Extra Credit: Miriam Finch

Crafting Communication

In the 1950s, a new field of study emerged in the academic world. It was known as industrial communications, and was designed to help businesses communicate internally and externally. That field is now known as organizational communication, and its popularity continues to grow. Miriam Finch, chair of the department of communication arts, talks more about this field.

How is the field used every day?

“Research shows that 80 percent of a business professional’s day is spent communicating with colleagues and/or clients. Organizational communication equips people to become more effective communicators. As organizations become more team-based, and as individuals are called to interact cross-functionally, the need to communicate well is essential.”

Why is this important to employers?

“Top executives consistently indicate that oral and written communication skills are critical success factors, not only in particular positions but in an individual’s ability to get promoted. Potential employers say it’s easier to equip individuals with job-specific skill sets than with communication competencies. Therefore, graduates are finding employment in numerous and varied areas.”

What type of jobs are graduates getting?

“Corporate communications, human resources, marketing communications, management, public administration, consulting, promotions, special events planning. Middle- and upper-level managers recognize the need for people who are trained in communication and understand team-based approaches. I would be hard-pressed to name an occupation whose success is not dependent at least in part on the skills and knowledge learned in organizational communication classes.”

Clothing Web Site Proves to be Good Fit

The jobs listed on Jeff Recker’s résumé can only be described as eclectic—Montana fishing guide, diamond broker, surgical equipment salesman, Hollywood actor. And on April 11 at 5:09 p.m., he added another to the list: women’s plus-size clothing salesman. That’s when he and a partner launched a web site, plussize.com.

After noticing the words “plus size” got several blind hits a day from Internet browsers, the two began researching the subject and reading Women’s Wear Daily. They soon learned that plus-size apparel sales are valued at $30 billion a year. “Once we figured that out,” says Recker, a 1989 graduate, “we asked, ‘How can we make this happen?’ It was a case of opportunity really knocking and us answering the door.”

The site links women to various designers and brands that carry plus-size clothing and accessories. They also have a column by spokesperson/model Christine Alt, industry news and a way for women to interact with advice and comments.

“What we’ve created is so necessary because there hasn’t been a site that women can go to solve the frustrations plus- size consumers experience,” says Recker. “This site will empower them to make better choices and offer them more choices.”

Cincinnati’s History is Radio Active Documentary

What do Doris Day, Eddie Albert and Red Skelton have in common? Their careers started on radio in Cincinnati. “People don’t realize how big Cincinnati was in radio and how many people got their start here,” says Mike Martini, WVXU’s documentary director. “Between 1934 and 1939, WLW had 500,000 watts. It was the only American station ever to broadcast at that much power.”

Martini and colleague Mark Magistrelli captured this influential era in their documentary CD set “Cincinnati Radio: The Early Years (1921-1941),” scheduled for release in September. The CD mixes interviews along with recordings of dramas, comedies and musical programs. Highlights include the first-known recording of Doris Day (on WLW in 1939), an excerpt from the “Fats” Waller program, Eddie Albert singing and excerpts from Red Skelton’s show “Avalon Time.” Media critic Leonard Maltin from “Entertainment Tonight” narrates the CD.

Martini earned degrees in 1987 and 1993. Magistrelli, a 1982 graduate, produced the award-winning CD set, “Cincinnati Radio—The War Years,” in 1991. Assembling this latest collection was a bit more challenging, though, because few recordings still exist. “We’re hoping we can bring some attention to the national role that Cincinnati played in radio,” says Magistrelli. “At the time, Cincinnati was right up there with New York and Chicago. It was the third-largest city in radio in the nation.”

“There was a period when we were a pretty important place,” says Martini. “You had a great deal of national focus coming out of Cincinnati.”

Open Wide

When pediatric dentist David Sullivan gets called to work on the teeth of 12-year-old Sumar, he knows he’s in for a challenge. Whenever the tawny-haired patient sees the doctor and realizes he’s going to have dental work done, he hides in a corner.

“One time he held his breath during the anesthesia,” says Sullivan. “He’s been very creative and he’s got a reputation.”

This may sound like a typical dentist horror story, but Sumar isn’t your average 12-year-old. He’s 7 feet long, weighs 200 pounds and lives in the cat house at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens. He’s a jaguar. “He’s a nightmare,” says Sullivan. “We’ve done root canals on all four of his canines, but one at a time. He likes to play dead and knows all the tricks to wake up early. Luckily, animals wake up really slow.”

Sullivan, who has spent 19 years moonlighting as the zoo’s dentist, never expected to be working on big cats, primates, elephants and other such animals when he became a pediatric dentist. Then again, he never expected to be a dentist. The 1975 graduate originally wanted to be a veterinarian. Those plans were scrapped when, while apprenticing for a vet, he learned he had severe allergies and couldn’t work full time with animals—he can handle zoo animals on a part-time basis only.

His introduction to pediatric dentistry came from a neighbor. “What seemed like the biggest disappointment of my life, not being able to become a vet, turned out to be a blessing, because I love what I do,” he says. “I’m happier being a pediatric dentist than I think I would have been as a vet, but I still get to be a vet on a limited basis. Having the zoo thing come around really completed the circle.”

When Sullivan heads to the zoo, his 13-year-old daughter, Ann Marie, occasionally tags along. She was with him last year when he performed a tooth extraction on a desert cat and gave a periodontal treatment to a gibbon monkey. “My daughter loves the chimps,” he says, “and one of the helpers had a chimpanzee. They usually keep everybody away from them, but Vihm, the chimp, came over and put his arm around Ann Marie. She told me later, ‘Dad, that was the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me.’ ”

Vihm is Sullivan’s favorite patient, and one that he sees fairly often. The chimpanzee was reared by human keepers after being abandoned by his mother. Now, other chimps often knock him away because he tries to hang on their shoulders, like a human, instead of around their waists, like a chimp. “Vihm’s been smacked around by the other chimps, so we’ve treated him a few times for trauma to his teeth,” says Sullivan. “He’s really cool. He’ll let you do an exam on him without any tranquilizers.”

A visit with Vihm last December was followed later that day by a more impromptu piece of dentistry. Sullivan, a member of the men’s basketball pep band as an undergraduate, still enjoys watching the Musketeers play. He was at the Marquette game last season when a stray elbow dislocated guard Maurice McAfee’s jaw. “It was pretty obvious,” says Sullivan, “because when your jaw dislocates, your mouth is stuck open. When I saw him running around, I knew what happened. Sometimes you can pop it back in yourself. I could tell he was trying to but couldn’t get it back in. Then he took himself out of the game.”

Team physician Bob Burger knows Sullivan and summoned him from the stands. Sullivan soon found himself in the training room repositioning McAfee’s jaw. “It only took three to five minutes, then he went back out and finished the half.”

Kids and animals remain Sullivan’s specialty, however, and both can be challenging. “A lot of times kids can’t tell you what’s wrong, and animals rarely can. There’s variability in both and you have to be creative in handling them. You also learn to keep your fingers in certain places and out of certain places—with everybody.”

Sullivan concedes there is one thing kids do better than animals—listen to him. “The animals just won’t brush and floss no matter how much I tell them.”

Center for Entertainment

The opening of the Cintas Center immediately made Xavier one of the area’s hot spots on the concert and lecture tours. Among the many high-profile events at the center this year were:

• Rap singer, community activist, actress and author Sister Souljah, who lectured on “Black History on a Predominantly White Campus” in February.

• Christian author Max Lucado, who closed out his national tour with a storytelling performance in March that was simulcast to 650 churches around the country.

• Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of MTV’s popular “Loveline” show, who spoke in March about alcohol and substance abuse, relationships, the necessity for instinct and integrity in making healthy decisions, and the need for edu-cating young people about issues challenging them today.

