Saturday, August 31, 2013

Excerpt from the so-called "Oklahoma book"

11. The Spoon Collection
There I keep my treasures in a box—
Shells and colored glass and queer-shaped rocks,
Margaret Widdemer
The Secret Cavern
 “Lillian left you her spoon collection.”
Helen’s voice has a certain crackling lilt, as if something exciting is either about to happen, or has just happened. It’s an upbeat voice, even when whatever she’s talking about is sad, such as the death of her sister. I ask about where they were found.
“Well, Eddie found them. They were in the bottom of her cedar chest. You can pick them up the next time you’re down here.”
My cousin Ed Jeter, along with my sister, Teresa, were the ones who visited our aunt Lillian after her stroke, and had taken Helen, now my lone surviving paternal relative, over to Clarksville to clean out the duplex after Lillian died. I had never visited Lillian in the nursing home, never made that trip over to Arkansas through eastern Oklahoma. So why would I get the spoons? Why would anyone leave his or her spoon collection to a least attentive nephew? Because I may have been the only one in the family who actually loved them, the only one who never made fun of her for having them, and the only one who ever asked Lillian if I could play with them, as a kid. At those times when we visited my grandfather and two aunts, before Lillian got married, could my parents have anticipated my future just by studying my interests? Could they have looked around my grandfather’s house, noted my fascination with all his stuff, and said to themselves: Johnny will turn out to be a man preoccupied with the exotic, the microscopic, the arcane? I believe they could have done that. Nothing quite like a spoon collection had ever crossed my eight year old mind until I realized Lillian had one. Those spoons were as romantic as the places they came from. I could handle a small piece of Ohio, or Minnesota, or wherever Lillian had been, just by rubbing their emblems, and asking Lillian how she got this one or that.
“I’ll get the spoons next week,” I assured Helen. We were going to Oklahoma for a few days in March. Lillian had died some months earlier. Karen’s mother Genevieve had died in January. Genevieve’s brother Newton had died in November. There had been enough death in the family to force me onto a diet—needed to be able to get into my funeral clothes. I tried the Atkins one. It worked, but this is no advertisement; you have to eat plenty of lettuce and broccoli—roughage—in addition to the meat, cheese, and eggs.
I picked up the spoons in Oklahoma City, on a Sunday in March. Karen and I had taken a week off and driven the four hundred miles south. I needed to get away from my employer and especially away from my colleagues at work for a few days, and I wanted to collect some fossil plants. Karen needed to help her sisters and brother clean out their mother’s house in El Reno. After the funeral in January, Genevieve’s children had reclaimed many of the things they’d given her—art, books, various Christmas gifts—and had done the crucial, first, search for important papers, loose money, and collectibles that might attract an unwelcome visitor to a vacant house. Thieves were not a part of the El Reno culture; the idea that someone might want an antique quilt was baggage we brought in from the outside world. Karen’s brother Eddie, actually half-brother, given the fact that Genevieve had married Karen’s father, Glenn, after her mother Evelyn died, was not too worried about anyone breaking in, but nevertheless retrieved his clock. El Reno is a former railroad town too far from Oklahoma City to be a bedroom community. There may be 25,000 people in El Reno, but it’s far enough off the interstate to struggle a little bit economically. The bank where Eddie worked as a loan officer had been sold to a large outside firm and he learned on the day of his mother’s death that he would also lose his job.
So we drove two vehicles to Oklahoma, as we had done many times before. Karen went to El Reno to help clean out her mother’s house and I went to visit Helen. The spoons were in letter-sized envelopes, put inside several larger brown envelopes all taped shut and stashed in a bedroom Helen used for family relic storage. I refrained from opening the packages until I got back to Nebraska. I had no idea what to do with such a treasure, or what might be contained in those heavily taped bundles. Back home, I stuck them in a closet. Tuesdays and Thursdays are my personal scholarship days. I stay home and work at my home computer, bought with my own personal funds, several times as powerful as the one issued to me by the University of Nebraska, but used almost continuously for University business—scientific papers, statistical calculations, recommendation letters for would-be doctors, textbook manuscript, class preparation. I also try to work on more personal, and hopefully more literary, projects for an hour each day, especially early in the morning. Karen usually leaves by 7:00 o’clock; by 7:00 o’clock I’ve typically been at my computer for several hours. She calls from the top of the stairs; I dutifully walk up to kiss her goodbye—our little private ritual, in which I reveal to her that this little peck is important enough to stop whatever I’m doing. This morning, however, I have something else planned.
