At the very top of Georgia, a chance encounter with a Brenau alumna (Hanna Hamline WC'96)
The town of Helen may not be representative of Germany, but it conveys a good sense of American hospitality for tourists. Fourteen students in the 2+2 program with Anhui University in China enjoyed a field trip to the Georgia mountains on Sept. 28, accompanied by Rudi Kiefer, professor of physical sciences and director of sustainability, Ray Tatum, vice president for enrollment management and Khalid Ibrahim, the group’s English instructor.
Sightseeing, lunch and shopping in Helen was followed by a drive to the Brasstown Bald Visitor Center. After the final half-mile walk to the observation tower, the students were stunned by the 360-degree view. “I did not know Georgia had such beautiful mountains,” said Rachel Pei. “It is incredible how far we can see from up here.”
Clear weather and temperatures in the low 80s helped compensate for the serpentine drive up the mountain, and the equally busy return route that can be a challenge for passengers in a packed van. “They were singing Chinese songs in the van most of the time. I don’t know what the words were, but they were having a good time,” Kiefer said. “Conversations were mostly in support of the students’ growing English skills, but I couldn’t resist adding some information about how these valleys formed, and pointing out the floodplains at the bottom.”
Students learned quickly that Brenau is a household name even on Georgia’s tallest mountaintop. A chance encounter at 4,786 ft. elevation with Hanna Hamline,WC’96, presented a photo opportunity, joining an alumna and 1990’s gallery assistant with Brenau’s newest student group. More excitement is sure to be in store for the group as they spend the next few semesters at the university.
A familiar voice is gone from the Gainesville Campus. Capt. Lawrence “Larry” Eschen died on Tuesday, June 9, 2015 at age 94.
“Larry was a well-liked visitor to Walters House,” said Matt Thomas, Vice President for External Relations. “ We could always hear him coming down the hall, because he liked to stop at every desk on the way and spread some good cheer and little gifts. His support of our students and programs was exemplary, making learning projects possible that enriched our regular curricular offerings.”
Eschen’s many years of military service made him a keen student of European history. At the end of World War II, he was stationed in Wiesbaden and Cologne, Germany. It was the same time, and the same region, where another Brenau legend was also serving: the late John Jacobs jr., former chair of the Brenau Board of Trustees. Just like Jacobs, Eschen took great pleasure in sharing his experiences of the reconstruction period in postwar Germany.
“Many were the times that he brought a stack of yellowed prints from 1945 to my office,” said Rudi Kiefer, who was director of multimedia publishing at the time. “We would scan and enlarge them, clean them up digitally, and thereby create new documentation of the days that began the deep friendship between the U.S. and Germany. Larry’s pictures provided views that were never seen anywhere else.”
But such small favors couldn’t begin to return the support that Eschen provided to Brenau University, and to the Academy in its final years. Whether it was supporting an athletic team by donating the funds for their t-shirts, or giving to a new initiative of the theatre program, or purchasing office equipment that didn’t make it into the official budget, he never hesitated to show where his heart was. “We enjoyed his regular workout visits at the Fitness Center,” said receptionist Elizabeth Chappelle. “He never arrived empty-handed. Often he’d stand in the lobby and hand out lollipops to the younger students and the little kids.”
Pat Felt, administrative assistant at the Fitness Center, agreed. “He was more than a customer. He was a good friend. Being a people person, Larry never met a stranger. Every time his booming voice was heard from the entrance, we know there would be some humorous anecdotes, and presents for everybody.”
Have you ever considered getting an electric car, but
thought they’re too expensive? According
to Hannah Solar Corporation, if you use the tax credit, a lease for a Nissan
Leaf can be had for as little as $75 per month.
This was just one bit of information among many gathered by a Brenau group
who attended the statewide conference of the Georgia College Sustainability
Network, held in Macon on Sept. 20.
“The round table session helped open my eyes on what needs to happen
before a campus can claim a ‘sustainability’ effort at any level of earnestness”,
said Robert Cuttino. Together with Rudi Kiefer, who serves on the Steering Committee of GCSN, and Karen
Henman, he participated in the sessions that included topics as diverse as
curriculum-building, water conservation on campus, promoting sustainability
efforts among students, and a round-table discussion about what’s happening at
the various public and private colleges in Georgia. The variety of themes was also apparent among
the presenters, ranging from students attending Georgia College & State
University and Emory University to faculty from UGA, Emory, GCSU, and Georgia
Southern, as well as industry representatives.
“The presentation about Zero Waste Events at Emory has got
me interested in investigating how to institute Zero Waste Events on our campus,
and developing greater buy-in to sustainability”, said Henman. As the three members of Brenau’s
Sustainability Advisory & Action Board (SAAB) attended different concurrent
session, a whole list of projects and priorities evolved, including more
recycling efforts, studying the tree canopy on campus, energy efficiency and
more, which Henman put to paper and summarized for the committee. A busy agenda for the SAAB seems assured.
“It was great to meet the people in person that I’ve been
teleconferencing with during the summer as we were building the conference
agenda in the steering committee,” Kiefer said.
“Eriqah Foreman Williams of the National Wildlife Federation, who
oversees the GCSN activities, was already on my ‘old friends’ list because she
did such a marvelous job with the Farm-to-Table Conference in Statesboro last
spring. And as a UGA graduate, I was
delighted to exchange views with the people from Athens, and learn what they
are doing on the state’s flagship campus over there.”
Henman’s suggestions about a tree inventory and the campus
canopy are certain to be followed up in the SAAB, together with other
vegetation-related projects that are on the burner this year. A first step is a guest lecture by Joan
Maloof, author of “Teaching the Trees” and “Among the Ancients”, scheduled for
Wednesday, Oct.9 at 5 p.m. in Thurmond McRae Auditorium (still being
finalized). More rounds of weeds removal
and clean-up are also slated in the Bamboo Forest area of the Bioscience Field
Station. With a design being prepared by
Teri Nye, and plant selections by Jessi Shrout (both of the Science Dept.), a
new teaching and research venue is emerging in the back of the Brenau Campus.
“Jessi and Teri had class responsibilities, so unfortunately
they couldn’t come along to the Macon conference,” Kiefer said. “But the three of us – Karen, Robert and
myself – brought back so many notes and ideas that we can stay busy for the
entire academic year. The key to it all,
agreed to by every participant, is student involvement in these projects. Just like last year, it’ll be a priority at
“Calendars aren’t my strongest suit,” admits Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., science professor at Brenau. “But according to the list of titles I’ve kept, the Gainesville Times has now published the 700th column I’ve written for the paper, one every week.”
It started with a need to provide more public visibility for Brenau University. Kiefer went to see the editor of the Times and offered to write “a few” weekly columns about the weather, “maybe for as long as six months.” In January 2000, Weatherwise made its debut, and the reaction from readers was positive. “They enjoyed the column’s way of explaining how the current weather was coming about, and why weather prediction is never going to be a 100% accurate operation,” Kiefer said. Suggestions from readers and students soon expanded the range of topics. Among the unusual ones, articles about measurements of temperature inside a hot car come to mind. Or why the piano gets out of tune just before Christmas. Airplane crashes and the weather that brought them about. Driving a train on flooded tracks. The biggest caves east of the Mississippi, right here in Georgia. Why it’s boring to sit through a hurricane. These and many more topics with a more mainstream scientific focus continued until 2012.
That year, Kiefer moved into the sustainability office at Brenau, and Weatherwise was replaced by Earth Sense, now online in addition to the printed Sunday paper. Sustainability and energy use are close cousins, so an early Earth Sense explained how you could have had a better battery in your riding lawn mower. It also, apparently, made sense to discuss the fallout of 2011 disasters, plus the new ones of 2012. So flash floods, tsunamis, tornado shelters and aircraft icing appeared in the Times along with more benign topics like rain barrels and air mass contrasts.
“Students sometimes ask if there’s good money in it,” Kiefer says. “Not in this case, because the primary purpose is still to provide a public service through an educational piece, while keeping Brenau in the news. They pay me just the right amount for the column so I can buy a daily paper and subscribe to Time magazine. That’s it.”
Often, the column has a historic or literary lead-in. “My favorite fiction author is John Steinbeck, especially his Grapes of Wrath, and his less-known novel The Wayward Bus,” says Kiefer. “Steinbeck had an incredible eye for the little technical things that we use in our lives, and how they sometimes come to control us instead of us controlling them. In a way, he’s a pioneer of telling the ‘science vs. daily life’ tale.”
Daily life at Brenau has had a regular place in both Weatherwise and Earth Sense. Reports of the views and activities of Nursing faculty, the dean of health sciences, occupational therapy, and other fields have shown up on Gainesville’s Sunday morning breakfast tables. Most recently, readers learned about Prof. Outtara’s views on warfare in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as Prof. Art Evans’ experiences and tips for flying an F-4 fighter plane in the U.S. Air Force. The current issue details how progress in energy savings and improvements of air quality came about so quickly in the city of Oakwood. That column, and many subsequent ones, are found at http://www.gainesvilletimes.com/life.
August 7 was a very rainy Wednesday in North Georgia, but this didn’t stop a long-planned field trip to Atlanta’s Truly Living Well urban farm. Profs. Jessi Shrout and Teri Nye took the tour of TLW’s Wheat Street location (Rudi Kiefer had to cancel due to a dental emergency), guided by farm manager Ras Kofi.
“The plants are happy, so what’s a bit of rain,” Nye said. The plants were very happy indeed. Brenau’s visitors noticed immediately how healthy the plants look, quite unlike the mineral-fed row crops found at commercial operations out in the country.
“We use compost for plant food, always,” Kofi explained. “The health of the plants, is directly correlated with the health of the soil and compost. And you have to have good starting materials in order to get a good product.” Compost is obtained when plant matter rots under controlled conditions. TLW uses various sources, which include “zoo poop”, whimsically named but self-explanatory, from a firm which retrieves manure from the Atlanta Zoo; free waste from local fruit stands and coffee shops; and mulch from tree services who are usually glad to have a taker for all those shredded cuttings.
Only plant matter is used to make compost, but worms settle in soon after inception of the pile. They are most welcome because they rework and aerate the compost heap. Aerobic bacteria add their own work, generating heat (gardeners call it “cooking” the compost), and facilitating a chemical process which ends up producing nitrates, which are a major fertilizer. Compost also aids in maintaining soil moisture levels, and ensuring a healthy soil texture. Without input of organic matter, North Georgia’s clay soils can easily turn into the red brick-like desert that one can observe on former cotton fields and other mistreated agricultural sites.
Truly Living Well was founded in 2006 by K.Rashid Nuri with the objective to bring nutritionally-rich, fresh-picked produce to local residents through a community supported agriculture program. “People often ask me why our produce costs a little bit more than the frozen stuff from the supermarket,” Nuri said at a 2013 presentation that the 3 Brenau faculty attended also. “I tell them: ‘You can pay me now, or pay a doctor later.’” On the Brenau slate for the 2013-14 academic year is an expansion of the Bioscience Field Station next to the Bamboo Forest. It will include raised beds to facilitate production of common food plants for teaching, research, and donation purposes.
Asked what would be the best scope to start such a project, Kofi’s recommendation was to start small right away rather than waiting to start big at a later date. “Projects like these will grow and expand in their own time, and it can be detrimental to bite off too much in the early stages.” Shrout and Kiefer have already secured grant funding to build the teaching garden, and the fall semester will show how much they can “bite off” the project. The size of the bite will in part depend on student involvement, which was plentiful in the spring term when groups like Alpha Kappa Alpha, Servant Leaders, and several science classes plus machinery from the City of Oakwood helped clear the grounds and produce mulch.
“We hope for plenty of student interest again, of course,” said Shrout. “Another exciting aspect is that we plan to work with a people in the School of Occupational Therapy this fall to create something similar to TLW, but on a smaller scale, using universal design principles. OT students are the future experts in designing installations for human use. This includes handicapped access, but also modes of layout that are ergonomic, and simply make sense.”
If you have never visited the Bamboo Forest, a visit to this unique natural environment is awe-inspiring. “The student groups worked very hard in the spring heat and cleared the grounds from 30-year old trash and debris,” Kiefer said. “With some more landscaping improvements that we have planned for the fall, Bioscience Field Station and the Bamboo Forest will be a fresh asset and teaching venue that serves the entire campus.”
To find the Bamboo Forest, follow the foot path from Jewell Hall downhill past the maintenance shops, and continue in a straight line past the greenhouse.
Picture this: two dozen grown-up looking people in a classroom, all of them faculty, plus a couple of student assistants. All are wearing more or less elaborate togas or poorly disguised bed sheets. Some are negotiating in a civilized manner, European Parliament style. Others are yelling and hurling insults at each other, antique Roman Senate style. This is the scene in a workshop conducted by Mary Beth Looney to introduce the “Reacting to the Past” pedagogy to Brenau classrooms in the spring of 2013, and the participants are having a grand time playing out an event that might have taken place 2,000 years ago. A number of courses, covering a variety of majors across the curriculum, are likely to adopt some form of this role-playing game, which was initiated at Barnard College.
“The Faculty of the Year 2013 Award goes to Professor Mary Beth Looney”, Provost Nancy Krippel announced at the Faculty Retreat Thursday. “Her sense of innovation, the quality of her work with students, and her merits in promoting the fine arts have made her the best choice of many.”
Bringing innovation to Brenau University has been Looney’s trade mark. Many Women’s College students count her study abroad trips to Greece and Italy among the highlights of their stay at Brenau. A few years ago, faculty colleagues enthusiastically attended her “Credit Cafe” sessions, which provided a forum about teaching methods and ways for continuous improvement. Old timers remember Looney as a graphic artist and assistant manager in the gallery.
Chair of the Department of Art and Design since 2005, Professor of Art and Design, and Program Director of Studio Art, Looney earned her B.A. degree in Studio Art from Roanoke College. Her M.F.A. in Painting came from the Savannah College of Art and Design. To that, she added a Master’s Degree in Art History from the University of Georgia. From 1996 to 2004, Looney was an adjunct professor at Brenau University before becoming a full-time faculty member. “ Professor Looney is not only a conscientious department chair and advisor, she is an outstanding teacher,” said Dr. Andrea Birch, Dean of Fine Arts and Humanities.
Given the close relationship between Brenau University and the arts, and the one between Mary Beth Looney and Brenau University, it surely won’t be long until the next round of innovations comes from her office.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., science professor and director of
sustainability at Brenau, was elected on
May 31 to serve on the Board of Directors of EarthShare. “The nomination came as a surprise,” Kiefer
said. “But meeting the other board
members after the election, I was thrilled.
The board includes community and business leaders, as well as environmental
and legal professionals from Georgia. It’s
a great opportunity for networking and serving the cause of sustainability
during the three-year term.”
EarthShare of Georgia is a nonprofit that raises funds
through employee giving for more than 60 environmental member organizations
dedicated to conserving and protecting our air, land and water. Its vision is “working for the day when our
air, land and water are clean, abundant and healthy.” More information about the group is found at www.earthsharega.org.
“The first EarthShare meeting I attended was at the
Southface Building in Atlanta,” Kiefer said.
“If I understand the affiliation correctly, Southface is the environmental
associate of Home Depot. They have an
incredible setup in and around their building.
A water garden outside, an additional rooftop garden, solar electric
panels on top, waterless toilets – never heard of those before – smart air flow
climatization, and more. It was worth
the trip to Atlanta just to get a tour of that building.” Since the Bioscience Field Station in the
back of the Brenau Campus already includes a garden project, Kiefer hopes to
borrow some of the Southface ideas for collecting rainwater to make a water
garden, and start a similar installation as a teaching model at Brenau. The Field Station project, which started with
a massive cleanup in the spring semester, is scheduled to continue this fall, jointly with Profs. Jessi Shrout and Teri Nye.
Expressing thoughts through music is a time-honored tradition at Brenau. Lately, the trend has also emerged among staff and students who aren’t in the Music Department. This past year, productions by Juli Clay, James Sennett, Kimberly Dean and Danielle Miller have delighted a variety of audiences.
For the Earth Day Sustainability Fair event of 2013, Brenau’s EcoFriends students teamed up with vocalist music majors to perform a musical sketch of their own. The Grand Finale show in the SUB was “purely for fun,” said Lauren Cain, WC’14, president of EcoFriends. “We wanted to show that you can be concerned about ecology and the environment but still have a lot of laughs in the process.”
Accompanied by sustainability director Rudi Kiefer (piano), the Sustainability Singers, convening just for this one-time event, performed a sketch which featured songs with familiar melodies but entirely home-made lyrics. “Choir director Bobby Ivey lent us some of his finest vocalists. We only had time for a quick run-through, without a real rehearsal,” Kiefer said. “So the emphasis was on singing loudly, above anything else.” Credit for the video recording is due to Nick Dentamaro of Communications & Publications. Kiefer added some panels and extra video clips. The 12-minute show can be viewed at www.brenau.edu/sustainability/sustainability-singers-musical-fun.
The repertoire consists of songs titled “Grandma is an activist”, “We’re doing the best we can”, “We should welcome global warming when it comes”, and “Lend a hand.” “Nobody should take it too seriously,” said English major Morgan Davis WC’14, who immediately joined the production when she heard about it in an honors course. “I hope people will enjoy our look at the lighter side of sustainability!”
The stage performers were Keisha Boykin, Morgan Davis, Dannin Duncan, Rachel Ellis, Rachel McFarland, Paislie McNutt, Cody Otero, and Riannon Webb, with R.Kiefer at the piano.
The residence halls have gone quiet, and hallways are
looking empty. But while leaving for the
summer, a great number of Women’s College students did a good deed in the
process. Collection boxes placed in collaboration between Brenau’s Sustainability
Center and the Student Services Office filled up with women’s clothing, shoes,
household articles and school supplies.
“We’re thrilled that so many students participated in our ‘Don’t trash
it – donate it!’ campaign,” said Dr. Rudi Kiefer, director of
sustainability. “This is the first time
we’ve done this experiment, and the response has been excellent. It seemed a logical connection, too, to give
our Women’s College an avenue for helping an organization that’s largely
focused on aiding women from the community.”
The Gateway Domestic Violence Center, previously known as
Gateway House, has been serving the area since the 1980’s. A significant part of its revenue is provided
by sales through two thrift stores, which will receive the goods donated by
“The thrift stores are
an important part of our operation,” said director Jessica Butler. “Everything
we have is donated from the community. We’re
very pleased that the Brenau students have been so responsible and
supportive. Also, we encourage faculty
and staff to donate items that are no longer wanted or needed but in sell able
Just recently, the Gateway Domestic Violence Center
generated friendly attention at the Brenau Sustainability Fair with the display
and sale of items hand-made by its residents.
Future events are likely to further strengthen collaborative efforts
between the Sustainability effort and Gateway.
“This is awesome!” said Dana Cole, president of Mu Sigma Chi, the science
society at Brenau. “I’m proud that there
has been such a positive response by our fellow Women’s College students.”
After a last look around the residence hall collection
sites, all donations are scheduled to be delivered to the Park Hill store, with
proceeds to benefit the women’s shelter.
With May Day, final exams, term papers and preparations for graduation, the end of spring semester is the busiest time for Brenau students. Nevertheless, groups formed from sororities, Servant Leaders, Eco Friends and a multitude of classes found the time to perform projects related to sustainability on campus. Clean water is a resource that deserves careful protection, and international students Ji In Park and Hee-Jin Hwang led the charge by stenciling storm drains on campus. “Many people do not understand that this water goes into the lake, and then comes back as the water we drink,” Hwang said. “We hope this will help educate everybody not to drop trash into the sewers.” The stencils, on loan from the City of Gainesville, produce a bright blue fish and an information message.
The two students from Korea didn’t stop at this project. Teaming up with Honors student Jazzmine Eaton (WC’16), they designed a message that hits directly at gut level: “Burn calories, not electricity!” These signs have been posted in all the elevators on campus, alerting users to the far healthier choice of using the stairs. “Not only does this help fight obesity, which is a growing problem in America, but it also frees up the elevators for those people who really do need to use it,” Eaton said. “And besides, it saves a lot of electricity for Brenau, as well as money.”
“Once you get these students going, they’re unstoppable,” said Dr. Rudi Kiefer, director of sustainability. “Apart from these small-group projects, I was coordinating the Bioscience Field Station work jointly with Profs. Jessi Shrout and Teri Nye. We had expected maybe a handful of students to show up. Instead, we got between one and two dozen at each of six multi-hour work sessions, and they were all eager to go to work on the jungle-like overgrowth.”
The first phase of this project, thanks to equipment funding from the Discovery Incubator, consisted of clearing the grounds of dense thickets of shrubs and removing piles of litter from the Bamboo Forest. “Thanks to the hard work by our student volunteers, we’ve made significant progress in clearing the area of invasive plants,” said Shrout. “All the trash that accumulated in the Bamboo Forest for decades is gone, and we’re all looking forward to starting the landscape planning for raised vegetable beds. With continued effort, Brenau will get an all-new venue for outdoor teaching and research during the next academic year.” While the cleanup and clearing sessions made a huge dent in the location, a great deal of tangled shrubbery still lines the hill slope. “We found a house foundation, now cleared of growth, that could make a great seating area,” said Kiefer. “Classes could assemble here, amphitheater-style, for instruction in biology and earth sciences.” A huge debris chipper, complete with a trained operator on loan from the City of Oakwood, helped eliminate the mountains of branches from preceding cut-and-slash sessions. The resulting mulch will benefit the teaching and research gardens which are to take shape in the fall semester when Phase 2 of the project kicks into gear. “You could feel the excitement among the students,” Shrout said. “A formerly deserted part of the campus is becoming a field station for learning and research experiments. Together with the greenhouse and the unique environment of the Bamboo Forest, it’ll be a one-of-a-kind place.”
The last sustainability project before the students leave for the summer is titled “Don’t trash it – Donate it!”. Collection boxes have been placed in the lobby of each major residence hall to receive items that are no longer needed, but good enough to sell in a thrift store. “Working with the Sustainability Center, we’re going to donate everything we collect to the Gateway Domestic Violence Shelter,” said Charmaine Gilmore of Student Services. “It makes a lot of sense that Women’s College students support a local organization which serves mainly women.” Faculty and staff who have CD’s, DVD’s, books, small appliances or garments to donate are also encouraged to deposit them in one of the donation boxes.