Dance Marathon Founding Father: Tim Rivelli (Weinberg ’76)

Tim RivelliMore than 1,000 students will gather under a tent outside Norris University Center this weekend to dance for 30 hours for Northwestern University’s 40th annual Dance Marathon fundraising event. Tim Rivelli (Weinberg ’76) helped organize the original NUDM event in 1974 through his role as executive vice president of the Associated Student Government. Rivelli shared his memories of the humble beginnings of an event that has since become one of the largest student-run philanthropic events in the country.

During my first year at Northwestern in 1973, I was the co-chair of an Associated Student Government sub-committee called the University Community Relations Committee. The purpose of the committee was to build better community at Northwestern among the student body. At the time, Norris Center was relatively new, and the facility had not really been fully developed yet. There were very few restaurants in Evanston for students to gather. Northwestern had this great community of students and a variety of student groups, but many students felt that the university lacked a sense of community. So the focus of the community relations committee was to try to find ways to get students to work together and build a better community. The idea for Dance Marathon came from Jan Jacobowitz, who was also involved in ASG and a member of the ASG University Community Relations Committee. Jan had friends at the University of Illinois, and she visited them and participated in their dance marathon event. She thought it was awesome and suggested to me that we should do something like that at Northwestern. I was very supportive of the idea, and I thought it would be a great way to get students from all different segments—people that are living in dorms, people in fraternities and sororities—of the Northwestern community to work together on a common project.

But it took some manpower to plan and organize the event. We also needed to try to find a charity. So we met with representatives from the Epilepsy Foundation of America and later the National Association for Retarded Citizens. These charities became our first beneficiaries. We were also trying to understand where and how we might stage an event of this magnitude. We worked with University officials and received permission to hold the event in Blomquist. We had to figure out how to recruit a team of people to organize and put on the event because there were a lot of things from a facilities standpoint that needed to be done. I was a member of the Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) fraternity, and I asked if they would be interested in helping. They agreed to get behind the event in a big way and figured out how to organize the music and staging and other parts of the event. We attempted to obtain donations of supplies and equipment for the event to minimize our costs and to maximize the amount we could give to the charity. We put together a structure to recruit people to be dancers. I think we had 15 couples and raised more than $9,000.

NUDM 1975For an initial event, it was a great success. There was no playbook for us to use. We didn’t have any elaborate organization. It was a seat-of-the-pants type of thing. When you think of it in terms of getting it started, it was a lot of blind faith. We went forward hoping that we could put it on in a way that was successful, and I think the people that participated in the first event had a good time. When you fast forward to 2014, it’s inspiring to look at the scope of Dance Marathon now: more than 20 student committees, more than 1,000 dancers, an elaborate process for people who are in the charitable industry to submit their causes as potential beneficiaries.

 

It is clear that the Dance Marathon fulfilled the vision of building a better community within the students at Northwestern. From what I’ve seen, it’s also great way to use the talented students at NU to help others in need. NUDM clearly teaches a life lesson that it’s important: Whenever you can bind people together for a common purpose to help others who are in need, you can reach a whole new level of unity, and you can truly help people. I think it’s important for students to remember that lesson as they move forward in their careers after college and go off into the world. We all need to pay attention to others who are in need, and use our time and talent to give back to others.

NUDM dancerWhen I hear the stories from the beneficiary organizations and see Northwestern students coming together to raise more than $1 million for charities, it’s so inspiring. Who could have ever dreamed that what we started in the mid-1970s would have grown into something like that? It’s amazing to think about the ripple effect of what we started in 1975 and to look at what good it has produced over the last 40 years. When people graduate from Northwestern, I am sure that they think that NUDM was one of the best things they were involved in.  I’m very thankful that I was able to play a role in getting this started.

Students Present Innovative Global Health Solutions in Competition

Global Health Case Competition

Eight teams of undergraduate and graduate students participated in Northwestern University’s first Global Health Case Competition Saturday, Feb. 15, each giving a 15-minute presentation on how to decrease pneumonia-related deaths in newborn to 5-year-old children in Uganda. Medill junior Emily Drewry (far left) shared her experience of being part of the team that won the competition. Her team received a $1,000 award and will represent Northwestern at the Emory competition in March.

The competition was modeled after a similar event held annually at Emory University and organized by Kate Klein, a masters of public health student and assistant director of the Program of African Studies at Northwestern. Through the process, students are given the opportunity to engage with individuals in other fields, all toward the common goal of realistic experience in understanding global health interventions.

