In the Cards

Most traditional college students finish college and then start their careers. Not Bobby Whitman. He already started two businesses—yet he’s only in his second year of college. But then, Bobby Whitman isn’t like most college students. The math and computer science major recognized his talent early on. He took so many advanced placement courses in high school that he already has enough credits to be a junior. He expects to go to graduate school for math, engineering or computer science. If he can find the time.

Right now, his businesses—Vandelay Custom Cards and Dynamit Technologies—consume most of his spare time, though he claims to hang out with friends on weekends. He and a friend at Miami University started the businesses together and pay others as needed. Vandelay makes custom playing cards from 52 pictures the client provides, producing a deck of cards with suits and pictures on the front and a custom design on the back.

But Dynamit is Whitman’s baby right now. The business designs web sites for clients—the Columbus Archdiocese Catholic schools for one—and includes software that allows the clients to edit their own pages. They have 25-35 customers already and are beginning to see a profit.

“We both enjoy the challenge it presents us, and we’ll just keep going and see what happens,” he says.

Helping De-Clutter

Gary Wilson is a doer, not an organizer. So when his G. Graham Wilson Custom Woodwork and remodeling business began booming a few years ago, he couldn’t keep track of the jobs—literally. Job orders would disappear, blueprints were stuffed here and there, files were piled high. He didn’t know what to do. Enter Jan Connelly, professional organizer. A 1968 graduate of Edgecliff College and part-time high school art teacher, Connelly reinvented herself as her teaching hours were cut. With a knack for organization and design, she realized people came to her for advice: how to rearrange her sister-in-law’s furniture, how to purge the junk from her elderly aunt’s home. For Connelly, the challenge is making order out of chaos. “We’re buying more and getting rid of less,” she says. “Everybody’s running so fast, they don’t have time to de-clutter.” Since launching Well Adjusted Space in April, she’s accumulated 22 clients. Membership in the National Association of Professional Organizers and her web site,, helped attract clients. While most typically need help organizing, she sometimes feels like a psychologist when working with clients who can’t throw anything away. One elderly woman still kept her mother’s medicine bottles. Connelly realized the clutter masked Wilson’s beautiful handmade furniture instead of showing it off. So she design-ed a system of cubbies, pegboards and vertical shelves that allows him to keep his files and papers in specific work zones—orderly yet still visible— while showing off a large honey maple desk. “I had to admit I couldn’t do this without someone’s help,” Wilson says.

Action, Stage Right

Whether it’s Romeo and Juliet or Big: The Musical, you can bet that off in the wings, stage right and in the shadows is Michael Meuche. The 1997 graduate is responsible for, well, just about everything that makes a production successful at the Jarson-Kaplan Theater at the Aronoff Center for the Arts in downtown Cincinnati. He took the position after being bitten by the theater bug while a stage hand for the Xavier theater, running the lights, sound and other production tasks for three years.

He liked it so much that, despite earning a degree in electronic media that prepared him for television, he left jobs with ESPN and a Cincinnati television station to work for the Cincinnati Stage Employees Local, which led to his hiring by the association that runs the Aronoff. Now he makes sure the theater has the necessary equipment for a production and that everything—from light panels and sound boards to traveling drapes and set rails—is working properly.

“I like it because no production is the same,” he says. “There are different people and different sets, ideas or concepts. Most exciting is when you have a full house and the feedback is positive. It affects the actors’ performances, and you just feel better about a production.”

A Place in History

Dean Regas lives in a time warp. He’s in touch with the past and can see into the future. The universe, he says, looked the same to the ancients who first mapped the stars as it will to our descendants who bolt into the blue beyond.

“It’s important,” he says, “because in studying astronomy, you’re tapped into the cycles that have interested and fascinated people since the beginning of time.”

Regas discovered his passion when he literally stumbled into it. Unsure about his future, the 1996 history graduate left his high school teaching job and returned to the Cincinnati Parks Department, where he volunteered during college, to be an outdoor education specialist teaching children about nature. One of the parks he was assigned to was Burnet Woods, which has a planetarium. He was given one week to prepare his first astronomy show for Girl Scouts.

“Once I got in there and the lights went out, something happened to me and I transformed from a natural person into a stargazer,” he says.

