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Medical School lands Howard Hughes Medical Institute research grant

UVM’s College of Medicine has again landed the distinction of being the smallest medical school to land a prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute research grant. The grants strengthen the institution’s ability to conduct research at a time when managed care and other changes in traditional funding present challenges to that important role. UVM will receive $1.8 million over four years from the Hughes Institute.

“Medical schools are where a great many of the most important biomedical advances occur, yet they are being squeezed by the growth of managed care, new government policies, and other changes,” said Purnell W. Choppin, president of the Hughes Medical Institute. “These resources will help medical schools to maintain the critical basic and clinical research activities that yield so many advances for patients.”

While UVM has important plans for the money, the prestige of this particular grant can be just as important, said John Evans, interim dean of the college. “It is a real honor to be among the institutions that receive these grants — and the honor carries over when our faculty go to scientific meetings and when we compete for other grants or for philanthropic support,” he said.

One focus of the grant money at UVM and many other institutions is creating seed money for junior faculty members to launch and develop their research so it can successfully compete for hard-to-get federal research funding.

UVM also will use the grant to purchase a state-of-the-art imaging device called a cryo-electron microscope, and other support needed to use such a device. The microscope allows re-searchers to view the molecular structure of compounds being studied to understand how the body works, what goes wrong during an illness, and the effects of possible treatments.

Seniors plan campus archway as parting gift

UVM’s Class of 2000 has set its sights on an ambitious fund-raising goal and the creation of a new campus landmark with its senior gift. By a large margin and on the strength of a huge voter turnout — 250 percent over last year — seniors have decided to fund the building of an archway on the campus.

Design is still in the planning stages, but seniors envision the archway as a “formal starting point” to UVM and hope that it will symbolize campus pride and unity. Maren Christensen, president of the Senior Class Council, says that the fundraising goal is $35,000. “We are striving for 350 senior donors in addition to other students, parents, faculty, and staff,” she says.

Unearthing UVM’s first senior gift

In October 1836, $705 was “expended by the committee of young men who undertook the improvement of the publick common near the college.” Leading the way was a student named Alvi Tabor Twing. In A History of the Class of 1833-37, James W. Hickock describes Twing as “the most energetic and vigorous personality of the class, (who) took it upon himself to grade the college green, until then neglected and disreputable, to fill abandoned cellar holes and plant the rows of elms, many of which still stand. Having come from a blacksmith shop, he made iron turnstiles for the entrance of each walk and two arched gates in the fence erected at that time.”

from Tradition Looks Forward, Julian Ira Lindsay

Online courses set for UVM’s ‘Cyber Summer’ test

The mantra around UVM’s Digital Media Development Lab is “the classroom is everywhere, and everyone is a student.” And the goal, according to director of instructional technologies Howard Davis, is to make ongoing learning environments available anytime.

Davis has been galvanizing interest in the lab and providing curious on-lookers with lots of opportunities to explore the latest techno-tools since last May. Now, some eight hundred students and thirty faculty have made the leap into twenty-first century teaching techniques through use of the Lafayette facilities. So far, Davis explains, the major thrust has been access to the Web. He likes to ask professors, “What if you took a class and put part of it online?”

Finding the answer is both illuminating and limitless. Davis cautions that it does require users to rethink traditional ways of teaching. “The real question is how to teach without being face-to-face with students,” he says, noting that it means re-evaluating the core of a course and planning online student interactions.

Michael Strauss, professor of chemistry, is a recent convert. He says that the lab opened up new ways of teaching, helped put his course materials online, and even set up a Website for his grant-funded “Teacher Enhancement” project to train schoolteachers in science instruction.

The Digital Media Lab is taking online courses to new territory this summer via an eight-course test program called Cyber Summer, which will allow students to study through UVM from their hometowns via the Internet.

Cyber Summer will introduce students to tools used in online learning and research that increasingly will be used in their college and career work. Faculty, meanwhile, may learn about the effectiveness of online education as a component of undergraduate education. By developing alternative teaching methodologies and technical skills, they may enhance their professional strengths as educators and scholars. “We help instructors overcome the issues they’ll face, which often are pedagogical, not technical,” Davis says.

For more information and a complete list of courses, visit the lab’s website at

‘Glottal stop going strong’
Tracking Vermont’s dialect

You know it when you hear it, but if you’re not a sociolinguist it’s tough to describe the distinct dialect that has flourished in rural Vermont for generations. But are Vermonters slowly losing their native tongue? Julie Roberts, an assistant professor of communication sciences and the first in her profession to study Vermont speech patterns, hopes to find out.

“Our preliminary evidence suggests that some sounds are diminishing,” says Roberts, who joined the UVM faculty six years ago after earning a doctorate in linguistics in her native Pennsylvania. “But it depends on where you are and what you consider the Vermont dialect to be.” Older residents might still call a cow a “ka-ow,” but young Vermonters don’t. Harder to homogenize are vowels sounds, she says, and the letter “i” remains staunchly “oy” from Newport to Bennington. “The glottal stop is still going strong, too,” Roberts said, noting that her children have learned to sharply chop the syllables in “kit-ten” and “mit-ten.” Because dialects flourish in isolation, she says Vermont’s farming communities produce strong accents that do not abound in Burlington.

Roberts recently launched a major study of speech patterns of children and adults in Swanton, a rural area whose residents have little contact with Burlington, and whose borders are wholly within Vermont. The goal of the three-year research project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is to better understand how the Vermont dialect ebbs and flows throughout the life span of the town’s residents. The study builds on Roberts’ earlier, smaller-scale projects, where she enlisted undergraduate students to help conduct surveys of the Vermont dialect and graduate students to record and analyze specific sounds in Vermont speech.

While Swanton — and Vermont’s — French-Canadian and Abenaki residents have inspired place names throughout the state, Roberts says the Vermont dialect, and regional speech patterns throughout New England, are primarily the legacy of early British and Scottish settlers.

“Accents are about affiliation and loyalty,” she explains. “Local businessmen and politicians, for example, rely on regional dialects to bond with their voting base.”

Alternative Spring Break: Ten years and going strong

Alternative Spring Break: Ten years and going strong Nearly 120 students from UVM spent their spring break helping others in communities across the country as participants in the universitys tenth annual Alternative Spring Break, March 18-25.

Ten trips took place, the most ever, to locations from Maine to Florida. Theres a good chance UVM students worked to make a difference in a community near you.

Among the locations where UVM student participants volunteered:

Save Our Sons and Daughters, a crisis intervention and violence prevention organization in Detroit.

Anthony House, an organization in Zellwood, Fla., providing shelter and services to homeless families and individuals.

Habitat for Humanity sites in Georgia and West Virginia.

Gods Love We Deliver, an agency in New York that cooks and delivers meals to homebound people with HIV and AIDS.

St. Marks Wildlife Refuge in St. Marks, Fla., where students maintained trails, cleared debris and did general park maintenance.

Debater Update

UVM debaters profiled in the winter issue of Vermont Quarterly shone at the Eastern Region Championships, held in February. The UVM team of Helen Morgan and Sarah Snider finished first and won the Eastern USA Varsity Debate Championship after posting an 11-1 record. Additionally, Snider was named as the Eastern United States Debater of the year for the 1999-2000 season. She joins alumni Jethro Hayman, Cleopatra Jones, and Rae Lynn Schwartz in earning that honor. Snider is pictured at right on VQ’s Winter 2000 cover.

East meets west
A twenty-first century look at the ancient practice of acupuncture

A study funded by a National Institutes of Health grant is taking a new look at the ancient practice of acupuncture. The two-year study — conducted by Dr. Helene M. Langevin and members of the College of Medicine’s neurology, orthopaedics and rehabilitation, and radiology departments — is looking at a mechanism traditionally believed to be essential in achieving acupuncture’s effect.

Called “de qi” (pronounced “day chee”), this phenomenon is the body tissue’s response to acupuncture needling and feels – to the acupuncturist – like a fish tugging on a fishing line. De qi guides the acupuncturist to the correct placement of needles into what are called acupuncture “points.” If de qi takes place, the needle is thought to be in the correct location.

Though widely accepted in China, acupuncture is only beginning to be considered for use by western physicians. Langevin is one of these few. Trained as an internist and a member of the Department of Neurology in the College of Medicine, she is also a licensed acupuncturist. In order to conduct this study, Langevin and her research team had to develop a one-of-a-kind instrument. Placed by Langevin at acupuncture and control points on the patient’s body, this instrument inserts and rotates the needle, and measures the amount of tension necessary to take the needle out of the skin.

According to Langevin, a key part of this study’s design — and what makes the study meaningful to both acupuncturists and western healthcare practitioners — is that “all needle insertions, manipulations and measurements will be made by a computer-controlled instrument, and therefore, our results will not be influenced by any preconceived idea. This will eliminate sources of investigator bias. These measurements — made under controlled experimental conditions — will help us to understand the effects of subtle needling techniques used by acupuncturists in the clinical setting.”

The results of this study should demonstrate the relevance of acupuncture points if de qi occurs more strongly at these points than at control points, according to Langevin. This makes the study an important step to developing an objective physiological measurement that can be studied in relation to the clinical response.

Future studies will measure de qi in patients with different types of chronic pain. “In this case, the needle insertions would still be done by the instrument, but would be intended to both give a treatment and obtain experimental measurements of de qi at the same time. By looking at the relationship between our measurements and the clinical response to the treatment, we could determine if de qi is influenced by pain, and if it changes after the patient improves,” Langevin says.

History crafted into campus time capsule

For more than six decades, new UVM College of Medicine students walked across the hard oak floorboards of Hall A, the main lecture room of John Dewey Hall, where the College of Medicine was headquartered from 1904 to 1968. There, as the century progressed, students learned about such new discoveries as blood transfusion, antibiotics, kidney dialysis, and organ transplant.

On the opposite side of the UVM green, in Pomeroy Hall, the medical students of the 19th century walked across a classroom doorsill from 1829 to the early 1880s. In this room these students had their first glimpses of anesthesia and antisepsis. And starting in 1804, just down the hill on Battery Street, a stout pine beam under the floor of Dr. John Pomeroy’s house supported young preceptees — medical apprentices — perhaps as they watched the doctor demonstrate the newfangled technique of smallpox vaccination.

Today, as the walls rise on the newest structure of the College of Medicine, the Health Science Research Facility, pieces of those Hall A floorboards, Pomeroy Hall doorsill, and Pomeroy House floor beam are helping to preserve the medical research hopes and goals of many Vermonters. These pieces of wood, along with others from Vermont buildings that have housed medical teaching and research activities, have been fashioned into a unique “time capsule” box by Dr. John W. Frymoyer, former dean of the college. Inside the box are goals for medical research that is expected to take place in the building in its first decade. These goals include work in areas of cancer care, orthopaedics, heart disease and substance abuse.

“As I built this box,” Frymoyer said, “I could not help but think of the countless students and researchers who had some sort of contact with these pieces of wood, and the connection this symbolizes for our College’s past, present, and future.” Frymoyer notes the interesting details still left in the wood, such as a partially legible signature carved into the doorsill fragment and axe marks in the pieces of the Pomeroy House beam left from hewing by some unknown Vermont craftsman in 1797.

First editions among latest additions to Special Collections

Thirty-four first editions of William Faulkner’s works are among the choice titles included in a collection donated to the UVM library by Wayne Patterson, former psychology professor and interim president of the university.

Patterson’s donation also included twenty first editions – many also signed and limited – by other modern authors, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley, W. Somerset Maugham, H.L. Mencken, Francois Villon, John Dos Passos, and Thomas Wolfe.

Mary Jane Dickerson, professor of English and a Faulkner scholar, called the collection “a gift of untold value…”.

UVM cancels hockey season
Hazing case shakes campus

In the winter issue, Vermont Quarterly reported on hazing activity involving the men’s hockey team and a subsequent lawsuit filed against the university by former player Corey LaTulippe. The situation has continued to develop, resulting in the university’s mid-January cancellation of the remainder of the hockey season.

That dramatic action came after it became clear that members of the hockey team had not told the truth during the university’s investigation of the case. At a news conference on Jan. 14, President Judith Ramaley said, “…I speak to you with a profound sense of disappointment and regret. “We have received credible information which indicates that a number of players were not completely truthful during our investigation of hazing allegations. While the players provided extensive information in the initial investigation, we now know that some intentionally misleading statements were made. “As we said during our investigation, any indication that players did not provide accurate, truthful, complete information would result in serious consequences…”

The university had invited the Vermont Attorney General’s office to conduct a further review of the case, and it was during that review process that some of the players stepped forward to revise their earlier statements. The attorney general’s report, released on Feb. 3, supported the allegations made by former goalie LaTulippe. Attorney General William Sorrell said the he did not believe UVM officials had tried to cover up the hazing situation, but had not pursued or investigated it thoroughly enough.

“UVM’s investigation of the alleged hazing was insufficiently thorough to ascertain the truth and, as designed or conducted, served primarily to buttress the university’s position in the event of the filing of a civil law suit,” Sorrell said.

In a press conference following the release of the attorney general’s report, President Judith Ramaley said, “I believe we acted in good faith, but our good-faith efforts failed.”

Board of Trustees Chair Frank Bolden said, “Our intention is to examine fully and objectively what we did, what worked and what didn’t, take responsibility for our actions, and to learn from our mistakes. The result will be constructive, effective initiatives that will better confront and eradicate hazing at our university.”

An important first step in that process came with the Feb. 25 report from the President’s Committee on the Prevention of Hazing in Intercollegiate Sports at the University of Vermont. An extensive and thoughtful examination of the issue at UVM and in a national context, the report is the work of members of the campus community, who were led in the effort by Committee Chair Lynne Bond, professor of psychology.

“The Committee found a striking absence of relevant, empirical evaluation data, and an abundance of evidence that institutions around the U.S. are struggling with the same hazing-related issues as UVM. UVM already has in place a number of the “best practices” being implemented on a national level. The Committee recommends additonal practices and policies that expand upon this base,” the report states.

Committee members identified fifty-three specific actions the university can take to better define hazing, educate students about the issue, and respond to hazing allegations. The report’s conclusion states: “Initiatives to prevent hazing must focus upon individual, interpersonal, institutional, community, and public policy levels if they are to be effective. Too often, institutions emphasize individual intervention at the expense of more systemic levels of change. None can be ignored.”

Zebra mussel discovery inspires student’s research

In 1993, Matthew Toomey was thirteen years old when he became the first person to positively identify zebra mussels in Lake Champlain. Now a second-year biology student at UVM, Toomey is conducting university-sponsored research that he hopes will help solve the problems posed by the pesky and increasingly pervasive mollusks.

The proliferation of the non-native species threatens Lake Champlain’s economic and environmental health by altering the ecological balance, damaging municipal and industrial water facilities, clogging boat motors, and blanketing submerged historic treasures.

Toomey was fishing off his family’s dock at Benson Bay in Orwell, Vt., six years ago when he reeled in what he thought was a big fish. Though it turned out to be a brick, it was a historic catch. Attached to the brick was what Toomey believed to be a zebra mussel. He compared it to a zebra mussel identification card that had been distributed at his school, then contacted the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

“Matt described in detail what he’d found, and I knew we were on to something,” recalls Colleen Hickey, the program’s education and outreach coordinator. She immediately drove to Orwell to see the specimen, which was then taken to the Vermont state biology lab and positively identified.

Last semester, Toomey — a Vermont scholar, avid fisherman, and outdoor enthusiast — received UVM funding to launch a study of the potential impact of sponges on zebra mussels. “It’s thought that sponges may be able to overgrow zebra mussels,” Toomey explains, and consequently help alleviate the threats zebra mussels pose to Lake Champlain.

Toomey’s project entailed hanging eighteen Plexiglas plates into the water at Burlington’s waterfront boathouse. The plates functioned as experimental surfaces that were colonized by zebra mussels and sponges over three months. He then photographed the plates and digitized the images to create a small-scale spatial map.

Nick Gotelli, associate professor of biology, is Toomey’s faculty advisor. For more than a year, Toomey has worked with Gotelli in the lab and on field research on a variety of biodiversity studies ranging from acid rain to red ants.

“He was my right-hand man for field research this summer,” Gotelli says. “Zebra mussels are Matt’s special interest, so I’m pleased to be collaborating with him.”

Toomey’s work has been funded through UVM’s Hughes Endeavor for Life Sciences Excellence (HELiX) program, which provides internships, outreach and research grants to encourage students to pursue advanced degrees or technical careers in scientific fields.