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Unraveling Dyslexia

An MTSU center helps students and parents recognize and overcome obstacles posed by a common reading disorder

 

 

Envision standing near the entrance to a walled garden. Inside is a fascinating place where letters and words take root and bloom into meaning. People happily come and go at will through the gate, but not you. No matter how many times you try or how hard you push, it won’t open. It is embarrassing to have others watch you. You feel discouraged. Eventually, a sense of failure takes root, and you walk away.

 

While metaphorical, this is a picture of what those with dyslexia regularly experience when trying to read, write, or spell.

 

Although most of us take it for granted, reading enables us to step outside our own experience, see the world through different eyes, and gain new perspectives that inform our worldview. It isn’t any wonder, then, that a person’s reading ability can prove to be a significant barometer of success in life, whether in academics, a career, or even one’s health.

 

Dyslexia–which has nothing to do with a child’s intelligence and desire to learn (or even good teaching)–is like the garden wall described above: a barrier to literacy. Failure to clear that barrier can produce negative consequences not just for students but also for society as a whole. Illiteracy often leads to undesirable social outcomes ranging from unemployment to homelessness and poverty.

 

The good news is, students with dyslexia can learn to read, and they can do so through the types of specialized instructional approaches employed at the Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia at MTSU.

 

A Model Organization

Mention dyslexia and most people have some awareness of the term but no clear understanding of its meaning or its impact. Dyslexia affects 10 to 20 percent of the population.

 

In 1993, the Tennessee General Assembly established the Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia, which is part of the MTSU College of Education, to assist K–12 students and their families, teachers, and other professionals grappling with the problem. The work of the center has touched the lives of thousands of people—helping them find new keys to open the gate—in 94 of the state’s 95 counties.

dyslexiaDr. James Herman, the center’s director, is enthusiastic about the work being done.

 

“This is an exciting place,” he says. “We are constantly moving forward. The staff regularly meets to discuss the latest research and cutting-edge technology. We are all working to make dyslexia known for what it is and what it isn’t.”

 

What it is, according to the International Dyslexia Association, is “a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin, characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities.”Struggling to read hinders vocabulary growth and reading comprehension and can lead to low literacy and poor self-esteem.

 

It’s important to understand that dyslexia is not a disease; it cannot be cured. Nor does it equate to intelligence; many dyslexics function at an average to above-average level. However, when detected early, dyslexia can be successfully addressed with education, training, and patience.

 

An example of someone who refuses to let dyslexia define him is Justin Lowe, 22, an MTSU junior from Murfreesboro majoring in anthropology. Lowe’s second-grade teacher at Homer Pittard Campus School recognized his student’s struggle and sent his family to the center for help.

“The people at the center helped me realize I should not focus on my weaknesses but rather my strengths,” he says.

 

“I can get the same thing achieved by taking a different route, but the outcome is the same. You learn to think outside of the box.”

 

Lowe remembers being motivated when he learned that celebrated military general George Patton had dyslexia.

 

“It made me realize that if I put my mind to it, I could do anything I wanted and dyslexia was not going to hold me back,” he says.

 

Other well-known Americans who have this disability include Jay Leno, Henry Winkler, Tom Cruise, Cher, and Anderson Cooper. Most struggled in school and couldn’t read well and were told they were not living up to their potential or, even worse, that they should quit school.

 

Such thoughts make Herman bristle.

 

“Students with dyslexia are always going to struggle, but we can help. It is not scary; it is workable,” he says. “I believe all students can be taught to be successful. There is not one child who cannot be taught to read better.”

 

Creating the Template

The same passion to help children succeed is the motivation that led Murfreesboro resident Kitty Murfree to lay the foundation on which the center was built. In the mid-1980s, she became keenly aware that the needs of students with dyslexia were not adequately being met in Tennessee.

 

“Dyslexia was a hidden element which families tried to quietly work with at the time,” said Murfree. “Testing was available at Vanderbilt, but after talking with teachers it was evident there was no real place to go for help.”

 

She responded by endowing the Katherine Davis Murfree Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies at MTSU in 1988.

 

“Children are my first love. It became evident to me we had a big problem, with few resources,” said Murfree, who has served for years on the board of the Monroe Carell, Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. “I have always been a person that if you have a problem, you go after it.”

 

After a national search, Dr. Diane Sawyer, who was a professor in the Reading and Language Arts Department at Syracuse University, started as the new chairholder and faculty member in January 1990.

 

“Diane did an absolutely magnificent job,” said Murfree. “This is one of the things that put MTSU on the map. It is a great asset. Nobody else in the state had anything else like it.”

 

Reminiscing about the program’s humble beginnings, Sawyer says, “My first ‘office’ was half a dorm room that I shared with a part-time secretary and graduate assistant that actually sat on the heating and air unit located
on the wall.”

 

Shortly after arriving, the new chair was asked to testify before the Tennessee State Committee on Education about dyslexia. Later, to help address the challenges she was encountering across the state, she asked the General Assembly to provide funding to establish the center.

 

With the assistance of then–state senator Andy Womack of Murfreesboro (who chaired the Senate Education Committee) the money was appropriated in 1993. In January 1994, the Tennessee Higher Education Commision gave the final stamp of approval for the center to be a
permanent part of MTSU. Its first home was at what was then Central Middle School on East Main Street. Sawyer became the first director while maintaining her chair responsibilities.

 

“Dyslexia was often described as the hidden disability,” Sawyer says. “I knew that the detail and complexity of the work we were doing at the time was unique. It gave me an opportunity to do something that previously didn’t exist.”

 

Brick by Brick 

Another milestone occurred in 2001, when the current 4,300-square-foot building opened on the edge of campus at the corner of Baird Lane and Elrod Street. The brick building doubled the center’s size and was made possible with assistance from the MTSU Foundation and a $1 million grant from the nonprofit Murfreesboro-based Christy-Houston Foundation.

 

After years of groundbreaking research, Sawyer retired from the University in 2010.

 

Today, Herman, his talented professional staff, and four graduate assistants continue to expand the center’s vision.

 

An extensive annual calendar of professional development is offered to help educators recognize, evaluate, and provide learning options for dyslexic students. This includes the Ron Yoshimoto 40-Hour Orton-Gillingham training in July. In August, Deborah Simmons, a College of Education and Human Development professor at Texas A&M University, will be the keynote speaker for the Second Annual Reading Conference. (The 2013 inaugural conference was attended by 250 individuals with four universities represented.) The annual Fox Reading Conference is made possible through an endowment established by the late Tom Fox and his wife Elizabeth.

