Catherine Pena: New Director of Beverly & Sam Ross Gallery

Cat PenaCatherine “Cat” Peña was hired to serve as the Director of the Beverly & Sam Ross Gallery at Christian Brothers University. At the time of her hire, she was the subject of a “Memphis Newsmakers” profile in The Daily News. In the article, Cat states she wants “to create a gallery atmosphere that encourages experimentation while focusing on contemporary artistic practices and theory to inspire our young thinkers and makers.”

In support of that mission, and in partnership with our Visual and Performing Arts Department, Cat introduced Lunch and Learns with artists who exhibit in the gallery. The events afford CBU’s students the opportunity to gain greater insights into various creative processes and the business of being a working artist. This semester students met New Orleans painter Terry Kenney, and local artists Chuck Johnson and Jimmy Crosthwait. Exhibiting artists next semester include Niles Wallace, Claudia Tullos-Leonard, and Cindy McMillion.

Artist Jimmy Crosthwait addresses students at a Lunch & Learn in the  Ross Gallery.

Artist Jimmy Crosthwait addresses students at a Lunch & Learn in the Ross Gallery.

Cat has also been busy outside of CBU. She is currently the Memphis Medical District Collaborative’s resident artist and is working on streetscaping plans for the Manassas street corridor in the Medical District. She and her husband, Professor Nick Peña, collaborated on two of the creative crosswalks: at Madison/Manassas and the midway crosswalk at Health Sciences Park. The two designs play off many of Nick’s geometric patterns found in his current body of work, some of which is now hanging permanently in the Rosa Deal School of Arts building. The project should be completed sometime in February, 2018.

Art Race Violence 2Cat is also one of the artists participating in the Crosstown Arts exhibition titled, Art/Race/Violence: A Collaborative Response. The exhibit is a multi-disciplinary project organized by visual culture historian Dr. Earnestine Jenkins and artist Richard Lou, in collaboration with Crosstown Arts. Through this project, local artists collectively explore intersections of race and systemic violence through the lens of cultural expression. The participants attended a series of workshops and panel discussions, and were given access to a wide array of resources, articles, and media for their research. The eight artist teams — including Cat Peña and Jamond Bullock — have created new installations, which will be on view in Crosstown Arts’ new galleries at Crosstown Concourse through January 14. Yancy Villa (’99) is also included in the exhibition, partnered with Lawrence Matthews.

Student-led Psychophysiology Research Published

T Patrick - P WoodyResearch conducted at CBU on brain activity in people who experience migraines has been published “online first” in the journal, Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. The article, entitled “Auditory event-related potentials in the interictal phase of migraine indicate alterations in automatic attention,” is co-authored by Dr. Jeffrey Sable (Associate Professor of Behavioral Sciences), Toni Patrick (Natural Science ’14), Patrick Woody (Psychology ’17), Katelyn Baker (Biochemistry ’16), Stephanie Allen-Winters (Biology ’14), and Dr. Frank Andrasik (Distinguished Professor and Chair of Psychology at the University of Memphis). A view-only PDF of the article is freely available and it will be published in print next year.

The researchers measured electrical activity from the brains of both migraineurs and those who do not experience migraines. All individuals watched a silent video while sounds played in the background. Although the study sessions took place between headaches, certain brain responses to these ignored sounds were larger in the migraineurs.

Jeff Sable“It’s well established that migraine headaches are part of a larger cycle in those who experience them,” Sable explains. “Brain activity between headaches is abnormal, and it actually normalizes during the headache. The headache itself seems to be a sort of release valve.” Sable’s team looked at brain responses related to attention.

“The larger responses we saw in migraineurs suggests that they may experience some degree of heightened sensitivity to things in their environment, even when they don’t have a headache. In contrast, if these responses get smaller during headaches, as has been found with other brain activity, the headaches themselves may be accompanied by a sort of ‘mental fogginess’.”

The study was initiated by students in Sable’s Psychophysiology course at CBU, including Patrick, Baker, and Allen-Winters. Patrick and Woody later completed the study. Andrasik, a clinical psychologist and leading migraine expert, helped to finalize the paper for publication. Patrick and Woody have presented the research at conferences, including an international audience at an annual meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research. Sable said he takes pride in the interdisciplinary nature of this work: “The authors on this paper include students–now alumni–from four different CBU departments. That’s a big deal to me.”

Crosstown High School Receives XQ Grant

Crosstown HighIn late August, Crosstown High School received a $2.5 million, five-year grant from XQ Institute, a national education reform group founded by former U.S. Education Assistant Secretary Russlyn Ali and Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Pictured above left, Dr. Smarrelli’s portrait is laid out on the Concourse Plaza along with those of other attendees at the XQ Block Party celebration at the site of the future high school on August 24. Check out some interviews with other local Crosstown High supporters at the XQ SuperSchool website — and some cool footage of the XQ School Bus in Memphis. CBU is a founding partner in Crosstown High, a public charter school in the Shelby County School system, scheduled to open in 2018.

Daring To Dream: Associate Professor Nick Pena’s Convocation Speech

Pena ConvocationThe growth of our campus and community was apparent on Monday as my colleagues walked from our newly minted Rosa Deal School of the Arts Building to gather for lunch in our newly renovated dining hall. It was even more apparent when we left Alfonso to bear witness to the sun, moon, and earth beginning their alignment for the solar eclipse.

While we stood outside of the Thomas Center, each taking turns to marvel at the interactions before us, both The Great American Eclipse and our re-aligning CBU community – I felt a difference on our campus.

EclipseI don’t know if you felt it, but I was very aware of the palatable excitement found around each corner of our campus, an excitement that was beyond the celestial phenomenon.  Later, as I reflected on that feeling, I was reminded of my first visit to a university campus.  I was a junior in high school, not much younger than you are now, visiting Morris Library on Southern Illinois University’s campus to begin research on a paper for a biology class.  I vividly remember the buzz of students congregating in the quad, while I walked, unsure of the direction to the library I witnessed students walking with purpose from building to building.  At that moment, I was enamored with the energy, excitement, and collective buzz. Monday’s atmosphere on campus reminded me of my younger self – daring to dream that one day, I would walk with purpose.

“Daring to dream,” I know, it sounds like a motivational speaker’s catchphrase, along with “Your smile is your logo,” or “Your personality is your business card.” Yet, when preparing my remarks for this evening’s address, the expression “Daring to dream,” really is the most appropriate expression I could think of when presenting my theme.

What that theme is will need some priming, so a little historical context is needed. I was born in 1978 so I am not quite Generation X and not quite Generation Y or “a Millennial”. I am a product of a “mixed-race” family. My mother’s family is of English and German descent and my father’s family is of Mexican and Spanish descent.

I look like I should speak Spanish, but I cannot. Needless to say, this has caused some confusion for others throughout my life. Many Latino Americans make assumptions and start speaking Spanish to me and when they realize I cannot, I feel they are left with noticeable disappointment. On the flip-side, many Caucasians also make the same assumption. In the end, I believe it’s because I am, and look, Latino.

I was a “jock” throughout my childhood and in High school, but I hung out with, and was, a punk skateboarder who loved art classes. I was born and raised in the Midwest. For those of you unfamiliar with life in that part of the country, allow me to elaborate. I think the actor and comedian Keegan-Michael Key hit the nail on the head when, during an interview on NPR’s All Things Considered, he described that being Midwestern was always assuming that you have to think badly of yourself, because that’s being humble.

“I’m from the Midwest,” Key said, “so I always assumed: Well, I have to think badly of myself, because that’s being humble. And where I’m from, you get points for being humble and you get an extra special big house in heaven. That’s the rule, right? Now, you have these dirty dreams in the back of your mind: … What if there was the first black James Bond, and it was me? You’re going to hell. You’re never allowed to dream that big.”

What Key is pointing out, and the reason why it resonates, is that many of us, Midwestern or not, find ourselves culturally conditioned by old-fashioned underpinnings.  It took me a long time before I realized the amount of cultural conditioning thrust upon me growing up in a single-parent household. My parents divorced when I was six. The aftermath of that separation meant relocating to a small, rural Southern Illinois town were my brother and I were two in a handful of minorities. For many years, I bought into the idea that I was supposed to stay in my lane.

