Dear Alumni and Friends,
This past spring for the first time, alumni were offered the opportunity to join with our students for a study and travel opportunity in China. Alumni have been participating in classes with students, led by Associate Dean and History Professor Kan Liang and History Professor Tom Taylor, since late March. They leave soon for a 2-week trip to Beijing, Nanjing, Suzhou, and Shanghai, where they will visit historic sites, hear from guest lecturers, and learn how China’s long history is shaping its reemergence as a world power in the 21st century. Look for information about the results of this pilot program in a future e-letter.
We are now just days away from graduation, always a time for me to reflect on the past year. I take great pride in the accomplishments of our students, too many to chronicle here, but you will read about two of our students: graduating senior Jessica Gandy, a transfer student who has been rewarded for her hard work in the classroom and in the community; and our University’s newest Truman Scholar, junior Olivia Brown, a double major in Political Science and Spanish as well as a student athlete. Brown is the only Truman Scholar from Washington state this year.
History and experience tell me that our current students go on to rewarding careers, following their passions and fulfilling their goals. We profile here two recent alumni, David Bander and Massimo Backus. Bander, with MFA in hand, brings cultural events to his home community of Kirkland; Backus is putting his Psychology degree to good use every day at Nintendo.
We cannot feature all our events and student, faculty, and alumni accomplishments in our quarterly e-letter, so I encourage you to join our college Facebook page to stay up to date on all things Arts and Sciences. We have already started preparing exciting opportunities for you to engage in the arts, humanities, and social sciences right here on campus this fall. We will keep you informed via our Facebook page and upcoming event calendars.
All my best wishes for a pleasant summer,
David V. Powers
Junior Olivia Smith, Political Science and Spanish major, is the university's newest Truman Scholar. The prestigious academic award, from the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, is given to undergraduates who are preparing for careers in public service. Seattle University is among the most elite schools in the country for the number of Truman Scholars it produces, a total of 15 to date. Smith is the only Washington college student to receive the award in 2015.
Truman Scholarship winners receive a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in professional development programs to help prepare them for careers in public service leadership. Smith, a Sullivan Scholar, hopes to attend the University of Chicago Law School and ultimately to return to Washington where she aspires to serve as a King County prosecuting attorney.
President Stephen Sundborg, S.J., shared the Truman news to Smith in a surprise visit to a Sullivan Leadership meeting she was attending.
“When he made the announcement, I immediately began to cry because I was excited, relieved, in disbelief and thankful,” said Smith. “As they read the official announcement, I bowed my head, closed my eyes, and gave glory to God because I am blessed, truly blessed, to have received such an opportunity.”
At SU, Smith has been named to the Dean’s list every year and is also a member of the women’s rowing team. Outside of class, she serves as a youth ambassador and motivational speaker in the greater Seattle community and works as an intern with state Congressman Adam Smith. She has done community outreach with the United Way of King County, Seattle Social Venture Projects Fast Pitch, and the One Equal Heart Foundation and as an intern with the League of Education.
“Olivia is extraordinarily poised, confident yet humble. She is a remarkable young woman who successfully juggles academics, community service, and athletics,” said Economics Professor Bridget Hiedemann, the university’s Truman Scholar faculty representative.
The Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation was created by Congress in 1975 to be the nation’s living memorial to President Harry S. Truman. The Foundation has a mission to select and support the next generation of public service leaders. The Truman Award has become one of the most prestigious national scholarships in the United States.
Annually, candidates for the Truman Scholarship go through a rigorous, multi-stage selection process. In 2015, there were 688 candidates for the award nominated by nearly 300 colleges and universities. The 58 Truman Scholars received their awards in a ceremony May 24 at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Washington, D.C.
As an organizational development consultant at Nintendo of America, Massimo Backus ‘08 builds on the skills he learned as a psychology student at Seattle University. Taking a page out of the university’s mission statement, Backus works at all levels of the company to develop “just and humane” leadership.
“I work with everyone from the President and the executive team to individuals across all functions and departments,” he said. “My client group is the entire organization of Nintendo and all its business units.”
Nintendo of America, headquartered in Redmond, Washington, and with offices in British Columbia, New York, and California, is a leader in the highly competitive gaming market. Backus works on strategic initiatives, implementation strategies, organization design, and change management. From one-on-one sessions to classroom trainings, he focuses on team building, managing the demands of what is expected, and aligning strategy to outcomes.
“How do you align a group around a common purpose and make sure they are working to the best of their ability, playing to their strengths, and working cohesively together?” he asked. “That’s what I work on every day.”
Backus has always been interested in understanding people, the decisions they make, and how their behaviors change over time. As a student, he took every psychology course he could and seized every opportunity to meet scholars outside the classroom. He immersed himself in the writings of Frankel, Freud, Adler, and Jung before heading to Europe with Associate Dean and Psychology Professor Kathleen La Voy. During that 3-week European Psychologists study-abroad program, he spent time with leading researchers, visited the homes of Jung and Freud, and met members of their families.
“That experience opened my eyes up to the field of psychology and just made me love it and feel a sense of pride that this would be part of my life’s work,” he recalled. “It was one of the most fantastic opportunities of my life.”
