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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.

 

Gifts that keep on Giving

The Centennial Campaign, the largest fundraising campaign in MTSU’s history, is having a transformative effect on programs and students across campus. The campaign is focused on four priorities:

  •  Fostering an innovative learning environment by building partnerships, learning spaces, and programs that  support the needs of the modern workforce
  •  Maintaining an exceptional student body by bolstering scholarships and student aid
  •  Assuring the highest quality faculty and staff by increasing tools needed to improve recruitment, retention, and   graduation
  • Competing at the highest levels athletically by matching up against top-notch competition, improving facilities, and focusing on academic success

Here is a glimpse at a few of the gifts made to the University during the ongoing Centennial Campaign. True Blue!

 

 

Better by Design

MTSU’s new Mechatronics Engineering program promises to elevate the University’s Department of Engineering Technology to the next level.

Mechatronics is a design process that includes a combination of mechanical, electrical, robotic, and computer programming as well as control systems. MTSU’s program is based on a three-level international certification system created by Siemens AG, a German engineering company. An example of a mechatronic system is a surgical robot, which performs precision mechanical work under sophisticated electronic and sensory control.

Last fall, the new program received its first gift—$15,000 from the southeast chapter of the International Beverage Packaging Association—to go toward endowing student scholarships. Southeast chapter member Jimmy Davis of Murfreesboro describes the new program as a “game-changer.”

Davis, an MTSU alumnus and past president of the Engineering Technology Advisory Board, is the owner of Murfreesboro-based the Davis Groupe, which supplies machinery, tools, and parts to Toyota, General Motors, and Nissan, among others.

There’s a high demand for skilled workers to maintain and repair mechatronic systems. People trained and certified in mechatronics engineering can expect high-growth opportunities and wages. MTSU alumnus and state senator Bill Ketron, a small-business owner and a member of the Engineering Technology Advisory Board, says the economic impact of the new program will be significant.

“Once we start training these young people and the industries and manufacturing concerns realize there’s a good, trained, and educated workforce for their needs, they’ll start locating here,” he says.

 

 

 

 


Without Reservation

Sometimes Gordon and Sara Bell’s friends have to choose between electricity for light or propane for heat. They can’t always afford both, but when it’s as cold as 50 below zero outside, and your house is made of tarpaper and a few old boards, the choice is easy.

That’s why the Bells make a point of taking candles when they visit the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, as they have every year for 30 years. Gordon (’73) and Sara (’72, ’84) became aware of the daily struggle for life on the reservation when they joined a church mission trip. Sara has since been adopted into the tribe. On each visit, they are confronted with a crisis of health and poverty invisible to most Americans. But they are inspired by the resilience and dignity of their friends in the Lakota Sioux tribe.

They hope the student who receives their newly endowed MTSU scholarship will join them on their journey—physically, intellectually, and perhaps spiritually. Each year, a University Honors College junior or senior researching Native American topics will be selected for the scholarship.

“After all, 99.9 percent of Americans don’t think about Native Americans. They’re out in the middle of nowhere,” Sara says. “It’s easy to forget, if you ever knew. Maybe that one student will make people aware.”

 

 

All Systems Go

A bequest from Steve and Kathy Anderson will create an endowed chair in computer information systems at MTSU and give students the benefit of a nationally prominent faculty member who understands the important challenges and opportunities in information systems and technology.

Steve Anderson (’77) majored in Marketing with a minor in Information Technology. While studying for his M.B.A. in 1978, Anderson worked as a graduate teaching assistant in the Information Technology Department.

Upon completion of his M.B.A., he began working with what was then called Andersen Consulting (now Accenture). During his 25 years with Accenture—15 years as a partner—Anderson’s client work focused on large-scale manufacturing, supply chain, and information technology strategy for Fortune 500 industrial and consumer products companies. Several of these efforts were global in scope and included teams working across Europe and the Far East. He led major restructuring efforts for several Fortune 500 companies. He also led lean manufacturing programs in over 20 different facilities across the U.S. and Europe. Anderson’s client work garnered him national press recognition in publications including BusinessWeek and CEO Magazine.

Anderson’s vision for the Chair in Computer Information Systems is to hire a chairperson who embodies the qualities possessed by Dr. Richard Callahan, a highly-dedicated and much-loved former professor in the then School of Business. According to Anderson, the chair will (among other objectives) expose students to creative, value-added uses of technology and conduct “innovation fairs,” where student teams will develop their own innovative ideas to be judged by their peers and by business leaders.

 

 

Serving It Up

A new indoor tennis facility is under construction at Old Fort Park that will greatly improve MTSU tennis and give local tennis lovers a new place to play.

The $3.7 million building will have eight indoor courts, an electronic scoreboard, a pro shop, locker rooms, a lounge, and a meeting area. It will be open to the public and serve as the home of Blue Raider tennis.

      The project was funded in part through private donations and is also part of the University’s $80 million Centennial Campaign. The state-of-the-art facility is expected to open this fall.

Numerous donors have made the new facility possible. For example, the scoreboard will be named in honor of                     the LaLance families of Murfreesboro in recognition of a donation from the families of Richard “Dick” and Jan LaLance and the late Robert “Bob” and Martha Lou LaLance. A court will be named in honor of the late Carolyn Reeves, a former high school tennis coach and community leader, in recognition of a donation from Shane and Amanda Reeves and the Reeves-Sain Foundation.

 

 

 

 

Standing Tall

John Stanford came to MTSU in   the 1950s after serving with the   Air Force, where he won acclaim as a baseball pitcher. He made his mark on Blue Raider baseball by becoming an All-OVC player.

After graduation, Stanford turned pro, pitching two seasons for the Washington Senators before serving as baseball coach for Shelbyville Central and Motlow Community College. In 1974, he returned to his alma mater to cultivate one of the most respected programs in college baseball. His Blue Raider record of 402–272–4 is second only to that of his successor, Steve Peterson. Blue Raider squads under Stanford made repeated trips to the NCAA Tournament, and Stanford won multiple coach-of-the-year honors. Later, as the University’s athletic director, he worked with donors to improve baseball facilities and scholarships, upgraded the golf program, and advocated the formation of the women’s softball program and field (among other accomplishments).

Stanford, who died in July 2013, will be honored with the placement of a 10-foot bronze statue outside the gates of Reese Smith Jr. Field. A similar statue of the late Reese Smith Jr., a Nashville alumnus for whom the stadium is named and whose two sons played baseball for MTSU, will stand next to Stanford’s.

One of Smith’s sons, Stephen B. Smith (’11), provided the funds to erect the statues. Chair of the board of Haury & Smith Contractors, a six-decade-old middle Tennessee development and home building company, Smith also served on the board     of directors of the Blue Raider Athletic Association, is a member of the Blue Raider Sports Hall of Fame, chaired the search committee for MTSU’s athletic director, spearheaded the successful effort to raise   $5 million to remodel the baseball stadium, and now is an important part of the University’s $80 million Centennial Campaign. He was named an MTSU Distinguished Alumnus last year.

 

To donate, visit www.mtsu.edu/supportMT.

10 Myths about Today’s MTSU

And why you should send your child or grandchild to your alma mater

by Drew Ruble

There are many ways to give back to your alma mater. The most obvious is to write a check. The time to do just that has never been better because MTSU is pursuing the largest fundraising campaign in its history. Reaching and even exceeding financial goals will be a big step in the continued advancement of the University, academically and athletically, as one of the finest public institutions of higher education in the Southeast.

Another way to support MTSU is to make it possible for your children and grandchildren to attend your alma mater. What’s stopping you? In my time as editor of MTSU Magazine, I’ve heard a few alumni offer an occasional reason for being a little hesitant to send their children and grandchildren to MTSU. Many of those reasons were flat-out wrong. I was all too happy to set the record straight.

Here, then, is my personal list of the top 10 myths about today’s MTSU or, put another way, the top 10 reasons to send your child (or grandchild) to college here. True Blue!

 

 

1

Myth:

MTSU’s campus isn’t that pretty.

Fact:

In addition to beautifully landscaped grounds, several new buildings have significantly elevated the overall look of campus. The $65 million Student Union Building, the soon-to-open $147 million Science Building (see below), the three-year-old College of Education building, and the brand-new Student Services Building are some of the most beautiful on any campus in Tennessee—period! Add in older structures, including the four beautiful 103-year-old original buildings (still in use today), and your eyes will tell you all you need to know about MTSU’s aesthetic appeal!

 2

Myth:

Parking on campus is a nightmare.

