Men of Merit Help Define Masculinity

(Written March 2014)

Fifteen men on campus were recognized this week as the 2014 University of Kansas Men of Merit for their contributions to the University and community.

The sixth-annual honor went out to students, staff and faculty who were recognized at a reception at the Kansas Union on Monday who positively define masculinity in their work.

For Michael Detmer, an honoree who works as a coordinator for the LGBTQ Resource Center and is a graduate student in Music Therapy, the recognition could help bring attention to issues surrounding male sexual orientation, he said.

“I think a lot of stereotypes are made off of sexual orientation,” Detmer said. “We often make assumptions on gender expression or sexual orientation based off one or the other, so I think being honored as a Man of Merit helps break down those assumptions and barriers and helps with really getting to know people regardless of just their sexual identity or gender expression.”

The project is organized by the Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity with the support of the Commission on the Status of Women, who together help sponsor a poster featuring the recipients.

The award also seeks to bring attention to problems with men in higher education, like declining enrollment and involvement in volunteer activities, and rising rates of underperformance in school.

According to a 2013 study from the journal “Gender & Society,” men underachieve in school compared to women because they have less involvement in extracurricular activities like music, art and drama, which can often be labeled as un-masculine.

Bret Koch, a junior recipient who works with the KU Dance Marathon, the Community Outreach Program and serves on the board for the Multicultural Scholars Program, said his heavy involvement at the University has been crucial to his success not only as a student, but as an individual as well.

“I feel like I’ve excelled more as a person since I did start getting involved more,” Koch said. “My freshman and sophomore year I wasn’t that involved, and to know once I did get involved I got honored with something like this, it just solidifies and validates that fact that I am doing a lot of things outside of being a student.”

Bryne Gonzales, who works as a Hawk Link Guide, an organization that assists new students and students of color with their transition to the University, said that the honor serves more as recognition for the groups they all represent, rather than the individuals themselves.

“I think this award is aimed to recognize men who challenge the status quo and work with groups trying do good in the community, so I think by lifting us up and showing the good deeds we do, it helps reaffirm the people we work with and the work they do.” Gonzales said. “For me, working with underrepresented populations, obviously it says good things about me, but it says even better things about what we’re doing in the community and we’re making an impact that people are noticing.”

But even though Gonzales says the attention should go to everyone, seeing your face on a poster is still pretty neat, he said.

“It’s a little uncomfortable for all of us, because we’re all guys who like to work behind the scenes and help push other people forward,” he said. “But anyone who tells you they don’t feel good about this and getting recognized, they’d be lying.”

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Students Build Ramp to Aid Lawrence Family

(Written September 2013)

Two University students are volunteering their weekends to construct a wheelchair ramp for one Lawrence family, but they’re getting back just as much as they’re putting in.

Taylor Monsees, a fourth year architecture student from Overland Park, and Matt Reilley, a third year Aerospace Engineering major from Overland Park, have spent every Saturday for the last month volunteering at Henry and Mary Perkins’ mobile home in east Lawrence.

Monsees was given the project by Freedom by Design, a program in the American Institute of Architecture for Students that focuses on providing better living conditions for low-income and disabled individuals.

After receiving the project, it was up to Monsees to win the bid for the job from the city and secure more funding for construction, which he says provided him with a more fulfilling experience than his architecture classes.

“We’re actually getting real world experience here,” Monsees said. “With studio, you’re in a classroom setting and you don’t really gain experience working with a client. I would rather be doing this than building big foil buildings. There’s just a better sense of giving back with this.”

Prior to the construction of the ramp, the Perkins’ mobile home was not handicap accessible. Mary suffers from multiple sclerosis and Henry is diabetic and will soon be wheelchair bound, and their home also houses their son and daughter as well as their seven year-old granddaughter. Monsees says one of the most rewarding aspects of the project is being able to help out a good family in need.

“I feel bad that they’re living in the situation that they are,” he said. “He’s helping raise his grandkid and he’s doing a lot for his family, so it’s nice to be able to do something for him too.”

Monsees and Reilley have not been completely on their own in building the ramp, however. Curtis Calkins, a recent architecture graduate, has assisted with the project. The city of Lawrence awarded a grant for the construction and Independence Inc., a local organization that provides assistance for the disabled, provided resources as well.

Monsees and Reilley have gotten help from surrounding residents in the mobile home community too. A neighbor who is a concrete finisher has offered to help finish the sidewalk of the ramp, the Perkins’ have made their tool shed available for the boys to use and the young neighborhood girls who Reilley calls their “cheerleaders” even come dance to their music while they work.

Reilly says this kind of encouragement and response from the community has made the construction much more enjoyable.

“Everyone has been so friendly and so nice, it’s just great to work around positive energy. ” he said. “Watching [Henry] come out and you see his face light up, and he’s always telling us we’re doing a good job and offering help, that’s great.”

The boys plan to have construction completed by next weekend, and Mary Perkins says the hours they’ve spent volunteering to help her family has reaffirmed her optimism in the community.

“I always believe there’s more good people than bad in the world, and this is proof of it,” Perkins said. “I know they’re working hard out there in the heat, but when it’s done they can have a really good feeling about what they’ve done for our family, and when you do something good for others you will never regret it.”

Overland Park Shootings Resonate in Lawrence Community

(Written April 2014)

The deadly shootings at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) and a nearby Jewish retirement home in Overland Park hit close to home for many University students and Lawrence citizens.

Frazier Glenn Cross Jr., 73, of Aurora, Mo., was arrested and charged Sunday evening for the shooting that left three people dead at the JCC and Village Shalom. Although none of the victims were Jewish, authorities are investigating the shootings as a hate crime.

The shooting was especially worrisome for Becca Berger, a senior from Overland Park who went to school at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, which is located inside the JCC, and whose grandmother lives in Village Shalom.

“It didn’t just hit close to home, it hit my home,” Berger said. “We’re a very sheltered community. I never really thought that this would happen to such a small town, a small community.”

The shooting, which occurred on the eve of the Jewish holiday Passover will be charged as a hate crime, according to Barry Grissom, the U.S. attorney for Kansas. Cross is a well-known white supremacist and allegedly yelled a Nazi salute after the shootings.

Berger, who is also involved with KU Hillel, said when she came across the location of the shooting on Twitter she did not suspect it was a coincidental event.

“When I saw that it said Jewish Community Center, and Village Shalom, it was automatic. There was no question in my mind it was a hate crime,” Berger said. “The timing of it was just terrible, because today is Passover and we’re celebrating our freedom [from] slavery in Egypt, but how free are we when we’re in 2014 and still having prejudiced people attack us?”

The crime hit close to home for Rabbi Moti Rieber of the Lawrence Jewish Community Center too, whose children were at the center at the time of the shooting.

Rieber said the LJCC’s Passover celebration on Monday would go on as planned, but they did request a police presence outside the synagogue just in case. Nevertheless, Rieber said the shooting won’t affect how they live their everyday lives going forward.

“The Jewish community is certainly not going to be cowed by this kind of thing,” Rieber said. We’re going into Passover and it adds a somberness to the holiday and a sobriety to it, but it certainly doesn’t change our determination to continue to live as we’ve always lived as Jews in America.”

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel of the Chabad Center at KU said he is encouraging more students to take part in Passover celebrations as a way to deal with a tragedy that affects so many Jewish students at the University on a personal level.

“In Judaism, we believe the way you fight darkness is with light, so when you face hatred, you have to respond with love,” Tiechtel said. “Many of the Jewish students here at KU have been shaken with this story because so many of them grew up with the JCC being a part of their life, but what we’re trying to do is change our anger and bitterness into positivity by reaching out to others, by increasing togetherness in our community and increasing unity.”

A special service is being planned at the LJCC early next week, and a walk will be held to honor the victims this Friday in Overland Park, starting from the JCC to Village Shalom and ending with a prayer service at 7 p.m.

Student Spends Summer Working on Curiosity Rover

(Written October 2013)

Curiosity, the NASA rover exploring Mars, may be over 50 million miles away, but one University student’s work has brought it a little closer to Lawrence.

Ryan Endres, a junior aerospace engineering student from DeSoto, spent the past summer in Pasadena, Calif., interning at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and working closely with Curiosity.

Despite being offered an internship at one of the most prestigious scientific institutions in the world, Endres spent much of his time proving to people why a kid from a small town in Kansas deserved to be there.

“The most awesome thing is that people would doubt me,” Endres said. “They would be like, ‘Kansas? That’s not a top 25 school.’ I heard that so many times. Well no, but there are so many good things about it. KU holds its own very well, and we’re producing just as good students.”

Endres worked with the Integrated Planning and Execution team for Curiosity, where he helped compile a database for the information the rover was sending back to NASA from Mars. He learned of the internship through a family friend who was impressed with his work at the University, primarily his work outside the classroom.

Endres’ extracurricular activities include being president of Engineers Without Borders at the University, involvement with the Self Engineering Leadership Fellows Program, and even running marathons. He said it was these experiences at the University that made him feel qualified to work at the JPL and appreciative of his roots.

