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College mourns V. Ennis Pilcher

Posted on Dec 23, 2009

V. Ennis Pilcher, professor emeritus of physics

Valter Ennis Pilcher Jr., professor of physics emeritus and author of a comprehensive history of early science at Union, died on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2009 at his home in the Glen Eddy in Niskayuna. He was 84.

Known by his middle name, Ennis was born in Savannah, Ga., son of Valter Ennis Pilcher Sr. and Ida May (nee Findley) Pilcher. He earned B.S. and M.A. degrees from Emory University and a doctorate of engineering science from North Carolina State College. He specialized in nuclear physics, doing doctoral research at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he later worked two years as a staff physicist.

In 1956 Ennis joined the Union College Physics Department, preferring an academic career to the frenetic pace of full-time research. He loved teaching and working with students and colleagues over the next 30 years.

“In many ways, he represented the ideal of what a college professor ought to be,” said Ken Schick, a longtime colleague. “He was a wonderful teacher and a really fine person with whom students and colleagues could talk about anything.”

For many years, Ennis and his family were at the center of a lively social scene that included many colleagues and their families that often spent winter weekends together in the Adirondacks, Schick said. During those trips, Ennis, who had a “wonderful singing voice,” often broke into song, Schick added.

At Union, he enjoyed four sabbatical leaves which combined academic work with travel and service. In 1962-63 he worked in a Swedish Atomic Energy Research Laboratory at Studsvik. In 1968 he received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach in Ethiopia at Haile Selassie University in Addis Ababa. He also represented Volunteers for International Technical Assistance, as liaison between technical experts in Schenectady and development projects in Ethiopian villages. He took to Ethiopia a moldboard plow, and demonstrated the advancement to officials and farmers in a northern province. His third sabbatical involved research at the State University of New York at Albany.

Ennis was very involved in the identification and protection of Union’s collection of antique physics apparatus. During his fourth sabbatical, he visited several physics departments in other universities which had similar collections. Before and after retirement, he spent many hours helping to catalog and protect Union’s instruments, photographing them for display on the departmental website. He spent many hours sifting through old apparatus in the attic of what is now the Arts Building, Schick noted. He wrote and self-published a history titled Early Science and the First Century of Physics at Union College, 1795-1895. Its publication coincided with Union’s bicentennial anniversary.

Ennis married Edith Bendow in Teaneck, New Jersey in 1950. Survivors also include two children, Steven Walter Pilcher and Dorothy Jane Pilcher; five grandchildren; and two great-grandsons. The family spent many active summers at their cabin at Big Moose Lake in the Adirondacks, where they have been involved in conservation activities.

Ennis’ body was donated to Albany Medical College for medical education or research. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Feb. 6 at 2 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society at 1221 Wendell Avenue, Schenectady. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to Special Collections at Schaffer Library at Union College or Community Hospice of Schenectady, 1411 Union Street, 12308.

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People in the news

Posted on Dec 22, 2009

A paper by Matt Montario '01 and John Garver on the tectonic evolution of the Adirondacks has been published in the Journal of Geology. The authors present new information on the thermal evolution of the Adirondacks that suggests these rocks were affected by dramatic cooling events at about 780 Ma and 540 Ma. They arrived at this scientific finding by using a new method of dating when rocks were heated and cooled. They used Fission track dating, but developed a new technique that uses Union’s new SEM, purchased with a grant from the National Science Foundation. Montario is currently a doctoral candidate at the University at Albany. He has been working with me on the project with Garver for several years.

In addition, a paper by David Gombosi '06, Montario and Garver on the tectonic evolution of the Feugian Andes (southernmost South America) was published in Terra Nova. This paper documents the timing of tectonic activity in this area and suggests that the opening of the Drake Passage may have occurred in the Eocene (c. 45 Ma). The Drake Passage is the sea between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica. It connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean and this connection is crucial for biogeography. This event is one of the most profound in the evolution of global ocean circulation.

