Tag Archives: “Mount Mercy”

An Interesting Writer Speaks Provocatively of Place


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Books on a table at MMU Nov. 7, 2019. I bought one and had the author sign it–she spoke about her writing process to a nearly full community room of students and faculty.

Was my father completely an American?

Well, he served in the Army in World War II and was trained by his country as an officer and engineer. He left the military with the rank of captain. He then graduated from Purdue University with a degree in chemical engineering, married an Irish Catholic and proceeded to procreate seven times.

Sounds like an American biography, to be sure. Possibly more American than me, a late baby boomer who was too young to be a hippie, too old to be of the post-Vietnam generation. But my father’s parents were Hungarian, and that was the language of his home when he was young. In Ohio.

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Patricia Parks speaks.

I thought of my father and his experience while I listened to Patricia Park talk about the writing of her novel “Re Jane.” In her case, the character Jane is a New Yorker, but the child of refugees from Korea. As a Korean-American, not a Hungarian-American, Jane has the added bonus of appearing to be Asian in a country were too many assume that if you’re not white, you’re not from here. (Of course, to Native Americans, if you appear Asian you may appear more American than all those washed-out Europeans).

Ms. Park even wrote a column for The Guardian in which she discusses her reaction to the question “where are you from,” Queens not being the answer most are after.

As Americans, to some extent, many of us are partly rootless. Technically, I’m a Southern Man, but Neil Young wasn’t singing about me. Because I really have little cultural connection to the state of my birth (Tennessee). My early growing up was in that anchorless stew of American culture known as California. But by mid elementary school, I was an Iowan.

I guess it would be most accurate to say I think of myself as an Iowan, even if I’m not really from here.

Where is Patricia from? Her parents grew up on a small peninsula of Asia whose ownership was the subject of multiple wars in the 20th century. In America, her skin tone and eye shape marks here as some “other,” possibly Chinese or Japanese in the same easy way that too many of us may think of “Hispanic” as a synonym with “Mexican.”

Anyway, I liked hearing her speak. For a New Yorker, she speaks good American. She sounded more American than that other New Yorker, Donald Trump, but then again English is her native language. Given the hash he makes of nouns or verbs, I am not sure Donald has found his native language yet.

Ms. Park, a university professor from out East, was in her element in front of a largely student audience. She praised students for their ideas, and had a genuine rapport with the audience. It was interesting to hear how long—the better half of a decade—she spent working on her book.

She almost got Iowans to ask a few questions—not something that Iowans seem to naturally do.

Or so I assume. I’m not always from here.

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Filed under books, Mount Mercy, Writing

Keep an Eye on the Money and the Snow


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Dr. Tracy Tunwall, chair of the business department at Mount Mercy University, speaks with Dr. Fred Croop, who delivered the annual Knapp lecture at MMU.

At first glance, the 2019 Barbara Knapp Lecture at Mount Mercy University didn’t seem like something that would appeal all that much to me.

Given by an accounting professor from Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania., the Oct. 30 speech in the Sisters of Mercy University Center at Mount Mercy University was entitled “Addressing Financial Mismanagement in Volunteer and Nonprofit Organizations.”

But past Knapp lectures had been good, and I enjoy making images at Mount Mercy events, so I decided to take a chance, roll the dice, see if lady luck was with me.

And she was. Unlike the ruinous gambling addictions that ensnare some who volunteer at nonprofit agencies, this particular game of chance came up aces.

Dr. Fred J. Croop did indeed cover financial controls that he sees as essential to preventing problems, but also told several real human stories touching on tragedy and ruined lives. He noted the scope of nonprofits in America, which collectively are quite large, and how key they are to small towns where the library foundation or volunteer fire department depends on fund raising to function.

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Dr. Fred Croop speaks in the University Center at MMU Oct. 30.

One point that gripped me about Dr. Croop’s talk was his portrayal of the perpetrators of the frauds. They aren’t evil, greedy hobgoblins, but real flawed humans who fall victim to temptation. He touched on many cases of theft from nonprofits—one of which involved a former student of his.

“I would have trusted him with my life,” Dr. Croop said. And yet, the person in question became addicted to gambling—legalized in Pennsylvania a decade ago—and the temptation proved too great. Which led to theft, discovery and shame.

