High Beams On

The room is dark, lit only by a thin red beam streaking out from a long box on a laboratory table. Jennifer Robbins slips a slide of dead rhodo spirillum bacteria under a microscope lens. A computer screen comes alive with movement as the cells float by. Heidrun Schmitzer aims the laser beam at the center of the slide. “I have it,” Schmitzer says as the cell begins to spin. “Always to the right,” she says. When she taps the slide, the cell slips away and stops spinning.

Since May, Robbins, a biology instructor, and Schmitzer, an assistant professor of physics, have been researching the ability of laser light to capture and control bacteria cells. The knowledge could lead to developing medical tools from living cells, perhaps using laser light to drive cellular “screws.” For now, though, they’re happy knowing it works and that they’ve proved it’s the light, not the cell’s own energy, making it spin.

Grad Program Perfect

Administrators are finding that its graduate program is a perfect six—out of seven, that is. In a graduate student satisfaction survey conducted in 2003 by psychology graduate student Luanne Carr, 491 respondents shared their opinions with the University. The results?

Those surveyed cited areas such as increased financial assistance and more convenient class times that needed improvement, but praised the easy registration process and social support provided by peers and classmates. The survey also revealed that among respondents—most of whom are enrolled in business or education programs—63 percent are female, 56 percent are married and 30 percent are between the ages of 25-29. And unlike undergraduates, most master’s students attend classes part-time while holding down full-time jobs.

This is the first time Xavier has surveyed graduate students on their satisfaction level—a practice that will most likely continue. “I was very pleased with the overall satisfaction level of our graduate students scale,” says John Cooper, director for graduate services. “It affirms that we are doing a good job.”

Grad Puts Herself in “Jeopardy”

In the category of “Xavier grads on Jeopardy!” there’s only one right answer. It’s Amy Helmes. Her Sept. 9 appearance on the popular, long-running game show was a noble effort to topple Ken Jennings, the guy who became famous by winning the most money in the quiz show’s 40-year history. Practically a household name, Jennings survived more than 70 appearances before finally losing in early fall with record winnings of more than $2 million. Helmes took him on in his 37th game.

Being on “Jeopardy!” was a natural next step for Helmes, who, since graduating in 1996, has been rubbing elbows with the rich and famous in a pattern that not even she could have predicted. The English major and former Newswire editor landed a job with a national college magazine in Santa Monica, Calif., that put her in a beachfront apartment owned by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then she became a writer for a soap opera magazine.

When she decided to try for “Jeopardy!” she surprised herself by being one of 15 selected out of about 100 tryouts last spring. Once on the show, which was taped in April, she met longtime host Alex Trebek and found herself opposite Jennings, who had already amassed $1.3 million.

“There were times I was just standing there frantically pressing the signaling button,” she says. “I knew 75 percent of the answers and was just helpless. But I’m proud of myself for even getting on in the first place. I didn’t totally embarrass myself. And if I had to lose on ‘Jeopardy!’ there’s no shame in losing to the greatest champ of all time.”

Her consolation prize? Third place, $1,000 and a framed photo of herself with host Trebek. Best of all, though, was the knowledge that Jennings missed the last question, too.

Golden Era Ends

Philosophy professor Bernard Gendreau taught Xavier students until the day he died—literally. An hour after teaching what would be his last class on March 31, he pulled his car into a restaurant parking lot where he was to meet his wife for dinner and suffered a heart attack. He was 82 years old.

Gendreau taught thousands of Xavier students during his 50 years as professor and continued to deliver papers at prestigious conferences internationally after his retirement, says friend and fellow philosophy professor Paul Colella.

“He was a very traditional Catholic and epitomized the ideals of how one has these religious commitments and at the same time these strong academic standards as well,” Colella says.

Classic Scholar | Classics professor John Felten, S.J., died in October at age 83. Felten spent more than 40 years at Xavier serving as professor of classics and ancient history, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and director of the Honors Bachelor of Arts program. His relationship with Xavier began in 1940 when he entered the University’s novitiate in Milford, Ohio. He joined the faculty in 1957 and quickly showed his leadership skills by becoming director of the honors program until 1967. He also served on the board of trustees from 1961-1973, was dean from 1967-1976 and was named professor emeritus in 1987.

“He was a jovial, bright, articulate person and very much of a raconteur,” says J. Leo Klein, S.J., vice president for mission and ministry. Felten’s last assignment was as the University’s archivist from 1997-2002 when he retired to Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Mich.

Getting to the Point

As a physics teacher, Barry Riehle will do just about anything to keep his students excited about learning. In his 20 years in the classroom, the 1974 and 1989 graduate, who chairs the science department at Turpin High School in suburban Cincinnati, has taught the principles of friction by pulling a tablecloth from under a dinner setting, allowed students to use crossbow-style dart guns to study projectile motion and initiated an area-wide bridge-building competition to help his charges better understand the concepts of strength and flexibility.

