The Office: Niamh O’Leary

Assistant professor of English Niamh (pronounced Niev) O’Leary loves everything Shakespeare. She teaches it, researches it, reads it, studies it, writes about it. And she collects it. A trip to her office uncovers a variety of Shakespeare stuff, such as:

• Skull from the Tower of London gift shop. Hamlet held the skull of Yorick, the court jester he knew as a boy, and philosophized about mortality and living a moral life.

• Bloody Mug from the Globe Theatre gift shop in London. The quote on the mug, “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” is from Macbeth.

• Shakespeare figurines—an action figure, a bobblehead and Steampunk Willie, a limited edition figurine made for Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s steampunk-style production of Titus Andronicus.

• Map of Shakespeare’s Britain from 1611 published in National Geographic in 1965 includes names of plays printed over the locations where they took place—Henry VI at Yorke, Macbeth at Byrname Wood, Richard III at Bosworth Field.

• Empty wine bottle with “Exit, Pursued by a Bear” on the label. The words refer to the scene in A Winter’s Tale where a bear kills Antigonus. O’Leary performed the scene for actor Kyle MacLachlan, who owns the winery, before realizing he only wanted her to look at his framed Shakespeare picture. So she felt obliged to buy the wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon, which he signed and she drank.

• Poster of Shakespeare quotes with words he coined that are still in use today, like “arch-villain,” “cold-blooded” and “eyeball.”

• ABCs of Shakespeare poster where F stands for “Falstaff.”

• Necklace of a G clef inscribed with the first lines from Twelfth Night: “If music be the food of love, play on.”

• Light switch cover with drawing of Shakespeare on it.

Recycling and Toxic Waste: Perfect Chemistry

At first glance, it looks like a moonshine still. There’s a big container with a long pipe sticking out the top and a tube jutting out the side and into a bottle. When the liquid inside is heated, the vapors boil up the pipe until, reaching the right temperature, liquid begins to drip from the tube into the bottle.

In reality, this still is much larger than one that makes moonshine, and the liquid pouring off is a bit more toxic than white lightning. Just ask Susan Setty. She’s the one who designed the system to recycle the solvents used by her employer, LyondellBasell Industries, a petrochemical company in Cincinnati where she worked as a chemist.

Setty has been a lot of things in her career since graduating from Xavier in 1974 and 1975 with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history. She was first a teacher and then a mom, and then she became a chemist to help pay for her children’s Catholic school tuition.

When her temp job in a Procter and Gamble laboratory testing beauty products exposed her to chemical analysis, she went back to school to study chemistry and learned how to do gas chromatography. That led to a job with LyondellBasell, where she learned how to do TREF—temperature rising elution fractionation—a complex process that uses temperature to break down polymers into their individual components.

“My boss would bring me a piece of plastic and tell me to find out what it’s made of,” she says. She would dunk it into benzine solvent and heat it until it separated into its basic components—crystalline, semi-crystalline and rubber. The tests use up to 30,000 milliliters of benzene per week, creating a lot of waste that costs more to dispose of than to buy new.

So she designed a customized recycling system for her lab and found a company in New Jersey to build it. The solvent is heated until the chemicals burn off one at a time, coming off at different temperatures. All are captured in individual containers before reusing. The system was a win-win for the company because it assures a continuous supply of purified solvent for testing and reduces the amount of waste solvent. The company recouped the $100,000 cost of the recycling system in the first year alone and sends less waste to the landfill. That’s a win worthy of a champagne toast.

Cigar Czar

They say where there’s smoke there’s fire. But for Kevin McKenna, it means more than that. For him, where there’s smoke, there’s business.

The 2005 communications grad manages the cigar humidor at The Party Source in Bellevue, Ky., so he knows a good smoke when he sees one—enough so that he went out and created one to his own taste.

McKenna traveled to Nicaragua, a country known for its tobacco exports, to learn about the manufacturing process. There, he watched tobacco farmers grow, harvest, ferment and roll premium tobacco into cigars. He was impressed by their intricate knowledge of the plant, which to him seemed like something that couldn’t be taught.

“How do you know when the tobacco finishes fermenting?” he asked one of the Nicaraguan farmers, who had spent his entire life working and living on tobacco fields. “You just know,” the farmer said.

McKenna selected the tobacco to make his own corona blend, which he named La Abeja, Spanish for “the bee.”

“Bees, in folklore, are a symbol of sacred knowledge,” he says. “That farmer knows exactly when to stop fermentation stage, which is the most important step in preparing tobacco. If you stop the process too late or too soon, the whole batch is ruined. It’s just something that he knows from years and years of experience. That’s what makes it good.”


[divider] How to smoke a cigar [/divider]

Kevin McKenna’s advice on the best way to smoke a cigar:
1.)  Choose the right one.
2.)  Stake out a spot. “Don’t worry about the [deleted] who give you dirty looks.”
3.)  Clip the end of the cigar.
4.)  Make sure everything’s in good shape. “I like to draw an unlit cigar just to make sure that air is getting through it.”
5.)  Sip on something.
6.)  Lighting matters. “Some people like to use harsh lighters on their cigars; it gives you a hotter, harsher first hit. I like to use a soft lighter on mine.”

Food for Thought: A Philosophy of Good Eating

Jason Perkins wheels his office into a parking spot just outside the Pendleton Art Center in Cincinnati’s Over-The-Rhine neighborhood. The office is hard to miss—a bulky 1991 Grumman/Chevy P-30 step van that began its life as a bookmobile in Madison County, Ky.

“When I got it, the little check-out kiosk was still there,” he says, “but the shelves had been removed. It took me about four months to buy all the equipment and have it converted.”

All meals can be accompanied by a drink, side item and a lively discussion of Aristotle—if you’re so inclined. Perkins graduated, with honors, in 2000, with a degree in philosophy which still serves him well when he dons an apron and fires up the grill.

“I was a big fan of the German Idealists and my favorite class was metaphysics,” he says.

His shrimp and bacon sandwich isn’t bad, either.

The eclectic exterior design is based on Perkin’s own drawings including his abstract logo which tends to provoke a lot of personal projections as to what it actually is. “It’s part of a pen and ink drawing I had done. The original piece was 11 by 13 and that was a small section of it I just really liked. So when I put the truck on the road I thought that would make a nice emblem.”

As far as EAT?

“I came up with Eat because I wanted something very simple and that everyone could relate to.” And it’s served up in five different languages on the side: Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Hindi and Spanish, which along with English, are the five most widely spoken languages in the world.

Perkins is its owner/driver/head chef/philosopher. While the city grows its numbers of food trucks, EAT! isn’t your typical burgermobile. Sure, there’s a Philly steak sandwich to satisfy the true carnivores in the crowd and a Portobello sandwich for fungus fanatics. But Perkins focuses on Eastern-style cuisine. Among his regular lineup—thin rice noodles with carrot threads, onion, Napa cabbage and black sesame seeds. Or a not-your-mom’s grilled cheese filled with Indian paneer and served with spicy onion chutney.

“I like to come up with different flavor and ingredient combinations,” he says. “I tried to make a reasonably diverse menu but it could all still be prepared in the truck.  “Pendleton’s usually a pretty good evening. We get a nice mix of artists and guests, and even occasionally people from the neighborhood will come in.”

Now he can be found most days hitting the street in search of hungry people. “The other day I was at the Christ Hospital facility in Clifton.” It’s a lot like fishing—being in the right place at the right time. And the results can be surprising, even to this two-year veteran of the food-on-wheels wars. “You’d think Christ Hospital, and a school of ravenous nurses come to mind, but no. “It was mostly accountants and I.T. folks.”

So how does a philosopher eventually become rolling chef? First attend the Midwest Culinary Institute with the best of academic intentions. “My initiial plan was to go to culinary school, get a culinary degree because I was looking to go the graduate school philosophy in San Francisco or New York. So I’d work my way through grad school working in restaurants.”

But that’s when his carefully considered philosophical plans took an unexpected turn. Then shortly before I graduated, I got an internship at Givaudan (an international flavor and fragrance producer) and found out I really liked the flavor industries. But don’t call Perkins a former flavorist.

“I was a food scientist. The flavorist created the flavors then I work to incorporate it into different foods. For seven years I worked for Cargill (or as Perkins calls it “Corporate America”) as a food scientist then I decided to strike out on my own and see what I can do.” Thus, EAT was born.

During the summer, 70 to 80 hour work weeks aren’t unheard of.  While the winter months account for only about 25% of total sales. “But if there’s a real winter, like long and cold, it’s slower than that.”

While the idea of heading south for the winter and doling out grilled paneer sandwiches on Panama Beach may seem appealing, as a family man with three children, domestic duties call. His wife, Samantha Gerwe-Perkins, also a Xavier grad, teaches journalism at Walnut Hills High School, which frees up her summer and makes his off-season busy at home.

“Maybe I’ll head for the beaches when the kid’s are older, but at this point, I’m primary care provider.” And, of course, head household chef.



Leading the Way: Merging Health Care

Susan Gilster’s high school counselor meant well when he told her, “You can be three things—a teacher, a nurse or a secretary.” It was typical advice in the early 1970s for a young woman in a small, Midwestern town trying to find her way in the world.

“I really wanted to study mathematics, but I believed him for some reason,” Gilster says. “And nursing was the area I had the most interest in.”

So she pursued it. But white shoes and a nursing pin just weren’t enough. After working at the Cleveland Clinic, Institute de Clinica in Venezuela and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, she enrolled at Xavier to earn her bachelor’s degree in general studies. What she got, though, was knowledge that transcended a single job title.

“I got a wider introduction into ethics, management and leadership,” she says.

Call it determination or a friendly jab at her high school counselor, Gilster went on to earn her PhD, focusing her dissertation on creating a leadership model for health care. With that, she set off on a professional path that has been self-exploratory and trailblazing.

In 1986, she co-founded and served as executive director of the Alois Alzheimer Center in Cincinnati, the first specialized facility dedicated to the care, treatment and study of Alzheimer’s disease in the United States.

“When we started the center, we’d go and talk to people and they didn’t even know what the disease process was,” she says. “Everybody thought it was just people getting old. The change between how it’s treated then and now is just phenomenal.”

Most recently, she founded The Gilster Group, a multidisciplinary collaboration of experts in memory loss and dementia providing education, training and consulting to health care providers. Now she’s the one being sought out for advice.

Some lead by example, others shift paradigms. So if the notion of health care and leadership seem contradictory, Gilster suggests redefining one’s definition of what a leader really is. “I was intrigued with leadership styles, primarily servant leadership. I believe that health care and nursing, plus a lot of who I am and what I’ve done, is about serving other people.”

She also believes that a true leader sometimes follows—and that includes following their heart. “Being a true leader is really about serving everyone.”

Taking on the World: Duathlon Dude

Buzzbuzzbuzz. Bruce Miller’s alarm sounds. His hand fumbles around until he finds it and shuts it off. It’s 4:30 a.m. At a time when most people simply roll over, Miller rolls out of bed and begins gathering his gear.

It’s Monday, which means he’s on the bike. He pulls on his skin-tight gear, shoes and helmet, and meets up with his cycling buddies for a ride through the suburban streets for an hour and a half.

miller But this isn’t just some casual exercise. Miller is in training. The 1989 MBA graduate is the director of the Xavier Leadership Center by day but an athlete by middle-of-the-night. Miller is a “duathlete,” a lesser-known cousin to the better-publicized triathlete. A duathlete runs for 3.1 miles, rides 12.4 miles, then runs another 3.1 miles. It’s fast and intense. And Miller does it well. How well? World-class well.

In April, he qualified for the Duathlon World Championships by finishing sixth in his 50-54-year age group, which put him on Team USA. This year the World Championships was in Ottawa, Canada, in August. Miller’s goal was to finish in the top 10 among Team USA’s 18 members. Which he did, finishing in 1:05:00, 10th for Team USA and 17th overall.

He was happy with his performance, but he isn’t turning off his alarm just yet. He still plans to train—cycling on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, running on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday—at the same predawn hour. It not only allows him to be at his desk by 8:30 a.m., it also fits his personality, which he says is marked by a desire to achieve. “I have to achieve something every day,” he says. “My endurance training helps.”

A Year of Faith

It’s been a busy year for Xavier on the faith front.

In response to Pope Benedict XVI’s declaration of the Year of Faith—called to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council—the University spent the last 12 months creating a series of lectures exploring how the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola apply to Catholic life today.

Led by the Center for Mission and Identity, the series “Education of Desire: The Gifts of Ignatian Spirituality,” included six lectures that examined the intersection of contemporary issues with the Spiritual Exercises, particularly as they shed light on modern moral issues.

