May 17, 2011. That was the day Homer Drew announced that his 22nd season as head coach of the Valparaiso men’s basketball program had been his final season at the helm.

After a brief intermission, Homer’s son, Bryce Drew, was introduced as the 21st head coach in program history. During his remarks, Bryce Drew jokingly thanked his dad for leaving at least one more thing that could be accomplished — the ability to win a Horizon League championship.

Homer Drew’s final team in 2010–2011 won 23 games and came as close as the Crusaders had been to winning the Horizon League title since joining the league, finishing the regular season just one game out of a share of the regular season championship.

Little did Bryce Drew know at the time he made those comments that less than five years later, he would have led Valparaiso on one of the more impressive stretches in Horizon League history. The Crusaders are just the third program in league history to win at least four regular season titles in a five-year stretch, joining Xavier and Butler.

2011–2012 — The Beginning

Bryce Drew’s first team was one which entered the season with low expectations. The Crusaders lost their top two scorers from the previous year and returned less than 40% of their scoring. Accordingly, Valparaiso was picked just fifth in the Horizon League preseason poll and earned no first-place votes.

But a pair of juniors would step up into leadership roles to lead the way for Valpo in Drew’s first season. Ryan Broekhoff emerged as a superstar, going from a Second Team All-League pick in the preseason to the Horizon League Player of the Year by year’s end. Meanwhile, Kevin Van Wijk went from scoring just over five points per game in 2010–2011 to a 14 ppg scorer in 2011–2012 and developed into one of the league’s prominent post players, also earning First Team All-League accolades.

The Horizon League slate started with a monumental win for Valpo, with the Crusaders going to Indianapolis in early December and beating Butler in Hinkle Fieldhouse for the first time since 1988. But the momentum wouldn’t carry over for the Crusaders through a nearly four-week break from league play, as Valpo would drop two of its next four league games and exit a January 8 contest at Wright State just 3-2 in Horizon League action.

But with a balanced Horizon League, the Crusaders were still just one game back of first place in the standings and took full advantage, winning eight of their next nine games. A win February 9 at Cleveland State — Valpo’s first at CSU since joining the league — capped the stretch, completed a season sweep of CSU and moved the Crusaders ahead of the Vikings in the league standings, with a two-game lead on the rest of the field.

Valpo would drop its next game at Youngstown State, but rebounded with a home win over UIC on February 14 to set itself up for a chance to clinch its first Horizon League title against Loyola one week later. It took five minutes longer than the team and fans might have liked, but the Crusaders got the job done against the Ramblers, as a 66-62 overtime victory secured the league crown. Valpo finished out the regular season with a decisive win over Butler, as the Crusaders closed the Horizon League with a 14-4 record, winning the league title by two games in Bryce Drew’s first season at the helm.

2012–2013 — Redemption

While Bryce Drew’s first season at the helm resulted in a Horizon League regular season championship, there was a sour taste in the Crusaders’ mouths entering the 2012–2013 season. Detroit downed Valpo by 20 points at the Athletics-Recreation Center in the tournament title game to deny the Crusaders a chance to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

With six seniors leading the way, including All-League selections in Broekhoff and Van Wijk, Valpo was the nation’s most experienced team heading into the 2012–2013 campaign, and expectations were high. The tables were turned from the previous season, as after being picked fifth in 2011–2012, the Crusaders were a near-unanimous favorite to repeat as league champions in 2012-13, receiving 40 of 44 first-place votes.

Valpo found out quickly, however, that being the hunted was a much different task than being the hunter. In the Crusaders’ very first league game at the ARC against Loyola on January 2, they came out flat and suffered the consequences, falling 63-54 to the Ramblers. The lesson was learned swiftly though, as Valpo rebounded with six consecutive victories, including comebacks from 11 points down with three minutes to play at Detroit and seven points down with seven minutes remaining against Wright State.

The Crusaders’ winning streak came to an end at the hands of Youngstown State on January 30, but Valpo still closed the first half of league play all alone atop the standings — a position it would not relinquish the rest of the season. A win at Loyola set the Crusaders up for a chance to secure their second straight regular season title against Youngstown State on Senior Night, and the group of six seniors made sure they would earn a second straight ring, downing the Penguins 73-64. Valpo then went into Green Bay to close out the regular season and clinched a second consecutive outright title with a 75-56 victory, finishing the league slate at 13-3.

This time, the run would not come up short of the ultimate goal, either. Despite trailing in the waning seconds of the league tournament semifinal against Green Bay, Broekhoff connected on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer for a thrilling 70-69 win to send the Crusaders to the title game. Then, three nights later, tournament MVP Erik Buggs scored a career-high 22 points and Valpo rallied from down six points with 5:37 to play for a 62-54 win over Wright State, winning its first league tournament championship and returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.

2014–2015 — The New Era

After a fourth-place finish in the 2013–2014 regular season, Drew welcomed back just seven letterwinners from that year’s team in 2014–2015, including less than 50% of their scoring from the previous season. Sophomore Alec Peters was a preseason First Team All-League selection, but with just two seniors on the team, and with five players seeing their first action at Valpo, expectations were tempered, with most believing the best was to come in 2015–2016 and beyond. Accordingly, Valpo was selected fourth in the Horizon League preseason poll, receiving no first-place votes.

