Author Archives: Brett Tomlinson

Tiger of the Week: Lauret Savoy ’81, Earth Scientist, Map Reader, ‘Memory Tracer’

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

Lauret Savoy ’81

Lauret Savoy ’81 (Courtesy Lauret Savoy ’81)

Read me, it called then. It still does,” writes Lauret Savoy ’81 in her new memoir, Trace: Memory, History, Race, and the American Landscape, a finalist for the 2016 PEN Open Book Award and nominee for a Pushcart Prize.

This is how Savoy, a professor of environmental studies and geology at Mount Holyoke College, describes the beloved map she’s carried for years — a large, “creased, taped, and re-taped” roll she’s unfurled on every cross-country trip since Princeton, “since that day in college when Professor Judson handed out copies to his geomorphology class.”

Savoy’s map, as she recalls in Trace’s fifth chapter, “What’s in a Name,” is a hand-drawn and inked copy by “master cartographer-artist” Erwin Raisz. It’s also something she “reads” — which suggests that Savoy sees her map as something more than the shaded, textured terrain of “physiographic landforms”; her map, like Trace, is a text. And its style — precise yet expansive, even hard-to-pin-down — models Savoy’s unique background.

“I don’t define myself as a geologist,” Savoy says, though she earned a M.S. in earth sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Ph.D. from Syracuse University. Rather, Savoy identifies as a writer who uses her “experience and past work as an Earth historian” to explore themes of race, identity, culture, and heritage. Continue reading

Mike Signer ’95, Lawyer, Scholar, Author, and Mayor

Mike Signer ’95

Mike Signer ’95 (Cat Thrasher)

Mike Signer ’95 is a lawyer by profession, but he’s never shied away from pursuing a range of interests. He teaches college courses on political theory and writes books about history, including a 2015 biography of Princeton’s own James Madison, Class of 1771.

Late last year, Signer added one more pursuit: He was sworn in as mayor of Charlottesville, Va., a city of 44,000 people and home to the University of Virginia.

Running for office and teaching about politics are connected for Signer, who holds a Ph.D. in political theory. In classes, he tries to show students the ways in which the political system is broken, and how they can work to make it better. Public service, he said, is his chance to “walk the walk.”

Mayor is a part-time position in Charlottesville — though so far, Signer has devoted about 35 hours a week to the job. Like most Virginia municipalities, the city employs a full-time city manager, and the mayor and city council fulfill a role akin to that of a board of directors at a public company or a board of trustees at a university.

Signer’s campaign tagline was “One Charlottesville,” and in his first three months as mayor, he’s started working on key issues that include economic development; balancing growth with the historical character of the city; funding public schools and working with the city’s independent school board; and improving regional relations by partnering with colleagues in Albemarle county, which surrounds the city.

Signer said that his interests in public service and academia began in high school and blossomed at Princeton. In college, he started a local chapter of the Rainforest Conservancy, edited the Progressive Review, and served as a Mercer County field director for Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. He also dove into political theory, learning from influential professors such as George Kateb and Paul Sigmund. “It was this really heady mix of ideas and practice,” he said.

Both prongs of his Princeton experience were in evidence when Signer spoke with PAW last week. In a half-hour conversation, he delved into Aristotle’s study of city-states, philosopher Hannah Arendt’s views on being “in the world,” and Francis Fukuyama’s writings on the virtues of trust. But he also spoke about the rewards of his day-to-day mayoral duties, including getting to know his colleagues over breakfast — a practice that he wishes were more prevalent up the road in Washington, D.C. “It leads to amazing results when you carve out the time and the trust to do that,” Signer said.

Wolff ’79 Chronicles Obama’s Love of Hoops, from Childhood to Baracketology

Audacity-of-Hoop_emaOn Tuesday, for the eighth and final time in his presidency, Barack Obama completed his NCAA Tournament brackets on a giant whiteboard in the Oval Office. The tradition of “Baracketology” is one of several nods that the president has made to his favorite sport. As Alexander Wolff ’79 writes in The Audacity of Hoop: Basketball and the Age of Obama, “other than golf to Ike, no game has been as tightly lashed to a president as basketball to Obama.”

Eisenhower’s fanatical devotion to golf inspired at least three books; for Obama and hoops, Wolff’s is the first.

Wolff, a senior writer at Sports Illustrated, explains Obama’s basketball biography as a long and meaningful thread in his life story, dating back to the year when his father, Barack Sr., gave him a ball for Christmas. And the game may have helped to pave his way to the White House in 2008: Hoops-themed campaign stops aided strong primary performances in places such as North Carolina and Indiana. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Hollywood Exec Ben Fast ’06

Ben Fast ’06 (Courtesy Indigenous Media)

Ben Fast ’06 (Courtesy Indigenous Media)

Entering his freshman year at Princeton, Ben Fast ’06 had his sights set on computer science, or maybe economics. But his outlook changed early that fall when he saw a show by Quipfire!, the student improv comedy group.

“It kind of turned everything upside down,” Fast says. “I immediately wanted to do what they were doing.”

Fast dove into comedy and theater, joining Quipfire!, the Triangle Club, and Theatre Intime. After college, he went west to USC, where he studied screenwriting in the film school. He pursued writing jobs in film and television — an often-humbling path, he says — before joining the Weinstein Company as a creative executive.

In December, Fast was named executive vice president, development, at Indigenous Media, a studio co-founded by Jon Avnet, Rodrigo Garcia, and Jake Avnet.