 

Both parents and teachers can attend the Saturday Dyslexia Success Series Workshops, held monthly except during the summer. Also, the staff can customize specific training programs for educators on- or off-site. A search is ongoing to fill the Murfree Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies.

 

For parents who think their child may have dyslexia, Herman suggests they talk with the student’s teacher or principal or call the center and request an assessment.

 

“We are happy to work with all parents and their children. When prior testing has been done by the schools, it gives us a broader base of information to help the student,” Herman says.

 

Once the necessary funding is in place, the director’s plans for the future include:

  • to increase the number of students served,
  • more specific treatment options,
  • expansion of accessible online services, and
  • broadening of the center’s mission to help MTSU students stay in school and graduate.

 

“We care deeply for each student who comes through our doors,” said Herman. “We’re not just going to talk about what we can do, we’re going to do something about it.”

Grade A Grads

Alumni Association broadens field of Distinguished Alumni

by Randy Weiler

 

Alumni bring the University prestige and distinction through outstanding professional careers and loyal support.

 

Since 1960, the MTSU Alumni Association has recognized accomplished alumni with its highest honor: the Distinguished Alumni Award. Younger alumni who are having a positive impact in the world have received the Young Alumni Achievement Award.

 

New this year are True Blue Citations of Distinction in the categories of Achievement in Education (current or retired faculty), Achievement in Education (for accomplishment outside MTSU), Service to the University, and Service to the Community.

 

This year’s honorees include two with strong aviation backgrounds, two lifelong educators, a third whose vision and passion for education has affected thousands of students, and a politically savvy alumna whose talents have taken her all the way to the White House.

 

The six were recognized many times during Homecoming Week on campus in October. Here is a glance at the 2014–15 honorees.

  2014-10-20D HomecomingDistinguished Alumna: Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour (1997)

Armour went from being a beat cop to a combat pilot in three years and became America’s first African American female combat pilot, serving two tours overseas. Armour enrolled at MTSU, joined the Army ROTC program, and, after earning an Exercise Science degree, served three years as a Metro Nashville police officer. Following her father and stepfather’s military path, she became a second lieutenant and pilot in the Marine Corps. Now a noted motivational author and speaker, Armour has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, the Tavis Smiley Show, and National Public Radio and in many publications.

 

Young Alumni Achievement Award: Ashley Elizabeth Graham (2012)

Graham’s passion for politics landed her a role in a state senator’s campaign while she was an MTSU student, and then it catapulted her to Washington, D.C. Early in her career, she was writing speeches for the General Services Administration, a job that required security clearance. Later, she worked at the White House for the Bush administration as deputy director of presidential writers. She was one of six speechwriters for a recent Republican National Convention, and she’s now deputy communications director for U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee’s 7th congressional district. Graham, a Nashville resident, received the Maverick PAC 40 under 40 Award in 2013.

 

True Blue Citations of Distinction

 

Ray Phillips (1966): Achievement in Education (current or retired MTSU faculty)

Phillips, who lives near Bell Buckle, is Professor Emeritus of Mathematical Sciences and a former department chair, associate dean of the College of Graduate Studies, and interim dean of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences. He served MTSU from 1990 to 2003 and was active in research, curriculum development, and crucial grant writing that earned several millions. He was a leader in the push for STEM education, and he established the Tennessee STEM Education Center at the University. A colleague said his “illustrious career in education . . . brought distinction to MTSU.”

 

Linda Gilbert (1972, ’79 and ’91): Achievement in Education (non-MTSU)

Gilbert, a Murfreesboro resident, has been a Murfreesboro City School administrator for many years and is now director of schools. Her leadership and knowledge have benefited both city schools and MTSU. She coauthored grants for MTeach, a University effort designed to increase the number and quality of math and science teachers and encourage dual enrollment between MTSU and county schools. Her involvement and service includes sitting on and chairing many advisory boards and committees—from the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences advisory board to Band of Blue executive board.

 

Donald McDonald (1963): Service to the University

McDonald and his wife, Frances, are avid MTSU supporters, scholarship benefactors, and 1911 Society members who are supporting the University through their estate plans. The aerospace maintenance laboratory at the Flight Operations Center at Murfreesboro Airport is named for McDonald, and he serves on the MTSU Foundation board and the Aerospace Department’s advisory board. The McDonalds open their home and personal hangar to aerospace students and faculty for many MTSU functions.

 

Matthew Little (2008): Service to the Community

Little, who lives in Huntsville, Alabama, has been a part of many service initiatives: running camps for 2,000 students, providing leadership for Tennessee’s statewide service day, and creating a National Park educational program. Tennessee named Little as a delegate to its first Truancy and Dropout Prevention Conference, and he participated in the Mayor’s Summit on Children and Youth in Nashville. He also works with the nonprofit ServeAlabama to support volunteer work. Little’s leadership has guided three institutions to places on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. He is senior associate director of admissions at the University of Alabama–Huntsville.

A Long-Awaited Celebration

On October 15, 2014, in the newly named Liz and Creighton Rhea Atrium, a large crowd celebrated the dedication of MTSU’s new Science Building— the 257,000-gross-square-foot structure on the south side of campus that’s considered vital to the University’s future scientific endeavors. About 300 people joined Gov. Bill Haslam and President Sidney A. McPhee to formally open the building.

building dedication1

 

Haslam led the collection of guest speakers, which included Chancellor John Morgan, Tennessee Board of Regents, state senator Bill Ketron, and respective faculty and student representatives Tammy Melton and Kenneth Ball.

 

“By 2025, at least 55 percent of Tennesseans will need a certificate or degree beyond high school to find a job,” Haslam said. “Attracting and growing jobs in Tennessee is directly tied to education, and if we are not prepared to fill those jobs of the future, they will go somewhere else.”

 

“Graduates with STEM degrees are important to our state’s ability to thrive, and the additional space to train these students provided by this building will help us compete in today’s global economy,” he added.

 

Haslam challenged MTSU to produce highly educated, STEM-trained graduates to continue to attract high-tech jobs for the Midstate workforce.

 

While thanking many in the public and private sectors, McPhee reminded the audience that the building had long been a hope and a dream, surviving an economic recession and remaining the state’s number-one capital project in higher education for nearly five years.

 

He praised the governor and legislative leaders, local lawmakers, and elected officials “who advocated our need in every corner of the Capitol until they were heard.”

MTSU Sci Bldg Ceremony 2

Speaking on behalf of the local legislative delegation as its senior member, Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) recalled the political wrangling needed to move the project forward. “We weren’t going to let any other [building] project get on top of the pipeline,” he said.

 

Faculty member Tammy Melton, who came to MTSU in 1999, praised and thanked faculty members who preceded her and those who joined her in the effort to secure the Science Building.

