Fernhaber: A Butler Professor Taking Learning Beyond the Classroom

by Sarah Bahr

While visiting a friend 4,300 miles away in Morocco last fall, Butler University Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship Stephanie Fernhaber came face-to-face with her first-world privilege.

She encountered a woman her age—43—who’d never attended a day of school in her life. The woman could neither read nor write.

“I’d read about the percent of women who are illiterate, but she wasn’t a number,” Fernhaber says. “She was an actual person.”

Fernhaber was inspired by the Moroccan mother’s determination to send her daughters to school, to break the cycle of illiteracy.

Back in Indianapolis, Fernhaber had a similar experience in 2017 when she discovered that the city she lives and works in was ranked last in the nation for food deserts, or areas where residents must travel a mile or more to reach a grocery store.

“I was shocked,” she says.

But, in both cases, she was also inspired. And she turned her shock into action.

All in the Family

Fernhaber grew up in a small town in northern Wisconsin—Gresham, population 586 as of the 2010 census—as the daughter of community-minded parents.

“I was familiar with social justice before I ever learned the word,” she says.

She credits her father, who owned a construction company, for instilling her passion for community-conscious activism.

“I was always conscious of the balance between business, community, and social impact,” she says.

Fernhaber has now lived in Indiana for nine years—she moved after she took a teaching position at Butler in 2010—but her passion for social entrepreneurship, or using start-up companies to develop and implement solutions to community issues, transcends location.

A longtime dream came to fruition when she developed a social entrepreneurship course at Butler, which she inaugurated in spring 2014.

Nonprofits in Indianapolis were scrambling to address big-picture issues like food insecurity and refugee resettlement with limited resources.

She had a captive audience of 24 students for 16 weeks (and could have had even more, but she caps the class, which she says always fills, to ensure it remains meaningful for students).

What can we do to help?, she thought.

A Class of Dreams

Fernhaber calls the Social Entrepreneurship course her “dream class”—in more ways than one. Yes, it allows her to share her passion for utilizing entrepreneurship to create social justice solutions, but it also inspires students to exercise their creativity.

“I wanted them to have a chance to see what’s happening in the community and have the chance to dream, and this class allows me to do both,” she says.

This spring, her fifth semester teaching the course, her students will split into teams of three and partner with eight community organizations. Past partners have included the Indianapolis Canine Assistance Network, Exodus Refugee Immigration, and Indy Reads Books, but Fernhaber adds new ones each year.

Each team will assess their assigned organization’s business model based on the social enterprise concepts they’re learning in class, as well as provide recommendations for how the organization can better serve their target population.

They’ll also produce a short video that will highlight the impact the organization is having in the community. At the end of the semester, the videos will be shared on the Central Indiana Social Enterprise Alliance website.

Beyond the Classroom

Butler sophomore Jordan Stewart-Curet, 20, helped Boys & Girls Club Teen Council members develop youth empowerment initiatives as part of the communityINNOVATE project, an initiative Fernhaber developed in 2016 to inspire the community to co-create solutions for social issues.

“The best memories I have are from the group discussions that would take place with the teen groups,” Stewart-Curet says. “To see them transform from shy, reserved individuals to powerful, confident community leaders are experiences I will forever take with me.”

Stewart-Curet calls Fernhaber someone who “truly, truly cares” and “is full of passion and drive to better the community.”

“She is a phenomenal woman,” Stewart-Curet says. “She has a heart for not only the students she works with, but issues of justice and equality for the community around her.”

Case in point: Teaching a class on social entrepreneurship and empowering her students to better their community wasn’t enough.

Fernhaber does so in her free time as well.

She’s developed a myriad of social entrepreneurship initiatives in Indianapolis through her communityINNOVATE project, among them the 2018 Indy Youth Empowerment Challenge and the 2017 Indy Healthy Food Access Challenge.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could bring some of these processes from the class into the community?’” says Fernhaber.

Through communityINNOVATE, Fernhaber brings together a group of change-makers from Indianapolis businesses, nonprofits, and citizens to devise solutions to one social issue per year.

In spring 2017, she launched the Indy Healthy Food Access Challenge to facilitate discussions among businesses, church groups, and neighborhood residents to answer the question: “How might Indianapolis residents better access healthy and affordable food?”

She followed up the effort with the Indy Youth Empowerment Challenge in spring 2018, a four-month process designed to pinpoint the obstacles preventing youth empowerment in Indy — and implode them.

She worked with the Kheprw Institute, an Indianapolis nonprofit that works to empower young people through mentorship, to host workshops to teach young people about social capital—for instance, putting participants in groups and asking them to plan a trip to Florida in 10 minutes, including how they’d get there, where they’d stay, and what they’d eat.

The catch? They couldn’t use money.

Attendees instead had to think about how to leverage their existing relationships to make the trip happen, relying on social rather than financial capital.

As for 2019? She’s taking a hiatus from hosting a challenge to map out the initiative’s future, but with plenty of social problems left to solve—Indy’s increasing gap among the haves and have-nots, the race divide, and economic problems among them—she’s sure to be busy for the foreseeable future.

No Day But Today

Fernhaber’s Social Entrepreneurship students will soon dive into this spring’s projects with partner organizations ranging from Nine Lives Cat Café in Fountain Square to RecycleForce, a recycling company that employs formerly incarcerated individuals.

And some students, such as Stewart-Curet, might even come away from the class with changed career goals.

“I want to become a creative director for a nonprofit or minority-owned business that focuses on intercommunity efforts and youth empowerment,” she says. “This project definitely influenced that.”

Fernhaber is clever like that: Students think their work is impacting the Indianapolis community, but the greater impact may actually be on them.

AcademicsPeople

Stephanie Fernhaber: A Butler Professor Taking Learning Beyond the Classroom

Fernhaber brings together a group of change-makers to devise solutions to  social issues.  

Maria De Leon: A Lifelong Activist

By Sarah Bahr

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
UnleashedStudent Life

Maria De Leon: A Lifelong Activist

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

Katie Pfaff: A Small-Town Success Story

By Sarah Bahr

They were beautiful, those tiaraed Indy 500 Festival princesses in black-and-white sashes, visiting a Lewisville elementary school in a small, rural Indiana farm community more than a decade ago. They inspired a mesmerized Katie Pfaff to dream of one day donning a crown herself.

Though the 21-year-old Butler University senior’s big dreams would take her 60 miles west of the farm where she grew up—more on that in a minute—she’s always had a soft spot for driving down a backroad with no destination in sight, or digging into a slice of the apple-crumb pie her grandma would make her each April 25 because she didn’t like birthday cake.

Small-town life was comforting. There were euchre games with dozens of cousins around the fire on Friday nights, tractor rides through the rustling corn under the fading pinks and purples of an August Indiana sunset. The breeze tickled her hair as she clutched her brother’s back, looking up at the stars in wide, open spaces with no skyscrapers to fill them.

Her graduating class had 60 people in it, in a town of 366.

When both grandparents died on the same day before Christmas one year, her family didn’t cook for a week—her neighbors kept ringing the doorbell with plates of chicken and spaghetti. Their driveway was cleared of snow by an unseen phantom, as though someone had poured hot lava on the white mass and left a sparkling drive.

But Pfaff wasn’t content to accept the charity of others—she was ready to repay it.

 

A Gathering Place

Pfaff, her parents, and her older twin brothers Tyler and Tom started their own business her sophomore year of high school; a Lewisville wedding and event venue known as The Gathering. They converted an old church into a place to celebrate marriages, birthdays, and Christmas—anything that would bring people together.

But when Pfaff went off to college at Butler, some in her hometown thought she’d never come back. She’d become a city girl, forsaking her farm roots. Her role in the family business would be toast.

At first, it looked like they were right.

The minute Pfaff stepped on the Butler campus, the senior Strategic Communication and Human Communication & Organizational Leadership double major was smitten with the big-city school’s small-town feel.

“I don’t know everyone on campus, but it takes no more than a five-second conversation while getting coffee for someone to not feel like a stranger anymore,” she says. 

