Exploring Cultural Crossroads

Dr. Herschler pictured at the Library of Celsus, an ancient Roman building in Ephesus, now part of Selcuk, Turkey.

He could be happy to simply consider himself to be an established expert in international affairs. But for Dr. Stephen Herschler, no amount of “book knowledge” can substitute for immersive experiences when learning about a culture or society. He easily “walks the talk,” engaging in the same real-world learning he encourages his students to pursue.

Dr. Herschler has lived on four continents, speaks three languages, and has taught comparative politics at Oglethorpe for 12 years. “I’ve spent time in Europe, Asia, and Africa, but the Middle East has always been a gap for me,” he admits. And, with the modernization of the Middle East and Islamic culture a vital part of the current global political conversation, it was a poignant time to gain a personal perspective.

This past summer, Dr. Herschler spent 10 days in Turkey with The Atlantic Institute, absorbing the rich culture, historical abundance, and political eccentricity of a country that is suspended between two very different worlds. Turkey has always found itself in an Turkey 20140614_095515identity crisis between the East and the West, creating a unique (and often confusing) cultural climate. This is why The Atlantic Institute, an Atlanta-based nonprofit, strives to bridge the gap between the Middle East and West by facilitating dialogue and fostering understanding. The organization is a derivative of the Istanbul Center, which bolsters the same goals to embrace diversity and build tolerance. This annual excursion of educators and civic leaders from the southeast is an opportunity to inform those who are in a position to share knowledge with students and citizens, hopefully spreading a better understanding of Turkey. Dr. Herschler joined other educators representing Atlanta-area institutions, including Agnes Scott College, Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, and Morehouse College. The educators’ differing perspectives were a compelling part of the journey and, according to Dr. Herschler, reminiscent of the interdisciplinary conversations he witnesses in his Oglethorpe classes. “Hearing questions and comments from the varying disciplines made every day more interesting,” he said.

Indeed, the travelers’ diverse interests sometimes made for spontaneous adventures. While staying in the city of Sanliurfa, a fellow educator expressed interest in Turkish music, prompting their guide to arrange for an outing to a local university. The group was treated to an impromptu concert with classical Turkish instruments.

Turkey 20140612_112519During the 10-day trek, the crew also visited the cities of Istanbul, Gazi Antep, Ankara, Izmir, and Mardin-each of which contains stunning historical sites and manmade marvels. Greek and Roman ruins are scattered throughout the the land, sites of Biblical significance (such as the house of the Virgin Mary and the landing site of Noah’s Ark) are abundant, and of course, monuments such as Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are “must-see” edifices. According to Dr. Herschler, one particularly striking site was Gobekli Tepe, the world’s earliest known place of worship, which outdates Stonehenge by approximately six millennia.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESEvery day, Dr. Herschler and his peers took part in discussions on topics ranging from social reforms in Turkey to interfaith dialogues, and even learned about traditional Turkish carpet making. Each topic was presented from a uniquely Turkish perspective which opened the travelers’ minds to a side of the story they may have never before have heard. Their excursions were led by Turkish guides who were eager to share their knowledge, culture, and history. As Dr. Herschler learned more about the politics and current issues of Turkey, he started to form connections with the course material of the classes he teaches at Oglethorpe, especially Comparative Politics. This course—famous among OU politics majors—surveys a multiplicity of theories on the development and stability of international governments.

Upon his return, Dr. Herschler decided to add a series about Turkey to his syllabus, citing his trip as the impetus. “Before this experience, I possessed ‘book knowledge’ of Turkey and of Islam,” he said, “but I did not understand it fully as a living community. Now I know I can address the topic fairly.”

But, this experience affected much more than the content of his courses, he says. “My new knowledge facilitates connections with students who are interested in that Turkey 20140610_040619 1part of the world.” In fact, even while still in Istanbul, he connected with Oglethorpe student and advisee John Yager ’15, who was interning abroad for through Koç University in Instanbul. The two were able to catch up and talk Middle Eastern politics over an authentic Turkish dinner.

“Now, Turkey is a part of my life,” says Dr. Herschler. “And, I have become more attuned to Turkish culture here in Atlanta.” Asked about his plans to return, he admits he would love to go back to Turkey, but as always, has his sights set on even more international horizons. “I want to go back to Asia. It has been a decade since I’ve visited, and that is quite long enough.”

Christie Pearce ’15 has always had a love affair with the written word and—more recently—political science. She hopes to continue her post graduate education by studying political marketing and campaign strategies for female candidates in the United States.

Oglethorpe Senior Racks Up Hackathon Wins

IMG_8825Haider Khan ’15 doesn’t exactly fit the hacker stereotype. But, the Oglethorpe senior, who’s majoring in chemistry and minoring in computer science, recently bested the competition to win two back-to-back hackathons, as well as a start-up competition, all hosted in metro Atlanta. A testament to Haider’s skills and training, the victories have also been lucrative. So far, Haider and his teammates have won a total of $13,300 in cash and prizes.

In layman’s terms, a hackathon is a competition, usually lasting several days, in which groups of developers and other experts collaborate in computer programming to solve a given issue or challenge. The events typically are kicked off with an introduction to the sponsoring companies and a presentation about challenge the competitors will tackle. The sponsoring companies then give the developers access to their technology to create their solution.

Haider’s first competition was the AT&T Mobile App Hackathon, which focused on real public safety issues. Atlanta emergency medical responders, police officers, dispatchers, fire and rescue teams were onsite to discuss with the developers the challenges they encounter in their jobs. In response, Haider and his team built a hybrid mobile-web app called Safety Net to assist EMS responders in large scale disasters by tracking personnel in real time. They were awarded 1st place in Best Overall Public Safety App, 1st place in Best Use of AT&T’s WebRTC API, and 2nd place in Best Use of Telerik Technology.

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Haider (left) with his one of his Charge Forward teammates after their big win.

The next hackathon, for interactive wearable financial apps, was sponsored by Global Payments Inc. and CaixaBank in Barcelona. “At the second hackathon, the theme was wearables,” Haider explained, “so we were given smart watches and were told to come up with novel solutions to five challenges, ranging from ease of payment, user authentication, security, alternative payments, and design for payment services and transactions.” Haider and his team Charge Forward were awarded the $10,000 3rd prize for their smartwatch application that lets the user change credit card payment method with the flick of a wrist and uses NFC technology to process transactions on the spot.

Most recently, Haider competed in Atlanta Startup Weekend, hosted at Coca-Cola Company headquarters. Teams pitched startup ideas to judges (and an audience) and were evaluated on customer empathy (did their idea address a real problem for real people?), execution (did it work?), and their business model (how would it successfully compete in the market?). Haider’s team, GatherCam, pitched their idea and business plan for a program that would compile photos posted on various social media sites by different people at the same event, such as a wedding. Their idea was a true crowd pleaser and won over the judges, earning them 1st place in judge’s scores, as well as the audience choice award.

Haider (second from left) with his GatherCam teammates during the Atlanta Startup Weekend at Coca-Cola.

Haider (second from left) with his GatherCam teammates during the Atlanta Startup Weekend at Coca-Cola.

After graduation, Haider hopes to continue his efforts in creating innovative technology. He plans to move to California to work in Silicon Valley and eventually to start his own technology company. Haider is confident that the knowledge he’s gained while pursuing his education at Oglethorpe, particularly his minor in computer science, has helped him significantly in his recent accomplishments.

“I highly suggest to Oglethorpe students that if they have a passion for technology to take a computer science minor,” Haider advises. “I personally think the tech industry is extremely fun to work in (and) the applications are endless. We are moving into an economy where knowing how technology works is a currency.”

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Awards Grant to Support Oglethorpe’s Core Curriculum

IMG_4685The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has selected Oglethorpe University to receive a sizable three-year grant to support “Explorations in the Core,” an initiative to evaluate and implement innovations in the Oglethorpe Core curriculum.  The grant is awarded through the foundation’s Liberal Arts Colleges Program.

