Monday, March 22, 2010

Dracula Is Dead

I am privileged to know some wonderful and accomplished people. In my last blog, I wrote about Bernie and Rita Turner, and the book about their founding of Walden University. I had just finished reading Aspire toward the Highest at the time.

Yesterday, I completed another wonderful book by yet another terrific married couple I know. The book has a great title, Dracula Is Dead, with the subtitle, How Romanians Survived Communism, Ended It, and Emerged since 1989 as the New Italy. The authors are Jim Rosapepe and Sheilah Kast. Jim was the American Ambassador to Romania during the Clinton administration. Today, he is still active in Romania and serves in the Maryland House of Delegates. I first met Jim while I was running the entrepreneurship center at the University of Maryland; he is one of the school's biggest supporters and serves on its Board of Visitors. Jim's wife, Sheilah Kast, is a well-known TV and radio journalist, with her own show on National Public Radio. In the past, she could be seen on ABC and CNN.

In Dracula Is Dead, Jim and Sheilah describe their experiences in Romania in the style of a travelogue. For a memoir writer, this is a fascinating format for a book in our genre -- and it works very well. Their stories and anecdotes give a clear and insightful picture of a country which has transitioned from a Communist satellite state to a vibrant, market-driven, democracy in a relatively short time. I found them particularly fascinating because many mirror those I have encountered in my own native Czech Republic since 1998. I highly recommend the book -- it's a great read.

You'll find a link to Jim's and Sheilah's book web site under "Links" on my site,

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Aspiring toward the highest degree and purpose

For several years now, I have served on the Board of Directors of Walden University, a unique international institution. Walden is a for-profit, accredited, university which -- by virtue of offering all its courses online -- is designed for the nontraditional student, typically a professional who is working full-time, has a family, is looking to improve his/her job opportunities, and needs the flexibility of attending lectures and studying on his/her own schedule.

From my position as a director and chair of the board's financial affairs committee, I have marvelled at the accomplishments of Walden's management team, the quality of the faculty, and state-of-the-art technology used to deliver courses throughout the world to some 40,000 doctoral, master's, and undergraduate students in disciplines from engineering to education to nursing, and beyond.

Sitting on stages at commencements in Bloomington, Minneapolis, and Dallas, I have seen men and women my age receive their diplomas to the cries of "'Way to go grandma!" from the audience. I've shed tears during touching scenes such as a quadraplegic man wheeled onto the stage by his mother, who had labored for years typing on a computer keyboard as he dictated his assignments, and a black daughter of a poor family receiving her master's degree in education -- the first person in her family to go past the eighth grade.

But, I never appreciated the innovative minds which conceived this revolutionary educational concept, nor the difficulty of getting such an institution off the ground and having it recognized and accredited by the conservative and self-preserving education community, until recently. A few weeks ago, I received in the mail a book titled, Aspire toward the Highest: Bernie and Rita Turner and the Founding of Walden University by Wade Keller.

The book was sent to me by one of the two co-stars of the book, Bernie Turner, a man I am very proud to call my friend. (As a personal aside, I discovered that Bernie, as a very young Army private, was one of our liberators when George Patton's division routed the Germans and entered the western part of the Czech Republic in 1945.) Bernie and his beautiful wife, Rita, came up with the Walden concept in 1970, long before the advent of the Internet.Their story, and the tale of Walden University, make for a great read for anyone (like me) who gets excited by stories of American ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and enterprise, and who appreciates the premise that, in America, anyone who wants it badly enough, has the right and opportunity to pursue "a higher degree..a higher purpose" (Walden's motto). The book is available from Keller Publishing,

Monday, March 1, 2010

An "Orange Power" weekend

What a weekend for my alma mater! On Saturday, the Oklahoma State Cowboys took on the number one basketball team in the nation, the Kansas Jayhawks, in Stillwater. In no time, we led by 16 points, as James Anderson, Keiton Page, and Obi Muonelo destroyed KU with their sharpshooting. We handed the Jayhawks their second loss of the season and assured ourselves of a spot in March Madness. The next day, the OSU Cowgirls, who had hit a dryspell after reaching a record of 18-3 and a top-ten ranking, knocked off Texas Tech. Both the men's and women's teams now are 20-8 -- peaking and rolling.

Meanwhile, a few hundred miles to the west -- in Phoenix -- Cowboy alumni were blowing away the opposition on the golf course. In an incredible showing for one university, OSU Cowboys captured three of the first six places in the PGA Phoenix open: Hunter Mahan was first, Rickie Fowler finished second, and Charles Howell came in sixth. Wow! Surely, that must be a first for one school.

Actually, I had hoped that it would be both an orange and a red-white-and-blue weekend. Without question, the most important sporting event of the year was Sunday's Olympic finals game between Canada and the United States. Despite the fact that our guys had beaten Canada a week before, they were derided as flukes and nobodies. One of the NBC announcers stated before the game that only two players on the American team would be good enough to make the Canadian squad. What arrogance and idiocy! Our guys skated beautifully, Ryan Miller was fantastic in goal, and they tied the score in the last minute to send it into overtime. Sadly, they lost on a sudden-death goal. But, they have absolutely nothing of which to be ashamed. They should hold their heads high and be proud of their silver medals. By the way, my fearless prediction: while Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby will continue (deservedly) to receive the accolades, the next big hockey star will be an American. His name is Zach Parise.