During her time at Valpo, Grace Leuck ’15 has capitalized on every opportunity to hone her leadership skills while contributing to the greater good. As Valpo prepares students for fulfilling lives of leadership and service, Grace embodies the University’s mission to the fullest.

Grace is a double major in political science and global service with an emphasis in humanitarian aid and services. She was immediately drawn to Valpo’s campus and its inclusive academic environment fostered by students, faculty, staff.

Early in her undergraduate career, Grace was committed to absorbing as much as she possibly could from the University, a place that teaches students how to simultaneously lead and serve.

“My time here has provided me with a framework for seeking purposeful employment, prioritizing my vocational search through all four years,” she says.

And in that time, Grace has done just that — discern her calling and purpose. Along with being an active member of Alpha Phi Omega, Valpo’s service fraternity, Grace serves as secretary and treasurer for the Porter County League of Women Voters. And her commitment to service doesn’t stop there.

Last spring, she spent a semester in Washington, D.C., as part of the Lutheran College Washington Semester, where she worked for the National Peace Corps Association.

Following her semester, Grace spent the summer interning with the United Way of LaPorte County as one of the Institute for Leadership and Service’s inaugural CAPS Fellows. Grace says that, while she has had many life changing service-learning experiences through Valpo programs, this particular opportunity was dramatically different.

“During the summer, I was able to organize and facilitate community conversations focused on health, income, and education conditions,” she says. “I received hands-on service-learning while broadening my academic understanding of service theories, core issues, and components of service from the program’s reflections and mentor meetings.”

Throughout the program, Elizabeth Lynn, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Leadership and Service, was particularly struck by Grace’s passion and desire for growth.

“Grace really stands out to me as someone who understands the importance of leadership and service in every context, international, regional, or local,” she says. “As a student, she has engaged at all those levels — working with Peace Corps as an intern, with the United Way of LaPorte County as a CAPS Fellow, and with Our Greater Good right here in Valpo this semester.  And in every case, she brings warmth, passion, intelligence, and good humor to the cause.”

This fall, Grace took advantage of one more opportunity to coalesce service-learning theory and practice through a course called “Global Humanitarian Examined” offered by the Rev. John A. Nunes, Ph.D., Emil and Elfriede Jochum University Chair. During the course, Professor Nunes brought together classroom and community by challenging his students to create a humanitarian simulation designed for Lutheran middle school youth from the area. The simulation, which they called “Project Diakonia,” was co-sponsored by Lutheran World Relief.

“It allowed youth to learn about topics such as water security, food sustainability, disaster response, and infrastructure development through interactive learning modules designed entirely by the students in Professor Nunes’ course,” Grace says.

When recalling the experience, Professor Nunes said he was thankful for students like Grace, who made the entire course a success.

“Having Grace in my Global Humanitarian course brought to mind the limits of the classroom experience,” says Professor Nunes. “Care for the vulnerable can be shaped into service, but no lesson plan can create compassion. My best teaching relies on leaders like Grace, investing her best self in the learning experience, letting her light shine in the classroom, across our campus, and in the world.”

Upon graduation, Grace hopes to continue pursuing her passion for service in a position with the Peace Corps, where she has applied to work as a community development advisor in Eastern Europe. She has also considered continuing her education with a graduate degree in public administration or community development. She says that Valpo has provided her with ample resources to succeed after graduation.

As director of project delivery in Dubai Aviation Engineering Projects, Jumah Al-Mazrooie ’02 solves some of the most complex engineering puzzles in the Middle East.

He’s one of the leaders for Dubai’s airport expansion project, the largest of its kind currently in the world, which will prepare Dubai to be the leading airport traffic recipient on a global scale.

And he combined this passion for engineering with an entrepreneurial spirit, launching an international elevator engineering company — an ambitious endeavor that stems from his undergraduate research experience at Valparaiso University.

“My undergraduate research team at Valpo created an elevator prototype and model,” Jumah says, “and now I own a global elevator company.”

Originally from the United Arab Emirates, Jumah came to Valpo to study computer engineering. He credits much of his success to the insights he gained while at Valpo as well as the academic rigor of the engineering program.

“We were forced to think quickly and logically in order to succeed,” he says.

In addition to learning key concepts through engineering courses, Jumah learned invaluable lessons about leadership and service while studying in the United States and particularly at Valpo.

“Living and studying abroad strongly shaped the leadership skills and independent personality that I now possess and have carried forward since my time at Valpo,” says Jumah. “I also learned that it is important to contribute to the work and life of others.”

