Recent News from Campuses
University of St. Thomas Campus News - Mon, 03/03/2014 - 1:01pm
When senior music business majors Courtney Wosick and Paige Norris submitted their idea for a mobile music-book rebinding service to the Fowler Business Concept Challenge, they didn’t expect to gain entry let alone take third runner-up and “best presentation” honors at the annual competition.
“We kind of felt like the underdogs because everybody was either a business or entrepreneurship student. We figured that just putting together our submission would be a good learning experience and thought, ‘This will be fun.’ Then we got the call that we got in,” Norris said.
Her partner, Wosick, agreed: “I knew we had a good idea and that we had a good strategy, but I assumed that the entrepreneurship majors would be chosen. I was ecstatic and felt honored when I heard the news that we made it. Since we were the outsiders we definitely felt quite a bit of pressure. We knew we needed to represent our department well so we worked day and night for about two weeks straight perfecting our business concept and presentation. We wanted to make the Music Department proud and to show the rest of campus what we could do.”
St. Thomas music business professor Steve Cole, however, believes music and entrepreneurship are a natural combination, though the two disciplines are seldom linked. “Musicians are always on the edge of success and failure, and we become accustomed to that kind of pressure. We’re accustomed to taking risks, knowing that we’re always vulnerable. But we do it anyway. And that’s a hallmark of great entrepreneurs,” he said.
Perfect-bound books hit the wrong note
Norris and Wosick’s concept, a service they dubbed PlayFlat, takes music books – which customarily are published perfect-bound (pages and cover glued together at the spine) – and replaces the binding with spiral binding so the book lies flat and stays open, allowing musicians to easily turn the pages and keep their place.
“We saw in ourselves and other musicians this struggle to have their books stay open on stands, but the glue binding doesn’t allow for it,” said Norris, who has been a vocalist since she was 6 years old. “You have to either weight them down or break the binding or get some sort of clip, which is not a very good alternative.”
Norris and Wosick’s idea is to perform the service themselves out of a van. “The turnkey of our service is to have a van – like a mobile bindery – that would allow us to go from location to location binding large collections of music books inside the van and/or taking our equipment into the school,” Norris explained.
“Having our equipment (commercial cutter binding equipment, consumables and a worktable) in a van, being able to go to studios that have hundreds of books and do as many books on site means the customer wouldn’t have to bring their books to Kinkos, explain what they want, wait, come back … . We offer an all-in-one service without hassle.”
Norris believes the concept is a feasible goal: “The profit margin is pretty good, so it could work. Fingers crossed. Even if we do it in our spare time in one of our basements as a hobby,” she said. ”We’ll can charge between five and six dollars per book, and it costs between 15 and 30 cents to do a book. We can do 50 books in an hour, so that’s a pretty good turnaround rate.”
In their research, they took a music book to Kinko’s to be spiral bound. The results were disappointing and reinforced to them the need for a service like PlayFlat. “They ended up cutting part of the music off, which renders the book unusable,” Norris recalled. “I mean the book no longer had any value, which is disappointing because music books are expensive. So we thought with these materials, which are similar to places like Kinko’s, and with our experience with music and musical texts, we could find a way to rebind them spirally that wouldn’t damage the books.”
Their concept also provides options for labeling the book spines at a small surcharge.
The pair have in mind to tap Twin Cities’ schools initially – Norris noted that ACTC schools alone employ 156 music faculty. If all goes well, they will consider expanding their reach geographically and to private studios, then possibly delving into secondary markets, including cookbooks and even chemistry books.
A musical match
In addition to their Powerpoint presentation, Norris and Wosick performed their own self-described “spoofy, Saturday Night Live-inspired” version of John Lennon’s “Imagine.” Their performance – Norris on vocals; Wosick, guitar – earned praise, and “best presentation” honors, from the judges for being the first group in the challenge’s history to sing.
They asked Dr. Jay Ebben (for whose class, “Entrepreneurial Financial Resource Management,” they were required to submit to Fowler) for permission to perform live as part of their presentation as neither had ever presented a business concept in a high-caliber setting. They worried they wouldn’t be taken seriously. Fortunately, Ebben loved the idea and encouraged them to pursue it.
“We both get very nervous talking in front of people, and it was very nerve wracking having to present in front of CEOs of companies. These are people who have invented billion-dollar concepts; it’s really intimidating. So we decided to start our presentation with something we know right off the bat to calm our nerves,” Norris said.
Woscik attributes their effectiveness as a team to their complementary strengths and weaknesses. She also noted that “the process taught us what it meant to work as a team and how to collaborate ideas. I think the greatest part about PlayFlat is that we are the target market. As musicians we deal with this problem on a daily basis and really understand our customer base as well as the scope of the issue.”
Prior to the Fowler challenge, Norris and Wosick took advantage of another opportunity to shake off some of their jitters. The pair, at Cole’s invitation, presented – and performed – their pitch to one of his classes in advance of the real competition, held this past October, for which they received an enthusiastic thumbs up from the crowd.
Norris and Wosick hope to bring PlayFlat to fruition after graduation.
Hamline University Campus News - Mon, 03/03/2014 - 1:00am
Hamline University, already a leader in study abroad opportunities among Minnesota’s private colleges, was selected to join the Institute of International Education (IIE)’s Generation Study Abroad initiative to help increase the national number of students who study abroad.
St. Kate's Campus News - Fri, 02/28/2014 - 5:43pm
Her passion for students has earned Mary Adrian ’72 the 2014 Distinguished Principal Award from the National Catholic Educational Association. More »
St. Kate's Campus News - Fri, 02/28/2014 - 5:26pm
Four alumnae from the art and English programs secured prestigious Minnesota State Arts Board grants. More »
Saint Mary's University Campus News - Fri, 02/28/2014 - 1:59pm
University of St. Thomas Campus News - Fri, 02/28/2014 - 11:40am
Riding out the storms
This has been “The Winter of Our Discontent” for the eastern two-thirds of the country to quote Shakespeare and Steinbeck. Here in the Twin Cities we have had more than 40 sub-zero mornings, the south has had numerous ice storms, and the area from D.C. to Maine has had at least one snowfall of a foot or more. This has resulted in propane shortages and a run-up of prices, trees down with resultant power outages and damaged homes, cars damaged and abandoned on roads, schools and businesses closing, etc. I think enough is enough! Unfortunately for retailers they need to continue to ride out the storms.
Retail sales are a barometer of how customers “feel” about their personal situation and what is going on around them. Disruptors include economic events such as the recent financial crisis, wars like the Second World War, natural disasters like the Japanese tsunami and, of course, the weather like this year’s winter. Let’s examine how weather impacts consumers, retailers and the economy.
Harsh cold in the northern states and ice and snow in the South, Middle Atlantic and New England states has resulted in significant retail sales disruptions. Consumers stock up on essentials like groceries, water, gas and other goods to deal with the coming weather. During inclement weather consumers may postpone many purchases. Enter the Internet and online shopping! Shut-in shoppers can go to the internet to shop for things they planned to purchase in stores like clothing and home goods or simply out of boredom by being shut in. After the weather event has passed, consumers resume their “normal” shopping routine and plans.
How do retailers fare with winter events? Some, like restaurants and entertainment, are hit the hardest. Lost sales are often nonrecoverable. Many stores lose out to online retailers. Others, like hardware and home improvement stores sell more things like shovels, snow blowers, roof rakes, and salt. Weather events deplete retailers’ inventory quickly for such items except for the nimble and resourceful retailers that anticipate the event and lay-in extra supplies or have access to suppliers that they can tap into quickly. This is where small businesses shine.
This winter is having a profound impact on the economy. We have had 15 major storms so far, including the polar vortex event that only occurs about once a decade. Retail sales are off, schools and businesses have closed, transportation has been disrupted, power has been out over wide areas for extended periods, and there has been extensive damage to homes, commercial building and cars. Retail sales were down 0.4 percent in January compared to an increase of 0.2 percent in December as reported by the Census Bureau. Most of the blame is going to the weather. This may not sound like much, but if you are in the path of several storms, your sales were down a lot more. Hardest hit retailers – those who sell discretionary goods – were autos, department stores and sporting goods. Furniture, clothing and restaurants also were down. Building supplies and food stores increased.
So much for the bad news. Winter will retreat … sometime, and with it the economy and retail sales will normalize with little impact overall. Unfortunately, those who lost power for extended periods of time, paid more for heating or suffered losses from damaged or destroyed homes and cars will be negatively impacted for some time. City and state governments will spend more for snow removal, salt for ice abatement and overtime pay. The snow and ice that hit the South and Middle Atlantic states has been particularly devastating. A harsh winter with limited capabilities to cope with the weather will long be remembered.
Let’s take a vote: Isn’t it time for winter to be over? My vote is YES!
Dave Brennan is a professor of marketing and co-director of the Institute for Retailing Excellence in the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas. He specializes in retailing, especially discounting, shopping centers and consumer behavior; research and planning for cities, suppliers and retailers; and economic impact analyses.
Gustavus Campus News - Fri, 02/28/2014 - 10:56am
The Board of Trustees of Gustavus Adolphus College has elected Rebecca M. Bergman to be the College’s 17th president. Bergman is the first woman in the 152-year history of the College to be named president and will succeed Jack R. Ohle, who is retiring after serving as president of the College since July 2008. Bergman will officially take office July 1, 2014.
Bergman, who has served on the College’s Board of Trustees since 2007, has spent the past 26 years at Medtronic, Inc., including the last 14 years as a senior executive. She currently serves as Vice President of Research, Technology, and Therapy Delivery Systems for the company’s Cardiac Rhythm Disease Management (CRDM) business, where she leads a research and development team of scientists and engineers. She previously served as Vice President, CRDM New Therapies & Diagnostics as well as Vice President, Corporate Science and Technology, where she directed biomaterials and biosciences R&D, new therapy development, and information management initiatives.
“Becky is a proven leader as demonstrated not only by her successful 26 years at Medtronic, but also by her seven years of service on the College’s Board of Trustees,” said Warren Beck, Trustee and Chair of the Presidential Search Committee. “Her leadership skills, ability to collaborate and effectively communicate, and knowledge of the College’s strengths and challenges make her uniquely qualified to lead Gustavus at this pivotal time in the College’s history. I couldn’t be more pleased that she will be our next president.”
Bergman earned her B.S. degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University and undertook graduate study in a Ph.D. program in chemical engineering and material science at the University of Minnesota. Bergman has received a number of Medtronic’s highest technical and leadership awards during her tenure with the company. She was elected as a Fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering in 2001, and elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2010. She serves as a member of the Board of Directors of Sigma-Aldrich, on the Board of Directors of The Bakken Museum, and on a number of academic advisory boards. She previously served on the National Advisory Council of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering of the National Institute of Health and the St. Catherine University Board of Trustees.
“Gustavus Adolphus College is a special place. It has been an extraordinary experience for me to have the privilege to be a member of the Gustavus Board of Trustees and to get to know the campus, the people, and the culture of the institution,” Bergman said. “I have prized the opportunity to work with an institution so strongly committed to education and discovery. I look forward to participating in the next phase of the Gustavus story in whatever ways can best foster the future success of the College.”
Bergman is married to Thomas A. Bergman, M.D., Chief of Neurosurgery at Hennepin County Medical Center, a Senior Partner with Neurosurgical Associates, and Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota Department of Neurosurgery. The couple has four children including Matthew ’07, Andrew, Laura ’14, and John.
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Matt Thomas
University of St. Thomas Campus News - Fri, 02/28/2014 - 9:01am
Solitary confinement for 105 days
Dr. Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian-American who has lived in the United States since 1980, was robbed of her belongings, including her U.S. and Iranian passports, at knifepoint in 2007 on her way to the airport after her yearly Christmas stay with her mother in Tehran, Iran.
The crime, however, was no ordinary robbery but a staged heist by Iran’s Intelligence Ministry to obtain her personal information. Her work as director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (a position she currently holds) aroused the suspicions of the ministry, which eventually accused her of conspiring in an American plot to overthrow the Iranian regime; consequently, she was interrogated for eight months, 105 days of which she spent detained in solitary confinement as a political prisoner in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison. She chronicled the ordeal in her 2010 memoir, My Prison, My Home.
A longtime advocate for human rights and women’s rights, Esfandiari is this year’s Women’s History Month speaker. She will speak on “The Women’s Movement in Iran and the Middle East” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 6, in the auditorium of the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.
Her talk will interweave her personal experiences with a political history of Iran and the Middle East, and will discuss the changing situations of the region from an international feminist perspective.
Born in Iran in 1940, Esfandiari received her Ph.D. from the University of Vienna. She taught Persian language and literature at Princeton University from 1980 to 1994, and has directed the Middle East Program at the Wilson center since 1997.
Esfandiari was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Grant and was the first recipient of an award established in her name, the Haleh Esfandiari Award. It now is presented annually by a group of businesswomen and activists from countries across the Middle East and North Africa.
Esfandiari will be available to sign copies of My Prison, My Home following her lecture. Free and open to the public, the Women’s History Month lecture is sponsored by St. Thomas’ Luann Dummer Center for Women.
More information about Esfandiari and the Luann Dummer Center can be found online.
Esfandiari answered questions for the Newsroom last week via email about her imprisonment and work.
Have you been back to Iran since you left following your imprisonment? What would it take for you to return, especially since your mother passed away?
No, I have not been back to Iran since September 2007, when I left the country. As I explain in my book, it was a painful departure. On the one hand I was happy to be free and to go home; on the other I knew that I might not be able to return to Iran for a number of years. For me to return, there would have to be government that would not prosecute and persecute me.
What do you miss most about Iran?
I miss most about Iran the wonderful physical landscape – the majesty of the mountains, the clarity of the night sky – and the warmth of the people.
Your case remained open as of the publication of My Prison, My Home. Is your case still open today?
Yes, my case is still open. I was released on bail, and the bail still stands. This means the Iranian judiciary, which seems never able to close and end a case, can summon me to appear in court any time they wish to.
Are female political prisoners treated differently than male political prisoners in Iran?
No. Basically in Iran male and female political prisoners are not treated differently. But individuals are treated differently depending on their status as prisoners. Some are physically tortured; others are mentally harassed. Some prisoners are put in tiny cells, others in larger ones. Some prisoners, like me, are placed in solitary confinement; others are confined in groups. There is no single pattern.
You were very disciplined during your solitary confinement, mindful of keeping physically active and limiting your television usage when they placed one in your cell, despite your wishes; how important was keeping a routine to your morale and survival?
I did not want to have a television in my cell, but despite my objections, later in my imprisonment, they placed a television set in my room, and I had to endure the physical presence of a large TV in what was already a cramped cell. I would turn it on to watch the news because I had been cut off from any access to the news for quite a while. Did it do something for my morale? Not really. On the contrary, the appearance of the television set caused me concern. I thought it meant they were settling me in for a long stay; however, I was determined from the first day of my confinement not to give in to depression. I imposed on myself a rigorous schedule for each day and stuck to it.
Did you consider yourself a political dissident (with regard to Iran’s government) before your incarceration? What about after your release from Evin?
I am not a political activist; therefore, my arrest, interrogation and incarceration came as a big surprise. I was the victim of the paranoia and conspiratorial mindset of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry. They stole from me a year of my life, and in the end were able to prove nothing; however, I am a feminist and an advocate for women’s rights. I write and speak about the subjugation of women in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and believe in total equality for men and women under the law.
In your memoir, you called yourself an “unrepentant feminist.” What does that phrase mean to you? How does it play out in your daily life?
I believe in gender equality. I think the constitution of every country should include articles regarding total equality of its citizens regardless of sex, creed and religion. I believe that the constitutions in countries of the MENA region should be revisited and the discrepancies between the rights of male and female citizens should be removed. I believe societies should aim for 50 percent participation by women in political, economic and social life.
What is the current political climate of Iran from your feminist perspective?
The Islamic Republic of Iran is not gender-equality friendly. The history of the women’s movement in the last 35 years in Iran has been a history of constant battle between the government and women. Iranian women are the only group that have systematically pushed back against the government whenever it tried to infringe on their rights. Today Iranian women are far from being equal citizens of Iran, nor do they have the same rights as their male counterparts. But women have made some progress since the early days of the revolution, when most of their rights were suspended. Iranian women sit in parliament but there is no woman minister in the cabinet. The Foreign ministry has a woman spokesperson, but there are no women ambassadors nor deputy ministers. Today, more than 63 percent of entering classes at universities are women, and this has so alarmed the men that parliament is toying with the idea of introducing a quota system in favor of men. There are many similar examples.
Concordia University Campus News - Fri, 02/28/2014 - 4:54am
The City of St. Paul has declared a winter parking ban to ensure that streets remain passable for emergency vehicles. This announcement is important for students/staff/faculty who park on the streets surrounding campus. Please make sure to inform your guests and visitors of the restrictions.
Restrictions will go into effect Saturday, March 1. No parking is permitted on EVEN sides of streets throughout the city until St. Paul lifts the parking ban. It is anticipated that this parking ban will last until a majority of the snow melts. Cars parked in violation of the ban will be issued warning tickets Saturday and towing will begin at 8 a.m. Monday continuing throughout the ban.
The parking ban is in place because St. Paul has had so much snow that streets have narrowed to the point that access for emergency vehicles is restricted, posing a risk to public safety.Vehicles that are parked in violation of the parking restrictions are subject to a ticket and tow.
The streets closest to Concordia's campus impacted by this parking ban are as follows: There will be no parking on the Dunning side of Griggs, Carroll and Syndicate. Parking on Concordia Avenue and Marshall Avenue will remain under normal parking restrictions.
For more information visit the City's snow information visit stpaul.gov/snow or call 651-266-PLOW.
What you can do to help the parking crunch
Here are a few things that Concordia faculty, staff, and students can do to prevent parking problems posed by the winter parking ban in St. Paul:
- Make an effort to carpool whenever possible.
- Check parking availability in lots closest to Gangelhoff Center.
- Use public transportation. Concordia is served by the Metro Transit system. Call 612-373-3333 or visit http://www.metrotransit.org/ for information on bus schedules and routes.
- Report problems and illegally parked vehicles to Campus Security at (651)641-8278
St. Kate's Campus News - Thu, 02/27/2014 - 3:04pm
A new book and invitations to join two advisory committees bring St. Kate's national visibility. More »
College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University News - Thu, 02/27/2014 - 1:00pm
Former Presidents S. Emmanuel Renner, OSB, and S. Colman O'Connell, OSB, and current President MaryAnn Baenninger all received the SJU President's Medal and Citation at the annual event in Minneapolis.
University of St. Thomas Campus News - Thu, 02/27/2014 - 10:20am
This semester is kind of bittersweet for me: a harbinger of spring and warmer weather but also the last hurrah for 92 St. Thomas employees, including faculty, staff and administrators who are participating in the retirement incentive plans and retiring May 31. I’ll miss dozens of these people, but none more than Tom Connery and Lynda McDonnell.
I met Connery a year or two after he joined the St. Thomas Journalism Department in 1982, the result of a search by Father James Whalen for his ultimate successor as department chair. Father Whalen, my old friend, had been particular, persistent and persnickety in finding “just the right fit.”
Just the right fit turned out to be a guy who could be an engaging teacher, a promising scholar and an inspiring leader – all without threatening the Padre, who relished his role as the public face and front man of journalism at St. Thomas.
Connery was working on a profile of Don Shelby for a Twin Cities magazine when we met. I was a Shelby colleague at WCCO-TV and a friend, the godfather to his girls. Connery’s questions were sharp and thoughtful. I recall thinking this guy would make a helluva reporter and, after I read his story, I knew he was a heckuva writer.
By 1989, as I was about to turn 50, television news had changed dramatically; I no longer saw a role for me. I called Connery, recalling how I much I had enjoyed teaching a reporting course at St. Thomas as an adjunct. After a little good luck and a lot of lobbying from Connery, Monsignor Terrence Murphy and Dean John Nemo offered me a limited-term contract.
It was Connery who led me to tenure. He sent me to teaching workshops. He urged me to find publishing outlets. He celebrated my successes in the classroom. And he modeled a love and regard for St. Thomas students, particularly those who showed promise as writers and reporters. He loved this place and it showed in everything he did.
As a dean, Connery was proud of student-faculty research. He loved the idea that energetic professors would take good students along for the ride, sharing the excitement of thoughtful work and new discoveries. I hope he continues to teach once in awhile, especially his beloved Journalism as Literature course.
Lynda McDonnell has a shorter St. Thomas tenure than Connery, but her enthusiasm and energy are a match for his. She has led the ThreeSixty program for more than a decade at St. Thomas, with a goal to find students of color who want to be writers and reporters, to nurture them and to help them into college and, eventually, into newsrooms.
McDonnell came to the program in 2002 from the St. Paul Pioneer Press newsroom, where she was the political editor supervising coverage of the Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Jesse Ventura. She was used to action and antics. She got used to fundraising and hand holding, especially of 16-year-old wannabe reporters interviewing a Minneapolis mayor for the first time.
I loved working with her: She saw potential in a shy and sensitive student at summer camp. She spotted the opportunity to create a new program with a public school. She established an online news magazine written by, and for, high school students. She could arrange a fundraising dinner. She could plan a Saturday writing session. She could firmly, but gently, admonish me when I botched an “ask” of former TV weather forecaster Paul Douglas.
“My Lord, Nim,” she said, “you just told him that he may have other causes and uses for his money. Let him make that determination.” She was right. I not only didn’t set the hook, I failed to present the bait.
Connery and McDonnell never failed to show their pride and passion for St. Thomas. Of course, they’re not alone among the retirees. There also are Ken Goodpaster, Carole Jacobs, Marla Friederichs, Linda Halverson, Pete Parilla, Tom Mega, Bill Kirchgessner … and a whole lot more.
University of St. Thomas Campus News - Thu, 02/27/2014 - 10:19am
RJ Mitte, co-star of the Emmy-winning television drama “Breaking Bad,” will speak on “Overcoming Adversity: Turning a Disadvantage Into an Advantage” at 8 p.m. Monday, March 3, in South Woulfe Alumni Hall in Anderson Student Center on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.
The lecture is sponsored by the University Lectures Committee. It is free, but because of limited seating the lecture is open only to St. Thomas students, staff and faculty.
Following the talk, a meet-and-greet with Mitte will be held in Scooter’s, located on the first floor of Anderson Student Center.
In “Breaking Bad,” Mitte played the role of Walter White Jr., son of the cancer-stricken high school science teacher who turned into a drug manufacturer. Both Mitte and the character he plays have cerebral palsy, although in real life Mitte has a milder form of the disability.
Mitte is involved with several organizations that raise awareness of equality and diversity. He is a spokesperson for the National Disability Institute’s Real Economic Impact Tour, and an ambassador for United Cerebral Palsy, an organization that supports people with a spectrum of disabilities.
More recently he has been speaking out against bullying and has worked with the National Center for Bullying Prevention.
Mitte spent much of his childhood in Austin, Texas, and Lafayette, La. Early in his career he worked as a background actor on television’s “Hannah Montana” and “Everybody Hates Chris.” In January he began playing Campbell, a premed student paralyzed by a snowboarding accident in the ABC drama “Switched at Birth.”
University of St. Thomas Campus News - Thu, 02/27/2014 - 7:08am
Tobias Wolff once defined an emerging writer as “anyone not yet famous enough to enjoy the certainty of publication.”
All of us – writers and readers alike – emerge from the same beginning. We acquire language and writing skills. For the truly talented, writing becomes a way forward. Writers give meaning to our lives as they make clear the complexities of the world around us.
A number of accomplished nonfiction and fiction writers have developed these skills as students at St. Thomas, including Blue Zones author Dan Buettner ’83 and Evan Schwartz ’09, author of Finding Oz: How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story. Perhaps the best known is the late Vince Flynn ’88, whose political thriller novels featuring counterterrorism operative Mitch Rapp have sold millions of copies worldwide and have appeared on The New York Times bestseller list.
To emerge as a literary artist requires perseverance, passion and perhaps a dash (or more) of moonlighting to help make ends meet. St. Thomas magazine spoke with four emerging, though undoubtedly accomplished writers: Mark Ehling, Lisa Brimmer, David Doody and Dustin Nelson. Collectively, these four young alumni illustrate the diversity and reality of emerging writers today.
Delivery Boy of the “Weird” | Mark Ehling ’99
You could say a motto Mark Ehling lives by is “Create, then watch what happens.” It’s a phrase he used to describe his work ethic.
“Words are the connecting tissue for writers,” he elaborated. “We love the sound and feel of language. But it’s what you do in getting those words shared that keeps the love alive.”
Granted, he doesn’t have much spare time to write – he’s a full-time adjunct English teacher at a Twin Cities community college, a husband and father to two boys, including a newborn. As a result, he often asks himself, “How do I keep myself creatively in the game and not turn off the spigot? Is that part of me withering or dying?”
It’s a juggling act, but judging from his impressive and full resume of creative projects, he keeps himself snugly in the game.
Since graduating from the MFA program in creative writing from the University of Alabama, Ehling has been published in respected journals and magazines, including Utne Reader, Denver Quarterly and New Orleans Review. He also has written plays that have been accepted into and performed at the Twin Cities Fringe Festival and other venues.
“In any medium,” he said, “I don’t know a single practicing artist who’s good who’s doing it without working full time. Creating doesn’t mean making money – that’s just a necessity. Who in a Monday-through-Friday job has time to say, ‘Hmm, here’s how I’m going to advance my creative writing career’?”
To maximize his creative efforts, Ehling employs a philosophy he calls “writing plus.”
“Whatever you want to substitute for the ‘plus,’ be it static images, film, having a person perform your work live, whatever it is – all of those things contort and alter your meaning in wonderful ways.”
Ehling’s “plus” mostly involves visual media, which he incorporates with strange subject matter. “In mixing mediums, I find an ability to connect with other artists. … A director can bring to life something I’ve written and help me work with actors.”
The stranger, the better. Case in point: Ehling spent a month at the James J. Hill Library in downtown St. Paul doing research for a play, rummaging through photo essay books of the Nazi party. He found “a crazy assortment of Nazi kitsch items … a party horn with a swastika, a paper beer cup with Hitler’s smiling mug on it,” which he incorporated into the play.
In a marketing textbook used at the University of Alabama, he unearthed a bizarre case history that involved contact lenses developed for farm chickens. “The contacts were meant to solve the problem of chickens pecking each other to death when in close proximity, which stems from bad eyesight. The testers found the product failed because of a human problem: Farmers were afraid of being mocked by other farmers for applying contact lenses to their chickens.” The story worked its way into “Bath of Surprise,” a Fringe Festival project he created in graduate school.
“I always import something from the stream of detritus in the world. If there’s a feel of truth to it that hints at the human, that’s all I need,” he said. “People like to be reminded of the strangeness of reality. I love finding strange things that exist in the world and repurposing them. I’m kind of a delivery boy of the weird.”
One of his more recent accolades is for “How to Live Better,” a short film he wrote, directed and co-produced with his brother, Matt, about “a botched delivery of self-help literature that propels a man into a nightmare of mistaken identity.” It was selected for the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in 2009 and broadcast on PBS the same year.
Ehling recognizes that for some writers “the page is where they live and excel … their interaction is with a single, human reader via the page.” But for him it’s live performance that brings his written work full circle.
“I like to get people laughing and gasping together. For me it’s about the crowd and that communal experience that’s there for a moment and then vanishes,” he said. “Anytime I can get that, it makes all the work I put into it worth it. I’m addicted.”
Getting his creative work noticed in his day-to-day life requires some ingenuity. It helps if artists “create a scene,” he said. By this he means artists proactively creating a communal space for themselves where people can gather to experience their work.
“Think of it as ‘Let’s put on show!’ in the spirit in which kids do in their basements,” he said.
Ehling prefers slightly more public spectacles: “I like to attack little places like open mic nights as often as I can and watch those ripples go, versus solely searching huge public platforms.” Likewise, in 2004 he approached Bryant Lake Bowl in Minneapolis and booked, “Good Clown, Bad Clown,” a play City Pages called its “absolute favorite BLB show of the past year.”
A self-described “glorified show-and-tell artist,” Ehling credits his father, a former 3M speechwriter, for nurturing his love and knack for performance.
“My dad is a great orator. He has a love of oration that comes from religion and is heavily invested in theatrics,” he said, noting that his delivery is “Midwestern deadpan: I learned to pay attention to my dad’s cadences without bringing the fire and brimstone.”
Ehling has no qualms about being considered an emerging writer, even if he has been writing steadily for nearly two decades. The payment he has received for his efforts may not have reaped substantial financial rewards, but they have been meaningful.
“For me, I’ve had the honor of seeing humbling, life-sustaining results. Sometimes I make money; sometimes I lose. My film lost money, but it got me my teaching job. More often than not, my compensation is derived by discovering a new friendship or by the satisfaction of entertaining an audience.”
Taking Poetic License | Lisa Brimmer ’08
“I truly believe that it is my practice to have art in all things,” said Lisa Brimmer, on the force that drives her life.
A poet, playwright and organizer, Brimmer believes “building a life, building a solid life, is the same as building a solid career. It’s about the right people and dalliances and inspirations and obsessions. Choices make a difference.”
Brimmer has built a life for herself that, she acknowledged, has included choices both good and not so good. She has always found a way to do what she loves and embraces the reality that artists typically must do something other than writing to keep their cash flow robust: “Most people do,” she said. “Sometimes we kick and scream; sometimes we enjoy it.”
She’s found waiting tables, which she’s done since college, to be “the easiest way for me to create the boundaries I need to produce as a writer.” Brimmer also has sold auto insurance and moved to a third-ring suburb, both of which worked only to stifle her imagination.
“Everyone’s path is different,” she said, “and for me live performance with musicians makes me feel most comfortable and serves my work right now.”
In 2012, Brimmer founded High Society, a collaborative project comprised of herself and a group of acclaimed local jazz musicians who provide a rich backdrop against which she performs her poetry live at Twin Cities venues.
Brimmer, who was adopted by white parents and raised in largely white Lodi, Wis., told MPR last year that her draw to jazz sprouted from her effort as a young adult to learn about black American culture.
“Music is in my work and has been a part of my creative process before poetry got into the fold,” she said. “I find it liberating and exciting to perform in improvisational settings where you can find yourself with success and failure in the same five minutes.”
Still a few years shy of 30, does she consider herself an emerging artist? Some might because her work hasn’t been widely published, she acknowledged, though she couldn’t care less; instead, she hints at a more tantalizing conclusion: Shouldn’t all writers aspire to continually emerge? With two fellowships – from the Playwright’s Center and the Givens Foundations for African American Literature – standing monthly poetry performances at the Black Dog Cafe in St. Paul and past performances at The Loft’s Equilibrium Spoken Word Series, she’s far from an aspiring writer-artist.
“I consider myself an artist,” she stated, “and if you want to say emerging, that’s great. I’m not done yet.”
From the Dust of the Crossroads | David Doody ’01 and Dustin Nelson ’05
David Doody and Dustin Nelson’s story begins in the mid-2000s at Coffee News Cafe, when the two worked behind the counter at the beloved neighborhood coffee shop formerly on Grand Avenue in St. Paul.
Doody, who sought employment at the cafe during a “crossroads phase” a few years after graduating from St. Thomas, described the scene as “a creative hub” where students with a creative bent worked and local writers and artists convened.
“I was older than everyone else working there, which felt weird. I was reading and writing a lot, but I didn’t know how to put myself out there. Working with those guys gave me a new spark that had gone dark for a little bit,” Doody said.
In retrospect, he chalked up the experience, which seemed like a downgrade at the time, to “a blessing” that helped him answer questions that had been plaguing him: “Do I keep on teaching English as a Second Language?” And the notorious, “What do I do with an English major?”
A writing group was formed among the cafe staff, and soon after, Nelson, Doody and some of their fellow baristas formed InDigest, an online literary magazine and arts blog focused on creating a dialogue among the arts.
The magazine has evolved since its inception in St. Paul in 2007. It now publishes quarterly versus monthly, and Nelson, who has lived in New York City since mid-2008, is the sole original editor.
“Dustin’s a total freak of nature when it comes to being passionate about something and putting in the time and effort to make it good,” Doody said. “I don’t think he slept for seven years through his mid-20s while we were getting InDigest started and working on his own writing.”
Throughout InDigest’s six years of publishing, the artistic motivation behind it has remained the same. And it’s picked up a few accolades: One of its short stories was shortlisted for a Pushcart Prize, and it won Best of the Net in 2010 (and was shortlisted for the honor in 2011 and 2012).
Nelson recently described InDigest as having two main components: the online magazine and a reading series. “We’re more than a journal; we’re a platform to try new stuff. We let the readers pass around the bullhorn. People often email us to say, ‘Hey, I’m interested in trying out this weird idea. Do you want to help me?’ I like that.”
He’s organized many events in that spirit, including a nighttime benefit reading in an abandoned church. Last year he held a reading of poetry and stories on the “supposed” Mayan apocalypse, 12/21/12.
Both Doody and Nelson keep in contact and continue to work with words in one form or another. In addition to editing InDigest, Nelson works full time at Le Poisson Rouge, a music venue and art gallery that he helped open. The venue’s past roster includes an eclectic mix of internationally renowned acts, including Yo Yo Ma and Iggy Pop. He writes mostly poetry and comedy, though he is developing a radio script and does freelance work in the film industry. “Minnesota Nice,” an episode he co-produced, aired this fall as part of PBS’ Web-based series “Are You MN Enough?”
Doody switched gears three years ago when he and his wife decided to have a baby: “I needed to stop writing poetry for free and started looking at print mags as an actual job,” he said. He since has worked as Web editor for Utne Reader, associate editor at the former Metro magazine (Twin Cities) and is now editor for Ensia, an independent environmental publication published by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment.
The literary world, he said, is never far from his thoughts, and he believes it’s not unlikely that he’ll find himself back in that world again.
St. Kate's Campus News - Wed, 02/26/2014 - 5:45pm
A first-ever national event recognizing the lives and contributions of Catholic sisters is set to take place at St. Catherine University. More »
Saint Mary's University Campus News - Wed, 02/26/2014 - 5:20pm
St. Kate's Campus News - Wed, 02/26/2014 - 5:16pm
Karen Rauenhorst will continue as chair for two more years on St. Catherine University's Board of Trustees. More »
College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University News - Wed, 02/26/2014 - 1:00pm
Ryan Klinkner will receive the Rising Star Award in June from the College Sports Information Directors of America.
University of St. Thomas Campus News - Wed, 02/26/2014 - 12:08pm
Melissa Martinez relished Tuesday and Thursday mornings fall semester when her classroom was the courtroom and her coursework was helping real people facing difficult choices. Professionally speaking, this is where she felt most in her element.
A third-year law student, Martinez was participating as a student attorney in the School of Law’s Misdemeanor Clinic. She was one of 10 students enrolled in the course, now in its second full year.
The legal problems her clients encountered were not always as cut and dry as whether they were innocent or guilty.
“Most people entering into the criminal system are nervous, unaware and most times quite scared of what is going to happen to them,” said Martinez, who spent a year volunteering in a public defender’s office before enrolling in the Misdemeanor Clinic. “Too often people are in a position where things in their life can drastically change after their appearance in court, and they come here with little or no knowledge of how drastic that change can be.”
Getting that practical experience in the courtroom allowed Martinez and her fellow Misdemeanor Clinic student attorneys to better understand the tremendous responsibility of a public defender. Helping her clients navigate the court system and providing them with legal expertise were essential tasks, but Martinez said she most enjoyed helping clients feel supported.
“My clients felt at ease when they knew that someone was on their side and representing their interests,” she said.
Focusing on Criminal Law
The Misdemeanor Clinic – one of the 11 clinics housed in and overseen by the university’s Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services – is the fulfillment of a vision that started about seven years ago when Virgil Wiebe, professor and director of clinical education, began discussing the possibility of creating a clinic focusing specifically on criminal law.
“The idea was always there to add a clinic that had a specific focus on criminal law and would get students in the courtroom and working with clients at a higher volume,” said Wiebe, who has served as director of the university’s legal clinics for more than a decade. “Originally, we considered developing some externships on both the prosecutorial and defense sides, and then bringing them together in a clinic setting … and that isn’t an impossibility for the future. But we are really pleased with how this Misdemeanor Clinic has developed as far as placement of the students with public defender’s offices that are very dedicated to making this a truly career-building experience for the students.”
The clinic is co-taught by Scott Swanson, the School of Law’s academic achievement director who has a professional background in criminal defense, and adjunct instructor Shawn Webb, an attorney in the 10th District Public Defender’s Office in Anoka County. The duo assigns each clinical student to one of several public defender’s offices in the Twin Cities area, and, on occasion, for students with geographical ties, in greater Minnesota.
Under the supervision of a designated attorney, the clinicians spend at least 180 hours during the semester representing clients with legal needs that range from not making bail in time to report to their job, to seeking advice on how to best address the criminal charges against them. The clinic also includes class time, when students and instructors meet to discuss practical aspects of navigating the courtroom and criminal procedure.
Swanson, who has worked as a public defender at both trial and appellate levels, gives credit for the initial success of the clinic to co-instructor Webb. Three years ago, as Wiebe and Swanson continued to seek opportunities to bring the clinic to fruition, Swanson reached out to Webb, a well-known public defender at the 10th District Courthouse in Anoka County who had already been teaching a class with a similar structure at another law school. Webb felt there was a continued demand for placement of law students at public defender’s offices across the metro and in greater Minnesota, where calendars are constantly filled with a high volume of clients.
Webb said not only is the St. Thomas Misdemeanor Clinic a mutually beneficial relationship for the students and the public defender’s offices that take them on, but the partnership often results in a renewing experience for the attorneys who agree to supervise the clinicians.
“There is such an infusion of energy and enthusiasm that our students bring to this experience,” Webb said. “That enthusiasm can be infectious. All of the onsite supervisors who work with our students enjoy the mentoring-teaching aspect of this program.”
From Hesitation to Dedication
Lindsay Schwab’s participation in the Misdemeanor Clinic embodies that assessment. Schwab, a 2L, took the course last summer and as a result secured a clerkship in the fall with the public defender’s office at the Hennepin County Courthouse. Prior to her participation in the clinic, Schwab said, she had no intention of becoming a public defense attorney. She applied for the program because she knew it would provide her with valuable experience in the courtroom and an opportunity to help those in need. She now considers her participation in the clinic and subsequent clerkship as a vocational “calling.”
“I feel compelled to help people navigate the confusing waters of the law that I am so fortunate to be becoming familiar with,” Schwab said. “The Misdemeanor Clinic was the best opportunity to begin getting experience in the field of criminal public defense that I could ever ask for … and I haven’t looked back since.”
Swanson said Schwab’s story is a common testimony shared by misdemeanor clinicians when they gather each week for the classroom component of the course. The students spend about half their classroom time sharing their unique experiences – both the challenges and the successes – with their instructors and with one another.
“Each of these students experiences the challenges of the courtroom and representing a high volume of clients in difficult situations who often have little to no knowledge of the criminal justice system,” Swanson said. “So they share the frustrations, the crazy stories, the renewed perspectives – and they really gel around those common experiences. That is what this class, this clinic is all about.”
Read more from St. Thomas Lawyer.
Hamline University Campus News - Wed, 02/26/2014 - 1:00am
The School of Education and Social Justice Program hosted an enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowd of K-12 stakeholders to discuss how to define the achievement gap and what can be done to close that gap.