Solutions for Higher Education

Episode 51 - Celebrating Our 50th Episode, Part Two


In part two of their 50th podcast episode celebration, President Scott L Wyatt and Professor Steve Meredith look back on some of their favorite moments from the first 49 episodes. They discuss the relevance of Shakespeare’s plays in today’s world, the importance of scholarships to student success, how YouTube plays a role in higher education, the value of liberal arts, the psychology of sound, and the importance of storytelling.



Full Transcript

Announcer: You’re listening to part two of an episode featuring the best moments from the first 50 podcasts.

Steve Meredith: So, Cedar City is known for lots of things. We’ve been a jumping off point to the national parks, certainly we remain that, we’re surrounded by all sorts of natural beauty, but one of the things that we are also best known for is our annual Shakespeare festival, a Tony Award winning festival.

Scott Wyatt: Yeah, Utah’s only Tony Award winning theater.

Meredith: That’s right. And here it is in little old Cedar City.

Wyatt: That’s right, it’s a part of Southern Utah University that we’re very proud of.

Meredith: We had a podcast interview with the Director of Education for the Shakespeare Festival, and in particular, their last year’s theme which was “Shakespeare and the Other” and it was talking about Shakespeare and inclusion and seeing that through Shakespeare’s plays. And in a particular given take back and forth with Michael Bahr, who was our guest on the podcast that day, you and he were discussing why Shakespeare’s plays are still relevant now for 100+ years later. So, this is our interview with Michael Bahr, from podcast 28 from season two.

Season Two Episode 28 – Shakespeare and the Other

Bahr: Hamlet, when he’s trying to catch the conscience of the king when he’s trying to see whether or not his uncle is guilty or not, he says “the play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” But he also talks about holding the mirror up to nature so that we can actually see ourselves. And that, for me, is what…I mean, that’s the definition of theater. We’re seeing ourselves upon the stage and seeing us created there. So how wonderful that we get to have this conversation, not only about the Utah Shakespeare Festival, but about…

Wyatt: About some of the themes for the year.

Bahr: Yeah, yeah.

Wyatt: So, this is an interesting way to look at it—that a play holds a mirror up to us.

Bahr: Mhmm.

Wyatt: If it didn’t, it wouldn’t seem as relevant.

Bahr: Correct.

Wyatt: And if it didn’t, it wouldn’t last hundreds of years.

Bahr: We’re looking at plays that are 400 years old and are still relevant today. And that’s why we weep, it’s why we laugh, and we could just jump right into the plays that we’re doing this…I mean, this season in particular was intentionally designed to talk about tolerance, to talk about civility, how we relate to one another. I like to use the term, and we just had a scholar’s conference where this was the theme, and we called it, “Shakespeare and the Other.” How do we look at those that are different? Or when we are excluded within a group, and every single play—including our non-Shakespeare plays—had to do with that same type of theme.

Wyatt: It’s the same topic. And when we talk about tolerance, it’s more than just tolerating.

Bahr: [Laughs] Yeah.

Wyatt: And we use the word tolerance because it’s so much a part of our language.

Bahr: But I’m not sure that…do you like the word “tolerance”? Because it’s like rather than realizing that…let me use a play. So, you’ve got Merry Wives of Windsor, right? If you tolerate someone, they’re just kind of sitting there, as opposed to including…

Wyatt: Including.

Bahr: And you becoming bigger and better because of this person being in the room with you.

Wyatt: Yeah, and I’ve…these are not my words and they’re not the right words, but they’re close. I’m paraphrasing, of course. “Tolerance is like inviting somebody to the party…”

Bahr: Right.

Wyatt: “…And inclusion is asking them to dance.”

Bahr: [Laughs] That’s right.

Meredith: Having seen some of those plays, going back and listening now to that podcast, it reminds me of how impactful theater and other artistic events can be to, as we suggested here, holding a mirror up to ourselves and to society.

Wyatt: Yeah. It’s…this is…and this particular season, they kind of focused on inclusion and diversity and tolerance and valuing others. And Shakespeare provides some great examples of when that didn’t work so well.

Meredith: That’s right.

Wyatt: And a great motivation as to why we should be good with each other. The arts have a particular way of communicating to us values that we should spend a lot of time talking about.

Meredith: Well, you know I’m in favor of that. [Both laugh] That’s been where I’ve worked for a long, long time. So, anyway, that was actually a real favorite of mine, that Shakespeare one. So, President, you and I, I think, would be in agreement that the greatest blessing that we have in our job is that we daily get to work with young people. Working and being around students helps keep us young, it helps hopefully guide and direct them in some of the choices they are making during a really critical juncture in their lives, and playing a part of that is maybe the most rewarding work that you could be involved in.

Wyatt: And hopefully everybody, regardless of what job a person has, hopefully everybody feels like their job is very meaningful. We certainly feel our jobs are meaningful. We get to work in an industry where the goal is to help people advance and become better and it’s upward mobility and giving people that didn’t have an opportunity an opportunity and building communities and families and the economy, everything.

Meredith: That’s right.

Wyatt: It’s the greatest industry in the world.

Meredith: I agree. So, from earlier in this season, in season two, we had two students that joined us, Shana Bartell and Newman Kante to talk about the importance of student scholarships in being able to allow students to attend a university and to engage in some of the activities that you say, to strengthen themselves and their communities and provide opportunity and accessibility for those that might not otherwise have it. I think I maybe have never heard, though, a more compelling story about starting from nothing than Newman Kante’s story. He’s a young man from Mali in Africa and left home at the age of four, if you can imagine, to go find a place to study because there was no school in his village and the story of how he got started on that—watching his father have to trade a chicken to someone who would read for him because his father couldn’t read—but just a very compelling story and highlights the importance of scholarships and financial aid in helping our students to achieve their goals.

Wyatt: And I was lucky enough to have Newman in an honor’s seminar last semester, so think of Newman from Mali in western Africa and our seminar class was on the speeches and wirings of Abraham Lincoln. So, everybody in the class knows who Abraham Lincoln is an he’s actually a new idea for Newman. And when Newman goes back to Mali and changes the world in his community or in his nation, because he’s going to be a leader in that country, he’s going to take with him some of these great principles from some of the great leaders and thinkers that we’ve always known.

Meredith: So, this is from season two episode 40, this is Student Scholarships and the story of Newman Kante.

Season Two Episode 40 – Student Scholarships

Kante: Yes. When I was first…when I was four years old, I left my family and go a part of Mali. I always wanted to go to school and learn different things and try different things and where my parents were, there was no school. I never see a person have a book or writing something. But, when I saw my dad paying somebody to…he sell the chicken. When I first saw him, you know, he told me to grab a chicken and he sell that chicken to pay somebody to write his letter and read it. And that moment, I thought, “My dad is uneducated. He didn’t go to school. But now, as his son, what I can do about that?”

Wyatt: So, how old were you when this happened?

Kante: I was four years old.

Wyatt: Four years old?

Kante: Yes.

Wyatt: Your dad has got a letter, he needs to read it, but he can’t read.

Kante: He cannot read.

Wyatt: And nobody will read it to him unless he pays them?

Kante: Yes.

Wyatt: So, he turns over a chicken, which is a pretty valuable thing.

Kante: Yes.

Wyatt: In order to get somebody to read for him. You’re watching this and saying, “I’m not going to be paying chickens for people to read to me.”

Kante: To read for me, yes.

Wyatt: So, you left home and stayed…who did you stay with?

Kante: I didn’t stay with anybody. I left home, I was around, you know, just lay down around next to a building or I would stay in the school.

Wyatt: You were homeless?

Kante: Yes, I was homeless at that time.

Wyatt: But you were going to school?

Kante: I was going to school.

Wyatt: How far away was this from your home?

Kante: It was 50 kilometers.

Wyatt: 50 kilometers from your village.

Kante: From my village. So, I didn’t get to see my parents that much and I didn’t have a phone or write them a letter because nobody could read that, and I was just completely disconnected with my family.

Wyatt: That’s a pretty heavy price to pay to go to school as a kid.

Kante: Yeah.

Wyatt: So, then after you’re in school for a while, how did you get connected with Wasatch Academy, which is a high school in Mt. Pleasant, Utah?

Kante: Yeah. So, while I was going to school in Ouelessebougou, I saw…I loved to walked around and I saw a guy who was a mayor and a guy, his master degree in BYU was from Ouelessebougou, and he was driving a car and he drove to his house and I saw him step out of the car and open the gate and then drive the car again and then it was wind blowing and then…you know, as soon as there’s nobody to hold the gate for him. And so, I saw that and so I ran into him and I put a rock into the gate so he could drive on his driveway at the house and then stop the car and asked me, “Hey, young man, where are you from? Who are you and why did you help me?” And I said, I told him where I’m from and what I’m doing here, and he asked me where I live. And I said, “I don’t have a home and I’m going to school” and he invited me to his house and I was living with him about two years. And I speak French and when his friends who come from France and America just do humanitarian projects in Mali and I would be their interpreter. And now I have a house, have a place to stay and I eat pretty well and I’m going to school, but at the same time I have a little job and just be an interpreter for those visitors. And I met a guy who really was just so touched by…he was impressed the way I greet people, the way I carry myself to do all little things to them. And he just decided…he asked me what are my goals and I said, “I just want to go to school. I want to keep learning.” And he said, “Would you like to come to America?” And I said, “What is America?” [All laugh]

Wyatt: What is America?

Kante: Yeah, and he said, “That’s where I am from.” And then he was able to reach out to Wasatch and they gave me a full-ride scholarship to come study there. So that’s how I got to Wasatch and Utah.

Meredith: I think my favorite part of that episode is when a young Newman said to the man that he was helping hold the gate open, “What is America?” [Both laugh] “You’re from America, what is America?” And in that very innocent question, I think the opportunity for him was greatly, greatly expanded.

Wyatt: Yeah. The promise of America is bigger than America.

Meredith: That’s right.

Wyatt: It’s a lot bigger than America and sometimes we lose track of what our promise is, but this opportunity that people can advance and make their lives and their worlds around them better. It’s great. And it would be so much fun…in fact, it’s too bad we don’t have the time, because we could do a podcast where every day we spoke to somebody like Newman.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: The stories of…

Meredith: There are hundreds and hundreds of compelling stories.

Wyatt: Yeah. The people that live and work around Southern Utah University and other universities in this country scarcely know the sacrifice, the stories, the defeats and the triumphs that occur in the souls and minds of students who are trying to…and are succeeding.

Meredith: Yeah, yeah.

Wyatt: In moving through their lives. Their stories are unbelievably compelling.

Meredith: So, President, we don’t talk about this all that much, but we actually have a great group of people that we work with that help us get this podcast on the air. And while I handle the recording side of things, I have some student helpers and other helpers that transcribe and edit and they put it up on the website and make sure it gets on iTunes and we have people from marketing that help us with it, so, we polled our helpers to see if we could get some feedback on what their favorite episodes were and so, Jill Whitaker—who is in IT and helps us get this podcast on the air every week, makes sure that all the links work and that we have any supporting material that we need to, she just does a terrific job—her favorite episode was the episode where we had Dan Anderegg on as a guest about Higher Education vs YouTube. What is the value added? “If I can learn everything I need to in a tutorial on YouTube, why am I paying you to give this to me?” So, we…this was an episode in which Dan, who helped me develop the Master of Music Degree in Music Technology here, this is where we talked about the idea of resources outside of the university that are available to help students. And I think it’s not too much of a stretch to say that for hundreds of years, the university was the repository of knowledge and the internet has done a great job of democratizing—for better or for worse, for accurate or inaccurate—the information that is available in the world. And so, it’s probably a legitimate question, a legitimate concern, “Why would I need you if I can learn everything I need to know about (whatever it is, fill in the blank) by simply downloading an app or watching YouTube?” And what is our value added?

Wyatt: Yeah, and the question has a lot of different answers and it takes a while to explore all of those, doesn’t it?

Meredith: It does.

Wyatt: And part of it is, of course, that what we’re doing is not just getting a particular knowledge, we’re becoming particular kinds of people. That’s part of it, isn’t it?

Meredith: It is. That sort of interaction and even more specifically, in my area, the idea that in a tutorial, you can learn lots of specifics about how to operate a piece of software, but unless you’re working on the exact same project that that person in the video is watching, it’s significantly less meaningful to you. And furthermore, you can’t talk back to the computer screen and get a response. I mean, you can, but it’s probably not going to respond. So, one of the things that we have suggested in our master’s degree and I think it is fairly common is that teachers don’t ignore what is available on the internet, we help curate those lists and say, “Here’s…let me guide you towards some really accurate or really hard-hitting or really useful information, then watch that, engage with it, then come back with your questions.” That’s where that loop gets made. We are able to say, “Here’s what this person said. It’s true for this particular context, here are some other contexts, here are some other things that you maybe hadn’t thought of and you can’t ask the person on the YouTube video this question.” So, integrating technology into the classroom is an ongoing, I think, joy and hassle for faculty members both. [Both laugh]

Wyatt: Right.

Meredith: Because that democratization has been amazing. Just the pure amount of information that’s available is staggering. It’s overwhelming, so, it’s up to professors to try to help guide students through that maze a little bit. So, anyway, this is our interview with Dan Anderegg from Season Two Episode 32, Higher Education vs YouTube.

Season Two Episode 32 – Higher Education vs YouTube

Meredith: So, you and I went through this process of creating a new Master’s Degree in Music Technology, and that’s not the point of this podcast, although I will say, check us out at suu.edu/musictechnology. Anyway, seriously, search “SUU music technology” and find our master’s degree. One of the things that you and I did from the very beginning is that we had the conversation of, “What do we want the curriculum to look like?” and “What are the hard questions that people are going to ask us?” And one of the questions that we came up with right off the bat that, ironically, no one ever did ask us as we were getting the degree approved and so forth, was this, “If a student were to present themselves to us and say, ‘Why should I pay you graduate tuition for three semesters when I could learn everything that you’re going to teach me on YouTube in a series of tutorials?’” We felt like we needed to have a ready answer for that, and I…one of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show today was because of your background with me in that, but also of your background with Pluralsight, which is a for-pay commercial training organization. And how do we answer those questions in a world where people feel like they are one WebMD visit away from being a doctor or one YouTube tutorial away from being Frank Lloyd Wright, or whatever. What extra value does higher education add that you cannot get through a YouTube tutorial?

