Altered Hall: Classroom Central Gets a 21st-Century Makeover

Perhaps the most notable characteristic of the new Alter Hall is that it looks like it’s always been here. The graceful lines, harmonic masonry and signature turrets perch gracefully on campus. In comparison, the original Alter, christened “Xavier’s first million-dollar building” and dedicated in 1960, bristled with such space age confidence it could have sported tail fins. Instead, a pair of “McDonald’s” arches provided the finishing touch.

So what does $18,000,000 buy these days? Quite a bit, actually, and it also saves a lot—in terms of energy consumption. The interior is definitely not old-school either, with three floors of innovative classrooms and learning spaces for traditional classes, small work groups and collaborative group projects, while also supporting the Honors Program and housing the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Truly a class act.

READ FATHER GRAHAM’S PERSPECTIVE ON THE RENOVATION OF ALTER HALL.

 

A nostalgic Look back of Alter Hall

Alter Hall Grand Opening

Getting a Big Break

Students gain more than they give on Alternative Breaks trips

To the “Where the Boys Are” generation, the words Anheuser Busch might first come to mind when associating spring break with the letters A and B. But since 2001, Alternative Breaks (or AB) has offered Xavier students a get-away that gives back and leaves a greater impression than just a nice tan.

A and B are also the initials of Amanda Burns, current chair of Xavier’s Alternative Breaks executive board. One of the more memorable benefits of her four-year association with AB has been the opportunity to make new acquaintances—even furry ones. In one case—bison. “There were bison in our camp site that chased us.”

The camp—Catalina Island, about 50 miles offshore from Los Angeles—is perhaps better known as an upscale vacation destination from the golden age of Hollywood. But it’s also the home of a 42,000-acre wilderness preserve. The official mission of this specific alternative break: conservation of eco-systems, trail maintenance and beach clean-up. In other words, a lot of hard work.

“There are bison on the island because they were brought in for a movie set and just left there,” she says. It happened in 1924, as these were props from a silent film, now left as a reminder of the impact careless actions can have on an ecosystem. “Bison can’t swim, they just roam the island.”  She does remember the adventure had a happy ending; “It just walked away”.

What shows no sign of going away any time soon is Xavier’s Alternative Breaks program. Now in its 14th year, AB has grown from about 30 students setting out on three impromptu-organized trips to 21 trips involving over 260 students.AltBreaks2

While the mission is lofty—“to empower and challenge all involved understanding the relationship with the global community through direct service, education, and reflection, while encouraging personal growth, social awareness, and active citizenship”—the reality is quite simple: Get out of your comfort zone and appreciate the experience.

Those experiences over the years are as varied as humanity and often not as pleasant as communing with nature—gang prevention, immigration and poverty—in locations from Cincinnati to the Ukraine. AB has also been a robustly independent organization, entirely student-run. In 2007, staff and faculty members joined the trips to comply with Xavier’s risk management and insurance. These non-students are officially considered “trip participants,” while the team is led by two trained students.

“We take a lot of pride in being entirely student-run,” Burns says. Bringing professors along for spring break seemed a bit counter-intuitive in the beginning, but it has slowly evolved into an additional resource and may even lead to the addition of an academic component some day.

“We’re still trying to figure out how that dynamic would fit into coursework and academic credit,” Burns says.

So while the challenges an alternative breaker faces can be daunting, they are probably statistically safer than the traditional Daytona Beach bacchanal.

“We have had some unfortunate encounters between hammers and thumbs while working,” she recalls.

But bumps, bruises and bison aside, this alternative version of spring break may not be all about a week at the beach, but students do return changed in ways they least expected. It’s also not all about “doing good” but learning to appreciate that life is lived at many levels. And what surprised Burns the most in her four years of Alternative Breaks was helping herself along the way.

“It’s not necessarily that I’m going to go help you, but I needed to change the way I was,” she says.

Visit Xavier’s Alternative Breaks page to view more photos and learn more about the program.

Karaoke: The Singing Judge

Karaoke. Just the word might conjure up cringes and a flashback to a long-ago public performance at a bar that shall remain nameless. Or, like Joe Brinkman, you could choose to embrace those electronically enhanced moments of musical magic, which in his case includes being a judge for the World Karaoke Championship.

At an open-mic night in a Cincinnati bar in 2004, his true karaoke epiphany occurred for the noblest reason of all—to impress a woman. “I got crazy. I was running around the bar and sliding on the floor,” he says. And the song? “Back then I was doing ‘La Vida Loca.’” The hot one by Ricky Martin, remember?

One would imagine that this Musketeer, boasting a 2002 degree in physics and an MBA in 2004, might find karaoke a bit too lowbrow. Not a chance. Brinkman not only had the music in him, he also had the talent. “I play multiple instruments—drums, piano, guitar,” he says. He even entertained the thought of majoring in music. “But that would take all the fun out of it. Karaoke is perhaps the funnest expression of music talent.”

Another open-mic performance caught the attention of the local representative of Karaoke World Championships, the largest and most prestigious karaoke competition in the world. Cincinnati hosted the first U.S. championship in 2007 at the Hamilton County Fairgrounds. “We were next to a bear,” says Brinkman, who was one of the judges. “It started out as just Cincinnati and a few local areas. But it grew. We had people coming from both coasts and Alaska.”

Karaoke fever spiked in 2011 with Karaoke Battle USA, broadcast on ABC. Brinkman was not a judge at that event, but while these days, living “La Vida Loca” has taken a back seat to kids and careers, that doesn’t mean his inner Ricky Martin has completely left the building. And for those of you who might one night find a mic in your hand, he has some advice:

“Go with a song that people know and love,” he says. “The best performances are when the singers didn’t even have to work that hard. The audience just stood up with them and sang along. If you can get the audience into it, you’re set.”

Estate Sales Meet the Internet: Everything but the House

A typical estate-sale experience is: up at 6:00 a.m., arrive on time to find the early birds have already scooped up the best items, leaving only picked-over boxes of tired tablewear and random bric-a-brac. Andy Nielsen, MBA 2013, is changing all that—for both sellers and buyers.

As president and CEO of Everything But The House (EBTH), Neilsen has shifted the paradigm of the classic estate sale and launched it into cyberspace. “We’re taking what’s historically a small, local sale and presenting it to a world-wide audience,” he says.

His pitch is pretty compelling to investors, too. He’s already raised $13 million in venture capital funding for the business.

Judging from their unassuming corporate headquarters, that cash is not being budgeted for tony executive washrooms. Modest beige-toned offices lead to a contemporary space filled with intent young professionals working at sleek office furniture topped with matte-black computers. The next set of doors reveals a classically old-school warehouse filled with neatly organized objects, artifacts and furniture.

A cursory review of current inventory: a circa 1800s lemon-peel leather baseball, a Victorian walnut parlor set and a framed, autographed photo of TV stars Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford from “The Jeffersons.” These, and
hundreds more items, are being perused these days by potentially 100,000 registered customers.

According to Nielsen, what separates EBTH from other estate sale service providers is attention to detail and impeccable customer service.

“We provide a wall-to wall service. We coordinate trash removal, donations and the sale of anything from $5 to $100,000. We’ve also
leveled the playing field for buyers. Gone are the days of showing up at 6:00 a.m. You can bid from a computer, tablet or mobile device. We can pack and ship anything from a coin to a car.”

As far as future plans? EBTH has 13 million reasons for optimism. “We’re in six cities and just launched Atlanta and southwest Florida. We’re sprinting toward another six cities right now. Everywhere from Boston to Los Angeles.”

Stay tuned to ebth.com online for further developments—and a highly-addictive shopping experience.

MICHAEL SHAW

Alumni Profile: Justice for All


Megan Connolly

Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice, 2009
Attorney, Lowe Eklund Wakefield
Cleveland, Ohio


Uncommon Lawyer | Meghan Connolly loves to fight for the underdog—even when it’s herself. Imagine entering law school in 2009, when only 65 percent of graduates were finding jobs as lawyers. Additionally, Connolly’s chosen career as a personal injury attorney at Lowe Eklund Wakefield Co., LPA , a law firm in Cleveland has meant pushing against the image of ambulance-chasing lawyers and anti-plaintiff legislation. But she’s always been up for a challenge.

Making Her Case | “There’s a stigma attached to personal injury law, but we’re fighting the good fight. We’re helping deserving victims who’ve been tragically injured by negligent and reckless conduct. We pour our lives into these cases.”


A Good Argument |
“I don’t have any lawyers in my family. My dad plays the viola in the Cleveland Orchestra. My parents both say they could see me as an attorney: ‘You were so good arguing with us, maybe you should try to get paid for it.’ Research and writing are central to the law, two things I’ve always been good at. The first impression the court has of an attorney is through their writing.”

The X Factor | “I was a transfer student. I did my first year at East Tennessee State University with a volleyball scholarship. When that didn’t work out, I transferred to Xavier. I signed up for a course in constitutional law and it was the most interesting class I took. And that’s when I started thinking, ‘Maybe I want to go to law school.’”

Ex Post Facto | “I think a lot of people would be surprised how much reading, writing and of research we do. Good writing goes a long way. Anymore, ‘legalese’ is considered old school. What most judges prefer now is to be concise, straight forward, and to tell the truth. Plus the writing-intensive liberal arts education at Xavier gave me an advantage.”

Law School of Hard Knocks | “I remember being accepted and being really excited. When I got to school, some professors  started telling us, ‘It’s bad out there, guys, there aren’t enough jobs for everyone.’ Fortunately, I started clerking at the firm I’m working for now while I was still in law school. And the partners I work for have such a great passion for representing their clients. I identified ethically  and morally with this side of the law.”

Jesuit Jurisprudence | “It’s a very moving experience to meet a client who has suffered a tragic injury or who has lost a loved one through the negligence of someone else and then begin to advocate for them and do everything you can for a just result. I think the Jesuit mission absolutely lines up with those efforts.”

Buried Treasures

Xavier, like most universities, has its fair share of fine art.

Statuary graces spaces and places indoors and out. Paintings large, small, old and new adorn the walls of most buildings and halls. But buried behind and below the common grounds are a gold mine of archives and artifacts—letters filed away, books tucked onto shelves and mysterious technological devices squirreled away in forgotten corners—that tell another story about the University.

Xavier magazine went looking for those items and that story. We looked in the library, searched the storerooms and even uncovered a few treasures hidden in plain sight. In some cases, we helped the University discover valuables it didn’t realize it had.

Then we contacted Wes Cowen, owner of Cowen Auctions in Cincinnati and featured appraiser on PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow,” to take a look at our findings. He sent over Graydon Sikes, head of the auction house’s paintings and prints department.

Here’s what we found—and how it appraised.

[lightbox link=”http://youtu.be/o-Z7BeWDeIk”]archivedivevideo1[/lightbox]

 

The Paper Trail

Before texts there was telegrams. And before email, letters. Now imagine the flow of correspondence to a University president. From Elet to Graham, everyone from papal representatives to commanders-in-chief sought the attention of Xavier’s highest office. Some of the more notable include (below) John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy and John Phillip Sousa.

 

Booked

Of course the University has books. Lots of them, in fact. But not all books at the University are created equal. Some are aged to extremes. Some have a signature attraction. None of them can be read on your Kindle. And all are worth more than the cover price.

In the collection are: Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (circa 1936); Tales Told of Shem and Shaun by James Joyce (circa 1929); The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne (circa 1928); 20 Hours 40 minutes by Amelia Earhart (circa 1928); The Nuremberg Chronicle (circa 1500); and An Antiphonary (circa 1300).

 

Medals of Honor

Today, graduating students receive honors cords and different colored sashes to designate their area of study. Back in the day, after students learned their Latin verbs and polished their philosophy, they were given medals at commencement to honor their achievement. The medals, below were awarded to Albert Poetker, upon commencement in 1909 for among other disciplines, poetry, philosophy and “The Creation and its Purpose.” Poetker’s purpose was indeed lofty as he went on to become a Jesuit, was President of the University of Detroit and later taught physics at Xavier. His sister donated the metals in 1980, in conjunction with Xavier’s sesquicentennial celebration.

 

A Furnished History

Who knew you could experience a stately moment of Edgecliff’s past just by taking a seat?Originally located in Emery Hall, these magnificent pieces now elevate the A.B. Cohen Center administrative office to museum status. A 1976 brochure detailing Emery Hall describes the Louis XVI-style desk, end tables and as “some of the estate’s most valuable and authentic pieces of furniture.”

 

 

The Flotsam of Science

Research is often not a tidy process—it leaves a trail. Not just in new knowledge, but a procession of devices and instruments that have outlived their usefulness and are often discarded or hidden away in store rooms and closets.

Psychology left to its own devices

This is a test.  What does the term “Experimental psychology” conjure up in your mind? If your answer has anything to do with a person (or “volunteer”) strapped to a device, you are correct, both from Hollywood’s and academia’s historical perspective. These days at Xavier, a professional career path in psychology usually leads students more toward clinical psychology, which involves the assessment and therapy of patients. But back in the early 1960’s, with the rise of Alter Hall and “modern” education, there was a bit of mania for device-driven experimental psychology. Which usually meant someone strapped into something. What kind of things? Here are a few:

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/memorydrum1.jpg”]memorydrum1[/lightbox]• The Memory Drum: The Memory Drum was used to teach students the basics of scientific research. A series of meaningful words, nonsense syllables or grouped letters were shown to the subjects, with the number of items and amount of time allotted to view the information varied. The results recorded. Just to make things more interesting, another task or some sort of distraction could be thrown in to see if it created any kind of interference with short-term recall.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/automaticmirrortrace.jpg”]_automaticmirrortrace[/lightbox]• Automatic Mirror Trace: The Mirror Trace was a way of studying perceptual motor behaviors—the coordination between what one sees and how one reacts to it (seeing a star shape, for instance, and then tracing the star shape). What added to the difficulty was having the object reflected in a mirror, which required a much higher level of hand-eye coordination.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/biotelemetry.jpg”]biotelemetry[/lightbox]• Biotelemetry Receiver: A child of the 1970s, biofeedback entered the academic mainstream when equipment allowed for the measurement of brainwaves, heart function, skin temperature and more. These responses were measured while the psychological study took place.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/constantcurrentshocker.jpg”]constantcurrentshocker[/lightbox]• Constant Current Shocker: In 1961, Stanley Milgram, professor of psychology at Yale University began a series of experiments to measure the willingness of participants to follow instructions that may conflict with their own conscience. The tricky bit was that participants, who were asked to administer the “shocks” to other people, had no knowledge that there were actually no shocks being delivered. Rather, the subjects who were supposed to be receiving the shocks were actually trained actors skilled at howling in pain. What researches found was that participants who were administering the shocks experienced tremendous guilt and remorse—but gave the shocks anyway. These experiments were replicated all over the world, including quite probably at Xavier, until the experiment was deemed unethical by the American Psychological Association. Even today, with books like Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments published in 2013, the world of experimental psychology is still attempting to measure the effects of those experiments.

 

A New Post

When the Pope speaks, people listen. So in June 2013, when meeting with the writers of the Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica at the Vatican, the Pontiff said, “Your proper place is on the frontiers. This is the place of Jesuits.”

For 2003 grad Eric Sundrup, S.J., those words were music to his ears. He had already helped stake a Jesuit claim in perhaps the most untamed frontier on Earth—the Internet.

It was while studying philosophy at Loyola University in Chicago, that Sundrup and fellow Jesuits-in-training Paddy Gilger and Sam Sawyer also pondered a project familiar to many 21st-century hipsters—launching a website. Their topic: Life in the Jesuit world. Content? Not a problem. It was as easy as recruiting other Jesuits in formation to write about their lives, aspirations, observations and challenges.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/jespost.jpg”]jespost[/lightbox]Thus were the humble beginnings of The Jesuit Post, or TJP, a digital digest where phrases like cura personalis and “Come at Me, Bro!” mingle. It’s that mix of the sacred and urbane that has made TJP a cyber hit with Jesuits, the spiritually curious and website trolls looking for a good fight. It’s a reasonable question to ask why Sundrup—who serves as editor-in-chief as well as author of posts like “Come at Me, Bro! (Why I Love The Crazies)”—would bother to wander into cyberspace when there’s a real world in need of ministering. Surprisingly, his rationale springs from the very origins of the Jesuits themselves.

“The idea of The Jesuit Post evolved from one of the exercises of St. Ignatius—‘We should speak as one friend speaks to another,’” Sundrup says. “We weren’t seeing young Jesuits speaking to each other like if we had just called them up or posting on Facebook.”

Every Jesuit experiences his own unique calling and takes a different path into the order, and Sundrup’s path was not without its own interesting digressions. Originally enrolled at Xavier in the Honors Bachelor of Arts program, Sundrup’s aim was squarely pre-med. Then he got bit by the Jesuit bug and almost dropped out—not to join the circus, but the Jesuits.

“I wanted to do what a Jesuit did, but I didn’t know why they do what they do.”

He stuck it out, graduated in 2003 and joined the Society of Jesus. In May 2014, Sundrup was fully ordained and assigned to the Newman Center at the University of Michigan. He continued to see the value of social media as a space and a way of talking about all things religion.

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/sundrup2.jpg”]sundrup2[/lightbox]“We looked around and said ‘How do we communicate with our friends?’ and for us, that was social media,” he says. “In social media, most stuff spreads through a friend of a friend. We were hoping to tap into the very impressive alumni network of the Jesuit schools.”

And tap they did. As preparation for the “soft launch” of the site, they sent a preview link to Jim Martin, S.J., himself a social media guru, author and “resident chaplain” of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report.”

“He launched us inadvertently,” Sundrup says.

Martin shared it on Facebook and Twitter, and while the founders expected to have perhaps 15 or 20 views at its launch, they had 20,000 visitors in the first two days. Martin still serves as chief cheerleader.

