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

Greener Pastures

_DSC0002Urban Sustainability is one of Xavier’s newest graduate programs

Wanting to take his career as an environmental consultant in a more serious direction, Brian Higgins shopped around the Midwest for a degree program that had all the elements he needed—an interdisciplinary approach that would blend his different interests, and a network that would lead to a good job.

He found both with the Master of Arts in Urban Sustainability and Resilience, one of eight new graduate-level degree programs Xavier is introducing in 2014 and 2015. It didn’t matter that he and his wife lived in Greensboro, N.C. He arrived in time to join the first cohort last fall. Before the first semester had ended, however, he not only had his summer internship lined up with a dairy partnership, but a full-time job offer as well.

“It’s fantastic,” Higgins says. “I was fully expecting to go through two years and then look at opportunities that presented themselves, but who am I to turn down an opportunity that presents itself and continue my education at the same time?”

For students like Higgins, such educational programs offer a chance to keep up with changing career fields—and even come out on top.

“These are areas where people can continue to expand their professional development or enter into new fields of growth,” says Roger Bosse, director for graduate services. “We’re responding to changes in society and trying to bring the quality of our education into these budding fields.”

Both Sustainability and the Doctor of Educational Leadership got underway last fall. The others are being rolled out in 2015. They meet Xavier’s long-term goal of strengthening the quality of its academic offerings by expanding learning opportunities for graduate students.

Those new opportunities are what attracted Higgins, who as a landscape architect and environmental consultant has a background in the environmental and sustainability fields. In one of his first classes last fall, Kroger’s head of sustainability came in as a guest lecturer. They struck up a conversation, and she ended up recommending him for the internship.

By January, he was juggling business trips with schoolwork. He’s managing a pilot project for a dairy trade group and Kroger, creating a partnership with a dairy farm that uses an anaerobic digester to recycle waste. These machines are already in use processing manure into methane gas and usable products. The project involves adding food waste to the mix and transforming it into even better products—fertilizer, compost, garden products and methane gas to be converted into a form to power vehicles.

“My job is to focus on developing an initial pilot project with Kroger and then see where the partnership between Kroger and the dairy makes sense, because Kroger has an interest in reducing food waste in the landfill,” Higgins says.

Higgins’ early success is music to Liz Blume’s ears. As coordinator of the Sustainability program, she says Xavier responded to a growing interest in sustainability among businesses, non-profits and government and created a program “that prepares sustainability professionals with the skills to create integrated solutions to environmental issues.”

Xavier’s is the only sustainability program in the region that is cross-disciplinary, bringing together the fields of urban studies, business and the hard environmental sciences. Courses cover urban systems, urban history and ecology, politics, land use, statistics, economics, geographical mapping, communications, business management and philosophy.

The two-year program is designed to attract people from those various fields who will then benefit from each other’s expertise. The first class of five students will finish in spring 2016, but Blume thinks she’ll have around 10 new students enrolling this fall as word of the program spreads.

“Every corporation in America wants to create a green bottom line, which means delivering products more cheaply and in a way that does less damage to the environment,” Blume says. “They need smart people who know how to do those things, and our grads are those people.”

Two New Institutes

Xavier launched two new institutes in 2014—one for the heart, the other for the mind.

The new Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice focuses on the integration of knowledge, spirituality and social engagement and offers graduate theology degrees, certificate programs, workshops and retreats. All are designed to cultivate depth of thought, imagination and critical skills to deal with violence, social inequity and
environmental instability.

Across campus, the renamed Montessori Institute and Lab School better reflects the program’s growth and reputation as a pioneer of, and world leader in, Montessori teacher education and philosophy. The Institute offers undergraduate and graduate degrees, including a master’s degree in a new, totally online format. Its Lab School now includes grades 4-6. And the program is expanding its global reach with teacher education programs in Korea and China, as well as offering research and professional development for all Montessori educators.

Into the Wild

A program started by visiting theology professor and alum Leon Chartrand gives a whole new meaning to the idea of the outdoor classroom. Xavier Expeditions offers courses that include trips to cool places such as Yellowstone Park and the Sawtooth Wilderness in Alaska. This year, Chartrand added a trip to the American Southwest. For one week over spring break, students enrolled in Sacred Ground & the New Story: Navajo Lands explored nature and Navajo spiritual concepts, like “walking in beauty.” They did hands-on learning in the Grand Canyon and Painted Desert of the ancient Southwest and the Navajo and Hopi nations. Students are encouraged to draw from Native American cultures, the Judeo-Christian and other religious traditions, and from the knowledge of evolution to rediscover the earth. Chartrand hopes his students learn to see the earth as a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects, and how to tackle human-earth relations. Chartrand invites students to suggest favorite locations for future trips. Some of his favorites? The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Galapagos Islands and the Serengeti.

Distance Teaching

For two semesters, Jennifer Tighe taught students in classrooms at refugee camps half a world away.

 

It wasn’t easy. Her students struggled with challenges unimaginable to her traditional students at Xavier.

refugeeThe language barrier was one—for most of her students, English was a third or fourth language. Malaria was not uncommon. And most had to walk long distances to their classrooms, which for some wasn’t much more than a hut.

“While I’m getting up and turning on the coffee, they’ve already walked so many miles to get to their classroom,” Tighe says. “The least I can do is be there for them.”

The courses were part of a program called Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins, which began in 2010 to bring college education to people living in refugee camps in Africa and Syria. It relies on volunteer faculty from Jesuit colleges and universities to teach the courses, which are totally online.

 

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Sounding the Voices of Manatees

Florida manatees—those big gangly gray elephants of the sea—do not have vocal cords. Yet they are able to make their high-pitched squeaks and squawks to communicate, a Xavier biology professor has found, using a modified structure of tissue folds that distort the air moving through the upper respiratory area and frontal cavities in the head.

Professor Charles Grossman and three Xavier biology and physics researchers published the results of the study into how manatees make vocal sounds in the current issue of the Online Journal of Biological Sciences.

The initial research project began in 2001 when Grossman, a physiologist and immunologist, became interested in searching for ways to protect manatees from injury by boat propellers. The project was featured in Xavier magazine in 2003 and also in 2009.

Florida manatees are an endangered species of mammals that forage for grass and weeds in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico and into spring-fed rivers along the coast during the winter months. Because they are hard to see when they float near the surface, manatees are easily struck by speeding boats and Jet Skis, and they and their calves often die from their injuries.

To help find a way to protect these gentle giants from approaching boats, Grossman began studying how they respond to sounds in the water. He put together a research team that began working with captive manatees, including the two manatees in the Cincinnati Zoo’s Manatee Springs exhibit. But they found that the manatees were attracted to the sounds they introduced into the tank rather than  repelled by them. Grossman and the team were hoping to identify a sound that manatees would try to avoid and replicate that for boats to reduce the number of manatee-boat collisions.

When that failed, the team began researching how the animals make their sounds. Past anatomical studies had concluded that manatees have no vocal cords, but no one understood exactly how they vocalized. In 2003, the team began making silicone models of their animals’ respiratory systems. They studied the sounds made when air is forced through the models and compared them to actual sound recordings made of living manatees.

They also studied the larynxes of 10 manatees that had died in Florida. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission provided the larynxes of the manatees to Grossman at Xavier. The research paper published in the Online Journal concludes that even though manatees don’t have vocal cords, they do have a modified structure that allows them to make their squeaky sounds.

“It’s a thin strip of tissue they use to make their squeaks—long, short, intense, all squeaks,” Grossman said. “It’s pure research. We tried to learn about how they react to boat sounds to keep them away from boats, but we couldn’t learn anything. We do know now what frequencies they use. That’s the whole point of any of this stuff. The more you know, the more chance you have of utilizing it for the greater good.”

The paper documents the probable cause of death of each manatee they studied from 2009 to 2011. Five were from “chronic watercraft” injury, one was from ingesting fish line and the others died of cold-weather stress or unknown causes. Grossman said the manatee population in Florida is stable  this year at more than 3,500, though hundreds are killed each year by boats and other human-related causes.

Read more about the research project at the Facebook page of the Midwest Florida Manatee Research Project or on the project’s Xavier web page.

Mindful Health

Judi Godsey did not have to look far to see the devastating effects of extreme poverty.

Most of the people in her home in McCreary County, Ky.—a beautiful part of the country in the rolling Appalachian foothills near Lake Cumberland—were extremely poor, and it showed in their health.

A lot of the adults smoked and had poor eating habits, which led to excessive cases of obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. By high school, a lot of her friends had picked up the deadly habits as well.

She even saw it at home. They weren’t poor—her father had a good job working with machinery—but he was a smoker and died of a heart attack at age 47.

Now the assistant professor in the School of Nursing is working to do something about it. Godsey recently published a research article on using a therapy known as “mindfulness” to help people with obesity control their weight. It’s part of her research into solutions to the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and improving health overall—especially in her part of Kentucky, where childhood obesity is third in the nation and adult obesity is seventh.

In spite of its beauty, she says, “It’s a very sick county.”

Wanting to improve her own life and help change the outcome for the people of Kentucky, she became the first in her family to graduate from college, earning a nursing degree at Northern Kentucky University while raising two children. She continued on, eventually earning her master’s in nursing and is now working on her doctorate. As she studied for her degrees, she developed an interest in researching population health issues, including how more than a third of adults in the U.S. are classified as obese and how it’s one of the largest health care threats facing American children today. 

“I wanted to understand the growing epidemic of obesity both locally and nationally.”

Her research ultimately led to her discovery of “mindfulness-based interventions” as a common-sense means of treating obesity and eating disorders. Her report, published in July in the
medical journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine, finds that despite mounting evidence the therapy is an effective tool in treating eating disorders, there has been very little research into its use in treating obesity.

Mindfulness is a psychological term for being aware of one’s actions in the present moment, paying attention without judging yourself. It’s typically used to help a person change behaviors that are destructive or unhealthy, like stress or smoking. In weight management, Godsey says it can augment more typical strategies like changing one’s diet or adding regular exercise.

But that’s not what’s happening in most cases. Despite some pocket studies that have had promising results, the therapy is rarely used as a method of weight management. It’s time for that to change, she says.

“The literature supports its use,” she says. “While obesity rates are skyrocketing, this study suggests we need to incorporate alternative methods into current weight loss strategies and find a new way of thinking about an old problem.”

She recommends starting with children, who can be taught healthy behaviors like the importance of brushing teeth. Mindfulness intervention would teach them to think about what they choose to eat and why. What are the triggers? Feeling sad or happy, depressed or anxious?

“It’s about the difference between eating the way we’ve always done it and changing that behavior. It’s about eating with purpose and intention, and thoughtful decisions that become engrained as mindful behaviors.”

The article drew a lot of attention from health professionals and is the journal’s eighth-most downloaded piece this year. “The paper draws attention to the fact there is a gaping hole to the way we approach the problem of obesity. It needs to be included in our national dialogue.”

It’s one that can also be applied to Godsey’s home in McCreary County. “It’s why I became a nurse,” she says, “to use what I’ve learned to help the people of my beloved Kentucky.” 

Presidential Task Force Taps Beacham

Love it or hate it, the Affordable Care Act is creating the most dramatic change in the health care industry since, well, the invention of the Band Aid.

All areas of health care are being impacted, including psychology. That’s why the American Psychological Association is tapping Abbie Beacham for help.

The associate professor of psychology and director of clinical training in Xavier’s PsyD program was asked to be one of eight members on a Presidential Task Force that examines how integrating psychologists into primary care clinics could enhance patient health outcomes and reduce overall costs.

The concept of bringing psychologists into primary care clinics—known officially as patient-centered medical homes—is a key component of the ACA. Rather than psychologists working separately from physicians, the plan is to bring the two together in a single clinical setting so patients receive care for both body and mind at the same time—and only get one bill.

“It’s a totally different way of thinking,” Beacham says. “It’s whole-person care, not fragmented care. We’re taking care of all of you.”

Part of Beacham’s task is to help determine how to train psychologists—both those currently in practice as well as those being educated in the field—on the new approach. It’s a paradigm shift, she says, and could be a challenge for some to accept.

“We’re becoming health services providers,” she says, “and not all psychologists see themselves that way.”

The yearlong task force is presenting its findings through a series of articles in both professional journals and mainstream media.