Anderegg: So, I will try and let you speak. I have so many thoughts. [Laughs] But I honestly, when I was contemplating this and contemplating my master’s, I realized that, yes, I was in a classroom, it was very practical project-based, we were writing music every single week, and somewhat in a group peer-reviewing ourselves and our peers, but I realized I thought, “OK, what about texts? What texts did we use?” And I realized that I…our texts were videos. They were YouTube videos in the classroom and other videos that were curated by a knowledgeable, experienced professor. And that’s part of why I thought, “Maybe my master’s was really unique” is that I will admit that there is a wealth of knowledge—whether it’s YouTube or a paid for service like Pluralsight or anywhere else, there’s so many places online you can find this information—whether it is paid for or not, there is a wealth of knowledge. and I could learn information—it’s just at my fingertips—about anything. I could learn quantum mechanics. Someone has put the information online. But, curating it, because there is so much of it, the quality of that needs to be curated by somebody who actually understands the subject, and then, beyond that, there’s a mentorship element to it that teaches you application. So, you know, I can read, if I want to learn photography, I can read and read and read all about lighting and how to use lighting and then go experiment with it, but who’s going to tell me who’s right or wrong in an environment that I’m going to learn it in a safe way? Unless they go out there and get a bunch of gigs and take people’s money and get the lighting really wrong and have a whole bunch of really mad customers, I’m going to learn from that, but it’s a really painful, painful time.

Meredith: And you probably are out of business before you get the lesson all the way learned.

Anderegg: Right, you know, word of mouth. There’s no way I’m going to get more clients in that city. So, I really feel like the benefit there is curating the right content. Finding the content that teaches the right thing without misinformation. There are a lot of people that put stuff online that have learned it themselves or learned it from another YouTube tutorial, and they may just not know a couple of pitfalls because they haven’t run into them yet. But a trusted mentor, who’s curated it, and guides you through the process of implementing it into your own art, or maybe you’re not doing art, is invaluable. Absolutely invaluable. And that is prolonged after you receive your actual degree piece of paper and walk away from school. I’m still in touch with professors who I worked with in higher ed, and like I said, our texts were watching clips of videos on YouTube and discussing them and critiquing them and rescoring them and I think that’s really the value and the difference between just hearing and knowing the information and really, truly implementing that into what I do.

Meredith: I try not to make too many shameless plugs for our master’s degree program despite the fact that I didn’t do a very good job there of hiding my hucksterism [Both laugh] Anyway, we want to thank Dan and we want to thank Jill for…

Wyatt: Well, you’re a proud papa.

Meredith: [Laughs] I am. I think we do a good job of helping students do this. Another one of our coworkers that helps us get this on the air is Lexi Carter, she works in our PR office and she loved one of our episodes from season one, episode #16, The Value of a Liberal Arts Education. And this was actually a two-parter. So, this comes from part two when we were interviewing our provost, Brad Cook, soon to be leaving us to head to Snow College to be the president, but our academic vice president and provost, Brad Cook, and we were talking about the value—again, return on investment type of value—on a liberal arts education.

Wyatt: Liberal arts education is not always well understood and it’s partly because we don’t understand the word “liberal” and we don’t understand the world “art.”

Meredith: [Laughs]

Wyatt: If we could just get those two words understood, but, this idea that we’re broadening our understanding of the world around us and a very important part of our lives.

Meredith: Well, that’s right. And a very important part of getting a job and making your way in the world is communication and a lot of the things, teamwork, the types of skills that we learn in liberal arts, despite the fact that they are often seen not as career education, in fact very much are career education.

Wyatt: We talk about this all the time. The four things we understand that employers are looking for more than anything else include oral communication, written communication skills, problem-solving, and critical thinking. I remember sitting out at a mine, and we talked about this…

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: Sitting out at a mine where my assumption was that the employer of this mine wanted people that could come out there and could do a bunch of technical tasks like welding or running a truck or operating a computer system. And when I said, “What can we do to help you? What can we do to help students be prepared to come and work for you?” The answer was, “Send me people prepared to be managers.”

Meredith: Hmm. That’s surprising.

Wyatt: It wasn’t, “Train better in welding or this or that.” It was, “Every person that I hire at this mine, whether it’s for a custodial position or driving a truck or operating the computer, all of these different jobs” he said, “I’m always hiring somebody that in the back of my mind I’m hoping will become a leader. And you can help them with that.”

Meredith: That’s right.

Wyatt: “By teaching them critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, how to communicate.”

Meredith: Communication, yep.

Wyatt: “You have a manual that technicians will use in fixing equipment, it’s really complicated. Help them figure out how to read hard stuff.”

Meredith: Yep. This is our episode interviewing Brad Cook, and Lexi Carter’s favorite, The Value of a Liberal Arts Education.

Season 1 Podcast #16 – The Value of a Liberal Arts Education

Cook: President, I’ve heard you speak about this and I really like your thoughts on this as a philosopher but as a professional educator: when I ask the question, “What is the purpose of a higher education?” There are lots of answers to this. But it’s not only just about career and workforce development, it’s not only about personal enrichment, but there’s something bigger at stake too that relates to citizenry. What are your thoughts about the role that higher education plays in a healthy democracy?

Wyatt: Yeah, so if we go back to 1776 and sit in that world, those who founded this country were creating something that really had never happened before. It was the first time that a group of people had sat down and, through careful deliberation, created a form of democracy. And that was dependent upon the people be educated enough, engaged enough, thoughtful about other people enough that the people themselves could kind of be in charge. [It had] never been successful before and one of the fun pieces of this comes from the Massachusetts’ Constitution that John Adams wrote where he said that, “It shall be the duty of legislators in all future periods of this commonwealth to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences.” And he goes on to talk about natural history, to countenance in inculcate the principles of humanity, general benevolence—we’re going to teach general benevolence—public and private charity, industry, frugality, honesty—right there, one of our responsibilities according to John Adams is to teach honesty—good humor, social affections, generous sediments among the people…it’s a wonderful writing and a great description of what the founders of this country thought was so important for the people who would end up being those who governed. And I think that our job is as important to help people be financially independent, or I should say, it’s no more important to do that than it is for them to help maintain this great country and the governance of it. How do you know when you’re reading a newspaper whether you’re reading something you can believe or not? How do you communicate with people that have opinions that are far distant than yours? We struggle with this in this country today, and I don’t think there’s ever been a time where it was more important to teach these broad principles that bring us together, rather than push us apart. And the more narrowly focused that degree is, the more difficult it is for us to talk to people who have another narrowly focused world. [Laughs] The “T” part of your description, Brad, is what connects us to everyone else. Not just simply helps us have a broader capacity to be successful in the workforce, it’s what connects us to everyone else and without that connection to everyone else, a democracy cannot survive. It’s dependent on us caring about each other.

Cook: I think it’s particularly important now when we start seeing the atomization of the country around tribes of ideas, politically or socially, when we’re not talking to each other and we’re in our information bubbles. We’re believing only that information that appeals to our biases. This is not what an educated person does. An educated person is able to sort out and have some information literacy skill set to try and sort out falsity and truth and to have an open mind in the sense of being able to speak to others and listen thoughtfully. I worry about the decline and degeneration of civil discourse. I worry that, in the age of alternative facts, whether we’re going to have the proper informed convictions and inter-cultural literacy and then personal integrity that’s founded in good information. I think that’s what a higher education is about too. Really fulfilling these ideals that we’re talking about from the fathers and mothers about creating a healthy democracy. And a healthy democracy is good information and people having the critical skill set to be able to sort out what is true and what’s false. So, I think that there are larger stakes involved here.

Wyatt: Yeah, and you can be a conservative or a liberal politically and still benefit greatly by this liberal education. [Laughs] It’s one of our jobs. It’s one of our leading responsibilities. The founders of Southern Utah University were largely farmers, ranchers, and miners who were competing to build a branch campus of the University of Utah in a very small, rural community. And that branch campus’ focus had nothing to do with farming, ranching, or mining. It had everything to do with training teachers because they knew how important education was—in this red sand desert of Western America—that they had to have an educated people. And I think it is so interesting that a group of people whose occupational skills required farming, ranching, mining, those kinds of things, but this school didn’t offer—in its first year—didn’t offer any classes in those subjects. They were learning how to read, how to write, how to think. They were learning about music. They were learning about ideas.

Meredith: So, President, I want to just say that working with you on this project has been delightful and one of the most delightful parts of it, besides just getting to hang out with you which is always fun, has been some of the interesting guests that we’ve had from our faculty. We’ve highlighted a number of our award-winning faculty here at SUU and one of the podcasts that was voted highly by our listeners was featuring Dr. Britt Mace, who, as part of his job, records the sounds of nature, for lack of a better term.

Wyatt: Yeah, he documents sound and archives it, preserves it, analyzes it and then we have this, kind of like a library of sound.

Meredith: So, they set up these pods, I think, for lack of a better term, that have sensitive microphones and long-lasting batteries and they are triggered by movement and any sound that can then get recorded.

Wyatt: And they’ll walk this into the middle of the national park or wilderness area…

Meredith: Right, miles and miles off the beaten path.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: And just set it down.

Wyatt: And then leave and then come back.

Meredith: This particular story that we’re going to highlight in this little snippet that’s coming up is sort of creepy, actually. [Both laugh] But anyway, this is our interview from Season Two Podcast 21 with Dr. Britt Mace, The Sounds of Nature.

Season Two Episode 21– Sounds of Nature

Wyatt: So, have you ever had a sound that just really was baffling?

Mace: We do, and we have one from the same site, the Wahweap Hoodoos. Let me provide you a little bit of context here. To get to the Wahweap Hoodoos, it’s about a five-mile hike one way, and this sound that we recorded is from 2:30 in the morning. You can hear how sensitive our microphones are from hearing that last clip, we can pick up visitors or hikers from a ways away, and in this clip, there is a whisper. It sounds like it’s faint, but it’s in the middle of a jet clip. You’ll hear a high-altitude jet overhead, but there’s also a whisper in here, and we don’t know what this is, and honestly, I don’t know if we want to. [All laugh]

[Plays audio clip]

Wyatt: I heard it.

Mace: You heard it?

Wyatt: There was a jet, and then there was some…

Meredith: It sounds like they said “blood.”

Mace: That’s exactly what it sounds like. My research assistant, Cesar, when he heard that, his face turned white.

Meredith: I bet.

