Tag Archives: Faculty Spotlight

Faculty Spotlight Special Thanksgiving Edition: Presenting Liberal Arts Dean Dr. Jimmie McClellan!






“Blood Circus”


jimmie-mcclellanIn a world large enough to accommodate the likes of a Spiderman, X Men, Batman, Robin, and Wonder Woman, I once upon a time convinced myself that there was a niche in the ranks of superheroes for a mild-mannered, bowling pin-juggling superhero who chased down monsters from outer space on a solid chrome unicycle. I would be known as One-der Wheelman. There would be movie after movie: One-der Wheelman I, One-der Wheelman II: the Sequel, One-der Wheelman Rolls Again!, Wheelman Recycled, and on and on. In reality, I came so close to becoming a Hollywood Superstar that I started to worry if there would be enough parking for the paparazzi in my neighborhood. I was sure that my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame would be somewhere between those of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Yes, Fame and Fortune came straight at me, and then, just when they were about to lift me upon their fickle shoulders, they made an abrupt U-turn and sprinted away. Looking back, I believe I may have overestimated the public interest.

When we are young–often far too young–we are called upon to choose a career track that will transport us safely through life and deliver us to a comfortable retirement. The track I chose was that of a historian. But being practical, I knew that the career track I had selected was a prone to early and frequent derailment and that, should the study of history not carry me where I wanted to go, it would  be good to have a lucrative back-up skill of some kind. At least this was how I justified many hours of procrastination when I was supposed to be buried in my studies: I was not wasting time, I was responsibly searching for a profitable second-chance profession.

One day after reading an exciting chapter from a book on the economic implications of firewood exportation in thirteenth century Luxembourg, I put my history studies aside and reached for any other reading material I could find, telling myself that I was not wasting time, I was merely researching all available options for a back-up profession.

The only book within reach was the Montgomery Wards Mail Order Catalogue and when, after a few hours of thumbing through the sections on washing machines, jewelry, clothing, furniture, tires and automotive parts, I reached page 1724, the wheels in my mind suddenly started turning. Or, should I say, wheel. What I saw on that page was a picture of a unicycle. “This is it!” I thought. “Given the large number of people who cannot ride one of those, there must be a big demand for someone who can.”

A month later a box arrived at my door and within minutes I had assembled its contents into a unicycle. Oddly enough, the study of one-wheeled transportation systems–“Unipsychology”–is not a part of the curriculum of any American college or university and so I was forced to teach myself. For close to a year I battled the forces of gravity. I learned the bitter lesson that while a bicycle can tumble in only two directions, there are 360 degrees of opportunities to fall on a unicycle. But after two years I could ride backwards and forwards while juggling and playing the harmonica. I was ready to take my act on the road.

600295_10200909586372696_1528952398_nI entertained at birthday parties and neighborhood fairs, and then the invitations started rolling in. I became a regular on the parades down Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues.  I performed on stage at the National Theatre. I taught my daughter to ride and we did a halftime show at a Chicago Bulls game. I dunked from a tall cycle and gave Michael Jordan a few pointers. We entertained at the White House. This is all true. Then one day the call came: a big-time Hollywood Producer said he had parts in a major motion picture for someone who could ride a unicycle and for someone who could juggle. “I’m your man, or men,” I said, “I can do both.”

As it turned out, this may not have been a good career decision. The movie was called “Blood Circus.” One newspaper described it as a “a supersonic spacewrastlin’ movie.” The plot was never completely clear, but apparently the storyline had a group of cannibalistic wrestlers from the Planet Zorok come to Earth where they fought, decapitated, and consumed body parts of American and Soviet WWF-style wrestlers. In the climactic scene, a typical American wrestling fan, a guy named Long John–8 feet tall, 450 pounds–comes down from the stands and gives the Zorokians the All-American whippin’ they so richly deserve.

My scenes were filmed at the BaltimoreCivicCenter. The Producer rented the gigantic facility and filled it to capacity twice in one day with spectators who paid $10 a piece to see the gory extravaganza as dozens of cameras were recording it. Interspersed with the wrestling scenes were sideshows that included such diversions as my unicycling and juggling and the Producer, donning wig and aviator glasses and taking on the alias Santo Gold, performing rock music.

But the fans were not interested in feats of balance on one wheel or exhibitions of manual dexterity with bowling pins, they came to see blood. They cheered wildly as bodies were tossed from the ring and stretchers carried off victims of what appeared to be less than sportsmanlike behavior from guys like Ox and The Mummy and Junkyard Dog and Mucho Man and Voodoo Malumba, a four hundred pound mauler with a nasty disposition. In the closing minutes of the blood fest, the Zorokians descended on the ring and literally took Voodoo apart, tossing his head out into the audience and consuming his body in full view of all. Blood flowed. The fans screamed for more. It had the makings of great cinema.

Moments after this scene, all of the hapless victims whose blood and body parts had been strewn across rows A though G in the Civic Center were sitting with me at a long table in the cast cafeteria miraculously healed from their life-threatening wounds and sharing a meal with the eight bulky bullies from Zorok. It was a rare moment of intergalactic harmony. And I did not allow this evidence to shake my deep belief that everything that happens in a wrestling ring is indisputably real.

8102As we enjoyed our meal, the crowd grew louder and rowdier. They were not satisfied. I overheard the Director and Producer discussing the problem. The crowd would not leave the arena. The fans had been told repeatedly that the show was over and that they must vacate the building. Still they cried for more. The Producer, a cunning man, told the Director to make the announcement that the movie needed a scene of fans exiting the building. Every fan who walked by cameras placed at each exit and waved would be guaranteed that his face would appear in the final version of the movie. Within minutes of the announcement, the fans were filing out the door. The doors were locked behind them.

It may be hard to believe that a movie with this much appeal would be a box office flop. Yet, once the film was completed, no distributor could be found to promote it and the Producer had to rent a theater in Baltimore for the premiere. Only three people showed up on opening night, two of them were critics and the third was one of the movie’s extras. In subsequent showings, the movie never again attracted a crowd quite that large. The only remaining copy of “Blood Circus” has apparently been lost forever, though a few scenes can still be found on YouTube.

But wait, there’s more!

In the years following the production of Blood Circus, its Producer, taking on the persona of Santo Gold appeared in late night infomercials hawking cheap “Gold” jewelry and showing clips from the “soon to be released space wrastlin’ epic.” I was paid a modest fee for riding my unicycle in several of his late night cable shows. He not only recouped the $2 million cost of the movie, he made a substantial profit before being convicted of mail fraud and serving ten months in prison.

I remain convinced that a wide distribution of “Blood Circus” would have been the springboard that catapulted me to superstardom. And had One-der Wheelman been sent forth to tackle the Zorokians rather than Long John, my place in Hollywood legend would have be secured. I am thankful that being an action hero on the silver screen was never more than my back-up profession and that riding a unicycle on the home shopping network is not a criminal offense.

*Blood Circus IMDB Page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088824/

*Dr. McClellan have also won fourteen US Gold Medals at the US Canoe and Kayak Championships, two Gold Medals from the Canadian National Championships, a Silver Medal in a four-man boat in the 1000 meter sprint, a Bronze Medal in the 500 meter sprint in a four-man boat, and a Silver Medal in the 5000 meter sprint at the World Games.

* He is also an Alexandria Living Legend: 



Faculty Spotlight: Prof. Sherry Trachtman





Beach Baby Sherry“I learned to walk on the beach at the Jersey Shore”


In the 1950’s and 60’s, my grandparents had a beach house on the Jersey Shore in a quiet family-oriented town with big Victorian hotels and penny arcades along the wide boardwalk.  On weekends, we somehow packed 12+ family members into the 4 small bedrooms. Before breakfast, the men loaded the car with our heavy wood and canvas beach chairs and umbrellas. Popa drove the 2 short blocks and backed up to the boardwalk to unload. Forming a line, my uncles and Dad would pass our equipment over the fence and onto the sand to set up our family encampment. After everyone ate (usually in shifts in the tiny kitchen), the family walked to the beach in a caravan of strollers and wagons toting food hampers, toys and kids, to claim our space for the day.


Sherry for SpotlightTo keep me from toddling off too far (like into the ocean), my mother attached my carriage harness (a 50’s version of a car-seat strap) to a chair on a short rope. Tempted by the interesting foods and folks in the adjacent family groups, I soon learned how to walk on the sand.  Kids then could safely be given the freedom to visit neighbors in the beach-blanket community, and according to family lore, I’d put on my mother’s sunglasses, exclaim, “Dark in here”, and head off to other enclaves 5 feet away, to sample their Armenian or Italian tidbits.


By the time I was five, I could walk behind my Dad, stepping in his footprints to avoid the hottest sand, and help carry back all the ice creams. I could walk to the trash cans near the boardwalk, to the ocean’s edge with my pail and shovel, and to the life guard stands to compete for a seat underneath. The life guards stood up often with lost, crying kids on their shoulders and blew their whistles to alert the families. No kid wanted to miss that show! These exciting early childhood summers started my journey as a life-long explorer.


Hilary Clinton wisely taught us that it takes a village to raise kids, and the Jersey Shore beaches of the mid 20th Century were little villages of 3 generation families who watched out for each other. The art department at NOVA, Alexandria is a little village, too. We may not be enjoying surf and sand, but we are a community, do have fun while learning, and there are often interesting international foods to try.

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Michelle Gaston





Growing Up With The Groundhog

Phil“Have you heard of Groundhog Day?”

     ‘Oh yeah…Punxsutawney Phil.’

“Yes, Punxsutawney…that’s where I’m from.”

At home or abroad, that’s the typical start to my conversation with anyone asking about my origins.  Some might get bored having the same conversation repeatedly, but I don’t.  It’s nice chatting with someone who’s immediately familiar with my little hometown in Western Pennsylvania.  And it’s also nice to know that many of them will remember me every February 2nd—Groundhog Day!

“Groundhog Day” began 127 years ago with Germans that immigrated to Pennsylvania.  Accustomed to hedgehogs predicting winter’s length, they soon found a suitable replacement rodent in America—the groundhog.  To this day, if our beloved rodent Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow at dawn, six more weeks of winter await.  If there’s no shadow, then spring is just around the corner.

GobblersKnobThe big event occurs in a wooded area atop a hill known as “Gobbler’s Knob”—a fitting name since the early settlers used to eat groundhogs there.  Fortunately, that’s no longer part of the tradition!

Although Phil spends most of his days in his cozy burrow at the local library, he does make appearances at special events.  Years ago, my mom’s family raised groundhogs as pets, and often their animals would travel as emissaries for Phil.

Punxsutawney is a quiet little town filled with friendly people—I would not have wanted to spend my childhood anywhere else.  On Groundhog Day, thousands of people from all over the world travel to my hometown just to see Phil.  Will you join them next year??  If you aren’t into celebrating on a cold winter day, consider a trip for the Groundhog Festival in June.  Two yearly celebrations in two different seasons—an appropriate tribute to our furry little weather prognosticator in the “Weather Capital of the World.”

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Izanne Zorin





GulfWarA long time ago I was a combat medic in the Army National Guard out of South Carolina. People find this interesting because I am a small person and a nerd – so it just goes to show that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I appreciate my 7 years with the National Guard – I met wonderful people, had access to great equipment and had amazing experiences.  I enlisted to get the funding to complete my undergraduate degree, and the military did provide me with the GI Bill and other programs so that I graduated college with almost zero debt. While training as a non-commissioned officer, I met my husband of 20 years – so I can thank the Army for that too.

While deployed during the first Gulf war, my unit was tasked with running a hospital on a military base in Saudi Arabia. The photograph is of me in the ER with an Egyptian nurse, Adnan, who made friends with all of us (he also proposed marriage to almost all of us women medics). After seeing American and Iraqi soldiers and Saudi civilians with serious injuries and burns, I realized that we are all the same: when we are in pain or scared, we all need support and understanding regardless of our country of origin, race or religion. Although I haven’t been in the military for years now, I will always be grateful for that experience. Go Army!

Faculty Spotlight: Sarah Liberatore





I guess you can say I love to teach!   In addition to being a full-time instructor of Art History, I teach cardio kickboxing part-time for a local TKD studio and for Fairfax County Parks and Rec.

I started kickboxing 16 years ago and fell in love with it; I then decided to become a certified fitness instructor soon after the birth of my son in 2001.  I did my certification through AFAA (Aerobics and Fitness Association of America) and started teaching kickboxing and then moved on to teach Boot Camp, Pilates, weight training, and Core classes, teaching part-time for facilities in the Northern Virginia area.

Currently, I teach kickboxing for Jhoon Rhee and have a fantastic group of students.  For me, there is nothing better to relieve stress then to punch a heavy bag and get a good sweat.  Exercise is so important for both the mind and the body – you feel better, sleep better, and have more energy and endurance, not to mention all the additional health benefits.  So students and staff, take time out to make exercise part of your daily routine.


Faculty Spotlight: Cindy Smith





Executive Assistant to the Provost
Executive Assistant to the Provost

As a young adult, I considered joining the military – primarily for the educational benefits.  However, I decided to pursue my education on my own.  After earning my Bachelor of Science degree from Dakota State College in Madison, SD, I took a job teaching English in a small town in Iowa.  In my second year of teaching one of my students was absent for a week.  When he returned, I asked for his excuse and was intrigued to see that he had been processing for the Iowa Army National Guard.  I looked into it and ended up joining.   I enlisted as a Private First Class (E-3) since I already had a bachelor’s degree.  I attended basic training at Ft. Jackson, SC.\

I worked full time for the Iowa Army National Guard as the State Training NCO for several years.  I achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-6) by the time I left the service.  I benefited from my service in the National Guard in many ways.  I met my husband there and we got married under crossed cannons during summer camp (Field Artillery unit – they didn’t have swords) with our Battalion Chaplain performing the ceremony.  Since I enlisted under a student loan repayment program, the National Guard paid my student loans from my undergraduate degree.  I was eligible for educational assistance while I served and the Guard paid 90% of my tuition costs for my graduate degree at Drake University in Des Moines, IA.

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Margaret Emblom-Callahan

Dr. Margaret Emblom-Callahan

Assistant Division Dean

Assistant professor of Biology

 AND Natural Science

Dr. Emblon - Callahan Photo

“Recently took up skating with my daughter and has not yet been taken from the ice by the medics”

I can do a mohawk on ice, I know, this is crazy!  First, I skated forward on one foot, tracing the line of a half moon, then I switched feet halfway through the moon and finish on one foot skating backwards!  If you had asked me a month ago, I would have said, “no way!” and I would have looked at you as if you had 3 ears.  Of course if this were easy, I would have had no interest in learning how to do it.  I mean, what is the point of learning something you can already do?  On ice, I get the added thrill of failure to execute a move well means immediate bruising, possible concussion or a broken leg.  Those are some incentives to not mess up, huh?

Well, when learning to skate, take it from me; you WILL fall down, REPEATEDLY!  It reminds me of starting back to school at NOVA as an adult.  EVERYTHING was difficult.  Not because I can’t learn, but because I did not know how to learn efficiently, and I had other important influences in my life.  Instead of the ice making everything slippery, I had a family with health issues and later a daughter and I had to pay my own way.  Instead of bruises for my incentive to not fail, I had life goals.  I wanted to do something really meaningful with my life.

Nevertheless, just like on ice, each success was balanced by a fall.  With every fall in school, just like on ice, I had to shake it off, stand up and continue.  Eventually I continued through a doctoral defense and a career teaching Biology at NOVA!  While skating is a serious challenge to me, it is so similar to my academic and life goals that I think I know the secret to success – keep working at it, stand up after every fall, find pleasure in the challenges and I will succeed.