Fifteen minutes. That’s 900 heartbeats and 180 breaths. It’s also the amount of time it takes students to board a bus at Valparaiso University and arrive at the gates of the Westville Correctional Facility for the Inside-Out Prison Exchange program. Stepping off the bus to attend class inside prison walls, students prepare themselves for the first Inside-Out Prison Exchange course offered at Valpo.

When Carmyn Hamblen ’15, a criminology and communications double major, entered the prison with fellow Valpo students, she had more on her mind than the course syllabus.

“The initial meeting was nerve racking for everyone,” she says. “I was worried about how the inside students would perceive me, and I was unsure about what to expect.”

A course for junior and senior criminology and sociology students, “Inside-Out Prison Exchange: Rethinking Crime, Justice, and Behavior from the Inside Out” is held in the minimum security section of the prison. Once a week, 15 Valpo students — known as outside students — attend a discussion-based class with 15 incarcerated men — known as inside students — from the minimum security division to learn together and study as peers.

“The premise of the class is to explore a variety of topics within the criminal justice system throughout the semester: what prisons are for, why people commit crimes, what the criminal justice system is trying to accomplish, and what role policing should play in that,” says Professor Amanda Zelechoski, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology. “It’s intended to be a fusion of psychology and sociology as we examine this intense and passionate dialogue together and learn the myths of prisons.”

Professor Dawn Bartusch, Ph.D., chair and associate professor of sociology and criminology, helped launch the program with Professor Zelechoski in spring 2014. She expected the first meeting to be intimidating for everyone.

“Everyone is afraid, and the inside students were in many ways more fearful than the outside students,” says Professor Bartusch. “Outside students have this image of monsters behind those walls, and they go in and find themselves meeting human beings. And the inside students have this image of snobby privileged college students, so our first class includes many ice breakers to help people feel more relaxed around one another and to break down those biases.”

As for Carmyn, who is attending Valpo on a Lilly Scholarship, she found the tension among inside and outside students dissipated quickly.

“Realizing we were all nervous was the first step to understanding we are all more alike than we anticipated,” says Carmyn. “We were all together, and the walls disappeared; we created our own community where we all felt safe to share our experiences.”

Before arriving at the prison, Valpo students met to discuss rules including security, dress code, and the number one question they cannot ask students inside the prison: ‘What did you do to get here?’

“If answered, we might define that person by that one thing, just as society does,” says Professor Bartusch. “I tell our outside students that if they think for one moment about the worst thing they’ve ever done, would they like to be defined by that forever?”

Among the many discussions between inside and outside students, Carmyn recalls the conversation that affirmed her decision to one day become a police officer.

“We were talking about the good and bad sides of law enforcement, and the conversation was primarily focused on the negative aspects,” says Carmyn. “Then one of the inside students pointed out that we are one step closer to solving problems because of those in the class who want to be police officers.”

The inside student continued, saying, “These are exactly the kind of people we need. They are the ones who will make a difference.” It was at that moment that Carmyn realized the sense of respect and humanity she had worked toward and re-discovered her path to law enforcement.

“I am extremely passionate about this course and the effect it has had on my life,” says Carmyn. “This class created a community where we could talk about real change, and I walked away realizing no one is better and no one is worse; we are wonderfully different.”

To make experiences like Carmyn’s possible, Professors Zelechoski and Bartusch received help through several grants, including the Valparaiso University Alumni Association Faculty Development Award, two of The Committee to Enhance Learning and Teaching (CELT) grants, and the Dean’s Fund for the Social Sciences, to cover the required training, travel expenses, and supplies for the course.

“The point is equity across the board. So there are a lot of logistics that go into it; we can’t use Blackboard, electronic sources, and other tools that are unavailable to all students. They only use materials provided in the course,” says Professor Zelechoski.

“We had an outside student who wanted the full experience, so she opted to write her papers by hand, because that’s how inside students completed assignments,” says Professor Zelechoski. “It was very inspiring to see people really immerse themselves in the course.”

The inside students not only contributed to group discussions, they also broke down barriers and created a space where outside students felt welcome.