• Multifaceted singer Sarah Brightman, who christened the Cintas Center’s concert stage with a performance in March.

• “Saturday Night Live” come-dian Jimmy Fallon, who performed a stand-up routine and wide assortment of celebrity impressions in April.

• Pop groups Blessid Union of Souls and Fastball, who shared the stage in a high-energy concert in April.

Making Tracks

Tom McComas was in his early 30s when he acquired his first toy trains, which he didn’t want. “I lived in a small Chicago apartment,” he says, “so the last thing I needed was an old train.” The 1960 graduate received four boxes of old trains in lieu of payment for a job he did. The trains went directly to the basement and were immediately forgotten about until a year later, when a dinner guest turned out to be a train collector. The guest offered McComas $7,500 for the boxes, which included a Lionel Hiawatha set, an O-gauge Blue Comet, a Hudson with passenger cars, Union Pacific and Flying Yankee streamliner sets, and more.

McComas politely declined. The offer, though, piqued his curiosity, and he set out to find a book on the value of toy trains. He found none. “There was a huge group of people interested in toy trains,” says McComas, “but their whole body of information was disseminated by word-of- mouth. It dawned on me that a book would be a wonderful resource.”

So he contacted a friend, journalist Jim Tuohy, about writing a history and collector’s guide for the most popular trains, 1945-1969 era Lionels. The two sat down, put together the book, then took out a $20,000 loan to publish 10,000 copies. They then set up a table at the national convention of the Train Collector’s Association and quickly sold the several hundred copies they brought with them.

“It was unbelievable,” says McComas. “I stacked the books on a table and it was like selling cold beer in Brooklyn on a hot summer night.”

When he returned home from the convention, another 1,200 orders were in his mailbox. All 10,000 books sold in less than six months. McComas subsequently quit his job as a documentary and advertising film producer, and founded a company with Tuohy, TM Books & Video. Now, 30 years after stumbling into the toy train world, McComas is considered the country’s foremost authority on the subject, with more than 60 videos and 20 books to his credit.

Thanks in part to McComas’ work, toy train collecting picked up steam in the 1980s. Trains that sold for $1,000 in the early ’80s went for $5,000 by the end of the decade. Membership in the national association soared and the hobby began to boast of some celebrity collectors. McComas remembers one phone call in particular.

“I’m calling for Frank Sinatra,” the voice said. “He’s in town and wants some information on a Lionel train he’s buying.”

McComas passed the phone to Tuohy, a huge Sinatra fan. “He asked who it was and I said, ‘Frank Sinatra.’ Tuohy said, ‘Oh, sure,’ and answered the phone. It was Sinatra, and Tuohy almost fell on the floor.”

Other well-known collectors include broadcaster Tom Snyder of CNBC’s “The Tom Snyder Show,” who provided narration for McComas’ video on the 100th anniversary of the Lionel train. In addition, rock star Neil Young is part owner of the Lionel company.

TM followed its book series with many other successes. A hardcover book called The Great Layout featured famous toy train layouts, including a set owned by Sinatra. Part two of the six-part video series based on that book was named one of the top 10 videos of 1989 by People magazine. TM began producing video catalogs for Lionel and started Toy Train Revue, a quarterly collector’s magazine in print, video and online.

Another product, one of TM’s most popular items, was created by accident in McComas’ home. To keep his young son, Jeffrey, occupied while he worked, McComas threw together some train video, jokes and music. His wife, Charyl, suggested that maybe other children would like similar videos, so they produced “I Love Toy Trains.” McComas took it to a trade show in Las Vegas and came home with orders from Blockbuster and Toys R Us. The video’s now expanded into a seven-part series that has sold more than 1 million copies. “When I get angry at Jeffrey, my wife reminds me that he gave me the idea for ‘I Love Toy Trains,’ ” says McComas.

McComas moved the company from Chicago to an 80-acre farm in northern Indiana in 1987. His family lives in a 100-year-old farmhouse and operates TM out of three barns. “We needed space for studios where we could set up train layouts, and that would have been a prohibitive cost in Chicago,” says McComas. “Besides, I like to listen to the Chicago traffic reports as I pass a rabbit or woodchuck on my way to work.”

Inside the barns, TM’s eight-member team produced the first train-collecting book on CD-ROM, and started producing material on DVD. The change in tech- nology has been incredible, says McComas. “When we started, I worked with a typesetter. Now we’re taking orders online.”

The irony isn’t lost on McComas. “We’ve been able to utilize all these changes in our lives to preserve something that isn’t new,” he says. “And it isn’t just toy trains. Some of us had G.I. Joe toys and Schwinn bikes. Nobody should throw anything away. All you have to do is look on eBay to see how valuable collectibles are.”

McComas believes it’s a combination of nostalgia and entertainment that keeps collectors young and old hooked. “The impact of your youth stays with you,” he says. “If you received a train at Christmas, you might identify it with good memories such as play-ing with your father. There’s a natural inclination for people who grew up in the ’50s to recapture their youth and buy toys as they remember them.”

Besides, he adds, trains are also quality toys for today’s kids. “If a die-cast train sat in your basement for 30 years, chances are if you hooked it up again it would still work. What plastic toy today is going to last for 30 years? ‘I Love Toy Trains’ videos are geared toward kids age 2 to 6. Kids make a connection with toy trains. Because of that, I think our stuff will go on long after I’m gone.”

Excuse Me?

When Diana Staab was a student in the early 1990s, she found herself in a position all too familiar to anyone who’s ever taken an exam—she knew the answer to a question, but no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t spit it out. So after a few minutes of brain beating, she got creative.

“The brain cell containing this answer is damaged,” she wrote in frustration in place of an answer. “The information is presently in transit to another location and cannot be accessed at this time.”

“I knew the answer, and I knew I knew the answer,” says Staab, now an academic advisor in the center for adult and part-time students. “But it was as though the information had slipped out of my memory bank. Too many withdrawals and not enough deposits, I suppose. Anyway, the minute my toes touched the sidewalk, the answer popped into my head. All I could do was laugh.”

Apparently, the professor did as well, giving Staab half-credit simply for the creativity of her answer. Typically, students aren’t given as much credit for their creativity as Staab, but they certainly try. When it comes to offering up excuses for missed questions, missed exams or failure to make it to class, students’ creative juices often flow wildly free. It’s an aspect of education that faculty everywhere deal with regularly, including those at Xavier.

Take, for example, the student who told her professor she missed a test because she was—seriously—kidnapped. When the professor asked her how she got free, the student said that she was let go because the kidnappers meant to capture her twin sister.

“Uh-huh,” the professor said. “And just how long will it take you to prepare for the make-up test?”

“Oh, I’m ready now,” she said. “When they kidnapped me, they let me bring my books so I could study.”

Considerate kidnappers. Go figure.

As it turns out, some excuses don’t die, they just get modernized. In the old days, it was the dog who ate the term paper. In today’s computer-dominated world, the excuses are much more high-tech, as one M.B.A. student proved when he told a professor why he didn’t turn in an assignment. “My wife and I are in the middle of a messy divorce,” he said, “and she reformatted the c-drive on my computer and wiped out my paper.”

Or, consider the message a professor received during her first year at the University. A call came from Kinko’s on the morning a 10-page paper was due. The Kinko’s employee had phoned the professor to tell her that one of her students came into the store to print her paper, but had problems with the computer disk. “That was the only time I had Kinko’s provide an excuse for a student,” the professor says.

Car problems are a common excuse. Twice, a professor recalls, he had students call and leave the message that they went out of town and couldn’t get back in time for a test because of weather or car trouble. “I’ll bet you can guess where the calls came from when I checked my caller ID,” he says.

An education professor recalls having two graduate students who were working for initial certification in elementary education call and leave a message that they were in an automobile accident and couldn’t make it to class. They were pretty shaken, they said, and didn’t think they could concentrate in class. Shortly after receiving the message, though, the professor left to run an errand and spotted the two walking up the hill to the main gate of campus. When she saw them the following week, they asked what they needed to do to make up the work they missed. Simply complete the activities, the professor said, and turn them in with a copy of the accident report.

“The accident report,” one of the students exclaimed. “Are you kidding?”

“No,” the professor responded. “The course requirements state missed assignments need a valid excuse. Besides, that shouldn’t be difficult since the drivers always get copies of accident reports.”

Stunned, the students confessed they skipped class because they had a tough exam to study for in the next class. “I had to laugh at that point,” the professor says now, “and tell them I’d seen them and wondered what the real reason was. Then, they really were embarrassed.”

Another education major was given an assignment to attend a school, observe and then teach. “I can’t do it,” he said. “I don’t get up that early.”

Student excuses aren’t always confined to the classrooms. When a hall director asked a student why he continually broke the dorm rules that prohibit drinking, the student compared himself to Jesus Christ. Jesus was a rebel and didn’t follow the rules of the time, the student explained, and he wanted to be more like Jesus. Maybe if he could turn water into wine, the excuse might be valid. Otherwise, it’s just another lesson in student creativity.

Illustraion by David Slonim

Bookmark

Any married couple with children will tell you that once kids come along, life becomes much more complicated. Less time is devoted to nurturing the marriage as more time is devoted to raising the children. However, according to Xavier graduate and marriage counselor Anthony J. Garascia, strong bonds between spouses can withstand all sorts of trials and transitions. To thrive, a marriage requires not only skills, but also “an act of the imagination.”

Garascia is the author of Rekindle the Passion While Raising Your Kids, a book designed to help married couples through periods of transition (the birth of a child, for example), to teach them communication skills, and to help them reflect on the many dimensions of married love. The book’s chapters deal with such themes as the need for intimacy, effective communication for problem solving, and the maintaining and sharing of personal values. Each chapter also provides fictional examples of “real life” problems that may occur in marriage as well as a spiritual reflection on the chapter topic.

Garascia graduated from Xavier in 1975 with a B.A. in education. He went on to earn a master’s degree in counseling, and now practices marriage and family therapy in Granger, Ind. He has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Notre Dame and has written several journal articles.

Racial Strife: Today. Yesterday. Tomorrow?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his 1958 book Stride Toward Freedom, posed a number of questions during the Montgomery boycott that apply to the racial dilemmas facing Cincinnati, where the April killing of an unarmed black fugitive by a white police officer sparked three days of rioting.

“Since the problems here are merely symptomatic of the larger national problem, where do we go from here?” King wrote. “What are these forces that have brought the crisis about? What will be the conclusion? Are we caught in a social and political impasse, or do we have at our disposal the creative resources to achieve the ideals of brotherhood and harmonious living?”

If Cincinnati is to move down the road marked solutions, it must take a hard look at itself. Cincinnati must be less concerned about its image than in developing a viable process to address its problems surrounding race relations. The denial factor so common throughout this city—that there are no major problems here—looms as a critical impediment to achieving positive cross-cultural communication. It is clear that people in Cincinnati march to different beats, one black and one white, often not listening to each other.

School is still out on whether city officials will take appropriate measures to enhance race relations and provide a better climate of inclusiveness and true cultural respect. These concerns remain in the wake of the city’s quick decision to fund a crusade to restore Cincinnati’s great image, which was illusionary in the first place. More pressing is the fact that time is moving forward, the players haven’t changed and problems continue to fester, all while melancholy wails reverberate throughout the city proclaiming that the status quo can no longer prevail. The future health of the entire city will be substantially influenced by the actions taken, or not taken, in the next few months. The widespread success of whatever initiatives are established depends on the active involvement of everyone in Cincinnati.

Realizing our role as citizens of this city, I am pleased to say that Xavier is engaging in a proactive process of introspection around issues of race. The first step in this process was a call to action issued to the entire campus community. Shortly after the city’s civil unrest unfolded in April, a committee was assembled to plan a campuswide forum. The event took place with the full support of our president, Michael J. Graham, S.J., who wanted to address and listen to the concerns of the campus community.

With invitations sent out only 24 hours before the event, committee members nervously wondered aloud how many people would choose to attend. We tried to downplay attendance expectations to ease any possible disappointment. As it turned out, attendance exceeded our greatest expectations. An overflow crowd of more than 250 administrators, students, staff and faculty attended what proved to be an absolutely insightful and cathartic event. Countless people of varying hues stood and shared their thoughts, experiences and concerns about race relations. I believe those in attendance would agree that the dialogue was positive and well-received.

To advance the process begun that night, a committee was chartered by Father Graham and charged with the task of designing a plan to further address issues of race. This committee continues to meet regularly. In addition, several focused initiatives have been established. A campus multicultural committee comprising students, faculty and administrators now exists. The office of multicultural affairs is sponsoring a variety of new diversity awareness programs. We are also in the process of developing additional strategies to expand diversity on campus. These efforts include plans to increase the number of minorities at Xavier, students and faculty.

No single strategy can be regarded as a panacea for exposing the campus community to the increasing impact of race in our world. Therefore, it becomes incumbent upon all of us to continuously engage in the creation of strategies to eradicate social inequality. On campus and, most notably, in Greater Cincinnati, too many people just don’t stand up—they simply watch and say nothing. This must change. In an effort to help, our new committees will attempt to provide activities that shape and hone the tools necessary to empower those people eager to address the race question. Whatever solutions are generated must challenge all at Xavier to find their actual level of commitment to social responsibility, and to assume it.

Xavier must also join others in the city of Cincinnati to work to bridge the gap between the white power structure and the African-American community. As an institution that passionately purports to be enlightened about issues of justice, we cannot allow our voices to be muffled or silenced by those visible or invisible, who would rather we remain aloof in our ivy-adorned academic towers. We can and will continue to espouse within our community a culture of service rooted in the ideals of social service and educational equity. And we must continue our dedication to facilitating opportunities in which every member of our community can reach their full potential as learners as well as socially astute and active people.

Boehner Lands in School Chair

Now in his sixth term representing the 8th District of Ohio in the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner has had many opportun-ities to promote his views on improving public schools, creating jobs and overhauling the tax system. But his biggest opportunity might come this year. On Jan. 4, Boehner, a 1977 graduate, was selected by fellow Republicans to chair the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. His primary responsibility: lead President Bush’s attempts to reform education, the administration’s top priority. The committee oversees all education- related issues and plays a pivotal role in the effort to implement the president’s education reform plan, No Child Left Behind.

“The president’s plan will empower parents by asking states and public schools that use federal education dollars to be more accountable for results,” says Boehner. “Washington has spent $130 billion over the last three decades in a well-intentioned but unsuccessful attempt to meet the needs of our students. In spite of these efforts, nearly 70 percent of inner-city and rural fourth-graders cannot read at a basic level. Low-income students lag behind their counterparts by an average of 20 percentile points on national assessment tests. The hard lesson of the past is that money alone cannot be the vehicle for change in our schools. If our goal truly is to leave no child behind, there must be accountability for results.” To be enacted, the president’s plan will need bipartisan support in Congress, which won’t be easy to gain. Still, Boehner is confident. “My experiences at Moeller High School and Xavier broadened my interests and exposed me to new ideas and taught me the importance of being disciplined,” he says. “You’ve got to be focused and disciplined if you want to achieve your goals.”