Psychology Team Dives In to Study the Benefits of SCUBA


OU students and faculty with the founders of LifeWaters: Jody Paniagua, John Carton, Charley Wright, Katee Gmitro, and Harry Dodsworth.

Dr. John Carton, psychology professor and chair of the Behavioral Sciences division at Oglethorpe, recently led an a innovative research project to investigate the psychological benefits of SCUBA training for individuals with spinal cord injuries and other mobility impairments. He partnered with LifeWaters, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping spinal cord injured patients and disabled veterans experience the benefits of SCUBA, and enlisted the help of students in his psychology lab at Oglethorpe.

In conjunction with Veterans Day, LifeWaters brought 12 veteran divers and 6 dive “buddies” specially certified to assist divers with spinal cord injuries and limited mobility to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta to dive in the monstrous tank containing 16-foot whale sharks and hundreds of other species. Dr. Carton and two students from his psychology laboratory, Katee Gmitro ’16 and Harry Dodsworth ’16, observed the dive and spent the entire day immersed in the process of SCUBA therapy.

While on site, Dr. Carton, Katee and Harry were able to meet and interview all the divers, their dive support staff (buddies) and families. They also toured behind the scenes of the entire aquarium and met the director of the aquatic therapy program and the founding directors of LifeWaters. They observed the divers entering and exiting the large tank where they were diving—which included the whale sharks and 12-foot span manta rays.  And, they had the chance to watch the whale sharks’ feeding during a private viewing.

A paralyzed diver with his "buddy" and a diver from the Georgia Aquarium.

A paralyzed diver with his “buddy” and a diver from the Georgia Aquarium.

Prior research has shown that SCUBA training can positively affect the mental well-being of participants and even help reduce psychological symptoms. Working with the students in his psychology laboratory, Dr. Carton designed a longitudinal study that involves measuring participants’ mental health prior to entering SCUBA training with LifeWaters and comparing it to their mental health after their certification, after their first dive, and a year later. A “wait list” control group will provide data for comparison.

“Many veterans with paralyzing injuries suffer from a variety of anxiety and mood disorders, for which there is continued need to identify therapies that produce lasting positive effects,” says Dr. Carton. “Anecdotal observations support the hypothesis that SCUBA may go well beyond teaching dive-related skills, to also positively affect the mental well-being of participants and even help reduce psychological symptoms.”

A small scale study that was sponsored by the Cody Unser First Step Foundation several years ago provided some preliminary data to support the hypothesis. Unfortunately, that study was not formally published, replicated, or expanded upon. That is where Dr. Carton’s laboratory stepped in. He brought in his students from his laboratory to help them “better understand the research and to mentor them in the development of additional hypotheses for this research project.”

While at the aquarium, the students collected qualitative data for future hypothesis development and witnessed firsthand the therapeutic outcomes of the program, both for physical and mental health issues. Both students were invited to collect additional data on future dive visits to this facility and other locations.

Conservation biology class gets hands-on at Sapelo Island

Conservation Biology class trip to Sapelo Island & Okefenokee Swamp
Curated by Debbie Aiken '12 Debbie Aiken '12

Every two years, Oglethorpe biology professor Dr. Roarke Donnelly takes his Conservation Biology class on a 4-day trip to Sapelo Island and the Okefenokee Swamp. The trip provides real-world context for many lessons in his course—not to mention a few bumpy rides in the back of this truck. 

Just after arriving on Sapelo Island, students set up a motion and heat-sensitive camera in a secluded area in hopes of catching a glimpse of the island’s resident bobcats. The camera was retrieved at the end of the trip with shots of deer, raccoons and opossums, but no cats.

The team set up a series of five nets in order to trap, identify, band, and release birds. Here, students use a bird guide to identify the species of the bird Dr. Donnelly untangles. 

Biology major Yidi Amha prepares to release a Carolina Chickadee. 

Students observe Brown Pelicans and Double-Crested Cormorands nesting on a shipwreck in the ocean. They had the opportunity to see some of the rare or endangered bird species they’d learned about in class.

Learning happened everywhere—even on the beach! Dr. Donnelly led students on a hike from the beach inland to learn about sand dune formation and how the vegetation in these areas changes over time. 

With very few vehicles on Sapelo Island, the biology team spent a lot of time walking from the dorms at UGA’s Marine Institute to various parts of the island. 

Students were eager to explore an old lighthouse to look for owl pellets, which can be dissected to learn about the birds’ diet. 

This is an OU classroom! Dr. Donnelly explained the history of Sapelo Island, while students sat “poolside” at a mansion built by R.J. Reynolds. The tobacco mogul eventually sold the estate and other island property to the state of Georgia. 

