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“Doing something,” indeed.

photo-of-scholars

“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.

Innovation
“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

Academics
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 dfraser@chatham.edu.

 

 

 

A Class of His Own

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport
LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport. Photos by Annie O’Neill.

This story, by Bethany Lye, originally appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of The Recorder. 

LaVaughn Wesley grew up the eldest child of a single mother of five. His family frequently relocated to start fresh, with young Wesley weathering at least 12 moves across three states.

Amid this shifting backdrop, one ritual took anchor in Wesley’s childhood: his mother would get him a new pair of shoes each fall. “They had to last me the entire school year—just that one pair of shoes,” he recalls. “It was a big deal.”

Wesley, now the father of a 4-year-old girl, had this memory in mind while student teaching in the gray and gritty neighborhood of McKeesport, Pa., last year. A young boy entered his classroom one morning wearing shoes so well-worn, they were losing their soles. “Things like that matter a lot to middle schoolers,” says Wesley, 31. “I thought about my mother and all of our struggles. And I knew what being that boy was like.”

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport

Wesley went home, grabbed a pair of Jordan’s from his own closet, and handed ownership over to the student the next day.

“The love that I got back from him was incredible,” recalls Wesley, who is now leading his own classroom at the same school—Propel McKeesport.

The fact that Wesley crossed paths with this student wasn’t by chance—it was by intentional design, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps. This program, now in its second year, partners Chatham University with Propel Schools and aims to graduate social justice leaders who are primed to teach in some of Allegheny County’s most economically underserved communities.

As a member of the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps inaugural class, Wesley earned his Pennsylvania teaching certification and a master’s degree from Chatham in just 15 months.

The program, which requires participants to take night classes while teaching in a Propel classroom with a mentor for much of the workweek, isn’t for the faint of heart. “It was as hard as I have ever worked both on an academic and a personal level,” says Wesley.

As part of the program, Chatham reduces tuition fees by 65 percent, and students receive a scholarship that covers the remainder of their tuition bill plus a monthly stipend until they earn their degree. In return, the participants must commit to teaching in the Propel School system for the next three years.

Chatham’s Program Director of Education Kristin Harty runs the University’s half of the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps, and she believes the program is the only one of its kind in the region.

Her counterpart at Propel Schools, Randy Bartlett, says that the partnership grew out of a clear need to fill classrooms with teachers who were passionate about equity in education—and who could bring stability to urban schools, which have long struggled with a high turnover rate among staff.

“As an organization, Propel recognized a teacher shortage and decided to not only create a new pathway for teachers but find individuals who were social justice minded,” says Bartlett, who serves as the director of teacher residency and research for Propel Schools. “We made a decision that we needed to turn the model on its head.”

Today, the program is marked by a multiyear commitment to developing teachers and comprehensive wraparound support along the way to ensure that they succeed. “This is not your typical training program,” says Bartlett. “We are not preparing students who might go teach somewhere else. We know for a fact that these teachers will be teaching in our classrooms the following year. They are a part of the Propel family from day one—and that makes a big difference.”

Harty notes that another defining feature of the program is its dedication to training teachers who grew up in urban communities similar to those of their students. “These teachers understand the culture, needs and strengths of the neighborhoods they are serving, and there is a strong trust that grows from that common connection.”

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport

Wesley, who spent some of his boyhood in McKeesport, fits this requirement to a tee. And his most obvious connection is an important one: he looks the part.

At Propel McKeesport, which spans kindergarten through eighth grade, 71 percent of its 400-student body is black. Wesley is also black, and a rarity in his profession, where roughly 2 percent of public school teachers match both his gender and race. Add in the tattoos covered by his perfectly pressed dress shirt, his nose piercing and the diamond stud in his ear, and Wesley doesn’t just fall outside the mold. He obliterates it. This seemingly artificial factor matters. When Wesley initiated a discussion with his social studies class about racial profiling earlier this year, he spoke from experience—and his students knew it.

Even more than looking the part, Wesley has lived the part. He considers his backstory critical to his success in the classroom where, every single day, he is watching life repeat itself. And he knows firsthand that some of his students are navigating obstacles that are less perceptible than well-worn shoes.

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport

“Some of these kids don’t have food at home. Some come from mentally and physically abusive homes—or homes where education isn’t valued and is just a day-to-day thing,” he says. “I see myself in all of these kids. I grew up in the neighborhoods that they lived in. And I have roamed the streets where they live,” he says.

This perspective has helped Wesley set some realistic expectations walking into his teaching career. For one, he’s not out to fix anyone. “As an educator, I know that you cannot have the cape on your back and think that every child seeds to be saved.” He also has a clear sense of what success looks like in his classroom: “I want to get through lessons on a day-to-day basis. And I want to keep things organized and create a culture that is warm, inviting and where students feel comfortable enough to open up and engage.”

Michon Gallaway, 13, is an eighth-grader at Propel McKeesport. From her vantage point in the third row of Wesley’s social studies class, he’s already hitting those marks.

“He understands us. He knows us,” says Gallaway, who recently invited her teacher to watch her perform for her church (he accepted—and kept his promise). “He’s also very caring and a really great teacher.”

LaVaughn Wesley at Propel McKeesport

Gallaway is equally complimentary of her Propel education. “I was struggling a lot before I came here,” she says, noting that her mother initiated the move from the nearby public school. “Now, I have all A’s in my classes, and it will help me get into an excellent high school and a really good college.”

The latest public statistics on Propel McKeesport support Gallaway’s optimism. When it comes to standardized test scores, sixth graders at Propel McKeesport are outperforming their peers at the nearby middle school at every turn. GreatSchools, a nonprofit that uses a 10-point scale to evaluate the quality of K-12 schools across the country, echoes this assessment, scoring Propel McKeesport decisively higher overall (6) than its local counterpart (3).

Bartlett and Harty are confident that the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps program will continue to advance the quality of a Propel School education. And with more teachers like Wesley filling classrooms—and staying put—it’s easy to see why.

As for Wesley, he says he hopes to one day serve as a principal of a Propel school. But for now, he’s focused on making the most of where he stands today—and that’s at the head of the classroom, leading by example. In this role, Wesley is keenly aware that he’s teaching his students a lesson that will never check the box of any state-mandated education requirement. And he’s ok with that.

“They know my story. And, together, we’re building theirs,” he says. “I always tell them, ‘You can succeed, no matter where you come from.’ And, as long as they keep showing up, listening and working hard, I’m going to help them get there.”

mr-wesley

green chemistry students win $5000 innovation prize

team
Randy Yakal, Christine Lambiase, and Derrick Ward

A team of Chatham University graduate students came away with $5000 to pursue their innovation at the Department of Energy-sponsored Allegheny Region CleanTech University Prize (CUP) competition, held at Carnegie Mellon University during Energy Week, March 14-18.

The team—called Saloleum, from the Latin stems sal (salt, or “ionic”) and oleum (oil)—consists of Randy Yakal, Christine Lambiase, Derrick Ward, all second year M.S. students studying Green Chemistry. Their efforts were supported by faculty advisor Thomas Macagno, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sustainability and Business and by Cierra Snyder and Tom Hall from the Falk School of Sustainability.

The project started in fall 2015, when Randy was a student in Dr. Macagno’s Leading Organizations and Projects course (BUS575). “Dr. Macagno had found out about this competition and tapped me because they needed a science guy,” he said.

Through much discussion, the team decided on an idea that worked perfectly for the competition criteria. “HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) technology was even in the drop-down menu,” notes Randy.

So what is this $5000 idea? “It’s a new compressor lubricant for a cooling unit,” says Randy. “The compressor circulates a refrigerant through the system. The refrigerant picks up oil particles on its way, and those particles get deposited inside the heat exchange lines.” Randy likens it to how arteries can become clogged, forcing the heart to work less efficiently. “The same thing happens with the compressor,” he says. “It has to work harder and longer to cool the an area than it would if the lines were clean.”

Saloleum’s insight is to replace the oil with a low vapor pressure lubricant that won’t create the same “gunk build-up.” Randy envisions it as the first in a new line of eco-friendly products.

Slide1

Click here to download a PDF of the poster. 

“The commercial building sector consumes 18% of all energy produced in America,” he says. “Of that, 32% is used in climate control. If all the buildings in the country experienced a 20% efficiency boost (the anticipated effect of Saloleum), we’d save enough energy in one year to power all of New York City for 288 days.”

The team is proud that they won the prize without a working prototype, on the strength of the idea alone. That’s why they’ll use their prize money to see if it works. “We’ve got all the theory down, now we need to walk the walk,” says Randy. “That should be soon. We’re currently in the process of speaking with a lawyer and becoming an LLC.”

Saloleum logo
Saloleum logo

The Chatham team held their own against a competitive field which included Carnegie Mellon University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Pennsylvania, Case Western Reserve University, University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University, and others. The objectives of the competition were to catalyze clean energy technology start-ups, support educational opportunities, and encourage clean energy student entrepreneurs.

“I never thought I’d be a co-founder of anything,” says Randy. “It’s really exciting.”

Chatham’s Master of Science in Green Chemistry is the first program of its kind in the United States. Focused on delivering a truly unique educational experience for students with undergraduate degrees in biochemistry, biology, and chemistry, the M.S. in Green Chemistry program will delve into the design of products and processes that minimize the use and generation of hazardous substances.

Innovation in Education: Chatham’s Financial Wellness Program

Sean McGreevey, PhD
Sean McGreevey, Ph.D.

As Assistant Dean for Career Development and a Certified Educator in Personal Finance, I’ve noticed that even our most savvy, empowered, and world ready students seemed to shoulder anxiety about their future. I thought we could help students formulate a battle plan for the “real world,” and that led to the creation of a new program called “Financial Wellness”. The ten-week program is open to undergraduate and graduate students, and 38 students have signed up since last fall.

It’s important to understand this concept of financial wellness. Most folks would call it financial literacy, and think about balancing their checking account, or calculating compound interest. That’s where this program is different.

Every week, we meet and focus on the myths that our society feeds us about money. Most notably, we discuss at length the myth surrounding the importance of a credit score.   Sure, you don’t want to have bad credit, but the debt industry spends $4,000,000,000 (that’s billions, folks) each year convincing you that your FICO score is an indication of your success in life. I want folks to buy things they can afford and live a life that isn’t dependent on debt.

We talk about habits and attitudes more than we do math problems. Personal finance is not difficult. Making a plan and having the personal fortitude to make sacrifices and stick to it
is the hard part.

You will never be wealthy unless you live below your means and save. This requires dedication, sacrifice and the ability to tell yourself “no” when all you want is a Chipotle burrito.

Wealth isn’t about a fancy car or a chateau in the Alps—it’s about having options. I want our students to gain financial confidence. With that confidence, they can face whatever their situation happens to be, rather than letting the situation happen to them.

There are two takeaways that I want to impress upon students in Financial Wellness.

  1. You should save 15% of your income (no matter how small) and develop a savings habits. This will result in a chunk of cash that you can use for your “next move” account – transitioning to a new city, application fees for graduate school, etc.
  2. The first thing that many new college graduates do is run out and sign up for payments on a car they can’t afford. We talk about how to drive what’s reasonable for your situation and work your way into something that’s ideal.

We’re really only scratching the surface in Financial Wellness as we talk about debt, saving, credit scores, mortgages, and retirement. My hope is that students start to think critically about personal finance and seek information outside of what is delivered by credit card marketing. When our students graduate, we want them to cross the stage with a financial wellness plan and the personal resilience to follow through.

Watch Dr. McGreevey discuss financial freedom as part of the WQED Multimedia special “Closing the Gap: 50 Years Seeking Equal Pay”: 

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote about the Financial Wellness program; you can read the story here.

Dr. McGreevey and the staff in Career Development are committed to working with students from day one, year one to achieve their professional goals. Learn more

DEAN OF INNOVATION: DR. LENZ PREPARES FOR THE FUTURE

Lenz 960x540Dr. William (Bill) Lenz, Pontious Professor of English, has been at Chatham for 34 years. Bill has served as the Chair of the Humanities and the director of the Chatham Scholars program; traveled with students to Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, Belize, Guatemala and Haiti; founded and grown the Masters in Professional Writing program from eight students to 100 students and moved it completely online; and written three books and numerous papers and articles on American literature and culture. In September, Pittsburgh Magazine nominated him as one of Pittsburgh’s “Best Professors.”

This June, President Esther Barazzone appointed him to the newly-created position and nation’s first Dean of Undergraduate Innovation. In this role, Dr. Lenz will work with all University constituencies to review institutional practices and curriculum at the undergraduate level to determine ways in which Chatham can best serve students and society in a world in which “disruptive change” has become the norm in higher education.


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