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. 


Celebrity chef Nathan Lyon ('94)

Celebrity chef Nathan Lyon (’94)

Yesterday, Western Virginia and especially the Shenandoah Valley were treated to one long awaited (and for some, long hoped for) snow day. It was perfectly timed, arriving the week before the inauguration of JMU President Jon Alger, yet after most preparations were made.

Our snow day, at least according to my Facebook feed, meant big pots of savory soups and warm, comfort foods. I’m eager to find out what Cameron Young (’15) and Morgan Robinson (’13) cooked up. Cameron, by the way, recently learned that his new cooking club, Cooking at Madison, has been approved as an official JMU club.

Be the Change personality and celebrity chef Nathan Lyon (’94) would, no doubt, approve of Cameron and Morgan’s interest in food, as well as our snow day fare. The right food for the right season is Nathan’s message. He is an enthusiastic advocate for buying local, fresh foods and of sustainable cooking, which are healthier for the environment, better for health in general and very, very tasty.

After graduating from James Madison University with a Bachelor of Science in Health Science and a minor in Public Health, Nathan backpacked his way across Europe, learning about local customs, culture, and cuisine. Although every town and country along Nathan’s journey provided its own culinary lesson, the watershed moment occurred in an outdoor market just outside of Florence, Italy: an old woman, agog at the massive amount of produce Nathan was stockpiling, eagerly asked, “Why are you buying so much food? Why not just buy fresh every day?” Nathan immediately dumped out half his basket and began pondering those two simple questions. It was in that market, clutching a wheel of cheese, that Nathan discovered his truth: great food starts fresh. (from Nathan’s website)

Ever since, Nathan has been on a mission to promote healthy and sustainable foods.

We learned this week that Nathan, along with chefs Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) and Ted Allen (host of “Chopped’), is featured in the Spring 2013 edition of Celebrity Cooking magazine. Nathan has also published a book, “Great Food Starts Fresh,” which the Washington Post named one of the top cookbooks of 2012.

He’s also starring in a new series Good Food America with Nathan Lyon on Veria, a network about healthy living.

Check them all out. They are mmmmmmm…….good.

(Click the embedded link above to see a digital copy of Celebrity Cooking – page 80 – but be patient. It takes a little while to load.) You can also catch up with Nathan on Facebook,  his website and his WordPress blog.

You can learn more about Cooking at Madison from Tyler McAvoy’s (’13) story.

A lesson with global consequences

Beyond just a feel-good theory, could pluralism be leveraged toward meeting Bangladesh’s national development goals? JMU alumnus and Be the Changer Samier Mansur (’07) explores the question from an international — and very thoughtful — point of view. 

Don’t miss the video that follows.(Note: If you receive this post via email, you’ll need to go to our site or YouTube to see the video.)


What about pluralism?

by Samier Mansur (INTA ’07)

Picture-16-250x300Seven years ago when I was a sophomore at JMU, I was challenged with the profound question, “Does your religion claim to be the one true path?” I was dumbfounded. This was part of a classroom experience in interfaith dialogue, and I was on a panel tasked with representing the philosophical tenants of Islam. Being the only Muslim on the Islam panel, I felt an added pressure to answer this question correctly, and yet how does one answer a question that has been a source of debate for thousands of years? After deep thought and awkward silence, I spoke from my heart: It is not a question of its being the path. It is a path. A path among many.

It was in this classroom that I would first encounter the idea of pluralism, the theory encompassing the acceptance of all religious paths as equally valid, as well as the belief that there should be diverse and competing centers of power in society so that there is a marketplace for ideas. A pluralistic society is open, inclusive, and socially progressive. Pluralism was a powerful idea that would directly influence my work in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is an emerging country located in the heart of a politically, religiously, and economically fragmented South Asia. When I moved there two years ago, I was immediately drawn to the narrative of Bangladesh as a multi-faith, multi-ethnic society. During the popular Hindu celebration of Durga Puja, for example, in the midst of dancing, singing and other colorful expressions of devotion and merriment, the city’s loudspeaker echoed with, “Today we gather as Hindus and Muslims, together we stand as Bangladeshis, as one nation.” There was strength in this pluralistic vision, and I began to wonder: Beyond just a feel-good theory, could pluralistic ethics be leveraged toward meeting Bangladesh’s national development goals?

I began to see that this was possible, that pluralism could be an effective tool of nation-building. Through my work as a consultant evaluating the successes of USAID’s Leaders of Influence program in Bangladesh, a project that trains thousands of religious leaders in major development themes, I witnessed Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians all seated together discussing creative ways to address local development concerns. While their external trappings were different, their purpose was the same: to lift the nation toward greater social and economic progress.