Fast deals with traditional platforms as well as digital and emerging media in his new job. “The fundamentals are still the same,” he says. “It’s identifying talent early, trying to find undervalued talent, finding great ideas, and communicating those ideas effectively.”

Working in Hollywood rewards doggedness, he adds: “It really takes someone who is adamant and impetuous to get something made.”

Fast sees some parallels between the projects in his current career and the student shows that were so absorbing during his time at Princeton. The stakes may be higher, but the ingredients for success are similar. “You still want to have the sense of fun and camaraderie, if you can,” he says. “People who love what they’re doing are going to work much harder on it.” Continue reading

Women’s Basketball Falls to Penn in Finale, 62-60

For the second time in three years, the Ivy League women’s basketball title came down to one game, the season finale between Princeton and Penn. And for the Tigers, this year’s result was disappointingly familiar.

Princeton fell to Penn, 62-60, at Jadwin Gym March 8. The Quakers (24-4, 13-1 Ivy) earned the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, while the Tigers (23-5, 12-2) will have to hope for an at-large berth, which would be a first for an Ivy team.

Alex Wheatley ’16 (Office of Athletic Communications)

Alex Wheatley ’16 (Office of Athletic Communications)

Princeton trailed for most of the contest, as Penn seemed to have an answer for every challenge. When Alex Wheatley ’16 finally put the Tigers ahead, 56-55 with two minutes remaining, Quaker guard Anna Ross replied with a layup and was fouled. She converted the free throw to put Penn up 58-56. Penn made four more foul shots in the final minutes to seal the win.

Open shots were hard to come by on both ends of the court. Penn was able to slow the Tigers with full-court pressure. “They’re very skilled and they have a lot of kids that can score,” Penn coach Mike McLaughlin said. “We didn’t want to guard them [in the half court] for 25 seconds a possession.”

Penn forward Michelle Nwokedi finished with a team-high 17 points, including back-to-back layups to stretch a two-point lead to six at the end of the third quarter.

Wheatley led Princeton with 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting and also tied for a team-high with seven rebounds. “She was our most aggressive player tonight,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “She was tremendous. I’m really proud of her.”

Both Princeton and Penn rank in the top 40 of the Division I RPI. McLaughlin said that the Tigers were a tournament-worthy team, and Banghart agreed. It may be an anomaly for two Ivy teams to be this strong in one year, she said, but “if they go on the strength of the current year, we’re two of the best teams in the East.”

Tigers of the Week: From Triangle Club to Love Triangle, Playwrights Scott Elmegreen ’07 and Drew Fornarola ’06 Debut Off-Broadway Play

Scott Elmegreen ’07, left, and Drew Fornarola ’06 (Courtesy Scott Elmegreen ’07 and Drew Fornarola ’06)

Scott Elmegreen ’07, left, and Drew Fornarola ’06 (Courtesy Scott Elmegreen ’07 and Drew Fornarola ’06)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

“Ben likes beer, sports, and Emily. And Chris.” That’s the tagline for Straight, a new play written by Scott Elmegreen ’07 and Drew Fornarola ’06.

The pair met at Theatre Intime and the Princeton Triangle Club in the fall of 2003.

“Triangle is a pre-professional kind of experience,” said Fornarola before a Thursday night performance of Straight in New York. “It’s as close to what it’s like to do a show here as I imagine most people could have in college.

“You’ve got a creative team. You’ve got investors that you present a show to, and they give you feedback. You’ve got audiences to think about. It’s a big budget show on a big stage. The chance to do that twice a year is second to none.”

Well, maybe second to doing the same thing in New York. Straight follows Ben (Jake Epstein), a 26-year-old investment banker in Boston who struggles to understand what he wants, and what he thinks he should want. Ben feels comfortable in his long-term relationship with Emily (Jenna Gavigan) — or so it seems.

Enter Chris (Thomas E. Sullivan), a college student who’s also coming to terms with his sexuality. What begins as a one-night stand evolves into something more — a significant and sincere connection between two men trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Nanotechnology Innovator Jackie Ying *91

Jackie Ying *91 (Courtesy the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology)

Jackie Ying *91 (Courtesy the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology)

By the time Jackie Ying *91 arrived at Princeton to begin work on a Ph.D. chemical engineering, she had a passion for chemistry, sparked by a high school teacher in Queens, N.Y., and cultivated during her undergraduate years at Cooper Union. In graduate school, she found the faculty to be engaging — “They really got to know every single one of us very well,” she says — while also providing freedom and flexibility.

Ying’s time at Princeton, along with industry research experience at Bell Labs and a post-doctoral position in Germany, started her on a successful path in biomedical research and nanotechnology. She joined the faculty at MIT and was promoted to professor in 2001. She left that post in 2003 to lead the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) in Singapore, the country where Ying spent most of her childhood.

Last December, Ying was named one of the first two winners of the Mustafa Prize, a $500,000 award for top scientists in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation member states, presented biennially by the government of Iran. Ying says the award — and the impressive list of nominees — shows that “science and technology is a common language” around the world.

Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Mattie Brickman ’05 To Debut a Reunions-Themed Play in L.A.

Mattie Brickman ’05, third from right in the front row, with the cast of Reunions, Reunions, Reunions. (Courtesy Mattie Brickman)

Mattie Brickman ’05, third from right in the front row, with the cast of Reunions, Reunions, Reunions. (Courtesy Mattie Brickman)

Mattie Brickman ’05 has enjoyed explaining the phenomenon of Princeton Reunions to her friends in California. “They go back every year?” people often ask. “What do they do every year?”

But for Brickman, a playwright and screenwriter, there’s more to reunions than fun and revelry. Revisiting your alma mater fits a more general storyline of “going back to an evocative place that formed you,” she says. That was a driving force in the development of her new play, Reunions, Reunions, Reunions, which debuts Feb. 5 and will run through Feb. 21 at the Studio Stage Theater in Los Angeles.

Set at a fictional college, the play features four main characters, including Courtland, who is coming back for her first reunion. She visits her boyfriend’s father, a professor obsessed with turning points in history, to pick up a gift that becomes, in Brickman’s telling, something of a Pandora’s box.  Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Nushelle de Silva ’11, Building Bridges in Sri Lanka

Nushelle de Silva ’11, center, with children from the Building Bridges program. (Courtesy Nushelle de Silva)

Nushelle de Silva ’11, center, with children from the Building Bridges program. (Courtesy Nushelle de Silva)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

Nushelle de Silva ’11 grew up in Sri Lanka. In 1983, before she was born, the country erupted in what would be a 25-year civil war.

“My parents, who were fairly young at the time, saw the horrific violence that erupted on the streets,” she says. Then, she pauses. “I don’t want to provide details that run the risk of flattening what was a very complex conflict.”

Sri Lanka is a country that de Silva’s parents left and returned to — despite the civil war. After a stint in Sydney, Australia, where Nushelle was born, the family moved to Colombo, the southwestern capital, when she was 7.

In 2004, during a ceasefire, de Silva’s K-12 all-girls’ school visited a sister school in Jaffna, the country’s northernmost city. “It had a huge impact on me as a young girl,” she remembers.

“My childhood was certainly filled with bomb drills and curfews and explosions that took the lives of many — my school was damaged by a bomb a few years before I enrolled — but none of us saw the kind of violence these girls saw on a daily basis,” she says. “It was a sobering visit for a 16-year-old to make.”

Last year, de Silva earned a master of science in architecture studies, a two-year research degree at MIT. Now, she is a first-year Ph.D. student.

In December, de Silva was honored with the Queen’s Young Leader Award for “Building Bridges,” a series of arts workshops for ethnically diverse children and youth in “recently rehabilitated communities” in northern Sri Lanka.

De Silva founded Building Bridges in 2012, with the support of a Princeton ReachOut 56-81-06 grant. She launched the program after graduating from Princeton with an A.B. in architecture and certificates in urban studies and theater. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Architect and Professor Douglas Kelbaugh ’67 *72

Douglas Kelbaugh ’67 *72 (Courtesy Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning)

Douglas Kelbaugh ’67 *72 (Courtesy Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning)

Architect and professor Douglas Kelbaugh ’67 *72 recently was selected to receive the Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architecture Education in recognition of his efforts “to shape a generation’s thinking about the environmental aspects of architecture,” according to the award announcement from the American Institute of Architects and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. Kelbaugh is a former dean of the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, where he continues to teach. Before coming to Michigan, he served as chair of the architecture department at the University of Washington.

Kelbaugh studied architecture as both an undergraduate and graduate student at Princeton, and he launched his career not far from his alma mater. One block away from Nassau Street, he built an innovative solar home in the mid-1970s, incorporating a Trombe wall, a south-facing glass wall backed by a concrete wall that collects and radiates heat.

“That house garnered a lot of publicity,” Kelbaugh recalled. “We stopped counting, but I think it was in over a hundred books, magazines, periodicals, newspapers, you name it. Even in magazine ads, it was showing up, for products that had nothing to do with the house!”

As a pioneer in passive solar architecture, Kelbaugh took a deep interest in energy conservation. He later partnered with Peter Calthorpe, a founder of New Urbanism, and pursued transit-oriented development projects. Continue reading

Hirshfeld ’73 To Open Hatcher Lecture Series at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

Alan Hirshfeld '73 (Sasha Helper)

Alan Hirshfeld ’73 (Sasha Helper)

Astronomer Alan Hirshfeld ’73, author of the book Starlight Detectives: How Astronomers, Inventors, and Eccentrics Discovered the Modern Universe, will deliver the opening talk in the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory’s Ronald E. Hatcher Science on Saturday Lecture Series Jan. 9 at 9:30 a.m.

Hirshfeld, a professor at the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth, leads off a string of lecturers with Princeton connections in this year’s series, which also includes former University president Shirley Tilghman (Jan. 16); Frank von Hippel, co-founder of the University’s Program on Science and Global Security (Jan. 30); chemical and biological engineering professor Lynn Loo (Feb. 6); mechanical and aerospace engineering professor Edgar Choueiri *91 (Feb. 13); molecular biology professor Coleen Murphy (Feb. 27); and astrophysics professor David Spergel ’80 (March 12). View the complete schedule here. Continue reading

Tigers of the Week: 2015

tow_collage-1021PAW’s Tiger of the Week feature will be taking a break for the next two weeks, but we encourage readers to keep sending nominations of alumni doing interesting or notable things (see the form at the bottom of this post). About half of our 2015 honorees were nominated by PAW readers. Many have made local or national headlines, but thanks to your input, we’re just as likely to profile alumni who’ve made their mark away from the public spotlight. Follow the links below to read about the 53 alumni featured in the last 12 months.