Fact:

Last year, MTSU opened two new student parking garages. The four-level structures (valued at $23.5 million) added almost 1,000 net parking spaces near the campus core. More surface lots have also recently been opened.

 

3

Myth:

Sports at MTSU can’t be nationally prominent.

FACT:

Last year, MTSU joined Conference USA (C-USA) for inter-collegiate athletics. C-USA teams and players have made nearly 700 NCAA championship ap- pearances since the league’s inception in 1995. Sixty-seven football programs have earned bowl bids; 90 men’s basketball teams have participated in NCAA and NIT postseason play; 47 women’s basketball squads have appeared in the NCAA Tournament; and 53 baseball programs have made NCAA tournament appearances, including 12 College World Series and a national crown for Rice University in 2003. Also, 61 men’s and women’s soccer teams have participated in NCAA tournaments, and Charlotte competed for the men’s College Cup in 2011. We can do this!

 

Myth:

State tuition increases across Tennessee’s higher education system have made even schools like MTSU unaffordable for families.

FACT:

Perhaps the highly regarded Princeton Review said it best when it named MTSU one of the “Best in the Southeast” on its 2014 list of the nation’s top colleges. Editors of the list, which recognized 138 institutions in the 12-state Southeast region, called MTSU “a growing school on the rise, [where] you get a quality education and you aren’t in crippling debt afterward.” Forbes once even ranked MTSU as the 47th “best buy” among all public colleges and universities in America!

5

Myth:

MTSU doesn’t rank academically— regionally or nationally—like other name-brand schools.

FACT:

Nationally recognized programs and courses of study at MTSU include aerospace, recording industry, horse science, forensic science, concrete industry, historic preservation, agriculture and agribusiness, and accounting, just to name a few. MTSU also boasts what may be the best nursing and teacher-training programs in the state. In addition, it’s home to one of the largest business schools in America. In these areas and more you simply cannot send your child or grandchild to a college better suited to equip them with the knowledge and skills they will need to achieve their personal and professional dreams!

 

Myth:

MTSU is not interest in student success; it’s only interested in enrolling as many students as possible.

FACT:

Actually, University efforts are unilaterally geared toward retention and providing continuous support to keep students enrolled and on track to graduation. From the retooling of classes that too many students historically have failed to the recent opening of a $16 million Student Services and Admissions Center and the new MT One Stop, an all-in-one student assistance hub, examples abound of MTSU’s focus on student success. This “quest for student success,” as President Sidney A. McPhee describes it, is not code for grade inflation. It’s simply the right thing to do. And it’s also perfectly aligned with the goals of the state legislature and governor’s office. As McPhee likes to say to faculty and staff, “If students become an interruption in your day, you’re in the wrong business.”

 7

Myth:

There are few important graduate programs at MTSU, and little significant research is conducted.

Fact:

Many are surprised to learn that one out of five degrees awarded at MTSU is a graduate degree. In fact, the College of Graduate Studies offers more than 100 programs. The reality is that MTSU is aggressively transitioning from a primarily undergraduate institution to a doctoral research university with high research activity. New interdisciplinary doctoral programs ranging from educational assessment (the only such program in the state) to molecular biosciences are driving that shift. For example, in partnership with the Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants in Nanning, China, MTSU has the opportunity to develop new Western medicines based on plant extracts used in the healing art of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Several recent pharmaceutical successes stemming from the use of active chemical ingredients in Chinese herbal medicines to develop conventional Western drugs reveal just how big a deal MTSU’s new partnership may be. The partnership has already yielded about 40 results that show promise in treating cancer, viral infections, and other ailments.

 

8

Myth:

MTSU is exclusively a commuter college.

Fact:

A college education is more than an accumulation of course credits. Students don’t spend all their time in class. College life is also about expanding your worldview through exposure to cultures, perspectives, and lives different than your own. With a new $65 million, 211,000-square-foot Student Union Building, highly active service and special-interest clubs, and a wealth of extracurricular activities, students at today’s MTSU enjoy the full college experience and never have to leave campus to keep busy and have a great time—even during nights and weekends! (The proliferation of affordable off-campus housing has also played a big role.) MTSU’s new student involvement program, aimed at connecting students to the University through extracurricular activities, attracted more than 2,700 first-time students last year, and more than 1,100 of them attended four or more events during fall 2013.