However, what I realized during my journey through adolescence was that despite our fractured foundation and relocation, my mother, without telling me, consistently dared me to dream. She did so because she was multifaceted and exceptional – it just took me awhile to accept it, with her being my mother and all.

Growing up on a farm during the 1950s, she was one of nine children and the only person in the family to receive her high school diploma and years later, while I was entering high school, she became the first person in her immediate and extended family to receive a college degree. My mother showed me, by example, how someone dares to dream. To better yourself no matter your situation, keep learning, keep failing, have faith, educate others, and keep an open heart.

The other revelation appeared around the time I mentioned earlier, my junior and senior year in high school, and it was because I was equipped, by my mother, with a foundation in daring to dream. I began finding and being drawn to other individuals who left their “prescribed lanes” to pursue their dreams.

Nick PenaGloria Jones, who immigrated to the U.S. to study art education, was my high school art teacher. When our paths crossed in 1995, she changed the trajectory of my life forever. While helping me build the foundation I needed to receive a full scholarship to study art at the university level, she dared me to dream. Without her example, I would not be standing here today.

The list continues: Erin Palmer, Assoc. Professor, in Painting/Drawing at Southern Illinois University; William Hawk, Professor Emeritus, in Painting/Drawing at the University of Missouri; Jana Travis, Associate Professor and my Visual Arts colleague in the Rosa Deal School of the Arts; Dr. Paul Haught, former Dean of the School of the Arts and current Vice President of Academics at CBU; and finally, Cat Peña, my wife and my partner in crime in daring to dream.

Dreaming and living for your dreams is not something that can or should be done by yourself. My advice to you, class of 2021, is, as you embark on your journey at CBU, to take a minute to think about the amazing position you have put yourself in. You are at a University that was founded by a dreamer, which embraces DREAMer’s, and which hires dreamers. I know, because I am one of those dreamers.

In closing, I wish you many fantastic changes during the next four years. It is without doubt that each of you are remarkable and I would like to congratulate you on your academic prowess. You have all had a multitude of successes throughout high school. You have already established your strengths and you will always be the wonderful person you are today.

However, at CBU, we believe you can do better – we dare each of you to dream while we help you build your foundation.

Thank you.

Nick Peña is an Associate Professor of Visual Arts. You can see more of his work on his website. This speech was given at Community Convocation on August 17, 2017.

Student Spotlight: Destiny Bell

cathedralRecently, I was granted the honor of traveling to Austria to present research that a few upperclassmen recruited me to help with. When I first came to CBU, I would have never thought this would be in my cards, but as I stood there staring at the huge plane carrying us to our layover in Spain, I knew it was all too real.

So what do you do when you travel to another country to a conference completely filled with graduates and professors? If you answered, “Cry,” you are partially right, at least on my mother’s part. I am pretty sure she tracked my plane throughout the whole ride. However, as much as I love my mom, the story lies in what happened once I finally got to Vienna, home to many glorious people like Sigmund Freud, Hans Asperger, and Wolfgang Mozart. How in the world was I going to do this?

After sleeping off the inevitable jet lag, the adventure carried on. The conference was held in The Hofburg, a place where it looked like Kings and Queens would vacation. Once again, it struck me that I was an undergraduate travelling the world with research I had worked so hard to complete. I was only involved in the data collection and analysis part, so I can only imagine how it felt for the authors of the project. As we finally walked through the doors, I got a badge with my name on it that clarified what institution I was from and the name of the conference, “Society for Psychophysiology Research.” This was the third conference I’ve attended, but this one was so much more, because I was out of my element. When the conference finally started, I was surprised at how much I could recall. I was able to sit there and defend the thought process and reasoning behind our poster, all while also drinking in the knowledge of others. You would not believe how many people approached us to simply spitball ideas for a new project.