Mike Condon ’13David Zabel ’88Mark Pavlyukovskyy ’13Randy Hobler ’68Daniel Velasco ’13Arron Melvin ’01 *07Chris Hamm ’14John Oakes ’83Monica Greco ’13Doug Emlen *94Luna Ranjit *04Allegra Wiprud ’14Vin Gupta ’05Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00Christian Birky ’13Ajay Kapur ’02Patrick Ryan ’68Ross Tucker ’01Gavin Black ’79Grant Wentworth ’09Zachary Pincus-Roth ’02 and Eve Weston ’01Leonid Kruglyak ’87Jasmine ‘Jazzy’ Ellis ’10Anne Matlock Dinneen ’99Rick Hamlin ’77Ben Taub ’14Jay Xu *08David Billington ’50Veneka Chagwedera ’09 and Jared Crooks ’11Gevvie Stone ’07Mark Milley ’80Sarah Sherman ’08Valerie Vigoda ’87Lili Anolik ’00Landon Y. Jones ’66Stu Nunnery ’71Danielle Ivory ’05Mary Throne ’82Scott Clemons ’90Nick Guthe ’91Stephanie Flack ’92Jason Schwartz ’03Ellie Kemper ’02Andrew Jarecki ’85Mark Smith ’09 and James Burgess ’09Jodi Hauptman ’86Jonathan Mayer ’09Claire Max *72 and David Weinberg *89George Hawkins ’83

Nominate your top Tiger

Do you have a nominee for Tiger of the Week? Let us know. All alumni qualify. PAW’s Tiger of the Week is selected by our staff, with help from readers like you.

Men’s Basketball Improves to 7-3, Looks Ahead to Game at No. 13 Miami

Spencer Weisz ’17 (Office of Athletic Communications)

Spencer Weisz ’17 (Office of Athletic Communications)

Ten games into its season, Princeton men’s basketball has a 7-3 record, the best nonconference start of any Ivy League team. But that good news comes with a caveat: The teams that the Tigers have beaten have a combined record of 22-56. (The teams that have beaten Princeton, on the other hand, are 26-7.)

Tuesday night’s win over Bucknell fit the pattern. The visiting Bison, who won the Patriot League’s regular-season title last year, have struggled this season (3-7 overall). When Bucknell’s shooting cooled midway through the first half, Princeton pounced. The Tigers made a 29-5 run that included scoring from all spots on the floor: four three-pointers, a pair of mid-range jumpers by Amir Bell ’18, and inside baskets by Pete Miller ’17 and Myles Stephens ’19.

Bucknell trailed by 20 or more for much of the second half before narrowing the gap late in the game. Princeton won, 89-77.

“This is a little bit more of what we thought the team would be like,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said afterward. “I think the scoring needs to be balanced for us. Henry [Caruso ’18] has been putting us on his back here lately. But I think even he would acknowledge that we’re going to be balanced, going forward.” Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: David Zabel ’88, Television Writer, Producer, and Co-Creator of ‘Mercy Street’

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

David Zabel ’88 (Courtesy David Zabel)

David Zabel ’88 (Courtesy David Zabel)

On Dec. 7, in front of a full-house audience of star-struck undergraduates and artsy locals, David Zabel ’88 spoke from a stage that supported the early days of his career — literally. It was at 185 Nassau, the longtime home of the arts at Princeton, that he spent hours and hours at late-night rehearsals and intensive writing workshops.

Once he discovered the theater at Princeton, Zabel said, his other interests (history, for example) quietly faded away. It snapped his future into focus.

“I was interested in a bunch of different things,” he said. “It was just theater that embraced me — earliest and most fully.”

Zabel is now an award-winning television writer, producer, and director. He wrote more than 45 episodes of ER, the medical series on NBC. He was the showrunner of ER for the program’s final five years, and he was also the showrunner and executive producer of Detroit 1-8-7 and Betrayal (both on ABC).

Zabel returned to 185 Nassau not as an actor, as he’d been as a student, but as the co-creator and executive producer of a new six-part Civil War-era television series on PBS that premieres this January: Mercy Street. The first episode will air Jan. 17 at 10 p.m. (after Downton Abbey). Mercy Street, PBS’ first American-made drama in over a decade, is based on real events.

After a special preview screening of the show and a presentation of a short video about Zabel’s work, produced by the Lewis Center of the Arts, Zabel shared the stage with Mercy Street cast members Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother), McKinley Belcher III, and Tara Summers, and historians James McPherson and Audrey P. Davis. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Mark Pavlyukovskyy ’13, Teaching Tech Skills Through Minecraft

Mark Pavlyukovskyy ’13 (Courtesy Piper)

Mark Pavlyukovskyy ’13 (Courtesy Piper)

After his junior year at Princeton, Mark Pavlyukovskyy ’13 traveled to Ghana, supported by a global-health fellowship, and developed a game-based curriculum to teach children about malaria. The effort seemed to be succeeding, Pavlyukovskyy said, but his work was cut short when he came down with a severe illness and had to be evacuated to Paris.

As he convalesced, Pavlyukovskyy had time to think about more ways to help kids in the developing world, and his thoughts kept coming back to technology. Skills like computer coding know no national boundaries, he reasoned, so “if you give people these tech skills, they can participate in the global economy.”

