DePaul’s President Speaks at Hearing on Keeping College Affordable

January 28, 2014
TRIO congressional testimony

DePaul University President, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., speaks at a hearing on education access.

On Jan. 28, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., president of DePaul University, spoke to federal legislators in Washington about ways DePaul promotes college access and success. Holtschneider gave testimony and answered questions at a hearing before the Congressional Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, “Keeping College Within Reach: Sharing Best Practices for Serving Low-Income and First-Generation Students.”

Much of Holtschneider’s testimony focused on federal TRIO programs, which provide services for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. He spoke about the success DePaul has seen in two such programs: Student Support Services, which is designed to increase graduation rates for low-income and first-generation college students, and McNair Scholars, which is geared toward preparing students from underrepresented groups for doctoral studies and faculty careers. Holtschneider also proposed ways TRIO programs could be improved nationally to encourage universities to collaborate to better serve students and reduce administrative costs associated with enrolling students in TRIO programs.

Read Holtschneider’s full testimony.

The Theatre School paves the way for bilingual educator

November 13, 2013
Lauren Carranza

Lauren Carranza (THE ’05)

At any given time during the day, third-grade teacher Lauren Carranza (THE ’05) might be explaining a lesson in English, but answering a question in Spanish. That’s the culture of Denver’s Escuela de Guadalupe, a unique kindergarten through fifth grade dual-language program that stresses the importance of retaining native languages while studying new ones. “We always say we are learning a new language,” she explains. “We never say, ‘I don’t speak English or Spanish.’” A non-native Spanish speaker herself, Carranza learns from her students as much as she teaches them. “The kids correct me all the time in Spanish,” she laughs.

While at DePaul, Carranza took two years of Spanish in addition to her studies at The Theatre School. After graduation, she found herself in Honduras, working at Teatro la Fragua, a theatre run by Jesuit priest Jack Warner (MFA ’78). “I was the only English speaker there besides [Father Warner],” she remembers. “I learned a lot really fast.” It was at Teatro la Fragua that Carranza developed a passion for teaching. “I found that teaching was actually more of what I wanted to do, but theatre led me to it,” she says.

When she returned to the U.S. after spending more than a year in Honduras, her passion for the Spanish language landed her a job at Escuela de Guadalupe, where she has been teaching for the last seven years. “I’m a good model for the kids because I’ve learned a second language,” says Carranza. “I know how much of a struggle it was to get food on my plate or get a ride to work every day in Honduras. I understand both the parents and the kids because I know how hard it is.”

photo 3

Carranza received the CenturyLink Leadership in Education Award in March 2013.

Today, Carranza uses many skills she mastered at The Theatre School in her classroom. “I constantly have the kids use voices and visualizing techniques,” she says. Additionally, she credits her ability to think outside the box to her time at DePaul. “Every single day something comes up where I can’t go by the book, but I have to deal with it,” she explains. “[At The Theatre School,] I learned that you do not need to do something the way that it’s written … there are rules, but you can do anything you can think of.”  Carranza’s efforts earned her a CenturyLink Leadership in Education Award in March 2013. The award, which came with a $1,000 gift to the school, was especially meaningful because she was nominated by her students’ parents and her peers. “With theatre, you get to stand up and get applause and awards, but you don’t get that with kids,” she says. “It’s incredibly validating to know I am on the right track.”

Carranza stays the course by remembering two things: “All shall be well” and “Be content where you are, but always look for progress.” That way, her teaching methods remain fresh, and she remains energized for the work ahead. “I’m proud of our school,” she enthuses. “We worked hard to develop a respectful and dignified program. It’s a unique place that’s making great strides with different communities. It’s a good start to a young person’s legacy.”

Return to the Alumni & Friends website. >>

Building Robots, Building Community: Mike Ulinski Lives the Vincentian Mission

August 5, 2013

Robots get ready to rumble.

Fans cheered and lights blared as the Electric Eagles took to the field at the Edward Jones Dome. The stadium was packed with thousands of supporters, sponsors and college representatives, but this was no football game. Along with 400 other teams, the Electric Eagles had arrived in St. Louis for the annual FIRST Championship, where robust robots showcase the technical and creative acumen of high school students from around the world.

While robotics competitions naturally foreground the life-size assemblages of metal, wire and motors, “it’s not about the robot,” says Mike Ulinski (CDM MS ’06), who has mentored the Electric Eagles for seven years. “The whole concept is to get kids involved with and exposed to science and technology, and to show how fun it can be.” Designing and building a robot may be fun, but it’s also a lot of work. The process begins in early January, when FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) announces the annual “game” and provides a collection of parts to jumpstart each team. Only six weeks later, the first round of regional competitions begins.

The finals in St. Louis.

In 2013, the game entailed shooting Frisbees into a series of goals, followed by a climbing exercise, in which each robot scaled a pyramid-shaped jungle gym structure. Unsurprisingly, conquering these challenges required teamwork, perseverance and creative problem-solving. The Electric Eagles hail from Lindblom Math and Science Academy in West Englewood, so they’re no strangers to difficult technological problems, but the robotics project tends to be daunting. “The majority of my students have never really used power tools,” Ulinski notes. “Quite a few have never seen pneumatics, car window motors or some of our donated materials.”

The team met four times per week, including Saturdays, so the students ramped up quickly. “We actually had students teaching other students,” Ulinski says. In particular, two seniors shared their accumulated experience with the 13 other team members. “I have one student who was distracted a lot as a freshman,” Ulinski remembers. “Now, he still gets our attention, but he’s gotten so enthused with [robotics] that he’s basically learned to do computer-aided design all by himself.” These types of success stories are common in the robotics community.

Poised to begin the game.

Students gravitated toward different roles within the mechanical, electrical, programming and public relations sub-groups. For example, the latter cohort created logos and banners that were strung up in the pit area during competitions. “It actually has a NASCAR feel,” explains Ulinski. Regardless of their specific area of expertise, all students “acquire new skills as they learn how to project manage and speak in front of people.”

Last spring, after placing well in several regional competitions, the Electric Eagles were satisfied with a middle-of-the-pack finish at the FIRST Championships. Now, they’re already thinking about next year; preseason will start again in the fall. For Ulinski, who works as a staff engineer at Shure, volunteering with the Electric Eagles is an ongoing commitment and an enjoyable way to carry out the Vincentian mission of giving back. “It’s just the satisfaction of helping students,” Ulinski muses. “To see the students grow from this and see what additional possibilities [come from this]. It will be great to see what cool stuff they do in the future.”


Members of the Electric Eagles work on their robot in the pit.


The robot in action.

From DePaul to “Deadwood”: The Scene Stealing Characters of W. Earl Brown

May 30, 2013
W. Earl Brown (THE MA '89) can be seen in the movie, "The Lone Ranger," scheduled for release in July.

W. Earl Brown (THE MA ’89) can be seen in “The Lone Ranger,” scheduled for release in July.

W. Earl Brown (THE MA ’89) is lying in a pool of fake blood in a New Mexico desert when he experiences a surreal flashback. The cast and crew of “The Lone Ranger” fade away as Brown’s memory leads him back to his Kentucky childhood. “We’re using my mom’s picnic table as a train – it’s a train robbery. And we would jump off the picnic table onto our moving horses,” Brown recounts. “And I’m lying there doing the exact same thing 43 years later, except this train is real, the horses are real, the pistol on my hip is real.”

It was a heady, “pinch me” moment, even for an actor as successful and established as Brown, who honed his acting chops at Murray State before heading to DePaul for graduate school. “I soaked it all up,” Brown says. “The Theatre School made me a much, much better actor, and it made me much more prepared for a career in this industry.”

His career almost took a different turn. During his first quarter, Brown was invited to audition for The Second City Touring Company. He was up against an unknown named Chris Farley, and Farley won the spot. “It was my first lesson in crushing disappointment in show business,” Brown shares. “And it’s probably the best thing that could have happened to me as an actor. Because going back and focusing at DePaul made me better at what I do.”

After graduating, Brown picked up local work, with roles in “Backdraft” and “Rookie of the Year” among others, but he was desperate to make it to Los Angeles. A temporary move in 1993 soon became a 20-year stay. “Wes Craven took me under his wing, casting me in three films,” Brown remembers. “‘Scream’ was the first project I had billing on – with my name at the front of the movie – that did well.” Two years later, Brown entered the pop culture lexicon when he delivered several memorable lines as Warren, the beloved special needs brother of Cameron Diaz’s character in “There’s Something About Mary.”

While Warren remains close to Brown’s heart, his favorite role came later, when he was cast as Dan Dority in HBO’s “Deadwood.” The critically acclaimed show debuted in 2004 and won seven Emmys® throughout its run. During the second season, Brown joined the writing staff. “So it was my life 24/7,” he says. He still enjoys watching reruns of the show and eagerly anticipates the chance to work with producer and writer David Milch again.

Brown is grateful for the shape his career has taken. “I’ve created characters that have become famous – but I’m not famous. That’s a plus in that it makes disappearing into roles much easier, but the payday is nowhere near what fame delivers,” he notes wryly. Nonetheless, Brown has found professional success doing what he loves. “For any artist, the joy of creation can never be taken away from you,” Brown says. “Are you always going to have a big audience or a big paycheck? No. But you always have the opportunity to create.”

Return to the Alumni & Friends website. >>

DePaul’s “Unique Worldview” Prepares Alumnus for Career in Public Affairs

March 28, 2013
Phil Rodriguez (LAS MPA '11), director of public affairs for the State of Illinois Comptroller.

Phil Rodriguez (LAS MPA ’11), director of public affairs for the State of Illinois Comptroller.

As a young boy in Belleville, Ill., Phil Rodriguez (LAS MPA ’11) spent many happy hours knocking on neighbors’ doors, passing out flyers and talking up political candidates. This early induction to the bustling world of campaigns left a deep impression on Rodriguez. “When you start volunteering… you get a passion for it and a drive to do it, and that’s what happened with me,” he recalls. Rodriguez’s enthusiasm for politics never wavered, and today, as director of public affairs for the State of Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, Rodriguez focuses on improving the lives of Illinois residents.

Rodriguez’s career sends him ping-ponging around the state, from Cairo to Waukegan and back again, but he’s accustomed to the road warrior lifestyle. While pursuing his master’s in public administration from DePaul, Rodriguez worked fulltime on three different campaign races — federal, congressional and gubernatorial. “I’d be in a hotel room at the end of the night, and I would study,” he remembers. “I would write my papers when I was in the back of the car, while the candidate was in the front.”

Though daunting at times, Rodriguez’s persistence paid off, and his political perspective helped enliven classroom discussions. “DePaul provided a really unique atmosphere that allowed me to have some fun debates from the start and see a unique worldview,” he says. “And it was literally a worldview. Students from all over the world were in those classes, and it allowed me to get an approach that I probably wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else. And I thought that was really cool.” Rodriguez was initially attracted to DePaul for its “phenomenal reputation,” but he counts engaging professors and dialogues with classmates as the most enduring aspects of his experience.

Shortly before Rodriguez graduated from DePaul, he accepted a position working with the state comptroller on a new minority and small business development program. Rodriguez built this initiative from the ground up, and it helped lead to his current role. As director of public affairs, Rodriguez continues to focus on developing and enhancing relationships. “My team is about going out there, building these relationships, going to nonprofits, and talking to civic organizations and community leaders, saying, ‘where can we help, how can we provide support, how can my team be a liaison to your efforts?’”

Representing the state’s chief financial office is not something Rodriguez takes lightly. “It’s a crucial job right now, because the state is in such dire need in terms of financial payments,” he says. “We found that people don’t know where to go when they’re in [financial] trouble, particularly in the nonprofit community.” Faced with this troubling reality, Comptroller Topinka challenged the office and Rodriguez to create the Illinois Has Heart Tour, which helped educate nonprofits about their options. In particular, the tour highlighted the comptroller’s decision to prioritize payments to nonprofits.

Rodriguez considers the tour one of his great professional accomplishments. “We could see how it had an impact,” he shares. “We saw that the state of Illinois could do something good, find some solutions… we’ve just got to find more of that, and that’s the challenge.” The task won’t be easy, but Rodriguez is definitely up for it. “I really love public service,” he says, grinning. “I love being here, and I love the opportunity to stay involved with constituents and the public.”

Return to the Alumni & Friends website. >>

DePaul Welcomes New Provost

March 1, 2013

Pope_Davis_7364On Feb. 27, the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., DePaul’s president, announced the appointment of Donald Pope-Davis, Ph.D., as the university’s new provost. Pope-Davis comes to DePaul most recently from the University of Notre Dame, where he held the role of vice president and associate provost.

During his tenure at Notre Dame, Pope-Davis managed a variety of programs and processes, including faculty recruitment and hiring, tenure and promotions, and mentoring and development programs for faculty. Prior to becoming vice president and associate provost in 2007, he served as Notre Dame Graduate School’s interim dean and held other senior administrative positions within the Graduate School.

Pope-Davis brings 35 years of higher education administrative experience and 30 years of faculty experience to his new position at DePaul. At Notre Dame, Pope-Davis taught in the counseling psychology program in the department of psychology. In 2008, the Journal of Counseling Psychology recognized Pope-Davis as the third-leading contributor to the field of multicultural counseling. His research interests include cultural and racial identity development, cultural competency training, and assessment.
Pope-Davis is the author of three books and has published extensively in academic journals. Additionally, he is a research fellow in the American Psychological Association and recently co-authored the first national survey of African American Catholics.

As provost at DePaul, Pope-Davis will serve as the university’s chief academic officer. This position, which focuses on the intellectual life of the university, oversees Academic Affairs, Enrollment Management and Marketing, and Student Affairs. Pope-Davis will begin his new role in July.

Pope-Davis earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology and theology from Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill., and his doctorate in counseling psychology from Stanford University. He and his wife, Sara, have three children. 

Return to the Alumni & Friends website. >>

Alumna Takes SkinnyPop Popcorn to the Top

January 3, 2013

Most days are a whirlwind of activity for Pam Netzky (CMN ’98), president and co-founder of SkinnyPop Popcorn. She talks about going “full steam ahead” and learning the business at “Mach speed.” Each morning, Netzky races to her Chicago office as fast as she can, because she can’t wait to get to work. “I’m truthfully so excited about what we do here,” she says.

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Pam Netzky (CMN ’98), president and co-founder of SkinnyPop Popcorn.

Netzky’s not the only one who’s thrilled with SkinnyPop. Since launching two and a half years ago, the company’s customer base has grown tremendously. SkinnyPop started as an offshoot of Wells Street Popcorn, a hometown favorite that Netzky co-founded with Andy Friedman, Jeffrey Eiserman and Mike Eiserman. Over time, they realized there was room for improvement when it came to their delicious treat. “Wells Street Popcorn is phenomenal, but it’s very gluttonous,” Netzky explains. “Our best customers were saying, ‘I love this, it’s my favorite thing in the world… I’ll see you next month or in two months.’”

The challenge was clear: create a healthier product that customers could eat every day. Thus, SkinnyPop was born. Unlike other popcorns, SkinnyPop is made in a nut-free facility, and each bag is also gluten free, cholesterol free, preservative free and dairy free, not to mention all-natural and non-GMO. At only 39 calories per cup, it’s a fiber-rich, zero trans-fat snack you can feel good about consuming.

“What we strive for is a perfect bag,” Netzky says. “You open up a bag of SkinnyPop, and it’s a perfect, fresh-tasting bag every time. And I think that’s what differentiates us.” Getting to this point wasn’t easy. When Netzky and Friedman started their SkinnyPop venture in the spring of 2010, the learning curve was steep. “We didn’t have any idea what we were doing,” Netzky admits. “We didn’t know how to find distributors; we started trying to Google people’s names.” Their first shipment of bags arrived – 25,000 of them, which was the minimum order – and the two investment bankers turned entrepreneurs switched on the popcorn machines and started popping.  

Later that day, after packing and sealing all the bags, Netzky made a quick visit to Potash Market in Lincoln Park, which already stocked Wells Street Popcorn. “I just sort of put SkinnyPop on the shelf and ran out the door,” Netzky recalls. Looking back, she emphasizes that the process was a fluid one. “It’s important to have a business plan, but it’s just as important to be able to deviate from it… [we were] willing to go in a different direction than where we thought we were going to go.” This perseverance in the face of uncertainty dates back to her time at DePaul University. “School didn’t come easy to me,” Netzky says. “DePaul helped me learn how to get it done… [by giving me] the tools to get it done.”

Look for SkinnyPop at a grocery store near you.

Look for SkinnyPop at a grocery store near you.

Today, stores from California to New York showcase the end result of Netzky’s diligence and determination. Within four months of placing those first bags of SkinnyPop in Potash Market, Netzky and Friedman had secured placement in 85 stores. That number has increased dramatically in the past two years. Currently, SkinnyPop is available in 6,000 grocery stores and 7,500 Walgreens across the country. In Chicago, you can find the addictive snack not only at Potash Market, but also at Jewel, Whole Foods, Treasure Island and Dominick’s, including the Dominick’s on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus.

Alumni and current students may want to take a clue from Netzky’s infectious energy – run, don’t walk, to the nearest grocery store to stock up on your own supply of SkinnyPop. “I eat it every day,” Netzky confesses. “Every single day.”


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