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The Interview: Dr. Michael V. Drake

It’s not easy being a leader. Each day you’re confronted with crucial decisions that impact the lives of others. You are the head of a united ideal—a singular face in a diverse and often multicultural community. People will look up to you. Others will denigrate you. You will be vilified, misunderstood, and even forgotten. But [...]
Danny Hamen

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It’s not easy being a leader.

Each day you’re confronted with crucial decisions that impact the lives of others. You are the head of a united ideal—a singular face in a diverse and often multicultural community. People will look up to you. Others will denigrate you. You will be vilified, misunderstood, and even forgotten. But more importantly, you are the tangible force that provides direction. You are responsible for baring the weight of others, lifting up those who are lost in the trenches.

Dr. Michael V. Drake embodies many qualities of what makes a strong leader: passion, kindness, intelligence, approachability, and of course, a solid taste in music. He’s a medical doctor who mimics Prince on guitar. He is on the board of the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, and taught ophthalmology at UCSF for years. He came of age in the thick of the civil rights movement, and found higher education despite living in a racially tumultuous time in our nation’s history. It’s not easy filling the shoes of a gregarious, bow-tied icon, nor should it be, but in the two years as president of The Ohio State University, Dr. Drake’s leadership has surely given his predecessor a sigh of relief.

Interviewing the president of one of the largest universities in the country comes with its inherent difficulties. It’s not that Dr. Drake is not an intimidating man—his thin wireframe glasses and warm smile beg the contrary—but one can only wonder what goes through the mind of a person delegated with so much responsibility.

Where do even you start?

Well—why not from the beginning?

Tell me about a young Michael Drake. I know that you spent a lot of time in Sacramento and San Francisco after moving from New Jersey.

Growing up, I had two much older siblings and a younger brother. Once we decided to move, it was really just my younger brother, mother, father and myself. I’d say that I was just living a typical 1960s American life.

Do you see any parallels from that time to the world we are living in today?

I would say one thing that was true about the California that we moved to was that it was a land of the future. The country was on a real positive trajectory. You could really feel that every year was getting better than the year before. It was a very optimistic time in our country. I could see differences in race relations in the ongoing discourse of civil rights. It was normal daily news for us then, and it seemed like every year things were getting better—people were working together more, and barriers were coming down. I was very optimistic in those years, and the world seemed to reward that optimism. All that positivity, which was so inspiring, was countered: the presidential assassination, which we thought was not fathomable, there was unrest in the streets, the Vietnam War happened. So we saw things go in such a wonderful direction, and then the difficult downturn. But we got through that, making us an even stronger country.

What role has music played in your life, and how has it shaped the person you are today, and how did it add to the discourse of to the time you grew up?

There was a lot of uplifting positive music in the 60’s. Because of the church connections in the civil rights movement and the music that played in church, music from the church was inextricably intertwined. Popular music of the day had teenage freedom and growth, but then there were songs about change and politics. All of these things were happening on a macro scale, and music was always a part of those politics. Music was a part of many people describing those years. My mother loved singing. We had a piano in the living room. There was always music around the house. We had a lot of progressive jazz in the house, especially Miles Davis.

Whenever I needed to prepare for a big exam in college, I always put on Kind of Blue. It always helped me concentrate.

Well, it’s certainly one of those top 10 albums to take onto a desert island. That is for sure. I heard that record probably 1,000 times from 10 to 12 years old. Music and art can connect us all from different points of view and different stages in life. There are lots of things that can bring us joy and comfort. That’s an amazing thing. It’s nice to be connected to the larger human family in that way.

Do you have any shoutouts to your favorite local band?

I’d have to say the Bill Who Band at Shadowbox Live. Wonderful people, wonderful appreciate of music. They are a fantastic part of our community.

Who did you idolize when you were growing up?

I looked up to my parents. They were both very hard working. They came up through the depression and made their way forward. They were educated and set a great standard for me, so I was very fortunate there. My father was a medical doctor and a football champion, captain of a national championship team. He was always a paragon of physical health and an active contributor to the community. My mother was a social worker and an English teacher—also a great contributor to the community. She had self-confidence. I had support. Of course, there was also the heroes of our day: John Kennedy, John Glenn, and Martin Luther King. I could see as a child how they were changing their world. The world was different after them as it was before them. Those are the people who showed us what was possible. From the heart, or from faith, or from science,éß you can really make the world a different and better place.

How did your college experience shape you?

Well, I met my wife, so that helped. [laughs] I knew I was going to go to medical school, so college never changed that. I began at a community college about a half a mile from my house. I transferred from there to a larger college, and that transfer was reflective of other things that were really happening in the world. It was extraordinarily unusual for someone like me to attend a college. Things were changing in the world. Just in that year or two, there were opportunities available to me that weren’t afforded to those before me. I was in a wave of African American students who had the opportunity to attend a broader range of colleges, and I felt that absolutely, acutely. It was entirely clear to me everyday that I was somewhere that I couldn’t have been two or three years prior. College is a place that is connected to the future, so I had the idea that I could do anything. My college experience really helped validate that.

What words of advice would you give to high school students who are apprehensive about committing to college right after graduation—a time where uncertainty about the future is at an all time high?

I don’t expect people to come here knowing what they need or want. I expect them to come here to want to grow and to follow their passions to a great future. We see the collegiate experience as one where we nurture that development from late adolescence to adulthood. I believe that it is our responsibility is to do what we can to inspire, empower and enable the whole person to develop, and to prepare you to move onto your future. Of course, if you have a plan that is terrific. But I would hope that most of those plans could be improved upon, or modified, as you grow. We want to be a pathway to the future.

We are living in a world when young people are faced with acts of inexplicable violence. Lately, these harsh realities have hit extremely close to home. What words of encouragement would you give students and faculty members who are feeling scared, dejected, or forgotten, and how can we move forward as a united community?

There are these awful things that happen, this senseless violence. We are not immune to it. We are not unique. But we have to figure out how to cope with it, and move forward in the face of these things. When we are feeling the threat and the pressure from all of these things surrounding us, we should reach out to our friends, classmates, and family members, and pull them a little closer to make sure that none of us have to face these things alone. We have the benefit of having a wonderful community support of loving people. Even in the wake of the tragedy, it was voided by the support and steadfastness and lovingness of our community. That helped us get through it, and it will sustain us moving forward.

Thank you for that. I am sure your words and support have helped to comfort the OSU community.

The Buckeye Nation Community has a level of cohesiveness and support that I think is unmatched. We should all be thanking each other.

Tell me about your pet projects. What is one thing you would like to accomplish at your time here in at OSU?

Most of my projects, most of the things I think about are focused on the student experience—helping us to be better nurturers, educators, and inspirers for our students. Asking me for a pet project is like asking me which of my children is my favorite; it’s so hard to choose. There are several things that we are doing that fit in the affordability excellence triad.

It’s been a watershed year for OSU in 2016. We’ve heard of groundbreaking research that has been done in the past year, acetaminophen linked to empathy loss, neurological and cancer research. What exciting things in science does OSU have in store for 2017?

There are three areas that we are very excited about. One, as you mentioned, is our biomedical and health science research continues to be world leading. We are making great headway on new drugs and therapies for cancer and other diseases. We also have the Byrd Polar Research Institute. We are doing incredible work on the science of climate change there— really critical issues for the entire planet. You mentioned knowledge as a commodity, and how information is important. We are trying to use that to make us better stewards of our planet. However, we can’t forget how we also have wonderful things happening in the humanities and creative arts. We are studying people and culture—how people live and have lived is really important. We are very excited about the people who are pushing towards the understanding of ourselves, and our ability to envision a better future.

It is fair to say that OSU is a part of the international community—can you extrapolate on how your institution captures the global community’s eye?

Our main product on campus is knowledge—either knowledge created by the research of our faculty or knowledge transmitted to our students through teaching. That is our business, the business of knowledge. We are living in a world where the barriers of knowledge really don’t exist anymore. Information travels around the world instantaneously. If we are going to be the forefront of creating and sharing knowledge, we have to be connected with the world. We have students, faculty, and staff from all parts of that world. There are those who come here to live with us or just to study for a small period of time. Woven in our normal fabric are people from all parts of the world, and that is a big part of the richness that makes us such a special community. It’s really a part of who we are.

What excites you most about your position?

I have a great chance to work with students, faculty, and staff who are dedicated to doing good in the world. It is a great privilege to be at an institution that is focused on doing positive things across the board, from arts, medicine, and science, to law and engineering. We have people really working on improving the quality of life and making it more enjoyable, and that’s a great privilege.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed?

It gets really busy, but I don’t really spend much time thinking about things like that. That, to me, would be wringing hands. When I start to feel like that I just roll my sleeves up a little more. There are moments of frustrations, of course, but I try to press through those things.

What advice do you have for the incoming freshman of 2017?

The opportunities in front of you are limitless. It is only your own imagination and application of your talents that will determine where you go, and that is a really beautiful and magical thing.

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The Interview Issue: Columbus Partnership President/CEO Alex Fischer

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Each January, we feature the movers and shakers of the city in in-depth, in-person interviews that dig into their backgrounds, their plans, and what ties them to the capital city. While our interview issue subjects are all Columbus-based, their stories are universal. So settle in, cozy up, and give yourself some you-time. You’ll want to read every word.

Alex Fischer looks towards the future of Columbus.

Alex Fischer is the most connected person in Columbus you’re unlikely to have heard of. Unless, that is, you dig beyond headlines and comb through the fine print of nearly any article discussing Columbus’ economic future, its business community, or even the recent campaign to keep the Columbus Crew in Ohio’s capital city.

To the engaged eye, Fischer—President and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, an organization of 75 CEOs in Central Ohio—is everywhere, a ubiquitous presence at the intersection of city and state politics, economic development, and civic life. For the Tennessee-born-and- raised Fischer—whose versatile career includes stints in city planning, business, public policy, and the nonprofit sector— leadership means possessing the skill set to anticipate what is necessary for success, prompt action from others, or if needed, deliver it himself.

Such versatility and incisiveness is perhaps the trademark quality of an urban planner, and it’s no surprise that Fischer sought this interdisciplinary training from a young age.

Fischer came to appreciate the urban planning space as a high school student in Hendersonville, Tennessee, leading his peers in an effort to prevent the demolition of Hazel Path, an old Antebellum home in town. Through that fight, Fischer quickly learned the power of public protest and collective action.

“One individual didn’t change that development, but I think I participated in the dialogue that went from tearing down [Hazel Path] to preserving it and allowing development to occur,” he said. “In my hometown it’s still held up as a really good example of quality development that also had a historic preservation bent to it. And I can point to that and say, ‘Hey, I think I made a little bit of a difference.’”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

After graduating from the University of Tennessee, Fischer spent his early career involved in a variety of business and charitable endeavors in Knoxville. The principals with whom he came into contact in those years shaped his understanding of cross-sector leadership.

“Tennessee has a tradition of public servants coming out of the business world, so I saw a lot of examples of business leaders interrupting their careers for public service,” Fischer explains. “At a young age, I got to know multi- billionaires on the community side of their passions, not the business side, and so those all influenced me to realize that now in this organization of 75 CEOs, that there’s a real opportunity for business leaders to use the strength of their businesses and their leadership for the betterment of their community.”

After several years in private industry, Fischer transitioned into the public sector, serving as the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development before rising to the role of Deputy Governor and Chief of Staff to Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist in the early 2000s.

It was, perhaps, a bit of a surprise that the man with deep Tennessee roots, business connections, and a role at the pinnacle of local policymaking would transition to a similar position in Ohio. But that’s exactly what happened in 2002, when Fischer moved to Columbus to begin a position as the Senior Vice President for Business and Economic Development at Battelle, the Columbus-based scientific research and development firm.

Fischer acknowledges the transition to Ohio was a little odd—“because I was so deeply rooted in the ideals of what we’re doing in Columbus in a different state and different cities.”

He soon found his way to the epicenter of Columbus’ civic and business life—he now serves as a Trustee of The Ohio State University, and the Chairman of Nationwide Children’s Hospital—and developed an appreciation for the city’s unique professional culture.

“In the process [of moving], I found things in Columbus that I realized I had never experienced before. I’d never experienced the level of collaboration. The level of tolerance and acceptance in this city is pretty phenomenal in contrast to some other places that I’ve lived,” Fischer explains. “What’s so motivating [about working in Columbus] is this being such a perfect place to do the work. By that I mean this culture: the scale of the city, the collaborative nature, the Midwestern values, the fact that we have four seasons. All the ingredients exist here.”

At the helm of the Partnership, Fischer has vast capacity and bandwidth to influence the Columbus economy in the near-term while rallying leaders across multiple sectors behind an aspirational vision for the future. Columbus 2020, the city’s economic development plan for this decade, launched roughly 10 years ago and allowed Fischer a vehicle with which to implement his vision. He decided early on that the project would shoot for the moon.

”[Columbus 2020] was a very ambitious set of goals. All the analysis said we couldn’t meet the goals but it’s like, “OK, so what? Let’s go for it,” Fischer laughs. “And if we happen to miss the goals but in the process do some really great things, I don’t think anybody will complain. Well, we surpassed all the goals and it’s really interesting to have been accountable for it from the start until now.”

In addition to the obvious economic development successes in Columbus—the ongoing redevelopment of Downtown, recruitment of healthy corporations, and expansion across the 11-county Central Ohio metropolitan area— the region has benefitted from unexpected windfalls, such as the economic growth driven by data centers for big tech companies such as Amazon and Facebook. Fischer attributes Columbus’ successful branding efforts and continued growth to multiple factors, most specifically a uniquely collaborative culture among Partnership members and public officials, and an explicit focus on the recruitment of civic- minded companies and workers.

“I think it’s all about culture. I was not thinking this way 10 or 20 years ago. I think the future of the Partnership, the future of Columbus, is you keep preserving and teaching culture. That doesn’t mean that it has to be done exactly the same way— inevitably, it won’t because things are changing so fast. One of our cultural aspects that I’m proud of is that we’re comfortable in that very fast-changing environment [...] Continuing to evolve that culture by not just taking it for granted is really important. I think it could slip away if it’s not being cultivated.”

Columbus also stands out nationally in what Fischer calls “the talent war” as the home to approximately 150,000 college students, many of whom will be relied upon to remain in Central Ohio and continue the city’s economic momentum.

“The fierce competition for workforce is where we’re going to be leading the country [...] There’s less of a hierarchy in Columbus for people who want to get involved and make an impact.”

To be sure, Columbus’ traditional selling points remain part of the equation as the Partnership sells Central Ohio to potential clients.

“It still really does matter that we’re in the center of the U.S. population, we’re a day’s drive from anywhere, a great quality of life, a great cost of living. We’re not congested, despite challenges with the commute. All of that adds up. Increasingly, though, it’s about talent. Companies are moving where they can get the talent. And Columbus is a city that is recruiting the talent.”

The rebrand of Columbus’ economic development organization from Columbus 2020 to One Columbus coincides with the birth of a much greater ambition, of a future in which Columbus will be able to stand alone as a city, when the suffix ‘Ohio’ will be redundant and obsolete. Fischer is well aware that sustained growth will require more of the discipline and urgency that permitted success this decade.

Specifically, he stresses the importance the Partnership places on regional master planning throughout Central Ohio, coupled with what he calls “a relentless drive to the growth agenda.”

“No one should assume we’re going to continue to grow. That was the attitude 20 years ago. The last 10-15 years we have consciously built an infrastructure—of Columbus 2020, now One Columbus—of enabling that growth. There’s a science to it and we can never forget that,” he said.

“Our role is to make sure that we are continuing to grow, at the same time, can we do the best possible job of anywhere in the country at ensuring that the rising tide raises every single boat in a harbor? And can we defy the national trend of a growing economic divide?”

Learn more about the Columbus Partnership at columbuspartnership.com

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Scream Team: Behind-the-scenes look at local haunting industry

Mike Thomas

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Like many a fiend of silver screen fame, the origins of Kelly Collins’ career in terror involve some teens, a campground, and a fateful ride into the deep, dark woods.

Thirty-eight years ago, Collins was general manager at a campground. Every Saturday at noon, he’d hook up a wagon to a tractor and treat the young campers to a hayride through the woods. The route Collins followed circled around an old oak tree, before turning around and coming back to the start. One Saturday, some mischievous teens sprang out from behind the tree, giving quite a scare to the unsuspecting wagoneers. All of the children screamed in surprise—then they laughed.

Kelly Collins (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This gave Collins an idea. To spice up his little hayride, he would arrange for the teens to act out the same routine the next Saturday— but this time, he’d up the ante by giving them rubber masks to wear. His plan was set in motion, and this time, the startled youngsters on the wagon cried all the way back to the campground.

“That was a bad idea, but it got me thinking...Why don’t we have a hayride at night and call it the ‘Spooky Hayride?’ ” Collins recalls. By fine-tuning the balance between fear and fun, Collins’ new enterprise was a success, and would set him on the path to a lifelong career in the haunted house business, or “haunting” as it’s known to its practitioners.

Early in his career, Collins became a key figure in the Central Ohio scream scene. After his haunted hayride, he spent a couple of seasons overseeing the Hallowscream event at the now- defunct Wyandot Lake. It was there that he was approached by Ken Schnacke, General Manager and President of the Columbus Clippers baseball team, who tapped Collins to create and lead the “Terror Park” event that was held at Cooper Stadium for a decade.

When the Clippers made the move to Huntington Park, the Terror Park event was shelved. Collins set out again on his own, founding the Scareatorium: a haunted house attraction occupying a 40,000-square-foot space in a northeast Columbus strip mall.

Over the next decade, the Scareatorium would serve as a hub for haunters, attracting and nurturing some of the city’s top talents in the field. From actors, makeup artists, set designers and people who just appreciate a good scare, the group that grew from Collins’ enterprise came together over buckets of blood and latex viscera, but now enjoy the valuable connection of a genuine community.

A longtime compatriot of Collins, Keith Newsome was one of the creative minds behind Terror Park and the Scareatorium. Though he specializes in visual effects design and fabrication, Newsome’s talents in haunting are wide-ranging. Since retiring from 13th Floor, Newsome has remained a vital member of the community, teaching classes on topics ranging from makeup application to mask making and performance.

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

This season, he’s lending his skills to an attraction in Lancaster, Ohio titled “A True American Haunt: Birth of a Nightmare.” The house is set up in the Miller Building, a “poor house” originally built in 1828, which event promoters suggest may in fact be haunted. According to Newsome, the building is classified as one of the top-10 haunted houses in the United States, and was recently filmed for an upcoming episode of The Travel Channel show Destination Fear.

“It’s actually a haunted place. I don’t believe in that crap...I do now,” says Newsome. “There’s something in that place. I don’t go on the third or fourth floor anymore.”

Keith Newsome (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Whether patrons can expect to encounter bona fide spirits along with latex-clad actors in this haunt remains to be seen, but whatever the case, the event serves an important purpose. All proceeds from this haunt will benefit Habitat for Humanity’s plan to revitalize the historic Miller Building, and to help build housing for local veterans.

The charitable angle for this event comes as no surprise in an industry that at times seems like an extended family. People attracted to haunting come from every imaginable background, but are united by a common passion.

“I’ve had people who are financial managers of huge companies, down to people who are almost homeless,” says Newsome. “The cool part about it is that we treat everybody equally. When you walk in, you’re automatically family.”

One member of Newsome’s haunt family is Bobbi Jo Gonzalez, an artist who has turned a passion for body art and makeup into a year-round career.

Bobbi Jo Gonzalez (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

Gonzalez’s first foray into the industry came while volunteering with her eldest daughters at a home haunt. Stepping up to fill the need for a makeup artist, Gonzalez gleaned what she could from YouTube videos. Her tool kit at that time consisted of, as she calls it, “that really crappy makeup you get at Kroger around Halloween.”

After encouragement from her peers at smaller attractions, Gonzalez eventually made her way to the Scareatorium, where she met Newsome. Newsome introduced her to higher-quality, water-based makeup, and she went on to mentor under the more experienced effects artist for two years.

Photo: Brian Kaiser

Today, Gonzalez is the owner of Aftershock Art, a thriving face painting and body art company that operates year-round. She’s also found a healthy sideline doing moulage—the art of creating realistic, simulated injuries on actors during training exercises for the military and first responders.

Like her mentor, Gonzalez sees the past support and encouragement from members of the haunt community as a foundation of the success she now enjoys.

“It’s something that we’re all passionate about, so once you find your niche in that community, it doesn’t matter what your background is, what your religion is, what your sexual orientation is—you have that weird background, and you have a family for life,” Gonzalez explains.

While basking in the warm embrace of your fellow ghoul is reason enough to keep some hooked on this line of work, there’s another essential element that unifies all haunters: the love of the scare.

“I fell in love. I didn’t know you could have so much fun scaring people,” says Ashley Shilling, another former employee of Collins from the Sacreatorium days who today serves as general manager of the 13th Floor Haunt.

Ashley Shilling (Photo: Brian Kaiser)

“Being an actor is a huge stress relief,” Shilling explains. “Getting to scare people kicks in your endorphins, especially if you can make a big man that looks very intimidating scream like a little girl—that’s a lot of fun. At the end of the night, you’re just relaxed.”

Whether drawn to a sense of community that can sometimes be hard to find in the world at large, or simply in it for the thrill of scaring people, the haunting industry has an undeniable pull for those that find their way into its spooky ranks. Even retired industry veteran Collins is unable to fully step away from the work, and is gearing up for his first season as manager of a Spirit Halloween supply store in Newark, Ohio.

“When you scare people, and they scream and run away from you, it’s a great way to let out pent-up frustration,” Collins says. “You could have the worst day in the world, and within a few minutes of working at the haunted house, you feel so much better. It’s a great tension reliever.”

In professional haunting, one person’s fear is another’s bliss.

For more information on the 13th Floor Haunt and other haunted houses happening in October, click here.

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Photo Gallery: HighBall Halloween

614now Staff

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HighBall Halloween is the nation’s most elaborate costume party. Staged in the Art & Soul of Columbus, the annual event bridges runway style with the culture of the Short North Arts District.

Much like in years past, the city turned out in full force and full costume to celebrate fashion, fall, and fun with host Nina West.

Here's a look at some of the best looks of HighBall 2019:

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