Spring Summer 08

The Core


Off to the Races

Practice Makes Perfect

Portraits of the Artists


Editor's Note

Vox Populi

Irrefutable Fun

Broadened Horizons

The Searchers

Fair Trade

Diamond Anniversary

Project Help

From Maroon to Marine

Dinosaur Discoverer

Go Ask Alumni


For this installment we went and asked alumni: Which faculty member made a profound difference in your life—in your thinking, your path through the College, or your life after graduation?

“No doubt about it, Joe Axelrod’s Humanities 3 class (even more than Leo Nedelsky’s inspiring, mind-opening phy-sci seminars) had the most profound influence on my life. That I fell in love in that class and, between quarters, married Barbara Evans, AB’49, those 59 years ago is not inconsequential; but to both of us, it was Joe Axelrod who epitomized all the things we loved about the College and its Core curriculum at the heart of that stimulating community of scholars.”
Karl R. Zimmer, AB’50

“I think back to Jamie Barlowe, a Mellon postdoctoral fellow who taught my Form, Problem, Event humanities sequence. She influenced my writing career with a series of insights conveyed with sly wit.

“Some were related to work habits: Don’t wait till the day before to start your papers. (I’m still struggling with that one.) And: Before you turn your work in, let someone critique it—but not your mom.

“But mostly I recall how encouraging she was with her written comments, which were pointed, often mischievously so. And I recall her challenging assignments. Especially I remember one on Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’—which, she warned us, was about more than platitudes. She was particularly excited about one surprising nuance in the poem, but she declined to tell us what it was, in hopes that we would hit on it in our papers. Alas, I didn’t, and I must have been sick the day she revealed it. All these years later, I still wonder what it was.”
Kenneth Burns, AB’93, AM’03

“Handscrolls, inanimate objects-turned-vengeance- demons, ceramic bowls and cups that pottery aficionados would sell their firstborn for. We discussed all of these subjects in Professor Hans Thomsen’s Japanese art courses. Even though my traditional parents would have disowned me if I ever considered majoring in art history, Professor Thomsen’s classes had me coughing in the dusty aisles of the Reg’s art sections and watching Japanese animation for paper ideas. I enjoyed it all, and even went back for more. Professor Thomsen had physics students critiquing presentations made by Chinese archaeology grad students, without bloodshed. He taught about the intricacies of the Japanese tea ceremony, and had us all wondering why the ceremony participants didn’t faint under the weight of the symbolism of it all.

“Thank you, Professor Thomsen, for causing someone currently in the port industry to contemplate for hours on end—from the historical accuracy of wall scrolls shown in a few seconds of a Japanese animated film, to a mass-produced bowl in the department store that happens to be based on the work of a famous monk centuries ago. This is why I went to the University of Chicago.”
Helena Lang, AB’06

“There were two. Harold D. Lasswell was the most stimulating, erudite professor I ever had, sporting worldwide interest and knowledge from a politico-psychological point of view. He virtually invented political psychology. He had an everlasting effect on my life and future career. I worked for him as an assistant and later as a fellow in the Rockefeller Foundation in New York where we perfected further his innovative ‘content analysis,’ which spread through the foreign affairs agencies of the government including the Department of Justice, and later through the universities. “Charles E. Merriam, distinguished head of the Political Science Department, was a completely different kind of man. His adept manner both personally and politically, mixed with much human kindness, has remained with me unto this day.”
Louis Olom, AB’37, EX’38

“On the first day of a class called Classical Collection at the Smart Museum, I met my classmates—a rough dozen art history graduate students—and Gloria Ferrari Pinney. “We had a mission: to research and write a catalog of some Greek and Roman artifacts that had been languishing in a basement. My classmates had exponentially more experience, and Dr. Pinney herself was...kind of scary. She was tall and brisk, and knew everything there was to know. I was awestruck. I gave serious thought to dropping. Fortunately, I took my courage in both hands and went to her before I did anything (else) rash. I confessed my fear that my lack of experience would be an insurmountable difficulty. ‘No, you just have to work hard to catch up,’ she said briskly. ‘Of course you can do this.’

“So I became a temporary expert in Athenian coins and sport imagery, and wrote my catalog entries for coins featuring double-bodied owls and for fragments of Panathenaic amphorae. The catalog was published, and there I am in the list of authors. Dr. Pinney changed the way I approached my life. I used to believe that I had to have long years of experience and deep knowledge in order to make a contribution, and my world was narrowed to those areas in which I’d already started accumulating years. Then I learned, directly and indisputably, that sometimes it is sufficient just to work hard and catch up.

“It’s a wide, wide world out there.”
(Emily) Kate Walker, AB’98

“Prof. Ralph Matlaw’s two quarters, added to two years of Russian language, gave me the entirety of Russian literature. This too somehow made me profoundly aware of the meaning of liberty and the path to serfdom. It sensitized me to human rights by immersing me in culture and history’s most intimate details. But at the time I knew only that I was having the fun of my life soaking up the most intoxicating fiction and poetry imaginable.” Lynn Chu, AB’77, JD’82

“Herman Sinaiko was my Humanities II professor in 1957. We sat around a very large oval table, and Professor Sinaiko, who looked to be in his 20s or early 30s, would walk around the table and fire questions at us. Actually not walk, but sort of halftrot, in a bending posture, nervously puffing on a cigarette and then suddenly jabbing a finger at one of us: ‘Well, McKenna, what do you think of this?’ It was Groucho Marxist, but Sinaiko was always dead serious, and gave us pretty serious stuff to read, like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. That was the thing about Herman Sinaiko: He took his teaching vocation seriously, and he took what we said seriously, even if our interpretations were entirely off the wall. He would listen carefully, and only later, as the discussion developed, would he suggest, usually by indirection, a better reading of the novel, or poem, or play. Sometimes he would call on students to read something aloud, and I was exhilarated when he asked me to read Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’; I remember putting on my best lecherous voice at the poem’s bid to ‘tear our pleasure, with rough strife/Through the iron gates of life.’

“Thank you, Herman Sinaiko, for listening to a very insecure 20-year-old, and setting him on the path to becoming a professor like you. Well, not quite like you. As they say nowadays, ‘in my dreams.’”
George McKenna, AB’59

“Without a doubt, Dr. Stephen Kron has been one of my most influential mentors. He is brilliant and honest. I was fortunate to work in his lab as an undergraduate, when I was completely naive about the world of research and academic medicine. He was patient and kind, teaching the students in his lab valuable lessons about leadership and working as a team. He taught me about science on the most microscopic level as well as its clinical relevance. He provided excellent career advice. After leaving his lab, I went on to the NIH to continue research, then to medical school at UIC. I am now returning to the University of Chicago for a residency in internal medicine to start my own training in academic medicine. I owe it all to his inspiration. I could not be more thankful for my opportunities.”
Jacqueline Suen, AB’03