The group stopped at the Okefenokee Swamp on the way back to Atlanta to learn about the natural cycle of wildfires—one in particular burned for more than 13 months in 2011, changing the landscape for years to come.

What better place to learn about the geographic features that allow for the formation of swamps—than to stand in the middle of one?

The class took a guided boat tour through the swamp where they learned about plant species that thrive in this environment, like Bladderwort and Neverwet.

The swamp tour gave students the chance to see adult and baby alligators, Great Blue Heron, Snowy Egrets and Red-Shouldered Hawks.

Dean Easton, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, explained his team’s efforts to monitor, protect and preserve the endangered Red-Cockaded Woodpecker. 

The students who travel with Dr. Donnelly on this biennial trip always stop to pose for a photo amid the branches of this spectacular Live Oak, and would likely agree there’s no substitute for out-in-the-field learning. “You can talk about it all you want,” says Dr. Donnelly, “but to actually see and touch is a completely different experience.”



Staff and Faculty Honored at Employee Recognition Luncheon

Award winners Mark Gross, Jon Akin, Renee Vary Keele, Danny Glassmann, George Kopec and Melissa Briley.

Award winners Mark Gross, Jon Akin, Renee Vary Keele, Danny Glassmann, George Kopec and Melissa Briley.

The second annual Employee Recognition Luncheon was held this week and a number of staff and faculty members were recognized for their exceptional service to Oglethorpe.

Oglethorpe staff members were invited to nominate their peers for six awards that recognized individuals who have gone “beyond the call of duty.” All awards included a monetary prize.

The Staff Member of the Year Award for the 2013-14 academic year went to Renee Vary Keele, director of University Communications. Her award was presented by co-worker and nominator J. Todd Bennett, executive director of University Communications, who spoke of her revitalization of the university’s Carillon magazine and media relations efforts, which both garnered several national awards over the past year, among other accomplishments. “As the university’s editor-in-chief,” Todd said, “she has improved or created tools to tell the Oglethorpe story including the OU Stories, OU Newswire, and the Carillon. Renee’s taken on the work of arts promotion, including all marketing and promotion for the museum. She supports practically every office and department on campus, and does it exceedingly well.”

Additional awards were presented to staff members who exhibited exemplary conduct during the past year in specific categories. The winners of these awards are:
Customer Service Award: George Kopec, Director of Development Services
Professionalism Award: Danny Glassmann, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life
Quality Award: Mark Gross, Assistant Director of the Academic Success Center
Teamwork Award: Jon Akin, Head Soccer Coach
Creativity Award: Melissa Briley, Accounts Receivable Manager

The Staff Recognition Committee was responsible for reviewing and evaluating all of the nominations to determine the winners. This year’s committee was comprised of last year’s award winners Laura Masce, Suzy Lane, Judy Zahn and Katie Paden.

Additionally, pins were presented to employees who celebrated notable work anniversaries at Oglethorpe. Celebrating 5 years of service were Lesley Cole, Leah Zinner, Devon Belcher, Suzy Lane and David Dixon. Celebrating 10 years of service were Daniel Adams, Peter Howell, Kendra King, Lynn Guhde, Roarke Donnelly, Anne Salter and George Kopec. Celebrating 15 years of service were Nick Maher and John Carton. Jeffrey Collins celebrated 20 years and Alan Loehle, Jay Lutz and Barb Henry all celebrated 25 years. John Orme and Monte Wolf celebrated 30 and 35 years, respectively.

Congratulations to all of this year’s honorees, and thank you to everyone who dedicates their professional lives to benefit Oglethorpe University!

From One Side of the World to the Other

by Chloey Mayo ’10
6_Russia_1Moscow, Russia is not known as a spring break hot-spot. Nevertheless, a group of Oglethorpe students, led by Dr. Ronald Bobroff, Russian historian and professor of Modern European History, journeyed this year to Moscow to spend their spring break working in one of the city’s many children’s homes.

Through a partnership with the Peacework Development Fund, Dr. Bobroff was able to design Oglethorpe’s first comprehensive, multi-disciplinary service trip to Moscow. “I was really looking forward to making this happen at Oglethorpe,” shared Bobroff, who has visited Russia many times. “Service is such an important part of who we are here…it just made sense.”

6_Russia_2The OU students were assigned a mathematics classroom in a Moscow orphanage to refurbish. With gloved hands, they spent a week scraping paint, spackling, and treating the walls. The students stayed in the children’s residences, eating borscht and shchi soups in the dining hall.

“It was certainly no five star hotel, but it was comfortable and well kept up,” said Beth Cleary ’12. “Our week there only taught us that the effort that went into the orphanage also went into making these kids into well-prepared, well-adjusted adults. We were simply short term visitors and we felt loved and appreciated the moment we walked in the door.”

For the past few years, the Russian government has campaigned to change the worldwide image of the Russian orphanage, as well as the basis behind the number of children in orphanages. As a result, the orphanages have begun to evolve, and the colorful walls, abundance of toys, and accommodating orphanage staff tell the story of an institution now well served—one that is a far cry from the stereotyped, underserved images of the past.

According to Dr. Bobroff, who authored Roads to Glory: Late Imperial Russia and the Turkish Strait, the Russian family has suffered from the cyclical effects of alcoholism, abandonment, and a failed economy for years. Official estimates reveal that there could be as many as one parent in each Russian household who suffers from alcoholism, rendering parents unable to care for their children and causing widespread abandonment. The Russian Education Ministry estimates that over one million children are housed in state institutions, and many more are living homeless on the streets. In Moscow, many orphanages are home to children who suffer from developmental and emotional disorders that can be traced back to alcohol abuse and long-term institutionalism.

6_Russia_4Oglethorpe’s students visited one of these orphanages that catered to children with special needs and learning disabilities. The orphanages operated under the philosophy that by getting a child’s hands working, the mind will follow. Most of the children’s free time was spent not in front of the television, but with various trades and crafts, teaching them to work with their hands and be resourceful.

“They are equipped with the skills to support themselves after they graduate from the orphanage program and some even go to technical school, “ noted Cleary. “But I would like to see if it is feasible to get some of these kids into college…It really hits home when you see these great kids and amazing sights and you realize that the reason you are even in [their] country is because of your own school. I’ve never felt limited in my endeavors, and I wish the same for them.”

6_Russia_5 “For me, this is more than an interesting or even educational spring break trip,” said Bobroff. “Every time I’ve ever been I’ve used it as an opportunity to research—to take away from Russia. But this time I’m giving back.”

Before leaving the United States, the student group raised funds to buy supplies for the renovation work. In fact, they successfully raised more than their goal, and presented the orphanage with a cash donation from the residual funds. Dr. Bobroff, who traces his roots back to Russia, plans to return to Moscow in another two years with a different group of students.

“It’s like cultural diplomacy in a way,” said Dr. Bobroff. “It is an important way for people to understand each other. The students visiting the orphanage and accumulating their own resources in order to get the job done shows that there are people who care about each other—from one side of the world to the other.”


Oglethorpe in Lights

Oglethorpe may not be ready for the red carpet just yet, but it certainly has star potential. During the past year, OU has served as the backdrop for some of Hollywood’s most promising movies—and it’s been the set for a number of small screen gems, too.

Back in September, the crew from the 2013 thriller The Reluctant Fundamentalist took over Oglethorpe’s Anderson field and covered the scoreboard with black and orange—Princeton University’s colors. They were shooting a baseball scene for the film, which stars A-listers Kiefer Sutherland, Liev Schreiber, and Kate Hudson. Just a few weeks later, Oglethorpe’s Philip Weltner Library welcomed the live audience of WSBTV’s The Clark Howard Show, in which the money-saving guru talked college finances with a room full of Stormy Petrels.

OU has made its appearance in a number of other TV spots this year, including a fall tailgating scene for a Belk department store commercial, an ad for Moe’s Southwestern Grill, and even a scene from Tyler Perry’s House of Payne. In August Dina Marto ’05, who’s featured on page 25, returned to campus with an artist from her music group to shoot a Roman gladiator-themed music video at Hermance Stadium.

So what makes OU so attractive to filmmakers? Its characteristic collegiate towers and granite, to be sure, but according to Special Events Coordinator Kimberly O’Dell ’10, OU’s Atlanta location likely has just as much to do with its star power as its stunning good looks.
“Obviously, our architecture lends itself to films trying to capture an Ivy League atmosphere,” said Kimberly. “But, we’re also situated near the city, and that makes it more affordable for filmmakers who would otherwise have to travel much farther out to find a campus that looks similar to ours.”

Like so many others, those in film are of course looking to get the biggest bang for their buck—and it seems Atlanta is the perfect place for affordable filming. For the past three years, the city has become a hot-spot for the film industry, and with major studios like EUE/Screen Gems and Tyler Perry Studios taking up residence, it’s no wonder Atlanta is often dubbed the “Hollywood of the South.” Production companies are attracted to Georgia’s recent industry-targeted tax credits that allow any production spending $500,000 or more a tax credit of up to 30 percent from the state. In just two and half years, the film industry has already brought over $2 billion to the local economy.