Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Trumpet for David

(The following was written by RMU senior nursing student Lee Folk, who is currently on his second trip to Nicaragua, where a group of nursing students travel twice yearly to provide basic health care to residents in the barrio around the capital of Managua. The trip is led by Carl Ross, university professor of nursing at RMU.)
"Hey, I know you."

For nearly five years, George McClintock has greeted me the same way. Hey, I know you. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that he knows me. The man knows just about everyone. After teaching French for over 30 years at Upper St. Clair High School, George is one of the most well-known, and well-liked, members of the South Hills community. He has long since retired from the school district, but not from living an active life, by any means. George is a man who has always enjoyed a challenge. So, after leaving the classroom, he went looking for one. And ended up in the emergency room.

That’s where I first met George. He was sitting outside of a patient’s room in the emergency department of St. Clair Community Hospital, watching for a high school student to come wandering into the ER. I remember being very nervous when I walked onto the floor. My tangerine scrubs set me apart rather clearly amongst the olive-clad nurses. My friend Collin Otis had talked me into this volunteer position. Since I was beginning to investigate the nursing field by that point in time, I figured some experience in the ER would be a good way to get my feet wet.

That first night, I was told to look for a white-haired man with a white mustache. He was in charge of training the volunteers, and he would be waiting for me. His name was George.

For the next six months, George showed me the ropes of the St. Clair ER. My job description was limited, but the experience of simply observing was invaluable. I stocked rooms, transported patients, and did whatever odd jobs the staff needed me to do. George and I became good friends over our dinner breaks upstairs at the snack bar. He and his wife, Obbie, attended my school play that year, and after my graduation, we continued to stay in touch. George may have been one of my oldest friends, but he could text message just as quickly as anyone my age.

Having made over fifty trips to France themselves, George and Obbie were thrilled when I told them the news that I would be going on my first international trip with Dr. Ross in July. They waited each day for The Mail from Managua to arrive via email, and then printed the stories out and took them over to Obbie’s 97-year-old mother, Olive, to read as well. It was George who jumped into action right away when he read the final chapter about David and his stolen trumpet. As I mentioned before, the man knows a lot of people. He made a few phone calls, and within a week of David’s story being written, there was a text message from George.

We have a trumpet for David.

Once we had arrived in the barrio, it was not long before David became everyone’s favorite friend. His smile was contagious around the girls, and they found themselves as quickly attached to the teenager as I was when I first met him in July. David simply has a way of making everyone feel at home. As soon as he learns your name, he goes to work finding out as much about you as he can, so that he won’t forget you. Early in the week, he made it his mission to memorize each of the girl’s names. It was quite a challenge to keep nine girls straightened out, but they were more than happy to help him remember. Kasey even drew a picture of herself in the form a stick figure with curly hair and left it with David for him to memorize. I could tell the boy loved the attention, as he would come over to me on more than one occasion, nod toward the girls, and whisper, “This is the life, my friend, this is the life!”

Everyone knew about the trumpet from the beginning, except David of course. The instrument served as my one of my carry-on bags on the flights down to Managua, and became quite a conversation piece along the way. We decided to save the big surprise until our last day in the barrio, and so the suspense built throughout the week. Back at the hotel, I had begun to receive nervous emails from friends and family back home. They were reading the stories, but not seeing a word about the trumpet. What happened? Where is David? Did you give him the trumpet? There were many eager readers out there, but all of them would have to wait.

Meanwhile, in the barrio, every conversation with David seemed to take on special significance for each of us, particularly since nearly all of them seemed to lead back to music and his passion for playing. One of the most humorous moments occurred during one of our lunch breaks. Katrina was skimming through Ashley’s iPod, looking for a song that David had mentioned earlier in the morning. When she finally found it, she jumped up to go find David. No one could keep a straight face as we listened to him singing in broken English from the back of the clinic, “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence. It was simple joy for him. The boy just loves music.

On Thursday afternoon, Lindsey boarded the van and announced that she had something to show everyone. “Just wait until you hear what I have on video!” she said excitedly, pulling out her camera. She began to play back a conversation that had occurred just moments earlier. The conversation in the van died down quickly as everyone strained to hear the faint audio. We could hear Lindsey’s voice behind the camera. “David, if you could have anything for Christmas, what would it be?” The lens was turned on David and me, standing outside the clinic. David looked at Lindsey.

“For Christmas? Hmm…” he contemplated the question for a moment. “Well, I would ask for happiness for myself and for my family.” It did not surprise me that he would answer so simply.

“Yes, but we want to know if you could have any gift, or present, for Christmas, what would you ask for?” David nodded and rethought his answer.

“Well, then I would ask for a trumpet. Mine was stolen, so I would like very much to have another one. But I know that is not possible now.” David waved again at Lindsey’s camera, and did not even think twice about the grin that was spread across her face.

“What are you writing now?”

Emily Himmel has asked me the same question half a dozen times this week. I look up from the table in the back room of the clinic. It’s Friday afternoon, and the health fair is about to begin out on the veranda. I only have a few minutes to catch up on my notes.

“Just jotting down some things,” I reply.

“What kind of things?” She snaps a picture of my hand covering up my small notebook.

“Oh, just notes for a journal entry. I don’t want to forget anything that happened this morning.” The girls are used to me scribbling notes by now. I have my notebook in my back pocket at all times, ready in case I need to record something quickly. The difficulty comes in deciphering the notes when I get back to the hotel at night.

Emily leaves me to my writing. A moment later, though, I sense someone else staring at me. I look up again. The three nursing students from UPOLI are standing opposite the table. They are watching me write. One of the girls asks for my name.

“My name? My name is Lee.” I tell them, pointing to myself.

“Lee? Lee. Lee. Lee.” they each whisper it carefully to themselves.

“Yes! Lee. Good.” I go back to writing.

“Like Bruce Lee?” one girl asks after a moment. She chuckles.

“Yes! Like Bruce Lee!” I respond. “Nice!”

“Or Robert E. Lee!” adds another.

“Yes, Robert E. Lee, too!”

“Or David Lee Roth!” The students are all laughing now.

“Very good!” These girls really know their Lees.

“How about Lee Harvey Oswald!” I add as I continue writing. The laughter suddenly dies off. I look up. The girls nod solemnly and stare down at the table. Way to kill the mood, Lee.

The silence is broken by a familiar voice. “My friend! Why do you look sad?” David sits down next to me and puts his hand on my shoulder. “My friend, I have something for you. A Christmas gift.”

“A Christmas gift?” I look at David with surprise. “No you don’t!”

“My friend, it is no joke!” he says as he places a small bag in front of me. “It is for you!” I haven’t the slightest idea what the bag contains, but the mere fact that David wants to give me something at all is touching. He already has so little to call his own. I look into the bag. At the bottom lies a necklace, made of polished volcanic rock.

“David, you’re giving this to me?” I ask as I pull it from the bag. David nods.

“It is for you! Merry Christmas!” The necklace looks like many others that I have seen at the various markets across Managua, and yet, it is unique. Regardless of what it cost David, the gift is already priceless to me.

A few minutes later, Ashlee and I are introduced to the families. Our presentation goes off as planned. Afterward, I stand in the back to watch the rest of the groups, snapping pictures next to Kasey. “Did you see what David gave me?” I ask, pulling the necklace from underneath my tshirt to show her. Kasey admires the necklace, and then produces her own gift from David.

“He gave this to me, Lee.” she says. She holds out a beautiful macaroon seashell. “We talked about the beach a few days ago, and he told me all about when his family went to the ocean. He said it cost so much money to go, but he would never forget it. And he gave me this shell that he found there.” Kasey was not the only one to receive a special gift, either. David had found something small and meaningful for each of his new friends, and was quietly going about his own gift-giving as the health fair went on. He didn’t want us to leave without taking a part of him with us. None of us really knew what to say.

The health fair culminates with the ceremonial beating of the piñata, and as the children finish diving for candy, I sneak out to the van to retrieve the hidden trumpet. We have a duffel bag to hide the case in. The girls go about distracting David while I carry it to the back of the clinic. There is not much time left before we must leave. The group gathers in the back to share in the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I hand Mrs. Perozzi my camera and turn to the girls. “Is everyone ready?” I ask. A dozen heads nod yes. David is talking to one of the children over by the door.

“David!” He turns toward me. “Come over here, pal. We have some gifts for you.”

“You have something for me?” David looks at me suspiciously as he walks over to the table.

“Yes, we have a couple presents for you!” I reach into a plastic bag and pull out an old Robert Morris College jersey that Emily brought with her. David’s face lights up. He already has a few RMU tshirts, but he always loves getting more apparel.

“For me?” he asks. Right away, he takes the jersey and puts it on over the Kenny Chesney shirt that Katrina had already given him. I pull out the other things I brought with me. There are a couple framed photos from my first trip. David smiles at the photo of me and him and holds it up for the girls to see. A dozen camera flashes go off in his face. He points to the picture. “See? We look smart!” The girls laugh. His English phrasing is one of his most endearing qualities.

At last, it is time for the surprise. Up until now, I had not given much thought to what I would say before unveiling the trumpet. Now the moment is here, and I have to say something. I tell David that we are proud of him for all of the work he does in the community. I tell him that he has made each of us feel at home by being our friend. I tell him that we love him and that there are people in the United States who love him too, though they have never met him. David keeps nodding as I talk. He understands most of what I’m saying. “There are people back home who read your story, David. They know how much you loved your trumpet, and they also know that it was stolen from you. So they wanted to do something for you.”

I disappear into the adjoining kitchen area where the duffel bag is waiting. David suddenly becomes aware from the crowd watching him that something big is about to happen. I step out from behind the bookcase with the trumpet case. The miraculous appearance of the instrument sends David’s hands to his face. He turns away for a moment, then whirls back around to make sure it is not some sort of mirage. But I’m still standing there. He looks down at the case. As I open it, it appears as if he really can’t believe what he’s seeing.

“No! A trumpet?! For me?!” he cries. There’s an amazing sound in the young man’s voice. It’s the sound of childlike disbelief. The girls around me are wiping their eyes. Cameras continue to flash.

“It’s for you, David. You deserve it.” David picks up the trumpet and inspects it. It is a well-used instrument. The bell needs polishing, and the valves could use some oil. But David holds it like it’s the finest trumpet he’s ever seen. He attaches the mouthpiece and looks around shyly, as if seeking our permission to play a few notes.

“Go on! Play something!” Dr. Ross encourages him. David lifts the trumpet to his mouth and purses his lips. The first notes are a bit sour. He quickly stops and laughs.

“I need practice!” he tells us. Not to be denied, though, he fiddles with the valves for a moment, and then tries again. This time, the horn rewards David with several big, brash notes to accompany the excited applause of his audience. We don’t care if he needs practice. That’s why we brought it for him in the first place. He stops playing and hugs me.

“Now I can make the band!” he tells me. The shock is still sinking in. He collapses in a chair and stairs at the instrument in his lap. “I am just so surprised!” he laughs. “I don’t know why, but I feel like crying!”

“Oh, don’t cry!” I reply. “Nobody cries at Christmas!”

Unfortunately, the time we have been dreading cannot be put off any longer. Dr. Ross tells everyone to say their final goodbyes to the families and head toward the van. I can see our father, Alvaro, waiting patiently out on the veranda. He catches my attention and grins, waving for Ashlee and me to come over. He squeezes my arm as he tells us one more time how thankful he is for what we did. “He hopes that the Lord blesses you and that you will arrive safely home,” our translator tells us. “He wants you to come back to see them as soon as you can, but if he never sees you again…” the translation trails off. Alvaro has begun to weep. He finishes his last sentence with tears in his eyes, then turns away quickly to leave. The translator leans close to us. “He said if he never sees you again, he will look for you in heaven.”

Dr. Ross conducts one final head count in the van. David is outside, leaning against the wall, still inspecting his trumpet. He looks up at us, and through the window, notices the heartbreak on the girl’s faces. The goodbyes are beginning to sink in. Our friend opens the van door and sticks his head inside. “Hey now!” he points to the girls, shaking his finger. “Do not be sad! You must not be sad!” The girls manage to smile at him. “We will see each other again,” he says with assurance. “Now do not be sad! Okay?”

The door slides shut again, leaving David and all of our friends on the other side. The families stand along the side of the dirt road as we pull away. I turn around and look out the back window, managing to snap one last photograph just before the rising cloud hides them all away in the dust. The lens catches Alvaro, standing alone on the street corner, with his hand high in the air. He is smiling again.

For several long minutes, no one speaks. On my first trip, I remember the students being talkative and cheery as we pulled away. The mood is quite different now. There are no words for this group. The air in the van is heavy with the sound of flowing tears. This is the moment that my camera could never capture. This is the moment that is impossible to explain to your friends and family when you get home. This is the moment where your heart determines that this life is so much simpler than you once thought, and this world is so much bigger than you ever knew.

This is the moment that changes your life.

I suppose I was wrong in what I said to David. This year, everyone is crying at Christmas. During the miserable ride to UPOLI, I find myself wondering what it will be that will pick our hearts back up and start us laughing again. Katrina is sitting beside me in the back. She suddenly remembers the Christmas present that David gave to her. It is a favorite CD he owned, a collection of his favorite American songs. Just as Don Pedro drives up to the university, the CD gets passed up to the front. “David said I would enjoy this mix,” Katrina says to the group.

At first, no one recognizes the opening measures of the song. There is a big band playing, with the bright notes of a trumpet in there too, somewhere. Then the artist becomes clear as the unmistakable voices of John Lennon and Paul McCartney come flowing out of the speakers. Somehow, after making all of us cry, it is David who makes us smile again. The boy was right. We should not be sad. We accomplished what we came here to do, and whether we knew it yet or not, we were leaving with more than what we brought to give. The families have been assessed and treated and trained and loved. The Nicaraguan children know some English now, and they have taught the American college students some of their Spanish, as well. There are new beds to sleep on. There are new friends to stay in contact with. There are new godsons and goddaughters to pray for. And deep within the barrio, thanks to the determination and optimism of its young musician, there is music once more.

Indeed, by the time the Beatles reach their chorus, the tears are being wiped away, and the sun is shining again. I know everything is going to be all right, because my brother David picked the perfect song.

All you need is love.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Shout it, shout it, shout it out loud!....for RMU!

Do you rock ‘n’ roll all night and party every day? David Toole '08 does (well, maybe not every day).

Tomorrow night, Tuesday, Dec. 8, David and his band, Identity X, will be performing in the Battle of the Bands competition at the Hard Rock Café at Station Square.

Come support Dave and the guys as they battle four other local bands – all hand-picked by Gene Simmons himself – for the chance to open up for KISS when they come to Mellon Arena on December 13.


Where: Hard Rock Cafe at Station Square in Pitsburgh
When: Show starts at 8:00 p.m.
Cost: Free, however, please bring a canned food donation if possible

Identity X is:
  • David Toole '08 B.S.B.A. Management (RMU alumnus) (Vocals)
  • Darin DiNapoli '06 BA Corporate Communications (RMU alumnus) (Guitar)
  • Martin Osacar (Guitar)
  • Chris Sheader (Bass)
  • Jim Krieger (Drums)
Check out their band website: www.Myspace.com/identityx

Monday, November 23, 2009

"We were pretty much waiting to die"

I just learned that RMU alumnus Luther Lockhart will be on Oprah Tuesday for a reunion with his fellow passengers of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which had to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River on Jan. 15. Everyone on board survived.

Luther shared this harrowing experience with RMU's Foundations magazine. You can read the article here. We're grateful that Luther and everyone else on board is here to tell the tale.

-- Jonathan Potts

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Promise Kept

(The following was written by RMU senior nursing student Lee Folk, who is currently on his second trip to Nicaragua, where a group of nursing students travel twice yearly to provide basic health care to residents in the barrio around the capital of Managua. The trip is led by Carl Ross, university professor of nursing at RMU.)

David was nowhere to be found at first.

It was our first morning in Managua and we had just arrived at the barrio. The girls in the van were all excited, but no one was more eager to arrive than me. It would have been too perfect had David been sitting at the gate where I left him in July, but I didn’t want to get my hopes too high. He could be at work or at school or back at his house for all I knew. As we pulled up to the clinic, I looked out my window for him to be waiting. But David was not there. We all climbed out and exchanged greetings with the other brigadistas before we found seats in the small school desks that fill the open-air waiting area of the clinic. The UPOLI nurses who run the clinic gave us a brief description of the clinic and took us on a tour of the facility. Then it was time to take a walk through the barrio to meet our families. Our group emptied out through the gate. I was putting my camera into my bag when I heard the voice I had been waiting for.

“My friend, you have returned!” It was David, walking down the rocky lane toward me. His black hair was cut shorter, but his wide smile was just as bright. “You have come back!” he said as he embraced me.

“I promised I would, didn’t I?” I said, laughing.

“Ahh, yes, so you did. And so you have kept your promise!”

In the span of an hour, David succeeded in capturing the hearts of all the girls. They knew who David was from the stories I had told about him, but now that they had finally met him in person and become the direct recipients of his infectious charm, they were all instantly attached. By the time we were headed home from the barrio at the end of the first day, the consensus was clear. Everyone loved David.

“Lee, your dad is here.”

Kelly’s words make me stop in my tracks and spin around. My dad is here? How in the world is that possible? In a moment, I realize that Kelly is referring to the father of my Nicaraguan family. I look out the door of the office in the clinic to see Alvero standing there. He smiles and waves. A lot of people are smiling today. Dr. Ross is here.

We have just finished eating lunch on Monday afternoon. Doc will begin seeing the people in just a few minutes. Ashlee and I completed the initial assessment of our family this morning and decided that Alvero’s chest pain needed further investigation at the clinic. We are both relieved to see that our dad is here. And I am glad to know that my Dad is still in Pittsburgh. That would have been too weird.

The clinic has only been open for a few minutes, and already the desks on the porch are filling with patients. We have divided the duties of the clinic into four categories: pharmacy, triage, observation, and playing with the children. Every hour, we rotate positions. Today, Ashlee and I are assigned to the children first. I walk out onto the veranda to see how the triage process is working. Normally, our plan for the day goes down the drain within the first half hour. It’s the difficult reality of third-world healthcare. But we always work as a team, and eventually, all the patients are assessed, educated, and sent on their way with the medications they need.

Somehow, in the end, it all works.

Out of the corner of my eye, I notice David sitting by the gate by himself. When we are working, he often sits patiently and simply waits for us to finish. I don’t have much to do at the moment, so I walk over. I have been looking for an opportunity to ask him about something since seeing him on Friday.

“My friend, you are not working?” he asks as I sit down beside him.

“I have a few minutes. I wanted to ask you about your trumpet.” On my first trip in July, David had taken me home to his house to show me his most prized possession, a beautiful trumpet. He played it for me and described his dreams of one day being in a band. We decided to call that band The Barrio Boys. Not long after I returned home, I received an email from David. His house was broken into and his trumpet was stolen by a neighborhood gang. He was heartbroken. David’s smile fades quickly when I ask him about it now.

“Yes, it was stolen,” he says. “I am sorry I cannot make the band now. I still want to be in a band though.”

“Who stole it from you, David? Do you know the men who stole it?” Here in the barrio, violence and theft runs rampant through the night. It is the upstanding young people like David who are often the victims.

“Yes, I know them. They came right through our door in the middle of the night. They took so much, but most of all, they took my trumpet. I am sorry, my friend.”

“You don’t need to apologize, David. It’s not your fault,” I reply, patting him on the back. “Can I ask you how you got the trumpet to begin with? Did you pay for it? Or did the university lend it to you?”

“Oh no. I pay for the trumpet. I save for a year.” He catches himself. “I’m sorry, I say in the past tense, yes? I saved for a year.”

“You saved over an entire year for it? How much was it?”

“Yes, yes. In dollars, it was one hundred and sixty dollars.” I shake my head in disbelief. I have seen the place where David lives. I know what he gets paid. It must have taken him hundreds of hours of hard work to put that money aside for such an expensive instrument. “Yes, I was going to be in a band. You remember? The Barrio Boys, yes? But now I have no trumpet, so I cannot be in the band. Now I just sit and watch them play." My heart is breaking for him.

“Did you try going to the police? Is there anyone who could help you?” I ask next.

“I did go the police. But you know they are… how do you say?....corrupt?”

“So they did not help you?”

“No, there is no help for burglary. It happens so often. I am just so sad. It is sad to save for so long and so hard, and then all is gone in just one night.”

I shake my head as I listen to him. I am visibly upset. This eighteen-year-old boy has been the victim of so much injustice during his short life. His father left when he was young. His best friend was killed when he was twelve years old. And now his escape hatch into the world of music has been taken from him as well. But shockingly, David does not show the slightest sign of bitterness or resentment. On the contrary, he is more concerned about me than he is about himself.

“My friend, why you look so sad?” he asks with genuine concern in his voice.

“I’m just upset, David. I know how much that trumpet meant to you. You deserved to have it.” His next words to me are said with such conviction, it makes me wonder how I have ever found the nerve to complain about the petty hardships of my padded existence.

“Do not worry about it, my friend!” He smiles and puts his arm around me. “My life is good!”

It’s in this moment that I have never been so happy to fulfill a promise in my life.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Whoever told you you could work with men?

As if I needed a reason to check out the New Hazlett Theatre's performance of "Glengarry Glen Ross," it turns out this production of the David Mamet classic is directed by RMU adjunct professor Melissa Martin. She teaches in the Department of Media Arts, and this semester, for the first time, she offered a course in screenwriting.

I've never seen "Glengarry" on the stage, but the film is in my personal Top 10. The cast is loaded with talent: Alan Arkin, Kevin Spacey, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris, Al Pacino and the late Jack Lemmon. Baldwin's role, incidentally, was written by Mamet for the film, and his brief but memorable scene -- in which he delivers a verbal beat-down to the beleaguered salesmen -- includes the famous line "Coffee is for closers."

Now if you'll excuse me, there's a set of steak knives out there with my name on it.

-- Jonathan Potts

Monday, November 16, 2009

It's not fair

(The following was written by RMU senior nursing student Lee Folk, who is currently on his second trip to Nicaragua, where a group of nursing students travel twice yearly to provide basic health care to residents in the barrio around the capital of Managua. The trip is led by Carl Ross, university professor of nursing at RMU. Click here for a sample of Lee's journal from his summer trip, including his original entry about Ruthia.)

It is a warm day in Managua. The temperature is still hovering near ninety degrees, though there is a constant breeze coming off of the lake. Hurricane Ida deposited her rains here last week and has since moved on, leaving the plants and flowers of this city revitalized in her wake. It is a vibrant color scheme for a landscape, and a welcome change from the barren hills of southwestern Pennsylvania. The Plaza de la Paz is slowly filling with the lengthening shadows of this late November afternoon. Don Pedro brings our van to a stop at the entrance of the memorial as we prepare for the final stops on our sightseeing tour. Dr. Ross admonishes us again to keep one sharp eye on our belongings, and another on the ground we’re walking on. You never know what you are going to find laying around here.

This place is known as the Peace Park, or the Plaza de la Paz. It was constructed as a memorial to the dead at the end of the country’s fierce civil war in 1991. Violeta Chamorro, the country’s first female president, was intent on demonstrating Nicaragua’s commitment to a peaceful future, and therefore decreed that the weapons of the revolution be buried here beneath the park. This historical site was meant to be a safe haven for families of the dead to come and mourn, and so it was, until the takeover of the Sandanistan government. Today, many are afraid to come and show their grief for fear of persecution.

As we enter the park, there is little to see but a concrete wasteland, bathed in graffiti and wreaking with the stench of fermenting garbage. The plaques thanking the United States and other countries for their role in the revolution have long since been ripped from their places of honor. And down a flight of stairs, in the tomb where despotism was meant to meet its demise, its weapons are rising from the grave. Through the years since their burial, the AK-47s that Chamorro buried have begun to emerge from the hillside of eroding concrete. Rusty gun barrels stick out in every direction, straining against the weight of their concrete prison, almost as if they are trying to answer the call of the country’s divisive dictator, Daniel Ortega.

It is an odd place to find Robert Morris nursing students. We are far from home and still adjusting to the culture and the bugs and the heat. But this moment is an essential part of the trip for all of us. In order to understand the health of these people, we must understand their government and its role in their lives. The buried machine guns of Plaza de la Paz tell us the story of an oppressed people. It gives us a sense of the weight of poverty and hopelessness, of the fight for survival and the cost of war. We walk around the plaza in silence, each of us peering closely at the guns. There is a uniformed man with a machine gun watching us, and though he has told us that he is there to stand guard for us, we are still treading softly.

After a few minutes, Dr. Ross calls us back. It’s time to go. There is one place left for us to see yet, and the sun is setting fast. We can see the abandoned cathedral from a few blocks away, with its twin bell towers rising high above the coconut trees. The principal houses of the Nicaraguan government, the Palacio Nacional and the Casa de los Pueblos, stand on its flanks, creating the central square of Managua. This is the place where I met Ruthia, the little girl who captured my heart and the hearts of my friends and family back home. On my first trip to the country in July, she came running across the square toward me and my classmates, intent on selling us her hand-made fern grasshoppers. While I watched her work, I learned that this ten-year-old girl did this to survive, and that she would likely be robbed by neighborhood boys before she could get the money home to her family. The memory of her comes to mind as I walk onto the square beneath the billboard gaze of Daniel Ortega.

We have been seeing signs of Christmas everywhere since our arrival. Here we see a dozen Nicaraguan men stringing colored lights from the towering pole in the center of the square to form a giant electric tree. It is an interesting sight to see such an approach to decorating. After all, there are no evergreens here. It is a much different holiday display from that of Gateway Center in Pittsburgh, but it brings a smile to everyone’s face to see that the Christmas season is universal. Its arrival before Thanksgiving appears to be a worldwide trend as well. There is a worker at the top of the pole, at least ten stories above the ground. He is dangling from a single cable. I am squinting up at him, trying to figure out how he got up there, when I hear Doc calling me.

“Lee! Lee!” I look over in his direction. He’s pointing across the plaza. “Look! It’s Ruthia!”

I turn around and see a little girl running toward us. I can’t believe it. It is her.

The girls in this group have all read the story of Ruthia. Some of them were even able to persuade their parents to let them come to Nicaragua because of this little girl’s story. She runs right up to us and is greeted by a dozen flashing cameras. She does not know it, but all of these people know her already. I am in disbelief. There are many people that I expected to see again on the return trip. But I never thought I would see Ruthia again. Yet here she is. With no traces of recognition on her face, she immediately begins to make me another grasshopper. I look over at Dr. Ross, shaking my head.

“I can’t believe this!” I can tell he is not as surprised.

“This is her life,” he says simply. “This is what she does.” I stand next to him and we watch the girls place their orders with Ruthia. They all want a piece of her handiwork. She is going to be making quite a living today with all of this business. But one by one, the heartache begins to sink in for each of the girls. The boys are beginning to crowd around Ruthia, and they are whispering to each other. They can see how much money she is making. Lindsey comes up beside me.

“They’re really going to take her money?” she asks painfully.

“They’re going to try.” Lindsey shakes her head and sighs.

“It’s so unfair,” she says under her breath. And it is. It is unfair that this beautiful ten-year-old is even in this square, begging for money outside the gates of a dictator. It is unfair for all of these children. Where are their mothers? Where are their fathers? They wander around this city day after day, their existence hinging on the fluctuating traffic of tourists like us. I feel a tug on my shorts. There is a two year old boy clinging to my leg, trying to find the rest of my gummy worms that I’ve been passing out to the growing crowd. I have given him half a dozen already to pacify his crying, but it only encourages him. I pick him up in my arms.

“You’re going to ruin your dinner, pal!” I say as I tickle him. The sobering realization hits me even as the words come out of Dr. Ross’ mouth.

“It is his dinner.”

Half an hour later, we are loading up into the van. Our exit is not an easy one. Every child in the area knows by now that the Americans are here, and that we all have money. Don Pedro’s job is to get all of us into the van and keep the children at bay. Dr. Ross stays outside for a moment with a handful of cordobas to distract them. He instructs the children to form a line. They push and shove each other, the smallest of them clinging to their older siblings. They do what they know to do, keep their hands outstretched until they get something. To the youngest, this is just all a happy game. They laugh and giggle and push each other to get closer.

The last coin is finally given out and the van door closes. As Don Pedro pulls away, I look out the back window. Panic grips me. The smallest girl, not more than three years old, is running behind the van, trying to catch us. She is just inches from the bumper. If Don Pedro slows down for a speed bump, she is going to be hit. She can’t see me pounding on the window.

“Don’t slow down!” I yell up to the front. “Don’t slow down!” Don Pedro accelerates. The girl stops and covers her eyes in the cloud of dust. Then she waves at me. She is still laughing. I sigh and shake my head. There are so many moments like this here; these moments of not knowing whether to smile or cry. We leave our dollars and our hearts here. We leave them here in the shadow of Managua’s Christmas tree with Ruthia and her friends and her bullies. And we drive away with the memories.

It’s not fair.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Mystery of the Paper 'Shrooms - Part II

Okay, so I finally solved the Mystery of the Paper ‘Shrooms.

As you may remember, I was dying to know the origin of these mock mushrooms that were popping up along the walkway between Massey Hall to the main part of campus (a.k.a., the Magical Forest).

Well, not long after my frustrated post, I received an e-mail from Channing Frampton, a junior media arts major at RMU, with a concentration in TV/video and a minor in theatre. According to Frampton, he and his classmates created these particular paper fungi as part of an installation art project for his humanities class taught by Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre, M.F.A., assistant professor of communications here at RMU.

The first time he saw paper mushrooms along the pathway, Frampton, like me, was curious about their origin. Once he signed up for the humanities class, he learned that this particular medium and subject was chosen because it added to the “magical wonder” of this scenic part of the RMU campus. And being that they’re made of paper, the mushrooms were a great choice for Prof. Lefebvre, who teaches her students to be environmentally conscious.

"I want my humanities students to have hands-on experiences with art - not to just learn about them," says Lefebvre, who wanted a project that could be accomplished in one class, that didn't require any particular artistic experience, and that they could do together. "We talk about installation art and performance art in class and then tackle the mushroom project," she says. "Even the students who are dubious about their mushroom can see the effect that everyone's work has together.

"My idea," she adds, "is just to throw a piece of installation art at the campus, to make folks walking by do a double take, and really start to look at what is around them; to add something unexpected to that lovely walk between Hale and Massey."

So there you have it. Mystery solved. And you probably thought that the paper mushrooms were put there by mischievous little gnomes who live high in the towering pines of the Magical Forest. Ha! How silly of you!

Everyone knows that the gnomes live underground.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Mystery of the Paper 'Shrooms

Okay, I thought I could live with the mystery and the romance of not knowing.

But I can’t take it anymore…


Two years ago, when I first came to RMU, I was walking through the Magical Forest, i.e., the scenic pathway from Massey Hall to the main part of campus, when I noticed some very large mushrooms growing at the base of one of the tall pines. Upon further inspection, I realized that these very realistic fungi were actually made of paper.

Who would make paper mushrooms? Why would they “plant” them along this secluded pathway? Would they taste good on a hamburger with Swiss? It was certainly perplexing, but not enough for me to actually do anything about it.

Then it happened again this year. Now I absolutely must know.

So in the coming days I will be launching an investigation into the Mystery of the Paper ‘Shrooms. If anyone out there knows anything about the origin or meaning of these imitation toadstools, drop me a line at brkich@rmu.edu.

Stay tuned…

--Valentine J. Brkich

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Enough is Enough

Det. Brian Johnson used to handle only “hot case” homicides. As a result, his hours were erratic and he didn't get to spend much time with his 10 and 11-year-old sons. Eventually, he switched to "cold" cases so that he could work steady hours and be able to give his sons the kind of guidance they can only get from a male role model. “It’s easier to set kids on the right path when they’re young than trying to turn them back once they’ve become teenagers,” he said.

Johnson was part of a panel discussion held on Oct. 21 in RMU's Rogal Chapel to discuss the alarming increase in violence among young males today. Called “Masculinity and Violence,” the discussion was organized by Paul Spradley, RMU’s assistant director of student life for multicultural affairs, as part of the national Week Without Violence. Sponsored by the YWCA, the Week Without Violence showcases a series of programs to help reduce violence in our communities.

The “Masculinity and Violence” panel included three members of the City of Pittsburgh Police Department: Cheryl Doubt, commander of investigations and firearms; and Brian Johnson and Sheldon Williams, both homicide and investigations detectives. Throughout the discussion, the panelists – all of whom are parents of young boys and/or men – talked about what they see as the reasons for the increase in violence. They also shared some of the steps that the Pittsburgh Police are taking to help resolve these issues.

Williams, Johnson, and Doubt all agreed that violence is becoming more prevalent and egregious because society is increasingly tolerant to it. Williams said he attributed the increasing violence to changes in societal dynamics, particularly a deviation in the standard of morality throughout the community. They also cited the importance of having a male role model to provide guidance, both in words and in action, which is something that so many young men just don't have today.

I think Cmdr. Doubt said it best, however, when she said that our own apathy is a main part of the problem. "Criminals are counting on us to turn our heads and look the other way," she said. "If we want the violence to stop, people have to get to the point where they say, enough is enough.”

I say enough is enough. What do you say?

-- Valentine J. Brkich

Friday, October 16, 2009

He Wrote the Book on Fashion

On October 3, I made my way over to Nordstrom’s at Ross Park Mall to finally meet Tom Julian ’84, the president and founder of Tom Julian Group. I had interviewed him over the phone for the cover piece of our spring 2008 issue of Foundations magazine, but this was the first time I’d ever met him in person.

Julian was warm and friendly right from the start, and he treated me like a member of his own family, many of whom had gathered to see him sign his new book, The Nordstrom Guide to Men's Style. As a celebrity reporter and chronicler of “red carpet” trends for the Style Section of for Oscar.com, the official website of the Academy Awards, Julian has long been the go-to guy in men’s fashion. And now he’s got the book to prove it.

Since I’ve always considered myself to be somewhat style-challenged, I was pleased when Julian gave me my own personal signed copy of the book. Now I have no excuses.

Click the play button below to watch the brief interview.

--Valentine J. Brkich

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hail to the chief

Talk about a life-changing experience. When President Obama came to Pittsburgh last month to address the AFL-CIO convention at the David L. Lawrence Convention center, RMU senior Tyler Punteteri not only met the president backstage, he even got to drive in the presidential motorcade.

Thanks to an uncle who is active in Democratic politics, Tyler and his grandfather ferried members of the White House press corps from the airport to the convention center to cover Obama's speech. Tyler shook the president's hand, though he admits he was too nervous to strike up much of a conversation with the commander-in-chief.

"I didn't know what to say to him. I was just so excited," says Tyler, a finance major from Wampum, Pa.

As for Obama, he was grascious and friendly, even organizing a picture with Tyler and the other volunteers. The picture was snapped, by the way, by Pittsburgh Penguin Tyler Kennedy, and Tyler Punteteri also got to meet another Penguin that day -- a guy by the name of Mario Lemieux.

"It was fantastic. It was very exciting," says Tyler.

Tyler was so fascinated with the mechanics of a presidential appearance that he's now interested in doing political advance work himself. Maybe someday you'll see him, zipping by in a limousine bearing the presidential seal.
--Jonathan Potts

RMU's Hidden Symbols

Back in 2003, novelist Dan Brown took the publishing world by storm with his highly controversial book, The Da Vinci Code. Just recently, he released his long-awaited follow-up, The Lost Symbol, which centers around the mysteries surrounding the many Masonic symbols found around our nation’s capital and on our national currency.

At the center of this new thriller is the fresco known as “The Apotheosis of George Washington,” which adorns the ceiling of the Capital Dome. Painted in 1865 by Constantino Brumidi (1805-1880), this Raphael-esque fresco covers an area of 4,664 square feet and took eleven months to paint.

In the center of the fresco, Brumidi depicts George Washington rising to the heavens with classical female figures representing Liberty and Victory. Washington is depicted as a godlike figure here, hence the word “apotheosis” in the title, which literally means “the raising of a person to the rank of a god.”

Six other groups of figures are included in the painting symbolizing American ingenuity in war, science, marine, mechanics, agriculture, and commerce.

Ed Karshner, assistant professor of English studies and communications skills at RMU, pointed out that the commerce grouping actually depicts Mercury, the Roman god of commerce, handing a bag of money to our very own Robert Morris, financier of the American Revolution. “Mercury was the patron god of alchemy, which sought to transform lead (the body/material) into gold (the soul/spirtiual),” he says. “Mercury represented the swift intellect and was associated with Hermes, the messenger of the gods. So, the intellect is handing Robert Morris a spiritual reward of transformation (i.e., what was lead is now gold), which is a pretty cool metaphor for a university.”

Each semester, Karshner has students in his Mythology class look for the hidden symbols around campus. “I also like to look at how groups use symbols, icons, and indexes subconsciously,” he says. “It's a kind of symbol scavenger hunt and a mind puzzle, but it's also fun and can be illuminating.”

Karshner points out that at RMU we have a ziggurat: a stepped hill with a temple (Rogal Chapel) on top. “You can look at ancient Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica to see examples of these pyramids,” he says.

We also have a dome and spiral in the Nicholson Center, which Karshner says symbolizes the migration or emergence into the mind or the ascending to heaven. “All of these symbols fit into RMU as a university, since they all reference a migration upward to a higher consciousness and a transformation of self.”

--Valentine J. Brkich

Friday, October 9, 2009

What's So Civil About War Anyway?

I first became fascinated with the Civil War after reading Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels, the 1975 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that chronicles the Battle of Gettysburg. From the first page, this remarkable work of historical fiction grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Shaara’s writing made history come alive, and it debunked the myth that history is inherently boring.

From then on I was hooked, and I began devouring books on the subject. I even managed to drag my wife to Gettysburg one cold and rainy spring day to tour the hallowed grounds.

Then I read Tony Horwitz’s Confederates in the Attic, in which Horwitz recounts a year he spent touring many of the war’s sites and battlefields, and, in the process discovers that, in many parts of the South, the Civil War never really ended. Horwitz’s tale inspired me to go on my own Civil War tour one day. And now I’m finally going to get that chance.

Next spring, students in RMU’s Civil War Study Tour course, taught by Daniel Barr, Ph.D., will be spending the first week of May visiting some of the war’s most influential sites and battlefields. This totally online course will take students to sites like Harper’s Ferry, Mechanicsville, Richmond, Cold Harbor, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania, Antietam, and Gettysburg. I’ll be tagging along to document the trip and get some video of our students as they get a close-up look at American history.

I'm really looking forward to this trip. In fact, I’ve already started filling my haversack with salt pork and hardtack! (Actually it's just my backpack, and I'll probably just bring Slim Jims and stale crackers.)

Online threaded discussions throughout the course will allow students to discuss what they have learned about the sites and what they hope to gain from the tour. After the tour, students will evaluate the tour as an engaged-learning experience and compare how being at the sites differed from or enhanced traditional methods of instruction. (Registration will begin in early November. Interested students can contact Prof. Barr for more information at barrd@rmu.edu)

I'm really looking forward to next May. Once I finish the tour, I think I can finally refer to myself an official Civil War buff. Fortunately, I’m already married.

– Valentine J. Brkich

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

4th Annual Susan K. Hofacre 5K Run/Walk

Just today, I got an e-mail announcing the 4th annual Susan K. Hofacre 5k Run/Walk, which will take place at RMU’s Moon Township Campus on Saturday, Nov. 7, at 9 a.m.

This e-mail came at an interesting time, since I’ve recently been considering getting back into running again. Considering. I have a two-year-old daughter, you see. Ever since she was born, instead of running, I’ve been working on my long-distance loafing on the couch, which is a lot easier on the knees.

Susan K. Hofacre, Ph.D., was RMU’s first female athletic director. Hofacre, who earned an MBA from RMU in 1999, joined the university’s athletic department in 1989 as its senior women’s administrator, assisting with compliance issues, academic advising, events scheduling and policy development. She also served as department head and professor of sport management.

As athletic director from 2000-2005, Hofacre helped the Colonials add seven new NCAA Division I athletic programs, including the first men’s and women’s hockey teams in Pittsburgh. She also oversaw the development of the new track and field at the RMU Island Sports Center, as well as the construction of Joe Walton Stadium and athletic administration building.

In 2002, Hofacre was awarded the Robert Morris University Alumni Philanthropist Award by the Alumni Association for her establishment of endowed scholarships and her raising of funds for the University. She passed away on Jan. 8, 2005, at the age of 54, after a courageous battle with cancer.

The Susan K. Hofacre 5k Run/Walk benefits the Susan Hofacre Memorial Scholarship Fund. If you’re an avid runner or considering getting back into running like me (considering), be sure to mark November 7 on your calendar and support this important cause. (Registration starts at 8 a.m. at Joe Walton Stadium. The race begins at 9 a.m.)

-- Valentine J. Brkich

Friday, September 25, 2009

Who Was Gus Krop?

University’s are always bragging about their shiny new, state-of-the-art facilities—and rightly so. When RMU built Joe Walton Stadium in 2005, for example, it was yet another example of how the university was growing and continuing to enhance the overall experience of its students.

But as we celebrate the new, it’s also important to revere the old.

As you walk into John Jay Center, the first door on your left leads into the Gus Krop Gym. This is a special place. Wooden rafters support the large domed ceiling – a feature not seen in many modern gyms – and old-fashioned bleachers sit on just one side of the court, recalling the days when the university was much smaller. It a warm, cozy place that reminds me of the small-town gymnasiums in “Hoosiers,” the 1986 basketball classic staring Gene Hackman.

Gus Krop (1917-2005) is known as the founder of RMU basketball. From 1963 to 1976, he led the Colonials to an impressive record of 287-58. Krop coached nine All-Americans at then Robert Morris College, and, in 1969, he took the Colonials to the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) title game. It was the success of Krop’s teams in the mid to late 1960s that really helped market Robert Morris and put it on the map, so to speak.

After retiring from coaching in 1976, Krop became the university’s director of security until he retired altogether in 1997.

Today, the men’s and women’s basketball teams play over in Sewell Center Arena, and the Gus Krop Gym is mainly used for RMU’s indoor intramural activities. But hopefully this little gym that holds the ghosts of teams past will always serve as a tribute to one of RMU’s greatest coaches.

-- Valentine J. Brkich

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What about Pittsburghese?

Many of you already know that a major event of great international import takes place this week in the Pittsburgh area. Yes, I am referring to RMU's Homecoming. But this week also sees Pittsburgh playing host to the G-20 Summit. As a service to the thousands of international visitors who are descending on our fair city, RMU students and staff have prepared downloadable walking tours of downtown Pittsburgh in 10 G-20 languages. Click here to download a tour. You can also learn about RMU's other international initiatives here.

Speaking of Homecoming, we certainly hope to see you Saturday. In addition to the usual festivities, our alumni magazine, Foundations, will be hosting a booth where you can get a picture taken for your own personalized magazine cover. You'll also want to bring along a business card, so you can enter it into our Colonial prize pack raffle.

And you tweeters, take note: Whoever sends the best RMU-related tweet during the football game against Bryant will receive a prize pack at the end of the third quarter. Just follow http://twitter.com/rmunews and use the tag #rmusports.

--Jonathan Potts

Friday, September 18, 2009

Celebrating Diversity at RMU

When I was growing up, I didn’t give much thought to diversity. Sitting behind my desk in Catholic school, my mind was occupied with doodling elaborate outer-space battle scenes in my loose-leaf notebooks. When I did occasionally pick up my head to scan the classroom, I’d see twenty or so white kids – some of them also drawing, some of them dozing off, and maybe one or two teacher’s pets actually paying attention to Sr. Margaret.

A diverse group, we were not. We were all from the same county, the same state, the same country. We were all Catholic, and we were all Caucasian. During my eight years there, we only had one African American student – a boy named Maurice – who was only there for half of my second-grade year. But again, this was normal to us. We didn’t know any better. We didn’t understand why diversity was important, and frankly, we didn’t care. We just wanted 3 o’clock to come.

When I entered public high school, diversity was suddenly thrust upon me. Now the classroom was filled with kids from various backgrounds. At first it was a little intimidating. In no time at all, however, the strangeness wore off, and I had an entirely new idea of what was normal. Soon, I had African American friends, Asian friends, Hispanic friends, Jewish friends, Protestant friends, Methodist friends…and it was wonderful.

The diversity I encountered in high school opened my eyes to the world and helped me see it in an entirely new way. By the time I reached college, instead of being surprised by diversity, I was surprised if my classes lacked it. Diversity had become the norm rather than the exception.

Here at RMU, we’re lucky to have an incredibly diverse student and faculty population. Just a couple days ago, I attended the first installment of the Diversity Speaker Series, organized by Paul Spradley, assistant director of student life for multicultural affairs. Around 60 people gathered in the Rogal Chapel to hear the first guest speaker, Saleem Ghubril. Ghubril, who was born in Beirut, Lebanon, fled to the United States with his family when civil war broke out in his country in the mid-1970s.

Ghubril embodies everything that is good about diversity. In addition to being the executive director of the Pittsburgh Promise, this Asian-African-Arab-American is also an ordained minister who is committed to serving the community and bringing people together. “I am the world!” he said.

During his talk, Ghubril spoke of how much the world has changed for the better over the years in terms of racial and ethnic tolerance. He also spoke of the many challenges we still face today. As I listened to him speak of diversity with passion and youthful exuberance, I noticed the diverse audience that had gathered to hear him speak, and it warmed my heart.

RMU’s diversity is something to be celebrated. The many cultures and backgrounds that make up this university help to teach us tolerance and understanding, and it gives us all a global perspective. And in an ever-shrinking world, few things are as valuable.

- Valentine J. Brkich

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Man. The Foil. The Legend.

When you hear the name Dave Hanson, reading probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

Hanson is best known for is memorable portrayal of “Jack Hanson,” one of the fight-starting, thick-glasses-wearing Hanson Brothers in the 1977 movie, “Slap Shot,” starring Paul Newman.

But as it turns out, he’s just as handy with a pen as he is with a hockey stick.

Hanson, general manager of the RMU Island Sports Center, will be appearing at Bridgewater BookFest on Saturday, Sept. 12, from 9 a.m to 3 p.m., in Bridgewater, Pa, where he will be selling and signing his autobiography, Slap Shot Original: The Man. The Foil. The Legend. Proceeds from the sales of the book will go to the Association of the Hole In The Wall Camps, which Newman founded in 1988.

Hanson was a defenseman for the St. Paul Vulcans and for the University of Minnesota, whose coach was the legendary Herb Brooks. After that, he played 10 seasons of professional hockey with the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota North Stars of the NHL, and the New England Whalers, Minnesota Fighting Saints, and Birmingham Bulls of the WHA.

Also at Bridgewater BookFest, Nicole Bazner ’09, a graduate of RMU’s Elementary Education program, will be heading up the BookFest Children’s Tent. Bazner, who now works in the Canon Mac School District as a 2nd grade teacher, was a student in Assistant Professor Michele N. Hipsky’s Special Needs and Assessment classes. At BookFest, she will be organizing and coordinating book readings, crafts, and other fun activities for the little ones.

Be sure to come to Bridgewater BookFest next Saturday to say hello to Nicole and get a signed copy of Dave’s new book. Just don’t get him angry. He may check you into the boards.

Ha! Just kidding! That was just in the movies.

(Seriously, don’t make him mad.)

--Valentine J. Brkich

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

...and so, we hope, are the Italians

RMU decided to extend a formal invitation to Homecoming to another delegation visiting Pittsburgh for the G-20 Summit, a.k.a the Pittsburgh Summit. This time it's Italy, which as you can see from the letter below has a special connection this year to RMU:

His Excellency Giovanni Castellaneta
Italian Ambassador to the United States
Italian Embassy
3000 Whitehaven Street, N.W.Washington, DC 20008

Dear Ambassador Castellaneta:

As Pittsburgh prepares to welcome the world’s leaders for the G-20 summit, it is my pleasure as the president of Robert Morris University to invite your delegation to attend our annual Homecoming celebration on Saturday, September 26, the day after the summit is completed. We would be honored for you to meet two Italian students who are studying at RMU this year, Berardo Artieri and Luca Lugini.

Berardo and Lugini were students at the University of L’Aquila in April when the university was heavily damaged in an earthquake. RMU has gladly agreed to pay the cost of their tuition so they can continue their studies, and I am pleased to tell you that they have made an excellent impression on our faculty and staff.

Berardo and Lugini came to the United States through the efforts of the American Italian Cultural Institute of Pittsburgh, which was co-founded by Joseph D’Andrea, a former honorary Italian consul to Pittsburgh. Joseph is a great friend of mine and this university, and in May we awarded him an honorary degree at our commencement ceremony.

Homecoming is a wonderful American tradition, with great food, music and an American football game. The students will elect a Homecoming king and queen, and graduates of the university visit for reunions with their former classmates. We would welcome your delegation as my special guests to meet Berardo and Luca and enjoy a relaxing day before they travel back home. Personally, I am eager to repay the hospitality my wife, Polly, and I experienced when we traveled to Italy last winter to visit our students studying abroad and make connections with your universities.

RMU is very close to the Pittsburgh airport, and we would be glad to make all transportation arrangements for your group’s visit, on Homecoming or on another day. If your schedule is too full, we would be pleased to meet you at your convenience to share ideas about how Robert Morris University can strengthen its commitment to giving its students a global perspective.

I wish you a pleasant and productive visit to Pittsburgh, and sincerely hope to have a chance to welcome you to RMU.


Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Ph.D.President, Robert Morris University

-- Jonathan Potts

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tom Julian '84 Publishes Book on Men's Fashion

I’ve never been known as “fashionable.”

When I was in grade school, I regularly wore red-and-black checkered suspenders to school. Seriously. In high school, sometimes I wore sweatpants with a matching sweatshirt. Most of the time, however, it was the standard jeans, jean jacket, backwards Motley Crüe hat, and my favorite black sneakers. It’s hard to believe I couldn’t find a girlfriend.

Tom Julian, a 1984 graduate of Robert Morris University, has never had a problem with fashion.

As president and founder of Tom Julian Group, “a global business enterprise creating innovative and visionary branding solutions for Fortune 500 companies in the fashion, retail, financial, automotive and hospitality industries,” this RMU alumnus can not only tell you a thing or two about the latest trends in men’s fashion, he can also provide companies with expert advice on branding and marketing.

Now Tom is announcing the release of his new book: The Nordstrom Guide to Men's Style.

According to the website, in the book Tom “…demystifies the terms, rules and logic used by menswear insiders so you can choose the right fabrics and patterns, select appropriate cuts and accessories, find the best fit, create your own personalized look and assemble the perfect wardrobe for your lifestyle.”

When it comes to style, few people are as knowledgeable as Tom. For 14 years he served as a celebrity reporter and chronicler of “red carpet” trends for the Style Section of for oscar.com, the official website of the Academy Awards®. He’s also been a guest and fashion analyst on national TV shows and stations like “Live With Regis & Kelly” and E! Entertainment Television.

If you’d like a signed copy of Tom’s new book, head over to Nordstrom’s at Ross Park Mall on Saturday, Oct. 3, from noon to 2 p.m. Just be sure to RSVP by Sept. 29 to Belinda@tomjuliangroup.com.

And please, for Tom’s sake, don’t wear sweatpants.

--Valentine J. Brkich

Monday, August 17, 2009

Local Veterans Discuss Issues at RMU

This afternoon, approximately 200 other people braved the sweltering August heat to gather in the International Suite in Sewall Center at Robert Morris University for a special meeting with U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter and retired U.S. Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The purpose of the meeting was to allow members of the audience discuss various issues concerning veterans. About half of those in attendance were veterans, with those who served in World War II all the way up to those who have served in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After a brief welcome from RMU President Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Sen. Specter addressed the room, voicing his intentions to do what he can for local veterans. Both Specter and his brother are veterans themselves, and their father served and was wounded in World War I.

Before the members of the audience were given the floor, Secretary Shinseki stated that it was his goal to make the Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) the “provider of choice for all vets” within the next five years. He also said that the new G.I. Bill is “as good as or better” than that of 1944—a bill that provided a college education for millions of veterans. Shinseki added that the V.A.’s budget would be increasing by 15% in 2010, which will be the largest increase for the department by any president in the past 30 years.

As the floor was opened up to questions, various veterans voiced their concerns over such issues as the lack of benefits, joblessness, and even homelessness among veterans. In fact, at least three of those in attendance were homeless vets themselves. As each issue was raised, both Secretary Shinseki and Sen. Specter responded with their intentions to do whatever was necessary to find a proper and timely resolution.

RMU has made a strong commitment to members of the armed services through things like the Yellow Ribbon Program, the Veterans Business Outreach Center, and ROTC. Earlier this year, the university announced its new Military Service Award, which will enable veterans who qualify for full benefits under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill to enroll tuition-free in any of the university’s undergraduate or graduate programs. We were among the first private universities in the country to offer such a program.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The British are coming! (We hope)

Regular readers of this blog -- we know you are out there -- know that our Homecoming takes place this year on Sept. 26, just after the G-20 Summit (rechristened The Pittsburgh Summit) wraps up in downtown Pittsburgh.

In the spirit of good transatlantic relations, we decided to invite the British delegation to come partake in our Homecoming celebration, as a way of burying the hatchet over that whole Revolutionary War business. Here is the text of the letter that RMU President Greg Dell'Omo sent to the British ambassador to the United States, Sir Nigel Sheinwald.

Dear Ambassador Sheinwald:

As the president of a Pittsburgh university named for the man who financed George Washington’s army, I am proud of the historical heritage of Robert Morris University. While Morris is not as widely known as other Founding Fathers, the “Financier of the Revolution” loaned the colonial forces money from his own accounts and ordered his company's ships to operate as privateers, attacking British vessels and seizing their cargo.

All’s fair in love and war, as they say. Yet today, as Pittsburgh prepares to welcome the world’s leaders for the G-20 summit, I recall the special relationship between the United States and United Kingdom. Former foes are now partners. Our university maintains a student exchange program with the University of Birmingham, we have British students and faculty, and we are extremely proud that this fall, alumnus Michael Wahl will become the first RMU graduate to attend the University of Oxford, where he plans to pursue a doctorate in social anthropology.

So how to make amends for the past? While it will not be possible for us to return the cargo Morris’s privateers took, I would like to offer something almost as valuable. The day after the summit, on Saturday, September 26, we will hold our annual “Homecoming” ceremonies for alumni, culminating in the crowning of a king and queen (an idea we borrowed from the “Mother Country”) and a game of RMU Colonials football (our kind, not your kind) at high noon.

I would like to invite your delegation to be my personal guests that day, including seats in my private presidential reviewing stand, an American lunch, and, if you are willing, a formal handshake at midfield to convey our mutual admiration and respect.

Robert Morris University is very close to the Pittsburgh airport, so this may be a fun way for your officials to wrap up the visit before departing. We would be glad to make all transportation arrangements for your group’s visit, on Homecoming or on another day. If your schedule is too full, we would be pleased to meet you at your convenience to share ideas about how Robert Morris University can strengthen its commitment to giving its students a global perspective.

I wish you a pleasant and productive visit to Pittsburgh, and sincerely hope to have a chance to welcome you to RMU.


Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Ph.D.
President, Robert Morris University