Category Archives: Mount Mercy

The Kaleidoscope End of Spring 2019


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Rainbow flag on campus for the Alliance Club Rainbow Fest.

The pace of academic life in spring can be grueling. At the end of any semester, things heat up—suddenly the crushing weight of grading, prepping exams, viewing speeches, etc., is combined with the need to look forward, finish reports and prepare for what comes next.

There’s so much to do and only so many hours in a day.

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Student from American Lit class, with chalk that was used to write quotes on campus.

It’s stressful, these final weeks of any term, but especially stressful in spring when a long break is coming, some students are graduating and everybody is making decisions about What Comes Next.

But, even if I feel like a hamster on a wheel moving at least twice as fast as it ought to, there is a lot to treasure in spring on campus. Recently at Mount Mercy University, for example, we’ve had a number of year-end events that are fulfilling and enriching.

Monday here was “Scholarship Festival,” a celebration of both the scholarly and creative work students have done this year. There were presentations, poster displays and creative writing readings.

My favorite? Paha! I always enjoy the readings done by young writers of their own works when this MMU creative magazine is published each spring, and Paha was a highlight of the Scholarship Festival.

Spring at MMU has featured so much more—Rainbow Fest celebrating the club that supports LBGTQ+ students; Eco Week, shining a spotlight on campus efforts to become more sustainable; smaller events, such as an English class chalking the walks with American literary quotes—and more is to come. Besides graduation and all the associated events, there will be concerts and retirement parties.

And even if it is cool and wet today, with more rain on the way, campus is suddenly green, the grass has been mowed several times and trees are waking up. It’s hard to even think of how dreary winter was–the mole people of MMU are emerging from the steam tunnels and can be spotted out in the outdoors.

The kaleidoscope that years end always brings can be disorientating and discomforting, but it is also energizing and exhilarating. Here’s to spring on a university campus!

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Dr. Carol Tyx, English professor, shows Paha at Scholarship Festival.

Images of the kaleidoscope:

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Filed under Environment, Flowers, Mount Mercy

A Man Walked the Walk Despite Cows


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Books for sale at evening presentation.

The Great Plains seems to be a beautiful place—a place of big skies, great distances and cows.

Beware the cows. A city kid from Buffalo, New York, Ken Ilgunas set out in fall several years ago to walk the route of the Keystone Pipeline, planned to go from Alberta to Texas. His purpose was to write a book about the land the controversial project would cross.

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At the evening speech, in the light.

But his worry, besides being shot for trespassing as he followed the route, was the potential for cattle catastrophe.

Although he did have some scary encounters, cows, it turned out, where not the bad.

And the people he met were mostly willing to help a scruffy looking stranger walking across their land. Ilguan, who spoke March 5 at Mount Mercy University, told both a journalism class and an evening public program that he had a particular approach to strangers.

 

Ilguna would walk up to a house, knock on the door, and then say, “I’m walking across America. Can I trouble you for some water?”

The answer was almost universally “yes.” One-on-one, as it turns out, Americans are not hostile or violent. They’ll invite you in, give you water, sometimes offer a meal or even a couch for the night.

I enjoyed both of Ilguna’s presentations, and hope to get and read his books—I did not have enough cash in my pocket to buy one tonight, but I’ll shop for “Trespassing Across America” soon.

Besides being an interesting and entertaining personal journey, Ilguna was also recording what he called, in scope, one of the biggest of all human-made environmental disasters, second perhaps only to global warming. Great swaths of land in Canada are being stripped to get at the oil tar, and great damage is then done to extract the oil from the sand and clay it is bound to.

The afternoon session, in which a social work professor kindly allowed my introduction to journalism class to sit in, included some interesting thoughts on launching a writing career. Among other things, Ilguna urged students to have their own web site—which validates a requirement I made in my writing classes for students to do that very thing.

The class also included an interesting discussion of the reality that Ilguna was a white man walking across the whitest part of North America, which was to his advantage. He and the students speculated it would be harder for any person or color, and several women noted that it would be difficult for a female to make that kind of solo journey.

It was an interesting day. More images. I’m glad Rachel Murtaugh and the MMU sustainability effort brought this interesting writer to campus.

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Filed under Environment, Mount Mercy, Travel, Weather, Writing

A New Web Site is Headed Our Way


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Web site as of Feb. 28, 2019

10 years, a marketing professional told me this afternoon, is a long time on the web.

That’s about how long Mount Mercy University has had its current web site. It actually has two, which is a minor irritant to me, because when I google MMU seeking our main web site, I sometimes end up in a special online school web site, which is not a terrible fate except when I’m there, I don’t know how to get to the “regular” home of Mount Mercy.

DSC_0012Well, the web is a complex, evolving system, more accessed these days via smartphone than via computers. Which is another point make by Jamie Jones, marketing director, as she spoke to my Introduction to journalism class.

The students are learning about interviews this week, and having a news conference fit into the lesson plan—so thank you, Jamie, for attending my class and subjecting yourself to students’ questions.

I think the question were decent, and I’m glad the class had this experience. I also think that Jamie is right—the MMU site is due for a significant rebirth. Personally, what’s most important to me is ease of navigation—and having a way to get there quickly when I land, by accident, on that online school’s alternative university web site.

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Filed under Computers are stupid, Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing

Do God and Science Play the Same Game?


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Dr. Brad Gregory speaks in the Chapel of Mercy.

If you’re looking for Him, people of faith say He is around. Everywhere, in fact.

But science hasn’t found Him—and it won’t, according to one Catholic thinker.

Dr. Brad Gregory, professor of history at Notre Dame University, spoke Feb. 21 at the Chapel of Mercy, giving a talk he called “Religion vs. Science? Don’t Believe It.” It’s part of spring series called “Faith/Reason: Friends or Foes?” going on at Mount Mercy University.

The next event is March 7, when Dr. Bryan Cross, MMU assistant professor of philosophy, will lead a faculty panel discussion on Faith and Science, at 3:30 p.m. in Flaherty Community Room.

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A student takes notes.

Back to Thursday night. I’m not sure I can do Dr. Gregory justice, because I was late. In my defense, I was attending a granddaughter’s fifth grade rock and roll revue show, and my blue suede shoes weren’t available. But I also messed up—going to the wrong venue on campus before I checked on the location and learned the speech was to be in the chapel. Also, I took some notes (on the fifth-grade concert program) and accidentally left those notes in the chapel, so I’ll be flying blind in this blog post.

Like a scientist looking for God, I suppose.

A business professor was setting behind me, and at the end of the speech, I turned to him and asked about the highlights of what I had missed in the first 20 minutes.

“I think you got the gist of it,” he said.

I hope so. It was a mind-bending lecture—an English professor who was there the next day told me that if felt like a brain workout. Dr. Gregory said that Catholic thinking is consistent with some other major religions—Islam and Judaism—in believing in a transcendent God who is present but is not constrained by the same space and time as we experience life in.

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Dr. Brad Gregory speaks.

He noted that, in the past, some thinkers attempted to find God in nature. And he did say that, for a Catholic, science is a way of understanding the universe and that understanding the universe is a way to understand God, but he also said that science and theology are disciplines that grapple with different questions using different methods—and while many scientists are led to skepticism about God because He’s not “there” in the scientific sense of being observable, that’s partly due to the way science frames questions. Science rests on the discovery of truth through what is observable.

But, Gregory said, a modern thinking person of faith doesn’t expect to find God in a microscope. Nature and God aren’t the same thing. Here is where it gets a bit sketchy for me, and I wish I had been there for the whole speech and took more notes. It was an interesting argument, one that I’m very much giving a Reader’s Digest version of, which is unfair to the presentation.

I have long felt that a religion that asks you to not believe in what you can observe and rationally prove is fatally flawed—Dr. Gregory is suggesting that expecting God to be pinned down by what you can observe is also fatally flawed. Hmmm. My brain pan, I’m afraid, may have started to overheat.