The notion that the season might become something special started in the pre-league slate. Valpo dropped its second game of the season at Missouri, and also fell at home to New Mexico, but other than that, suffered no defeats. A one-two punch at the start of the Horizon League schedule seemed like it might knock Valpo back down to earth, though. First, the Crusaders opened league play at Oakland and suffered an 89-75 overtime loss.

Then, two days later in a home win over Youngstown State, Keith Carter suffered a dislocated toe late in the victory. For a Valpo squad already playing without incumbent starting point guard Lexus Williams due to an offseason knee injury, the loss of Carter left the Crusaders down to their third and fourth options at the point, in the form of E. Victor Nickerson, himself coming off double hip surgery, and Max Joseph.

Nickerson and Joseph, along with the rest of the Crusaders, stepped up to the task, however, winning the next four games, including three by double figures. A loss at Green Bay by one point in a game where Valpo had two shots in the final minute to take the lead didn’t slow the team down, as three days later, the Crusaders returned home and beat Milwaukee by 25 points.

Then, the young Valpo squad showed it could handle late-game pressure. After winning 15 of their first 19 games by double figures, the Crusaders won six consecutive games by single digits. A home win over Green Bay on February 13 moved Valpo into sole possession of first place in the league standings, and two wins later, the Crusaders were on the verge of securing another league title.

The first time would not be the charm for Valpo in 2014–2015, as the Crusaders let their first chance to win the championship slip away at Detroit in a loss. But Valpo was not to be denied, traveling to Cleveland State two nights later to face a rested Vikings team. With everything on the line, the Crusaders put together one of their best all-around efforts of the year, stifling Cleveland State defensively and getting a dagger of a shot on a four-point play from Peters with 1:11 to play in a 56-53 victory to finish Horizon League play at 13-3.

And just as the Crusaders did in 2012–2013, Valpo took advantage of the home court advantage at the ARC to claim the league tournament title as well. The Crusaders pulled out a hard-fought semifinal win over Cleveland State before locking down defensively for a come-from-behind victory over Green Bay to earn the championship and win their school-record 28th game. Then, in the NCAA Tournament, Valpo played step-for-step with Maryland all the way to the final buzzer, falling by just three points.

2015–2016 — Great Expectations

Expectations were already going to be high entering the 2015–2016 season, with Valpo returning nearly every member of its regular rotation from the 2014–2015 season. But during the summer, expectations got even higher when the program announced that Vashil Fernandez had been granted a fourth year of eligibility by the NCAA and would be returning for his final year as a Crusader — meaning that the team had 99 percent of its scoring and rebounding back from last season’s team.

Heavy favorites in the Horizon League, Valpo received unprecedented national attention during the regular season. Top-25 votes became the norm for the Crusaders. Tweets lauding Drew’s coaching, the play of Peters, or the shot-blocking ability of Fernandez were no longer confined just to national television appearances. This iteration of the Valpo men’s basketball team would have to learn to deal with being the hunted every time out.

The Crusaders handled that pressure well in the non-league slate against a challenging schedule which ended up featuring a number of league champions. A nationally-televised win at Rhode Island highlighted a grueling early stretch of five games in eight days, and Valpo later went on to split the Pac-12 Oregon trip, losing a narrow decision at Oregon before winning at Oregon State — a pair of results on that road trip matched by only two Pac-12 teams this season.

Valpo entered Horizon League play with a 10-3 record and then put together an unprecedented set of results in program history. The Crusaders won each of their first six league games, including games at Oakland and at Detroit, by at least 12 points apiece — the first time a Valpo team has won six consecutive league games by double figures.

A slip-up at Wright State dealt the Crusaders their first blemish, but they would bounce back with five more double-figure wins in a row. Another loss to the Raiders — Valpo’s first defeat at the ARC since December of 2014 — seemed like it might open the door for another team at the top of the Horizon League standings, but Valpo quickly squashed that notion, as an easy win at Cleveland State afforded the Crusaders the ability to clinch another league title at home.

A hard-fought nationally-televised two-point victory over second-place Oakland — the Crusaders’ first single-digit win of the Horizon League slate — set up the potential to win the championship on Senior Day at home against Detroit, and that Valpo did, leading start-to-finish over the Titans. The cherry on top of the Horizon League schedule came last weekend in Wisconsin, as the Crusaders pulled out a pair of dramatic victories — Carter’s 3-pointer late in overtime helping Valpo to a four-point win at Milwaukee, and Shane Hammink nailing a 3-pointer with two seconds to play for a two-point victory at Green Bay.

The five straight wins send Valpo into the upcoming Horizon League Championship at Joe Louis Arena at 26-5 overall, just two wins shy of matching last season’s program-record 28 victories. The Crusaders also finished the Horizon League schedule at 16-2 and won the league title by three full games — the first time any team has done that since the 2009–2010 Butler team, which went on to the national championship game.

Xavier won six Horizon League regular season titles in an eight-year span from 1987 to 1995. Butler won four consecutive championships from 1999 to 2003 and five more titles from 2006 to 2011. Valparaiso has now joined that group as the only programs in league history to win at least four regular season championships in a five-year span, led to all four titles by Bryce Drew. A coach who joked at his introductory press conference about being thankful there was at least one thing left to accomplish, now has accomplished it four times over.

First-generation student and fearless leader; a head for business and a heart for community; fraternity brother and focused communicator; mentee and mentor; embracing diversity and empowering others; inspired and inspiring. Already exhibiting a myriad of defining traits, Leandro Jaime ’16 is just beginning the journey to realizing his potential.

Valpo students are not defined by a single interest, but are challenged to expand their minds in academic pursuits, their hearts in service, and to explore their individual passions. Last year, in his state of the university address, President Heckler focused on the simple word “and.” Citing “Leadership and Service. Faith and Learning. Passion and Purpose.,” President Heckler acknowledged that at Valparaiso University, we have “unleashed the power of ‘and’.”

On Feb. 24, 2016, Valpo will host its inaugural TEDx event centered around that very concept — “the power of &.” Leandro serves as chair of the sponsorship and finance committee and raised $10,000, the maximum amount permitted for a first time event. Excited to bring this remarkable experience to Valpo, Leandro anticipates the event drawing the community together and sparking conversation about original, inspiring ideas.

Fully engaged since he stepped foot on the Valpo campus, Leandro is a business administration and finance major, member of Lambda Chi Alpha, SMART connections peer mentor, LIVE member, vice president of the Financial Management Association, and lead student ambassador at the Career Center. At Valpo, Leandro has expanded his knowledge and skills through a variety of pursuits outside the traditional academic setting. He has gained experience in business, developed leadership skills, learned the value of collaboration, and perhaps most importantly, he has been mentored to forge his own path — to find “the power of and” within himself.

“Leandro wonderfully exemplifies the combination of leadership and service, a combination that is much greater than its parts,” says Jon Bull, assistant professor of library services. “His approach to service is incomplete without confidence. For Leandro, the ‘Power of &’ means a distinctive way of being a leader, one where his supporters in the Valpo community lead him almost as much as he leads them.”

He was the ideal candidate for the TEDx chairmanship not only because of his interest and academic knowledge, but due to his experience. As Leandro acknowledges, “running organizations isn’t something new to me, thanks to Valpo and all the experiences I’ve been exposed to here.”

“I was excited to infuse the TEDx brand, which carries a certain weight, with the name of Valparaiso University,” says Leandro. “This was yet another opportunity for me to get involved at Valpo, to gain experience leading a project, and to bring attention to our unique campus.”

Armed with little more than the event’s theme — ”The Power of &” — Leandro was tasked with the integral role of attracting sponsors. At first a daunting endeavor, he leaned on the event’s theme for support to attract campus organizations as sponsors, highlighting how the TEDx topic relates to their values. He recognized that “and” is at work all around Valpo through opportunities such as internships, research projects, Study Abroad trips, and service work.

For Leandro, “the power of and” means, “You’re more than the career you choose as you have a variety of other interests and passions. I may be a finance student who’s interested in investment banking, but that doesn’t mean I’m not also interested in nurturing others, sharing my experiences, community service, … the list goes on. There’s a lot of diversity you can have in your life, and it’s not limited by your title, where you’re from, your skin color, or anything at all.”

This experience reinforced Leandro’s resolve to one day run an organization of his own. He honed his marketing and sales skills, developed as a leader, strategized in collaboration with fellow students and faculty advisors, and learned the importance of being passionate about his work.

“Like so many of my experiences here at Valpo, my role as the TEDx sponsorship and finance committee chair will definitely benefit my future career,” says Leandro. “Valpo has taught me about the importance of having social responsibility. Wherever my career takes me in the future, I will remember that there’s always something I can do for the community.”

While Leandro expresses a true appreciation for his Valpo experience, he continues to give back. The drive and passion he brings to the campus community will be felt wherever his path may lead.

Garbage and rubble still line the streets, remnants of a catastrophic earthquake that occurred more than five years ago, signs there is still much work to be done. Bryan Manalo ’11 sees “poverty everywhere” as he works alongside the United Nations, World Vision, and the United States Navy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He wonders where to start — what do the Haitian people really need?

Education is the key, according to Liah, a French/creole interpreter who was part of the working group during Bryan’s 2015 mission trip to Haiti. He expected to hear “donations,” of course, but the desire for education resonated with him.

“No matter how many donations they receive, or how many people reach out, only with proper education will they have a better future,” Bryan says. “People need to be educated in order to have a better foundation.”

The conversation reminded Bryan of a saying in his native Philippines — “You can take away all the riches of the world, but education is something you cannot take away from me.” The idea stayed with Bryan after his biological parents passed away and he moved with his adoptive parents to Chicago in 2004. He began his pursuit of a career in health care with community college initially, then transferred to Valpo in fall 2008 as a nursing major.

It was here at Valpo where Bryan discovered his passion for giving back to the community. He volunteered with students for the Valparaiso University Day of Caring and Relay for Life, as well as with the Boys and Girls Club of Porter County, and developed leadership skills through various organizations including the Student Nurse Association and Asian American Association.

These experiences prepared Bryan for his dream career in health care, and he now works at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago in the pediatric intensive care unit. He’s also pursuing an MBA and feels called to work in global health care, to work with marginalized populations.

Recognizing his skills, passion, and purpose, Bryan’s colleague recommended he look into Operation Smile. This led to his first mission trip to the Philippines, where he worked with a team providing free surgery to children with cleft lips and palates. He says he enjoyed giving back to his fellow Filipinos, particularly being able to help children, something he does every day at Lurie’s.

“Working with children in the ICU is really interesting — you see the sickest of the sick,” Bryan says. “You have to have a strong heart and a real passion to help sick children. At first it’s a little bit daunting, because their lives are basically in your hands. You really have to be knowledgeable and have a good foundation, which I believe Valpo gave me.”

Bryan says the College of Nursing and Health Professions honed his critical-thinking skills and the education and clinical experience he received helped him become “a good nurse and overall well-rounded individual.” He stays connected to the College, advising faculty members of internship and career opportunities for students and recent graduates, and updating Dean Janet Brown on his life and career. They traveled to Thailand together as part of a spring break trip, and since Bryan graduated Dean Brown has become his mentor, someone he can turn to for career advice and encouragement.

“Bryan is a true example of how students grow personally and professionally at Valpo,” Dean Brown says. “We are committed to offering experiences both inside and outside the classroom that develop students to excel the way Bryan has.”

Now, looking back to his trip to Haiti, Bryan remembers feelings of both despair and hope.

“The people of Haiti are very optimistic,” he says. “You’re surrounded by total craziness, but when you actually talk to the people, you get inspired. It’s very powerful.”

The experience strengthened his ambition to realize his purpose in global health care. He knows his time spent at Valpo helped set him on this path, and now he’s able to use his gifts to benefit children around the world. His trip to Thailand in particular was an important part of his Valpo experience, Bryan says, and he believes any student who has the opportunity to study or travel abroad should do so.

“Traveling abroad opens your mind and makes you a better person, because you get to know other cultures and languages,” he says. “It’s powerful. It’s an experience that you will never forget.

“It’s amazing, and Valpo gave that to me. I will forever be indebted to all the experiences I gained from Valpo.”

On a sunny day in September 1964, two freshmen were studying in the cafeteria in Wehrenberg Hall. They casually struck up a conversation, and the chance meeting in their first few weeks at Valpo sparked a more than 50-year tradition that continues today.

In September, Rick Filip ’68 and Bob O’Dell ’68 returned to campus to celebrate their 52nd Homecoming and Reunion Weekend.

“It gets put in the calendar every year and nothing gets in the way,” Rick says.

“That’s right,” Bob adds. “We’ve never missed a year.”

Their friendship, which spans more than five decades, began during those first weeks at Valpo. Rick studied marketing and management and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Bob pursued a degree in government and economics in the College of Arts and Sciences. Though they never had a class together, they continued to spend their time together at campus events and other social activities after that first encounter in the cafeteria.

Rick and Bob soon became great friends, then roommates after their freshman years. They lived together in Brandt Hall their sophomore year and pledged Sigma Pi together.

“Our junior year we lived in the Sig Pi house down on Morgan Street, and then our senior year was the best year, because we got a house on Flint Lake,” Rick remembers. “My saddest day was the day I had to graduate.”

Rick and Bob’s Valpo experience also included meeting their spouses. Of course, they were each other’s best men at their weddings. Rick married Leann Danneil ’69 Filip and Bob wed Patricia Connell ’72 O’Dell.

Their annual Valpo Homecoming trip grew and now includes a group of their closest Valpo friends.

“My wife Leann has two college roommates and we have two Sig Pi brothers whom we include, along with their spouses, and we all try to meet every Homecoming,” Rick says. “Our group includes Charles “Chuck” ’70 and Gayle Montie ’69 Gibbons, Henry “Hank” ’68 and Karen Swanson ’69 Rahmel, Ken ’68 and Linda Benson, and Gary Schuessler ’69.”

The pair couldn’t imagine not returning to celebrate Homecoming.

“Our best friends are our Valpo friends,” Rick says. “It’s us, our wives, our wives’ Valpo roommates and other friends — we’re all one big, happy family.”

Bob and Rick live more than 1,000 miles apart, but that hardly means Homecoming weekend is their only chance to catch up. Bob lives in The Villages, Fla., and his sons and their families live in suburban Dallas, not far from Rick’s home.

“I couldn’t have picked a better spot or better people for them to live near than Rick and Leann,” Bob says.

The group gathers the Saturday morning of Homecoming and Reunion Weekend in front of the bookstore in the Harre Union. There, they greet each other before making their way to Founder’s Table cafeteria to enjoy lunch and reminisce about great times spent at Valpo. After that, it’s off to see what’s new on campus.

The group also takes time on Saturday afternoon to visit Bob and Rick’s old home on Flint Lake and other Northwest Indiana gems that invoke nostalgia of their Valpo days, like the Indiana Dunes State Park.

“The guys like driving up to the Dunes or to New Buffalo to spend time outdoors, and the ladies will visit notable tourist locations and shop,” Rick says.

Before Bob, Rick, and their friends end their special Valpo weekend, they meet one final time for breakfast to reflect upon how Valpo brought them together and what a blessing they are to each other. Not that they’ll be apart long; they know they’ll see each other again soon for their annual spring cruise or trip to The Villages, Fla.

“Everyone gets together again for another trip. It’s a tradition we started about 10 years ago,” Bob says. “This friendship we’ve developed — it all started at Valpo — has extended to places across the United States.”

Every graduate can describe the “Valpo experience;” the special energy and pivotal moments when students create their own paths. For Bob and Rick, it’s the friendship they’ve cultivated with each other and with their college friends.

“The friendships we’ve developed over the years and the ability to track those friendships back to Valpo are what make our time there special for us,” Rick says. “Sharing our memories of what we used to do at Valpo and making new memories each year are what will continue to make our relationship to each other, and to Valpo, truly unique.”

After Valpo, Rick went on to a long and successful career at Hammermill Paper Company in Erie, Pa. He left Hammermill in 1991 to launch an insurance agency in Rockwall, Texas, he continues to operate today.

Bob started in the National Teacher Corps program after graduation and pursued a master’s degree in education to specialize teaching in inner-city school systems. He taught in Chicago for four years before enrolling at the Chicago-Kent College of Law.

“After teaching I went on to a private practice and then became a corporate and real estate attorney and worked for State Farm Insurance Company for the remainder of my career at its corporate headquarters in Bloomington, Ill.,” he says.

Though their careers have taken them far from each other, Bob and Rick know that each autumn will bring them together again to remember the start of a friendship that has spanned more than a half-century.

The bright lights illuminate the flawlessly manicured field at Alumni Stadium. A piercing wind amplifies the effects of an already bitter November evening. Scores of screaming, shirtless fanatics provide the soundtrack of another NCAA Tournament game held at Notre Dame.

For Vanesa Abad ’18, Nov. 14, 2014, was the day she found herself at the intersection of déjà vu and a self-fulfilled prophecy.

Vanesa’s journey through her first two years of college was a dizzying and unconventional one. Committed to competing at the highest level from a young age, the Barrington, Ill., native pledged her commitment to The Ohio State University while a junior at Lake Zurich High School. The Buckeyes were coming off a Sweet 16 appearance and were asserting themselves as a premier program within the fierce Big Ten.

The allure of Columbus faded, though.

As determined and driven as Vanessa is on the field, she possesses even more grit in the classroom. Initially a biology major, Vanesa made the transition to nursing before arriving in Ohio. It was a move that posed serious logistical concerns — clinicals coincided with the four-hour block of practice time in the spring.

To Vanesa’s credit, she thought outside the box in an attempt to make it work. She enrolled in night classes at a local community college. Eventually, enough was enough. Nursing and soccer were mutually exclusive.

Vanesa scrapped the scarlet and gray in favor of brown and gold after the spring of 2013.

She was immediately embraced by her new teammates. Vanesa credits goalkeeper Sydney Galvez-Daley for her guidance through the transition. Sydney, a transfer from Creighton the year prior, provided the two-time All-Area player with a primer on life at Valpo.

If there were any first-year jitters, they certainly didn’t show.

Time management and an indefatigable work ethic helped Vanesa ace her way to a 3.893 grade-point average in the classroom last year. On the field, she found the back of the net six times for the most dominant team in program history en route to Horizon League Freshman of the Year accolades.

She has aspirations of becoming an emergency room nurse after obtaining both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Valparaiso University. Vanesa says she embraces the split-second decision making necessary in such a high-pressure environment. That same moxie has made her one of the most dependable players on the roster.

 

Perhaps more than the awards, Vanesa cherishes her Valpo experience.

“Everyone here is very approachable and helpful. Whether it’s nursing or soccer, the faculty and coaches do everything to help you succeed,” she says.

The only people more elated to have Vanesa back in the Central time zone than the Crusader coaching staff are her parents. Vanesa spoke at great length about the influence her father, Michael, and mother, Ana, galvanized on the multi-sport athlete growing up.

“My mother never allowed me to lose focus on academics. She’s very pragmatic in the sense that she’s always made sure I have a back-up plan. My dad has been involved with the soccer side of things from day one,” Vanesa says.

At just under two hours, the drive from Barrington to Brown Field is one that permits her parents to attend home games. The Horizon League’s agreement with ESPN has allowed Michael, a chemical engineer, to track Vanesa and the Crusaders while traveling internationally to countries as far east as Lithuania.

It was Vanesa’s father, after all, who piqued her interest in soccer at a young age. Michael would take her and her sisters to Notre Dame for NCAA first-round matches. It was then, while a middle-schooler, that Vanesa conjured up dreams of taking the field at Alumni Stadium.

Move the needle a decade and there she was. The sights and sounds a touch more vivid in November 2014 than in November 2004. Valpo’s most magical season to date had its own storybook ending.

 

Photos provided by Adam Stepanek, VUSIT Convective Field Studies

Valpo’s renowned meteorology program annually graduates budding weather experts, but they’ve hardly spent all their time in classrooms.

Earlier this year, the Valparaiso University Storm Intercept Team (VUSIT) had an up-close look at a series of tornadoes that touched down in northern Illinois, including a deadly funnel cloud that hit the small town of Fairdale, about 100 miles west of Chicago.

IMG_5156The dangerous storm was on the ground for 41 minutes and rated a 4 out of 5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

There’s no way for the team to predict what it will see as it heads into storm areas, but the practice is nothing new at the University, where students have been chasing serious weather since the late 1990s.

“Every storm has its unique characteristics that make it hard to forecast,” says former VUSIT director Russell Danielson ’15. “So every time we track a storm it provides a new challenge for us.

“Being so close to something so powerful is a stunning experience. These storms cause incredible damage and put people’s lives at risk, so the amount of respect we have for these storms is humbling and keeps us out in the field chasing.”

The team, which had 53 members at the end of the 2014–2015 academic year, is made up mostly of meteorology majors. Bart Wolf, Ph.D., professor of geography, oversees its field activities, which include two 11-day summer chases each year. Several smaller outings, called day chases, also keep the VUSIT engaged and learning.

IMG_9646Russell says a four-year team member chases an average of 50 storms before graduating, and Professor Wolf says has been on nearly 100 outings with students.

“The severe storm field courses and day chase trips are fundamentally important,” Professor Wolf says. “They provide concrete ways for students to take the theories they learn in the classroom and apply them to real-world forecasting and logistical challenges the ever-changing atmosphere presents.

“These trips also are a means by which meteorology students can serve communities affected by these storms by providing detailed spotting and verification information.”

For most chases, the team is armed with two computers and CB radios, as well as equipment to track surface conditions. Team leaders monitor the computers for radar images while the remaining members take video and photos. The information is then pooled after the chase to assist younger meteorology majors.

IMG_2100“A big part of storm chasing is learning about severe weather because it is hard to learn about it in a classroom setting,” Russell says. “Students can learn a lot about storm structure and how the dynamics of storms work.”

But VUSIT activities focus on more than the needs of its members. It annually leads severe weather discussions and conducts outreach events to help area schoolchildren and adults learn more about preparing for heavy storms, tornadoes, and other events common to northwest Indiana.

While some may think of meteorology strictly as the domain of network forecasters, Valpo students quickly learn the most important aspect of the field: public service. The National Weather Service works diligently to warn home and business owners of approaching storms or serious weather events to lessen the chances for loss of life.

As Russell and the team learned, the warnings can make all the difference. Much of Fairdale was leveled by the tornado and two women were killed, while 11 other people were injured.

The knowledge gleaned during the chases will accompany Russell, who graduated in May with a degree in meteorology while minoring in math.

IMG_2179“Russell is one of the most talented and organized leaders I’ve observed in the meteorology program at Valpo,” Professor Wolf says. “Not only is he talented academically, but he translates classroom learning into application seamlessly.”

Russell is headed to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to work on a master’s degree this fall and will spend his next two summers as an NWS intern in Albuquerque, N.M.

“Meteorology has always interested me,” says Russell, who hopes to pursue a career with the NWS. “The size of the storms and the storm systems amaze me every time we go chasing.”

Sitting at his desk inside the office of a major financial institution, Reid Lester ’02 shifts his gaze toward the television. His beloved team – the Chicago Cubs – is playing a matinee at Wrigley Field. And for Reid, a lifelong sports fan, the heap of spreadsheets and portfolios on his desk doesn’t command his attention like the Cubs do.

After a friendly, albeit honest, discussion with his supervisor, Reid decided to make the leap from the corporate world to pursue his passion. He attended Major League Baseball’s Umpire School, spent three years in professional baseball, and prompted a series of events that would lead him to develop a nonprofit organization to help United States veterans.

Reid’s story began to write itself well before he arrived at Valparaiso University. The Rockford, Ill., native’s upbringing revolved around two constants: sports and church. Reid developed a sense of service to others around the same time he learned mechanics of a bounce pass or a sacrifice bunt.

“Between playing a number of sports and church, our calendars were always full growing up,” Reid says.

His father John spent many of his days as a sports official following the conclusion of his semi-professional career on the diamond. Baseball was Reid’s love, but tennis was his sport. He also excelled on the basketball court. Reid reminisced how a quasi-controversial call on the hardwood thrust him into his father’s footsteps.

“My team was up 20 points with about a minute to go, I’m driving down the lane, and I get hacked. I mean, hacked. The referee, who was a long-time friend of my dad, doesn’t call the foul. I knew him well enough to call him out, and he replied ‘If you think you know the game better than I do, bring a pair of black shorts and a whistle next weekend.’ So, I did.” Reid says.

From that day, Reid began officiating basketball and baseball at the age of 16. Little did he know, his lucrative part-time job would form the basis of something much more altruistic.

Following a successful prep career at Rockford East High School, Reid enrolled at Rock Valley Junior College. There, he helped the Golden Eagles’ tennis team to a national title in 2000. It was at Rock Valley where Reid entered the radar of Valpo head men’s tennis coach Jim Daugherty. He arrived in Northwest Indiana for the final two years of his collegiate journey with sports still at the forefront.

His time as a Crusader on the court was a brief one. An injury ended his playing career, but Reid found a new brotherhood within the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.

In the classroom, Reid earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration. Valpo’s tenets rang a familiar bell with the Midwesterner.

“The biggest thing that Valpo provided was a sense of serving others. We were required to complete a certain number of service hours as part of our fraternity. That aspect of campus life meshed with what my parents instilled in me at a young age,” Reid says.

Throughout myriad changes from his first days at Rock Valley Junior College to the afternoon he walked across the stage to receive his diploma from Valpo, one constant remained: sports officiating.

So Reid continued umpiring baseball part-time while he worked his first full-time job out of college as a financial advisor. While it’s not out of the ordinary for a youth umpire to fetch a few hundred dollars during a busy weekend, umpiring also provided an outlet for his first love: sports.

His second and most important love blossomed when he returned to Rockford following graduation. Reid reconnected with his eventual wife, RuthAnn, and the young couple relocated to Colorado in 2010 so she could pursue her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Reid immediately began officiating in Denver. He joined the Mile High Umpiring Clinic and gained a new network of colleagues. While with the organization, Reid was assigned to mentor a young umpire named Clint Greer.

Clint had just returned to American soil after stints in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 82nd Airborne Division. He sustained a number of combat-related injuries that prompted a medical discharge. Medical issues compounded by unemployment left Clint searching for a spark and longing to again be part of a community. Umpiring provided that flame.

The closer the two became, the more they realized they had in common. Clint was also a multi-sport athlete in high school. His military service particularly struck a chord, as Reid had also started service with the Civil Air Patrol as a search and rescue pilot.

Reid began to realize that Clint wasn’t an outlier. It’s an alarming figure, but according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the unemployment rate for veterans age 18-34 is 20 percent higher than the rate for non-veterans.

“The transition can be extremely difficult. A person goes from having the most important job you can have – protecting our freedom and country – to returning to a desk job in an office where it’s not life or death,” Reid says.

As a result, Reid and Clint collaborated on the Lester Foundation. Inspired by Reid’s grandfathers who served in the Navy, the foundation was established as a means for veterans to receive the certification necessary to officiate basketball and baseball games.

“I think the assumption is that it takes weeks to become eligible to umpire baseball or referee basketball. The truth is, in just one week of intensive training, a veteran can gain the skills and experience necessary to start officiating and earning money immediately,” Reid says.

The foundation’s goal is to prepare every participant for freshmen level competition.

Reid currently operates clinics in the Denver area and will soon expand into San Diego. Clint is carrying the torch on the East Coast while his fiancé completes her law degree at George Washington.

Reid and Clint continue to discuss ways to impact lives across the country.

The Lester Foundation has already assisted more than two dozen veterans, and that number is expected to double once its efforts commence in Southern California.

Reid possesses a level of purpose knowing his work is helping those who have sacrificed themselves for their country. He acknowledges the risk he took when he stepped out of the corporate sector and ventured into the relative unknown, but he’d do it all over again.

His days of stocks, bonds, and mutual funds are long gone, but even in something as unassuming as training sports officials, he’s found a way for his work to pay big dividends.

By the time he reached his teens, Daniel Blood ’10, Ph.D., had an intimate understanding of the value of American goodwill in the poorest parts of the world.

Now, as a member of the College of Engineering faculty, Professor Blood helps a new generation of students learn how their knowledge and skills can enrich the lives of the less fortunate and bring the University’s spirit of service around the globe.

“Dan continually seeks to provide meaningful international service-learning opportunities for our students,” says Eric W. Johnson ’87, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering. “He is a great role model because he is very entrepreneurial, and he’s passionate about finding engineering solutions for those in need using low-cost alternatives.”

An assistant professor of mechanical engineering, Professor Blood recently returned from a trip to Les Cayes in southwestern Haiti. There, he and a team of Valpo students helped implement a solar-powered system to bring potable water closer to a center for children and young adults.

He made his first trip at 16 to help his father, Dr. Michael Blood, a family practice physician from Crawfordsville, Ind., tend to patients there, and he’s returned frequently throughout the past dozen years.

“It all started when my parents met someone in town who went to Haiti with their church,” Professor Blood says. “They encountered many people with medical problems and thought maybe my dad should check it out.

“He was overwhelmed. At first he saw about 90 patients. Then it got to the point where they made two trips a year and he saw 1,000 to 4,000 people every time he went down.”

That sense of service continued when Professor Blood began his undergraduate studies at Valpo. With the University’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders, he traveled to Kenya and Tanzania, where projects mainly focused on improving access to clean water.

“Students have a real drive to help people and personally, that’s motivating,” he says. “I knew if I could come back, I’d have a lot of opportunities to help people.”

After graduating from Valpo in 2010, Professor Blood earned his master’s and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Florida. He says he accelerated his courses to complete his studies after learning his alma mater would have an opening before the 2013–2014 academic year.

“Once I knew I wanted to teach, Valpo was really kind of a dream job. It’s been absolutely fantastic,” he says.

And that dream continues to make a difference in Les Cayes, where Pwoje Espwa (Creole for “Project Hope”) houses more than 400 children and young adults. Some are orphans, while many more have lost a parent or have parents who cannot care for them. Far too often, children without parents end up on the streets or as domestic workers in the western hemisphere’s poorest country.

The Haitian students have been quick studies in past trips, one of which saw the Valpo party bring a 3-D printer to a technical school, which had many immediate uses. Basic parts for golf carts and other machines and tools in need of repair at the school’s compound were among the first projects in a place that doesn’t enjoy the convenience of myriad retail outlets or reliable package delivery.

Just as important, Professor Blood says, was the effect the visit had on the American students.

“It’s interesting to see how they react,” he says. “Some students have seen poverty or grew up in areas of the country we might consider poor, but no one has seen, in person, what you see in Haiti.

“The students are fairly quiet at first, but about an hour into the trip they start to slowly ask questions. Before too long they become invested and ask ‘what can I do now?’ It’s cool to see their motivation. They can’t wait to get back and help out more.”

And there will be more chances to do so. A trip to Nicaragua is planned for the fall to help expand a region’s ability to store and distribute water during dry seasons there. Other long-term goals include entrepreneurship training in Haiti and elsewhere.

“I think the students really benefit from the experience,” he says. “It’s not just sitting in a classroom; they get to see right away how things they do can make an enormous impact on someone’s life.”