After noticing a mural of university logos and Valpo’s absence, the inside students surprised the outside students with a large painting of the Valpo logo on the wall. The entire class took a group photo around the image, which Professor Zelechoski pointed to as a sense of comradery between the inside and outside students.

Professor Zelechoski says this is an important aspect of having the class inside the prison.

“There are foundational topics about the criminal justice system that we want students to discuss,” she says, “but at the end of the day we know this experience is meant to take each of them on a very different journey that we hope will have a lasting impact.”

Watch this video to learn more about the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at Valparaiso University.

For centuries, humans have used stories to connect with each other, and often, these stories have the power to spark emotions, create understanding, educate people, and change perspectives.

So in summer 2014, when Professor Liz Wuerffel and two digital media graduate students, Saddam Al-Zubaidi and Sarhang Sherwany, traveled to Kurdish Region, Iraq, to film a documentary about a Syrian refugee camp, they were surrounded by opportunities to capture the powerful accounts.

“Each time you work on a film is different,” Professor Wuerffel says. “Figuring out what that story is will always teach us how to decide what to include and how this film connects to a bigger picture. And day after day, we didn’t find the stories — they found us.”

Professor Wuerffel teaches video production courses in the Department of Communication’s digital media graduate program. The documentary was a valuable opportunity to apply lessons learned in the classroom, and Professor Wuerffel’s students gained valuable practical experience.

“We all learned a great deal. The weather presented a real challenge for us to stay hydrated and to protect our equipment, which overheated,” Professor Wuerffel says. “And more than the technical expertise we developed through the project, we learned a lot about the intercultural communication that was necessary to accomplish the project — both in the context of where we were filming and within our own group.”

The exchange of cultures, Professor Wuerffel says, is one of the aspects that make the Valpo campus so dynamic. And as the University continues to expand its international outreach, students and faculty will have increased opportunities to engage with and learn about cultures that are different from their own. Professor Wuerffel, Saddam, and Sarhang each brought a unique perspective to the documentary, and the project has been truly collaborative. Not only have they gained a deeper understanding of the Syrian refugee crisis, but they’ve also learned more about each other, their own cultural perspectives, and how to work together as a team.

“In our group we have a Kurdish Muslim, an Arab Muslim, and an American Lutheran,” Professor Wuerffel says. “Through our work, we were able to have very intense, meaningful conversations about everything from gender identity to cultural norms and international politics. It was an incredible opportunity for all three of us and a model for the ways the University can continue to build an international, diverse community.”

Both Saddam and Sarhang are from Erbil, which is the capital of Kurdish Region, Iraq. The Kurdish people span across Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria, and Iraqi Kurdistan is unique in that it is autonomous. Sarhang says he was impressed by the Kurdish people and government’s willingness to help those who fled Syria, even reprioritizing their own goals to help this population. He was able to interview the governor, who acknowledged that even though these refugees are not from Iraq, they are all Kurdish, and it is important for them to help each other.

“This is about more than being Iraqi or Syrian or Kurdish,” Sarhang says. “This is about humanity.”

The most recently published information from the UN Refugee Agency states there are more than 13,000 refugees living in Kawergosk, which is one of many camps across Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. When the team wrapped filming, they had 150 hours of footage for a 30-minute documentary, featuring interviews in English, Arabic, and Kurdish. Because none of them speaks all three languages, they relied on each other to ask the right questions without in-the-moment translating. And they invoked the same kind of trust during post-production, which began late August.

“What I find exciting and what I love is that as we translate the interviews, the story is revealed to us line by line,” Professor Wuerffel says. “It’s been more than I ever expected it to be.”

The experience reminded each of them to be grateful for the basics — housing, sanitation, and security. Saddam says it was revelatory to see the conditions at the camp, which was just 30 minutes from his house in Erbil. For many people around the world, the crisis is just another news story — facts and figures that seem far away. But through this documentary, Professor Wuerffel and her students hope to showcase the human side.

