Archive for the ‘News’ Category

University prepares to host VP debate

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 | Kat Zhao
Sam Guzik

As the nation waits for Senators John McCain and Barack Obama to choose their respective running mates, no one has a better reason to be curious about the choice than the students, faculty and staff of Washington University, which will be hosting the vice presidential debate on October 2 in anticipation of the 2008 election cycle.

“Because we have the only vice presidential debate, I think it is going to be very interesting to the general public,” Assistant to the Chancellor Rob Wild said. “This is the only time that the vice presidential candidates will have a chance to square off.”

Wild heads the Vice Presidential Debate Steering Committee, a team of 40 University community members in charge of planning and preparing the campus for the debate.

The committee includes representation from public affairs, facilities, the Career Center, the Washington University Police Department, Student Union and the Graduate Professional Council, among others.

“It’s a very experienced committee,” Wild said. “Most of the committee has actually been involved in the planning and facilitation of other debates.”

The University, which hosted presidential debates in 1992, 2000 and 2004, has been selected consecutively by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) to host a debate for every presidential election cycle since 1992. The 1996 debate was canceled after candidates reached a decision to reduce the number of debates from three to two.

The University holds the record among all institutions of higher education for hosting the most national debates.

“We are viewed by the [CPD] as having set the gold standard for hosting debates,” Wild said. “And because our students, our faculty and our staff are so welcoming, we are viewed as a really great place to host a debate.”

The steering committee’s vice chair, Steve Givens, the associate vice chancellor for public affairs, was closely involved with planning for the 2000 and 2004 debates. According to Wild, some members of the committee were even involved with the 1992 debate.

This year’s vice presidential debate will be held in a debate hall constructed within the Athletic Complex Field House, the same location as in previous years. According to Wild, 10 days before the debate, the area surrounding the Athletic Complex and the space inside will begin to undergo the necessary physical changes for the debate.

Construction inside the Field House will include the installation of a stage where the debate will take place as well as various platforms for national news networks. The Recreational Gym will be transformed into a space for the general news media in what is known as “Spin Alley.”

The costs of revamping the Athletic Complex, providing additional security and other preparations will make the debate an event of no small expense, Wild says, but it is one that “is important to the life of our campus.”

“Wash. U. is taking every opportunity that comes [its way] to become more politically active,” President of the College Democrats and junior Ben Guthorn said. “The debate will integrate the campus and increase our political awareness and awareness of this ongoing election.”

According to Guthorn, the College Democrats hope to use the opportunity to recruit more members and to show students how they can effect political change. Senior Charis Fischer, the president of the College Republicans, feels the same way.

“[We] will use this opportunity to encourage people who haven’t been politically active in the past to come out and express their support for John McCain,” Fischer said. “It may seem like all college students are crazy for Obama, but we want to show that there are a lot of us who aren’t afraid to think for ourselves and vote for John McCain.”

Guthorn believes that students, faculty and other members of the community, no matter which side they support, will be roused and motivated by the debate’s high energy atmosphere.

“Whatever they think the word ‘change’ means, they will definitely feel excited [from] the political climate,” he said. “People will feel it and they will know that they have to care and that they have to make a decision about their vote.”

Wild added that the activity surrounding the debate will energize students.

“The level of excitement of students in the past has been very, very high. You will see a lot of news media on campus. There is a lot of attention centered on us,” Wild said.

According to Wild, the CPD gives a certain number of entry tickets into the debate to the University, which has promised to give every single ticket to University students through a random lottery. Wild does not know how many tickets the University will receive this year, although the steering committee has received more than 3,000 applications so far.

The debate steering committee is also currently accepting applications online for student, faculty and staff volunteers for the debate. To learn about volunteer opportunities, visit

Danforth Center set to open

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 | Perry Stein
Sam Guzik

After much anticipation, the Danforth University Center-a $34 million undertaking-will open as scheduled on August 11.

The tenants of this three-story 116,000 square foot gothic styled building will begin moving in on July 14, with the move being completed on July 21 and 28.

“Everything appears to be on schedule and going as planned. Clayco, the construction company, has been a great company with whom to work. Their folks could not be more accommodating and responsive,” Vice Chancellor Jill Carnaghi wrote in an e-mail. “As in any project, there’s been a few minor delays and/or a few questions along the way.”

The new University center will house a variety of meeting rooms, the Career Center, and offices for event services, the Office of Student Activities, Student Union and media groups like WUTV, Student Life and the Hatchet Yearbook. The Center will also include three dining options, including a sit down bistro offering alcoholic beverages, and the much-hyped ‘fun room,’ a room in which students will be able to relax and recreate.

“I got to tour the DUC [during] one of the last couple of weeks of school and it looked great. There was a lot more space for Student Union, and just a lot more space for everyone,” incoming Sophomore Class President Nate Ferguson said. “It’s going to be very nice, very good conditions to work in.”

In between the time that the tenants move in during July and the building’s official opening in August, access is limited to only those who have offices within the building, according to Carnaghi. Furniture and equipment will be coming into the building at this time, so tenants will be required to wear an issued lanyard and show identification in order to enter the building.

To celebrate the opening of the DUC, there will be many activities occurring in and around the building. “SUp All Night,” hosted by Student Union (SU), is scheduled for the evening of August 24 and will be intended to introduce the building to incoming students.

“Our goal is to get all members of the campus community into the building during its first year. We think there is something for just about everyone within or in one of the courtyards around the center,” Carnaghi said.

Although the building will be officially opening in the fall, its dedication is scheduled for April 2009.

The University Center is to be named in honor of Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth and his late wife Elizabeth “Ibby” Danforth. Dr. Danforth served as Chancellor of the University from 1971 to 1995, right before the tenure of Chancellor Wrighton. The Danforth Campus, the main campus serving undergraduates, is also named for the Danforth family.

The completion of the DUC marks the first time a building on campus is Leadership Energy and Environmental (LEED) gold certified, the second-highest certification an environmentally-friendly designed building can receive.

As a LEED gold certified building, the DUC will have improved water and energy use efficiencies that surpass state and federal standards. In addition, recycled material was used throughout the construction process.

Currently, construction is underway, but is in its final stages.

“If you walk around it now, particularly the north side, you’re able to look in the windows and get a sense of what the first floor is shaping up to look like,” Carnaghi wrote.

For the class of 2012, WU worth waiting for

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 | Sam Guzik

With the number of national college applications at an all-time high, schools across the country-including Washington University-are using waiting lists more than ever to prevent incoming classes from growing too large.

Though administrators planned to use the wait list for that purpose, its role was compounded by the fact that the most selective colleges and universities also admitted significant numbers of students from their waiting lists.

At Harvard, for example, the Harvard Crimson reported that more than 200 students were admitted from the wait list; according to The New York Times, both Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania expect to take approximately 90 students off the wait list.

The wait list admissions at the most competitive schools like Harvard and Princeton have trickled down to other institutions as students have backed away from acceptances at those other schools late in the admissions season.

Furthermore, the University and its peer institutions “made fewer offers of admission up-front, and used the wait list to balance their enrollment to the right size,” wrote Nanette Tarbouni, director of admissions at Washington University, in an e-mail.

Tarbouni added that by relying more on the wait list, schools have much finer control over the number of students that will make up the incoming class.

“Since our freshman enrollment can vary a bit, and because it’s impossible to have a freshman class be exactly a certain size-we employ the use of the wait list,” Tarbouni wrote.

Even though many students were prepared for the prospect of being placed on the wait list, the experience challenged them.

“Our college counselors had already told us to expect being put on the wait list,” Linda Donaldson, an incoming freshman from Glendale, Calif. who was admitted to the University from the wait list, said. “It’s a little difficult because you don’t know whether to start getting excited for one school or whether to wait to hear back,” she said.

Though being placed on a wait list draws out the stress of applying to colleges, it is a tool that-when it works out-is beneficial for students.

“I enrolled at the University of Michigan and I wasn’t completely happy about going there,” incoming freshman James Ross said. “It was definitely worth the wait.”

Tarbouni also sees the wait list’s positive side.

“We love using the wait list-it allows us to make a few more students happy and we love to admit students,” Tarbouni wrote.

The increased prominence of the wait list comes as the University looks to contain the class size around an estimate of approximately 1,350 students. In 2007, the Chancellor announced plans to reduce the student body to a target of 5,800 undergraduates over five years.

Three years ago the University admitted 1470 students who accepted admission to the class of 2010-more than 100 students larger than expected-causing a housing crunch and a situation that the University has since hoped to avoid.

The final size for the class of 2012 is not yet known, though it is expected to be between 1380 and 1400 students; the exact number of students admitted from the wait list is also unknown.

According to Special Assistant to the Chancellor Rob Wild the University is still working to meet the goal of reducing the overall student body, though each individual class will vary.

“Washington University does not have plans to grow significantly the size of its undergraduate class, but each year there will be fluctuations in the number of first year students who choose to come to Washington University,” Wild wrote in an e-mail to Student Life. “As with most universities, it is hard to predict the exact final number.”

WU efforts take NASA to Mars

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 | Puneet Kollipara

Many students begin their workdays at 9 a.m. every morning this summer, but for students like sophomore Kirsten Siebach, every day is unique.

Her unorthodox schedule comes because she is one of four Washington University earth and planetary sciences students who traveled to Arizona this summer to assist NASA with the Phoenix spacecraft’s mission to Mars. Because a Martian day is approximately 40 minutes longer than an earth day, many of the teams working on the mission must live in Mars time, meaning each day’s schedule starts later than the previous day’s.

“Sometimes we are working in the middle of the night and sleeping during the day. This makes for an interesting schedule, and it has been an adjustment,” Siebach said. “Sometimes you feel like you’re living on your own planet and it’s hard to keep in touch with family and friends, but the mission goes on, and in a week or two we’re on ‘Earth time’ again.”

Ever since NASA landed the Phoenix spacecraft on May 25, the four students as well as two University faculty, Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences Ray Arvidson and computer systems analyst Thomas Stein, have joined other academics from around the world at the University of Arizona to help Phoenix in its mission to learn more about the habitability of the planet’s polar region and to analyze the Martian soil.

Arvidson serves as chair of NASA’s Phoenix landing site working group. He also is co-investigator for the craft’s robotic arm, which will dig up soil and ice samples.

Stein works with the Phoenix geology theme group and also archives data for NASA’s Planetary Data System.

The four students who traveled to Arizona include Siebach, earth and planetary sciences doctoral candidate Selby Cull, first year graduate student Tabatha Heet and junior Rebecca Greenberger.

Heet has a long history of involvement in the Phoenix mission. In the fall of 2006, as a junior earth and planetary sciences major at Washington University, Heet used HiRISE, a feature of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, in order to view rocks on the Martian surface as small as 1.5 yards across.

Using a software program called ENVI, Heet counted large rocks that could have posed a threat to landing the spacecraft to determine a relatively safe landing site. She also worked with scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to create a an automatic, computerized counting method.

“The rock counting was tedious but overall I enjoyed it because I knew I was doing something important and useful to the mission,” Heet said.

Thanks in part to Heet’s work, the spacecraft endured a shaky but safe landing on May 25, and it also opened its solar panels.

“We knew going in that the biggest threat rocks posed to Phoenix was inhibiting the opening of the solar arrays,” Heet said. “The best moment for me so far was seeing an image a couple hours after Pheonix landed of the solar arrays deployed.”

Heet will be a graduate student at the University in the fall, and she hopes to base some of her graduate research on Phoenix mission data.

The four students currently serve as documentarians for the Phoenix mission. According to Siebach and Greenberger, common duties include taking notes during meetings and compiling reports on the meetings afterward, as well as helping to name geological features using a set of fairy tale themed names.

As a documentarian, Siebach keeps spreadsheets that explain past and future “sol-to-sol plans,” where a sol is a Martian day. She also tracks the completion of mission success objectives, names of features and targets and changes to the Martian surface.

Greenberger says she keeps track of what the Phoenix spacecraft must delete every day. Because the spacecraft has a limited amount of flash memory, it can only store a portion of the data it collects before shutting down for the day.

“A priority list determines what makes it into flash, and when I am the documentarian, I figure out what will be auto-deleted,” Greenberger said.

To prepare for the mission, students participated in training sessions and derived useful knowledge from University classes.

“Planetary science is a very multidisciplinary science, so I have used several of my classes while working here, including, of course, basic science and math classes like chemistry, physics, and calculus, earth and planetary science classes like Earth and the Environment, land dynamics, biogeochemistry and English classes that have taught me presentation skills,” Siebach said.

Greenberger also credited Arvidson with making sense of the mission.

“Ray’s remote sensing class has been particularly useful because everything we do on Mars involves remote sensing,” Greenberger said. “However, the classes I have taken that focus more on earth sciences are also useful because some of the same processes that have occurred on earth have also occurred on Mars.”

For the students, the experience has been unforgettable.

“The opportunity to work on the Phoenix mission has been incredible. I never thought that I would be able to work on a mission like this, and certainly not when I was 20,” Greenberger said. “It is also a great to be able to work with so many scientists and engineers every day and learn from them.”

Freshmen prefer Obama in November

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 | Ben Sales

This year’s incoming freshman class has political opinions which match the rest of the Washington University student body, according to a recent poll conducted by Student Life.

Nearly 80 percent of freshmen plan to vote for Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, in November’s general election while Senator John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, would win 15 percent of the freshman vote.

These figures mirror the results of a poll taken in March that surveyed the entire campus, in which Obama, who was not yet the presumptive nominee, won 78 percent of student support. Nineteen percent of respondents to that poll supported Senator McCain.

In the wake of the recent housing crisis and the fall of the dollar’s relative value, freshmen, like a plurality of University students, identified the economy and globalization as the most pressing issues in the upcoming presidential election; more than one-third of freshman named that pair as the most pressing facing the nation. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the next most selected issue, received less than half as much attention, with 16 percent of respondents calling the wars the campaign’s top issue.

Despite Senator McCain’s vocal support for the U.S. military campaigns in the Middle East, only six percent of his supporters said that the wars were the election’s top issue, although almost 85 percent of them believed that McCain would handle the wars better than Obama.

Nearly 82 percent of Obama supporters responded that he would handle the wars better.

McCain supporters also responded that he would deal with traditional Republican priorities such as taxes, the economy and managing the federal government better than Obama, though they also felt that Obama would handle social inequality and poverty better than McCain would.

There were no issues that Obama supporters felt McCain would handle better than the Democratic nominee.

Two-thirds of freshmen either identified with the Democratic Party or responded that they lean toward the Democratic Party, while 14 percent of respondents either identify as or lean toward the Republican Party. Almost a quarter of respondents neither aligned with nor leaned toward either party. Sixty percent of unaligned voters supported Obama.

Among Republican respondents, 81 percent considered themselves moderately Republican; 56 percent of Democrats consider themselves moderately Democratic.

This is the first Student Life poll this year and the first following Obama’s clinching of the Democratic nomination at the beginning of June. While the long Democratic nomination contest between Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton of New York seemed to have little effect on freshman candidate preferences-it affected 12 percent of respondents’ choices-56 percent of respondents felt that the six-month string of Democratic primary races hurt the party.

The general preference for Obama among freshmen corresponds with their view of the current U.S. government. Over 60 percent of respondents believe the country is going the wrong direction, and nearly 85 percent disapprove of the job that President George W. Bush is doing. A third of respondents also disapproved of the Democrat-controlled US Congress, with nine percent approving of Congress’s job so far.

