Rooms with a view

Josh Smead

Josh Smead

You’ve been accepted to James Madison University. You’re psyched about moving to campus. You’re searching for a roommate, and you’re wondering if your flat screen or your favorite lounge chair will fit into your room. In fact, you’re wondering what your room will look like.

Now you can get an early look via a cool new app that’s free and downloadable.[UPDATE: The app is now available. Here’s the link: ]

Josh Smead (’12), coordinator of social media and marketing for the Office of Residence Life, has spent this year working on an app that will allow incoming students to see what their residence hall rooms look like before they arrive on campus.

“The app will let new students virtually tour every single residence hall on campus,” Josh says. Some colleges and universities offer similar services, but “nothing like this. As far as we can tell, this is the first app like this anywhere in the country.”

Students will not only be able to view a residence hall room, but they will be able to navigate through the 3-D image for a realistic “walk” through their room.

If you follow this blog, you’ll recognize Josh’s name. Last year, he and a couple of other seniors designed an iPad app that allows visitors to tour JMU’s Lisanby Museum virtually and also provides an enhanced experience by giving them access to additional information.

Double room in Shorts Hall

Double room in Shorts Hall

The residence hall app was “a little more challenging,” Josh says. The Lisanby app had a single room to navigate, while the new residence hall app has 28 navigable environments, one for each of JMU’s residence halls. (The “Tree House” residence halls are all identical and thus are grouped together; Greek Row is not included because it is not designated for first year housing.) Plus, Josh adds, when he created the Lisanby app, he had the help of fellow students Peter Epley (’12, engineering) and Matt Burton (’12, physics).  This time around, however, “I had to teach myself programming to create the app,” he says.

In addition to navigating individual rooms, Josh figured out a way of integrating a campus map into the new app. The built-in map function has all the major campus landmarks and will allow users to see where they are on campus.

And soon Josh, ever the explorer, will start a new personal venture. He’s leaving JMU and enrolling in a graduate program at Syracuse University to become an architect.  “I have wanted to become an architect nearly my whole life,” he says, “and I finally had the opportunity, so I took it.”

The new app, which is called JMU Res Life, has just been submitted to the Apple store and should be available shortly. 

There’s an app for that….

I was traveling around the blogosphere today and made a stop at Harrisonblog, a site run by JMU alum and local realtor Chris Rooker (’92). On the site, I noticed a great feature. While sitting at my computer I can take a virtual tour of most of Harrisonburg’s neighborhoods, as if I were driving through them. Imagine how cool that would be for someone moving here from Colorado or Italy. Instead of making an initial expense in traveling, take a virtual tour?

And imagine this: What if  you were a newly-admitted student DUKE and wanted a closer view of where you will live? What if you could virtually tour your room and your residence hall?

Right now — at the halfway week of summer break — a whole lot of members of the Class of 2016 are wondering just that. What will the rooms where they’ll be living look like — and the halls where they’ll be hanging out? Wouldn’t a virtual tour of campus residence halls be a great idea?

At Madison, that may become a reality.

Josh Smead (’12) has recently signed on to a position in Residence Life. Josh will coordinate social media for the office. He will work toward creating a brand new app for the university.

“The new app will feature a virtual tour of campus built for new and prospective students, which will also allow students to see a virtual tour of their rooms on campus,” he says. 

You may recall that Josh and a few fellow Dukes had already done a few cool things with iPad apps. Now Josh is turning that experience and the expertise he acquired as an undergraduate into building the new app for Residence Life.  He’s taking his education and paying it forward in a way. He’s making the transition smoother for future Dukes as they move from home to, well, their JMU homes.

A positive change. Definitely a positive change. Definitely.

To learn more about the app that Josh Smead (’12), Peter Epley (’12) and Matt Burton (’12) created click on the link above. There’s the link to a great Chris Myers (’11) video about Josh and his undergraduate experience.

To learn more about JMU’s Office of Residence Life, go to

The class of 2012, part 3

Every day this week, we’re showcasing seniors we’ve met through the Be the Change blog.  As a group they represent the more than 4,000 students who will receive their degrees on Saturday. We asked them about their Madison Experience, how it has changed them and the best and worst parts of graduating from JMU.

Peter Epley and Matt Burton

“When I came here I was slightly insecure…..” 

Matt Burton of Chesapeake, Va., is a physics major with a math minor and one of the three co-creators of the Lisanby iPad application. He writes: “In my time at JMU I have grown in maturity tremendously. When I came here I was slightly insecure and over the years I have transitioned into leading research projects for the physics department, making the art iPad app, and becoming a leader in my Christian organization on campus.”

As vice president of ministry for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM), formerly Christian student union (CSU), Matt oversees all small groups and leads the men’s group, social events and intramurals for the organization.

 After graduation, Matt will enter a Ph.D. program in nuclear physics at the College of William and Mary. “The best part of graduating,” he writes, “is beginning my life out in the real world and starting to make my mark in my field, while the worst part is leaving all that has become a home to me and leaving my friends here who have become like a family to me.”

The robotics team (l to r) Joey Lang, McHarg, Peter Epley, Jed Caldwell

“More or less, sleep is what I don’t get …”

Peter Epley, an engineering major from Springfield, Va.,  helped develop the Lisanby iPad app with Matt Burton and Josh Smead.

Peter has also been one of my go-to guys this year as JMU communications has covered JMU’s first graduating class of student engineers. All year, I’ve relied on Peter and many of his fellow engineers to answer questions, pose for photos and answer engineering questions. For two years, Peter and his team have worked to develop and build a firefighting robot. Given that he’s an engineering student and he worked on the iPad app, I was amazed to learn that Peter has also been a member of the Marching Royal Dukes. How does he fit all this into 24 hours?

“I was a member of the MRDs and the JMU Pep Band for all four years here at JMU,” Peter writes. “I am an alto saxophone player and served as a drill instructor my junior and senior years. More or less, sleep is what I don’t get, but honestly, it’s what I do for fun to get away from classes and homework.”

Not surprisingly, the best part of graduating, says Peter, is “I feel like I can finally sleep more than eight hours and not regret it. I can finally take everything that I have learned and use it to make a lasting difference.” The worst part is “leaving a family of some of the most caring and innovative students, friends and faculty I have ever had,” he writes.

“JMU has helped me really see how I can make a difference and what I am capable of doing, even if it is simply on a small scale. Working through the  engineering program has been challenging, especially since we are the first class, but I think it is exciting that my class will serve a crucial role in defining what JMU engineers can do. Beyond engineering, JMU has allowed me to explore different opportunities (such as the iPad app) that I never could have thought up and executed alone. Music has also been an important aspect in my life and JMU was one of the few schools that really gave me the opportunity to still pursue a technical major without having to sacrifice my love of saxophone. For that I am truly thankful, as I have truly met some of the best people I have ever met and am glad to call many of them my friends for the rest of my life.”

During Saturday’s graduation, Peter  will receive a bachelor’s of science in engineering with minors in math and computer information systems. He will join KPMG as an IT attestation associate doing information systems consulting for federal government clients.

Coming tomorrow: Dave Stevens and Jessie Taylor….

(photo of Matt and Peter by Mike Miriello)

The Class of 2012, part 1

Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know a number of current students through the Be the Change blog. Some are now seniors, ready to launch into the next phase of life. Every one of them is interesting, perceptive and enthusiastic about life.

As a run up graduation on Saturday, I asked them to reflect on their Madison Experience, about the best and worst parts of graduating from JMU and about their plans after commencement. Nine responded to my email query. Beginning today, I’ll feature two a day this week. You’ll remember some of their names from prior posts, and you’ll learn some things about them that will surprise you. (Their names are linked to the original post in which they appeared.) All together these seniors represent the best of the Madison Experience, the Class of 2012, and very bright futures.  One senior wrote that her future goals include changing the world.  Given what these students have accomplished  and how they look at the future, they — and their fellow members of the Class of 2012 — probably will. 

Abby Burkhardt and friends in China

“JMU opened my eyes to the world…”

Abby Burkhardt of Branford, Ct., first came to our attention when her hometown newspaper interviewed her after she participated in an Alternative Spring Break. She’s majoring in international affairs, with minors in Chinese business and Asian studies. Not  surprisingly, Abby plans to teach English in China for a year.

For Abby, JMU has been transformative. She writes: “JMU has changed me in numerous way. I had always been a homebody (I didn’t realize it then), but then I came to JMU not knowing anyone. I really loved where I grew up and didn’t realize how much I would miss being away from home. I cried pretty much the entire first semester even though the people here were some of the nicest bunch of people I had met my entire life. I was so far away from home, so I really had to rely on myself and my friends here to help me get through the year.”

“JMU really helped me find my own two feet and enabled me to make my own life decisions and become a more independent person. I joined a sorority, studied abroad in China, did the Washington semester, attended an Alternative Spring Break, and I am volunteering at the refugee resettlement center’s life skills class. JMU opened my eyes to the world,and now I am sad but also prepared and excited to get out into the real world.”

“The best part about graduation is knowing that I have completed all four years here and actually have accomplishments and lifelong friendships to show for it. The worst part by far is leaving the comfort of the JMU bubble and my best friends who, after graduation, are dispersing all over the world. I’m also going to miss the easy-going lifestyle and the mountain views.”

“The best part of graduation is knowing……”

Josh Smead

Josh Smead of Harrisonburg will receive a degree in art and art history with a minor in studio art on Saturday. Josh and  two other students, Matt Burton and Peter Epley, developed an iPad app for JMU’s newest museum. The app, introduced to the world in January, garnered 136 downloads from 15 different countries in the first 36 hours after hitting the Apple app store. It has also stirred up interest from other organizations.

But the iPad app is only one dimension of Josh’s rich Madison Experience. He, like so many other students, found opportunities here that are unheard of at other institutions of higher learning. The biggest opportunity for Josh — which he seized and ran with — was the chance to curate a new and interesting art collection for the university.

As curator of the new Charles Lisanby Collection, he says: “The best part of graduation is knowing I’ll be in the position to immediately apply the skills I’ve developed at JMU in the real world, yet the worst part is knowing I am finishing the most influential and life-changing undertaking of my life. JMU has given me a sense of real-world issues and has granted me the ability to productively apply my experience in a professional field. I plan on continuing my research and work with technology and the arts in the hopes that I will help drive innovation, engagement, and enthusiasm for the museum field.”

Eventually, Josh wants to continue his education. This next year, he’ll be exploring opportunities that the iPad app has created.

Next up: Ben Schulze and Scott Dovel…………

(Photo of Josh Smead by Mike Miriello; Abby Burkhardt, compliments of Abby)

Update to the iPad story…

self-portrait of Charles Lisanby

If you’ve read the current feature on the JMU web about the seniors, Josh Smead, Matt Burton and Peter Epley who developed the iPad app for the Lisanby collection, listen up………’s the latest update:

I heard from Josh Smead (’12) this morning. Josh is in Los Angeles visiting family for spring break. He’s also taking the opportunity to visit Mr. Lisanby, the man whose life he has spent two years exploring.

Josh is looking forward to showing Mr. Lisanby the JMU web story. Josh will also be delivering to a DVD of footage from the opening of the Lisanby exhibit in January. In one apropos little irony, Mr. Lisanby, who was unable to attend the exhibit opening in January, will be able to tour the museum via the new Lisanby iPad app.

Josh also tells me that since the iPad app’s debut in late January, both the NIH and Martha Jefferson hospitals have expressed an interest in having Josh create a custom app for them. He suspects this is only the beginning, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, the number of downloads of the Lisanby iPad app keeps going up, delivering JMU, the Lisanby collection and one great idea all over the world.

If you haven’t seen the iPad app story, go to the JMU website at

You can also learn much more about Charles Lisanby and the Madison Art Collection by visiting the following links:

The penchant for nicknames

Maybe we’re lazy. Maybe we’re just efficient or too busy. Or maybe it’s something else.

Whatever the reason, we all have a tendency to shorten names. Take Rhode Island. The official name is (take a deep breath) The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Really.  And then of course, there’s Wolf Trap — officially known as Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts. Imagine answering their phone.

Most people shorten names of people they know well. How many Roberts, Williams, Jennifers or Elizabeths do you know as Bob, Bill, Jenny or Beth?

Institutions do the same thing. At JMU, Gibbons Dining Hall is D-Hall. East Campus Library is ECL. And the newly dubbed Montpelier Hall has already been shortened to Monty Hall. Nicknames are efficient. They also imply some kind of familiarity, comfort and fondness. In fact, an old Chinese proverb says that a child with many names is loved.

It made me wonder what JMU’s recently re-named Skyline Museum will become. Officially, it is to be named in honor of Gladys Kemp Lisanby (’49) and retired Rear Admiral James W. Lisanby, the patrons who enabled the university to acquire the life’s work of famed and influential artist and set designer Charles A. Lisanby.

When I attended the opening on Monday and talked to Madison Art Collection Director Kate Stevens, she had a great idea. “What about The Lisanby?” she wondered. Immediately, I could see the comfortable words floating from student to student.

“Have you see what’s on display at The Lisanby?” or “I’ll meet you at The Lisanby?” Or maybe an enticing notice in mad4U that says, “Bring your favorite poem to read  by moonlight at this month’s Lunar Cafe at The Lisanby.”

The Lisanby.

Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think? It will be fun to see what the museum is nicknamed. Whatever name it takes, though, this new Madison location will definitely be loved.

The Lisanby

If you’re not convinced, then take a look at some of the photos from the opening, including the moment that Mrs. Lisanby learned of the honor. Stunning.

Or better yet, go take in The Lisanby. I promise you’re in for a treat.

The moment she heard....

And tell us, have you visited JMU’s newest museum?

You can learn much more on at these links:
(You can find even more photos of the opening on JMU’s Flickr site. Just click photos on the right side of the blog site.)

Behind the sets

In honor of Charles Lisanby’s birthday, which was yesterday, and the opening today of the new exhibition of the Lisanby Collection, Be the Change intern Tyler McAvoy (’12) writes about his experience in the museum and the impact of Mr. Lisanby.

Charles Lisanby receiving one of many Emmy awards.

Behind the sets

by Tyler McAvoy (’12)

When I entered the Skyline Museum it was utterly quiet and empty; save for the light rain hitting the window, nothing could be heard.  The museum had been open for only an hour, and when I signed in at the desk I realized I was only the second person to experience this new display since it officially opens today. Donned with an iPad with a surprisingly helpful virtual tour app, I shuffled my way through the exhibit, slowly grasping who Lisanby was: he was an artist, a man who had been through the early throws of night and daytime television, one who had watched the industry move from black to Technicolor, survived flops and failures of television shows, and lived to tell about it.

Lisanby brought set design to a new artistic level when he began sitting in on writer’s meetings so that he could craft the set to that particular show. This was revolutionary. No longer were sets just backdrops to boost the believability of an actor’s performance; now sets were part of the story, augmenting it, and sometimes even being the focus of a plot.

Though many of the shows that Lisanby worked on have faded into obscurity by now (which really describes a large part of early television), his infusing of art into set design really changed the industry standard.  This can best be understood by the fact that Lisanby was an artist first, and set design was a job that was handcrafted for his style.  Throughout the gallery there are several of Lisanby’s more artistic pieces, such as self-portraits, which echo his set design: clean lines, minimal use of shadow and a great ability to make subjects feel like they’re something of substance.

This is in great contrast to the imperfect, yet always intriguing works by Andy Warhol that make up much of the exhibition.  As I soon discovered to be a central theme to the exhibit, Lisanby and Warhol were close friends throughout the 1950s and would often draw together while they were both struggling artists in New York. Warhol was an advertisement illustrator, Lisanby, a set designer for small shows and productions, and both were immensely dedicated to their art. Interestingly though, they both seemed to play off each other; Lisanby would mimic the style and techniques of Warhol, yet retain his clean lines, whilst Warhol would maintain his roughness, while drawing things that Lisanby would find interesting. You can kind of see the obscurity that Warhol so loved in some of Lisanby’s later set designs, especially in the choice of colors.  One particular design reminded me a lot of the movie Rear Window; a close cloistered community in a tall, sardine-packed housing complex, that still conveyed a sense of warmth.  Everything in the sketch seemed kind of angular and off, yet not so much that you’d call it uncomfortably expressionistic. Even though this design came years after Lisanby’s time with Warhol, you still get a sense that he pervades the piece, defines the lines and the colors.

We often don’t think about the people behind the sets that we see on television. We often take that kind of thing for granted, not realizing the hours and talent taken to create a backdrop or prop. Yet, Lisanby focused on these things and found them fascinating. He took the arbitrary object of a set and redefined it as a new canvas for art. 

Lisanby was a key member of the production army that made up early television, and if anyone has any interest in those earlier years, I highly recommend taking a stroll through the collection. Even if you aren’t a fan of the whole realm of classic television, the numerous Warhol sketches and prints make this a worthwhile adventure.

To learn more about the new Lisanby exhibition, visit the JMU home page

The little snapping turtles of higher education

It came as no surprise when I looked through JMU’s Top Ten Stories of 2011. All of the featured stories are compelling, and each one demonstrates the spirit of change that is such a part of JMU.

There is one interesting aspect to the list that most readers might not notice. Four of the top ten stories were written by students. Two were written by Be the Change intern Tyler McAvoy (’12).

For almost two years now, Tyler has interned with us in JMU Communications. He arrived with an extraordinary natural writing talent, a good instinct for stories and a necessary boldness for interviewing and tackling topics he was unfamiliar with. He quickly became my go-to person.

What I find so remarkable ­— next to Tyler’s talent — is that so many student-penned stories have floated to the top.

Amelia Wood (’13), an intern with Madison magazine, wrote about alumnus Wes Mitchell (’10) and his innovative use of soccer to fight HIV/Aids. Austin Farinholt  (’11) who interned in the Office of Public Affairs told the story of engineering students who designed and built a bicycle for a high school student challenged by cerebral palsy.

That says something about JMU and the opportunities that students regularly find at this university.

In many ways, JMU is changing the playing field for college students. Ours is not a top down delivery system, where professors simply do an information dump on students, expecting them to become their clones. In very real and valuable ways, JMU opens doors for students, especially undergraduate students — doors that are not eagerly opened elsewhere. We see it everyday from the arts to the sciences and everywhere in between. It is part of a culture of collaboration that permeates the university.

Later this month — and you’ll see it previewed on the JMU web soon — the university will premier an extraordinary art collection, the Charles Alvin Lisanby Collection, to open the new Skyline Gallery. Once again, it is a student, Josh Smead (’12) who played an instrumental role. It was hardly the kind of internship that only allowed him to float around the edges and observe.

Opportunities, though, are only as good as those who seize them. Tyler and Josh, like so many JMU students, look for and seize opportunities like little snapping turtles. And, if I may carry my analogy one step further — they hold on tight. The result is extraordinary education.

Out of every college at JMU, we often hear stories of the immediate impact students have on the companies, businesses and institutions they join after graduating. Much of their success has to do with a culture that takes students seriously, not as subjects but as soon-to-be professional managers, artists, engineers, physicists, geologists, kinesiologists, biologists, financiers, publicists, historians, environmentalists, social scientists and the list goes on….

There’s also another aspect of the top ten list isn’t obvious. Beneath the accolades, beneath the heart-warming stories, there’s the JMU spirit that says, “Why not?” and “Why not me?” If some schools are caught up in traditions and the status quo, Madison is not one of them. Throughout it’s history, JMU has always been kind of a rebel — in the best sense of the word. It’s not afraid to try the unconventional, and as many individuals on our Be the Change website demonstrate — sometimes the seemingly impossible.

We’ll try things, experiment, take chances. Some things work out. Some things go up in flames, but on par, courage and determination move us forward. Steadily and tenaciously.

Like snapping turtles.

To see the Top Ten stories of 2011, visit

Being the change, a family affair

I had a chance to speak to one of our Madison world changers yesterday, Gladys Lisanby. As we caught up on the latest news, Gladys asked if I’d seen the “Good Morning America” report on the new methods of treating depression with electro and magnetic stimulation. One of Gladys’ daughters, Sarah Lisanby, is in the forefront of this research and resulting treatment, which is proving very effective for people whose depression has been unmanageable for years.

Seems the Lisanby family has a tradition of making a difference.

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