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In Praise of Perseverance

by Jason Matthew Smith, editor

As we were putting this issue together, something struck me about some of the stories. For many of the people featured in this issue, persistence is the name of the game. And it could be argued that a university—or any institution where intellectual rigor and ideas are prized above all else—tends to attract certain hard-headed types. But I mean that in a good way. Let me explain.

In the face of any one of the many obstacles he found in his path, Hank Louis, adjunct professor with the U’s College of Architecture + Planning, could have abandoned his dream of setting up a program to immerse architecture students in the craft of building homes for the underprivileged. Heaven knows there were (and are) plenty of challenges—funding, logistics, bureaucratic, and so forth. Life would have been easier for Louis had he just dropped the idea into the virtual waste bin and moved on. But sometimes you can’t let go of certain notions, because they won’t let you go. So Louis persisted and now heads up DesignBuildBLUFF, one of the most innovative programs of its kind, providing sustainable homes for those in need while offering architecture students the chance to get their hands dirty. Louis’ refusal to take “no” (or even “maybe”) for an answer paid off for the students, the community, and the U of U.

Also notable in this issue is Deborah Moeller’s story on U of U alum Brian Jepson, a physician leading the fight against autism. For decades, Jepson argues, autism has been poorly understood and misdiagnosed, but he and his colleagues are working to change that. Had Jepson accepted the conventional wisdom that autism was practically untreatable, scores of children would not have benefited from his work to better understand and address the disease.

Elsewhere in this issue, John Blodgett profiles Royhan and Nahid Gani, a husband-wife team of professors who study the effects of geography on human evolution. As with any serious scientific pursuit, the Ganis’ work required overcoming a host of challenges, but the pair has continued to lean on their keen academic skills—and each other—to help them answer some pressing questions about how we evolved.

Taunya Dressler takes a look at the Youth Theatre at the U program, which brings hundreds of children to the U of U campus every summer to immerse them in the world of theater. As Taunya points out, the program is more than an “acting camp.” These young thespians must shoulder plenty of responsibility during the production of performances. They acquire valuable skills—and become schooled in good old-fashioned “stick-to-it-iveness”—over the course of the summer.

Our Spotlight story features Kerry Don Peterson, the director of the U’s Body Donor Program. Peterson is notable not only for his professionalism and encyclopedic knowledge of human anatomy, but also for his compassion—and, of course, for his never-ending crusade to spread the word that donating one’s body to science is, perhaps, the greatest gift of all.

We also feature stories on Polish volleyball player Karolina Bartkowiak and alumna Gaelyn Derr, executive director of the Utah Animal Assisted Therapy Association, while a thoughtful piece on the vital role of institutes and centers at research universities by Ray Levey closes out the issue.

And one more thing: Thanks to those of you who have been sending us letters for our new Feedback column . Keep ’em coming. We’d like to know what you think about this or any other issue of Continuum.

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