Two-thirds of McCain’s supporters were women, while an equal number of men and women supported Obama.

The most recent Student Life poll data was collected through an e-mail sent to the undergraduate student population between June 23 and June 29. There were 342 responses to the poll, allowing for a theoretical margin of error of 4.61 percent.

DUC eateries aim to diversify WU dining

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 | Melanie Spergel
Sam Guzik

While Washington University ranked 10th for food quality in the 2008 Princeton Review, with new food options coming in the Danforth University Center, the school may receive a higher ranking in the future.

The food options in the Danforth University Center (DUC) will focus on providing healthy and tasty food to students with combination of new dishes and meals that students already find popular.

The food court in the DUC will resemble the former Mallinckrodt Food Court, which had four stations, each serving a different type of cuisine, but expanded options will add another dimension to the DUC stations.

The DUC’s Asian station, for example, will contain a dim sum bar and will also be home to a sushi chef who will prepare pre-packaged sushi boxes throughout the day, rather than all at once in the morning as is currently the case.

“I am excited about having so many new food options in the fall. It is definitely a welcome change because, especially for dinner, I would love to have access to similar stations to those of Mallinckrodt now,” sophomore Taylor Martin said.

The lineup for the DUC’s eateries was decided in part by two student committees, the DUC Dining and Campus Food committees, which are based in the school’s Dining Services office and are headed by junior Colin Towery and junior Ted Simmons, both former Student Union senators.

In addition to the five stations in its food court, the DUC will contain a cafe and bistro. The cafe will be the replacement for the current Hilltop Bakery, which will be closed next due to construction affecting most of Mallinckrodt, and will offer smoothies, coffee, pastries and bagels.

The Bistro-named Ibby’s after one of the building’s namesakes Elizabeth Danforth-marks one of the biggest changes in campus dining. The Bistro will offer sit-down wait service that seeks to appeal to the entire University community with an option that is not provided anywhere else on campus.

“This could provide a novel way for students to interact with their professors outside of the classroom,” Towery said.

Along with the Bistro and Cafe, one of the four main food court stations will remain open into the night to provide students with options for dinner on campus; the menu may include breakfast foods like omelets, eggs any style and pancakes.

Towery added that the DUC’s eating options are still a work in progress.

“The student DUC Dining Committee will be considering registered data over the course of the fall 2008 semester in order to make recommendations to Bon Appetit on both hours changes and quite possibly menu changes as well,” Towery said.

As part of those changes, students had the opportunity to meet last year with Dining Service’s food consultant, Joyce Fasano, and share their ideas with her. Students will get to continue to shape dining in the DUC this fall as they christen the new building. According to Towery, the Senate Campus Services Committee will host a food forum a few weeks into the fall semester.

“Though I am no longer a senator, I will continue to serve on both committees, as well as work closely with the new Executive Board of Student Union, to improve the dining experience on campus,” Towery said.

New courses mix creativity with traditional subjects

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 | Dan Woznica
WUSTL Photo Services

The University has added a number of courses to its curriculum for this coming semester, including classes related to the vice presidential debate which will be held on campus in October.

There are also new freshman Focus seminars and 300- and 400-level Arts & Sciences courses that will investigate a variety of updated subjects.

“We’re excited about the new courses,” Trevor Bilhorn, curriculum coordinator for the College of Arts & Sciences, said. “And we’re glad to have a vibrant curriculum.”

One of the most topical courses being offered is an 80-person class in the Olin Business School titled “The Business of Presidential Elections.” According to Steven Malter, who will be teaching the course, enrolled students will be examining the impact of the 2008 Presidential election on the world of business.

The class will include lessons on marketing and branding of the campaigns, polling and the differences between the candidates in their healthcare, tax and trade policies and how those policies will impact global business.

Although at this point enrolled students will not have a way to participate directly in the activity surrounding the vice presidential debate, Malter says that discussions are underway about ways to engage class members with the event, which will be held on campus on October 2.

“Americans and their Presidents,” a new freshman Focus course, will also study issues relevant to the nation’s highest office. Other new Focus courses to be offered include “Argentina: Past and Present,” an historical survey of Argentina that will culminate in a spring break trip to Buenos Aires, and “Phage Hunters,” a biology course in which students will take part in a national experiment organized by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

Freshmen enrolled in “Phage Hunters” will collect bacteriophages in the soil outside of Rebstock Hall, then conduct lab work on the microscopic organisms, including isolation of their DNA. Upon completion of the course, instructors and one student from the class will attend a HHMI-hosted research symposium, and one of the collected phages will be selected for genome sequencing.

“Students will get experience in the field of genomics, an increasingly important area of biology research,” Professor Kathy Hafer, who will be team-teaching the course alongside several other members of the Department of Biology, wrote in an e-mail.

Hafer also notes the value of taking a more hands-on approach to an intro-level Biology course.

“I think the phage hunters course will be a more realistic experience with biology research than the typical introductory biology lab course,” said Hafer.

Several other new science courses have been added to the Arts & Sciences curriculum that deal with current issues, including a 100-level “Introduction To Global Climate Change In the 21st Century” in the Earth and Planetary Sciences department, and 400-level “Topics in the History of Eugenics” in Biology and Biomedical Sciences.

Other upper-level courses to be offered include 300-level “Advanced Hindi I,” a 400-level Anthropology course entitled “Tobacco: History, Anthropology, and Politics of a Global Epidemic,” and the 300-level “Hooking Up: Healthy Exploration or Harmful Exploitation?” which will be offered in the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (formerly Women and Gender Studies) program.

According to Professor Susan Stiritz, “Hooking Up” will examine young adult sexual culture through a study of students’ own sexual cultures, as well as through reading the relevant literature in gender theory and sexuality studies.

“We will explore if hooking up differs along axes of gender, sexual orientation, class, religion, and ethnicity-as well as class status,” wrote Stiritz in an e-mail. “I hope students will leave the course understanding better the cultural phenomenon of hooking up and its historical contexts.”

That course, like many of the other new classes being offered this semester, is already a popular one as measured by enrollment, with as many students on its wait list-22-as there are students in the class.

Wait lists aside, however, it seems that the biggest dilemma with all the new courses being offered this semester may be picking between them.

Ifill to moderate VP debate

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 | Ben Sales

Gwen Ifill, a senior correspondent for PBS’s “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” and moderator and managing editor of that network’s “Washington Week,” will moderate the vice presidential debate at Washington University on October 2, the Commission on Presidential Debates announced on Tuesday, August 5.

Ifill, who moderated the 2004 debate between John Edwards and Dick Cheney, worked at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Herald, the Baltimore Evening Sun and NBC before coming to PBS. She also serves on the boards of the Harvard Institute for Politics, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Museum of Television and Radio and the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. She graduated from Simmons College in Boston.

The vice presidential debate will be 90 minutes long, divided into eight ten-minute segments each devoted to one issue-both domestic and international-with time for closing statements by each candidate. The candidates have yet to be determined. The debate will begin at 8 p.m. Central Time on October 2.

Jim Lehrer of the NewsHour, Tom Brokaw of NBC News and Bob Schieffer of CBS News will host the presidential debates.

Also on August 5, the Obama campaign formally accepted the Commission on Presidential Debates’ proposal for three presidential and one vice presidential debate. The McCain campaign had previously accepted the debate format.

McCain camp proposes holding presidential debate at WU

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 | Ben Sales

Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), speaking on behalf of Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign on Wednesday, proposed holding the first presidential debate at Washington University on Oct. 2 if a settlement is not reached on plans to delay the debate at University of Mississippi.

Debates in limbo

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 | Ben Sales

Republican presidential nominee John McCain upended the presidential campaign this week, threatening not to attend the first presidential debate-set to take place tonight-should Congress not reach a deal by that time on the proposed federal bailout plan meant to alleviate the current economic crisis.