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.”

Psychology Team Dives In to Study the Benefits of SCUBA

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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.”

 

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