“We’re more connected digitally than ever before. The Syrian war is one of the most visible wars, through cell phone videos and Internet sharing,” Professor Wuerffel says. “What might be missing is the human connection that storytelling provides. It’s easy to create distance. But when you encounter a person who explains the story of her or his life, it’s hard to get away from that. There’s power in storytelling.”

The team expects to complete a rough cut of the documentary in December. Professor Wuerffel says there are three primary goals for their project: to raise awareness of the Syrian refugee crises in the Kurdish region, to educate people about the complexities of the issues and the region, and to paint a portrait of this particular camp.

Nearly 8,000 miles separated Mercy Ngetich ’15, who grew up in remote village in Nakuru, Kenya, and Valparaiso University. On the surface, differences between the two communities are apparent. But both have a strong faith in the power of education.

A chance encounter on an airplane between Mercy’s aunt, Lucy Borus, and Valpo graduate Tina Hodges ’82 brought them together. The two stayed in touch and often discussed issues affecting women and girls in Africa. When their conversations turned to education, they talked about ways to provide female scholars from the developing world with access to education. Lucy suggested starting with her niece, Mercy, an excellent student with great ambition.

“Educating girls is one of the most effective ways of making positive changes worldwide,” says Joanne Laatsch ’82 Lehmann, Tina’s former college roommate. Joanne serves as Mercy’s host mother and was instrumental in bringing her to the United States.

“Access and opportunity are available in abundance to American students,” Joanne says. “We hope to afford the same access and opportunity to other deserving women around the world.”

Joanne, Tina, and several others began a fundraising campaign with St. Peter Lutheran church in Portage, Ind. Already more than $40,000 has been raised to give students like Mercy the opportunity to study at Valpo.

A finance major, Mercy is seeking a bachelor of science in business administration. She also serves as treasurer of the Valparaiso University African Student Association (VUASA) and hopes to eventually earn an MBA and a Ph.D.

These future plans would not be possible without Valpo, she says.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Mercy says. “I never thought that one day I would come to a university in America and have my tuition paid. Valpo is changing my life.”

Mercy is also grateful for her leadership role in VUASA, which will prepare her to be a leader in the community when she returns to Kenya. Because she was given the opportunity to study in the United States, Mercy is now focused on how she can help others.

“Everyone back home finds this to be an incredible opportunity,” she says. “They are so proud of me. I feel like a source of inspiration to the people in my village.”

Though Mercy’s plans for the future are still developing, she hopes to return to her village and work in her community so that others may have the same opportunity that she did.

And while she feels quite homesick, she acknowledges her mentors, professors, and especially her parents for cheering her on.

“They are the people behind my success,” Mercy says. “They have encouraged me since I started going to school. The list of people who inspire me is endless, and I appreciate each and every one of them.”

A quick glance at the headlines on recent sports pages can give even the most star-struck athletics fan a healthy dose of cynicism. However, sports often provide a temporary departure from the mundane motions and rituals of everyday life. At times, sports can even provide a platform for positive societal change.

So when the Valpo men’s soccer team created the #oneVALPO initiative, which states that individuals will promise to show respect for all others regardless of beliefs or backgrounds, it lent assurance that, at least on one level of athletics, goodwill was being pursued. The initiative also calls for the elimination of disrespectful and derogatory remarks, education about other cultures, and a celebration of others’ differences. Knowing how it came to be is half the inspiration.

Last season, Coach Mike Avery‘s squad was in the midst of its early, non-conference portion of the schedule when a couple of his African-American players were subjected to racial slurs. Retaliation can be the knee-jerk reaction, but Coach Avery and his staff ultimately decided the pen was mightier than the sword.

From there, the men’s soccer club crafted the #oneVALPO promise. The men’s soccer team consists of players from around the world, including Jamaica, Guinea, France, El Salvador, and Canada, and the movement seemed appropriate for such a diverse group.

The promise reads:

“I promise to show respect for all others regardless of race, ethnicity, color, religion, nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, physical ability, or mental ability.

I promise to refrain from using derogatory terms that may be harmful or disrespectful to others.

I promise to educate myself about cultures different from my own.

I promise to celebrate the opportunity to stretch and strengthen my own understanding of the world around me, and to engage and contribute to the diversity of my community.

I promise to celebrate the diversity I encounter just as I celebrate my own individuality.

I promise to remember that our true potential rests in our ability to tap into each of our unique characteristics, strengths and gifts, and to remember that together we are more than we are alone.”

For the head soccer coach, who is currently serving his eighth year at Valpo, this initiative hits home.

With the help of an agency three years ago, Coach Avery and his wife, Carin, head coach of volleyball, adopted their son, Kasongo, a young boy from Africa. “K.J.” has been a source of both joy and goodwill for the Avery’s as well as their biological son, Alex.

“People come up to us all the time and say ‘What a wonderful thing you’ve done.’ We weren’t trying to save the world by adopting him,” Coach Avery says. “We were trying to grow our family. We wanted to give Alex a brother. It’s enriched our family’s life much more. We’re the winners.”

In growing his family, Coach Avery also cultivated a more tolerant and unified student-athlete base. And all it took was a pen and paper.

Perhaps the best aspect of the #oneVALPO initiative is the simplicity behind it. Coach Avery asks for no money — just a signature and a promise to respect other cultures and backgrounds.

The men’s soccer team has been met with overwhelming support, both within the Valpo community and afar. All 19 varsity sports have signed the #oneVALPO pledge. Each opponent they’ve faced has signed it as well. The initiative has gained significant traction and raised eyebrows along the way. Coach Avery estimates more than 100 groups and/or individuals have signed the commitment, including members of the sorority and fraternity community and students, faculty, and staff across campus.

There is no pre-determined number of signatures sought for the #oneVALPO initiative, but Coach Avery does envision that Alex and K.J. will sign the pledge here as students someday.

He concedes this project is bigger than soccer, or even Valparaiso University. But through his actions as well as his words, he has fostered a culture of acceptance and tolerance. That culture has enabled Coach Avery and his coaching staff to enjoy a great deal of success on the field and on the recruiting trail.

“This goes right along with what the University is trying to achieve with extending our reach to international students. This is a wonderful institution for an international student. You get the personal touch of a smaller school, but you also get big-time athletics,” Coach Avery says.

On a bright but chilly morning, just one of many this fall, Provost Mark L. Biermann, Ph.D., strolls through the Christopher Center reflecting on how his path led to his tenure as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Valparaiso University, where he serves as the chief administrator for academic programs. In addition, he provides oversight for student affairs, campus ministries, and the Cresset literary magazine.

For Provost Biermann, the path to Valpo is rooted in his deep understanding of call and vocation.

“I wouldn’t have come to Valpo if I didn’t have a strong sense of calling, which comes from my faith background. Faith is central to who I am,” says Provost Biermann. “Throughout the search process, my sense of calling became stronger and stronger, and I firmly believe this is where I should be at this particular juncture.”

Provost Biermann thoughtfully relates his sense of calling and purpose back to Valpo’s commitment to the intersection of faith and learning. His field of study, optics, which researches the behavior and properties of light, is perhaps symbolic considering Valpo’s motto “In Thy Light, We See Light.” But for Provost Biermann, the relationship between science and faith is an important facet of life.

“Science is a powerful lens through which we know more about the Creator and the creation God gave us,” he says. “In science, we can see better by using a lens. In the same way, science allows us to better see how God is revealed in nature.”

Like many students who come to Valpo, it was Provost Biermann’s early discovery, exposure, and research that led him to study optics. It began during his freshman year of high school, when he wrote a research paper about lasers. From there, Provost Biermann’s curiosity took him to places he never imagined. During his junior year of high school, he applied and was admitted to the University of Rochester’s optics program, where his appreciation for the field of study grew. He then pursued a Ph.D. in order to continue his research and share his wisdom with others through teaching.

In recent years, Provost Biermann has devoted his attention to academic administration, where his passion for teaching remains. “I desperately miss teaching. I desperately miss being in the classroom with the students,” he says. “As an academic administrator, if you don’t have a real love for teaching and scholarship, then your chances of being really effective decrease. You have to love what you’re trying to support.”

Since he began his position on July 1, Provost Biermann has acclimated to the University’s culture and worked diligently to apply his expertise to the academic environment. He finds Valpo’s sense of purpose and intentionality especially intriguing.

“The University’s position as an independent Lutheran University has allowed it to construct its identity without external pressure from outside organizations,” he says. “This allows Valpo to address the needs of the world in an extremely thoughtful and vibrant way. These qualities make Valpo distinctive, and they permeate through everything we do here.”

In his role, Provost Biermann hopes to advance Valpo’s distinctiveness by implementing and strengthening a variety of academic programs and experiential learning opportunities. He says there is an incredible opportunity to develop well-rounded students, because Valpo exists as a liberal arts institution with a strong interdependent system of professional colleges and programs.

“I have never seen a dichotomy between professional studies and the liberal arts. From my perspective, I always saw them as fully integrated; that in order to be the most effective engineer, you need an incredibly strong grounding in the liberal arts. And the liberal arts are enhanced when you can see their application into professional areas.”

The recent addition of several professional programs, including physician assistant studies and public health, strengthens Valpo’s liberal arts tradition and positions the University to strategically serve the demands of the community and the world.

“The combination of these two programs launching at the same time speaks volumes about Valpo’s attentiveness to the needs of our society,” he says.

Along with curricular additions, Provost Biermann is also eager to enhance and expand the study abroad experience as well as Valpo’s partnerships with study centers worldwide. The University’s recent partnership with Generation Study Abroad, an initiative aimed to double the amount of students who study abroad by 2020, aligns with his interest in experiential learning.

“Study Abroad provides a wonderful foundation for students to build a strong inclusive approach to the world, where, no matter what the world throws at them, they can be ready and be prepared.”

Although his position keeps him immensely occupied, Provost Biermann tries to take time to enjoy life outside of work. He spends most of his free time with his wife, Lois, and their daughters, Grace, 15, and Hope, 12.

Additionally, Provost Biermann’s appreciation for optics extends into his personal life, where he dabbles in photography.

“I’ve been taking pictures my whole life, an interest inspired by my dad. When he was in Korea at the end of the Korean War, he bought a Kodak rangefinder and shot several thousand slides,” he says. “I grew up looking at all these pictures, and my brothers and I would beg him to see them over and over again. And so, with my background in optics as well as my dad’s passion for photography, I just became very interested in it early on.”

The ways in which Provost Biermann’s personal interests coalesce with his professional background indicate that he has found his vocation in academia. His enthusiasm for education, self-discovery, and wisdom permeates through everything he does, in both his personal and professional life. And just like the sun rising on a chilly morning, Provost Biermann’s reflection shines bright at Valpo.

Acclaimed sculpture installation “Borders” comes to Valpo, the first college campus to host the exhibition after prominent displays at the United Nation Headquarters in New York City and Grant Park in Chicago.

Light and shadow. Heaven and earth. Division and unity. The themes present in the 22 figures that make up “Borders,” by renowned Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir, reflect many aspects of the human condition and allow viewers to experience the silent dialogue across invisible boundaries.

Thórarinsdóttir originally conceptualized the installation for the Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza by the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, and it has since traveled to prominent locations including Seattle, Dallas, and Chicago. The 11 life-sized pairs observe invisible borders that keep them forever separated, and yet the similarities between the pairs, and among all the figures, acknowledge a shared nature.

“The idea is to emphasize the fact that we are different, but at the same time we are really connected and the same,” Thórarinsdóttir said. “Even though this installation was first thought of for the specific site in New York City, these figures find their home somehow.”

Through the contrasting materials, Thórarinsdóttir hopes to capture the essence of the human condition. The installation engages viewers in a direct and intimate way as they navigate between the divide and find connections among mirroring figures.

On display along the path between the Harre Union, Chapel of the Resurrection, and Center for the Arts, the sculptures complement Valparaiso University’s vision, encouraging students, faculty, and staff to celebrate both their similarities and differences as a diverse community.

Laura Becker ’15, a communication major with a sociology minor, always knew she would one day call Valpo her home. Coming from a long legacy of family members who attended Valpo, brown and gold is in her blood.

“I took several trips to Valpo as a child to visit family members,” Laura says. “Every time I visited, I became more excited about the possibility of attending.”

Both of Laura’s parents, Michael and Sandy Dierberg ’83 Becker, attended Valpo as undergraduate students. Twenty-three years later, Laura’s older brother Jonathon ’10 followed in his parents’ footsteps to Valpo, where he met his wife, Lydia ’11.

“Valpo was a big part of my life even before I looked at colleges,” Laura says. “My family cares deeply about and is strongly connected to the University.”

When Laura made her first official visit to the University, she stayed with her then future sister-in-law, which solidified her decision to attend. “Visiting Lydia helped me understand that Valpo is not just a great school—it is a great community,” she says.

While she certainly had a plethora of familial role models to help her navigate the Valpo culture and experience, Laura made her time at Valpo her own. With a passion for leadership and service, Laura is involved in Kappa Delta sorority and serves as vice president of Bacchus Gamma, an organization that focuses on helping students make healthy decisions. In addition, Laura is the president of the Senior Programming Council.

“Being involved has been an integral part of my Valpo experience,” Laura says. “It has helped me become more active with the community and provided me with a great social circle.”

Along with getting involved and making lifelong friends, Laura’s time at Valpo has enabled her to discern her calling and purpose. With professors, course materials, and peers who emphasize vocation and service, Laura identified her passion quickly.

“I have learned a lot at Valpo, and one of the most valuable things I have learned is the importance of giving back,” Laura says. “I want to have a job where I can make a difference in the lives of other people.” Utilizing her communication and sociology degree, Laura hopes to find a position at a non-profit organization after she graduates.

“Laura is always willing to step up and take on important roles within her organization,” says Natalie Muskin-Press, staff advisor of Kappa Delta and Bacchus Gamma. “She has great self-awareness and takes direction easily, which are signs that she will be successful in the future.”

Building on her family’s legacy and tradition, Laura now sees the entire Valpo community as an extension of her family. “I often refer to Valpo as a family, and I think it is,” she says. “I really value being at a place that encourages a strong community.”

Amanda Werling ’14 was a sophomore in Valpo’s College of Nursing and Health Professions when she spent six weeks working in the emergency room of a small health center in the village of Engaruka, Tanzania. The journey that would lead her halfway around the world and strengthen her decision to pursue a future in health care began many years ago.

“My grandma had a stroke when I was in first grade,” she explains. “After that, I spent summers with her, and I realized how much I like to care for people. As a witness to the recovery process, I realized the difference medicine makes in people’s lives.”

Lynette Rayman, a professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, encouraged Amanda to pursue a study-abroad opportunity in Tanzania to help doctors treat illnesses and assist in occasional surgeries. As a life-long Lutheran and recipient of a Valparaiso Lutheran Leaders Scholarship, she had always believed in the connection between faith and healthy living. However, she had no idea how much witnessing differences in health care would challenge her both mentally and spiritually.

Describing the hospital, Amanda recalls scenes she witnessed daily. “People lined the halls waiting for help but were unable to pay for treatment. After doctors told them to leave the hospital, the patients would sit in the street along the side of the building,” Amanda says.

Amanda knew leaving those patients to suffer unattended wasn’t right. So when she encountered a young boy outside the hospital bleeding and struggling to hold himself upright, she took him back into the hospital and insisted he be seen by a doctor.

“The small boy was stumbling out of the building, and then he collapsed,” Amanda says. “I told the nurse I was working with, ‘He’s not OK, and he’s not going to be OK, and you need to do something about it’.”

The boy was brought back into the hospital and treated by doctors. But the experience, Amanda explains, was just one of many in Tanzania that helped her realize the importance of proper emergency care for all people, regardless of who they are or where they live.

“Traveling abroad and working in the ER taught me to fight for those who have no one to fight for them,” Amanda says. “I realized I love the intensity of treating so many different people in a variety of situations.”

It’s these challenging, cross-cultural experiences that Professor Rayman knows are so valuable to students who seek a profession in health care.

“Studying abroad is an excellent way to see cultural, financial, and ethnic differences that enable students to start to empathize with and understand their patients and families in whatever area they chose to practice,” Professor Rayman says.

“When working as a nurse, it is crucial to remember that you have an impact on patients and families during both the lowest and highest points in their lives,” Professor Rayman continues. “Showing empathy and understanding the situation differentiates a good nurse from a great one. Amanda will be a great nurse.”

For Amanda, the experience Valpo provided her played an integral role in reinforcing her passion for a career in health care, and she hopes to one day return to Tanzania.

“The ER is where my passion lies,” Amanda says, and she knows her experience at Valpo gave her the foundation she needs to pursue her dreams.

“The College of Nursing and Health Professions prepared me for the future by educating me in all aspects of life, including the spiritual, altruistic, and medical aspects,” Amanda says. “It is my faith that has taught me to serve,” Amanda explains, and it was her experience abroad where she found her true purpose.

The late 90s represented the pinnacle of basketball fever at Valparaiso University.

The Drew family cemented their legacy by coupling Valpo Athletics’ hallmark moment — “The Shot” — with three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Women’s basketball enjoyed a 72-42 record from fall 1996 through spring 2000. The campus was engulfed in school spirit and enthusiasm as Valparaiso University penetrated its brown and gold pin on the college hoops map. All was well in Northwest Indiana.

The pandemonium and nostalgia of March Madness in 1998 resonate deeply with Crusader faithful. But while one of college basketball’s most famous father-son duos took the world by storm, a young woman quietly spent her afternoons inside the Athletics-Recreation Center preparing to compete at a world-class level.

For Patty Cisneros ’00, the path to glory was paved with hardship. One of 10 children, Patty began her post-secondary studies at Indiana University in fall 1996. The three-sport athlete’s life took a dramatic turn after she was involved in an automobile accident. She transferred to Valparaiso University shortly after the devastating crash to earn her Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education with a reading endorsement. Facing extraordinary obstacles at 18, Patty found wheelchair basketball to be most therapeutic.

“When I moved back to Northwest Indiana, I joined a women’s team through the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Express. From there, I learned of all of the possibilities of sports available to those with a disability, and of the Paralympics quickly thereafter,” Patty said.

The Paralympics occur parallel to the Olympic Games, and Patty’s first taste of the international competition came in Sydney, Australia, during the 2000 Summer Games. Her team registered a fifth-place finish in the Land Down Under.

Learning from her experience in Sydney, Patty returned to the prime-time stage in Athens in 2004 with a sharpened focus. There, Patty and the United States women’s wheelchair basketball team defeated Australia in the Gold Medal game, and Patty became the first Valpo grad to don either an Olympic or Paralympic medal.

For an encore, she was captain of the American team that defended its title at the 2008 Beijing Games after besting Germany in the Gold Medal game.

Patty is quick to praise Bill Steinbrecher, Valpo’s former director of athletics for his contributions and commitment to her success.

“Bill Steinbrecher did everything he could to help me — whether it was getting a chair, scheduling times in the weight room, or sharing my story with the media,” Patty said.

A fellow member of the Valpo Athletics Hall of Fame, Steinbrecher speaks of Patty like a proud father would of his daughter.

“I recognized how self-sufficient Patty became following the accident. I admired her spirit and desire to get back into sports competition. I was so happy for her and her family on the day she graduated from Valparaiso University. She made the University proud, and she’s a young woman I’ll never forget,” Steinbrecher said.

Patty also remembers Homer Drew providing shooting tips during open gym on the court that would eventually bear his name. Basketball created an indelible bond between Patty and the staff at Valpo.

Much has changed for Patty since hearing the Star-Spangled Banner atop the podium in Beijing six years ago. She is set to begin year five as a fourth-grade teacher in the Denver Public School system and is married with a two-year-old daughter.

“Winning gold medals, I thought, was the most incredible experience of my life, but really it was my daughter,” Patty said with a wide smile.

Bryce Drew will always have “The Shot,” but Patty Cisneros owns gold.

Thousands have had their photo taken in front of the White House, countless visitors have toured the White House, but few can say they have spent part of their undergraduate academic career interning inside of the White House. For Nate King ’15, a student in Valparaiso University’s Christ College — The Honors College, stepping through the doors of the White House was a reality nearly every day for an entire semester while he completed a communications internship during the Lutheran College Washington Semester.

“Being in the White House — given the history of the building — was a very powerful experience for me and one that I hope will serve me well in the future,” he said.

Nate was part of a group of five Valpo students who traveled to Washington D.C. for the semester-long program, which provides students with real-world work experience and prepares them for future careers. The program highlights professional experience as its centerpiece, and students attend class one day a week. Students also tour landmarks and monuments, volunteer at non-profit organizations, and attend sporting events and enjoy other area attractions.

Nate worked as a portfolio professional in the Office of Presidential Correspondence and was responsible, along with others in the office, for coordinating President Barack Obama’s correspondence. He was involved in receiving, processing, and responding on behalf of the president to thousands of emails, letters, and phone calls each day.

With more than 300 million people living in the United States alone, the president needs assistance with the daunting task of ensuring the many citizens who reach out to him at the White House are heard. Nate played a significant role in this respect and was responsible for analyzing and coding specific sections of mail, as well as working on the White House comment line to help the president process feedback from the American people.

This experience gave Nate invaluable insight to the United States democratic government and a deeper understanding to the importance of facilitating communication. And while he may not have all the answers as he sets forth with his career, Nate hopes to use and apply the newfound skills, talents, and knowledge acquired through this internship to his future plans in the political sector or a religious setting.

“I’m very thankful to attend Valpo where the opportunity to work at the White House and a semester-long academic program is available. It’s another facet of my education that has blown me away and shaped me as the person I’m going to be, and I’m grateful,” Nate said.

Valpo is part of a consortium of 13 private Lutheran colleges and universities who offer the Lutheran College Washington Semester. Any Valpo junior or senior with a 3.0 can apply for the program from any department or discipline, and three to five students typically participate each semester.

Because the program has existed for nearly 20 years, there are many Valpo alumni who have participated in the semester and now work in the greater D.C. area. These alumni continue to support the program and help Valpo students find internships at places like the Federal Reserve, Interpol, the Smithsonian, and the Department of Justice.

“Nate pursued the White House all on his own. He’s quite impressive,” said Professor Amy Atchison, who coordinates the program. “Because of the confidential nature of President Obama’s correspondence, Nate couldn’t even talk about what he did or where he was situated in the building.”

Nate is also a Lutheran Leader on campus, an ambassador through the undergraduate admission office, a campus tour guide, and a phone counselor for prospective students. He writes for the student newspaper, is involved with Student Action Leadership Team (SALT), and is a member of Phi Delta Theta.

In summer 2014, Nate returned to Washington, D.C., as a CAPS Fellow through Valpo’s new Institute for Leadership and Service. The CAPS Fellows Program, which received support in its pilot year from alumni Peter and Bonnie Raquet and from Lilly Endowment Inc., helps students to develop their sense of Calling and Purpose in Society through intensive experiential learning opportunities. Nate is spending his CAPS summer at Lutheran Services in America, focusing on social media advocacy strategies and policy research, attending legislative briefings and Congressional hearings, and tracking legislation on human trafficking. He and the other Fellows will share their experiences on the CAPS Fellows Blog.

“I’m very open at this point to what my future would hold, whether it’s in a faith-based field or in a secular organization,” Nate said. “My semester in D.C. helped me to develop an understanding that my purpose will be related to helping people communicate a message to a greater audience. I’m not sure what package that’s going to come in, whether that’s sharing the gospel with people or clarifying political rhetoric, but Valpo has helped me understand that whatever the shape of my vocation is, I’ll be serving God in some way through communication.”

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