Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 11, 2013

Ivy Tech joins worldwide movement to share beliefs

'This I Believe' program woven into classes to foster sense of community.

By Lindsey Ziliak Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Editor's note: Ethan Heicher's title has been corrected.

Sister Helen Prejean’s soft-spoken words floated across Alumni Hall at Ivy Tech Community College Kokomo Wednesday morning.

“‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ Jesus said, and as a beginner nun I tried earnestly to love my neighbor: the children I taught, their parents, my fellow teachers, my fellow nuns,” she said. “But for a long time, the circle of my loving care was small and, for the most part, included only white, middle-class people like me. But one day I woke up to Jesus’ deeper challenge to love the outcast, the criminal, the underdog. So I packed my stuff and moved into a noisy, violent housing project in an African-American neighborhood in New Orleans. … I changed from being a nun who only prayed for the suffering world to a nun with my sleeves rolled up, living my prayer.”

Award-winning radio producer Dan Gediman stopped the audio recording he’d been playing for Ivy Tech students, faculty and staff. And for a moment, Alumni Hall fell silent.

In the past eight years, 150,000 people from more than 100 countries have submitted essays to Gediman for the “This I Believe” project. Prejean’s might be his favorite.

Not only does Prejean examine what she believes, she also takes a look at whether she is living those beliefs, he told the students.

Gediman said that’s the whole point of the project.

Edward R. Murrow launched the “This I Believe” radio program in 1951 at a time when people were scared and confused.

“We hardly need to be reminded that we are living in an age of confusion,” Murrow said during the program’s first broadcast. “A lot of us have traded in our beliefs for bitterness and cynicism, or for a heavy package of despair, or even a quivering portion of hysteria. Opinions can be picked up cheap in the marketplace, while such commodities as courage and fortitude and faith are in alarmingly short supply.”

His radio program ended in the mid-1950s.

Fifty years later, Gediman resurrected it. He initially hoped some new belief essays would air on the radio once a week for at least a year.

The program became wildly popular, though. People in China and Egypt and all around the globe listen to the weekly series via podcast.

Now, Ivy Tech Kokomo region is joining the movement.

Students throughout the region are reading “This I Believe II” as part of a campus-wide initiative to incorporate a common book into all classes and programs.

It’s really taken off, said Ethan Heicher, assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs for the region. Faculty teaching health classes have especially embraced it, he said.

This semester, students are reading the book and discussing its essays in class. Next semester, they’ll start talking about their own core beliefs and writing their own essays, Heicher said.

Students will submit them to Gediman’s This I Believe Inc. in hopes that some of them will be published someday. The nonprofit is considering publishing a “This I Believe Indiana” since it’s had so many submissions from the Hoosier state, Gediman said.

But that’s not the real goal of the project, Heicher said. He wants this book to bring students together.

“There was a real need to build a sense of community here,” he said. “When they meet in the commons, when they meet outside of class, they’ll have something to talk about.”

Heicher said the program has been used on college campuses throughout the country, both in academics and in student life initiatives.

“This is a really good way to let people get to know each other on a deeper level,” he said.

Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, can be reached at 765-454-8585 or at lindsey.ziliak@kokomotribune.com.