Main Navigation

Humans of the U: June & July

Sharing compelling stories from the heart of the U's campus: See June and July's Humans of the U.

“Roughly three years ago, we received a call from the Huntsman Center folks who had found some basketball flooring in a back room. They asked, “Do you guys want it? If not, we’re going to throw it away.” We took the wood, not knowing its origin.

A couple of years later, we moved offices and didn’t have a conference room table. I was asked to build a table for us, using the basketball floor. Over the next three months, I disassembled the floor, cleaned it up, then put it back together piece by piece. Although the wood was clean, I left behind the dirt and grime between the boards and also left some nails. One of my favorite features of the table is the shadow left behind where the black lines for the key and red paint inside the key remain.

After installing the table in our office, the number one question everyone asked was, “Where did the basketball floor come from?” The rumor was that it was the same floor that NBA greats Larry Bird and Magic Johnson battled on during the 1979 Final Four Basketball game in the Special Events Center, now the Jon M. Huntsman Center. It became my goal to figure this out.

I researched the manufacturer of the floor and found one of their VPs who had started with the company almost 40 years ago. We talked about the construction of the floor, the manner of the manufacturer’s name being stamped on the back of the wood, and determined it was likely installed during the late 60s or early 70s. We were now one step closer to validating “the rumor.”

Using the red paint chips as evidence, we pulled video from the 1979 Final Four Championship and confirmed the inside of the key had been painted red. Eventually, we tracked down Aaron White, now interim director of Stadium and Arena Event Services, who confirmed it was indeed the original floor of the Special Events Center. ”

— Richard Fairchild, associate director, Auxiliary Business Development

“I grew up in a small southern town in Alabama, population of about 10,000, at the south end of the Appalachian Mountains. Growing up I was involved in a lot of different groups and organizations. In high school, I played the trombone and was the president of band, and I was active in my community always putting on parties and socials. Which, I didn’t know at the time, would serve me well in this role as director of the Student Union.

When I came to the U, I was told things like, “this is a commuter school,” “a lot of students are married with kids,” and “students don’t want a nightlife.” All of which I’ve found to be untrue. Students want an active and vibrant college campus life.

But the Union isn’t just a place that holds events. I know the Union to be the community center where people of different backgrounds get together in a variety of settings to meet new people. The Union provides the mechanism whereby students can meet and find a community to thrive in and develop their leadership skills and give back.

I’ve always appreciated that what we do in the Union accents what is happening in the academic arena. We teach other skills that you may not find in, say, physics. I think we teach life skills.”

— Whit Hollis, director of the A. Ray Olpin Student Union

“I didn’t realize where my passion for food came from originally. I’m the oldest of nine kids and with no father, I tried to help my mother. I decided to leave school. She found out and said I was going back to school or I was going to do an apprenticeship.

My mom was the passion. I was very, very lucky to work in a five-star hotel and start my apprenticeship in a kitchen at the age of 15. There was a lot of diversity; from Yugoslavia to Greece – about 30 different nationalities. To have something like that in 1966, to work in a kitchen was unheard of in Australia. I got to know their culture and their culture revolved around food.

To be exposed to this at 15 was wowsville!

Cooking is so creative and you start to build the flavors. It’s like building a house. You put the brick and mortar down and then you build and build. At the end, you’ve got something great. I love opening a fridge door or going to a market and finding a beet that looks amazing and it hits me that I have to create something special with beets. I get excited to create something new.

I’m near the end of my career, I’ve finally found a company that is dynamic, forward thinking and really looks out for its employees.

Whatever you have, give it back. If people ask me for a recipe, I just give it to them. You go online and find a recipe, but often something is missing, like oregano. That’s the difference between a gold-medal meal and you having a great meal at home.

Give back and never, ever, ever forget where you come from. Always honor and learn from the past and make sure to pass on your knowledge.”

— Chef Peter Hodgson, campus executive chef for Chartwells Dining Services, CEC, AAC

“I always wanted to be an illustrator. I had a professor, McRay Magleby, who did a lot of really great work for BYU and it seemed like the kind of design work you could do for universities was always really interesting and varied. Plus, as an illustrator I have the opportunity to do a lot of paintings and illustrations for projects here that I probably wouldn’t have working for an ad agency or design studio.

I used to paint and illustrate everything by hand. The first couple years I started working for this office, I got to do some hand-painted poster illustrations over the summer. I was able to hone a style working on real illustration projects through this office. Around 2000, I developed a graphic illustrative style of using the computer that I’ve been able to apply to a lot of projects here.

I have my hat in three rings. I’m the art director for the university. I also work as a freelance illustrator — which is where I’ve been able to apply my travel style on projects like notecards and posters during the 2002 Olympics and the ‘Welcome to Utah’ billboards. There are seven different billboard designs that have been used at entry points to the state. It is fun when you are coming back from a road trip and you see a sign that says ‘Welcome to Utah’ and you know that was the artwork you created for it. My travel style works perfectly for the GO LEARN! educational trip programs offered through Continuing Education.

And I’ve always painted fine art landscapes. I am represented by David Ericson Fine Art and Evergreen Framing Co. & Gallery Inc. in Salt Lake City and Medicine Man Gallery in Tucson.

Creating illustrations has always been the thing that excited me the most. There are lots of photos of campus settings, but there hasn’t really been a lot of artwork about campus. It is a lot of fun whenever there is an opportunity to create an illustration or painting of something that is campus related.”

— David Meikle, art director, University Marketing & Communications, BFA ‘94 and MFA ‘06

“I’m originally from South Sudan. In high school, I had a great teacher called Andrew Makur, who encouraged my interest in physics. He was an engineer. I looked up to him and said, ‘You know what? This is what I want to become.’

I was up against a lot. When I decided to do physics in high school, my parents weren’t enthusiastic about it. In a third world country, what are you going to do with a degree in physics? I knew that I had to push it all to the way to the end and get a PhD.

I did my graduate studies in theoretical particle physics in Europe, but during that time I was also traveling back and forth to Utah to visit my wife — her family was resettled here after fleeing violence in South Sudan. The University of Utah gave me a desk to work, and eventually hired me to the physics faculty.

In 2009, our community started noticing that we had high rates of refugee kids dropping out of schools. I see myself in those kids who are brought here as a refugee, maybe haven’t had schooling in the camps, and have no English. It’s such a big transition. When I moved to Europe, it was my first time leaving my country and everything was in English. We thought, ‘Let’s start addressing this.’ So, we started an after-school program to help those kids with homework, expose them to math and science, help them attend college.

I’m so passionate about this because I got a lot of help with my education. Mentors and outreach programs in Sudan linked me to my PhD and post-doc studies in Europe, and I didn’t pay a penny for my education. That was something that gave me a good feeling, and want to give back. The satisfaction you get by helping a person in need, you can’t compare to anything.”

— Tino Nyawelo, director of the Refugees Exploring the Foundations of Undergraduate Education in Science (REFUGE) program, director of diversity & recruitment at the Center for Science and Mathematics Education, and assistant professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy

“I am a proud descendant of Greek immigrants (among others). In 1915 came the onset of the Greek-Armenian holocaust as well as World War I. My propappoús (great- grandfather) enlisted at age 17 into the ranks of the Hellenic Army, where he saved his future wife (my great-grandmother) and many of her family from the genocide of the Greek-Armenians in Turkey. By 1934, in great economic instability, he sought to provide a better life for his young family, so he decided to move his five children and his wife to the U.S. to pursue the American Dream in “The Land of Opportunity.”

With the little money they had, the only form of transportation the family could afford was a cattle freighter. The rank and unsanitary conditions of the boat took a great toll on the family and especially on my great-grandmother, making her very ill. On the last week of their voyage, she tragically miscarried twin boys late in the pregnancy. In a bittersweet moment, they named their stillborn twins Liberty and Freedom. Freedom became my namesake; a name I carry with both pride and remembrance.

The meaning of my middle name extends past my father’s Greek ancestors into my mother’s line. This month as we celebrate July 4 and 24,  I feel especially close to two of my other great-grandfather ancestors, Jacob Pettibone and Lorenzo Snow.

On the fourth, I remember the sacrifices of Captain Pettibone who fought for freedom in the Revolutionary War and served as a member of Knowlton’s Rangers (the first U.S. organized espionage organization). He reported directly to General Washington. On the 24th, I remember the sacrifices of Lorenzo Snow, Utah Pioneer and fifth president of the LDS church, who sacrificed the life he built in Ohio to trek west in search of religious freedom.

I come from a long line of innovators, entrepreneurs and patriots. A dedication to freedom and liberty runs deep through my veins, which is why I have a passion for entrepreneurship. Being an entrepreneur gives you complete freedom – your success (or failure) rests upon your work ethic, determination, intelligence and attitude. I have grandfathers and grandmothers who carried the name of “inventor” with pride and were among the first patent filers in the U.S.

It is a liberating feeling knowing there are no limits on your potential except those you place on yourself – that’s the American Dream – that’s what brought my propappoús to America and that’s what inspired me to pursue a career in entrepreneurial consulting and venture capital.

Although I may not be called to the battlefield or to trek across the country, I feel an innate duty to help preserve the freedoms given me by the sacrifices of those before me and extend freedom to others through helping them pursue the American Dream of entrepreneurship.”

— Luke Freedom Hansen, U student majoring in Honors finance and entrepreneurship with a minor in leadership studies.

“Despite a decently successful life, I found myself in my early 30s without much happening. My young family and my natural anxiety kept me close to home and safe. One morning I woke up and faced the truth: I was bored. That’s when I noticed opportunity coming and going and realized I was hiding from adventure because I was afraid. So, in 2010, I decided I would start a year of saying “yes” to everything, no matter how scared I was.

What a year that became! I helped found a local community garden, learned to use a drill, gave a speech and landed in the local paper (twice) and on the TV news.

My biggest adventure took me to Haiti to work with amputee mothers from the 2010 earthquake. There was no electricity after 7 p.m., and you could not step off your porch at night because the guard dogs were trained to kill any stranger on the property. My first night I had a true panic attack and considered braving my chances with the dogs and walking through the Haitian countryside to the Port-au-Prince airport. But I stayed and on that trip I heard mothers’ stories of children lost to the earthquake, played soccer with a girl with one leg and laughed about boyfriends with young women. My heart grew.

That year I learned a lot about fear, but I learned even more about my own strength. Today, I’m still afraid but I feel like a girl on fire — I jump on every opportunity. Fear kept me safe, but it also kept me from living. I say practice being with fear — with the awkward, the unknown and the scary — embrace it as part of the fullness of life and see what happens.”

— Tamerin Smith, U staff (who has never seen the movie “Yes Man”)

“People are my life. Since I can remember, I have longed to feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself, to work and strive for equality and community as openly and truly as I can. I have always looked for roles where relationships between people and potentials for coalition building are sought after, and I am drawn to a public mindset that promotes education as the vehicle for a morally conscious environment, where people can learn self-respect, a deeper group identity, public skills and the values of cooperation and civic virtue.

My academic training is specifically grounded in diversity studies and promoting social justice through education. An important part of working with students at the English Language Institute has been to act as a cultural and academic liaison and as an area/university insider for my students’ success and growth. I deeply enjoy working with these amazingly brave young people, who are culturally, racially, linguistically and academically diverse.

Currently, my time is divided between my 1-year-old daughter, my work at the university and my music, while still finding time to get out and ride my Harley. After hours, I play in a three-piece chamber folk-rock group called Harold Henry, which is starting to gain traction. We consist of guitar, drums, cello and harmonica laden with rich vocal harmonies. Influences of our ‘whiskey-drenched’ style of music include folk, blues, soul, indie and classical. We are featured this month [July] as SLUG magazine’s ‘Localized’ band.”

— Jeremy Hansen, B.A. ’05, M.Ed. ’08, English Language Institute instructor

“I’ve been swimming for three years. I like swimming because it’s different than other sports. It’s a personal thing. You’re not relying on other people; if you mess up it’s only your fault. It’s helped me grow out of my comfort zone and meet new people. I really like going to meets because you get to hang out with your team and meet new people. It’s fun because you can beat your times and see how much you’ve improved.

I went to the U swim camp to get better at swimming. Every day we worked on different strokes and we did a lot of technique stuff so that when you’re racing then your stroke is more efficient. My friend Lily already knew some of the people from swimming. You meet them at the big meets. We stayed in the dorms and made a lot of new friends with the people in the room across from us. We snuck into each other’s rooms.

It was really fun because we got to walk around the campus and learn about the U. I thought it was all really new and looked really nice. The grounds of the University were very impressive. I thought everything was super clean and very well-kept.

It was a great experience because you get to be away from home for a week and meet new people and you’re still learning about your sport and getting better. The athletes were very impressive with their work ethic and devotion to their school and sport. I’d really like to come to the U to be a part of a team like that.”

— Eden Flake, 13, attended a swim camp at the U in June 2017

[bs_well size=”md”]We’ll be featuring Humans of the U and sharing their stories throughout the year with the university community. If you know someone with a compelling story, let us know at[/bs_well]