Joanna Slusky, a KU assistant professor of computational biology and molecular biosciences who won a Moore Inventor Fellowship for her work designing a protein that could help stem antibiotic resistance, was named today as the recipient of a $2.3 million New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Slusky’s work in protein design, the subject of a cover story in the current issue of Kansas Alumni, led to her involvement in the University’s successful 2016 bid to land an $11 million, five-year NIH grant that established the KU Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE): Chemical Biology of Infectious Disease. Asked to contribute research on antibiotic resistance, Slusky turned to a protein she’d invented—dubbed S1245—and stored in a freezer in her lab. After initial tests proved encouraging, she expanded the research to focus on E. coli bacteria with funding from the $825,000 Moore Fellowship.
The New Innovator Award, part of the NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, supports exceptionally creative early career investigators who propose innovative, high-impact projects. Slusky says the grant will allow her to expand her focus from E. coli to other bacterial infections which have similar methods of antibiotic resistance.
“The Moore project is really focused on, ‘Let’s make something,’” Slusky says. “The way that this New Innovator Award is structured, it gives me the ability to really explore the science that’s causing this to happen, so that we can use it potentially for other things as well. The science behind this kind of protein-protein interaction should be useful for other inventions that would be against antibiotic resistance, specifically other inventions that might be useful for other types of bacteria, for other types of antibiotic resistance that we could expand into.”
The increasing resistance of harmful bacteria to antibiotic drugs is a growing problem worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2 million people in the United States become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and 23,000 die from these infections. Worldwide, the death toll from drug resistance in illnesses such as bacterial infections, malaria, HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis is 700,000. A 2014 British study projected that by 2050 10 million people will die each year because of increasing resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs, surpassing the death rate from cancer.
The scientists behind that study also compiled a list of the 10 most dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and Slusky has theorized that six of the 10 should be susceptible to a protein like S1245. “So far, with the Moore work, we’ve only been playing with one of the six,” Slusky says. “Now we can say, let’s try to generalize this so that we could see if we can impact six of ten.”
Can a professor’s invention turn the battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria? Read “The Protein in the Freezer,” a feature story on Joanna Slusky’s research from Kansas Alumni magazine, issue no. 5, 2017.
University of Kansas alumna and stand-up comedian Nikki Glaser returned to Lawrence June 29 for a sold-out performance at the Lawrence Arts Center, where she churned out her classically irreverent yet relatable comedy for a crowd that included her family, friends—and even one of her KU professors.
“Guys, I’m so happy to be back here,” she told the audience. “I haven’t been back since 2008.”
Since last setting foot in Lawrence, Glaser has toured nationwide, hosted her own television series, “Not Safe with Nikki Glaser,” which premiered on Comedy Central in 2016, and appeared in several movies, including director Judd Apatow’s “Trainwreck” in 2015.
Glaser, c’06, who recalls being wildly inappropriate even as a young girl, says she caught the comedy bug her freshman year in college. “I did my first time on stage in Boulder, and my friend held up the phone so my dad could listen on speakerphone,” she says. “I probably bombed, but I had so much fun that I got off stage and called my dad crying, ‘This is what I want to do with my life.’”
Still, her parents encouraged her to complete her degree. She reluctantly complied, admitting that she preferred trips to Kansas City for stand-up shows over studying for class. “I really b.s.-ed my way through everything,” she says. “I remember sitting in a study area and just writing jokes. I wrote jokes while people were studying for finals.”
Glaser got her big break during her senior year at KU, when she traveled to Chicago with 10 other performers to try out for the NBC reality show “Last Comic Standing.” The judges were easily won over by the young comedian’s quick wit and uncensored jokes.
“They loved it,” she says. “That was the moment I thought, ‘There’s something here.’”
Glaser has continued to rely on what she calls “dumb confidence” throughout her career, powering past rejection and doubt to make her mark in the comedy world. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have unwavering support and encouragement from her biggest fans—her family.
“They’re so supportive it’s almost a problem,” she says with a laugh. “I have thrown them under the bus so many times in my acts, and they’ve always been so cool and supportive.”
When Bill French ran for president during his junior year at KU, he pledged that the Class of 1977 would bestow a gift upon the University. “At that time, I had no idea what the gift was going to be or what kind of money we had,” he says with a laugh. “It was one of those platform promises you make and then you hope you’ll have some money to give a gift the size of a bouquet of flowers.”
Turns out, the Class of 1977 had more in its budget than expected. With the help of the other class officers and Jeff Millikan, gift chairman, French identified $1,000 that could be used toward a University gift. “We knew that the KU Athletics Hall of Fame was just getting started,” he says. “I suggested we look at a major assist for it.”
French, j’77, and Millikan, c’77, g’80, met with KU’s Athletic Director Clyde Walker to discuss a gift that would help the newly established hall of fame. “At that time, they just had some posters up,” French recalls. “I said, ‘We’ve only got $1,000, but I’ll get the right media involved with this. We’ll have a picture, we’ll run a story, we’ll have a big check made.’”
French put out the word, and several area newspapers picked up the story, including the Kansas City Star, the Lawrence Journal-World and the Wichita Eagle.
“Clyde Walker later told me that the Class of 1977’s gift and associated news stories really helped the KU Athletic Hall of Fame with their fundraising efforts,” says French.
The Hall of Fame has expanded over the years, and in 2006, the Booth Family Hall of Athletics opened on the east side of Allen Field House, thanks to more than $5 million in gifts from the children and grandchildren of the late Gilbert and Betty Booth. Following an expansion in 2009, the sprawling, 19,335-square-foot sports shrine now features interactive exhibits and a basketball championship trophy case—not to mention a plaque that recognizes the Class of 1977 for its generous gift 40 years ago.
“It’s really grown into a big deal,” says French. “I’m very glad that our class was able to be a part of kicking it off.”
Image courtesy Bill French. Pictured from left to right: Stephan Van Kepple, Dorothy Schloerb, Chancellor Archie Dykes, Clyde Walker, Randy Brown, Bill French, Jeff Millikan, Marianne Maurin, Carol Smith and Fred Knuth
“Now is an ideal time for the University of Kansas to identify a new leader to guide the next chapter in the university’s history,” said Gray-Little, who came to Lawrence in 2009 as a highly regarded administrator and researcher.
Visit the University’s tribute page to Chancellor Gray-Little to learn more about her legacy and see a timeline of achievements during her tenure. Check out favorite photos of the Chancellor at university events and watch videos including her encounter with Little James Naismith and her unforgettable drive in a KU race car.
A Twitter feed on the page displays tributes made by students, alumni, faculty and staff members.
Exclusively for members
The next issue of Kansas Alumni magazine, which will land in members’ mailboxes later this month, will feature a cover story on the outgoing chancellor.
Not a member? Join by Tuesday, May 9, to ensure that you receive this commemorative issue of the magazine.
Jayhawks are invited to donate to two funds Chancellor Gray-Little was instrumental in creating.
The Chancellor’s Doctoral Fellowships help recruit and support doctoral students. Twelve fellowships are awarded each year to provide a $25,000 stipend and cover tuition and fees.
The Rosalie Lanier Gray KU Staff Assistance Fund provides emergency assistance for KU staff members who are struggling due to a natural or personal disaster that has caused financial hardship. Chancellor Gray-Little established the fund in honor of her mother, Rosalie Lanier Gray.
Share your memories of the chancellor online using the hashtag #ThankYouBGL.
Carrying on traditions that date back to the days when the Jayhawks played in Hoch Auditorium, the men’s basketball band fills Allen Field House with an energizing mix of musicianship, enthusiasm, school spirit and just plain fun. Hear director Sharon Toulouse, f’97, g’05, and many of her talented musicians explain the stories behind their rites and rituals, and read more about it in “Fortissimo Fan Fare,” in issue No. 2, 2017, of Kansas Alumni magazine.
More than 100 faculty, staff, students and guests attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony March 9 at the newly named Lt. Gen. William K. Jones Military-Affiliated Student Center at the University of Kansas.
The nearly 3,000-square-foot center, located in Summerfield Hall, honors Jones, c’37, a highly decorated U.S. Marine Corps veteran whose 33-year military career included tours in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
“We’re honored to name the center after a distinguished KU alumnus and Marine Corps veteran who served for more than three decades,” said Director April Blackmon Strange. “This center provides us with an inviting space to better serve our growing number of military-affiliated students—from the first time they express interest in KU to Commencement and beyond.”
More than 1,100 military-affiliated students on campus have access to the center, which includes a lounge with computers and televisions; quiet spaces for tutoring and studying; meeting and conference rooms; free printing and copying services; and assistance from an onsite Kansas Commission on Veterans Affairs representative.
For the past two years, the University has been named a top-10 school for veterans by the Military Times and has also been recognized by other organizations that rate schools on their military student services.
Several of Jones’ family members attended the ceremony, including his son, William K. Jones Jr., who also served in the Marine Corps; his daughter; his nephew, Jim Jones Jr., a retired Marine Corps general and the former U.S. National Security Adviser for President Barack Obama; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“We’re all really excited about this honor to my father,” said Bill Jones Jr., c’81. “He loved KU, and he loved being a Kansas Jayhawk.”
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little praised Jayhawks for their persistence in making the center a reality for military-affiliated students and noted its critical role in the University’s mission to build strong, healthy communities.
“This center represents another commitment to our veterans and military-affiliated students,” she said. “I am proud that our University recognizes and addresses the unique needs of this population of students.”
JR Cadwallader, a Marine Corps veteran and president of KU’s Student Veterans of America, noted that the organization’s new home on campus was “well worth the wait.”
“The Lt. Gen. William K Jones Military-Affiliated Center is here to leverage the unique strengths and talents we bring to the University of Kansas,” he said. “We now have a center to help us create better students, a better campus, better communities and a better nation for the next generation of successful veterans.”
Kansas City-based luxury watchmaker Niall is a top-tier sponsor of the 2017 Rock Chalk Ball, the University of Kansas Alumni Association’s largest annual fundraising event, April 29 at the Overland Park Convention Center. Hosted by the Greater Kansas City Alumni Network, the event raises funds for Association programs to advocate for KU, communicate to alumni and friends in all media, recruit students and volunteers, serve alumni and KU, and unite all Jayhawks.
As a presenting sponsor of the event, Niall will donate two of its limited-edition Fieldhouse Blue watches to the Association, one of which will be auctioned at the Rock Chalk Ball. The exclusive watch is officially licensed by KU and features basketball founder James Naismith’s original 13 rules of basketball micro-inscribed on the dial of the timepiece. Only 126 pieces of this watch have been produced—emblematic of the number of years since the inception of the game in 1891. A portion of the watch’s ongoing sales will be donated to Kansas Athletics and the Williams Education Fund.
Niall’s partnership with the Alumni Association also includes other opportunities for alumni engagement.
“We are immensely grateful to Niall for its generous sponsorship of the Alumni Association’s Rock Chalk Ball and other events,” said Heath Peterson, Association president. “Kansas City is the nation’s largest community of Jayhawks, and our programs, especially in recruiting legacy students, are vital to strengthening KU.”
“Niall is thrilled to sponsor this year’s Rock Chalk Ball,” said Association Life Member and Presidents Club Member Michael Wilson, b’05, founder and CEO of Niall. “This is a great way for us to support the Alumni Association and its mission to connect Jayhawks to the University of Kansas.”
In the wake of a ceaseless stream of headlines and social-media chatter about international espionage, Georgetown University Press’ recent publication of Spy Sites of Washington, DC, the latest installment in a series of espionage history books written by retired CIA officer Robert Wallace, g’68, and historian H. Keith Melton, could not have come at a more opportune time.
Thanks to public fascination with the topic, the Washington Post recently promoted the book to its politically minded readership with an attractive, graphics-laden package featuring many of the sites Wallace and Melton featured in their book.
“I was surprised. I had no idea it would catch the attention of somebody there,” Wallace says from his Virginia home. “I think it was one of the cases where you just kind of catch a news cycle.”
Wallace, a former CIA station chief who ended his long career at the agency as director of its Office of Technical Service, began his writing career, and partnership with Melton, with the authoritative and fascinating Spycraft [Kansas Alumni magazine, issue 2, 2008], which brought to light countless previously untold chapters in the thrilling history of the CIA’s spytechs, with their ingenious devices and courageous exploits.
Wallace and Melton continued with, among others, The Official C.I.A. Manual of Trickery and Deception and Spy Sites of New York City. As with the New York book, Spy Sites of Washington, DC is designed with a dual purpose in mind. It can be enjoyed at the reader’s leisure at home or, with its extensive maps and photographs, dropped into a backpack to serve as a guidebook to explore sites where notable espionage once took place.
A favored tour for Wallace is a stretch he’s dubbed the “Spy Mile,” featuring 25 spy sites that stretch from the Mayflower Hotel, down 16th Street to the White House, then east to the International Spy Museum on F Street.
“Having the information in front of you and then being at the site is the difference between watching the Jayhawks play in Allen Field House and watching them on a television in some bar,” he says. “You get the same information both ways, but you experience it totally differently.”
Wallace says he was surprised to learn during his research for this book—which he describes as “much more substantial” than Spy Sites of New York City—about ceaseless foreign involvement in American affairs across the entire span of our country’s history.
“Not only in terms of foreign countries attempting to, quote, steal American secrets, the information side, but also the influence side,” he says. “Foreign governments, through their intelligence organs, have consistently, regularly, always attempted to influence American politicians, influence American policy, influence the American public, and, by extension, either directly or indirectly, the American vote.
“I was surprised by that. I didn’t have a previous awareness of how consistently that played out over the years.”
Given that those are exactly the charges currently being bandied about in the early days of the current presidential administration, Wallace suggests using caution to draw exact parallels: “The dynamics of any particular age are of that age,” he says.
Instead, Wallace says, Americans should use that history to learn more about how such foreign efforts were dealt with in earlier times.
“What history teaches you is that maybe you shouldn’t be so surprised and shocked when things happen, because there’s probably historical precedence. But, maybe you can draw some lessons learned in terms of how similar situations were effectively, or not so effectively, dealt with.”
William McNulty, an Iraq War veteran and co-founder of Team Rubicon, will be awarded an honorary degree at KU’s 145th Commencement on May 14, 2017, in Memorial Stadium.
Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little recommended McNulty for an honorary degree to the Kansas Board of Regents. The board approved the chancellor’s recommendation during its meeting today, Jan. 18.
McNulty – himself a KU alumnus – created Team Rubicon to provide disaster relief and humanitarian aid to communities hit by natural disasters. The organization grew out of McNulty’s desire to continue serving his country when his enlistment in the United States Marine Corps ended. After organizing a team of veterans to help with disaster response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake, McNulty recognized that military veterans’ unique skills offered a model for a disaster-response organization that would bridge the gap between the immediate aftermath of disasters and the arrival of large-scale relief efforts from governments and aid organizations.
“William McNulty has turned his experience in war-torn areas of the world into a global effort to aid similar communities, while at the same time easing the transition of military veterans to civilian life by offering a sense of community, identity and purpose,” Chancellor Gray-Little said. “His innovative and meaningful work is making our world a better place, and for that, he is an inspiration to the entire KU community. We look forward to awarding him his honorary degree in May 2017.”
Team Rubicon was featured on the cover of Kansas Alumni magazine, issue 2, 2016. Read the full article here.
McNulty will be awarded the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters for outstanding contributions to global humanitarian and relief efforts.
McNulty earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kansas and his master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University.
Read the full press release from the University of Kansas here.
After launching the Lawrence Police Department’s Twitter page Dec. 31, 2015, with the usual dry reminders for revelers to designate sober drivers, Officer Drew Fennelly yearned to “find the voice for the Twitter account.”
His creativity burst forth three months later, as Fennelly, ’09, hunched over his laptop, bemoaning the men’s basketball team’s shattering loss in the NCAA Tournament. “Sorry, we can’t investigate Villanova ripping your heart out of your chest,” Fennelly wrote. “The crime occurred outside our jurisdiction. #RCJH”
Sorry, we can't investigate Villanova ripping your heart out of your chest, the crime occurred outside our jurisdiction. #RCJH
The post was noticed by the Kansas City Star’s sports editor, who shared it with his 10,000 followers, and suddenly @LawrenceKS_PD zoomed to online fame.
“I felt the same frustration and despair that everybody else did about KU losing that game,” Fennelly says. “So I was thinking, how can I express to everyone else how I feel and relate it to the police department?”
He’d found the voice he’d been searching for, and his ensuing parade of comedy gold gained an even wider audience—hello, Jimmy Kimmel—Sept. 29: “We realize politics can make emotions run high, but being mad at a presidential candidate in a debate is NOT a reason to call 911.”
REMINDER We realize politics can make emotions run high, but being mad at a presidential candidate in a debate is NOT a reason to call 911.
Fennelly says he scrutinizes every post for any possible hint of controversy or disrespect, but he otherwise lets the laughs loose almost daily, including an election-day reminder that “Electioneering is not a major at KU,” K9 officers posed for cute dog pics, Bad Luck Brian reminding citizens not to tempt thieves with unattended porch packages, and best of all, the occasional Saturday-night #LKPDTweetalong, during which he rides with a fellow officer and tweets the action from a citizen’s point of view.
“Humor really is one of the best coping mechanisms for dealing with what we see on a regular basis,” says Fennelly, an officer since 2009. “I think you would be hard-pressed to find a police officer with out a pretty good sense of humor.”
From dry to wry, all in a day’s work.
This post was originally published in the Jayhawk Walk section of Kansas Alumni magazine, issue no. 1, 2017, but it’s not the only press about the police department’s Twitter antics. Check out the links below for more.