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Faculty and staff Showcase Furman expertise

Last updated April 15, 2023

By Clinton Colmenares, Director of News and Media Strategy

The countdown to the launch of Clearly Furman continued Saturday on Furman’s campus with Furman Showcase, the chance for alumni and friends to learn from the university’s faculty and staff. There were 78 lectures, panel discussions and presentations by more than 160 presenters, covering topics from the Holocaust to drawing, biodiversity to using drones for social good.

The day started with a presentation about Pathways, an integral component of The Furman Advantage. After several years as a pilot program, Pathways became a requirement this year for all first-year and sophomore students with a one-hour class each of their first four semesters. Pathways combines advising, mentoring and reflection, preparing students for a life of purpose, so that they’re on a trajectory for success at graduation.

Pathways “sets us up for to be much more intentional for our students,” said Beth Pontari, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs.

Here’s a look at a few more Furman Showcase offerings.

Study Away

Elise Peeler ’21 went on a study away trip in 2019 to Brussels, where Furman has a long relationship providing interns for the European Parliament. Now she works there full time for Roberta Metsola, the EP president from Malta, where she engages in policy with global ramifications.

Peeler was joined on a panel with Derek Nelsen ’15, Jackson Phillips ’23, Melissa Malone ’16, Taylor Hall ’09, Fiona Bloom ’12, Reagan Britain ’22 and John Bleed ‘17, other globe-trotting Paladins who studied away in Brussels, Washington D.C., Copenhagen, France, Italy, Greece and many other European countries. They all talked about how their experiences helped their careers.

Bloom went to Brussels in 2010; now she’s a partner with Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington D.C., advising American organizations, including the Air Force, on European issues. She said the Brussels experience opened her up to a new worldview that led her to move to Washington, where she would be challenged professionally. Every day, she said, she uses skills she learned at Furman that help her hold her own in a room: critical thinking, communicating and building meaningful relationships.

Bloom connected with Britain through Brent Nelsen, professor of politics and international affairs, while Britain was studying away in Denmark. Britain interned for Booz Allen for a semester, then Bloom hired her.

Bleed went to Brussels in 2015; he’s now a policy analyst for the Confederation of British Industry, the United Kingdom’s leading trade organization. Hall joined the Air Force after graduation, where his experience in Brussels aided his job briefing generals on European matters. Malone is an immigration attorney in Greenville who says her time overseas helped her realize how small the world is. Derek Nelsen, a web designer, who toured seven European countries in six months, says his experience overseas informs his opinions about technology developments. Phillips, working in committees, helped prepare the European Parliament prepare to declare Russia a terrorist state, while combining his linguistic skills in French.

Breaking the stereotypes of Greek life

Zane Newell ’24 came to Furman as a “never-joiner.”

“Joining a Greek organization was not really on my radar at all,” he said. “I had only heard the bad stereotypes, like hazing and partying all the time.”

His perspective changed once he started making friends in the Beta Theta Pi fraternity – and got more involved than he expected to.

“If you told me three years ago that I was going to be a fraternity president someday, I would have said there would be zero chance,” Newell said during a panel discussion on Greek life Saturday morning. “But here I am today.”

Jordan King, Furman’s director of student involvement, moderated the discussion, which included four other current or former officers of Greek organizations on campus.

They were all excited to see social life flourishing again at Furman after the isolation of the COVID-19 era.

“The worst thing that COVID did was put everything in neutral,” said Jack Malo ’23, former president of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity. “For all of us who led coming out of that, there was a real rallying cry to get going.”

Despite the challenges – like recruitment via Zoom meeting – there have also been cherished memories.

“I remember looking at the seniors on the screen during recruitment and thinking, ‘They love each other so much,’” said Katherine Hough ’24, secretary of the Chi Omega sorority. “‘They just pour everything into each other. That’s who I want to become.’”

– Jerry Salley 

Diversity at the core of change

The Diversity Leaders Initiative “changed my organization, changed my career and ultimately, it changed the way we provide services to patients in Anderson County,” said Juana Spears Slade, chief diversity officer and director of language services at AnMed, during a panel of DLI alumni.

DLI, offered by The Riley Institute at Furman, addresses the ways we differ from one another, while exploring the unique strengths of diverse teams and offering strategies to bring progress to organizations.

“It’s difficult to get people to get together and work together, understand each other and listen to each other – probably it’s the greatest need in the country right now,” said former South Carolina Governor and United States Secretary of Education Dick Riley ’54. “I think we’re right on the money as far of the needs of this country right now. That, and quality public schools.”

Tony McDade ’79, a Furman trustee and former executive director of United Ministries and of the Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network, also spoke of the initiative’s impact.

“We always come to the work with our presuppositions that things are what they are and it’s going to be very difficult to change them,” he said. “DLI has gone to the core of changing that.”

– Sarita Chourey

History in the headlines

History does have a way of repeating itself, and when it makes headlines in the present, the past often becomes much more relevant. Take COVID-19. When the pandemic hit, Furman students, staff and faculty drew some comfort from knowing that their Furman predecessors survived the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, said Courtney Tollison, distinguished university public historian and scholar, in a talk on drawing history lessons from today’s events.

Jason Hansen was teaching Russian history when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine. The invasion offered an unfortunate lesson in the relevance of history between the two countries, and helped students think critically about the circumstances. “Part of our job as professors is not only to teach our students, but as expert in these fields we feel a sense of duty as public intellectuals to contribute to discussions about these topics,” associate professor Hansen said.

The history of brutality against women helped Tugce Kayaal, assistant professor of history, provide context for the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian woman who died after police arrested her for not wearing a hijab according to law.

John Barrington, professor of history, offered two recent interpretations of American history that were popular because of the ideologies they advanced, but which were soon found full of inaccuracies, the 1619 Project and the 1776 Project.

“Students how know even one period of the past in depth will know that history is based on research and cited sources, not on angry assertions. Students will know that the past is complex and work askance at reductionist interpretations.”

Advocating for Equity

Consider just a few of the careers a graduate of Furman’s Master of Arts in Advocacy and Equity Studies program might choose: Non-profit administrator, community organizer and leader, public health practitioner, lawyer and foundation leader. It’s that last one that Shaniece Criss, director of the new master’s program and an associate professor of health sciences, highlighted, noting that foundations decide what types of projects receive funding and how the work is evaluated.

The two-year advocacy and equity program – which Criss said is currently more popular in Europe than the U.S. – has six core courses and six electives, including topics such as “Framing Social Justice,” “Grant writing & Resource Development,” “Public Narratives,” and “Community-engaged Research.” Criss noted that skills that will be highlighted in the program – empathetic listening, agility, flexibility and adaptability, modern communication, emotional intelligence and creative thinking – are of great interest to employers.

“We want to apply the knowledge,” said Criss. “That’s what I love about this program. I’m such an applied person. Give me information so I can do something.”

– Sarita Chourey

From cells to biodiversity

The lights went down in the Furman University Microscopy Core Lab, and the Leica TCS SP8 Spectral Confocal Microscope lit up. As Adi Dubash, the Henry Keith and Ellen Hard Townes Associate Professor of Biology, worked the controls, an array of brightly colored lines and spheres bloomed on the monitor.

“This right here is 100% why I’m a cell biologist,” said Dubash, pointing at the cell nuclei and the elaborate network of microtubles and microfilaments. It’s extremely rare for undergraduates to be able to examine an atom in such detail, Dubash said, but the microscopy lab – which also houses an EVOS M7000 Imaging System and a JSMIT200 Scanning Electron Microscope – is routinely available to student researchers in Plyler Hall.

“Students are spoiled here,” said Dubash.

One floor up from the cutting-edge technology in the microscopy lab, thousands of plant and animal specimens are collected in the biology department’s natural history collections.

The Ives Herbarium, the vertebrate collections and the insect collections are important geographic resources for biodiversity studies, especially for the southeastern United States, said Travis Perry ’92, a professor of biology.

Student researchers are regulars in these rooms, as well. Kate Jones ’25 said she has been hard at work reconstructing a sizable desert bighorn sheep skeleton, repairing damage done by previous restorers.

Along with other special adhesives, the anthropology major is using a good old household standby – Gorilla Glue – proving that high-tech and low-tech science are at home in Plyler Hall.

– Jerry Salley

Contact Us
Clinton Colmenares
Director of News and Media Strategy