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UVM In Brief

David McCullough to grads: “You are American history.”

Historian David McCullough, two-time winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, looked across a sea of faces at Centennial Field on May 19. Graduates and faculty were assembled on the field in caps and gowns, thousands of family and friends sat in the bleachers behind them, bundled on a chilly morning.

“If it’s true that we’re judged by the company we keep, then today we are all over the moon,” McCullough said, opening his commencement address.

UVM’s Class of 2002 numbered 2,200 graduates representing thirty-eight states and twenty countries. The company they kept included an impressive group receiving honorary degrees: Jennifer Berger Stanley ’68, environmental protection advocate and philanthropist; Victor Swenson, longtime director of the Vermont Council on the Humanities; W.C. Heinz, journalist and novelist; and Edward J. Feidner, UVM’s first professor and director of Theatre.

McCullough, who received an honorary doctor of laws degree, told the graduates, “No one is self-made. It is the help, guidance, and inspiration of others, or that book someone puts in your hand that can change your life.”

In a talk that centered on the myriad choices in our society, McCullough said, “You can choose to give back to society, to do your part, to be a good citizen, to work for the good of society. Let’s not forget, please let’s not forget, that we’re at war. And we’re at war with an enemy who is violently opposed to anything like freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of choice — who believes and will fight to the death for enforced ignorance.”

As his speech drew to a close, the author who has chronicled American lives from Harry Truman to John Adams to the builders of the Brooklyn Bridge, reminded the graduates, “You, you are American history. And the world needs you. Make no mistake.”

Colodny not content to be ‘caretaker’ interim
Stability, progress marked year of leadership

Looking down at a bright gaggle of knee-high tulips in the Englesby House gardens a few days before commencement, Interim President Edwin I. Colodny reflects on a year spent leading the university.

“It’s been wonderful,” he says. “Even more exciting than I thought.”

Colodny, a lawyer and former CEO of USAirways, took the job convinced that the university could not afford a caretaker president as it sought its permanent leader. Higher education, he believes, is too competitive for even a year of stasis. The most dramatic example of Colodny’s efforts to push the university aggressively forward came May 10, when trustees approved a $120 million bond issue, UVM’s largest ever. The borrowing will pay for a total expansion and rehabilitation of an aging residence hall system. It also will help to renovate Perkins Geology Building and fund the initial planning of a new student activity center.

“The university is starting to feel more positive about itself and its future,” he says. “There’s certainly a far better sense of stability, and a sense that the university is taking the initiative to improve across the board.”

Colodny also worked with Interim Provost John Bramley to simplify a tangled web of colleges, schools, and departments to better focus academic offerings and strengthen key departments. And he brought his diplomatic savvy to lobbying Vermont’s legislature to protect UVM’s budget appropriation, winning an increase at a time when many state programs were cut. The 75-year-old even served as an unlikely executive concert promoter, helping to facilitate a student-led, substance-free “Spring Fest.”

After a fast-paced year of meetings, speeches, and chatting with students on the Green, Colodny still appears ready for more. He says he has relished the opportunity to assist an institution he admires and become reacquainted with Burlington, his hometown. “I want to stay involved in Vermont,” he says. “When I go back to Washington now, I can’t wait to leave and come back here.”

What's New
Raul Hilberg, professor emeritus of political science, received one of Germany’s highest honors at an April ceremony on campus. The Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, bestowed on Holocaust Remembrance Day, recognizes Hilberg’s role as a pioneering Holocaust historian.

The School of Natural Resources has received a $1 million federal appropriation to spur research in forest management and land stewardship in the 26-million-acre Northern Forest. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D. Vt.), who was instrumental in securing the appropriation, called the forest “one of the country’s great regions” and noted, “We need to have the basic research in hand to develop sound policy to balance what are often competing interests.”

New trustees joining the UVM board this year include alumni Robert Cioffi ’90, Carl Lisman ’67, Raymond Pecor Jr. ’61, and medical student Seth Podolsky ’95. Bruce Lisman ’69 has been reappointed to the board to fill the vacancy left by Karen Meyer ’70, who resigned as a trustee upon accepting the post of executive assistant to the president at UVM. Dean Maglaris ’67 succeeds Lisman as board chair for the next year, and Martha Heath, a member of the Vermont House of Representatives, will serve as vice chair.

Forever Young
Whiz kid longs to be plain old whiz

Graduate student Marisa Debowsky’s calculus class was on to her. “Word on the street is you’re nineteen years old,” one of the undergrads said, mock serious as a Hollywood private eye. Partial credit. She’s eighteen to be precise, as mathematicians generally are about matters numerical.

Truth be told, Debowsky would rather not talk much about her age. If you sat next to her on an airplane, she’d probably give you her “thirty-second spiel.” Began college at age 13 in an early admission program at Virginia’s Mary Baldwin College. Collected her bachelor’s when her peers were lining up at the DMV for learner’s permits, and began to work on graduate level research and coursework at UVM as a 17-year-old. Or you might just get a white lie that makes years and education jibe with expectation.

Debowsky admits that it was fun for about six months when she started college and everyone wanted to do a story on the littlest freshman. She’s relieved that, with the exception of the occasional campus journalist bent on a catchy lead, most people at UVM have quickly gotten over her youth and gone on to more important matters. “The shock is short,” she says.

Math has always “been it,” Debowsky says, but she recalls a teacher, Mrs. Benjamin, and a challenge, dividing by zero, that stoked her passion for the intellectual gymnastics of theoretical mathematics. Unwilling to believe that one can’t divide by zero, Debowsky set out to prove it possible. Finally accepting that it wasn’t going to work, she turned her attention to proving it impossible. “That took up all of third grade,” Debowsky says.

The recommendation of a Mary Baldwin College faculty member brought Debowsky to UVM for her graduate study, in particular to work with Professor Dan Archdeacon in the field of graph theory and combinatorics. She’s already submitted two papers for publication.

Debowsky also excels at music. Growing up in Manhattan, she studied classical voice and piano, then carried a dual major in math and music theory, minor in piano, at Mary Baldwin. At UVM, she recently won out in the highly competitive auditions to make the Cat’s Meow a cappella group.

After receiving her master’s this spring and shifting to doctoral work at UVM, Debowsky looks forward to the fine day when she has been the youngest grad student, youngest post-doc, youngest professor, and discovers herself to be the senior member of the faculty. O, to be old.

A Perennial Favorite
Professor Perry’s excellent web adventure

Amid the clutter of books and houseplants in Leonard Perry’s Hills Building office, a world map bristles with push-pins. Thirty-eight pins for thirty-eight countries denote e-mails the Extension professor has received from fans of his “Perry’s Perennials” website. An Australian horticulture student praises the plant identification accuracy and thoroughness, an urban forester from Illinois applauds his mixed media approach, a Massachusetts teacher vows to use the site as a course resource, a woman from Cape Cod exclaims, “It’s things like this that make UVM seem even more exciting!”

Indeed. In the years since Perry launched his site in 1995, it has grown in both content and fame with a vigor that only a gardener can truly appreciate. And even the technologically challenged can appreciate the professor’s vision in jumping on the web early, one of the first UVM faculty members to do so.

Perry’s expertise parlaying course work, research, and international garden tours into accurate and lively web content is key to his site’s success. And there’s also the sheer depth of the beast created by a man who collects gardening website URLs like Vermont gardeners collect daylilies. There were more than 250 links on the site at last count. “I have no space limitations — it’s almost out of hand now,” he says, grinning widely and peering into his computer screen.

Three years ago the London Financial Times named “Perry’s Perennial Pages” one of top Internet gardening sites. In 2001 Good Web Guide to Gardening in the United Kingdom listed the site as one of the hundred best available for gardeners. The March 2001 issue of the French “e-zine” ijardin.com called Perry’s website “un de grands monuments d’internet.” And several other sites such as the Duke of URL, 50+ Friends Club and Infography Superlative Site have made it among their top picks.

The many who visit Perry’s site typically search deeply into the wealth of information, which includes everything from online profiles of 198 perennials to the lark of home-grown crossword puzzles in the “Perennial Arcade.”

“I get hits from really high-end growers who love to play the games and see how much they know,” says Perry. “It’s fun, it’s educational. Some people like doing crosswords. I like writing them. While I’m on vacation, I get out my garden catalogs and I make up games.”

Leslie van Berkum, owner of Van Berkum Nurseries in Deerfield, New Hampshire is among the converted. “I do enjoy the puzzles. I just love the interaction. I rarely get time to just browse the web, but in winter I go to Leonard’s website. I don’t always know the answers, but I learn so much trying,” says van Berkum.

And about the man behind it all, she adds, “Face it, Leonard’s a techno-nerd, and he’s just great.”

To surf: http://www.uvm.edu/~pass/ perry/index.html

Google tally
One of the younger verbs in the English language, “to google” means to type in a name on an Internet search engine to see where it leads or just count the number of sites that roll up. Who could resist a UVM-centric Googlefest?

“Nectar’s Fries” 2
“T.J. Sorrentine” 1,180
“Ira Allen” 3,030
“Jody Williams” 7,270
“Annie Proulx” 13,400
“John LeClair” 29,500
“Lake Champlain” 68,200
“John Dewey” 78,400
“Phish” 243,000

NIH grant boosts neuroscience work
Funding unites long-standing research strength

In the Given Building, a pharmacologist’s research could lead to new cancer-fighting drugs. Over at Dewey Hall, a psychologist works to further understanding and treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. And in her Marsh Life Science Building lab, a biologist explores the biophysics behind our sense of smell. All of these diverse endeavors scattered across the UVM campus fall under the umbrella of neuroscience, the study of things neural or brain-related, which for years has been an area of research focus at the university.

Soon that focus will be even sharper. A recent $11 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health promises to unite, promote, and coordinate the neural and brain-related work by creating a Center
of Biomedical Research Excellence in neuroscience at the UVM College of Medicine.

“Neuroscience has been a strength on campus for a long time but it has been a very diffuse strength across the campus,” says Rodney Parsons, co-director of the new COBRE program and chair of anatomy and neurobiology. “This grant has allowed us to form an infrastructure that ties neuroscience across the campus by bringing together the different areas that neuroscience represents.”

Cindy Forehand, co-director of the program and professor of anatomy and neurobiology, adds, “To have physicians who understand how research operates and basic scientists who understand the important questions in clinical neuroscience increases the infrastructure to improve human health.”

Infrastructure also means things like a fully-equipped cellular and molecular biology lab and a state-of-the-art microscope that allows scientists to study live cells at extremely high resolution. The grant will also boost communication among scientists with programs such as a neuroscience seminar series, and funding to facilitate medical students’ research opportunities in the field.

A major aspect of the center’s work is bringing together neuroscience researchers from across the university by funding five independent projects for junior investigators, currently three from the College of Medicine and two from the College of Arts and Sciences.

The promise of their work earned funding support from the center for George Wellman, assistant professor of pharmacology; Anthony Morielli, assistant professor of pharmacology; Matthew Rand, research assistant professor of anatomy and biology; Rona Delay, assistant professor of biology; and William Falls, assistant professor of psychology.

Quote–Unquote

“ The novel is not my natural form. What I have a natural aptitude for is writing short stories; a novel for me is a kind of unnatural act. But I’ve found a way to make it happen.”

David Huddle, professor of English, author of the novel
La Tour Dreams of the Wolf Girl, Houghton-Mifflin, 2002.

Ag and Life Sciences celebrates alums’ achievement

In May, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences honored a diverse circle of alumni — from one of the nation’s top golf course architects to a best-selling author to leaders in the academic ranks.

Miriam Nelson ’83 and George Osol G’78 ’81 received the college’s 2002 Outstanding Alumni Awards. Nelson, director of the Tufts University Center for Physical Activity and Nutrition, is internationally known for books such as Strong Women Stay Young and the newly released Strong Women and Men Beat Arthritis. Osol is a professor and research director of UVM’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology where he has earned an outstanding reputation as both teacher and researcher.

Michael Hurdzan G’69 ’74, winner of the 2001 Outstanding Alumni Award, was also on hand to belatedly collect his honor in person. It has been a big year for Hurdzan, who was selected as 2002 Golf Course Architect of the Year by Boardroom Magazine. For a past Vermont Quarterly profile of Hurdzan: http://uvmce.uvm.edu:443/vtqtr/vqsp/ Featsprng3.htm

The College of Ag’s 2002 New Achiever Alumni Award went to Carol Rudd Lauzon G’91, a Department of Biological Sciences faculty member at California State University-Hayward. Lauzon has built an international reputation for her pioneering work in microbiological entymology and is at the forefront of research to eradicate pests such as the Mediterranean fruit fly.

Spring Fest ’02 blossoms

UVM ushered in a new April tradition with Spring Fest 2002 — three days of music, lectures, and special events designed to bring the student community together. It was no accident that the new initiative coincided with and countered the annual 4/20 Day, a smoke-in/pro-marijuana demonstration staged at UVM and other U.S. colleges and universities.

The fest began to take form at the Student Government Association’s September retreat, according to student senator Katie Elmore. “We were motivated to provide a positive alternative to 4/20 Day and continue our work building community on campus,” she said.

Many student groups contributed to making the weekend happen. Highlights included a lecture at Ira Allen Chapel by film director Spike Lee. Funding for the campus appearance by Lee, creator of films such as Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X, was a gift of the Class of 2002.

The next day Vida Blue, a band featuring Phish keyboardist Page McConnell, headlined the Spring Fest concert on the Bailey/Howe Green. Event organizers made it clear that the show was substance-free with a strong security presence to back it up. All went smoothly with the approximately 1,500 who took in the show on the chilly Saturday afternoon, showing promise that next April will bring Spring Fest 2003.

 

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