Serving and engaging Lexington is a priority for Transylvania students, faculty, and staff
Few colleges are as closely tied to their cities as Transylvania University is to Lexington. Established just five years after Lexington was founded, Transylvania is located in the heart of the city and for years has offered students, faculty, and staff prime opportunities to be plugged in to Lexington politics, business, art, and more.
That’s why community involvement is such an important value—Transylvania strives to be connected to the community in a variety of forms.
These opportunities range from purely voluntary activities to the career-oriented involvement of many students in the city’s commerce and non-profit organizations, to lectures and concerts that draw the community to campus and the university’s official relationships with city government and neighborhood associations, and to summer events such as computer and sports camps that engage hundreds of young people in campus programs.
“Transylvania brings a great deal to the city, and I think most people know that,” President R. Owen Williams said. “Our reach within the larger Lexington community is growing. Our footprint is growing. And with that, our influence, our effect on the city is growing.”
One of the major ways Transylvania gets involved in its surrounding area is through the Office of Community Service and Civic Engagement, which over the summer got a new home in the Center for Awareness, Responsibility, and Engagement, or CARE House, at 439 West Fourth St.
The house acts as a hub where students, faculty, and staff can learn how and where to get involved and where they can coordinate groups and events to serve or connect with Lexington. It also houses student service organizations like the PB&J Club, which gathers at the house each week to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for hungry people downtown.
“Students love the access and the space to spread out and do projects or have a meeting space,” Karen Anderson, coordinator of community service and civic engagement, said.
Dozens of service opportunities pop up throughout the year, and Transylvania gets involved in several annual events, including the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, a national day of service projects; Crimson Christmas, a carnival Transylvania hosts for kids in the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program; and College for Living, a series of classes taught on campus by Transylvania volunteers for developmentally disabled adults in Lexington.
Participating in these types of events is not just fulfillment of a requirement for many students, either, Anderson said. It’s a real chance to grow as learners and citizens.
“For students who are feeling isolated or going through a situation where they’re questioning or challenging themselves or their identities, a lot of times getting involved in community service will help them find what they value,” she said. “Service and civic engagement is about values education. It’s about what you hold so important in your life that you would do just because you’re passionate about it, you want to be connected with it, and you’re called with other people who want to be part of it too.”
A recent push to enhance community service efforts at Transylvania is producing results. According to the 2011–12 National Survey on Student Engagement, 50 percent of Transylvania students said that service was part of their classroom experience. Transylvania also became affiliated with Campus Compact, a national group of colleges whose presidents have affirmed that service and civic engagement are priorities at their schools.
“Service is not just something that my office does—it’s something we all do,” Anderson said. “Learning is not just in one’s own mind, but it makes meaning when it’s connecting with the real world, whether that’s for research or for a better understanding of how we serve the people in our community.”
Students from film studies professor Colleen Glenn’s First-Year Seminar class harvest beans and tend a community garden near campus for Seedleaf. From left to right, Kaitlin Haggard, Ashley Nugent, Anna Chambers, Jessica Wise.
One of the most effective ways for Transylvania to connect with the Lexington community is for its classes and professors to take their studies off campus and into the surrounding area.
Art professor Kurt Gohde and English professor Kremena Todorova teach a class called Community Engagement Through the Arts each spring, and the goal is to do just that—engage the community in a creative way. Each term the class focuses on a new project that can be done in conjunction with Lexington residents and gets the downtown Lexington and north Lexington area involved. Last spring they did the 1,000 Dolls Project, in which the class and community volunteers made small fabric and wooden dolls that eventually were hidden all around Limestone Street for people to find and take home to enjoy. Before that, they spent a term stitching and donating 50 quilts to Kentucky children who had recently received a bed from the Build-A-Bed project.
“Working on collaborative public art projects is a great way to enable people to get to know each other,” Todorova said. “Getting to know one’s neighbors and community challenges stereotypes, undoes fears, and facilitates a much better way to live with others.”
Music professor Gary Anderson spends much of his off-campus time conducting the Lexington Chamber Chorale, a choir of 32 singers he started 22 years ago that performs around Lexington. The group has had several Transylvania alumni and one current student and is accompanied by pianist Richard Dwyer, an adjunct instructor at Transylvania.
The chorale has gained prominence over the years and this season will perform Handel’s Messiah with the Lexington Philharmonic December 15. Other unique concerts include one highlighting women composers February 16 and a bluegrass mass written specifically for the choir April 20. In October the singers performed poetry from writers like Shakespeare and e.e. cummings set to music, and Kenan Visiting Writer Richard Taylor judged a poetry contest for attendees who wanted to write poetry during the performance.
“It’s extremely important for all of us to do these kinds of things in the community,” Anderson said. “And it’s good for the school, as well. I can’t imagine if we isolated ourselves at 300 North Broadway we’d be doing any kind of justice to the city or the university.”
Transylvania also joined with the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning over the summer for a partnership that allows the two organizations to offer classes and programs they may not have had the space or personnel for otherwise. Transylvania moved two of its courses to the Carnegie Center in the fall term, and several students, faculty, and staff volunteer teaching courses or tutoring at the center.Countless other smaller initiatives—like film studies professor Colleen Glenn’s First-Year Seminar class tending to a community garden for Seedleaf, a nonprofit that teaches the community about healthy and local food—are being done throughout the school year. And students gain just as much from the partnerships as the community does.
“If our students get to know downtown Lexington, they will love what they discover and work to both make it better and share it with others,” Todorova said. “All of us benefit from this kind of engagement. In fact, we have repeatedly seen alumni from our Creative
Engagements course get jobs with organizations like the Fayette Alliance, a coalition for sustainable growth, after graduation.”
Career Development connects students with Lexington businessIt’s the job of the Transylvania faculty to prepare students academically, but equally as important is their professional preparation. The Career Development Center spends its time doing just that, as well as connecting students to employers and organizations in the Lexington community and beyond.
“Being involved with businesses in the community, whether that’s through an internship, shadowship, or a part-time or summer job, gives our students the experiential education that they need to be successful when they graduate,” Susan Rayer, director of career development, said. “Community involvement is key to career development.”
That’s an important concept for Transylvania students. While some of them go straight to graduate school after they leave, 60 percent move into their first career position. So the career development staff makes sure those students are learning how to function in the professional world before they’re ever handed a diploma. That means being in the community and forging relationships with employers who could potentially hire students as interns or part-time workers.
Much of that falls on Rayer, who works tirelessly to make those connections by contacting potential employers, networking with alumni in the area, and serving on various central Kentucky boards and committees. These include Leadership Lexington, Leadership Central Kentucky, and Bluegrass Tomorrow, all of which are comprised of and serve professionals in the region.
“External communications is a big part of my job,” she said. “I’m the students’ marketer, their agent. I’m constantly out building relationships and promoting our students.”
Once those relationships are established, they go on a long list of potential internships and employers. The next step is getting students to figure out what kind of internship they want, based on their skills, interests, and major requirements.
One of Transylvania’s greatest assets is being in downtown Lexington near a wide variety of local, regional, national, and worldwide organizations. Recent local internship locations have included Tempur-Pedic, Central Baptist Hospital, WLEX-18 TV, Lexmark, Kentucky World Trade Center, Alltech, and the University of Kentucky Museum of Anthropology.
“We begin with the end result and work back—where do you want to be, and how can we get you there?” Rayer said.
Once the decision is made, career development staff help get the students ready for their internship by helping them build quality résumés and teaching them interview and career skills. That work, paired with the quality of the students, has earned Transylvania a favorable reputation among central Kentucky businesses and organizations, Rayer said.
“Alan Stein (founder of SteinGroup, LLC, business development and management consulting company and former president of the Lexington Legends minor league baseball team) said to me, ‘I get applications from students from all over the United States, and by far the Transylvania résumé is the best that I receive,’” she said. “When I mention that I have a Transylvania student looking for an internship, eyebrows go up. Every time we have a student that interns, the place says, ‘I want another intern just like that one.’”
Old Morrison lawn is the setting for the Lexington's annual patriotic concert.
Transylvania offers the Lexington community many reasons to visit campus, from lectures by prominent speakers to theatrical productions, concerts, art exhibits, and athletics events.
The Kenan Lecture series, begun in 1986, brings in noted public figures and others whose expertise in a given field makes them appealing to a wide audience. The series is sponsored by the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust. Past speakers have included novelists John Updike and Kurt Vonnegut, opera virtuoso Beverly Sills, former Ireland president Mary Robinson, and journalists James Reston and Eric Sevareid.
“Whenever possible, we have speakers who are well known beyond their field, or so famous that they would draw a wide audience,” said psychology professor and assistant dean for academic programs Meg Upchurch.
Topicality can also draw more people from off campus. Civil War historian and novelist Shelby Foote appeared in 1997 shortly after he had gained national prominence through his commentator role in Ken Burns’s PBS documentary The Civil War. Cornell University astronomy professor Stephen Squyres spoke in 2004 while he was NASA’s media spokesman for the Mars Exploration Rover Project.