This experience led me to establish The Bangladesh Pluralism Project where my goal was to help foster a more open, inclusive and globally engaged Bangladesh. I researched the ancient political and religious origins of the pluralist ethic in Bengal and found that what made Bengal such an early civilizational success was their historical insistence and evolution of pluralistic values, values that today can translate into strengthened democratic practices, enhanced economic development and trade, and domestic and regional stability.

What I appreciate now about my education at JMU is the interdisciplinary approach that allows me to understand the world in a holistic way. Majoring in International Relations with minors in economics and religion helped prepare me to grasp the dual forces of globalization and identity that drive our world. This preparation would eventually become central to the Bangladesh Pluralism Project.

This past September I found myself on the prestigious stage of TEDx, a program designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue at the local level. There I faced young change-makers, corporate officers, policy makers and ambassadors. My goal was to highlight Bengal’s ancient tradition of pluralism and the promising future that pluralism holds for the nation. My message was received with strong enthusiasm, with the Embassy of Denmark social media broadcasting it as one of their favorites. Being on the stage represented not only the fulfillment of a personal dream, it also represented the sprouting of a seed first planted during my years at JMU. My recognition served as a resounding testament, not only to the future of a powerful idea, but also to the respected  institution that nourished it.

Why vote?

Levar Stoney ("00) and his bride posing in front of the Louvre. The couple married in Paris last summer.

Levar Stoney (’04) and his bride Kristina Perry Stoney. The couple married in Paris last summer.

Four years ago, about this time of year, we were embroiled in another presidential election. It was just as contentious, just as bitter, if memory serves. Of all the moments I remember from that last election, however, one stands out. One.

I was sitting in Clementine, a restaurant in downtown Harrisonburg, with several JMU colleagues and alumni. One person sitting around the table was JMU Be the Changer Levar Stoney, a 2004 political science graduate of the university, whom I had just met and interviewed. We were chatting casually when another colleague joined us and immediately referenced the upcoming election with a remark that felt like a sword thrown down. It seemed intended to fuel discussion, if not out and out combat.

What happened next is the moment I won’t forget: Levar, who at the time was serving as chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, changed the subject. He instantly defused what would have become a rancorous partisan argument. With his action, Levar was saying there’s a time and a place, and there’s a right and a wrong tone for such discussions. Lunch with friends that day was neither the right time nor the right place. I have always appreciated his sensitivity, his courtesy and his wisdom. He set a new standard for me; ever since, I’ve tried to emulate Levar’s kindness when it comes to politics and the discussions they evoke. In fact, during this latest campaign cycle I’ve worked very hard to practice civility and not allow emotion and rhetoric to overwhelm reason. Frankly, I haven’t always succeeded, but Levar has truly inspired me to try. I guess you could say that Levar Stoney changed my life a little that day.

With the 2012 election upon us, I wanted a pertinent post for this blog. The first person I thought of was Levar. When I reached out to him to write a guest blog about the election I knew that he would write with just the right tone. And I was right.

So in honor and anticipation of this week’s presidential election, here’s some unexpected — and light-hearted — advice from a Duke I like and admire. Enjoy….

Why vote?

by Levar Stoney (’04)

We are finally reaching the end of the marathon. From all the political advertisements dominating your television programming to the excessive name calling, the race for president between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney will actually come to a screeching halt on Tuesday, November 6th.  Well, at least we hope it does.

This coming Tuesday we the people will finally have a say in the process. Although it has been an arduous course, I think there are some cool reasons to be excited about voting. Here are a couple of mine:

1. Election Day is the one day you can come to work late, take a longer lunch break or leave work early and have a good excuse. Personally, I would take advantage of the late start to work and blame it on the long lines at the polls. It’s very believable, and it will likely be a very true excuse. Either way you can’t lose!

2. Do you like stickers? If so, Election Day is your day. Everyone wants an “I Voted” sticker after casting their ballot. Well, at least it seems that way.  I’ve seen adults wear those stickers all day long. As in grade school, stickers stand out. Why not get the prize and wear it proudly? Lastly, if you’re a fashion guru like my wife, you’ll know there is no need to accessorize that day. You’re getting that sticker and you can match it up with just about anything in your closet. Well, maybe anything.

3. Do you have someone at work or in your family who plans to vote for the other guy from the other party? Well, this is a perfect time to play spoiler and cancel out their vote.  Just when your friend, sibling or spouse thinks that they’ve won you over, go ahead and surprise them with your vote.  Now this shouldn’t be your sole reason for voting, but it would feel good.  Don’t let them win!

On a more serious note, voting is a true privilege. Many people around the world would die to have this inalienable right.  Participating in our democracy is an empowering freedom that gives us a voice in the future of our nation. I have always believed that if one doesn’t exercise their right to vote they can’t complain. Though I’m a fierce partisan, I value more than anything the right for all to participate in the discourse and process in selecting our leaders. Our leaders aren’t perfect; neither is the process. However, in order to get the leadership we desire we all must take action and participate in perfecting our union.

No matter which candidate you choose, vote. It makes a difference.

Can you connect the dots?

Can you connect the dots?  James Madison University in the company of Financial Times, Huffington Post,  Army Times and The Breeze. What’s the common denominator?

Here’s a hint: I found this graphic on the website of our own Be the Changer Justin Constantine (’92). Justin is the common denominator. His story or writing has been featured in all of the above.

Justin’s story is flat out inspiring. Gravely injured by a sniper’s bullet only weeks after deploying to Iraq in 2006, he fought a courageous battle to rebuild his life. But it was never all about Justin. With his then-girlfriend Dahlia, now his wife, by his side, Justin took a challenge and turned it into inspiration — one that continues to transform others’ lives as well. He has supported and assisted countless other wounded soldiers. It has been only six years since his life was forever altered, but in that time, he has accomplished remarkable things.

This week, I was in touch with Justin. I am excited to give you an update on him and tell you about an exciting new venture he has started.

Justin works full time as an attorney for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. That’s his day job. In the evening, he recently enrolled in a master of laws program at Georgetown University. He continues to work with the Wounded Warrior Project and sits on the board of directors. Compounding his commitment to these noble men and women, Justin also is a member of the congressionally-mandated Department of Defense Recovering Warrior Task Force.

And as if all that isn’t enough, Justin reports that he recently launched his own inspirational speaking business. Through this new venture, he shares his personal journey and what he has learned to thousands of people during speaking engagements all over the country. Once again, he is having an impact. Once again he is changing lives.

Mike Haynie, executive director of the Institute For Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, says: “Justin’s story is both powerful and inspirational. By sharing his experiences, Justin is able to help others see a path to overcoming obstacles that they’d previously perceived as insurmountable. It’s an empowering experience that should not be missed.”

Personally, I can’t wait for Justin to visit JMU sometime with his message of unsinkable hope and courage.

You can read more about Justin and his work by clicking the embedded links above.
Learn much more about Justin’s new business venture at  www.justinconstantine. com   And don’t miss the video provided. You’ll get a taste of what Justin has learned and what he shares about overcoming adversity. You can also follow Justin through his blog, accessed through his website.

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

Perfect timing

Christine Bolander and friend

Christine Bolander and friend

Ask Christine Bolander (’12, ’13M)  how she got connected to JMU Be the Changer Sarita Hartz Hendrickson (’02), and she’ll tell you it was God’s perfect timing.

Christine and her graduate research partner, Brooke Helsabeck (’12, ’13M), are working on an occupational therapy master’s thesis that focuses on rehabilitative methods for victims of the shadowy world of sex trafficking. The problem is huge. Although figures vary, according to a 2005 report by the U.S. State Department, between 600,000 and 800,000 individuals are trafficked internationally every year.

Knowing that JMU psychology professor Bill Evans had traveled to Uganda to work with the Zion Project, which Sarita founded, Christine and Brooke stopped by his office. Is there a way to develop a connection with Sarita’s project? they asked the professor.

“We had no idea what this ‘connection’ would turn into at the time,” Christine says. “By God’s perfect timing, Sarita just happened to be in the United States at the time, and just happened to be in Harrisonburg that weekend, and just happened to be be staying at the Evans’ home. It was incredible.”

Incredible indeed. And life changing.

When Christine and Brooke met Sarita later that week, Sarita invited them to spend the summer working in Gulu, Uganda. The experience was life changing. “Working with Zion Project,” Christine says, “has put more than a face and a name to the sexually exploited. It’s given me a care, a love, and an investment in these girls and these women.”

You can read more of Christine’s personal journey in Uganda at her blogspot

And watch for the next Madison magazine to see how Christine’s experience with JMU’s Huber Residential Learning Center became a catalyst for her important work that will change lives.

%d bloggers like this: