Alumni and Donor News from the Arts and Sciences

March 2018

The profound generosity of our alumni and friends never fails to surprise me, but I was truly overwhelmed with pride on February 28 as I saw so many of you give back to the college during the university’s Day of Giving. Your combined charity resulted in 2,513 gifts and a total of $169,444 toward student scholarships — the highest among all colleges at the university.

Without individuals like you, so much of what our college has achieved would not be possible. These donations are sure to shape the lives of many students for the better. Thank you for your support!


David C. Manderscheid
Executive Dean and Vice Provost

In this issue:

Alumnus and "My Friend Dahmer" author reflects on success

When award-winning cartoonist and Ohio State alumnus John “Derf” Backderf created "My Friend Dahmer," a graphic novel that explores his high school acquaintanceship with serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, he couldn't have predicted the success of the 2017 film adaptation. 

Backderf also didn't expect to be met with a packed house and eager audience when he returned to campus last fall to introduce an advance screening of the film, which will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 10. 

“It was a career highlight ... to have that thing sell out in 10 minutes with a huge waiting list — I felt like a rock star," recalled Backderf (BA, journalism, 1983). "I tried to just enjoy the moment and let it wash over me all while staying respectful to the topic, which is not something you should be flip with. Jeffrey Dahmer caused misery and pain to everyone he came in contact with. It was a contrast and I tried to pull both off.”

Making the evening even more memorable was how faithfully writer/director Marc Meyers adapted Backderf's novel. Hollywood is littered with unsuccessful and misguided book-to-film updates, but Meyers crafted an intense work powered by impressive performances (most notably Ross Lynch’s complex and riveting turn as the notorious serial killer) all while retaining the book’s haunting power. It is an adaptation with which Backderf is very happy.

“It’s really hard to tell during the process how a film is coming together when you’re not a filmmaker. I was hoping it was coming together, but who knew? It wasn’t until I saw the final product that I could say it turned out really well.”

The November 2017 film "My Friend Dahmer" stars Ross Lynch as a teenage Jeffrey Dahmer. Image courtesy FilmRise.
The November 2017 film "My Friend Dahmer" stars Ross Lynch as a teenage Jeffrey Dahmer. Image courtesy FilmRise.

The success of both the graphic novel and film — the book was selected by Time Magazine as one of the best nonfiction books of 2012, and the film racked up laudatory notices from the likes of Village Voice and Variety — solidifies Backderf’s place in Ohio State’s rich legacy of cartoonists and comics artists, which includes such legends as Yona Harvey, Milton Caniff, Jeff Smith and James Thurber.

Like those iconic creators, Backderf says that Ohio State — especially his time at The Lantern — had a potent influence on both his personal and professional trajectories.

Not only did he meet his wife in the newsroom, he worked as a political and spot cartoonist, churning out upward of six or seven cartoons a week, a volume of work about which he says, “I can’t believe I was that productive! Fueled by youth.”

That workload, according to Backderf, “taught me to respect deadlines. I learned to constantly work and then you get into a certain routine and it wasn’t that bad — we still had time to go to the Out-R-Inn or Black Forest Inn. We had a pretty good time at The Lantern; it was a shared experience that really bonded us.”

It was also with The Lantern that Backderf had his first brushes with controversy too, one such incident revolving around a cartoon about football star Art Schlicter. Schlicter’s notorious gambling issues and ongoing courtroom drama resulted in a satirical cartoon by Backderf that featured the football star being fitted for cement shoes.

“You would have thought I drew a cartoon about the Pope chasing little boys around. It was unreal, the outcry,” Backderf said.

The controversy did not ease either, with Backderf being confronted publicly by a mobile jeering peanut gallery, which included getting yelled at on the Oval and calls from the then-athletic director to have him kicked out of school.

His editor and the university supported him, however, and he continued making cartoons. It was during this time that Backderf experienced a fortuitous moment that looms large over his life and work: his discovery of what was then the Milton Caniff Library. Made up of two converted classrooms, the humble space served as ground zero for what is now the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum.

John “Derf” Backderf (BA, journalism, 1983). Image by Jan Gert.  “I was walking by it all the time. I remember just seeing that little plaque on the door and I thought ‘what the hell is that?’ Curiosity got the best of me and I opened the door and there behind the desk was Lucy Shelton Caswell,” Backderf recalled.

Caswell, curator and professor emeritus at the Billy Ireland Museum and founder of the Caniff Library, was a mentor and friend during his time at Ohio State, and he was among the first group of students to take her "History of Cartoons" class.

“I really feel this incredible kinship with the Billy having watched it grow up and having been there almost since the beginning.”

This passion for comics and for their history fittingly found a place during Backderf’s Columbus visit when he met with a group of English students in a lively conversation about his work, career and creative process.

“It was really a lot of fun," Backderf said. "They were smart kids and the questions were great.”

He told students that he looks “for stories that haven’t been told before. You’re not always going to get that, but that’s what I look for.”

Backderf continues to seek out and tell those stories, including his most recent graphic novel "Trashed," and a yet-to-be-disclosed project at which he is currently at work.

Dehua Pei named Ohio State's Innovator of the Year

Dehua Pei, Charles H. Kimberly Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, was named the university’s 2017 Innovator of the Year on March 6 at the Office of Research’s annual State of Research Address.

The Innovator of the Year award is given to an Ohio State researcher who is “actively working to promote commercialization of intellectual property.” This certainly describes Pei, whose work has led to 11 patent applications in the past five years, with six additional applications in progress.  

His research largely focuses on protein-protein interactions, which play a role in a multitude of human diseases but are extremely difficult to target with drugs.

Pei’s research has helped develop several breakthrough technologies that are “poised to transform the drug discovery process and make most of these undruggable targets druggable,” said Randy Moses, interim senior vice president for research, while presenting Pei’s award.

Of significant importance is the discovery of a family of small cyclic peptides that are exceptionally potent in cell-penetrating, capable of delivering all major drug modalities — from small molecules to large nucleic acids — into the cell with unprecedented efficiencies.

"This award is a recognition of the hard work of my entire team, which includes all members of my research group, as well as our collaborators at Ohio State and elsewhere," Pei said.

It shows [my] young students that they can actually make a difference and help solve even the most difficult scientific problems."

The award was presented in conjunction with the Early Career Innovator of the Year and Next Generation Innovator of the Year awards.

Yizhou Dong, assistant professor of pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry, was named the 2017 Early Career Innovator of the Year for his groundbreaking work on gene-editing technologies and the development of novel gene therapies for patients with debilitating clotting deficiencies originating in the liver.

Laura McLaughlin, a fourth-year nursing student, was named the 2017 Next Generation Innovator of the Year for developing an app called BabyTalk, which supports and informs new and expectant parents — specifically those in populations at high-risk for infant mortality — on topics such as women’s health, pregnancy and child development.

Overall, 2017 was “a year of unprecedented discovery led by creativity, talent and the passion of researchers across our campuses,” Moses said. “Because of this growth we have an incredible opportunity to take Ohio State to a new level of national prominence in research.

Buckeye Love lasts a lifetime: 82 years later Paul Weller still loves physics

Last summer, ASC Development Director Rick Harrison met with physics alumnus Paul Weller at his home on Dutch Island, Isle of Hope, a gated community just outside Savannah, Georgia. This turned out to be a most memorable visit.

“His son Ronald P. Weller (in his 70s) answered the door and Paul came zooming down the hallway in his mechanized chair with a huge smile on his face,” said Harrison. “We sat down for appetizers on his enclosed back porch overlooking the Herb River and Paul’s boat dock where he told me his story.”

It’s very possible that 104 year-old Weller (born July 1, 1913) may be one of Ohio State’s oldest living alumni.

He grew up in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where his father started a funeral business; he attended Western Reserve Academy (WRA) founded in 1826 in Hudson, Ohio, a private, mid-sized college preparatory school; its college section, now Case Western Reserve University.