Space became his vocation. He’s taught himself everything he knows and monitors astronomy web sites and journals daily. His work at Burnet Woods, where he expanded the planetarium program from 20 shows a year to 200, caught the attention of the Cincinnati Observatory, which hired him in 2000 as an outreach astronomer. The observatory is a perfect fit for Regas: He can focus on teaching astronomy to all ages in a unique historical setting. The observatory is the oldest planetarium in the country and houses the oldest professional telescope—a wood and brass model built in 1843—in the Western hemisphere.

“We’re seeing the same stars and the same things people have seen throughout history,” he says, “and it makes me feel a part of everyone else who has wondered about it.”

Profile: Megan Van Pelt

Megan Van Pelt Bachelor of Science in management, 1994 | Director of human resources, Lendlease Corp., Chicago; Children’s Heart Foundation President’s Council member

Trump Card |Van Pelt oversees personnel issues for an Australian company that manages large-scale construction projects including Donald Trump’s buildings in New York and Chicago.

Setback | She’s also handled traumatic personal issues, namely, the birth of her son, Jack, seven years ago. Midway through her pregnancy, Jack was diagnosed with transposition of the great arteries. His aortic and pulmonary valves were backward, which meant the blood that normally flows in a figure eight through the heart actually went in two circles, arriving back in the lungs instead of going out to his body. Jack also had five holes in his heart, a mixed blessing because that allowed the blood to mix and provide limited oxygen.

Major Decision | “We met with a geneticist who suggested we end the pregnancy, but I was at 24 weeks and I just said no,” she says. “These defects run in my family. My cousin is 33 and had one of the first procedures for transposition, and he survived.”

Day By Day | Jack was transferred to Children’s Memorial Hospital immediately after delivery and underwent a balloon angioplasty to enlarge one of the holes.

The Big Day | Four weeks later, he had open heart surgery. “He could have gone into congenital heart failure and died,” she says. The surgery lasted 10 hours, but he was home by Christmas.

Pay It Forward | Van Pelt and her husband, Ryan, wanted to give something back in gratitude for all the research that led to the surgery that saved their son’s life. They discovered the Children’s Heart Foundation and became board members. Ryan was treasurer; she chaired an annual fundraising event, which included a 36-hour dance marathon that raised $330,000.

Much Obliged | “You realize if the research hadn’t been done, your child wouldn’t be here, and it’s almost an obligation to give back,” she says. “The foundation raises money for research, and our doctors decide which research projects we will fund.”

Looking Up | Jack visits his heart doctors every six months, and they say his reengineered heart is doing just fine. He’ll need another sur-gery to replace his aortic valve when he’s bigger. “You look at Jack today and you’d have no idea what he went through,” she says. “He’s pretty much a normal first grader. He loves baseball and the Cubs. He loves Nintendo, just like a typical boy.”

Saving a School

Up the street from Xavier, perched impressively above a tree-lined stretch of Victory Parkway, is a school of breathtaking Jacobethan architecture and Rookwood tile that will soon be an extension of campus. Hoffman Elementary School, built in 1922, was slated for closure because of its low-performing public school status until the University agreed to become its partner.

In October, plans for the partnership got a boost when Xavier won a $392,000 federal community improvement grant to help the low-income Evanston neighborhood on the University’s west side, where Hoffman is located. Plans call for Xavier education students to tutor children at the school, occupational therapy students to work with families and education faculty to help Hoffman teachers fine-tune the curriculum. Xavier faculty and staff may even have use of a day care center at Hoffman run by the University.

“There needs to be a safe, vital energized environment around this campus if we want to continue to attract high-caliber students and be the kind of university we want to be,” says Liz Blume, of Xavier’s Community Building Institute.

Election Results

Sara Rowell found herself in the position of a lifetime. A sophomore and a self-described political junkie, Rowell was sitting on the dais a few feet away from Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry during his September swing through Cincinnati. At one point, he was so close she could have touched him.

“It was nice, sort of surreal,” she says. “I was at the Kerry rally to observe, and they were looking for people to fill the risers. They asked me if I wanted to sit up there, and I said, ‘Of course.’ ”

This was education in action. Rowell’s part of a new honors course created just for this year’s presidential race. With Ohio being one of the most-watched battleground states, the course offered her and her classmates unprecedented access to the candidates and their campaigns—educational opportunities that can’t be found in a book.

The two-part course—mass media and politics and constructing the public—was created by professors John Fairfield and Gene Beaupré specifically for the 18 students in the new honors program, Philosophy, Politics and the Public. The first part, in the fall semester, examined the campaigns. The second part, in the spring, examines how politicians legislate.

The PPP program, developed in 2003 and modeled after similar ones at Yale and Oxford, stands apart because of its inclusion of “the public” as a separate discipline. This year, it didn’t take long for Beaupré and Fairfield to realize they had a perfect teaching opportunity. With its prime location in Ohio during the high-stakes presidential election, the University was perched on a wealth of information and activity—from research and polling to mass media frenzies and grassroots speechifying.

“Ohio was the epicenter of the 2004 presidential race,” Beaupré says. “No state received as much attention as Ohio. Our first formal PPP class hit during the presidential election. What an opportunity. You couldn’t pick up a paper and not have stuff to talk to your students about.”

Halfway into the fall semester, the students were using the presidential campaign to understand what it takes to get elected, how to identify voters, what to communicate to them and how.

In addition to voluminous reading assignments, the students volunteered for either candidate’s local campaign to learn each one’s message and how it’s relayed to potential voters. They handed out buttons and flyers during Cincinnati Reds games. They made phone calls to likely voters, keyed in polling data and attended rallies. In short, they did it all.

And they not only did it in Cincinnati, they fanned out statewide to learn how the campaign messages differ in different parts of the state. They spent election night Nov. 2 at WVXU radio helping report election results on the air to the radio audience. The overall goal is to teach them how to participate in public debate by having them experience how a person gets elected in America, Beaupré says. As they studied the campaigns—following the media, volunteering, attending rallies, gathering data and reading deeply about politics—they developed their own campaign plans with a studied message and a method for whom to reach and how to reach them.

During one class in September, the students were shown pictures of the candidates in various poses—Kerry on his motorcycle, George W. Bush as a rancher, Kerry with Lincoln, and the class’ favorite, Bush’s profile against the famous faces of Mt. Rushmore. The discussion was about the messages and at what point do they slip from reality into fiction. It primed the students for the visual ads they would create as part of their campaign plans.

“You can’t understand and do legislative politics without understanding campaign politics,” Beaupré says. “You have to understand how people got to that power.”

Fairfield brings a historical context to the study of American politics and public policy. He doesn’t just ask why decisions are made but asks what other possibilities were considered and discarded. He says he wants his students to believe that politics does matter and they can change things for the better. The experience is tailor-made for Rowell, who expects to go to law school. “I want to make a difference in our government and how it works,” she says.

Mountain Bike Chick Races to the Top

Anything tastes good when you’re pedaling for nearly 20 hours over 230 miles of mountainous terrain—even a flour tortilla filled with mashed potatoes, tuna and oranges.

Tonya Laffey, a 2000 M.B.A. graduate, is willing to make such sacrifices for her job. Testing her endurance and skill by riding a mountain bike for hours is what she works for—and lives for. Besides, it’s healthy, she says. Just look at the quick meal she gulped down while pedaling in the 2002 solo race in Tucson, Ariz. The unorthodox sandwich of protein, carbohydrates and citrus was a perfect meal. It may have even helped her win the race.

“At the time, it tasted really good,” she says.

The sport that was a hobby has become a career for Laffey, who concentrates on training and healthy eating while traveling up to 10,000 miles a year to compete in professional mountain bike races from Vermont to Colorado. She’s also busy building up her secondary business, Dirt Rules, which offers biking clinics for women and sells biking products. The company’s web site,, is also a support group for her team of 17 female mountain bike riders, which includes five professionals. The MTB Chick site carries links to members’ journals, a “chick-chat” room and listings of community service projects and upcoming races. It even carries a link for Cincinnati clubs.

Though Laffey moved her business from California to Boulder, Colo., two years ago, it’s been a circuitous route that included two return trips to Cincinnati, her hometown—once after a serious crash in her early cycling days in Montana and a second time to earn her Xavier degree.

