Category Archives: Mount Mercy

Eating As a Silicon Valley Techie Eats


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My wife and I walking on the Golden Gate Bridge this spring break.

During spring break this year, my wife and I flew out to San Francisco to visit with our son and his wife.

They both work in technology out there—she designs human-machine interfaces for Samsung, he is a software engineer for WhatsAp, a division of Facebook.

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Daughter-in-law and son do an “ussie” during a visit to a San Francisco park with us.

One highlight of our visit was the half day we spent at the Facebook campus. With tens of thousands of high tech employees, the company’s site is a mini city. It has a main plaza with shops and restaurants, for example. You can get your hair cut, visit the dentist, drop off some dry cleaning and get your bicycle fixed (or buy a bicycle) without leaving the company grounds.

Jon explained that he thought it was just smart for the company to provide those kinds of services because tech employees are highly skilled, and the corporation benefits by providing services that keeps those people together and talking with each other.

The day we visited Facebook, we ate both breakfast and lunch there—and both meals were a surreal experience. You walk into a company cafeteria, grab a tray, and go through a food line—and then there is no cashier. You just proceed to a table to eat. Have as much as you want of whatever you want.

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It does rain in California, despite the song. Drizzly day when we visited Facebook.

Again, Jon noted that the food perk, while costly, enhances collaboration and boosts  morale.

Gosh, my wife and I said to each other during the visit. That seems like a neat idea. Maybe they could do that at Mount Mercy University. Then, we shared a laugh. We don’t work for a rich, high-tech company.

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At Facebook, they have a wall where you can post any comment you want for random passing people to see. Someone should invent an online equivalent …

Well, surprise, surprise—fast forward to this week, when we had the “opening day” all-employee assembly in the chapel. The President was speaking, and announced a new program at MMU.

On one designated day each week, employees can have lunch in the cafeteria. For free.

The day is Friday in September, and will change each month.

The idea is pretty simple. Students eat there all the time, and having faculty and staff share a meal encourages informal conversations, both among employees and between employees and students. We can break bread together and hash things out over hash.

They don’t offer free food daily, and don’t have the kind of variety and fancy eateries Facebook offers. What’s available is college cafeteria fare. Some may balk at that—it is institution food.

Me? Most days I brown bag it, but in the past on very busy days, such as when I’m staying late on campus for a newspaper production cycle, I have eaten in the cafeteria. And I love my cafeteria days, for several reasons:

  • I like the collaboration it fosters. I have ended up, unplanned, chatting with others about all kinds of topics related to MMU. A lot of plans for the Fall Faculty Series have been hatched over lunch in such informal encounters.
  • I think there is value in seeing my students and them seeing me in this context. If you encounter a person as a student in a class (or as a professor in the class) you have a particular kind of relationship. Seeing them in another place doing something entirely else sort of humanizes them. It makes them more of a familiar “person” rather than “student” or “professor.” In particular, there is something a bit interpersonal in being in proximity to another as they eat. You don’t eat with enemies, and the people that you regularly eat with become, in some minor way, a bit more family like.
  • I love cafeteria food. I know many students complain about the cafe food, and maybe with some reason, but in my experience the cafeteria offers a buffet of wondrous delights. Their cooks have a slightly heavy hand with spices—sometimes you scoop up some veggies and are thinking “bland” and you take a bite and suddenly you’re thinking “chilies.” But I am a spice boy. I’ll tell you want, what I really, really want—some pork or chicken or fish coated in whatever breading, served in a giant pan under a warming lamp prepared by the fine cooks at MMU. Maybe some of my MMU friends don’t agree—food opinions are like music opinions, they are personal and nobody need apologize for their preferences—but I am a fan of MMU cafeteria food. Go Mustangs! To the feed!

Anyway, I understand that the free food program is an experiment, and that it is offered only one day a week. I am also familiar with the old, reliable, wise saying TANSTAAFL (there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch). MMU will continue the program only as long as MMU sees some payoff, and if budgets get tight, so might our waistbands.

But for now, I can eat like a techie, at least once a week. I think it was a smart idea for MMU to introduce, and I hope it does what the powers-that-be hope it does so it can continue.

More networking and contacts between employees and students? A plus. Soft serve and salad bar? Count me in.

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Memories of the Class of 2017


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Dr. Ron Feldt, retiring professor of psychology. See you at Half Price Books, Ron.

Commencement weekend at Mount Mercy University has come and gone. The class of 2017 has graduated, even as I still struggle with a mountain of grading for the classes of ’18, ’19 and ’20.

At Commencement, it was a good year for the newspaper staff. The top two honors given at Commencement—the Mary Frances Warde and Mary Catherine McAuley Awards, given respectively to the top transfer student and the top student who started at MMU—both went to MMU “Times” staff members.

Capria Davis, photo editor of the “Times,” won the Warde prize for a whole host of activities, including helping to found the Black Student Union at MMU. Bianca Kesselring, who wrote an entertainment column for the “Times,” won the McAuley honor. She was active many things, including choir and student ambassadors.

The paper also saw the graduation of Anna Bohr, a key staff member. For the past two years, her title—web editor and then multimedia producer—implied work on the paper’s internet presence, which is accurate, but she was always an important and reliable staff member who made important contributions to the print newspaper. Capria was recognized as this year’s outstanding Communication Program student; Anna was the outstanding journalist of 2017.

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Capria Davis, outstanding Communication graduate of 2017, and Anna Bohr, outstanding graduating student journalist, after Friday’s Honors Convocation.

Graduation this year had many highlights, but in particular two other items stand out to me.

On May 19, at the Honors Convocation, the President’s Award was given to Gabriel Acosta. The other two top student graduation honors are voted on by faculty and staff—but this award comes straight from MMU’s president. And Laurie Hamen got a bit choked up when she spoke of Gabby. His life journey put him squarely, if innocently, in one of the hot political debates of the day. As a young child, Gabby was brought, undocumented, from Mexico to Iowa by his undocumented immigrant parents.

And his family is being separated today by the stiffening of American immigration policy.

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Gabriel Acosta, 2017 President’s Award winner.

Throughout it all, Gabby has been open and honest and willing to share his story to help others understand. Sadly, it’s not been enough to turn back the tide of nationalism that trumps any sense on immigration, but I can’t think of a more deserving graduate of MMU for the honor President Hamen bestowed.

Another poignant moment for me was seeing Professor Ron Feldt lead the procession of faculty at commencement today. He is now an emeritus professor, retiring from the full-time faculty this year.

Others also retired, and will also be missed, but Ron was special to me. He was part of my tenure review group. I valued his feedback. He and I have both served as chairs of the faculty, and I think there’s a bond between those of us who have tried to lead this group of independent souls we call a faculty.

More images from the weekend are in my galleries of the Honors Convocation, Commencement Mass and Commencement Ceremony. MMU’s news release about the event is here.

At graduation today, Bianca gave a good speech, Ron and two other retiring faculty members were applauded and many students walked the stage. Monday will be anticlimactic for me; it will be a day spent tying up thousands of loose ends so the spring semester and school year can officially be called “over.”

But it’s over now for the class of 2017. Good luck, and let us know what shenanigans you get in to.

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Hello, Goodbye—Ceremony Season at MMU


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Every party needs cake! I was hoping to time it so I got in line to grab a corner piece. I didn’t quite get the job done, but there was one corner left and Bill cut it for me. Way to go, Bill-Karen!

It was an afternoon of transitions, in each end of the spectrum.

Three long-time MMU professors retired this year, and their reception was held in the library. After that, the Mount Mercy Enactus team presented its report on the year in Flaherty Community Room.

I was going from the culminations of careers, to young people just about to embark on theirs. It’s getting close to the end of the semester, and more transitions are coming. It’s the season of starts and finishes, of beginnings and denouements.

We are watching as Ronald Feldt, psychology; Katryn Coulter, business; and Charlotte Martin, religious studies, move on. They are important faculty members—Ron a former faculty chair, and Charlotte and Kathryn who could sometimes help faculty chair’s hair turn grey. They will be missed.

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Of course there were speeches. I thought one of the best lines was from Kathryn, who noted she has no specific plans, but wants to do what she loves to do, which “isnt’ grading.”

Ron noted that one of his plans is spend time at Half Price Books “where all the cool people hang out.” Since we frequent that store with our grandchildren, I guess that makes it official. We’re cool.

Charlotte, a cat lover, noted that cats seem to spell done “D-U-N” and declared “make it D-U-N” at the end of her remarks.

“We’re not quite D-U-N yet,” noted Provost Dr. Jan Handler before giving gifts to the retirees and noting that after graduation they will be emeritus faculty members.

One of the nice things about this annual event is seeing all who come back to MMU—Will and Jay and David and John and Chuck and Bulane. It’s quite a party.

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And then, after the handshakes and cake, then came Enactus—scrubbed youth shining with pride as they report on service projects completed by the business club. It was another nice program, and the club did a lot this year.

So, best of luck to all team members at the national Enactus competition in Kansas City right after graduation. And best of luck to all emeritus professors—hope I see you again before next year’s reception.

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Friday Floral Feature: When Shy Bloomers Decide the Time is Now


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April 19–Moscow Lilac starting to bloom for the first time.

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April 19–Harsh winter two years ago killed off a red bud tree, which I replaced with a Magnolia. It is also blooming for the first time this spring.

News this week from the gardens: Several shy flowering plants have decided 2017 is the year to get into gear.

I purchases a tiny “Moscow Lilac” some years ago, about 8, I think, in a fund-raiser by the Art Program at Mount Mercy University. The bush is in a spot a bit too shady for lilacs—but then again, that pretty much just means it’s somewhere on my property. I’m a bit tree crazy, I admit.

Nonetheless, various other lilacs in my yard manage to push out a few flowers despite the copious shade. I was not surprised the first couple of years when the new bush was busy growing and not blooming. But two years ago it had reached about 5 feet, and it started to seem ridiculous—how big does that bush need to get before it can spare some sugar for sex?

About 8 feet, it appears, because that’s how tall the bush is. Two weeks ago, its leaf buds started to show, and I took a close look and decided, darn, another sterile spring.

I was wrong. On Easter Sunday, I noticed that way at the top of the bush, where I could not check the buds easily, Mr. Moscow had a surprise lurking. Flower buds were visible, and three days later, on Wednesday when I shot my second set of pictures for this weekly flower update, the buds were starting to open.

See my weekly Facebook flower gallery for more images. But here are a few of my favorites flower photos of the week:

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As advertised, the Moscow Lilac bush has pretty white blossoms. Now that it has started, let’s hope it can catch enough photons between the tree leaves to continue to flower.

The lilac isn’t all that’s newly bloomed this year. My “new” magnolia tree, planted in 2015, didn’t bloom in spring 2016, but is doing very well with pretty pale lemon yellow flowers this spring.

So far, the apple trees that are adjacent to the white Moscow lilac seems to be following their usual habit of not blooming. But, who knows?

I’m hoping some year soon to see Tulip Tree flowers and Catalpa blooms. Maybe 2017 is the year.

Maybe I’ll even see some apple flowers soon … if not this spring, then maybe next year? After all, crab apples in my shady yard manage to flower.

the weather has been good in Iowa this week. We’ve cooled off a bit, and there has been some rain, but we still have enough warmth and sun to feel like spring. How are your gardens doing?

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Joe’s Spring Day in 20 Images


It rained overnight, but by 7 a.m., it was over and the sky was clearing. Despite the wet streets, I rode my bike to work today. After a brief stop in my office, I had to go downtown for a visit to The Gazette that my Intro to Journalism class makes each year.

And it was a beautiful, clear spring day, warm in the afternoon, crisp and clean for the rest of the day. Here are 20 things I saw today:

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Rhododendron

1-Right outside my door, on the way to get my bike. The flower is still wet with rain, but you can see the sun. Rhododendron blooming for the first time by my front steps.

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Daffodils and Clarence

2-Just arrived at MMU and parked my bike (the bike is named Clarence). The bike is in the background as I make an image of some daffodils.

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More MMU daffodils.

3-Still in the garden by Warde Hall at MMU. Damp daffodils in the cool, clear morning.

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Cedar Lake

4-Pelican on Cedar Lake. I can’t go around the lake for a closer view because I’m riding quickly to get down to The Gazette. Just passing by the lake.

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Blooming tree by Cedar River Trail, downtown Cedar Rapids.

5-I passed a pair of CR bike cops–one of them waived me on. “We’re in no hurry,” he said. “We’ll be here all day.” And lucky they were to get bike duty today. I’m in downtown CR, almost to Greene Square and The Gazette.

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Executive Editor of Gazette and MMU student.

6-Each year, we are hosted by Zach Kucharski, executive editor of The Gazette. He always seems bright and thoughtful, and I appreciate his comments to students. On the other hand, he’s one of those men perpetually cursed or blessed to forever look 16 years old. I had an inappropriate thought when editing this image–it looked to me like the president of the chess club was trying to ask a cheerleader to prom, and it doesn’t appear to be going well. Of course, I could not say something like that on a public Facebook gallery! So I put it here in my blog. Anyway, I think Zack is actually talking about the Pulitzer Prize won this week by Art Cullen, editor of The Times in Storm Lake, Iowa.

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Zack speaks with MMU students.

7-Maybe it’s the change in angle or that there are more people in this image, but this looks more like a newspaper editor talking with college students. Note Gazette’s Pulitzer in background, won years ago. Since Art Cullen’s daughter works for The Gazette, I asked Zack if he had bought her a box of doughnuts and asked her if Pulitzer’s run in the family, and when she would win a second one for The Gazette. He did say he heard from Art Cullen this week, and Art said to give his daughter, Clare, a hug from dad and a raise.

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Diana Nolen, arts and entertainment.

8-Another Gazette journalist who each year generously spends time with my students is Diana Nolen, talking in conference room as other editors gather for morning news meeting/smartphone party.

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ME party.

9-The Gazette’s managing editor speaks, while next year’s managing editor of the MMU Times and another student listens. (Man in cap is ME–an ME cap).

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Spent forsythia flowers.

10-I am chugging up the back hill at MMU–the one that goes behind Andreas House to the library. Along the way, I pause to take some forsythia pictures. The best turns out to be spent flowers that have fallen onto the grass. Then, it’s onward, up the MMU hill!

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Pear

11-At the top of the hill, I pause to photograph the Busse Library pear trees.

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Magnolia.

12-And, near the Donnelly Nursing Building (not it’s official name, but it will do), a magnolia bush in bloom. There is also a white one blooming by Warde Hall, but this is the Donnelly magnolia.

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MMU football. Student throws (above) and catches (below).

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13 and 14–MMU students where enjoying the morning, which by 11 is finally getting a little warm, by tossing the pigskin on the campus central green space.

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Birds at Cedar Lake.

15–Now the day is ending. It’s around 7 p.m. and I am biking home. Naturally, since it’s so pretty, I head to the trail and check out Cedar Lake one more time. This is a very distant shot–I’m looking north from the south end of the lake, and way above, a bit north of the lake, I see this. Not sure at this distance, but the bird in the left corner looks like a bald eagle, to me. Some nest next to the Cedar River and sometimes can be seen over Cedar Lake.

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The maybe eagle.

16-The maybe eagle, or possibly an umbrella, heads off into the sunset west sky.

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A duck.

17-Mallard on Cedar Lake. Two males were hanging out together and I caught some couple shots, but I thought this individual shot with a hint of  reflection was better.

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Pelicans.

18–At night, I have more time, so I can circle the lake and get a bit closer to pelicans.

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Sun peeks.

19-I am now riding north on Cedar River trail, looking west over I-380. Clouds are building to the west, and the sun is peeking out through some holes in the clouds. With the late afternoon, early evening, the lights is a pretty gold.

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Hey pinkie! Get out of here!

20-And on a fence along the trail, a blackbird lets me know how much he appreciates the company of bikers. He doesn’t.

Well, that was it, my day, from about 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It was an interesting day, and a great day to be outdoors as spring really grabs hold.

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When a Student Teaches the Teacher


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Jennifer Perrine speaks April 6 at Mount Mercy.

When writing professor Jennifer Perrine read some of her poetry tonight at Mount Mercy University, one student surprised her a little with some discerning observations—about, for example, how two of Perrine’s poems seem connected, one being a bit of a sequel to the other.

It was a connection the poet had not intended, but recognized when the student asked about it.

“You’re teaching me things,” Perrine said. “I enjoy that.”

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Detail of cover of Perrine’s book, “No Confession, No Mass.”

I enjoyed Perrine teaching us some new things in her poetry reading. I like clever use of language, and I felt many of her poems contained interesting and provocative verbal juxtapositions.

She noted that she when she began writing poetry, it was often about love, and one of her poems was written to a lover who was a tooth grinder. She called that act a “meditation on the erosion of the body” and noted how “we learned to sleep with that hum of friction.”

In years of writing love poems, she noted some themes echo—one being the lover as a magician or con artist. In one poem, she said: “I trade my bones for your balm.” That’s a neat line.

One form of poetry she has explored is the “aubade,” the morning love song. “If we can’t hold back the morning, we will lean into it,” she wrote. Also, because when a lover has to face the separation of another work day there is always some regret: “We invent new languages where every word means ‘night.’”

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Author’s hands holding her book as she reads.

These are just snippets of poems, I know, but I appreciate the way in which the words are layered, sounding and working together to create lyrical, interesting thoughts. I’m a strictly prose writer, so a poet has some challenge in holding my interest, but by that narrow standard, Perrine was a winner.

She also noted how, early in her writing career, she absorbed what she said was the wrong message: That a poet should not write about politics. She read from a poignant poem that spoke of her celebration of her 21st birthday in a gay bar the same day that Matthew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming. Shepard, targeted for the killing because he was a homosexual, was himself only 21 when he died.

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Perrine signs books.

The poem, she noted, was partly fictional, because while she did celebrate her 21st birthday in a gay bar the day he died, she did not learn of the murder until the next day. Still, she captured the kind of shock a crowd can suffer when unexpected bad news spreads. In her imaging of a bar crowd’s reaction to the murder, a TV is turned up and the crowd falls silent: “A chorus of coughs trudges uncomfortably around the room.”

It was an interesting, enlightening night. And at the end of it, when students were asking questions, one asked her what she likes to do when she is not writing—a question that took her a little aback. “That is a good question,” she said. “Nobody ever asks me that.”

She hikes and she gardens. Well, those sound like good things, noted the man whose blog is partly called “garden.”

After the program, I returned to my office to pack some things for the ride home. As I headed outside to unlock my bike, I turned on my bike helmet headlight to see. As I was standing in the shadowy spot where the bike rack is located next to Warde Hall, I heard furtive, slightly nervous laughter.

“We thought you were a ghost,” said Mary Vermillion, English professor who was returning to Warde Hall with Perrine. “We were just talking about the paranormal.”

I’m not a ghost yet. But I would gladly play one in a Perrine poem, if it came to that. And I don’t aspire to always be normal, so I’ll take the “para” as a compliment. Somehow, it seemed like the right note to end the night on, so I hopped on my bike, partly packed with petite fours I had absconded with for my wife and daugher. I pedaled off into the night.

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Series: What Makes the Muskrat Guard His Musk?


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The 2017 Fall Faculty Series at Mount Mercy will be interesting for several reasons.

One is that it’s the first series that I won’t coordinate. That role is being taken over by Dr. Joy Ochs, current faculty chair. She’s already setting up planning meetings.

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Inscription near Rohde Family Plaza. Mercy words.

Another is that it has a theme that could lend itself to many interesting directions. The theme is “courageous compassion.”

It takes some guts to go where mercy is needed, I think. In troubled times, the courage to care is an important human attribute.

So, I’ll enjoy watching this series. Joy already claims I still have to attend all the events—something about covering the series with Facebook photos and my blog. I’ll do my best—in any case, it still won’t be as time consuming as series that I did coordinate.

I feel pretty good about passing on this baton. For one thing, I think it’s healthy for MMU’s faculty to have someone else lead this effort. It makes it less one man’s crazy idea and more of an institutional thing, a tradition that “we” do.

For another, I have lots of faith in Dr. Ochs. She’s going to push to make this an interesting, compelling, series. I’m excited to see what she and other faculty members come up with.

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