It begins as the teeniest bit of cognition—maybe, on this particular day, neuron #19 is firing. And then, in a flurry of cerebral activity, that one lone neuron, the barest spark of reason or realization, rallies other neurons and dances a mental jig. Then minutes or hours—perhaps days or years later—your twitch of a notion, just a sliver of a concept, musters even more strength and becomes a full-fledged idea.

The women whose stories we tell in the following pages are nothing if not big thinkers: a physicist who teaches by dropping eggs out the window, an environmentalist creating a new carbon market, an activist professor who believes in the power of socially responsible math. The outcomes of all these ideas—the changes in behavior, or the changes in other people’s thinking—are sometimes subtle, sometimes sweeping. UNCA physicist Judy Beck’s best ideas might help her paint a better picture of the universe for her students, who may someday be floating around in a spacecraft exploring it. In environmentalist Danna Smith’s case, the outcome could be that a major corporation starts to view trees and forests differently, which means we consumers will notice a slightly greener lineup of paper products the next time we walk into Staples.

In the beginning, all they had was an idea. What follows is VERVE’s salute to women who think big. — J.M.


Putting Asheville Media Artists on the MAP

MAP co-founder Lorraine Walsh, director Gillian Coats and board chair Hilary McVicker. Photo by Stewart O'Shields.It’s like our very own Facebook for creative types. Or perhaps it’s a bit more like a local LinkedIn. Whatever it is, interim director Gillian Coats hopes a recently-revamped website called The MAP ( will be a "get-work network" for the swelling crowd of WNC filmmakers, photographers, web designers and other media artists who—let’s face it—usually struggle to find work.

The MAP, which stands for Media Arts Project, was born in 2003 after a coalition of media arts professionals decided they wanted to collaborate with each other, and that they also wanted more opportunities to create shows and segments for local public television and radio. At the time, Coats, a DJ at the Asheville low-power FM station WPVM, was already fully entrenched in local audio production and happily threw herself behind the cause.

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Posted on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 09:15PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments4 Comments

Socially Responsible Math

photo by Brent FleuryDot Sulock believes mathematics, often confoundingly abstract, should have a purpose. Math should be functional. So Sulock, who attended MIT and has lectured for more than 30 years in the UNC-Asheville math department, teaches a course for liberal arts majors called Reality Math. "Instead of saying, ‘Today we’re going to learn permutations and combinations in the abstract, here’s how you do it, and now everybody do it,’ I tell my students we are going to learn about real situations," she says. The math problems in those real situations can range from calculating mortgages to figuring NBA free-throw probabilities to tabulating the likelihood of winning the North Carolina Powerball. Sulock constantly develops new lessons. For example, she was shocked when she was notified that she couldn’t donate blood because she’d tested positive for a disease. Another test proved this false, and Sulock used the experience in her classroom as a way to explore the probability of false positives and negatives.

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Posted on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 09:14PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References5 References

In Your Face Physics

photo by Brent FleurySure, you could make your students sit inside working out formulas about falling objects. But why not challenge them to design their own "drop capsule," a vessel made from paper plates, newspaper, straws and rubber bands that will keep an egg from cracking when it’s dropped from a third-story window?

That’s just one example of the kind of experiment Judy Beck might run in her attempts to get students of all ages (and everybody else) interested in the laws of physics. At one time or another, we’ve all looked up in the sky and asked the biggest of questions: What’s out there? Where does the universe begin and end? Beck, a UNC-Asheville astronomy and physics lecturer, has made a career out of not only helping students seek the answers to those questions, but also guiding them in forming the questions in the first place. She specializes in something called "inquiry-based science education," which, according to Beck, basically means this: "Students use experience to construct their own knowledge. They come up with the questions."

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Posted on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 09:13PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment

Confessions of a Brainy Babe

photo by Rimas ZailskasBrainy girls get mixed messages in our culture. A brilliant, take-control kind of guy like Donald Trump is seen as a leader, while a woman with similar qualities—say, Martha Stewart—is often characterized as a bitch. Even in our egalitarian society, young women are encouraged to play down their mental faculties in order to snare the man of their dreams. Don’t overshadow him, honey. Let him think all the great ideas are his.

I know. I’m one of those gals, and I spent quite a few years hiding my light under a bushel. It was something of a romantic survival tactic; despite their initial fascination with my intellectual agility, most of my paramours were eventually undone by the fact that I’m certainly not a dim bulb. Trust me—in certain situations, keen powers of observation and an ability to extrapolate can turn into a liability.

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Posted on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 09:11PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References2 References

Go Nuclear! A Flat Rock Nuclear Expert Says America Can't Afford Not To.

photo by Brent FleuryIt’s hard to say how much the Three Mile Island accident of 1979 changed nuclear power in America. In March that year, a core meltdown in a nuclear power station outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, released radioactive gases into the air that a plant manager said could be seriously harmful to the general public. (Later investigations found that the amount of gas released was relatively harmless.) Within days, more than 100,000 people fled the area.

In 1978, Donna Hastie, who now lives in Flat Rock, had moved up to a management position in a nearby Pennsylvania nuclear plant, Beaver Valley Power Station. Hastie has three master’s degrees—one in medical technology, another in business and a third in nuclear chemistry—and not long after the accident, she was asked to take over as Beaver Valley’s director of emergency preparedness. But this was no small task, considering the accident had caused such a countrywide panic. In 1978, she recalls, her plant’s emergency procedures were about 33 pages long. By 1980, the emergency manual barely fit into four thick binders. "After Three Mile Island, it was such a change in our culture, and in the nuclear field," she says.

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Posted on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 09:09PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments2 Comments

Functional is the New Holistic

photo by Brent FleuryDr. Andrea Girman does not appear 46 by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the petite brunette graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine seems to be a walking billboard for public health and a proponent of what she calls "intuitive eating." "Every time some new celebrity comes out and has lost 75,000 pounds, everyone wants to be on that diet," she says. "The cool thing about intuitive eating is that essentially, at its core, it’s about listening to your body and feeding it appropriately."

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Posted on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 08:59PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments1 Comment

Aimie Burns Makes Movies for World Peace

What does the rubble of a village school in Afghanistan have to do with an Asheville filmmaker? Meet Aimie Burns, a woman who believes in the power of education and the movies to promote stability in war-torn regions. After reading Greg Mortenson’s book Three Cups of Tea, which describes Mortenson’s ongoing humanitarian effort to build schools in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Burns started researching organizations interested in supporting startup schools in war-stricken countries. (She originally wanted to make a documentary about Mortenson himself, but he demurred, saying he didn’t want to endanger himself or his students.) She discovered the Green Village School in southern Afghanistan, contacted its founder Mohammad Khan Kharoti, and is now directing and producing the first in a trio of documentaries called Peace through Education.

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Posted on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 08:57PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment

Hit or Myth?

photo by Matt Rose1. You can do yoga in your sleep.

You don’t have to bike up Mt. Mitchell or run five miles to lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, says Rowan Lischerelli, who graduated last year from UNC-Asheville with a degree in health and wellness. You can just do yoga instead. And in fact, you can do yoga while sleeping. In May, Lischerelli was certified at the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, to teach yogic sleep, or yoga nidra. "The students just lie down," she says. "A teacher guides you through various levels of consciousness." A session takes 30-45 minutes, and if you fall asleep, great. If you stay awake, you get the same benefits, she says. Lischerelli says she’ll start teaching yoga nidra classes at local centers this fall.




2. It doesn’t matter what time you eat.

Oprah might be to blame. Or Suzanne Somers. We can never keep celebrity diet plans straight. "Many trendy diet plans have told women they should not eat after 7pm to lose weight, but it doesn’t matter what time you eat. What matters is what you’ve been eating all day," says Denise Barratt, a registered dietitian in Asheville. So polishing off your cheeseburger and French fries is simply not good, no matter what time you do it. Barratt recommends healthy meals throughout the day—mostly whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat proteins—to avoid overeating in the evening. For more on healthy meal prep, Barratt teaches cooking classes at the North Carolina Arboretum this fall.  Register at



3. Don’t worry about bulking up.

Weights are your friend. No matter how much you pump the iron, most women simply won’t bulk up the way a man will, says Ellen Garrison, a UNC-Asheville health professor and fitness trainer at Training Partners in Asheville. An extra shot of testosterone is the only way to look like a female hulk. If, thousands of crunches later, you’re still struggling to perfect your six pack, add a little cardiovascular training and be patient. "You can’t really isolate muscles when exercising," says Stacey Stone, a professional trainer at Biltmore Fitness in downtown Asheville. Without fat-burning workouts for about 45 minutes twice a week, toned-up abdominals will probably still be hiding under a layer of flab. Visit for more tips and training sessions.


4. Your chocolate chip cookie might be healthier than the milk you drink with it.

Despite decades of studies touting milk as the top source of osteoporosis-fighting calcium, UNC-Asheville health professor Amy Lanou argues that you can get more calcium from a steaming heap of broccoli. And with broccoli, you skip all the extra fat and hormones. "I’m not out to get the dairy industry," says Lanou, who has degrees in nutrition from UC-Davis and Cornell. In her book Building Bone Vitality, published in May, she reviewed more than 1,200 studies dealing with risk factors for osteoporosis and argues that milk, cheese and yogurt—the usual prescriptions for battling the disease—simply don’t do a body much good. Young women in particular should ward off osteoporosis with a plant-derived diet and weight-bearing exercises. "You don’t have to be in the gym lifting weights everyday," Lanou says. "Simple activities like gardening or hiking can help build strong bones."

Posted on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 08:49PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References2 References

A Binding Agreement

Traditional bookbinding is a storied and noble craft, but until recently, not a portable one. While book arts have surged in popularity and artists are pushing limits (books as jewelry, sculpture and even edible books at Asheville’s BookWorks studio), there’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned hand binding. To make one of those perfect books usually takes more than skill: it takes heavy, expensive equipment that many book binders don’t have space for in their homes. A nipping press—used to apply uniform pressure to book pages so that they don’t buckle—can cost up to $1,000 and weigh more than 20 pounds. Dea Sasso thought there had to be a better way.

Sasso first came to the mountains in the 1980s to do a leatherwork internship with local harnessmaker Julian Jackson of Jackson’s Western Wear. Now a book artist and restorer, she teaches book binding, calligraphy, papermaking and printmaking at schools across the country, including John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, where she’s the resident book artist. Traveling from school to school, she found there was no easy way to get her tools around, and while her students would learn the techniques on the school’s equipment or her own, they couldn’t recreate the process with what they had at home.

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Posted on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 08:48PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References3 References

Sometimes, An Unlikely Digital Dual Personality Takes Over 


photo by Rimas ZailskasIn her 2007 book The Days Between the Years, a World War II-era love story, Flat Rock novelist Sherry Austin invented an elderly female character named Trixie Goforth. But sometime after the book was published, Trixie started blogging. And now Trixie, who is in her 80s and is a bit like a mean Minnie Pearl, has taken over. "She’s an old biddy who never got to say her piece in life. Now she’s saying it through me," says Austin, explaining that she didn’t really "create" Trixie but rather "uncovered" her. Austin, who has published three novels, says people who liked the character Trixie in the book don’t necessarily like Trixie online—mainly because she insults people all the time. (Including Austin, whom Trixie calls a "porker" or a "toad".) On her Facebook page, Trixie warns: "I say what I want, so don’t get your bloomers in a twist about it." And on her blog, Pure T. Gossip, she admits: "I am real bad to cuss, too. So if you’re easy to offend, GET OFF MY PORCH RIGHT NOW!"

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Posted on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 08:47PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | Comments1 Comment

Save Southern Forests

It’s a tall task, but Danna Smith, executive director of Asheville’s Dogwood Alliance, says she’s up to it. The 43-year-old quit her job at a law firm in 1993 to work for GreenPeace. "I wanted to do something more meaningful with life than negotiate contracts," she says. In 1996, she started the nonprofit Dogwood Alliance, an environmental activist network and Southern forest conservation group whose original goal was to shut down chip mills. The mills, used for making paper, were popping up at an alarming rate all over the South, and Smith felt that the slow encroachment on forestland, by giants like Weyerhauser, Georgia Pacific, Abitibi Bowater and International Paper, was basically going unchallenged. "They silently came in and started clear-cutting," she says. Through protests and, later, business meetings, Dogwood convinced huge paper consumers—Staples, Office Depot, Office Max and fast-food packaging companies—to use more post-consumer waste and recycled paper in their products. Dogwood also has ongoing campaigns to protect endangered forests and end large-scale clear-cutting.

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Posted on Saturday, September 19, 2009 at 08:45PM by Registered CommenterVerve-acious | CommentsPost a Comment | References1 Reference