Veteran Students

t turns out the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are having an impact on Xavier. As of last fall, nearly 75 students attending Xavier came here with help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. These VA benefits are offered in honor of military service to help students pursue a college education. Benefits are offered to students based on their involvement with the military; some are direct relatives of military personnel while some served themselves. Those who were injured during service receive the highest benefits—the VA pays for tuition, books, parking and any other expenses directly related to their education. Learn more at www.xavier.edu/veterans.

Teaching English Teachers

The School of Education is offering courses for those who want to teach English language learners. Through a Wheeler Award, which grants funds to faculty in support of developing new courses, faculty member Mary Lisa Vertuca offers these courses to those studying Montessori, early and middle childhood education at undergraduate or graduate levels.

“Our ultimate goal,” says Vertuca, “is to have our students take one of these courses as a program requirement. These courses offer future teachers a great opportunity to teach ELL students in the United States or in international schools. It’s an exciting new direction for the School of Education, and I’m glad to be part of it.”

Politics and Public Life

Professor of business law and economics Jamal Rashed is taking Xavier’s business studies global, being named director for the newly created Center for International Business. “Only by understanding the variations among the world’s peoples—their traditions, values and aspirations—can students perceive the common humanity that unites all societies,” says Rashed. “Indeed, the United States itself is increasingly populated with people from other countries. Such individuals are enriching our culture and changing the very fabric of our society in ways Xavier students need to better understand.”

Once Upon a Time

For one Medieval and Renaissance French Literature class, story time will never be the same. Their recently published class project turns literary masterpieces into children’s stories, complete with illustrations, to make such classics accessible to those with no more than one year of French. 


Under the title “Contes du Moyen Age” (Tales of the Middle Ages), the book now lives online through the McDonald Library for all to enjoy. The collection comes from a class in 2008 where professor Jo Ann M. Recker, S.N.D. de N., recognized the value of resurrecting and preserving classic tales for future generations.

“Because Medieval stories can seem so remote—and in that sense inaccessible—I wanted to make these works more immediate for students,” says Recker. “That’s when I thought, ‘How would one read these stories to children, in simple language?’ The students discovered new ways to express otherwise complex phrases or unfamiliar words while remaining faithful to the original work.”

This is the first time such a project has been done for this class, but more volumes may follow. “It just depends on what inspiration strikes me,” says Recker. “With this collection, we just wanted to help these stories come alive and make sure that they can be enjoyed for years to come.”

Joint Studies

Through a new partnership, Xavier and Hebrew Union College are making history by creating a Jewish and Interfaith Studies Program to be offered to students at both institutions. This is the first of its kind between a Jesuit, Catholic university and a reform Jewish rabbinic seminary. As part of the program, Xavier is creating the largest and most comprehensive undergraduate Jewish Studies program in any Catholic institution of higher learning in the world. Xavier students will have full access to the unparalleled academic resources of HUC’s Klau Library and American Jewish Archives. When completed, the venture positions Cincinnati as one of the most prestigious and competitive centers of Jewish and interfaith studies in the country.

Heart and Mind

The University is making sure its heart and head are well connected. The Division of Mission and Identity hired professor of theology Gillian Ahlgren as its director for faculty programming, a three-year assignment designed to create programming to help faculty integrate the University’s Ignatian principles into their thinking and teaching. A number of programs have been installed to date, including a one-year program for mid-level faculty called “Time to Think.” The program uses funds from a Lilly Fellow Program grant to provide a stipend to faculty who have been at Xavier at least five years, allowing them to pause in their pursuit of tenure, review their professional dossier and think about what they might need from an Ignatian context to improve their work. Other programs instituted include:

  • Creating a spiritual companionship program in which the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are shared daily.
  • Developing a series of DVDs focusing on Ignatian concepts for use in internal programs.
  • Creating a two-year training program for faculty and staff that teaches them how to be companions and give the Spiritual Exercises.

Classroom Debate

Conventional wisdom and Rush Limbaugh have it that college professors are politically liberal. If so, that begs the question: How much influence do those leftist-leaning faculty members have over their vulnerable, easily influenced students? When it comes to influencing political ideology, apparently very little. At least that’s the findings of assistant professor of political science Mack Mariani.


Mariani looked at the notion that professors influence their students politically and decided it was, what he calls, “a testable proposition.” So he joined forces with Gordon Hewitt, an assistant dean of the faculty for institutional research at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., and the duo analyzed surveys of 6,807 students at 38 colleges. Their conclusion: “There is no evidence that faculty ideology at an institutional level has an impact on student political ideology.”

But wait. Does that let liberal professors off the hook? “It doesn’t,” says Mariani. “They could be trying to indoctrinate students, but just might not be very good at it.”

That is something to be calculated at another time with another survey. Mariani’s study is too narrow to determine that. “We didn’t look at what goes on in the classroom,” he says. “We looked merely at the effects.”

The research was published in PS: Political Science and Politics, the journal of the American Political Science Association. It resulted in four main findings:

“First, it is very clear that faculty members tend to be liberal and are much more liberal than the general population,” Mariani says.

“Second, there is evidence that there is a degree of self-selection going on among students when they choose a college. Students tend to enroll at institutions that have a faculty orientation make-up more similar to their own.

“Third, students whose ideology changes while in college tend to change to the left, but that movement is within the normal range of 18- to 24-year-olds in the general population.

“Fourth, and most important, there is no evidence that faculty ideology at an institutional level has an impact on student political ideology. Student political orientation doesn’t change for a majority of students while in college, and for those that do change, there is evidence that other factors have an effect on that change, such as gender and socioeconomic status.

“Based on the data in this study, college students appear to be more firm in their political beliefs than conventional wisdom suggests. Though their political ideology isn’t set in stone, it doesn’t appear to change as a result of faculty ideology, at least at an institutional level.”

The data used in the research includes surveys of students when they entered college and when they left college.

“That data seemed to be a very useful tool to see if students moved farther to the left during college and whether that movement was associated with the liberalism of their faculty,” says Mariani. “We found that students don’t change much. To the degree they do change, it seems to have to do with gender, family wealth and peers.”

Mariani says that women tend to move farther to the left during college than men. Family income also plays a role.

“Wealthy students tend to move more to the right than to the left and non-wealthy students tend to move more to the left,” Mariani says. “Both of those findings parallel what we know about general political party and ideological inclinations. Women tend to be more liberal and more Democratic than men. Wealthy people tend to be more conservative and Republican than non-wealthy people.

“We also found that peers are very important. We see evidence that people sort themselves out. More conservative students are drawn to more conservative colleges, and more liberal students are drawn to more liberal colleges, in terms of faculty ideology.”

Will this research end the controversy about liberal professors indoctrinating students? Far from it, says Mariani. “One of the frustrating things about writing in this area is that people tend to see what they want to see,” he says. “So, a lot of folks on the right have conveniently dismissed this study as protecting the far left faculty. And the folks on the far left have seized on this as, ‘Ha! There’s no problem whatsoever as far as ideological disposition of the faculty.’ ”

Mariani, noting that he and Hewitt have differing political viewpoints, says he believes their finding that students “are not simply adopting the liberal views of their professors” is a fair conclusion. “Gordon is a Democrat and I’m a conservative,” Mariani says. “We wanted to set aside our predispositions, and we wanted this to be a fair test of the data.”

Choice We Make

Kristie Jetter hears the ping of another e-mail landing in her inbox. She freezes. It’s from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine announcing whether she’s been accepted or rejected for admission to the medical school. 


The senior in Xavier’s pre-med program knows she can’t be alone when she checks. At this critical point in her life, she needs all the support she can get. So she waits until everyone is home to gather her new-found family around her at the computer. Her husband, Paul, and his two young sons stand at her side as she checks. And there, in plain type, she reads the words she’s been waiting a lifetime to hear: “Accepted.”

Her future is set. Her past is overcome. The healing has begun.