In the middle of a foreign country, with a bunch of new people, I found myself and felt at home in the little bits around me; I found solace in the knowledge everyone came to share. As I wandered through the different posters, new ideas popped up, and I realized this is what I wanted to keep doing for the rest of my life. I want to travel and experience the commonality of knowledge in a room filled with total strangers.

illusion museumIf you think all the academic stuff was cool, you should have seen the adventures afterwards. We found new places to dine where they served us juicy sausages for a small price. We experienced the Natural History Museum and found more creatures than we cared to know were out there in the world. We got into trouble at the Museum Der Illusionen. We were able to see how the locals lived by taking the U-Bahn (subway). We had so much fun in that small week we were there. We exercised our intellectual curiosity by visiting the Freud Museum and learned about one of psychology’s founding fathers. I would go back every time and relive those awe-inspiring moments.

Destiny Bell
Psychology ’18
Cognitive Neuroscience Minor

Student News: Fellows, Flood Waters, Awards, and More…

Allensworth Fellow AwardAlison Allensworth (Psychology ’18) was selected a CBU Lasallian Fellow, Class of 2018. CBU Lasallian Fellowships are presented annually to five members of the senior class based upon the reflection of Lasallian values in their scholarship, leadership, and service. Each student was nominated by a member of the CBU faculty or staff because of academic excellence, commitment to social justice, the active nature of his/her faith, and an inspired approach to change-making. Upon graduation, the Fellows will be awarded $10,000 as a means of perpetuating their work in the community. The Fellowships are made possible through the creative generosity of Joyce Mollerup and Robert Buckman. 

2017 Fellows


NCHC 2017 fun photo 3CBU Honors Program students Brigid Lockard, Theresa Havelka, Chelsea Joyner, Gabriela Morales Medina, Elizabeth Parr, and program director Dr. Tracie Burke (Behavioral Sciences) attended the National Collegiate Honors Council (NCHC) conference November 8-12 in Atlanta, Georgia. Brigid Lockard and Theresa Havelka presented Media Exposure and Stigmatization of those with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Chelsea Joyner presented Crying Beowulf: What Happens When We Don’t Know the Truth. Gabriela Morales Medina presented International Nerds: How The CBU Honors Program Makes Our City And University More Accessible To International Students and The Intersection of Hitler and Rhetoric, which was awarded second place in the NCHC Arts and Humanities category. Elizabeth Parr and Dr. Burke presented Take the journey. Change your life. The CBU Honors Odyssey Mentoring Program, and Dr. Burke co-presented Honorvation: 21 Innovative Honors Programming Ideas That Will Energize and Inspire with Dr. David Coleman from Eastern Kentucky University and Dr. Kathy Cooke from University of Southern Alabama. It was a productive and adventure-filled conference, including a keynote address from Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy.


Sustainability LLCMembers of the Sustainability Living Learning Community class look on as CBU freshman Josiah Brown helps Shelby County Historian and Peabody Duckmaster Jimmy Ogle change the Mississippi River’s official, 90-year-old engineering water gauge sign from “7 feet Falling” to “10 feet Rising.” Mr. Ogle guided CBU Sustainability students, Dr. Ben Jordan, and Joseph Preston from Campus Ministry on an annual walking tour of downtown history and urban revitalization. In addition to the traditional stop at the historic 1949 Main Street Peanut Shoppe for a snack, two unexpected bonuses of this year’s tour were being invited in to see a pioneer downtown resident’s condominium building renovation, and a visit to a modern art installation at the new Madison Avenue Park with the park’s designer!


River Arts WinnersLuis Martinez (left) and Taylor Bling (right) were both recipients of the 2017 River Arts Fest Art Scholarship Award. The organization’s community reinvestment program has, over the years, awarded more than $30,000 in scholarships to deserving and talented students. The scholarships are funded with money raised from the festival, sponsors, and individual donors. The River Arts Fest believes appreciation for the arts extends beyond the festival, and is proud to support these education initiatives.


History HonorsPhi Alpha Theta (National History Honor Society) students attended a tour of “Coming to America” at Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, an exhibit of four modern artists who came to the US as immigrants from pre-World War II Europe. Pictured (l-r) are Alison Crisp (Physics ’18), Jackson Brumfield (History ’18), and Laura Garza (Early Childhood ’19).


