Tag 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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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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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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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

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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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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Sisters are Doing it for Themselves


 

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MMU President Laurie Hamen speaks about Sister Shari Sutherland Dec. 12, 2017, in atrium of Busse Library.

When you think of a Catholic nun, what picture comes to your mind? A “penguin outfit” and a strict disciplinarian like from “Blues Brothers?” Or is it something cute but out of place in the modern world like a sister from “Sister Act?”

aa01We had a reception today at Mount Mercy for a complex, intelligent woman who has left her mark on the university. Sister Shari Sutherland is retiring at the end of the year as VP of mission and ministry.

MMU President Laurie Hamen told a little story about Sr. Shari. The then newly minted leader of MMU was to travel with her to Omaha to be presented to a Sisters of Mercy leadership group, and thus got in a car with Sister Shari on a cold winter morning. As they started off, however, they saw someone dressed in scrubs out in the cold. Sister Shari directed Laurie to stop the car and asked, “Where are you going, friend?”

The stranger was headed to HyVee, but didn’t have any money. Sister Shari gave them some of her own, and someone got a ride to the grocery store before a new university president and nun left town.

Of course, when you think of the story, your heart is warmed by the goodness it displays. Then again, it’s also a story of quick decision making, taking risks, facing life with courage and swift action. How typical of a Sister.

I recently read an article that, sadly, as I wrote this I could not find again. But it was a reflection of how the Christian view of Mary, mother of Jesus, is sometimes flawed because we seem to think of her as meek and passive. But in the Gospel, when an angel comes to tell Mary she’ll have a baby, she doesn’t just say, “sure,” she first asks some pointed questions. And when she says “OK, God, we’ll do this,” she says it on her own, without consulting anybody. Sort of like a Sister.

Sisters are doing it for themselves. I’m not sure why Sister Shari’s retirement made me think of Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox, but it did. And while I didn’t find the most recent article on Mary that I was thinking of, I did appreciate this similar essay by Father James Martin in Slate.

Sister Shari was an encouraging presence at MMU and also a force to be reckoned with. She has spunk, intelligence, humor and backbone. I felt honored that I rang with her when there was a bell choir and occasionally was blessed by her during Mercy Week ceremonies. She was an early supporter of the idea of a Fall Faculty Series, and one of the hidden movers and shakers that helped that effort take off.

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Photo from event celebrating Sister Shari’s 50th anniversary in Sisters of Mercy.

There was another theme at the retirement reception, too. It doesn’t end here. The mission of the Sisters of Mercy is carried on by those of us who attempt to understand the spirit of Mercy, and who work and teach at a Mercy University.

Sister Shari, you were part of the gas in the tank at MMU. Your smile and grace and humor and strength will be sorely missed. On the other hand, if the baton gets passed, the next runner must run. The university, like the dude, abides. And the best way to honor you Sister Shari, I suppose, is to keep the faith, light the fire, work the mission, teach the students and carry on.

Before that, however, let me pause and say thanks for the help you gave me and all of us at MMU in ways big and small.

And, also, a song that makes me think of both Mary and of you, Sister Shari:

 

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