Upchurch also oversees the Creative Intelligence Lecture Series, begun in 2011, which brings to campus creative people from the arts, various academic disciplines, and community work. Presentations have included “After Defeat: The Spanish Anti-Fascist Guerrillas and the Holocaust of the Spaniards” by a Davidson College professor, “Sexual Politics and the Politics of Sexuality” by a University of California-Santa Cruz professor, and “The Creative Impulse” by a Brandeis University professor.
“The goal is to have people talk about their creative process,” Upchurch said. “It’s been exciting to see how many people come from off campus to hear these speakers. People at the University of Kentucky, for instance, were very interested to hear that (University of Pennsylvania psychology professor) Rob Kurzban, a rising star in evolutionary psychology, was coming.”
Theatrical productions have long been an attraction to the larger community that surrounds Transylvania. Large-scale productions in Haggin Auditorium, especially musicals, draw large audiences. A 1997 production of Fiddler on the Roof was a big hit, as was a 2008 staging of Carousel. A May term 2013 version of Pippin is expected to have broad appeal.
Theater professor and program director Sully White, who keeps in touch with the Lexington theater scene partly through her own acting company (Project SEE), feels Transylvania’s productions can have a unique appeal for outside audiences.
“With last year’s season, for instance, we did all premieres,” she said. “I’m trying to do pieces that aren’t being done elsewhere in the community.”
For last fall’s production of Almost, Maine, White brought in three Lexington professional actors who not only augmented the student cast in the performance, but also gave the students insights from the theater world.
“They mentored the students by showing them the behavior of a professional actor and also helped me coach the scenes,” White said.
Transylvania offers concerts of all shapes and sizes, from student and faculty recitals to professional performers in a wide range of musical styles. Some recent examples of outside performers are Celtic fiddler Liz Knowles, pianist Nicolas Phillips from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and saxophonist Kirk Whalum appearing at the Lexus Smooth Jazz Fest, sponsored by the African American Forum and held on Old Morrison lawn. Music professor Timothy Polashek coordinates Studio 300 Digital Art and Music Festival, which features Transylvania students along with artists from around the world.
The annual Lexington patriotic concert, held just before the Fourth of July on Old Morrison lawn, attracts a large crowd from the community. The Dorothy J. and Fred K. Smith Concert Series, established through the estate of these Transylvania alums, has brought to campus such stellar groups as Chanticleer, the Kronos Quartet, and the Canadian Brass.
Transylvania connects its art exhibits in Morlan Gallery with the broader community by taking part in Lexington Gallery Hops. This brings art lovers from off the campus to Transylvania as they circulate throughout the city to various exhibitions on a given evening.
Among the innovative exhibitions in recent years have been The Illustrious Horse, created during the World Equestrian Games held in Lexington; To Have & To Hold by married couples; and Lexington Legatees: Contemporary Printmaking in the Bluegrass featuring letter press, silk screen, and wood prints.
Most of Transylvania’s 23 women’s and men’s varsity teams compete in NCAA Division III and the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, giving the local community a broad palette of indoor and outdoor sports events to attend from fall through spring.
The university’s teams are very successful in the HCAC and in NCAA post-season play, which brings exciting tournament action that all sports fans in the area can enjoy. For example, the 2008 men’s basketball team advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA championship, allowing the university to host the conference tournament and first- and second-round NCAA tournament games on consecutive weekends, which filled the Beck Center to the rafters.
Caitlin Cummins ’12 teaches at the summer computer camp that attracts students from middle school age through high school.
For many years, camps for young people devoted to academics and sports have been a mainstay of the summer months at Transylvania. They have the obvious benefits for the campers of, say, teaching a youngster how to swim or learning computer programming, but they also create good community relations for the university. Campers who’ve spent time on the campus often come back for many summers and wind up as Transylvania students.
“Every year there are four or five first-year students who come up to me and say, ‘Do you remember me?’” said athletics director Jack Ebel ’77. “And they’ll want to talk about their swim lessons at Transylvania many years ago, or their all-sports camp.”
Basketball camps started by former head men’s coach Lee Rose ’58, who led the Pioneers for eight seasons during the 1964–75 time period, were the first camps to appear. Since then, they have expanded to include women’s basketball. They now draw kids as young as six years old and high school players who come to camp as a team.
The next development was the creation of swim camp and all-sports camp, both spearheaded by Ebel. The swim camps drew about 750 campers during the 2012 season for lessons in the William T. Young Campus Center pool.
“One of the grants we received to construct the campus center (opened in 1983) had a requirement that we include community involvement in the new facility,” Ebel said. “My suggestion was to have swim lessons and an all-sports camp. And it’s grown from there.”
Other sports have joined the parade and now include soccer, softball, tennis, and volleyball. With the development of the new athletics field on a recently acquired 10-acre plot on West Fourth Street, a lacrosse camp will be added. Cheerleading and dance, now varsity programs, will also add camps.
On the academic side, Transylvania offers very popular summer computer camps for middle school and high school students. Computer science professor Kenny Moorman ’91, co-director of the camps with mathematics professor Mike LeVan, said that mathematics and computer science professor emeritus James E. Miller originated these camps at a time when few colleges offered computer science courses.
“Dr. Miller saw that it was important for Transylvania to advertise itself to the next generation of computer programmers,” Moorman said. “Most schools now offer some kind of computer classes, but we still find a very strong audience for our summer camps.”
Middle school students attend a robotics camp based on the Lego Mindstorms robot kit, which is also used by Transylvania students. They learn the mechanics and programming of robot building, covering much of the material that Moorman offers to Transylvania students in his May term class. It’s simplified, since the campers don’t have the math background required.
Moorman said the camps get students started off as investigators looking for knowledge instead of having it all spoon-fed to them, which models the university’s liberal arts approach with its regular students.
“You can throw a problem at them, and they’ll do a search on the Internet or maybe use a math book from their middle school classes to try to figure it out for themselves,” he said. “They’ll ferret out the answers rather than wait for us to deliver them.”
Students in grades 8-12 attend a week-long, overnight introduction to computer programming camp that has them living in the university’s residence halls and eating in the dining hall. Finally, there is an advanced computer camp with subjects that change from year to year.
“We’re seeing students come to several years of our middle school camps, then transition into the programming camp and the advanced camp as high school students,” Moorman said. “So we have a long-term relationship in the community with these students, and some wind up attending Transylvania.”
Lexington and Transylvania go way back
Transylvania has been closely involved with the city that surrounds it and its residents almost from the university’s beginnings. Chartered in 1780, the university took root in 1792 when the city fathers gave the fledging college’s trustees a parcel of land for its original campus that today forms Gratz Park.
Symbolic of Transylvania’s close association with Lexington for more than two centuries is the presence of the oldest surviving university structure (now home to the Bluegrass Trust for Historic Preservation) in Gratz Park, now a city park bordering campus.
Transylvania and Lexington literally grew up together, and today the university is a valued member of the community with many links, official and otherwise, to the city that gives the college so much of its appeal to students, faculty, and staff.
President Williams, who meets with Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government Mayor Jim Gray on a fairly regular basis, said the city’s leadership understands the value of Transylvania to the community and wants to see its influence expand. Gray’s mother, the late Lois Howard Gray, was a 1941 graduate of the college, which gives him a family link to the institution.
“The mayor is very energetic and a true visionary with regard to the future development of this city,” Williams said. “He sees the contributions Transylvania makes to Lexington, and he wants to encourage that every chance he gets.”
Transylvania’s historic campus is so tightly woven into the fabric of downtown Lexington that enlightened cooperation between the two is as much of a necessity as it is a virtue. A current example is the university’s development of a newly acquired 10-acre tract on West Fourth Street as an athletics field. The Northside Neighborhood Association, of which Transylvania is a member, sent a letter of recommendation to the Board of Adjustment in favor of the college developing the land. The letter also related how much the university contributes to this part of Lexington.
“Members of the Northside Neighborhood Association are excited about some of the things they see happening with us, and they’re pleased we want to be good neighbors to them,” Williams said. “They see the benefits of being able to enjoy the vitality of our campus.”
That area of Lexington has seen the repurposing of historic structures for restaurants and entertainment venues in recent years and seems poised to experience further reinvigoration in the near future.
“When I think about the parts of the city that are going through the most dynamic transformation, the area between the new Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus on Newtown Pike and Transylvania’s campus is at the top of my list,” Williams said.
Transylvania is involved in many community organizations, including Commerce Lexington and the Urban League. The Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship holds its prestigious annual summer program on the Transylvania campus, bringing 51 top college students—one from each state and from the District of Columbia—in for a week of sessions on statesmanship.
The University of Kentucky and Transylvania enjoy many mutually beneficial relationships, including joint research projects between faculty mem-
bers and students. UK recently invited Transylvania to take part in a planning study that also involved Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Commerce Lexington, the Blue Grass Trust, the Blue Grass Community Foundation, Fayette Alliance, and the Downtown Development Authority.
Transylvania’s outreach is also seen in a number of smaller initiatives, including hosting potential city firefighters and police officers for their application exams, allowing local churches to use university parking lots for big events, and dismantling some fences that had bordered the campus for decades.
“It was a happy day when we could pull those fences down,” said Williams. “And people in the neighborhoods around our campus truly appreciated that we were welcoming them on our campus rather than, at least symbolically, keeping them out.”