Xavier Magazine

Beetle Mania: The Hunt for a Different Kind of Longhorn

Like a lot of entomologists, assistant biology professor Ann Ray has been bugged by a dearth of information about the valley elderberry longhorn beetle. So she joined a group of other bug-crazy biologists to find a better way to locate them than just looking in the weeds.

The valley elderberry longhorn beetle, whose Latin name is Desmocerus californicus dimorphus, is a threatened species, just a step below endangered. But there’s a catch—no one really knows how many there are.

“Since (the beetle was added to the threatened species list in 1980), it has been the subject of a lot of controversy because the larvae bore into elderberry trees,” Ray says. “Elderberry is a weed. It just grows up in all sorts of place. Since the beetle’s elderberry habitat is protected, you can’t cut down elderberry trees. But you also can’t develop.”

Property owners don’t like elderberry, but they can’t cut down the pesky weed because it’s the habitat of the longhorn. And yet determining exactly how threatened the longhorn is has been nearly impossible. Until now.

Who would have thought that the sex pheromone desmolactone could be the answer?

Entomologists use pheromones like desmolactone in special traps, where the pheromone is hung in a cross-section of cardboard. The beetles are attracted to the pheromone and hit the cardboard as they fly, falling into the trap. Only the male beetles are attracted to the traps. It’s a far more effective way to find specimens than hunting through elderberry trees.

Ray and her colleagues published an article on their discovery in the online journal PLOS One in December last year and hope it’s the answer to finding—and studying—the valley elderberry longhorn beetle. And maybe freeing up the elderberry for a much-needed trim. Read the journal article at PLOS One.


Xavier Magazine

My Momma’s Kitchen: Cake in a Jar

If home is where the heart is, the kitchen is the beating center at least that’s what it’s like at the Spencers’ house in Cincinnati. The kitchen is the center of activity for Naimah and her mother, Vallery.

“In that kitchen I learned so much from her,” Naimah says. “I would do my homework there, share stories about my day. I shed tears in that kitchen. But there was always cooking.”

Naimah has always been enthralled with cooking. It was a passion fueled by her mother and the magic of mealtime. When they went to grocery stores together, Naimah would collect the free recipes they handed out. She even learned to read and write through cooking.

“I would sit next to my mom and write each recipe down,” Naimah says. “I didn’t realize she was just telling me what was on the back of the box. I wrote it anyway. I would say, ‘Mom, I need to save this recipe forever.’”

So it’s no surprise that it was in that kitchen that the online bakery, My Momma’s Kitchen, was born. It happened one day when Vallery decided to make a cake. She and Naimah went through the routine of cooking and sharing stories, but the cake turned out to be something else—dark chocolate cake, cream cheese frosting in the middle and decanted fudge frosting as icing—a three-layer masterpiece.

“As soon as I ate this I thought, ‘What am I doing? I could be a baker. Mom we could do this together!”’ Naimah says.

Vallery hesitated, but Naimah welcomed the challenge. With Naimah’s experience as a 2012 Xavier business graduate majoring in Entrepreneurial Studies, and Vallery’s skills in the kitchen, Naimah knew they could be a success. Together the mother-daughter team dove into the business of baking. And through trial and error, they discovered the best way to ship a cake was in a glass jar. A very small, just-the-right-size-for-dessert kind of jar. Now the Cake-in-a-Jar is their flagship item.

A pack of four begins at $35. “It’s not just a cake in a jar,” Naimah says. “It’s the best-cake-you’ll-eat—in a jar. It’s the best-experience-you’ll-have—in a jar.”

Naimah and Vallery also make cookies, brownies and traditional layer cakes. Working up to 12 or more hours a day, they keep the bakery running. And growing. My Momma’s Kitchen is on Facebook and Etsy as mymommaskitchen, and they’re thinking about bringing the business to local farmers markets and some day opening a real store.

Sometimes they also create baked gifts and wedding favors. Other times it’s just so someone can have a little taste of home. Because at the center of everything is family, home—and a kitchen.

LEARN MORE about My Momma’s Kitchen and buy your own Cake-in-a-Jar at their website.

Xavier Magazine

MyHusbandsTumor.Com: Love Goes Viral

When her husband, Aaron, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Nora McInerny Purmort, a 2005 Xavier graduate, started recording their story on a blog. She later used it to update friends and family. By the time Aaron Purmort died last November, thousands were following their love story online, and his obituary was featured on NPR, Huffington Post and other sites.

The blog,, is a raw, charming, painful and often hilarious look at a marriage honed by tragedy. Her husband’s chemotherapy and surgeries, the birth of their child, a miscarriage and eventually her husband’s death—Nora Purmort shared it all, and people from around the world responded with love—on the Internet.

“The Internet is a fickle place. It usually brings out the worst in people, but by and large it has shown me what I’ve always known about people, which is that they want to be a force for good,” says Purmort. “It felt like the whole world was there for us.”

Purmort still hears from people who find themselves in the same situation she was in three and a half years ago, when their ordeal began after he suffered a seizure at work. She helps by posting stories about their fundraisers and sometimes texting total strangers.

Their son, Ralph, will grow up knowing of his parents’ love for each other, and for him, through her writings. Purmort is working on a book. “If even one woman can have something besides statistics to read, it’s worth it.”

Visit the blog at

Xavier Magazine

Improving Life in Togo: Mayo’s Clinic

Rick Mayo keeps a copy of the photo that made him roll up his sleeves and help his church deliver water to a dozen African villages.

In the snapshot, a young girl with captivating eyes squats by a brackish pond, dipping her fingers into water the color of dough.

The pastor of Mayo’s church in Virginia Beach, Va., showed his congregation the picture of Natalie. His eyes teared up. Kovie villagers still were drinking polluted water—even after the church dug a well on an earlier trip.

“We have to do something more,” he said.

The problem was the villagers could not easily get to the new well, and many in the region were still walking 11 kilometers a day for water that was often dirty. So Mayo joined the church’s fourth mission to Kovie last summer, traveling to southern Togo in West Africa. The Spring Branch Community Church had raised $58,000 for a major water project that included a 40,000-gallon water tower, the generator that pumps water to the tower, and pipes to convey the water to Kovie and 11 surrounding villages totaling 27,000 people.

Mayo expected to get his hands dirty on the trip, but villagers had already laid most of the pipe when his team arrived. So he focused on plans for a medical clinic. At a cost of only about $3,000, they had  raised enough for two.

Mayo, 52, credits his desire to help others to two things: his family and Xavier. A 1983 business graduate, he now manages a Raymond James Financial Services branch, but certain Xavier classes launched a lifetime of reflection for him. “The older I get, the more appreciative I am for not just the economics side of it, but the cerebral part of it—philosophy, theology,” he says.

Mayo’s team also brought bags stuffed with about $1,000 worth of toiletries, medications, school books and bibles. They also learned Natalie is an orphan and now pay for her schooling, which along with knowing she has fresh water, is a comfort for Mayo.

Xavier Magazine

One Smile at a Time: Visionary Dentist

When Dr. Edward Schaaf was asked to be the first volunteer dentist at the Free People’s Clinic in Englewood, a high-crime, poverty-plagued Chicago neighborhood, he figured he’d give it one night a month.

He wound up working two days and an evening every week at the clinic for 52 years—all of it unpaid. In 2010, however, Schaaf finally retired at the age of 78.

Now looking back on a career serving the dental needs of the uninsured, he recalls what it was like when he entered the cramped little clinic for the first time. Tucked downstairs in the basement of St. Basil Church, it was jammed with neighborhood residents—mothers and children and tired, old men—waiting to see the doctor. Schaaf was increasingly drawn to the people and moved by the gentleness and concern the physicians showed for their patients.

“I felt this was what God wanted me to do at this time in my life,” says Schaaf, who graduated from Xavier in 1953 with an Honors Bachelor of Arts. “That source of motivation is extremely important.”

While he stepped up his contributions to the clinic, Schaaf also took care of patients three to four days a week at his own practice in South Shore, which was also underserved by doctors. “That was my top priority to get done,” he says. “I found I was able to handle the stresses. So why not do what you can? There’ll come a day when you can’t.”

His dedication to improving the dental health of his patients—and their smiles—did not go unnoticed. Two years after he retired because of failing eyesight, the Chicago Dental Society Foundation awarded him its 2012 Vision Award for more than two decades of outstanding volunteer achievement and philanthropy at the clinic. Schaaf, now 83, can rest after a job well done. He not only worked without pay in the tiny clinic, but he successfully lobbied dental manufacturers to donate top-quality equipment and supplies. “I turned into a very good beggar, I tell you,” he says with a chuckle. 

Schaaf says his care for others grew from a lifelong readership of Jesuit magazines. His altruism was piqued while he was at Xavier, where, he says, “we had some incredibly dedicated and talented teachers.”

While he cared for patients’ teeth, he also listened carefully for other problems—like abuse at home. Some patients were so grateful for the free care that they cleaned floors as thanks. The clinic has since closed.

Xavier Magazine

Natalia’s Soup

Chemotherapy made Natalia Marsh-Welton feel cold, so when the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted the girl a wish, her goal was warmth. Not her own, though. Natalia wanted to make homeless people feel warm by giving them soup. And blankets.

Natalia’s soup-and-blankets project was so outstanding that it received the Infinite Wish Award in 2014 from the national Make-A-Wish Foundation, selected from more than 13,000 wishes granted each year. Program manager Kate Donnellon Berliner, a 2003 Xavier graduate in organizational communications, worked on the project with Natalia. They completed it in February, and the award was announced in October—one month before Natalia died, shortly after turning 11.

Natalia’s first wish was to be cured of her brain tumor. When she learned that wasn’t possible, she settled on her love of cooking to make others’ lives better. Berliner helped arrange for Natalia to meet with well-known Cincinnati chef Jean-Robert de Cavel in January, and he helped her create a minestrone soup with a kick of cayenne. Three weeks later, she fed the soup to 200 people at the Drop Inn Center and gave out 500 blankets.

The soup is still served monthly at the shelter, and people now share the recipe using the Twitter hashtag #nataliaswish. You can get the recipe online. “We’ve had people making the soup from as far away as South Africa,” Berliner says.

Berliner learned of the foundation when her younger brother, Andrew, who has a heart condition, was granted a wish to go to Disney World. He’s now the kicker for the football team at Bluffton University. “I love being able to hear stories about how a wish can change a situation that seems hopeless.”

Xavier Magazine

West Nile Survivor: Walking Tall

In August 2012, two months after returning from a trip to South America with his class of Executive MBA students, Jeffrey Daniel was at the halfway mark and looking forward to graduating in May.

But by early September, shortly after classes resumed, Daniel was in a coma, near death and paralyzed. At the hospital, he was put on a ventilator so he could breathe. Doctors concluded the cause was West Nile virus, which he’d apparently picked up from a mosquito bite at home in Cincinnati.

In the following weeks, the weight on his 6’2” frame plunged from 238 pounds to 170. He saw the bones of his legs beneath his skin.

From those depths, however, Daniel showed the physical and spiritual fortitude that had helped him play football at, and graduate from, the U.S. Naval Academy. The strength wasn’t only his, he says. He relied on his wife, his faith, his coworkers from Ethicon, and Xavier’s MBA staff, professors and students for support.

Daniel and his wife, pediatrician Evelyn Jones Daniel, were told that West Nile patients rarely walk again. But that October, he started physical therapy that got him out of bed for daily workouts. He left the hospital two months later determined to resume his former life and his MBA classes. “When I came back from the hospital, I couldn’t remember how to use my cell phone, I couldn’t remember how to use a calculator, but I said, ‘I’m going to go get my MBA.’”

Daniel returned to work and in July, two months after his MBA class had graduated, he returned to Xavier, still in a wheelchair, but ready to resume his studies. His wife drove him each night, but he wheeled himself in and out of class. He did his capstone course last fall, and on Dec. 19, his classmates surprised him with a graduation party.

Daniel, 52, is walking at commencement, which for him is no small task. He progressed to a walker, then a cane and now is walking on his own. He’s working on improving his gait and continues to regain feeling in his legs.

Daniel says earning his MBA from Xavier is his greatest accomplishment. “I’ve always had a soft spot for Xavier, so I feel really honored and blessed to be a Musketeer. It’s something to be really proud of.”

Xavier Magazine

Staging a Cyber Crime: CSI Story

Months before the rest of the world saw the new CBS crime drama “CSI: Cyber,” Xavier alum Victoria C. Page was cranking up the volume and revving up the visuals.

“My producers’ mantra is basically fast and loud. So we have a lot of things moving fast, and we have a lot of loud,” Page says. “We have a cyber/digital look and feel. You see a lot of code. You see a lot of malware.”

“CSI: Cyber” is Page’s newest project since graduating from Xavier in 2010 with a communications degree in electronic media. As an assistant editor on the new series, Page helped create its high-tech look, sound and feel. The 13-episode series, which airs at 10:00 p.m. ET Wednesdays on CBS, moves fast with many quick cuts. It stars Patricia Arquette as FBI special agent Avery Ryan, who solves crimes by searching electronic devices.

“CSI: Cyber is about Internet crime—how people can hack into other people’s devices,” Page says. “It doesn’t just have to be computers. It can be your phones. We had an episode where a printer is set on fire, remotely.”

Which, it turns out, has actually happened. All the shows are fictionalized accounts of real events. The show’s pilot, which aired in March, involves hacking a baby monitor. But the show takes precautions: A cyber psychologist ensures the series doesn’t veer into science fiction, and details of how to commit the crimes are never revealed.

“Working on the show, it kind of made me fearful,” Page says. “If someone hacked your laptop, they could see through your camera and watch you. I think the show is really current with what we’re living through today. We’re always on our phones, always on the Internet, always texting and talking.”

It was during a Xavier student film challenge that Page realized post-production was for her. She loved creating something “that’s visually stunning and emotionally touching.”

After graduation, Page moved to Los Angeles and earned her certification in
film/video editing from the Post-Production Institute in Burbank. Now based in LA as a freelance assistant editor, she’s already worked on “Under the Dome” and the mid-season CBS drama, “Reckless.” She loves the creativity of it all. “I look at the hard work that we put into this, and to see it air on TV or a big screen? It just feels so awesome.”

Xavier Magazine

Faculty Spotlight: David Gerberry, Assistant Professor, Mathematics

For those who consider advanced mathematics a strictly academic pursuit, David Gerberry’s research comes to a completely different, and extremely useful, conclusion. Gerberry creates and analyzes mathematical models of biological processes and diseases. In one project, he and four colleagues set up models to see how HIV spreads through populations in South Africa.

Their models showed the epidemic is concentrated in geographical “hot zones.” Targeting prevention efforts in those zones could prevent 40 percent more infections than spreading efforts equally across the entire country—and be 40 percent more cost-effective, a crucial consideration when fighting a scourge like HIV.

The research was published in the scientific journal Nature Communications and was an editor’s pick in Science magazine. For Gerberry, it illustrates how math and science can solve some of the planet’s biggest problems. “When we set up models for these infectious diseases, it translates into physical results,” says Gerberry, who came to Xavier in 2012. “It’s nice to show this is where math, chemistry and biology play together. They’re separate courses in college but they work together in real life.”

Gerberry, a graduate of Youngstown State University, earned his PhD at Purdue University, where he became intrigued with the modeling of infectious diseases. At Xavier, he teaches all different levels of math and also helps students in the Philosophy, Politics and the Public program map election results.

“At Xavier, we have a really close relationship between departments, and people have been really open to collaborating,” he says.

Gerberry also spoke about mathematical modeling of the Ebola virus to freshmen to show how medicine and math can complement their studies. He encouraged them to consider hard questions like what’s more effective, new treatment centers or a vaccine? Determining the most cost-effective treatment is a huge step in solving some of the world’s most challenging diseases, and math is an essential part of it.

Xavier Magazine

Sundae Service

Lots of people want to fund good ideas that improve their community. And when there’s ice cream involved, doing good becomes fun—and yummy.

Kristine Frech, a 2008 Xavier grad, launched Cincy Sundaes last year with friend and colleague Erika Fiola. The two work for organizations that promote regional development in the Cincinnati area—Frech for Vision 2015 in Northern Kentucky, Fiola for Agenda 360 north of the Ohio River. On a brainstorming trip to Detroit, they learned of a micro-funding effort called Detroit Soup. On the drive home, they decided to set up a similar program in Cincinnati, swapping the soup for ice cream.

Here’s how it works: People pay $5 for an ice-cream sundae. As they’re eating, they hear four pitches about ideas to improve the community. At the end, the group votes on their favorite idea, and the winner takes home the pot.

“We see a lot of people who want to be engaged in their community, but they don’t know how,” says Frech. “It’s a really good example of how Cincinnati as a community comes together to fund individuals with great ideas.”

Cincy Sundaes hosted five events in 2014 and has another four scheduled for 2015. Crowds range from 80 to 180 people, and foundations match the donations. Winners have used the funds to decorate sidewalks as a way of slowing traffic, improve a park in Covington, Ky., and support classical-music education for kids. All the ice cream and toppings are donated, and everyone—from the people making their pitches to those donating the cash—leaves with a sweet taste in their mouths.