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September 2008 Archives

September 3, 2008

Service desk


La Rabida Hospital family help desk, Sarah speaking. Lorenzo, how are you doing?”

Sarah Grusin, ’10, regularly answers the phone this way during her summer Project HEALTH shift, Fridays 12:30-4:30 p.m. Her usual desk partner isn’t here this week, so she’s grateful for any visitors. Grusin has a caseload of 12 clients, who call her with problems such as finding a job and making use of government resources like food stamps. She gets new clients through phone calls, she says, and occasionally hospital patients visit the help desk.

Grusin joined Project HEALTH (Helping Empower, Advocate, and Lead Through Health)—a national organization in which students, “mini-social workers” in her words, connect low-income hospital patients with services for food, housing, and jobs—last year. The U of C branch began in fall 2006.

Lorenzo’s “was the most tragic story I’d ever heard,” Grusin says. The first person she spoke with on her first solo shift after completing training, Lorenzo told her his wife and son had been killed in a car accident a few months earlier, he was trying to obtain legal custody of his stepson, and he’d lost his apartment. Grusin worried, “I’m going to screw up your life and you’re getting evicted and I don’t know what to do.”

“It’s still terrifying,” she says, but “it’s actually difficult to make things worse for people.” None of the terror comes through in her voice as she congratulates Lorenzo on obtaining a job and recommends that he add his stepson to his food-stamp card instead of taking out a new application. She apologizes because it means a trip to the state Department of Human Services—she knows clients dislike the office, where many complain that they don’t get to see anyone even when they have an appointment.

Grusin hopes to continue with Project HEALTH—which has around 50 volunteers who work weekly two-hour shifts at three neighborhood locations, though her summer shift is longer—during the school year, but she may have to cut down on her hours to make time for coursework. She searches apartment listings for Lorenzo, fills out paperwork to refer him to a lawyer for his being denied his Social Security, and puts everything in an envelope. “Some volunteers are big on making all the calls for people,” she says, but she prefers to give people information they can use as their own starting points. “We don’t have to be a filter for them.”

Shira Tevah, '09

September 5, 2008

A junkyard to call our own

At the corner of 61st and Blackstone, the campus steam plant looms. The huge brick edifice powers the air-conditioning and heating systems of dozens of campus buildings. Even over the summer, when the plant works at a lower capacity—AC requires less steam than heating the buildings in subzero temperatures—the adjacent block buzzes with activity. Students in a Blackstone Bicycle Works workshop ride up and down the street, customers frequent the Backstory Café, and green thumbs work in the community garden.

But behind the steam plant, in a small field overgrown with wildflowers and weeds, the buzz of the street is replaced with calm. The field is empty of people, but full of a strange assortment of materials they once used—fences, pedestals, crates. Once a coal yard for the steam plant, the field now serves as a storage space for leftovers campus treasures. Two Bucky Schwartz sculptures previously installed in front of Woodward Court sit there, says campus planner Richard Bumstead, as well as “remnants from campus buildings that have been demolished,” or pieces of still-standing buildings removed for “various reasons.”

Some of the works eventually make it back to campus. According to Bumstead, the marble fountain that now decorates Hutchinson Courtyard “was crated and stored for years in the yard until the Class of 1990 selected the renovation of the fountain as their class gift.” Other materials behind the steam plant will not be so lucky.

Rose Schapiro, '09

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Photos (left to right): The steam plant stands next to the garden on Blackstone; the former Woodlawn Court sculptures; building materials from campus; a fence is grown over with weeds.

September 8, 2008

Summer reading, Chicago style

At Chicago, summer doesn’t mean a break from learning. In late August, three undergrads around campus pored over books as they waited for classes to resume in fall quarter.


Justin Shelby, '10
Where: Studying at a table in Hutchinson Commons.
Reading: The Iliad
Shelby spent his summer on an epic task—tackling Homer in the original ancient Greek. He’s reading it “for fun and also for research.” As part of a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, which supports summer academic projects, he is “researching syntax and morphology…formal correlations within the system of Greek and Latin and Hittite.”


Sid Branca Cook, '09
Where: Working at Ex Libris, the Regenstein basement coffee shop.
Reading: Words on Mime (Mime Journal) by Etienne Decroux
Cook is preparing for her BA. “I’m doing physical-theater performance, so I’m reading up on types of theater that I’m interested in.” A theater and performance studies major, Cook’s thesis will include both a performance and written critical analysis. She spent part of her summer at Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, Massachusetts, training and learning.


Ben Linsay, '10
Where: Taking a lunch break in Cobb.
Reading: Abstracts of journal articles from Genetics
Assisting in summer research in a genetics lab through the Biological Sciences Division summer program, Linsay also continues his job through the academic year. As part of his “homework” for his job, he reads papers from journals like Genetics to help understand "research and methods in my field"—today’s article is on chromosomal patterning and mutations.

Rose Schapiro, '09

September 10, 2008

No tiffs over TIF


At Monday evening's public Hyde Park TIF Advisory Council meeting at Kenwood Academy, associate vice president for community and civic affairs Susan Campbell brought 50 community members, developers, and the 12-person council up to date about the University’s plans for Harper Court, the deteriorating shopping complex at 53rd and Harper purchased in May. “Our focus as the University—admittedly the 800-pound gorilla in the room,” Campbell said, “is to change this marketplace somehow. That’s why we’ve made the choices we have” to develop the complex.

University administrators terminated an agreement with a developer whose proposal they had recently selected, Campbell explained, “for a number of reasons,” and are back in the request-for-proposals phase of planning. “We decided it’s best to wait for everything to work in concert,” she said. Many proposals were rejected for requiring too much subsidy, such as the one-screen movie theater that requested $1 million.

Earlier in the meeting, Alderman Toni Preckwinkle, AB’69, MAT’77, said that the chosen developer may request TIF money—tax increment financing, a tool intended to enable development in poor areas through public subsidies—for creating public parking spaces.

“We still don't have a concrete plan,” Campbell concluded, but “we're hopeful that with the development of 53rd Street, that corner can regain its prominence as a vital retail area.” Howard Males, AM'77, PhD'81, the council’s chair, said they expect to see Campbell again soon.

“Yes,” responded Campbell, who plans to return in November with another Harper Court update. Another face at that session, Campbell said—“to get her feet wet”—will be former Chicago Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski, hired this week as the U of C’s vice president for civic engagement.

Shira Tevah, '09

Photo: Hyde Parkers gather at a development meeting.

September 12, 2008

A Fermilab pajama party

Starting at 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, roughly 300 physicists, students, and science fans gathered for a Fermilab pajama party to witness—virtually—the startup of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), soon to be the world's most powerful particle accelerator, at CERN, the European high-energy physics lab that straddles the Franco-Swiss border. Fermilab’s staff didn’t mean “pajama party” in a figurative sense; many guests showed up in nightclothes, including lab director Pier Oddone and University of Chicago physicist Young-Kee Kim.

In the Wilson Hall atrium, physicist Herman White welcomed visitors to the home of Fermilab's own accelerator, the Tevatron, which White noted would hold the title of the most powerful such instrument "until three-and-a-half hours from now." Cookies, juice, coffee, and Mountain Dew were on hand to keep excited but sleepy visitors awake. Large screens showed a live video feed from CERN, keeping the crowd updated as the European scientists put their new machine through its paces.

The rivalry between Fermilab and CERN, the two top particle-physics labs in the world, is real but friendly; Fermilab built a number of magnets for the LHC and even installed a remote operations center where North American physicists could control the collider without having to fly to Geneva. Pajama-wearing scientists in the remote operation center applauded as their screens marked down each milestone in real time, culminating with success: a beam of protons barreling around the LHC's 16.6-mile circumference at 3:25 a.m. This first run consisted of baby steps, with a proton beam just energetic enough to verify that all the components worked. Within a few weeks, CERN hopes to run the machine at full power, seven times stronger than the second-place Tevatron.

After an early breakfast, scientists and visitors continued to mill about, some watching a live teleconference with the scientists, some still peering through the glass walls of the remote operations center, and some watching data come in on their laptops. As the hour neared 5 a.m., they started to leave by twos and threes, venturing out of Wilson Hall into the prairie dawn.

Benjamin Recchie, AB'03

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Photos (left to right): Richard Ruiz, ’10, works in Fermilab's remote operations center; Fermilab director Pier Oddone (center, in blue) and professor and deputy director Young-Kee Kim (red) monitor the experiment’s progress; The Wilson Hall crowd awaits news from CERN.

September 15, 2008

Know Your Chicago: The program that works

While classes haven’t yet started at Chicago, the morning of September 10 saw busloads of students arrive at Ida Noyes Hall for a different kind of coursework. The women (and a few men) had come to learn how their city works through Know Your Chicago, now celebrating its 60th year. The program seeks to educate and enrich the civic lives of its participants, giving them behind-the-scenes glimpses at the city’s institutions. The five tours run in October, and the daylong September symposium is a required introduction.

Though Know Your Chicago was founded as a modest endeavor—fewer than a dozen women went on the first set of tours—it has grown significantly and now runs in partnership with the Graham School of General Studies. According to Mari Craven, one of the tour cochairs, whose mother also served on Know Your Chicago's committee, almost half of the committee members stay on for more than a decade. They seek, in the words of committee-member Joan Small, to “involve Chicago and Chicagoans in the life of the city.” She adds, “More informed citizens are better citizens.” Participants hear about the program by word-of-mouth, or from the brochures and booklets that Know Your Chicago sends out in mid-summer.

After coffee and tea, the participants—nearly 500 attended the symposium—filtered into Max Palevsky Cinema to hear a series of lectures. They took their seats as a slideshow from the program's past decades played on screen. After a welcome from Know Your Chicago committee chair Jean Meltzer, U-High'41, President Robert J. Zimmer congratulated the audience on the program's anniversary and drew correlations between Know Your Chicago and the University's commitment to inquiry. “I used to think 60 years was a long time," he joked. "I had a birthday recently that gave me a different perspective.”

Know Your Chicago is organized by a 50-woman committee, who begin planning the year’s tours with a January brainstorming session. This year’s tour participants will go inside the Board of Elections for “Voting Chicago Style” and inside the FBI for “CSI: Chicago.” For the latter, all potential participants agreed to undergo FBI screening. Other tours include a vision of the city’s 21st-century planning with a visit to the site of the future skyscraper Chicago Spire, an overview of some of the city’s philanthropic institutions, and a tour of older buildings that have been repurposed to serve the city's cultural life.


The redesigned Know Your Chicago emblem features the Chicago Spire.

Rose Schapiro, '09

September 17, 2008

Buy Chicagoans, for Chicagoans


Last November Brown Alumni Magazine published The Panicked Person's Gift Guide, showcasing a slew of possible holiday presents—all produced by Brown alumni.

We liked the idea. So this year we've decided to help you avoid doling out run-of-the-mill gift cards, serviceable athletic socks, or another useless gizmo.

We already know Stag's Leap Winery, owned by Warren Winiarski, AM'62, produces world-class vintages; that Charlene Dupray, AB'94, makes hand-dipped bon bons; and that Garry Jenson, MBA'90, sells fashion-forward home furnishings that have attracted widespread attention. For our holiday gift guide we'd love to hear about more alumni producing toys, jewelry, clothes, home accessories, or other products. But please, no books—given Chicagoans' way with words, the list would be endless. If you have suggestions for the list, write me, Zak Stambor, at uchicago-magazine@uchicago.edu, subject line “Maroon Gift Ideas.”


South 'n France, owned by Charlene Dupray, AB'94, sells hand-dipped bon bons online.

Photo by Dan Dry

September 22, 2008

Hurricanes: not fiction

“There’s some redemption here,” Amanda Boyden said last Tuesday at a 57th Street Books reading. She was talking about her latest novel, Babylon Rolling (Pantheon). “All these characters are terribly flawed, but I like to think they have gigantic hearts.” She read from four sections of the book, which follows the residents of one New Orleans street in the year leading up to Hurricane Katrina. The street, which really exists though she moved it across town for the novel, is a microcosm of the city with “lots of different kinds of people jumbled together...messed up kids next to crazy old ladies, beautiful old mansions next to shacks falling apart.”


One of the characters, Boyden acknowledged when prompted by an audience member, is loosely based on herself. Boyden moved from Chicago—which she considers her other home—to New Orleans and had lived there with her husband for 15 years
when Katrina hit in 2005. "We had to evacuate to Toronto," she said, and “we didn’t know if we’d ever be in New Orleans again." She calls the book her “tribute” to the hurricane.

“This time we did a much better job evacuating,” said Boyden, whose scheduled Tuesday reading in Miami was canceled because of Hurricane Ike. “We went to Baton Rouge during Gustav and evacuated right into the eye of the storm.” The home they left was a converted corner grocery store that she and her husband bought after Katrina. The tallest building on the block, it lost its roof to Hurricane Gustav. The new roof went up, she said, just in time for the next round of bad weather.

Boyden spoke about her characters as though they were real, and her face registered their emotions as she read. Apologizing when she got to the section narrated by a 15-year-old African American child, she implored her audience to “imagine a boy.” Her eyebrows raised in another section as the fictional Northerner asked a neighbor, “Is there an expression I’m supposed to know before a hurricane? Like, I’ll see you when the wind blows back?” There isn’t.

Shira Tevah, '09

Boyden reads from her latest novel at 57th Street Books.

Change is gonna come


Last night’s performance of Court Theatre's season opener—the Midwestern premiere of Pulitzer Prize–winner Tony Kushner’s Caroline, or Change—started standing-room only and ended with a standing ovation. In between came what Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones called an “emotionally unstinting and thoroughly gripping four-star production.”

The emotion started with John Culbert’s subterranean set, centered on the basement of a house in St. Charles, Louisiana. Day after day, Caroline, an African American maid for a well-off Jewish family, does the laundry while listening to the radio and an interior monologue of sorrow, rage, and resignation: “16 feet beneath sea-level...caught between the devil and the muddy brown sea.”

Caroline was originally conceived as an operatic libretto. Athough that project was shelved, Kushner’s play, with a score by Jeanine Tesori that combines spirituals and Motown, Christmas carols and Klezmer, classical and folk music, remains operatic in style and power. E. Faye Butler gives a monumental performance as Caroline; Melanie Brezill dazzles as Caroline’s idealistic daughter, Emmie; and Kate Fry is equally, if more quietly, effective, as Rose Gellman, a Northerner who has moved South to marry a widowed friend and become the stepmother to his sad and angry eight-year-old son, Noah.

The play begins on the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and indeed the only jarring note in the play’s magical realism, where radio, washer, dryer, bus, and moon have singing roles, is that neither Caroline nor the Gellman family learns of JFK’s death until the early evening. If you lived through that day, it’s hard to believe. But if you lived through that era, especially in the South, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll want to see Caroline again.

Directed by Charles Newell with music direction by Doug Peck (the two, with Culbert, have previously teamed on award-winning productions of Carousel and Man of La Mancha), Caroline runs through October 19.


In the heat of the Dryer: Harriet Nzinga Plumpp as the Washer (left), Byron Glenn Willis as the Dryer, and E. Faye Butler as Caroline. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

September 23, 2008

Caught in a whirlwind

On summer evenings the wait at the eastbound bus stop opposite the Garfield Red Line station is usually a solitary experience. But last Sunday night—coinciding with the start of Orientation Week—was different. Hordes of Chicago first-years disembarked from the train and, excitedly chatting with their new roommates or friends or crushes, crossed Garfield Avenue to wait for the 55 or 174 buses to take them back to their new home in Pierce. It was a tight squeeze.




The students were returning from an Orientation Week House Activities Night trip up north to play Whirlyball, a Henderson House tradition, says resident head David Muusz.

Whirlyball? It's "basically a five-on-five version of lacrosse, basketball, and bumper cars," he explains. The 43 Henderson students played ten-minute games with rotating teams. "It was just a great opportunity for everybody to get to know one another, to experience the CTA"—the Chicago Whirlyball location is right off Fullerton Avenue—"and to bond." Tufts House first-years also chose to play this year, sparking some friendly competition between the two houses. They played two games against the Henderson crew. Says Muusz, "[Tufts] managed to hang on and eke out a draw in both games. Pure luck!"


Henderson House first-years enjoy a few hours of Whirlyball.
Photos by Stephanie Kahn, '12

September 26, 2008

Breakfast of library champions

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When Rika Yoshida, AB'91, interviewed at Morningstar for her first post-college job, the interviewer introduced himself as "Joe." "It wasn't until two weeks later," Rika said, "that I learned he was the CEO of the company." Not only did she get the job helping the investment-research firm start its first publication about Japanese companies, but seven years later she married that low-key executive, Joe Mansueto, AB’78, MBA’80. The two have three children (Rika's "start-ups," Joe joked), and they're working on a new legacy—the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, set to open next to the Reg in 2010.

On campus Wednesday for the library's official groundbreaking ceremony, the Mansuetos first met with almost 30 students over a light-buffet breakfast in the Quad Club library. The students, representing Student Government, the Maroon Key Society, and other leadership groups, dressed in suits and skirts, and they stood and smiled when the Mansuetos rounded the half-dozen tables to greet them.

During a casual Q&A the couple shared stories including Rika's Morningstar interview; Joe's initial foray into entrepreneurship—selling soda out of his Shoreland dorm room; and how they came to make their $25 million donation. Last winter Joe had lunch with President Zimmer, he said, with "no intention of making a gift to the University." But he left that lunch "convinced I was going to give to this library." The students laughed, and then Joe elaborated: "It just really resonated with me. It was already designed and just needed funding. It was the right project at the right place and the right time."

Rika added what appealed to her about the project: "It can benefit the entire student body," she said. The library also encompasses three of the couple's passions: the College; conveying information (aside from Morningstar's publications, the Mansuetos have invested in Inc, Fast Company, and Time Out Chicago magazines); and design. "We were drawn to the design of this library," she said, where the books will live 50 feet underground while a glass-domed ellipse will cover a vast reading room. "There's a freedom and airiness to the reading room. It seems to float on the ground like a jewel."



The Mansuetos talk with Student Government president Matt Kennedy (standing) and Maroon Key Society member Luke Rodehorst; At the groundbreaking ceremony, architect Helmut Jahn hugs Joe Mansueto after presenting his sketches; The official groundbreaking shot: Jahn, Board of Trustees chair Jim Crown, Zimmer, Joe and Rika Mansueto, Provost Tom Rosenbaum, library director Judith Nadler, and sociology professor Andrew Abbott, AM’75, PhD’82, grab their shovels.

Photos by Dan Dry

September 29, 2008

Sabbatical or bust


Marine paleontologist Susan Kidwell will spend the coming school year in Washington, DC, just steps from the Potomac River, although most of her work will be done in the Smithsonian's library.

Almost as soon as I knocked on her office door on a late-September morning, geologist and paleontologist Susan Kidwell was up from her desk, shaking my hand and ushering me out into the sunshine with a single, swift motion. Her office on the fifth floor of Hinds was "disastrous," she declared as she closed the door behind us—piles of papers overwhelmed nearly every flat surface in the long, narrow room—and wouldn't we rather sit outside in the nice weather? "This is one of my last days on campus for awhile," she said, "and the flowers are beautiful." We found a shady bench in the Crerar quad across from a bed of purple hostas.

I'd come to interview Kidwell for a Magazine story about her research on marine ecosystems, 48 hours before she was scheduled to leave town for a yearlong sabbatical at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. She hadn't packed a single suitcase. "My papers are all in boxes and ready to go," Kidwell assured me, but her clothes were still hanging in her closet. "Maybe I'll just go shopping when I get there."

Kidwell will spend most of the coming school year in the Smithsonian's library, tracking down other scientists' studies on the number and diversity of mollusks, both living and fossilized, from different years and at different sites around the world. The data provide a kind of time-lapse picture of the animals' changing ecosystems and the marks that those environments bear from human activity: fishing and farming and urbanization.

Her months away from Hyde Park will keep Kidwell busy, but not lonely, she said. Accompanying her will be a scholarly family of sorts: her husband David Jablonski, a Chicago paleontologist (who is shipping his own boxes of papers to DC), and her research associate, Adam Tomasovych. "We'll all be there together," Kidwell said, "my husband, my postdoc, and me."


About September 2008

This page contains all entries posted to UChiBLOGo in September 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

August 2008 is the previous archive.

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