Furman to host D2 Rugby Final Four this weekend

Furman University will host the 2014 USA Rugby Men’s Division II College National Championship and the American Collegiate Rugby Championship December 6-7. The two-day event features some of the finest college rugby programs in the nation.

“USA Rugby is pleased to return to Furman University for the USA Rugby Men’s Division II College National Championship,” said USA Rugby Collegiate Director Rich Cortez. “Last year’s championship was highlighted by the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s redemption victory over perennial power Salisbury University. This year’s playoffs were even better than last year, so the last four teams standing deserve proper recognition for their championship seasons. This Championship is made possible by the collaboration of all of the DII Conferences across the United States. We are extremely pleased Furman University Rugby, under the direction of John Roberts, has agreed to host this Championship on their extraordinarily beautiful campus.”

The four semifinalists competing for the DII National Championship will be reigning National Champion University of Minnesota Duluth, 2011 winner UW-Whitewater, Notre Dame College and James Madison University.

Notre Dame College will face University of Wisconsin Whitewater at noon on Saturday. At 2 p.m., University of Minnesota Duluth will play James Madison. On Sunday, the consolation game will kick off at 11 a.m. with the finals to follow at 1 p.m.

Furman, the host team, advanced to the round of 16 but was eliminated November 15 in a narrow 17-15 loss to Notre Dame.

All matches will be played on John S. Roberts Field, which is located adjacent to Paladin Stadium.

Game on


If you want to buy stock that rests on the future of a soccer team—or any other type of sports team—Furman junior Andrew Kaonga soon will have a game available for you.

Although Kaonga , a mathematics and economics major, and his summer research advisor, Dr. Tom Smythe, associate professor of business and accounting at Furman, have not yet named the game, it is based on how both the stock market and gambling work.

The idea for the game has been percolating for year, Kaonga said.

“It all started in the ninth grade,” the Zambian native, said. “My friends and I, we played cards in elementary school, something we were not supposed to do.” In high school, the card games and gambling continued. As he matured and learned more, he compared his small-time betting to both soccer games and the stock market.

Smythe agreed that comparisons exist.

“You have companies. You invest and you get out,” he said. When betting on soccer, people place bets on the game. But “if you lose, you lose everything.”

During the Zambian mandatory gap year before college, Kaonga began considering a college in the United States. He met a U.S. Embassy employee who had attended Furman and recommended the school. He applied to Furman and as part of his application, he presented his idea for a soccer-betting game. A Furman official sent the idea to immigration officials, who said it has a business potential.

The idea rested there until last year when he discovered Fantex, a company that set up an online betting game. The difference is that they used players rather than teams. They used National Football League players, who received money from the betting while the company received a fraction of the bet.

“I was a little bit panicked,” he said of the discovery.

He talked with Furman professors about working on the game as a summer research project.

“It was different, a different form of summer research,” Smythe said. “It was related to a lot of things.”

In addition, Kaonga’s idea was different from other online gambling and fantasy sports games, Smythe said.  In fantasy football, the player creates a team of the players he wants. And most gambling is match by match, game by game. Kaonga’s game instead is based on existing teams and their seasons.

Smythe’s first recommendation was that Kaonga undertake more research to determine if any other programs like his were available. He found some that were similar but none were really the same.

“One of the things that is attractive about this is it’s just like a stock market,” Smythe said. “If a team loses a key player, the likelihood of winning goes down. If a company produces a bad product or loses a CEO, the stock price can go down.”

However, “in pure gambling, you can lose everything,” Kaonga said. “With this game, that’s not possible. Even if you lose all the games, you can lose only up to a maximum amount. If all the games are lost, that would be 50 percent of the investment.”

“We’re setting it up to take the gambling edge off it,” Smythe said, adding that it will be based on a team’s skills” rather than pure luck. Initially, the beginning of season will begin with something similar to an Initial Public Offering, where game owners set an estimated value of the team and investors bid on buying shares, or certificates, of the team.

It also will be set up so “investors” can win or lose on each game, and a secondary market will be developed to allow trading.

One plus for an investor is that he could get all his money back if the team he is investing in should upset a No. 1 team, Kaonga said.

