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Spring 2016 Liberalis Feature Articles

The Long March Forward

Jason Gilmore and a handful of students attend the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma. What did it mean to participate?

A group of people marching in memory of the 50th anniversary of selmas march

Selma, Ala., was the destination for a group of USU students who called themselves 52 Strong after joining with students from other universities. The group was led by Dr. Jason Gilmore

The foot soldiers of the revolution fought cattle prods and police batons with open palms and prayer. Scores of unarmed men and women had their faces sprayed with tear gas and their bodies broken for what they believed. Their target, Montgomery, Alabama, was a 54-mile walk from Selma, a city carefully selected because the route required marching into some of the darkest corners of the South, where a person could be gunned down in broad daylight for encouraging another to exercise his most basic of freedoms — the right to vote.

The masterminds of the civil rights movement are often remembered as orators of peace. Their stories repeated in classrooms without mention of cracked skulls or bloodstained cement. But do we truly honor the movement if we fail to appreciate the sacrifices that propelled it forward? For Jason Gilmore, assistant professor of communication studies at Utah State, those stories need course correction. “Students know there were some marches and some speeches given and that one lady was stern enough to stand up for her rights,” he says.

“What they are not told about is that this came in the face of threat and violence and death. That these people, even though they had crosses burned on their doorstep, even though they were intimidated, had their jobs taken away from them if they registered to vote, these were people who went to all these lengths to fight for their rights. Those are the parts that we miss in the education scenario.”

Gilmore knows because he missed that side of history himself. Two summers ago after completing his doctorate at the University of Washington he realized students need an updated syllabus on the civil rights movement. They need one that entails talking with people who were there. The idea was born out of a road trip with his dissertation adviser and two classmates. Their plan involved meeting with their professor’s former advisees and visiting some of the nation’s ballparks. They would visit Selma, Alabama, along the way. But everything changed the night they drove into Birmingham.

“This is where [police] turned fire hoses on children marchers,” Gilmore says. “This is where they sicced dogs on the children marchers. This is where the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist church was.”

At 11 p.m. they visited Kelly Ingram Park, a memorial that aims to capture that savagery. Statues of protesters cowering from fire hoses. Visitors pass through a metal walkway where snarling dogs are poised to bite. They were standing on sacred ground. “It just floored us how we were four academics — intelligent, well-rounded, invested in American history — and how little we knew,” Gilmore says. “Because the classic [narrative] is Rosa Parks sat down and King stood up and everything was hunky dory. But decades of serious work was done in the face of violence and overt racism that came in the form, not only of people in society, but in the system itself, violently treating these people for wanting their rights.”

That late night visit changed the course of the trip. The next morning they traveled into Selma where Martin Luther King Jr. led 25,000 nonviolent demonstrators across the Edmund Pettus Bridge en route to Montgomery to petition Gov. George Wallace for voting rights. The scholars began asking how people remembered the civil rights movement. They devised a new trip itinerary that scrapped baseball games for historic stops.

From Selma, the scholars visited Little Rock to see where the “Little Rock Nine” first integrated the school district under the protection of the 101st Airborne Division. They traveled to Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were shot and killed in 1964. Everywhere they stopped they made contact with locals.

Jason Gilmore and civil rights activist Bob Zellner walk near Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of the first walk 50 years ago.

Jason Gilmore and civil rights activist Bob Zellner walk near Edmund Pettus Bridge, the site of the first walk 50 years ago.

“The power of this was we were talking with people,” Gilmore says. “We weren’t just going to monuments. We were going into people’s stores and asking, do you have any connection to this?”

And people spoke up. They shared how their fathers sat on the front porch with a shotgun in case the Ku Klux Klan came. “We all came back changed people,” Gilmore says. “You can tell someone about this, but to take them there and to have them engage with the people, is a really powerful thing.”

Afterward the group knew this was an experience they needed to take on the road. Under the direction of Professor David Domke — Gilmore’s adviser at the University of Washington — the scholars began organizing multi-generational, multi-racial pilgrimages to the South. Some stops included spots where original freedom riders — people who rode together on buses, waiting to be arrested, or worse, for sitting next to a person of different skin color — were met with violence over the very idea.

GIVING STUDENTS THE SKILLS TO DISCUSS RACIAL BARRIERS

In 2014, when Gilmore was a first-year professor at USU, he was determined to bring students with him to Selma for the 50th anniversary celebration of the historic march. Gilmore studies human difference and national identity discourse and teaches courses in intercultural and global communications. He tries to equip his students with the skills to navigate cultural and racial barriers.

“Issues of human difference are tricky,” he says. “Race is a taboo topic because a lot of people don’t have the tools to talk intelligently and thoughtfully about it, so a lot of people don’t talk about it.”

Gilmore wants students to be able to talk about difficult things. He wants them to have the cultural sensitivity needed to communicate effectively with people who don’t share the same background. So do educators at USU. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Department of Languages, Philosophy and Global Communication established a scholarship to help defray the cost for students to attend the pilgrimage that will be funded through 2018.

A view of the Edmund Pettus Bridge from 50 years ago when the march occured.

This is how the Edmund Pettus Bridge looked when the first march was conceived 50 years ago.

The first two scholarships were awarded to Miranda Vance,’15, and Adrian Bustamante,’16, who packed their bags in early March for a nine day sojourn to Selma with Gilmore and 49 other travelers from the University of Washington and Bellevue College. The group called themselves “52 Strong,” however, the experience began long before anyone stepped foot on the bus.

The 52 Strong engaged in a series of bonding exercises in the months leading up to the trip. For the USU cohort, that meant road tripping to Seattle to build cohesion with the rest of the group. The idea was that to be able to go deep with the material on the trip the 52 Strong had to be comfortable with one another.

“If you're going to be a part of this you have to know that this is intense and you have to visit it with a lot of care and respect for others,” Gilmore says. “We prepare people for the intensity of this trip.”

Bustamante admits he was skeptical that the emotional intensity was being oversold. Once the pilgrimage began, he struggled to find his place. Some members of the 52 Strong expressed feeling guilty about events that happened in the past. Some cried. Bustamante couldn’t quite relate.

“At first I kind of felt like it was more of a black and white issue,” he says. “I am Hispanic. My family didn’t ever have slaves. I understood why I was there, but I felt like I was on the outside. I sort of wondered where do I fit in all of this?”

In a way, he has always felt like he existed on the periphery. Bustamante grew up in Sugar City, Idaho, a tiny town that is more than 90 percent white and majority Mormon. Bustamante is Mexican-American and Catholic. He has been navigating cultural differences his whole life. However, after enrolling in Gilmore’s class he found himself arriving early to find a seat. He felt locked in.

As president of USU’s Latino Student Union and a member of the Psi Sigma Phi — the first fraternity chartered to celebrate multiculturalism — a lot of Bustamante’s work involves education and outreach. That means reaching out to those who are different from him and trying to include them. It means acknowledging and respecting differences. Bustamante applied for one of the slots on the civil rights pilgrimage to see these principles in action. Everything came together for him in Selma.

“We had the opportunity to march as they did across the bridge. It wasn’t just on the sidewalk. They shut the bridge down,” Bustamante said. “You would get to the middle of the bridge and look back and see all these people back to Main Street. And then you’d look forward and see all these people in front of you.”

UPDATED COMMUNICATION THROUGH TECHNOLOGY

The 1965 march from Selma was not a one-day affair. It was part of a mass demonstration organized over the course of two years by groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Dallas County Voters League to register black voters in the South. The voter drive was launched in the wake of the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that killed four choirgirls. Efforts were concentrated in Selma because black registration was low due to discriminatory practices and because confrontations by police were expected. Organizers knew the entire world would be watching.

“The reason the civil rights movement was so successful in the 1960s was the advent of mass communication technologies,” Gilmore says. “People had heard about black-and-white-only drinking fountains for years. People knew about lynchings in the South. But when they saw those pictures in their living room, that was when they started to not be able to live with it.”

On March 7, unarmed demonstrators planned to march from Selma to Montgomery to protest the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson, a church deacon shot by state police while protecting his mother from an officer’s night stick weeks earlier. As the protesters crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge they were met by state troopers and deputized members of the Ku Klux Klan. Activists including John Lewis and Amelia Boynton were bludgeoned on the bridge. Images of “Bloody Sunday” were published in newspapers around the world. Photos of Boynton’s unconscious body brought the civil rights movement into the homes of everyday Americans. Evidence of the violence had gone global.

On March 21, the marchers departed from Selma and made it safely across the bridge. They walked shoulder to shoulder. Blacks walked. Whites walked. Christians walked. Jews walked. Together they walked carrying American flags and singing various hymns. Fifty years later Bustamante stood in Selma as tens of thousands waited to hear President Barack Obama speak. The Edmund Pettus Bridge is named for a former Alabama senator, Confederate general and Grand Dragon of the Alabama KKK. Bustamante says it serves as a reminder of the things we need to reckon with in our nation’s history.

“You don’t have to be proud of everything that has happened in the United States — we just have to own it,” he says. “You need to remind yourself of those things so they don’t happen again.”

One group of activists at the celebration caught Bustamante’s attention. Standing amidst the crowd was Dolores Huerta, the famous labor leader who founded the National Farm Workers Association with César Chávez. At 84 she was still making noise. Bustamante met her and purchased a T-shirt and sign to carry that reminded him of rallies he had participated in back in Idaho. That afternoon Bustamante crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge carrying a sign reading: Keep families together. He noticed people giving supportive thumbs up. Bustamante realized he did belong on the bridge.

“I still have that sign,” he says.

REGULAR UPR RADIO BROADCASTS FROM THE ROAD

Throughout the trip the USU cohort contributed dispatches to Utah Public Radio. They interviewed some early civil rights activists including Bob Zellner, who joined SNCC as a college student. He rode on the bus with the 52 Strong and shared his involvement with the movement. “Several of us went to meet with Dr. King and as a result of that we were asked to leave school and we were threatened with arrest by the police,” he told them.

Zellner explained that standing up for what was right meant sometimes feeling as though you were part of the moral minority. And it doesn’t come free. He recalled visiting some of the injured freedom riders in the hospital. Some said their freedom ride was over. “Those freedom riders who were bruised and battered and broken, said, ‘Oh no, as soon as we can we’ll get back on the bus,’” Zellner said. “We said, ‘If they treat you like that in Alabama, when you get to Mississippi they are going to kill you.’ And they said ‘We know. We’ve written our wills.’ So that was our example. And so what I ask young people today, what are you willing to take a risk for? Is there anything that you are willing to die for? And whatever that is, that’s going to be your passion.”

When Gilmore was 9, his family moved to Guadalajara, Mexico from the United States. He did not want to go. Gilmore’s father tried soothing him with these words: “You do not understand it right now and I am not expecting you to, but over time, you are going to really understand this is a gift I’m giving you.”

Over time, Gilmore did. Learning Spanish and having Mexican friends gave him rich life experiences, but also forced him to recognize the relative power he has in the world simply by owning a U.S. passport. As a teenager he realized at any time he could just pack a bag and leave. His friends didn’t have the same option.

“I think one of the things that is most powerful for me is that I have a choice to care about this stuff or not,” he says. “I’m white. I’m male. I’m heterosexual. I’ve got everything in place just to ride it on out. But that’s the thing. Some people don’t. And that’s what moves me. Any time I get a pang of fear that’s what settles back in and why we’re doing this work.”

Gilmore doesn’t expect his students to become social activists after the pilgrimage. He wants them to return affected by the experience and to move through the world with intention and consideration. “We are educators, not activists,” he says. “We are saying now that you have been steeped in this and you’ve been exposed to this; what does it mean for you? How does this inform who you are as an individual and where you are moving forward?”

CIVIL RIGHTS HISTORY FIRST HAND

For Miranda Vance, the experience underscored her desire to work in a humanitarian capacity. “Bettering lives was my end goal,” she says from her office in Salt Lake City where she serves as an Americorp volunteer with the city’s Office of Community Innovation and Refugee Services Office. She works on two special projects addressing issues of assault and sexual violence in refugee women’s populations and another that assists refugees who want to open small businesses.

“It’s bringing a lot of culture into Salt Lake City, which helps everybody, but it’s also a source of gainful employment and creates jobs for a lot of the refugee population,” Vance says.

During her senior year at USU she enrolled in Gilmore’s class and learned about the opportunity to go on the civil rights pilgrimage to Selma with him and a few dozen strangers from around the country. Her knowledge of the civil rights movement prior to college was limited to the highlight reel.

“I knew who Martin Luther King Jr. was, I did know some of the bigger moments of his life, his religious background and some of his speeches,” Vance says. “As far as other civil rights heroes go, of course I knew of Rosa Parks and names like Emmitt Till rang a bell, but I couldn’t have told their stories.”

When she applied she knew if selected it would require a different type of commitment. The emotional intensity would require growth. The first stop on the pilgrimage that really affected her was the high school where the Little Rock Nine first integrated the school system — a full three years after the Supreme Court banned segregation.

“I was 20 during the trip,” Vance says. “I felt I could relate to people who were my age, people who were willing to sacrifice so much to get an education. These kids were brilliant. And they had goals they knew they couldn’t reach with the education they had. I value education so much.”

At USU, Vance studied global communication. It combined her love of history, culture, politics and language. In Selma she witnessed as her interests converged in a historic speech by the nation’s first black president as he stood beside some of the original demonstrators who made his candidacy possible.

Crowds of students, including USU students, marching in a city to honor the Selma March

USU students participated in the 50-year anniversary of the Selma March led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The event gave them more understanding of what it means to 'still dream.'

“Selma was clearly a life-changer,” Vance says. “There was no denying that feel of community and shared purpose. We got to march next to Amelia Boynton who just recently passed away. To be two feet away from one of the country’s heroes … and to be part of that group of 40,000 people to hear the president speak live. I found his speech incredibly empowering and hopeful.”

He spoke of the accumulation of history that converged on the bridge a half-century ago — a “clash of wills” vying to change the course of the country. He described an America that is a work in progress that requires engagement by its people to continue shaping its future. “If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done,” Obama said. “For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there’s new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.”

Fifty years ago when Dr. King embarked on the 54-mile journey he knew it was never going to be easy. The event marked the country’s reckoning with Jim Crow segregation and its racist past. He understood that the movement was never going to end once they reached Montgomery.

“The end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience,” he told marchers after they arrived in the state capital. “I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’ I come to say to you this afternoon however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long."

CHANGES ONE'S 'FRAME OF MIND'

Three days before the 50th anniversary of Selma, the U.S. Justice Department issued a report of its investigation into law enforcement practices in Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager. The report unveiled discriminatory practices and unconstitutional policing practices that undermined the trust of its citizens.

Three months after the anniversary, a 21-year-old white supremacist sat down with members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston for Bible study. That night he killed nine parishioners. The man told police his intent was to incite a race war. The long march to freedom continues.

After the pilgrimage, Vance and Bustamante participated in a public panel and many class visits at USU to discuss the experience. Vance feels she is more knowledgeable about civil rights and feels she can confidently engage in conversation about topics like race relations. It prepared her to work with refugee populations in Salt Lake City where most are people of color struggling to make it as a minority in the United States, she says.

“It just put me in a perfect frame of mind to be more compassionate,” Vance says. “If I took one big thing away it is how all these social issues we are grappling with today — gender issues, race, education opportunity, gay rights — are all interrelated. I learned the importance of commonality and working together.”

She sees how easy it is to divide our collective capacity by focusing on our own pet interests even as it undermines the work of others. “If we take our passions and work hard without taking away from what others are doing, we could get a lot more done,” Vance says. “As hokey and cheesy as it might sound, it’s important to really remember this idea of humanity. We're all people. We're trying as best we can."

 

Aggregating the Puzzle

It was a natural disaster made worse because states were still recovering from the economic fallout of the Great Depression. In “Utah’s Great Drought of 1934,” historian Leonard J. Arrington credits the swift organization of state and federal leadership and the “cooperative spirit of the people” for mitigating the suffering. In short, it could have been worse.

Professor Douglas Jackson-Smith discusses the Logan Canyon canal diversion.

Professor Douglas Jackson-Smith discusses the Logan Canyon canal diversion.

Earlier this year NASA climatologists predicted a mega-drought could occur in the American West within the next 30 years. Climate models already project Utah will experience reduced snowpack in the decades ahead. For one of the driest and fastest growing states in the nation the demand for water will likely only increase. However, sociologists at Utah State University argue that is just part of a larger narrative about the future of water in Utah.

“It’s objectively not the case that everyone faces the same water challenges even in a state that has a meta narrative of an over-arching problem,” says Douglas Jackson-Smith, a co-principal investigator for the state’s largest water sustainability study. “It’s not that it’s unimportant, or not the main story or the big story, but it’s not everyone’s story. And it’s not the whole story. I think the iUTAH project and our social science research is trying to address that complexity and understand the diversity of our water situation.”

The innovative Urban Transitions and Aridregion Hydro-Sustainability (iUTAH) project is a five year, $20 million multi-disciplinary research and training grant awarded to the state in 2012 by the National Science Foundation. It spans three watersheds and involves every university across Utah in an effort to examine water issues affecting the region.

Imagine trying to assemble an enormous puzzle without having a picture of what it’s supposed to look like in the end. Some people will focus on assembling the edge pieces. Others might organize pieces into piles of specific textures or color. Over time patterns will emerge and all of the pieces will start to connect. That’s what it’s like trying to tease out the complexities of the water system. It requires building bridges across disciplines to see how the various elements fit.

“I hope that in 10 years one of the things we are known for is picking apart the urban environment and identifying some really meaningful dimensions,” Jackson-Smith says. “We already do that in the natural environment ad nauseam. We tend to be really good at attending to all the really fine-grained nuances of micro climates and soil classifications, but when it comes to the characterizing of urban landscapes — the human and built side of it — we're hardly scratching the surface.”

Jackson-Smith is a rural sociologist who explores the people side of complex natural systems. The human aspect of the water system has not historically been as rigorously studied as the hydrology and ecology components. But devising a strategy for managing water requires an understanding of water users — who they are and what they believe — and the external drivers that constrain their behavior such as the housing development where one lives and the social structure that influences one’s everyday decisions. He wants to know why people do what they do and what enables them to do things differently.

“That’s thinking like a sociologist,” he says.

His research involves studying how demographic changes and the various forms of urban development may become important structural drivers in the water system. For instance, two rapidly growing and understudied segments in the Salt Lake County and Wasatch County housing markets include renters and residents of multi-unit buildings. Both groups tend to have less authority over water decisions than homeowners and single-family home dwellers. Without examining how these groups differ in how they perceive water issues and potential solutions, projections about the future of water may be inaccurate.

“I’m just really interested in aggregating the puzzle and getting a clear-eyed vision about how we’re changing as a society,” Jackson-Smith says. “How is our built environment changing and how is that going to play into how this transition unfolds? I don’t hear a lot of decision makers and public discussion around those issues of differentiating urban growth.”

AGRICULTURE VS. URBAN NEEDS

The iUTAH project focuses on transitioning urban water systems with the aim of providing water managers and local leaders with data to make informed decisions. Jackson-Smith argues the dialogue needs to extend beyond per capita figures of water use and generic policy prescriptions. Water footprints vary at the parcel level and using average numbers may oversimplify problems and thwart the development of meaningful solutions. He suspects devising such solutions will likely require connecting two disparate conversations about water in the state: water for agriculture and water for urban users.

“It’s just the third rail of Utah politics,” he says. “I think part of the reason we don’t have that conversation here is that we don’t want to have a mean, dragged down fight over water with agriculture.”

Interestingly, neither do the majority of the population Jackson-Smith has been surveying the past two years. Over 80 percent of urban residents surveyed report that they do not want to take agriculture’s water.

“Ag has a very special place in their hearts,” Jackson-Smith says. “I don’t want to take Ag’s water, but I think it’s happening and in ways that are not thought through and as effective as they could be. It would help if we could find a safe space where farm irrigators and urban water planners could openly discuss how to co-manage their water systems to handle projected population growth.”

He suspects changes in water law and water markets could create a framework that allows farmers to be rewarded for using less.

Jackson-Smith himself has a small farm in Richmond. He believes reducing water consumption in the agricultural community “is not a heavy lift,” but an impossible one to broach without a mechanism that provides everyone with the cover to come to the table. However, he predicts changes will come in the state over the next two decades whether the conversations occur or not.

“I am much more of a believer and predictor that it’s going to be a rugged imperfect transition; how rough the transition is will probably depend on how receptive our decision makers are to information that we might be able to generate,” he says. “Maybe the goal of social scientists is just to characterize the system, not change it or fix it, but at least understand it, to find out where the levers are that make a difference.”

CHALLENGING ASSUMPTIONS

Courtney Flint stands before a gorgeous waterfall in Spring Hollow Campground in Logan Canyon.

Courtney Flint stands before a gorgeous waterfall in Spring Hollow Campground in Logan Canyon.

To find out what some of those levers are, he and Courtney Flint, an associate professor of sociology at Utah State, have been asking Utahns what they think about water. “Utah State is a land-grant university. We can help with this,” Flint says from her desk in Old Main. “Our mission really is not just to send information out to the public, but to be mindful of what the needs are for the state and the region. How do we know if we don’t ask?”

In 2014, she and Jackson-Smith created a household survey administered in 23 neighborhoods across three counties in Utah. Researchers used a format designed to increase participant response rates called the drop-off pick-up method, which involves going door-to-door to deliver and collect surveys. It also requires a lot of manpower so Utah State undergraduates were deployed to help collect data. “The students were the vanguard. They were knocking on doors,” she says.

She believes getting undergraduates involved in research is critical for optimizing their educational experience and enhancing the creativity of each project. Flint has already hired more than two dozen students to work on iUTAH projects. For instance, a team of students conducted interviews with people in Logan and Salt Lake City about the value of local mountains. Afterward they transcribed and coded the interviews and turned them into a video summary. Much of the conversation revealed how the mountains are valued for recreational purposes, but also as the water tower for local communities.

“The students were just incredible. They brought so much innovation to the research I think we really pushed some new boundaries,” Flint says.

Instead of using traditional charts she felt a digital narrative would be a more powerful vehicle to explain the results of the study, but her students figured out how to execute the idea. Flint pulls up a video on her computer screen and clicks play. A young man’s voice fills the room. “What brings you up here today,” he asks study participants along the Logan River. People spoke of the benefits of water: It’s calming. It’s essential to life. And we need to conserve it.

“You didn’t hear my voice in this,” Flint says. “The students made it on the basis of what they were learning and were careful to be representative of all the themes they were hearing.”

Flint joined the faculty in 2013 to work on the iUTAH project. She studies how communities value natural resources and perceive threats to them such as drought and fire. However, if people don’t feel vulnerable to a particular threat, they will not make behavioral changes that could mediate risks. In other words, knowing about an environmental problem is not enough; people need to feel they have something to lose. But those aren’t always easy conversations.

“You can’t even get to actions and solutions if you can’t find out what we hold in common, what we value,” Flint says. “It’s kind of like instead of asking ‘what is the risk’ it is asking ‘what is at risk?’”

In recent years she’s flipped her line of questioning to start from a more positive place. She thinks more in terms of wellbeing than risk and focuses more on values.

“I am impressed with what a tool that has been in research to open a conversation,” Flint says.

She may be new to Utah, but Flint is no stranger to the West. She grew up in Montana and spent her undergraduate years studying in Arizona. Her relationship to water has always been complicated — just like it is for most Westerners.

“Water is just a quintessential part of the lived experience,” she says. “It shapes our landscapes. It is highly valued experientially for recreation. It’s about spiritual issues. So it’s not just about something we use. It’s not just a resource. I think in science today, especially water science, we tend to have kind of narrowed the scope and we look at water as a problem. We look at water as a risk, as a threat to our wellbeing as in either having not enough or too much.”

She has started using a more exploratory approach to uncover the depths of people’s experiences with water. For instance, the household survey she and Jackson-Smith created is a massive data set they’re still analyzing over a year later. Over the summer they completed general summary reports and found that people are generally more supportive of a range of policies such as mandatory water restrictions and stricter efficiency standards for new development. Flint has been following up with participants to understand what they meant when they ticked boxes. One can generalize patterns from survey data, but Flint isn’t so sure it captures the complexity of people’s concerns about water.

“I’m finding with the qualitative work we get richer feelings and a little bit more why people are thinking what they are thinking,” she says. “I want to challenge some of the scientific assumptions that people are just gross overusers of water. That they’re ignorant. And if we could just tell them what to think they would do the right thing. Well, it’s really more complicated than that.”

STRIKING A BALANCE

Andrea Armstrong, ’15, has witnessed some of that complexity in the field studying the human side of water management as a doctoral student in sociology at Utah State. Her piece of the puzzle involves exploring how local authorities work together.

“A lot of research on Western water has taken the very large-scale perspective … and those tend to involve state and federal agencies,” Armstrong says. “They make big dams, big infrastructure and while those types of policies and programs do set the stage in which local water decisions are made, the day-to-day activities of water management occur in our city and local irrigation organizations.”

Her work focuses on how these organizations make decisions and examines their points of connection in the water system. Armstrong’s interest in soggy places stems from a childhood spent knee deep in streams in upstate New York. She found herself drawn to studying Utah’s riparian zones once she arrived in Cache Valley, which often means the local canal system.

The canals were the first irrigation system in Cache Valley. As municipalities have grown some have connected to the irrigation systems, which can serve as a way to drain storm water. But this adds a new layer of complication, Armstrong says. When cities lay more concrete it can intensify storm runoff and change the water flow in canals as additional discharge is connected to irrigation systems. Managing changes to the irrigation system requires local coordination.

She has spoken with more than 75 water managers around the state to understand local water management operations. One of her primary research findings has been that, despite the reputation of water being a contentious issue out West, that storyline often falls apart in everyday practice.

“If you think about our irrigation systems in Utah, they all hang together on coordination and cooperation,” Armstrong says. “We are able to convey water from the top of Providence Canyon to Nibley through a series of agreements and a real sincere effort to work together. While it’s a hard topic to approach people about, once you see how people are connected within the water system the conflict fades away quite a bit.”

She attributes much of the success to the connections the people in charge of the infrastructure have with one another and willingness to work through challenges that arise. Through her interviews with water managers she has found that uncertainties such as changes in flow due to climate change throw wrenches into their planning efforts. However, they are responding with a desire to increase system efficiencies. This often means changes in infrastructure such as making improvements to pipelines to prevent evaporation or seepage. However, plugging leaks may affect local ecology near canals and wetlands.

Armstrong admits “it doesn’t come without difficulty.”

This spring she starts a new position as an assistant professor of environmental studies at Lafayette College, but she will remain tied to western water research. She will continue examining how local water management organizations adopt infrastructure changes to meet growing needs. As Armstrong considers the future she finds herself hopeful about the state of water in Utah.

“We have great scientists at the Utah Climate Center who are thinking about what climate change is going to mean for Utah. So we have information,” she says. “The other great part about our water system is that we built it. We do have some control over water once it’s here and we can design a system to meet our future needs. The complicated part is deciding what those needs are and striking a balance between natural and human uses. If we can come up with a plan and if we can try to foresee some unintended consequences of water changes, then I am confident that things will be okay. Humans have the ability to adapt. We always have.”

The Search for the Story

On one side of the room is an exhibit on human body modification. Tattoos and henna. Lip plates and neck rings. A replica skull from Peru, where the ancients sometimes practiced cranial binding — the effect of which, in a modern context, is positively alienesque.

The doors of the Museum Anthropology has vistors coming and going regularly.

The Museum of Anthropology on the second floor of Old Main gets visited by about 10,000 people annually.

Turn 120 degrees counterclockwise and you’re in Africa. An animal-skin drum that was made for King Edward Fredrick Muteesa II of Buganda. A wooden circumcision mask from the Bemba people of Zambia. Zulu beads in tans and reds and blacks.

Another quarter spin, another part of the world. Textiles from South America.

Over here, an exhibit on the afterlife in ancient Egypt. Over here, the history of the people of the Great Basin.

If you’re looking for rhyme or reason or flow or fusion in this place, it might be helpful to know this: That’s not the point of this tiny museum. For this is a place of imagination, creativity and opportunity — where anthropology students come to learn to tell stories.

Some 10,000 people are expected to visit the Utah State University Museum of Anthropology this year, but the point of these exhibits isn’t just to be exhibits. In this way, these display cases are like academic theses. What matters is not the bound volumes collecting dust on a shelf. And sometimes, it doesn’t even matter so much who cracks the bindings of those tomes.

What matters is the learning, exploration and ideas upon which those volumes were built in the first place.

That’s something most people don’t see when they visit a museum and rarely think about when they consider, for instance, how a primitive artifact might have made its way from the ancient past to a place behind glass. Archeological unearthing is just the tip of the process of discovery. The brunt of that process happens later. Sometimes much later.

And that, as it turns out, is what is inspiring the students who work and volunteer in this museum to dedicate their lives to discovery. To take us on trips from Peru to Buganda. From the Zulu Nation to the Great Basin.

CHOOSING WHAT STORY TO TELL

Anthropology student Jesse Magliari delicately labels a collection of stone tools.

Anthropology student Jesse Magliari delicately labels a collection of stone tools.

It’s a school morning in Old Main and students awaiting their 9a.m. classes are sprawled out in the hallways, textbooks open, smart phones flashing.

It’s a gauntlet of arms and legs, backpacks and coffee mugs. The hallways buzz.

But in the south turret of this lovely old building, everything is still and quiet. Everything on this morning, that is, but Molly Boeka Cannon, who is always excited to show off the museum at which she has been the curator for two years.

You could stand in here for hours, soaking in what is offered, but a tour of this one-room museum doesn’t take long. And besides, Cannon is eager to provide a peek at the place where these exhibits are born.

Around the corner and through a locked door, in the museum’s collections room, Cannon retrieves a box. There, arranged neatly in plastic bags, are coins and ornaments and small clay vials from ancient Greece — part of a collection from Utah State history professor Frances Titchener.

“These are so amazing,” Cannon says, “but the trick is to show not just how cool these things are but to also tie them into a theme. There’s a story in here and the students have to craft that in a way that is interesting but also informative.”

That takes a lot of research, Cannon says. It’s unclear at this time, for example, whether all of the items in this box are part of one story, or several.

The coins might be part of an exhibit on the way images on currency are used to convey relative levels of power and prestige and how that changes over time; such an exhibit wouldn’t just be about ancient Greece — it could tie into an ongoing debate in the modern United States about substituting presidential images on American currency with images of other individuals, particularly women.

On the other hand, those same coins might be a starting point for an exhibit on what an ancient Greek citizen might need to go about his or her daily business — which might be an interesting thing to contemplate in a modern world in which the must-have contents of our purses and pockets are constantly changing.

Anthropology students get to choose the story they want to tell — while learning how to balance their ambitions with budgets, space and the availability of artifacts.

“It’s definitely experiential learning,” Cannon says. “They come up with the idea. They do the research. They come up with the design and they put it together.”

Because the USU Anthropology Museum is small and has a budget to match its size, the students become quite adept at identifying a diverse array of resources. And to that end, Cannon says, a university campus is a virtual treasure chest.

“I think of us as pirates,” she says. “We steal stuff from other departments and use it how we want.”

And not just artifacts — but the tools anthropologists need to engage in their work. By way of example, she says, over in the Office of Research and Graduate Studies there is an entire center dedicated to microscopy — where students can learn to use infinitesimal evidence to make monumental discoveries.

“What’s nice is that, at our university, if you know where to look there are so many little pockets of resources,” Cannon says.

MUSEUM OR GRANDMA'S ATTIC?

The life-sized mammoth who resides in a mural in USU's Anthropology Museum watches over  the museum's many corners of history.

The life-sized mammoth who resides in a mural in USU's Anthropology Museum watches over the museum's many corners of history.

Over time the students who learn to build exhibits at this museum become confident in their ability to do so elsewhere. That’s what Reigan Ware has done. The one-time English major — who on a whim took a museum development class “and never went back” — spent four years in the anthropology museum before graduating in the summer of 2015 with a degree in anthropology. Even before she had graduated, she was balancing her studies and work at the museum with jobs and internships in several other places, including the American West Heritage Center in Wellsville and the Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum on Logan’s historic Main Street.

The latter place, Ware says, was a bit of a “grandma’s attic” when she arrived — and the staff there knew it. There were treasures here, they told her. There were stories to be told.

But first, there were discoveries to be made.

There was, for instance, a wooden bed. It was a pretty piece of woodworking but, alongside several other pioneer-era beds scattered across the museum’s three floors, it wasn’t remarkable.

But it was, Ware says, the one-time property of Hezekiah Thatcher, one of the founding pioneers of Cache County. And it had been made by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ larger-than-life president and prophet, Brigham Young.

“I thought, ‘oh my gosh, this is here?’” Ware recalls. “Most people wouldn’t have even known. It’s discoveries like that that can help people relate in a different way.”

Ware says that’s what she learned to do at the Utah State Museum of Anthropology — making discoveries, big and small, “to bring these stories out of the past and put them in people’s lives.”

BEYOND THE FIELD WORK

Like a lot of people, Emily King had long assumed that the exciting part of anthropology came during the archeological discovery of artifacts. And when she attended a field school course with Utah State archeology professor David Byers, she got to see first-hand how exciting it could be.

But she also learned there was a lot of work to be done before an archeologist can pluck an artifact from the past and put it on display for others to see.

“When I started it was like, ‘what? we’re not just digging?’” she laughs. “There’s so much more to it.”

There was mapping and mathematics. There was geography and geometry and geology. King enjoyed all of those things, “but it was definitely good for me to see that there’s a lot more to archeology than just finding great finds,” she says. “You’ve got to look around and you’ve got to know what you’re looking for.”

That experience helped her appreciate what she found in the Museum of Anthropology’s collections room and also got to experience as an intern in the immense collections areas of the sprawling Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City.

“In the back is where you really get the magic,” she says. “And that’s the cool part for the people who work in museums. They get to take these artifacts that have been found and continue the process of discovery — because even after that initial discovery, there’s still so much more to learn.”

There will be for many years to come.

Take, for instance, the shelf of six cardboard boxes that an anthropology undergraduate named Amanda Cook recently began sorting through. The boxes, the result of a lifetime of searching by an amateur archeologist from Logan named Bud Peterson, were donated to the university in 1982 — and museum staff members say it doesn’t appear the fascinating collection of arrowheads, hand tools and other artifacts have been much examined since they were taken from the ground in the 1950s and '60s.

“It’s like we’re unearthing it all over again,” Cook says.

At this point, it’s not clear where many of the objects were found. Some are labeled with general locations across Utah — tiny white paper slips read “Cook Cave,” and “Promontory Mountain”— but many have no labels at all. The museum’s staff members say they have a choice, in times like these, to be frustrated or intrigued. They’ve chosen to be intrigued.

Cook unveils what appears to be an ancient stone-and-bone scraper. “Molly!” she cries out. “What do you think about this?”

Cannon takes the tool in her hands and leans in, so close her nose nearly touches the shiny bone handle. It’s almost glistening in the light and that gives the museum curator pause.

Is the tool real? A replica? Did Peterson or someone else, along the way, cover it with something to preserve it? What is the story here? “It’s hard to piece it back together because we just don’t know,” Cannon says. “When you take it out of the ground, you’re taking a big part of the story away.”

But if there’s one thing at this museum that seems even more enduring than the artifacts, it’s hope — and Cannon notes with a smile that her staff has just learned some of Peterson’s journals are archived at Utah State’s Merrill Cazier Library.

“Who knows what we might find in there,” she says.

Behind her, the museum’s bilingual program coordinator, Annie Gamez, is preparing a traveling display of Mayan pottery. At the end of a long table, student Jesse Magliari is delicately labeling a collection of stone tools.

Over here, an exhibit on Chinese railroad workers in North America. Over here, a fledgling display of art and artifacts from Papau New Guinea. And, over here, an empty exhibit case — just waiting for the next discovery.

Alumni Spotlight: A Long Way from Peoa

Todd Jorgenson has just returned from touring the new dental clinic at the Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix and he’s having trouble containing his enthusiasm.

Dr. Todd Jorgenson smiling.

Dr. Todd Jorgenson, the official periodontist for the Phoenix Suns, takes much of his inspiration from his philosophy training in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

“There’s this cool track that runs through the office,” he says, almost breathless with excitement. “And the offices are glass, so you can see what all the dentists and surgeons are doing — like we’re on display.”

The official periodontist for the National Basketball Association’s Phoenix Suns franchise is just getting started. “There’s an aquarium running through the whole thing — an aquarium! — and the whole roof is glass!”

Jorgenson has opened several restorative dental surgery centers in Arizona since he first arrived in the Valley of the Sun in 2003. He’s got another in Texas. But this one — part of a medical center that will serve NBA players, staff, families and downtowners in Arizona’s largest city — has got his blood pumping.

This is a long way from Peoa, the tiny mink farming town in Utah’s Summit County where Jorgenson grew up on a small farm with five siblings and “who knows how many cows, horses, pigs, deer, elk, bobcats and wolves.”

Jorgenson’s not shy about talking about his success. The Utah State University graduate is even willing to flaunt it, a bit, when there’s a reason. When he returned to Logan in April to give a guest lecture about “getting ahead,” for instance, he surprised a few fortunate students with parting gifts they won’t soon forget.

“Could you use an iPad Mini?” he asked the first person who answered one of his questions.

“Um...yes?” the student responded.

“Here you go,” Jorgenson said, handing the student a new tablet computer — one of about a half dozen he gave out that day.

A bit over the top? Consider this: The people Jorgenson was addressing were mostly students in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. And almost all of them have heard — again and again — that their education, as one state legislator put it a few years back, amounts to “a degree to nowhere,” especially when it comes to making money.

Those in the humanities often counter these notions by arguing that they’re not as worried about making a difference in their pocketbooks as they are about making a difference in the world. But Jorgenson — a 1996 CHaSS graduate with an undergraduate degree in philosophy — stands as stark proof that it doesn’t need to be an either-or proposition.

Foremost, Jorgenson says, the iPads were intended to get the students’ attention — “I’ve been a college student on a Friday afternoon,” he says — but he also wanted to instill in them some confidence that the liberal arts education they’re getting at Utah State can lead absolutely “anywhere”— and even to money, if that’s what they want.

“A career can be extremely fulfilling, fun, mostly enjoyable, expansive and provide for your needs very well — and even help out many other people,” he says. Jorgenson has been able to do that, too — among other volunteer work, he provides free dental care and implant surgery to victims of domestic violence as part of the non-profit Give Back a Smile and offers free dental care to those who cannot afford it through a group called Dentistry from the Heart.

“They come around 4 a.m., get in a line and there are about five of us in a clinic and we see patients on a first-come-first-serve basis,” Jorgenson says. “We work all day until our hands are ready to fall off.”

PHILOSOPHY, THEN AND NOW

C.J. Metz, a Mesa dentist who hosts the free dental care events, calls Jorgenson “brilliant.”

“He worked on my own mother, my father and my sister,” Metz says.

But Jorgenson says his skills as a dental implant specialist aren’t what sets him apart.

“I am pretty good at my job — obviously the work has to be good or I wouldn’t have lasted long,” he says. “But there are a lot of people out there who are every bit as good as I am.”

So why does his name keep winding up on all of Arizona’s “top dentist” lists? Why all the new offices? And how does someone get put on an NBA team’s medical roster?

Jorgenson says it all traces back to his days as an undergraduate at Utah State. Even then he was pretty sure he’d eventually attend some sort of medical school program, but when it came time to choose a major, he says, he fell in love with the college’s tight-knit band of philosophers.

Professors like Richard Sherlock and Kent Robson, he says, pushed him to consider ethics, politics, religion and the very meaning of life in ways he wouldn’t have if he’d focused on biology — the go-to undergraduate degree for many pursuing a future career in medicine.

It was during his time in the department’s small discussion-based classes and one-on-one meetings with his professors, Jorgenson says, that he developed the skills that are the real secret to his success.

“It’s all about connecting with people,” he says. “When you understand that a big part of this business is referrals from other docs, it’s clear why that’s important.”

Jorgenson says he can talk about the latest journal articles with the best of them, “but that’s really not what most people want to talk about.” Instead, he says, they want to talk about sports, politics, religion, cars — and yes, even philosophy.

“I can sit down and talk about anything with anyone,” he says. “I think that’s been the real difference maker.”

Metz agrees.

“When I watch him work with people, I honestly get a bit envious of his communication skills,” Metz says.

It’s not unusual for specialists like Jorgenson to approach dentists like Metz to try to build relationships. Most of the time, Metz says, those relationships are based on mutual interest and backgrounds in dentistry.

Those people might be good dentists and great human beings, Metz says, “but going to lunch can be painful.” When he and Jorgenson meet up, though, “we have to try to remember to talk about dentistry.”

Steve Frost, an east Phoenix endodontist, says Jorgenson truly is a master of communication.

“It really is apparent from the minute you meet Todd that no matter what the subject is and no matter who you are, he can be on your level in a matter of seconds,” Frost says. “Just like that, he can turn you into his biggest fan and instantly it feels like he’s your biggest fan, too. That’s a real talent he has—the ability to relate to people and understand them, not just to do dental implants.”

IT'S ABOUT CONFIDENCE

Of course a periodontist can’t be a periodontist without a medical education — Jorgenson got his at Oregon Health Sciences University and the Oklahoma University Health Science Center. But Jorgenson says that when he walked into a bank, before even graduating from his periodontics program and asked for a million dollars to build a new dental surgery center in Arizona, it wasn’t his medical education that made the deal. “That was all about confidence,” Jorgenson says. “And I’ve got to say that definitely came from my relationships with my philosophy professors.” Jorgenson says his undergraduate science classes were held in lecture halls with hundreds of other students.

“You didn’t get to know your professors; sometimes you didn’t even get to meet them, just the TAs,” he says. “In philosophy there was this open-door policy where you could walk in and talk to these amazing people, these really brilliant people like Dr. Sherlock and Dr. Robson. These are legitimate, big-time, super smart guys. But I’d walk in, as a 20-year-old kid and be treated with respect. That builds a kid’s confidence pretty fast.”

Still relatively young among his professional colleagues, Jorgenson says he’s not sure where his practice will take him next. What he does know is that the story of his success so far took an important turn at Utah State University.

“I’m a fan of a broad spectrum education and of course that education needs science, too,” he says — and once again it’s clear that he’s having a hard time suppressing his excitement. “But I can’t imagine going through life without the opportunities I had to think about things in a different way. That’s huge. It’s just huge.”

Fire Starter

Heather Mason knew what she was trying to say, but the words weren’t coming out right.
They weren’t coming out at all.

Heather Mason stands in front of a wall covered in pictures from womens magazines.

Heather Mason plans to reignite SUREFIRE as a way to teach, inspire, mentor and offer openings for service to young women.

She slurred and grunted. She tried to call out for help, but couldn’t manage a coherent syllable. Her arms went numb.

At the emergency room, someone finally told her what Mason herself had deduced that day in November of 2014.

“You’re having a stroke,” the medic said.

She was 41 years old. She was fit and healthy. She was at the top of her career. She was changing the world.

“This can’t be happening," she thought. "Not now.”

ASPIRATIONS TO BE A MOVIE PRODUCER

For two years as a student in the journalism department at USU and two more after her graduation in 1996, Mason had an insider’s view of the Sundance Film Festival as a press liaison.

But Mason, who aspired to be a movie producer, wasn’t content with a view looking in. She didn’t want to watch the deals being made — she wanted to make them — so she parlayed her time at Sundance into a gig at the Cannes Film Festival, onward to Fox, where she read and recommended scripts, then back again to Park City where, at the height of the dot com era, she presided over the marriage of Sundance and Silicon Valley in an “interactive lounge” for ShowBizData.com.

That’s about the time she realized: she wasn’t producing movies, but she was producing.

Far more than just an education in the film business, Mason’s time at Sundance, Cannes and Fox — and later, as an event manager for Charles Schwab — had given her experience in bringing together the people, places and logistics necessary to pull-off high-profile, high-stakes events.

“I wasn’t producing movies, I was producing events,” Mason says, “and those things were similar in a lot of ways — and in all of the ways that mattered to me.”

The Idaho Falls native was directing big-money productions. She was the go-to person in high-stress situations and the place where the buck stopped.

A CASPIAN PRODUCTION

In 2005, Mason founded A Caspian Production — the name was an homage to the titular character in the second published book of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series and a nod to the idea of striking out on one’s own, as Prince Caspian must do in that novel. Mason committed Caspian to producing events for organizations that were making a positive difference in the world.

Over the past decade, Mason has produced the Skoll World Forum, an annual international event promoting social entrepreneurship; the Futures Without Violence conference, a gathering of practitioners, policy makers and academics dedicated to ending gender violence; and the Not for Sale conference, dedicated to ending human trafficking.

“I was working every night, every weekend, traveling like a maniac. I thought, ‘if I’m going to work this hard, I might as well do it for people who are really changing the world,’” she recalls. “I think I’ve always had a keen sense of my own mortality… you know, I feel like our time is limited and you’ve got to make it count. It really doesn’t matter if you leave with all the toys.”

She pauses.

“The shoes, though — maybe that’s a different story,” she laughs. “The shoes might actually matter.”

Mason could have bought a lot of shoes with what she’s made at Caspian. Instead, she decided to do something no one had done before.

'WHAT CAN I DO IN THE WORLD?'

Every year, about 1,000 of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs gather at the University of Oxford for the Skoll forum, where they debate, discuss and deal-make with an eye toward using business approaches to solve the globe’s most pressing problems.

The speakers at the most recent forum included Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Nobel Peace Prize winners Malala Yousafzai and Desmond Tutu. As always, the former president of eBay, forum founder Jeff Skoll, was there.

Mason says it’s hard — maybe impossible — to be surrounded by so many powerful and passionate people without feeling driven to try to change the world.

“Jeff Skoll is all about using what you have and the skills you have to do further good in the world,” Mason says. “When I listened to him and others, I started asking ‘what can I do in the world?’”

Ever since high school, Mason says, she has been aware that her success in life was in large part a matter of luck. The right mentors came along at the right time. They drew an introverted young girl out of her shell. They told her she was a leader.

Mason did not understand why mentorship needed to be contingent on happenstance.

There are conferences for just about everything in the world. But when Mason looked around, she saw that no one had ever created an event where a girl could turn her head in any direction and find inspiration in the form of women who were doing amazing things.

That’s the spark that lit SUREFIRE. The conference, which debuted in 2013 in Santa Monica, California, welcomed 200 girls from more than 45 high schools, along with dozens of speakers and non-profit organizations, to what Mason describes as “a buffet platter of opportunities” to teach, inspire, mentor, provide life advice and offer openings for service and exploration.

There were sessions on everything from relationships to engineering to how to be “red-carpet ready.” Vitally, Mason said, it needed to be a place where a girl could ask any question — and get an honest answer from non-judgemental people.

“Today is a holiday,” she told the participants as they arrived. “Today is a holiday from that voice in your head that tells you anything negative about yourself. Today when you hear that voice that tells you to worry about your thighs or your looks or your hair, you’re going to take a holiday from listening to it.”

In the place of that voice, Mason asked the participants to go out of their way to offer compliments and give them in return.

“It was such a cool thing to walk around all day and hear girls saying to one another, ‘you look really pretty,’” she says.

Did that change the world? For Pearl Bham it certainly did.

“I wasn’t a very talkative person before,” says Bham, who is now 19 and in college. “I wanted to be goofy and fun and confident, but that’s not how I was. I was in a shell. At SUREFIRE, everything changed for me. It’s not too much to say that Heather changed my life.”

SEEKING INVESTERS IN GOOD

Heather Mason plans to reignite SUREFIRE as a way to teach, inspire, mentor and offer openings for service to young women.

Mason had no intention of making money on the conferences, but set up the organization as a for-profit for social good, reflecting what she’d learned from the Skoll conferences about a flexible model that invites investment from others who aren’t looking to profit so much as build an organization that can eventually support itself without having to constantly fundraise. Ultimately, Mason believed, the participating organizations and sponsors would see the benefit of hosting — and funding — more conferences like the pilot in Southern California.

Mason nearly cleaned out her savings to put on the first conference, then doubled down on her investment to host the second, which included girls from 65 high schools.

“I kept thinking, ‘OK, I just need to prove that this works,’ and then people will see that and they’ll see the benefit of being involved,’” Mason says. “And the thing is that it did work. It all worked. Everything I’d learned along the way had told me this was going to be huge.”

The 2014 conference was barely over when people began to ask when and where the next conference would be held.

And that’s when it really struck her: There wouldn’t be one.

SUREFIRE hadn’t caught fire. Not in the way Mason had expected, at least. The leaders of organizations that participated all said they loved the opportunity to connect with young girls in the way they had in Santa Monica.

Many said they would love to be involved in other cities where their organizations were working, as well. But none of them stood up to offer financial support.

“It was crushing,” she says.

Kate Howmann, who worked with Mason on the 2014 conference, said it was hard to watch her friend and mentor deal with the failure to find steady financial backing.

“She was so passionate about it,” Howmann said. “She had this unshakable faith… you think that will be enough and it was just so hard to see someone so strong be let down so much.”

IMPACT ON YOUNG LIVES

It was just a few weeks after the 2014 conference that Mason found herself lying, quiet and afraid, in a hospital room, at the end of the most terrifying day of her life.

“The whole time, I’d been just completely out of my mind frightened,” she said. “All I could think about was, ‘Is this my new life? Will I not ever again be able to talk?’ I’d always thought about mortality, but I’d never thought about this.”

She tried to calm herself and adjust to her surroundings and noticed that there was a woman sharing her room.

“Without even thinking about it, I just said, ‘hello’ and then it was like ‘oh! Hello! Hello! I can say hello! My mouth is moving and I can say hello!’ And my hands — my hands were moving!”

Doctors told Mason that she had suffered a complex migraine — the symptoms of which can include weakness, loss of vision and difficulty speaking, sometimes to the point of mimicking a stroke. They suspected stress had played a role.

She was soon back to work, but with a different perspective on her life and a different outlook on a career that is frequently listed as one of the world’s most stressful.

“I’d done the latest SUREFIRE at the tail end of a marathon of events and I was exhausted and worn out,” Mason says. “Most of the clients I have are really amazing and we’re doing amazing things together, but I’ve had some difficult ones, too. And my life has a lot less room for that, now. These days, I think to myself, ‘am I going to let this put me in the hospital?’ and the answer is no.”

It’s still difficult for her to talk about SUREFIRE. But as time has passed, Mason says, the recollection of the impact she was able to have on the lives of young women like Pearl is overtaking her sense of disappointment that the model she chose didn’t work out. And slowly, she says, she’s coming to see what happened to SUREFIRE wasn’t a failure, but rather an opportunity to re-ignite the concept in a different way.

She is now at work re-launching SUREFIRE as a non-profit organization. That, she knows, will mean endless fundraising. But if what she saw in 2013 and 2014 can be repeated again in the future — if it changes just one more life — it will be worth it.

“I think life is a constant fight between seeing opportunities and managing expectations,” she says.

But she still expects a lot. Of life. Of herself. Of the girls still out there who haven’t caught the fire.

And she has a lot left to say about all of that.