Professor Jeffrey Pugh celebrates and challenges Lumen Scholars

Jeffrey Pugh, professor of religious studies, detailed the dreams and potential of the 2011 Lumen Scholars at a banquet on May 10.

Fifteen rising juniors at Elon have been named recipients of the 2011 Lumen Prize, the university’s premier award that comes with a $15,000 scholarship to support and celebrate their academic achievements and research proposals. Lumen Scholars will work closely with their mentors over the next two years to pursue and complete their projects. Efforts will include course work, study abroad, research both on campus and abroad as well as during the regular academic year and summers, internships locally and abroad, program development, and creative productions and performances.

Below is the text of Pugh’s remarks to the Lumen Scholars:

Lumen Talk
Jeffrey C. Pugh
May 10, 2011

Jeffrey Pugh

So, a quick confession—at your age I was a college dropout, driving a truck for a living and pretty sure I was off track. It was an idea that saved my life. One day I was doing a delivery in the area where I went to college and as I drove past my former school, I thought about my life there and why I was so dissatisfied that I left. As I struggled with this I had an epiphany. I loved to learn, and, unfortunately, I was not very challenged to do that. Now, not a little of this was my fault, but by the time I had pulled my truck into its bay to load up for the next day deliveries I was possessed with an idea. I was supposed to be the teacher I wished I had had when I was in college. It was Frederick Buechner who once said our vocation is found in the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s great hunger. That one idea, the fact that our vocation can be a source of joy and meaning, changed my life. That idea has changed many lives.

One thing I was struck with as I read your applications for the Lumen Prize was that every single one of you are also motivated by the passions that have emerged from your lives, and those passions have brought you to this place in your lives. I was also moved by something else. In almost every one of your proposals I read not only the history of your personal journey, I also read the history of my family and loved ones, and I suspect the lives of all of us here in this room. There is something in your work that ties us all together in the one human family.

Allison Deatsch and Julie Ronecker, as I was reading your proposals, I could not help but think about the death of loved ones in my family from cancer and the impact that has had on those who loved them. The work you are doing on magnetic hyperthermia therapy and conjugated magnetic microspheres, targeting cancer with nanoparticles that would mitigate the effects of chemotherapy is motivated by your experience of the suffering of others.

And, Erica Schenhals, your interest in the effects of Oxytocin on immune cell function tries to think of new ways that science can look at the material. Alternative does not mean non-scientific, it means thinking differently, even developing a “feel” for your material the way that Nobel Prize winner Barbara McClintock did in her work on genetic transposition. All of your work may be the start of looking at cancer in a new way.

Kelsey Van Dalfsen, your work with diabetes and the impact of diabetic cardiomyothopathy on diabetic patients may pave the way for looking at the constellation of concerns that surround those who suffer from diabetes; people like my brother who has suffered greatly because of this disease.

Kristen McCormick, your exploration of South American plants for different types of pharmacological answers to solve the issues of inflammatory pathways in immune cells is born out of your personal experience. Who knows how many who suffer from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis may one day find help because of something that starts with you work?

Jamie Albright, as these others work on the biology and science of alleviating human suffering, your work with medical care providers and HIV patients may open doors for new models of how to understand the very real humans who suffer with this disease. Your focus on the most vulnerable and fragile of the HIV population, those who have so much to overcome, offers those on the margins of society hope that someone cares enough to advocate for them. Health care providers need every tool we can offer to enable them to treat their patients with compassion.

Thomas Price, you may very well develop the type of serious gaming platforms that will stimulate and intrigue players to become involved in careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. A generation of students who will be on the cutting edge of discovery is an idea worth pursuing, though if you create another Angry Birds to suck away countless hours of my life I will silently curse your name. But I’m pretty sure that if anyone can lure and intrigue a generation into careers in STEM fields, it is you.

But ideas about how cells work, or alternatives to current knowledge about treatments are not the only ideas that change us. Elizabeth Capel, one day you may use your knowledge of art and law to influence generations to come about how gender is a hidden dynamic that impacts decisions on how art is collected, valued, and how the aesthetic of collection is formed. Increased self-awareness of how we construct the world through art helps us understand why we create and value art the way we do.

Or, Sarah Lentz, you may help us understand our gendered selves by the exploration of literature. Your work with Jane Austen may lead you to the passions that will help other people more clearly see those who get left out of the stories we tell one another about who we are. It is usually the invisible ones who are the most interesting anyway.

Logan Sutton, in your pursuit of the past root metaphors of Western culture like The Odyssey, you may find in your teasing out the stories that don’t get told in our narratives new ways of interpreting our inner and outer journeys. It is not like the Odyssey doesn’t still intrigue us. Just ask the Coen brothers.

Cameron Shirley, you are onto something when you grasp the differences that may exist between the public and scholarly interpretations of ourselves that are rooted in the American Revolution. It is from there that our national mythology was constructed and the idea of American exceptionalism that looms large in our political discourse was born. If you discover that the tension between the scholarly and public interpretations found in our historic sites reveals some insights about how we see ourselves as Americans you may give us new sight with which to view the world.

Brett Evans, in a world that does not really understand religion and fears the religious other, you have courageously opened yourself to another community, whose presence in contemporary society has much to offer. In your going to the roots in India of Jainism this summer you may be at the start of a pilgrimage that will help your peers appreciate the contributions religious diversity has to make to the world to come.

Cecilia Smith, you may have an entirely different gift for us. Perhaps if we refuse to learn the lessons of how destructive extremism is and we suffer at the hands of those who would destroy societies your ideas may help pave the way for quicker detection and apprehension of those who try and divide us through violence and terrorism.

Caitlin O’Donnell, in your work you may be sowing the seeds that will one day reduce the ranks of those extremists. In showing how our media and their constructed narratives create the categories of race and difference that construct the image of the “Other”, the stranger, or the marginalized, you may help us see that these are not rooted in anything other than our fears and insecurities and that we do not have to live into our fears, but can truly understand our brother and sister human beings as a part of us.

Sarah Kolwalkowski, you may also aid this effort by giving us a new lens with which to understand the role of law. Rather than a tool for the powerful to gain more control of society, the law may become under the efforts of lawyer-leaders accessible to everyone. Perhaps under the impetus of the new curriculum for legal education you envision, oriented to service, the law becomes a path to better ways of negotiating our differences.

You see, it may not look like that much to you right now, but in this work you are doing for the next two years you are paving the way for a future that makes a difference in our world. As I read your applications these are not entirely abstract concerns for you. You want to change the world because it is personal. And by changing your world you are changing ours.

There are many Elon students who are seeking to transform the world as well. This is, I hope, what Elon will always stand for. We use the word transformation around here a lot, but sometimes I wonder if we truly understand what we mean. Transformation is not a once and for all event, it is a process. Building a life is inherently transformative.

But, sometimes we can build lives where the goals become self-serving and devoid of any purpose other than our own gain. Meaning and purpose can themselves be empty if they are only turned into ourselves. This is why I am so inspired by your projects. They can very well serve as the seeds that will change this world. These ideas won’t win Nobel Prize, but the ones you think of after these in the future may.

This is the power of ideas, they not only change lives, they can save them. I know my life was saved the day I drove my truck past my old college and was captured with the thought that my vocation was to teach college students. The mentors you sit with are here because the pull of this vocation was too strong for them to resist. Their lives were changed somewhere along the line by the power of ideas and I suspect that they knew they could change the world by teaching students like you.

Our common task on these projects may not seem like much to us right now, sitting here in our little corner of the world but it is, more than most of us realize. There is a saying in the Jewish tradition, found in the Talmud and referenced in numerous novels and movies. It goes something like this, “The one who saves a single life, saves the world entire.” In the days ahead as your passion wanes, or your attention becomes distracted, or your energy flags, don’t forget that. In changing our little part of the world we save the world entire.


The 2011 Lumen Scholars include the following:

Jamie Albright
Human Services Studies
Charlotte, N.C.
Project title: Reproductive decisions among women with perinatal HIV infection: The influence of messages given and received from medical providers
Mentor: Cynthia Fair

Elizabeth Capel
Art History
Raleigh, N.C.
Project title: Exploring Gender’s Effects on Collecting Narrative and Behavior
Mentor: Kirstin Ringelberg

Alison Deatsch
Elmhurst, Ill.
Project title: Optimizing Heating Efficiency of Magnetic Microspheres for Magnetic Hyperthermia Treatment of Malignant Tumors
Mentor: Benjamin Evans

Brett Evans
Religious Studies
Purcellville, Va.
Project title: Nonviolence and the Hierarchy of Life: The Function and Ethics of Contemporary Jain Animal Homes
Mentor: Amy Allocco

Sarah Kowalkowski
Political Science
Lewisburg, W.V.
Project title: The Perceived Effects of Curricula on Developing Authentic Leader Lawyers
Mentor: Chris Leupold

Sarah Lentz
Hudson, Ohio
Project title: “Short-cut to the Heart:” A Historical Analysis of Men’s Courtship Letters in Jane Austen’s Fiction
Mentor: Janet Myers

Kirsten McCormick
Port Orange, Fla.
Project title: The effects of Cayaponia tayuya on inflammatory pathways in immune cells
Mentor: Tonya Train

Caitlin O’Donnell
Communications & History
North Charleston, S.C.
Project title: The Media of White America: Press Coverage and Treatment of Historically Outcast Members of Society
Mentor: David Copeland

Thomason Price
Computer Science
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Project title: Engineering on the Go: Building a ‘Serious Game’ to Make Games on the Android Platform
Mentor: Joel Hollingsworth

Julie Ronecker
St. Louis, Mo.
Project title: Folate-Conjugated Magnetic Microspheres for Targeted Cancer Cells Treament
Mentor: Benjamin Evans

Erica Schenhals
Carlisle, Pa.
Project title: Effect of Oxytocin on Immune Cell Function
Mentor: Tonya Train

Cameron Shirley
Apex, N.C.
Project title: Scholars vs. Sites: Analyzing Interpretations of Revolutionary America at Historic Sites in Boston and Philadelphia
Mentor: Jim Bissett

Cecilia Smith
Raleigh, N.C.
Project title: Development of a New Method for Measuring Explosives at Crime Scenes
Mentor: Karl Sienerth

Logan Sutton
Wendell, N.C.
Project title: “Everyday Odyssey”: The composition and staging of a play that explores the struggles of Odysseus’s family in his absence
Mentor: Fred Rubeck

Kelsey Van Dalfsen
Brier, Wash.
Project title: Mechanisms of apoptosis in diabetic cardiomyopathy
Mentor: Victoria Moore

2011 Lumen Scholars