Spring 2011

Alumni Newsletter - Spring 2011

Dean's Message:

It was great to see so many alumni and friends at Key Arena on February 22 for the renewed SU v UW rivalry on the hardwood. We set attendance records, sang the National Anthem with our men’s choir, celebrated our Arts and Sciences athletes and Costco Scholars, and shared in the excitement of the game. We took “Be Loud, Be Proud, Wear Red” to new heights. Thank you!

In this issue, we focus on learning and service beyond the classroom as a component of academic excellence. We profile our A&S alumnus and global citizen, Ezra Teshome, class of 1975, who will be honored at the 26th Alumni Awards Celebration on April 5 for his long-standing commitment to improving the health and welfare of the people of his native Ethiopia. Senior Ruby Blum highlights the benefits of independent study, and her classmate Michael Ruiz underscores the value of a community-based internship.

Classroom, community, and service intersect in Professor May Kay Brennan’s social work class. As many of you have read, the Seattle University Youth Initiative, unveiled by President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., is a university-wide commitment to the children and families in the neighborhood surrounding campus. As part of this effort, Social Work students are engaging with Somali families, helping them adjust to American schools and prepare their children for a successful transition to kindergarten.

This spring, we host a series of very special events as we celebrate the achievements of our faculty and students in art, music, and song.  Check our website or join our Facebook page to stay up-to-date on the excitement that is the College of Arts and Sciences.

I look forward to seeing you soon.  

David V. Powers

Academics, Community, and Service Come Together for Social Work Students

Social Work Professor Mary Kay Brennan and School Psychology Professor Sam Song are fostering university and community partnerships to benefit early childhood development. As part of a $68,000 grant from the Better Way Foundation, Brennan and Song teamed up to develop community-based research projects for students in collaboration with Neighborhood House’s Yesler Terrace Head Start Program.  Other grant components involve Photography Professor Claire Garoutte, Global African Studies Professor Saheed Adejumobi, and Bonnie Bowie and Danuta Wojnar from the School of Nursing.

As part of the “Research for a Strong Start project, Brennan and Song engaged students in their fall courses in a service learning project to identify the challenges faced by families as their children transition from Head Start to kindergarten at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School.  Brennan strongly supports service learning because it strengthens the academic experience by addressing a clearly identified community need.

The Yesler Terrace Head Start program serves over 180 families, and approximately 77% are black or African American. The majority are recent immigrants from Somalia and other East African countries. Neighborhood House works closely with the families to encourage involvement, but as students transition into the larger King County school districts, they face numerous challenges. Primary barriers to full participation for these immigrant and culturally diverse families are a lack of cross-cultural communication during the transition to kindergarten and unfamiliarity with the public school system.

Working closely with Karol Swenson, Neighborhood House director of early childhood development, students formed teams to research and interview teachers, family support workers, and program managers both at Head Start and Bailey Gatzert.

“Being able to hear from teachers, administrators, and family services workers gave me a much more holistic and well rounded perspective of the realities that families, children, and staff face,” said junior Rosie Garibaldi, social work major and non-profit leadership minor.

At the end of the course, students presented their observations and recommendations to Neighborhood House Head Start administration and staff. Their suggestions included enlisting parents who have made the transition to “reach back” to engage with incoming families and creating transitional summer activities before school resumes so families and children are familiar with their new environment and have a chance to talk with teachers. They also recommended increasing school-to-school communication by connecting early childhood educators with kindergarten teachers.

“We need to find funding to bring early childhood educators together with kindergarten teachers to develop transition programs and activities for families,” Brennan said. “That’s always a challenge.”

The assembled grant team is looking at funding opportunities to continue the projects seeded by this grant, particularly efforts to support children and their families as they transition to kindergarten. Their interdisciplinary collaboration is part of the larger Seattle University Youth Initiative (SUYI), which focuses on improving educational outcomes for children and youth in the Bailey Gatzert neighborhood immediately south of campus.

SUYI is a long-term commitment by SU faculty, staff, and students from all academic disciplines to join with parents, the Seattle School District, the City of Seattle, foundations, faith communities, and more than 30 community organizations to help children of Seattle succeed in school and life. President Stephen Sundborg, S.J. has pledged $1 million a year for this effort. As the Strong Start research continues, Seattle University remains steadfast in its commitment to improving the quality of education for the children of the surrounding community. Ninety percent of families in the area fall below the poverty level students and more than forty percent of students have limited English proficiency. Youth violence in the surrounding central district is the highest in Seattle.

“Our dedication to helping and working side by side with underserved populations and those in need is proven and unwavering,” President Sundborg emphasized. “Bailey Gatzert Elementary School faces some of the most severe challenges to learning,”

Alumni Profile: Ezra Teshome, ‘75, World Citizen

To all who know him, it came as no surprise that the World Affairs Council in Seattle awarded Ezra Teshome, class of 1975, with its 2010 World Citizen Award. His involvement in his native Ethiopia and his efforts in Seattle have impacted thousands of men, women, and children. Although particularly known for his work to eradicate polio in Ethiopia, he helped develop low-income housing, construct a library, create a computer center, and build wells in rural areas. He also was instrumental in building an Ethiopian Church in Seattle. A modest, unassuming man, Ezra is the personification of “Service Above Self,” a motto he has on his business card.  