“I felt like I belonged there,” Endres said. “I felt like there were aspects of KU that are vital and essential to being a well-rounded person that made me fit in. It was humbling to be there, but it made me realize

I’m just as good as everyone else there too, which is pretty cool because there’s people at KU who are better than me, so it shows you just how good the University of Kansas is.”

Endres’ work with Curiosity required difficult and complicated tasks, like learning to write in the programming language Python. He said the strain of the job could feel overwhelming at times, but the importance of what he was working on served as inspiration for him.

“The cool thing about the aerospace engineering industry right now is, for us, when we’re at the peak of our careers at 35 or 40 years old, I think we will be sending people to Mars,” Endres said. “I want to change the world, and working there gave me the idea that I could be on that front line of going out and expanding the capacity of humanity.”

Bob Lyon, faculty advisor for Engineers Without Borders, has worked with Endres since he was a sophomore. He said the qualities Endres displays within their organization, such as traveling to Bolivia to help make latrines in mountain villages, make him an obvious candidate for such a prestigious internship.

“He really wants to make a difference and build a better world in whatever capacity he can,” Lyon said.

“He’s a real people person who’s a real visible member in the School of Engineering, and he’s just a real leader and a real servant, too.”

Charles Neiss, the program coordinator for the SELF program, reiterated that it shouldn’t come as a shock to see Endres working on something like Curiosity.

“He’s definitely a student who seeks out and maximizes opportunities and wants to go above and beyond the norm, so it doesn’t surprise me he sought out something unique and individual like the experience he had,” Neiss said.

Even though his internship and work on Curiosity ended in August, Endres knows it will serve him for much longer.

“It really did open up a lot of opportunities for me,” he said. “There’s internships I’ll apply for this year and my opportunity of getting them, or at least an interview, is definitely greater. It looks really good when I can write ‘NASA,’ ‘Jet Propulsion Lab’ and ‘Curiosity’ on my resume. That’s just – wow.”

Identity Theft Cause for Students to be Alert

(Written in October 2013)

College students are being advised to take more preventative measures when it comes to protecting their personal information.

According to a recent press release from the Better Business Bureau, young adults are the most at-risk group for identity theft because of their high use of smartphones and social media. They also found that “friendly fraud” situations, in which friends access smartphones or social media accounts without permission, account for more than 20 percent of on-campus identity theft.

University Information Security Officer Rob Arnold said smartphones make students vulnerable to identity theft because they can be easily lost or stolen. According to Consumer Reports, 1.6 million phones were stolen in the U.S. last year alone.

Arnold said there are simple steps that can be taken to ensure safety if your phone is lost or stolen, such as encrypting it with a pin number. This is something nearly half of smartphone users don’t do, according to a study from Confident Technologies.

“One of the best reasons to use encryption is that it keeps you comfortable,” Arnold said. “You have assurance that your data hasn’t been disclosed. It’s the difference between losing a locked box or an unlocked box, and if you know the phone is encrypted you can take more time before you take more drastic measures too.”

In addition to encryption, Arnold said students can take other precautions to secure their information. Among those are not reusing passwords across multiple accounts, having a backup plan if you lose your smartphone and taking advantage of security services available on websites like Gmail and Facebook.

The Better Business Bureau also recommends that students keep important documents locked away and have important mail sent to a post office box or their family’s home.

Although it may seem time consuming, Arnold said taking steps like these will prove beneficial if a victim of identity theft.

“It is just a tiny productivity tax you pay when you have to do something like type in a pin,” he said. “None of them cost anything, but the time you spend doing these will definitely pay for itself over and over again in the scenario where you would have had your data compromised, your device attacked or one of your accounts used by somebody for malicious purposes.”

In cases of “friendly fraud,” Arnold said the best preventative measure to take is simply keeping your social media passwords to yourself and carefully considering what you share on the internet.

Bailey Dumire, a freshman from Seattle, said her parents’ identity was stolen five years ago, which has made her more cautious when it comes to her personal information on social media.

“I’m really careful about what I put on the Internet now,” Dumire said. “I’m not really into sharing stuff on Facebook, so I don’t have my age or where I live, and I don’t put any of the fine details.”

Kristen Korona, a senior from Kansas City, works at the Kansas Union Bookstore, which she said has also made her more aware of how easily someone can have their identity stolen.

“Working at retail I’ve had a few instances where people’s cards don’t match their IDs, so I’m aware that kind of stuff happens more often than you would think,” Korona said. “I’m more careful about if I log in at work to my bank or anything with cell phones or computers, I’m just more cautious about logging out now.”