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Missouri State University Alumni Association

A message from President Smart on budget cuts

President Clif Smart addressing budget cutsIn January and February, we learned that we should expect to receive less state funding this year than we received last year. This was not because our elected leaders are hostile toward higher education. In fact, they have told me repeatedly that they remain committed to higher education and are proud of the success we have achieved at Missouri State. Instead, funding will be cut because the state’s tax revenues have come in lower than anticipated.
To account for this, we are developing a budget for the upcoming fiscal year on the Springfield campus with $7.4 million less in anticipated revenue from the state.

Core mission

I am writing to tell you two things.
First, Missouri State is strong. We have grown enrollment in 19 of the past 21 years, topping 26,000 students in fall 2016. We anticipate additional growth again in fall 2017. We have a stable leadership team who has managed budget cuts before. I am confident that we will emerge from these cuts stronger than ever.
Second, I want you to have accurate information about how the University will implement these budget cuts. I also want you to feel free to provide me with input as we develop the University’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
We began this year’s budget process by developing a set of guiding principles. Those principles included:

  • Protecting the core mission of the university — academic achievement, scholarship and student success — is paramount.
  • All units will share in budget reductions, but the levels of reductions will be strategic and reductions will not be equal in all areas of the university.
  • Enrollment growth must continue to be a priority.
  • All budget decisions will be made through a transparent process.

Budget breakdown

One of the University’s guiding principles was that we would not rely solely on increased tuition and fees to replace the budget shortfall. Guided by this principle, the Board has decided to raise tuition and fees for instate undergraduate students only by the amount of inflation. The Board and I are extremely proud of Missouri State’s ability to maintain affordability despite the budget cuts. Tuition and fee increases will generate around $3.4 million in additional revenue, leaving $4 million to be identified through expense reductions.
Budget committees across the university have worked to identify expenses to reduce or eliminate from non-academic areas. At present, expenses slated for reduction or elimination total $2.8 million. These expenses include:

  • Eliminating more than 25 staff positions.
  • Eliminating institutional support for multiple campus research centers.
  • Reducing event-related expenses by eliminating the Ozarks Celebration Festival, reducing the Public Affairs Conference by one day and eliminating summer commencement.

This leaves approximately $1.2 million in expense reductions that have not yet been identified. We recently held a campus town hall meeting at which we discussed several options to pursue in identifying the remaining cuts. Our executive budget committee will be meeting in the coming weeks to review all input received and develop its final recommendations to the Board for the fiscal year 2018 budget.
Our alumni and supporters are important members of the Missouri State community. We value your input. If you have ideas or input that you would like to be considered before we finalize the fiscal year 2018 budget cuts, please feel free to email me at President@MissouriState.edu.

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#BearGrads: Welcome to MarooNation

Congratulations on your graduation, #BearGrads.

We’re excited to welcome you into the Alumni Association, which connects more than 110,000 alumni around the world with Missouri State University.

Graduation Giveaway

We invite #BearGrads to visit the Graduation Giveaway table during commencement week to receive a gift and to learn more about MarooNation. You can pick up your gift  during these times:

  • May 15-18: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. at the Maroon Nation store in the Plaster Student Union (PSU) student celebrates graduation by posing with alumni mug in front of PSU Bear
  • May 19: 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. across from the information desk in the PSU

Photos with the PSU Bear

Remember taking a picture of the PSU Bear when you first visited campus? Be sure to mark graduation with one more photo at this MSU landmark.

Visit the Bear statue outside of Plaster Student Union to get your photo taken and to receive a free commemorative print. Photos will be available from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16.

Once a Bear, always a Bear

Wherever the future takes you, we encourage you to stay connected with Missouri State University.

Make sure you receive the monthly alumni newsletter, free copies of Missouri State magazine, invitations to alumni events and more by updating your contact information. You can also get the latest University news and connect with fellow graduates by following MarooNation on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Once again, we congratulate you on your graduation and wish you all the best.

