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Xavier Magazine

Soldier Poet

War and family are the major themes in Capt. Christopher Collins’ life these days. Perhaps that isn’t surprising—the 2001 MEd graduate is an officer in the U.S. Army Reserves, where he serves as a detachment commander in psychological operations and has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

What sets Collins apart, though, is that war and family are also the primary themes of his poetry. Recently two of those poems, “Child of Chicken Street” and “War,” were selected to appear in Against Agamemnon: War Poetry, a book edited by Pulitzer Prize nominee James Adams.

Publication is nothing new for Collins—his work has appeared in roughly 10 journals over the past decade, most recently The Chaffin Journal, Poetry Midwest and the English Journal. He began writing as a second grader at St. Mary of the Assumption grade school in Alexandria, Ky. Love of language led Collins to major in English as an undergraduate at Thomas More College. An Army reservist since his undergrad days, Collins joined R.O.T.C. at Xavier while in graduate school.

“I think I was one of their first ‘graduate’ cadets,” he says.

Married to his high school sweetheart, Angela, and now a father of two, Collins teaches English at Covington Catholic High School in Northern Kentucky and is continuing his education, working on a Master of Fine Arts at Murray State University. He hopes one day to teach college.

“I write to relay experiences, and if someone ‘gets’ something from it, maybe a deeper understanding of war, nature, family—whatever the theme is—then great,” he says. “It is beautiful to write something where a reader can read the work like they are listening to a musical composition. Music touches people through the emotions. That is what poetry does for me.”

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Xavier Magazine

Senior Moment

The elderly man lived alone in Stanley Row, a federally subsidized apartment building in downtown Cincinnati. Polly Doran and two Ohio legislators took the elevator up to his apartment.

The man welcomed them in, and as he got up from his chair to greet them, the purpose of their visit became instantly clear. Tiny insects scattered across his shirt, burrowed into his hair and dallied on the cushion where he was resting. He brushed them off his arm, pockmarked with festering red welts. He showed his guests into the bedroom, where they lifted the mattress and watched as the critters crawled around on the box springs. Close inspection found their rows of eggs knitted into the corners. Bed bugs.

The apartment—and the 80-year-old man—were infested. And Doran, a 1975 Edgecliff graduate with a degree in sociology, was visiting her elderly client with two people who had the power to do something about it. As the advocacy coordinator for the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio, Doran’s job is to speak on their behalf and—in this case—bring about legislation declaring bed bugs to be vermin, subjecting them to inspection and enforcement by state and local health officials.

Such efforts by Doran on behalf of older people in the state have earned her accolades, including the Advocate of the Year award in 2007 by the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging. But Doran, who is also the Council’s social service administrator, works on many other levels as well.

Now, she’s lobbying the state to restore funding for the Passport program, which makes it possible for retirees to remain in their homes instead of moving into nursing homes. Ohio trimmed Passport funding, and the cuts are forcing more residents into nursing homes at four times the cost of Passport.

“We work so hard with our legislators to make them aware these are cost-effective programs that save the state money,” Doran says. “As a society, we care for our seniors. They are important. They’ve served their country, and I always remember who we serve.”

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Xavier Magazine

Saving a City

Bill Donabedian just laughs when asked if his job description reads, “Save downtown Cincinnati.”

“Turning around downtown is too big a job for one person,” he says. That task actually belongs to the Cincinnati Center City Development Group, the nonprofit agency better known as 3CDC. The group’s charge is fostering downtown development, but it turned to Donabedian to pump some life into the city’s heart: Fountain Square. A 2006 MBA graduate, he was tagged as managing director of Fountain Square as a result of his unique combination of work in the corporate world, life as an entrepreneur and founder of the successful indie-rock Midpoint Music Festival.

While reviving the Square is still a tough task, Donabedian at least had a brand new “stage” to work with. He was hired just as the finishing touches were going on the $43 million renovation of the Square and its parking garage. Combined with an aggressive programming effort, people now actually consider what’s taking place on the Square into their social plans. His secret: “I just did the things that make people happy.”

For being the heart of the city, not much ever seemed to happen on the Square other than protests, drab presentations or rare celebrations like when the Reds win the World Series. It really didn’t have much of an identity other than the Tyler Davidson Fountain in the opening of “WKRP in Cincinnati.”

Now there is a steady diet of music, family-oriented movies on the big LED screen overlooking the Square—which offer shades of drive-in theater days—and a feast of fests. Toss in quirky events like a fish toss, turkey bowl or rock-paper-scissors contests, and you have a recipe for success. “We’ll book it six days a week, twice a day during the summer,” he says. “If something doesn’t work, we try something different.”