Jumah uses these skills not only to make a difference as a leader in the engineering field, but also to influence the trajectory of his alma mater. Currently, he serves on the College of Engineering National Council, an advisory council made up of alumni and friends to provide guidance for the College. In addition, Jumah says that giving back financially is equally important.

“We have a debt toward our school and instructors, and the least we can do is give our time and financial resources to improve the school so that others can benefit from similar experiences,” says Jumah.

Because of his desire to stay connected to the University, many faculty members in the College of Engineering maintain a close relationship with Jumah, including Eric W. Johnson ’87, Ph.D., dean of the College.

“Jumah was passionate about learning and worked very hard,” Dean Johnson says. “I am excited about his engagement with the College of Engineering. Not only will he bring a global perspective to our National Council, but he wants to share his experiences with our current domestic and international students.

“He is a role model for our students on how to be a successful engineer and entrepreneur.”

Jumah’s work on the Dubai airport expansion has gained worldwide recognition, including a National Geographic documentary about the project, in which he is featured. And because of extraordinary contributions of alumni like Jumah, Valpo continues to find answers for the world’s most complex problems through its innovative and global engineering education.

Professor Amy Cory has a passion for improving the health conditions of others. And with Valpo’s bachelor of science in public health, her students in the College of Nursing and Health Professions will learn new ways to promote health around the world.

Valparaiso University recently began accepting applications for the public health bachelor’s program, which strengthens one of the nation’s best nursing and health professions colleges by integrating evidence-based solutions to improve health conditions for communities at home and abroad with Valpo’s public health care curriculum of cutting-edge research, theory, and techniques.

A professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, Amy C. Cory, Ph.D., RN, says Valpo is now in the position to help increase the public health workforce — those promoting and protecting the health of populations — domestically and internationally.

“Valpo is in the prime position to move public health forward, including global health, given the international focus of the University’s mission, vision, and strategic plan,” she says. Students will have ample study abroad opportunities as well as exceptional public health internships domestically and in other countries.

Dean Janet M. Brown, Ph.D., RN, says the public health program is ideal for students who desire to work in health promotion and disease prevention, the fastest growing sector of health care.

“The College of Nursing and Health Professions prepares graduates for the dynamic complexities of the health care industry, where they promote and protect the health of individuals and communities,” she says.

One example of public health in action, Professor Cory says, is her work in a small Nicaraguan village. Since 2007, she and students at Valpo have been working with village residents to identify and mitigate their health concerns. Together, they discovered that many of the village’s women and children suffered respiratory disease caused by cooking over open fire in closed kitchen spaces. Since 2011, Valpo has built nearly 100 improved stoves in the community; 50 more will be installed this spring.

But aspirations to work abroad aren’t required to pursue the degree, Professor Cory says. Public health professionals are needed here at home. In fact, she has plans to partner with communities as close as 20 miles from Valpo to improve health outcomes of local residents.

Professor Cory says future public health professionals in the United States are needed in environmental health, disaster preparedness, occupational health, and practitioners working to contain flu outbreaks and decrease infant mortality rates in at-risk populations.

“Health care in the U.S. is shifting to prevention,” Professor Cory says. “Valpo’s public health program will help students understand why populations contract diseases rather than just how to treat them.”

In addition, Valpo has several existing programs — such as health care leadership, engineering, and environmental sciences — that complement the new program, Professor Cory says.

Public health students will develop a foundation in core public health concepts, including health behavior, health services administration, environmental health, and epidemiology. Students accepted into the new program will enroll in fall 2015.

Students can also pursue a bachelor of science in public health/master of public health through Valpo’s accelerated, five-year option. The interdisciplinary curriculum is designed to enhance global community health and education competence to promote healthy living and prevent disease in human populations through ecological approaches across multiple determinants of health.

In the master’s program, students will take advanced courses in public health theory, research, and practice, and they will graduate prepared to apply principles of global community health and education to diverse populations in the United States and around the world.

When Kelsey Fader ’16 first stepped foot on Valpo’s campus, she had no idea just how her passions would collide. But that is exactly what happened soon after she began her academic journey, and along the way, she made some unexpected discoveries.

A recipient of the Donna and Lonnie Dodge Endowed Memorial Scholarship Fund, Kelsey studies rigorously as a part of the nursing program in the College of Nursing and Health Professions.

“Receiving a scholarship and knowing others are supporting me pushes me to work harder,” says Kelsey.

In addition to her studies in nursing, Kelsey is active in Engineers Without Borders, an international humanitarian organization that supports community-driven development programs worldwide. Students collaborate with local partners to design and implement sustainable engineering projects, while creating transformative experiences and responsible leaders.

Kelsey’s extension beyond her studies in nursing to understand the foundation of engineering is a unique combination.

“Engineers Without Borders has allowed Kelsey to participate in both global health and research well before taking the courses in the nursing curriculum,” says Amy Cory, Ph.D., assistant professor of nursing and advisor of Engineers Without Borders. “Once she reaches these courses, she will have an understanding of the content above and beyond the level of most of her peers.”

The student organization is currently working with a village in rural Nicaragua to rehabilitate their water distribution system. Their group hopes to eventually build a new water storage tank that receives overflown water from their existing tank. In November, Kelsey had the opportunity to travel with the group for assessment.

“It’s been an amazing experience to be part of the beginning stages of this project,” says Kelsey. “What drew me to Engineers Without Borders is its strong dedication to help those in need, which is the main reason I wanted to become a nurse in the first place.”

Along with helping those in need, Kelsey’s experience in Engineers Without Borders has provided her invaluable exposure to other cultures, which has enriched her education. She says that her interactions with people from diverse backgrounds, both abroad and on campus, has been transformative.

“Her work with Engineers Without Borders has prepared her to work with patients from a variety of cultural backgrounds,” says Professor Cory.

Kelsey plans to carry her newfound cultural awareness with her in her studies and into her future career as a nurse after graduation.

“These experiences have been critical for me as a nursing student, because it’s important to take a patient’s background into consideration when providing care for them,” says Kelsey. “Through nursing, other classes, and Engineers Without Borders, I’ve had the opportunity to develop my understanding of different cultures and deepen my sensitivity for others here at Valpo.”

Sterling Summerville ’13 is a busy man. Take his time at Valparaiso University: He studied international service and gender studies, played running back on the football team, volunteered with a local organization that supports teens, participated in at least four student organizations, and worked in the Multicultural Programs office.

But he’s not busy for busy’s sake. He says he was creating those “defining moments and stellar memories” that make life so fulfilling.

He took that same approach after he graduated from Valpo, was awarded a Fulbright grant, and moved to Poland to teach English. The long list of activities in which he participated in Poland — including giving speeches about higher education in America and coaching a professional Polish–American football league team — was partly inspired by his time at Valpo.

“While at Valpo, I was encouraged to embrace all of my different interests and not pigeon-hole myself,” Sterling says. “Valpo allowed me to just be and let myself flow in the moments of each day. And I truly appreciated the campus and community for being a nurturing environment like that.”

And what he loves most about his alma mater is the relationships he formed with his favorite professors. He calls Valpo’s faculty “hands down some of the greatest motivators and role models I have ever met. They instilled in me a sense of hunger, curiosity, and confidence that has taken me to places I would have never imagined without them. I was inspired on a daily basis by my teachers and administrators.”

One of his mentors and his Fulbright Fellowship advisor, Chuck Schaefer, Ph.D., professor of history, says the same about him. He describes Sterling as a man who exemplifies “openness, sensitivity, and leadership. In our initial conversations, I was persuaded by Sterling’s genuine desire to serve humanity, especially the disadvantaged and disenfranchised.”

A high school mission trip to South Africa broadened Sterling’s understanding of the global reach of discrimination, underemployment, and lack of development.

“The international service major was tailor made for Sterling,” Professor Schaefer says, “and he was tailor made to take advantage of all that international service could offer. He basically asked the crucial question: What can Valpo do for me?  He took advantage of all those opportunities: a semester abroad to Namibia, a summer internship in Georgia (the country), a Gilman Scholarship, and a Fulbright Fellowship.”

The Fulbright Fellowship took Sterling to Poland where he completed an English Teaching Assistantship and, perhaps more importantly, immersed himself in a culture that was foreign to him. Indeed, Sterling chose Poland because it was a country he had never visited, and the cultural differences would both challenge and inspire him.

“Cultural differences are bound to exist any and everywhere and it is often those ‘identity’ differences that hold the potential and power to bring people together,” he says. “For me, it is important to lean into both comfort and discomfort to seek out these opportunities and use them as moments for exchange and growth.”

And just as his busy schedule allows for creating those “defining moments and stellar memories” he so loves, so does sharing and exchanging information with people of different cultures.

“This was my greatest joy. Promoting informative cultural exchange peacefully is what travel, in general, and programs like the Fulbright are all about in my opinion,” he says.

Sterling, a native of Indianapolis, now lives in Los Angeles and works as a College Access Program Advisor for the Fulfillment Fund, an educational advocacy organization.

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.

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