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Today@YHC December 2011

Alumni Spotlight: Jan Biggers Keith

Ali Neese
Communications and Marketing Intern

The holiday season brings a time of reflection for many Young Harris College alumni who can recall memories of trekking to class on a snow-covered campus, snowball fights and enjoying free time with friends as the fall semester drew to a close. According to Jan Biggers Keith, ’69, the season of giving makes her remember how thankful she is for her time spent at Young Harris College.

“With the holidays around the corner, many of us start remembering times past and those who were part of these times. For me, a thankful time in my life is summed up by three letters: YHC. My two years there were the best two years of my life,” Keith said.

The first in her immediate family to attend college, Keith looked forward to venturing away from her hometown of Orlando, Fla., and only had one place in mind when it came time to choose a college—even though she had never even set foot on the campus before.

“I chose YHC because my friend’s father had attended college there as a Methodist minister’s son,” Keith said. “I wanted to get far away from my hometown, and Young Harris sounded like a great location and a great adventure.”

Many faculty and staff members became mentors for Keith, who worked in the office of then Dean of Students Bud Brazil. She also became a regular babysitter for Bud and his wife, Caroline, who taught English at the College.

“Through this connection, I became acquainted with their very interesting, quirky and unique set of friends who left an enormous impression on me,” Keith recalled. “Knowing all of these role models on a first-name basis became a benchmark on how I would view others throughout my life.”

Her office job also put her in close proximity to long-time administrators Ray Farley, Ph.D., and O.V. Lewis who had offices along the same hall. According to Keith, stopping by The Campus Gate store to visit co-owners Jo Bearse and Alice Hirt was a coveted daily ritual.

“These ladies were interesting, unique people with fascinating lives,” Keith said. “They possessed a great sense of humor and insight into the meaning of life, and I knew that I wanted to be like them when I grew up.”

After graduating from YHC, Keith earned bachelor’s degrees in English and behavior science at Tift College and her master’s degree in counseling from Auburn University. It was during her time at Auburn that Keith met her future husband and fellow Orlando native, Wendell.

The Keiths have a passion for historical homes, and the pair have renovated four houses to date. The couple has spent the last two decades running the King-Keith House Bed and Breakfast from their circa-1890 home located in Atlanta’s Inman Park, a neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Constructed in the Queen Anne-style, the King-Keith House Bed and Breakfast is one of the most photographed houses in Atlanta, has been featured in Conde Nast Travel and is a premier Atlanta historic bed and breakfast.

“We are always busy during the holidays, and we make sure that the house is festively decorated,” Keith said. “Many of our repeat guests have become personal friends. Sitting around our breakfast table has led to many interesting stories. We’ve also had a number of weddings at the B&B, as well as surprise engagements.  It’s always nice when these guests return years later to visit.”

Along with spending time with her daughter and four-year-old grandson, Keith is also active with the Atlanta Preservation Center, working in her neighborhood as a tour guide. “Touring prospective students around the YHC campus must have sparked that interest,” she mused.

Keith remains close with her best friend and former roommate from YHC, Linda Sheppard Leslie, ’69, and the women still reunite regularly to attend events at the College together.

“I will always be grateful for the time I spent at YHC. I can’t put a value on those two years. I just know that when I start decorating for the holidays, YHC will be one of the reasons I give thanks,” Keith said. “I’m so proud of the YHC that exists today—the same spirit of caring and giving back to others still exists in one of the most beautiful areas in the world.”

5 Questions for… Steve Morgan

With more than 25 years experience in the planetarium and astronomy fields, Instructor of Astronomy and Director of the O. Wayne Rollins Planetarium Steve Morgan has spent countless hours describing the wonders of the night sky to students and community members alike. Morgan joined the Young Harris College faculty in 2005 after working at Gibbes Planetarium in Columbia, S.C., Schiele Planetarium in Gastonia, N.C., and Roper Mountain Science Center in Greenville, S.C. He is a recipient of the Vulcan Award for Teaching Excellence and the Ezra Sellers Award for Outstanding Commitment to the Students of Young Harris College. Learn more about the life of an astronomy enthusiast who believes the north Georgia mountains provide the perfect place to work, live and celebrate the holiday season.

