Wonder Becomes the Second Topic for the Academy’s Salon Series

February 28, 2017

By Brady Farmer, Austin Henderson, Phuc Lee, Max Salinger, Henry Sharpe, Devyn Stewart, Ava Stipanovich, Juan Tello, and Bryanna Thumma

This fall, the University of Iowa’s Belin-Blank Center welcomed its first class of Bucksbaum Early Entrance Academy students.   The long-term development and success of these students is very important to the Center, and toward that end, we have designed a series of salons around meaningful subjects like noble failure, wonder, and humility.  These conversations take place around a dinner table and include perspectives from our University and Iowa City communities.

Our second salon was held on the stage of the Riverside Theater.  The topic was “wonder,” with each student being paired with an invited guest.  Students and guests alike brought an artifact that represented wonder to them.  At the end of the night, each group shared a word that represented their conversation.  The words were gathered and spontaneously turned into a song by local blues artist, Kevin “B.F.” Burt.  It was a wondrous evening indeed.

Chris Cheatum, Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry (guest)

Juan Tello listens intently to Dr. Chris Cheatum.

At the second salon, I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Chris Cheatum.  Dr. Cheatum is an amazing chemistry professor and researcher whose current research interests involve using lasers to study movement of protons.  Dr. Cheatum and I talked about several topics including miracles, our pasts, and our current lives.  He also brought a leaf to demonstrate his idea that life as a process is a beautiful miracle.  Dr. Cheatum mentioned how “miracle” is a term we use when describing things we don’t understand.  When we find out how something works we tend not to appreciate it anymore.  He said things like leaves and life are miracles and we must value them. I had so much fun at this salon and really enjoyed spending time with Dr. Cheatum.  (Juan Tello, student)

Vincent Rodgers, Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy (guest)

Dr. Vincent Rodgers makes a point to Austin Henderson.

I had the pleasure of socializing with Dr. Vincent Rodgers during our second salon.  Dr. Rodgers is a theoretical Physicist and finds wonder in time and space.  He helped me think about things that have no obvious explanation, and have been a source of amazement throughout history.  These topics are difficult to explain, and deserve much more than simple scientific inquiry.  (Austin Henderson, student)

Leslie Nolte, Founder and Artistic Director at Nolte Academy (guest)

Bryanna Thumma and Leslie Nolte share a story after dinner.

For the second Bucksbaum Salon, I had the pleasure of dining with Leslie Nolte.  Leslie Nolte is the founder and artistic director at the Nolte Academy in Iowa City, Iowa. Since the focus of the salon was “wonder,” our conversation centered around the various aspects of our lives where wonder is found.  Leslie finds wonder through striving to reach her always lofty goals, while at the same time inspiring wonder in the children she teaches at the Nolte Academy.  Another way that Leslie maintains wonder in her sometimes monotonous, always busy life, is by wearing bracelets with inspirational words and phrases inscribed on them.  The word on the bracelet she was wearing the night of the salon perfectly summarized what wonder is to both of us: Love.  (Bryanna Thumma, student)

Andrea Wilson, Founder and Executive Director of the Iowa Writers’ House (guest)

Brady Farmer and Andrea Wilson discuss the wonder of writing.

I got to sit down and chat with Andrea Wilson, the creator of the Iowa Writers’ House.  We connected over our life stories, and the way we see the world.  Andrea talked about how many paths she discovered and went down, and how she got where she is today. Andrea also talked about how she left a solid job to go do something that she knew would be a good thing in the end. People were thinking “She is crazy!” because she was leaving a good job to start a writers’ house in Iowa City.  We got to chat about writing, and what else interests us. It turned out to be a great night, with awesome music and great food.  I am looking forward to visiting the Writer’s House in the future!  (Brady Farmer, student)

Simeon Talley, Co-founder at the Iowa Fashion Project (guest)

Simeon Talley and Henry Sharpe bond over dinner.

