Birds of a Feather

From a distance, they look like your typical college students on campus for summer classes. Walking down the academic mall, they carry backpacks, water bottles, and … wait a minute, are those binoculars?

This summer, the most recognizable characters on campus were Hank Kerschen and Patrick Quinn, senior science students, college guys and certifiable bird geeks.

The bird brains were working as summer research students for assistant professor of biology George Farnsworth, who is conducting research on some very busy northern mockingbirds, a species conveniently prolific around campus. Together, the group hopes to prove that these birds, considered by most ornithologists to be monogamous maters, may father many different offspring even within the same nest.

“This is something that has never been proven,” Kerschen says, “so we decided to do paternity testing, like a giant Jerry Springer show. You know, ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ ”

The full results of the experiments, which include capturing and banding birds from different nests and then observing their mating behavior, continues into the fall.

The students admit their study of these birds has led them to new understandings of the animal world. “We superimpose our ideas of what a family is on these mockingbirds,” Quinn says. “We just believe that, ‘Oh look, there’s a nest, they’re a happy family.’ But I think the way nature has it is that the birds are just more into breeding than necessarily finding a soul mate or living by our societal norms.”

Angelic Art

On Sept. 11, 2001, Holly Schapker acted out her grief and anguish over the terrorist attacks through a non-conventional way: art.

The 1992 graduate and adjunct faculty member in the department of art picked up her brushes and paints and created “Angels of Liberty,” an oil painting depicting fallen firefighters, police and others being escorted to heaven by angels in the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse.

“I covered the wall of my studio with a canvas eight feet tall and began painting,” she says.

She painted for three months.

When she completed the 50×84-inch painting, she created lithographs and sent them to firefighters and police in New York, New Jersey and around the country. One such lithograph caught the eye of a German public television crew working on a documentary about angels, which traveled to Xavier to interview Schapker.

The painting also won second place in the national juried competition, Spirit of America.

Student Investment

Will Nealon expected to learn a lot in his finance classes. But last year, thanks to a new course—the Xavier Student Investment Fund—Nealon learned more than he expected. And in this case, what he and his classmates learned had an impact on the University’s financial status.

Last fall, a class of eight finance majors, under the direction of professor of finance Stafford Johnson, were handed management of a portion of Xavier’s investment portfolio. In four months, the class took a principle of $991,146.79 in bonds and cash, made three trades and, in the face of a fickle market, beat the Lehman index and raised the overall value of the portfolio to $1,001,645.96— a gain of $10,499.17.

Such collegiate student funds aren’t a new idea, says James Pawlukiewicz, chair of the department of finance. But the Xavier fund has a twist that makes it one of the few, if not the only, one of its kind. Most such funds focus on equity income investment—stocks. The Xavier fund, however, gives students a unique opportunity by focusing on fixed income investments—bonds.

Long on Pawlukiewicz’s wish list, the student fund began moving toward reality in late 2003. The following spring, students were invited to apply for the fund, which would be taught as a new course. Nine were chosen; eight ultimately signed up. Johnson taught the class and served as fund advisor along with three financial professionals with the Fort Washington Investment Advisors, the investment arm of Cincinnati-based Western Southern Life Insurance.

The decision to focus on bonds may have offered the students an unusual opportunity, but it meant additional intensive training. “Bonds are a little more technical,” Johnson says. “So one of the early things that we decided on is that even though this group had finance classes, they needed a boot camp.” In September, the students began meeting three or four times a week for lectures and to work through exercises. On Nov. 15, they took the next step: management of their fund. In reality, however, the real learning curve was just beginning.

The value of bonds is tied, inversely, to interest rates. As rates rise, bond value sinks, and vice versa. Part of the challenge then, Johnson says, lies in predicting movement in short- and long-term interest rates. And the general uncertainty about the economy added another potent X-factor.

“The industry as a whole was struggling to make nickels and dimes and we were struggling to make pennies,” says Nathan Wander, one of the students. Still, when interest rates seemed headed in the wrong direction, Johnson says the students made some tough calls that proved ultimately correct.

Then there was the time element to contend with. “It took awhile for us to get a trade together,” Nealon says. “We were taking full course loads, and a lot of people had jobs on the side. We were always thinking about what to do and doing research, but once we figured out what to do, it might have taken three weeks of analysis, exploring the economic outlook and the structure of the trade before we were able to vote.”

Johnson let the students find their own roles in the project and says the team began to coalesce around the time of their first trade in late December. “We were the first group, so we were kind of guinea pigs,” says student Molly Bayer. “We just sort of fell into the places that suited us. I did a lot of credit analysis.” The project took another significant leap forward shortly after the first of the year with the arrival of a Bloomberg data terminal, generously funded by Xavier alumnus Stephen S. Smith, senior vice president of the Delaware-based Brandywine Management Group. The terminal gave the team immediate access to real-time and archived financial and market data, pricing, trading, news and communications tools.

The team capped the year with a trip to New York, where the students visited Merrill Lynch, Bloomberg and JP Morgan & Co., and made a presentation before the fund’s board of directors, a group drawn from the financial world and the University. And while the course will continue to evolve when the next team takes over in October, Pawlukiewicz and Johnson say the first year was a success.

Nealon, Bayer and Wander agree: The real-world perspective was a revelation. “Going into it,” Nealon says, “I knew very little about fixed income compared to what I learned.”

Xavier Faces

Jim Hart
Music

After a successful career as a commercial music composer in Los Angeles, Hart moved his family to Cincinnati and has been teaching electronic music and basic theory courses at the University for the past 14 years. He loves to travel, a passion he shares with his wife and muse, Sasha. They particularly enjoy visiting Munich, Germany, where they once lived. Jim is the gardener and pianist in the family, and when he’s not planting something, he’s at the piano playing both jazz and classical music.

Sasha Hart
Music

Classically trained in ballet, Hart teaches both introductory and advanced ballet courses at Xavier. She also shares her passion for dance with students at her private ballet school, with underprivileged children at Uptown Arts and as a guest choreographer for the Cincinnati Ballet. Originally from the Netherlands, Hart loves to travel Europe and enjoys all its cuisine, especially anything French. Hart and her husband, Jim, have two musically inclined children, a jazz-singer daughter and cellist son.

George Jacob
Biology

Jacob never thought that moving to Cincinnati in 1984 would result in making a permanent home in the city—and at Xavier. But it has. Jacob is entering his seventh year at the University, where he teaches a wide range of biology classes from Cell Biology to Introduction to the Life Sciences, while at the same time working on his own research on mammary glands. In his spare time, he likes to read, listen to music and attend his daughter’s soccer games with his wife, Lisa.

Lisa Close-Jacob
Biology

When Close-Jacob and her husband, George, married in 1984, it was her need to get a Ph.D. that relocated the couple to Cincinnati. Close-Jacob now has the Ph.D. and is entering her 12th year of teaching at Xavier. Teaching classes from senior research to vertebrae/physiology labs with George, she also finds time to work on her own research on coronary artery flow. She enjoys reading fiction, sewing and spending time with her family and her pets.

The Next Level

Ask and you shall receive. At least that’s what some graduate-level alumni did when they saw the new alumni ALL Card, which was mailed to 29,000 undergraduate alumni last year. Starting Oct. 1, the national alumni association is offering the same card to master’s alumni on an on-demand basis.

“It’s not a credit card,” says Joe Ventura, executive director for the national alumni association. “The functionality, though, is tremendous.”

The alumni ALL Card, which carries benefits on a wide variety of products from auto insurance to gift certificates, now includes discounts on Ticketmaster, and Ventura predicts that off-campus access to library databases and real estate relocation services will soon follow.

“This program is usually offered through other alumni programs for a fee,” Ventura says. “We’re one of the few to offer this for free.”

To obtain your card, which takes four to six weeks to arrive, visit www.xavier.edu/alumnicard.

The Art of Physics

Ray Miller made a career of science, but he created a world of art at home. It’s a world he cherishes, like the many things in it—his rural White Oak homestead where he’s lived for 40 years, his wife, Ruth, whom he married 44 years ago, their family of six children. He studied physics at Xavier and loved it so much, he came back to teach and stayed for 37 years. “In science, you talk about form and symmetry,” he says. “There’s certainly a lot of beauty in physics.”

He ought to know. Miller stumbled onto his other passion that had a lot to do with beauty and nothing to do with a science lab. When Miller was young, he found he had a knack for building things. The first thing he built was a cabinet, measuring height, length, width. He was precise. In the 1970s, when the kids were little, he built a windmill that stood 65 feet tall. They got a little electricity from it, but the point was in the building of something useful. He even installed a hinge at the bottom so it could lie flat.

During his time at Xavier, where he served as department chair three times, Miller honed his woodworking skills. One of his creations is a wooden map of the United States on the floor beneath the Foucault Pendulum in the Lindner Physics Building. Miller used an ancient art form called intarsia, carving 133 pieces of 12 different kinds of wood in triangular shapes and varying shades of blonde, red and brown. By the time he built his new brick house four years ago, he’d gotten really good. He finished it on the inside with elegant chair rails, built-in china cabinets, French doors, a fireplace mantel, book shelves and a home-made kitchen table.

Being a man of science, he was surprised when a few years back his woodworking began to stray from function to style. Miller began carving. A man who appreciates the whimsical side of life, Miller’s first creation was a balding man with his hat in his hand. He gave it to his father on his 80th birthday. Since then, he’s broadened his palette to include suggestive sculpture—smooth limestone carvings hinting at elephant shapes, rich wooden depictions of Madonna and child, intertwined dancing figures.

Now his sculptures are too large for the house. They dominate his precisely manicured lawn and are made of cement, blanched white with marble dust. Sister Mobius stands nearly seven feet tall and weighs 500 pounds, emerging stark white from a flower garden in a shape resembling a pear. From a distance, the nun’s habit emerges—small and round on top, plump below. She’s complemented by Sister Mobius’ Harp, which Miller placed in the middle of the circular driveway. Visitors can’t miss either one.

Though religious, both sculptures also reflect his love of physics, for they are literally Mobius strips, so named for the fact they are single ribbons of material that twist once, like a roller coaster. “You always come back to where you start,” Miller says. “It’s a mathematical entity—a three-dimensional object with a single surface.” Like his nearby creation of a comet with a swooshing tail depicting the origins of life, it may be science, but to Miller, it’s really all about art.

Take Two

“A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People,” the landmark exhibit documenting the late pontiff’s relationship with the Jewish people, drew more than 7,300 visitors in the two months it showed at Xavier, exceeding projected attendance figures by almost 25 percent. The exhibit is now at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, D.C.

Swimming Upstream

Things weren’t going so good for Akshayan Rajasingam. A member of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka, Akshayan, who wanted to swim competitively for his country, needed to find an alternative outlet for his swimming. So he made an important decision. He would train in America.

Easier said than done, but Akshayan was determined. He applied to those NCAA Division I schools that had both a swimming team and physics. Xavier offered him freshman admission and $12,000 in financial aid. His family pooled their money to pay the difference.

Assistant swimming coach Chris Gage told him in August 2004 the team was full, and his times would have to improve. “I was determined to prove to him that all I needed was a chance to prove myself,” Akshayan says.

So he joined a local YMCA team and started training. At first, he took the bus downtown for the daily practice, but it was too costly, so he got a bicycle. Fall became winter, but he kept riding through rain, freezing temperatures, snow and traffic, an hour each way. He often arrived at his dorm with his clothes soaked through.

The effort was worth it. Noting a 3.3 grade point average in his double major of physics and math, and improved times, coach George Rathman let him try out in the spring. He made the team, one of 17 new swimmers this fall.

Shared Interests

Jeff Lyon and Chris Johnson have been friends since the fourth grade. They shared many of the same interests, played many of the same sports and, following the eighth grade, they began working construction jobs every summer. So perhaps it’s not surprising that both ended up at Xavier, chose the same major—entrepreneurial studies—and decided to start their own real estate development firm before they even graduated. Last spring the duo launched Footstool Properties, and before the semester was over, they were rehabbing their first property.

Spending all of their free time at the site put a strain on schoolwork, but they managed. By June, the work was complete, the property sold and they graduated on time. In July, they closed on their next projects—a pair of houses in a redevelopment area in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine district.

Eventually, Johnson says, the company plans to move into new-home development and would like to give back to other young people in the industry. “We don’t want to just make money and leave town,” he says.

Science at High Speed

When Tina Roe looks at cheetahs, she sees science in action. And during the summer, she spent 10 days studying the fast, furry, four-legged marvels of science firsthand, observing the big cats in the wild in the African nation of Namibia. Roe, who received her master’s degree in secondary education from the University in May, teaches life science, environmental science and physical science at Whiteoak High School in rural Highland County, Ohio. And she says the cheetahs fit nicely with all of her subject areas.

“The cheetahs apply to life science because of the predator-prey relationship; they relate to environmental science because of the issues of conservation and community; and they even relate to physical science because of their acceleration and velocity,” she says.

The trip is part of a class called Earth Expeditions, offered by Ohio’s Miami University in partnership with the Cincinnati Zoo. While in Namibia, the 18 members of Roe’s group participated in a project at a research station operated by the Cheetah Conservation Fund, interacted with local schools and visited some of Namibia’s national parks. Participants each wrote a paper before going to Africa, and there’s a group research project that must be completed by December.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Africa, see the habitats and see some of the wildlife before they’re gone,” she says. “And I’m looking forward to incorporating some of that real-life research into my classroom, which will hopefully make things more interesting for my students as well.”