Mace: Thought we had captured a ghost. No footsteps before or after. We scoured the recording looking for any other sign within that time period, and there’s nothing else there. So perhaps a puff of wind? Perhaps a ghost.

Meredith: Wow.

Wyatt: Well there’s nothing more popular than ghosts today. Every town that I visit, I can get a ghost tour. Not that I’ve done it, but I’ve noticed that there are ghost tours everywhere.

Meredith: Oh yeah.

Wyatt: We even have ghost tours at SUU.

Meredith: In the building where we work.

Wyatt: In the building where we work there are ghost stories. So, we probably should have you put some recording instruments outside of Old Main.

Mace: I’d be happy to.

Wyatt: To see if you could catch Virginia.

Mace: See if we can catch Virginia.

Wyatt: [Laughs] Wailing some late night.

Mace: I’ve heard there are other buildings on campus that might also have visitors. [All laugh]

Meredith: That gives me chills every time I listen to that. As I say, it’s a little bit creepy. Anyway, just a sample of some of the terrific faculty that we have here and what a joy it’s been to interview some of them, and we look forward in subsequent podcasts to introducing you, our listeners, to some of the other really talented and gifted people that we work with.

Wyatt: Yeah, we’re not a research institution by definition, but we still bring in at SUU about 15 million dollars in research grants and we have a lot of faculty involved in research projects adding to the knowledge base that we have. And then helping students be part of those research projects so that they can do their own research and it’s such a meaningful part of what we’re doing. We mentioned earlier as we were talking about interesting stories that students have to tell, and wouldn’t it be fun if we could just have an interview every day with a different student?

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: The same thing is true with so many of our faculty and our staff. They have such interesting lives and interesting contributions.

Meredith: So, we have listeners, right? [Both laugh] I mean, we hope we do. We hope this is not just going out into the ether, and we actually put up on our website an opportunity for listeners to vote for their favorite episodes, and one of the things that we got from our listeners was this episode from season one, episode #13 about storytelling and the importance of it and we had invited onto the show Mindy Benson who is our Vice President for Community Relations—am I saying that right?

Wyatt: Yep. Well…

Meredith: Alumni and Community Relations.

Wyatt: She’s, yes, that’s right.

Meredith: And Mindy is a great storyteller and has a long institutional memory burned into her DNA about SUU. I think her grandparents attended here and her father worked here and so forth, so she’s been around this university literally for her entire life. And we talked a little bit about the story of the founding of Southern Utah University and why it’s important that we tell stories, why it’s important that we not forget the struggle and the hardship and the sacrifice of the people that put us on the map here. And not just important for us, but important for everyone to remember.

Wyatt: Yeah, there’s more to a story than just, “We like hearing stories.”

Meredith: That’s right.

Wyatt: There’s something very meaningful about that and I remember I…whenever I ask my wife and I’m getting ready to give a talk, if I say to her, “Do you have any suggestions?” She’ll always say, “Tell a story.” I have a tendency to move into analytical mode.

Meredith: Right, right.

Wyatt: And she keeps reminding me to move into story mode. And stories…

Meredith: Because people learn better than way. They relate better to it.

Wyatt: Right. If there’s a connection to me as a person and I feel this emotional interest, I’m going to pay attention. Then give me the data.

Meredith: This is Mindy Benson and Scott Wyatt talking about the founding of Southern Utah University.

Season One Episode 13 – Storytelling

Wyatt: Well, so let’s bring this to today and to Southern Utah University. And every single organization has or should have stories like this. But I think that Southern Utah University perhaps has one of the best stories.

Benson: I think we have the best founding story out there. Not that I’ve researched every institution, but we certainly have the grit and determination and everything that you need to make a story interesting.

Wyatt: So, you’ve been around Southern Utah University a lot longer than Steve or I…

Benson: Since I was born.

Wyatt: Since you were born, because your dad worked here.

Benson: My dad worked on campus, my grandma attended back in 1918…it’s been carried on as part of the generations. They were even part of the founding families.

Wyatt: When did the founding story of Southern Utah University become important?

Benson: I believe that it’s always been important to those who were there and those who lived it passed it on to their children. I don’t know that it became a shared identity until we had Gerry Sherratt, a former president who was an alumnus, bring it back up again because it was his relatives, again, who had been part of the founding. And he brought it up in the 70s, 80s. I remember my grandparents talking about it in the 70s, but Gerry did his dissertation on it and spent a lot of time bringing it back to the public view. And I think since the 80s, it’s really helped form who we are and shaped that identity.

Wyatt: So where does our story begin?

Benson: Back in 1897. Clear back then? Is that what you’re talking about?

Wyatt: [Laughs] That’s right. 1897, there is a contest because the University of Utah is going to create a branch campus somewhere in Southern Utah, and all of these small communities become competitors to win the right to have this school. And where does it go from there?

Benson: You’re a good storyteller, I was totally into it right there.

Wyatt: [Laughter] We can go back and forth a little bit on this story. It’s a great story, and it has different focus. I think that the story is generally accurate, but for different people who tell it, they focus on different pieces of the story depending on what moral they’re trying to tell or what image they’re trying to create. But this is a community of 1,200 farmers, ranchers, and miners and they’ve only been living here for a couple of decades. Cedar City was settled, what year Mindy? Do you remember?

Benson: Oh, I don’t know that off the top of my head. We could Google it—back to the facts.

Wyatt: They’ve only been here for a few decades, and it’s still a frontier town. They’re still focused on ranching, mining, farming, all those kinds of things.

Benson: Survival.

Wyatt: Survival, yeah. They’re still in the survival mode.

Benson: They were doing it to survive.

Wyatt: And when this contest comes up, they’re…the condition that was given was that the town had to donate land and build on that land a school, according to the exacting specifications of the State Legislature. But the people in Cedar City didn’t have money to build this and they didn’t have materials. This is still a frontier town and all of the materials had been used to build a church building called Ward Hall. And so, they made this assumption that, “You know, maybe they’ll let us just start school in Ward Hall, and then eventually, we’ll build a schoolhouse.” But on January 1, 1898, the city, the town, learns that if they don’t build the school according to the requirements by the time school starts that coming fall—eight months—that the school’s going to be taken away from them and given to another town. That their hope that this church house would work, didn’t. And so, they try to figure out what to do. And the difficulty is, they don’t have any materials, and they’ve got to start building this in the winter. And where do you get lumber? Where do you get bricks? Where do you get stones to build a foundation in the dead of winter?

Benson: They didn’t have any of that. It wasn’t easily attainable, they didn't have it in their backyards, and they were devastated, I believe.

Wyatt: So, they knew there was a sawmill up on the Mammoth, more than 10,000 feet above sea level, way up in the mountain, that had some lumber there, and they thought, “Well, maybe this is the way to get started. There wasn’t a fraction of the lumber they needed at the sawmill, but that’s something, you know? That’s something that they could do. And so, four days after learning about this problem, a group of eleven men and twenty-two horses, for the first time in their lives, head up the mountain in the winter. They had never been up there. So, they were ill prepared, they didn’t know what was going to befall them, and five days…that seems so long to me. Five days into this journey and they still haven’t accomplished their mission, and this snowstorm hits. And I…you know, all these stories that we have in Utah about the early settlers, they all seem to start the same way. “There was a century big storm.” [Laughter]

Benson: Yes. “Blizzard of the century.”

Wyatt: And we don’t know if this was the blizzard of the century, but that’s the way the story goes is that this was the storm of the century.

Benson: That’s part of what enhances it. If it wasn’t the truth, then that’s part of what enhances the story. But we know there was snow and that it was a blizzard.

Wyatt: Yeah, and as the way Gerry Sherratt, former President Sherratt, tells the story. There’s eleven horses…no, twenty-two horses, eleven men…twenty-two horses and of all the horses, when they get up on the top of the Mammoth, the horses can’t break through these massive snow drifts that have been formed in this blizzard. Except for one. And one horse, who they called Old Sorrel, an eight-year-old, 1,600-pound draft horse…

Benson: Massive horse.

Wyatt: Yeah…is able to break through the drifts. And the way Gerry used to tell the story, it was…the story focused on this horse and how amazing the horse was to be able to paw at the drifts and then sit down and pant and then paw some more and sit down and pant and just keep going. You grew up with horses Mindy, and anybody that knows horses knows they don’t like being in thick snow.

Benson: No, they don’t.

Wyatt: It’s just…it’s hard for them. It’s harder for horses probably in deep snow than it is for people. But they get through that, they find their way back to this little cabin and spend the night and they’ve got to figure out what to do, and during the night, four more people come up from town. So now there are fifteen. Fifteen in this little cabin and they’re tired, they’re hungry, they’re cold and they’re wet and they’re in this blizzard…

Benson: Frustrated…

Wyatt: Frustrated, yeah.

Benson: I think that’s probably where I would land is “frustrated.” And not sure how we were going to get out of that.

Wyatt: The whole town is depending on them, but as Gerry Sherratt tells the story, they barely escaped with their lives. And I don’t know if that’s an overstatement or not, but for a bunch of settlers that are unfamiliar with the mountains in the winter, never been up there before, it’s probably more accurate than sometimes we give it credit for.

Benson: And you know what I loved about it is each family who has passed it down has their own addition to it. They’re not embellishing, but they’ll talk about “their great-grandfather did this,” or “their great-grandfather did this while this was happening,” or “they survived with one match,” or “Old Sorrel, the only reason he was able to do that was he was lost as a young horse and had to climb out of a canyon to get himself free. And if you think about how all of that happened and if that happened if he was a young horse, would he have known how to get out of the snowdrift? Or would he have had the skills?” It’s just interesting how each family brings their own piece and how important this story is as a whole to the organization, but to each of the families that participated in it.

Wyatt: Yeah, and it is amazing that a horse was able to plow its way through…paw its way through these huge snow drifts and free a space that everybody could get through. I’ve spent a lot of time on mountains in the snow, and it’s…it can be a little nervous. And when I go up there, I have Gore-Tex and snowshoes and all this other kind of stuff.

Benson: Right.

Wyatt: These people didn’t have any of that.  

Benson: They don’t have any of that, and they weren’t prepared, as prepared as they should have been, and it’s almost a miracle…in fact, it is a miracle that they were able to get through. And it was the power of that horse, but we can’t forget the people.

Wyatt: Right, yeah. So now we’re what? Four or five days before they’re able to start up the mountain, and now we’re about six days into the mountain journey? And they’re in this little tiny cabin and it’s morning. [They’re] trying to decide what to do. They’ve escaped with their lives so far…something, the only thing to do is just get out while they can because the storm is not over. They’ve been scared, understandably. And they have this argument and a leader emerges. The leader is Neal Bladen. And Neal Bladen’s descendants and family members are still in town…

Benson: They are. And they’re very proud of what he did. I’ve always heard “Cornelius Bladen” and I’ve heard “Neal Bladen”, and I didn’t know they were the same person. [All laugh] It struck me when we were doing the documentary “Oh! Neal Bladen was Cornelius Bladen.” But Neal Bladen, Thomas Bladen, and the Bladen family is still here and their roots run deep.

Wyatt: Yeah. So that morning, they all get up, they’re talking about what to do, they know that this…there’s a few things they know. And one is that many people in the community have mortgaged their homes to pay for the teacher’s salaries.

Benson: Yes. Mortgaged their homes, ranches, sheep, everything they could to get this paid for.

Wyatt: But some of them thing that it’s impossible. And so, at the end of this discussion, they part ways. Five of them stay up on the mountain, the rest go down, and the five return back up to get the lumber. And that’s kind of where the story starts to slide from these people into the rest of the community. But Neal Bladen leads this small group, they go up, they get the lumber. Again, it’s an insignificant amount of lumber. This is one wagonload of lumber. But they haul it down into town and when they arrive with as few boards as they had, it ignited the community.

Benson: Jubilation. And I think it was the motivation that everyone needed that this was possible and that they could do it and that “the sacrifice was great, let’s not let the sacrifice to go waste.”

Wyatt: Yeah. So now we find ourselves with women and men digging clay out of the cold earth to form and fire bricks to build it. We’ve got people going up quarrying rocks for the foundation. That one load of lumber wasn’t nearly enough so the whole community is pulling together finding everything they can to fashion better sleds, better clothes. The image in my mind, Mindy, is this image of the entire town—1,200 people total, so that would be a small number of families actually—with everybody having some commitment in it. Leaving their farms, leaving their mines…whatever they’ve got going to pull this together because they’ve got a fuse.

Benson: They have to get it done. And Cedar City has always had that spirit. I think this exemplifies it more than any other story. Everyone pulled together and got it done. The women, the children, the men…everyone had something to do with it. I look at my great-grandfather and he owned the tack shop in town and made blankets. He and his family made blankets for the horses. And there are story after story of what everyone in the community contributed, and everyone played an important part of that. And that’s part of the culture that we pass on today.

Meredith: So, when you arrived, I think you wanted to make sure that people knew the story of the Old Sorrel horse and that you thought that was important enough that we actually put together a film about it. I think it was maybe the first thing that I worked on after I arrived about a year after you were here I arrived at SUU and it’s called Back Up the Mountain, is that right?

Wyatt: Right.

Meredith: And for any of our listeners that are interested in Back Up the Mountain, the story of the founding of Southern Utah University, you let us know if you’d like a copy of it and we’ll make sure that we send it out to you. I think that you can also find it on the university’s website, but if you’re one of the old school people like I am that occasionally likes to pop a DVD in, we’ll be happy to send you a DVD.

Wyatt: Yeah, this story about our founding is really important. And you look at “How do we see where we sit?” And “How do we plan for the future?” We have to look at our roots to know where our flowers bloom.

Meredith: So, President, this is a celebration of our 50th episode and we hope our listeners have enjoyed this look-back at some of the greatest hits…

Wyatt: From the last two years?

Meredith: [Laughs] Yeah, from the last two years. But I should reiterate what a joy and what a pleasure it has been to work with you to put this together and we do this because we want to let the world know about Southern Utah University and about the thought process of the senior administration here and some of the interesting and we hope innovating things that we are doing to try to make…well, to try to create solutions for higher education, just like the title says. But we also do it for ourselves because it helps us to think about those things. It forces us to sit down and coalesce our thoughts and put them down in a meaningful way and then to reach out to others and see what others are doing in the world that maybe we had not thought of or could help us to do things better. So, we hope that for you, our listeners, that this has been as meaningful as it has been for us because it’s quite meaningful for us.

Wyatt: Right, and we continue to learn as we explore these ideas and go back through things that we’ve done in the past.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: It’s just so much…it’s just so fun to be involved in so many great ideas, so many interesting people.

Meredith: It is.

Wyatt: And to be able to talk about them.

Meredith: You’ve been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We thank you for listening, our devoted listeners, and we’ll be back again with another run of brand new podcasts very soon. Thanks for listening, bye-bye.