Profiles

Food For Thought

Vassar Quarterly • Spring, 2009

When Vassar Student Association (VSA) president Jimmy Kelly '09 walks into his student office every day, he sees two giant posters of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi. "I like to think they keep watch over me," Kelly says. "I'm driven by what they've done." At just 21 years old, Kelly himself has a list of accomplishments that seems to grow by the day, though he is the last one to flaunt his resume and is self-effacing when asked about awards. "I'm very fortunate and thankful for what I have, so I feel like it's my duty to give back however I can."

Kelly's anti-poverty work began while he was attending high school in nearby Pleasant Valley. While working at a local grocery store, he noticed that shoppers kept coming in with books of coupons and double coupons. "They'd come up to me at checkout with a pile of groceries that were on sale, and they'd use the coupon and walk out with an entire cart of groceries for 10 dollars or less, sometimes for free," he explains. "I thought this was incredible and saw how it could help local agencies. So I went back to school and organized a club junior year to start cutting coupons in bulk, and then buying tons of groceries each week at little to no cost. It got to be so crazy; we were just wiping out the shelves every week." Eventually, the group started working with store managers to put an order aside. Operation Donation was in full swing, and the year Kelly graduated from high school, the club had raised $17,000 worth of groceries for local organizations, spending only $81 in the process. "This is when I knew I wanted to be involved in social change," he says.

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Food For Thought

Going to the Source

On Campus • April, 2008

Surrounded by shelves of rare books and documents, Ron Patkus is hesitant to choose a favorite. "People are always asking me that question, but I don't know what to pick!" says the associate director of the libraries for special collections and adjunct associate professor of history. Considering some of the choices - first editions of Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Charles Dickens; original Audubon and Shakespeare folios; and one of only two known copies of an early printing of the United States Constitution - it's easy to see why Patkus is hesitant.

And the list continues to grow. Currently, Special Collections has a unique exhibit devoted to the friendship between Walt Whitman and John Burroughs (see related story), and the space also houses the month-long exhibit of John and Abigail Adamses' letters, on loan from the Massachusetts Historical Society. To complement this exhibit, Patkus has displayed pieces from Vassar's own collection of Americana, including a rare copy of the United States Constitution from 1787, acquired by Vassar a decade ago as part of a larger collection. "When we realized we had the Constitution, we knew we had to immediately send it out for conservation," says Patkus, explaining that it needed to be properly cleaned, treated, and housed, though it was still in good condition. After a company in Boston treated it, they sent it back, instructing the courier to drive directly from Boston to Poughkeepsie without making any stops. "When the courier arrived," recalls Patkus, "you could tell he was wondering what he was carrying. And he said, 'Geez, I must have the Declaration of Independence here!' I said, 'It's not the Declaration of Independence; it's actually a copy of the Constitution!'"

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Going to the Source

The Dish on Chef Mike Conlin

On Campus • October, 2008

When Vassar's head chef Mike Conlin prepares a recipe, he rarely adds a dash of this or a tablespoon of that. This chef cooks in pounds and gallons. A typical dinner entrée at the All Campus Dining Center (ACDC) serves 240 to 300 portions with vegetable dishes and starches prepared to serve 120-150. Recently, Conlin was responsible for cooking 20 cases of gnocchi at the pasta station. "At 10 pounds a case, that's a lot of pasta," says Conlin. "And it's a trick to hold it long enough so it's still cooked just right for the last serving without turning into a giant ball of goo."

Conlin has worn the head chef's hat since 1991, but first stepped into Vassar's kitchen in 1982 as a general kitchen worker. "Back then, the dish room was upstairs so I used to run plates and dishes up and down the elevator all day," he recalls. "I came in with some experience working at a restaurant, so I was really excited to start working with the chefs at Vassar." Conlin surpassed the job of chef's helper and went on to become a cook, preparing breakfast and short order food at one of the stations. Eventually he moved into the chef's position before being promoted to head chef. "With the promotion, I went from being in charge of one station to all of the stations," he says. He also oversees the chefs, cooks, and kitchen help. "Some of them have been here longer than I have. The kitchen's full of characters, but they're really more like family to me than workers."

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The Dish on Chef Mike Conlin

Celebrating Community

On Campus • November, 2008

As a Poughkeepsie singer's soaring vibrato fills the studio of a local radio station, the program's host, John Flowers, is grinning from ear to ear. With the help of Vassar's field work students, Flowers, a community organizer, is busy planning a Halloween party for the community at Poughkeepsie's Family Partnership Center. As they gear up for the holiday bash, he'll showcase the party's local singers and performers on his weekday radio program, where he shares the mic with student cohosts.

"These events and programs make a difference in so many people's lives," says Flowers. "I tell everyone on the radio that Vassar College has helped support events in the community through Community Works and that students are involved in everything I do," he says, adding that each year, he works with 60 to 100 Vassar students. "I couldn't do it without them."

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Celebrating Community

Serendipity and Circumstance in the Crafting of a Career

What's Happening at Vassar, Vol. 24, #2 • Winter 2007

Crouched beneath a tight rock overhang, Lucy Johnson carefully measures the length and width of the dark space surrounding her. For the past year, the professor of anthropology has been working with students at the Mohonk Preserve to survey the ridge and identify rock shelters used by some of the earliest people as they moved through the Shawangunks. As each piece of the puzzle falls into place, Johnson and her student researchers come closer to uncovering the travelers' route and understanding how they used the land.

Growing up, Leah Weissburg '08 liked to wrap her friends in toilet paper. "I would wrap them and then give a presentation on how to mummify someone," she says. "I was definitely interested in archeology at an early age." Since then, Weissburg, an anthropology major, has traveled to Israel for a two-month long excavation, and later to Belize, with the help of a grant through Vassar, to continue her field work. During her time at Vassar, she's worked closely with Lucy Johnson, helping to dig and map the sites at Mohonk, while working in the lab to carefully analyze the pottery, arrow points, and flakes they recovered. Last summer, Weissburg recorded and analyzed students' notes, drawings, and field journals in an effort to compile their research from Mohonk. "You have to be meticulous. A lot of people hate the lab work, but I don't mind," she says, recalling the hours spent analyzing bird bones from Johnson's research in Alaska.

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Serendipity and Circumstance in the Crafting of a Career

Chris Roellke Hits a Home Run

What's Happening at Vassar, Vol. 25, #2 • Spring 2009

Chris Roellke, Vassar's new dean of the college, is a familiar face among students. Because of the college's shared governance, students and administrators each have a stake in community decisions, so it's not unusual to find Roellke meeting with the Vassar Student Association (VSA) or in the residence halls, leading a town hall style meeting with President Hill. Roellke, who arrived at Vassar in 1998, has also served as the chair of the Department of Education and the dean of studies, founded the Vassar College Urban Education Initiative program, taught as a professor of education, and lived with his family and 175 students as house fellows. We caught up with the dean, who gave us the inside scoop on what it's like to live in a residence hall, how he's helped connect Vassar to the local community, and why he could talk baseball all day.

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Chris Roellke Hits a Home Run

Spreading the Message

On Campus • February 2007

It's hard to believe that 12 years ago, the college had one central fax machine. "It was running all the time," recalls Cassie McIntyre, who sat across from it as it hummed incessantly during her shifts at the Message Center. "People were lined up, and some would come every day to send a fax, but they'd always need help." Back in the days before the Internet and cell phones, the Message Center was hopping. Packages and flowers filtered through the office.

The operators also received and forwarded all messages, scheduled fire drills, handled maintenance issues, handed out keys, and collected and stamped exams and papers for professors. "The switchboard never stopped. It was a mad house, but I loved it."

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Spreading the Message

Shooting for the Stars

Vassar Quarterly • Summer 2009

In 1878, Maria Mitchell, Vassar's first astronomy professor, and several female Vassar students battled July's intense heat as they journeyed over 2,000 miles by train to Colorado to observe a solar eclipse firsthand. Other astronomers traveled from around the world to witness the event, but except for a few of their wives, the Vassar crew was the only group of women. Mitchell, who also discovered a comet, was the first professional woman astronomer in the U.S.

Perhaps it was this anecdote that initially sparked Claire Webb '10 to do a sixth-grade research project on Maria Mitchell. After spending nights peering at the heavens through her own telescope, Webb eventually set her sights on Vassar, where a campus job at the observatory reaffirmed her love of astronomy. Then, last summer, Webb was presented with her own unique opportunity - the chance to don a space suit and work on a mission with NASA.

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Shooting for the Stars