“The people within this community came together to think about the Ignatian tradition within the Catholic Church,” says James Riordan, a former Jesuit who is now a major gifts officer and who chaired Xavier’s Year of Faith committee. “No one was excluded from this conversation of faith. That’s the Ignatian tradition.”

The six lectures were:

• “Deepest Desire: Seeking God in the Ignatian Tradition,” an exploration of the role of desire in spiritual life grounded in the Ignatian tradition.

• “Is the Universe Purposeful?” a look at the universe and the role of science in exploring questions about the possibilities of the existence of multiple universes.

• “Conscience and Freedom in a Time of Planetary Crisis,” which explored Catholic understandings of conscience and their relevance to major crises facing our world today, particularly hunger and climate change.

• “Is There But One Christian Spirituality: Discernment and the University,” an exploration of everyday decision-making and larger life choices in the Ignatian framework.

• “Option for the Poor? Economics and Inequalities,” a look at market economics with a particular focus on the option for the poor.

• “Setting the World on Fire: Faith that Inspires Action,” a panel discussion about faith that incites action in the life of the University.

Tapping Roots: Learning about yesterday brings job for today

Thomas Jordan attended his wife’s annual family reunion in 2008 and wondered why his own family didn’t do the same. Then he realized his father’s death, when Jordan was only 7 years old, had left an historical void. His immediate family didn’t know who their relatives were or where they came from.

So he decided to find out—to map out his family tree. But all he had to start with was the name of a man who might be the descendant of his grandmother’s sister. Felix Wilder. In Charleston, W.Va. Maybe.

Jordan found a phone number online and left a message, explaining he was Aunt Clara’s grandson. Wilder called back, and Jordan learned Wilder was the last surviving son of great Aunt Bee, his grandmother Clara’s sister.

From there, the floodgates opened. Wilder gave him the name of a cousin who died in 1995 at age 100. Jordan found the obituary online, which led him to King Hill cemetery in Georgia where he found not only the cousin’s grave but also the graves of his great-great-grandparents, James and Almira Webb. Both were born in the early 1800s, during slavery.

He also learned that his great-grandfather, Felix Jordan, donated the Jordan Grove Baptist Church in Roberta, Ga. Jordan had hit the jackpot. He’d found a connection to his past and a whole new family to boot.

“I’ve been meeting new family members who, until five years ago, I didn’t know I had,” he says. “Now I have literally hundreds.”

Jordan, a 1987 graduate who works at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, is gaining recognition for his research skills. He has given presentations about genealogy on a TV show he hosts and has been invited to the Public Library of Cincinnati, the African-American Genealogy Group of Miami Valley and the Ohio Genealogical Society.

And it all started with a phone call.


Class Behind Bars: My Overnight Stay in County Lockup

It must have been later than midnight, and I was counting the squares on the ceiling. My sleeping bag was a few inches short of being long enough to cover both my toes and shoulders, and a dead spider lay on its back six inches from my face. My cellmate, who had smuggled in chewing gum, was popping it between her teeth.

There were no clocks, no windows. I could only guess the hour. Eventually, the tiles bled together under the fluorescent light, and the gum smacking turned into ambient noise. That’s when I finally fell asleep. Then I heard the gum pop again. And again. And again. And again.

The popping. I needed to get away, even if only for a minute. Irritated, I looked through the cell windows and saw a key on a table just outside. The woman in charge was asleep at the monitors near the key. Her cell phone was turned over so I couldn’t see the time.

Ready for a change of scenery, I pressed the red button above my cot to catch her attention. Her eyes were still closed. I pressed it again. Not even a stir. As I stared at the key and pressed the button for the third, fourth and fifth time, it occurred to me that the whole experiment might be a conspiracy in disguise, designed to keep me there until I lost my mind. I might not actually be getting out in the morning. She needs to wake up right now, I thought, before I do some damage to my cellmate’s gum stash. I started to panic, extending my finger and pressing the red button with more urgency.

She woke up, rubbed her eyes and glanced my way. My pointer finger was rigid, ready to press again in case she did not see me. Thankfully, she did. She walked over and unlocked my cell.

“Feeling it a little too hard?” she asked.

I shook my head yes, pulled up my four-sizes-too-big, jail-issued pants and walked out of that cell before my sentence was up. I only made it six hours behind bars.

