This fall I began my fourth year as Dean of the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. My time here has been challenging and rewarding, and despite the near-daily surprises that arrive in my inbox or at my meeting table, I feel I have developed an overall sense of the rhythm of the seasons. Each fall is always very exhilarating, as we welcome our new freshmen and our new graduate students. Then, in October, we welcome our alumni back to campus for Homecoming weekend. This year, we had a wonderful turnout for Homecoming, and I enjoyed seeing many of you at the Weinberg reception and the all-class pre-game brunch.
We are all accustomed to the idea of studying religions that are widely practiced elsewhere in the world or in the remote past. Students line up to take Hinduism or Buddhism or medieval Christianity. Now, at Northwestern, professors are breaking new ground and bringing new insights to bear on Catholicism—particularly Catholicism in the Americas—and its unique place in history and culture.
The growth of Catholic Studies thriving at Northwestern can be traced to an observation made by former President Henry Bienen to philanthropist Fritz Duda: that Northwestern's religion curriculum lacked a Catholic studies minor. "Henry and I both felt that Northwestern would have the opportunity of being a leader in this field," said Duda, in an interview with Crosscurrents in 2005. "Mrs. Duda and I are pleased to establish a chair that will facilitate these efforts. Chicago is one of the great Catholic cities in the United States, and Northwestern's leadership in this field will be of great benefit to students and the broader community."
Graduates of Northwestern's Integrated Science Program are inventors of new forms of science and technology, faculty members at places like MIT and Berkeley, doctors, patent lawyers, "green" business visionaries and aerospace scientists. They are also reputed to be among the nicest and most collaborative people around. What makes ISP such an extraordinary launching pad for success? This fall, the 35th anniversary of ISP's founding, we decided to find out. Since 1976, ISP has attracted some of the nation's brightest science students and immersed them in challenging courses which emphasize the interrelationships among the sciences and stress mathematics as their common language. At its start, there was nothing like it. For decades, ISP has served as a model for interdisciplinary science programs across the country.
Our conversation with Phyllis began when she called our office recently, after reading about Northwestern having the second-highest number of Fulbright scholars in the country this year. She asked if perhaps she was the first Northwestern Fulbright scholar, having won her award in 1950. Our trusty archivist, Kevin Leonard, reported that Phyllis was actually in the second "class" of Northwestern Fulbright scholars, but records show that she and Helen Wachs were the first female recipients of the award. Leonard also told us that Phyllis was a philosophy major, Phi Beta Kappa, and a campus beauty queen. Not wanting to miss out on a good story, we asked her to write her own account about the Fulbright experience, in the days when crossing the Atlantic was still by ship and Europe was busy rebuilding after the devastation of the Second World War.
They are risk-takers, enjoying the roller coaster ride that a tech startup entails, celebrating when they get their first customer, near despair when the server breaks down and their product starts crashing. They are able to live on ramen, to put their money where their ideas are, to forego the bigger, more reliable paycheck that a different career would allow. They believe in their vision, even in the face of criticism—from business associates, from the press, even from family and friends. They are stubborn. When told their products won't work, that no one will want them, they persevere. They work relentlessly hard and postpone that South Seas trip, that promising Match.com date. They say it's not all about the money. They are idealists who want to create a company that makes life easier for a great many people, one that ultimately changes the world for the better.
"What keeps the blood going in one direction?" Dr. Richard Lee stood in a Northwestern Memorial Hospital elevator and peppered two women with questions.
"Valves," replied Elizabeth Appelt, 20, barely audible over the chatter of two white-coated physicians nearby.
"And how many problems can we have with the valves?" Lee continued.
"Two," chimed Katherine Wang, 21.
"Right. They're either too tight or too leaky," Lee said, the ping of the opening doors punctuating his statement. "Really, this is basic plumbing. That's all we do."
In the mid-16th century, an anonymous yet plucky reader of Giorgio Vasari's influential "Lives of the Artists" made a note in the margin—a shout-out, if you will—to an important artwork in the reader's hometown of Padua that Vasari had overlooked. The note said, in effect, "You missed this one, Giorgio." Presumably Vasari never received the message.
Founded in 1992, the Wilson Society recognizes contributors who make aggregate annual gifts of $1,000 or more to the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. Support from Wilson Society members plays a vital role in strengthening the College's extraordinary commitment to excellence in liberal arts education.
How fitting that this issue of Crosscurrents, my final as editor, features the remarkable story of Marco Ruffini—discovering after all these centuries that a crucifix in Padua is actually the work of Renaissance master Donatello. In my 13 years at Weinberg College, the discoveries that take place here—some of which have changed the world—have become a constant source of fascination and renewal for me, and, I hope, for you. This has been much more than a job—it's been a passion. My mind has been challenged and stretched in a thousand different ways. And while I leave the telling of future stories to my worthy successors as I retire, I wanted to share a few of my favorites.
A collection of photographs from fall 2011.Back to top