Vanderbilt Magazine

Vanderbilt Magazine

Archive for December, 2010

Vanderbilt Magazine Staff – Fall 2010

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010
  • Editor
    GayNelle Doll
  • Art Director and Designer
    Donna DeVore Pritchett


  • Associate Editor and Advertising Manager
    Phillip B. Tucker
  • Arts & Culture Editor
    Bonnie Arant Ertelt, BS’81
  • Class Notes and Sports Editor
    Nelson Bryan, BA’73

Photography and Imaging

  • Director, Photography Services
    Daniel Dubois
  • Photographers
    Steve Green, Joe Howell, Anne Rayner, John Russell, Susan Urmy
  • Assistant Designers
    Deborah Brewington, Jenni Ohnstad, Julie Turner
  • Color Correction and Retouching
    Julie Luckett Turner

Web Edition Design and Development
Lacy Tite, Jeff Kirkwood

Vanderbilt Magazine Advisory Board

  • Roy Blount Jr., BA’63
  • Caneel Cotton, BA’88
  • Terry Eastland, BA’71
  • Sam Feist, BA’91
  • Frye Gaillard Jr., BA’68
  • Janice Miller Greenberg, BS’80
  • G. Marc Hamburger, BA’64
  • Molly Henneberg, BS’95
  • Ann McDaniel, BA’77
  • Wendell Rawls Jr., BA’70
  • Edward Schumacher Matos, BA’68
  • Beth Fortune
  • Susie Stalcup

Vanderbilt Magazine is published three times per year by Vanderbilt University from editorial and business offices at the Loews Vanderbilt Office Complex, 2100 West End Ave., Suite 820, Nashville, TN 37203. Phone: (615) 322-1003. Web version:

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Opinions expressed in Vanderbilt Magazine are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the magazine or the university administration.

Vanderbilt University is committed to the principles of equal opportunity and affirmative action.

Copyright 2010 Vanderbilt University

Contributors for the Fall 2010 Issue

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

Ridley Wills II

Ridley Wills II, BA’56, has lived most of his life in Nashville. Since retiring from a 25-year career with the National Life and Accident Insurance Co., he has spent much of his life researching and writing local history. Heritage, Highballs and Hijinks: Colorful Characters I Have Known is his 13th book. Wills has served on the Vanderbilt Board of Trust since 1988 and became an emeritus member earlier this year.

Dwayne O’Brien

Dwayne O’Brien, MA’05, is a Grammy-nominated musician and songwriter. After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from East Central University, the Oklahoman moved to Nashville to pursue a music career.

A founding member of the group Little Texas, he and the band have sold more than 6 million albums and topped the charts with 15 top-10 and three No. 1 hits. O’Brien was the first person to earn a master’s degree in the communication of science, engineering and technology at Vanderbilt.

Christine Kreyling

Christine Kreyling, MA’97, is a freelance writer who studied art and architectural history at Vanderbilt and is the award-winning architecture and urban planning critic for the Nashville Scene newspaper. She also contributes to national architecture and urban planning magazines. Last year she collaborated with Nashville photographer Bob Schatz to produce the coffee-table book Nashville by Design: Architectural Treasures. Among her other books, she is author and editor of The Plan of Nashville and co-author of Classical Nashville, both published by Vanderbilt University Press.

Rob Simbeck

Rob Simbeck’s work has appeared in The Washington Post, Guideposts, Country Weekly, Field & Stream, Free Inquiry and many other publications. He has won three national awards for his work in the Nashville Scene and two international awards for his outdoor writing. His website is

Joanne Beckham

Joanne Lamphere Beckham, BA’62, worked as an award-winning editor at Vanderbilt for more than 25 years. Since retiring from a full-time career in 2006, she has continued writing for various publications and has taught English as a Second Language. At Vanderbilt she earned her undergraduate degree in English, cum laude, and did graduate work at Peabody College and the Owen Graduate School of Management.

Additional Contributors: Carole Bartoo, Craig Boerner, Mimi Eckerd, Angela Fox, Frye Gaillard, Leslie Hill, Princine Lewis, Brian McGuire, Laura Miller, Melanie Moran, Missy Pankake, Jim Patterson, B.J. Rogers, David F. Salisbury, Donna B. Smith, James Summerville

Of Time and the Clock Tower

Monday, December 6th, 2010

tower“I’d really like to go up into the Kirkland clock tower,” I said.

It was last November, and I was having brunch with Charlie Taylor, a director of regional gifts in Vanderbilt’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations, in sunny southern California, where I live. Charlie makes periodic visits to the West Coast to touch base with alumni.

In previous discussions with Charlie’s department, I had articulated an interest in historic preservation and adaptive reuse of existing campus buildings. There are some superb examples on the Vanderbilt campus, including Buttrick Hall, the Old Science Building, and the Mechanical Engineering Building. As a student I had been oblivious to the interesting mix of architectural styles represented on campus, and even less knowledgeable about their history. And I’d been far too busy trying to make good grades to be involved in frivolous pranks such as gaining access to forbidden areas.

“Gee, I don’t know,” Charlie said gravely. “I don’t think they let people up there.”

“Oh, just tell them you’re dealing with an eccentric alumnus,” I said.

“Well, I’ll make some phone calls and see what I can do. Let me know when you are in Nashville next,” Charlie replied, probably hoping that would be never.

The following February found me rather unexpectedly in Nashville. And Charlie delivered. Based on my interests in architecture and preservation, Charlie had planned a morning tour of some of the recent examples of repurposed or renovated buildings on campus—including the historic Kirkland tower.

The first stop on our tour was the Old Gymnasium, where we were met by John Gaines, director of admissions. The circa 1879 structure, one of the oldest on the Vanderbilt campus, has undergone numerous reinventions through the years. When I attended Vanderbilt in the mid-1970s, the Old Gym was the fine arts building, with a gallery for exhibits on the ground floor and classrooms on the second floor tucked underneath the bare rafters. That was where Professor Robert Mode (still on the faculty, as associate professor of history of art) introduced me to Italian Renaissance art.

Now completely but sensitively remodeled, the Old Gym houses part of the undergraduate admissions office. During our visit a seminar was in progress for a group of potential students and their parents. Next door to Old Gym is its baby brother annex, constructed in the 1990s, which complements Old Gym’s Victorian Gothic design.

Our second stop was the newly reopened Cohen Memorial Building on the old Peabody campus. We were met by Joseph Mella, director of the Fine Arts Gallery. Completed in 1928 with funds donated from the philanthropist George Etta Cohen, this beautiful neoclassical building (also described as Jeffersonian classicism) has always served as a fine arts gallery. Through the years it had received some inappropriate alterations and was in need of updating and general repair. The definitive restoration was completed in the summer of 2009.

Mr. Mella also showed us the various gallery rooms on the main floor, and we viewed some impressive pieces on display from the Vanderbilt collection. On the lower levels we toured the temperature- and humidity-controlled vaults where the permanent collection is stored, including some recently acquired Andy Warhol Polaroid photographs. In addition to its function as a gallery, the Cohen Building also houses the Department of History of Art and the Department of Classical Studies.

Our third and final stop was Kirkland Hall. By way of history, the present bell tower (indeed, the entirety of Kirkland Hall) is not the original structure. The cornerstone of the original building had been laid in 1874 immediately after the founding of the university. At the time of its construction, Victorian Gothic (also exemplified by Science Hall and the Old Gymnasium) was the prevailing architectural style of the campus. Variously called Main Building, College Hall and Old Main throughout its early years, the imposing structure originally had two matching towers with gabled roofs.

As described by Paul Conkin in his historical “biography” of Vanderbilt University (Gone with the Ivy, University of Tennessee Press, 1985), and from which most of my historical facts are sourced, in 1905 a devastating fire destroyed Old Main. The fire, thought to be electrical in origin, started in the garret and burned for two hours from the upper floors to the lower floors. Conkin provides a gripping image of the destruction: “The beloved clock in the south tower was engulfed in flames but survived just to the noon hour, struck a desperate thirty times, and then fell into the rubble.”


Two hundred thirty-four steps later, Brian McGuire recalls images of his student days

At that time Old Main housed the chapel, library, chemistry and pharmacy laboratories, various classrooms and the law school, as well as administrative offices. Despite the fire, not a single day of classes was missed. At the time of the reconstruction, the master plan for the campus had shifted to a castellated Collegiate Gothic style. Similar to Furman Hall (completed in 1907), the new look for the main building featured flat roofs, turrets and parapets—thus the present appearance of Kirkland Hall. For reasons unclear, only the south tower was rebuilt.

I wish I could say we had to sneak up into the tower after dark, breaking as many locks as rules to gain entrance. But in actuality, it was all quite legitimate. Charlie and I met up with Tim Kaltenbach, executive director of planned giving, who was having a challenging day with his sums and needed a break.

The three of us were greeted at the front reception desk of Kirkland Hall by Mary McClure Taylor, herself a fixture on campus. She informed me that she graduated from Vanderbilt in 1952 and has been there ever since. She seemed somewhat alarmed when we stated our mission.

“I’ve never heard of anyone going up there,” she exclaimed.

Charlie assured her that all was cool. Joining us shortly was our tour guide: Paul Young, who has been an electrician at Vanderbilt more than 30 years. It is Paul who goes up into the tower “whenever anything goes wrong,” and it was Paul who had obtained permission behind the scenes for our tour.

And off we set. Or up, I should say. Two hundred thirty-four steps, according to Paul’s official count: 108 from the basement to the main roof, 94 from the roof to the bell, and 32 from the bell to the top. Initially, we proceeded up the public stairs under the tower that serves offices on the upper floors of Kirkland. Then, when we could go no further on the main staircase, Paul pulled out his keys to unlock a door in the wall, and we soon were heading up a set of rough concrete steps that wrapped around the inside walls of the tower clockwise (which seemed appropriate). Here my recall gets a little hazy—the climb was quite strenuous—but I remember a series of locked doors, platforms and, finally, trap doors.

Our first pause during the ascent was on the roof of the main building from whence the tower itself rises. It was a February morning and quite cold, with a stiff wind blowing. The sky was gray and overcast, and snow flurries were intermittent. We took in the view of the West End until the cold drove us back inside, and we then recommenced our climb.

Presently, we reached the level that contains the clockworks. A large square housing sits in the center of this tower chamber, from which rods extend in four directions that control the four clock faces on each side of the tower. Inside this large housing resides the actual clockworks. According to the little clock face on the controls, it was five minutes to noon.

On the next level up was a rather small device best described as a “thingy” sitting on the floor in the center of the chamber in which we stood. Somehow connected to the clockworks below, it also has a cable extending upward that disappears through the ceiling into the next level. This is the mechanism that physically activates the bell.

It was then that Paul suddenly signaled for us to cover our ears. It was noon. The “thingy” sitting at our feet suddenly sprang to life, and the upward-reaching cable contracted downward. The bell started tolling. As I stood with hands gripping my ears, I wondered whether Charlie had planned this timing on purpose. We waited until the 12 head-splitting peals were past. (Actually, there were 13; we were close enough to hear the preliminary upstroke as the clapper hit the bell in preparation for the first ring.)

We continued our climb to the next level. And then I saw the bell. There really is one! Contrary to the urban legend circulating when I had been a student, the ringing is not a recording played through large loudspeakers. Paul explained that at one time, there had been speakers on the roof of the tower, broadcasting prerecorded chime music at specific intervals. Because of a student prank (someone had replaced the chime music with another recording that was “not very appropriate”), the speakers were removed. But all of that was quite independent of the real bell that struck—and still does strike—each hour and each half hour. And it’s big.


View more of Brian McGuire’s photos from his bell tower excursion here.

Really, really big. Mystery solved.

Up and up we climbed beyond the bell level. The penultimate stretch of our climb was on a wooden ladder that was quite steep. One had to keep one’s head low because of overhanging rafters, and at one point I remember having to twist around 180 degrees and carefully step up the remaining way backward so as not to lose the skin off my back. Paul was leading the way, and toward the top he pulled out his flashlight to illuminate the rungs for those of us behind him.

Finally, he stopped to unlatch a trap door.

A shaft of daylight suddenly flooded the uppermost chamber of the tower, and we soon found ourselves at the top. One by one we crawled out through the trap door onto the roof. The snow flurries had intensified, and so had the wind. The view took away one’s breath even more than the bitter cold.

Immediately below us, and viewed through the parapets, was the green copper roof of Alumni Hall. Nearby was Barnard Hall, where I had lived my junior year. That was during the time of the first oil embargo of the 1970s, and I still remember the bone-chilling nights because of a cutback in steam production as the university struggled to conserve energy. Further away was the place outside McGill Hall where I had collapsed face-first in the snow and vomited after my first and only experiment with … well, never mind. In the distance was Tower One, Carmichael East, my posh address as a senior. Toward the south was the Stevenson Center and Buttrick Hall, where most of my science classes were held, including Professor Gisela Mosig’s genetics class that often featured her famous yarn chromosomes, held together by Velcro, which she used to demonstrate mitosis. All these images were connected by the sound of the Kirkland bell, reminding me that I was late for my next class. Reluctantly, we started back down.

It is as tempting as it would be trite to invoke the clock tower as a metaphor for the passage of time. Yet, as we clambered back down the uneven concrete steps of the tower, the fact could not escape me that 34 years had passed since Chancellor Alexander Heard had handed me my undergraduate diploma on Curry Field. And it had been 30 years since I—by no means a finished product, but certainly an expensive one—had ultimately emerged from Vanderbilt with my doctorate.

I’ve often heard it said that the years of college are the best years of one’s life. At the top of the tower, as I had gazed down at the stunning view of the campus with dormant memories flooding back, I found myself musing that this is probably true. But does it have to be the absolute pinnacle of your life?

The purpose of my visit to Nashville had been a somber one: to attend the memorial service of my thesis adviser, Dr. Frank Chytil, professor of biochemistry, emeritus. He had passed away late in January, and the memorial service in Benton Chapel had been held the previous day. As I reflected on the time that had passed since I left school, I decided that perhaps we should judge ourselves not so much by what we have gotten out of life, but by what we are leaving behind.

Frank Chytil immortalized himself through the many young scientists he had taught and trained in his laboratory—and I was fortunate enough to be one of them. I have no such legacy. But perhaps there are other measures, other means of giving back a part of oneself. And in that case, the pinnacle is yet to be reached.

Clock Tower Photos

Monday, December 6th, 2010






Role Reversal

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Dr. Otis Rickman with the tools of his trade


“Help me understand,” she said.

My patient was the delightful silver-haired matriarch of a large family. I was seeing her in consultation for a pulmonary nodule in the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s Thoracic Oncology Clinic on a crisp afternoon in the spring of 2010. What she wanted to understand was why she had this spot on her lung, what it could be, and what could be done about it.

As I had done thousands of times before, I launched into my spiel about pulmonary nodules: where they come from, what they could be, and what to do about it. In her case the most appropriate next step was to perform bronchoscopy and obtain a biopsy.

* * *

The word “bronchoscopy” derives from the Greek brongchos (“conduits to the lungs”) and skopos (“to aim or target”). A physician performs a bronchoscopy using a bronchoscope—a long, flexible instrument (about the diameter of a coaxial cable that plugs into the back of your TV) with a light and camera on the end that captures an image and displays it on a video monitor. The current standard of care for sedation is to give medicine in the IV to create a calm and relaxed state and apply topical anesthetic (numbing medicine like at the dentist) to the mouth and nose to abolish both cough and gag reflexes. The bronchoscope is then introduced into either the mouth or the nose, advanced past the voice box and into the bronchial tubes of the lungs, where it can then be advanced into each lobe of lung and to lesions for biopsies.

“Does it hurt?” she asked.

“No, there are no pain fibers in the lung,” I explained. “It is an outpatient procedure and you can go home the same day. It’s a piece of cake,” I added glibly.

Her demeanor changed. “Piece of cake! Have you ever had it done? How dare you say that it is a piece of cake!” she scolded me.

I apologized, scheduled her for the bronchoscopy the next day, and went on to the next patient.

However, that conversation kept coming back and occupying my thoughts. I ruminated about it during my daily commute, at work, and as I lay awake in bed before falling asleep.

I finally figured out the reason it kept coming up: She was right. I had no idea what it was like to have a bronchoscopy. I was a hypocrite.

Even more, I had no idea what it was like to be a patient. Thankfully, I have never been hospitalized, never had surgery or a procedure—not even a broken bone. I was ignorant of the entire medical process from the patient’s viewpoint.

Medical schools teach early on that empathy is an essential attribute of good physicians. The concept of empathy is that through imagination, rather than literally, the physician experiences what the patient is going through. At this point I felt that empathy was no longer good enough. I needed to have a bronchoscopy. A plot began to formulate in my mind, but I would need collaborators to carry it out.

Soon after moving to Nashville in the fall of 2009, I was approached by my colleague Dr. Pierre Massion to participate as a co-investigator in a research project for which the primary aim was to develop an early detection test for lung cancer, which I agreed to do. He also asked me to perform a bronchoscopy on him as part of his research study, which I also agreed to do, but hadn’t done yet. These two thoughts came together. To accomplish my goal of understanding what it was like to have a bronchoscopy, I needed to volunteer for Pierre’s research study. So I signed up to have a bronchoscopy as a normal control for this study.

Everyone thought I was nuts: my wife, colleagues, fellows and nurses. But I was resolved to carry this out. I was uneasy on the morning of March 25, 2010, as I rode the elevator up to Vanderbilt’s Clinical Research Center. It’s not too late to walk away, I kept thinking.

It was surreal to walk into the procedure room and not go to the head of the bed, but to lie down on it, take my shirt off, get an IV started, have ECG and BP monitors attached, and be placed on oxygen. It hit home at that point. I am going to allow these people to invade my personal space and give up autonomy! This was the most important lesson I learned that day: I would be completely at the mercy of someone else.

The research nurse looked at me with concern. “Are you sure you don’t want IV sedation?”

“No sedation,” I told her. It wasn’t male bravado—I wanted to remember every detail. In most cases a desirable side effect of medications used for procedural sedation is amnesia. In my case, if I used IV sedation, there was a good chance I wouldn’t be able to recall the experience. I would be unable to explain to my patients what to expect and to really help prepare them for bronchoscopy.


This was the most important lesson I learned that day: I would be completely at the mercy of someone else.

Dr. Massion began the important process of topical anesthetic application. In a sitting position I first gargled lidocaine, which was very bitter, then had topical benzocaine sprayed on the back of my throat. The benzocaine smelled like bananas, but I soon realized it tasted like bananas that had been through a monkey. I could no longer feel the back of my throat, which made it difficult to swallow my saliva. What had I gotten myself into?

I was asked to lie down. A washcloth was placed over my eyes, and viscous lidocaine was placed inside my right nostril to numb it. With the Yankauer suction in my left hand to clear secretions (like at the dentist), we were under way. I was having a bronchoscopy.

Dr. Massion inserted the scope in my nostril, and I felt nothing. He advanced it to my voice box. I felt nothing. Diana from the musical A Chorus Line popped into my head.

Dr. Massion warned me as he applied lidocaine to my voice box that it might make me cough. I felt a cold sensation—it didn’t hurt and wasn’t unpleasant, but did cause a cough that quickly went away.

This process was repeated several times until my entire bronchial tree was numb. It was bizarre to hear him request instruments and supplies to perform washings, brushings and biopsies of my lungs and not feel a thing. All in all, it took 22 minutes.

Thirty minutes later I was back in the bronchoscopy suite performing a bronchoscopy on a patient with a new sense of awe and admiration for my patients and new respect for the privileges they allow me.

This article is dedicated to that delightful patient who afforded me this opportunity, for which I am eternally grateful. The nodule turned out to be an early stage lung cancer. She underwent surgery and had a portion of her lung removed, and likely has been cured of her disease.


Since my bronchoscopy, Dr. Massion and my nurse, Charla Atkins, as well as three pulmonary fellows, two residents and two pulmonary/ICU nurses with whom I work have all volunteered for the research study and undergone bronchoscopies.

Through Buddy’s Eyes

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Morris Frank, ’29, once playfully recalled the time he got a free train ride.

“The conductor told me he had watched me come down the platform, get on the train and take my seat, and he said that no blind man in the world could do that.”

As proof, Frank popped out his artificial eyes and had his guide dog, Buddy, take him to another seat. “The conductor was so shocked he didn’t take my ticket.” Frank later redeemed it for a refund.

