August 19, 2013


Volume 8, Issue 2 – August 19, 2013



The Term Has Begun

The new academic year has officially begun, with a healthy enrollment (the word is that we’ll be up 6% or so in enrollment), a bumper crop of new faculty, and more than $1M in new capital equipment.  There are major improvements taking place in a number of facilities.  The rehab of Building I-1 almost complete—be sure to go see it.  New data centers being completed in Buildings I1, N, and Q; new labs and upgraded classrooms are available in Building G; and Building D is slated for a total overhaul starting this Spring.  The parking lots are crowded and I have a constant stream of students trying to get their schedules reinstated, to add a particular class, or to be reinstated after having been suspended.  In other words, it’s business as usual.

Monday began with an orientation for new international students, and it was a full house.  The orientation was in H-200, and every seat was filled with several students standing along the sides.  The largest number of students hail from the People’s Republic of China, but we also have students from Bermuda, the Bahamas, Columbia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Brazil, India, Pakistan, Israel, Syria, Georgia (the one on the Black Sea), Italy, and quite a few other places.  I always enjoy meeting international students—they’re an amazing bunch who are willing to not only go to college in a different country, but often in a different language!  I know I can count on everyone to make them feel welcome.

Also on Monday was the welcome reception for new faculty and staff in Building Q, which was attended by some 250 individuals, and ably organized by Debbie Patrick (Academic Affairs) and Dianne Summey (President’s Office).  This was followed by the first Faculty Meeting of the year, which in part due to the food, had a very good turnout!

At 5:00 Monday evening, I gave the welcome for the Part-Time Faculty Orientation, ably organized by Dawn Ramsey (Office of Faculty Growth and Development) and Julie Newell (SIS).  As always, the food was good, and much to my surprise, two out of the three people at the table I sat at were chemists teaching a course for us—one originally from Switzerland and one from Poland (the third faculty member was a Software Engineer).  It’s always great to meet with the part-time faculty.  Unlike many places, SPSU does right by them, paying reasonable part-time salaries compared to other universities, and also providing opportunities for advancement for those who want it—many of our part-timers have gone on to become full-time temporary faculty, lecturers, and tenure-track faculty.

Tuesday featured the annual State of the University speech by President Rossbacher, which focused on some of the major goals for the upcoming year:  increasing enrollment, improving retention and graduation rates, improving communications, enhancing inclusion and diversity, and raising more resources to support our vision and mission.  The speech was followed by a campus lunch at Stingers.

The remainder of the week (at least for me) focused on helping students as described earlier, moving tons of paper (reappointments, EIFs to hire part-time faculty, extra comp forms, etc.), and working on the full proposal for the Biotechnology degree (great job on the draft by Jen Louten) that should be going downtown this week.



Get That Writing Written Right!

Way back in my first year of teaching, I was assigned a Physics I lab in addition to my usual chemistry stuff.  One thing that I noticed immediately was that the students turned in truly dreadful lab reports.  The students made the usual horrendous physics and mathematics errors, compounded by terrible writing—not just grammatical errors and the like, but also lapses in logic and lack of a coherent argument.  After a week or two of this, I spoke to my Physics colleagues and decided to try an experiment:  henceforth, I would give each lab report two grades—up to 50 points for the science and up to 50 points for the writing—with the final grade being the sum of the two.  When students came to me for help before turning in their reports I’d try to help them, but I’d also refer them to the college’s Writing Center.

I expected that the referrals and having a separate writing grade would lead to improvements in the writing quality and it did, but something that surprised me was that the quality of the science improved too.  As the students became better writers, it helped them to clarify their thinking and to understand the material better, thereby improving both the writing and the science grades. I’ve seen similar results many times since that first year.

The reason I’m bringing up these ancient memories is that we’re opening a Writing Center at SPSU.  The Center is ably directed by Terry Carter (ETCMA) and staffed by ETCMA faculty (Jeanne Bohannon, Molly Brodak, Monique Logan, Cassie Race, Nancy Reichert, Laurie Strauss) as well as by folks from Georgia Highlands.  The Center is located in the Student Center, Room 184, and is open from 10:00 or 10:30 each morning to 6:00 or 6:30 in the evening, Monday through Thursday.  Students can just drop in, or make an online appointment with the person of their choice.

The Writing Center isn’t just a place for students who are weak in writing—it’s a place for all students, strong and weak, to improve their writing skills.  Given our STEM degree focus, it’s important that our students understand that writing is critical regardless of one’s field, especially if that field involves research.  Lots of our students (and perhaps some faculty) mistakenly believe that because one is a science/math major, that means they can’t also be a good writer—my physics students in my first year of teaching certainly thought that way.  Our writing faculty hear this all the time in their courses.

The Writing Center also offers workshops for discipline specific courses, maintains a library of writing resources for faculty, and offers professional development workshops.  The Center also has a strong online presence (check out their website at, where much of the above information is available, including an option to chat with a writing consultant for quick questions.  They are piloting a program to provide online writing consultations to graduate distance learners this fall, and hope to expand it to the undergraduate population next year.

So, if you’ve got some students who need some help with their writing, who need some focus and logic development, or who just want to improve their skills, you now know where to send ‘em.


Bem-vindo à Nossa Universidade

This past Friday, Raj Sashti (International Programs) and I had the pleasure of having lunch with Elaine Boing (from the Education, Science and Technology Cooperation Section of the Consulate General of Brazil in Atlanta) and welcoming four students who are studying with us for a year from the Brazil Scientific Mobility Program: Varuzzo Renato Da Silva (from Faculdade de Técnologia de Ourinhos, in Sao Paulo), Efraim De Souza Ramos Filho (from Instituto Federal de Pernambuco, Recife), Victor Silva Natal (from Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina), Jessica Pederneiras Moraes Rocha (from Instituto Federal de Educação, Ciência e Tecnologia da Paraíba).  Where do you take five Brazilians to lunch in Marietta?  To the Shish Kabob Middle Eastern restaurant, of course!

The students all speak excellent English and are majoring in engineering and computer science.  They’re currently engaged in the usual student things—learning how to get around town, shopping at Walmart, and meeting their fellow students.  I should mention that they all sharply disagreed as to where the best Carnival festival and nicest beaches are in Brazil—they all seemed to think they were in their home towns and states.  One very good thing—I’ll have more folks to discuss soccer with in the upcoming year.

By an amazing coincidence, I’ll be going to Brazil myself in a few weeks, on an Education Mission Delegation Trip from Fulton County, along with delegates from Agnes Scott, Brenau, Clark Atlanta, Clayton State, Emory, Fort Valley, Gwinnett, Georgia State, Morehouse, Oglethorpe, Spelman, and Young Harris.  The trip is jointly hosted by the U.S. Consulates in Rio and Recife, the governments of the States of Bahia and Pernambuco, and the American Chambers of Commerce in Salvador and Recife. We’ll be visiting universities in Bahia and Recife.  Ever since having seen Donald Duck and Carmen Miranda in Saludos Amigos when I was eight years old, I’ve wanted to visit Bahia, so you can be sure I’m looking forward to it.


Stuff Seen/Heard Lately

  • Jill, Mark and I finally went to see Iron Man Three in 3D this Sunday.  Jill really liked it (I think she has a thing for Robert Downey), but Mark and I thought it was only so-so.  I don’t want to give away a major aspect of the plotline, but the reported main villain, the Mandarin, was a major disappointment.  Still, the special effects were good, and there was a lot of action.
  • I picked up two more DVD box sets on Saturday.  The first was the complete run of M-Squad, a police show that ran from 1957-1960.  It starred Lee Marvin, who became a major TV and film star as a result.  The show is kinda like Dragnet, with Lt. Frank Ballinger (Marvin) providing the narration, and is also the major inspiration of the Police Squad movie spoofs.
  • The second is a new box set of “lost episodes” of the Jack Benny Show.  The Jack Benny Show is my favorite old-time radio show of all time, and one of my favorite TV shows as well.  Unfortunately, it is not commercially available in complete year sets—there are only scattered episodes that have entered the public domain available, usually in pretty crappy quality.  This set consists of 18 episodes in very nice quality that have never been rebroadcast since their original airings.  While some episodes of the Jack Benny Show were shot on film in studios, many were broadcast live, and still others were shot on videotape.  The videotapes (which were very expensive) were often erased and reused, so the live shows and videotaped ones were permanently lost unless they were captured on kinescopes, where a TV camera would film the show from a monitor, resulting in all kinds of odd effects.  The kinescopes have to be carefully restored, and many have deteriorated with age.  The episodes have lots of big-name guest stars, and one even featured Harry S Truman on the opening of his presidential library.  Great stuff!


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s trivia challenge focused on stars.  Our winner was Diane Payne (Advancement) with a fabulous five correct.  Honorable mention goes to Tom Nelson, Dean of Arts and Sciences, with 4.5 correct.  Here are the answers (missing word in bold):

  1. Song whose lyrics were from a poem by Francis Scott Key.  Star Spangled Banner
  2. Was on “The View” from 1997 to 2006.  Star Jones
  3. Echinoderms of class Asteroidea.  Sea stars, commonly known as starfish
  4. For “The Trouble with Tribbles”, it was 4523.3.  Star date on Star Trek
  5. One of the first comic strips created by a woman, it was about a newspaperwoman who had fabulous adventures and love affairs, and lasted from 1940 to 2011.  Brenda Starr



This Week’s Trivia Challenge

Today’s trivia challenge focuses on Georgia.  How have I missed that one as a topic up until now?  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO, since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Mascot of the University of Georgia
  2. Official song for the state, written by Hoagy Carmichael.
  3. Baseball player known as the “Georgia Peach”.
  4. Chartered in 1833, it goes from Augusta to Atlanta, with a branch to Athens.
  5. Artist known as the “Mother of American Modernism”, ironically born in Wisconsin.
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