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Cougars’ diverse diet helped them survive the mass extinction that wiped out the saber-tooth cat, American lion

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 18:01

(Wikimedia Commons)

Cougars may have survived the mass extinction that took place about 12,000 years ago because they were not particular about what they ate, unlike their more finicky cousins–the saber-tooth cat and American lion. Both perished along with the woolly mammoth and many of the other supersized mammals that walked the Earth during the late Pleistocene.

That is the conclusion of a new analysis of the microscopic wear marks on the teeth of cougars, saber-tooth cats and American lions described in the April 23 issue of the journal Biology Letters.

“Before the Late Pleistocene extinction, six species of large cats roamed the plains and forests of North America. Only two – the cougar and jaguar – survived. The goal of our study was to examine the possibility that dietary factors can explain the cougar’s survival,” said Larisa R.G. DeSantis, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University, who co-authored the study with Ryan Haupt at the University of Wyoming.

For their investigation, DeSantis and Haupt employed a new technique called dental microwear texture analysis. DMTA uses a confocal microscope to produce a three-dimensional image of the surface of a tooth. The image is then analyzed for microscopic wear patterns. The analysis of the teeth of modern carnivores, including hyenas, cheetahs and lions has established that the meals an animal consumes during the last few weeks of its life leave telltale marks. Chowing down on red meat, for example, produces small parallel scratches while chomping on bones adds larger, deeper pits.

The researchers analyzed the teeth of 50 fossil and modern cougars, and compared them with the teeth of saber-tooth cats and American lions excavated from the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles and the teeth of modern African carnivores including cheetahs, lions and hyenas.

Microscopic image of the wear pattern on a fossil cougar tooth provides information about the what the animal ate in the last few weeks of its life. (Courtesy of Larisa DeSantis)

Previously, DeSantis and others found that the dental wear patterns of the extinct American lions closely resembled those of modern cheetahs, which are extremely finicky eaters that mostly consume tender meat and rarely gnaw on bones. Saber-tooth cats were instead similar to African lions and chewed on both flesh and bone.

DeSantis working with fossil teeth at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. (Blaine Schubert)

Among the La Brea cougars, the researchers found significantly greater variation between individuals than they did in the other large cats, including saber-toothed cats. Some of the cougars show wear patterns similar to those of the finicky eaters but on others they found wear patterns closer to those of modern hyenas, which consume almost the entire body of their prey, bones included.

“This suggests that the Pleistocene cougars had a ‘more generalized’ dietary behavior,” DeSantis said. “Specifically, they likely killed and often fully consumed their prey, more so than the large cats that went extinct.” This is consistent with the dietary behavior and dental wear patterns of modern cougars, which are opportunistic predators and scavengers of abandoned carrion and fully consume the carcasses of small and medium-sized prey, a “variable dietary behavior that may have actually been a key to their survival.”

The research was supported by National Science Foundation grant EAR1053839.

Class of 2014: Domonique Bragg and Cody Stothers are Aspirnaut pioneers

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 17:04

Domonique Bragg and Cody Stothers (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)

At first glance, Domonique Bragg and Cody Stothers seem to have little in common. But the seniors, who both hail from rural Arkansas, followed a similar path to Vanderbilt.

Bragg and Stothers were the first high school students to participate in the university’s Aspirnaut educational outreach program. They’re also now the first Aspirnaut alumni to graduate from Vanderbilt, fulfilling a dream that began almost a decade ago with Billy Hudson, the Elliot V. Newman Professor of Medicine, Biochemistry and Pathology and director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Matrix Biology.

Aspirnaut, which provides educational opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) to rural communities, was inspired by Hudson’s own journey from rural poverty to a career in scientific research. Since 2006, he and wife Julie Hudson, co-founder of Aspirnaut and assistant vice chancellor for health affairs at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, have introduced hundreds of students to STEM career paths they wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise.

Bragg participated in the Aspirnaut Summer Research Internship Program following her junior year of high school. Gaining hands-on experience in a Vanderbilt lab convinced her to apply to the university. “In high school we learned about theories but never had any labs,” she said. “Coming here made it so much more tangible. You could touch and see things. I was fascinated by that.”

