Donor demonstrates “True Blue” colors by giving back

August 18, 2015

DSC_1081 (2)Giffen Trotter (EDU ’95) came to DePaul with high hopes of becoming an educator. “Before I even started high school, I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” he says. At first, Trotter was drawn to Chicago because of its public school system—the fourth largest in the nation—but he quickly fell in love with Lincoln Park. “When I visited, it seemed like a good fit,” he recalls. “I liked the focus on urban dedication and the push to give back.”

Trotter took the Vincentian mission to heart, serving as a sixth- through eighth-grade teacher for 11 years in the Chicago Public School system before transitioning to school administration. He currently serves as principal of Hester Junior High in Franklin Park, Ill. “I feel like what goes around comes around,” says Trotter. “I benefited a lot from DePaul, and I had some financial aid when I was there. I felt fortunate to take advantage of those things.”

For more than eight years, Trotter has contributed consistently to the university, and he is not alone in his commitment. In recognition of loyal donors like Trotter, DePaul launched the True Blue Society, an annual giving society to honor those who support the university for three or more consecutive years. “Now that I’m in a place where I can give a little bit back, I think it’s the right thing to do,” Trotter explains. He encourages others to follow in his footsteps.

“Giving $20 a month doesn’t seem like a ton to an alumnus who is fully employed, but that’s $240 in a year—that’s a couple of books for a college student,” he says. “It goes further than you think.” Trotter knows firsthand the impact financial assistance can have. “My success wasn’t all because of me,” he asserts. “It was also because of DePaul, so I feel like giving back is the right thing to do.”

To make a gift, visit giving.depaul.edu.


MBA preps alumna to oversee observatory’s financial operations

December 2, 2014
Margarita Scheffel (MBA ’95)

Margarita Scheffel (MBA ’95)

For decades, Margarita Scheffel (MBA ’95) dreamed of moving to Hawaii. “The aloha spirit just resonated with me,” she says. “The way people respond to each other … it’s just a very nice, welcoming and open environment.” She’d sit with her colleagues, daydreaming during the brutal Chicago winters about how one day she’d live there. They’d laugh off her comments as idle musings, but in 2003, Scheffel did just that. She became the chief financial officer of the W. M. Keck Observatory, one of the world’s foremost observatories, located on the summit of Mauna Kea in Kamuela, on the Big Island of Hawaii. “Living in Chicago, you barely see the stars, but when you come out here, it’s just amazing,” she enthuses.

Scheffel manages the observatory’s $25 million operating budget, overseeing funding from two partner institutions—the University of California and the California Institute of Technology—as well as from NASA, the National Science Foundation and private organizations. “Compliance is a big deal,” she asserts. “We have to make sure that we’re abiding by all the restrictions of the various funds. That can get quite complex.”

To do this, Scheffel scours regulations line by line. “You identify those that you feel are relevant to what you’re doing,” she explains. “Then you ask yourself, ‘Do I have the systems in place to allow the transactions and processes to support that requirement?’ If you don’t, then you look at ways to implement new processes.” This process includes creating new systems to monitor how funds are being spent and efforts are being reported. “Then you cross your fingers and hope you did it the right way,” she laughs.

Failure to comply with regulations, no matter how obscure, may result in loss of funding, so Scheffel often turns to her colleagues for advice. “It’s difficult to do the job on your own, but when you can share what you’ve learned or hear what someone else is doing, you don’t have to make the same mistakes,” she explains.

Scheffel learned the importance of collaborating with her peers while at DePaul. “We would talk about real-life issues we were facing in our careers,” she notes. “It was interesting to be able to share our experiences and get help with them. The MBA program helped me see the value in that.” Her concentration in international studies was an unexpected benefit to her current position. “We’ve got people from different nations, and understanding the cultural aspects of management and how diversity can make an organization better has helped me,” she says. “There is value to their differences, and I use that in how I interact with them.”

When she’s mired down with an overwhelming amount of detail, Scheffel forces herself to take a deep breath. “Sometimes, I have to step back and say, ‘I’m supporting an organization that has the ability to find life in the universe—look at what you’re enabling the scientists to do,’” she says. “We’re just one small planet in the universe. It makes you think about the impact you could be having.”


Communication degree helps alumna snag national commercial

May 6, 2014
Barley Labs

Scott Beaudry, Theresa Chu (CMN MA ’09) and Barley

Scott Beaudry and Theresa Chu (CMN MA ’09) take turns in the kitchen, baking furiously to keep up with demand for their all-natural, preservative-free dog treats. All the while, Barley, their 5-year-old lab mix, waits patiently to perform her duty as vice president of quality control. “She’s been our taste tester from the very beginning,” says Chu. “Granted, eating is one of her favorite past times so I’m not sure how discerning of a palate she has, but she loves them.” The treats come in three flavors—cheese, peanut butter and pumpkin—and each has been carefully vetted by Barley herself. “We knew she liked them when we’d give her those first trials and she ate them up immediately,” Chu recalls. “We knew we were on the right track.”

Barley Labs was born out of a desire to reduce waste. Beaudry had started home brewing and was looking for ways to recycle used barley when he stumbled upon a recipe for dog treats. After months spent painstakingly tweaking recipes, Beaudry found the perfect balance, and he and Chu started distributing dog treats to family and friends. “For us, it was all about using ingredients that people understood right off the bat,” Chu explains. “There are basically four ingredients: spent grain, egg, flour and the main flavor component. When you read it, you know exactly what’s going into your dog.”

Barley Labs treats

Barley Labs treats

By September 2012, Barley Labs was in full swing, thanks in large part to the spent grain donated by Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, N.C. Today, the company’s treats are available in 49 retail locations in seven states, as well as online at barleylabs.com and wag.com. “Barley has been a huge part of our lives,” Chu says. “It’s hard to imagine life without her, so we donate 10 cents from every bag we sell to our local shelter in Durham. This year, on the anniversary of Barley’s adoption [March 7], we donated a dollar from each bag sold on our website to PAWS Chicago.”

Chu uses many of the skills she learned at DePaul in the day-to-day operations of Barley Labs. “DePaul gave me a well-rounded view of marketing, public relations and advertising that I apply to my business,” she asserts. “Those basic, core principles that I learned at DePaul had an impact on the way we built Barley Labs.” From creating branding to publicizing it effectively, Chu credits DePaul with preparing her for the realities of running her own business. “I’m still learning every day,” she says. “I make mistakes and not everything is perfect, but at the very least having that foundation gives me the confidence to make informed decisions.”

She entered the Intuit Small Business Big Game contest to win a Super Bowl XLVIII commercial on a whim, the public-relations professional in her deeming it “silly” not to at least try. “We didn’t think we’d make it far,” she remembers. Weeks passed, and Barley Labs remained in the running, ultimately making it to the top four. While they didn’t win the Super Bowl commercial, Barley Labs received a national commercial and $25,000 for their business. “We might not have won the big prize, but it certainly still feels like we won,” Chu laughs. Thanks to the contest, Barley Labs’ sales have jumped more than 100 percent, accelerating the growth of their business five years in just a few months. “We never expected this business to be anything more than a small, local dog treat business,” she stresses. “We’re incredibly grateful.”


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.”

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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.”

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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.”

1781InPitForRepair

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

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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.”

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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.”

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