Saturday, April 30, 2011

Butterflies and the Big Bang

Last week's trip to New York included a visit to the American Museum of Natural History in NYC.  It was raining and there was a long line to get in, but Q's mother took us around to a different entrance and we avoided the wait. First stop, the Butterfly Conservatory, full of beautiful butterflies. 

Display cases featured exquisite specimens (dead, sadly, but beautiful)
Did you know that their multicolored wings are made up of many scales, each of which is only one color, and which look suspiciously like beads when seen close up?  Hmm. . . there is a seed bead project in there somewhere, I'm sure.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The value of dissent

Contemplating the journey (Sagrada Familia by Antonio Gaudi, Barcelona)*
In my Psychology of Human Sexuality class on Wednesday, we had an intense discussion about sexual assault.  We talked about a number of commonly-held beliefs about sexual assault, including the issue of whether women are "asking" to be raped when they dress in sexy outfits or when they invite a man into their home.  One of the students (I'll call her Pat -- not her real name) was of the opinion that women should be held accountable for such choices.  She argued that women should be aware of how these behaviors will be viewed by others in our society, and stated baldly that she had less sympathy for a rape victim who had dressed revealingly.   I (along with other students) challenged her assumptions regarding the cultural meanings of any given behavior and made the case that nothing justifies assault.  She acknowledged some of our points but was unpersuaded and stuck to her opinion with considerable passion.

It would be easy for me to see this interchange as a teaching failure -- I failed to convince Pat to give up her belief.  I failed to persuade her that such beliefs reflect a cultural mythology that justifies rape through victim-blaming.  Certainly, I find such rape myths deeply problematic, part of a larger societal system that normalizes sexual assault and silences victims who believe they are somehow at fault for their victimization.  Yet while I am utterly opposed to Pat's beliefs about rape, and I strive to eradicate such myths at every opportunity, I still consider this discussion a success.

Friday, April 22, 2011


I'm a big fan of musicals, and one I have been listening to recently is Working by Stephen Schwartz, based on the book of the same name by Studs Terkel.  I saw a campus production of Working in college, and immediately fell in love with the show.  A friend gave me a bootleg audiotape of the Broadway album and I listened to the music over and over.  The Broadway cast album did come out on CD, but seemingly only in a limited run; even used copies of the CD are pretty pricey.  I was finally able to find a used copy of the CD for a not-too-outrageous price, and I've had great fun reconnecting with the songs. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Crowd that Makes the Renowned

The 2010 U.S. Professors of the Year who are also ΦBK at the Capitol Hill reception. Pictured left to right: ΦBK Associate Secretary Scott Lurding, Lendol Calder, Deborah C. Stearns, Andrew W. Kindon, Betsy A. Bowen, Mike Veseth, Frances Tiller Pilch and ΦBK Secretary John Churchill.

It's been a big year for me, a year full of accolades and recognition.  I was named the 2010 Maryland Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).  This is one of the most prestigious awards honoring professors, and the only national award for undergraduate teaching.  As a result, I was also featured in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education and in a spot on MCTV, Montgomery College's television station.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef

f you haven't yet gotten to see the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef, you should definitely make time to see it. It's an amazing installation, merging textiles, traditionally female handicraft, environmentalism, and mathematics.  I also love the way the artists invited members of each community to contribute to the project.  Margaret Wertheim describes he project in this TED talk:

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Life of a College Professor

Before I became a college professor, I didn't understand the broad scope of the professorial role.  I think it's hard to appreciate all that a job entails until one is immersed in it.  Even though my father is an academic, and I grew up hanging around his office, sitting in on his classes, and helping to administer exams and mailing out the journal he edited, I don't think I grasped all that professors do. 

Over the last week or so, for example: