VOL. 2 NO. I
a journal of thought and action
A Helping Hand Local Universities Team Up for Area House Calls p.12
Common Ground â€œAmerica was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.â€? - Harry S. Truman
Merging Modern Medicine and Cultural Remedies p.13
Changing PovertyStricken Areas Into Tales of Success p.14
truman state university
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h a r r y a journal of thought and action Truman State University Truman Institute 100 E. Normal, Baldwin Hall 110 Kirksville, MO 63501
h a r r y is a copyrighted publication published through the Truman Institute. No material can be reproduced in any form without prior written consent of the h a r r y publisher and editor-inchief. The editor-in-chief is responsible for all decisions. Opinions expressed in h a r r y are not necessarily the views of the staff, Institute or university. h a r r y is not responsible for the full cost of an advertisement if an error occurs.
accompany these stories – something our web-based journal can do far better than our traditional print venues. Many of these students are cutting their teeth with their very first stories while writing for Harry. Our second issue is also taking some new steps forward technologically with imbedded links. Our intention is to have the third issue tablet compatible.
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It is my pleasure to bring you the second issue of Harry: A Journal of Thought and Action. Harry aims to highlight the many kinds of innovative activities, creative endeavors, and cutting-edge ideas emerging from this vibrant community of higher learning. Our focus is on topics that should be of concern to everyone, but particularly topics that will be of interest to “thought leaders” in other fields: business, industry, government, education, and science. Harry itself is innovative in its commitment to engaged learning. The reporting is done entirely by Truman undergraduate students under the mentorship of Dr. Marilyn Yaquinto, a Pulitzer Prize-Winning journalist in her own right. Students in Truman’s News & Reporting and Feature Writing courses learn to identify stories, interview subjects, do extensive background research, and develop stories that are often much longer than traditional newspaper articles. What’s more, they have the added responsibility of developing multimedia content to
A subscription to Harry is free. We encourage you to share this publication with friends and to encourage them to send us their e-mail addresses for inclusion in our mailing list. If you like the ideas you see here, and want to know more about what Truman State University’s faculty and programs can do in partnership with your business, school, organization, or employees, don’t hesitate to contact our office. We would love to share with you the possibilities in spreading these ideas to even larger audiences. I also want to take a moment to acknowledge one of our writers for this issue - Elizabeth Koch. Liz was taken from us last year in a tragic car accident. At the the time we were preparing stories for Harry’s first issue we learned of her passing. Her friends helped put the finishing touches on a story she prepared for this issue. We decided that it was important to include her work as a testament to her dedication to student media at Truman and her craft. Her story appears on page 18. We hope you enjoy this issue.
Kevin M. Minch, PhD, Director The Truman Institute
harr y a journal of thought and action
Staff Editor-in-Chief Managing Editor Associate Editor Creative Directors
Marilyn Yaquinto Jessica Scheetz Elizabeth McBride Burgundy Ramsey Carly Robison
Ideas and Innovation 06 Strands of Life Research team
investigates how viruses adapt and mutate with RNA to potentially discover a cure for viruses like leukemia.
08 A-maize-ing Science Genetic
diversity holds the key to the future of sustainable agriculture and industry
09 Breastfeeding Benefits Maternity leave, socioeconomic conditions and education may affect new mothersâ€™ breastfeeding habits
Impact and Ideals 12 A Helping Hand A.T. Still
University and Truman State University team up to provide house calls for area residents
14 14 Educational Activism Alumni
use their degrees to advocate for affordable quality education in lowerincome areas across the Midwest
17 Establishing Common Ground
Research finds minority populations in small town communities often revert to culturally bound remedies instead of modern medical treatments
18 Finding Your Inner Voice
Students and professors travel near and far to stand up for populations with human rights issues, then take those lessons and apply them to work in the classroom
24 Got Mielke English professor
explores popular and avant garde music through book
25 Notables Recently published
works from the academic community
28 An African Safari Students
travel abroad to learn about animal conservation and management.
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Ideas and Innovation
Research and the real world photo by BURGUNDY RAMSEY
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photo courtesy of MARIA NAGAN
Strands of Life Genetic research may hold the key to finding more effective treatments for viruses like leukemia by MORGAN SIMPSON
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single strand of genetic material might contain the answer researchers need to stop diseases such as the common cold, HIV and Hepatitis C. Most people have an understanding of our genetic material, Deoxyribonucleic acid, but don’t know that much about Ribonucleic acid. Similar to DNA, RNA also has genetic information, but with numerous structural and chemical differences. Among the most recognizable variances in RNA is a single strand of amino acids instead of the familiar double-helix structures of DNA. Also, unlike DNA, which is the genetic material in humans and animals, RNA provides the genetic information for viruses
and bacteria. Truman State University professor Maria Nagan researches RNA in viruses that cause leukemia and how this research affects the medical community. “There’s all these really bad diseases that have their genetic information encoded in RNA,” Nagan says. “My lab is interested in understanding how the sequence of RNA makes a particular structure and then how molecules in the cell recognize that RNA. And we look at it from the perspective of preventing diseases.” Nagan and her team of undergraduate students study the RNA in the virus that causes leukemia, particularly how it interacts with proteins to change and
grow into the virus. By mapping the lifecycle of the RNA and the protein, Nagan says it will make it easier to discover effective treatments for the disease. Nagan and the students use computer programs and methods known as computational chemistry to figure out and show these life cycles. “I think that out of this research we can understand how the protein recognizes RNA and someone else can design a drug,” she says. “It’s sort of like the foundational work.” Nagan describes her work as being a foundation because it is the first step in the creation of new drugs and vaccines. Because of the way RNA is structured, it is possible for other molecules to attach themselves to it. These molecules, known as proteins, usually are connected to the RNA and help it through its life cycle. The university does not fully fund the research Nagan and her students do. Instead, they receive two different grants from the National Science Foundation as well as a grant from NASA. Nagan also has a grant that allows her time on the super computer at the National Institute of Computational Science. Nagan adds that undergraduates do not usually perform this type and level of research, which is another reason why the project is gaining notice. “When I go give a talk, people pay attention.” Nagan says. “Then they’re floored that undergrads are doing this. So people know who I am and they know that undergrads are working in my lab.” One student researcher, Michael Jones, is studying the versatility of RNA recognition in a bacterium called the P22 phage. He explains that by learning the process by which proteins bond to the RNA of bacteria and viruses, scientists can learn how to stop the reactions from occurring. This will lead to the creation of new treatments and decrease the time needed to create them. “If you better understand the fundamentals of why cells and viruses come together, that will allow them to make more effective drugs, those that actually work,” Jones says. After the lifecycle has been mapped,
photo courtesy of MARIA NAGAN
photo courtesy of MARIA NAGAN TOP: Chemistry professor Maria Nagan uses computational chemistry to model protein-RNA. ABOVE: Nagan and a group of undergraduate students are researching how the RNA in the leukemia virus interacts with proteins.
another set of researchers can begin searching through a library of known molecules. The results they look for are molecules that will attach themselves to the RNA and keep the life cycle from occurring. Jones, who has experience working in the Northeast Regional Medical Center lab, explains the current process of developing drugs and vaccines is through trial and error. The project then moves on to drug companies, who will try to synthesize the molecules that block the RNA into a drug or vaccine for testing. Nagan says the full process can take more than 10 years. Nagan’s work already has put Truman on the map because few researchers use computational chemistry to research
RNA. Nagan describes how adaptable a single strand of RNA is, which is what makes it so difficult to study. RNA is constantly changing its genetic code and reforming itself to work around the drugs designed to stop it. Some RNA recognition research, such as the research done at the Kirkegaard Laboratory at Stanford University, also is being used to track how a virus mutates and becomes resistant to different drugs. This is one of the reasons she became passionate about studying RNA during her graduate research at the University of Minnesota. “That’s when I realized RNA could take on so many different forms,” Nagan recalls. “And that’s when I really fell in love with it because it was so versatile.” h
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A-MAIZe-ING science Genetic diversity holds the key to the future of sustainable agriculture and industry by CHRIS BROWN and JOSH BARNA
s the global population continues to expand and impact demands for food, energy and medical care, numerous scientists from around the planet are trying to solve these increasing demands in a sustainable way. That’s why Truman agricultural science professor Mark Campbell has been working to utilize genetic diversity in maize, also known as corn, to improve starches. Campbell is one of many professors at universities throughout the country that conduct research to develop new varieties of maize with various useful traits as part of the Germplasm Enhancement of Maize project. The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service began GEM in 1995. Its chief aim is to demonstrate the medical value, agricultural benefits and industrial applications of genetically diverse maize. GEM cooperators, such as Truman, are public and private institutions that conduct specialized research to identify new naturally occurring maize traits that are useful for a variety of industrial applications. Such purposes include improving the efficiency and sustainability of biofuel production, discovering new pestresistance genes, and increasing yields with fewer energy and chemical inputs. Once identified, the USDA stores these useful traits and makes them available as a source of new germplasm — or genetic material — for public use. Campbell says the main focus of his research has been on developing varieties
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of maize known as amylomaize. Humans digest amylomaize with the help of friendly bacteria that live in the lower digestive tract. When used as a natural food additive, amylomaize will benefit consumers’ digestive systems and provide benefits for patients suffering from specific ailments. “Amylomaize has recently been found to be a life-saver for people suffering from cholera and can also help prevent and treat other digestive problems that result in diarrhea and dehydration,” Campbell says. In addition to medical applications,
Professor Mark Campbell says most of the corn we eat is identical genetically. GEM researchers are also helping a variety of industrial needs. The project has 63 public and private partners around the world, including large companies such as Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences, according to GEM’s website. Campbell says Monsanto helps house valuable exotic maize germplasm, including GEM seeds storage and routinely grows them out to ensure viability is sustained. Another notable GEM cooperator is the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, a non-profit organization focused on sustainable agriculture. Allison Pratt-Szeliga
works in the research department for the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute’s corn breeding program. Pratt-Szeliga says she is familiar with Campbell’s research, and her department routinely works with germplasm from the GEM project. “We have worked combining germplasm from GEMs ... with varieties more adapted to our climate and growing conditions,” Pratt-Szeliga says. “Many times these germplasm have traits such as higher nutritional value that we are looking for.” Pratt-Szeliga says if there were ever a widespread disease, drought or pest outbreak, crops with similar germplasm could face catastrophic losses. She says this is why programs — like the GEM project, Campbell’s research and others who are working to promote the genetic diversity in all crops — are so important to protecting and preserving our seed and food sovereignty. “Failing to preserve genetic diversity puts us all at risk for pests, diseases and other pathogens,” Pratt-Szeliga says. “Support of seed diversity is necessary to support us and the future of agriculture.” Beyond protecting the genetic diversity of crops and developing corn with traits useful for medical, agricultural and industrial purposes, a large part of GEM’s mission is to provide scientists around the world with access to the new varieties of corn and other results of GEM research. Campbell says GEM research is conducted using traditional and relatively basic breeding methods, eventually winding up in the public domain. This allows
scientists and producers in other countries to still obtain data and seeds and begin growing or researching on their own. “We felt that it wasn’t ethical to prevent scientists around the world from accessing this research, which could potentially save lives and prevent starvation,” Campbell says. Campbell’s research at Truman goes beyond cultivating new breeds of corn. It could potentially provide new techniques for conducting maize research. Campbell’s research assistant, Marianne Emery, says he has been experimenting with new ways to determine the genetic content of maize, a process known as “typing.” “He’s been looking for new and faster ways to tell whether the corn has the genes he’s looking for,” explains Emery, a senior agricultural science major. Emery says Campbell has been attempting to determine whether the amount of light that shines through kernels placed above a polarized light source is associated with certain genetic traits. Although this method is not yet reliable, Emery says it would be more efficient than the arduous process of traditional DNA extraction using leaf tissue. Despite the innovations and applications generated by Campbell’s research, the 2013 federal budget sequestration has temporarily suspended his USDA funding, Campbell says. “They basically said that, although funding is currently limited, my work is a high priority and will receive funding in the future, provided budgetary issues are resolved,” Campbell says. Campbell says he worries for the GEM project and the benefits it has provided for universities, students and researchers around the country. “Funding is important,” Campbell says, “Even though it’s not a lot of money, they get a lot of bang for their buck. … Without it, students lose, universities lose.” h
photo by Burgundy ramsey
photo by BURGUNDY RAMSEY
photo by BURGUNDY RAMSEY TOP LEFT: Agricultural science professor Mark Campbell is working to utilize genetic diversity in maize as part of the USDA’s Germplasm Enhancement of Maize project. TOP RIGHT: Campbell’s research assistant, Marianne Emery, has been helping Campbell experiment with typing, or discovering the genetic content of maize. BELOW: Emery says Campbell’s research with typing would be more efficient for DNA typing in maize than the usual extraction using leaf tissue.
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Maternity leave and socioeconomic conditions affect new mothers’ breastfeeding habits by TIM Holmes
eak Nelson, a Truman State University nursing assistant professor, is researching how lowincome breastfeeding mothers make the decision to wean sooner than mothers who are better off financially. Nelson explains that her research might help lower-income mothers since they have the most to gain in terms of savings and health benefits for the baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends to breastfeed babies for at least the first six months of their lives. This approach helps promote the physical and mental health of the baby and the mother. A healthy baby means less stress, not to mention fewer doctor bills for the mother. Since 1972 the federally sponsored Women, Infants and Children program has helped new mothers pay for supplemental nutrition, especially those who breastfeed. Nelson says it can be a great asset to lowerincome mothers but doesn’t cover every expense a new mother must face. “[It] helps them to purchase formula, but the older the child gets, WIC pays for less and less of their formula costs,” Nelson
explains. “And if the child needs a special formula, whether they are lactose intolerant or something else, that cost becomes an increasing burden on them.” Although the AAP recommends at least six months for breastfeeding, most workplaces only allow about three months maternity leave, which could force a new mother to wean earlier than she should. Along with family, Nelson points to such workplace support as a key component to how long new mothers breastfeed. “It’s more cost effective for me to breastfeed,” Nelson says. “And yet, I have to return to work, and returning to work makes breastfeeding harder.” Janet Palmentere, Missouri WIC and Nutritional Services program representative, says WIC provides working mothers with a breast pump. Being able to extract and store their breast milk allows them more flexibility so someone else can feed the baby when the mother is absent. To help with this transition and to ensure breastfeeding continues until at least the sixth-month mark, WIC refers new mothers to peer counselors to assist them and answer any questions that may arise. “This support has been shown to increase breastfeeding initiation and continuation rates with moms,” Palmentere says. Palmentere echoes Nelson about lack of support being one of the main reasons low-income mothers decide to wean sooner. In addition, she stresses maternity care practices in hospitals should focus
on “policies and practices that support breastfeeding initiation and continuation so that all moms are breastfeeding exclusively at hospital discharge.” “It has been shown that breastfeeding is best for moms and babies and meets all of babies’ nutritional needs,” Palmentere says. “Moms, babies, families and communities all benefit from breastfeeding with a healthier lifestyle, healthcare cost savings and a cleaner environment.” Cynthia Green, Northeast Regional Medical Center director of Obstetrics and Nursery Services, stresses the health benefits of breastfeeding, including the boost breastfeeding provides to the baby’s immune system. “[The mother] comes in contact with someone who has a cold,” Green says. “Her body sees that and creates some antibodies for that cold virus and passes those [antibodies] on to her baby.” The cultural thinking of Americans as bottle-feeders instead of breastfeeders also cuts short the recommended breastfeeding period. Among other issues that discourage the practice are the controversies concerning breastfeeding in public and not producing enough breast milk. Green says pressure from others as well as a seemingly unhappy baby could push someone to wean too soon. Nelson says she now understands why lower income mothers wean earlier. Through Nelson’s research, she discovered most mothers reported listening to their own instincts as to when to wean. h
Evolution of Infant Feeding 950 BC
Women of higher social status demand wet nurses
Wet nursing becomes common practice
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1400 - 1600
Breastfeeding considered “unfashionable” by upper class
500 - 1300 AD
Society demands mothers breastfeed their infants
Artificial formulas become available
1760 - 1820
Breastfeeding decreases from 90% to 42%
Lower class hires wet nurses during Industrial Revolution * according to NCBI
Impact and Ideals
Community matters photo by STEPHEN McDUFF
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photo by GRACE SALERNO
A HELPING HAND Local universities team up to provide house calls for area residents by GRACE SALERNO and JACKIE YOO
ruman State University and the renowned osteopathic medical school, A.T. Still University, both located in Kirksville, Mo., have teamed up to offer House Calls: a home-visiting program whose goal is to improve communication between elderly patients and physicians and nurses. The House Calls program offers an interdisciplinary curriculum, with Truman students from the health science, communication disorders, and nursing fields working in teams with ATSU’s Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine students to provide program participants with health checkups four times annually. Students involved in the program provide patients with assessments of wellness such as checking their blood pressures, nutrition, exercise and diet regimens, patient health history and health
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care. This also includes educating the patients on how well they understand the medical field. Another task is to test their patients’ vital signs to see if any significant changes have occurred since the last visit, including a review of medications or surgical histories that may impact the patients’ current lifestyles.
Making an Impact
The heart of House Calls, though, is the communication that occurs between the patients and the student nurses and physicians, who learn to ask questions that will screen patients for signs of depression or to check if they’re exercising properly. They also try to glean what goals patients might have for themselves and help them achieve these, if feasible. For example, if a patient’s goal is to exercise
twice a week, the students will help them to increase the amount of exercise by encouraging them and coming up with new exercise plans. Such relationships help students develop a sense of how patients communicate, learning to listen to what isn’t said and to see how much patients have opened up to the students over time. Some patients have negative attitudes about this approach in the beginning, but they gradually change their attitudes toward the end of the program and create a strong family relationship with these students. “To find illness is not the point,” says Stephanie Powelson, head of Truman’s Nursing Department. “To me, it’s more about finding patients with whom you can communicate.” To participate in the program, patients
photo by GRACE SALERNO
do not have to be ill. Some participate because it offers a free method for a full check-up. For others, the program may be the only medical care they see all year, since they aren’t able to make it to a doctor’s office. For the patients who are ill, though, the program provides much-needed help. Truman nursing student Courtney McIntire says a lot of these patients don’t have the money to see doctors on a regular basis. “We’re not nearly anything like regular doctors, but we are here for this program, which is more for encouraging and screening for more severe cases,” McIntire says. Students test their patients for health literacy, which means the extent to which patients are able to comprehend medical terms to ensure they understand their conditions. Such medical terms include chronic disease, eponym or gastro. During the students’ last of four visits, they assess their patients’ progress and make a list of goals for the future. Those might include getting more exercise or incorporating better foods into their daily diets.
Foundation of Program
The House Calls program was founded in the early 1990s by Janet A. Head a registered nurse and assistant professor in the department of family medicine, preventative medicine, and community health at A.T. Still. The program relies on volunteers from both campuses who collaborate on planning and carrying out different assessments for the patients with teams of nursing, health sciences and communication disorders students. In order to participate in the program, some students volunteer and others are required to participate as part of their curriculum. Although there is no specific matching process for pairing students with the patients they will be working with, all inter-professional groups do work primarily with elders. A government grant provided the initial startup funds, but the program is now primarily funded through ATSU’s programs in Aging Studies and the InterProfessional Education program. The federal government continues to offer
very limited funding through the Health Education Program. Unlike House Calls, which has teams visit patients in their homes, the universities around the country that offer outreach programs require patients to physically come to their labs for testing and assessment.
photo by GRACE SALERNO
Head says House Calls will focus its future efforts on how to more efficiently involve other professions, such as the health sciences, to further enhance the care being offered to the patients involved with the program. When the program was initially founded, Head says she had hoped to create a healthy, positive, and safe environment for nurses and patients to interact. Now Head and other faculty are planning to have case competitions between KCOM and Truman students. Each set of faculty and students would develop different case studies, then trade them and share the information they have learned. “We all have such passion for it,” says Head. “It wouldn’t have happened without any passion from students and faculty members. … It is amazing to watch this evolution.” h
TOP: During House Calls, ATSU and Truman students are grouped into teams. ATSU student Sadia Hussain, and Truman students Caitlyn Davis and Rebekah Hall, talk with fellow participants about their experiences. ABOVE: ATSU student Meleah Simone and Truman student Mitch Stewart were one of the teams for the fall 2012 program.
