Of Multitasking and Medicine

Dr. Vivian S. Lee doesn’t use an alarm clock. She wakes up on her own around 6:30 a.m. and grabs her laptop. Balancing it on the stationary handles of her stair stepper, she answers email as she tries to ignore that she is exercising. She and her husband, Benedict Kingsbury, an international law professor at New York University and a visiting law professor at the University of Utah, then get their four daughters ready for school. That “mostly entails making sure their teeth are brushed and they have suitable (sort-of matching) clothes,” as well as putting together four meals for breakfast and four “reasonably health-packed” lunches, she says. (She has no full-time domestic help, but relies on a couple of babysitters.) After a day of back-to-back meetings at the U, she returns home, and she and her family sit down for a dinner Lee prepared over the weekend and pulls out of the freezer. Then she reads bedtime stories to the children and tucks them in for the night. It’s “just one day in the life of the SVP,” says Lee in a blog she also finds time to write almost weekly for the University of Utah’s Health Sciences.

“SVP” refers to her job as the U’s senior vice president of Health Sciences, one role in her triple title that also includes chief executive officer of University of Utah Health Care and dean of the School of Medicine. Any one aspect of her life and work could be overwhelming. But Lee delights in the hectic pace of bringing change to the nation’s health care industry. She smiles at the intricate challenges she is tackling as a leader of a $2.4 billion integrated health sciences system, and she revels in figuring out what she sees as puzzles waiting to be solved.

“I’m taking it on step by step,” says Lee, who came to the University of Utah in the summer of 2011. “I don’t feel overwhelmed. There’s a phased pattern to it. You can’t change everything at once. There’s some foundational work that first has to be done before you bring in the next level. There is a logic to it and kind of a flow—even though it does feel like a lot sometimes.”

In her job at the U, she oversees a health care system of four hospitals, multiple specialty centers including the John Moran Eye Center, a network of 10 community clinics, more than 1,400 board certified physicians, and five colleges, including the School of Medicine, the colleges of Nursing, Pharmacy, and Health, and beginning this year, the School of Dentistry—the first new academic dental school in the nation in more than 25 years. “We’re all thinking together, ‘How do we create the best academic health care system in the country?’ ” she says.

She already has achieved several hefty goals since her arrival at the U. The School of Dentistry enrolled its first cohort of students this fall and named its first permanent dean. The U also has a new dean of the College of Nursing, and Lee recruited from Harvard University a new chair of the Department of Surgery. More students will be able to enroll in the School of Medicine, thanks to a law the governor signed in June that expands the school’s class size from 82 to 122 students by 2015. And the College of Pharmacy dedicated the $75 million L.S. Skaggs Pharmacy Institute in April.


Vivian Lee, shown here with U medical students, says the U must train professionals for a changing future. (Photo by Kristan Jacobsen)

Vivian Lee, shown here with University of Utah medical students, says the U must train professionals for a changing future. (Photo by Kristan Jacobsen)

Dr. Dean Y. Li, associate vice president for research and chief scientific officer for University Health Care, attributes Lee’s success to “energy, vision, excellence, and what we call B-HAG—Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Skin in the game. She’s willing to work harder at what you’re supposed to be doing.” Li says he often finds himself communicating with Lee by email at 2 in the morning. “She’s a little crazy. Right? I mean, she has how many kids and all of this. But she just wants to move, move, move.”

Lee grew up in Norman, Oklahoma. Her parents, both faculty members at the University of Oklahoma, showed her that any challenge can be overcome and anything is possible. They had immigrated from China when they were graduate students, both coming to Berkeley, California, in the early 1960s “with just a few dollars in their pockets,” Lee says, and to this day, “refuse to retire.” Her father is a professor of electrical engineering, while her mother, a former dean of Oklahoma’s School of Public Health, teaches statistics and epidemiology.

Lee was born in New Jersey, where her parents were working at Bell Laboratories. Following Chinese tradition, her grandparents bestowed her with her middle name, Shu-Ching. “It comes from a Chinese poem, and alludes to the clarity and light of the moon,” she says.

During those years after her family moved to Oklahoma, her childhood was also filled with lots of Americana. She admittedly watched a “boatload of TV” as a child and was raised on “that whole afternoon rundown of Gilligan’s Island and Brady Bunch and Star Trek,” she says. While she and her younger sister were expected to do well in school, her mother and father were “not pushy parents by any means,” Lee recollects. “They really let me do what I wanted to do. I had a carefree childhood, pretty unstructured.”

As a young student in Norman’s public schools, Lee was already interested in science and math. “Much to the credit of my parents, I was never told that there was any reason why I shouldn’t, and so I was completely oblivious to gender biases and those kinds of things,” she says. “I think sometimes kids might be told or have the sense that they can’t do things, and I was just never told that.”

Her parents encouraged her to explore. “I think I am internally motivated, and I attribute that to my parents just letting me do whatever I wanted to do, and then eventually I got really interested in some more serious things,” she says.

Starting in seventh grade, at the request of one of her teachers, her parents also shuttled her to Norman Regional Hospital, where she spent her Saturday mornings shadowing a local doctor, Hal Belknap, on rounds. Lee now credits Belknap with not only sparking her interest in medicine but for showing her the importance of connecting with others, whether treating patients or leading organizations.

After high school, Lee attended Harvard-Radcliffe College and graduated at age 19. She applied for—and won—a Rhodes Scholarship and went on to Oxford University, where she met her future husband, and graduated with her doctorate in medical engineering at age 22. Three years later, she completed her medical doctorate from Harvard Medical School.


Utah Governor Gary Herbert in June signed the bill that allows the U to expand the Medical School’s class size. (Photo by Kristan Jacobsen)

Utah Governor Gary Herbert in June signed the bill that allows the University of Utah to expand the Medical School’s class size. (Photo by Kristan Jacobsen)

At 30, she finished her residency in diagnostic radiology at Duke University. At 39, she completed an MBA at New York University’s Stern School of Business while working at NYU and after giving birth to her third daughter. That year, she was among Crain’s New York Business magazine’s “40 under 40: New York’s Rising Stars.”

In New York, where she and her family made their home for 14 years, they spent weekends bicycling around Manhattan and visiting the city’s museums, zoos, and aquariums, while she spent her days helping scientists advance their work as well as investigating new models for understanding health care delivery in her job as inaugural vice dean for science, senior vice president, and chief scientific officer at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. Her own scientific career also advanced as she became a leader in magnetic resonance imaging, with multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health and a flourishing lab. She also wrote a textbook. “I was very happy,” she says. “I was not looking at all.”

But a few things kept needling her. Not only was she impressed by the University of Utah’s reputation as a leader in genetics research and by the work of Nobel Prize-winner Mario Capecchi, she was keenly aware of U Health Care’s No. 1 ranking in 2010 by the University HealthSystem Consortium for quality and accountability in patient care, above “the likes of Hopkins and Stanford,” she says. The same year that the University of Utah topped the list, NYU was ranked No. 10, the only New York academic medical center to make the top 10. “We were very proud of it. I saw that list frequently. Our PR guys really drove that home throughout the city,” Lee says with a laugh. “And every time I saw the list, the University of Utah was No. 1.” At the same time, she had been learning about Intermountain Health Care. “Between the University and Intermountain, Salt Lake City seemed like a place really pushing the envelope of health care,” says Lee.

She had those “data points” in mind when headhunters from the U came calling. They didn’t have to do much convincing.

Lee was especially lured by the opportunity to lead an integrated medical center, in which the academic, research, and clinical sides all report through her office. Only about a dozen academic medical centers in the nation are structured that way, even though, Lee says, such integration brings opportunity for synergy and partnership across the entire health sciences system. She sees that integration as the key to broader health care reform, by focusing efforts on improving the quality of patient care while reining in costs.

Dr. Darrell Kirch, president of the Association of American Medical Colleges, was one of the health care leaders who encouraged Lee to consider the job at the U. “[She] is well suited to transform medical education, research, and patient care—both at the University of Utah and on the national stage,” he says. “Vivian embodies the vision of leadership we need across academic medicine. In a word, she is a ‘multiplier’ who increases the potential of those around her to solve our health care system’s most pressing challenges.”

Once in Utah, Lee was awed by the state’s beauty. “Plus, I was struck by the people I met and by the culture here—the sort of attitude that ‘Well, we can do it. If you’ve got some good ideas, we’ll figure out a way to get it done.’ ” She has plenty of ideas on her list. “I am often asked what has surprised me the most about the job, and one of them is simply just how much opportunity there really is here,” Lee says.


Vivian Lee, right, visits the Huntsman Cancer Institute’s infusion center, part of the U Health Care system, where nurse Brandi Welker helps patient Jay Holt. (Photo by August Miller)

Vivian Lee, right, visits the Huntsman Cancer Institute’s infusion center, part of the U Health Care system, where nurse Brandi Welker helps patient Jay Holt. (Photo by August Miller)

At present, she has in mind three main endeavors for the U’s health care system. She and her team are focused on leading the transformation of academic health care, which includes strategically and innovatively changing health care delivery, advancing science and discovery, and training professionals for a changing future. Success will depend on maximizing the integration of the University’s research, educational, and clinical strengths, she says. She aims to further the Utah Genome Project, which was launched in 2012 to investigate the genetic signatures of diseases and drug responses in large families and which has the potential to transform personalized medicine and accelerate drug discovery. And she wants to expand the U’s Center for Medical Innovation, which encourages invention by students and faculty.

Lee also sees advantages in collaboration between health sciences and the broader University. For example, faculty members at the U’s David Eccles School of Business are “partnering with us to train our faculty and administrative staff in principles of lean management and continuous quality improvement for our hospitals, clinics, and academic departments,” she says. Students and faculty members also are working with colleagues in engineering, physics, and computer science, among others, to develop better technologies, including devices and software. “I love the energy that comes from teams of people working together to come up with ideas that are better than the sum of the parts,” she says.

In preparing the U for reforms mandated under the federal Affordable Care Act, which takes effect next year, Lee and her team are developing new infrastructure, information technology tools, and methods of delivery. Her efforts to help the U increase the Medical School’s class size this year in part were aimed at addressing the physician shortage in Utah, as the demand for health care will only grow under the new federal law. Lee expects the University of Utah to emerge as a model for the country as health care systems evolve to focus on high-quality, low-cost, and patient-centered accessible care.

“She’s willing to let people try new things, and she’s very engaged in trying to look at the health care system and bring us through these times of challenge and transition,” says Dr. Carrie Byington, vice dean of Academic Affairs, whose position was created by Lee after she recognized the need for faculty to develop cross-skills in research, education, and clinical care. Dr. Sean Mulvihill, CEO of the University of Utah Medical Group, says Lee is willing to raise fundamental questions. “She’s not afraid to ask, ‘What should we look like? What’s our role in health care delivery? What’s our role in science and discovery, in medicine, and how can we make the most contribution?’ ”

Associate vice president Li, in the School of Medicine, says it’s a responsibility that Lee takes on at “all hours of the day and all hours of the night,” and he notes that “the hand she was dealt is actually perfect for her personality.”

Lee says her plan is to keep forging ahead. That means fixing those meals for her family and taking her children hiking, biking, and skiing. It also means delivering health care in a timely and cost-effective way, working on new models to transform the industry, and leading an integrated health sciences system into the future.

“My typical day? No such thing,” she says. “Right now, I just want to help move us forward each day so that we can make the contributions to patients and to society that we are so well suited and well positioned to make.”

Kim M. Horiuchi is an associate editor of Continuum.

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Lessons Along the Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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At Home in the Trees

Nalini Nadkarni, who describes herself as “a small brown woman,” has been pulled aside in airport security lines a couple dozen times as she has traveled the globe. For these special occasions, she has perfected what she calls her “Trees and Toiletries Lecture.”

As Transportation Security Administration agents rummage through her tote bag to make sure she’s not carrying any suspicious items, she begins her spiel. That lipstick? It gets its smooth texture from shea butter, derived from the seeds of a West African tree. The nail polish? Glossy because of tree fibers mixed with nitrocellulose. Those bandage strips? The adhesive on them comes from gum arabic, an exudate from trees belonging to the pea family.

She continues her lecture until the agents have finished searching—because even in the most unlikely situations, an alert scientist can always find an opportunity to talk about the topic she loves.

Nadkarni is a forest ecologist and, since the fall of 2011, the director of the University of Utah’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education. This is her mission now: to draw more K-12 teachers to science and math, to improve instruction on the college level, and to bring science and math to everyone else—to prisons and churches and halftime at Pac-12 football games.

The freedom to create such an ambitious center is what lured Nadkarni to the U, despite her initial reluctance. Utah, after all, is hardly the tropics, where she and her biologist husband, Jack Longino, have done the bulk of their field research. It’s not even the mossy, forested Pacific Northwest, where the couple had spent the previous two decades. Called “the queen of canopy research” by the National Geographic Society, Nadkarni is at home in the kind of lush foliage found hundreds of feet above the floor of the world’s rain and cloud forests. Utah, by comparison, is dry and sparse.

But in the summer of 2011, the couple packed up their labs and their furniture and moved to Salt Lake City, eager to start a new life at a research university dedicated to public outreach. In her office on the second floor of the University of Utah’s Aline Wilmot Skaggs Biology Building, she installed two hanging swings. If you climb onto them, look out the big windows, and squint, it’s the next best thing to being in a tree.

Her passion for science began in the towering maples in her parents’ front yard in Bethesda, Maryland. The trees were Nalini’s oasis, a place where she could read and watch birds and dream of tying a spool of thread to a squirrel’s tail so she could measure its journey across the branches. As she writes in her 2008 book Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees, “Those perches aloft were my refuge from the world of homework, parental directives, and the ground-bound humdrum of the everyday.”

Her mother had been raised an Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn, New York, and her father had been raised a Hindu in Thane, India. The family lived an Indian lifestyle in suburban Washington, D.C., sleeping on mats on the floor, eating without utensils, and subtly expecting more from Nalini’s three brothers than they did from her and her sister, she recollects. Trees were the place where Nalini could both escape and excel.

By the time she was nine years old, she figured she had learned something the rest of the world needed to know; so she wrote her first book, a hand-written, stapled tome called Be Among the Birds: My Guide to Climbing Trees.

Nalini Nadkarni, a forest ecologist, directs the University’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education.

Nalini Nadkarni, a forest ecologist, directs the University’s Center for Science and Mathematics Education.

By the time she entered college at Brown University in 1972, she was torn between careers in biology and dance. When she graduated, she wrangled two disparate internships: six months at the camp of a beetle taxonomist in Papua, New Guinea, followed by six months with a modern dance troupe in Paris. She came back home and drove a taxicab in Maryland while she sorted out her plans. She loved both science and dance—but science won out.

It was “the intellectual piece” that she found so enticing about field biology, she says. And the beetle taxonomist was 70 years old, proof that she’d be able to have a long career.

She enrolled in graduate school in the University of Washington’s College of Forest Resources, and it was during her first summer’s field course—in the tropical forests of Costa Rica—that she found herself drawn to what was so tantalizingly out of reach, hundreds of feet above the dark under-story. How did plants live up in the forest canopy without connection to the soil, she wondered. Were there insects and animals that spent their whole lives up there?

Her instructors had no answers for her, because almost no one had been up in the canopy to study it. She itched to get up there herself, but, as she writes, “Most of these trees have unnervingly tall trunks, without lower branches, and can sport spines, biting insects, and the occasional lurking snake. The tree-climbing skills I had developed in the benevolent trees of my childhood were useless.”

Everything changed when she met a student who was applying mountain-climbing techniques to reach the highest treetops. Suddenly, literally and figuratively, her world opened up.

She came back to graduate school intent on researching the differences between the temperate rain forest canopy of Olympic National Park and the tropical cloud forest canopy of Costa Rica. But when she approached her grad committee with her enthusiastic plan, they balked, reminding her there was plenty still to be discovered on the ground. So Nadkarni applied for, and received, a $50,000 grant on her own.

The result was a first-ever study of these forests’ epiphytes, the canopy-dwelling plants—orchids, ferns, mosses—that cover every available trunk and branch of rain and cloud forest trees. Her discovery, a cover article in the prestigious journal Science when she was still a student, was that these epiphytes are able to trap nutrients from rainfall, eventually forming a rich mat of soil underneath them as they cling to the tree. She also discovered that trees develop aerial roots to absorb these nutrients from the mats.

She has spent her research career since then studying the canopy, helping to classify and categorize epiphytes, learning how they interact with the rest of the forest, and beginning to learn what effect humans are having on them.

The first time Longino saw Nadkarni, she was bouncing down a road in Costa Rica. He was a University of Texas graduate student studying ants in a remote field site in the lowlands and was part of a field excursion to the cloud forest. They both say it was love at first sight.

After a few days, he had to return to his field site, located a day or two away in one of the most remote places in Costa Rica, but they continued to see each other as often as they could. Once, when the bush plane didn’t come on time, Longino hiked 20 miles across the rain forest to catch a bus to another airport to catch a plane that would take him to the village bus that would take him to the rickety school bus that would finally get him to Nalini.

Nalini Nadkarni speaks to prisoners at the Stafford gallery with more photos. Creek Correction Center in Aberdeen, Washington. (Photo by Benj and Sarah Drummond)

Nalini Nadkarni speaks to prisoners at the Stafford gallery with more photos. Creek Correction Center in Aberdeen, Washington. (Photo by Benj and Sarah Drummond)

Later, after they were married, he named an ant after her, and later still named ants after their two children. Asked if Nalini’s ant is beautiful, Longino—who is now a professor of biology at the University of Utah and a well-known taxonomist—admits “you’d have to be an ant lover to call any ant beautiful.” But her ant is a canopy ant. “And it’s rare.”

He says his first impression of his wife is still true today: a woman with energy, earnestness, and charisma. “It’s almost an aura,” says Longino, who is not typically a man who gushes. “And there’s not a political bone in her body. The normal politics that go on in any kind of organization, she’s somehow above it all. There’s nothing self-serving about anything she does. I watch her give talks, and it’s like people are ready to give their lives over to her. It’s some kind of Nalini evangelism.”

The search committee for the U’s Center for Science and Math Education was similarly smitten by Nadkarni. “She has this infectious enthusiasm that’s really hard to ignore,” says U biology professor Don Feener. “Her skills at outreach I think are really built into her bones.” Plus, adds U Interim Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Michael Hardman, “she’s one of the most respected plant biologists in the world.”

Nadkarni laments the widening gap between both nature and humans, and science and society. “People who do not have awareness or the understanding of the approach of science lack tools that can help them make good decisions about important issues such as human health and the environment,” she says. Science provides a way to take the glut of data and “interpret it wisely,” she says, “rather than basing decisions on religion or emotions, traditions or being swayed by political pressure.”

Most science researchers, though, “live in the country of Academia,” with their own customs and scientific language, she says. So she both encourages and instructs them on how to become “ambassadors” to the non-science community at large. Nadkarni herself has taken dancers, musicians, and Washington state legislators into the canopy, and has brought rap singers and urban youth together in the forest to make their own beats about trees.

Last year, she teamed up with the U’s Athletics Department to develop “Sports ’n Science,” a program designed to explain the science behind sports. During last fall’s football season, they launched their first home-game Jumbotron video, “The Science of the Punt,” featuring U math professor Peter Trapa and Ute punter Sean Sellwood discussing velocity vectors, angles, and psi. The video is now being shown at other Pac-12 schools.

And then, there is Treetop Barbie. Nadkarni first created the makeover of the iconic, perfectly coiffed fashionista in 1996. Students and volunteers round up the used dolls from thrift stores, dress them in climbing gear, binoculars and a hard hat, and sell them on the International Canopy Network website to raise funds for canopy research.

After an article about Treetop Barbie appeared in The New York Times in 2003, the doll’s manufacturer, Mattel, Inc. complained—until Nadkarni convinced them that 1) the money raised was for a good cause, and 2) she knows a lot of reporters.

Her most ambitious outreach has been to prisoners. In 2004, she began a collaboration with Dan Pacholke, then head of a small corrections center in Washington and now director of prisons for the state. Pacholke, who describes Nadkarni as “electric,” had already been interested in making the correctional facility more environmentally sustainable. With Nadkarni’s help, they were soon bringing in scientists to give lectures and hiring prisoners to compost, grow an organic garden, and raise endangered frogs, butterflies, and prairie plants to repopulate threatened ecosystems.

The prisoners were also hired to research the best ways to grow mosses— the same epiphytes that the floral industry was stripping illegally from the rain forest and that take multiple decades to regenerate in the wild.

Pacholke reports that these work opportunities have given the prisoners a sense of “meaning and purpose beyond themselves,” and although hard data on the program’s effect awaits long-term studies, indications are that the prisoners involved are less prone to act out.

With Washington’s Sustainability in Prisons Project as a model, Nadkarni this spring began the Utah Science in Prisons Project, with the goal of bringing science education, job training, conservation projects, and environmentally sustainable operations to correctional facilities in Utah. The project includes a lecture series at the Utah State Prison on science and math topics, featuring her colleagues from the U. Nadkarni has also been working with researchers and community partners who would like to involve prisoners in conservation research and restoration projects. And she is talking with prison authorities about developing sustainability projects at the correctional facilities.

She’s comfortable in front of prisoners and loggers, professors and TV cameras, but to see Nadkarni in her element, it’s best to watch a 1999 National Geographic special called Heroes of the High Frontier (a clip appears in her 2009 TED talk). There she is, outfitted with ropes and a harness, hoisting herself up an impossibly tall giant strangler fig in Costa Rica. Eager and free.

Fifty years after she began climbing the maple trees in her parents’ yard, this is what she still loves: the arms of a tree holding her, the mystery of nature about to unfold. She and Jack held their own private, unofficial wedding ceremony in a silk-cotton tree in Costa Rica. And someday, when she’s about to die, this is what she’ll want, she says: to be hoisted up into a tropical canopy and strapped to a tree branch, left to sway until she’s gone.

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

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Nadkarni on life science in prison:

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Association News

Photo courtesy Derrick Fox

Photo courtesy Derrick Fox

Full Circle

Spring Awards honor former U football player Steve Smith, a U advisor, and a U alum.

Former University of Utah student and current NFL star Steve Smith ex’01 has focused on giving time and attention to worthy causes in recent years. For that, and his athletics accomplishments, the U Alumni Association honored him with its Par Excellence Award at its 2013 Spring Awards Banquet.

Smith, who has played for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers for the past 12 years, received the award in April. The Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Board presents the award annually to a former student who attended the U within the last 15 years, in recognition of his or her outstanding professional achievements and service to the community as well as the University of Utah.

Smith grew up in Los Angeles and was raised in a single-parent home by his mother. He was forced to grow up quickly, and he looked to sports as an outlet and a way to have a different kind of future. He started playing football in middle school, where he played baseball and ran track, as well. In high school, he began to focus on football.

He attended Santa Monica College, drawing attention from universities in surrounding states. He took his first college recruiting trip to the University of Utah and soon committed to coming to the U.

He met his wife, Angie, during his first year at the U, and they were married during the bye week in October of 2000. The following April, he was drafted in the third round to the Carolina Panthers. He started his rookie season as a punt/kickoff returner, and over the years, has become one of the best wide receivers in franchise history. He helped the Panthers to the Super Bowl in 2003, and in 2011, he was elected to his fifth Pro Bowl.

Smith is a dedicated husband and father. He also has enjoyed helping good causes. Early in his career, he created a coat drive in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the less fortunate. Following the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, he made a substantial contribution to the victims to cover their medical expenses. And in the spring of 2012, he became an NFL Ambassador for Samaritan’s Feet, a nonprofit group based in Charlotte that is dedicated to serving people all over the world through washing their feet and giving them a new pair of socks and shoes. He has taken several mission trips with them, participated in shoe drives, and represented the group by speaking at schools and churches. He also showed his commitment to the group by taking off his cleats at the end of each game this past season and walking barefoot into the locker room.

Smith recently took a trip to China with another nonprofit group, visiting orphanages and conducting football clinics for children. Following that trip, he went on a USO tour to Afghanistan, where he spent time with U.S. troops. “He has a huge heart and shows it by giving of his time and resources to countless people,” says Angie Smith.

His generosity continued at the Spring Awards Banquet: He announced that he is donating $150,000 to endow a scholarship fund to help disadvantaged students attend the University.

Jill Briggs

Jill Briggs

Terese Pratt

Terese Pratt

At the banquet, the Alumni Association also presented U Transfer Center Director Terese Pratt BA’86 with its Philip and Miriam Perlman Award for Excellence in Student Counseling. Former Young Alumni Board member Jill Briggs HBS’95 MPR’96 received an Outstanding Alumna Award.

Pratt has worked in University College Advising since 2003 and was part of the leadership team that developed the Transfer Center. In her job as director, she has developed and coordinated advising services for transfer students at the U. She began her career at the U in the late 1980s, as an instructor and then as an advisor with the Center for Academic Advising. As the Transfer Center’s director, she also has worked on U initiatives for international students and has traveled annually to China for the past four years, to help promote the U to students there. “She is an outstanding advisor who focuses on the needs of each student and addresses some of the most challenging advising situations presented at University College,” says Sharon Aiken-Wisniewski, assistant vice president for Undergraduate Studies and University College.

Briggs served as vice president of the Young Alumni Board and is currently chair of the U’s Business Alumni Association. Over the years, she has been a strong supporter of the Young Alumni Board’s Homecoming 5K race. She also was named as one of the “30 Women to Watch” by Utah Business magazine in 2009 and was the recipient of the Woman of Courage Award from the American Woman’s Society of Certified Public Accountants in 2012. She is currently a tax director at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with brain cancer and is now recovering from her third surgery and undergoing radiation treatment. In each case, she has had to strive to recover and regain her skills. Despite all that, in May 2012, after months of training, she ran in the TriUtah Women of Steel Triathlon.

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Homecoming 5K and KidsK Event Wins Award of Excellence

Homecoming5KThe University of Utah Alumni Association’s Young Alumni Board won a Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) Award of Excellence for outstanding alumni programming at the annual CASE District VII Conference in San Francisco in March. The “bronze” award was given for their successful efforts in putting together the Young Alumni 5K Run and KidsK on Homecoming Day.

The 5K race last year had 600-plus runners and raised more than $37,000 in scholarship money for University of Utah students, says Tim Conde BA’00 JD’04, the Young Alumni Board president. Work for the annual race begins in May each year, and the 20-plus members of the board meet during the summer to plan details of the race.

The CASE District VII awards recognize efforts by colleges and universities in the Western region of the United States. “We received a record number of entries this year, and your excellent achievement stood out among the best,” the judges wrote in notifying the U Alumni Association about the award for the 5K event.

The 2013 Homecoming 5K Run and KidsK will be held on September 14. Save the date, and be sure to sign up to run and help raise scholarship funds.

International Coordinator Joins U Association

Cornelia “Nelly” Divricean

Cornelia “Nelly” Divricean

Cornelia “Nelly” Divricean BS’09 MS’12 has joined the University of Utah Alumni Association’s staff, as a coordinator of international alumni relations. She previously had been a coordinator for international alumni through the U’s International Center.

In her new role, she will continue to forge connections with international alumni and help them organize alumni clubs and events. “The University of Utah now has thousands of its alumni throughout the world,” says John Ashton BS’66 JD’69, the Alumni Association’s executive director. “We are very pleased to have Nelly join our staff to assist the Alumni Association in serving and engaging this important group of our alumni and supporters.” Divricean says that her goals include establishing a worldwide alumni network by maintaining strong relationships between the U and international alumni, as well as domestic alumni living abroad. She also aims to foster opportunities for international alumni to help the U recruit high-achieving international students and provide internships and study-abroad experiences. Her work also includes connecting international and domestic alumni living abroad with Utah businesses.

The U currently has more than 4,500 international graduates and seven international clubs, in Europe, South Korea, China, India, Taiwan, Thailand, and, as of this past May, Turkey. Alumni in 21 countries also have agreed to serve as international contacts to help the U and provide a network for its graduates.

Board President Wins Student Leader Award

Danielle McConkie

Danielle McConkie

Danielle McConkie, president of the University of Utah Alumni Association’s Student Alumni Board, received the Outstanding Student Leader Award this past March at the District 7 Western regional conference of the Affiliated Student Advancement Programs of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).

McConkie graduated this spring with a bachelor’s degree in political science. The Student Alumni Board is involved in a wide range of events and programs, including the Unrivaled Rivalry Food Drive, the U Book traditions book, Senior Sendoff, Homecoming, and Founders Day.

“The experiences I have had on the Student Alumni Board have shaped my time at the University of Utah,” says McConkie. “[Being on the board] has given me the opportunity to develop my leadership qualities and really serve my board members, students on campus, and the greater community.”

As the winner of the regional award, McConkie is eligible for a national award in the same category from CASE. The national awards will be announced at the group’s convention in New Orleans in August.


Through The Years: Short alum profiles and Class Notes

Bidder 70

U alum Tim DeChristopher is the subject of an award-winning documentary film.

By Marcia C. Dibble

The story of monkey-wrencher Tim DeChristopher BS’09 has come to the big screen in the feature-length documentary film Bidder 70.

DeChristopher entered the national spotlight when, as a University of Utah student in 2008, he found himself holding a bidding paddle at a widely disputed federal auction of Utah land. The George W. Bush administration had put thousands of acres of pristine wilderness on the block for oil and natural gas drilling, and DeChristopher was attending the auction intending simply to protest. But literally handed the chance to do more, he began bidding—and winning bids, with no intention to drill—which subverted the process. Incoming Interior Secretary Ken Salazar eventually invalidated the entire auction and protected more than 100,000 acres of land. Nonetheless, DeChristopher’s act of civil disobedience landed him in court, and he was sent to federal prison.

But DeChristopher became an instant environmental activism star and co-founded the Salt Lake City-based “climate justice” organization Peaceful Uprising, which describes its work as “at the intersection between environmental degradation and human rights.” The group held the first national screening of Bidder 70 this year on April 22, the day after DeChristopher finished his prison sentence and, fittingly, Earth Day.

George and Beth Gage

George and Beth Gage

Bidder 70 has now been recognized with 15 major film festival awards. Filmmakers Beth and George Gage have previously produced documentaries including American Outrage, about two Western Shoshone sisters fighting the U.S. government, and Fire on the Mountain, a profile of a World War II Army unit made up of winter-sports enthusiasts. The latter played at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival, where it became a personal favorite of Robert Redford. The actor-activist makes an appearance in Bidder 70, as does writer and environmentalist Terry Tempest Williams BS’79 MS’84. Following filming, the Gages gave Redford a baseball cap with “Bidder 70” embroidered on it, and Redford wore the hat in his latest movie, The Company You Keep, in which he plays a Weather Underground member who uses the cap as a disguise when hiding from the police.

The Gages note, “Tim DeChristopher is a young man with a message that needs to be heard. Climate change is upon us, and there is nothing more important to work for than a livable future.”

DeChristopher is now considering becoming a minister in the First Unitarian Church, of which he is a member, and plans to attend Harvard Divinity School starting this fall. “I see divinity school and ultimately the ministry as an extension of my previous activism, not a new direction,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. “I’m continuing on the path I’ve been on, just stepping my game up.”

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Other Notable Alumni


Spence F. Eccles 2Spencer F. Eccles BS’56
was recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Governor’s State of Sports Awards, organized by the Utah Sports Association. Eccles for decades has been a generous and significant donor to athletics efforts at the University of Utah and throughout the state, from youth sports to the Olympics. He was also an award-winning athlete in his youth. He skied competitively for 13 years, becoming a four-year letterman at the U, an All-American, and a member of the 1958 U.S. world championship team. After college, he spent four decades in banking, including nearly 20 years as chairman and chief executive officer of First Security Bank, before its 2000 merger with Wells Fargo. He remains chairman emeritus of Wells Fargo’s Intermountain banking region. LM


Bryan J. McEntire BS’78 MBA’82 has been named a Fellow in The American Ceramic Society, in recognition of his notable contributions to ceramic science and technology. McEntire holds one patent and three pending applications and is author or co-author of more than 30 technical papers on processing and characterization of ceramics for heat-engines, industrial applications, and medical devices. Presently chief technology officer at Amedica Corporation in Salt Lake City, his current interests involve the development and manufacturing of ceramics for orthopedic applications. Between 1986 and 1995, McEntire served as a shortcourse lecturer on “Forming of Ceramics” for the National Institute of Ceramic Engineers. He spent nearly a decade with Ceramatec and also worked with Norton/TRW Ceramics, the Advanced Ceramics Division of Saint-Gobain Corporation, and Applied Materials Corporation. He previously served as a member of Applied Materials’ Technical Review Board.



David Marcey PhD’85, a biology professor at California Lutheran University, has been named a Vision and Change Leadership Fellow and is spending a year helping identify ways to improve undergraduate life sciences education as part of the new Partnership for Undergraduate Life Sciences, a joint initiative of the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Marcey recently began teaching courses in which students watch lectures online and spend in-person class time collaborating on problembased activities. He pioneered the use of web-based tutorials in macromolecular structure, putting together a website of interactive tutorials that are used throughout the world. His tutorials, often co-authored with students, have also accompanied several prominent textbooks. Marcey co-edited the 2008 book Integrated Science–New Approaches to Education: A Virtual Roundtable and has served on the editorial board of Project MERLOT, an online peer-reviewed journal of digital learning tools.


Jason Thatcher BA’94 BA’99, associate professor of information systems in Clemson University’s Department of Management, has been named to the “Circle of Compadres” by the Information Systems Doctoral Student Association of The PhD Project, an award-winning program to create a more diverse corporate America. The “Circle of Compadres” recognizes faculty members who promote and inspire African American, Hispanic American, and Native American students as they pursue degrees and take positions in academe. Those chosen are outstanding mentors to doctoral students in information systems and related science, technology, engineering, and math disciplines. Since joining Clemson in 2002, Thatcher has mentored students through efforts such as sponsoring the Association for Information Systems student group and one-on-one interaction with students through Clemson’s Eureka and Creative Inquiry programs. Thatcher holds a master’s of public administration degree from the Askew School of Public Administration and Policy and a doctorate in business administration from Florida State University.


Dheeraj GadicherlaDheeraj “Big D” Gadicherla MEn’08 quit his job with IBM India in 2012 and embarked on a motorcycle ride across India from the lowest plains to the world’s highest motorable road, through the Khardung Pass. “It was an absolute back crusher of a ride, traversing roads, no roads, mountains, rivers—you name it, I rode on it,” says Gadicherla. At the U, he was involved in many campus programs, including the Associated Students of the University of Utah. After graduation, he took up safety and ergonomics consulting and moved first to Philadelphia and then New York before moving back to India to be near family, taking a position with IBM India as a program manager for safety operations. “Three years into the job,” he says, “I had the opportunity to sail a boat on the river Ganges, when I realized there are better things in life.” He quit his job and set off for more adventures, including learning to paraglide, backpacking, and exploring the world by motorcycle (garnering corporate sponsors here and there). Gadicherla also pursues his art and works part time as a research consultant for an engineering school. See pictures of Gadicherla’s motorcycle journey through India, Ganges trip, and more here. View a gallery of his art here.


Vishal GuptaVishal Gupta PhD’11 received the 2012 Outstanding Young Scientist Award from the Industrial Minerals & Aggregates Division of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration. The award recognizes members of the society who have an outstanding reputation for professionalism and accomplishments and have significantly contributed to the workings of the society and this division. A research engineer with FLSmidth, Gupta also won the company’s 2012 Business Idea Competition and was selected as one of the Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration’s 2012-13 Henry Krumb Lecturers. In addition to a doctorate in metallurgical engineering from the U, Gupta holds a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University and a bachelor of technology with honors degree from Indian School of Mines. Gupta has received one patent and published 12 journal articles, one book, and one book chapter. He has presented work in many national and international technical conferences, and since joining FLSmidth in 2010, has put forward three invention disclosures in the area of mineral beneficiation and solvent extraction.

Chelsea Sloan4

Chelsea Sloan BS’12, co-founder of the retail clothing franchise Uptown Cheapskate, was awarded first place in the 2012 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, garnering $150,000 in cash and in-kind business services from the Entrepreneurs’ Organization to help build her business. Sloan was selected for the award from nearly 2,000 student applicants from around the world. She is the competition’s first female winner since the awards began. Chelsea and her brother, Scott Sloan BS’06, co-founded Uptown Cheapskate in 2009 while Chelsea was still a student. Their parents are the founders of the children’s resale franchise Kid to Kid, and the two young entrepreneurs set out to create a similar concept for their own demographic. Their store buys, sells, and trades new and gently used designer and fashion-forward clothing and accessories for men and women (primarily between the ages of 16 and 35). Since 2009, the siblings have opened more than 25 Uptown Cheapskate franchise stores in 14 states, with plans to develop more.


U Professor a 2013 TED Fellow

Miriah_TEDFellowSmallMiriah Meyer PhD’08, a USTAR assistant professor in the University of Utah’s School of Computing, has been named a 2013 TED Fellow, recognizing her efforts in interactive visualization systems that help scientists make sense of complex data. Meyer received her bachelor’s degree in astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State University before heading to the U for her doctorate. Prior to joining the U faculty, she was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University and a visiting scientist at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard. She was awarded a Microsoft Research Faculty Fellowship in 2012 and has been included in Fast Company’s list of the 100 most creative people. “I’m really looking forward to participating in the TED Fellows program, in large part because it will give me an opportunity to spread the word about the amazing research going on in the School of Computing, the SCI Institute, and the College of Engineering,” Meyer says. “The TED vision seems very much in line with our focus on tackling challenging and important problems that matter for our quality of life today, as well as in the future.”

TED is a nonprofit group devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” It started in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three fields: technology, entertainment, and design.


LM Lifetime Member of the Alumni Association    AM Annual Member of the Alumni Association

  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 here.

Game On

As kids growing up in Boston, Andrew Witts and his older brother Jason spent hours before a video screen, locked in fierce battle with armies of skeletons and zombies that were wreaking havoc over a virtual Conan the Barbarian-type world. The video game, Golden Axe, paired the brothers as heroes—one in the form of a gnome and the other a muscle-ripped barbarian. They fought against the kingdom’s archenemy, who had captured the royal family and stolen a magic axe. In the end, of course, the brothers always prevailed from their perch on the family couch, their nemesis was vanquished, and peace was restored to the kingdom.

“It was pretty much Lord of the Rings, only with an axe,” says Witts, a self-described “hard-core gamer.” “I really felt like my brother and I were the rulers of this land and we were protecting it from the evil enemy. We played endlessly.”

Curse of Shadows was released through Xbox in 2012. (Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program)

//Curse of Shadows// was released through Xbox in 2012. (Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program)

Now, as a first-year graduate student in the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering program, Witts is learning to channel his unbridled enthusiasm for game playing into a career. A collaborative, interdisciplinary effort between the School of Computing and the Department of Film and Media Arts, the program teaches graduate and undergraduate students to develop, design, and publish video games. It trains artists and engineers in the creative, analytical, and technical skills required to navigate a wide spectrum of digital mediums and to be leaders in next-generation technologies. Graduates are becoming game designers, filmmakers, special effects experts, animators, and more.

Andrew Witts, who grew up in Boston, is a first-year graduate student in the University's Entertainment Arts & Engineering program. (Photo by August Miller)

Andrew Witts, who grew up in Boston, is a first-year graduate student in the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering program. (Photo by August Miller)

“It’s an extremely broad set of skills and understandings that you have to have in order to make good games,” says Robert Kessler BS’74 MS’77 PhD’81, the program’s co-founder and the associate director of the School of Computing. “It’s very complex, and the technology and graphics being used are really pushing the frontier.”

Launched in 2007, the Entertainment Arts & Engineering program is already making its mark. The program has already been ranked among the top three video game design programs in the nation by The Princeton Review, which began issuing rankings just three years ago. [*In March 2013, the program became ranked number one for its undergraduate degree program and number two for its graduate program. See the Editor’s Note below the short author bio at bottom for more.] 


Corrinne Lewis, left, program manager of the U's Master Games Studio, talks with Rachel Leiker, a program assistant and graphic designer. (Photo by August Miller)

Corrinne Lewis, left, program manager of the University of Utah’s Master Games Studio, talks with Rachel Leiker, a program assistant and graphic designer. (Photo by August Miller)

Getting Women in the Game

Corrinne Lewis is a gamer. She got hooked as a kid playing alongside her father. By the time she was a young teen, she was hanging out in a Salt Lake City-area bar where she played console games. She also loved Dungeons & Dragons.

“I think I have always been a puzzle solver,” says Lewis BA’03, who is program manager for the University of Utah’s Master Games Studio, the graduate component of the U’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering program. Many of the video games she played while she was growing up focused on finding keys to riddles in order to win the game. More often than not, she was playing games with and against boys. Later, when she began working in sales and marketing jobs in the tech industry, she was also often one of only a handful of women. “But the reason I always liked tech is that it never mattered what I looked like; it was what was in my brain,” she says.

Even so, Lewis says she thinks about gender balance a lot when it comes to her students. At the undergraduate level, only about 10 percent of the approximately 200 students in the U Entertainment Arts & Engineering classes are women.

Women also have made up only about 10 percent of each of the program’s three graduate cohorts, Lewis says. The inaugural class in 2010 had 19 students, including three women, all of whom were artists. Class numbers jumped to 30 in 2011, but again that included only three women artists. The 2012 class also has 30 students and three women, although they come from diverse fields: one artist, one producer, and one engineer.

To help promote and support women in the digital entertainment industry, Lewis launched a U-based chapter of Women in Games International (WIGI) in April 2012, along with Laura Warner BFA’10 MFA’12, who was then a graduate student in the U program. Founded in 2005, the national nonprofit group, made up of both female and male professionals, works to promote diversity in all aspects of the video game industry, including game development, publishing, media, education, and workplace environment. Nationally, the number of female video-game designers is small. WIGI wants to change that, and believes that increased equality and camaraderie among genders will improve the industry overall and the quality of games produced. The WIGI chapters hold monthly social activities that double as networking and mentoring opportunities. The group also has an online mentoring service for members.

Graduate student Michelle MacArt BA’11 appreciates the effort. An artist whose true love is sound design, MacArt was one of the first women to enroll in Entertainment Arts & Engineering program classes as an undergraduate and expects to complete her master’s degree this spring. While developing games as class projects, MacArt says, she often advocates for the inclusion of female characters. She also pushes for those characters to look like “real” women, not ultra-skinny girls with unrealistic physical proportions.

“I was the only girl for the longest time,” says MacArt, who was on the student team that developed the Rapunzel’s Fight Knight game. “It’s a growing industry, and we need more women and ideas from women in game companies to balance them out. I’d like to see more in the arts and as programmers so that things are more diverse.”


Robert Kessler, left, co-founder of the U Entertainment Arts & Engineering program, sits with student Ashley McMillan. (Photo by August Miller)

Robert Kessler, left, co-founder of the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering program, sits with student Ashley McMillan. (Photo by August Miller)

In 2012, the U’s undergraduate program was ranked third in the nation, just behind the University of Southern California and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At the graduate level, the U’s program, known as the Master Games Studio, wasn’t among the 10 ranked programs, but was included with the nine other schools that received honorable mentions.

“Those rankings are amazingly useful,” says Kessler. “Now we’ve got kids calling us from all over—kids who never thought about Utah before. This year, we had 12 or 13 international students apply. The first year, we had none.”

The machinima movie Sekhmet was created by U students. (Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program)

The machinima movie //Sekhmet// was created by U students. (Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program)

Another source of bragging rights is that Entertainment Arts & Engineering students get jobs. Good jobs. Six-figure jobs, sometimes even before they finish the program. In 2012, each of the 16 graduating students in the first Master Games Studio graduate-program class had jobs in hand, Kessler says.

One thing that sets the program’s graduates apart is that they enter the workforce having already published a video game.

That puts them way ahead of the competition, Kessler says. “Industry says it’s like our students have had their first year of working out of the way, so that they can come in and really be productive. We really have tried to make this like a studio simulation.”

The U faculty members are also making technology advancements and developing new areas of academic research and design, particularly in the so-called “serious games” arena. That opens doors to commercial opportunities for the University and provides students with additional hands-on projects for learning.


Minions! was created and released by U students in 2011. (Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program)

The video game //Minions!// was created and released by University of Utah students in 2011. (Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program)

A Panoply of Games

Got game? The students of the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering program do. A driving purpose of the program at both the undergraduate and graduate levels is making sure students have the opportunity to produce and publish video games—valuable experience that gives them an advantage as they head to jobs in the entertainment arts industry. So far, most of the student-produced games are getting to market through small student-run companies—an experience that introduces them to careers as entrepreneurs. A handful of projects are being published through Utah Game Forge, a University-run company formed last year.

Here’s a year-by-year look at games students have created:


  • Rapunzel’s Fight Knight became the first published game by the student-created company Axull. About 500 copies have been sold through Xbox.
  • Urban Space Squirrels was published by DTA Entertainment, a student company. About 2,000 copies have been sold through Xbox Indie Games.


  • Mr. Gravity was published by the student-run team Angry Newton and distributed by Xbox. About 750 copies have been sold.
  • The Last Pod Fighter was published by the student company Fighter9 Studios and is distributed by Xbox.
  • Minions! was released by Turtle Toss Studios, a company composed of 10 students. With nearly 25,000 sold, this is the most financially successful Entertainment Arts & Engineering program game and was ranked by players as one of the 16 best Xbox Live Indie Games.


  • Curse of Shadows was published by the student company 1 Block East. Released through Xbox, some 400 copies have been sold.
  • Heroes of Hat became the first student-generated game published through Utah Game Forge, a U company created to market student work, and was the first game from students to use multi-player cooperative mode technology, which allows players to work as a team to accomplish the game’s goals. About 400 copies have been sold.
  • Tactical Measure was designed by students to work with a U professor’s prototype game controller that allows deaf people to play music-based games. Published by Utah Game Forge and released on Xbox Live Indie Games, it received an honorable mention at Microsoft’s 2012 Imagine Cup competition.
  • Robot Pinball Escape was developed by a team of graduate students, published through Utah Game Forge, and distributed by Desura. Downloaded about 13,000 times, PC Gamer mentioned it as a top free download. The game was also published on a disk that was inserted in Computer Bild, a European technology magazine, and distributed to 500,000 subscribers.
  • Erie was also released as a free download by Desura, after being published by Utah Game Forge. The virtual horror game has been downloaded by more than 35,500 people. It can also be played though YouTube and has developed a following among players who have posted videos of themselves playing the game. More than 2 million people have seen those videos.

Those kind of credentials are exactly what Witts, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a degree in English and creative writing, was looking for in a graduate school. After considerable research of the 50 or so programs nationwide, Witts says the U’s program was the “intelligent choice,” so he quit his marketing job and moved 2,500 miles west to Utah. “I wanted to make games and release games, and I wanted to be given a forum where I could express myself,” says Witts, a self-taught Web programmer who also worked for an education software company. “What I saw in this program was a program that promised opportunity above all. I knew it would prepare me to get out and get a job doing what I love every day.”

Video games and other forms of digital entertainment media are big business. Economic forecasters project the global market for games—both hardware and software—will grow from about $67 billion in 2012 to more than $82 billion by 2017. In 2011 alone, the industry generated revenues of nearly $25 billion, according to data from the Entertainment Software Association. Consumer demographic data also show that the driving force behind the industry isn’t the stereotypical 17-year-old boy, playing games in his parents’ basement. In fact, more than 47 percent of all game players are women over age 18. Men ages 18 and younger make up only 17 percent of the games market. And the games themselves are also more diverse than stereotypes suggest. More than 40 percent of games played are digital versions of popular board games, puzzles, TV game shows, or trivia games.

In terms of dollars, Utah isn’t yet among the top 20 places where video games are made, but it’s getting close, says Roger Altizer MS’06, co-founder of the U’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering program and its director of game design and production. The state is perched on the industry’s cutting edge, and the presence of the U’s program provides an invaluable opportunity for both industry and students, he says.

Information technology is among seven industries that receive the focused attention of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The state has set aside $5 million to support new information-technology companies and recruit top researchers through the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative, or USTAR. Craig Caldwell, whose experience includes work as a 3-D specialist for Walt Disney Animation Studios and serving as head of the largest film school in Australia, was hired by the U in 2009 as a USTAR professor of digital media.

Video gaming is by far the largest sector of the state’s information-technology effort, says Jeff Edwards, chief executive officer of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, a private, nonprofit group that works closely with state officials. A 2011 report by that group said Utah had the fourth-highest per capita concentration of multimedia artists and animators in the nation. The industry employs about 2,100 people and added more than $93 million to Utah’s economy in 2009. The state has approximately 5,200 technology companies, of which more than 100 are digital media shops or film studios. Among the notable names are Disney Interactive Studios; Electronic Arts, Inc.; Imagine Learning; Chair Entertainment/Epic Games; Smart Bomb Interactive; and TruGolf, Inc.

Roger Altizer, co-founder of the U Entertainment Arts & Engineering program, stands with an original Pong console (signed by Nolan Bushnell) that was donated to the program. (Photo courtesy Roger Altizer)

Roger Altizer, co-founder of the U Entertainment Arts & Engineering program, stands with an original //Pong// console (signed by Nolan Bushnell) that was donated to the program. (Photo courtesy Roger Altizer)

To grow, the industry will need a steady stream of skilled workers and creative, innovative thinkers. The U Entertainment Arts & Engineering program’s focus and deep connections to industry set it apart from programs at other Utah schools, says Steve Roy, associate vice president for economic development at Utah Valley University and USTAR’s director of outreach and innovation activities in central Utah. “One of the key elements of economic development is workforce development and talent development,” says Roy. “The University of Utah has been able to access the industry and align themselves with industry needs. I think that’s why that program is such a good, solid program. They’ve spent the time to develop the curriculum.”

It should be no surprise that industry would find Utah’s flagship university offers a breadth of talent and a cutting-edge program, Edwards says. The Entertainment Arts & Engineering program’s roots reach back nearly five decades, to the mid-1960s, when a fledgling Computer Science Department with a deep bench of visionaries began to revolutionize computer technology and graphics. Computer scientist David Evans BA’49 PhD’53 was hired by the U in 1965 to start up the Computer Science Department within the College of Engineering. Evans knew competing with early computer science powerhouses such as Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology would be difficult, so he looked for a wide-open field in which a new program could establish itself. That field, he decided, was computer graphics.

Funded by grants from the U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), for open-ended research, Evans and his colleague Ivan Sutherland recruited bright graduate students and challenged them to make new discoveries and advances in computer graphics. Those students went on to essentially found the computer graphics industry, developing such concepts as graphical user interface, object-oriented programming, simulation techniques, and computer animation. And after graduating, those students established companies such as Adobe Systems, WordPerfect, Netscape, and Pixar Animation Studios.