Born in Nashville in 1908, Frank lost his right eye at age 6 when he ran into a tree while riding a horse. The left eye was put out when he was 16 during a boxing match at Montgomery Bell Academy, where he attended high school.

The young man enrolled at Vanderbilt, perhaps the first blind college student in the South. He paid his way from wages earned as a piano tuner and later went to work as a salesman for the National Life and Accident Insurance Co.


Morris Frank and Buddy

Despite the support of loving parents (his mother also had been blinded in both eyes in separate incidents), Frank’s frustration drove him to the edge of bitterness. By nature self-reliant, he required a paid helper while attending classes. He was embarrassed by the “talkative, incompatible guide” who accompanied him when he called on business clients. An evening with the opposite sex had to be a double date so he could be steered by a pal’s hand on his arm.

One afternoon in the fall of 1927, Frank’s father read him an article that had just appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. The author, Dorothy Harrison Eustis, described schools in Germany that trained guide dogs for veterans who had lost their vision during World War I. A wealthy American then living in Switzerland, Eustis operated a school that supplied dogs to that nation’s customs and police services, and to the Red Cross.

Her sojourn in Germany led her to think more broadly. She had been impressed by the unusual intelligence and faithfulness of her German shepherd, Hans. Could selective breeding develop such qualities more widely? If so, then why not breed and train dogs to assist blind people?

“I have often thought of this solution for the blind but have never heard of it being put to practical use before,” Frank wrote to Eustis. “I should very much like to forward this work in this country.”

In April 1928, Frank sailed for Europe, accepting Eustis’ invitation to visit her school and see about a guide dog for himself. Because of his disability, he was classified on the ship’s manifest as a parcel. This and restrictions against his movements during the voyage angered him and made him more determined than ever to establish his independence.

At Fortunate Fields, near Vevey in the Swiss Alps, Frank met a beautiful German shepherd dog named Kiss. Frank had imagined striding through downtown Nashville with the help of such an extraordinary animal. Because he couldn’t imagine startling passersby with “Come, Kiss!” he decided to call his new companion Buddy.

The trio and other trainers who were connected with the school worked together for weeks. Frank sometimes stepped on Buddy’s paws, missed her cues, and walked into closed doors. The dog walked patiently at his side, allowing him to falter, fail, then pick up and start over. At the end of the training, Frank could get around Vevey holding tightly to Buddy’s harness.

Frank returned to the United States with a goal of spreading the word about guide dogs. Tipped off by what they assumed would be a sensation, some reporters met his ship at the dock. One cynical newsman challenged Frank and Buddy to cross West Street in the face of treacherous traffic. Frank later recalled:

“I lost all sense of direction and surrendered myself entirely to the dog. … I shall never forget the next three minutes: 10-ton trucks rocketing past, cabs blowing their horns in our ears, drivers shouting at us. When we finally made it to the other side and I realized what an amazing job she had done, I leaned over and gave Buddy a great big hug and told her what a good, good girl she was.”

He quickly dispatched to Eustis a one-word telegram: “SUCCESS!”

Back in Nashville, Frank found that his life had changed forever. People stood amazed as the boy they formerly had pitied was now making his way down busy sidewalks and crossing streets through hurtling traffic. Buddy obeyed Frank except when executing his command would result in harm. If a low-hanging branch was blocking the sidewalk, Buddy would ignore “Forward!” and guide his master around and past it, avoiding a collision.

Frank observed that in the past, people had not known how to strike up a conversation with him. “They did not wish to be rude,” he said. “They just did not know how to bring me in without referring to my blindness. With Buddy there, it was the easiest and most natural thing in the world for them to say, ‘What a lovely dog you have!’

“I can’t put into words what my personal friends and the people of Nashville did. … Nashville accepted the dog into restaurants, on streetcars, and everywhere I went. … It was glorious: just [Buddy] and a leather strap, linking me to life.”

Word of Frank’s success reached Fortunate Fields, and Eustis seized the opportunity. She left Switzerland for America, planning to recruit sponsors and funds for a dog-guide training school here. It incorporated as a nonprofit organization in Nashville in January 1929 as The Seeing Eye and graduated its first class the next month. (Eustis probably drew the name from Proverbs 20:12: “The hearing ear and the seeing eye—the Lord hath made them both.”) Morris Frank, the institution’s managing director, oversaw its day-to-day operations.


Reporters look on as Buddy leads Morris Frank across a New York City street.

The special relationships between dogs and blind people can be traced back as far as ancient Rome. But The Seeing Eye was the first guide-dog school in the modern sense, and Buddy became the forerunner of canine guides for sightless persons in the United States. The Seeing Eye remained in Nashville for two years, then relocated to Morristown, N.J., where Eustis had purchased a 56-acre estate. On its campus the school offered dog training, instructors, housing for all, and living situations where the hard work between students and dogs was carried out day by day.

To publicize The Seeing Eye, Morris Frank traveled throughout the nation, logging 50,000 miles. His stops included the White House, where he and Buddy were received by presidents Coolidge and Hoover. Frank’s philosophy, he told his hearers, was “to fight the tyranny the blind impose on themselves—self-pity—and to teach them how to see, with their minds.” Buddy barked warmly at the applause from audiences.

When Buddy died in May 1938, she was hailed as a national heroine. By that year The Seeing Eye had trained 350 dogs to lead blind people in America. Even as his heart was broken, Morris Frank requested another dog, which was a benefit The Seeing Eye extended to blind people whose animals die in service.

On the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, The Seeing Eye’s board of trustees resolved that Seeing Eye dogs would be supplied, without charge, to members of “the armed forces who lose their sight in the line of duty.” Morris Frank and “Buddy II” enlisted in this effort, touring Army, Navy and Veterans Administration hospitals.

Dorothy Eustis retired as president of The Seeing Eye in 1940. Wartime shortages of manpower hit the institution hard. Yet the work of Eustis, Frank and able associates carried on. Eventually, a puppy raising club was begun in association with 4-H Clubs of New Jersey, and further acreage was added for the raising of German shepherds.

Morris Frank and “Buddy III” visited President Truman at the White House in 1949. In 1960 the school held its 500th graduation, honoring 2,600 people who had come through the program. In 1978 Morris Frank became the first person to reach the half-century mark as a Seeing Eye dog user.

This visionary man died Nov. 22, 1980. Since his time, guide-dog schools have opened all around the world, and thousands of people know what Morris Frank meant when he said, “One of these extraordinary animals could be the answer to my prayers.”

A reporter visiting The Seeing Eye once noted: “Often a person without sight arrives with stooped and tentative shuffle. In the month that follows, he or she comes to ‘see’ through a dog. … He learns to care for and to love the companion that will seldom leave his side until death.”

“When I came to The Seeing Eye, I had little interest in life,” one graduate wrote. “Now my dog has done what I never thought could be done: She has made me over mentally.”

In 2005 a statue of Morris Frank and Buddy by J. Seward Johnson was dedicated in Morristown. This year, 2010, The Seeing Eye celebrated its 15,000th graduate.

Heart of a Champion

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Scientists Virginia Shepherd and Charles Brau first met at a Vanderbilt basketball game. She has become a national figure in championing the role of academics in the lives of student athletes.

In 1992, Virginia Shepherd was attending a conference where Bruce Alberts, then-future president of the National Academy of Sciences, was speaking to a large crowd of prominent scientists, exhorting them to “give something back” by spending at least four hours per week in a K–12 science classroom.

“That sounded like a lot,” Shepherd says, “but he certainly fired me up.”

Since returning from that meeting, she has been on a passionate, tireless and often single-handed campaign to develop and secure the funding for groundbreaking programs that now support science and math education in public schools, provide summer science camps for kids, and promote professional development for K–12 science teachers.

Shepherd, who came to Vanderbilt in 1988, is a professor of pathology and medicine at the School of Medicine and professor of science education at Peabody College. She is also director of the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach, which began as a solo operation to secure grants and develop key relationships out of Shepherd’s own small office. Funded by two substantial grants in 2000, the Office of Science Outreach became the Center for Science Outreach in 2006.

“We have about 15 people now on the payroll,” she says, “and if I were to add the students on summer research and teachers in workshops, we’re paying well over 70 people. It’s hard to believe.”

The CSO now implements and oversees successful programs that once were only Shepherd’s pipe dreams. The Scientist-in-the-Classroom program places Vanderbilt graduate students in Metro Nashville Public Schools science classrooms for 10 hours per week. These teaching fellows are a tremendous resource to their host teachers and schools, providing role models and much-needed hands-on support in often overcrowded and underfunded science classes.

“We’re starting our 11th year,” Shepherd says. “We’re the longest-running program of this kind in the country. We’ve had 93 fellows, 80 teachers, and have been in 30 of the 38 Metro middle schools.”

Another success story is the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt, which was funded in 2008 by the National Institutes of Health’s Science Education Partnership Award. “We proposed to start a part-time high school on the Vanderbilt campus,” Shepherd says. “Today we have 92 students from 11 Metro Nashville high schools.”

“We have 92 students from 11 Metro Nashville high schools. These kids are doing graduate-level research work.”

—Virginia Shepherd

Each grade comes to the Vanderbilt campus on a different day of the week, studying science and math in a dedicated lab and classroom. “The students must get to Vanderbilt on their own and make up any work they miss at their regular schools,” Shepherd says, “and during their junior year, they go into the lab and do a research project. These kids are doing graduate-level research work. It’s incredible.”

In what she calls her highest-risk experiment, Shepherd has now exported the program into Stratford Comprehensive High School, a large high-risk, underachieving high school in Nashville. The program will insert a two-period-per-day series of science and math courses in the regular curriculum.

“What I’d like to see from the program is 100 percent high school graduation and 100 percent entry into some kind of post-secondary education,” Shepherd says. They’re ambitious goals, but they don’t surprise those who know Shepherd.

“She is deeply passionate about helping every child realize his or her potential,” says long-time colleague Vicki Metzgar, EdD’08, now a faculty member at Western Kentucky University. “She has a quiet strength that is not to be underestimated—especially if you play poker against her.”

Angela Eeds, PhD’06, director of the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt, also admires Shepherd’s tenacity. “What inspires me most is her resolve and dedication to carry out an idea despite challenges and criticisms,” she says.

The present success of these programs did not come easily or quickly, and is owed almost entirely to Shepherd’s determination to see them through the early years when she found little support. “I’m persistent,” she says in a soft-spoken understatement, “and I’m not passive about much of anything.”

Virginia—“Ginny” to all who know her—grew up in Rock Island, Ill. Although her father was an architectural engineer, her inspiration to become a scientist remains a mystery.

“I have no idea what stimulated it,” she says, “but for some reason I knew as early as the eighth grade that I wanted to go into science and cure cancer.” Never one to shy away from asking questions, she remembers writing letters to big pharmaceutical companies like Parke-Davis for information about how to become a scientist.

Shepherd earned her bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Iowa, and remained at Iowa to earn her M.S. and Ph.D. in biochemistry. “Along the way, I had four kids—three during graduate school and one during my first postdoctoral position,” she says.


Virginia Shepherd is on a tireless, often single-handed campaign to bring science and math education to public schools.

Then, when their youngest child was only 3, Shepherd was suddenly widowed. It was a difficult time, but somehow Shepherd managed to raise her four children on her own and pursue her career.

“I don’t know how I did it,” she says, “but I had a grand time being a single parent with four children running around. It was chaotic, but we had a lot of fun.”

She beams with pride when she speaks about her children. “They’re all married, they all have advanced degrees, they’re all parents, and we’re all very close,” boasts Shepherd, whose brood now includes nine grandchildren all under the age of 10. Her daughter Jennifer Ufnar earned her bachelor’s degree at Vanderbilt in 1994.

While at the University of Iowa, Shepherd also excelled on the tennis court. “I played competitive tennis from the time I was 8,” she says, “mostly in regional tournaments around the Midwest.” Shepherd remembers that, while women’s tennis was a varsity sport at Iowa, there was no money for women’s sports at the time. “We were pre-NCAA, so we had no scholarships. Six of us would pile into a Volkswagen and drive to a tournament with two people hanging out the windows,” she says, laughing. “We went to the national championships, though.”

Shepherd’s experience as a college athlete has served her well in her efforts to champion the role of academics in the lives of student athletes. She has become a national figure in the effort, having been the co-chair and currently a member of the Steering Committee of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics, or COIA.

“We worked very closely with the NCAA to establish a role for faculty in defining how athletics and academics can work together to help student athletes reach the goals of getting their education and to graduate,” she says. She still plays, and sports remain a very passionate part of her life.

“I’m a huge sports fan, especially spectator sports like football and basketball. I go to all the Vanderbilt games,” she says. “That’s where I met Charlie.”

Shepherd was introduced to her husband, Charles Brau, a professor of physics at Vanderbilt, at a Vanderbilt basketball game in Memorial Gym. “She was sitting with a colleague of mine, and we started talking,” Brau says. “We started running into each other all the time after that.”

“I actually asked him out,” says Shepherd, “and we just hit it off. We’re very compatible.”

The couple will celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary this year, and have shared their love of travel and cycling all over the world. “We’ve been to China, Japan and Germany many times,” Brau says. “We’ve biked our way across France, across Austria; we’ve even been to Tibet.”

Shepherd and Brau also have shared the classroom, teaching a popular course at Vanderbilt about Nobel Prize winners together for several years. “We’d talk about the science and the people behind the award,” Brau says. “She’d handle the biology and I’d handle the physics.”

Brau admits that he and Shepherd admire each other’s disciplines without fully understanding them. “As many times as she’s tried to explain it, I still can’t diagram a peptide molecule.”

The couple also collaborated on a successful program called Kids and Computers. From 1996 to 2006, Nashville kids from low-income government homes spent two hours each Saturday on the Vanderbilt campus working one-on-one with a Vanderbilt graduate student on a computer. Ostensibly, the program was about kids learning to use computers. Shepherd and Brau soon learned, however, that it was about much more than that.

“In fact, it ended up being more about life,” Shepherd says, “about these kids spending time every Saturday with someone who cared about them.”

She remembers one of the little boys in the program walking with her on campus one Saturday. “He looked up at me and said, ‘You know, I could come to Vanderbilt.’ I said, ‘Yes. Yes, you could. Absolutely.’”

Shepherd’s dedication and determination continue to change the lives of those around her. “I’ve done things I never would have imagined possible had it not been for the influence of Ginny Shepherd in my life,” says Vicki Metzgar.

Her husband agrees. “She’s changed my life, too,” he says.

High Flyer

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Neil Cargile (center) at a Florida club with Dorothy Koss (left) and Holly Armistead

People saw Neil Cargile Jr. in a great many ways. For me, though, an enduring vision was the very first one. I was a junior or senior at Montgomery Bell Academy back then, and there he was at a sorority dance, jitterbugging with one of the cutest girls. He was six or seven years older than she was, and had already been a Navy fighter pilot. Everybody in the ballroom—particularly the girls—was aware of his presence.

Neil was born May 21, 1928, the eldest son of Eleanor and Neil Cargile, who owned Allen Manufacturing Co. At the age of 12, Neil set up a machine shop in his parents’ West Meade garage and built motor scooters out of washing machine engines. As a teenager he and a friend founded the Southern Maintenance Co., a clinic for putting ailing motor scooters and cars back in running order. Still later, he would transfer his mechanical skills to airplanes.

At age 16, Neil built an airplane out of surplus parts of a World War II plane. A daredevil pilot from the get-go, Neil soon flew loop-the-loops and once buzzed his father on the Belle Meade Country Club golf course. Mr. Cargile, BA’26, BE’27, who had been Vanderbilt’s football captain in 1926, promptly grounded Neil for two months.

Neil entered Vanderbilt University in the fall of 1946 as a freshman in the School of Engineering. His plan was to become an aeronautical engineer. On weekends, when he wasn’t playing football, he usually was working on a plane in his parents’ yard. He often drove to Jackson, Tenn., where he kept several crop-dusting planes. He earned extra spending money by spraying cotton fields.

On one occasion Neil was cropdusting with a couple of other guys in Madison County, Tenn., loading their sprayers with a poison by using a pump. When the pump malfunctioned, Neil grabbed a garden hose to siphon the poison. To start the liquid flowing, he sucked on the end of the rubber hose, casually spitting out the small amount of poison that got in his mouth. With that task completed, he and his crew went to a “meat-and-three” restaurant in Jackson. There, in the midst of lunch, Neil suddenly grew rigid and fell to the floor unconscious. His buddies revived him by throwing cold water on his face. They finished lunch and drove back to the hangar. Neil said he was fine, and they picked up where they’d left off that morning.

Neil left Vanderbilt after his sophomore year to join the U.S. Navy, where he became an excellent pilot. Returning to Nashville after his discharge, Neil re-entered Vanderbilt, graduating in 1954 with a degree in mechanical engineering. During all this time, he continued to work as a crop-duster, piloting his own plane and hiring others to fly planes he owned.

In 1955, Neil married Connie Stevens, who was seven years younger. In 1956, Connie had a baby boy, whom they named Neil Cargile II. Five years later Connie gave birth to a little girl, whom she and Neil named Cornelia. The next year Connie and Neil divorced.


Cargile with one of his planes at Nashville Flying Service hangar, circa 1955

Neil’s second wife’s name was Tommie. He called her “Tommie Tomato.” They had a son named Hastings. That marriage also failed.

Neil became engaged in designing, building and operating mammoth dredges that were used to deepen river channels and harbors and to find gold and silver, often in remote parts of the world. His friends were under the impression he made a great deal of money in the dredging business, only to lose it and then turn around and make it all over again.

The first time Neil ever wore women’s clothes in public may have been at a Halloween party at the Palm Bay Club and Marina in an exclusive area of Miami. Four ladies talked Neil into impersonating Dolly Parton. Neil won the prize for best costume, and his picture was posted on the club’s bulletin board.

Some months later, George and Em Crook of Nashville happened to be at the club, where they saw the photograph on the bulletin board. Em, BA’67, said, “My God, that’s Neil Cargile.” Slowly, rumors of other cross-dressing excursions by Neil began to circulate in Nashville.

“The other occasions were costume parties, too; they were always out of town,” stated a 1995 profile of Neil in The New Yorker. “But then Cargile began to dress up in Nashville. At first he did it at private parties and with a degree of subtlety. He’d wear a blazer, a shirt and a tie—and a kilt. Instead of the traditional knee-length woolen socks, however, he’d put on black stockings and high heels; or he’d wear the kilt and heels with a formal dinner jacket.”

Some of Neil’s close friends asked him if he had lost his mind. Neil assured them that he was not gay but was simply having a good time.

By this time, Mr. Cargile Sr. had died. Had he been alive, Neil said, “He’d have killed me.” When Mrs. Cargile heard about what her son was doing, she confronted him. “You are the best-looking man in Nashville, Neil. Why on earth would you want to dress up in women’s clothes?” Neil replied, “It’s fun, Mom.”

Jeweler Michael Corzine, BA’65, has colorful Neil Cargile stories, too. “I decided to have a cocktail party. Neil came, uninvited, in a big red dress and a big old wig and a hat. I didn’t notice it, but I later learned he was dancing on top of my marble coffee table with his girlfriend, whose name, I think, was Peaches. The next morning when I got up, my maid said, ‘Your coffee table is cracked all the way down the middle.’ … I called my good friend Wally Graham, and he said, ‘Neil broke it, dancing on it last night.’ So I called Neil, and I said, ‘You have just broken a $3,500 coffee table, and I want you to pay for it.’ When he said he didn’t have any idea of paying for it, I called my attorneys at Bass, Berry and Sims. They wouldn’t handle my claim because Neil was also a client of theirs.

“Finally, I called Neil again. I said, ‘Everybody knows you broke the coffee table dancing on it last night. I’ve just got to tell you that in that big blond wig and that big Gucci dress and that Hermes belt and those Jourdan shoes, you are a very big woman.’ And he said, ‘I am, aren’t I?’ And he sent me a check. But I think it was only because I flattered him.”

In the spring of 1994, the same year his best-selling novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil was published, writer John Berendt visited Nashville and heard about Neil Cargile Jr. The following August, Berendt called Neil and asked to meet him to learn more about his motivation for dressing in drag. Cargile was open to the idea, and they agreed to meet in New York City when Cargile would be up there with his girlfriend.

Berendt’s article about Neil appeared in The New Yorker in January 1995. It came complete with photos of Cargile in a business suit and in the festive female outfit of “SheNeil,” as he called his female alter-ego. Nashvillians made a run on local bookstores to get a copy. A few months later organizers of Nashville’s annual Oyster Easter Benefit nominated Cargile both Oyster King and Oyster Queen.

John Bransford Jr., BA’55, a lifelong friend of Neil’s, said, “I asked him what he did it for, and he said he enjoyed the excitement of it.” John continued, “In every other way, he was normal as can be.”

Not long before his death on Aug. 2, 1995, Neil returned to Nashville from Guyana, where he said he had “dumped every penny” into a failed business venture. While there he contracted a fatal case of malaria. Up until the time of his death, Neil remained president of American Marine and Machinery Co., a Nashville manufacturer of dredging equipment.

Friends were stunned at his passing. They knew there was a possibility that he would die prematurely, but thought, if that happened, it would be the result of a plane crash or some other horrific accident because of the aggressive, flamboyant way in which Neil lived.

Bransford admitted, “I didn’t think anything could kill him, as tough as he was. I would not have been surprised if he had died in an air crash, but I was really surprised that a disease got him.

“He was a hell of a nice guy, and very bright. He was about as good an engineer as I’ve ever seen in my life—extremely creative. He lived life fully; I’ll tell you that. He never forgot his old friends, even though he’d taken up a different life.”

This essay has been adapted with permission from Heritage, Highballs and Hijinks: Colorful Characters I Have Known by Ridley Wills II, BA’56. Wills, the author of 13 books, is an emeritus member of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust.

Need for Speed

Monday, December 6th, 2010


Lawson Aschenbach, right, celebrates a Street Tuner championship in September with team co-driver David Thilenius at Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City.


“There’s no better feeling than crossing the finish line first,” says professional racecar driver Lawson Aschenbach. He started racing go-karts at age 8, became a national champion karter, and now continues his winning ways in sports cars, with top finishes every year since his debut in 2005. He currently drives for the Compass360 Racing team, which competes in the GRAND-AM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge Street Tuner class.

“I love the competition, speed, adrenaline and precision in motorsports,” says Aschenbach, who double majored in engineering science and mathematics at Vanderbilt. “I started racing as a hobby and as a fun thing to do with my brother and dad. But over time it became a passion and, ultimately, a career.”

Aschenbach’s training regimen builds the stamina required to drive for hours at 160-plus mph in a fireproof suit inside a 100-degree racecar. His marketing plan, including a strong online presence, creates relationships with sponsors and fans crucial for success.

“Drivers can’t just be drivers anymore,” he says. “Between training, sponsor commitments, sponsor development, marketing, traveling and the actual racing, it gets very busy, keeps you on the road for weeks or months, and tests your mental strength. But I wouldn’t trade it for any other career.”

Find out more:

Reunion on Wheels

Monday, December 6th, 2010

wheelsThirty Vanderbilt alumnae from 13 states—and nearly all from the Class of 1982—gathered in May to celebrate their collective 50th birthdays with a “Women on Wheels” reunion and bicycle trip through California’s wine country. During the trip, which was organized by Liz Schwartz Hale, BSN’83, and her family’s Berkeley, Calif., active-travel company, Backroads, participants explored the vineyards, redwoods and coastlines of Napa and Sonoma counties.

“We enjoyed five days of biking, eating, laughing and reminiscing about our days together at Vanderbilt,” says Hale. “Having this time together was priceless.”

Front row (left to right): Liz Schwartz Hale, BSN’83; Terry Abide Stark, BS’82; Lynn Stichter Pearce, BS’82; Nancy Richards Farese, BA’83; Sarah Hunter Morgan, BS’82; Kathryn Burr McGehee, BA’82; Marjorie Tillman Sennett, BA’82; Nancy Perot Mulford, BA’82; and Miriam Atkinson Smith, BA’82. Middle row (left to right): Janette Shelby Smith, BS’82; Gretchen Wilson Brevnov, BA’82; Heddy Murphey Brown, BA’82; Leslie Collins Barron, BS’82; Margot Bell Roberts, BA’82; Lisa Gruy Brandt, BA’82; Alma Hale Paty, BS’82; Tina Benyunes Whitman, BS’82; Martha Pierce Armstrong, ’82; Julie Tucker Trice, ’82; Kimberly Bernstrom Stigers, BSN’82; and Lisa Francis Turner, BS’82. Back row (left to right): Laney Schwartz Price, BS’83; Caroline Sinclair, BA’82; Anne Coith French, BS’82; Mary Toms Fauth, BS’82; Sloan Towner Germann, BS’82; Kay Templeton Lang, BA’82, JD’90; Lyn Dunn Cameron, BS’82; Mimi Cosgrove Olson, BA’82; and Marion “Missy” Wall Hall, BA’82.

Classroom of Water

Monday, December 6th, 2010



Murray Fisher, founder and program director of the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, has been interested since childhood in protecting the natural world and bringing back its former abundance and diversity. At his first job, with Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s environmental group Riverkeeper, Fisher shouldered significant responsibility while learning important life skills.

“I thought, ‘School should be like this, too,’” he says. “Educators should capitalize on young people’s inherent interests and have them doing valuable, productive work helping society.”

With allies who included the leader of Urban Assembly—a network of small, themed New York public schools in low-income areas—Fisher founded New York Harbor School in 2003. It prepares graduates for careers in marine science, aquaculture, technology and environmental policy, using biologically rich New York Harbor as both classroom and laboratory while integrating marine skills with core curriculum. Students are currently leading a large oyster restoration study in the harbor.

This year, after Fisher won a lengthy, determined fight to secure land and funds from the city and state, the Harbor School finally moved from its original, temporary location in landlocked Brooklyn to Governors Island in New York Harbor.

“My experience at Vanderbilt helped formulate my vision for creating a new type of public high school,” says Fisher. “It set the standard for the quality of education I believe every young person in this country deserves, and it introduced me to the kind of practical but rigorous pedagogy in which I thrived.”

Find out more:

The Thief, the Pocket Watch, and the Dry Goods Merchant

Monday, December 6th, 2010


Dr. Melvyn Koby returns the watch he pilfered 50 years ago.


Fifty years ago Vanderbilt senior Melvyn Koby made off with a little piece of Vanderbilt history: a pocket watch from the statue of Francis Furman that stands on the landing inside Furman Hall.

“It was loose, and I just lifted it off and left,” Koby laughs. “I guess I just wanted a souvenir of all the hard work I’d done in the chemistry building. I passed the statue every day.”

Koby returned the watch to Furman during a visit to campus for his first Quinq Reunion in October. His accomplice in the theft, fellow chemistry alumnus and Zeta Beta Tau fraternity brother Art Diamond, was not able to join him—Diamond had passed away just a few weeks earlier. Koby is an ophthalmologist in Louisville, Ky., and Diamond was a retired radiologist.

Francis Furman, the owner of Furman & Co. Wholesale Dry Goods and Notions on Nashville’s Public Square from about 1870 until around 1890, had no connection to Vanderbilt. His wife, Mary, survived his 1899 death only by a few months and, in her will, left $100,000 for Vanderbilt to construct a building named for her husband.

When Furman Hall opened in 1907, it was touted as the most modern chemistry and pharmacy building in the country. A 1967 renovation turned it into a building that housed the humanities—as it still does today.

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Chancellor

Monday, December 6th, 2010


Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos goes crowd surfing with first-year students before the home football game against Northwestern University on Sept. 4. Northwestern squeaked by Vanderbilt 23–21 in the season opener.


Top Picks: Clark, Robinson, Freyman, McAllister, Sutton and Esbrook

Monday, December 6th, 2010


Cornelia Clark Sworn in as Tennessee Chief Justice

The Hon. Cornelia A. Clark, BA’71, JD’79, became the second woman in the state’s history to serve as chief justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court when she was sworn into office Sept. 1.

She took the oath at the historic Williamson County Courthouse in Franklin, succeeding current Chief Justice Janice Holder, who administered the oath. It was the same courthouse where Clark first appeared as a lawyer and where she presided as a trial judge for more than 10 years.

Clark was appointed to Tennessee’s Supreme Court in September 2005 and then elected to a full eight-year term in August 2006.


Engineering Professor Receives Inaugural Award

William Robinson, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer engineering, was one of 40 honorees granted Florida A&M University’s inaugural Young Alumni Award during that university’s homecoming weekend on Oct. 29. The new award goes to alumni who are 40 years of age or younger and who have achieved significant career advancement in their professional fields.

Robinson joined the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Vanderbilt as an assistant professor in 2003, and was promoted to associate professor in 2010. He is a member of the Radiation Effects and Reliability (RER) research group and collaborates with both the Institute for Space and Defense Electronics (ISDE) and the Institute for Software Integrated Systems (ISIS) at Vanderbilt. Robinson’s major honors include a National Science Foundation CAREER Award and selection for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Computer Science Study Panel.

Alumnae Win Fulbright Scholarships

Four recent alumnae have received Fulbright U.S. Student Program scholarships to travel abroad during 2010–11. Annelyse Freyman, BA’10, is teaching English as a foreign language in Colombia. Katherine McAllister, BA’10, is studying modern history in Germany. Doctoral candidate Angela Sutton, MA’09, is studying history in the Netherlands. Leslie Esbrook, BA’10, is teaching English in Turkey.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program, which is administered by the Institute of International Education, promotes mutual understanding and respect between U.S. citizens and the people of more than 155 other countries.

AVBA Scholarship Nears Goal

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Cathy Bender-Jackson, BS’82, and Karen Jefferson Morrison, BS’82, are leading the AVBA Scholarship fundraising effort.

Members of the Association of Vanderbilt Black Alumni are taking a historic step in making the university accessible to all deserving students. AVBA supporters are working to establish an AVBA Scholarship that will be open to students in any Vanderbilt undergraduate school who qualify for need-based aid and who have demonstrated a commitment to diversity, tolerance and social justice.

The AVBA scholarship effort is closing in on its $100,000 goal. Cathy Bender-Jackson, BS’82, a vice president for Merrill Lynch, and Karen Jefferson Morrison, BS’82, president of OhioHealth Foundation and senior vice president of external affairs for OhioHealth, are leading the AVBA Scholarship fundraising effort.

“The AVBA Scholarship is part of the Opportunity Vanderbilt initiative to raise $100 million in support of expanded financial aid,” Bender-Jackson explains. “The best and brightest students will be able to attend Vanderbilt because admission is based on ability—not ability to pay. ”

“Our vision of Vanderbilt is that of a diverse community that creates an exceptional academic opportunity for tomorrow’s leaders,” says Morrison. “We see this as our opportunity to have a lasting impact at Vanderbilt. It truly is our legacy.”

Since Vanderbilt instituted need-blind admissions and announced the Opportunity Vanderbilt initiative, the number of minority students has risen significantly. The Class of 2014 is the most diverse in Vanderbilt history, with 30 percent self-identifying as a minority. The percentage of African American students rose to 8.9 percent from 7.4 percent for the Class of 2013.

Gifts and pledges for $100 million in new scholarship endowment must be secured by June 30, 2011.

The Association of Black Alumni’s support through gifts to the new AVBA scholarship will help Vanderbilt achieve this essential goal.

Bender-Jackson and Morrison both applaud James Stofan, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations, and the alumni relations team for their partnership in the success of this effort. To find out more or to make a gift of any size to support the AVBA Scholarship, you may call Stofan at (615) 343-4099 or go to

Class Remembers Mumford with Two Scholarships

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Keith Mumford during his Vanderbilt tennis days

The Class of 1990 lost a good friend when Keith Mumford, BA’90, died June 28, 2009, following a heart transplant. Mumford lived in Richmond, Va., and was an investment banker with BB&T Capital Markets. At Vanderbilt he was a varsity tennis player and majored in mathematics. He is survived by his wife, Emily Sackett Mumford, and four young children.

Last year the annual alumni tennis tournament at Vanderbilt was renamed the Keith Mumford Vanderbilt Alumni Tennis Memorial Tournament in honor of the former letter-winner.

Now, Keith’s classmates, other members of the Vanderbilt community, and his friends in the Richmond area are taking part in a tribute to him by endowing two scholarships in his name:

The Keith Mumford Tennis Scholarship is to be awarded to an outstanding varsity tennis player, as Keith was himself. This scholarship will help recruit the best possible tennis student-athletes. It also will be important to sustaining Vanderbilt’s tennis programs. A minimum of $300,000 in one-time gifts and five-year pledges creates this scholarship.

The Keith Mumford Undergraduate Scholarship is to be awarded to a student with tremendous promise for a bright future who also has financial need. This scholarship is being created at a time when Vanderbilt is making new endowed scholarships for undergraduate students a priority. It will be part of Opportunity Vanderbilt, a special fundraising campaign for this important purpose. A minimum of $100,000 in one-time gifts and five-year pledges creates this scholarship.

Support for these scholarships is encouraged, especially between now and Dec. 31, 2010.  An anonymous donor has stepped forward with a significant commitment to this effort, and the hope is that the first scholarships can be awarded in Fall 2011. 

To make a gift or pledge or to learn more, please contact Peggy Culp in Vanderbilt’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations at (615) 343-2029 or

Make Your Reunion Class Gift by Dec. 31

Monday, December 6th, 2010

The Class of 1985

The reviews are in, and Reunion 2010 was a resounding success. The weekend of friendship and fun is also one of the most important fundraising events in the life of the university. During halftime of the Homecoming game Oct. 23, Reunion General Chairs Ginny Place Myer, BSN’75, and Dr. Chuck Myer, BA’75, presented Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos with a check for $21,806,642.11—the total in gifts and pledges by alumni in Reunion classes ending in “0” and “5” and Quinqs.

Giving participation surpassed that of the previous year. Kudos go to all involved, including:

  • The Class of 1990 for largest attendance, with 323 alumni and guests
  • The Class of 1960, with greatest giving participation at 45 percent
  • The Class of 1980, which had the highest number of donors, with 370 classmates giving
  • The Class of 1975, which raised the most money—more than $2.5 million—and also had the most Reunion volunteers, at 81
  • The Class of 1985, the first to reach its dollar goal

Fundraising volunteers are making one last push to bring in Reunion donations by Dec. 31, 2010. For more information about Reunion giving, please contact Kelly Miller, director of Reunion giving, at (615) 343-2309 or


Scenes from Reunion 2010


Get Your News—Exclusively for Vanderbilt Alumni!

Monday, December 6th, 2010

alumni-exclusiveThe Vanderbilt Alumni Association e-newsletter, Alumni eXclusive, provides information exclusively for and about Vanderbilt alumni—and if you’re not currently receiving it, that means we don’t have your email address. To ensure you receive this quarterly publication, please update your email address at

Vanderbilt for Life

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Incoming first-year students from the London area gather with alumni members of the London Vanderbilt Chapter for a Spring Tea in May at the home of Patti Early White, BA’76, and her husband, George. Gifts to the Sustaining Alumni program support events like this.

As an alumnus of Vanderbilt, you are automatically a member of the Vanderbilt Alumni Association and entitled to all its benefits. However, the Alumni Association relies on the generous support of voluntary alumni gifts to the Sustaining Alumni program.

“Every tailgate, chapter event, career program and Reunion is made possible when you donate to the Vanderbilt Alumni Association Sustaining Alumni program,” says James Stofan, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations. “Even your quarterly e-newsletter, Alumni eXclusive, and Vanderbilt’s online community, VUconnect, as well as the chapter communications that keep you informed—all of these require gifts in order to be maintained and grow.

“Your gift, in any amount, allows the Alumni Association to expand programs that will directly benefit you and all Vanderbilt alumni for the rest of your life.”

The Sustaining Alumni program was formerly known as “Sustaining Membership,” but the word “membership” has been removed to reflect your automatic inclusion in the Alumni Association without the requirement of annual dues. You may have been a student only a few short years, but you’re Vanderbilt for life—and we’re here to make it a journey worth taking!

To give to the Sustaining Alumni program, please go to

Alumni and Admissions: A Partnership Continuum

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Alumni have the opportunity to be involved in Vanderbilt’s admissions process from beginning to end, thanks to a unique partnership between the Office of Alumni Relations and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions that encourages alumni volunteerism at each stage along the way.

For many prospective students, the beginning stage of the admissions process is marked by attendance at high school college fairs, at which alumni may volunteer to represent Vanderbilt. Last year alumni volunteered at 76 college fairs, or 75 percent of the total number with which Vanderbilt was involved.

Through the Commodore Recruitment Programs (CoRPs), alumni also may serve as prospective-student interviewers. Last year alumni interviewed 3,014 applicants, or about 14 percent of the total pool of 21,820. Applicants who were interviewed by alumni were more likely to choose Vanderbilt upon acceptance.

After applications and interviews comes admittance to the university, the middle stage of the admissions process. Each April the alumni relations and admissions offices, along with the Alumni Association, present a series of “Vanderbilt & You” receptions for admitted students. Last year 30 such receptions took place. Alumni are involved in planning and hosting these events.

Alumni Involvement, from Beginning to End

• Represent Vanderbilt at local college fairs • Participate in “Vanderbilt & You” receptions for admitted students • Volunteer at a Summer Send-Off Party
• Interview prospective students   • Join the Alumni Fellows program


The final stage of the admissions process is marked by two milestones: an applicant’s acceptance of an offer of admission, followed by his or her move into one of the first-year houses on The Commons. Again, alumni involvement is crucial. Once applicants have accepted their offers, they are welcomed at Summer Send-Off Parties hosted by local chapters of the Alumni Association. Last year 43 such events took place in cities nationwide, with alumni as hosts.

Finally, once these students have settled into their new campus homes, alumni have the opportunity to interact with them through the Alumni Fellows program, a new initiative that was recently introduced by the Alumni Association. The Alumni Fellows program enables alumni to “adopt” a first-year house on The Commons and to meet with that house’s students to share meals and their respective Vanderbilt experiences. The program aims to build new traditions between alumni and students, and to increase students’ awareness of the global Vanderbilt network.

“According to my colleagues in admissions, alumni have a 98.6 percent satisfaction rate with the applicant interviewing process, and more than half say they’d like to do more,” says James Stofan, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations. “This demonstrates the commitment Vanderbilt alumni have toward their alma mater.”

Find out how you can get involved with the admissions process by emailing

60,000 Discounts for Alumni

Monday, December 6th, 2010

discountsThe Vanderbilt Alumni Association has partnered with Abenity Inc. to offer alumni more than 60,000 local and national discounts at hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, retailers, florists, car dealers, theme parks, national attractions, and concerts and other events.

To register, go to Once you have registered, you will have full access to the discounts available to you. Offers are added and updated weekly.

Mr. C Wants to See the World

Monday, December 6th, 2010

mr-cMr. Commodore has a heart for adventure and wants to travel the world—with you! Take his picture at favorite locations in your hometown or iconic landmarks around the world. Upload your photos to (tag “travelingcommodore”), and they will be added to photos taken by other Vanderbilt alumni and friends worldwide. Or you may simply email your photo of Mr. C to, and we’ll take care of the rest. To download an image of Mr. C, go here. Then print it, cut it out, and start traveling with the Commodore!

The President’s Corner

Monday, December 6th, 2010

John-HindleWhen the new Alumni Association bylaws went into effect July 1, the leadership structure of your organization was transformed overnight, from a largely honorary board of 46 members to a much smaller, working board of 22. Terms of office were reduced from four years to three, and board rotation was smoothed from 50 percent biannual turnover to 33 percent annual turnover. These changes will bring greater continuity to our governance and will strengthen our ability to create high-impact programs with and for alumni.

At the same time, however, our workload has grown with the adoption of our strategic plan, and we have significantly increased the number of operating committees. We now have four standing committees—executive, planning, awards and nominations—and five new goal committees responsible for the five goals outlined in our strategic plan.

You don’t have to be a math major to see that increasing the number of committees while reducing the size of the board results in some complex algorithms. Fortunately, our bylaws also have opened up committee membership to much wider participation, greatly increasing our talent pool and enabling all constituencies who play a key role in alumni relations to get involved.

I’m happy to report, therefore, that our principal committees now include not only current directors but also student leaders, Alumni Relations staff, young alumni trustees, retired directors, school-based alumni officers, and other alumni volunteers and chapter leaders. Response has been uniformly positive, and the committees are already at work.

We’ll be working closely with senior university leadership, local chapters and other affinity groups as we implement new programs, and we welcome involvement and support from all alumni. This is truly an exciting time in the transformation of the Alumni Association as a valued partner in helping Vanderbilt accomplish its core mission of teaching, research and service.

President, Vanderbilt University Alumni Association

Access the bylaws, a summary version of the strategic plan, and a roster of all current Alumni Association committees at

Zero-Proof 21st Birthday

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Think back to a day you may or may not remember so well: your 21st birthday. For most, it’s a day celebrated with a drink. About a month before my Sept. 8 birthday, I was already thinking about “drinking” on my birthday—but not in the way you might think.

For my 21st birthday I wanted to celebrate a little differently. Like everyone else, I considered drinking, but then I realized how many people will never get to drink the most basic liquid of all: clean water.

That’s why this year, for my 21st birthday, I didn’t want gifts. I didn’t want a drink. I didn’t even want a cake. I simply asked everyone I knew to donate $21 toward bringing clean, safe water to people in a world where 4,500 children still die every day from water-related illnesses and diseases.


Partnering with Charity:Water, a nonprofit organization that funds clean-water projects all over the world, Leslie Labruto asked for donations to the organization in lieu of gifts for her 21st birthday. In just a few weeks’ time, she had raised $5,647 through a personalized website.

In order to make my birthday campaign come to life, I partnered with a nonprofit organization called Charity:Water. Founded in 2006, Charity:Water has helped fund 2,906 clean-water projects in 17 countries, benefiting more than 1.2 million people. Overall, the organization has sent more than $10 million to developing countries as of February of this year. Through their organization I was able to set up a webpage for donors to give $21 (or whatever amount they could give) toward my birthday to bring clean water to 250 people in the Central African Republic for the next 20 years.

Water is a point of passion for me. Being a civil and environmental engineering student at Vanderbilt introduces you to a world of problem solving, balancing equilibrium, and making sure that there is always a definitive answer. However, for many of the world’s most pressing problems, answers are not so easy to find. Throughout the course of my college career, I have sought to find how people fit into the equations I solve every day. As a result I immersed myself, early on, in extracurricular activities when I was a first-year student, engaging in SPEAR (Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Responsibility), Engineers without Borders, VUcept and Global Poverty Initiative, just to name a few.

As college progressed I was drawn to the realization that water was a much bigger issue than I had thought. Sure, I knew grabbing a water bottle every day wasn’t the greatest decision for the environment, but I didn’t really know what else I could do to help this global problem or how big the problem actually was.

I was determined to find out more.

After doing some research I stumbled upon some harsh statistics. Our world is facing a water crisis with immediate repercussions. Almost 900 million people do not have access to clean water. This problem is exacerbated by the 2.5 billion people living without proper sewage disposal, which contaminates water and spreads disease. Water-borne diseases cause half the world’s hospitalizations and kill 3.3 million people annually. As author and environmentalist Maude Barlow points out, “More children are killed by dirty water than by war, malaria, HIV/AIDS and traffic accidents combined.” It is projected that by 2025, water scarcity will affect two-thirds of the world’s population. These shocking numbers demonstrate the horrifying reality of the water crisis, and yet so many people continually turn on their taps every day not realizing what a precious commodity they are using.

Reading statistics brought my attention to the problem, but stopping there was not an option. I knew I needed to experience this problem to truly figure out my own way to make a difference. Two unexpected finds changed my life.

The first was in Argentina during the spring of my sophomore year, when I participated in a service trip for Manna Project International. A team of nine volunteers and I worked in a village plagued by poverty, lack of education and economic despair. There was a gleam of hope in this community, however, at Sylvia’s. Sylvia owned a small microfinance-backed school and bakery. We completed our mission of painting the school in seven hours rather than the nine days we had allotted for the task. While painting, I noticed a fundamental flaw within the schoolyard. In the middle of the play area, a large amount of standing water had accumulated from rainfall. Upon further inspection I found red parasites swarming in contaminated water with shards of broken glass.

Using my educational training as an engineer, I worked with a local carpenter to design an irrigation and trench system that would successfully drain water from the playground. It was a powerful moment when my broken Spanish and his drawings led us to a plan we knew could work. After six days of hard labor and community-wide involvement, we successful led an effort to build a sandbox that dually served to divert water away from the playground while also creating a fun place for children.

This direct application of my skills as a civil engineer had an immediate and lasting impact on the community of La Matanza. It was also my introduction to water as an agent of contamination that can hinder, rather than save, a person’s life.

The second event occurred this past winter in Peru. I helped organize an Engineers without Borders trip in January, raising more than $5,000 so our team of four engineering students could install a well in a community that had no clean drinking water.

Before I embarked for Peru with my team, one statistic resonated in my mind: “More than 1.1 billion people in the world do not have access to clean water.” Access to water is essential to the sustainability of the human race. I constantly reminded my team about this fact, which pushed us further than we ever could have imagined.


Vanderbilt engineering students (left to right) Bailie Borchers, Leslie Labruto, Jessica Canfora and John Barrere on an Engineers without Borders clean-water project in Llanchama, Peru.

When we arrived in Llanchama, a rural community outside the city of Iquitos, we discovered that this community of 160 human beings was surviving on water from two contaminated hand pumps installed many years ago and by drinking the polluted waters of the Amazon. Getting to work, we coordinated efforts with the locals to reactivate an electric well that had been drilled years earlier. On our last day, clean water that was found more than 19 meters beneath the earth’s surface flowed freely to the community. Our project enabled 160 people to have clean drinking water. It was a life-changing experience that was made possible through the local community’s support.

Entering my senior year at Vanderbilt, I knew I wanted to continue making my dent in the world’s water crisis. Encouraged by my best friends and fellow leaders of Global Poverty Initiative (GPI), I decided to give up my 21st birthday.

Giving up my birthday was an easy decision when I knew that no gift anyone could give me could compare to giving clean water to those who needed it. Having visited the office of Charity:Water in New York City, it was easy to be inspired by its founder, Scott Harrison, who gave up his own birthday to start the nonprofit in 2006.

I remember sitting around a table with my friends in GPI deciding what my fundraising goal should be. “I think I’m going to shoot for $2,000,” I declared, although my confidence was much greater than I led on.

“Make it $5,000,” said Dave, one of the GPI leaders.

With this definitive sentence, I felt empowered. And with the love and support of my friends and family, I opened my birthday campaign at and asked more than 1,450 friends, family, professors and strangers for a donation toward it.

After sending out the email asking for $21 rather than personal gifts or drinks, I stared at my computer. Fifteen minutes went by with no responses. My stomach started getting butterflies.

But then it happened: My inbox exploded with messages that people, including many I didn’t even know, were donating to my campaign. As the days continued, donations got bigger, the total grew higher, and voices grew louder as buzz about Leslie’s 21st birthday made it around campus. Left and right, people were patting me on the back and wishing me good luck on my goal. I’ll never forget the smiles on Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos’ and Provost Richard McCarty’s faces when they told me how proud they were to donate toward such a good cause. In the end, it was the people in my life who made the difference.

Sharing my vision was simple, and I was glad that I could help people become passionate about clean water. After being interviewed by The Chronicle of Higher Education and receiving media attention from the InsideVandy website, I quickly surpassed my goal of $5,000 in a mere 21 days. When my campaign ended, with 150 donations, we had raised $5,647, bringing clean water to 282 individuals around the world. Today my gratitude to everyone in my life who donated, who cared, and who opened their hearts to my vision is overwhelming.

With confidence I can easily say this was the best birthday ever.

Recent Books

Monday, December 6th, 2010

TheyCameToNashville_ChapmanThey Came to Nashville

(2010, Vanderbilt University Press and Country Music Foundation Press)

by Marshall Chapman, BA’71

Singer-songwriter Marshall Chapman interviews 15 Music City legends in her latest book, which she describes as her “love book to Nashville.” Starting with Kris Kristofferson and ending with Willie Nelson, Chapman’s interviews capture the camaraderie between these musicians who have made Nashville home along the route to their success in the music industry.


Wisdom-of-Bees-2The Wisdom of Bees: What the Hive Can Teach Business about Leadership, Efficiency and Growth

(2010, Portfolio Hardcover, Penguin)

by Michael O’Malley, PhD’81

When Michael O’Malley took up beekeeping, he started to observe that bees not only work together to achieve a common goal but, in the process, create a highly coordinated, efficient and remarkably productive organization. The hive behaved like a miniature but incredibly successful business. O’Malley realized that bees can actually teach managers a lot about how to run their organizations.


Music-Educ-in-Middle-AgesMusic Education in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance

(2010, Indiana University Press)

edited by Russell E. Murray Jr., Susan Forscher Weiss, and Cynthia J. Cyrus, associate dean and associate professor of musicology



Providing an expansive view of the beginnings of music pedagogy, this volume shows how the act of learning was embedded in the early Western art music tradition. Contributors address topics including gender, social status, and the role of the church to better understand the identities of music teachers and students from 650 to 1650 in Western Europe.


SouthPacific_LovensheimerSouth Pacific: Paradise Rewritten

(2010, Oxford University Press)

by James Lovensheimer, assistant professor in music history and literature


In the inaugural volume of Oxford’s Broadway Legacies series, Lovensheimer tackles the complex origins of the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning musical that recently enjoyed a successful Broadway revival. The book reveals the lost pieces of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic and shows how its creators continually “walked a fine line between commercial and critical success and political controversy throughout the creative process.”

Country Music as a Bridge to History

Monday, December 6th, 2010

George Hamilton IV, a 50-year veteran of the Grand Ole Opry, gazed out across the faces of 200 students who had gathered for Vanderbilt’s History of Country Music course this fall. Now in its third year, the class has proven to be one of the university’s most popular electives, thanks to its instructor, well-known music journalist and singer-songwriter Peter Cooper.

Cooper, who recently released his fourth CD, Master Sessions, has a genuine reverence for country music history, and he’s clearly found a kindred spirit in Hamilton, who has lived the tradition Cooper admires. Hamilton opened his guest appearance at the class by singing “Immigrant Eyes,” a song by Americana legend Guy Clark, and argued that the music itself—like the characters in Clark’s song—is an immigrant.


Country music legend George Hamilton IV, left, and singer-songwriter Peter Cooper convey their enthusiasm for country music history to Vanderbilt undergraduates.

“The cradle of our music was the folk tradition of the British Isles,” Hamilton explained. “That same music spent its childhood in the Appalachians, brought there from the old country, and then came of age right here in Nashville.”

Hamilton himself became part of that tradition in 1956. At the age of 19, he recorded a teen ballad called “A Rose and a Baby Ruth,” and when the song became a million-seller, he found himself on tour with such rockabilly legends as Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. He also toured with African American performers, including Chuck Berry, who helped him understand the common roots of black and white music.

“In 1959,” Hamilton told the Vanderbilt class, “I was on a flight to Australia to be part of a package tour, and I heard a country song coming from the first-class cabin, a song by the Louvin Brothers. I went to check it out, and there was the great Chuck Berry, playing country music on a little speaker.

“I said, ‘Mr. Berry, I’m surprised to see you like country music.’ He said, ‘The difference between you and me, white boy, is that when I go to the Grand Ole Opry, they make me listen in the alley.’”

Hamilton said it was then that he began to think more seriously about divisions in society, and how music could serve as a bridge, both here and abroad. In the 1960s he began to record country versions of folk songs by Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, introducing country fans to a younger generation of artists. And in 1974 he embarked on a U.S. State Department tour of the Soviet Union, the first country singer to make such a trip.

He remembered how a group of Moscow students applauded his songs and then offered to sing him one of their own. At a time of Cold War tensions, Hamilton said they began to sing “Down by the Riverside,” with their own adaptation of the words: “Gonna lay down our atom bombs, down by the riverside.”

“It was a powerful moment,” Hamilton concluded, “a reminder of the best that music can be.”

Music: The Power to Connect

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Liza Barley, BMus’05, always knew she wanted to do something with her music that would bring people together. She never dreamed that would mean starting an arts center in the East Africa nation of Tanzania.

“I went to the arts high school in inner-city Pittsburgh and was greatly influenced by the power of the arts to connect people from different backgrounds,” explains Barley, whose degree from Vanderbilt is in violin performance. “I knew that I wanted to create something similar with my music.”


Liza Barley, BMus’05, and students from the Umoja Arts Centre perform at the Christmas Fair in Arusha, Tanzania.

Through her former Suzuki teacher, Michele George, Barley connected with Kimbra Dixon, an American who started the Suzuki violin program in Arusha, Tanzania, a city of 1.2 million people with a large international population. Within months of graduating, Barley was teaching children of expatriates at the International School of Moshi in Arusha, where she was quickly struck by the lack of arts access and education for the average Tanzanian. Barley joined forces with violinist Jessica Welch, visual artist Linda Willms and dancer Tiana Razafy, and the Umoja Arts Centre was born.

Umoja means “unity” in Swahili, and Barley chose the name for two reasons. “Umoja is meant to be a place that brings people together through the arts,” she explains. “Also, I knew we would have to involve all art forms in order to reflect the way people here think about the arts, which is all-encompassing. In ngoma [Tanzanian traditional music], for example, singing, dancing, and the use of percussion or other instruments are inseparable.”

Five years after its founding, Umoja has evolved from an arts center in a physical location to a series of programs offered entirely in Tanzanian schools and other organizations throughout the community. “The overhead costs at the center’s building were too large,” says Barley, “but we also wanted schools and other local groups to feel more ownership of the programs we do with them.”

Barley is currently devoting her time to fundraising and building awareness for Umoja’s concept of unity outside Tanzania. “It’s not just within Arusha and Tanzania that we want to promote umoja through the arts,” Barley says. “We also aim to create cross-cultural exchanges by bringing in musicians and other artists from all over the world to perform and teach here. This is a great way for people in Tanzania to be exposed to the cultures of the rest of the world and vice versa, using the arts as the vehicle.”

Find out more:

Fine Arts Gallery Digitizing Collection

Monday, December 6th, 2010

The Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery is digitizing its permanent collection to make it accessible to researchers and the general public. Visitors to the gallery website now can link to the collection’s database and browse the collection. Photographs of 25 percent of the collection’s 5,500 objects have been added so far, and work continues. To get to the database, click on “Online Collection Database Project Launches” from the gallery website. Annual exhibitions regularly feature objects from the permanent collection, but many objects will not be exhibited in a given year.

“We are pleased to be able to share this outstanding collection more broadly with students, faculty and staff, as well as to the larger Nashville and art historical communities,” says Martin Rapisarda, associate dean in the College of Arts and Science. “We hope this will inspire more visitors to our gallery in Cohen Memorial Hall to see the actual works of art.”

Find out more:

Visual Art: Poetry of the Visual Kind

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

Lisa Wainwright, BA’82, can recall the precise moment when she embraced art history and education as her life’s work. An English major at Vanderbilt at the time, Wainwright was taking an art history class with Milan Mihal (now professor of fine arts, emeritus).

“His class made me realize I could get the same pleasure and challenge that I got from writing about books by analyzing and interpreting visual form,” Wainwright says. “I changed my major to art history right on the spot.”



After graduation she earned an M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Illinois. During her postgraduate work she developed an enduring fascination with American artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008). “I felt like he and I had much in common—his whole relationship with politics and religion, his activism, and his commitment to art history,” she recalls. “I thought, Now, this artist I can spend a lifetime working on.”

And so she has—lecturing and writing extensively about Rauschenberg and his work for art journals and anthologies during the past 20 years at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she was recently named dean of faculty and vice president of academic affairs. She also met Rauschenberg a few times and asked him to confirm her interpretations of his work. “He was a lovely man,” she recalls. “But when it came to my ideas about his work, all he would say was, ‘Lisa, that’s your poetry, and I love it.’”

Her study of Rauschenberg has influenced her own work at SAIC. “Rauschenberg has helped me be a better dean,” she explains. “He touched on every medium, from sculpture and painting to printmaking and art technology. His transdisciplinary approach to art has been such an influence on the way I educate the next generation of artists here.”

Although her duties as dean leave little time for curating exhibitions, Wainwright has enjoyed success in that area as well. Her most recent show, at SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries, was Ah … Decadence!, which explored the rise of decadence in art at the end of the 20th century.

“I like to step back and look at trends in the art world,” she says. “It’s very rewarding to make something of that as a curator, and it also brings me in contact with actual objects, allowing me to make a statement and tap into my own artistic side.”

Photography: In the Moment

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

The little girl in Stacey Irvin’s photograph is laughing. Her head tilts to one side, and her hand is at her chin. Either she wants to ask the photographer something, or she’s just eaten some of the grapes she holds in her other hand. Her eyes invite a conversation, and her red jacket—emblazoned with the words “Hula Babe”—suggests a story line.

“The minute I arrived [in San Bernardo, Ecuador], I was promptly given a full tour of their sheep, chicken and rabbit pens, cuy (guinea pig) shed, and a view of the future site of a new house,” Irvin says. “‘Hula Babe’ walked alongside me eating grapes as we toured.”

Irvin, BA’98, creates meaningful travelogues with her photos. Each photo is an individual story along the journey, not just documentation of a trip. And just as the best travelogues involve side excursions, plateaus and valleys, Irvin’s own path to becoming a photographer mimicked that process. She almost gave it up, but a sojourn at Vanderbilt helped reorient her.


“Bringing in the Herd,” taken in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya

Teaching herself photography when she was 14, she voraciously shot school events at the expense of her own participation. When her class traveled to Europe, Irvin documented the trip so compulsively that she felt she barely experienced it. “I don’t even think I enjoyed myself,” she says.

Burnt out on photography by the time she got to Vanderbilt, she pursued a liberal arts degree in philosophy. In particular, a freshman seminar about ancient and modern political philosophy resonated with Irvin, who felt a kinship with these “observers.”

“I took away from philosophy a feeling of needing to fully experience the moment I am in, in a way that is more existential, less abstract,” she says. “But I also learned that I couldn’t keep my head in a book all the time!”

A born “shooter,” Irvin naturally picked up her camera again. “I learned I needed to be a participant—to be present in the moment. I promised myself never again to take pictures just for the sake of taking pictures.”

An independent-study studio art course with Don Evans (now professor, emeritus, of art and art history) allowed her to return to photography on her own terms. “I wanted to look at life as though I didn’t have a camera,” Irvin says, “to be open to the experience and not stage it or try to control it. So much beauty, truth and magic is in the moment. I made a point to make up for all that I’d missed.”

At Vanderbilt, Irvin won the Margaret Stonewall Wooldridge Hamblet Award in Studio Art, which funded a life-changing trip to the Taklamakan Desert in China. Her photos from there and subsequent journeys around the world share a powerful motif: the person in the photo interacting with the photographer.

Lowering the wall between viewer and subject can make the art form a powerful vehicle for peace, she says. “Photographers can be peacemakers. People learn about each other through photographs. I want people to take away a sense of our shared humanity.”

Find out more:

The ’60s at 50

Friday, December 3rd, 2010

sixties-fiftyConnie Vinita Dowell, Vanderbilt’s dean of libraries, is kicking off the Heard Library’s new exhibits program with a bang—or maybe with a Frug. “We have a fabulous collection of ’60s materials on many topics,” Dowell says. “Now’s a good time to let people see it.”

Cases exhibit everything from the 1960s-designed university mace—that’s the ceremonial weapon, not the spray—to astronaut autographs, according to Celia Walker, the library’s director of special projects. Included are sections about Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement, sports at Vanderbilt, and selections from the thousands of political cartoons in the university’s collection. A display about Delbert Mann, BA’41, locates the director of That Touch of Mink in the larger context of the decade’s film history. Literature from the ’60s ranges from a first edition of John Updike to pulp-fiction titles like I Was a Teeny-Bopper for the CIA. In the main lobby, funky vehicles from the Lane Motor Museum, including a Peel Trident and a Valmobile, evoke the world of The Jetsons.

“Special Collections isn’t just here to preserve things,” Dowell says. “We want them to be used—and enjoyed.”




Open House

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Libraries can be intimidating places. The young James Baldwin thought so. In his autobiographical first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Baldwin describes the awe felt by his alter ego, John, when he walked by the New York Public Library:

“He loved this street, not for the people or the shops but for the stone lions that guarded the great main building of the Public Library, a building filled with books and unimaginably vast, and which he had never yet dared to enter.”

library-displayConnie Vinita Dowell, Vanderbilt’s dean of libraries, doesn’t think audacity should be a requirement for passing through the portals of Central Library. Her stewardship of the library’s 35,300-square-foot renovation, scheduled for completion in January, has focused on de-intimidating the patron’s experience. No lions, just pussycats.

