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Posts Tagged ‘summer2008’

Powerful Magnet Attracts Support for Imaging

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Vanderbilt researchers have received a five-year, $5.7 million federal grant to study the human brain using one of the world’s most powerful magnets. The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering grant represents the renewal of a Bioengineering Research Partnership grant originally awarded for $4 million in 2002 to study “integrated functional imaging of the human brain.”

But “it’s a complete change of direction” this time, says John Gore, the grant’s principal investigator and director of the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Science. “We want to focus on the challenges of the highest field in human imaging.”

The grant will support development of “high field” magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy using the institute’s 7 Tesla scanner, one of only 13 in the world being used in human studies.

One Tesla is roughly 20,000 times the strength of the magnetic field of the earth. Encased in 400 metric tons of steel, the 7 Tesla scanner can generate brain images down to the molecular level.

The magnet interacts with atoms, such as hydrogen, in body tissues so they will absorb energy from particular frequencies of radio waves, causing them to resonate. By measuring these magnetic effects, scanners can construct detailed images of structures in the body and also determine the levels of key compounds, including molecules that are involved in signaling in the brain.

More powerful magnets require the use of higher frequency radio waves, and generate bigger signals that can be used to increase the resolution — the detail — of the images. The 7 Tesla scanner, for example, can reveal tiny blood vessels in the brain that are beyond the resolving power of conventional scanners, and can bring the focus down to single columns of neurons.

Ultimately, high-field magnetic resonance and spectro-scopy may enable researchers to study the effects of drugs on a wide range of brain disorders, from chronic pain to Alzheimer’s disease, and to help develop new drugs.

Gore is Chancellor’s University Professor of Radiology and Radiological Sciences and Biomedical Engineering, and professor of molecular physiology, biophysics and physics.

When War Comes Home

Sunday, July 13th, 2008


June 28, 2006, Iraq. As the Humvee passed through the streets, Command Sgt. Maj. David Allard spotted the Taliban in their distinctive cloaks. Nothing unusual about that–yet something told Allard to look back. He shifted his weight forward and turned his head just in time to see the Taliban aim
the improvised explosive device. “Punch it!” David urged the driver. Seconds later the IED exploded right behind Allard, narrowly missing his spine.

April 24, 2008, Nashville. Command Sgt. Maj. David Allard rounds his ninth lap on Peabody College’s tranquil green campus. Physical therapist Lisa Haack stops him mid-jog to check his vitals. Heart rate 140. Headache and dizziness at level 4. Cause for concern.

Same war, different fight.

An hour’s drive northwest of Nashville, the sprawling Fort Campbell U.S. Army installation, which straddles the Tennessee-Kentucky line, is home to the 101st Airborne Division. Most of the division’s 26,000 enlisted men and women are infantry. They are front-line soldiers, prime candidates for the signature injury of the U.S. war in Afghanistan and Iraq: traumatic brain injury as a result of improvised explosive devices.

An estimated 11 percent to 20 percent of returning U.S. combat troops suffer from traumatic brain injury (TBI). Soldiers on a tour of duty in Iraq may have experienced dozens of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and although not every blast injury is fatal, the residual damage is real.

It has been just more than one year since the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center’s Pi Beta Phi Rehabilitation Institute saw its first patient with TBI as a result of an improvised explosive device detonated in Iraq. Vanderbilt is one among only a handful of civilian agencies across the country treating soldiers, and Fort Campbell has quickly come to depend on the expertise of Pi Beta Phi, which provides rehabilitation for neurological impairment with a special emphasis on traumatic brain injuries.

Fort Campbell has its own hospital, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital–but the 66-bed facility can offer nothing like the wealth of resources down the road at Vanderbilt. According to Sandra Schneider, director of the Pi Beta Phi Rehabilitation Institute (PBPRI), Fort Campbell initiated the partnership when it asked the Brain Injury Association of Tennessee what programs were available. The PBPRI is known for its strong brain injury program, which works with an array of specialty clinics like the Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center and the Vanderbilt Headache Clinic. In addition, PBPRI has on-campus resources in the Vanderbilt departments of neurology, trauma and internal medicine.

“In the Army, soldiers have learned that ‘pain is weakness leaving the body.’ It’s ingrained in them, so it’s very hard for them to admit they need help.”

~ Andrea Ondera, physical therapist

Now entering its third decade, the PBPRI has a long history of treating mild to severe brain injuries. But last year, in taking on this new group of patients with injuries unlike anything its therapists had seen before, the PBPRI was navigating uncharted territory.

“In April 2007 we started to receive our first referrals because there was nothing in place to treat them at Fort Campbell,” says Schneider, who is also an associate professor of hearing and speech sciences. “Families and friends of the soldiers would say that their soldier just didn’t seem the same. The soldiers themselves would complain of sleeplessness, headaches and dizziness. We knew we were seeing a new phenomenon.”

What made the brain injuries so distinct from other “traditional” TBIs was the presence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The combination of TBI and PTSD created a treatment conundrum.

“Most all the soldiers sent to us who have been in a combat zone have PTSD,” says Schneider. “In treating most patients with mild traumatic brain injuries, we work on memory deficits. Sometimes, however, as the soldiers share their stories with the therapist, their memories are just too painful–and those memories triggered PTSD. These are, after all, individuals who were almost killed by blasts and sometimes watched soldiers in the same vehicle lose their lives.”

The uniqueness of these soldier patients–their injuries and their road to recovery–has prompted the Pi Beta Phi Rehabilitation Institute to customize treatment regimens. PBPRI staffers found that even some of the tools often used to treat traumatic brain injuries might dredge up disturbing recollections. Personal digital assistants like PalmPilots help TBI patients compensate for memory loss by using the electronic devices to make lists, record directions and take notes. But for some soldiers, PalmPilots are too much like the devices used to detonate an IED. Even seeing the PalmPilot can send them into combat mode.

“Many aspects of ordinary daily life can be extremely stressful to a returning soldier,” says Jenny Owens, PBPRI occupational therapist. “More than one soldier has told us of being somewhere like a mall with his family, hearing a loud noise like a balloon popping, and diving to the floor with his family to take cover. The experiences of war are so fresh that they see potential threats everywhere.”

For Kristin Hatcher, speech pathologist, the soldiers’ unpredictable behavior makes treatment challenging. “These individuals are hyper-vigilant to everything going on. You never know what’s going to disrupt,” she says. “We’ve learned to watch for fire drills, audiovisual speaker noise–anything that’s going to send them into combat mode.”

War at Home

“Every single one of these guys wants to go back,” says PBPRI Director Sandra Schneider. “They feel an obligation to their units.”
Photo by Neil Brake.

Counseling is therapeutic and has become a critical part of the soldiers’ treatment, yet PBPRI therapists have learned that the emotions counseling unearths can cause agitation.

“Sometimes, particularly after their vestibular/PT treatment, the soldiers may be dizzy or have headaches, and are unsafe to drive back to Fort Campbell. We have learned to schedule that therapy first or give them breaks to avoid putting them in an unsafe situation,” says Dominique Herrington, clinic coordinator. “The traffic and distance they travel to our facility already provide a level of stress that we don’t normally see in civilian patients with brain injuries.

“Think of the typical personality of a soldier: aggressive, adventurous. They may be off the battlefield, but they’re still engaging in risky behaviors like extreme sports.”

Some of the anxiety stems from the soldiers’ frustration at being back home, points out Anita Zelek, social worker and case manager with Pi Beta Phi. “Anyone with PTSD experiences anger, but for these soldiers there isn’t one specific event that is now emotionally over–like a car wreck, for instance. These soldier patients are still living the war. They know the war is continuing without them and that their buddies are still in Iraq. It’s so difficult to move on.

“The soldiers experience great anxiety because they define themselves as soldiers,” adds Zelek. “So they think, ‘If I’m not a soldier, then what do I do?’”

War at Home

David Allard works out as part of his therapy with therapist Lisa Haack at Pi Beta Phi Rehabilitation Institute. Therapy can run as high as $50,000 per soldier, and insurance usually pays only part of the cost.
Photo by Neil Brake.

The Soldier Mentality

One would think that a soldier narrowly escaping death would never want to return to war. Ironically, though, the desire to go back to Iraq is a prime motivation. The soldiers feel an obligation to their unit, making them some of the most committed, driven patients Vanderbilt has ever seen.

Case in point: One of Hatcher’s patients had witnessed 32 IED blasts and wanted to get better so he could redeploy. “How do you prepare someone to return, with such deficits?” she asks.

This is not a rhetorical question. PBPRI staff must prepare soldier patients not only for ordinary daily activities, but for a return to the frontline. In occupational therapy, for instance, Owens works with patients to maximize independence in daily activities. Previously, she had never rehabilitated anyone to return to a dangerous situation. Now she prepares soldiers to continue being scouts.

“Scouts are the first soldiers to enter a building and clear it, so they must be watchful for any signs of IEDs or other dangers,” Hatcher explains. “For these soldiers I tailor occupational therapy to their duties–giving them maps to identify the best routes.

“We go on ‘missions’ where we follow a route, making sure the soldier is attending to landmarks, signs, etc. Even counting the
number of trash cans can simulate the type of attention to detail that is needed in war.”

In the arena of physical therapy, Lisa Haack is not just rehabilitating a patient back to normal conditions. She is rehabilitating soldiers to return to 100-degree heat with 90-pound packs–an enormous hurdle for patients like David Allard with constant headaches.

Warriors in Transition

Although he’s working on building endurance, David Allard is not returning to Iraq. Through the course of his therapy at Pi Beta Phi, he not only improved physically, but made an enormous psychological leap. A 24-year veteran of the Army, David realized his injuries could make him a liability for men in his command. Rather than redeploy, David answered the military’s call to set up a Warrior Transition Unit (WTU) at Fort Campbell.

Established in August 2007, the WTU is Fort Campbell’s response to the TBI phenomenon in soldiers returning from duty. Currently, more than 700 soldiers are in the WTU. The partnership among the Department of Defense, PBPRI and Fort Campbell has grown as the three work together to rehabilitate injured patients.

“We know anecdotally that there are Vietnam vets who are homeless because they are still dealing with PTSD,” says Schneider. “Currently, data shows there are 1,600 homeless individuals who served in the Iraq war. The Army has recognized the significance of doing something now to help returning soldiers. No one can wait 15 years to figure out what’s needed.”

In addition to the jobs for which they’re trained, each PBPRI therapist finds herself in the unfamiliar role of advocate. The number of case managers at Fort Campbell has increased from three to 28, but more are needed. At Vanderbilt the therapists must work within the system to get the treatment the soldiers need through Tricare, the insurance plan for the U.S. Department of Defense. Although
Vanderbilt commends both the Department of Defense and Tricare for funding most of the soldiers’ needs, there are still gaps.

Take Spc. Juan Zapata, for instance. He was patrolling the streets for insurgent activity when he suffered a blast injury. He served another six months before leaving Iraq in November 2006. He returned home shell-shocked and suffering from multiple vision problems due to his concussion.

Post-trauma vision syndrome caused photophobia, or light sensitivity. Driving at night has been compromised for Zapata, and headaches are relentless. In addition, he has an accommodative dysfunction–meaning it’s difficult for his eyes to shift focus. Arguably one of Zapata’s greatest challenges, though, is his difficulty in orienting.

When therapists told one soldier to bring in his medications, he brought a tackle box–full of his more than 35 pills a day.

“Because of visual-spatial deficits related to post-traumatic vision syndrome, he has navigational problems,” says Owens. “This is a tough blow for an individual with such a talent for navigation. He had built a career in the Army around those skills.”

Fighting the System

In November 2007–more than a year after sustaining his TBI–Zapata saw a Fort Campbell doctor who referred him to Vanderbilt for speech and occupational therapies. Applying a team approach to patient care, Vanderbilt recognized that Zapata also needed a physical therapy consultation because he suffered from vestibular/balance dysfunction. With his extensive vision issues, Zapata also needed to see a behavioral ophthalmologist. Because he didn’t have a case manager, the PBPRI team had to navigate the bureaucracy themselves to get Zapata the treatment he needed.

“The Tricare worker said Juan needed to see someone on base–but those specialized services don’t yet exist,” explains Anita Zelek. “It took several months of making calls before we got the insurance company to agree to cover the other services for Juan.”

Vanderbilt also was able to refer Zapata locally to obtain eyeglasses with special prisms in them.

Although Zelek and others at Vanderbilt often are able to help soldiers like Zapata get the services they need, they sometimes hit roadblocks. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, for instance, does not recognize cognitive therapy as a service, although the company does in other states. All payers will, however, cover medications. That’s why over-medication is a real problem. When Pi Beta Phi therapists told one soldier to bring in his medications, he brought a tackle box–full of his more than 35 pills a day.

“With TBI patients, memory’s an issue, so often these patients can’t remember which medications they’ve taken,” notes Schneider. “This can lead to accidental overdoses.”

When the War Becomes Personal

Soldiers come to Vanderbilt only after they’ve fought their own private war–a war in which they deny their symptoms, deny anything is wrong.

“In the Army the soldiers have learned that ‘pain is weakness leaving the body,’” says Andrea Ondera, PBPRI physical therapist. “It is ingrained in them that ‘pain reminds you you’re alive,’ so it’s very hard for them to admit they need help.

“We validate for them that what they feel is real–and that physical reasons are behind those feelings.”

As demand for its services has increased, PBPRI is growing accordingly. And staffers have traveled to Alabama, Illinois, Nevada and North Carolina to share what they’ve learned with medical and rehabilitation professionals elsewhere.

War at Home

Juan Zapata performs an eye test with therapist Jenny Owens. Post-trauma vision syndrome has caused Zapata to experience light sensitivity and relentless headaches.
Photo by Neil Brake.

“Training others is the best thing we can do,” Schneider says. “We owe these soldiers the best of the best. I could spend every waking hour dealing with our military obligations–and I would do anything in the world for them.”

For the dedicated professionals at PBPRI, this war has become intensely personal. In the face of each soldier, the therapists see their brothers. Sons. Friends. Soldiers come to depend on the Pi Beta Phi team as therapists, advocates, confidants and friends. The therapists receive e-mails from soldiers who have redeployed. The younger therapists, all contemporaries with soldiers, share a common generational bond. And each of the team members at Vanderbilt feels rewarded beyond measure.

“I feel I’m serving my country,” says Haack, age 33. “Some people may build up a tolerance to what’s going on over there, but not us. Our soldiers show us the shrapnel that came out of their heads; we hear the stories and relive those experiences with them.”

David Allard, conscientiously pursuing his treatment, leads by example. He has even adapted a war tradition for the Warrior Transition Unit and Pi Beta Phi. “In the Army you get a coin for excellence, and you have to carry it on you at all times,” he explains. “I’ve given coins to my therapists. They’ve earned them. They’d best not forget them.”

On the coin is this inscription: I am a warrior in transition. My job is to heal as I transition back to duty or continue serving the nation as a veteran in my community. This is not a status but a mission, because I am a warrior and I am Army strong.

The therapists at Pi Beta Phi Rehabilitation Institute are not likely to forget–or to leave their coins behind. Like the soldiers they treat, their work is a mission.

Quote Unquote

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Photo by Daniel Dubois.

“There were no rules, there was no hierarchy, there was no management. “

–Howard Lutnick, chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, on how his firm rallied after 658 of 970 employees perished in the World Trade Center. Lutnick spoke at Commencement for the Owen Graduate School of Management on May 9.

Virtual Vanderbilt

Sunday, July 13th, 2008
Clinical Trials

Asthma? Sleep apnea? A spare tire around your waist? Whatever the malady, chances are Vanderbilt is studying it in a clinical research trial. This new Web site aims to at least triple the number of volunteers for clinical trials of new vaccines, cancer treatments, and a multitude of other areas. The beefed-up recruitment is an initiative of the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research, established last fall with a $46 million award from the National Institutes of Health–the largest single government grant ever received by Vanderbilt.

Hair-Raising Performance

Sunday, July 13th, 2008


Scott Avett of the Avett Brothers Band performs at Rites of Spring, an annual student-produced music festival to celebrate the end of the academic year. Headline acts for the April 18-19 event were Spoon and Lil Jon.


Inquiring Minds

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Photo by Daniel Dubois.

RNA Interference Heals Growth Deficiency Disorder

Vanderbilt researchers have demonstrated for the first time that a new type of gene therapy called “RNA interference” can heal a genetic disorder in a live animal.

Their study, published last fall by the journal Endocrinology, shows that RNA interference can “rescue” a strain of mouse that has been genetically engineered to express a defective human hormone that interferes with normal growth. When the gene that produces the defective human growth hormone is inserted into the mouse’s genome, it also stunts the mouse’s growth. But when a small snippet of RNA that interferes with the hormone’s production is also added, the mouse is restored to normal.

Find out more:

Liver Allocation System Lowers Death Rates

Vanderbilt researchers have found that the United Network for Organ Sharing’s (UNOS) adoption of an objective-only method of allocating donated livers has lowered the number of deaths among patients on the waiting list. In 2002, UNOS adopted a system using laboratory-based values to characterize a patient’s need for liver transplantation.

Previously, patients who spent the longest time on the waiting list for a liver were often given priority. After the change, wait times became less of an issue while severity of condition was prioritized.

The change was the subject of great debate and prompted Vanderbilt researchers to examine the outcomes associated with the new liver allocation policy. Results of the study were released last fall in the Archives of Surgery.

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Melatonin Study Could Help Children with Autism

Vanderbilt sleep researchers are reporting a relationship between good sleep and how much melatonin the body produces–the first in a series of research studies intended to help children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) sleep through the night.

“This suggests that children with ASD who have decreased melatonin levels have decreased levels of deep sleep,” says lead author Dr. Beth Malow, director of the Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center. “We didn’t actually give the supplement; we measured natural levels of melatonin in the body. One could infer, based on what we found, that a supplement might be good.”

More research is needed before recommending that children begin taking melatonin supplements to benefit their sleep.

Find out more:

Top Picks: Johnson, Alexander, Lynch

Sunday, July 13th, 2008



Photo by Steve Green



Coach Johnson Honored for Suicide Prevention Work

Head Football Coach Bobby Johnson was recognized during a ceremony in March for his efforts toward youth suicide prevention when The Jason Foundation presented him with its Grant Teaff “Breaking the Silence” Award.

The award is given annually by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) and The Jason Foundation to the college coach who has done the most to promote youth suicide prevention. Johnson was first told about the honor in front of nearly 2,000 college coaches at the American Football Coaches Association convention in January.

Since its inception a decade ago, The Jason Foundation has worked with the American Football Coaches Association membership after data surfaced that youth most often turn to an educator–and specifically a coach–in times of crisis.

Checkered Past

“It’s a pretty cute bug,” Lamar Alexander, BA’62, said last November at an event in Gatlinburg, Tenn., announcing the discovery of a new species of insect to be named after the former Tennessee governor, former U.S. secretary of education, former Republican presidential candidate and current U.S. senator.

Like the trademark plaid shirts Alexander has worn in political campaigns, Cosberella lamaralexanderi, or “Lamar Alexander springtail,” sports a checkerboard coloration. The insect was first discovered in the Great Smoky Mountains. Alexander grew up in nearby Maryville, Tenn.


Police Chief to Lead 2,000 Peers

Marlon C. Lynch, Vanderbilt chief of police, is the 2008-2009 president-elect for the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators Inc. (IACLEA). Lynch joined Vanderbilt in 2005 as assistant chief of police after serving as chief of police and director of public safety at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He became chief of police at Vanderbilt in January 2007.

Lynch earned a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University and a master’s degree from Boston University, both in criminal justice. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the Northwestern University School of Police Staff and Command.

Full-Time GLBT Office to Launch

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

A full-time and fully staffed office to support the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community at Vanderbilt will launch this fall. The K.C. Potter Center, named in honor of a former dean of residential and judicial affairs at Vanderbilt who was supportive of the GLBT community, will replace a part-time resource center.

The office will be led by Nora Spencer, who leaves a similar job at the University of Florida. There she oversaw support services, programming, strategic planning, marketing and fundraising for GLBT affairs and served as a resource and advocate regarding GLBT issues.


Nora Spencer

The new office “not only will provide support and encouragement, but also the type of visibility and advocacy needed in the Vanderbilt community,” says Shay Malone, assistant director of the Office of Leadership Development and Intercultural Affairs. “It is my hope that with a fully staffed GLBT office, we can begin to address some of the unique challenges GLBT students face here at Vanderbilt and the need to educate students about awareness and understanding in a way we were not able to do before.”

The university also has established a committee to advise the administration on issues that affect GLBT life on campus. David Boyd, associate professor of medicine, health and society, who led the task force that recommended creation of the GLBT center, has been appointed chair of the committee.

Arts and Science Dean Named Provost

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Richard McCarty
Photo by Daniel Dubois.

Richard McCarty, a distinguished psychologist who has led the largest school at Vanderbilt University for the past seven years, has been named provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

“Richard embodies Vanderbilt’s values of excellence and fairness,” said Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos in announcing the appointment in May. “He is a scholar who is committed to every aspect of our education mission.”

McCarty received his bachelor’s degree in biology and master’s degree in zoology from Old Dominion University before earning a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. He is an authority on the physiological and behavioral aspects of stress. A native of Portsmouth, Va., he spent two years as a research associate in pharmacology with the National Institute of Mental Health before joining the University of Virginia in 1978 as an assistant professor of psychology. He then rose to department chair before taking a leave of absence to join the American Psychological Association as executive director for science. He has served as editor of American Psychologist and as founding editor-in-chief of Stress.

Under McCarty’s direction Vanderbilt embarked on a significant faculty recruitment initiative; undergraduate student quality, diversity and selectivity were ranked among the highest in the country; and graduate student enrollment and diversity increased dramatically.

As provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs, McCarty will have responsibility for academic programs of the Blair School of Music, College of Arts and Science, Divinity School, School of Engineering, Graduate School, Law School, Owen Graduate School of Management and Peabody College, and also will oversee student affairs, housing, admissions and financial aid, and research.

Carolyn Dever, executive dean of the College of Arts and Science and professor of English, is serving as interim dean of the College of Arts and Science until a new dean is named.

Green Power Begins at Home

Sunday, July 13th, 2008
Monroe Carrell

Illustration by Normand Cousineau

Although manufacturers are responsible for much of the greenhouse-gas emissions in the United States, individuals largely contribute to the problem of climate change, too. So what can be done about it?

A diverse group of experts at Vanderbilt University has created the Climate Change Research Network, which combines researchers from the areas of earth and environmental sciences, political science, law, engineering, business, management, economics and nursing to investigate one of the most important and most widely overlooked sources of greenhouse gases: individual behavior.

“The Climate Change Research Network is an interdisciplinary team conducting research to understand the magnitude of the contribution from individuals and households,” says Michael Vandenbergh, professor of environmental law. “Our goal is to identify the legal, economic and social responses that can generate effective, low-cost emissions reductions by those individuals and their families in their everyday lives.”

Network participants are examining questions such as: Which individual behaviors release the greatest amounts of greenhouse-gas emissions? How do people perceive and value climate-change risks, particularly when they are remote? What changes in the administration and staffing of government agencies will be required if climate-change laws and policies are adopted?

The Climate Change Research Network is in the early stages of establishing a national and international network of researchers to help answer questions that policymakers and other individuals may have regarding what they can do in their day-to-day lives to shrink their carbon footprint.

Find out more by clicking here.

Children’s Hospital Namesake Remembered for Commitment and Caring

Sunday, July 13th, 2008
Monroe Carrell

Monroe Carell Jr. during one of his frequent visits to the hospital that bears his name

Photo by Dana Johnson.

­­­Monroe J. Carell Jr., BE’59, a Nashville executive admired as much for his philanthropy as for his business acumen, died June 20 after a courageous battle with cancer. He was 76.

The former chairman and chief executive officer of Central Parking Corp. provided strong volunteer leadership for Vander-bilt initiatives and numerous other causes.

“I cannot overstate the impact he has had on Vanderbilt’s past, present and future,” said Vanderbilt Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos. “Through his leadership on the Board of Trust and enormous philanthropic generosity, Monroe established one of the finest children’s hospitals in the country and created scholarships that changed the lives of students.

“He led Vanderbilt’s Shape the Future campaign with a vigor and passion that only
he could possess, and he challenged all of us to reach higher in our goals for this great

“If you’ve been fortunate, you should share it. Taking it with you–or holding on to it–doesn’t bring you any more happiness.”

~ Monroe Carell Jr.

A member of Vanderbilt University’s Board of Trust since 1991, Carell and his wife, Ann, have long supported various segments of the university, including undergraduate education, the children’s hospital that now bears his name, the School of Medicine and athletics. At the time of his death, he was leading the comprehensive, university-wide Shape the Future campaign, which has experienced unprecedented success.

Carell also served on the Vanderbilt Medical Center Board and the board of overseers for the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, and was an honorary lifetime member of the board of directors of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital.

The Shape the Future campaign was publicly launched in 2003 with a goal of $1.25 billion. In late 2006 the Board of Trust voted to increase the goal to $1.75 billion in anticipation of reaching the original goal two years ahead of schedule.

A secondary goal of $100 million in bequests was reached in 2007, and the Board of Trust, at Carell’s request, raised the bequest goal to $150 million. The campaign is scheduled to close Dec. 31, 2010.

When the Shape the Future campaign reached its $1 billion milestone in September 2004, an editorial in The Tennessean newspaper stated, “It is Vanderbilt’s spending of the money–not its raising of it–that should most impress this city,” noting that the campaign priorities included need-based scholarships, faculty chairs and residential colleges.

Carell’s gifts to Vanderbilt included the Ann and Monroe Carell Jr. Family Chair in Pediatric Cardiology and the Carell Scholarship Fund. Perhaps his most significant commitment to Vanderbilt was leadership of the campaign to raise $50 million to help establish a new children’s hospital, which previously had been housed within Vanderbilt University Hospital. Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, which opened in 2004, is recognized as one of the nation’s top pediatric teaching, research and treatment institutions.

In all, some $79 million has been committed to the Children’s Hospital as a result of the Carells’ generosity as well as Monroe Carell’s personal fundraising efforts and leadership.

“His legacy will live on in the lives of the countless children he helped to improve through the hospital that bears his name,” said Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for health affairs.

A 1959 cum laude graduate of the Vanderbilt School of Engineering, Carell received the school’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2001. The native Nashvillian served in the Navy before enrolling at Vanderbilt, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Carell was chief engineer with the Duck River Electrical Membership Cooperative before going to work for his father and a business partner at Central Parking in 1967.

Central Parking, which had 10 parking lots in Nashville and Atlanta when Carell began work there, is now the world’s largest parking services provider with more than 4,000 parking facilities. Carell sold Central Parking to a group of private equity firms in 2007. He resigned as executive chairman and, with his family, formed Carell LLC, a real-estate investment company.

In 1998 Carell established a fund to provide a total of eight full-tuition scholarships to excellent, hard-working students engaged in their community and committed to the broadening experience of working while in college. In 2006 the Carell Scholarship Fund was expanded to include a baseball scholarship. There are now 20 Carell Scholars and two Monroe J. Carell Jr. Baseball Scholars; 14 have graduated, and eight are still students. A new Carell Scholar will enter Vanderbilt this fall.

Carell is survived by his wife, the former Julia Ann Scott, who graduated from Peabody College in 1957, and by three children, six grandchildren and a brother.

1,000 Words

Sunday, July 13th, 2008


It took 5,000 pounds of sweet, ripe Driscoll strawberries to feed the masses at Vanderbilt’s Commencement on May 9. More than 3,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students received their degrees, and thousands more family and friends joined them at the Strawberries and Champagne Celebration following graduation exercises.  

Photo by John Russell.

Natural Born Optimist

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Pamela King Ginsburg’s first day as a law school student turned out to be even tougher than she expected. It was almost as if she had “PICK ME” stamped on her forehead. In class after class that day, professors singled her out as the very first student they called on. By the time her Civil Procedure class rolled around in mid-afternoon, Ginsburg’s nerves were frazzled–but sure enough, the young professor with the wild, curly black hair called on her, too, asking her to state the facts of Pennoyer v. Neff.

“Some people gasped and others snickered,” Ginsberg remembers. “I threw up my hands, told him I did not understand the case, and suggested he call on somebody else. He was visibly stunned by the impertinence of the first student he ever called on.”

That August day in 1987 was not only Ginsburg’s first day as a law student–it was also Nicholas Zeppos’ first day as an assistant professor. And neither could have known that, because her name just happened to appear at the top of the second column on the student roll, every professor had zeroed in on her as the first victim. Ginsburg’s law school career could have been off to a rocky start, but Zeppos, she remembers, “did not hold it against me. Months later, we had a good laugh when he told me he had learned of my plight that day and was sympathetic.”

Ginsburg, JD’90, is now an attorney with the Cincinnati firm Ulmer & Berne. “I think his gifts as a professor,” she says, “were his ability to accept students as humans with both strengths and foibles, his genuine interest in our development as lawyers, and his sense of humor and knack of never taking himself too seriously.”

Nicholas Zeppos has matured and evolved during his 21 years at Vanderbilt, but he has not lost the attributes that characterized him that first day teaching law school. He has climbed the academic ladder from assistant professor to associate dean for research and faculty development at the Law School, to associate provost to provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. He has served as Vanderbilt’s first vice chancellor for institutional planning and advancement, as interim chancellor and now chancellor. That’s just the condensed version. He has written widely about legislation, administrative law and professional responsibility; earned national renown as a scholar; won multiple teaching awards; and shaken the trees for scholarship money.

Universities like Vanderbilt do not often choose their top leader from within their own ranks. Vanderbilt has done it only once before: 71 years ago, when Oliver Carmichael ascended from dean of the graduate school to chancellor.

Yet Zeppos has been so much at the center of every major initiative at Vanderbilt in the last decade, it’s difficult to imagine Vanderbilt having made any other choice. He has spearheaded innovative efforts in undergraduate admissions and financial aid, the planning process for The Commons and College Halls of Vanderbilt, the Strategic Academic Planning Group, and development of new programs in neuroscience, law and economics; Jewish studies; and medicine, health and society. He has overseen the university’s Shape the Future fundraising campaign, helping raise more than $1.5 billion more than two years ahead of schedule.

New plans are on the drawing board for initiatives in the environment, religion, health care, and life sciences and engineering.

“In my time at Vanderbilt, I’ve known professors who are brilliant intellectuals. And I’ve known administrators who possess a gift for making complex institutions run well,” says John C.P. Goldberg, now associate dean for research at Vanderbilt Law School and one of the faculty members to whom Zeppos has been both a mentor and friend.

“What makes Nick almost unique is that he is exceptionally able on both scores. He is a first-class academic and a masterful leader.”

Zeppos, age 2

Zeppos, age 2, with older brothers Evan (left) and Jon (right). Their grandfather immigrated to Wisconsin from Greece around the time of World War I.

Zeppos with  brothers and cousin

Zeppos at center with his brothers and cousin Joel.

Zeppos early days

Zeppos in his early days as a lawyer


Eloping with Lydia Howarth at age 31.

Story Time

Story time with sons Benjamin (right) and Nicholas.


Zeppos, with Benjamin (left) and Nicholas, says he likes Nashville both for its creative vibe and its long golf season.

Zeppos and Lydia Howarth

Zeppos and Lydia Howarth attend the Symphony Ball in Nashville.

Howarth and sons

Howarth is flanked by sons Benjamin and Nicholas.

Zeppos Vanderbilt Visions

“I always tell students, work for something bigger and more important than you,” says Zeppos, shown here at a Vanderbilt Visions event.

Habitat for Humanity

With Vanderbilt students volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.

Vanderbilt Visions

Leading a freshman Vanderbilt Visions seminar.

Monroe Carell Jr.

At a fundraising event with Monroe Carell Jr., chair of Vanderbilt’s Shape the Future campaign.

Zeppos peppers his conversations with phrases like “wouldn’t it be great if … .” He pounds the table frequently as he talks, in a way that reveals enthusiasm rather than anger. His natural exuberance masks a Midwesterner’s ingrained modesty, a deftness for turning any conversation around to focus on the other person or on the institution.

“I think I’m a pretty good lawyer, a pretty good professor, and I hope to be a pretty good chancellor,” he allows. “But I don’t like being the center of attention. I love doing all the work that comes with being chancellor. But there’s nothing inherently important about me. Vanderbilt is so much more than the chancellor.”

“Anyone who meets Nick will immediately observe two things about him,” says Goldberg. “First is his love of knowledge. I’ve spent my life around academics and have never met anyone who is more widely read and more intellectually curious. Second, there is his love of humanity. Most of us like to tell the people we meet about ourselves. Nick is more interested in learning what is going on in others’ lives and minds. Really, these two qualities are the same one–he is insatiably interested in the world around him.”

A Lawyer Called to Teach

Now a youthful 53, Zeppos grew up in Milwaukee, the youngest of three brothers in a family just one generation removed from its Greek origins. His grandfather, who was born in Athens, left for America with his four brothers and never returned.

“He and others in our family came through Ellis Island. There was a big migration west to Detroit and Chicago among Greeks,” Zeppos says. “I’m sure they knew somebody in Milwaukee and went where the jobs were.” The area was Green Bay Packers and Chicago Cubs country by the time Nicholas Zeppos came on the scene. He developed an early interest in both sports and history. “I love history, and I love the history of civilization,” he says. “I thought I would teach history.” At the University of Wisconsin, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1976, with a history major and a growing interest in the law. He enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Law School, served as editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Law Review, and was outstanding graduate of his class. He thought he would be the kind of lawyer who helps people who most need it. Zeppos met his future wife, Lydia Howarth, in Madison, where she developed her skills as an academic editor. They married in Washington, D.C., when Zeppos was practicing law and Howarth was working at National Geographic. “We lived in Dupont Circle, and I would walk Lydia to work and then get on the subway and head down to the Justice Department,” Zeppos remembers. “One of our regular ‘romantic dates’ was meeting after work at the Washington Monument and then running home together along the mall and through Rock Creek.” Busy with their careers, they decided to elope. “Eloping was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” Zeppos says cheerfully, “especially since it was with Lydia. I got married relatively late. I was 31. By then we had both lived away from our families for some time and were working all the time. We thought, why spend a lot of money and a lot of time?” Zeppos remembers filing a brief in the Second Circuit that day and meeting Lydia and her “bridesmaids” at the Gallery Place Metro station. They headed off to get married and were back at work the next day. Zeppos discusses the practice of law with passion, crediting great mentors along the way. He first practiced in Washington, D.C., at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, and then worked for more than five years at the Justice Department, taking a substantial cut in pay to go from private practice to the government. “I was in court all the time. Each case was like a challenging law school exam, and when I stood up to argue I was privileged to say, ‘I represent the United States of America.’ That was an honor and well worth the cut in pay. I learned so much and am grateful for being able to represent our nation in court.” Among his law career highlights: “Arguing before then-Judge Antonin Scalia was an intense and demanding experience. Judge Richard Posner taught a cerebral seminar, and then-Judge Stephen Breyer was the consummate and reflective professor but cared deeply about the real world. “I’m intellectually drawn to the law and its intersection with politics, history, philosophy, psychology, biology, sociology,” he adds. “It is the ultimate multidisciplinary area, yet it has a practical side.” But he still felt called to teach, and in 1987 he headed south to Vanderbilt with Lydia and their 8-month-old son, Benjamin. “I had never been in Nashville. I found that Vanderbilt mirrored the wonderful things about the region: community, civility and warmth. There’s something very special about this region of the country and its sense of being nice to each other as opposed to everything being zero-sum and dog-eat-dog.

“People want to be here. Vanderbilt bears a lot of the qualities and characteristics of this region, and I like that. It distinguishes us,” he says, speaking like someone who has just gone on the local chamber of commerce board.

“It’s one of the most entrepreneurial, creative cities, and it’s a lot more interesting than cities where other universities are located. Faculty love it.”

His first year at Vanderbilt, Zeppos claims, his students gave him teaching evaluations that were “brutal.” But, he adds, “Student evaluations are pretty reliable indicators. There’s a myth that they’re not good predictors, or that you can inflate grades and get your evaluations up. That doesn’t work. Where you really get evaluated is when you read your students’ examinations. The ultimate feedback is when you read a great set of examinations.”

By the time John Goldberg joined Vanderbilt’s law faculty in 1995 as an entry-level professor, he says, “Nick was already one of the school’s leading lights. Although he was incredibly busy with his own work and with the life of the law school, he was a generous, constructive and inspiring mentor. I have vivid and fond memories of the hours I spent as Nick listened patiently to my half-baked ideas, then steered me–sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently–toward a better way of thinking through a problem.”

Zeppos is proud to have raised his children in Nashville.

“This is a wonderful community for families. My only disappointment was that our second son, Nicholas, could not be born at Vanderbilt. They were on diversion and had no room for us.” Now, he says, “We’ll have at least two freshmen beginning at Vanderbilt this fall who were with my younger son at Vanderbilt’s preschool since age 1.”

What Happens Next

What can those students expect with Zeppos as their chancellor? Student debt is clearly a top priority, and the university is stepping up efforts to make Vanderbilt accessible. What parents care about for their college-bound children, Zeppos believes, is not only the intellectual and academic challenge of academia, but the kind of adults they will become–ethically, emotionally and socially.

“That’s what Vanderbilt has always cared about, and that’s what our strategy and mission are.” Beginning this fall all first-year students will live in The Commons, Vanderbilt’s first step in making residential life at the heart of the Vanderbilt experience. “We have small classes and great teachers who are committed to the undergraduate experience,” Zeppos says. “Why not build on that? “My hope is that all these great youngsters in America–rich, poor, black, white, north, south, east, west–will say, ‘I’ve been blessed with the ability to achieve in school. I want to be a leader. I’m a hard worker. I should look at that place called Vanderbilt.’ And we work with them to develop their human potential.”

He believes the university needs to examine its role in educating the next generation of scholars, scientists and researchers and how Vanderbilt’s undergraduate, graduate and professional schools can feed into each other, and that graduate studies deserve more emphasis and more resources.

“It goes back to our core mission and aspirations: research, discovery, teaching and healing,” he says. “We are a research university, and we want to take a more prominent place in training the future leaders in research, policy, and at the great educational institutions of the world.”

Ever the optimist, Zeppos publicly tells audiences that Vanderbilt will go to a bowl game this year “absolutely. I don’t make predictions–I make promises.” He embraces wholeheartedly the integration of athletics into student life begun under his predecessor, Gordon Gee. ”

An important part of leadership in America is athletics,” he says. “Some years a third of our freshmen are athletic-team captains. Part of what distinguishes Vanderbilt is our sense of balance. The kids have multiple interests–they are interesting intellectually and also service-oriented community leaders. Athletics is a critical part of our culture and our balance.”

His ability to step out of a scholar’s comfort zone and look at the university’s needs as a whole is part of what has elevated the former professor to the halls of Kirkland. In 2001, Gordon Gee appointed Zeppos as Vanderbilt’s first vice chancellor for institutional planning and advancement. Up to that point, Zeppos says, “I had not been involved with fundraising at all. I think the reason some provosts don’t become president is that they don’t enjoy it.

“I always emphasize that the word philanthropy doesn’t mean ‘give me money.’ It means ‘love of humanity.’ I’ve had wonderful training, from the most junior development officers at Vanderbilt to our most senior people. “I’ve worked with Martha Ingram and Monroe Carell Jr. and other fabulous philanthropists. What I’ve learned is that people who have been blessed with resources want to make a difference in somebody else’s life and in society.”

Ingram is chairman of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust, which unanimously elected Zeppos as Vanderbilt’s eighth chancellor in March. “Chancellor Zeppos is both a visionary and a pragmatist,” she says. “He is a deeply ethical person whose guiding principle is, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’”

The University as Utopia

Zeppos refers to universities as a kind of utopia “of intellectuals who don’t think it has to be a race to the bottom.” His speeches often draw on his love of the ancient classics and of history. “I like to refer to things that I know about, that are important to me, because I think my only value as a speaker is to talk about things that are in my heart and in my mind.” He has a richly textured voice and a sincerity that makes you believe Vanderbilt really can and does change the world. This is important business, he is saying, even though he seems to be incapable of taking himself too seriously.

Vanderbilt is in the final 30 months of its university-wide Shape the Future campaign, stretching toward a goal of $1.75 billion. During a recent address, his first since being named chancellor to a crowd of development and alumni relations staffers at Vanderbilt, the room is hushed as Zeppos outlines the university’s ambitious goals and lofty mission.

“There are challenges ahead,” he says. “I think we’ll meet them, just like my predecessors met them. We’re one of the greatest universities in the world, part of a very small group of Research 1 universities that educates undergraduates. It allows us to focus on leadership and educating the whole person. I believe very deeply that it really matters for Vanderbilt to be here, to thrive, and to have the resources to heal and teach and discover.”

Somewhere in the crowd a cell phone shatters the quiet with a jaunty tinkle. A crimson-faced staffer scrambles for her purse.

“Is that the ice cream truck?” Zeppos asks gleefully.

In the face of a weak stock market, a housing industry in crisis, and a long list of other economic woes making headlines every day, Vanderbilt is about to bite off a very big obligation in scholarship assistance. The Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital is undertaking a $203 million expansion. The athletics department has just announced a planned $50 million in facilities upgrades. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“I graduated from law school in 1979,” Zeppos says. “I have lived through stagflation and hyperinflation. I’ve lived through probably the highest unemployment since the Great Depression. I’ve lived through recession, stock market crash, the insolvency of the American banking system. I’ve seen the Internet bubble, I’ve seen 9/11. I’ve seen wars–popular and unpopular. I’ve seen the subprime crisis. And I think of Chancellor Kirkland and Chancellor Carmichael dealing with wars and depression and plagues and epidemics. I think of Chancellor Heard during the Civil Rights Era and the Vietnam war, the oil embargo, hyperinflation, the Peabody merger. These great institutions endure and lead.”

Nicholas Zeppos is clearly enjoying the challenge.

“I plan on finishing my career here,” he says.

One of the perks of being chancellor, he adds, is the option of being buried on the Vanderbilt campus.

“I’m thinking 50-yard line.”

Vanderbilt Magazine Staff – Summer 2008

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

GayNelle Doll

Art Director and Designer
Donna DeVore Pritchett


Associate Editor and Advertising Manager
Phillip Tucker

Arts and Culture Editor
Bonnie Arant Ertelt, BS’81

Class Notes and Sports Editor
Nelson Bryan, BA’73

Production and Design

Assistant Director, Photography Services
Daniel Dubois

Steve Green
John Russell

Chris Collins
Renata Moore
Jenni Ohnstad

Color Correction and Retouching
Julie Luckett Turner

Web Edition Design and Development
Lacy Tite

Vanderbilt Magazine Advisory Board

Roy Blount Jr., BA’63
Caneel Cotton, BA’88
Terry Eastland, BA’71
Robert Early, BA’71, MDiv’76
Sam Feist, BA’91
Frye Gaillard Jr., BA’68
Janice Miller Greenberg, BS’80
G. Marc Hamburger, BA’64
Molly Henneberg, BS’95
Edward Schumacher Matos, BA’68
Ann McDaniel, BA’77
Wendell Rawis Jr., BA’70
Randall W. Smith, BA’84, MDiv’88

Potential advertisers interested in purchasing space in Vanderbilt Magazine should contact Phillip Tucker, advertising manager, at or 615/322-3989.

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:


Please send address corrections to Gift Records Office, Vanderbilt
University, PMB 407727, 2301 Vanderbilt Place, Nashville, TN 37240-7703. Vanderbilt Magazine is printed by Lane Press in Burlington, Vt.

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.

Letters to the Editor

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Holocaust Story

Echoes from the Holocaust

I especially appreciated “In the Face of Destruction” by Lisa Robbins [Spring 2008 issue]. Harry Kahn, his wife Hannah Westfield, Erich Westfield, Ernest Freudenthal and others were classmates and friends of mine. Through them I learned about a world far beyond my small town–and I’ve been trying to learn more ever since. Knowing them changed my life. I am grateful to Vanderbilt administrators, who knew how to take good advantage of great human resources made unexpectedly available to them.

Betty Goldiamond, BA’44

~ ~ ~ ~

Thank you for your wonderful article, “In the Face of Destruction.” The stories of those who survived the Holocaust and ultimately thrived never cease to be an incredibly compelling tribute to the human spirit’s triumph against all odds.

One of the individuals you featured was Inge Smith. Battle Ground Academy did a profile about Inge in the Spring 2007 issue of BGA Today. As you noted in your article, she was the founding head of Harpeth Academy, which is today BGA’s Lower School. The new lower school has been named for Inge.

Thank you for the commendable work you do to ensure the quality of Vanderbilt Magazine.

William R. Mott, MLS’78, PhD’80
Franklin, Tenn.

~ ~ ~ ~

I particularly enjoyed the last issue regarding the Holocaust and World War II. I was in the European Theater and served in three campaigns as a paratrooper. What an experience that was!

Dr. Jack E. Keefe III, BA’39, MD’43
Pawleys Island, S.C.

Age of Consent

The Zibarts Remembered

I am just short of tears as I have read and re-read and even marked up your editor’s column [Spring 2008 issue, "Age of Consent"]. Grace Zibart touched me and changed my life.
When I was a law and divinity student at Vanderbilt in about 1978, somehow I wound up catching a ride with Grace from the airport to the Vanderbilt area. I don’t recall how we wound up with her kindly letting me hitchhike into town. But in some grace-filled (and Grace-filled) way, we came together. As we rode we talked about what I’d been doing. If I recall correctly, I was returning from a summer of doing ministry in the Hell’s Kitchen (now gentrified and called “Clinton,” but not after the president) neighborhood of New York City. It had been an extraordinary experience for a youngster from a rural West Tennessee town whose population did not reach 2,500. I’d gone there to work with brothers from a French religious community called Taizé and lived in a Catholic church and then a Presbyterian church. I’d worked with street people and children, and I doubt I accomplished much in terms of helping others, but those people sure blessed me. And it was clear to me even then that the experience had changed my life–though I did not yet know how or how much.

Grace told me I ought to write about the experience for your magazine’s predecessor, The Vanderbilt Alumnus. And with her help and editing, I did. (Actually, it wound up being an article not only about that summer, but also the one before when I’d been a law clerk on a case trying to keep five innocent African American teenagers from being executed.)
That article was the first time I’d ever published anything outside of my native Weakley County. And it led directly to me wanting to do a Divinity School field placement on writing. That led to an unpublished book, and eventually the path twisted and turned until three other book manuscripts were published.

All because of Grace Zibart. I truly doubt that any of those books would have been written, and I know for a fact that the article would not have been written, if not for Grace. So when you wrote about Grace and Carl, you touched me. And I thank you.

Sen. Roy B. Herron, MDiv’80, JD’80
Dresden, Tenn.

~ ~ ~ ~

I was interested in reading, in your piece about when to give up on [reading] a book, that you also were obliged to set aside Edith Grossman’s translation of Don Quixote. This makes me feel better somehow. I also remember fondly the Zibarts. I did not know them intimately but thought they were wonderful.

Dr. Bill Doak, ‘53

~ ~ ~ ~

A belated note (I am nearly as behind on magazines as books) to say what a chuckle I got from the Carl Zibart anecdote. Daddy [Carl's brother, Alan], unfortunately, was either more dogged or had a higher guilt level–he nearly always finished [reading] everything. But I too am beginning to think along the Sherlock Holmes lines: My brain has only so much space, and whatever in the attic doesn’t need to be there is going out.

Eve Zibart, ‘74
Washington Grove, Md.

LEvel the Playing Field

Before Inclusion Was Cool

Your S.P.O.V. article “Leveling the Playing Field” by Kelly Finan, Class of 2009 [Spring 2008 issue], is of great interest to me. I was fortunate to work my way through George Peabody College during the World War II years, and had a fellowship in the Peabody Demonstration School Preschool under the direction of Irma Finker. I received this position through Dr. Maycie Southall, who was my major professor. Peabody was years ahead of the times in work being done in its nursery school and in the Early Childhood Department. I took several courses from Dr. Leavell, who was beginning to work with students with special needs.

I’m now an 84-year-old retired educator who has taught hundreds of children and countless teachers and teenage counselors that working with special children is equally rewarding and pleasing as working with any child. The parents and children never forget the opportunity they had because the teacher and school cared enough to make a difference. I have had special children in preschool classrooms for many years, and now I see these young adults working in society, able to live good lives through a local independent-living program. The last 35 years of my teaching career were with the Atlanta Jewish Community Center where I was a teacher, camp director, and director of early childhood services. My interest in working with the developmentally disabled students is still a major part of my volunteer life.

When I entered college in 1941, only three schools in the United States offered a degree in preschool education, including Peabody. The other two were Bank Street in New York and the University of California. We helped by beginning a beautiful thing.

Sylvia Glustrom Schwartz, BS’45

“Best Laid Plans” Not Best-Liked Article

I always anticipate and enjoy every issue, but just finished Spring 2008 disappointed and embarrassed. [In the Southern Journal piece titled "Best Laid Plans"], based not on research but his own musings while driving by on Harding Road, Richard Blackett characterizes Montgomery Bell Academy as “Bell’s plan gone awry” and as inaccessible to “poor indigent lads.” That portrayal is completely unfounded and unfair to MBA.

As a graduate and loyal supporter of both MBA and Vanderbilt, I found that article to be unfair to the former and unworthy of the latter. Frankly, I feel certain that Bell would find that today’s MBA is truer to his vision than the Commodore and the Bishop would find that Vanderbilt is to theirs.

The Rev. M. Dean Anderson, BA’81
Trenton, Ky.

~ ~ ~ ~

It was with a degree of disappointment that I completed reading your otherwise interesting article on Montgomery Bell. You contend that “something went awry” with his plan to fund what became Montgomery Bell Academy, my other alma mater. Given the number of civic, business, academic, medical, military, legal, philanthropic, etc., leaders from all sorts of economic backgrounds that MBA has produced, my guess is that the Pennsylvania Yankee Bell would be proud.

My family experienced financial difficulties in the 1980s and sacrificed significantly to send me to MBA and Vanderbilt. Grants, need- and academic-based scholarships, and student loans paid for much of my college tab. I generated further cash flow by working jobs during the school year and during summer, spring and Christmas vacations. Citing Professor Blackett’s area of historical expertise, I hope you recognize the fallacy of stereotypes, at least as they apply to me in this instance.

It puzzles me that an otherwise fine publication would openly insult a sizeable loyal constituency of the university. I hope it isn’t a not-so-subtle hint that Vanderbilt has limited or no desire to continue a long and mutually beneficial relationship with a fine preparatory school and citizens of its host city.

Jim Gardner, BA’90

~ ~ ~ ~

I am a 1976 graduate of Montgomery Bell Academy. Professor Blackett’s thoughtful historical piece about the life of Montgomery Bell got my attention when it went beyond academic research and writing and expressed an unfounded opinion about my alma mater that portrayed MBA as a school with “iron gates and manicured lawns” inaccessible to the indigent.

In truth, more than 20 percent of the boys attending MBA receive financial aid, and the school’s financial aid budget is significant and growing because of generous gifts. Like Vanderbilt, MBA must rely on donations to increase the availability of financial aid because tuition only covers a portion of the cost of educating a boy.

There is much more to Montgomery Bell Academy than iron gates and manicured lawns. The values I learned there have been the guiding principles of my life. Those values include compassion for the indigent, which I learned through MBA’s commitment to community service.

Please know that I love Vanderbilt. It has become one of this nation’s finest universities, and there is much to admire about the school, including its remarkable history department.
In the end, I guess I found it ironic that the Andrew Jackson Professor of History would indict MBA from his office behind the iron gates and manicured lawns of the Vanderbilt campus. Perhaps, like Vanderbilt, it would be a mistake to judge a school based on its landscaping or the biography of its founder.

Steven M. Zager, BA’79, JD’83

~ ~ ~ ~

The Spring 2008 issue carries comments that require a response from someone who knows a great deal more about Montgomery Bell Academy than does Professor Blackett.
In 1912 my father, truly a “poor indigent lad” from Cheatham County, actually did cross Harding Road and enroll in Montgomery Bell Academy on a financial aid scholarship. After graduating at the top of his class, he began a very successful banking career here in Nashville.

Professor Blackett should also be aware that financial aid has continued to play a major role for the student body at Montgomery Bell Academy without regard to race, religion or ethnicity. Further, many grateful alumni have made sure that nothing “went awry with Montgomery Bell’s plan” to aid “indigent boys” by funding financial aid scholarships well into the future.

Professor Blackett’s research about Montgomery Bell, the individual, may be accurate, but his comments about Montgomery Bell Academy are far off the mark.

James R. Kellam III, BA’60, Montgomery Bell Academy Class of 1956

~ ~ ~ ~

MBA and Vanderbilt University have enjoyed a long and great relationship. I hope that bond grows stronger over time, and I also hope that both Vanderbilt Magazine and Dr. Blackett will work harder to understand MBA’s commitment to Nashville students and the larger community. We value our associations with people from many different backgrounds in Nashville, and our school celebrates these connections–as does Vanderbilt–with the larger worlds beyond our “hill” at 4001 Harding Road. We were proud to be mentioned in your magazine, but were disappointed that our school was not portrayed accurately.

Bradford Gioia, Headmaster, Montgomery Bell Academy

Lost in America

New Directions in Education

I’ve been so impressed with recent editions. The writing has always been top-notch, but what has inspired me is the depth and breadth of content. I particularly enjoyed the focus on nonprofits/social initiatives with respect to education [Spring 2008 issue, "Lost in America"], including new models for urban schools and the Posse Foundation. I kept the edition to refer back to because I’m considering a career change after 17 years in affordable housing. Thank you, and keep it up!

Katherine Vanderpool, Provost, BA’87
Wayland, Mass.

Rockefellers at Vanderbilt

Your “Collective Memory” article “Silent Partner” [Spring 2008 issue], about the Rockefeller family’s contributions to Vanderbilt, reminded me of other Rockefeller contributions.
In the early 1960s, John D. “Jay” Rockefeller IV, now a U.S. senator from West Virginia, spoke to my American Foreign Policy class at Vanderbilt about the newly formed Peace Corps. He was on a recruiting mission.

On another occasion I hosted his uncle, Winthrop Rockefeller, who gave a political science lecture on state and local government. He had been governor of Arkansas. And in 1964-65 I was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation grant enabling a research year in London.

Harry Howe Ransom, BA’43, Professor of political science, emeritus

American Rustic

The Magazine Goes to Class

I really dig the magazine and thank you for making such a great effort. Logan Ward’s article [Fall 2007 issue, "American Rustic"] was especially funny; I read it to my students, and they erupted in laughter at the scene of Logan’s beheading of the hapless chickens. I also enjoyed seeing the photo of professors Sherburne and Lachs [Spring 2008 issue, "Long Day's Journey into Night"].

George Lawton Bevington, BA’90

Where Are the Vanderbilt Artists?

I remember when I first saw Vanderbilt Magazine–it was one step up from being a mimeographed “zine.” It has been great to watch the design and content get better and better each year. Now it is actually fun to read. I would think Vanderbilt artists should be the ones to illustrate the magazine instead of unknown commercial artists.

Donald H. Evans, Professor of art and art history, emeritus
Joelton, Tenn.

More Sports, Please

Your Spring 2008 issue was like–wow! Great job! I’m hoping for more of these kinds of fascinating articles. Please do an article in each issue regarding a former student-athlete and the impact Vanderbilt had on them. We lifelong Vandy fans eat those up.

Sheila M. Watts, BA’74
Greenbrier, Tenn.

Books and Writers

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

The Blue StarThe Blue Star: A Novel

(2008, Little, Brown and
Company) by Tony Earley, Samuel Milton Fleming, Associate Professor of

It’s been eight years since readers met the character of 10-year-old Jim Glass, the anchor of Earley’s acclaimed debut novel, Jim the Boy. In The Blue Star, Jim, now 17, faces the life-altering decisions of young adulthood in 1941, as America inches closer to war. The New York Times’ Janet Maslin calls Earley’s prose “beguilingly crisp and unfettered” in this sequel that chronicles childhood’s end.

aytchCo. “Aytch”: First
Tennessee Regiment or a
Side Show of the Big Show

(2007, Providence House
Publishers) by Sam R. Watkins; edited by Ruth Hill Fulton McAllister, BA’68

When Ken Burns’ The Civil War debuted on PBS in 1990, its viewers were treated to the authentic voice of Sam R. Watkins, chronicler of the “Maury Greys,” whose memoir of his war experience was first published in 1882. This new edition incorporates images of Watkins’ recently found handwritten manuscript, with his own proposed edits and additions overseen by his great-granddaughter, alumna McAllister.

Playing the ChangesPlaying the Changes:
Milt Hinton’s Life
in Stories and

(2008, Vanderbilt University Press)
by Milt Hinton, David G. Berger and
Holly Maxson

Bassist Milt Hinton is legendary as a musician whose career spanned seven decades of jazz history, but he also knew how to wield a camera. His photos document life on the road with Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday’s last recording session, and jazz icons Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, among others. Many of his stories are included with his music on an enclosed CD.

Women as Weapons of WarWomen as Weapons of War: Iraq, Sex and the Media

(2007, Columbia University Press) by Kelly Oliver, W. Alton Jones Professor
of Philosophy

In her latest book Oliver looks at the U.S. fascination with sex, violence, death, and its relationship to live news coverage and embedded reporting, particularly in regard to the U.S. campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Such reporting, she argues, naturalizes horrific events and stymies critical reflection, fueling
a kind of paranoid patriotism that results in extreme forms of violence.

Epistles: PoemsEpistles: Poems

(2007, Sarabande Books)
by Mark Jarman, Centennial Professor of English and director of the Creative Writing Program

In beautiful prose poetry, Jarman, inspired by St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, explores the central mysteries of existence through
collections of metaphors about belief. Says poet Grace Schulman of Jarman’s work, “[He] writes passionately of doubt and belief, making of the two poles one desire to know all he can in a world without certainty.”

Breach of peaceBreach of Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi
Freedom Riders

(2008, Atlas & Co.)
by Eric Etheridge, BA’79

With news of Tennessee State University’s finally granting degrees to its former students who participated in the Freedom Rides, a book
like this provides a vital link to the past. More than 80 contemporary portraits share space with original mug shots (including that of the Rev. James Lawson, Distinguished University Professor) in this book that chronicles those arrested during the spring and summer of 1961 in Jackson, Miss., on the charge of “breach of the peace” as they challenged
the state’s segregation laws.


Visual Art: Safe Haven for Artists

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Noah Walcutt, a 2008 engineering school graduate, won this year’s $25,000 Margaret Wooldridge Hamblett Award with this interactive sculpture that combines art, music and engineering for therapeutic purposes.

Photo by Steve Green.

When the E. Bronson Ingram Studio Art Center was completed in 2005, it provided a dedicated home for the newly independent studio art department. Not long afterward a major in studio art was added to complement the minor that already existed. After three academic years in the building, Michael Aurbach, professor of art and director of undergraduate studies for the studio art program, still sings the new building’s praises.

“It gives us a safe place to work,” he explains, speaking literally. The new studios have proper ventilation and sinks, floors sealed to allow for clean-up, and appropriate quantity and placement of electrical outlets. Student and faculty studio space previously was housed in Cohen Memorial on the Peabody College campus. “Cohen was designed as a museum,” says Aurbach. His studio, in which he worked on large-scale sculpture, was on Cohen’s third floor. The building has no elevator. His back is happy to have a new building with 8-foot-tall double doors and elevators.

Since the studio art department relocated to a more central spot beside the Student Life Center, the major has grown to include about 30 students. Aurbach expects more growth, but he says the program’s size is nice and the major is attracting students with diverse artistic interests.

Blain Within

Within, by Sandra Blain, is part of the “Tactile Clay: Structure and Texture” exhibit through July 15 at Space 204 in the Ingram Studio Art Center. The exhibit focuses on texture as more than surface decoration.

Photo by

The department’s classes are also attracting more non-majors. “As Vanderbilt evolves–which it is–we’re getting students who are more open to taking studio art classes,” notes Aurbach. “I think art is one of the best vehicles for the general education of humanity.”

Because the credits required for the studio art major are fairly unrestrictive, the major’s students are able to study other subjects, which, Aurbach says, informs their creative work. In addition to training students as visual artists, the studio art major can also prepare students for a “regular” profession: One recent graduate from the pre-architecture track is now studying on scholarship at Harvard University.

Other perks include the center’s permanent gallery space and a studio for each senior in the major, which is rare for an art program.

From the pleasing fountain splashing into a rockscape at its entrance to the natural light gracing its hallways to its well-equipped studios, the E. Bronson Ingram Studio Art Center is a welcome and well-used space for Vanderbilt’s artists. Says Aurbach, “This is a place where, if students want to pursue their artistic interests, they can–and in a grand way.”

God Plays Music City

Sunday, July 13th, 2008
God Plays Music City

Tom Kimmel, singer-songwriter and artist-in-residence for the “God in Music City” project, with artist Lisa Silver at the project’s culminating concert at Second Presbyterian Church.
Photo by Steve Green.

One Saturday last February, a curious busload from Vanderbilt got a taste of that old-time religion–and many of the varieties of religion to be found in Nashville.

That day scholars involved with the “God in Music City” initiative watched the choir at Corinthian Baptist Church rehearse a rousing program, heard the organist at Christ Church Episcopal belt out a magnificent organ fugue, and visited stately houses of worship including Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church and Congregation Micah. Robin Jensen, the Luce Chancellor’s Professor of the History of Christian Worship and Art, led the tour.

“In the space of six hours, we experienced seven different structures and radically different kinds of music associated with substantially different theologies,” says Allison Pingree, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Teaching and one of three principal investigators of the God in Music City project. “Our goal of opening up understanding and breaking down barriers and stereotypes was happening that day.”

God in Music City was an interdisciplinary class. It was a series of events including glimpses into the worlds of country music videos, gay Christian music and the blues; it was a double CD compiled and released by Greg Barz, associate professor of ethnomusicology and a principal investigator of the God in Music City project; and it was an experiment in team-teaching and experiential learning.


Odessa Settles was a featured artist during the final concert of the “God in Music City” project in April.
Photo by John Russell.

“I think the role that music-making plays in our houses of worship deserves our serious attention, and I think the God in Music City project is a huge step in the right direction,” says Dale Cockrell, professor of musicology in the Blair School of Music.

God in Music City was one project of the Music, Religion and the South study group of the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture, a transinstitutional center at Vanderbilt dedicated to developing, promoting and increasing faculty research at the intersections of religion and culture.

The God in Music City course was structured to expose students to as great a variety of religious musical expression as possible, and then help them sort it out.

“The class became a focus group that helped the professors learn something,” says John McClure, the third principal investigator of the project and Charles G. Finney Professor of Homiletics at Vanderbilt Divinity School. “It’s given me ideas for further projects.”

Already there’s talk of a book about the project. Pingree plans to explore the team-teaching employed in the class for a new project, and Barz founded a record label to release a God in Music City CD.

“This won’t stop,” says Volney Gay, co-director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture. “This train is moving down the tracks.”

Find out more:

From the Editor: Last-Name Basis

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Illustration by Ellen Russell Sadler.

Joe B. Wyatt had been chancellor for four years when I came to work at Vanderbilt in 1986, and he had a reputation as an excellent steward of Vanderbilt’s finances. The Texas native didn’t look the part of the academic, with his athletic physique and tan that revealed his love of outdoor pursuits–but he recognized early on how important Peabody could be both to Vanderbilt’s future and to American K-12 education. The thriving Peabody College we have today owes a great deal to Wyatt’s vision.

I interviewed Alexander Heard when I was writing a historic piece about the Vanderbilt/
Peabody merger, and I could see why alumni who’d been students during his time as chancellor held him in such reverence and with such affection. He was thoughtful, erudite and genteel.

I interviewed Heard’s predecessor, Harvie Branscomb, a few months before he died at age 103. I was writing a piece about Rhodes Scholars, and I went to Branscomb’s home on a warm winter day. The living room was like a sauna, but Branscomb had a chill, and he was fussing as he tried to turn on the fireplace. I remember his marvelous collection of Brazilian santos on the wall, a reflection of his work to build Vanderbilt’s relationships in South America. He was hard of hearing but related in rich detail the story of his first venture outside the South at a fancy New York City cocktail party in 1914, where he dumped his drink in a potted plant in order to avoid getting tipsy.

Gordon Gee was a gregarious man who used to drop by staff offices unannounced. He had a distinctive voice, and because my office was near the door, when I heard him on the hall I would pass the word down the line: “Look sharp; the chancellor’s on the floor.” He would flit through like a hummingbird, and had an amazing facility for remembering names.

Vanderbilt’s official “style,” I am told, is to refer to our new chancellor as Nicholas Zeppos. Zeppos arrived at Vanderbilt the year after I did, and I have never heard anyone refer to him as anything but “Nick”–not “Chancellor Zeppos,” not “Provost Zeppos,” not “Professor Zeppos.” Certainly not “Nicholas.” But “Nick” seems a bit cheeky to someone of my generation who has always addressed faculty members by their titles, not their first names–although if you meet him on campus or in the halls of Kirkland, that’s what he’ll ask you to call him.

Anyway, Zeppos is a name with pizzazz. I think we should use it in print whenever possible–starting with my profile of him on page 32!

Contributors for the Summer 2008 Issue

Sunday, July 13th, 2008


Michael Lee Woodard

Michael Lee Woodard, BS’90, came to Vanderbilt in 1978 on a football scholarship. In 1982 he left college to enter military flight training, later returning to complete his education. Woodard has spent his adult life involved in military flying all over the world and has also found time to earn a master’s degree in political science from American Military University. He enjoys triathlons, reading ancient history, and flying with the Tennessee Army National Guard.


Ray Waddle

Ray Waddle, MA’81, lives in Connecticut, where he is editor of Reflections, the theological journal of Yale Divinity School. A journalist for more than 20 years, Waddle from 1984 to 2001 was religion editor of The Tennessean, to which he continues to contribute pieces about religion. His work has taken him deep into the Bible Belt and as far away as Yugoslavia and the West Bank. The author of Against the Grain: Unconventional Wisdom from Ecclesiastes, he also contributed a chapter on religion for the book Nashville: An American Self-Portrait.


Taylor Holliday

Taylor Holliday is a Nashville-based writer and editor who specializes in the arts, food and travel. She earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University with a focus in media and communications. A former Wall Street Journal arts editor, she now freelances regularly for the Journal as well as The New York Times and other national publications.


Hugh Owen Nash Jr.

Hugh Owen Nash Jr., BE’67, is the author of Patriot Sons, Patriot Brothers, which tells the story of American Revolution figures Abner Nash and Francis Nash, and how three Nashvilles–including Tennessee’s capital–came to be named for Francis Nash. A native of Savannah, Ga., Hugh Nash is a partner in the Nashville engineering firm Nash Lipsey Burch LLC. He received his master’s degree in electrical engineering from Tennessee State University.


Ario Hosseini

Ario Hosseini is a rising senior in the College of Arts and Science and the recipient of the Bernard Fensterwald Memorial Scholarship. He was born and reared in Lexington, Ky., after his parents left Iran in the wake of the Islamic Revolution. A neuroscience major, he is applying to medical schools this summer. At Vanderbilt he founded and served as president of the Iranian Cultural Society, president of the Aikido Club, executive member of the Neuromajors Society and the Middle Eastern Student Association, a member of the Multicultural Leadership Council, and a volunteer for teaching children in Nashville about science and mentoring high-school youth.

Additional Contributors:

Melissa Carro, Stephen Doster, Lisa A. DuBois, Brenda Ellis, Jessica Ennis, Frye Gaillard, Larry Leathers, Jenny Mandeville, Ann Marie Deer Owens, Missy Pankake, Jim Patterson, Kami Rice, Lisa Robbins, David F. Salisbury, Ryan Schulz, Bill Snyder, Cindy Thomsen, Whitney Weeks, Amy Wolf

Music: Monday Night Jazz Band Keeps Swinging … Every Tuesday

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Lane Denson, foreground, and Larry Taylor of the Monday Night Jazz Band.

Photo by Steve Green

When Lane Denson–Episcopal clergyman by day, cornet and flugelhorn player by night–started playing with the Monday Night Jazz Band, he hardly could have predicted how long it would last.

“We’re a band of volunteers,” Denson says of the group, which for almost 20 years has brought the music of the Great American Songbook to Nashville’s west side. “Sometimes it amazes me we’ve played together for so long–that people who do something else for a living have stayed with it this way.”

Denson co-founded the band when he was chaplain at St. Augustine’s Chapel on the Vanderbilt campus in the late ’80s. Peabody psychology professor Paul Dokecki brought his drums, English professor Emerson Brown played clarinet, and law professor Bob Covington joined on piano.

“The four of us started meeting at St. Augustine’s, learning how to play together, getting our style,” Denson remembers. “Monday night was the only night we could all make it. That’s how we got the name.”

The band’s roster has changed over the years. Denson and Dokecki now are joined by guitarist Lee Maxwell, a Peabody alumnus; Garnett “G.R.” Davis, who plays bass for the band and teaches tuba at the Blair School of Music; and Larry Taylor, a professional guitarist and bassist. (Pianist Ed Farley, professor of theology, emeritus, of Vanderbilt Divinity School, retired from the band this spring.) But the band’s repertoire, the standards that dominated American popular music from the 1920s into the 1950s, has held steady.

“We play a lot of the great show music, like ‘Take the “A” Train,’ ‘Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,’ ‘Love Is Here to Stay’ and ‘Stardust,’” says Denson. “People usually like what they hear. They’ll say, ‘We didn’t know anybody played this music here in Nashville.’”

Taylor, who played professionally for more than 20 years, seems to revel in the technical demands of the music. “It’s sort of like doing a crossword puzzle every day,” he says. “It improves your vocabulary. These are tunes with good construction. If you play them every day, you will improve the technique. I’ve been doing it so long, it’s just part of me, I guess.”

For almost 12 years the band played regular Monday night gigs at what might seem an unlikely venue: the commons area at Bellevue Center mall. But with the mall’s impending closure this year, they’ve had to find a new home. This spring they started a weekly session at Caesar’s Ristorante Italiano, a cozy place tucked into the corner of a strip mall a few miles south of the Vanderbilt campus.

They play on Tuesdays now, but, to paraphrase a classic, their name is here to stay.

Film: Brothers’ Dedication Subject of New Documentary

Sunday, July 13th, 2008
Ochieng Brothers

Top: Dr. Milton Ochieng’, left, celebrates with his brother, Fred, at Fred’s white coat ceremony in August 2006. Right: The movie poster for Sons of Lwala
Photo by Dana Johnson.

One rainy evening 10 years ago, Patricia Opiyo, a pregnant woman from the remote village of Lwala, Kenya, went into labor with a breech birth.

“Her relatives put her in a wheelbarrow and pushed her to get to the main road to flag a ride to the hospital 40 kilometers away,” recalls Dr. Milton Ochieng’, MD’08, who was a teenager at the time, “but she hemorrhaged to death before they reached the highway.” The unborn baby died, too.

That incident is one of the reasons Milton and his brothers, Fred and Maurice, who grew up in Lwala, have since toiled to fulfill their father’s dream of building a health facility there. On April 2, 2007, that dream came true with the opening of the Lwala Community Health Clinic.

Now a much wider audience will hear their story. Barry Simmons’ film, Sons of Lwala, which documents the story of the Ochieng’ brothers and the Lwala clinic, premiered at a special fundraising showing at Nashville’s Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) in March. The documentary will be shown in other cities to raise money and also may be entered at film festivals.

“We hope the film will help us raise enough money to fund the clinic for two years,” says Milton.

Movie Poster

During its first two months of operation, up to 1,500 patients streamed into the clinic. Civil unrest in Kenya has forced people to flee populated towns for rural areas, resulting in numbers swelling from around 60 patients a day to more than 100. As a result, the need for funding has increased.

Last December during the winter break, Milton, Fred and their sister, Flo, a second-year nursing student at St. Joseph’s College of Nursing in Syracuse, N.Y., worked at the Lwala Clinic with a couple of student volunteers. One day a pregnant woman named Lillian entered.

“It was a breech birth,” Milton says. “We tried to call a taxi, but with the violence in this part of Kenya, all the roads were blocked.”

With a medical procedure book and cell-phone call to the obstetrician mother of one of the volunteers, Milton and Fred (a current Vanderbilt medical student) performed the first breech-birth delivery at the clinic. The result–a baby girl weighing nearly 8 pounds, born Dec. 30, 2007.

“Do you remember Patricia Opiyo, who died in that wheelbarrow years ago?” Fred asked.

Milton nodded. Her death and the helplessness he felt at the time were seared into his memory.

“Do you realize you just delivered Patricia’s granddaughter?”

“I felt in that moment my father’s dream had come full circle,” says Milton. “We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”

Find out more: and

Vanderbilt on the Potomac

Sunday, July 13th, 2008
Washington, D.C.

Photo by Daniel Dubois.

Dunkin’ Donuts. Cornell. The American Frozen Food Institute. Georgia Tech. The Snack Food Association. University of Michigan. The Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute. The University of Texas and University of California systems. The American Peanut Council. University of North Carolina. These are but a few of the thousands of companies, associations and universities that maintain full-time federal relations offices in Washington, D.C.

While many Americans have come to regard “lobbying” and “special interest” as dirty words, others see personal, professional contact with lawmakers as the best way to ensure that vital concerns are advanced at the federal level. From research grants to student loans, approximately one-third of Vanderbilt’s $2.5 billion annual operating budget depends directly on federal monies. And because the federal government foots the bill for much of what happens on certain areas of campus, part of the challenge lies in convincing decision makers that less is more when it comes to oversight and regulations. Vanderbilt and its peer institutions view a physical presence in the nation’s capital as crucial.


Vanderbilt Federal Relations staffers work within a stone’s throw of the Capitol Building, congressional offices, the Supreme Court, and the
Library of Congress.

Photo by Shane Stezelberger.

“The level of interaction and importance and impact of what happens in D.C. on Vanderbilt is tremendous,” says Beth Fortune, interim vice chancellor for public affairs. “Virtually everything that happens on campus–except what gets taught in the classroom–is affected by policy made and debated in Washington. Changes in tax law, the debate about Medicare reimbursement, labor issues, environmental issues, immigration–at some point all these things impact Vanderbilt.”

Since the early 1990s, Vanderbilt’s Office of Federal Relations has existed as an embassy of the university in the nation’s capital. The office sits a block away from Union Station and within a stone’s throw of the U.S. Capitol. Its staff–all full-time employees of

Vanderbilt’s Division of Public Affairs–as well as frequent visitors from campus, wave high the Vanderbilt flag and bring a bit of black and gold to the Beltway.

Their main job is advancing legislative issues of interest to the higher-education community and to Vanderbilt, working alone as well as in conjunction with a number of associations, including the Association of American Universities and American Council on Education. For the higher-education community, the greatest concerns involve individual institutional autonomy and academic freedom on campuses. For Vanderbilt there is a more specific focus on research funding, elements included within the Higher Education Act and, at least for this Congressional session, tax issues.

With research funding awarded to Vanderbilt faculty and staff by countless federal sources, the office must carefully monitor budget hearings and budget proposals at the congressional level as well as at such federal agencies as the National Institutes for Health and the Departments of Education, Defense and Energy. When the time comes to weigh in on funding issues, the appropriate Vanderbilt representative–a dean, a department chair, or a direct recipient of the federal funding in question–can be in Washington and meeting with the Tennessee delegation on very short notice. The goal is always to make certain Tennessee’s lawmakers understand the real impact of any funding decisions– both to Vanderbilt and to the citizens of Tennessee and the country.

Dave Piston, professor of molecular physiology and biophysics, professor of physics, and director of Vanderbilt’s W.M. Keck Free-Electron Laser (FEL) Center, is one such Vanderbilt representative. He has made scores of trips to the nation’s capital, sometimes to discuss FEL medical research programs that received extensive funding from the Department of Defense for several years, and sometimes to join researchers from other universities in advocating for greater federal funding–across all relevant departments and agencies–for research in the life sciences and physical sciences.

His trips to Washington have involved meetings with program managers and budget executives at the Pentagon; numerous members of the Tennessee congressional delegation and their staffs; and staff members of various congressional committees that oversee federal policy and spending on research.

“There’s a need to educate the Department of Defense and Capitol Hill about all the great things we’re doing,” says Piston, who is also a member of the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development. “Even if people have been constantly informed, they still want to know the latest and greatest in what we are doing. You absolutely don’t want to be out of sight, which then means you’re out of mind.”

But Vanderbilt’s interests in Washington extend well beyond research funding. The federal relations staff constantly monitors policy issues encompassed in the Higher Education Act, officially known as the College Opportunity and Affordability Act (H.R. 4137), as well as new tax guidelines targeting endowments of certain colleges and universities. From access and affordability to illegal file-sharing on campus to teacher training standards, these two areas cover an array of issues large and small.


“Capitol Hill is an oral culture, and you talk in broad strokes. You’re meeting with people who have 15 to 20 meetings a day–and that’s on top of what they’re supposed to be doing.” –Professor Dave Piston

Photo by John Russell.

And then there are the policies that touch everything else. Immigration laws affecting Vanderbilt’s international faculty and students, regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency concerning radioactive materials used at the Medical Center, and reimbursement rates for federally subsidized medical care all have been issues tackled by the Office of Federal Relations in the recent past.

While Vanderbilt’s Washington staffers keep one eye on legislation that could affect Vanderbilt and the higher-education community, they also work closely with an array of people hundreds of miles away.

“The best representatives of Vanderbilt are the people actually doing work in areas impacted by federal laws and regulations,” says Jeff Vincent, who recently retired as assistant vice chancellor for federal relations and executive director of the Washington office. “Whenever possible we prefer having administrators, deans, faculty, even students telling Vanderbilt’s story. They have credibility because they are the people impacted by what happens in Washington.”

Maybe it’s Doug Christiansen, associate provost for enrollment management, explaining how proposed changes to a student loan law will affect Vanderbilt’s students. Or perhaps it’s Beverly Moran, professor of law and sociology, meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss her research on race and tax policy. Whatever the issue, the federal relations staff believes one of its most important roles is connecting the end user on campus with Washington policymakers.

When these connections aren’t made, Vanderbilt risks being left out, says Kenneth Galloway, dean of the School of Engineering. At stake is up to $40 million each year in federal research funding and contracts for engineering education and research. Galloway’s trips to Washington are timed to coincide with the annual American Society of Engineering Education colloquium, attended by engineering deans from across the country. When Galloway meets with members of the Tennessee delegation, he makes certain his message about the importance of funding engineering research explicitly emphasizes engineering as a tool of economic development for both the state and the nation.


“At the end of the day in Congress, the words you never want to hear are, ‘We never heard from you guys,’” says Jeff Vincent (left), retiring assistant vice chancellor for federal relations.

Photo by Daniel Dubois.

Far from seeing Vanderbilt’s federal relations staff as yet another unwelcome intrusion upon a crammed schedule, U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper, in whose district Vanderbilt sits, says that having Vanderbilt’s voice among those of his constituents is a big plus.

“They are persistent and sometimes relentless,” Cooper says, “but that’s good because sometimes Congress is a bunch of slow learners, and we need reminders.”

“I can see any congressional staffer I want–but
they don’t want to hear from an association guy. They want to hear from the chancellor or the vice president for research or a faculty member.”

~Pat White, vice president, American Association of Universities

Whether finding an undergraduate student to offer testimony about an issue before Congress or providing requested information about a particular topic, the Office of Federal Relations serves as a resource for Tennessee’s congressional delegation as well as for Vanderbilt alumni in other legislative or administrative positions. Whatever the national concern, the assumption is that the topic can be addressed intelligently and thoughtfully by a member of the Vanderbilt community. Vanderbilt, say federal relations staffers, has an obligation to offer itself as a resource, to become a voice in these national conversations.

Camilla Benbow, dean of Peabody College, is one Vanderbilt voice who is often asked her opinion about legislation affecting math and science education and K-12 schools in general. She jokes that Washington is her home away from home because she is either traveling there every two to three weeks or working on an assignment at the request of someone there. Her goal, she says, is to help the senator, representative or committee craft and refine ideas that result in better policy, which in turn will truly benefit schools.

“It is a good gut check for reality,” says David Cleary, staff minority director of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee on Children and Families led by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, BA’62. “We have a close relationship with the dean of the No. 2 school of education in the country. I think that’s an important relationship to have.”

Having practitioners like Benbow join the conversation in Washington is important to the organizations that promote education, agrees Pat White, vice president of the American Association of Universities, which advocates on behalf of major research universities.

“I can see any congressional staffer I want–but they don’t want to hear from an association guy,” says White. “They want to hear from the chancellor or from the vice president for research or from a faculty member. To the extent that Vanderbilt makes its contacts available to the higher-education community, we are able to succeed. By tradition and history, Vanderbilt has always stepped up to help advance higher education.


Faculty members are viewed as the most credible representatives of the university in Washington.
Here, Carol Swain, professor of political science and professor of law, testifies before a Senate committee.

Photo by Daniel Dubois.

“Higher-education research and, indeed, institutions like Vanderbilt University and their missions, remain articles of the American faith,” adds White. “Virtually anyone you talk to understands the importance of higher education and research, not just for quality of life and quality of fellow citizens, but because of its connection to civic life, business, engineering and technology–things that contribute to national values and principles.”

In addition to advocating policy and monitoring legislation, Vanderbilt’s Office of Federal Relations also works with campus visitors who come to Washington, helping them adjust to the peculiar warp and woof of the nation’s capital and its politics.

“Capitol Hill is a different culture from anything I’ve ever experienced,” says Dave Piston. “It’s an oral culture, and you talk in broad strokes. You’re meeting with people who have 15 to 20 meetings a day, and that’s on top of what they’re supposed to be doing. Academics really, really like what they do. They are passionate, they love it–and while that works well if you’re teaching 18-year-olds, it does not work well in D.C.”

Wyatt Smith, a Peabody sophomore from Reform, Ala., spent last summer in the city with the Vanderbilt Internship Experience in Washington (VIEW), which pairs a public service internship with academic work. For these eight weeks each summer, the Office of Federal Relations converts its conference room into a classroom for the VIEW students, their professors and guest lecturers.

“D.C. is such a place of activity, and when you’re in the area where the office is located, tons of people are coming in and out from the subway, from the Capitol, from Union Station,” says Smith. “When you walk into the office, though, it’s like walking onto campus. There are pictures of folks giving testimony before Congress, but also lots of campus photos. It was neat to walk in and always see the Vanderbilt ‘V’ with the acorn at the same time you’re in an office that is definitely high performing and geared toward the pace of Washington.”


Christina West discusses proposed legislation during a forum on federal student aid. West assumed the role of director of federal relations in June.

Photo by Daniel Dubois.

Not infrequently, the Office of Federal Relations transforms itself into a little piece of Vanderbilt for visitors. Whether serving as a classroom, a reception venue for newly admitted students, or audition space for high school seniors competing for acceptance into the Blair School of Music, the office and its staff stand ready to do almost anything when company from Nashville is in town.

Christina West, director of federal relations, has been in Washington for nearly 10 years. Having worked in nearly every Washington capacity possible–from congressional staffer to private-sector lobbyist to current director of Vanderbilt’s Office of Federal Relations–she still considers Washington an amazing city full of incredible opportunities.

“When I get tired of seeing the U.S. Capitol, that’s when it is time to leave Washington–and I’ve never gotten tired of seeing it,” West says. “Some people are infected by Potomac Fever, and I’ve got it.”

That’s a good thing, since the coming months and years will be anything but dull for higher education. Complex issues like affordability, access, competitiveness and academic freedom loom large on the legislative horizon. Vanderbilt’s Office of Federal Relations, the university’s embassy 600 miles to the northeast, stands at the ready to weigh in whenever necessary.

Former Soviet Bloc Corruption Threatens Education

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Corruption in the former Soviet Union threatens the European Union’s attempts to standardize university degrees, warns Stephen P. Heyneman.
Photo by Daniel Dubois.

Graduates of universities in the former Soviet Republic may find their degrees losing value as corruption among higher education programs continues to rise, two Vanderbilt professors find in a new study published in the February issue of Comparative Education Review.

The study confirms what many educators have learned anecdotally: Educational corruption in the former U.S.S.R. and other former communist regimes has increased since the end of the Cold War.

“Education corruption is among the most serious new problems in economic development today,” says Stephen P. Heyneman, co-author of the study along with Kathryn H. Anderson, professor of economics at Vanderbilt, and Nazym Nuralyeva, lecturer in sociology at a university in Kazakhstan.

Heyneman, professor of international educational policy at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development, presented the results to a meeting of the Kazakhstan cabinet in February.

“Although educational corruption existed under the Soviet Union, we hypothesize that it was modest by comparison to the level today,” the authors said. Among the immediate problems for the students is that a devalued degree adversely affects their earning power.

Devaluation of degrees has serious international policy implications, degrades the entire social system of those countries, and decreases the likelihood that those graduates will be able to improve their economic standing, say the researchers. Perceived corruption also could jeopardize funding from international development-assistance organizations that might rethink their participation.

Since 1999 members of the European Union have been working to make university degrees equivalent in hopes of facilitating transfer students and greater mobility in the labor market. Ministers of education from 29 European countries in the Italian city of Bologna signed what has come to be known as the “Bologna Process,” which was then opened up to other countries signatory to the European Cultural Convention of the Council of Europe. Further governmental meetings have been held in Prague (2001), Berlin (2003), Bergen (2005) and London (2007).

But the taint of scandal might abruptly halt that process, Heyneman says. “It is difficult to imagine why a country or a university with a high reputation would allow its degrees to be made equivalent to those of a university or a university system with a reputation for corruption,” the authors said in the report.

The study surveyed universities in Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic using the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index for 2005.

“By design, one function of education is to purposefully teach the young how to behave in the future,” the study points out. “If the education system is corrupt, one can expect future citizens to be corrupt as well.” V

Hedge-Fund Study Reveals Distorted Reporting

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Nicolas P.B. Bollen’s research suggests the purposeful avoidance of reporting hedge-fund losses.
Photo by Steve Green.

Significant numbers of hedge-fund managers purposefully and routinely avoid reporting losses by marking up the value of their portfolios, according to research from the Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management.

In the wake of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and its effect on global financial markets, the analysis adds to the debate over hedge-fund regulation. Most hedge funds–private investment funds open only to a limited range of investors–are not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission and are audited less frequently than other investment vehicles.

In-depth analysis of more than 4,200 hedge funds found a significant number of distortions–nearly 10 percent–in hedge-fund returns. These distortions were absent in the three months leading up to an audit or when funds were invested in more liquid securities such as common stock.

Overall, funds tend to report small monthly gains more frequently than small monthly losses, suggesting that hedge-fund managers tend to round up returns to make sure they are slightly positive, rather than adjusting both gains and losses. The study’s results, say researchers, point toward purposeful avoidance of reporting losses.

“This type of manipulation could result in investors underestimating the potential for future losses or overestimating the performance of hedge-fund managers,” says Nicolas P.B. Bollen, E. Bronson Ingram Research Professor and associate professor of management. “Perhaps even more worrisome, this manipulation could be indicative of even more serious violations of an adviser’s fiduciary responsibility.”

Using data from the Center for International Securities and Derivatives Markets, Bollen and Veronika K. Pool of Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business analyzed more than 215,000 hedge-fund return observations from 1994 to 2005. Their research debunks the argument that historically low numbers of fraud cases prosecuted by the SEC indicates additional oversight is unwarranted.

Investors should question the accuracy of hedge-fund returns, says Bollen, and exercise caution when using the number of positive returns as a measure of fund performance. “If a hedge fund is inflating returns and concealing losses, an investor who withdraws capital following a month or two of return inflation would benefit from somewhat overvalued fund shares,” he says, “but investors who deposit capital–which would be the more usual response in such a situation–would likely suffer.”

$2.8 Million Grant to Link War Fighters

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

New technology could help
pilots, fighters and commanders
to communicate seamlessly.
getty images/CHECK SIX

A computer freeze-up in the office is a hassle. In a fighter jet peppered with enemy fire, it’s a matter of life and death.

Getting the increasingly large and complex systems people have come to rely on to interface and interact without shutting down has been the focus of Doug Schmidt’s career. As part of a recent Air Force grant, an engineering school team led by Schmidt will help develop a system to link war fighters seamlessly to the Global Information Grid.

Schmidt, professor of computer science and associate chair of the department, and his team are part of a $2.8 million grant to develop a system that will allow soldiers to access information they need no matter where they are or in what circumstances, and regardless of their connection device and available bandwidth.

The funding comes from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. BBN Technologies, an advanced technology firm that was one of the original pioneers of the Internet, is the lead contractor for a team that, in addition to Vanderbilt, includes Boeing and the Institute for Human Machine Cognition.

The Air Force has asked the team to create technological improvements that, for example, would allow a convoy traveling through a hostile city to immediately access information–from historical data to up-to-the-minute traffic details for the planned route. Even a stalled truck along the road could create a life-threatening situation for the soldiers, so the need to access data and make rapid changes using all available technology is critical.


“We can now build things that are so big, we can’t test them with conventional techniques,” says Doug Schmidt.
Photo by Steve Green.

The prototype system under development for the Air Force, called Quality of Service Enabled Dissemination, not only would help improve the quality of complex systems but also increase tolerance for disruptions to ensure that troops in tactical situations get the information they need on time and intact.

Schmidt has spent his career developing ways to test the increasingly complex systems–many of which were developed separately–that have become integral to so many facets of modern life. He has focused on testing these large systems in a sort of simulated technological wind tunnel in order to get all the complex parts to talk to each other. The Air Force grant funds one of four such projects Schmidt is leading at Vanderbilt.

The software tools and platforms developed at Vanderbilt are designed to empower pilots, fighters and their commanders to communicate with each other seamlessly. The software harnesses the powers of the Global Information Grid, which includes all communications networks, from the Internet to cell phones to satellite communication to land lines.

“One of the great things about complexity is that we can now build things that are so big, we can’t test them using conventional techniques and tools,” says Schmidt. “But the more we become reliant on these systems, the more we need to become more certain they’re going to work. Our role is to make sure they work as advertised.”

Poor Diabetes Management Portends

Sunday, July 13th, 2008


Basic lifestyle changes could save children with obesity-related diabetes from a lifetime of complications. But making changes in areas such as diet and exercise is more difficult than adjusting to medical management of the disease, a Vanderbilt study shows.

“Type 2 diabetes in children is such a new problem that we don’t know a lot about these kids,” says Dr. Russell Rothman, assistant professor of medicine and pediatrics and deputy director of the Prevention and Control Division of the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center. “This study is one of the most comprehensive to date to examine who these kids are and the challenges they and their families face.”

The study of 103 adolescents with Type 2 diabetes, most of whom are overweight, shows many children and teens do not possess good self-management behaviors. Most children in the study were either overweight or obese, with a body mass index (BMI) at more than 85 percent of the average for their age and weight.


Russell Rothman
Photo by Anne Rayner

The study was conducted by the Vanderbilt Diabetes Research and Training Center, working with patients at the Vanderbilt Eskind Pediatric Diabetes Clinic. Rothman and Shelagh Mulvaney, assistant professor of pediatrics and nursing, along with physicians and nurses from the diabetes clinic, questioned adolescents about their diabetes management in a telephone survey.

Respondents reported that medical management included daily medicines, blood-sugar monitoring and injections of insulin. More children (37 percent) reported the most difficult part of managing their disease was changing health habits like diet and exercise; 31 percent perceived taking insulin to be the most difficult part, and 18 percent had the toughest time adjusting to finger sticks for blood-sugar tests.

More than 80 percent of patients reported taking medication regularly, and nearly 60 percent monitored their glucose twice daily. However, about 70 percent reported watching at least two hours of TV each day, and 63 percent said they did not currently participate in physical education classes. Children reported that barriers to making healthy lifestyle changes included difficulty in dealing with cravings or temptations, feeling stressed or sad, and frequently eating outside the home.

The study also found racial disparities. African American patients had worse blood-sugar control and were slightly more likely to act like adolescent peers without diabetes–such as drinking sugary drinks and eating junk foods with regularity. The reasons for the disparities are not clear, opening up the possibility for future surveys to explore reasons for the differences.

“These results indicate children are having a very difficult time now, and so you might think it would be very difficult to take care of themselves long-term,” Rothman says. “This will mean a major health crisis for the country to deal with later. We owe it to ourselves, as well as to these young patients, to find better ways to help them manage their obesity and diabetes.”

The study’s findings were published in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Stealing Food One Way to Combat Staph

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Staph bacteria, shown here growing on a culture dish in Professor Eric Skaar’s laboratory, is the leading cause of deadly infections acquired in hospitals. Photo by Neil Brake

Antibiotic-resistant forms of Staphylococcus aureus (staph) have made staph the leading cause of infectious heart disease, the No. 1 cause of hospital-acquired infection, the leading cause of pus-forming skin and soft-tissue infections, and one of four leading causes of food-borne illness.

By some estimates the number of deaths caused by the antibiotic-resistant strain MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) exceeds the number of deaths attrib-utable to HIV/AIDS in the United States.

“Staph is arguably the most important bacterial pathogen impacting the public health of Americans,” says Eric Skaar, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology. “And it seems as if complete and total antibiotic resistance of the organism is inevitable at this point.”

That dire outlook has motivated Skaar, postdoctoral fellow Brian Corbin, and a team of researchers in their search for new techniques to use against staph infections. The researchers reasoned that proteins present at the site of a staph infection might be important to the battle between the bug and the immune system.

Even bacteria need to eat. And one of the ways our bodies defend themselves against these foes is to “hide” their food, particularly the metals they need to survive. Vanderbilt researchers discovered that a protein inside certain immune-system cells blocks growth of staph bacteria by sopping up manganese and zinc–supporting the notion that binding metals to starve bacteria is a viable option for fighting localized bacterial infections.

They took advantage of the fact that staph forms abscesses –pimple-like infected areas–in internal organs like the liver. “Because we can tell exactly where the infection is, we can look for proteins that are present only at the site of infection,” Skaar says.

Using technology called imaging mass spectrometry, developed at Vanderbilt by Richard Caprioli, the Stanley Cohen Professor of Biochemistry and director of the Mass Spectrometry Center, investigators identified dozens of proteins specifically expressed in staph abscesses in mice. They focused on one that was particularly abundant–calprotectin, a calcium-binding protein that has been extensively studied by Walter Chazin, Chancellor’s Professor of Biochemistry and Physics and director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Structural Biology. Calprotectin is known to inhibit bacterial and fungal growth in test tubes, but how it kills bugs was unclear.


Postdoctoral fellow Brian Corbin is part of a team investigating new ways to fight staph infections, which are becoming dangerously resistant to antibiotics.
Photo by Neil Brake

The team demonstrated in a series of experiments that calprotectin inhibits staph growth by binding–chelating–nutrient metals, specifically manganese and zinc.

“It basically starves the bacteria by stealing its food,” Skaar says.

To confirm calprotectin’s role, investigators infected mice lacking the calprotectin gene and showed that those animals were more susceptible to abscess formation than normal mice.

Then researchers examined levels of metals in staph abscesses in normal and cal-protectin-negative mice. Free manganese and zinc were strikingly absent in the abscesses of normal mice, but present in abscesses missing calprotectin, demonstrating the critical role of calprotectin in binding these two metals.

Calprotectin makes up about half the internal content of neutrophils, the primary immune cells that respond to a staph infection. The researchers propose that calprotectin is a second weapon neutrophils employ as they wage battle in the abscess. First, neutrophils try to gobble up the bacteria. If they fail and die (staph is expert at secreting toxins that kill neutrophils), then they spill their guts, which are filled with metal-binding calprotectin sponges that soak up the metals.

“The neutrophil gets the last laugh,” Skaar says.

These findings suggest that drugs which bind metals, as calprotectin does, would make good antibiotics. “If we can figure out how to make a molecule that transiently binds metals and that can be targeted to abscesses, I think that would be a great drug,” Skaar says.

Findings are detailed in a study published in the Feb. 15 issue of the journal Science, with Corbin as lead author and Skaar as senior author.

At Home in the World

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Shattered Diplomac Think your job is tough? Try working with an angry mob of thousands right outside your office. While James Sasser, BA'58, JD'61, was U.S. ambassador to China, American-led NATO forces bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia). Chinese citizens reacted by violently protesting outside the U.S. embassy in Beijing. Sasser was trapped in the embassy for four days while his wife, Mary Gorman Sasser, BA'59, and son, Gray Sasser, JD'98, took refuge beneath a table in a nearby house.

At least 12 Vanderbilt alumni have served as United States ambassadors. As the top American in a foreign country for a period of three to four years, it was their job to explain, promote and defend U.S. foreign policy and American values.

In practice that meant mounting a Southern charm offensive on unfriendly Chinese leaders, speaking truth to power to the embarrassment of a corrupt Panamanian government, and personally whisking a Haitian president to safety after a military coup. It meant engineering a mega-sale of American-made Apache helicopters, educating local people on how to run their new democracies, and weathering a four-day siege as thousands violently protested an American bombing.

It meant not only witnessing but having an impact on the end of the Cold War, the end of South African apartheid, the Bosnian War and the Iraq War. For one of our ambassadors, it even meant leading the Foreign Service itself into a very changed post-Cold War world and the next era of diplomacy.

Of the ambassadors profiled here, five were career diplomats and two were political appointees from outside the State Department–similar to the overall proportions of roughly two-thirds career ambassadors (for which politics traditionally plays no role in appointment or confirmation) to one-third political ambassadors (who generally get the glitzier assignments).

Only one is a woman, which also reflects the makeup of the Foreign Service prior to the 1990s.

Several were part of a “tandem couple,” meaning both spouses were in the Foreign Service and coordinated their assignments. All of them, however, credit their spouses, who accompanied them to all their posts, with sharing the job. “It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle,” said one. The whole family must be onboard, which requires a lot of sacrifice.

They all loved serving their country, and grew to love the countries they served in. Among them they speak 16 languages and have served in every corner of the world.


Alvin Adams   

Adams answers questions during a street press conference in Haiti.
Photo courtesy of Alvin Adams.

Alvin Adams, llb’67 Ambassador to Djibouti, 1983-85 Ambassador to Haiti, 1989-92 Ambassador to Peru, 1993-96

“You sometimes have to do difficult things publicly. The [Peruvian] president was embarrassed by comments I made about human rights and democracy. But by the time I left, things were a lot better.”

Grandson of a New York governor, son of a flamboyant Pan Am executive, and U.S. ambassador to three far-flung countries before the age f 50, Alvin Adams is the kind of old-school oreign service officer you might see in the movies.

The opening scene would find him personally escorting a deposed president out of an inflamed country in the dead of night, sitting with him on a runway, waiting hour after hour for a U.S. rescue plane, and hoping he could keep trigger-happy soldiers at bay.

Our leading man would soon receive a U.S. State Department Citation with Award for Valor “for acts of heroism, taken at great personal risk, to protect the safety and well-being of President Aristide during the September 1991 coup in Haiti.”

Adams never sought the limelight, instead making a career going places no one else wanted to go. He was U.S. ambassador to Djibouti, a “hot as hell” Islamic country on the edge of Africa; Haiti, the least developed and most volatile country in the Western Hemisphere; and Peru, where fierce homegrown terrorist organizations with a special hate for Americans meant he never made a move without 15 bodyguards.

Why did he accept these assignments? “It was fun,” he says. “And I was asked to.”

Foreign service officers take an oath to go where they are needed. And where Adams was needed most was where democracy and free elections were under threat.

Alvin Adams   

Now a Honolulu resident, Adams hosts a weekly program on Hawaii Public Radio called Business Beyond the Reef and serves as counselor to the president for international affairs at the Bishop Museum. 
Photo courtesy of Alvin Adams.

When he arrived for duty at Haiti’s Port-au-Prince airport, he made his intentions clear by speaking directly to the people in Creole (unheard of for a foreign ambassador) and putting the military government on notice that it was time for Haiti to have democratic elections for the first time in its history. Even though the president refused at first to accept his credentials and Adams couldn’t shake anyone’s hand for fear of deadly voodoo powder, he ultimately succeeded in helping bring elections to Haiti, leading to Aristide’s first presidential election in 1990.

In Peru, where the president had thrown out the legislature, “we were quite determined that the country would remain democratic,” Adams says. “The U.S. had been very critical of President Fujimori, which did not help me in developing personal relations up-close and friendly.

“But you’re not his representative to Washington,” he continues. “You are Washington’s representative to him. You sometimes have to do difficult things, say difficult things publicly. The president was very embarrassed sometimes by the comments I felt I had to make about human rights and democracy. But I’ll give him credit: By the time I left, things were a lot better.”

Some people would give Adams a lot of credit, too. Former Secretary of State George Shultz called him “one of a special cadre of Foreign Service professionals–the shock troops of our diplomacy–with the grit, savvy, imagination and hard-headedness needed by this department.”



McCallie digs a hole in dry Namibian soil, with President Sam Nujoma at center. “President Nujoma was keen on planting trees in areas decimated by overgrazing,” says McCallie.
Photo courtesy of Marshall McCallie.

Marshall McCallie, BA’67 Ambassador to Namibia, 1993-96

“In the long term, our world would be more secure if we had secure states through- out Africa. As we’ve seen, states with ineffective government and constant turmoil are hotbeds for incubation of terrorism.”

From the segregated American South, Marshall McCallie ventured out into the world to spend almost his entire career in sub-Saharan Africa, serving in Zambia and South Africa before becoming U.S. ambassador to Namibia.

His first stop after a global-minded upbringing in Chattanooga, Tenn., was Vanderbilt, where he participated in the Vanderbilt-in-France semester abroad and credits Alexander Marchant’s Western Civilization course and Henry Swint’s Historiography course (”a marvelous lesson in skepticism” of written history) with greatly broadening his world.

During his Vanderbilt years the university began to integrate black students. A quarter-century later, says McCallie, “when I got to South Africa as deputy chief of mission, which is essentially deputy ambassador, they were going through much of what we had gone through in the ’60s in the United States–opening up to people of every ethnic background, finding the richness of ethnic diversity–and going through the difficult negotiating process that I had seen in the American South.”

McCallie was in South Africa for the beginning of the end of apartheid, when President Frederik de Klerk released African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela from prison and began negotiating with black political parties. Economic and moral pressure from the U.S. played a part, McCallie says, and the American taxpayer played a critical role by helping fund college educations for South African people of color so the possibility of success when the government became more democratic would be more likely.


Now an active conservationist, McCallie and his wife, Amye, BA’66, enjoy hiking and studying the trees and wildflowers near their home in Brevard, N.C.
Photo by Michael Aaron Hogsed.

Because of his long relationship with the new Namibian leaders, including President Sam Nujoma, McCallie was sent to Namibia as ambassador not long after it gained independence from South Africa. As one of his first acts, he lined up training when the leader of the Upper House asked him for help in educating parliamentarians, who’d never had a chance to participate in the democratic process.

Africa has never been a top priority of the U.S. government, says McCallie–a challenge for any ambassador there. “I wanted to get more aid and assistance,” he says. “I thought that if we were to be as good as our word about what we believe in, about the values of our country, then we would invest in economic and political development in these countries. I argued that in the long term, our world would be more secure if we had secure states throughout Africa. As we’ve seen later, states with ineffective government and constant turmoil are hotbeds for incubation of terrorism.”

Despite witnessing firsthand a lot of that turmoil, McCallie has never given up hope for Africa.

“I saw some leaders who clearly were capable,” he says. “Mr. Mandela in any group of world leaders would be stellar, an enormous moral figure. I saw a level of caring and compassion in Africa that we don’t see in the news–wonderful family relationships and community relationships from which I felt good things could grow.”




Sasser needed all his Southern charm and diplomatic skills during his stint as ambassador to China. In 1999, after American-led NATO forces inadvertently bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, the people of Beijing erupted in violence outside the U.S. embassy.
Photo by Greg Baker (ap/wide world photos)

James Sasser, BA’58, JD’61 Ambassador to China, 1995-99

“In times past, if you bombed somebody’s embassy and killed their diplomats, it was an act of war. But we had built a relationship of mutual trust.”

Coming from outside the diplomatic service, political ambassadors typically have to learn on the job, establishing their foreign-policy credentials with the world watching. It was no different for Jim Sasser in China, despite the fact that he’d been a three-term U.S. senator from Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and seemingly next in line to be majority leader before his upset loss to Bill Frist in 1994.

There were some who doubted Sasser had the expertise to be ambassador to China at a time when relations between the two countries were all but hostile, reported The New York Times in 1998. But “the new warmth in Chinese-American relations,” the paper continued, “is in part a personal victory for Mr. Sasser. … By all accounts Mr. Sasser personified the American effort to create friendlier ties despite the deep differences over issues like human rights. His Southern style–polite, charming and attentive–was an evident hit with President Jiang Zemin, who also valued his closeness to his old Tennessee colleague, Al Gore, in the White House.”


Nowadays Sasser is a consultant who divides his time between Tennessee and Washington, D.C.
Photo by Pamela Lepold

When President Clinton first called to ask if he would be interested in being an ambassador, recalls Sasser, “I told him, no, I would not–unless I can be ambassador to China.”

China, Sasser realized, was becoming one of the most important countries in the world, and it was dangerous not to establish a working relationship. Before long he had escorted President Jiang Zemin on a momentous 1997 visit to the U.S., and convinced President Clinton that it was smart to make his well-received reciprocal trip to China sooner rather than later.

The new and improved relations between the two countries were tested soon enough when, in May 1999, American-led NATO forces inadvertently bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo War, killing four embassy staff. The Chinese people reacted violently.

“Thousands and thousands of them descended on the embassy and the ambassador’s residence,” says Sasser. “I was unable to get out of the embassy for four days and four nights. All our cars were destroyed, fires were set, and all the windows broken out.

“My wife [Mary Gorman Sasser, BA'59] and son [Gray Sasser, JD'98] were at the residence,” he continues. “They took refuge in another little house in the compound, which had bars on the windows, and they got under tables and spent the night there while the crowds continued to assault the building.”

Eventually it quieted. “In times past,” he says, “if you bombed somebody’s embassy and killed their diplomats, it was an act of war. But we had so strengthened the relationship between the two presidents, President Jiang knew in his heart that President Clinton would not do that on purpose. We had built a relationship of mutual trust.”



Still with the State Department, Carlson now serves as senior liaison for strategic communication for the undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.
Photo by Pamela Lepold.

Brian Carlson, BA’69 Ambassador to Latvia, 2001-05

“If we don’t invest today in public diplomacy, I’m worried about what we’ll get 25 years from now. You can’t walk up to somebody and say, ‘Let me tell you about the war on terror.’”

Brian Carlson reached the top ranks of the Foreign Service through an expertise in public diplomacy–the art of winning hearts and minds through strategic communication and cultural and educational exchange. At the U.S. Information Agency (USIA), Carlson started the organization’s public diplomacy programs in the newly liberated states of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. By the time he became ambassador to the former Soviet republic of Latvia, he’d seen firsthand what could be considered public diplomacy’s greatest success: the end of the Cold War.

“The old regime of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact fell down because we undermined it from beneath and within,” says Carlson. “In our cultural and educational exchange activities, we brought people from these countries to the United States, expanding contacts with artists and writers, and sent performers and exhibits of art abroad. All that human contact we insisted upon and pushed for–we started to see things come around.”

During Carlson’s time in Latvia, the country was invited to join the European Union and NATO, and he worked constantly to help get it ready for NATO membership. He likened Latvia to a greenhouse, recovering from the Soviet years and growing its economy at 8 to 12 percent a year. “Add free-market economics and incentives, and it’s amazing how an economy will just start up by itself.”


Carlson and his wife, Marcia Nightingale Carlson, BSN’69, with Latvian Bishop Anton Justs at the dedication of a partnership between Latvian and American churches. The rural parish in Eglaine has emerged from the Soviet repression of religion with assistance from an American church in Texas.
Photo courtsey of Brian Carlson.

But cultural diplomacy remained a priority for Carlson, who once there learned that famed American artist Mark Rothko was born in Latvia and that the 100th anniversary of his birth was approaching. He went to the National Gallery of Art in Washington and, with the help of the State Department and a year’s worth of lobbying, finally got an exhibition of 21 Rothko works sent to Riga, Latvia, and exhibited at the state art museum. (Latvia owned no Rothko paintings, which have repeatedly set records at auction.)

“It told them America cared enough to send the very best,” he says. “It played very well.”
Unfortunately, in times of budget cuts like those the Foreign Service weathered in the 1990s and again today, cultural and educational programs are among the first to go. In 1999 the USIA was abolished.

That may prove to be a mistake, Carlson warns, in times of trouble. “If we don’t invest today in public diplomacy, I’m worried about what we’ll get 25 years from now. You can’t walk up to somebody and say, ‘Here, let me tell you about the war on terror.’ You have to come at it through relationships. It’s all about relationships.”

Carlson is now involved in a movement in Washington that is calling for a semi-independent, public/private institution that would bring in people from academia to provide a reserve of ideas and innovations to help bolster America’s relations and reputation abroad.

“To see,” he says, “if we can’t get back a little bit of what we seem to have lost.”



Now chief operating officer of the Episcopal Church, Watt was a foreign service officer for 30 years, working in Russia, Nicaragua, the United Kingdom, Costa Rica and Ecuador as well as the Dominican Republic and Panama. She lives in New York City.
Photo by David Coulter.

Linda Ellen Watt, BA’73 Acting Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, 1997-99 Ambassador to Panama, 2002-05

“It’s our job to carry out the government’s foreign policy. If you don’t agree with our policy on Cuba or Darfur or Iraq, your choice is to hit your pillow, kick your cat, or find another line of work.”

“When I came into the Foreign Service in the mid-’70s, there was a lot of stereotyping of women,” says Linda Ellen Watt. “There weren’t women ambassadors. And more important, you never saw a woman deputy chief of mission, who is really the manager and leader and often the most senior career person. Never.”

Not until the late ’80s and ’90s were women represented in significant numbers. Though she had few role models herself, Watt was one of the trailblazers, serving first as acting
ambassador to the Dominican Republic and then as ambassador to Panama.

Watt, who studied Spanish and history and participated in the Vanderbilt-in-Spain program, got to Panama not long after the U.S. had turned over control of the Panama Canal to the Panamanians. There was quite a sense of excitement as the country looked forward to a more equal relationship with the United States rather than one of big brother/little brother, she remembers.

But at times the Panamanian government still needed big brotherly–or sisterly–advice. In a speech to Panama’s Chamber of Commerce that prompted a crisis for Panamanian politicians, according to the local English-language newspaper, Watt “blasted the pervasive culture of corruption in Panamanian politics and warned that it’s hurting our international reputation and driving foreign investors away.”

Watt’s main goals in Panama were building trade relations, maintaining canal security and combating drug trafficking, but she also supported women’s efforts in business and community development and spent a lot of time with the poor and the voiceless.


Watt visits with schoolchildren at the Galeta station of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute near Colón, Panama.
Photo courtsey of Linda Ellen Watt.

“Americans have had an image in Latin America, and Panama specifically, as being elitist or arrogant and only interested in business and politics and strategy,” says Watt. “It was my absolute mission to disabuse Panamanians of that stereotype.”

Certain U.S. government policies will always be unpopular abroad, and it’s an ambassador’s job to support those policies publicly irrespective of her personal views or political beliefs.

“That’s a point of professional pride among members of the Foreign Service,” Watt says. “We realize that no one elected us, and it’s our job to carry out the government’s foreign policy. If you don’t agree with our policy on Cuba or Darfur or Iraq, your choice is to hit your pillow, kick your cat, or find another line of work.”

Watt herself says she couldn’t have found a better line of work. The hardest part for her, as for most diplomats, was the impact the job had on family. “If it’s a strong marriage and strong family, it will be strengthened, but if it isn’t, it’s not going to work.”



Dornbush divides his time between his homes in Amsterdam and Atlanta with his wife, psychologist Marilyn Pierce Dornbush, BA’55.
Photo courtsey of Sebastiaan Westerweel.

Terry Dornbush, BA’55 Ambassador to the Netherlands, 1994-98

“The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was sitting there stillborn. We kept knocking on doors until we found somebody with enough power to get something to happen.”

Appointed by President Clinton to be U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, Terry Dornbush was not so much a “Friend of Bill” as a “Friend of Al,” having served as vice chairman of the Georgia campaign when Gore ran for the presidency in 1987 and, at Gore’s request, working for the Clinton/Gore ticket in 1992.

But afterward, says the Vanderbilt economics major, investment banker, global real-estate developer and cancer activist, “it turned out I was not the only one who worked on the campaign who wanted a government job.” Of the 3,300 jobs that were presidential appointees, he learned, only about 160 were ambassadorships. He lobbied for the Netherlands post because of strong ties between that country and his home city of Atlanta, where there are more Dutch businesses than in New York or Chicago.

If Ambassador Dornbush thought he was going to have a trouble-free post focused on growing business between the two countries, he was soon to learn that every position representing the U.S. in a foreign country can suddenly involve matters of life and death.

During the Bosnian War and Srebrenica Genocide, when 400 Dutch U.N. peacekeeping troops were the only force that stood between 10,000 Serb troops and their Muslim targets,

Dornbush was drawn into controversial decisions and responses made by both the American and Dutch governments. No one knew at that time that the largest mass murder in Europe since World War II was taking place, with the killing of more than 8,300 Bosnian Muslims. But it was clear that the Clinton administration was trying to avoid committing ground troops to that war, even though Dornbush was present when the secretary of defense assured the Dutch, “If you get in trouble, we’ll get your people out.”


Dornbush (center), who once served as regimental commander of the Vanderbilt Reserve Officer Training Corps, prepares to fly on a Dutch F-16 fighter jet.
Photo courtesy of Terry Dornbush.

It’s anyone’s guess what may have happened if they had, “but they never asked to get out,” says Dornbush.

A war effort he had more control over proved to be the one thing of which he is most proud during his service. “The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia had been authorized by the U.N. in May 1993, and when I arrived in March 1994, it was just sitting there stillborn. It was our embassy that energized Washington. We kept knocking on doors until we finally found somebody with enough power to get something to happen … and we got 21 temporary staff members who came in to give this thing life.”

Dornbush also engineered a business deal, bringing together President Clinton and the Dutch prime minister, in which the Dutch and, consequently, the British purchased a combined $900 million of American-made Apache attack helicopters over a competing French-German helicopter–despite European Union loyalties.

“It was an economic competition,” says Dornbush, “and that’s my cup of tea.”



Having retired in 2006 from 30 years as a career diplomat, Pearson now heads the international business division of a large Washington, D.C.-area consulting group.
Photo by Pamela Lepold.

W. Robert Pearson, BA’65 Ambassador to Turkey, 2000-03 Director General of the U.S. Foreign Service, 2003-06

“We are living in a world completely different from the world we lived in during the Cold War. Since we’re the strongest single country in the world, we have a responsibility diplomatically.”

Robert Pearson grew up on a farm near the tiny town of Bells, Tenn., to become deputy chief of mission in Paris, deputy chief of mission to NATO, ambassador to Turkey and, finally, director general of the Foreign Service, responsible for the careers of 50,000 fellow diplomats and for setting the path the Foreign Service would follow in the new millennium.

That path, he explains, is out of the developed world and–in greater and greater numbers–into the developing world. In other words, emphasis is moving away from those coveted jobs in European capitals toward hardship posts and hardscrabble places where representatives of American policy and values can make a real difference.

“By the middle of this century, the combined population of all of North America, including Mexico, and all of Europe, including Turkey, will be 10 percent of the world’s population. Take a look at the ’second-tier’ countries,” Pearson says. “China, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, Mexico, Brazil, Chile … If we don’t succeed in convincing those people that an open economic system and democratic values are the better choice, then American national security will be severely damaged.

“My point,” he continues, “is that we are living in a world that is completely different from the world we lived in during the Cold War. Since we’re the strongest single country in the world, we have a responsibility diplomatically to place ourselves where things that happen in the world are going to have the gravest consequences, either for good or for bad.”

Pearson got a taste of this new world order serving as ambassador to Turkey as the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had arrived in Turkey in September 2000, feeling the country was stable and on the right track and looking forward to all the positive things he thought they could accomplish. “I wasn’t expecting any kind of meltdown,” he says.

Within a few months a political in-fight caused the Turkish lira to lose half its value, sending Pearson to bat for Turkey at the International Monetary Fund to negotiate a loan rescue package. Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, after which Turkey went to bat for the U.S., joining the war effort in Afghanistan.


On their first trip to Ephesus, Pearson and his wife, Margaret, visit the site of the ancient library.
Photo courtesy of Robert Pearson.

It wasn’t until the Iraq War that the two countries found they could no longer play ball. It was up to Pearson to ask the Turkish government to allow U.S. ground troops to enter Iraq through Turkey. “My principal reasoning was that–not trying to be ideological about the war so much as the relationship–I thought that whatever happened, it would be far better for the United States and Turkey to be working together than to find themselves on different tracks.”

Turkey put the decision to a democratic vote and decided not to allow access to American ground troops, straining U.S.-Turkey relations. As the Iraq War progressed, the gap between the two countries widened and anti-American sentiment in a once-strong ally escalated dramatically.

By that time Pearson was back in Washington, leading the Foreign Service into a future in which diplomacy seems more important and imperative than ever.


But Wait–There’s More

These alumni have also served as ambassadors:

William Cabaniss, BA’60
Ambassador to the Czech Republic, 2003-06

William Prentice Cooper Jr., ‘15
Ambassador to Peru, 1946-1948
(Died in 1969)

Marion Creekmore, BA’61
Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka and to the Republic of Maldives, 1989­-92

Guilford Dudley, BA’29
Ambassador to Denmark, 1969-71
(Died in 2002)

Thomas Ferguson, BA’55, JD’59
Ambassador to Brunei, 1987-89

Alumni Association News

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

In April the first international “Vanderbilt and You” reception took place in Shanghai, hosted by A.J. Spaudie, BS’97, and Nancy Wang, MBA’05.


Heartfelt Thanks

The Offices of Undergraduate Admissions and Alumni Relations owe a special thanks to alumni who have assisted with the student recruitment process by volunteering their time to interview applicants, represent Vanderbilt at college fairs, contact admitted students, and help coordinate “Vanderbilt and You” receptions. We are grateful for all your volunteer efforts on behalf of Vanderbilt, and we appreciate your continued dedication to your alma mater.

Welcome to the Class of 2012

Summer Send-Off Parties for incoming students are taking place in more than 35 cities throughout the summer. These informal events, planned by local alumni chapters nationwide, welcome students and their families into the Vanderbilt community. Local alumni and current parents and students are also invited to the gatherings, which provide an opportunity for students and alumni to share their Vanderbilt experiences and answer questions that new students and their parents have about the university.

Nashville Meets the Chancellor

Nicholas Zeppos was guest of honor May 12 at a Chancellor Celebration sponsored by the Nashville Vanderbilt Chapter.

Students and Alumni Come Together

Last year the Office of Alumni Relations launched a series of new initiatives designed to bring alumni and current students together, increasing students’ awareness of and access to Vanderbilt’s alumni network. Since that time, these student/alumni programs–many now with waiting lists–have engaged more than 2,500 students and 350 alumni volunteers.

This fall the momentum continues. Planned are more “Opening Dores” dinners, at which five alumni and 12 current students with similar academic interests come together on campus to share a family-style meal–and alumni share their advice about transitioning to the world of work after college. A panel led by alumni, called “After VU: Where My Vanderbilt Degree Has Taken Me,” is also planned to give students an overview of the diverse career paths available with a Vanderbilt degree. Vanderbilt Law School alumni, admissions staff, and current Law School students also will lead a panel providing real-word advice about choosing and applying to law school.

The new Vanderbilt Student Alumni Association continues to grow, too, with upcoming fall events including a Seniorfest fun day on “Almost Alumni” Lawn and a “Halfway There” celebration for sophomores to mark their new status as upperclassmen during the second semester. As before, alumni volunteers are needed to make Student/Alumni Programs a success. If you’d like to help, contact Lauren Schmitzer, associate director of alumni relations, by calling 615/322-2042 or e-mailing

CoRPs Wants You!

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions and the Office of Alumni Relations teamed up a number of years ago to form the Alumni Recruitment Committee (ARC), an effort to involve alumni in the process of recruiting students for Vanderbilt. Over time the ARC’s success has led to expansion of the program, incorporating several new initiatives–and now it has a new name better reflecting its breadth: Commodore Recruitment Programs (CoRPs).

Through CoRPs, the admissions office invites alumni around the globe to participate in vital recruitment efforts such as the Alumni Interviewing Program (AIP), college fair activities, contacting admitted students, and “Vanderbilt and You” receptions.

You are invited to join the other 2,700 Vanderbilt alumni who already have registered with the admissions office to help in the recruitment process. Last year nearly 1,400 alumni interviewed approximately 3,200 Vanderbilt applicants across the United States and on several continents. Through these interviews, alumni personalize the admissions process and give prospective students an inside glimpse of life at Vanderbilt.

Alumni from major markets and small cities alike represented Vanderbilt at local college fairs last year, speaking with interested students and their parents about the admissions process, and about academic and student life on campus. College fairs allow the admissions staff to reach many students in one easy setting, often providing these families with their first Vanderbilt contact.

“Vanderbilt and You” receptions offer admitted students a chance to meet alumni as well as other admitted students from their area. Last year alumni hosted and attended these receptions in 39 cities–including the first international reception in Shanghai. These events offer alumni an exciting opportunity to be part of a student’s decision-making process as he or she embarks on the journey to college.

It’s easy to get involved with CoRPs. Just go online to to register with the admissions office. Or you may request information by e-mailing We look forward to working with you!

Johns Hopkins Surgeon Named Vanderbilt Distinguished Alumnus

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Dr. Levi Watkins Jr., MD’70, associate dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and professor of cardiac surgery, is this year’s recipient of the highest honor bestowed upon an alumnus of the university: the Vanderbilt Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.

First presented in 1996, the award recognizes an alumnus or alumna whose accomplishments and contributions have had a broad positive impact on humankind–and who has made the choice to go beyond a successful vocation to do something of greater benefit to the universal community. Levi Watkins embodies these noble traits.

Watkins broke new ground in 1966 when he enrolled as the first African American student of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Four years later, when he received his medical degree, he was still the only one. Since that time he has had a remarkable career, and his achievements have been recognized by Vanderbilt repeatedly through the years. In 1998 the School of Medicine awarded him the Vanderbilt Medal of Honor for outstanding alumni, and the school established an annual Levi Watkins Jr. Lecture on Diversity in Medical Education.

In 2002, Vanderbilt established a professorship and associate deanship in his name at the School of Medicine. The next year Watkins was named to the Vanderbilt University Board of Trust.

Levi Watkins’ entire career has been punctuated by important “firsts.” At Johns Hopkins he was the first African American person to serve as chief resident in cardiac surgery, as professor of cardiac surgery, and as associate dean of the School of Medicine. In 1980 he performed the world’s first human implantation of the automatic implantable defibrillator–a procedure that has been repeated more than a million times worldwide since then.

Watkins defined the role of the renin-angiotensin system in congestive heart failure, leading to today’s common clinical use of angiotensin blockers in treating the disease. He helped revolutionize the culture for postdoctoral education in America by working to establish the nation’s first postdoctoral association.

He even graduated first in his class in high school.

Growing up in Montgomery, Ala., Watkins was exposed to widespread prejudice and to the early Civil Rights Movement, which sealed his commitment to racial equality, particularly in medicine. Now living in Baltimore, where he has been named “Best Citizen” by the city’s mayor, Watkins has been awarded four honorary doctorates and has earned numerous other accolades because of his medical experience and interest in worldwide human rights.

For information on how to nominate an individual for the 2009 award, visit

A Place to Heal

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Becca Stevens, MDiv’90
Photo by Daniel Dubois

On Sunday mornings, former prostitutes and drug addicts fill the pews alongside Vanderbilt faculty, staff and students for services at St. Augustine’s Chapel. They share their stories and take communion together, finding commonalities in what some would think are very different worlds.

It’s part of the healing for the women of Magdalene, a two-year residential program that helps women get off Nashville’s streets, off illegal drugs, and out of the cycle of abuse.
Magdalene is the brainchild of Becca Stevens, an Episcopal priest and chaplain of St. Augustine’s. The program includes housing, counseling, 12-step meetings, classes on parenting and financial management, spiritual guidance and employment opportunities. In its first 10 years, more than 100 women have successfully completed the Magdalene program. All have a criminal record. Thirty percent are HIV-positive or Hepatitis C-positive. All have endured rape, and most have a history of childhood sexual abuse. Of those who enter Magdalene, two and a half years later 75 percent are still clean and sober.

Magdalene sustains itself through private donations and through Thistle Farms, a cottage industry that produces bath and body products and candles. All aspects of the business are handled almost exclusively by the women of Magdalene.

“It isn’t about making people feel sorry for these women,” Stevens says. “It’s about inspiring others to make changes in their own lives.”

Find out more:

A Growth Business

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Sam McCleskey, BE’51
Photo by John Russell

It’s a fact of life: For some people, earning a living means dealing with death. Sam McCleskey has spent most of his career as the country’s premier builder of mausoleums.

The earliest mausoleum was built between 353 and 350 B.C. for King Mausolus in present-day Turkey, and it is known as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. McCleskey’s modern creations are pretty wondrous, too. His company is now building a three-story structure in Los Angeles that will house 40,000 caskets. But that’s just the latest project in a long career.

“I’ve been responsible for designing and building more than 700 large community mausoleums in 32 states,” says McCleskey, who is a 2007 Distinguished Alumnus of the Vanderbilt School of Engineering. “The smallest we’ve built is about 300 casket spaces, and the largest [prior to the Los Angeles project] is 10,000 casket spaces.”

Today McCleskey serves as chairman of the board of McCleskey Construction Co. and isn’t as involved in the day-to-day operations of the company. An avid traveler, he has visited all seven continents. But he remains fascinated by his profession.

“Above-ground burial has a long history. It just happened that when I came into the business in 1958, there was an upswing. And we’re still in it today.”

Purified Minds, Sanctified Tongues

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

A Rhodes Scholar and senior minister for the historic Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore at age 26, Brad Braxton applies lessons he learned along the way as associate professor of New Testament and homiletics. He continues to guest preach as many as 25 sermons each semester.
Photo by John Russell.

Sometimes when Brad Braxton is teaching his classes, when he’s talking about what it means to be a preacher and the students are clearly caught in his words, his mind will flash back to his father’s church–to that white frame building in Salem, Va., with its stained-glass windows and warm wooden pews. His understanding of the ministry began in that place, and when he started his journey through the world of academia–when he entered the University of Virginia, then earned his master’s degree at Oxford, and later his Ph.D. at Emory–one of the church elders quietly took him aside and gave him a simple piece of advice. “Boy,” she said, staring into his eyes, “act like you’re from southwest Virginia. Don’t get educated away from your people.”

On a recent afternoon at Vanderbilt, as the spring semester was starting to wind down, Braxton smiled as he told that story to his students. He was teaching a homiletics seminar to a small and gifted group of future preachers, and he said he wanted them to understand that being good in the pulpit was more than simply a matter of technique. Yes, he videotaped their sermons and pored over gestures and choices of words, as a coach might study the film of a game. But in the end, he said, good preaching is inevitably rooted in substance–in those subtle understandings of healing and justice that gradually grow deeper in the course of a lifetime.

Good preaching is, in part, a matter of academic study or biblical scholarship. But in Braxton’s experience, there is just as much value in learning from the elders, from those ministers and laymen who are touched by grace, and somehow embody the wisdom that they preach.

For Braxton the most important of those people was his father. For 33 years James Braxton Sr. was pastor of the First Baptist Church in Salem, a place that had long been a symbol of hope. In 1867 a group of freed slaves had laid the cornerstone of the building, fulfilling a dream that had been made possible just a few years before. On New Year’s Eve 1862, former slaves from all over the country, many of them joined by white abolitionists, came together in churches and town meeting halls to learn if the glorious news was really true. The word had slowly spread through the land that on Jan. 1, 1863, President Lincoln would issue his Emancipation Proclamation.

When the great moment came, followed two years later by the end of the war, the former slaves quickly built churches of their own, and for many of them, one of the most sacred occasions of the year was the Watch Night service on New Year’s Eve. They sang and prayed and reenacted the hopeful waiting of their elders. And for young Brad Braxton growing up in Virginia, the faith of his father was never more real. There was something about this community of Christians that James Braxton served with such wisdom and grace. They seemed to understand the old sacred link between their tradition and the search for justice in the world, and, along with their minister, they believed that faith was a source of healing and strength.

As an associate professor of New Testament and homiletics, Braxton often talks about his father’s faith with his students. “I remember,” Braxton said in one of his classes, “how I learned my first homiletics from my father–the intonations, the gestures, the words laced with love.” But even as a boy, he could see there was much more to it than that. There was also the need to be “honest and fair,” as his father liked to put it, to look the members of his church in the eye, and treat them with a kind of “intellectual charity,” particularly in moments of disagreement or strife.

Braxton carried those lessons on his academic quest, from the days when he studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford to the pursuit of his Ph.D. at Emory. And when he ascended to the pulpit at the age of 26, becoming senior minister at an inner-city church in Baltimore, he felt that he was prepared for the job.

Not that he expected it to be easy. Douglas Memorial Community Church had developed a strong and active congregation. It had been named for its founding minister, Frederick Douglas, who was himself named for the great abolitionist. And after a long and distinguished career, Douglas was succeeded by Marian Bascom, a civil rights leader and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bascom served 46 years before retiring at the age of 70, and Braxton knew he would be a hard act to follow.

One of the church elders quietly took him aside and gave him a simple piece of advice. “Boy,” she said, staring into his eyes, “act like you’re from southwest Virginia. Don’t get educated away from your people.”

In addition to his deeply intellectual sermons, Bascom had established a tradition of activism, a passion Braxton shared. But the young minister wanted to make his own mark. He began a series of Bible study classes, complete with a syllabus, reading list and exams, and he established an interfaith dialogue with the impressive Jewish community in the city. He also started a gospel choir to supplement the formal Sunday morning singing, and the energy that came from all those things made it, he says, a highly satisfying time.

But the world of academia still called. In the summer of 2000, after a whirlwind stay of five years, Braxton left his pulpit in Baltimore to join the faculty at Wake Forest University. He taught preaching and New Testament in the divinity school, before moving again in 2004 to join the divinity school at Vanderbilt. He was 35. And if there had been a certain restlessness about him, he found himself now in a comfortable place where he could apply the lessons he’d learned along the way.


Illustration by Diana Ong.

“It’s an exciting community to be a part of,” he says, “coming to a faculty where there is not only a strong commitment to justice, but a Ph.D. program in homiletics and linguistics. I have outstanding colleagues, and our dean, James Hudnut-Beumler, is deeply rooted in the life of the church.”

In the fall he will teach the courses Preaching in the African American Tradition and Interdisciplinary Approach to Preaching and Worship. But one of his favorites is the seminar course he taught in the spring–Preaching, Healing and Justice, in which he sought to tie together with his students the two great callings of the Christian ministry: those pulpit proclamations about justice in the world, and the pastoral care of their future congregations.

He liked to begin each session with a prayer–”Holy Spirit, purify our minds and sanctify our tongues”–as well as a reminder about the need for humility in the face of the massive task set before them.

“Each of us,” he declares, “has a tenuous grasp at best on the truth.” Braxton often refers to his students as “colleagues” and says he learns from them every day. “These students,” he concludes, “have done brilliant homiletic work.”

Braxton has written three books and is working on another, and has continued to do guest preaching on his own, as many as 25 sermons each semester, including one last year at Westminster Abbey.

He says he expects someday to return to a full-time pulpit ministry. But for now at least, he has found at Vanderbilt a place where the pieces of his life come together.

A Delicate Balance

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

“As academics we can try to find ways to decrease the conflict instead of exacerbating it.” ~Diana Orces, graduate student from Ecuador
Photo by Daniel Dubois.

America’s political scholars keep a close eye not only on our own democratic process, but on attitudes about democracy worldwide. And Vanderbilt political scientists studying the level of citizen support for democracy in other countries have turned some interesting findings.

Mitchell Seligson, Centennial Professor of Political Science and founder and director of LAPOP (the Latin American Public Opinion Project), recently received up to $11 million in grant support in new and continuing funding through 2014 to support a project known as the AmericasBarometer, a series of surveys conducted throughout North, Central and South America and the Caribbean that explores attitudes about democracy in various regions.

In 2006-07, LAPOP interviewed more than 34,000 people in 22 countries (including the U.S. and Canada) to measure their democratic values and behaviors. Partnering with university scholars and think tanks in those nations–and also receiving support from the United Nations Development Program, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Center for the Americas at Vanderbilt, the LAPOP group in Nashville includes a team of 11 political science Ph.D. students.

The team collects and analyzes data to determine, among other things, whether people in a particular region prefer a system of democracy or a dictatorship, their experience with street-level corruption and crime, whether they prefer a centralized or decentralized form of government, how much they trust their political systems, and how tolerant they are of diversity.

In 1998, Bolivia was the darling of policymakers, says Seligson, because it was making tremendous strides toward a decentralized government. However, the LAPOP survey numbers didn’t match the rhetoric. LAPOP assessments showed that people didn’t believe such reforms were having any impact.

“Those opinions did not fall on welcome ears,” Seligson recalls. “The policymakers said, ‘We’ve reformed Bolivia.’ A few years later the place was in flames. Presidents were being dismissed. There was a series of protests with a lot of violence. That level of discontent was clear to us in many ways from the surveys we did. We said, ‘Even though the reforms in institutions have been important, the average citizen is not getting the message.’”

Because many of the LAPOP graduate students are from Latin America, South America and the Caribbean, they are able to approach problems from both sides of the divide. “We have a saying in Ecuador: When America sneezes, Ecuador gets a cold,” says graduate student Daniel Montalvo. “Whatever happens in the next few months with the American election will determine the future of the relationship between Ecuador and the United States.”

Many people in South America, Montalvo adds, resent the U.S. open-market policy because, since its implementation, poor countries have been flooded with foreign products. As a result, local manufacturing has dried up and local economies have suffered.

“We can show, through these public-opinion
surveys, Ecuadorians’ opinions about their political system,” Montalvo says. “You now see in the U.S. that people are complaining about these same open-market policies that are causing some people in this country to lose their jobs. It’s a problem of globalization.”

Through LAPOP, Vanderbilt is also collecting and analyzing information that catapults it into the immigration debate. Jon Hiskey, associate professor of political science, notes a correlation between the impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on certain states in Mexico and waves of illegal immigrants entering the United States.

During the past 15 years, the corn-producing southern states in Mexico have been hardest hit by NAFTA–the same states that also spawn the greatest number of undocumented workers. “Once Mexico was pushed to eliminate subsidies on corn, these producers started migrating,” Hiskey says.

Another graduate student, José Miguel Cruz from El Salvador, was recruited away from Oxford’s Ph.D. program and studies crime and violence in Central America. He says on-the-fly immigration policies often aggravate, rather than alleviate, problems in the United States.

Cruz cites deportation policies in which the U.S. captured Salvadoran gang members, deported them, and then simply released them into the streets of Central America. Without jobs or income, they reformed their gangs, collected guns and ammunition, and are now considered a major security threat in the region. “The U.S. has to understand that it is partially responsible for creating this monster by implementing these policies, without thinking about all the implications,” Cruz says.

Ecuadorian graduate student Diana Orces believes these issues highlight the importance of spreading democratic values, and that it will be impossible to deport the 11 million undocumented workers in the United States. “That’s why you have to have a democratic attitude,” she says. “You have to assist them and tolerate them until you find the solution. You have to mitigate the conflict between citizens and immigrants. As academics we can try to find ways to decrease the conflict instead of exacerbating it.”

Mortar Fire and Ice Cream

Sunday, July 13th, 2008


When the Black Hawk helicopter I was flying landed at the American base near Al Qayyarah in early October 2005, ending my role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, it came as welcome relief from the maddening pace of the previous 12 months.

Naively, I had believed that this deployment would have little effect on me. During my 23 years in the service, I have completed assignments in Europe and all over the United States. As a pilot I was removed from the immediate cruelties of war. I thought I would do my year and go home.

As it turned out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The coming year in Iraq would prove to be totally out of my experience, although at the time I did not realize it.

Alerted for deployment in 2004, my National Guard unit, N Troop 4/278 ACR, is a fascinating collection of citizen soldiers who serve because they want to. Our pilots have years of experience, and our crew chiefs are highly trained experts. “Guard” units evolve into stable, close-knit fraternities.

After training at Fort Bragg, we flew out to Iraq in the latter part of October 2004. The feeling of disorientation that comes with transcontinental flight was taking hold by the time we landed in Germany in preparation for the next leg of the flight to Kuwait. After settling in at Camp Udari Kuwait, we completed a short training syllabus and prepared to fly to our base camp up north near Al Qayyarah, site of an old Iraqi air force installation.

Americans call it “Key West” because the Arabic word Qayyarah sounds like “key.” “Key West” was a natural evolution. Although the area sounded exotic, Club Med it wasn’t.

The flight up-country from Kuwait revealed a homogeneous and vast landscape. Occasionally, you’d see a few camels or small villages, but nothing else. It has a certain beauty that I think you have to see to appreciate.

Southeast of Baghdad, while refueling at Tallil, I visited the Italians who were working nearby in their hanger. Three flight-suited maestros–apparently fresh from their naps–were very startled to see me. I was embarrassed at having surprised them, but neither of us really seemed to mind. They were gregarious fellows in the way you might imagine Italian aviators to be. In the future I would learn the importance of being able to rest anywhere, as the Italians had.

Our first days in Key West were hectic, and the learning curve was steep. We were replacing a regular Army unit from New York. Their young pilots had accumulated a career’s worth of experience and were ready to go home. We spent orientation flying with them and learning our way around. Skimming along the desert floor and weaving our way to the landing zone was the routine for safe flights. The low altitude helped reduce the possibility of taking fire. The Army guys were good people and went the extra mile to make sure we were ready.

Shortly after arriving in Key West, we were asked to provide two crews to the commander of coalition forces in Northwest Iraq. This was my assignment. We operated out of Saddam’s presidential site in Mosul, a city best described by one word: brown. The desert comes right up to the city limits, and buildings are a brownish earth-tone color. The Tigris River bisects the town and, aside from the mountains to the north, it is the major geographic feature in the area.

Now, Saddam’s former palace is known as FOB (Forward Operating Base) Courage. Occupied during the invasion, the grounds were suggestive of a small college campus, except now sandbags were everywhere. Protecting the perimeter was a 15-foot wall bristling with guard towers and machine guns.

Hard-core infantry units lived here now. These young men daily left the safety of the base to fight in Mosul, where they learned how cheap life was in the Middle East. They were good at what they did. Units like these do the “heavy lifting” associated with American policy in Iraq. It is messy work.

In a place like this, death is troublesome because it is so random. As an example, while picking up wounded we began taking fire. Mortar rounds landed just outside our helicopter’s rotors.

Fortunately, we escaped that day, but everyone didn’t. An incoming round careened inside a bunker where a young soldier had taken cover. It detonated and took his life. I think of those moments often, about what his family would do now. No happy reunions for them. Moments like these torment those who remain for a long time.

Survival while flying in a combat zone is sometimes a matter of inches. I realized this while approaching the Green Zone heliport in Baghdad late one night. A pair of reconnaissance helicopters passed in opposition, so close to our Black Hawk that our rotors overlapped, narrowly missing a collision. My crew laughed it off and talked about how we’d rather be lucky than good.


Days were long, often many in a row without a break. We did just about everything–flying from the Syrian border to the Iranian frontier, transporting troops, evacuating wounded, and hauling media and political stars who had come to check on the war. We never closed, and there was no saying no.

Being gone so far away and for so long understandably creates changes in perspective. After about three months in Iraq, one begins to appreciate what separation from home really is. During this period the deep bonds of friendship seen only in combat begin to form. Contact with home becomes less frequent. E-mail, packages and phone calls can only do so much.

Gradually, I began to see Iraq as my home, and these people with whom I lived and worked were now like my family. Military life has always required a good deal of separation, but a deployment of this length and under these conditions was definitely uncharted territory for me. My crew became my brothers, and each of us would have done anything for the other.

Even my Iraqi friends offered normalcy in an abnormal situation. We shared holiday traditions, treats from home and thought-provoking conversation. Some of the Iraqis took enormous risks to help us.

You feel marooned in the Middle East, and home is a distant abstract thought. Life is lived in the moment. There is no tomorrow and no yesterday. There is just “now,” and only your crew matters. Rank dissolves, and your team operates with a satisfying sense of purpose. You lose track of days, confidence builds, and you feel bulletproof. It is addictive.

All of this changes when it’s time to go on leave, about midway though your tour of duty. You are extracted from this madness in a rush of jet transports, and you arrive home only hours after dodging small arms fire. American excess is too much now. I was home, on leave, and yet my mind remained back with my unit where I was needed.

Afterwards, we told lies about great times we’d had back home, only to later learn the difficult truth: No one really did.

When my leave ended and I returned to Iraq, temperatures daily rose over 125 degrees and terrorists were more active in attacking our base. A long, hot summer lay ahead of us in more ways than one.

The things that one becomes accustomed to are amazing. Small arms and mortar fire seem routine. During the usual assault one evening, I headed for the safety of a bunker with a freshly scooped bowl of ice cream in my left hand. On the way I tripped and impaled the palm of my right hand on the edge of a counter. Blood gushed as I headed off for stitches, sewn by a disgruntled reservist medic who had just signed up for some college money. I still have the scar, which reminds me of the ribbing I got about the lengths that I’d go to for a medal or a bowl of ice cream.

In August 2005 rumors about going home began spreading, but I didn’t give them much thought. Finally, in September we learned our replacements were in Kuwait and would be flying up any day to relieve us. We knew then that we had to at least think about going home.

It sounds strange, but when we were asked about staying until January if Gen. Rodriquez or Gen. Bergner needed us, everyone instantly said yes. Such was our dedication to the mission, but really more so to each other.

