June 2002


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A Slice of
Campus Life

Commons Room

(Jason Togyer photo)
This Old House

The bleachers groan and creak under the weight of the tangled students, many of them wearing yellow T-shirts with Oakland Zoo printed boldly on front. The smell of sweat is in the air as the Zoo moves in unison, pumping fists in the air, high-fivin’, jumping, shouting whoosh, and tripping over neighbors.

Fitzgerald Field House. Shoulder to shoulder. Some stand sideways. Others push into the aisles. It’s cozy and familial being this close to the action. It’s like the old high school gym, a relic of its time. There isn’t a Jumbotron in sight. Hanging from the ceiling are some worn banners, including one for the ’41 NCAA Champions.

The men’s basketball team—on the winter night they beat nationally-ranked Syracuse—looked very much at home here. They dominated the boards, played tough defense, and made key baskets. Their play conjured up memories of those banner teams from decades past.

When the cheerleaders led the P-I-T-T cheer, the place quaked and rumbled thanks, in part, to the Chancellor, who was on his feet cheering loudly.

Even the ushers love the field house and all its crowded-house charm, but they’re excited, too, about the move next season to the larger Petersen Events Center, which has double the seating capacity of the field house’s 6,800. No more trips to Mellon Arena for marquee games. Oh no, the Petersen can handle the big boys.

So can the Panthers. By season’s end, the blue and gold made quite a mark, including most wins all-time (29) at the school, a Big East West Division crown, and making it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. It was the kind of year that gets a head coach noticed. Ben Howland picked up a handful of prestigious coach-of-the-year honors. Yeah, the team really showed them.

Even though the boys move to the Petersen next fall, the field house will have plenty of company. It will be home to several school teams, including wrestling, volleyball and gymnastics, which should keep those bleachers groaning and creaking for years to come.
—Meghan Holohan

Pitt Crew

Pete Sakovich drives a 1988 Chevrolet Nova. A car whose name, in Spanish, translates to “it doesn’t go.” And he’s not embarrassed to admit it. Maybe that’s because Sakovich doesn’t get his automotive excitement on the street. The newly-minted Pitt graduate spends his spare time—and non-spare time as well—working on a race car. Deep in the sub-basement of Benedum Hall, where footsteps echo eerily and few students tread, Sakovich (ENG ’02) and other members of the University chapter of the Society of Automotive Engineers squeeze surprising results from tiny Honda motorcycle engines.

For the past 15 years, a small group of student engineers—typically about a dozen active participants—has entered cars in the society’s “Formula SAE” competitions, often teaching larger organizations a thing or two. Their 2001 entry, which placed seventh at a competition in Birmingham, England, reached 74 mph in 4.315 seconds and pulled 1.25 to 1.5 times the force of gravity on a “skidpad”—a way to measure its cornering agility.

Based in suburban Warrendale, Pennsylvania, SAE [*] sets specifications for automotive and aviation products, publishes technical reports, oversees training and testing programs, and represents 87,000 engineers. Formula SAE is one of 12 design competitions that university students can enter; about 4,500 international students participate annually.

Pitt’s Formula SAE program has come a long way since 1987, when it built its first entry that, according to Sakovich, was little more than a go-kart. Last year, the Pitt students earned a $1,000 prize for “outstanding sportsmanship.” In 2000, Pitt’s Formula SAE entry was named ninth-best in the world by SAE.

Besides handling, braking, fuel economy, and acceleration, SAE also demands that cars be cost-effective; each must come with a detailed report on the cost of components.

To save money, Pitt’s team purchases late-model motorcycle engines from bikes that crashed. Usually, the 0.6-liter watercooled four-bangers require little more than a retooling, though Seth Lerner, a senior from Rochester, New York, says one came into the Pitt SAE shop with a hole blown through the side of the engine block. Funding comes from donations, Pitt’s Student Government Board, and the engineering school, but business manager Scott Stouffer, a senior from Ashtabula, Ohio, says the team is making a big effort to attract underwriting for this year’s competition.

