Archives

Michael Finkler ’91

Mike was the elder statesman, so to speak, of several generations of Kalamazoo College biology majors who attended the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. Pictured with Mike (far left) are (l-r): Sarah Bouchard ’95, associate professor of biology, Otterbein University; Claire Riggs ’11, graduate student in the department of biology at Portland State University; Wendy Reed ’92, associate professor and chair of biological sciences, North Dakota State University; Eddy Price ’99, post-doctoral fellow, Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, University of Wisconsin; Alan Faber ’14, biology major at K; and Ed Dzialowski ’93, associate professor and associate chair of biological sciences, University of North Texas.

Dan Blustein ’06

Dan is the subject of “Member Spotlight” for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The article (by Laura Petersen) is titled “Dan Blustein journeys from marine biology to Hollywood and back again,” and it’s a good read, chronicling his interesting forays in the saga explicit in the title–though “back again” might more accurately refer to “marine robotics” rather than marine biology. Of particular note is the reference to Dan’s opportunities in K’s externship program. Those two experiences, one with octopi at the Seattle Aquarium and the other job-shadowing a physician, helped clarify what he wanted to do. Of course the article showcases that Dan’s path has been more spiral than straight line. How cool (and liberal arts!) is that.

Michael R. Johnson ’06

ichaelJohnsonMike recently authored a geology and paleontology guide of southern Colorado. That’s a great story, and Mike tells it best. During the summer of 2015 he did an internship with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) through the Geological Society of America’s GeoCorps program. “I was based in Canon City, Colorado, near both the Royal Gorge and several dinosaur quarries (so basically paradise),” he wrote.  “My mentor had funding to write a book (for the BLM’s “Junior Explorer” series) that detailed the geology and paleontology of southern Colorado.  So we teamed up with Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument; they paired me with another intern who had experience as an illustrator; and we went and wrote a book!”  The book covers seven sites of historical and/or geologic importance along the Gold Belt National Scenic Byway so that kids on vacation with their parents can go to these sites after or while reading about them.  Along the way, the book teaches geologic time, paleontology, how to recognize common types of rock, and how geologists interpret the rock record.

“Writing this thing was a lot of fun.  Although there were some general guidelines for the book series that we had to follow, the activities and content were entirely up to us!  And of course we had to go to all those places in person so that we’d know exactly what visitors would be able to see, and how each site might fit with our educational goals.  The reception for the book has been fantastic as well.  Not only were our mentors impressed at how quickly we put together a good product, but everyone outside of our group who has seen it has been impressed.  The State Paleontologist for Wyoming (admittedly a friend of mine) told me that he wants his office to put out books like that.”

Mike and his illustrator and field partner (an undergraduate at Northern Arizona University) presented their book at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Baltimore in early December.

At K, Mike majored in biology and studied abroad in Wollongong, Australia. He earned his master’s degree at the University of Wyoming and is currently in a Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin (Madison). “Mike is an excellent example of someone who has pursued his passion,” wrote Associate Professor of Biology Ann Fraser.  “I first met him when he was a sophomore in 2003, and even back then he was enthralled by paleontology.”

Fred Taschner ’70

Fred retired from Chemical Abstracts Service after 41 years of employment. “My last position was as senior structure input analyst,” he wrote, “mostly responsible for structure input for carbohydrates (sugars) and small peptides. My team did abstracting and structuring for journals and patents reporting synthesis of chemicals containing or using sugars or amino acids/peptides. (For the chemists among you, look at Sections 33/34 of your CAS weekly publication.) In retirement, Gail (who retired from Capital University here in Columbus, Ohio, in 2010) and I will be doing some traveling (we just got back from a Caribbean cruise with Gail’s mother and middle sister) and have plans to follow Ohio State’s men’s and women’s golf teams. Gail continues to work for social justice with our local BREAD (Building Responsibility, Equality, And Dignity) organization. I plan to catch up on all the home projects that need attention–clean the basement, the garage, the computer room, and then it’s yard work season. Plus there is re-reading the public library’s science fiction collection. Part of the travel will be attending this fall’s reunion, so we hope to see lots of old friends there.”

Sarah Rockwell ’02

arahRockwellSarah manages the Klamath Bird Observatory’s bird monitoring work on the Trinity River Restoration Program in northwestern California. Body temperature and blood work-ups provide indicators of human health; in a somewhat similar way birds are indicators of a functional river ecosystem. Sarah manages research looking into how changes in habitat structure associated with river restoration are related to bird abundance, diversity and demography. Results shape and assess river restoration activities. Sarah joined KBO in 2013 after earning her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. She studied the ecology of the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler. At K, she majored in biology with a concentration in environmental studies. She studied abroad in Ecuador. KBO is a scientific non-profit organization that achieves bird conservation in the Pacific Northwest and throughout the migratory ranges of the birds that frequent the ruggedly beautiful and wildlife-rich Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion of southern Oregon and northern California. KBO emphasizes high caliber science and the role of birds as indicators of the health of the land, and the organization specializes in cost-effective bird monitoring and research projects that improve natural resource management. It nurtures a conservation ethic in local communities through outreach and educational programs.

Andy Cole ’07

Andy was named Client Solutions Director for Interaction Associates. The firm specializes in global consulting and training innovation; Andy will work in its Boston, Mass., office. Before joining IA Andy co-created two successful businesses in the innovation and technology marketplace. His background also includes product development in aerospace with Google, non-emissive fuels with the EPA, neuroscience with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and Technology, energy efficiency with the Environmental Defense Fund, and renewable energy with Vestas Wind Systems. Andy was a 3-2 engineering major at Kalamazoo College. He earned a B.A. in physics from K, and he earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan. He earned an M.B.A. in entrepreneurial leadership from Babson College (Wellesley, Mass.)

Abstract Thinker

I had heard two stories about Professor of Physics Jan Tobochnik, one of which turned out to be mostly true.

That one involved the surprise of college officials surrounding his arrival (let’s describe it as minimalist) at Amherst (Massachusetts) College. The 18-year-old Tobochnik had traveled from Philadelphia alone and by bus, accompanied by two large suitcases he had to schlep two blocks from the bus stop to campus. Where were his parents? “In Philadelphia,” he said with some surprise of his own. “Where else would they be?”

“Well, I don’t remember saying that,” says Tobochnik today. “But I guess my entry was a bit atypical, even for 1971.”

The second story—physics a distant second career choice behind his desire to be shortstop for the Philadelphia Phillies—is completely false. “Though I did know a professor at Cornell [Tobochnik’s graduate school] who did have to choose between physics and playing in the minor leagues,” he says.

Does Tobochnik at least remain a lifelong Phillies fan? “I try hard to,” he confesses. “But this year they’re pretty bad, so I’m kind of agnostic.”

Would acuity in physics better serve the science of fielding or hitting? Tobochnik ponders a moment or two. “Probably fielding, where there would be more time (perhaps marginally more) to think about the application of physics,” he ponders. “Some physics might apply to a player’s stance in the box or nuances in the bat swing, but the ball is on you so fast.” He brightens: “There’s a surprising amount of scientific literature published on physics and baseball. I read a lot of it in the journal I edited [The American Journal of Physics].”

This is a man who loves questions, no matter how far afield (or, “from left field”) they may seem. Jan Tobochnik is BeLight’s first physicist to endure the “Lighten Up” interview.

 

What’s the best song ever recorded?

I don’t know. I’m bad with popular culture questions. I like the Beatles. Is “Let it Be” one of theirs? Let’s go with that.

What’s your favorite childhood fairy tale or story?

I can’t really remember any, certainly nothing before the age of four-and-a-half. There is a story about me that I don’t recall but find interesting. In Philadelphia our house was near Route 1, a very busy 12-lane road. One day, around the age of 3, I apparently climbed from my crib and took a walk. I was found several blocks from our house at a drug store. It was lucky I didn’t try to cross Route 1.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

I’m an atheist. I can’t answer this one.

What’s your favorite word?

I-don’t-know.

What’s your least favorite word?

Generally speaking, any word that disparages people or groups.

What turns you on?

Abstract thinking! One of the most important things I try to do at K is cultivate in students an appreciation for abstract thinking.

What turns you off?

Bigotry.

What sound do you love?

The sound of ocean waves on a shoreline.

What sound do you hate?

Fingernails on a chalkboard.

What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?

I would like to be a politician because I think that work is so important. And yet I wouldn’t want to be a politician today because the current state of our public discourse is so ugly and polemic.

What profession would you not like to participate in?

Anything on an assembly line. It would be too repetitive.

What’s been a GREAT MOMENT in your liberal arts learning?

At Cornell I was working on a project that had to do with a theory of melting that was developed by two renowned physicists, Kosterlitz and Thouless. I remember one day having a prolonged argument about that theory with a visitor to the department. I didn’t know who he was, but my advisor later told me it was Kosterlitz. Had I known that, we wouldn’t have had the discussion that we had.

Who’s the person (living or dead) with whom you’d most like to spend a lunch hour?

Elizabeth Warren. She’s positioned to move politics in a direction in which I’d like to see it go. I would like to know what she’s thinking.

What memory from childhood still surprises you?

I attended a big public junior high school in Philadelphia. More than 1,000 students in three grades. I was the first or second fastest sprinter in that school. That didn’t last into high school. But the memory still surprises me.

What is your favorite curse word?

The one I use the most is full-of-shit.

What is your favorite hobby?

I don’t think I really have one, as such. I like to read. I read about sports. I play racquetball. I play bridge. But I don’t really consider any of those hobbies.

What is your favorite comedy movie?

“A Serious Man” is a fascinating combination of hilarious and dark. I also liked “Brother Where Art Thou.”

What local, regional, national, or world event has affected you most?

The civil rights movement and the Vietnam War shaped how I think.

If a cow laughed, would milk come out of her nose?

No

New Zealand Honey and an Episcopal Childhood

Cliff Van Eaton ’72 has written one honey of a book…about honey!

Manuka: The Biography of an Extraordinary Honey, is the ‘rags-to-riches’ tale of how a piece of scientific serendipity turned an unwanted honey into a ground-breaking medicine. Manuka honey is a product unique to New Zealand and valued for its antibiotic effects. Cliff’s book chronicles the science behind the discovery of those effects.

It was named a finalist in the 2015 Royal Society of New Zealand Book Prize. The Royal Society of New Zealand is modeled on the original Royal Society in England, the oldest continuing academy of sciences in the world. An important function of the Society is the sharing of science-based ideas in the overall New Zealand community, and the Book Prize is a way of celebrating the efforts of writers and publishers in that regard. The competition is held every two years, and is open to all books by New Zealand authors that “communicate scientific concepts in an interesting and readable way for a general audience.” Love those science writers with a lay audience in mind.

Cliff is a well-known writer on beekeeping subjects and is co-author of two books on bee diseases. For more than 30 years he worked as a beekeeper adviser in New Zealand, and has also assisted beekeepers in countries as diverse as the Solomon Islands, Uruguay, and Vietnam.

 

On his way home for dinner, the narrator of Jim Todd’s (class of 1958) memoir, The Key, stops to watch the demolition of the Episcopal Church building that was his church home growing up. At first the razing of a spiritual “home” troubles him and also prompts a vivid recollection of a single choir season–the fall-to-spring of the narrator’s 12th year. The flashback of those nine months in the life of “Joey”–the narrator’s younger self–and his two close friends, Danny and Kenny (the “three inseparables”), occupy the ensuing 13 chapters of the book. The church-and-choir related hijinks of these three (who move through the narrative like a Tom Sawyer and his gang) include a frog funeral at church that inspires the start of acolyte training, a school-boy crush on a department store holiday season harpist, a water war with Baptist youth choir members that escalates into something more serious, a spitball attack on the choir director, the sabotage of a presentation by the girl (and fellow choir member) Joey likes but doesn’t know he likes, and the changing of Joey’s voice–a sad casualty of maturation that necessitates his “fall from grace” as the choir’s soprano soloist (first row) to the hinterland of alto background (second row).

Jim has written a book about the importance of fun, the inevitability of impermanence and change (Joey’s voice, the nature of friendships, the relocation of a church), and, most importantly, what endures in the face of such impermanence. The book’s final chapter snaps the reverie of the adult narrator into the present. The dump trucks are back filling the church building’s former foundation. And yet the evanescent last images of Joseph’s flashback call to life the profound changes he experienced in church late that choir season of long ago. That memory confirms for him the key of what matters and what never changes. The narrator finds himself less troubled by the scene at which he stopped. Joseph is a church leader at its new home. He starts his car to continue his way home, taking “the key” and the essence of his old church building with him.