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September 2007 Archives

September 5, 2007

In the real world


The chronicles of inequity are stacked high at fourth-year Leo Gertner's seventh-floor office on South Michigan Avenue. With titles like "Criminal Justice," "Housing," "Transportation," and "Education," the binders on the city of Chicago's racial discrimination could be daunting, but for Gertner, a Human Rights Program summer intern with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA), the work is "delightful." Gertner helps compile the Chicago section of an alternative report to the federal government's U.N.–required biannual statement on racial discrimination. A national network of nonprofits, including the JCUA, will ultimately put together a final report to highlight details omitted from the official U.S. statement.

Through his work, Gertner "has been able to witness a lot," he says. "The job has put me in contact with people who are agitating to change their lives." He's met with neighborhood residents, community leaders, and nonprofit workers to gather information about racial discrimination. The job has also taught him to be "better at negotiating and more aware of people’s interests when trying to reach toward goals," says Gertner, who plans to pursue a career in human rights.

Chicago gives aid to students in their search for a future career, funding or organizing hundreds of internships. One of 32 Human Rights interns, Gertner appreciates the extra help. "It’s a real program, not just funding," Gertner says. "People support you along the way." With the assistance comes more responsibility. "The Human Rights Program added a lot of legitimacy, knowing that I’ve already been screened by human-rights experts at the University of Chicago," he says. "The internship comes with a lot of weight in Chicago. After three weeks at my job I had to break it to my employers that I am not an expert in human-rights law, despite my internship title."

Ethan D. Frenchman, '08

Photo: Fourth-year Leo Gertner works at the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs this summer.

September 7, 2007

Sweet, sweet study of the mind


At 11 a.m. Wednesday Liz Majka, AM'07, and Kylie Power, a MAPSS student matriculating in the fall, line up candy in the Reynolds Club lobby outside the C-Shop, readying tables to entice passersby into taking their social-psychology studies.

They both have their own studies to administer today; the reward for Majka's, who works in Chicago Booth professor Ayelet Fishbach's lab, is Hershey's Sticks, while Power, who works under psychologist Penny Visser, offers an array of candy bars. Neither can reveal exactly what she's investigating because if subjects knew in advance, the results could be tainted. Labs conduct research in the Reynolds Club once a week or so, says Majka. Usually it's preliminary work, but sometimes psychologists gather data for actual studies. Holding the surveys there, rather than in a lab, works if they don't require a "controlled environment." It's cheaper to hand out candy, she explains, than to shell out money to research subjects.

"One minute of your time for chocolate!" Majka yells at a student. She asks a few people if they are undergraduates, a prerequisite for completing Power's study. "I was an undergraduate before your dad even existed!" one man shouts back, an indignant look on his face. He won't be receiving any chocolate today.

Seth Mayer, '08

Photo: Kylie Power, who begins the MAPSS program next year, participates in Liz Majka's study.

September 10, 2007

Sons and brothers


“I talk too much,” Eva Fernandez, AM’82, a Basic Program instructor at the Graham School of General Studies, said during Friday’s poetry reading at the Chicago Cultural Center. Part of the First Friday lecture series, “The Taste of Copper: A Poetry Reading” departed from the series’ standard brand of lecture—more typically represented by Raymond Ciacci’s (AM’84, PhD’90) upcoming October 5 talk, “Is there a Form of Absolute Happiness?” Fernandez’s reading drew a crowd of new faces, said lecture coordinator Clare Pearson, AB’82, AM’01, who introduced the “long-time poet.”

Fernandez explained her poems before reading them to help the audience "receive the poems orally.” She grouped her works by topic, though they didn’t always fall neatly into her prescribed categories: poems about the body and about death; dream-like verses; good-love and bad-love poems; and poems about her family. A scholar of Old English and contemporary poetry as well as 17th-century English literature, Fernandez also draws inspiration from other writers’ forms and themes. “Sad Boy Collapsed,” written for her 10-year-old son Max, she said, is “strangely indebted” to Paradise Lost and Milton’s “insistence that Eden isn’t just a garden” from which Adam and Eve were expelled but an entire country where they lived. The poem begins with a disappointed boy who has grown too large to be lifted, but the tone later shifts: "The flat world is our Eden. Let’s go for a walk." In an untitled piece dedicated to her brother, she uses an English sonnet form—three stanzas of four lines, ending with a rhyming couplet: “What I wouldn’t give for one specific thing / That was his and now belongs to everything.”

Although the program ran slightly over its scheduled hour, the discussion continued after Fernandez stepped offstage; some audience members stayed to talk to the poet and each other. One of the first to approach Fernandez was one of her inspirations, Max.


Photo: Eva Fernandez reads her poetry in the Chicago Cultural Center's Claudia Cassidy Theater.

September 12, 2007

Goals in progress


Amid a crane’s low groans and construction’s hammering claps just south of Stagg Field, men’s soccer coach Scott Wiercinski orders his team to gather balls, mesh scrimmage vests, and water bottles at the start of Monday’s 2 p.m. practice. Huddling the team together, he asks, “Freshmen, what’s the team rule about e-mail? You guys need to check it at least once a day.”

Beyond inculcating the formalities of the four-day-a-week practices, Wiercinski focuses on bolstering the team's defense after its 2-2 start. Despite a 2-1 win Saturday, the team is still “operating at 70 percent,” he says. By the time practice ends, he hopes they are at 75 percent. But with another game Tuesday, he says, the team “can’t do that much physical work, so we’re focusing on defense and organizational issues."

He splits the team into two groups. Three players in each group grip blue scrimmage vests as the other players play Keep Away with the ball. “Focus on ball movement and your defensive positions,” says Wiercinski.

Ten minutes later, he brings the team together to demonstrate a drill aimed at breaking up a team’s offensive sweep. Half the players try to shoot the ball past the goalkeeper, while the others try to steal the ball and get it through one of two makeshift goals. “Left, left, left, right, right!” Wiercinski bellows, directing the defensive positioning.

After shifting to the regular field to scrimmage, then back to the practice area for a few drills, Wiercinski gathers the team together. “And we’re done,” says one player. “Not quite,” says Wiercinski, leading the team through yet another exercise.


Photo: The men's soccer team practices ball movement and defensive positioning during Monday's practice.

September 13, 2007

Children left behind


Author and education activist Jonathan Kozol arrived at Rockefeller Chapel Wednesday evening in a suit and tie, but by the time he took the podium a few minutes later, he'd shed his jacket and rolled his sleeves up past his elbows. "My heart is very heavy nowadays," he told an audience of mostly teachers as he launched into a 90-minute declamation against the No Child Left Behind Act. Instead of true learning, he said, the 2001 law focuses on pumping schoolchildren with "mini-chunks of amputated knowledge." Its strictures, Kozol said, have sparked the exodus of young, talented teachers from urban public schools and stifled classrooms with "protomilitary instruction." Standardized exams now often begin in kindergarten, he added, and teachers spend as much as half their time drilling students in test-taking. Faltering scores can mean punishment for both teachers and schools.

Kozol called No Child Left Behind less an attempt at education reform than a "shaming ritual to discredit the entire system of public education itself." He added, "Strict classroom rules and sanctions and threats won't make wizards out of bad teachers."

He did offer a few words of encouragement. His most recent book, Letters to a Young Teacher, recounts his correspondence with a first-year elementary-school teacher he calls "Francesca." Working in Boston—where Kozol began his own teaching career in 1964—Francesca resists "teaching to the test," and the book offers strategies, he said, for "how to rebel against the things teachers find abhorrent" while keeping their jobs.

Kozol is also pushing for solutions from Capitol Hill. Since July 4 he has fasted to protest the No Child Left Behind Act—during his talk he looked and sounded frail—and he has formed an advocacy organization to push legislators, in particular Senate Education Committee Chair Ted Kennedy, to change the law, which comes up for reauthorization this fall. Sign-up sheets for Education Action! passed through the audience as he spoke. "I don't want to be alone in this fight," he said.


Photo: More than 70 days into a fast protesting No Child Left Behind, Jonathan Kozol brought his case against the education law to a Rockefeller Chapel audience.

September 17, 2007

Light in September

Before the Maroons' first-ever night football game Saturday, the University saluted Bernie DelGiorno, AB'54, AB'55, MBA'55, who donated funds for Stagg Field's new lights and FieldTurf. At a late-afternoon picnic on the crisp, sunny day—ideal football weather—former student-athletes and athletes' parents joined Chicago administrators and DelGiorno's family and friends for hot dogs, hamburgers, and veggie skewers.

Director of Athletics Tom Weingartner noted that DelGiorno, a former student gymnast who's long supported Chicago athletics, "likes to brag that he's missed only one varsity football game since 1939." Weingartner jokingly called DelGiorno's bluff: Chicago dropped football from 1940 to 1968. "Still," he said, "to miss only one game since 1969 is a pretty remarkable record."

President Robert J. Zimmer presented DelGiorno with a replica of a plaque that now stands just inside the Stagg Field gate. His $5 million gift not only renovated the field—a project that began last November—but also helps offset costs for a new dorm and a performing-arts center. DelGiorno "appreciates the importance of these activities to our students," Zimmer said, "and has a very special passion for University athletics."

DelGiorno explained why both artificial turf and lights "made a whole lot of sense": the buoyant turf helps prevent injuries, requires no watering or mowing, and, made with recycled sneakers, is environmentally friendly. The lights, meanwhile, "effectively add thousands of hours of additional playing time" for both University Athletic Association and intramural teams to practice and compete. DelGiorno exclaimed, "Let there be light!"

A few football players, dressed for their 6 p.m. game against Elmhurst College, gave DelGiorno an official jersey and another surprise: he'd be an honorary cocaptain for the game and attend the coin toss.

Though the Maroons won the coin toss, they didn't fare as well in the game. Under the well-lit field, they fell to Elmhurst 36-13. Next week they host Macalester—in an afternoon match.


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Photos (left to right): At the picnic DelGiorno chats with President Zimmer and Chicago Initiative chair Andy Alper, AB’80, MBA’81; DelGiorno views the new plaque thanking him for his gifts; Chicago's first night game.

Photos by Dan Dry.

September 19, 2007

Sing out


At second-year Angie’s music-department vocal audition Tuesday, James Kallembach heard something that sounded a bit off. "I detect some north-suburbs 'aah' in your 'ahh'," said Kallembach, the University's director of choral activities. "Think like an opera singer." Angie, a University of Illinois transfer student, was the seventh to audition for the University's three vocal ensembles: University Chorus, the largest campus vocal group; Motet Choir, a smaller group that frequently performs a capella; and Rockefeller Chapel Choir, 30-40 professional singers and students who perform at Sunday morning services. The auditions began Tuesday and continue through next Wednesday, and Kallembach expects upwards of 200 undergrads, graduate students, and faculty and staff members to sign up.

After Angie sang the soprano line of a prepared song, "Never Weather-beaten Sail"—Kallembach had left copies of the piece at audition sign-ups—she moved to sight-reading. Placing a new piece on Angie's music stand, Kallembach then played a chord in E-minor and the first note. "Go as slow as you need to get the intervals correctly," he said.

At the end of the audition, Kallembach said that the results would be posted before noon next Wednesday. Because of Angie's sight-reading ability, he said, "Chapel Choir will probably be out." That group uses a standard repertoire; her talents would be more valuable in another ensemble.


Photo: Angie, a choral auditioner, sings for James Kallembach.

September 21, 2007

Accelerator slowdown


Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory’s Tevatron control room features mustard-colored metal panels sandwiched between monitors, computers, and telephones. The room, usually bustling with technicians scuffling amid monitors that showcase brightly colored graphs and charts, is empty. It's been abandoned since the beginning of August, as the Batavia, Illinois-based lab does the electrical maintenance, repairs, and upgrades impossible to conduct during the world’s largest particle accelerator’s standard 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week cycle.

Fermi plans to shut down the Tevatron in 2009, when the European Organization for Nuclear Research will open a particle accelerator seven times more powerful than the Tevatron. But first, Roger Dixon, Fermi particle-accelerator division head, says he is “trying to squeeze the most of the machine as possible,” namely by claiming a few more discoveries for the lab. The repairs will bolster machine-generated data, he says. “We’re improving the correction system, installing a new beam line, and improving the quality of our results."

The ten-week shutdown also has side benefits, giving the technicians who run the accelerator “time to breathe and see their families,” says Paul Czarapata, deputy division head. “They orchestrate the whole show," he says. "And because of that responsibility, I worry about their health and their families."

Come October 1, the Tevatron will run again and the room will return to its normal, semi-chaotic state.


Photo: The Tevatron control room operates the world's largest particle accelerator.

September 24, 2007

Dr. Maathai's neighborhood


Speaking Sunday evening to a capacity crowd at Rockefeller Chapel, Wangari Maathai received a standing ovation before she said a word. The Kenyan environmental activist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner came to Hyde Park, she said, with an urgent message: global peace depends on keeping the environment healthy. "Look through the world," she said, "and tell me one war we are fighting today that doesn't have to do with the access, control, and distribution of natural resources."

Born in rural Kenya, Maathai, 67, is a biologist and the first woman in east and central Africa to earn a doctorate. In the mid-1970s she began organizing Kenyan women—"In my part of the world," she explained, "they're the ones who deal with resources like water and food"—into what became the Green Belt Movement, a grassroots environmental organization that has helped Kenyan women plant, by Maathai's calculations, more than 30 million trees on farms, churchyards, and school grounds. In the last two decades, the Green Belt Movement has gone international. "The world is one," she said, citing in particular the problem of global warming. "We all live in this neighborhood."

Sponsored by the Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF), Maathai's talk was billed as an early glimpse at the two-week program, which runs October 27—November 11 and focuses on the environment. In addition, said CHF board member Karla Scherer and University President Robert J. Zimmer, who introduced Maathai, the talk demonstrated a strengthening partnership between the U of C and the festival, which will hold several events on campus and in Hyde Park.


Photos: Wangari Maathai argues that people need good governments to "allow them to protect the environment"; before and after Maathai's talk, listeners bought copies of her autobiography, Unbowed.

September 25, 2007



Doc Films has a Web site and an e-mail list. Last fall the nation’s longest continuously running student film society even tried selling season passes online. This fall, however, it was back to old-school cash boxes and pen-and-paper sign-up sheets, as local cinema fans lined up Monday night to see Passport to Pimlico and to plunk down $26 ($24 with a Spring 2007 pass) for the chance to see a film a night (two on Thursdays, except Thanksgiving) through the first Saturday in December.

"Is there any way you could mark it and give it back?" a gray-haired patron asked as she held out her Spring 2007 pass. "Because the number was 007, and I'm loath to give it up."

"I think I remember you buying it," the Doc volunteer responded. She then handed over a new, less auspiciously numbered bit of yellow cardboard with a shot of Margaret Sullavan—the subject of the Tuesday-night series—as she appeared in The Shop Around the Corner.

Like the membership cards, the Doc schedule follows a tried-and-true format. Each weekday night is devoted to a different genre. Sunday nights show William S. Hart, aka "Badass of the West," with films from England's Ealing Studios on Mondays. Tuesdays are Sullavan, Wednesdays are Kurosawa, and African director Ousmane Sembène and Mormon cinema, 1905-2007, share Thursday evenings. On the weekends, it’s time for "Doc’ed Up," billed as "a sampling of the latest releases, including summer blockbusters and lesser known gems," beginning with Judd Apatow's Knocked Up.

This reporter will be there, the proud holder of Autumn 2007 pass No. 030.


The Doc Around the Corner: Margaret Sullavan graces the film society’s Autumn 2007 pass.

September 28, 2007

New Kim on the block


At Wednesday’s Div School lunch, Kimberly Goff-Crews, the new University VP and dean of students, shared an alliterative agenda for her first year: “Pizza, policy, and procedure." While getting to know the University’s “very distinctive” culture, she said, she will also take in the city and its Hyde Park neighborhood; learning about the University's present and past will guide her in planning for the future.

Goff-Crews oversees 15 on-campus departments—including the Office of the Bursar, Campus Dining Services, and the University House System—that provide resources for Chicago's 13,000 students. The latest addition to her portfolio is Rockefeller Chapel. With the departure of former Chapel Dean Alison Boden this summer, the search is on for a "new, improved" campus spiritual leader, Goff-Crews said, who can build on the kind of support Boden provided for the community. Asking for input on "who it is we should be getting " and "what kind of spiritual community we should have"—regular communication between students and administration is a primary focus, she said—she turned the discussion over to the audience.

In the past few years spirituality and religious studies have been "bullied," a Div School student said. "We work in an environment of some hostility." Prayers are no longer a part of academic convocation, one man complained, and "the life of the mind" is valued more than spiritual life.

Few students, another attendee said, perceive the similarites between education and religion: "We approach studies as an ascetic practice." One's "discipline as a student," he argued, becomes a "spiritual and profound quest tying together different faiths." Both education and religious experience are transformative processes, a Div School student-services staff member said; the key is to explore how religion's vocabulary can apply to "larger University life."


Photos: Div School student staff members serve plates of penne, tomato, and mozzarella; Kimberly Goff-Crews seeks student input.

About September 2007

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in September 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

August 2007 is the previous archive.

October 2007 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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