Category Archives: Mount Mercy

Living in Harmony, Recognizing Dignity


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Dr. Bryan Cross, assistant professor of religious studies at Mount Mercy University, speaks Sept. 18, 2018.

At the end of a sometimes discouraging presentation that had multiple examples of the damage humans have done to the Earth and ways in which people take advantage of each other, Dr. Bryan Cross, assistant professor of religious studies, offered a brighter view.

“If we think it’s too late, it will definitely be too late,” he said. “You have to do what you can. And I still have hope.”

Cross, a professor at Mount Mercy University, spoke during the Fall Faculty Series called “Sustanability: Human/Nature and the Future of the Earth.” His Sept. 18 forum, the second in the series, also happened during Mercy Week at MMU, when the university celebrates its Sisters of Mercy heritage—and the week this year is dedicated to concern for the Earth. The presentation was called “Pope Francis’ Laudato Sí: Harmony with the Natural Order and the Dignity of Creatures.”

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Shadow of Dr. Bryan Cross.

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Dr. Bryan Cross explains a slide.

The presentation, using ideas from a book written by Pope Francis, began with some religious perspective on why it’s important to care for our planet. Partly, it’s recognition that nature has intrinsic value. And it’s also showing respect to other humans, too, including those who will come after us.

“I am my future generation’s keeper,” Cross said. Exploitation of other humans, viewing them only as utility, is part of the mindset that allows exploitation of other living things and the Earth itself—so the antidote is a recognition of dignity of others—other people, but other parts and pieces of this reality, too.

About 60 people attended, which is a pretty good turnout. The audience seemed caught up in the presentation, and there was lots of good discussion at the end. I thought I spoke a bit too much—a bad habit I tend to have—but it was still an enjoyable evening, if a little discomforting, too.

And I also felt that it set the bar pretty high for me. I speak next in the series, on Oct. 11 I will give a presentation called: “Hot Story: How the Media Struggles to Cover Climate Change.” Hope to see you there!

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The Modern Sounds of Writing


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From wikimedia commons (commons.wikimedia.org), English portable typewriter of the 1970s. From user Dwight Burdette.

In the 1970s, when I learned to type in high school, typing was a loud process. Manual typewriters had a particular sound—the noise of fingers hitting the levers, the much louder smack of the letter against the inked ribbon and paper and the hard rubber-coated roller, the “ding” when you grabbed that lever and advanced your paper to the next line.

The latest technology in my typing class was the electric typewriter. Its motor hummed, its clack was artificial and less loud than the smack of a mechanical typewriter, but each letter produced a quick “snick.” The ball of letters would spin and hit the paper. It was a still an audible experience, but very different—sort of like the satisfying thud of a wooden baseball bat compared to the ping of its aluminum counterpart.

Today in a writing lab, I am requiring students to write a blog post—it can be about anything. It can be about writing blog posts. It can be about their favorite (or least favorite) professor this semester. I can be about Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Tessa Violet.

But it’s interesting to me that the act of writing, while it is much quieter than decade ago, still has an audible quality. You can hear the fingers dancing across the plastic keyboards.

Several students brought their own laptop computers, a totally legitimate thing to do, although I know from experience that many laptops have quieter keyboards than their desktop cousins. Me, I’m more of a fan of writing at a desktop computer, when I can, because my big, fat old fingers don’t always find their way well on a small laptop keyboard. No tiny orange hands for me!

Don’t get me started on trying to write on a cell phone. A cell phone is Satan’s keyboard.

Anyway, there is a buzz of conversation going on in class, along with the clacking of keyboards. One issue with writing in a lab situation is the distraction factor—I know I do prefer to be by myself when I write, far from the maddening (or annoying) crowd.

But professional writing often takes place in distracting group environments, so dealing with distractions is a good experience for students.

 

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I assign students to write blogs for several reasons. Mostly, it’s because a professional communicator today should have a web site—blogging and other web content development is usually a requirement of a PR or journalism career. Writing a blog also provides students with a venue that reflects the reality that professional writing is a public act—a performance that is open to the world to view, which makes it different from many other forms of academic writing.

And I know that blogs I have required students to write have, now and then, aided them in a job interview when the interviewer asks about their URL. They have an answer, and original content of their own to show, which can be important.

But today, what I am mostly thinking about, is the sound of writing, which makes me happy. Clack. Clack. Clack Clack.

No dings.

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Filed under Blog, Mount Mercy, Writing

Honoring student editors


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Connor Mahan, Outstanding Journalism Student, Mount Mercy University, 2018. Also editor-in-chief of the Mount Mercy Times.

Honors Convocation was today at the university where I teach. And two students who served as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper during their time at Mount Mercy graduated. It made me think about learning from students, as I wrote the speech honoring one of them as Student Journalist of the Year, while also mentioning the other. Several people told me they liked my remarks, so I present them here—text of my presentation at the MMU Honors Convocation:

Each year, it’s a bittersweet moment when you have to say goodbye to your graduating students. For me, as the journalism professor and faculty advisor to the Mount Mercy Times, I’m often saying farewell to students who have worked hard in their classes, and also put in countless hours to serve this university as editors of student media.

It’s both my joy and pain to have that experience twice this year. Two great editors-in-chief of the Mount Mercy Times are in the class of 2018.

Graduating nursing student Madison Coates led the newspaper in her sophomore year, and has continued writing for the paper. When something happened in the newsroom that she liked, Maddie’s response was to say “perrrfect,” with a drawn out R. Maddie, to me, you were darn near perrrfect to work with as a student and an editor.

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Maddie Coates, former Times editor-in-chief, won this year’s award from the nursing program. She receives it from nursing chair Dr. Mary Tarbox.

But today I’m here to honor the second editor-in-chief who is also graduating in the class of 2018.

As a transfer student from Kirkwood Community College, Connor Mahan began excelling early at MMU. In the fall of 2015, when our faculty series was about the legacy of the Vietnam War, Connor was one of five photographers and reporters from the Mount Mercy Times who covered the visit of the Moving Wall, a replica of the National Vietnam Memorial, to campus. During the wall’s visit, Connor made a poignant image of a young boy, holding his ears as he looked at the wall, seeking the name of a relative among the dead.

It wasn’t just any news image—Connor’s photograph was judged the best news photograph in an Iowa college news medium for the year 2015 by the Iowa College Media Association.

Anybody who has worked with Connor quickly recognizes his drive, intelligence and good humor. Life hasn’t given him all the advantages that chance doles out to others, and when he has to go somewhere to cover a story, the structure of his body dictates that it may take him a bit longer than others to get there. But that’s never held Connor back. He’s always willing to take on a new task, he is always pushing himself.

And when you compliment Connor on this hard work, his almost perrrfect answer is: “I do what I can.”

In 2016, the second potentially devastating flood in 8 years threatened Cedar Rapids, and the Mount Mercy Community joined the city in an emergency effort to erect barriers against the rising Cedar River. During that mostly successful, epic battle with rising water, Connor went to Ellis Park to cover the story. There, Connor made some news photographs of people from Mount Mercy who were filling sandbags. One of Connor’s images showed our own Father Tony Adawu handing a sandbag to an MMU student.

You probably can guess, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story. In 2017, the best news photograph in Iowa, as judged by the Iowa College Media Association, was that picture of Father Tony made by Connor Mahan. Furthermore, Connor co-wrote the Times’ news story about the flood. That story was judged by the I-C-M-A as the best news story that year.

Connor had done what he could.

In fall of 2017, the Mount Mercy Times faced a leadership crisis when the previous editor could not continue. In the paper’s hour of need, two students stepped in—one, Madelyn Orton, was a sophomore English major who served as Managing Editor.

And the new editor-in-chief, who stepped into the role because he could and because he wanted to serve the newspaper, was Connor Mahan.

I like to think that I teach some lessons to my students, but there is a flip side. One of the joys of being a professor is that I can try to live out what we say about becoming a lifelong learner. And I find that I often learn lessons from my students.

I learned something about faith and joy, the power of a positive attitude and the warmth of a perrrfect smile from Madison Coates.

And I learned that the main challenge of each day that I am blessed with is to take what I have, whatever that is, and simply to get on with it. I need to do the work I am able to do. And I think we all agree that the world would be a better place, and we would lead better lives, if we all could simply say, at the end of each day, the words of Connor Mahan: “I do what I can.”

It’s my sincere pleasure to recognized Connor Mahan as the Mount Mercy University 2018 Outstanding Student Journalist.

Me and Maddie

Maddie with me after the ceremony.

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Mahder Habtemariam Serekberhan is also in the class of 2018–she was opinion editor of the student newspaper.

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Filed under Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing

Planting Trees on Arbor Day, 2018


eco clubWe were lucky it was a warm day. Earlier this month, we had several snowfalls in Cedar Rapids, and it seemed the ground would be pretty frosty.

But a tree planting event was scheduled for Arbor Day, today, and as luck would have it, the weather has changed. I know, Iowa, right?

Anyway, the MMU ECO Club coordinated the tree planting events, bringing 17 trees and a DNR expert to campus.

The original plans were to start at 8 a.m., but the club wisely changed that to a 10:30 a.m. start, assuming that the club and volunteers might get the trees into the ground by the planned lunch at 12:30 p.m.

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Zachary Ceresa, president of MMU Eco Club, getting ready for tree planting.

Indeed, the planting went quickly. There were probably 5 or more volunteers per tree, and although tree planting can be work, if you only have to plant one and four other people get turns at the shovel, it’s a fairly quick, fun process.

I’m a tree person. My tiny yard is virtually a forest due to all of the trees my wife and I have planted—I’m not even sure what the current tree census is at casa de Sheller, but it is quite a few.

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Rachael Murtaugh, Mount Mercy director of sustainability. She uses dandelions in all of her decorating.

And I have always enjoyed tree planting. It seems like an intuitively generous act, in a way, in that you’re trying to benefit the future—both your personal future and the future that goes on beyond you. Not all trees last that long, but many might—the group I was part of planted a sturdy 6-foot oak that, I hope, will be around for many years.

The Eco Club is interested because trees create a cascade of positive environmental impacts. I was interested in planting partly because it’s just soothing for the soul.

The day was beautiful and the volunteers plentiful. It was a fun way to mark the spring.

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DNR expert teaches us how to plant trees.

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Filed under Garden, Mount Mercy, Weather

Brief Memories of a ‘Lovely Man’


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I was biking through Noeldridge Park March 4, and noticed a few memorial trees that were decorated in memory of the departed they represent. Image from one of those memorial trees.

My wife pointed it out to me in the newspaper. There among the obituaries—Robert Keith McMaster. Bob McMaster has exited the planet, and we’re poorer for it. A long-time faculty member at Mount Mercy College, he had moved on from teaching philosophy by the time I obtained a teaching position at the college in 2001.

Bob was, by then, the director of faculty development. He checked on me during that first year of my teaching career, serving as an important mentor.

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Another decoration in a Noelridge memorial tree.

By the time I met him, the Parkinson ’s disease he lived with had advanced to the point where speech was not easy for him. It could be a challenge for him to be understood. But, he was a bright and funny man, and enjoyed contact with others. He always displayed genuine caring and concern for the faculty members he worked hard to aid.

In those days, Lundy was “the commons.” There was a pool table there, and at times a few of the old faculty members would gather on a Thursday or Friday to shoot some. McMaster was one of the leaders of that pool club, and invited me to be a part of it. He had an easy way of making someone new feel at home and part of “the gang.”

About 10 years ago, Bob retired from what had become Mount Mercy University. But in the years since, especially at parties for retiring faculty members, he’d be back, and it was always good to see him.

I have a sister who teaches at Kirkwood, but before that was an IT specialist at Mount Mercy when IT and the library were located in Lundy. When I posted a link to Bob McMaster’s obituary, she noted: “He was a really lovely man. What a loss.” Well said. The flag on campus flew at half staff in February after the tragic shooting in Florida, but it seems a fitting image for this post, too:

 

It’s sad to say goodbye, but I am glad I got to work with Bob McMaster, at least briefly near the end of his career. His passing does feel like a monumental event, like an era in Mount Mercy’s history is marked by his departure.

The world has shifted and the Atlases who carried it in the past are letting others pick up the burden. May we bear it well, but I don’t think many of us will bear it with as good a heart as Bob McMaster did.

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March: The interesting transition to spring


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Frosty hillside at MMU campus, riding up Mercy Drive Friday, March 2.

Iowa in March: To start the month, we’ve had a string of sunny, warm days. Well, “warm” is situational—scraping car windows was necessary this morning as temperatures were in the mid 20s.

But as I biked by the Rockwell-Collins pond on C Avenue Friday morning, the ice surface has become again liquid, and two ducks were swimming. I hope they are there this weekend when I take my youngest grandson for a bike ride. He loves seeing the ducks.

March is a roller coast month. We’ve started high on the hill, but could easily swoop down. Despite warm sunshine here, it’s winter in other parts of this hemisphere—my oldest daughter in England is dealing with snow in a UK city with no snow removal equipment, because such weather is so rare there. A Nor’easter is pounding parts of the U.S.

We haven’t had the high school basketball tourneys yet, complete with their traditional tournament blizzards.

Yet, it’s still nice to see more sunshine and feel more warmth. The dominant outdoor color is a drab brown, but birds are getting busy and noisy. Change is clearly in the air. By month’s end, we should be enjoying the green outdoors.

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ICMA Day 2: American Heroes


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Art Cullen, Iowa´s most recent Pulitzer winner.

Art Cullen certainly cuts a dashing figure for an old man—and I can say that as a man of approximately the same vintage.

The editor of “The Storm Lake Times,” Cullen won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing last year, and spoke to the INA and ICMA conventions Friday. He won the prize for a series of editorials hat attacked Buena Vista County, of which Storm Lake is the county seat, for secrecy in a legal fight with the Des Moines Water Works over nitrate pollution.

As Cullen says, it´s pretty self evident that Iowa´s waters are badly polluted, but it takes some courage for a small-town journalist in Iowa to point out that unpleasant reality. In that place, it´s a gutsy thing to do.

Cullen represents a pure view of what a journalist is and does. He and his brother John, who publish the paper, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, although Art noted he handles more of the afflicting. “I am the bad cop, he is the good one,” he said.

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Art Cullen.

Bravo for Art and his little paper. But even with a Pulitzer Prize, he notes his readers care more about whether he has spelled their daughter´s name correctly. And he says the challenge for the Times is to figure out how to appeal to a growing Hispanic population in the paper´s market, or it will be game over in five years.

I hope he manages it. He´s a heroic journalist, and I wish him the continued success he deserves. Watch for his book, coming out this fall.

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MMU Times Editor Connor Mahan listens to Art Cullen speak.

A somewhat different brand of courage was on display in the morning, when Jim Olson, a retired CIA spy from Iowa, entertained the INA and ICMA crowd with his tales from his exciting careen. Olson noted that spying is an important service to the country, and one that will always be needed. But, in response to a question at the end, he also noted that our current president is doing a great disservice by attacking the intelligence agencies because he doesn´t like some of the information they are finding.

Sure, the memo, but that´s fake vindication from a lying party. I would dearly love to hear what Art Cullen says about that.

The new motto of “The Washington Post” is that “democracy dies in darkness.” In their own ways, I suppose, both Olson and Cullen worked to dispel darkness, but I do have some fondness for Cullen´s way of serving the country. It is easy to honor a public servant like Olson, but there is the complication that not everything our government did or does is honorable. Of course, not all journalists are honorable, either, but the way Art does it, journalism is.

We finished the ICMA convention with ice cream. Instead of attending a final session, I offered students with me a chance to go tour the Iowa Capitol. Which we did, and we had a great time.

It felt like a fitting end to our ICMA experience. Now, it is time to get back to work, to again start comforting and afflicting, each in our own way aiding democracy.

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As Art Cullen speaks, Brian Steffen of ICMA and Simpson College, covers the event on Twitter.

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Filed under Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing