Persistence Personified

Fernando Villalba has always been a determined man—and now he has the documentation to prove it. After an on-again-off-again collegiate career spanning 33 years and three institutions, Villalba walked across the Cintas Center stage in May to accept his bachelor’s degree in management. Three weeks earlier, the University’s department of management and entrepreneurship recognized his dedication by presenting him with the Andrew C. Eustis Persistence Award for extraordinary efforts and persistence in getting a Xavier business degree.

Villalba was born in Bogota, Colombia, but grew up in New Jersey where his collegiate odyssey began in 1972 at William Paterson College. A year later, financial realities dictated a full-time job. After another year at Paterson in 1976, Villalba left education behind until 1986, when he entered the New Jersey Institute of Technology. But by 1988, a promotion involving travel put college by the wayside.

Villalba’s dream refused to die, however. And when Cincinnati Milacron purchased his employer in 1993, Villalba felt sure he would finish his education in the Queen City. So in 2001, he enrolled at the University through the center for adult and part-time students, attending classes on weekends.

Now, with degree in hand, Villalba is looking toward an M.B.A. But he’s also savoring the moment that was so long in coming. “It’s a feeling of joy that cannot really be put into words,” he says. “I cannot describe the magnitude of the impact this has on my life.”

Pearls of Wisdom

In July 2003, we attended orientation and listened attentively to many presentations about the Xavier experience. Welcome to Xavier. It all sounded wonderful, but did they really care about students as individuals and not just as a number, as they said? Would they really provide him with quality opportunities to develop himself further?

As our son, Omari, made his final decision to go to his No. 1 college pick, we began trying to finalize the lifetime of independent living and college preparation we had tried to instill in him before he packed to go to Xavier. We had shared with him what we believed were many “pearls of wisdom” regarding the importance of taking care of his health, managing his finances and, most of all, studying, studying and studying some more.

To all of our “pearls” he exasperatedly answered, “I know, Mom,” and “I know, Dad.” As a matter of fact, he knew everything. We were really concerned.

What we have found is Xavier really does care about the intellectual development of the young men and women they accept for admission, and it provides them with opportunities to make a difference in the Cincinnati community, as well as in our global village. Xavier is really serious about student retention, and if you contact those in the office of student success and retention, they get right back to you.

Xavier is really serious about opening up the world to their students and nurturing their exploration of a diversity of ideas and people. And, finally, we found that as a parent, you really can get involved at Xavier. The people at the University want to know how the Xavier experience is progressing for your student—and you too.

The Parent Council is the place where we have had the opportunity to really learn about the uniqueness of Xavier. We have listened to Father Graham and the University administration share their vision of Xavier. They have listened intently to parental questions and concerns. We have heard from students who have discussed the many programs and experiences they have had at Xavier, and we have traveled the campus. We have been impressed, and we know that you will be too.

As he begins his junior year, we are seeing growth in our son and think he is beginning to understand that maybe we “know” some things. He has made many friends, and established relationships that we are sure will last him a lifetime. Most importantly, he has been intellectually challenged and has had the opportunity to grow. Of course, we already knew that he was a remarkable young man.

We expect that you, too, will find that the “Power of X” is awesome. Welcome to Xavier.

On the Air

Charles Compton believes in public radio. The 1982 graduate, who is news director at Morehead Public Radio in Morehead, Ky., also believes there’s strength in numbers. And over the past eight years, his beliefs have been rewarded.

Most recently, the Public Radio News Directors Association named Compton’s news magazine “Mountain Edition” as the best daily program produced by a small newsroom. Compton’s trip to Washington, D.C., to accept the honor was certainly a high point in his career, but he’s equally proud of the Kentucky Public Radio Network, an organization he helped found after moving to Morehead in 1997. He’s currently the director of the network, which allows public radio stations across Kentucky to share programming and a statehouse bureau.

A self-described “late bloomer” in radio, Compton got his start during his University years and credits longtime WVXU general manager Jim King for providing the foundation for his successes. And despite those successes—or perhaps because of them—Compton feels no temptation to leave public radio for a large commercial counterpart. “Going to work for commercial radio now is like going to work for Wal-Mart,” he says. “You can’t really cover a region from 100 miles away. I see that as taking money out of community and not putting anything back. I see public radio as the last bastion against the Clear Channels of the world.”

