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Good investments

April 26, 2009

If your educational institution was given millions of dollars, with the caveat that you couldn’t go looking for the donor, would you go looking? Even just a little?

Thirteen university presidents that have accepted a combined $68 million over the past two months, with the condition that they cannot go looking for the donor, as well that a majority of the money in each case go towards scholarships for women and minorities students.

Outside of the second condition, the only other pattern for the universities recieving aid is that they are all lead by women. That’s not a coincidence. Almost all are public universities, with the exception of Kalamazoo College, in Michigan.

But what else ties these 13 colleges together? Did the donor(s) pick up a book of “American’s Colleges” and start flipping to random pages? I’ve tried to research what these institutions also have in common.

Endowments are down on average for all colleges chosen so far, but the change between 2007 and 2008 endowment levels, most directly effected of the recession, are mixed. Then there’s the clue that scholarships are asked to go to women and minorities, so I checked the demographics of each school. Again, no clear trends and another exception to the rule, Norfolk State College, which is a HBCU (historically black college or university). There might be a correlation between giving and a low ratio of aid to tuition, but that’s only if you consider out-of-state tuition at these institutions that make the distinction. This is even more perplexing, as generally, these universities don’t tend to pull students from outside their area.

And perhaps that’s the only similarity between all these colleges, other than the presence of a women president: obscurity. If you lived outside of New Jersey, what are the chances that you’ve heard of Montclair State? Purdue and University of Iowa, easily the most well known of the schools, are excellent research centers, but are less likely to come to mind when thinking about the big land grant universities.

With this theory in mind, I’ve gone through wikipedia’s list of college presidents (sadly, more updated than the last official survey of female presidents, from 2006), looking for schools, run by women, who are more likely to be the next recipients of this anonymous cash.

I’m not looking for the donor, although it’s fun to speculate. I’m looking for the possible next lucky school. Who stops at 13 when they’ve already given $68 million? All these schools, however, are run by women.

Good chance

  • University of Southern Maine (named a “good value” in annual rankings, much like CUNY-Binghamton)
  • CUNY – Hunter
  • Lehigh University (in PA)
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Weber State University
  • The College of New Jersey (at the bottom of this – there’s one chosen in NJ already)


  • Spellman College (None of the schools so far have been women only colleges, otherwise I’d put this one in the above list)
  • Wentworth Institute of Technology (or I hope a university with a 75/25 male-female ratio headed by a women would be a candidate)
  • West Virginia Wesleyan College
  • Salisbury University
  • University of South Florida
  • Harvey Mudd/Claremont McKenna

Probably not

  • Harvard University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Brown University
  • Barnard College
  • University of Michigan (two schools with far less name recognition have already been chosen in Michigan)
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Texas A&M (endowment is just too huge – across the whole system)
  • Bates College

Bruce Watson at Daily Finance has some similar, and completely different guesses at Daily Finance. I’m also interested if there is a women in science connection here, but I don’t have a good idea about exceptional science programs outside the usual suspects (MIT, RPI, etc.) .


Proving grounds

April 22, 2009

Today, NASA and your friendly Kennedy Space Center (I don’t know, they seem friendly) put up a series of photos from space, as only they can do, in honor of Earth Day.

The image you’re looking at here is not a crop circle, nor a particularly pointless highway – it’s a test track ring. The Nardo ring, or more accurately, Nardò Prototipo Proving Grounds, runs through a otherwise pastoral section of Southern Italy.nardoringThe track is banked against the rest of the landscape to such an extent that driving at each section’s “neutral speed” will require no turning of the steering wheel. Those velocities range from 100-240km/h. As the cars and trucks whip around the track at these speeds, farmer walk through underpasses to get to sections of their farm land, in the northern inner sections of the perfect circle.

Large enough to be visible from space, Nardo gets put up on NASA and other satellite imaging websites a lot, giving groups like CLUI even more to talk about than your odd particle accelerator.

Ahlan, around the world

April 15, 2009

I’m glad to say that my obsession about BSG has spread beyond this blog. The Music of Battlestar Galactica is a guest post on the very lovely, very awesome T-Sides, a music blog run by another young lady named Taylor.

I’ve also got a few new names added to the sidebar.

What’s next?

Polymathism: it never (and always) goes out of style

April 8, 2009

This blog now has a gold standard to live up to: Brendan I. Koerner’s Microkhan, subtitled: “your daily dose of polymathism”. Microkhan’s topics have the appearance of being randomly chosen through some Google algorithm, but Koerner brings amazing analysis to each one of them.

In the past 36 hours, posts have ranged from an Indiana Jones-type banker, the end of Polish conscription and the economic ramifications of such, and fighting fire ants with specifically-bred phlorid flies. When I saw the April 2 post on the Taliban’s prohibition on music, I almost fell off my seat. Not because the Taliban-hates-fun story is anything new, but that it engages with the issue on the level of hadith – how Islamic scholars on either side would approach this debate  – and still retains a level of objectivity.

It is my new favorite update to refresh in my RSS reader.

