Lessons Along the Way

In the early 1980s, J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr., BA’54, then president of the hotel corporation bearing his family name, sat at his desk stressing over the biggest business decision of his life: build a $500 million hotel in Times Square, or walk away from the deal. Times Square was then in a crime-ridden, dicey neighborhood in New York, known more for its drug culture and pornographic theaters than as a prime location for a high-end hotel. But Marriott knew there was a chance that the area could turn around, especially if the company planted the first seeds of redevelopment.

It was the last day to vote yea or nay on the project: If he didn’t agree to purchase the land that afternoon, the price would go up, and as Marriott’s phone lines blinked with associates on hold—including the mayor’s office wanting to know whether to schedule a news conference on the project—Marriott received another call. It was his father, J. Willard Marriott, who had started the company back in the late 1920s.

“When are you going to put AstroTurf on the balconies of the Twin Bridges Hotel?” his father demanded. The senior Marriott had a well-documented love for the fake grass. But rather than becoming impatient or angry with his father, Bill was relieved. The call, for all of its absurdity at that moment, put everything in perspective. He realized that risk could not always be calculated and quantified, like buying AstroTurf in bulk. Sometimes, you jump.

Marriott made up his mind then and there to go forward with the Times Square property—and the New York Marriott Marquis is now one of the company’s most prized lodgings.

Bill Marriott recounts the AstroTurf story as an example of managing risk in his book Without Reservations: How A Family Root Beer Stand Grew Into A Global Hotel Company, published in December 2012. “Don’t just kick the can down the road,” he writes. “My father hated making decisions, for fear that some better option was just around the corner or the risk was too great. I don’t suffer from the same kind of indecisiveness that plagued my dad. In fact, I’m sometimes accused—with some justification— of being very impatient about making decisions. I’d rather make a decision and get on with it.”

J.W. “Bill” Marriott, in the driver’s seat, visits a Hot Shoppe during the 1950s. (All photos courtesy J.W. “Bill” Marriott, Jr.)

J.W. “Bill” Marriott, in the driver’s seat, visits a Hot Shoppe during the 1950s.

Marriott’s book is in some ways a homage to his father and mentor—who died in 1985—and an outline of his own business principles, gleaned from a half-century in the hotel and lodging business. Under Bill Marriott’s leadership, the company has grown into an empire of more than 3,000 properties spanning the globe, with revenues north of $12 billion a year.

Marriott says he wrote the book both for himself and for business leaders. He had previously published one other book, The Spirit to Serve: Marriott’s Way, in 1997, and it was an earlier attempt to pin down his business philosophy and his biography. “It’s been 16 years since I wrote a book, and I decided it was time to write down a few things I’ve learned about leadership and team building, and to help me grow as a businessman, too.”

Without Reservations tackles each of Marriott’s (the man and the company—the two are, at this point, inseparable) core values: Put people first; pursue excellence; embrace change; act with integrity; and serve our world. Every Marriott employee memorizes these values and is expected to live by them. Of these, “put people first” is the linchpin that holds everything together. As Marriott notes in his book, that’s not necessarily earth shattering. Companies the world over claim to put people first. But Marriott believes that the connection between employer and employee is everything. “An organization’s culture is not a small matter,” he writes. A strong internal culture means lower turnover among employees, higher marks from satisfied customers—and happier shareholders.

Bill Marriott, top left, works with his two young sons and a couple of employees in a company kitchen during the 1970s.

Bill Marriott, top left, works with his two young sons and a couple of employees in a company kitchen during the 1970s.

Marriott culled many of his ideas for ethical and proper business practice from his father, as well as from his own experiences while working in the family business. His first job was stapling invoices together for the accounting department at age 14. Back then, the company wasn’t in the lodging industry, but rather operated a string of A&W Root Beer stands that also served food, called The Hot Shoppes. In high school, Marriott began cooking burgers in the Washington, D.C.- area Hot Shoppes and later moved on to sling hash while attending the University of Utah.

“While I was still working at the Hot Shoppes in Salt Lake City during college,” he writes, “I discovered that I thrived on the fast pace of the business. Teamwork was essential. When the noontime crowd poured in, everybody had to be at their command post and ready to go. If you didn’t dish the food fast enough or if people weren’t out on the floor taking care of customers, you would have a disaster on your hands.”

Marriott credits his time at the University—and his days standing behind the grill at the Salt Lake City Hot Shoppe—with helping him learn the fundamentals of business. “I didn’t know much about business before going to the U,” he says. “I did work with my parents’ business and went to a prep school—most of that was learning basics, not anything that could be applied to business. But I really enjoyed my finance classes at the U, and by being exposed to the things I learned at school as well as the hands-on work at the Hot Shoppe, I had a pretty solid foundation when I graduated in ’54.”

Although Marriott loved the restaurant business, he didn’t discover his true calling until the late 1950s, when the company built its first hotel, the Twin Bridges, just south of Washington, D.C. In 1957, he took over management of the new lodging division. “My dad had loved the restaurant business, but I loved hotels,” he writes. “Planning them. Building them. Seeing them fill up with people.” In 1964, he became president of the company, at age 32.

Without Reservations certainly dispenses some time-tested advice—for example, Marriott stresses the need for today’s executives to be hands-on managers. This is not some kind of hypocritical edict: At one time, Marriott easily racked up 70,000 air miles a year visiting his hotels and those of his competitors. He didn’t spend much time behind a desk and urges today’s businessmen to spend more time “in the field,” learning how things work from the ground up.

But rather than coming across like a stale collection of passé do’s and don’ts for young MBAs, the real strength of Without Reservations lies in Marriott’s ability to illustrate his point with very personal, sometimes cautionary tales from his own life. He may be urging businessmen to work harder and smarter, but he’s got a caveat about that, too, based on his own grueling work schedule.

Bill Marriott, left, and his father and mentor, J. Willard Marriott, in 1972.

Bill Marriott, left, and his father and mentor, J. Willard Marriott, in 1972.

In 1989, he boarded an Amtrak train in Washington, D.C., for a trip to New York. After settling into his seat, the unease and discomfort he’d been feeling all morning began to intensify. He promptly disembarked from the train, hopped back into his car, and told his driver to take him to the hospital. He suffered three heart attacks before undergoing coronary bypass surgery. In all, he was out for some six months.

The experience convinced him that it was time to slow down. He began to cut back on the amount of time he spent on the road, and in December 2011, he announced that he would step down as chief executive officer, naming Arne Sorenson as his successor. Bill Marriott, left, and his father and mentor, J. Willard Marriott, in 1972. Sorenson assumed the role of CEO in March 2012, and Marriott was named executive chairman.

Marriott’s decision to step aside illustrates another of the principles outlined in his book: Know when to get out of the way. “I’ve been in the saddle long enough (more than half a century) that I could easily have contracted Founder’s Syndrome,” he writes. “We all know the type: the hard-driving workaholic who dies at his desk; the 92-year-old patriarch who won’t give up the reins to the younger generation; the founder who keeps so much vital information to herself that when she dies, the company falls apart within months.”

Marriott’s tone is never preachy. Instead, he delivers equal parts wisdom and semi-confessional storytelling. “I’m pretty transparent in the book,” he says, “I’m willing to admit my mistakes.” He points out that although the book focuses on him, there’s more to it than just one man handing out advice. “It’s important to do the best I can to inform and teach about leadership principles,” he says. “But throughout, I focus a lot on working with a team, and that’s really the essence of our business. It’s not about one person, it’s about a group of people.”

Although Marriott has slowed down, he continues to be actively involved with the company’s operations, visiting properties, shaking hands, and penning 700 personal notes a year to employees, friends, and associates. He ends Without Reservations with a Chinese proverb: The journey is the reward. Traveling through the pages of Without Reservations with Bill Marriott, that wisdom becomes evident.

Jason Matthew Smith is a freelance writer based in Sandy, Utah, and a frequent contributor to Continuum.

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Games of Chance

David Kranes was a silent boy. He was always on the sidelines, observing, rarely saying much. On Saturday mornings, he might go to Boston’s University Theater to see a Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, or Gene Autry film. The theater handed out silver dollars to a lucky few between showings. It was a big deal to kids in their early teens. But even if the young Kranes managed to snag a silver dollar at the theater, it’s a safe bet that he wouldn’t yap about it very much. He just wasn’t a talker.

Even today, decades later, Kranes is by no means a chatterbox. When he speaks, he chooses his words carefully, as if plucking the ripest fruit from the branch. He exudes an almost Zen-like air. His home on a hillside above the University of Utah, near Popperton Park, is spotless. He has spent a lifetime cultivating his powers of observation, and honing an ability to not just communicate, but to select the right word and the right phrase.

Now a professor emeritus at the University of Utah, Kranes taught at the U for 34 years until his retirement in 2001, and he has mentored many preeminent authors. As the founder and onetime artistic director of the Sundance Playwrights’ Lab, he has shepherded numerous award-winning plays (his own and the work of others) from page to stage, working with such celebrated playwrights as Tony Kushner and actors including Kathy Bates and John Malkovich. His own dramatic work has been produced nationally, including at the Manhattan Theatre Club and Mark Taper Forum. And as the author of seven novels and a handful of short story collections—including, most recently, The Legend’s Daughter, released in May— he has established himself as a writer with a distinctive and clear voice, with accolades including a Pushcart Prize and the Utah Governor’s Award in the Arts.

Yet Kranes himself will readily admit that reaching a point where he felt comfortable expressing himself was a long time coming. “Discovering that I could speak and what that speaking might mean to others may have saved my life on a number of occasions. I tried not to be a writer in various ways. So to somehow earn my own permission to speak was so vivifying and life-giving.”

Kranes grew up in Boston, where his father was a highly regarded physician and was for a time chief of medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. His mother put aside her nursing career to raise Kranes. “Though my parents couldn’t be described as ‘power’ people, they were respected people of note in many ways, and their friends were ‘important’ people in the Boston/ Harvard/MIT community,” he says. “I remember a night when there were three Nobelists at our house for dinner. How would one ever dare to enter into that conversation?”

Under this kind of pressure, Kranes remained a reserved and quiet child, the kind of kid who kept his mouth clamped shut. “I stood at the edge of things, taking notes but believing I’d never measure up,” he says.

Living in the deep shadow cast by his father led him to enroll as a pre-med English major at Bowdoin College. But then he hit a wall. “I applied to med schools my senior year, but, in the late spring, realized, I can’t do this! I understood that my medical path was to please my father, who had always said, ‘Whatever you do, I’ll be pleased,’ but the unspoken message had been, ‘I’d be so happy if you chose medicine,’ ” Kranes recollects. “So I ditched med school and flailed for a couple of weeks, then decided, I love words. Lawyers use words. Lawyers are respected professionals.”

Photo by Tom Smart

Photo by Tom Smart

At 21, Kranes enrolled at Columbia University’s law school, where he flourished for a time. But the competitive nature of the school, with students clawing their way over one another to get into the best law firms in the country, began to wear on him. And his slate was full for another reason, as well. “I was trying to read a novel a day and write a sonnet a day, because I’d never get to do that once I graduated and started to practice,” he says. “And all that conspired into a breakdown. And after my head cleared from the breakdown, I saw that I’d best try to do what I loved, which was to write.”

He entered New York University and received a master’s degree in English. And the words wouldn’t stop: He wrote furiously, constantly. He also met and married his wife, Carol, during this time, and shortly after leaving NYU, he came to another crossroads. “I realized theater was more of a drive than poetry or fiction,” he says. “I’d had a few poems published; I’d had a story published; but I’d had a play optioned for off-Broadway production, and Yale was the place to go if you thought you might write for theater.”

So he hit Yale University’s Drama School in the mid-1960s, having finally found his niche. “[Yale] immersed me in the literature of world theater,” he says. “It gave me a laboratory in which to take seven of my plays through the entire process ending in production. It gave me a theater community of brilliant young theater people, such as director Jon Jory, actor Stacy Keach, and playwright John Guare, who actively stimulated one another when at Yale.”

After obtaining a doctorate of fine arts, Kranes headed west to Utah, where his wife had been raised. He also believed the move would be beneficial for him. “I thought it would be a good thing to get away from the East Coast, where I felt the pressure to become one of the Nobelists sitting around my family’s dinner table.”

He came to the University of Utah in 1967, teaching classes in both the English and Theatre departments. Once at the U, he found that he loved teaching. “That surprised me, because the choice to teach was a cynical one,” he says. “I asked myself, ‘What job might I have that would allow me the most hours in a given day to be a writer?’ ”

Kranes found that mentoring young writers was as much a calling as his own efforts to craft fiction and drama. “I think it’s very hard to commit to making stuff out of words without feeling a little odd, strange, or outside the mainstream. You help the younger writers see it’s not necessarily solitary,” he says.

One of those students was Ron Carlson HBA’70 MA’72, now a professor in the Programs in Writing at the University of California at Irvine and an author of numerous short stories and novels. Carlson first met Kranes in 1968, soon after Kranes had arrived at the U. Carlson says that Kranes had a talent for coaxing writers from their shells. And Kranes’ own work opened Carlson’s eyes to new possibilities. “I found it fabulous, dense and angular, and full of surprising imagery like nothing I’d ever seen. It made me want to write, and the truth is that his prose still is a spur to my own work.” Another of Kranes’ former students is Jon Tuttle BS’82, now a professor at Francis Marion University, who compiled and edited David Kranes: Selected Plays, released in 2011. Tuttle says that Kranes was one of the most beloved professors at the U during the early 1980s, when he was taking courses from him. “What he’s best at is making you feel like you belong and have something to say,” Tuttle says. “And that’s the first thing I keep in mind when I’m talking to my own students. I try to listen. That’s Kranes.”

The music of Kranes’ work largely follows two recurring themes. Like poking at a sore tooth, Kranes returns again and again to the charged dynamic of fathers and sons, tussling over control and veiled emotions. The landscapes of the West, of Utah, Idaho, and Nevada, also have come to figure prominently in his work. “I think we all need distance as artists,” Kranes says. “When I first got to Utah, my writing was about the East. It took me about six years to begin writing about the West. And it was different from my East work, which was cooler and more observant. The West work began with wonder and newness and discovery, senses of rebirth and initiation. … What’s good and bad about the East for me is its constancy. The West, on the other hand, is inconstant, shifting, changing, new—both discoverable and rediscoverable.”

That process of discovery and rediscovery took an unexpected turn during one of Kranes’ exploratory trips soon after arriving from Yale. He was heading to Elko, Nevada, with some friends when they hit a snowstorm raging across the salt flats. The travelers stopped at the old State Line Casino in Wendover. Inside, Kranes happened to stand behind a man who was raking it in at the blackjack table. The gambler passed a silver dollar to Kranes and said, “Here. Good luck, kid.” Kranes was transported back to his days as a teen in Boston, where those silver dollars were handed out as prizes during the Gene Autry or Roy Rogers flicks.

That confluence of the past and the present ignited a fascination with casinos and the emotions they trigger. “In a casino, the idea of ‘are you a winner or are you a loser?’ gets compressed into a three-minute or five-minute span of time,” Kranes says. And it dovetailed perfectly with his work in theater. “I’ve always been hypersensitive to space, especially affective space—the way any given configuration of space makes you feel,” he says.

David Kranes directs a production of Harold Pinter’s Old Times at the U’s Babcock Theatre in March 1984. (Photo courtesy Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah)

David Kranes directs a production of Harold Pinter’s Old Times at the U’s Babcock Theatre in March 1984. (Photo courtesy Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah)

After that fateful night in Wendover, first came stories and plays based in Nevada and its casinos, and then his essay about casino space called “Playgrounds” appeared in a Las Vegas travel guide. The essay appeared at a time when casinos were largely dark, dank spaces with wildly patterned carpets, and without windows and clocks. Kranes argued that patrons would be more inclined to linger if these spaces were more welcoming, and he chose a handful of poorly designed properties as examples of what not to do, predicting their demise. His prognostications proved true, and soon thereafter, in the early 1980s, the casino CEOs came calling, and he began evaluating casino properties for their effectiveness in keeping gamblers in the seats. He urged the CEOs to open up their gaming spaces, allow natural light to flood the casino floors, and bring a sense of the natural world indoors.

“It was the convergence of the two—the study of affective space and the fascination about Nevada’s images and surreality—which led to the casino consulting,” he recollects. “I was off and running on a consulting jaunt, which has taken me across the country and to Estonia, Lithuania, and Lake Como. Who was I to say no?”

In addition to the casino gig, he also was busy working with Robert Redford’s Sundance Playwrights’ Lab. “I had had a film project in the first Sundance Film Lab,” Kranes says. “The next year, I was approached and asked if I would like to create a Playwrights’ Lab which had the same developmental mission elements as the Film Lab.” He founded the new lab and worked with it for more than a decade, and although he is not involved currently, he still has a keen interest in its development. “I’m working on a book which tries to frame the first 14 years of the Sundance Playwrights’ Lab,” he says. “It was an inspired place and process, and I’m trying to record a sense of that.”

Today, Kranes is also facing a new challenge. In July 2012, he was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. “The treatment has gone very, very well, but there have been side effects,” he says. One side effect of the medication has been periods of crippling mental depression, which have brought a new degree of gravity and urgency to his writing. “I wrote a kind of journal called ‘Writing Myself Well’ and, as hard as I could, tried to use the process of writing and what it ignited in me to not stay in that darkness.”