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Springfield’s college team is taking on the Tigers for Alumni Night

jake burger takes a swing
Junior third baseman Jake Burger

The crack of the bat; the roar of the crowd; the heat of a rivalry. It’s almost Alumni Night at Hammons Field and we’re inviting you to get in on the action. The Missouri State Bears are aiming for more NCAA Tournament success and looking to improve upon their Super Regional appearance in 2015. Junior third baseman Jake Burger was just named to the midseason player watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given annually to college baseball’s best player. He is considered a possible first-round choice in June’s major league baseball draft. You’ll kick yourself if you miss him as a Bear. Luckily, you can see him play in Springfield in a crucial game against rival Mizzou. First pitch is 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday, April 25 at beautiful Hammons Field. The Bears lead the all-time series against the Tigers 28-25 and look to keep the winning edge.

Grand Slam special

Get out your BearWear and warm up your voice. Grab the kids and make sure they bring their gloves – they just might catch a foul ball. Dinner plans? We’ve got you covered. Fans can enjoy a full ballpark buffet and take home MSU swag.

  • Buffet includes hot dogs, bratwurst, potato salad, chips, popcorn, lemonade and iced tea.
  • The buffet is available from 6:15-7:15 p.m.
  • Fans can purchase buffet access, a game ticket, an exclusive MSU double-walled tumbler and a bonus ticket to one of the MSU vs. Indiana State games on May 12, 13, or 14, all for just $20.
  • Only 350 of these Grand Slam deals are available, so don’t miss your chance for an awesome evening of America’s favorite past time.

Boomer and Growl mascots pose with fans at baseball game

Buy Bears tickets

Staff ticket special

Missouri State staff can join the fun with a special opportunity. Beginning April 17 they can pick up two tickets per person and food vouchers good for popcorn and soda at the game. Bring your staff ID to the Campus Recreation business office, but don’t wait. There are just 200 tickets available, so first come, first served.

Missouri State Days at Kauffman and Busch Stadium

By the way, you can also catch your favorite MLB team with special discounts and perks this summer on Missouri State Alumni Days.

Royals fans celebrate Alumni Night at Kauffman Stadium

Cheer for the Royals with fellow Bears for Missouri State Day at Kauffman Stadium.

  • Kansas City Royals vs. Cleveland Indians
    Friday, May 5, 2017
    7:15 p.m. game time (gates open at 5:45 p.m.)

Buy Royals tickets

Cardinal fans enjoy Alumni Night at Busch Stadium

Hit a grand slam when you join fellow Bears for Missouri State Day at Busch Stadium.

  • St. Louis Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Phillies
    Saturday, June 10, 2017
    1:15 p.m. game time (gates open at 11:15 a.m.)

Buy Cardinals tickets

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Haven’t been to campus for a while? Come back and catch a fun show!

Ready to revisit your college years?  Missouri State has you covered with a variety of fun entertainment options for everyone in the family this spring and summer. Dive in and find your favorite upcoming show right on campus!


Boy plays with T-rex dinosaur

Go back 65 million years and watch dinosaurs come to life right on stage. The show was created by Erth Visual & Physical of Sydney, Australia. This awesome event is fun for all ages.

Buy tickets for Erth’s DINOSAUR ZOO LIVE

The Beach Boys and The Temptations “Surf and Soul Tour”

The Beach Boys and The Temptations concert poster

Catch these legends of harmony in an incredible, star-packed show. You are sure to be ready for future karaoke sessions and car singing after this!

Buy tickets for The Beach Boys and The Temptations

Florida Georgia Line

Florida Georgia Line

These country-pop superstars hit Springfield with special opening acts Dustin Lynch and Chris Lane. Make this Saturday night a memorable one with this energetic show!

  • When: April 22
  • Time: 7:00 p.m.
  • Location: JQH Arena

Buy tickets for Florida Georgia Line

DIRTY DANCING – The Classic Story on Stage

A man and woman do the tango dance

“Nobody puts baby in a corner!” That’s right! You loved Swayze and the songs. Now see the live Broadway performance for three nights this spring. You will “have the time of your life!”

*This show contains adult language and themes.

Buy tickets for DIRTY DANCING – The Classic Story on Stage


ZZ Top bandmembers pose on railroad tracks

“That Little Ol’ Band from Texas” is heading north for this show at Hammons Hall. Forty-five years after they started they are still rocking all over the world. You won’t want to miss these legends.

Buy tickets for ZZ TOP


Rock band Journey


These quintessential rockers are playing Springfield for the first time since 1980! Start off your Independence Day in style with an awesome show “any way you want it.” The show includes special guest Asia.

  •  When: July 3
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Location: JQH Arena

Buy tickets for Journey

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Speed Networking

student and alumna talking

Do you wish someone had told you how to network? Looking to connect with future graduates for your business? Now you can help current Missouri State students learn these skills and meet upcoming alumni by volunteering at a special speed networking event on campus on April 19 from 4:30-7 p.m.

This fun event is divided into two parts: speed rounds and open networking. There’s a 30 minute registration time from 4:30-5 p.m with mingling and hors d’oeuvres.

  • In the first segment students pair off with alumni and practice one-on-one introductions. After five minutes alumni are paired with new students.
  • In the second segment alumni and students have the chance to mingle casually. This gives all participants the chance to network with both working professionals and students.

Sign up to volunteer

Volunteering at this event has paid off for alumnus Ryan Cosby, ’11, whose company hired people he met at the event.

“My bank is part of a 13-bank holding company and we have found two quality hires in the process of this,” Cosby said. “If I can provide a good pipeline to our institution while also adding value to the university services, it is a win win win.  A win for my alma mater, a win for my company and a win for Springfield.”

Alumnus Zach Swartz, ’08,  recommends alumni help out even if students are in a different field.

“The students who attend are motivated and are looking for a connection.  As alumni, we often have connections across professions,” Swartz said. “We have the ability to point the undergraduates in the right direction, even if that isn’t in our firm or profession.”

In fact, alumnus Travis Liles, ’11 and ’12, says modeling professional behavior is an easy way to help students.

“It’s about creating a potential relationship with a student who is learning about networking and how to engage in the professional world. Learn about that student and don’t focus so much on yourself – that way the student learns that is the proper way to network,” Liles said.

This short event is an easy and fun way to give back to Missouri State, Swartz said.

“Just show up.  Our students are great and just want to find connections.  I have never regretted going to these events,” he said.

student and alum at speed networking

Alumni volunteer information

Check-in – 4:30 p.m.; event starts at 5:00 p.m. and lasts until about 7 p.m.

Location – PSU Ballroom

Attire – Business casual

For more information contact Assistant Director Alumni Activities and Alumni Relations Candice Wolf.


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Alumna Judith Rowland returns for induction into Public Affairs Hall of Fame

Judith Rowland with Michelle Obama

Alumna Judith Rowland completed her political science degree in 2011 and immediately began improving lives on a global scale. She works as a U.S. policy and advocacy manager for Global Citizen. This is an organization intent on fixing issues such as poverty, water sanitation and gender inequality. Rowland helped obtain more than 100 co-sponsors on the 2014 Water for the World Act. It was approved by Congress and signed by former President Barack Obama. She is being honored for her work with Global Citizen at the Missouri Public Affairs Hall of Fame on April 7.

View Rowland’s inductee video.

Starting early

What did you see as a young person that inspired you to work as a humanitarian?

My parents and my church community in Springfield taught me the value ‘loving our neighbors as ourselves.” In high school, my father helped organize a group of people from our church to travel to Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. With chainsaws in hand, we worked long days through humid weather. It was moving to see people use their vacation days to help others recover and rebuild. In college, my campus ministry United Ministries in Higher Education funded my travel to Haiti to witness extreme poverty, and to learn about the work that nonprofits and businesses were doing to help communities lift themselves out of poverty.

It was on that trip that I realized that I could build my career around the goal of ending poverty.

The notion that where you are born shouldn’t impact the opportunities available to you has been with me my entire life. We rise and fall together. The world is becoming even more connected. If we want to love our neighbors we need to look beyond just our neighborhoods. My faith, my love for the world, my patriotism and the example set for me growing up in Missouri make me a global citizen.

Missouri State’s influence

Judith Rowland headshot

What professors or students inspired you while you attended MSU?

I had a very close relationship with Dr. Ken Rutherford in the political science department and Ann Fuhrman who ran Missouri State’s U.N. Depository Library. Dr. Rutherford inspired me with his stories of serving in the Peace Corps and working on landmine issues at a global level. Ann taught me the value of the United Nations system. Both helped me see that I wasn’t just an American or a Missourian but a citizen of the world.

What organizations were you involved in that helped you develop your skills?

I was really involved at Missouri State and was proud to be part of the student body cabinet, serving as director of academic affairs. I was also a member of the debate team, the Model United Nations team, United Ministries in Higher Education, and Gamma Phi Beta sorority.

Alumna Judith Rowland with Global Citizen memebers

How did you get started with Global Citizen?

After I completed my masters in Development Studies at the London School of Economics, I met people working with Global Citizen and felt that I’d found a job where I could make a meaningful difference. I started working with Global Citizen in London, and then continued working with them in New York when I moved back to the U.S. in 2012.

Staying focused

Judith Rowland helping child and mom overseas

How do you keep from getting overwhelmed by all of the crises in the world?

I stay motivated by the progress that we have already made on so many issues. Since 1990, the number of people living in extreme poverty has been halved. Polio cases have decreased from 350,000 cases in 1988 to just 37 last year.

We have the tools to end poverty, hunger and inequality forever. The challenge for our generation is to put these tools to use.

I’m comforted knowing that 8 million Global Citizens worldwide join me and my colleagues in the fight to end extreme poverty. Together, we stand on the shoulders of giants.

How do you stay motivated?

I’ve always been inspired by Roosevelt’s quote about the ‘man in the arena’. Roosevelt argues that the credit belongs to the man who is in the arena with a face marred by dust and sweat and blood. (He says) there is no effort without error and shortcoming. He emphasizes the value of ‘daring greatly’ and ‘spending’ oneself in a worthy cause.

There are hard days and I often felt ‘spent.’ Prayer keeps me focused on the vision of a world free of poverty. Exercise and clean eating give me the energy to continue the fight.

How to help

What are some simple ways students and alumni can improve the lives of people around them?

Becoming a Global Citizen at GlobalCitizen.org is a simple way to learn more about the issues affecting people around the world and to use your voice to call for global change. In addition, there are so many local organizations in Missouri that are transforming the lives of people across our community.

Judith is based in New York City. She has traveled to more than 80 countries. Find out more about her work at Global Citizen, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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Cheer on the Bears and Lady Bears in the MVC Tournaments

Join fellow Bears fans at The Hangout, the official hospitality room for Missouri State University fans, during the MVC Basketball Tournaments in March. You can enjoy the game by getting into the maroon and white spirit without missing any of the action.

  • Watch other MVC games on televisions and scope out the competition.
  • Enjoy free snacks and soft drinks plus a cash bar is available.
  • Get ready for the action with a pep rally before every Lady Bears game with Bear Mania Basketball Band, MSU Cheer Squad and the Sugar Bears.
  • Update your maroon and white with BearWear from the Missouri State Bookstore and decorate posters to show your Bear spirit.

Hoops in the Heartland

What: Missouri Valley Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament

Where: The Quad Cities, Illinois at the iWireless Center

When: Thursday, March 9 – Sunday, March 12, 2017

Opening game

What: Missouri State Lady Bears vs. Evansville Purple Aces

Where: The Quad Cities, Illinois at the iWireless Center

When: Friday, March 10, 2017 at 8:32 p.m.

Pep rally for this game begins at 6:30 p.m. (doors open at 5:30 p.m.)

The Hangout hours

Doors open three hours before each Missouri State game and pep rallies begin two hours before MSU tip-off. Find the tournament bracket here.

Located at Bierstube Bar & Grill – within walking distance of the games.

Buy MVC Tournament Tickets

Join the Facebook event

Need a ride from Springfield to see the Lady Bears?

Hop on the fan bus departing from Springfield! Time TBD depending on seeding. Roundtrip bus ride is only $60 per person. Hotel rooms will be booked for bus passengers at a 2-night minimum of $105 per night. All-session and individual game tickets are available for purchase. To sign up, please email JulieWright@missouristate.edu or call 417-836-4143.

Can’t make it to the game?

Check out the livestream on WatchESPN. Blackout restrictions may apply.

Arch Madness

The Bears advanced to the semifinals before losing to the Wichita State team that went on to win the tournament.

What: Missouri Valley Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament

Where: St. Louis, Missouri at the Scottrade Center

When: Thursday, March 2 – Sunday, March 5

The Hangout hours

March 3-5, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Missouri State game days

Located on the main floor at the north end of the St. Louis City Center Hotel – within walking distance of the games.

Buy MVC Tournament Tickets

Join the Facebook event

Can’t make it to the game?

Check out the livestream on WatchESPN.

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Alumna helps human trafficking victims

sarah austin

As humans, we all seek love from our peers, our family and those we cherish most in life, but for many that love is not always unconditional and can come with a high price. Alumna Sarah Austin, ’05 and ’07, works with women who have come to find love as a prison instead of a sanctuary.

“There’s a common image of a typical trafficking victim that follows the issue around: A woman or girl cowering in a corner with tape over her mouth and her hands in chains,” Sarah says. “Trafficking victims often look like normal, everyday women. The chains that keep them with their traffickers are usually emotional and not physical.”

Human trafficking is a means to entice or coerce another human being into forced labor or commercial sex work. For example, forced labor might mean promising someone a job, then taking his identification and refusing to pay him. Sex trafficking could mean enticing someone into a seemingly loving relationship before exploiting him or her into prostitution. Nightlight says an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 men, women, and children are trafficked across international borders each year.

Sarah studied technical and professional writing at Missouri State and earned her master’s in 2007.  She heard about a local organization that combats human trafficking at a Rotary meeting. She recognized a staff member from Nightlight, Shauna Storey, from classes at Missouri State. After hearing Storey talk about the organization, Sarah started volunteering in August and joined the staff in January 2016.

Working with victims

Working with victims is more than reaching out to women in the commercial sex industry. Sarah says it’s really about learning to love.

“I spend a lot of time figuring out how to love these women well and how to build relationships with them,” she says.

Nightlight is different from other organizations because it doesn’t make a distinction between trafficking victims and those who work in the sex industry by choice, Sarah says.

“We believe that every woman we meet is worthy of love and dignity and respect, regardless of whether they’re the victim of a prosecutable crime,” she says.

Sarah characterizes herself more as a cheerleader for these women, so “If and when they decide to pursue different work, more education, etc., we are there for them.”

She says those who are lured into trafficking are often girls who’ve grown up without unconditional love or live in homes where there is domestic violence or sexual abuse. These women develop low self-esteem and become easy targets.

“Pimps are experts at reading people and look for the girls who are lonely and vulnerable. They will groom a young woman with lots of love in the beginning of their relationship and slowly and methodically break her down. That’s one reason why it’s so hard for the women to leave; they want to get back to that honeymoon phase of their relationship. Not every moment with their pimp is terrible,” Sarah says.

You can help

As an outsider, it’s easy to believe you can’t help or miss “red flags“, but Sarah says there’s lots of resources to help you pick-up on those warning signs.

“Be mindful of recruiters that hang out where young women congregate. Recruiters for “modeling agencies” at local malls are red flags. Also be wary of contact from people you don’t know online, especially those offering too good to be true jobs, like modeling or acting gigs. Those jobs often turn into pornography work, and there are often threats to send photos or video to a victim’s family or school if the women wants to leave the job,” Sarah says.

Combating sex trafficking can be as simple as following the same rules as TSA: “If you see something, say something.”

“If you’re in a situation where something fishy is going on, I believe you’re there for a reason. It’s so easy to keep driving, turn your eyes away, or tell yourself, ‘I’m just imagining that.’ But, if you know what trafficking and the commercial sex industry looks like, if you know the red flags, you’ll start seeing at-risk people. You have to listen to your gut that’s telling you something isn’t right and do something,” Sarah says.

If you suspect trafficking you should call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. The hotline is staffed with connections in law enforcement who can investigate the situation and agencies who can assist the victims. You can get additional resources from the U.S. Department of State.

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Alumnus set to film inauguration trip with Chorale

The Missouri State Chorale will be performing during the presidential inauguration on January 20, 2017, and Blake Richter, ’15, will be there to record it. Richter was chosen to accompany the Chorale as videographer and will document the historic event for future Bears. We caught up with him to find out how preparations are going.

What is it like knowing you have this chance for such a cool opportunity? Did you ever think you’d get to go to an inauguration?

I feel so blessed to be able to go on this incredible journey with the Chorale. Being an alum of the group makes it even more special. I’ve been wanting to travel to D.C. for quite a while now since I have never been there, but I never thought I would be going there to sit on the U.S. Capitol Building with the MSU Chorale during the presidential inauguration. It’s so crazy that this is real!

How were you chosen to do this work?

Blake Richter and Dr. Cameron LaBarr
Blake and Director of Choral Studies Dr. Cameron LaBarr. Photo credit: Blake Richter

I graduated from Missouri State with a Bachelor of Music Education and I am now the music teacher at Inman Intermediate in Nixa, MO. I also run my own business called Blake Richter Productions, which focuses on audio engineering, video production, and photography. Dr. (Cameron) LaBarr is a huge reason why my production company has been so successful. I started doing recordings for the Choral Studies Program about a year and a half ago and because of that, other choirs have had me record for them. I have worked alongside Dr. LaBarr for many projects and I’ve also done some recordings for his wife Susan, who is the editor of Walton Music. They have both recorded in my home studio as well. The day it was announced that the Chorale will be performing at the inauguration, I texted Dr. LaBarr congratulating him and he responded with, “So are you in?” About two weeks later, we sat down for coffee, talked through logistics, and it was official that I was going along to capture all of the behind the scenes footage of the trip.

Do you still know people in the Chorale?

Bass section of the Chorale
Blake and the bass section in 2015. Photo credit: Blake Richter

I know about half of the members in Chorale. I graduated in 2015, so some of the juniors and seniors were in Chorale when I was in it. I have also been a counselor for the Missouri State Choral Institute for the past two years, so I know some of the freshmen and sophomores through that experience.

The Chorale performs often. Is there a particular performance that especially stands out from your days singing at Missouri State?

The Chorale in Paris
Blake and the Chorale performed in Paris in 2012. Photo credit: Blake Richter
Blake and Dr. Guy Webb, director emeritus of choral activities. Photo credit: Blake Richter

I was a Baritone in the Chorale from August 2011-May 2015. During that time, we performed in Germany, Paris, Scotland, England, NYC, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, St. Louis, Kansas City, and obviously the Springfield area. In 2014, we performed at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. That was the last time Dr. Guy Webb conducted the MSU Chorale after teaching at MSU since 1981. That was a very memorable and emotional performance. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the choir or in the audience.

Sen. Roy Blunt, chair of the inaugural committee, stunned the Chorale when he invited them to perform during the ceremony. Did you know before that? How did you react to hearing that you could get to go, too? 

Blake Richter with wife Kaitlyn in Paris
Blake and wife Kaitlyn after Chorale concert in Paris in 2012. Photo credit: Blake Richter

About a month before the big announcement, I received a phone call from Dr. LaBarr. He didn’t give me any information, but he said, “If I had an amazing opportunity for you, would you be able to take off 2-3 days of school?” I responded with, “Well, it depends on what the opportunity is, but knowing you and how excited you sound right now, it’s probably a pretty great opportunity.” When I heard the announcement, I had a feeling he wanted me to go along. Sure enough, after I texted him congrats, I found out that I was going to go too! I immediately told my wife, who is also an alum of the Chorale, and we both were so excited! It took a couple of weeks for me to fully grasp the idea of me going along on this historic journey. I still don’t think it has fully hit that I will be experiencing this.

The Chorale will be performing a send-off concert on January 14 at the Welcome Center on the Missouri State campus. All are welcome to attend.

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Holiday Survival Guide

The holidays can be a time of joy and happiness as you relax around a brightly lit Christmas tree. You’ve bought perfect presents and toiled selflessly over homemade candies. You can’t wait to drive six hours to Ames to enjoy drinking egg nog and catching up with your beloved brother and his wonderful little angels, age 4 and 7.

If this isn’t your family, read on for ideas about dealing with seasonal stress with a spoonful of encouragement from Mary Poppins.

Let’s go fly a kite: schedule activities

Christmas-themed coloring books on a table
Bring coloring books and markers to your next family dinner to keep kids (and adults) occupied.

You may not like spending time with your relatives. Whether due to differing political beliefs or child-rearing practices, it can be hard to stay calm around people who have known you the longest – and know how to push your buttons. Char Berquist, director of the Center for Dispute Resolution, offers some tips on keeping the peace by adjusting expectations and scheduling activities for kids.

The job’s a game: managing stress

students pet a puppy to relieve stress during finals week
Spending time with a furry friend can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression.

In addition to family dynamics, buying gifts and traveling can contribute to holiday tension. While it’s common to feel frazzled during this time, some know how to handle pressure better than others. Rhonda Lesley, director of the Counseling Center, explains why how you think about stress influences how you react to it:

“Some students have very full lives, but they are able to manage pressures well, partly because they choose to think optimistic/hopeful thoughts about their situation:

‘I have so many demands, and they will be winding down soon…I’m so busy and don’t feel I can keep up, but I love everything I’m involved in and I will somehow get it all done…I will make it…I know how to cope well…’  A different student with the same situation might think in more distorted ways:  ‘I have so many demands, and they’re going to ruin me…I’m so busy, and there’s no way out of this…I can’t do this…I’ll never be able to cope…”

Lesley also says that those who think optimistically will likely follow through on using good coping skills, while those who feel defeated by stress may respond negatively or even give up. She recommends healthy approaches like walks, time with friends, exercising, and intentional relaxation methods like deep breathing. Spending time with pets can also be soothing. The Counseling Center website includes links to additional helpful resources for anxiety and stress management.

Practically perfect in every way: reduce social media usage

students build snowman
Instead of scrolling status updates, use social media to make plans to get together with friends.

Social media can be another source of anxiety during the holidays. We want to check in with friends and see pictures of their kids, but idealized images of so-called perfect lives can contribute to negative feelings about ourselves. Checking social media too often can even contribute to feelings of depression. The most common effect could be the fear of missing out, or FOMO. Combat those feelings by using social media to schedule fun with friends. Besides, if your high school teammate’s life looks a little too much like a sappy diamond engagement ring ad, consider this.

Just a spoonful of sugar: eat healthily for better energy

Try layering tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil for an easy and delicious appetizer.

Diet can also affect stress management, and it can be hard to eat well when surrounded by piles of fudge and sugar cookies. While indulging is fun, a poor diet can cause lethargy at a time when you need stable blood sugar levels and lots of energy. Still, you know you shouldn’t live on peanut brittle for three days, but what to do when it’s right in front of you?

We reached out to Natalie Allen, dietetics instructor in the Biomedical Sciences Department, for help. She offered these tips for maintaining weight over the holidays, and a healthy recipe to get started:

  • Don’t skip meals and “save up” for the evening party. Instead, eat a balanced breakfast and lunch, and you’ll be less likely to binge on unhealthy party foods that evening.
  • Bring a healthy treat to the party so you know you’ll have at least one choice to eat.
  • Healthy, fun treats for a holiday party include: fruit kebabs (green grapes and red strawberries are festive at the holidays), veggie tray, hummus and pretzel thins, or black bean salsa and baked tortilla chips.
  • Drink water during the day. It’s easy to neglect healthy drinks when it’s not as hot outside, but water (try fruit flavored) is essential to good health.
  • Make it your goal to maintain, not lose weight, over the holidays. Be realistic -treats abound – and allow yourself a few splurges.
  • Track your steps. We tend to be more sedentary in the winter. By tracking your steps, you’ll be more likely to move and burn calories.
  • Watch alcoholic drinks because the calories add up fast.
  • Watch portions. Enjoy your favorite snacks, treats, cookies and appetizers … but in moderation.

Quite satisfactory: a recipe to get started

closeup of popcorn
Photo credit: Natalie Allen

This crunchy snack is a crowd-pleaser as it’s both salty and sweet. Hands-down, this recipe is everyone’s favorite at my house, especially among kids.  I often bring  kettle corn to holiday parties and it’s a huge hit.

Homemade Kettle Corn

Recipe Source:  Adapted from allrecipes.com

  • ¼ cup oil (canola works well)
  • ½ cup popcorn, unpopped
  • ¼ cup white sugar

Turn stovetop burner to medium/high heat.  Place heavy skillet on burner, add oil and 3 popcorn kernels.  Cover with lid and wait for those 3 kernels to pop.  Remove lid and add rest of popcorn, sprinkle evenly with sugar.  Put lid back on skillet.  Wearing an oven mitt, lift and shake the skillet occasionally over the next 2-3 minutes, to prevent the popcorn from burning.  Popcorn is done when popping slows, so time will vary.  Remove from heat and sprinkle with salt, as desired.

Makes approximately 8 cups popped kettle corn

Nutrition info per serving (1 cup):  85 calories, 7 grams fat

“The more you laugh
The more you fill with glee
And the more the glee
The more we’re a merrier we”

–  Mary Poppins

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