U Company Helps Get Student Games to Players

Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program

//Heroes of Hat// was the first game published through Utah Game Forge, in May 2012. (Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program)

It’s one thing to build video games. It’s another to get them to market and into the hands of gamers, and the University of Utah has taken the unusual step of creating a company, Utah Game Forge, to do just that.

The University’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering program and the U’s Technology Commercialization Office started Utah Game Forge in 2012. The company is owned and financed by the U and works to place student games with commercial distributors. Utah Game Forge has also secured about a half-dozen commercial game-development contracts with outside companies and employs students to do the work.

“Few schools publish games, and we have yet to run into another that has a company dedicated to publishing student games and landing contracts for students to work on,” says Roger Altizer MS’06, co-founder of the U’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering program and its director of game design and development. “The University of Utah is one of the most entrepreneurial schools in the nation, and Utah Game Forge is both a product of that culture and a service for its business-minded students.”

Utah Game Forge cultivates relationships with game-platform holders such as Microsoft and Apple and offers them student-produced games for distribution consideration. Utah Game Forge then handles the finances and legal obligations of any contracts. Royalties from any game sales are shared equally by the students, Utah Game Forge, and the University. Students surrender some commercial rights to their games when they publish through Utah Game Forge. However, students retain their intellectual property rights to the games they develop and can use elements of them for future projects.

Some students form their own companies and publish their games on their own, but for those students who opt to use Utah Game Forge, the company makes the publishing process a bit easier, says Robert Kessler BS’74 MS’77 PhD’81, Entertainment Arts & Engineering’s co-founder and executive director. Having a published game to their credit gives program graduates a jump start in the highly competitive video games job market, he says.

So far, the company’s games have received more critical acclaim than financial reward. The first published game, Heroes of Hat, debuted in May 2012. About 400 copies have been sold, at a cost of $1 each. Heroes was followed in the fall by two games produced by graduate students: Tactical Measure and Erie.

Among the department’s alumni of note are Nolan Bushnell BS’69, the co-founder of Atari; Ed Catmull BS’69 PhD’74, who launched Lucasfilm’s computer division, later co-founded Pixar, and now heads both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios; Alan Kay MS’68 PhD’69, who helped pioneer the laptop computer; and John Warnock BS’61 MS’64 PhD’69, who was the first to develop desktop publishing systems and co-founded Adobe. “It’s a great story about how Utah took a very early and very prominent place in the development of the computer industry,” says Edwards.

Games studies programs have existed in academe for about a decade. For many people, though, it may still seem counterintuitive to teach video games in a university setting. But technologies and digital media permeate both the modern economy and the cultural conversation, making games “too big to ignore,” says Altizer.

Even with the U’s history of innovation in computer science, the Entertainment Arts & Engineering program’s existence is something of a serendipitous accident. In the mid-2000s, Kessler was pondering a couple of problems. Enrollment in computer science courses was dropping, and the program needed a jump start. Kessler also wanted a better way to teach engineering students how to develop software programs that would last more than a nanosecond.

A video game provided a solution. At a Microsoft conference, Kessler acquired the source code for the game Half-Life 2. Back in Utah, he set students to work rewriting nearly a half-million lines of code, altering the game from its dark and violent, first-person shooting foray into a team-oriented video version of capture the flag. “The students loved it,” he says. “They already loved games, and then this is a game that they got to modify and work on.”

With the seed of an idea now growing, Kessler sought out his industry contacts to get a clearer picture of their needs. When graduates enter the workforce, he asked, what skills are students still missing? The answer: Most have good computer science skills or really good art skills, but they don’t have any idea how to work together. “I talked to a lot of companies—Pixar and Disney and Electronic Arts and Microsoft—and they all said, in essence, the same thing: You have to be really good, and you’ve got to be able to work with the other side,” Kessler says.


Games for Health

Vance B. Strong is the hero of the University of Utah video game Sandy Shores. (Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program)

Vance B. Strong is the hero of the University of Utah video game //Sandy Shores//. (Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program)

Can a virtual superhero have therapeutic powers? He might if his name is Vance B. Strong, star of Sandy Shores, a video game designed to help young cancer patients battle their disease.

The game was designed in 2011 by Roger Altizer MS’06, a professor and co-founder of the University of Utah’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering program, and a team of five graduate students, in collaboration with Carol Bruggers, a pediatric oncologist at Primary Children’s Medical Center, and Grzegorz Bulaj, a U associate professor of medicinal chemistry. Robert Kessler BS’74 MS’77 PhD’81, a co-founder and executive director of the program, handled the technical issues of working with new technology, and Craig Caldwell, the program’s director of digital technology, worked on the artistic aspects of the game.

Sandy Shores became the first health game created at the U, and more are in the works. For Sandy Shores, Bruggers and Bulaj obtained seed money from the U Department of Pediatrics and approached Entertainment Arts & Engineering for help after talking about ways to incentivize treatment for children in a way that was not just fun, but also contributed to physical and emotional well-being. Young cancer patients often spend weeks quarantined in small hospital rooms and undergo intense treatments that leave them feeling sicker than their disease had. The result can be a loss of physical conditioning and emotional health, which can undermine the children’s ability to recover.

Altizer and the other U researchers set about creating a video game to help incentivize physical exercise for the patients. Then-students Kurt Coppersmith BFA’10 MFA’12, Laura Warner BFA’10 MFA’12, Brandon Davies BS’12, Wade Paterson MS’12, and Jordan Wilcken MS’12 also worked on the game. Each element of the game, from its theme and colors to the type of tasks accomplished and the physical movements the players use, was vetted and tested with patients, physical therapists, and social workers. Altizer was also able to tap his industry contacts to find a motion-control device being developed by Sony with an electronic frequency that does not interfere with sensitive medical equipment.

The resulting game features the cape-clad Vance, who battles a series of obstacles that threaten his relaxing beach vacation. In one scenario, Vance scrambles to clean up after an army of bright red robotic crabs littering the beach, and in another, he uses mortar and bricks to build a wall to stop a tidal wave from flooding a city. With each victory, Vance’s image on the screen gets stronger and healthier, just like the kids who are battling cancer. The children primarily use upper body and arm movements to play the game, which helps raise their heart rate. Best of all, the game isn’t boring. There are no pills, no IV bags, and no negative side effects. And, importantly, no one dies. “The psychological message of that is huge,” Bruggers says.

Kids who have played the prototype love it, and other medical centers are clamoring for a chance to use it. “Our biggest compliment is that one kid played to exhaustion,” says Altizer, though that did lead to an adjustment in the game’s design. Since exhaustion isn’t a desired outcome for kids whose bodies are already stressed, designers added a “cool down” feature, which helps avoid repetitive motion and forces kids to switch to a different part of the game, with different physical activity, or take a two-minute break.

Bruggers and Bulaj plan to conduct a series of clinical trials and hope the FDA will eventually approve the game for therapeutic use. A nonprofit company in development through the University’s Pierre Lassonde Entrepreneur Center and the Technology Commercialization Office will eventually make the game commercially available, Bulaj says.

The U has already begun developing more health games. John Hollerbach, a U research professor who directs the robotics track in the School of Computing, is working on a National Science Foundation-funded project to enhance physical therapy for patients with spinal cord injuries. His team’s “treadport” is a giant treadmill inside a cave with three large video screens that transport patients to virtual worlds.

Entertainment Arts & Engineering students are assisting Hollerbach in developing other games and virtual environments to engross and motivate patients to work harder and spend more time on physical therapy. Neuroworx, a Utah physical therapy provider, is a project partner.


The U student game The Last Pod Fighter was released in 2011. (Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program)

The U student game //The Last Pod Fighter// was released in 2011. (Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program)

Back in the classroom, Kessler was working on a second video-driven experiment: a course in machinima, or 3-D movies that use video-game programming to generate computer animation. Again, the students responded with enthusiasm. “And this is when the serendipity happens,” Kessler says. One of the graduate students in the class at the time was Altizer, who was studying communications and had been working as a video-games journalist. Altizer was also teaching video-game design courses in the film department. They decided to try to create a way for art, film, and engineering students to take classes together.

Selling the idea across the campus to both Film Department and administrative leaders wasn’t hard. “I haven’t had anybody up here at the University who thinks this is a bad idea,” Kessler says. To make the new program a reality, a committee of faculty from both the Film and Computer Science departments met to examine existing electives and knit together the academic requirements of the program. “We didn’t ask for any money, and we didn’t create any new classes; we just kind of moved things around,” Kessler says.

When the program was unveiled in the fall of 2007, students in both disciplines clamored to join it, and the demand has remained strong ever since. The program now has three tracks: design and production, led by Altizer; art, directed by Caldwell; and engineering, directed by Mark van Langeveld PhD’09. For the current academic year, Kessler estimates that of the 800 students collectively enrolled in the Film and Computer Science departments, about 200 are in the Entertainment Arts & Engineering program. The program has remained only an academic course of study, but that may change during the 2013-14 academic year if a proposal to elevate it to a full-fledged degree program is approved this spring by the state Board of Regents.

Success at the undergraduate level helped lay the groundwork for a master’s degree program launched in 2010, under the Master Games Studio name, with just 19 students. The studio provides a study program for artists, engineers, and producers—the key team leaders who in both the classroom and industry manage projects from start to finish. The students from the various disciplines work together throughout most of their two years of academic study.

In the first year of study, students work on prototype games for real-world clients. In 2012, those included a marketing-focused game to drive up sales of the Utah-made Beehive cheese and a game to teach the Shoshone language to Native American teens. Second-year students focus on developing an original video game for publishing. The University in 2012 launched Utah Game Forge, a company that helps students market their games without having to form their own companies. Currently, 60 students are enrolled in the graduate program—a number Kessler hopes to double.

Erie was published by Utah Game Forge and released by Desura in 2012. (Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program)

//Erie// was published by Utah Game Forge and released by Desura in 2012. (Photo courtesy U Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program)

The results of both the graduate and undergraduates tracks have been extraordinary. Students are winning awards for their video games and films. They’re also pushing the boundaries of technology and grasping an academic approach to video games with ease. And the interdisciplinary work helps the students evolve and learn. “In the beginning, I think there’s not a lot of respect between them,” Kessler says. “You have the artists saying, ‘It’s because of me the games are beautiful, and you don’t have any art skills,’ and the engineers are saying, ‘It’s because of me that the game even works.’ ”

Kevin Hanson MFA’84, chair of the Film Department, says the artists and engineers often discover skills they didn’t know they had: “There are some engineers who turn out to be painterly, and some filmmakers who can actually do calculus.” Corrinne Lewis BA’03, who directs the Master Games Studio, says the students grew up playing video games, and the program helps transform their knowledge. “We give all of this practical skill stuff with an academic flavor so that they think more broadly,” she says.

Even after a single semester, Witts says the program has stretched his creativity, and his ideas about games. “Video games go way beyond just sitting there for hours getting to new levels and shooting people,” he says. He now finds himself playing games with a notepad at his side and pausing to write down what he finds interesting about how a game is designed. “It doesn’t ruin the fun of playing,” he says. “I’m still having fantastic fun.”

—Jennifer Dobner is a former longtime Associated Press reporter and editor who now is a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City.

*Editor’s Note: On March 12, shortly after this article was published, the Princeton Review released its 2013 rankings, and the U’s Entertainment Arts & Engineering was ranked number one for its undergraduate program and number two for its graduate program. Read more here: http://unews.utah.edu/news_releases/entertainment-arts-engineering-tops-the-charts/

Web Exclusives

This video trailer showcases Robot Pinball Escape, a game developed by a team of University of Utah graduate students and published in 2012 through Utah Game Forge:


This video trailer gives a preview of Heroes of Hat, which in May 2012 became the first University of Utah student game published through Utah Game Forge:


This video trailer shows scenes from Erie, a virtual horror game by University of Utah students that was published by Utah Game Forge in 2012:


Photo gallery:

[nggallery id=32]



The Imaginer

In the 1950s, young Ed Catmull loved Walt Disney animated films such as Pinocchio and Peter Pan. He dreamed of becoming an animator, and he filled up sketchbooks and created his own flipbooks. At Salt Lake City’s Granite High School in the 1960s, he took every art class he could. His heroes were Disney and Albert Einstein. “Animation and physics fascinated me,” he now says.

By the time Catmull enrolled at the University of Utah, though, he realized he couldn’t draw well enough to make a living as a professional animator, and the pathway to that career wasn’t apparent. “There was no school for animation. There was no entryway into that field, and I had no idea how to get there,” he says. “Because I couldn’t figure out how to do that, I switched to physics.”

But his path through science and technology soon led him back to his early ambitions. At the U, he learned he could combine his interests in art and computer science. He realized during his studies that he wanted to make computer-animated films, and his computer graphics discoveries enabled him to chart that course.

Forty years later, he’s now regarded as a pioneer in computer animation. He has won five Academy Awards, including a 2009 Gordon E. Sawyer Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for his lifetime contributions to computer graphics used in the motion picture industry. And he’s president of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios.

“I’ve thought a lot about creativity,” he says from his office in Burbank, California. “I think of it as problem-solving and expression. …Some people only use what they’ve learned. But there’s a certain amount of things you know, and then there’s stuff that’s brand new and mysterious because it doesn’t exist yet. The proper balance is how to rely on things you know and still be willing to learn the things you don’t know.”

Catmull BS’69 PhD’74 was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia, while his father was a Marine deployed in World War II’s Pacific theater. When Ed was 2 years old, with the war over and his father safely returned, the family moved to Salt Lake City, where Ed and his four siblings grew up. His father became a math teacher at Granite High School, then principal of the brand-new Taylorsville High School. His mother was a secretary in the school district.

In his last year of undergraduate work at the U, Catmull realized that his bachelor’s degree in physics would leave him still a beginner in that field. So he took a look at the U’s fledgling Department of Computer Science. “Here was an area just open with possibilities,” he says. He enrolled in the program and graduated with two bachelor’s degrees, just four years after completing high school.

Catmull then worked briefly for Boeing in Seattle. But when an economic crisis forced Boeing to lay off thousands of employees, Catmull returned to the University of Utah for graduate school. “The first course I took was the brand-new course they offered in computer graphics,” he says. “We’re in computer science, at the frontier, and I got to make pictures with the potential for making art. That was it. Now my direction was set.”

Pixar Animation Studios created Toy Story, the first digitally animated feature film, released in 1995.

Pixar created Toy Story, the first digitally animated feature film, released in 1995.

The U’s Computer Science Department in the late 1960s and early 1970s was under the direction of David Evans BA’49 PhD’53, a computer scientist hired in 1965 to start the department within the College of Engineering. Funded by significant grants from the U.S. Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), for open-ended research, Evans and his colleague Ivan Sutherland recruited bright graduate students who they thought would work well together, including Catmull.

That environment helped shape Catmull’s ideas about nurturing the creative process, throughout the rest of his career. “Most people like to think in terms of structure. The way [the U] developed computer science was more unstructured,” he says. “Make a safe environment for people to create. That’s what the program at the University of Utah was: a safe place to make failures. It changed everything. For me, this was the right way to think about things.”

As one of his class assignments, Catmull tackled a short piece of digital animation. “In that class, they had some canned software that people used to make pictures,” he says. “Three of us decided not to use the canned software. Those three of us are the ones still in the industry today.” By choosing to develop his own ideas rather than use the paint-by-numbers software, he says, “I was trying to prove it was possible to do animation.”

The result of his endeavor was a minute-long, three-dimensional animation of his left hand moving, recognized today as the first digitally animated film. In 1976, his animated hand even landed a bit part in a science-fiction feature film, Futureworld. Catmull’s film, known simply as A Computer Animated Hand, was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2011, as a “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant film. Through that film, Catmull proved computers could be used to create at least rudimentary animation. “What it meant for me was I had a new goal in life: to produce an animated film,” he says.

With his new doctorate from the U in hand, he joined the New York Institute of Technology as director of its Computer Graphics Lab, assembling a team to develop tools for 2-D and then 3-D animation. After five years, Catmull’s reputation hit George Lucas’s radar. “George Lucas had just made Star Wars,” Catmull says. The effects in Star Wars were the best that had ever been done, but Lucas wasn’t using any computer animation yet. He was still using film, cel animation, and modeling, although he was using computers to control the models. Lucas was interested in investing even more in movie-making technology. “The rest of the industry was averse to technology,” Catmull recollects. “George was the only one willing to invest.”

Lucas brought Catmull onboard in 1979 as vice president of Lucasfilm’s computer graphics division. According to Catmull, Lucas hired him “to bring higher technology to the film industry: computer graphics, computer audio, and digital editing.” Catmull and his team did just that, pushing the digital frontier forward once more by developing numerous technologies and tools, including digital image compositing technology that combines multiple images in a realistic and convincing way. It was here that Catmull and his team also developed the precursor to RenderMan, the groundbreaking software and application programming interface that for the first time made it possible to produce realistic-looking complex 3-D images.

In 1986, Lucasfilm spun off the digital division as its own corporation, co-founded by Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith, and funded by Steve Jobs. Catmull became the chief technical officer of the new company, now called Pixar. “For the first time,” Catmull says of the transition, “it wasn’t just running a research group; it was trying to run a company. It meant not just learning about the technology, but learning how you keep people engaged, and how you handle issues with managing people.”

Catmull turned his creative energy to making Pixar successful as a business. After producing several commercials and establishing RenderMan as the industry standard for 3-D imaging, Pixar made Catmull’s lifelong dream a reality in 1995 by releasing Toy Story, the first digitally animated feature film. One week after Toy Story was released, Pixar went public with the biggest IPO of the year. “It was a dramatic change,” he says. “But for me, I felt a little lost. I’d just achieved my goal. I didn’t want to go into coasting mode after that.”


U alum Ed Catmull, who leads both Pixar Animation Studios and Disney Animation Studios, says, “The way you make things happen is you attract smart people and make it safe for them to create.”

He watched friends in Silicon Valley as their companies rose and fell. “I’d see some of those companies doing amazingly stupid things,” he says. “It was intriguing. What in the world was going on? They were coming together as creative endeavors with smart people, but then they’d fall apart. It was very stimulating to figure out what was going on.” Catmull realized Pixar could suffer the same fate if he didn’t learn how to keep it successful.

His solution was to try to build a sustainable, creative culture at Pixar. “The way you make things happen is you attract smart people and make it safe for them to create,” he says, explaining one of his business fundamentals. “If you hire people smarter than you are, it makes you smarter. …It changes the level of everything.” He also believed that making RenderMan an open development interface was important. “Many companies say, ‘I want to keep everything secret so we have a proprietary advantage.’ I didn’t do that. We freely published everything and gave out a lot of our secrets. The reason is that secrets aren’t that important. What is important is the people working on it.”

Even the Pixar building and surrounding grounds were designed to foster creativity, innovation, and collaboration. The heart of the modern, airy glass and steel building is a spectacular atrium designed to prompt unplanned encounters and collaborations. Instead of typical cubicles, animators have small “houses” that they can decorate however they wish—from a cowboy saloon complete with swinging doors to a candy pink hideaway with doll limbs poking out of a flowerbox. Employees can relax with foosball and other games, a café (which features vegetables from the on-site organic garden), video games, a fitness center, an Olympic-sized swimming pool, sports fields and courts, a jogging trail, two 40-seat viewing rooms, and, of course, a large theater.

When Disney acquired Pixar Animation Studios in 2006, Catmull became president of both Disney Animation Studios and Pixar. He and his colleague John Lasseter were tasked with reenergizing the Disney Animation Studios. “I took my ideas and theories and had to apply them to an entirely new group of people, none of whom I knew,” Catmull says. It was a daunting prospect, but for seven years now, it’s been working. Both studios are now successful entities, each with what he calls their own personality and different ways of working.

“Creation by definition means you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get, and you have to be okay with that,” says Catmull. “Trust that the people there are trying to do the right thing. That’s always been true for me. If you have a lot of people who are well-intentioned, unleash them. Get their collective brainpower working.”

That collective brainpower at Pixar has produced 13 digitally animated feature films to date, all of them commercially successful. The studio has received 29 Academy Awards, seven Golden Globes honors, and 11 Grammy awards. True to his roots, Catmull has remained involved in the University of Utah, as a member and past chair of the U’s Engineering National Advisory Council. He gave the University’s commencement address in 2012. “We are so accustomed to assigning patterns, and we attribute our success to our genius rather than to randomness,” he told the graduates. “We should plan for the unforeseen, not prevent it. Rather than being scary, this is where the fun stuff happens.”

Catmull still has family in Utah, including his 91-year-old father and some of his siblings, so he makes it back to visit about twice a year. The rest of the time he splits between his California offices with Disney in Burbank and Pixar in the Bay Area, and his home in Hawaii, where he lives with this wife, Susan, and the youngest of their five children, as well as a rescued Maltese dog that his wife surprised him with last fall. He also manages to find time to enjoy his first grandchild.

Catmull continues to champion his ideas of constant change, innovation, and excellence with both Pixar and Disney, directing his employees to continue to seek both the frontiers and the balance of entertainment and technology. “I have never been good at predicting the future,” he says. “I just see the possibilities and push in that direction.”

— Kelley J. P. Lindberg BS’84 is a freelance writer based in Layton, Utah, and a frequent contributor to Continuum.

Web Exclusives

This student film by Ed Catmull, A Computer Animated Hand, is recognized today as the first digitally animated film:


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One More: Pioneer in Sound

The first person to create a practical method of recording and playing digitized sound was the University of Utah’s own Thomas G. Stockham, Jr., an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

Stockham was a pioneer in many facets of computer science, including computer graphics and the development of the Internet, but it is as the developer of digital recording and playback that the world owes much to his genius. His work helped pave the way for compact discs, iPods, and digitized sound in videos and video games.

“He won not only the respect of his peers but also major honors from the entertainment industry he helped to transform,” The New York Times wrote in his obituary in 2004.

Stockham was born in New Jersey and received bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He began working on early efforts toward digitized sound soon after he became an associate professor at MIT in 1957.

When Stockham came to the University of Utah in 1968, he focused on finding a practical way to digitize music. He and his students in the U’s Computer Science Department developed methods of digital signal processing.

Stockham demonstrated the fruits of his research by digitally processing and restoring RCA’s entire collection of early 20th-century recordings of the famous Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. RCA began releasing the series in 1976. Later that year, Stockham made the first live digital recording, of the Santa Fe Opera.

At the height of the Watergate hearings, Stockham was one of a panel of six experts convened to examine the Watergate tapes. He discovered that the famous 18-minute gap in a crucial Watergate tape made in President Richard M. Nixon’s office was caused by at least five separate erasures and rerecordings. The findings led to the tapes being turned over to Congress.

Stockham left the University in 1975 to found Soundstream, Inc., the first digital recording company in the United States, located in Salt Lake City. The company developed new digital audio recording technologies for professional use—innovations that laid the groundwork for later technologies such as the CD and the DAT (digital audio tape).

Stockham returned to the U in 1983 and was honored with its Outstanding Teacher Award in 1986. He left the U in 1994, when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The accolades continued to pour in for his landmark accomplishments. He had won an Emmy award in 1988 for his digital audio and editing systems. He received a Grammy award in 1994 for his “visionary role in pioneering and advancing the era of digital recording.” And he received an Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1999, for his “pioneering work” in digital audio editing.

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

Web Exclusives

This archival video shows U professor Thomas G. Stockham, Jr., demonstrating his process for digitizing a recording by the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso:


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Building to Foster Excellence

On Guardsman Way, just east of Rice-Eccles Stadium and across the street, construction workers have been laying brick and hanging drywall on a new Football and Sports Medicine Center at the University of Utah. Take a tour through virtual video renderings that the U’s Athletics Department has created to show what the facility will look like, and you’ll see the grain and warm hues of smooth wood accents and floor-to-ceiling windows that let sunlight flood some of the building’s glittering gathering spaces. Stay a little longer, and you’ll see giant flat-screen TVs inside slick meeting rooms and offices, inviting hydrotherapy pools in another room, and a seemingly endless array of training equipment in a 21,000-square-foot weight room.

Athletics Director Chris Hill says the new facilities will help the U stay competitive in the Pac-12. (Photo by August Miller)

When the $30 million facility opens this summer, it’s expected to serve more than 400 student athletes, including 100 or so football players, who make up 18 varsity teams from various sports at the U. And it’s just one step in a larger, five-year plan to improve the quality of the U’s practice facilities and playing fields.

In the real world of the Pac-12, which the University of Utah joined in 2011, the Utes are playing in the first period of a game of catch-up in a league where the U’s comparatively meager athletics operating budget of $36.8 million for 2010-2011 was the lowest in the conference. In comparison, the average athletics operating budget in the Pac-12 during 2010-2011, the most recent year for which figures are available, was $63.5 million. Given those numbers, it’s no surprise that athletics facilities at the University also lag behind those of many of its Pac-12 peers.

The U aims to even the score with or surpass competing Pac-12 schools through a $150-million, five-year athletics resource and facilities plan that, by 2016, will usher in new training, practice, and playing areas on the U campus for basketball, softball, tennis, swimming, and football. By building the new facilities, the University intends to ensure a level playing field when it comes to recruiting top athletes, who in theory will help the U stay competitive in one of the nation’s most talent-rich athletics leagues.



Football and Sports Medicine Center

600 South Guardsman Way
$30 million

The floor plan for the street level of this cornerstone effort to improve athletics facilities at the U starts with a 10,200-square-foot outdoor patio and a 6,614-square-foot Hall of Fame area. Athlete-specific nutrition services will be dispensed in an 11,457-square-foot cafeteria.

The building, slated to open in summer of 2013, also features a 15,164-square-foot training room on the lower level, along with hydrotherapy pools to aid in rehabilitating injured athletes, more than 15,000 square feet of meeting rooms, a 160-seat auditorium, a locker room, a player lounge, and an impressive 21,000-square-foot weight room.

In early 2011, U Athletics Director Chris Hill and a few staffers visited a handful of cities around the country to view football facilities at other universities before they began plans for the U’s center. The new building, Hill says, will be “excellent.”

As part of the design, architects included energy-efficient equipment, windows, and insulation with the hope of achieving a coveted LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold building certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Funding to cover the $30 million price tag is split about evenly between money from the athletics budget (mainly TV revenue) and donations.

For U Athletics Director Chris Hill MEd’74 PhD’82, the reality of needing an ambitious five-year plan crystallized upon hearing that the Utes would be in the Pac-12. “It quickly became apparent that we need to support our student athletes and our coaches with operating expenses and facilities that put us in the game with the rest of the league,” Hill now says.

The strategy behind the U’s building plan is to create facilities that will dazzle, delight, and, of course, serve student athletes for decades. In addition to the football center, plans are under way to build a softball complex, outdoor tennis courts, a Basketball Training and Sport Performance Center, and a swimming and diving complex. The Athletics Department also intends to improve its soccer field and expand the Burbidge Academic Center for providing academic support to student athletes.

Indeed, the U is currently the only Pac-12 school without a 50-meter pool or outdoor tennis courts. Hill says all of the facilities upgrades are needed—and soon—to compete. “We’re moving this as fast as we can,” he says.

Doug Knuth, U senior associate athletics director for external relations, is leading the fundraising. (Photo by August Miller)

Other Pac-12 universities, meanwhile, are spending large amounts on new facilities of their own. The University of Washington is building a new football stadium, to be completed in 2013, at a cost of $300 million. Arizona State University is planning a football stadium renovation that will run at least $150 million, probably more. The University of California at Los Angeles has more than $280 million invested in renovations to Pauley Pavilion and the Rose Bowl. The University of California at Berkeley is renovating its football arena to the tune of $321 million. In 2009, Stanford University completed its $90 million football stadium.

In other sports, the University of Arizona has a new $20 million gymnastics practice facility. The University of Oregon put down $227 million for a new basketball arena. And Oregon State University is spending more than $18 million to improve its basketball facilities.

Hill says that eventually he’d like to see the U’s sports facilities and budget land somewhere in the middle of the Pac-12. Achieving that goal, he says, will require the $150 million. One-third of that amount, $50 million, will come from Pac-12 television revenues. The Athletics Department launched a capital campaign last spring with the aim of raising the remaining $100 million from private donors. So far, the U has received $7 million from the Pac-12 television revenues and raised $22 million from private donors.

As part of the Pac-12 revenues, the U will see its annual share of the Pac-12 television 12-year contract go from $8 million this year to $12 million next year and, upon being fully vested, about $16 million a year by 2015. Brisk ticket sales, which generated nearly $10.4 million last year, have planners talking about how to squeeze more seats into the south end of Rice-Eccles Stadium. Corporate sponsorships, expansion of merchandise sales, and licensing revenues also are expected to help the U generate more money to stay in the game.



Softball Complex

North of the McCarthey Family Track and Field on Wasatch Drive
$4.5 million

In the spring of 2013, the U will begin hosting home softball games at its new 500-seat stadium, day or night, with the addition of a lighted field. The entire complex includes a press box, athletic training room, outdoor batting cages, and an indoor hitting and pitching facility.

While football, basketball, and gymnastics may attract the most attention of Ute sports, softball is one area that is no less competitive in a league where the Pac-12 is consistently one of the top conferences in the nation. U Athletics Director Chris Hill anticipates that the new digs will begin to turn the recruiting tables and eventually make the women’s softball team a Pac-12 powerhouse.

Welch Suggs, a former associate director and now a consultant for the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, says the U’s plans are all “doable.” But it won’t be easy, he says: “How much wealth is there, and how much competition does Utah face in its home territory?”

Suggs now studies college sports issues as an associate professor of journalism at the University of Georgia, which is among only a handful of schools in the country that year after year are able to cover their athletics expenses with the revenue brought in by sports programs. The universities of Alabama, Florida, and Iowa, as well as Ohio State University, are a few others.

The norm is that athletics departments end up relying on their universities’ institutional support to cover athletics expenditures. Whether that will happen to the U, Suggs says, may depend in part on whether worst-case scenarios unfold, such as another economic recession or chronically losing teams, which hurt ticket and merchandise sales.

Hill, however, believes the U Athletics Department will be able to prevail, and balance its budget, with its fundraising through private donors. And the projects outlined in the five-year plan don’t require tapping into University institutional funds or public monies. “It’s all athletics, all our funding,” he says. “We want that to be clear.” There is “zero” competition between athletics and academics for public funding, Hill says.



Basketball Training and Sport Performance Center

West Side of the HPER Complex Off Campus Center Drive 
$24 million

Planning is still under way for this facility, expected to open for the 2014-2015 academic year. An artist’s rendering depicts two full-sized men’s and women’s practice gymnasiums on either side of a large area that features a weight room, video-viewing rooms for the women’s and men’s teams, and a training room. Plans also include offices, meeting rooms, and a revamped basketball Hall of Fame, as well as a hydrotherapy area and facilities to support strength and conditioning for athletes in various sports, including basketball.

U Athletics Director Chris Hill is confident that the basketball program will continue to improve and live up to its proud history, and donors already have stepped up to help. “They understand the vision,” Hill says. One donor for this $24 million project has already committed a seven-figure gift that provides a jumpstart for the committee formed to raise $10 million in donations for the building. The U will bond for the project, which also will be backed by dollars from the U’s Pac-12 television contract.

Doug Knuth, the U’s senior associate athletics director for external relations, is spearheading the Athletics Department’s private fundraising efforts. His challenge is to find potential donors who are passionate about a particular sport to see if they’re ready to support a specific Utah team. He believes a strong athletics program at the U helps build an inviting “front porch” to engender support for the rest of campus. “When athletics wins, we all win,” he says.

For the new Football and Sports Medicine Center, about half the cost, roughly $15 million, is coming from donations, and the rest will be funded through television revenues. At least 20 donors gave more than $100,000 for the project. U football alum Alex Smith BS’04 donated $500,000, and his name will appear on a new strength and training room in the building.

Hill says the glittering new center is a cornerstone for the U’s overall effort to improve its resources for athletes. “It puts us in the game to provide our student athletes with support.”

—Stephen Speckman is a freelance writer and photographer based in Salt Lake City, and a frequent contributor to Continuum.



Tennis – Swimming – Soccer – Burbidge Academic Center

$12 million-plus

The U is the only Pac-12 institution without an outdoor tennis facility or 50-meter swimming pool. That will soon change.

By fall of 2013, the men’s and women’s tennis teams will have six new courts with an elevated spectator viewing area next to the Eccles Tennis Center on Guardsman Way. The existing indoor tennis center is also getting upgrades that include electronic scoreboards, a spruced-up locker room, and a revitalized Hall of Fame. The tab for all of the new construction and improvements is about $2 million and is being funded mostly by donations.

In 2016, building will begin on a $9 million pool and diving facility, bringing the U at least up to par with the rest of the Pac-12 programs. Construction is expected to take about a year.

U Athletics Director Chris Hill says several smaller projects also are in the works to improve U athletics facilities, including plans to spend $750,000 on providing better drainage for the soccer field. A 4,000-square-foot, $1.2 million expansion of the Burbidge Academic Center is expected to be complete by fall 2014 and is being funded entirely by donations. The expansion will include areas for academic support services, more meeting rooms, and study spaces.

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Campus Notebook

University of Utah Dedicates Honors Housing

On September 21, the University of Utah dedicated the Donna Garff Marriott Honors Residential Scholars Community, the newest solution to the U’s growing need for on-campus housing. The dorm provides apartment-style living to 309 honors students in all years of the program.

Students study in the Simmons Innovation Center. (Photos by August Miller)

“These are not old-fashioned dorm rooms,” says Sylvia Torti PhD’98, dean of the Honors College. “The buildings were designed to create a seamless living and learning environment under one roof. Student apartments, classrooms, faculty offices, a library, easy transportation access—even a market—all in one place draw together the traditionally segmented components of campus life. Importantly, the dynamic atmosphere created here could become the new model for an engaged student experience throughout the U.”

The complex is located on the eastern side of campus, adjacent to a TRAX light rail station, and a short walk to the Honors Center in Fort Douglas, the University Health Sciences Center, USTAR building, sports facilities, and the future Student Life Center.

The building also incorporates classroom and collaborative workspaces that host the honors learning model. That model is based on small, intensive courses, led by a team of distinguished faculty across disciplines, and often with involvement by non-academic experts from the local community.

The living quarters are four- or eight-person apartments, which appeal to new students and particularly upperclassmen, who typically gravitate to apartment living as they get older.

Students live in four- or eight-person apartments in the Honors Residential Scholars Community.

“Research shows that students who live on campus stay engaged, do better academically, and graduate earlier than those who live elsewhere,” says Torti. “This building makes it easy for students to engage our four-year program.”

The design makes optimal use of the site with ample use of natural light, and includes windows that open to take advantage of canyon breezes. Proximity to the TRAX line provides easy access to shopping and attractions.

“The seven-minute ride downtown and secure bike storage with bike-in, bike-out access make having a car on this campus obsolete,” Torti notes.

The apartment wing is private, but the building entry and the amenities on the first floor are open to everyone on campus.

The lobby is open and staffed by students 24 hours a day, offering a market with groceries, snacks, prepared meals, a coffee shop, and lounge areas.

Classrooms and offices occupy one wing off the lobby. The Virginia and L.E. Simmons “Big Ideas” Innovation Center is a large open classroom planned for many uses. The windows have a special coating that turns them into writable white boards.

Furniture can be arranged to suit the size and style of just about any class. All classrooms have wireless computer access and can be subdivided for small group study.

Each floor also includes a dashboard system to monitor and display electrical use throughout the building.

A group visits in a common area of the Honors Residential Scholars Community.

The building meets LEED Gold certification.

Classrooms in the Honors Residential building all have wireless computer access.

The community lobby is open to all U students.

David W. Pershing Inaugurated as University President

President David W. Pershing speaks at his inauguration ceremony at Kingsbury Hall. Much of the speech centered on his desire to improve the undergraduate experience. (Photo by Lawrence Boye)

David W. Pershing was officially inaugurated on October 25 as the 15th president of the University of Utah. Pershing, a Distinguished Professor of chemical engineering and former longtime academic vice president at the U, was selected by the State Board of Regents earlier in 2012 to succeed Michael K. Young.

President Pershing’s inaugural address highlighted many of the goals he hopes to accomplish. Much of the speech centered on his desire to improve the undergraduate experience at the University. “Students must be job No. 1,” he said.

He noted many of the recent changes implemented in the admissions process, including taking a more “holistic” approach to examining a potential student’s suitability for college. While emphasizing the U’s commitment to diversity and affordability, Pershing also made note of his “presidential promise”: his commitment to ensuring that all incoming students have at least one transformative experience during their time at the U, whether working one-on-one with a well-known professor, or perhaps participating in some form of study abroad program.

Pershing also announced that the U intends to build a 400-bed residential entrepreneurship institute, as well as explore opportunities for joining a multiuniversity campus in South Korea.

The inauguration followed a week of special events at the University, which included a Community Engagement Day on October 23 with opportunities for faculty and staff to join social service projects, and a student social with the new president on October 24.

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Eccles Foundation Helps U Student Life Center Proceed

The George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation has provided a $3 million “capstone” grant for a much-anticipated new Student Life Center at the U. The grant completes funding needed to begin construction on the center, slated to be a centerpiece of campus activity that will include state-of-the-art facilities for recreation, fitness, and social activities. Groundbreaking is scheduled for spring 2013, with completion in time for the start of the U’s fall semester in 2014. The 172,000-square-foot facility has been a priority of Associated Students of the University of Utah leaders for more than five years, and they approved an increase in student fees in order to bond for the majority of the facility’s cost. The Eccles Foundation grant provides significant momentum toward the $6 million private fundraising campaign for the project, which also includes an early leadership gift of $1 million from Kem Gardner BA’67 JD’70 and a $1 million pledge from the University Federal Credit Union. The Student Life Center will be open year-round, seven days per week, and will offer an indoor running track, wellness clinic, café, and study nooks, among other amenities.

The U’s Student Life Center, shown in this rendering, will be open year-round, seven days a week.

In Memoriam

Audrey E. Bush BS’41 MFA’59, 92, principal bassist of the Utah Symphony for 35 years and a U adjunct faculty member in music for 36 years

Stephen Richards Covey BS’53, 79, author of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

Milt Hollstein BA’48, 86, U professor emeritus of communication and lifelong journalist

Lorenzo “Ren” Neville Hoopes ex’37, 98, a longtime member of the U’s National Advisory Council and strong supporter of the U

Mervin Peter Jackson, Jr. ex’68, 65, captain of the U’s basketball team who led the Utes to the NCAA Final Four in 1966

Joseph Stead Jacobson BS’48 MA’65 PhD’71, 99, a professor emeritus in the U’s Middle East Center

William Lewis Roberts, 52, a U professor and medical director at ARUP Laboratories

Richard Warren Shorthill BA’54 PhD’60, 83, a professor emeritus in the U’s Mechanical Engineering Department

Jim White BS’85 MPA’02, 57, a career counselor at the U for 25 years

For more on these and other memoria, click here.

Partners in Change

About 15 miles from Ghana’s second-largest city of Kumasi, where the pavement turns to hard-packed dirt and the African rainforest grows up thick and tangled, a story of transformation is unfolding. In Barekuma, generations of villagers have carved out a meager existence by farming the equatorial soil. They’ve lived on dirt floors and without electricity and toilets. Access to health care and education has been limited, and the water the community has always relied on for everything from laundry to cooking and bathing has been so contaminated that most of Barekuma’s 2,500 villagers became chronically ill.

Over the last eight years, though, a partnership with the University of Utah’s Global Health Initiative has led Barekuma to remake itself by engaging educators, medical practitioners, university students, and the community in a cross-disciplinary approach to problem solving that helps residents increase their own capacity to improve their lives and create sustainable change. Villagers now have—and use—clean water sources and restrooms. The incidence of disease has been reduced, and greater economic stability is being fostered.

Paired with education-centered programs for medical students and other health-care providers at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi, the efforts in Ghana are a cornerstone example of how the U’s Global Health Initiative is charting new pathways for addressing the challenges of health, education, and economic development, not just in West Africa but in other developing nations and here at home. The initiative is now working in 20 Ghanaian villages and changing the lives of more than 30,000 people. Recently created programs in India, China, and Peru are in their infancy, but already have enhanced opportunities for learning for more than 100 students and faculty members.

Some may wonder why the University of Utah should focus resources and talent on solving problems in places half a world away, when there are community health challenges here in the United States. But in a shrinking world, where global travel is common and refugee programs relocate tens of thousands of people from the developing world, medical providers in Utah need the skills to recognize and treat a wider variety of diseases, say the U Global Health Initiative’s co-directors, Dr. Stephen C. Alder and Dr. DeVon C. Hale. Alder is chief of the U Medical School’s Division of Public Health, and Hale is a U professor of internal medicine and pathology, whose specialty is exotic diseases and travel medicine. They note that many ailments in the developing world can be prevented and treated, so enhancing health education both in medical schools and communities abroad can markedly improve many people’s quality of life.

“The reason we’re in Ghana or China or Peru or India is that we can learn so much in being a part of that community,” Alder says. Hale agrees and says, “I think it’s important that we sitting here in Salt Lake City, Utah, realize that we’re part of the world.”

The U Global Health Initiative’s approach differs from other international programs, Alder says. “We’ve come in, and we’ve looked at the comprehensive health system,” he says. “The community is our patient. And we think that for a healthy community, you certainly need great clinical care and great care delivery systems, but you also need clean water. You need sanitation systems. You need immunization. You need good, clean food; people that are educated; economic viability; and you need good government.”

University of Utah professor Stephen C. Alder, right, shakes hands with Nana Joseph Tabiri, the Ashante Tribe’s chief of Barekuma, joined by Ghanaian pediatrician Daniel Ansong, left. (Photo courtesy Stephen C. Alder)

Started by Hale in 1998 and spurred by medical students’ desire to help in the world’s developing countries, the largely volunteer program is something of a happy accident that has grown in unexpected ways. What Hale first envisioned was nothing more than an exchange program that would send medical students and residents abroad for clinical care experience in the developing world. His own interest in exotic, infectious diseases was fueled by a travel study he conducted of health risks and medical resources in 25 countries where missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were at work.

With Hale’s help, many U medical students went abroad, and most returned with wide smiles and tales of invaluable learning. Others had spent frustrating weeks in locales severely strapped for resources or were used as the vacation relief for overworked local staff. In Swaziland, for example, a female resident arrived to find herself left alone to care for a ward of 40 patients suffering from HIV. “That isn’t a position we want our students in,” Hale says.

Hoping to do better, in 2001, the U Medical School partnered with Indiana University, which had a well-established exchange in place at a Kenyan hospital. The plan was to study Indiana’s program before deciding whether Utah should attempt one of its own, Hale says. But a persistent group of students kept up the pressure for a program through the U, and that same year, the University launched its own fledging program at the Komfo Anokye hospital in Ghana. Ten students and Hale made the first trip, spending a month working on immunization efforts and breast-feeding education, as well as weighing babies and treating dehydration in children.

From the start, the U wanted to build a collaborative, long-term relationship to enhance medical education and training rather than provide one-time donations of money or medical supplies. Hale ended that first visit with a promise to doctors and administrators at the Komfo Anokye hospital that he would return the next year with a new crop of students. “They were suspicious of us,” Hale says of his Ghanaian counterparts. “By the third year, I think they realized maybe we were serious and would keep coming back.”

It was a critical turning point. In 2004, Hale recruited Alder to join the program. Alder had been seeking a way to add an international component to public health education at the U, and he helped the Komfo Anokye hospital develop community-health-oriented outreach and programming. The two Utah doctors were then invited by Ghanaian physician Daniel Ansong to Barekuma. Ansong and two other doctors had adopted the village as their own and were working to try to improve the community’s health conditions. “We went in pretty naively, and our partners went in pretty naively, but we very quickly realized that there were some incredible opportunities for us to make a big difference,” says Alder.

U medical professor DeVon C. Hale, center, listens to residents in Barekuma, Ghana. He says listening has been key to the Global Health Initiative’s success. (Photo courtesy U Global Health Initiative)

In Barekuma—and shortly thereafter in the smaller villages of Kumi and Anikroma—Alder and Hale met with the village chief and other leaders, trusting their assessments of those projects and problems that most needed University help. “Our philosophy has been that we don’t go take charge of a system or a program, but we go as support, as partner,” Alder says. “There are times when we can be a mentor or a technical adviser, but we also go there to learn.”

A prime example of how that process has worked is a Global Health Initiative research project mapping the prevalence of a parasitic flatworm disease known as schistosomiasis. The chronic disease, which is transmitted through human urine and contracted through exposure to contaminated water, was a known health problem that the community wanted to address. The U doctors got community participation in their research project by starting at the top. “We had everybody pee in a cup. The chief started it out to demonstrate that this was a good thing to do,” Alder says. “We did it appropriate to Ghanaian culture, and we got great participation.”

Testing found 41 percent of villagers suffered from the disease. The U team compiled the results into a report and suggested mechanisms for changing local practices and reducing disease. The findings were presented at a community meeting. “There were just these fantastic debates about what this all means, and we never got to the solutions because the community did it before we could. They fixed it,” Alder says of their resolve to find ways to avoid using or getting in the contaminated water.

Other projects have included a health census of villagers and Global Positioning System mapping to better track the spread of disease, early identification and treatment of malaria, efforts to stem the transmission of rotavirus, continued schistosomiasis studies, and the development of sanitation and water treatment systems. A community-based medical clinic that will provide primary medical care and prevention programs for 5,000 residents in five villages also has been completed and is set to open this year. The U doctors this year also launched the Healthy Families Initiative, a program based on the Ghanaian government’s plan for health care that places community health nurses in local clinics.

Working in concert with the Ghanaian government, the U Global Health Initiative helped secure funding and building materials for two schools in the village of Anikroma, with labor supplied by local villagers. In Barekuma, U teams have helped build a community bathroom facility near a school and install a sewer system, so villagers no longer have to use an open pit covered with boards for a toilet. And U students helped write a grant that secured loan funding so villagers could transform a five-acre plot of unused land into an orange grove. Proceeds from the sales of the fruit and its juice will provide an ongoing revenue stream to increase the village’s economic viability and help break the cycle of poverty.

Even more exciting for Hale is what’s happening back in the Kumasi hospital where the U program has its roots. Each year, more students and faculty from both countries have become involved, expanding opportunities for research and learning. The annual summer medical exchange that brings Hale and U students to Africa now also allows for Ghanaian students and faculty to come and study at the University of Utah. About 40 U faculty members are involved and have developed new residency, teaching, and training programs for budding doctors, nurses, dentists, laboratory technicians, and community health workers, as well as physicians’ assistants, who play a critical role in health-care delivery across Ghana and are often the first, or only point of contact a rural village may have with medical care.

The difference the U program has been making is dramatic. An ophthalmology program has expanded access to cataract surgery for patients of all ages, and the Global Health Initiative has helped build an eye surgery center in Kumasi that is nearing completion. Infant mortality is decreasing through the efforts of a neonatal resuscitation course, as well as a new method for treating severe dehydration in babies. A growing dental program for Ghanaian students will graduate its first class this September, improving access to dentistry in a place where the dentist to patient ratio is one per 80,000 people.

A Ghanaian medical worker takes a blood sample. (Photo courtesy U Global Health Initiative)

The University’s success in Ghana has drawn plenty of attention to the community, and requests have come in recent years to expand the Global Health Initiative. Programs and medical exchanges are now in place or in development in China, India, and Peru, opening new opportunities for U students and faculty and those in host countries, Hale says.

Hale and Alder now have a very specific dream: a Global Health Institute at the U that would support both the work already under way and serve as a launching pad for new endeavors. The institute would help them foster new collaboration with universities worldwide and sponsor conferences and research. Hale says a formal institute would also lend the kind of credibility needed to win grants to support the work.

To date, participants in the Global Health Initiative have self-funded most of their work and travel. The U’s medical school provided Hale with a small budget of $60,000 for the first time this year. A fully funded institute would create the needed stability to hone the focus on programming, rather than finding the money to fund the work, Alder says.

For students, working in Africa is as much a lesson in trans forming their own perspectives as it is in medicine, public health, or any other discipline, says Chris Brown, the current chief resident at University Hospital. Brown has traveled to both Kenya, where the University remains involved with the Indiana program, and Ghana. “Their resources are much more limited, so simple lab tests and things that we order here without even thinking about it are very costly, or sometimes you can’t get them,” he says.

He believes he has become a better doctor because of the time he has spent in Africa. He has encountered diseases, sometimes at very advanced stages, that he might never have seen at home. He thinks more about the implications of expensive diagnostic tests and tries to rely more heavily on doing what he says his Ghanaian counterparts do so well: listening closely to patients and conducting more thorough health histories to map a path to diagnosis. He also has a deeper commitment to a medical career entwined with public health work.

University of Utah ophthalmologist Alan Crandall, right, performs eye surgery on a child in Ghana, with Ghanaian ophthalmologist Peter Osei-Bonsu, left, and U nurse Brittnee Zacherson. (Photo courtesy U Global Health Initiative)

Stephen Oluaku Manortey, a Ghanaian who is now studying in Utah in the U’s doctoral program in public health, says conducting community-based participatory research with the Global Health Initiative has allowed him to develop a deeper understanding of the health challenges his country faces. “It has helped me learn more about my own backyard,” says Manortey, who plans to work in Ghana after finishing his degree.

The Global Health Initiative has developed health centers there that bring primary health services to rural communities and has created a database of demographic and health data that aid disease surveillance work. Efforts like those are changing Ghana’s health systems, all without creating a dependence on foreign partners, he says. “This has helped my people to see themselves as stakeholders and owners of the projects much more than the foreign counterparts who have come to work with them,” Manortey says. “I think the GHI is having an impact in Ghana and is there to help make Ghana and the world a better place.”

— Jennifer Dobner is a former longtime Associated Press reporter and editor who now is a freelance writer based in Salt Lake City.

If you would like to participate in a service trip or visit any of the Global Health Initiative sites, or make a donation, contact Taylor Scalley at (801) 585-6874 or taylor.scalley@hsc.utah.edu.

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The Heartbeat of the People

For generations, the men in A.J. Kanip’s family have led Ute Indians in song during social gatherings and sacred ceremonies, marking the rhythm of births and deaths and the occasions in between. At the official powwow grounds in Fort Duchesne, on the tribe’s Uintah and Ouray Reservation in northeastern Utah, Kanip is at first reluctant to provide a sample of song in lieu of an actual ceremony. Then, in the quiet of the empty grounds on a hot summer day, a soulful song emerges from Kanip and his drum.

When asked later what it might signify to attach a feather to that drum, Kanip says: “It’s complicated.” It would take an afternoon to explain the meaning and significance in American Indian culture, he says, but the short version is that feathers help “complete” a ceremony, during which dancers wearing them are expressing themselves to the “creator,” who uses birds as a means of carrying songs and prayers between heaven and earth.

Kanip heads over to his car at the powwow grounds and retrieves an eagle feather someone once gave him. He keeps it pressed between two pieces of cardboard. He offers to tie the feather to his round hand drum. When he has finished, the feather hangs over the left side of the drum. “A drum is considered the heartbeat of the people,” Kanip says. “The sound it makes is the sound of the heart.”

As he stands back from the drum and feather, the resemblance to a certain logo becomes uncanny. The University of Utah in 1975 patterned its popular drum and feather logo after just that sort of Ute drum.  The logo, along with the Ute nickname used by U athletics teams, is among the last of Native American names, traditions, and imagery being used, at least so prominently, by colleges across the country.  Now that the U is a member of the Pac-12, even more focus has been aimed on all aspects of Utah’s flagship institution and has revived the question of whether the U should retire its Ute name and logo.

Rumors of an imminent logo and name change at the end of last year flared up in local media reports but were quickly doused by U administrators, including Chris Hill, who has been the U’s athletics director for the past 25 years. “At the end of the day, none of us wants to be in a position where we’re causing harm or a lack of respect to the American Indian population—that’s first and foremost,” says Hill.

The Athletics Department is open to change “for what is right,” he says, and the logo in particular has been more of a “lightning rod” issue than he ever imagined, with strong opinions on both sides. Personally, he is “somewhat uncomfortable” with the present logo, given the sensitivity to all tribes. “I feel comfortable making sure the Block U is in many places also,” he says of the Athletics Department’s other logo. People can see both logos as fixtures around campus, including at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

A Utah football fan wears the drum and feather logo. (Photo courtesy University of Utah Athletics Department)

Those who believe the Ute name and drum and feather logo are a gateway to abuse by non-Native Americans say change is overdue. In 2005, the NCAA called for 18 colleges nationwide to abandon their long-held practices of using American Indian names and imagery to promote athletics. Institutions that failed to comply risked NCAA penalties that would prevent them from playing host to postseason tournaments and would forbid them from wearing Indian logos or nicknames during postseason play. Many institutions complied with the NCAA’s request. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s dancing Chief Illiniwek took a permanent seat in 2007 after an 81-year-old tradition at that school. The Arkansas State University Indians became the Red Wolves in 2008. Indiana University of Pennsylvania traded its Indians nickname for Crimson Hawks.

But other institutions persisted. Bradley University convinced the NCAA to allow it to continue using the Braves nickname. The University of North Dakota sued the NCAA in 2006 to keep the controversial Fighting Sioux nickname after the association threatened sanctions. After more legal action and even a voter referendum, the university now plans to dump the nickname. The fight rages on, though, as the supporters say they’re working to gather signatures to petition for a state constitutional amendment to keep it.

Tribal Permission

The University of Utah, meanwhile, was among three institutions that quickly persuaded the NCAA back in 2005 to allow them to keep their Indian nicknames. Central Michigan University, Florida State University, and the University of Utah convinced the NCAA to remove them from the list by showing that their namesake tribes—the Chippewa, Seminoles, and Utes—supported their nicknames. So the Ute name and image of a drum with eagle feathers attached to it live on at the University of Utah. Reverence for the name and the symbol doesn’t always translate across cultures, though. Incidents when abuse rears its ugly head might be rare, according to those who support the Ute name and logo, but those incidents also are evidence to others who feel justified in saying the U needs to change.

Forrest Cuch, current chief executive officer of Ute Tribal Enterprises, and the state’s Indian Affairs director until last year, talks to Carrie Dallas of the Indian Walk-In Center in the U’s Olpin Union Building. (Photo by Stephen Speckman)

U Associate Vice President of Equity and Diversity Octavio Villalpando tells a story of a young Native American student who last year spotted a teepee in a tailgate lot on a day the Utah football team was playing. Villalpando says she stopped to check it out, believing it might be a new location for a Native American blessing that she was on her way to witness at the campus American Indian Resource Center, where she thought she was supposed to go. But her accidental detour was anything but a blessing. She instead saw a “completely, completely inebriated man” who was dressed as a Native American, marching around and doing his “Indian holler,” says Villalpando.

The woman approached the man. “He told her that he wanted to make sure that the University better understood its native roots and that he was doing this to bring attention to that,” Villalpando says. The scene brought tears to the woman’s eyes. She complained that day to a gate official at Rice-Eccles Stadium, but the man’s First Amendment rights prevailed, according to Villalpando.

Offensive Symbols?

It’s not just one incident that has Villalpando concerned about the nickname and logo. “I would call it a concern that is routinely expressed by current members of the University community, including faculty, students, and staff, and the external community,” he says. “People will ask routinely, ‘When are we going to remove the drum and feather logo?’ ” It’s a concern also raised by faculty who are considering a position at the University, he says. “The question is not just one of whether the Ute Tribe is offended or not,” Villalpando says. “The other question is how the symbols are offensive to people beyond the Ute Tribe. So, it’s a larger question, I would propose.”

A University of Utah football fan wears a costume Indian headdress and face paint at a recent game. (Photo courtesy U Athletics Department)

Utah athletics fan Randy Lewis, who attended the U in the late 1970s, says he later heard about the teepee incident, and he believes the man in question is in a “tiny minority” of people who occasionally bring shame to the University’s nickname and logo. “I felt sickened and horrible about it for her,” Lewis says, adding that he will confront anyone he sees abusing Native American imagery or traditions. He not only wants to see the Ute name and logo stay, he’d also like U officials to meet with Ute tribal leaders and come up with a way to incorporate the tribe into the U’s athletic tradition in a manner that would be positive.

The drum and feather logo appears on a variety of items, from shot glasses to boxer shorts, at the Utah Red Zone store on the U campus. Some view the use of the logo on that merchandise as disrespectful. (Photo by Stephen Speckman)

Even before the NCAA issued its rules, some institutions—including the University of Utah—had begun to move away from offensive nicknames and traditions. By the mid-1970s, the U had stopped using the nickname Redskins and became the Utes. The official logo became the drum and feather. The Crimson Warrior, a man in Native American garb who rode a horse into the football stadium, was retired in the 1980s, when Ted Capener was vice president of institutional advancement. “I had groups of young Native American students in my office who sometimes had tears in their eyes,” Capener recalls of the situation leading up to the warrior’s retirement. Swoop, a red-tailed hawk, became the official mascot in 1996.

“There are no plans at present to discontinue use of the Ute name,” says Fred Esplin, the U’s vice president of institutional advancement. The same is true of the logo. “It is beloved greatly by U athletics fans,” Esplin says. But he says he realizes that the name and logo are a “concern” to some Native Americans.

Danielle Endres, a U associate professor of communications, can back up that point with her own academic research. “I did discover that many of the Native Americans on campus are uncomfortable with the nickname,” says Endres, who specializes in Native American rhetoric and activism. “They generally expressed that it kind of created a hostile environment on campus.”

Other American Indians, though, including Forrest Cuch, chief executive officer of Ute Tribal Enterprises, say that the use of mascots and logos bearing their names brings more awareness of their tribes. One thing American Indians find worse than having their imagery and traditions abused is being ignored, he says, and he thinks the University’s use of the Ute name and logo should remain. “My position is that there’s nothing wrong with it, so nothing needs to be fixed,” says Cuch, who was the state’s Indian Affairs director until last year. In his new post, he looks after the Ute Tribe’s business holdings. He says his fear is that if the U relinquished the drum and feather logo, it would be like saying, “Maybe it’s time to eliminate any decent reference to the Ute people and erase them from any kind of landmark from the state of Utah.” The Ute name and logo represent a long, successful relationship between his tribe and the University, he says.

A Negative Impact 

U Athletics Director Chris Hill speaks at a fundraising event. He says he favors more education and understanding among those who regard the name and logo in disrespectful ways. (Photo by August Miller)

Certainly no one in a position of power within the Ute Tribe is lobbying to change the name and logo. But opposition is out there. U American Indian Resource Center Director Matthew Makomenaw often is the one who students, Native American or otherwise, turn to when they take issue with the way the people treat Indian imagery and traditions on and off campus. “I think currently there are some students who feel strongly about the issue, whether it’s the nickname or the drum and feather,” said Makomenaw, a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottowa and Chippewa Indians.

Makomenaw points to photos that can be found on several U Facebook links, depicting Utah fans wearing Native American garb. One image features two young women with long blond hair, each wearing a rainbow colored headdress and two-piece fringed, faux buckskin outfits with moccasins. Another photo shows a teepee with a feather and drum logo set up in a tailgate lot. It’s that kind of treatment that sends some students to Makomenaw’s office in tears. “The research on American Indian nicknames and mascots shows that it has a negative impact on the self-esteem of American Indian youth,” he says. Some Native Americans tell Makomenaw they don’t want to bring their children to football games because it isn’t a “welcoming environment” when fans dress up like Indians and perpetuate only a stereotype of Native Americans.

Even so, during John Ashton’s 23 years as the U Alumni Association’s executive director, support among many alumni and fans for the U’s use of the Indian name and logo have been clear, he says. “There’s no question that the weight of opinion was on preserving the tradition of the Ute name and drum and feather,” Ashton says, and changing the logo now would be difficult because it has become so successful and recognizable. If the Ute Tribe withdrew approval of using their name or the logo, then it would be time for change, he says.

Any change now would involve the U Board of Trustees and Michele Mattsson, the board’s current vice chairwoman. “I personally love the logo and the name, and feel it’s rooted in strong tradition,” she says. “To me it’s a nice connection to Ute heritage.”

A.J. Kanip’s drum and eagle feather rest on the Ute Tribe’s powwow grounds at Fort Duchesne. (Photo by Stephen Speckman)

Others, including Villalpando, don’t see it that way when the logo—the emblem of Kanip’s drum and eagle feather—can be found on merchandise such as underwear, garden gnomes, and shot glasses. “I think a [public] university has the responsibility to the taxpayers of that state to ensure that it provides an educationally sound experience to all students,” Villalpando says. “And if students bring to the attention of the university concerns about its particular practices or symbols impacting their learning, then I think it’s the university’s responsibility to listen to them and to explore how best to enhance the academic experience for all students. … It’s not an issue of political correctness. It’s an issue of educationally sound strategies.”

Barbara Snyder, the U’s vice president for student affairs, realizes the problems. “I understand how offensive the continued use of the drum and feather logo is, not just to Native American students but to those who value social justice,” she says.

So, what next? Some say the answer is education.

In presentations Makomenaw makes on campus, he tells people to close their eyes and picture a Native American, and he asks if they see someone wearing a headdress or a polo shirt and slacks. It’s an exercise, he says, to drive home the point that American Indians are scientists, history teachers, neighbors, and, in other words, just like anyone else you might know. The hard part, he adds, is how to educate the masses about Native American culture in a way that will foster more sensitivity and  understanding.

Hill says he favors more education and understanding among what he estimates are the 5 percent of people who regard the name and logo in disrespectful ways. “If what we have as a nickname and logo lead to more offensive things, then I think we need to take a hard look at what we’re leading people to,” he says.

Striking the right tone 

Keith Keddington, a U student who is president of The MUSS, the U’s student athletics fan group, says there is an overwhelming desire among Utah students to continue using the Ute name as well as the drum and feather logo, but he also sees a need for learning. “It is a storied icon that provides a unique opportunity for education and increased respect for Ute tradition,” he says. “I see a great opportunity to share information about the Ute Tribe both on campus, in the community, and on a national level. We should further develop an understanding of who and what we represent by using the Ute name.”

Mattsson and other U officials past and present, as well as Ute Tribe members, all say that at the very least, the U could lead or facilitate efforts to better educate Ute fans and the campus community about the tribe from which it borrows its name and logo.

As Kanip played his drum and sang and spoke on that hot summer day, he agreed that there could be a little more education around campus about what a Ute is or what the logo means. Standing close to Kanip’s own round drum, you can feel its vibrations as he plays. As he sings, you sense the deep respect Kanip has for the meaning and place that songs hold among not just Utes but all Native Americans.

“Only certain people can make a drum, to make it sound a certain way,” he says. “I can’t do it. I can just offer the songs for it. It takes patience, skill, and time.

“Something like this,” he says, looking at his drum, “you can’t rush. The tone, it’s an instrument of God. So, it needs a tone that brings out the spirituality of the event or ceremony.”

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

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Through the Years: Short alumni profiles and Class Notes

Leveling the Playing Field

Norma Carr, a U alumna and former coach, recalls the struggle for Title IX.

By Kim M. Horiuchi

Forty years ago, when the playing fields for women athletes were rocky to nonexistent, coach Norma Carr MS’77 would shed tears when male counterparts shut her teams out of their field houses and gymnasiums. It was a time when there were no summer sports camps for young women, and Carr handcrafted her own trophies to give to her female teams, because competitive sports for them were banned. Before Title IX, which marked its 40th anniversary this year after becoming law on June 23, 1972, women’s sports went unrecognized and unsanctioned at the most amateur levels, and elite competition if you were female was a pipe dream. “Church sports, recreation sports, competitive sports, it was all different for women,” Carr says.

Following Title IX, Norma Carr, center, led the University to a pair of 20-win seasons as the women’s volleyball head coach from 1975 to 1979 and was twice named conference Coach of the Year. (Photo courtesy University of Utah Athletics Department)

Carr, who was the first head coach in both softball and volleyball at the University of Utah and was inducted into the Crimson Club Hall of Fame this year, was instrumental in seeing that changed in Utah, and it wasn’t easy. The discrimination was blatant, and the struggles intense. Carr says she was confronted with opinions that “sports were making girls masculine and that their uteruses would fall out.” She was told “a woman’s place was in the home, having babies and cooking.”

“There were fierce, ugly, verbal battles,” Carr recalls. “We were treading on sacred ground.” Girls who wanted to participate in athletics were branded tomboys, and gender differences were magnified.

The Utah Shamrocks, a league softball team, was playing the only type of high-level sport that women could find at the time, but even then there was little coaching and the players were basically “self-made athletes,” Carr says. Worse, instead of skill or talent, the focus was on what the players wore and how they dressed. Clad in satin uniforms with skirts, Shamrocks players were forced to slide to base on bare legs.

“What guys were doing, girls could never do,’’ Carr says. “For me personally, there was a lot of frustration. … The social and emotional side of life became a challenge.”

Carr remembers growing up in Centerville, Utah, trying to find a patch of field to play baseball—with the boys. There was no sports equipment. Learning to pitch came by throwing a ball against the side of the barn.

After graduating from the U in health sciences, Carr began her teaching and coaching career in northern Utah’s Davis School District. The girls would participate in sports through informal “play days.” The policy at the time was that girls could participate in cheerleading, pep clubs, and drill teams, but not interscholastic sports. Coaches, including Carr, would hold games and matches for their girls anyway, even though such action invariably came with a reprimand.

Norma Carr, center, coaches softball in 1987. She is the winning-est softball coach in the U’s history. (Photo courtesy University of Utah Athletics Department)

Soon some girls began playing on boys’ tennis teams, but state officials also deemed that off limits. Parents threatened to sue, and Carr was thrust in the middle of the battle for Title IX. It took years, but eventually girls and women were able to compete in sanctioned sports, and compete they did.

At the U, Carr served as an assistant women’s athletics director from 1975 to 1989. The winning-est softball coach in school history, Carr had a 372-244-3 (.603) record in 14 seasons. She led the Utes to the AIAW College World Series in 1976 and the NCAA College World Series in 1982 and 1985. Carr was named the region Coach of the Year once and the conference Coach of the Year twice.

As the women’s volleyball head coach from 1975 to 1979, Carr led Utah to a 77-58 (.570) overall record—including a pair of 20-win seasons—and a 39-22 (.639) mark in conference play, becoming a two-time conference Coach of the Year. Carr left the U in 1989 to become the athletics director at Salt Lake Community College, where she was the first woman in the state to oversee both men’s and women’s programs. Carr was named to the Utah High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1996. In 2009, she was named National Administrator of the Year by the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators.

The success is “exhilarating,” Carr says, especially considering the immense challenges and struggles for women to get there. “The unfortunate part is that it took a law to change it, because a law takes it to the extreme. You can’t change people’s attitudes and feelings with a law. Some of that pain still exists today.”

Many of those male coaches who barred her teams from playing in their spaces have since apologized to her, Carr says. With a change in perspective that time brings, they are grateful, she says, that their granddaughters now playing high school sports enjoy the protections of Title IX. The future for women athletes is unlimited, Carr says, but there are still hurdles.

“My disappointment,” she says,“ is that women aren’t giving back. Where are the future women’s coaches? Where are the women’s players? Where are the future contributors for women’s programs? Everybody can figure out how they can give back.”

