Award-winning investigative reporter, best-selling author, and trailblazer, Kim Barker, headlined the 3rd annual, Mount Ida College “Inspiration Nation” program on Tuesday, April 4, anchoring a day of dialogue and learning including several opportunities to showcase student work.

Barker’s candor and direct approach connected with those in attendance, who were enthralled with her tales of her tenacity, her career path and her very personal experiences in Afghanistan as South Asia bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune, where her desire to do more and be more, propelled her to take a risk and put herself out there in the international realm of journalism, in which she had no experience.

It came down to “raising my hand,” she said.   While working at the Tribune, a job that she enjoyed, she noticed there were few women reporters in the international realm.  When they were looking to send people to South Asia, she marched in and said “I’m single, I’m childless, I’m expendable,” thus, sending the message that she was ready and willing to take the leap and go overseas.  This is when her five-year journey began and her life and career changed indelibly due to the new and truly foreign experiences that she faced each day in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Southeast Asian locations.

Offering the audience tenets to follow including to “Embrace Who You Are,” she urged the students to pursue something outside their comfort zone and to try different things.  Using her experience as an embedded female reporter, in an area that was often inhospitable to women, she highlighted that personal danger wasn’t always the root of failure, rather, there were times that she was simply unprepared for the task at hand.  Failure and set back only made her more successful the next time.  She built off of her already strong-willed personality, which she earned during her childhood in Montana, where she had to leverage her strong will in order to be taken seriously.

While being adventurous appears appealing to many, she also gave the sage advice to truly get to know the people you work with, spot potential dangers, and “plan your escape route.”  And while, that may appear to more relevant in the world of international reporting in a war zone, the message is applicable to even “Main Street America” where you never know what may happen, especially if you become complacent in your own role, your own skills and the risks around you.

Taking questions from the audience, she relayed that her experience in Asia has made her more patient and calm.  She felt being a woman was, surprisingly, an advantage.  “I had access to the women, something the men could not do and I had access to the powerful men who were curious about a woman in my role.”

Barker’s humor and edge kept the tone light, despite the subject matter, suggesting a key to success is to get Tina Fey to play you in a movie.  Fey had read a review of Barker’s book “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” in which the reviewer mentioned it would be a perfect role for Tina Fey – and Fey thought so too.

Barker concluded by urging everyone to be open to the world, to explore, to expand and to listen to other points of view.  When asked if she would go back to Afghanistan she said it was hard to leave. “I felt very alive.  That’s what you feel when you’re so close to death and it’s intoxicating to watch history unfold.”

Teaching The Living How To Work With The Dead

by Mia Zarrella

Standing at the front of a lab room at Mount Ida College, professor Sarah Stopyra asks her students, “Does everybody have their head?”

Each student sitting at their lab tables has a big brown cardboard box with a handle. They open the front flap and slide out their heads: plastic busts covered and sculpted in flesh-colored wax to resemble a human face.

This is Mount Ida’s reconstructive art class: one of Mount Ida’s funeral service and mortuary science courses. Stopyra is instructing students how to recreate facial features for the deceased. One student in the class decided to practice her skills by recreating the face of Youtube personality Gavin Free.

Mount Ida, located in Newton, Massachusetts, is one of fewer than 65 colleges in the nation that offers mortuary programs to educate and prepare today’s living for tomorrow’s deaths.

This article synopse taken from Mia Zarrella’s blog. Read the entire article here.

Copying the motivational format of Ted Talks, 10 of Mount Ida’s best took to the stage as part of Inspiration Nation to speak for 10 minutes on a subject of their choosing.

From students to faculty and staff, each delivered messages from the heart leaving those in the room with a lot to ponder.

Up first was Darcy Daniels, Adjunct Faculty of Criminal Justice, Politics and History. She spoke passionately about the power of stories, their importance and how we no longer take the time to tell our own stories, or to listen to others. As a historian, she has always been a storyteller, but of others’ stories.  When she finally revealed her own story about holding her very ill daughter in her arms, she realized the importance of sharing.

Before leaving the stage, she introduced Coach Mike Landers. Being brought up in Brockton and being told he would not succeed, he shared how fighting for the things you want and chasing your dreams will lead you to places you never thought you would go.

Students Abbe Sitte, Destery Pinto and Emily Gill presented on relationship management, offering helpful hints and performed two skits on how – and how not to – communicate in the workplace.

Reema Zeineldin, Dean of the School of Applied Sciences was next, with the topic of what it means to be a Muslim under the Trump Administration.  She spoke of what life has been like since 9/11 and how the discrimination and labeling of Muslims as terrorists has been part of her family and the Muslim community’s life for 15 years without causing much reaction from non-Muslim US citizens.   She concluded, “What this hateful president did not predict is that he brought attention to American Muslims so that finally after 15 years of silence, America is finally outraged and saying anti-Muslim rhetoric in no longer acceptable.” It gives her hope that this will initiate change.

Through poetry and spoken word, James Dulin, Assistant Director. Social Justice and Inclusion spoke passionately about his cousin who died on the streets of Detroit and a grandfather who had taken a shotgun to end his life.  The power of words – and his delivery – drove home issues of racism and violence in a very dramatic way.

Assistant Athletic Director and Head Women’s Basketball coach Katie Greene spoke with cheers from her team about a small Texas town of 918 people.  Faced with endless drought and failing farms and economy, they gathered en masse, each week in the church praying and hoping for things to change. One Sunday, there were only 917, so they waited.  In the distance was the missing young girl with a red umbrella.  When she made it to the church and was asked why she was carrying an umbrella, she said it was because she BELIEVED it would rain.  That, Greene said was the difference.  You must believe that things can change.  That belief will make it so.

And for student Jillian Yang, it was that belief that she could function in the world that helped her conquer her bipolar disorder.  Diagnosed at the age of seven, she refused to believe that she could not pursue all her dreams.  The strength and courage it took not only to succeed, but also to tell her story and empower others was inspiring.

Student Andrew Light reached out to his father in the audience to thank him for his support.  He shared how, like many incoming freshmen he did not know what path to take.  His unique solution was to take introductory courses in three separate majors; business, sports management and education. “I chose education to help make a difference in children’s lives and the words that best describe me are perseverance, grit and resilience.” Now, thanks to the support of Mount Ida and his family, he finds himself in position of being a role model.

Beth Grampetro, Director of Wellness Services, spoke about how she in 2013, frustrated by the proliferation of abortion restrictions in our country, was spending a lot of time online reading and talking about her frustration. “I noticed people on Twitter talking about a bowl-a-thon to raise money for abortion funding, and that’s how I learned about the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund. I eventually become a volunteer for the organization and was able to channel the frustration into action and help support a cause I believed in, while meeting people I might never have known otherwise and becoming part of a new community.”

Closing out the Best 10 was Alan Whitcomb, Dean of Curriculum and Academic Quality. In A Nation Divided, Whitcomb demonstrated how kindness may be one of the most important things we want and need from one another, particularly when addressing polarizing political and social issues.  He emphasized that when trying to determine if someone is kind, you must get to know them, listen to what they say, and look at how they treat others, instead of focusing on their immigration status, national origin, ethnicity, physical appearance, religious views, or other superficial characteristics.