Documenting Discoveries

“Go west, young man.” That hoary bit of wisdom still stands up, especially for Connor Lynch, a New York-based videographer.

In fact, he went about as west as he could, filming the documentary Mount Lawrence, the story of Chandler Wild’s 6,500-mile bicycle ride from New York to Alaska.

Luckily, Lynch liked to ride a bike almost as much as make a film. “I discovered a love of biking in the city,” he says. “Ride to survive.” 

A cross-country tour, however, isn’t quite the same as a dash to Starbucks, especially for Lynch, a 2009 communication arts gradute, who wasn’t your stereotypical cyclist. At the start of the journey, he weighed 300 pounds, used to be a pack-a-day smoker, never slept in a tent and only took up bike riding a year earlier to impress a woman. The beginning of the tour, he admits, was rough. 

“The first 10 minutes of the documentary you can hear me wheezing, but it slowly dissipates over time.” He shed about 20 pounds  despite fueling up on a steady diet of classic American road food. His tip for roadtrip dining: “There’s no such thing as a bad patty melt.”

But this is one Xavier grad always up for a challenge and a fresh opportunity. And like a true documentarian, his  longest journey began as a blog: “This trip will change my body in ways that I can’t imagine. My eyes, my mind, the way that I walk through the world will also change and grow, and that’s going to change the way I point a camera at it.” 

When Lynch and Wild hit the road, it was just the two of them. All the gear, on trailers, hitched to the bikes. Lynch filmed as he pedaled from a digital camera mounted on his handlebars. He blogged and posted updates throughout the five-month trip, and even made another great discovery. While en route in Pennsylvania, he came across a beautiful old drive-in theater. 

“The owner came out and talked to us. He took me the projection booth and showed me these old, beautiful 35mm projectors that have been in use since the 1950s.” 

Thus, in the midst of filming one documentary he found his next documentary, Changeover, the story of an independent drive-in and its final screening on a 35mm film print.

Watch the trailer for Mount Lawrence
Watch Changeover

Lynch sums up his recent experience perfectly in his final Mount Lawrence blog post: “For now my bicycling adventure is done…13 states, 40 popped tires, 400 hours of footage, three pairs of sunglasses and one really strange lower back tan… So with open eyes, and a thankful heart, on to the next adventure.”

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.

The Fabric of Her Life

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In case you missed the October 2013 issue of The Crafts Report—

or are not staying current with the calico dog-eat-dog world of retail craft art—the magazine’s annual cover contest is over and the results are in.

The winner? A nationally known gourd artist.

And while there was no cover for second place, the magazine noted, “A special mention goes to our first runner-up Pamela Mattei for a great showing.” Mattei, a 2004 art graduate, was a gracious runner-up to the champion, whom she says is “pretty much the Picasso of gourds.” But when it comes to her own art, specifically scarves, Mattei means business.

As founder and self-appointed CEO of her one-person company, DyeSigns By Pamela, she promotes herself as possessing an “eye-catching sense of color, big dreams and
unrelenting determination.” And she’s absolutely right. Her lusciously hand-dyed scarves are so eye-catching they’re sold at art galleries as well as boutiques and gift shops.

Fabrics, sewing and textiles have been a part of Mattei’s fiber almost from the beginning. When most girls became boy-crazy, she was sew-crazy, stitching together pillows and aprons. “I was in middle school when I got my first serger [sewing machine] for Christmas.” So by the time she arrived at Xavier, she could sew circles around her class.

“I was told I could take a fiber course all eight semesters and that’s exactly what I did,”
she says.

She even got a head start, taking a fabric dyeing summer workshop before her freshman year. Mattei enhanced her degree with a business minor, seasoned it with graphic and web design classes and voila, an art-repreneur was born.

Last fall she turned her focus on the magazine cover contest where votes for favorite works were registered on Facebook by clicking “like” on that image. Mattei put together such a strong social media campaign in an effort to garner the most votes that “I was threatened with having my account shut down or suspended from Facebook and Twitter on multiple occasions,” she says. “I was doing so much campaigning they thought I was spamming.”

With the magazine cover past, the next step for DyeSigns By Pamela is celebrating its 10th year in business by expanding its product lines and offering products in all 50 states—which now stands at 35 and counting. So if you’re in Eagle River, Alaska, stop in at the Artworks Gallery and pick up a nice scarf.

Better Biology: Beating Cancer

Cancer sucks. So Jennifer Sunderman Broo is doing something about it.