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Dr. Mary Ducey of MMU calls a break before questions.

At least it’s nice to know the Roman Catholic Church learned some lessons from what Dr. Gregory called “the Galileo affair,” which is why the church itself did not take a position against evolution. Many Catholics and Catholic thinkers over the years may have, but not the church itself.

Dr. Gregory was even critical of the modern idea of “intelligent design.” Asked what he thought about that, he quipped that he “wished it would go away.” But then he said he was being flippant and gave a longer answer. He sees it as resting in the dark corners of what is not understood about evolution—but science may fill in those gaps, and resting one’s faith on the gaps means planting a foundation in sand.

Anyway, I don’t think his goal was to win over anybody to Catholicism, but rather to give an understanding of the basis of thinkers who don’t see a conflict between religion and science.

It was an interesting talk. I’m glad MMU is putting on this spring series, which seems an echo of the fall faculty series that I helped bring about.

More brain workouts to come!

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Students Begin Their Blog Adventures


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Students typing in computer classroom.

As is normal in my writing classes, I have a set of students who are starting their blogs this semester. I look forward to reading what they do with their own stories.

Blogs sometimes can be too personal—online diaries. But many are entertaining and informative. I have students write blogs so that they can self-publish and play with professional writing. One of my former students, Jenny Valliere, a radio personality at z102.9 in Cedar Rapids, even told me her Mount Mercy blog was helpful to her in launching her career, and she has maintained a blog since then.

Blogging, of course, is not the main or only form of writing I’m hoping my students learn in Introduction to Journalism. But a person who aspires to be a communicator in 2019 needs some online communication experience, and I’m hoping to prod my students in that direction.

Besides clippings from “The Mount Mercy Times,” which students will gain this semester, I’m hoping that a few of them catch the blog bug and continue this form of writing.

Personally, I maintain three blogs: This one which is about gardening, life in general and my experiences as a professor at Mount Mercy University. I also blog about:

My experiences as a bicycle commuter.

My thoughts, as a journalism professor, on media and how media changes our lives.

Anyway, later I’ll post some samples of the students’ work. I’m always excited to see new student blogs, and where this new writing adventure will take them. Some of the writers:

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Filed under Blog, Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing

My Favorite Student Blogs This Term


As I often do in media writing classes, I required some students to establish or update a blog this semester.

Some student blogs never really take off. Others become more personal to the student, and she or he ends up doing some interesting writing.

This semester, I thought three blogs in particular have content that appealed to me.

Lakin Goodman has turned her blog into more of a personal web site, complete with resume information. She has an interest in photography, and I would like her to use more of her images on the blog, but she does have things to say. She notes that she has no theme to the blog—but that’s not really a downside, to me.

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Chuck Uthe is a self-described nerd, writing about film and games. His reviews are not casual—they have some depth and background to them. I appreciate how reflective he is.

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Matt Trueblood says he has more caffeine than oxygen in his blood right now—and I hope he can recharge soon. But his writing is honest and has what another blogger once called “emotional nudity,” which is meant as a positive thing. His blog seems to be an honest peek into his psyche—which is an interesting place to be.

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I am sure I will continue this assignment in media writing classes. Now and then, a student who is introduced to blogging via the class will own it and continue their online efforts. Today, when students who wish to be communicators need to consider their online identity and the nexus of social media they can use to showcase and promote themselves, a blog gives them something to tweet about and share on Facebook. It also is a minor taste of web writing for students, which is a key skill.

The three that I am choosing to feature here (and it does not mean that other students have not done interesting work, this is a personal and ideosycratic look at blogs that just tickled my fancy) are all visually interesting, too–it’s a feature of this semester’s crop of student blogs that those who seemed to care the most about their writing also cared some about the presentation of that writing, which has not always been true.

I hope you check out and enjoy the writing that these students are doing!

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Filed under Blog, Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing

Let Us Sustain This Conversation


 

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Dr. Kris Keuseman, associate professor of chemistry, speaks Nov. 19, 2018, during the final presentation in the 2018 Mount Mercy University Fall Faculty Series.

Plastics, it turns out, are a lot likes pasta. The polymers that make up plastics are long molecules, and, like spaghetti, sometimes parts of them can break off—which is one reason that plastic so permeates our environment now.

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Dr. Tracy Tunwall, associate professor of business.

The 2018 Fall Faculty Series was about the central problem of our time—a conversation on the topic of sustainability. Called “Sustainability: Human/Nature & the Future of the Earth,” the series concluded with a presentation by Dr. Tracy Tunwall, associate professor of business; and Dr. Kris Keuseman, associate professor of chemistry.

Called “Addressing Consumerism: The Life-Cycle of Stuff,” it was a sobering final presentation Nov. 19, including video clips that helped describe the issue of what happens to all of our “stuff” when it’s thrown away.

This final presentation followed one earlier this month by Rachael Murtaugh, director of sustainability, on “Iowa Lands and Waters.”

Anyway, I thought it was very interesting in the final presentation to have a business person and a scientist speaking together. Dr. Tunwall has industry experience, while Dr. Keuseman can give you the molecular view.

Dr. Keuseman made it clear he’s not anti-plastic—it’s just that plastic has become the easily used medium to create products that don’t have to be disposable and could be made with other base materials that degrade more naturally.

As for Dr. Tunwall, she used several interesting video clips to illustrate how industry does and does not deal with waste. Most eye opening was a 60-Minutes segment that showed a “recycling” effort in Denver led to a environmental hell hole in Asia where impoverished workers are put at great risk using primitive methods to extract materials from old electronics.

human-nature-logo_0The Nov. 19 presentation brought to a close our fifth fall faculty series at Mount Mercy University. There were around 70 people there, which was nice. Our sequence of series began in 2014 when we talked about the cultural legacy of World War I. In 2015, we tackled the legacy of Vietnam. In 2016, the hot topic was immigration. In 2017, we had a series of presentations on our divided politics. And now our series on sustainability joins that list.

The 2018 series was somewhat smaller than past events, which is probably a good thing. We had some series that had more than 10 events. On the other, hand, some past series included outside speakers and student performances, which would be good to see again in the future, although I am not sure that there was a student performance piece that would go with this series. Maybe art on the topic?

Whatever. The Fall Faculty Series continues to be a valuable event at MMU. What should we do next?

In a PR class, I use a fictional series that I call “Red, White and Brown: Race and the American Experience.” I’m not sure that we would ever use “American Experience” in a series title—too close to the PBS show—but examining the state of race relations would, I think, be a good topic.

But it was also a very serious, very heavy topic. I think maybe MMU should aim to have some fun with the series.

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Rachael Murtaugh, director of sustainability at MMU, described Nov. 1 how much Iowa has changed and how little native Iowa is left.

What anniversaries are important in 2019 that might provide such a theme? It’s the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo DaVinci, although what that would mean for a series, I’m not sure. It’s the 75th -anniversary of D Day, but that will be the summer before the fall. It’s 50 years since 1969—when humans put their first footprints on the moon. Maybe DaVinci and the moon suggest something—the Renaissance sparked Earth exploration, and now we’re looking towards the heavens.

Yeah, not exactly screaming “fun.” Is there a sports or music theme that would work? And 2020 would seem like a natural to look at suffrage—voting rights—100 years after the 19th Amendment.

A 2019 Woodstock series? Sex, love, and rock and roll?

Well, we have some thinking to do and plans to make. Here are images of the Nov. 1 presentation and the Nov. 19 final event. For now, it’s nice to celebrate a series just completed as we consider the next adventure. Sustainability was a good theme—a large conversation that must continue. But that’s one of the nice things about this Fall Faculty Series idea—the large conversation it can help spark.

What ideas would you suggest for a 2019 series?

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Filed under Environment, Mount Mercy, Science