Mary Clark (English for Corporate Communications, '18)

Mary Clark (English for Corporate Communications, ’18)

Dr. Clayann Gilliam Panetta, Writing and Communications Corner (WCC) Director, along with students Mary Clark (ECC, ‘18), Ariel Earnest (Civil Engineering, ‘19) and Erin Aulfinger (Creative Writing, ‘19), who are all Lead Consultants in the WCC, attended the International Writing Centers Conference in Chicago, IL, November 10-13.

Representing CBU’s WCC, Mary Clark conducted a round table session entitled The Room of Requirement: Finding the Balance. In her presentation, she explored with audience members the struggle over whether or not courses should make WCC services mandatory. Citing pros and cons and sharing our own experiences, she conducted a thought-provoking conversation with a standing-room only audience.

Ariel Earnest and Erin Aulfinger presented a poster entitled Our Work is Formed by Our Identity. In their presentation, they explored the seemingly unfamiliar territories consultants face based on personality, learning style, school, experience, and major. They shared results of their recent study that revealed ways these differences play a role in learning and consulting in the WCC.

Dr. Panetta gave a presentation entitled Safe House Design: The Rhetorical Role of Architecture in Writing Centers. Using our newly-designed space in the Rosa Deal School of Arts as a model and rhetoric as a theoretical stance, she explored the shifts in design requirements in writing assistance programs and made suggestions for implementing changes, while still incorporating important scholarship.

Alumni News: Music, Marriage, and More…

Candous Brown Action News 5Candous Brown (MAT ’12) was recently featured on WMC Action News 5 for her creativity in the classroom, remixing the Cardi B rap hit “Bodak Yellow” with lyrics reminding the students about the importance of their final year in high school. Candous (pictured far left) teaches English at Raleigh-Egypt High School.


Brandon Robinson WeddingKären Brandon (English ’09) and Kristopher Robinson celebrated their marriage on October 28, 2017 at Lichterman Nature Center in Memphis, TN. The wedding was officiated by Dr. Tracie Burke (Behavioral Sciences, Honors Program) in a lovely ceremony. Kären and Kris reside in Starkville, Mississippi, where they both work at Mississippi State University.


1x1-W4C-TaylorBlandB2B marketing agency Godfrey has hired Taylor Bland (Applied Psychology ’05) as an account manager. Bland, of Mechanicsburg, PA, most recently worked at Oden & Associates in Memphis, Tennessee, as an account manager. Taylor manages communications programs as Godfrey’s day-to-day interface with clients. Bland has over 10 years of experience in the marketing and advertising world, on both the agency and the client sides. B2B accounts she previously worked with include FedEx and Homewood Suites by Hilton.


Deborah HallDe’Borah Hall (Applied Psychology ’11) recently joined The Arc Mid-South, whose mission is to empower people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to achieve their full potential, as a case manager. The Memphis Daily News published a Q&A with De’Borah, in which she discusses her new position and the lessons she’s learned during her 15 years of experience working in human resources. Per the Daily News, “In her new role, Hall visits The Arc’s clients, who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, in their homes to determine if the organization’s direct support professionals are providing appropriate services such as bathing, feeding and light housekeeping.”


Lauren DahlkeCBU alumna, Lauren Schneck (fomerly Dahlke; Psychology ’16) is lead author of the paper, “Behavioral Therapy: Emotion & Pain, A Common Anatomical Background,” which was published in May in the journal, Neurological Sciences. Schneck co-authored the paper with Dr. Jeff Sable (Associate Professor of Behavioral Sciences) and Dr. Frank Andrasik (Distinguished Professor and Chair of Psychology at the University of Memphis). On May 27, Andrasik gave an invited presentation of the paper at Stresa Headache 2017, an international multidisciplinary seminar in Stresa, Italy. Lauren is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at the University of Memphis.


John-Austin-Tubbs_1089-200x300John Austin Tubbs (Religion & Philosophy ’15) is currently a Lasallian Volunteer at Cathedral High School in El Paso, TX. He has a featured Q&A in the “Ministry of the Month” on the Lasallian Volunteers website highlighting his service at the school and within the communities of El Paso.