“The library should be the hub, the gathering place for the Vanderbilt campus, for faculty, staff and students,” explains Dowell, MLS’79. “We want the students here when they’re not in class.” Dowell also stresses her desire to bring the general Nashville community into the building. But to do so, she says, “the library has to be welcoming as well as easy to use.”

One of the first things Dowell noticed when she arrived on campus in March 2009 was a sign affixed to the old card catalog, then still standing in the main lobby. “It said, ‘Do not use; closed 1985,’” Dowell laughs. “That said something about where we were.”

Other features were less symbolic. The original 1941 building “was constructed for no technology in the current sense,” Dowell says. When modern tech was added, “it had been done incrementally, so it wasn’t well integrated.” Once-grand reading rooms had been infilled as the library’s collections and staff had increased, also contributing to what Dowell perceived as “the general sense of clutter.” The library was clearly due for a makeover.

Provost Richard McCarty subsequently received approval from the Board of Trust for a $6 million renovation of the existing library. “That we made this commitment when our dollars were at their most scarce indicates what a high priority the library is,” McCarty says.


The Parkes Armistead Reading Room, with its vintage sweet-gum paneling and 21st-century lighting, seamlessly blends old and new elements.

To understand the architectural challenges Dowell faced in spending the money, a little history is in order.

Library History 101

The library wasn’t always a top priority for Vanderbilt administrators. According to historian Paul Conkin in Gone with the Ivy: A Biography of Vanderbilt University, the first chancellor, Landon C. Garland, who was also professor of physics and astronomy, was more concerned with first-rate laboratories. Of the $70,000 Garland had available for equipping the new school in the 1870s, he spent the bulk on scientific equipment, and only $10,000 on books and journals.

When the university opened for classes in 1875, the library consisted of 6,000 volumes occupying two rooms in what was originally called Old Main (later renamed College Hall and then Kirkland Hall). And there the main library remained for more than six decades.

The construction of Neely Auditorium in 1925 allowed the librarians to take over the chapel in College Hall for a reading room, but this seated only 120. Finally, in 1939, library director A. Frederick Kuhlman sat down with architect Henry Hibbs to plan what was to become the Joint University Library. The building was so designated because it was intended to serve not only Vanderbilt, but also Peabody and Scarritt colleges. This shared arrangement continued until the merger of Peabody with Vanderbilt in 1979 and the transformation of Scarritt College into the Scarritt-Bennett Center for conferences and retreats in 1988.


Left: Vanderbilt’s library in its early days on the third floor of Kirkland Hall. Right: The geology department’s exhibit room displayed mineral and skeletal artifacts.

Librarian and architect chose the Collegiate Gothic style that Hibbs had already employed for Neely Auditorium and Alumni Memorial, Buttrick, Calhoun and Garland halls on the Vanderbilt campus. The handsome building of Flemish bond brick on a base of limestone ashlar masonry was dedicated in December of 1941. It was the first centrally air-conditioned building on campus, not primarily for human comfort but to maximize the shelf life of the books.

Some features of the Central Library, however, would subsequently prove to be less advanced. The stacks in the library were originally closed. Undergraduates submitted request forms to library staff, who conveyed the pieces of paper via pneumatic tubes to “runners” in the stacks. These runners fetched the materials and placed them on conveyor belts to send them to the circulation desk.

Thus, the stacks betray little regard for human comfort—or claustrophobia. They feature low ceilings, with minimal overhead space above the shelves, and lack natural light, which is bad for books. The artificial illumination is stark. Because faculty and graduate students had direct access to books and serials—and, as scholars, apparently were expected to focus solely on the life of the mind—their carrels were wedged within the Spartan stacks. (During my graduate student days, I called the carrels “the gulag.”) Only the large reading rooms, with their sweet-gum paneling and large windows, were finished as public spaces because that’s where the undergraduate public was supposed to be. And the library’s stairs and elevators were not planned to accommodate patrons in significant numbers.

It was the first centrally air-conditioned building on campus, not primarily for human comfort but for the books. Undergraduates submitted request forms to library staff, who conveyed the pieces of paper via pneumatic tubes to “runners” in the stacks.

In 1969 the university added the H. Fort Flowers graduate wing, named after the Vanderbilt alumnus and successful engineer who contributed $250,000 for construction. The wing provided room for 350,000 volumes, housing for Special Collections, and new faculty studies. Designed in the Brutalist style by the Boston firm of Shepley Bullfinch Richardson & Abbott, the Flowers wing was attached to the old library facade on 21st Avenue in a manner most would consider less than felicitous.

Chancellor Alexander Heard was one of them, says former university architect David Allard. “During our annual walking tours of the campus,” Allard recalls, “we’d pass by the place where the library buildings come together. Chancellor Heard would always shake his head and say: ‘I remember standing at this spot and being told by the architect how the new and old would complement each other.’”

The visual collision between old body and new wing reflected the lack of functional integration between them. Any renovation thus had to address the problems posed by the library’s complex architectural history.

Polling the Public

Before Dowell could develop a renovation plan, she had to discover the unmet expectations of users. She initiated an extensive faculty survey. “More than half responded; we got comments like ‘oppressive’ and ‘scary’—just the kind of thing you want to hear,” Dowell laughs.


Walls of the library café, still under construction, will display recycled fronts of the old card catalog.

To plumb student opinion, Dowell worked with Vanderbilt Student Government Presidents Lori Murphy, Wyatt Smith and others to organize focus groups. The groups toured the building, then talked and wrote things on flip charts. “Dean Dowell gave the students an open canvas on which they could paint their picture of a library,” Murphy says. “That was exciting.”

The resulting consensus among faculty and students envisioned a more aesthetically pleasing library with natural light and views to the campus outside. There was also broad agreement that ways of learning have diversified in the 21st century. No longer are libraries merely repositories of printed materials. Thus, one key demand was for more power outlets for laptops and other electronic gear.

Learning no longer happens solely in isolation. In addition to quiet zones for individual study, therefore, respondents expressed the need for collaborative environments, noisier spaces for group work and socializing. Lounge chairs for leisure reading and more formal seating were viewed as equally desirable. In addition, space for readings and lectures as well as one for coffee and snacks—the Starbucks syndrome—were on the want list.


Space for readings, lectures and classes is a library priority. Here, students prepare for a class in drawing and composition, led by Michael Aurbach, professor of art.

Less tangible requests also emerged. At one focus group meeting, Dowell says, “an engineering undergraduate, who’d been silent until the very end, talked for 10 minutes about the impact of great public spaces on our lives, how significant they are for the spirit. That affirmed for me the importance of respecting the history of the building by restoring the reading rooms to their former grandeur.”


Dowell had to work within the existing building envelope to implement change, yet the users were telling her the library needed more people places. She therefore asked her staff to evaluate what the library contained.

“The librarians made a huge effort in a short time frame to select from the collections what could go to the off-campus archive,” says Keith Loiseau, university architect and a member of the renovation design team. “And then they had to figure out the relocation of the remaining materials.”

Before Connie Dowell could develop a renovation plan, she initiated an extensive survey. “We got comments like ‘oppressive’ and ‘scary’—just the kind of thing you want to hear.”

The staff studied which books were infrequently used and which materials were available electronically. “We moved out more than 50,000 bound periodicals and microforms and shifted 75,000 additional volumes,” Dowell says. “We’ll store journals available online off-site.”

To free up space, Dowell also had to figure out which staff members could work productively outside the library proper. “It takes all our staff to run this library, but not every person needs to interact daily with students and faculty,” she explains. “Those who can do their jobs electronically—the people in technical services and cataloging—moved to the Baker Building nearby, along with the staff for the TV News Archive.”

Paving a Path

The design team Dowell assembled to plan and implement the renovation, in addition to Loiseau, included the Nashville firm of Gilbert McLaughlin Casella Architects. This firm had previous experience with the Heard Library, having already designed the renovation and expansion of the building’s Divinity Library. Orion Building Corp., another campus veteran, was retained as general contractor.

The architects focused on several key issues: access from 21st Avenue, a more comprehensible path between this entrance and the main lobby, and exploiting the space between spaces (i.e., the corridors).


Interactive exhibit screens help make the rich resources of the TV News Archive accessible.

Designers enclosed the windswept tunnel between the 1969 and 1941 buildings in glass, turning it into a display gallery with interactive touch screens that feature artifacts and images from Special Collections and University Archives. During my tour I called up footage of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. at Vanderbilt Impact symposiums.

To heal the fault line between the Flowers Wing and the old building, the architects used a vacant elevator shaft in the wing to provide, for the first time, direct elevator access from the 21st Avenue side of the building to the floor of the main lobby.

In the Flowers Wing, Special Collections had always been “back of the house, because you had to navigate around the elevator bank to get to it,” says Kent McLaughlin, principal with the architectural firm. The new design opens up a clear passageway to this area, pulling the collections into the library fold.

One strategy on which Dowell settled to help the Nashville community recognize the library as a public resource was a robust and revolving exhibit program. “Vanderbilt has rich collections,” she explains. “Most of the press has gone to the Fugitive and Agrarian materials, which are justly famous. But there’s so much more in Special Collections.”

“So often we fill up old space and then build new space without evaluating what could have been done without in the old. The challenge of the bad economy turned out to be a positive thing.”

—Keith Loiseau, university architect

Dowell notes in particular the TV News Archive, which contains broadcasts by the major networks going back to 1968, as well as significant samplings from CNN and Fox. She also points with pride to the recent acquisition of the Julian Goodman papers, which reflect the history and business of broadcasting from 1945, when Goodman started as a news writer, until his retirement as head of NBC News in 1979. “These archives are an incredible resource,” she says. “They show how we covered history.”

In order to display materials from these and other collections, the architects worked with local company Anode Inc. on the interactive exhibit screens and with Laura McCoy of Tollsen McCoy on the more traditional display cases and lighting.

The architects laid out the exhibit areas along the path from the 21st Avenue entrance—with its newly glazed gallery—through the corridor leading from the elevator to the main lobby. The displays thus function as a sort of narrative thread, pulling people through the library.

The main exhibit space is in the lobby, which is, after all, the library’s prime real estate. Five interactive screens and seven pedestal cases for traditional artifacts will stand on the former sites of the card catalog and the reference desk.

“Our charge was to open up the lobby and make it a significant public space,” McLaughlin says. “The exhibits will definitely contribute to that effect.”

Other aspects of the lobby rehab include a consolidated service desk to give patrons one-stop shopping for information. A computer area will be returned to its original purpose as a browsing nook, allowing the blinds to be raised and light to flood the space.


In all of the library’s public spaces, one key demand was for more power outlets for laptops and other devices.

On the northern end of the lobby, the restored Parkes Armistead Reading Room is enhanced by the addition of an enclosed instruction space. On the lobby’s southern side, what had been a warren of staff cubicles has been transformed into a community room—available for special events and receptions—and a café opening out to a terrace next to Library Lawn. As a nod to history, the walls of the café will be adorned with the recycled fronts of the old card catalog.

The improvement most immediately visible on the eighth floor of the Flowers Wing is the light streaming through the windows. The faculty carrels that once encircled the perimeter—and blocked the sunlight—have been replaced with transparent offices for the librarians who most often consult with faculty and students. These offices flank open study space, and large group study and conference rooms.

“Adding all this transparency not only makes the eighth floor a more pleasant place, but also helps with orientation,” McLaughlin says. “As soon as you get off the elevator, you’re able to look through the glass and see where you are.”

During all their planning of the renovation, which added 584 new public power outlets and 200 additional seats, the architects kept a keen eye on sustainability features, adding water-saving plumbing fixtures and energy-saving mechanical systems.

“The target with the project is LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] gold certification,” the second highest ranking, Loiseau says. “But to me the most sustainable feature, although it won’t get us any LEED credits, is that we didn’t build a new building; we recycled what we had. So often we fill up old space and then build new space without evaluating what could have been done without in the old. The challenge of the bad economy turned out to be a positive thing.”


Connie Dowell, dean of libraries, drew on Wyatt Smith, BS’10, young alumni trustee and former Vanderbilt Student Government president, to promote discussion about what students hoped to see in the library.

The Last, Best Job

For Provost McCarty, perhaps the most positive thing is that he got Connie Vinita Dowell to come to Vanderbilt. “Connie was my first hire as provost, and I’m confident my choice will stand the test of time,” McCarty says. “Her passion and experience made her an obvious choice.”

What’s not so initially obvious is why Dowell wanted to come to Nashville. Before she took up the deanship at Vanderbilt, she served as dean of the library and information access at San Diego State University. Her husband, Stephen Miller, is head of the Geological Data Center at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. Trading one of the most temperate climates in the world for the hot and humid summers of Middle Tennessee—especially the oven of 2010—seems counterintuitive.

For Dowell, however, it was payback time. “Vanderbilt gave me my education,” she explains. She was awarded a full fellowship to study library science at Peabody College and received her master’s degree in 1979, the year that Peabody merged with Vanderbilt. Dowell worked in the reference divisions of both the central and the science and engineering libraries. “So this is a special place for me.

“This will also be my last job, and it’s a dream come true,” Dowell continues. “I think that architecture can inspire, but the building had gotten to the point that it didn’t inspire us. I hope that now it will.”

Acts of Faith

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

“Vanderbilt Divinity School gives you permission to speak what it is you believe with some credibility.”—Becca Stevens, MDiv’90

The Rev. Becca Stevens is in story mode. Between bites of a veggie wrap and fried sweet potatoes, her tale jumps continents, turns thistles into bath and beauty products, and exults in miraculous transformations not just of plants but of people. Now and then she interrupts herself to marvel at the sights and sounds of late-summer rain hammering the restaurant roof and Nashville’s Belmont Boulevard.

Animated and compelling, she is both 21st-century American woman and Episcopal priest sharing the riches of a life and ministry fired by the call “to live by the truth that love is the most powerful force for change in the world.”

Her story pivots on a broken bottle of geranium oil inside a suitcase containing copies of Find Your Way Home, a book written by members of the Magdalene community, which she founded and which offers recovery, housing, medical care, therapy, education and vocational training at no cost to women who have been through addiction, prostitution and incarceration. As members of the community, led by Stevens, use stories and music to bring hope and healing to a group of incarcerated women, one of those women finds herself transported by the sheer beauty of the scent on the book’s pages.

“So this oil,” Stevens says, “made by a bunch of women who have survived the genocide in Rwanda, packaged in Nashville by women who have come off the streets, ends up helping to heal a woman down in a Texas prison.

“To be involved in that,” she adds, “is to be rich.”

The story, like her ministry, is personal and universal, uniting the gospel and economics in a world that has of late been rough on both. As chaplain at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Chapel on the Vanderbilt campus and founder of Thistle Farms, the business offshoot of Magdalene (it does indeed turn thistles into earth-friendly bath and beauty products), Rev. Stevens is a firm believer in the union of the spiritual and the practical.


Thistle Farms, started by Becca Stevens a decade ago, was named for the wildflower that grows on a road frequented by Nashville prostitutes. Proceeds from the sales of its bath and beauty products support Magdalene House, which helps women with a criminal history of prostitution and drug abuse start new lives. Here, Stevens and women from Magdalene make paper by hand for product packaging. Find out more:

“I want the women here to be employed, to have financial security, and to be able to change their tires,” she says. “A ministry that doesn’t concern itself with the economic well-being of its recipients is just so much wind.”

Stevens, a 1990 graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School and the author of five books, has brought more than $12 million in donations as well as nationwide press coverage to Magdalene and Thistle Farms; has earned the respect and support of Nashville’s business, political and arts communities; and has received any number of accolades and “Person of the Year” awards. She is, in the words of Viki Matson, assistant professor
of the practice of ministry and director of field education at the divinity school, “a rock star.”

“The reason we often cite Becca Stevens,” adds Divinity School Dean James Hudnut-Beumler, “is because she does real ministry as it was traditionally constituted—that of the priesthood—on Sundays, and works with students, but she also has a ministry in the world dealing with ‘the least of these.’ She is sort of our poster child for that combination of pulpit and real-world ministry.”

Stevens, MDiv’90, is an increasingly visible member of a stellar group of Vanderbilt Divinity alumni and attendees that includes the Rev. Edward “Monk” Malloy, PhD’75, president, emeritus, of the University of Notre Dame; former Vice President Al Gore, ’73; and civil rights activist Rev. James Lawson, ’71. None of that recognition figures into a luncheon conversation that includes her take on how the school helped shape her ministry.

“Vanderbilt Divinity School,” she says, “gives you permission to speak what it is you believe with some credibility. If you have a hunch that you should love without judgment, it can give you the systematic, theologically sound arguments to support that: ‘These are the saints who loved without judgments. You can walk in those footsteps.’ It can give you a background in Scriptures to make that seem like a possibility in your life. It also helps place you as part of a community of people who have some of the same passions and instincts you have about the world, and it helps you grow up a little bit. You get to practice preaching and leading worship and, however strong your instincts, you need to hone those crafts just as in any other profession.”

She is real-world ministry at its most compelling, as is divinity school graduate Rev. Zachary Mills, MDiv’08, whose position as associate minister at Chicago’s Hyde Park Union Church has led him into nearly full-time work trying to counter horrific violence that has swept the city during the past two years. Mills is leading an effort he and his leadership team call “a citywide anti-violence witness to the suffering and resilience in neighborhoods.” Its purposes include engendering “a deeper, more informed and sustained public response to the loss of life in our city.” During the next year they will recruit and train a diverse team of 50 to 100 clergy to minister to families and youth, hold regular ecumenical worship services “meant to galvanize the community around issues of peace, unity and nonviolence,” and use sacred music and the arts to promote “peace-making.”


The Rev. Zachary Mills, MDiv’08, is leading an effort to counter the violence that has plagued Chicago in recent years.

He too draws on his divinity school experience.

“Vanderbilt Divinity was very serious and concerned about training ministers who are passionate about social justice and who can think rigorously—theologically, academically—and merge that critical reflection with the actual practice of ministry,” he says.

That mix of practical and theological is one the school proudly proclaims as a goal. Given its reputation and the caliber of its faculty and curriculum, it is not surprising that the theological education is rigorous, and Amy-Jill Levine, Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies, adds a compelling rationale.

“One does not require a theological education to engage in works of justice,” she says, “but many are interested and indeed motivated by what they perceive to be a theological call. My concern is that people who claim theological warrant for their actions know what they’re talking about.”

A Rarity Among Divinity Schools

Vanderbilt Divinity School, one of just five university-based interdenominational institutions in the United States, was founded as the university’s biblical department and is one of Vanderbilt’s oldest programs. Through its master of divinity and master of theological studies degree programs, it has produced a large number of ministers, religious leaders and educators. It has among its stated objectives to help men and women “re-envision” as well as “prepare for the practice of Christian ministry in our time” and “to prepare leaders who will be agents of social justice.” The program “educates ministers and religious scholars side by side, which encourages intellectual challenge that strengthens the training of both.”

Although founded as a Methodist institution, the divinity school has long since broadened its outlook, and its students and faculty represent a large number of denominations and backgrounds.

“All divinity schools and seminaries have special gifts,” says Levine. “For me, Vanderbilt’s particular strengths include its ecumenical and interfaith faculty and student body. The very configuration of who we are keeps us from being insular or parochial. We are dedicated to addressing specific social issues of gender and sexuality, racism and ethnocentrism, economics and ecology. We well prepare our students in pastoral care, ethics, theology, and biblical and historical studies to see not only what the traditions have taught, but also how those teachings impact our lives today.”


Douglas Meeks is the Cal Turner Chancellor’s Professor in Wesleyan Studies and Theology. His course God, Economy and Poverty attracts students from across the university—especially those from law and business.

That broad perspective is further enriched by interdisciplinary efforts. The divinity school offers dual-degree programs in concert with the schools of medicine, nursing, law and business. One noteworthy example is a joint effort by the divinity school and the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management to bring “micro lending,” or small loans, to poor borrowers for income-generating activities in impoverished regions.

A popular academic manifestation of the school’s interdisciplinary approach has been Douglas Meeks’ course God, Economy and Poverty, which the Cal Turner Chancellor’s Professor in Wesleyan Studies and Theology will teach again this spring. The last time it was offered, 70 students enrolled, including 17 from the law school, six from the business school, and several from Peabody and from international studies.

In the class, says Meeks, “I try to bring Scripture and tradition to bear on our present society, especially as the tradition has dealt with the poor and with aspects of the economy that tend to make people poor and prevent their getting out of poverty.”

It’s a course whose underlying assumptions dovetail nicely with those of Zachary Mills, who would like to see the school take it a step further.

“I wish Vanderbilt Divinity School had a course about community organizing,” he says. “It’s a skill I’m learning on the fly.”

Answering the Call, Paying the Price

Economic factors of a different sort affect the lives of divinity students during and after their years at Vanderbilt, as virtually all the school’s students qualify for financial assistance.

“We have the highest rate of financial aid and the lowest tuition of any school at Vanderbilt,” says Dean Hudnut-Beumler, “and we have been carefully helped by the rest of the university to try to reduce our real costs as far as possible because the ministry is one of those few fields where an advanced professional education doesn’t result in a higher salary. It may result in a lot of meaning in life, but we want to provide the means by which students can exercise that call toward meaning, and that basically means all our fundraising is geared toward enhancing student aid. We’re still living in this somewhat shabby building because we’ve put our priorities into students, faculty and books.”

Those economic realities often seem tangential to the calling that draws the school’s students, says Viki Matson.


Viki Matson

“The desires and curiosities that compel students to seek theological education are many and varied,” she says. “Some come here with no inklings or plans to become religious leaders but have an intellectual or existential curiosity about timeless questions. Some come to the divinity school with a deep sense of personal piety, wanting to grow in their faith.

“Others come motivated by a sense of injustice in the world and out of their faith want to be social activists. It’s a caricature to say these two, in particular, are mutually exclusive because it speaks to me of the rhythms of the inner life and outer life—and we all ought to have a good mix of both. The inner life keeps me grounded in my tradition, my ritual or mode of worship. The outer is how I live in the world, and to me sometimes that means taking some hard stands, even being political, but inner and outer are inseparable.”

The school’s eclectic makeup helps in addressing that twofold reality.

“Because we are nondenominational,” she says, “there is not just one way to tend to the formation of the inner life. If we were affiliated with a certain tradition, we would have prescribed rituals and spiritual practices as part of our life together. But because we are a wildly ecumenical school, how do you teach that? How do you establish that? Those things are often left to the student. We don’t hand-hold their way through the inner life or the outer life.”


The Rev. Edward “Monk” Malloy, PhD’75, is president, emeritus, of Notre Dame University. Those who are effective in their ministries, he says, are “people who are both mainstream ... and know what’s popular in culture, but can be critical of the shallowness of some aspects of culture and help people learn to negotiate it as people of faith.”

Matson cites the school’s role as “helping to clarify vocation and discern gifts.” As for her own role, she says, “I put the scaffolding in place that allows students to gain firsthand experience in a variety of ministry settings, and then help them make sense, or meaning, out of those experiences.”

All of this, of course, takes place in a real world of divisive politics and a seemingly omnipresent and escapist culture. Knowledge about that culture and perspective on it are both desirable aspects of ministry, explains Rev. Malloy, the University of Notre Dame’s president, emeritus.

“If I were to describe myself and the Holy Cross priests here at Notre Dame,” he says, “I think it would describe the kind of education Vanderbilt provides its students. They are pretty au courant in terms of movies and popular culture, they know what’s going on in politics, they’ve traveled, they’re online, they tend to be articulate, and then they’re also people of faith who try to take those experiences and talents and make them effective in ministry.

“I think that’s what Vanderbilt is trying to produce—people who are mainstream in the sense that they can enjoy and know what’s popular in culture, but also can be critical of the shallowness of some aspects of culture and help people learn to negotiate it as people of faith.”

The real lives beneath the veneer of that culture form the reality that ministers like Mills and Stevens deal with daily.

“Our students,” says Dean Hudnut-Beumler, “are graduating into work within institutional settings, be they congregations or agencies or schools, that are trying to compensate for the chaos that’s found in contemporary society. Here is where, ideally, they live out a transformation story in finding out where their callings and someone else’s needs fit together.”


Amy-Jill Levine, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies, describes herself as a “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt.”

Vanderbilt Divinity School seeks to address those needs and the societal context in which they are placed as it trains the next generation of ministers and educators.

“Vanderbilt helps students know who they are and what their history is,” says Levine. “It also shows them what theological resources are available to them, and thus they are in a good position to address the challenges society presents them.”

It is evident in the ministries of graduates like Stevens and Mills that the school’s circle of influence is expressed one life, one moment at a time, and expands steadily outward. Matson sees it clearly at the community level in Nashville.

“I love that Nashville’s religious leadership is peppered with Vanderbilt Divinity graduates,” she says, “because you see them take a stand, you see them speak out, you see them organize, you see them speak the truth, and that is enormously gratifying.”

As sales of Thistle Farms products grow and as outreach to Chicago’s troubled neighborhoods expands, the divinity school will continue to draw on tradition that relies on texts wrestling with questions of evil and social justice that are thousands of years old.

“In a sense,” says Levine, “the university is like the Bible. The Bible is not a book of answers. The Bible is a book that helps us ask the right questions, and the university is a place where we can do the same thing.”

Mills sees those crosscurrents throughout his ministry.


“Although they represent a variety of faith traditions, our students have a single goal: to do their part to make the world a better place.” —Dean James Hudnut-Beumler

“Fundamentally,” he says, “the minister should practice the art of expanding imaginations. So many realities I’m seeing in Chicago restrict our imaginative abilities: violence, injustice, abuse, betrayals, and the chronic failure of human beings to do unto each other as they would have done unto them. These kinds of traumas can often limit people’s ability to see beyond their present situations to more hopeful possibilities. Someone who lives in a community where all they’ve ever seen is violence—like friends and family members shot in front of them—can often become incarcerated within the narrow confines of that single experience.

“The role of the ministry, and my work as a pastor, is to help people, through the good news of the gospel, and through creative brokering of relationships, to imagine realities beyond those that are immediately present, to facilitate the expanding of constricted imagination. This should be a chief mission of ministry.”

And it remains a key part of the mission of the divinity school.

Blending Back In

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Ethan Monsalve enjoys activities with other pediatric burn survivors at Camp Hope, held at the William P. Ridley Center in Columbia, Tenn. Four years ago Ethan was visiting Tennessee when a devastating bonfire mishap left him with severe burns. The ongoing care he received at Vanderbilt motivated his family to move from Los Angeles to Tennessee.

Ethan Monsalve has an air of confidence on the football field. When you meet him, the 10-year-old’s green eyes and bright smile get your attention—but it’s only a split second until you also notice the rough, wrinkled appearance of deep scars across his chin and neck. When he is running to catch a pass during football practice, his goal isn’t to stand out. It’s to blend in.

Like hundreds of patients who come to Vanderbilt University Medical Center every year, Ethan endured a sudden, awful incident that changed his life and set him on a journey of healing. In his case it was a bonfire accident that left him with severe burns over nearly 40 percent of his body at the age of 6.

For some, the change may come in the form of radical surgery after a cancer diagnosis. Others may be victims of abuse—or victims of circumstance.

Vanderbilt has the area’s only Level 1 trauma center and the state’s only burn center. With an active cancer center and pediatric hospital, reconstruction cases come in countless shapes and forms. A deep and varied team of experts in plastics and reconstruction come in right behind the life-saving work of the trauma, cancer and burn surgeons. While cosmetic plastic surgery is a thriving practice at Vanderbilt, reconstructive plastics account for well over half the cases.

What begins when families like Ethan’s arrive at VUMC is a journey. Patients, families and loved ones must work together with the skilled plastic and reconstructive surgeons at Vanderbilt to reach a place of both form and function—so people can be noticed for who they are, not for what happened to them.

Surgeons at Vanderbilt who perform reconstructive plastic surgery have come from many backgrounds. Some began in plastics, others in orthopedics or otolaryngology. Dr. Blair Summitt, assistant professor of plastic surgery, was there when Ethan arrived at VUMC by medical helicopter four years ago. He is also a member of the burn team at Vanderbilt.

“Once you are a burn patient, it’s a lifelong thing,” Summitt says. “We’re the only burn center around, so burns account for about 30 percent of what we do. We get countless adult patients, often men and line workers, who suffer severe burns from electrical contact. Every week we see probably two or three children who have been scalded. Most of them are accidents, but some are not.”


A surgical team led by Dr. Bruce Shack (top) works to remove racially offensive tattoos from the hands and wrists of a reformed white supremacist. Tattoos that once covered the man’s face also have been removed.

The surgeons say that plastic reconstruction work challenges them and is often the part of their jobs they love the most. While not the bread and butter of their careers, it gets to the very heart of what they do.

The Gift of Symmetry

Dr. Russell Ries, professor of otolaryngology and the Carol and John S. Odess Chair in Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, has a gift for symmetry. He says it comes with his somewhat obsessive-compulsive nature. He even admits to a bit of an obsession about faces. Dozens of mask-like sculptures and pop-art faces—items ranging from antique decorations to belt buckles and bottle openers—cover his office wall. It reminds him, he says, about what he loves about faces: Each is uniquely its own.

“Some people say they think you’d want a facial plastic surgeon to be an artist—but you don’t want an artist working on your face,” Ries says. “You want symmetry, not interpretation.”

One of the more remarkable surgeries Ries does on a regular basis is called the paramedian forehead flap. Ries rearranges the skin on the face and scalp to cover gaping holes left after Mohs surgeons—named after Dr. Frederic E. Mohs, who developed a technique called Mohs Micrographic Surgery—have removed skin cancers, often from the top of the nose.

Ries recounts the history of the technique, developed in Bombay, India, where the price of adultery in the first half of the 20th century sometimes included slicing off a portion of the accused’s nose. Photos from his many cases show that facial symmetry can, remarkably, be regained, even after a silver-dollar-sized piece of flesh—or larger—is lost to cancer.

Those who know Ries well also know the symmetry of his own life: Conscientious volunteer work and environmentalism define him as much as his surgical skill does. While Ries doesn’t talk much about his volunteer work, Carol Odess, his benefactor and friend, says she is happy to.

Odess explains that Ries and her late husband, Dr. John “Jack” Odess, had been friends, and she learned something a few years ago from Ries’ assistant that she’s never forgotten: Ries has quietly offered victims of domestic violence an opportunity to regain their faces—repairing broken noses, jaws and battered faces—without charge.

“[Ries’ assistant] told me that you can’t imagine battered women who don’t want anyone to touch them, let alone a man,” Odess says. “You can see the fear in their eyes. But he is able to work with them. I can see that as though I were sitting in the room. He is such a patient man, and then to be able to bring them back and take away their fear … well, when he is through, she told me, ‘You can see the light in their eyes again.’”

Ries has a simple philosophy. He likes people and likes helping them, and he focuses on what they want. “Most people don’t want to stand out. They want to blend in,” he says.

Restoring Futures

Helping a child blend in can go far beyond restoring form and function—it can save their future. Some of the cases Vanderbilt surgeons say are the most memorable involve children; after all, they have such a long time to live with their scars, defects or deforming tumors.

Dr. Kevin Kelly is associate professor and director of pediatric plastic surgery at the Craniofacial Surgery Center at Vanderbilt. He says the most severe cases he sees are children from poor or developing countries.

“Some people say they think you’d want a facial plastic surgeon to be an artist—but you don’t want an artist working on your face,” Ries says. “You want symmetry, not interpretation.”

Recently, a young girl named Lan Kui came from China, brought to Vanderbilt by the Agape Foundation. A jaw injury had left her mouth painfully clenched shut for six long years. Lan Kui’s jaw joint simply melted into a solid strip of bone after a blow to the side of her face went untreated for several years. Kelly’s surgical skills created a completely new joint and gave Lan Kui the gift of a mouth that would open.

In the space of a few months, the shy preteen was rescued from devastating tooth decay and infections from teeth that were rotting away, unreachable by dental experts. She began opening her mouth to fit in her new favorite meal: big chicken sandwiches from Hardee’s. She is looking forward to returning home to a normal life.

For Lan Kui, what would be considered an essential and urgent surgery in the United States was a miraculous gift she had waited a very long time to receive.

“This is the reason we go into medicine, to help people,” says Dr. Steve Goudy, assistant professor of otolaryngology.

As a pediatric otolaryngologist, Goudy’s bread and butter involves a lot of ear tubes and tonsillectomies, but through the years, international travel and his firm belief that children can and should be helped have brought him several patients from abroad.

A recent case involved a teen from Guatemala named Marleny. When the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and the Nashville Shalom Foundation agreed to foot the bills to get her here, Goudy was on board to donate a tricky surgery with an uncertain future.

As a pediatric otolaryngologist, Goudy’s bread and butter involves a lot of ear tubes and tonsillectomies, but through the years, international travel and his firm belief that children can and should be helped have brought him several patients from abroad.

Marleny had a very rare, very aggressive tumor that was slowly consuming the right side of her face. Her nose and mouth had become grossly stretched as the fist-sized tumor bulged outward.

“It was taking over her whole face. She couldn’t go to school, and she never went out in public without a scarf over her face,” Goudy says. “Her whole life was on hold. It had taken over her life and her personality.”

The fist-sized mass was removed in March. Just two months later Marleny returned home without the scarf and went back to school. While it is unknown if the tumor will recur, requiring more surgery, Goudy firmly believes that giving her a chance to learn and live normally now is worth the risk. That belief is shared by those who brought her here, as well as by the others on Marleny’s surgical team: Dr. Christopher Wootten, assistant professor of otolaryngology, and Dr. Louise Mawn, associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences, and neurological surgery.

“That’s the thing about Vanderbilt,” says Goudy. “I can call on the best and brightest people I know for these difficult cases, to work together to improve the quality of someone’s life.”

Again and again, the word “teamwork” comes up. Plastic reconstructive procedures cross many disciplines and many different departments at Vanderbilt. Dr. Bruce Shack, professor of plastic surgery and chair of the Department of Plastic Surgery, says this collegial spirit is of considerable benefit. The fact that Vanderbilt is the referral center of choice for many states in the Southeast also means there’s a lot of work to do. On-call shifts for plastic and reconstructive surgeons to respond to trauma cases, 24 hours a day, are shared between disciplines and departments, among the individuals with the right skill sets.

One critical skill is microvascular surgery of the hand. Vanderbilt has become one of the top centers in the United States for hand surgery.


Surgeon Steve Goudy first encountered Marleny Fabiola Lainez Ambrocio during a surgical trip to Guatemala two years ago. Last March the teen traveled to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt (top photo), where Goudy removed an aggressive, fist-sized tumor from her face. Marleny, shown in the bottom photo after the surgery with her mother and Kate Carlson, returned home in May.

“In plastic surgery it’s not just the face but the hands that require careful attention to form and function,” says Shack, who is also certified in the art of microvascular hand surgery. “The face and hands are the parts that are visible, but we also communicate with them. People may not think about it, but we communicate a lot with our hands.”

Mending Hands

Dr. Doug Weikert, BS’83, MD’87, associate professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation, is director of the Division of Hand and Microvascular Surgery at the Vanderbilt Hand and Upper Extremity Center. When an injury like a finger or hand amputation occurs, Weikert often brings in others who have microvascular training, including Shack; Dr. Wesley Paul Thayer, assistant professor of plastic surgery; Dr. Jeffry Watson, assistant professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation; and Dr. Donald Lee, professor of orthopedics and rehabilitation.

Weikert, who has reattached all manner of fingers and hands, arms and even lower limbs, keeps in close touch with many patients. Kaitlyn Lassiter, a teen whose feet were severed in a horrific theme park incident, dropped by to see him recently to show off the progress on the foot Weikert had successfully reattached. Much like the treatment of severe burns, rebuilding extremities is a long-term process.

“It’s very challenging for me because I must be able to be a nerve surgeon, an orthopedic surgeon, a vascular surgeon and plastic surgeon all at the same time,” Weikert says. “I have to have a plan and a vision—not over days and weeks, but over months and years—about how to restore function.”

In one particularly awful case, a 3-year-old boy had been intentionally scalded by his own mother, who submerged the tot’s left hand in a pot of boiling water as a punishment. Burn program director Dr. Jeff Guy, MMgmt’09, began treatment, but it was obvious the boy would need a reconstructive specialist, so Weikert was called in. There was little flesh left for him to work with.

The boy, named Kevon, was quickly placed in foster care along with his older brother. The boys’ foster—and now adoptive—father, Robert, says Kevon had much to overcome. Because of concern about his mother, who was released from prison after serving a single year of her 26-year sentence, Robert asked that only their first names be used for this article.

“The first time I saw Kevon’s hand without the bandage, it was a real shock,” Robert says. “The extent of the damage was so great. We were learning what could be expected as far as best-case scenario, but that’s where Dr. Weikert and his staff were amazing. They exceeded all expectations.”


A jaw injury left Lan Kui’s jaw painfully clenched shut for six years before the Chinese girl was brought to Vanderbilt, where Dr. Kevin Kelly created a new joint for her. Since the surgery she has developed a fondness for Hardee’s chicken sandwiches.

Kevon has required surgery every four months for the past two years. Muscles, bones, nerves and blood vessels first had to be protected while a plan was worked out to supply skin from elsewhere. A special graft material wrapped his digits together for months to preserve them, making Kevon look like he was wearing a thumbless mitten.

The real challenge for Kevon and his adoptive parents came when the then-4-year-old’s hand was literally sewn into his thigh. The active boy was placed in a body cast for three weeks to keep him from detaching something as the thigh skin and its blood supply “took” on his hand. The struggles with difficult toileting and dressing were worth it. Skin was permanently relocated from thigh to hand, giving Weikert enough to work with to rebuild Kevon’s hand—finger by finger.

“That was five surgeries. Last fall when he had one more web space to go, he looks up at me and says, ‘One more surgery and I can put on a baseball glove,’” Weikert recalls. “That just broke my heart.”

A love of sports often connects Weikert with his patients, especially the budding athletes like Kevon, who is already showing some skill. Three months after the final finger—Kevon’s pinky—was surgically separated from the rest of his hand, Kevon came in for a checkup. Weikert had a baseball glove waiting for him.

“The smiles and the joy he expressed getting that glove!” recalls Robert. “Now he’ll make us go out to play catch with him, saying it’s doctors’ orders.”

Shared Journeys

When the lives of plastic and reconstructive surgeons and their patients intersect, bonds can be built that are nearly as close as family. The journey certainly changes patients and families. Some say it changes them for the better.

Ethan Monsalve and his mother, Sara, are from Los Angeles; they had only been visiting friends in Tennessee at the time of Ethan’s awful burn injury. But that Thanksgiving visit turned into Christmas and New Year’s at Vanderbilt’s intensive care unit and burn unit. Now, four years later, the family has decided to move permanently to Tennessee.

“This is a journey, and I had to ask myself: Who did I want to make the journey with?” says Sara. “Dr. Summitt lets us know what the choices are, and the lines of communication are always open. I really respect his honesty. We make the choices together.”

When the lives of plastic and reconstructive surgeons and their patients intersect, bonds can be built that are nearly as close as family.

Ethan still may have 20 more surgeries to go as his body grows under stiffened and scarred skin. Visits to the hospital are frequent, and are usually painful, yet Ethan says he likes coming to VUMC. Mostly, he says, that’s because it means 24-hour access to ice cream and PlayStation 3, but also because he trusts and likes Summitt—especially his dry sense of humor.

“He’s funny when he tells jokes,” Ethan explains. “He’s like my coach. He’s funny, but he’s not a laugher.”

Ethan is even developing a sense of humor about his injury. And his mom talks about considering nursing school because she found that she could stomach, and stay involved in, Ethan’s difficult skin treatments. But Ethan teases her about continually working on his skin and calls her a “picker.”

Sara says it’s good to come to a hospital where people speak their language, with humor. It feels normal. Their journey has taken them a long way toward healing.

Ethan says his most recent graft procedure—which took a flap from his belly to cover a tightening strip of scars on his neck—should qualify him for the Guinness World Records book.

“I’m the world’s youngest tummy tuck—a 10-year-old tummy tuck,” he says with just a hair of a grin. He’s not a laugher, either.

Not Self, But Country

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

When she was studying Shakespeare and Milton at Vanderbilt in the late 1970s, Nora Wingfield Tyson never dreamed she’d be making history one day. But last July in a cavernous aircraft-carrier hangar in Norfolk, Va., Rear Adm. Tyson did just that when she became the first woman in U.S. Navy history to be named commander of a carrier strike group.

As such, she’s responsible for the lives of more than 9,000 sailors and airmen, not to mention billions of dollars’ worth of ships and aircraft poised to strike quickly at America’s enemies anywhere in the world. It’s a heavy load for anyone—man or woman—to bear.

