Danielle Dunn introduces herself to her social work statistics classmates with a hula hoop around her waist. She’d never bring the large plastic ring into an actual classroom, but this is a video recording for an online class, and she spins the hoop while explaining that she is from Salt Lake City and likes to hula-hoop for fun. “You can find me doing it in parks, on the U of U campus, anywhere that I can freely move and dance. Nice to meet you. Hope to see you in class,” she says in between breaths as the hoop goes round and round.

The statistics class was the first she had taken online at the U. A junior majoring in social work, Dunn says the course was unavailable in a traditional classroom that semester, but was only taught online. She thought the class would consist simply of watching videotaped lectures and doing coursework on a computer. She expected to feel disengaged and isolated. “I was nervous about taking the class online because I love the environment of the classroom,” she says.

Cynthia Furse, the U’s associate vice president for research, teaches a “flipped” course in electrical and computer engineering.

Cynthia Furse, the University of Utah’s associate vice president for research, teaches a “flipped” course in electrical and computer engineering. (All photos by Keith Johnson)

She was surprised to experience even more interaction with other students and her professor than in many of her traditional classes. The online course included a blog where students, many taking the class from St. George, Utah, through a partnership with Dixie State University, could compare notes. Lectures were taught in 10- to 15-minute chunks that could be watched over and over again to grasp concepts. Dunn connected with other students taking the class through interactive video classrooms. Her professor gave extra points for engagement. Dunn says that in a traditional classroom, it’s often the extroverts raising their hands and always speaking up. “Being in an online class, you got to hear from a lot of people you probably wouldn’t hear from.”

That’s all part of the plan, says Ruth Watkins, senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Utah. For the past year, the University has been developing the UOnline Initiative. The goal is to bring more classes online to give students greater scheduling flexibility in an effort to help them complete their degrees on time, while also providing students with a better way to learn by combining technology with best teaching practices. This fall, the University will offer five new bachelor’s degrees that can be obtained solely online, in business administration, psychology, economics, nursing, and social work. The new degree programs will require developing 84 new online courses over the next three years. The University also expects to offer online master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering beginning in 2017.

“When I look to the next phase and strategic priorities, we are really using online education as a cornerstone of achieving our higher education agenda of student success,” Watkins says. “We’re not looking at this as some appendage out on the side that’s run as a separate operation but as really core business to what we are doing.”

Ruth Watkins, the U’s senior vice president for academic affairs, has been leading the UOnline Initiative, which includes five new degree programs.

Ruth Watkins, the U’s senior vice president for academic affairs, has been leading the UOnline Initiative, which includes five new degree programs.

Over the past few years, online learning options across the country have multiplied, from MOOCs (massive open online courses) and BOOCS (big open online courses) to venues such as Minerva, a new accredited online university that applies rigorous pedagogical practices while taking students to seven major cities around the world to live during their years of study. Minerva enrolled its inaugural class last fall, and the student dorm rooms, which are located in San Francisco this first year, are the only facility the company operates.

Online learning platforms are not only readily available but popular. Coursera, the largest provider of MOOCs, now has 10 million users and offers 900 courses, with plans to provide 5,000 courses in the next three years. The for-profit endeavor makes money by charging $50 for a certificate of each completed course. Students can also pay for college credit. EdX, a nonprofit organization that has partnered with prestigious institutions such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University, and the University of California at Berkeley, is offering more than 300 online courses taught by more than 400 faculty and staff. There’s also Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization—with significant financial backing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—that provides free online math tutorials. Meanwhile, traditional colleges across the country are coming up with their own online offerings. Penn State University with its Penn State World Campus offers more than 120 online degrees and certificates, and Arizona State University teamed up with Starbucks last summer to provide online programs to its employees. The aim for both institutions is to attract more students by increasing accessibility and affordability.

Nationally, 5.5 million students took at least one course online in 2012, and 2.6 million were fully enrolled online, according to the latest data from the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics. At the University of Utah, 19,573 students—more than half of the 31,515 students currently enrolled at the U—are taking at least one class online. The increases in online enrollment have corresponded with the rise in online class offerings. Enrollments in individual online classes grew tenfold in the last 12 years, from 2,598 total enrollments in online sections in 2001 to 29,046 in 2013. The U now offers 478 courses online, and online enrollment is expected to increase to 33,000 next fall with the five new degrees.

The upward spiral of students taking online classes begs weighty questions about the future role of a traditional university and whether a physical campus will be necessary anymore. “One question we get a lot is, ‘Why do we need all these buildings if we’re going to go into online education?’ ” Watkins says. The answer, she says, lies in the different ways students learn and the varying formats they need.

For instance, a student who wants to become an organic chemist could readily find the necessary content for the profession online, she says. The problem some students report is: “I can’t really learn it that way. I need a guide. I need a facilitator. I need a community, and, frankly, I probably need somebody to make me do it.” Because of those realities, a brick-and-mortar campus is still very necessary, Watkins says. “It might mean we need different kinds of spaces, but I think we have a physical presence that transcends the classroom.”

Cory Stokes, the University of Utah’s associate dean of Undergraduate Studies, was appointed last July to be director of the U’s online education initiative.

Cory Stokes, the University of Utah’s associate dean of Undergraduate Studies, was appointed last July to be director of the U’s online education initiative.

Without the connection to peers and teachers, students are more likely to drop out, researchers have found. A 2013 study by the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education found that MOOCs, which enroll hundreds of thousands of students in a single course, have relatively few active users, and engagement declines dramatically after the first few weeks of a course. The study, which analyzed a million users taking 16 courses through Coursera, found that only 4 percent of the courses were completed.

In contrast, the University of Utah’s approach to online learning is to create a “hybrid university” where students can take a combination of on-campus courses and online courses, using the best of each to build their degrees, Watkins says. The new approach is not just a matter of pointing a camera at a professor and recording a lecture. The U’s online initiative also focuses on delivering hybrid courses, often referred to as “flipped classrooms,” where students can watch short videotaped lectures and review key concepts online while using class time to engage in interactive problem-solving and discussion with the professor. “Over time,” Watkins says, “our opportunities have just increased dramatically in terms of the quality of what we can do, the ways we can embed best practices in teaching, such as interaction and active learning, and really using technology for the very best of what education can offer.”

A student exits the UOnline office in the J. Willard Marriott Library. More than 19,500 students now take online courses.

A student exits the UOnline office in the J. Willard Marriott Library. More than 19,500 students now take online courses.

Time, not distance, is the main reason more students nationwide are turning to online courses. With most students working while attending school, online access allows them to fit the classes they need into their schedules without travel time, and sometimes, to learn on their own time. In fact, 59 percent of undergraduate students taking online courses live less than 100 miles from the college or university providing the classes, according to a study by New Jersey-based Aslanian Market Research. But the reputation of the institution is more important to students choosing online courses than the flexibility and convenience, the study found, and online learners do not always select the least expensive alternative.

“The nearby college has advantages both to campus-based learning and online learning,” says Carol Aslanian, the company’s senior vice president. “The growth is due primarily to more and more college students seeking efficiency and convenience in their programs of study.”

Cory Stokes, director of the U’s online education initiative and associate dean of Undergraduate Studies, says that demand is driving universities, including the U, to do more in the online arena. “We’ve come to a point, I think, as a school and as a nation, where higher education must move into the online space. That’s where the demand and the market are driving us. And so taking a more strategic approach to what we are offering online is really the charge going forward.”

The U has been involved in online learning for the past decade, but previous efforts were informal, with faculty independently exploring ways to teach online. To advance the UOnline Initiative, Stokes’ new position was created, and he was appointed last July. The U’s goal is to use technology to enhance, not replace, the university experience, he says. “It’s not about creating a degree factory. We don’t want the Sneetch to come in, go through the machine, and come out with a star on her belly, and we’re done.” Rather it’s about providing “a high quality, engaging experience that helps students grow as individuals and connects them with other people.”

To do that, Stokes is working to provide more and better online offerings around high-demand degrees and general education courses, as well as broadening access to degrees, both demographically and geographically, and developing certificates and programs to support businesses in addressing regional workforce needs. The U’s Teaching and Learning Technologies center employs 30 students and 21 full-time staff members, including instructional designers and experts in video and media production, to design online courses, provide video production resources to faculty members, and handle test proctoring. They are developing early-warning dashboards to help faculty members identify students who are enrolled but not participating in their online classes, and discover the reasons why. Stokes is also focused on building virtual systems to provide online students greater access to campus resources, including service learning and international study, as well as tutoring services and a writing center where online students will be able to email their papers to a writing coach for review and editing starting this summer. A pilot system will also be put in place in the summer to allow students to Skype with academic and financial advisers, and Stokes is working on a tuition model for students obtaining degrees solely online. He expects it will be less than out-of-state tuition and closer to the amount paid for in-state tuition.

Students in Cynthia Furse’s “flipped” engineering class at the University of Utah use class time to engage in interactive problem-solving. They watch short videotaped lectures before coming to class and review key concepts online.

Students in Cynthia Furse’s “flipped” engineering class at the University of Utah use class time to engage in interactive
problem-solving. They watch short videotaped lectures before coming to class and review key concepts online.

Many U students taking online courses are ages 25 or older and have been delayed by life experiences from finishing their degrees. Most are women. They also live close to campus. An estimated 80 percent or more of U students taking online classes are also on campus weekly, Stokes says. “It’s all about being free of time and place constraints.”

Cynthia Furse BS’86 MS’88 PhD’94, associate vice president for research at the U and a professor of electrical and computer engineering, has long experience in the benefits of online learning. In 2009, Furse decided to flip all her classes, making her the first professor at the University and perhaps in the nation to do so. Through a National Science Foundation grant, she now teaches a MOOC (in partnership with Salt Lake Community College) to help other professors and teachers learn how to do it. “It’s student-centered instead of professor-centered. It’s not like one student is working and everyone else is taking notes,” she says. “They all have to think about what they are doing, which means they find what they don’t know, and everyone’s got a little something different they don’t know that they’re struggling with.”

Furse’s videotaped engineering lectures have now been viewed on YouTube by more than 2 million people worldwide. While visiting other universities, students who have never formally enrolled in her classes have even stopped her in hallways because they’ve seen the YouTube videos. “It’s a little like being a YouTube diva, or a celebrity, or something,” she says.

Patrick Panos BA’85, director of the U’s undergraduate social work program, also has found that online learning can be more productive. “In a funny sort of way, I’m actually giving students more interaction with me, and it’s a higher quality interaction because I’m not boring them if they’ve mastered the concept.”

For Panos’ hula-hooping student, Dunn, who gave birth to her second child in January, the online courses at the U have become a big help. “It’s just easier, especially with a baby,” she notes. She says the online classes are providing greater flexibility that will help her, and many other U students, toward graduation. With any luck, she expects to have her bachelor’s degree next year.

Kim M. Horiuchi is an associate editor of Continuum.

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Culture Shift

In a packed auditorium in the University of Utah’s Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building, members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity sat among the nearly 175 students, campus administrators, and clinical professionals who had gathered to talk about sexual assault. The fraternity had organized the forum on this December afternoon with the U Center for Student Wellness and the Rape Recovery Center, a local nonprofit advocacy group, to help educate the U community about prevention of sexual assault and rape. “Why is it important? Why are we talking about it now?” Marty Liccardo BS’02, a health educator with the Center for Student Wellness and the moderator of the day’s discussion, asked the panel of experts. Undergraduate student Tara Streng, who did her honors thesis on college sexual assault policy, was the first of the panel members to respond. “Because it’s been an issue for a long time,” she said. “Prevention needs to look like more involvement, talking about it more. Education is key: what is consent, what is rape, and finding a force to end it.”

The forum was part of a nearly two-year-old partnership between Beta Theta Pi and the Rape Recovery Center to raise awareness on campus about sexual assault and how to prevent it. The fraternity’s efforts have drawn media attention that has included cameramen from the Dr. Phil television show filming the December forum and interviewing the fraternity’s then president, Mitchell Cox HBS’14 , for an episode that aired December 15.

University of Utah students and administrators gathered in the Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building in December for a sexual assault prevention forum. Photo by Christopher Samuels.

University of Utah students and administrators gathered in the Spencer Fox Eccles Business Building in December for a sexual assault prevention forum. (Photo by Christopher Samuels)

The educational campaign on the University of Utah campus comes as colleges and universities across the United States are rethinking their policies on addressing and preventing sexual assault. Some 95 colleges and universities are now under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights for how they have handled sexual assault cases on their campuses. (The University of Utah is not among them.) In response to the growing concerns, the department this past fall issued new rules requiring colleges to train students and employees on preventing sexual assault, dating violence, and domestic assaults, as well as stalking. The rules will take effect this July. Meanwhile, women and men on campuses nationwide have been filing Title IX lawsuits against their colleges, alleging that their reports of sexual assault were not taken seriously enough. Title IX requires that campus officials investigate reports of sexual harassment and assault, regardless of whether the police are involved. Colleges that fail to respond to complaints promptly and fairly can face sanctions, including the loss of all federal funds. This past September, President Barack Obama also launched a national campaign, “It’s On Us,” that calls for men and women to “make a personal commitment to step off the sidelines and be part of the solution to campus sexual assault.”

The University of Utah has scrutinized its own policies to make sure it has processes in place to responsibly handle assault cases and educate students and others about prevention. “There is no doubt that today sexual assault has to be high on the list of priorities,” U President David W. Pershing told KUER’s Radio West in October. “Our goal is to prevent these incidents to the best of our ability and particularly to take proactive action.” He noted that the issue is now a topic during freshman and transfer student orientation. The U also conducts independent investigations of sexual assaults, separate from any criminal inquiry, and students who are found guilty are dismissed from the University. “That is one of the things the federal government has been pushing, and we now have that in place and fully running,” Pershing says. The U also has been working to make faculty and staff members aware of support services that they can refer students to if they suspect a student might be having some sort of personal difficulty, including dealing with sexual assault.

Members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at the U have led efforts to raise awareness about sexual assault. Photo by Brian Nicholson

Members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at the U have led efforts to raise awareness about sexual assault. (Photo by Brian Nicholson)

The on-campus efforts of the partnership between the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and the Rape Recovery Center have come in tandem with the University’s efforts. The fraternity approached the center in 2013 offering to adopt the center as a philanthropic endeavor. Since then, some of the fraternity members have received 40 hours of training to work on the center’s 24-hour hotline, and the fraternity has raised about $9,200 to aid the center. In addition to the prevention forums that have been hosted on campus, Beta Theta Pi is teaming up with the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU) to host a conference in March with student leaders of various campus organizations “to educate the campus as a whole, empowering others to be advocates for sexual assault interventions,” says the fraternity’s new president, Kevin Shields, who was elected in January.

Ambra Jackson, a junior who is president of the U’s Panhellenic Association, says sorority members also have attended the sexual assault prevention forums. “There’s value in putting men and women together,” she says. “These are conversations we need to start having with both. Sexual assault isn’t one person’s problem, it’s all of our problem. Forums help to define what we can do before and after. It’s not just closet conversations anymore.”

According to the University’s most recent Annual Security and Fire Safety Report, released this past October, 15 allegations of forcible sexual offenses were reported during 2013, with 10 reported on campus and five in residential facilities. U Police Chief Dale Brophy MPA’03 says his department promptly addresses any individual’s report. “When we get a sexual assault report, it’s a high priority for us on campus,” he says. “What we try to do is put all our resources toward that right up front.”

Following investigation by the U police department, two of the alleged incidents in the latest security report are being or will be adjudicated. “Campus rape is very rare up here,” Brophy says. “But nothing can be done if something did happen and it was not reported.” In other cases, he adds, the person making the report simply wants to convey the information and does not want further action to be taken, and they may even wish to remain anonymous. Some people will have waited years, even decades, to report an incident, until they finally just want it to be known by someone. Regardless, when anyone makes a report, the police department contacts other on-campus resources for assistance, including the Center for Student Wellness, the Women’s Resource Center, and the University Counseling Center.

Marty Liccardo, a health educator with the U's Center for Student Wellness, is shown here teaching a sociology class. He also helps with required sessions for students to educate them about sexual assault prevention. Photo by Brian Nicholson

Marty Liccardo, a health educator with the U’s Center for Student Wellness, is shown here teaching a sociology class. He also helps with required sessions for students to educate them about sexual assault prevention. (Photo by Brian Nicholson)

Lori McDonald BS’95, the U’s dean of students, says any report of nonconsensual contact, up to and including rape, is called “sexual misconduct” in higher education. “At that time, there are a couple of things I would like anyone who has a report like that to know: First and foremost is concern for their well-being. It may be reporting somebody they know, and that can be very stressful,” she says. Such a report leads to U resources for helping take care of the person making the report, from providing on-campus counseling to seeing a victim advocate. “We have a commitment to the community, as well, to try and keep it as safe as possible,” she says. “But we’re not going to compel someone to have to report or participate. And those support services are going to be there regardless.” Because trauma can affect academic performance, students also are provided with options such as withdrawing from a class if a suspect also is in that class, arranging new housing, or taking a semester off.

The U’s formal process for investigating sexual assault claims, in addition to any criminal proceedings that may also be conducted, are based on guidance from the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Department of Education. Unlike criminal investigations, such as those done by outside law enforcement, the standard for the U inquiries is “preponderance of evidence,” McDonald says. “We’re looking at, ‘Is it more likely than not that one of our policies was violated?’ If not, we’re still going to support the students during the investigation and after the investigation.” Those U policies include the student code of conduct, which prohibits sexual harassment and discrimination. “Our investigations are more analogous to civil rights investigations,” she says.

Krista Pickens, the U’s Title IX coordinator and director of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, helps oversee those U inquiries. A former Salt Lake City police officer and sex crimes investigator, she also was once the victim of an attempted sexual assault. She was 19 years old and working as a waitress in Hawaii, walking home with her tips, when a stranger punched her, breaking bones around her eye. “Luckily, there were some local boys who heard what was going on, and he actually got the worst of it,” she says. “You’ve got all those layers that you see victims go through: ‘What did I do? Did I deserve it?’ ”

U Dean of Students Lori McDonald, left, with ASUU office advisor Janzell Tutor. Photo by Brian Nicholson

U Dean of Students Lori McDonald, left,
with ASUU office advisor Janzell Tutor. (Photo by Brian Nicholson)

Universities are developing new models for investigating claims of sexual assault, even as new obligations arise, she notes. “The increased obligations are to address stalking, domestic violence, dating violence, and whether or not they occur on campus. If they affect the employee or the student, we’ve got to address them,” she says.

The obligation extends to incidents affecting students off campus. If a student reports an off-campus sexual assault, a city police detective and the U’s Office of Equal Opportunity investigator will coordinate talking to the victim, a process that usually involves several interviews. For a Title IX case, the standard of proof is preponderance of the evidence, which is more than 50 percent, while in a criminal case, the standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a much higher standard.

Another issue is the manner in which victims are questioned. One technique is called the forensic experiential trauma interview (FETI), which begins with understanding that the victim almost certainly cannot give a linear account of what happened. “They can’t tell you how tall the guy was. They just say, ‘I was so afraid,’ or whatever it is they felt,” Pickens says. Researchers have found that when trauma occurs, the prefrontal cortex of the brain will frequently shut down, leaving the more primitive portions of the brain to experience and record the event. So, if pressed, a victim may “fail” to remember much about what they’re being questioned about. The FETI technique entails using principles employed in critical incident stress debriefing and defusing. FETI also draws from principles and techniques developed for forensic child interviews as well as from neurobiology of memory and psychological trauma. The technique is a sort of forensic psychophysiological investigation and provides an opportunity for the victim to describe the experience of the sexual assault or other traumatic and/or fear-producing event, physically and emotionally. Pickens’ office at the University employs this technique, while the U campus police use a similar forensic interview technique developed by the Children’s Justice Center when talking with people reporting cases of sexual assault.

When it comes to education and prevention efforts, Liccardo, the counselor at the Center for Student Wellness, says the University of Utah requires that every first-year student receive an hour with the Center for Student Wellness and the Dean of Students office. “We cover sexual misconduct, bystander prevention, which is how you step in and intervene if sexual violence is happening, how you stop things that are not good,” he says. Students are told about their rights, and the center has a victim advocate who provides confidentiality to victims. All student leaders and residential advisors, as well as student club and organization leaders, get the same training.

U alum Mitchell Cox, center, appeared on the Dr. Phil show in December to talk about his fraternity's sexual assault prevention efforts. Photo courtesy of Mitchel Cox

U alum Mitchell Cox, center, appeared on the Dr. Phil show in December to talk about his fraternity’s sexual assault prevention efforts. (Photo courtesy Mitchell Cox)

Concurrently, students are educated about consent. “We talk about it as rape prevention, but really, consent is part of a normal, healthy relationship,” Liccardo says. “Sexual communication is something everybody should be doing. These are life skills.”

The larger societal problem that the U efforts are geared to address is enormous in scale. According to Utah government statistics, one in three Utah women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and one in eight will be raped in her lifetime. “This is not a small crime. It is a very, very large crime, and college campuses are not immune by any stretch of the imagination,” Liccardo says.

The Beta Theta Pi members hope the educational efforts by the U and the campus forums the fraternity has organized will help begin to shift that trend. “We really need to start taking action on sexual assault and stop ignoring it,” Cox told local TV station KSL in an interview at the December forum. “Hopefully students are able to walk away from the forum with some sort of action plan they can implement in their own lives to really start to prevent sexual assault from occurring, both on college campuses and in our society.”

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.

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ASUU’s “It’s On Us”

Mitchell Cox on Dr. Phil


‘Blue Room’ Could Help Make Prisons Safer

Inside Snake River: The Blue Room

Captain Randy Gilbertson of the Oregon Department of Corrections watches a nature video in the Blue Room at the Snake River Correctional Institution. (Photo by Beth Nakamura/The Oregonian)

By Marcia C. Dibble

Solitary confinement can lead to madness or suicide for some inmates, or exacerbate behavioral problems for inmates who already were mentally ill when they entered the prison system. For the people whose job it is to supervise them, the assignment can be dangerous. University of Utah Professor Nalini Nadkarni’s innovative “Blue Room,” named one of Time magazine’s “25 Best Inventions of 2014,” could help the situation.

Nadkarni developed the Blue Room with Oregon’s Snake River Correctional Facility to offer a taste of calming nature to prison inmates kept in solitary confinement. The Blue Room is currently being used at the facility, with promising results.

Snake River Correctional Institution

An officer in Oregon’s Snake River Correctional Facility unlocks handcuffs on an inmate in the facility’s Intensive Management Unit, or solitary confinement. (Photo by Benjamin Drummond)

Inmates in the facility’s Intensive Management Unit (IMU, or solitary confinement) spend 23 hours, 20 minutes a day alone in cells. Some prisoners may be put in solitary because they are combative but otherwise behave normally. After months in confinement, however, they are very prone to mental illness, including highly destructive and suicidal behavior. This puts not only themselves but the facility’s employees in grave danger.

Nadkarni recorded a short TED talk in 2010 proposing the possibility of using nature images to calm inmates. Two years later, an officer at Snake River saw the talk and began discussing it with his supervisors. They eventually contacted Nadkarni about it, proposing the use of videos instead of Nadkarni’s initial suggestion of still photos. The prison got Oregon Department of Corrections approval, renovated a recreation room, and purchased equipment. Nadkarni and a colleague, marine biologist and documentary filmmaker Tierney Thys, helped the facility obtain videos from National Geographic and other sources. In early 2013, the Blue Room—named for the glow of videos on the rec room wall—opened.

Snake River Correctional Institution

An inmate in Oregon’s Snake River Correctional Facility watches nature videos in the Blue Room. (Photo by Benjamin Drummond)

Officers who work with the inmates assess which ones might benefit from time in the Blue Room, and inmates can choose from more than 30 nature videos, including a tropical beach, a forest stream, and waves lapping a pier. Lance Schnacker, a researcher with the Oregon Youth Authority, reviewed the disciplinary records of the Snake River inmates in the year preceding and following the introduction of the Blue Room. He found that those who didn’t get time in the room had more disciplinary infractions, while those who did had a slight reduction.

Nadkarni plans to study the effectiveness of the Blue Room beginning this spring. “It has been a very long process, because we are working the most sequestered population of prisoners, which are considered a ‘vulnerable’ group,” she notes. The researchers—Nadkarni, biologist/filmmaker Thys, eco-psychologist Patricia H. Hasbach, and youth researcher Schnacker—plan to interview staff members as well as inmates, pore through mental health and disciplinary records, and develop case studies. If their findings bear out their theory—that nature imagery calms the prisoners—corrections officials and psychologists across the nation could have an important new tool for managing solitary confinement.

To read more about Nadkarni’s work with prison inmates and as a forest biologist, read the Continuum feature “At Home in the Trees” in the magazine’s Summer 2013 issue.

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Self-Repairing Software Tackles Malware

software- Eric Eide

University of Utah professor Eric Eide, in his department’s “Machine Room” of computers. (Photo by Dan Hixon)

University of Utah computer scientists have developed software that not only detects and eradicates never-before-seen viruses and other malware, but also automatically repairs damage caused by them. The software then prevents the invader from ever infecting the computer again.

Called A3, for Advanced Adaptive Applications, the software suite is designed to protect servers or similar business-grade computers that run on the Linux operating system. Eric Eide, a U research assistant professor of computer science, is leading the University’s A3 team with U computer science associate professor John Regehr. Other U members of the A3 team include research associate David M. Johnson MS’10, systems programmer Mike Hibler, and former graduate student Prashanth Nayak. The four-year A3 project was co-developed with Massachusetts-based defense contractor Raytheon BBN.

The military has an interest in A3 to enhance cybersecurity for its mission-critical systems. While the A3 team currently has no plans to adapt the software for home computers or laptops, Eide says this could be possible in the future. The A3 software is open source, meaning it is free for anyone to use, but Eide believes many of the A3 technologies could be incorporated into commercial products.

Unlike a normal virus scanner on consumer PCs that compares a catalog of known viruses to something that has infected the computer, A3 can detect new, unknown viruses or malware automatically by sensing that something is occurring in the computer’s operation that is not correct. It then can stop the virus, approximate a repair for the damaged software code, and learn to never let that bug enter the machine again. To demonstrate A3’s effectiveness, the team used the infamous software bug Shellshock in a test for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). A3 discovered the Shellshock attack on a web server and repaired the damage in four minutes, Eide says.

New Material for Better Substance Detection

bomb-sniffer-Ling Zang

Ling Zang holds a prototype of a substance detector his team developed. (Photo by Dan Hixon)

University of Utah engineers have developed a new material for handheld sensors that will be quicker and better than previous methods of detecting explosives, deadly gases, and illegal drugs.

The U sensors use a new type of carbon nanotube and are equipped for “sniffing” or swabbing to detect toxic gases such as sarin or chlorine, or explosives such as TNT. Vaporsens, a University spin-off company, plans to produce the first commercial sensors this year, says co-founder Ling Zang, a professor of materials science and engineering. Zang was senior author of a study of the technology that was published in the journal Advanced Materials, and Ben Bunes, a doctoral student in materials science and engineering, was a co-author. Bunes and Zang, who is also with the Nano Institute of Utah, conducted the research with postdoctoral fellow Miao Xu and doctoral student Yaqaiong Zhang.

Carbon nanotubes are known for their strength and high electrical conductivity and are used in products from baseball bats to lithium-ion batteries and touchscreen computer displays, but not in current substance detectors. Zang, a professor with USTAR, the Utah Science Technology and Research economic development initiative, says the Utah technology has several advantages over the current detectors, including being both faster and more accurate. Sensors using the new technology “could be used by the military, police, first responders, and private industry focused on public safety,” he says. The new nanotubes also could be incorporated into flexible solar panels that could be rolled up and stored or even “painted” onto clothing such as a jacket.

Through the Years: Short alum profiles and Class Notes

Powder Hound

Caroline Gleich. Photo by Alexa Miller

Caroline Gleich (Photo by Alexa Miller)

When Caroline Gleich schusses down backcountry mountains at Snowbird, Utah, or Hokkaido, Japan, or Chamonix, France— blonde braids flying, wearing one of her signature handmade crocheted hats— watch out! The young woman known as a badass ski mountaineer is on the loose. Star of Warren Miller ski films, sponsored athlete, and product tester for outdoor brands such as Patagonia and Clif Bar, Gleich skis with fearlessness and joy off sheer precipices and down vertical shafts. (One of her favorites is Snowbird’s Pipeline Chute.)

Gleich BS’10 always knew she wanted to be a professional athlete, and when she got into ski mountaineering in 2004 at age 18, she knew she had found her groove. She told her parents of her decision, and they promptly hired Kristen Ulmer BS’97 as a mentor. A therapist known for her ski camps focusing on mindset and her versatile work with individuals, Ulmer taught Gleich how to work with companies and photographers, acted as a life coach, and worked with her on the essentials of business, including how to approach sponsors. She also taught Gleich to take professional skiing seriously and to treat it as a career.

That same year, Gleich did one of her first photo shoots—for Delta Sky magazine at Utah’s Solitude Ski Area—and she has been in high demand ever since. She has been featured on the covers of Powder and Ski magazines (three times for the latter) and profiled in those and other publications, including Skiing, Ski Journal, Fitness, Men’s Journal, and Outside. She also has appeared in ads for Utah’s Snowbird, Alta, Solitude, Brighton, and Deer Valley ski resorts, and for Leki outdoor accessories. This year, Gleich is sponsored by Big Agnes, Clif Bar, Elemental Herbs, Goal Zero, Jaybird, Leki, Nordica skis, Patagonia, and Zeal Optics, among other companies.

Gleich was featured on this 2010 SKI magazine cover.

Gleich was featured on this 2010 SKI magazine cover. (Photo courtesy Caroline Gleich)

Gleich was born in Rochester, Minnesota, and her mother started her on the slopes when she was just 18 months old. Her family traveled to Utah in winters to ski and in summers to camp and hike. When Caroline was 15, they moved to Salt Lake City and have called it home ever since. That same year, her half-brother Martin died in an avalanche while climbing Storm Mountain in Utah’s Big Cottonwood Canyon. Heartbroken and newly cautious, Gleich refocused her training on safety and making conservative choices for herself. She worked with partners who believed in her, and most of all, learned to believe in herself. “Every day that I go into the backcountry, I feel like I have to overcome fear and test my courage,” says Gleich. “I analyze group dynamics and decisions much more critically than many of my partners because I’m acutely aware of the consequences of bad decision making.”

At age 24, Gleich graduated from the University of Utah magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. Her studies helped with her skiing career in ways she didn’t expect. “Anthropology taught me to be culturally sensitive—to understand the different tribes I meet, whether it’s the different types of skiers in the Wasatch backcountry or the different climbers from around the world at mountain huts. ”

Whether she’s blogging about her steep ice technique, chasing frozen waterfalls, or showing off her latest “powder beard,” Gleich’s website at www.carolinegleich.com offers a great way to keep up with her adventures.

—Ann Floor is an associate editor of Continuum.

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Caroline Gleich Skiing at Brighton

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Saluting a Life in Flight

Roland R. Wright, shown at right, sits on the wing of his P-51 Mustang during World War II. Photo courtesy Roland R. Wright

Roland R. Wright, shown at right, sits on the wing of his P-51 Mustang during World War II. (Photos courtesy Roland R. Wright)

Roland R. Wright BS’48 JD’58 was honored at a ceremony this past November when the Utah Air National Guard Base was renamed for him. Wright, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general, was a combat pilot with a distinguished military career that spanned more than three decades.

During World War II, Wright flew 200 combat hours in a P-51 Mustang with the 357th Fighter Group and is credited with destroying three enemy aircraft in aerial combat, one “kill” short of the “ace” designation. After his active duty service, Wright was one of the first pilots to enlist in the 191st Fighter Squadron when the Utah Air National Guard was created in 1946. “He was an aviation pioneer here in Utah, providing tremendous leadership in the Utah Air National Guard for decades,” said Major General Jefferson Burton, the Utah Air National Guard’s adjutant general, in announcing the renaming of the base for Wright.
Roland R. Wright

Roland R. Wright

A command pilot in multiple aircraft, Wright logged 7,800 flying hours during his military career, approximately 4,000 of which were in various types of fighter aircraft. As an Air Guard member, he served as a fighter-aircraft flight lead, squadron operations officer, squadron commander, and group commander, including missions to Vietnam during the war there. He also served as the Utah Guard’s first chief of staff for air from 1969 to 1976. In 1972, he was appointed to the U.S. Air Force Reserves Policy Committee. Wright retired from the Utah Air National Guard in 1976. In his civilian life, Wright received a bachelor’s degree in social and behavioral science and a juris doctorate, both from the University of Utah. He practiced law until 1991 in Salt Lake City, where he and his family currently reside.

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class notes


Uno_R_74742-1619Raymond S. Uno BS’55 JD’58 MSW’63, a retired judge and longtime Utah civic leader, was named a 2014 recipient of a Japan Imperial Decoration: the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette. The announcement was made by the consulate-general of Japan in Denver. The conferment of this decoration, awarded by the emperor of Japan to individuals worldwide, recognizes lifetime achievement and a commitment to excellence, including significant positive contributions to mutual understanding and friendship between the United States and Japan. Uno helped lead efforts toward an official public apology and redress for Japanese American citizens who had been detained in internment camps during the 1940s. His family members were among those interned. He also served in the U.S. Army from 1949 to 1952 and was stationed in Japan as part of a military counterintelligence unit. In Utah, he has been recognized with several lifetime achievement awards, including being named in 1974 as the Japanese American of the Biennium by the Japanese American Citizens League. During his professional career, Uno was a social worker, private practice attorney, deputy attorney, and assistant Utah attorney general. He served as a Salt Lake City Court judge, state circuit court judge, and 3rd District Court judge in Utah. He received four degrees from the University: a bachelor’s in political science, a bachelor’s of laws, a master’s in social work, and a juris doctorate.


TTY_spring_15_ralph_beckerRalph Becker JD’77 MS’82, mayor of Salt Lake City since 2009, has been named president of the National League of Cities for 2015. The league is the nation’s largest and most representative membership and advocacy organization for city officials. Becker served as Utah’s state planning coordinator under Governor Scott Matheson and then established Bear West, a consulting firm specializing in community planning, environmental assessment, public lands use, and public involvement. Elected to the Utah State Legislature in 1996, Becker was a member of the House of Representatives for 11 years, including five years as House Minority Leader. As mayor of Salt Lake City since 2008, he has expanded transportation options in the city, focusing on public transit, trails, and bikeways. He also has championed the state’s first municipal protections in the areas of employment and housing for the city’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, and he has strived to make city government more transparent. In addition to his degrees from the U—a master’s degree in geography and planning as well as a juris doctorate—Becker received a bachelor’s degree in American civilization from the University of Pennsylvania.

TTY_spring_15_schwendimanDavid Schwendiman HBA’74 JD’76, a former Utah federal prosecutor, has been nominated to be the chief prosecutor for the European Union’s effort to investigate people involved in war crimes and illicit organ trafficking in Kosovo. He will serve as lead prosecutor for the Special Investigative Task Force, which was set up in 2011 to conduct independent criminal investigations into allegations of inhumane treatment of people and illicit trafficking in human organs in Kosovo. His new position is based in Brussels. He previously served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Utah as a first assistant prosecutor and interim U.S. attorney, and he was twice an assistant Utah attorney general. From 2006 to 2009, he was an international prosecutor in the Special Department of War Crimes for Bosnia and Herzegovina. He retired from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2014 after having assignments as a representative to three Olympic games and stints in Bahrain, Vietnam, Thailand, and Bangladesh. He also was a justice attaché at the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan and beginning in February 2014 worked in Kabul, Afghanistan, as director of forward operations for the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Schwendiman received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Utah in English and his juris doctorate from the U’s College of Law, where he also has been an adjunct professor since 1994.


GaryAndersenGary Andersen BS’90, a former football player and coach at the University of Utah and head coach at Wisconsin for the past two seasons, has been named the new head football coach for Oregon State University. In two seasons through the years 46 continuum.utah.edu with the Wisconsin Badgers, Andersen compiled a 19-7 record and won two Big Ten West Division titles. He guided the Badgers to a 10-3 record this season and the Big Ten’s West Division title. Andersen’s football career began when he played offensive line at Ricks College in 1984. He then transferred to the University of Utah, where he played offensive line from 1985 to 1986. He served for 11 years as an assistant coach at the U and also had assistant coaching jobs at Southeastern Louisiana, Ricks College, Idaho State, and Northern Arizona. He was head coach at Southern Utah University in 2003 and, from 2009 to 2012, at Utah State University, where he led the Aggies to an 11-2 campaign in 2012 and won the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, the school’s first bowl victory since 1993. Andersen also was named the Western Athletic Conference’s Coach of the Year in 2012. Andersen graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in political science.

TTY_spring_15_Sandeen_2Cathy Sandeen PhD’92 became chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges and UW-Extension in December. Prior to her new appointment, Sandeen had worked in Washington, D.C., as vice president for education attainment and innovation at the American Council on Education, the largest highereducation advocacy and research group in the nation. Sandeen came to the council after working in California as dean of continuing education at the University of California at Los Angeles Extension, as vice provost and dean of university extension and summer session at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and in several leadership positions at the University of California at San Francisco. She received a bachelor’s degree in speech pathology from Humboldt State University, a master’s degree in broadcast communication from San Francisco State University, a master’s degree in business administration and management from the University of California at Los Angeles, and a doctorate in communication from the University of Utah.

TTY_spring_15_scott_lauraLaura S. Scott BA’90 has been appointed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert to be a judge in the 3rd District Court, which serves Salt Lake, Tooele, and Summit counties. Scott was previously an assistant general counsel to the University of Utah’s Office of General Counsel from 1993 to 1997 and is a shareholder, member of the board of directors, and vice president of the Salt Lake City-based law firm Parsons Behle & Latimer. Her practice has focused on real estate and banking litigation, and she has briefed and argued numerous appeals before the Utah Supreme Court and Utah Court of Appeals. Her 3rd District Court appointment is subject to confirmation by the Utah State Senate. Scott holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Utah and a juris doctorate from Arizona State University.


TTY-spring_15_pendergrassDanielle Howa Pendergrass MS’04 DNP’13, a Utah State University Eastern nursing instructor, has received the Breakthrough Leaders in Nursing Award from the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, a joint initiative of the AARP (formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Pendergrass is one of 10 recipients of the national leadership award recognizing her, in part, for work that led to changes in Utah’s Medicaid reimbursement policy and opened greater access to care for Utah women and girls. Pendergrass works with the Utah Action Coalition for Health in removing practice barriers that prevent nurses from working to the full extent of their education and training. Pendergrass, whose roots are in Carbon County, opened a women’s health clinic in Price two years ago. Today, Utah State University Eastern nursing students, as well as nurse practitioner students from the University of Utah, work in her clinic, which serves more than 20,000 women, from teens to seniors, both insured and uninsured, in rural Utah. The change in Medicaid policy that Pendergrass engineered makes it possible for her and other rural-serving nurse practitioners to see patients who otherwise would have to travel great distances for services such as pap smears and mammograms.

 We want to hear from you! Please submit entries to Ann Floor. To read more alumni news, check out the “Honor Roll” column in the Alumni Association’s online newsletter, Alumni Connectionhere.

Clearing the Air

Every day, Ron Fessenden clicks open the in-box for his email account and looks for the daily air quality indicator messages distributed by the Utah Division of Air Quality. Depending on the reading—red, yellow, or green—the retired local television sales executive and onetime University of Utah sports information director decides how he’ll spend his day. “When the air quality starts to get bad, I just don’t go outside,” the Midvale, Utah, resident says.

Fessenden suffers from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a little-known, progressive disease that is slowly scarring and hardening his lungs. His disease has progressed more rapidly over the last year, and eventually, IPF will kill him, just as it does roughly 40,000 people annually in the United States. Diagnosed seven years ago after seeking a doctor’s care for a persistent dry cough, Fessenden uses supplemental oxygen round the clock and has had to give up many of the things he loves. That includes his beloved golf game, just when he “was finally getting good,” he jokes. “I can’t take a deep breath,” he says, and he also must pause at the halfway mark when coming up the stairs from his basement. “It really limits the things you would like to be able to do and hampers your quality of life.”

Fessenden has been a willing participant in five different University of Utah-based drug trials that sought to cure his disease. None provided any relief, but Fessenden says he’s encouraged by news that U researchers across a wide range of fields—from biology and bioinformatics to engineering, epidemiology, medicine, meteorology, and more—are now working together on projects aimed at understanding the connections between pollution and health. The research is part of the University’s Program for Air Quality, Health, and Society, a two-year-old initiative designed to foster cross-disciplinary, collaborative study of all facets of air quality in hopes of identifying pathways for reducing pollution and improving quality of life for those in Utah and beyond. University leaders hope the program will establish the U as the national leader in research and information on air pollution and health, as well as innovative ways to help solve the problems.

Dr. Robert Paine, professor and chief of pulmonary medicine in the U School of Medicine, co-founded the U’s Program for Air Quality, Health, and Society and serves as its director. The program brings together researchers from diverse disciplines to study the various impacts of air pollution. (Photo by August Miller)

“As a major research institution, we at the University of Utah are uniquely positioned to bring together the expertise from health and epidemiology to engineering, atmospheric science, urban planning, and more to tackle the challenge of improving our air quality,” says Vivian S. Lee, senior vice president of University of Utah Health Sciences, dean of the U Medical School, and chief executive officer of U Health Care. “We view this as both an opportunity and an obligation.”

Winter weather inversions are common along Utah’s Wasatch Front and occur when a layer of warm air traps cold air, and pollution, in the valleys. (Photo by Erik Crosman)

Ruth Watkins, senior vice president of academic affairs, shares Lee’s view on the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in the endeavor. “Air quality is a significant issue for the people of this region, the state of Utah, and beyond,” Watkins says. “As a public research university, it is imperative that we lead in efforts to address societal challenges. The quality of our air and environment is closely linked to quality of life, and this is core business for the University of Utah.”

Utah has attracted national attention in recent years for its air quality problems. Winter inversions trap pollutants in the Cache and Salt Lake valleys, and ozone levels leave a haze over much of the Wasatch Front, primarily in the summer but also across the Uintah Basin in winter months. At times, pollution levels have been so high during a single 24-hour period that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has placed some Utah communities at the top of its list for cities with the nation’s worst air. In 2013, daily EPA monitoring in 10 Utah counties found air pollution levels exceeded national healthy air standards a combined 99 times.

The problem has raised the ire of Utahns worried about the impact of breathing bad air, which has been linked to a range of health problems, including increased incidence of asthma, cardiovascular disease, and dementia, as well as adverse outcomes for babies in utero, including low birth weight and high infant mortality. In January 2014, more than 4,000 concerned Utah residents, many wearing gas or surgical masks, rallied at the Utah Capitol, demanding more aggressive state action on the issue. State lawmakers responded by proposing a record number of legislative solutions, although only a handful passed and none include regulatory standards that are tougher than those already imposed by the EPA.

Beyond its impact on health, the pollution has economic costs, including lost work days due to illness and increased health care costs. The air pollution also has an impact on employee recruiting for Utah businesses. And it can present costly regulatory challenges for industries large and small.

It’s a problem Lee knows about firsthand. When she was hired at the University of Utah in 2011, she had planned to bring three New York University faculty members with her as members of her research team. To her dismay, however, one declined, citing significant concerns about air quality. “I know I’m not alone: Many other Utah business leaders frequently report about the challenges they face in convincing companies to relocate to our wonderful state,” Lee says. “And as a health care institution, we are particularly concerned about the impact of air pollution on the health of our patients and on the broader community, including our employees.”


Kerry Kelly, a University of Utah chemical engineering researcher who helped co-found the University’s Program for Air Quality, Health, and Society, works with U student Timothy Carter on some sensor equipment in a campus laboratory. (Photo by August Miller)

The U’s Program for Air Quality, Health, and Society is the brainchild of Dr. Robert Paine, chief of pulmonary medicine at University Hospital, and Kerry Kelly, a College of Engineering researcher. The pair met by chance in 2009, when both were appointed to the state’s Air Quality Board and were assigned to sit next to each other at a meeting. The appointments launched a friendship and a conversation about the need for University collaboration between academic disciplines, many of which were already, albeit separately, engaged in cutting-edge air quality science. “We needed an umbrella, and we needed a catalyst to greatly enhance what we do,” says Paine. “One of the key things about air pollution is that it’s easy to do pieces of research. It’s much harder to come up with opportunities where we bring all these pieces together and say, ‘How do we go from what’s emitted to what the health consequences are?’ ”

The pair believed that the U’s academic experts and researchers were well suited to the challenge. So after six years of conversation, Paine and Kelly in 2011 crafted a proposal for the Program for Air Quality, Health, and Society and began a conversation with University leaders.

“The idea was that we’re much stronger together,” says Kelly. “It’s not just a health problem and also an engineering problem, it’s an atmospheric science problem, and we’re going to come up with better solutions if we all get together and take advantage of everyone’s expertise.”

Robert Adler, dean of the University of Utah’s College of Law, says scientific advances from the U air quality research may help lead to better environmental law and policy. (Photo by August Miller)

University leaders agreed. By 2012, Paine and Kelly had secured enthusiastic support, as well as some funding, from Lee, Watkins, the office of the vice president for research, and the College of Engineering. Paine now serves as the program director, and Kelly is the associate director. The program’s steering committee also includes representatives from atmospheric sciences, biology, chemical engineering, internal medicine, law, and pediatrics.

The program’s first event, a spring 2013 retreat designed to stir up interest in cross-disciplinary projects, drew nearly 100 curious U investigators and spurred a number of grant requests. Research began in earnest in January 2014, when the program distributed $165,000 in grants from the University’s Funding Incentive Seed Grant Program, which is administered by the office of the vice president for research. Kelly says the six projects were selected based on their potential to advance science and draw additional large grants from organizations such as the National Institutes of Health or the EPA.

The seed grants have supported both first-time research and ongoing work. One grant, to obstetrician and gynecologist Jeanette Carpenter-Chin, is allowing her to study a suspected link between in utero exposure to air pollution and children’s health. The study focuses on children whose pregnant mothers were exposed to air pollution from Utah County’s Geneva Steel Mill in the 1980s.

Another study, led by Russ Richardson PhD’92, a U professor with joint appointments in internal medicine and exercise and sport science, examines the effects of particulate air pollution on vascular function in chronic pulmonary disease. And Hanseup Kim, a USTAR professor of electrical and computer engineering, is using his grant to develop a wireless system for detecting volatile organic compounds that are part of air pollution.

Dr. Cheryl Pirozzi, a University of Utah pulmonologist, is leading a cross-disciplinary study of the effects of air pollution on patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. (Photo by August Miller)

The U program’s grant funding has also furthered study of correlations between air quality data and the number of patients suffering from diseases with known connections to pollution exposure, such as some cancers and respiratory illnesses. Led by U bioinformatics professor Ramkiran Gouripeddi, a team that includes experts in meteorology, atmospheric science, chemical engineering, medicine, and informatics is working with combined data sets to analyze any possible links between disease occurrence and air pollution concentrations.

Amanda Bakian, a U research assistant professor of psychiatry, has used her grant to study links between air pollution and suicide. The project, believed to be the first study of its kind nationwide, combines the expertise of a diverse group of psychiatrists, suicidologists, environmental and genetic epidemiologists, psychologists, and biostatisticians. “Assembling a team composed of individuals with diverse expertise helps guarantee that the problem or question is approached from the best angles possible and ensures that the study design is maximized appropriately,” says Bakian. “This is how science is moving forward in this day and age and how gains in scientific understanding are being made.”

Dr. Cheryl Pirozzi, a U pulmonologist, is another grantee, and she shares Bakian’s enthusiasm for cross-disciplinary work. Pirozzi is studying the effects of air pollution on individuals with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, the disease from which Fessenden suffers. This winter, the pilot study will place 20 air quality sensors in patient homes across the Salt Lake Valley to gather data about indoor air pollution exposure, daily respiratory symptoms, and lung function during an eight-week period. To meet Pirozzi’s data-gathering needs, Kelly is working with Tony Butterfield BS’96 PhD’07, an assistant professor of chemical engineering with an expertise in prototyping and data analysis. He and a team of students are retooling a commercially available sensor for Pirozzi’s study. “There are people in all aspects of the University who are interested in air pollution and have expertise in areas I know nothing about, so I think getting people together to work on projects like this is a huge opportunity,” Pirozzi says.

Butterfield also is working on a separate community outreach effort that would place the sensors in K-12 schools across the Salt Lake Valley, increasing the number of locations where air quality measurements are gathered for the state’s monitoring. About 30 teachers have already expressed interest in using the sensors as curriculum tools in a wide range of subjects, from mathematics to biology. “People are really interested in doing citizen scientist work,” says Butterfield. “They like being a part of the process that helps us in discovering how we can make the world a better a place.”

Watkins says the University has also begun a hiring initiative to recruit faculty members—four over the next two academic years—for the colleges of Social and Behavioral Science, Mines and Earth Science, and Engineering to enhance the work of the U’s air quality program while also advancing scholarship and understanding of broader environmental issues. “That will accelerate our potential to address challenging problems, including water and air quality, and relationships with climate and weather,” she says.

The increased environmental focus the faculty members will bring, along with the work of the air quality program, will enhance the academic experiences and opportunities for students who work with those professors, says Robert Adler, dean of the U’s S.J. Quinney College of Law and a member of the Program for Air Quality, Health, and Society’s steering committee. “The program reflects the best of what universities can be,” he says. “Rather than working in isolated disciplinary silos, the effort reflects shared commitment to advancing knowledge and helping the community through collaboration within the U and beyond.” The law college’s Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources, and the Environment recently has hosted events examining regulatory changes regarding air pollution, and the annual Stegner Symposium this coming March will examine air quality as it relates to health, energy, and economics.


Winter air pollution cloaks the U’s Rice-Eccles Stadium and the rest of the Salt Lake Valley, while the mountains above the inversion remain clear and sunny. The U currently has six cross-disciplinary research projects that include installing more sensors across the valley to help the state’s air monitoring. (Photo by Erik Crosman)

Adler and Watkins also say the scientific advances expected from the U air quality research may ultimately help lead to innovations in industry practices and environmental regulation and law, as well as better public policy. “Good decisions about complex issues are always informed by better science and related policy analysis,” Adler says.

For now, Paine and Kelly hope the program’s initial research projects will result in promising findings to draw in large grant awards from national institutions and organizations. The Program for Air Quality, Health, and Society currently has no ongoing funding and needs those grants and private funding to further its goals. Years down the road, Paine says, “success would be a robust research enterprise here so that people around the nation and around the world think about Utah as the place that produces high-quality air pollution research.”

Fessenden says he’ll be happy if researchers are finally able to answer the question that so many Utahns find themselves asking each time they wake up to another day of gray, mucky winter air or summer haze: What is breathing this stuff doing to my body? “I have thought about moving, but my life is here, my family and my doctors,” says Fessenden. “When the pollution is bad, my breathing is just more labored, and if I do go outside, I find myself constantly coughing.” In life, you “play the cards you are dealt,” he says, but he welcomes any advances in science and medicine that will help cure or even ease the struggles of patients like him. “Anything that would buy some time would obviously be great.”

—Jennifer Dobner is a Salt Lake City-based writer and a frequent contributor to Continuum.

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KUED’s “The Air We Breathe”

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Campus Notebook

University Begins ‘Ute Proud’ Campaign With Tribe

As part of the 2014 Memorandum of Understanding between the Ute Indian Tribe and the University of Utah, a scholarship fund for eligible tribal members has been established through the University’s Scholarship Office. The U Athletics Department and the Ute Tribe also began a “Ute Proud” campaign in late August to raise awareness at sports events about what it means to be a Ute. And the University launched a website, uteproud.utah.edu, to educate the U community and fans about the tribe’s culture and history.

The University and the tribe signed the new agreement in April, allowing the U to continue using the name “Utes” for its sports teams. The five-year agreement will be reviewed annually.

University departments have long offered a variety of scholarships for Native American students. The scholarships created in September are the first specifically for Ute students and in part recognize the tribe’s permission to use the “Utes” name for the U’s athletics teams. “The University community is proud of its ongoing relationship with the Ute Indian Tribe, and the scholarship fund is one step in our efforts to promote educational benefits for tribal youth,” says Mary Parker, the U’s associate vice president of enrollment management.

Franci Taylor, director of the University’s American Indian Resource Center, says that according to student surveys and comments, lack of funding is what a majority of American Indian students list as the most significant barrier to completion of a college degree. “Many people have a misconception that Native American students are fully funded by the U.S. government, the state, or their tribes. Unfortunately, this is untrue,” she says. “Through these scholarships, it is the University’s aim to make college as affordable and accessible to as many bright and motivated students as we can.”

Scholarships will be awarded by the Scholarship Selection Committee, composed of two members of the Ute Indian Tribe and three members of University administration—the associate vice president for enrollment, the scholarship director, and the director of the American Indian Resource Center. The number of scholarships available each year will depend on the number of eligible applicants and the amounts available. Applicants for the scholarships, which will amount to $8,000 for the year ($4,000 per semester), will be evaluated on academic merit, leadership, commitment to citizenship, school activities, and community engagement, in addition to tribal affiliation.

“We welcome all positive educational opportunities for Ute and other American Indian youth,” says Forrest Cuch, a member of the Ute Indian Tribe and the scholarship committee. “Scholarships will be a strong encouragement to our kids to continue their educations.”

Cuch is featured in an educational video that the U Athletics Department launched in August. The video has been played on the video board at all Utah home sports events. U Athletics also created Ute Proud T-shirts, bearing a design that incorporates a graphic by a Ute artist, the circle and feather logo, and the Ute Tribe’s official seal. All proceeds from the T-shirt sales will benefit Ute Indian scholarships and youth programs. Utah Athletics also has been distributing Ute Proud information cards at all athletics events, to encourage fans to learn more about the Ute Indian Tribe.

The Ute Proud campaign included Native American heritage awareness promotion at a Utah football game and a U men’s basketball game in November. For the football game, the U team wore helmets with the Ute tribal seal, and the game ball was given to a representative of the tribe. At both the football and basketball games, the Ute Honor Guard presented the U.S. flag, and a special halftime performance was arranged by the Ute Tribe’s Pow Wow Committee. “We feel honored to represent the Ute Tribe,” says U Athletics Director Chris Hill MEd’74 PhD’82. “Our teams, coaches, staff, and the entire University community hope our fans will join us in representing the Utes with dignity and respect at all times, and proudly saying ‘Go Utes!’ ”

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U Athletics Video Featuring Forrest Cuch

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U Initiative Aims to Help More Women Graduate

The University of Utah began an initiative in October to recruit, retain, and graduate more women students. Debra Daniels MSW’84, director of the U’s Women’s Resource Center since 2003, was named to an additional role as assistant vice president of the Women’s Enrollment Initiative and will lead the new efforts.

Debra Daniels

Debra Daniels

“In her expanded role, we will establish more connections across campus, in schools, and with business leaders in our community to help remove obstacles that prevent women from going to school and achieving,” says Barbara Snyder, the U’s vice president for student affairs. “The entire community will be richer for it.”

Currently, although the percentage of women graduates from the U is about equal to that of men, women’s enrollment lags behind men’s by 20 percent. In 2014, 54 percent of women applicants were accepted, but just 47 percent enrolled. Meanwhile, Utah has the fourth largest wage gap in the country, with women earning 30 percent less than men. The U initiative aims to meet the needs of girls and women from high school through college and to provide the information, services, and support to help them realize their academic goals.

“Graduate degrees that lead to professional careers increase a woman’s opportunities for advancement and higher earning power,” Daniels says. “All lead to a more prosperous and just community for everyone.”

University Community Remembers Chase Peterson

Chase Peterson

Chase Peterson

Chase N. Peterson, who served as the University of Utah’s president from 1983 to 1991, died September 14 in Salt Lake City. He was 84.

“Chase Peterson loved the University of Utah,” current U President David W. Pershing wrote in a tribute. “His efforts to enhance the U’s teaching and research mission will be his legacy, evident always in the careers and contributions of thousands of students whose lives were made better by his service.”

Peterson was born in Logan, Utah, to E.G. and Phebe Peterson. His father was president of what is now Utah State University. Chase Peterson received a bachelor’s degree in 1952 and a medical doctorate in 1956, both from Harvard University. He and his wife, Grethe, returned in 1961 to Salt Lake City, where he accepted a position as an endocrinologist at the Salt Lake Clinic. In 1967, he and his family returned to Harvard, where Peterson was dean of admissions. Five years later, he became Harvard’s vice president for alumni affairs and development. In 1977, Peterson was tapped to be the U’s vice president of health sciences, and in 1983, he became the U’s 14th president.

After his retirement in 1991, he stayed involved with the University and medical school and ended his career as a physician working at Salt Lake City’s Fourth Street Clinic for the homeless.

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Founders Day Biography of Chase Peterson

Lawrence O’Donnell Tribute to Peterson on MSNBC

U Professor’s Book Explores Secrets of Utah Snow

Secrets of the Greatest Snow on EarthUtah and its ski industry have long claimed to have the greatest snow on Earth— the state has even trademarked the phrase. In Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth, University of Utah professor Jim Steenburgh investigates weather in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains and shows how and why Utah’s powder lives up to its reputation.

The book, published in November by Utah State University Press, also examines ski and snowboard regions beyond Utah, providing a meteorological guide to mountain weather and snow climates around the world. “Secrets of the Greatest Snow on Earth covers all of the essential topics for Utah powder lovers of every stripe,” wrote Nathan Rafferty, president of Ski Utah, in reviewing the book for the publisher.

Steenburgh, a U professor of atmospheric sciences, is an avid backcountry and resort skier. He also created a popular blog, Wasatch Weather Weenies. Chapters in his new book explore mountain weather, avalanches and snow safety, historical accounts of weather events and snow conditions, and the basics of climate and weather forecasting. The book also features 150 color photographs.

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University of Utah Health Care Wins Fifth Straight Top Award

University of Utah Health Care has won the University HealthSystem Consortium’s Quality Leadership Award for the fifth year in a row.

The U placed among the top 10 in the prestigious quality and safety rankings, which compare teaching hospitals based on quality measures, patient safety and satisfaction indicators, mortality rates, and readmissions. This year, the University ranked sixth out of 104 participating medical centers.

“Being in the top 10 in quality means our community has access to some of the best health care in the country,” says Vivian S. Lee, the U’s senior vice president for Health Sciences, dean of the School of Medicine, and CEO of U Health Care.

The centers ranked among the top five were New York University’s Langone Medical Center; the Mayo Clinic Hospital, Rochester; Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center; Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak; and Rush University Medical Center.

Red Butte Garden Ranked Second Most Stunning in World

redbuttegardenThe University of Utah’s Red Butte Garden has been ranked by Best Masters Programs as No. 2 among 50 of the most stunning university arboretums and gardens. Best Masters is an independent online guide to master’s degree programs. The list includes universities that emphasize conservation, sustainability, and education within their greenhouses, landscapes, and nature preserves. The gardens in the list are located around the world.

Gardens and arboretums considered for the list were identified using information from the Morton Register of Arboreta, Botanic Gardens Conservation International, the American Horticultural Society, and other public data sources. Evaluations were made based on garden size, variety of plant species, special accreditations, and unique attributes that contribute to the garden’s atmosphere.

University Solar Plaza Provides Sustainable Gathering Space

The University of Utah in September completed construction on an environmentally friendly community gathering space for students living on campus. Located near the Peterson Heritage Center and between the Shoreline Ridge apartments, the Student Solar Plaza includes solar panel canopies with built-in tables and chairs, gas barbecue, fire pit, and electrical outlets.

Solar-Plaza-4“Students spearheaded this project because we were lacking an outdoor common area where we can comfortably study, hold activities, and visit with friends,” says Jenna Matsumura, a student leader working with the project. “This space will not only help create a more cohesive community among the apartment residents, but it will also be a visual representation of our commitment to sustainability efforts.”

Constructed into eight canopies, the 32 bifacial solar panels, which provide up to 35 percent more kWh than their standard module counterparts, will offset the electricity used by the residence halls.

Tiny Asteroid Now Bears University of Utah Name

An asteroid has been named “Univofutah” after the University of Utah. Discovered in September 2008 by longtime Utah astronomy educator Patrick Wiggins, the asteroid also known as 391795 (2008 RV77) this past September was renamed Univofutah by the International Astronomical Union’s Minor Planet Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Wiggins says names must be limited to 16 characters, ruling out the U’s full name.

“There aren’t too many other universities on the whole planet with asteroids named after them,” says Wiggins, who works as a part-time public education assistant in the U’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. “So that puts the U in rather rarefied company.”

The asteroid “is no more than 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) across,” he says. Because of its small size and distance, it is “too far away for even the Hubble Space Telescope to determine the shape.”

American West Center Celebrates 50 Years at the University of Utah

AmericanWestCenterThe University of Utah’s American West Center marked its 50th anniversary in 2014. The center, the oldest regional studies center in the West, focuses on preserving the region’s history through oral histories, documentary archives, historical and policy analyses, textbooks, and a statewide curriculum.

“Regional studies illustrate both the unique aspects of a place as well as the different ways national and global changes are felt in communities,” says the center’s director, Gregory Smoak PhD’99, a U associate professor of history.

The center’s work has included collecting and archiving more than 7,000 oral histories, many from Native Americans, Japanese Americans, and Utah’s Latino and Latina residents; creating an extensive digital archive of documents pertaining to Utah’s American Indian tribes; and providing educational support to the tribes and to school districts.

An Encompassing Lens

University of Utah English professor Jeff Metcalf ’s epiphany came eight years ago as he was teaching adult high school students enrolled at the Salt Lake City School District’s Horizonte Instruction and Training Center. Many of the students were dropouts, and none had ever had any contact with a university before. Their education had stalled when life got in the way, and Metcalf worried about them. He was also intrigued. “What fascinated me most were the stories that happened before and after class—stories about people who had come to this country for political asylum, refugees, people who had been on the streets, who were homeless, people who had never had a place for their voice to be heard.”

Metcalf BS’74 MEd’77 wondered how he could provide space in a university setting for people who had never thought their experiences and opinions mattered. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to create a documentary class and teach them how to make documentaries so they felt less invisible? ’ I made a promise to these students that we would do that.” There was only one problem, he says: “I realized I knew absolutely nothing about documentary filmmaking.”

But Craig Wirth BS’73 did. Metcalf had met the fellow professor, an Emmy Award-winning documentarian, once or twice in the hallway at the U’s Language and Communications building. Metcalf ’s office was right above Wirth’s, so he introduced himself and explained his idea. “I told him, ‘You just need to meet some of these students,’ ” Metcalf recollects. “After that happened, there was no turning back for either one of us.”

They created the Humanities in Focus program, which helps “marginalized populations” make documentary films to tell their stories. Each Monday night, Metcalf and Wirth tag-team in teaching a class of 25 to 30 students in the J. Willard Marriott Library’s digital media lab. The program, which costs about $40,000 a year to run, is supported by the U’s College of Humanities and Honors College, as well as University Neighborhood Partners, a U endeavor that brings together University resources and community members in Salt Lake’s west-side neighborhoods.

Humanities in Focus 16_cropA Mother’s Choice

Lucia Chavarria’s mother was 27 years old when she became a widow with nine children. She had never gone to school, was living in Mexico, and had no way to make a living. She made a desperate choice and sent nearly half of her children, including Lucia, to live with their grandmother in the United States.

It was a decision that would haunt Chavarria’s mother for years. “Four felt they were given away. That was just tormenting her,” Chavarria says. After enrolling in the University of Utah’s Humanities in Focus program, Chavarria decided to tell her mother’s story in a 2008 documentary, My Mother’s Unheard Voice.

Communications professor and program co-founder Craig Wirth describes the film as “an absolutely unbelievable documentary about a mother’s love for her children.” Wirth says Chavarria, now a paid mentor to the Humanities in Focus class, went from a quiet student to someone “who began to match wits with me. And now she is one of the most amazing documentary-makers I’ve ever seen.”

When she first enrolled in the class, Chavarria says, she didn’t know anything about cameras, was “still kind of afraid of computers,” and often thought, “Please don’t make me talk in front of crowds or I will pass out.” But somewhere along the line, she says, “I got hooked.”

When she was finished with her film, she brought her mother to Salt Lake City from Mexico to see it, and after its screening in 2008 at the Episcopal Church Center of Utah, a member of the audience came up to Chavarria’s mom and said, “You are such a brave woman. I admire you.” The audience member’s comment and the film itself helped the mother accept her life decisions. “After the documentary, she felt she had done the right thing,” Chavarria says. “It’s given her some peace of mind. It helped her start to heal.”

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In the eight years since Humanities in Focus began, more than 350 students have collaborated in making 36 documentaries, and a half-dozen students have gone on to graduate from the University of Utah. The students have ranged in age from 17 to 82 years old. A majority are Hispanic (many coming from the Horizonte center and other programs serving west-side Salt Lake City neighborhoods), and almost all are living below the poverty line.

The first lesson is acquainting them with the video and digital equipment they will use, including iPads, cameras, and videocams. “That stuff is not in their lives, so it begins with this simple task of taking the lens off the camera,” Metcalf says. The next step is helping the students determine what their story is and how they will document it.

Beatriz Sanchez, center, answers questions while being interviewed and filmed at her home by Humanities in Focus students.

Beatriz Sanchez, center, answers questions while being interviewed and filmed at her home by Humanities in Focus students.

“I would say Craig and I could easily work at any carnival,” Metcalf says. “It’s fair to say we’re hustling them the whole time. It’s three-card monte. We’re always sort of creating this undertone of ‘Start thinking about what you’re going to do. What’s the most important story you would tell if you had 15 minutes’ worth of fame? ’ ”

Over the year-long course, the students earn six hours of University credit and become experts in lighting, sound, and editing, as well as writing scripts and interviewing. Perhaps most importantly, Wirth says, they learn how to express themselves—often on very personal levels. “I have not witnessed such pure and true documentary in my entire career,” says Wirth, who has produced broadcast feature stories as a television reporter for more than 40 years. “I can’t think of a better academic lesson but also a life lesson. It’s where academia and life come together in a really bold and new form.”

Humanities in Focus 19_cropFinding Lessons

Tony Aguilar’s documentary includes television news footage of the smoldering remains of a two-story, Dallas-area home destroyed by an explosion. Police determined the man found dead inside was in the middle of a divorce and had committed suicide by blowing up the house. The man was Aguilar’s son-in-law.

Aguilar wanted to make a documentary about his son-in-law’s suicide as part of the University of Utah’s Humanities in Focus program, in an effort to help others. He joined the class a year ago after a colleague at the Utah Transit Authority had taken the course and told him about it.

Aguilar, who works as a bus driver, had immigrated to the United States from El Salvador in 1975. While living in New Jersey, he had worked out of his home as a freelance video producer for a local television station. So he was interested to learn about the U program. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is what I have been waiting for,’ ” he says.

His first documentary was a group project about autism. He hopes the documentary he made this year about his late son-in-law will encourage others to listen to their children and be aware of signs of possible suicide. On the day of the explosion four years ago, Aguilar had read a message that his son-in-law had posted on Facebook, saying, “This could all be over soon!”

Aguilar saw the post and immediately called his wife, asking her to have their son, who was also living in Utah, telephone Texas police. The police, he says, helped get his daughter and her five children to safety. “One call made a difference,” he says. “If I didn’t call, it would have been a different story.”

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The Monday night classes begin with a potluck dinner— “We learned early that a lot of problems would be solved breaking bread together,” Metcalf says—and quickly progress to the work at hand. On one recent night, several former students offered advice and encouragement and talked about the results of their work in the class. Jeannette Villalta, who dedicated her film about AIDS to a friend who died of the disease, mailed a copy to comfort family in Guatemala after learning her own brother had tested positive for HIV. “You never know the impact your stories can have on another life,” she says.

Natalia Solache made a documentary about being homeless and working for 10 years to gain her U.S. citizenship. In 2006, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Salt Lake nominated her as their volunteer of the year, an honor that was recognized by the national organization Parents Anonymous and included a trip to the White House. “I went from sleeping on the floor to getting ready in this fancy room to go have breakfast with the First Lady.”

Humanities in Focus 04Stories that Heal

Judy Fuwell BS’10 was perfectly content learning about the literature and poetry that University of Utah professor Jeff Metcalf was teaching to low-income students in the Utah Humanities Council’s Venture Course eight years ago, until he started talking about documentaries. At his behest, she signed up for the inaugural Humanities in Focus class. “I thought we were going to watch documentaries and talk about them and put our stories with poetry,” she says. “When we went, I was a little shocked when they had cameras. I had not used any kind of video camera.”

In the years since, she has made 31 documentaries that include Family in Crisis, made in 2006, about her daughter’s meth addiction; and Hi Mom, My Name is Claire, finished last year, about another daughter’s struggle with pica, a disorder characterized by an appetite for unusual substances, including chalk or dirt.

After the Humanities in Focus class, Fuwell enrolled as a full-time U student and graduated at age 58 with a bachelor’s degree in communications. “It gave me a lot of self-confidence,” says Fuwell, now an adjunct professor at the U.

Fuwell says telling those stories has helped her family heal. “I just didn’t realize how important stories were or how they can help people until I started doing this.”

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Alejandro Miranda, a current student who is working on a documentary about his life, says he endured years of abuse at the hands of his stepfather before moving out of his house in Costa Rica as a teenager to work at a bed-and-breakfast, whose owner pressured him into a sexual relationship. Eventually, Miranda says, he was rescued by a couple who were lodging there while working with a nonprofit organization to save the country’s rain forests. They put him in touch with Metcalf and helped him move to Salt Lake City. Now, Miranda believes he has a voice. “I have a clear idea of where I’m going and what I want. I am not ashamed of myself anymore.”

It is stories like those that captivated Alexza Clark PhD’13, who made the Humanities in Focus program the focus of her doctoral dissertation at the U. Now the communications director at St. Cecilia Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, Clark had worked as a television producer in New York for CNN and Anderson Cooper. After marrying, she moved with her husband to his hometown of Salt Lake City, where she began pursuing her doctorate in communications at the U. She helped Villalta produce her documentary on AIDS and made her own documentary about Humanities in Focus. “I was utterly mesmerized that someone going through such devastating traumatic events in their life would be willing to dedicate a whole year to learning to tell their story and then show others that story.”

From left, Lucia Chavarria, Jeff Metcalf, Sam Katz, Judy Fuwell, and Craig Worth watch Katz’s documentary video during the Humanities in Focus class at the U’s Marriott Library.

From left, Lucia Chavarria, Jeff Metcalf, Sam Katz, Judy Fuwell, and Craig Worth watch Katz’s documentary video during the Humanities in Focus class at the U’s Marriott Library.

Sylvia Torti PhD’98, dean of the Honors College, says honors students became involved in the program two years ago, as part of the college’s praxis labs, which are special year-long courses of 12 students who take on pressing social issues under the direction of multiple professors. The Honors College students also learn about filmmaking along with the students from the community. The program is unique, Torti says, in bringing students and members of the community together in a mix of different socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic, and age groups. “Really, how many courses in college do you have where you’re working on a project and interacting with people from all over the world, some of whom have spent time living on the street, others of whom have been abused or on drugs?” she says. “It really, I think, demystifies the idea of ‘the other.’ ”

Metcalf says the stories are often difficult ones, and documenting them can be transformational. “We all carry stories in our bones,” he notes. “The people who have been very timid living in the shadows, when they discover their voice, it means something.”

—Kim Horiuchi is an associate editor of Continuum.

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Watch Alexza Clark’s film about the Humanities in Focus program, and Jeannette Villalta’s film about AIDS.

A Book for Life

The University of Utah’s Einar Nielsen Field House was packed for the final game of the 1962 season as the men’s basketball team pounded the floor against Wyoming. Six-foot-nine-inch U center Billy McGill was in the zone, and his signature jump hook shot was, as usual, impeccable. He finished with 51 points that evening to lead his team to a 94-75 win. Long after the final seconds of the game had ticked away, the crowd continued to cheer, and McGill heard U President A. Ray Olpin start talking about him over the loudspeaker. All-time leading scorer and rebounder at the U. School record for most points per game. The highest-scoring center in NCAA history. One of the “greatest players” the school has ever known. “Today we are retiring the number 12 in honor of Billy McGill!” the president said, and a jersey bearing McGill’s number was raised to the rafters.

“It’s the highlight of my career,” McGill ex’62 writes in his new memoir, Billy “the Hill” and the Jump Hook: The Autobiography of a Forgotten Basketball Legend, published in November by the University of Nebraska Press. “I shake the president’s hand, and I hug my coach. I wave to the crowd. And just like that, it’s all over.”

But McGill’s pro career was just on the horizon. As a college player, he was a two-time All American, and in the 1961-62 season, he led the nation in scoring with an average 38.8 points per game, including a 60-point performance against archrival Brigham Young University. At the end of that season, he decided to leave school and was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1962 NBA Draft by the Chicago Zephyrs. But a knee injury plagued him, and after just three years in the NBA, he trailed over to the ABA for two seasons. He found himself back in his native Los Angeles, eventually sleeping in abandoned houses and washing up in a Laundromat.

Billy McGill leaps for a basket during a U game. He was a two-time All-American and a top NBA pick. Photo courtesy Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah

Billy McGill leaps for a basket during a U game. He was a two-time All-American and a top NBA pick. (Photo courtesy Special Collections, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah)

McGill, now 74, recounts those highs and lows, and what came after them, in his new book, co-written with Eric Brach. “I wrote it for my beloved [Utah] coach, Jack Gardner, and the many Ute fans,” McGill says. “I wrote it for them. I wrote it for Utah. …I wanted people to know exactly what happened.”

McGill about four years ago had dusted off an old manuscript at the bottom of a closet in his Los Angeles home. They were words he had written three decades earlier about the twists and turns of his life. With assistance from Brach, who was finishing up a graduate degree in creative writing at the University of Southern California, McGill turned those memories into the book.

The story begins in San Angelo, Texas, where McGill was born, and where his mother left him in the care of relatives until he was five years old. She eventually returned to bring him to Los Angeles. Growing up in the hardscrabble streets of LA, he found solace in pickup basketball games, as well as the local YMCA gym and its staff. At eleven, he was dunking. Legend has it that during one pickup game with him and Bill Russell against Wilt Chamberlain and Guy Rogers when McGill was still in high school, McGill leapt into the air and threw the ball in a sideways arc over his head to nail the first-ever jump hook, later emulated by many top players.

As a freshman at Thomas Jefferson High School in Los Angeles, he had made the varsity squad, and the team that year won the city title. McGill was named to the All-Southern League first team and to the All-City squad. His high-school grades were bad, and he didn’t have good study habits. But his game kept improving, and his popularity was growing.

McGill, shown here in 1958, is credited with inventing the jump hook shot, later emulated by many players. (Photo courtesy Billy McGill)

McGill, shown here in 1958, is credited with inventing the jump hook shot, later emulated by many players. (Photo courtesy Billy McGill)

At his high school team’s appearance in the city championship game, McGill went airborne for a shot during the game and then heard a “pop.” He fell like a “sack of rice” to the floor, he recalls in his book. A doctor called it the worst knee injury he’d ever seen and suggested an operation to insert an “iron” knee. McGill was told he’d never play basketball again. “As soon as I hear these words, I feel my brain start to dissolve,” McGill writes.

McGill declined the operation. He rested. And then he worked hard, coming back his senior year to become an “unencumbered scoring machine,” he writes, despite a knee that hurt and swelled after each game.

When colleges came calling, McGill met a man named Rich Ruffel, who talked about the University of Utah campus, a place that McGill would later describe as “overwhelming,” “beautiful,” and “breathtaking.” McGill also met legendary U coach Jack Gardner, now a Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, and instantly liked Gardner’s blend of sincerity, authority, and kindness. With a four-year scholarship on the table, McGill chose Utah and became one of the first African Americans to play basketball for the U.

McGill was a second-team All-American during the 1960-61 season and then earned first-team honors during the 1961-62 season. He became the 11th player in all-time collegiate history to record 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds during his career. He still ranks No. 2 all-time at Utah for career scoring (2,321 points) and No. 1 in career rebounding (1,106). McGill also owns the Utah single-season (1,009) and single-game (60) records for scoring, as well as the single-season (430) and single-game (24) records for rebounding. In sum, he was great, but he quickly began to live life “by the needle,” requiring his knee to be drained by a doctor several times a week. He also encountered racism in Utah and on the road like he had never known growing up in California. His 60 points in that famous game against BYU came after a racial slur there, he says.

McGillHis academic work still wasn’t a priority for him in college, he writes, and when the NBA knocked on his door, that was it for caring about classes. He dropped out in 1962 and purchased a brand new Austin Healey convertible with the $17,000 starting salary he received from the Chicago Zephyrs. “Deep down I know dropping out is dumb, even as I’m doing it,” McGill writes. “But it’s so easy to rationalize to myself.” McGill was introduced to a cutthroat world in the NBA, one he says is full of “sharks” and where a hurt black player is “easily discarded.” As his Chicago Zephyrs teammate Woody Sauldsberry told him, “Nobody’s got your back.”

McGill was no longer the dominant force he was in high school and college, though he still had plenty of talent and an unstoppable jump hook. But his knee kept getting worse. He saw his playing time drop dramatically. After one game, future NBA Hall of Fame inductee Oscar Robertson told him, “It’s a shame… that they don’t play you more, especially after how you tore it up in Utah,” McGill writes.

By the time McGill was 30, he had retired from pro ball and began a slide into an oblivion that included depression, living with his parents, and eventually homelessness, which he details in the book with candor. But he crawled out of the rabbit hole of despair and slowly began to rebuild his life. Without a college degree, McGill writes, it was hard to get a good paying job. After two years of sleeping in Laundromats and bus stops, sports editor Brad Pye, Jr., of the Los Angeles Sentinel— who had first called him “Billy the Hill” back in his high school days—helped him find a job in general procurement at Hughes Aircraft in 1972. McGill eventually met and married Gwendolyn Willie, whose children from another marriage he adopted. (His grandson Ryan Watkins, who also stands at six feet nine inches, is now a senior forward for Boise State.)

McGill stands outside his home in Los Angeles. He eventually worked for Hughes Aircraft after leaving the NBA. (Photo by Ed Carreón)

McGill stands outside his home in Los Angeles. He eventually worked for Hughes Aircraft after leaving the NBA. (Photo by Ed Carreón)

University of Utah Athletics Director Chris Hill MEd’74 PhD’82 says McGill was one of the U’s most “fantastic” players ever, a “pioneer” as one of the team’s first black players, and a star remembered even today for his “unique” style of play and his “enthusiastic approach” to the game. McGill’s jersey still hangs high in the rafters at the U’s Jon M. Huntsman Center, one of only seven to have been retired, and he was honored in 2008 as a member of the U’s All-Century Team. This past February, he came to Salt Lake City to be honored at the U men’s basketball game against Arizona and two nights later was recognized during a pre-game segment by the NBA’s Utah Jazz. In March, McGill is being inducted into the Pac-12 Hall of Honor.

Times have changed, Hill says, in terms of the support offered to athletes to encourage them to graduate. “We can say very seriously that we provide every single opportunity for a kid to graduate. If they leave for the pros in good standing, many, many times we help them after they’re done, if things haven’t gone well for them. It’s a case-by-case basis, but the support is so different now, and it’s so important.”

Most college players, he adds, think they’re going to play in the NBA someday. “So you’re wasting your energy telling people they can’t play professional basketball,” Hill says.

“Somewhere along the line, they come to that realization. But the most important thing for us is to make sure we continue to hammer home the importance of having an education and supporting them in every way.”

McGill holds a basketball from his University of Utah days, signed by many of his teammates at the U. (Photo by Ed Carreón)

McGill holds a basketball from his University of Utah days, signed by many of his teammates at the U. (Photo by Ed Carreón)

After his pro career ended, McGill was mostly forgotten beyond LA until the 1990s, when the NBA called on him to speak with incoming players as part of its Rookie Transition Program, which the NBA didn’t have back when McGill played in the league. He spoke to young pros about how the lives of NBA players can take a turn for the worse, to groups that included Chris Webber, Shawn Bradley, Vin Baker, and Sam Cassell, as well as Isaiah Rider and Penny Hardaway, who, McGill writes, refused to heed his warning and even took pot shots at him.

But former NBA star Bill Walton says it would be shortsighted to say McGill’s book is merely a cautionary tale for cocky young NBA hopefuls. “This is a book for life,” says Walton, who emulated McGill’s jump hook shot in his pro career and now calls McGill his “hero.”

“To be able to always exhibit such class, dignity, pride, and professionalism in the face of extreme adversity, incredible obstacles—this is the stuff that legends are made of,” Walton says. “We all have so much to learn from Billy McGill. I just hope that people are brave and bold enough to give [the book] a try.”

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

Ed. note: Billy McGill died in June 2014. Read a memoriam of him here.

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College Career Highlights

1961-62 Season Highlights

Editor’s note: This video has no audio. Footage from the BYU game begins at 23:43. Footage of McGill’s jersey being retired begins at 26:46.

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Genetics and U

Gregg Johnson is trying to outlive his family history. To do that, the 57-year-old textiles artist has had a colonoscopy every year since the mid-1980s. Each time, doctors remove upward of 150 tiny polyps in hopes of preventing colon cancer. Johnson lost his mother, Sandra “Sammy” Moon Johnson, to metastasized colon cancer in 1983 when she was just 47 years old. Her mother also died from the disease, at age 42, just like dozens of others on the branches of Johnson’s family tree. “We’re cancer magnets,” Johnson says.

Johnson, who lives in Salt Lake City, keeps his health closely in check thanks in part to University of Utah scientists and researchers who tapped his family for genetic testing and cancer studies more than 20 years ago. Tests confirmed what the family essentially already knew: Their biological lineage includes a genetic mutation that predisposes them to colon cancer and can be traced back to a single English couple who emigrated to America in the early 1600s. The U’s research study, which stretched over a dozen years and included data on hundreds of Utahns, helped investigators unlock critical genetic coding linked to APC— adenomatous polyposis coli—a syndrome characterized by the early onset of colon cancer, says Deborah Neklason PhD’99, research assistant professor of oncological sciences at the University of Utah Medical School and director of the Utah Genome Project. The data and health protocols, when paired with a clinical intervention, including genetic counseling, testing, and regular colonoscopies, have helped reduce familial cancer rates for Johnson and others. “We have prevented almost all the [potential] cancers in that family,” says Neklason. “This is about a change in behavior and awareness. This is an incredible story of the impact of genetic testing.”

For decades, U researchers and investigators have played a critical role in identifying pieces of the genetic puzzle that continue to change the face of medicine, from understanding how some diseases work to improving patient diagnoses, medical outcomes, and daily health management. At the same time, researchers and patients have been watching court cases, involving Myriad Genetics and the U Research Foundation, proceed over patenting of some of that research and related questions about future studies, as well as public access to genetic testing and personalized medicine. The outcome of those cases is factoring into the future course of the research.

Genetics is the study of how specific traits and characteristics are biologically transmitted to us by our parents. Formed by deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, genes are the physical units of heredity that are carried on our chromosomes. Scientists believe each person’s body has about 20,500 separate genes, the totality of which is known as the genome. Isolating those genes has helped scientists identify anomalies that either cause or increase our risk for some diseases. Over the past four decades, advancements in genetic research have provided enormous insight into the workings of the human body and the causes of disease, says Lynn Jorde, chair of the U Medical School’s Department of Human Genetics. Genetic tests can indicate if a person is a carrier for a disease or if an unborn child will have genetic conditions. “It gives us the potential to treat disease more efficiently and, in some cases, even to prevent disease altogether,” says Jorde, whose own research includes the genetic basis of both hypertension and human limb malformation.

Deborah Neklason, a U research assistant professor of oncology and director of the Utah Genome Project, notes that genetic testing, paired with clinical intervention, has helped save patients’ lives. (Photo by Tom Smart)

Deborah Neklason, a U research assistant professor of oncology and director of the Utah Genome Project, notes that genetic testing, paired with clinical intervention, has helped save patients’ lives. (Photo by Tom Smart)

University of Utah researchers can claim dozens of key discoveries in genetic and molecular medicine, including genes responsible for more than 30 diseases, such as melanoma, atrial fibrillation, hypertension, macular degeneration, and neurofibromatosis. U scientists also are credited with developing key tools in bioinformatics to help further understanding of how genetic material works. “The University of Utah is great at this, and they have been for a long time,” says Lawrence Brody, chief scientific officer at the Maryland-based Center for Inherited Disease Research at the National Human Genome Research Institute. “The faculty there has made fundamental contributions to human genetics.”

Brody attributes Utah’s critical mass of talent to two factors: significant philanthropic funding to support genetics research, and a population of large families with a Mormon church-supported predilection for genealogy work, which has provided a trove of family history to aid in genetic study. The University houses the Utah Population Database, with some 20 million records that layer family genealogies with state demographic records, including data on births, deaths, cancer rates, and other medical diagnostic and treatment records. It is the only resource of its kind in the United States and the largest such database in the world. The church/state partnership provides records on about 7.3 million individuals, some of whom can be linked to 11 generations of relatives. The databasesupported through the generous financial assistance of the Jon M. Huntsman family, the Huntsman Cancer Foundation, and the Huntsman Cancer Institutehas enabled about 100 research studies, allowing investigators to analyze patterns of genetic inheritance and identify specific genetic mutations.

Genetic data are instrumental in the development of personalized medicine. Knowing what’s in a person’s genome allows physicians and patients to make more informed health care choices, Jorde says. To date, scientists have been able to link about 4,000 diseases to mutated genes, according to the American Medical Association. Yet genetic testing still has many limitations, Jorde says. The testing, which is done through sampling of tissue, blood, or other body material, can only provide a predictive risk assessment, and then only for some diseases. Test results can be missed or misinterpreted. In some cases, research and technology may not yet exist to explain some genetic mutations, even though those mutations can be identified. “People think, well, I can just get genetic tests and find out everything about me, all of my predispositions to everything,” Jorde says. “In reality, genetic testing, while it can be very useful in certain contexts, only reveals predisposing factors. Sometimes they can be very powerful predictors; sometimes they can be only approximate predictors.”

The biomedical community can sometimes contribute to public confusion about the power of genetic testing, in part because researchers “want to say this is important and useful,” Jorde says. That’s where some in the research community become uncomfortable with companies that offer direct-to-consumer genetic tests that in many cases are for diseases for which the genes haven’t actually yet been identified, such as the gene for bipolar disorder.

A computer charts a genetic analysis of a patient at the University of Utah. Genetic data are instrumental in the development of personalized medicine. (Photo by Tom Smart)

A computer charts a genetic analysis of a patient at the University of Utah. Genetic data are instrumental in the development of personalized medicine. (Photo by Tom Smart)

Questions about commercial genetic testing were at the center of the 2009 lawsuit against the Salt Lake City-based biotech company Myriad Genetics, the University of Utah Research Foundation, and their partners. Filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of more than 20 plaintiffs, including medical associations, researchers, health advocates, and patients, the case asked one central question: Can a human gene be patented? More specifically, ACLU attorneys challenged whether the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office should have issued a patent on the tumor suppressor genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 to Myriad Genetics, which was founded in 1991 by a team of scientists, including then-U genetics researcher and medical professor Mark Skolnick.

One of the first companies to examine the relationship between genes and human disease, Myriad was created to develop genetic tests based on research from the U, including Skolnick’s work to isolate the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The U Research Foundation, which facilitates commercialization of faculty inventions from many academic disciplines, later licensed Skolnick’s discoveries to Myriad. Over two decades, Myriad has paid its BRCA patent partners—the U, the Hospital for Sick Children, Endorecherche Inc., and the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania—8 percent of its annual profit in the form of royalties, or more than $57 million, Myriad spokesman Ron Rogers says. The U’s share of the royalties has amounted to more than $40 million over the years as of last fall and is used to support further research and education programs at the University, according to Tom Parks, the U’s vice president for research.

Certain variations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes signal a person’s risk for some hereditary forms of cancer. Women with a BRCA mutation face a 36 to 85 percent lifetime risk of breast or ovarian cancer. In men, BRCA gene mutations are linked to breast and prostate cancers. The BRCA genes earned wide public attention in May 2013 after film actress Angelina Jolie announced she had undergone a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy following genetic testing. Jolie lost her mother to both breast and ovarian cancers.

In the lawsuit, ACLU attorneys claimed the patents on the BRCA genes gave Myriad, which didn’t license the patents to other researchers, an unfair monopoly on the genes and their associated genetic information, as well as the predictive tests for the mutations, which at roughly $3,000 could be too expensive for some patients. ACLU attorneys argued the exclusivity was a civil liberties issue because it “limits the public’s right to benefit from scientific breakthroughs that advance medical research,” court documents state. “This monopoly has a chilling impact on other researchers’ ability to conduct medical research, undermining advances toward better treatment, cures, and more accessible, affordable genetic testing. … Such a monopoly serves to profit one company at the expense of the public good.”


Elaine Lyon, director of molecular genetics and genomics at ARUP, says many in the molecular sciences industry have long been opposed to patents and see them as a disincentive to innovation and a barrier to helping patients. The royalty fees have also driven up research costs and made patient tests expensive. (Photo by Tom Smart)

Myriad attorneys argued that patents have been used for more than 100 years, across all kinds of commercial economies and industry, to provide a critical incentive for investment in innovation and discovery. “Research is a very expensive proposition,” Myriad attorney Ben Jackson says. “Companies have to spend millions of dollars to make these discoveries. But more importantly, to bring these discoveries to the average person, companies need incentives.”

The U.S. Trademark and Patent Office has issued thousands of gene patents since the early 1980s as the pace of genetic research and discovery exploded. By 2005, nearly 24,000 genes had been identified, and more than 4,300—20 percent of the whole human genome—had been claimed as intellectual property. In the early days of genetic discovery, academic researchers, private labs, and biotech companies all sought out patents as a means of preserving future commercial opportunity, even if they weren’t quite sure about the value of their work. “Twenty or so years ago, [patents] really helped push people a little bit forward,” says Brody, of the Center for Inherited Disease Research. “There was a rush to find the genes that were responsible for the major diseases, and because they were patentable, they were patented. They were staking out turf.”

But patents proved troublesome and less profitable for most in biomedicine, says Brody. In most cases, patent holders found “there was little money to be made” from the claims they had staked on specific, single genes, he says. Researchers also found that the patents were barriers to advancing their scientific discovery.

As a young researcher, molecular geneticist Elaine Lyon says she found herself stymied many times in the lab because she kept bumping into patents in her work on a test to identify a protein that metabolizes drugs in the body. In some cases, Lyon wasn’t even studying the specific patented gene but was still blocked because the area of her interest was part of a genetic sequence that fell under a patent’s umbrella. “At this point, I was getting more and more frustrated,” says Lyon, who is now the director of molecular genetics and genomics at ARUP, an anatomic pathology reference laboratory on the University of Utah campus.

Lynn Jorde, chair of the U Medical School’s Department of Human Genetics, notes that genetic research helps give doctors the potential to treat disease more efficiently and, in some cases, prevent it altogether. (Photo by Tom Smart)

Lynn Jorde, chair of the U Medical School’s Department of Human Genetics, notes that genetic research helps give doctors the potential to treat disease more efficiently and, in some cases, prevent it altogether. (Photo by Tom Smart)

Lyon says many in the molecular science industry have been long opposed to patents and see them as a disincentive to innovation and a barrier to helping patients. The royalty fees associated with using patented genes have also contributed to stalling research by driving up costs or making the tests that resulted from research too expensive for patients, says Lyon, who is also president of the Association for Molecular Pathology. The association’s members had mixed opinions about the Myriad case, but Lyon says she shared the views of one colleague who said no matter the outcome, “it would be best for the field if we just had this decided once and for all.”

The unanimous decision from the U.S. Supreme Court came on June 13, 2013. The court ruled that genes cannot be patented, because they are a product of nature. “Myriad did not create anything,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in the court’s opinion. “To be sure, it found an important and useful gene, but separating that gene from its surrounding genetic material is not an act of invention.”

The decision invalidated Myriad’s five patents associated with BRCA genes and has similar implications for other gene patents that have been issued over the years. But the court did not leave researchers or biotech companies entirely without opportunity or incentives for competition. The ruling says patents can apply to cDNA, or artificially constructed DNA that contains some section of isolated, natural genomic DNA. Innovations in medical research technology and development in disease testing processes would also likely be patentable.

Whether the court’s decision will squelch investment and commercial development isn’t clear, although it may cut into the profits of biotech companies by increasing competition. On the same day the ruling was announced, two companies said they would immediately begin offering their own BRCA tests to the public. At least five related lawsuits remain pending.

Myriad Genetics, with headquarters located in the U’s Research Park, was founded in 1991 by scientists including then-U professor Mark Skolnick. (Photo by Tom Smart)

Myriad Genetics, with headquarters located in the U’s Research Park, was founded in 1991 by scientists including then-U professor Mark Skolnick. (Photo by Tom Smart)

Another potential impact: Research universities that have partnered with private companies to take their discoveries into the commercial marketplace may suffer some financial losses. Revenues from royalties, which are paid in exchange for licensing rights, could drop, Myriad’s Jackson says. “Any university should be concerned about an alternate, broad reading of the court decision.”

Jackson believes the court’s opinion is “appropriately narrow,” but also not entirely timely. “Gene patenting is in its twilight,” he says, because most of the important gene discoveries were made prior to 2001, when the Human Genome Project, which has mapped the entire human genome, first began publishing its findings.

Brody agrees that Supreme Court case was somewhat oddly timed, considering the fizzling competition for gene discovery, but he still believes it will have a significant impact. “I think it’s an important decision, because it allows individuals and companies to go forward and use the genetic information to innovate and invent new things without worrying about whether you’re on somebody ’s turf,” he says.

Neklason, at the U Medical School, says that if the ruling had come 10 to 15 years earlier, it might have made the research climate “more collaborative and less competitive,” but neither she nor Jorde believe it will have much effect on the day-to-day mission of U genetics investigators. “No matter what, you are going to see some competition; scientists are competitive people,” Jorde says.

Currently, U scientists are involved with at least nine ongoing research studies in medical genetics, such as projects to identify high-risk genes for childhood cancer, and assessing cancer risks for diseases with known cancer genes, including psoriasis and arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and familial atrial fibrillation. In addition, more than a dozen new projects are beginning this year, including studies on the genetics of Lou Gehrig’s disease, genetic susceptibility to spontaneous pre-term birth, and locating a “thinness” gene to prevent obesity.

Gregg Johnson credits genetic testing with helping prevent cancer in his family. (Photo by Charlie Ehlert)

Gregg Johnson credits genetic testing with helping prevent cancer in his family. (Photo by Charlie Ehlert)

Meanwhile, the effects of the Supreme Court ruling should help drive down the costs of gathering genetic information, ultimately benefiting patients in terms of both access and overall health and well-being, U researchers predict. Currently, it costs about $8,000 to have a private lab produce a person’s entire genetic sequence—far less than in the past, and about the same price Myriad charges now to run just the two BRCA gene tests. In the future, sequencing could cost even less.

For his part, Johnson believes knowing more about his genetic health is saving his life. Not a fan of doctor visits or pill popping, the father of two boys says his increased awareness about genetic factors has also led him to gently nudge many of his friends to seek testing. “I’ve outlived my mom by a number of years, so from my perspective, this is saving my life,” he says. He’s also grateful to know that in some small way, his family ’s history and participation in research work will likely help many others. “My mom was very gracious and giving, and she was always thinking about others,” says Johnson. “I’m sure she’d approve.”

—Jennifer Dobner, a former longtime Associated Press reporter and editor, is now a Salt Lake City-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Continuum.

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Connected for Success

Even more than two decades later, Hugo Rossi can still recall the woman standing in his office, crying over math. The then-University of Utah mathematics chairman was teaching a remedial algebra course in the late 1980s and noticed that some of his nontraditional female students who had entered college years after high school were unnecessarily anxious. They were among the best students in the class, but they ’d end up in his office, fearing for their grades. They reminded him of his own daughter, who loved math but couldn’t be persuaded, even by him, that she could make a career of it. “I remember very distinctly one woman saying, ‘I know the time is going to come when I won’t be able to do it.’ I asked her, ‘How do you know that?’ Basically, they had been told that by their parents and their teachers: ‘OK, it’s cute you have a little interest in mathematics, but it’s not really for women.’ ”

After Rossi became dean of the U’s College of Science, he set about overhauling that damaging stereotype. In 1991, he launched the ACCESS Program for Women in Science and Mathematics, which since then has helped hundreds of women enter and succeed in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Of those who have graduated, 76 percent earned a degree in science or a science-related field, with 15 percent receiving an advanced degree in a science-related field. Data gathered by the program show ACCESS students graduate with a higher grade point average than other College of Science graduates (3.62 versus 3.38 from 2000 to 2010) and have higher graduation rates (70 percent versus 52 percent from 2000 to 2009).

The program now has more than 500 alumnae, and ACCESS graduates have gone on to become professors, doctors, and teachers. One woman is a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and works as the tactical activity planner for the Mars rover Opportunity. “We’ve got superstars all over the country,” says Lisa Batchelder, the ACCESS program’s coordinator.

Pierre V. Sokolsky, dean of the U’s College of Science, was so impressed by the program Rossi created that he doubled its enrollment after he became dean in 2007. It’s now a $150,000 a year program funded with $40,000 from the U and the rest from private contributions, including a large grant from Chevron.

The ACCESS program currently recruits 42 high school graduates—up from 12 in its first year—to spend the summer before their freshman year on campus for a seven-week intensive science program. With help from a scholarship, the students live at the Donna Garff Marriott Honors Residential Scholars Community building and study physics, astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, and biology with top U professors. The students develop a network of peers and mentors and are introduced to campus life. In addition to the scholarship that covers their summer program and housing, they are given a $2,000 stipend during their freshman year that they can use for expenses.

“It makes all the difference in the world to have someone who they feel is on their side,” says Rosemary Gray, who has been the ACCESS program’s director since 2006. “It really helps with retention. It helps them feel more connected to the University.”

University of Utah math professor Hugo Rossi, left, who founded the ACCESS program in 1991, discusses an equation with student Joza Ibrahim.

University of Utah math professor Hugo Rossi, left, who founded the ACCESS program in 1991, discusses an equation with student Joza Ibrahim.

Instead of attending lecture courses during that first summer, the students work on research experiments and spend time “getting their hands dirty,” Sokolsky says. “There’s a lot of dry things that [science majors] have to do. That’s not what [science] is about. That’s learning the language. Sometimes I tell my students, ‘Why are you learning French? Because you want to learn French or you want to spend time in Paris?’ A lot of students get stuck because they don’t see that it leads to a trip to Paris,” he says. “The earlier you can get them to see what it’s really about, the more motivated they ’ll be to get through the hard parts.”

During their freshman spring semester, ACCESS students also work as assistants in research labs and present their findings at a symposium, an experience most students don’t get a chance to do until they are juniors. And though the ACCESS program’s formal activities finish at the end of the students’ freshman year, most students continue their connections with one another during their subsequent years at the U.

Rossi says the U program was inspired by the Emerging Scholars Program developed by Philip Uri Treisman at the University of California, Berkeley. While a graduate student, Treisman—an eventual MacArthur Fellow and now director of the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, which works on helping underserved students succeed in college—saw that minority students weren’t doing well in freshman calculus even though they excelled in high school. His study of the reasons why led him to conclude it was because they were isolated on campus, not because they weren’t motivated or smart enough. He developed a program that helped students connect with fellow students and professors through an honors mathematics course, as well as with the campus at large.

The University of Utah program Rossi developed from that model is now well known, and about 100 applicants each year compete for the 42 slots. The selected women have an average GPA of 3.97. But in 1991, the students were largely recruited by Rossi and others involved in creating ACCESS, he says.

Stacy Firth BS’95 MS’98 was in the inaugural ACCESS class, which she joined after her junior year in high school. She had already taken Advanced Placement calculus that year and was persuaded by Rossi to try the U’s summer program. She made good friends and loved campus life. While Firth knew she liked math and science, “ACCESS was pivotal in solidifying that interest. I could have been dissuaded if I had been plopped into a massive freshman/sophomore-level course where there are tons of students and not had the connections I made through ACCESS.”

She went on to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, and she recalls three other ACCESS students attended the U with her in that field. “There was a really good cohort of us going together and feeling like, ‘We’re not foreigners here,’ ” she says. “For any student, if they feel like they ’re by themselves and nobody has their back, it’s really hard to go into more challenging fields.”

Pierre Sokolsky expanded the ACCESS program when he became dean of the U's College of Science in 2007.

Pierre Sokolsky expanded the ACCESS program when he became dean of the U’s College of Science in 2007.

She believes that had she not had peers and professors from ACCESS to rely on when she struggled, she might have wrongly believed she wasn’t capable of the work and changed majors, instead of realizing she could rise to the challenge. Firth went on to receive master’s and doctoral degrees (the latter at UT Austin) in chemical engineering. Today, she teaches a survey of engineering class at Olympus High School in Holladay, Utah, that she helped design as an associate instructor in the U’s College of Engineering. The course, for high school freshmen or sophomores, introduces them to the field of engineering by tackling real-world engineering problems at the school or in the city and conducting fun experiments such as building a spectrometer and bioreactor to create biodiesel.

Firth’s female students clearly have a role model and encouragement to pursue math and science. Yet just three girls are enrolled among the 41 high school students in Firth’s current engineering courses. That’s why Firth believes the U’s ACCESS program is still necessary.

Sokolsky agrees that the situation at Olympus isn’t unique. “It’s getting better, but talk to these young women. There’s a lot of pressure to be a homemaker or to go into business or do other things that are typical of women,” he says. “Science is about talent. It’s about discovery. We need all the brains we can get. Ignoring half the world simply doesn’t make any sense.”

The percentage of women obtaining bachelor’s degrees at the U from the colleges of engineering and science has grown since the program’s creation in 1991, but women are still outnumbered. The number of female engineering graduates has stayed flat, at 9 percent. The number of women graduating with bachelor’s degrees in the sciences, meanwhile, has grown from 23 percent to 34 percent, but only in the field of biology does the proportion of females begin to approach the number of males, with about 46 percent of graduates being female.

Nationally, male high school students are more than twice as likely as female students to be interested in science, technology, engineering, and math fields. By 2016, 45 percent of high school boys are forecast to enter those fields, compared with less than 15 percent of girls, according to a report by the college planning service My College Options and the resource site Stemconnector.

While the number of women earning bachelor’s degrees nationally in science and math fields has grown dramatically since the 1960s, men still outnumber women, except in biological and agricultural sciences and chemistry, according to the American Association of University Women. When it comes to engineering, physics, and computer science, women obtain just 20 percent of the degrees. The gap persists and is more dramatic in the workforce, the association says.

Sokolsky believes that ideally, every freshman should have a chance to enroll in a program like ACCESS, to transition them from high school to college. For now, the U has also created an ACCESS-like program for refugees and minorities, called Refuges, which includes a summer science bridge course. And each department has its own way of trying to keep students engaged, including the Curie Club in the Department of Chemistry, which was recently created to inspire women to become scientists and to help women scientists balance family and work life.

U biology professor Rosemary Gray has been the ACCESS program's director since 2006.

U biology professor Rosemary Gray has been the ACCESS program’s director since 2006.

Sokolsky also thinks the U should hire more female professors to provide role models to students. The College of Science currently has 25 female professors and instructors out of its total of 156 faculty members, up from one female faculty member in 1990. He says the tenure process needs to take into account the balance of work and home life, and he imagines a time when faculty members could temporarily take part-time appointments but still be taken seriously. “If we’re going to be successful in integrating women in a real way, we have to come to grips with the fact that life is not just writing papers and research,” he says. “You have to change the attitude that you’re not serious if you care about your family.”

Current students in the U’s ACCESS program say resistance to women in science and math is subtle when it surfaces. Sophomore Sara Fauver says she felt like she had to prove herself more than boys did in her AP calculus and biology classes at Utah’s West Jordan High School. Karlee Stokes says she was one of few girls in upper-level science classes at Morgan High in northern Utah, and she was the only girl who competed in her region to be a science Sterling Scholar. “I had a lot of people who told me I wouldn’t ever win,” the U freshman recalls. She ended up beating those so-called “genius boys” in the regional contest.

Seeing friendly, female faces in college classes can make a difference, students in the U ACCESS program say. Fauver knows of girlfriends in physics and engineering at the U who changed majors because there were few women in their classes. She believes the ACCESS program gave her an edge. In addition to the peer support and the professors’ mentoring, her freshman research lab experience led her to join two other undergraduate research programs. “I’m really grateful for all the doors this has opened,” she says.

Stokes recollects that in an introductory biology class of 200 students, she sat by ACCESS friends every day. “To already know them going into the class, to have someone to study with, that was why I did so well in the class.” Stokes, a biology major, credits the program with helping her toward greater success. “It changed my life,” she says. “Without it, I would still be in science. But with it, I’m excelling more than I ever would have. We’ve had so many opportunities that we wouldn’t [otherwise] have had.”

Heather May is a former Salt Lake Tribune reporter who now works as a Salt Lake City-based freelance writer.

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U Team Creates Outdoor Fun for Quadriplegics

Dr. Jeffrey Rosenbluth, left, helped develop the kayak (above) and the bike (shown in the photo below).

Dr. Jeffrey Rosenbluth, left, medical director of University of Utah Health Care’s Spinal Cord Injury Acute Rehabilitation Program, helped develop the kayak, above, and the bike, shown in the photo below. (Photos courtesy Jeffrey Rosenbluth)

University of Utah researchers and physicians have collaborated to create new outdoor recreation equipment, including kayaks and bicycles, designed to get spinal cord injury patients back into the great outdoors. The equipment is the product of a unique collaboration between University rehabilitation physicians and the U’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “These pieces are fresh out of the engineering lab,” says Dr. Jeffrey Rosenbluth, medical director of University of Utah Health Care’s Spinal Cord Injury Acute Rehabilitation Program. “We’re really concentrating on the hardest people to get into active living and sports. When coming up with these design plans, we asked, ‘How can we give these individuals the ultimate experience?’ ”

Rosenbluth coordinated with mechanical engineering professor Andrew Merryweather to make his vision a reality, and the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation financially backed the projects. (The late Neilsen MBA’64 JD’67, a casino executive who became a quadriplegic after a 1985 automobile accident, established the foundation in 2002 to fund spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation.) Describing some of the innovative features of the team’s new hand-cycle, Rosenbluth notes that typical handbikes are close to the ground, so getting into them from a wheelchair is simple, but it’s almost impossible to get back in the wheelchair from that position. The U design features a seat that adjusts up and down, allowing users to get back into wheelchairs with relative ease. Rosenbluth also pointed out revolutionary features like electronic gear shifts located near the elbows, a chest piece braking system that is much more reliable and easy to use, and a power assist hub that measures the torque applied, then adds up to 300 percent.

P1000822_For the kayak, the team fashioned a sip and puff system to steer, giving virtually anyone the ability to captain the vessel. “Being able to paddle traditionally is a difficult thing if you don’t have much in terms of hand function or grip,” he says. “We took this device and made it fully accessible and usable by someone with really no hand function whatsoever. If you can move your head and mouth a little bit, you can actually sail and kayak with this device.”

Last summer, quadriplegic patients at the University of Utah got the chance to sail the vessel on a reservoir near Salt Lake City. Both Rosenbluth and Merryweather were on hand to see how the equipment worked and hear how it was received. “First of all, most people don’t believe they can do it… and they don’t believe it will work as advertised,” Rosenbluth says. “But there’s something therapeutic about being on the water. When people think they’ll never get back on the water again and they do, I think you see their old personality come back. It’s amazing.”

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No ‘Left-brained’ or ‘Right-brained,’ U study finds

Chances are, you’ve heard of being a “right-brained” or “left-brained” thinker. Logical, detail-oriented, and analytical? That’s left-brained behavior. Creative, thoughtful, and subjective? Your brain’s right side functions stronger—or so longheld assumptions have suggested. But University of Utah neuroscientists have found that there is no evidence within brain imaging to indicate some people are right-brained or left-brained.

The terms left-brained and rightbrained have come to refer to personality types, with an assumption that some people use the right side of their brain more, while some favor the left. Following a two-year study, U researchers have debunked that myth through identifying specific networks in the left and right brain that process lateralized functions.

Photo courtesy Jeffrey S. Anderson

(Photo courtesy Jeffrey S. Anderson)

Lateralization of brain function means that there are certain mental processes that are mainly specialized to one of the brain’s left or right hemispheres. During the course of the study, researchers analyzed resting brain scans of 1,011 people between the ages of seven and 29. In each person, they studied functional lateralization of the brain measured for thousands of brain regions—finding no relationship that individuals preferentially use their left-brain network or right-brain network more often.

“It’s absolutely true that some brain functions occur in one or the other side of the brain. Language tends to be on the left, attention more on the right. But people don’t tend to have a stronger left- or right-sided brain network. It seems to be determined more connection by connection,” says Dr. Jeffrey S. Anderson, U associate professor of radiology and lead author of the study.

“Everyone should understand the personality types associated with the terminology ‘left-brained’ and ‘right-brained’ and how they relate to him or her personally,” says Jared Nielsen, a graduate student in neuroscience who carried out the study as part of his coursework. “However, we just don’t see patterns where the whole left-brain network is more connected or the whole right-brain network is more connected in some people. It may be that personality types have nothing to do with one hemisphere being more active, stronger, or more connected.”

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Immunodeficiency Disorder Mutation Identified

A 30-year-old woman with a history of upper respiratory infections had no idea she carried a gene for an immunodeficiency disorder, until her six-year-old son was diagnosed with the same illness. Now, a test available as early as this spring may make it easier for others to discover whether they have the disorder.

molecule-smAfter learning she has common variable immunodeficiency, a disorder characterized by recurrent infections such as pneumonia and by decreased antibodies, the woman, her husband, their three children, and parents joined a multidisciplinary University of Utah study, and researchers identified a novel gene mutation that caused the disease in the mom and two of her children. The researchers discovered that a mutation in the NFKB2 gene impairs a protein from functioning properly, which interferes with the body’s ability to make antibodies and fight infection.

The disorder typically doesn’t present with symptoms until adulthood, and it’s not uncommon for someone to reach their 20s, 30s, or beyond before being diagnosed, according to Dr. Karin Chen, co-first author of the study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics online. Identifying the NFKB2 mutation will make it easier to recognize and treat the disorder, particularly after a test developed in conjunction with the study by ARUP Laboratories becomes available as early as May.

“If we can screen patients for genetic mutations, we can identify disease complications associated with that gene, start looking for them and treating them sooner,” says Chen, instructor of pediatric immunology at the University’s School of Medicine.

Through the Years: Short alum profiles and Class Notes

A Bold Rescue

By Ann Floor


The north face of the Grand Teton was the site of an unprecedented rescue of an injured climber in 1967 by a team of rescuers that included four University of Utah alumni. (All photos courtesy Jenny Wilson)

When Jenny Wilson BS’88 was growing up, she and her brother Ben HBA’87 JD’90 would pack their bags each summer, get in the family station wagon with their parents, Ted Wilson BS’64 and Kathy Wilson ex’66, and head from their home in Salt Lake City to the Tetons in northwest Wyoming. Ted had been a Jenny Lake Ranger in the 1960s—part of a team of Grand Teton National Park climbing rescue rangers—and the Wilsons gathered at Jenny Lake to be with friends. As the group sat around the evening campfire, talk often turned to the events of 1967 and a difficult and daring rescue that Ted and his ranger friends had made.

“What touched me over the years was not only the heroics on the mountain, but also the passion and bond of friendship among the men,” Jenny Wilson says. “Their story was an inspiration. Their connection with each other has lasted all this time, and I’ve been influenced by that.”

Six of the seven men who participated in the 1967 rescue of an injured climber gather for a reunion in the Tetons: from left, Ted Wilson, Pete Sinclair, Ralph Tingey, Mike Ermarth, Rick Reese, and Bob Irvine.

Six of the seven men who participated in the 1967 rescue of an injured climber gather for a reunion in the Tetons: from left, Ted Wilson, Pete Sinclair, Ralph Tingey, Mike Ermarth, Rick Reese, and Bob Irvine.

In 2009, when her husband Trell Rohovit BS’88 suggested that the story should be made into a film, it gave her just the incentive she needed. She forged ahead, and Rohovit became an executive producer on the project. The resulting 52-minute documentary film, The Grand Rescue, had its world premiere this past November at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center in Salt Lake City and is now making the film festival circuit around the country, most recently at the Anchorage International Film Festival in December. Wilson also plans to enter the movie in the Telluride Film Festival this summer. The documentary tells the story of the three-day rescue of an injured climber and his partner off the north face of the Grand Teton, the highest mountain in Grand Teton National Park. The film focuses on the rescuers, who included six Jenny Lake rangers—four of them Salt Lake City natives and U graduates—as well as one expert climber who wasn’t a ranger. “The essence of this rescue was a group of individuals who came together with a job to do and found within their bond a new power,” Ted Wilson says in the movie.

As a first-time filmmaker, Jenny Wilson learned on the fly. Most recently the executive director of institutional advancement at the Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah, she previously had served as a member of the Salt Lake County Council and chief of staff to then Utah Congressman Bill Orton. She also worked for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Olympic Winter Games of 2002 and for the Sundance Institute. To get started on her film, she secured some financial backing and then raised close to the final amount needed through Kickstarter, an online funding platform for creative projects.

She brought on a cinematographer and a full crew for the film shoots. She also asked a friend, Meredith Lavitt, to join her as director and producer. Lavitt had prior experience in film production and currently works for the Sundance Institute in a non-filmmaking capacity.

From left, Ted Wilson, Pete Sinclair, Ralph Tingey, Mike Ermarth, Rick Reese, and Bob Irvine, in a photo taken in 1967, the year of their daring rescue.

From left, Ted Wilson, Pete Sinclair, Ralph Tingey, Mike Ermarth, Rick Reese, and Bob Irvine, in a photo taken in 1967, the year of their daring rescue.

The making of The Grand Rescue brought together for the first time since the 1967 event the six surviving team members and Lorraine Hough, who was climbing on August 22, 1967, with Gaylord Campbell when a rock slide knocked Campbell over and caused a double compound fracture of his lower leg. The two were stranded on a ledge at an altitude of 13,000 feet. The young national park rangers quickly went to work, and the resulting successful rescue was the first on the Grand Teton’s north face. It was unprecedented for its time, due to the climber’s severe injuries, the challenging terrain, and the much more rudimentary climbing and rescue gear of the time. One year after the rescue, then Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall awarded the rescue team a citation for valor for “courageous action involving a high degree of personal risk under conditions of extreme severity and hazards.”

Among the rescue team, ranger Mike Ermarth’s quiet leadership raised confidence in the others. He recently retired as a distinguished professor of modern German history at Dartmouth College.

Bob Irvine BA’62 MA’66 knew the Tetons well, having climbed them since his teens. After the 1967 rescue, he remained as leader of the Grand Teton National Park mountain rescue team for the next 28 years and had an accomplished career as professor of mathematics at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.

Leigh Ortenburger, the one member of the team who wasn’t a ranger, knew the mountain best due to his years researching first ascents for his guidebook, A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range. He had a long career as a mountaineer and award-winning photographer. He died in the Oakland, California, wildfires of 1991.

U alum Jenny Wilson, right, worked with producer and director Meredith Lavitt on the new film.

U alum Jenny Wilson, right, worked with co-producer and director Meredith Lavitt on the new film.

Rick Reese BS’66 was a problem solver with climbing skills that were critical to the rescue effort. A Woodrow Wilson Fellow, he went on to teach at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. He also founded the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and served as director of the Yellowstone Institute and of community affairs for the University of Utah. He now lives in Bozeman, Montana.

Pete Sinclair is the author of We Aspired: The Last Innocent Americans, published in 1993, which includes a chapter on the 1967 Grand Teton rescue that provided the framework for the documentary script. He now is a retired professor of English at Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington.

Ralph Tingey BA’67 became a permanent park ranger at Grand Teton after the 1967 rescue and later was an assistant park superintendent of Denali National Park and superintendent of Lake Clark National Park, both in Alaska, as well as assistant superintendent of Grand Teton National Park. Now retired, Tingey lives in Ouray, Colorado, and continues to climb several days a week.

Ted Wilson BS’64 went on to serve as mayor of Salt Lake City and later as director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah as well as the Utah Rivers Council. He also was Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s chief environmental advisor and worked as director of governmental relations for Talisker Corporation. He now is executive director of the Utah Clean Air Partnership.

As for Jenny Wilson, she is continuing her work on the film’s distribution. She also is running for the at-large seat on the Salt Lake County Council, a position she previously held from 2005 to 2010. She aims to continue to produce films.

Ann Floor is an associate editor of Continuum.

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Blossoming Into Her Own

By Marcia C. Dibble

“I am definitely a retro woman,” says Jaye Maynard BFA’85, who has been receiving accolades for her musical homage to the late jazz singer-songwriter Blossom Dearie. Maynard’s nickname is JayeBird, and her show Bird Amongst the Blossom: A Tribute to the First Blossom Dearie Songbook—styled as a midcentury-modern New York supper club act à la 1962—features Maynard on vocals, replicating the “wised-up baby-doll jazz stylings” of Dearie, with backup on piano and upright bass, interpreting songs written for and by Dearie in collaboration with such artists as Johnny Mercer, Dave Frishberg, and Bob Dorough (with whom Dearie worked on the popular children’s educational series Schoolhouse Rock!).

(Photo by Matthew Karas)

(Photo by Matthew Karas)

Maynard is hoping to bring her Blossom show to Utah this year as the opener for her friend John Ciccolini’s coming-of-age musical-comedy Frank Sinatra Screwed Up My Life. That double-header had its premiere this February at the M Bar—“red leather banquettes and Italian food,” Maynard notes fondly—in Hollywood, California. A Midwest native, Maynard spent more than 10 years in southern California after graduating from the U (finding her niche by looking “more East Coast amongst a sea of blondes”) before moving to New York about 15 years ago.

Maynard’s master’s thesis in vocal performance at New York University (completed in 2002) was called “Jaye Sings: The Barbie Show,” in which she wore a recreated Barbie dress and performed songs including numbers from a “Barbie Sings!” collection put out by Mattel in 1961. Early this year, she moved back to Madison, Wisconsin, her hometown, as a “bicoastal” base and to take her show around the Midwest.

Maynard was theatrical from childhood and says she has always been fascinated by the 1950s and early ’60s era in which her parents grew up. “I like to fantasize I was reincarnated from a 1940s big band singer turned ’50s housewife,” she says. A recent participant at the renowned International Cabaret Conference at Yale University, Maynard runs her own PlaidBird Productions, and she is also a producer with Angry Girl Gang Productions, which she co-owns with fellow U alum Mark W. Knowles BFA’85, a longtime friend and collaborator. Maynard was attracted to the U in great part because it offered “an actual musical theater program,” with classes from dance to music to theater and the chance to earn an Equity card at the same time. She performed in regional productions, including four shows with Pioneer Theatre Company, before being handpicked for a tour of Pirates of Penzance, and then moved to LA after the tour’s conclusion. There, besides the period pieces that are her love, Maynard also leapt at other opportunities, including performing improv and studying with Second City. She later appeared in the comedy-horror film Moonshine, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival, before starring in Aaliyah Miller’s short film After The Headlines, about a mother coming to terms with her daughter’s murder, which won several awards on the independent film festival circuit.

But Blossom has become her passion, and its namesake, her muse. “She was a self-producing artist, and she created an independent record label way back in the ’70s; no one was doing it back then,” says Maynard. After Dearie died in 2009, Maynard tracked down her songbook and began developing it into a show, and she eventually acquired Dearie’s last apartment piano on eBay. Maynard called on her longtime friend Dorian DeMichele BFA’84 to help her produce the show, and it had its theatrical debut in 2011 in the United Solo Theater Festival, in New York. The show has since been recognized as a Pick of the Week by the International Review of Music. “I know I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life; maybe not the Blossom Dearie songbook, but this niche of jazz cabaret where you are expressing yourself truthfully through the story of song,” Maynard says.

Marcia Dibble is managing editor of   Continuum.

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nelsonKent A. Nelson BS’75 was recognized as one of eight outstanding community lenders in the nation for 2013 by the Independent Community Bankers of America, one of the nation’s largest banking industry trade groups, and was profiled in the group’s Independent Banker magazine. Recently named executive vice president of Brighton Bank in Salt Lake City, he will continue serving as branch manager and commercial loan officer of the City Center office. He has been employed by Brighton Bank since 1986 and has more than 30 years of banking experience, with an emphasis in management, business development, and commercial real estate loan production. At the University of Utah, he completed a double major in finance and management.


hendriksenNeil E. Hendriksen BMu’85 was selected by the National Federation of State High School Associations’ music committee to receive a Section Award, representing Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah. The award recognizes deserving high school or college band, choral, or orchestral directors, supervisors, and adjudicators who have had a significant impact on high school activities and programs. The regional award, presented to Hendriksen in February, also qualifies him for the next several years to be considered for a national award. For the past 28 years, he has been the director of choral activities at Woods Cross High School in Woods Cross, Utah, and the school’s madrigals and concert choir have earned superior ratings at the regional and state level for 27 consecutive years. Hendriksen is chair of the Utah High School Activities Association music committee and a past president of the Utah Music Educators Association.


wadeWilliam Wade BA’82, president and chief executive officer of Asia Satellite Telecommunications Company Limited (AsiaSat) was named the Satellite Executive of the Year in Asia-Pacific, at the 2013 Asia-Pacific Satellite Communications Council Awards held in Hong Kong. The award is given to an individual who has made outstanding contributions and achievements to the satellite industry during the year. AsiaSat, based in Hong Kong, is a commercial operator of communication spacecraft. Wade was appointed president and chief executive officer of AsiaSat in August 2010. Prior to that, he served as the company’s deputy chief executive officer for 16 years. He has more than 26 years of experience in the satellite and cable television industry. Before joining AsiaSat, he was with Hutchison Whampoa, also based in Hong Kong. Earlier, Wade served as executive director for Echosphere International (Echostar), where he established the company’s permanent Asian operations in Singapore while managing its activities in Asia and the Middle East. Wade, who speaks Mandarin, received his bachelor’s degree in humanities from the University of Utah and a master’s degree from the Thunderbird School of Global Management.


walkerJames D. Walker BS’83 MA’87 PhD’88, a scientist in Southwest Research Institute’s mechanical engineering division, has received the 2014 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award, given by the Academy of Medicine, Engineering & Science of Texas. The O’Donnell Awards recognize rising Texas researchers “whose work meets the highest standards of exemplary professional performance, creativity, and resourcefulness,” according to the academy. The award honored Walker’s efforts on the Space Shuttle Columbia accident investigation and NASA’s return-to-flight program, as well as his work that has contributed to the safety of U.S. military forces. Walker’s research centers on personnel protection ranging from vests worn by soldiers and police officers to designs for ground vehicles, the International Space Station, and satellites. Currently, he is the principal investigator and manager of a $5.1 million project to analyze vehicle response to land-mine blasts and other weaponry. Walker received both his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Utah in mathematics.


fazzioThomas G. Fazzio BS’97, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, recently was recognized as a rising scientific star by President Barack Obama with a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. The presidential award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on outstanding scientists and engineers in the early phases of their research careers. Fazzio was one of 102 scientists and engineers chosen for this year’s award. Presidential awardees are selected for their pursuit of innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology and their commitment to community service. A faculty member at Massachusetts since 2010, Fazzio’s research focuses on understanding how DNA is packaged into tiny chromatin structures inside the nucleus of stem cells. He has uncovered previously unknown processes governing how the chromatin structure of a cell’s DNA influences gene expression in stem cells, conferring on these cells the unique ability to replicate and differentiate into many different types of cells. A 2011 Pew Scholar, he received his doctorate from the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 2004 after completing a bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Utah.


levinNaomi E. Levin PhD’08, an assistant professor of earth and planetary science at Johns Hopkins University, has received the 2013 Young Scientist Award (Donath Medal) and a cash prize of $10,000 from the Geological Society of America. The award recognizes outstanding achievement by scientists ages 35 and younger who have contributed to geologic knowledge through original research that marks a major advance in the earth sciences. Levin’s research centers on understanding how terrestrial landscapes and organisms responded to ancient climate change. She has focused on reconstructing environments of about 5 million years ago from sedimentary and isotopic records preserved in the East African rift. Levin has been a faculty member at Johns Hopkins since 2009. She received a doctorate in geology from the University of Utah after completing a master’s degree in geology at the University of Arizona and two bachelor’s degrees, in geology and anthropology, at Stanford University.


watanabeShigeki Watanabe BA’04 PhD’13, a postdoctoral fellow in biology at the University of Utah, has been awarded the Society for Neuroscience’s inaugural Nemko Prize for his accomplishments as a young scientist. The new annual prize recognizes a young scientist’s outstanding doctoral thesis advancing the understanding of brain function. Watanabe works in the laboratory of U biology professor Erik Jorgensen and is studying how nerve cell vesicles—tiny bubbles that contain neurotransmitter chemicals—are recycled after they help send a nerve signal from one nerve cell to the next. His studies also have revealed that vesicles move faster than previously imagined. He received both his bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Utah in biology.


graefningsMaria Graefnings BS’12, one of Sweden’s top female distance skiers, has joined Team Sysarb, the mid-Sweden-based cross country ski team. Graefnings has competed in long and short distance races in both skate and classic disciplines. She has achieved multiple International Ski Federation Cross-Country World Cup starts and two victories in the NCAA. She is the reigning NCAA 5-km freestyle champion, the first NCAA title of her career. Among the many honors Graefnings has received are being named Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association Female Skier of the Year in 2011, FasterSkier. com 2011 Women’s Collegiate Skier of the Year, and Ski Racing magazine’s 2011 Nordic Collegiate Skier of the Year. Graefnings received a bachelor’s degree in exercise and sport science from the University of Utah.

The Mushers Savidis

Justin Savidis was one of the frontrunners about 300 miles into the 2010 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, his first attempt at the grueling trek, when he pulled into McGrath minus one sled dog, Whitey-Lance. It was about minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit at 4 a.m. on that March day when something had spooked the dog. Whitey had backed out of his harness amid a tangle of dogs and had taken off into the harsh wintry Alaskan outback. One by one, other mushers passed Savidis who, bound by race rules and fueled by his wife’s clear directive, was to stay in McGrath until he found Whitey. “I told him, ‘Don’t come back without my dog,’ ” Rebecca Savidis recollects. It had long been her dream to be a musher in the Iditarod, but injury forced her to permanently change course. Her dream instead became manifested in Justin’s first race. The dogs were their children then, as they are now, and when Whitey went missing, there was no question Justin had to find him.

Justin and Rebecca (both BA’02) had met in a French class their senior year at the University of Utah. He was majoring in parks, recreation, and tourism, and she was studying communications. Their first date was climbing rocks up Little Cottonwood Canyon. Less than two weeks later, they were engaged. “You know when you know,” Justin says about meeting Rebecca. “It’s hard to describe.”

A year later, they married at Bridal Veil Falls near Provo, surrounded by mountain bikers, climbers, friends, and dogs. “It was very simple, very much like us,” Rebecca says of the short ceremony.

Until late summer of 2004, they lived in a tiny log cabin in a small mountain community nestled in Tollgate Canyon outside of Park City. They used a snow machine to access their home in the deep winter, occasionally employing their first two dogs, Tenzing and Luna, to haul groceries on a sled to the cabin.

Justin worked as an instructor for at-risk youth at a residential treatment center, teaching photography, whitewater kayaking, and snowboarding. Rebecca was in charge of developing a human resources function for a startup company. “It was a lot of work, long hours, and a blast,” Rebecca recalls. But it was a means toward a goal, a dream in the mind’s eye that had the couple moving to Alaska and Rebecca someday competing in the Iditarod. It was all part of Rebecca’s “master plan,” one that had germinated for years.

Childhood letters to Santa and school reports Rebecca wrote, which her parents saved, are early evidence of her love of dogs and her unexplainable fixation on the Iditarod, a race that starts the first weekend of March and has been run every year since 1973. The race’s ceremonial start is in Anchorage. The next day, dozens of mushers and their teams of 16 dogs take off from Willow for a roughly 1,000-mile trek to Nome, Alaska. The race, which celebrates the state’s long history of dog mushing, follows a trail once used as a sort of highway in the 1800s and early 1900s.

Justin Savidis guides his team of dogs as they run up Front Street to the 2012 Iditarod finish line in Nome, Alaska. (All photos courtesy Rebecca and Justin Savidis)

Justin Savidis guides his team of dogs as they run up Front Street to the 2012 Iditarod finish line in Nome, Alaska.

Although no musher has ever died during the Iditarod, the terrain is often treacherous. Racers and dogs trek over mountain passes, through open water, in between ice jams with blocks as big as houses, through blizzards and whiteout conditions, and across remote landscapes that last for miles without signs of human life between small towns and settlements of Eskimo, Athabaskan, and other Alaskan Natives. The dangers are balanced somewhat by the course’s beauty, particularly at night under crystalline skies without any light pollution, paired with a stunning quiet and calm.

During the years when Rebecca was growing up, women were winning the Iditarod. Libby Riddles was the first woman to win it, in 1985. Susan Butcher then won the race in 1986 and three more times over the next four years.

While Rebecca was a freshman at Idaho’s Ricks College, where her father Ron Haun was the football coach, she was cross-country skiing with a friend one winter day when they met two recreational dogsled teams on a trail near the Montana border. One of the mushers stopped and taught Rebecca a bit about mushing. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s what I’m going to do someday,’ ” she says.

After meeting and marrying Justin, also known as AJ (after the so-called angry Jesus he resembles with a full beard when he’s mad), Step One of her master plan was moving to Alaska. “I called AJ one day and asked him what he thought about applying for jobs in Alaska,” she says. “His response was simple, ‘Yeah, sure, whatever.’ I don’t think he took me seriously.” But Rebecca sent out résumés for both of them, and after a long search, they both received job offers on the same day. They followed Justin’s offer to Anchorage, where he took a job working for the Great Alaska Council of the Boy Scouts of America as a camp administration director.

“We made the decision, then told our families,” Rebecca says. “We are ‘all-in’ type of people. Once the decision was made, we went full force into making the move.” On August 13, 2004, they loaded up a 14-foot trailer with the few belongings they had left after selling stuff they didn’t need, and they drove for six days, living on beef jerky and Snickers bars. Among their first furnishings after moving to Anchorage were a bookshelf, coffee table, and desk that Justin made out of wood from downed trees. (He had once made a promise to Rebecca that he would give her everything he was able to make with his hands.)

Justin and Rebecca Savidis

Justin and Rebecca Savidis

But Willow was where they wanted to be for a run at the Iditarod. Within a year of moving to Anchorage, they found and purchased an old 20-acre fixer-upper homestead in Willow (population less than 3,000), across the street from where the Iditarod officially starts. The house is surrounded by lakes, and in the thawing of a spring “break-up,” their half-mile driveway turns to a sea of mud. In the winter, a resident cow moose at the property has been known to charge and try to stomp on the dogs.

Located about 80 miles north of Anchorage, Willow has two gas stations, one video/liquor store, one restaurant/ bar, and an elementary school. Summers are short in Willow, with lots of mosquitoes, and winters are long, with sustained temperatures of minus 20 to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. “Give me a minus 40 any day over mosquitoes,” says Rebecca, who travels all over Alaska in her job as director of human resources for The Foraker Group, which works to increase the leadership and management skills of professionals and volunteers in Alaska’s nonprofit and tribal organizations.

Once Rebecca and Justin were settled in at the homestead, she befriended a mushing mentor in Willow and began training, learning about the nuances of racing and how to care for and train the dogs. She and Justin accumulated more and more dogs, many of them rescued, and laid the foundation for their thriving Snowhook Kennel outfit, which today has 52 Alaskan Huskies, “which is a nice way of saying that they are mutts,” Rebecca notes. The one thing the dogs all have in common, she adds, is that “they are loved.”

The dogs each have their own houses that Justin maintains. They all get daily hugs. And they’re all fed a stew that includes thawed blocks of meat, chicken, lard, and supplements from a feed store 20 miles away. During winter, the dogs get fresh straw for bedding, and in the weeks before the big race in March, the canine race team consumes upwards of 10,000 calories a day, while Justin increases his own caloric intake by eating more ice cream.

“They put their dogs first,” says Philip Walters, a middle-school band teacher who in 2004 moved from Maryland to Alaska. Walters has used the Savidises’ dogs in qualifying races to pursue his own Iditarod dreams for 2015. “They’re incredible with their dog care,” he says. “They love their dogs. They’re basically sacrificing everything for their dogs. I don’t know how they make ends meet.”

The couple take it in stride as part of achieving their larger goals. But along the path of her master plan, Rebecca’s Iditarod dream literally shattered when she fractured several vertebrae in her back in 2004 after falling off a four-wheeler while training dogs. By 2008, after several more “dog-related” back injuries, she could no longer gut it out, needing emergency back surgery to address a shattered lumbar vertebra. “I have very expensive hardware holding me up,” she says. The sport, she notes, is not “gentle” on the mushers, and the learning curve is “straight up.”

Luna & Belle Starr

Belle Starr, left, keeps watch with Luna, the matriarch and mascot of the Savidises’ Snowhook Kennel.

After the surgery, an even more painful reality set in. “I had to have an honest conversation with myself,” Rebecca says. “If something happened [during a race], I could be paralyzed and put the dogs at risk. That’s not fair to the dogs.” Rebecca and her husband decided to switch roles, and the Iditarod became a “shared dream,” with Justin taking over as musher, while she continues to manage logistics behind the scenes.

Justin came to the intimidating Iditarod start line equipped with a figurative spine of steel. He had grown up with three sisters in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Their family worked in cattle ranching and construction. Justin was handling horses, herding cows, and working with tools by middle school. Meanwhile, his interest in challenging outdoor sports such as rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and snowboarding grew and grew. “You name it, I’ve done it,” he says. During college, he worked for a University of Utah-run camp for at-risk youths, leading them into the Uinta and Wasatch mountains, among other wilderness locations in Utah.

All those experiences had prepared him for that first try at the Iditarod in 2010, namely by helping him develop the coping skills that go with getting out of jams on your own. “He is the toughest person I know, mentally and physically,” Rebecca says. The 6-foot 3-inch Justin cuts wood all summer for the long winters in Willow. He keeps the homestead humming in the harshest conditions. His expressed attitude toward everyday life in Willow is, “No matter what, you’re going to get through and continue on,” an approach that has served him well during the Iditarod.

Working his way toward that shared dream, he began by competing in qualifying races. He continued to work his full-time job, knowing he’d be competing in the 2010 Iditarod against people who do nothing but train for it the entire year.

Then, when that first Iditarod came, Whitey disappeared, about a third of the way into the race. Craig Medred, a reporter with the Alaska Dispatch, wrote on March 12, 2010, “No sadder sight can be found in this Kuskokwim River community than Justin Savidis wandering into the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race checkpoint to check for word on ‘Whitey.’ ”

Justin had been one of the leaders in the race when Whitey went missing. For five days, Justin searched on foot, by snow machine, and in a plane provided by the Alaska State Police. Two trappers in the area found Whitey’s tracks, which were paired with paw prints of a lynx and wolves. Eventually, the last musher passed through McGrath.

Justin Savidis plays with the dogs at home in Willow, a town that is also the Iditarod’s starting point.

Justin Savidis plays with the dogs at home in Willow, a town that is also the Iditarod’s starting point.

Meanwhile, word had spread among Iditarod watchers all over the world of Whitey’s disappearance, and even prayer groups in New York and West Virginia were asking for the dog’s safe return. “Whatever they did worked,” Rebecca says. Justin received a call that a resident in McGrath had spotted a very “skittish” Whitey on the edge of town. Justin borrowed a snow machine and raced to find Whitey cornered by searchers and about to bolt. But a little salmon and patience helped coax Whitey into Justin’s arms, which is right where he stayed, next to the pilot of a small plane as they headed back to Willow to join the rest of the team that had flown home the previous day.

It had been too late to continue the race. “Not finishing haunted us,” Rebecca says. As soon as the scratch was made, there was no question they would make another Iditarod attempt.

Justin competed the following year and finished in 12 days, six hours, eight minutes, and three seconds. Musher John Baker won that race in what would become the fastest-ever winning time, at just under eight days and 19 hours. Justin went on to win another race, the 300-mile Don Bowers Memorial Dog Race, in both 2011 and 2012. One of his two humanitarian awards came from that 2011 race. In the 2013 Northern Lights 300, Justin also took home the equivalent humanitarian award called “For the Love of Dogs.” Justin and Rebecca consider those awards to be bigger honors than winning the races, because they recognize team owners for their exemplary treatment of their dogs.

Justin also finished the Iditarod in 2012, and in 2013, he completed the course in just a little over 11 days. The Savidises’ total prize earnings to date amount to $3,147, which means they’ll again rely on sponsors to get them to the starting line of the next Iditarod.

And Rebecca may have found a way to get herself back on a sled. On February 13, 2014, as a training run leading up to Iditarod, she will be the second musher in the Denali Doubles Invitational Sled Dog Race, a 265-mile race from Cantwell to Paxson. She’ll be tethered on a second sled behind Justin, being pulled by a 20-dog team. “I can’t wait,” Rebecca says. “We want to be as competitive as possible in this race—it’s not our way to do anything less.”

Stephen Speckman is a journalist and photographer based in Salt Lake City and a frequent contributor to Continuum.

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Campus Notebook

U Center in Montana Will Focus on Conservation


(Photo by Hattie Macleod)

The University of Utah now has 16 acres of land and a renovated former ghost town in Montana’s Centennial Valley that will be used for courses in environmental conservation and related interdisciplinary study.

The U’s College of Humanities for the past three years has hosted pilot programs and workshops at the Environmental Humanities Education Center in Lakeview, Montana. In October, the University announced that the property’s owners, John and Melody Taft, and their friends Bill and Sandi Nicholson, who had helped support the renovations, were generously giving it to the U. The newly renamed Taft-Nicholson Environmental Humanities Education Center is now a fully approved center operated by the University of Utah.

Photo by Jonathan Royce

(Photo by Jonathan Royce)

“We are truly grateful to the Tafts and Nicholsons as well as to the Conservation Endowment Fund for creating a center that allows all those who visit a rare opportunity to explore an environment with incredibly diverse ecosystems,” says Robert Newman, dean of the College of Humanities. “This gift represents a tremendous resource for the University of Utah as an education center for environmental research and transformative pedagogy.”

Melody and John Taft, a retired developer from California, years ago had built a cabin in the Centennial Valley and worked to help create conservation easements to preserve the land. To date, they have been the catalyst for successfully protecting more than 90 percent of the valley. As part of their conservation efforts, they also wanted to create a world-class education center. A dozen years ago, they purchased the nearby ghost town of Lakeview, located on the former stagecoach trail that cuts through the valley and leads into West Yellowstone, and set about renovating it. Sandi and Bill Nicholson, a former president of the multilevel marketing company Amway, also owned property nearby and helped contribute to the restoration. Together, the two couples have invested millions of dollars restoring and furnishing buildings and installing infrastructure and additional facilities so the town could function as an education center.

The Tafts approached colleges in Montana about creating the center, and when those talks didn’t pan out, the couple approached the University of Utah. While the U will own and operate the new center, other colleges also will continue to offer courses there, and the center will serve nonprofit organizations and private groups wishing to host programs that combine the humanities, arts, and environmental studies. The facilities include housing and meeting spaces for workshops, research activities, private events, and corporate retreats.

Photo by Mary Tull

(Photo by Mary Tull)

Located north and east of the Continental Divide along the Montana-Idaho border, the Centennial Valley is near the western edge of Yellowstone National Park and contains the largest wetland complex in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. The programs and workshops at the center provide an innovative educational experience that introduces students and visitors to the ecology, history, wildlife, and conservation value of the area. “The center allows students to go beyond the traditional classroom experience,” says Mary Tull, the center’s director. “Here, students take their classroom knowledge into the field, where they can apply what they’re learning to practical solutions for real-world ecological problems.”

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Huntsman Institute Expands to Focus on Cancer in Children

The University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute will create a 220,000-square-foot addition to house research laboratories that will study cancer in children and families and seek to develop treatments.

The new cancer research facility is projected to cost $100 million and will house laboratories and technology that will allow Huntsman researchers to study many more aspects of cancers that affect families, including the three leading causes of disease death in children: leukemia, sarcoma, and brain cancer. The new addition will be named the Primary Children’s and Families’ Research Center in honor of one of the principal donors of the expansion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reflecting the church’s historical emphasis on children and families .


Karen Huntsman and Jon M. Huntsman

“From an empty hillside to one of the world’s leading cancer research and treatment facilities, our vision has always been to improve cancer outcomes for children and adults through innovative research,” says Jon M. Huntsman, Sr., the institute’s founder and principal benefactor. “To fulfill that dream, our world-class researchers need more space and equipment. Huntsman Cancer Institute’s research labs are at full capacity, yet patients all over the world are looking to us for new treatments to save their lives. This new addition will double our research space.”

The institute’s expansion comes at a time when the incidence and prevalence of cancers in all age groups—including children—is increasing, while funding for cancer research is on the decline. “Jon has for more than 20 years brought to life his vision for exceptional cancer research and care,” says U President David W. Pershing. “We are grateful that he has entrusted the University of Utah to carry out that vision.”

Programming and design for the new, six-floor expansion is already under way, and construction is slated to begin in 2014. The addition, which is the institute’s fourth major construction phase, is projected to extend from the southeast corner of the research arm of the original building. “Building on our strong foundation of achievement in cancer genetics, risk assessment, and prevention, the new facility will allow us to expand in areas of critical need and will dramatically accelerate our progress,” says Mary Beckerle, the institute’s chief executive officer and director.

Screen Shot 2013-10-18 at 2.18.44 PMContinuum Offers iPad App
for Digital Reading

has launched a new app that allows iPad owners to read the online edition of the magazine on their tablet computers.The app includes all the articles, images, and multimedia features that the magazine’s website offers, all optimized for viewing on a tablet device.

To download the free app, simply go to the App Store in iTunes and search for “Continuum Magazine.”

University of Utah’s Pac-12 Move Helps Economy
An ongoing study shows the University of Utah’s move to the Pac-12 Conference in 2011 continues to generate substantial economic gains as well as improved perceptions of the University and the state.

According to the study, out-of-state football fans attending four Pac-12 football games at the U in 2012 spent an estimated $2.3 million on travel, food, and lodging. Television revenues brought in an additional $8 million. Total revenues increased $1.8 million over the inaugural 2011 season, and are projected to support 275 jobs—generating earnings of $6.6 million and state tax revenue of approximately $660,000.

The study, which is being conducted over multiple years by the U’s Center for Public Policy & Administration and the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, also showed that the vast majority of visiting fans had a good experience during their stay. Of the fans polled, 87 percent said they were treated well or very well by Utah fans.

Asked if their impressions of the University had changed during their visit, 43 percent said they had, and 98 percent of those say it changed for the better. Further, 62 percent said they were more likely to visit in the future because of their experience at the U.

Supercomputer Research Focuses on Clean Coal Energy


A computer simulation shows coal combustion inside a proposed carbon-capturing power plant. (Photo courtesy U Institute for Clean and Secure Energy)

University of Utah engineers will use a five-year, $16 million grant to conduct supercomputer simulations aimed at developing a prototype of a low-cost, low-emissions coal power plant that could electrify a midsized city.

The goal of this “predictive science” effort is to help power poor nations while also reducing greenhouse emissions in developed ones.

The grant by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration is enabling University researchers Philip J. Smith and Martin Berzins, along with U President David W. Pershing, to establish the Carbon Capture Multidisciplinary Simulation Center.

All three are professors in the U’s College of Engineering.

The researchers will use supercomputers to simulate and predict performance for a proposed 350-megawatt boiler system that would burn pulverized coal with pure oxygen rather than air.

The design, which hasn’t yet been built, would capture carbon dioxide released during power generation.

U Team Helps Excavate New Species of Tyrannosaur

A remarkable new species of tyrannosaur has been unearthed in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, in southern Utah. The huge carnivore lived 70 million to 95 million years ago, during the Late Cretaceous Period, and belongs to the same evolutionary branch as the Tyrannosaurus rex.


(Photo by Mark Loewen)

The discovery was announced in October in the open-access scientific journal PLoS ONE and unveiled on permanent exhibit in the Past Worlds Gallery at the Natural History Museum of Utah. The new species, Lythronax argestes, had a short narrow snout, a wide back of the skull, and forward-oriented eyes. Lythronax translates as “king of gore,” and argestes refers to the dinosaur’s geographic location in the American Southwest. Previously, paleontologists had thought this type of wide-skulled tyrannosaurid only appeared 70 million years ago, whereas Lythronax shows it had evolved at least 10 million years earlier.

The study, funded in large part by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Science Foundation, was led by Mark Loewen PhD’09, a research associate at the Natural History Museum of Utah who is also a U adjunct assistant professor of geology and geophysics. The skeleton was discovered by BLM employee Scott Richardson and excavated by a team from the museum and the national monument.

World Trade Center Piece Comes to Fort Douglas

Twin-Towers-PieceThe Fort Douglas Military Museum, housed on the University of Utah campus, is the first location to acquire one of nine pieces of foundation saved from the World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The 4.5-ton piece of concrete, rock, and steel rebar is the centerpiece of the museum’s new Utah’s Fallen Warrior Memorial, and Utah Governor Gary Herbert participated in a dedication ceremony in October.

The artifact will be housed in the new Fort Douglas Memorial Park, behind the museum. The park’s development was initiated by Park City resident Raette Belcher. “After meeting several Gold Star mothers, those whose sons or daughters lost their lives in military service, my heart was touched, and I set out to bring this memorial to Utah,” Belcher says.

In addition to the twin towers artifact, the park will feature a six-statue exhibit designed to salute women in military service. This exhibit is scheduled to be completed in early 2014.

University’s Marriott Library Helps Digitize Pioneer History

PioneerHistoryAs part of the Utah Academic Library Consortium, the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah, in conjunction with the Mountain West Digital Library, has launched a project to digitize historical items from Western settlers.

The program, called Pioneers In Your Attic, will examine 19th-century overland migration from every aspect: transportation, trail and camp life, diseases, medicine and surgery, politics and government, gold rush, religion, company organization, path finding, and settlers’ encounters with American Indians. Wherever possible, the project seeks to study perspectives from nontraditional viewpoints.

The goal is to create an extensive online collection that will be available free of charge to the public. Scanning sessions were held this past fall in public libraries across the state. The families who own the materials retain ownership and receive high quality digital files of their family materials. Items have ranged from single letters and diaries to photographs to substantial collections of correspondences between pioneers and their families. Interested individuals can either make an appointment with the library or stop by with the materials they would like to include.