Endowed professorships and chairs not only help the university attract leading scholars, scientists, and artists, but also create resources to further their success on the UVM faculty. The Move Mountain campaign has created sixty-seven new endowed faculty positions, funded by over $65 million in gifts.
by Joshua Brown
Sometimes, after an earthquake, a building can become like a zombie. “It’s still standing,” says structural engineer Eric Hernandez, “but you don’t even want to get near it.” He pulls up an image of a devastated streetscape in Turkey after a 7.6 magnitude quake. One building is still standing, but a much weaker aftershock, “just 5.9,” says Hernandez, “brought it down.”
Sometimes these living-dead structures—like earthquake-damaged buildings or worn-out bridges —are obvious. They lean, their beams are cracked, their struts buckle, and their concrete turns to powder. But not always. During the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California, there were “some steel buildings that looked as good as new, but they were severely damaged—the connection between the beams and columns was destroyed—and you just couldn’t see it,” says Hernandez.
“So, how do you know how bad it was hit?” he asks. The traditional approach is to send a team of skilled inspectors in to look, cutting into walls, digging under floors. But that can be very expensive and time-consuming. “How long can you wait to reopen a hospital or data center?” Hernandez says. Sometimes, every second counts, which is why he and his students have spent decades developing a different approach: using sensors that measure acceleration, they can remotely calculate the amount of acute damage to a building after an earthquake or detect the hidden wear on a highway bridge from years of truck traffic.
There will always be a place for visual inspection and human experts, Hernandez says. But his approach—embedding sensors in buildings as they are being constructed or attaching them to structures in later years—can save huge amounts of time and money, while increasing safety. “These are complementary efforts,” says Hernandez, the inaugural Gregory N. Sweeny ’70 Green and Gold Professor in Civil Engineering.
“We want to know: what is the minimum number of instruments that you could have on a building that would allow you to make an inference that the building is okay?” he asks. The correct answer to that question holds potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in avoided costs.
The genius of Hernandez’s approach is not in the sensors themselves. “We didn’t invent any new technology,” he says; the devices he uses are commercially available. Nor is it just expertise in signal processing or structural engineering. It’s the whole package. “We are combining our capability to make really good models with our capability to process the sensor data intelligently,” he explains. By bringing together several disciplines, he’s been able to make—if you’ll excuse the metaphor—ground-breaking advances in how to monitor complex structures and reduce the risk of catastrophic collapse.
“We’re good at what’s called model-data fusion,” says Hernandez, who grew up in the Dominican Republic and developed his skill as an engineer there before joining the UVM faculty in 2011. And he marries advanced systems thinking with practical-mindedness. “It’s engineering, right?” he says. “Engineering sometimes is doing with one dollar what anybody can do with two.”
Emily Bernard, Julian Lindsay Green and Gold Professor of English, photograph by Andy Duback
YOUR STORY IS HERE, TOO
by Kaitie Catania
With the exception of being a writer, Emily Bernard could not be more different from Charles Dickens. “Charles Dickens wasn’t writing for me, but he speaks to me. I am David Copperfield, or at least I was growing up,” Bernard says.
She makes this connection to demonstrate the value of persistence and strong critical reading in the face of challenging prose. For students in her African American literature courses—most of whom are white—these skills can open new doors to understanding. “Dickens didn’t sit me down and say, ‘Here’s the way you could see yourself in this book.’ You have to work to find that. This is literature—American literature—and your story is here, too,” she says.
A professor of critical race and ethnic studies and the inaugural Julian Lindsay Green and Gold Professor of English—an endowed professorship established by Robert Fenix ’45 G’47, to foster research, teaching, and contributions to the study of American literature—Bernard confronts difficult topics like race, identity, family, and history in both her classroom and writing. She’s written books about Carl Van Vechten, a white man who played a role in the Harlem Renaissance; former first lady Michelle Obama; successful and meaningful interracial friendships; and most recently about her own experience with race and growing up Black in America.
“A lot of my students have told me I was the first Black teacher they’d ever had,” she confesses. After seventeen years at the University of Vermont, Bernard is adept at facilitating honest conversations like this in her classroom. She strives to illuminate the paradoxical and murky ways in which Americans navigate race through the text she selects for her syllabi each semester.
“These writers are in conversation, whether they knew each other or not, and they’re telling stories about living in the world from a certain vantage point. They are telling stories that contradict each other and that build on each other. They’re shouting at each other and they’re agreeing with each other, and they’re crying and laughing with each other.”
Bernard’s own stories contribute to that complicated exchange, as well. Her latest book, Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother’s Time, My Mother’s Time, and Mine, offers readers deeply personal anecdotes from her life, dotted with moments of humor and pride to disappointment and tension. In one of the book’s essays, “Teaching the N-Word,” she describes her experience being the only Black person in her classroom and directly addressing her students’ discomfort around “the N-word.”
She goes on to describe a lecture she begins each African American studies course with: “I tell them, in essence, not to confuse my body with the body of the text,” she writes in the essay, noting that appreciating the course material has more to do with intellect and hard work than with race.
“It’s a pleasure teaching African American literature to students who maybe haven’t read it before and having them see a story that develops and themes recurring. From the slave narrative to Toni Morrison, they all are telling a grand story about freedom, identity, belonging, and American-ness,” she says.
Erik Monsen, Steven Grossman ’61 Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship, photograph by Andy Duback
ENTERING AN ECOSYSTEM OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP
by Kaitie Catania
On a shelf in Erik Monsen’s office sits what he calls “a mini-museum” of a few consumer products developed by Grossman School of Business students in recent years. Among them: a sparkling beverage made from tree sap, an all-natural fire starter kit, and a hand lotion for fishers that eliminates fish odor.
“Students are coming here with business ideas and businesses already underway, so they’re not only looking for a great academic experience, but for a business-building experience as well,” he says. As the inaugural Steven Grossman ’61 Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship, Monsen notes that a sea change in entrepreneurship is at hand. For five years, he’s been working to meet the needs of young business leaders and expand the university’s entrepreneurial reach across campus and into the wider Burlington and New England region.
But long before he envisioned himself at UVM or even in Vermont, Monsen pictured himself in outer space. A former aspiring astronaut, he pursued aeronautical engineering prior to discovering his passion for the management side of the industry. Today, his approach to launching business initiatives is grounded in an appreciation for technology and innovation, accomplished research, imagination, and relationship building. He also holds a secondary appointment as an associate professor of mechanical engineering.
“We have a lot of separate islands of entrepreneurship already in place here at UVM, now we’re seeing how we can put those together,” he says, exemplifying the interdisciplinary nature of entrepreneurship today.
During his time as Grossman chair, Monsen teases that he’s become a full-time coffee date in his effort to map out these islands of entrepreneurship and connect people to resources. In reality, he’s accomplished much more: he’s collaborated on establishing Hills 20, a physical community and coworking space for entrepreneurially minded students to create and prototype designs; developed clubs, funding opportunities, and promoted professional competitions that allow students to engage with business early and regularly in their academic careers; improved commercialization of faculty research across the university and helped bring their innovations to market; and expanded the entrepreneurial footprint of UVM through relationships with alumni and businesses.
While he has big plans to foster entrepreneurship at the Grossman School of Business and UVM—including formal partnerships with local businesses and a full center for entrepreneurship, complete with a makerspace—his larger vision is to establish a pipeline of businesses and social and environmental innovators at the university that feed into the vibrant Burlington ecosystem of entrepreneurship and sustainability.
“The more technologies and cool experiences we can give our students, the more students we’ll graduate into happy alumni with local jobs and perhaps their own startups, and the more interesting faculty we’ll attract to this small corner of the world, which is a really cool place,” he says.
Dr. Cheung Wong, Berta Pi-Sunyer Williams ’58 Endowed Professor, photograph by Andy Duback
BEYOND THE DISEASE
by Erin Post
As a clinician, Dr. Cheung Wong specializes in treating patients with malignant conditions like uterine, ovarian, and cervical cancer. As an award-winning educator, he specializes in fostering and encouraging compassion. He urges medical students and residents he teaches on clinical rotations to be present, to listen, to seek to understand, no matter the demands on their time or attention.
“Make sure you treat every patient like family,” says Wong, an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences. “Go beyond the disease. Develop a relationship with them and build trust.”
In June of 2018, UVM celebrated Wong’s many contributions to the institution through his investiture as the inaugural Berta Pi-Sunyer Williams ’58 Endowed Professor. Pi-Sunyer Williams, a 1958 graduate of UVM and a nurse at what was then Medical Center Hospital of Vermont, escaped civil war in Spain with her family as a child in the 1930s, eventually coming to the United States to start a new life.
Heralded for her dedication to patients and her quietly confident can-do attitude, her family sought to honor her, after her death in 1992, through an endowed professorship that aligns with the sense of compassion and service she demonstrated throughout her life.
Wong’s family shares in Pi-Sunyer Williams’s immigrant history. His parents came to the United States from China more than fifty years ago, spending their lives working in the sweatshop factories of New York City. At his investiture ceremony, Wong cited his mother’s tenacious spirit as a key force driving him forward.
“My mother, who had only an eighth-grade education from China, had but one dream, and it was that I would never follow in their footsteps and work in the factories of New York City,” he said. “Seeing what my family and my community experienced, I had but one dream: to become a doctor one day, to make a difference in people’s lives.”
The recipient of sixteen teaching awards since 2000, Wong also served for eight years as the associate dean for continuing medical and interprofessional education. In that time, he built a program that garnered a highly regarded joint accreditation that only a handful of other medical schools have achieved. Now associate vice president of clinical affairs for the UVM Health Network Medical Group, he’s working with colleagues from across Vermont and northern New York State to develop strategies for value-based care and population health.
His collaborative approach extends to his research career. For more than fifteen years, Wong has partnered with UVM Professor of Pharmacology Karen Lounsbury to identify new therapies for ovarian cancer and other gynecologic malignancies. Their work with a national nonprofit research organization has allowed patients seeking treatment through UVM to enroll in leading-edge clinical trials.
With compassionate patient care at the core of his work, Wong is helping to shape the future of medicine through his teaching and research.
Katharine Shepherd, Levitt Family Green and Gold Professor, photograph by Andy Duback
A GUIDE TO SPECIAL EDUCATION
by Kaitie Catania
Professor Katharine Shepherd G’85 EdD’97 jokes that she’s been at UVM long enough to see her various research and scholarship interests evolve over time. In truth, her thirty-three years at the College of Education and Social Services make her an expert in the special education realm and a fixture at CESS. As an alumna, faculty member, and associate dean, Shepherd says she is “deeply committed” to CESS and is honored to have been invested as the college’s first endowed professor through the Levitt Family Green and Gold Professorship in 2017.
“I’m very passionate about the ways in which we support families and students, and help them to grow and make sense of this very complicated system that we call special education,” she says.
As a former special education teacher herself, she admits that the various support systems required to effectively serve students and families with unique needs can seem like its own universe at times. “In the work I’ve done with families who have kids with disabilities, I’ve learned that families see the school as just one planet among many other planets. Families have doctors, they have physical therapists, they have recreational pursuits, and they have other children. The school is not their sun.”
At her core, Shepherd wants to ensure that these students have a high-quality pre-K–12 education and successfully transition into meaningful adult lives, reflective of their hopes and dreams. To that end, she strives to bridge the gap between the academy and policy. “I’m really interested in how policy at the state and federal levels plays out in relation to the lives of students with disabilities and their families. Our field is increasingly focused on conducting research and then disseminating our findings in ways that are meaningful and digestible to policymakers, so that we’re not just educating ourselves,” she explains.
At present, Shepherd is concluding a five-year grant funded by U.S. Department of Education to address the challenges posed by a shortage of high quality special education teachers. The project funds future special education administrators and faculty members who will support the next generation of family-focused special educators. “My personal view is that all teachers and leaders should care deeply about families, however it’s not always emphasized equally across all preparation programs,” she says. Shepherd has used the grant to fully support seven students through UVM’s doctoral program in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies.
Her ever-growing roster of research and initiatives also includes editing textbooks and journals about families and special education leadership, conducting research to help refugee families and their children with disabilities navigate the complex special education sphere, and collaborating with organizations and attending conferences that focus on improving teacher training and inclusive education policies, to name a few.
Her Green and Gold professorship provides Shepherd the financial resources and flexibility to pursue her policy-relevant work and continue adding new areas of interest to her research. “The Move Mountains campaign recognized that these various faculty endowments are really critical to the well-being of the institution, and they have a positive cumulative effect,” she says. “They bring to life good work that’s being done, they celebrate work that others may not know about, and they attract some of the nation’s best teacher-scholars to UVM.”