“The work is never easy, but it is in my mind the most noble and rewarding work there is—serving our country,” she says.


As commander of Carrier Strike Group 2, Tyson, BA’79, leads a group of about 80 combat aircraft and 13 ships that include her flagship, the USS George H.W. Bush, the nation’s newest nuclear super carrier.

Tyson’s record is impressive. As captain of the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, she led the Navy’s rescue and relief efforts when Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans in 2005. Flying virtually around the clock, the ship’s helicopter pilots were among the first to pluck desperate New Orleans residents from their rooftops, rescuing more than 1,600 displaced persons. The Bataan also delivered more than 100,000 pounds of supplies, 8,000 gallons of fresh water, and two teams of 84 medical professionals to the stricken city.

Under Tyson’s command, the Bataan also deployed twice to the Persian Gulf during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Its mission was to deliver marines to the war zone via helicopters, landing craft and amphibious vehicles. Tyson says it was a wrenching experience.

“We took a full ship of sailors, marines and equipment to Kuwait and put the marines on the beach,” she recalls. “We didn’t know what they were going to face [in Iraq] or if they were going to come back. It was tough; they’re our brothers. But that’s what we do and what our fellow citizens expect of us.”

Rear Adm. Tyson’s command, Carrier Strike Group 2, is one of 11 strike groups currently maintained by the Navy that serves a variety of purposes, all of which involve gaining and maintaining sea control. The carrier strike group plays a critical role in the nation’s war-fighting arsenal.


A Black Hawk helicopter lands on the flight deck of the USS Bataan, the amphibious assault ship that led the Navy's rescue and relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina under Tyson's command.

A distinguished line of commanders has led Carrier Strike Group 2 since its origin in 1937. They include the renowned Adm. W.F. “Bull” Halsey during World War II, as well as Vanderbilt alumni Jerry C. Breast, BA’58, and Riley Mixson, BA’58, both retired rear admirals.

Tyson’s flagship, the Bush, is the center of Carrier Strike Group 2, which also includes four guided-missile cruisers, six guided-missile destroyers, two frigates, and eight squadrons of aircraft. One of the group’s destroyers, the USS Cole, was attacked by terrorists in Yemen in 2000.

Towering 20 stories above the waterline, the Bush is almost as long as the Empire State Building is tall. It carries about 75 fixed-wing aircraft and up to 15 helicopters. It can launch aircraft at a rate of one every 20 seconds. Its three 2-inch-diameter arresting wires on deck can bring an airplane going 150 miles per hour to a stop in less than 400 feet.

Sitting at her desk in the command and control center deep inside the carrier, Tyson sips coffee from a cup emblazoned with the word “Nashville.”


Tyson and Cmdr. Ed Thompson, en route to Singapore in the South China Sea, discuss the Republic of Singapore's frigate RSS Intrepid, shown in the foreground.

“The greatest challenge of my job,” she says, “is making decisions that affect other people’s lives. The most rewarding part is bringing your crew, your sailors and marines safely back home to their families after months away at sea serving their country.”

In her role as “war planner,” she meets daily with the carrier’s captain and the head of the air wing. When under way, she communicates with other warships in the strike group through a secure telephone or by teleconference.

The Bush, commissioned in 2009, is the last of the Nimitz class of carriers. Estimated to have cost $6.2 billion, it is longer than three football fields and displaces more than 100,000 tons, making it one of the world’s largest warships. Powered by two nuclear reactors, it is capable of staying at sea for 20 years before refueling, although it typically stores food and supplies for only 90 days.

The carrier is named in honor of the nation’s 41st president who, in 1943 at age 18, became the youngest naval aviator ever to receive his wings. The former president placed a congratulatory telephone call to Tyson following her change-of-command ceremony and has communicated with her frequently since then.

When the Bush is deployed to sea in the spring of 2011, only six or seven ships will accompany the carrier. They could be assigned to any number of hot spots, including the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, or even the Pacific Ocean. The rest of the strike group will be distributed throughout the world wherever they are needed. In addition to military operations, the ships of the strike group also could be called upon for humanitarian duties, as they were in Haiti after the recent earthquake, or for counter-drug operations in the Caribbean.

The Power of Example

Wherever they are deployed, those under Tyson’s command should be in good hands. By all accounts, a sincere interest in the welfare of others serves her well, whether leading her troops or engaging in international diplomacy. Her colleagues, both superiors and subordinates, describe her as intelligent, pragmatic and charming.

Before taking charge of Carrier Strike Group 2, Tyson commanded Task Force 73 and the Logistics Group, Western Pacific, based in Singapore. That job involved logistics and operations coordination in a key strategic area encompassing 51 million square miles of ocean. While in Southeast Asia, Lt. Cmdr. Mike Morley witnessed an incident in which Tyson’s diplomatic skills favorably impressed U.S. allies in the region.


Tyson exchanges gifts with a child at the Pattaya Orphanage in Thailand as part of a community service project in July 2009.

“In April 2010, Rear Adm. Tyson led a nine-person delegation to Cambodia to plan the first large-scale training between the U.S. Navy and the Royal Cambodian Navy,” Morley recalls.

“The Cambodian Navy, being very big on formalities, literally rolled out the red carpet at each stop on her itinerary, with dozens of sailors lined up to render military honors. One meeting ran very long, and we were nearly two hours late. About 70 Cambodian sailors stood in the searing tropical sun, rifles at port arms, dripping with sweat. Adm. Tyson and the Cambodian delegation exited their cars and were ushered past the formation into an air-conditioned conference room.

“Rear Adm. Tyson quickly excused herself, walked the 30 yards back to the end of the line, and made her way up the formation, shaking each sailor’s hand and thanking them personally for their welcome. The sailors were shocked—they rarely if ever receive such favorable attention from their own senior officers, let alone from a foreigner.


Tyson presents Indonesian sailors with command coins after they had completed visit, board, search and seizure training aboard guided-missile destroyer USS Russell.

“It only took five minutes,” Morley says, “but in that one simple action, Adm. Tyson made it clear to those 70 sailors, and the entire Cambodian delegation, that we had genuine intentions in understanding their Navy culturally and in forming lasting friendships. I’m certain none of them will ever forget that experience.”

Earlier in her career, Tyson served as executive assistant for Adm. Michael G. Mullen, who was then chief of naval operations. Now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and principal military adviser to President Barack Obama, Mullen presided at Tyson’s “frocking” ceremony at the Pentagon in 2007 when she was promoted to rear admiral.

“I’ve known and admired Nora a long time,” says Mullen. “She’s one of the most conscientious and humble leaders in the Navy today. It’s never about her—never. It’s first about the mission and always about her people. Just ask anyone who has ever worked for her. She gets the job done through teamwork and the power of her example.”

Tyson’s affection for the young Americans she leads is evident when she recalls the accidental death of a seaman under her command. “It’s really, really hard to lose a shipmate,” she says, “to write letters to the family, and go to the funeral. It’s heart wrenching.”

“The average age of the 6,000 men and women on my flagship is 19. They make enormous sacrifices to defend our freedom. It makes you feel pretty good about young people today.”

She also has tremendous respect for her troops. “The average age of the 6,000 men and women on my flagship is 19,” she notes. “It’s pretty amazing what they do every day, making the squadrons run, the airplanes fly, and maintaining the best state of readiness for whatever we are called on to do.

“We depend on them to do some pretty serious, dangerous work,” she continues. “They make enormous sacrifices to defend our freedom. It makes you feel pretty good about young people today. Our job is to give them what they need to succeed in life and to have the least amount of stress in their lives.”

Command can be lonely, she notes, when difficult decisions must be made: “You’re the ultimate decision maker. When those decisions affect other people’s lives, I gather all the information and input that I can. Then I find an inner space where I can tune everything else out, decide on the right thing to do, and live with my decision. It’s important to be able to look in the mirror and say, ‘I did the right thing.’”

An Unintentional Calling

As a youngster growing up in Memphis, Tenn., Tyson climbed trees, played ball, and crawled around in the airplanes her father flew as a navigator in the Army Air Corps and the Tennessee Air National Guard. Although she never considered a military career for herself back then, she ultimately followed in her father’s footsteps, becoming an airplane navigator right out of flight school.

Tyson attended St. Mary’s Episcopal High School, where she was one of 42 members of the class of 1975. She says she derived her strength and independence from her mother, whom she calls “a phenomenal woman.”
“She was ahead of her time,” Tyson recalls, “an independent woman who moved to New Orleans right after college to work as a medical technologist at Charity Hospital.” Unfortunately, neither of Tyson’s parents lived to see their daughter join the highest ranks of the U.S. Navy.


Tyson, then captain of the USS Bataan, talks with then-Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael G. Mullen during relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Entering Vanderbilt in the fall of 1975, Tyson made friends easily and “breezed through her studies,” according to classmate Laura Cumming Szyperski, BA’79, a Delta Delta Delta sorority sister. “Nora has a keen intellect. She’s a natural gatherer and organizer.”

Tyson also was a member of the Wild Bunch, a quasi-secret society of campus leaders who staged a mock “kidnapping” of then-Chancellor Alexander Heard in 1977. She remembers the late chancellor as “perfect for the job.”

“He really seemed to care about the students and understand what was important to them,” she recalls.

“When decisions affect other people’s lives, I gather all the information and input I can. Then I find an inner space where I can tune everything else out, decide on the right thing to do, and live with my decision.”

Shortly before graduation in 1979, Tyson, an English major at Vanderbilt, received a call “out of the blue” from a Navy recruiter who invited her to test for entry into Officers Candidate School (OCS). She completed OCS in Newport, R.I., and received her commission in the U.S. Navy in December the same year.

After a short stint of shore duty, Tyson reported for flight training in Pensacola, Fla. She earned her wings as a naval flight officer in 1983 and then served three tours in Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 4, including one as commanding officer. She also earned a master of arts in national security and strategic affairs from the U.S. Naval War College in 1995.

“When I joined the Navy, the recruiter never mentioned going to sea,” Tyson says.

In 1989 she became an assistant operations officer aboard the training aircraft carrier USS Lexington and, later, navigator aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise during hostilities in Kosovo.


Tyson salutes Capt. Jeffrey A. Hesterman during her July 2010 change-of-command ceremony in the hangar bay aboard the USS George H.W. Bush.

“Ever since I served on the Lexington, I’ve loved going to sea,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun. But I never dreamed in a million years I’d be doing this. Sometimes I think to myself, ‘How did this happen?’”

Tyson says she hasn’t experienced discrimination or resentment from colleagues and subordinates because of her gender. However, she’s certainly heard stories about other women who have. She notes that most women who become the first to serve in any capacity in the military “will try harder because they have something to prove.”

“My goal throughout my career has been to do my best at whatever job I was given,” she continues. “I was very fortunate to have served in positions in both aviation squadrons and onboard ships that gave me experience that would serve me well when, eventually, more positions at sea opened up for women.”

Tyson’s husband of 22 years is Wayne Tyson, a retired Navy master chief. When at home in Williamsburg, Va., the Tysons enjoy golf, travel, and Wayne’s twin grandsons.

The Vanderbilt Connection

Recently approved for two stars, Tyson is the only rear admiral among Vanderbilt female graduates. In addition to Breast and Mixson, several other male alumni also have achieved flag rank. They include rear admirals Kendall Card, BE’77, and William Douglas French, BE’79, both on active duty, and Conrad J. Rorie, PhD’70, retired.

Tyson is intensely loyal, not only to the men and women under her command, but also to her Vanderbilt classmates of 30-plus years. “I had a great time the entire four years at Vanderbilt,” she says. “The friendships I made and the camaraderie have stuck with me through the years.”

Many of her Vanderbilt friends have faithfully followed Tyson’s career and attended many of her ceremonies; 11 of them traveled to her latest change-of-command ceremony in July.


Attending Rear Adm. Tyson's change-of-command ceremony in July were, left to right, fellow Vanderbilt alumnae Mary Ellen Poindexter Chase, Emily Perkins Zerfoss, Elizabeth Colton Walls, Virginia Payne, Dru Anderson, Nancy Short Phipps, Betty Barber Anderson, Laura Cumming Szyperski, Chris Skinner Fox, Frances Harris Russell and Meg Phalen Bertolami.

“Nora always approached everything with humility and a great sense of humor,” says Mary Ellen Poindexter Chase, BA’79, Tyson’s high school and college sorority sister.

Dru Anderson, BA’80, EMBA’89, also a Tri Delta, remembers Tyson as “fun-loving and a natural leader.”

“My favorite memory of Nora is of her dancing to the oldies on the jukebox in our sorority house after class. Soon we were all dancing around with her and having fun,” she says. “You wanted to be with her and do what she was doing.”

Capt. Jamie Hopkins, commanding officer of Vanderbilt’s Naval ROTC unit, has tremendous respect for Tyson, who serves as air flag sponsor for the unit.

“Anyone who has ever met Rear Adm. Tyson is immediately struck by two things,” he says. “First, she is incredibly knowledgeable and professional. Second, she is one of the nicer individuals you will ever meet and someone who genuinely cares for all around her.”

Tyson credits lessons learned at Vanderbilt with influencing her leadership style. “Throughout my life I have learned that sincere relationships are very important both personally and professionally,” she says. “Listening and trying to understand something from another’s perspective are tremendous leadership tools.”

Although she has traveled far and wide since her student days, Rear Adm. Nora Wingfield Tyson has never forgotten where she came from. “Vanderbilt,” she says, “has a very special place in my heart.”

Quality Instruction Aids Preschool Learning

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

A collaboration between Vanderbilt and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools on an Early Reading First project for preschool children has yielded “spectacular” results in a preliminary study, according to project leaders. “The big picture is that high-quality language and literacy instruction in pre-K can make a big difference,” says Deborah Rowe, a project co-leader and associate professor of early childhood education at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development.

Ongoing evaluations conducted by Vanderbilt researchers who were not part of the program, called Enhanced Language and Literacy Success, measured the performance of the 217 4-year-olds who participated in the project in fall 2009 and again in spring 2010. The children attended Metro preschool classrooms serving low-income children. Forty-five percent were English language learners (ELL), meaning that English is not their first language.


The preliminary data showed impressive performance gains. The project used tests that adjust for age so that without special support, a typical child should get the same score at different ages. Vocabulary scores on a test that consistently relates to later reading increased from a mean of 73.1 to 85.3 (with 100 reflecting the average score on national norms). The ELL children’s average scores increased from 55 to 75. African American children’s scores increased from 88 to 94.

While average scores are still well below national averages, this growth significantly narrows the achievement gap between less and more economically advantaged children, the researchers say.

For letter knowledge, the researchers noted a growth of more than a standard deviation on a nationally normed test—from 91 to 109.7. Average final scores from that test were comparable across groups.

“These final scores are what I would expect to see as average scores in economically advantaged populations; and our teachers are achieving them across the board with children identified by Metro Schools as those who are most in need of pre-K services,” says David Dickinson, project co-leader and chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at Peabody. “These are important data showing that spectacular results are possible in public preschool classrooms when sufficient resources make available strong support.”

Says Rowe, “When you get students to make more than a standard deviation of growth in one year, that’s huge.”

Sandra Wilson, PhD’00, the independent evaluator, cautions that this is preliminary data in a before-and-after comparison without a control group. “While the gains are excellent and, in some cases put the children around the national norms at the end of pre-K, we cannot know definitively the source of those gains” without further data analysis, says Wilson, associate director and senior research associate in the Peabody Research Institute.

The program, which intensifies support for teaching efforts in language, literacy, content knowledge learning and preschool writing skills, is supported by a three-year U.S. Department of Education grant through the Early Reading First grant program. A second Tennessee project is ongoing in the Chattanooga area.

50 Ways to Sniff a Human

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

In this corner, weighing in at 150 pounds: Homo sapiens, creator of the bug zapper, the citronella candle, the rolled-up newspaper and Deep Woods Off!

And in the opposite corner, weighing in at less than 5 milligrams: Anopheles gambiae, transmitter of 250 million new cases of malaria each year, possessing one—no, make that two—wicked sets of olfactory sensors. Or, quite possibly, several sets of olfactory sensors.

It now appears that the malaria mosquito uses more than one family of odor sensors to sniff out its human prey. That is the implication of new research into the mosquito’s sense of smell published in the Aug. 31 issue of the online, open-access journal Public Library of Science Biology.

Experiments described in the paper provide striking new evidence that Anopheles gambiae, which kills 900,000 people annually, has a second independent set of olfactory sensors that are fundamentally different from the set of sensors scientists have known about and have been studying for the past 10 years. The discovery may help explain a puzzling question that has been plaguing scientists trying to develop new and more effective forms of mosquito lures and repellents.


Chao Liu (left) and R. Jason Pitts

“The ORs [odorant receptors] that were identified in the lab earlier don’t respond to a lot of human odors,” says Vanderbilt graduate student Chao Liu, who is the lead author on the paper. “Now that we have a new set of receptors, we may be able to fill in the picture.”

There is a good chance that this new set of receptors may be specifically tuned to detect a number of the odorants given off by humans, adds co-author R. Jason Pitts, a senior research specialist and graduate student at Vanderbilt. “If this is the case, then it is quite likely this information will play a critical role in attempts to develop improved lures and repellents to control the spread of malaria.” According to Pitts, they also have preliminary evidence that the mosquito’s olfactory system may include additional families of sensors.

Vanderbilt Professor of Biological Sciences and Pharmacology Laurence Zwiebel, who was the principal investigator on the study, heads a major interdisciplinary research project to develop new ways to control the spread of malaria based on mosquito olfaction. The project is supported by the Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative funded by the Foundation for NIH through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“It’s not at all surprising that the mosquito’s olfactory system is more sophisticated than we thought,” says Zwiebel. “Olfaction is absolutely essential to the mosquito. If the female cannot find a host for a blood meal, she cannot reproduce. As a result, mosquitoes have developed an uncanny ability to detect odors. This is true of all species of mosquitoes, not just Anopheles. So it is highly likely that the mosquitoes that spread West Nile, dengue fever, yellow fever and encephalitis also have similar sets of odor sensors.”

About 10 years ago, when the mosquito genome was first sequenced, scientists at Vanderbilt and Yale identified the genes and structure of one set of Anopheles sensors, called odorant receptors (AgORs). At first they thought these receptors had the same basic design as sensors found in the nose of humans and other mammals. But recent studies have found that the mosquito receptors, along with those of several other insects, have a distinctly different structure.

Last year when scientists at Rockefeller University announced they had discovered a second set of olfactory receptors in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, an animal model for basic genetics, “it was like a light had switched on,” says Pitts. Vanderbilt researchers knew it was likely that the mosquito had a second set of receptors, too, and began searching for them.

The search was successful, and the researchers identified genes that code for about 50 versions of the new type of receptor. The new receptors appear to have a slightly different structure from that of AgORs: They are called “ionotropic receptors” (AgIRs), and they closely resemble the type of receptor found in the brain that responds to the common neurotransmitter glutamate.

Surgeon Shortage Has Global Implications

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

U.S. health care exacts a heavy toll not only in terms of dollars, but also in the demand we exert on the world’s supply of surgeons.

A decline in the number of international medical graduates practicing general surgery in the United States is contributing to a “crisis of urgency” as demand for general surgeons continues to grow, according to a new Vanderbilt study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. That trend, along with an inadequate supply of general surgery graduates, is threatening patient access to quality surgical care, say the authors.

“It appears that our dependence on international surgical residents will increase over the years,” says lead author Dr. Naji Abumrad, chair of the Department of Surgery. “Our challenge is to remain morally and ethically conscious of the fact that these residents represent a significant brain drain to countries where their skills are very much needed.”


Dr. Kyla Terhune: “We have become too reliant on international medical graduates to meet the growing demand for all specialties.”

International medical graduates (IMGs) include both U.S. citizens and noncitizens who graduate from medical schools located outside the U.S. and Canada. The Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates requires IMGs to complete four years of education at a medical school listed in the International Medical Education Directory and to obtain passing scores on the same licensing examinations given to U.S. graduates. IMGs represented 17.4 percent of all general surgeons in 2005, but that number has since dropped to 14.8 percent.

“In the 2009 residency match, if every U.S. senior medical student had been matched to a first-year position in any field, only 70 percent of available positions would have been filled,” says first author Dr. Kyla Terhune, a general surgery resident at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “These shortages can have a lasting impact on access to care, particularly in trauma and critical-care situations.”