—Kim Horiuchi is an associate editor of Continuum.


Newspaper Find Leads to Hall of Fame for University of Utah Alumna

University of Utah alum Patsy Neal sports her uniform for the 1959 Pan-American Games. (Photo courtesy Patsy Neal)

In the 1950s, when Patsy Neal MS’63 was in high school, female athletes had very different options than they do today. If they could find a way to compete at all, it might be on a boys’ team. If an all-girls’ team was cobbled together, they might have trouble finding other female teams with which to compete. But even then, opportunities could be found, and Neal was fortunate to come across one—an opportunity that changed her life.

In her small-town Georgia newspaper, Neal read a short paragraph about women’s basketball scholarships available at Wayland Baptist College in Texas. Suddenly, she saw a way to both continue her education and play the sport she loved.

During her time at Wayland, Neal would become a three-time All-American Amateur Athletic Union basketball player and also served as the college’s first woman student body president. At the University of Utah, she earned a master’s degree and taught in the U’s Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department from 1963 to 1966. She was selected to serve as captain of the United States women’s basketball team in the World Basketball Tournament in 1964, in Peru, and was on the U.S. All-Star team that toured France, Germany, and Russia in 1965.

Neal, who lives in Morristown, Tennessee, has been inducted into the National Association for Sports and Physical Education Hall of Fame, the National Amateur Athletic Union Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Wayland Baptist University Hall of Honor. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.


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Other Notable Alumni


Arnie Ferrin BS’66 has been inducted into the Pac-12 Basketball Hall of Honor. The four-time All-American, who led the University of Utah to the 1944 NCAA championship and 1947 National Invitation Tournament title, is the U’s first inductee. Ferrin became the first freshman ever to be named MVP of the Final Four. After capping his Utah career with the NIT crown, Ferrin went on to become the MVP of the national East-West All-Star Game. He was drafted by the Minneapolis Lakers and helped the franchise win titles in the BAA (1949) and NBA (1950). Ferrin’s jersey No. 22 is one of seven retired by the U. He was inducted into the National College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. Ferrin also served as general manager of the ABA’s Utah Stars and as the U’s athletics director. LM

Stephen Jacobsen BS’67 MS’70
received the lifetime achievement award in the 2012 Utah Genius Awards for his work as a prolific inventor in the field of robotics. Jacobsen is a Distinguished Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Utah and the founder of Sarcos Inc., a company based at the U that is now called Raytheon-Sarcos and creates robotic suits that give people superhuman capabilities. He also founded seven other companies. He previously has been recognized with election to the National Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists, as well as honors including the Leonardo Da Vinci Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Pioneer of Robotics Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and the Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology.


David Cornell Hartzell, Jr. BS’79
has been elected as supervisor of Clarence, New York. The supervisor serves as mayor of the town, which has a population of 31,000 and is located 25 miles east of Buffalo. Hartzell has served as president of the Clarence Chamber of Commerce from 2007 to 2010, chairman of the Clarence Industrial Development Agency from 2004 to 2012, chairman of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency Leadership Council, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the University of Buffalo’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership program and of the Board of Directors of the FBI Citizens Academy.


Chris Johnson MS’84 PhD’90,
director of the University of Utah’s Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute and distinguished professor of computing at the U, has been honored by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) at the International Parallel and Distributed Processing Symposium (IPDPS). Johnson was awarded the IEEE IPDPS Charles Babbage Award at the symposium in Shanghai, China, on May 22. Charles Babbage, who lived from 1791 to 1871, is considered one of the fathers of computing and was the inventor of the first mechanical computer. The namesake award was presented to Johnson in recognition of his “innovations in the area of scientific visualization and their application to computational biomedicine, engineering, and scientific discovery.” Johnson is co-founder of Visual Influence Inc. and co-editor of The Visualization Handbook. He is the recipient of the Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology, as well as the Distinguished Professor Award and the Rosenblatt Prize, both from the U.

Colonel Kevin B. Wooton BGL BGP’85
has been selected for promotion later this year to brigadier general in the U.S. Air Force. Wooton, an Intelligence and Cyberspace Operations officer, is currently the commander of the 67th Network Warfare Wing at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The wing is the cyberspace operations force and newest combat wing of the Air Force. Its mission is to operate, manage, and defend global Air Force networks. Wooton deployed to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in support of Operation Deseret Storm, and recently to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he served as director of intelligence. He also led the 25th Intelligence Squadron as a mission commander deployed to the Joint Special Operations Air Component’s Directorate of Operations at Al Udeid, Qatar. Wooton and his wife, Elizabeth Anderson Wooton BSN’79, have four daughters. LM

Paul S. Kirby BA’88 BA’89 MA’91 MEd’01
(PhD, Utah State University), an assistant principal at Hillcrest High School in Midvale, Utah, was named Utah Assistant Principal of the Year for 2011. The award was bestowed by the Utah Association of Secondary School Principals, which will submit Kirby’s name to the national association for national competition. At the University of Utah, Kirby earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and political science, as well as a master’s degree in languages and literature, with a Spanish medieval emphasis. He also received a master’s of education degree and an administrative endorsement. In the late 1980s, he worked as a teaching assistant in the Foreign Language Department at the U. Kirby attended the Universidad de Salamanca in Spain for Spanish language undergraduate and graduate courses and earned a doctorate in curriculum and instruction this year from Utah State University. He was a Fulbright Scholar in 1997.


Jennifer B. Danielson BA’95 JD’96
has been appointed president of Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah. Danielson joined the company in 1997 and has an extensive health insurance and policy background from previous positions held with Regence in leading the public policy division and on the legal team, as well as with the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office, the Utah Department of Health, and the Utah Attorney General’s Office Health Division. Danielson is the past president of the Utah Health Insurance Association.



LM Lifetime Member of the Alumni Association    AM Annual Member of the Alumni Association

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

Tracking Winged Sentinels

A U professor travels the world to document birds’ crucial role and conserve their dwindling numbers.

With its bald head, its preposterous neck, its tendency to hunch its shoulders while waiting for something bad to happen, the vulture is a bird that makes us cringe. But look what happened in India.

First, the vultures’ habitat was cut down to make way for human villages and farms, and then farmers began medicating their cattle with a painkiller that caused the birds’ kidneys to collapse when they ingested the cattle remains. Vulture populations began to decline—to near-extinction levels in some areas of the country—and then the land was littered with rotting carcasses, which caused the feral dog and rat populations to increase, contributing to a bubonic plague outbreak and the deaths of 48,000 people from rabies.

Collared redstart

Collared redstart

As Çağan H. Şekercioğlu tells it, this is one more cautionary tale about the perils of diminishing biodiversity. And it’s why, in 2009, he opened the first “vulture restaurant” in his native Turkey (that is to say, a place where the scavengers could get a safe meal, not an eatery with roast vulture on the menu.)

Çağan H. Şekercioğlu (pronounce it cha-HAN shay-KER-jeoh-loo) is a conservation biologist, ornithologist, and tireless advocate for biodiversity. Last year, he was honored as one of 14 “emerging explorers” by National Geographic for his work in tropical and mountain outposts from Costa Rica to Ethiopia. The distinction recognizes Şekercioğlu as being among the “uniquely gifted and inspiring adventurers, scientists, and storytellers making significant contributions to world knowledge through exploration while still early in their careers.” In 2008, he received Britain’s prestigious Whitley Gold Award for his conservation efforts in Turkey, from the Whitley Fund for Nature. At 36, he is already one of the most cited environmental scientists in the world.

Since 2010, Şekercioğlu has called Salt Lake City home. When the University of Utah wooed him in 2009, he was impressed by both the Department of Biology and its generous offer: a brand-new lab, a generous start-up fund, and enough time away from teaching duties each year to pursue his far-flung fieldwork.

During the 2011 Fall Semester, he traveled to Ethiopia, where he set up six bird-banding stations in a remote forest to explore whether climate change is forcing birds to seek higher elevations. He also went to Turkey, where he worked with his nonprofit organization, KuzeyDoğa, on projects including Turkey’s first wildlife corridor and the vulture restaurant, which is modeled after similar safe havens in India and Nepal. And at year’s end, he traveled to New Zealand to participate in the International Congress for Conservation Biology, where he urged the world’s university-based conservation scientists to not just go into the wild and then publish papers, but also to work with local groups that can make conservation happen. Decision-makers, especially in the developing world, he told them, are more likely to follow the recommendations of academics than those of independent NGOs, which they often suspect of having political agendas.


Çağan H. Şekercioğlu talks to high-school students about bird ecology, conservation, and migrations, at KuzeyDoğa Aras Bird Research and Education Center, in eastern Turkey.

To save birds, he believes, you’ve got to encourage humans to get involved. Increasingly, that means working with grassroots organizations to help them see that saving species can be a win-win for local economies. It also means dealing with bureaucrats to get permits and garner support for ventures such as the 58,000-acre wildlife corridor and a man-made bird-nesting island that Şekercioğlu spearheaded in Turkey’s Lake Kuyucuk.

Sometimes it also means drinking endless cups of tea with government officials. Writer Elif Batuman, in her keenly observed profile of Şekercioğlu published in The New Yorker last fall, quotes him on the matter of tea drinking:

“I should just put on an adult diaper and drink tea all day long,” Çağan reflected, rubbing his eye. “They’ll be like, ‘That Çağan, he’s a really good guy—the other day he had tea with us for five hours. Let’s declare this a protected habitat. ’ ”

Even a short conversation with Şekercioğlu is often a winged migration, a flight that starts in the tropics, perhaps, and then veers off-course toward an even better story.

He might begin with his historical idol, Alfred Russell Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin, and then detour to the 19th-century extinction of a flightless songbird called the Stephens Island wren; then take a sharp turn toward the Ottoman Empire; and then veer east to Papua New Guinea, where the construction of a gas pipeline is destroying habitat yet also making the area accessible to birders. Then, suddenly, he will realize that he is going to be late to a meeting.

“I’m talking too long,” he will say then. It is part apology, part the clear-eyed observation of a scientist observing his own behavior. “I often give myself to things. Being a professor these days means doing three, four jobs at once. I am still learning to balance my life.”

It is this passion—for stories and work, for life and all living things—that first impressed University of Utah College of Science Dean Pierre Sokolsky. “You can tell immediately that this is not just an academic subject for him,” Sokolsky says of Şekercioğlu. “His whole face lights up.”

Resplendent quetza

Resplendent quetzal

In hiring a new faculty member, Sokolsky says, “what you’re really trying to hire is the intellect and the energy,” rather than to more narrowly find a person who does a particular type of research. The dean was also struck by Şekercioğlu’s ability to reach out to the world’s millions of bird watchers, and beyond them to the general public, to make science not just accessible but a heart-pounding experience.

Bird “watching” hardly captures the lengths to which Şekercioğlu goes to find the planet’s nearly 10,000 bird species. He is No. 69 in the world in number of bird species observed (last count: 5,781) and one of the handful in their 30s who has seen more than half the world’s bird species. “If I live to an old age and am able physically,” he says, “8,000 species is possible.”

To track down, keep track of, and study the habitats of everything from the scruffy bald ibis to the showy keel-billed toucan, Şekercioğlu has endured the following: He was chased by a machete-wielding mob in Costa Rica (they thought he was a thief when in fact he was searching for a Pacific screech-owl); he was charged by an elephant in Tanzania; he acquired the skin disease form of leishmaniasis in Peru from the bite of a sand fly; he almost lost his legs to a lymph system infection in Papua New Guinea; he came face to face with a grizzly bear in Alaska; and he was carjacked by AK-47-toting tribesmen in Ethiopia. Still, he says, it’s safer to do fieldwork than to drive a car in his native Istanbul.

Fieldwork—not just studying the habits and habitats of birds but working with local communities to save species—is essential for solving the world’s conservation problems, he says. But with the growing pressure on academic scientists to publish quickly and on big topics, biologists tend increasingly to work with existing data sets. And funding to do long-term field research gets harder and harder to come by.

On a recent afternoon, Şekercioğlu re-enacts what it was like to come upon the book that changed his life. He gets up from his desk in his office in the U’s South Biology Building, walks to the bookshelf, and picks up the Collins Field Guide: Birds of Britain and Europe. He was 14 when he first found it on the shelf of his high school library in Istanbul and was awed by what the world offered.

His father bought him a pair of Russian-made military binoculars, and, despite the fact that their heft gave him a neck ache, he wore them everywhere. Before it was birds, it was insects. And frogs. And hedgehogs. He made his first insect net out of his mother’s wedding veil. He taught himself to read when he was 4 years old (his parents wearied of reading him yet another book about animals). He read about Darwin at age 5 (although he thought Darwin had written On the Origin of Türks, since the Turkish word for “species” is “Tür”).


Çağan H. Şekercioğlu radio-tracks a silverthroated tanager to find its night roost near Costa Rica’s Las Cruces forest.

Worried that he preferred insects to soccer, his parents took him to a psychiatrist, who assured them that he was normal. But in Turkey at that time, he says, there was not a single role model for a boy who wanted to study wildlife. “If you’re good at science,” the conventional wisdom went, “you should become a doctor or an engineer.” To this day, no university in Turkey has an ecology department, and in all of Istanbul, there isn’t a single natural history museum.

Because there also weren’t many natural history books in Turkish, he read them in English. And that, he says, eventually boosted his college entrance exam scores, and that helped him get a full scholarship to Harvard University. It also probably didn’t hurt that at age 16 he contributed a rare beetle to the Harvard entomology collection. He got his doctorate at Stanford University, studying with famed population biologist Paul Ehrlich. While still in college, at age 23, Şekercioğlu initiated a study of a community of more than 400 bird species in Costa Rica. (So far, the project has mist-netted more than 60,000 birds of 262 species, radio-tracked about 450 birds, and monitored hundreds of bird nests.) The work has helped reveal how tropical forest birds respond to agriculture and deforestation. He also organized a worldwide bird ecology database that covers all of the world’s 10,000-plus bird species—one of the world’s most comprehensive archives of any class of organism, he says—and which he updates based on the literature and his field experience.

And that brings us to the heart of Şekercioğlu’s work.

Farming, logging, cities, roads: Over the centuries, birds have had to make room for human pursuits and have sometimes become extinct in the process. Now, add to that the threat of climate change, says Şekercioğlu.

“Even if we were oblivious to the present changes in Earth’s climate,” he writes with co-author Janice Wormworth in the 2011 book Winged Sentinels: Birds and Climate Change, “a careful look at birds’ patterns of responses over recent decades would warn us that some sort of widespread and systematic change is afoot.”

When and where and how often they breed, for example, can give us a clue that their ecosystem is awry. They are nearly literally the “canary in the coal mine,” warning of what might follow for other species, says Şekercioğlu. And their diminishing numbers could have a direct effect on the planet. The seeds of rainforest trees, for example, are mainly dispersed by birds. If the birds dwindle or become extinct, eventually, the trees will, too. As part of his efforts to help preserve those tropical species, Şekercioğlu co-authored the 2011 book Conservation of Tropical Birds, another exploration of how climate change, habitat loss, and invasive species affect birds and other wildlife.

In a 2008 study published in the journal Conservation Biology, Şekercioğlu and his colleagues at Stanford predicted that if the Earth’s surface temperature rises 2.8 degrees Celsius by the end of this century (a moderate scenario, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), it could trigger the extinction of 400 to 550 bird species. Part of that is due to what he calls the “escalator effect”—as habitats get warmer and vegetation changes, birds move to higher elevations; eventually they run out of places for escape. A worst-case scenario of habitat loss plus 6.4 degrees Celsius warming could mean more than 2,500 land birds would become extinct by the year 2100, about 30 percent of all land bird species.


Çağan H. Şekercioğlu, left, who joined the University of Utah faculty in 2010, puts a tracking band on an emerald toucanet in Costa Rica’s Las Cruces forest.

The good news, though, is that even a reduction of 1 degree Celsius of warming can make a huge difference, Şekercioğlu says, resulting in up to 500 fewer bird extinctions. We can also make sure there are vegetation corridors between forest fragments; we can improve the “hospitality” of farmland so birds can thrive.

Our economic system is based on constant growth, notes Şekercioğlu, and we humans are a “short-sighted species… Our brains are not wired to deal with long-term, catastrophic threats” such as climate change. At the other extreme, though, by the time scientific data are condensed into a magazine article or summarized in a misleading headline, projections can look worse than they are. It’s a constant struggle to make sure the science reporting is accurate, he says, and that the real environmental threats aren’t overlooked.

Like any scientist, he sometimes uses fuzzy phrases like “bird-mediated ecosystem process” and “avian extinction correlates.” But Şekercioğlu is also a photographer and a storyteller, a cheerleader for every bird that flies or swims or waddles.

If he could be any bird at all, he says, he would be a raptor. In English, his first name translates as “hawk.” But it’s not just that. He would rather be the bird that isn’t eaten, the one that lives long enough to see every other bird. He would rather be a long-distance traveler, spreading the word.

— Elaine Jarvik is a freelance writer and playwright based in Salt Lake City.

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