Meet three O∆K members advocating for public health.
Terrence Kungel, MBA
Terry Kungel currently serves on O∆K’s Foundation Board of Trustees and is the chairman and CEO of the Maine Coalition to Fight Prostate Cancer. In this role, he assists six prostate cancer network groups serving 250-500 active prostate cancer patients in Maine. Prior to his current position, Terry was the co-founder and CEO of a biotech company. He spent much of his career developing and managing new high tech companies. Terry is an initiate of the Purdue University Circle and a graduate of the Harvard Business School.
John Robitscher, MPH
John Robitscher is an initiate of the Emory University Circle and a current member of the O∆K Foundation Board of Trustee. John is the CEO of the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors. In this role, John, along with the volunteer leadership, provides direction and leadership to achieve NACDD’s mission to improve the health of the public by strengthening state-based leadership and expertise for chronic disease prevention and control.
Gene Siegal, M.D, Ph.D.
Dr. Gene Siegal is a member of O∆K’s National Advisory Council and was initiated into the University of Louisville Circle during medical school. Gene is the Robert W. Mowry Endowed Professor of Pathology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and since the summer of 2015, he has served as the Interim Chair of its Department of Pathology. Gene's clinical research interests have centered on studies of bone tumors and related conditions, a field in which he is a recognized world authority.
What do you see as the top public health challenges for U.S. and why?
TK – Healthcare continues to generate much debate and partisan wrangling; while I am not optimistic about fixing “the system” each of us have huge opportunities to make our own changes. Obesity, smoking, and lack of exercise are main issues each of us can do something about every day.
JR – First, we must more actively address the social determinants of health that result in needless suffering and $102 billion annual indirect medical costs. Second, we must view health and mental wellbeing as more than just the absence of disease but as opportunities for people to achieve their potential. Third, climate change and the extreme weather events it causes must be abated to prevent thousands, if not millions, of unnecessary injuries, sickness, and deaths.
GS – First, we must understand why there is such diversity in health care outcomes among our citizens. We know access and economic challenges account for part of the answer, but not all. For example, African American women with breast cancer die at a greater rate because they often have types of invasive breast cancer. The tumor cells are different than those found in Caucasian women, which makes them unresponsive to many conventional therapies. Second, we need bipartisan support and compromise to create a health care system available to all Americans irrespective of financial means. Last, a long-term unwavering commitment by Congress and the President for research is the key to finding the cure for many diseases.
What can we do, as a society, to collectively assure the conditions in which people can be healthy?
TK – We need positive incentives for good behavior and penalties for bad behavior. Cigarette prices should cover all the downstream societal costs for health care. Why can’t YMCA membership costs be covered for anyone actively using them to get healthier? Why can’t the food industry be penalized for excess salt, fat, and sugar?
JR – Educate yourself about the social determinants of health, mental health, and well-being. Reach out to members of Congress to let them you know you care about these issues and that want to see positive change. You also can choose to adopt a healthier lifestyle and find ways to protect the environment in your daily habits. Walking or biking to school or work, for example, is a great way to help protect the environment and improve your health.
GS – We need to demand that our leaders commit to fund research in all its forms by lobbying our representatives and funding candidates who support these positions. We need to educate ourselves on issues surrounding health and science.
Why are you an advocate for health? What would you like members of Omicron Delta Kappa to know about this concern?
TK – My paternal grandfather and father both died from prostate cancer, and I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of this disease. As a family member with 50+ years of lived experience, I have seen the enormous toll of this disease. Unfortunately, too many men are not taking ownership for their health by avoiding testing for a range of medical conditions, which are manageable if caught early and generally fatal if caught late.
JR – I have spent more than 30 years working in public health. People are living longer, but preventable chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers are giving us a poorer quality of life and shorter lifespan.
I’m an advocate for chronic disease prevention and control because I want to help reduce people's risk factors for these painful and potentially fatal diseases. And we can do so by promoting physical activity, improving access to healthy, affordable foods, and expanding science-based ways to kick the tobacco habit.
GS – I serve on the public policy boards of two professional societies committees which advocate for research support and attempt to mold legislation favorable for expanded health and science support. I also travel to Washington to urge Congress to support research. I’ve spent my life not only creating new scientific knowledge, but training the next several generations of physician scientists as a professor. No one escapes this life without personally suffering from the ravages of disease, either personally or in family members and friends. Everyone needs to be involved, and I encourage the entire O∆K family to join me in this pursuit.
Monica Pearson, renowned Atlanta journalist, discusses her career, leadership, and health challenges
When Monica Pearson first stepped into the offices of WSB-TV Atlanta in 1975, there were few women behind evening news desks across the country. While she didn’t explicitly set out to change that reality, an unwavering dedication to excellence and overcoming obstacles led her to become one of Atlanta’s most prominent leaders. Among other accomplishments, Monica became the first woman and the first minority individual to anchor the daily 6 p.m. news.
She remembered her early days and said, “Failure meant closing the door for others. So, I wasn’t willing to allow that to happen. Although I made mistakes, I tried to honor those that were trailblazers before me and to be a trailblazer for others.”
By the time she landed at WSB-TV, Monica had worked in a few other industries. She explained, “I had to be a bank clerk because women were not allowed to be tellers. Can you imagine? So, I worked hard.” She was then selected to attend Columbia University’s summer program for minority groups at the Graduate School of Journalism. Following graduate school, she worked as a reporter for five years.
“I knew I wanted to work in television, but I needed a degree. I was writing speeches, but I was not allowed to present the speeches. I knew that I wouldn’t be happy having men take credit for my work. So I found a way to go back to school. I looked at the national trend and saw that television was opening to women and people of color.”
She graduated with an English degree from the University of Louisville and later earned a master’s degree from University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications. Monica was initiated into the Emory University Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa in 1995.
The thing that strikes you the most when talking with Monica is a straight-forward, no-nonsense approach to life and work—a skill that seems sculpted from years of finding the truth in her stories. She has a genuine warmth and sincerity which cuts through to the simple realities of a topic in conversation.
She explains the challenges in her career: “I have always been honest with myself. When in doubt, I ask myself, ‘Why do you think you’re not cut out for this? What is holding you back?’ The answer may hurt your feelings. But, it is usually something you can fix. It may be that you’re still dressing like you’re in college. Or, that you’re writing for a newspaper, but now you’re in television. Growth is about constructive not destructive criticism. You must ask yourself ‘How can I get good at what I’m doing?’”
This desire to consistently improve her work has earned her 33 local and regional Emmys for reporting, anchoring, and Closeups—her segment of intimate interviews with national leaders. She has interviewed leaders from Dolly Parton to Hank Williams, Jr. and from Georgia Congressman John Lewis (who changed his presidential support from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama during her interview with him) to Oprah.
Adding to the Emmys are awards like the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame, Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Georgia Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, the Presidential Vanguard award by her sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha, and countless others.
BECOMING A STAR
Maintaining a positive image for more than 30 years in the spotlight is no small feat. As a leader in the community and a public figure, how does Monica handle the world of social media, fake news, and celebrity personas?
She said simply, "Authenticity—to be real—is the only way to truly connect with people. My unique background made me stand out. I embraced what made me different.”
She goes on, “If you are a leader, you cannot always be a part of the pack. You have to know your strengths and be careful who you listen to about your weaknesses. If someone is not telling you how to do something better, it’s not worth listening to.”
Separating yourself from the pack can be an intimidating endeavor especially with the abundance of anonymous and often cruel online comments, or the tendency to reduce full stories to soundbites and click bait hiding a situation’s or person’s complexities. Cal Newport, Georgetown University professor argues in the New York Times that social media can damage one’s career ultimately by undermining the ability to concentrate and the ability to produce work that truly matters.
Monica, who maintains an active social media presence, shares her viewpoint on these platforms. She says, “Social media helps you extend your friends. It’s about sharing who you are and promoting the things that you are invested in. Also, I do not tolerate unkindness. I will block people in a minute if they share inappropriate comments or behavior.”
Even before people in Atlanta were following her, she had long-established the force that is Monica Pearson. Much of her drive and identity was developed under the watchful eye of her mother, Hattie Edmondson. Monica describes her as a “character” and a woman with a saying for everything. Her mother was the first person in her family to graduate from high school, and Monica is the first in her family to graduate from college.
Monica recalls, “I called the [sayings] Hattie-isms. She said, ‘Don’t make excuses— make work and all work is good work as long as it is honest work.’ ‘It doesn’t matter where you come from. God gives you everything that you need.’” Her favorite, however, is, “It’s what you do with what you have that makes you what you are.”
The ever-engaging journalist, Monica laughs and says, “did you notice it’s not who you are, but what you are.”
What she means is that you can be a good person on the inside, but if you don’t get to work developing your strengths and sticking to your commitments, you cannot achieve your dreams. Who you are might never change, but what you are? That is what one can develop.
Monica is heavily invested in the Atlanta community, and her service is endless. She has served on the board of Meals on Wheels Atlanta and Go Red for Women as well as supported organizations across the city, including the Girls Scouts, the YMCA, The Sisters of Promise of Susan G. Komen, and The Metropolitan United Way of Atlanta. William Finch Elementary School, where Monica has given books to children and volunteered for many years, named a corner of their library after her.
As passionate as she was about her career, she considers community involvement more important than her job. She has strived to define herself by what she does away from work.
When asked how she determines how to devote her time considering the many needs in society, she said, “There are so many demands on your time. I chose how to be involved in my community based on two things: first, I always volunteered for something that I was passionate about. Second, I choose community organizations that would allow me to meet other community leaders.
“I first started volunteering by reading to first grade students in elementary school with a project called Kids Connection. I spent an hour a week volunteering and working with the kids. This also allowed me to be a role model in the community. As you try to build a career and be involved in your community, pick organizations that you are passionate about and set aside a reasonable amount of time for them.”
The television industry does not quite have the reputation for being the friendliest or easiest industry to work in, but Monica was strict about setting expectations in the office. She says, “Only allow people to see good things from you. People will pull you into all kinds of things. Stay focused and only engage in issues about your work that matter.”
Her biggest lesson about leadership over the years? Recognize the leaders around you. Real leadership is about developing the talents within your network.
“You have to take responsibility for your decisions good or bad,” she says. “A leader is able to say, ‘I was wrong. I made a bad decision and here is what I learned.’ I always think good leaders give credit where credit is due. They also have a sense of ethics that they live by no matter what.”
Monica adds, “I know that I had a moral responsibility to do the right thing in my work. If it gives you a feeling in the pit of your stomach, you shouldn’t do it.”
She faced new challenges later in life and survived both breast and liver cancer. In 1998 when she received her breast cancer diagnosis, she, in typical Monica fashion, did two things: first, she refused to let the disease define her. She plowed through recovery and came out the other side. Second, she became involved in the support community and encouraged all women to get screened.
She said, “I think it’s really important to have a network—a community family that is separate from your work family. You need to be able to share challenges and successes with people who care about you outside of your office.”
In 2015, her doctors found liver cancer during a routine checkup. She had surgery, and more than 50% of her liver was removed. She told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time, “I don’t want flowers. You can pray for me. Prayer is always welcome. But the best thing people can do is go to the doctor and get checked. If it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Don't be afraid.”
In 2014, she launched The Monica Pearson Show—a two-hour radio show of interviews and historical profiles. She also hosts A Seat at the Table, the first Georgia Public Broadcasting television show that gives voice to African-American women from their diverse experiences and perspectives. You can be sure that Monica will continue telling important stories and serving the Atlanta community in countless ways for years to come.
O∆K member Melissa Cancio led Florida International University's Roarthon, a 17-hour student-run dance marathon. The event raised $96,000 for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals program, an organization dedicated to saving and improving the lives of children by raising funds for 170 children's hospitals throughout North America.
Melissa said, "To be a leader, we need to show the reason behind what we do and share with those around us so they are aware and desire to do the same. A leader is well rounded, takes initiative but also allows for individuals in their team to develop and share their thoughts, and is always willing to give their time and efforts to service."
Fontbonne University Circle members, along with faculty, staff, and alumni, added new garden beds and helped refurbish a community garden in Brentwood, Mo. Gateway Greening, a local nonprofit, in partnership with a local church, created and planted the garden to supply fresh vegetables and strengthen the community.
Juniata College students partnering with their local community to help plant 250 trees in honor of town's anniversary.
Stephen F. Austin State University Circle members worked with 8th graders in a group called Leaders of Tomorrow. As part of the largest day of service in Nacogdoches, Texas, they helped a historic village spruce up their ground and prepare for their annual community Easter egg hunt.
University of Kentucky Circle members made sandwiches for families at The Ronald McDonald House in Lexington, Ky.
The University of Richmond Circle worked with the James River Parks system to clean up Huguenot Park in North Chesterfield, Va.
Wagner College Circle members collected cans for donation to local hunger relief efforts.
The Middle Tennessee State University Circle held True Blue Leadership Day. Students heard from Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Jeff Bivins, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn, Lindy Boots, human resources manager with an area firm, and other leaders about careers, job interview tips, writing a professional resume, and how to leverage a competitive advantage in a job hunt.
University of North Carolina Wilmington students value the upkeep of their beaches, and picked up trash on the beach.
Commencement Address to the Wake Forest University Class of 2018
May 21, 2018
In seeking truth, you have to get both sides of a story.
– Walter Cronkite
How many of you have visited the new website The Flip Side? It is the brainchild of Annafi Wahed, a 2012 graduate of Bryn Mawr College who works in the financial industry. Dismayed by intense partisanship in the media today, Wahed created The Flip Side as a one-stop shop for bipartisan political analysis. Each day, The Flip Side sends out an email with a brief summary of what the left and the right have to say about breaking news stories. She said, “We want the average person to take five minutes of their day and see the nuanced sides of both arguments. It’s not about changing people’s minds; it’s about creating awareness of each side’s valid argument.”
The title of my talk today is “Both . . . And,” and my theme is the pressing need for all of us to understand the other side. All of us today have less experience seeing both sides of an argument, of seeing leaders who disagree sit down for considered and thoughtful discussions. Late night comedians scapegoat conservatives as misguided, racists and bigots; and talk radio hosts accost liberals as politically correct snobs who scorn the second amendment, the nuclear family and religious freedom.
According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, we have become far more tribal, self-sorting into ideological islands. A majority of democrats and republicans hold “very unfavorable” views of the opposing party. “The media climate now,” columnist Peggy Noonan opines, “. . . is too often of a goading, insinuating resentment, a grinding, agitating antipathy.” Or as someone else has said, “We are drowning in outrage stories.”
With this split-screen view of reality all around us, the danger is that we jump into advocacy without fully understanding the best arguments of the other side, and we leap to ridicule their positions and disparage their motives. We compare the best side of our own position with the worst side of the other – often a mere caricature.
Now in suggesting a “both . . . and” approach, let me say what I do not mean. Yogi Berra once said of a baseball player, “He hits from both sides of the plate. He’s amphibious.” I am not calling for more amphibians. I am not talking about milk toast compromise or always taking a middle course or flip-flopping from side to side on a given issue. “He who walks in the middle of the roads gets hit from both sides,” Secretary of State George Schultz once noted. What I am calling for is the decency, humility and intellectual honesty to learn and acknowledge other points of view – and to treat with dignity those whom you think are wrong.
Why is understanding the other side so essential to democracy?
In the first place, listening to and understanding an opposing position is the best way – and probably the only way – to fully grasp what you believe and why you believe it. It is why I like to read the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and why I recommend that students read both Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me” and J. D. Vance’s “Hillbilly Elegy.” Seeing both sides gives us a more complete view of reality and helps us clarify our own distinct points of view rather than simply reciting a party line.
That is why I trust Wake Forest can continue to forge a middle ground that welcomes a spectrum of viewpoints, promotes the art of conversation and prizes the common good.
Graduates, as you leave Wake Forest today, I challenge you to draw upon the curiosity and intellectual integrity that you have learned here. Don’t just hunker down with those who agree with you. Read widely and try to understand fully the other side.
A second reason to understand the other side is to persuade. Though counterintuitive, it turns out that listening is far more persuasive than arguing. Arguing rarely changes minds and often annoys and repels people. Careful listening, on the other hand, builds trust, particularly if one shows respect for others, takes seriously their best arguments and looks for a elements of common ground.
President Dwight Eisenhower, despite his experience with military command and control, noted this about the art of leadership. He said:
You do not lead by hitting people over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it’s usually called ‘assault’ – not ‘leadership.’ I’ll tell you what leadership is. It’s persuasion – and conciliation – and education – and patience. It’s a long, slow, tough work. That’s the only kind of leadership I know – or believe in – or will practice.
This kind of mutual understanding – this give and take – is the path to meaningful compromise and that is essential in a society that is as divided as America today. Social media has lowered our national debates into angry brawls, making bipartisanship ever more difficult. Graduates, it will be the challenge of your generation to recover ways that leaders, listening to all sides, can craft bipartisan solutions for our most thorny problems.
The final reason we need to understand each other is to restore a common vision and hope that has long animated the American Republic, what Lincoln called this “last best hope of earth.” After surveying the decline, decay and polarization of the small town in Ohio where he grew up, Professor Robert Putnam concludes that our major problem is a “radically shriveled sense of ‘we.’…The American dream has morphed into a split-screen American nightmare.” Columnists Michael Gerson and Peggy Noonan both have made the same point: We are ceasing to believe in the miracle at our country’s heart – the unifying power of American ideals.
What we are losing is a common vision and hope that animated so many previous leaders: Jefferson and Lincoln; Theodore, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; John Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.; Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. For all their differences, these leaders believed in a powerful dream that America, as a people, carried the torch of government of, by and for the people. They believed that Americans, whatever their differences, whatever their furious debates, whatever their different stations in life, were all part of one nation.
Today, there are few voices who rally us to seek the common good and who lift up any shared dream. So the question remains: Can we achieve both . . . and? Can we both disagree on certain things and join hands on others? Can we both hold fast to our own beliefs and share a larger collective dream?
Can we say, with Lincoln, who said even when beset by the scourge of Civil War: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”
Can we identify with Martin Luther King, who appealed to the same mystic chord of memory: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. . . With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
Do we have any vision like that of Ronald Reagan who, in his 1989 Farewell Address returned to the theme of America as a shining city on a hill. “And how stands the city on this winter night?” he asked. “After 200 years,” he answered, “she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”
With different intent, but with no less common hope, Maya Angelou, at President Bill Clinton’s first inauguration, called all Americans – of every race, religion and creed – to “give birth again to the dream.”
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, and into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Today, we long for that kind of uplifting and unifying hope, a “good morning” embrace. Rekindling that dream can only begin with listening to the other side.
Today, as you depart Wake Forest, I call upon you to pursue “both . . . and” – to hold out your hand, look into the eyes of your sisters and brothers, open your ears and listen.
 Stein, Mara. “The Flip Side Sends Digestible, Bipartisan News Straight to Your Inbox.” Bold. July 13, 2017.
 Noonan, Peggy. “Rage is All the Rage, and It’s Dangerous.” Wall Street Journal. June 16, 2017.
 Haidt, Jonathan. “The Age of Outrage: What the current political climate is doing to our country and our universities.” City Journal, Manhattan Institute. December 17, 2017.
 Putnam, Robert D. “Crumbling American Dreams.” The New York Times. August 3, 2013.
 Gerson, Michael. “It’s America’s turn to ‘fight on the beaches.’” The Washington Post. December 11, 2017.
 Angelou, Maya. “On the Pulse of Morning.” The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou. Random House Inc. 1994.
Nathan O. Hatch is the president of Wake Forest University and a 2007 initiate of the WFU Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa.
I’ve been involved with our Morningside College Circle of Omicron Delta Kappa since back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Well, perhaps not quite that far back, but since our circle was chartered in 1983. In the early years, one of our staff members became involved nationally and took a group of us to a convention in St. Louis. Other than that, however, for most of us, the national headquarters of O∆K was simply a place that supplied certificates and pins.
For me, that changed in 2010 when one student and I attended the national convention in Houston. Since then we have sent groups of students to every single biennial convention, in Charlotte, Lexington (Virginia), Grand Rapids, and now Nashville. Why do we make that investment and commitment? For one thing, it is fun meeting people, and it usually provides an opportunity to spend a night on the town in interesting places. It is also inspiring, with keynote speakers dynamic enough to even “change your life.” Most importantly, though, conventions help us jump start our circle every two years, filling us with ideas from other circles, helping us solve whatever problems we have been facing, and forming a network of relationships, even friendships, that make a difference in our lives both personally and professionally. After every convention, our members return to campus with new energy, and our circle has flourished as a result.
I’m excited by the news that beginning in 2020, O∆K will begin offering annual conventions. For now, though, my excitement is centered on Nashville, our 50th biennial national convention, Celebrating Leadership in Music City. I really believe this could be the best one yet!
Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies
Morningside College, Sioux City, Iowa
O∆K National Vice President