Providing commentary on midterm elections

Election-2014-(1)When South Carolina ETV provided live, election night coverage during the 2014 midterms, Furman political science professor Brent Nelsen and two Furman students, Courtney Thomas and Andrew Smith, monitored social media channels and provided commentary about the races. Thomas is a political science major, while Smith is double majoring in political science and economics. The ETV program was hosted by Charles Bierbauer, dean of mass communications and information services at the University of South Carolina, and featured other political experts from around the state.  Watch the video.

A Homecoming proposal

Ashlyn and David Toast Engagement

It has been said that many Furman students end up marrying each other, whether they graduate together or find their way back to each other years later. Homecoming was extra sweet for one couple this year; not only did they reunite with some of their fellow graduates, they also got engaged. David Ellington and Ashlyn Ayres, both graduates from the Class of 2013, began their relationship between the Furman gates: a place where traditions began and a future was made.

We had the opportunity to interview David and Ashlyn about their proposal story.

Patce: How and when did you and Ashlyn meet?

David: Ashlyn was working in the Vinings [off-campus Furman housing] and I came into the office to ask some questions before moving in mid summer. She was wearing this incredible black dress and looked so beautiful I had to ask her out. So I did under the disguise of a “going away dinner” since she was leaving for her week long family vacation. In hindsight, the going away dinner wasn’t as good of a disguise as I thought.

Ashlyn: Furman is unique in the sense that you know of people without  knowing everyone, and David and I didn’t really know each other until that summer. Thank goodness for the Vinings!

P: Tell us a little bit about your dating experience at Furman and any special traditions you shared.

D: Furman gave us a year of fun dating that was easy thanks to our overlapping social groups. That year gave us a strong foundation for when we graduated and did a year of long distance before I moved to Atlanta to be with Ashlyn.

A: Our walks — we must have walked miles and miles around Furman’s campus, and still do when we are in Greenville.

P: How did David propose? Was there any significance to him proposing on the mall?

A: Yes, lots of significance! Senior year during homecoming week, we were sitting on the mall sign waiting for friends and a woman who worked at Furman walked by on her way to the parking lot. She asked to take our picture for Homecoming (Thank you, mystery woman! You started an incredible tradition for us). Since then, we have taken a picture at the mall each fall, so when David was proposing he knew this was a special tradition for us and a normal thing to do. My sweet friend, Allie Blalock ’13, offered to take our picture and David kept asking for one more “just in case” or because he “blinked.” He got down on one knee and started crying and I realized what was happening. He asked, I said yes! Little did I know both of our families were watching from behind the Chapel Lot hedges. We heard whistling and clapping and they all came out with champagne.

P: How did you celebrate your engagement?

A: After toasts and champagne on the mall we went to Roost where all of our friends were waiting (and even some who had driven overnight to be there). It was such a testament to the strong friendships that grow at Furman. We are both so overwhelmed by the love and support we have received from our Furman community.

Weighing the costs of ‘improvement’

hayden-couvillion1The city of Greenville is growing, and growing in ways that are heralded as beneficial—change for the better some say. But one question too often ignored, or perhaps simply not thought of at all, is whom does this growth benefit? Hayden Couvillion, a Furman senior with a double major in Political Science and Sustainability Science, attempts to answer that question in an op-ed for The Greenville News.

CLP Friday, Dec. 5: Christmas @ Furman

8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 5, McAlister Auditorium. Tom Joiner & Hugh Floyd conduct FSO, Furman Singers and Chorales. $5-$12.

The dreams you dare to dream

Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Kristin Chenoweth

Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Kristin Chenoweth

When singer and Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth appeared on NBC’s TODAY SHOW to promote her first live album and performed the classic “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” she was accompanied on piano by Furman graduate Mary-Mitchell Campbell.  A 1996 Furman graduate, Campbell serves as Chenoweth’s musical director.

Campbell is a leading musical arranger and orchestrator in New York.  She won a Drama Desk Award in 2007 for orchestrations for the revival of the Broadway musical “Company,” and was music director for the Broadway production of “The Addams Family.” She has served on the faculties of NYU, Boston College and Juilliard.

Laying a foundation for childhood success


The Institute for Child Success recently offered a snapshot of the well-being of South Carolina’s youngest citizens in a newly-released publication, the South Carolina Early Childhood Annual Data Report for 2014. Two Furman alumnae and a Furman student, Caitlin Vaka ’15, were involved in drawing the picture.

The early childhood report was authored by Molly (Holtzclaw) Griggs ’06, with assistance from Katy (Carlson) Sides ’07, ICS Director of Research and Grants, and Vaka, who worked as a research and policy intern with ICS this summer.

With a ranking of 45th in the nation for child well-being, “an emphasis on improving the well-being of children from birth to age five is critical to increasing the potential for South Carolina’s future adults,” the report said. It provided a comprehensive look at indicators of child well-being in the state, including topics such as prenatal care, family structure and engagement, and school readiness.

“Our hope is that the data report will start conversations about the well-being, safety, and education of young children in our state,” said Sides.

In addition to the data report, Vaka was able to complete an original research project that ICS will publish and will serve as the basis of her research for her Senior Honors Essay in political science. She presented her research, an economic comparison between early childhood education systems on an international level, at the ICS Early Child Research Symposium last month in Columbia.

“Caitlin worked very hard and was always willing to take on new challenges,” Sides said. “She saw her internship as a way to learn and grow professionally.”

Vaka, a double major in political science and philosophy, said a highlight of the internship was being able to get to know and work with two Furman graduates. “This internship gave me incredible experience and skills. I really enjoyed having the ability to perform my own research,” she said. “I also learned how to make my writing accessible to different audiences and have learned how to better communicate what are seemingly complex topics in an easy-to-understand way.”

After graduate school, Vaka, a native of Tampa, Fla., is planning a career in international education development. She hopes to work with developing countries to better their primary education systems.

The Institute for Child Success, a partnership of the Children’s Hospital of the Greenville Health System and the United Way of Greenville County, supports service providers, policy makers, and advocates focused on early childhood development, healthcare, and education to build a sustainable system that ensures the success of all children, pre-natal through age five. It is a private, nonpartisan research and policy organization with offices in Greenville, Columbia and New York City. For more information, visit


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Parsons releases solo recording of Liszt’s works

Derek Parsonssm

Furman professor of piano Derek Parsons has always found inspiration in the otherworldly talent of Franz Liszt, but he’s never been quite ready to take on the challenge of recording music composed by someone considered by many to be the greatest pianist of all time.

Until now.

The South Carolina Arts Commission earlier this month awarded Parsons a $3,000 grant to fund the production of a CD of selected Liszt works, which he hopes to have ready for release before the calendar turns to 2015. A critically acclaimed pianist in his own right, Parsons has released several recordings on the Equilibrium label with saxophonist Clifford Leaman as a member of The Ambassador Duo, but this will be his first as a solo artist.

“I’ve waited a long time for this because I wanted to do something that I felt very strongly about, and I’ve lived with these pieces for a very long time. I’ve played them out and I’ve really kind of enjoyed the process of getting to know them,” Parsons said. “I just decided it’s probably time for me to put something down. I finally feel confident about doing something that’s a solo thing.”

Liszt wrote set pieces based on his travels in Italy during the 1830s, Parsons said, followed by another set later in life. That music ultimately led to this project.

“Over my time (at Furman), I’ve had three sabbaticals, and they’ve all been dedicated to the music of Liszt in some way. And then, in 2008, during the fall term I got to be involved with the foreign-study program that the music department offers with Italy,” he said. “The combination of my interest in Liszt kind of got me thinking about doing a CD of works by Liszt that were inspired by Italy.”

Parsons began recording in the Daniel Recital Hall early in the summer and received some funding from the Furman Research and Professional Growth (RPG) Committee, but without the SCAC grant he would have been hard-pressed to continue.

“For a performing artist, that’s our research so to speak,” he said. “Once that got accepted it got the ball rolling. Right now I’m in the middle of editing, which is a grueling kind of thing. But we’re making our way through it, and I’m hoping to have something by the end of December.”

Continuing to be a serious performer only helps Parsons in the classroom as well.

“I become credible as a teacher when the students see me struggling in the same ways that they do and working through problems and putting that product out on stage, or in this case a disk,” he said. “It certainly makes it a more valid thing when I’m asking them to do certain things in terms of professionally. For myself, it’s my ongoing research. You’re never finished with this.”

University to host Christmas Lovefeast service Dec. 7

lovefeast-image-2Furman University will host its annual Moravian Christmas Lovefeast service Sunday, Dec. 7 at 5 p.m. in Daniel Memorial Chapel.

The event is free and open to the public.

Based on traditions originating in the early Apostolic church, then later in the Moravian church, the Christmas Lovefeast is a wonderful way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.  The service includes the serving of Moravian buns and coffee, and the lighting of beeswax candles. The sanctuary will be lit by pew candle staffs and decorated with red poinsettias.

Furman will provide special music for the service, and the university’s Chancel Choir, conducted by senior Bryce McClendon, will lead the singing of traditional Christmas carols.

For more information, contact the Furman Chaplains office at 864-294-2133.

Carolina High principal honored as “Hero Next Door”

Michael with students

Michael Delaney ’09, principal of Carolina High School and Academy, was recognized last week by Greenville Forward as one of four recipients of the Heroes Next Door Award. This is the sixth year that Greenville Forward has presented the awards to recognize people who selflessly devote time and energy to making Greenville a better place to live.

Delaney has served at Carolina High and Academy for more than 11 years, beginning as a math teacher and currently serving as principal. He serves students tirelessly, welcoming them to school each morning, building partnerships in the neighborhoods and creating a culture of learning in the school.

Ted Hendry, president of United Way of Greenville County, introduced Delaney during the ceremony. “Mr. Delaney inspired the 100 Black Men of Upstate South Carolina to initiate a mentoring program at Carolina. These great volunteers are mentoring 27 young men selected by Mr. Delaney and his staff. He is, quite frankly, a hero, and it was United Way’s privilege to nominate him for this great award.”

Hendry continued, “Students at Carolina often experience barriers not known—or even imagined—by most of us. His passion for their success is inspiring to students, to faculty, and to those of us who have had the opportunity to work and to see and to experience his drive for changing the odds for students who have the great fortune to attend Carolina high and Academy under his leadership.”

Delaney earned a bachelor’s degree from USC Upstate and a master’s degree in school leadership from Furman University.