Stothers had a similar eye-opening experience. “It was so challenging and thought-provoking,” he remembered. “By the end of the summer, I was amazed by how much we’d learned.”

So amazed, in fact, that Stothers, who has a double major in molecular biology and philosophy, continued working in Billy Hudson’s lab after enrolling at Vanderbilt. He even served as a resident adviser for the Aspirnaut program’s summer interns.

The program’s benefits were not just academic. Both students faced hardships at home—Stothers was raised by a disabled grandmother in Sheridan, Ark., after his mother gave birth to him in prison, and Bragg lost her father during her third year of college—but neither had to look far for a supportive network of mentors and friends.

“The Hudsons really get to know the students—it’s personal to them. I knew if I attended Vanderbilt, there would be someone here looking out for me,” Bragg said. She has a multidisciplinary major in public policy and plans to teach near her hometown of West Helena, Ark., after graduation.

Stothers, meanwhile, has received a full scholarship to the joint M.D./Ph.D. program at Vanderbilt’s School of Medicine. Given the path he’s traveled, it’s hard to fault him for wanting to relish his college experience a little while longer.

“I never want to be a real adult,” he said jokingly. “The program is seven years long. That’s seven more years that I get to avoid words like ‘mortgage.’”

Event celebrates products of student learning

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 16:36

Students display the products of their learning experiences during a poster exhibition at the Celebration of Learning April 21. (Steve Green/Vanderbilt)

As part of its “Students as Producers” theme year, the Center for Teaching hosted a Celebration of Learning April 21 in Alumni Hall.

The event featured students and the products of their learning experiences in courses at Vanderbilt this year, including a poster exhibition, presentations and performances by students from across campus.

Georgetown University's Randy Bass discusses "Students as Producers" at the Celebration of Learning. (Steve Green/Vanderbilt)

In addition, Randy Bass, vice provost for education and professor of English at Georgetown University, gave a keynote presentation on the theme of “Students as Producers.” Bass is known for his efforts to make student learning visible, having worked at the intersections of new media technologies and the scholarship of teaching and learning for 20 years. His keynote was co-sponsored by the American Studies program.

Students in two of the Center for Teaching’s graduate student programs shared the projects they completed for those programs. The Blended and Online Learning Design (BOLD) Fellows presented the online learning modules they designed and assessed this year; and the SoTL Scholars shared their work in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL). These students, along with graduates of the Certificate in College Teaching, were recognized for their accomplishments during the event.

Contact: Derek Bruff, (615) 322-7290

Cornfield named 2013 Labor and Employment Relations Association Fellow

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 15:48

Dan Cornfield (Vanderbilt)

Daniel Cornfield, professor of sociology, has been named a 2013 fellow of the Labor and Employment Relations Association. The LERA Fellows Award recognizes labor scholars and professionals who have made contributions of unusual distinction to the field over the course of 10 years or more.

Cornfield specializes in the sociology of work, employment and labor organization.

The Labor and Employment Relations Association was founded in 1947 to bring together labor and employment relations professionals, experts and academics to share ideas and learn about new developments, issues and practices. “LERA convenes not only scholars but also practitioners from all sides of the bargaining table, including corporate managers, arbitrators, mediators and trade unionists,” Cornfield said. “In this sense, LERA is an unusually inclusive professional association in an interdisciplinary field of scholarship and practice that is often contentious, and a field that encourages shared decision making, rational and equitable terms of employment and work organization, and profitability through collective bargaining.”

“My LERA colleagues are among the social scientists I most admire,” he said, “and I am honored to be named a fellow in a scholarly community that encourages creative, rigorous and policy-relevant research on themes that pertain to sustaining an inclusive, productive and democratic society.”

In 2009, LERA awarded Cornfield a Susan C. Eaton Scholar-Practitioner Grant to support Cornfield’s upcoming book on the careers of Nashville musicians, which was originally funded by Vanderbilt’s Curb Center for Art, Enterprise and Public Policy.

The fellowships will be presented on May 31, 2014, at the 66th LERA Annual Meeting in Portland, Ore. Economist David Card of the University of California at Berkeley and Janice Bellace of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania will also be honored.

Mason welcomed by Metro Council

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 15:05

Councilmember Edith Langster (left), Coach Derek Mason and members of the Metro Council.

Vanderbilt head football coach Derek Mason was honored by the Metro Council April 15 with the reading of a resolution welcoming him to Nashville.

“Whereas, leading an exemplary coaching and support staff, Coach Derek Mason will share his vast knowledge and passion for the game of football with his players at Vanderbilt … it is fitting and proper that the Metropolitan Council recognize and welcome (him) and wish him much success as he joins the SEC and Vanderbilt University,” Resolution No. RS2014-1011 reads.

The resolution was sponsored by Councilmember Edith Langster and co-sponsored by Councilmember Burkley Allen.

Mayor Karl Dean and Coach Derek Mason.

Langster also arranged for Mason to meet with Mayor Karl Dean prior to a reception with members of the Metro Council and Nashville citizens.

Read the full text of the resolution below.

Resolution No. RS2014-1011

A resolution recognizing and welcoming Derek Mason as the new head football coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Whereas, Derek Mason became the 28th head coach of Vanderbilt football on Jan. 17, 2014, and in accepting the position, he became the second African American head football coach in the school’s history; and

Whereas, Coach Mason began his coaching career in 1994 at Mesa Community College and continued his coaching journey through Weber State, Idaho State, Bucknell, Utah, St. Mary’s, New Mexico State, Ohio, the Minnesota Vikings of the NFL and Stanford before he found himself being named the head coach at Vanderbilt University of the SEC; and

Whereas, Coach Mason will have his first SEC home game against the Ole Miss Rebels on Sept. 6, 2014, and his first SEC away game against the Kentucky Wildcats on Sept. 27; and

Whereas, leading an exemplary coaching and support staff, Coach Derek Mason will share his vast knowledge and passion for the game of football with his players at Vanderbilt; and

Whereas, Coach Mason is a man of true character and commitment, exemplifies dedication and leadership, respected for his tireless efforts to excel, and is always guided by solid principals and high standards; and

Whereas, Coach Mason is joined here in Nashville with his loving wife, Leighanne, and his two beautiful daughters; and

Whereas, it is fitting and proper that the Metropolitan Council recognize and welcome Derek Mason and wish him much success as he joins the SEC and Vanderbilt University.

Now therefore, be it resolved by the council of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County:

Section 1. The Metropolitan Council hereby goes on record as recognizing and welcoming Derek Mason as the new head football coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores.

Section 2. The Metropolitan Council office is directed to prepare a copy of this resolution to be presented to Head Coach Derek Mason.

Section 3. This resolution shall take effect from and after its adoption, the welfare of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County requiring it.

The resolution was sponsored by Metro councilmembers Edith Taylor Langster, Burkley Allen, Charlie Tygard, Tim Garrett, Megan Barry, Sheri Weiner, Phil Claiborne, Jason Holleman, Ronnie Steine, Peter Westerholm, Karen Bennett, Lonnell Matthews, Erica Gilmore, Karen Johnson, Buddy Baker, Scott Davis, Doug Pardue, Sandra Moore, Chris Harmon, Robert Duvall, Jason Potts, Bill Pridemore, Tony Tenpenny, Walter Hunt, Jerry Maynard, Frank Harrison, Duane Dominy, Davette Blalock, Sheri Weiner, Jacobia Dowell, Bruce Stanley, Emily Evans, Bo Mitchell, Carter Todd, Anthony Davis and Josh Stites.

Contact: Mary Pat Teague, (615) 322-8337

International Student Wins Video Contest

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 14:13
Khairul Kamarulzaman, an Engineering student at Vanderbilt, won a video contest with his video that explores the beautiful landscape of America.

Contact: Emily Pearce   ·   Amy Wolf   ·   (615) 322-2706

Patients, students and members of the public seeking more information on medical stories should call Vanderbilt University Medical Center News Office at (615) 322-4747.

Vanderbilt Video has won 11 regional Emmy awards and earned 33 nominations since 2007 for videos produced for VUCast, Vanderbilt's news network.

Class of 2014: Khairul Kamarulzaman sees college through a unique lens

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 11:53

Khairul Kamarulzaman has taken advantage of semester and holiday breaks at Vanderbilt to travel east and west, north and south across the United States.

An eye-popping short video that features some of his adventures captured’s grand prize—worth $4,000—as well as a $1,000 viewer’s choice award in the website’s 2013 travel video contest.

“I love photography and I always carry a camera with me,” the mechanical engineering senior said. He is from Kota Bharu, Kelatan, in northeastern Malaysia, near the border with Thailand. “I’ve spent the last three years traveling as much as possible, and I’ve appreciated every moment.

“Well, the six hours climbing up and down in Yosemite with a lot of equipment was tiring,” he said.

In his award-winning video, Postcard, Kamarulzaman shares his experience as a Malaysian student studying abroad and traveling with friends to Texas and through several states to the West Coast. It also introduced his plan for two final excursions before graduation.

“I asked Malaysian kids to send me photos of themselves, which I carried with me to New York City and Cancun, Mexico. Then, I took a picture of a local citizen holding a kid’s photo. I turned each of my photos into postcards, wrote some inspiring words to encourage the kids to study abroad, and sent them back home,” he said.

Khairul Kamarulzaman (photo courtesy of Khairul Kamarulzaman)

Kamarulzaman is a self-taught videographer who started at 14 by watching video tutorials offered on YouTube. He now uses a Nikon D7000 and has added a stabilizer, glider, shotgun mics and more.

“I’ll save most of the award money for expenses after graduation,” said Kamarulzaman, who plans to return to Malaysia and seek a job as an engineer.

Class of 2014: Amanda Palmer is exploring the complexities of autism

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 11:40

Amanda Palmer (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)

Amanda Palmer discovered a love of working with children with autism through several programs in her Birmingham, Mich., community. That made the decision to attend Peabody College, with its top-ranked program in special education, easy.

At Vanderbilt, the cognitive studies and child development major found no shortage of research opportunities, including one in a mechanical engineering lab helping develop a virtual reality intervention for children with autism. She also assisted in diagnostic evaluations of toddlers at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders. A project Palmer designed for the institute comparing the effectiveness of early screening measures is the subject of her honors thesis. It garnered the top undergraduate prize at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s 2014 Science Day and an invitation to present at an international autism meeting this summer.

Next is graduate school at the University of Texas-Austin, where she plans to pursue a master’s in developmental disabilities and earn an applied behavior analysis certification.

“I feel very prepared going into grad school,” she said. “All of these experiences have given me the confidence to take the next step.”

Open House for Vanderbilt adult learner program is May 6

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 10:59

Current and potential students of Vanderbilt University’s Master of Liberal Arts and Science (MLAS) program are invited to an open house May 6 to get more information about the program and learn about summer course offerings.

Robert Talisse (Vanderbilt)

The MLAS program is designed for working adults, typically meeting one week night or weekend day per week to explore topics in a graduate-level seminar format. MLAS classes cost about half the tuition of a standard Vanderbilt class, and further discounts are available to Vanderbilt employees.

The open house is at 6 p.m. at Cohen Memorial Hall, 1220 21st Ave. S. It’s a free event and all are welcome. The MLAS program is open to college graduates who complete an application process and are accepted.

Two MLAS courses will be offered this summer: “Socrates, Plato and The Good Life” and “Twentieth- and 21st-Century Art and Politics.” The philosophy course will be taught by Robert Talisse, professor of philosophy and political science and the art course by Leonard Folgarait, professor of history of art.

Anyone curious about the MLAS program is encouraged to attend the open house. For more information, see the MLAS website or call (615) 343-3140.

Get discount on hearing aids during May

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 10:37

(courtesy of Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center)

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month.

The Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center is offering a 20 percent discount on hearing aids for Vanderbilt employees and retirees from May 1-31.

For more information, visit

Contact: Lisa Dunaway, (615) 322-5981

Make note of road closures for Country Music Marathon

Tue, 04/22/2014 - 10:09

The St. Jude Country Music Marathon and Half-Marathon is scheduled for Saturday, April 26.

Most road closures and detours along the race routes will be in effect between 6 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Beginning at 6 a.m., police and event personnel will implement a soft closure along the entire race course. The races begin at 6:45 a.m., and streets will re-open on a rolling basis as soon as the last participant has passed and all course support materials have been removed.

The marathon and half-marathon routes have changed this year. The race has an exciting new start in the heart of downtown, at Broadway and Fourth Avenue. Course changes free West End Avenue and Vanderbilt of road closures and reduce the impact for many businesses and residents in Metrocenter. Still included are Music Row, Belmont Boulevard, 12 South, the Gulch, Metrocenter, Bicentennial Mall, East Nashville and the finish at LP Field. At most points along the course, pedestrians and bicyclists may cross the course during safe gaps in runners. Please follow the discretion of traffic controllers.

Spectators are encouraged to line the route to cheer tens of thousands of athletes toward the finish line.

View a course map.

Vanderbilt again included in ‘Princeton Review’ green colleges guide

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 16:32

(Daniel Dubois/Vanderbilt)

For the third year in a row, Vanderbilt University has been included in The Princeton Review’s Guide to 332 Green Colleges: 2014. The book is available as a free download.

Schools were chosen for the guide according to their course offerings, campus infrastructure, activities and career preparation to measure their commitment to the environment and to sustainability.

Vanderbilt’s multiple sustainability initiatives and programs are highlighted, including the Sustainability and Environmental Management Office, environmental student groups like SPEAR and the Alternative Energy Club, the range of environmental and sustainability course offerings, Vanderbilt’s commitment to LEED-certified new construction and a variety of recycling and clean commute initiatives.

“Our continued inclusion in the Princeton Review’s Guide to Green Colleges, with scores in the high 90s, categorizes Vanderbilt as a university that strives to continually improve our environmental impact both locally and globally,” said Andrea George, director of Vanderbilt’s Sustainability and Environmental Management Office. “Prospective students are more committed to sustainability and responsible community citizenship than ever before, making Vanderbilt’s reputation for excellence in this area more important than ever.”

The guide is produced in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council, an organization dedicated to changing the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life.

Flexner Dean’s Lecture Series presents Chip Souba

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 13:16

The John E. Chapman, M.D., Lecture in Medical Education, featuring guest speaker Wiley “Chip” Souba, will take place Tuesday, April 29, at noon in 208 Light Hall. Souba is vice president for health affairs and dean of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth
 College. He also holds a faculty appointment as professor in the Department of Surgery.

Souba will speak on “The Science of Leading Yourself.”

Boxed lunches will be provided to those who RSVP by Monday, April 28, at noon.

The event is presented by the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and the Flexner Dean’s Lecture Series in conjunction with the Academy for Excellence in Teaching. It is funded by the Flexner Lecture Endowment.

Click here to RSVP online by Monday, April 28, at noon.

Contact: Susan Lewis, (615) 322-5007

Benbow reappointed as dean of Peabody College

Mon, 04/21/2014 - 11:22

Camilla Benbow (John Russell/Vanderbilt)

Camilla P. Benbow has been reappointed as dean of Vanderbilt Peabody College of education and human development. The reappointment is for a five-year term, beginning July 1, 2015.

“Camilla Benbow has been an exceptional leader of the college during challenging times,” said McCarty, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “Camilla has maintained a clear vision to sustain the excellence of the college and communicated that vision, while joining with faculty and staff to implement it.

“She continues to be a leader in talent development and inclusion. I extend my deep appreciation to Camilla for her continued leadership of Peabody College and I wish her continued success in the years ahead,” he said.

Benbow, Patricia and Rodes Hart Dean of Education and Human Development, was appointed dean of Peabody in 1998, coming from Iowa State University. A nationally recognized scholar of talent identification and development, she also co-directs the longitudinal Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth.

Dean Benbow has authored or co-authored more than 100 articles and 35 chapters. She is the editor of Intellectual Talent: Psychometric and Social Issues (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996) with Professor of Psychology and Human Development at Peabody David Lubinski; and Academic Precocity: Aspects of its Development (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983) with Julian Stanley.

Under Benbow’s leadership as dean, Peabody has become one of the nation’s foremost colleges of education. In recent years, it has been consistently ranked among the top five graduate schools of education by U.S. News & World Report, including holding the No. 1 position for five of the last six years.

Annual research expenditures exceed $40 million, and the college is home to several federally-funded national research centers. With nearly 1,800 undergraduate, professional, and graduate students, Peabody also offers Vanderbilt’s largest undergraduate major, Human and Organizational Development.

“I am deeply honored to serve Vanderbilt as dean of Peabody College and to share in the university’s mission of education, knowledge discovery, and service,” said Benbow. “These are challenging times for education at all levels in our society. Peabody’s faculty, students and alumni make important contributions to strengthening schools, communities, and complex organizations, and I am excited about continuing to facilitate their efforts.”

Benbow is a former member of the National Science Board and recently co-chaired the Commission on Standards and Performance Reporting that developed new accreditation standards for the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. She is a trustee of Fisk University, former vice chair of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, and co-founder and former co-chair of the Committee of AAU College of Education Deans. She also is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the American Educational Research Association.

Benbow has received the David Imig Award from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (2010), the President’s Award from the National Association for Gifted Children (2009), and the Distinguished Alumna Award from Johns Hopkins University (2008). In 2004, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the MENSA Education and Research Foundation.

by Kurt Brobeck

Class of 2014: Roo George-Warren curates his own adventures

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 15:51

Roo George-Warren (Susan Urmy/Vanderbilt)

Being a facilitator is DeLesslin “Roo” George-Warren’s modus operandi.

This senior with the interesting nickname—given to him by an older sister—is a musical arts/voice major at Blair School of Music with a concentration in composition. He has been Blair Student Council president for the past two years, an executive board member of the AmbassaDores tour guides and a two-time Alternative Spring Break site leader, among other activities. Labeling his time management style chaotic, George-Warren navigates his busy schedule by identifying connections between people and ideas.

“Just this year I realized that being a leader is more about facilitating other people’s ideas,” he said.

Last summer, George-Warren received a fellowship to help former Vanderbilt visual arts professor Amelia Winger-Bearskin with research on interactive art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. After he arrived, MOMA nixed the fellowship. With 10 weeks of rent already paid, George-Warren contacted Make Music New York and became an after-dark coordinator for its outdoor concert series. He also created 10 performance art pieces and worked with a Native American activist group.

“Losing the fellowship was scary for a couple of days, but I figured it out,” he said.

His penchant for seeing connections resulted in an exhibit this spring with Vanderbilt’s Center for Medicine, Health and Society. “Health and Art: Master Potters of the Catawba Indian Nation” showcased the work of master potters from George-Warren’s tribe—he grew up on the Catawba reservation in Rock Hill, S.C.—while combining stories from his tribe and Native American health statistics.

George-Warren finds that his music degree creates the perfect base from which to tackle life. “It’s always interesting to hear people talk about how the arts aren’t very practical,” he said. “I feel I’ve learned many skills from practicing, performing, thinking on my feet, dealing with pressure, having a creative idea and thinking of ways to get there or get close to it.

“Regardless of what I do later in life, I want to do art and music forever,” he said.

Class of 2014: Brionne Williams’ next goal is healthier communities

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 15:34

Brionne Williams (Joe Howell/Vanderbilt)

Brionne Williams has a vision of herself as a healer in a community clinic, doing much more than doling out pills and setting broken bones. “I want to get to know people and hear their stories,” she said. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do—to give back to those in need.”

Based on her track record, it would be unwise to bet against the senior from Hoover, Ala. This is a woman who can vertically leap 6 feet in the air.

As a Medicine, Health and Society major at Vanderbilt, Williams has been pursuing her educational dream, all the while maintaining a challenging schedule as a high jump specialist on the women’s track team. “I am in our athletic facility three hours a day, every day,” she said.

Williams is trying to pass on that sense of discipline to middle schoolers through FOOD (Facing Our Own Decisions), which began as a class project and has blossomed into an ongoing Vanderbilt student organization.

“As a class we came up with the idea of combating childhood obesity and targeting kids who lack steady access to food,” she explained. Using a point system and prizes, FOOD incentivizes fifth- and sixth-graders at J.T. Moore Middle School in Nashville to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“We started grass roots and we’re finding our way,” Williams said. “Hopefully, we’re going to branch out into other schools.”

Travel is another of Williams’ passions. She got started with a “life-changing” seven weeks in South Africa last summer at the University of Cape Town. “We rotated through the clinics and hospitals in the private and public sectors,” she said. “We got to see the disparities in health care based on the areas.”

After she graduates, Williams hopes to attend nursing school at Vanderbilt.

“I want to be a nurse practitioner,” she said. “I want to focus on family care, maybe in areas that are underserved.”

The Kefi Project is taking art to unexpected places

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 15:11

The Kefi Project installation "pairAsouls" creates a colorful canopy near Sarratt Student Center. (photo by Bosley Jarrett)

Can art help define our public spaces? Who gets to make this art, and does it have value beyond its aesthetic appeal?

These are questions senior Kion Sawney wanted to explore when he won a 2013 Creative Campus Innovation Grant to start a public art initiative at Vanderbilt. The result is the student-led Kefi Project, whose mission is to bring together creative individuals and challenge members of the university community to reconsider how they interact with their environment.

In Greek, the word “kefi” roughly translates to passion, spirit or joy. “We simply think it means the joy of life,” according to the group’s website.

“I’ve always been interested in altering space,” said Sawney, an economics and urban planning major from Massapequa, N.Y. “An important part of creating the organization was figuring out what ‘public’ means at Vanderbilt. Who comprises this public? How do we go about creating art that represents this public?”

"Before I Die" on the Rand Terrace. (photo by Bosley Jarrett)

Sawney and a handful of classmates launched the Kefi Project last August with “Before I Die,” a large chalkboard installation on the Rand Terrace. The piece was inspired by a similar work that appeared in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. “Before I Die” invited passersby to write in a task, goal or dream they hoped to accomplish in their lifetimes.

The installation was intended to serve as the group’s calling card. In addition to encouraging students and others to interact with each work, a goal of the project is to foster interdisciplinary and interdepartmental partnerships. “Before I Die” was done in partnership with Vanderbilt’s Interfaith Council and featured a panel discussion during its run called “Living Before Dying,” moderated by University Chaplain Mark Forrester.

Sophomore Katherine Sowa was so intrigued by the first installation that she attended the Kefi Project’s next planning session.

“Each meeting we discuss public art in the country, around the world, and how we can bring aspects of that to campus,” said Sowa, an English major who now serves as the group’s publicity chair. “We also discuss who we need to contact to make things happen—which building coordinators, which faculty. For Kefi members, this is a really cool part of any project: seeing the multidimensional process of creating art, beyond the initial idea.”

The group enlisted the help of Jeremy Jones, a shop tech in the Department of Art, to pull off its eye-catching second installation, “pairAsouls.” The colorful, multilayered roof of umbrellas suspended above the courtyard between Sarratt Gallery and Last Drop Coffee Shop explored the theme of shelter. Each umbrella was offered for sponsorship, with proceeds benefiting Safe Haven, a shelter-to-housing program for homeless families in Middle Tennessee. The 135 umbrellas were later donated to vendors of The Contributor, a local newspaper whose sales benefit Nashville’s homeless community.

Not every Kefi installation is bold and large-scale; some demonstrate that art can happen in smaller, everyday moments. “Trails,” done in partnership with the Vanderbilt English Majors’ Association and the Senior Class Fund, featured signposts that displayed poetry by English professor Mark Jarman or words of advice from seniors to freshmen along well-traveled campus walkways. “Let’s See What Develops” gave cameras to 25 community members at The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons and asked them to document their lives for a week. “Pop-up Poetry” transferred verse appearing in The Vanderbilt Review to unexpected places, such as elevators and restroom walls. And “Dancers Among Us” captured student dancers striking poses in familiar campus locations.

Towers constructed from recycled water bottles light up Olin Lawn at night. (photo by Bosley Jarrett)

For World Water Day, the Kefi Project teamed with Students Promoting Environmental Awareness and Responsibility to install three conscience-raising works. Using more than 2,300 plastic bottles collected by the Campus Recycling Program as the medium, they created a multicolored mural in the chain-link fence surrounding the Vanderbilt power plant, constructed plastic bottle towers on Olin Lawn, and hung a chandelier made of plastic bottles in Sarratt Student Center. Each piece featured information about water conservation and recycling.

The group’s final work of the year had members collaborating with electrical engineering students to construct a large-scale, playable keyboard at Sarratt Student Center. The instrument was featured in a public performance by a student orchestra.

The Kefi Project’s ranks have grown through the academic year, with a core group of about a dozen undergraduates comprising its executive board. These students come from all schools and majors and say it takes the expertise of a diverse community to produce each work. The group regularly consults with adviser David Heustess, director of Sarratt Art Studios; faculty in the Studio Art and History of Art departments; and staff in Campus Planning and Construction, among others.

Sawney, who will pursue a graduate degree in architecture, said there’s infrastructure in place for Kefi to continue after he leaves. He hopes the project has another legacy as well.

“(Deputy Vice Chancellor for Facilities) Judson Newbern once told us, ‘This campus is yours. How you determine it should look is how it will be,’” Sawney said. “We hope the Kefi Project says, ‘This is how we want the campus to look. These are the values of this university. This is what we want to show the world.’”

Free legal advice on estate planning May 2

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 14:44

The Vanderbilt Child and Family Center will have attorneys on hand to answer your specific questions regarding estate planning. They will answer your questions regarding power of attorney, living will, advance directive, last will and testament, trust, probate and conservatorship.

Several attorneys will be available on Friday, May 2, 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m. in Light Hall, Room 437.

This service is a first-come, first-served basis, so you may have to wait. Each consultation will be approximately 30 minutes. Plan to arrive no later than 1:30 p.m. so you can be seen.

The Vanderbilt Child and Family Center is part of Faculty and Staff Health and Wellness.

Contact: Stacey Bonner (615) 936-1990

Wellcast: Positive coping strategies for caregivers

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 14:35

Taking care of loved ones as can be stressful and can actually be harmful to the caregiver’s own health.

Winner of top student art prize is named

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 14:19

Screen capture from Krenz's video installation, "World of Sleepers."

The Vanderbilt University Department of Art is pleased to announce the recipient of the prestigious Margaret Stonewall Wooldridge Hamblet Award for 2014. This year’s recipient is David Krenz of Spring Hill, Tenn. As Hamblet winner, he will receive a $25,000 prize that provides the funds for a year of art research and travel, culminating in a solo show at Vanderbilt in one year.

Krenz’s video installation, World of Sleepers, was selected for the award following a juried competition involving exhibition, interviews and written proposals. The piece includes an original musical score by Krenz, who is also majoring in music at Vanderbilt.

The $10,000 Merit Award was presented to Kelsey Creel of Birmingham, Ala.

Krenz’s and Creel’s art can be viewed as part of the 2014 Senior Show now on display in Space 204, the second-floor gallery of the Department of Art. The other graduating art majors exhibiting include Margaret “Elle” Burnett, Lesley Hill, Desiré Hough, Demi Landstedt and Anisha Patel.

Senior Show 2014 is on display Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–4 p.m., and Saturday–Sunday, noon–4 p.m., until May 10. The gallery is located in the E. Bronson Ingram Studio Art Center, 25th and Garland, on the Vanderbilt campus.

Jurors selected to serve for the competition are all distinguished artists and educators, including Sergio Soave, professor of art at Ohio State University: Leticia Bajuyo, professor of art at Hanover College in Hanover, Ind.; and Ken Gonzales-Day, professor of art at Scripps College in Los Angeles.

Vanderbilt’s Department of Art has supervised the awarding of the Margaret Stonewall Wooldridge Hamblet Award since 1984. The award was established by Clement H. Hamblet in honor of his wife, whom he met while she was studying abroad. The Hamblet Award is meant to provide the means for travel and independent art activity for one year, culminating in an exhibition at Vanderbilt.

Contact: Diane Acree, (615) 343-7241

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