Category: People

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Learning to Lead

Kaiser Aslam was parked at a table in the Frick Center on a recent Tuesday morning with his laptop and, he was pleased to report, no plans to go anywhere for a while.

It was a rare respite for the senior biology major.

Since December, Aslam has spent most of his weekends on the road, logging enough air miles to make a seasoned business traveler proud. If last week was Dallas, next week must be Atlanta. And the week after next must be New York. Or is it Flint, Michigan?

Aslam’s dizzying travel calendar comes with his role as national coordinator of Young Muslims, a nationwide network of Islamic youth groups. Since he was elected to the post last year, Aslam has been busy hustling to conferences and making visits to local chapters of the group.
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Student For Life

In the between-class bustle of the basement corridor of Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel, Sam Ostrin is hard to miss.

Ostrin is a white-bearded 72-year-old retired physician in a T-shirt that announces: “The truly educated never graduate.”

For Ostrin, Elmhurst College’s most persistent student, these have become words to live by.

Ever since he walked away from his former life as an emergency-room physician 13 years ago, Ostrin has been taking his place in Elmhurst classrooms alongside students less than a third his age. Like them, he enrolls in literature courses and philosophy courses and religion courses. He is the proud owner of a JayPass student identification card, which he will, unprompted, pull from his wallet to proves his student bona fides.

But Ostrin is not after a degree. He has enough of those, including a medical diploma from Heidelberg University. In Elmhurst’s classrooms, Ostrin will tell you, he has found something more ineffable, more profound.

“Elmhurst has taken me by the hand,” he said, walking through the Chapel after his Friday morning Shakespeare class. “And it has rehumanized me.”
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Acceptance

One afternoon last week, Ally Vertigan was hanging out in the Frick Center lounge, getting ready to tackle a writing assignment. She probably wasn’t the only student in the room facing a looming deadline, but Vertigan’s task was unique. She had to write an acceptance speech.

Vertigan learned earlier in October that she would be honored by the Human Rights Campaign of Chicago as its college student of the year at the group’s annual black-tie awards dinner at Chicago’s Fairmount Hotel on November 12. That was the good news. Vertigan seemed slightly less excited about the responsibility that went with the award: speaking for three minutes or so in front of about 1000 well-dressed people at the dinner. She’d been mulling over the speech ever since.

“That’s today’s project, to write the speech,” Vertigan said. “I don’t know if I should do the Academy Award thing and list everyone who’s ever helped me, or just say how grateful I am.”
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Inspired Effort

It began with a thank you.

Three years ago, Amy Du learned that she had earned a scholarship for international students to attend Elmhurst. Du had come to the United States from Johannesburg, South Africa, and had worked as an au pair in Chicago’s far northwest suburbs while attending Elgin Community College. After she found out about her scholarship to Elmhurst, she decided to write her benefactor, Dr. Richard Nyako, a 1967 Elmhurst graduate who had funded the scholarship, to thank him for his generosity.

But she didn’t stop there. Du, a biology and pre-medical student planning a career in international health, also asked Nyako to tell her about his work. What she learned ended up shaping the way she spent her next three years at Elmhurst.

“His story just blew me away,” Du said.
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Economic Intelligence

Now that he has earned a spot among the finalists in the prestigious National Economics Insider student essay competition, Josh Zuke can admit how reluctant he was to enter the contest in the first place.

Zuke is a senior economics major with an acknowledged fondness for wonky policy debate. So he would seem to be ideally suited for the competition, which asks students to propose solutions to an economic problem of their choice. The prize for finalists: a June trip to Washington, D.C., where they pitch their ideas to a panel of America’s top economists and mingle with decision-makers such as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

But when Zuke’s advisor, Associate Professor Gurram Gopal, suggested he enter the competition a few months ago, Zuke demurred.

“I thought about how many proposals there would be, and I thought, ‘What are my chances?’” Zuke said earlier this week, not long after he’d received word that he’d been named a finalist.
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Green Days

Julie Provenza has a talent for making people head for the nearest recycling bin.

Provenza, a senior philosophy major, is the amiable president of Greenjays, the student environmental group. In her presence, ordinary students tend to turn into committed tree-huggers. They’ll be inches away from, say, tossing an empty soda bottle into the trash when they suddenly realize that Julie is watching. That’s when they veer toward the recycling bin.

“It happens all the time,” Provenza said in the Frick Center recently, where the Greenjays were gearing up for a month-long series of events to raise environmental awareness. “They’ll be about to throw out some paper instead of recycling it, and they’ll stop and say, ‘Wait, I can’t do that in front of you.’”
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In the Words of Her Father

Rebecca Clancy grew up following her father, the longtime and legendary Elmhurst theology professor Ronald Goetz, from classroom to classroom. By the time she was in high school, she was auditing his classes and doing the same course work as the regularly enrolled college students. At home, father and daughter talked theology the way some people chat about the weather. It was as if the two shared a gene for theological discourse. Clancy figured that intellectual debates at the dinner table were a standard feature of every child’s family life.

“When I went to college, I was amazed to discover that no on else had read Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit,” she said during a recent conversation in the Frick Center lounge. “I thought that was the kind of thing everyone did.”
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The Call to Serve

One cold night in November, Shannon O’Connell went to sleep in a cardboard box.

O’Connell, a senior religion and service major from Alsip, is used to spending the night in considerably more comfort, in her room in West Hall. But if she learned anything from that that night in the cold, it’s that there is something to be said for going beyond your comfort zone.

O’Connell is an intern at First Church of Lombard, where she works with homeless people and others in need. To get a small taste of life on the street, she and a few dozen other volunteers spent that November night outside the church, in whatever shelter they could scavenge. For O’Connell, that meant a few scraps of cardboard bound together with duct tape.

“It felt like a little coffin,” she said of her handmade shelter. O’Connell said she understands that one night of voluntarily roughing it doesn’t make her an expert on life on the street. Still, the experience made her think about homelessness in a new way. “You start to think about what it must be like to not know where you’re going to sleep, or how you’re going to find something to eat.”

Working at the church’s Outreach House, which provides basic assistance for people in need, O’Connell has had the chance to learn directly from the people she is serving.
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Working Overtime

Three hours before wrestling practice was scheduled to start in Faganel Hall one afternoon last week, Mark Corsello was already out on the mats with a practice partner, trying to perfect his takedowns. For Corsello, a fourth-year heavyweight with an eye on a national title, those mats sometimes seem a little like a second home. Corsello has won two All-America awards and is now ranked second in the nation among NCAA Division III heavyweights. His willingness to work overtime has had a lot to do with his success. His coach, Steve Marianetti, calls Corsello one of his team’s hardest workers, and Corsello can tell you about times when his conditioning and long hours of practice made the difference between victory and defeat.

But his work ethic doesn’t end at the wrestling mats. Corsello is a nursing major—the only one to wrestle for Elmhurst in Marianetti’s nine seasons at the College—and he works even harder at his studies than he does on his wrestling.

“My girlfriend says that all I ever do is study and go to wrestling practice,” he said. “It means a lot of early mornings, but when I get into something, I tend to go all in.”
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Test Stress

In the last sleepless and stressed-out hours of the semester, when term papers come due and final exams loom, even the Serenity Room can get a little frantic.

The Serenity Room is a lilac-walled refuge inside the Wellness Center where students can find a few minutes of relief from deadline pressures and noisy roommates. These days it is totally booked.

“There’s a lot of anxiety and a little bit of panic at this time of year,” said Barbara Wittersheim, Elmhurst’s director of student health services. “Students come to us for help.”

In the Serenity Room, help often comes in the form of the fifteen-minute “mini-massage” offered by registered nurse and massage therapist Donna Kline. She began offering the massages to frazzled students 10 years ago, and they were an immediate hit. The demand grows every year. This semester, Kline filled 90 appointment slots over the last two weeks of the term. Elmhurst’s Student Government Association pays for the massages.

“I try to get them into a meditative state, so they can experience what it feels like to be relaxed,” Kline said after a full day of appointments. “Some of them are so stressed out, they need to know that there is something they can do to help themselves.”
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Posts about interesting people.