What's News
AS Perspectives / Winter 1998

MacArthur Awards for Creative Writing Faculty
Speech and Hearing Department Ranked #3 in Nation
Cinema Studies Program Approved
UW Distinguished Teaching Awards
World Languages Day
Shirley Malcom Named Alumnus Dignatus
Asteroid Web Site
$250,000 Gift for Baltic Studies


MacArthurs for Two Creative Writing Faculty
Two Arts and Sciences professors--Charles Johnson and Linda Bierds--have been named MacArthur Fellows by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Both Johnson and Bierds teach in the English Department's Creative Writing Program.

Linda Bierds Charles Johnson

Bierds, a poet, earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the UW and worked at the University as an information specialist before joining the faculty in 1991. She is currently the director of the UW Creative Writing Program.

The Foundation notes that Bierds is a poet "whose attention to historical detail and to narratives of lyric description sets her apart from the prevailing contemporary styles of confessional and linguistic poetry," adding that "her verse is clear, efficient, and elegant."

Bierds' work appears regularly in The New Yorker. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Profile Makers, won a PEN/West prize for poetry.

Charles Johnson, S. Wilson and Grace M. Pollock Endowed Professor of Creative Writing, is a novelist, short story writer, essayist, cartoonist, and screenwriter. He has been at the UW for 22 years.

In 1990, Johnson received the National Book Award for his novel Middle Passage. This year he published The Dreamer, a novel about Martin Luther King. "[Johnson's] works address fundamental philosophical questions and transcend the boundaries of class, ethnicity, and culture that separate us," notes the MacArthur Foundation.

There are now three MacArthur fellows among the Creative Writing faculty. Poet Richard Kenney received a MacArthur in 1987.

And yet another of this year's MacArthur recipients has a UW connection: Rebecca Nelson, a plant pathologist concerned with the protection of staple food crops in underdeveloped countries, received her Ph.D. in zoology from the UW in 1988.

MacArthur Fellowships are unrestricted awards that recipients are free to use as they please. The size of the award is based on the age of the recipient. Bierds will receive $320,000; Johnson, $305,000; Nelson, $240,000. Individuals are nominated anonymously and selected by the foundation's Board of Directors.


Speech and Hearing Gets High Marks
In its first ever ranking of audiology and speech pathology programs, U.S. News and World Report ranked the UW's Speech and Hearing Sciences Department third in the nation. Programs were ranked based on surveys of deans, faculty, and administrators at accredited schools in the audiology and speech pathology fields.

The mission of the UW's Department of Speech and Hearing Sciences is two-fold. The department conducts basic research aimed at uncovering the brain processes that give rise to our ability to hear, speak, and produce language, and it also focuses on clinical research to diagnose and treat individuals with disorders of these processes.

Patricia Kuhl, chair of the department and William P. and Ruth Gerberding Professor, sees this dual emphasis as one of the department's strengths. "Many departments of speech and hearing concentrate only on disorders," she explains. "In doing both basic and clinical research, knowledge gained in either area feeds both sides. We believe this contributes to our success."

And her thoughts on being ranked number three in the nation? "We were delighted at the news that we were number three," she says. "Of course, being number three means we have our work cut out for us. We obviously want to be number one."


Cinema Studies Program Approved
After two years of planning, a new degree program in cinema studies is finally a reality. The program, based in the Department of Comparative Literature, will bring together existing courses related to cinema and six new core courses in cinematic history and theory.

"Studying cinema is somewhat similar to studying literature," says Albert Sbragia, associate professor of French and Italian Studies and director of the Cinema Studies Program. "It has a codified form, syntax, and language to it. The core courses will help students to understand that language."

Sbragia adds that cinema is inherently interdisciplinary, given its diverse content and its combination of text, audio, and visual information. "Students are almost compelled to work in disciplines beyond cinema studies," he says. "There are always historical, political, and technology issues to explore."

Students can expect to spend many hours viewing films and clips, but the film screenings do not invade the instructor/lecture time for the course. "In fact, these classes have more class contact hours than most courses," says Sbragia.

Majors are required to take at least three of the core courses; Sbragia anticipates that many will take all six. Competency in a foreign language is also required. That's essential because students take at least one course in foreign film, with the films and some text readings presented in the original language.

As the Cinema Studies Program continues to develop, Sbragia envisions several additional components: cinema writing courses, internships (with local studios, film festivals, and related endeavors), and opportunities to do hands-on film production.

"We don't want this program to exist in an ivory tower," says Sbragia. "Because cinema is such a popular medium, it can serve as a suture between the UW, the local film community, and the general public. We're really hoping to make that happen."


A&S Teaching Excellence Recognized
Two Arts and Sciences professors, Lawrence Bliquez and Tracy McKenzie, received Distinguished Teaching Awards from the UW Alumni Association for 1998. Recipients are selected on the basis of letters of recommendation and evidence of exceptional ability as teachers. Each recipient is awarded a $3,500 stipend.

Lawrence Bliquez, professor of classics, is described by one colleague as "a latter-day Odysseus--experienced, wily, excellent raconteur--a man capable of making the dead (the people of the classical world) speak."

A&S Professors Lawrence Bliquez (left) and Tracy McKenzie were among the recipients of UW Distinguished Teaching Awards for 1998.

Despite teaching at the UW for nearly 30 years, Bliquez still prepares meticulously for every class, putting in at least two hours for every one of class time. He calls himself a traditional teacher; he doesn't have a Web site and prefers that students not contact him by email. "I want the student in my office, face to face," he says.

That's no surprise to those who know him. One student commented, "He is incredibly attuned to his classes. This is a professor who can look at me and tell if I understand something. I have never asked him how he does this, but he actually can do it."

Tracy McKenzie, associate professor of history, also rates high praise. Students describe him as a "fabulous professor" and "charismatic"--particularly impressive given his willingness to assign students low grades and strong criticism. "His standards may be high," explains one student, "but no one ever complained that they were unfair or that [students] did not get the guidance they needed to meet those standards."

Although McKenzie challenges his students, sometimes providing comments on their papers that rival the papers themselves in length, he also creates a relaxed classroom where students feel comfortable participating. That's particularly important given the emotionally charged subject matter in his courses--the social and political history of the Civil War era and slavery.

Still, says McKenzie, "I don't intend on leaving my students in a self-congratulatory mood. I want them examining and questioning their attitudes--not necessarily discarding them, but examining them."


Impressive Debut for World Languages Day
For years, the Department of Mathematics has been inviting high school students to campus for Math Day, a popular event that combines presentations and hands-on activities to encourage students' interest in math. Lynn Klausenburger of UW Educational Outreach wondered why a similar program couldn't be offered to highlight languages. Then she did something about it.

The result was World Languages Day, held on March 6, with more than 600 high school students and teachers participating. Interest in the program was so high that nearly 500 people had to be turned away. And here's real dedication: a group from Sunnyside High School in Eastern Washington left home at 4 a.m. to attend the event.

Throughout the day, students attended presentations on everything from the Cyrillic alphabet to Hispanic music and dance to Polish culture. They also had the opportunity to visit actual UW language classes. With nearly 50 languages offered at the UW, there was plenty to explore.

"The breadth of our language programs is one of the strengths of this University," says Michael Halleran, divisional dean for the arts and humanities. "You can study an extraordinary range of languages. I know of only one other university that offers as many. World Languages Day gave students a sense of this wonderful diversity."

Although Klausenburger organized the event, she credits the participating departments--language departments, the Language Learning Center, Speech and Hearing Sciences, the Jackson School of International Studies, and others--with making it a success. She had asked each department to develop four presentations and was impressed with their creativity.

"Slavic Languages and Literatures came up with eight offerings," she says, "and Germanics ran a 'Jeopardy' contest with prizes that included a piece of the Berlin Wall. A student from Enumclaw High School won that prize and was just ecstatic."

The event was such a success that Klausenburger is already looking ahead to next year's World Languages Day. It is scheduled for February 26, 1999.


Shirley Malcom Named Alumnus Dignatus
Arts and Sciences alumnus Shirley Malcom, who has devoted much of her career to increasing minority representation in science, has been named University of Washington Alumnus Summa Laude Dignatus for 1998 by the UW Alumni Association. This is the highest honor a UW alumnus can receive.

Malcom, who received her B.S. in zoology in 1967, recalls her years at the UW as challenging both academically and socially. When she arrived at the University, she was among a handful of black students on campus--quite a switch from her high school, which was a segregated, all-black high school in the South. She was usually the only African American in her UW science classes and always the only African American woman.

In her college dormitory, which housed 400 women, Malcom was one of only three African American residents. Her first roommate was from North Dakota and had little experience with blacks. It was an education for both of them. "This is the reason we must recognize and defend the educational value of diverse learning communities," she says.

Malcom credits her professors, particularly Zoology Professor Alan Kohn, with encouraging her to pursue an academic career in science. She says of Kohn, "Had he not [encouraged me], I don't think I would ever have thought of myself in that role. He saw my potential."

After graduating from the UW, Malcom earned a master's degree in animal behavior from UCLA. She taught high school in Los Angeles and then served as director of UW's Hansee Hall before heading for Penn State, where she received a Ph.D. in ecology. With degree in hand, she joined the faculty of University of North Carolina-Wilmington.

Malcom soon married and moved to Washington, D.C., where she began working at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Her first assignment was an inventory of programs in science for minority students. Her findings were sobering: science education programs, run mostly by white men, excluded minority students. And programs set up specifically to serve minority students favored men. That project led to a 1975 landmark report, "The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science."

Malcom has since devoted herself to making things right. As head of the AAAS Directorate since its establishment in 1989, Malcom--who manages a staff of 50 and an annual budget of $6 million--has developed a wide array of programs advancing education in science, mathematics, and technology at all levels, improving public understanding of science, and greatly expanding the talent pool.

Among her innovative programs is the Black Churches Project, which uses churches and church networks to bring science, environmental, and health education to African American communities. Another project, Proyecto Futuro, demonstrates links between science and the Latino culture.

"The next generation of science must necessarily draw on young people who are not generally seen (and indeed often do not see themselves) as being in the present mix," Malcom wrote in a major piece in Scientific American. "Who will do science? That depends on who is included in the talent pool. The old rules do not work. It's time for a different game plan that brings new players off the bench."


An Asteroid's Near Miss Rates 300,000 Hits
Remember the March 12 news that an asteroid might possibly collide with Earth in 2028? After additional observations of the object became available, the prediction was rescinded. But not before three ambitious Astronomy graduate students--Bernadette Rodgers, Eric Deutsch, and Mark Hammergren--created a Web site to allow the public to actually see the asteroid as opposed to simply reading about it in the media.

Working remotely over the Internet and using data from the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico (partially owned by the UW), the students posted asteroid observations obtained, processed, and released on the same day that the startling announcement was made. The site includes images and a movie.

The response to the Web site was phenomenal. On March 12 alone, it rated 125,575 hits from countries all over the world; the week's tally was 287,214-about one hit every two seconds, 24 hours a day. Soon the site was being mentioned by MS/NBC, CNN, the New York Times, NASA Headquarters, Sky & Telescope, Yahoo's newspage, and the Italian newspaper Republicca.

The current status of the asteroid? "The newer, more refined observations indicate that the asteroid will miss the Earth by a comfortable margin during the 2028 approach," says Bruce Margon, professor of astronomy, "but it will probably still be one of the closest passages since the invention of the telescope."


$250,000 Endowed Gift for Baltic Studies
The UW's Baltic Studies Program is the only program in North America to offer courses in the language, literature, culture, and history of all three Baltic countries--Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Nevertheless the program, based in the Department of Scandinavian Studies, has struggled to survive.

Now an endowed gift from the American Latvian Association is allowing the program's faculty and staff to breathe a bit easier. The $250,000 gift, combined with support from the UW Department of Scandinavian Studies and the Jackson School of International Studies, has ensured a full-time lectureship in Baltic Studies for the next five years.

"Our hope is that in five years we will be able to renew the lectureship or, best of all, support a tenure track position," says Terje Leiren, chair of the Department of Scandinavian Studies. "Our department is committed to doing all we can to see that this happens."

In addition to presenting a hefty check to the Baltic Studies Endowed Fund, the American Latvian Association donated more than 12,000 books and other materials on the Baltic States.

To celebrate the generous gift, supporters of the Baltic Studies Program were invited to a March 6 event in Kane Hall that featured a performance by the UW Chamber Chorus. The musical selections were, appropriately, works of Latvian and Swedish composers.

[Summer 1998 - Table of Contents]