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Remembering the sacrifice

Baby boomers learned a lesson from their Vietnam War protests: Even if you object to a war, you support the men and women who are laying their lives on the line.

Are today's college students making a different mistake: Are they ignoring the war in Iraq? That was the question that Tarrant County College Professors Laura Matysek Wood '85 (PhD) and Mike Nichols '97 (PhD) asked. And they were dismayed to discover their students acted as if Iraq were irrelevant to their lives.

So in 2004, Wood and Nichols, co-directors of the TCC Cornerstone Honors program at the Northwest Campus, asked the honors students to create a memorial for servicemen and women who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It seemed to be a good way to get them aware of the war. To realize that people their age were putting their lives in danger," Wood said.

While the teachers said the memorial could have been anything - flowers, a small plaque - the students designed an impressive memorial that's placed in a prominent courtyard on campus and consists of aluminum panels over a steel-coated frame and 3,600 dog tags with the name, rank and date of death of each serviceman or woman riveted to the panels. The students raised the funds for the project and did much of the work themselves, included inscribing the dog tags (a Marine Corps unit and an Air Force unit let the students use their engraving machines).

The project isn't just about the physical artifact, either. The honor students have researched memorials, learning how they have changed over time. They've learned how to present a eulogy. And it's greatly increased their awareness of the war, something that matters, particularly, to those fellow TCC students who happen to be veterans.

"Every once in a while, I'll have a young person, a young man usually, who's been very quiet during discussions of the war, and he'll come up to me and talk about how difficult it is to hear the other students complaining about a class or being wrong or being upset because they couldn't get into a movie they wanted to see and it just seems so trivial to them having just come back from Iraq," Wood says.

On Veterans Day the students held an all-night vigil at the memorial. They read out the names, and a bugler played "Taps." They'll almost certainly hold a similar program this Veterans Day. And the students will continue to add to the memorial as long as soldiers' lives are being lost. - CF

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On the campaign trail

Kenny Thompson '03 has been racking up the frequent flier miles this year, logging so much time on the road that he doesn't even have a home address.

But he doesn't mind. "This is exactly what I wanted to do all my life," he said. "I just never knew it would come so early in my career. It's been an incredible experience."

The political science major's dream gig is working on a presidential campaign – that of Democratic nominee Barack Obama. Thompson, (on right in photo) is one of the 40 or so members of the Illinois Senator's advance team, charged with coordinating the candidate's appearances and managing the logistics at various campaign stops with law enforcement including the Secret Service, area supporters and the media.

"My job is to make sure that when the senator arrives, everything goes smoothly," he said.
Since joining the Obama campaign in July 2007, Thompson's duties have also included managing the crowds drawn to his stump speeches and even selecting warm-up songs set up on his MacBook such as U2's "City of Blinding Lights" and Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered."

At TCU, the Austin native played centerfield for the Horned Frogs baseball team and majored in political science. After graduating, he was accepted to the Emily's List Campaign Corps program, which specifically helps pro-choice, Democratic women running for office, and in 2004 was sent to Florida to help Betty Castor's run for the U.S. Senate as a regional field director.

The following year he returned to his hometown to work for the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. In 2006, he was named policy director for Austin City Council Member Sheryl Cole, but couldn't resist the lure of joining a presidential campaign when the primaries rolled around.

"A national campaign like this is everything a person interested in politics lives for," he said. "It's a great time no matter what your politics are."

He said his favorite part of the job is watching people's reactions when they meet Sen. Obama. He said the job has also given him renewed appreciation for the time and effort put in by political representatives.

"Democrat or Republican, public servants are doing the best job they can do," he said. "They are sacrificing themselves to help others." - KH

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Standing for a cause

Keith-Ann Wagner Steed's '02 life changed forever on July 4, 2000, when she was in a car accident that broke her neck and left her a quadriplegic.

It changed, but it didn't stop. Keith-Ann, who was a top student and star soccer player, saw no reason to stop thinking big. She continued her studies, graduating magna cum laude from the Neeley School in 2002; married Chad Steed, a young man whom she'd known since fourth grade; and got a job many would envy as a tax accountant with KPMG.

And now she's facing her most ambitious project to date: She's working on opening an Austin nonprofit rehabilitation center for spinal cord injury victims based on an exercise methodology that's greatly benefitted her.

The organization is called Project Walk and their rehabilitation program is high-intensity-exercise-based. "Most physical therapy teaches you how to live in your chair and ignore anything below your injury level, but Project Walk immediately gets you on the table and begins working on your muscles. Their goal is to get you out of your chair," says Keith-Ann.

She and Chad moved to San Diego in 2005, and she began working with trainers at Project Walk, five years post-injury. Although most doctors tell spinal-injury patients they won't see any improvement beyond two years post-injury, Keith-Ann says she's made considerable progress since Project Walk.

"The first thing I noticed was that my ab muscles and core strength improved. That helps me to pick things up off the floor and maintain my balance. You pretty much need your abs for all movement," Keith-Ann says. "I used to need electric stimulation to take a step with the right leg, but now I walk with arm crutches and I don't use any electric stimulation."

The facility Keith-Ann hopes to open in Austin will be called Roll 2 Walk and it will use the same methodology as Project Walk. "It's a really expensive therapy and it's really expensive to live in California. Not everybody can just pick up and move so they can do this program, so we want to bring it back to Texas."

She and Chad, who's a Project Walk trainer, have been meeting with representatives from hospitals and a YMCA in Austin. They would like to open the facility in January.

"Right now what we're really lacking are funds for start-up costs. We need equipment and need to be able to rent a facility. We need funds to get started before we begin bringing in revenue." - CF

For information and a video, go to

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Livin' the Dream

If you're hoping to relax, fish in a river. But if you want real fishing adventure - deep-sea excitement of marlin, mako, tuna, Dorado or wahoo - then cast your line with the Frogs at RedRum Sportfishing in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, owned and run by Ryan Donovan '02 (left in photo) and Brooke Sawyers Donovan '02 (center).

For years, Ryan and his dad took annual trips to Cabo, where fishing "is unlike any place in the world," Ryan said. The two became RedRum silent partners in 2004, took full ownership in the fall of 2006 and then brought on freshly graduated Luis Vela '06 (who is fluent in Spanish) to run day-to-day operations as office manager in January 2007.

Married in April, Ryan and Brooke moved down to help with "the full load that came with owning the company" in July, noted Brooke, who is also fluent in Spanish after serving in the Peace Corps in Guatemala.

The company has grown from three boats to seven, and from 40 charters a month to more than 100. It has also played host to media powerhouse ESPN, and members voted it No. 1 out of 65 activities in Cabo.

While there are hundreds of charter companies in Cabo, Ryan said people remember RedRum's catchy name and logo. Operations also set it apart. Prices are all-inclusive, and customers know upfront what they're getting. In a country where customer service isn't exactly a staple, RedRum strives to meet every need - packaging fish, setting up mini tournaments with prizes and supplying endless enthusiasm.

Long term may see RedRum operations dotted around North, Central and South America.

"We also hope to be expanding our other venture, an actual rum that is called RedRum as well," Brooke said. "Think Parrot Bay meets Bacardi, somewhere in the middle there." - RSM

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Making camp

Nathan Newquist '05 just spent another summer at camp - his ninth to be exact.

In fact he's managed to turn summer camp into a career. Newquist was recently named program director at Camp Falling Creek, a scenic camp for boys nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina that was dubbed "Boy Heaven" in a Time magazine cover story last summer.

The article linked the popularity of the "The Dangerous Book for Boys" with the need for boys to have outdoor experiences. The camp offers mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater canoeing and kayaking. Each summer the camp welcomes 245 boys and has a staff of about 100.

"Camps like ours provide experiences outdoors that give boys structured freedom," he said. "We offer a variety of outdoor activities and the boys have the freedom to choose the activities that appeal to them the most. It could be a kayak trip on a nearby river one day, then a pottery or guitar lesson the next day.

"With the continuing reduction of recess and physical education in public schools, camp provides boys the outdoor time our parents and grandparents enjoyed in their childhood."

Newquist oversees the day-to-day running of the camp in the summer and also helps with the Web site, marketing and publications for the camp, located in Tuxedo, N.C.

He said having the camp featured on the cover of Time underscored some of the lessons learned in public relations classes at TCU.

"Covers are priceless and free publicity is the best publicity," he said. - KH

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