James Cho: Making the World a Better Place

Business Major James Cho poses.

One step at a time, Radford University Business Major James Cho has extended the power of “servant leadership” amongst his peers.

“My life philosophy is if there’s an issue that can be solved, then I want to solve it. Someone needs to be the catalyst for everything,” Cho said.

He described one of the most precious things in life as the ability to find beauty in others.

“I want to be the catalyst to inspire [everyone in] the world to not only make themselves better, but also make their neighbors happier and better. I just want to spread my idea of what servant leadership is, and leaving the world better than you found it.”

So, what exactly does the phrase “making the world better” mean?

Refer to professional speaker and author Scott Sorrell’s saying: “You make the world a better place by making yourself a better person.”

In other words, an individual’s positive, inner-changes would circulate through others; accelerating betterment to a global status. And in Cho’s understandings, such betterment in a person may encompass the potential to see perfection in others.

“We’re all connected. We’re all citizens of a city, citizens of a country, of a state, of a nation, of a government, of a religion… We’re all connected in one way or another, so why not appreciate that relationship?” Cho said.

Cho’s philosophy blossomed at Frank W. Cox High School, where he became an active and influential figure. He joined the German Club his sophomore year of high school, and attained presidency his junior and senior year. In 2006, Cho expanded his avid identity by becoming a member of the National Honor Society and the Class of 2007 Executive Board. He became founder of the Guitar Club, as well as Cox Live, an open-mike night for students to showcase their talents. He represented two leadership programs, both inside and outside of school as co-chairman for the Frank W. Cox Leadership Workshop and as a prime advocate for the Virginia Beach Leadership Workshop. Cho concluded his senior year as vice president for the German Honor Society and as a loyal member to the Key Club and as vice president of the SCA (Student Council Association). He was awarded the Falcon Medallion by faculty and administration, which exemplifies overall excellence in school performance (only eight students receive this each graduation).

James Cho (center) spending time with his fraternity brothers.

In 2007, Radford University opened a new playground of opportunities into Cho’s life. His first plan of action was to join the SGA (Student Government Association), but he found himself wanting more. Cho acted on his next challenge: Greek Life.

“I just needed a sense of community; a sense of a place where I could make a difference, and I could take my philosophy into a new aspect,” he said.

Theta Chi-Iota Zeta Chapter was the perfect solution.

The fraternity’s motto, “extend the helping hand,” closely relates to Cho’s service mentality. The brothers aim to set

individual, ethical standards to serve the community. As a whole, they are able to accomplish much more than Cho was ever able to do on his own. He explored this advantage first hand.

Cho stepped up as president of Theta Chi in the fall 2010. His fraternity exceeded expectations, such as going to finals with the Radford University basketball team in intramurals, giving back more service hours than any other traditional organization on campus, having the highest GPA across the board in all Greek Life, and most recently, winning the President’s Cup (the highest award received by a fraternity for the most outstanding, overall achievement). Following his term as director of programming of Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC) in 2010, he was elected president of IFC. This position enabled him to organize and communicate his ideas at a larger scale. He was, and still is, responsible for overseeing all of Greek Life at Radford University, as well as arranging retreats, leadership conferences, campus speakers, philanthropy events, community service efforts, and any other project pertaining to Greek Life. He is currently a peer instructor for New Student Programs and Community Liaison. Accordingly, Cho has been recognized as “Greek Man of the Year”. His peers are very supportive.

“Cho is an awesome person,” said Criminal Justice Major and Theta Chi Brother Jared Fraser. “He works really hard for what he believes in, and I feel like he shows that every day. He’s always working towards being better. He’s always striving to make other people feel good and make other people happy. He’s just a very influential person.”

Frank W. Cox High School classmate and Theta Chi Brother Da’mon Brown met Cho while rushing for Greek life.

“I didn’t know him personally, but Cho was like that guy in school who was always the head of something, always doing some kind of extracurricular activity, and always helping people.”

Cho further empowered Brown’s decision to take on the position as president of Theta Chi Chapter last year.

“I wasn’t even going to run for president, but Cho was like, ‘No. You would be a really good president,’ and he pushed me to run for it,” Brown said.

Today, Brown appreciates the strength of their relationship.

“Besides being fraternity brothers, I see him as like my best friend and mentor because ever since we’ve known each other, he’s been the one there for me; the one always pushing me to do more. I’ve realized that Cho is one of the good people in my life.”

Nonetheless, Cho hasn’t always been the same person he is today. Growing up in Virginia Beach, he lived day-to-day; setting aside concerns for when the time came, and living in the moment with not a care in the world.

“Life was simple. Life was easy, because I didn’t have to worry about a past. I didn’t have to worry about a future. I just had to worry about what’s going on now, and I just had to worry about future me worrying about future me,” Cho said.

On Feb. 29, 2004, a close friend’s passing channeled his “simple” lifestyle into a meaningful quest.

“She saw the light in everyone,” he said. “I took her philosophy for granted. She appreciated everyone, and that made me think, ‘What was I doing? Why couldn’t I see people in that aspect, and how could I make that a reality?’”

Frank W. Cox High School friends with Cho (left).

Cho promised himself that he would do everything it took to bring her philosophy to life, even if it meant changing himself. That’s where Catherine McCallum Bowles came in.

Bowles is a teacher and faculty advisor at Frank W. Cox High School.

“She says that I came to her, but honestly, I think she came to me. She found this random, little Asian kid that had potential. She saw so much potential in me that she said, ‘You can do this,’” he said. “She taught me so much about the philosophy of servant leadership. I see her as a leader. I see her as my role model. I see her as the kind of person that I want to be.”

Through Bowles, Cho was able to identify his own strengths and establish his objectives.

“I try to keep a smile on my face at all times,” said Cho. “I try to show none of my weaknesses, and at times of anger and at times of frustrations I’ll be stoic just so people won’t know that I’m angry; just so people won’t know that I’m sad, because I’m here for them.”

William Taylor Hall, a Communications Major at Auburn University, recalled how Cho “extended his helping hand” to him at Frank W. Cox High School.

 “Everything that I’ve done in my leadership career he has inspired me to do,” Hall said.

 Hall, who is four years behind Cho, met Cho through a friend his freshman year of high school. He has since become an active member in the SGA, as well as in the student leadership workshops at Virginia Beach. He earned the honor of Student Body President his senior year, and works closely with his church. Cho was one of the reasons why he is a student at Auburn University today.

“He told me every time I see him that he looks up to me, and every time he told me that I kind of took it upon myself to be his mentor,” Cho said. “He told me he chose Auburn University because of me… Hearing from someone that I was a mentor makes me so satisfied because that’s exactly what I want in life: To allow everyone to live their lives in a positive way.” 

When asked if he saw himself as a leader, Cho thought otherwise. He said he saw himself as more of a guide who showed each individual his or her true potential. And, perhaps, this role is just as important. Much like how Bowles did for him, guides tend to be the navigator behind a leader’s success.

 Still, Fraser saw Cho in a different light.

“He’s definitely a leader. Other people just kind of listen to him,” he said. “He’s very level-headed when he needs to be, and he can look at situations from an outside view without having his personal feelings involved. He’s very good at putting himself into other people’s shoes and being able to delegate things through that.”

Leader or no leader, Cho stands out from the crowd. He continues to put his needs aside to work toward a better world.

“Collectively, if we’re all on the same page, and we’re all on the page of bettering the world, then there are no boundaries or shackles where we can say, ‘Let’s make a better world today. Let’s make tomorrow better than today. Let’s make a month better than the day before that month,’ because if we’re on that mind set, we’re continually, progressively getting better.”

Cho with his "family" in Theta Chi Fraternity.

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Blacksburg Crime Report Analysis April 2011

Each week, the Blacksburg Police Department releases crime reports online that are distinguished by 68 possible types of crimes. For the month of April, however, only 16 of these types of crimes were reported: larceny, larceny from vehicle, larceny of vehicle parts, public intoxication, damaged property, aggravated assault, assault, drug possession, burglary, DUI, underage alcohol possession, fraudulent activities, robbery, shoplifting, trespassing, and forgery.

After reviewing Blacksburg crime statistics and reports over the course of the month of April, I have come to the following conclusions and inquiries:

There were a total of 195 crime reports released. Forgery was the most infrequent crime, while larceny outnumbered the other types of crimes by 53 reports. Through this finding, I’d have to wonder if larceny is related to college students at Virginia Tech trying to find a way to get by in the town of Blacksburg, or if this is a common understanding in most towns. 

Public intoxication was the next big issue, in which 43 arrests were made. I also associated this number with college students because alcohol tends to pose a problem in college environments. Even so, underage alcohol possession crimes were not issued frequently.

I found it interesting that damaged property crimes were so high- at 34 reports. Could these damages be related to leased housing and residential units in the area?

At 19 reports, assault was the fourth biggest crime. The crimes were rather scattered in their locations, as I struggled to make any correlations.

Finally, at the 3100 Block of Prices Fork Rd., fourteen crime reports were issued. This happened to be the biggest hot spot for crimes in the month of April. Is this location a low-income area? Is neighborhood watch in action?

Overall, crimes varied in their locations and by types, but the statistics did not surprise me, or at least, they did not stand out to me as anything out of the ordinary. To get a better understanding of where the town of Blacksburg stands in its relation to crimes, I could always study neighboring towns and compare statistics, frequencies, and locations. 


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Easter Egg Hunt for Rescued Pets

An unusual Easter Egg Hunt at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Blacksburg, Va., inspired dozens of children and community members to give back to the Montgomery County Humane Society.

Purina Cat Chow for the older kids to find

“We found this to be a terrific project because the kids got it. They really understood what they were doing,” said Karen Hager, the Director of Religious Education.

The project collected donations; such as, toys, bowls, food, litter and cleaning products listed on the Humane Society’s wish list, for four weeks. Its biggest feature, however, was the egg hunt. Nearly 500 plastic eggs were filled with dog treats and cat treats by the children to hunt for on Easter Sunday.

“We have a couple children here who have taken the religious education classes to heart and started volunteering for the Humane Society. That was kind of an inspiration to us,” said Hager.

This young man holds up a prized egg he found

She informed the kids ahead of time that the eggs were not going to be filled with candy, but doggy treats instead this year. They didn’t seem to mind.

“I felt really good about it, and I can’t wait till all the things get going,” said egg hunter and Humane Society volunteer, Benjamin Lally. “We got a lot of stuff.”

Lally started working with pets at the shelter two weeks ago.

“It’s a fun activity because as soon as you walk in the room, they are all whining and barking, and they have the things on the door that tell you what and where they came from. You are also allowed to go in the cages,” he said.

But the hunt wasn’t just about the animals. Five special eggs held a ticket inside, in which the children who found them received a choice from a selection of stuffed animals.

The kids bring their eggs back

“They’re having fun while they’re helping the pets,” said Hager.

She said the church already has social action committees in place that are helping with other organizations, so why not do something different?

“We’re all cat lovers and we’re all dog lovers,” Hager said.

Contributions were taken to the Montgomery County Humane Society immediately after the hunt. William Thomas, another recent volunteer at the shelter, rode along with his family to help.

“I’m thinking about going back [to the shelter] today, if I have the time,” Thomas said.

He is a proud owner of two cats, and hopes to adopt a dog from the shelter in the future.

Hager said the event went from one to get the kids involved, to one that captivated the adults into action. After receiving much positive feedback, she plans to host a second Easter Egg Hunt for rescued pets next year.

The nursery students gather for a picture



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Radford Circuit Court Hearing April 21, 2011

On April 21, 2011, Gloria Jo Chavarria pleaded guilty to two counts of assault and battery in the City of Radford’s Circuit Court.

“I would just ask that you go by any judgment you feel is right,” she said.

In the event of her crime (dated July 27, 2010), Chavarria was found intoxicated outside of a building waiting on a friend. When a law officer approached her, she demanded a light for her cigarette. He would not comply with her request, in which she began to curse and argue with the him. Soon after, someone walked by and offered her a light. The officer ordered her not to light the cigarette, but she did anyways and failed to obey his command. The officer than proceeded to arrest her. He handcuffed her and put her into a patrol car, where she began to kick at the officer, curse at him, threaten his life, and spat on him and inside the car. Her wreckless behavior continued into the holding cell. She later assaulted a second officer.

Chavarria accepted and agreed to all terms that she would be subjected to should she be found guilty in court.

In the end, she was charged with a felony and sentenced to two counts of five years in a state penitentiary with a suspension time of four years and four months. She was fined $200 and an additional $1,065. She will be on supervised probation for four years after she has completed her time. 

The officers did not wish to appear in court to testify.

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The Four Year Term

Radford University Spring Class of 2011 Graduation Cap

If anyone can recall the legendary Van Wilder from the 2002 teen hit movie Van Wilder, Wilder strayed in college an extra four years past his graduation term. During that time, he perfected his skills with the ladies and threw parties, courtesy of his Daddy’s paychecks. In essence, Wilder was the guy every girl wanted to get with and every guy wanted to be.

“No party gets started until it gets Wilder,” Wilder said.

So, what’s the deal? Does the “Van Wilder fantasy” exist on campus today? Are students lingering in college longer out of comfort?

Stevan Nape, the Vice Provost for Enrollment Planning and Management at Radford University, confirms that data suggests students are graduating later. While the total number of degrees distributed in the last few years has increased, graduation rates within the four year term have decreased, and graduates within the six year term have increased.

There are six major reasons why students may not receive their diplomas within the expected term: (1) financial dilemmas, (2) the student transferred to or from another school, (3) the student studied abroad, (4) the student changed majors, (5) academic performances, or (6) disciplinary charges. Other reasons include: the student realizes that staying longer is an option, the student may not fit into the social setting at the attended university, or the student takes fewer credit hours per semester.

“I think they are afraid that they won’t be able to find a job, especially with the way that financial situations are in the economy right now,” Nape said.

Aside from having to think about finding a job after graduation, some students are already burdened by the demands of a part-time job while attending school. This may account for a longer graduation term. Other students are forced to apply for financial aid.

Assistant Director for Financial Aid Karen Hedge works with students to help them accomplish their academic goals.

“The biggest thing we do here is guide them [the students] in the right direction. We don’t do it for them, but we show them how to do it, so that in the future they can do it themselves,” she said.

She directs them to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website, which is how all aid is awarded at Radford. Anyone is eligible to get student loans. FAFSA just determines what makes that person eligible and what type of aid the student should obtain.

The application is government funded and looks at a student and his or her family’s assets, income, dependency, household size, and the number of students from the household in college. This is an accepted assumption that the parents will contribute to their child’s education.

According to Radford University’s 2010 Fact Book, 51 percent of undergraduates who graduated borrowed while enrolled in the 2009-2010 school year.

“We encourage students to take out the loans enough so that they can stay in college, and that’s why they’re there, but we also encourage not to take out so much debt, because when they get out, they can’t afford to pay it back,” Hedge said.

The government does have caps on how much money can be borrowed, but it also regulates how much a student can get each year. Generally, students who spend more than four or five years in college run out of loan funds and are not allowed to attempt more than 180 hours without a degree.

“Unfortunately, some students don’t realize that they’re hard up for money, but so are we,” Hedge said. “Financial aid is not limitless. We get only a certain amount of money and it has to go to those students we feel who need it.”

This dilemma goes hand in hand with the recently passed In-State Tuition Surcharge. The law works to discourage professional students from staying past the recommended graduation term, in which it states that “for the 2009-2010 academic year, the surcharge will amount to $187 per credit hour for all credits earned beyond 152 credits for BA/BS students.” In other words, students attending college beyond their recommended 152 credit hours will be charged a fee for every credit hour they take.

Spring 2011 Graduation Gown

Some students feel this educational sacrifice for money is a vicious cycle. If it weren’t for the finances, staying in school longer could potentially provide a stronger foundation for a future career.

“The benefit of staying in school is furthering your education, but unfortunately, it’s too expensive to do that,” Junior Elizabeth Jackson said. “If I had the opportunity to get my master’s degree and my doctorate, I would definitely do that.”

Alumni Andrew Kinas agrees. He did not plan on staying an extra semester in school, but he transferred as a Social Science major from Lenior Ryan. Reality set in quick for him.

“I feel like it takes longer to get your degree than what your plan tells you. It’s better to take the extra time to know your stuff than finish early,” Kinas said.

Nonetheless, Nape warns that graduating late may not look good on a resume, as it reflects a student’s ability to get done on time. Even more importantly, the less people getting out into the job market, the harder the economy is hit. This is because a larger working class would feed a larger economy.

For these purposes, Radford University offers many opportunities to help students graduate on time. Some of these resources include: the Counseling Center, the Dean of Students, Disability Resources, Freshman Orientation, the Learning Assistance and Resource Center, McConnell Library, Multicultural and International Student Services, New Student Programs, Registrar, Residential Life, Residence Hall Association, Student Activities, Student Health Services, Student Support Services, and Substance Abuse and Sexual Abuse Services.

Ultimately, the best way to prevent not graduating on time is to come to college prepared.

Students should start researching their options in high school. They should use the career center, attend interest inventories and job seminars, take surveys, meet with strength career counselors and academic advisors, and simply talk with other college students. These would all help build a plan for success.

Sophomore Lucy Genidy hopes to be graduating a year early. She changed her major from Media Studies to Criminal Justice, but she took summer classes and had to override into classes for a couple of semesters to make up for lost time.

“It might be a little hard after I graduate, because I’m not going to be old enough to be a cop, but I feel like the Criminal Justice program has taught me a lot about what I’ll need to be prepared for,” Genidy said.

Debra Templeton and William Dixon of the Institutional Research Department at Radford deal with federal/state reporting for first generation statuses of students. They help with student financial aid, and report information on every student in terms of enrollment, graduation and employees.

They reported that annually, there are about 10,000 students at Radford University. There were 9,007 in the fall of 2010. A high 92 percent of these students came from Virginia, and another large percent came from out of state in the New England areas. Fifty-eight percent were female, and thirteen percent were minority students.

There are nearly 70 types of degrees available to students. The top five majors are: Pre-Major, Interdisciplinary Studies and Elementary Education, Exercise, Sports and Health Education, Pre-Business, and Criminal Justice. The top three degrees awarded are in History, Marketing, and Accounting. Very few students graduate with a BA versus a BS degree.

Like any other school, retention rates vary among students, but everyone is allowed the same opportunities and freedom to use as much time as they need to be successful and graduate. In fact, one of the beauties of college is a student’s ability to learn about oneself and what needs are right for him or her.

Collins Monette, a Business Administrations major and transfer student, will not be graduating on time. He says he feels concerned to enter the real world, but has become more confident as he takes more courses in his major.

“It’s all about the victory lap,” Monette said, in reference to his last two years in college.

This was the same part of the journey Van Wilder was forced to discover within himself. He had to recognize his fear of graduating and make a decision about his future beyond college. In the end, Wilder chose facing the unknown in the real world over living in a “college fantasy”.

Congratulations, Spring Class of 2011!



Radford University Fact Book 



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Larry Gibson

Larry Gibson looks over a mountain top removal site

“See these mountains right here?” Larry Gibson said as he gazed over miles of flattened land. “They used to be taller than the one we’re standing on.”

Gibson’s family history on Kayford Mountain goes back to ancestral times. He now uses that land to educate people about Mountain Top Removal (MTR).

“Whenever you all come to anything, the best weapon you can have is what you’ve got in your head,” Gibson said.

MTR is an alternative mining technique that blasts off the tops of mountains in order to reach coal. It has been in practice since the 1960s, and was driven by the high demands for fossil fuels during the petroleum crises in the 1970s.

For 20 years now, Gibson has fought back against MTR in West Virginia. He refuses to sell his fifty-plus acres to coal mining companies, for which his property is now encircled by coal mining sites.

“I’ve got a fortress here. I’ll tell you why: I’m staying, man. Every room I’ve got, I’ve got protection,” he said.

He asserts that the realities of MTR are what drove him to seek change.

Every blast into the Earth’s crust releases toxins into the air. The exposed particles, usually made up of sulfur compounds, are hazardous to human health and are likely to settle on nearby properties. As of a result, the rates of lung cancer, chronic heart and kidney disease have all increased near mining sites.

Fly-rock is another issue connected with mine explosions. Rocks blown from mines are unpredictable and can be as large as a full-sized pick-up truck. In an event that these fragments are over-shafted, they could potentially block roads, stream ways, or even worse, take lives. This possibility leads to the alteration of landscapes, where species are forced to adapt to their new environments. In a number of cases, some have even become endangered.

The green grass plays a deceiving role at an MTR site.

By law, the shape of the mountain must be pieced back together. Coal companies try to get around this regulation by using a fast-growing topsoil “substitute”. This makes it tough for trees and vegetation to grow, and it is not stable enough to build on. Excess rock is also displaced into valleys below, over streams and spring water, causing permanent loss of ecosystems and an increased release of metal ions, electrical conductivity, and pH. Destructive particles are responsible for eating away at the bones of natural and man-made structures. On that note, chronic pulmonary disorders and hypertension have been diagnosed in humans as a result of this chemically polluted water.

Gibson is currently suffering from the effects of MTR on his own property. Large cracks on surfaces caused by underground mines are dangerous to his home. Mine explosions have made his water undrinkable; the air he breathes has become contaminated, and he is unable to visit his family’s grave site without acquiring permission from the coal company (the coal company took over this site). For these purposes, Gibson has risked his life.

“You know what’s really cheap here? That has no value whatsoever?” he said. “Life: the most precious thing you need here! And we cannot survive without water and air… Why do we, in the Appalachians, got to negotiate for all these things?”

In order to spread the word about MTR, Gibson founded a number of organizations, two of which include the Stanley Heirs Foundation and The Keeper of the Mountain. These groups “aim to educate and inspire people to work for healthier, more sustainable mountain communities and an end to mountaintop removal.” He is also affiliated with many other social action groups, such as Mountain Justice and Citizens Against Coal Ash.

His advocacies; however, come with great penalties. Gibson has literally put his life on the line. One of his dogs was shot, while another was hung from his porch. His cabin was burned, and he was raced off the road in his truck. He’s been beaten up, and shot at in drive-by shootings, but he refuses to give up.

Gibson is no longer just fighting for his land. He is fighting for human rights to live in peace without the effects of MTR. 

“I’ve been shot at and everything, but I’m still here! You cannot back out of what you believe. If you give that up, then what do you own? What do you have that belongs to you? Once you give that up, it belongs to somebody else. If you give that up, then you have truly lost,” he said.

Scenic view of the mountains in West Virginia.

But it doesn’t mean the coal mining companies are necessarily “bad”. The problem with the sustainability of coal mines is that nearly half of the electricity generated in the United States is produced by power plants fueled by coal. More importantly, West Virginia claims one of the highest percentages of coal fuel use in the country. The loss of the coal industry would devastate West Virginia’s economy, where unemployment is high and jobs are scarce.

Nonetheless, MTR not only accounts for less than five percent of fuel production in America, but it offers less occupational positions than any other mining technique. The controversy is that standard mining methods may endanger more workers.

The most that the coal companies can do is to be responsible for the environment, but they’ve still got a long way to go before they even consider leaving the mountains. And in that case, Gibson will continue to march on.

“I’ve got rights too. I’ve got rights. I’m somebody, and I don’t need no damn body to tell me I’m somebody. Shit, I count, you know?” he said.

In the year 2012, the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that MTR will clear over 2,200 square miles of Appalachian forests.

“If you got somebody who’s approaching you today, and you want to stand for something, and they say to you, ‘How do you feel today? Do you still feel like what you’re fighting for is worth it?’ And if you answer like he wants you to, you will take that day with you for the rest of your life. You should answer like you should… You should never let intimidation work… Let this individual know that you’re talking to somebody who still wants to be there… you come to stay… you brought your lunch.”

Larry Gibson's truck

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West Virgina Mountain Top Removal Photo Gallery

This gallery contains 27 photos.

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