Archives for Honors + Awards

“Nixon’s Court” selected as one of Choice’s 2012 Outstanding Titles

Choice, a leading source for reviews of books of interest to people in higher education, has selected Nixon’s Court: his challenge to judicial liberalism and its political consequences as one of its 2012 Outstanding Academic Titles. The book was written by Kevin J. McMahon, John R. Reitemeyer and Charles A. Dana Research Professor at Trinity.

The University of Chicago Press, in its synopsis of the book, noted that Nixon’s Court refutes conventional wisdom. Many political analysts assessed Richard Nixon’s challenge to the judicial liberalism of the Earl Warren-led court as a failure or “a counterrevolution that wasn’t.” But McMahon’s book reveals a president whose public rhetoric was more conservative than his administration’s actions and whose policy towards the high court was more subtle than previously recognized.

At the beginning of every year, Choice, a magazine published by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL), picks books reviewed in the prior year as Outstanding Academic Titles. The selection includes about 10 percent of the approximately 7,000 books reviewed annually.

McMahon’s first book, Reconsidering Roosevelt on Race, which was similarly published by the University of Chicago Press, won the American Political Science Association’s Richard E. Neustadt Award.

Of his achievement, McMahon said, “It’s a real honor to have all the hard work that went into researching and writing Nixon’s Court recognized by Choice in this way.”

In its description of McMahon’s book, Choice said: “Nixon’s Court provides the most definitive account yet written of the reasoning behind President Nixon’s choices for Supreme Court justices and the legal and electoral consequences of those choices. Against conventional wisdom, McMahon argues that Nixon did not try to make the Supreme Court decisively conservative, which it did not become, but instead successfully selected nominees that would bring formerly Democratic voters into the Republican fold.”

M.N. Green of The Catholic University of America, who wrote the Choice essay, went on to say, “McMahon skillfully uses a combination of archival material (including the Nixon tapes), press accounts, personal interviews, and statistical data to make a persuasive case, breaking new ground in the understanding of Nixon’s leadership and its long-term impact on judicial and partisan politics.”

Green called McMahon’s book “highly readable for undergraduate students and general readers as well as academics.” In conclusion, he noted, “Nixon’s Court is an outstanding contribution to presidential studies and Supreme Court history that revises the understanding of the Nixon presidency and the Republican resurgence that followed.”

Additionally, McMahon’s book has been favorably reviewed by about a dozen academics and court observers, ranging from Mark Tushnet, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, to Attorney Leonard H. Becker in Washington Lawyer.

Read more reviews of Nixon’s Court on the University of Chicago Press Web site

Trinity selected to become a CUDA Teaching Center

Trinity’s Computer Science Department has been selected to become a CUDA (Compute Unified Device Architecture) Teaching Center by NVIDIA, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of computer graphics processing units (GPUs). The new equipment provided to the College by NVIDIA as a result of this selection will enable students and faculty to access new sources of powerful computing for teaching and research.

CUDA is a parallel programming and computing platform that was developed by NVIDIA to allow novice users to more easily program GPUs.

Trinity’s selection as a CUDA Teaching Center is the result of a proposal submitted by Peter Yoon, associate professor of computer science, with the help of funds provided by the Faculty Research Committee. Trinity was one of 22 schools in eight countries that were named CUDA Teaching Centers in 2012.

As part of the selection, NVIDIA donated to Trinity five GeForce GTX480 graphics cards, which will primarily be used to teach CUDA, and one Tesla C2075 graphics card, which has a much greater processing power and will be used for timing and benchmarking in various research projects. These cards will be installed in several high-performance workstations that Yoon plans to build for the Computer Science Department.

Additionally, NVIDIA will provide teaching kits, textbooks, software licenses, NVIDIA CUDA architecture-enabled GPUs for teaching lab computers, and academic discounts for additional hardware.

In turn, Yoon plans to incorporate the CUDA platform into two of his classes—“Introduction to Computer Systems” and “High-Performance Computing”—so that students can learn the language extension. “They should be able to jump right into CUDA programming and use it to solve various real-world problems that require substantial computations,” he said.

