Manisha Kaura really likes words. “It started in the fourth grade,” she says. “I collected words and made notes about them in little spiral notebooks. In my study room back home in Michigan, there’s now about 700 of them.”
Benton Farms is a 260-acre working farm located about 30 miles south of Xavier in the rolling hills of Kentucky. Each fall the farm grows patches and patches of pumpkins, which it offers to Halloween fans from around the region. Once Halloween is over, though, the remaining pumpkins need to be chopped up so they can be broken down into compost. It’s a messy and laborious chore.
Enter the Xavier Navigators—and their baseball bats. The Christian ministry club, which is part of a larger international organization, typically meets for Bible studies. But in November, the group took a little trip to Benton Farms and spent a good chunk of the day—and several hours into the night—smashing pumpkins. They left covered in pumpkin mush and joyously chocked up the entire experience to team building.
John “Papa” Benton appreciated the help, even though he may have been confused by the enthusiasm of the students to beat and batter pumpkins until they were covered with seeds and slime. If it helps the youth, he says, he’s glad to do whatever he can.
In the fall, the NCAA listed the top Division I athletic programs based on its Graduation Success Rate. Xavier’s 97-percent rate placed it 11th in the nation, with 14 of the University’s 18 teams posting a rate of 100 percent.
Top NCAA GSR Rankings
1) Dartmouth College 100%
2) Brown University 99%
3) Bucknell University 99%
4) University of Notre Dame 99%
5) Colgate University 98%
6) College of Holy Cross
7) Columbia University- Barnard College 98%
8) Duke University 98%
9)Havard University 98%
10) Yale University 98%
11) XavierUniversity 97%
When Tyler Styons and Ian Goddard came to Xavier three years ago, they couldn’t find a club sports team that fit their interests. Hockey? No. Lacrosse? Nah. Rowing? Pass. So they got together and created their own—the Xavier Bass Fishing Club.
And they are doing very well, thank you. They’ve recruited eight others to the team and fish in about a half dozen tournaments a year. In fact, the pair just returned from the National Guard FLW College Fishing Northern Conference Championship on Philpott Lake in Martinsville, Va.—a trip that, well, wasn’t their most successful on many fronts.
Goddard’s 2000 Saturn broke down on a mountain road somewhere in the middle of the 423-mile drive, and he had to sell it for a couple hundred bucks and rent a car just to make it to the tournament. They missed practice and finished last, hooking just three fish in two days.
“Plus we don’t have a lot of experience fishing deep clear lakes,” says Goddard.
It’s hard to practice on campus since the only place with water deep enough to drop a line is the fountain along the Academic Mall, and that’s only two feet deep. So they must head out to local parks to practice. But that’s all part of the fun, he says
Aubree Smith remembers the day her family got the frightening news about her older sister Alex. The sophomore volleyball player at Xavier was suffering extreme pain from a severe back injury, and the family feared the worst—that an old spinal injury had resurfaced and she could be paralyzed.
“I was a senior in high school,” says Aubree. “I was at lunch and I started crying.”
Luckily, the injury turned out to be a herniated disc—painful, but not career-ending. Alex had surgery in October 2010 and spent the rest of the season recuperating. When she was ready to start training again, though, she turned to the one person she knew was good enough to push her and get her back into shape—her sister.
Aubree had already committed to playing volleyball at Xavier. She did that when she was 14. So, shortly after graduating from a suburban St. Louis high school, she was on the road to Xavier with two missions—kickstart her college career and get her older sister back in shape.
It turned out to be a grand reunion. Aubree and Alex have played on the same volleyball team since they were in grade school. They played together on select club teams and on their high school team. So it seemed fitting that they should carry that forward to Xavier.
“They are two of our best players,” says coach Michael Johnson. “With any set of teammates who have played together a long time, they develop an awareness, an unspoken understanding of where the other is on the court. With Aubree being the setter, it helps us that she and Alex have had that chemistry of connecting with each other for a long time.”
It’s not often that coaches get sibling players, and when they do, it isn’t guaranteed to work. Siblings can bring, well, sibling rivalry onto the court, where it can damage team chemistry. But in the case of Aubree and Alex, Johnson learned quickly he had nothing to fear.
That’s because these two sisters are close. Very close. Almost like twins. They’ve shared the same bedroom since birth, gone to the same schools and have the same friends. They finish each other’s sentences. They like the same things. They understand each other deeply, and they respect each other even more.
And it shows on the court. Aubree, a setter, puts the ball in just the right spot for Alex, a hitter, to slam it across the net. It’s like a duet. And it’s intuitive. Aubree is the one who signals how the play will go. It’s unspoken, maybe a head tilt or a shift of the eyes.
“Aubree will set the ball knowing where I will be,” Alex says. “Aubree trusts me to be there.”
That word, “trust,” is the key to their relationship and their play.
“I can see where she is and can see if she’s ready. I’ll set her on a perfect pass to hit the ball,” Aubree says. “I know where the other girls are going to be, too, but it’s unique with Alex.”
Alex and Aubree believe their relationship with each other and ability to talk openly about issues has helped bring the whole team closer together.
Johnson says the team prides itself on being a family, and “Alex and Aubree have a lot of sisters on the team besides each other.”
“I know if she’s in a funk,” Aubree says. “Maybe the team sees how open we are, and it opens the door for them.”
“They see how they can be close with each other,” says Alex. “With volleyball, it’s about team chemistry. If you’re angry with each other, you won’t want to play. But volleyball is such a fun sport, and it’s more fun when you’re playing with each other.”
That’s not to say the sisters don’t ever get mad at each other. In high school they would carry grudges, but in college, they’ve learned to drop it, to not say what they might have said a few years ago. “We won’t be mad at each other on the court,” Alex says.
That commitment to each other helped bring Alex back to form the summer after her surgery. Aubree took a freshman English class that summer and began training early with Alex. Aubree needed to learn the team’s offensive strategy. Alex needed to get back in shape.
“I hadn’t had any reps or hitting, and if I wanted to be a starter again, I had to get better quickly,” Alex says. “I needed her here.”
It worked. By the time the season got started, Alex was ready, and Aubree proved herself more than capable as a starting setter. She earned Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, made the All-Rookie Team and was a seven-time Rookie of the Week—an A-10 record.
Alex was named to the First Team All-Conference and holds the school record for hitting percentage.
With an additional year of eligibility because of her back injury, Alex is looking forward to another season on the team—and another year playing with her sister. It will be their last. Together. But it will be good. Aubree setting it up high so Alex can slam it home.
Shaye Worthman, valedictorian of the Class of 2009 who majored in both psychology and Spanish, is now pursing a master’s degree at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. And she just got some help. This summer Worthman received a Fulbright Full Graduate Degree Grant to study political economy of development at the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla in Puebla, Mexico, during the 2012-2013 academic year.
The summer before her freshman year, Meghan Marth traveled to Gulu, Uganda, to visit a friend. Her name was Atoo Irene. She was 7 years old.
Marth wanted to see how Irene was doing. She wanted to see for herself that Irene had not become one of the country’s “invisible children,” the kind who are scarred inside and out as a result of the brutal civil war activities perpetrated by Joseph Kony, the notorious warlord and head of the guerilla group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
Marth and her family began sponsoring Irene at a special school created for the war’s child survivors, and she wanted to calm her fears about Irene before starting college.
Sitting on Marth’s lap, Irene’s light blue school uniform contrasted brightly against her smooth dark skin. Marth studied her face intently. Irene sat quietly and tentatively but happy to see Marth again. It was the second time in two years Marth made the long journey from the United States to see her.
For Marth, though, the trip provided more than a calming reassurance about Irene. It also solidified her decision to attend Xavier as a Community-Engaged Fellow and the direction she chose for her life.
“The trip affirmed that this is what God wants me to be doing and that my choice of college was the right one because Xavier
would value what I was learning,” says Marth, who’s now a junior.
“The students taught me so much about life and they’re full of wisdom about the way they approach life.”
It all began when Marth was a freshman in high school. Her church showed the “Invisible Children,” a documentary about the Ugandan children who were affected by Kony and his guerrillas. Some were forced to become soldiers or sex slaves. Others were injured during raids on their homes. Still others became orphans when their parents were killed or homeless, like Irene’s family, after their homes were burned by the LRA.
Marth was profoundly impacted by the film and wanted to help. Enter Abitimo Odonkara, a Ugandan woman who years earlier started a school for child victims of the civil war. She named the school the Upper Nile Institute for Appropriate Technology, or UNIFAT. During a trip to the United States, Abitimo met with Marth and other students and suggested they help pay for the children’s schooling.
So the students organized Unified for UNIFAT (U4U) at several area high schools. Marth ran the chapter at her high school, and when she came to Xavier in the fall of 2010 she brought her efforts to campus.
The club’s first event in spring 2011 netted $600, enough to sponsor two children. For $300 a year, a child receives books, school supplies, two uniforms, a pair of shoes and tuition, which includes a meal of rice and beans every day. U4U is now sponsoring eight children.
The club also won recognition as student club of the year last year for its work raising awareness about Uganda and UNIFAT.
In September, Unified for UNIFAT brought the UNIFAT Primary School’s lead mentor, Opiyo Denis, to Cincinnati to make fundraising presentations at local high schools and colleges. The mentors make sure the sponsored children receive the academic and social services paid for by their sponsors.
“I know what the children go through,” Denis told chapter members. “I work hard to make sure their school work improves and help them to forget the past.”
For Marth, Denis’ visit assured her that Irene is making progress and has a good chance of graduating from high school. That alone is an important step forward for a little girl whose life was changed forever by a war she knew nothing about.
Shortly after exams were over in May, three students packed their bags for an eight-week getaway. But this was no vacation.
The students were part of Xavier’s first statehouse internship program at the state capital in Columbus, Ohio, that put them in the heart of the Ohio State Legislature.
Associate professor of political science Mack Mariani says this year’s pilot program was so successful it will be offered again next year. “We wanted to take advantage of the fact we have this big capital two hours from our campus, and we have these alumni there doing great things whom we are able to partner with. It strengthens connections with our alumni in Columbus and allows us to give students skills to take into the job market.”
Xavier has similar internship programs in Cincinnati and Washington, D.C.
The program came about after an alumnus working at the statehouse contacted Mariani and Gene Beaupre, a professor in the Philosophy, Politics and the Public honors program, suggesting they take advantage of the number of alumni in Columbus who could help place students into legislative internships.
“It took us a few weeks to get it going. It was such short notice that only three got to do it,” Beaupre says. “I think next year we’ll have at least eight.”
When Kristi Zuhlke was a marketing and entrepreneurship student at Xavier, she couldn’t wait until graduation to start her own business. So she didn’t.
During her sophomore year, she and two classmates pooled their resources, business knowledge and free time and opened FliX, a video rental store on campus. It was Xavier’s first student-owned and operated business. Two years later, she walked into a job at Procter & Gamble with a belief in herself and some leeway to innovate within the brands she was assigned. After a few years, though, her entrepreneurial spirit grew restless.
“I was starting to really get the itch to start my own business,” she says, “and I knew the timing was right.”
So Zuhlke consulted the notebook of business ideas she began keeping at Xavier and found the one she felt most passionate about: a phone app that helps detect signs of melanoma. It’s a personal passion for Zuhlke, whose husband fought the cancer. “He’ll never be in the clear,” says Zuhlke. She tried to keep track of his moles but quickly realized she could use some help. “I can’t remember where I put my keys let alone if his mole had changed from a month ago,” she says. Zuhlke talked to a programmer at MIT, and together they created Mole Detective, an app that analyzes photographs of moles to detect the symptoms of melanoma.
Users pinpoint the location of their mole on an anatomical diagram. Then they measure and photograph the mole with their phone’s camera. The app analyzes the picture and delivers its verdict. Whatever the conclusion, users are encouraged to schedule regular checkups, and the app lists nearby dermatologists. The app, which sells for $4.99, has received positive reviews from dermatologists, and from Shape and Glamour magazines. But it’s the testimonials of people who have used the app to detect problems early that mean the most to Zuhlke. “That’s been the rewarding part of this,” she says. “I’d really like to continue to develop tools that help people monitor their health.”