Xavier Magazine

Profile: Gary Wahoff

In early April, the Cincinnati Reds were en route from Pittsburgh to New York for the final leg of a 10-game road trip when the announcement came from the cockpit: All New York airports were closed because of fog, and the plane was detouring to Philadelphia instead. While most of the players simply groaned, Gary Wahoff scrambled. The 1992 graduate is the team’s traveling secretary and in charge of coordinating all of the team’s travel arrangements. This includes trucks to haul the team’s 7,500 pounds of equipment from the plane to the ballpark, and buses to get the 45 to 50 players and staff from the airport to the hotel, which in this case was now two hours away.

Pulling out his cell phone, Wahoff began speed-dialing his contacts at bus and truck rental companies in Philadelphia—never mind that it was already well past midnight—as well as the hotel to tell them they’d be late.

Thanks to some quick dialing and a lot of work on Wahoff’s part, though, everything worked out and the team made it to New York. By that time, however, it was 4:30 a.m. and his day was nearly 20 hours old.

It’s not always so hectic, he says, but for nine or 10 months a year, life’s pretty much just a blur that’s lived out of a suitcase. “It gets tough being away from home,” he says, “but you get accustomed to the lifestyle. Spring training is always the toughest. I was down there this year for 59 days straight and worked 12 to 15 hours a day. That gets to be a grind.” In addition to arranging trans- portation, he also coordinates room assignments, arranges ticket requests (each player gets six per game) and hands out the players per diem road allowance, which is several hundred dollars per day. He also arranges for wives to fly in to see their husbands, gets rental cars for staff members, and handles whatever requests the players make.

Wahoff, in his fifth season as the team’s traveling secretary, joined the front office after spending three years as field superintendent and five years as a member of the grounds crew. A friend got him a slot on the grounds crew during his freshman year at Xavier, which he managed to do in his spare time between earning a finance degree and rowing on the University’s crew team. Wahoff not only rowed, but took over as team coach dur- ing his senior season, a role he continued until last year.

“In order to be done right, you need to spend a lot of time practicing in the spring, and I just couldn’t be there for them,” he says. “So I’m trying to set up a crew booster organization and raise a little money for equipment and maybe a boathouse. Right now the boats are stored outside along Eastern Avenue, and they’re too expensive to be sitting outside.”

He’ll establish the foundation, he says, as soon as he gets some free time, which won’t come anytime soon. He’s only in town for a few days before heading back on the road again. This time, a week on the West Coast. Like everything else, though, it’ll go by like a blur.

Xavier Magazine

Profile: Keith Conway

After a field trip to a museum, most 9-year-olds leave with a gift shop souvenir. Keith Conway left with a dream. “As soon as I saw a dinosaur fossil on a trip to a museum in the fourth grade,” he recalls, “I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. I had a feeling of wonder that an ancient relic came back to life in my imagination. I knew I wanted to create my experience for others.”

Conway’s childhood dream came true when he became an exhibit specialist for the National Museum of African Art (NMAfA) in Washington, D.C., one of the Smithsonian Institution’s 16 museums. He works as a mount maker, constructing devices to hold, display and protect the different artifacts. The devices range from acrylic mounts that hold manuscripts and books to metal brackets and resin replacement pieces for figures and statues that are missing a section.

Conway’s job often requires him to create new devices. For the museum’s show of African Kente cloths, for instance, he created mounts that extend out from the wall, allowing the textiles to be staggered so they’re more inter-esting to look at, and so more can be hung on the wall. The mounts were so good, in fact, the Textile Museum later borrowed them.

He also created mounts for the Beautiful Bodies exhibit, which features large African pottery, as well as sculpting S-shaped mounts for the Tower of Biodiversity, a collaborative project between several Smithsonian museums. The tower, which is located in the Institution’s castle, is a 50-foot tall rectangle mounted with more than 160 animal and aquatic specimens. Conway mounted 37 of the specimens, including tree snakes, an armadillo, starfish, crabs and turtles. “I had to give the metal mounts a living shape for the animals to follow each other around the tower, curving upwards.”

The Smithsonian isn’t the only institution to benefit from Conway’s ingenuity, however. During his freshman year at Xavier, the 1978 graduate created the rugby club. “We had a rag-tag team,” he says, “and when the school dropped football, a lot of the football players joined our team. The next thing I knew, we were wearing the football jerseys and playing in the stadium in front of a crowd. We played a substitute homecoming game. It was unbelievable.”

Conway continues to see things beyond belief as part of his job. For instance, he recently crossed paths with a vertebrae of an African warrior with an arrowhead still imbedded in it; a rare Yoruba ring that was used for mounting heads; and a 13-foot African mask that someone really wore. “He would have to have practiced for several years to get his neck muscles strong enough to wear it without snapping his neck.”

An artisan himself, Conway appreciates all the work that goes into the artifacts he sees. “The creators of these objects were much more connected to the planet,” he says. “The shapes that came out of their minds and hands came out of the living planet. They were great craftsmen. The best thing about my job is I have the ability to create things that help show people what was going on in the world.”