Pavlyukovskyy, a molecular biology major, didn’t know much about computer coding or electronics, but he vowed to learn more. Three years later, he’s still following that path, helping to spread tech skills around the globe through an educational startup called Piper. The company’s first product release is a “Minecraft toolbox,” a do-it-yourself computer kit that kids can build and then use to play an interactive version of the popular video game. Continue reading

Princeton Men’s Basketball Holds Off Saint Peter’s in Return to Dillon Gym

Princeton beat Saint Peter’s in the first game at Dillon Gym since 1969. (Beverly Schaefer)

Princeton beat Saint Peter’s in the first game at Dillon Gym since 1969. (Beverly Schaefer)

Princeton men’s basketball took a lead in the opening seconds against Saint Peter’s Saturday night and kept the edge for the rest of the game’s 40 minutes. But while the Tigers never trailed, they also never pulled away, holding off a series of late charges by the Peacocks to win 75-72 in the first game at Dillon Gym since 1969.

Forward Henry Caruso ’17 scored 20 points in the second half, tying a career-high of 23 points in the game, on 7-for-9 shooting. He added eight rebounds as well. Starting in place of Hans Brase ’16, who suffered a season-ending knee injury just before the Nov. 13 opener at Rider, Caruso showed a knack for working his way inside against the Saint Peter’s defense.

“Henry saved us in a lot of different ways, getting to the rim,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said. “Our defense has been very good so far but tonight let us down a little bit, just lapses — but overall, happy to get a win.”

Princeton (2-0) scored more than half of its points in the paint, a significant development for a team that launched 46 percent of its shots from behind the three-point arc last year.

“We’ve got to go inside, because eventually you’re going to play some ugly games,” Henderson said. “Last year we got a little perimeter happy, so we’ve put a lot of emphasis on that.” Continue reading

Update: Nassau Hall Sit-In

On Wednesday afternoon, the sit-in spilled into the hallway outside President Eisgruber ’83’s office. (Mary Hui ’17)

On Wednesday afternoon, the sit-in spilled into the hallway outside President Eisgruber ’83’s office. (Mary Hui ’17)

The student sit-in led by Princeton’s Black Justice League will begin its second day with a town-hall meeting at the Nassau Hall atrium at 9 a.m. Last night, students slept inside President Eisgruber ’83’s office while other supporters camped outside Nassau Hall. The protesters received visitors, including Rev. William Barber II, a national NAACP board member; Professor Eddie Glaude *97, chair of the African American Studies department; and Ruth Simmons, a University trustee, former Princeton provost, and president emerita of Brown University.

READ MORE: The University Press Club’s ongoing coverage of the protest

From The Daily Princetonian, Students “walkout and speakout,” occupy Nassau Hall until demands of Black Justice League are met

From The New York Times, Princeton Students Hold Sit-In on Racial Justice

From WPRB News, audio coverage of the protest’s first 10 hours


Tiger of the Week: Daniel Velasco ’13, Teach for America Alum and Charter School Mentor Teacher

Daniel Velasco ’13 (Courtesy Daniel Velasco)

Daniel Velasco ’13 (Courtesy Daniel Velasco)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

Outside Daniel Velasco ’13’s classroom window at the 21st Century Charter School in Gary, Ind., stands an abandoned building with boarded up windows. But the view doesn’t bother Velasco — his focus is on his students, not his surroundings.

“I absolutely love all of my students, even those that make me want to pull my hair out,” Velasco said with a chuckle. “The greatest lesson I have learned from them is patience.”

This is Velasco’s third year at the charter school. During his first two, he taught full time as a Teach for America fellow. Velasco taught AP United States history, AP world history, economics, government, and world history. He has also tried to build relationships with his students, and to connect with them as a mentor.

“When I teach my kids, stay after school with them, and host tutoring sessions during breaks, I think about the teachers that did that for me,” he said.

After completing his two-year Teach for America commitment, Velasco decided to stay at the 21st Century Charter School as a mentor teacher. In this role, he continues to teach half time, and he also serves as a building leader. Although he is young, he has considerable responsibility at the school. He works closely with two building administrators and 25 teachers.

In the mornings, Velasco teaches economics and government classes to 12th graders. In the afternoons, he observes teachers in their classrooms and gives them feedback in order to help them improve their teaching style and instruction.

“Life as a teacher is both draining and rewarding,” he said. “My life is completely different than when I was at Princeton, because I no longer have just my education and my future to worry about, but also my students’.”

Velasco’s own education was global. He’s a city-loving, second-generation Mexican Midwesterner who was born and raised in Chicago. He spent much of his time at Princeton — well, not at Princeton. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Race Car Aerodynamicist Arron Melvin ’01 *07

Arron Melvin ’01 *07 (Courtesy Arron Melvin)

Arron Melvin ’01 *07 (Courtesy Arron Melvin)

Arron Melvin ’01 *07 raced cars before coming to Princeton, and as a mechanical and aerospace engineering major, he found he had a knack for understanding the science of what makes cars go fast — fields such as fluid mechanics and aerodynamics. “What I enjoy doing in an academic sense was consistent with the career I wanted to pursue,” said Melvin, who now works as the chief aerodynamicist for Chevy IndyCar.

Melvin joined Pratt & Miller Engineering and the Chevy team in 2012, and much of his work came to fruition in 2015 when Chevy and its IndyCar rival, Honda, both released new aero kits — body components designed for greater speed and versatility. Chevy outpaced Honda to win pole position in each of the season’s 16 races, and two Chevy drivers, Juan Pablo Montoya and Scott Dixon, won the two biggest titles on the circuit, the Indianapolis 500 and the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship, respectively.

Racer magazine, in its season recap, wrote that Chevy was the clear winner in what would be remembered as “the Year of the Aero Kit,” and Melvin and colleagues Charles Ping III, Christopher Berube, and Mark Kent won the 2015 Louis Schwitzer Award, for “innovation and engineering excellence at the Indianapolis 500.”  But Melvin, who also has worked on the hyper-competitive Formula One circuit, knows that technological advantages often are short lived. He and his team are hard at work designing improvements for next year. “I’m very driven by the competitive side of things,” he said. “We’re pretty pumped up for 2016.” Continue reading

#ThrowbackThursday: Princeton’s Reach in Wartime

(PAW Archives, Oct. 12, 1945)

(PAW Archives, Oct. 12, 1945)

The Oct. 12, 1945, cover of PAW featured this photo of Pfc. Norman D. Weir Jr. ’46 perusing his favorite alumni periodical at the U.S. Army base on Okinawa. “It isn’t a flattering picture,” Weir wrote, “but at least it’s accurate.”

The address department of alumni records had a monumental task during the war years but did its best to keep mailing “the Weekly” to its loyal readers. The magazine was not the only printed material from Princeton that found its way into the hands of students serving abroad. In 1943, President Harold Dodds *1914 shared presents from the University with each student in the service, as Gregg Lange ’70 explained in a 2006 PAW column:

Approaching Christmas of 1943, the country and Nassau’s sons faced the certainty of an impending year bloodier than any since the Civil War. In the teeth of this, rather than despair, Dodds chose to send Christmas gifts. Each of the 1,300 Princetonians in the service received three books of his own choosing, each with a personal bookplate, delivered wherever he might be. With apologies to Dickens, Dodds brought the Best Damn Place of All to the Worst Damn Place of All. Alumni of the 1930s and ’40s speak about the gesture to this day.

Tiger of the Week: Chris Hamm ’14, Helping to Build a Better Solar-Powered Home

Chris Hamm ’14 was part of a Stevens Institute of Technology team that built the winning entry in the 2015 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. (Courtesy Chris Hamm)

Chris Hamm ’14 was part of a Stevens Institute of Technology team that built the winning entry in the 2015 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. (Courtesy Chris Hamm)

Last month, after more than a year of planning, four months of construction, a cross-country voyage, and nine days of on-site assembly, Chris Hamm ’14 and his teammates from Stevens Institute of Technology were ready to show off their work: SURE HOUSE, a “sustainable and resilient” solar-powered home that was among more than a dozen entrants in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Irvine, Calif.

The biennial competition rates projects in 10 categories, including architecture, engineering, and energy balance. At the end of more than a week of judging, the Stevens team topped the final rankings.

For Hamm, a master’s student who directed energy analysis for the project, creating the 1,000 square-foot home presented challenges he’d never encountered before. “Seeing a project through, from the beginning design phases to actually building it, requires another level of collaboration and compromise,” he said.

Hamm studied environmental engineering at Princeton and took a strong interest in sustainable building and energy modeling during his junior and senior years. His undergraduate thesis explored strategies for adapting Passive House, a popular building-energy standard developed in Germany, to apply to homes in various climates in the United States. Continue reading

Sports Shorts: Weekend of Champions

Lizzie Bird ’17 (Office of Athletic Communications)

Lizzie Bird ’17 (Office of Athletic Communications)

Princeton teams earned three Ivy League titles in the span of two days in an eventful weekend on the athletics calendar.

On Friday, women’s cross country held off second-place Yale at the Ivy Heptagonals at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, placing three runners in the top six spots. Lizzie Bird ’17 won the individual title, becoming the seventh Tiger woman to win a Heps cross country crown. Seniors Emily de La Bruyere (fourth) and Kathryn Fluehr (sixth) also earned All-Ivy honors.

On Saturday, field hockey’s Maddie Copeland ’16 scored two goals in a 4-0 shutout win over Cornell and the Tigers (6-0 Ivy) clinched at least a share of the Ivy title. Princeton’s Nov. 7 game against Penn (5-1 Ivy) will determine whether the Tigers win the championship outright; the winner also will represent the league in the NCAA Championships.

Women’s soccer completed the title triple with a 2-1 win over Cornell, a victory that, with help from a Harvard-Dartmouth tie, clinched the Ivy championship and earned the Tigers their first NCAA postseason bid since 2012. Tyler Lussi ’17 scored her 13th goal of the season in the Cornell game.

The weekend’s final championship for a Princetonian came after midnight on Sunday when veteran major-league pitcher Chris Young ’02’s Kansas City Royals clinched the World Series title. Young, who pitched four innings in the Royals’ game four win on Saturday, is the first Tiger to earn a World Series ring as a player.

Other highlights for Princeton teams: Women’s volleyball swept Dartmouth and Harvard Oct. 30 and 31, moving up in the Ivy standings to just one match behind first place with four matches remaining. … Football improved to 5-2 with a 47-21 win over Cornell. … Men’s hockey picked up its first win of the young season, topping Maine 3-1 in the Capital City Classic in Trenton.

Young ’02 Makes Princeton History, Pitches Royals to a World Series Win

Chris Young ’02 pitching in the World Series Oct. 27. (John Reiger/USA Today Sports Images)

Chris Young ’02 pitching in the World Series Oct. 27. (John Reiger/USA Today Sports Images)

When Chris Young ’02 returned to campus in December 2013 for a Princeton Varsity Club panel featuring the four alumni in the major leagues, he was the elder statesman of the group. He told PAW that after offseason shoulder surgery, he was optimistic about the future. Young, who was 34 at the time and had missed parts of the last four seasons due to injuries, said, “I feel like there are still some good years ahead of me.”

Flash forward to Tuesday night: Young’s Kansas City Royals were tied in extra innings in a tense World Series opener against the New York Mets, and manager Ned Yost called for the 36-year-old right-hander to pitch in relief. Young delivered with three hitless innings, striking out four Mets while walking one, and his team prevailed, 5-4, in the bottom of the 14th inning.

Young made school history by entering the game, becoming the first Princetonian to appear in the World Series. (Moe Berg ’23 was a backup catcher for the 1933 Washington Senators, a World Series team, but his name does not appear in the postseason box scores.)

Afterward, Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews asked Young how much longer he could have pitched, if the game had continued beyond the 14th. “Look, it’s the World Series,” he said. “Whatever they need. We’re leaving it all out there at this time of the year.”  Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Publishing Veteran John Oakes ’83

John Oakes ’83 (Courtesy John Oakes)

John Oakes ’83 (Courtesy John Oakes)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

In September, John Oakes ’83, a veteran book publisher based in New York, returned to the Princeton campus for “Careers Beyond Wall Street,” a panel sponsored by Princeton Progressives. He described a shrinking industry that is, well, still stuck in the Stone Age.

“I think going into book publishing — certainly the traditional side of it — is tantamount to apprenticing yourself to a potter. Or a stone carver,” he said.

Book publishing is “quaint, time-consuming, frustrating, and occasionally thrilling,” he said — and it’s in the midst of a massive transformation.

As the co-publisher at OR Books, an independent press that sells e-books and paperback books direct to readers, and prints on demand, Oakes is shaping that transformation, one book at a time. In the coming year, Oakes also plans to re-launch The Evergreen Review, a groundbreaking literary magazine, with Editor-in-Chief Dale Peck.

The Evergreen Review, created by Barney Rosset, the late publisher of Grove Press, published a sea of cultural legends — including Susan Sontag, Malcolm X, Jean-Paul Sartre, Vladimir Nabokov, Allen Ginsberg, and Samuel Beckett — in its original run from 1957 to 1973.

Oakes first met Rosset, Beckett’s American publisher, in 1982, when he found himself knee-deep in his English department senior thesis. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Doug Emlen *94, Author of ‘Animal Weapons’

Doug Emlen *94 (Courtesy Doug Emlen)

Doug Emlen *94 (Courtesy Doug Emlen)

Doug Emlen *94, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Montana, thought that writing was his “A-game” — a strength, a specialty even. He’d written textbooks and taught classes about science writing. But when he began working on his first book for a general audience — an exploration of evolutionary arms races in the animal world — Emlen realized he still had much to learn.

“I would send these things that I thought were masterpieces to my editor,” he recalled with a laugh. “And she’d turn around and say, ‘You sound like a professor.’”

As Emlen searched for his narrative voice, he drew inspiration from his days as a Princeton graduate student, when he spent periods of seven or eight months researching dung beetles on an island in the rain forests of Panama. “I was writing these letters back to my then-girlfriend, who’s now my wife, and she kept them all,” Emlen said. “All these incredible things came flooding back, and so that’s how I was able to start working in these back stories and adventures. I’d actually written them down in my letters, 20 years ago.”

The grad-student adventures are woven into a wide-ranging review of biological research in Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle, which won the 2015 Phi Beta Kappa Book Award in Science earlier this month. In the words of one selection-panel member, it’s a “lively, engrossing account of the arms races in animal evolution, development, and ecology.” (Joan Breton Connely ’76 also was among this year’s Phi Beta Kappa honorees, receiving the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award for The Parthenon Enigma: A New Understanding of the West’s Most Iconic Building and the People Who Made It.) Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Luna Ranjit *04, Working for Social Justice

Luna Ranjit *04 (Aaron Colussi)

Luna Ranjit *04 (Aaron Colussi)

Luna Ranjit *04, a Woodrow Wilson School MPA graduate and native of Nepal, began working with Nepali immigrants in New York City 10 years ago as one of the founders of Adhikaar, a Queens-based community organization that takes its name from the Nepali word for “rights.”

“Although our focus is the Nepali community, we’ve never called ourselves a Nepali organization,” said Ranjit, Adhikaar’s executive director. “We’re a social-justice organization which happens to serve some of the most marginalized groups within the immigrant community.”

Ranjit and her colleagues set their sights on a range of community needs, including workers’ rights and access to health care, while building a more prominent voice for one of New York’s fastest-growing immigrant groups.

In the last year, Adhikaar has made headlines for its community leadership in the wake of tragic earthquakes in Nepal and its advocacy on behalf of workers in New York nail salons — shining a light on health and pay issues that were featured in The New York Times in an in-depth investigative report and editorial last May. Adhikaar helped to catalyze change, including new workplace safety regulations in the state, signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in July, and a wage-bond requirement that went into effect Oct. 6. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Allegra Wiprud ’14, Conservation Leader

Allegra Lovejoy Wiprud ’14 (Jeanette Beebe ’14)

Allegra “Lovejoy” Wiprud ’14 (Jeanette Beebe ’14)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

Allegra “Lovejoy” Wiprud ’14 gets emotional when she recalls her first land stewardship trip at the D&R Greenway Land Trust, an 18,000-acre land preservation and conservation nonprofit. It was an invasive species removal job in Hopewell, N.J. That day, the dangerous plant that her team tracked down, cut back, and destroyed — the climbing growth that covered, choked, and threatened to kill a tree — was English ivy (Hedera helix).