This is not a food blog…

April 2, 2009

SMOOORE, originally uploaded by photographical evidence.

… but I couldn’t forget to show the best dessert in the land, S’mores, some love.

“The best surprise is none at all”

March 31, 2009

That’s how a Chicago Tribune article referred to the 1995 UConn Huskies’ perfect season. For that year, a brief period of my childhood, I was going to be a basketball star. This was after photographer and before architect, but basketball was a least something you could start concretely at that age. It helped that I lived in Connecticut, one of two states synonymous with total domination in women’s college basketball. When the Huskies won the National Championship in 1995, we put up a hoop in our driveway, all because of Rebecca Lobo, Jen Rizzotti, and Shea Ralph.

In the late 90s and first half this decade you couldn’t have any discussion about women’s college hoops without the Connecticut Huskies and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers. Of the 26 college championship titles ever awarded for women’s basketball, the Huskies and Lady Vols have won half of them; Tennessee with 8 national championships, UConn, 5, including 3 consecutive years. Four out of the five times UConn has won the title, they defeated Tennessee to do so. The first WNBA teams were largely seeded with UConn and Tenn. players. During one recent season, Connecticut was beating their opponents by an average of 50 points.

They play great basketball, but it makes for a boring rest of the season. These teams were so exceptional that no other team (save a few shots from LSU and Southern California in the mid-90s) could regularly beat them. It was like watching the French national basketball team against the NBA. The only women’s games with any sort of suspense in the regular season were, in fact, the UConn-Tennessee series, a contract that guaranteed the teams would meet at least twice in the regular season.

How did this happen? Why couldn’t any other team get to this level for nearly a decade and a half? What I believed happened was in 1995 and 1996, by fate and hard work, Connecticut and Tennessee brought women’s basketball to that next level, and got young girls, especially my age, starting earlier in basketball. But those young girls wouldn’t enter college until at least the second half of the 2000s. In the meantime, the limited number of women who had been trained to play on UConn/Tennessee level before that surge in interest, went, by and large, to play for UConn and Tennessee. It was a positive feedback loop of basketball talent. Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Candace Parker and Kara Lawson became the next generation of superstars, and not surprisingly, they all went to those two teams.

Then the young women, told and shown since elementary school, since UConn’s run, that it was possible to get a basketball scholarship arrived on campus. Of course they went to UConn and of course they went to Tennessee. But there was so many more of them now, playing at that level, so they went to Oklahoma, Stanford, Maryland, and many other schools.

I watched the UConn-Cal game, and then the Oklahoma-Pitt game this weekend. I was blown away – all the teams playing for a spot in the Elite Eight were playing quick, competitive, and stylish basketball. An ESPN commentator mentioned that WNBA scouts were in the stadium, looking strongly at Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris, who that night became the only college basketball player, man or woman, to get 2500 points and 2000 rebounds over the course of her college career. This was after she went 112 consecutive games with a double-double.

UConn has had a perfect year so far, the next big thing with Maya Moore and are poised to win the national championship again. Except this year it’s going to be a whole lot harder. How do I know? Tennessee got knocked out in round 1.


March 20, 2009

I got great news this week. Stupendously great news. Life-changing, possibly. And yet, I’ve been preoccupied all week about how to properly send-off Battlestar Galactica in my own small way. Perhaps my priorities are out of order. That’s a main complaint or criticism towards geeks – they care too much about inconsequential things, that they become obsessed with fiction, and therefore suffer from a dearth of reality.

I can’t disprove that, in certain cases, the haters have it right. No life should be solely dedicated to a monastical study of redshirts or the deep philosophical ramifications of reversing the polarity. But that misses the point. Battlestar represents an example of my suspension of disbelief that television is something bad, that it can not strive for (but sometimes fail) to the dubious status of art, and is worth criticism in academe and in the culture papers as “a text”. I realized, half-way through the miniseries, that it was asking me to think and certainly not leading me in the direction of any answers. I don’t think any other piece of television has made me hold my breath that many times.

I thought about talking about Battlestar and how it matched up with a new stage of my life. I thought about talking about Donna Haraway’s essay on cyborgs and how Battlestar showed us an alternate, extreme version of the heavily technological society we live in. But none of it seemed complete, nothing seemed appropriate.

I will simply say that I will miss enjoying something so much I would watch it on Friday if I had to. I will the great acting, (usually great) writing, the score that made general TV watchers into soundtrack junkies. I will miss the sense of extreme vertigo from the plot kicking everyone squarely in the heads (YT link). I will miss the only show where I don’t want to know spoilers, Adama and Tigh’s epic bromance, Edward James Olmos destroying expensive props in the name of method acting, Laura Roslin leaning over a console and screaming “I AM COMING FOR YOU.” A show that emotionally drags you out and makes you angry at its main characters. I will miss Baltar, even.

This all makes very little sense for anyone who’s never watched the show – and come Saturday morning we can all rejoin you in “normal life” – but that’s the point: a TV show created a journey, literally and emotionally, for its viewers to follow along with. We’re all going to feel a sadness when that journey comes to an end.

So say we all. SO SAY WE ALL.