Oglethorpe’s award-winning, groundbreaking core curriculum has been a unifying academic experience for all students since its inception seventy years ago. The Oglethorpe Core is a sequential four-year general education program deeply rooted in the liberal arts tradition, and has been recognized by the Association of American Colleges and Universities and funded twice by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The “Explorations in the Core” program will enable Oglethorpe faculty to pilot variations of standard courses by testing new methods, texts, and pedagogies. The grant from the Mellon Foundation will directly support resources for planning, creating, and implementing the new courses.

“The Mellon Foundation grant will allow Oglethorpe to preserve our Core’s fundamentals, while incorporating new ideas, approaches, and perspectives,” said Dr. Charles Baube, professor of biology and director of the Oglethorpe Core. “Our goal is to ensure that this rigorous, interdisciplinary course of study in the arts and sciences remains relevant and continues to be a model for liberal arts instruction in the 21st century.”

“This initiative is critical to the ongoing development of the Oglethorpe Core, and builds on seven decades of delivering an interdisciplinary education program that is at the heart of our university,” said Oglethorpe President Lawrence M. Schall. “While the Core has evolved significantly over time, its goals have largely remained the same:  to educate our students to make not only a good living, but an enriching life and a significant difference in their communities.”

 

“Gables Oglethorpe” Residential Community to Open in 2015

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Oglethorpe University and Gables Residential, Inc., a real estate development company headquartered in Atlanta, have partnered to construct Gables Oglethorpe, a mixed-use luxury apartment community at the corner of Peachtree Road and Hermance Drive. Gables Residential will lease approximately seven acres of land from the university via a long-term land lease agreement, and will construct, operate, and maintain the new mixed-use community. Gables Oglethorpe will offer a new, convenient luxury apartment option for students and those desiring to live near Buckhead, Midtown and the Perimeter center area.

Projected to be Earthcraft certified, Gables Oglethorpe is designed by Atlanta-based architects Rule Joy Trammell + Rubio and will reflect and complement the signature Gothic architecture of Oglethorpe’s historic campus, set to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2015. Groundbreaking is estimated for summer 2014, with anticipated occupancy to begin August 2015. The community will combine apartment living for all with the unique niche of a community park and green space, state-of-the-art classrooms, secure parking, and desirable recreational amenities.

“Oglethorpe’s residence halls are near capacity and we are need of additional space to accommodate our continued growth,” said Oglethorpe University President Lawrence Schall. “Our partnership with Gables Residential will allow us to fulfill that need as the new community will offer an alternative living choice for our students while shifting the financial risk away from the university.”

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President Schall in the Turner Lynch Campus Center

Oglethorpe has experienced significant growth during recent years, both in enrollment and through campus development. The university opened the $16M Turner Lynch Campus Center in 2013, and plans to further increase its current student population of 1100 to 1500 by 2020.

Joe Wilber, Senior Vice President – Investments East, for Gables Residential stated, “We are very excited to deliver a first class, vibrant community to the neighborhood that will complement Oglethorpe University.  The opportunity to design, develop and manage a high-end community in Brookhaven is exciting for us as it follows on the heels of our newest mixed-use community, Gables Emory Point.”

Gables Oglethorpe will be comprised of two 4-story residential buildings offering 374 apartment homes, consisting of studios (7%), 1 and 2-bedrooms (88%), and 3-bedrooms (5%).  Gables Oglethorpe will include 6,000 square feet of state-of-the-art classroom space, to be used by Oglethorpe University. New pedestrian pathways will offer secured, gated access for students between the Gables development and Oglethorpe’s main campus.

As Oglethorpe’s enrollment continues to grow, the goal is to ensure that the university is able to still offer a rich residential experience to all students. “Residential facilities have a profound, positive relationship to the recruitment and retention of students,” said Oglethorpe’s Dean of Students and Vice President for Campus Life Michelle Hall. “Students rank residential facilities as the most important destination to see on a campus visit and have the second highest impact, behind facilities in their academic major, on decisions to enroll.”

“This is an historic time for both Oglethorpe University and the Brookhaven area we’ve called home for almost 100 years,” said President Schall. “It’s not an overstatement to say that Oglethorpe has entered into an era of reinvigoration, innovation, and growth—and Gables Oglethorpe is the next step in that progress.”

For more information and updates, visit progress.oglethorpe.edu.