It was his interest in how and why people make the decisions they do that led Backus to produce an award-winning documentary while he was still a student. “Decision to Donate” chronicles his father’s decision to donate a kidney to a friend, the surgery, and its aftermath from the points of view of the donor, the recipient, and their families. The film and his father’s advocacy have championed the cause of organ donation throughout the United States. You can watch his video here.
Under the tutelage of LaVoy, Backus took an internship with the Nofsinger Group, a consulting firm focused primarily on assessment of executives and leaders within business and helping organizations determine who would be most suitable for top management positions. The internship, which turned into a full-time position after he graduated, led to his decision to pursue a master’s degree in organizational behavioral psychology at Claremont Graduate University.
Although joining a large consulting firm to work on global projects was exciting, he soon realized he preferred to work directly with individuals and small groups. When the job opened at Nintendo, he jumped at the chance. Now a specialist in human behavior in a business context, he puts psychology to use every day, whether developing an individual’s skills or influencing strategy with top management.
“What got me into psychology is the opportunity is bring out the best in people, and any time I get to do that in my work, it’s a win and it’s a win for those people as well,” he emphasized. “That’s primarily what drives me every day at work.”
Watch the video:
Some people with a strong background in science, like Galileo and Einstein, also have a passion for the arts. For David Bander, MFA ’13, his undergraduate work in applied biology became a foundation for pursuing his passion for theater.
Bander began performing as a young child and acted in college but majored in applied biology. Realizing he wanted to stay within the arts, Bander looked for a program that put his math and science skills to good use. The MFA in Arts Leadership enabled him to “make creativity his day job,” exactly as the program advertises. Today, Bander is the Director of Operations at the Kirkland Performance Center, a 394-seat theater.
Located in the heart of downtown Kirkland, WA, the center had fallen on hard times just a couple years ago. Under new leadership, the center had its best season last year. Shows are selling out, and audience numbers are up. Bander plays no small part in this continuing success.
Bander develops the first draft of the organization’s master budget and works closely with the Executive Director and Director of Finance on the overall vision and direction of the theater. He supervises the Box Office Manager, Technical Director, and House Manager, the heart and soul of the organization's day-to-day operations. He also manages the Director of Programming who scouts all the talent and brings him proposals for shows. Bander must carefully determine not only the costs involved in bringing in a show but the audience it will attract.
“I’m looking at a group to see how much it will cost us, what the average ticket price is, what the average ticket sales are, and how well they are selling at other venues to see if it would be a good fit for what we are doing here in Kirkland,” he said. “I do a lot of number crunching. To be successful, we need to bring in programming that people want to see while still maintaining our artistic vision. My job is to make sure that at the end of the day, we have a strong bottom line that will enable us to continue to provide arts and entertainment to the community.”
Bander credits the MFA’s educational model as giving him both the classroom skills and practical knowledge to help lead an arts organization. His classmates worked in theater, ballet, opera, museums, and galleries, giving him insights into the various ways arts organizations operate. The foundational classes gave him the necessary skills to address all facets of leading an arts organization--even though he was “terrified” of taking a fundraising class, he helped raise a record amount at the annual auction during his practicum with the Kirkland Performance Center. Not only was that experience a highlight of his practicum, it also led to a permanent position.
“Every day I wake up, and I’m excited to go to work,” he said. “The best part of my job here is that I get to really make a difference. I get to see great performances, and I get to make sure that through my skills and working with my staff, I am still able to bring great performances to Kirkland.”
Watch the video:
While still a student at Shoreline Community College, Gandy had the opportunity to meet SU President Stephen Sundborg, S.J. Their conversation about community engagement, social justice, and a personal education made her decision to transfer to Seattle University over UW an easy one. Picking a major wasn’t so simple.
Gandy had spent some time between high school and college in various jobs and traveling, and when she settled down, she focused her studies on pre-med. After classes in neuroscience, she zeroed in on understanding how physical changes affect emotional and behavioral activities. Enter Psychology Professor Michael Spinetta, whose research centers on learning, memory, and psychopharmacology, including the effects that drugs of abuse and therapeutic drugs have on learning processes. With his help, Gandy received a research assistantship at the University of Washington in its pharmacology department. There she used optogenetics and other techniques to study the biological basis of addiction in lab rats and mice.
“We used light to activate certain parts of the brain after a substance is administered,” she explained. “We observed, for example, if serotonin neurons could have a role in addiction.”
Her class with Psychology Professor Katherine Raichle led to the paper “Can Priming Influence Benevolent and Hostile Sexist Attitudes?" Working with fellow student Christine Jensen, they studied whether sexist attitudes could be influenced by gender stereotype narratives. They presented their findings at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in April and at Seattle University's Undergraduate Research Conference in May.
Soon after coming to campus, Gandy became involved in SU’s Gamma Mu chapter of Tau Sigma, a transfer student honor society, and organized events and service opportunities to bring transfer students together. They volunteered at YouthCare, serving brunch to homeless youth in downtown Seattle, and held movie nights at the Ronald McDonald House. She also was elected president of the SU chapter of Psi Chi, the International Honor Society for Psychology, and served on the College of Arts and Sciences Student Executive Council.
“You come into a school where most of the students have been together for a couple of years,” she said. “It can be lonely for a transfer student and hard to break in. Volunteering establishes connections while creating change together.”
In recognition of her accomplishments in the classroom and in the community, Gandy received Tau Sigma’s top national scholarship award.