The significance of this acquisition is found in the historical development of computers as we know them today. Personal computing was introduced more than 30 years ago, and early versions had a relatively simple interface between the physical components and the software of the machines. These interactions took place in the central processing unit (CPU), or the hardware device that interprets and executes program instructions.

Over the years, applications were developed with more complex graphics, videos, and images that used more of the CPU’s processing power. Computer manufacturers solved this problem by creating another processor specifically for graphics—GPUs. Today, virtually all digital devices come equipped with a GPU for graphics-intensive applications, such as video games and watching full-length movies.

As personal computers developed, so too did technology used for calculations in fields that require high-speed computing, including the sciences, engineering, medicine, and even weather forecasting. In these fields, as with personal computing, using a computer with only one CPU was not enough. “Traditionally, researchers turn to supercomputing, or using computers that consists of hundreds of thousands of CPUs,” said Yoon.

There are limitations to supercomputing, though. Supercomputers are not energy efficient machines and they consume massive amounts of electricity. They are also very expensive, which creates a barrier to adoption for smaller education and research institutions.

About five years ago, according to Yoon, NVIDIA started to develop ways to practically apply GPUs to function similarly to supercomputers. “The problem is that you need to be trained in the field of computer graphics in order to program for GPUs, so it was challenging to use one in place of a CPU,” he explained.

To counteract this limitation, NVIDIA developed the CUDA programming interface, which allows anyone who knows programming languages for CPUs, such as C, to program for GPUs using a series of language extensions. As a result, GPUs are becoming more widely used as a research tool for solving complex scientific problems.

GPUs not only cost less than supercomputers—Yoon estimates the difference to be thousands versus millions of dollars—they are much more energy efficient. “We used to have a very large supercomputer that sucked up, on average, about three households-worth of power,” he said. “The new little box we have downstairs with NVIDIA graphics cards is at least about five times faster and only uses about 1200 watts—the same amount as a hairdryer.”

The ability to solve substantial computations is also useful in a number of academic fields outside of computer science. One example is reconstructing medical images created by CT scanners, which take thousands of 2D pictures that must be reconstructed by computers to generate a 3D image. “In order to do something like that it takes a lot of time—days even—using only one computer. But using this technology we can do it in a matter of minutes,” said Yoon.

Yoon has already begun using the new hardware on projects with students and colleagues across disciplines—including math, engineering, and even philosophy. For example, Yoon and his research students are working with Dan Lloyd, Brownell Professor of Philosophy, on a project that uses these GPU-equipped computers to regenerate audio streams from brain scans created of subjects who are listening to music. “We can now process the data more quickly, and the ability to perform calculations at higher speeds is attracting the attention of more and more departments on campus,” said Yoon.

Joan Morrison leads Initiative to improve Hartford Parks

During the fall planting season, the City of Hartford took advantage of a $70,000 challenge grant that they received earlier this year from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Program’s Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds. The grant, acquired under the stewardship of Professor of Biology Joan Morrison, is being used to improve the habitat in Hartford parks for native and migratory birds and to develop educational guidelines that describe the characteristics of urban bird habitats and identify hazards to birds living in cities.

“Most people who live in urban areas have this idea that wildlife lives somewhere else, in a rural refuge or a protected area,” said Morrison. “We are trying to find ways to educate people in the city who are very removed from nature about wildlife and about the importance of urban habitats.”

With over 50 percent of the globe’s population living in urban areas, the Urban Conservation Treaty was created to raise awareness among city residents about the value of wildlife, especially migratory birds. In particular, the Connecticut River is an important pathway for birds in the Atlantic Flyway that stretches along the Atlantic coast of North America.

Green spaces in parks located in Hartford serve as feeding and resting spots for thousands of birds during their seasonal migrations along the Connecticut River corridor. Many more species of birds native to the region reside in Hartford’s urban green spaces, such as Keney and Pope parks, year round.

Morrison pursued the grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in partnership with Mary Pelletier, director of Park Watershed, Inc., a Hartford-based citizens group whose mission is to cultivate clean water and healthy urban environments in the Park River watershed region.

Morrison’s work takes several forms, the first of which is improving the habitat directly by creating a plant palette. “The palette will identify and contain descriptions of a suite of plants that are appropriate for this region’s soil and climate and are also useful for birds as food and shelter,” she said.

The plant palette is under development by Morrison, who is working with Trinity students to inventory what birds use Keney Park and Pope Park during different seasons. Once Morrison and her research team record the types of birds that are using the park, they will next determine what each species requires for food and nesting. They also will identify and address hazards to birds in Hartford, including light pollution, feral cats, and windows on city buildings. Birds can become disoriented by city lights and often strike windows, sometimes fatally, when they see trees reflected in the glass.

Trinity students plant trees at Pope Park during Do It Day 2012. (photo by Nick Lacy)

In addition to collecting data for the plant palette, Morrison and her team at Trinity, along with Pelletier and other members of Park Watershed, Inc., the Parks & Recreation Advisory Commission, Friends of Keney Park, and Friends of Pope Park, are working with Hartford residents to provide hands-on education through planting and other park improvement efforts.

One example of this hands-on approach occurred in September during Do It Day, when Trinity students worked with Morrison, Pelletier, and the Knox Park Foundation to plant trees and shrubs around the pond in Pope Park.

Morrison is also working with three different middle schools—Mary Hooker Magnet School in Hartford, Two Rivers Middle Magnet School in East Hartford, and Illing Middle School in Manchester, CT. Students have taken field trips to wooded areas where they are able to interact with birds in the field. “The kids learn how to catch birds and how to band them, take wing measurements, and record data. Plus, we get to talk about why scientists band birds and why wildlife preservation is important,” said Morrison.

Morrison and Pelletier will have a year to monitor the updated park habitats to see how plants grew and were used by birds. After adjustments are made, the resulting plant palette will provide standards and best practices for public park maintenance going forward, as well as for businesses and residents in the region looking to their improve their campuses, industrial parks, or backyards. The palette will ultimately be available in digital and print forms and made available to the public.

“Similar projects have had success in Philadelphia, Chicago, Phoenix, Portland, and other cities across the country,” Morrison said. “When we finish the project at the end of 2013, we hope that our parks will be rejuvenated and provide improved resources for Hartford’s wildlife and its residents.”

Lean more about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Migratory Bird Program and the Urban Conservation Treaty for Migratory Birds. 

Read the full story here

On December 2, 2012, the Hartford Courant published a related feature story titled “Bird Lovers Create Safe Habitat in Urban Hartford Setting.” Click here to read the article. 

Ciaran Berry wins prestigious Whiting Writers’ Award

Ciaran Berry, assistant professor of English and director of creative writing at Trinity, is one of 10 writers to have won a 2012 Whiting Writers’ Award, which carries with it a $50,000 stipend.

The honor, issued annually since 1985, is given “not for a specific work, but for the abundant promise of future work,” said Barbara Bristol, director of the program. The awards are bestowed by the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, which has given away more than $50 million, most of it to writers of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and plays.

The candidates are nominated by people whose experience and vocations have brought them in contact with individuals of extraordinary talent. The winners are chosen by a committee comprised of a small group of recognized writers, literary scholars, and editors who are appointed annually by the Foundation. Both nominators and selectors serve anonymously.

A native of Dublin, Ireland, Berry grew up in County Galway and County Donegal, but has spent the past 15 years living, writing, and teaching in the United States. He joined Trinity’s faculty in 2009.

Berry received his B.A. from the University of Ulster and his MFA from New York University and was awarded a New York Times Fellowship. His work has appeared in AGNI, The Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, The Missouri Review, and The New Republic. Berry’s first full-length collection, The Sphere of Birds, won the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition in 2007 and was published by Southern Illinois University Press in 2008. He is working on his next collection, The Dead Zoo.

Berry received his Whiting Award in late October at a ceremony at The New York Times Center in Manhattan. All of the winners read excerpts of their work at the Bronfman Center at NYU the following day. Berry chose two poems from The Dead Zoo.

Gratified by the award and the recognition, Berry said he views it “as validation of all the hours you spend writing on your own and privately, without any assurance that anyone is going to read what you’ve written.”

The list of previous winners of the Whiting Award includes people who went on to snare Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Critics Circle Award. “It feels great to join that list,” said Berry.

Read the full article here

Ralph Morelli receives $902,000 NSF Grant

Computer Science Professor Ralph Morelli has been awarded a $902,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to promote the use of a mobile Computer Science Principles curriculum (Mobile CSP) in Connecticut public schools. Beginning in Hartford, high school teachers will be trained to teach computer science courses in schools that don’t currently offer them.

The program marks a unique collaboration between Trinity, the Hartford Public School System, the Connecticut Chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association, and Hartford area high schools. The grant runs though December 31, 2015.

Beginning in summer 2013, Hartford high school teachers will participate in a six-week training course. Participating teachers will offer the course in city high schools starting in the 2013-14 academic year. The process will repeat itself two more times, according to Morelli, who is hoping to train at least 30 teachers during the grant period. Students in the Hartford public school system are currently not given the opportunity to study computer science.

In the second and third years, the project will expand to other, similarly situated Connecticut cities and towns. It’s estimated that between 300 and 600 students will be involved in the project. One of the schools that will be participating is the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy at the Learning Corridor across Broad Street from the Trinity campus.

The Mobile CSP will use a new computing language, App Inventor for Android, to provide a rigorous, programming-based introduction to computational thinking. The curriculum has been developed in collaboration with Chinma Uche, president of the Connecticut Chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association. It’s been piloted during the past two years at Trinity and the Greater Hartford Academy of Mathematics and Science.

Morelli, who is spending a sabbatical leave this year at MIT, is in the process of developing teaching resources and the curriculum for the project. Morelli said he and his colleagues will also be “gearing up, forming an advisory committee and planning on how to go about recruiting schools and teachers,” a process that is expected to take several months.

A member of Trinity’s faculty since 1985, Morelli said computer science is a very good discipline for high schools students to acquire because “it teaches them to think logically and abstractly and to break down problems into parts and solve them.” That type of skill, Morelli said, can be beneficial no matter what subject the students choose to study later in their academic careers.

All of the project’s teaching materials – lesson plans, syllabi, quizzes and tests, and evaluation rubrics – will be distributed through an openly licensed on-line repository. If the curriculum proves to be attractive and accessible to teachers, as well as effective in improving computing skills and attitudes among the hard-to-reach student population targeted by this project, it could have a broad and far-reaching impact, according to Morelli.

This project builds on Trinity’s Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS) initiative, which, since 2007, has been engaging undergraduate students at Trinity and other schools in building free software for socially beneficial applications. To learn more about the initiative, visit http://hfoss.org/.

Judy Dworin honored by Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame

Judy Dworin, professor of theater and dance and a member of Trinity’s first coeducational class in 1970, was among 13 women honored by the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame on Thursday, October 18 during its 19th annual Induction Ceremony at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford.

Three women were inducted into the Hall of Fame and Dworin and nine others were feted as honorees. The 2012 “Voice & Vision Honorees” were described as a distinguished group of women “who have used their voice and vision to express their passions and perspectives through various mediums.” In particular, Dworin, the founder and artistic director of The Judy Dworin Performance Project, a 23-year-old dance and theater ensemble, was singled out as “a creative force giving voice to women and inspiration for social action through dance/theater.”

Each of the honorees said a few words in keeping with the theme of the event. Said Dworin: “In the struggle to find the light in the darkness, I listen, look, feel, and reflect and I try never to lose hope. In this way, I have found my voice.”

Dworin’s influence has extended beyond the classrooms and performing arts studios at Trinity, where she has been a member of the faculty since 1971. While at Trinity, Dworin founded the Dance Program, cofounded the Trinity/La MaMa Performing Arts Semester in New York City – which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary – and chaired the Department of Theater and Dance for many years.

Dworin founded the Judy Dworin Performance Project, Inc. (JDPP, Inc.) in 1989 based on her belief in the role that the arts play in “challenging and creating change in our universe – personal, educational and global.” The JDPP provides cutting-edge performances that address issues of social justice through the Ensemble; Moving Matters!, which supports a collaborative residency with Trinity at Parkville Community School; and Bridging Boundaries, a program that reached out to those affected by incarceration, including women in prison, re-entering the community, children with parents in prison, and mothers in prison and their children.

Specifically, Dworin has worked with underserved and at-risk populations in urban public schools and community centers and, since 2005, at the York Correctional Institution for Women in Niantic, CT.

Among the 16 works that address issues of gender and social justice are Meditations from a Garden SeatIn This House;The Witching HourTime In; and ¿dónde estás? Some of the works have been performed at the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford, the Garde Arts Center in New London, the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and at various colleges. In addition, the Ensemble’s work has been filmed and aired on Connecticut Public Television, National Public Television and WHNB-TV.

In addition to being honored by the Women’s Hall of Fame, Dworin was given a Tapestry Award in 2010 by The Hartford Courant for “building bridges of understanding;” the Charter Oak Cultural Center Vision Award in 2006; the Connecticut Dance Alliance Award for Distinguished Service in 2006; a Governor’s Arts Award in 1999; a citation for Excellence in the Arts from the State Department of Higher Education in 1999; and a Connecticut Advocate for the Arts Award in 1998.

The mission of the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame is to honor publicly the achievements of Connecticut women, preserve their stories, educate the public and inspire the continued achievement of women and girls.

For more information about Judy Dworin and the JDPP, please visit: www.judydworin.org.

Studying student misconceptions about plant biology

In August, The American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB) Education Foundation awarded a $26,853 grant to Kathleen Archer, associate professor of biology. The grant will pay for a portion of an ambitious project that will help reform how introductory biology courses are taught in higher education.

The project being undertaken by Archer, working with co-investigators Maryann Herman, assistant professor of biology at St. John Fisher College in New York; Grace Ju Miller, associate professor of biology at Indiana Wesleyan University; Laura Olsen, professor of biology at the University of Michigan; and Jodie Ramsay, associate professor of biology at Northern State University in South Dakota, is to assess undergraduate college students’ misconceptions about plant structure and growth.

The catalyst for reform in undergraduate biology education is the proliferation of information that the field has experienced during the past 50 years. “Initially, we could take an introductory textbook and cover it in a semester,” said Archer. “But now it takes sometimes two or three semesters. As biology knowledge continues to increase, we are going to have to make decisions about what essential things students should know on which they can build in upper-level courses.”

This perspective is reflected in a 2009 report called Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action, which was sponsored by the American Association for Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), with contributions from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). Although the report was one of several that pushed for reform of introductory biology instruction, Archer says that Vision and Change was the most articulate in laying out what steps need to be taken. “It essentially says, ‘We’re spending too much time trying to have students learn facts, and not enough time teaching them how to be scientists,’ and asks that we focus on big picture ideas of how knowledge is acquired.”

Archer developed the grant proposal in partnership with her co-investigators whom she met in 2011 after she delivered a lecture at the ASPB annual meeting. Together, they are working on creating a concept assessment, or a collection of questions that can universally evaluate what students know in a particular area of study.

Archer and her colleagues are focusing on plant biology, but the larger field of biology covers topics ranging from molecules to ecosystems, with different professional societies overseeing similar projects in each sub-discipline.

Once they are assembled, Archer said, the consequences could be seen at undergraduate institutions across the country. “The concept assessments should work pretty much under any circumstances,” she said, “and can help us reform the way we teach undergraduate biology.”

Read the full article here.

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