Now, alone in the silence of an empty house, I open an envelope filled with spoons. The first one that falls out is sterling silver, delicate, about four inches long. The actual spoon part is shaped like a pointed leaf; at the end of the handle is a tiny man in a perfect, tiny, outrigger canoe. A small tag is attached to the handle with a string. “Hawaii,” reads the tag, “#1.” It had never occurred to me that Lillian had been to Hawaii, although she was not the kind of person who’d collect a spoon from a place she’d never been. But I remember Hawaii #1. At least fifty four years have passed since I last touched it, but I remember, as if those fifty four years were suddenly erased, that little man in his outrigger, forever frozen in mid-paddle stroke. What seems strange now is the tag. Lillian’s spoons never had tags when I played with them as a child. Where did they get those tags, and why didn’t all these spoons have them?
I picture Lillian alone in her Clarksville, Arkansas, duplex, at night. Her husband, acquired very late in life, died after a debilitating bout with throat cancer. Tommy was a heavy smoker. At the time he was sick, society as a whole had not made the connection between tobacco and cancer. But now he’s gone, and Lillian is sitting at her table with her spoons. Maybe I should label them, she thinks; maybe someone might eventually like to know where these spoons came from. Was that “someone” in her mind me? She starts with the little silver man in his outrigger. Did she start with this one by accident? Was it a random event that led her fingers to that particular spoon? Or did she select it carefully, having me in mind all the time? The “Hawaii” part is superfluous; a leaf spoon, with a silver bamboo stem, and a silver man in a silver outrigger can only come from Hawaii; besides, the word “Hawaii” is engraved on the leaf. It’s the “#1” that’s the mystery. Did she really start her collection in Hawaii? Or was this the first one she picked up from the table that night after Tommy died? Did she intend to eventually write down some story about where each of these spoons originated? My father, her brother, would have done that.
Only Lillian herself, now gone, could answer these questions. They involve the human events that children should find out about before their relatives die, then remember, and pass along with their material culture when they too are in old age. The little “#1” tag reminds me of all the lost opportunities to talk about those subjects that are of virtually no consequence to anyone other than family members, yet, like the making of some traditional bread, bind us together in unspoken, extra-legal, ways. These bindings are made of nothing more than words, postures, looks on faces, the contexts in which conversations occur. The ties happen in each family, in every social setting where people are thrown together for some meaningful—lastingly meaningful—activity. This phenomenon should also occur in classrooms; routinely it does not, and much of the blame can be placed on electronic media. We—at least most of us—do not interact with a computer screen, or a television set, the same way we interact with an aunt.
Why this simple, this incredibly, truly, blatantly obvious simple, aspect of human interaction is so lost on politicians who push “educational technology” and “distance learning” is completely beyond my understanding. What is it that happens to people when they gain power, I wonder, laying two sets of Lillian’s spoons out on our kitchen bar, that they lose this touch with the lowest, most basic, form of human communication—human, live, in-person human, words, intonations, postures—unless those things help maintain the position of power? I don’t know; does anybody seem to know, or care? The two sets of eight spoons each have long, twisted, pewter handles. At the top of the handles are chess pieces. One set is large, about seven or eight inches long; the other, identical except for size, is about four inches long. Chess, among the most, if not the most, metaphorical of games, is an appropriate companion for a story in spoons: big ones and smaller versions, variations on the theme of games.
What was going through her mind when she got these pieces? I cannot do a web search and find out. And now, I cannot ask Lillian, either. I do know she acquired them after I had grown up, after she had married and moved off to Arkansas, because I’d never seen them as a child. Lillian had lived with her father, my paternal grandfather, Frank Janovy, until she was well into her 40s. Her sister Helen, one of my other aunts, never married, also lived at home. All three occupied a house at 531 SW 11th in Oklahoma City, a building that was less a house than a combination museum and library, filled with mystery and fascinating things—fossils, calcite crystals, silver pistols, a book collection the likes of which I had never before seen. Our family used to visit Grandpa periodically, about every other Sunday. Often my grandfather would make waffles for dinner.
At the time, my father was trying to teach me how to play chess; I was never very good at the game and it came as a great relief, eventually, when I didn’t have to humor my father by playing. But during those visits, when I was also asking Lillian to play with her spoons, had there been the two chess-pieces sets, they would have stuck in my mind forever, right alongside the sterling silver Hawaiian and his outrigger canoe. So I know Lillian acquired these spoons after she left Oklahoma City. Now, lined up on our kitchen bar, I wonder what a person does with such spoons, what, that is, beyond arrange them, look at them, consider all of their alternative histories, reconstruct fictitious stories about their travels, and finally, perhaps, get a spoon rack and display them on a wall somewhere. Then some day a visitor will come to our house, see that rack on the wall and say: I didn’t know you collected spoons. And I’ll reply I don’t, at least on purpose. The visitor will get a quizzical look, so I’ll explain: they’re what’s left of my Aunt Lillian.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

My reading list - those books that have made a major impact on my way of thinking.

John Janovy, Jr.’s suggested reading list:
Periodically various people, especially students, ask me about my reading list. I'm sure that every faculty member has such a list, but here's mine. The books on this list are ones that have made a major difference in the way I personally view the world. You'll notice that there's not a whole lot of biology in these works, and what biology exists usually is wrapped up in some kind of social significance. Virtually all of these titles were ones I checked out of the Lincoln city library, but many of them I later bought for my personal collection. Enjoy. - JJ
Adler, M. 1982. The paideia proposal. Macmillan, New York.
Armstrong, K. 2000. The battle for God. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
Bedau, H. A. 1987. Death is different. Northeastern University Press, Boston
Campbell, D. G. 1992. The crystal desert: summers in Antarctica. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
Chidester, D. 2000. Christianity: a global history. Harper Collins, New York.
Currie, E. 1985. Confronting crime: an American challenge. Pantheon, New York.
Desmond, A., and J. Moore. 1991. Darwin. Warner, New York.
Diaz, T. 1999. Making a killing: The business of guns in America. The New Press, New York.
Dorner, D. 1996. The logic of failure: why things go wrong and what we can do to make them right. Henry Holt and Company, New York.
Dyson, F. 1979. Disturbing the universe. Harper and Row, New York.
Dyson, F. 1984. Weapons and hope. Harper and Row, New York.
Farb, P. 1968. Man’s rise to civilization as shown by the Indians of North America from primeval times to the coming of the industrial state. Dutton, New York.
Farb, P. 1974. Word play: what happens when people talk. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.
Fussell, P. 1989. Wartime: understanding and behavior in the Second World War. Oxford University Press, New York.
Gould, S. J. 1989. Wonderful life: the Burgess Shale and the nature of history. W. W. Norton, New York.
Halberstam, D. 1986. The reckoning. Morrow, New York.
Hertsgaard, M. 1998. Earth odyssey: around the world in search of our environmental future. Broadway Books, New York.
Hofstadter, D. 1985. Metamagical themas: questing for the essence of mind and pattern. Basic Books, Inc., New York.
Honigsbaum, Mark. 2001. The fever trail: in search of the cure for malaria. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York.
Hughes, R. 1987. The fatal shore: a history of the transportation of convicts to Australia. Collins Harvill, London.
Janovy, J. 1994. Dunwoody Pond: reflections on the high plains wetlands and the cultivation of naturalists. St. Martin’s Press, New York.
Koestler, A. 1971. The case of the midwife toad. Random House, New York.
Kuhn, T. 1970. The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois.
Kurtz, P. 1983. In defense of secular humanism. Prometheus, New York.
LeShan, L. 1992. The psychology of war: comprehending its mystique and its madness. Nobel Press, Chicago, Illinois.
Lopez, B. 1986. Arctic dreams: imagination and desire in a northern landscape. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.
Mailer, N. 1969. Of a fire on the moon. Little, Brown and Company, New York.
Mayr, E. 1982. The growth of biological thought. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
McNeill, W. H. 1977. Plagues and Peoples. Doubleday, New York.
McPhee, J. 1980. Basin and range. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York.
McPhee, J. 1982. In suspect terrain. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York.
McPhee, J. 1986. Rising from the plains. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York.
McPhee, J. 1989. The control of nature. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York.
Montagu, A., and F. Matson. 1983. The dehumanization of man. McGraw-Hill, New York.
Mostert, N. 1976. Supership. Warner, New York.
Pirsig, R. M. 1974. Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. Morrow, New York.
Power, S. 2002. A problem from Hell: America and the age of genocide. Basic Books, New York.
Reisner, M. 1986. Cadillac desert: the American west and its disappearing water. Viking Press, New York.
Rothschild, M. 1983. Dear Lord Rothschild: birds, butterflies and history. Hutchinson, London.
Sheehan, N. 1988. A bright shining lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam. Random House, New York.
Shilts, R. 1987. And the band played on. St. Martin’s Press, New York.
Sobel, D. 1999. Galileo’s daughter: a historical memoir of science, faith, and love. Walker and Co., New York.
Steinbeck, J. 1941. The log of the Sea of Cortez. Viking Press, New York.
Sutton, G. M. 1979. To a young bird artist: letters from Louis Agassiz Fuertes to George Miksch Sutton. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma.
Thomas, L. 1974. Lives of a cell: notes of a biology watcher. Viking Press, New York.
Tuchman, B. 1970. Stillwell and the American experience in China. Macmilllan, New York.
Wilson, E. O. 1978. On human nature. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Zinsser, H. 1934. Rats, lice and history. Morrow, New York.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The True Legend of the Concrete Tapeworm

The True Legend of the Concrete Tapeworm
John Janovy, Jr.

There once was a beat-up, white-painted, wooden building that sat in a wooded depression across the road south from the Lake McConaughy spillway in Keith County, Nebraska. That building had been the headquarters for the crew that build Kingsley Dam, the enormous earth-filled structure that impounded the lake called “Big Mac.” During the early 1980s, the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District decided to “finish” Kingsley Dam by putting a hydroelectric plant into the spillway, a rather formidable but interesting task. That building had mainly been used by fishermen as a convenient restroom, but Central moved it out of the woods and down to a site near the Cedar Point Biological Station’s White Gate. See TEACHING IN EDEN, RoutledgeFalmer, 2003, for the complete analysis of the White Gate’s influence on American higher education. Obviously, late at night, over beers outside the White Gate, there was plenty of discussion about that building, the wisdom of Central’s decision to build the hydro plant, what might happen to it after the project was finished, and, of course, parasitology.

Central used the building to store various construction supplies. I was director of the CPBS at the time, and we needed some additional research space, so Ron Randall, who was the CPBS facilities manager at the time, and I did an inspection of the building and decided it might be useful. Ron said something like “it needs a new roof, new siding, new floor, and new wiring, but other than that, it’s in good shape.” The timbers were 1930s-era, and very solid. After the hydro plant was finished, I asked Central if we could have the building and they said “yes,” although we had to move it.

