Archive for August, 2010

This morning, the students of UVM’s Class of 2014 are walking across campus, nervously pondering questions such as where the heck Lafayette Hall might be. Last evening, they gathered en masse for the 2010 convocation, a ceremony welcoming the new class to the university and launching the academic year.

As guest speaker at convocation, author Firzoozeh Dumas (Funny in Farsi) delivered an informal talk with plenty of laugh lines knit together by a theme she made plain with a final word of advice to the new college students. Don’t stick with the same group of friends all of the time. Don’t eat with the same circle in the cafeteria every night. “Find people different from you and talk to them,” Dumas said. “Try to see humanity in people who think differently than you.”

Led out of the gym by bagpipers and snares, the procession then headed down Main Street and over to the green to the rhythm of Burlington’s Taiko Drummers. As more than 2,000 students formed a wide circle at the center of the green to light candles for the twilight induction ceremony, President Fogel reminded them that this would be the last time that they would gather together as an entire class… that is, until May of 2014, when they’ll come together in the same place to accept their diplomas at graduation.


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As the class of 2014 will begin arriving on campus Friday, it seems an apt time to call attention to a multi-lingual welcome mat, of sorts, over at the Davis Student Center. The first floor lounge features a wall with the word welcome in many different languages — Bosnian, Korean, Italian, Sudanese, Gaelic, French, Czech, Turkish, Romanian, Hebrew, and Chinese, among many others. “Soo dhowow,” in case you didn’t know,  is the word for welcome in Somali. These striking metal signs and many others in the Davis Center and around town are the work of sculptor Katherine Clear, an alumna of the UVM Art Department, Class of 2001.

Before classes begin on Monday, the university kicks off the new academic year with the annual convocation ceremony in Patrick Gym. Guest speaker for the event is Firoozeh Dumas, author of Funny in Farsi, which the Class of 2014 read over the summer. After convocation, the new students, the UVM community, and anyone else who gets a kick out of the rare chance to parade down the middle of Main Street, will walk over to the campus green for the candle lighting induction ceremony, a beautiful sight at twilight.

Read more on convocation.

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Straight to the head of the class for the reader who recognizes the UVM alumnus above.

I don’t see hands in the air.

Anyone? Anyone?

OK, give up?

It’s Asahel Peck, governor of the great state of Vermont from 1874 to 1876. I’ll confess that my knowledge of UVM alumni governors of Vermont is just a couple of hours old. Prompted by a request for information from a local reporter, we did some quick research. Admittedly, we’d have to dig deeper and broaden our sources if we were facing a thesis defense, but here’s a draft roster of UVM alumni who have occupied the governor’s office, along with their place in the succession of Vermont leaders and the years of their terms.

13. William Palmer, 1831-1835

28. J. Gregory Smith, 1863-1865

35. Asahel Peck, 1874-1876

38. Roswell Farnham, 1880-1882

45. Urban A. Woodbury, 1894-1896

70. Joseph B. Johnson, 1955-1959

77. Madeleine M. Kunin, 1985-1991

And, yes, this will be on the quiz.

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In its current back-to-school issue, Burlington weekly Seven Days tackles the mystery of UVM’s famed “flying diaper” on Redstone Campus. The enigmatic sculpture/structure has been a campus landmark and outdoor hangout since the late sixties, but no doubt there are plenty of students who go through four years on campus and never quite figure out what the thing is or why it’s out there behind Coolidge Hall.

Wonder no more. Reporter Haylley Johnson has the answers on the diaper.

What is it? A hyperbolic paraboloid. (Edit: Well, duh.)

Who designed it? William Arnold, engineering student, class of 1968.

Who built it? UVM civil engineering students, class of 1968, who took a class taught by Burdette “Bud” Stearns on the mechanics of materials.

Jeffrey Laible, UVM professor of engineering, was among the students who built the diaper. “Of all the things in my undergraduate experience, this was the most valuable one,” he told Seven Days. “You went from theory to actually building it.”


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The landscaping is part of the story as Jeffords Hall, the new plant sciences building, swings into use with the upcoming fall semester. A trellis of steel cables runs up the south face of the building where northern kiwi vines are starting to twine and grow skyward. Some of my colleagues in University Communications are starting in on production of a video that will look at the new building and the ways the landscaping will be incorporated into the teaching. Keep an eye out for it in UVM Today later this fall and we’ll include it as an on-line extra with the November issue of the magazine.

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New art just arrived on campus with very large thanks due to UVM alumni. The work by UVM alumnus Richard Erdman, Class of 1975, is a gift from the Class of 2010. The sculpture sits in front of Jeffords Hall, the new plant sciences building, also unveiled this summer.

I greatly enjoyed meeting sculptor Richard Erdman back in 2003 while writing a profile for VQ. A varsity skier during his UVM days, Erdman told me: “I believe in movement, that’s what life is all about. I like to work quickly; I love having a mess when I create. Something will tumble on the floor and I’ll see a shape or an idea that inspires me and I’ll pick it up. You have to allow chance.”

Read the full story.

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Yes, yes, I’ll admit the VQ blog has been a little heavy on news about catamount sightings this summer. The real kind, the imagined kind, and somewhere in-between. Yet when my colleague Elise told me she noticed yesterday that it appeared a vandal had taken a metal saw and had at the muzzle of the catamount sculpture over by Royall Tyler Theatre, I had to go take a look for myself. So I put on my fedora, the one with the PRESS card in the brim, grabbed my camera, and headed across the green.

The sculpture, the work of artist Dennis Sparling, was a gift to the university from the Class of 1998. The metal cat descends a boulder, alert, seeking its prey or maybe a burger from Pam’s, poised to spring if it can just get around that bed of petunias. Full disclosure, I’ve never been a huge fan of the sculpture, though I would seldom stoop to plastic surgery with a hack saw. Still, I was relieved today to find it intact, even improved. Elise hadn’t spotted a complete act of vandalism, but an incomplete act of repair. At issue, whiskers that were made of fairly delicate wire that had been bent, pulled, and generally abused over the years. Now, just in time for the new academic year, the cat has its muzzle back along with a handsome set of beefed-up whiskers that appear ready for the rigors of life as a piece of public art.

This reporter, for one, is liking the new look.

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