For Kristie, her 22 years on Earth have been more than a lifetime for many people. She was barely 6 years old when her parents divorced. It was a difficult split for her mother, who hid her and her sister in a series of hotel rooms. One of Kristie’s earliest memories remains peeking out of a hotel room window, fearful her dad would take them away. He never did, but their childhood in Florida was anything but normal. Her parents were religious, but there was violence in the home, and it was sometimes aimed at the girls. Kristie took on the role of compassionate caregiver, helping her sister and particularly her mother, who slipped into a deep depression.

“When Mom started to fall apart after the divorce, I was the one who said, ‘Mom, I love you. Please don’t kill yourself.’ ”

By the time Kristie was 12 years old and living in Erlanger, Ky., the situation was out of control. Adults she didn’t know visited their apartment, her mother had violent outbursts and money was scarce. Kristie felt threatened. She was a good student but had no friends at school. The only place she felt safe was at the apartment of a neighbor. She began spending more and more time there—after school, on weekends and eventually overnight. When the couple offered the girls a home, Kristie knew she had to get out. So at age 13, she moved in with them and for the first time in her life felt safe and free. “I didn’t have a bed for three years,” she says, “but I was so much happier, I was glowing.”

Finally Kristie had time to focus on her education, the one part of her life where she excelled. Unhappy in traditional schools, she enrolled in an online high school and graduated four years later with a 4.0 GPA. Despite their family turmoil, her mother always encouraged Kristie in school. So Kristie began thinking about college and realized she wanted to be a doctor. After all, she says, doctors heal people.

“It’s sad to watch a family fall apart because of disease and sickness,” she says. “I want to be able to make people whole again because sometimes the problems that make people sad are things we can fix. If I can do that, it’s worth all the schooling in the world.”

As she prepared to enter Xavier on a full scholarship, she began a relationship with Paul Jetter, and by the time she started her freshman year, they were engaged, living in a suburban house and caring for his two boys.

Overwhelmed by her new lifestyle, unsure of her capabilities and intimidated by the coursework, she dropped by the office of pre-professional health advisor Kara Rettig-Pfingstag, who remembers the diminutive figure peeking around her door one afternoon.

“Kristie just kind of wandered in and we talked about what it would take for her to major in medicine,” Rettig-Pfingstag says. “She seemed up to the task and had a positive personality. She radiated this energy. I remember thinking after she left, yeah, she’s gonna do it.”

By her sophomore year, her life was settling down and her confidence was up. They found her a job as a lab worker and rearranged her classes so she could shadow a surgeon. She landed an internship with a heart surgeon and a full-time job at a clinical research company—all while maintaining a 3.8 GPA.

While she shares what she can with her mother, she’s focused on graduating in May and starting medical school. Her experience shadowing the heart surgeon has her thinking about neonatal heart surgery and saving babies’ lives.

“I want to be able to bring them back when something goes wrong,” she says. “It’s not just a heart fixed. It’s a life lived.”

Waiting in the Wings

Somewhere between Central Park and Times Square, a new world is about to unfold. As young audience members from Camp Broadway watch the curtain rise, they get ready to see more than just a show. They prepare to watch months of hard work and dedication come together in one remarkable evening. And, thanks to Robert Agis, they dream of the day when they take to the stage themselves.


At Camp Broadway, a summer program for aspiring actors, Agis serves as a musical director who helps 6- to-18-year-old kids learn about the musical side of professional theater. The 2001 graduate plays the role of accompanist, composer and mentor to these young thespians, as he gives them a taste of life on the Broadway stage. In return, his students give him inspiration and an energy that fuels his work.

“There’s something exciting, alive and present about working with these kids,” says Agis. “Teaching requires you to be very present, and each workshop brings its own level of intensity and emotion. That intensity inspires me as a performer, and their passion for the craft helps refresh my perspective as an artist.”

Agis discovered Camp Broadway while working on another Broadway production, where his rehearsal space neighbored several others. He happened to walk down the hall and saw a seemingly unlimited energy and youthful enthusiasm coming from the Camp Broadway room. He couldn’t resist joining in, and he’s been swept up in it ever since.

“You never know what to expect until you get the kids together,” says Agis. “It’s exciting to see kids with their own style and skill level, and evaluate and support them as they cultivate a career of their own.”