Alternative break seeks hope for Haiti

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For spring break 2015, seven University of Rochester students and their professor spent a week in Haiti. The trip was part of a course called Achievement and Motivation in Developing Countries (CSP 365) taught by Dr. Andrew Elliot from the Department of Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology. The class had a unique composition of students with majors in psychology, business, engineering and microbiology; additionally, three of the students were of Haitian descent.

Unlike conventional, top-down, project-focused aid, the goal of this trip was to speak directly with and learn directly from the Haitian people in order to fully understand the barriers they encounter with regard to education. The specific area of interest was Borgne, a rural village in northern Haiti. In Borgne, the group stayed at a hospital partnered with Rochester-based organization Haiti Outreach Pwoje Espwa (H.O.P.E). Ultimately, the group was striving to discover ways to work together with local educational leaders to promote positive, sustainable change in the community.

Of the many memorable moments that occurred during this trip, the realization of global economic disparity was perhaps the most jarring. After the second night at the H.O.P.E. Hospital in Borgne, the group woke before dawn and traveled to the village of Tibuk.  From there, they embarked on a day-long 13 mile expedition into the Haitian mountains to meet teachers and students at schools in remote, rural villages. The stark contrast between the schools located in these far-flung Haitian villages and the typical American public school was shocking. The first school that the group visited consisted of a pair of small tin shacks crammed full of children sitting upon poorly constructed wooden benches.

The vast majority of attending students lacked access to reading material, and the school was unable to provide books to every student due to limited resources. In talking with the children, it became evident that none of them had seen a computer or even knew what a computer was. Some students trekked through the mountains for over an hour each day to attend class.  Many children yearned to pursue high school and higher education, but were severely limited in doing so by financial restrictions.

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“This trip opened my eyes to something that I had only understood in theory. Seeing the conditions of the schools made me realize that there is other work I could, and should be doing,” said junior Simone Arnold ’16. This encounter touched everyone deeply, and was the foundation for the student’s reflections throughout the week.

During the week, the group met several community leaders in Borgne and was especially moved by one local entrepreneur: a woman by the name of Rosie.  “Rosie is a vivacious, generous woman who is well into old age. She regaled the group with stories of creating fishing ponds, harvesting crops, crafting satchels and baskets to sell to visitors, and caring for not only her mother, but also five other young men in the village by housing them,” said Professor Elliot.  A religious woman, she stated that everything she does for her village is only done because God wills her to remain in this world instead of succumbing to old age. “If there are any limits to human ability that are wrought by old age, Rosie certainly shatters them. She showed the group how human potential and effort are limitless, and how unrelenting generosity is vital in our actions.”

The group’s time in Haiti was a culmination of new experiences. For some, it was an opportunity to travel outside of the country for the first time.  One of the students on the trip had never even been on an airplane before!  For others, the trip offered the novel experience of living in a developing nation and seeing a community that lacks access to electricity and irrigation. For three students, this was another visit to a country that was once called home.

While each person saw Haiti through different lenses, the collective purpose  of the group was the same. “We were not there on a mission trip or to build homes or to otherwise find a way to ‘fix’ Haiti. Rather, we were there to learn,” said Professor Elliot.  The group came to immerse themselves in Haitian culture and to seek to understand the frameworks through which the community develops by talking with and getting to know those living in Borgne.  Each person strived to put aside the common biases of Haiti as a desolate, impoverished nation that the American media portrays and instead listened, observed, and learned about the complex hardships that many Haitians face.

Aside from the harrowing adversity that the group observed, they also saw a side of Haiti that is rarely portrayed to the American public.  In addition to the aesthetic beauty within the country, they saw how steadfast, generous, and selfless many Haitians truly are. When the students struggled to descend the mountain on their hike to rural schools, it was school teachers who took them by the arms and guided them down the steep, rocky mountains, risking their own safety to protect those of strangers. The group interviewed community members who dedicated their time and energy to providing resources towards education and health care for their fellow villagers.  Giving back to the community was a common theme among those that the group had the privilege of meeting.

“Haiti is a nation that gives pause to all who witness the extreme beauty and humanity of the country being contrasted with the hardships of poverty,” said Maximilian Brimmer ’17, a psychology major.  “To have the opportunity to see how people in different cultures live, laugh, and struggle is so powerful because it drives us to enact real change in the world.”  The team left Borgne feeling a mixture of inspiration and challenge.

Emily Greenwood, a PhD candidate in Social Psychology was moved to question what can be done to bridge or mitigate such economic disparity.  “Witnessing the daily struggle of intense human poverty has left me feeling awe, heartbreak, and frustration. This powerful experience leaves me with the weighty question: what can and should I do, in order to be more than a mere spectator to human suffering?” asked Greenwood.  Discovering answers to these questions is a process that will take time, and the first step to enacting any sort of change is having the willingness to listen, learn, and experience from the point of view of those who understand the complex issues firsthand.

While there is a lot that can be done to help those in Haiti, there is much that must first be learned. Thus, as the students settle back into their familiar routines in a country that provides endless opportunities, they want to keep these difficult questions circulating. These students also want to challenge anyone who will listen to ask themselves these same questions. Until the answers are discovered, they will hold fast to the emotions that they felt while visiting Haiti in the hopes that, one day, these emotions will translate into action.

Building fun with UR Makers

By Bob Marcotte
University Communications

Chris Smith has been taking things apart and putting them back together again since he was eight years old.

“For Christmas I got an air compressor. Most kids get an Xbox,” he joked. “It’s always been hands on for me.” Now the freshman in Mechanical Engineering is sharing his skills with fellow UR students as a member of – and mentor for — a new club on campus.

The goal of UR Makers is to bring together engineering, arts, and sciences students who like to design and build things – and want to learn how to use a variety of tools as they do so. Not for a class. Not for credit. Just for the fun of it.

Their playground: The fabrication lab in Rettner Hall, with its state-of-the-art 3D printers, brand new Smithy 3 in 1 drill/mill/lathe machines, and plenty of space to spread out in, accessible 24/7.

“We think there’s a real opportunity here to fill a niche that’s not currently filled,” said club leader Sarah Harari, a junior in Computer Science and Digital Media Studies. “There’s no other space on campus where students of different majors can really work together to build whatever comes to mind.”

The club, still in its first year, has already sponsored:

  • a “retro tear down” event, during which members took apart an aging computer monitor and other obsolete equipment donated by the University.
  • a mouse trap car race night
  • tech talks on a variety of topics.
  • Lego Robotics Night
  • an Arduino Workshop
  • 3D Modeling and Printing Workshops

Currently, club members are finishing up a cabinet with shelves and a plexiglass sign with the club’s name, illuminated with LED lighting. They will be displayed in the space UR Makers has been assigned in a corner of the lab. It is part of the club’s effort “to get our name out there,” Harari explained.

“We want to have multiple projects going on, that students can work on during the week (the club currently meets 4-6 p.m. each Sunday),” Harari added. “We want them to feel this is a space where they can come in and bounce ideas off other students and meet with people who have different skill sets.”During a recent Sunday meeting, everyone got a chance to use various tools.

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For example, Lia Klein, a sophomore in Computer Science, wielded a dremel tool to etch the outline of the club’s name in the plexiglass sign. She had never used a dremel before she joined the club and received a 45-minute introduction to basic tools and safety with Jim Alkins, Rettner Hall’s Senior Laboratory Engineer who formerly headed a machine shop, as part of Research and Development at Kodak.

“I didn’t really even know we had something at the school where you could use all the power tools for free and come in whenever you wanted,” Klein said. “And I feel like they’re really treating us like adults, which I appreciate.”

She hopes that, after working on a few projects with UR Makers, “I might gain the confidence and ability to do some projects on my own, and build stuff for my dorm room.”

In a nearby room, Steven Broida joyfully exchanged high fives with Caulin Nelson as the freshmen in Mechanical Engineering successfully cut notches in the cabinet, then fit shelves into them. This was Broida’s first experience using a power saw. “I’m learning as I use it,” he said proudly.

UR Makers is open to students of all majors and interests, regardless of experience. Click here to learn more or e-mail URmakersclub@gmail.com

Red Paperclip Challenge: Sparking Entrepreneurial Interest

A collaboration of student groups, led by Spark Entrepreneurs, hopes to inspire a spirit of creativity and ingenuity on the River Campus with an upcoming competition.  The Red Paperclip Challenge, also supported by Susan B. Anthony Hall Council, Alpha Kappa Psi Fraternity, Undergraduate Finance and Economics Council, and WRUR, intends to push students to create innovative outcomes from meager beginnings.

The competition was inspired by Kyle MacDonald, a young man who obtained a two-story farmhouse through a series of fourteen online trades, starting with just one red paperclip.  MacDonald’s entrepreneurial stint evolved into an internet company that promotes business ventures and social adventures with unconventional trajectories.

Spark Entrepreneurs, the hosting group, is a community of students with interests in entrepreneurship and business innovation.  The group provides internal, educational events that helps its members grow and learn as young entrepreneurs. They also schedule social events to network with those who are outside the group. Spark also hosts community events with the goal of improving the skills of existing entrepreneurs and exposing the campus community to the culture of startups.

The Red Paperclip Challenge aims to spark innovation and creative problem solving on campus.  It hopes to promote a new understanding of entrepreneurship, assuring that students of all majors, interests, and backgrounds are welcome to participate.

The event is set to begin at 6:00 pm on Friday, March 20 in the first floor atrium of Rettner Hall.

Students can enter as individuals or as a group, with a maximum of four people per team. The challenge is to start with a single red paperclip and explore its entrepreneurial possibilites for 24 hours. Participants will document their trades on Twitter and then present them to a panel of judges on Saturday night.

Dean of Students Matthew Burns, Director of Rettner Hall George Ferguson, Susanna Virgilio from the Center for Entrepreneurship, and Bob Tobin from Simon Business School will serve as mentors and judges for the competition.The winning three teams will take home a $300 cash prize, and all participants will celebrate with free food and a live WRUR DJ.

For more information, visit the Spark Entrepreneurs website.  For pre-registration, visit the event page available on facebook.

Senior honors thesis breaks barriers

“Family, Professors, and society are pressuring you to do well [in college], whatever that means, but from ages 18 to 22, you’re also developing tremendously; the brain doesn’t stop developing our behavior until age 25. This is a very crucial part of our lives, but no one talks about it.”

Marz Saffore ’15 sought to rethink convention and challenge the status quo with her senior honors thesis show, “Erasing Hierarchies.” Saffore said, “I wanted to create a space where people felt they could talk about [differences], but not feel like they were alone in talking about it… I created a project where everyone was talking about it.” As one of the subjects of the film, attending the premier certainly prompted me to reconsider many of the ideas I previously had about the way I interact with others. Based on the reactions of those in the audience, this reaction was widely shared. Overall, “Erasing Hierarchies” was a keen-eyed tour de force; a window into what deeply unites humanity in spite of our external differences.

According to Saffore, seeing last year’s honors senior thesis show, by Lauren Blair ’13/T5, inspired her to undertake one of her own. Blair revived the program’s honors track, which involves taking three extra classes in the Art and Art History Department, and writing a 15-page paper, in addition to the honors thesis exhibition. Saffore decided the summer after she saw Blair’s show to switch onto the honors track. “In the summertime, I emailed my adviser,” Saffore recalled, “I told her, ‘I want to switch over, right now!’ Then I did, and as of right now, the honors program is officially revived; there’s someone else in the Class of 2016 who’s doing it.”

Saffore had some experience in digital media production from her work on a similar film chronicling her experience with Art New York, as well as from coursework.  During her semester in New York City, she honed her interview style, and learned to use b-roll, or stock footage. Assigned to make a podcast about her experience, she decided to include a visual element, and produced a short documentary about how four students “all come together and actually have a cool, meaningful semester, besides the whole surface level thing.” Returning to Rochester last fall, she wanted to use the same skills to show how students at the U of R are all striving for fulfillment of the same basic needs. A psychology minor, Saffore recalled Maslow’s hierarchy as a useful framework for organizing her film.

“Erasing Hierarchies” consisted of clips from 53 interviews with undergraduates from various walks of life.  These clips were edited together and displayed on a three-panel screen. Saffore consciously sought to maintain thematic unity, yet juxtaposed interview clips from students representing different positions within the same societal hierarchies. Another important guiding principle was to stay true each students’ experiences by accurately portraying their genuine emotions. Structurally, the film was organized into eight segments; each centered around one representative student, with smaller segments interspersed. This style created an attitude that all the film’s subjects were more similar than different, and many were going through the same fundamental struggles, whether they realized it or not. According to Saffore, it was difficult to edit out 99% of each of her 50+ 45-60 minute interviews, to a final length of 30 minutes, but the results truly speak for themselves.

The premier was followed by a Q & A session with the artist and a reception at the Sage Art Center featuring two performance art pieces. The first was an opportunity for the subjects of the documentary and audience members to interview Marz, asking her insightful, revealing personal questions which were all caught on camera, just like the interviews featured in the film. The second was a dance party. This reporter truly enjoyed it, and would highly recommend a trip to Sage Art Center to see an exhibit including the film, and various production notes and full interviews.

Native Hawaiian navigates oceans, scholastic success

Isaiah Pule ’18 is used to navigating oceans, but this semester is his first opportunity exploring the waters of collegiate life. Traveling almost 5,000 miles away from his home in Waianae, Hawaii, the freshman Film and Media Studies major brings with him a passion for movies and a penchant for overseas navigation.

Back home, Pule is a member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a group that researches and practices methods of traditional oceanic travel. The Polynesian navigation system makes use of traditional double hulled canoes comprised of wood, rope, and tarp. It has been used by Hawaiians for thousands of years to sail around the world without the use of modern technology.  “They would use the stars, the suns, the waves, and the currents to help find their destination,” said Pule.

Growing up in an unstable environment, Pule found a home in the ocean through the Voyaging Society. “Through my youth, I never really had a father figure. My biological father is incarcerated. My mother, from the Marshall Islands, found difficulty attaining a job,” he said.  Pule was even homeless for parts of his early childhood and was eventually placed into foster care.  For Pule, voyaging served as an escape.

In his time with the organization, Pule has traveled between the islands of Hawaii and has even gone on voyages into deep ocean territory. He has met amazing people, among them being Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, through his boating voyages. Getting a chance to talk to both men after the program invited them to bless a canoe in preparation for a voyage, Pule noted that it was amazing to share in their positive energy and amazing life stories.

The Polynesian Voyaging Society provided Pule with many opportunities, one of them being the chance to meet Jonathan Burdick, the U of R’s Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid.

Pule’s journey to Rochester began the summer before his junior year when he met Dean Burdick at College Horizons, a pre-college readiness program for native students around the globe. The two found common ground in their mutual interests in astronomy and navigation. This encounter motivated Pule to participate in the U of R’s Multicultural Visitation Program, which gave him his first glimpse of his future campus.

After an interesting admissions interview on Halloween, where he was dressed as Superman, Pule was welcomed to the Class of 2018 as a recipient of the Renaissance and Global Scholarship, as well as the Alan and Jane Handler Scholarship, both of which are awarded to incoming students for outstanding academic merit and strong potential for leadership.

A first generation college student, Pule is glad to be given the opportunity to pursue higher education. Growing up with the struggles of homelessness, foster care, and delinquency, he is thankful for the support of teachers and family that helped to push him towards a more diligent and success-oriented mindset.  He is likewise grateful for the scholarship opportunities that have made his collegiate experience financially feasible.

“The college route is a path that opens up so many doors and opportunities, and I’m excited to create a better future for myself,” he said.  As both a Handler and Renaissance Scholar, he hopes to lead by example and inspire his peers and future students alike to continue on the path to being “ever better.”

Pule’s love for movies has led him to pursue a degree in Film and Media Studies. Many of his favorite films such as Gridiron Gang, Remember the Titans, and Freedom Writers resonate with the personal struggles of his past. He hopes to one day make movies that can portray the same themes of hope and success that inspired him growing up.

His favorite movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, is one of his largest inspirations. “It proved that the idea of starting from the bottom and making a life for yourself is more than just a dream,” said Pule.  “I want to make a movie like this that can inspire someone to make a change. And just to have fun along the way.”

Pule looks forward to his time at Rochester as an opportunity for growth. “I want to be a leech and take in all that I can. I want to learn about different cultures and share my own, representing who I am and where I came from.”

With plans for a lengthy trek from Hawaii to Australia already in the works for next summer, Pule is excited to return home to Hawaii.  It will be his longest and most challenging voyage yet.  In the meantime, he’ll have to focus his energies on navigating the tunnel system in preparation for the coming winter.

Lauren Bailey: Star Swimmer is a Shark in the Classroom

Lauren Bailey, a senior majoring in chemical engineering, was one of 10 University scholar-athletes recognized for their abilities “on the field” and in the classroom.

Bailey, from Ossining, NY, holds the University records for the 100 butterfly, 200 butterfly, 200 freestyle, 200 individual medley, and is a part of all the record-holding relay teams.

During the football team’s season opener, she and nine other athletes were presented Garnish Awards during a halftime ceremony. Bailey said she was nervous at first to go out to midfield and accept the award in front of the whole stadium of football fans. “It was definitely never-racking,” she said. “It was a huge honor though. My whole team came out to support me, which was really nice of them. It was super exciting!”

The Garnish Award program was created in honor of Lysle “Spike” Garnish, who consecutively served as an assistant coach for the University’s basketball, baseball, and football teams from 1930-1948.

According to the Athletic Department’s webpage, “Friends of Rochester Athletics, through an alumni committee, reviews nominations of students from varsity teams who have achieved at a high level in both their athletic and academic pursuits through their junior year. From these nominees, a small number are selected as Garnish Scholars.”

It’s definitely not easy

Bailey, who has a GPA of 3.87, says that balancing athletics and academics is “definitely not easy. But I think if you’re really passionate about both things—I really like chemical engineering, and I really like swimming—but I think it’s also about time management,” she said.

“For me, I do homework with a group of people or with my friends, so it makes it more enjoyable. Plus, I don’t really dread doing homework, so that definitely makes it easier to work with other people.”

During her senior year, Bailey says one of her goals is to have fun this season. “I’m really not going to put any pressure on myself,” she claimed. “I want to do well, obviously, but I also want to make sure that I’m really having fun. This is probably the last year I will swim competitively on a college team where we all share a common goal.”

Bailey’s best advice to student athletes? “Don’t stay up too late the night before you have practice in the morning.” According to her, “Mainly you’re here at the University to do well in school and succeed.”

Another important piece of advice Bailey offers is to prioritize, and “make sure to realize when you’re struggling to balance school and swimming, or school and any sport that you’re doing, because you don’t want your academics to slip. Don’t take on too much, though, because it can be a really rigorous schedule, and you want to make sure you have free time to enjoy yourself still,” she says.

In her time here at the U of R, Bailey has taken many classes, but the one in which she learned the most was the chemical engineering class, Reactor Design. Bailey says “It’s a really important class, because it has so many applications with so many jobs, and I think it’s really important to understanding what’s going on. It was definitely challenging, since we did a lot of coding with MatLab, and I’m not excellent at that.” Starting from the most basic reactors, the class covered many fundamental chemical engineering concepts.

This year, the senior says that instead of stressing about swimming times and tests, she wants to “have a good time, and make sure I’m getting done what I need to get done…but I’m definitely going to enjoy myself.”

As graduation gets closer, Bailey says she’ll start looking for chemical engineering positions, and at some point, she may consider getting an MBA.

By Joe Bailey and Monique Patenaude

Digging Into Bermuda’s Slave Past

When Anima Ghimire’s history advisor recruited students for an archaeological dig in Bermuda, Ghimire instantly responded, “I’m on board!”

During the summer of 2013, Ghirmire, a double major in neuroscience and history, joined a four-student team and Professor Michael Jarvis for a five-week course excavating Smith’s Island, one of the earliest known settlements in Bermuda.

Jarvis has been working summers on the 60-acre island since 2010. The dig concentrated on what has come to be known as the “Oven Site,” named for the several stone ovens at the location.

The Oven Site is believed to be the remains of Boaz Sharpe’s house. Sharpe settled on the island in the late 1600s, and remained until his death in 1707. Sharpe’s household included nine Native American slaves, most likely from South Carolina—two older couples and their children.

The introduction of slavery to Bermuda—and especially the role of Native American slaves—is important to understanding the history of slavery in the Atlantic World.

“I didn’t really appreciate how important archaeology was until I did it,” Ghimire says.

Sifting through evidence

Excavation of the site has revealed a chimney, hearth, and several ovens. The team also uncovered hand-shaped chert flakes that had not been found in Bermuda before.

“Dr. Jarvis had an inventory that suggested these people lived there,” Ghimire explains. “But then we found evidence that this was, in fact, where Boaz Sharpe lived. We found chert stone flints that only Native Americans used.

Identifying the Oven Site’s original occupants was a major milestone for the hard-working team.

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“Most of the time we dug—and it was a very meticulous process. It took us five weeks to dig five feet down,” Ghimire says. “And you can’t really use a shovel. You have to use a trowel because it’s very delicate work.

“Dr. Jarvis is really, really chill and awesome, but when it comes to archeology, he’s very organized and systematic,” she says.

“We found was a lot of fish bones. A lot, a lot, of fish bones! We also learned they kept cats,” Ghimire says.

“And there was a lot of pottery, and that was important. For example, there is a specific kind of pottery that was only made during a 30-year period. So it kind of tells us what the time period was when people settled in the house. There were a lot of clay pipes—the size of the bowl tells you when the pipe was made,” Ghimire says, explaining that the bowl sizes changed along with the fluctuations in tobacco prices throughout the 17th century, making it easy to date the artifacts.

“You can learn about people in class, but you can’t really experience what they were doing firsthand until you get to do archaeology,” she says.

Every little bone

“What was good about this year was that we got a lot of local Bermudians to volunteer. It was awesome. We had all age groups, and they were really enthusiastic. They came back everyday, so that was awesome!
“Bermudians are so chill. We talked a lot about their lifestyle, how they grew up, and their customs,” she says.

“They were really excited to find every little bone. I was too . . . at first. Then it’s like, ‘here’s another fish vertebra!’ But Dr. Jarvis never got jaded. He is so enthusiastic.”

“We were always afraid of finding human bones,” Ghimire confesses. “There was a circular area within Sharpe’s trash site that was big enough to fit a man—like a grave. And Jarvis was really reluctant to dig it, because if there was a body then we’d have to stop the dig, call in a forensic team, and everything would come to a halt. But, luckily, it was just a natural depression in the soil layer.

“It didn’t feel like five weeks, it went by so fast. It’s a six-credit course—though it didn’t seem like I was doing a lot of work because it was so much fun.”

Sharper skills

Even though Ghirmire is on a pre-med track, she says studying history has helped to her hone skills that are important to her success in medicine.

“History is a passion. It teaches me how to think, and how to see the world,” she says.

“History in college isn’t anything like it is in high school. It’s not about remembering dates. It’s about finding evidence to support why something happened. I just love that aspect of it. And now I like archaeology, too.”

Archive project links history and computer science

Senior Luke Kortepeter came to college on the pre-med track, but a class project in the library’s archives turned him into a computer science and history double major.

He’s been working on the Seward Family Papers digital history project for two years. Students involved in the project take Professor Thomas Slaughter’s history class on the family of William H. Seward, and also transcribe and digitize letters from a collection in the Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation department of  Rush Rhees Library.

“This spring we focused on the family correspondence,” says Kortepeter. “It’s a whole new primary resource that hasn’t been utilized yet.

He says the 15 students in the class spent the spring on letters from 1862. Once digitized and online, the papers will be more accessible, he says.

After four semesters working on the project, Kortepeter knows a lot about the Sewards. “I must have read 500-1,000 letters so far, and it’s awesome,” he says.

“We have thousands of letters covering a sixty year period. We are going through every single one,” he says. “And that’s really cool for me, actually, knowing that you’re the very first person reading the letter since it was first read.”

Bad handwriting

kortepeter_280 The project is expected to go “live” in the spring of 2015. Kortepeter and his classmates are racing to get as many letters transcribed, annotated, and digitized as they can before the project’s debut.

That said, the process requires keen eyes and a good understanding of the Seward family’s historical context.

In addition to serving as Secretary of State under President Abraham Lincoln for two terms, William Henry Seward was the Governor of New York and a US senator. He also negotiated the purchase of Alaska from the Russians for two cents per acre—a purchase many considered foolish at the time.

Just reading the letters can be a challenge. “Since the handwritings on the letters are pretty awful for the most part, we are transcribing them—once you get used to it, it’s not as bad,” Kortepeter says.

“And, we are also annotating them. The user will be able to read the transcription right next to the digital image, and if they see a name they are interested in, they can click and it will say who that person was.

Teen diary

“Having been with the project for a while I’ve read basically everyone’s handwriting. It’s definitely interesting to see how different they are.

“Fanny Seward’s is very curly—beautiful handwriting—and she loved writing about her daily life,” Kortepeter says. “She’s a teenager at this time, and so you can see how she’s growing up and how the world is changing so much around her.

“She’d have fine descriptions of gentlemen, and will talk about things as basic as their jawline and how it curves perfectly. And so it’s very interesting to read—I mean, it’s her diary. She wasn’t expecting anyone to be reading it,” says Kortepeter.

Finding personalities

“Then on the opposite end of the spectrum, we have William Henry’s wife, Frances, whose handwriting is awful.

“It’s up for debate how ‘into’ the whole political thing she was in terms of supporting him,” says Kortepeter. “Some historians say that she wasn’t very supportive and it was a pain for her to have go to these conventions
with him. But,” he says, “we are finding that might not be true.

“She would go to Washington, DC, and say how awful it was and how she had migraines the whole time. And how at social events she would go, but then sit in a room by herself.

It’s “really cool” to pick up on people’s personalities in the letters, according to Kortepeter. “A lot of these resources weren’t available, so when [researchers] only had a snippet of letters and she’s angry in every single one of them, then you’d say ‘yeah, of course, she’s angry and hates her husband’s career,’” he explains.

“But when you see these other letters and she’s so passionate about slavery—she hated slavery—or just her opinions about political scandals at the time, it just really shows she was interested, and she definitely had opinions about what was going on.

“The DC social life wasn’t for her. She found it incredibly stressful. Especially since her husband was so incredibly social—it was hard to live up to that,” Kortepeter says.

‘I have no desire to be a doctor’

Kortepeter, who started out doing pre-med, says the Seward letter project “has definitely changed my college path completely.

“I had been doing premed stuff all through high school—I worked in labs, both my parents are doctors, and I figured, ‘yeah, sure, I could be a doctor, too.’ And that winter break of my freshman year, I followed a surgeon around for a little bit, and I was just… ‘I hate this—I have no desire to be a doctor.’

“Then I floundered around a little bit, trying econ. I took a history class with Professor Jarvis, and my freshman writing teacher worked with Slaughter and said, ‘Why don’t you talk to him, he’s my favorite professor—and just take a class with him’? And I was like, ‘okay, sure.’”

Kortepeter says his parents had different reactions to his change in plans.

“My father was excited for me to explore my own thing. My mother was confused because I was always so sciencey—all throughout high school,” he says. “All my AP classes were in science.

“It was very new to me to go into a history class. I came here because I know it’s a strong science school,” Kortepeter says, “and then ended up studying something totally different.”

He says his two majors complement each other. “Usually with computer science I’ll do my projects, but I don’t really get to apply it. Like, I can only make Tetris so many times,” he says with a laugh.

“With this, I really get to be on both sides of the project: I get to do the history things and work with the letters, but then as a computer science student, I am also working on the website and the database—helping with everything, really,” he explains.

“It was the perfect project for me.”

Laptop Orchestra brings creative fusion to the Fringe

If your body was an instrument, what would it sound like? This is one of the questions that David Heid ’13 attempts to answer with the Rochester Laptop Orchestra, an interactive exhibition that blends art and science.  The event, featuring two performances on Thursday, September 18th and Saturday, September 20th, is one of many showcases at this year’s Rochester Fringe Festival.

Inspired by performances at Princeton and Stanford, Heid’s computer-based compositions explore the ways that the digital and electronic sciences can intersect with music.  “This one’s different in the sense that it’s more interactive,” he said. Heid’s exhibition will allow the audience to be a part of the musical experience. The Laptop Orchestra promises to provide a multimodal, interactive experience that showcases the breadth of creativity and innovation that the University of Rochester has to offer.

Heid believes that the project well represents the focus of his studies of music education and electrical and computer engineering.  A former dual degree student at Eastman and the River campus, he is now a second year masters student pursuing a degree in musical acoustics and signal processing.  In many senses, the creation of the Laptop Orchestra is a fusion of Heid’s dual interests and various talents by showcasing the combination of music and engineering.  “Music has never felt academic enough for me,” he admitted. “This is a nice way to blend it in a way that it can be.”

Instead of conventional instruments, the “orchestra” makes use of computers and motion sensing controllers used by undergraduates to generate sound.  One piece involves a dancer from Ballet Performance Group creating sound through movement. Through a Wiimote and gesture recognition technology, dance moves are translated into music.  A similar piece allows a dancer to generate pre-recorded sound bites from the Yellowjackets according to specific steps on electronically wired tap shoes.  Another performance brings in the Plank Road North Elementary Drum Ensemble creating a composition of pre-recorded vocal percussion.

Heid’s event is just as interactive as it is collaborative, which differentiates it from the earlier digital orchestras.  One segment of the performance allows an audience member to control the rhythm of the piece through the use of a hacked Bop-It.  Another allows the audience to decide the progression of a musical landscape as produced by the campus Carillon Society.

One of the more personal pieces involves mapping viruses to music. Using data from translated genomes, Heid created compositions that function as musical representations of HIV and ebola, among other illnesses. Last spring, Heid was quarantined after the measles outbreak, which was an experience that put a strain on his academic momentum as a grad student.  Instead of viewing it as a setback, he used the experience as an opportunity, working with an epidemiologist to create the virus-themed pieces.

While the Laptop Orchestra is in many ways the apex of Heid’s academic career, the show is not entirely about him; the project actually brought in the knowledge and talent of over 40 different students. “I know I’m not an expert in everything, and that’s why I brought these people in,” Heid said. “At Rochester, we do great things in every discipline. With the Laptop Orchestra, we can do those things together.”

Proceeds from ticket sales will go to RocMusic collaborative, which offers classical and instrumental music lessons to children in the downtown Rochester area. Getting a musical start in Pennsylvania through a similar program, he hopes that this early opportunity program can provide children with the same access to the arts.

All in all, Heid hopes that the performances will bring attention to the many possibilities that music has to offer in the modern world. “There’s not a lot in the industry that tries to blend stuff like this; I want to get people thinking.” With the Rochester Laptop Orchestra, he’s sure to do just that.

The Rochester Laptop Orchestra will have two shows on Thursday, September 18th at 6:00PM and Saturday, September 20th at 2:30PM at the TheatreROCS Stage at Xerox Auditorium.

STEM Initiative Grows to Promote Science Education

By Rei Ramos ‘15
University Communications

A new student organization is hoping to sow the seeds of science throughout the Rochester community.  Dubbed the STEM Initiative, the group focuses on motivating and inspiring young students to pursue education in the “STEM” fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

“Our focus is giving students STEM education at an early age,” said Jenny Yoon ‘16, a microbiology major and one of the organization’s co-founders and current co-president. The group promotes and provides opportunities for science education by offering after-school workshops at area schools that are hands-on, interactive, and free. Making use of undergraduate volunteers, the STEM Initiative’s programming is based on student-created lesson plans. In this sense, co-president George Iwaoka ‘16, who is pursuing degrees in cell and developmental biology and financial economics, views the student group they have created as a grassroots organization that hopes to instill positive change at a local community level.

The duo, both graduates of Bergen County Academies in Hackensack, New Jersey, consider themselves fortunate for their heavy exposure to STEM fields before coming to college. Continuing on at the U of R, a leading school in both STEM education and research, Iwaoka and Yoon found the lack of educational outreach for the sciences problematic. The current substandard state of Rochester area public schools, coupled with the national decline in literacy in scientific fields, motivated the pair to create the group.

Since its initial inception in the fall of 2013, the group has evolved from a small volunteer effort to an organization recognized and funded by the Students’ Association.  Originally funded out of the pockets of its early members, the group has since grown to be able to offer regular biweekly workshops at a local school, complete with funded lesson plans and engaging activities covering subjects ranging from basic physics to computer programming. These structured workshops are planned by students and made possible through the weekly contributions of undergraduate volunteers.  The STEM Initiative currently has 36 student volunteers that have contributed to planning and teaching.

This past spring, STEM exclusively offered workshops at Adlai E. Stevenson School No. 29. “It’s not the best school in terms of math and science,” said Iwaoka.  Located in the 19th ward, School 29 ranks among the lowest in test scores in the state.  They were also cut from the list of schools visited by the university’s Partners in Reading program. The diminishing educational opportunities at this school prompted the STEM Initiative to focus its efforts there.”The kids are really bright,” said Yoon. “It’s great to see that they don’t see themselves as ‘too cool’ for science.”

One of the organization’s first efforts in event programming also turned out to be one of its largest successes.  On April 14th, the group sponsored its first Family Science Day, a free and public science fair.  STEM brought together science-affiliated student groups, area youth, and their families in the Munnerlyn Atrium of Goergen Hall for an interactive and educational experience.  Garnering support from science and engineering associated student groups, Iwaoka and Yoon were able to offer the local community a chance to explore and experience science firsthand.  The event included demonstrations and experiments from campus organizations such as Engineers Without Borders, MERT, and the Baja SAE Team among others.  Drawing in more than 300 attendees and partnering with 23 different organizations, the event was successful in its community outreach and showcase of the sciences.

Looking at the coming year, Iwaoka and Yoon aim to increase the STEM Initiative’s presence in the Greater Rochester Community.  “We really want the Rochester business community to be involved,” said Iwaoka who views the group as a potential liaison for science education.  With Rochester as a leading hub for optics, the group believes that involvement from area companies would open doors for event programming on a larger scale.

That’s not to say that STEM isn’t doing enough on its own to expand.  With more anticipated funding from the SA Government in the fall, as well as through an upcoming Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, the two co-presidents hope to see the group grow to offer more workshops at other area schools and bigger community programming with plans for a “STEM Olympics” that will function as an interactive field day for science.  They also hope to branch out to inspire additional chapters at other universities.  Iwaoka aspires to see the group broaden its influence at a national level in the coming years and similarly hopes to see its message spread abroad.

Through all the responsibilities of starting and developing a student organization, the pair views their work in the past year as worth all of the stress.  “It’s really fun, and the kids are eager to learn,” said Yoon in regards to their workshops.  To her, one of the best parts of this experience has been making personal connections with students.  Similarly, Iwaoka finds value in seeing the impact that the organization’s efforts have made and is excited that he may be helping to produce the next great leaders in the STEM fields. “Somewhere down the line, our work can inspire a young student to pursue a career in science, and that in itself is rewarding.”