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Contributing to the festivities of Alumni Weekend 2012, a number of CAS departments offered special programs and presentations for returning alumni and friends.
The Department of Chemistry invited four distinguished alumni to describe highlights of their varied careers in science and technology and how their BU education launched them on these career paths. The speakers represented a range of specialties, from theoretical chemistry to organic chemistry to physical chemistry, as well as careers paths in academia, entrepreneurship, law, and industry. The symposium proved to be both practical in terms of career advice and touching in the tribute speakers paid to their advisors, and demonstrated the substantial impact that their BU Chemistry training had in helping to shape these successful careers.
The symposium was the first alumni outreach effort by the new Chemistry chair, Professor Larry Ziegler. The encouraging responses of both the alumni and the students to this inaugural event assure that there will be more such events to follow.
On Saturday afternoon, English, Classical Studies and Modern Languages and Comparative Literature alumni gathered at the GSU to view a special alumni reading of Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen, translated by Jeffrey Henderson and directed and edited by Stephanie Nelson, both professors in the Department of Classical Studies. The reading took place in the GSU Conference Ballroom, where faculty, alumni and graduate students had the chance to take on Aristophanes’ raucous fantasy about the takeover of the Athenian government (read: of Boston University) by its female residents (read: its female alumni).
Festooned in garlands, Red Sox gear, and with no small number of male faculty and grads cross-dressing as they would have in the original production in 391 BC, the cast recreated a world (read: BU campus) where everything, including sex, is shared by all, with all of the resulting craziness one would expect. Old Blepyrus (Professor Henderson), finds that being an old man in the new regime is a pretty good deal—seniority counts for a great deal in the sexual hierarchy—while Epigenes (alumnus Steve Cunningham, CAS ’09) found it tough going for a handsome young man, torn between a lovely flute girl (Amiel Bowers, CAS ’09) and some very ugly old crones (Associate Professor Steve Scully and CAS Advising staff member Chris McMullen). Praxagora (alumna Caitlin Cox, CAS ’10) led the revolution, whipping into shape her band of professorial revolutionaries Kate Snodgrass (English and Boston Playwright’s Theater), Pat Johnson (Classical Studies and Associate Dean), and Zsuzsa Varhelyi (Classical Studies).
The performance was followed by a reception in which the interdisciplinary band of humanities faculty, staff, and alumni enjoyed their time together.
The Physics Department opened its Alumni Weekend event with a barbecue lunch, giving faculty members an opportunity to welcome alumni. The first session of the reunion began with an impressive and visually appealing presentation on complex networks by one of the fathers of the field, Laszlo Barabasi (PhD 1994), a Distinguished Professor at Northeastern University, followed by an engaging talk on nanophotonics and photovoltaics by Mike Naughton (PhD 1986), who currently chairs the Physics Department at Boston College. Alumni career talks continued on Saturday morning, with Reza Sadr (PhD 1998, JD 2011) discussing his path to patent law and the many opportunities in this profession for those with physics training. Terry Russell (PhD 1998) presented his roller-coaster ride as an entrepreneur and investor in science and technology-based startup companies. Denise Labieniec (MA 1995) related her meandering path to high-school teaching and to her position as Director of Studies at The Winsor School.
The reunion concluded with three scientific talks. Vito Scarola (BA 1997, PhD Penn State 2002), an assistant professor of physics at Virginia Tech, gave an entertaining presentation of his undergraduate research in Bennett Goldberg’s lab and his current research on novel collective excitations in quantum condensed matter. Bogdan Dobrescu (PhD 1998), a senior scientist at Fermilab, gave a nice overview of phenomena that arise from the Higgs particle. The session concluded with Tulika Bose, assistant professor of physics, discussing the exciting developments that led to the discovery of the Higgs at the LHC.
Political Science was among the departments that sponsored special Alumni Weekend programs, and what would one expect political scientists to talk about in Presidential election year? The obvious answer is the opinion polls—who is up, who is down and who is going to win. The department however took a less obvious turn, hosting instead an Alumni Weekend panel of political scientists (Professor Neta Crawford, Assistant Professor Katherine Einstein, Associate Professor Douglas Kriner and Professor Graham Wilson) that focused on a different question: What are the key problems that are going to be on the president’s desk in January, whoever wins? Professor Crawford tackled foreign policy, Einstein domestic policy, Kriner problems of getting our institutions to work together and Wilson the hole in the budget. By the end of the session, the audience was wiser but also puzzled about why, with the daunting problems identified, anyone would want the job! And being political scientists the panel couldn’t help discussing who is going to win, who is up, who is down…
The Psychology Department’s doctoral alumni reunion took place held in the Terrace Lounge of the GSU. The event was attended by about 75 alumni, their spouses, and their children, as well as a number of current and emeritus faculty members, all of whom enjoyed lively conversation, reminiscing, renewals of old friendships, and networking.
The Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies sponsored four faculty seminars on the Sunday of Alumni Weekend, attracting an audience of more than 40 alumni, friends and family.
Michael Grodin (title) presented in English Rabbi Ephraim Oshry’s Responsa, from the Kovno Ghetto during the Holocaust. Grodin used the historical events of the Ghetto and the institution of the Judenräte to frame the discussion and focused on the unfathomable questions Jewish Law and the Rabbis had to decide about who should live and who should die. Professor Grodin notes that seminar participants particularly liked the opportunity to use the original source material to predict how these texts would be applied to the actual Rabbinic Responsa.
Diana Lobel, associate professor of religion, presented an interactive text study of Maimonides’ Eight Chapters on Ethics (Shemonah Perakim), focusing on Chapter 6, in which Maimonides wrestles with the question of whether it is preferable to be virtuous by nature or to struggle for growth.
Pnina Lahav, professor of law, led a conversation about the Israeli law of holy places and high court decisions on the case of women’s public Torah study at the Western Wall, shedding light on the ongoing clash between orthodoxy and gender equity.
Abigail Gillman, associate professor of modern languages and comparative literature, examined some of writher Franz Kafka’s very short stories and parables with an eye towards understanding why the most important German writer of the 20th century is also a quintessential Jewish writer.