But all the opportunities could be overwhelming for someone who’d always wanted to do everything.

Her Ethics professor noticed her stress and offered to buy her coffee at the campus Starbucks last spring. But when she walked into class, setting her cup on the table, someone bumped into it, and her drink hit the deck.

“I was paralyzed,” she says. “But Professor Norris waited until everyone had left, bought me another cup of coffee, and sat down for an hour to talk about what I was feeling. He just wanted to know how he could make my day better.”

It was that conversation with Norris, she says, that inspired her to take on a leadership role with Butler’s BUBeWell initiative last spring, a program designed to keep stressed-out students sane while cultivating their mental, physical, and social wellbeing.

Going to Butler was a big adjustment for a small-town girl. She’d come across more people in a single day of walking across campus than she’d meet in an entire year in Lewisville. She missed her mom’s bacon-wrapped water chestnuts; Friday nights around the fire with her parents and brothers, biting into slices of ooey, gooey cheese pizza.

Then she realized: She needed structure.

She set a “golden rule” for herself: She’d be in bed by midnight every evening, no matter whether it was Tuesday or Saturday.

She joined a sorority and found friends like her roommate of two years, 21-year-old Butler pharmacy student Chloe Sandman, who also grew up in a small town and shares Pfaff’s love of ice cream and Hallmark movies.

Now that she was secure in herself, it was time to begin giving back. To the parents who invested in her. To the school that sculpted her.

To the town that raised her.

 

A Royal Coronation

But first, let’s talk about the 178-page paper she just finished writing. Not by herself, of course. The assignment was an eight-person group project for her senior communication capstone class. But 25 pages of that behemoth were hers.

It was that commitment to academics that propelled her to princesshood.

She was chosen as one of 33 Indianapolis 500 Festival princesses in spring 2018 out of a field of more than 2,000 women—just over 33 times the size of her high school graduating class.

Her days sometimes started as early as 3 AM and ended as late as 1 AM (sorry, “golden rule”). She could work as many as three events in a day.

“I spent countless hours doing community outreach in nursing homes and elementary schools,” she says.

But Pfaff’s internship advisor, Butler Communication professor Scott Bridge, says Pfaff has never been one to court recognition for her accomplishments.

“She doesn’t try to draw attention to herself,” he says. “But she does things so well that she can’t help it.”   

Pfaff is still involved in The Gathering’s operations in her hometown, from running social media to answering calls between classes, and coming home on weekends and breaks to help out. She’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the college ambitions of children in her community through an internship with her hometown scholarship foundation.

And when Cindy Oler, a Lewisville dance instructor who taught Pfaff for 13 years, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, Pfaff choreographed a sign-language routine to the song “Blessings” by Laura Story and taught it to Oler’s dance troupe.

“The movements are simple, pure, and so beautiful,” Oler says. “We now teach it every year, invoking the name of the kind and loving heart that created the piece.”

But as soon as she got the call last February that she would be a 500 Festival princess, she knew there was one more thing she had to do.

 

Full Circle

The gleaming blue Chevy rolled up in front of the Lewisville school last May, dozens of eyeballs glued to the 2018 Indianapolis 500 pace car’s star-studded chrome wheels.

Pfaff and several other princesses brought the glitz and glamour of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” to Henry County, and Pfaff even got to wave the checkered flag at the end of the school’s tricycle race she’d pedaled in as a kid.

“It meant everything to me,” Pfaff says.

Being a princess comes with crazy hours—one 3 AM Mini Marathon wakeup call came after she’d stayed up past midnight the night before to finish a final paper—but she always keeps things in perspective.

“So many people would love to be where I am,” she says.

She’s one of Butler’s Top 100 students, a Chapman Champion Award recipient for her exemplary service to the University, and a soon-to-be intern with Indy Hub, an Indianapolis nonprofit designed to help the city attract and retain young professionals.

But most meaningful to her?

The smiles on those little Lewisville boys’ and girls’ faces.

UnleashedStudent Life

Katie Pfaff: A Small-Town Success Story

From rural Indiana to a princess, Katie's journey has always been focused on helping others.