Center Stage

Nate Davis wasn’t even back to his seat when his phone started ringing. The former Marine sergeant, who’s now director of Xavier’s Center for Veterans Affairs, received an invitation to speak at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in September about how the Post 9/11 GI Bill impacted him.

Although hesitant at first, he agreed. And as soon as his two-minute speech was complete, the emails and calls started.

“There were a slew of them,” he says. “I got calls from vets thanking me for saying what I said. I got emails from older vets who were not going to school but just wanted to talk to me. That shocked me more than anything. I got a call from a Xavier student saying that I made him proud to be a Xavier student.”

Davis’ speech was in the heart of prime time, in front of 10,000 people in the arena and several million on TV. But it almost didn’t happen.

“When I got the call, I was actually watching the Republican convention on TV with my mother,” he says. “There was so much mud slinging that I thought I didn’t want to get in the middle of that. I thought if I got on stage for one side or the other it might divide veterans because that’s not what we’re about. We’re not Democrats or Republicans. We’re veterans. I kept thinking of all the bad things that could happen.

“But my mom said, ‘Don’t let things out of your control scare you away from doing what you’re supposed to do.’ I thought, ‘She’s right. This is not about you. God just gave you a stage to tell the story of veterans and you don’t know what effect your message might have.’ So I agreed. When I got there, it felt like I was supposed to be there at that moment. I felt I had a purpose.”

What kind of impact did it have? He may never know the total impact, but two veterans enrolled at Xavier as a result—so far.

[button link=”#” color=”Blue” size=”medium” target=”blank”]Watch Davis’ Speech[/button]

Extra Credit: Robert Hurd, S.J.

In addition to being a priest, Robert Hurd, S.J., is a staff physician at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Cincinnati.  He has a medical degree from Creighton University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of San Francisco, a bachelor’s degree and doctorate in theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and a licentiate from the Jesuit School of Theology at the University of California Berkeley. Today, he’s one of a rare breed—both doctor and Jesuit priest.

“Throughout the world, I’d say there are at least 40-50 Jesuit doctors.

“My title? I’m Father Doctor. I’m a Jesuit first. Anything I would do as a doctor would be in the context of Jesuit activities spirituality.

“I teach a course in endocrinology and two or sometimes three courses each semester in bioethics.

“I like teaching both. We touch on a lot of issues—health care reform, stem cell research and more.

“We try to balance the issues between science and Church teachings. We have to work with the students so they learn some principles that they can apply to different situations. One of Fr. Baumiller’s main mottos was that everybody should feel comfortable in gray areas. You can’t avoid them. When he was at Georgetown University, he founded the first prenatal diagnosis clinic for women and their husbands who were told in the middle of their pregnancy that they had a serious anomaly with the baby. And instead of sending them away where they would probably have an abortion, he worked in this gray area to counsel the people and give them all the information they needed and let them know what resources are available. So he was kind of a model for all of us. That’s our example of working within the Church’s principles in an ever-changing world.

“There are quite a few of my former students who are working at different hospitals around town and are on the ethics committees of the hospitals where they work. We interact all the time.

“The VA was recommended to me by the biology chair, Charles Grossman, who was working there at the time as director of the research department. There are a lot of students in the biology program who do their research projects there. So that fit very well.

“What do I do for fun? I like music. That’s my hobby. I play the guitar, piano and organ. When I was a medical student, we were not supposed to moonlight or work, but on Sunday mornings I figured I could do what I liked so I played organ and guitar at the parish church. I’m now the music director of a church in town, Holy Trinity in Kenwood.

“I also like to go to O’Connor Sports Center and exercise. I go early in the morning, around 6:00 a.m. I ride a bicycle and read my notes for that day’s class. I photocopy pages of the textbook so I can read the chapter of the day and refresh myself. If I don’t do it then, it’s not going to happen.

“I’m usually at the VA from 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. On days I teach, I leave at 3:00 p.m. and then teach from 4:15 p.m.-6:45 p.m.

“I don’t sleep much.”

Honor Thy Father

Dinners at Roger Fortin’s home were always big family affairs. With six mouths to feed on a history professor’s salary, they weren’t always extravagant. But they were special. They were one of the few moments during the day when everyone came together from all their different directions and settled into a single place, together as one.

On occasion, the dinners were also celebratory. At various periods throughout his 40-year career at Xavier, the longtime history professor and former provost would be recognized for some outstanding achievement, and the observance of the feat turned dinner into a festival.

And those moments left their mark on the memories of the family. Or at least on Michael Fortin, the second oldest of the clan.