All of this takes dedication, especially just before a race. Sakovich has spent upwards of 60 hours a week working in the shop on engine rebuilding. He’s also been known to sleep occasionally in the garage. So has Lerner. “Last year, I spent easily three nights in a row here,” Lerner says. “We’d go home, get cleaned up, come back, and do it again.”
—Jason Togyer

College Bowl

Winners know that it helps to have an edge. Picking up on Joe Cavalla’s New Jersey accent, one student sees a possible kinship and tries to exploit it. “You’re from Essex County?” he asks. “I went to Englewood High School! We’re practically neighbors!”

Alas, Garden State ties offer no help for the student or his team, dubbed “Pretty in Pink.” Cavalla, who’s moderating Pitt’s annual College Bowl competition at the William Pitt Union, is calling ’em as he sees ’em: “Pretty in Pink” takes a drubbing from “Oakland Liberation Front.” Final score: 185 to 45. The questions range from trivial—“Which TV game show host uses the phrase, ‘You are the weakest link?’”—to academic—“What country spans five time zones, but uses only one?” (Anne Robinson and China, but you knew that.) College Bowl is overseen nationally by the Association of College Unions International [*]. Cavalla, director of student activities, has been running the program for 25 years. “It’s fun, it’s academically related, and there is a core group of kids out there who love to play it,” he says.

Winning teams receive gift certificates to Barnes & Noble; runners up get coffee mugs. When the Sunday-afternoon competition ends, an all-star team is selected to represent the University for the regional College Bowl competition. Victory at the regionals entitles a team to compete at the national tournament, where a $10,000 cash prize is up for grabs. Last year, Pitt made it to the nationals.

Learning In Vein

Through the twisting hallways in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning there is an unassuming lecture hall. College students fill the seats, pull out books, notebooks, and pens, and gossip about what they did last weekend.

They don’t seem overly affected by the short story that they just read for class. In the story, a boy’s father dies right after the boy’s conception and, sadly, his mother dies during childbirth. Sort of. Actually, the midwife kills her with a stake, after she pulls the baby from the womb. This isn’t Oliver Twist.

The class discussion focuses on Thomas Ligotti’s The Lost Art of Twilight, which centers on the orphan, Andre, who is half-vampire, half-human, and an artist who paints the twilight.

The vampire as artist is one aspect of Helena Goscilo’s course, Vampire: Blood and Empire. Her students also watch films and read novels, historic accounts, religious texts, criticism, and folk tales, trying to discover the influence of vampire legends on society.

When the head of the Slavic department approached Goscilo, a Slavic language and literature professor, about developing a regular CAS course on vampires, she thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. Intrigued by the wide-ranging philosophical issues attached to vampires, Goscilo gave herself a “crash course” in vampirism.

Turning into a vampire involves drinking a victim’s blood, according to popular belief. Yet, classic tales suggest that a violent death, an animal jumping over a corpse, or a body carried the wrong way out of a house can create a vampire. Supposedly, not all vampires are evil, either.

The class’s popularity is increasing each semester. Students range from those with a mild interest to kids who actually play fantasy games as vampires.

Goscilo, it should be noted, doesn’t believe in vampires. At least not in any literal sense.

Check Mates

The dining concourse of the William Pitt Union is packed with students. It’s a Thursday night and the din is so loud you can barely talk above it. I’m looking for the Pitt Chess Club, which is home to the highest-ranking team in the 42-year-old Pittsburgh Chess League. I keep checking the location I copied from the club’s Web site, convinced this couldn’t be where they meet every Thursday for practice matches. It seems awfully distracting, and besides, I don’t see any smart-looking guys in glasses or pint-sized savants attracting crowds. I shrug my shoulders and turn to go when out of the corner of my eye I spot them—two middle-aged men hunkered over what looks like a green and white-checked plastic placemat.

