2018 Features News Spring 2018

SMU and LIFT team up to reduce adult illiteracy in Dallas

Game artist Jackie Gan-Glatz ’05 knows how confusing it can be to try to piece together unfamiliar words into an intelligible sentence. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she spoke only her parents’ native language until she started preschool. Although she mastered English quickly, she occasionally experiences linguistic hiccups. “I might use an English word a bit differently or think of a phrase in Chinese before it comes to me in English,” she explains.
She draws on her own language acquisition journey to understand the challenges faced by the adult learners testing Codex: Lost Words of Atlantis. Gan-Glatz and other SMU video game developers and education experts created the puzzle-solving app in collaboration with Literacy Instruction for Texas (LIFT), a nonprofit service provider for low-literate adults in Dallas.
The engaging game with an educational mission earned the SMU/LIFT team, People ForWords, a place among the eight semifinalists chosen from 109 international teams competing for the $7 million Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE presented by the Dollar General Literacy Foundation.

The People ForWords team includes (clockwise, from top left) Simmons Ph.D. candidate Dawn Woods ’09, ’18; Corey Clark, deputy director for research at SMU Guildhall and development lead for the project; Guildhall alumni Brian Rust ’15, Jackie Gan-Glatz ’05 and Victoria Rehfeld Smith ’14. Skyping in on the screen is Lauren Breeding ’18, Guildhall master’s candidate.

The first-of-its-kind global competition aims to transform the lives of adult learners reading English at or below a third-grade level. Adult illiteracy has been described as a “crisis hiding in plain sight.” Low literacy is linked to high rates of poverty, high health care costs and low labor productivity. According to the American Journal of Public Health and the National Council for Adult Learning, low-literacy skills cost the United States an estimated $225 billion in lost productivity and tax revenue each year and add an estimated $230 billion to the country’s annual health care costs.
Near SMU, the number of adults needing intervention is staggering. “There are about 600,000 adults in Dallas County who have less than a third-grade reading level,” says Corey Clark, deputy director for research in the SMU Guildhall game development program and People ForWords development lead. “If we could help 10 percent of those people, that’s 60,000 people who could learn to read proficiently. That makes a difference in a lot of people’s lives.”
SMU alumna Lisa Hembry ’75, LIFT president and CEO emerita, brought the idea of joining forces for the XPRIZE competition to SMU. Founded in 1961, LIFT spearheads the effort to mitigate the problem by delivering the educational resources, tools, teaching and support needed by struggling adults learning to read and write.
“Here we are, two years later, with a viable phonics-based app in a gamified solution that helps low-literate people learn to read the English language while having fun,” Hembry says. “In North Texas, where one in five adults cannot read, this is more than a competition,” she adds. “This is a dedicated effort by our team to tackle the growing issue of low literacy and poverty.”
SMU’s strong relationship with Dallas and the surrounding region offers myriad opportunities for students, faculty and alumni to gain meaningful experiences while strengthening the community and making a difference in the lives of others. The city provides a unique launch pad for realizing an ambition, making an impact or developing a revolutionary innovation.
“Working with LIFT and SMU Guildhall in the Adult Literacy XPRIZE competition highlights how communities and academia can collaborate to improve the public sphere,” says Paige Ware, the Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Endowed Professor in the Simmons School.
A national leader in K-12 literacy research, the Simmons School became involved with the initiative to expand its work on literacy issues. Diane Gifford, a clinical assistant professor, and Tony Cuevas, director of Instructional Design and clinical professor, both in the school’s Department of Teaching and Learning, oversee the instructional design and curriculum of the game, ensuring that it improves the literacy levels of users.
“I started my career teaching children to read, but low-literacy adults face different challenges. Just opening the door to walk into an adult literacy class can be challenging for them,” Gifford says. “We have the potential to touch millions of people who never walk through that door.”
Even though national studies show more than 36 million U.S. adults lack basic English literacy skills, “there hasn’t been as much significant research as you might expect, considering the magnitude of the problem, and there is almost no research on the use of video games to teach low-literacy adults,” Cuevas says.

“I started my career teaching children to read, but low-literacy adults face different challenges. Just opening the door to walk into an adult literacy class can be challenging for them. We have the potential to touch millions of people who never walk through that door.”

– Diane Gifford

Teaching and technology weave together throughout Cuevas’ career. He designed SMU Guildhall’s top-rated master of interactive technology degree program and served as the program’s academic director before joining the Simmons faculty. He specializes in integrating emerging technologies into teaching and learning and serves as director of Simmons’ Teacher Development Studio, where simulated pre-K-12 classroom environments and other leading-edge technologies are used to train SMU students to become effective teachers.
For Cuevas, the long-term goals at the heart of the project strike close to home. “I have two sons with special needs who have struggled to learn to read, so I understand how children can fall through the cracks easily into adult illiteracy,” he says. His sons, ages 13 and 18, have used the app and found it engaging and helpful. Both Cuevas and Gifford see future potential in modifying the game for use in a structured K-12 classroom setting.
While struggling children and adults share some learning weaknesses, the approach for ameliorating those deficits is very different, says Gifford, which is why the app development process started with focus group sessions with more than 20 LIFT adult students. “We heard firsthand about what interested, motivated and concerned them about using a mobile app to learn to read,” Cuevas says.
Those conversations and playtesting revealed that maintaining motivation is key, meaning harried adult learners have to feel that playing the game is worth their scant free time. “They need chunks of learning, instead of small pieces, so that they feel a more immediate benefit,” Gifford says.
Codex: The Lost Words of Atlantis whisks participants to Egypt, where they play as enterprising archaeologists solving puzzles as they hunt for relics of the once-great civilization of Atlantis. Audible prompts for each letter and sound that appear on the screen teach the look and feel of written English. To minimize frustration, players learn to read very simple sentences from the beginning.
“We want them to have a sense of accomplishment immediately so they keep moving forward,” Gifford explains.
The 24/7 convenience of the app obliterates other obstacles, such as a lack of childcare, transportation and free time during the day. “Users can download it at home and play to their heart’s content when it’s most convenient for them, even if that’s at 3 a.m.,” Gifford explains.
Games also provide safe environments for learning, says the Guildhall’s Clark. “They allow you to fail in ways that aren’t overwhelming. They let you keep trying until you succeed.”
The XPRIZE project serves as one example of how research is incorporated into the curriculum at SMU Guildhall. Students explore a vast range of interests within video game development and its global implications and diverse uses. Both current students and alumni are able to apply their analytical and research skills by participating as funded research assistants on an array of Guildhall’s “games for good” projects.
LIFT adult learners tested the puzzle-solving app and provided feedback that helped the developers improve it. Gamers learn something new with every move they make. Take the app for a test drive:  Download the Codex: The Lost Words Of Atlantis app for Android at Google Play.
“All research is based on the idea that games have more purpose and value to society than just entertainment,” says Clark, whose expertise lies in finding solutions to large-scale problems by combining several areas of study, such as gaming, distributed computing, analytics and artificial intelligence. His recent work in reverse engineering gene regulatory networks and integrating gaming techniques into cancer research led to his appointment as adjunct research associate professor of biological sciences in SMU’s Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.
Out of the gate, the Guildhall team had to grapple with the vexing issues of designing an adventure for gamers who can barely read and write and have likely never touched a computer. “This was the first time some participants had used a desktop computer,” Clark says. “Registering was a challenge for them, clicking and dragging was a challenge. So we had to think about how to make a game that’s fun and interactive, yet simple and intuitive enough to be a first experience with technology.”
He and his colleagues collected and analyzed data on game elements such as the amount of time players stuck with a task, how many times they repeated moves, how quickly they progressed and whether performing the game actions translated into the desired learning outcomes.
“First, games have to be fun,” Clark says. “From story to characters, you want to engage people enough for them to play over and over again. And this is the same process that reinforces learning.” And at its core, every game is about learning. “You learn something new with every move you make,” Clark says.

Out of the gate, the Guildhall team had to grapple with the vexing issues of designing an adventure for gamers who can barely read and write and have likely never touched a computer.
People ForWords takes players from Egypt to Sydney, Australia, and the Great Barrier Reef for its next learn-as-you-go adventure. The Guildhall team includes Gan-Glatz, programmer Brian Rust ’15, artist Victoria Rehfeld Smith ’14 and research assistant Lauren Breeding ’18, a level designer working on her thesis for a Master of Interactive Technology degree from SMU Guildhall. They are joined by Dawn Woods ’09, ’18, a Simmons Ph.D. candidate, for weekly meetings where they dive into the nitty-gritty of development. Nuance matters for beauty, function and efficacy, so the conversation zigzags from topic to topic: Should an orb be recolored to look like an empty crystal? Where should punctuation marks appear? How should the capitalization of words be introduced?
They also discuss supplemental mini games that will synthesize skills and guide players to test themselves in real-life situations, such as reading street signs and a bus route map, within the safe haven of the app.
Meanwhile, Clark, Gifford and Cuevas meet periodically to deliberate progress and strategy. People ForWords has until April 2018 to complete additions and modifications.
Testing of the literacy software created by the semifinalists began in July 2017, with the participation of 12,000 adults who read English at a third-grade level or lower in Dallas, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Postgame evaluation of the literacy gains among test subjects will help determine up to five finalists, to be announced in June 2018. The winner will be named in 2019.
Two years into the project, all involved admit that maintaining momentum over the protracted timeline has been a challenge, but they believe this critical experiment in improving adult literacy will be world-changing.
“I’ve volunteered with nonprofits that help people who have fallen on hard times for a number of reasons. I feel like this project would give some of them a second chance in life,” says Gan-Glatz. “Literacy would open doors of opportunity and allow them to contribute to society in ways they never thought possible.”

2018 Features May 2018 Main Spring 2018

Flipping a switch, igniting success: Aleena Taufiq ’18

Aleena Taufiq ’18 recently landed her dream job as a data engineer working in artificial intelligence at Verizon, a career she never imagined four years ago.
After her first semester at SMU, Taufiq knew the pre-med track she had chosen was not the right path. Now the senior majoring in mechanical engineering and math runs an afterschool enrichment program she developed to inspire middle-school students to pursue engineering, math and science in college. And none of it would have happened without people like Jim Caswell ’63, ’66, ’70 and Chuck Lingo ’90 – neither of them an engineer and neither of whom Taufiq met.
Taufiq found her major when she signed up for an immersive design challenge offered by the Lyle School of Engineering’s Deason Innovation Gym and joined a team assigned to remake the Slurpee experience for consumers.
The fusion of brainstorming, problem-solving, designing and building sparked an unexpected result. Instead of refreshing the frozen beverage industry, Taufiq reinvented her future.
“I learned my passion through the project,” she says. “I fell in love with engineering.”
To encourage the next generation of students to find the academic direction that’s right for them the way she did, Taufiq developed the afterschool program Geared Up. Her curriculum blends fun, hands-on projects with talks about engineering careers by fellow Lyle students and other guest speakers. While Taufiq hopes some youngsters follow her footsteps into engineering, she devised the educational series to catalyze unbridled learning in all areas.
She targets low-income middle-school students because “that’s an important age to engage their interest in engineering, math and science, and get them to start thinking about college.” Geared Up launched last year at Dallas’ Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School and expanded this year to Life School Oak Cliff and Edward H. Cary Middle School in northwest Dallas.
“On the first day, the kids are always excited when I tell them I’m a mechanical engineer, and they get really excited when they hear I’m from SMU,” she says. “They may not know exactly what a mechanical engineer does, but they definitely know SMU.”
Support from SMU’s Caswell Leadership Development Program has been critical to her project’s success. Offered by SMU Student Affairs’ Community Engagement and Leadership Center, the Caswell Leaders program accelerates students’ leadership skills by enabling them to discover their gifts while combining their passions for academics and public service.
“I couldn’t do Geared Up without Caswell Leaders. The program provides so much – funding, mentorship and friendship. We have monthly meetings for reflections about our project, where we think of next steps and opportunities to move it forward,” she says. “We make really personal connections in the program. It feels like we’re a Caswell family.”
SMU created the Caswell Endowment for Leadership Development and Training in 2007 as a tribute to alumnus, educator and longtime administrator Jim Caswell ’63, ’66, ’70 while he was preparing to retire. The program seeks to extend his legacy of molding “reflective and authentic leaders dedicated to improving their local communities.”
SMU’s Caswell Leadership Development Program honors the late Jim Caswell.Ask anyone who knew Caswell at SMU, and there’s a good chance they’ll tell you a story about a windmill. A four-foot version and assorted smaller models of the picturesque precursor of the wind turbine decorated his Perkins Administration Building office. Like the windmill’s agile gear system that converts a natural resource into energy to pump water or grind grain, Caswell guided students on a journey of self-discovering, harnessing their innate abilities and steering them toward successful careers and lives of purpose after graduation.
“He felt like students’ time at SMU was a unique opportunity for him to help them find their true direction and grow and develop into the people they wanted to be,” remembers his widow, Jackie Caswell Wallace.
Thomas Kincaid ’05 first got to know Caswell during his junior year when he served as student body president. He met weekly with Caswell, then vice president for student affairs but also an ordained Methodist minister, and continued to do so as a senior and student member of the SMU Board of Trustees. Then a finance major, Kincaid didn’t know that his true direction would become the ministry.
Now an Episcopalian priest and vice rector of Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, he keeps one of Caswell’s small windmills on his desk as a daily reminder to carry forward the example of a “person who really cared about others.”
“Dr. Caswell taught me what it was to never be too busy to care about someone,” Kincaid says. “He had plenty of demands on his time, but he was able to make time for a student or find a place where his support would be useful.
Roy Turner quotes lessons learned from Jim Caswell.Caswell’s wisdom continues to influence Roy Turner ’88 as well. When Turner was a junior accounting major and president of Kappa Sigma fraternity, Caswell – then dean of student life – tapped him as a member of a student leaders advisory forum convened to examine campus challenges and strategize solutions. As president of the SMU Interfraternity Council the following year, Turner relied on the high ethical standards set by Caswell when working through issues governed by the group.
“Lessons from Jim that I’ve carried forward are to do the right thing, stand up for what’s right and hold everyone accountable,” says Turner, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York City and a loyal donor to the Caswell Endowment. “I’m almost 30 years away from that experience, but it still resonates with me.”
Caswell understood the SMU student experience so well because he had lived it. He first arrived on the Hilltop as an undergraduate in 1959. He was active in campus life and served as president of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in social science from Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences in 1963, he went on to earn a bachelor of divinity in 1966 and a master of sacred theology in 1970 from the Perkins School of Theology. He also received a master’s and Ph.D. in educational management from Columbia University.
His career in higher education began as a graduate residence hall director at SMU from 1964–66. A short time later, he was named an instructor in Dedman College. Over the next two decades, he held a number of pivotal administrative roles, including dean of men, dean of residential living and dean of student life. As vice president of student affairs from 1988 to 2007, he became an iconic campus leader known as a caring friend, reliable sounding board, chief cheerleader and beloved mentor. His door was always open, and one of his frequent visitors was Chuck Lingo ’90.
Lingo never really needed words to communicate his ardor for all things SMU. Although he suffered from a debilitating neurological disease that impeded his speech, he refused to allow his physical limitations to curb his enjoyment of life. His Highland Park High School friends cherish their memories of the “Super Scot” cheering on their team at football games and pep rallies.
An estate gift from Chuck Lingo helps support the Caswell Leaders program.He enrolled at SMU in 1986, determined to capture all that he could in the classroom and fully participate in the Hilltop experience. He took a job in the Student Activities Center during the summer months, helping with AARO (Academic Advising, Registration and Orientation) and other tasks to prepare new students.
Fellow students admired his enthusiasm and can-do attitude. The Student Foundation embraced Lingo, eventually honoring him with the Mike Miller Outstanding Service Award. He served as a Student Senate committee member and was recognized for outstanding service.
Often decked out in spirit gear, the “Super Mustang” became a familiar sight in Caswell’s office. The two never missed an opportunity for some friendly facetime. Their conversations hopscotched across topics, from personal news to sports to current events, and usually ended in a goodbye hug.
When the University created the Caswell Endowment for Leadership Development and Training, Lingo was among the first donors. The friends shared a huddle and hug at Caswell’s retirement dinner in May 2007.
In the following years, Lingo attended many SMU Centennial Celebration events, never missed Celebration of Lights, his favorite SMU tradition, and faithfully remembered Caswell, his dear friend who succumbed to cancer in October 2007, with an annual gift to the Caswell Endowment, hand-delivered to the Student Affairs office.
On May 24, 2016, Lingo lost his battle with the disease that had claimed his mother years earlier, but he had taken steps to ensure his connection to SMU and to Caswell would endure: He bequeathed a significant portion of his estate to the Caswell Endowment.
“The Chuck Lingo gift exponentially increases our future opportunities to support the development of student leaders at SMU and further the legacies of servant-leadership and involvement established by both Dr. Caswell and Mr. Lingo,” says Stephanie Howeth, director of SMU’s Community Engagement and Leadership Center. “Thanks to their example and foresight, students today will learn and experience the many benefits of discovering their purpose as well as develop a passion for creating a more positive global community and SMU campus.”
The influence of Caswell, Lingo and many other donors lives on through current Caswell Leaders whose projects advocate for abused women, alleviate poverty with microloans, bridge international divides through language acquisition and inspire middle-school students to pursue engineering and math.
On an October afternoon in Dallas’ Cary Middle School, 18 boys and girls seated at cafeteria tables chatter, giggle, nudge and generally act like typical seventh and eighth graders. They have no idea they are about to witness the Caswell Endowment in action.
Aleena Taufiq explains how they’ll use the tools spread out in front of them – wires, putty, tape and batteries – to craft a simple LED circuit to light up polystyrene Halloween pumpkins. They get to work, and the cacophony builds as she moves from group to group, fixing a few glitches and praising their efforts. Soon tiny candy-colored bulbs and 100-watt smiles light up the room.
John Everett, New York Life Insurance Company, and Aleena Taufiq.“When I started, I was terrified of working with kids because I hadn’t before, but once you build a small connection with them, they’re so much fun,” she says. “They are very creative and aren’t afraid to try out their ideas.”
After the buses arrive and the class breaks up, a student wanders from table to table, rescuing abandoned materials. “I want to make more lights at home to show my family,” he says proudly. Just two hours earlier, that boy had no idea he could complete a basic electrical engineering feat so easily.
Taufiq makes sure he has everything he needs to wow his audience the way he has just impressed her.
That’s the reaction she was aiming for when she started planning Geared Up. She remembered watching bright high school classmates flounder “because they didn’t really see a pathway to college. They didn’t have parents or siblings who went to college, so they didn’t have that exposure and weren’t encouraged to continue their education.”
Her parents were both born in Pakistan, but met, married and became naturalized citizens in the Dallas area. Although higher education wasn’t an option for them, “they made it clear they wanted us to go to college,” she says.
She considers herself lucky that her mother “pushed me to make the most of every opportunity available in school.” As a high school student in her hometown of Irving, Texas, she played on the tennis team, worked on the yearbook, competed in state math, science and literary criticism competitions, and joined the National Honor Society. Because she had always excelled in math and science, well-meaning high school teachers steered her toward a medical career without introducing her to the array of disciplines where her talents could flourish.
The youngest of four children, she already had two Mustangs in the family – sister Tasmia Taufiq Noorali ’10, ’11 and brother Khurram Taufiq ’12 – and knew “SMU was a great school.” After receiving several scholarships, including the University’s academic Founders’ Scholarship and a Discovery Scholarship for students focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines, she joined the class of 2018.
After her first semester, she knew she didn’t want to go to medical school, so she became a fearless explorer, diving into unfamiliar topics and developing new competencies.
Geared Up Goes NationalShe was selected for a multiyear research project led by SMU’s Wei Tong, a mechanical engineering professor specializing in biomechanics, in partnership with UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. They conducted tests on six taping methods commonly used in hospitals to secure intubation tubes, which keep airways open in acutely injured and sick patients. Preventing tube displacement can be a matter of life and death.
“There’s no standardized method, so we tested a lot of variables,” she explains. “We’re still working on the analysis, but so far, the easiest method seems to be the fastest and strongest as well.”
A Hamilton Research Scholarship allowed her to broaden the scope of her research last year through an ongoing project with mathematics professor Daniel Reynolds, whose scientific computation expertise encompasses biomedical applications. Among the skills she added to her portfolio was proficiency in a CAD (computer-aided design) program she used to create a three-dimensional rendering of a human lymph node for modeling the flow of lymphatic fluid.
“Both experiences taught me so much about different aspects of engineering, and it gave me such a good feeling to be part of research that can have real impact,” she says.
As she was in high school, Taufiq has continued to be actively engaged at SMU. She’s wrapping up her second term as a Lyle School senator in the Student Senate and participates in Theta Tau engineering fraternity and the Muslim Student Association.
Through Lyle’s “4+1” program, she will receive her bachelor’s degree in May and continue studying at SMU for another year before earning her master’s degree. She’s leaning toward a nontraditional trajectory for a mechanical engineer, “something more on the tech side of things, maybe in big data or tech consulting.”
Last summer, an internship she found through Handshake, SMU’s jobs and recruitment portal, took her to the Dallas office of New York Life Insurance Company for a taste of project management in the technology department.
After a few weeks, with a green light from her manager, she launched a weekly team-building activity dubbed “Fun Friday.” Little did her colleagues know that the gummy bear bridges they built and the edible cars they crafted with Rice Krispies treats and Life Savers candies were prototypes she was testing for Geared Up.
“It really broke the ice. People had fun and started talking to one another,” she says. “I think it created a friendlier work environment and much more of a community atmosphere.
She put those projects to good use when, in an unexpected turn, she teamed up with the STEAM Club at her alma mater, MacArthur High School in Irving, to launch a series of design challenges. Geared Up for high schoolers started before winter break and is continuing this spring. “It has been been amazing to go back to where it all started for me and inspire students who are where I was just four years ago,” she says.
Taufiq is also achieving her longstanding goal to expand Geared Up into a national program this spring. With funding from an SMU Engaged Learning Fellowship, she will travel to Harper McCaughan Elementary School in Long Beach, Mississippi, on February 16; Pioneer Middle School in DuPont, Washington, on March 2; and Shapleigh Middle School in Kittery, Maine, on March 30, where she will lead one-day, hands-on engineering extravaganzas for students and teachers.
“If the students step into the shoes of an engineer and get a taste of what it’s like to work together to create something or solve a problem, then they get excited and want to learn more,” Taufiq says. “I hope they become more excited about school, learning and challenging themselves.”
– Patricia Ward

2018 Features March 2018 Main Spring 2018

An education mixologist’s bold blend of science and the arts

Sam Weber ’18 says he’s the “type of person who likes to stay busy.” That’s an understatement. As a student researcher, he trains others working on cell biology experiments and explores the use of the performing arts in public health education. And this spring he is directing his second 24-Hour Musical, Heathers the Musical. The Dedman College Scholar and University honors student will graduate in May with B.S. degrees in biological sciences, and health and society, and a B.A. in chemistry, with minors in Latin, classical studies, musical theatre, history and human rights. The senior dynamo is currently weighing several post-SMU academic opportunities that will lead to his ultimate goal: medical school.
Growing up in Overland Park, Kansas, Weber became fascinated with science by watching Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. The 2001 film, the first 3-D animated feature made outside Hollywood, was directed by SMU alumnus John Davis ’84. Weber, whose mother is a nurse, imagined being Jimmy while playing with his junior chemistry set. Later, when he stumbled upon the Harry Potter novels and films, he says his interest in science became intertwined with magic.
In seventh grade, after Weber heard a neurologist speak to his class about the wonders of the brain, he began to make the connection between science and medicine. While his fellow students were enthralled with the brain-shaped gummies she passed around the class, Weber locked onto the floating pink blob in a jar she had brought for show and tell. “She said the brain was ‘the last true frontier of science,’” he recalls.
In high school he straddled the two worlds of science and art – taking AP biology and chemistry courses and working downtown at a neurology lab, while participating in theatre, rehearsing for plays and musicals nightly. He thought that when he got to college he would have to keep his two loves – the sciences and the arts – separate.
But when he got to the Hilltop, he says he realized he could successfully combine those seemingly disparate worlds. As a University honors student in on the pre-med track and through numerous campus opportunities, SMU has enabled him to explore his interests in the performing arts. In his senior year, he has even found interesting ways to fuse his interests.
Patience With The Process
As a first-year student in his general chemistry course, Weber made such an impression that Associate Professor Brian Zoltowski considered him a natural to work in his lab.
Before enrolling at SMU, Weber had already gained lab experience at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Zoltowski says Weber “displayed a unique combination of creativity, passion and deductive reasoning that is, frankly, atypical anywhere. His ability to devote himself to any task, and complete it at the highest possible level, made me trust him right away.”
Nearly four years later, Weber runs the entire cell biology focus of Zoltowski’s lab, which conducts research on circadian clocks and the molecular mechanisms of blue-light photoreceptors. The senior trains graduate and undergraduate students who work with cell culture and drug discovery projects. He is instrumental to the research group’s mission as he leads and directs multiple projects, which has enabled Zoltowski to greatly expand their research scope.
On a Thursday afternoon in November, Weber is working in the tissue lab at Dedman Life Sciences Building on what he calls the “downstream biological application of manipulating proteins.” His project focuses on a protein complex that is responsive to light “much like the rest of our circadian biology; our rhythms are linked to the sun and the light we have available,” Weber says. During a process called transfection, he forces some human cells to take up and incorporate foreign DNA into their own. Once that DNA is incorporated, the cells start to express that altered form of the protein, “so we can see how the overall complex functions with these changes in response to light.”
The transfecting process is precise and time-intensive, requiring a lot of tedious work, Weber says while adding one of 2,112 pipette strokes to different wells. After this step, he puts the cells under a blue LED lamp to simulate an “awake” state. The next day he treats these cells with a solution that causes them to glow in varying intensities.
On this particular day, the experiment doesn’t generate any usable data. The blank wells show the same or higher luminescence than some samples, which shouldn’t be physically possible, he says. “This tells me something was wrong. In this case, one critical reagent, a substance or compound added to a system to cause a chemical reaction, was running low.” So he orders a new bottle and repeats the experiment, troubleshooting until it doesn’t have an error.
The setback doesn’t bother Weber. “So many things can go wrong in biochemistry – the temperature in the room, the humidity, how bright the room is, how much air the AC is moving, shelf life of reagents and more can all contribute, just like human error, to poor results. Things don’t work all the time; science is slow and crawling,” he adds.
Finding The Magic
“I’m the type of person who needs to stay busy and wants to be involved,” Weber says, adding that SMU enabled him to engage in many different activities, take on several majors and sample numerous minors because it accepted all 46 hours of his AP credits, allowing him to get ahead in his biology degree plan. “There are lots of opportunities to get involved at SMU,” pointing out that funding often is made available through Program Council or Student Senate for events like SMU’s 24-Hour Musical.
Outside his classroom and lab work, Weber joined the student-run Program Council, overseeing campus concerts and entertainment events and directing Sing Song, the annual competition among student organizations that perform musical revues. He also served as a resident assistant in Virginia-Snider Commons for two years, providing resources and programming on mental health, career planning and handling social stressors. And he’s president of Alpha Epsilon Delta Pre-Health Honor Society and on the Embrey Human Rights Program Student Leadership Board, to name only a few of his numerous roles.
He’s studied abroad with SMU in Oxford, Rome and Paris, and went on SMU’s most recent human rights trip to Poland over the winter break. All the while, he also applied to medical schools, a time-consuming and demanding task in itself.
Scenes from Into the Woods
With the 24-Hour Musical, Weber is following in the footsteps of his older brother, Charlie Weber ’16, who along with Ally Van Deuren ’15 began the musical in spring 2015 to provide nontheatre majors an opportunity to perform on campus. The production is choreographed, blocked and rehearsed during 24 hours spread over three days. Last fall, Weber directed Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods, staged on the quad in front of Dallas Hall in September during Family Weekend. This was his fifth 24-Hour Musical.
During the first year of the SMU 24-Hour Musical, Van Deuren recalls, “Sam, then a freshman, walked in the first day ready to work. He took partial or total lead in choreography, tech, production and costume design, graphic design and many more day-of tasks that no one else had the headspace to handle. He was a much-needed source of organization, whether he was lending a hand with heavy lifting, maintaining order with a cast of 40 students after a long day of rehearsing or finding quick solutions for any last-minute costume mishaps.”
Weber also is recognized for maintaining a cool head in the face of possible disaster. During rehearsal and the staging of Into the Woods, the sprinklers came on in the flowerbeds where the orchestra sat. Weber was unflappable.
Sam Weber says art is innate in all people.During the chaos that a tightly developed production engenders, Weber found time to mentor the next generation of 24-Hour Musical leaders. Sophomore theatre major Stevie Keese ’20 assisted Weber with Into the Woods and found him generous and approachable. “Sam helped me articulate my artistic thoughts through our late-night passionate debates on the future of theatre and the arts,” she says. He also taught her about ambition and “how to ask for exactly what you want with no apologies, while continuing to be gracious and grateful.”
Weber has found working on 24-Hour Musical to be invaluable in developing skills that will carry over into his post- SMU life. “It is some of the best training students can get working in professional environments. We hold the project to a very high standard, and I’d like to think that learning on the fly, making bold choices and the time management that are required for 24-Hour to be successful are the same kinds of skills professional theatre artists develop,” he says.
He’s also been grateful to his professors, who have given him leeway with his classes and studies to spend time cultivating and following his theatrical interests. Last year, Weber worked as a choreography fellow for the Public Works Dallas musical production of The Tempest, co-produced by Meadows School of the Arts and the Dallas Theater Center. The community outreach production used local community groups and 200 nonprofessionals to stage Shakespeare’s play. Weber found it “motivating to work with people who had never done performance art before, but still got it; they understood movement and narrative. It really reaffirms how art is truly innate in all people.”
Putting It All Together
As a capstone to his four years at SMU, Weber is merging his love of science and the arts through a research project that explores the relationship between performing arts and public health from a medical anthropology angle. He is studying how theatre performance can help engage the public in a discussion of mental illness, thereby reducing the stigma it often creates. His research is supported by a Mayer Interdisciplinary Research Fellowship.
Brian Zoltowski says creativy is a key part of the scientific process.Weber says that everything he’s done or achieved at SMU has helped prepare him for medical school and a life in the profession. As an undergraduate, he didn’t want to be what is called a “gunner,” a term applied to pre-med students who adhere solely to a regimen of science courses and, while making high GPAs, explore little else outside that regimen.
As his passions for pure science and performance have intersected, he’s come to understand that “medicine is an art. Physicians perform for and with their patients, seeking to achieve an honest and productive outcome,” Weber says.
Zoltowski, who has observed how Weber has grown in multiple ways, regards him more as a colleague than as a mentee. “Sam as a student is unique. In the sciences people often forget that you need to be extremely creative, have excellent abilities in deductive reasoning and be skilled in computational methods,” he says. “Creativity is a key part of the scientific process, as we have to find unique ways to combine disparate concepts or new approaches to tackle complex problems. Often young scientists will be unable to combine the deductive and computational approaches with creative insight. Sam is different – he excels in all three capacities, even in this early stage of his career. Most important, his strength is in creativity and thinking outside the box. That is why he will have tremendous success in anything he pursues.”
Susan White ’05

2018 Features Spring 2018

Army chaplain Jeff Matsler ’93 helps veterans work through ‘moral injury’

Near the military base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.ear the military base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina – the Army’s largest – there are several dozen Army-Navy stores. They sell the usual used military equipment and also T-shirts with the logos of the various forces. But to Perkins School of Theology alumnus and U.S. Army Major Jeff Matsler ’93, another shirt stands out. It’s popular with soldiers returning from deployment in Afghanistan. Black T-shirt. White Gothic letters. One word: “Guilty.”
Matsler says choosing the “Guilty” shirt reflects the shame and alienation many soldiers returning from combat areas bear because they took actions “that can violate their moral code, their paradigm of what is right.”
A chaplain and the Army’s Bioethicist at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Matsler says, “It’s a volunteer Army. Most young soldiers in the infantry units and on the front lines will tell you they signed up to serve God and country. They are very patriotic.” But to succeed as soldiers, they are trained to follow orders, and that can mean taking lives, sometimes those of unintended targets such as civilians.
For more than a decade, Matsler has made it his mission to study “moral injury,” a condition associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in which combat soldiers understand themselves to be morally deficient. They return not only psychologically and emotionally battered but also spiritually injured.
Soldiers need forgiveness and redemption.
In light of the 2016 Veterans Affairs report that on average more than 20 veterans died daily from suicide in 2014, Matsler’s work is extremely important. In November 2017, the PBS series POV debuted “Almost Sunrise” focusing on the issue of “moral injury,” defining it as “a wound to the soul inflicted by violating one’s own ethical code.”
Matsler grew up working on his family’s farm in Floydada, a small rural community in West Texas. As a high school freshman, he attended a United Methodist Church summer camp where he first encountered Connie Nelson, then a youth counselor and now Perkins School director of public affairs and alumni/ae relations.
“I had the opportunity to watch Jeff grow in size, stature, maturity and faith,” Nelson says. “I remember particularly a workshop that I led one summer on discernment, listening for God’s voice and Christian vocation. At the conclusion of the workshop, Jeff came up to my co-leader and me to tell us he felt called to ministry. He was only 17 or 18, but it was clear that he had heard God’s ‘still small voice.’”
Jeff Matsler outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he serves a a chaplain and the Army’s bioethicist.He graduated from high school and set off for McMurry University, a Methodist institution in Abilene, Texas, where he was first exposed to the field of bioethics by his philosophy professor and mentor, Joseph Stamey, who received his Ph.D. in medical ethics. Matsler recalls thinking as an undergraduate, “What on earth would be debatable about medical ethics?!”
After earning a B.A. degree in history and religious studies with a minor in philosophy in 1989 from McMurry, Matsler attended Perkins Theology, where he encountered professors such as Joseph L. Allen, now professor emeritus of ethics, and the late Frederick S. Carney, professor emeritus of moral theology and Christian ethics whose background also was in medical ethics. “The theological training I received at Perkins has grounded me to this day,” he says.
Matsler represents the third generation of his family to graduate from SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. His grandfathers, the late Dr. Charles E. Lutrick ’49 and Cyrus Barcus ’27, ’33 (also founding director of the Mustang Band), both attended Perkins and became Methodist ministers. His uncle, the Rev. Dr. Robert C. Monk ’54, is one of many SMU and Perkins alumni who taught at McMurry.
After graduating from Perkins in 1993, Matsler entered the ministry as an associate pastor at Polk Street United Methodist Church in Amarillo. During his three years there, he also served as a staff clinician for the substance abuse unit at the Amarillo Veterans Affairs Medical Center. His time at the VA convinced Matsler he could provide much-needed ministry in service to his country with the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps.
In 1995, while Matsler waited to go on active duty, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed. Matsler went to participate in rescue efforts, provide stress debriefings and minister to victims of the tragedy and to teams searching for survivors. The emotional wreckage he encountered in Oklahoma sparked his interest in and thinking about how traumatic events can wreck the soul.
Matsler says there were two issues in Oklahoma City that made it a significant magnet for moral injury among those involved in the rescue effort: The first was the overwhelming sense of horror that accompanies any disaster relief effort – particularly if it is man-made. “My first day at OKC consisted of helping the team searching for survivors, realizing that we had entered the building’s nursery and debriefing the team afterward. No young soldier – not even a seasoned veteran – is ever emotionally prepared to deal with that type of carnage.”
One of the key elements of moral injury is a sense of betrayal felt by the individual or group members involved in such an event. “The significant issue at OKC became clear on day five when we learned that those responsible were not only Americans (Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier) but also veterans – a feeling of betrayal that grew as we also learned they were combat vets. Moral injury isn’t just over things done, but also things observed – things you didn’t or couldn’t prevent,” Matsler says.
He went on active duty in 1996 as a battalion chaplain with the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and served until 2000, when an injury led to a medical discharge. After serving as Senior Chaplain at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch and then pastor at First United Methodist Church in Panhandle, Texas, Matsler returned to active duty in 2007.
During the past 10 years Matsler has served several tours of duty in Afghanistan as brigade chaplain. While one duty included presiding over liturgical services in Bagram (2008–09) and another in Kandahar (2013), the main effort of his ministry consisted of traveling around the country counseling with soldiers and providing mentoring and oversight for the battalion chaplains in his unit’s footprint. It was while ministering to soldiers in combat zones that Matsler began to understand what “moral injury” truly meant.
Doctors ask, “Soldiers on the front line need to hear the message of forgiveness and redemption,” he says. “More than anything, they need to hear that no matter what you’ve done, where you’ve been, what you’ve done in the service of your country, whatever act you had to do – whether it was right or wrong – God still loves you. There is nothing we can do that can separate us from the love of Christ and restoring us to who he intended us to be.”
Between postings to Afghanistan, Matsler’s commander at Fort Bragg asked him to gain advanced education to support his chaplaincy duties. He enrolled in the Master of Theological Studies program at Duke University Divinity School in nearby Durham and focused on ethics. He continued to study combat trauma and its effect on rebuild-ing character when he earned a Master of Sacred Theology degree in bioethics in 2015 from Yale Divinity School.
His 2012 thesis, “Post Traumatic Saint,” looks at the life of Saint Francis of Assisi and his experiences as a combat veteran and prisoner of war during the early 13th century. Francesco Bernardone was born into a wealthy family in Assisi, and, as did so many of his childhood friends, he became a seasoned professional soldier and officer. By his 22nd birthday, he had gained over six years of grueling combat experience. In 1202, he helped lead a military expedition against the neighboring city-state of Perugia. One of only 12 survivors, he became a prisoner of war and spent a year in captivity. After his release, Francis had a spiritual conversion and began experiencing visions. He eventually rejected his wealthy family and embraced a life of poverty and isolation, and he made it his mission to restore the chapel at San Damiano, where the icon of the crucified Christ told him to repair the ruined church.
Matsler argues that Francis’ actions – hearing voices, seeing visions, isolating himself from family and avoiding community – constitute behaviors that when encountered today would be symptomatic of post-traumatic stress disorder. Looking for release from his pain, Francis eventually found it in the community of fellow veterans, he says.
Although his research on Francis informs Matsler’s approach to moral injury, it was his training at Perkins that taught Matsler to find in stories the truth being shared. “What does it mean when Jesus walked on water? I try to apply that same understanding when a veteran comes in and tells me something that sounds far-fetched. What do you do with that guy who claims that a cross came to life or that God spoke to him in the middle of the night? Initially I just listen and affirm what I hear them saying. It’s way too easy to discount their stories. My goal is to get nonveterans to take seriously what they hear veterans say,” Matsler adds.
Jeff Matsler teaching medical ethics at Walter Reed in 2016.Speaking to conferences throughout the country about aspects of moral injury and spiritual recovery, Matsler distinguishes between the standard approach to healing and the early Franciscan model he advocates. “The way we deal with PTSD now is through talk therapy and pharmacology. It can eliminate the physical pain but it cannot restore joy.”
In contrast, the early Franciscans sat in the community of other veterans and talked about their experiences and how their actions harmed others and them-selves. Matsler says of soldiers, “By owning their actions they can move to a stage of forgiveness, and restore joy.”
As the Army’s bioethicist, he works with Walter Reed’s medical personnel to help determine what decisions are best for a patient. He says, “Doctors ask, ‘What can we do?’ A bioethicist asks, ‘What should we do?’”
Matsler also provides insights on medical experimentation conducted by the Department of Defense involving human subjects, such as the testing of Ebola and Zika vaccines before any public use.
The medical center also works with amputees and researches new methods for improving prosthetics. “After soldiers have sustained injuries in service to their country, we want to ensure that they don’t just exist but have a quality of life,” Matsler says. “My job is to advise in such a way that we not do something that might cause undue harm now while trying to find a better way for them in the future.”
Matsler also teaches medical ethics at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the Department of Defense’s medical school in Bethesda. He says this connects him back to his time at SMU: “I am now seeking to do for others what professors Allen and Carney did for me at Perkins.”
Susan White ’05 

2018 Features Spring 2018

Wearing many hats – and a crown

It’s hard to keep up with Averie Bishop ’19. The reigning Miss Asian American Texas and SMU junior has her hands full as a double major in human rights and political science, vice president of Phi Alpha Delta pre-law fraternity and co-founder of a humanitarian charity. She segued from the Hilltop to Capitol Hill as a Congressional Fellow last summer and participated in the Clinton Global Initiative University annual meeting in October. Senior Alexis Kopp ’18, a double major in English and education with a journalism minor, recently convinced the dynamo to take five for a chat about her academic and philanthropic passions and her fairy tale Family Weekend.
Have you always done pageants?
No! It was the very first pageant I’d ever competed in. This pageant circuit is very different. Instead of a bathing suit competition, it had a cultural attire competition, where you wear clothing that represents your ethnicity; in my case, that’s Filipino on my mother’s side. It also emphasized the interview portion more than other pageants usually do.

Averie Bishop as Cinderella.
Averie Bishop played Cinderella in Into The Woods, the Family Weekend Musical presented in the fall.

What are some of your duties as Miss Asian American Texas?
I’ve been hosting community events, volunteering with many organizations and doing a lot of work with my nonprofit organization. I was also a part of the opening State Fair parade. That was a lot of fun!
What did you do as a Congressional Fellow, and what did you take away from the experience?
I worked in the U.S. House of Representatives, primarily with Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, organizing committee hearings and briefings and writing talking points. I also helped draft bills. I think a lot of people assume that the government is in shambles, and everything is chaotic and hectic and polarized. I found that people were willing to have candid conversations and listen to other opinions. That experience made me realize that I should listen more closely and think about what people are really saying.
What’s new with your nonprofit, The Tulong Foundation?
My mother, Marevi, grew up in a poverty-stricken community in the Philippines, where access to education was limited by your ability to pay for it. We started the foundation in 2015 as The Bishop Outreach Fund but have changed the name to better reflect our mission. “Tulong” means “help” in the Filipino language. We are currently helping impoverished children in the southern Philippines get an education. We also built a water well in the Banga, South Cotabato province – where my mother’s from – to provide easier access to clean water. I represented our organization at the Clinton Global Initiative conference, and I learned a lot. It made me rethink our efforts and expand our focus. We want to reach other countries in Southeast Asia and broaden our efforts to teach sustainable farming skills.
You transferred to SMU from Texas State. Describe that experience.
Both of my parents work two jobs, so it was very important that I received additional financial support. I was awarded an Honor Transfer Scholarship, which covers half of my tuition. Had I not received that assistance, I would not have been able to attend SMU, so I’m very grateful for that. Transferring here, finding a place to live and finding a good community and friends were much easier than I expected. I’m so glad I’m here!
Why did you choose your majors?
Prof. Rick Halperin, the compelling classes and my mother’s story. She struggled to get to the United States and become a citizen. I feel like the political science-human rights combination is good preparation for my future. I hope to become a lawyer with a focus on immi-gration or civil rights.
What was it like to play Cinderella in the Family Weekend Musical, Into the Woods?
It was hectic, to say the least, because we learned everything in 24 hours. Sam Weber was an incredible director!  I got to meet so many different people, and I think I really found a sort of family on campus. Before I transferred to SMU, I majored in acting, so it was great to get back into the arts. While academics are very important, I think it is important for people to have their niche or hobby, something they really enjoy doing, to go back to when they need a creative release.
What do you like best about SMU?
The community of students. The univer- sity I previously attended was very large. The classes averaged about 100 students, so people weren’t as motivated to speak to one another or contribute in class. But SMU is a good size – it’s not too big and not too small – and people are so willing to exchange ideas and listen to one another. The community is very understanding, open and accepting.

2018 Alumni February 2018 News Spring 2018

Gift honors alumnus’ business acumen and love of sports

More than $5 million in contributions to his alma mater from a consortium of donors will honor SMU alumnus and energy industry leader Kyle D. Miller ’01. SMU Trustee Tucker S. Bridwell ’73, ’74 led the effort to assemble tribute gifts in recognition of Miller’s extraordinary success in the energy industry. Bridwell and his wife, Gina, personally contributed to the effort, along with other SMU alumni and industry colleagues.
In recognizing Miller’s expertise and accomplishment in the energy finance arena, the majority of the tribute will establish the Kyle D. Miller Energy Management Program and the Kyle D. Miller Energy Scholarship Fund in the Edwin L. Cox School of Business. Both initiatives will receive endowment and current-use funding. The gift also will include a naming opportunity honoring Miller and his love of athletics within SMU’s planned Indoor Performance Center.
“It’s a fitting tribute that Kyle’s colleagues have chosen to honor him by supporting both academic and athletic programs,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Kyle was named outstanding young alumnus for the Cox School of Business in May 2015, and these contributions will help position other students to find the kind of success he has achieved in energy finance.”
Read more at SMU News.

2018 Alumni Spring 2018

A seat at Regina Taylor’s table

As an SMU undergraduate, Regina Taylor ’81 was a writer planning a career in journalism. She never imagined that an acting class she took as an elective would change everything. She “fell in love with acting,” and it wasn’t long before casting directors were impressed by her talent. While collecting a trove of acting accolades – a Golden Globe, a Peabody Award and three Emmy nominations – she never stopped putting pen to paper.
As a playwright and director, Taylor “likes to play with form and style.” Her new play, Bread, was recently awarded an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. Its world premiere run will be April 13–May 16 at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, Texas. Set in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood, the “compelling family drama of hopes, fears, thwarted dreams and dark secrets is set against a turbulent backdrop of racial tension and social upheaval.”

Regina Taylor ’81 peels pack the layers of her play Magnolia at a table reading with Meadows students and other actors. Her new award-winning play, Bread, will have its world premiere at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, April 13–May 16. Photos by Kim Leeson.

In some of her other plays, the daring dramatist transports Anton Chekhov out of pre-revolutionary Russia and into the black American experience. In Magnolia she reimagines The Cherry Orchard in 1963 Atlanta as the civil rights movement gains momentum. Last spring she spent two days with Meadows School of the Arts students and actors from the Dallas theater community in workshops and open rehearsals for a public reading of the play at Meadows.
“This was a wonderful opportunity to take them through my process,” she says, “and to work with some very promising students and experience and explore their reactions to the characters.”
She says it was exhilarating to be back where she developed “a great bag of tricks” and acquired “a solid foundation that prepared me to go out into the world.”
While an SMU student, she was cast in Crisis at Central High, a television movie about the 1957 integration of Little Rock, Arkansas, schools. She played one of the nine black students who broke the color barrier. Five years later, in 1986, she made history as the first black actress to play Shakespeare’s Juliet on Broadway. Her Romeo was former SMU scene partner René Moreno ’81.
At the moment, theater work takes center stage in her career. The Dallas native continues a longtime association with the Goodman Theater as a member of its prestigious Artistic Collective and is a playwright-in-residence at the Signature Theatre in New York City. This is an interesting time for artists, she says.
“The arts can be an igniter, an educator. They provide an opening for very necessary conversations about complicated issues like race and gender. They also help us draw connections between our experiences that build bridges between communities.”

WFAA: BREAD by Regina Taylor on Good Morning Texas

2018 Alumni January 2018 Spring 2018

Cyber grad’s road took a necessary detour

Michael Taylor will be the first to tell you that he was not ready for college when he graduated from Plano East High School in 2006. And he’ll also tell you that nobody was more surprised than he was when SMU admitted him in 2014, a little later than the average undergrad.
But Taylor’s disciplined approach to life, honed through five years in the Marine Corps, combined with the intelligence he learned to tap, has earned him a master’s degree from SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering that will be awarded Dec. 16.  And after proving his mettle as a student researcher in Lyle’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security, Taylor has been awarded the first Raytheon IIS Cyber Elite Graduate Fellowship, which will fund his Ph.D. in quantum computing at SMU and then put him to work as an employee at Raytheon.
Taylor learned to focus on the details in the Marine Corps. He had sampled community college very briefly after high school, but it didn’t stick. He knew he didn’t have skills to trade for a decent job, so joining the Marine Corps made sense to him.
“Honestly? In retrospect, I wasn’t ready for school,” Taylor acknowledged.
Read more at SMU News.

2018 Alumni January 2018 Spring 2018

What’s in a name? Inspiration and motivation

Biko McMillan was supposed to be named “Stanley,” after his grandfather. But his father wanted a name that came with a legacy, so he named him after Steve Biko, South African anti-apartheid activist and leader of its 1960s and ’70s black consciousness movement.
“When I think of my name, it’s a lot to carry,” says McMillan.
The SMU senior biological sciences and Spanish major from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, is graduating Dec. 16. But McMillan is well on his way to living up to his name, says Creston Lynch, SMU director of multicultural affairs and a mentor to McMillan.
“Biko is an amazing example of how SMU shapes leaders,” Lynch says.
After commencement McMillan plans to earn graduate degrees in science and public health. His dream? To become a researcher and leader at the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Read more at SMU News.

2017 Alumni December 2017 News Spring 2018

Continuing a legacy of attracting top students

A $15 million gift from the Nancy Ann Hunt Foundation (a supporting organization of the Communities Foundation of Texas) will ensure the long-term support of the Hunt Leadership Scholars Program, which is one of SMU’s signature scholarship programs attracting academically talented student leaders from throughout the United States to SMU.In 1993, Nancy Ann and Ray L. Hunt and SMU announced a vision to create an annually funded leadership program to preserve the well-rounded and entrepreneurial nature of SMU’s student body while the University grew its academic standing. They believed that an SMU education fosters, and benefits from, students who exhibit demonstrated leadership skills, intellectual ability, a spirit of entrepreneurism and a strong work ethic, combined with a desire to grow these skills and apply them in service of the community.
“SMU has benefited enormously from Nancy Ann and Ray Hunt’s historic generosity,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Today SMU receives three times the number of applicants than it did in 1993 with many now having proven leadership, entrepreneurial and academic strengths. Therefore, although the Hunts feel that the original program’s objectives have been accomplished, we were delighted when they agreed to make this significant gift that will enable the University to create an endowment to insure the long-term continuation of the Leadership Scholars program and the legacy that the Hunts have created.”
With this gift, the Hunts will have contributed $65 million to the Hunt Leadership Scholars Program, a nationally recognized scholarship program for SMU, attracting the interest of academically gifted and exceptional service-driven student leaders from across the country.
Hunt Scholars span majors across all disciplines at SMU and are leaders in virtually all spheres of campus life. They have served as president, vice-president, and secretary of the Student Body, Program Council, and Student Foundation. They have been leaders across the spectrum of SMU’s hundreds of student organizations and editors for campus newspapers and publications. To date, the program has provided scholarships to 372 students who following their graduation from SMU have had a significant impact in many diverse fields ranging from medicine and law to theology, teaching and politics.
Read more at SMU News.

2017 December 2017 News Spring 2018

Investing in a data-empowered future

SMU is eager to serve and partner with Dallas, just as Northwestern University serves Chicago and Columbia University serves New York. We are ready to leverage SMU’s academic vitality and strong relationships with the Dallas region for expanded community service and impact.
Dallas is a city in a hurry, taking its place as a global business and knowledge center. Major corporations like Toyota and (perhaps) Amazon recognize that Dallas has a stake in the tech-driven future. What you need to know is that SMU has skin in that game.
We are a 21st century university, data empowered and actively seeking solutions to societal problems through interdisciplinary collaborations between the humanities, the sciences, the arts and the world of bytes and bits.
The red brick campus with a tradition of liberal arts and professional education now offers 13 graduate programs in data science, including an online master’s degree, and is powered by ManeFrame II – in the top 20 among the most powerful supercomputers in North American higher education. SMU’s high-speed supercomputer is completely accessible with no waiting to our students, faculty and our research partners outside SMU, providing us with more per capita shared computing resources (both in terms of faculty and students) than any university in Texas.
Simply put, a University that offers the ability to complete research in any discipline faster, without long wait times for processing data, has a distinct advantage. It’s like the difference between sitting in a traffic jam and whipping over into the HOV lane.
Read more at SMU: Data Empowered.

2017 Alumni November 2017 Spring 2018

Congressman’s gifts reflect a life of service

As venerable statesman and decorated war hero Sam Johnson ’51 prepares to leave Congress at the end of 2018, he is making two gifts to SMU that will support the education of military veterans and preserve for future study papers and materials from his distinguished life and career.
Johnson’s gift of $100,000 to SMU will establish The Hon. Sam Johnson Endowed Military Scholarship Fund, with the Collin County Business Alliance (CCBA) providing seed funding to make the scholarship operational for the 2018-2019 academic year.
Johnson’s dedication to public service spans a 29-year military career and 26 years in the U.S. Congress.  SMU’s Board of Trustees and President R. Gerald Turner will celebrate the creation of the scholarship and the donation of his historic papers and other materials to the University’s special collections repository at an on-campus reception in his honor at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 20, in Fondren Library.
“SMU helped shape me into the person I am today, and I can’t think of a better way to say thank you to my alma mater than with this scholarship and library gift,” Johnson said. “I’m grateful to join SMU in making a commitment to the military and its families by helping these deserving individuals achieve their higher education. And I’m hopeful that this library archive will help inspire future generations to build a legacy of service on behalf of others and our great nation.”
Johnson’s archive will be housed in DeGolyer Library, SMU’s special collections repository.
Read more at SMU News.

2017 Alumni News November 2017 Spring 2018

Turning a ‘big idea’ into jobs for veterans

By Kenny Ryan
SMU News
Iraq war veteran Jason Waller, 40, knows how challenging it can be for veterans to find civilian work when they leave the military. He heard it firsthand from the men and women he served with during his own deployments overseas.
Now, he’s in position to help both veterans and Americans who lost their homes in a hurricane season unlike any in living memory.
A senior at SMU’s Lyle School of Engineering, Waller has launched his own company, Emergent Services LLC, to provide on-the-job training for vets to work as independent property insurance adjusters. Waller says the client base – Americans struggling to navigate insurance claims after devastating storms – is one that vets are eager to help.
“There are a lot of aspects of being an insurance adjuster that veterans can relate to,” says Waller, who will graduate with a management science degree in December. “There’s something in our nature that we want to serve Americans. When we can do it face-to-face instead of on the other side of the world, it’s therapeutic for us.”
Read more at SMU News.

2017 Alumni October 2017 Spring 2018

Adding early assessment to the math education equation

A $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to researchers in SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development targets the ongoing struggle of U.S. elementary and high school students with math. SMU K-12 math education experts Leanne Ketterlin Geller and Lindsey Perry ’16 will conduct research and develop an assessment system comprised of two universal screening tools to measure mathematical reasoning skills for grades K–2.
“This is an opportunity to develop an assessment system that can help teachers support students at the earliest and, arguably, one of the most critical phases of a child’s mathematical development,” said Ketterlin Geller, principal investigator for the grant.
The four-year project, Measuring Early Mathematical Reasoning Skills: Developing Tests of Numeric Relational Reasoning and Spatial Reasoning, started on September 15, 2017. The system will contain tests for both numeric relational reasoning and spatial reasoning.
“I’m passionate about this research because students who can reason spatially and relationally with numbers are better equipped for future mathematics courses, STEM degrees and STEM careers,” said Perry, whose doctoral dissertation for her Ph.D. from SMU specifically focused on those two mathematical constructs.
“While these are very foundational and predictive constructs, these reasoning skills have typically not been emphasized at these grade levels, and universal screening tools focused on these topics do not yet exist,” said Perry, who is co-principal investigator.
“Since intervention in the early elementary grades can significantly improve mathematics achievement, it is critical that K-2 teachers have access to high-quality screening tools to help them with their intervention efforts,” she said. “We feel that the Measures of Mathematical Reasoning Skills system can really make a difference for K-2 teachers as they prepare the next generation of STEM leaders.”
Read more at SMU Research.

2017 August 2017 News Spring 2018

Does symmetry affect speed?

The New York Times reporter Jeré Longman covered the research of SMU biomechanics expert Peter Weyand and his colleagues Andrew Udofa and Laurence Ryan for a story about Usain Bolt’s apparent asymmetrical running stride.
The article, Something Strange in Usain Bolt’s Stride,” published July 20, 2017.
The researchers in the SMU Locomotor Performance Laboratory reported in June that world champion sprinter Usain Bolt may have an asymmetrical running gait. While not noticeable to the naked eye, Bolt’s potential asymmetry emerged after the researchers dissected race video to assess his pattern of ground-force application — literally how hard and fast each foot hits the ground. To do so they measured the “impulse” for each foot.
Biomechanics researcher Udofa presented the findings at the 35th International Conference on Biomechanics in Sport in Cologne, Germany. His presentation, “Ground Reaction Forces During Competitive Track Events: A Motion Based Assessment Method,” was delivered June 18.
Read more at SMU Research.