He now believes the cancer will soon be in remission, and he still has a lot of writing he wants to do. He looks forward to spending as much time as he can with his two grown sons. He also has been rediscovering old stories he produced many years ago but squirreled away in filing cabinets. “Sometimes I put them in the drawer and forget about them,” he says. “I’ve been a poor marketer of my own work. It doesn’t serve me well professionally, but there’s always been this drive to do the next one and the next one.”

In addition to his new story collection The Legend’s Daughter, his latest work includes two novels (resurrected from the depths of those file cabinets), which will be coming out later in the year. As he sits in his house recollecting the work to be done, he leans back and folds his hands together. “I’ve also started sketching a play titled Final Episode,” he says, “a title which, at my age, speaks for itself.” Then he’s quiet, grinning from ear to ear. These days, he is quite comfortable with his own silence. He has a lifetime of stories that do the talking.

— Jason Matthew Smith is a freelance writer in Salt Lake City and a former editor of Continuum.

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The Innovator

During one summer in the mid-1960s, John Warnock toiled away at a tire store in Salt Lake City, recapping old tires with new tread. It was difficult work: Grind off the old tread, apply adhesive, carefully align new tread on tire, seal the new tread. Repeat all day long. It was loud and hot and uncomfortable. And the tire shop gig just wasn’t working out.

Warnock was just finishing up his master’s degree in mathematics at the University of Utah, but his job prospects as a fully credentialed mathematician seemed uncertain. Sure, he could teach, but that wouldn’t provide much more cash than recapping old tires, and he wanted to provide for a family one day. “I remember thinking, ‘This is crazy. I’ve almost got a master’s degree in mathematics. I need to get a good job,’ ” Warnock now says.

He shot out a resume to IBM, and the company snatched up the young mathematician and sent him to a couple of different computer schools around the country for training. Once he devoted himself to computers, nothing would ever be the same.

Warnock BS’61 MS’64 PhD’69 has changed the way people interact with technology. He co-founded Adobe Systems, Inc., one of the most successful companies in America. His awards and honors have included the U’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1995, the American Electronic Association’s Annual Medal of Achievement Award (along with Adobe co-founder Charles Geschke) in 2006, the 2008 National Medal of Technology and Innovation, and in 2010, the Marconi Prize, the highest honor for work in information science and communications.

The University of Utah’s John E. and Marva M. Warnock Engineering Building was completed in 2007 and provides some of the country’s most advanced engineering classrooms and facilities. (Photo by August Miller)

The University of Utah’s John E. and Marva M. Warnock Engineering Building was completed in 2007 and provides some of the country’s most advanced engineering classrooms and facilities. (Photo by August Miller)

The son of a prominent attorney, Warnock grew up in the Salt Lake City suburb of Holladay, Utah, along with his older brother and sister. He attended Olympus High School, where he had a singularly undistinguished and completely average high school career. Today, he would probably be labeled “unmotivated.” He expressed a passing interest in engineering, but a high school counselor told him that he had zero chance of being a successful engineer. He didn’t have a head for math.

Ninth-grade algebra was a disaster. He just didn’t understand mathematics, and he failed the class. But a math teacher at Olympus took an interest in him. “I had an amazing teacher in high school who, essentially, completely turned me around,” Warnock says. “He was really good at getting you to love mathematics, and that’s when I got into it.” When Warnock left high school, he was pulling straight A’s in math.

He attended the U after graduation—in part, because that’s what everyone else was doing. “Almost everybody at that time who grew up in Utah went to the University. My dad went to the University, and my mom went there for a while.” In college, Warnock was, in his words, a “mediocre” student. He says that he’s fairly certain professors viewed him as one of those students who was solidly in the middle of the pack. He received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and philosophy, and went on to graduate school at the U, finally managing to keep his grades up.

While working on his master’s degree, Warnock in 1964 solved the Jacobson radical, a rather complicated problem in abstract algebra that had remained unsolved since being posed in 1956. “I got swept up in the problem after I read about it in a book by [mathematician] Nathan Jacobson, and thought very hard about it for about one and a half years,” he says. “My thesis advisor worked through the write-up, and it was submitted and accepted for publication in the Transactions of the American Math Society.”

Soon after, in 1965, Warnock met Marva Mullins BS’66, who also was a student at the U. They dated for only five weeks and were married in September. “I knew right away that she was the one,” he says.

Armed with his master’s degree and a new sense of purpose, he got the job with IBM and then returned to the U, where he received a doctorate in electrical engineering in 1969. Warnock has said that he holds the dubious distinction of having written the shortest doctoral thesis in University of Utah history. That 1969 thesis outlined the “Warnock algorithm for hidden surface determination.” In layman’s terms, the algorithm assists a computer in its attempts to render a complicated image by breaking the image down into smaller parts that the computer can handle.

During his doctoral studies, Warnock also began working with ARPA, the U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency, on part of a government-funded contract granted to Evans & Sutherland, a University-based start-up that was founded in 1968 by two leading professors in the U’s Computer Science Department, David Evans BA’49 PhD’53 and Ivan Sutherland. Most of the company’s staff members were current or former students. ARPA was designed to promote technological breakthroughs and big-picture thinking (initially to counteract work done by the Soviets) using small research teams. At Evans & Sutherland, Warnock first began to work on ideas for a computer language that would allow computers and printers to talk to each other. “The University was a very special place in the late 1960s,” Warnock recollects. “With the ARPA contract that Dave Evans had, he was able to attract Ivan Sutherland and Tom Stockham and some of the really great researchers from around the country, and the group at Utah was just incredibly creative and really invented a lot of computer graphics as we know it today.”

Warnock left Evans & Sutherland in the late 1970s and became a principal scientist at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), in California. The center was doing some of the more cutting-edge computer graphics research at the time, and Warnock worked on interactive computer graphics projects that would shape the way computers would evolve over the next three decades. “Essentially, Xerox really invented the personal computer the way we know it today, with the use of graphical user interface, and the use of type and laser printers,” Warnock says.

At Xerox, one of Warnock’s colleagues was Geschke, head of PARC’s Imaging Sciences Laboratory. The pair were like-minded idealists and innovators, intent on solving some of the thorniest problems in computer graphics. They had a particular interest in tackling a solution to computer-generated typefaces and images. At the time, it was virtually impossible for a computer to render a smooth, aesthetically pleasing typeface or picture, let alone send the image to a printer. The two scientists eventually developed InterPress, a printing protocol that allowed computers and printers to communicate.

But Xerox balked at Warnock and Geschke’s brainchild. The duo tried to convince Xerox executives that the system they had developed would be the wave of the future. Xerox wanted to make it a proprietary form, while Warnock and Geschke believed that InterPress would be better put to use in the marketplace, where it could become standard on its own. After two years of lobbying by the scientists, Xerox preferred to just sit on the idea. “They decided that they weren’t going to adopt what we had worked on, [and] they weren’t going to let the world know about it,” he says. “We thought that was crazy.”

Warnock and Geschke decided to make a go of it on their own, and they left to found Adobe Systems in 1982. One of their first technological breakthroughs was PostScript. Built on what they had learned with InterPress, PostScript paved the way for computers and printers to efficiently swap information, and it was developed for Apple’s LaserWriter printer in 1984.

Before Adobe’s PostScript, printing and publishing were solely the domain of companies that could afford expensive printing presses. To have anything printed in appreciable quantities required copious amounts of ink and large clattering machines that would take up the better part of a spare bedroom—even for the smallest machines. It was a process dating back to the earliest days of printing, largely unchanged. But Adobe’s new creation kicked off the desktop publishing revolution.

Adobe Systems co-founder John Warnock relaxes inside the whimsical interior of the Blue Boar Inn that he and his wife, Marva, own in Midway, Utah. (Photo by Tom Smart)

Adobe Systems co-founder and U alum John Warnock relaxes inside the whimsical interior of the Blue Boar Inn that he and his wife, Marva, own in Midway, Utah. (Photo by Tom Smart)

Adobe’s early days were rough. The Internet was just taking off, and Adobe’s own management team was at odds with each other over where the company fit in the computing spectrum. Then, in 1991, Warnock wrote a research paper about a program he dubbed “Camelot” (during Adobe’s formative years, programs were often given code names). The paper outlined an early version of what would later become the Portable Document Format, or PDF. For the first time, an electronic version of a document could be searched, reviewed, and sent to another user. The fonts in a PDF are preserved—what you see, the receiver will see. It allowed legal or business documents to be easily swapped between computers.

The PDF put Adobe on the map. Over the past two decades, the PDF format has replaced much of the flow of paper documents between users. Other revolutionary products followed at Adobe, including Illustrator and Photoshop, the latter of which has become an industry standard for graphic design work. Adobe is now a billion-dollar company and the world’s third-largest software developer for personal computers. Warnock stepped down as chief executive officer of Adobe in 2001 but still serves as co-chairman of the board, with Geschke.

These days, Warnock devotes much of his time to his other interests. He began collecting rare books in 1986, starting with the purchase of a 1570 edition of Euclid’s Elements from a bookstore in London. In 1995, he started a company called Octavo. The idea of the company was to sell CDs with high-resolution scans of the books. “We scanned some of the great books from the greatest libraries in the world, as well as a lot of the books I own,” he says. “The company was not successful for a number of reasons, but I had all the book files.” So he created the website rarebookroom.org to showcase the scanned images and make these rare books readily available to anyone with a computer and Internet access. The site now features more than 400 volumes.

Warnock’s other passion is Native American art. Over the years, he and Marva would often travel to the Four Corners region with their three children to visit Native American sites, and the trips sparked an interest in American Indian art and culture. “We started collecting casually, maybe 10 or 12 years ago,” he says. “We think the early history of the United States is interesting, and the art produced by Native Americans is incredible.”

U alumni John and Marva Warnock, shown here at their Blue Boar Inn in Midway, divide their time between California and Utah, where they also have a home in Deer Valley and ski every winter. (Photo by Tom Smart)

U alumni John and Marva Warnock, shown here at their Blue Boar Inn in Midway, divide their time between California and Utah, where they also have a home in Deer Valley and ski every winter. (Photo by Tom Smart)

The Warnocks’ collection began with baskets and pots and has since grown to include hundreds of items, including moccasins, shirts, and beadwork, from more than two dozen Native American tribes. The collection has toured the country in many exhibits, including one at the University of Utah in 2010, and a number of the pieces may end up going to Paris for an exhibit in 2014.

The Warnocks also have devoted attention to their home state in other ways. In 2003, the couple announced a major donation to the University of Utah, providing the funds to kickstart construction on the John E. and Marva M. Warnock Engineering Building. The 100,000-square-foot structure was completed in 2007 and provides some of the most advanced engineering classrooms and facilities in the country.

The Warnocks, who have a home in Deer Valley, still hit the slopes for skiing every winter. And they own the celebrated Blue Boar Inn in Midway, which also keeps them busy in Utah.

It’s been nearly a half-century since John Warnock spent that summer recapping tires. Thirty years after founding Adobe, he shrugs off his success and offers up one of his characteristic understatements: “We sort of learned as we went. And it turned out all right.”

— Jason Matthew Smith is a freelance writer in Salt Lake City and a former editor of Continuum.

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Boots on the Ground

University of Utah President David W. Pershing stands in the shadow of a wind turbine, gazing up at the massive blades of the machine 300 feet above the sage and scrub brush of southern Utah’s high desert. On this fine June morning in the Escalante desert near Milford, Pershing, his two young stepdaughters—Tressa, 10, and Quincy, 13—and a coterie of administrators from the U are enjoying their tour of First Wind Milford’s power-generating facility. It’s a far cry from the marbled facade of the Park Building at the U campus, but Pershing and his fellow travelers are on a mission to familiarize themselves with the Beehive State’s distant corners, and to spread a message: The University of Utah isn’t just an urban school geared toward those who live between Ogden and Provo. It’s a school for students from Snowville to Rockville, and it’s precisely this message that Pershing has been pounding home at every opportunity during his statewide trip.

The Milford stop is one leg of an extensive odyssey across Utah dubbed “The Great Red Road Trip: Bringing the U to You.” Other jaunts took the new president to eastern and northern Utah in July, and Tooele County in August, all in an odd-looking, squat bus emblazoned with a large boot on the side.

About that boot. One thing you’ll notice about Pershing, particularly if you pass him on campus, is his choice of footwear: There’s no mistaking the distinct clop-clop of cowboy boots on concrete. Back home in his closet at the Rosenblatt House are a couple pair of sneakers, and buried back there somewhere are some hiking boots, but the cowboy boots—they’re front and center. Hence, the boot logo on the tour bus.

Pershing is by no means a cowboy, at least not in the classic sense—he was raised in the cornfields of Indiana. But he took to wearing boots in the mid-1970s while attending the University of Arizona, where he earned his doctorate in chemical engineering. His chosen footwear reflects exactly the kind of man Pershing is: an individualist who makes no apologies for who he is. That quality is one of the key factors that led the State Board of Regents to select him from among 80 applicants as the 15th president of the University in January. He began work as president in March, and will be formally inaugurated in October.

U President David Pershing plans to make the undergraduate student experience one of his top priorities. (Photo by August Miller)

“He does not change his personality to please any one constituency; he is always himself,” says Phyllis “Teddi” Safman, assistant commissioner for academic affairs with the Utah System of Higher Education. “[During the interview process] he gave answers that were to the point, short, concise. He also clarified when he was conjecturing. More than these, he is known for working hard and getting things done without excuses.”

Pershing took the helm of the University at what may well have been one of the most crucial times since its founding. With the departure of former president Michael K. Young to the University of Washington in the nascent days of the U’s membership in the Pac-12 conference, many wondered publicly and privately what the next step would be. Young had built the U’s reputation as a business and technology powerhouse, with the U spinning off more tech companies than any other major research university in the nation. And with a jump to a high-profile athletic conference, a lot was at stake. But when the Board of Regents announced that Pershing had been selected as the U’s new leader the first from among the institution’s ranks within the last 30 years—the enthusiasm was palpable. “When President Pershing’s name was announced at the open meeting where the regents voted, there was an upwelling of excitement,” former Board of Regents Chairman David Jordan told The Salt Lake Tribune. “There was a shout of excitement that went up from the University community that was gathered there.” Those who had worked with Pershing knew the right man had been selected for the job.

Safman, who has known Pershing for nearly three decades, says he’s smart and understands issues well. “He chooses good people and then gets out of their way except to discuss his vision and elicit the visions of his staff. He brings these qualities to the job,” she says. “In addition, he does not have an arrogant bone in his body.”

Had things played out a little differently, however, Pershing might not have been president of the U—and in fact, might not have been in the halls of academe at all.

There was no doubt the young Pershing would attend college. It wasn’t even up for discussion. His father had worked his way up through the ranks of General Motors to become an electrical engineer, but never managed to get a degree. “My father wasn’t financially able to complete college because of the second World War,” Pershing says. “What that did is that it made him absolutely convinced that I was going to college. He was bound and determined from the get-go that I was going to get a degree.” First came a bachelor’s in chemical engineering from Purdue, then the doctorate from Arizona, where he specialized in studying techniques to remove pollutants from industrial emissions.

In the mid-1970s, Pershing met Philip J. Smith, then a grad student at Brigham Young University and now professor of chemical engineering and director of the Institute for Clean and Secure Energy at the U. Smith was impressed from the start. “I knew he would do great things,” Smith says. “But I admit I didn’t expect it to be in the administrative area.” Pershing could have easily settled into a lucrative career at a research lab in the chemical or petroleum industry. It was typical for young chemical engineers at the time to carve out a niche in the private sector. But that’s not exactly what happened.

“At the time I was graduating [from Arizona],” says Pershing, “I just decided that I would take a look at academics, and I had offers to interview at Texas, Cal Tech, and Berkeley,” he says. “One of my professors was a very ‘pro’ academic person, and he wanted me to go interview at these very prestigious places. I came here to the U during the trip that I took to Berkeley. I ended up with a firm offer from Berkeley. But this is the sort of weird part of the story: I actually turned the University of California-Berkeley down to come to Utah.”

U President David Pershing, right, talks with Bryan Harris, development manager at First Wind Milford, about renewable energy potential in the southern Utah desert. (Photo by Lawrence Boye)

Pershing had discovered a passion for teaching. Standing in front of a group of students or assisting a grad student in research trumped everything else. “One of the things I loved about the U was that they not only saw me as a person who could bring in research money and build a research program,” he says, “but they also saw me as a teacher. And that wasn’t true at many of the schools I interviewed at.”

So in 1977, he found his calling—not in a lab for a chemical mega-corporation, but at the U, working his way through the ranks of the Chemical Engineering Department to become dean of the College of Engineering in 1987. Along the way, he won both the Distinguished Teaching and Distinguished Research awards, as well as the Rosenblatt Prize for Excellence, the U’s highest honor for faculty. He became director of the University’s Center for Simulation of Accidental Fires and Explosions and eventually ascended to the rank of senior vice president for academic affairs in 1998. In September 2010, he married his wife, Sandi, the U’s assistant vice president for outreach and engagement, who is creating new undergraduate initiatives. In addition to his two stepdaughters, Pershing has a 28-year-old daughter, Nicole, who is in medical school at Duke University.

As for his career path, he says: “I had no intention of being any kind of administrator, because I love teaching.” But what he has discovered is that being an administrator gives him an effective pulpit to enact change on a much broader and grander scale. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

University of Utah President David Pershing, right, visits with WECCO’s Dave “Andy” Thayer at the company’s Cedar City facility as part of the statewide “Great Red Road Trip: Bringing the U to You.” (Photo by Lawrence Boye)

As president, Pershing has already adopted a platform that will continue to emphasize faculty research, creative work, and technology commercialization, but also focuses the U’s strengths on the one area that has meant the most to him: the undergraduate experience. After extensive research, the U is looking to revitalize undergraduate education. “It starts from the very beginning with recruiting, clear through graduation and beyond,” says Pershing. “The University of Utah is clearly not going to be the undergraduate institution for everyone in the state—nor should we be. But for the students who are prepared to come and enjoy what we offer, I want to provide an excellent experience. And it doesn’t matter whether you grow up in St. George or Moab or Ogden. I want the University of Utah to be accessible to those students.”

Specifically, Pershing’s plan is to take a more “holistic” approach to admissions, rather than relying on a rigid standard of weighted grade-point average and ACT scores. Under the old metrics, little consideration was given to a student’s background or the classes he or she may have taken. Essentially, if their GPA and ACT gave students an index score above a certain line on a chart, they were admitted. Clear cut, but fraught with inherent problems. What if a high school didn’t even offer challenging courses for college-bound kids? The new system is geared to address just that.

“A human being will actually take the time to study what you did in high school, what courses you took. Were you working 40 hours a week in high school? Because if you were, your GPA might be low, not because you weren’t working hard, but because you were working very hard,” says Pershing. “Were you taking AP classes, or part of the International Baccalaureate program? Those kinds of things are much more important in ways than the absolute GPA.”

University of Utah President David Pershing, second from right, and his wife, Sandi, right, chat with students in the U’s Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building. (Photo by August Miller)

Getting qualified students accepted to the U is the easy part. The linchpin to Pershing’s vision is for students to complete their courses of study more quickly and efficiently. An integral part of that is encouraging more students to invest more time on campus. At present, about 13 percent of the U’s students live in residence halls, with the majority commuting to the school from around the Salt Lake Valley. But if Pershing has his way, this could change.

“If we can get the students living on campus and if we can get at least part of their work on campus, those things help the students’ probability that they will graduate,” he says. The new Donna Garff Marriott Honors Residential Scholars Community residence hall that just opened up this fall is a first step and will provide a home to about 310 students. “Beyond that, we hope to add several more residential living areas for students,” Pershing says.

The sheer size and scope of the U has been a double-edged sword for students—yes, there are numerous opportunities in research and learning, but the quantity of choices can be dizzying. Combine that with a campus that’s just more than 4,000 acres, and it becomes all too easy to slip between the cracks—and fail to graduate. In some disciplines—chemical engineering, for example—there may be only 40 or 50 graduates each year, and faculty are likely familiar with every student in the program by the time they’ve been in school for four years. It’s a different story for students majoring in biology. “With these big, big majors,” says Pershing, “if we don’t do something special for you, you may not know any member of the faculty well by the time you graduate, particularly if you’re a bit shy, and if you’re a drive-on student.”

The goal, Pershing explains, is to redouble efforts in encouraging students to participate in at least one engaging activity during the trek from admissions to commencement. To help facilitate this, the U will begin beefing up student and academic advising resources. Pershing calls this initiative the “Presidential Promise.”

“We promise that you will have the opportunity to have at least one deep engagement experience while you’re at the University of Utah,” he explains. “That could be study abroad, it could be the Honors College, it could be LEAP [Learning, Engagement, Achievement and Progress, a program for first-year students to assist with the transition to college], it could be an undergraduate research experience, the Bennion Center, working with UNP [University Neighborhood Partners], an internship—any of those things where you get involved deeply with something. And part of the motive here is so that when you get ready to apply for graduate school or for a job, there’s somebody who can write you an in-depth recommendation.”

Pershing emphasizes that these changes are part of a larger vision. “I’m going to continue to push research excellence, and we’ll continue to push our niche strength in entrepreneurship and all the things that does for our state,” he says, “but I want to balance that with strengthening the undergraduate experience for the kids from the state of Utah. If we are to be the flagship university for the state, it is incumbent upon us to make sure our students succeed.”

Money to pay for some of these initiatives (and many more) is another issue. But Pershing seems to have a talent for bringing folks to the table when it comes time to discuss potentially sensitive issues—such as funding. “He is a consensus builder,” says Smith in the Chemical Engineering Department. “His ability to listen to people and bring them together is exceptional.”

President Pershing’s Inauguration

The inauguration ceremony for President David W. Pershing will be held October 25 at 11 a.m. in Kingsbury Hall. Due to limited seating, attendance will be by invitation only. However, the ceremony will be broadcast as a live video stream from the University’s homepage at www.utah.edu. Visit the University’s Web site for additional information on this and other inauguration events.

Pershing’s summer bus trip was, in part, an effort to rally the state—and its decision makers—behind his plan, and to persuade legislators that the U’s best interests are deeply intertwined with that of the state. His schedule is now packed with meet-and-greets, speeches, and those long bus trips through the hinterlands of Utah. He’s up with the sun and frequently doesn’t get home until late into the night. Although that doesn’t leave much time for anything else, he’s adamant about carving out some time for his family. “I had a long talk with my younger daughters before I agreed to do this, and they were both very supportive,” he says. “We’re trying to keep at least one night of the week that’s a family night.”

When Pershing makes his way toward the podium during his inauguration, you can bet that his family will be his loudest supporters. And there will be a pair of handsomely polished cowboy boots poking out of his ceremonial robes.

—Jason Matthew Smith is editor of Continuum.

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'Love Matters, Too'

Debra Monroe’s memoir tackles motherhood, race, and small-town Texas.

Writer and U alum Debra Monroe stands outside with her daughter Marie in Texas’ Hill Country, near their home in Austin. (Photos courtesy Southern Methodist University Press.)

~In 1992, Debra Monroe PhD’90, a writer and English professor, landed in Wimberley, Texas, just as her second marriage was disintegrating. As a single, educated woman in a one-horse town (Wimberley then had a population of around 2,400), she was already a bit of an anomaly. Then she adopted infant Marie in 1997.

Monroe is white, and Marie is black. And in Wimberley, Texas, in 1997, that turned out to be a big deal.

Monroe’s memoir, On the Outskirts of Normal: Forging a Family Against the Grain, chronicles her journey raising the only black child in Wimberley and her struggles with her own fears of motherhood and of truly loving someone. As Monroe’s health declines because of an undiagnosed illness that stumps physicians, she also juggles a demanding academic career at a nearby university and the ongoing remodel of her small Hill Country home, all while fielding questions from the locals such as “That’s your daughter?” But Monroe and Marie, now 14, build a life together, and throughout On the Outskirts of Normal, Monroe remains resolute: The fear of failure, the fear of sickness, the fear of coded social mores will hold no power here.

Monroe—born in North Dakota and raised in Wisconsin—now lives in Austin, and teaches at Texas State University. She is also the author of two collections of stories, The Source of Trouble and A Wild, Cold State, as well as two novels, Newfangled and Shambles. Here, she answers a few questions for Continuum.

Is there anything you would have handled differently about Marie’s adoption? 

I guess I wouldn’t trade any of it, because the proof is in the outcome, and she’s such a great kid. Some of it was difficult, but embracing difficulty is part of life. The real test of our abilities is how we step up and extemporize. I mean that you can be well-prepared, but then a problem arises you couldn’t possibly have foreseen. I knew adopting a baby of another race would present challenges, and I remember feeling a little afraid. But everything worthwhile I’ve ever done—going off to college (which did in fact terrify me), earning a Ph.D., writing my first book, building a house—made me afraid. Being afraid meant I was taking the responsibility seriously.

It might have been helpful to live in a more diverse place, but my job wasn’t in a city, and academic jobs are so specialized that I couldn’t apply somewhere down the road. The town where I taught wasn’t especially diverse, either, and its school district was bad. I owned a home in the nearby village, and its school district was first-rate, if not diverse.

Obviously, having a second parent would have helped, too, but there wasn’t one. I did realize, after my daughter was a few years old, that one factor I’d underestimated was my lack of extended family. One day when my daughter was about 5, I was watching American Idol with her, and a contestant said that she was doing American Idol because she was a single mother and wanted to make a better life for her daughter. I kept thinking: How is she in Hollywood for 12 weeks then? I didn’t feel secure leaving my daughter even overnight. I was her sole safety net. Then one night the contestant thanked her mother and grandmother, with whom she lived. Being a single mother isn’t rare. But Marie’s grade-school principal once said to me: ‘You are the most single mother I’ve ever met.’ I would have given anything for an aunt or grandma.

Still, we figured it out. I got more resourceful. She grew up resourceful. She always felt loved, and yet she’s never been sheltered from responsibilities and decisions. So raising a child in a time-warp small town wasn’t ideal, no. But it meant that we confronted questions early—about race, about adoption, about what makes a family. I answered her questions as honestly as I could in age-appropriate language. It was a crash course I wouldn’t have enrolled her in if I’d had a choice. But she has more clarity and poise than many people twice her age. Her sense of who she is, and our sense of who we are together, were under a lot of scrutiny, and that made us more certain about our values and priorities.

 You’ve said that this book is about motherhood, and not race. What do you mean by that? 

Writer and U of U alum Debra Monroe sits with her then 20-month-old daughter, Marie, on a Main Street bench in Ione, Ore., during a visit there for a wedding.

Someone at a book signing once told me that she was sick of people talking about transracial adoption in the vein of ‘all you need is love.’ There’s truth in that. If you want to adopt transracially, you will also need tact, patience, and an almost ambassador-like ability to talk across a cultural divide.

But love matters, too. So it’s mostly a story about me wanting to be a mother and learning to trust the fear that arrives with love. My own mother was out of contact for 17 years, so I was strangely intimidated by the responsibility, worried I wouldn’t be a good enough mother. I’d also never cared about anyone this much before. That made me afraid. Learning that fear is the price of love—that’s the story.

Race didn’t matter to me, but I had a responsibility to teach Marie that it sometimes matters to other people, and to clue her in about the history of race in America, so it wouldn’t be a shock when she learned about it somewhere else. I had to do this in increments that were right for her age when she started asking questions. One of the first tough questions she asked was: What’s slavery? Followed really quickly by: Why did Martin Luther King die? She needed to learn about the scary parts at home, so I could see how she was handling the information, so I could make her feel safe. I didn’t sit her down and do this all at once. But if she asked a question, I gave her information I felt she could handle.

But if race mattered very little to me, it mattered to almost everyone else. We were constantly stopped by strangers who wanted to know how we came to be, if she was my biological child (this is a nosy question, considering its subtext), if she was a crack baby, if she was from Haiti, if she was academically slow, if she was good at sports. People either stopped to congratulate us on helping move the history of race relations forward, or they were wary and distrustful and awkward, or occasionally rude. No one was neutral. I had to respond to these comments in front of Marie, and my first concern was for her well-being. So everyone else’s interest in race is a constant subplot in the book. But it’s not the plot.

How has life changed for you and your family now that you live in a larger town?

Being urban doesn’t insulate you from racism. It just means most racism is coded, implicit. That’s challenging, because you have to address it in code.

I mean that in the country, a drunk old guy in a restaurant might say something straight out of the old South about her hair and then ask: ‘Does she eat watermelon?’ (I’m actually not making this up.) I moved her to another table and told him, ‘I’m teaching her not to talk to strangers.’ That was the right response for her age then. And the guy wasn’t worth my time.

But in the city, a clerk in a department store accused my daughter of loitering to shoplift when I was three feet away—because we don’t look like we belong together. Would the clerk have accused a white teenager of loitering to shoplift? I don’t think so. But it’s not tactically smart to say so. Still, I’m not letting the clerk off the hook. I said: ‘I’m her mother, and she’s waiting for me. But, to clarify, is there a policy against teenagers shopping alone?’

When writing this book, was there anything you were tempted to leave out? 

All sorts of things didn’t make it into the book. Some got added at the last minute. My first four books are fiction, and the trick to writing a memoir—as opposed to fiction—is that you find the plot instead of invent it. You sift through life to find the story shape. Events in life are often foreshadowed, but the foreshadowing gets obscured by random facts. Life has recurring motifs, but they get buried under random facts, too. Sometimes life serves up a central conflict, a crisis, and afterward, the chance to draw conclusions. Finding the plot is mostly a matter of leaving irrelevant things out. Sometimes it means emphasizing something that wishful thinking or self-protective evasion will make you hurry past. So a memoir is never the whole truth. But if it’s good, it’s honest. It’s the distilled truth.

—Jason Matthew Smith is editor of Continuum.

Web Exclusives

View a video trailer of On the Outskirts of Normal here.

Extended Interview

How do you think raising Marie in a small town affected your parenting style? Would you have done anything different had you lived in Dallas or Houston?

In a city, people just don’t pay much attention to strangers. People have sensory overload in cities. In cities, you meet so many people in a day, you can’t zero in on one or two. We would have had more privacy. In Dallas or Houston, there’d be more black people, too. In Austin, where we live now, the black population is only 11 percent. But people in cities are less provincial. They’ve traveled more. They’re less likely to stare and blurt questions.

What have been some reactions to the book from other transracial families, or those wishing to adopt children of a different race?

Once in a while, someone will complain that it’s not a how-to book. I can’t answer that except to agree. It’s a memoir. It’s one mother’s experience—how being a mother in a specific time and place changed me.

At talks or readings, there are sometimes audience members who have come because they’ve adopted transracially—usually more recently than I did, because adoption laws changed so recently. A question I get a lot is: How do you handle your anger about people’s curiosity and questions? The good news is that you get about a year to deal with your anger and find a strategy. But, within a year or so, your child is old enough to process the conversation, or at least the emotion. You can’t live angry. Your child shouldn’t grow up thinking race makes you angry.

This is not to say that there aren’t real jerks in the world and that I won’t go to battle to make my daughter’s life better. But I pick my battles, and I realized early, especially given where I lived, that the awkward small talk was inescapable. Most (not all) is well-intentioned. People want to be friendly. People were surprised by us. They didn’t have prefabricated chitchat on tap.

Given the time and place, transracial adoption wasn’t a very private experience of motherhood. It was fairly public. It still can be, 14 years later in a city. Marie has her own answers now. But when she was little, I was modeling answers for her. She’s not everybody else’s chance to learn a civics lesson, though. So I answered people cordially, briefly. I tried to raise the level of conversation, then exit the conversation quickly.

The section of the book related to black hair care is fascinating, as most white parents (and whites in general) have no clue about this aspect of rearing children of color. As Marie has gotten older, have you run into any other cultural or racially specific areas that might have come as a surprise?

I always joke that the biggest argument against transracial adoption is hair care. The agency was very happy with the placement, so my case worker frequently suggested I adopt another child. I’d answer, half-kidding: ‘Okay, but a boy, because there aren’t enough days in the week to do two girls’ hair.’ As I say in the book, the history of black hair is a history of race in America. It’s not just cosmetology—it’s sociology and history, too.

As for cultural or racial specifics that have since come as a surprise—I guess I’d have to say racism, period. When I encounter it, it’s still startling. It’s never on my mind until someone puts it on my mind. A seventh-grader’s really foul version of it. Another parent’s assumption about what socioeconomic class Marie is from, and this parent’s relaxed sigh when I show up. Or a black person’s anger at me because I’m white. I once said to a friend, who is black: I’ve heard it all. He said: Oh no, you haven’t. You will never have.

This moment in time is not Jim Crow, but it’s not post-racial either. Overt racism is fairly rare. Unconscious assumptions about race aren’t, though. I guess I expected that Austin—where we’ve moved to since—would be past that. As a city with a liberal image, it might be. But individuals aren’t always.

What are you working on now?

I have been so busy with events related to this book—readings, visiting writer stints at other universities, speaking engagements. And I do have a teaching job. So I’ve been writing just book reviews and short pieces. I’m not sure about another book yet. It will be nonfiction, though. I like the way nonfiction insists that you try to find meaning. The best fiction does, too. But I’m more inclined to go after meaning without the disguise on now.

A Living Laboratory

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to get out of the classroom for a while—to get your hands dirty (sometimes literally) and to allow the physical world to be your instructor.

That, in part, is the goal of Rio Mesa, the University’s multidisciplinary field institute located near Moab. Rio Mesa brings together students, faculty, and community members from wide-ranging backgrounds—biologists, architects, geologists, writers, and more—and compels them to not only learn from one another, but to experience the Utah landscape in all of its gritty, inspiring glory.

Susan Vogel’s story on Rio Mesa (page 24) illustrates the impact of allowing artists and scientists to rub shoulders and see the natural world through each other’s eyes. At Rio Mesa, everyone is encouraged to experience the “real” world outside the classroom. For example, civil engineering students may encounter just about any obstacle Mother Nature might present, such as flood-ravaged roads. And these students are expected to come up with solutions to fix those roads. At the same time, a group of writers may be roving the site’s 380 acres, attempting to hone their linguistic skills by better understanding how flora and fauna and human habitation interact. Likewise, faculty in the arts and sciences have used Rio Mesa as a studio or laboratory to test their own ideas. Rio Mesa is unique, and it’s one of the University’s hidden gems.

On page 18, Kelley Lindberg explores another innovative teaching environment—the newly renovated home of the College of Nursing. The remodel is more than a cosmetic makeover (although the facility did benefit significantly from added windows). The revamped building now includes a state-of-the-art simulation center, allowing nurses to gain valuable experience before moving to the bedside of a living, breathing patient. Medical education has certainly come a long way from the days when neophyte nurses jabbed oranges with a syringe; nowadays, students gain experience in virtual hospital rooms equipped with lifelike, robotic mannequins programmed to exhibit a host of symptoms.

Also in this issue, Barry Scholl moderates a conversation between two of the University’s foremost legal scholars—Amos Guiora and Wayne McCormack (page 30). At issue is the First Amendment, and vital questions over when—or if—it should be limited. In this informative Q&A, Guiora and McCormack touch on the kind of religious and social issues that have come to define First Amendment arguments now taking place in living rooms, barrooms, and courthouses across the country. The story offers an unparalleled opportunity to examine the thought processes of a pair of renowned academics.

In our “Bookshelf,” Amy Albo offers a peek at a revolutionary new book for breast cancer patients and their support providers (page 36). The book is a brilliant collaboration between University physicians, a med student, and a photographer, and is designed to empower patients with information. On page 10, John Youngren introduces the U’s new track and field facility. And be sure to check out Taunya Dressler’s profile of artist, activist, and professor Kim Martinez on page 14.

Please don’t hesitate to let us know your views about these—or any other—stories in Continuum. We value your opinion. See the box below for contact information.

On another note, with this issue we bid farewell to managing editor Linda Marion, who retired at the end of April, as we were wrapping up production. For the past 11 years (more than half the lifespan of this magazine), Linda has served as an insightful wordsmith for this publication and as a director of alumni relations for the Alumni Association. We will sincerely miss her ability to polish sentences, as well as her wit and gentle demeanor. Best of luck, Linda. With her departure, we welcome our new colleague Julianne Basinger BA’87 MA’91. Julianne brings with her experience including writing and editing at The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Deseret News, Reuters, and the Associated Press. Hello, Julianne!

We’re eager to hear from you.

Please send letters to editor Jason Matthew Smith, jason.smith@ucomm.utah.edu or 201 Presidents Circle, Room 308, Salt Lake City, UT 84112. You’re also welcome to leave a comment on any of the stories on this site, or contact us here.

Putting Students Front and Center

Sometimes—particularly during an economic downturn—I think it becomes too easy for some individuals to trivialize higher education as simply “job training.”

We’ve all read the news stories: Want a better life? Then go to college, and get a good job. Yes, it’s vitally important for students to graduate with the skills they need to become productive (and employable) members of society. But a University education is so much more than a series of classes standing between student and job. It should be a time of discovery in which a student not only hones critical thinking skills, but also contributes something valuable to a chosen field or the community, even before strolling across the stage for that diploma. There’s no reason why a college education should be an either/or proposition—“job training” or “education.” The solution, I think, begins with the students themselves.

Engaged students take an active interest in their learning, and in turn take advantage of the opportunities available at the U, while developing the tools needed to obtain employment. In other words, engagement is the key, as it unlocks the curiosity and drive necessary to unite “training” and “education.” Susan Vogel introduces the MUSE program. MUSE stands for “My U Signature Experience,” a new initiative designed to create a more deeply meaningful educational experience for students. Although still in its infancy, the program has received accolades and backing across campus. U of U President Michael K. Young notes, “When we put students front and center, remarkable things happen.” That gets to the heart of what MUSE is and what it aims to accomplish: Connect students with resources, and their own deepest interests, and transform them into passionate and lifelong learners, not just passive vessels filling seats with the hope of picking up a few job skills. As the MUSE program gathers  steam in the coming years, more students will become accustomed to the notion that they are central to the quality and intensity of the education they receive. And I think they will find their lives more fulfilled because of it.

Teaching and engaging students are of the utmost importance at the U, but any institution worth its salt must also serve as a laboratory for innovation. New ideas should be posited, tested, and shepherded into the world. And here, too, the University has excelled. In this spirit, John Blodgett presents five ideas homegrown here at the U that have the potential to significantly impact their respective disciplines.

And speaking of successful ideas, Blodgett, featured twice in this issue, also delves into the founding of The MUSS. Without question, The MUSS—a student cheering section for athletics, which can literally shake the rafters and bleachers at U of U sporting events—is one of the University’s great success stories. At a time when some schools must contend with flagging student participation in institutional activities, the U (thanks in part to The MUSS) has bucked that trend.

Also in this issue are three engrossing stories about three very different individuals. Taunya Dressler explores the life and work of Nassir Marrouche, a celebrated cardiologist who has revolutionized the treatment of atrial fibrillation. Barry Scholl bids farewell to one of the University’s most popular and respected teachers—English professor François Camoin, who will be retiring next year. And finally, alumna Tracy McMillan shares an excerpt from her recently published memoir, a compelling tale of roadblocks—and redemption.

As always, we’d like to get your views on these or any other stories in this issue of Continuum. Please drop me a line via e-mail or good old-fashioned U.S. mail at one of the addresses below. Be sure to include the city and state where you live.


We’re eager to hear from you.

Please send letters to editor Jason Matthew Smith, jason.smith@ucomm.utah.edu, or to 201 Presidents Circle, Room 308, Salt Lake City, UT 84112. You’re also welcome to leave a comment on any of the stories on this site, or contact us here.

Committing to the Community

I am often surprised by the number of letters I receive that begin with a phrase much like this:  “Your recent issue brought back so many memories—I grew up near the University of Utah, and before I was even enrolled as a student, my family frequently visited campus.”  Letters highlighting just such a sentiment are the perfect illustration of how deeply the University of Utah is woven into the fabric of the community. The U is as much a destination for culture and entertainment as it is for education. Meaningful interaction between town and gown builds mutual respect, strengthens both community and institution, and forges some unforgettable memories, as our alums will attest.

The two feature stories in this issue focus on ways in which the University is serving the community at large. Yes, the University fosters breakthroughs, generates ideas, educates students, and so much more—but it is also a neighbor.

In Kelley Lindberg’s story on the University Neighborhood Partners/Hartland project, we see how the University joins with the community to help underserved and marginalized populations. The project—located in an apartment complex on Salt Lake City’s west side—provides language instruction, financial literacy, and other classes to individuals who may have recently arrived in the U.S. (from such disparate locations as Somalia, Iraq, and Bosnia) or those who may need a little extra help navigating linguistic or cultural complexities. The story makes an important distinction: This is not simply about the University’s reaching out; rather, it’s about the University’s “embedding” itself in the community. As proof of the U’s commitment, the UNP/Hartland program is purchasing and expanding into a new, 10,000-square-foot facility next door to the original apartment complex. The goal is not only to provide assistance to those in need, but also to offer U of U students and faculty in various disciplines a chance to work hand-in-hand with residents. It’s an unparalleled opportunity to share knowledge. Says Rosemarie Hunter, UNP director:  “The goal of this was not just to impact the west side, but to change the structure of the University and how it works, so that across the institution we begin thinking about how we tie teaching and research to the communities where we live.”

Brett Hullinger reveals a very different side of the U’s commitment to community with a behind-the-scenes peek at Pioneer Theatre Company. PTC (as well as a handful of other performing arts groups on campus) consistently provides high-quality productions for the residents of Utah throughout the year. Hullinger’s story highlights the work of some of the talented craftspeople who help pull together PTC’s productions—people who don’t usually share the spotlight with the actors and actresses, but without whom the play would not go on.

Also in this issue, we welcome the contributions of two new writers to Continuum. Dave Wieczorek profiles author and alum Les Standiford, whose forthcoming  book investigates the abduction and murder of young Adam Walsh, an event that arguably “changed American childhood forever.” And Katy Muldoon introduces us to alumna Angela Haseltine Pozzi whose sea sculptures constructed of castoff garbage have drawn attention to the plight of aquatic systems everywhere—and have also had a restorative effect on the artist.

Paul Ketzle spotlights English professor Kathryn Stockton, who pioneered gender studies here at the U and whose classes are enormously popular. Her journey from aspiring Episcopal priest to English professor is both engaging and inspiring. And finally, John Youngren visits with newly arrived gymnast Corrie Lothrop, an exceptional athlete who adds her talents to the Red Rocks this season.

And—as always—we enjoy reading your letters, whether they’re reminiscences about your days at the U or responses to something you’ve read in Continuum. So please, keep ’em coming. You’ll find contact information below.


We’re eager to hear from you.

Please send letters to editor Jason Matthew Smith, jason.smith@ucomm.utah.edu, or to 201 Presidents Circle, Room 308, Salt Lake City, UT 84112. You’re also welcome to leave a comment on any of the stories on this site, or contact us here.

Fresh to the U

Here’s a challenge: Think back to those days of your freshman year at the U. Maybe you were a little nervous, or maybe not—perhaps you were supremely confident. Whatever your state of mind, odds are that you had no clue what the next four or five (or more) years would bring.

The freshman year of college is a crucial time—younger students, flush with newfound freedom, may go hog wild and do everything but study for exams. Or they may be anxiety-ridden over doing well and engage in marathon studying. Either way, sometimes students discover new interests along the way. Anything can happen during the freshman year. And that’s what makes it so compelling.

With this issue, Continuum launches an experiment: Beginning on page 24, Kelley Lindberg introduces five freshmen just starting their academic adventures here at the U. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and locations—from Omaha to Beijing. We will follow these students throughout their time at the University, checking in on occasion to see how they’re doing. The goal is to offer readers a glimpse into the life of a University student, circa 2010 and beyond. We’ll chronicle their ups and downs, failures and successes, and you’re invited along for the ride. The students will maintain blogs on Continuum’s Web site, which they will update frequently. This should be an interesting and enlightening exercise—an opportunity to get to know a handful of students as they begin a new phase in their lives. And you might be surprised by the variety of pressures facing today’s students—many different than those confronted by earlier generations.

Elsewhere in this issue, John Blodgett explores the U’s role in paleontology (page 30). The U of U has long occupied a central position as an important institution for the study of dinosaurs, in part because of our proximity to some world-class fossil beds. In recent years, the U has contributed a steady stream of scholarship to the field, and Blodgett takes us beyond the museum exhibits to examine the dusty, difficult work of paleontologists.

On page 18, Susan Vogel offers up a tour of the new Sutton Building, home to the College of Mines and Earth Sciences. The structure epitomizes the future of academic architecture, blending state-of-the-art classrooms with an environment that is pleasing to the senses while also serving as a didactic tool. The building not only enhances learning through smart design, but at the moment it’s the University’s “greenest” structure, incorporating numerous elements to lessen its impact on the environment. The Sutton Building is just the first of many “smart” structures (both academically and environmentally) that are destined to be the standard for the future.

Also in this issue, John Youngren takes a look at the U’s recent switch to the Pac-10 conference and examines what it means for the University now that we’ve joined the big leagues—or, if you prefer, a “different” league (page 10). On page 14, Susan Vogel puts a spotlight on KUED’s new general manager, Michael Dunn; and on page 36, Linda Marion interviews writer and alumna Zoe Murdock, whose first novel explores the impact of polygamy on a modern American family.

The Continuum staff would also like to take a moment to bid farewell to the magazine’s publisher, Mark Woodland. For the past four years, Mark has enthusiastically supported and guided this publication, and his insight has been invaluable. As he moves on to more westerly pastures, all of us on the Continuum staff wish him the best.

I hope you enjoy this issue. Be sure to check back often for updates. And please don’t hesitate to leave a comment on any of the stories posted here. We welcome your feedback.


Some individuals in photographs on page 14 of the Summer 2010 issue were not identified correctly. The woman pictured in the top left photo is Helen Henderson. In the photo at the bottom of the page, U President Michael K. Young is shaking hands with Wilford Goodwill, for whom the new Social Work building was named. Bill Farley is near the center of the photo, in the navy jacket and gray slacks.

We’re eager to hear from you.

Please send letters to editor Jason Matthew Smith, jason.smith@ucomm.utah.edu, or to 201 Presidents Circle, Room 308, Salt Lake City, UT 84112. You’re also welcome to leave a comment on any of the stories on this site, or contact us here.

Surviving and Thriving

This issue of Continuum marks the beginning of the magazine’s 20th year. In May 1991, the first edition of this magazine appeared, complete with a cover story about genetics research at the U.  What the editors and writers back then knew (and it’s no less true today) is that the University of Utah is at the forefront of medicine—in terms of both research and training of medical professionals. That first issue highlights the U’s considerable and impressive work in medical research, but there are other important things happening in the health sciences that perhaps don’t get quite as much attention. And so it seems fitting that, as Continuum nears two decades of publishing, our cover story looks at the other side of the medical coin—providing a training ground for students. And that endeavor has become more important than ever, given the much publicized “physician shortage” faced by most regions in the U.S.

Medical training in this country requires students to run a gauntlet of labs, classes, patient care, studying, and the shedding of much sweat and tears, if not blood. Yet despite these trials, scores of students apply to the U’s School of Medicine every year. Make no mistake, these students—whether accepted at the U or elsewhere—are qualified and intelligent individuals, and by all accounts, know what they’re getting into. In our cover story, Amy Albo introduces two such students, offering readers a glimpse into the lives of exhausted yet exhilarated young doctors. Forget what you’ve seen on Grey’s Anatomy; this is the real deal. Despite all the hurdles these two doctors must clear in the early stages of their careers, both are passionate about helping patients, and that’s what matters most.

Continuum isn’t the only campus entity commemorating a significant event this year. Red Butte Garden marks its 25th anniversary, and to help celebrate the occasion, Linda Marion explores the history of the garden, along with recent renovations and future plans. This time of year, Utahns and visitors flock to Red Butte Garden for its popular outdoor summer concerts. But Red Butte is also respected for its conservation efforts and educational offerings—for children and adults alike—as well as (of course) for its extensive collections of flowers and plants. A visit to this urban oasis is highly recommended.

Kelley Lindberg introduces the U’s new Brazilian Studies Program. The South American nation boasts the world’s eighth-largest economy, and despite the global recession, appears to be continuing to thrive. Without question, Brazil’s trajectory will take it to the top of the worldwide ladder in the coming decades. To help understand this rising South American powerhouse, the U launched the Brazilian Studies Program in 2009, and it’s attracting students who yearn to know more about a country that may well dominate headlines in the near future. The Brazilian Studies Program—and numerous other new programs and areas of study across campus—is a good example of the kind of interdisciplinary, forward thinking that happens at the U.

Also in this issue we feature profiles of Bill Farley, a longtime faculty member in the College of Social Work and a humanitarian known for his work with the elderly; and U of U sports medicine grads Robert “Chip” Schaefer and Frank Vitti, both of whom help keep the Los Angeles Lakers at the top of their game. Plus, Paul Ketzle conducts an intriguing Q&A with English professor and writer Lance Olsen, who continues to make his mark in the world of experimental fiction.

As always, I encourage readers to drop us a line about these or any other stories in Continuum by e-mailing me here.

A Stately Home, Inspiring Stories, and Pioneers

Everyone knows that the president of the United States lives in the White House. But how many in the University of Utah community are aware that the University president also lives in a publicly owned white house? It’s a bit smaller, less imposing, and there is no Oval Office, but it’s a handsome, stately building none the less.

It’s called the Rosenblatt House, and it has a fascinating tale to tell.

As the private residence of the University president and his or her family, it’s not like the Park Building—individuals can’t stroll in and out of the home at their leisure. But President and Mrs. Young do manage to host more than two dozen events a year within the home, allowing some members of the U of U community the opportunity to see the Rosenblatt House up close and personal. Fortunately, writer Susan Vogel’s story is a kind of all-access pass to the house, permitting many more of us the opportunity to sample this unique part of the University’s legacy.

Also in this issue, writer Kelley J.P. Lindberg showcases an inspiring project by the University’s School of Music. The program brings music to elementary and high school classrooms, specifically to aid at-risk youth. As Kelley points out, the undertaking involves more than just piano lessons; instead, these kids are picking up useful skills that will serve them well in the future, and perhaps keep them focused on school (and out of trouble), as well.

Speaking of inspiring stories, Julie C. Kiefer’s article on Team Brain showcases the meaningful work that can be accomplished when researchers, clinicians, patients, and families come together to form supportive communities. This courageous group of cyclists, some of whom have Multiple Sclerosis, is committed to bucking stereotypes about those afflicted with the disease—and equally committed to finding answers (and possibly treatments or a cure). It’s a cooperative effort between the U’s Brain Institute and the community, and the results have been impressive. Researchers and clinicians benefit from interacting more closely with MS patients, and those combating the disease gain a sense of camaraderie, and sometimes much more.

And don’t miss Taunya Dressler’s profile of U of U Professor of Anthropology Polly Wiessner. Wiessner exemplifies the kind of compassionate scholar you’ll find tucked away in just about every department on campus. She not only studies the Enga tribes of Papua New Guinea, but she has also devoted an extraordinary amount of time and energy to helping them preserve their endangered culture.

This issue also features a trio of “pioneers” in a variety of fields. First, there’s the inspiring story of basketball player Wat Misaka, the first person of color to play for a professional basketball team in the U.S. In this issue, you’ll find Linda Marion’s review of a publication about noted painter and U of U alum Jim Jones, considered a patriarch of those artists who attempt to capture the grandeur of the Southwest on canvas, and a profile of alumna Amy Van Prooyen Greenfield, a committed entrepreneur who has established a unique type of law firm devoted to assisting high-profile clients foundering in choppy PR waters.

Please feel free to leave a comment on any article or drop me a line about this or any issue of Continuum by using the contact link above.