“I came to Boulder because this is the biggest concentration of professional cyclists in the world,” she says.

Now rated the 14th best female mountain bike cyclist in the U.S., Laffey is aiming for the top 10. She prefers the two-hour-long cross country races and their rocky, rooted trails over the 20-minute short tracks.

“It is a lot of work, but I do it mainly because I’m a competitor and I love mountain biking,” she says.

Lab Results

Hoover, a chocolate lab, was found near Columbus. Spirit attacked the family cat and came back. Libby, a black female, lived in a pig pen. Abandoned, mistreated, undisciplined or tearfully let go, these are among the 20 Labrador retrievers awaiting adoption at a Labrador retriever rescue center east of Cincinnati. Some of their adoptions have been handled by Steve Weidner, a 1994 graduate and current graduate student in sport marketing.

In a way, Weidner himself was rescued by the dogs, whose plight grabbed him when he adopted his first dog, Puck, from an Indianapolis shelter. “It pulls you back to the center to what’s really important,” he says. Today, it is leading him to start a rescue of his own at a farm in Indiana when he finishes his degree in December.

In many ways, he says, the rescuing of dogs fits very much in line with the Jesuit tradition of service to others in need. These “others in need” just happen to have four legs and a wagging tail. “They deserve the same integrity of life that any living thing does,” he says.

Jesus in Dreadlocks

About three days a week, James Hasse, S.J., climbs the stairwell inside an old warehouse of peeling paint and greasy hallways and ambles to his studio. He undoes the padlock, lifts the garage-like door and enters a world of beauty. Scattered across the worn wooden floor and hung high on the dingy walls are dozens of paintings, some bold, some more subtle, all of liturgical themes.

The light from a single-paned window creeps in, softly stroking the shapes on the canvases and revealing an aspect that separates them from traditional liturgical art: All of the people are African American. There’s Jesus in deadlocks beckoning children. There’s a black Madonna and child. The men and women wear colorful robes associated with Holy Land cultures, and the faces inside them are black and brown and tan. Hasse, a 69-year-old Jesuit priest living in a low-income neighborhood of Cincinnati, is white. But he’s spent most of his adult life among some of the most destitute and disadvantaged people deep inside the black enclaves of Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis and Cincinnati. As he’s ministered to the African-American residents of the housing projects, offering healing and hope to the patchwork families surviving in the midst of drug-dealing and crime, he’s developed relationships with them, some of whom were parishioners at his churches. He saw God in each of them and sought out those who would pose for his canvases.

His knack for art was sparked at age 9 by a book he read about Dr. Livingston in Africa. He copied the drawings of tribal people and found out he was pretty good. “God is working subconsciously there saying these are attractive spiritual people,” he says. “I am so convinced the glory of God shines through every person, and seeing that is a great grace in my life, and that’s what I wanted to share. ”

His journey began when he left his pre-med studies for the priesthood, coming to Xavier to enter the Jesuit novitiate at Milford, Ohio. He went on to earn three master’s degrees—art, theology and anthropology. All along, he served at churches in various cities, concentrating on his African-American ministry. He began to paint the people when he was a student at Saint Louis University in the 1960s, putting them in Biblical poses such as the Pieta—Jesus in the arms of Mary after the crucifixion.

Sometimes he hears back from the people he taught. One woman called him recently about her art exhibit and thanked him for recognizing her talent and being a father for her. “It’s nice to hear from these people,” he says.

His paintings have shown around the country and been the featured art in the Josephite calendar for two years. The money he earns from sales helps pay rent at his Jesuit community. Using only acrylics, he reveals the spirituality he sees in his subjects, but he doesn’t hide their pain. One of his favorite themes is the sorrowful Madonna. In one version, the woman is holding her baby close to her chest, but her eyes are distant, worried.

“It’s something you can feel with these young mothers who love their children yet know what’s down the line for them,” he says. “Seventy-five percent of them will end up in jail.”

Hasse knows that’s heavy stuff, but he hopes he’s lifted the spirits of some of these people who’ve lived on the fringes, and helped them find their way. They’ve certainly helped him. “I do enjoy it,” he says. “It’s soul-satisfying.”