Although his parents were not college graduates, they insisted he go, sending him to Vermont’s Middlebury College. Then, the Great Depression took its toll; private school was not an option, so Paul began his sophomore year at Ohio State.

He’d always done well in chemistry and physics, so decided to study physics and take mechanical engineering classes.

“When I showed him today’s physics-degree programs, he was excited to see a BS in Engineering Physics, wishing it were available in his day.”

Tuition of $24.75/quarter was a burden for many in those years. Paul, a member of Kappa Delta Rho (no longer on campus) became house manager, because he needed the money.

The stadium was just 10 years old — but Paul could not often afford the games.

He met his late wife Mary Mosteller (social work ’35) walking home one day. She just happened to be the sorority girl two doors away.

There was no career planning office, even his professors weren’t sure what to recommend he do with physics other than teach.

Not surprisingly, he floundered a little after graduation, and took a job with a trade association for morticians, traveling across the country visiting funeral homes.

He went back to Ohio State, got an MBA in 1938 and worked at Goodyear Tire & Rubber on aircraft engine mounts, necessary work that kept him out of WWII, followed by various sales and market-research jobs across the country.

Paul moved to Savannah, Georgia, in 1962, became sales manager for Southern Nitrogen Company (later Kaiser Agricultural Chemical). He retired in 1978 and started his own company, designing metal flanges used in the connection of steel culvert pipe.

“Over the course of a two-hour visit, Paul served me a home-cooked meal — crab cakes, salad, veggies, southern biscuits and cherry pie; and regaled me with stories of Savannah’s history.

“He loved the pictures of Ohio State I brought him, especially his early ‘30s fraternity photos I found in the Makio,” said Harrison.

Weller keeps busy: church activities, tinkering in his workshop, boating, fishing, and a cat named Socks. After Harrison’s visit, Weller had his knee replaced and graduated to a walker. This is a man you cannot keep down.

Paul Weller’s World in 1935

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt was President
  • Lindbergh kidnapping and murder trial underway
  • The Dust Bowl hit the Great Plains
  • Social Security Act signed into law
  • Elvis Presley was born
  • Avg. cost of a new house: $3,450; avg. wages/yr, $1,600
  • Cost of gasoline: 10 cents; avg. new car: $625
  • Hoover Dam completed
  • Babe Ruth hit the 714th and final home run of his career
  • Ohio State 6th President: George Washington Rightmire
  • Ohio State enrollment surpasses 15k

Meet the newest additions to the Arts and Sciences Alumni Society Board

The Arts and Sciences Alumni Society Board is comprised of alumni representatives from the arts, humanities, natural and mathematical sciences, and social and behavioral sciences. Members are selected to serve two- or three-year terms and serve on subcommittees, which have a distinct focus area designed to support the college’s mission.

Board members return to campus for three meetings per year, in addition to helping out at various events, including our annual Homecoming Tailgate.

Meet our two newest board members, Lisa Duerk, an agency administration leader at State Farm, and Natalie Siston, founder of Small Town Leadership.

Lisa Duerk, (BA, political science, 1981)

What does Ohio State means to you?

My grandfather, William McFadden, was a graduate of Ohio State in the early 1930s, as well as several aunts, cousins, and my two sisters. I met my husband, Barry Duerk, during my freshman year at Ohio State. Our two children have followed in our Buckeye tradition, Megan who is a 2012 graduate and Nina who will be a part of the spring class of 2018. My family is very proud of our Buckeye Legacy!

Why did you choose to attend Ohio State?

I grew up in a suburb of Columbus and was paying for my own college education. I was lucky to have a world class university both close and affordable. It was possible to work and pay for school and I managed to graduate with very little debt.

Did you always know that you wanted to pursue a degree in political science?

When I entered Ohio State, I thought I would continue my education and attend law school. I knew when I entered Ohio State I would pursue political science for my undergraduate studies. I believe in studying something you enjoy and are passionate about, if you do, a career will follow. 

How did you end up in the insurance field?

During high school and my freshman year of college, I worked at an ice cream restaurant. It was right next to the claims office of a leading national insurance company, where the managers came in frequently for coffee breaks. One day they asked me if I would be interested in a co-op program, working 30 hours a week while completing my education. Initially, I said no, because I had to use a computer! Eventually, I interviewed and was hired. I am still in the industry almost 40 years later. 

Why is volunteering important to you?

I find volunteering personally fulfilling, allowing me to use skills and abilities I might not use every day at work. I have met interesting people, learned new skills, and helped causes I believe in. Volunteering provides an opportunity for a full life. As a volunteer, I get to support causes that are meaningful to myself, my family and my values. It allows me the opportunity to use my skills, abilities and passions to support and advance organizations and causes I believe in. Volunteering allows me to feed my soul in a way that my work sometimes can’t.

What do you hope to accomplish with your service on the Alumni Society Board?

Ohio State has one of the largest alumni bases in the United States, with Arts and Sciences being the largest groups of alumni. I believe we as a society need to deepen our bonds with our alumni and leverage our numbers for the benefit of the University, its students, alumni, faculty and leadership.

It is an honor to be selected for this position. Living so far from Ohio State, I am excited to be able to serve the University on this Board.

Natalie Siston (BA, psychology and political science, 2002; MBA, 2008)

What does Ohio State mean to you?

Ohio State equals opportunity. I came from a small town in northwest Ohio (Republic) and was prepared to be the little fish in a big pond for the first time in my life. That worked for about two weeks before I decided that I wanted Ohio State to feel more like Republic than an anonymous campus. That meant that I sought opportunity after opportunity to learn and lead in big ways. I didn’t see any boundaries for myself and because of that, Ohio State not only felt like home, but I also feel like I made a big difference on campus during my time as both an undergraduate and graduate student.

Why did you choose Ohio State?

For anyone who wants the long answer, they can check out this blog post. The short answer is that I attended my first Ohio State football game when I was eight years old and my cousin, Todd, was a cheerleader at the time. That meant that we got front row and behind-the-scenes access to everything “game day." The moment I heard the marching band play the first note inside St. John Arena, I told my parents “I’m going to college here and I’m going to be in that band.” Fast forward to my senior year and Ohio State was the only school where I applied. I loved what Gordon Gee had to say about Ohio State: “You can’t make a small university big, but you can make a big university small.”

Did you know that you wanted to pursue psychology and political science when you arrived on campus?

When I started college, I thought I was going to major in political science and either go to law school or become a journalist. I ended up completing the major in political science, and added the psychology major after taking the intro course my freshman year. I love everything about human interaction, especially organizational and behavioral psychology. When I looked back at the science projects I picked in junior high and high school, they all had a social science component. I completed my political science degree by participating in the John Glenn Washington Academic Internship Program my junior year. My senior year, I completed a senior honors thesis in psychology.

The funny part about what I wanted to be when I grew up is that I’ve come full circle. Nearly 20 years after thinking about becoming a writer, I am writing regularly through my blog and website. This has taught me that we know ourselves pretty well at age 18. We have to go live for a while to see what sticks!

How did you end up going from majoring in psychology to Silicon Valley, and then from the corporate world to founding Small Town Leadership?

Love took me to Silicon Valley. Mentors brought me back to Ohio State to get my MBA at the Fisher College of Business and into the corporate world. A desire to tell stories and honor my upbringing led me to create Small Town Leadership.

I met my now-husband, Rob, before classes even started my freshman year. After dating nearly my entire time at Ohio State, we got married right after I graduated in 2002. He was already enrolled in his graduate program at Stanford University, and I moved west after our wedding. Through the power of my Ohio State connections, I was introduced to leaders at Stanford’s Alumni Association. I applied for a job right before I moved across the country and was in that job for the duration of my time in California. Working at Stanford during the Silicon Valley boom was amazing. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but looking back, it’s amazing to think that Facebook and Google were all getting started only miles from campus. 

As fate, luck and good planning would have it, I was offered a spot in the full time MBA program at Fisher College of Business when my husband was offered a faculty position in the Engineering Department at OSU. After our quick tour in California, we were ready to come home.

I decided to pursue corporate positions after my MBA program and have worked in insurance and financial services at Nationwide for nearly 10 years. At the same time, I had an idea to tell stories about growing up in Republic, Ohio and how that taught me the key leadership lessons I needed to succeed in my career that has spanned from the West Coast to Fortune 100. Small Town Leadership celebrated its second birthday this March and it continues to grow as I’ve added speaking, facilitation, and coaching offerings to the platform. 

Why is volunteering important?

As a student, I was very involved in student organizations and leadership opportunities. When I graduated, I continued this service as a board member and eventually president of the Bay Area Buckeyes Alumni Club. When I moved back to Columbus, my focus shifted to building a family and a career. Now that I’ve emerged from the throes of early motherhood and career building, I’m ready to reengage in a meaningful way. I wouldn’t have experienced many of the best moments of my life without Ohio State and I want to be part of helping make those experiences possible for the generations of Buckeyes who haven’t even stepped onto campus.  

I look forward to meaningfully serving current students while also finding ways for alumni to stay engaged with Ohio State. My friends from college are doing amazing things in their careers and within their communities. By bringing these diverse experiences together, we can tell a story and provide inspiration not only to current students, but also to everyone who has been touched by Ohio State. As Buckeyes, we are truly stronger together than we are apart. There is power in our shared experience.    

Max Kade Foundation increases fellowship funding

The strong partnership between the College of Arts and Sciences and the Max Kade Foundation began on campus nearly 25 years ago with the dedication of the Max Kade German House. Since then, the Kade Foundation has generously provided more than $1 million in support of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures.

The Kade House is more than just a home — it's a living, learning treasure for students, serving as an immersion environment where German is spoken exclusively. The renovation of the early-1900s South Campus home, funded by the Kade Foundation, accommodates a small group of undergraduate students, a native German speaker and a resident advisor. 

The house is a central part of the linguistic, cultural and intellectual atmosphere of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, hosting numerous events, including the longstanding tradition of Kaffeestunde (coffee and conversation hour), German Club meetings, German film screenings, guest lectures, receptions and various informal presentations.

The Foundation also supports the Dresden Summer Program, an eight-week, intensive language and culture course offered at the Technische Universität Dresden (TUD). Dresden is the Sister City of Columbus, which makes this program particularly meaningful. While studying abroad, undergraduate German language students have opportunity to increase their language ability, immerse themselves in the history of Dresden and Saxony and experience contemporary German life and culture.

“My language skills improved immensely while I was in Dresden and I became confident in my speaking ability," said alumna and 2014 Dresden Summer Program participant Hannah Shank (BA, German, and BS, finance, 2016).

Alumna and 2014 Dresden Summer Program participant Hannah Shank.

Now, I’m going to earn my master’s in German and will be studying abroad my first year in Austria. If it wasn’t for the Dresden Summer Program, I wouldn’t have met some of my best friends, or pursued a new career path in German.” - Hannah

This summer, the Kade Foundation’s generosity will offset the costs for 20 students taking part in this study abroad experience.

The college’s graduate students have also greatly benefited from the Kade Foundation’s support through the Max Kade Graduate Fellowship program. The program offers doctoral students an entire year free to concentrate on their dissertations — to travel and consult texts, films or historical documents only available in German archives.

“The dissertation fellowship allowed me to concentrate on my research and devote the entire last academic year of my study completing my thesis," said alumna Berit Jany (PhD, German, 2013).

Alumna Berit Jany (PhD, German, 2013)

As the fellowship supported my academic progress, rigorous research and — most of all — the timely completion of my dissertation, I was at a clear advantage when entering the highly competitive academic job market.” - Berit

Last month, the Kade Foundation announced that it will increase its support of its fellowship program by not only funding a student working on their dissertation, but also an incoming graduate student. 

The Max Kade Foundation was founded in 1944 with the mission of fostering cross-cultural understanding, promoting scientific and technical progress, furthering the peaceful coexistence of nations and encouraging the exchange of academic ideas among universities and colleges both in the U.S. and in German-speaking countries.