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Union’s first Posse Scholars reach a milestone

Posted on Jun 8, 2010

The following article appears in the summer 2010 issue of Union College Magazine:

When Union’s first class of Posse Scholars arrived in Schenectady in 2006, their mentor took them into the dark of night to see the bright lights of their futures.

“At midnight, we spread out blankets on the lawn in front of Schaffer Library,” said Maggie Tongue, director of the Scholars Program and Office of Post-Graduate Fellowships. “I asked them to lie down, close their eyes and visualize their graduation in this very spot. I asked them to think about their parents, family and friends who would be there. I asked them to imagine walking across the stage in their caps and gowns with their Posse.”

Union's Posse Scholars, with President and Mrs. Ainlay, at a reception with Deborah Bial, founder of Posse, front right commencement

“This helped them focus on their goal, it created a mental image of this goal that they’d be reminded of every time they walked across the lawn for the next four years,” she added. “It also reinforced that they belonged here and were part of Union from the very first day.”

Those Posse Scholars will graduate in June, each one having grasped with both hands the chance given them by the Posse Foundation.

The Posse Foundation was established in 1989 and has sites in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., and soon, Miami. It selects extraordinary young people with leadership potential who excel academically, but may be overlooked by the traditional college selection process.

This mission has been embraced by Posse’s nearly 40 partner colleges and universities, each of which is helping transform the leadership landscape in the United States by diversifying their campuses and making their learning climates more welcoming to all students.

These institutions each award four-year, full-tuition leadership scholarships to groups of 10 students – or Posses – annually. Their five-year graduation rate, across all colleges, is an impressive 90 percent. Eight of Union’s 10 original scholars will receive diplomas in June. Of the remaining two, one will graduate in 2011 and the other will be granted a degree from Suffolk University in Boston in May.

Students like Antonio Gutierrez ’10 and Julia Mai Vu ’10 attribute this success, in part, to the support network created by their posse and by their mentors.

Tongue has mentored Gutierrez, Vu and their Posse peers for the last four years. When they were freshmen and sophomores, she met weekly with the group and then bi-monthly with each student. And as they became upperclassmen, she was available whenever they needed her. Together, they’ve developed academic and professional skills, and cultivated deeper, more meaningful relationships.

And it’s the relationships that have made Tongue proudest.

“It goes to the heart of the purpose of Posse,” she said. “They maintain relationships with each other so they can all grow independently, knowing their friends will be there for them. The most touching moments have come in times when they supported each other.”

“At the ‘Half-Way Ceremony’ at the end of their sophomore year, they wrote down reasons they thought each member of their Posse would succeed,” Tongue added. “They told each other about the strengths others see in them, and that was a beautiful gift few people ever receive.”

With the strength of their friends behind them, this graduating class of Posse Scholars is leaving a lasting imprint on Union. And so are those following in their footsteps. Every year since 2006, the College has admitted a new Posse.

“These students are chosen for their leadership abilities, their skills and motivation. As such, they’ve made positive changes in the way campus organizations they’ve joined are run,” said Tongue. “The model of a group of students supporting each other socially and academically is used in many places at Union – Posse serves as an example of how to make the most of our learning environment.”

Union’s First Posse Scholars

Lisis I. Alvarez

Jamaica Plain, Mass.

Major: Sociology

Deanna A. Cox

Dorchester, Mass.

Major: Political Science, Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Antonio Gutierrez

Boston, Mass.

Major: Philosophy

Joshua A. Hernandez

Dorchester, Mass.

Major: Electrical engineering

Gregory K. Jean

Hyde Park, Mass.

Major: Interdepartmental history and political science

Kenrick L. Liu

Malden, Mass.

Major: Economics

Alexandria R. Nunez-Bibby

South Attleboro, Mass.

Major: Sociology

Sarim Proeung (transferred to Suffolk University)

Lowell, Mass.

Klenton Tomori

West Roxbury, Mass.

Major: Interdepartmental Spanish and science/medicine/technology

Julia Mai Vu

Boston, Mass.

Major: Interdepartmental Asian Studies and studio arts, pre-med

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Noted researcher Mildred Dresselhaus receives honorary degree

Posted on Jun 7, 2010

Mildred Dresselhaus at Commencement 2010

Mildred Dresselhaus, one of the country’s top experts in physics and a leading advocate for women in science and engineering, was awarded an honorary doctorate of science at Union’s 216th commencement.

Dresselhaus was nominated for the honor by Palma Catravas and Helen Hanson, assistant professors in Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Cherrice Traver, dean of engineering.

Once dubbed the “Queen of Carbon Science” for her widely recognized research on carbon science and carbon nanonstructures, Dresselhaus has spent more than 40 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she became the first woman to receive the title of Institute Professor, the highest faculty honor.

She also has been honored for her work in nanoscience and nanotechnology, and is credited as one of the researchers who caused the resurgence of the thermoelectrics field through her early work on low dimensional thermoelectricity in the early 1990s.

Along with her scientific contributions, Dresselhaus has been praised for pushing for a more prominent role for women in science, serving as a mentor for decades to countless students, including Catravas when she was a graduate student at MIT and later when she joined the faculty at Union.

“Palma, in turn, has inspired me in how she has combined classical music with an engineering career, combining science, engineering and the fine arts in a liberal education for enthusiastic students,” Dresselhaus wrote in accepting Union’s offer of an honorary degree.

Growing up poor in the Bronx, Dresselhaus managed to attend Hunter College in the city, where she began as a math major with the hope of becoming an elementary school teacher. While at Hunter, she met her mentor, Nobel Prize-winning nuclear physicist Rosalyn Yalow, who encouraged her to change her field of study to science.

Dresselhaus eventually received a Fulbright Fellowship to study at Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory. She earned her master’s degree at Radcliffe and her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.

“Women didn’t have a lot of opportunities for careers in science when I was in school,” she recalled when she received Chicago’s top alumni award in 2008.

“When I was a student, I had hoped that in some way I would serve physics -my profession -and society through physics.”

The author or co-author of more than 1,300 publications including books, book chapters, invited review articles and peer reviewed journal articles, Dresselhaus is the co-inventor on five U.S. patents.

Dresselhaus has received numerous awards, including the National Medal of Science and 25 honorary doctorates worldwide. Last year, the National Science Board presented her with its Vannevar Bush Award “for her leadership through public service in science and engineering, her perseverance and advocacy in increasing opportunities for women in science, and for her extraordinary contributions in the field of condensed-matter physics and nanoscience.”

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Remarks by student speaker Nikhil Kothari

Posted on Jun 7, 2010

Four years ago, I remember sitting here in Hull Plaza, attempting to be enthralled by the prospect of my sister’s graduation from Union College.

Surrounded by proud family members, I remember my mother and father constantly reminding me to put away the phone and show some interest. After the ceremony, my sister and her friends cried and hugged, and I replied with the warmth and consideration of a good younger brother: I told her to stop embarrassing me.

Nikhil A. Kothari '10 walks to the podium to give the student address at Commencement 2010

Now, with the prospect of my own graduation, I completely understand the mix of emotions and the weight of the moment that she felt.

Although I’ve been fortunate enough to have engaged in many campus commitments and activities, describing my four years at Union proves to be a difficult task.

When people have asked me how I feel regarding about my college experience, and what I’ll miss the most, I generally respond with a blank stare and an eventual goofy but dismissive remark. Even at this point, I can’t decisively answer that question, and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

I’d prefer to avoid any element of nostalgia, redirecting my focus toward the future, and the tools that I and my classmates have been afforded by our years here. We can all agree that during freshman year, countless opportunities were thrown at us, but it was the very few that stuck that have shaped our time here.

Acknowledging the risk of sounding predictable, I’ll go ahead and state that Union College is one of the most unique undergraduate institutions around.

Despite our small size and “sheltered” atmosphere, students here display an eclectic range of interests and abilities.

It seems as though every day we can find venues to discuss political and cultural phenomena, however bizarre, and more importantly, score some free food. Minerva House councils are given the reins to annual budgets of tens of thousands of dollars, and the student investment fund actually controls a sizable portion of Union’s endowment.

Our celebration of diversity is commendable, as well. Anyone who has seen macho “frat boys” dancing to Indian music with crazed enthusiasm at some of our most well-attended cultural shows will attest to this. Principally, we’re constantly encouraged to take some sort of initiative, and in a small community such as this, it’s inevitable that each and every student will create a niche for him or herself.

Union molds its students into worldly individuals, intrinsically motivated and intensely concerned with disasters such as those in Haiti and Chile. However, members of our community acknowledge that disasters are not necessarily acute, and that slow-moving catastrophes occur daily.

I’ve found people to be remarkably receptive to any issues I wish to raise, regardless of the venue or cause. Every day, while sorting through the various Facebook invitations we inevitably receive, we’re reminded of this enthusiasm.

A great number of my fellow graduates, including myself, are planning to travel to developing nations, either through the Minerva Fellowship, the Peace Corps or the Watson, among others. Increasing numbers of our graduates enter the public sector, deliberately choosing the less commonly tread and prosperous paths.

This speaks to our sense of ambition, adventure and commitment.

Most importantly and regardless of our endeavors, it is clear that we all aim to extend our educations beyond the confines of the classroom. As such, while we leave the days of meal swipes and the point system (or naked Nott runs) behind us, now is not the time for melancholy reflection.

Today we celebrate the tools that our Union experiences have provided us, and perhaps imagine the impressive feats we’ll accomplish with such skills, along with the remarkable futures we’ll carve for ourselves and others.

Albeit with the limited wisdom that any 21-year-old can possess, I challenge all of you to remember the ambitions and accomplishments of these past few years.

We may all feel encumbered by a sense of inadequacy at this point, a lack of a confidence in our abilities to excel outside these gates. The key determinants of our successes and failures will rest upon our abilities to grapple with these reservations wisely and calmly.

The real world is just as intimidating as it may seem, however much more malleable than we allow ourselves to believe, and this distinction underlies a world of difference.

Today’s crises dictate that now, more than ever, society is in need of the resilience, concern and innovation that we have all shown throughout these few years.

So eventually, when we return to campus as alumni, remarking upon the new buildings we’ve had named in our honor and standing in a grand circle of accomplishments, I feel confident that we will return having already made an impact upon this “real world,” however subtle it may be.

We are here in an incalculably privileged position. These past four years have served as a training program of sorts, allowing us to surmount or succumb to challenges, all the while experiencing an essential cycle of personal growth.

And today, I sense that many of us still possess a vast number of unrealized innovative and trail-blazing ideas.

While we will leave this close-knit and comfortable community today, the world outside these gates is in dire need of these concepts. It is in this environment that we will be able to thrive, and firmly bridge the gap between our ambitions and our realities.

Those we respect and admire will attest to the fact that ordinary people are capable of extraordinary measures, and the past four years have only confirmed this belief.

Thank you, and congratulations to the Class of 2010.

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Text of President Stephen C. Ainlay’s baccalaureate remarks Saturday

Posted on Jun 7, 2010


We gather together for this Baccalaureate Ceremony in Memorial Chapel, a beloved spaces for many graduates of Union College.  During the recent ReUnion weekend, I ran into a member of the class of 1970 who was back for his 40th ReUnion. His son was interviewing in Grant Hall when I stopped to talk with him outside the Chapel. He said he’d walked through the doors of the Chapel; it was empty with only natural light streaming through the windows. He reported that, as he gazed at the room, adorned with the portraits of former Presidents of the College, a flood of memories came over him, overwhelming him with emotion.

Memorial Chapel was completed in 1925 and was intended to honor Union alumni who had been killed in wars up to that time, especially the then recent conflict of World War I. Over the ensuing years, it’s evolved into a place for remembering the passing of all graduates of the College and other members of the Union community. For this reason, each year at the Baccalaureate ceremony, we take time to honor those members of the Union family who died during the preceding year. We do so again today. Their names are listed in the program and I would ask that you join me in remembering them, their many contributions, and their love of Union with a brief moment of silence.

Well, you are almost there! On Sunday, you will join the ranks of the more than 20,000 Union alumni who live in places near and far, places all across the globe.   You will have the opportunity to do what so many before you have done; that is, you will have the opportunity to take what you’ve learned and apply it to whatever field of endeavor you choose. You will have the opportunity, in the grand tradition of Union, to make a difference.

Tomorrow will be a day for celebrating what you’ve accomplished and for contemplating the “commencement” of your life after Union. Today, however, I would ask you to focus on remembering. Our Baccalaureate provides an opportunity to pause before you end your time here, to reflect on accomplishments, friends, mentors, experiences, and on the sacrifices that made this weekend possible.

I told the Class of 1960 the story of the 1970 alumnus who told me how special Memorial Chapel was to him and they all nodded in agreement. When they gathered here for their Alumni Convocation, the Class of 1960 remembered that their senior year was the beginning of the turbulent decade of the 60s. They remembered that in their senior year Alaska was admitted as our 50th state, Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone premiered on television, and the Guggenheim Museum opened its doors to the public in New York City. They remembered that four African American students occupied a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, NC, in one of the key early events in the civil rights movement.   They remembered that the Soviets shot down a U-2 spy plane, igniting a confrontation with the U.S. government. They remembered a young Senator by the name of John Kennedy who won the California presidential primary. And, the remembered that Elvis Presley returned from two years of military service in Germany during their senior year, delighting young people across the country (and sometimes annoying their parents) with the release of “Are You Lonesome Tonight.”

Memories of all these national and world events came back to the 50 Year Class during their ReUnion weekend. Similarly, memories of their times at Union rushed over them. I know this because one of the joys of being President is that alumni share these memories with you during the visits back to campus. One member of the Class of 1960 brought his clarinet along to a reception we held in the President’s House. He wasn’t there long until he was joined by a keyboard player from his class and, even though they hadn’t played together in 50 years, they performed song after song, re-living their membership in a campus “Dixieland” jazz band and delighting other class members and their spouses.  The members of the Class of ’60, remembered arriving at West Hall with a foot locker that contained a suit and sport coat. They remembered bringing typewriters and transistor radios.  Computers, Playstations, flat screen televisions, cell phones, and SUVs were not part of their experience – none of them existed in the fall of 1956 when they arrived on campus.

The Class of 1960 remembered being welcomed by Dean Huntley. They recounted influential faculty – like Ed Craig, Edgar Curtis, Harold Larrabee, Sherwood Fox, Clarence Goodheart, and Joe Finkelstein – who had introduced them to a new book or a new way of thinking. They remembered Bob Ridings, the athletic equipment manager, who fired the small cannon at games and oversaw the “cage.” They remembered Carter Davidson, their President, who struck fear in their young and impressionable hearts as he strode across campus.  They remembered broadcasting new and sometimes controversial tunes on WRUC. They remembered mentors who helped them plan their course of study and their lives. They remembered housekeepers and dining hall workers who took care of them. They remembered exciting games. They remembered cold, especially when walking past the Nott Memorial. They remembered dances arranged with Skidmore students. They recounted roommates and close friends. They remembered good times and good conversations.

What will you remember about your time at Union? I suspect you will remember arriving at the College in the fall of 2006 – some of you arriving in SUVs, some with U-Hauls – carting along computers, printers, flat screen tvs, ipods, cell phones, and video games. I greeted a good many of you, your arms loaded and parents in tow. I suspect you will remember world events such as the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti. You will remember a catastrophic oil leak that defied technology and attempts to plug it, fouling the Gulf of Mexico. You will remember “swine flu.” You will remember the winter Olympic games held in Vancouver. You may well remember a men’s hockey season that posted the best record in the history of the program and went to the ECAC finals. You may remember a walk-off home run at a women’s softball game and the obvious glee of the children from the Boy’s and Girl’s Clubs who were there to cheer the team on. Many of you will remember Hoops for Help, a faculty/staff/student basketball game that raised money to help people in Haiti and Chile who urgently needed it. You will remember that you helped build a playground at Jerry Burrell Park in Schenectady’s Hamilton Hill area, bringing safe play space to city children.  I hope you will remember that the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce gave us an award for the help we give to the city, we were placed on the President’s Honor Roll of Colleges that serve their communities, and the Schenectady County legislature gave us an award for our sustainability efforts and the Princeton Review declared us one of the nation’s “greenest” colleges.   I hope you remember this because you helped garner these awards for Union.

I am sure that you will remember your roommates, and your friends and your favorite faculty. I predict you will talk proudly of the ways in which your relationships with all of them continue to flourish long after graduation. In short, some of the details of your experience will be different when you return for your 50th than they were for those in the Class of 1960 but something will be strikingly similar.

I like to say that in choosing to attend Union, a person chooses a lifetime membership. I mean that. Your relationship with Union will change tomorrow. But, I would urge you to hold onto all that it’s been and take advantage of all that it can continue to be for you. Come back for ReUnions and Homecomings. Attend Alumni Symposia the College sponsors – we’ve done three so far, focused on immigration, health care, and the smart grid respectively. While you may not feel like sitting in another class today, mark my word you will want to relive that experience in the future. Make the trip to Union when you see that a concert, game, or theatre performance is coming up that you would simply hate to miss. Go out to the alumni event that’s nearby the place you come to live, even if you are tired after a long day’s work. Stay connected with each other. 

And, when you are back on campus, be sure to look back into Memorial Chapel, with the light streaming through its windows, and, like the alumnus from the Class of 1970, let the memories rush over you.

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Text of President Stephen C. Ainlay’s charge to graduates

Posted on Jun 7, 2010

What a wonderful way to celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2010!

I want to thank our honorary degree recipients – Dr. Horn and Dr. Dresselhaus – for being with us today. You honor us with your presence and we are proud to count you among our own.

I would call your attention to the list of prize recipients, printed in the back pages of the Commencement Program. They received their awards at Prize Day but I would ask you to join me in recognizing them today with your applause.

President Stephen C. Ainlay at Commencement 2010

I recently heard Cory Booker, the Mayor of Newark, give a talk in Boston. He urged the students to remember their families but to also remember those many ancestors – people long since gone – who labored and often lived hard lives to create the opportunities they have today. Mayor Booker was right, of course: people who lived their lives long ago, toiled in fields, factories, and forests, should be remembered. You owe many generations for their sacrifices which opened the opportunities that you have today.

While you can’t know, let alone thank, all those who long ago contributed to your success, you can thank those who most immediately made all this possible. I would invite all the members of the Class of 2010 to stand, turn to your family and friends in attendance today, and join me in thanking them with applause for their love and support which prepared you for Union and sustained you the past four years.

Would all of you join me in thanking the members of the Union faculty who have shared their love of learning with you these past four years and especially John Boyer, Barbara Boyer, David Hemmendinger, and Terry Weiner who are retiring this year.

I also want to thank Professor William Finlay, our Marshal, the members of the Commencement Committee as well as the entire Union staff for organizing this day, readying this beautiful campus, and preparing food that we will enjoy. They have approached this day with their usual care and professionalism.

I invite all of you – graduates, friends, family members, faculty, staff, and administrators – to join the divisional receptions immediately following this ceremony. These divisional receptions offer a fine opportunity to affirm the bonds that have been forged.

Now please allow me a few words to our graduates. The Class of 2010 is my first four-year class.   You are the first Union students to know me as your only President.  That has been my honor; that has been my privilege.

When people ask me about young people today, and they often do, I point to you when I answer. I praise the difference you have made in the world beyond our campus: feeding those who desperately need help through programs like the Campus Kitchen project and Octopus’s Garden; building playgrounds in areas where children desperately need safe places to play, like Jerry Burrell Park; sending much needed financial support to places devastated by natural disasters, like the Hoops for Help faculty-staff-student game which sent funds to aid earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti and Chile; raising funds for research aimed at ending cancer and other life-threatening illnesses, like Pink at the Rink and Relay for Life; and, winning recognition from the Schenectady Chamber of Commerce and even President Obama for your many contributions. You’ve done much.

I praise your academic accomplishments: you’ve received Minerva Fellowships, Watson Fellowships, Fulbright Fellowships, been finalists for prestigious prizes like the Gagliardi Trophy and received a host of other honorific prizes and awards; you’ve been celebrated by being named to Liberty League and ECAC all-academic teams; you’ve had unprecedented successes in national competitions, like the Ethics Bowl; you’ve inspired us with you Steinmetz presentations, performances, and posters; you’ve captured our imaginations with your artistic work; you’ve presented at regional and national academic conferences; you’ve published. Again, you’ve done much.

I praise the difference you’ve made at Union. Our Middle States visitation team commended Union for its appreciation of the richness that comes with a diverse community and commended us for becoming a more welcoming place. Much of this owes to your efforts. Your efforts also helped us earn a special award from the Schenectady County Legislature in recognition of our implementation of sustainable practices and the Princeton Review declared Union one of the nation’s greenest campuses. Again, you’ve done much.

Hopefully Union has done much for you as well. I hope that your time here has helped you find your passion. I hope your time at Union has deepened your love of learning and provided you with intellectual and social tools that will allow you to be successful in whatever you choose to be and do.  I cannot think of a field of endeavor where graduates of Union haven’t made a difference; I have every confidence that the same will be true of you.

And, I hope you carry with you memories, friendships, and commitments that will endure.   I predict that they will because that is truly a hallmark of the Union experience. But don’t make me wrong! Nurture the relationships you’ve developed here. Stay in touch with each other. Stay in touch with people who made a difference in your life and who care about what happens to you. And come home to Union, you will always be welcome here.

It is impossible to spend four years at Union and not hear about the fabled accomplishments of those who graduated ahead of you. I told you at the President’s Dinner on Tuesday evening that the “Union Notables” posters that now adorn the walls of College Park Hall should inspire you as you contemplate the possibilities for your life. Seward, Bigelow, Barrett, and Morgan should be more than names to you; you should think of them as fellow-villagers who also lived and studied at this storied college, separated from you only by time, united with you in a common purpose. What is that purpose? To take what you’ve learned here and translate it into improving whatever field of endeavor you choose, improving the communities you join, improving the lives of the people you encounter along your life journeys.

I would like to close today’s Commencement ceremony and send you on your way, by paraphrasing the charge that Union’s first President, John Blair Smith, gave to Union students over 200 years ago: “as you leave this place, do so ready for a useful life.” No matter what you choose to do in the years ahead, remember that your academic lineage is a great one and your lineage beckons you to make a difference.

I look forward to welcoming you home to this special place many times in the years ahead. I wish you the best, you sisters and brothers under the laws of Minerva, you daughters and sons of Union College. 


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