One More: Dinosaur Caravan

The crowds lining Salt Lake City’s Main Street were eager; a buzz of anticipation ran through the throng. “The dinosaurs are coming!”

Soon the mounted police escort appeared, followed by 19 old-time freight wagons loaded with large blocks of plaster that looked like white boulders. The date was Wednesday, September 17, 1924, and the wagons were the “Dinosaur Caravan,” bringing fossils from the quarry at Dinosaur National Monument in eastern Utah to the University of Utah for display in the University Museum, which was housed in what is now the James Talmage Building on the U’s Presidents Circle.

The fossils were part of a trove discovered in 1909 by Earl Douglass, a paleontologist with the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The museum had funded the excavations at the site for 13 years. But by 1922, the museum decided it had enough fossils and ended its claim to operate the quarry. Douglass, still employed by the museum, stayed at the quarry in 1923 and 1924, and worked with the National Museum (which was part of the Smithsonian Institution) and with the University of Utah, as they both sought fossils at the quarry.

Douglass had spent six months supervising the selection and excavation of specimens for the U, but then a problem arose: how to get 60,000 pounds of fossils—five separate species, including a Diplodocus, Stegosaurus, Ceratosaurus, Brontosaurus, and an unknown type— from eastern Utah to the University. There was no railroad, roads were primitive at best, and there were no trucks that could carry such loads.

The U instead turned to large freight wagons, which had been used for years to supply Fort Duchesne and the towns of the Uinta Basin. The wagons and teamsters were assembled, the fossils loaded, and the train started creaking its way west.

Led by “Uncle John” Kay, a Vernal resident, it took the Dinosaur Caravan nine days to travel the 210 miles from the quarry, north of Jensen, Utah, to Salt Lake City. Their route included a ferry crossing of the Green River and followed what today is U.S. 40 and Interstate 80. They reached Draper, in the south end of the Salt Lake Valley, on September 16.

The next day, a ceremonial entrance for the caravan had been arranged at the U. “All along the line of the parade there were large throngs gathered to watch the picturesque procession,” the Salt Lake Telegram wrote. The caravan headed up State Street to 900 South, made a jog over to Main Street to South Temple Street, and then turned to go to the Park Building at the University, where they were met by U President George Thomas.

The Dinosaur Caravan drew attention from newspapers and magazines across the country. The fossils took several years to clean and mount, supervised by Douglass, who joined the University staff in 1924. Those fossils remain on exhibit at the U, in the Natural History Museum of Utah.

Roy Webb BA’84 MS’91 is a multimedia archivist with the J. Willard Marriott Library.

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Music in the Mountains

It was always a good idea. Throw an evening concert in the garden… what’s not to like? Back in 1987, Red Butte Garden was merely a quaint garden in the foothills of the Wasatch Front: a nice green place with a small—well, even calling it an “amphitheater” seems too grand—a small stage and place on the lawn to watch this or that local acoustic group strum through some folksy tunes as the sun set. That’s all it was back then. A blip on your weekly schedule. A pleasant place to wind down the weekend and prepare for the work week ahead.

Still, it was a good idea, right? Nothing to argue with there. But how did that modest idea—a cute little darling teacup of a notion—become the great idea, the huge idea, the idea that made the Red Butte Concert Series an honest to goodness cultural phenomenon, a key thread in the tapestry of living life well here in Salt Lake City? A juggernaut of a fundraising effort that supports a thriving horticultural paradise offering education and family fun, and preserving critical green space as the city grows? How’d that all come to be?

It started, quietly and unremarkably, with what would turn out to be a remarkably prophetic statement from the garden’s founder, Zeke Dumke, Jr.



Photo by Dave White/UMC

It was in 1986, to be precise, that we discover the earliest whispers. Buried deep down in the mundane minutes of an otherwise routine meeting of the garden’s development committee, is one very special remark, one line of dutifully recorded text captured from the mouth of Dumke, who said he thought an amphitheater for concerts would be important for the garden’s future financial stability.

Prophecy, it turns out, isn’t always a big showy thing, with burning bushes and whatnot.

And lo, the concert series in the garden began the following year, with four Sunday shows called the “Second Sunday Concerts,” featuring local acts—Jerry Floor and Bill Crismon’s Big Band, the Jarman/Kingston Quartet, the Jensen-Woodbury duo, and the Rick Martinez Band. Tickets were $3, or you could buy the season for $10.

The shows just kind of hummed along quietly awhile under the guidance of Red Butte’s Development Director Susan Kropf, who came on in 1989. But in 1997 she hired Chris Mautz as a helper—well, technically a “Development Specialist at a dynamic cultural organization,” which is how the want ad read.

“I was just this young guy coming up,” says Mautz, now Red Butte Garden’s booking manager. “Susan shared Zeke’s vision and recognized that the concerts could be a good way to introduce the garden to people who weren’t necessarily into botanical gardens or gardening and maybe drive up membership sales. And me, I didn’t know any better, so we went that way.”

flower1It was at this point that Mautz and Kropf began what can be called the “proto-Red Butte Concert Series.” In this form, the characteristics remained the same from the earliest, “ur” shows. They were still relatively small, and only on Sunday nights, but the formula was altered to include bigger, nationally known names “of a certain folksy, culturally valid heritage style,” Mautz says.

They continued to fill the bills with a lot of folk, bluegrass, some jazz and blues, but nothing that seemed jarring to the original low-key vision—a nice night, in a garden, with pleasant music. Lineups included the likes of John Prine (1997), B.B. King (1998), and Mary Chapin Carpenter (1999), and in 2000, the show count jumped to nine.

“We were selling out, and we proved that we could do it, that people would come out for nationally known acts,” says Mautz, who still books Red Butte’s season and is also co-owner of two other venues, Salt Lake’s State Room and Park City’s O.P. Rockwell. (Kropf recently retired as director of development at KUER.)

flower2In 2001, Derrek Hanson BS’99 MPA’07—who would eventually become the Butch Cassidy to Mautz’s Sundance Kid—started working at Red Butte as a temporary employee helping out with customer service. “I had a job I didn’t like at a company that was moving to San Diego, and I didn’t want to go,” Hanson says. “I started looking around. I’m a music fan, so I figured this was a good direction.”

In 2003, the garden featured 11 artists and, famously, an appearance by the then-relatively unknown singer Norah Jones, whose eponymous album that year became one of the all-time best-selling records ever. Mautz, who had departed in 2001 to work out of state, was rehired to book and produce the garden’s concerts in 2007, by which time Hanson had become the garden’s events director. Today, the two work closely deciding the annual lineup and booking the acts. They have helped steer the shows during a period of massive growth over the last decade. And they far surpassed the hope that the concerts would provide the financial backbone for the garden that Zeke Dumke presciently voiced in 1986.

“Every single year since 2008, when we opened the new amphitheater, we have sold more tickets per show, on average, than the previous year,” says Red Butte Garden Executive Director Greg Lee, who came onboard in 2003. “It’s how we pay the bills. It has enabled us to expand our children’s and family programming, and the hours we are open to the public, and to build and maintain new gardens and facilities.”


A lot has changed in the 10 years since Hanson started doing shows. “It was so different back then,” he says. “We were still working on a temporary stage that we’d set up and take down every year. We didn’t have a real backstage area for the bands. We just had a nook in the bushes that we’d run a curtain in front of where the bands would wait to go on.”

Indeed, in the early 2000s, Red Butte’s setup was pretty much ad hoc—tents and portable facilities— but in 2006, the popularity of the concerts enabled the garden to convince the University and the Bureau of Land Management to move a portion of Red Butte Canyon Road to create space for a larger and better concert venue. That prompted a capital fundraising campaign, led by a Dumke family gift, for the expansion and upgrading of the amphitheater, including a standardized stage, dressing rooms, state-of-the-art sound and lighting gear, and permanent restrooms. The amphitheater was completely regraded and the stage relocated to improve sightlines and make sure that there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. The new and improved venue debuted in 2008 with 12 concerts.

But while the production and the facilities were evolving and changing, the ticket systems were back in the Stone Age. Longtime Red Butte concert fans will remember the byzantine mailing and faxing of forms.

“We had this old Grateful Dead mail-order model that we used for our members to buy tickets,” Hanson chuckles. “They would request their tickets by mail or fax, and we would sit there manually typing in credit card numbers and processing tickets. It was painful.”

These days, the much-improved system is automated, and the box office and will-call areas are permanent buildings instead of tables and tents. “You know little things like that make a big difference for the audiences, and our staff and volunteers,” Hanson says.


Chris Mautz and Derrek Hanson backstage prepping for Willie Nelson's performance in July.

Chris Mautz and Derrek Hanson backstage prepping for Willie Nelson’s performance in July.

For the 2016 summer season, there were 31 shows on the Red Butte lineup, half of which sold out within days of tickets going on sale. The series is a bona fide part of life in Salt Lake City, the show announcements are events in themselves, and, because garden members get first crack at tickets as a benefit, membership sales are through the roof. Summer in Salt Lake simply must include one or two evenings at Red Butte.

However, making this many shows happen over the summer means, as Lee puts it, “Our summers are frenetic, and staff can get run ragged. But it has enabled the garden to grow our programs and facilities. We couldn’t, for example, afford to maintain our new Rose and Water Conservation gardens without the additional concerts. And we get to spend the summer throwing 31 parties for 3,000 of our friends.”

A show day starts when the band’s advance crew shows up—which could be any time the morning of the show, sometimes perhaps even the night before—and ends when they load up the last of their gear and drive on to the next show, usually well after midnight. “We start by handing them [advance crews] a cup of coffee and showing them around,” Hanson says. “We end by waving at the back of their bus. It’s a long day, sure, but there are worse things to be doing.”

graph-attendanceMeanwhile, the Red Butte crew—a suite of professional technicians and volunteers—are scurrying around, working with the band’s team, setting lights, sound and, well, everything. The concert crew and volunteers are getting the venue ready, sorting tickets, preparing for the onslaught. About the only time anyone relaxes, Mautz and Hanson add, is during the show. “There’s a point when it’s finally on the band and we can relax for a second or two,” Hanson says.

And even after a full season of 14-hour days, the show keeps chugging. The new season’s planning begins as the last band’s bus pulls out of the garden. “When the season ends, we look at our hit list,” Hanson says. “We have a list of bands Chris and I have dreamed of having play here, fan favorites, and just bands we think would be a good fit. There’s no science to it. We will start to put out feelers, talk to agents, and start getting a few dates tossed around.” This process, Mautz says, runs all the way up until the season announcements in April.

“We are constantly refining the lineup, but so often it just comes together: something will fall through, or something we are missing will show up,” he says. “We try to be cool and just let things unfold.” As the series has expanded, Mautz says they’ve been able to take more risks and just ask, “Would that be a cool show at the garden?”

And gone are the days when they felt like they had to go begging for the lineup. Hanson says bands often call them, and this, in a way, is how the series has grown and added concerts over the years.

“Well, it was a little bit of an accident,” Hanson says. “Before the amphitheater remodel, we’d put out 17 offers and think we’d get back maybe 12, but after word got out about our new venue they started to all come back and say ‘Yes.’ Suddenly we had 17 concerts confirmed and we said, ‘Uh-oh. Can we do 17 shows? Can we sell enough tickets?’ ”

At 31 shows and counting, the answer is clearly “yes,” and 30 years after Zeke Dumke first brought it up, there is no sign that concerts in the garden are any less of a good idea.

—Jeremy Pugh is a local freelance writer and the author of 100 Things to Do in Salt Lake City Before You Die, which includes the advice to catch a Red Butte Garden concert.

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Campus Scene

Breaking Down the Groove

After teaching hip-hop dance at the U for a few years, Sara Pickett MFA’09 realized her students were curious about the backstory and impact of the music and moves. So she started History of Hip-Hop, a unique class that explores hip-hop’s cultural origins and evolution, its sociopolitical underpinnings, and its ties to other art forms. In the two semesters Pickett has taught the class, which is open to all majors, discussions have covered topics from the nature of race to misogyny to white privilege. The course is also infused with movement days featuring guest instructors who teach breaking, West Coast locking and popping, and other hip-hop dance styles.

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A Harvest of Hope

Harverst of Hope 1

At 2 o’clock in the afternoon on October 2, 2015, a microburst swept the northeast corner of the Salt Lake Valley. Rain, wind, thunder, lightning. It was a once-every-10-years weather event. But on a cul-de-sac just beyond the University of Utah campus, a dedicated handful of neighbors were not going to let a little nickel-sized hail stop them. They grabbed towels, opened garages, threw things in trunks—whatever it took to protect tables and displays while the storm roared through. They were determined to be ready by 5:30 that evening, come hell or high water (and both were surely coming), for the fourth Gracey’s Harvest of Hope. The street festival was a fundraiser for a woman with young special-needs triplets who herself was fighting two different forms of breast cancer. They would not let her down.

And they didn’t. That stormy night was one of Gracey’s Harvest of Hope’s best years.

“We are continually inspired by all that people can accomplish by working together for a common cause,” says alumna Mindy Hughes BS’94 MS’96, who along with her husband Mike BS’98, is the founder and primary organizer of this now-annual fundraising event.

Gracey’s Harvest of Hope was started in 2012. In Mindy and Mike’s neighborhood that year, two families faced devastating challenges. One was a young mother diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, and the other was a toddler whose heart was attacked by a virus.

Mike and Mindy Hughes.

Mike and Mindy Hughes.

“When our friends were struggling with life-altering illnesses, our entire neighborhood was trying to figure out a way to help,” Mindy remembers. “So we all decided to do a fundraiser, to show our support and love for them, and also to help raise money for medical expenses.”

Mindy was a perfect fit to head the effort. Before becoming a full-time mother to five children, Mindy used her management education in the offices of the Utah Jazz and the University of Utah men’s basketball program. She organized a committee, and they decided to close off a cul-de-sac in the neighborhood and hold a street festival that included a silent auction, boutique, bake sale, children’s games, and food.

“The first year, we were a little worried that no people would show up,” says Mike, who also got his degree in business and is now a senior account executive for KSL TV in Salt Lake City. But they were overwhelmed by the turnout and generosity, and they knew they were onto something special.

“We had such an amazing experience with the first festival that we wanted to replicate it year after year. It was incredible to see the neighborhood all come together,” says Mindy.

Harvest of Hope is now a 501(c)(3) charitable organization with the express mission to help local families and individuals facing extreme challenges. So far the festival has helped five families and has raised tens of thousands of dollars each year. The past two years, they have also donated to Dr. Joshua Schiffman’s pediatric cancer research at the U’s Huntsman Cancer Institute. And while it may seem that being a graduate of the U is a requirement to participate—because most of the recipients and volunteers have attended the university— it actually is not. The only requirement is to have a need or a desire to help.

Harvest of Hope photo6“We have become very attached to each and every recipient,” says Mike. “Each of them has had their own unique set of circumstances and struggles that may seem unbearable to many of us. However, it is encouraging to see these families rise above their difficulties.”

The same could be said for Mindy and Mike themselves. They also happen to be parents of triplets. However, they lost one of their baby girls when she was just one month old due to necrotizing fasciitis—a flesh-eating bacteria—contracted in the hospital.

“Mike and I had always wanted to do something in her name to keep her memory alive and for our other children to feel like they had a connection to her,” Mindy says. “We knew this effort and festival should be called ‘Gracey’s’ Harvest of Hope in her honor.”

This year’s festival will be held on October 7, in that same neighborhood cul-de-sac—hopefully sans rain—with a new recipient family benefiting from the efforts of this determined community. And once again, attendees will share in the generosity and feel just a little inspired by what can be accomplished when people decide to rally.

—Lisa Thomson is a freelance writer in Salt Lake City and serves as chair of the festival’s silent auction.

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Campus Scene

Campus Quidditch

U students now field not one but two teams for quidditch, the part rugby, part basketball, all magical sport inspired by the Harry Potter books. Though they are “muggles” (nonmagical folk, in the Pottersphere), the full-contact sport’s co-ed teams play while straddling makeshift “brooms” (typically, decorated PVC pipes) just as its fictional flying players do. And despite the sport’s origins, the players often take the real-world game quite seriously. The U’s Crimson Elite and Crimson Fliers usually practice at Reservoir Park, just west of campus, and any U student is welcome to come try the game before committing to joining the team. Visit “Utah Quidditch” on Facebook to learn more.

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Providing a Home

Amid the bitter cold of New Year’s Eve 2015, Donald Roberts searches on his cell phone for a photo of his nine-year-old daughter, Natasha, as he stands outside Palmer Court, a converted Holiday Inn now used to house chronically homeless individuals and families near downtown Salt Lake City. His goals for 2016 are to patch things up with the girl’s mother, get a new job, quit smoking, and bring his severely autistic daughter back home to his small apartment inside Palmer Court. “I’ve slept under bridges and everything,” Roberts says. “It’s not something I’d recommend.”

Palmer CourtRoberts is one of hundreds of chronically homeless people in Utah no longer living on the streets, thanks to the state’s highly successful decade-old Housing First program, which involves many Utah faculty, alumni, and students. Mother Jones, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, NPR, NBC, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, among many other media outlets, have all featured Utah’s Housing First initiative for its huge strides toward solving chronic homelessness in the state. This seems like a lot of attention when other housing programs in more populous areas were already under way. But consider the math. Utah has reduced the numbers of chronically homeless from about 2,000 ten years ago to less than 200 in 2015 and is on track to a very noteworthy zero as more housing units come online in the next few years.

“Chronically” homeless are defined as those who have lived on the streets consistently for a year or have had four episodes of homelessness over a three-year period. They also have a mental or physical disability and need for (though are not required to access) supportive services. And therein lies a key component of Housing First—the belief that the chronically homeless all deserve housing, regardless of circumstances in their lives that might otherwise prevent them from accessing permanent housing through other programs. The initiative essentially bypasses the long-prevailing idea of various “levels” to progress through. Instead, individuals go straight to stable housing and then work on addressing their other needs and issues, such as drug use or mental illness.

Palmer Court resident Richard Williamson and his dog Lucky take care of business on laundry day.

Palmer Court resident Richard Williamson and his dog Lucky take care of business on laundry day.

The theory, which research is proving true, is that by taking care of basic housing needs first, the impact of a homeless person on hospitals, jails, shelters, and other services is greatly reduced. The chronically homeless stay off the streets, and ultimately states save millions of dollars in the process. To be clear, no one with Housing First is getting a free ride. At Palmer Court and other places, the cost of housing varies. Clients can pay rent at a rate of 30 percent of their income or $25 per month, whichever is more and depending on which housing agency they use (in some cases it’s $50 per month). The rest of the cost is covered by federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds.


Matt Minkevitch BA’91 MBA’13 is director at The Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City, where the impact of Housing First is felt on a nightly basis. On a cold day in January, Minkevitch estimates that more than 1,100 people—200 of whom are children—will be sleeping in three shelters, including The Road Home. Add to that number more than 1,700 people—or the former chronically homeless in permanent housing at that time—and the shelters would be overrun. “There’s no way on this green earth we could handle all of that demand at three facilities without Housing First,” Minkevitch says.

(Matt Minkevitch)

Matt Minkevitch

Housing First was spearheaded in 2005 by Lloyd Pendleton, director of the State of Utah’s Homeless Task Force. He is the man behind the vision to functionally eliminate chronic homelessness across Utah within 10 years. A year into the initiative, Minkevitch got the opportunity to join forces with Claudia O’Grady with the Utah Housing Corporation and fellow alum Jonathan Hardy BS’02, then director of the Utah State Community Services Office, and others to negotiate acquisition of the Holiday Inn at 999 S. Main Street in Salt Lake City. The old hotel was purchased and renovated for about $21 million in public and private funds to create 201 studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments. But, as Minkevitch points out, there’s more to the success of the program than just getting people off the streets.

Minkevitch credits two of his U professors, Mark Strand and Phillip Edward Sullivan (both of whom died in 2014), for teaching him how to listen and create a safe environment for people to speak their minds. These lessons have served him well while working with the homeless at St. Vincent de Paul and now The Road Home. “ ‘I’m worth listening to. I’m important. I’m not just trying to get something from you. There was a time I was somebody.’ These are recurring themes in countless conversations I’ve had with people,” he says. “There’s a beautiful thing going on here. It’s a conversation and a dance, and this is where I listen. In the course of listening, they know it’s safe to talk to me—about using drugs, alcohol, etc.” One of the beauties of Housing First, he says, is that people can be who they are and know that they’re welcome here. Treating people with compassion, respect, and a sense of empathy are elements common among those on the front lines battling chronic homelessness.


While the numbers are proof Housing First is working, it’s people like Michelle Tschetter and Makyla Ordonez who embody the more empathic, compassionate elements of why “permanent supportive housing” works in Utah. Ordonez is a 23-year-old U student working toward her master’s degree in social work. An intern at The Road Home, she says her passion for social work developed while going to Catholic schools and using social services, to help her cope first with her parents’ divorce and then, a few years later, with the death of her stepfather. “I think it’s just having that do-good attitude,” Ordonez says. “I’ve had a lot of help, and I’m ready to give back.” Ordonez has worked with many families and gets a little emotional thinking about a particular single mother, a construction worker who had never been homeless. “Initially, she seemed very determined but scared,” Ordonez recalls. “She would call me multiple times a day just to talk to me.” Finally, after moving out of the shelter, she called Ordonez to say, “I can’t wait to show you my new house.”

U intern Makyla Ordonez (left) enjoys getting to know residents at The Road Home in downtown Salt Lake City.

U intern Makyla Ordonez (left) enjoys getting to know residents at The Road Home in downtown Salt Lake City.

As director of services at The Road Home, Tschetter works with interns like Ordonez every year and says she has watched Ordonez “blossom” while learning the ropes. “We’ve been really lucky to get some great students from the U,” Tschetter says. “They’re bright, curious, open to new experiences, and passionate about social work.”

Kelli Bowers

Kelli Bowers

Tschetter, too, believes Housing First is working. “It’s a smart thing to do—it’s the right thing to do,” she says. “Everyone deserves a stable place to live.” Like most people involved with helping the homeless, Tschetter has memories of clients who desperately needed help or who seemed hopeless. One, she recalls, was a prostitute who was also a drug addict and in and out of jail, but she eventually cleaned up her life, got into housing, and now works with other agencies for ongoing issues. “Sometimes as a social worker, you don’t feel like you make a difference,” Tschetter admits. “But we care about our people. I think about her. I ask about her. You don’t just turn that off because they’re working with someone else.”

Tschetter oversees Ordonez, who is patient, methodical, and soothing while talking to another female shelter resident on a typical day as a case manager at The Road Home. They talk about goals and plans, how Ordonez can help, and then she heads to the on-site food pantry to secure a few items for her client.


Some of the clients Ordonez helps end up at Palmer Court, where her classmate Samantha Pehrson, also an intern from the U’s social work program, and her team take over.

Born and raised in Provo, Utah, Pehrson recalls that she rarely saw homeless people growing up and didn’t need social services for herself. She says that, like a lot of people, she used to think most homeless people were just lazy drug addicts who preferred handouts. She didn’t consider the trauma in people’s lives or the intergenerational poverty that can lead to a cycle of homelessness. “My perceptions have changed drastically as I have learned more about the flaws in our community when it comes to assisting people with housing,” Pehrson says. “It kind of made me frustrated at first—we don’t provide enough services.” In the classroom at the U, she’s taught to imagine herself in the shoes of a homeless person, and at Palmer Court she sees it firsthand. “How would I feel if I didn’t have a place to sleep every night or money for food or my family?” she says. “I’ve definitely developed more compassion working at Palmer Court.”

Pehrson benefits from working alongside Kelli Bowers BS’92 MSW’99, director of support services at Palmer Court; Cerise Nord MSW’12, a case manager; and Alesia Wilson MSW’99, clinical director of housing. Wilson, like Minkevitch, has an answer for naysayers who believe so-called “handouts” are enabling certain behaviors or that Housing First will attract more homeless to Utah. She points to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, wherein homeless people, like anyone else, need to satisfy their physical requirements and feel a sense of well-being and safety before they can move on to areas of belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. “You can’t find fulfillment in life if you’re camping by a river and can’t find warm clothes,” Wilson says. “And when I explain that it’s fiscally responsible for taxpayers to support Housing First, people are extremely receptive.”

Lunch is served outside The Road Home in downtown Salt Lake City, the state’s largest homeless shelter.

Lunch is served outside The Road Home in downtown Salt Lake City, the state’s largest homeless shelter.

Bowers grew up poor in Chicago and pursued social work as a career after receiving “life-changing” help for depression. She recently turned over organizing a biannual resources fair to Pehrson, who ran with the task of gathering agencies in one place at Palmer Court to help residents with employment, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and more. “If you expect people to be clean and sober, on their medications, and have their medical situations taken care of, you’re really setting them up for failure to get into housing,” Bowers says. “Permanent supportive housing gives them wraparound services to overcome barriers. It works. Sometimes it takes a long time to work. But we don’t kick people out just because they don’t use their medications or because they use drugs.”

In 2011, The Road Home used a grant for its Homeless Services and Housing project, which was tied to Housing First. U Senior Research Analyst Christian Marie Sarver MSW’10 was on the team that evaluated that project over a three-year period, producing a final report in September 2014. One “remarkable” finding was that incidents involving mental health or substance abuse issues that would typically have landed clients using permanent supportive housing back on the street instead did not result in evictions. Sarver points out that, in fact, 77 percent of people placed during the project period remained in housing. “This is a very labor-intensive service thing,” she says. The report also notes that 22 percent of the housed clients did so well in the program that they were successfully discharged, while still housed, to a lower level of case management.

U intern Samantha Pehrson (holding the clipboard) learns on the job as she oversees a resource fair at Palmer Court.

U intern Samantha Pehrson (holding the clipboard) learns on the job as she oversees a resource fair at Palmer Court.

At Palmer Court, Nord is one of several case managers handling more than 40 clients (it’s recommended each handle about 12 to 15). Nord grew up in a small town in Alaska, sometimes seeing homeless people in Anchorage. “I was always curious about why that is even happening,” Nord recalls. She has been with The Road Home for nine years and at Palmer Court (which it manages) since 2009. “The advantage of Housing First is that I get to build a relationship with people,” she says. “If you have to define my job, it’s first to build a relationship of trust. ‘Your value to me is not your sobriety or mental health. Housing is a right. You deserve this’ is the message I try to convey.”

Supportive services such as mental health and substance abuse counseling or employment assistance isn’t mandated to qualify for placement with Housing First. But clients at places like Palmer Court, Grace Gary Manor in South Salt Lake, and Kelly Benson Apartments in West Valley City at least have access to those services.


On January 11, Donald Roberts and his ex-wife were sitting in the lobby of Palmer Court, surveying the services offered during the resources fair Pehrson organized.

Roberts, now 48, was a “hyperactive” child, put on Ritalin and in special education classes. He recalls graduating from high school, joining the Navy, receiving an honorable discharge for his arthritis, and eventually working for a carnival in Arizona for six years. He got married and divorced, had a child in that time, lived in a shelter in Las Vegas, found his way to Salt Lake City, had an apartment but then lost it, and ended up relying on The Road Home to house him and his daughter. Roberts also battles depression and says he has twice tried to end his own life.

But over the past three years, he has been living at Palmer Court, paying $50 per month rent for a two-bedroom apartment. He has held a job on site, has sought help for his depression, and is working with an agency to learn how to deal with his autistic daughter while getting her help at a separate facility. He finds a photo on his phone of the two of them. “She knows me—she’s been asking for me left and right,” he says. “She’s my number-one priority. There’s no one more important than her.”

Stephen Speckman is a Salt Lake City-based writer and photographer and a frequent contributor to Continuum.

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Why should it be so hard to die?

More than half a lifetime ago, before she was a renowned bioethicist—in fact before she had ever heard of the word “bioethicist”—Peggy Battin wrote a short story about a husband and wife who make a pact to end their own lives, together, when they get old.

It’s a beautiful, chilling story, and the questions it raises go far beyond what we are now only marginally willing to discuss in America. This isn’t about a physician writing a lethal prescription for a terminally ill patient. This is about what bioethicists call “preemptive suicide.” If you want a close-up look at the kind of unflinching ethical questions Margaret Pabst Battin thinks we should ponder, her story “Robeck” is not a bad place to start.

Continuum-DrBattin-AustenDiamondPhotography-AD2_0054Battin is Distinguished Professor of philosophy and adjunct professor of internal medicine in the Division of Medical Ethics and Humanities at the University of Utah. It was only after she moved to Utah in 1975 that she began to steer her career toward issues of death and dying, but in the short stories she wrote while still in graduate school, she had already begun to grapple with end-of-life issues, spurred in part by a question her own mother asked in the last, debilitating stages of cancer: “Why should it be so hard to die?”

In “Robeck,” the elderly wife—faced with the prospect of an even older age filled with “despair, decay, continuing loneliness”—still wants to follow through with the suicide pact she and her husband had made when they were younger. The husband—faced with the realization that dying as an abstract concept is not the same as actually dying—changes his mind.

“Robeck,” written in the 1970s, wasn’t published until 2005, when it appeared among the philosophical essays in Battin’s book Ending Life: Ethics and the Way We Die. On a November afternoon three years later, Battin’s husband, University of Utah English professor Brooke Hopkins, was riding his bike down City Creek Canyon and collided on a blind curve with another biker heading uphill.

Suddenly, like the characters in her short story, Battin came face to face with how complicated living and dying can be, much more complicated than even a philosopher can imagine.


Here’s how she once opened a talk to a group called Compassion & Choices, which focuses on planning for end-oflife: by drawing a line that went straight across a chalkboard for a few inches then sloped relentlessly downward, dragging on and on until it thinly petered out. This, she told the group, is our typical life trajectory. In the modern world— with its ventilators and pacemakers, feeding tubes and chemotherapies—our deaths are often a slow decline, full of protracted suffering.

After Battin’s talk, a woman with ovarian cancer spoke up. She explained that she had done a dress rehearsal of her future death, using a method she had found on the Internet: Placing a turkey baster bag over her head. The practice run was awful, she said, so instead she had bought a gun.

The trajectory and the turkey baster bag: this, in some form or other, is the backdrop for current battles over physician-assisted suicide and other “right to die” legislation as we try to sort out our 21st-century deaths. It’s an issue that has become more pressing as technology has become even more advanced and the percentage of elderly people and health care costs rise.

Continuum-DrBattin-AustenDiamondPhotography-AD2_0233Battin has long been a proponent of “death with dignity” laws that give people some degree of autonomy in how and when they die. That’s what made her husband’s accident, as she says, “so overwhelmingly ironic”—because the accident left Hopkins paralyzed from the neck down, and the bioethicist who had championed the right to die had to let the husband she deeply loved make up his own mind about whether he wanted to go on living.

“I don’t think anybody said this to my face,” Battin says of people on the other side of the right-to-die issue, “but I’m sure they thought it: she deserves this, this will teach her.”

But Battin has not changed her view that people should have a choice in the manner and time of their own death. Instead, she says, what Hopkins’s ordeal taught her was that the choices are “much more complicated than I thought.”

During the nearly five years that Hopkins lived following his accident, Battin witnessed a series of vacillating emotions and experiences: his gratitude at being alive, his pleas to let his life be over, courses in great literature that he continued to teach from their home, moments of excruciating pain, moments of transcendence, and eventually his final decision that he couldn’t go on any longer. She realized firsthand that a severely restricted life can also have many moments of joy, and that a loving wife might in subtle ways encourage her husband to keep on living when he might want to die.

When, on the last day of July 2013, Hopkins finally asked his doctors to turn off the five technologies that were keeping him alive, Battin lay next to him as the ventilator was dialed down and his breathing eventually stopped.

“As hard as it was for me to have him make this choice to die, you have to respect it,” Battin says in her soft, measured voice. “That’s what it is to love somebody, to try to see it through their eyes.”


How many philosophers does it take to change a light bulb? It depends on how you define “change.”

Philosophers are notoriously parsers of language and logic, and this intellectual rigor is what first drew Battin to the discipline, from the very first class she took as an undergraduate at Bryn Mawr College in 1959.

The first day of class, the professor walked in, sat on the edge of his desk, and said “You know, I look around at the world and I think, ‘all is water.’ ” He went on at great length and was very persuasive that water is the material substrate of everything, Battin remembers. At the next class, he walked in, sat on the desk, and said “You know, I think I was wrong. I think it’s air.” On the third day it was fire.

“What he produced,” Battin says, “was a skeptic. It was one of the best and most engaging intellectual lessons you could possibly have.”

After college, she worked, married, had a first child, and moved to California. Two weeks after the birth of their second child, in 1969, she entered the University of California, Irvine, to get her doctorate in philosophy—and, simultaneously, an MFA in creative writing.

She explains the dual degrees this way: “I liked the intellectual rigor of philosophy, but you can’t read Spinoza all day long. I liked the inventiveness of fiction, but you have to make it meaning-rich and rigorous; you can’t just feed on someone else’s struggles with their inner confusions.”

She sent her fiction to literary magazines and got lots of rejection letters. So, with typical moxie, she flew to New York and began the rounds of publishers and agents in person. At first she still had no luck. Then she called The New American Review (publisher of literary giants like Gabriel García Márquez and Sylvia Plath) and asked to speak to the editor.

“After a few minutes of silence, the voice on the other end of the phone said ‘Mr. Solotaroff will be happy to see you. He has four minutes,’ ” Battin recalls. Luckily, she was calling from the phone booth in the lobby. Later that year, M. Pabst Battin’s “Terminal Procedure” was published in The New American Review. And the next year it was published in Best American Short Stories 1976.

By then, Battin was divorced and living in Salt Lake City, hired by the University of Utah’s philosophy department for a one-year appointment. She had written her doctoral dissertation on Plato’s theory of art, and she thought she was headed toward a career focused on the ancient philosophers and aesthetics. But as a new, temporary hire, she was assigned to teach Intellectual Traditions of the West (ITW). One of the other new hires for ITW was Brooke Hopkins, who had joined the U after five years of teaching at Harvard.

And then, three things happened: she fell in love; she gradually began merging her prior literary interest in issues of death and dying with her academic pursuits; and she won a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for Independent Study and Research, one of just six in the country, for work on the ethics of suicide. Within a week of the award, her temporary job became tenure track. She would eventually win the U’s most prestigious award, the Rosenblatt Prize.

Continuum-DrBattin-AustenDiamondPhotography-AD2_0072“You know, people have been dying for a long time,” Battin deadpans. “And such a large percentage of them, too. So I’m not the first person who ever thought about death and dying.” But she was among the first, and the most prolific, thinkers in the emerging field of bioethics—a mash-up of theoretical ethics with the practicalities of day-to-day medicine and science.

Battin’s personality dovetailed with this practical approach. “She’s by no means an ideologue or inflexible,” says Arthur Caplan, founding director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University. “She’s always been a person who’s been tuned in to the specifics of a case.”

At the New York-based Hastings Center, which is often credited with starting the field of bioethics and where Battin is a Fellow, president Mildred Solomon describes her this way: “She has comprehensive talents you rarely see all in one mind.” Philosophers are well known for being analytical, Solomon says, and Battin is “deeply analytical.” But she is also able to see how logical arguments “play out in messy and emotionally rich human contexts. That’s very unusual.”


If you could look inside Peggy Battin’s brain, perhaps it would look something like the inside of her house.

There are stacks of paper on each of her six desks (seven desks if you count the dining room table). On the stacks there are sticky notes, and there are sticky notes around every inch of the doorframe in the kitchen and inside each kitchen cabinet. Upstairs there are stacks of paper leading from one bedroom to another, a trail of research and pondering.

She keeps paper copies of every draft of everything she is writing or has written. In a stack on the windowsill is the 16th draft of a chapter she began in 1995; eventually it will be a book about the ethics of reproduction, tentatively titled Sex & Consequences.

“Sometimes I joke that what I really need is to move into an old motel,” she says, “so I could have a different room for each project.”


The topics she has published about include: death and dying, age-rationing of medical care, ethical issues in organized religion, the ethics of religious refusal of medical treatment, drugs and justice, disability, aesthetics, and ethical issues about infectious diseases. That’s a total of 20 books authored, edited, or co-edited.

Battin’s latest book is The Ethics of Suicide: Historical Sources, published in the fall of 2015. It’s 720 pages in teeny type—but even that wasn’t enough to handle all the research amassed by Battin, her 46 consulting editors, and 27 research assistants. So she proposed a partnership between the book’s publisher, Oxford University Press, and the University of Utah’s Marriott Library in what became a first-of-its-kind publishing venture. While many books have associated digital archives, this is the first time QR codes have been embedded in each entry in the print edition, linking directly to expanded primary sources and interactive features online.

Battin didn’t set out to write such an exhaustive investigation of suicide. When she started the project four decades ago, she was simply filing away photocopies of interesting historical references. “You can’t just throw them away— they’re too interesting and too hard to get ahold of (this was, of course, pre-Internet)—so you put them in a file drawer,” and eventually the file drawer goes from ancient Egypt to the present. “And then you say, well, what about Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, Islam? So now there are more file drawers. And then you say, what about these oral cultures that didn’t have written records, the Maya, the Aztec, the Inca?”

The book, notes Battin, “takes no sides” in these historical debates about suicide, instead presenting primary sources that give a variety of pros, cons, and neutral discussion on topics that include suicide as sin, suicide as heroic choice, physician aid in dying, Buddhist monks who immolate themselves to protest a war, and jihadists seeking martyrdom. The book, she argues, “challenges monolithic thinking about suicide.”

Battin has spent 39 years, off and on, working on this book, and even longer immersed in thoughts about death and dying. She has never been suicidal herself, she says, which makes it possible to devote so much time to thinking about what others might consider morbid topics.

She is, she says, an optimistic person. More than four decades after writing “Robeck”—which has now been turned into a play by Salt Lake City playwright Julie Jensen and will be produced by the Salt Lake Acting Company in the fall of 2016—she can imagine an America in which everyone “has a full range of choice about how they’d like their own deaths to go.”

Or, at least, “that such an outcome would in principle be possible.”

—Elaine Jarvik is a Salt Lake City-based journalist and playwright and a frequent contributor to Continuum.

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Culture in Living Color

Lenguaje de Esperanza (Language of Hope), a 1,500-square-foot mural designed and painted by students from Kim Martinez BFA’98’s art class at the University of Utah, was unveiled in December at Esperanza Elementary, in West Valley City, Utah. The school has a student body nearly 98 percent Latino, and the principal, Eulogio Alejandre, wanted his school to not just tolerate its culture, but to celebrate it. The stunning result is a cultural tapestry reflecting the diverse symbols of identity of the students who inspired it.

Learn more about Martinez and her mural projects in the 2011 Continuum profile online here.

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U Provides Stewards of Bonneville Shoreline Trail

Updates spr16_Bonneville TrailU students and Salt Lake City residents both love to recreate along the 100 miles of Bonneville Shoreline Trail that lie directly behind campus. On any given day, that can include hundreds of hikers, trail runners, mountain bikers, and/or dog walkers. Now, thanks to a partnership between the National Park Service and the U’s Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, students can volunteer as stewards of the trail as part of the Urban Ranger Program that debuted last fall.

Traveling by bike and foot between Hogle Zoo and the top of Dry Creek Canyon, the rangers provide visitor service information; educate trail users about responsible trail etiquette, ecology, and management; and help keep the area clean. Seven rangers manage about 10-14 student volunteers each week throughout the academic year. In total, the program plans to engage 40 rangers, 300 school-aged youth, and 400 U student volunteers over two years.

“The program perfectly aligns with our department’s commitment to foster the next generation of resource stewards and outdoor health advocates,” says Matt Brownlee, assistant professor of Parks, Recreation and Tourism and co-coordinator of the Urban Ranger program.

Georgia Dabritz One of 10 College Athletes to Win NCAA Award

Dabritz_Georgia 2015_w-gym_NCAA_champ-0117Utah gymnast Georgia Dabritz, who as a senior last year won the NCAA uneven bar championship while leading Utah to a runner-up team finish, received the 2016 NCAA Today’s Top 10 Award. The award is given each year by the NCAA to honor 10 outstanding senior student-athletes across all divisions, male and female, from the preceding calendar year.

Dabritz received her award at the Honors Celebration during the NCAA Convention on January 15 in San Antonio. She is the third Ute to win the honor. The other Ute winners were gymnast Missy Marlowe BS’93 in 1993 and punter/kicker Louie Sakoda BS’11 in 2009.

Dabritz, a 16-time All-American, is the only gymnast in NCAA history to score a perfect 10.0 on the uneven bars in both the NCAA semifinals and Super Six. Winner of the AAI Award for Senior Gymnast of the Year, a team captain, and a three-time Utah MVP, she led Utah to back-to-back Pac-12 championships and captured six individual Pac-12 titles. She won every major Pac-12 award during her career, made three Pac-12 All-Academic teams, and held a 4.0 GPA her last semester as a competitor. She expects to complete her degree at the U this semester.

Math Wizard Christopher Hacon Wins Prestigious Prize

Christopher-HaconUniversity of Utah mathematician Christopher Hacon and three colleagues have won the 2016 American Mathematical Society E.H. Moore Research Article Prize—an honor so prestigious that it is awarded only once every three years. “It’s definitely a big deal, and it’s great they chose to recognize my field of research,” says Hacon, who received the award January 7 at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Seattle, Washington.

Hacon co-authored the prize-winning Journal of the American Mathematical Society research paper in 2010 with Caucher Birkar of the University of Cambridge, Paolo Cascini of Imperial College London, and James McKernan of the University of California, San Diego.

This is only the latest in a series of honors for Hacon. He was named a Simons Foundation Investigator in 2012. A year earlier, he won Italy’s top math honor, the Antonio Feltrinelli Prize in Mathematics, Mechanics and Applications. In 2009, Hacon and McKernan received the American Mathematical Society’s Frank Nelson Cole Prize in Algebra.

Hacon, a native of Manchester, England, graduated from Italy’s University of Pisa with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and later obtained master’s and doctoral degrees in mathematics at UCLA. He has been teaching math at the U for 18 years.

U Forces Unite to Bring Basketball to Hartland Kids

Photo by Sarah Morton

Photo by Sarah Morton

Last summer, the University of Utah’s College of Social and Behavioral Science and the local yogurt shop Ugurt, started by U alumni, joined together to raise the remaining funds needed for a great cause—kids and basketball. The children are mostly refugees and other minorities who live on the west side of Salt Lake City and attend the youth program at the U’s University Neighborhood Partners (UNP) Hartland Partnership Center. Hartland is a program of UNP that brings together University departments, local nonprofits, and residents for reciprocal benefit. The kids had been yearning for a basketball court since 2008, when their old court was closed due to safety concerns associated with evening gang activity.

In spring 2013, the U held its first annual Community Engagement Day in which students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to participate in a one-hour walkathon around campus and donate to a U-related endeavor. Through the event, more than $8,000 was raised for a new court at Hartland—not quite enough to build it, but enough to begin planning. U architectural students submitted design ideas, which engaged their skills and is an example of the collaborative work UNP supports by aligning University and community resources.

In 2015, with the additional funds in place, UNP was able to install a lockable, fully fenced 20-foot-by-36-foot soft-surfaced half-court that addressed concerns about liability and loose balls. By last fall, kids were playing ball on the court every day—a dream come true and made possible by the generosity and thoughtful consideration of many.

Read more about the Hartland Partnership Center in the Continuum feature here.

U Chemist Honored By China’s President

Updates spr16_Stang in China

Photo courtesy of CCTV

U chemist Peter Stang shook hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping after being honored among six foreign scientists with China’s 2015 International Science and Technology Cooperation Award. “I said ‘thank you’ to him in Chinese and he smiled,” says Stang, recalling the January 8 award ceremony in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

This is Stang’s second big award from China in recent months. Last fall, he went to China to accept the 2015 China’s Friendship Award, which is that nation’s “highest award for foreign experts who have made outstanding contributions to the country’s economic and social progress.” And in 2011, he shook hands with our own current head of state, Barack Obama, when he received the National Medal of Science.

Stang is a pioneer in supramolecular chemistry—the spontaneous formation of large, complex molecules from predesigned building-block molecules. Such molecules have uses in cancer treatment, drug delivery, and oil refining. He has collaborated in research with Chinese scientists, worked closely with them as editor of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, and served as a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

A Distinguished Professor of chemistry and former dean of science, Stang joined the U in 1969, which makes this his 47th year on campus.

New Downtown Mural Shows U Pride

mural DSC06226U fans traveling to Salt Lake City via Interstate 15 will notice something new on their drive to campus. A painting celebrating the city as “Home of the Utes” has been created at 429 W. 600 South. The mural, 75 feet wide by 25 feet tall, took local artist Douglas Wilson BFA’09 about a month to design and paint. It is one of several initiatives of Utah Athletics to expand its brand into downtown.

U Names New Director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics

Updates Spr2016 Jason PerryThe University of Utah has named Jason Perry JD’99 the new director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics. In addition to becoming the institute’s fifth director, Perry will continue to serve as the U’s vice president for government relations.

U President David Pershing emphasized that the dual role will be a natural fit, as Perry’s work in government relations will allow him to foster new learning opportunities for Hinckley Institute students.

Perry became interim director of the Hinckley Institute in June 2015 following the departure of Kirk Jowers, who left his decade-long leadership post at the institute to pursue a career in private industry. Perry became vice president for government relations at the U in 2011 and is also an adjunct professor at the U’s S.J. Quinney College of Law. Prior to his arrival at the U, Perry served as the chief of staff to Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert, helping guide a successful transition team and a landslide victory for the governor in the November 2010 election.

“Politics matter. The activities of our elected officials and the work of government bodies impacts all Utahns,” says Perry. “I’m honored to be in a position to continue to ensure the next generation of citizens is engaged and informed.”

Man in Motion


Before we talk about flying robots, we need to talk about food. It is 1977, and four-year-old Kam Leang is living with his family in southern Cambodia, forced out of the city and into the countryside by the Khmer Rouge. His father is often taken away to do something he doesn’t want to talk about when he gets home. And there is never enough to eat. His father fashions a mousetrap out of wire and wood, and every night he sets it. “I remember at two or three in the morning it going off,” Leang says. “And my brother and I were so excited.”  This was not about rodent control.

Leang at a refugee camp in Thailand in 1979.

Leang at a refugee camp in Thailand in 1979

Leang wonders now, nearly four decades later, if his early years had a bearing on his later career. He offers this theory: Perhaps, he says, being hungry all the time created an insatiable drive to always want more. Not more food or more stuff, but more projects and challenges and ideas. More problems to solve.

Leang is now a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah, and founder and director of the U’s DARC Lab. The initials stand for design, automation, robotics, and control, and Leang is passionate about all of them. He loves the idea of pushing a button and having a machine figure out what to do next. A better mousetrap, as it were; a mousetrap that seems to think for itself.

Which brings us now to flying robots, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, but more popularly known as drones.


Drones raise a host of ethical and existential questions (including “Does our species really need Amazon to deliver us a package in 30 minutes?”). But drones also pose huge safety concerns, including how to keep them from colliding with airplanes and buildings and each other.

Humans can generally figure out how not to bump into things, as can dogs and fish, but getting a machine to figure it out is a lot harder. And that makes it just the kind of problem Leang likes to tackle with his graduate students.

Leang with his family during his youth.

Leang with his siblings during their youth

One afternoon last fall, to demonstrate some of the work Leang’s team is doing, doctoral student Xiang He launched a small, autonomous (that is to say, not remote-controlled) drone into the 8-by-8-by-8-foot netted cage in the DARC Lab. The copter hovered for a few seconds, as if it were contemplating what to do, and then began flying around the cage, buzzing as it went. Through multiple repetitions, He was trying to teach the drone how to make a perfect circle. “The precision is not as high as I’d like it to be,” Leang said as the drone did wobbly rotations around the cage. “We’re in the process of figuring  out why.”

Leang was a junior in mechanical engineering at the U in the 1990s when he made his own first rudimentary robot in Professor Sandy Meek’s mechatronics class. “I was sitting in the back of the class,” Leang remembers, “and he said ‘You guys are going to build a robot,’ and I thought, ‘I should drop this class right now.’ ”

Leang's first robot

Leang’s first robot

The assignment: build a small robot that can shoot a ball into a short basket equipped with a light bulb. Like other teams of students, Leang’s used light sensors to determine the location of the basket and figure out the angle of the throw, but his team designed a speedy robot that could get to the throw line first. His team won, and he suddenly knew what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

Despite the fact that the “R” in DARC stands for robotics, however, Leang says he’s not a roboticist. “I’m the first to admit that. My expertise is control systems.”

Think of controls as the intelligence of a machine, the part that can regulate and manipulate all the variables that come its way. A thermostat is a kind of control system, albeit a very simple one with just one task: to figure out how to keep a room at a constant temperature. For a drone or a robotic arm, the control system is much more complicated: determining how to move itself or something else up and down and around, how to react to its surroundings, how to stay focused.

Leang went on to get a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the U in 1999, and then a doctorate at the University of Washington in 2004, working under former U professor Santosh Devasia. His doctoral work focused on control systems at the nano level, at sizes as small as atoms, not much bigger than a billionth of a meter.

Most of his work since graduating has been in nanopositioning, designing control systems that, for example, can move a probe or a tool with speed and precision onto areas that are so small they can’t be seen with a normal microscope. Along with graduate student William Nagel, Leang is currently collabo-rating with Boston University and startup company Molecular Vista Inc. to design a system with tiny probes that will be able to detect the stiffness of living cells, or “feel” a DNA strand.

Leang knows that his listeners’ eyes can glaze over when he uses terms like “nanopositioning.“ So he sometimes likens this work to being a crane operator. “That’s basically what I do, but on a different scale.”


In Cambodia, Leang’s father ran a small family-owned convenience store in Battambang, which meant the family was engaged in the free-market economy. And, too, the family is ethnic Chinese—so they had two strikes against them in the eyes of the Khmer Rouge when Pol Pot took over Cambodia in 1975 and began a systematic genocide of what would eventually amount to more than a million people; another million are estimated to have died from starvation. Leang’s family was forced to leave Battambang and relocate to a small straw house in the countryside.

Leang working with DARC Lab graduate students (from left) Joseph Bourne BS’15 and Dejun Guo. (Photo by Dave Titensor).

Leang working with DARC Lab graduate students (from left) Joseph Bourne BS’15 and Dejun Guo. (Photo by Dave Titensor)

A memory: One day, his father and uncle find a light bulb and battery, and they wire it up to provide light after sundown; then a neighbor must have snitched on them, because soon, Khmer Rouge soldiers show up and make his parents get down on their knees at gunpoint. Leang remembers them begging for their lives, and he remembers himself screaming in terror.

Another memory: The family is walking toward the border of Thailand, fleeing Cambodia after Vietnam invaded in 1979. He is hungry and thirsty, and at some point, in an area where there are land mines, his father and uncle find a steel bowl and some muddy water tainted with blood. Leang still remembers the taste of that water.

After being in a refugee camp in Thailand for several months, the family’s name was drawn in the weekly lottery for a chance to emigrate to America. They were sponsored by the Don and Carl Borup families of Tremonton, and at first, Kam and his brother, sister, and mother lived in Don’s basement. (Their father had to stay behind for several months with their aunt, who was recovering from tuberculosis). At night, little Kam and his brother would sneak upstairs to raid the pantry and then hide the food under their beds. At school, where the brothers didn’t understand what anybody said, Kam frequently got “frowny faces” on his writing assignments.

As he grew up, Leang watched his father be resourceful: building furniture from scraps of wood, fashioning a fishing reel out of a soda can and some string. Soon he too was making things: rubber band shooters, bows and arrows, intricate origami. He customized the handlebars of his bike by cutting off the ends. He took the whole bike apart just to see how it worked.

Leang, an avid skier, on a recent ski vacation with his family.

Leang, an avid skier, on a recent ski vacation with his family.

In high school—by then the family had moved to California—he took trigonometry but spent most of the time sitting in the back of the room programming his calculator for poker and electronic Battleship. After high school, he enrolled in a junior college, intending to study art.

And then one day he went to see the academic counselor, and she said “Have you thought about engineering?” and he said “I don’t really know what that is.” The next semester, he enrolled in math and physics classes, and after two years of course work, he transferred to the University of Utah to study mechanical engineering. At least that’s the reason he told his parents, although it was skiing that lured him back to Utah. That first year at the U, he skied more than 100 days.

He still loves to ski, and he makes his own skis in his garage. Up until the time he and his wife, Allyson, had their third child this past summer, he skied at least once a month, year-round, for 141 straight months. His definition of skiing: “making at least a couple of turns with skis strapped to my feet, be it on snow, dirt, sand, rocks, or whatever slides.” As he explained on a website called, when asked what his worst ski trip was: “None that I can recall. They have all been fun, even in the rain.”


Leang and his students are working on several drone projects, including one nicknamed the “flying nose” (official name: Autonomous Broad Spectrum Environmental Sentinel), a joint project between the U’s DARC Lab and Nevada Nanotech Systems Inc.

Nevada Nanotech is providing sensors that can detect chemicals in the air, and Leang’s lab is designing the autonomous aerial robot that can carry the sensors. The ultimate goal is to create a swarm of machines that can work together to find, say, bioterrorist toxins, and monitor how far an invisible plume has traveled.

Leang with doctoral student Jim Carrico, whose research focuses on 3-D printing of electroactive polymers to create soft robots. (Photo by Dave Titensor).

Leang with doctoral student Jim Carrico, whose research focuses on 3-D printing of electroactive polymers to create soft robots. (Photo by Dave Titensor)

The project has been awarded a $1 million grant from the U.S. Army to develop Phase II. The lab is also utilizing an $800,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop ground and aerial robots that can be used as first responders in disasters. And the team is using a recently funded $3.8 million NSF grant to develop 3-D printing technology, spearheaded by doctoral student Jim Carrico, that can print robots from soft materials.

Leang is “very aggressive about seeking funding,” notes Professor Tim Ameel, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. This, along with Leang’s energy, enthusiasm, and past projects, made him the top candidate in the U’s hiring search in 2014, Ameel says, when the department sought to strengthen its robotics program. Leang left a similar but smaller program at the University of Nevada Reno.

The DARC Lab is just one of nearly a dozen robotics-related labs at the U that are working on everything from robot vacuum cleaners to virtual reality. The labs each have their own projects and lab spaces, but they also share a large space—the Utah Robotics Center—that currently houses a self-driving car, two robotic torsos, and a 25-by-25-by-25-foot netted cage where Leang’s graduate students can further test their drones.

Like the drones themselves, Leang is a man in motion, scurrying from one task to the next, as if always hungering for more.

“Every day,” he says, “I think of something new that I’d like to try.”

Elaine Jarvik is a Salt Lake City-based freelance writer and playwright and a frequent contributor to Continuum.

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Young, Scrappy, and Hungry


As a girl growing up in rural Shasta County, California, a scrappy Lynne Roberts had to earn her first points in basketball by shooting high-arcing jumpers over her father and two older, taller brothers. She recalls dejectedly watching her shot attempts being blocked into a nearby cow pasture. A girl on a street full of boys who let her humbly hike the ball during pickup football games, she used the omnipresent good-natured sibling ribbing—that she wasn’t big, strong, or fast enough—as motivation to relentlessly work on her many games, earning 12 varsity letters in high school sports. Those countless hours of two-on-two in the family’s driveway and always playing “catch-up” with the boys in her life were the seeds of a competitive streak that grew and has propelled her through the arc of her personal and professional trajectory.

Now Roberts, 40, stands in her office as the newly minted head coach of the University of Utah’s women’s basketball team, marveling at how the space is bigger—more than 900 square feet—than her first home as an adult. Her office—like men’s basketball head coach Larry Krystkowiak’s—is in the new 101,000-square-foot Jon M. & Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility, with views of the Wasatch Mountains to the east and the Oquirrh Mountains out west across the Utah campus and Salt Lake Valley. They both have a fireplace, a 60-inch retractable television, and a private bathroom with a shower. Each space is equally impressive and a reminder to Roberts, despite her past successes as a coach in college basketball, that she still needs to earn some respect as a head coach in the Pac-12, where the Utes women’s team so far hasn’t made a lot of noise since joining the conference in 2011. Roberts started making her own noise at Enterprise High School in Redding, California, excelling in tennis, volleyball, softball, track, soccer— “I did them all”—and, of course, basketball. She earned a scholarship to play basketball at Seattle Pacific University, where she admits she cared at first more about sports and socializing. As a senior, she was named to the NCAA West Regional all-tournament team, and by that time she had settled down academically to finish in 1997 with a degree in history, following in the foot-steps of a mother who taught history at a junior high. (Her father was a vice president for berry grower Driscoll’s.) She stayed at Seattle Pacific to get a master’s in athletic administration in 2000. “It was the first time in my life that I was passionate about school,” Roberts says. Her coach, Gordy Presnell (now head coach of the women’s team at Boise State), told Roberts she would be good at coaching, and she became his assistant in Seattle from 1997- 2001, advancing each season to the NCAA Division II tournament.

On her own as a head coach, the 2014-15 West Coast Conference Co-Coach of the Year has proven her mettle, racking up an 86-33 record while head coach at California State University, Chico, from 2002-06, and becoming the California Collegiate Athletic Association Coach of the Year for two years in a row (as well as the 2004-05 WBCA West Region Coach of the Year). From 2006-15, she turned around a losing University of Pacific team in Stockton, Calif., taking it into the first round of the WNIT the past two years, and was also named the conference coach of the year in 2012-13.

Lynne with Team

Photo by Stephen Speckman

Utah Athletics Director Chris Hill MEd’74 PhD’82 is hopeful that Roberts, who signed a six-year, $1.65 million deal, will be the change the Utes need after releasing coach Anthony Levrets last spring. “I think we have a high expectation for our women’s basketball team,” says Hill. “We have a great history, and we weren’t attaining what we thought we could. We’re fortunate enough to have hired someone who we think is going to be really, really good—and we’re excited about it.” He describes Roberts as “smart, personable, and someone who has a lot of connections with recruiting.” Now that his department has set up Roberts in a new basketball facility, which Hill notes is a “tremendous recruiting tool,” he says it’s time to stand aside and let her build the team into a perennial top contender. “It’s going to take a while, because it’s a rebuilding process, just like it was with Coach Krystkowiak on the men’s side,” Hill says. “We anticipate that in five years we will be the type of team that’s in the NCAA tournament quite a bit and having a chance to advance in certain years and get to the Sweet 16 and be a major post-season player. But that’s going to take a couple of years.”

Hill says Utah Athletics has given the financial backing Roberts needs to build her staff. She wasted no time assembling her coaching staff after she was hired last April, bringing on board former Utah State player and coach Danyelle Snelgro, who also coached at Fresno State University and Texas Christian University, and Wesley Brooks, who coached at four schools including the University of North Texas, where he was the past four seasons. She has also brought on new marketing and video production hires to help her amp up excitement. But her first acquisition was Assistant Coach Gavin Petersen, who for the past two seasons had been an assistant to Roberts at Pacific. Petersen says it was an “easy” decision to join Roberts at Utah. “We work really well together,” he says. “We complement each other.”

Lynne Kneeling

Photo by Stephen Speckman

Petersen calls Roberts a “competitor,” someone who “prepares hard” and uses humor to maintain a balance and a kind of “family” atmosphere. Illustrative of the effects of that balance, he points to a game toward the end of last season, with Pacific going into hostile territory on Gonzaga’s home court, on Senior Night, in front of a sold-out audience. The perennial West Coast Conference champions earlier in the season had beat the Tigers on Pacific’s own court and had already sealed a top seed in the playoffs, and Pacific was vying for a second or third seed. “We ended up winning—it was awesome,” Petersen says. “She’s tough, passionate, those type of things we want our kids to take on…. It happens slowly, but it will happen.”

Emily Potter, the talented 6’6” forward from Winnipeg, Canada, who redshirted last season with a knee injury under Levrets, comes back eligible for three more seasons under new coach Roberts. “It’s definitely been an adjustment—I think for all of us,” Potter says. “None of us have gone through anything like this before—so, it’s kind of like uncharted waters. But it’s been going well so far.” Potter says she likes that Roberts was “honest” with her from the start and asked for her trust with regard to the direction she wants to take the team. Potter also describes the team as a family playing in a conference where they haven’t yet gained respect. “It really motivates us all,” she says. “We have a little bit of a chip on our shoulders.”

That “chip” is partly what drew Roberts to Utah. “As a competitor, I want to have a chance to win at the highest level,” she says. “This job just fit my personality. There’s kind of a blue-collar, underdog, chip-on-your-shoulder mentality here with the team that resonates with me. I love coaching that. We’re the new guys in the conference, and people kind of pat you on the head and say, ‘Yeah, yeah, you’ll get there someday.’ I love that. That motivates me like nothing else.” Utah Senior Associate Athletics Director Nona Richardson oversaw the search for a new head coach and likes Roberts’ intensity, “basketball savvy,” the respect she gained at Pacific and Chico State, and that she knows how to surround herself with the right people. “You can’t do it alone,” Richardson says. Roberts, she adds, has her “pedal to the metal; she’s still working her way upward,” and is poised to bring “relevance” back to a program that through 2014 has the 14th best all-time winning percentage in Division 1 women’s college basketball. Comparisons by Richardson and others, of course, lead to former Utes head coach Elaine Elliott, who in 27 seasons at Utah amassed a 582-234 record (Elliott retired from the U and is now an assistant coach at Salt Lake Community College). Their style of play, Richardson says, is more upbeat, faster tempo, and their approach to the game is to recruit the right kids, be disciplined, run hard, and “approach every day as if it’s your last.”

“What she did here is so cool,” says Roberts, who mentions the long line of proud former players who still feel like it’s “their program.” She talks about how the game has changed and how, ironically, the players these days are bigger, stronger, and faster—traits her brothers teased her about as a child. “Recruiting is everything,” she says, pointing to assistants with strong ties to deep reservoirs of talent in Texas and California. “It’s a great time to be at Utah,” she adds, referring in part to the new basketball facility that she calls the best in the country. “All of those things add up,” Roberts says. “That said, we’re going to have to work our tails off as coaches to get some street cred out there.”

Lynne Smiling

Photo by Stephen Speckman

By the end of this past summer, Roberts was settling nicely into Utah. “I’ve been so impressed with the people here. There’s like a familial feel to it.” And with the mountain ranges out both directions from her office, “I’m still blown away by the beauty,” she says. She might even find time in her office to kick back on the new furniture and read a book. Roberts prefers reading about great leaders—not necessarily in sports—like President Harry S. Truman, who she points out faced the difficult task of how to end a world war. “I think his story is a great story of leadership.”

Instead of following her brothers into medicine to become a doctor, her father into the berry business, or her mother into teaching, Roberts has herself become a leader on and off the court, mentoring her players to also focus on academics. In 13 years as a head coach, she’s never had a player be ineligible because of grades, and 100 percent of her players have graduated from college. “I feel like I have a pretty good balance with the academic piece,” she says. “Even if any of these guys go on to play professionally, they’re not going to sign a $90 million contract with Nike. They’re going to have to, at some point, hang up the high tops and do something else to pay the bills. As a coach, I do take that responsibility very seriously.”

One of Roberts’ most important messages to players? “Find something you love, that you’re interested in and think you might want to do, and pursue it—and let basketball be a way that you can really enhance your collegiate experience, and get it paid for. But at the end of the day, get your degree in something you care about.”

Stephen Speckman is a Salt Lake City-based writer and photographer and a frequent contributor to Continuum.

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Campus Scene

From L to R: Kate Poulton, Ran Duan, Cassie Taylor, Lindsey Wright, Aiting Gao, and Desiree Gonzales

From L to R: Kate Poulton, Ran Duan, Cassie Taylor, Lindsey Wright, Aiting Gao, and Desiree Gonzales (Photo by Brittany Gray)

Piano Forte

The Ladies in Red, a performing group established through the University of Utah’s Piano Department, travels across the U.S. to bring awareness of the need for music education in elementary schools and raise funds for the U’s Piano Outreach Program, which offers piano classes teaching the fundamentals of music as part of after-school programs in elementary schools throughout Salt Lake City. Enrollment in the classes is voluntary—and popular. Cassie Taylor BMu’05 DMA’13, director of the Outreach Program, notes the unique and important opportunities that the program provides for all participants. “Our piano classes train U students in teaching environments that prepare them for job placement and post-graduate music careers. The classes also help young students develop self-confidence and discover hidden talents, while reducing truancy and poor behavior and improving classroom performance.”

The students learn music at an unbelievable rate and revel in their achievements, as well as the wonderful teachers. The instructors, in turn, adore the students and are excited to provide them with an opportunity that might otherwise be unavailable to them. Graduate teaching assistant (and member of the Ladies) Desiree Gonzales, a native of Mexico, notes: “Backman Elementary has a high number of Latino students, and they are my pride! I want them to experience all of the great things I have been exposed to while studying music here in the U.S. Music has not only made me a more sensitive human being, but it has also taught me about patience, perseverance, and hard work. In short, it has made me a better person.”

Learn more about the Ladies and the U’s Piano Outreach Program on their School of Music webpage here, and follow the group on Facebook here. Susan Duehlmeier BFA’70 MFA’73, chair of the U’s Piano Department, serves as the advisor for the Ladies in Red and books them for events. For more information, contact her at or (801) 581-7133.

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Alum News

Deep Underground, A Rising Star

By Ann Floor

One of the greatest fossil discoveries of the last half century—a new hominin species called Homo naledi—was announced this past September by an international team of more than 60 scientists, including Eric Roberts PhD’05, a geologist and senior lecturer in the Department of Earth and Oceans at James Cook University, in Townsville, Australia.

The team’s findings inside the Rising Star Cave, located 30 miles northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa, are described in two papers published in the journal eLife, and the story was featured on the cover of the October edition of National Geographic.

Eric Roberts, center, with cavers Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker, who contacted scientists about what they found in the Dinaledi Chamber in late 2013. Photo by Paul Dirks

Eric Roberts, center, with cavers Rick Hunter and Steven Tucker, who contacted scientists about what they found in the Dinaledi Chamber in late 2013. Photo by Paul Dirks.

Homo naledi (the word naledi means “star” in the southern African language of Sotho) stood around five feet high and weighed roughly 100 pounds. It had a small brain about the size of an orange, and apelike shoulders. It also had human characteristics. Its wrist, palm, and thumb were humanlike, but its long curved fingers were suitable for climbing trees—“a mixture of primi-tive features and evolved features,” as one researcher described it. As of September 23, more than 1,500 bones representing at least 15 individuals—ranging from infants to the elderly—had been recovered from the dried mud floor of the Dinaledi Chamber (the “chamber of stars,” the location in the cave system where the fossils were found). Among the remains were skulls, jaws, ribs, hundreds of teeth, a nearly complete foot, and a hand—with virtually every bone intact.

The retrieval of bones began in September 2013, but details were kept secret until fall 2015 in order to maintain the integrity of the science and provide time for the evidence to be carefully examined. “This is the single largest early hominin bone accumulation in Africa, and there are many, many more waiting to be carefully excavated,” says Roberts.

“The challenge was working out the geology without disturbing or damaging the many bones that literally covered the floor of the chamber.” Roberts was working on another project with the team that first explored the Rising Star Cave and heard about the find shortly after its discovery. “Because of that association, and more importantly, because I was small enough—and perhaps crazy enough—to go down into the Dinaledi Chamber to map the cave geology, I was asked to participate.” He remains the only geologist who has entered the chamber and has now spent more than a full week there.

Access to Dinaledi from the surface of the ground takes about 30 minutes, and for many, it is impossible to reach. The narrow passageway is in some parts just seven or eight inches wide. (The first scientists to descend were all slightly built female paleoanthropologists.) The first time Roberts headed in, he wasn’t sure he could fit down the 13-yard-long vertical crack that is the only entrance into the fossil-filled room. The chute opens up over a cone-shaped mound of materials that have fallen into the space over time, like the dome made when sifting flour through a strainer. Debris covers a slanted mud floor that drains down several more yards, following tight fractures on the floor. The bones were discovered along this fracture system.

“I was very nervous, to be honest,” says Roberts, when recounting the first time he went into the cave. “I was not entirely sure I could fit through the narrow crack. After thirty minutes of quasi-panic, I finally figured out how to orient my body so I could squeeze through.” Upon getting to the chamber floor and seeing the fossils, he says, “I turned off my headlamp and just sat in the dark for a while thinking about the importance of the site. It was only at this point that the significance of the discovery really sank in, and it was a pretty profound moment.”

The biggest question for Roberts is trying to understand how so many bodies got into this truly difficult-to-access chamber. There is no evidence of other animals being there, or that sunlight has ever hit the cave, or of debris washing into or out of it (although when the rainy season hits, water does seep into the chamber from the ground above). The only thing in the room is a carpet of bones covering the floor six inches deep. If it was a ritual burial ground, how did the other naledis get the bodies to that space? How long have they been there? Although some things are known about naledi, much more remains a mystery. Study of the fossil site will most likely continue for decades.

A nearly complete skeleton of Homo naledi and numerous other bones and bone fragments so far retrieved from the Dinaledi Chamber. Photo by John Hawks, Wits University

A nearly complete skeleton of Homo naledi and numerous other bones and bone fragments so far retrieved from the Dinaledi Chamber. Photo by John Hawks, Wits University

Roberts first became interested in geology during his freshman year at a small college in Iowa. By the time he was a doctoral student at the University of Utah, he was studying sedimentary geology and paleontology and enjoying the opportunity to work on the Kaiparowits Basin Project, providing geologic context to some of the dinosaur discoveries being made at that time in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. “I specifically wanted to work with Dr. Margie Chan because of her international reputation in clastic sedimentology” [the study of sedimentary rocks made of particles that are products of weathering at or near the Earth’s surface], and to combine his studies with other University of Utah experts in paleontology such as professors Scott Sampson and A.A. (Tony) Ekdale, he says.

Now, 10 years later, he’s part of a team uncovering the mysteries of an incredible find and is committed to getting the facts right. “We look at what’s below the bones and what’s above the bones. We date the rocks using uranium lead dating and pay special attention to avoiding contamination, which could result in getting an inaccurate age,” he says. “We want to go slowly. By the time we publish a date, we will have used two or three different methods to determine it. We are committed to waiting until we have multiple lines of evidence.”

The Rising Star Cave is located in the area of South Africa that became known as the “Cradle of Humankind” because it has revealed a vast number of hominin fossils, and some of the oldest yet found. After finishing his teaching responsibilities this November, Roberts returned to do more work in the cave through December. “Our absolute focus now is dating the deposits and the hominin bones, and my role remains central to this,” he says. “I will continue to work in the chamber and to study the geology of other portions of the cave system. As a result of renewed exploration in the Cradle of Humankind, new hominin discoveries are sure to be made by our team in other caves in the region. We have a team of cavers dedicated to looking for new sites.”

Ann Floor is an associate editor of Continuum.

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The climbers camp out under a starry sky in this still from the documentary Meru. Photos by Jimmy Chin, courtesy of Music Box Films

The climbers camp out under a starry sky in this still from the documentary Meru. Photos by Jimmy Chin, courtesy of Music Box Films

From Tragedy to Triumph

By Ann Floor

Last January, the riveting and spectacular film Meru received the Sundance Film Festival’s 2015 Audience Award for U.S. Documentary. The films tells the story of Conrad Anker BA’88, legendary mountaineer and author, who success-fully led a team of three elite climbers—which in addition to himself included filmmaker and director Jimmy Chin and landscape artist and filmmaker Renan Ozturk—up the Himalayas’ Mount Meru Central via the highly challenging and technically difficult Shark’s Fin. The climb took place over a 12-day period in 2011, with the team reaching Meru’s summit on October 2.

Located in northern India’s Garhwal Himalaya range, Mount Meru is consid-ered sacred in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist cosmology and is believed by some to be the center of all physical, metaphysical, and spiritual universes. The Shark’s Fin route is notoriously difficult because the altitude is almost 21,000 feet, and its sheer granite walls—1,500 feet high—don’t have a lot of cracks, making it challenging to “gear in.” Literally dozens of teams have tried and failed to make it. In fact, the Shark’s Fin has seen more failed attempts by elite climbing teams than any other peak in the Himalayas. Anker, Chin, and Ozturk became the first team ever to complete the previously unclimbable route.

The film Meru (which received a national release last August) is about much more than climbing. It’s about danger, fear, risk; exhilaration, obsession, drive; trust, love, paying tribute, commitment, character, and deep friendship. Anker’s resolve to reach the summit was driven by some critically important relationships with other climbers, especially those with Terrence “Mugs” Stump, his first mentor, who died in 1992 while guiding clients on Denali (Stump had tried to climb the Shark’s Fin in 1988 but failed), and Anker’s dear friend and mountaineering comrade Alex Lowe, who was killed in an avalanche while climbing in China in 1999 (the same year that Anker discovered the remains of famed early 20th-century English explorer and mountaineer George Mallory on the northeast edge of Mount Everest). Anker later married Lowe’s widow, Jennifer, and adopted their three sons. The family lives in Bozeman, Montana.

The loss of these two men had an enormous impact on Anker. “With the film, our hope was not just to give people a visceral experience of modern, cutting-edge mountain climbing, but more importantly, an honest look at the life, the loss, the elation, and ultimately, the intractable decisions faced by people who’ve made a life of climbing the big mountains,” he says.

Conrad Anker

Conrad Anker

Born in California, Anker started climbing peaks with his family at a young age. When he was 14, he advanced to belay (technical) climbing. By 1983, he had moved to Salt Lake City and was working at Holubar, a mountaineering equipment store, which later became a retail location for The North Face outdoor product business. Anker continues his long connection with the company and currently serves as captain of The North Face elite climbing team it sponsors.

After gaining Utah residency, Anker enrolled at the U. (He laughingly says his mother claims he chose the U because there were mountains on the student recruitment brochure.) In addition to his studies, he worked part time at Campus Outdoor Recreation. He received a bachelor’s degree in recreation and leisure from what is now the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism in the College of Health, one of the leading programs of its type in the country.

Today Anker serves on the boards of the Conservation Alliance, the Rowell Fund for Tibet, and the Alex Lowe Charitable Foundation. He says his involvement with these organizations is rewarding and is among the most important work he does. “It feels good to be able to give back to our community of humans and to the natural world.”

On January 22 2015, the night of Meru’s premiere at Sundance, Anker wrote on his Facebook page, “Deep gratitude to Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk for believing in the possibility. One is only as strong as the team, and you two are solid. It took us two trips to touch a transitory tip of snow. Why do we do this, and what are we seeking? And to my family—your patience and support is the foundation of my life.”

In the film, commenting on what it was like to reach the summit, Anker says, “Meru is the culmination of all I’ve done and all I’ve wanted to do. It was a fitting day, a day that I will always remember. A day that marked 25 years of obsession, eight years of trying, and three expeditions—a day that three friends shared a journey of self-discovery.”

When asked what’s next for him—how do you top summiting Meru?—Anker responds without hesitation, “My next challenge is one I’m working on with Jenni—to get our boys through college!”

U Chapter Leaders Share Ideas and Connect

EmployeesSeventeen University of Utah alumni chapter leaders from across the country gathered with Alumni Association staff on campus on October 16 and 17 to get to know one another better, share knowledge and ideas about chapter organization and activities, and strengthen connections with the U.

Those attending this year’s Chapter Leadership Seminar included Gary Pedersen BA’98 (Arizona), Riley Smith BS’06 (Bay Area), Shawn Solberg BS’08 (Boise), Amity James BA’02 (Chicago), Brian Chesnut BS’11 MAcc’12 (Dallas/Fort Worth), Blake Rodee BS’02 (Dallas/Fort Worth), Mike Homma BS’85 (Houston), Michael Yeh BS’14 (Houston), Scott Brown BS’98 MAr’00 (Las Vegas), Donna Lochhead (Los Angeles), Sean Reichert BS’09 (New England), Chris Linton HBS’07 (New York), Richard Masson BS’94 JD’98 (Orange County), Brooke Lowe BS’95 (Portland), Carol Hagey BS’83 (San Diego), Rickey Dana BS’07 (Washington, D.C.) and Brandon Lee BA’05 BS’05 (Washington, D.C.). First held in 2006, the seminar has been held every other year since 2011, and all but three of the current 17 alumni chapters were represented this fall.

During the two days, the group discussed various chapter activities and programs—scholarships, alumni events, membership drives, student recruitment—and heard from university representatives including Julie Swaner BA’69 PhD’11 and Brian Burton from Career Services (on both resources for alumni and ways to give back through student internships), and Mary Parker and Matt Lopez from the Student Recruitment Office.

The group also had an opportunity to tour the impressive new Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility and topped off their visit by attending the Utah football game against Arizona State. The chapter officers returned to their respective cities with renewed dedication to exploring fun and fulfilling ways of reaching out to alumni and friends.

Merit of Honor Awards Recognize Five U Alumni

The Emeritus Alumni Board selected five outstanding alumni to receive 2015 Merit of Honor Awards. The annual awards recognize U alumni who graduated 40 or more years ago whose careers have been marked by outstanding service to the University, their professions, and their communities. This year’s recipients are Andrew B. Christensen BS’62, Mary Kay Griffin BA’70, Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey BFA’55 MFA’55, Kathie Kercher Horman BA’65, and J. Spencer Kinard BS’66.

To recognize the recipients, the Emeritus Alumni Board in November hosted a banquet in their honor at the new Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building on campus. Ruth Watkins, the U’s senior vice president for academic affairs, served as the featured speaker, while Rex Thornton BS’72, a past president of the U Alumni Association’s Board of Directors, was the evening’s master of ceremonies.

Andrew B. Christensen

Andrew B. Christensen

With a doctorate in physics, Andrew Christensen has held senior leadership positions with The Aerospace Corporation, the Atmospheric Science Office of the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and more. He currently teaches at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah, while leading two projects for NASA and contributing to various others. He has authored or coauthored 100-some papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Mary Kay Griffin

Mary Kay Griffin

Mary Kay Griffin is the managing director of CBIZ MHM, LLC, one of the nation’s top providers of accounting, tax, and advisory services. She has been recognized by United Way as Council Member of the Year and by the Salt Lake Chamber’s Women’s Business Center as a Pathfinder. She has also been honored as a Distinguished Alumnus of the U’s School of Accounting.

Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey

Lily Yuriko Nakai Havey

Lily Nakai Havey graduated from the New England Conservatory of Music, obtained a master’s degree in fine arts from the U, and taught high school English, creative writing, and humanities. She also established an acclaimed stained glass business. She recently published the award-winning book Gasa Gasa Girl Goes to Camp: A Nisei Youth Behind a World War II Fence about her family’s time in an American internment camp.

Kathie Kercher Horman

Kathie Kercher Horman

Kathie Kercher Horman’s eclectic community activities have ranged from serving as president of the U’s Pioneer Theatre Guild to leading the Rocky Mountain Morgan Horse Club. She currently serves on the advisory board of the U’s School of Music and the board of Red Butte Garden. She has been recognized with the Sandy City Humanitarian of the Year Award.

J. Spencer Kinard

J. Spencer Kinard

Spencer Kinard is best known for his many years as an announcer with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and its weekly Sunday broadcast. He was also a longtime vice president and news director at KSL-TV and Radio and helped establish KJZZ TV. Kinard has served as president of the U Alumni Association, a member of the U Board of Trustees, and chairman of the national Radio-Television News Directors Association. He is in the Utah Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.

Alumni Homecoming Events Grow Scholarships, Spread Spirit

During a rousing week of events from October 2 to 11, Homecoming 2015 brought together alumni and friends to connect with each other and the U and raise funds for student scholarships. New this year, the Alumni Association held some exciting social media contests around the 2015 Homecoming theme, “#UUThrowback.” In the memory photo division, Bill Barnes took 1st Place for a photo of his father painting the Block U, winning a football jersey signed by Coach Whittingham and the team captains. U alum Brian Victor BS’95 took 2nd Place for a photo taken of him the day he graduated from the U. His prize included balls signed by the women’s soccer and volleyball teams. Check out the Alumni Association’s Facebook, Instagram, and other social media pages to see the winning photos and stay in the loop year-round.

Kids in CarHomecoming Week events kicked off on Friday, October 2, with a student dance at The Depot in downtown Salt Lake City. The following Tuesday, campus groups participated in the traditional House Decorating Contest on Greek Row and at various other campus locations, using the Homecoming #UUThrowback theme as inspiration for their design. The Greek Row winner was Pi Beta Phi sorority; the campus winner was the Alumni House, decorated by the Student Alumni Board.

The U’s emeritus alumni—those who graduated 40 or more years ago (or who have reached age 65)—gathered for their Homecoming reunion dinner on Wednesday evening at the Alumni House, where they heard a talk by Tommy Connor, men’s basketball assistant coach, and had a tour of the stunning new Jon M. and Karen Huntsman Basketball Facility, which recently opened.

Fraternity and sorority members competed in the annual Songfest on Thursday, with Alpha Chi Omega and Sigma Phi Epsilon taking top honors. That evening, students and alumni gathered for a pep rally at the Union Building.

Friday events included the Utes competing in home games for both women’s soccer and women’s volleyball, and the start of Parent/Family Weekend, where prospective students and their families visit campus for a taste of student life.

Excitement was in the air on Saturday morning, October 10, as a crowd of Utah fans—from toddlers to seniors, decked in red and white—gathered in front of the Alumni House for the start of the annual Young Alumni Homecoming Scholarship 5K and Kids 1K Run/Walk. The event raised more than $53,000 for U scholarships, and awards were given in different race categories, including for fastest runner, best dressed, and the one with the most spirit. All 556 runners—and walkers (some with dogs)—were eligible to win raffle prizes, including a kayak. As afternoon approached, the crowds headed to Rice-Eccles Stadium for the Alumni Association’s pre-game tailgate party on Guardsman Way. The weeklong events culminated with the Utes playing the University of California, Berkeley, in a triumphant 30-24 win.

Save the Date For Founders Day

The University of Utah Alumni Association will hold its annual Founders Day Banquet on March 3 at the Little America Hotel to recognize an exceptional honorary alumnus and four outstanding graduates of the U who are receiving 2016 Founders Day Awards. A scholarship recipient also will be recognized.

The 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award honorees are Deneece G. Huftalin BS’84 PhD’06, Patricia W. Jones BS’93, Fred P. Lewis PhD’79, and Harris H. Simmons BA’77. The 2016 Honorary Alumnus is Marion A. Willey. The scholarship winner will be announced later. (Read more about the awardees in the upcoming Spring 2016 issue of Continuum.) To RSVP for the banquet, go online to foundersday.

Through the Years: Class Notes


Greg Thompson.webGregory Thompson MA’71 PhD’81, associate dean for special collections at the U’s J. Willard Marriott Library and an adjunct assistant professor of history, received the 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Conference of InterMountain Archivists. The award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated considerable service and leadership in the Intermountain West and who have made significant contributions to the organization or the archival profession. Thompson has published several monographs on the Ute Tribe, is a founding board member of the Alf Engen Ski Museum, and is the general editor of the Tanner Trust Publication Series Utah, The Mormons, and the West.

Linda Tyler.webLinda S. Tyler BS’78 PharmD’81 received the 2015 John W. Webb Lecture Award from the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. The award honors pharmacy practitioners or educators for their dedication to fostering excellence in pharmacy management and leadership. As administrative director of pharmacy services at the U’s Hospitals and Clinics, Tyler oversees pharmacy operations at four hospitals, 10 ambulatory clinics, and 14 outpatient pharmacies. She also serves as associate dean of pharmacy practice and clinical professor of pharmacotherapy at the U’s College of Pharmacy. Tyler is recognized as a visionary leader, inspiring mentor, and exemplary academician. She was one of the first in the country to develop standards in drug information services (work that helped create the National Drug Shortage Database) and grew the U’s program into one of the premier services of its kind.


Moises Deltoro.webMoises DelToro III  BME’87, rear admiral, is the new commander of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, Rhode Island, a full-spectrum research, development, and fleet support center for submarines, autonomous underwater systems, and offensive and defensive weapons systems. With more than 4,700 employees, the command provides the Navy’s core technical capability for the integration of weapons, combat, and ship systems into undersea vehicles. DelToro previously commanded the USS Rhode Island from 2005 to 2008; served as executive officer aboard the USS Salt Lake City;  and worked at Navy Recruiting Command, among other duties. In addition to his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the U, he holds master’s degrees in engineering management from the Catholic University and in resourcing national security strategy from the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

Olene Walker.webOlene Walker PhD’87, who served as Utah’s first and only female governor, and the only person with a doctorate yet to hold the office in Utah, received the YWCA of Utah’s Mary Schubach McCarthey Lifetime Achievement Award in late September. Holding a master’s degree from Stanford and her doctorate in education from the U, Walker was a member of the Utah House of Representatives between 1981 and 1989, including a term as majority whip, and served a decade as lieutenant governor, chairing the Healthcare Reform Task Force, which established the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). She became governor in 2003, at the age of 72. She was also founder and director of the Salt Lake Education Foundation and has been a strong advocate for children’s literacy.


Bridget Romano2.webBridget Romano BS’90 JD’94 (magna cum laude) has been named chief civil deputy in the Office of the Utah Attorney General. Romano had served since 2011 as solicitor general, civil appeals director, and chief appellate advocate for Utah. In her new capacity, she oversees the education, environment and health, highways and utilities, litigation, natural resources, state agency counsel, and tax and financial services divisions. Romano has been with the attorney general’s office since 1996, leaving for two short periods to work in private practice. Prior to her new position, she served as chair of the Utah State Bar Appellate Practice Section, and was on the Utah Supreme Court’s Appellate Rules Advisory Committee. Romano is now second only to Jan Graham MS’77 JD’80, former attorney general, as the highest ranking woman in the history of the Utah attorney general’s office.


Shigeki Watanabe.webShigeki Watanabe BA’04 PhD’13, a postdoctoral fellow in biology at the U, developed a “flash-and-freeze” method of watching neurons releasing neurotransmitters. As a result, he became the first person to win the two major prizes for neuroscience and cell biology postdocs. In September, Watanabe was named 2015 Grand Prize Winner of the $25,000 Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology. Earlier in the year, the American Society for Cell Biology named him recipient of its Bernfield Award. He also garnered a third honor in 2015—the German Physiological Society’s Emil du Bois-Reymond Prize. Watanabe is a postdoc at both the U and at Charité University Hospital in Berlin. He conducted his prize-winning research in collaboration with U biology professor Erik Jorgensen, an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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A Big Splash


O n the best afternoons, on his way home from elementary school in Salt Lake City, there would be snowbanks and sunshine, and snow melt that rushed down the hill on 1500 East. The boy would kneel down and start rearranging the dirty piles of snow, making spillways and sluices and dams that took the water this way and that (including into large puddles that cars had to maneuver around, but oh well).


Mark Fuller

All of that was more than a half century ago. Still, all these years later, Mark Fuller is captivated by water and what he can make it do. “The closest thing the world has to a fountain genius” is the way The New Yorker described him a few years ago.

Fuller HBS’76 and his team at WET in Sun Valley, California, are the creators of famous water features including the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas, the Olympic fountain at the 2014 Winter Games in Russia, and the largest fountain in the world, the 12-acre Dubai Fountain in the United Arab Emirates. This December, WET is adding two new water features in Dubai, including one at the Dubai Opera House, and several large projects in Asia that Fuller says he can’t talk about yet because he’s been sworn to secrecy.

It’s hard not to gush about what WET creates: the playful arcs and spouts that light up the night, the sensuous fans of water that look almost human as they sway and twirl, the jets that pulse to music and leap 50 stories into the air. As if the water was happy just being itself.


Fuller built his first permanent water feature, a three-foot-by-nine-foot pond, in his parents’ tiny backyard in Sugar House when he was in junior high. That success (i.e. his mother was thrilled) was followed by his first fountain.

“The floor of my basement was covered with garden hoses,” remembers his mom, Faye. “His Dad would shake his head and say, ‘Do you think anything will come of this,’ ” referring to not just the mess but also his son’s passions. “And I said, ‘Of course it will.’ ”

That first fountain, created with his grandfather, was a long concrete planter box next to the house and was powered by an old washing machine pump. “Mark always wanted to embellish everything,” his mother says, recalling how the next step was to put in electric lights. Can’t be done, said a woman at some store they went to. “So of course Mark went ahead and did it. He made them out of tomato juice cans.”

The Dubai Fountain was created by WET in 2009-10 and is considered the world’s largest choreographed fountain system.

The Dubai Fountain was created by WET in 2009-10 and is considered the world’s largest choreographed fountain system.

By the time he got to Highland High School (class of ’69), Fuller says, he was a classic nerd, a slight young man who did not excel in sports—but who today, as an illustrious alum, has a spot of honor in Highland’s showcase cabinet that also celebrates its all-state jocks.

At the University of Utah, he was a civil engineering major but stayed an extra year so he could take all the classes that intrigued him. He was president of the exhibition ballroom dance team. One year, for the theater department’s outdoor production of Agamemnon, he made a fake-stone altar that shot out a giant ball of fire when he pushed a button on a wireless garage door opener.

Here’s what he told an audience this past spring when he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the U: Ever since he was nine years old, he wanted to work at Disneyland. “This is what it must be like to be God, to create worlds as you imagine them and have the technical ability to do so,” he remembers thinking. And right out of graduate school at Stanford University, he did in fact work at the theme park. But perhaps the real Disneyland in his life, he said, was the University of Utah—“the Disneyland of knowledge and wonder and the endless possibilities that can be realized through the rich and near boundless intellectual riches on this campus.”

Fuller took enough theater classes at the U to nearly get him a double degree. He was initially attracted to the theater because he thought he could meet some pretty actresses. But he stayed because he liked the technical side, inspired by Bill Barber, then technical director at Pioneer Memorial Theatre, and Ron Crosby, the theater’s set designer, and director Clyde Vinson.

Mark Fuller was a U engineering student during the 1970s.

Mark Fuller was a U engineering student during the 1970s.

“He was always very creative and persistent; he always came up with new ways to do things,” remembers U emeritus professor of physics and astronomy Haven Bergeson. Mostly, Fuller worked with Bergeson outside of class, spending time helping with cosmic ray experiments in the Silver King mine in Park City, and designing a thing they named Prometheus, an electrical device that flickered as if it were a flame.

But the pivotal moment at the U came one day in a civil engineering class. He was sitting at the back of the room with his friends Dave Ayer HBS’76 MAr’79 and Lee Sim BS’76, watching an audiovisual about fluid mechanics, when all of a sudden a man on the screen was talking about laminar flow: the ability, under the right circumstances, of water to flow in a solid, glass-like rod. Hey, said Fuller, maybe we could do our senior honors thesis on that. The typical topics, he says, were things like sewage treatment plant design and storm culverts, but what he wanted to do was create his own really cool fountain.

They ended up making a 10-by-20- foot, four-stream arcing fountain out of cylinders and screens and hundreds of soda straws they cut into tiny pieces. They convinced a friend’s father to contribute a few hundred dollars, and then later to install the finished product in the Conquistador Apartments on 3300 South, making it the unlikely home of the first permanent laminar flow fountain in the world. It was removed when the building was remodeled years later. Who knew the kid was going to become famous?


Could there be a better name for a job than “Imagineer”? That was Fuller’s first job title after getting a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Stanford in 1978; he was hired at Disney to develop rides at the California park and then create new works for the opening of the EPCOT Center in Florida. That’s when he came up with the Leapfrog Fountain outside the Journey into Imagination Pavilion.

“The one thing I think we recognized right away was that Mark was willing to take a chance,” recalls Marty Sklar, former president of Walt Disney Imagineering. “He wasn’t afraid of trying something nobody else had done before.” The Leapfrog Fountain used laminar flow, but instead of the water just moving in a solid, arcing rod, Fuller figured out how to make it jump from one spot to another.

After an offer from a Dallas developer to create a fountain at a new shopping center, and with work at EPCOT slowing down, Fuller and two of his colleagues, Melanie Simon and Alan Robinson, started WET (Water Entertainment Technology) in Los Angeles. But it was hard at first to convince other venues that a fountain would be worth their investment, and at one point they were so broke that 13 of Fuller’s credit cards had maxed out.

The problem was this: “Fountain” conjured up a bit of gurgling water that was often secondary to the statues and rocks around it. What Fuller, as CEO and chief cheerleader for WET, had to do was convince people that fountains could be playful and daring and emotional, and an asset to a building site—that fountains could in fact be a destination in themselves. Because water, he says, is “the world’s most magical substance.”

WET’s choreographed fountain at the City Creek Center mall in Salt Lake City debuted in spring 2012.

WET’s choreographed fountain at the City Creek Center mall in Salt Lake City debuted in spring 2012.

WET was the first to create the now ubiquitous fountains that spout up from pavement, and many of the innovations in fountain design that have followed. “I can say this humbly, I think,” says Fuller, “that modern fountains and their omnipresence are contributable to us.”

Everything changed for WET one day in 1995, with a phone call from Steve Wynn, who was creating the Bellagio Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas strip. Wynn’s landscape architect had seen the EPCOT Leapfrog Fountain and thought the two men should meet. The result was a $27 million contract to create what filmmaker Steven Spielberg later told Wynn was “the greatest single piece of public entertainment on Earth.”

Before the Fountains of Bellagio were officially opened to the public in 1998, there was a chain link fence around the lake, which meant people could peek in at the initial tests of the elaborate fountains. “The crowd was cheering and clapping,” Fuller remembers, “and Steve [Wynn] turned to me and said, ‘Do you realize there’s not a human performer out there?’ ”

Instead there were more than a hundred swaying streams and a thousand bursting jets of water, all precisely choreographed in time to music. (You can find many such displays on YouTube; one of the most spectacular is a nighttime fountain show choreographed to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” at the fountain in Dubai.)

All this spectacle is achieved using WET-designed and manufactured water devices (“shooters”), plus nozzle-clad robotic arms (“oarsmen”) that can move the water in any direction. To create the oarsman, Fuller had to first visualize what shapes it might make, so he had one of his engineers don a raincoat and then hold a hose over his head while twirling around on a spinning office chair.


“He’s the Willy Wonka of water,” says Fuller’s personal trainer, Eric Fleishman. “I’ve rarely met someone who is consistently in such a bubbly mood.”

Fleishman, who mostly trains Hollywood actors and their families, including Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, also oversees the free fitness programs at WET, with a list of classes that includes not just the usual yoga and aerobics but also boxing and ballroom dance. For those employees who tend to be more sedentary, Fuller sends trainers to their desks for workstation workouts.

WET is “a living museum of all the things I think are important,” he says. Employees get to take free classes in everything from physics to improv comedy, and work in a state-of-the-art space called “the Idea Playground.” The staff of 350 includes mechanical engineers, architects, animators, textile designers, graphic designers, choreographers, chemists, model builders, machinists, and optical engineers, who are all encouraged to brainstorm together.

U alum Mark Fuller makes a presentation about the Dubai Fountain’s design, in 2008.

U alum Mark Fuller makes a presentation about the Dubai Fountain’s design, in 2008.

Fuller owns more than 50 patents, but these days, he says, what he mostly does is “flit around pollinating” the ideas of his staff. One day not long ago, though, he was driving home to his wife and kids and had to pull over to the side of the road to write down five new ideas for an upcoming project in Shanghai.

“Make something that’s never been seen before,” Wynn told him when he hired him to create the Fountains of Bellagio 20 years ago, and the trick now is to keep doing that, to continually come up with something more surprising. Fuller’s fountains incorporate fire, and there is a water feature at the Las Vegas City Center that uses columns of ice that rise up, sculpted by tiny jets of water, and then submerge back into a black pool. But even the small projects are satisfying to create, Fuller says. “It’s not at all about the size. It’s about seeing people enchanted.”

The City Creek Center mall in downtown Salt Lake City has three WET fountains, including one in front of Nordstrom that performs small music-and-water shows and is entrancing but will probably never get a million views on YouTube. “This is my Norman Rockwell fountain,” Fuller says.

This is what he imagines: It’s Christmastime, a light snow is falling, and at dusk, some tired shoppers stand in front of the fountain with their packages. They see the water jumping up in the air, as if the water were a kid on a trampoline, and they smile.

Here’s maybe what it comes down to, all this inventing and choreographing and designing with water, he says: “I like making people feel more glad to be alive.”

—Elaine Jarvik is a Salt Lake City-based journalist and playwright and a frequent contributor to Continuum.

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The Stories Buildings Tell


THOMAS CARTER started out just wanting to play the fiddle. As a teenager in Salt Lake City in the early 1960s, he’d been drawn to folk music of the kind performed by Peter, Paul and Mary and The Kingston Trio, and as he dug deeper into the genre, he found his way to the music of the Appalachian South. He was hooked by the New Lost City Ramblers, who did several shows at the University of Utah during those years. “They played old-time fiddle tunes, and banjo in the old drop thumb, or claw hammer style,” he says. He and his buddies decided to start their own band in that vein, “and by default I became the fiddler.”

His love of that music took him to other paths besides fiddling, however. It eventually led him to study folklore, and then histories, and then to a long career examining how historical buildings reflect the culture of the people who built them. “I had always liked old buildings, for like the old fiddle tunes, they connected me to a pre-modern rural world that somehow seemed more ‘authentic’ than the suburban neighborhood I had grown up in,” says Carter, who is now a professor emeritus in the University of Utah’s College of Architecture and Planning. “I’ve spent a lifetime collecting and recording handmade rather than machine-made music and buildings.”

After graduating from high school in Salt Lake City, Carter attended Brown University in Rhode Island, where he studied American history. But he says his “transformative experience” came in an ethnomusicology class. He wasn’t doing well in the class—quite likely because he kept going to Vermont to attend old-time fiddlers’ conventions—and his professor suggested he write his term paper on the fiddlers he’d met there.

“I located one old guy, Neil Converse of Plainfield, Vermont, and he let me record him,” Carter says. “The paper wasn’t really very good, as I recall, but it got me through the course, and in the process, I discovered the one thing I could do, which was fieldwork.”

Tom Carter has played the fiddle for years and in the ’70s recorded LPs with the Fuzzy Mountain String Band. (Photo by Austen Diamond)

Tom Carter has played the fiddle for years and in the ’70s recorded LPs with the Fuzzy Mountain String Band. (Photo by Austen Diamond)

At Brown, Carter also met the American folklorist Archie Green, who introduced him to that field and told him about a good program getting underway at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in American history at Brown, Carter visited the Chapel Hill campus on his way from a fiddle festival in North Carolina. The folklore program director, Dan Patterson, offered him an assistantship working to set up the North Carolina Folklore Archive, and Carter went on to receive a master’s degree in American folklore. He wrote his thesis on a fiddler from Allegheny County, North Carolina, named Joe Caudill. “I also played in the Fuzzy Mountain String Band, which became quite influential in the folk music revival, due to a couple of LPs the band released in the early ’70s,” Carter recalls.

Patterson put Carter in touch with Indiana University’s Folklore Institute, where one faculty member, Henry Glassie, was a banjo player as well as a writer on material culture and folk housing. During his tutelage in Indiana’s doctoral program, Carter and his then wife, Ann Kaedesch, spent a year living in an 1850s farmhouse in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with Carter focusing on the arrival of the banjo and how it affected the early fiddle music of the region in North Carolina and Virginia. He recorded as many musicians as he could. “My recordings never became a dissertation—I got sidetracked by architecture—but I did produce a series of LPs called the Old Originals, the title referring to the ‘old original’ folk music of the region, as opposed to newer popular music that superseded it,” he says.

For his dissertation, Carter instead chose to examine the early Mormon folk housing that still existed in Nauvoo, Illinois. Carter began working with Jan Shipps, a professor of religious history at Indiana University who would become his mentor on historical architecture and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The fiddle, she says now, “could have been his life. He’s that good. But there he is, having this incredible ability to look at a house. He was curious and able to figure it out.” Carter says his move from folklore to architectural history and preservation seemed quite natural to him. “I was better at analyzing buildings than I was at analyzing musical scales,” he says. “I found I could easily substitute houses for fiddle tunes.”


Carter and his wife decided they wanted to return to the mountains of Utah, so he shifted the focus of his doctoral study from Mormon architecture in Nauvoo to that of Utah’s Sanpete County, home of the Manti Temple and, he says, “the best collection of early Mormon buildings.” Unlike Salt Lake City, where many old buildings had long been demolished to allow for new growth, Sanpete contained the largest number of early buildings anywhere in Utah. “I wanted to study the 1847-1890 period, and more importantly, the whole Zion-building process,” he says.

So he and his wife lived in Sanpete County, where she taught dance at Snow College while he did research for his dissertation. (Along the way, they also had a son and a daughter, who he says recall vacations filled with him stopping to photograph or draw old buildings.) “Folklore is really the study of everyday life, a kind of populist inquiry that was highly attractive to many of us coming out of the cultural upheavals of the 1960s,” he says. “So while I liked old stuff, whether fiddle tunes or houses, they were only a means to the larger end of doing cultural history.”

Tom Carter, doing architectural fieldwork on a pioneer house in Utah’s Sanpete County. (Photo courtesy Thomas Carter).

Tom Carter, doing architectural fieldwork on a pioneer house in Utah’s Sanpete County. (Photo courtesy Thomas Carter)

He became the architectural historian at the Utah Division of State History in 1978, a position he would hold until 1990. “In the 1970s, many states were beginning, under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, to survey their historic buildings, so there was work,” he says. And in 1984, he received his doctorate from Indiana University in American folklore, with a minor in Western American history, and began teaching vernacular architecture classes as an adjunct instructor at the University of Utah.

During those years, he worked closely with Peter L. Goss, a U architectural history professor, and together they wrote Utah’s Historic Architecture, 1847- 1940: A Guide, published in 1988. “Peter saw that I contributed something very different, and that together we made a good team,” Carter says now. “He knew the architectural vocabulary, and the architect-designed buildings, and I was all about the common stuff and knew how to get into people’s houses to draw up the floor plans. So we combined our talents on the Utah guidebook, which was the first of its kind really to combine architectural styles and building types in a single work.”

Carter became an assistant professor in the U’s Graduate School of Architecture in 1990 and director of the U’s Western Regional Architecture Program. As a newly minted professor, he received a grant from the federal National Endowment for the Humanities to further study Western vernacular architecture. The work entailed what Carter has always loved: summer field trips that took him and his students out to draw buildings around the West. He also developed a master’s program on preservation and established an archive of 500 to 600 drawings in the West.

His friend Jack Brady BS’92 MAr’94, an architect in Layton, remembers those days of Carter and his students “crawling around basements and attics and understanding details on structure and organization of space.” Carter and his students also drew the elements they saw, and many made their way into summer booklets. “You don’t understand it unless you sketch it on paper,” Brady says. “That’s the discovery process. You learn about the culture the builders had in mind.”


In 2005, Carter and co-author Elizabeth Collins Cromley published Invitation to Vernacular Architecture: A Guide to the Study of Ordinary Buildings and Landscapes, a book that has come to be considered a main introductory text for the field of vernacular architecture studies.

Cory Jensen MS’94, now the architectural historian at the Utah State Historical Society, was one of Carter’s many students. “His enthusiasm for and love of architectural history, particularly in vernacular architecture studies, was contagious,” Jensen says. “Buildings can be read like a book, and Tom has one of those minds that is always looking at different angles on how vernacular architecture can tell us about our society and culture.”

The U’s Western Regional Architecture Program in 1996 was awarded the Paul Buchanan Prize from the Vernacular Architecture Forum for its significant contribution to the history of American architecture. And in 2011, Carter received the Vernacular Architecture Forum’s prestigious Henry Glassie Award for a “lifetime achievement in vernacular architecture studies.”

Over the years, Carter has researched and written on subjects throughout the United States, including the Japanese-American shop houses in Fresno, California; a folklife survey of Italian- American building traditions in Nevada and Utah; and Basque rooming-houses in Nevada. His latest book, Building Zion: The Material World of Mormon Settlements, was published this past March by the University of Minnesota Press. “I started this book at the beginning of my teaching career, and I am finishing it in my academic twilight years,” he writes in the preface. “Had I completed it earlier, however, I believe I would have missed much of what’s important. My central theory is that rather than competing with each other, or stemming from deep inconsistencies or contradictions within the culture, the two sides of the Mormon, the temple and the house… were creatively combined to give the Latter-day Saints two elements essential for their survival: from the temples came the otherness that staked out a distinctive and decidedly Mormon religious identity, and from the houses… came an orthodoxy that allowed them to fit rather seamlessly into mainstream American culture.”

Tom Carter sketches a Gothic-style house in Salt Lake City’s Avenues neighborhood that was built during the 1860s. He documented the house, originally owned by William Barton, for a study of Mormon housing in Utah. (Photo by Austen Diamond)

Tom Carter sketches a Gothic-style house in Salt Lake City’s Avenues neighborhood that was built during the 1860s. He documented the house, originally owned by William Barton, for a study of Mormon housing in Utah. (Photo by Austen Diamond)

Carter retired from full-time teaching in 2010. Now a professor emeritus, he continues to work on writing projects, including a book on vernacular design that uses his Utah fieldwork, as well as another book, Sagebrush Cities: The Industrial Landscape of Cattle Ranching in Elko County, Nevada. He’s also busy organizing the 2017 meeting of the Vernacular Architecture Forum, which will be held in Salt Lake City. The event is a joint effort of the University with the Utah Heritage Foundation, the Utah State Historical Society, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and will include fieldwork-based tours showcasing Utah’s architecture. But this summer, Carter also made time for fly fishing in Idaho and Montana, and he loves backcountry skiing in the winter.

“In some ways, I guess I have used these old houses as a backdrop for the style of unconventional life I have wanted to lead,” he says. “My whole life, I have sort of lived in the past. My music, the way I dress, my cars (I drive a 1962 Mercedes Ponton, but it was old Volvo 122s before that) have been old ones, and my houses, too. … This fascination between things and the ideas that produced them and made them useful and attractive to people has been what drove me forward. I have been a good fieldworker, but I also have been a good student of American culture.”

Peg McEntee is a former longtime journalist with The Salt Lake Tribune and Associated Press who now works as a Salt Lake City-based freelance writer.

Note: The print edition references a bachelor’s degree from the U for Cory Jensen. His bachelor’s degree is from Brigham Young University. He has a master’s degree from the U. That reference has been corrected here.

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