Faculty News: NPR Interviews, Food Ethics, Money Disorders, and More…

Burke AwardDr. Tracie Burke (Behavioral Sciences) was awarded the National Alumni Board’s Teaching Excellence Award at the 2017 Bell Tower Gala. Having taught at CBU since 1997, Dr. Burke’s pedagogy emphasizes active learning, practical application of course material, and creating community in the classroom. In addition to her faculty work as a Professor of Psychology, Dr. Burke has been the director of the CBU Honors Program since 2000. In 2012, Dr. Burke spearheaded the creation of CBU’s September of Service: 30 Days of Good Deeds, which has provided nearly 9,000 hours of service to local non-profit agencies. Click the link to watch a video honoring Dr. Burke’s service to CBU and the community.


Ben JordanDr. Ben Jordan (History & Political Science) was interviewed by National Public Radio for Air Talk with Larry Mantle, Los Angeles NPR Radio Show, “How will admitting girls to some Boy Scouts programs change both organizations?” He was quoted in an article entitled “Boy Scouts vote to enroll girls, but will they sign up?” in the October 16 edition of The Boston Globe. Dr. Jordan, who authored Modern Manhood and the Boy Scouts of America (UNC Press, 2016), was quoted in the article saying that he he thought the group would lift its ban on atheists before accepting girls: “They have held consistently to the line about not allowing girls. For over a century that seemed like an immovable line.” In relation to the recent topic of discussion, Dr. Jordan also authored an essay in The Conversation in March entitled: “What history tells us about Boy Scouts and inclusion.”


Dr. Samantha Alperin (Education), pictured above center on a visit to Bethlehem University in the Holy Land earlier this year, was featured recently in the “Visitors” section of Fall 2017 edition of Bethlehem University magazine.


EmilyDr. Emily Holmes (Religion & Philosophy) presented a paper titled, “Becoming Without Sacrifice: Women, Religion, and the Vegetal in Contemporary Food Ethics,” at the 8th Conference of the Irigaray Circle, A Sharing of Speech: Scholarship on or Inspired by the Work of Luce Irigaray, held at the Institute for Theological Partnerships at the University of Winchester, UK.


Peña_Nick_Infinite_Loop_WEB_readyProfessor Nick Peña was in a group show entitled ”Better Homes and Gardens” at Crosstown Arts this past October. His work was also featured in New American Paintings, Issue 130 (“South”), June/July 2017. Nick says he is “interested in the American Dream, the history of landscape painting, and the effects that cultural ideals have on both our environment and our national psyche.”



Colby_Taylor_AD_01-10-17_SN7442Dr. Colby Taylor (Behavioral Sciences), our resident Jeopardy champion, had his research entitled “Money Disorders and Locus of Control: Implications for Assessment and Treatment” published in the Journal of Financial Therapy. The study found that people who have an external locus of control – meaning that they attribute the causes of events to outside factors such as luck and fate – are more likely to develop problematic financial behaviors than people with an internal locus of control – meaning they attribute events to internal factors such as their own beliefs and behaviors. Having an external locus of control predicted behaviors such as buying too many things, hoarding money and things, gambling, and workaholism. Mental health professionals as well as financial planners may use these findings to assess the locus of control of their clients and to intervene accordingly.

Brother Mike's PartyThe Department of Education Celebrated Brother Michael Schmelzer’s 50 years a Christian Brother on November 4.







The following awards and announcements were presented at Community Convocation on August 17, 2016.

Dr. Chanda Murphy (Behavioral Sciences), was awarded Outstanding New Advisor.
Dr. James “Bru” Wallace (Chair, Religion & Philosophy), was awarded the Brother Bernard LoCoco Presidential Chair.
Ms. Jana Travis (Chair, Visual & Performing Arts), was awarded the Harold R. Krelstein Chair in Performing Arts & Communications.
Dr. Jeffrey Gross (Chair, Literature & Languages), was awarded tenure.
Mr. Matthew Hamner (Visual & Performing Arts), was promoted to Associate Professor.

The following faculty members promoted to the rank of Professor:

Dr. Scott D. Geis (Religion & Philosophy; Dean, Rosa Deal School of Arts)
Dr. Philip “Max” Maloney (Religion & Philosophy)
Ms. Jana Travis (Visual & Performing Arts)

Dean’s Note: Lost and Loved

Scott GeisThe past two weeks have been exemplary of life’s highs and lows – at least, in my life that’s certainly been the case. Two weeks ago I had the distinct privilege of delivering CBU’s tenth annual “Last Lecture.” I’ve told people I’ve spoken with since that that was, without a doubt, one of the most special days of my life. Simply being invited to do so was a real joy, but what made it truly special and unforgettable was the love I received before, during, and after speaking – especially from students; I honestly can’t recall the last time I felt so loved by so many people (outside of my family).

I spoke about the importance of friendship – not only in terms of the vital role it plays in who we are, but also in our ability to envision and forge the kind of future our hearts most desire – but I experienced the gift or grace of friendship in and through these students.

The following Monday – last Monday, May 1 – I was pulled out of a meeting in Student Life and told my dad had suffered a massive heart attack, and was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Minneapolis; he died four days later. Last Friday, I lost my hero, my rock, my confidant, a veritable fount of knowledge and wisdom who taught me how to be a man, a husband, a father, a friend, a person of goodness and integrity. It’s thrown me completely off-balance.

In my lost, disconsolate, disoriented state, I reached out to one of my very best friends, who lives in Green Bay, and told him I wasn’t really sure how to live now (if that makes any sense). My friend, Denver, is not only one of a handful of best friends, he’s also a clinical psychologist who works closely with veterans suffering from PTSD. This is what he told me:

“Hi Scott, what you said makes perfect sense to me since, as you know, I lost my own father this past November. When your dad passed away you lost a part of yourself. Your sense of self and worldview heretofore included your dad, and the pain you feel is the deep inner tear and vacant place where he once was. And now you must navigate forward without his physical presence. Something that may seem very difficult initially, which is why you’ll need your friends; they will be the comfort you need and will help to re-orient you.”

I read a recent article in the “wellness” section of The New York Times titled, “Friendship: In Sickness and in Health,” that begins this way: “A silver lining in the dark cloud of serious illness – your own or a loved one’s – is the help and caring offered by friends, and the way that help can deepen friendships.”

While I was touched deeply by my students’ love after my (hypothetical) “Last Lecture,” the outpouring of care, concern, kindness, and love I’ve experienced since my dad’s death has been absolutely overwhelming. This entire community has embraced me, cried with me, walked with me and beside me, prayed for me, and condoled with me: that is to say, you haven’t tried to take my pain and sense of lost-ness away; rather, you love me enough to want to share it. In short, you’ve been the face of Love – the human face of God – to me, and that is an immeasurable gift, an ineffable Grace.

I read a few years ago of a study done at the University of Virginia. Researchers studied 34 undergraduates at UVA, taking them to the base of a steep hill and fitting them with a weighted backpack. The students were then asked to estimate the steepness of the hill.  Some students stood next to friends during the exercise, while others stood alone. This is what they found: The students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the steepness of the hill. And the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared.

The researchers concluded that people with stronger friendship networks feel like there is someone they can turn to, and that every life in which friendship plays a part is, undoubtedly, a better life than one without it. I knew this before, but now I believe it.

Peace like a river,


Professor Nick Peña Selected as The 2017 Memphis in May Poster Artist

N.Peña_MIM_unveilProfessor Pena’s artwork for the 2017 Memphis in May Festival was unveiled at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art on February 2. Below is his acceptance speech from that night. The poster is available at a cost of $30 each — with the limited edition, signed and numbered, collector’s poster at a cost of $60 each — at Midtown Framer & Art and at 1910 Frameworks.

“Good evening. First I would like to thank the Memphis in May staff and supporters for continuing to encourage and showcase the arts, on various levels in Memphis; throughout the year and specifically during the month of May. Congratulations on your 40th anniversary!

“Thank you Bobbi Gillis for that warm introduction. Thank you Susan Elliott (Director of Programming), James Holt (President & CEO), Carley Kirby (Program Manager), Kevin Grothe (VP of Sponsorship), and Elle (an MIM intern from Rhodes) for making me feel welcomed when visiting your offices and guiding me through the process of being a resident poster artist.

“Thank you to my friends and family here tonight, each of you are dear to me and have supported my artistic endeavors throughout the years and I am forever grateful. Jana Travis, a special thank you for your support, as a colleague, fellow artist, and friend.

“A special thank you to my dad and step-mother Marijean for being here this evening, they have traveled all the way from Northern Illinois to be here tonight. Dad and Marijean, your continued support of me and my family is more than a son can ask for -I love you both.

“Finally, to my beautiful wife and daughter. Cat and Mia, I would not be able to continue my artistic practice without the sacrifices you make, daily, to ensure that I have time in our collective studio. I love you more than you know! Mia, never stop wondering, never stop using your imagination; cultivating these traits will inspire you to find answers about the world around you.

“In the process of designing the MIM poster I felt fortunate to have an opportunity to research one of the richest and biologically diverse countries in the world. For an artist interested in landscape and architecture I knew I would have a wealth of content to reference — from the Amazon rain-forest to the bustling city of Bogota, and from the Andes to the coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean — Colombia is rich in diversity and culture. As I researched the symbolism and icons that identify Colombia to the world, the nation’s flag weighed heavy. As an artist, the primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) are the foundation for understanding color theory and at the heart of painting. The symbolism of the color yellow in Colombia’s flag stands for richness and wealth of its diverse nature and people. Blue represents the multiple bodies of water that shape Colombia’s landscape making them one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world. Finally, the color red commemorates the lives lost while capturing the nations independence and the determination and perseverance of the Colombian people.

“Reflecting on the symbolism and icons of the Colombian landscape, people, and culture I created a painting that represents the contrast and harmony between nature and man, representation and abstraction, and past and present.

2017_MIM_posterart_Nick Pena

Copyright: Nicolas R. Pena. Not for use without artist’s permission.

“The painting is a composite of images from the Colombian landscape. I focused on the northern, central, and southern regions while collecting a stockpile of reference images. I was interested in finding a balance between the various ranges of topical elevations, natural resources, and how the people of Colombia develop and prosper in diverse conditions.

“Coffee is set in the foreground for many reasons: its popularity, its color during maturity (red), its agricultural value to the country and small family-owned farms. I decided to show it two ways: as a mature red bean, to represent the determination to meet the world demand for Colombian coffee, and the perseverance to deliver year after year; and as an emphasized, by scale and color, roasted ‘dark’ bean. This emphasis is used to establish its importance, not only in the painting, but as an export in the Colombian economy.

“Flowers are another important export and are grown on the highland plains.  A white orchid shares the foreground with coffee because of its national symbolism and long standing symbolism across various cultures. A white orchid has been thought to signify innocence, elegance, beauty, and humility. I wanted viewers to think of reverence and new beginnings while looking at, or through, the white orchid to see the ‘painted landscape.’ The blue, seemingly pristine, water also leads the viewer into the image and represents the ‘life blood’ of existence for Colombia’s landscape and prosperity of their population.

“Directly in the middle of the composition are various man-made structures; the color yellow prevails, representing the wealth of Colombia’s diverse and robust population and the richness of its folklore. Stories of El Dorado had my attention when thinking about gold and South America however, I wanted the structures to look both humble and, at the same time, unattainable. Although, viewers might find it hard to see wealth from the modestly represented architecture, I hope it reads as a structure in flux — both near and far, realized and noticeably un-tethered from the landscape.

“Finally, the apex, man overcoming nature. ‘La Piedra del Peñol,’ also known as ‘El Peñon de Guatape,’ or Guatape Rock, is a 721 foot tall National Monument, found in Colombia’s central state of Antioquia. It grabbed my attention because of the large serpentine staircase zigzagging up to the summit where a man-made tower rests on top of the rock.  Advertised as the ‘best view in the world’ by the locals Guatape Rock, for me, is a symbol for the contrast and harmony between nature and man, and past and present.

“In the end, I would like to, again, thank Memphis in May and the selection committee for this opportunity and congratulations on your 40th year of impacting the city of Memphis with your commitment to promoting Memphis culture, supporting the arts, and enhancing international awareness and diversity through education.”