Black History Month: Honoring Dr. Charles Drew ’26

Submitted on Thursday, 2/24/2022, at 3:23 PM

The Mayo Clinic News Network and Discover are among a number of media platforms paying tribute this February to Drew (1904–1950), a Black American surgeon and medical researcher known as the “father of blood banking.”

“Dr. Drew was a top student and athletic child who was accepted to Amherst College on an athletic scholarship,” the Mayo Clinic article notes, but “a football injury and his sisterʼs death during a city-wide influenza epidemic fostered his interest in medicine.” Dr. Jeffrey Winters goes on to describe “Dr. Drew’s critical research into optimizing and standardizing blood collections, creating large scale collection centers that provided blood products to the military, and the creation of mobile blood drives.”

Drew also makes Discover’s list of “8 Amazing Black Scientists and How They Changed History,” compiled by Monica Cull. His entry on the list outlines his education and career, pointing out that he was “the first Black man to earn a doctorate from Columbia University” and that he “became the first director of the American Red Cross but left the position after two years, outraged at the racial segregation of the blood they collected.”

Today, Drew is the namesake of Amherst College’s Black cultural theme house.

Amherst’s Science Center Wins 2022 AIA Award for Interior Architecture

Submitted on Friday, 2/18/2022, at 3:14 PM

The American Institute of Architects has recognized the Amherst College Science Center as one of seven winners of its annual Interior Architecture award, which “celebrates the most innovative and spectacular interior spaces.”

“Meticulous craft, layered transparency, and academic connectivity are the hallmarks of Amherst College’s new science center,” begins the award citation. “Warmly welcoming the entire academic community, the center offers an ultra-transparent window into science.”

The Science Center was designed by the architecture firm Payette and opened in Fall 2018. The AIA citation notes that “its construction represents the most radical transformation of the college’s campus since its founding in the early 1800s,” and goes on to praise such features as the skylights and photovoltaic panels on its roof, the adaptability of its classrooms, and its “palette of clearly articulated and minimally expressed natural materials.”

German Giammattei ’22 Wins DIII Player of the Year Two Years in a Row

Submitted on Friday, 2/18/2022, at 1:50 PM

Giammattei, a striker for the Amherst men’s soccer team, was featured on Western Mass News after being named the 2021 NCAA Division III Player of the Year. He is “only the second to win the award multiple times and the first ever to do so in back-to-back seasons.”

The news segment highlights two accomplishments that have been important to Giammattei: “leading his team to the DIII National Championship game in 2019 against Tufts and this fall against Connecticut College.” It also describes “his dream of one day playing in Europe for one of the sport’s five top-flight leagues.”

“At Amherst we pride ourselves on a really good team culture, more than on the field, off the field—just being good people,” the Miami-born athlete says. “If the upperclassmen in general are being good people and helping out, then the younger class will just kind of buy into it and learn how to do it too.”

Conceptual Artist Jonathon Keats ’94 Envisions Clock Based on How Georgia Rivers Flow

Submitted on Friday, 2/11/2022, at 3:27 PM

An Associated Press article describes Keats’ latest idea, a project titled Atlanta River Time. It would feature “a large municipal clock in downtown Atlanta” that would display time based on “the natural ebbs and flows of Georgia’s waterways,” as measured by local volunteers.

Keats is a San Francisco-based creative currently living near Atlanta as the artist-in-residence for a community called Serenbe. He runs workshops for his neighbors to experiment with measuring the flow rates of waterways such as South Fork Peachtree Creek, as “a way in which not only to reckon time, but to reckon how we live in the world.”

The article, written by Ron Harris, describes some of Keats’ earlier projects, one of which involved installing a “millennium camera” at the top of Stearns Steeple on the Amherst College campus to take a 1,000-year-long photo of the nearby Mount Holyoke Range.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Jenna Lamia ’98

Submitted on Thursday, 2/3/2022, at 4:32 PM presents a list of facts about Lamia, a film and TV actor currently known for her role on the SyFy series Resident Alien. Lamia is also a producer, writer and audiobook narrator.

The list, compiled by Camille Moore, describes various facets of Lamia’s life and career, including her work on Broadway in a production of Ah, Wilderness!, her Audie Awards for audiobook narration, her pet dog and her love of reading. However, Moore writes, Lamia “has chosen to stay very private when it comes to her personal life and there isn’t much information about her outside of her career.”

The list concludes by noting Lamia’s education at  New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts as well as Amherst College.

Professor Michael Cohen’s Changing Room Illusion Voted One of the Best Illusions of 2021

Submitted on Friday, 1/28/2022, at 3:17 PM

In an annual contest held by the Neural Correlate Society, fans voted the Changing Room Illusion one of the top three most impressive optical illusions of the year. Cohen, an assistant professor of psychology, created the deceptive video as a demonstration of “gradual change blindness.”

The video at first appears to show a static, unchanging photograph of “the waiting room of a science laboratory.” At the end, however, the video reveals how multiple objects in the room have slowly changed color, shifted location or disappeared entirely, in a way that may have been difficult to perceive as it was happening.

“While trying to prepare a novel example of this phenomenon for students, I realized that I could change dozens of items without observers noticing," says Cohen, who teaches courses on cognitive neuroscience and whose research explores visual perception, memory, and awareness.

Ophthalmologist James Tsai ’85 Leads Field in Research, Instruction

Submitted on Tuesday, 1/25/2022, at 2:14 PM

Pennsylvania’s Altoona Mirror profiles Dr. Tsai, a fourth-generation physician (and Amherst trustee emeritus) who is president of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai and system chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. 

The article, written by Patt Keith, touches upon Tsai’s family history as an immigrant from Taiwan; his young life in New York City and Hollidaysburg, Pa.; and his education at Phillips Exeter Academy, Amherst College (where he “became enamored with the body’s vision system as a neuroscience major”), Stanford University (where he earned an M.D.) and Vanderbilt University (where he earned an MBA). 

In describing Tsai’s medical career, the article quotes one of his colleagues, who praises the “research he has done on the neuroprotective agents to preserve sight and prevent further damage.” It also mentions Tsai’s mentorship of younger physicians and conveys his thoughts about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed, and will continue to change, the practice of medicine.

Professor Dwight Carey Wins SAH IDEAS Research Fellowship

Submitted on Monday, 1/24/2022, at 2:07 PM

Carey, an assistant professor in the Department of Art and the History of Art, is one of five architectural scholars to receive the 2022 research fellowship from the Society of Architectural Historians. These fellowships “aim to support research that challenges existing paradigms” and “are intended to create mentored cohorts to support the work of emerging scholars” from marginalized groups.

The IDEAS Research Fellowship includes one year of SAH membership and $1,000 in research support. In addition, each member of the year’s winning cohort is assigned a senior scholar as a mentor. Carey will be mentored by Louis P. Nelson, vice provost for academic outreach and professor of architectural history at the University of Virginia School of Architecture. “Throughout the year, the cohort will meet with each other regularly to foster relationship building and encourage peer support,” says an SAH press release.

Carey’s research “seeks to change how scholars and the public understand the link between slavery, environmental knowledge, and colonial architectural history in Mauritius and around the world.” He is at work on a book titled The Island of Bound Masters: Slavery and Construction Labor in Mauritius

Professor Ilan Stavans: “A Texas Politician Wants to Investigate My Book and 849 Others—Bring It On”

Submitted on Tuesday, 1/18/2022, at 7:33 PM

“State Rep. Matt Krause, a Republican candidate for Texas attorney general, has prepared a list of 850 books that, in his judgment, should be banned from the state’s classrooms,” writes Stavans in a column originally published in The Forward and reprinted in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. “I’m honored to have one of my books in that list.”

Stavans, the Lewis-Sebring Professor of Humanities and Latin American and Latino Culture, explains that the book in question is Quinceañera, an ethnographic essay collection about the Latina rite of passage, and that Krause “is concerned that such books address sexual and racial themes that ‘make students feel uncomfortable.’” The professor goes on to suggest other books of his that might have been challenged instead, and to defend the idea that classroom reading and teaching should draw students out of their comfort zones.

Invoking the history of book-banning and book-burning in the Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust and other historical contexts, Stavans invites Krause “to a public debate on the value about having a critical eye about topics he and I hold dear. We should talk about censorship and about our tragically polarized country. And about his list.”

A Conversation with Literary Agent Jim Levine ’67

Submitted on Friday, 1/14/2022, at 1:51 PM

Appearing on The Learning Leader Show, Levine talks at length with host (and his client) Ryan Hawk, sharing insights and advice from his decades-long career as a literary agent.

Levine’s other clients at the Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary Agency include mystery writer Gillian Flynn, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, football player Tom Brady and model Gisele Bündchen. On the Learning Leader episode (which can also be viewed on YouTube), he discusses some of the best book proposals he’s ever received, his approach to hiring new employees and his own career path, among other topics.

“Being an agent is a continuing liberal arts education,” Levine says. “It’s an opportunity to engage with experts and thought leaders in a wide variety of fields and help shape their work to reach the broadest possible audience.”

Statistics Professor Shu-Min Liao on Lessons Learned from Fall of the Jedi Order in “Star Wars”

Submitted on Tuesday, 1/11/2022, at 1:09 PM

Playing off of the acronym JEDI (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion), Liao writes for Amstat News: The Membership Magazine of the American Statistical Association, drawing parallels between current problems in academia and the weaknesses that lead to the downfall of the Jedi Order in the Star Wars movie series.

Liao, an assistant professor of statistics at Amherst, points out how both the Jedi Order and modern universities have hierarchical power structures in which some people occupy long-standing positions of privilege and control over others. In addition, she argues, just as the Jedi abide by a strict dichotomy between the “light side” (good) and the “dark side” (bad), academics tend to follow a narrow idea of what constitutes success versus failure, and which goals and projects should be prioritized over others. Liao describes the Jedi Order and the academic world alike as a “rigid system with little room for humanity or failure.”

The professor closes with a quote from her favorite novelist, Haruki Murakami, about creating a more humane system by “believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others’ souls  and … in the warmth we gain by joining souls together,” followed by a sentiment from Star Wars: “May the Force be with us!”

Debby Applegate ’89 on “How a Poor Jewish Immigrant Made a Fortune as a Madam”

Submitted on Thursday, 12/9/2021, at 5:02 PM

Applegate, who won a 2007 Pulitzer Prize for her biography of Henry Ward Beecher (class of 1834), spoke to the Forward about the subject of her new book, Madam: The Biography of Polly Adler, Icon of the Jazz Age.

Because the Forward is a prominent Jewish newspaper, reporter Mervyn Rothstein’s interview with Applegate focuses largely on the Jewish identity of Polly Adler, who emigrated alone as a teenager from Eastern Europe and later became “the most famous madam in New York, her houses of ill-repute frequented by the rich and the notable—the politicians, gangsters, businessmen, celebrities, writers and journalists who ran New York in what was to become known as the Roaring Twenties.”

Applegate explains why and how Adler became successful in the sex trade, and comments on what her story says about American life and the immigrant experience.

Zach Jonas ’22 on Finding Independence While Managing Type 1 Diabetes

Submitted on Tuesday, 12/7/2021, at 5:09 PM

Writing for, Jonas—a senior biology major who came to Amherst from Kansas City, Mo.—shares some of his own experiences and offers advice to fellow students on how to manage diabetes during their college years.

“Traveling to college and, namely, living alone with type 1 diabetes for the first time, can be daunting,” Jonas writes. “But taking advantage of the resources available to you, such as academic accommodations, establishing a healthy routine, and finding a support network, can make the transition to college much more manageable.”

Jonas gives specific examples of how he has requested and used academic accommodations while at Amherst, and how he has learned to mitigate the blood-sugar risks of attending parties and drinking alcohol. He also quotes similar advice from diabetic students at Boston College and Smith College.

Could You Have Passed Amherst’s Entrance Exam from 136 Years Ago?

Submitted on Tuesday, 11/16/2021, at 2:42 PM

“Every generation congratulates itself on being wiser than the ones that came before. But are we?” asks an article in The Berkshire Edge. “This Amherst College entrance exam from 1885 may offer an answer.”

The article—written by Carole Owens and based on research by Andrew Berner, library director and curator of collections at the University Club in New York—presents some of the questions asked on the 13-page Amherst entrance exam from Sept. 8, 1885. The test required prospective students to write an English composition; correct the grammar and spelling in various English sentences; translate writings to and from French, Greek and Latin; solve algebra, arithmetic and geometry problems; and answer questions about ancient history.

Supposing that few people in the 21st century would be able to pass the 19th-century exam, the article concludes, “It may be that we substitute rather than add to our knowledge base. That is, we know far less about the things our ancestors prized, and we know more about things they hardly imagined. Possibly, if we retained the old knowledge and added to it, we would be correct in congratulating ourselves that we are older and wiser.”

Trans History Is Defiant, Tender and Visible in Professor Jen Manion’s “Female Husbands”

Submitted on Thursday, 11/4/2021, at 2:49 PM

Manion, professor of history and sexuality, women’s and gender studies, recently spoke with Rachel Garbus of about their 2020 book Female Husbands: A Trans History, sharing “thoughts about these female husbands, the women who married them, and what these couples can tell us about queerness across the span of time.”

“The 18th and 19th centuries were full of gender nonconformity and transing in all different ways,” Manion says in Garbus’ article. “I thought the female husbands were the most original and exciting—I decided to really focus on them, to understand the trajectory of their lives.” The professor adds, “It’s possible that some, most or all of the people in my book would relate to trans identity as it’s currently defined. And it’s also possible that they wouldn’t.”

Garbus summarizes a few of the life stories and legal battles detailed in Manion’s book, and contextualizes the book in relation to the history of sexology and the work of other trans scholars.