Part I: Criminal History

My night in jail was part of Xavier’s Inside-Out Prison Exchange, a course taught inside of the Lebanon (Ohio) Correctional Institution by criminal justice adjunct professor Christine Shimrock. The exchange brings together University students and incarcerated students, and is designed to create dialogue between the two.

When my editor heard that the course culminated with an overnight stay in a county lockup in Mason, Ohio, about 20 miles north of campus, he thought it would be fun to send a writer along. Since none of my coworkers volunteered, I was nominated to cover the story—all 24 hours of it.

This semester, there were eight “outside students” in the class, and 10 “inside students.” The purpose of the overnight exercise, Shimrock says, is to get the outside students to see things from the inside students’ point of view. This is the eighth year that she’s organized the exercise for her students.

“It’s not supposed to scare or intimidate anyone,” she assured me by telephone a few weeks before. “But it’s pretty revealing—I try to simulate the real experience as much as possible. Students come out of this exercise with different perspectives.”

By the time I parked my car at the municipal court, I was nervous. The other students weren’t. They were chatting in a group outside the courthouse, saying things like, “This is way better than having to go to class,” and “So-and-so took this class last year, but he wouldn’t tell me any of the details.”

We walked in at 6:00 p.m., and police officers instructed us to go to the bathroom and change into orange slippers and baggy prison garb. After that, we were cuffed and told to wait silently on the cement benches for our turn to be fingerprinted and processed. We watched as police-trained K-9 units searched our belongings.

My pants were too big and my slippers didn’t fit. When my turn came and the officer waved me over, I thought about asking him for a new pair—preferably one that had two shoes of the same size. Then I saw the solitary confinement room behind him and decided against it. I knew it was going to be a long night.

Part II: Time Served

I’m not going to pretend to know what it’s like to be incarcerated just because I spent an evening in a municipal court cell. County lockup isn’t the same thing as prison. Having sleeping bags or being allowed to buzz your guard to let you out isn’t the same thing as being in prison, either.

For me, the worst part was the mind-numbing boredom. The tile counting, the gum popping and the lack of windows turned minutes into 60 seconds of stretched-out nothingness. I never want to go back.

The best part happened the morning after, when I returned to get the students’ reactions. They were tired, but I could tell that they, unlike most who sleep in a jail cell, didn’t regret staying overnight. Certainly, everyone was happy to head home, but that happiness was undercut by the knowledge that the inside students couldn’t go home too. We left feeling lucky. We also left with a little more understanding of what life’s like on the inside—an important lesson for criminal justice majors.

“I recommend this class to anyone and everyone,” said one student. “I learned so much, and we became close with the inside students. They would be laughing at us right now if they saw how much we complained. This isn’t anything compared to what they go through.”


Goetta Life: Saving meaty meals the vegan way

Bratwurst. Chili. Goetta. Cincinnati, nicknamed Porkopolis, is known for its quirky carnivorous dishes. But what if you live in hog city and don’t eat meat? That’s what Caitlin Bertsch, a 2006 math and sociology graduate, asked herself when she cut animal products from her diet in 2010.

“The switch from non-vegan to vegan was easy because I always loved vegetables and fruit,” says Bertsch. “But when my family and I would get together to eat, it did feel like something was missing. I knew that I wasn’t the only person looking for meat-free alternatives to typical Cincinnati foods.”

Bertsch missed goetta the most, which is a German-American sausage that’s made up of spices, ground beef, pork and steel-cut oats. It’s traditionally served with eggs for breakfast or as a sandwich for lunch and dinner.

So she decided to take matters into her own hands. Literally. Using old family recipes and the Internet, she eventually perfected a vegan goetta recipe. The responses from her family and friends were so encouraging that she went back to the kitchen and set her sights on vegan-izing other dishes, like Cincinnati-style chili and macaroni and cheese. They, too, proved to be palate pleasing.

So in 2011, with the help of instructors from SpringBoard Cincinnati—a class that helps creative entrepreneurs start businesses—she launched Vegan Roots, her own meat-free food business. Bertsch cooks from her kitchen at the Brew House near Eden Park and sends her products to restaurants and markets across Cincinnati. She hopes to expand her business to a storefront and is looking into catering options. Ultimately, she’s glad that a different version of goetta is on the shelves—and on her family’s dinner plates.