The second salon that we had was based around wonder.  This was much less formal than the previous salon and it changed the dynamic of the whole event.  The more causal nature led to more personal conversations that, while based around the concept of wonder, covered a range of topics. I was paired with Simeon Talley, an advocate for fashion in the Midwest.  We had a very nice conversation about people, purpose, and Kanye West, and discovered that we both find wonder in people, but in opposite ways.  I find wonder in the fact that there are some things you can’t know about people, while he finds wonder in knowing peoples’ motivations and intentions for doing things.  The night ended with a song combining the major themes of our conversation, a “party trick” by one of the night’s guests.  This salon brought me new perspective on both wonder, and the many different paths a person can take to reach their dreams.  (Henry Sharpe, student)

Michelene Pesantubbee, Associate Professor, American Indian Native Studies, Department of Religious Studies (guest)

Dr. Michelene Pesantubbee and Phuc Le discuss their common love of patterns.

I had the pleasure to spend the evening with Dr. Michelene Pesantubbee and discuss the beauty of wonder.  Over dinner, we shared an object that epitomized what wonder meant to us.  Dr. Pesantubbe’s artifact was an inukshuk, a mysterious stone figure, whose traditional meaning is “you are on the right path.”  My object was a drawing I made of many designs linked together.  Much like the stone arrangement helped guide the traveler’s way, my drawings assist me in finding safe passage as well.  As we spoke, Dr. Pesantubbe and I concluded that wonder to both of us is found in the beauty of pattern, and its power to guide us through life’s challenges.  (Phuc Le, student)

Zac Wedemeyer, Co-founder of Taproot Nature Experience (guest)

Zac Wedemeyer and Devyn Stewart discover their mutual appreciation for the unknown.

I had the pleasure of conversing with Zac Wedemeyer at our salon.  Zac was a pleasure to talk with. He seemed to have a genuine curiosity about life that I rarely experience.  Through his company, Taproot Nature Experience, he works as a sort of outdoorsman, teaching children about the wonders of nature.  Our conversation began with questioning why we were paired in the first place. He is an outdoorsman, whilst I tend to spend my days inside studying.  In the end, we concluded that we both have a wonder for the unknown and a desire to go out and find it.  I found the experience very enlightening.  (Devyn Stewart, student)

Kevin Burt, Blues Musician (guest)

Max Salinger and Kevin Burt learn about each other.

Kevin Burt is not a large man, he’s a grandiose experience.  Never have I had some of my most fundamental world views changed in under 90 minutes.  Sitting awkwardly at plastic tables in a small black-box theatre, we laughed the rain away.

I had come to the salon not knowing what to expect.  When I was cheerfully appointed to the “guitar man over there” by Jan, I knew immediately that the conversation would be interesting. The bulk of the conversation came from a discussion of two very different viewpoints: his, and mine.  Burt found wonder in the development of dream to reality, while I found wonder in our lack of comprehension of the completely logical.  All that said, Burt could convince me that, while everything, to some degree, is explainable algorithmically, the intuitive, human approach to solving a creative problem is often best left unanalyzed.  (Max Salinger, student)

Megan Gogerty, Lecturer, Department of Theatre Arts (guest)

Megan Gogerty and Ava Stipanovich discuss the evolution of friendship.

Megan Gogerty served as the leader and facilitator of our salon on wonder and I had the opportunity to spend a portion of the evening talking with her about her life and perspective on the world around her.  Megan has a spunky, hilarious, outgoing, larger than life personality that allows her to be a successful playwright, comedian, performer, and teacher.  During our discussion, we reflected on relationships and why some form while others dissolve throughout a person’s life. Megan mentioned that she had just recently read an article about how people tend to create a personal tribe of friends based on common interests, motives, and aspirations.  Collectively we came to the agreement that friendships form based on who you feel can fit into your tribe at a particular moment in your life.  If a friendship can evolve as we age and develop then the friend remains in your tribe for life.  (Ava Stipanovich, student)


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