“It’s more about finding patients with whom you can communicate.” vol. 2 no. 1 | h a r r y
Masters of Arts in Education alumni advocate for affordable, quality education in lowerincome cities by CAITLIN BLADT
honda Dunbar, of Richmond, Va., and Kelli Best-Oliver, of St. Louis — both alumni of Truman State University’s Masters of Arts in Education program — have dedicated themselves to providing children in struggling cities with a well-deserved education. Both turned down comfortable, secure jobs to directly reach out to underprivileged and underrepresented children, helping those students to succeed in and out of school.
Rhonda Dunbar: Church Hill Academy
Since graduating from Truman, Dunbar remained active in her church, running the youth ministry in her community. After no longer finding this high level of commitment fulfilling, Dunbar says she enrolled in Union Presbyterian School of Christian Education, in Richmond, to become a minister. It was there Dunbar first learned about Church Hill Activities and Tutoring (CHAT), choosing to work there for her required outside volunteer work. Part of that commitment meant Dunbar
actively participated in the Church Hill community. Church Hill, which Rhonda Dunbar now calls home, was once an upper-middle class neighborhood. However, several years ago the city erected new government housing projects, and the area’s middle class residents moved out — taking with them the neighborhood’s financial viability. In this vacuum, violence and crime increased. The historic colonial houses of Richmond’s grand past now sit nestled among the city’s numerous low-income public housing developments. Southern wrap-around porches with their shuttered bay windows lie unoccupied. Nearly one of four Richmond residents is living at or below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “The reputation of Church Hill is that there’s low socioeconomic status and high crime,” Dunbar explains. Once she moved to Church Hill, Dunbar says she instantly fell in love with the people. She believed in CHAT’s mission to provide neighborhood children with the quality, affordable education they were lacking. photo by Corey Woodruff
South City Prep students participate in frequent assessment to track their progress.
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The Christian, faith-based high school boasts a student to teacher ratio of three to one and costs only $50 a year to attend. What truly sets CHAT apart from other schools, however, is its after-school tutoring program. Instead of being run out of the school cafeteria or gym, like many similar programs, CHAT’s tutoring program is run out of the teachers’ homes. More than 20 of these locations, referred to as Open Homes, exist throughout the area. Dunbar says this radical way of connecting students and teachers surprised her. “I was just really kind of overwhelmed with the fact that there’s literally 30 to 40 kids running through these houses,” Dunbar recalls. “No one thought anything of kids reading and getting tutored on their beds.” The tutoring program has no qualifications except for a permission slip from the child’s guardians and a willingness to work. Children work for two hours, twice a week with volunteer teachers on math and reading. Moreover, the staff participates in what Dunbar calls “fundevelopment.”
Faculty members quarterly send out letters to ask for donations. Staff members are responsible for raising their own salary plus 15 percent for taxes and insurance. Some teachers choose to donate the entirety of their raised funds and teach for free. Despite the religious affiliation of the school, Dunbar says being Christian is not a requirement to attend CHAT, and students are never forced to reveal their personal religious beliefs. The school focuses on building a strong, welcoming community among students and teachers in which all faiths and belief systems are accepted. Dunbar particularly lauds the shared commitment to the students’ well-being academically, emotionally and physically. “It was all about trying to build the student up,” Dunbar says. “Once you build those relationships, then you can actually do the curriculum teaching.”
Kelli Best-Oliver: South City Prep
Kelli Best-Oliver, a fellow graduate of the Truman MAE program, is another example of the power a small group of
“I think that every family deserves a safe and quality option that is within walking distance” teachers can have within a community. After graduating from Truman in 2004, Best-Oliver moved from job to job, not finding any of them particularly satisfying. That changed the night she was introduced to Mike Malone, who presented the idea of opening a new charter school in South City, a neighborhood within St. Louis. Although the once run-down street is now filled with trendy coffee shops, hookah bars and sushi joints, a lack of educational opportunities still plagues the area. As a resident of South City, BestOliver witnessed firsthand the struggle many neighborhood families endured when the only available educational option to them was the consistently photo by Corey Woodruff
Truman State alumna Best-Oliver says South City Prep has very little tolerance for distractions, helping classrooms to run more efficiently.
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photo by Corey Woodruff
photo by Corey Woodruff
ABOVE: South City Prep teachers make sure to structure music classes into the day. RIGHT: Along with several other teachers, Kelli Best-Oliver and Mike Malone launched South City Prep as an alternative to St. Louis City Public Schools in August 2011.
underperforming city public schools. Best-Oliver explains that South City, the most populous area of St. Louis, has no free high-performing middle or high schools available for families. Malone already completed more than a year of research into what distinguished successful charter schools from those that had failed and was looking into starting one himself in the near future. When Malone proposed Best-Oliver join him, she immediately jumped on the opportunity. “I think that every family deserves a safe and quality option that is within walking distance,” Best-Oliver says. “But that’s not going to happen overnight, and there are families who need good schools now.” Throughout the next year Best-Oliver and Malone, along with several other teachers, worked uncompensated for 90 hours every week to launch the new school. During August 2011, South City Prep opened its doors. The school started with fifth and sixth grades in a building rented from the adjacent Presbyterian church. Best-Oliver describes South Prep as rigorously structured and academically challenging. Classes are scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. and end at 4:15 p.m., an hour more than traditional public schools. The school year is 12 months, consisting of “six weeks on, two weeks off.” Teachers make sure music classes and physical education are structured into the day, and students participate in frequent
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standardized testing to track their progress. “We’re a school of choice — we’re not for everybody,” Best-Oliver stresses. “Our model and what we do and how we do it does not appeal to all families.” Most of the school’s enrolled students usually arrive scoring up to two years below educational standards. This leaves teachers to perform what Best-Oliver refers to as “triage.” As many students fall further behind, teachers must hurry to bring them up to their grade level. The amount of work required for the students leaves little time for acceptance of distractions. While students might be allowed to talk during class or disrupt in other schools, South City Prep hastily enforces discipline and sends students out of the classroom, helping the classrooms run more smoothly. “They call it the Broken Windows Theory,” Best-Oliver explains. “We make a big deal out of little things like a broken window so then the big things aren’t an issue for us. We believe that since we do have so much work to do that students cannot be allowed to disrupt learning.” Teachers also engage in home visits, in which they visit each student in their homes and meet their families. Best-Oliver says this communication creates a “lateral relationship” between families and teachers to ensure everyone in the child’s life is on the same page and fully committed to his or her education. The school opened during November
“It’s more than just an education philosophy. It goes along with a life philosophy supporting the revitalization of the city itself.” 2011 for its first full six-week session, but significant under-enrollment prompted Best-Oliver and other administrators to lay off some of their initial staff hires. She says they hope to expand to other grade levels and start hiring additional staff. Once word spreads through the community about what they are trying to accomplish, she is sure enrollment will increase. For those students presently enrolled, Best-Oliver says the staff reports already having witnessed academic and behavioral improvements in the students. Best-Oliver hopes South City Prep can continue making inroads into the community to better the quality of life of city families. “It’s more than just an education philosophy,” Best-Oliver says. “It goes along with a life philosophy supporting the revitalization of the city itself. We want to be able to send our kids to high-quality, public options here, and we can have a hand in creating that ourselves.” h
G N I H S I L B A T S E N O M COM Cultural and language issues affect modern medical treatments
by JACKIE KINEALY
he real distance between Mexico and northeast Missouri is measured at the doctor’s office, where the gap between Latin American culture and Western medicine can leave patients without adequate treatment. The disparity bothers Truman State University senior Joy Bulen, who delved into studying culturally bound syndromes among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Milan, Mo. She also was interested in whether the minority community has access to adequate medical care. After conducting 30 interviews with Spanish-speakers living in Milan, a small town 30 miles west of Kirksville, Bulen found some people, especially women, hold tight to traditional beliefs in illnesses Western medicine label as superstition. As a result, they often turn to home remedies instead of doctors. A “culturally bound syndrome” is the academic term for a disease only within a specific culture. Two examples from Bulen’s research are mal de ojo, or the “evil eye,” and empacho, or indigestion. None of these appear in medical textbooks, which leaves the people Bulen interviewed feeling alienated by the American doctors who don’t recognize their ailments. “[When] interviewing people, they’re really looking to you for validation,” Bulen says. “They go to American doctors describing the symptoms and explaining the disease, and they’re told it doesn’t exist.” She says she heard interviewees say repeatedly it’s frustrating when doctors don’t understand the name of the illness for which they’re seeking treatment and aren’t familiar with its combination of symptoms. Instead many people rely on traditional remedies from their home country. For example, Bulen was told mal de ojo, a
disease caused by the malicious gaze of a powerful person over a less powerful person, is treated by gently passing a raw egg in its shell over the sick person’s entire body to draw the bad spirits out. After the massage, the egg is cracked into a glass of water, and two toothpicks are set in a cross over the top of the glass. The glass then sits under the bed overnight. If by morning the egg is congealed in the shape of an eye, the sick person is cured. If it does not, the symptoms are attributed to a common cold or another illness. For people 1,000 miles from the Mexican border, the cultural gap in medicine is another reminder of the physical and mental distance from home.
“Language is an issue, but culture really seems to be more of an issue.” The more profound but constant reminder is language. Many Mexican immigrants in Milan don’t speak English fluently or at all — a basic impediment to productive treatment in the doctor’s office. Spanish-speakers who can afford it can hire Nancy Cruz of Cruz Bilingual Services, in Kirksville. Cruz acts as an interpreter at doctor’s appointments, which makes communication easier for both sides. There are some things, however, Cruz can’t easily communicate. “Language is an issue, but culture really seems to be more of an issue,” Cruz says. “Even with an interpreter, there’s not a lot of understanding because of the big cultural differences.”
In Mexico and other Latin American countries, it’s typical for doctors to spend 20 or 30 minutes with a patient, but in the United States appointments last fewer than five, Cruz explains. Patients also have different expectations here. In the U.S. doctors expect patients to take further steps to getting better on their own. However, in Mexican culture the doctor is expected to supply the cure. Visits to the doctor could be more productive for both parties with a little cultural awareness and education, Cruz says. That’s where Bulen and other Truman students come in. Bonnie Mitchell, Bulen’s former sociology professor and advisor, says a version of Bulen’s research could be used in the Health Action Center in Milan. Her findings provide information on health care and help with filling out medical forms and facilitates access to doctors. Mitchell says explanations about common, culturally bound syndromes could be supplied to staffers to help bridge the cultural gap in health care. Other students in the organization Hablantes Unidos also visit Milan to teach English as a second language. Mitchell says Spanish-speakers there are eager to learn and to discover native English-speakers who are eager to help. Some of the difficulties these immigrants experience are rooted in being so far away from family in Mexico. As a result, Truman students who are willing to get involved and provide assistance are a source of great comfort, Mitchell explains. And if such students “are sympathetic … and if they speak Spanish like Joy does — or just have good hearts and are willing to help — the less isolated and depressed folks get,” Mitchell adds. h
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photo by STEPHEN McDUFF
Professors and students trek the globe to stand up for human rights issues by ELIZABETH KOCH
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hether working for human rights in South Africa or seeking political justice in Latin America, Truman State University is leaving its mark across the globe. Sociology professor Elaine McDuff takes 10 to 20 students to Cape Town, South Africa, during a summer session course. The trips enable students to participate in human rights efforts by working in health clinics and schools near Cape Town. McDuff first visited South Africa in 2009 with 12 students, each of whom interned with various human rights organizations for more than three weeks. Most of these organizations dealt with health and politics, including the HIV Counseling and Testing Campaign and the Cape Town refugee center. After students expressed increased interest in the program, McDuff took 21 students for more than five weeks two years later. She explains by immersing themselves for up to a month in Cape Town, students
acquire a much deeper understanding of the issues facing these communities. Students record their experiences in a comprehensive blog for posttrip reflection. The entries begin with preparation for the trip and end with returning to the United States. Many of the student internships are located in the townships, including Khayelitsha and Tafelsig, which are more like shantytowns that lack stores, restaurants and basic infrastructure. Such towns often emphasize selfsegretation among black and mixed-race South Africans. Black South Africans are
â€œIt led me to question everything I thought I knew about the world.â€?
photo by STEPHEN McDUFF Lena Benoit and Elaine McDuff in Benoit’s third grade classroom at Christel House, an independent school that provides quality education for children from extremely poor families.
treated worse than those of mixed descent, mainly because mixed-race South Africans have at least one white European ancestor. One Truman student interned at a health clinic in one of the poorest mixedrace townships. McDuff explains the student spent much of her time weighing babies, helping patients feel calm and safe, and doing whatever she could to help. “[The intern] is not a doctor or a nurse so she was just providing help and support to people,” McDuff notes. “[She] learned a lot about the healthcare system and some of the challenges that they face.” Other students worked in Christel House, a private school that provides a comprehensive education and support system for the poorest families near Cape Town. After applying and showing academic promise, students are guided from kindergarten through 12th grade, with follow-up after graduation. The students’ parents also receive help finding jobs. Other Truman students become
photo by STEPHEN McDUFF Truman intern Margaret Loehnig in the therapy room at Maitland Cottage Hospital, a pediatric facility for children recovering from orthopedic surgery.
involved with the Cape Town Refugee Center, where they help sort records of the special needs children. The interns often hear stories about refugees being torn away from their homes. “South Africa draws refugees from all over because, economically, they’re doing much better than so many places,” McDuff says. “They’re trying to help people establish themselves and define the kind of services they need to be able to be employed and support themselves.” Many of the students involved in the program continue to pursue humanitarian work, later transferring their experiences and skills from their internships to their careers. Alumnus Adam Conway participated in the program’s first excursion during 2009. Conway now works as the Program Coordinator for Chicago HOPES, a tutoring and arts program for students living in homeless shelters in Chicago. Another alumna, Katherine Olsen-
Flaate, is working as a Princeton-in-Asia fellow with the Naz Foundation, which serves AIDS orphans in New Dehli, India. For other participants, this one-time experience can provide a sense of direction toward future careers. McDuff says she hopes students take away unforgettable experiences from the program while also attempting to make a difference. “My goal is to give students an opportunity to be engaged in a direct, hands-on way with the kinds of struggles that people themselves in South Africa are engaged in,” McDuff says.
Truman Faculty Making a Difference
Like McDuff, History professor Marc Becker spends much of his time in Latin America, where he’s been serving as a hands-on activist since the 1980s. Dressed in holey jeans and black suspenders, Becker sits down, kicks off his shoes and explains how his passion for human rights began after he was bullied
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photo by STEPHEN McDUFF ABOVE: Truman Anthropology major Sam Spencer with a new friend in front of the Community Center in the Langa township. RIGHT: Media Liaison Trevor Davids talks with the student interns at the command center of the Independent Electoral Commission, a permanent body in charge of managing free and fair elections in South Africa.
“If we understand how the world works better we can be better citizens and make more conscious decisions.”
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photo by STEPHEN McDUFF
in high school. As a result, he transferred to a different school and made a handful of close friends. Becker realized others in the world struggled as he had, leading him to fight for everyone to have a just and happy life. “It led me to question everything I thought I knew about the world,” Becker explains. Now Becker works on human rights issues across the globe. After visiting Nicaragua in 1985, he focused on the struggle for equal elections and voting rights, further serving as an elections observer in nearby El Salvador and Venezuela. He also has worked on documenting paramilitary attacks on peace communities in Colombia. Becker says he does not do quantitative research. Rather, he interviews attack victims and then distributes the information through publications like the Colombia Support Network’s “Action on Columbia. Becker’s main goal is to raise awareness and encourage policy changes in the U.S. and Colombia. Becker says he decides where to go based on opportunities that arise and issues he thinks are important to address. He admits it’s a bonus when the trip is to a
country he’s never been to before. Becker recalls heading for Haiti after noting how often the country came up in class discussions. He joined two other organizations: the Marin Interfaith Task Force on the Americas, a grassroots organization that educates and aids others, and the Latin American Solidarity Coalition, which combines common goaloriented organizations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. After removing president JeanBertrand Aristide from power, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) — a U.N. peacekeeping mission — began in 2004. While in Haiti, Becker wrote a 20-page report concerning the abuse people suffered at the hands of MINUSTAH, which many believed to be merely a continuation of imperial power. “[U.N. troops] were shooting on people in neighborhoods, like going into neighborhoods, not understanding what was happening, being scared, and just shooting people,” Becker says. “We interviewed people who were basically full of bullets, and took pictures and wrote up the documentation of that.” Becker uses these experiences as teaching tools in his Latin American
history classes. As learning through experience is often more effective than reading facts out of a textbook, Becker says he thinks his travels provide meaningful anecdotes for his students. “If we understand how the world works better we can be better citizens and make more conscious decisions,” he says. Becker says he believes the presence of human rights activism on college campuses also is vital, especially at liberal arts and sciences institutions. Above all, he describes the purpose of his travels as exemplifying Truman’s liberal arts mission. “Having those discussions, at least, I think are crucial for issues of citizenship and engagement with the broader world,” Becker says. “Anything that helps us understand the broader world out there is really central to our mission.” Becker’s wife, Cheryl Musch, says college professors with a strong passion for human rights, like her husband, are complimentary to students. “I definitely think all of that real world experience makes [Becker’s] work and interest in human rights and his academic ability to communicate those things much stronger,” she says. For about 18 years, Musch has been working with fair trade, purchasing goods and paying the creator an equitable amount of money to promote sustainability. She spent the last 10 years traveling throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America. “I think the fact that it enables people to make a better way for themselves has a lot of appeal to me,” Musch says. “I think you can hand out money or you can train people so they have skills, and when they have skills, they can actually get beyond what you were able to give them.” Musch is the executive director of the non-profit organization Partners for Just Trade. The PJT sells handcrafts, such as woven hats and gloves, from Peru and impoverished cities throughout the Andes along with dried fruit from Africa. She says once these people learn how to make something, they can feel empowered. “If you have a touch point with some poverty through some human rights work, or some situation that’s much more difficult than your own, it changes your whole perspective,” Musch says. h
photo by STEPHEN McDUFF ABOVE: Truman interns Sarah Stubbert, Elizabeth Hatting, and Amelia Bursi with a South African colleague at the South African NGO Coalition, whose goal is to provide support to organizations fighting poverty and inequality. BELOW: Kelsey Louder at her internship with the Network on Violence Against Women, an agency that works on programs aimed at empowering victims of gender violence.
photo by STEPHEN McDUFF
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Center for International EduCation Build your resume with real-world work experience abroad. The CIE helps Truman undergraduates obtain internships in the following places: Argentina, Austrailia/New Zealand, Brazil, China, England, France, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, Scotland and Spain. Internships are available for six or 10 weeks. Some custom dates may be available as well. Center for International EdUCation Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Office: Kirk Building 114 Phone: (660) 785-4076
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Exploring our distinguished community photo by JESSIE POOLE
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Mielke English professor explores popular and avant garde musical styles in his newest book by Elizabeth McBride
photo by JESSIE POOLE
Mielke’s most recent work will consider seven artists, whose works contain elements of the avant garde and popular.
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t’s an old cliché: everybody’s a critic. “Good” art, “bad” art and every kind of “in between” art — no work seems safe from judgment. People continue their quest for clear cut lines between disciplines, ignoring the present-day postmodernist demand for little separation between high and low culture. Truman State University professor Bob Mielke received his PhD in American Literature, but his former student Allison Cundiff says it might as well have been in “Global American Culture.” His book “Adventures in Avant-Pop” pays homage to seven artists — Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, Yoko Ono, James Brown, Sun Ra, Neil Young and Sigmund Snopek III —whose musical careers are anything but clear cut. Mielke posits each contains elements of both avant garde and popular musical styles. “It’s kind of a listening guide in a very causal way,” he explains. “I mean, I’m not trained as a musician. You know, I dabble in it. I play by ear. I play a few instruments, but it’s really written for non-specialists. I’m an academic so it’s a little tonier, but it’s definitely buttoned down and casual like my Hawaiian shirts.” Mielke saw his first movie in a church basement. At that time, he couldn’t imagine any movie greater than Walt Disney’s “Dumbo.” A second film provided a first comparison. As a contemporary scholar, he hesitates to say any immutable criteria for artistic judgment exist. For Mielke, taste is experience. Ten minutes walking through his rooms replete with wall-to-wall shelves of Busby Berkeley
box sets, James Joyce, rare vinyl Beatles records and Alfred Hitchcock should provide enough time for a visitor to decide if Dumbo occupies the same prestigious place in Mielke’s ever-expanding mind. The seven artists he chose to include in the book reflect not only his personal tastes, but also his infatuation with the extremes — the high and the low, but not usually the middle. Mielke says he thinks people are socialized into thinking this way. “When they hear something strange, they can’t process it,” Mielke says. “But I don’t have any biases like that because I started at ground zero with my family, so I didn’t know what was supposed to be good music and what wasn’t. I have what they call open ears.”
Peripheral yet Personal One of Allison Cundiff ’s trips back to Kirksville brought her together with her former professor around a bonfire discussing adolescence and the experience of growing up “on the outside.” She says they each discovered they had a “thing” that set them apart from the mainstream society. Mielke became a teenager in the inner city of Milwaukee, where he worked at McDonald’s among other, primarily African American, teens to whom he couldn’t relate culturally. Unwilling to leave, yet unable to integrate, Mielke found himself occupying his own “space” from which he could observe without judgment. “Growing up as a minority, I think
photo by JESSIE POOLE
it just gave him the safety to explore his interests without the pressure to conform to society’s expectations of what belonging meant,” Cundiff says. “As a result, he became very comfortable with being peripheral, which is really the role of a poet or a writer.” Naturally, this inclination followed him to the musical realm, and Mielke’s childhood soundtrack included the conflicting sounds of Elvis Presley, his “first passion,” and Lawrence Welk, with his “watered down big band with a German twist.” Today, Mielke admires Sigmund Snopek III, a man whose artistic repertoire contains work as “high” as classical symphonies and as “low” as commercial jingles. Mielke’s diverse curiosities feed his interdisciplinary drive, and he devotedly embraces the ambiguity that comes from a refusal to stay within the confines of one solidly defined intellectual realm. Although he lives independently, only a stranger might look at him with his five cats and call him a hermit. When Geoff Wyss flew from New Orleans back to Kirksville in 2008 to evaluate senior seminar presentations, he hadn’t seen Dr. Bob in 19 years. The two men sat together in Mielke’s house-cum-library laughing about J.G. Ballard and Finnegan’s Wake. The next afternoon, Wyss was struck by the proud, glistening eyes of his old professor as he watched his current students become scholars. “He could have long ago left Kirksville based on his intellectual ability and his ability to publish — had he decided to
Only a stranger might look at him with his five cats and call him a hermit. do more of it,” Wyss says. “He could have gone somewhere more high-powered long ago, but he committed … in a way that I think is maybe more admirable than anything else. He’s not going to say, ‘I love these kids here, and I’ve committed to this place,’ but that’s in fact the truth.”
Consolidating the Curious Mind Looking through her notebooks and texts from her Truman days, it became obvious to Allison Cundiff she used more exclamation marks in Mielke’s classes than any others. She says she had always brushed off sci-fi works as the “quirky, ridiculous and insubstantial wicked half-brothers of true literary intellectualism” — until Mielke showed her the right pieces. In the same way, he calls his “Adventures in Avant-Pop” “a travel book for the ears,” an attempt to motivate anyone slightly interested in culture and music to discover new kinds of art that perhaps don’t fit easily into preconceived categories. “The idea maybe is to kind of want to trick the reader into wanting to explore some things,” Mielke says. For some, he warns an earache waits
photo by JESSIE POOLE
TOP: Mielke’s vast interests transcend into his various collections, ultimately refusing to remain within the confines of a single realm. ABOVE: Although Mielke lives independently, he proudly shares his home with his five cats.
after the book ends, for artists like Yoko Ono, Frank Zappa and Neil Young are “not for the faint of heart.” Mielke remains convinced, however, the possible reward of self-discovery is always worth the risk inherent in musical and cultural exploration. He thinks people pay a larger price today for continually creating their own realities. He sees his book as akin to a nudge on the shoulder from one friend to another, saying, “Hey, what about this?” “I think you enrich people’s lives if you show them something interesting they’re not aware of,” he says. h
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Notables Jennifer jesse, philosophy AND religion professor William Blake’s Religious Vision: There’s a methodism in his madness In “William Blake’s Religious Vision,” Jesse challenges the predominant view of William Blake, describing him instead as a “theological moderate.” She contextualizes William Blake’s works of religious art, particularly paying attention to the various religious groups he addresses within his pieces. By doing so, Jesse claims we can find him advocating for a system more like that of John Wesley than antinomianism, or the belief that faith alone is necessary for salvation. She uses eighteenth-century Methodism, and other religious groups, to help provide context for Blake’s messages. Furthermore, Jesse emphasizes that we must consider who the intended audience was for Blake’s messages, particularly what he was doing and — perhaps more importantly — why he was doing it. By doing so, Jesse argues we will begin to see his works in a new light, one that involves faith and reason. $80, Lexington books, 2013
LINDA SEIDEL, English professor Mediated maternity: contemporary american portrayals of bad mothers in literature and popular culture Targeted at gender studies students and scholars, “Mediated Maternity” explores the cultural construction of the bad mother in books, movies and TV shows, arguing these portrayals tend to cement dominant assumptions about motherhood in place. Seidel considers how those portrayals often serve as illustrations of the fears individuals have regarding women, particulary mothers. The text invites readers to imagine a world in which motherhood might be experienced differently — a world in which it would receive the material and social support it deserves. $55, Lexington books, 2013
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What sets Truman apart photo by Corey Woodruff
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Students travel abroad to learn about animal conservation, preservation and management by ROB JONES and JANE KRIENKE
unning behind a herd of wildebeest while clinging tightly to a mile-long tarp is not the typical way students gain college credit. But for nine Truman State University students who wanted to learn how to safely work with large mammals, that’s exactly what they did. These students accompanied Stephanie Fore, Truman professor of biology, on a South African adventure during summer 2013. The extended field trip is part of the course Africa 308: Conservation and Game Management, which focuses on conservation biology, animal preservation and game management. While in South Africa, the students camp and work for almost two weeks with Andre Pienaar and his team of professional capturers at Parawild EduCapture. Learning everything from hands-on techniques for catching large mammals to how conservation laws differ in South Africa compared to the United States.
The Tru-view Experience
During the trip, students will camp on a landowner’s property that is usually close to where the animals live. Biology professor Fore says when the class went last year, a hippopotamus was living in a pond just down the road from the camp. Katherine Ward, a Truman alumna that went on the trip during summer
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2010, says one of the students’ jobs was to run behind a pack of wildebeest with a tarp that stretched for more than half a mile to prevent the animals from reversing course. Ward, who had been a biology major, remembers touring the Maholoholo Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and Kruger National Park, where she learned about the common diseases South African conservationists are working to prevent. She participated in the night captures of bushbuck, small antelope-like creatures, but among her favorite memories was being able to hold a deer-like impala. Before going on the trip, Ward and the other students attended preparatory seminars during the spring semester. There they learned the differences between American and South African climates, along with each nation’s approach to conservation. Fore says the trip to South Africa offers the students an experience they would not otherwise have. “I just discovered that most students don’t really recognize where they live in terms of its ecology and environment or what large mammals used to live here,” Fore says. “Therefore, what a unique experience it is when you go to a country that still has so many living, large mammals.”
Conservation biology is one of the key concepts covered in the course. It combines ecology, genetics, statistics and politics with the goal of preserving species and promoting diversity. One example involves the safe capture and transport of a giraffe, a process which students are able to witness. Students learn from the handlers that the right dosage of tranquilizers must be selected to sedate the animal, but not enough to harm it. Same thing with the type of transport to get the animal to the new environment, which also requires the handler’s understanding of what is appropriate and sufficient for the animal’s needs. Since one of the main goals of conservation biology is protecting biodiversity — or maintaining the genetic variety of native species, habitats and ecosystems — keeping one giraffe alive also protects its genetic makeup. Once that giraffe is put into a new environment, it also increases that environment’s biodiversity.
Different Motivations for Conservation
While in South Africa, Ward says she remembers seeing fences everywhere. It reminded her of the Midwestern countryside around Truman, but instead of confining cattle and horses, these fences kept lions, giraffes and ostriches
photo by KATHERINE WARD
from wandering onto the roads. “It was sad because you realize that these animals are wild,” Ward says. “They belong to someone, their habitat is managed, and if the owner doesn’t want as many lions, they’ll go sell a lion. It’s very people-controlled.” Even though increasing biodiversity is a common goal for conservationists in both the U.S. and South Africa, each are motivated by different incentives. Michael Stokes, Western Kentucky University professor of biology, who helped to bring the Africa 308 course to Truman, says conservation in South Africa is not as centralized as it is in the U.S. The American government has greater control over the methods of conservation and enforces stricter rules, including laws that specify hunting seasons and limitations on the number of animals that can be hunted per citizen. American operations also don’t generally preserve animals as a for-profit operation. In South Africa, licensed reserve owners have more latitude about what takes place on their land, including control over which types of animals live there. Michael Scott Burt, a former Truman biology professor that took the first group
of students to South Africa to work with Parawild, says the primary motivation in the U.S. is to preserve species for the sake of increasing biodiversity. In South Africa, many people view the preservation of animals as a business venture. “They care about preserving their animals, making sure they don’t disappear,” Burt explains. “It’s an economic incentive rather than an ethical, biological one, but the end result is the same.” In South Africa, tourists can choose from many privately owned game preserves, where they can take part in a safari-like experience and observe lions, tigers and giraffes that are able to roam free. Avid hunters also have the opportunity to pursue large trophy animals on many of these same reserves. The landowners stock their reserves with animals bought from other landowners — often through wildlife auctions, in which buyers must bid on exotic animals, for example. Stokes explains that a quality adult buffalo can run up to $50,000, while a rhino might sell for $200,000 at such an auction. The catch is that the winning bidder has to arrange to capture the purchased animal.
ABOVE: Students who participated in the program got to participate in safari-like experiences where they could observe lions, tigers and giraffes that are able to roam free.
In South Africa, tourists can choose from many privately owned game preserves, where they can take part in a safari-like experience.
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photo by KATHERINE WARD
ABOVE: Elephants are just some of the animals the students saw while on a safari. Pienaar says once an animal is tranquilized, it can take anywhere from three to 10 minutes for it to fall into an unconscious state.
“Animals disappear on farms for weeks on end sometimes, and even with the aid of a helicopter, you can look for days just for a herd of elephant.”
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“They hire people to come in and capture them,” says Stokes, as well as arranging safe transport from one reserve to another.
Pienaar explains that transporting an animal involves more than simply loading it up and dropping it off at its new home. “It’s very unpredictable and depends on what species you are working with,” says Pienaar, explaining that the capture process can take anywhere from three minutes to three days. “Even the easiest species can be very unpredictable. … Animals disappear on farms for weeks on end sometimes, and even with the aid of a helicopter, you can look for days just for a herd of elephant. They tend to disappear.” Tranquilizing the animal is a necessary part of safely transporting the animal, which requires first understanding the animal’s physiology. Prior to starting his business, Pienaar worked as an emergency medic and learned a great deal about administering drugs and taking care in gauging what are correct doses.
Once an animal is tranquilized, it can take from three to 10 minutes for the animal to actually fall into an unconscious state. Pienaar explains that it’s critical for his team to keep track of the animal, which is still on the move during this critical period. “Sometimes it’s just impossible to get the vehicle to the animal, so we have to try and get the animal to the vehicle,” says Pienaar, explaining that the animal may come to rest in places that are not easily accessible. “That is why my job is so challenging. It’s never the same way, and sometimes you have to reinvent the wheel three times a day.” Choosing the proper vehicle or crate to transport a sedated animal is also a challenge, Pienaar says. For example, in order to transport a giraffe, he must use a trailer with sides high enough to support the animal’s neck. A giraffe can suffocate if its neck bends over while under sedation. “You cannot buy game trucks or crates,” Pienaar says. “You have to make everything. Most species are just anatomically very different from the others. You have to have a lot of different equipment.” Pienaar says he has gained enough
experience with the different reserves throughout the years to be more familiar with their particular habitats. That experience makes it easier to determine more quickly what works best for transporting specific animals from one reserve to another.
Stokes, a professor who helped bring the course to Truman, says he first met Pienaar while on sabbatical and searching for hands-on opportunities for his wildlife biology students. “I wanted to have a wildlife class … that would really set us apart from all those other standard classes, so I thought … what if we did one in Africa?’” Stokes recalls. After touring around Africa and attending training sessions, Stokes opted to work with Pienaar and Parawild after meeting Pienaar and his wife, Anita, and appreciating their land’s proximity to Kruger National Park. Parawild also is located in Hoedspruit, near the nation’s capital city of Johannesburg, making it more easily accessible. Stokes and Burt teamed up for the first trip to South Africa during 2004, but the two universities now travel independently and schedule their own excusions.
Burt left Truman for a position at Angelo State in Texas, where he has been considering creating a course similar to the one he started at Truman. While providing students with hands-on experiences relevant to a variety of fields, he also believes the study abroad experience helps students grow as individuals. Students become exposed to the many different facets of South African society, including the lingering effects of Apartheid, the ongoing AIDS crisis, and income that leaves roughly 50 percent of the population living below the poverty line. “It’s truly an eye-opening experience,” Burt says. “The country enchanted a lot of [students], and they just wanted to go back. If there was one common theme, it was, ‘I want to do it again.’”
photo by KATHERINE WARD ABOVE: Katherine Warda, a Truman alumna that went on the program during summer 2012, stayed in this cabin during her time with Africa 308.
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