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photo by James Robert Fuller/Corbis

Reflections from the Tsunami Zone
by Eric Lipton ’87

Television news, I have learned in my career as a reporter, is a wonderful tool to distort certain natural catastrophes. Even if the damage is modest, the camera can zoom in tight on a correspondent standing in front of one sorry-looking spot and give viewers nationwide the distinct impression that whole swathes of a city have been wiped out by a hurricane, tornado, or flood.

In Indonesia — where I spent two weeks in early January writing about the aftermath of the tsunami for The New York Times — I learned for the first time that the opposite can also be true. No matter what you saw on television, no matter how terrifying, how horrible it all seemed, I can tell you it was so much worse.

When I arrived in Banda Aceh province, one of the first spots I visited was near the waterfront, where the military had taken control. The roadway was stacked high with mud and crumpled homes. An ungodly stench filled the air. So many bodies had been found, the soldiers simply placed a flag outside any structure to alert separate teams with body bags.

Block after block after block, the scenes were both heart-breaking and horrific. There was the man picking through a pile of rubble that was his sister’s home, turning up pictures and a few pieces of clothing that he hung up to dry. There was the team of laborers tossing bodies into a water-filled pit, one man using a stick to float the latest delivery out of the way to make room for the next.

I saw the depth of the misery from the ground, but the scope could only be grasped from the air. By military helicopter, I flew up the coast of the Aceh province. The map listed a string of villages between Banda Aceh and the seaside city of Meulaboh, but they were difficult to detect. The ocean had not simply washed through these villages. As the water receded, it swept almost every hint of civilization back out to sea.

More than 120,000 people had perished in this remote province of Indonesia. The number seemed at first unfathomable. But now I could understand its reality.

I am based in Washington for The Times and was working the week between Christmas and New Year’s when the tsunami hit. The paper wanted more reporters on the story beyond those posted in Asia. Asked to fly out on a day’s notice, I packed what amounted to a mini CVS, filling up a suitcase with something like $800 worth of medicines, water purification kits, a mosquito net, even cans of tuna and dried fruit.

My work for the next two weeks would be to report from a land in ruin. There was no running water. Telephones did not work. Electricity was sporadic. There were no hotels. One night, I slept on the floor of a water-treatment plant, where Oxfam and the Red Cross were working to get the water supply going. Other nights, I slept in the basement of a house rented by Catholic Relief Services, running out into the dark when major aftershocks rattled the house.

Through so much of this, I found myself reflecting upon my experience with the World Trade Center attack. I had lived just north of the towers and on Sept. 11th, I watched them fall. As a reporter, I then covered the aftermath of the attack. Now I wondered: how could any place sustain a catastrophe this great — an event that killed almost 100 times more people than the attack in New York — and still go on? More personally, how could I still feel so traumatized by that event, when these people are facing something so much worse?

That was perhaps the thing that amazed me the most through the journey — the extraordinary resilience of the people. There was Bismi, 45, the headmaster at a Banda Aceh elementary school badly damaged by the tsunami. Several teachers and an unknown number of students from his school were dead. But Bismi put up a sign at the school entrance and called those who survived back to class. “I am still as I am before,” the sign said. “I am still studying, studying hard for my future. I am not sad.”

Somehow, he insisted, no matter how impossible it sounded, life here in this school would be normal again. As I walked into a dusty classroom where two-dozen children were busy singing songs and drawing sketches, I realized that against all odds he was making it work. “It is a first step,” Bismi said. I had seen a lot of terrible things on this trip. For reasons I still cannot completely explain, this was the one moment I lost it.

Eric Lipton ’87 is co-author of City in the Sky, a history of the World Trade Center.

Alumnus Returns Home to Help
When catastrophe struck his family and homeland, Saiful Mahdi G’01 put his doctoral studies at Cornell University on hold, left his wife and three young children in Ithaca, and flew home to assist in the recovery. Mahdi, who earned his master's degree in statistics at UVM, suffered devastating personal loss, the deaths of 15 family members — including a brother, a sister, and his grandmother — in his home region of Aceh, Indonesia.

When he arrived in January, Mahdi quickly set to work not only assisting his own family but also creating the Aceh Relief Fund, a grassroots, community-based effort to provide help where it is most needed. Backing for Mahdi’s work came from an outpouring of donations from friends and the local Ithaca community. His original goal was simply to find help covering $6,000 in personal travel expenses, but the fund is at $75,000 and counting.

Approximately 4,000 people lived in Mahdi’s village before the tsunami; he estimates that 700-1,000 survived the disaster. He acknowledges that his hopes for immediately mobilizing the community with the help of fellow teachers at first proved difficult. “Where to start? How to start?” Mahdi says in a phone interview while visiting his family in Ithaca during March. “When I got there I couldn’t even motivate my colleagues.”

But soon Mahdi’s community began to move beyond the devastation with ARF dollars helping to establish a mobile clinic, distribute relief supplies, and rebuild schools. “Things are getting better,” says Mahdi, who anticipates returning to life as a doctoral student in July. “People show their resiliency.”

To learn more about ARF and read Saiful Mahdi’s “Journal from the Ground,” visit acehrelief.org.

3 Questions
John Burke has earned his rank as one of the country’s leading experts on presidential transitions, the mechanics of how a candidate becomes a leader. The political science professor’s most recent book, Becoming President: The Bush Transition, 2000-2003, examines one of the fastest launches of an administration in American history. Burke’s previous book, Presidential Transitions: From Politics to Practice, was a rare exploration of the presidential transitions of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton from the perspective of a political scientist rather than a historian.

Q. What is a key understanding of presidential transitions you would want readers to gain from your book?

A. The most important thing, and I don’t think most people realize this, is that when presidents take office, quite literally all of the White House staff is gone. Most records have already been taken to the National Archives. So it’s a huge challenge because there’s little institutional memory there. You have a very short period of time, technically, between election day and inauguration day. So presidents have to hit the ground running right after they are elected. In order to do this successfully, they need to do a lot of preparation. That’s the segue into George W. Bush, who began to plan for a Bush presidency back in 1999 when he turned to Clay Johnson (gubernatorial chief of staff) to organize (his transition), and that’s really the earliest we’ve ever seen somebody begin to take those steps.

Q. If someone is entering office and doesn’t have a lot of people around them with previous experience, how do they know what to do?

A. There is no how-to manual. If you don’t have [access to experienced and well-connected staff], it hurts you. I think this was one of Jimmy Carter’s big problems. He had run as an anti-Washington candidate and was very dependent on the people from Georgia. It had been eight years since the last Democratic administration, so that there wasn’t much of an opportunity, or the inclination, to reach back and talk with people who had served in the Kennedy or Johnson administrations. Clinton was more connected to the Washington political base, so it was smoother.

If you’re a governor and the people that are closest to you are from Atlanta or Little Rock, they’re the ones you trust, so your inclination is going to say ‘OK, we’re going to Washington.’ But if you look at Ronald Reagan — a governor and an outsider — he had a lot of Californians going in with him, but at the same time was very willing to draw in people from other camps within the Republican Party.

Q. You’re starting to look at second-term transitions, a subject that hasn’t been written about very much. How would you rate George W. Bush’s second term performance thus far?

A. I think he’s using the same game plan (as he did in his first term), which is to pick out four or five key things and push for them. Social Security; tax reform; the extension of No Child Left Behind to secondary schools; immigration reform; and tort reform — that’s going to be his agenda. In terms of other second-term presidents you don’t see that ambitious of an agenda, even if they were ambitious in their first term.

Back in Court
Professor emeritus weighs in on Mississippi murders

As the national media have scrambled in recent months for an expert’s angle on a major U.S. civil rights story, Professor Emeritus Howard Ball has been much in demand. The January 2005 indictment of Baptist preacher Edgar Ray Killen for the orchestration of the murders of three young civil rights workers by Klansmen in 1964 coincided with the release of Ball’s latest book, Murder in Mississippi: U.S. v. Price and the Struggle for Civil Rights (University Press of Kansas), on the 40th anniversary of the murders.

Ball, who arrived at UVM in 1989 as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences after teaching at Mississippi State University, has followed the case most of his career hoping for another trial. “There’s no question he’s the one,” Ball says. “He got the order from (Ku Klux Klan Wizard) Sam Bowers to kill Schwerner.”

Ball is an expert on constitutional law, civil liberties, civil rights, American government, judicial process, and the U.S. Supreme Court, but he says his personal experience immersed in southern culture while living and teaching at Mississippi State in Starkville was also key to informing his latest publication.

Some of the professor’s exposure to local culture was through his stint as a high school football official, when Ball, who is Jewish, was dubbed “The Rabbi” by his fellow referees. His new book includes an account of the evening he trembled with fear while driving to a game on the same route that the three civil rights workers took the night they were killed. Ball remembers receiving a phone call from the secretary of the local high school football association asking him if he’d be willing to work a game with a new official, who was black.

“No one wanted to work with him, so the secretary of the league called me and said, ‘Hey Rabbi, do you mind working with a (racial epithet)?’ And this was in 1980.” A footnote not found in many histories of southern football — Howard Ball was the first Jew to ref high school football in Mississippi and was part of the first integrated crew.

The professor adds that his book drew on a range of experiences while teaching in Starkville, many of them positive. “I learned a lot from my students, both black and white,” Ball says.

With Killen’s new trial set for March 28, Ball remains optimistic that a new verdict will be reached. He still wonders, however, if any echoes of the first trial, an 11-1 deadlock with the holdout saying she couldn’t convict a preacher, will resume.

Regardless of the outcome, Ball says he’ll never fully understand how such hatred for people of another race could have become so prevalent in America. “What I’m always left with after doing research and writing about this is man’s evil — the evil men can do to other men and women.”



Number of applications UVM has received for the 2005-06 academic year. The record-high applicant pool surpasses the late 1980s “Public Ivy” era totals by more than one-thousand.

Mike Lonergan Named to Head Hoops Program
In February, Mike Lonergan, an assistant coach at the University of Maryland for the past year who led Catholic University to the 2001 NCAA Division III national championship, was named as Tom Brennan’s successor as head basketball coach at Vermont.

Lonergan, who joined Coach Gary Williams’ staff at Maryland in April of 2004, led Catholic University in Washington, D.C., to seven consecutive NCAA Division III Tournament appearances and nine overall from 1992 to 2004. He compiled a 251-88 (.740) record during his twelve-year tenure and his squad averaged 24.7 victories per season over his last seven years.

“We’re thrilled and excited to have Mike join our staff,” Robert Corran, director of athletics, said. “The values, experience, and record of success which he brings to UVM will enable us to sustain our program as a leader within America East and the northeast region and as a model for the role of athletics within higher education.”

Lonergan was the head coach at Catholic from the 1992-93 to 2003-04 seasons, leading the Cardinals to nine of the 11 NCAA appearances in the history of the program, all while graduating 100 percent of his players and taking on Division I foes such as Princeton, American, Davidson, and William & Mary.

“I am very excited about becoming the next head coach at the University of Vermont,” Lonergan said. “It has been a lifelong dream of mine to become a Division I head coach at a great academic institution like UVM. The program Coach Brennan, his players and his staff have built, and how they have built it, represents everything I believe in.”


Fresh Eye on The Orchid Thief
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, New Yorkers searched for their own ways to return to normalcy, the assurance of the way things were. For artist Jane Kent, who joined UVM’s Art Department as an assistant professor last fall, that meant immersing herself in the creative process. From her Tribeca home, just five blocks from the World Trade Center, Kent would travel to her 39th Street studio and spend the day drawing orchids.

“It was incredibly restorative, just to sit there in this very small universe drawing these orchids for hours and hours and hours,” Kent says.

A print-maker and abstract painter, Kent found that the literal act of these drawings was a critical step in adapting author Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief into an artist’s book titled “The Orchid Thief Reimagined.” Some 100 drawings emerged, along with a sharpened strategy. “This is why these projects are so great, because you actually get to figure it out,” Kent says. “It grew like a plant.” The completed piece consists of eight unbound screenprinted pages, which combine Kent’s art with Orlean’s words, and eight sheets of printed interleaving (something like that sheet of tissue in a wedding invitation), with all contained in a silk-covered box. Thirty-five edition prints were co-published by Grenfell Press and the Rhode Island School of Design, No. 6 of which is at home in UVM’s Special Collections.

Kent, whose first artist’s book was a mid-1990s collaboration with author Richard Ford, says she is always on the lookout for unusual text. She found it in Susan Orlean’s 1998 Orchid Thief. “She starts out with this story about a man on trial. From there she goes on to every subject in the universe and it just mutates and turns in on itself,” Kent says. “And that, I thought, was very compatible with my work. I always start out with a pretty singular form and it mutates and mutates and mutates through the effort of working.”

Orlean was immediately receptive to Kent’s proposal and took on the job of selecting the passages of text that would go into “The Orchid Thief Reimagined.” The project with Kent was evolving at the same time Orlean was working with movie producers on the film Adaptation, in which screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (with the author’s blessing) takes outrageous liberties including depicting Orlean in ways as unsavory as they are untrue. Not surprisingly, Kent found the writer very generous and liberal in how she would allow her work to be reinterpreted.


Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

"We are the best entertained and least informed people on the face of the Earth."

Kennedy spoke to a full house at Ira Allen Chapel as part of a panel discussion on “Politics and the Public Trust: In Search of the Next Generation of Civic Heroes.” The event was a tribute to the late Charlie Ross, a longtime Vermont public servant who taught at UVM for two years during the 1970s. Scott Baldwin ’76 and William Wachtel ’76 were two of the students Ross inspired. They developed and organized the tribute, the first of several annual events planned in Ross’s honor. Kennedy was joined on the panel by Sen. Patrick Leahy, former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin, former NY Times journalist Adam Clymer, and Professor F
rank Bryan.


Helping Athletes Heal
The image of three UVM hockey players wearing casts from ankle to hip remains with Bruce Beynnon ’82. As captain of the 1978-79 men’s basketball team, he remembers wondering how such strong, fit athletes could suddenly have their careers ended by a knee injury.

Now an associate professor of orthopaedics and rehabilitation, Beynnon says the anterior cruciate ligament injuries of Garry Hebert, Chris Coutu and Serge Leblanc, as well as fellow basketball player Charlie Trapani, played a role in his early interest with knee injuries, and his subsequent decision to pursue a career that has made him a leading researcher of ACL injuries and the surgical and rehabilitation techniques used to treat them.

“It wasn’t like I saw these injuries and decided to dedicate my life to studying the ACL gods, but it really stuck in my mind,” Beynnon says. “It’s been interesting to see how an injury that was career-ending at any level back in the ’70s is now treatable to where an athlete can return within the same year.”

When Beynnon first started working at UVM, the institution where he earned a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 1982, followed by a master’s and doctorate in biomechanical and mechanical engineering, he focused his attention on the biomechanics of the ACL with the intention of finding better ways of reconstructing it.

Beynnon and his colleagues eventually developed techniques to measure the biomechanics of the ACL. This led to the study of the strain biomechanics of ligaments in people doing rehab exercises such as weight-lifting, biking, and stair climbing.

Beynnon, director of research in the Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation, and a team of College of Medicine researchers have built an international reputation and published extensively on sports injuries and rehabilitation. A pair of new studies — one on the effectiveness of ACL rehab programs and another study focusing on the effect of extrinsic and intrinsic risk factors on first-time inversion ankle ligament injuries in high school and college athletes — are expected to be published later this year. As with much of this UVM team’s work, they promise to suggest better, safer ways to help athletes get back in the game.

Trustees News
James C. Pizzagalli, chair of the UVM Board of Trustees since May 2004, resigned from the board in February. In stepping down, Pizzagalli, who is also co-chairman of Pizzagalli Construction Company, said he felt it was in his firm’s best interest in relation to potential bids on future construction contracts at the University for him to remove himself from the board.

“Jim has brought boundless energy and enthusiasm to his duties, along with a high level of professionalism,” said UVM President Daniel Mark Fogel. “While we respect his decision, I greatly regret the departure from the board of such a longtime friend of the University.”

“Jim has been a valued and trusted colleague on the UVM board,” said vice chair Martha Heath, who will serve as interim chair until the May board meeting, when a new chair will be elected. “We could count on him for hard work, a practical approach, and a high level of civility and professionalism. We also understand the rationale that led him to resign, although we regret his departure.”

Pizzagalli, a 1966 graduate of the University of Vermont, will continue to serve the University as a member of the National Campaign Steering Committee. Before taking on the chair’s role last spring, he had served on the board since 2000.

Three new legislative trustees and one student trustee were named to the University of Vermont board in February. The legislative trustees are Sen. Claire Ayer, Rep. Bill Botzow, and Rep. Johannah Leddy Donovan. The new student trustee is Kami Patrizio.


Cheese Biz
UVM institute aids artisans

Over the past decade, gourmet quality artisan cheese has emerged as a signature Vermont agricultural product. Most artisan cheesemakers per capita of any state in the union, an ever-expanding collection of national and international awards, and a high profile in the media, all contribute to the Green Mountains’ reputation as a hotbed for bon fromage.

Allison Hooper, co-owner of Vermont Butter and Cheese with alumnus Bob Reese ’79 and a former president of the Vermont Cheese Council, is among the state’s leaders in the business.

“There’s a lot of growth potential here,” Hooper says. “But to be truly successful as an industry, we need to not only make prize-winning cheeses, but to do it on a scale that's consistently profitable. When you’re taking milk from 50 cows, rather than just a half dozen, you need assistance on issues like quality control, production methods, and safety.”

The Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, in business for the past year at UVM, promises to give Hooper and her fellow cheesemakers just the help they need on such critical issues. The institute — created with the support of $500,000 in funding from U.S. Sen. James M. Jeffords, the John Merck Fund, and an anonymous private donor — is the first organization in the country dedicated to providing professional education, research, technical, food safety, and marketing support to makers of hand-crafted cheese.

“Artisan cheesemaking is a perfect fit for Vermont. It supports our dairy farms, encourages tourism and bolsters our international reputation for high-quality specialty food products,” says Sen. Jeffords, who earmarked a $200,000 appropriation for the project.

While technical and other kinds of support for small-scale food producers is common in Europe, it is virtually non-existent in the United States, where expert assistance from universities, government and other organizations goes predominantly to large food concerns.

Catherine Donnelly and Paul Kindstedt, professors of nutrition and food sciences at UVM, are co-directors of the institute. Donnelly notes that Vermont’s artisan cheesemakers operating at full potential could play a significant role in the state’s economic development.

Through education, research, and outreach, the UVM institute is geared to provide guidance with the inevitable challenges of running a small-scale cheese operation. “Whether you’re having trouble replicating a batch of award-winning cheese, need help understanding new regulations, are designing safety protocols or want guidance identifying a market and the distribution channels to reach it, we have the expertise to help,” says Kindstedt.

A number of UVM grads are among Vermont’s artisan cheesemakers. A brief survey of their wares:

The Brand: Willow Smart ’92 and her husband, David Phinney, have built a national reputation with the organic sheep cheese they produce at their Willow Hill Farm in Milton.

The Buzz: “They are simply proof that cheesemaking in America is breaking new ground every day.”
Laura Werlin, The New American Cheese

The Brand: Andy Kehler ’93, his brother Mateo, and their spouses started the Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro in 2002 with the purchase of 15 Ayrshire heifers and have proven to be quick learners in the cheese craft.

The Buzz: “It was tangy, sweet, creamy, velvet on the tongue, the most delicious blue cheese I’d ever tasted.” Cynthia Zarin describing “Bayley Hazen Blue” in the New Yorker.

The Brand: The grand-daddy of Vermont’s artisan cheesemakers, Vermont Butter and Cheese got its start in 1984 when Bob Reese ’79 combined his marketing skills with business partner Allison Hooper’s European-trained cheesemaking chops.

The Buzz: Vermont Cultured Butter with Sea Salt Crystals took outstanding cheese or dairy product at the Fancy Food Show 2004. Vermont Chevre, the goat cheese that started it all for VBC, remains a fan favorite.

photo by Sabin Gratz

Better Boards & Beyond

Lisa Hovey is explaining her drive to study mechanical engineering. “Every day there are hundreds of things around us that could be improved in some way,” she says. The UVM junior takes a quick look around the Martin Luther King Lounge in Billings Student Center, searching for one of those hundreds of things. She walks over to a pair of chairs, points out refinements in the newer model’s design that have made an inexpensive chair into a more comfortable inexpensive chair.

Talk with Hovey just a bit more and you soon discover that in her world view working with things is good, working with people on those things is even better.

Outgoing and assured, Hovey’s interpersonal skills are clearly on par with her intellectual abilities and sharing her enthusiasm for her discipline is all part of the program. Hovey is president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and vice president of the Society of Women Engineers at UVM. She's also volunteered with the Girl Scout's “Gizmo Girls” program, which fosters interest in the traditionally male field of engineering.

Supplementing her classroom work with experiential learning has been an important part of her UVM education, Hovey says. Last summer, on the strength of a Hughes Endeavor for Life Science Excellence grant, Hovey assisted Professor James Iatridis with work in the Biomedical Spine Lab, where she explored the problems and causes of disc degeneration and low-back pain. This year she’s connected engineering with her passion for snowboarding. Hovey landed a paid internship in Burton Snowboards’ hard goods engineering division, where she conducts strength tests on bindings. When Burton’s 2007 gear hits the market, Hovey will know she had a hand in it and that’s a real motivator. “I like those kinds of results,” Hovey says.

Post-graduation, Hovey hopes to put both her engineering major and Spanish minor to work through a year in South America with Engineers Without Borders. As the clock ticks down on her UVM years, she’ll no doubt be scouring the course catalog for some new directions. If she has one regret, Hovey says, it’s that she hasn't had the chance to look even more widely. “I want to do everything, but you have to choose,” she says. “I wish there was more time.”