Rather than teaching the same old boring curriculum about cells, the biology teacher at St. Ursula Academy in Cincinnati developed her own curriculum that teaches her students about the cell cycle by studying cancer cells and the havoc they wreak.

“The War of the 21st Century: The Cell Cycle, Cancer and Clinical Trials” is a two-week unit of seven lessons aimed at challenging the way her students think about cancer. “This actually walks students through the history of cancer,” says Broo, who earned an MEd in 2006. “They get a better idea of the cell cycle and how genes actually influence it.”

Broo wrote the curriculum while taking a summer workshop and internship at the University of Florida in 2012, doing research and staring at leukemia cells in a petri dish. She and a fellow intern, another high-school science teacher, co-wrote the curriculum based on their findings.

“We were trying new combinations of drugs to treat leukemia cells, and our task was to design a lesson plan that brought life science into classrooms,” Broo says. “We got carried away and developed seven plans that fit into any bio teacher’s curriculum of the cell cycle.”

Broo and her partner presented the new curriculum at the National Association of Biology Teachers conference in November, and the university posted a free version of it on its website. She incorporated it in her sophomore biology class at St. Ursula, where she started teaching last fall after moving back to Cincinnati.

“Cancer is becoming really common,” she says. “One of the first questions I ask my students is how many know someone with cancer. All raise their hands, and about two-thirds do when I ask how many have had family members with cancer.”

Students learn about clinical trials, even conducting their own research, and can view the websites of ongoing trials. It can be a real surprise for some.

“Students are horrified that some people are not getting helped by these trials,” Broo says. “One of the big shifts in science education is to focus on teaching science through real life examples. This unit emphasizes that science is a collaborative effort of scientists and patients all working together to find a cure for cancer.”

Behind the…Bellarmine Chapel Roof

• Construction of St. Robert Bellarmine Chapel was completed in 1962, replacing the previous chapel, which was located in Schmidt Hall. 

• Its roof is a freestanding hyperbolic paraboloid that is unsupported by its exterior walls.

• Horizontal beams embedded into two buttresses anchored several feet into the ground are the roof’s main support.

• These four steel beams, each 89 feet long, stretch front and back, meeting at the roof’s two apex points.

• A lattice of rebar connects the beams side to side across the roof. The rebar is what gives the roof its smoothly curving shape.

• The curve of the roof continuously changes because it’s a geometric shape created by the intersection of two parabolas—curved planes created from conical cross-sections. 

• Looking at the roof from the side, its curve is convex—dipping then rising from front to back. But from the front, the underside of the roof is concave—rising in a bell curve from one buttress to the other.

• The apex of the roof at the rear of the chapel is higher than the apex over the front entrance.

• The roof, made of reinforced concrete, is only 3.5 inches thick. 

• The length of the roof span from front to back is 153 feet, 3 inches; the height is 47 feet, 7 inches at the highest point—the rear.

Prison Healers: Body and Mind

Susan Harrod’s first day in jail was eye-opening.

She quickly learned, for instance, that she wasn’t the only Xavier graduate there. Enter Thomas Freytag. 

Although Harrod knew Freytag—both grew up in Wapakoneta, Ohio, a town small enough it’s hard not to know everyone else—she didn’t know he was a fellow Musketeer. Harrod graduated in 1991 with a degree in communications and Freytag a biology degree in 1973. Freytag went on to earn a medical degree in 1978, which he now uses as the physician at the Auglaize County Correctional Center. Harrod went on to earn her counseling degree, and since 2005, they have worked as a team to stabilize inmates and reintegrate them into their communities.

“We have to be able to look at the person and not just the crime,” says Harrod. “We were taught at Xavier that every person has value. Four years of philosophy and theology teaches you to think a little deeper and listen a little more carefully.” 

The work is challenging and often unpleasant. Inmates have seemingly insurmountable issues—drug addiction, alcoholism, mental illness, disease. Their criminal activity is the byproduct of unstable lifestyles and abusive and dysfunctional families.

As clinical coordinator for the jail, Harrod counsels the inmates to assess their lives and mental health, learning what events led them to jail and what needs to happen to change the pattern of self-destructive behavior. As the jail physician, Freytag assesses their physical conditions and provides treatment and medications—sparingly—only after reviewing the results of Harrod’s counseling sessions. “I’m getting to where I see no one until they see her first,” Freytag says. “Most jails just throw meds at them, but I can’t do that. I give them as many tools as I can to be successful when they get out.”

It’s a tag-team approach that has helped Auglaize County achieve one of the lowest recidivism rates among county jails in Ohio—14 percent, well below the national average of 43 percent. It’s part of a larger transition program to connect inmates with resources in the community to help them change their lives.

The reward, Harrod says, is sending inmates into the community healthier than when they arrived and never seeing them again.

President’s Perspective: A New Big East Tradition


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When you get right down to it, the basketball season ends well for one team and one team only—the national champion.

And so, of course I was disappointed when ours ended with a First Four game.

It would have been great to see how much further this team could go, and to go down to Orlando (and beyond) with them to find out. Regrettably, it wasn’t to be.  

But after getting my perspective back, a number of things occurred to me:  

• This team was projected to finish seventh in the Big East preseason poll, but finished third, its overall record 21-13.

040615_129• This team played and won the first game Xavier University ever played in the Big East—defeating St. John’s on New Year’s Eve, 70-60. (That game was also the first game played by the new Big East.)

•This team played and won the first Big East Tournament game that Xavier University ever played, defeating Marquette, 68-65.

• This team scored Xavier’s eighth 20-win season in the last nine years and got us back to the Big Dance after a one-year sabbatical.

• And this team beat the University of Cincinnati in December, 64-47, and then, to show that was no fluke, beat Creighton in February, 75-69.

Not a bad list of accomplishments, when you get right down to it.

And there were plenty of other highlights along the way. You each have your favorite, I’m sure. Mine was our victory over Georgetown on Jan. 15. I cut my teeth on Big East basketball when I was at Georgetown during Patrick Ewing’s sophomore and junior years, so I had looked

forward to welcoming Georgetown to Cintas for longer than I can say. After an initial disappointment, we roared back from 17 points down to win big, 80-67. That’s one to remember for a long, long time.

In the Big East Tournament itself, in Madison Square Garden in New York City, the inevitable detractors sniffed and said it wasn’t up to the old standards. (Don’t you believe them, by the way. Our conference RPI is either third or fourth depending upon which version you use.)

But the new standards were pretty impressive, and I’ve been telling everyone I know to circle the dates for next year’s Tournament—March 11-14—because, trust me, you want to be there.

 Along the way, our admissions and alumni offices collaborated on joint events in a variety of cities in conjunction with Big East games—Chicago, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C. A much larger media footprint means we can get the word out about Xavier University to more people—always a good thing.

Forbes magazine put the proverbial cherry on top of the proverbial sundae, announcing recently that we were one of the top 20 most valuable basketball programs in the country—No. 17 to be exact, the only program from the Big East to be so noted and the only basketball-only school in the country as well.

And in May, Justin Martin, Matt Stainbrook and Tim Whelan are on pace to be the 92nd, 93rd and 94th Xavier men’s basketball seniors to graduate in a row—a reminder that, when it comes to graduation success, Xavier men’s basketball is tied for 12th in the nation and is tops in the Big East.

No, not a half-bad season at all.

But speaking of the Big East Tournament, here’s a memory I’ll cherish. The day after the Marquette game, I accompanied 40-plus Xavier students to a food warehouse in the Bronx for a service project. (We’d cut a deal with students who came to the Tournament that we’d help cover their costs if they did a service project. Turns out we were the only Big East school to do so.)

For about three hours, we repackaged more than six and a half tons of cabbage, enough to provide more than 11,000 meals. We had an absolute ball doing it.

What made it even better was that Marquette alums had done the same project recently, but they didn’t even repackage four tons of cabbage. Great, don’t you think, to beat Marquette twice in two days, 68-65 and 6½-4?

I sense the beginning of a new tradition here: not just beating Marquette, but coupling the Big East Tournament with service opportunities. Sounds to me like The Xavier Way.

March is ending as I write these words and April will be upon us fast, the busiest month in the University’s year. The deeper into spring we go, the more end-of-the-year events we’ll have, all fitting ways to say thank you and goodbye to wonderful students and a wonderful year.

I know where I’ll be on the evening of April 29. I’ll be reliving the season as Coach Mack hands out team awards at the season ticket holders’ reception. I hope you’ll be able to be there with me.

God’s best blessings to you and all those you love. And, Let’s Go X!

Losing Weight: Gaining a New Life

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Five years ago, Kourtney Kelly bellied up to Wicked Twister, a roller coaster ride at Cedar Point amusement park not too far from her home in Toledo.

It was a tradition to go with friends and family several times a year, and though she’d been refused from three other rides at the park already that day because of her weight, she believed this one was still okay. She fit into it the last time she was there and had a great ride.

This time was different. She was even heavier, and as she struggled to squeeze all 327 pounds of herself into the confines of the seat, she realized the bar was not going to fit over her. Two attendants tried but were unable to make it click.

“Sorry, maam,” one said. “You’ll have to get off.”

Humiliated, Kelly ambled her way off the ride platform where her friends sat dumbstruck in their cars. She was in tears. “I had to do this walk of shame and everyone is waiting on you ’cuz they’re ready to go,” she says.

Though painful, getting kicked off the ride was just the kick Kelly needed to turn that walk of shame into a march toward health. She’d been considering lap band surgery to correct her weight problem, which was exacerbated by her first jobs after graduating from Xavier in 2003 with a criminal justice degree. As a corrections officer at juvenile detention facilities in Ohio and Indiana, she sat at a desk for up to 16 hours a day and had access to the calorie-rich food provided for the juvenile inmates, which not only kept them fed but intentionally kept them overly full. She ate out of boredom.

Her family had been telling her she needed to lose weight. Her friends worried about her health. Her efforts at dieting had failed. At 327 pounds, she was the heaviest she’d ever been. Her pants were a size 24.

courtney_slim2So Kelly, a high achiever who had earned a full tuition scholarship to Xavier, decided to change her life beginning with the surgery and immediately discovered two things: How to eat and how to kick.

The nutritionist she met with in preparation for the surgery taught her about healthy food. Choose protein, vegetables and fruit. Focus on quality, not quantity. Drop one bad habit at a time.

And a friend introduced her to Turbo Kick, an aerobic exercise routine. That first class was scary. “We go into this class and I’m in the back because I’m heavy, and I don’t know what I’m doing,” she says. “But the atmosphere was so welcoming, just trying the class was so much fun. The instructor comes over and says just keep moving. I loved it.”

She kept up the class and followed her nutritionist’s advice. First went the soda pop. The next month it was white carbs—bread, pasta, rice. Then fried foods and finally sweets.

The pounds began slipping away. By August of 2010, seven months after the Twister incident, she’d lost 60 pounds. Another 20 came off by December. She was on a path she could not reverse.

“I increased going to Turbo three to four times a week,” she says. “My clothes are fitting better. I started walking in the parks. I was cleared for the surgery and I asked my mother did I need it? I wanted to never be fat again, and she said you don’t need it, you just needed a wake-up call.”

Kelly earned a master’s in education and counseling that led to a job in Cincinnati as a case manager for Children’s Services in 2011. She also picked up a side job teaching Turbo Kick at the Duck Creek Y in Cincinnati, where she became one of the Y’s most popular fitness instructors.

kourtney_slimNow starting a new job with Children’s Services in Columbus, Kelly continues working out on her own while searching for another instructor position. She’s lost more than 125 pounds total. People started coming to her for advice, so she posts inspirational messages and tips on her Facebook page, Kourtney 100 Pounds Down Kelly, and reports she no longer gets kicked off amusement park rides.

“I tell new people to stick with it,” she says. She posts before and after pictures so they can see where she started out. She tells them it’s a matter of changing habits until the body doesn’t know any different. “It’s a way of life. I have to eat healthy or I just don’t feel right.”

A Step in Time

Chanessa Fant was a wide-eyed middle-schooler when she first stepped into stepping.

She was enthralled by the unusual form of percussion that uses the body like a drum to create rhythmic beats. Feet, hands, arms, legs, chest—all have a role to play. It was a love she fostered through high school, but when she came to Xavier in 2010, her stepping came to a stop. Xavier didn’t have a step team.

So she decided to start one. She began collecting signatures in her sophomore year, forming bylaws, writing a constitution and seeking approval from the Student Government Association. By October 2011, Fant’s dream became a reality with the creation of the Blue Fire Step Team, and for the past two years the team has slapped, clapped and stomped into a tightknit group. 

“We became a small little family,” Fant says. 

The team now performs in competitions, both on campus and off. This spring it performed in Know Your RHole: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, an art, fashion and step show honoring Earth Day sponsored by Sigma Gamma Rho. 

The team also uses its creative blend to serve others. For instance, it went to the Boy’s and Girls Club in Cincinnati and taught the children how to step before bringing them onto campus and preforming a show together. 

It was Fant’s chance to inspire wide-eyed middle-schoolers—and bring her story full circle.