Perched on a picnic table outside the Johnson Education Center, a historic barn overlooking Greenway Meadows, Wiprud mimes how she removed the ivy, grabbing the vine with her hands as if it were a snake coiled around her neck. By clearing the ivy away, she says, “We can give the tree its life back.”

Ivy might look quintessentially Princeton, but as Wiprud is learning, the non-native plant climbs and grows so fast that it smothers other plants and starves trees of sunlight.

Unlike the local flora, Wiprud, a native of Brooklyn, has flourished amongst the ivy. While at Princeton, she meditated, studied, and practiced yoga. She quickly found a home in Murray Dodge Hall, a center of religious and spiritual life on campus. Eventually, she unearthed and discovered within herself a new belief: Hinduism. She took the lead in student religious groups, planning programs, retreats, and service projects for the interfaith Princeton Religious Life Council and the National Hindu Student Council. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Vin Gupta ’05, Pursuing Work in Clinical Practice and Health Policy

Vin Gupta ’05 (Courtesy Vin Gupta)

Vin Gupta ’05 (Courtesy Vin Gupta)

Although there is “increasing evidence” that universal health care improves health outcomes, many of the world’s lower- and middle-income countries have not pursued universal health care policies, according to a recent article by lead author Vin Gupta ’05 and three colleagues, published online in The New England Journal of Medicine. With that in mind, Gupta and his colleagues studied the adoption of universal health care in six countries — Chile, Mexico, China, Thailand, Turkey, and Indonesia — and the political, social, and economic factors that made the change possible.

The results, Gupta told PAW, are “more diagnostic than prescriptive,” but the research could play a useful role as the United Nations discusses new development goals at a summit that begins later this week. For example, the group found that “societal solidarity” (admittedly difficult to measure) was not a prerequisite to adding universal health care. Economic growth, on the other hand, was present in all six countries during the periods in which the government added universal health care.

Gupta said that more of the research, including details from individual countries and examples of “how they navigated common problems,” will be part of a new book, A Convenient Truth: The Politicization of Health Reforms and Electoral Success in the Southern Hemisphere. His co-authors include Eric Goosby ’74, a professor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine who served as the U.S. Global AIDS coordinator in the Obama administration from 2009-13.

Gupta, a chemistry major at Princeton, attended medical school at Columbia, starting a path toward clinical practice. But a few years later, a Fulbright fellowship in public health took him to China and East Africa and kindled a deep interest in foreign policy and global health. Now, with his M.D. from Columbia and a master’s degree in international relations from Cambridge, Gupta is pursuing both tracks in his career.

Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Documentary Filmmaker Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00 (Courtesy Little Monster Films)

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00 (Courtesy Little Monster Films)

By Jeanette Beebe ’14

Meru, a Sundance Audience Award-winning white-knuckler of a documentary, follows three elite mountain climbers on their quest to conquer the 21,000-foot summit of Mount Meru, the most technically difficult peak in the Himalayas. It’s a death-defying expedition into sub-zero temperatures that involves extraordinary risks.

But the mission that climbers Conrad Anker, Renan Ozturk, and Jimmy Chin share is not only physically grueling; it’s emotional. Meru tests their friendship, and their relationships with their families back home.

No one knows this better than Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi ’00, who co-directed and co-produced the film with Chin. The directors fell in love through the making of Meru, and they married in 2013. Now, they split their time between the Upper East Side of New York City and the big blue skies of Jackson Hole, Wyo.

“I’m not a climber, so I was always more interested in the human relationships in the film,” Vasarhelyi said from New York as the couple’s toddler, Marina, gurgled patiently after waking up from her afternoon nap. (She’s used to Mommy doing interviews, Vasarhelyi laughed.)

Vasarhelyi and Chin met at a conference in 2012. Chin, a professional alpinist and cinematographer, shot the film with Ozturk on their two Meru expeditions in 2008 and 2011. Continue reading

Names in the News: Kagan ’81 on Writing, Massey *78 on Immigration, and More

When Supreme Court Justice ELENA KAGAN ’81 drafts opinions, she writes “so that a non-lawyer can understand it,” according to a recent interview published in The National Law Journal. Kagan, a former dean of Harvard Law School, also said that law schools need to do more to help their students become better writers.

How did CHARLIE STILLITANO ’81 become the best-connected American in European soccer? Close friendships with the likes of former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson have played a big role. “You earn trust by your behavior with people,” Ferguson tells Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl ’96. “I’ve got a million Charlie stories. He invites you over for dinner when he’s at home, and it’s a long day of humor, fun and good food.”

The Bitcoin Foundation’s former chief scientist, GAVIN ANDRESEN ’88, told MIT Technology Review that the crypto-currency is in urgent need of changes to help it process more transactions. Otherwise, he said, the $3.3 billion system may become “congested and unreliable.” Earlier this month, Princeton launched an online course about Bitcoin on Coursera.

Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s view of illegal immigration is at odds with the statistical trends, which show the number of undocumented immigrants from Mexico in sharp decline, Princeton sociology professor DOUGLAS MASSEY *78 told The New York Times. Massey’s research was featured in PAW in 2012.