Spring 2013

Spring 2013

When I was in college in the early 1980s, letters—on paper, in ink, with self-licked stamps and everything—were the primary form of communication. Cell phones, Facebook, and e-mail were inconceivable; the payphone in the hallway was noisy and unreliable. And so, like every college student of that era, I wrote letters. Lots and lots of letters. I wrote whining letters to my parents, diligent letters to my grandparents, and daily, lovesick letters to the boyfriend I had left up north. I wrote so many letters to him, in fact, that rumor has it the student workers at his college’s mail room played games every day to decipher the secret acronyms I scrawled on each and every envelope. Recently, when this friend was in a horrific accident, my thoughts went instantly to the cache of letters I still have somewhere in the attic; letters that, for all their angst and silliness, captured a key moment in this now-middle-aged man’s life.

Today, of course, letters have become an endangered species. Rather than telling their tales or singing their woes in print, students communicate across a wide and rapidly expanding range of media. They e-mail. They text. They IM and pin and tweet. Rather than meeting potential partners at a mixer or in a bar, they hook up through sites such as OkCupid and HowAboutWe. Rather than writing letters home about their studies abroad, they post photos to Instagram and log their travels on Tumblr.

In many ways, this explosion of communication channels has facilitated a parallel expansion of communication itself. Today, most Barnard students write daily and fluidly, freed from the compunction to have someone specific to talk to or something specific to say. They have friends scattered around the world and means to access information from the most remote corners of the planet. When we traveled to São Paulo in March for our 2013 Global Symposium, our student fellows tweeted and blogged throughout the day, sending real-time missives back to campus and beyond.

These are the information flows that define both social and commercial discourse in the early 21st century. They are the drivers of the highest growth sectors in our economy and the holders of the jobs to which many of our students aspire. Yet even in these pre-nostalgic days of constant communication, I can’t help thinking that something precious is being lost amidst this move from paper to pixels, something fundamental about the way we interact with those we like and love.

Here is what concerns me. First is the basic loss of physicality, of the smell and touch and sight that once surrounded the act of writing letters. Once upon a time, people’s personalities registered through their handwriting, with the slope of an “l” or the swoop of an “e” conveying something that mattered. People wrote on stationery they chose, whether it be perfumed or monogrammed or torn, hastily, from the back pages of a notebook. When I went to summer camp many years ago, my mother wrote every day, on bright yellow paper wrapped in similarly bright envelopes. I don’t remember much about the content of her notes, but I remember the sight of them, and how the paper alone conveyed a waft of homesickness. Now I write my daughter over e-mail, trying to recall which collection of question marks and exclamation points will create the emoticon that stands for love.

I also worry about how electronic communication destroys time. When letters were constructed from pen and paper, they took time—time to conceive, to create, to re-write and ponder over. They took time—sometimes agonizing, heart-wrenching time—to be received at the other end. Think for a moment of Downton Abbey’s fictitious Anna, waiting for the stolen letters of her beloved Mr. Bates. Or of the real-life Samuel Morse, who created the telegraph after hearing, too late, of his young wife’s death. Clearly, in this latter case, e-mail or texting might have helped, but the very real-time nature of communication can impede communication as well, allowing quick messages to be forged by the urgency or anger of a moment. Quick messages, like all contemporary messages, are also relegated with equal speed to the cloud, a vast and inchoate space that remains very difficult to conceptualize. Will my personal emails, carefully filed in my Outlook (or Gmail, or whatever) folders really be there when I want to reminisce over them, 40 years from now? Will they be there for my children, if they ever want to understand them, or me? Or will the cloud devour such ephemera once I’ve forgotten my password again?

Which brings me to my third concern. Because, as we’ve learned from various unfortunate scandals over the past several years, no electronic message ever truly disappears. I may forget my login or tire of social media, but Facebook remembers every post I’ve ever posted or personal message I’ve ever sent. Our children’s unfortunate photos are stuck on their walls, now, forever; our partners’ indiscretions are logged, not so discreetly, on their smartphones. Maybe the world is better off with the eternal vigilance of WikiLeaks. Or maybe we were safer when our words were simultaneously more perishable and more private.

Thankfully, my friend survived his accident and our letters are left, once again, to the vagaries of whatever mice or memories may desire them. I don’t know if I will ever read them, or if anyone will ever care. But there is something about the tangibility of long- lost time, saved, as it is, on paper, in bundles, for real.

For now, though, I have thrown caution to the cloud and started to tweet. You can follow me @deboraspar. Happy Spring!

—Photograph by Steve DeCanio



If you have ever laughed or, more likely, cried watching a documentary on cable television, you should probably thank Sheila Nevins, president of HBO Documentary Films. Widely considered the most powerful person in non-fiction filmmaking, Nevins has spent more than 30 years supporting and overseeing the development of fascinating documentary features for HBO and Cinemax. Within a few minutes of watching selected clips from a handful of the 500 films she has helped produce, it’s easy to see why Nevins is such an important figure in the world of entertainment. From the eye-opening examination of gays in film, The Celluloid Closet, to the justice-serving story of the wrongfully accused West Memphis Three in the Paradise Lost series, to the wildly entertaining act of Elaine Stritch at Liberty, to racy real-life series such as Taxicab Confessions, and on and on, Nevins has helped change the scope of what we watch on TV. At last count, Nevins’s productions have garnered 23 Oscars, 52 Emmys, and 35 Peabody awards. She has a personal Peabody for excellence in broadcasting, a 2009 Governor’s Award from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and a 2011 Directors Guild of America Award for supporting the advancement of documentary as a genre. In the first Athena Center Power Talk of 2013, the outspoken Nevins opened up to Barnard President Debora Spar about her remarkable career and why she still doesn’t consider herself a success.

In her introduction, Spar referred to Nevins as a Barnard legend and started the conversation by asking what the audience wanted to know: How did she do it? Like so many trailblazers, Nevins’s career path did not go as planned. A New York native, she had always wanted to work in the theater. She studied dance at the High School for Performing Arts, and after “working very, very hard at Barnard” as an English major, Nevins went on to get a master’s degree in theater directing at Yale University Drama School. At Yale, she met and married a lawyer who was hoping for a doting 1960s housewife. He discouraged the theater idea, so Nevins joined the more 9-to-5 world of public television instead. “I just wanted a job,” Nevins said. “I wanted a paycheck.” After working on a few educational shows for children, she took a risk on the nascent Home Box Office in the late 1970s. The concept of paying for commercial-free television was new and unproven. “Cable?,” asked Nevins. “I went to the 42nd Street Library and looked it up. It sounded good, so I went and got the job, and I’m still here.”

While it may have been unplanned, her career ascent was no fluke. She proudly and often repeats how very good she is at what she does. Calling herself ruthless, she also told the audience she is fair. She has developed an ear for stories, and a gut that tells her what people will want to watch, not just today but 18 months from now and beyond. Most importantly, Nevins said, “I’ve earned the right to be wrong, which is a great right to earn, and that’s probably what success is: the right to be wrong.”

However, it is not easy for Nevins to admit to her success. Her first marriage ended, and she could have spent less time at work during the years her son was growing up. She does not let herself off the hook, “I failed a lot. I failed as a mother. I failed as a wife. I consider myself very accomplished but don’t consider myself a success.” Even in her career, she said, she could have strived for more, “I drew a circle around myself, a protected area where no one could get me.” She added, “At the time I started to work, I wanted to limit myself to a world where I could be successful.”

Nevins’s perspective is important, said Spar, and is a major point in an ongoing conversation. Do we demand more advancement and responsibility at work or more balanced working lives? Spar has followed the topic closely as she researched her forthcoming book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux this fall. You can have it all, but you can’t have it easy. There are trade-offs. Said Spar, “If anyone tells you there aren’t, they are lying. Sheila’s not lying.”

To young women starting out on a career path, Nevins keeps her advice simple and straightforward: Don’t be defensive about getting someone else’s coffee. “Getting coffee for other people is part of life. That shouldn’t be something wrong.” In other words, you can be hindered by your own sense of entitlement. “No one,” Nevins said, “is entitled to success.”

—By Melissa Phipps 
—Photograph by Asiya
 Khaki '09




The Honorable Mauro Vieira, Brazil’s ambassador to the US, visited Barnard to talk about his country’s program to provide scholarships to top students to study STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects abroad. Barnard is one of the program’s host institutions. The talk was one of many events surrounding the fifth annual Global Symposium in São Paulo, Brazil, March 18. From the left: Ambassador Vieira and President Spar with students who attended the discussion.


Glamour magazine hosted a panel, “How to Build Your Personal Brand and Land Your Dream Job,” for students on campus in April, and celebrated the winners of the magazine’s Top10 College Women Competition. From left are panelists Jessica Williams, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart correspondent; Wendy Kopp, Teach for America founder; Mora Neilson, public relations director of L’Oréal Paris; President Spar; Cindi Leive, Glamour’s editor- in-chief; Anna Chlumsky, Veep actress; Alex Wagner, MSNBC’s Now with Alex Wagner host; and Rachel Sterne Haot, New York City’s chief digital officer.


In honor of Women’s History Month, an intimate crowd of alumnae gathered for a “music tasting,” event, which paired music by female composers with wine and cheese made my women artisans. The evening was created by Kala Maxym ’01 through her special-events company, Five Senses Tastings along with her former business-development manager, Aimee Styler’01. Attendees listened to each musical selection, sampling wines and cheeses carefully matched to each other and the music to create a full sensory experience. From the left Cassandra Wang, pianist; Audrey Lo, violinist; Kala Maxym (who also sang at the event); Leesa Dahl, pianist; Heather Meyer, wine specialist and soprano.


The Barnard Center for Research on Women’s Scholar & Feminist conference focused this year on utopias, looking at how imagining utopias can serve as a catalyst for real change. Top: At center, Jennifer Miller, performer and founder of Circus Amok with BCRW research assistants (clockwise from top left): Emilie Segura ’14, Damini Mohan ’15, Michelle Chen ’15, Renee Slajda ’13, Phoebe Lytle ’13, Dina Tyson ’13, Zainah Gilles ’14, Lulu Mickelson ’14.


Barnard held its 10th annual Stationary Bike-A-Thon in April, raising money for Columbia Community Service (CCS). About 40 volunteers pedaled away in the LeFrak Gymnasium for the eight-hour event, raising more than $2,000. The event was sponsored by the New York City Civic Engagement Program, Barnard’s Career Development office, and CCS. Top, Regina Comins of BCIT. From the left: Joan Griffith-Lee, director of CCS; Valerie Chow, associate director of civic engagement; Jeannette Darby, public safety officer; Ken Kim of Instructional Media and Technology Services; Won Kang of the Office of Career Development; and Mike Malena of Human Resources.


More than 100 students took part in Project Interview, a day-long workshop that taught students how to put their best foot forward during a job or internship interview. The Office of Career Development sponsored the event, and several successful alumnae took part, leading small-group sessions and holding one-on-one mock interviews. Brandon Holley ’89, editor-in- chief of Lucky magazine, delivered the keynote, taking students on a tour of her publishing career. Raleigh Mayer, Leadership Lab instructor at the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, spoke about preparing a dynamic, two-minute answer to the common interview question, “Tell me about yourself.” From the left, visiting students Daria Ermushina and Amanda Awadey; Elizabeth Williams ’15; Raleigh Mayer; Deborah Kang, visiting; Jenny Mayrock ’15.

—By Abigail Beshkin 
—Photographs by Ayelet Pearl, Asiya Khaki, Annette Kahn, Jennifer Liseo, Rebecca Douglas and Abigail Beshkin 


The Barnard campus provided a welcome stop for the Speaker of the New York City Council and mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn. Speaking before some 300 students, faculty members, and alumnae at The Diana Center in March, Quinn shared her views on housing, public education, and other hot-button political issues, as well as her thoughts on the sometimes impossible expectations women face in their careers and personal lives.

Opening her remarks, she noted that she feels a special affinity for Barnard, given that many of the school’s graduates have emerged as leaders in city government and politics—including Maura Keaney ’96, Quinn’s former chief of staff, and Alix Pustilnik ’88, the City Council’s deputy legislative director. “If you look around the City Council or the folks involved in my government office or campaign [and made a] chart of what school has the most alums, you wouldn’t have to count very long before it was clear Barnard was the winner,” Quinn said.

But she also pointed out that public service is entirely in keeping with Barnard’s longtime mission. Barnard’s “leadership and vision has helped countless women over the past century get to a place where they could understand what their dreams are, understand their potential, and reach that potential,” said Quinn. “The gift that Barnard has given us is all those women who have gone out into our city, state, and world and changed the foundation for all of us.”

Raised in Glen Cove, Long Island, Quinn has certainly forged her own remarkable career path. A 1988 graduate of Trinity College, she started out as a community organizer and activist on New York City housing-rights issues before entering politics. She won a 1999 race for the City Council representing Manhattan’s third district, which includes Chelsea, Greenwich Village, and other west- side neighborhoods. Seven years later, Quinn was elected speaker, becoming the first woman and first openly gay person to hold the post.

Quinn told the audience that she was fortunate to come from a family full of strong women, which gave her the drive and confidence to push ahead. Indeed, she noted that her Irish-born maternal grandmother had actually set out for the United States 101 years ago on the Titanic, and was one of the few girls in steerage class to survive the voyage. Her grandmother talked about how “when the other girls dropped to their knees to pray,” she decided to “take a run for it.” One of the great strengths of Barnard, according to Quinn, is that it inspires students to be bold: “It’s a place where it’s okay to take risks, a place where it is encouraged to do what is in fact difficult.”

Her advice to young women: Don’t listen to your “internal naysayer” or try to conform to societal expectations. “There’s still pressure to stay within the norm. It still exists in a tremendous way,” she said, adding that too many women grow up thinking they have to be perfect at everything. “I think we need to find a way to let go of that,” she averred, while also tuning out the internal voices that tell women what they can’t do.

Quinn, who officially announced her mayoral run in early March, has called her bid to replace current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg “a daring expedition on the level of bungee jumping.”

In a question-and-answer period led by Barnard President Debora Spar, Quinn said one of her top priorities is addressing the severe shortage of affordable housing for middle- and lower-income families. “I’m worried a great deal about the fact that we don’t have enough affordable housing for all the New Yorkers who are here, who want to stay here, and all those others who want to come here,” she said.

Likewise, she’d like to step up the city’s efforts to use tax credits to attract high-tech businesses and entrepreneurs, specifically those focused on medical and biotechnologies. “We want to beat everything out of Boston [and California] as it relates to tech,” said Quinn, who noted that the city has already proposed a “tech triangle” in Brooklyn, but could also turn old Queens factories into incubator space for start-ups.

Quinn said the city has partnered with City University of New York to develop a tech-training program for local community colleges. Still, she added, the city needs to do much more on the education front, especially in regard to expanding access to early-childhood education and improving New York’s middle-grade schools. New York, she said, “needs to embrace the goal of becoming the literacy capital of America.”

—By Susan Hansen
—Photograph by Asiya Khaki



While February has become synonymous with Barnard’s hosting the Athena Film Festival, the dialogues about women and leadership are meant to be robust and ongoing all year. Last fall, a special collection of four short films, the Athena Global Shorts, celebrated the personal strengths and influence of women in their communities around the world. About one hour long, this inaugural collection brings together four shorts directed by female filmmakers that were screened at the 2012 Athena Festival. Each year, the festival’s shorts program will provide the next year’s collection of Global Shorts.

The collection was produced in collaboration with UN Women, a United Nations group that promotes gender equality and women’s empowerment. Through its worldwide committees, 200 copies of the Global Shorts have been distributed, providing the basis for an array of special events. ADP is the sponsor for the Global Shorts program. Kathryn Kolbert, Constance Hess Williams Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, is in discussions with the Girl Scouts of America to distribute the collection; Global Shorts is also available to Barnard’s regional clubs.

Kolbert, who cofounded the Athena Film Festival with Melissa Silverstein of Women and Hollywood, points to film as a medium known to nearly all people throughout the world. Using films written, directed, or produced by women or that feature them in positions of power, enhances awareness and expands the possibilities for cultural change.

The first collection of Global Shorts features women of all ages in roles contradictory to their societies’ norms. The lead characters are all marked by their creativity and determination: A Bedouin girl invades the tent where her father and his male friends are discussing his desire to take another wife; a Mexican mother frantically raises money to save a son who has accidentally fallen prey to a vicious drug cartel and finds she has endangered her own life; and, in Kenya, a band of women set up their own economically viable village—no men allowed—to escape their abusive, lazy husbands. Finally, an animated feature briefly, yet pointedly, speaks to the difficulties of women as they pursue careers in the male-dominated film industry.

Included with the Athena Global Shorts collection on DVD are some eye-opening statistics from a recent study, It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: On-screen Representations of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2011, conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. Only 33 percent of on-screen characters in the films are women, and only 11 percent are actual leads; this is actually a loss for women, since 10 years ago, women made up 16 percent of overall movie leads. Women of color account for 27 percent of female characters shown on screen, with their leading roles diminishing to eight percent in 2011 from 15 percent in 2002.

Through ongoing projects supporting women in film, like the Athena Film Festival and the selection and distribution of the Athena Global Shorts (a new collection is planned for the 2014 festival), the dialogue will most assuredly continue.

For more information on the Athena Global Shorts, or if you would like to bring the program to your community, organization, or company, please contact Maria Perez-Martinez at 212-854-1264 or at mperezma@barnard.edu.


—By Annette Kahn
—Illustration by Ariel Lee

 The third annual Athena Film Festival brought industry leaders to Barnard’s campus for a weekend in February to celebrate the achievements of women in the film and allied industries and discuss the challenges they face. The festival screened 21 features, documentaries, and shorts centered on or created by women—or both. A highlight of the festival was the awards presentation, which took place at a red-carpet celebration attended by more than 300 people. Gale Anne Hurd, executive producer of the top- rated AMC show The Walking Dead, won the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award. Hurd has been recognized for hiring women and minority directors. The Athena Film Festival Awards were presented to filmmaker Ava DuVernay, award-winning director of Middle of Nowhere; film critic and author Molly Haskell; Lincoln Center Film Society executive director Rose Kuo; and Paley Center for Media CEO, Pat Mitchell. The Festival was also cochaired by a dazzling roster of industry leaders, including producer and activist Regina Kulik Scully, founder and CEO of Artemis Rising Foundation, founding sponsor of the film festival.

Barnard President Debora Spar; actress and festival cochair Greta Gerwig ’06; and Athena Center Director Kathryn Kolbert, cofounder of the festival


TV news journalist Roz Abrams


Gale Anne Hurd, film and TV producer and winner of the Laura Ziskin Lifetime Achievement Award

Producer Debra Martin Chase, festival cochair

President Spar; Kathryn Kolbert; Gale Anne Hurd; filmmaker and Athena Award winner Ava DuVernay; festival cofounder Melissa Silverstein, also founder of Women and Hollywood; Rose Kuo; film critic and author Molly Haskell, Athena Award winner; and Diablo Cody, screenwriter and festival cochair.


—By Natalie Korman '13
—Photographs by Starpix/Kristina Bumphrey




In the fall of her first year at Barnard, Sakina Pasha ’13 was intrigued by a flyer that advertised Knickerbocker Motorsports, a student group based at Columbia that designs and builds a high- performance racecar each year for international competitions.“I didn’t know anything about cars, but I’ve always been interested in building things,” says Pasha, who worked on many home- improvement projects with her mother while growing up in Phoenix.

Today, Pasha is the president of the club, and her election has made her a trailblazer—she is the club’s first female president, the first from Barnard, and the first non-engineer. A neuroscience major, Pasha is also involved in student government at the College. “I think there’s real value in opening up the club” to non-engineers, says Pasha, who led the club’s decision to change its constitution, which previously did not allow Barnard students to be board members.

Pasha joined the club with a friend; the two were the first Barnard students ever to participate. Pasha didn’t know what many of the tools in the club’s shop were, as they were nothing like the ones she had used at home to spackle, lay tile, and strip carpet. But she quickly learned about car design and construction, as well as the management challenge of organizing a complicated engineering project executed by 20 students, many of whom spend as many as 40 hours a week working on the club’s car. “I latched on to people and took in as much as I could,” she says.

Her outlook as a non-engineer has benefitted the team, according to Miguel Rodriguez, the club’s chief engineer and a Columbia senior. “She is not afraid to question an engineering choice, which almost always ends up with us realizingsomething we didn’t see before,” he explains. “She always says, ‘You only really know your car system when you are able to clearly explain it to a non-engineer.’”

Providing an explanation of the car’s design is a key element of the annual competition the club enters, the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers Competition, which takes place in late spring at the Michigan International Speedway; 120 universities are eligible to participate. In addition to racing, the team makes presentations on the car’s design and cost to judges who are engineers and consultants from major racing groups and auto companies. “You have to defend the design, to know why each part is on the car,” says Pasha. The presentation includes a listing of the car’s 500 parts, their prices, and labor costs.

The club gives the students hands-on experience in project management, analysis, and fundraising, in addition to cardesign and testing, says the club’s faculty advisor Robert Stark, lab manager in Columbia’s mechanical engineering department. He describes Pasha as “the glue that binds the team together. She is very well-organized and a forceful personality.” Her selection as president provides inspiration to other women. “The need to encourage female students to get involved in a hardcore engineering project like this one is very important,” he adds.

About a quarter of the club’s members are women. Pasha’s leadership has changed the atmosphere, pushing members “to open themselves up to people who don’t know as much about cars” but have other valuable organizational and business skills as well as a desire to learn, Pasha says.

Pasha is thinking about a career in engineering management, a field she hadn’t previously considered. Leading Knickerbocker Motorsports “tested my abilities to manage a group of people,” she says. “I wasn’t aware that I had the skills to do so.”


—By Jennifer Altmann
—Photograph by Dorothy Hong



A Steubenville, Ohio, rape case exhibits just what can happen when a situation gets out of control. What began as a night of partying in August 2012, ended with an intoxicated 16-year-old West Virginia girl being violated, other teenagers standing by and doing nothing, with pictures and text messages posted on social media. Two high-school football stars have been sentenced to time in the Ohio juvenile system; others could be charged for obstruction of justice, failing to report the attack, or both.

Recently, Barnard College received a $5,000 grant from the Avon Foundation for Women to train people in intervention techniques in the hopes of preventing such incidents. Known as the “m.powerment by mark. Healthy Relationship College Program” grant, the funds will be used to start a bystander-intervention program. “Imagine if people really understood what they could do to help,” says Mary Joan L. Murphy, PNP-BC, MSN, MPH, executive director of student health and wellness programs at the College, who applied for the grant. “Education is key to getting the message out about how ‘no’ means ‘no,’ as well as what is assault,” says Murphy.

The Avon Foundation for Women received more than 172 applications from colleges nationwide seeking an m.powerment grant to fund preventive education programs on dating abuse and violence, sexual assault, and stalking, as well as those programs promoting healthy relationships. Barnard was one of 25 recipients. It’s the first time the school has received a grant from the foundation, which has spent over $33 million to fight domestic violence in the United States.

“The Avon Foundation for Women is significant in its support of women’s issues,” says Abigail Feder-Kane, Barnard’s former senior director of institutional support who oversaw the grant application to make sure it met the criteria laid out in the guidelines. “Receiving a grant from Avon is very good for Barnard’s reputation in the general funding world, and hopefully, it will bring more public attention to Barnard and help us to get additional grants in the future,” she adds.

“It made a lot of sense for us to apply, given how strong our rape crisis center and entire sexual-assault program is,” says Murphy.

Created in 1991 by Barnard College and Columbia University students, the Barnard/Columbia Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center provides peer advocacy and education to the entire student university community, including running a 24-hour help line staffed by student volunteers who are certified by the city’s Department of Health. Originally located in Butler Hall, the center has moved to 105 Hewitt in the Barnard Quad. “What we have learned about intimate-partner violence and sexual assaults on campus is that a number of students often witness these events and want to help but are not sure how to intervene,” says Dr. Karen Singleton, director of the Sexual Violence Response (SVR), a program of Columbia Health at Columbia University.

Those who run that program, which includes the Rape Crisis/Anti-Violence Support Center along with the Men’s Peer-Education Program, have been working with other departments at Columbia and Barnard to start a bystander-intervention program since 2010.

“Any time we can find outside support for programming that has already been defined as a high priority for the College, there are good and practical reasons to do so,” says FederKane. “The college was already planning to move forward with the program, and the outside funding ensures that we can make it even better.”

“Part of the money will go toward developing materials to get the message out about healthy and safe relationships,” notes Murphy. “We have been brainstorming about some of the tools that will help us do this. We want to use this money to reach as many groups as possible. The rape crisis center has already done education and intervention models for the athletic teams at Columbia, but we want to reach people from a wide variety of backgrounds.”

The goal is to unveil the bystander-intervention program in the fall. “Right now we are developing the curriculum,” says Singleton. “We are looking at what has been done on other campuses and deciding if we want to take elements from those programs and create our own, or if we would rather adopt one in place at another institution.”

—by Sherry Karabin

—Photograph by Dorothy Hong 

Dr. Meenakshi Rao challenges students to find chemistry in the world around them.

When members of the chemistry department asked Meenakshi Rao if she’d develop a new introductory seminar course on a subject close to her heart for the fall 2013 semester, she jumped at the chance. Rao, Barnard’s senior lecturer in chemistry and director of the organic chemistry labs, has taught at the College for 22 years and knew exactly how to draw new students to the field: a course on forensics and chemistry in everyday life.

One of her inspirations for the course, “From Pumpkin Pie to CSI,” the latter referring to the popular television show, came from a trip Rao took with a group of students recently to the “CSI: The Experience” exhibition at the Discovery Times Square museum. The students solved hypothetical crimes by examining blood types and matching DNA samples to potential suspects. They were fascinated by the experience, and the memory of their enthusiasm has stayed with Rao ever since. She still keeps pictures from the trip on a bulletin board outside her office. “The excitement in their expressions was incredible,” she says.

It doesn’t hurt that Rao is also a fan of Sherlock Holmes. Her appetite for mysteries fuels her own passion for studying forensics. “Sherlock Holmes, CSI, The Mentalist—I can’t get enough of it,” she admits with a laugh, noting that it’s the way that crime stories hinge on the science—the analysis of a hair fiber or a tooth filling—that captivates her. She’s not alone: Today’s students have grown up watching images of scientists working in labs, using chemistry to solve crimes in ubiquitous crime procedurals such as CSI. New technology in forensics has also brought increased media attention to the field as investigators have solved cold cases and reversed past convictions with new DNA evidence. “When I was growing up, I wasn’t exposed to these topics,” Rao says. “You didn’t see science in the mainstream media.” Her own undergraduate and master’s education at India’s Bangalore University rarely covered how chemistry could be found in the outside world.

Forensics and a Calendar of Chemistry

That won’t be the case for Rao’s students. In the weeks the course is devoted to forensics, students will learn crime-scene chemistry and evidence-analysis techniques. For example, they’ll learn how they can use atomic absorption spectroscopy, a way to detect trace amounts of elements in a sample, to identify the additional metals in a gold tooth filling found at a crime scene. Knowing the filling’s makeup can lead investigators back to a specific dentist who uses a particular filling mixture—and to a list of patients who could be potential suspects.

Students who continue in chemistry will encounter atomic absorption spectroscopy in the course “Quantitative and Instrumental Techniques,” where the method is used to determine how trace elements found in certain foods match the foods’ dietary information. An early understanding of how scientists use these techniques in fields such as forensics gives students a broader sense of how hard science is applied outside the classroom or lab.

The changing seasons and holidays also inspired Rao to design “Calendar of Chemistry.” As the leaves change, she will teach the chemistry of color and invite her students to her family’s home on Long Island. The trip, which includes a hike through the fall foliage, has become an annual tradition for Rao and the students in her fall courses. Rao will then teach the chemistry of fear to coincide with Halloween, exploring how our bodies produce chemicals that induce a fight-or-flight response after a sudden fright.

Popular cooking shows have also introduced food chemistry to a mainstream audience; before Thanksgiving break, Rao will delve into that topic. Students will learn how one small structural difference in the otherwise identical molecular formulas of nutmeg and cloves—common pumpkin pie ingredients— makes these two spices dramatically different in aroma and taste. She will devote the final class to the chemistry of ice as students depart for winter break. Rao will also have her students explore chemistry in art restoration, forgery detection, cosmetics, even the chemistry of love.

Putting Science in Context

Rao designed the new course to provoke a passion for chemistry in first-year students—even before they take “General Chemistry I.” Telling the stories behind the science captures their attention, she explains. “Then they’re awake for the chemistry part of it.”

Her passion for chemistry and novel approaches to teaching it helped earn Rao Barnard’s Emily Gregory Award for excellence in teaching and for devotion and service last year. Her methods have adapted to changes in her students. Over the past decade, she has observed that many students want to apply their chemistry studies to careers outside the traditional pursuits of medicine, research, or academics; Rao sees some of her former students going into such fields as art restoration and forensics.

The students respond so well to stories of the real-world applications of science that she discusses chemistryrelated news articles in class. The more she exposes her first-year students to the ways science fits into life, the more likely they’ll find inspiration in the field. “If high-school students were exposed to these stories more, most would consider majoring in chemistry in college,” she believes. Rao expects a full classroom for the new seminar this fall, and hopes to add a lab component in coming years.

But students aren’t the only people clamoring for Rao’s new seminar.

—by VL Hartmann

—Illustration by Julia Rothman 


She’s toured with Laurie Anderson, Cyndi Lauper, and Rickie Lee Jones, but percussionist Sue Hadjopoulos ’75 says that her career as a sought-after performer and recording artist wasn’t something she anticipated. “Musically, I never kind of planned it,” Hadjopoulos says from her apartment in Manhattan. She shares the space with a houseplant, “a palm that doesn’t need to be watered for a month or two,” a big plus when she’s on tour for weeks at a time in Japan or Europe.

She performed with British musician and singer-songwriter Joe Jackson last summer on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and soon after began a two-month tour with Jackson for his tribute album to Duke Ellington. They played more than 30 concerts in the United States, France, Italy, Germany, and Belgium. Hadjopoulos’s professional relationship with Jackson dates from 1982, when she spotted a Village Voice ad by a “major recording artist” seeking a player skilled in Latin percussion, including timbales, congas, bongos, and mallets. Hadjopoulos protested to a friend that she didn’t know how to play mallets, but her friend insisted that she answer the ad anyway.

When Hadjopoulos arrived for an audition, she wasn’t intimidated. She didn’t know who the Grammy-nominated artist was. She was hired and performed on Jackson’s breakthrough Night and Day album, known for hits “Steppin’ Out” and “Breaking Us in Two.” Her ease with genres including pop, rock, and Latin music served her well, and she’s been working with Jackson for 30 years.

Hadjopoulos grew up on Long Island, the daughter of a Greek dad who was an engineer and Big Band drummer and a Puerto Rican mom who was a linguistics professor. “It was such an open time,” she says. “There were so many possibilities for women. I came from a liberated family; my dad would cook and do laundry, and my mom would go to classes.”

When Hadjopoulos seated herself behind her father’s basement drum set, she daydreamed that she was performing at Madison Square Garden. “My dad showed me rudiments and double rolls and things like that,” she says. “My older brother played sax and started being in all these bands, and they’d have rehearsals at the house. When they didn’t have a drummer, they’d use me, but when they’d get a gig, my brother didn’t want his little sister playing.” She did, however, perform occasionally with his band and began picking up work.

At Barnard, she studied anthropology and reveled in hearing Jane Goodall lecture at Columbia. On the weekends, she played funk, pop, and rhythm and blues in “crazy bad places” all over New York City before crawling into bed at 3 a.m.

She developed a niche picking up and playing intricate Latin rhythms, a melding of African rhythms and island beats. “People hired me because they liked how I interpreted their music,” she says. “I can hear the thing all loaded up with the percussion on it. I’m good at layering what instrumentation would go on when.”

After graduation, Hadjopoulos played in a touring female salsa band, Latin Fever. That experience primed her to ace her audition with Jackson, whom she describes as “very versatile. You don’t know what he’s going to throw out to you: Is it going to be Latin? Jazz?”

In the past 25 years, Hadjopoulos has performed with artists as diverse as Simple Minds, Laura Nyro, Barry Manilow, and The B-52s. She toured twice with Cyndi Lauper, who asked her in the audition if she could sing back up. “I said yes because you must say yes to everything,” Hadjopoulos says, adding that after she got the job, she signed up for six months of voice lessons.

Hadjopoulos seamlessly blends musical skill with impressive stamina, says Andy Ezrin, a jazz pianist and keyboard player who has toured globally with her. “The main thing with her is her energy. And she’s very upbeat. She’s bubbly and fun to be around.” He’s impressed by her endurance, saying that Jackson also appreciated Hadjopoulos’s ability to keep the music flowing by keeping the beat going.

Though the artists Hadjopoulos accompanies cover a variety of genres and styles, all are dedicated to promoting their music. “Nobody gets to be in these places without a lot of hard, grimy work. They’re constantly thinking about what they’re going to do next,” Hadjopoulos says. “I don’t have that drive to be in the front. I like being in my little percussion house in the back.”

—by June D. Bell

—Photograph by Imy James