On Campus: Campus News

What’s In Your Umwelt?

Those attending the 30th Brown Symposium in April learned a new word: “umwelt.”

The term, which was introduced by German researcher Jakob von Uexkull (Yewks-kill) in 1934, refers to the self-world of animals. Uexkull argued that to truly understand animal behavior, one must appreciate the world as animals see it.

The self-worlds of a variety of animals were explored at the symposium, which was organized by Jesse Purdy, professor of psychology and holder of the John H. Duncan Chair.

Purdy and Randall Davis, a professor of marine biology from Texas A&M University at Galveston, opened the symposium by showing a film they produced about the selfworld of Weddell seals, the only mammals to live beneath the fast ice of McMurdo Sound in Antarctica. They noted that new technology, such as video and data recorders that can be attached to animals, is giving researchers valuable insight into animal behavior.

“There are 1.25 million living species of animals and each has its own umwelt,” Davis said. “Many of these animals live in very remote environments and we know practically nothing about their lives and how they function.”

Writer and poet Diane Ackerman enthralled conference participants as she detailed her observations of animals ranging from backyard squirrels to whales found off the coast of Chile.

“It is important that we try to understand animals because the more we empathize with other animals, the more we will want to protect them and their ecosystems on which we all depend,” Ackerman said.

Purdy noted that learning how to understand the self-worlds of non-human animals could lead to methodologies that would allow us to better understand the self-worlds of humans such as autistic children, the handicapped, or those who suffer from mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression. Such understanding could enhance our ability to help these individuals.

Other conference speakers included Christopher Clark, director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; David Fogel, CEO of Natural Selection Inc. and a leading expert in the field of artificial intelligence; and Michael Gazzaniga, a behavioral neuroscientist who heads the new SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Brown Symposium Art Exhibition

This year’s Brown Symposium also included an art exhibition organized by Southwestern Professor of Art Star Varner. The exhibition featured two different “bestiaries” produced by artist Rudy Pozzatti. Bestiaries are an art form developed in the middle Ages in which images of animals are paired with moral stories.

During a talk following the symposium, Pozzatti announced that he was donating a copy of one of the featured bestiaries to Southwestern. The Darwin Bestiary features 10 poems by Philip Appelman anied by drawings made by Pozzatti. Only 175 copies of the bestiary were produced in 1983–1985.

“It was a true labor of love,” Pozzatti said as he explained how the hand-carved drawings were individually printed on special paper.

Varner said the bestiary, which will be kept in the Special Collections section of the A. Frank Smith Jr. Library, will be a valuable tool for teaching students about printmaking. “We are thrilled to have it,” she said.

Amanda Figueroa ‘10

Computers for Honduras

In April, Southwestern students, faculty and staff members boxed up 125 formerly used computers and monitors to send to children in Honduras. Students from two Paideia® cohorts spent the spring semester refurbishing the computers, which were shipped to Save the Children in La Esperanza, Honduras. Six Southwestern students, two faculty members and two members of Southwestern’s Information Technology Services Department (ITS) went to Honduras in June to help install the computers. The computers are expected to directly impact the lives of about 1,000 children in the La Esperanza area.

Commencement Speech featured in Vital Speeches of the Day

While Commencement speakers often tell graduates to “follow their passion,” Southwestern’s 2008 speaker had a different message.

In a speech that has been selected for publication in the July issue of Vital Speeches of the Day, James Winkler, general secretary of the General Board of Church and Society for the United Methodist Church, told graduates he wanted them to “shake the gates of hell.”

“Frankly, we’re counting on your generation to be the one that turns things around.” Winkler said. “You do not have the luxury of ignoring problems and difficulties in order to follow your bliss.”

Winkler said President Bush was right when he said there is an axis of evil, but he was wrong when he said it is Iran, Iraq and North Korea. “The true axis of evil is pandemic poverty, environmental degradation and a world awash in weapons,” Winkler said. “This triplet has caused enormous suffering and pain.”

Winkler said achieving goals such as eradicating poverty and hunger, providing universal primary education, and combating diseases such as HIV/AIDS would be the “best anti-terrorism campaign around.”

“We can’t build enough guns, tanks and war planes to stop the anger and frustration that leads to terrorism, but I do know we now have the capacity to re-shape the world so that a good and decent life is enjoyed by all of God’s children,” he said.

To read the full text of Winkler’s address, go to http://www.sugrads.org/articles/news_from_su/2008_commencement_address.aspx

“Cultivating Academic Excellence”: A New Core Value

When the core purpose and core values for Southwestern were developed in 1997, most participants felt the University’s commitment to academic excellence was covered in the first core value: “Promoting lifelong learning and a passion for intellectual and personal growth.”

However, some faculty members felt this wasn’t enough.

“Many people were getting their information about us from our core values and an outsider might not think we had the emphasis on academic programs that we in fact do have,” says Jesse Purdy, a psychology professor and former chair of the division of social sciences.

Thus, Purdy and other faculty members proposed in 2006 that a new core value be added: “Cultivating academic excellence.” The new core value was approved by the Board of Trustees in March and is now listed first among the University’s six core values.

“This gives us the emphasis we were looking for,” Purdy says. “It is an important addition.”

Dirk Early Named New Associate Dean of Brown College

Economics professor Dirk Early has been named the first associate dean of the Brown College of Arts and Sciences at Southwestern. He will begin a three-year term in the position at the start of the 2008–2009 academic year.

As associate dean, Early will be responsible for strengthening the college’s academic programs, helping set budget priorities for the college, and articulating needs of the faculty to the administration.

“Dirk is an excellent choice to serve as the associate dean of the Brown College of Arts and Sciences,” said Provost Jim Hunt. “He is an extremely thoughtful individual and I believe he will provide exemplary leadership in this position. He is respected by his colleagues within the college and I believe he is well-positioned to foster cohesion and communication among the three divisions in the college. I am certain that he will leave his mark on the future work of the University.”

Early said his four main goals as associate dean will be to assist faculty members in their growth as both teachers and scholars, to attract additional resources for academic programs and faculty development, to assist the Admissions Office in recruiting a high-quality and diverse student body, and to further relations between the faculty and the Board of Trustees.

“Southwestern has given me the opportunity to thrive as both a teacher and a scholar, and I hope that by accepting this position I can give back to this community,” Early said.

Early has taught economics at Southwestern since 1994 and is one of the university’s Paideia® Professors. He has received the Southwestern University Teaching Award and also the Exemplary Teaching Award from the Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church.

Southwestern “LEED-ing” the Way

The new Wilhelmina Cullen Admission Center will be Southwestern’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) -certified building on campus. The following are examples of efficiency efforts for the construction of the building:

  • Trees that needed to be removed were replanted at the Dorothy Manning Lord Center.
  • All cement and soil that was removed was saved, reused or recycled.
  • A physical barrier was used to secure the building from termites when the foundation was poured, which will allow the University to avoid using a chemical pesticide.
  • The concrete foundation was made from about 28 percent recycled content.
  • The metal studs used to frame the exterior walls have 81.5% recycled content. In addition, the material was also extracted and manufactured within 500 miles of our campus, which reduces the economic and environmental impact of transportation.

SU in the News

Best Place to Buy an Old House

This Old House magazine listed Georgetown, “home to Southwestern university,” in its “Top 12 Picks for Best Places to Buy an Old House.” editors cite plentiful “Late-19th-century Queen Annes and Greek Revivals as well as beautiful 1930s Arts and Crafts and Stick Victorian homes” and laud the “town’s historic center [bustling] with boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants.”

Renovation Grabs Attention

The renovation of the Alma Thomas Fine Arts Center, home to the Sarofim School of Fine Arts, was featured in the June issue of University Business. Read the article at: http://www.universitybusiness.com/viewarticle.aspx?articleid=1074

A Presidential Dinner

The Dallas Morning News reported that Katie Shull Herman ‘92 and her husband Dave Herman, owners of The Range Restaurant at the Barton House in Salado, catered the rehearsal dinner for the wedding of Jenna Bush, daughter of President George W. Bush. The menu included Southwest Empanadas and Grilled Pork Tenderloin.

Did you see CSPAN?

International Policy Analyst Farhana Mahmood Ali ’96 appeared on CSPAN to discuss the fifth anniversary of the war on terror and the search for al-Qaeda.

Watch Farhana Ali discuss the fifth anniversary of the war on terror and the search for al-Qaeda on C-SPAN Network's Washington Journal. The C-SPAN video archive also features a speech Ali gave on the topic of "Muslim Women & Violent Jihad."