Author Archives: Brett Tomlinson

Service Abroad: O’Connell ’14 Volunteers in Ukraine

During Princeton’s graduation events last year, Mark O’Connell ’14 noticed a common theme delivered by the speakers: the importance of giving back, with the corollary idea that service “can take many shapes and forms.”

Mark O’Connell ’14, second from left, with friends and fellow volunteers at Ukraine’s Military Medical Clinical Center of the Western Region. (Courtesy Mark O’Connell)

Mark O’Connell ’14, second from left, with friends and fellow volunteers at Ukraine’s Military Medical Clinical Center of the Western Region. (Courtesy Mark O’Connell)

Earlier this month, O’Connell found his service niche in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, where he and a group of friends volunteered at three local hospitals. The recent college grads rewrapped bedsores, shadowed surgeons, and assisted injured veterans.

O’Connell, who is half Ukrainian, grew up in Connecticut and studied Ukranian history, culture, and grammar at weekend classes in New York City. He majored in sociology at Princeton and began working at a tech startup in January. But he also has an interest in health care and public health, which made the volunteer trip an ideal opportunity.

The last year and half has been particularly difficult for the people of Ukraine, and though Lviv is geographically removed from the country’s conflict with Russian separatists, the fighting remains on the minds of its residents. “The entire country is under duress — politically, economically, and socially,” O’Connell said. Continue reading

Names in the News: Berlin ’07 on Lunch Ladies and Admissions; Berlind ’52’s Tony Winners; More

Lev Berlin ’07 (Courtesy Lev Berlin)

Lev Berlin ’07 (Courtesy Lev Berlin)

Can a high-school lunch lady help you get into Princeton? Maybe, LEV BERLIN ’07 wrote in an essay for — or maybe not. It’s not clear whether a phone call from his lunch lady to a prominent alumnus helped his application, but in any case, Berlin advises, “Be nice to your lunch ladies, people.”

Broadway producer ROGER BERLIND ’52’s string of hits continues. Berlind co-produced two of the 2015 Tony Award winners: Best Play honoree The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Skylight, which won in the Best Revival of a Play category.

Author and professor RUTH BEHAR *83 has joined with poet and fellow Cuban-American Richard Blanco to launch a new writing project called “Bridges to/from Cuba,” which aims to give Cubans a forum for sharing their hopes for the future of U.S.-Cuba relations. Behar, who moved from Cuba to New York City at age 5, is the author of Traveling Heavy: A Memoir in Between Journeys. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Jay Xu *08, Expanding the Reach of Chinese Contemporary Art

Jay Xu *08 (Courtesy Asian Art Museum)

Jay Xu *08 (Courtesy Asian Art Museum)

When PAW profiled Jay Xu *08, director of San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, in 2012, the Ph.D. alumnus spoke about bringing museum visitors into closer contact with emerging Asian artists. “Asia is one of the most dynamic regions right now in terms of opportunities and challenges,” he said, “and this museum will be a wonderful platform for visitors to explore that.”

Xu’s work toward that goal continues with “28 Chinese,” an exhibition of works by 28 contemporary Chinese artists that opened earlier this month. While established stars (Ai Weiwei, Huang Yong Ping) are included, the gallery also aims to introduce a new generation of artists. A review in SFWeekly hailed the “provocative photography, installations, painting, and new media,” and the San Jose Mercury News noted the “undeniable impact” of works in the exhibition, including several by artists who use traditional materials in nontraditional ways.

Earlier this year, Xu was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences — one of 16 new members from the arts and humanities. Xu, the first Chinese-American director at a major American art museum, joined the Asian Art Museum in 2008 after chairing the Department of Asian and Ancient Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. Continue reading

#ThrowbackThursday: ‘WPRU —The Bottom of the Dial for the Tops in Style’

PAW Archives

PAW Archives

In 1950, station manager James Leslie ’52, pictured above, hosted an open house at the recently refurbished studios of WPRU, the student-run radio operation then in its 10th year. Broadcasting at 540 AM, the station adopted the slogan “the bottom of the dial for the tops in style.”

WPRU’s successor, WPRB, moved to the FM dial (103.3), but the student DJs still have the lofty aspirations of their predecessors. Later this year, the station will celebrate the 75 years on the air, and to mark the anniversary it has launched a new website,, highlighting stories, recordings, and memorabilia from the past. The site includes an audio archive drawn from an eclectic mix of  programming: an irreverent station ID from John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten), recorded in 1986; a 22-minute Q&A with composer Leonard Bernstein; and a pair of interviews with men’s basketball coach Pete Carril and senior star Bob Scrabis ’89 previewing the Tigers’ 1989 NCAA Tournament game against Georgetown.

Some of the most compelling content appears in a series of testimonials from station alumni such as Moe Rubenzahl ’74, who writes, “I told my parents I was majoring in engineering. Truth be told, I majored in Radio Station.”

Tiger of the Week: Engineer David Billington ’50

In presenting honorary degrees at Commencement, Princeton honors a wide range of notable individuals, from Supreme Court justices to entertainers and athletes. The tradition also allows the University to spotlight exceptional people on campus — a list that in recent years has included former men’s basketball coach Pete Carril and departing Princeton President Shirley M. Tilghman.

David Billington ’50, right, with President Eisgruber ’83 at Commencement. (Beverly Schaefer)

David Billington ’50, right, with President Eisgruber ’83 at Commencement. (Beverly Schaefer)

Last week, a few days after his class marked its 65th reunion, longtime engineering professor David Billington ’50 received an honorary Doctor of Science degree for his inspiring work in the classroom and the lab. “[H]e introduced us to the engineering pioneers who revolutionized the world and opened our eyes to the creativity of engineering at its best,” the degree citation read.

Billington, the Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, taught at the University from 1960 through 2010. Early in his career, he was chosen to teach a class on structures in engineering to graduate students in the architecture school. The architects grew bored by the technical formulas, Billington told PAW’s Kathryn Beaumont ’96 for a 2003 feature, and clamored to “study something beautiful.” They showed him pictures of Swiss engineer Robert Maillart’s thin, concrete bridges sweeping across ravines and through the mountains of the Swiss countryside. “We all have some aesthetic sensitivity and respond to beauty in various forms,” Billington says. “But then I wanted to see if this was good engineering. And I realized that Maillart was the best technical engineer.”

Billington’s teaching celebrated Maillart and others who blended technical expertise and aesthetic beauty. And like a graceful, well-constructed bridge, his work has spanned generations: At his retirement celebration, the professor received a poetic tribute from Randy Evans ’69 and his daughter Annie ’04, two alumni of his courses.

READ MORE: The full degree citation for David Billington, Doctor of Science Continue reading

Names in the News: Taub ’14 Explores ISIS Recruiting; Gowin Exhibit at The Morgan

BEN TAUB ’14 wrote “Journey to Jihad,” the lead story in the June 1 issue of The New Yorker on European teenagers who join ISIS. Taub used money he received as a contestant on The Voice to fund reporting trips to the Turkish-Syrian border, he said in an MSNBC interview.

Influential photographer and emeritus professor EMMET GOWIN’s work is featured in a new exhibit, “Hidden Likeness,” at The Morgan Library and Museum in New York City through Sept. 20. Peggy Fogelman, the Morgan’s acting director, said that Gowin’s art has “creative and often surprising linkages with Morgan objects of widely different eras and artistic disciplines.” Continue reading