For the week leading up to the competition, 40 undergraduate and graduate students, split into teams that represented three Northwestern schools, got to know the details of our case, preparing to impress the judges with a solution that aimed to be innovative, realistic and, overall, successful. I was thrilled to be participating in the event—I am constantly trying to make the most of every experience I come across at Northwestern, and this competition seemed to offer the perfect mix of challenge and insight that I couldn’t pass up.

The work that went into creating our presentation certainly wasn’t easy and was even exasperating at times. But it was real, perhaps the most real opportunity I’ve had since coming to Northwestern.

When we filed into Harris L08 on Saturday morning, with a completed case and hours of waiting ahead, I was able to reflect on the experience as a whole. I was terrified to present to the judges—these three women are professionals at UNICEF and USAID and are the people we all aspire to be. How could we possibly impress them? In retrospect, the reason I was afraid to present was the very same reason I needed to embrace the experience, and the reason I am so grateful to Northwestern for giving us this opportunity.

As I spoke with a peer early on in the day, I expressed that I was intimidated by how established many of the participants were. “But here’s the thing,” she responded. “We know so much.” My first inclination was to disagree, but then it dawned on me. We as individuals know what we have learned in our three or four years at this incredible institution—but we as teams know so much more.

I could not have asked for a better result. I am so honored to be a part of the team that will be representing Northwestern at the Emory competition next month. But beyond the results of the competition was a bigger success. It took the form of a life lesson I won’t be forgetting for a long time.

The theme of the weekend wasn’t competition. It was collaboration. Though our goal was to create a viable situation, the work each participant put into the weekend was reciprocated two-fold in opportunity. We put an incredible amount of time into the case itself, learning about pneumonia, Uganda and past public health efforts. I am so proud of the final result my team presented to the judges, but I am prouder of the comfort I now feel, knowing that so many talented individuals out there will one day be presenting these solutions to real donors and make real impacts.

In his closing remarks, Michael Diamond stressed the same point that I had arrived at by the end of the day. “Collaboration,” he said, “as we all know, does not come easily.”

Neither do the solutions to global health problems. But, after this weekend, I am confident that members of the eight participating teams will be part of the movements that, with dedicated efforts and innovative ideas, will go on to change the world.

A huge thank you goes out to Program in African Studies, Office for International Program Development, the Buffett Center and the Center for Global Health for sponsoring the event, as well as to Noelle Sullivan and my teammates for being incredibly patient and supportive throughout the weekend.

The winning team, consisted of Suvai Gunasekaran and Smitha Sarma, Emily Drewry from the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, and Grace Jaworski and Pooja Garg from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Suvai, Smitha, Emily, and Pooja will head to Atlanta in March to compete with students from 24 other universities.

A Wildcat in Sochi: Greg Presto (Medill ’04, ’07)

Greg PrestoNorthwestern alumnus Greg Presto (BSJ ’04, MSJ ’07) just returned from covering the Winter Olympics in Sochi, working as a video producer for USA Today Sports. Presto shot, edited and produced an array of Olympic content, including a fun piece on Russian culture in Sochi.

Read his reflections on the surreal experience of covering the world’s greatest athletes in an unfamiliar land—and running into some fellow Wildcats along the way.

There’s nothing better than a scoop for a journalist, and our team had broken the biggest story in Sochi: There were burritos somewhere. And they were amazing.

The Winter Olympics hold a lot of mystery for Americans—we don’t usually watch a biathlon, and placing the Games in Russia added another layer of confusion in language, alphabet and food.

Despite the reports of missing shower curtains and brown tap water, the lost-in-translation moments are what made covering the Sochi Games wonderful. And I do mean full of wonder. We wondered about the boiled meats and how often to say thank you and what lugers are really trying to do. And for me, answering questions that arise from natural curiosity is what makes journalism fun. If you see something, ask about it. Then say something.

So we asked: “What are lugers trying to do, anyway?” (As little as possible, it turns out.) “Do Russians celebrate Valentine’s Day?” (Yes.) “How much does skiing before you shoot a gun alter your aim?” (A little.) “What does the Russian letter that looks like an asterisk sound like?” (It’s a “J.”) “Why are downhill ski poles bent that way?” (To bend around the skier’s body.)

And, of course, where did the Russian guy at the Ekaterininskiy Kvartal media village learn to make such amazing “fajitos?” Turns out he spent some time in Colorado, where he learned to make some incredible wrapped goodies filled with crunchy vegetables (a rare treat) and spiced pork worth the 40-minute round trip to grab a bunch for some coworkers.

A taste of home like that was a welcome respite from feeling like the ugly American who can’t understand anything. Staring at a string of Cyrillic text and having the symbols look completely meaningless was, as one coworker pointed out, as close as we’ll probably come to understanding what it’s like to be illiterate. Trying to translate kilograms to pounds on a rare trip to the press center gym was nearly impossible on three hours of sleep. And giving directions to a cab driver? Well, an hour to wait for the next bus isn’t so bad, I guess.

But it was something we were all learning together—not just my fellow USA Today Sports folks, but other media, including a pile of Northwestern alums. Ten of us gathered for a photo on the last day, recounting confusions and questions we’d raised and reminiscing with our fellow Americans and media from Australia, Korea, Japan and China.

It’s with the Chinese guys that we finished. After the Olympic flame was snuffed out and the last of our video gear packed, we celebrated with a dinner that devolved into a sing-off, with a table of Chinese journalists singing one song and our group singing another. They took us to school with a string of not-in-English tunes that included Pavarotti and a bunch of stuff we couldn’t identify. But the crown jewel of their dominant concert was a three-part harmony rendition of a song that wasn’t lost in translation at all: “Jingle Bells.”

Medill alumni in Sochi

Some of the Northwestern alumni covering the Olympics in Sochi gather for a group photo.

Do you know any Cool ‘Cats? We’re looking for Northwestern University students, alumni, faculty and staff who are having cool experiences or have unique stories to tell. Let us know at socialmedia@northwestern.edu

Lives of NU scientist and actresses collide for play

DuncanFrancesca E. Duncan, research assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, recently met with two actresses and a director preparing for the Chicago run of an upcoming play about female scientists. Duncan, director Keira Fromm and actresses Janet Ulrich Brooks and Elizabeth Ledo reflect on the experience of exploring Duncan’s world for artistic purposes.

Two actresses in a new production of Sarah Treem’s play, “The How and the Why,” wanted to pick Teresa Woodruff’s brain about being a female scientist. But Teresa, a leader in women’s reproductive research and director of the Women’s Health Research Institute at Feinberg, was booked. As a scientist in her lab, I snagged the assignment. But I wondered, “What could they possibly gain from me?”

That evening I opened the play’s script on my computer. I couldn’t stop reading. This play—about two female biologists—understood my life. It captured the essence and tumultuous emotions of being a burgeoning scientist in biomedical research. I identified with the naïve hubris of a young graduate student when starting his or her scientific career, the reluctance to hear constructive criticism about a hypothesis that one has devoted endless hours to craft and feeling devastated when new ideas are squashed at international meetings by scientific leaders.

This play also underscored the necessity of strong mentors to “grandmother” the next generation of scientists in the academic pipeline. Being successful in science is not easy. Every trainee needs a committed mentor to be a strong advocate, to provide unique opportunities, to be patient with mistakes and to be a tangible reminder of what it means to always stay in the game. This play nailed the evolution of a scientist from an emotional fledgling student into a confident inspirational leader. I couldn’t wait to show the actresses my world.

I met with director Keira Fromm and actresses Janet Ulrich Brooks and Elizabeth Ledo, who play Zelda and Rachel, respectively, in the TimeLine Theatre play. “Do you really get passionate about your work?” they asked me.

Science is 99.5 percent failure and .5 percent success, I explained. If you don’t have passion, you can’t survive.

Then, I gave the actresses a tour of our lab. They were impressed with the environment where we spend so many hours surrounded by glassware, chemicals, equipment and other scientists. Janet and Elizabeth explored every detail as they absorbed their roles. I showed them a microscope we use for microinjecting cells, and there was a note left nearby—scribbled in frustration—on a pad of paper that read, “If the machine is working correctly, the membrane should POP!!!!” The word “pop” was circled and underlined three times in red, striking a chord with Elizabeth, who commented on the emotional intensity packed into those three letters…P-O-P. At that moment, I could see in their eyes that the science world was demystified and now defined by its own tangible cast, set and plot twists.

From actress Janet Ulrich Brooks (Zelda Kahn):

I believe there is such a strong link between the artistry of science and the science of artistry. Our visit to Northwestern supported my feeling that we share a similar passion for mining truth. The opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with Francesca and tour the lab was invaluable research, which helped deepen the truth in our production. The devil is in the details — and our visit added specificity to the backstory of my character, adding a level of confidence to my performance. I’m so thankful to Francesca for being so open and candid. The experience was invaluable, and I believe our process made great leaps forward after returning from Northwestern.

From actress Elizabeth Ledo (Rachel Hardeman):

Getting an opportunity to go into the lab was a thrill. There was this energy of focus and calm, so to learn that a few hours prior to our visit one of the researchers had had a bit of a meltdown was a reminder that human behavior is human behavior. Whether you’re a scientist spending hours looking into a microscope or an actor throwing yourself into the psyche and emotional world of a character, we all get pushed to the brink and can lose composure. It was very refreshing to me.

From director Keira Fromm:

There’s nothing more edifying than context. As theater artists we spend much of our time cultivating our collective imagination. Informed by the research we can do online, in a library or via knowledgeable friends or family, we make inferences about character, story and environment. These inferences don’t always provide a complete picture—particularly when the character, story or environment relates to a field as dense and elusive as the hard sciences. Meeting with Francesca, talking about the women’s health issues she’s been at work on and touring the lab at Northwestern allowed us the chance to see science in action and context. Touring the lab and crossing paths with the female scientists we met along the way allowed our actresses (Elizabeth and Janet) to fully see themselves (as the scientists they portray) in this world. I know that it was a grounding experience for us as we moved into performances at TimeLine Theatre Company.

The TimeLine Theatre production of “The How and The Why” runs through April 6. For more information: http://www.timelinetheatre.com/how_and_why/

howandwhy

Photo by Lara Goetsch

 

10 Ways to Brighten Up Your Winter Quarter

Winter Quarter at NorthwesternPolar vortex got you down? Here are 10 things going on around campus to make Winter Quarter your favorite quarter.

10. Northwestern Basketball
Football season is over, but the Big Ten athletic action continues at Welsh-Ryan Arena–a brisk walk or quick shuttle ride away from the main Evanston campus. Admission is free for students, so check out the full schedules for the men’s and women’s teams and come support your Wildcats!

9. Ice Skating and Skiing at Norris
Even if you didn’t make the cut for Sochi 2014, you can still strap on some ice skates and take a spin around the Norris Center ice rink. And while you won’t find any black diamond runs on campus, you can always rent cross-country skis from Norris Outdoors and glide along the snowy lakefront.

8. Free Admission to the Art Institute of Chicago
Thanks to a new partnership with the University, undergraduate students now have completely free access to the Art Institute of Chicago during normal operating hours. A “Northwestern Night” kicking off the partnership will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 23. All Northwestern alumni, faculty, staff (and their friends and families) will have free admission that night, too!

7. NU Nights
Superman or Batman? Marvel Comics or DC Comics? Dress up as your favorite caped crusader for “Superhero Bingo” at 10 p.m. Friday, Jan. 17., at Norris.

6. Block Museum of Art Reopening
If the Art Institute didn’t give you enough of an artistic fix, the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art is reopening at 2 p.m. Jan. 18, after being closed for renovations. Check out the full lineup of winter exhibitions, including “The Left Front: Radical Art in the ‘Red Decade,’ 1929-1940″ and “Steichen | Warhol: Picturing Fame.”

5. Shrek the Musical
The 72nd annual Northwestern Dolphin Show is all about the timeless journey of an ogre and a talking donkey rescuing an unconventional princess. America’s largest student-produced musical opens Jan. 24 and runs through Feb. 1 at Cahn Auditorium.

4. New Treats at Starbucks
The Starbucks in Norris underwent a facelift over the break and now features pastries and hot breakfast sandwiches from La Boulange. Cozy up to the fireplace or big-screen TV and enjoy a hot chocolate or your favorite coffee concoction.

3. Board Games Night
As long as you’re at Norris, you might as well stick around for Board Games Night with Dead City Productions. There’s nothing like a good round of Settlers of Catan to take the edge off of a cold winter night.

2. Dance Marathon
It’s the biggest fundraiser/dance party on campus and marks the beginning of the end of Winter Quarter. This year’s beneficiary is Team Joseph, which raises money in the fight against Duchenne muscular dystrophy. If you’re not already involved as a dancer or committee member, stop by the NUDM tent to watch the fun. Will another fundraising record be broken this year?

1. Snow
As you’ve already noticed, Northwestern gets lots of snow in the winter. Make sure you take some time to enjoy it! Organizing a snowball fight, making snow angels or just creating some footprints in the fresh powder while walking around the snow globe-like campus are great ways to blow off steam and embrace the beautiful side of the cold weather. Happy winter!

University Library in Winter