Xavier Magazine

Profile: Janet Smith Dickerson

Janet Smith Dickerson spent one of her first Saturday nights as a senior administrator at Princeton University getting to know the students—from the front seat of a campus police car. The 1968 graduate, named Princeton’s vice president of campus life last summer, wanted to get a firsthand, late-night look at student life at the Ivy League school.

“I wanted to have a perspective on the experience of students as well as on public safety officers, infirmary nurses, dining hall workers, campus center managers and others who routinely support our evening and late-night operations,” says Dickerson. “It was a challenge to become informed about and acclimated to the Princeton culture. I just immersed myself in it, and I’m asking lots of questions.” As the first black female vice president at Princeton, one of the first questions she asked herself concerned ethnic diversity: How could she contribute to the university’s ongoing efforts? “Princeton has committed to a financial aid policy that will enable us to have students from every background and region,” she says. “I want to enhance our students’ understanding of, and respect for, the diversity we all share, and to improve the options students have to participate in activities beyond the classroom, including service.”

Princeton students will benefit not only from Dickerson’s genuine interest in seeing life from their side, but also from her professional background. Before working at Princeton, she was vice president for student affairs at Duke University, a dean at Swarthmore College and an associate dean at Earlham College. Dickerson began her career as a teacher and guidance counselor before moving into administration. “I moved when I realized that counselors do not have as much ability to change campus cultures as administrators do,” she says. As Princeton’s first vice president of campus life, she is involved with students from a wide range of areas on campus.

The offices that fall under her leadership include undergraduate student life, athletics, health services, religious life and a new center for community service. “They are very different units, but together they provide the fabric of community life at this institution,” she says. “I want to be an advocate for these units. I hope to foster collaborative relationships between them and others who are concerned with our students’ whole lives.”

Dickerson grew up near the campus of Voorhees College, a small, historically black college in Denmark, S.C., and attended a high school that was connected to Voorhees. “My high school, while racially segregated, was a very nurturing and intellectually stimulating place,” she says. “Our teachers made us confident in our abilities, gave us strong basic skills, and confronted us if we behaved in uncivil or disrespectful ways. “They were role models for me in that they modeled caring, disciplined, committed lives. They expected excellence, and exemplified integrity and character. I hope that I do the same for my students.”

Xavier Magazine

Profile: Ken Kemner

Ken Kemner has the closest thing there is to X-ray vision. The 1986 graduate and physicist at Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago has an extensive knowledge about high-energy X-ray microscopes, and the work he’s performing with them is capturing widespread attention—Science magazine did an article on his examination of strands of Beethoven’s hair; NASA asked him to join its list of scientists working on its Mission to Mars project; and the White House recently honored him with its Presidential Early Career Award for his collective work.

“Most of my projects involve tedious research,” says Kemner, “but they are exciting from a public interest point of view. At Argonne, we use the advanced photon source, the most intense X-ray source in the country. It’s sort of like an X-ray laser and is a trillion times more brilliant than physicians’ X-rays. As far as light intensity and its ability to travel long distances, it’s like using a candle versus a laser pointer.”

In one of his more high-profile projects, Kemner used an X-ray microscope to examine strands of Beethoven’s hair. Long after Beethoven died in 1827, speculation remained over the cause of death and the chronic illnesses that plagued him during life: bad digestion, severe abdominal pain, depression and irritability. Locks of his hair were given to a young prodigy as a keepsake, then passed on through the generations. The hair ended up on the auction block at Sotheby’s, and two Beethoven enthusiasts purchased the strands in 1994. They hired a hair analysis expert, who hired Kemner. “We found a concentration of lead that was about 100 times higher than it is in most people today,” says Kemner. The average American has about .6 parts per million of lead in his hair. Beethoven had 60 parts per million, which explains the cause of his illnesses and death.

Though it doesn’t sound as glamorous, Kemner’s current project is much more far-reaching. He’s examining the interaction of bacteria with rocks in the hopes of cleaning up or stopping the spread of environmental contamination. “In today’s world, we call cleanup ‘muck, suck and truck,’ ” says Kemner. “We go to the muck, suck it up and truck it off to someone else’s back yard.”

Kemner’s team is trying to create an X-ray microscope that will see the distributions of metals in bacteria. “We’re talking about bacteria where a single microbe is 1/100th the size of a human hair,” he says. “But they can transport contaminant metals. The Department of Energy wants us to figure out how to stop them.”

If the task sounds daunting, it’s because it is. One cleanup site is the size of Rhode Island.

NASA hopes that Kemner’s X-ray microscopes can take pictures of bacteria inside of rocks. One of the places scientists would like to look for signs of life is on Mars. “While the work we do isn’t always front-page material, I’d like to think it’s extremely important and helpful to people,” he says. “Everybody cares about how clean their drinking water is and the soil in their backyard.”