The idea behind a recent Radcliffe workshop sounded more like the setup to a perfect punch line, admitted one of its organizers
“It almost began like a joke. Bring a pastry chef and a neuroscientist and a particle physicist into the room and see what happens,” said University of Toronto astronomer Ray Jayawardhana, a former Radcliffe Fellow.
So the laughs Tuesday at Radcliffe Gymnasium were fitting, but secondary to the serious reflection and discussion around the theme of creativity across disciplines. “We didn’t know exactly where the conversation would go,” said Jayawardhana, “but we knew it would be fascinating, and we would cross-pollinate between different fields.”
The day was devoted to looking closely at moments of creative breakthrough and to asking about the “commonalities, and also about revealing discrepancies between such moments in various fields,” said co-organizer John Plotz, also a former Radcliffe Fellow and now an English professor at Brandeis University.
Maureen N. McLane, an associate professor of English at New York University, opened the workshop with a poetic perspective, referencing Ezra Pound’s “make it new,” a dictum that influenced generations of post-World War I artists. Pound was challenging poets, said McLane, “to keep art and life in dynamic relation.” Pound himself often made it new, she added, by making it old.
“Poet breakthroughs,” said McLane, “are not about progress, they are not linear, they are sometimes about reframing, about reconnecting with vital sources in the language or in new dimensions of experience.”
Harvard grad Alex Ross, a music critic for The New Yorker, unraveled the mystery and creative brilliance of Richard Wagner, examining how and why the composer’s work continues to hold audiences “spellbound.”
Ross deconstructed the opening of “Tristan and Isolde” for the group of about 60 participants. The “hypnotic effect of its opening bars,” he said, help to create the “most revolutionary moment” in Wagner’s work.
But beyond his output, the life of Wagner, musical genius and fierce anti-Semite, teaches about “the highest and lowest impulses of humankind,” Ross said.
“In the case of Wagner, we are looking into a great magnifying mirror of the soul of the human species, what we hate in it, we hate in ourselves; what we love in it, we love in ourselves, also,” he said. “Wagner’s breakthrough was to make music absolutely, overwhelmingly, human.”
Turning to culinary creativity, the longtime pastry chef at the White House, Bill Yosses, explained how a breakthrough 40 years ago helped shine a light on the art of cooking, one that has intensified over the years.
Many scorned the nouvelle cuisine trend of the 1970s, with its small portions and decorative plates, said Yosses, but chefs rejoiced, because “finally people were paying attention” to food.
Today people are still paying attention, and breakthroughs in cooking involve a range of disciplines and driving factors, said Yosses, who regularly takes part in Harvard’s science and cooking series.
“We are still seeking the same rapture that science and art and religion seek,” said Yosses, “we just do it by food.”
The event drew one working scientist: Maria Spiropulu, Ph.D. ’00, an experimental particle physicist at California Institute of Technology and a former senior research physicist at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research.
Physics is the science of “chasing the dream of understanding nature to the core,” said Spiropulu — and “very difficult problems require breakthroughs.” In turn, those breakthroughs almost always require collaborations across disciplines. In the case of CERN, she said, the crisscrossing disciplines included experts in cosmology, astrophysics, and particle physics. “Science is seldom born with a single parent.”
Rahul Mehrotra, chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design at the Graduate School of Design, was on an afternoon panel with Spiropulu and Yosses. After watching an earlier panel crowded with poets and writers, “I feel like a bit of an outlier,” he said.
Part of that feeling has to do with the source of creativity. In the arts and poetry, it comes from a reaction to the world around us, he said, but in architecture it often comes from contingencies — in the sense of coming emergencies. The art of designing structures is better seen as embedded into a city, like something necessary, rather than imposed upon a city — like a glittering skyline.
Radcliffe Fellow and composer John Aylward returned to campus with his ensemble ECCE to conduct a work commissioned for the conference to end the afternoon.
“I Saw My Life Go By in the Coyote’s Jaws” was inspired by surrealist poet Dean Young’s work of the same name. Young’s words, said Aylward, capture the notion of “epiphanies in the mundane and the idea that breakthroughs can happen in a very subtle moment.”
Posted in Alex Ross, Arts & Culture, Bill Yosses, Brandeis University, History, Language & Culture, John Aylward, John Plotz, Maureen N. McLane, New York University, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Ray Jayawardhana, Richard Wagner, The New Yorker, The White House, University of Toronto | Comments Off
Pinocchio’s Pizza & Subs has been a fixture in Harvard Square for decades. With Kirkland, Eliot, Winthrop, and Lowell Houses nearby and much of the rest of campus also close, it has been a late-night standby for generations of Harvard students. Americo DiCenso tells how he distributed trays of pizza to turn around the struggling Winthrop Street business that he purchased in the 1980s, and how that shop, despite its tiny, 500-square-foot size, has embraced its status as a local institution.
This is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.
Last summer, Maia Fedyszyn learned that the nameless, faceless bureaucrats who run the federal Medicaid program aren’t so invisible after all. What’s more, they care deeply about the program and its impact on the public.
Fedyszyn, who is receiving a master’s of science in public health from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), spent the summer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. There, she developed a passion for health care policy, worked to develop Medicaid regulations, and reviewed some of the 500 public comments on drafted rules.
The experience, Fedyszyn said, exposed her to the “nitty-gritty of policy work,” but also gave her an appreciation for the dedication of workers behind the scenes.
“They read every single one” of the comments, “respond to some directly, and make changes based on them,” Fedyszyn said. “They’re really, really dedicated to this. … It was great to know that this is how the system works.”
If Fedyszyn has her way, she’ll be working in that system after graduation, helping to fashion health care policy.
That’s something John McDonough has no doubt will happen.
“She’s got a real passion for health care policy and has taken advantage of every opportunity to work directly in a health policy setting,” said McDonough, professor of the practice of public health and director of the HSPH Center for Public Health Leadership. “She has a terrific future in health policy.”
Fedyszyn plunged into health care policy as a Dartmouth College undergraduate. She studied retirement savings and health care, developed policy recommendations, and delivered them to the New Hampshire Legislature.
“I was drawn to doing something that would make an impact in the world,” Fedyszyn said. “We all need quality, affordable health care.”
As a junior, she interned at Boston Health Care for the Homeless, which provides a place to recover from medical issues. She arranged post-discharge support such as housing and substance-abuse programs.
She recalled one man, around 40, with a broken leg. Though he was determined to beat his alcohol problem and was doing well after a monthlong stay, it wasn’t long before he began drinking again and returned to the program. After she graduated from Dartmouth in 2007, Fedyszyn joined AmeriCorps, returned to Boston Health Care for the Homeless, and found out that the man had died on the street.
“You form these connections with people. Seeing them struggle, you want to provide resources to help them get better,” Fedyszyn said. “It was really heartbreaking.”
After working for AmeriCorps, Fedyszyn worked for three years at Community Catalyst, providing advocacy and resources for state-based groups supporting children’s welfare. She also advocated for consumers on Medicaid policy as part of national health care reform.
Fedyszyn said she learned a lot at HSPH, in class and out. She praised the faculty and classmates who helped her grow and contribute. In the spring of 2012, Fedyszyn was one of two students who drafted the case for HSPH’s first spring exercise.
That exercise, led by McDonough, had student teams focus on specific health policy problems, do research, and develop policy recommendations. The teams’ work was judged by experts at the School, and the winning recommendations were presented to the Massachusetts Legislature.
“It’s been a resounding success,” Fedyszyn said, “a great experience for everyone involved.”
Posted in Alvin Powell, Campus & Community, Commencement, Commencement 2013, Harvard School of Public Health, Health Care, Health Care Reform, Homeless, John McDonough, Maia Fedyszyn, Profile | Comments Off
In 2012, when a journalist asked the White House about Israeli authorities withholding SAT exams intended for Palestinian students in the West Bank, it was a question that had been prompted by an op-ed written by two Harvard students.
“Israel vs. No. 2 Pencils” by Lena Awwad ’13 and Shatha I. Hussein ’14 argued that the move had had a devastating effect on Palestinian students hoping to attend colleges such as Harvard. When “not a single U.S. news source picked up the story of the SAT hold-up in Palestine,” the Harvard Crimson published it, according to Gina Helfrich, director of the Harvard College Women’s Center.
In a clear nod to the op-ed, the White House soon released a daily briefing that said the issue had been resolved and that Palestinian students would be able to take the SATs — “so they should sharpen their No. 2 pencils.”
Because of Awwad and Hussein’s efforts, Helfrich said, “at least one of those students who was able to take the SATs will attend Harvard next year” — and the Center took note, honoring Awwad with the 2013 Harvard College Women’s Leadership Award.
Faculty, staff, and students recently flocked to the Charles Hotel to recognize Awwad and two other outstanding Harvard University women. Nadia Farjood ’13 accepted an honorable mention, and Kathleen McCartney, dean of the Graduate School of Education and president-elect of Smith College, was presented with the 2013 Women’s Professional Achievement Award.
Coordinated by the Women’s Center, the annual awards, now in their 16th year, are made possible by support from Terrie Fried Bloom ’75 and have a legacy of distinguished past recipients, including astronaut Stephanie Wilson ’88 and Tina Tchen ’78, chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama.
Accepting her award, Awwad emphasized her belief that leadership is “the ability to fight not only for one’s own rights, but for the rights of others, especially when they’re not able to do it themselves.”
In addition to thanking her family, she thanked the “difficult circumstances” she had witnessed and encountered in her native country of Palestine — “the poverty, the hardship, the checkpoints … they made me the person who I am today” — but she dedicated her award to Harvard itself.
“This institution has given me so much,” Awwad said. “It has allowed me to develop as a person and as a woman, and I can only hope that a privilege like this will be extended to students from Palestine and around the world.”
“We have many great traditions here at Harvard, and this is one of my favorites,” said Diana Sorensen, dean of Arts and Humanities and the James F. Rothenberg Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of Comparative Literature. “It is one of the more recent traditions, but it is absolutely central.”
In introducing McCartney, Sorensen honored her for “her history of supporting women in leadership roles, for encouraging diversity, and for her brilliant academic achievements in early childhood development education.” She added that McCartney would be missed “as a friend, and as a role model.”
McCartney, a “first-generation college student” and a native of Medford, Mass., said that the world had changed “since I was the age of the young women being honored here tonight.” She recalled that during her undergraduate years at Tufts University, male students would rate female students on their physical attractiveness, “literally holding up signs” as the women passed by.
Despite such challenges, McCartney said, a series of sponsors and “intellectual mothers” helped her find her way, people who used their influence to advocate on her behalf. “They saw something in me that I just didn’t see in myself,” McCartney said, adding that she felt “so honored to lead the Graduate School of Education for the past eight years … it really has felt like an eight-year honeymoon.”
Graduate student Shauna Shames ’01, who nominated Farjood, called the honorable mention recipient “a force of nature” who had just received funding from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program to pursue a summer internship at the White House.
Shames said that when Farjood discovered that Harvard had no course on women in politics, she decided to create one. Putting together a team of student researchers, Farjood collected student signatures to demonstrate interest and demand, conducted peer-institution research showing that Yale and Princeton offered such courses, and wrote and delivered a report of their findings to Harvard administrators. The result, Shames said, is the lecture course “Women and U.S. Politics,” which will debut at Harvard next year.
Commending Farjood’s determination and vision, Shames thanked her “for all you do, for all that you have done already, and all that you will do, for us.”
Posted in Awards, Campus & Community, Gina Helfrich, Harvard College Women's Center, Harvard College Women’s Leadership Awards, Harvard Crimson, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Jennifer Doody, Kathleen McCartney, Lena Awwad, Nadia Farjood, “Israel vs. No. 2 Pencils | Comments Off
Richard Holmes, whose critically acclaimed “The Age of Wonder” explored the intersection of science and the arts in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, discussed the role of biography in shaping popular understanding of scientists and their work Tuesday at Radcliffe Gymnasium.
“Can biography and science speak to each other?” he asked to launch his 75-minute talk, “The Scientist Within.” Holmes said they can, even though “biography is literary, subjective, historical, and backward-looking,” while “science is forward-looking” and objective.
The image of the scientist in the popular imagination was largely created around the Romantic notion of a singular genius experiencing a “eureka” moment of discovery, said Holmes, stressing the point by holding a print of the astronomer John Herschel next to a picture of Albert Einstein. With their strikingly similar unkempt hair and intense gazes, there is “something extraordinary about how close these images are,” he said.
Biography can help challenge and deepen such notions by illuminating not just the formation of an individual scientist but also the painstaking scientific process, he said, citing Walter Isaacson’s “Einstein” and “Steve Jobs” and Dava Sobel’s “Longitude,” as successes.
Holmes traced the roots of scientific biography to the 17th century. Samuel Johnson, the subject of one of the most famous biographies in history, himself wrote a pioneering work: “The Life of Herman Boerhaave” (1739). The book focused on formative events in its subject’s childhood, as did William Stukeley’s 1752 biography of Isaac Newton. Holmes quoted Stukeley: “Every reader burns with a desire to know the primordia,” the beginnings of Newton’s epic engagement with science. It was Stukeley’s biography, Holmes said, that first popularized the story of how a falling apple served as Newton’s epiphany about the workings of gravity.
As he did in “The Age of Wonder,” which was named the best nonfiction book of 2009 by Time, Holmes stressed the close interaction between scientific discovery and artistic endeavor in the Romantic age.
Pioneering astronomical work by Sir William Herschel (father of John) helped inspire the music and poetry of his age — the work of Keats, for one. For Romantic poets such as Keats, science was about “eureka” moments, when nature’s wonders were revealed. Of course, as Holmes pointed out, Herschel had no such moment, but confirmed his observations through careful research and the generous help of others, such as his brilliant sister, the astronomer Caroline Herschel.
Equally taken with astronomy, said Holmes, was composer Joseph Haydn, who looked through Herschel’s famous telescopes shortly before beginning the composition of his oratorio “The Creation,” in 1796, and drew inspiration from a conversation with Caroline Herschel.
Holmes finished with an emphasis on three emerging challenges in scientific biography: first, a much deeper look at the contributions of women (he cited Rosalind Franklin, who worked on discovering DNA, as a prime example of neglect); second, the need to better convey the collaborative nature of scientific discovery; and finally, educating and inspiring young people to consider careers in science.
“Biography is a miraculous, inspiring teaching tool,” said Holmes.
Posted in Albert Einstein, Arts & Culture, Caroline Herschel, Chuck Leddy, Dava Sobel, History, Language & Culture, Isaac Newton, John Keats, Joseph Haydn, Newton’s Apple, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Richard Holmes, Rosalind Franklin, Samuel Johnson, Scientific Biography, Sir John Herschel, Walter Isaacson, “The Age of Wonder | Comments Off
Posted in Student Life | Comments Off
This is one in a series of profiles showcasing some of Harvard’s stellar graduates.
For busy bicyclist and blogger Alice Anne Brown, MUP ’13, the wheels are always turning. They turn in her mind at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD), where for two years she has studied urban planning — especially how bicycles can make cities more livable, lovable, and viable.
And the wheels turn for Brown on the road, where she logs five to 20 miles a day on her one-speed Westport cruiser. It has fat wheels, pedal brakes, a single gear, and a seat that makes her sit up straight, all the better to just look around. (For weekend distance rides, she keeps a Specialized Dolce.) “I’m a three-city girl,” said Brown, whose home is in Somerville, school is in Cambridge, and work is in Boston (as a project manager at Boston Bikes, a citywide cycling initiative).
She was born in Detroit, the Motor City, but her core passion revolves around how pedal power could be at the heart of a safe, practical, and low-impact urban life. Brown has ridden the bike lanes in many of the 22 countries she’s visited, though two years ago she was obliged to climb Mount Kilimanjaro on foot.
“There is no better way to really see a place,” she said of biking. Her childhood seemed to be on wheels too, and rolled through Michigan to Maryland and back to Ohio for her father’s engineering career. Mostly, she grew up in the village of Baltimore, Ohio, where home was on five acres with a pond. She swam, ice skated, played the flute, and dabbled in 4H. (“I was a disaster at cooking and sewing,” she said.) Her younger brother took to country life, but “I have searched for cities ever since,” said Brown.
At Ohio State University, Brown studied physics, then switched to mathematics. (She also rowed crew and played ice hockey.) As an undergraduate senator, Brown sat on a town-gown planning board that piqued her interest in how cities worked, including streetlight audits and regulations for commercial frontage. In 2003, armed with dual degrees in math and philosophy, Brown moved to the Bronx, where for five years she taught math to sixth- and eighth-graders.
Even when teaching, Brown felt intimations of the career she ultimately would embrace: planning that would make the world’s cities greener. She spent many hours in New York’s Central Park, a place that she said feels like her real home. In a life-changing experience, Brown led her class through a unit on sustainability, including a look at the “No Impact Man” lifestyle. For a week, she rode her bike everywhere.
When she moved to Ethiopia in 2008 for a three-year teaching job in Addis Ababa, her bike came with her, as did her interest in public spaces. Brown surveyed city parks in the capital. She also studied the ubiquitous and cheap 14-passenger minivans that provide informal public transport in much of East Africa. She realized that her interests had converged into a desire to study urban planning.
“I wanted to change things,” said Brown, who applied to the GSD, was admitted, and started in September 2011.
What’s next? “I could go anywhere,” said Brown. She has new skills at planning and assessment and a vision of cities where streets are designed for more than cars. Still, she added, “I don’t want to be just the bike girl.”
Harvard researchers have combined new technology with old to better understand conditions in the war-torn border region between Sudan and South Sudan. It is thought that civilians have been targeted by armed forces in the area, which is closed to outside media and international observers.
In a report released Tuesday by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s Signal Program on Human Security and Technology, researchers combined satellite images with thousands of publicly available reports, including soldier accounts posted on the Internet — YouTube videos in which they talked about their exploits — for more insight on fighting that took place in 2011 and 2012.
“You’re talking about basically an area closed off to the outside world,” said Brittany Card, the Signal Program’s coordinator of data analysis and a lead author of the report. “It’s a sad reality that conflicts like that are occurring all over the world.”
The report identified specific military units involved in certain engagements and indicated that the destruction of civilian homes — more than 2,000 — was greater than earlier believed. It also corroborated the destruction of the headquarters of four humanitarian organizations that had been operating in the area.
Written by Card and Ziad Al Achkar, a Signal Program analyst, with the help of interns Jody Heck, a Harvard junior, and Sam Plasmati from Tufts University, the report also shows what’s possible when modern satellite imagery is combined with new reservoirs of information available online, providing a “proof-of-concept” that could help future researchers get a fuller grasp on other conflicts in closed areas.
“This study provides previously unavailable information about the conflict in Sudan, while also demonstrating how humanitarian actors can see other, future disasters in new ways,” said HHI Director Michael VanRooyen, professor of medicine and of global health and population and an emergency physician at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The report, “Sudan: Anatomy of a Conflict,” looks at the volatile border region in the months after the January 2011 referendum that created South Sudan. Though the Sudanese government has officially accepted the referendum’s results, the actual location of the border remains disputed and fighting has continued among multiple armed groups. Roughly a million people have been displaced.
“It was really a critical moment in the history of South Sudan,” Card said.
The YouTube videos — shot by a Sudanese army public relations team — were particularly useful, the authors said, as were tweets and other posts from the soldiers themselves. Al Achkar, who viewed and translated the videos from Arabic, said it’s clear that the soldiers feel like they’re defending their country or tribe, rather than possibly breaking international law.
“They don’t see it as potentially criminal behavior, they see it as fighting for their nation or tribal group,” Al Achkar said.
By filling in blanks, the report’s methodology could change how conflicts in closed areas are monitored and provide humanitarian organizations with an important tool, Card said. The findings could also be useful should international criminal courts be convened over human rights violations in the region, as well as to policy makers from organizations negotiating with the governments or groups involved.
In their analysis of fighting around the border town of Abyei, researchers realized that many more homes had been burned down than originally estimated, because the images showed that the fighting affected not just Abyei, which was razed, but numerous outlying towns.
Researchers may also have shed light on extra-judicial killings in the Sudanese town of Kadugli in 2011. The report showed that cars similar to those used by the killers — white Toyota Land Cruisers — were seen at state police headquarters in Kadugli in June 2011.
“When you gather all this information here in Cambridge and add satellite imagery, we’re seeing how much we know about a non-permissive conflict zone,” said Benjamin Davies, deputy director of the Signal Program. “What we found out is that you can learn quite a lot.”
Posted in Alvin Powell, Benjamin Davies, Brittany Card, Conflict, Engineering & Technology, Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, humanitarian relief, International, National & World Affairs, satellite photo, Signal Program on Human Security and Technology, South Sudan, Sudan, War, Ziad Al Achkar | Comments Off