Ron rented a Bobcat, and although he did most of the work, I got to drive the Bobcat and did some of the excavation at the site, at CPBS, that had been formerly occupied by a green mobile home used as a research lab by several workers. After the building site was level, we dug the footing trench and Ron called in the concrete truck. After the footing was poured, there was some concrete left over, so I asked the truck driver if he’d pour a string of concrete in the space that would eventually be beneath the building’s floor. He did, and I shaped that string of concrete into a very large tapeworm sculpture, maybe 10 feet long. A local mason was hired to lay the foundation, and Star Moving Company from Hershey, Nebraska, moved the building from the White Gate to its new site, setting it gracefully on the foundation (but not without knocking a couple of blocks off, which had to be replaced before the building could be lowered).

There were barn swallow nests on the building, just under the eaves, when it was outside the White Gate, and those birds followed the building as it made its journey in to CPBS. That’s why the building is now named The Swallow Barn. Ron did virtually all of the updating and repair, and The Swallow Barn was used as a research facility, mainly by parasitologists, for years before it was remodeled into living quarters.

During the summer of 2013, there was some reason for people to get beneath that building, maybe because of a needed air conditioning repair. A couple of students, I believe, crawled into the crawl space (which is fairly generous, but you can’t stand up in it), and confirmed that yes indeed, like in a true intestine, that concrete tapeworm still lies there in the dark, absorbing all the parasitological wisdom that’s been brought into The Swallow Barn by the various people working above it’s concrete scolex.


True story of the Detwiler Piano at the Cedar Point Biological Station in western Nebraska

The Detwiler Piano – A History
J. Janovy, Jr.

When CPBS opened, in 1975, there was an old, green, upright piano downstairs in the lodge. Once and a while students played on it but eventually it disappeared, probably removed by the first director of CPBS, Dr. Brent Nickol. During the 1990s, the School of Biological Sciences revised its curriculum, removing both BIOS 112 (Zoology) and BIOS 109 (Botany) from the list of courses applicable to a degree, and began requiring Cell Structure and Function (BIOS 203) and Biodiversity (BIOS 204) as core majors’ courses. Because of the academic politics involved in these decisions, I volunteered to teach the spring section of BIOS 204, which I did for about 10 years. BIOS 204, Biodiversity, was changed to BIOS 103, Organismic Biology, for a variety of reasons (and BIOS 203 was changed to BIOS 102). One of those last semesters when I taught BIOS 204, however, there was a student in that class named Jillian Detwiler, from Rapid City, South Dakota. The Detwiler Piano is named for Jill.

During those years in BIOS 204, students wrote four papers, all being three double-spaced pages plus bibliography, without once mentioning money, health, agriculture, politics, sex, sports, or religion. A complete discussion of writing assignments in large classes can be found at Here are the papers Jill’s class wrote that semester, well before the Internet and Google made student writing so boring:

First paper assignment:

 (1) You will be issued a scientific name.  This name represents your personal and individual study organism for the papers this semester.

 (2) Analyze the taxonomic and phylogenetic information available in the original scientific literature on the genus of this organism, i.e. in the journal articles published over the past century.  In particular, be sure to address the question of whether the taxonomic information is of any value in answering phylogenetic questions.  Convince me that you have learned how to use Biological Abstracts and the Zoological Record, and that you have actually read and understood some original scientific papers.

 (3) Remember, this paper is mainly an exercise to teach you how to use (= find, read, and understand) the literature of biological diversity and how to write in taxonomic and phylogenetic terms.

 (4) The paper must be three full pages of double-spaced typing, 12-point font, 1” margins, plus at least 5 original journal article references (4th page) in the correct format (see Blackboard for editorial policies).

Second paper assignment:

(1) Answer the questions: Who are these scientists that did the research and wrote the references you cited in your first paper?  Under what circumstances did they do their research and produce their papers? What can you infer about their daily lives from reading the materials and methods sections of those papers you cited? Can you envision doing similar kinds of research as an undergraduate honors thesis?

(2) For the literature cited section of this paper, add another five references from the book and journal literature. Your bibliography pages should contain your references from the first paper, marked with an asterisk (*), then five additional references. You may also cite up to five web sources IN ADDITION to the real library resources. If you cite web sites, then also add a paragraph indicating why you chose those sites, based on the advice given by the library’s web site link to use and evaluation of web resources.

(3) The paper must be three double-spaced typed pages. All the format rules still apply (see the Blackboard site for this course).

Third Paper Assignment:

(1) Define and explain the term “conceptual problem” as it applies to biodiversity (100 words or less).

(2) Determine the three major conceptual problems that have yet to be addressed concerning the FAMILY of organisms to which your genus belongs. Explain exactly why these problems are conceptual ones, rather than practical or economic ones. Illustrate your answers with at least five additional references from the original literature or from books on the general subject that includes your genus, making sure to mark with an asterisk (*) the references already used in your first two papers. It's okay to refer back to the papers used for your first two papers.

(3) The main body of the paper must be a minimum of three double-spaced pages with one inch margins. The bibliography is extra.

Instructor comments on paper number 3 (from Blackboard):

Here is the assignment, all with some expanded commentary:

(1) Define and explain the term “conceptual problem” as it applies to biodiversity (100 words or less).

The first thing I would do is simply look up “conceptual” in your dictionary. The second thing I would do (I’m NOT being sarcastic here!) is to look up the word “problem.” I find that very often students, including graduate students who should know better, simply fail to address the question that is asked, and instead try to answer questions that were not asked. So it’s important to know what a conceptual problem is, and it is very important for you personally to decide what a conceptual problem is relative to your genus and its relatives. Here are some examples of conceptual problems, problems that were or could be addressed in various ways, some of which we are now familiar with:

a. Is “separate but equal” a valid solution to race relations in the United States? This is a conceptual problem because “separate but equal” is an idea about how to establish a particular social order and distribute economic opportunity.

b. Are species fixed entities? This is a conceptual problem because “fixed entities” is an idea about the fundamental nature of categories we call species.

c. What is the nature of proof? This is a conceptual problem because “proof” can mean different things, depending on whether one is dealing with a mathematical theorem, a criminal case, a historical event (~ a criminal case), a political campaign promise, or an argument in a bar.

(2) Determine the three major conceptual problems that have yet to be addressed concerning the FAMILY of organisms to which your genus belongs. Explain exactly why these problems are conceptual ones, rather than practical or economic ones. Illustrate your answers with at least five additional references from the original literature or from books on the general subject that includes your genus, making sure to mark with an asterisk (*) the references already used in your first two papers. It's okay to refer back to the papers used for your first two papers.

Wow, this is a fairly difficult assignment! This sounds about like something I would ask a PhD candidate to accomplish! Obviously I’m asking you to stretch your minds, step up a notch in your intellectual sophistication, and act like the student from hell. However, to be brutally honest with you, about all I’m asking you to do is try to think and write like the undergraduates I have known at UNL who have gone on to very successful careers, most of them in the health professions. Just as obviously, there is a whole lot of flexibility in this part of the assignment, and when I grade the papers, I’ll simply ask: are there three problems, do these problems address ideas, and are some papers cited to support the student’s claim that the problems are actually problems? I chose the family level to give you some additional flexibility by enlarging the subject. This part of the paper is really nothing more than an upscale version of the question sets you’ve been producing in lab all semester.

(3) The main body of the paper must be a minimum of three double-spaced pages with one-inch margins. The bibliography is extra. This part of the assignment is fairly self-explanatory.

When I look at the grade roster of this class, I discover that nearly half of the students have an 85% average or higher. In any other class at this university, such an average would indicate either an unusually brilliant group of students or an unusually easy class. I’m not completely convinced this class is all that easy, and from reading your last exam answers, I’m not convinced that as a group you are thinking like an unusually brilliant group even though your grades suggest that is the case. So all I’m trying to do with this third paper is bring your independent thinking habits up to the level of your grades. Remember the pedagogical theory of this particular biodiversity section. I ask that students do activities that are in and of themselves educational, I try to design activities that accomplish the educational goal of producing students who have the biodiverstist’s habits of mind, and I allow a whole lot of individual freedom to accomplish the task in your own individual way (thus each of you get a different genus). I’m asking that you be a biologist for a semester, instead of take biology for a semester, and I’m giving you as many options for succeeding as there are human beings trying to succeed.

Fourth Paper Assignment:

For the last paper this semester, you are to use the resources in the Sheldon Gallery and in the Sculpture Garden that is spread across city campus.

(1) Critically evaluate the illustrations used in the taxonomic literature about your genus (one page maximum), providing commentary on the quality of illustrations, the media used, and the visual communication techniques employed.

(2) Pick five pieces from the Sheldon or the Sculpture garden in at least three media (oil, watercolor, photography, collage, sculpture, etc.) and tell how a study of those pieces would help you in communicating specific information about your genus (two pages minimum). As an aid in doing this, assume you must give an hour’s presentation to our class and need to find creative ways to keep your fellow students awake, alert, and vitally interested in the subject.

(3) There is no need to find additional bibliographic references unless the ones you already have do not allow you to answer (1) of this assignment. Be sure to cite in the text those that you do use, however. In the literature cited section, also list the artist, date, medium, size (if given), and ownership of the pieces of art you use in (2), and cite them by name and date as you would a scientific paper. If you wish to describe any of these pieces, then do it in the literature cited instead of in the paper itself.

On the basis of their writing, I called in a number of students to ask about their future plans. I had been doing this for decades, making sure that students had set their career goals high enough when their performance in my classes indicated they had potential for magnificent careers in a variety of fields. One of the students I called in, because her writing was so insightful, was Jill Detwiler. During the conversation, I suggested, very strongly, that she attend CPBS and take Field Parasitology, which I taught. Field Parasitology always seemed to go better when I recruited at least a few serious students out of the freshman classes, and Jill was a first-year student at the time.

Jill responded by telling me that she was a double major, piano performance and biology, and that she had to practice several hours a day, so she couldn’t come to Cedar Point. I asked whether she’d come to CPBS and take my course if we bought her a piano, and she just laughed and said
sure.” I was director of CPBS at the time, so right after that conversation I went into the office of Mary Batterson, who was the associate director (the position now held by Jon Garbisch), put $50 cash in an envelope, wrote “Detwiler Piano” on the envelope, and asked Mary to send out an e-mail to faculty members associated with CPBS, asking for donations. Within a week, we had $500. Mary called the music store in Ogallala and had the piano delivered. I told Jill we’d bought her a piano, and she had no choice but to come out that summer and take Field Parasitology. However, you had to be awake at 2:00 AM to hear her play. The music was worth staying up all night.

Jill spent that first summer at CPBS, doing her project on larval trematodes in snails. She spent the next summer at the California Academy of Sciences, the summer after that traveling around Nebraska working on parasites of prairie dogs for Nebraska Game and Parks, and the next summer doing research for her MS degree, which she received at UNL. The major paper from her thesis is:

Detwiler, J., and J. Janovy, Jr. 2008. The role of phylogeny and ecology in experimental host specificity: insights from a eugregarine-host system. Journal of Parasitology 94: 7-12.

She then went to Purdue for her PhD, working on the evolutionary biology and population dynamics of echinostomes with Dennis Minchella, and did her post-doc at Texas A&M under Charles Criscione. She has just started as a faculty member at the University of Manitoba. She was the 2012 winner of the American Society of Parasitologists Young Investigator Award, an exceedingly prestigious honor. Her complete CV (as of 2010) can be found at

If any of you can play the piano, I strongly suggest sitting down at the Detwiler Piano the next time you are at CPBS.