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Managing an Antarctic Rescue

Posted on Aug 1, 2000

The headline-grabbing rescue of Dr. Jerri Nielsen from the South Pole last fall featured Richard Saburro '69, who managed the rescue and coordinated the Air Force's drop of medical supplies to Nielsen in July.

Saburro is commander of Operation Deep Freeze, the military logistics operation that supports the U.S. Antarctic research on global change/warming, astronomy and astrophysics, the ozone hole, biology, and geology. “The military is called on for support due to our unique capabilities to operate in the austere and hazardous Antarctic environment,” Saburro explains.

Saburro commands the ships and aircraft that carry scientists, equipment, and support personnel from a staging base in New Zealand to Antarctica and within the continent to various research sites. Much of the work is done by ski-equipped C-130s flown by the 109th Airlift Wing out of Scotia, N. Y. Other craft include C-141s, C-17s, and C-5s as well as a Coast Guard icebreaker and two Military Sealift command ships.

To recap briefly: Nielsen's rescue was made necessary after she found a lump in her breast. The rescue effort occurred two weeks earlier than weather usually permits travel to the South Pole (extreme cold and blowing snow prevent flights into the South Pole except for four months of “summer” each year). Saburro had to coordinate 200 military planners, flight teams, airport personnel, and maintenance workers. Likewise, the July airdrop of medical supplies to Nielsen required the combined efforts of numerous military and civilian personnel. “It took some patience, and you really have no alternative in the Antarctic,” Saburro told an Albany Times Union reporter.

Saburro lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and spends most of the Austral summer at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. He completed the Air Force ROTC program while at Union, entered the Air Force for six years of active duty, and was an Air National Guard reservist for fifteen years before returning to active duty as commander of Operation Deep Freeze in June, 1997. He says that he was attracted to the position by the adventure, the military promotion opportunity, the opportunity to live abroad, and the challenge of spearheading the Navy to Air Force transition (responsibility for Operation Deep Freeze is transferring to the Air Force after forty years as the responsibility of the Navy).

The opportunity to be in the national and world spotlight was also an attraction, Saburro admits. In addition to the rescue of Nielsen, Saburro has hosted visits by several government officials, including President Clinton.

But Neilsen's rescue caused the most attention. “I think they're fascinated because it's a human interest story involving managing and assembling resources to go to a remote area of the world, under hazardous conditions, to provide for the safety of a woman,” he told the Times Union. “Part of it is old-fashioned chivalry. And there is no doubt that the Air Force people who accomplished the mission are energized by the opportunity to call on their skills and knowledge to provide assistance to someone in such a remote area.”

Saburro's assignment ends in 2001, and he says that he looks forward to returning to civilian life. He had worked at the State University at Albany in technology development at the Center for Economic Growth and at the Center for Advanced Thin Film Technology on micro-electronics. Despite missing home, he says, “This has been an experience of a lifetime. I got all I bargained for and much more.”

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Making Adjustments

Posted on Aug 1, 2000

Like many recent (and not so recent) Union graduates, Jesse Karotkin '97 eats Froot Loops for breakfast — except Karotkin buys his cereal from a market in Beijing, where he works for the World Food Programme as a logistics support officer.

Karotkin, a political science major and East Asian Studies minor, has lived in Beijing for three years, working as a teacher fellow at Capital Normal University in Beijing for two years before taking his current position.

Kartokin's interest in China can be traced to his term abroad in Nanjing as a sophomore (a suggestion from Professor Byron Nichols of political science). “My term abroad was incredible,” he says. “Everything seemed new and exotic. I could just walk aimlessly through Nanjing taking in the sights and sounds.” He especially liked “rubbing elbows” with locals, eating street food, and living with a diverse community of international students.

“When the time came to pack up and leave Nanjing, I felt that I would surely go back to China,” Kartokin says. Back on campus, he found that only elementary Chinese was being offered. He rallied students who might be interested in the course, and the College added its first intermediate Chinese course in 1996.

As his graduation day approached, Karotkin became interested in teaching; he also wanted to maintain his grasp of the Chinese language, best done by immersing himself in the language. He applied for, and received, a fellowship provided by the Freeman Foundation to teach in Beijing.

“Teaching abroad is such an incredible experience to have right out of college,” he says. “It's easy to relate to the students and it's still clear in your memory what makes a good instructor and an interesting class. It gives you a chance to live abroad and travel while still doing something productive and satisfying.”

Karotkin taught a full schedule of English to typically overcrowded classes. “I tried to have a good time with my students and show them a more casual teaching style, different from what they are used to. One of my main goals was giving students (many of whom had studied English for more than five years) the confidence to simply open their mouths and begin using English as a spoken language.”

After two years of teaching, he landed an internship — and then a permanent job — with the World Food Programme, where he now handles operations for North Korea, one of the largest recipients of food aid.

Karotkin says that one of the reasons he enjoys living in China is because it gives him a great deal of freedom. “As a foreigner in China you get used to being perceived as fundamentally different,” he explains. “While this can be annoying at times, in general I find it very liberating. I feel that while living here I am not bound by many social norms and constraints.”

But living in China can also have its downs. “I think it's easier for those of us who speak Chinese, but there is still a big cultural gap that isn't easily crossed,” he says.

Karotkin marvels at the massive influx of foreign influence in Beijing — from MacDonald's to Pizza Hut to Popeye's (his latest favorite) — but maintains that the city is still struggling to preserve its own cultural identity. “While social and economic ties with foreign countries do have a liberalizing effect on the public, we have to be careful not to base our perception of China's social development and values on this exterior. Many Chinese people remain extremely skeptical of the United States, and such attitudes are slow to change.”

The recent bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade is a case in point. “Things were pretty uncomfortable here for a few days,” he says. “Virtually all of the universities, including the one where I lived, erupted in protest.” Foreigners stayed indoors, and the campuses were decorated with anti-Clinton, anti-American, and anti-NATO slogans. “While it was tense, very few [foreigners] felt that our personal safety was in serious jeopardy. I have tried to better understand the Chinese world-view and thereby interpret the situation from their perspective. Although they've heard the U.S. explanation of events, virtually everyone in Beijing laughs at the assertion that the embassy bombing was an 'accident.' ”

Karotkin recently returned to the United States, though he says he is sure to return to China in a year or two. Meanwhile, he says, he is enjoying “good Western food, clean air, efficiency, and TV.”

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Union Bookshelf

Posted on Aug 1, 2000

The Union Bookshelf regularly features new books written by alumni authors and other members of the Union community. If you're an author and would like to be included in a future issue, please send us a copy of the book as well as your publisher's news release. Our address is Office of Communications, Union College, Schenectady, N.Y. 12308-3169.

Larry Schwartz '41

Larry Schwartz '41, of Boynton Beach, Fla., was a language and literature major at Union and then attended the Columbia Graduate School of Business on the recommendation of President Dixon Ryan Fox. He has had a lifelong career in advertising and marketing. His book, Credit Card & Check Fraud: A Stop-Loss Manual, is described as “guaranteed to stop all your losses from credit card fraud and bad check problems.” The book, co-written with his wife, Pearl, was published by their Fraud & Theft Information Bureau. Their other books, manuals, and data bases are detailed at their Web site at www.fraudandtheftinfo.com.

Art Grand '63

Art Grand '63 is the co-editor (with Charles Wilkie of Marquette University) of a new book on fire retardancy studies and the need for fire retardant chemicals and fire­-retarded (FR) polymers. Titled Fire Retardance of Polymeric Materials, the 592‑page, illus­trated textbook includes contributions from twenty international experts and more than 1,585 references, tables, drawings, micrographs, and photographs. It is the first comprehensive treatise on the subject since the 1970s and is intended as a reference for materials, process, plastics, and textile engineers; polymer and fire scientists; and upper-­level undergraduate and graduate students in these disciplines. The book can be ordered from Marcel Dekker, Inc., or at www.dekker.com.

Louis Furmanski '72

Louis Furmanski '72, associate professor and chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Oklahoma, has joined with Gregory M. Scott and Randall J. Jones, Jr., to write 21 Debated Issues in World Politics. Presented in debate format, the book intro­duces the reader to some of the most controversial and important issues facing the world's governments today, including nuclear prolifer­ation, terrorism, human rights, refugee problems, military intervention in Kosovo, sanctions, and environment and health issues. The 387-­page book is primarily designed as a supplement to core texts for introductory-level political science courses. It is available from Prentice Hall at http://www.prenhall.com.

Steven Pentak '73

Stephen Pentak and David Lauer have released the fifth edition of Design Basics, intended as a textbook for college-level design courses. It covers such basic elements as balance, scale/proportion, focal points, volume and shapes, showing motion, texture, and color. This edition has been revised into a more modular format allowing instructors greater flexibility when organizing their courses. The book is available through Harcourt College Publishers. Information about the book can be found at http://www.harcourtcollege.com.

Matthew Ehrlich '81, M.D.

“Imagine life without the hassles of glasses or contact lenses!” Matthew Ehrlich's new book, How to See Like a Hawk When You're Blind as a Bat, is a patient's guide to the new LASIK laser vision correction. Using simple language and photos, the book explains refractive surgery and how it is performed. It answers the questions “Does it hurt?,” “Why is laser surgery so expensive?,” “Can you really throw away your glasses/ contacts?,” and “What about close-up reading?” The book has a forword which includes praise by Robert Maloney, M.D., director of the Maloney Vision Institute and associate clinical professor of opthalmology at UCLA. It is available through Doctors Advice Press, Inc. Ehrlich, who has been practicing in the Sarasota, Fla., area since 1988, can be reached at www.drehrlich.com or at www.lasikbook.com.

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Val Belmonte Named Director of Athletics

Posted on Aug 1, 2000

Val Belmonte, former director of the coaching program for USA Hockey in Colorado Springs, Colo., is the College's new athletic director.

He succeeds Dick Sakala, who retired at the end of June.

Belmonte, who assumed his duties July 10, said that an essential component of his philosophy is “a sense of balance and proportion. Union's athletic programs' pursuit of success should never come at the expense of the College's values, and the College must be viewed as a place where student-athletes come to compete, improve themselves, and prepare for life's greater challenges.”

President Roger Hull, announcing the appointment, said Belmonte “brings a wealth of knowledge and experience and, most importantly, a strong commitment to the philosophy of athletics at the Division III level.”

Belmonte, forty-nine, is a 1973 graduate of the University of Illinois-Chicago. He earned his M.Ed. in physical education and education administration from the University of North Dakota, where he also served a year as assistant hockey coach. He was an assistant hockey coach at the University of Illinois-Chicago from 1976 to 1979 and an assistant at Harvard from 1979 to 1982. He returned to Illinois-Chicago as head hockey coach and later also served as assistant athletic director. He was with the USA Hockey since 1991.

Belmonte said the programs he has been associated with “emphasized the pursuit of excellence in academic endeavors, social development, sportsmanship, and an environment where student-athletes have the opportunity to reach their optimum level of athletic performance. These are the same characteristics that inspired me to apply for the job at Union. I'm very excited to be able to lead such a prestigious academic institution — one that has enjoyed a great deal of athletic success — into the next century.”

Belmonte is a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee's Coaching Committee and is the author of a book and journal articles about hockey. He and his wife, Rita, have two sons, Tony, twenty-six, and Michael, twenty-two.

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On the Road with Charlie Scaife

Posted on Aug 1, 2000

Chemistry Professor Charles Scaife and his wife, Priscilla, have been traveling the country, sowing seeds of scientific discovery. They recently visited the Pacific Northwest, and Susan Marcolina '80, who remembers taking Chemistry I from Scaife in 1976, sends along this account of his visit.

“My father always told me that every teacher should be required to tend a garden, because then they would have all the skills needed to inspire students” says Charles Scaife. It is evident to anyone watching him and his wife, Priscilla, teach their “Hands on Science” workshops that they have both become master gardeners.

Students at Issaquah Valley (Wash.) Elementary, Apollo Elementary, and Briarwood Elementary were the Scaifes' eager pupils during the week of May 22-26. Scaife and his wife draw upon his extensive scientific research and teaching experience — along with a few simple, inexpensive, commonly used materials — to present some very high powered concepts and ideas in a format that is both exciting and fun.

He used an old umbrella in the fourth grade class to illustrate location of the Big Dipper and planetary motion. He had the students skewer balloons without popping them as he illustrated the properties of polymers. He played “Mary had a Little Lamb” on a meter stick to illustrate harmonics for a teacher's seminar. In a kindergarten class, he used a “Vis a Vis” marker and coffee filters to illustrate chromatography and incorporated some storytelling into the experimental process with a Lenape Indian Children's Legend called Rainbow Crow.

Scaife and his wife Priscilla routinely incorporate children's literature and safety instruction throughout their workshops. The children learn about the scientific method, develop their reading and writing skills, and become critical thinkers. What they have shown the children is that science incorporates all of these skills and is really lots of fun.

His Family Science Night brings children, parents, and their teachers together for the common goal of learning scientific principles. It involves parents and children cooperatively interacting to come up with an explanation of what they observe in the experiments. The teacher seminars help teachers develop ideas to introduce scientific principles into their curriculum. The teachers are also given resources that will help them develop science programs on many different topics.

Charles (who is on sabbatical this year) and Priscilla received grants from both the National Science Foundation and the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation to take their Hands on Science Program nationally. They had visited every state on the perimeter of the continental United States except Rhode Island and New Jersey. To date, they have put about 25,000 miles on their “Science Mobile”, leaving a legacy of eager students, teachers, and parents.

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