What are you up to these days?

On the professional front, I’ve recently been busy hosting the 2011 conference of the Southeastern Planetarium Association (SEPA), a major regional planetarium organization, which met in Young Harris this summer. It was a full two-year effort from the time we submitted the bid through actually hosting the event. Shortly before the conference, we completed a renovation project in the planetarium, which included new chairs, carpet and energy-efficient cove lighting.

On the personal side, my wife, Debbie, and I are delighted that both of our sons will graduate from college this year! Our oldest son, Adam, is finishing up his M.F.A. in creative writing at Roosevelt University in Chicago, while his younger brother, Alex, is finishing his B.A. in communications at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. We enjoy travelling as a family and, whenever possible, I love to incorporate astronomy-related side trips. On a recent vacation to Puerto Rico we visited Arecibo Observatory, the largest radio telescope ever constructed. After touring Yosemite National Park in California this summer, I was able to work in a side trip to Griffith Observatory for a lecture commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 15 lunar mission. My favorite hobby, whether on the road or at home, is photography. I especially enjoy photographing nature; mountain landscapes, waterfalls and wildlife are particular favorites.         

What brought you to YHC in 2005 and what has made you want to stay here in the north Georgia mountains?

The natural beauty of the surrounding area was certainly a factor. My first introduction to the north Georgia mountains was in the early 1980s as a college student. I was part of an ensemble choir, and one of our tours included a stop in nearby Hiawassee. We stayed in a cabin overlooking Lake Chatuge, and I thought (and still do!) it was one of the most beautiful mountain lakes I’ve ever seen. I was very impressed by the state-of-the-art astronomy/planetarium facilities at YHC, including the world’s first installation of the new Chronos star projector. I was also attracted to the small college atmosphere, the dark night skies and the wonderful level of support for the planetarium from both the college and the surrounding community. This is simply a great place to live and work!

You have the dual role of astronomy instructor and planetarium director here at YHC. What are some of your fondest memories of your time serving in both of these roles at the College?

As planetarium director, my fondest memories relate to the wonderful level of support this college and community give the planetarium. From the full-dome digital upgrade of 2008 to the renovation project of 2011, this planetarium enjoys a level of support that many other planetariums would envy, and for that I am very thankful. Successfully hosting the SEPA conference—and seeing our planetarium filled with colleagues from around the world enjoying an exciting week together in Young Harris—also stands out as a fond memory of my time here.

As astronomy instructor, my fondest memories are of the students. When I first started teaching at YHC, I was very favorably impressed with the quality of students compared to other places I had taught—not just academically, but as people. That was really driven home in 2006 when I was diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery and radiation and spent most of the year teaching with a portable chemotherapy device strapped around my waist. In spite of all that, I was blessed with the kindest and most considerate group of students it has ever been my privilege to teach. They gave me so much encouragement and always let me know they were keeping me in their thoughts and prayers. So, in spite of the medical issues I was facing at the time, I look back at that particular group of students with extremely fond memories.

What are your favorite topics to discuss with planetarium patrons—and what do you personally find the most intriguing about the field of astronomy?

As a teacher, I am fortunate to work in a field that so many people find fascinating and are naturally curious about, with topics like black holes, dwarf planets and exploding stars. I really enjoy discussing the latest discoveries in astronomy that people have seen in the news and may have questions about, such as the latest images from the Hubble Space Telescope or an upcoming meteor shower or eclipse. At the observatory, I enjoy pointing out the constellations using a special green laser pointer with a beam that appears to extend into the sky so that anyone standing nearby can see where I’m pointing. I’ve noticed some folks are as fascinated by the laser pointer itself as they are by the constellations! My favorite objects to show people in a telescope are the first-quarter moon and the planet Saturn. There’s nothing like the reaction you get when a person sees the rings of Saturn for the very first time in a telescope!

On a more personal level, a huge reason that astronomy is such an appealing field of study is that new discoveries are constantly being made. Two of the areas I find most intriguing in this regard are exoplanets (planets beyond our solar system) and dark matter/dark energy. So much of our universe is still unknown. The pace of exoplanet discovery has been dizzying in recent years, with the count surpassing 700 alien worlds this month! Thousands more are expected to be discovered in the near future. Most interestingly, a number of those planets appear to orbit at just the right distance from their stars, the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” where liquid water—and perhaps life as we know it—could exist.

The special holiday presentation “Season of Light” is showing now at the planetarium. The show explores the traditions surrounding the world's most endearing holiday customs, all of which involve lighting up the winter season. What are some of your favorite holiday customs and what do you enjoy about spending the holiday season in Young Harris?

Some of my favorite traditions are the beautiful holiday lights and Christmas music. I especially enjoy hearing the YHC Choir present its Christmas concert. And believe it or not, another favorite is simply showing “Season of Light” in the planetarium each year! As I make preparations to run the program, it makes me realize the holiday season is upon us and Christmastime really is approaching. But by far, the very best thing about the holidays is spending time with family. With both sons home from college, it’s great to spend extra time together. In recent years, we’ve started a holiday movie tradition at our house. We always watch two of the boys’ favorites: Elf and The Family Stone. (Our sons see themselves reflected in the two brothers in that movie, so it’s always fun to see their reactions.) A final thing I enjoy about spending the holidays in the Young Harris area is seeing snow and ice on the surrounding mountaintops. It makes for some beautiful holiday photographs!   


Now that December has descended upon us, I hope the excitement and merriment of this Christmas and holiday season finds you well.

I am honored to serve you and represent the Class of 1994 on the Young Harris College Alumni Board. It is a privilege to work with such a great unified group of fellow Mountain Lions who love our alma mater and respect the institution and its tradition. 

I currently reside in the East Atlanta Village area near downtown and work for the State of Georgia. I am a proud graduate of the University of Georgia and Mercer Law School but, of course, it is our Young Harris College that holds a special place for me.

I discovered Young Harris via an indirect route in the summer of 1991. A classmate from Forest Park High School desired to visit the college, and one of our teachers, Sue Wilson, ’82, had spoken fondly of her college years at YHC, so I accompanied my friend on her visit. I had already decided to attend a large out-of-state university, but when I saw the valley and campus for the first time, I knew I had found a place where I belonged. It was not far from an instant decision, and I am so thankful that “Uncle” Bud Dyer pulled me into his office that hot July day to simply chat. I am sure there are many of us who got to experience his power of persuasion. 

There are so many great memories from the Young Harris College experience; however, it is the wonderful and inspirational friends and professors that shared those two short years that made it amazing. Yes, that is a strong word, but it is quite accurate and deserving. The people and the events are still fresh in my mind: the snow falling as the blizzard of ’93 blew into the valley; walking the wall; vanilla Cokes from the Little Store; the graduation vespers service atop Georgia’s highest mountain; the unmentionable outdoor socials around big campfires far up some desolate mountain dirt road. These memories surely transcend the decades because they are not uncommon—they are the very fabric of the YHC brand that binds us all together. What a truly great experience it was, and it is still a special world for many students.

It is an exciting time to be a part of the Young Harris family. New classes who are getting to spend four years on campus are making the same memories we did. How many of us wished we could have stayed when it was time for graduation? There are many more great opportunities for students and alumni alike as academics and athletics expand. Have you seen the campus lately? I highly recommend a visit soon to see the evolving footprint and new facilities. Perhaps you can visit during the upcoming Alumni Weekend, April 20-22, 2012, or next year’s fall Homecoming—or both! Yes, some things have changed, but the important things remain the same.

I encourage you to stay involved with the College. Continue to actively engage in preserving and promoting the legacy of Young Harris (just like my teacher did for me back in 1991), or give of your time and dollars so that current and future students can embrace the purple and the white far into Young Harris College’s second century. 

We all decided to take the road less traveled, and what a great journey it has been. It really made all the difference. 

Best wishes for a great new year in 2012!

Brian Johnson, ’94

Young Harris College Participates in Operation Christmas Child

Young Harris College recently contributed 108 shoe boxes filled with Christmas presents and a check for $250 to Operation Christmas Child, an international outreach project facilitated by Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization that aims to provide worldwide spiritual and physical aid. YHC’s participation is organized each year by the Young Harris College Dorcas Society and Inter-Religious Council.

“I love working on this outreach every year because it brings the whole campus together,” said sophomore musical theatre major and Dorcas Society President Emily Espy of Cumming. “It’s amazing to me that despite all our differences and schedules, organizations, teams and individuals can come together to impact children’s lives around the world.”

“We often forget that geographical location does not determine who our neighbors are, but God's heart is global; therefore, we are all each other’s neighbors,” added senior English major and Inter-Religious Council President Amanda Noonan of Smyrna. “Operation Christmas Child provides a present for a child overseas who otherwise may not have had a Christmas. It is also a reminder that the greatest gift is the love of Christ, and that students can impact the world from right where they are.”

Young Harris College’s involvement in Operation Christmas Child began in 1999. Each year, faculty, staff and students are encouraged to make individual contributions or participate in group service projects within organizations or teams.

According to YHC Baseball Head Coach Rick Robinson, participating in Operation Christmas Child is an annual tradition for the YHC baseball team. This year, the team’s 29 players each donated a shoe box that was presented at a special Thanksgiving Chapel service on Nov. 16. 

By using an EZ Give barcode on the label, the baseball team will be able to track each shoe box gift. The team will receive e-mails revealing the destination of each gift, along with information about Operation Christmas Child in that specific country.

“During this special time of year, we try to add a little Christmas love and joy for the children around the world. It’s amazing to think that each of these boxes will bring a smile to a child’s face halfway around the world,” Robinson said. “We have a lot of opportunities to connect with our local community, but this gives us an opportunity to connect with others across the globe. It is such a joy to able to give.”

For more information about Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child, visit

(Left to right) Jessie Robinette, a freshman education major from Madison, Caitlin Davis, a sophomore music major from Baxley, Erica Neese, a sophomore religious studies major from Marietta, Kelsey Herbert, a sophomore allied health major from Covington, Dorcas Society President Emily Espy, a sophomore musical theatre major from Cumming, and Sarah Hearn, a sophomore biology major from Cumming, helped collect the shoe boxes in Susan B. Harris Chapel.

The Young Harris College baseball team’s 29 players each donated a shoe box that was presented at a special Thanksgiving Chapel service on Nov. 16.

Young Harris College Athletics Partners with Make-A-Wish Foundation

Young Harris College will host “Breakfast with Santa” tomorrow, Dec. 3, from 8-11 a.m. in the Recreation and Fitness Center to benefit the Georgia & Alabama Chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The event is co-sponsored by the YHC Department of Athletics, YHC Recreation and Fitness Center and Waffle House.

Young Harris College student-athletes and coaches will serve breakfast during the event. The cost for breakfast is $5 per person and photos with Santa Claus provided by S & S Pix are $10, with nearly all proceeds benefitting the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“The mission of Make-A-Wish is to grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions and to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. It is our hope that we can assist in providing a ‘dream’ for a local child,” Director of Athletics Randy Dunn said.

In addition to “Breakfast with Santa,” Young Harris College is also partnering with Make-A-Wish Foundation to present “Paws for a Cause” throughout the 2011-2012 basketball season to raise additional funds to benefit a local child.

“Our goal is to generate $10,000 by the end of the basketball season to ensure this child’s wish comes true,” YHC Recreation and Fitness Center Director Sharon Stanton said. “Students are challenged to raise money through their residence halls, clubs and organizations. Faculty and staff are also encouraged to get involved and help this child have a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Young Harris College was recently accepted as a candidate for membership in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) at the Division II level, which has a strong tradition of supporting the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America.

The Division II National Student-Athlete Advisory Committee led the NCAA in 2003 with its first national community service initiative by embarking upon a fundraiser with Make-A-Wish. Over the course of its seven-year relationship with the foundation, this advisory committee has overseen efforts to raise more than $1.5 million to assist young people with life-threatening health conditions.

For more information about “Breakfast with Santa” and “Paws for a Cause,” call the YHC Recreation and Fitness Center at (706) 379-4472.

Honors Students Participate in Appalachian Trail Restoration Project

Kyle Huneycutt, junior
Communications and Marketing Intern

Sixteen Young Harris College students participated in a new Honors Program course during fall semester named “Writing the Appalachian Trail,” which provided the students with the unique opportunity to engage in a service project on the Appalachian Trail.

On Nov. 19, students hiked on the Slaughter Creek Trail and an old mule trail until they reached the Blood Mountain Shelter, located at the summit of Blood Mountain. This shelter is the oldest on the entire Appalachian Trail and is currently being restored to its original condition. Pack animals used to transport supplies during the refurbishment of the Blood Mountain Shelter caused additional damage to the trails and soil erosion. According to Assistant Professor of English James Bishop, Ph.D., the YHC students’ efforts focused on returning the mule trail to a "natural" state that will discourage future use by horseback riders, mountain bikers and ATV riders, helping to minimize erosion.

“My hope is that this service project gave students a greater awareness of the work that goes into maintaining trails for public use,” said Dr. Bishop. “I hope, too, that the students found the work and the camaraderie with other volunteers enjoyable, since volunteers are always needed to keep these trails open and accessible.”

Although Dr. Bishop has taught English courses with an outdoor/experiential dimension before, this was the first time he taught a college-level course on the Appalachian Trail.

“The original idea for the course came from a group of YHC Honors students, who invited me to offer the course as a one-credit seminar,” Dr. Bishop explained. “As a former A.T. through-hiker, I've spent a lot of time on the Appalachian Trail and was excited about the opportunity to teach this course.”

In the class, students read a variety of material about the significance of walking on or off the Appalachian Trail and shared philosophical discussion. Prior to the service project, students participated in two other hikes along the Appalachian Trail and were required to write reflective essays on their experience.

“I had gone hiking before, but never at this level,” said Grace Patterson, a freshman art major from Blairsville. “The hikes were long and hard, but I felt accomplished when we were finished, and I had a lot to think about by day’s end.”

The service project served as part of the students’ final project, and their final assignment was to write a reflective piece on their experience during the service project and the class in general.

“I have never felt closer to nature and been more aware of my abilities than when I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail,” said Brett Rodgers, a junior English major from Blue Ridge. “I do not think I will ever have another final quite like this one.”

Georgia Appalachian Trail Club President Roy Stallings spoke to the class about trail maintenance.

Honors students enrolled in the course "Writing the Appalachian Trail" work to help return the trail to its natural state.

Sally Petty, a sophomore music education major from Cumming, carries a branch away from the walking path.

Young Harris College Students Return to Asheville for Homelessness Awareness Project

Ali Neese, senior
Communications and Marketing Intern

Eleven Young Harris College students, faculty and staff members kicked off National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week early by making a day trip to the Haywood Street Congregation of Central United Methodist Church in Asheville, N.C., on Nov. 9.

The group participated in outreach activities and heard personally from a former homeless man who had benefited from the church. They had the opportunity to eat lunch with the nearly 300 homeless men and women who came to the church that day, as well as attend the church’s weekly Wednesday service with them. After the service, the YHC group helped with lunch clean up and took some time to process the day with the volunteer coordinator and the minister who started the church.

This is the second time a group from YHC has worked with the Haywood Street Congregation in connection with homelessness awareness.

“This trip came about from one of last year’s S.E.R.V.E. events, where we went to Asheville during YHC’s Homelessness Awareness Week to explore issues surrounding urban homelessness,” said Rob Campbell, Bonner Leaders program director and academic service learning program coordinator. "Last year, we were there over a Saturday and Sunday, but since the church has the meal and the worship service on Wednesdays, we thought it would be neat to come back this year on a Wednesday.”

S.E.R.V.E. (Service, Education, Responsibility, Voice and Engagement) is a task force at YHC that plans and implements campus-wide community outreach opportunities throughout the academic year in collaboration with the Office of Campus Activities, the Office of Religious Life, and the Bonner Leaders Program.

“The trip went very well. A fundamental part of a liberal arts education, I believe, is to build connections and relationships with people and contexts that may seem very different from the people and the contexts with which one grows up, and this trip seemed to do that. I think the trip offered a broader understanding of what church is and what a church can be,” Campbell added.

“The Asheville trip was the most rewarding and touching event I have ever experienced, “said Nathan Hughes, a junior business and public policy major from Young Harris. “The people we interacted with had some of the most profound things to say. I would strongly recommend this trip to anyone who desires to help others and to serve our world and make it a better place.”

Every year, one week before Thanksgiving, the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness co-sponsor National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. During this week, many schools, communities and cities take part in a nationwide effort to bring greater awareness to the problems of hunger and homelessness.

In addition to the Asheville trip, YHC students had the opportunity to participate in a “Rice Day” on Nov. 16 to raise awareness for global hunger. Diners in Grace Rollins Dining Hall had the option to substitute the regular lunch menu with a bowl of rice equal to what the majority of the world’s population eats for a meal. Nearly $400 saved from preparing regular menu items was matched by Sodexo to purchase food that was donated to the Towns County Food Pantry.

Faculty Notables

Assistant Professor of Music Karen Calloway and musical theatre majors T’Arica Crawford, a freshman from Buford, and Ashley Johnson, a sophomore from Canton, attended the Georgia Chapter Fall Workshop and Masterclass of the Georgia National Association of Teachers of Singing at Columbus State University, Nov. 4-5. Crawford and Johnson were selected to sing in a session led by guest clinician and Broadway coach Jeanette LoVetri, and Crawford received the Cheryl Boyd-Waddell Award presented to the student who showed the most significant progress at the end of the workshop.

Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Faculty Athletics Representative Dr. Jennifer Hallett attended the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association Annual Symposium and Meeting in San Diego, Calif., Nov. 10-12. She also attended the 97th Annual Convention of the National Communication Association in New Orleans, La., Nov. 17-20, and took a short course called “Preventing Intellectual Zombies by Treating Students as Creative Researchers” designed to help professors find new ways to engage students and link concepts to other disciplines and courses. Dr. Hallett also recently became a member of the Society for Conceptual Logistics in Communication Research.

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dr. Christopher Sass presented a lecture titled “Circle Packing: Combinatorics and Geometry” during the Kennesaw Mountain Undergraduate Mathematics Conference held at Kennesaw State University, Nov. 11-12. Dr. Sass also attended an inquiry-based learning workshop for faculty members during the conference.

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Xianzhi (Amanda) Song coauthored a paper titled “Application of Pyrolysis Cryogenic Trap Gas Chromatography /Atomic Emission Detection (Py-CryT - GC/AED) for the Study of Nitrogen Forms and Dynamics in a Grassland Soil” that will be published in the peer-review journal Analytical Letter, Volume 44, Issue 17.

Assistant Professor of History Dr. Natalia Starostina, Assistant Professor of Spanish and French Dr. Isabelle Therriault and senior history major Connie Wallace, of Hiawassee, co-presented a panel at the 83rd Annual Convention of South Atlantic Modern Language Association in Atlanta, Nov. 5. Dr. Therriault presented a paper, titled “Symbolism and Female Subjectivity in Comfort Woman and Breath, Eyes, Memory,” while Dr. Starostina presented a paper titled “Making a Ski Resort Chamonix and Reinventing a New Woman in Post-1918 France.” Dr. Therriault also recently co-authored a volume in Moreto’s Characters Dictionary published in Madrid, Spain. Dr. Starostina also presented a paper titled “Train Travel as Mythmaking: Technology and Bourgeoisie in Interwar France” to faculty and graduate students at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Nov. 14.

Department of Religion and Philosophy Chair and Assistant Professor of Philosophy Dr. Jamie Watson presented a paper titled “Exploitation and International Clinical Research” at the 13th Annual Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum Conference in St. Louis, Mo., Nov. 3.