Particularly threatened by the shortage, Terhune says, are rural areas, where the total number of surgeons has declined by nearly 40 percent since 2005. “We must acknowledge the importance of IMGs—and the fact that we have become too reliant on them to meet the growing demand for all specialties, including general surgery.

“We cannot provide for our citizens through our own medical education system.”

For Crying Out Loud, Turn That Thing Down

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Hearing loss now affects nearly 20 percent of U.S. adolescents age 12 to 19, a rise of 5 percent during the past 15 years, according to a new Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) study co-led by Dr. Ron Eavey, director of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center and the Guy M. Maness Professor in Otolaryngology.

Eavey, who conducted the study with former Harvard colleagues Josef Shargorodsky, Sharon Curhan and Gary Curhan, says the results are troubling because hearing loss in adolescents is on the rise and researchers don’t have hard evidence to explain why. “What jumped out at us was the fact that hearing loss had increased a lot,” Eavey says.


Dr. Ron Eavey: “We can at least try to put some brakes on hearing loss.”

The study compared hearing tests conducted as part of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), 1988–1994, and NHANES 2005–2006. NHANES III examined 2,928 participants, and NHANES 2005–2006 examined 1,771 participants, age 12 to 19. The prevalence of any hearing loss increased from 14.9 percent in 1988–1994 to 19.5 percent in 2005–2006.

“One could have hypothesized the opposite,” Eavey says. “Vaccines are out now that can stop bacterial meningitis and also help get rid of some cases of ear infections, so that incidence is down.

“The knee-jerk answer that one might conclude, although supporting data is not clear, is that the increase is caused by loud volume.”

Hearing loss in young persons can compromise social development, communication skills and educational achievement, according to the authors.

“We can modify noise exposure, and that’s where I think we can at least try to put some brakes on, whether it is coming from noise-induced hearing loss or not,” Eavey says. “We are looking at the front wall of an epidemic, and we can help to prevent the loss to allow kids to enjoy their ears and their great music a lot longer.”

Eavey, who also chairs the Department of Otolaryngology, says parents and children should preset electronic music devices to somewhere between one-half and two-thirds maximum volume because any sound over 85 decibels exceeds what hearing experts consider to be a safe level. Some MP3 players are programmed to reach levels as high as 120 decibels.

“As parents we can’t hear how loud their music is when they have the ear buds in, so this is an important step,” he says. “I can tell you that if you hear the music coming from their headphones, it is too loud, but an easier way to know for sure is to preset the device.”

Airborne Toxins Damage Soldiers’ Lungs

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Between 2003 and 2005, Vanderbilt physicians treated more than 50 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division based in Fort Campbell, Ky., with a common complaint. Each soldier had a history of shortness of breath, and each one—a former supremely fit soldier—was having trouble passing a running test. They also shared similar stories of exposure to massive amounts of smoke from sulfur fires in 2003 or breathing air fouled by dust and smoke from burn pits across Iraq.

Dr. Robert Miller, MD’82, associate professor of allergy, pulmonary and critical care medicine, made what he calls an “unconventional” move to recommend surgical biopsies for these soldiers without tests containing tangible evidence of disease.

His hunch paid off. “So far, all but a few of these soldiers we have biopsied have come back with pathology diagnosing constrictive bronchiolitis,” Miller says. Constrictive bronchiolitis is a narrowing of the tiniest and deepest airways of the lungs. It is rare and can only be diagnosed through biopsy. Cases documented in the medical literature show striking similarities to what is seen in these soldiers’ biopsies.

“These are inhalation injuries suffered in the line of duty,” says Miller, who with his colleagues has been building evidence, testifying before Congress, and reaching out to the military to explore concerns that soldiers are being exposed to airborne toxins in Iraq and Afghanistan that leave them with potentially permanent lung damage.

Dr. Joyce Johnson, MD’86, professor of pathology, has been working with Miller to examine the soldiers’ biopsies. She has built up a slide file jammed with hundreds of micro-thin “slices” taken from dozens of soldiers’ biopsies.


Curtis Boyd, shown with his father, Rick Boyd, experienced lung problems after serving in Iraq.

“These are striking abnormalities in this otherwise young and healthy population,” says Johnson. “We need broad, national recognition that this is a complication of being in this theater.”

During the past three years, attention to the work of the Vanderbilt team has gained momentum. In 2007 the Army Public Health Command requested information from Miller to launch an investigation of exposures to soldiers during the Mishraq sulfur fires. In May 2008, Miller and Dr. Matthew King, a resident in the Division of Allergy, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, presented their findings at an American Thoracic Society (ATS) meeting.

By October 2009 there was growing national alarm about the huge Balad burn pit as servicemen and women exposed to the fires reported a growing number of illnesses, including cancers. Miller testified before a congressional hearing committee Oct. 8, 2009. Three weeks later the National Defense Authorization Act passed, including a law prohibiting disposal of medical or hazardous waste in open-air burn pits.

In November 2009, William Valentine, associate professor of pathology and a member of the Vanderbilt Center in Molecular Toxicology, was invited to sit on an Institute of Medicine’s National Academies committee to study long-term health consequences of exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, Miller, King and Dr. James Tolle, assistant professor of medicine, have traveled to National Jewish Health Hospital in Denver to work with a group of medical and military experts examining the range of exposures and respiratory complaints reported by soldiers returning from the war in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The message is: Now is the time to figure out this post-deployment respiratory illness,” says King. “There is a lot of concern that this is the tip of the iceberg. We are asking what’s causing these illnesses and what prevention and management can we offer soldiers in the future.”

Miller hopes Vanderbilt can be instrumental in designing a test to identify the likelihood of constrictive bronchiolitis without having to open up the chests of any more soldiers. “I believe these people have paid a huge price to serve as much as they have served, and if they are now as limited as we are observing, they deserve the best of care.”

Sports Roundup

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

First-year student R. Adams Cowley during a fall men’s lacrosse practice


Three Named ‘Players to Watch’

The Top Drawer Soccer website has included three Vanderbilt players in its “Top 20 Women’s College Players to Watch” list for the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference: seniors Molly and Megan Kinsella and sophomore Chelsea Stewart. Molly Kinsella led the Commodores in scoring each of the past three seasons, and Megan started the 2010 season with two assists and a goal in the first two games. Stewart is on hiatus this season to play for the Canadian national team in preparation for the 2011 FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) Women’s World Cup in Germany.


Two on Academic Honor Roll

In September, midfielders Megan Gibson and Laura Keenan, both of whom graduated in May, were named to the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association’s 2010 Academic Honor Roll. During their Vanderbilt careers the team made four straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Recipients are nominated for the honor roll by their schools and must have achieved at least junior status academically.

Men’s Tennis:

Preseason Rankings

The Commodores got preseason recognition in singles and doubles rankings from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association. Sophomore Ryan Lipman enters the season ranked No. 20. He posted a 23–14 overall record last year and was 6–5 against SEC opponents. He advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament and was named Co-SEC Freshman of the Year and first-team All-SEC. He and senior Adam Baker are ranked No. 48 in doubles play, and seniors Alex Zotov and Bryant Salcedo rank No. 50.

Men’s Golf:

Haselden Makes All-America Scholar Squad

Senior Ryan Haselden was named to the Cleveland Golf/Srixon All-America Scholar team last July for his work in the classroom during 2009–2010, according to the Golf Coaches Association of America. He is an economics major who has been a member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll all three of his years at Vanderbilt. Last season he had Vanderbilt’s second-best stroke average (73.07) and finished in a tie for second at Vanderbilt’s own Mason Rudolph Championship.

Women’s Tennis:

Early Honors for Fall Season

Juniors Chelsea Preeg and Jackie Wu were ranked No. 13 in the Campbell/Intercollegiate Tennis Association college tennis rankings for doubles—the fourth-highest-ranked pair in the SEC. At the SEC Fall Coaches Classic, held in Auburn, Ala., in September, freshmen Alex Leatu and Lauren Mira and junior Erica Robertson won their flights to help the Commodores tally 16 wins in singles play.­

Baseball Reaches Super Regional

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

The Commodores extended their year well beyond the regular season and came within one game of moving on to the College World Series. The team finished with a 46–20 overall record. After a 40–15 regular season finish, Vanderbilt exited the SEC Tournament with losses to LSU and Florida, but won the NCAA Regional Tournament at Louisville, advancing from the loser’s bracket to take the title with a 4–1 record. The next stop was Tallahassee and the NCAA Tournament Super Regional against Florida State. Vanderbilt won the first game but dropped the next two, ending the 2010 season.

Where Are They Now?

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010


matt-freijeIt’s autumn in Middle Tennessee, and Matt Freije, BA’04, is enjoying the cooler weather and outdoor chores at his home in Brentwood. He also enjoys the company of his wife, Amy, and their newborn son, Benton Matthew, born in March. “He’s keeping me busy,” Freije admits with pride.

Vanderbilt basketball fans associate the sounds of squeaky sneakers on hardwood floors with Freije, the second-leading scorer in Vanderbilt history and the second-round pick of the Miami Heat in 2004. That squeaky sneakers sound was joined by a mix of foreign voices as Freije took his game to an international level last year, when he played for the Mets de Guaynabo team in Puerto Rico and for the Lebanon national team.

“My last name is Lebanese,” he explains. “My great-grandfather came over from Lebanon. They called me and asked me to play. They speak English, French and Arabic there, so language isn’t a problem.” The sneakers will squeak again soon for Freije, but at the moment, he’s enjoying the sounds of home.

2010 Athletics Hall of Fame Inductees

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Ten new members were inducted into the Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame on Sept. 3, 2010. They make up the third class to be named to the hall. The new members are:

  • Ernest “Bucky” Curtis, BA’51 (football, 1947–1950), first-team All-American in 1950, when he led the nation in receiving.
  • Shan Foster, BS’08 (men’s basketball, 2004–2008), Vanderbilt’s all-time leading scorer.
  • Heidi Gillingham Jackson, BA’94 (women’s basketball, 1990–1994), Kodak First Team All-American in 1993.
  • Chris Groer, BA’96 (men’s tennis, 1993–1996), All-American and First Team All-SEC in 1996.
  • Frank Lorge, BE’72, JD’80, MS’82 (swimming, 1969–1972), two-time SEC champion in 200-yard backstroke, 1969 and 1970.
  • Edward A. Martin (men’s assistant basketball coach, 1985–1989), professor of human and organizational development, emeritus.
  • Jeff Peeples, ’73 (baseball, 1970–1973), Vanderbilt’s all-time leader in career wins and earned run average.
  • Dr. Ann Hutcheson Price, BA’71, MD’78 (women’s tennis, 1969–1971), played in National Women’s Tennis Tournament in 1970 and 1971.
  • Grantland Rice, BA 1901 (football, baseball, 1898–1901), captain of the 1901 baseball team and first inductee into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame in 1962.
  • Will Wolford, BA’87 (football, 1982–1985), first-team All-SEC in 1985 and three-time Pro Bowl selection in the NFL.

Coming to America

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

With his head down, Steve Tchiengang nonchalantly ambles through a group of students on the sidewalk near Rand Hall. His trip is interesting to watch. And at 6 foot 9 inches, it’s hard to miss, too. With a few graceful strides, he’s through the pack and well on his way to Memorial Gym.

Tchiengang, pronounced “CHEEN-gang,” doesn’t seem to mind—or even notice—the stares and hand-cupped whispers of those in his wake. These faux pas are surely forgivable. The man is literally heads and shoulders above them, so who could resist a quick “Did you see that guy?”


Steve Tchiengang didn’t know a word of English when he came to the U.S. Now he helps other Africans assimilate.

What would be unforgivable would be for anyone to conclude that the obvious defines Steve Tchiengang: that he’s a basketball player in the powerhouse Southeastern Conference heading to the gym—a power forward with hands like catcher’s mitts and hickory stilts for legs made for pushing opponents out from the paint and away from the basket. All of this, of course, is true. Tchiengang has amassed 162 rebounds during his first two years at Vanderbilt, has blocked his share of shots, and has surprising shooting accuracy for a man his size. But his performance on the elevated hardwood of Ingram Court only begins to describe who he is as a person.

This is a man defined by his love for, and devotion to, family. Make that “families”—one in Houston and one in Cameroon, a country on the west coast of central Africa. One he is related to by blood, and one he met the day he moved to the United States in October 2004. One he said goodbye to in search of an education that might one day lift his family from poverty, and one is economically stable and generous with their blessings.

Tchiengang’s native tongue is French—not surprising given that his region of Cameroon was under French control from the conclusion of World War I to 1960. He also speaks Spanish, which provided little help when he first met the family he would soon join: Tchiengang didn’t speak a word of English.

“When I got off the plane in Houston, I didn’t even know them—we had never met,” he says, his French accent still prominent. “Now I call them ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad.’”

David Ambrose, Tchiengang’s adoptive father, says he learned something important about Steve’s character the day he arrived from Cameroon. “We quickly figured out that he has a heart for other people. He only brought one change of clothes. Everything else in his backpack was gifts for us.”

Tchiengang’s new life was beginning in a house of benevolent strangers. There was running water, electricity, and a refrigerator full of food. There were carpeted floors, and central heat and air conditioning. “The second night with us he told us, ‘I feel like I’m a king,’” remembers Ambrose. “He had never slept on a bed before.”

With the help of Michael, the youngest member of his adoptive family, Tchiengang learned English. And he played organized—“structured,” as he called it—basketball for the first time when he suited up for Cypress Christian School. His previous basketball experience in Africa was recreational. It was physical, had few rules, and offered little room for strategies that define the Western game.

“My freshman year in high school was a learning experience,” he says. “I had to rewire my thought processes.”

After three successful years at Cypress Christian, Tchiengang transferred to Montverde Academy, a boarding school in Florida where he could further develop his basketball skills. It worked. Several Division I schools recruited him, including Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Georgia Tech and Baylor, where his adoptive parents attended and where three of his adoptive siblings are currently enrolled.

“My Houston family went to Baylor; they all went to Baylor,” he says over lunch at Rand Hall. “They’re Bears all the way through. But they always told me, ‘Go to where your heart is calling you.’ And my heart called me to Vanderbilt.”


Today, Tchiengang’s life appears to be balanced, although he says he misses his family in Africa. But he’s dealing with it much more effectively than he did shortly after his arrival in the U.S., when the influx of blessings also brought pangs of guilt.

“Some days I would not eat, knowing that my family back home often had nothing to eat. I wanted to share the difficulty they were enduring,” he says. “It wasn’t smart, but my family means so much to me.”

There is a pause in the conversation as he pokes one of two grilled chicken breasts with his fork. “The chicken on my plate would feed my entire family in Africa,” he says. “Maybe twice.”

And this is precisely what motivates Tchiengang. His goal, he says, is to lift his African family from poverty, whether it’s by playing basketball or through a “normal job.”

It doesn’t surprise his adoptive family that Tchiengang takes this responsibility upon himself. He already works in Nashville with school-aged refugees from Africa by helping them assimilate into their new community. “Most of [the refugees] don’t speak English,” he says. “I tell them that they have to learn because they have to go to college.”

He’s also been known to dip into his own pocket for those less fortunate.

“Most kids are self-centered and self-focused at that age,” says Ambrose. “But Steve has a very big heart. My wife and I are more proud of that than anything he can do on the basketball court.”

Tchiengang’s parents in Africa know little about his day-to-day life. He hasn’t returned home since arriving in the U.S. six years ago.

“I haven’t seen my family in Africa in a long time, but it’s for the right reasons,” he says. “Helping my family has always been my focus. I want to be successful so I can give them relief from their hardships.”

Soap Floats

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

soap-floatsFirst-year students mix it up at the Student Organizations Fair held in August.


Wednesday, December 1st, 2010


This little goldfinch adds a bit of life and color to the “Tree of Learning” sculpture just outside the Central Library. The sculpture by Greg Wyatt is the centerpiece of the Garden of Great Ideas, bronzes sponsored by the Newington Cropsey Foundation and scattered throughout campus.

Inquiring Minds

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Performance Pay Alone Doesn’t Raise Scores

Rewarding teachers with bonus pay, in the absence of any other support programs, does not raise student test scores, according to a study by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Peabody College. This and other findings from a three-year experiment—the first scientific study of performance pay ever conducted in the United States—were released in September and widely reported by the national media.

“These findings should raise the level of the debate to test more nuanced solutions, many of which are being implemented now across the country, to reform teacher compensation and improve student achievement,” says Matthew Springer, executive director of the National Center on Performance Incentives. Springer is an assistant professor of public policy and education at Peabody College.

Find out more:


Liquid Crystals Offer Commercial and Scientific Potential

Vanderbilt chemists have created a new class of liquid crystals with unique electrical properties that could improve the performance of digital displays used on everything from digital watches to flat-panel televisions. The achievement, which is the result of more than five years of effort, is described by Professor of Chemistry Piotr Kaszynski and graduate student Bryan Ringstrand in a pair of articles published online Sept. 24 and 28 in the Journal of Materials Chemistry.

“We have created liquid crystals with an unprecedented electric dipole, more than twice that of existing liquid crystals,” says Kaszynski. Electric dipoles are created in molecules by the separation of positive and negative charges. The stronger the charges and the greater the distance between them, the larger the electric dipole they produce.

Find out more:


Landmark Study Examines Social Stress and Health Disparities

Vanderbilt is launching a major study of the role stress plays in health disparities across socioeconomic status and race. The study will seek 1,600 individuals in order to assess physical, emotional and behavioral dimensions of health and evaluate social factors that affect health risk.

Researchers aim to prove that the differences come from difficulties, circumstances and stressors experienced over a lifetime, and to identify factors that could be modified. Reducing health disparities is among the highest priorities of the National Institutes of Health.

“If you think of health as a house being weathered by storms, then the houses of minorities and those of lower socioeconomic status are weathering at a much faster rate,” says Jay Turner, professor of sociology and principal investigator.

Find out more:

Doctoral Applications Climb

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010


Vanderbilt’s commitment to graduate education is paying big dividends. Applications have risen by 36 percent during the past five years, from 5,203 in 2005 to 7,109 in 2010. The university made offers of admission to 13 percent of applicants in 2010, as compared to 17 percent in 2005. The number of doctoral students has increased from 2,085 to 2,250, and the number of Ph.D.s awarded each year has grown from 194 to 252.

“For the past decade Vanderbilt has been devoting increasing attention and resources to its Ph.D. programs throughout the entire campus,” says Dennis Hall, vice provost for research and dean of the graduate school. “All of that effort and emphasis has placed graduate education at Vanderbilt on a steep upward trajectory.”

VU, Metro Parks Expand Childhood Obesity Work

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Vanderbilt’s Department of Pediatrics, in partnership with the Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County Department of Parks and Recreation, has been awarded a $12 million, seven-year grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) for an ambitious project aimed at stopping obesity in preschoolers before it can take hold. The project, titled “Growing Right onto Wellness (GROW): Changing Early Body Mass Index (BMI) Trajectories,” will bring 600 families to their neighborhood Metro Parks facilities and provide a curriculum specially designed to fit a variety of ethnic groups.

“An overweight preschooler is four to five times more likely to stay overweight as an adolescent,” says Dr. Shari Barkin, the Marion Wright Edelman Chair of Pediatrics and division chief of general pediatrics. “And if you stay overweight as an adolescent, there is a 70 percent likelihood you will stay overweight as an adult.” Barkin is principal investigator of GROW.

GROW builds on the success of another project titled “Salud con la Familia,” which Vanderbilt Magazine readers first learned about in the Spring 2010 issue (“Flood Tide in Tennessee”). Barkin and colleagues formed a group, the Nashville Collaborative, with Metro Parks and Recreation that worked with 100 Latino families with toddlers to do what has been difficult to accomplish in the past: spur lasting lifestyle changes in families.

While the Salud project focused on Latino families, GROW will recruit a much wider spectrum of families within Davidson County. It is hoped that several racial and ethnic backgrounds will be represented among the 600 families ultimately recruited. Barkin says the success of this format—bringing academic institutions and community resources together—could create a national model to make lasting health changes in the community.

Six Vanderbilt co-investigators will work on a variety of aspects of the GROW project.

“This partnership, overall with Vanderbilt and with Dr. Barkin, has been the most successful effort to really get a handle on health issues that I have experienced in my 20 years of service with Metro,” says Paul Widman, assistant director of Metro Parks and Recreation.