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Xavier Magazine

Political Bug

Erin McDermott caught the political fever on the 2004 presidential campaign trail while canvassing neighborhoods, attending rallies and phoning voters on behalf of the Bush/Cheney camp. And she still hasn’t recovered.

“In the last couple of weeks before the election, there’s an adrenaline rush that goes with it that makes it worth the long hours, the hard work,” McDermott says. “It was something I never experienced before, but it was definitely the hook into politics for me.”

Two years later she took a summer internship with former House Majority Leader John Boehner, another Xavier graduate, and then moved to Washington after graduating in 2007 and landed a position in the U.S. Department of Education where she worked for Undersecretary of Education Sara Martinez Tucker.

“I was her access person,” McDermott says. “It was my job as a policy analyst to advise her, brief her and prep her on what she would have to do around higher education accessibility.”

Although her term as a political appointee ended with the Bush presidency, McDermott quickly found a non-political job with the Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education where she now manages a portfolio of congressionally directed grants. She’s also pursuing dual master’s degrees in government and business at Johns Hopkins University. McDermott admits, however, that she’s ready for the next round of elections.

“Some jobs fit people’s styles and personalities better than others,” she says. “I guess I’m learning now that a political job is right up my alley.”

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Xavier Magazine

Opera Idol

Margaret Russo is still pinching herself. In July, she was named “Opera Idol” in Cincinnati, out-singing more than 150 hopefuls in the first-ever amateur competition staged by the Cincinnati Opera, the nation’s second oldest opera company. The title earned the 2006 graduate a $3,500 contract with the Opera.

Russo’s talent was first discovered at age 6 when she was caught mimicking her first grade teacher’s vibrato. The teacher kept her after class. Instead of punishment, though, she taught Russo how to sing a scale and recommended she use her talent toward voice lessons rather than mockery. She did, bringing that talent to Xavier, where she appeared in several musical productions. Yet, she had never sung a full opera.

After graduating with degrees in English and voice performance, she went to work as a copywriter. The Opera Idol competition, though, moved her back into the world of music. Russo was one of the last to sing in front of the judges. “It was like ‘American Idol’ minus Simon Cowell.”

Russo got called back and, after multiple rounds, was selected as one of the six finalists. Videos of the finalists’ performances were posted on the Cincinnati Opera’s web site and the public voted for their favorite. More than 10,000 total votes were cast. Now she’s looking forward to what her new contract may bring.

“I think it’s a pretty big sign that there’s more to come.”

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Xavier Magazine

Tibetan Buddhist Nuns

Shortly after dusk, Carol Winkelmann and an Indian guide start walking up a mountain path leading from a narrow road in the Himalayan mountains of northern India. They’re trekking to the Shugsep nunnery, where about 100 exiled Tibetan nuns live a couple miles up the dusty trail. They’ll be holding evening prayers soon, and Winkelmann, an assistant professor of English linguistics, wants to join them.

 

About halfway, however, the darkness of the jungle closes in, forcing them to their hands and knees. Fearing the steep sides of the trail, they pick their way along the rocks and rubble, thinking also about the leopards and monkeys that make the jungle their home. Eventually, though, they reach the nunnery, and Winkemann sits at a long, low table in the shrine room. The women, with their shaved heads and maroon robes, beat Tibetan drums, sound horns and cymbals, and perform the ceremony against a backdrop of butter candles made of yak grease. It takes about two hours, and Winkelmann is thrilled to be there.

The hike to Shugsep in May 2004 is one of four visits Winkelmann has made to the nunneries of Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. Her initial trip to Nepal with Xavier’s service learning semester program in 2002 triggered her fascination with the Tibetan Buddhist nuns who routinely cross the mountains into Nepal and India to escape torture, oppression and persecution by Chinese authorities in occupied Tibet. The dangerous mountain exodus has been taking place since the Tibetan national uprising began in the early 1960s. Now Winkelmann is researching the religious language of these women as they emerge from their patriarchal past into a world where they are free to pursue the education that has eluded them for thousands of years. Because of changing social attitudes and pressure from Western interests, the nuns are now allowed to study Buddhist philosophy in their own nunneries. Their first goal is to educate themselves to the point where they can replace the monks who teach them now.

In January, Winkelmann returns to the Shugsep nunnery for a semester-long sabbatical for her research. She plans to write a book with the working title, Language in Exile.

“I’m trying to figure out how these women’s language is changing because of their educational experience,” she says.

Winkelmann will live with the nuns, many of whom grew up in nomadic families herding goats and sheep, and observe them as they go through their daily Buddhist prayers, rituals and studies. Through interviews and observation, she’ll capture the social change as it happens before her eyes.

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