But in terms of potential self-sacrifice—not to mention shock value—nothing in Riehle’s educational arsenal exceeds his approach to teaching impulse and momentum. Each year he lies on a 2-by-3-foot bed of nails, places a 25-pound concrete block on a piece of plywood on his chest and then enlists another faculty member to break the block with a sledgehammer. It’s a bit uncomfortable, he says, but the nails aren’t a perfect point, and there are enough of them concentrated in a small area that they don’t break the skin.

Riehle’s creative approach earned him teacher-of-the-year honors among Cincinnati math and science teachers this year, but he credits three of his professors at the University—John Hart, Terry Toepker and Ray Miller—with inspiring his energetic style. “Their enthusiasm was contagious,” he says. “And I realized that as a teacher, that’s what grabs kids’ interest.”

Faculty Spotlight

Bob Ahuja, professor of marketing.

Q: During the holiday season, do you see a difference in how toys are marketed to children than the rest of year?

No, there is no difference in how they market during the holiday season as opposed to the rest of the year, there is just more of it. In an average year, companies spend $20 billion a year on marketing to children under 18. A significant portion of that is spent in the last two months of the year, because marketers know more people are buying this time of year.

Q: Is it easier marketing to children than teens and adults because children have less of an understanding of the tactics that are being used? Do you see a difference in how toys are marketed today than five years ago? Ten years ago?

Children sometimes aren’t given the credit that they deserve when it comes to this topic, and marketers know this. Many of the old advertising media—television, radio and magazines—are being proven unsuccessful because children know what toys they like and what they dislike. However, marketing to teenagers compared to children has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are that there are fewer government regulations when marketing to 13- to 19-year-old groups. Once they start marketing to 12 year olds, there are more rules and more agencies watching them. In addition, in the teenage years, many experience their first job and a choice on how to spend their new income. This translates into teenagers spending $67 billion a year.

Companies used to market to parents, then they marketed to both parents and children, and now most just market to the kids directly. Today, marketers are using an alternative method called buzz marketing to children and teenagers because they, too, are skeptical about the credibility of advertisers. There are marketing units for companies that recruit agents of kids and send them 10 or 20 of the latest products, like DVDs and compact discs, and tell them to give them to their friends. The free products serve as payment to the child, in addition to the psychological boost they get when they are the first at school with all the newest trends.

Getting the product out in the schools and on campuses will create a buzz around the product because it comes from a credible source, your friend, not an advertiser. A unit of Proctor & Gamble’s marketing division called Tremor does this type of marketing. Tremor is subcontracted by companies looking to reach children and teenagers with their products. However, telling your friends you are working for the advertisers alleviates buzz marketing’s effectiveness. Its deceptive nature creates some ethical dilemmas.

Q: All things considered, can you describe the purchasing power of children? How much do companies depend on revenue from children?

Children ages 4 to 12 spend $24 billion a year on products themselves, which is remarkable considering they don’t have a steady source of income. However, children influence $200 billion a year, and the holidays account for a lot of that. Therefore, companies depend on the revenue from teenagers and children, especially during the holiday season.

Faculty Spotlight

Ken Overberg, S.J., professor of theology who has lived in the Holy Land.

Q: As we near Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth, tell us what Bethlehem is like today. Is it still just a small town in the middle of nowhere?

A: By way of introduction, I want to point out that I have been blessed to visit the Holy Land several times, once spending several months there studying and visiting many sites. My group lived in Bethany, only a couple of miles from the Old City of Jerusalem but located in the occupied West Bank. This location allowed us to experience some of the daily struggles of the peoples. Indeed, any discussion about Palestine and Israel—even just questions about Bethlehem—needs to acknowledge these struggles, rooted in Israeli oppression and occupation and in Palestinian reaction, often including violent actions. Bethlehem is only about five miles from Jerusalem. Bethlehem is a small city not unlike some towns that surround Cincinnati. Given its history, tourism has been a major part of its economy, once flourishing but now suffering.

Q: Tens of thousands of people used to flock to Manger Square every Christmas to celebrate Jesus’ birth, despite Bethlehem being in a Palestinian-controlled section of Israel. Several years ago a Palestinian uprising began and this year Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died. Is it even safe to celebrate there now?

A: Because of the various forms of violence present in Israel and Palestine, there is always risk involved. The same is true, of course, in many areas of the U.S.A., especially our big cities. Caution, patience and awareness would be important for any visitor or pilgrim.

Q: What do the Palestinians think about Christians celebrating in their area? Are they tolerant of other religions? Or do they just see the people as tourists with money to spend?

A: First, it is important to remember that some Palestinians are Christian. Not only did they welcome us into their stores but also into their homes and churches. Also, many Palestinians who are Muslim have great respect for Jesus and Mary. My last visit was in 1999, so I do not know if the present policies of the U.S. government have lessened the welcome and warmth—the kind of welcome we received—or if the people distinguish between U.S. citizens and the U.S. government.

Q: How else/where else is Jesus’ birth celebrated in the Holy Land?

A: Because of the oppression and other forms of violence, many Christians have moved from the Holy Land. This is a grave concern for the Christian churches. Still, Christmas will certainly be celebrated throughout the land wherever Christian communities gather.

Q: Where can we learn more?

A: On the struggles in the Holy Land, please see articles in “America” by Drew Christiansen, S.J. For some Scriptural insights into the Christmas stories, see “An Adult Christ at Christmas” by Raymond Brown, S.S. (Liturgical Press) or chapter three in Brown’s “Reading the Gospels with the Church” (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Extra Credit: Kara Northway

Kara Northway grew up in Topeka, Kan., and did her undergraduate work in Oregon. She then returned to her native state to study Shakespeare with the well-known scholar David Bergeron at the University of Kansas before arriving at Xavier this fall to teach two classes on Shakespeare and one on rhetoric. Her approach to the Bard’s work focuses not only on historical context and his use of language but on the elements of faith in his writing as well.

Kara Northway Assistant professor of English

How did you arrive at the idea of incorporating faith into your classes?
A national survey of college students showed they don’t feel they have enough opportunities to examine how what they study intersects with what they believe. So my idea of incorporating faith into class discussions emerges from their curiosity about it. Last week, one student suggested that because Shakespeare used a lot of groups of three in a play, he might have been Catholic. That happens to be a topic that’s currently being debated by scholars of Shakespeare.

How does faith fit into Shakespeare’s work?
Shakespeare often presents us with a world full of uncertainties and suggests faith offers one way to bear this. For example, he ends “The Winter’s Tale” with a miracle, telling us, “It is required/You do awake your faith.” This forces us to consider our faith in love, in God and in art.

How do students respond?
Some students at the University of Kansas told me that discussing how literature affects your beliefs is taboo, but I think it is impossible to read literature without examining our own values. I ask my students, “Why are you an English major?” “How will it make the world a better place?” “What value does reading literature have?” What I like about Xavier students is they are open-minded to different approaches to literature and to considering how our beliefs and actions affect others.

Reed College, Bachelor of Arts in English, 1994
University of Kansas, Master of Arts in English, 2000
University of Kansas, Doctorate in English with an emphasis on Renaissance literature, 2004

Editor Gets Hoorays from Hollywood

Dean Holland didn’t have a plan, but he heard a voice calling him to Hollywood—and he had faith that he would somehow succeed. So three weeks after receiving his degree in 1992, Holland headed for California. In a story line straight from the movies, he soon found work—as a chef.

After a year, he took a pay cut to take a night job at a post-production house, supplementing his income by delivering pizzas by day. But Holland was networking. A client with a small company hired him as a production assistant. There, he gained experience writing, producing, directing and editing. “I learned a ton,” he says.

Part of what Holland learned was that editing was a good first step on the ladder of industry success. So six years ago he became a freelance editor. Since then, he’s worked on projects for VH-1, MTV, HBO and Disney, as well as the cult comedy film “The Hebrew Hammer” and the DVD version of Ben Stiller’s “Dodgeball.”

This summer, Holland was nominated for an Emmy Award for his work on Billy Crystal’s opening segment for the Oscars. He didn’t win, but then, he’s far from through. Working closely with directors has given him a new, well, direction. “I never think my ideas are that great, but other people seem to think they’re pretty good,” he says. “I see my influence is popping up in projects. So, why not?” Why not? After all, it’s not the first time he’s taken a chance.

Edgecliff Reunion

Long before the national alumni association, Joan Brennan Kennedy simply placed calls to her Edgecliff classmates inviting them to her house for what became a yearly reunion. The 1951 graduate has since organized 53 reunions, a record that remains unchallenged by any other class. For Kennedy, a retired school teacher who splits her time between Northern Kentucky and Washington state, the reunions are the only contact she has with former classmates.

“We don’t want to lose touch with those we love so much,” she says. “We always had the feeling that we were one big happy family.” Kennedy’s class has also contributed the most money to the Edgecliff fund, which provides scholarships for relatives of Edgecliff alumni, and each year donates a gift—usually a diamond necklace—to be raffled off during Reunion Weekend.

Although they no longer meet at each other’s houses, Kennedy is proud her class has sustained the tradition. “It’s a tribute to the experience we found at Edgecliff.”