In the Wings

Pam Lieberman doesn’t crave the spotlight. Growing up in Little Falls, N.J., the 2002 M.B.A. graduate studied dance and piano, but discovered that while she loved the theater, she was happiest working behind the scenes. A theater internship during her undergraduate days at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania cemented the deal, providing a point of comparison that simply would not go away, even after she landed a job in marketing at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

So when her husband’s job dictated a move to Pittsburgh, Lieberman was fortunate enough to find work as marketing and development manager for the Pittsburgh International Children’s Theater. Two years later, she became the theater’s executive director, working to bring national and international touring troupes to Pittsburgh. Lieberman estimates the theater’s presentations reach 30,000-40,000 people annually. The presentations include a five-production family series with 40-45 performances, as well as an annual festival in the city’s West Park that this year features 42 performances by six traveling theater groups.

The job already has given Lieberman lots to be proud of—her organization is providing Broadway-caliber children’s theater often to children who haven’t previously experienced live theater. And she’s also pleased with the way her business background fits naturally into what she’s doing. “Business skills are definitely needed in the arts,” she says.

Hoops Hysteria

Before the men’s basketball team took the court in the second game of the Atlantic 10 Tournament, 500 alumni and their families gathered at the Montgomery Inn Banquet Center to support the Musketeers. Cincinnati chapter president Ron Henline, University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., and Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken greeted the crowd. Instead of a traditional raffle, attendees found winning tickets under their chairs, redeemable for a Sean Miller-autographed basketball, shirts, hats and other Xavier gear. After the reception, fans walked the short distance from the banquet center to the U.S. Bank Arena, where the tournament took place.

“Every time the team makes it into the A-10 championship, there’s a lot of excitement over the possibility of getting into the NCAA tournament,” says Matt Tripepi, assistant director for alumni chapters. “We like to take advantage of that enthusiasm.”

Gym Work

By the start of classes this fall, the O’Connor Sports Center will have a new look on the inside. The University is clearing out the space on the building’s first floor now used for offices and reconfiguring it into a new, expanded area for recreational sports. The new space will hold weight and cardiovascular machines, replacing the space on the second floor where the machines are now located. The renovation includes purchasing new exercise equipment as well.

Growing in Ghana

Julie and I were married just three weeks before departing for Ghana, West Africa, where we would spend the next two-and-a-half years as Peace Corps volunteers, teaching secondary students in a rural and impoverished school. We joked that we were beginning our real, extended honeymoon, a reference we made many times during the course of our time there. We had attempted to learn as much as we could about Ghana prior to leaving, but information on the country is often outdated and in short supply, so we really had no idea what to expect. But the next 27 months brought more ups and downs than anything I’ve ever before experienced.

We were immediately welcomed into the homes and culture of our village. Everyone wanted to be our friend, some more forcibly than others. In time, we learned to cook local dishes, always over a charcoal pit and open flame. I finally learned how to tie and wear a “cloth,” the traditional fabric robe worn by African men, after many unsuccessful, embarrassing and partially naked attempts. Our hands became calloused from washing our clothes by hand. Our palates adapted and we eventually relished such delicacies as bushrat, grasscutter, antelope, porcupine and cat, every part of which was eaten. We learned to eat fufu, kenkey, omo tuo, banku and akepele, all served with a spicy and oily soup, using only the fork and spoon a Ghanaian will tell you God presented each of us with at birth.

While trying to keep up with the pace of dinner with our local friends, our hands would be scorched by the boiling temperatures of the food as we held back our breath and our tears. Our senses were liquefied by Akpeteshie, the local liquor distilled from the sap of palm nut trees. We would elbow our way onto the overloaded tro-tros, or mini-buses, that were always hazardously speeding to their destinations. We were living as Ghanaians did, and it was deeply gratifying and uplifting to assimilate fully into the beautiful and elegant culture that traditional Ghana presented to us.

The school we were assigned to was rural, impoverished and merely a collection of dingy, half-constructed buildings dropped into the middle of a rain forest. Our students ranged from 13-24 years old and possessed a wild array of intellectual talent and ambition. Oddly enough, in a country with more than 90 indigenous languages, it was their level of English proficiency that predetermined their performance in school.

We toiled to keep up with the Ghanaian education system’s overzealous syllabi, which crammed five years of material into just three often-interrupted ones. The students slowly began to comprehend our accents, and we did the same with theirs. We faced many obstacles, yet over the two years everyone learned, developed and was changed in a unique way never again to occur in any of our lives.

The most rewarding work for me was relating to HIV/AIDS awareness and education. Ghana has an HIV infection rate much lower than most sub-Saharan African countries, but it still is a problem, especially among the adolescents. As teachers, we integrated ourselves into a segment of Ghana’s population that placed us in a prime position to impact the future generation in regards to HIV awareness and prevention. I included scientific understanding of HIV as part of my core science class, as a prelude to the after-school HIV/ AIDS Awareness Club that stimulated many students more than anything else they encountered in school.

Many became so passionate about the efforts we were making they expressed interest in focusing on this type of work after completing school. Our club took an active roll in educating the community, as well as surrounding ones, of the effects that HIV and AIDS can have on their livelihoods and their culture. People, even those we think of as uneducated because they have never attended school, have an innate receptive sensor that tunes in intensely when presented with information that can benefit their families and keep them healthy. People in Ghana listen; the problem is that many times they have no one to listen to.

On countless occasions we would meet Ghanaians who would leap off the ground, hug us, yell something wildly to their accompanying friends and extol us for dedicating ourselves to this service in their country. Through our experiences in Ghana, we grew as individuals, as educators, as a married couple and as members of a world and not merely a nation.

Scott Hoffmann is a member of the Class of 1998.

Northern Exposure

Before moving into Brockman Hall her freshman year, Angela Su Luna had already shared her home with dozens of Xavier students and a few professors. Those participating in the University’s academic service-learning semester program in Luna’s native Nicaragua have made themselves at home in her family’s living room in La Luz, a working-class neighborhood in Managua. During their semester-long stay, students take classes and do volunteer work while living with local families.

“I loved having them there,” says Luna, who was 11 years old when the students first started staying with her family. “Instead of doing homework I thought, ‘Let’s go hang out with the gringos.”

Although her mother, Adilia, usually hosts the program’s director, students often dropped in to visit. “She was one of the reasons they would hang out there,” Luna says. “She was so welcoming.”

Through these visitors, Luna was exposed to the University on a very personal level, so when it came time for college she knew where she wanted to go.

Luna communicated with her mother—who had never been to Xavier, despite years of sheltering its constituents—by phone and returned home at Christmas and during the summer.

In May, however, Adilia Luna finally managed to make a trip to the Queen City. She came for her daughter’s graduation. “She’s my greatest supporter, my biggest fan,” Luna says. “I know she missed me a lot, but she encouraged me to do everything.”

Master Plans

Newcomers to Xavier aren’t always sure when they’re treading on campus property. As the campus has evolved, its boundaries have often become indistinguishable from the surrounding neighborhoods. The University’s looking to fix that, though. And more. This summer the University hired the Boston-based design firm Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott to prepare a master campus plan that brings together old property and new purchases, current structures and future dreams.

“This is historic,” says Richard Hirté, senior vice president for financial administration. “We’re saying we’ll make prudent use of our campus, and as opportunities present themselves, we’ll capitalize on them.”

The plan is needed for a number of reasons. Following the recent purchases of several adjacent properties, the campus is now 146 acres—compared to 80 in 1983. There are more staff, students and buildings, and the academic and technological goals are heightened. All these combine to demand a much different kind of campus.

So planners are assembling three plans, one of which is being presented to the board of trustees in September. Among the possibilities: a grand entrance with a fountain and archways, a hotel and commercial development near Montgomery Road, a new dormitory and more housing for upper-level students, the high-tech academic quadrangle, plus improved signage identifying Xavier and better pedestrian and traffic flow in and through campus.

Grad School Grunts

This year, 100 of the nation’s 4,200 graduating Army ROTC cadets have been awarded educational delays to go to graduate school. Three of them are from Xavier. “To have three of 100 out of 272 schools is pretty good,” says Lt. Col. Timothy Gobin, chairman of the military science department. “It’s unique because there’s very few that actually get selected.”

The group brings to eight the number of Xavier ROTC students who have successfully competed for the waivers in the last three years. Most ROTC cadets graduate as second lieutenants and go right into active or reserve duty. Those who seek a graduate degree postpone the start of their eight-year service commitment but find a wealth of different opportunities available for them when they return.

Patrick Kelleher, for example, is entering Creighton University Law School this fall and, once he graduates, will join the Judge Adjutant General corps as an officer where he’ll experience many facets of law. Lauren Giullito, who’s going to Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Atlanta, knows once she completes her degree, she could be stationed overseas, including in places like Iraq. “Doctors over there I know were armed and working on people as shells were falling,” she says. “It’s possible I could end up there.”