Life Safety Officer Michael Hilton was quoted in an article on campus fire prevention in University Business, a higher education management online magazine. Hilton noted that Union is developing a new campus wide fire/life safety system with prerecorded voice directions that will help occupants pinpoint safety exits in an emergency. Hilton spoke of the College’s 15-year plan, launched in 1999, to upgrade fire safety systems in all residential, academic and administrative buildings.

Reference Librarian Donna Burton contributed an updated “Humor” section to the 17th edition of “Magazines for Libraries,” a standard reference resource. Burton has also had a review of two organizational Web sites, FAS Project on Government Secrecy and OpenTheGovernment, which advocate challenging excessive government secrecy and promoting public oversight of government activities and publications, in the July 2009 issue of Government Information Quarterly. Another Web review, this one of the Department of Homeland Security site, is included in the journal’s January issue.

Harry Marten,
the Edward E. Hale, Jr., Professor of English,was quoted in a Dec. 7 Sunday Gazette article on Ebenezer Scrooge, the central character of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Martens spoke of Dickens as “an incredibly extravagant writer.”

Help Portrait team, Matt Milless, Dec 2009

Matt Milless, director of Student Activities, was featured in a Dec. 12 Gazette news story and a Channel 9 News segment about “Help Portrait,” part of an international effort to provide free family portraits to economically disadvantaged families. Milless was a lead volunteer for the Capital Region event, which drew about 100 families to the Christ Church on State Street in Schenectady. He is part of a Yahoo Internet group of local photographers who discovered the global effort, which included more than 420 Help Portrait events in some 55 countries. Milless and five other portrait photographers donated their time. Kenney Community Center Director Angela Tatem also helped organize the event.

An article by Chad Orzel, professor of physics, is included in the December issue of “Physics World,” a popular-audience magazine. “Measuring (Almost) Zero” details experiments using cold molecules to search for an electric dipole moment of the electron. These experiments, going on at Yale and in the United Kingdom, could shed light on some of the deepest mysteries of particle physics without needing billion-dollar particle accelerators. “Physics World” is published by the Institutes of Physics in the UK. The article is available on-line (registration may be required).

Christopher Chabris, assistant professor of psychology,  reviewed the book, "Reading in the Brain," for the Wall Street Journal. To read his review, click here (registration may be required).

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While you were on break…

Posted on Dec 22, 2009

Ethics bowl wins

The end of fall term ended on a high note for members of the Union College Ethics Bowl Team, who emerged victorious in the Northeast Regional Ethics Bowl.

With 18 teams representing 12 colleges and universities at the regional, Union won its semifinal round against regional host Marist College and defeated Dartmouth in the final round. As a result, the Union team will compete in the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl National Championship in Cincinnati in March.

“Our students are confronting a rich variety of issues and developing moral arguments that draw on a wide range of disciplines,” said the team’s advisor, Mark Wunderlich of the Philosophy Department. “Their success reflects their hard work, dedication and phenomenal ability to collaborate under pressure.”

Team members included Ian Clemente ’10, Lativa Holder ’10, David Kanaan ’10, Hyma Kavuri ’10, Adam Koslin ’10, David Leavitt ’12, Jacob Pet ’12, Ryan Semerad ’13, Benjamin Setel ’13 and Ryan Vineyard ’12. They explored the ethics of such issues as the increasing use by students of neuroenhancers, illegal settlement in Kenyan national parks and the credibility of Internet “news.”

The team is funded by the Internal Education Fund, the Office of the Dean of Studies and the Office of the Dean of Academic Departments. It is sponsored by the Philosophy Department, with faculty members from a cross-section of campus providing perspectives and insight.

“The Ethics Bowl means a lot to all of us,” said Leavitt, an economics major who joined the team as a freshman last year. “We all realize that the moment we step into the debate, everything we do reflects upon ourselves – and on Union. We want to represent Union in the best possible light we can.”      

11 embarked on Birthright trip to Israel

Eleven Union students participated in a 10-day trip to Israel in December through Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel. Traveling with participants from Dickinson, Elon, Princeton, and Washington and Lee universities, they visited the Dead Sea, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Masada, Mt. Herzl, Tel Aviv, Tiberias, Yad Vashem and other sites and cities.

Taglit-Birthright Israel provides the free gift of first-time, educational trips to Israel with peers for Jewish young adults ages 18 to 26. The gift is funded through private philanthropists, the government of Israel and local Jewish communities around the world.

“The philanthropists who fund this program are fully aware of its short-term positive effect on campus and long- term impact maintaining Jewish identity and values,” said Bonnie Cramer, director of Union College Hillel. “I am grateful that our Hillel will be reaping these benefits.”

Union recently was designated a “Small & Mighty Campus of Excellence” by Hillel International, a distinction that offers a number of resources and privileges. Union’s Taglit-Birthright group, the largest among the Small and Mighty cohort, includes: Alex Antonucci ’12, Jeffrey Brous ’11, Amy Cerini ’12, Rachel Feldman ’12, Andrea Grenadier ’12, Carly Orden ’13, Allison Seiler ’12, Hanna Squire ’12, Stuart Uffner '11, Elyse Van Pelt ’12 and Emily Zehngut ’13.

Social services holiday giving – Kathy McCann program 2009

Holiday giving  

College employees’ generosity helped make the holiday season a little brighter for hundreds of families this past year. Despite an uncertain economy, the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program was a huge success on campus, just as it has been every year for the last two decades, said Kim Puorto, administrative assistant in the Dean of Students Office. “The Union community always pulls through,” she noted. The program brings toys to area children in need. Campus angels have been giving for more than 15 years.

And a part of an adopt-a-family program with Schenectady Department of Social Services, 101 participants gave gifts, food and household supplies to 57 parents and children. Coordinator Kathy McCann, director of College Relations Data Systems, said, “I’m grateful we were able to demonstrate that Union College is fully invested in being a good neighbor.” The College has been involved for about a dozen years.  

College mourns Pilcher's passing  

Valter Ennis Pilcher Jr., professor of physics emeritus and author of a comprehensive history of early science at Union, died Dec. 20 at his home in the Glen Eddy in Niskayuna. He was 84. Pilcher specialized in nuclear physics, doing doctoral research at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he later worked two years as a staff physicist. He joined the Union Physics Department in 1956, teaching and working with students and colleagues over the next 30 years. A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2 p.m., at the First Unitarian Society at 1221 Wendell Avenue, Schenectady. For more about Pilcher, click here.


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Posted on Dec 22, 2009

Allen Community Pow Wow

Through Jan. 31
Visual Arts Building
Burns Arts Atrium
John Willis: Selections from "Recycled Realities" and "A View from the Rez"

Willis is professor of photography at Marlboro College and co-founder of The In-Sight Photography Project, offering courses to southern Vermont area youth regardless of their ability to pay. He also co-founded the Exposures Cross Cultural Youth Photography Program, which brings youth together from a wide variety of backgrounds to share photography lessons and life stories. His work is included in numerous permanent collections including the High Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, George Eastman House Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Portland Museum of Art, the Library of Congress and the National Museum of Native Americans. He has exhibited nationally and internationally, and his images have been highlighted in various books and journals.  A reception is set for Thursday, Jan. 14, 4:30 p.m.  

Dave Sayles '10, Candy Ribbon, 2009, pigmented ink on paper. For “Illuminated Pixel” show.

Through Jan. 31
Nott Memorial
Wikoiff Student Gallery
The Illuminated Pixel

No paint, charcoal or clay was used to make the art now on display in the gallery. Instead, each piece was generated on a computer by students in the Intro to Digital Art and 3D Computer Modeling classes. Features work by Lori Cassorla ’10, Phil Cohn ’13, Elizabeth Culp ’10, Rachel Feldman ’12, Vishnu Gollakota ’12, Rachel Guralnick ’11, Davis Knox ’11, Aaron Levine ’10, Liang Li ’11, Jiri Matousek ’10, Hallie Maybrey ’10, Ben McIntosh ’10, David Sayles ’10, Julia Vu ’10, Nancy Wilk ’10 and Stacy Yoo ’11.

Through Jan. 31
Nott Memorial
First Floor
One Second, Everything Changes:
A Forensic Exhibit of Alcohol-Related and Impaired-Driving Crashes in the Capital District

Through words and images, this exhibit portrays youth who were put at risk in New York’s Capital Region. It focuses on fateful events in a forensic style, telling the stories of brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and friends whose sense of immortality clashed with a culture of the extreme. Opening reception with remarks by Curator Denis Foley and others set for Thursday, Jan. 7, 5 p.m. at the Nott.


Jan. 14Feb. 28
Nott Memorial
Mandeville Gallery

Interrupted Life: Incarcerated Mothers in the United States

This exhibition of folk and outsider art documents, in a variety of mediums, work created by incarcerated mothers, their children and professional artists. It explores issues of motherhood, incarceration, reproductive and welfare policy and politics. The resulting dialogue presents the challenges and realities created by the dramatic rise of incarcerated women in the United States today. This is a traveling exhibition curated by Rickie Solinger, an independent historian and director of WAKEUP/Arts in New Paltz. Her exhibit has been traveling since 2006 and has visited more than 24 venues in the U.S.

A host of related events are scheduled, including: a film screening of “Prison Lullabies” (Thursday, Jan. 28, 7 p.m., Reamer Campus Center); a lecture, “Violent Interruptions” (Thursday, Feb. 4, 4 p.m., Reamer); a discussion, “Interrupted Lives in Schenectady: Stories from G and H Blocks” (Thursday, Feb. 11, 4 p.m., Nott Memorial);  and a discussion with Solinger, “Interrupted Life” (Thursday, Feb. 25, 4 p.m., Nott) followed by a reception (5-7 p.m.).   


Through March 14
Schaffer Library
Union Notables

Union Notables celebrates the great men and women who have studied and worked at the College from its founding in 1795 to the present day. Every six months, a new group of three notables is featured. Currently featured are assistant professor and janitor Charles Frederick Chandler (1836-1925); actor, playwright,  journalist and producer John Howard Payne (1791-1852); and College Librarian Ruth Anne Evans (1924-2001).


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Departing Charles Gibson always put solid reporting first

Posted on Dec 21, 2009

In a column on the retirement of Charles Gibson from ABC News, David Hinckley of the New York Daily News cited a speech Gibson gave at the College's commencement in 2007 about journalistic principles.

Gibson’s long tenure with ABC played a major role in his decision to speak at the College’s 213th Commencement. Gibson was covering the House of Representatives for the network in 1986 when he met with Philip R. Beuth, then an executive at Capital Cities/ABC.

“Phil Beuth literally changed my life,” Gibson said. “I hardly knew the man, but he invited me to have a cup of coffee one morning in the ABC cafeteria and out of the blue said, ‘What would you think of being the male host on Good Morning America?’ On the scale of surprises, that was off the charts.”

When Beuth '54, asked his former anchor to speak at Commencement, Gibson reminded him of his own ties to the College. Gibson’s father, Burdett Gibson, graduated in 1923, and his uncle, Charles D. Gibson, was a member of the Class of 1920. Both men were born in Schenectady.

Gibson worked with College officials to create a scholarship in memory of his father, which is given each year to a student in financial need.

In his Commencement remarks, Gibson told the graduating class: “…you have a Union education. It served my father well, and it will do the same for you.”

To read Hinckley's column, click here.


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