 

“The building is a magnet,” Melton said. “In the recruitment of new students and new faculty, we no longer need to apologize for existing poor facilities and offer promises of future construction. In 2014, the 21st century has come to MTSU chemistry and biology. The future is here. Now.”

 

Kenneth Ball, a senior general science major from Savannah, Tennessee, thanked everyone who had a hand in the project.

 

“When I stepped in the door, I was blown away,” said Ball, who attended classes in the old buildings starting in 2011. “It’s all directed at us—the students. I don’t think they could’ve made it any better.”

Where’s the Buzz?

Honors students undertake timely research on the disappearance of honeybees

 

 

According to a recent National Geographic article, honeybees pollinate a third of the American diet “from nuts to produce—not to mention coffee and cotton.” Sadly, though, the humble honeybee is dying off in staggering numbers. More than half of managed U.S. honeybee colonies have disappeared in the past ten years, the article states—victims of pesticides, fungicides, and viruses, among other factors.

A White House report published this past June produced similar findings, stating that honeybees enable the production of at least 90 commercially grown crops in North America, and that globally, 87 of the leading 115 food crops are dependent on animal pollinators. Overall, honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the economy through their crucial role as pollinators, the White House announcement concluded, also stressing that pollination is integral to U.S. food security. President Barack Obama’s response to these findings was to create a task force to address the issue of rapidly diminishing honeybees and other pollinators.

It might be said that Honors student Anna Neal was a step ahead of the White House. Neal and her family have raised bees for several years, but in recent times their beehives have collapsed due to pesticide spraying on properties adjacent to her farm. It led Neal to wonder what other factors could contribute to colony collapse and also to ponder the implications of reduced bee populations in middle Tennessee. Neal began her thesis research this spring analyzing possible cross-transmissions of disease between honeybees and bumblebees.

2014-07-13D Science Building Move InWhile bumblebees have not received the same international attention as their smaller cousins, they also pollinate lots of plants. Since bumblebees and honeybees often forage for nectar in the same places, competitive interactions during pollination may increase the likelihood that colony collapse disorder (CCD) agents could spread among species. Noting that very few studies had been conducted on these cross-transmissions of disease in Tennessee, Neal identified it as a worthwhile area in which she could complete her Honors thesis.

Neal conducted an extensive literature review to determine possible causes of the collapse of honeybee hives and found that many factors can contribute to CCD, ranging from microbial pathogens to parasites to invasive pests and to an increasing reliance on insecticides and pesticides by farmers. Importantly, she also found evidence that suggested these agents could spread to native bumblebees as well.

The possibility that honeybees could be spreading pathogens and parasites also piqued Neal’s interest. Partnered with Dr. R. Drew Sieg of the Honors College and two other MTSU biology undergraduates (Chelsey Pennycuff and Gabrielle Armour), she and the team received an Undergraduate Research Experience and Creative Activity (URECA) grant to conduct research to explore whether parasites could take advantage of the competitive foraging behavior of honeybees and bumblebees to infect new hosts and to assess the threat that colony collapse agents pose for bees in middle Tennessee.

URECA funding allowed the research team to become more invested in the project than if they had been merely volunteering or conducting research as part of a lab course. On a typical day, the team deployed insect traps near honeybee hives at several local farms. They also noted environmental characteristics of each site, such as the species of plants the bees were likely to visit and the density of flowers nearby.

The traps were collected after three days and brought back to the Honors College, where the bees and any parasites were identified and quantified. Researchers also removed the digestive tract from each bee and screened them for internal microparasites. The team visited farms weekly over the course of the summer, allowing them to track changes in parasite loads at different stages in the bees’ life cycle.

Neal says the research project “actually turned out to be quite the adventure.” Though she admits the writing and background research required to create a project was a bit tedious, the excitement she felt when she set the first trap more than made up for the paperwork.

“Each new bumblebee species found, each time Nosema spores appeared in a slide, and each examined mite was like stumbling upon stashed treasure or receiving an unexpected gift,” she says.

Her favorite moment so far? Hands down, Neal says, it was seeing her completed poster for the URECA Summer Celebration.

“Not only does this poster represent seven months of labor but also reveals my favorite finding: middle Tennessee has nine species of bumblebees, not just the previously documented four. One species in particular, Bombus auricomus, was caught most often though experts declared it rare after 1997.”

Even with such successes already under her belt, Neal’s adventure continues. She’ll be defending her research as an Honors thesis this October.

Sieg says that not just Neal and her family but also other local beekeepers are eager to learn what threats exist for their hives so they can employ new strategies to prevent colony collapse disorder.

“The farmers that we’ve interacted with are genuinely excited to see young people interested in the process of beekeeping and are keen to simultaneously teach the students about their trade,” he says. “The easy access to local wildflower honey isn’t a bad perk, either.”

Beyond White House studies, student research, and agricultural analyses, the disappearance of bees has become an impetus for deeper discourse. In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Mark Winston, a biologist and author of the forthcoming book Bee Time: Lessons From the Hive, wrote:

“We can best meet our own needs if we maintain a balance with nature—a balance that is as important to our health and prosperity as it is to the bees . . . Honeybee collapse has much to teach us about how humans can avoid a similar fate, brought on by the increasingly severe environmental perturbations that challenge modern society.”

 

A Bee for Effort

2014-07-13D Science Building Move In

Anna Neal’s research project was also a learning experience for Dr. R. Drew Sieg, who began teaching at MTSU last fall and is the first dedicated faculty member in the University Honors College. Sieg’s area of expertise lies more in chemical interactions among marine organisms. However, he is eager to provide new research opportunities for undergraduates and show them the interdisciplinary nature of science, and Neal’s honeybee project more than fit the bill.

“The project allows students to receive hands-on experience in field ecology, microbiology, taxonomy, and statistics, while simultaneously improving their critical thinking skills,” Sieg says. “The open-ended nature of the project also illustrates to them that research rarely has a predefined outcome.”

Sieg sees the honeybee project as an example of how Honors students can consider their career plans while getting involved in science that can be found in their own backyards. “Anna, Chelsey Pennycuff, and Gabrielle Armour have all expressed a desire to pursue graduate degrees, and an immersive experience like this can really help them assess whether graduate school is the right direction for them,” he says.

 

It’s A Small World After All

The increase in antibiotic-resistant pathogens is causing researchers to look for natural sources to isolate new medicines and drugs. This fall, students in Dr. R. Drew Sieg’s majors and nonmajors Honors biology courses will join the search through the Small World Initiative, a research experience designed in conjunction with Yale University. Collaborators from over 60 universities are crowdsourcing the search for new antibiotics and making it a unifying theme for introductory biology lab experiments. In Dr. Sieg’s class, students will isolate bacteria from local soils, identify them through gene amplification and sequencing, and screen the bacteria and their chemical extracts for inhibitory activity against bacterial strains closely related to common pathogens. Students may or may not isolate the next wonder drug, but either way they will get first-hand experience in the pursuit of scientific discovery.

