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Robots take center stage at Computer Science celebration

Posted on Feb 23, 2007

Colin Angle, CEO iRobot addresses students, faculty and staff at the Computer Science robotics lab inauguration.

The buzz and whir of mechanisms and automation flowed through the atrium of the F.W. Olin Center Friday as dozens of students, faculty and staff viewed the creations of the Robots Rule! class Friday.

The demo was part of an afternoon of events to celebrate the unveiling and tours of the new cluster computer, robotics laboratory and human-computer interaction (HCI) laboratory for the Department of Computer Science.

Five students from the intro class for non-majors showcased their Tour Guide robots designed to replicate a human movement while conducting a tour through a mock Union campus.

A Tour Guide robot created by students in CSC-074 Robots Rule!

“We purchased kits with wheels, motors and processors and the students built amplifiers and programs to control the movement and speech,” said Linda G. Almstead, computer science lecturer. “As the robots moved around the campus, they registered radio frequency IDs in the signage enabling the robot to identify the building and announce the location through a text-to-speech board.”

Freshman Ian Singer took the intro class to learn how to program and is now thinking of majoring in Computer Science.

“The best thing about the course was that there were no prerequisites,” said Singer. “It was fun to learn how to make something move with key strokes.”

Following the demos, nearly 100 attendees moved to the auditorium to hear Colin Angle, CEO and co-founder of iRobot, recall how he founded the company with fellow graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

A pioneer in the field of mobile robots who designed the behavior-controlled rovers for NASA, Angle explained iRobot's mission to build cool stuff, deliver great products, have fun, make money and change the world.

Students and faculty of CSC-074 Robots Rule from left: Walter Yund '08, Jared Elkin '10, Matt Rohrs '10, Ian Singer '10, James N. Hedrick lecturer Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE), David Bergmann '09 and Linda G. Almstead, lecturer Computer

“Robots are ideal for replacing the dull, dirty and dangerous duties we perform,” said Angle. “I can query a class of three-year-olds, and they'll each have an idea of what type of robot they'd like to build and why.”

Following Angle's talk, guests attended a recpetion to celebrate the new labs.

“These labs make it possible for us to expand our offerings for low-level non-majors as well as computer science majors,” said Valerie B. Barr, professor and chair of the computer science department. “Next semester we're adding a sophomore level research seminar in HCI in addition to an upper-level elective.”

Funding for the HCI lab was provided in part through a private gift and a grant awarded to Assistant Professors Aaron G. Cass and Chris S.T. Fernandes from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The robotics lab was remodeled and equipped with a grant from the Hewlett Foundation. Funding for the cluster computer was donated by General Electric.

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Union College honors its alumni on Founders Day

Posted on Feb 23, 2007


A handful of speakers Thursday at Union College's Founders Day ceremony admitted they didn't know much about the event.

The annual ceremony marks the anniversary of the college's charter and offers an opportunity to honor alumni for their contributions to society.

The college honored Dr. Ira Rutkow, an author and surgeon specializing in hernia repair, with the Founders Medal along with others, at the 212th anniversary of the school's charter.

First-year Union President Stephen C. Ainlay said he had to research the event. Founders Day had been suspended in previous years, most recently in the 1970s, and was reinstated in 1986. 

Ainlay wanted this year's event at Memorial Chapel to put the focus on the success of graduates. Rutkow's presentation focused mostly on well-known doctors with roots in Union College. 

The college no longer offers premed as a major, but does offer a six-course minor and a 16-course interdisciplinary major in science, medicine and technology.

   Ainlay and other speakers joked that they had to research Founders Day but said it was important to take time to honor the school's history and alumni.

   “Today, I'm glad to say we're focusing on worthies,” he said. “I hope it serves to inspire us all.”

   Rutkow is a member of the class of 1970. He earned his medical degree from St. Louis University and a master's and doctorate in public health from Johns Hopkins University.

   He is also the author of many books, including the most recent biography “James A. Garfield.”

   Rutkow was choked up when he started his speech, holding back tears when talking about the Founders Medal.

   “It's always an honor to come back to Union,” he said. “It's is sort of surreal. … The last time I was on this stage, the Four Tops were playing.”

   The doctor spent much of his time talking about famous doctors with roots in Union. Theodric Romeyn Beck, an 1807 graduate, wrote the first and pre-eminent book on medical jurisprudence. Frank Hastings Hamilton, an 1830 graduate, founded medical schools at the University of Buffalo and Bellevue Hospital Medical College, now the New York University School of Medicine.

   Levi Cooper Lane, class of 1849, founded the Cooper Medical School, now Stanford Medical School.

   Also honored at Founders Day was Kenneth G. DeBono, who was given the Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching for his work in behavioral sciences. DeBono is an active promoter of undergraduate research.

   Laurence P. Brown, a 1974 graduate, was given the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award.

   Brown, a Scarsdale High School teacher, is a former labor lawyer and businessman. He now teaches American history, public policy and criminal justice.

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He saw his future in plastics

Posted on Feb 23, 2007


SCHENECTADY — John Ciovacco was never your typical chief executive.

The former CEO and co-founder of Cyclics Corp., a plastics manufacturer based in Schenectady, is back where he started his business career: on his own.

“I'm sort of in between things,” Ciovacco told a group of economics and mechanical engineering students Thursday at Union College in Schenectady. “I could use a little break.”

His audience is part of a special entrepreneurship course in which economics and engineering students work together to make a business plan for commercializing technology.

They get help on their projects from the U-Start Incubator, which supports the entrepreneurial process and is affiliated with the college, and are required to enter Union's annual business plan competition, which will be staged on Tuesday.

Harold Fried, a professor of economics at Union who runs the seminar along with Ronald Bucinell, chairman of the mechanical engineering department, said it helps engineers and business students come together as they would in the corporate world to work on product development, technology and marketing.

Ciovacco, a 1987 Union graduate, was brought in to talk about his experiences as an entrepreneur.

He took a circuitous route into the plastics business, although an interest in composite materials dates back to his college days. Originally from Atlanta, Ciovacco came to Union to play hockey, but ended up founding the school's first rowing team, which he also coached.

“That was a very entrepreneurial experience,” he said. “It was a terrific experience.”

Ciovacco co-founded Cyclics in 1999 with another Union grad, Ted Eveleth. They created the company by purchasing a series of patents and technologies from General Electric Co. and later built a $35 million manufacturing facility in Germany. The headquarters remains in Schenectady.

Ciovacco served as chief executive of the company until 2004, when Eveleth took the post. Eveleth was replaced by former Black & Decker executive Glenn Decker in 2005. Both Ciovacco and Eveleth left the company's board last spring as part of a management restructuring at Cyclics.

Although Ciovacco is still a shareholder in the company, he no longer has operational ties. These days, he's doing business consulting — which he used to do before he started Cyclics. One client is X-Ray Optical Systems Inc. in East Greenbush, which makes technology used in machines that analyze materials such as sulfur in petroleum fuels.

Ciovacco says he likes consulting, and it gives him an opportunity to spend more time with his family.

“I am a recovering entrepreneur right now,” he said.

Students who attended the talk said they were impressed with Ciovacco, who gave a lot of interesting details about his life, including working as a self-defense instructor in Boston, where he also was the Boston College crew coach and a business consultant.

“Hearing from him, the difficulties he faced, the roles he took, it just shows you can come from anywhere and be anything,” said Rich Modliszewski, a junior economics major.

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Dudley Observatory offers open house Saturday

Posted on Feb 22, 2007

Saturn's rings, photo courtesy of Sky Image Lab

February brings Saturn closest to the Earth during its orbit making for prime viewing of the planet, so Union's Dudley Observatory invites the campus and community to view the ringed-planet Saturday, Feb. 24 from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the Olin Center, room 301.

The event, free and open to the public, will be held if the weather is clear.

Saturn is at opposition in February, which means the planet is opposite from the Sun relative to the Earth and the planet will rise as the Sun sets and set as the Sun rises providing a full night of observation. Opposition months are the best time to view planets that are on the outside of the Earth's orbit as they appear a bit larger and brighter during these time periods.

In addition, Saturn's rings are becoming more edge-on or parallel as seen from the Earth making them progressively more difficult to see for the next one to two decades.

Saturn dragon storm, photo courtesy of Sky Image Lab

For additional information on the Open House or Dudley Observatory, contact Observatory Manager Francis Wilkin at (518) 388-6344 or via e-mail at wilkinf@union.edu.

* Photos taken by the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft courtesy of Sky Image Labs.

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Ira Rutkow ’70 celebrates Union’s pioneers in medicine

Posted on Feb 22, 2007

Dr. Ira Rutkow and Founders Day and 2007 and Memorial Chapel

Dr. Ira M. Rutkow '70 is optimistic. And he shared that optimism with a crowd at Memorial Chapel Thursday as the main speaker at the Founders Day celebration, where he received the Founders Medal.

Rutkow, a surgeon and author who has written about the history of American medicine, gave an animated speech that included slides highlighting Union alumni who made a significant impact on medicine. The discussion of notable Union graduates seemed to strike an optimistic note for future Union grads.

“You will see the impact that this little college in Schenectady, N.Y., had during 18th and into the 19th centuries on American medicine,” Rutkow said. “I'm optimistic for the faculty and Board of Trustees and the students. I thank you for the Founders Medal and thank you for the opportunity.”

Founders Day marks the 212th anniversary of the granting of the College's charter in 1795, and the Founders Medal honors a distinctive contribution to the welfare of the College.

In his speech, Rutkow, who authored the recent book, James A. Garfield, turned back to College history and discussed noted doctors like Theodric Romeyn Beck, Class of 1807, Frank H. Hamilton, Class of 1830, Levi Cooper lane, Class of 1849, Alfred L. Loomis, Class of 1851, Eliphalet Nott Wright, Class of 1882, and George Linius Streeter, Class of 1895.

“At only 32 years old, Theodric Romeyn Beck wrote a two-volume treaties on medical jurisprudence. It was the first time anything had been written in the United States and in fact the entire English speaking world on medical jurisprudence,” Rutkow said.

Rose Foley '09 singing the Ode To Old Union in Memorial Chapel at the Founders Day Celebration, Feb. 22, 2007. Foley is a Dean's List student and was covering the event for the Concordiensis.

Union received its charter on Feb. 25, 1795. It was the first college charter granted by the Regents of the state of New York. The first Founders Day observance was held in 1896.

After graduating from Union in 1974, Rutkow earned a medical degree from St. Louis University. He went on to develop a widely used surgical technique to repair hernias.

His previous books include Bleeding Blue and Gray: Civil War Surgery and the Evolution of American Medicine (2005).

In addition to the Founders Medal, the College listed Dean's List students and gave out three other awards.

Laurence Brown ’74 won the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award, which has been given out since before 1992 and honors high school teachers who have influenced Union students. Brown is a former lawyer and corporate executive who later became a high sch

Laurence Brown '74 won the Gideon Hawley Teacher Recognition Award, which honors high school teachers who have influenced Union students. Brown is a former lawyer and corporate executive who later became a high school teacher in Scarsdale, N.Y. He was nominated by William Friedman '10 and is one of the few Union graduates to receive the Hawley award.

“There I was, 49 years old, and my wife looked at me and said, ‘Okay, you love kids and you love history and public policy. It seems to be a no-brainer.' I decided to go into teaching and I love every minute of it,” Brown said.

Friedman is a Scarsdale High School graduate who was a student in Brown's social studies class. Friedman played basketball and tennis in high school.

“He might have gone to as many basketball games as I did and I was on the team,” Freidman said. “He's more than a teacher. Teaching is not where it ends with him. He just cares so much about each and every student and I though he should be recognized for that.”

Kenneth G. DeBono was awarded the Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching for his work as a psychology professor. DeBono is the Gilbert R. Livingtson Professor of Behavioral Sciences and specializes in the psychology of persuasion and religion.

Students Adrienne Hart '09 and Kara McCabe '09 were awarded the Hollander Musician Prize, established by Lawrence J. Hollander, dean of engineering emeritus at Union. The pair also performed a piece by Felix Mendelssohn.

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