Fall 2010

Fall 2010

While head scratching and anguished late-night conversations about majors, graduate schools, and future careers are generally the norm among undergraduates, these jittery economic times have no doubt created even more anxiety for today’s college students. The alumnae that fill the pages of this issue should strike reassuring notes. Some arrived as Barnard first-years relatively secure in their knowledge about their future goals; for example, the art-gallery director who arrived to major in art history, found work in a downtown gallery, then set up her own business. Or the young film actress who was intent on professional studies at a conservatory to advance her career objective, but whose mother insisted on a more thorough grounding in the liberal arts. Barnard satisfied both of them.

Many times, the course of a career is serendipitous. Consider the would-be dance major, now a PhD candidate in physics, or the law student who worked for a fashion manufacturer one summer and decided not to return to law school in the fall. Another alumna, now a marketing powerhouse for a well-known group of department stores, opted to major in sociology and piano performance, but still felt the pull, and loved the pace, of the business world.

What these women have in common is not only their Barnard educations. They share a commitment to finding and fueling their own dreams—with study, research, experimentation, persistence, hard work, and a willingness to start small and think big. Many of these alumnae attribute their independent outlook and feelings of empowerment to their four years at the College, and the added jumpstart of spending those years in a global capital like New York City.

In this issue, we share news about the new Vera Joseph Scholarship Program, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, named for a 1932 graduate and chemistry major who was one of the first African-American women toattend Barnard, and designed to facilitate the often financially challenging paths of majors in biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, and mathematics. Newsworthy, too, is the acquisition of some major new laboratory equipment, thanks to a second NSF grant, that will enable both faculty and students to pursue advanced research.

Support comes in many guises... We also look at educators, from those teaching middle-school children to professors at the college level. Through encouragement, mentoring, personal experiences, and expertise, these instructors provide the unquantifiable stimulus that challenges students to think for themselves and find their own pathways to success, however these young people may define it.

—The Editors

Debora SparToday, at the turn of the twenty-first century, American women enjoy levels of access and equality that would have stunned their grandmothers. Roughly 54 percent of American women are formally employed, including those at the highest tiers of their profession: three justices of the Supreme Court; 92 members of Congress; 10 Nobel Prize winners in medicine; four presidents of Ivy League universities. Women currently account for 47 percent of the nation’s law school students and 28 percent of its doctors. Recently, women passed men even in PhD programs, where they now account for 52 percent of all students. Admittedly, women still lag behind men in crucial areas of American life. Women still earn, on average, only 78 cents for each dollar that a man makes and are woefully underrepresented at the highest levels of political power and on the boards of major corporations and institutions. Across the socioeconomic spectrum, women perform a disproportionate share of domestic responsibilities and bear the brunt of domestic abuse.

In other parts of the globe, however, in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, the fate of women remains far more treacherous. Young women like Aisha are treated essentially like chattel, sold into marriage and robbed virtually at birth of any rights or opportunities they might otherwise have. Recently, a 12-year-old Pakistani girl was killed by her domestic employer. A 13-year-old Somali girl was stoned to death for adultery after she reported being raped by three men. As our friend and colleague Jane Dammen McAuliffe, president of Bryn Mawr, recently wrote: “[I]n the twenty-first century, women continue to suffer from systemic oppression and brutalization across the globe. Female fetuses are aborted simply for being female. Little girls are dying from lack of nutrition and medical care simply for being female. Adolescent girls and young women are forced into sexual slavery, subjected to genital mutilation, and murdered to save the family ‘honor.’ In some countries, women die in childbirth at rates that rival those in the Middle Ages.”

She is right, and it’s no coincidence, therefore, that Bryn Mawr and Barnard have both recently expanded their efforts to educate women, not only at home, but around the world as well. Bryn Mawr recently hosted a conference to explore the role of women’s colleges in improving the lives of women worldwide. At Barnard, we have grown our Visiting International Student Program (VISP) initiative to bring young women (from China, Korea, Europe, and this year, Australia, South Africa, and Ghana) to campus for a full semester, allowing them to receive the kind of liberal arts education that is either nonexistent or prohibitively expensive in their home countries. We are meeting with delegations of educators from China, Iraq, Malaysia, and Russia, sharing our faculty’s wisdom about building curricula that will inspire young minds.

And we have launched an ambitious series of global symposia, which will continue this March in Johannesburg, focusing on the powerful voices of Africa’s women and including for the first time a dedicated session for local high school girls.

Since her story appeared on the cover of TIME, Aisha has left Afghanistan to undergo reconstructive surgery in the United States. Her plight has attracted sympathy from women—and men—around the world, and her future, ironically perhaps, has grown brighter. But she leaves thousands of sisters behind her, invisible women, powerless women, whose faces and fates will never grace the cover of a magazine, and whose lives will be constrained and condemned by the sheer fact of having been born female.

In the long run—and not discounting the vagaries of war and religion and geopolitical shifts—the only real hope for these women is education; education that will teach them to read and to write; to believe in their abilities and to seize their dreams. At Barnard, as at Bryn Mawr and our other sister schools, we know this to be true. Educate women and you shape society. Educate women and you change the world.

-photograph by Steve DeCanio

This essay originally appeared on Sydnie Mosley’s blog, lovestutter.blogspot.com, on August 4, 2010.

In the summer 2010 edition of Barnard Magazine, President Debora Spar writes about the recent reunion with an intriguingly insightful point of view. She writes, “What struck me the most ... was that everyone still identified so strongly with their 25-year-old selves; the women they were before their lives took shape.” When my good friend recently returned engaged from her trip abroad, she spoke fondly of the future life she imagined with her fiancée. This life included eventually moving and living permanently overseas where she would build a career and raise her babies. It hit me then that this woman with whom I’d spent countless hours in dorm rooms, classrooms, libraries... The woman with whom I’d spent countless nights running the streets of New York City partying and days exploring... The woman with whom I’d plotted and planned to save Barnard from itself, only to then plot and plan to create a better world starting right here in Harlem, USA... She was not going to spend her future life with me at all. I realized that despite all our efforts to maintain our friendship, our lives are on divergent paths, and we will make the world a better place, but not as next-door neighbors with our children playing in each other’s yards. Our friendship will be defined by our 20s and at some point down the road when she lives abroad and I am right here, we will remember and think of each other best at this moment in time.

President Spar writes of her own friend whom she met in grad school “before we had our jobs, our babies, our homes.... Before either of us had met the men who would eventually become our husbands.” It is this time that she calls magical, when the whole world is open.

And I feel the magic, but it weighs on me heavily. The weight is of big dreams, with no road map to achieve them. God, how do I do what I love and make money enough to live? The weight is of uncertainty in relationships. Will the next man I meet be my husband? The weight is a gnawing sense of urgency, because I want to know the future. I’m dying to know what my reality will be one year from now, five years, 20 years...

It’s funny how we spend our 20s; how we engage with the magic time trying to decipher our futures. I have a friend who has moved into an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. She has become Debra Barone on a trial basis (she and her significant other just moved in together—not married) to see if she wants to be with Ray and his intrusive mother forever. Another friend of mine, a month shy of 30, is itching to be settled in career and family life. She’s recently resolved that if she sits still, as opposed to moving, chasing and grinding, that she might actually be able to put down some roots and create the life she wants to have.

Regardless of the choices we make now in our youth, laying the foundation to further our adult lives, and whether the friendships of now carry on the way we would like, I imagine I will always remember this time in life and the people close to me now fondly.

Like President Spar, the friends I have made since I moved onto Barnard’s campus in August 2003 will always be 18, 21, 25 to me. We will be “caught in that magical moment of time when nothing has quite yet happened, but everything is possible.” Although we will have made defining choices in our lives, we will be forever young when we see each other. We will be able to remember and hold onto the magic of 25 and bring it with us into the present. But I hope the magic of 20-something potential will be freeing, not heavy at a time when more limits or responsibilities exist. It has to be possible.

-by Sydnie Mosley '07, illustration by Jennifer Lew

playing dogsNew York Times science writer Natalie Angier ’78 doesn’t own a dog, and even as she kicked off a wide-ranging panel discussion this past fall featuring three leading researchers on dog behavior and cognition, Angier openly admitted that she’s not exactly a huge dog lover. Angier, the moderator of the event, “Dog Days: A Scientific Look at Man’s Best Friend,” wryly informed the audience at Barnard’s Diana Center on September 21, “I am now and have always been a cat person.” That said, she hastened to add that she has grown to appreciate other peoples’ dogs—and she was quick to give canines their due. “The domestic dog, Canis lupus familiaris, has been a spectacularly successful species,” she said.

There are an estimated half-billion dogs on the planet today, with roughly 77.5 million pet dogs in the United States alone. And, as Angier noted, the bond between dogs and the humans who care for them runs deep: More than three-quarters of dog owners surveyed said they consider their dogs to be like a child or other cherished family member; and roughly a third of married women claim their dogs are better listeners than their husbands, according to a USA Today poll. Seventy-one percent have given their dogs a holiday gift, and 31 percent have even hung up Christmas stockings for them, says a real-estate industry survey.

Obviously, dogs loom very large in many of our lives. Still, as the researchers on the panel, including Alexandra Horowitz, Barnard psychology professor, made clear, there is much about how dogs perceive and understand the world that their owners haven’t a clue about. “It’s not a simple furry human, which is exactly how we treat the dog,” said Horowitz, who teaches animal behavior and canine cognition at Barnard and is the author of the best-selling book Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, published in 2009. Joining her on the “Dog Days” panel were Raymond Coppinger, professor emeritus of biology at Hampshire College and an expert in dog herding; and Clive Wynne, a University of Florida psychology professor whose recent research has focused on the socialization of wolves.dog and frisbee

In her book, Horowitz noted that dogs share all but one-third of one percent of their DNA with wolves. Humans like to think that they deserve credit for turning wolves into cuddly lovable pets. But in fact, Coppinger contended that dogs actually domesticated themselves. His view is that once humans began living in permanent settlements they began generating food waste—and attracted scavenger species that hung around looking and begging for scraps. “Dogs are evolved village scavengers,” said Coppinger. “They became nice and friendly animals that humans learned how to use.”

Horowitz, for her part, noted that in Russia researchers have been testing another theory of dog domestication by inter-breeding especially tame foxes. “They started to get something that looked like a mongrel dog,” said Horowitz, describing the animal as having floppy ears and a furrier coat—and a much greater affinity for humans. She added, “It’s how domestication could have happened.” Professor Wynne, who has visited the fox experiment site in Russia, recalled that the foxes there are so friendly toward humans that they actually quake and shiver with excitement when they are taken out of their cages. “I would not have expected such pro-human behavior,” he said.

However they became domesticated, it’s definitely true that the modern dog continues to wow humans with all kinds amazing qualities, as Angier pointed out. One example: their acute sense of smell. Horowitz chalked that up to the fact that a dog has thousands more receptors in its nose than a human does, as well as an organ in the roof of its mouth that enables it to detect pheromones—chemicals that are secreted by other animals, including humans. “Dogs see the world by smelling it,” said Horowitz. “They’re using their nose all the time—it’s information for them.”

Because dogs have insinuated themselves into our homes, humans typically assume that they share our values—such as a desire for cleanliness. But Horowitz pointed out that dogs like the rich odors of dirt and “don’t want to be bathed in coconut lavender shampoo.” Wynne seconded that opinion: “Washing your dog in pungent shampoo is cruel and unusual punishment.”

As to whether dogs actually experience human emotions, Horowitz said the science just isn’t there yet to prove that’s true. From her experiences and research with her own dog, Pumpernickel, while she was out of her apartment, Horowitz suggested that dogs could experience fairly intense boredom. “They’re waiting all day for you to come back,” she said, adding that once she realized how much dogs depend on humans for entertainment, she has tried not to leave her dog alone for long stretches.

dog and pups On the question of whether dogs respond to music, Hororowitz recalled that she once left Glenn Gould’s “Goldberg Variations” playing for a protracted period while she was out. The next time she played it, Pumpernickel made it plain that he did not want to hear it again.

Download a podcast of the event at alum.barnard.edu/magazine

-by Susan Hansen. illustration by Jessica Hische

James RoomThe venerable James Room in Barnard Hall has a new look. Through the concerted efforts of Karen Fairbanks, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Professional Practice and chair of the architecture department, who headed a group that included students, alumnae, and faculty, and Barnard photo archivist Astrid Cravens, Faces of Barnard, a photo exhibit highlighting remarkable alumnae, recently opened as

the new fall semester began. Students selected this first display, and Fairbanks noted, “It is our intention that this exhibition will continue to evolve so that more of our accomplished alumnae can be included over time.” Before mounting the photographs, renovation work was undertaken with environmental concerns in mind. Walls were repainted with low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint, the carpeting was removed and replaced with a new sustainable, certified wood floor, and Eco-veil shades were installed at the windowsZora Neale Hurston.

1 Zora Neale Hurston ’28, novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist, was the College’s first black graduate. In addition to her masterpiece, Their Eyes Were Watching God, she is known for her journalistic, cinematic, and nonfiction work, as well as her active role in the politics of Harlem. Photography by Carl Van Vechten, used with permission granted by the Van Vechten Trust.

2 Francine du PlFrancine du Plessix Grayessix Gray ’52, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and literary critic, received the National Book Critic’s Circle Award in 2006 for Them: A Memoir of Parents. Also in 2006, she was awarded Barnard’s Medal of Distinction and delivered the Commencement address. Photograph by Jacques Moritz-Miller.

3 Susan (Levitt) Stamberg ’59 is a radio journalist and special correspondent for National Public Radio. As co-host of All Things Considered she was the first woman full-time anchor of a national nightly news program in the United States. She has received the Edward R. Murrow Award and been inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the Radio Hall of Fame. Photograph courtesy of National Public Radio.

4 Ida RoIda Rolflf ’16 was a biochemist and the creator of a method of structural integration that came to be known as Rolfing®. Rolf worked at the Rockefeller Institute and her book, Rolfing: The Integration of Human Structure, was written in 1977. Photograph by Ron Thompson, courtesy of the Rolf Institute.

Jeane Jordan Kirkpartrick5 Jeane Jordan Kirkpatrick ’48 was the first woman to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She became professor of political science at Georgetown University, contributed to many journals and, although initially a Democrat, held consistently conservative and staunch anti-communist views. Kirkpatrick served as Reagan’s foreign policy advisor and in his Cabinet; she was the only woman on the National Security Council.

Ntozake Shange6 Ntozake Shange ’70 is a poet, performance artist, playwright, and novelist whose work includes the 1975 OBIE-winning choreopoem, for colored girls...who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuff. Among her awards are The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry, an Outer Critics Circle award, a Barnard Medal of Distinction, and a Columbia University Medal for Excellence. Photograph by Val Wilmer.

-photographs by Dorothy Hong, portraits courtesy of Barnard Archives

Scholariship Recipients Gilder Lehrman History Scholar

Anna Ziering ’11

Anna Ziering’s selection as one of 10 students in the country to receive this scholarship and admission to an intensive five-week history research program in New York this past summer isn’t so surprising, given her penchant for digging into documents and contemplating serious social issues. As a high school senior at Boston University

Academy, the native of Newton, Massachusetts, wrote her thesis on Queen Mary I of England. Ziering also spent last spring pursuing American studies at King’s College, London. And she was already planning her senior thesis on Robert Frank’s The Americans.

As a Gilder Lehrman History Scholar, Ziering’s summer was spent researching Secession and the events that led to the Civil War. She focused on Louisiana, conducting research at the New-York Historical Society and other archives, ultimately producing a three-page introduction for four primary documents that will be used in high school and college classrooms.

An American-studies major, with a concentration in gender and sexuality since 1945, she notes, “I realized that American studies was the study of the cultures that make up daily life in the United States. I’m interested in social movements and civil-rights struggles, and the ways that they manifest themselves in different social contexts.”

She also integrates her academic and extracurricular pursuits: A former intern at the American Civil Liberties Union, Ziering serves on the executive board of Everyone Allied Against Homophobia, and participates in the Student Government Association as an academic affairs representative. This fall she’s also a senior interviewer in the admissions office.

Although her post-graduate plans aren’t fixed, she would like to pursue higher education, probably in American studies, but notes, “I would also love to combine it with film, apply it to social activism, and somehow incorporate poetry.”

Two Barnard students were awarded Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships that provide funding to undergraduates studying science, mathematics, and engineering.

Kerin Higa ’11

Kerin Higa ’11 is fascinated by the human brain. Originally interested in medicine when she entered Barnard, her ongoing curiosity about how the brain works—and what happens when it doesn’t—translated into the pursuit of a neuroscience and behavior major at Barnard. “In middle and high school I used to tutor in my mom’s special-education classroom,” says Higa, who is from Altadena, California.

Summer internships at the City of Hope in California, where she studied different treatments for brain cancer, further convinced her that a scientific research career was where her heart lay. This summer she worked with schizophrenic mice in Professor Peter Balsam’s lab at the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia’s College of Physicians & Surgeons, exploring the problem of memory deficits.

Beyond basically living in the “mouse house,” as Higa said, she devoted much of her time to examining the data generated by these experiments. She presented a poster about the internship, which was funded by the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women, at the College in August. She’ll continue to work in the lab this school year as well. Higa has already given scientific presentations and posters on brain tumors and brain cancer, with some publications in the works. She looks forward to pursuing a PhD, with graduate school applications on her fall agenda.

When she’s not in the lab, Higa tutors students in the Morningside Heights neighborhood and coordinates the Columbia Community Outreach day of service.

Erin Kara ’11

“I am open to a lot of different things,” says Erin Kara ’11, a physics major who studied and researched gravitational waves at California Institute of Technology

(CalTech) this summer at its Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) and already has collaborated on a scientific paper. “Barnard has been really wonderful, and given me so many opportunities.” She is quick to credit her advisor, Reshmi Mukherjee, for encouraging her scientific inquiries and mentoring her.

At CalTech, Kara worked in the data analysis group, researching tools that will enable scientists to eventually detect gravitational waves. As part of the experience, Kara, in the company of the other 24 LIGO students, went to Hanford, Washington, to visit one of the LIGO detectors where she gave a talk about her summer work.

Outer space intrigues Kara, who spent the previous summer as a NASA intern working with gamma-ray bursts transmitted from the Fermi Gamma-Ray space telescope. “The romantic side of me loves discovery and seeing something that no one else has seen before,” says Kara. “That’s part of what keeps me interested [in physics].” But there are outside interests. Kara is an art history minor and co-director of Uptown Vocal, an a cappella singing group. And she makes time to pursue other activities, such as traveling to Greece and taking advantage of her time in Southern California to explore art museums and camp in Sequoia National Park.

The Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, native definitely sees herself as an academic, pursuing research. Kara adds, “[Academics] are so interested in their work, such intensity appeals to me.”

-by Merri Rosenberg '78, photograph by Dorothy Hong

Marisa Buzzero labWith the acquisition of a cluster of new spectroscopic instrumentation, there is an elevated sense of excitement in the chemistry department this academic year. The story began in the summer of 2009 when the department’s faculty prepared a proposal for a National Science Foundation grant under the Major Research Instrumentation Program (MRI-R2/Recovery and Reinvestment), a program aimed at improving the quality and scope of research and research training through the acquisition of shared instrumentation. Although such an application could have been made by a single faculty member, the department opted to work together on the proposal and target instrumentation that would be beneficial to everyone—from faculty to students, both in research and teaching.

“It speaks to the strength and cooperation of the department that we did this together,” says Assistant Professor Marisa Buzzeo ’01, who is the principal investigator on the proposal. “The impact on the students is that much larger when the equipment can be used by all of the research faculty and their groups.” The co- PIs on the proposal are Assistant Professor John Magyar, associate professors Dina Merrer and Christian Rojas, and Senior Lecturer Alison Williams.

The official letter was received on April 19 informing the department it had been approved for a grant in the amount of $166,668. The new instrumentation arrived on campus before the fall semester: three high-resolution, ultraviolet-visible-near- infrared (UV-Vis-NIR) spectrometer, a high-resolution Fourier transform infrared (FT-IR) spectrometer, and a fluorescence spectrometer. All three spectrometers measure how molecules interact with light. Both the UV-Vis-NIR and the FT-IR spectrometers report on the absorption of incoming light by molecules. The fluorescence spectrometer, records the emission of light by molecules after their exposure to light of a different energy. The equipment will be used by all research- active members of the department and their research students in biological physical, environmental bioinorganic, synthetic organic, and physical organic chemistry.

“These instruments will now be used for experiments that were previously done with instruments from the early 1990s and will enable us to explore new areas of research and incorporate new types of experiments into the teaching labs that the previous equipment was not capable of performing,” Buzzeo says. Expanding their research programs, and thus the type of funding they seek, the acquisition can also serve to attract the best prospective faculty to the College. She also notes that members of the department maintain an excellent balance between teaching and research. “Our students are exposed to learning science both through a very intense classroom experience and participation in hands-on research,” she says.

“Being able to do research in a department of our size means that our students get tremendous amounts of experience with instrumentation, as well as lots of mentoring from the faculty members and peers within their research groups,” she explains. “This can shape a student’s undergraduate exposure to the sciences and can help them realize they want to go into the sciences as a profession.”

State-of-the-art instrumentation can also serve as a significant motivation for students with an interest in the sciences to attend Barnard. Working with this cutting-edge equipment both prepares students for graduate school and makes them more desirable candidates for the best programs. “This new instrumentation,” Buzzeo says, “will have a significant impact on the future of our department.”

-by Lois Effman '80, photograph by Dorothy Hong

Everyone travels with a passport but the bold adventurer can be identified by her distinctive blue Barnard luggage tag. The tags are given to women who journey with fellow alumnae, family, or friends, to destinations such as the Italian Lake District, the French Alps, and ancient sites of the Middle East. These voyagers are part of the College’s thriving travel program, which in 2011 marks its 30th anniversary of sending groups across the globe to learn, connect, and bond. “We see the program as another opportunity for Barnard to be part of alumnae lives,” says Erin Fredrick ’01, director of alumnae affairs. “It’s a nice way to continue your education with the College.”

Upcoming tours include a June trip to the Dalmatian coast and an adventure in South Africa in March timed to coincide with the College’s third annual global symposium to be led by President Debora Spar during spring break. In addition to touring South Africa, travelers will participate in the symposium, which addresses women’s issues and leadership roles on an international level. If the combined tour and symposium attendance is successful, such a trip could become an annual event, according to Fredrick.

Mari Okie ’69 and her husband, Tony Fouracre, joined Barnard in 2008 to explore Tuscan village life on an adventure that included learning to make pasta under the tutelage of an Italian chef. The Wilton, Conn., couple enjoyed the trip so much that they signed up for another Barnard tour this fall. They were anticipating sailing the Mediterranean on a 57-cabin ship with stops in Greece, Italy, and Turkey. “I chose it because it’s going to all sorts of wonderful, mysterious, and exotic places I’ve always wanted to see,” says Okie, who majored in anthropology. She and her husband also take pleasure in classical music, and the trip features concerts and performances. “It just sounded like an unbeatable combination.”

Joan Anderson ’53 traveled with alumnae last spring to the pyramids, the Sinai Peninsula, Petra, Luxor, and other sites in Egypt and Jordan. Her companion was her teenage niece, Emily Gordanier. “I so enjoyed seeing everything through her eyes,” says Anderson, a retired high school math teacher in Westfield, N.J. “She’d never even been out of the country.”

The travel program began in 1981 with a weeklong trip to Paris that featured lectures by Professor of French Renée Geen. The College has in recent years been offering two or three trips a year. Travel Study Services, a Greenwich, Conn., travel management company, handles the arrangements for Barnard as well as several other schools. While not all trips are led by faculty, those that are give participants an opportunity to learn firsthand about research or ongoing study, strengthening their connection with Barnard, says Stefanie Landsman, manager of alumnae affairs. “It’s an opportunity to hear more about what’s going on with the College,” she adds.

A Barnard staffer will accompany trips that attract at least 10 alumnae. Alden Prouty, director of leadership giving, escorted the group that visited the Italian Lake District in early October. That trip was especially popular with alumnae from the ’40s and ’50s, who also enjoyed the opportunities to reminisce and bond. “When you travel with your alma mater, you’re getting great company,” Fredrick says, “and you know you’re going to learn something.”

Find out about upcoming trips at alum.barnard.edu/magazine

-by June Bell, illustration by Alex Eben

During her first semester at Barnard, Julia Sandell ’08, who expected to double-major in dance and political science, elected to complete her science requirement by taking an introductory astronomy course with physics and astronomy professor Laura Kay. Today, Sandell, a PhD candidate in physics at the University of Pennsylvania, seems just as surprised now as then: she says she had “always been an arts student in high school, and the idea of majoring in science had never crossed my mind.”

But Kay’s course turned out to be Sandell’s favorite, and the professor was always happy to discuss various subjects relating to the classes with her. Says Sandell, “She was the main influence on my decision to become a physicist.

Whatever her talents at persuasion, Kay stands foremost as a teacher and as a role model for young women in science, having forged a career in research and teaching when women who wanted such careers were not especially encouraged. In addition to her professorial role in astronomy and physics, she is one of the authors of the recently issued third edition of 21st Century Astronomy, published by W. W. Norton. A popular textbook, this edition was rewritten to reflect a student’s perspective on the science. Kay also served as chair of Barnard’s women’s studies department from 2006-2009. Her studies, research, and experiences in both fields provide the insights and moral support that can encourage undergraduates.

When speaking of her own background, Kay admits that at age 13 or 14, as the only female member of an amateur astronomy club, she had an inkling that becoming a scientist might not be easy. Born and raised in New York City, she attended Hunter College High School (Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan was a classmate), an all-girls school at the time. Kay feels that her single-sex education at Hunter contributed to less conformity with gender stereotypes, and most importantly, less pressure to conform to them.

Enrolling as an undergraduate at Stanford brought a reality check: She was the only female in advanced freshman physics. “Not fun,” she says dryly, “but I’m pretty stubborn.” Interest in why there were there so few women in science led to a double-major in physics and feminist studies. Still willfully charting her own course, she went on to receive her advanced degrees in astronomy and astrophysics at the University of California, Santa Cruz. As a break from graduate school in astronomy, she spent 13 months at the Amundsen Scott station at the South Pole in 1984-1985, operating experiments in the physics of the upper atmosphere and studying such phenomena as cosmic rays, auroras, and magnetic field lines.

In 1991, Kay left California to return to New York as a member of the Barnard faculty. Today she teaches courses in introductory astronomy, life in the universe, cosmology, women in science, and polar exploration. She also pursues her research into Active Galactic Nuclei (AGNs, defined as galaxies with black holes in their centers) and explores their relationship to quasars. Through a joint program with Columbia, Kay often brings a handful of her students once a year to do research at the MDM Observatory on Kitt Peak, 50 miles west of Tucson, Arizona. The observatory is owned and operated by a consortium of five universities, including Columbia, that maintains its two telescopes.

Accompanied by Kay and a senior astrophysics major, Sandell made her first trip to Kitt Peak during her sophomore year: “We were at the telescope for four or five days, observing AGNs.... [We] helped set up the observing run, moving the telescope and using it to observe these bright galaxy centers....” Another Barnard astro-chemistry major, who will begin pursuing an advanced degree in astronomy in fall 2011, notes that the Arizona trip “solidified my dedication to study in this field.” While the training was invaluable, both former students recall the mentoring, support, and encouragement during these nightly sessions were crucial as well.


In the past 25 years, says Kay, there have been changes in the number of women entering science: the increase has created “a critical mass” in some fields that boosts confidence and provides inspiration. Optimistic about the future, she observes, “Having such a critical mass helps.” She also believes the climate in research labs is changing, albeit at a glacial pace. Speaking of her own career and its relation to her students, “I hope I make it seem possible; I tell my students I want to help them find out what they are really interested in.”

A self-described “umbraphile,” or eclipse lover, Kay has been averaging one trip per decade to view this astonishing phenomenon. The most recent excursion was to Easter Island (Rapa Nui, in Polynesian) to study and photograph a solar eclipse on July 11. The eclipse in its totality was visible along a narrow corridor in the southern hemisphere. Kay captured some astonishing photos of this rare occurrence, including the solar corona, seen only during the brief minutes of the total eclipse.

One of the joys of astronomy is that it is always changing as new discoveries are made with bigger and more powerful telescopes. Even the question of life in our or other Solar Systems—the nuances are explored in one of Kay’s most popular courses, “Life in the Universe”—has to be rethought, as researchers find life at the openings of underwater volcanoes, in frozen glaciers, and at the darkest depths of the earth’s oceans. The opportunities for speculation about life as we may not know it seem endless, and while others see the romance in such speculation, Kay sees the pure joy of science, a love of which she ultimately wants to convey to her students.

-Annette S. Kahn, photograph by Dorothy Hong

globe appleWhile the College has long had interdisciplinary programs in the fields of American studies, Africana studies, and women’s studies, until recently there wasn’t a way to explore the intersection of these fields through the lens of ethnic studies.

There is now, thanks to the efforts of intellectually intrepid and politically astute Barnard students who, working with supportive Barnard faculty, formed a consortium from the above departments. This fall the College launched ICORE (Interdisciplinary Concentration on Race and Ethnicity), for students who are majoring in one of the Consortium areas and MORE (Minor on Race and Ethnicity) for students from other majors.

“I was extremely pleased at the entire process by which the proposals were developed and approved by faculty,” says Provost and Dean of the Faculty Elizabeth S. Boylan. “It shows how the energy and passion of students working together with faculty can make a difference in the curriculum. This is a more imaginative response than just adding another major.” Last year, several students (from Barnard, Columbia College, and across the university), participated in a one- credit independent ethnic studies course under the guidance of Women’s Studies Professor Janet Jakobsen, who is also dean for faculty diversity and development and director of the Barnard Center for Research on Women. The course had developed from a weekly reading group the previous year. Students advocated for these programs, explains Zeest Haider ’10, who had been part of this effort, “to better understand, criticize and discuss the issues of race, power, and ethnicity. [The field of ethnic studies offers] the necessary tools and methodology that fosters critical analysis of inequalities.”

Working across departments was critical to program development. “There has been a growing belief at the College that interdisciplinary efforts have merit,” says Dean of Studies Karen Blank, who is also chair of the faculty committee on programs and academic standing. “Comparative ethnic studies are seen by some students as a way to bring the discussion of some topics into the curriculum, and I was very impressed with the way that students undertook an effort to move us toward ICORE.”

A Ford Foundation Difficult Dialogues grant offered an opportunity for faculty to explore how to best offer ethnic studies at Barnard, which in turn led to the consortium among women’s studies, Africana studies, and American studies. “Through a faculty seminar and a subcommittee, we realized the best approach was to work among the existing programs that have something in common,” says Jakobsen. “What we were thinking through was what resources are available at Barnard, and what do we need, so students can be well-educated members of a diverse society, and can go on to get a PhD in ethnic studies.”

It’s not just about adding new courses— at least for now. It’s about organizing intellectual scaffolding around existing courses to enable students to focus their academic inquiries into questions of race and ethnicity. “This just drops right in for us,” explains Jennie Kassanoff, associate professor of English and director of the program in American studies. “We didn’t need to reinvent the wheel. This maximizes the rich array of courses and the interests of the faculty. We’re all really excited about this.” As an example, an American-studies major can decide to take four courses within the ICORE structure and then count them toward her major.

Students in the ICORE and MORE programs will take two introductory classes, and then select among a variety of intermediate and advanced classes, from the consortium departments as well as others, such as English, dance, sociology, or history. Some course possibilities this term include “Poverty, Inequality and Policy,” “Black Theatre,” “Traditions of African-American Dance,” and “Gender and Power in Transnational Perspective.”

The programs are designed to strengthen student inquiry. “I’m hoping that the interdisciplinary concentration, with a theoretical focus, will ground students with an analysis of race and ethnicity,” says Kim F. Hall, Lucyle Hook Professor of English, and director of the Africana studies program and the Middle Passage Initiative. “This is an evolving field, but the grouping of courses gives a solid foundation. How do we train students to be capacious thinkers? Looking at how categories of ethnicity and power relate gives them the proper tools.”

Within each field, of course, the way students apply an ethnic studies perspective will vary. “Women’s studies is concerned with social differences in general,” observes Professor Neferti Tadiar, chair of women’s studies. “Having a minor in race and ethnic studies is a way, while still doing feminist theory and analysis, for students to do more substantive work. For women’s studies majors, this strengthens the emphasis we already have.” There are still other benefits, suggests Tadiar, noting, “this interdisciplinary approach creates more conversations among our students, more interprogram discussion, and collaborative relationships. Students will bump into one another.”

Perhaps what matters even more, suggests Provost Boylan, “It’s a symbol that we valued this new field of ethnic studies. It’s very exciting to bring together students from Africana, women’s, and American studies.” Boylan explains that this construct is treating the study of race and ethnicity in the context of one of the many potential partner disciplines (or interdisciplines) and methodologies.

-Merri Rosenberg, illustration by Gracia Lam