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“Doing something,” indeed.


“What was the final project?” I ask Michelina Astle ’17, president of the Chatham Scholars Advisory Board (SAB). We’re talking about the one-credit “Dialogues” course that the Scholars take during their first year.

Dr. MacNeil told us to do something,” she says.

“Do something?” I ask.

“Do something,” she says.

This should have come as no surprise—self-determination has been a big part of the Scholar’s program, and it’s getting bigger. But first things first.

At the moment, there are about 70 Chatham Scholars. They come from all different backgrounds, and bond during their first year through a few “Scholars-only” courses, including an English course, a science course and the Dialogues course. This exposure to students from different academic disciplines is one of the things that Michelina, a psychology major, likes the most about the program. “My friends are studying English, biology, math,” she says. “We go to events together and hang out as a group.”

Some of those events are Scholars’ gatherings, like ice-cream socials, volunteering, and the annual trip to the Andy Warhol Museum-plus-dim-sum-or-Middle-Eastern-food. Figuring out what these gatherings are is the work of the SAB, and this autonomy is likely to increase.

“I’d like to place more power in the hands of the students,” says Assistant Professor of Biology Dave Fraser, PhD, director of the Scholars program. “Then I would serve as more of a facilitator to help them accomplish what they set out to do.” He envisions a sort of “Innovation Fund.”

“Rather than having me say ‘Okay, this is what we’re going to do with our budget,’ I want the Scholars to come up with ideas for what we should do with the money,” says Dr. Fraser.

“Students might say, ‘You know what, we need a course for students who are first in their family to go to college. It should be a one-credit course, open to anyone. You should fund this because it’s important to the University. Here’s what we need.’ Or ‘We want to put together a seminar to have Chatham graduates who are in grad school come back and tell us what it’s like. Here’s our proposal,’” he says.

“This allows students to say ‘Here’s what I did; I put together this proposal and got this money.’ It shows that they’re able to plan out and carry a project through. That’s valuable to have, not just on a resume, but it really does build problem-solving skills and their own sense of self-sufficiency,” says Dr. Fraser.

Dr. Fraser also sees the Innovation Fund as being able to contribute to the social justice work that’s being done by Chatham students, both on and off-campus. This might look like providing funds to students who would like to work at nonprofits such as the Thomas Merton Center that aren’t able to pay interns that much. Funds could also be used to send students to conferences that they might not otherwise be able to attend.

David Fraser, a white male with brown hair in a blue button down and glasses
Assistant Professor and Director of the Chatham Scholars program David Fraser, PhD

Dr. Fraser teaches the first-year Scholars’ science course, ENV115: Shifting Environmental Paradigms. Over the past couple of years, he has revamped it to make it more relevant for non-science majors.

“I switched the course focus to be about scientific literacy—how to recognize bad data, and how bad science gets used to bolster arguments, whether on purpose or accidentally, which is something we see throughout the media,” he says.

Students choose a current debate in the news that has a scientific component, assess the stakeholders and arguments, and present their conclusions—in a video presentation. “They tend to do so much writing already,” says Dr. Fraser. “I want them to feel like they could be on TV, presenting information. A bit of empowerment, is the idea.”

Topics that students have chosen include the vaccination debate, alternative energy sources, whether video games are healthy or harmful, and whether it’s possible to end veteran homelessness. But the topic isn’t the important part.

“Gathering information, addressing themes that are important to society, and coming up with a way to evaluate the information—these are all classic liberal arts skills,” says Dr. Fraser.

After the first year, Scholars take two upper-level courses that have been designated “Scholars’ courses” though they’re open to everyone who has met the prerequisites.

“Before the start of every term, I talk with faculty who are teaching courses that I think would be good for the Scholars. I try to include as many disciplines as I can. They’re often in history, political science, art, and psychology, and they’re usually discussion- and/or project-based,” says Dr. Fraser. Around five courses per semester are designated Scholar’s courses.

Michelina took an upper-level English course called Food and American Identity with Assistant Professor Carrie Tippen, PhD. “I did a project with another Scholar where we studied the cultural impact of Martha Stewart and the legacy of the domestic goddess,” she says. In Maymester 2017, she will be taking her second Scholar’s course, Oral History, Neighborhoods, and Race in Pittsburgh with Assistant Professor Lou Martin, PhD. In the first week of the course, students read about and discuss topics like segregation, urban history, civil rights, and the African American experience in Northern cities, and in the second part, they conduct oral interviews of graduates of Homewood’s Westinghouse High School.

And then there’s the first-year Scholars Dialogues course. That’s a weekly seminar in which leaders are invited to give presentations on their lives and work and meet the Scholars. One guest speaker was then-Chatham-president Esther Barazzone, PhD. “I felt like that was really exclusive,” says Michelina, “that we got President Barazzone to give a presentation to our small class!”

And Michelina’s response to the “Do something” instruction in the Dialogues course she took during her first year?

“We did a dorm cooking demonstration,” she laughs. “We found that you could combine cake mix with light or dark pop and pop it in the microwave and have a little cake. We searched around for recipes that would work in dorm rooms, and thought about what else we could add to ramen to make it taste better. We had a sheet with tips,” she says.

For more information about Chatham Scholars, please contact Dr. David Fraser at 412-365-2961 or email




Five Questions With Andres Carrillo 

Name: Andres Carrillo
Title: Assistant Professor of Exercise Science
Joined Chatham: August 2012
Born & Raised: Born in Toronto and raised in Hamilton, Ontario Canada
Interests: Movement, Travel, Reading, and Cooking

1. How did you develop an interest in the field in which you teach?

I have always been interested in movement. But it was my high school kinesiology teacher who made me realize that I could turn my interest into a career. She inspired me to pursue a bachelor of kinesiology. That initial educational experience is what made me realize how rich life can be when you construct your career in such a way that allows you to fully pursue your passion.

2. What was your first job and what did you learn from it?

When I was 13 years old I had two summer jobs as a dishwasher and working on a farm. The job as a dishwasher was the worst job I have ever had. It was in a dirty dungeon in the back of a restaurant. Working on a farm was great because I was moving a lot and working outdoors, but it was long hours of really tough work. What I learned from these jobs was the importance of focus and stamina. The work had to be done before I could leave, so I became quite efficient at focusing on one task until it was complete. These skills are important to develop especially as we move more into a time when the susceptibility for distraction is high.

3. What is your passion?

I’m passionate about movement. For me, movement has a few different domains. For example, I believe that diverse physical movement (e.g. exercise) is a smart investment for preserving a healthy self. How we move, reflects how we live. Geographical movement (i.e. travel) provides us with an opportunity for reflection, appreciation, and to gain a greater sense of compassion. Finally, cognitive movement (e.g. reading) avoids stagnation and gives us the opportunity for continuous inner growth that enhances/enriches our interaction with others (e.g. teaching, nature, etc.).

4. What one individual had the greatest impact on you and how?

Dr. David Waters was (and still is) a mentor of mine who has had the greatest impact on me. I took two of his classes while completing my doctorate at Purdue University. Dr. Waters is a comparative oncologist and trained veterinarian. At Purdue, Dr. Waters taught a professional skills course that was like no other course I had ever taken. There were three students in the class. On our first day, Dr. Waters gave each of us 12 books. The topic each week revolved around one of the books. We would meet once per week for 5 hours in the back room of a restaurant where we talk about creativity, writing, reading, leadership, and many other important topics. It was a transformational experience. Since starting at Chatham, Dr. Waters and I meet in St. Clairsville, OH about 4 times per summer to discuss a book that we choose to read together. He calls this experience ‘Think and Grow Rich’.

5. What is your favorite thing about working with Chatham students?

I appreciate the opportunity to get to know Chatham students and to see them inspired by what I’m passionate about. This is possible to due to the small class sizes that allows for extensive discourse in the classroom. It’s always a satisfying to be able to see Chatham students apply what is discussed in the classroom towards improving their own life or the lives of loved ones.

Andres Carrillo, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in Chatham University’s Department of Exercise Science. Andres enjoys classical music and taking his daughter to “Mommy and Me” dance classes.