The game is expected be in a testing, or simulation, status by next summer, probably using the five World Cup soccer teams, Smythe said. The investors, using virtual money, will be students in Furman’s business and accounting department. Links will be provided to team sites and other sports sites and information on the teams will be available.

“Generally what matters is getting information about the teams and players,” Kaonga said. “We can pretty much play this game in any league.”

Like buying stocks, players will buy certificates that can be traded with others playing during a certain time window. They will post trade orders just as those buying stocks do. In later simulations, the creators of the game could even introduce short selling, which occurs when an investor thinks the value of a team will drop for some reason.

“We become the match makers. We create a market. We fully expect some people to just buy a team because they know it,” Smythe said.

That also is much like the stock market where some investors buy stocks of companies they do business with or about whom they have heard good things, he said.

During the testing phase, “we’re trying to learn whether or not it really follows market dynamics,” Smythe said.

Kaonga’s short-term goal is to see if the game works and if people remain interested in playing.

“It is a market, but it has characteristics of its own,” he said.

Smythe said he would like to see the game become a business. “The biggest obstacle is if somebody in the market develops something like this.”

That is a possibility, Kaonga said, because his soccer-trading market “directly competes with the gambling sites and the stock market. But if he and Smythe can pull it off, “it could be lucrative.”

Smythe said the game could be used in investment and market classes at Furman and could be based on any sport.

Kaonga, with a goal of becoming an entrepreneur, expects to return to Zambia but could stay in the United States for some years before returning. He anticipates the game could work well in developing countries.

“It makes it interesting in very poor countries,” he said. “Information about sports is what you have a lot of. Companies, not so much. Companies also can lie” while sports team results are out there for all to see.



Christmas @ Furman to be performed Dec. 5

Furman FSO, Singers, Chorales, Messiah from Jeremy2The Furman Symphony Orchestra, Furman Singers and Chorales featuring five student soloists will present Christmas @ Furman Friday, Dec. 5 at 8 p.m. in McAlister Auditorium on the Furman University campus.

The event is open to the public. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $5 for students/youth.

An annual tradition for more than 50 years, Furman’s holiday concert features 200 students conducted by Thomas Joiner and Hugh Ferguson Floyd. The program, part of Furman’s Cultural Life Program as well as the Sound Quality Concert Series, includes Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” choral works by Franz Biebl and Sergei Rachmaninoff, Alfred Reed’s “Russian Christmas Music,” Brahms’ Chorale Prelude “There is a Rose,” Mannheim Steamroller’s “Silent Night,” and familiar carol arrangements by Arthur Harris.

Student soloists for Vivaldi’s “Gloria” are sopranos Leyly Bagherof (Greenville, S.C.), Carmen Beam (Greenville, S.C.), Hannah Camille Cox (Hickory, N.C.), Layla Dougani (Cary, N.C.), and mezzo-soprano Ashton Nicewonger (Pelion, S.C.).

For more information or advance ticket sales, call the Furman Music Office at (864) 294-2086. To purchase tickets online, follow this link.

About Thomas W. Joiner

Dr. Joiner has appeared as a conductor, violinist, chamber player, and teacher throughout the United States and 11 foreign countries. At Furman, he conducts the Furman Symphony Orchestra in orchestral, operatic, and oratorio performances. He also serves as the music director and conductor of the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra (N.C.). For more than three decades, Joiner served as a member of the artist-faculty of the Brevard Music Center where he was a concertmaster of the Brevard Music Festival Orchestra. Previous positions include Associate Principal Second Violin of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, first violinist with the Louisville Orchestra and Professor of Violin and Orchestral Activities at the University of Georgia School of Music. A native of Rock Hill, S.C., Joiner is a graduate of Furman University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Florida State University.

About Hugh Ferguson Floyd

Dr. Floyd is professor of music at Furman, coordinator of choral ensembles and director of the Furman Singers. He is the first recipient of the Bingham L. Vick, Jr. and Judith S. Vick Professorship of Music, established by the Furman Singers Alumni Association. Prior to his appointment at Furman, Floyd served as the director of choral studies at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College. He served as director of choral activities and voice instructor at the famed Interlochen Center for the Arts, a guest lecturer at the Eastman School of Music, and Yale University, and is currently Artistic Director of the New York State Summer School of the Arts School of Choral Studies. Floyd is a graduate of Furman University, the Eastman School of Music, and the University of Michigan.

Chamber Wind Ensemble in concert Dec. 9

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.com

The Furman University Chamber Wind Ensemble will present a concert Tuesday, Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. in Daniel Recital Hall on the Furman campus.

Presented by the Furman University Department of Music, the concert is free and open to the public.

The Chamber Wind Ensemble is conducted by Professor of Clarinet Dr. Robert Chesebro who is in his 50th year as a Furman faculty member. Retiring after this academic year, Chesebro will conduct 11 musicians in the program featuring works by Anton Reicha, Paul Hindemith, Charles Gounod, and Gordon Jacob.

The members of the Chamber Wind Ensemble are:

Akari Ogawa, flute
Douglas Harvill, Allison Rye, and Clare Miller, oboe
Evan Haight, Elizabeth Douglass, and Lydia Porter, clarinet
Brent Patteson and Mara Chamlee, horn
Bryson Wightman and Rachael Dennis, bassoon

Joining the music faculty in 1965, Chesebro is the Charles E. Daniel Professor of Music at Furman and a Yamaha Artist/Clinician. He has completed 25 seasons as musical director and conductor of the Carolina Youth Symphony. He has also conducted the Furman University Symphonic Band, Greenville Symphony Orchestra, Hendersonville Symphony, Greenville Little Theater, Carolina Ballet Theater, and several all-state bands.

As an artist and clinician for the Yamaha Corporation, Chesebro provides woodwind clinics for students with a special “how to practice” routine. Recently, he joined Tod Kerstetter to co-author “The Everyday Virtuoso,” a book featuring a structured approach to developing virtuoso technique for advanced high school and college students. Chesebro holds doctorate and master’s degrees from Indiana University and a bachelor’s from Wisconsin State University.

For more information about the event, contact the Furman University Music Department at (864) 294-2086, or email the department at FurmanMusic@furman.edu.

Furman to host USA Rugby D2 Final Four

Furman University will host the 2014 USA Rugby Men’s Division II College National Championship and the American Collegiate Rugby Championship December 6-7. The two-day event features some of the finest college rugby programs in the nation.

“USA Rugby is pleased to return to Furman University for the USA Rugby Men’s Division II College National Championship,” said USA Rugby Collegiate Director Rich Cortez. “Last year’s championship was highlighted by the University of Minnesota-Duluth’s redemption victory over perennial power Salisbury University. This year’s playoffs were even better than last year, so the last four teams standing deserve proper recognition for their championship seasons. This Championship is made possible by the collaboration of all of the DII Conferences across the United States. We are extremely pleased Furman University Rugby, under the direction of John Roberts, has agreed to host this Championship on their extraordinarily beautiful campus.”

The four semifinalists competing for the DII National Championship will be reigning National Champion University of Minnesota Duluth, 2011 winner UW-Whitewater, Notre Dame College and James Madison University.

Notre Dame College will face University of Wisconsin Whitewater at noon on Saturday. At 2 p.m., University of Minnesota Duluth will play James Madison. On Sunday, the consolation game will kick off at 11 a.m. with the finals to follow at 1 p.m.

Furman, the host team, advanced to the round of 16 but was eliminated November 15 in a narrow 17-15 loss to Notre Dame.

All matches will be played on John S. Roberts Field, which is located adjacent to Paladin Stadium

Winter Art Showcase

All day, through-Apr. 28, Upper Level, Trone Ctr. Art scholarship students display works.

Furman has built one of the nation’s top mock trial programs

Mock Trial Program Furman

So far this fall, the Furman mock trial team has participated in tournaments in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Durham, Elon, Irvine, and Philadelphia.

The extensive travel and countless hours of participation pay off for Furman Mock Trial, an extraordinarily popular program.

With 18 straight bids to the American Mock Trial Association’s National Championship Tournament, Furman Mock Trial has become a force in national circles. In 15 of those appearances, the team has finished the season in the top 10 of its division. Despite not winning the title, Furman posted the best overall record at nationals during the 2000-2009 decade; and on more than one occasion two Furman teams have landed in the top 10.

In the driver’s seat from the beginning, mock trial director Dr. Glen Halva-Neubauer recalls early moments in the program’s history. Former Political Science Chair and now Riley Institute Executive Director Don Gordon, and former Circuit Judge Joe Watson ’75 were instrumental in nudging the program forward during the embryonic years, along with strong support from Dean A.V. Huff.

“We started this in 1995—I had no idea what I was doing,” says Dr. Halva-Neubauer. But it didn’t take long for the bug to incubate. “And once you get the mock trial bug, it’s hard to shake,” he says.

Mere rookies, Halva-Neubauer’s mockers somehow snagged a pretty successful season from the get go. “The first watershed moment for us was 1996 in St. Paul (Minn.). We’re there, we’re upstarts, and we end up in contention for the championship until the last round.” The professor keeps a handful of trophies in his small office. He proudly reaches for the trophy that marks the team’s seventh place finish that inaugural year.

Currently ranked 11th in the country, Furman continues to build its reputation at elite invitational tournaments while earning high marks for hosting the Bell Tower Tournament (formerly Ney National), a super regional AMTA tournament.

The season begins with the announcement of the criminal or civil case file in August. Then, after weeks of preparation, schools participate in invitational tournaments in the fall and early spring to ready themselves for 25 regional AMTA-sanctioned tournaments that take place in February.

In 2014, AMTA included more than 550 mock trial teams from approximately 350 universities and colleges spanning the country. The top teams from each regional tournament advance and compete in the super regionals or Opening Round Championship Series (ORCS) held in March. One hundred and ninety two teams battle it out in the ORCS round, then the top six teams from each ORCS tournament advance to AMTA’s National Championship Tournament in April. Only 48 teams advance and compete in the National Championship Tournament. These 48 teams are divided into two divisions of 24 teams each. The first-place teams from each face off in AMTA’s National Championship Final Round.

So what does it take to have a booming mock trial program? Dr. Halva-Neubauer says it starts with a crop of bright, articulate, and competitive kids who have superb time management skills and a desire to work with each other in a team environment.

But he also says students don’t have to fit a particular academic mold to be a part of the team. He reels off majors outside the usual pre-law/political science suspects—math, history, modern languages, religion, and economics.

“What’s great is that our student profile has expanded to include more majors. I love that. It gives us more support around the university, more exposure to faculty . . . mock trial students don’t just go to law school . . . it’s an activity for all comers,” he says.

The reality that Furman mock trial draws students from all backgrounds and majors is important for team building. “It’s an activity that brings a diverse set of people together who would not know each other absent this,” says Halva-Neubauer.

With all the hours that funnel into mock trial preparation and the weekend-long tournaments, students come away with a stockpile of life skills. Says mock trial coach and Furman alum Brad Rustin ’03, attorney at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, “The biggest change I see in students over time is their level of judgment and maturity. Mock trial teaches you how to compete while remaining civil and respectful of others.”

Coach Lindsay Builder ’07, also of Nelson Mullins, has witnessed “astronomical” growth in students in his four years of coaching. Andrew Mueller ’14 (Tinley Park, Ill.) started out as a witness in his first two years and transitioned to the program’s top male attorney. Builder says Mueller really took to what the coaches term “Mock Trial 2.0,” where they teach students to move beyond the practice of rote memory.

Builder says he unfortunately sees a fair amount of “scripted robots” in mock court settings where trials are little more than “orchestrated ballets” with each word memorized and every step choreographed. “We want our kids to think and act like lawyers—reacting, analyzing the situation, determining on their feet what’s their next move.” Builder says Mueller was particularly good at that, but he was by no means an isolated case. “I could talk about several kids just like him.”

Kaitlyn Pugh ’17 (Edgefield, S.C.) says, “Not knowing what the other teams are going to do is unnerving at times, but nothing beats the rush you get when you stand up to give a statement or question a witness. Or, if you’re the witness, being on the stand gives you a chance to control the trial.”

Jordan Brown ’16 (Gastonia, N.C.) knows what it’s like to think on his feet. Brown, who plans to go to math grad school and teach at the secondary level, says, “Teams can be kind of cutthroat out there and will try to throw you off your game.” He says improvisation and the ability to recover become important skills.

Brown remembers a round against the University of Virginia at a West Coast tournament last season where the prosecution’s pithy direct examination of a witness left Brown with virtually no cross. “So I say to myself, ‘did they really just do that?’ I stand up, and don’t remember what I ask the witness, but it has no resemblance to what I expected to say.” Brown says “wing-it” moments like that happen often, and tackling them with 100 percent confidence is part of the game.

Rustin says, “I tell students to have fun, show off, and go 100 miles per hour in the court room.” Sometimes that strategy can get teams into trouble, but it’s good for scoring points with the judges.

Rustin describes a round in a Washington, D.C., court house in which Kiersty DeGroote ’14 (Lyman, S.C.), during an entire cross examination of a witness, teetered on chair in her heels and business suit to demonstrate what a witness saw while standing on a stall toilet, peering over the wall. From that point forward, her performance was dubbed the “chair cross,” and Rustin says the “judges ate it up.” And the infamous “chair cross” became code for pulling out all the stops in the court room.

The moxie it takes to pull stunts like that, take risks and be vulnerable comes with practice “Mock trial is a jealous, time-sucking activity,” says Halva-Neubauer. So in the 10 or more hours a week students and coaches spend studying the case file, preparing opening statements and closing arguments, setting up demonstratives, poring over rules of evidence, and prepping witnesses, there’s no time for petty differences, but lots of time for fostering trust and relationships.

A spirit of mutual respect among coaches and team members allows a safe place to air criticisms. “Mock trial teaches you how to give and receive constructive criticism,” says Builder. “That’s how our teams work.”

Breaking tech’s glass ceiling

Computer science majors Haley Cottingham and Andreea Cirstea attend worlds largest gathering of women technologists

It’s no exaggeration to say most computer science majors are men. Contrary to some misogynistic beliefs, however, it’s not because they’re actually better at computer science than women.

But they often do think they’re better—than everyone. Sometimes it’s delusion, but justified or not that confidence goes a surprisingly long way according to Furman computer science department chair Kevin Treu.

“Men tend to be very cocky and very territorial when it comes to computers. Think of boys playing video games and stuff like that. And even if they are ‘C’ students they’ll believe themselves to be much better than that,” he says. “Women who are very adept at logical, rational thinking have these crushing self-confidence issues. I’m generalizing, but that is really a very interesting thing to note, that all these aggressive boys have chased away the girls in a sense.”

Before you go lumping Treu in with the cavemen, hear him out. It’s a fact that women are hugely under-represented in the field, and he has deep familiarity with the theories why because one of his main goals is to change the situation. That’s the biggest reason Haley Cottingham ’17 and Andreea Cirstea ’17 ended up in Phoenix in early October at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing conference.

“I have been involved in investigating the issue, and it really is an issue, of the dearth of women in my field, in computer science, for years now in fact,” Treu said.

Dr. Grace Hopper was a rear admiral in the Navy and will always be one of the most significant figures in computer science, male or female. She was a co-inventor of the Harvard Mark I computer before leading a team that invented COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language), the first user-friendly software program that is now the backbone of world business-computer programming language.

And she did it by bringing something to the table that men often do not: By starting out with a belief that programs should be written in a language that was close to English rather than machine code.

“This is not a stereotype, this is actually documented by social-science research that women are far more interested in the connections, they’re interested in the bigger picture, they’re interested in not just this machine as an artifact unto itself but as a tool to bring people closer together or to help people,” Treu says. “I think that’s my favorite theory for why women just left . . . Computer science as a discipline failed to keep up with the way that computing evolved in the eyes of society at large.”

Which means?

“We continue trudging down this path of teaching computer science as an end unto itself, how to program the computer and how to make it work and how to make it go faster and all those really nerdy things,” he continues. “And we completely lost sight of the fact that society was more interested in ‘how can we use these?’”

But times are changing. Cottingham, a native of Charleston, S.C., and Cirstea, who is from Atlanta represent two of the 10 female computer science majors at Furman. That’s still only 20 percent of the total but a far cry from a low of two just a few years ago.

“That I think is a very common mindset, that computer science is going to be sitting and staring at a computer and stubbornly refusing to give up on this problem until you’ve fixed this piece of code. But what’s so interesting about the field is it’s so much more,” Cottingham says. “For example, working with people, user experience, user interface. That’s actually what I am interested in is working with the user, and sort of translating that to people in the dark room who are doing the hard engineering.”

Approximately 8,000 people converged on the Phoenix Convention Center for the three-day event, earning the Grace Hopper its title of “world’s largest gathering of women technologists.” Speakers included Shafi Goldwasser, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, Maria Klawe, a computer scientist and president of Harvey Mudd College, Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, and Arati Prabhaker, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the career fair was “just out of this world,” according to Cottingham, featuring “every company you could possibly imagine.”

The Anita Borg Institute produced the conference and offered scholarships to students, which both Cottingham and Cirstea took advantage of.

“Haley and I both attended workshops that taught us how to stand out from the crowd in a positive way,” Cirstea said. “For me, the career fair was the most beneficial because I not only got to see what type of questions they ask but the difference between behavioral interviews and purely technical interviews or a combination of both. And I learned most of the time if you’re the smartest person at the table then you’re usually at the wrong table. That gives me a whole new perspective on life because I always want to be learning and I want to help people around me.”

Cirstea became interested in computer science while taking intro to computer science with Dr. Andrea Tartaro followed by intro to programming, and she left the conference with internship offer from J.P. Morgan Company. Both she and Cottingham acknowledged the scarcity of women in their field, and Grace Potter gave them many tips on how to manage that.

“I talked to a few older people who had been there before, and one of my favorite pieces of advice was to not downplay. It’s something that I’m prone to, and I think it’s something that a lot of women in the field are prone to. ’It really wasn’t that big of a deal, or I did this thing but I had a lot of help. I wasn’t the leader.’ Just go ahead and say ‘these are my accomplishments, this is what I’ve done, and I’m proud of them,’” she said. “There they are, and don’t feel like you have to qualify everything you present about yourself.”

That includes advertising your unique talents.

“People who have more of a holistic approach to (computer science) ultimately can get more done. That can be a woman or a man,” Cottingham said. “In general when you approach it using the skills and tools that you’ve gained from all different experiences rather than just trying to solve a problem with engineering and math it ultimately produces better results.”

One of Treu’s top goals is to continue to increase female interest, which is why he’ll continue to promote Grace Hopper and others like it.

“Haley and Andreea are examples of women who have swallowed the Kool-Aid, so to speak,” he said. “From my perspective as department chair this was a very valuable opportunity to provide to our female students. I actually offered for even more to go, but only Andreea and Haley took me up in it. But this is the kind of thing at Furman that we will find the money to make it happen if we can. That’s what Furman is about.”

Growing food, cultivating community

Urban farming produces fresh food and jobs in Greenville

Dan Weidenbenner ’11 doesn’t exactly fit the typical farmer profile. He’s a psychology major who wears narrow, dark-rimmed glasses and plays tennis in his spare time. The plaid shirts for which he has a penchant might be the only hint of his chosen profession as director of Mill Village Farms, a 501c3 organization aimed at growing food and jobs in rural and abandoned urban spaces in the Greenville, S.C. area.

What started as mission work with local Grace Church and Long Branch Baptist Church, MVF now manages more than 120 acres of farmland, and last year launched a mobile food market, “Good to Go,” which delivers food to areas where fresh, local food isn’t available, or “food deserts.” And this year, MVF planted South Carolina’s first ever rooftop garden, a.k.a. the Rooftop Farm Initiative. About a half-acre atop the former Windstream building in downtown Greenville is home to 12 (with dozens more to come) space-saving aeroponic towers that can grow fresh and healthy vegetables in just 24 days.

mvf good to go marketThe Florida native will be the first to tell you that it’s not all about the food. The farm model serves as a platform for mentoring youth by teaching basic job skills, sustainable agriculture, and entrepreneurship. “I’m more concerned about growing a successful teen than I am about growing food. But we obviously have to do both to make it happen,” says Weidenbenner.

The nonprofit provides at-risk youth first-time jobs and the opportunity to harvest the requisite skills—working under authority, establishing a strong work ethic, managing money, and working as a team. And through MVF’s 10-week Youth Entrepreneurship Program, kids tour businesses and learn the fundamentals of starting a venture, then create a proposal for launching their own enterprise.

Since 2012 when MVF was created, the nonprofit has employed 25 at-risk young men and women, also known as “youth partners.” At least four of those teens are or have been successfully employed at restaurants like local Tupelo Honey Café (headquartered in Asheville, N.C.), which buys produce from MVF and other regional sources. Sixteen youth have been involved in the process of crafting business plans, and courtesy of the mobile market, all have delivered and sold fresh-off-the-vine produce like melons, beans, cukes, tomatoes, and squash to nearly 3,000 customers.

Weidenbenner’s foray into the world of produce actually started at Furman University during research he and others conducted with psychology professor Michelle Horhota, Ph.D. “We brought older adults in from The Woodlands and Scott Towers communities to the Shi Center farm and studied the cognitive benefits of gardening and farming, including attentional capacity and other variables,” says Weidenbenner.

The experience was a sort of epiphany for the then 21-year-old psych student. With the help of Long Branch Baptist Church and Grace Church, Weidenbenner planted that same idea in lower income areas and applied it to a much younger set that works gardens at the Mills Mill Farm and Sullivan Street Farm—acreage left behind in the wake of the textile industry collapse. “To be able to move into an under-resourced area here in Greenville that is culturally very different from my background, and to learn from that culture and work alongside that community through something as simple as farming has been very challenging and enriching,” says Weidenbenner. MVF youth partners are also employed in gardens on the rooftop downtown, Serenity Farm in Easley, and the Farm at Rabon Creek in Fountain Inn.
In the space before MVF was formed, Grace Church had been doing outreach work with Long Branch Baptist, a dynamic, mostly African American congregation with 1,200 members near downtown Greenville. Pastor Sean Dogan of Long Branch provided much of the impetus for the project which would become Mill Village Farms. Says Weidenbenner, “Long Branch was already in the community and owned five acres of vacant land that could be used for farming . . . and the idea really fit in well with their culture of healthy living.”

Weidenbenner says, “Long Branch is a vibrant church—Pastor Sean Dogan is dedicated to healthy lifestyles. We have fitness and cooking classes, experts who come into our worship services to talk about eating and living well. He’s been a huge catalyst for our project, for his enthusiasm and because he’s so well connected in the community.”

Besides the suppmvf garden and teensort from local churches, Weidenbenner is struck by the generosity of businesses and individuals in Greenville. The support has enabled him to hire a full-time farm director, Noah Tassie, and a part-time market director, Tisha Barnes who manages the Good to Go Mobile Farmers Market. And through MVF’s partnership with Swamp Rabbit Café, Good to Go brings not only fresh veggies and fruits, but also baked specialty items to food desert locations and to suburban communities.

Weidenbenner says Greenville is ripe for a venture such as his. “People in Greenville are passionate about local food and supporting youth—it’s been a nice mesh because people here are very generous.”

You could say the roots of MVF are firmly planted in the Greenville community—so much that teens who’ve worked with MVF are circling back. Twins Marcellus and Morrell Stokes, who worked at MVF in their late teens, are now servers at Tupelo Honey Café and both are looking to go to college. Weidenbenner, who’s proud of the fact that the young men make more money than he does some days, says, “They’ve been active in giving back to the community, which has been amazing for me to see—that was an unexpected thing—to see them volunteering with us, the youth program and at our church. That’s what we want—we want people to stay here and invest.”

Weidenbenner won’t take all the credit for the positive changes in the lives of young men and women. Inspired by witnessing youth giving back to their communities, neighbors and friends come alongside and invest in the teens. Perhaps neighbors and friends lend support because they are motivated by what they don’t see growing in the urban spaces—a tangle of weeds like crime, homelessness, and drug activity. Whatever their motivation, the neighborhood outpouring has boosted support for MVF, says Weidenbenner, who also recognizes Long Branch Baptist and other mentors for having a “huge” impact in the lives of young people in general, and Marcellus and Morrell, in particular.

mvf broccoli

As for the future of the enterprise, Weidenbenner’s goals are lofty. Years from now, he says, “I would hope that we have teenagers who come back and help lead the organization. I would love for us to impact even more youth across our community, and to grow even more food—not only for our community, but the city and restaurants. I’d like people to look back at this and see it as a community-based initiative and not me starting all this—it was our neighborhood, our city coming together to see teens thrive and people eating healthier.”

For his part, Weidenbenner has a lot to be happy about. After all, there’s a lot more growing at MVF than kale, collards, mustard and other greens. There are future business owners, community leaders, executives, and mentors.

Scholarship creates new opportunities for philosophy students


Sarah Worth ’92 can give a lot of concrete reasons why you should major in philosophy.

Philosophy majors score the highest on the verbal and analytical writing sections of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Only biology majors beat them on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). No humanities major tops philosophy graduates in starting salary and percent salary increase to mid-career.

Now she can also give you one for why you should major in philosophy at Furman.

Beginning this year, the department began awarding scholarships to four incoming freshmen who have shown in interest in the field. The students split $72,000 annually for four years, and at least according to information on collegescholarships.org that is far and away the largest grant awarded to incoming undergraduate philosophy students in the country.

“That’s huge. That’s a big chunk of change to be able to go study philosophy,” Worth, the Furman Philosophy Department chair, says. “The huge benefit is we can get people in the door their freshman year knowing that this is what they want to do, so we can compete for some of the best students in the country.”

The inaugural recipients are Sarah Byrd ’18 of Fairhope, Ala., Abby Dow ’18 of Sacramento, Calif., Allie Johnson ’18 of Columbia, S.C., and Kathleen Smith ’18 of Butler, Pa. Byrd and Smith have already said they plan to be philosophy majors, but another thing that makes these scholarships unique is that they don’t have to. Either way, the money is guaranteed.

“They have to take a minimum of four courses, and they have to have one of us an advisor,” Worth said. “We have to involve them, but we don’t actually require them to major. . . We don’t want to tie people with their scholarships to the department.”

Smith said the money helped push her in Furman’s direction, and her early experience has been even better than she had hoped.

“The scholarship was kind of secondary to location I guess, but it was definitely something that locked up my interest,” she said. “I love the class I’m in right now. I’m just in introductory philosophy, but it’s been really great . . . I want to work with families in crisis, and I hope to do that through law so it matches nicely with my career goals.”

Dow wanted to go to school in the Southeast after her parents elected to move to Tennessee, and she first heard of Furman when she Googled “best liberal-arts schools in the South.” She’s not committed to a major yet, but philosophy is a real possibility.

“I like that you get to question some of the bigger things, questions like why instead of facts and challenging you to think bigger and have an open mind,” she said. “I’m in Dr. Worth’s intro to philosophy right now, and it’s my favorite class at Furman.”

Worth says there are currently about 60 philosophy majors at Furman, and over her 16 years she’s seen the number as low as 35 and as high as 70. That’s an excellent range, but her goal is always to make things better. The scholarships will only help.

“Most often people don’t come to college thinking they’re going to major in philosophy because they’ve never had it and they don’t know what it is. Our best chance (was) getting somebody from an intro class,” she said. “I want to raise the level of the kids. I want to raise the level of what we can do with them—more publications, more conference papers, just continue to grow the health of the department.”

With seven faculty members, Furman has shown a commitment to philosophy. Worth says that shows in the quality of graduates being churned out, who are turning abstract thinking into tangible real-world accomplishment.

“They go into the clergy, go into law. It’s just really good preparation for a whole bunch of things,” she said. “My standard line about philosophy is we teach people to read difficult things, to write clearly about those difficult concepts and to be able to articulate various positions about things. Those are very good job skills.”

For more on the Furman philosophy department click here.