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Standing Up for Science

I was delighted to read President Jackson’s speech excerpt in the Spring 2005 Rensselaer (“Where Science Meets Society”). The appalling pullback from using pure science in public policy threatens basic freedoms, our environment, and the standing of our country in the global community. RPI alumni have a continuing duty to society as well as our children to make the case for the role of science in the United States. I have found it is surprisingly easy to make a difference, and I would encourage my far more talented peers to do the same. Get involved with your school boards, or volunteer with a nonprofit, write some checks, and never give an inch. And thank you President Jackson for showing us the way.

We’ll miss the Enlightenment when it’s gone.

Charles Von Thun ’89
Denver, Colo.

Reading Is Fundamental

I wonder what Selmer Bringsjord means when he says that “humans learn best and most efficiently by reading” [“Building a Better Brain,” Spring 2005]. If he means that reading is a better way to obtain information than other forms of human communication, he is flying in the face of some popular beliefs in the technical community.

The current rage in software development is agile methods and one of their principles is “working software over comprehensive documentation.” With little or no written documentation available, agile programmers are encouraged to get information through oral communication, usually a face-to-face meeting with the person who has the information that they need. Proponents of agile programming contend that this is a better method than reading documentation.

Bringsjord’s comment also seems to contradict the premise behind the concept of “group learning” that was popular at RPI when I was a teaching assistant there (1991-1996). In group learning, a group of students discusses a problem and arrives at a solution by talking with each other. If anyone is reading, it is done before the problem session starts.

I tend to believe that Bringsjord is right, particularly when he notes that readers ponder what they are reading. Certainly this is what I did when I asked how his statement might apply to two of the latest trends in software development and teaching.

Victor Skowronski, Ph.D. ’96
Woburn, Mass.

Earthquake Forecasting

Concerning earthquakes and tsunamis (“Better Earthquake Forecasting”), you should be advised that James M. Gere, BCE ’49, Ph.D. ’54, and retired head of the Civil Engineering Department at Stanford University, was also an expert in earthquakes and tsunamis.

When visiting Jim back in 1986, he showed us the seismograph mounted in the center of the department office. He also generously gave me a book he authored on tsunamis, which I have recently donated to our local library.

It should also be noted that Jim was an excellent cross-country runner for RPI.

J. Richard Manier ’48
Fayetteville, N.Y.

RPI on eBay!

I was happy to see your article “RPI on eBay.” I’ve been collecting vintage postcards of Rensselaer since I graduated in 1996. I recently created this site which features many of the cards in my collection: www.rpiviews.com.

Hopefully I’ll have a chance to get back to Troy and visit the archives to do some more research for the site, but for now hopefully other alums will enjoy seeing some of the old scenes around campus.

Eric Larson ’96
Chelmsford, Mass.

Regarding the “RPI on eBay” article: The words “and EVEN a set of beer mugs emblazoned with a red letter ‘R’ on each” suggests that they are somehow unusual. Not so. I don’t know over how many years, but when I was on campus we received one of these mugs with the current year for voting in the student election — our activity fees at work as an incentive to vote. They were everywhere, especially on the windowsills of dorm rooms.

Dick Greet ’60
Rye, Colo.

An Unforgettable Day

My most powerful memory of the old [RPI Players] Playhouse is not of events that took place there, but of something that never happened. In the fall of 1963 we prepared a production of an English comedy called The Brass Butterfly. Opening night was set for Friday, Nov. 22, 1963 — the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Of course we canceled that weekend’s performances. I don’t think anyone told us to, we just knew that, despite legend and song, there are times when the show simply cannot go on. We drove to the empty Playhouse that evening and wandered around, lost in thought. Although the production had been planned to run two weekends, it had been a troubled effort from the beginning, and no one had the heart to try again the following weekend.

David Kent ’63
Newington, Conn.

RPI’s Gone Liberal?

I was reading a book recently that discussed how all the major universities have moved to the left in their curriculum and position of the faculty. I thought this could not be the same at engineering schools like RPI. Then I saw that this year’s Commencement speaker was Senator Hillary Clinton, one of the most liberal politicians in the country. Why does RPI entertain such an anti-national defense and anti-business person? I guess RPI has moved to the left along with all the liberal arts universities.

Richard Picard ’64
Cincinnati, Ohio

In addition to Charles Ewels ’50 (circled), astute readers have identified George Wilson ’55 (reaching for juice), Derrick Grothe ’55 (to the right of Wilson), and either Joseph Seeger ’50 or Tony Davidson ’58 (reaching for doughnut). Do you know any others?

Picture Perfect

My father [Charles Ewels ’50] graduated from RPI on the GI Bill after World War II. He died last December, but my mother, who still receives the alumni magazine, opened it today, and saw a picture of dad standing in a cafeteria line [page 34]! He is the dark-haired one, V-neck dark sweater standing “alone,” mid-back row. Thin and all ears! Looking directly into the camera. He vowed that after WWII and the Army life that he would never stand in line again! Your picture proves otherwise.

The funny thing is that mom had decided this morning to cancel the magazine, no need to continue it, and had to get up early with her dog. She thought the alumni magazine would put her back to sleep, enjoyed an article, then flipped the page and there was Dad! It was a shock, then a comfort, and then a kind of gift from him to her, because their anniversary is May 19 and her birthday is May 12... so in a way it is a “hi” from him.

He so loved his education at RPI, and more so because his family couldn’t afford it. The GI Bill made it possible. He was a chemical engineer for General Chemical, then Allied. He was proud of his career.

Carolyn Ewels
Potomac, Md.

Remembering Professor Henry Hollinger

I noted the Spring 2005 report of Professor Hollinger’s death, and feel we have all lost a truly unique person, a gifted teacher, and friend. Henry was a great listener who taught and counseled a community of students — from RPI, Sage, and Hudson Valley — in matters ranging from statistical mechanics and group theory to college entrance. He gave his time willingly to all students, on the belief that most learning comes from individual interactions with the faculty. I met Henry in 1963 as a chemistry major, and studied theoretical chemistry with him as my Ph.D. adviser. Henry had the gift of considering an idea, forming a model, and creating equations to predict the behavior and properties of systems. His enthusiasm for understanding led him to personal studies of chemistry, math, philosophy, music, and religion.

Those of us who were taught by Henry have indeed been privileged.

Bruce Morrissey ’64, Ph.D. ’70
Wilmington, Del.

More RPI Players Memories

I thoroughly enjoyed the article on the RPI Players in the Fall 2004 issue as it brought back memories of my four years in the Players. Mostly I was part of the stage crew and in my last two years, production manager for some of the shows. Maybe the most vivid recall is of the night Art Rosenthal and I were sitting in the orchestra checking the appearance of the lighting of the set that we were working on for the coming production. All of a sudden we heard a tremendous crash right behind us. When we recovered our senses, we looked back and saw that the main chandelier’s chain had broken and pieces of it were then in the seats a few rows back of where we were sitting. I am sure this contributed to our move from the Playhouse at the foot of the Approach to the 15th Street Lounge.

I also remember our faculty adviser Bob Healy and the intense games of charades he organized at many of our post-show parties. I also remember that I got talked into taking a small part in one show. It was very good and got great reviews that included the comment that “the cast was all great except for Kulakofsky. We and he are all lucky that he had such a small part.”

Michael Kulakofsky ’52
San Jose, Calif.

We’d love to hear from you! To provide space for as many letters as possible, we often must edit them for length. Please address correspondence to: Rensselaer Magazine, Office of Communications, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180, e-mail to alum.mag@rpi.edu, or call (518) 276-6531.

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