Living near violent death as we had for so long had a price that would someday demand to be paid. So as the end neared, we vowed to leave this experience behind, in Iraq. It would not be fair to anyone to bring this home.

The new guys would learn this as I had. For now we tried to make sure our replacements had the knowledge to be successful, as our predecessors had done for us.

Before we left, the general gave a very nice send-off by saying that we would be missed. In the military no one is indispensable, so this was high praise. We had earned official awards for our actions; however, they pale when compared to the respect and trust our colleagues placed in us. This bond exists only among those who endure the hardships of this path.

The next morning we flew to “Key West,” joining friends we’d left there the year before. During those last days I thought about home a lot. For me, coping had required complete withdrawal from American life to live fully in Iraq. Now all that would need to be reversed–quite a psychological workout. After a few days we flew to Kuwait, deposited our unit’s helicopters on a ship, boarded a jet, and flew to Fort Bragg, N.C. I slept all the way.

My wife drove over the next day, and we began to get reacquainted. It was a happy time for us. I passed on the military’s C -130 ride, choosing instead to drive home and just look at America on the way. As we made our way through East Tennessee, I began to enjoy the clean, cool air of the mountains. I realized how much I had missed my home and family. Most people don’t get the opportunity to see the rest of the world from the perspective I have, but if they did they would realize as I do what a beautiful country America is and how very fortunate we are to be here.

After a few days at home, someone told me that it would be all right to look back at my time in Iraq because remembering those who don’t come home is important. But, I was cautioned, “Don’t stare.”

From time to time I think I will look back on that lifetime lived in Iraq that year. Staring won’t be a problem because there are still 160,000 troops deployed and I’m still in the military. It doesn’t take a genius to know what that means.

Men Who Would Be President

Sunday, July 13th, 2008
Al Gore

Al Gore

Lamar Alexander

Lamar Alexander

Fred Thompson

Fred Thompson

Ross Perot

Ross Perot

In four of the six most recent presidential campaigns, Vanderbilt alumni have watched one of their own vie for his party’s nomination.

Al Gore was a front-runner in the 1988 Democratic race, winning on Super Tuesday. Gore served two terms as vice president before running for the top slot again in 2000. Gore received his party’s nomination and won the popular vote but ultimately lost the 2000 race, one of the most controversial elections in U.S. history.

Gore attended Vanderbilt University Graduate School in 1971-72 and Vanderbilt Law School from 1974 to 1976, when he left to run for Congress.

Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, BA’62, ran in the 1996 Republican
primary race, finishing third in the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. In 2000 Alexander ran again. He now serves as the senior U.S. senator from Tennessee.

Early in the current election cycle, Fred Thompson, JD’67, was considered the preferred candidate for many conservatives. The actor and former U.S. senator dropped out of the race in late January.

Then there’s Ross Perot. The Texas billionaire never attended Vanderbilt–but four of his five children did, and one grandchild, Henry Ross Perot III, is a rising senior in the College of Arts and Science. Ross Perot made history in the 1992 presidential election as the most successful third-party candidate since Teddy Roosevelt, winning nearly 19 percent of the popular vote. He went on to found the Reform Party and ran as its nominee in 1996, winning 8 percent of the popular vote.

On the Trail, 24/7

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

From left: CBS producer/reporter Fernando Suarez, BA’01; ABC producer/ reporter Eloise Harper, BS’02; and Fox News colleague Aaron Bruns.

When producer/reporters Fernando Suarez, BA’01, and Eloise Harper, BS’02, started covering U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign last fall, they could have passed for contestants on the reality show The Amazing Race. Clinton flew around Iowa and the country on a chartered plane, while Suarez and Harper, working for competing television networks, dashed madly after her, patching together commercial flights and speeding down interstates in rented white Pontiacs, GPS units at the ready.

“We didn’t even have time to eat,” Suarez says. “It was all about beating Clinton to an event.”

The demands of a 24/7 news culture led the networks to assign “embedded” producers to this year’s presidential campaigns: young, off-air staffers charged with finding the news buried in the repetitive routine of stumping for votes. As the eyes and ears of their networks (he works for CBS, she for ABC), Suarez and Harper attended every event to which Clinton allowed press access, with laptops and video cameras in tow.

“We have to write and shoot and do radio,” Harper says, noting that this includes several blog entries a day. “We worry about all the platforms.”

The reporters’ logistics eased up once the campaign began organizing travel, food and lodging for the press corps, but the grueling schedule did not. When we tracked down Harper and Suarez in April, they were more than six months into a regimen of 12- to 20-hour workdays. Suarez had just one day free between late October and Super Tuesday in March.

“There are tough moments, but you realize there is nowhere else you’d rather be,” Suarez says. “We’ve been to more than 40 states, to so many corners and rural areas. It gives you an amazing picture of the country. There are so many different concerns that people have.”

Suarez and Harper, who knew each other at Vanderbilt, were delighted to meet up on the trail. Together with another young reporter from Fox, they logged the most time on the road with Clinton’s press corps. They developed such detailed knowledge of the campaign that they instantly recognize the smallest changes in rhetoric, message and mood.

Their cameras always at the ready, these reporters can catch unscripted moments that once never would have been recorded. Harper’s video of Clinton reacting to flags falling behind her after a press conference last November got hundreds of thousands of hits on ABC’s Web site.

Suarez hopes his experience encourages other Vanderbilt students who may have an interest in journalism.

“There’s no official journalism program at Vanderbilt, but you can do this,” Suarez says, crediting Professor Richard Pride’s class in political journalism with piquing his interest in the field.

Suarez went to work in journalism immediately after graduation. Harper spent her first year out as a financial analyst, but quickly realized she wanted to change careers. Both made quick progress at their networks, learning the ropes as bookers and fledgling producers. Now they are at the center of the political universe, helping to break stories that could affect the course of this country for years into the future.

Harper and Suarez are not sure what comes next. Having proved their skills, smarts and tenacity covering this historic election, both are poised for bright futures in broadcast journalism.

Tarof and Sweet Tea

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Photo by John Russell

Turning 21 seemed like it was going to be a big deal. After all, I was finally reaching the governmental “go-ahead” that teenagers and college students across the country seem to long for. And yet April 24, 2008, turned out to be nothing special–only a date on which the numbers on my ID officially qualified me for the things my receding hairline and 5 o’clock shadow already could give me. The balding, the touch of gray in my sideburns, the stresses of post-graduate planning, the uncomfortable glances I can now attract just by standing near a group of freshman girls at a party–have all started to make me feel old already.

To tell the truth, I spent my 21st birthday studying, and the day afterward taking exams.

But in an hour of reflection the evening after my birthday, a feeling not only of change but also of significance came over me. Thinking about my experiences thus far and the hardships I was preparing to undertake in the coming years, my mind turned to my parents.

They have often reminded me of what life was like for them at my age, in lectures much like those many children hear from their parents. But I knew my parents’ experiences differed drastically from those of my friends’ families. By the time they turned 30, my parents had lived through a governmental overthrow, a revolution, and an emigration halfway around the globe.

Most people can tell from my name alone that my heritage lies outside this nation’s great borders. Born and raised in Lexington, Ky., I am the first-generation American from my family–quite literally. My mother, father and older sister traveled to the United States from Iran in 1983. The Islamic Revolution left my father, who worked for a Western company, without a job, struggling to support my mother and older sister, who was only 2 years old. Having spent his college years abroad in Lexington, my father returned to the city with them to start a new life. I was born four years later, and my younger sister two years after that.

In many ways I had a childhood that could be considered standard for an American boy. I was heavily involved in sports, spent a great deal of time hanging out with friends and classmates at the movies and the mall, listened to all the current Billboard hits, and adopted signature regional alterations to my speech like “y’all” and “good Lord” for a period of time.

There were also Persian versions of activities that made my upbringing unique. A lifelong soccer player as well as a champion high school coach, my father transferred his relationship with soccer to me when I was just 3. As my high school years approached, I signed up for wrestling–a sport that is a historic source of national pride (as well as frequent Olympic medals) in Iran.

When friends came to my home, they found themselves in a world of Persian rugs and paintings, bombarded by an abundance of food and hospitality. There is a common word in Persian culture for excessive kindness: tarof. To finish your dinner is a must, to forgo seconds almost an insult. While dinner with friends often consisted of eating out or deliveries, the average Persian dish would take at least two or three hours to prepare. When guests were coming, meal preparation could take the entire day as well as the night before. I had to finish my school lunches in half the amount of time as other kids; the other half I spent explaining to my classmates what it was I was eating.


Nevertheless, my appreciation for my cultural inheritance has increased as I have grown older. When I was 9, I spent a summer with family in Iran. I can remember seeing all the relatives I had only heard about before, though I strain to recollect my impressions of the place itself–the people, the landscape, the streets, or the atmosphere in Tehran, the capital city. What I remember best is that which Iranians like my family have continued in America: the abundance and importance of get-togethers with family and friends, the telling of stories and jokes, the gatherings around large tables of food and desserts, the playing of music, and the recitation of ancient poetry over a cup of tea.

Over time my ability to recognize a fellow Iranian has become increasingly uncanny. There’s always something about the hair: the naturally jet-black color (or reddish or blonde augmentation for many women who have been in the U.S. for some time), the thick mustache under the protruding noses of older men, the darkened shadow of stubble on a younger one’s face.

The dead giveaway, though, is always the eyebrows. It is what ancient and modern traditional painters employ to capture the classic Persian complexion: the broad, wide arc of the elegant female, and the thick, slightly lowered band of the man, who consequently conveys a tinge of austerity.

Not only have I used this sixth sense to identify Iranians among groups of people, I also have developed an interest in determining the heritage of all sorts of individuals. I’ll even attempt, on occasion, to guess the heritage of my classmates.

One of my parents’ greatest gifts was bestowed before I was even conscious of it. I was about 5 years old when I realized my other friends could not understand the language my parents were using around me–Persian, also known as Parsi or Farsi. I have often thought about how strange and fascinating it has been to understand another language even before I was capable of making my earliest memories.

As I grew older I realized I could understand a tongue that had been virtually unchanged for thousands of years and shared by my ancient ancestors. Because I could understand Persian, I could also understand bits and pieces of languages such as Dari, Armenian, Urdu, Turkish and Hindi–idioms whose regions reflect this ancient influence.

Today it’s one thing to read translations from news coverage of infamous people like Osama bin Laden. It’s a completely different feeling to be able to turn away from the television and still decipher what he’s saying.

The experience of being Iranian-American has not been free of negative consequences. In the same way that the Iranian hostage crisis brought unwanted attention to my mother, father and older sister in the early 1980s, the events of Sept. 11 and the voice of bin Laden evoked an even greater sense of distrust, hate and misunderstanding. Before the end of that fateful day, students had already destroyed my father’s car in the high school parking lot. In subsequent weeks they would petition to be removed from his classroom and send him threatening messages.

While I have been surrounded by good friends and caring people most of my life, I still know what it feels like to see the subtle change of facial expression when I tell a person I’m from Iran. I know what it’s like to be “randomly” yet consistently selected for special screenings at the airport, or to make sure I shave right before I head out to catch a flight. Even though I’m not even Arab, having a surname that’s separated by two letters from the word “Hussein” seems to be enough.

Nonetheless, were it not for these experiences, good and bad, I am certain I would not have encountered, nor even sought out, the others who have fundamentally shaped me into the person I am today. I will graduate in one year’s time with a degree consisting of a main course of neuroscience with side dishes of psychology and philosophy along the way. In a quest to better understand the human mind, brain and being, I have sought to learn more about myself as well.

In many ways it seems my life of balancing cultures has led to a lifestyle of balancing interests. While my high school period was busy with these various activities– wrestling, cultural organizations, violin, art, volunteer work and the like–the greater part of my career at Vanderbilt, I hope, will have been spent not only furthering my growth and education, but those of the community as well. For that reason, in my sophomore year, I founded what is now known as the Iranian Cultural Society at Vanderbilt.

Beneath the ever-looming tension and complexity of international politics and media coverage lie a very ancient civilization and tradition in Iran about which the majority of people in the Western Hemisphere–including myself–know far too little. It is a blessing to have lived in a place where these rich cultures and traditions have sprouted and grown through my life. My hope is that one day I may return to that other half of my identity and share my experience with others.

Meet the Ancestors

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

In 1962 my decision to apply to Vanderbilt School of Engineering made little or no sense. I had grown up in Savannah, Ga., and knew little about Vanderbilt and even less about Nashville–except that the city was named for my ancestor Francis Nash.

When I informed my high school guidance counselor of my college choice, I was told that I should not aim so high. That did it. I applied, and against all odds, Vanderbilt, my singular choice, accepted me for early admission.

Alexander Heard had just been named Vanderbilt’s chancellor. My mother had dated him as a high school student in Savannah, and she assured me that if I ever landed in jail, “Alex” would get me out.

Despite my excellent prep-school training, I took a beating in Melvyn New’s freshman English class. Words like “trite,” “redundant,” “clichéd,” “hackneyed” and “verbose” continued to appear in red pencil on my English compositions. I was, however, permitted to opt out of Western Civilization–discretion being the better part of valor (another cliché).


Upon my Vanderbilt graduation in 1966, I returned to Savannah and worked there for eight years before moving my family to Nashville, where I had accepted an engineering position. Back in Nashville my interest in Francis Nash and his older brother, North Carolina Gov. Abner Nash (my fourth great-grandfather), led to what would become my all-consuming passion: the American Revolutionary period.

As my interest grew I became acutely aware that the American Revolution is a forgotten war, particularly in the South where it is overshadowed by the War Between the States. Few of this generation can name a single Revolutionary War general other than George Washington and perhaps Lafayette.

Periodically, I would write an article for The Tennessean about Brig. Gen. Nash, who gave his life for his country and his name to Nashville. In 2001 the Francis Nash Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) asked me to address its members on the occasion of its 70th anniversary.

Rather than filing away my talk afterwards, I kept writing. The Tennessee State Archives provided much information about the North Carolina history of the two Nash brothers, and the Library of Congress and the University of Virginia provided online transcriptions of letters that proved invaluable–letters to (and from) Abner and Francis Nash, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and members of the Continental Congress. My book, Patriot Sons, Patriot Brothers (2006, Westview Publishing Inc.), places the lives of Francis and Abner Nash in the historical context of the defense of Philadelphia, the Southern campaign of the American Revolution, the Continental Congresses, the drafting of the North Carolina and U.S. constitutions, the settling of East and Middle Tennessee, and the naming of Nashville, Tenn.

History makes no record of either brother ever visiting the area that would become Middle Tennessee. How, then, did Tennessee’s capital city come to be called Nashville?

My fifth great-grandfather, John Nash, owned a 13,000-acre tobacco plantation in Prince Edward County, Va. His sons, Francis and Abner, sold their inheritance to seek their fortune. Francis relocated to Hillsborough, N.C., in 1763. The two brothers dammed the Eno River, built a grist mill, and invested in several other Hillsborough businesses. Abner moved on to New Bern, where he would become perhaps the best trial attorney in the Province of North Carolina.

Francis was appointed superior court judge at the age of 21. As Hillsborough grew to become the political and cultural center of the province, Francis grew in stature and popularity. Francis married Sarah (Sally) Moore, granddaughter of the colonial governor of South Carolina.

Francis Nash was handsome and athletic and presented a striking image on horseback, according to William Richardson Davie, lawyer, soldier, and founder of the University of North Carolina. History indicates that Francis’ appearance did not go unnoticed by the local barmaids.

As members of North Carolina’s ruling class, with the advantages of birth, wealth, education and marriage, Francis Nash and his brother, Abner, served in the colonial assemblies of Royal Governors William Tryon and Josiah Martin.

In 1771, serving under Gov. Tryon, Francis Nash proved himself courageous in the Battle of Alamance, fighting a band of “regulators”–backcountry farmers who had organized an armed rebellion to protest abuse by the provincial government. Alamance would forever change Francis Nash’s worldview. The king’s governor hanged one of the rebels, James Few, near the battlefield and executed several more regulators in Hillsborough–all without trial.

Over the next five years, Francis Nash attended the not-so-clandestine provincial congresses, where grievances against King George III were debated. When North Carolina signed the Declaration of Independence, Nash was appointed colonel in North Carolina’s Continental Army and later became brigadier general.

After the defense of Charleston in 1776, Nash returned to North Carolina to recruit. He marched his nine regiments, consisting of 2,000 men, north to join George Washington, arriving in Philadelphia in time to attend the first Fourth of July celebration.

Nash served at the Battle of Brandywine Creek and then at Germantown, both in the defense of Philadelphia. At Germantown, as Francis marched his troops behind Washington’s caravan, a 6-pound cannonball flew out of the smoke and fog and over Washington’s head. The ball struck Nash’s horse in the neck and crushed Nash’s thigh. Both fell to the ground, with the brigadier general pinned under the dead horse. Maj. James Witherspoon was killed instantly when the same ball struck him in the head.

George Washington assigned his personal physician to care for Nash, but the general could not be saved. After enduring a bumpy and painful 30-mile wagon ride, Nash died four days later at nearby Towamencin on the road to Valley Forge. He is said to have bled through two feather beds.

Nash’s funeral was attended by American Revolutionary War heroes Washington, Lafayette and Pulaski; Generals Nathanael Greene, Anthony Wayne and John Sullivan; and 11,000 continental soldiers. Francis Nash left behind a wife and two young daughters. What a terrible price this 35-year-old officer paid for our country.

Abner’s slight physique and poor health made him unfit for battle, but he demonstrated no less love for his country than his brother. One contemporary described him as “vehemence and fire” in the courtroom. While Francis Nash fought the king’s army, Abner was serving as the first speaker of North Carolina’s House of Commons.

Following his brother’s death, Abner Nash was elected North Carolina speaker of the senate, and then governor. He was inaugurated governor the very day Charleston fell to the British. His term spanned the debacle at Camden and the successful battles of Kings Mountain, Cowpens and Guilford Courthouse.

In the fall of 1786, Abner, who had endured the ravages of tuberculosis for most of his public life, traveled to New York to represent North Carolina in the Congress. His consumption worsened.

“Congress has not yet elected a President owing to their [sic] being too few States on the floor,” wrote Virginia Congressman William Grayson to James Monroe on Nov. 22. “Mr. Nash of N. Carolina, who lies dangerously ill, is talked of generally, & nothing but his death or extreme ill health I am persuaded will prevent his election [as president of Congress].”

Abner Nash, age 46, died a few days later. Had he lived, he likely would have become president of the Congress, and no doubt would have signed the United States Constitution for North Carolina nine months later.

Tennessee did not become a state until 1796. While Francis Nash was fighting the British and Abner was helping establish a fledgling new government, Daniel Boone was exploring the vast lands to the west. Boone convinced North Carolina judge Richard Henderson that the time was right for western investment, and in 1775 Henderson and several others, including North Carolinian James Robertson, struck a bargain with the Cherokee Indians. For 2,000 pounds sterling and another 8,000 pounds in goods, the Cherokees deeded over more than 20 million acres, which included about two-thirds of present-day Kentucky and much of Middle Tennessee.

Francis Nash had served in Henderson’s court, and two others investors, Thomas Hart and William Johnston, had been associates of Nash in Hillsborough. It is likely that Thomas Hart’s brother and partner, Nathaniel Hart, knew Francis as well. The State Record of North Carolina in 1784 recorded an act calling for the establishment of a town to be called “Nash-Ville, in memory of the patriotic and brave General Nash,” on the Cumberland River near the French Lick.

Two other towns also would come to be named for Francis Nash: Nashville, Ga., and Nashville, N.C.

Francis Nash’s final resting place, however, is at Kulpsville, Pa., a few miles from the place where a cannonball felled him. Many years later, in 1935, Nashville, Tenn., experienced what must have been a media frenzy when a movement to remove Gen. Nash’s body to the city named in his honor caught fire. The Daughters of the American Revolution got involved. There were letters to the editor, telegrams, and even a special telephone exchange set up by Southern Bell to receive votes in favor of the proposed removal. But the body was never moved.

Today Francis Nash’s grave remains in Pennsylvania, where he fought his last battle. The only marker commemorating him in Nashville, Tenn., is a bronze plaque downtown at the Fort Nashborough facsimile on First Avenue.

My ancestor never could have predicted that he would lend his name not only to a city he had never visited, but to an enduring style of music. Nashville’s phone book lists more than 50 households of Nashes. Most, I suspect, do not trace their names back to my ancestors and know little of the man for whom their city is named.

Candidates, Scandalgates and Battleground States

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

John Geer


Christian Grose


Bruce Oppenheimer


Mitchell Seligson


Neal Tate

Photos by John Russell and Steve Green

The economy is floundering. The housing industry is in crisis. Gas and energy prices are skyrocketing. The country is faced with immigration issues, burgeoning debt, an unpopular war, and an unprecedented election year in which an African American, a woman, and a former P.O.W. emerged as the top competitors for the presidency. It’s both an unsettling and an inspiring time to be an American.

It’s also a terrific time to be an American political scientist. More and more often, faculty members in Vanderbilt’s political science department are contributing to the public debate, adding an academic’s perspective about political events, both here and abroad. From The Washington Post to The Los Angeles Times, it’s a rare day in this election year when at least one Vanderbilt political science faculty member isn’t called upon for insight and analysis.

And given the current backdrop of change, tension and expectation, Vanderbilt political science students are more engaged in politics than they have been in decades. Professors are using the current election as a teaching tool to examine fundamental political science theory in real time.

Christian Grose has taught at Vanderbilt since 2005, and every year he delivers lectures about conventions and delegates. Often students find the subject matter dry. “But now it’s very exciting,” says the assistant professor of political science. “They’re asking probing and detailed questions about past Democratic and Republican conventions.”

Political science scholars offer perspectives that students don’t get by watching network news programs or reading popular blogs.

Bruce Oppenheimer, professor of political science, follows political races all across the country and, using empirical models, makes predictions about election outcomes. “Conventional wisdom isn’t always right,” he says, citing the 2006 congressional elections as an example. Election watchers claimed that Democrats had a chance to win control of the House of Representatives because of the declining popularity of the Bush administration–but they wouldn’t win control of the Senate.

“I said that the Democrats had a good chance of winning both the House and the Senate,” Oppenheimer recalls. “That was based on an analysis of the totality of all the things that were going on. And I was right.”

While the media tend to look at the larger numbers in opinion polls, Oppenheimer and his colleagues often focus on the smaller numbers. Suppose, for example, that 80 percent of polled voters say they don’t have a problem voting for an African American or a woman. News outlets will overwhelmingly tout the majority opinion. Oppenheimer, however, is more curious about the minority of voters who say they won’t support those candidates.

“In a landslide election it’s not a big deal,” he says, “but in a close election, you’d better find out who that 20 percent is.”

Academicians are particularly adept at teasing out the subtle factors that influence people’s behavior. Oppenheimer and Christian Grose published research in the Legislative Studies Quarterly (November 2007) correlating how the number of casualties among hometown soldiers worked against Republicans running in congressional districts–including formerly popular incumbents running in Republican strongholds.

“We examined the impact of Iraq war deaths on the congressional vote in the November 2006 elections,” Grose explains. “We found that the majority of the American public had moved against the war in Iraq, and thus this issue helped the Democrats. … Specifically, for every two local soldier deaths in a congressional district, the Republican candidate did about 1 percent worse in the 2006 election compared to the 2004 election in the same district.”

The 24-hour news cycle has altered the blueprint for political races, which means that students are actually helping professors form a clearer vision of the modern political process. Vanderbilt undergraduates provide a window into the attitudes of their generation, particularly when it comes to accessing communication channels like television, alternative radio and the Internet.

Vanderbilt is increasingly bringing in outside experts like Roy Neel, BA’72, former chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore, to teach classes in political science.
Photo by Joh nRussell

“They’re much more savvy than I am at using those resources,” Grose says. “Which is good for me, because they clue me in on things that are appearing on YouTube and Web blogs. Then I’ll hear about it in the mainstream news a month later.”

Political science has been one of the most popular majors on the Vanderbilt campus for decades, and for many years it has been the second most popular major (after economics) in the College of Arts and Science. Currently, between 275 and 300 undergraduates are majoring in political science. Many will use the experience as a foundation for law school or careers in the public arena.

Since as early as the 1920s, Vanderbilt political science professors have been weighing in on the most important issues of the day: the League of Nations, World War II, the Cold War, the Middle East. Vanderbilt’s fifth chancellor, Alexander Heard, was considered a brilliant political scientist who was named by President John F. Kennedy to serve on the Commission on Campaign Costs.

In 1940 political science, which previously had been part of the same department as history at Vanderbilt, became a department in its own right. In the 1950s and ’60s, under the leadership of renowned political theorist Avery Leiserson, the political science department at Vanderbilt was considered among the top 20 in the nation, going head-to-head in prestige against much bigger programs at Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Michigan.

While the media tend to look at the larger numbers in opinion polls, political scientists may be more curious about the minority who say they won’t support particular candidates.

Troubled Waters

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the department became increasingly embroiled in an internal battle on a variety of issues, including the merits of applying quantitative and mathematical methods to an essentially soft science. Personalities clashed, feelings were hurt, egos were bruised.

Administrators eventually took the dramatic step of placing the department in receivership, meaning that an outside chairman ran the department and faculty members were not allowed to make hiring or firing decisions. Amid the turmoil, several respected faculty members departed for calmer waters. Some believed university administrators had overreacted to the kinds of problems political science departments were experiencing nationwide.

In 2003, Neal Tate, who had been dean of the graduate school at the University of North Texas in Denton, accepted the challenge to take the helm of the unruly political science program at Vanderbilt. “The faculty members who remained, both tenured and tenure-track, were very supportive of me,” Tate says. “So we started out trying to recruit new and excellent faculty as our first priority,” not only to fill in the existing gaps, but also to expand.

Illustration by Kevin Rechi

By the end of that academic year, they had signed three new faculty members. Three years later they had increased that number to eight. By the fall of 2008, an additional seven new faculty members will be on board, arriving from Duke, Princeton, Stanford, and the Universities of California at Berkeley and Davis. Their research interests span the spectrum from minority politics to international relations to the presidency and executive policy.

“We could hire seven people in a year. That’s not hard,” says John Geer, Distinguished Professor of Political Science. “But hiring seven people of this caliber is unprecedented.”

Brokering peace agreements and growing the political science department by more than 50 percent in such a short period of time has been both exhilarating and exhausting. Tate will take a sabbatical year beginning in the fall to focus on his comparative research interests, examining the judicial processes in foreign countries. Geer will serve as acting chair in Tate’s absence.

Even during its most obstreperous days, the political science faculty continued to maintain a high standard of excellence. Geer, for example, became editor of the Journal of Politics, one of the most respected publications in the discipline, and he continues in that role today.

Faculty members also have become open to creative teaching strategies. Over the last few years, the department has enlisted any number of outside experts to serve as adjunct professors. Roy Neel, BA’72, former chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore; Harold Ford Jr., former U.S. representative and current chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council; and Republican party strategist Vin Weber, who spearheaded policy for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, have taught (or team-taught with Geer) political science courses and special seminars. During the spring 2008 semester, for example, Roy Neel taught a course on presidential transitions.

“Mr. Neel should know that subject matter better than anybody,” Tate says. “He had the chance to plan a transition in great detail and begin executing it, before Al Gore was ultimately declared to have lost the 2000 election.”

Unconventional Wisdom

Scholars are playing an important role in proffering nonpartisan evidence, theories and conversations about the issues central to our country, particularly as the United States grows increasingly polarized between red and blue voters and between the haves and have-nots.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, center, speaks to an American political leadership class taught by former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, right, who now chairs the Democratic Leadership Council. At left is John Geer, professor of political science.
Photo by Niel Brake.

“Because tempers are running so high, evidence that political scientists gather, analyze and discuss becomes even more important, because oftentimes conventional wisdom is off,” says Geer. “For example, people are claiming that the Democrats are going to tear themselves apart and McCain is holding a slight lead in the polls. As political scientists, we know this isn’t true. This is not a partisan statement, but the state of the economy structures the campaign at the presidential level. The economy is struggling, and that means John McCain faces more of an uphill battle than any poll is suggesting.”

Geer is in familiar territory when making claims that contradict conventional wisdom. Author of In Defense of Negativity: Attack Ads in Presidential Campaigns (University of Chicago Press, 2006), he sees attack ads as usually doing more good than harm by stirring up fresh ideas and generating essential debates. Sometimes, he says, the most qualified candidate will only get traction if he or she raises doubts about the other side. “Rather than hand-wringing about the ill effects, this strikes me as a good thing,” he insists.

The men and women of Vanderbilt’s department are jumping feet-forward into the fray, trying to weigh in objectively on many of the flashpoint issues that affect us all. Whether they are studying American elections, foreign judiciaries, immigration issues or floor-fights at nominating conventions, political scientists essentially illuminate the “science” part of political science, providing data and nonpartisan analysis that may make us all better citizens. And that, perhaps, is the most valuable contribution an academic political science department can make.

“We think this is one of the best places in the country to work if you’re a political scientist,” says Neal Tate. “Which means it’s one of the best places to study if you’re a political science major or a political science graduate student. And we’re very proud of that.”

Chancellor Checkmates Bishops

Sunday, July 13th, 2008
McTyeire and Kirkland

Methodist Bishop Holland McTyeire, left, envisioned a Vanderbilt inspired by church values. Chancellor James Kirkland wanted a nonsectarian university.

“Who controls Vanderbilt University?” “Who founded Vanderbilt–northern money or southern Methodists?”

A century ago fierce questions about the status of Vanderbilt inflamed debate across the South. And the way they were answered–decisively, painfully in 1914–has shaped the destiny of the university and its divinity school, as well as religion and education in the South, ever since.

It may come as news to recent Vanderbilt alumni that their university used to be a thoroughly Methodist institution, where Methodist bishops patrolled board meetings and piety was a faculty credential. That was Vanderbilt in its first decades, late in the 19th century.

By the early 20th century, however, competing visions of the university’s future were in open conflict.

From the start, the mandate was to make Vanderbilt a top-ranked university in the South and the nation. How to do it? The involvement of church denizens at Vanderbilt’s beginnings supplied decisive leadership, but it also introduced tensions that were impossible to resolve: intellectual freedom vs. religious tradition, national ambitions vs. local responsibilities.

After a stormy series of lawsuits ending in 1914, the Methodists washed their hands of the university and Vanderbilt embarked on a new course–nonsectarian, free to pursue excellence by its own lights. Even so, those old tensions between free speech and orthodoxy continue to play out in American culture. The history of the Vanderbilt-Methodist crisis offers a tale of the clash of well-intentioned ideals and unforeseen outcomes.

“Church leaders wanted the institution to be more integrated into the life of the church, and the institution thought it needed to be the best it could be–and that might mean hiring non-Methodists,” says Frank Gulley, PhD’61, emeritus professor of church history at the Divinity School and a Methodist scholar, who contributed an essay about the crisis in Vanderbilt Divinity School: Education, Contest and Change, a 2001 book edited by Dale A. Johnson, the Drucilla Moore Buffington Professor of Church History, emeritus.

“My sense is the break was inevitable,” adds Gulley.


The struggle for control of Vanderbilt made headlines from the student newspaper to The New York Times.

No one saw conflict at first. Vanderbilt’s original leaders, Methodist bishops of the South after the Civil War, dreamed of a new university, inspired by church values, that would become a national institution and lead the South out of the disarray of defeat.

It was never a simple proposition. Such a vision of higher education cost money, and there wasn’t much in 1865. The war had dealt a severe blow to regional prosperity. The Methodists were the largest national Protestant group and dominant in the South through the Methodist Episcopal Church South (MECS). Nevertheless, most of their own Dixie-based schools had shut down after the war.

But the dream wouldn’t rest. By 1871 progressive Methodist leaders in Tennessee, including Bishop Holland McTyeire, declared they would raise money for a new first-class university, with a theological school attached. They were convinced the New South needed a university to keep up with a rising middle class, meet the challenges of an industrial economy, and prepare clergy for a coming milieu of modernism and urbanization.

Not all Methodists in the South agreed. Many, maybe most, were ambivalent about a new institution of higher education and a school for ministers. An old assumption remained deeply persuasive: God would call the ministers God needed. Preaching skills and Bible reading were inspired by the Spirit, not German models of education or the Ivy League example. Methodism had succeeded as a populist frontier faith by emphasizing right living and experiential religion. Higher learning leads to heresy, skepticism, elitism.

But progressives replied that an “ecclesiastical West Point” would forge a better grade of clergy, a forward-looking Southern cadre of ethical leaders. Graduates would fan out as Christian prophets to civilize the new gilded age of materialism.

And the progressives prevailed in 1875, the year Vanderbilt University opened, but only because northern money came through. New Yorker Cornelius Vanderbilt ultimately provided nearly $1 million after meeting visionary Bishop Holland McTyeire. The aging Commodore was no churchman, but he had been seeking a beneficiary for his riches and was impressed by McTyeire’s plan. Vanderbilt’s offer to fund establishment of the university was made March 17, 1873, and was accepted by the MECS leadership 11 days later. (See Gone With the Ivy: A Biography of Vanderbilt University, by Paul K. Conkin, for the full story.) Nashville, already a Methodist hub (the publishing house was there), was the chosen location.

The university was divided into five departments–academic (arts and sciences), education, law, medicine, theology–and straightaway made furious efforts to establish patterns of competency and build a reputation. Theology became the “Biblical Department,” a term perhaps devised as “a concession to fears among some in the church that this venture was going to develop theological sophisticates who could not communicate with the common people,” Gulley writes in Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Slowly, though, as administrators got more ambitious about building a faculty of distinction, hirings went against the ecclesiastical grain. Discontent was foreshadowed as early as 1878 in the case of geology professor Alexander Winchell. He was a strong scholar, a good Methodist–and an enthusiastic evolutionist. Some administrators suspected his notions might corrupt the ministers-in-training across campus. So Winchell’s contract was not renewed. It was dawning on Vanderbilt leaders that it might be difficult to protect students from fresh intellectual currents.


Headings within the Supreme Court opinion explain why it overturned the Davidson County Chancery Court decision in 1914. The historic separation of church and college helped lead to the founding of Emory and Southern Methodist universities.

“The MECS had created a form of theological education it could not control,” writes church historian Glenn Miller in Vanderbilt Divinity School.

Church suspicions about Vanderbilt’s direction increased as qualified non-Methodists swelled the faculty ranks by the turn of the 20th century. A new arena of conflict then emerged–within the Board of Trust. Guided by Chancellor James Kirkland, the board was growing confident that it should be free from clergy influence to make decisions to improve Vanderbilt’s academic standing. The board’s view was that the Commodore, not the church, founded the university. At the same moment, dramatic growth in Methodism increased the expectation that more bishops would be named to the board. But Kirkland wanted more lawyers and businessmen on the board, not bishops, Gulley writes. In 1905, Kirkland proposed redefining the board to be autonomous from church power. Some Methodist leaders took this as an act of disloyalty and creeping secularism.

Through church publications and pulpits, a campaign stirred to take back Vanderbilt. Confrontation came in 1910, when church delegates approved a Methodist commission’s report that called for reclaiming the university. Kirkland and the board refused.

The Methodists sued in Nashville’s Davidson County Chancery Court, arguing Vanderbilt belonged to the church. And they won–until the Tennessee Supreme Court reversed the Davidson Court decision on March 21, 1914, ruling that bishops had no power over the school. Legally, anyway, the Commodore had founded Vanderbilt after all.

The Methodists wasted no time disowning the school and calling for the formation of two new church-based Southern universities. They would become Emory University in Atlanta and Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

One Divinity School professor looks back on the crisis with a sense of loss.

“There was hubris on both sides,” says Douglas Meeks, the Cal Turner Chancellor’s Professor of Wesleyan Studies and professor of theology.

“But I don’t think the split was inevitable. If a few progressives and moderates in the church had prevailed, it’s possible the relationship could have continued. It’s inevitable that there is tension, but it all depends on who the leaders are.”

Post-1914, the university was free to move forward (and freer to pursue grant money without sectarian restrictions). But the new freedom intensified a drama in one campus corner–the Biblical Department. It was now bereft of Methodist support or a steady supply of Methodist students.

The divorce of 1914 was felt most acutely there. Many universities had slowly drifted away from their denominational origins–Harvard from the Puritans, for instance. But the Methodist break with Vanderbilt appears to be unique in education annals, historian Glenn Miller suggests in Vanderbilt Divinity School. Its abruptness forced the Biblical Department to reinvent itself to survive. The department quickly was renamed the School of Religion and embarked on a new adventure in theological, interdenominational identity.

The timing was intriguing. The School of Religion reorganized during a period when a national ecumenical spirit was gaining ground, and Christian activists hoped to reform America to improve race relations, housing conditions and labor laws. Vanderbilt’s School of Religion would emerge as a voice of liberal Christian reform in the South, a moderating force in the midst of conservative religion, unrestricted by any sectarian doctrinal dictate.

To survive, though, it needed new relationships with church life, and the decades after 1914 witnessed various initiatives–with the YMCA, the Disciples of Christ denomination, rural churches and with Methodists. Though not a majority, once again Methodists eventually represented the largest single group of students at the religion school. (That statistic holds true today in the Vanderbilt Divinity School, the name for the School of Religion since 1956.)

By the 1990s prominent Nashvillian and Methodist businessman Cal Turner Jr., BA’62, issued substantial gifts to Vanderbilt. They made possible the chair in Wesleyan studies and the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions. Last year he gave $2.9 million more to the divinity school for Methodist student fellowships.

“If this program can have an impact on the clergy leadership of the church, that will have a multiplier effect on our society,” Turner announced last year. “These men and women who become effective ministers will have great impact on the lives of others, who will in turn have great impact on the lives of others, and so on for many years to come.”

A long, turbulent saga over a university’s future, and the role the church should play in it, was now the distant past.

Sports Roundup

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Vanderbilt lacrosse finished the season with a school-record 13 victories and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Photo by Steve Green.

Football: NFL Draftees and 2008 Team Captains

The Chicago Bears took two Commodores in the NFL draft: Offensive lineman Chris Williams, BS’07, was the 14th pick in the first round, and wide receiver
Earl Bennett was selected in the third round. They join former Commodore
linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, BS’03, on the Bears squad. Two-time Vandy
captain and All-SEC linebacker Jonathan Goff, BE’07, was selected by the
New York Giants in the fifth round. Other Commodores signed as free agents:
linebacker Marcus Buggs, BS’07, with the New York Giants and defensive
end Curtis Gatewood, BS’07, with the Washington Redskins. On the home
front the Commodores chose their captains for the 2008 season: senior
safety Reshard Langford, junior offensive lineman Bradley Vierling, and senior wide receiver George Smith.

Women’s Basketball: Another Sweet Season

The Vanderbilt women finished with a 25-9 record and won a school-record 11 regular-season SEC games. They advanced to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 round for the third time in five years. Junior Christina Wirth was named first-team All-SEC, junior Jennifer Risper earned second-team All-SEC honors, and freshmen Jence Rhoads and Hannah Tuomi were named to the All-Freshman Team.

Men’s Basketball: Big Record and Best Player

The Commodores finished the season with a 26-8 overall record and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. They tied a school record by winning 25 regular-season games and began the year with a 16-0 run, the best start for a Vanderbilt team in school history. During the season they knocked off then-No. 1-ranked Tennessee in Nashville, the second consecutive year the Commodores have beaten the No. 1-ranked team in the nation. Senior Shan Foster was named Vanderbilt’s Most Valuable Player and SEC Player of the Year, and was named a second-team All-American by the Associated Press. He leaves Vanderbilt as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,011 points and the all-time leader in three-pointers made and attempted. He also won the 2007-08 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, selected by a nationwide vote of coaches, media and fans, presented annually to college basketball’s outstanding NCAA Division I senior student-athlete. Freshman A.J. Ogilvy was named to the All-SEC second team and was a unanimous selection to the league’s All-Freshman team.

Women’s Tennis: Team Reaches Sweet 16 in NCAA Tourney

The Commodores advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament, losing 4-1 to No. 6 Florida, and finished the season with a 20-6 record.

Men’s Tennis: Advance to NCAA Tourney

The men reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament after beating Indiana 4-3, but bowed out after losing to Ole Miss 4-1. The team was ranked 29th in the nation and finished with an overall record of 14-10.

Where are they now?

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Photo by John Russell

On the banks of the Cumberland River, overlooking the practice facility of the Tennessee Titans, sits Chip’s Place. And at Chip’s Place you’ll find Chip Healy, ‘68, former All-American linebacker for the Commodores and a two-year veteran of the old St. Louis Cardinals professional football team. Chip’s Place is the user-friendly nickname for Transitional Living Inc., a sober-living community he founded in 2000 to provide a drug- and alcohol-free place for men to live and grow while recovering from their addictions. “This was an old fish camp,” Healy says of the seven-building campus. “They were a bunch of places people built after the war … little cabins that were a nice place to get away from the city.” Healy himself benefited from a recovery program 11 years ago and believes he was led to find the property for a purpose. A father of two and grandfather of four, he says a typical successful stay at Chip’s Place lasts eight months. The men pay rent and are required to work and attend 12-step meetings.

Find out more:

Stroke of Magic

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

After posting four Top 10 finishes, Jon Curran was selected to compete in the 2008 NCAA East Region Championship.
Photo by John Russell.

Jon Curran was in a rut. It was Feb. 19, 2008, and he had just completed his final round at the John Hayt Collegiate Invitational, where he tied for 62nd–the worst finish of his collegiate career.

To say it was uncommon territory for the junior All-American would be an understatement. Curran, a human and organizational development major from Hopkinton, Mass., was coming off a 2007 season where he finished eighth at the NCAA Championships, tied for second at the NCAA West Regional, and tied for ninth at the SEC Championships.

In desperate need of a spark, Curran decided to change putters at the end of February. The results have been everything he hoped.

“From the equipment aspect I really feel comfortable with what I’ve got in the bag right now,” Curran says. “My putter has definitely helped out the past few weeks.”

Helped out it did. In Vanderbilt’s three tournaments in March, he posted two runner-up finishes and a win. During that time he shot par or better in eight of his nine rounds, while posting a stroke average of 70.4.

“[Curran] was struggling most of the year with his putting not being up to the level that it was at the end of last year,” says Head Men’s Golf Coach Tom Shaw. “Switching the putter really gave him a different feeling and a lot more confidence.”

Armed with a new dose of self-assurance, Curran began his own version of “March Madness” at the Seminole Intercollegiate in Tallahassee, Fla., March 2-4, where he earned medalist honors for the first time in his career. He won the tournament with a 10-under 206, becoming the first Commodore to win a tournament since Luke List won the Mason Rudolph Intercollegiate in 2005.

“He started rolling better in Tallahassee, and that has been the main kick-start for him because when he is making putts, he is going to get on a roll,” Shaw says.
Curran concluded the month with a pair of runner-up finishes at the Kauai Collegiate Cup in Kauai, Hawaii, and the Furman Intercollegiate in Greenville, S.C.

“Winning breeds winning,” Curran says. “I hadn’t won in a long time, and I felt like I was getting in a rut. Now, all of a sudden, I have a lot of confidence, and every time I go out, I feel like I can win instead of just having a top finish.”

Curran’s play has turned heads not only at Vanderbilt, but also across the SEC. Following his runner-up finish at the Furman Intercollegiate, the league office selected him as SEC Men’s Golfer of the Week on March 31. The honor was the first of his career.

“It’s a pretty cool honor,” Curran says. “The SEC is a really strong conference with a lot of strong players. It feels great to win such an award.”

So what kind of putter made the difference? Sorry–but only Curran, his coach and fellow players know the answer to that.

But Curran has not been the only one who has reaped the benefits of his play. The team has profited as well. Since the start of March, the Commodores have reeled off three straight top-five finishes, including a victory at the Kauai Collegiate Cup. Prior to March, the team had only two top-five finishes in its previous six tournaments.

“Our backs are kind of against the wall in terms of regionals and our ranking, so in order for us to get where we want to be in regionals, we have to step it up,” Curran says. “Thankfully, we’ve been doing it. Sometimes it takes something like that to get you in gear, and we are really stepping up.”

Although every team’s score is determined by totaling four of its five lowest rounds, Shaw believes that Curran’s play can account for more than just one of the team’s four scores.

“We saw that in Tallahassee,” Shaw says. “The guys saw that he was lighting it up, and they needed to honor his good play by stepping up themselves. They don’t want to be dragging the team down. When Jon starts playing well, it lifts everybody up. He knows how to rise to the occasion when we need him most.”

Ryan Schulz is editor of Commodore Nation, the monthly magazine of Vanderbilt Athletics.

$50 Million Athletic Facilities Upgrade Begins

Sunday, July 13th, 2008


It’s official. Vanderbilt is putting its money where its athletic needs are. In a continuing effort to raise the level of sports competition, the university has announced a five-phase, multimillion-dollar renovation and building program.

The project has received enthusiastic support from across the university. John Ingram, MBA’86, is a member of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust and chairs the board’s athletics committee. “We want our coaches to understand that we want them to win championships,” he said at a May 20 press conference. “Success is not a linear thing; it’s a circle. In the past five to 10 years, we have changed the image of Vanderbilt from one of lovable losers to serious contenders.”

The planned renovations and construction will put Vanderbilt’s facilities on par with the best in the SEC. “We’re in a little bit of an arms race in this thing we call facilities,” notes Head Men’s Basketball Coach Kevin Stallings. Good facilities are good draws for prospective athletes, and the athletes spend a lot of their time in the locker room. “What you remember as a player is the time you spend with your teammates.”

“We’ve been good at times, and we want to go to the next level and be great,” says Head Women’s Basketball Coach Melanie Balcomb. “We needed the next level in facilities.”

“This is a vote of confidence in our programs,” says Head Football Coach Bobby Johnson. “When you invest, you give the teams at Vanderbilt a chance to compete.”

Total estimated cost for the upgrades is upwards of $50 million. David Williams, vice chancellor for university affairs and student athletics, says each phase will be completed as money is available. If all goes as planned, the entire project could be completed by 2013. “This is a self-funded operation,” says Williams. “We have to raise money for it. If we tried to do it all at once, that would actually impede our programs.”

Phase I began in April. A summary of all five planned phases follows:

Phase I: $11 million-$12 million

• Memorial Gym basketball locker rooms
• Vanderbilt Stadium facility renovation
• Hawkins Field Baseball Stadium expansion to 3,700 seats
• Football synthetic surfaces at the John Rich Practice Facility and Wedgewood Recreation Field

Phase II: $11 million-$12 million

• McGugin Center renovation: construction of the Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame, renovation of position and team meeting rooms for football, and renovation of the athletic training room
• Vanderbilt Stadium Renovation, including rebuilding of Gates 2 and 3, construction of an exterior facade along Natchez Trace, and development of a plaza in front of Gate 2

Phase III: $7 million-$8 million

• Vanderbilt Stadium renovation of Gates
1 and 4 in north end zone of the stadium and construction of a plaza area
• McGugin Center renovation to support staff of the Stratton Foster Academic Center area, and renovation to football coaches’ offices, support staff offices and coaches’ locker rooms

Phase IV: $16 million-$18 million

• Vanderbilt Stadium construction of north end zone building and seating, and addition of synthetic turf in the stadium
• McGugin Center renovation of the football locker rooms, equipment rooms and athletic training room; Olympic sport locker rooms and meeting rooms constructed on second floor

Phase V: $1 million-$2 million

• McGugin Center renovation and expansion of Hendrix Room dining facility; addition of offices and suites