HNU Mourns Passing of James Avery, Husband of Former Vice President for Student Affairs Barbara Avery

The entire Holy Names University community is saddened to learn of the death of James Avery on December 31, 2013. Although Avery was famous for his role as Philip Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, he was best known at HNU for being the husband of Barbara Avery, who served as Vice President for Student Affairs from 2002 to 2005. Our deepest sympathies go out to Barbara and her family.

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Smith Publishes Paper in Life Sciences Education

smithProfessor Julia I. Smith, PhD, has published “Development of the Biology Card Sorting Task to Measure Conceptual Expertise in Biology” in Life Sciences Education. The paper, which is the cover story of the journal’s December issue, is the result of a collaborative research effort among Holy Names University, Northeastern University, and the Science Education Partnership and Assessment Laboratory at San Francisco State University. Six HNU undergraduates co-authored the article.

“We present the development of a novel assessment tool, the Biology Card Sorting Task, designed to probe how individuals organize their conceptual knowledge of biology,” Smith said. “Results suggest that the task is robust in distinguishing populations of biology experts and novices, and represents a useful tool for probing emerging biology conceptual expertise.”

As there is currently no method for measuring conceptual expertise in biology, the Biology Card Sorting Task (BCST) fills a long-standing gap in the assessment of undergraduate students. Policy makers, funding agencies, science departments, and individual biology educators will be able to use the BCST to make informed decisions about programmatic and curricular improvements.

Smith says that the students who participated in the writing of the paper were afforded a firsthand look into scientific process.

“Too often in biology, undergraduate course curricula emphasize facts over process. Participation in scholarly research projects provides students with firsthand experience in the process of science,” she said. “They gain a deeper appreciation for the primary literature because they are involved in the process of making it, not just reading it. Scholarly research is an inquiry-based learning experience and, as such, fosters the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”

She says that this type of project can also help students clarify their career goals and learn how to strike a balance between independent and collaborative work.

Adrian Peer, a 2011 graduate and one of the students who participated in the project, said that working with Smith and classmates helped prepare him for graduate school. “I was able to see first hand what goes into an academic study at the post-graduate level while I was still an undergrad. I was extremely thankful for that early exposure when I entered my master’s program at UC Davis after completing my bachelor’s degree at HNU,” he said.

Life Sciences Education is a publication of The American Society for Cell Biology. Click here to read Smith’s paper.

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U.S. Ambassador Guides Students on Foreign Career Opportunities

browningU.S. Ambassador Steven A. Browning visited HNU in conjunction with the Diplomat-in-Residence program for Northern California, which recruits talent for the U.S. State Department. Browning described the qualities that the U.S. State Department seeks in its representatives, and informed students about the Virtual Student Foreign Service program that offers virtual internship and micro-volunteering opportunities.

Browning—who has served in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East and was most recently deputy director general of the Foreign Service—said that being a diplomat is a demanding position that does not fit into a nine to five schedule.

“If you are the kind of person that needs predictability it is not the career for you,” he said. “You have to be prepared for volcanoes in Iceland, forest fires in Indonesia…. We look for people who are flexible and adaptable.”

In addition to being flexible and adaptable, Browning said that diplomats need to be culturally sensitive, and possess managerial skills and multitasking capabilities. The test required to become a diplomat is designed to identify candidates who are well rounded and have appropriate personality characteristics. To pass, individuals must be generalists and knowledgeable in a wide variety of subjects, he said.

Browning said that the hard work preparing for the exam and meeting the challenges of foreign service will be repaid with amazing experiences.

“What could be more interesting than discussing conservation with Jane Goodall while walking on the Indian Ocean beach?” Browning wrote on his Diplomat-in-Residence profile. “Or meeting Nelson Mandela and hearing him describe his vision for the future of South Africa? Or sitting with child soldiers in northern Uganda who had escaped the clutches of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army as they described their experiences?”

Browning’s November 7 visit was part of the Fall 2013 Asia Pacific Peace Studies Institute Speaker Series. The series featured a broad range of speakers, including curators from the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco; guests from the San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Symphony, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music; and journalists Karen J. Coates and Jerry Redfern, who discussed their book Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos.

Dr. Chiho Sawada, who directs the new Asia Pacific Peace Studies Institute and organizes its speaker series, said that the “touchstone for the series is the HNU mission to serve our students and society, to nurture transformational leaders who promote justice and model cultural diversity and competency.”

“My students just light up whenever they get a chance to interact with accomplished guest speakers who are making a difference in the world,” he said. “So, I do my best to attract folks from a variety of fields to visit our campus—from government as well as non-government organizations, from science and policymaking to cultural affairs.”

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Torkin Wakefield on BeadforLife and Changing Lives in Uganda

Torkin Wakefield (left) and President William Hynes

Torkin Wakefield (left) and President William Hynes

Torkin Wakefield joined Holy Names University for the second discussion in the 2013–2014 James Durbin Entrepreneurship Speaker Series on November 13. Wakefield is a cofounder of BeadforLife, which works to create sustainable economic opportunities for Ugandan women.

“This year our (speaker series) theme is passionate leaders in social entrepreneurship,” President William Hynes said. “All entrepreneurship seeks to add value, but social entrepreneurship uses the principles and practices of entrepreneurship to work for social goods.”

Wakefield knew that she would be moving to Uganda with her husband, who is an AIDS physician, but she did not know what she would do once she arrived. Before leaving, she set an intention with her best friend, Ginny Jordan, and daughter Devin Hibbard, to start a project that would make a difference in the lives of others.

After she moved to Uganda, Wakefield started volunteering for an orphanage that took in infants infected with HIV. One day she was asked to go to a slum to see a woman who was dying of AIDS. Wakefield, as well as Jordan and Hibbard who were visiting at the time, came across a woman making beads with paper. The woman, Millie Grace Akena, worked in a rock quarry for $1 a day, but she liked handiwork.

“An Irish developer . . . had taught her to make these beads, but that was eight years ago, and there was no market for these beads,” Wakefield said. Wakefield, Jordan, and Hibbard purchased some bracelets and necklaces and went on their way.

The next day at the orphanage a colleague expressed interest in a necklace that Wakefield was wearing, and the following day another woman commented on the distinct jewelry. Despite being told there was no market for the beads, Wakefield, Jordan, and Hibbard thought that Akena could make income selling the beads if the right doors were opened. They decided to find Akena and try to connect her with the local tourist gift shop, the Banana Boat.

“We finally found her at the rock quarry. She told us that actually several people had been taught to make paper beads, and could those women come with her to meet us?” Wakefield said. When Wakefield, Jordan, and Hibbard arrived for that meeting, there were about 50 women and a hundred children.

“Now the issue had changed. It was no longer Millie Grace Akena and the Banana Boat—now it was 50 women all of whom were dirt poor, who had hopes and dreams that somehow these paper beads would go somewhere,” Wakefield said.

BeadforLife has served thousands of Ugandan women since officially launching in September 2004, and has reached even greater numbers in the community. The nonprofit’s beading program is an 18-month training that also teaches business skills and prepares women to launch their own sustainable enterprises. Participants increase their income by seven to 10 times while enrolled in the program—making approximately $200 per month. BeadforLife sells the paper jewelry created through the program on its website, through retailers, and through Bead Party events held throughout the world. Approximately 18,000 volunteer-hosted parties have taken place in locales as distinct as Saudi Arabia, Australia, and the United States, and more than a million people have attended bead parties, where they can purchase the paper jewelry and learn about extreme poverty.

In addition to the beading program, BeadforLife has started several other programs to provide entrepreneurial training and other services to impoverished communities. These include a program for Northern Ugandan women to create shea butter products from shea nuts, an education program that pays for six years of boarding school for qualified girls, and the Street Business School, which provides three months of business training in poor communities for anyone who identifies as entrepreneurial.

“It’s a wonderful thing to be small and self funded because you can move quickly, and you can move into those opportunities that seem like they hold promise, and you can let go of projects that didn’t work so well,” Wakefield said.

Wakefield suggested that those who are interested in becoming social entrepreneurs should play on their own strengths. She also recommended that potential social entrepreneurs allow themselves to be supported by other people, and not to stop because of a lack of money. Instead, she said to start small and build up by pursuing financial support from other resources.

“Need is everywhere. It is so easy to find a project to throw yourself into,” Wakefield said.

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Students Reflect on Experiences in Rome

RomePrizeThis summer, 10 students awarded the Rome Prize traveled to Italy for 15 days to study and experience the art, architecture, history, and food of Rome, Florence, and the surrounding region. The trip was sponsored by a handful of donors, and gave students who may not have the opportunity otherwise the chance to absorb another culture.

“We all think that traveling at a young age when someone is just starting at university (is important),” said Chiara Cusano, who led the trip with her husband, Andrew Rosequist. “It is a very good experience to broaden our minds, to learn about ourselves, to understand diversity and … how different cultures can collide, and also to understand what it means to be in a place that is not your home.”

Although the students faced challenges ranging from communication difficulties to withstanding the summer heat, they spoke fondly of their experiences and were grateful for the opportunity to travel abroad. Most of the participants had not traveled to a foreign country or had limited travel experience. Several students said the trip has created the desire to travel elsewhere.

Misty Martinez, a senior who spoke about the Rome Prize at an HNU community event, said the trip felt like a dream for the majority of the students the first couple of days. It took a tour of the Colosseum for Martinez to feel that she had arrived.

“We got to the Colosseum, and we were waiting in a really long line of (people) from around the world, because everyone wants to see the Colosseum. As soon as I walked into the Colosseum I started crying,” she said. “It was us taking in the experience and recognizing that we were actually in Rome, and that it was real. For me it was super powerful, because it meant that I had done something I never thought was possible, and the Rome Prize gave me that.”

Students who participated in the trip were required to attend six study group meetings to learn about Italian culture prior to their departure. They also had to journal about their traveling experiences and complete a final project. Projects ranged from personal reflections about the trip to a video from the student perspective to a series of short stories.

“As part of a study abroad program, a student has the opportunity to experience history first hand—learn about the lives of people in the past and how different events led our world to where it is now,” senior Katherine McGuire wrote on the Rome Prize blog. “As students, we get to experience and learn about the history of places and then take the time to think and write about what we’ve learned.”

McGuire’s final project evolved from a paper on Italian food to a self-reflective piece. Her mother, who had traveled often at Katherine’s age, died of cancer three years ago. McGuire felt that her recent travels—an unexpected experience that she was ecstatic to have—allowed her to connect to and walk in the footsteps of her mom.

In addition to Martinez and McGuire, the following students participated in the 2013 Rome Prize: April Aggacid, Bobby Domingo, John Kennedy, Yesenia Lechuga, Brandon Marzan, Isamar Quiroz, Ammy Reyes, and Tyrone Robinson.

The students selected for the 2014 Rome Prize will be announced in December. Trip expenses will be paid for up to 10 students. Participants are required to take 3 units of art history, a 1-unit course on Italian language and culture, and a journal writing seminar in late spring.

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