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Building a better Christmas tree

Posted on Dec 21, 2007

Prototype Christmas tree designed by Prof. Bill Keat's class for the Northeast Ballet's “Nutcracker.”

Students in Prof. Bill Keat’s sophomore research seminar ended the term this fall by setting up Christmas trees.

These were not part of a religious celebration, but a real-world engineering exercise in which students designed a central stage element to a classic ballet, the Nutcracker.

Keat teamed with Darlene Myers, director of the Northeast Ballet. He needed a project for his students. She needed a design for a tree to replace the aging one that has starred for nearly two decades in the Proctor’s Theater spectacle. They were brought together thanks in part to Jill Salvo, professor of biology and director of government grants, who has had a long association with Myers’ company.

Keat’s SRS, in which students assembled “Impossible Missions Design Teams,” had a goal of improving the “growing tree” used in the current production. The teams focused on adding three-dimensionality to the tree. The designs had two main functional requirements – they had to grow and, they had to fit through a narrow fly space above the stage when removed to make way for the next scene.

Three teams developed a quarter-scale prototypes with a maximum height of seven feet. They were not replicas of the final design, Keat said, but attempts to evaluate ideas which could be incorporated in the 2008 production.

They were presented to Myers at the end of the fall term.

"What most distinguishes this project from others is the amount and quality of true interdisciplinary teaming that took place." Keat said. "Engineers and liberal arts students from diverse majors worked together on a project in which they needed each other. My guess is that the College will be seeing more and more of this kind teaming in the future."

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Schaffer adds 250,000 volumes with new databases

Posted on Dec 21, 2007

Schaffer Library from Humanities Building

Raoul LeFèvre’s Recueil des Histoire de Troye (Recounting of the History of Troy), published by William Caxton around 1474, is widely regarded as one of the most important formative works in the development of English literature and poetry.

But getting a look at original editions could take weeks at best. Until now.

Schaffer Library at Union College has just added 250,000 volumes to its collection through two on-line databases: Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO). The databases, available to those on the Union network, contain searchable facsimiles of printed books, documents, pamphlets, musical scores and similar materials.

Together, the databases cover the beginning of printing to the end of the 18th century, around the founding of Union College.

“These two collections make available to faculty and students resources that no single library in the world contains, and many of which are available in only a handful of institutions ,” said Thomas G. McFadden, College librarian, who in recent months coordinated the acquisition with Head of Collection Development Courtney Seymour.

EEBO contains digital facsimile page images of virtually every work printed in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and British North America and works in English printed elsewhere from 1473 to 1700, from Caxton’s book through the age of Spenser and Shakespeare and the tumult of the English Civil War.

ECCO contains every significant English-language and foreign-language title printed between 1701 and 1800 in the United Kingdom, along with thousands of important works from the Americas.

Stephen Sargent, professor of history, used EEBO to prepare for Scientific Revolution, a course he is teaching over winter term. He said he found that he could hypertext through EEBO to evaluate works cited by an author of a book on 16th-century science and magic.

“This kind of hypertexting has been impossible until recently, since to get hold of a treatise, you had to order the microfilm in [Interlibrary Loan], make a copy on the microfilm reader, and take it back to your office to read,” he said. “The process could easily take two weeks. Now it takes less than a minute.”

EEBO and ECCO may be accessed through the Union network at the following URL:


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Favorites Finckel and Han to appear with violinist Da-Hong Seetoo

Posted on Dec 19, 2007

David Finckel, cello, and Wu Han, piano, return for their 16th Concert Series performance Sunday, Jan. 6, 2008 with special guest Da-Hong Seetoo, violin. (Photo courtesy of David Rowe Artists)

Cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han return for a 16th Concert Series performance Sunday, Jan. 6 at 3 p.m. in Memorial Chapel with special guest, violinist  Da-Hong Seetoo.

The program features selections from Dmitri Shostakovich and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, including Shostakovich’s Trio No. 1 in c-minor, Op. 8 (in one movement) and Sonata for cello and piano in d-minor, Op. 40. Tchaikovsky’s Trio in a-minor, Op. 50 will also be performed.

Finckel and Han have performed together at New York’s Lincoln Center, Washington’s Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institute. Highlights from their international engagements include debuts in Germany and at Finland’s Kuhmo Festival, their presentation of the complete Beethoven cycle in Tokyo and their signature all-Russian program at London’s Wigmore Hall.

Finckel and Han have served as artistic directors of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center since 2004 and are the founders and artistic directors of Music@Menlo, a chamber music festival in Silicon Valley that has garnered international acclaim since its inception in 2003.

They also launched the first musician-directed and Internet-based recording company, ArtistLed, which is celebrating its 10th year. The duo’s “Russian Classics” recording received BBC Music magazine’s coveted “Editor's Choice” award and their upcoming “Russian Recital” album will mark Wu Han’s first full-length solo recording for the label.

Seetoo has worked closely with Finckel and Han since meeting them at the Aspen Music Festival in 1982.

special guest Da-Hong Seetoo, violin, joins David Finckel, cello, and Wu Han, piano, for their 16th Concert Series performance Sunday, Jan. 6, 2008.

Born in Shanghai at a time when Western music was forbidden, Seetoo began playing the violin at the age of five and was forced to practice with the windows closed. His father, a professor of violin at the Shanghai Conservatory, purchased an expensive reel-to-reel tape recorder to copy recordings being circulated underground. When the machine needed repairs, 10-year-old Seetoo taught himself how to fix it and upgraded the family's primitive stereo system.

Seetoo skipped the first four years of college and was a graduate student at the Shanghai Conservatory when the Boston Symphony visited China in 1979. Upon hearing Seetoo play, Joseph Silverstein, the distinguished concertmaster of the Boston Symphony, personally recommended him to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He subsequently studied at Curtis and at the Juilliard School under Ivan Galamian and the legendary Dorothy Delay.

Finding a performer’s lifestyle too isolating, Seetoo returned to his youthful fascination with electronics, forming Da-Hong Seetoo Productions specializing in high-end audio engineering and recording. His 2005 recording of the Mendelssohn String Quartets for Deutsche Grammophon was nominated for three Grammy Awards, winning Best Classical Album and Best Engineered Album.

The concert is free for the Union College community, $25 for general admission and $10 for area students. For tickets, call (518) 388-6080; for more information on the Series, call (518) 372-3651 or visit http://www.union.edu/ConcertSeries.

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Union senior hits presidential campaign trail

Posted on Dec 18, 2007

John Tomlin '08

John L. Tomlin ’08 joined hundreds of journalists on the presidential campaign trail this month, hoping to give young voters a different perspective on the races. The Political Science major will spend time in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he will post daily news clips through Feb. 5 at www.MeetThePrez.net.

“The media has been covering the campaign the same way for decades,” Tomlin said recently while taking a break in Iowa. “All the stories are about who has more money or who’s doing better in the polls. I’m trying to find out more about the personalities of the candidates and offer a new, fresh, ‘outside’ perspective.”

Tomlin, who is from Briarcliff Manor in Westchester County, N.Y, grew up around TV. His father, John M. Tomlin, was the former executive producer of both “A Current Affair” and “Inside Edition.”  The younger Tomlin pursued radio and television internships at Fox News and with the “O’Reilly Factor” and “Howard Stern Show,” which had a great impact on his life.

“I never discussed politics with my father until last year,” Tomlin said. “I distinctly remember us having dinner at Cornell’s Italian restaurant (in Schenectady) when I said, ‘There’s no news medium targeting college students in terms of the [presidential] campaign. I think a college student should go out and cover it from their perspective.’”

Tomlin had the background and training, having worked at Union’s television station, TVUC, since the Winter ’07 term. He started and produced the station’s first weekly news show, “News on the U,” and also helped station president Dave Swift ’08 expand the membership to nearly 20 students.

Working with his advisor, Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science Zoe Oxley, Tomlin secured a $1,000 grant from the College. He also borrowed a camera, sound and lighting equipment from his father’s production company in Tarrytown, N.Y. Tomlin handles all of the technical aspects of the project, including shooting and producing the videos and uploading the files to the Web.

“Professor Oxley has been really supportive and encouraging, but I’m not that great with the Web stuff,” he confessed. “I’m using YouTube to embed and archive past interviews, and if I need help I call my dad.”

Tomlin is a regular fixture at nearly all of the press conferences held by the candidates from both the Democrat and Republican parties.

John Tomlin '08 conducts an interview for TVUC.

“The smaller candidates have media availability sessions and it can be wild and crazy or an intimate setting,” he said. “When I spoke to Ron Paul (R-Texas) there were only four other people so we got a lot of face time. But, you have to be confident enough to blurt out your question or you may not be able to sneak it in.”

And, the candidates’ reactions?

“They don’t really notice me,” laughed Tomlin. “I have interviews with them, but I’m like a fly on the wall.”

He aims to ask the more offbeat questions that the candidates aren’t used to answering.

“When I interviewed Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the press was asking him about Mike Huckabee’s politics,” Tomlin explained. “I asked him what he was doing to reach out to young voters, and he seemed taken aback.”

Political Science majors at Union aren’t required to complete a thesis, so Tomlin developed his venture into a senior project. He also plans to make a documentary about his experiences after he graduates in June.

A registered Democrat, Tomlin describes his political views as being “pretty split down the middle.”

“I approach news with a sense of satire, humor and wit, which I learned from the Stern show,” Tomlin explained. “I think young people enjoy [my clips] because they inform and entertain. I hope kids see my Web site and find politics resonates with them, too.”

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State panel makes recommendations to improve higher education

Posted on Dec 17, 2007

Stephen C. Ainlay, president of Union College

A state commission charged with improving higher education in New York has issued a series of sweeping recommendations designed to make college more affordable for families, spur economic development by investing billions for research in fields like bioscience and engineering, and transform New York into one of the “idea capitals” of the 21st century.

 “As I stated in my convocation address, no institution of higher education today can afford to operate without a clear understanding of need, without a clear sense of educational mission, or without a plan to move ahead,” said President Stephen C. Ainlay.

Ainlay is among 30 experts culled from public and private colleges and universities, as well as the business community, who were named to the state Commission on Higher Education last May. The panel was created by Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who received the commission’s preliminary report Monday, Dec. 17. A final report is due by June 1, 2008.

Among the proposals recommended by the commission, which was chaired by Hunter Rawlings III, the former president of Cornell University:

  • Create a low-interest loan program financed by tax-exempt bonds so New Yorkers gain access to lower-cost capital to meet college expenses;
  •  Increase financial aid and program support for students enrolled in the state’s opportunity programs; 
  • Establish a $3 billion, peer-review Empire State Innovation Fund to spur research and foster economic development;
  • Support innovative education partnerships between colleges and universities and school districts to address the comprehensive needs of students; and
  • Promote New York State’s colleges and universities in nations abroad.

“It has been an honor to serve on a commission that has identified several significant steps that should be considered if we are to meet the challenges and embrace the opportunities before us,’’ said Ainlay.

Founded in 1795, the first college chartered by the Board of Regents of the State of New York, Union has historically played a key role in shaping higher education in the state.

The series of recommendations outlined in the commission’s preliminary report are “but one step in our collective effort to reshape higher education in New York by preparing well-rounded citizens who understand the demands of our technological and scientific society,” Ainlay said.

To read the preliminary report click here.

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