 

 9

Myth:

MTSU is exclusively a regional school.

Fact:

MTSU was recognized last year by the Chronicle of Higher Education as a top producer of Fulbright award winners. The Fulbright Program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, is the government’s flagship international exchange program. MTSU was the only Tennessee college or university to earn the Chronicle’s distinction. Today’s students simply must communicate across cultures effectively if they are to participate in the international workplace. At MTSU, internationalization of the student body is a priority. International student enrollment has increased from 396 to 789 in five years, and the University has 335 students in its study-abroad programs this summer. It has more than 40 exchange agreements with institutions around the world. Finally, MTSU’s strong connections with China in terms of academic partnerships and research/industry collaborations rival any university in America.

 

10

Myth:

Only average students attend MTSU.

Fact:

The ACT average for the fall 2013 freshman class (22.0) continued to be above the national average (20.9) and above the Tennessee average (19.5). The average high school GPA for the fall 2013 freshman class was 3.35. Buchanan Fellowship recipients in fall 2014 comprised the strongest entering class since the University’s premier academic scholarship began in 2006. Limited to around 20 students, the fellowship had 166 applications from ten different states, and the average ACT score of the applicants was 30.75. Also, enrollment in doctoral programs at MTSU increased by nearly nine percent last year.

 

 

So c’mon—send your kids to MTSU! Make it a family affair. It’s a great place to get an education. Plus, how special would it be to share the same alma mater with your children? You can all be

True Blue!

MTSU

Forward March

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Allison Gorman

Rickey Smith (’78) draws wisdom from the past. He quotes great military strategists as easily as most of us recite our phone numbers. But as director of ARCIC Forward—the strategic engagement wing of the Army Capabilities Integration Center— he’s focused on the future, helping transform the U.S. Army into an ultramodern fighting force ready to battle on any front, whether subterranean or in cyberspace.

That’s no small task. Historically the least agile branch of the U.S. military, the Army has 980,000 active and reserve troops. The Department of Defense is reducing military spending as the war in Afghanistan draws down, yet far greater threats to American interests remain. Those threats are global, complex, and constantly changing, and as the logistical backbone of the joint military forces, the Army must be ready for them.

“Have you ever heard of building a bridge while walking on it?” Smith asks. “Welcome to my world.”

President Sidney A. McPhee recently hosted a reception for Washington, D.C.–area MTSU alums at Café Berlin. Among those pictured here are (3rd from left) General William Phillips, U.S. Army; (8th from left) McPhee; (9th from left) former congressman Bart Gordon; (10th from left) Rickey E. Smith; and (11th from left) Ken Strickland, NBC News Washington bureau chief.

The center’s job is to plan how to train, structure, equip, and position the Army to thwart present and future enemies as quickly and efficiently as possible. Smith’s job is to convey that vision to those inside the Washington beltway. He works with Congress, administrative offices, and think tanks to help keep the ARCIC mission moving forward and to explain why, in a remote-control world, America’s land fighting force is more relevant than ever.

Before he retired from the U.S. Army and became civilian director of ARCIC Forward in 2009, Smith did “futures work” on the military side, helping oversee the most sweeping reorganization of combat operations since World War II. Now an even more dramatic modernization is underway, and Smith is helping shape a force facing limited funding but near-limitless combat scenarios.

“I don’t use the phrase ‘irregular warfare,’” he says. “It’s just warfare. What used to be conventional is now unconventional. That’s the chaotic dynamic we’re working in.” So while the Army has institutionalized the practice of learning from its mistakes (with, for example, the Center for Army Lessons Learned), its best weapon going forward might be adaptability.

Troops may fight the next big battle in one of the growing number of “megacities,” tracking a loosely organized enemy through sewers or high-rises. Or they might have to swap their Humvees for horses, using GPS to call in airstrikes, as they did in the mountains of Afghanistan. “Our challenge is we have to do these things as an away game anywhere on the globe,” says Smith.

He predicts that cyberspace will become more treacherous as hackers learn to disable military computers and redirect GPS units. (“That’s what we would do, so that’s we should expect our enemy to do. They’re not idiots.”) He also considers chemical and biological weapons credible threats.

“We’re facing an active, dynamic, resourceful adversary that doesn’t have the same legal or moral structure that we do,” he says. “How do we deal with that?”

ARCIC offers two answers: adaptation and innovation. The hoped-for result is a leaner, smarter, more flexible U.S. Army that leaders expect to have in place by 2025.

Already, the Army’s traditional strength-in-numbers approach has given way to smaller brigade combat teams—nimbler tactical units that are now its primary fighting force, Smith says. Increasingly sophisticated unmanned systems will complement boots on the ground.

ARCIC helped shape new cyberspace operations units, including one focused on missile defense, as well as a “consequence management” formation to assess and contain damage from a weapon of mass destruction. The center has also increased the Army’s focus on biometrics and forensics and sees particular promise in human performance and material science research.

And then there’s technology that should make formations faster and more resilient: innovations such as bandages that cauterize wounds, uniforms that store solar power or a soldier’s own kinetic energy, “Iron Man” helmets with heads-up displays, and devices that pull water from air. “Some of these things are past the testing phase,” Smith says. “Now we’re assessing where we should put them in the force.”

Whether the question is where to station troops or what technology to buy, Smith says it all boils down to cost-benefit analysis—a perfect challenge for a former finance major.

Smith attended MTSU on a four-year ROTC scholarship, choosing his hometown school out of 350 options because he felt it offered him the best chance to succeed on his own merits. “Even with the growth of the University,” he says, “it remains a place where you can achieve your personal excellence, even if you didn’t come from a long line of college graduates, which I didn’t.”

Yet succeed he did.

At MTSU, Smith joined the riflery team and was cadet battalion commander. He also married his high-school sweetheart, Margaret Smith (’84). After graduating in 1978, he joined the Army as a field artillery officer, completing tours of duty in Germany and Korea. He earned an M.B.A. and a master’s in national security strategy. He participated in START treaty negotiations in Geneva and after 9/11 was a Department of Defense coordinating officer for disaster relief and homeland security before moving on to futures work.

All along the way, he says, he’s drawn on lessons he learned as a cadet at MTSU. “The notion of being able to examine problems, come up with courses of action, do a kind of cost-benefit analysis . . . that all stems from those early days.”

As ARCIC’s point person in Washington, Smith considers himself less an advocate than an educator, and those analytical skills are still critical. At a time when military decisions can boil down to numbers, he presents the cost of arbitrary change versus the benefit of restructuring the Army in an intellectually driven way.

“At the end of the day, the nation will have the army it wants to resource,” he says.

Central to ARCIC’s philosophy is the conviction that no unmanned system and no amount of remote firepower can replace the need for boots on the ground.

“Don’t get me wrong—I want the world’s greatest air force and navy,” Smith says. “But that won’t drive you to a strategic resolution . . . and by launching that bomb, you may have created ten adversaries you didn’t have before.”

With troops in more than 100 countries, the U.S. Army is positioned to deter war by addressing its underlying human causes, he says.

“Clausewitz said that war is the ultimate expression of politics. . . . The human aspect of military operations is about changing behavior. Lethal means—the battle, the firefight—that’s a last resort. If you really want to change behavior, you’ve got to start through engagement.”

Smith says human capital is the Army’s most precious commodity, and today’s soldiers come with fresh, invaluable skills: they are digital natives who find new ways to use technology, often write their own apps, and solve problems through crowdsourcing.

Then again, Smith says, some things haven’t changed since he was a cadet at MTSU. “We’ve got a lot more gee-whiz things now,” he says, “but strength of character, the Army values we embrace—those are enduring.”

 

MTSU

 

 

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:

From Literary Canon to Vampire Slaying

Dr. David Lavery is crafting a new pop canon, one Buffy at a time

by Candie Moonshower

 

MTSU Literature faculty and Buffy, Sopranos, and Avengers pop culture expert David Levery in studio.

I’ve been asked a hundred times why I’m interested in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer,” says Dr. David Lavery, director of Graduate Studies in English at MTSU. “I say it’s because it makes me feel like my education wasn’t for nothing.”

Connecting the respected canon of literature to a TV show about vampires and a heroine slayer isn’t the typical self-reflection one might expect from a professor of English literature with curriculum vitae long enough to warrant an ISBN number. But Lavery isn’t typical.

Since 1978, when he earned his Ph.D. in English at the University of Florida, Lavery’s career trajectory, which began with a desire to focus on American literature and specialize in Native American literature, has taken a surprising detour out of the realm of the canon and into the uncharted waters of popular culture, particu­larly television studies. The first leg of that journey was his dissertation, which came out of a push to see a Federico Fellini film. Then, during an early stint at the University of Memphis as a professor of communica­tion and film studies, Lavery was asked to teach a class called TV and Culture.

“At first, I thought it was ridiculous, but I enjoyed it,” he said. Little did he know, but he was in the first group of scholars engaged in groundbreaking studies about TV and its impact on our culture.

Since arriving at MTSU in 1993, he has continued to break new ground, bridging the gap between pop culture and the canon.

“It’s exciting to teach at a school with such a comfort level,” Lavery says. “Here at MTSU, I can teach Wallace Stevens and then Joss Whedon,” the latter being the creator of Buffy, the director of recent box-office smash The Avengers, and other iconic shows and movies. (Lavery recently published a book titled Joss Whedon: A Creative Portrait.)

According to Lavery, the division between low and high culture is not as strong as it once was—or as people thought.

“As a graduate student, I used to hate TV,” he admits. “I thought it was Orwellian and would ruin our souls. I never pictured myself here, in this career. And I’m having fun.”

Lavery adds, “No one has ever invited me to Australia to talk about Wallace Stevens, but they have invited me there to talk about Buffy.” (His eyes twinkle as he tries not to smile too broadly.)

One promising aspect of this burgeoning area of study? The need for scholarly articles and books. Lavery created the first scholarly book devoted to an individual TV series, Twin Peaks.

“No one had thought of taking on a book about TV—and I certainly never anticipated being that person,” he says. Since that seminal work, Lavery has authored, coauthored, edited or coedited over 20 books and over 150 published essays, chapters, and reviews, including the aforementioned book-length biography of Whedon.

Lavery believes MTSU is a leader in the integration of pop culture and traditional English studies. He acknowledges that while English depart­ments have accepted film studies, many have not yet taken on TV, which he calls misguided.

“TV shows are like novels,” he says. “They cover a long narrative time, and they should be part of the canon. The canon will grow.”

It’s not the first time MTSU has done pioneering scholarly work related to pop culture. Lavery points to former professors Michael and Sara Dunne (also noted pop culture scholars) and the much-celebrated Charles Wolfe, who became, arguably, the most important music scholar in the world writing about country music.

For Lavery, it all starts with Buffy.

“I hated the movie, so I didn’t watch the show on TV,” Lavery admits. “Four years in, students wanted me to watch. They said, ‘It’s your kind of show!’ I finally watched it, and it changed my life. Those students changed my life.”

And what about Joss Whedon, around and about whom a good deal of Lavery’s work has been centered?

“Whedon is the champion out there for all of us out here who once thought we were losers,” he says.

Lavery boldly places Whedon studies as a natural complement to those of a better-known literary icon.

“Shakespeare . . . has kept English teachers busy for 400 years,” Lavery says. “Whedon . . . has tapped into how our imaginations work and changed TV. He has reached whole families and spoken in a language we understand. Like Shakespeare in his day, Whedon is one of us.”

Lavery is one of us, too. Tori Warenik, a former student of Lavery’s who received her master’s in English from MTSU in 2013, says she enrolled specifically to study under Lavery.

“I first met Dr. Lavery in 2010 at Slayage, a popular culture conference on Joss Whedon, which convenes every other year. When applying for graduate programs, I contacted Dr. Lavery, who volunteered some advice: ‘Go where you feel like you belong.’” (Lavery was a cofounder of the Slayage conference, and the Slayage Journal—each outgrowths of the Whedon Studies Association Lavery also cofounded.)

Warenik chose MTSU.

“Many people don’t get the opportunity I did to make a connection with someone so plugged in to his area of interest as well as to his legacy: his students,” Warenik says. “Though he has written and edited a veritable shelf of books and academic papers, Dr. Lavery wants his students to succeed in their chosen paths as he has, which in academia, is actually extraordinary.”

Warenik, now a high school English teacher in Florida, says she is excited to try to make those same types of connections with her own students.

What is next for David Lavery? His ambitions are many and varied. He certainly doesn’t want to be pigeonholed. He admits that he has always chafed at the “turf ” of academia.

“In my perfect world, the English Department and the Chemistry Department would teach together,” he says.

Lavery says he has enjoyed teaching in the Honors College and would like to teach an interdisciplinary course on the topic of creativity.

“Our Honors [program] does an incredible job of giving good students a chance to think outside the box,” he says, acknowledging that MTSU is the number-one target for the state’s best and brightest students.

In summer 2014, Lavery is teaching Special Topics in Popular Culture: James Tiptree, Jr. and Science Fiction—a graduate class. He is also finishing a book called Finale about the great television finales of all time.

And the canon?

“I’d like to write a book on Wallace Stevens,” Lavery says with a smile.

 

 

Find out more about MTSU’s English Department below:

The Stone Pride

The Honors College is home to some nonliving embodiments of its nobler aspirations

By Drew Ruble

 

MTSU has a beautiful campus. There are many beautiful buildings (both new and old) and several important landmarks that include the enduring columns of Kirksey Old Main, the obelisk at the Main Street entrance, the horseshoe in Walnut Grove, the columns in the roundabout from the Old Capitol Building, and the new veterans memorial near the University’s four original buildings.

 

Enter the lions.

 

Those who know John Vile, dean of the Honors College, know that, next to writing, he loves to collect. Vile and his wife spend many Saturday mornings going to estate sales and flea markets, and the dean has a special fancy for old books, political collectibles, and art.

 

The hobbyist/collector just happened to spend two summers studying at Princeton University, where he was especially impressed by the statues of tigers spread throughout the campus.

 

“It was almost as though they were breeding,” Vile says. “One could practically direct a visitor through the campus by directing them from one such statue to another.”

 

Imagine Vile’s delight, then, when he was at a favorite consignment shop in Nashville a few years ago and saw two gray granite lions.

 

Though he says he was tempted to carry them to his own front porch, both had been brought from China, with which MTSU has many connections, and both were stately symbols that in Vile’s mind seemed to epitomize the strength of mind, will, and character that the Honors College seeks to imbue. Vile placed the lions outside the Paul W. Martin Sr. Honors Building, facing visitors approaching from the College of Mass Communication or the College of Education to the west.

 

“I thought perhaps they would also inspire courage,” Vile says. “After all, the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz is so memorable because it so contradicts the stereotype.”

 

To be precise, the lions are actually Fu dogs. In feng shui, the Chinese art of placement, a Fu Dog is a door guardian. The lion-like statues usually appear in pairs (a male and a female) and have muscular bodies, fearsome faces, and curly hair. Fu dogs are sometimes referred to as lion dogs, temple lions, or Chinese guardian lions.

 

Fu dogs guard and bring energy blessings to the places they “protect.” They are traditionally displayed in front of a door or a hallway near a door to prevent bad spirits and harmful energy from entering a home or business.

 

Vile says he only purchased the lions because of the University’s China connection and because he liked them—not because he is a follower of feng shui (or was even fully aware of the connection at the time). “I think they add a bit of personality to the entrances,” Vile says. “The Chinese consider them to bring good luck. And if they do so, then that’s just an added bonus!”

 

The deal was done after some negotiation. Luckily for Vile’s pocketbook, the owner had an MTSU connection and was proud to have the statues ending up on campus. Vile soon discov­ered that each lion seemed to weigh about a ton! He recruited one of his strongest students, who helped lift them into the dean’s Honda Odyssey and eventually onto the back steps of the Honors Building, where they now regally reside.

 

Smitten with his first pair of guardians, the search was on for Vile.

 

He found four other lions later at the same Nashville shop. They are now found on the other side of the Honors Building, facing the Rec Center and the new student services building. They are white rather than gray, smaller, look more distinctly Chinese than the first two, and are perhaps more whimsical than imposing. Two have marbles in their mouths.

 

Lions are often associated with strength, but Vile says he thinks the six now perched outside the Honors Building also look just a bit wise.

 

“The statues help remind me that the Honors College values not only the retention of facts but also strength of character and wisdom,” Vile says. “That, at least, is what I think of when I look at them. It seems fitting that statutes from one of the world’s most ancient civilizations, which values wisdom, have found a home at the Honors College.”

 

In many ways, the lions dotting the perimeter of the building also provide a new, signature, artistic marker for the campus.

 

Hear them roar.

 

 

 

Check out the Honors College in the video below: