Researching Titanic the Musical

On October 9, Professor Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre held a roundtable for honors students to present the research she had done in preparation for directing the Colonial Theatre’s production of the musical Titanic, which was presented on campus from November 12 to 16. While the iconic James Cameron film is generally what most people first think of when they hear the name of that infamous ship, Professor Burgess-Lefebvre was quick to mention at the start of her presentation that the musical was not based on the movie. In fact, the original production of Titanic opened on Broadway several months before Cameron’s film of the same name was even released.

Once that fact had been established, Professor Burgess-Lefebvre went on to mention that all of the named characters in the musical were based on actual people who had been on the ship. She discussed the ways in which that facilitated her research and how it assisted her in bringing their stories to life on stage. For the sake of authenticity, she incorporated what she had learned about those individuals into the way she directed her cast.

Beyond the characters, Burgess-Lefebvre also spoke to all of the other research she had done to get her mind into the world of the show. She discussed the statistics of the ship’s build and also the approximate timeline of its sinking. Various anecdotes and conspiracies as to what actually transpired on the Titanic in its final hours were mentioned as well.

All in all, Professor Burgess-Lefebvre’s presentation was incredibly interesting and informative. Having had the chance to attend a performance of the show a month later, her roundtable certainly gave me a greater appreciation for what I saw on stage.

Robert Dougher


Studying Abroad in Ireland

This past May, I had the honor of studying abroad in Ireland as part of Jim Vincent’s Joyce and Yeats class. Traveling with his Mythology class, our group visited the legendary places of Ireland’s folklore as well as the beautiful landscapes and bustling cities that were inspiration for poet William Butler Yeats and author James Joyce. We began in Crossmaglen, a town overshadowed by its dark history of the Troubles, the struggle between Northern Ireland and the Republic. We stopped in Northern Ireland’s capital, Belfast, and added our messages of peace to the Peace Wall. We stayed on the bogs in Omagh and in a haunted hotel (we think) near Sligo, one of Yeats’ inspirations. Sligo’s charming people and rich music made it my favorite stop on the trip. We ended our journey in Dublin, the Republic’s capital. I encourage all to go on this trip if possible.

Tanner Sebastian

Enigma: A Roundtable with the Honors Program Co-Director

On Wednesday, November 12, Professor Monica VanDieren interestingly combined cryptography, history, and mathematics in her Honors Program Roundtable titled “Mathematics of Enigma”. Dr. VanDieren’s presentation looked at various forms of encryption, how they were used in the past, and ways in which they can easily be decoded with mathematics. The presentation focused on the Enigma machine, its components, its importance in World War II, the revolutionary Polish mathematicians that were able to predict the keys and decode messages sent from the Enigma machine, and the first programmable digital computer created by Alan Turing in order to decode the Enigma more efficiently. Each member of the audience, a large crowd of both students and RMU faculty, were given his or her own paper Enigma machine and shown how to use it. Professor VanDieren’s Roundtable was very entertaining and informational.

Nicole Stone


Lecture and Lunch with Ray Gastil

Honors Students had the opportunity to learn about city planning and the future of Pittsburgh at a presentation by newly-appointed City of Pittsburgh Planning Director, Ray Gastil. Although Gastil has only been here a few months, he already has a vision for the future. He is excited to be in an area that has recovered so well from the collapse of the steel industry, and continues to grow and adapt today. He plans to infuse more art and culture into the changing cityscape, among other things. Gastil served as Director of City Planning in Manhattan and Seattle and taught at various universities throughout his life. He draws on that experience, as well as the models of other great cities around the world to plan the future of Pittsburgh. A small group of students and faculty had the opportunity to have lunch with Gastil after the presentation. They discussed various upcoming projects such as the new PNC building downtown and a possible expansion of public transportation. Gastil also discussed whether students planned on living in the city after graduation, and the retention of highly talented Pittsburgh Area college grads.

Molly Watterson

Ray Gastil Picture

Going to Grad School Seminar

On October 27, a “Going to Grad School Seminar” was hosted by the Honors Program and the Career Center in the Sewall Center Dining Room. The focus of the event was to provide an overview of the nature of graduate education to current Robert Morris University undergraduate students. The event consisted of an interactive discussion with a panel of Robert Morris University’s graduate education “experts”, consisting of graduate admissions staff, career center advisors, test preparation staff, as well as University faculty. Driving part of the panel discussion, Honors Program co-directors Dr. VanDieren and Dr. Harold aided in the explanation of the graduate applications process, admissions, and education. The panel discussed the various exams used in graduate admissions, including the GRE, GMAT, and LSAT. The importance of selecting a program to meet a student’s individual needs as well as resume-building, and test preparedness were highlighted as the keys to targeting the best possible graduate program. Students had the opportunity to ask questions concerning the prospects of graduate education. The panel’s invaluable advice provided deep insight into the decision to attend graduate school, and the opportunity enriched the knowledge of all students who attended.

Stanley Marciniak III

Q&A with Rooney Scholar Victor Khrul

In the small nook of Robert Morris University’s library, big ideas on international politics were being discussed on a chilled November evening. Victor Khrul from Moscow State University warmly accepted questions in this Q&A session, providing thorough answers for many inquiries, ranging from the current heated Russian political environment to the power of propaganda and education abroad. The information shared left the audience satisfied yet pondering further on the realm of foreign affairs. The talk spurred on side discussion as we departed, still grasping a glimpse of the Russian state of affairs and how they connected Moon Township in the greater picture of power and politics.

Savanah Buhite

WWII Vet Featured as Constitution Day Speaker

In order to differentiate 2014’s Constitution Day celebration from those held in previous years at Robert Morris, Dr. Phillip Harold,Co-Director of the Honors Program, wanted to bring in a guest speaker to campus instead of simply holding an essay contest or debate.

As a result, Dr. Harold partnered with Susan Parker, an Assistant Professor of Education, to have 90 year old WWII veteran and Moon Township resident Car Walpusk address a packed Rogal Chapel on September 17.

Walpusk and his comrades, whose plane was shot down over German-occupied Serbia in 1943, were hid from the axis powers for 33 days until being rescued by the U.S. government during Operation Haylard. In 2007, author Gregory Freeman immortalized the rescue mission in The Forgotten 500.

Walpusk’s lecture to the RMU community served as a reminder to everyone in attendance that the freedoms we have would not be possible without the sacrifices made by so many Americans over 70 years ago.

Nicholas Buzzelli

carl walpusk 1