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Rolling for Autism group completes 1,800-mile journey

Posted on Jul 31, 2007

Carson Strang crosses the finish line first as he leads the pack of his teammates Dan Tatar, Jason Ortolano and Sean Streich. As part of “Rolling for Autism,” the group raised funds by roller-blading from Amelia Island in Florida, all the way to Kittery

Six tired, sore but dedicated college students rolled across the finish line Sunday in Kittery, Maine, completing a remarkable 1,800-mile trip to raise money for autism.

"We’re still tallying the final contributions, but expect to top $120,000,” said Dan Tatar ’07 of Queensbury, N.Y., who created the "Rolling for Autism" campaign.

“The support has been amazing,” said Tatar, whose older brother Ben is autistic. “Dozens of Union College alumni came out to the events in New York City and Boston, and 15 or so skated nearly 100 miles with us."

The group is already looking ahead to next year, when they plan a couple of shorter trips; they have also been contacted by college students interested in a trip from Minnesota to Los Angeles.

Right now though, their focus is on finishing this year's mission.

“We’re planning to retain half the money raised within the organization to fund education and awareness programs,” Tatar explained. “We’ve targeted the other half to provide grants for children with autism to give kids life opportunities they wouldn’t normally be able to afford.”

Grants will be available for kids to participate in any autism-related activity or program including camps, schools or even therapeutic horseback riding. An application process should be available online in the coming weeks.

Rolling for Autism's Dan Tatar '07 and older brother Ben.

Joining Tatar on the trip, which began June 28 in Amelia Island, Fla., were fellow Class of 2007 members Kelly Lannan, Sean Streich, Jason Ortollano and Carson Strang, along with University of Vermont senior Amber Leenstra. The group in-line skated 40 miles a day, taking turns for half-hour stretches while the others followed in a car.

“This trip took on a life of its own with donations and support pouring in,” said Tatar, who majored in psychology. “We even received a donation from Belgium.”

Scheduled stops in major cities along the route featured cookouts and visits to local autism centers. The effort attracted widespread media attention, including an appearance on "Good Morning America."

“We were fortunate to have such an amazing network of support,” said Tatar. “Nate Leaman, Union College men’s hockey coach, trained us and hundreds of students and alumni have come out to support us. The College provided an amazing framework to network and make connections.”

Tatar chose Kittery, Maine as the finish line because of its proximity to Boston—where he starts his new job at Price Waterhouse Coopers Sept. 4.

Rolling for Autism has garnered support from the Autistic Society of America, American Special Hockey Association and other organizations. For more information, or to make a donation, visit http://www.rollingforautism.com/.

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Here and gone – and back again

Posted on Jul 30, 2007

The Business Review included several alums in a feature July 27 issue about a number of successful graduates from area institutions.

Among those mentioned are Rich Templeton '80, president and chief executive of Texas Instruments; John E. Kelly III '76, senior vice president of research at IBM; Dylan Ratigan '94, anchor and co-creator of CNBC's Fast Money program; Robert Chartoff '55, producer of films, including the "Rocky" movies and "Raging Bull"; and Alan Horn '64, president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros. Entertainment.

The story also quoted Thomas Gutenberger, vice president for college relations.


To read the complete story, click here (registration may be required).

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Posted on Jul 30, 2007

The Minervas were featured in the July 29, 2007, Education Life section of the New York Times. The story was among several under the theme "Res Life" and included quotes from President Stephen C. Ainlay; Thomas D. McEvoy, dean of residential and student life; Thomas C. Gutenberger, vice president for college relations; Shelton S. Schmidt, economics professor; and several students.


To read the complete story, click here (registration may be required).

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The You are Union campaign continues to surge ahead

Posted on Jul 27, 2007

Thanks to the generosity of devoted alumni

Reamer Campus Center, Dutch Hollow

2001 – 2002

July 2001: The quiet phase of the You are Union campaign begins under the leadership of President Roger H. Hull.

John Wold '38 and his wife, Jane, make a $20 million commitment to support a variety of programs, including the Annual Fund, scholarships, a professorship in religious studies, science and engineering and the Minerva House System.

Philip Beuth '54, and his wife, Mary, donate $2 million to support the Minerva House System and establish Beuth House.

John Wold '38 is named honorary co-chairman, and Frank Messa '73 and Mark Walsh '76 are named campaign co-chairs.

Hull plaza

2003 – 2004

October 2003: Frank Messa '73 and his wife, Colleen, donate $1.5 million to renovate the ice rink in Achilles Center.

August 2004: James W. Taylor '66 and his brother, John Taylor '74 pledge the lead gift to renovate North Colonnade into a premier music facility, the Taylor Music Center. The total renovation is a $4 million project.

October 2004: Union College publicly announces the campaign goal of $200 million. Commitments made during the quiet phase of the campaign total $80 million in gifts and pledges.

December 2004: David Henle '75 donates $2 million to establish and endow a merit scholarship program. Gifts to scholarships during the campaign have now reached $17.9 million.

2005 – 2006

January 2005: Trustee David A. Viniar '76 – Union summa cum laude, Harvard University M.B.A., philanthropist and father of four – is the man behind the gleaming new $3.2 million Viniar Athletic Center.

February 2006: Sorum House is dedicated in memory of Christina (Christie) Sorum, Union's dean of faculty and vice president of Academic Affairs, who died May 16, 2005.

March 2006: William D. Williams '32 bequeaths more than $7 million to the College. The gift is used to establish endowed professorships in Classics, Mathematics and Philosophy.

July 1, 2006: Dr. Stephen C. Ainlay takes office as the 18th president of Union College. He is inaugurated on Sept. 16, 2006.

2007 – 2008

May 2008: Board of Trustees votes to expand the campaign to $250 million to incorporate the new initiatives of the Strategic Plan.

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Work on toys not all play

Posted on Jul 27, 2007

A vibrating pig has Imbi Salasoo seriously considering a career in engineering.

Salasoo, a Niskayuna High School student, was among about 20 high school girls from across the country who spent the last two weeks at Union College, taking part in the Educating Girls for Engineering (EDGE) program. They have been learning about such topics as bioengineering and robotics in large part by adapting toys for use by children at Northwoods Health System in Niskayuna. 

 “That’s the part that I think is great for these kids,” said EDGE program coordinator Jenny Moon, “and that’s what makes them think about engineering in a different light, rather than just the technical aspect.”

Salasoo said she decided to join the program because her father is an electrical engineer and she was curious “to see what it’s about.” 

 “I’ve gotten a totally new light with it,” she said. “I never really knew what it was about before. It was kind of, my dad’s an electrical engineer and that’s great, but now I actually see what the process is.”

In a lab in Union’s Science & Engineering Building, Salasoo and three other team members were putting the finishing touches Thursday afternoon on the “Pulsating Pig.” Emily Garrant, a student from the Syracuse suburb of Marcellus, said the group created the vibrating stuffed animal to help a boy afflicted by muscular dystrophy. The hereditary disease causes progressive muscle weakness and has left the boy in discomfort, especially in his legs, she explained.

The group initially thought of creating a vibrating pillow, but realized a vibrating pig would be both practical as a massage device and fun for a child. The girls later decided to add lights to one prototype and music to another to make them even more entertaining.

“It’s good that we can at least try to make something that can possibly be made into an actual toy or tool to help them out,” said Salasoo.

The toys will be presented to Northwoods during a news conference this morning.

In addition to the toys, the students also created “talk boxes,” which help children who are unable to speak to express themselves. Each box has a series of phrases that can be spoken by a computersynthesized voice just by pressing a button.


While learning the skills to design and create their projects was challenging, many of the girls said the hardest lesson came when they met the children.

“It was kind of hard to see them just because you know that they’re going through a lot, but we could do something to help them,” said Garrant.

Northwoods staff explained the disabilities of each child to help the students consider how to best adapt a toy for each.

“That’s what I think is the beauty of this program,” said Sabina Garland, an occupational therapist at Northwoods who has been working with the EDGE program since it began in 2002. “These students are able to meet the child and understand their abilities and disabilities by actually watching them, how they behave, how they move.”

Garland said that interaction makes the experience more personal for the students.

“When you see a child who cannot play the way you thought children should be playing, then your feelings come into play and you want to help,” she explained. “If you can construct something for them that they then can use and you see that smile, that’s an emotional experience. You feel rewarded, and you feel like you were able to make a difference and help.”

And in the process, Moon said, it is hoped the students learn that engineering is not the impersonal career it might seem.

“That trip there is obviously very sad … but then when they get back to the classroom, they start thinking about what they can do to make that child’s life better,” she said.


The students didn’t spend all their time in the classroom. They also had dinner with a group of female engineers and toured a pair of local companies, Plug Power in Latham and Extreme Molding in Watervliet, to get a complete picture of the field, as well as enjoying dinner and a Shakespeare production in Saratoga and playing laser tag at Zero Gravity in Albany.

“We’re trying to give high school girls an opportunity to explore engineering," said Michele Cannistraci, who holds a degree in engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, teaches physics and technology at Colonie High School and is one of the EDGE program's instructors. "Since many high schools don't have pre-engineering programs, it gives them an idea before they actually want to commit to going to an engineering school, to see if this is really what's right for them."

The program specifically targets girls because of a nationwide dearth of female engineers. According to the college, women represent only about 9 percent of the engineering work force among college graduates dating back to 1990.

Moon said the program has met with some success, with several of its participants going on to study engineering at such prestigious schools as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And a few have decided to return to Union as students, she said.

And Salasoo, the Niskayuna student, may soon end up among those successes.

"I still don't know if it's exactly what I want to do, but it's definitely on that list of things that could be possible," she said.

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