As she sits alone in Valpo’s art studio, Kelsey Larson ’15 focuses intently on the project at hand, blocking out any other distractions or obligations. Working diligently, she begins to craft a piece that would later serve two purposes — provide enjoyment for Bauer Museum patrons and feed the hungry.

In the spring, Valpo ceramics students created bowls that would later be auctioned to support the “Soup Bowls for the Hungry” fundraiser — an event led entirely by students who organized, marketed, and executed the event that raised nearly $1,000 to support the Northwest Indiana Food Bank. Kelsey played a large role in the event’s success.

“Some of the bowls that the students made were abstract, while others could actually be used as a soup bowl,” she says. “Mine was more abstract, and the bottom part of the bowl was woven.”

Kelsey’s bowl was later selected by professors to be featured in the Brauer Museum’s student art exhibition. She says she was honored that her bowl was chosen for display, but ultimately, she was proud of what the bowl symbolized.

“This project was a perfect extension of how we can use art to have an impact on our community,” she says. “We were given free reign and creativity to produce something unique, and at the same time, it supported a good cause. I was excited to be part of it.”

Valpo is a place where academics and community service naturally intersect. Whether in the classroom or through experiential-learning, students are often challenged to apply classroom knowledge to their roles as engaged citizens of the world. Kelsey says she was not surprised that Valpo would host a project like this within the confines of the classroom.

What did surprise her, however, was her ability to take a course in ceramics while she worked toward a double major in chemistry and physics and remained active in Christ College — The Honors College.

“What I love most about Valpo is its commitment to the liberal arts,” she says. “This is a place where I am able to express my interests in a variety of ways.”

While art and science might seem like contrasting disciplines, Kelsey is fascinated with their similarities and intersections.

“As a person heavily interested in science, I naturally like to solve problems,” she says. “And in ceramics, the artist has to think through what the end product will look like in a three-dimensional sense. Even that is a problem that needs to be solved.”

Many professors at Valpo encourage this interdisciplinary thinking and eagerly welcome students from other disciplines into their classrooms. Michele Corazzo, MFA, adjunct assistant professor of art and instructor of Kelsey’s ceramics class, especially encouraged her to pursue her passion within a department outside her major.

“Kelsey successfully crossed over into the arts to achieve some really sensitive, beautifully crafted, and well articulated sculptures and vessels in her ceramics class,” she says.

This fall, Kelsey will begin a Ph.D. program in atmospheric science at the University of Washington. She hopes to continue her passion for art through local classes and community art opportunities in Seattle.

As a high school student in south central China, Jiangxia (Renee) Liu, Ph.D., anticipated the opportunity to continue her education in the United States.

That dream came true, and as she wraps up her first year as an associate professor of accounting, she is eager to help students with similar ambitions further their studies here at Valpo.

“I always knew I wanted to study in the United States,” Professor Liu says. “And there are so many others in China and other countries who want to do the same thing.

“Provost Biermann has been very supportive of reaching out to universities in China to help broaden those students’ educations and broaden the University’s profile.”

She’s developed relationships with three schools in her home country and looks forward to adding more. Valpo continues to feel more like home since she joined the faculty in fall 2014.

“I love the College of Business work environment,” she says, “and the proximity of Valpo to Chicago is ideal for my lifestyle. Access to a major city makes life easier and richer, yet being far enough away from Chicago makes it a lot more peaceful.”

Professor Liu, an only child of a high school math teacher and factory worker in Luzhou, earned a bachelor’s degree at Chongqing University. Drawn by opportunities in the U.S. and with the support of her parents, she sought and obtained a full scholarship to the University of Texas at Dallas.
There, she earned a master’s and Ph.D. before beginning a teaching career that took her to Western Carolina University and Gannon (Pa.) University, where she oversaw the accounting program before coming to Valpo.

Her background helps bolster the focus College of Business Dean James D. Brodzinski, Ph.D. has on preparing students for the global marketplace after graduation.

“We strive to prepare students to work with international colleagues in a global business society after graduation,” says Dean Brodzinski. “The addition of Renee to our faculty has broadened the scope of the expertise we can offer our students, and she is an exceptional professor.”

Professor Liu, a Certified Management Accountant, always knew she wanted to teach.

“My dad was a good high school teacher, and my granddad was a principal at an elementary school,” she says. “I believe teaching is a very respectful and impactful profession in any society, and from the time I began my undergraduate program, I already noticed my desire and passion to be a teacher.”

Her research includes CEO compensation and corporate governance, both of which became notable subjects in the wake of the 1990s’ dot-com bust and Enron scandal. The results of those and other scandals, Professor Liu says, helped raise the profile of accounting as a profession and emphasize the need for increased attention to potential ethical pitfalls.

“This made the job and role of an accounting professor important; to instill ethics in students,” she says. “As an educator, I put more effort into teaching ethics while I design my classes.

“Many people see accounting as boring. That makes me feel excited and challenges me to polish my teaching methods and approach to make my students see, feel, and learn accounting.”

Valpo’s Confucius Institute and its collaborations with international universities – along with the sense of family she feels in the College of Business – excites Professor Liu about possibilities for prospective students who share the same dedication that took her halfway around the globe to continue her studies.

“With my connection with Chinese universities, I will be able to continue to develop collaborations between them and Valpo,” she says. “Academic freedom here and the support provided by the administration make me feel I will make a strong impact here.”

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