 

The Power of Preservation

Carroll Van West guides one of MTSU’s most respected Centers of Excellence toward a self-sufficient future

by Katie Porterfield

Carroll Van West, Director of the Center for Historic Preservation and History Professor

When Carroll Van West first visited a Selma, Ala., home that served as a safe haven for Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders during the Civil Rights movement, he was just a stranger to the homeowner, Richie Jean Sherrod Jackson. West, an MTSU history professor and director of the Center for Historic Preservation (CHP), had been invited to the home to help Jackson nominate it for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. As Jackson pointed to the chair where King sat the day he learned of the assassination of NAACP leader Medgar Evers, she said, “I don’t let anyone sit in that chair.”

By the end of the visit, however, Jackson had changed her tune, telling West not only that he was welcome to sit in the chair (an offer he respectfully declined) but also that on his next visit he should come to the back door—the one used by two Nobel Peace Prize winners, King and Ralph Bunche.

“That’s how friends enter the house,” Jackson said.

Well known in a field that’s as much about gaining trust as it is about preserving structures, West excels at forging close relationships with those who have interesting stories.

  Since becoming CHP director in 1985, he’s established           a reputation that’s helped make the center and MTSU historic preservation students familiar in places well beyond Tennessee’s borders. And he’s far from finished. As he leads the center into its 30th year, he hopes to get funding to formalize the Historic Preservation major program’s hands-on approach and expand the CHP’s reach nationally and internationally.

“What does that do?” West asks. “It ends up creating more opportunities for students, and what are we about but that?”

Focusing on students has been part of the CHP’s foundation since it was established in 1984 by the Tennessee General Assembly as MTSU’s first Center of Excellence and one of nine original centers at Tennessee Board of Regents universities. The CHP became a full-time research and public service entity in 1991. Its mission is two-fold: to help Tennessee communities identify and use their heritage assets (historical sites, artifacts, and narratives that tell stories of the past) and to support and direct student research and experiential learning opportunities. Through the years, the CHP has helped communities develop historic preservation plans, historic structure reports, heritage tourism plans, National Register nominations, and more. Along the way, M.A. and Ph.D. students in Public History have worked alongside West and his staff, putting “boots on the ground,” as West calls it, and getting real-world historic preservation experience.

“There is no better way to learn history and develop a passion for it than to go put your hands on it,” West says. “It’s a great competitive advantage because when our students go on interviews they talk about their projects, and employers know from the get-go that they have real experience.”

Today, the mission of the CHP is still the same, but West and his staff have expanded its reach to include the Midsouth, which West defines as the area within about a six-hour radius from Murfreesboro.

“It makes for long days, but it really broadens the student experience,” he says. “Our students get to say they worked on something in Appalachia or in the Mississippi Delta. You can’t go other places to get that, so again, it gives them a competitive advantage.”

West and his staff began to aggressively venture into other states in 2002, when they accepted an invitation to document Civil Rights churches in Birmingham. (The invitation came after they had successfully obtained a National Register nomination in the late 1990s for the Glenview neighborhood in Memphis, one of the first parts of the city to integrate in the 1950s.) The Birmingham project led to several others in Alabama, including a recent effort to assist in marking Civil Rights sites in Selma. Shortly after crossing into Alabama, the CHP started working with the Mississippi Blues Commission on the Mississippi Blues Trail, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I saw how much the students benefited,” says West. “I thought, ‘Well, if they don’t mind the travel, I don’t.’”

Today, in addition to the Selma undertaking, the CHP is working in Kentucky, North Carolina, Missouri, Oklahoma, and, of course, Tennessee.

“That’s still our core mission,” West says. “But to entice students and to get good students, you’ve got to do more than that.”

And they have done more. In the early days, the CHP tackled about four projects a year. Today, West, his staff, and students engage in fifteen to twenty projects annually, and the CHP typically provides funding for at least sixteen graduate assistants. This year, the center is supporting ten Ph.D. candidates and six master’s students.

As have many distinguished graduates before them, those students are likely go on to careers in historic preservation. They’ll find jobs in a variety of public and private settings including state historic preservation offices, military bases, national parks, federal agencies, historic sites and museums, preservation or cultural resources management consulting firms, and departments of transportation.

Several MTSU Historic Preservation alums hold high-profile positions in Washington, D.C., including David Brown (’77) at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Blythe Semmer (’98) at the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and Jeff Durbin (’89) at the National Park Service.

“While none of us walked into our current positions straight out of graduate school in Murfreesboro,” says Durbin, “I do believe that our education and hands-on training at MTSU gave us a foot in the door, which undoubtedly led to where we are now.”

Durbin not only speaks highly of Dr. West and his experience at MTSU but also lauds the historic preservation program’s reputation.

“MTSU’s historic preservation program (and especially the public service work of the Center for Historic Preservation) has a strong reputation for producing well-prepared and well-rounded graduates who have a lot of practical experience as well as the intellect necessary to work in this profession,” Durbin says.

Chris Hetzel, an alumnus and historic preservation consultant working on compliance-related projects across the country, agrees with Durbin, saying MTSU’s program has long had a good reputation in the field. “MTSU’s program always has high visibility and presence at national conferences and the like, largely due to Dr. West and his many students who have moved on to jobs and positions throughout the country,” says Hetzel.

Graduates not only do work that strengthens MTSU’s reputation but also create more CHP projects and form a network for other graduates seeking jobs.

“The students who come out of this real-world environment grow over time, and when they, themselves, are in hiring mode, they want people from that same process,” West says.

West would like to safeguard that process for years to come.

“We need to make sure that the center’s vision and boots-on-the-ground approach to doing history is institutionalized and sustainable in the future,” he says.

His goals include figuring out ways to underwrite fieldwork.

“Then we can really work with communities in need and we can make sure this fieldwork-centered approach is here five years from now, ten years from now, twenty years from now,” he says.

With money for travel, the CHP could continue to spread its national and international reputation.

With no plans to slow down, West is forging ahead (including blogging to stimulate dialogue about the CHP’s work). With the help of staff members who offer fresh perspectives, he’s doing everything he can to ensure that the CHP is ready for the future.

“I’m lucky,” he says. “I have great people to work with: my colleagues work hard, the students who come to MTSU are almost invariably motivated, and then communities allow you to work on these projects.”