Dr. Croop spoke of financial controls as not just a way for nonprofits to protect themselves and donors—but also as a way for them to protect their employees and volunteers who may otherwise be tempted to help themselves. Monthly reconciliations involving someone other than the treasurer, an insistence that employees take some vacation time, rotating financial duties, making sure duties are properly divided among non relatives and that boards are attentive—not all of the controls Dr. Croop advocates would be all that easy at all small nonprofit agencies, but fraud can be very costly and potential existentially threatening, so prevention seems worth it, to me.

I think small town Iowa is not all that different from the Pennsylvania towns Dr. Croop described. We too have government providing fewer services, causing more pressure on nonprofits. At the same time, population drops means the pool of volunteers to run these agencies is thinner. And gambling is a big industry in Iowa, too.

What a storm. Well, we had some weather the night he spoke, too. Dr. Croop, at least, said he was enchanted by the snow. Here in Iowa, where the month of October started with flowers and butterflies and proceeded rapidly to frost followed by several snowfalls, the white stuff is indeed pretty, but also causes some caustic reaction. As Dr. Croop was speaking, a Halloween Eve snow wafted down on the University Center.

The next morning, news reports said there was something like 40 traffic accidents in the Cedar Rapis area. Despite our life experience, we Iowans have to learn how to drive on snow every year. We have to be reminded to watch the weather and roadway.

And if we are involved in a nonprofit agency we have to watch the money to prevent financial storms that could slip us up badly.

Well thank you, Dr. Tracy Tunwall, chair of business, and Barbara Knapp, MMU trustee whose generosity fuels this annual lecture series. Despite my allergy to money and numbers (which explains the writing career), I found Dr. Croop to be equal parts scary, engaging, interesting and thoughtful.

And I am glad he liked the snow. It’s nice to be reminded that it’s pretty.

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Filed under Mount Mercy, politics

An Interesting Dive into the Dumpster Life


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Dr. Joseph Hendryx speaks Oct. 3 at Mount Mercy on the politics of dumpster diving.

Lars wrote an interesting article. Dr. Joseph Hendryx, assistant professor of English at Mount Mercy University, covered some highlights of a piece that put the practice of dumpster diving into some new perspective.

People who scour dumpsters often have a system and a reason for what they’re doing. Many dive because they have to, but some are also driven to it by a countercultural rebellion against our consumerist society.

And there is a hierarchy among divers, too—from those who are doing it to survive to those who check through trash looking for  useful items rather than mere sustenance.

But beware the can scroungers, who Lars says will lay waste to a dumpster and make a terrible mess.

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Dr. Joseph Hendryx speaks.

The one article was the jumping off point to a broader exploration of this topic. Dr. Hendryx was the latest speaker in the fall 2019 faculty series at Mount Mercy University. His presentation was called “Eating in the Margins: The Politics and Experience of Dumpster Diving.” He contrasted the experience of Lars with others, including a man who has a “cooking with trash” YouTube channel.

And there is the whole “freeganism” movement that touches on diving with some political and ecological motives.

logoDr. Hendryx’s Oct. 3 presentation was interesting and thought provoking, and it was off the beaten path enough that it took me on routes unexplored and that I did not always understand. Which I like.

One nice note was that the crowd size was a up a bit for this presentation. Dr. Joy Ochs, the series coordinator, estimated that about 55 people attended, which seems about right, to me. It was a bit more than we’ve seen as some other series presentations.

This particular fall series has featured diverse presentations. Food is a provocative and big topic—and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. The next presentation will be “Food and the Making of a People: A Biblical Perspective” by Fr. Tony Adawu on Nov. 5.

Faces from the audience in the Oct. 3 presentation:

 

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Filed under Environment, Food, Mount Mercy, Writing

And, of Course, I Left my Notes in the Office


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Dr. Matt Bejar and Dr. Joy Ochs listen to Dr. Kris Keuseman during a summer scholarship sharing event. I used my phone because my camera battery was dead–it was that kind of day.

My morning was a little weird—I had spent hours Thursday night getting assignments ready for a Friday morning class, but when I got to work Friday morning, I didn’t have the file anymore.

I had an early draft of the file instead. I had some trouble with Word on my laptop and had saved the file under the same name in several different places, and had the wrong version on my jump drive. Typical students excuse, right? The computer ate my homework.

thumbnail_image001This afternoon I went to an interesting program where three faculty members gave presentation on summer scholarship. That, of course, is what this post is about.

And I left my notes in the office. So, again like a mediocre student, I present my essay in all its glory, sans notes. At least that should keep it more concise.

Anyway, I heard these three interesting presentations:

  • Dr. Matt Bejar: “Athletic Trainers’ Perspectives of Basic Psychological Need Satisfaction During Sports Injury Rehabilitation.” Bejar and fellow researchers asked trainers questions and the interviews were transcribed and analyzed—one thing that stood out to both me another faculty member was how similar persuading athletes to keep with physical therapy routines is to teaching.
  • Dr. Joy Ochs: “A Comparison of Environmental Humanities Theory in India and the United States.” Honestly, what stood out to me is that there is a university in India that MMU could form a relationship with, and that faculty members who had never been there could apply for a grant to go there. Hmmmmm.
  • Dr. Kris Keuseman: “ A Tale of Two Bromides: Student Preparation of Cinnamic Acid Dibromide and 4-Bromoacetanilide.” It was an interesting story about efforts to achieve more “green” science, where the chemicals used are not harmful to students or the environment.

For Dr. Keuseman, I did make the helpful suggestion that his paper should begin “it was the best of labs, it was the worst of labs …” It was interesting that he described two efforts, one of which worked and the other did not. Such is science, I suppose. The other thing that stood out to me is how Dr. Keuseman was able to find sources from the late 1990s that gave him new ideas to apply in 2019.

Well, it was an interesting, if mildly disturbing day. Naturally, as I type this blog post, Word on my laptop behaves perfectly.

Figures.

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Dr. Joy Ochs speak on her research in India.

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Filed under books, Mount Mercy, Travel

The First Amendment Spreads


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From Greenlee School web site, picture of ISU First Amendment event.

I’m pretty excited about next Tuesday night, when America celebrates Constitution Day.

MMU is hosting a panel discussion on how the First Amendment freedoms, especially of the press or speech, are related to the upcoming presidential election.

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On that night, at 7 p.m. in Betty Cherry Heritage Hall, a panel will discuss how the First Amendment is a key to our political system and the election. We’ll consider questions like: Why is freedom of the press in the Constitution? At a time when the U.S. president calls journalists “enemies” and the best of their work “fake news,” what is the role of the new media? Why the distrust between the media and the public?

From the famous Ben Franklin line about whether the United States would be a monarchy or republic (“A republic, if you can keep it”) the panel event is called: “If You Can Keep It: The Election of 202 and the First Amendment.” It will feature the Executive Editor of the Gazette Zack Kucharski, retired Executive Director and Editor of Iowa Watch Lyle Mueller, MMU Assistant Professor of Political Science Richard Barrett and me.

I’m looking forward to the event, which I hope will be popular and also be part of the important, ongoing conversation we need to have in this country. In our republic, in my opinion, we have lost our way and need to reconnect and learn to speak with rather than shout at each other.

And in an era when the First Amendment is under attack, the fact that MMU is not alone in marking the First Amendment is some comfort. A number of Iowa colleges will be teaching about and celebrating freedom of expression and other First Amendment freedoms next week. I’ve seen pamphlets for events at Des Moines Areas Community College and Simpson College.

I credit Iowa State for starting us on this adventure. The Greenlee School of Journalism holds an annual springtime celebration of the First Amendment, and in April I attended a workshop they offered for educators to plan such events.

I think the September anniversary of the Constitution drew many of us Iowans to plan fall events, and DMACC and Simpson were, like MMU, inspired by ISU.

Well, good going, Cyclone nation.

Next week is also “Mercy Week,” when Mount Mercy celebrates its founding by the Sisters of Mercy and continued commitment to their legacy.

Which is cool. Celebrating the First Amendment as other Iowa colleges also do—makes the cool week way beyond cool. The coolest.

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Filed under History, Journalism, 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

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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Filed under Mount Mercy, Science