“Many of my young memories were of my father, working hard and on occasion being rewarded for going above and beyond,” he says. “That was a big deal. All of us remember those moments.”

The lasting memories were so strong, in fact, that Michael wanted to do something to recognize and honor his dad upon his retirement as Xavier’s provost last year. Something that would give other families the chance to experience those same moments. So the 1985 computer science graduate, who is now vice president in charge of the Windows operating system at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash., worked with Kerry Murphy from the University’s development office to find a way to help others recreate those suppertime celebrations. What they came up with is the Roger A. Fortin Award for Outstanding Teaching and Scholarship in the Humanities—an annual award that honors faculty members in the humanities.

The winner receives $10,000. Unlike other teaching awards, however, the money granted from the Fortin Award isn’t tied to conducting specific research or being applied to the classroom. It’s cash. No strings. No demands. No requirements. It’s available for use however the recipient desires—academics, a vacation in Australia, a special family dinner.

“Most of these people could make a living at anything, but they chose to dedicate their lives to teaching, to educating students,” says Michael. “That’s a special calling. They chose what actually matters. I remember my dad working tirelessly at it. So I didn’t like the idea of tying it to things like that puts limits on people.”

The award is focused on those who teach in the humanities—those fundamental programs that colleges were built upon—history, the classics, modern languages, English, philosophy. Theology was once seen as a capstone subject—what students learned after they knew it all. But in today’s era of specialization and make-as-much-money-as-you-can values, the humanities seem to have lost their emphasis among students. The well-roundedness that comes as a result of their learning has been flattened. And the ability to attract and retain professors in those areas has become increasingly difficult.

“I feel like the humanities can be overlooked and today’s world,” says Michael. “If this can attract or retain some of the faculty in the humanities, it’s well worth it.”

Each fall department chairs, faculty and student nominate candidates from the roughly 50 tenured faculty in the humanities programs, and a committee of four faculty members and one humanities student created by the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences selects the winner, which is announced at a public event in the spring. The award goes to a “teacher-scholar who—in the judgment of students and peers—is excellent to outstanding in her or his teaching and—in the judgment of the faculty—shows evidence of scholarship that is recognized and given positive evaluations by the scholarly community.”

It took nearly a year to create the endowment and hammer out many of the details—the nomination criteria, the selection process, the long-term process so it outlives those who are on campus now. And it wasn’t easy keeping it a secret.

“Dad was aware of that fact that we were working on something, but he wasn’t sure what,” says Michael. “He kept prying for information. When we finally told him, he was very excited and proud, but also very measured.”

Bellarmine and Bollman

When Richard Bollman first walked through the doors at Bellarmine Parish, most of today’s Xavier students weren’t even born yet. That was 20 years ago. Two decades.

That’s a long time to do anything, much less the same thing. But for Bollman, that’s been his life since 1992—pastor of Bellarmine Parish. That, however, is changing. In January, Bollman is taking a sabbatical and beginning a new, still-undecided phase of his ministry.

“This all feels coherent and timely for me personally, but also a little theoretical as yet,” he wrote to his congregation. “I have very few ideas about 2013 as yet. I’m expecting things to fall into place.

“As a Jesuit, I have not lived through many changes in ministry: In 1980 I left the University of San Francisco to become the director of the Jesuit Center at Milford [Ohio]. In 1992, I became pastor here. At each move I was lucky to have some time off to close out responsibilities and catch up with myself. That’s happening again now. And beyond my own need to appreciate the chance, I believe we can expect a good transition at Bellarmine, leading both to continuity and fresh approaches.”

Dan Hartnett, S.J., is taking over parish responsibilities. Hartnett spent nearly 20 years in Lima, Peru, in pastoral leadership and university education before, most recently, serving as pastor of Blessed Trinity Parish in Waukegan, Ill., in suburban Chicago. He also taught philosophy at the University of Loyola Chicago.

Watch a video of Bollman talking about Holy Week, Easter and Easteride.

A New Approach

What’s the connection between theology and trauma? Between religion and recovery?

Professor of theology Gillian Ahlgren is searching for the answer and was awarded a $40,000 grant from the Louisville Institute to dig into the concept of theological and spiritual resources for trauma recovery. “Traumatic events involve a crisis of meaning,” says Ahlgren. “They can shake one’s confidence in the goodness of life and the goodness of humanity.” The answer could have a huge impact on returning veterans, survivors of rape, human trafficking, domestic violence and others, she says.

Medical Success

Eight years ago, a group of faculty from the Department of Biology and staff from the Office of Multicultural Affairs got together and began mentoring African American students who were majoring in the sciences, including aspiring doctors and researchers. The goal was to encourage them, enhance study skills and give them a greater chance to succeed.

The group quickly became organized into the Ernest E. Just Society and expanded to include chemistry, physics and nursing majors. Today they meet weekly, bring in professionals of color as guest lecturers and take science-related field trips.

And the work has paid off. Three of those first-year members—Adeleke Oni, Keyona Gullett and Emanuel Ofori—completed medical school and are now in their first year of residency.

Taking the Pulse of the American Dream

Here’s a challenge. How do you document a subject of national importance that people see all over the news, but rarely ever think about?

It’s a question Kat Ryder and her student interns are answering with the Permanent American Dream Video Archive, a project of the Center for the Study of the American Dream. The archive supplements the Center’s aggregate surveys and research by offering a glimpse of how individuals perceive the American Dream.

“We wanted to take a different view,” Ryder says. “We wanted to talk to people from all walks of life about how they see the American Dream.” The project began last August, and Ryder already sees it fulfilling its objective: to be “a memorial for lives lived and an inspiration for the next generation’s American Dream.”

The routine is simple and student-driven. Ryder’s student interns identify individuals who embody the American Dream in some way. Then they contact that person, explain the project and, if they’re willing, schedule an interview.

The students record the interviews, edit them and finally post the finished product on the project’s website. So far the students have interviewed CEOs, journalists, immigrants, entrepreneurs, musicians and more. The interviews have taken place on campus, around Cincinnati, in New York City and Las Vegas—and over Skype.

The result is an intimate series of portraits of America’s trademark concept.

“Having a video archive, you get to see the person,” Ryder says. “You get to feel the energy. It’s much more engaging than a written-out interview.” It also helps personalize what can be an abstract idea.

“The media talks about the American Dream every day,” Ryder says. “And I know. I get Google Alerts about it.” But people rarely consider how the concept relates to them. “You don’t really think about it,” she says. “You think it’s a corny subject that’s just in books. But when you realize that people here have the opportunity and freedom to go after their dreams, their passions, you start to really believe in the American Dream.”

The students are trying to document a broad range of individuals. Recent subjects have included the CEO of dunnhumbyUSA, a homeless woman who went to Harvard, the life coach at Zappos and a French business owner who found in America the keys to his success. Ryder says the goal of the archive is to gather as many voices as possible in what she hopes will become a searchable database.

“We want to know what real Americans think,” she says.

One of the archive’s interns is Kevin Tighe, a senior English major. His first interview was with an active-duty Marine named Brian Giera who was adopted from Korea as a baby. When Tighe talked to him, Giera had already served a tour in Afghanistan and was on his way to Europe.

Tighe chose him as a subject because he wanted to know how someone thought about the American Dream who is currently fighting for it. Tighe reached Giera via Skype at his base in Hawaii, shortly before he deployed to Europe. Tighe was impressed by the sense of duty in Giera’s perception of the American Dream.

“He kept emphasizing it’s what he is called to do, because he was given so much,” Tighe says.

Tighe has received positive responses from other interview subjects as well.

“People want to talk to students,” he says. “That’s why I really enjoy this project.”

And Tighe isn’t shy of asking high-profile people for interviews—people like Bob McDonald, the CEO of Procter and Gamble­—even though he knows they are more often than not going to decline the request.

“If I get a no, it’s a no, that’s the worst they can say. So why not? I’m really a shoot-for-the-moon, land-in-the-stars type of guy.”

If he could interview anyone in America though, it would be Bruce Springsteen.

“He’s like the embodiment of America,” he says. “I’d, like, faint if I found out I’d be talking to the Boss.”

Short of that, Tighe is happy to keep asking everyday Americans about their personal American Dream.

“Everyone knows someone that has a good American Dream story,” he says. “Even the smallest person can have the biggest dreams, and achieve them.”

That’s the idea this country was built upon.

Watch videos here.

Enhancing Jobs with a Black Belt

The Department of Management and Entrepreneurship in the Williams College of Business is taking a page out of the popular Six Sigma business development method by creating a similar black belt program, but this one is geared specifically for entrepreneurship. It’s the first such program in the nation.

To be awarded a blue or black belt, students submit applications about their experience managing or starting a business and meet four qualifications: high academic achievement, positive faculty recommendations, their project’s impact on the college and a

comprehensive interview.

A committee of faculty and two management and entrepreneurship board members, who are also Six Sigma black belts, judged the participants’ work in the program’s first year. In April, the seven winners were awarded three blue and four black belt certificates. A blue belt is for those who manage a business. Black belts are reserved for those who start up their own.

“Students gain preparation for their future and confidence and understanding how to survive in the business world,” says Daewoo Park, department chair. “It’s very challenging.”

Bracken Books

It was a busy summer for longtime Xavier Jesuit Joseph Bracken, S.J. The professor emeritus of theology, who began teaching at Xavier in 1982, published his 10th book, Does God Roll Dice? Divine Providence for a World in the Making, a response to Albert Einstein’s oft-quoted saying that “God does not play dice.”

Bracken combines his knowledge of both religion and science to form a foundation for his process theology beliefs, and does so well enough that at least one reviewer called the book “A must read if you are interested in the harmonious totality of the nature of existence and a rational, well-thought-out teleology to go along with it.”

Bracken was also the subject of a Festschrift, a book the academic community puts together to honor those respected in their field. Festschrifts typically contain original essays by colleagues. Bracken was honored with the Festschrift, titled Seeking Common Ground: Evaluation and Critique of Joseph Bracken’s Comprehensive Worldview, at two conferences over the summer, one for the Catholic Theological Society of America and one for the College Theology Society. Panelists at both conferences offered their own thoughts on Bracken’s work and

process theology.

“It was all very nice,” says the 80-year-old Bracken, “except they all kept referring to me in the past tense.”

Dream Course

The first time the American public heard the phrase “American Dream” was in 1914, when Walter Lippmann referred to it once in his book Drift and Mastery to describe the importance of the “enterprising individual” in America.

The public barely noticed. It wasn’t until 1931 when John Truslow Adams used the term more than 30 times in The Epic of America that the phrase took on the iconic symbolism it retains today. It has since become part of the American vernacular, a phrase that defines the essence of what America is all about.

But the Dream is looking a little frayed of late. With globalization, polarized politics and the anemic economy, Americans are beginning to doubt the promise of hope that the American Dream has always represented.

Just ask Roger Fortin. After 47 years at Xavier as a professor, an administrator and, most recently, as academic vice president and provost, Fortin is taking on a new role, making the American Dream his specialty. Beginning this fall, he is becoming the executive director and administrator of Xavier’s Center for the Study of the American Dream. And he is teaching a senior seminar on the American Dream to the 16 seniors in the Philosophy, Politics and the Public honors program.

“In the course, I will discuss that even though the term was not coined until 1931, it has had ongoing relevance since the immigrants came for opportunity and a fuller life,” Fortin says. “The term is a promise and is closely connected with and embedded in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.”

The history of the American Dream is a relevant topic to study today because a lot can be learned about this nation when viewed through the lens of the Dream. In his book, Adams notes that early presidents embraced the ideal that all Americans should have the same opportunities for advancement. Others, like Roosevelt, agitated for social reform to ensure all citizens had access to those opportunities. Later presidents rallied around its concepts, Fortin says, such as Nixon, who was the first to refer directly to it, and more recently Reagan, Clinton and Obama.

From the first settlers who crossed the ocean seeking religious freedom to the swarms of immigrants who followed to find a better life, to the veterans who sought refuge in home and family, the American Dream has meant different things to different generations, Fortin says. It has such far-reaching implications for the future of America that it has become an issue of discussion again, something to be studied formally.

The course covers the history of the Dream from the arrival of the Puritans in the 1600s to the present day. Students will study what lured the first immigrants to America, the shaping of the new nation, and what the Founding Fathers were seeking when they wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. \

“We’ll be asking how have the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness changed and evolved since then, how they are at the heart of the American Dream,” Fortin says. “We will evaluate the success of the American Dream, and we’ll look at those who have been omitted from the Dream, the paradox of the declaration of freedom for all versus slavery, women subordinate to men, and Native Americans. Not all immigrants were included.”

They will study how presidents of both parties have invoked the Dream, in particular Reagan and Clinton, and see how each envisioned different paths to the same goal. They will learn that the Dream “doesn’t belong to any political party, because it’s an American Dream.” And they’ll look at how the Dream is affected today by factors that seem beyond the reach of most Americans.

“Today people doubt whether the American Dream will be realized by their children,” he says. “So many are concerned about the future of the Dream because they’re not sure there will be enough jobs, education, opportunity. It’s fundamentally about hope, and we will ask, how is it faring today? We will study, at its root, how does the American Dream allow people to fulfill themselves.

“My take is that people are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s a contract with the people. It’s an attempt to make society as feasible for as many people as possible. Walter Lippmann believed the American Dream was fulfilled when we make sure that no one is forced to live in poverty.”