Playing the white pieces is Joe Winwood, a Carnegie Mellon University [*] communications technician. On the greens (which on a regulation board would be the blacks) is Tom Martinak (CAS ’78) business administrator and king of the Pitt Chess Club, which he helped found in 1974.

I watch them play for a few minutes, not wanting to violate chess etiquette. Brows furrowed in concentration, their hands flit from board to piece to clock to board in smooth, practiced motions. Pieces are picked off, palmed, and arranged in neat armies to the sides of the placemats. An athletic-looking blonde girl approaches the table. By the looks of her fuzzy pink V-neck sweater and powdery soft skin, I figure she must be lost. But the guys look up from their game and greet her warmly.

Pitt freshman and avid chess club member Nicole Solomon (D.J. Case photo)
This is Nicole Solomon, an 18-year-old freshman studying bioengineering and one of the club’s newest members. She’s one of a few women who play with the club. She’s a perfectionist, she says, and likes chess because it’s a game that can’t be mastered. But that doesn’t mean she can’t win. A couple of weeks ago, she checkmated a 7-year-old boy and made him cry. He ran from the room sobbing, “I hate you! I hate you because you are a stupid girl!” As the French proverb says, “You cannot play chess if you are kindhearted.” Did I mention that Solomon also has a black belt in karate?

While the showing is sparse for practice, many of the club’s 97 members are at the following week’s Pittsburgh Chess League tournament, held in the Union’s assembly room. There, teams from Pitt and throughout western Pennsylvania do battle.

I’m the only curious passerby, craning my neck to get a look at what they’re doing. It’s so quiet you can hear the players breathing, shifting their pieces across the board, punching the button on the clock at the end of their moves.

Nicole is the only female I see at the tournament; otherwise, the players are remarkably diverse in age and nationality. According to Martinak, most of them, young and old, are drawn to chess for the same reasons. “You can’t figure it out,” he says, throwing his hands in the air. “Even computers can’t figure out chess completely. The possibilities are endless.”
—Jessica Mesman

William T. Green Jr. and his son, Matthew
Father and Son

His father would tramp through deep Massachusetts snow, leaving a trail of footprints for the son to follow. The son remembers it being hard to keep up.

The father’s story is the stuff of legends: Harvard University professor of orthopaedic surgery, orthopaedic surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital Medical Center [*], maybe the best-known pediatric orthopaedist of his day. So when his time came, William T. Green Jr. chose Harvard Medical School. Part of the draw, the son says, was simply to know his father better.

In the operating room, in the classroom, the father became the son’s teacher. And like his father, the son chose orthopaedics. It was the son’s job, as a young medical student, to go find plaster when his mother fell in the kitchen and broke her arm and the father had to set it. Much later, the younger Green found that a library had mistakenly indexed both Greens. Father and son – their research was cataloged under one name. That made the son smile.

The son went on to chair the department of orthopaedic surgery at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh [*], serve as president of the Eastern Orthopaedic Association, and become a lay leader in the Episcopal Church. Back home, the father retired, his mind failing way too soon. When the son came home to tell his father about some big awards that he’d won, the father was past understanding.

Before retiring from Children’s Hospital in 1997, the son had picked up an MBA from the Katz Graduate School of Business. He received his MA from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health last year—at age 67. He was the oldest student in that class, and one of the school’s oldest graduates. He says learning is its own end, a “joyful growth,” and it’s a kick knowing he can compete with students half his age.

Even now, those footprints in the Massachusetts snow are never far away. “I had to take awfully big steps to keep up with him,” the son says of his late father. It’s only a little easier today. More often, the son thinks about the disease that dismantled his father’s mind, and his own likelihood of being affected. He shrugs. The son says he will continue to learn, to strive, and to feed a spirit of joyful growth in others as long as he is able. That would’ve been his dad’s way, too.
—Kris B. Mamula

The Odyssey

Four young women at the William Pitt Union offer free lollipops and LifeSavers with nothing more to buy, ever, but they’re having problems getting Pitt students to stop. Possibly because students suspect there’s a catch.

Nope. There are no strings attached. It’s just a “random act of kindness,” says Angela Elam, president of Pitt’s undergraduate chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. It’s one of a series of “kindnesses” the sisters have performed since the sorority’s reactivation last October.

They’ve raised money for breast-cancer research, collected winter coats for needy families, and provided toys to children of battered women. AKA’s national charter calls on members to reach out to their communities—an idea expressed in the sorority’s motto: “Service to Mankind.”

America’s first Greek organization for African-American women, Alpha Kappa Alpha [*] was founded at Howard University in Washington, DC, in 1908. Pitt’s undergraduate chapter, the ninth oldest in the world is called “Iota,” appropriately enough, after the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet. Pitt’s graduate chapter—Alpha Alpha Omega—sprang from the undergraduate group and celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.

Throughout the years, membership in Iota Chapter ebbed and flowed. There were years when the sorority was dormant and, in 1998, the chapter was deactivated after a hazing incident. “The national (organization) strongly wanted us to come back” because of Iota’s deep history, says Elam, a junior from southern Virginia majoring in neuroscience and Spanish.

They’re off to a good start. Of the 15 women in the Iota chapter, four have GPAs of 3.5 or better. Several, like Tanneil Davis of Philadelphia, have aunts or cousins who were AKA sisters, and they’re aware of their responsibility to carry on the sorority’s legacy. “I saw the people in my family. I saw how they acted, doing community service and helping other people,” says Davis, a junior majoring in nursing. “This is what I’ve wanted to do since I was little.”

South Africa’s Table Mountain
Sea Lesson

At first glance, the way Table Mountain [*] towers over Cape Town reminds me of how the Cathedral of Learning towers over Pitt. I’ve come to port here as part of my Semester at Sea (SAS) journey.

Close by is a mall. Farther away are the buildings of downtown. But I look to where all the buildings stop and the green base of the mountain arches up to crusty rocks: the backdrop to many ways
of life.

Here on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront[*]—a short walk from the ship—Table Mountain sets a chic stage. Restaurants, expensive by South African standards, line the dock. Nearby, scuba diving, shark diving, and sailing tours come and go. The airy mall provides all sorts of entertainment at bargain prices.

A few days later, I don’t feel like a tourist, even though I’m having lunch at a restaurant with an SAS friend from the University of Michigan. We are on a break from our temporary positions as nursery staff at St. Anne’s, a shelter and daycare for single mothers and their children. My friend and I smell like baby spit up.

We rocked babies to sleep all morning. As soon as they were almost asleep, one would start crying. After that it was dominoes. The cry traveled from crib to crib around the room. No wonder. The children sleep two to a crib.

In the afternoon, I help take three toddlers to a nearby playground. They play at the foot of Table Mountain while their mothers look for work. These are the more fortunate children; many others are in the arms of older siblings on street corners. That could be the fate of the toddlers I watch. Faced with an unending demand, a few months of shelter is the most St. Anne’s can offer.

Around five o’clock the mothers return and take their children. My SAS friend and I return downtown. In the background, Table Mountain makes this one of the most scenic cities in the world. A tourist’s market sells wooden carvings, banana leaf pictures, painted salad bowls—all things “African.” Nearby is a café where one can sit and rest from carrying all those packages.

Enjoy the view. Drink some coffee. Eat dessert. Feel the tinge of guilt. Remember the children of St. Anne’s. Remember other children just a few miles from here. They play on railroad tracks in front of scattered lean-tos. A brick wall draws a line around them, their families, and their homes. Outside, they see Table from a slightly different angle. In reality, they see the mountain from a different world.
—Susanne DeVore

Devore is a senior at Pitt, majoring in Writing.

*—Denotes an external link. Links to external Web sites are offered for informational purposes only and the information there is not guaranteed or endorsed by the University of Pittsburgh or its affiliates.

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