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University of Rochester

University of Rochester

Alumni Gazette


Ted Piltzecker '72E: "Balancing," he says, "is an interesting place to be, a pleasant blend of danger and control."

Remember that guy on the unicycle at the Eastman School? Chuck Mangione '63E did at a reception earlier this year.

"I see Chuck and he yells, 'Hey Piltzecker! Still ride that one-wheeled thing?'" says Ted Piltzecker '72E. "It's the first thing anyone from Eastman ever asks me. It's never, 'How's the composing? How's the vibes?'"

Piltzecker is a professional vibist, composer, and professor at the University of Bridgeport. (A vibist, he explains, is a musician who plays the vibraphone, traditionally a jazz percussion instrument that is something of a hybrid between a xylophone and a marimba.) He has toured with pianist George Shearing, performed solo for Affiliate Artists, and traveled across the United States and Canada with his jazz duo.

Piltzecker was also the only non-Asian member of the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble of Tokyo on their six-week U.S. tour last spring. Taiko, he says, is an athletic-style of drumming performance. "The tour was a little unusual, compared to most jazz gigs. It was more like a rock concert. The all-Japanese audiences were wild and they knew the material. There was even smoke on stage, the whole nine yards."

Piltzecker entered Eastman as an education major, switching after a year or so to trumpet performance. "I didn't know what I wanted to do," he says on the phone from New Jersey. "I wasn't one of those focused people who know from age five exactly what they want.

"I had a vibraphone in my dorm room that I used to fool around with. I never had any formal training." Instead Piltzecker taught himself by playing the vibes in clubs around Rochester. "I had a superior jazz education at Rochester," he says. "Not just at the school, although that was certainly superior. But the musicians I met through playing in clubs around town taught me so much--I had a thorough unofficial education in bebop."

A new CD, Unicycle Man, is Piltzecker's latest studio production. Jazz Player magazine, in its review, called him "a composer/arranger and vibraphonist to be reckoned with."

"I love being in the studio," Piltzecker says. "You have the opportunity to have your own music done exactly the way you want it. And I love live performance. I need both in my life."

As his wife is currently working at the University of Nebraska, Piltzecker is a full-time father. ("I'm Mr. Mom.") Parenting his two daughters allows him some creative time. "I've been writing another album, sitting at the piano and picking it out." Plans are also in the works for some jazz performances in New York City and another tour with the Kenny Endo Taiko Ensemble.

In the liner notes to Unicycle Man, Piltzecker writes, "Balancing is a series of corrections. It is an interesting place to be, a pleasant blend of danger and control." So hey, we absolutely have to ask, is he still playing with balance by riding that one-wheeled thing?

"Every day," he says. "Today I used it to take my daughter's lunch to her at school."


Bankruptcy trustee Trudy Nowak '76: Trying to "get a fair shake" for everyone

Time was, when someone filed for bankruptcy it was a hush-hush affair. The neighbors (and customers and snoopy family members) mustn't know.

But nowadays, people even bring it up in chit-chat with strangers at parties. Among the recipients of such casual confidences on more than one occasion has been Trudy Nowak '76, who, as it happened, knew a lot more about bankruptcy than the confiders. As well she should: In her professional life, Nowak is assistant U.S. trustee with the bankruptcy court in Rochester.

"Stigma? What stigma?" she says. "It's just not the same as it was years ago."

Easy credit helps explain bankruptcy growth in an otherwise booming economy, she points out, although the usual cases resulting from divorce, medical bills, and unemployment still abound.

But more and more people--many of them middle-class, double-income couples--are in hot water with credit cards. Folks maxed out on as many as 20 different cards have become much more common in the 11 years Nowak has been in her job. In each of the past three years, she notes, bankruptcy filings, primarily Chapter 7 cases, have increased by 25 percent.

As trustee, Nowak is the one ultimately responsible for seeing that creditors get their money back--that is, as much as she believes is equitable for all involved. "I like to see that everybody gets a fair shake," she says. How she and the lawyers she supervises reach that determination involves a lot of research, mountains of paperwork, meetings with debtors, collectors, and attorneys, and, on Nowak's part, the teaching side of endless training sessions on the ever-evolving U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

A history major as an undergrad, Nowak became interested in legal affairs while taking a constitutional law class. (Among her favorite Rochester profs were Eugene Genovese and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, whose courses on Marxism created a "delicious, controversial stir" on campus.) After graduating from Syracuse law school in 1979, she worked in a number of firms, including an all-female practice she set up with two partners--a first in Rochester, she says.

Now that she has moved into bankruptcy law, Nowak likes to point out that it is not at all the snoozer most people might think. "What's fascinating to me is that there are always new issues. The law constantly changes and evolves. And there are so many things you have to bear in mind all at the same time."

On a personal level, what does she think about the explosion of cases of people cheerfully going broke? There may be a clue to be found in a recent business-journal profile reporting that she drives a 5-year-old Honda Civic, pays cash for practically everything, and has no debt except for the mortgages on her home and a rental property.

"I've gotten extremely conservative about my finances," she confesses.


Joyce Masur Buell '68 and Donny: "Parents know more about their child than anyone else."

Joyce Masur Buell '68 was doing errands with her son one day when they ran into the family dentist. The dentist, who had been seeing 4-year-old Donny for a couple of years at that point, spoke very slowly and loudly in greeting. As he walked off, a puzzled Donny turned to Buell and asked, "Mom, why was he talking so funny?"

"And then I realized that his way of speaking to Donny was totally inappropriate to my son's age and ability," relates Buell. "He really wasn't seeing and hearing Donny. He wasn't talking to a person; he was talking to his perception of Down syndrome."

Over the next several years, Buell and her husband Donald '67 crusaded to change perceptions of their Down syndrome child--especially the perceptions held within their local school system. There they battled to get administrators to view Donny and other handicapped children "not as special kids, but rather as kids with special needs," she says. For their efforts, the couple was honored with the 1994 Parent Award from The Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps (tash) in Illinois.

Today, Donny is a junior in a regular high school classroom; Donald is on the school board of Hindsdale (Illinois) High School District 86; and Joyce, whose shyness back in college kept her virtually silent in class, writes authoritative articles on raising a child with a disability and gives keynote presentations at conferences. Last winter, when tash held its international conference in Boston, she was invited to address the gathering.

Buell is a strong campaigner for "inclusion"--that is, for placing children with disabilities into regular classrooms. She has found, she reports, that isolating the students also isolates their families and, further, their special-ed teachers--robbing them of contact with much-needed real life experiences.

When the Buells first learned that Donny had been born with Down syndrome, they were devastated. Knowing nothing about the disability, she says, they accepted the path that seemed to be set out for their child. But as she watched him grow, Joyce, a former teacher, was struck by Donny's accomplishments.

"All the milestones--the standing, walking, and talking--were basically within the normal range," she notes. "He was healthy, he was beautiful, he was active, and he exceeded all our expectations."

But once Donny started school, the Buells came up against a label. "We were told, 'Your child can't do this or that because he's a Down syndrome student.'" Donny was placed in a special-education classroom, and over the next several years Joyce and Don grew increasingly uneasy about his segregated schooling. On meeting the parents of his four classmates, they were dismayed to learn that the school's "individualized educational plans" were the same for each child, despite differences in age, ability, and disability.

By the time he was 8, Buell was seeing behavioral problems in Donny. "He began to act out, and he had no normal role models in school to judge himself by," she says. "There was a deficit in his knowledge base, but he wasn't being exposed to the regular curriculum so the gap was widening." Donny's speech and vocabulary also were deteriorating, which Joyce attributed to his isolation from regular speech in the classroom. "But his teachers were recommending a hearing aid. Basically, the limits they were imposing on him were in effect creating a whole new disability."

Frustrated by so many Catch-22s, the Buells moved in 1990 to an inclusive school system in Oak Brook, Illinois. Here Donny was placed in a regular classroom. Within four months his articulation completely turned around, Joyce notes. "He didn't need a hearing aid in each ear; he just needed a regular kid in each ear," she points out in her speeches at conferences. And the boy who was expected never to learn to read can now quote lines from Romeo and Juliet in letters he writes.

When asked for advice to parents with a child with a disability, Buell looks to a poem she wrote when her son was 7 months old, "Fingerprints on My Heart." First and foremost, she says, "parents know more about their child than anyone else. Believe it and trust your instincts."


That was Michael Kanfer '80 waving his Academy Award in the air in front of millions the night the annual spectacle was televised earlier this year. Kanfer, who worked on the blockbuster movie Titanic, was one of four who won an Oscar for visual effects.

As Titanic's digital compositing supervisor, Kanfer was the one who made sure all the images--as many as 300 of them, filmed or computer-generated at different times and places--blended together seamlessly.

"A lot of that stuff you saw isn't really there," he confirms.

Just how high-tech and time-consuming Kanfer's work was can be read in the numbers: Titanic's special-effects budget totaled $40 million--yet it featured the effects in only about 30 minutes of the film's three-hour duration.

Fans of the movie likely will recall two scenes in particular that were pieced together by Kanfer and his team. In one, as the present-day Rose begins to reminisce about her stay on the ship, the camera zooms into the explorer ship's monitor and "floats" through the Titanic at the bottom of the ocean. The decayed remains gradually morph into the shiny, new 1912 ship, regal pride of the White Star Line, docked at Southampton. The water, the ship, the passengers, even some of the onlookers milling about the dock were all computer generated.

Later, Jack and Rose stand on the rail at the bow of the ship, their arms outstretched and the sun setting behind them. That's another scene full of illusions, Kanfer says, compiled from films of the actors (safely on dry land), the ship's prow, and the sunset. From that his team created the rest of the ship, put the actors on board, and adjusted the lighting--all with computers--for that one memorable shot.

"What I'm most proud of is that the work we do is seamless," Kanfer says. "The shots work in service to the story; they're not just done for the sake of a cool effects shot."

Kanfer's work on Titanic began two years before the film was released. Seven-day work weeks at the shop--and a new baby at home--eventually proved exhausting in the second year, he admits.

"Everyone sees the glamorous part of it, the Oscars and all that, but it's very exacting work."

Not that he doesn't love it. Occupying his plate when we talked with him was Armageddon, this summer's release starring Bruce Willis. He's also finishing work on a Cuba Gooding­Robin Williams feature, What Dreams May Come, due out in the fall. And a science fiction film, Supernova, will bear Kanfer's mark when it is released next spring.

"I'm doing what I've always dreamed of doing," he says. "The coolest thing in this whole experience is being pushed to your limits and knowing you could never have done any better."


Mary Steichen Calderone '39M (MD): she took on the mission of eradicating sexual ignorance among young people.

Flash back to 30 years ago, to the battle to give kids the right to know about their own bodies.

A yellowed magazine article from 1966, pulled from Mary Steichen Calderone's alumni file, brings back memories of that war between the left and the right. Under the title "Every Sixth Teenage Girl in Connecticut," the authors report on the unacknowledged prevalence of teen pregnancies at a time when sex education was a phrase only quietly whispered. Spouting such ignorant myths as the efficacy of soft drinks for post-coital contraception, the youngsters interviewed for the story were clearly uninformed about their sexuality.

Certainly this is no longer the case. If young people are ignorant still, it is not for lack of sex education programs. This metamorphosis can be attributed in large part to the efforts of Mary Steichen Calderone '39M (MD), a pioneering medical educator who in mid-century took on the mission of eradicating sexual ignorance among young people.

The daughter of photographer Edward Steichen and niece of poet Carl Sandburg, Calderone did her undergraduate work at Vassar, graduating in 1925. After a stint as an actress, a marriage, and a divorce, she went back to school, getting her medical degree at Rochester. Marrying again in 1941, she spent 12 years as a wife and mother. Then at 50--at an age when many adults are beginning to relax in their careers--she took on the job of medical director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Recognizing that ignorance was a primary cause of teenage pregnancy and imbued with the zeal of a missionary on the true path, Calderone went on to co-found the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) and to write a number of influential books.

Much honored in recent years, she is the recipient of a dozen honorary doctorates and is cited on (among a number of other "best of" lists) the World Almanac's list of "the 200 most influential people in the world."

To cap it all, she was inducted this summer into the National Women's Hall of Fame, along with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, poet Maya Angelou, astronaut Shannon Lucid, and Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. The induction ceremony, in Seneca Falls, New York, was one of a number of celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of the first women's rights convention at that site.

Calderone's path to respect and recognition was never easy: She has taken plenty of hits
on the chin for her views. A Quaker who sees sex simply as a natural part of God's plan, she was often criticized by conservatives for promoting sin. The John Birch Society, for example, called her a "sexual libertine."

"They have said I'm advocating sex," she remarked in a 1984 talk at the River Campus. "Sure I am! I'm advocating the basic sexuality of every human being, and the right to knowledge about it.

"But I'm not advocating free sex. Heaven help me, that would be stupid!"


Johns Hopkins' new dean of engineering Ilene Busch-Vishniac '76 and husband Ethan Vishniac '75: she once made her mark in the River Campus tunnels.

Baltimore tunnel-travelers, beware: The woman who just became dean of the engineering school at Johns Hopkins University once made a habit of bursting balloons and firing starter pistols (for research purposes, she says) in the tunnels under the Eastman Quad.

Ilene Busch-Vishniac '76 and her astrophysicist husband, Ethan Vishniac '75, recently packed up their two daughters and two dogs and left the University of Texas at Austin.

And whereas her work as a mechanical engineering professor at Texas used to leave her with a not-so-warm-and-fuzzy feeling--it was, in her eyes, an institution floundering under the weight of less-than-sympathetic regents and a penny-pinching state legislature--Busch-Vishniac now reports waking up each morning marveling at her good fortune. "I can't believe someone is willing to let me do this and pay me for it," she exclaims. "It's really a dream job."

In a world where academic couples often have trouble juggling their respective careers, the new dean confides that one thing that made the Hopkins post so dreamy was the plum position the school's physics and astronomy department offered her husband. "As astrophysicists go, Ethan's a real gem," she declares with pardonable--and justifiable--pride. "This is definitely a step up for him, too, and the physicists and astronomers are thrilled with getting him completely independent of the move by the engineering school to get me."

(If the Vishniac name rings a bell, there's good reason: Ethan's father, the late Wolf Vishniac, was a longtime member of Rochester's biology faculty and a leader in the early search for extraterrestrial life. The Vishniac crater on Mars is named after the elder Vishniac, who perished on an Antarctic research expedition in 1973.)

Busch-Vishniac has ambitious plans for her own new domain. "Hopkins is rising rapidly in the engineering arena," she says, "and I want us to be among those schools people think of when they think of engineering schools in the United States. I want us to be right up there."

To that end, this mechanical engineer intends to build bridges --with industry, with practicing engineers, with other Hopkins colleges, and even with other universities.

Not only is she a bridge-builder, she's something of a pioneer: one of fewer than 10 female engineering deans nationwide, and the only woman ever to head a Hopkins college other than the School of Nursing. But she doesn't get too carried away with that last bit. "I was hired for my competence, not my gender," she says briskly. "Believe me, if it were any other way, the bloom would soon be off the rose."

While many academics regard administrative positions with some disdain, Busch-Vishniac says she relishes them as a chance to make a difference. At Texas, for instance, she was associate chair of one of the nation's largest mechanical engineering departments, with 70 faculty members and some 1,000 undergraduates. (By contrast, the entire engineering school at Hopkins has just 1,500 undergraduates and 110 professors, and Rochester's own School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is smaller yet.) She's the current vice president of the Acoustical Society of America and former chair of the sizable Texas Faculty Women's Association, to name but a few of her other roles over the years.

In addition to her administrative smarts, Busch-Vishniac is known for her research and teaching, which have earned her such rewards as the Temple Chair in Mechanical Engineering at Texas and the highest honor bestowed by the Society of Women Engineers. She's among the world's leading authorities on electromechanical sensors and actuators and has a book on the subject coming out this fall. (Note to the electromechanically disinclined: Electromechanical sensors and actuators are devices that convert mechanical energy--such as sound waves--to electrical signals, and vice versa, much as happens at either end of a telephone line.)

Of late, including most of the past year spent on leave at Boston University and MIT, Busch-Vishniac has turned her research interests to the highway noise barriers that are built to spare local residents the maddening drone of freeway traffic.

Existing barriers, as their neighbors can tell you, have had mixed success. That's mostly because it is nearly impossible to accurately gauge a design's sound-absorbing properties until it's actually been installed alongside a roadway--at a cost of 1 to 2 million dollars a mile. Busch-Vishniac and her collaborators now believe they've found the answer to road noise: randomly varying the height of the barriers, which in effect breaks up the sound waves. So if a noise barrier resembling a jack-o-lantern's dental work soon pops up on a highway near you, part of the credit will rest at Busch-Vishniac's feet.

In an odd way, her interest in highway noise evolved from an interest in piano music as a Rochester freshman. ("I've had a very checkered career," she concedes.) She began her life in higher education as a River Campus­based music major. But her career path was early deflected by a freshman preceptorial on the physics of music, wherein she happily realized that she could combine her love of music with her love of science. She ended up a physics/math dual major, and did her senior thesis on the decay of sound in irregularly shaped spaces--such as the aforementioned River Campus tunnels. Those who attended Rochester in the mid-'70s may recall being startled by some of Busch-Vishniac's protocols for this research, which was inspired by her observation that, except for those with exceptionally acute hearing, it's awfully difficult to hold a conversation in the tunnels.

Busch-Vishniac says that when she went for her first interview at Hopkins, she immediately felt "strangely at home" on the campus, even though she'd never set foot there. "I called my husband to tell him, and he pointed out that it was probably the physical similarity to Rochester," she says. "He was right, and it's one of the things I like most about Hopkins--it's so reminiscent of the River Campus. I feel like I already know it."

No word yet, though, on whether Hopkins has an underground tunnel system.

Contributed by Steve Bradt, Sally Parker, Helene Snihur, and Kathy Quinn Thomas

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