STUDENTS CREATION ENHANCES LIFE FOR HAITIAN COMMUNITY
Heidi Christianson '99 chose to study architecture because she wanted to combine her love of math, science, and drawing. Now, as a fifth-year senior in the School of Architecture, she's blending in yet another interesthelping others. "Cultural identity is represented in architecture, and I am interested in expanding on the identities of Third World and other nations by helping to build and create shelters and other structures," Christianson says.
Heidi Christianson (standing) with a Haitian work team.
The Long Island, New York, resident inherited her giving spirit from her parents. Five years ago, Christianson's father began visiting Haiti on mission programs with the Mattituck Presbyterian Church on Long Island, and last summer she joined the group's annual trip. Now her goals are coming to fruition through her involvement with the Haitian culture.
Specifically, Christianson is designing a village that includes a church, medical clinic, school, and guest house through her work with the religious organization Service Christian of Haiti and the people of Nan St. Marre, a newly established community in the Haitian mountains. The town plan is Christianson's senior design thesis.
But that is just the beginning. For her honors thesis Christianson developed a special concrete block for use in Haitian buildings that will better withstand the region's severe tropical storms. After completing a course in masonry structures in 1997, she contacted a Syracuse concrete block manufacturer to analyze a sample of Haitian concrete. The results revealed that there was not enough cement in the blocks to hold the structure together. As she developed the new concrete block, Christianson also considered the high cost of such building materials as mortar, which is used to join the blocks. "Resources are expensive and not readily available to these people," she says. "So I designed a block that doesn't need mortar and allows for more cement." Before Christianson applies for a patent, she wants to reshape the block to create an interlocking system. "If the blocks are cast with precision it will be easier to lay out a straight wall and ultimately easier for them to interlock," she says.
Christianson will design the church this year so its construction can begin next year. Since the head of Service Christian of Haiti is an architect, the group can pursue the project after Christianson's design is finished. "I am not trying to impose myself on the Haitian culture," she says. "Their community will represent their way of life."
After Haiti, Christianson hopes to continue doing this kind of work in the United States and Africa. "This is a real-world application of my interests," she says. "The experience encouraged me to think about what architecture really is."
NATALIE A. VALENTINE
COLLABORATIVE BIOCHEMISTRY PROGRAM GUIDES STUDENTS IN A NEW SCIENTIFIC ADVENTURE
The revolution that has swept biotechnology in the past 25 years introduced advances in everything from cancer treatments and anti-AIDS drugs to DNA replication and cloning. Naturally, SU students want to be part of this adventure.
In response to student interest and to keep pace with the biotechnology field, Syracuse University created a bachelor of science degree program in biochemistry. Last academic year, there were 28 students majoring in biochemistry. "The program is new and exciting here at SU, but it's not a novelty," says H. Richard Levy, chair of the biology department in The College of Arts and Sciences. "Biochemistry is very old and established at several other universities." In fact, Levy developed SU's first biochemistry course lab in the biology department 35 years ago.
Biochemistry, the chemistry of living organisms, is concerned with the basic materials and processes of life itself. Biochemical scientists are in great demand for research and teaching at universities, and for research and development work in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, medical laboratories, and state and federal governments. "Biochemistry prepares students for careers in biotechnology," says Philip Borer, professor of chemistry and biophysics in The College of Arts and Sciences. "It's also a preparation for medical school and for students interested in studying molecular biology at the graduate level."
The new program, a joint venture of the college's biology and chemistry departments, features 20 faculty members whose intellect and research center on biochemistry. The two departments work closely to develop new curriculum choices to satisfy students with different interests and backgrounds. "The collaboration between the two departments has been built over the last five years," Borer says. "It will continue to grow and be beneficial for students."
One of those students is Candice Dowell, a junior biochemistry major. "In so many ways it combines the two sciences, but it covers such a wide range that it is difficult to draw a neat border around biochemistry," Dowell says. "I have so many more options studying biochemistry because it provides the foundations for pathology, pharmacology, physiology, genetics, zoology, and even surgery and anatomy."
While 300 to 400 other schools have biochemistry programs, Borer cites SU's program as unique for its "emphasis on biochemical structures and computer modeling at the undergraduate level." He notes that the facilities and computer technology available to SU undergraduates are offered only at the graduate level of most universities.
"I think students in the biochemistry program have a great advantage," says Adetola Odunbaku '98, who received a bachelor's degree in biology. "If the program was offered earlier, it may have influenced me to concentrate on chemical and cellular components rather than the counseling aspect of science."
This fall, the department introduces a molecular biology track to the B.S. in biochemistry, and plans are underway to offer a graduate degree program in the next few years. "We anticipate much more interest and growth in the years to come," Levy says.