The Jesuit Post is one of the best things that U.S. Jesuits have done in the last 10 years,” Martin says. “And what’s most amazing is that it was done by young Jesuits—men still in formation.”

[lightbox link=”http://xtra.xavier.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/jespostbook.jpg”]jespostbook[/lightbox]“As a brother, Jim has been phenomenal,” says Sundrup. “I can call him anytime, he can give great advice. He’s always helping out in any way he can.”

Which is a good thing, since TJP is only picking up momentum. It has a new book anthology available at Amazon, and discussions are taking place in providences like Rome and Spain on how to replicate the TJP model.


TJP
video coups include coverage of the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, the Pope’s first visit to the Americas since his election and rare access to interview Adolfo Nicolás, Superior General of the Society of Jesus—which is where Sundrup learned that pushing the envelope occasionally leads to the painful paper cut.

“I got a bit of furrowed brow from Father General when I said ‘Join the Jesuits and See the World,’” he says. “But we joked about it later in our video interview.”

[lightbox link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pM-rAzKeW9c&list=PLgYkRQF4sGG3BUXtyHGPdE0lewK9WdSLw”][/lightbox]Two years after its launch, founders Sundrup, Sawyer and Gilger are passing the Post on to a new editorial staff of Jesuits in formation. They’ll leave behind “a crazy idea from a bunch of Jesuit scholastics” that today attracts more than 100,000 page views per month. Sundrup also leaves behind no regrets.

“We founded The Jesuit Post to talk to our friends who had one foot in institutional religion and one foot out. One of the side effects to that has been it’s helping to train Jesuits to be more effective at talking to young adults in a wide variety of places that allows us to provide content they can share with a person that’s even further on the fringe than we can reach.”

And online, no worries. The fringe will find you.

A Classic Change: Moving the Music Series in a New Direction

Almost from birth, Polina Bespalko’s life has been filled with music. Records of the great classicists spun endlessly in her Russian home. Her first piano lessons began before she was old enough to count all 88 keys.

“My mother was my first teacher,” she says.

Showing ability beyond her age, she was plucked from the population at the tender age of 6 and enrolled in the Central Music School and later the elite Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow to hone her burgeoning skills.

It worked. She emerged as a significant talent on the world’s stage, and proof of her prowess is as close as the nearest Internet browser. A quick search of YouTube rewards you with her virtuosic performances at the 2008 New Orleans International Piano competition. Her style is physical, fearless and dramatic. In the hands of Bespalko, classical music is a contact sport. Her musicality commands the stage. 

[lightbox link=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvgZLfMZoao”]polina video[/lightbox]Life on the international tour, while glamorous, is also exhausting. So as an alternative to a life on the road, Bespalko came to Cincinnati to continue her studies, recently earning her Doctorate of Musical Arts. She also joined the faculty in Xavier’s music department and became director of the Xavier Music Series.

Her goal is to bring a fresh perspective to the Series and move into a new era—and she’s doing so with the same force and fervor she brings to her piano playing. What hasn’t changed in the year since she’s taken over is that the Xavier Music Series remains one of the longest-running and most prestigious music series in the United States featuring classical piano, classical guitar and swing. What has changed is nearly everything else.

Bespalko has dusted off the Series and put her stamp on it—although she hasn’t totally abandoned all the traditions of classical music, composers and pianists, especially her adoration of Franz Liszt. “Women would go crazy over him,” she says. “They even collected his cigar butts.” 

Liszt’s butts aside, it was his devotion to live performance that inspires Bespalko’s own approach to reinventing the Series. 

See this year’s Music Series lineup.

“The biggest thing about Liszt was that he was not only a genius who reinvented classical music and elevated the performer to rock-star status. But what other people tend to forget is that he supported so many other composers like Schumann, Brahams, Wagner and Chopin.” 

With such motivation, the performers she’s identified to feature in the upcoming series are ones she wants to experience live. And, to those people who have banished the live performance of classical music to hoary halls and well-heeled patrons, rest assured that this is not your grandmother’s brand of Bach.

Take, for example, Anderson and Roe, a piano duo who describe their approach as a mix of “physical friction, charged chemistry and emotional danger.” It may be of interest to the classical music death-watchers that their video Libertango has garnered more than 1.4 million YouTube views.

“It’s more than just the music, it’s also the personalities behind the music,” she says. “Everyone has a very interesting background and story. They also represent diverse aspects of music. And they make the experience less intimidating.”

This challenge of bringing classical music into the 21st century isn’t new to Bespalko. It’s part of her doctorate, she created a multimedia presentation, giving a recital and projecting program notes simultaneously on a large screen, providing a historical and inspirational background. Her subject? Liszt.