Ezra grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The oldest of 12 brothers and sisters, he attended the Nativity Boys School run by Jesuits. On a friend’s recommendation, he enrolled in Highline Community College and later transferred to Seattle University. He worked nights at the Sheraton in Renton, took classes during the day, and graduated in 1975 with a degree in political science.

The unrest following the overthrow of Haile Selassie derailed his plans to return immediately to Ethiopia. Encouraged by a chance encounter with a State Farm manager, he embarked on a 30-year career with the insurance company. He now owns his own agency within blocks of Seattle University.

Ezra and his wife Yobi, School of Nursing class of 1986, decided to make Seattle their home. Ezra joined the University District Rotary Club and became a U.S. citizen. By 1982, it was safe to return Ethiopia, but life there had changed.

“People were afraid,” he recalled. “There was so much destruction.  A once abundant nation now had people lining up for bread.”

Back in Seattle, Ezra dedicated himself to bringing his relatives to the United States and working with the local Ethiopian community. He became president of his Rotary club, and when Rotary International held its annual conference in Addis Ababa, he returned to Ethiopia in 1996. A massive influx of refugees into the capital from war-torn Eritrea led to a severe housing shortage, with the aid of eight local Rotarians, Rotary Village was started to provide low-cost housing for families. Today, Rotary Village provides housing for more than 600 men, women, and children.

Another chance encounter, this time with an Ethiopian doctor, led to an ambitious program to eradicate polio in Ethiopia. For 15 years, Rotarians from the United States and Canada have gone door to door in rural areas to encourage the vaccination of children. Thanks in large part to this effort, no new cases of polio have been recorded in Ethiopia for the past two years, If that trend holds for one more year, Ethiopia will have eradicated polio.

During the vaccination campaign, Ezra saw first-hand the need for sanitation facilities in rural Ethiopia where children were walking 3 to 6 hours a day just to get water. He engaged Rotarians in this next effort and, with additional support from World Vision, Ezra was instrumental in developing water and sanitation facilities in more than 40 villages. More are on the way.

Ezra works endlessly to help others, whether he is leading a fundraising campaign to send ambulances to Ethiopia, encouraging Rotarians around the world to improve living conditions in Africa, or helping recent immigrants in Seattle. He serves on the Dean’s Leadership Council, always mindful of the value of his Seattle University education.

 “It’s a blessing to give back,” Ezra said. “”A Jesuit education teaches you not to forget how you got where you are.”

Student Profile: Michael Ruiz, ‘11, Student Intern

Michael Ruiz, double major in psychology and philosophy, came to Seattle University with a clear sense of what he wanted to do and how he was going to do it.  By his senior year, he had a long list of awards, scholarships, and leadership posts under his belt. After attending a career fair run by Career Services, he was offered an internship with the Social Security Administration in its Center for Disability. Full-time last summer and part-time during the school year, he primarily prepares statistical reports in the Seattle office, a skill he honed for his psychology major.

“The Psychology Department has a strong emphasis on statistical analysis,” Ruiz said recently. “It’s a rigorous approach, and I found that I loved working with data.”  After taking an advanced statistics class and setting up a data management system as a volunteer at Hilltop House Retirement Community, he was ready and eager to enter the workforce.

“I just felt that I needed to work during my senior year,” he added. “I wanted to be more financially independent and use what I had learned.”

In addition to generating reports and analyzing data for the Center for Disability, he utilizes his statistics skills to assist in fraud investigations for the agency. At the same time, he is learning that time management, working in groups, multi-tasking, and critical thinking are skills he must use every day. He has had lots of practice.

By the start of his senior year, Ruiz had been president of the Psychology Honor Society and president of the video game club. In addition to working part-time and majoring in two academic programs, he is currently a member of the Costco Scholars Student Advisory Board, a member of the Ignatian Leadership Honor Society, and the Psychology Department representative on the College of Arts and Sciences Student Executive Council.

Ruiz came to Seattle University for its small class sizes, Jesuit education, and welcoming environment. He was first exposed to psychology and philosophy in his small Catholic high school in Salem, OR, and when he realized he could major in both, he didn’t hesitate.

“Both psychology and philosophy have to do with the mind, and they both look at incredibly difficult questions,” he said. “With psychology, analysis of empirical data is a key component in research and analysis. With philosophy, critical thinking and making good arguments are essential.  A double major was a natural fit for me, and now with this internship, I’ve been able to use what I’ve learned in both of areas.”

Ruiz plans to continue through the summer at the Social Security Administration and then go to law school.

Analysis of data, argument, and critical thinking – a perfect combination for an up-and-coming lawyer.

Support Strengthens for Dean’s Priorities

Advancement Director David Chow reports that fundraising in support of the Dean’s priorities has exceeded expectations.  Thanks to our alumni, friends, faculty, and staff, we raised an additional $41,000 compared to this time last year.  This increase is due to our recent work with the Global African Studies Program, spearheaded by Professors Femi Taiwo and Saheed Adejumobi, and our ongoing relationship with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and their support of the The Center for Strategic Communication and Professor Barry Mitzman’s work o family homelessness.

“Dean Powers has emphasized the importance of student-faculty fellowships, global engagement, and community service,” Chow said. “Because of the overwhelming response from alumni and friends of the college, more students will have opportunities to engage in academic, service, and international learning.”    

The annual fundraising campaign closes on June 30. You can make a gift online today.