In other words, bring on the next 30 years.

 

 

An Honor and an Opportunity

In July 2013, Carroll Van West, CHP director, was appointed state historian by Gov. Bill Haslam.

“Gov. Haslam and his staff made it clear that one reason they asked me is that I am active in all 95 counties, and they want to be able to rely on that experience whenever necessary,” said West.

While he’s thrilled and he acknowledges that there is no greater honor for someone in his field than to serve as state historian, he also sees the appointment as a way to create more opportunities for MTSU Historic Preservation majors.

“People are always asking me, ‘Do you have someone who can do this, do you have someone who can do that?’” West says. “Sometimes there isn’t a match, but there often is, and a student gets an internship or an entry-level job. In today’s job market, just being able to open doors can matter.”

 

 

UNLEASHING THE POWER TO PRESERVE

MTSU has produced a True Blue army of preservationists whose effect on communities large and small is unmistakable. One of MTSU’s most celebrated historic preservation graduates is David J. Brown, chief preservation officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Brown is one of the key figures working to protect America’s national treasures.

The program is equally proud of graduates like Jessica White,who recently took a position with the Huntsville Historic Preservation Commission in Alabama. Since then, she’s worked as fieldwork preservationist for the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, among other activities.

 

 

 

 

 

A CENTURY MARK

In 1985, the Center for Historic Preservation began administering the Tennessee Century Farms program to identify, document, and recognize farms that have been in the same family continuously for at least 100 years.

There are Century Farms in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties, and the program has certified more than 1,500 farms. Of that number, 157 are at least 200 years old and 634 are at least 150 years old.

In addition to honoring these farms and families, the program allows the CHP to collect information necessary to interpret the agrarian history and culture of the state and provides learning opportunities for MTSU student research assistants.

(Editor’s Note: Nothing written about the Tennessee Century Farms initiative would be complete without the name Caneta Hankins, who was indispensable to the program’s success since it was transferred from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture to the CHP in 1984. She was director of the program for 12 years before her retirement in 2013.)

 

 

A Source of Praise

In 2013, when the Library of Congress released the first issue of Teaching with Primary Sources Journal, it was all about the MTSU Center for Historic Preservation’s work in Tennessee teaching the Civil War era in a multidisciplinary context. Thousands of teachers across the nation have read the edition and many use the materials in their classrooms.

“Teaching about the Civil War with primary sources—original documents and objects that were created at the time under study—provides opportunities for expanding this familiar topic in history into subject areas as varied as geography, language arts, and science,” the Journal said, “giving students unique opportunities to discover how this epic struggle bled into nearly every aspect of American life.”

 

 

Ninety-Five Pieces of heritage

The sesquicentennial of the Civil War has been widely commemorated in recent years. Dr. Carroll Van West, director of the Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Area, cochaired the Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, which was created to highlight the state’s Civil War history and to encourage tourism. Because each of Tennessee’s 95 counties was touched by the war, the heritage area directed by West is the nation’s only one to cover an entire state.

 

Degrees of Recognition

by Jimmy Hart and Drew Ruble

The granting of an honorary doctorate degree, a tradition of universities dating back to the Middle Ages, is higher education’s most significant accolade. Such degrees recognize those with sustained records of achievement who have made outstanding contributions and who exemplify the ideals for which a university stands. They are not lightly given. It is a university’s ultimate sign of respect.

On May 10, 2014, during the University’s commencement ceremonies, MTSU granted just the third and fourth honorary degrees in its 103-year history. Receiving them were MTSU alumnus Lt. Gen. William Phillips (’76), a U.S. Army three- star general from Bell Buckle, and Madam Xu Lin of China, a vice minister of education and director-general of the worldwide network of Confucius Institutes. Each honoree addressed graduates during commencement exercises.

 

 

A Soldier’s Soldier

From February 2010 to April 2014, Phillips was stationed at the Pentagon and served as principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the U.S. Army for acquisition, logistics, and technology. He retired in April after 38 years of service.

In a recent House speech honoring Phillips, U.S. Rep. John Carter (R-Texas), a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, called Phillips “a true champion for soldiers and their families,” adding, “His dedication to excel- lence has ensured our beloved soldiers fighting on behalf of the nation have always had, and will continue to have well into the future, the most technologically advanced and reliable equipment whenever and wherever they need it most.”

Phillips graduated from MTSU in 1976 with a bachelor’s degree. He received a master’s in procurement and materials management from Webster University and a master’s in personnel management from Troy State University. He is a graduate of the Command and General Staff College, the Defense Systems Management College, and the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

Among his many awards are the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Meritorious Service Medal, and the Iraq Campaign Medal. In 2001, he was named U.S. Army Acquisition Commander of the Year.

 

 

 

A Cultural Icon

Xu Lin leads the Chinese Language Council International (Hanban) and serves as chief executive of Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing. During her tenure, the organization has experienced tremendous growth. Since 2004, it has expanded to more than 120 countries with more than 440 Confucius Institutes and 650 Confucius Classrooms, reaching more than 850,000 students. MTSU joined China’s Hangzhou Normal University to open its Confucius Institute in 2010.

“Under Xu’s leadership, Hanban has been committed to making Chinese language and culture teaching resources and services available to the world, meeting the demands of over-seas Chinese learners and contributing to the formation of a world of cultural diversity and harmony,” said President Sidney A. McPhee.

In October 2013, Xu visited the MTSU Confucius Institute and the Tennessee State Capitol, where she met with Sen. Bill Ketron and Gov. Bill Haslam, among others, to discuss the importance of cultural exchanges between the U.S. and China. Xu received her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Fudan University in Shanghai and a master’s degree from Beijing Normal University. She has received many honorary doctorate degrees from universities around the globe. MTSU

[Editor’s Note: Almost 2,300 students graduated at MTSU’s spring 2014 commencement ceremonies on May 10. Of that number, 1,893 were undergraduates and 393 were graduate students.]

 

Back in the Groove

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vinyl is back. According to Nielson SoundScan retail figures, album sales leapt 33 percent in 2013. While the total number of units sold (six million) isn’t going to save the recorded music industry, it’s not insignificant, either—particularly for middle Tennessee, where the economy is in part dependent on strong sales. So what exactly is fueling the vinyl revival?

In the world of Recording Industry professor Paul “Doc Rock” Fischer, vinyl has never fallen out of style. A vinyl collector since age twelve, Fischer started working in record stores as a teenager in the 1970s for $2.10 an hour. Like all music lovers since then, Fischer adapted to format changes through the years, from records to tapes to CDs to digital downloads; but unlike most, Fischer never chucked his vinyl while buying everything all over again on CDs.

