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Five Questions for Grace Spatafora

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Grace Spatafora is the Given Professor of Biology and Pre-Medical Science.

1. You tend to invite a lot of students to join you in your research. How is this symbiotic relationship mutually beneficial?

I am committed to providing as many students as I can with an opportunity to engage in research first-hand, but only if they express a genuine interest in the research process and can articulate why they choose to explore microbial pathogenesis as their research topic. This year I have 8 guys working in my laboratory, all committed to better understanding how Streptococcus mutans, an oral pathogen, reaps havoc in the oral cavity. The students benefit by committing to a senior capstone experience that could earn them graduation with distinction, a chance to communicate their research findings at a professional meeting (this year’s meeting will be held in New Orleans, LA), and the opportunity to contribute to the published literature (one of my student’s work recently made the cover of the Journal of Bacteriology). I benefit from the students’ hard work which moves the research along in a way that continues to earn major funding from the National Institutes of Health, and by being able to showcase undergraduate research at national meetings. I also get to watch these students grow as independent researchers and problem solvers, some of whom go on to pursue research careers of their own. What could be more gratifying?

2. If you were an organelle in an animal cell, which one would you be and why?

I’d be the nucleus for sure. I guess you could say that I like to control things….not in a bad way though. I don’t consider myself to be at all bossy or a control freak…but given the opportunity I do like to take charge of a situation and manage it so as to ensure the best possible outcome. Second place would go to the mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, since I am rather “energetic” in the classroom where I have been known to “walk like a bacterium” and mimic Z-DNA.

3. Which living person do you most admire?

This is a tough question. I’ve given this some thought and I’d have to say it would be Christiane Amanpour, former Chief International Correspondent at CNN and current head anchorwoman at ABC News. Christiane’s work over the years as a journalist has included direct coverage of the Persian Gulf War, the Bosnian War, the Siege of Sarajevo, Hurricane Katrina, and most recently Egypt’s revolution in Tahrir Square. She is seemingly fearless of reporting the news from areas of great conflict, not to mention the many exclusive interviews she’s conducted with world leaders from the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. She isn’t a two-time recipient of the Peabody Award for nothing! This is not to say that she isn’t a controversial figure in the world of news casting; indeed she is. But in my view she holds strong to her convictions. She is committed to telling the truth and giving all sides of a story equal coverage. I have always thought that in another life I’d come back as a journalist, and if this were the case, then I’d want to be Christiane Amanpour.

4. Last year, the American Association of University of Women released a report about the challenges girls and women encounter in studying and working in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). This is a complex issue, but what is one thing that STEM programs could do to attract and retain women?

I think one of the most important things STEM programs could do is see to it that only the most outstanding science and math educators are hired into our elementary and secondary schools. Our teachers need to make math and science more approachable for both boys and girls. I had fabulous teachers in grade school who made learning in these disciplines fun! STEM programs also need to bring more flexibility into STEM careers so that women won’t be penalized for taking time “off” to have children.

5. You teach courses in cell biology, microbiology, molecular genetics, and microbial pathogenesis. What sparked your interest in studying structures invisible to the human eye?

Well, if you were to ask my Microbiology students they’d tell you that I became a microbiologist because you can’t hear the bacteria scream when you place them in the autoclave! But seriously, I was a young scientist in training just as the genetic engineering revolution was getting underway. At that time, bacteria were the workhorses of genetic manipulation. But then in the early ‘80’s emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases took center stage and bacteria regained their identity. I guess you could say that I was in the right place at the right time….a time when everything was about microorganisms…and not only about how they can make us sick, but how they make the world as we know it. Let’s face it, without microbes, we would not be here.

Five Questions for James Davis

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

James Davis is an associate professor of religion whose main interests include religion in the public square, church-state issues, the Puritan legacy in American culture, and contemporary bioethical debates. Beginning on February 1, he will add a new line to his title: Assistant Provost.

1. Decorum dictates that one should never talk about religion or politics, but you talk about both in your recently published book, In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues That Divide Us. How can the average person discuss political or religious matters without degrading the conversation?

With all due respect for the dictates of decorum, we can’t help but talk about religion and politics if we are going to be engaged public citizens. I don’t think the topics themselves degrade conversation; quite the contrary, talking about them in a forthright way enriches our public discourse. But the secret is in how we talk about religion and politics. To me civility requires that we engage in public conversation with patience, integrity, humility, and mutual respect. If we hold to these virtues, we’ll be able to discuss even these sensitive subjects fruitfully.

2. It’s no secret that “The West Wing” is your favorite television show. However, that show has been off the air for several years. What are you watching these days to take its place?

My favorite TV show right now (and perhaps of all time) is Sons of Anarchy. It’s an amazingly scripted drama about an outlaw motorcycle club in California that runs guns but also keeps its hometown, Charming, relatively peaceful and free from drug traffic. As an ethicist, I love a show like Sons that features morally gray characters as the protagonists, forcing you through the power of the narrative to root for people that society says are bad guys. As a motorcycle enthusiast, I love all the Harleys.

3. A Religion Department alumna looking up midrash in the library wants to know: if you could practice any religion for a day, what it would it be and why?

If I could pick a religion to practice for one day, it would be the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I know it holds the Truth, because I found it on the internet (http://www.venganza.org/), and as we all know, everything on the internet is true. Besides, I am naturally attracted to a religion that allows me to combine food and devotion. My own Christian tradition has a meal at the center of its liturgy, but overeating the body and blood of Christ is frowned upon. In the graceful eyes of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, everyone is entitled to seconds. So for one day I’d like to be a Pastafarian. May we all be touched by His Noodly Appendage. Ramen.

4. We’ve seen your hair styles range from near-buzz-cut to borderline-mullet. Why so much change? Do the different styles express changes within yourself, perhaps?

I have been prone to radically shifting hair styles, which I think reflects an allergy to the status quo. I get bored easily, and sometimes the best way to inject change into one’s life is to cut one’s hair. But I strongly reject the suggestion that I have ever had a mullet (at least since high school). The American Mullet Association has strict standards governing the length of hair required on the top and back of the head for a mullet. My barber has flirted with those standards but has never met them. Not that I would look bad with a mullet if I chose to don one; I am from Appalachia, after all.

5. What natural gift would you most like to possess?

I don’t know what counts as a “natural” gift, but I really wish I could play the guitar. I know there’s a blues singer in me, but I can’t find a band. If I could play the guitar, I wouldn’t need one, and my night life would improve significantly.

Five Questions for Carl Roesch

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Carl Roesch is the manager of 51 Main, an eclectic social venue where people can come together for music, conversation, art, and food.

On January 28, we will be profiling James Calvin Davis, Associate Professor of Religion.  If you would like to ask James a question, please send your submission to vpadmin@middlebury.edu.  In February, James will become Assistant Provost.

1. What do you find to be most rewarding about your work at 51 Main?

Knowing that I have been a part of something unique to the area and making it work, and also that Middlebury is now host to an eclectic group of people whom I would not have had the opportunity to  meet unless I worked at 51 Main.

2. You have lived and worked in many places around the world. What is your favorite location?

This is a difficult choice. I have taken away many different experiences from many different places that have each in their unique way contributed to my career and growth as an individual.  But  that feeling you get when you are in another country and you know you are someplace else would have to be Turkey.

3. As we send you these questions, there’s a blizzard raging outside. So, what’s your favorite thing to do in the summer?

Be outside. Swimming.   I can stay in the water for hours.  I also like hiking with my wife and dogs and now baby Violet.

4. 2010 was a big year for you: you and your wife welcomed your first child, Violet. What are you looking forward to in 2011?

To just enjoy every parental experience by watching my daughter learn and grow.  She is amazing.  I notice something new every day. My sister is expecting her first in March so 2011 is pretty huge for my whole family.  I wish for good  Health and Wealth for 2011 and beyond.

5. If you could only eat one 51 Main menu item every day for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

“Poutine.”   It probably wouldn’t be very good for me health wise, but it is just so good. Fries, cheese curds and brown ale gravy–it just sounds good.

Five Questions for Gary Margolis and Karl Lindholm

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Gary Margolis  is Executive Director of Counseling and Associate Professor of English.  Karl Lindholm is Dean of Cook Commons and Assistant Professor of American Studies.  Both are Middlebury graduates from the class of 1967.

1. You have worked with literally thousands of students over the years.  Is there one student experience in particular that stands out for you?

Gary: How often our students, with support, humor and goodwill, can move from despair to resiliency.

Karl: It’s a tie between (1) the night of Winter Carnival in the 80s when I went to the Slug barn to help Public Safety (then Campus Security) close down a frat party at 2:00 a.m. that was infuriating its neighbors and when the house president said over the band’s microphone that the Dean was here and he says the music has to stop all in attendance chanted, “F___ the Dean!” and poured beer on the Campus Security officer- and (2) the occasion on a cold snowy Saturday morning of another Winter Carnival weekend when Dean of the College John Spencer and I called in an enormous earth mover (from a nearby construction site) to destroy the obscene snow sculptures (anatomically perfect) in front of the DU house first and then the Chi Psi house next, the earth mover rumbling up Main Street amid the cheers of the frat boys bedecked in bathrobes and u-trou. Ah the good old days. Then there was the raft race on Otter Creek, and the demo derby in front of one of the frat houses, and, oh yeah, the time Erica Wonnacott and I . . . .

2. What is your all time favorite Middlebury College sports memory?

Gary: If memory affords me: beating Plattsburgh in triple-overtime on their rink and driving home in a snow storm; winning our first lacrosse national championship at the University of Maryland and driving back to Midd with Mickey Heinecken; bus rides with my basketball teammates; seeing Karl on the mound.

Karl: April, 1965, Middlebury 5 - RPI 1, in baseball, the one good game I pitched in three years. Went the route, all nine innings. After the game, my new college girlfriend Anne and I went with friends down to Green Mountain Park in southern VT and enjoyed the thoroughbred races at that time  – that was a good day.

3. In one sentence, what advice would you give a newly arriving first year student?

Gary: Asking questions of your professors and deans is a strength; keep the phrase, “progress not perfection” close to your heart.

Karl: Work hard; have fun; enjoy your friends; make new ones; don’t drink too much; spread out; grow; relax; take a deep breath; enjoy your surroundings (love those semi-colons – one sentence!).

4. What influence have students had on your style as an advisor and counselor?

Gary: To listen carefully for what is said and unsaid. To being open to the unique experience of each student and the wisdom they bring.

Karl: Are you kidding – a short answer? My job(s) has been about students. I have enjoyed my constituencies. My limitations have been in administering systems. I like it when students talk to me. I try to listen and respond honestly.  At the outset, I remember what I felt as a student and what I needed so I have tried to be someone that I might have been able to talk to then, who I might have listened to, who didn’t condescend, but who leveled with me, and seemed to enjoy students, and life, who had some enthusiasm for the enterprise.

5. What is the most significant positive change you have seen at Middlebury since you graduated from the College in 1967?

Gary: That as the “Strength is in Our Hills,” it is also in the changing landscape of our contemporary students, from across the country and around the world, and in the ways they urge, require us to take each background and way of life into account.

Karl: The increased diversity in the student body, which has been the hallmark of the school’s effort and concern in all the years I’ve been here.

Five Questions for Missy Foote

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Our guest this week on Five Questions is Missy Foote.   A member of the Athletic Department for more than thirty years, Missy currently serves as Director of Physical Education, Senior Women’s Administrator, and women’s lacrosse coach. 

Our questions come from a variety of sources, including the women’s lacrosse team.

On December 3, we will be profiling Gary Margolis (Executive Director of Counseling; Associate Professor of English), and  Karl Lindholm (Dean of Cook Commons; Assistant Professor of American Studies).  If you would like to ask Gary and Karl a question (or two), please send your submission to vpadmin@middlebury.edu.

*****

1. You’ve coached a number of sports during your career at Middlebury. If you had the chance to coach a sport which you haven’t yet coached, what would it be and why?

Since I’m a wanna-be Nordic skier, I would love to coach that sport. Of course, the problem is that I know nothing about Nordic skiing from a coaching standpoint, but I do love that the sport demands that the athlete be in great physical shape while also focusing on the intricacies of both classic and skating technique. I think it would be a fun challenge to figure out how to best prepare athletes in those ways. Besides, without a doubt Nordic ski coaches own the best gear!

2. For what fault do you have the least toleration?

Seeing someone with lack of passion might be the thing I have the least tolerance for. It probably boils down to the fact that I like being around people who simply say “yes” to more things than “no”, and who live their lives with intention, willing to dig in to see the possibilities of most situations.

3. How do you think athletics contribute to the overall culture of Middlebury?

Whether for the spectator or for the participant, athletics gives one the chance to lose oneself in the simplicity of an arbitrary goal. For Middlebury students, where intellectual pursuit can sometimes feel all absorbing, athletic events can draw people into the joy of being physical or the commonality of rooting for ones classmates towards an uncomplicated end.

4. What’s your favorite childhood memory?

My dad was a Navy pilot for the first 16 years of my life, so my family moved every 3-4 years while I was growing up. I loved living in different states and making new friends wherever we lived, but I especially loved the constancy of visiting my grandparents in Alabama for summers and holidays. Those days seemed endless, filled with the ways of the old south; gathering for big mid-day dinners, making home made ice cream, sitting on the front porch on hot summer nights listening to the grown-ups talk, water skiing and fishing on the lake, and walking on endless stretches of deserted beaches on the Gulf.

5. What do you think about when you run? What’s your favorite run near/on campus?

I think about NOTHING and EVERYTHING at the same time when I run! The reason I love running so much is that thoughts float in and out during the course of the run. There is no conscious effort to choose a topic, or solve a problem, but inevitably by the time the run is over the problems have diminished and my outlook is always more positive. And, what is my favorite run? That’s easy. It’s Chipman hill. It’s a playground with all kinds of possibilities and challenges, and I always feel so good when it’s over!

Five Questions for Barbara Hofer

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Another week, another installment of the new Five Questions series. This time around, the Middlebury Campus Editorial Board posed questions to Professor of Pyschology Barbara Hofer, who recently co-authored The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up. Many thanks to them both for taking the time to craft questions and responses.

But before we get to Barbara’s reflections, I would like to announce that the next Five Questions subject is Missy Foote, who is the Head Coach for the Women’s Lacrosse team and the Assistant Director of Athletics for Physical Education. I turn to you, Across Campus Readers, for questions. Send them to vpadmin@middlebury.edu. We’ll pick the best five.

*****

1. You spend a lot of time working with and studying adolescents—what is your most awkward adolescent story from when you were growing up?

I grew up on an island and at 14 I got a job as a clerk at the local beachfront convenience store. Amazingly, the law said that 14-year-olds could sell beer – and check IDs. There I was, barely tall enough to see over the counter (ok, I was a bit bigger than that), checking IDs of sailors, surfers, party-goers, and everyone else who thought they could pull a fast one on a kid. I was very good at spotting fakes, but it was often a very awkward moment when I denied adults. I quickly learned to be assertive and authoritative at a young age!

2. In your professional opinion, what is the one technological development that has changed the transition into adulthood the most, and why?

The cell phone, since the advent of unlimited calling plans. College students are able to stay constantly connected to their parents, and if not used well, the phone can become an electronic tether. In our research, the students in the most contact with their parents were the least autonomous and self-regulating. College is a time to learn to develop some independence, while remaining closely connected to parents, of course, but in a healthy way. Daily calls just make it too easy to process everything with parents and to get advice about all sorts of problems and decisions students once resolved on their own or by seeking support from college resources.

3. You’ve been at the College since 1998. How have Middlebury students changed since then?

In many ways, not at all. For me it has always been an enormous privilege to teach such remarkable students who come to class prepared, interested, curious, eager to learn – even at 8am this semester.

I have seen increasing numbers of students in the psychology department interested in research and that has been a true pleasure. I could not have done much of my research without the kind of teams I’ve had, and it has been fun to work together toward common goals, and to see the kind of problem solving skills students bring to this work. I treasure the opportunities I’ve had to develop research projects with students who have such energy, focus, creativity, and commitment. The most positive change in my time at Middlebury has been the increase in the diversity of the student body and that has immeasurably improved the campus and enriched the learning/teaching experience here. One of my roles is as a cultural psychologist and I am deeply appreciative of how different it is to teach here now than it was just 12 years ago.

However, I think as Middlebury has become increasingly selective, we draw more students who are highly perfectionistic, and focused on grades. That sometimes has troubling consequences when they see their role as “doing school” and have perfected the process but have less interest in real learning, don’t take intellectual risks, and are too focused on the next rung in the ladder of achievement. I’m impressed by what I’ve heard about the proposal some students are drafting for a pass-fail option and think it could help students venture into new areas without the usual fears of failure (even though “failure” is sometimes defined as a B+). I hope as a community we can continue to think about ways to keep making this the best educational environment possible – and that means much more than just a place where students “succeed” academically.

4. If you had 140 characters to give a message to Middlebury students, what would you say?

Take time for reflection and contemplation. Don’t pull out the cell phone as a defense against being alone with yourself.

5. How did your relationship with your children as they went through college compare to your relationship with your parents as you went through college?

I went off to college on my own and my parents, busy with my younger siblings, didn’t even visit. I think I felt like an adult from the day I left home, and I was treated like one. We were much closer than this sounds, however, as my mother actually wrote me every single day of my first year of college. I still have her letters in a box. We only talked by phone rarely, as calls were quite expensive then. When my kids went to college, we were more connected and I saw them fairly often, visiting frequently, and we talked by phone about once a week. They both graduated just a few years ago – but before the current trend of parents and kids talking all the time. I think the progression of our relationships was quite similar to my own with my parents, in that we stayed connected and close but I tried to support their developing autonomy as emerging adults. The big changes in communication seem to have happened not between my generation and theirs but in the last five years, surprisingly.

Five Questions for Ronald D. Liebowitz

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

I am indebted to Mackenzie Beer ’12 for suggesting that I use this blog to profile members of  the college community.  Readers of Time will recognize the format—though five questions seemed more reasonable than ten—and I thank Mackenzie and the other editors at MiddBlog for sending me these questions, which we’ve put to Ron Liebowitz.

The hope is to run this feature on a weekly basis.  Wish me luck in staying organized enough to get this done on a regular basis.

*****

1. If you could have a picnic on any roof of any building on campus, which would it be?

Assuming all the roofs were flat and could accommodate a picnic, I would have to go with Mead Chapel.  The view from there would be superb, and the inscription on the building, “The Strength of the Hills is His Also,” would resonate more deeply than from the ground level.

2. If you could change the Middlebury mascot into any mythological beast, which would it be?

A hard one, since as far as I can tell, all beasts were conquered/killed by one of the gods . . . but having said that, I guess the Middlebury Minotaur (man’s body, bull’s head) might be the best of the lot: the Middlebury Minotaurs has a nice ring to it (and the our uniforms would be something to see).

3. Due to competitive admissions at liberal arts colleges, there is a common sentiment that creative and athletic pursuits are merely gimmicks for a resume, and less substantial skills in the spectrum of learning.  How would you challenge that assumption?

I would invite anyone who believed such nonsense to come to any one of the many lunches that Jessica and I host at 3 South Street and just listen to our students.   Just last week, we had 26 captains of our varsity sports teams for lunch, and that lunch alone would dispel that “common sentiment.”  Likewise a lunch earlier this month was with the student board of the Old Stone Mill, and that lunch, too, would debunk any such sentiment about “creative and athletic pursuits” being “mere gimmicks.”  What creative and athletic engagement offer liberal arts students are things that benefit one for life.

4. What are you most excited for this month?

Thanksgiving, a holiday focused on family that I have always loved; and, the beginning of (ice) hockey season, my favorite spectator sport.

5. Who is your favorite US president?

Another hard one, and between two predictable ones: Lincoln and Kennedy.  I will go with JFK, perhaps, on balance, for sentimental reasons more than any other (for who could not identify with and admire what Lincoln did, and when he did it?).  But I select JFK because he was the first president I remember.  I remember him winning the election, remember the Cuban missile crisis and the confidence he inspired in the country, and remember his assassination and watching the emotional funeral procession, and remember his meaningful challenges to the American people, including the goal to improve science and put man on the moon by the end of the decade (the 1960s)—which he did.  He represented a huge generational transition from the post-War 1950s, and gave the country great hope and energy, even if his list of accomplishments was short because of his brief presidency.