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Venue Management students get a tour.
Arts & CultureExperiential Learning

The Show Must, And Will, go on Thanks to Butler Venue Management Students

BY Tim Brouk

PUBLISHED ON Sep 19 2019

Despite graduating in just three months, Drew Soukup’s final bow at Butler University won’t take place until fall 2020.

The Arts Administration major and his six classmates in Assistant Professor of Arts Administration Brenda Lee Johnston’s Venue Management course are already working on their final group project — select a show that will be presented as part of next season’s Jordan College of the Arts Signature Series in Schrott Center for the Arts.

Patrons will purchase tickets just like any show at the Butler Arts Center. The only difference is the show will be discovered, booked, and marketed by Johnston’s class of juniors and seniors.

“It’s going to be wild to come back and see it,” Soukup says. “I’ll be able to say ‘This is something I was able to start from the ground-up.’”

Students in the fall 2020 edition of the Venue Management class will market the event that this year’s class selects, and then work front- and back-of-house duties at the show. The experience will roll on each following fall.

Students explore the Schrott Center catwalk.
Venue Management students explore the catwalk above Schrott Center.

To fund the endeavor, JCA Dean Lisa Brooks gave the class a $10,000 budget to bring the act to the 476-seat theater. But the students must also make sure the money covers marketing and hospitality expenses. 

On a recent Wednesday morning class, students pitched their initial ideas for what artists to present. Most already contacted talent agencies to gather initial specs: cost, routing, travel, visa issues, hotel rooms, technological requirements, average attendance, and typical ticket costs.

The students’ ideas ranged from 2015 Butler alumnus Josh Turner’s folk music group to accordion and clarinet entertainers Double Double Duo, hip-hop flamenco dancers Titanium to a cappella singers Voctave. Eventually, the students will have to unite to bring in the act that’s the best fit. The show selection will be presented to JCA Department Heads in late October.

Johnston says a crucial part of booking the right show is thinking beyond your personal tastes. Arts administrators must take a step outside of themselves to consider what their audiences want to see most. Broad appeal is factored into the formula of show booking. The students must consider if the show is a good fit for the series, the venue, and Butler.

“You have to know how to sell it and build an audience around it,” Johnston says. “You put your tastes aside and you think about who would enjoy this.”

Johnston, who directed the South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center and other Milwaukee arts venues for years before joining Butler, explains to the class that having a passion for live performance is crucial, but effective venue management is all about the details. So many different factors can cause bravos or boos.

“You get to know your audience so well,” Johnston says. “My vision as a presenter is to represent the artistic conscience of my community, while also expanding their artistic vision. That means presenting things they’re interested in, but also expanding their horizons. You have to build that trust so that they will come to new things and try it out.

“The greatest compliments I ever get are when you have your regulars who tell you ‘That really wasn’t my cup of tea, but I really appreciated and enjoyed it.’ They come to everything because of that, even if they think they may not like it.”

After just a few class meetings, Johnston and her students mingled with professional booking agents and artists at the 2019 Arts Midwest Conference in Minneapolis. Kelsey Dunn, Programming Coordinator for the Butler Arts Center, introduced the students to talent agencies, which present bands, comedians, dance ensembles, and even eSports stars and YouTube influencers. The students waded through the more than 300 presenters for acts that would be a good fit for their booking. 

“The agents were really great about answering their questions,” Johnston says. “They were able to ask questions to presenters. And, now we are ready to go. We are at the stage of  trying to figure out a show.”

Aaron Hurt, Executive Director for the Butler Arts Center, is a 2008 graduate of Butler’s Arts Administration program. Most of his career experience has come within the walls of Clowes Memorial Hall.

“We have these venues on this campus,” says Hurt, who co-taught the class with Johnston in 2016. “Why aren’t we pumping out people in theater management all the time because we have this access?”

When Hurt was officially named Executive Director in January, one of his goals was to hire more students as interns, ushers, box office personnel, and backstage crew. Most of the students in the Venue Management classes have been Butler Arts Center employees.

Soukup is one of those employees. Starting as a first-year usher, he has worked in the Schrott Center throughout his time at Butler. He will soon be able to add show presenter to his resume.

“I think having Clowes, Schrott, and the whole Butler Arts Center here on campus has been one of the most rewarding parts about coming to Butler,” Soukup says. “It’s been constant involvement. I’m graduating a semester early, but part of me would like to stay a little longer.”

Butler Arts Center Executive Director Aaron Hurt leads a tour.
Butler Arts Center Executive Director Aaron Hurt, right, shows Venue Management students the Schrott Center stage.
Venue Management students get a tour.
Arts & CultureExperiential Learning

The Show Must, And Will, go on Thanks to Butler Venue Management Students

For the class’ final project, undergrads will book a real concert for Fall 2020 at the Schrott Center for the Arts.

Sep 19 2019 Read more
Scooter and Shana
CampusStudent Life

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

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Sep 17 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Scooter and Shana

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Media contact:

Katie Grieze

News Content Manager 

kgrieze@butler.edu 

260-307-3403

Scooter and Shana
CampusStudent Life

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

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

Sep 17 2019 Read more

Students’ Summer Experiences Embolden Them for Future

By Tim Brouk

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

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

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

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

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

Studying viruses

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fulbright experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A summer of firsts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘It really inspired me’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gwen Valles visits the Great Wall.
Student LifeUnleashed

Students’ Summer Experiences Embolden Them for Future

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

Chatham Tap
CampusCommunity

Chatham Tap to Fill Vacant Restaurant Space on Campus

BY

PUBLISHED ON Sep 12 2019

INDIANAPOLIS—Chatham Tap, a family-friendly restaurant and pub with two locations in the Indianapolis area, will soon open a third location on the Butler University campus. The addition will fill the space at the intersection of Sunset Avenue and Lake Road, which previously housed Scotty’s Brewhouse before the chain closed in July 2019.

Chatham Tap opened its first pub 12 years ago on Mass Ave. Three years after that, a second location launched in downtown Fishers.

“And we have been searching ever since for the right place to open a third one,” says David Pentzien, one of three Chatham Tap owners.

Pentzien says the restaurant is designed to feel like a friendly neighborhood pub. Rooted in English culture, it caters especially to soccer fans looking for a place to watch their favorite games.

“We intend to warm up the space so you get the true feeling of an English pub,” he says.

But with an extensive offering of craft and import beers, along with a menu focused on a wide range of sandwiches and starters, Chatham Tap draws all kinds of guests through its doors. Offerings also include soup, salad, award-winning wings, pizza, burgers, and the house speciality—fish and chips.

Bruce Arick, the Vice President of Finance & Administration at Butler, says the owners of Chatham Tap have been delightful to work with throughout the whole process.

“We are excited to welcome Chatham Tap to our campus,” he says. “Both for the Butler community and our neighbors, I believe this space will be a great environment for people to create valuable connections and build relationships—all while enjoying meals from a quality menu. We’re also thrilled to be supporting the Indianapolis community by embracing local ownership.”

Butler and Chatham Tap finalized a lease for the space in late August, and if all goes as planned, Pentzien expects to be open for business by the end of October. They anticipate employing approximately 50 people at the restaurant, with at least two of the General Managers having an ownership interest at the location.

The space will maintain the same indoor footprint as Scotty’s had, but Chatham Tap plans to increase the amount of outdoor seating. The location’s conference room will continue to be available for private parties and business meetings.

“We think this can be a great nexus between the neighborhood and the university,” Pentzien says. “We’re going to come in with a game plan, but we’re going to evolve quickly to meet the needs of the people who come to call Chatham Tap at Butler their place to gather.”

 

Hours for the new location:

Monday - Thursday, 11:00 AM - midnight

Friday, 11:00 AM - 1:00 AM

Saturday, 11:00 AM - 1:00 AM

Sunday, 11:00 AM - 11:00 PM

As is tradition for Chatham Tap, the location will also open early (and serve breakfast) for key weekend soccer matches and stay open late for Butler cultural or athletics events.

 

Media contact:

Katie Grieze

News Content Manager

kgrieze@butler.edu

317-940-9742

Chatham Tap
CampusCommunity

Chatham Tap to Fill Vacant Restaurant Space on Campus

Local pub’s third location will encourage connection between Butler and surrounding neighborhood.

Sep 12 2019 Read more
Researchers in woods
CommunityUnleashed

Fighting Indy’s Honeysuckle Invasion

BY Katie Grieze

PUBLISHED ON Sep 11 2019

Just because something’s green doesn’t mean it’s good, says Rebecca Dolan, former Director of the Friesner Herbarium at Butler University. Some plants invade areas in harmful ways, driving out native species that are essential to healthy, diverse ecosystems. In Indianapolis, one major culprit hides behind a guise of sweet-smelling innocence: Amur honeysuckle.

Back in the 1950s, the flower-and-berry-covered shrub was introduced throughout Midwestern urban areas, promoted by the USDA Soil Conservation Service (now known as the Natural Resources Conservation Service) as a beneficial plant that would grow quickly, help stabilize soil, and reduce erosion.

“But it turns out that it spreads too quickly,” Dolan explains. “It got out of control. And it creates a monoculture of one species that blocks out native plants that are more valuable in the landscape from an ecological perspective.”

When city leaders recognized the invasive nature of the honeysuckle, several organizations started removing the shrubs on a large scale. Dolan retired from Butler last year, but she has continued her decades-long study of this species and the ongoing efforts to eliminate it from areas around the city. Most recently, she received a $7,500 grant from the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park at Newfields to assess the progress of ecological restoration that began there in the early 2000s.

Dolan first started research at the Art & Nature Park in 2002, when she was hired by Indy Greenways to inventory vegetation near what is now the Central Canal Towpath. Then in 2004, as the Indianapolis Museum of Art was taking over the Art & Nature Park, Dolan worked with Butler Biological Science Professor Travis Ryan, Herbarium Assistant Marcia Moore, and Biological Science Professor Carmen Salsbury to conduct additional vegetation and wildlife surveys in the area. Now, Dolan and Moore are going back to see what’s changed.

To do this, the researchers will tally and analyze the plant species along five transects—or linear sections of land—that were examined in the original study. Dolan will compare the findings with data gathered in 2004, assessing what has changed in the quality of the habitat as a result of restoration efforts.

She hopes to determine whether the honeysuckle removal has been successful: Is the plant gone, or are there still traces that could grow back? And if it has been eliminated, what’s replacing it? Are desirable native species coming in strong, or has it just been replaced by another kind of invader?

When invasive plant species take over an area, Dolan says it affects everything living there. For example, the honeysuckle makes nesting more difficult for Indy’s native birds, and its berries aren’t healthy to eat.

“It’s like fruit candy for the birds,” she explains, “whereas our native shrubs, like spicebush, produce berries that are high in oils—a better energy source for birds that are going to migrate back south in the winter.”

The honeysuckle also drives away pollinator insects that specialize in native plants.

“When the native plants go—the spring wildflowers and the native shrubs—then those specialist insects lose their hosts,” Dolan says. “It cascades down, and then the birds that would eat the insects don’t come to the area. And it continues on.”

Invasive plants disrupt habitats in ways that threaten ecological resilience. This can lead to problems such as flooding or erosion. Contrary to what people thought when Amur honeysuckle was first introduced, the plants don’t stabilize the soil at all. Their roots are too shallow, and their leaves block a lot of sunlight from getting to the soil. This, combined with chemicals released from the honeysuckle’s leaves and roots, prevents many native plants from growing.

So, are efforts to remove the honeysuckle working?

Dolan has yet to analyze data from Newfields—that report will be finished by the end of 2019. But she has been conducting similar research over the last five years in areas along Indy’s Fall Creek, where the nonprofit group Keep Indianapolis Beautiful had organized a community project to remove the honeysuckle invading there.

According to Dolan’s findings, the richness of the area’s plant life has more than doubled since 2012, mostly with native species. While overall habitat quality has shown some improvement, seeds brought in by wind and animals introduced eight new invasive plants.  Early detection of these invasives will make controlling them easier, and she will continue monitoring the area.

At Newfields, junior Butler Biology major Torey Kazeck had the chance to help collect data over three weeks at the end of the summer. As she plans to pursue a PhD after graduating, she was excited to gain more hands-on experience in the field.

“I hope this work helps the community see what invasive species do, and why we should remove them,” Kazeck says.

Few similar studies existed before Dolan’s surveillance of honeysuckle removal, especially near urban waterways, despite evidence of the harmful impacts invasive shrubs can have in these environments. Because soil health along rivers and streams can impact water quality, Dolan—who was on the Ecology Committee for Reconnecting to Our Waterways—saw the importance of documenting the restoration process. 

During much of her time at Butler, Dolan focused on traveling to rural areas to study rare plants. But when she started seeing the value of looking at what was in her own backyard, she got more involved with urban flora research.

She says more urban communities are starting to see how protecting local ecosystems can help defend against climate change effects. While Indianapolis doesn’t deal with more obvious problems like sea level rise, the city does have issues with flooding, erosion, and heat. Establishing more green spaces in urban areas can reduce these threats, Dolan says, but that will only work if the plants filling those spaces can get along with one another.

 

Media contact:

Katie Grieze

News Content Manager

kgrieze@butler.edu

260-307-3403

Researchers in woods
CommunityUnleashed

Fighting Indy’s Honeysuckle Invasion

Rebecca Dolan’s research follows progress of removing invasive plants from local ecosystems.

Sep 11 2019 Read more
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

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
AcademicsCampus

Butler Ranked No.1 in Midwest for Second Straight Year by U.S. News & World Report

BY

PUBLISHED ON Sep 08 2019

For the second consecutive year, Butler University has been named the No. 1 Regional University in the Midwest, according to the 2020 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges Rankings released today

Butler also ranked as the No. 1 Most Innovative School for the fifth straight year, the No.1 Best College for Veterans, and within the top-10 schools for Undergraduate Teaching among Midwest Regional Universities.

“I am pleased that our ranking reflects the high quality of education we provide at Butler University,” President James Danko says. “In addition to a highly-engaged educational experience, thanks to our outstanding faculty, we continue to underscore the importance of innovation, which creates an environment that both supports our students and challenges them to succeed.”

In addition to its strong position in the Midwest, Butler ranked within the top-20 among nationally-ranked schools (such as Harvard, Duke, and Stanford Universities) in three key areas identified by U.S. News as critical in providing students with the best possible undergraduate experience: first-year experience (No. 13), senior capstone experience (No. 18), and study abroad opportunities (No. 19).

“We are especially honored that this year’s rankings distinguish Butler University as among some of the most prestigious in the country,” Danko says. “I am so proud of our students, faculty, and staff, whose dedication to excellence has led us to earn this great recognition.”

The U.S. News first-year experience category recognizes schools that help new students feel connected well beyond orientation week. Butler’s First Year Seminar is required for all new students and is taken in a two-semester sequence. There are no exceptions, as all new students reflect on questions about self, community, and the world. 

Senior capstone experiences give students nearing the end of their time at college the chance to create a culminating project drawing on what they’ve learned over several years, such as collaborative research between Butler students and faculty, or recitals put on by graduating art students. 

And the study abroad category highlights universities that allow students to complete a substantial amount of credit hours outside the U.S., while also immersing themselves in new cultures. At Butler, about 40 percent of students travel abroad by the time they graduate, making the University ninth in the nation for undergraduate participation.

Butler also ranked just outside the top-20 on a national level for its focus on co-ops and internships (No. 21) and service learning (No. 23). Schools in the internship category either require or encourage students to apply what they’ve learned in class to a real-world setting, like the more than 90 percent of Butler students who complete at least one internship before graduation.

Universities in the service learning category require students to volunteer in the community as part of their coursework. Through Butler's Indianapolis Community Requirement (ICR), all students take at least one course that involves active engagement with the Indianapolis area.

For undergraduate research and creative projects, Butler ranked No. 59 in the nation for the opportunities it provides students to complete self-directed, formal research, often under the mentorship of a faculty member.

For each of these national categories, U.S. News surveyed higher education leaders from across the country, asking college presidents, chief academic officers, and deans of admissions to nominate up to 15 schools they felt best embraced each type of program. The final rankings include the 20 universities that received the most nominations in each category. 

“It is quite gratifying that our peer academic leaders recognize the quality of a Butler education which is distinguished by the teaching and learning that occurs inside our classrooms, and is further enhanced by the rich experiences offered outside,” Provost Kate Morris says. “I am proud of the high-quality education and experience our students receive thanks to our outstanding faculty and staff.”

 

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

AcademicsCampus

Butler Ranked No.1 in Midwest for Second Straight Year by U.S. News & World Report

The University also ranks within the nation’s Top-20 schools for programs in three key areas.

Sep 08 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.”

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.”

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.”

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.

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