About 15 years ago, Fischer began accumulating vinyl again in earnest, mainly by going to estate sales in and around Nashville.  The fact that his hobby evolved into his becoming a secondhand vinyl dealer, frequently traveling to record shows in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Louisville, Huntsville, Indianapolis, and Dayton, is evidence that the world has caught up with his obsession. But so, too, has the industry.

“All of the major record labels are doing it now,” Fischer says, citing the proliferation of vinyl recordings by modern day acts like Nashville-based pop star Jack White. “It is one of the few categories of physical media . . . growing in sales of new music.” Fischer, who has been cited in publications nationwide regarding the uptick in vinyl sales, points to several reasons for the trend. First and foremost is the important distinction that purchasing vinyl nowadays is smartly paired with a modern method of consuming music.

“If you buy new vinyl—the record companies are very smart—you also get the download code for all of the songs,” Fischer says. “So at no additional cost, you can get the digital version of it for your iPod or other mobile digital music player and you can listen to that wherever you go, but you can listen to the vinyl when you get home.”

Next, he says, is the younger generation’s growing appreciation for packaging and album art—an integral part of the music-buying experience that older generations were accustomed to (and now wax nostalgic about) but one that younger music fans never experienced.

“I know that when I was a kid, that was part of the thrill—digging into the liner notes and the additional art,” Fischer says. “Whole generations of kids who grew up with digital downloads and access to all of the music that they want, either free or streamed or downloaded, didn’t even know what that experience was like until now. An LP with a big picture and maybe a gatefold and a booklet in the center—that adds a lot to the sitting and listening experience at home.”

Also key to the vinyl revival among younger listeners, according to Fischer, is that most of their parents tossed out their old record collections.

“So this is also a cultural, generational kind of thing,” he explains. “Most moms and dads did not hang on to their vinyl.  So it can be cool all over again. For the younger generation, it’s like they discovered it for themselves. It is of their generation.”

Fischer also believes the tactile nature of retrieving music from a vinyl record and a turntable with a needle is key to the medium’s revival, especially in a time where a few taps on a smartphone can play music.

 

“When you push the button to start your CD player, you are not manipulating the laser. You are telling the machine to go to work,” Fischer says. “However, when you have that tone arm in your hand and you poise it over the entrance groove to the record and you let it drop, that’s a different kind of relationship with what you are listening to.”

When explaining vinyl’s revival, many experts are quick to cite the opinion of many that music played on vinyl with a needle—despite the hisses and pops that accompany it—sounds better, or “warmer” than today’s compressed digital files. Martin Fisher, curator of recorded media collections for the internationally recognized Center for Popular Music at MTSU, believes nostalgia, not sound quality, has more to do with the opinion that vinyl offers a superior listening experience.  “I don’t think the sound is better. In fact, in many instances it’s a lot worse,” he says. “Some people might call it warmth; I call it noise, which is basically what it is . . . but it gives some people something to plant their ears on. With CDs, by comparison, there is no room noise there so the bottom falls out, and from a listener’s perspective you are kind of left hanging there in dead space.”

In essence, according to Fisher, it’s not the sound the vinyl is making but rather what listeners are hearing.  “Does it sound better? Not really. It’s all subjective,” he says.

“I think a lot of it is nostalgia, while the sonic explanation of it is probably because there is a security in having some sort of a noise floor to hold on to.”

Are nostalgia-less younger listeners perhaps better judges of what does or does not sound good when it comes to recorded music? Fisher argues they are not.

“They are running around with earbuds or listening to a system that has digital artifacts introduced through MP3 coding,” he says. “They don’t know what sounds good. I’m not demeaning them. They simply haven’t been exposed.” In addition, most of the new vinyl being pressed by younger musicians (which is accounting for most or all of the increase in vinyl sales) is actually cut from digital masters.  “So it’s like taking a CD and putting it on plastic, which is going to have a relatively high noise floor with distortion,” Fisher says. “A music collector would say, ‘What’s the big deal?’”

The creation of new vinyl product from digitally compressed files etched in plastic would seem to offer proof that the medium’s revival is more tied to packaging or cultural resurgence, not sound quality.

Jennings A. Jones College of Business professor Melodie Phillips, who specializes in entertainment marketing, says business and social factors are indeed part of the revival. Not unlike sweeping support for local farmers, local mom-andpop shops, and local artisans, people today—especially 15- to 30-year-olds—are turning to local sources for music. That’s helped the revival of record shops, where older generations were accustomed to shopping for music.  From a retail perspective, according to Phillips, society is collectively reprogramming its patterns and priorities.  “We think locally as opposed to supporting big corporations.  We’re thinking local groceries and organic foods. We support local farmers and farmers’ markets and businesses and entrepreneurs,” she says. “And the push to local businesses, local artists, and local farmers that has in large part grown out of social marketing has also really been the genesis for some of the success experienced in efforts like Record Store Day, where people are encouraging and promoting and reconnecting at college age with the idea of getting their music from an actual local record store as opposed to a Best Buy or Target or virtually through iTunes.” (Record Store Day was conceived in 2007 at a gathering of independent record store owners as a way to celebrate and spread the word about the unique culture surrounding nearly 1,000 independently owned record stores in the United States.)

Phillips points to the success of the grassroots push “Local Saturday” as an answer to “Black Friday,” which has successfully persuaded Americans to intentionally shop locally one Saturday each year.

“The idea is the same,” she says. “Don’t just run to Best Buy for price; instead, come to your local community shops and support them, because these are the people who live and work in your community.  Plus, you can find unique items there, not the mass-produced, generic big corporation items.”

Phillips also emphasizes that the return of the desire for a personalized point of sale for recorded music—not an electronic transaction—is partly driving vinyl’s resurgence.  “It’s like the old days,” Phillips says. “There’s a person there to talk with who knows music, perhaps alerts you to an upcoming concert, even lets you try an album out first before you buy it.”

A recent Tennessean business article offered more hard proof of vinyl’s revival. The newspaper reported in May that Nashvillebased United Record Pressing, one of the nation’s leading vinyl record makers, announced plans to open a second location to try to meet demand. According to the report, United recently paid $5.5 million for a warehouse where it plans to add 16 presses and storage space. The article added that several existing independent record stores around the city are expanding and that new retail stores are opening.

Got an old turntable gathering dust in the attic? It might be time to dig it out. Though still modest, the trend in recorded music in America today appears clear: what’s old is new again.

[Editor’s Note: Most of the business reporting on vinyl sales focuses exclusively on new vinyl being sold by record companies for the first time. But there’s an untracked secondary market of vinyl sales taking place at flea markets, record shows in hotel conference rooms, and second-hand music stores that never went away. Arguably, such sales are not important to the industry. They don’t make a dime on it. These are the places where people like “Doc Rock” Fischer, who are passionate about vinyl and looking for collector’s items, can be found. Though invisible on most business reports, that scene is a large part of the vinyl resurgence.]

 

 

 

Par for the Course

MTSU golf coach Whit Turnbow proves that one good deed leads to many others

 

By Bill Lewis
Photography by J. Intintoli

On the eight-degree morning Coach Whit Turnbow tweeted an offer to find a winter coat for anyone in need of one, he was shocked by the need he discovered. What didn’t surprise him was the generosity of the MTSU family.

“It’s a reminder what kind of country we live in,” says the Blue Raider men’s golf coach. Students, alumni, and local sports fans rallied to support his effort, donating hundreds of coats and the cash to purchase more.

The coat drive grew so dramatically that it earned a name—the True Blue Turnbow Project—and may become an annual event.

The whole thing began quite simply. Turnbow remembers being chilly in his car as he drove to campus at 6:45 a.m. for a team meeting. He could only imagine how cold it was for a man he saw on the street walking without a jacket.

“It was one of those days when the high was 14,” he says. Turnbow picked up his phone and tweeted, “Thinking about the kids who don’t have a warm place to wait on the bus or a winter jacket . . . If you know someone like this, DM me, and I will personally see to it that they get a new coat.”

“I just thought I’d run down to Walmart and buy a few coats,” said Turnbow.

He had no idea just how many coats were needed, or that just a few miles away, two first graders were suffering from frostbite after walking to school in their shirtsleeves. His tweets went viral among teachers in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County schools and in Bedford County, where Turnbow’s brother is a coach.

“Suddenly there were 30, 50, then 70 requests,” he says.

He called Murfreesboro businessman Matthew Neal, who offered to drop everything and meet the coach at Walmart. They walked out with $600 worth of jackets.

The Murfreesboro school system alone received 100 coats, along with mittens, gloves, and scarves, says central office employee Lisa Trail. “It was truly a blessing,” she says. “Children grow so quickly in elementary school, it can be a tremendous strain on families.”

She wasn’t surprised when she heard about Turnbow’s tweets or when he called her to see if the schools needed help getting the coats to children who needed them.

“The MTSU community, especially athletics, reaches out to [our] students on a regular basis,” Trail says. “MTSU is a strong community supporter and has a tremendous outreach to our students.”

When Director of Athletics Chris Massaro suggested collecting coats at a men’s basketball game, fans donated hundreds of winter jackets. The Student-Athlete Advisory Council and members of the men’s and women’s golf teams collected them at the doors of Murphy Center. At a later women’s game, fans made donations of $20 to $200 “right out of their pocket,” Turnbow says.

For a time, it was impossible to buy a winter coat in Murfreesboro. They had all been snapped up by members of the MTSU community.

“People who brought coats said, ‘I had to drive to Smyrna or even Nashville to get this,’” Turnbow says. “We cleaned out Walmart, Kmart, and Old Navy.” The weather in Murfreesboro is warm now, but Turnbow is already planning for next winter.

“We’ll replenish the supply at the schools,” he says, “Our job will be to make sure they have coats to keep them warm.”

Turnbow was awarded the Make a Difference Award for his True Blue Turnbow Project at the third annual Raiders Choice Awards in April. The awards highlight accomplishments in the Blue Raider athletic family. MTSU


 

Chasing the Green

MTSU golf alum Jason Millard attracted the attention of major sports outlets nationwide in June when he self-reported a penalty for grounding his club in a bunker on the 18th hole of a qualifying tournament that resulted in his disqualification from playing in the 2014 U.S. Open.

PGA.com described Millard’s action as “a prime example of the honor code in professional golf.” Reaction around the golf world, it added, was first one of shock, then respect and admiration.

Millard admitted he wasn’t 100 percent sure he actually grounded the club but that deep down he thought he did. His decision to report the possible infraction to officials deferred his dream of playing in one of golf’s annual major tournaments.

That isn’t to say Millard hasn’t had a breakthrough year in professional golf. A few weeks before the incident, he became the first Blue Raider since Mike Harmon in 1982 to play in a PGA event. Millard qualified and played in the Honda Classic in Florida.

Golf coach Whit Turnbow flew to Palm Beach Gardens to caddy for Millard during a practice round. Though Millard didn’t walk away with the winner’s share of the $6 million purse that weekend, he did gain something invaluable.

 

“He took away the confidence that he can compete at the highest level,” Turnbow says. “He’s chasing
that dream.” The U.S. Open experience no doubt confirms that.

 

Another former Blue Raider golfer, Hunter Green, later qualified for and played in the PGA Wells Fargo Championship in May in Charlotte, N.C.

 

 

Not to be outdone by the men, MTSU freshman Samantha Gotcher qualified earlier this year for the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open, becoming only the second Blue Raider in history (Taryn Durham in 2007 was first) to qualify for the prestigious tournament.

 

 

 

 

Teeing Off

For the sixth time in the last seven years, Middle Tennessee’s men’s golf program earned a bid to the NCAA tournament. Only the nation’s top 81 teams were invited to compete in the 2014 tournament. MTSU’s regional took place at The Club at Old Hawthorne in Columbia, Missouri, May 15–17. The low five teams from a total of six regionals advanced to the NCAA National Championships. Other universities competing in MTSU’s regional included No. 2 Oklahoma State, No. 11 Virginia, No. 14 LSU, No. 24 Arkansas, and 26th-ranked Arizona State. MTSU was led this year by juniors Brett Patterson and Payne Denman.

The MTSU golf team excelled academically in 2014 as well, earning a Public Recognition Award from the NCAA for scoring in the top 10 percent on its most recent multiyear Academic Progress Rates. The APR provides a real-time look at a team’s academic success each semester or quarter by tracking the academic progress of each student-athlete. The APR includes eligibility, retention, and graduation in the calculation and provides a clear picture of the academic culture in each sport.

It marks the fourth straight year the men’s golf program has been recognized. The women’s golf team, led by coach Chris Adams, also received the award, a first for the women’s team.

Working Behind Bars

Meredith Dye studies on oft-ignored female population

by Katie Porterfield

 

As a little girl, Assistant Professor Meredith Dye (Sociology and Anthropology) watched a lot of Scooby-Doo.

“At the end of each show, when they unmask the bad guy or the ghost, they see that it’s a real person, and it’s usually someone they know,” says the 37-year-old Dye, who mentions her affection for the cartoon to help make sense of what’s perhaps an unlikely calling: prison research.

“I have a tendency to see people in prison as people, not for what they’ve done,” she says.

It’s this tendency that fuels Dye’s most recent research on women serving life sentences in prison, a small population (5,000 in the United States) that receives little research attention.

In fact, in 2010, she and her colleague Professor Ron Aday (Sociology and Anthropology) visited three Georgia prisons and surveyed 214 of the 300 women serving life sentences in the state. As far as the pair knows, their data represents the largest sample of its kind. In addition to the fact that female lifers are an overlooked prison population, it’s difficult to get permission to work with them.

        “If it weren’t for Ron, I don’t think I would have been able to get access to prisons to collect data,” Dye says, explaining that Aday, who wrote a book on women aging in prison, has a contact in the Georgia Department of Corrections who paved the way for them. “When I was at Georgia [in graduate school], I was discouraged to hear that it took someone 13 years to establish a relationship that enabled him to gain access.”

Teaming up with Aday after joining MTSU is just one of the many experiences that shaped Dye’s interest in prison research. In other words, Scooby-Doo isn’t solely responsible for her “pathway to prison,” as she calls it. As she got older, her concern and compassion for people portrayed as “bad guys” spilled over to her academic career. At Erskine College, where she majored in behavioral science, she helped a Ph.D. student conduct research on deviant behavior in controlled and isolated environments. Between undergraduate and graduate school, she worked as a counselor at a residential treatment center for juvenile sex offenders and found herself asking questions about the environment and its approach to helping patients. While working toward her master’s in sociology with a concentration in criminology at the University of North Carolina–Greensboro, she developed a fascination with those who must live in and adapt to institutions in which their lives are completely controlled. She began to focus mostly on prisons and wrote her thesis and dissertation on factors associated with prison suicides (using secondary data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics). In 2008, after getting her Ph.D. from the University of Georgia, she ventured to MTSU, where she met Aday just as she was beginning to look at gender differences related to suicide in prison.

After working with Aday to gather data, she published “I Just Wanted to Die” in Criminal Justice and Behavior Journal. The article compared suicidal ideation among women before receiving life sentences and then while in prison. Her latest study, “The Rock I Cling To: Religion in the Lives of Life-Sentenced Women,” was cowritten for the Prison Journal.

Dye is far from finished. She’s yet to write a general paper on the characteristics of women serving life sentences, and because her survey contained closed and open-ended questions, she has a wealth of material that should eventually lead to a book. Her findings so far, she explains, are myth breaking in that they don’t fit most preexisting perceptions of who women serving life sentences really are.

“One thing that stands out right away when you meet these women is that they’re like your mom and your grandmom,” Dye says. “They are aging. They have wheelchairs, walkers, white hair, and health problems associated with aging. Or they are middle-aged women who never saw themselves ending up in prison, much less serving a life sentence.”

Unless they are serving life without parole, most women serving life sentences will not be in prison for life. Yet, as Dye explains, they are almost invisible because they comprise such a small population. (Less than one percent of all Georgia inmates are female lifers.)

“What I heard from them over and over again was ‘We are overlooked,’” says Dye. “The prison administration and staff are more concerned about people serving shorter sentences and getting them back into society so they don’t come back to prison.”

Though Dye readily cites useful and interesting percentages about the women she surveyed (see page 37), she’s quick to point out that her research isn’t just about crunching numbers. It’s also about telling the stories of incarcerated women “nobody seems to care about.”

“I’m not saying these women don’t need to be in prison, but who are they, how did they get there, how are they serving their time? Do I think this particular research will lead to a change in policy or their daily lives? Probably not, but I think we always need to ask ourselves what we’re doing.”

Meanwhile, she thinks she’s exactly where she needs to be. “A professor who does research on gangs told me one time that he always tells the people he interviews that for just a series of different life circumstances, choices, or opportunities, he could be where they are,” Dye says. “I feel the same way. I feel privileged and fortunate. I’ve had a lot of opportunities, and I think this is what I’m supposed to do.”

 

Creating a Paper Trail

Charles Clary’s art cuts both ways.

 

 


by Darby Campbell

When you step into an exhibition of Charles Clary’s (’04) paper sculptures, it can be an overwhelming experience.

The playful shapes come off the wall and reach out to the viewer. Cut in such precise, delicate detail, the tiny brightly colored landscapes invite you to come closer for exploration. What you see there may surprise you. Organic topographies, pencil marks, and subtle imperfections let you know that each piece was cut by hand. Given that the room contains hundreds of pieces with thousands of layers—all hand-cut—the sheer volume of work is astonishing.

The art world is taking notice. Clary recently exhibited as part of a two-person show at the prestigious Nancy Margolis Gallery in Chelsea, New York City. He was a featured artist on television program Daily Planet, of Discovery Canada. Highly regarded art journals including Hi Fructose have covered him. By the end of this year, Clary’s work will have been featured in five books devoted to paper art.

He produces all of this work while also working as a foundations and painting professor at MTSU, teaching four classes each semester. A devoted teacher, he’s passionate about setting an example for his students as a practicing professional.

“If I’m not doing what I preach, what good am I to my students?” he asks. “If I’m not pursuing my professional goals of being a recognized artist who has relevance in the contemporary dialogue, then I’m not of any use to my students because I’m trying to tell them this is a possibility, this is something they could do with their lives. And if all I’m doing is teaching, then that’s telling them, ‘Forget it. All you can do with [an art degree] is teach.’”

 

In December, the Rymer Gallery in Nashville held an exhibition of Clary’s work called Meticulous Excavations, in conjunction with fellow artist Jamey Grimes. This particular body of work was a sort of memorial. Each of the 204 pieces represent a day between his mother’s diagnosis of stage-four lung cancer in July 2012 and her death in February 2013, followed two weeks later by the death of his father.

 

Clary described making the work as cathartic.

“It was kind of a nice renewal of getting back into working just as hard as I did before they passed,” he says. “So the work that’s going to come out of it is going to be energetic. The colors I used were based on radiation and chemotherapy, and some of the other colors were quite a bit more pastel, so it kind of emphasizes the idea of losing one’s life, of having that kind of essence pumped out of you.”

Despite the grief that inspired the work, Clary strives to leave the viewer with a feeling of joy. No wonder he relishes describing a time when a four-year-old girl came to one of his exhibits in France and started poking her fingers in all the openings of his work.

“She was just laughing, all giddy, and people were horrified that she was doing this. I was like, ‘Whatever, I can always make another one, but that reaction is priceless!’” he recalls.

 

Though Clary freely admits he would discourage adults from doing the same, his goal is clear—always leave the viewer with a smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can watch a video of Charles Clary creating one of his paper sculptures below: