SU People


Schmitt Shoots!!


David MacDonald | The Positive Power of Art



When ceramics artist David MacDonald was a young man, he expressed his anger about the plight of the black man in America by using his art as a form of social commentary. “The civil rights movement was heating up and African Americans were seeking a new identity—one not defined by the white power structure,” MacDonald says. “I was militant and confrontational.”

A decade later, MacDonald says, he experienced an “epiphany,” questioning whether he wanted to spend the rest of his life enraged at the world, or use his art as a positive influence. He chose the latter, and began by exploring his rich heritage and using African art and culture as inspiration for ceramic bowls and plates, body ornaments, and architectural decorations. “I felt an immediate affinity for African ceramics,” says MacDonald, professor of studio arts in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. “At first I faithfully hand-carved the ancient designs into my ceramic pieces. Then I started to translate and alter the intricate rhythmic patterns through the filter of my Western sensibilities. Now my work has more of an ‘Africanesque’ quality to it.”

Growing up in a public housing project in Hackensack, New Jersey, MacDonald used to rummage through a cabinetmaker’s trash bin for pieces of scrap wood to fashion into toy guns for his friends. “I discovered I like to make things,” he says. He also liked science, athletics, and art, and went on to study art at Hampton Institute in Virginia on a track and cross-country scholarship. He intended to study painting, but as an art education major he was required to take a variety of art classes. “Second semester freshman year I took a ceramics class and instantly fell in love with potting,” MacDonald says. “I was drawn to the magic of shaping a dirty lump of clay into something beautiful and useful, which satisfies two aspects of the human psyche.”

MacDonald earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of Michigan before accepting a faculty position at Syracuse University in 1971. Initially, he regarded teaching as merely a means to an end—a way to have a steady income while pursuing his art. But along the way MacDonald discovered that teaching is as creative an activity as making art. “Teaching has become a way of life for me,” he says. “When I retire, I won’t be retiring from teaching—just faculty meetings.”

When MacDonald first came to SU, the ceramics program was housed in an old building behind Manley Field House that had been a dormitory for soldiers studying radar technology during World War II. “It was like being in a penal colony on the dark side of campus,” MacDonald says. Due to the efforts of the late Chancellor Melvin A. Eggers, the ceramics program moved into the new Comstock Art facility in the early 1990s. “This simple move was a blessing because now ceramics professors and students are in close proximity to other art programs,” MacDonald says. “It’s important for artists to cross-fertilize their ideas.”

In addition to teaching and crafting ceramic masterpieces for exhibition in art galleries throughout the country, MacDonald is actively involved in the Syracuse community. He is a mentor and judge for the NAACP’s high school-level Academic, Cultural, Technical, and Scientific Olympics, and is a volunteer judge for “Feats of Clay,” a high school ceramics competition held at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse. He also gives ceramics demonstrations at local schools, devotes time each week to help adults learn how to read, is an officer of the New Covenant Baptist Church men’s group, and sits on the board of directors of the Cultural Resources Council and the Community Folk Art Gallery. For fun he plays clarinet in a local community band. “Sometimes my life gets very hectic and my wife asks why I volunteer so much,” MacDonald says. “I tell her it’s because I didn’t get here on my own. I got here by standing on the shoulders of a lot of people who helped me succeed, and the only thing they asked of me was to pass it on.”

—Christine Yackel



Schmitt Shoots!!

Salvador Plascencia |
Capturing Life in the Mexican American Community

Salvador Plascencia is a long way from home—a situation that is both difficult and conducive to growth. Plascencia, a student in the M.F.A. Creative Writing Program in the College of Arts and Sciences, is a continent away from the rich cultural and family influences of Southern California that have fueled his writing. Distance, however, has removed familiar distractions and given him time to focus on his writing. “The culture of Syracuse is nothing like El Monte [California], and the distance allows me to romanticize home more and build it up in my mind,” he says. “I miss my family and friends, but the culture at SU gives me a chance to get work done. I don’t get respect for being a writer at home. Here they value that part of my life.”

Plascencia’s talent is valued both in the Creative Writing Program and beyond. He is among 30 students nationwide who received 2001 Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans. The fellowship program was founded in 1997 to support graduate education for outstanding immigrants and children of immigrants. Fellows receive a stipend of up to $20,000 plus half-tuition for two years of graduate study at any institution in the United States. The fellowship has already become one of the country’s most highly recognized awards for graduate study. More than 900 people who are naturalized citizens, resident aliens, or the children of naturalized citizens submitted applications in 2001. “Salvador truly exemplifies the kind of extraordinary creativity and determination to pursue a distinctive vision that the fellowship program seeks to recognize and support,” says Warren Ilchman, director of the fellowship program. “From very modest beginnings—his parents were migrant farm workers who traveled frequently between Mexico and California—he pursued his own special approach to capturing the character and meaning of life in a Mexican American community of greater Los Angeles. Creative writers typically find their voices and achieve public notice much later than, for example, students in the sciences and medicine, but our panels were quite persuaded that Salvador has the talent, vision, and commitment to produce important writing.”

Plascencia was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and moved frequently between California and his home in Jalisco State. His family eventually settled in El Monte, but much of the inspiration for his writing has come from discussions with his grandparents at their home in rural Mexico. Plascencia says his grandparents passed along a wealth of stories that have never been written down. “I’m really just drawing on my family’s oral tradition,” Plascencia says. “These are very personal stories set in a small Mexican town, but in their telling, I hope they will gain a larger cultural meaning.”

Plascencia is spending most of his time working on a novel. He says the guidance and support of the Creative Writing Program faculty, particularly George Saunders G’88 and Arthur Flowers, have been invaluable. Plascencia also credits his classmates in writing workshops with influencing his writing. “My writing has softened in a good way, and I’m beginning to see things differently,” he says.

He hopes to finish his novel and M.F.A. degree work this semester. “My only plan is to get the book done and keep writing—I’m just not good at anything else,” Plascencia says. “The fellowship gave me the kind of space and time to work on my writing that I’ll probably never have again. For that, I’m very thankful.”

—Jonathan Hay



Schmitt Shoots!!

Sev-Ira Brown |
Reaching Out Through Recreation

As a sixth-grader in inner-city Chicago, SU’s recreational services supervisor, Sev-Ira Brown, was slipping into a life of gangs and drugs. However, his parents and his school’s new basketball coach, Clarence Lightfoot, turned his life around. Lightfoot taught Brown the value of discipline, teamwork, and smart decision-making. “He told me I was a big guy and should come out for the team,” Brown says. “Then I didn’t have time to get into trouble. I spent every moment playing sports. That’s what saved me.”

Brown excelled in basketball in high school and at DePaul University in Chicago, where he earned a degree in physical education in 1970. He was drafted by the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, but a preseason knee injury ended his NBA hopes. He went on to play professional basketball in Europe and Mexico. In the late ’70s, he returned to Chicago to put his education degree to work. For 15 years, he served as a city park district supervisor, mentoring at-risk children and introducing them to success through athletics and education.

In 1988, Brown, his wife, Antoinette (Neal) Brown ’71, G’74, and their two daughters moved to Syracuse, and in 1989 he joined the SU staff as operations manager for recreational services at Archbold Gym. A few years later, he was named director of the University’s Neighborhood Youth Recreation Program, a weekend initiative that offers about 480 children free classes in volleyball, basketball, swimming, cheerleading, gymnastics, and ballet. “It’s great because a lot of kids from the community come together,” Brown says. “It’s such a diverse group. We talk about being together in this world even though we’re all different.”

Brown has infused life into the community program and the facilities at Archbold. On a typical day, the 6-foot-5, 295-pound Brown can be found shouting greetings to familiar faces and welcoming newcomers to the gym, which had more than 330,000 visitors in 2000-01. He works closely with student staff members, preparing them to handle any potential problems. His office bulletin boards are plastered with photographs of student staffers, who keep in contact with him years after graduation. He proudly talks about their successes at SU and in their lives beyond college. “This facility is 100 percent student-operated,” Brown says. “I’m not here when we open at 6 a.m. or when we close at midnight, so I have to depend on the students.” And the students can count on him, too.

Barry L. Wells, senior vice president for students affairs and dean of student relations, says Brown assists students in any way he can—whether helping them with personal problems, providing them with travel opportunities, or introducing them to prospective employers and new educational experiences. “He demonstrates the University’s core value of caring in his work with students,” Wells says. “He also has a strong commitment to diversity. He goes out of his way to make all students feel included and to get them involved. He has helped, advised, and encouraged them.”

Take SU senior Faneecia Lloyd, for example. She met Brown when she was an eighth-grade cheerleader in the University’s Neighborhood Youth Recreation Program, which she attended throughout high school. Today, Lloyd is the program’s student director. “I love him to death,” she says. “I wouldn’t be in Syracuse if it weren’t for him.”

Lloyd and seven other youth program students have gone on to attend Syracuse University. “He has been the key person in shepherding that program over the years,” Wells says. In fact, the University recognized Brown’s work by presenting him with the 1997 Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Award for exemplifying the ideals of the great civil rights leader. “We’re very proud of the program’s success in the community,” Wells says. “It would not have had such success without his dedication and commitment.”

—Margaret Costello

Schmitt Shoots!!

Daniel A. Griffith |
Mapping New Paths of Though

When geography professor Daniel A. Griffith combines mapping and statistics, he helps people see the world in new ways. Through work in an interdisciplinary field known as spatial statistics, he uses complex mathematical processes to determine where data cluster geographically and whether the clustering is significant or merely due to chance. This dynamic technique allows Griffith to examine issues ranging from juvenile lead poisoning to forecasting next year’s corn crop. “I think we’ll see spatial statistics touching on a lot of different areas in the future,” he says.

Griffith—who was awarded a 2001 Guggenheim Fellowship for his work in “scientific visualization of spatial autocorrelation”—will be writing a book, to be published by Springer-Verlag, that graphically and cartographically analyzes sophisticated statistical results for phenomena that tend to cluster graphically. He used this interdisciplinary knowledge to help the U.S. Department of Agriculture improve published crop production estimates from its annual surveys of agricultural production. Another project has taken Griffith to Peru several times, where he has served as a consultant to the Ministry of Education in its efforts to geographically identify those schools that would best act as catalysts in spreading successful educational programs to other schools.

Closer to home he has worked with Onondaga County officials to create an optimal map for identifying high-risk areas for juvenile lead poisoning. These include urban clusters with high incidences of lead-based paint use, and both urban and rural clusters linked to soil contaminated with lead from long-term gas emissions. Griffith is optimistic about other health care applications, including the use of spatial statistical modeling as a tool in medical epidemiology for assessing the existence of disease clusters and for studying the diffusion of diseases through populations.

Griffith became interested in spatial statistics when, as an undergraduate math major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, he took a course in number theory, part of the basis for computer science. When he went on for a master’s degree in geography there, he began to see ways to link the two disciplines. After earning a doctorate in geography at the University of Toronto in 1978 and joining the faculty of the State University of New York at Buffalo, he felt the need for a stronger background in mathematics to pursue his interest in spatial statistics. In a rare move for a tenured professor, he spent a sabbatical completing a master’s degree in statistics at Penn State University.

Griffith, who teaches courses at both the Maxwell School and the College of Arts and Sciences, enjoys working with students and feels that his teaching experience has had a positive impact on his research work. “One feature of my career that has really helped me is that I get asked to review a tremendous number of research proposals,” he says. “Looking at other successful proposals helps you develop them yourself.”

Although Griffith knows that spatial statistics is unlikely to become a “glamour” field for students in geography or mathematics, he would like to see more students specialize in it. “The demand for spatial statisticians will grow,” he says. “There is a need to encourage students to pursue it.”

—Cynthia Moritz


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Anne Walter |
Caring for the Kids

Anne Walter sits in a child-sized chair, patiently helping a pair of 2-year-olds clean up paint spilled on a table. “I love working here—it’s always changing,” says Walter, head teacher at the Syracuse University Early Childhood Education and Child Care Center. “No two days are alike, and every child is different.”

Walter, who plans the curriculum and oversees the experience of the center’s toddlers, ages 18 months to 3 years, is now in her 26th year at the center. During that time, she has taught hundreds of children, including three of her own. Walter works closely with parents, helping them adjust to the rapid changes in toddler development. She carefully plans the classroom environment and activities and helps children develop language and social skills. “When they start in the room at 18 months they often play independently, but as they grow older they begin to focus on other children,” she says. “Around age 2, they become interested in playing with others, but don’t naturally know how to get along and make social approaches that will be well received by others. We can support them in this effort. It’s a dynamic time for growth, and important lifelong patterns are established.”

Walter became interested in teaching as a high school student when she saw that many of her classmates were preparing to start families soon after graduation. “There was a real need to educate people about taking care of a family, to provide useful information and support,” she says. After graduating from Albright College in Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in home economics, Walter planned to teach child and family studies at the high school level. However, after accepting a position at the center and teaching there for several months, she realized she had a gift for working with youngsters. “I never expected to be here for this long,” Walter says. “I always thought that after I had my graduate degree I would teach in the school system. But I really like this age group.”

The center, located on South Campus, offers an educational program with a developmental focus that is responsive to children’s needs. It also provides field-placement training for undergraduate and graduate students and research opportunities for faculty and students, especially those from the School of Education and the Child and Family Studies Program in the College of Human Services and Health Professions. The center serves 60 children, ages 2 months to 5 years, whose families are affiliated with the University. “It’s rewarding to watch and support children’s growth and learning,” Walter says, “and it’s great entering into a dialogue with parents about child development, trading stories and experiences, and problem-solving together.”

Over the years, the configuration of the center’s space, the age range of the children in each classroom, and the classroom size have changed, Walter says. “The center has a commitment to multi-age grouping, although the age span is more narrow now than when I started.” The center currently has separate rooms for infants (2-18 months), toddlers (18-36 months), and preschoolers (3-5 years).

Throughout her years at the center, Walter has been involved with several programs, including one with Jowonio, a Syracuse-based private, nonprofit inclusive school for children with a wide range of abilities. She participated in the first year of this collaboration, which has now grown into a full-day program. “Inclusion works wonderfully with the proper support,” Walter says. “It’s good for all the children involved.”

For Walter, the ceaseless activity and fun she has with the children are rewards of the job. “This is my place to be,” she says. “I enjoy my work and I’m happy. It’s wonderful.”

—Erin Corcoran


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Elisa Margolius |
Food for Thought

  Senior nutrition major Elisa Margolius believes the key to good nutrition is good communication. This belief has been shaped by her studies in the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management in the College of Human Services and Health Professions, as well as on-the-job experience in the community. “The basic principles of good nutrition haven’t changed—we still want people to eat fresh fruits and vegetables,” Margolius says. “But the language of nutrition has shifted away from a scolding tone to a more encouraging tone. We’ve learned it’s not effective to just tell people what they should or should not eat.”

Nutrition was a natural career choice for Margolius. Her father is a public health director, so she’s been exposed to the benefits of healthy eating all her life. “I chose SU’s nutrition program because it’s one of the few that combines a rigorous classroom education with practical experience,” says the Rochester, New York, native. “I was nervous about attending such a large university, but my nutrition professors are so caring that I feel right at home.”

During her junior year, Margolius gained clinical experience as a nutrition care intern at University Hospital in Syracuse and completed a community service rotation at various local nonprofit agencies, where she learned how to care for impoverished and homebound populations. As part of the CookShop program sponsored by the Food Bank of Central New York, she visited inner-city schools to teach children in the second to fifth grades about essential nutrients in food and how to incorporate those nutrients into delicious meals. “Most of these kids had not been exposed to fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis,” Margolius says. “They loved cutting up vegetables and learning recipes, and even enjoyed washing dishes. I tried to make good nutrition fun and interesting for them.”

Margolius enjoys working with children so much that she spends part of each summer at a camp for children with diabetes, where she helps develop appropriate meal plans and explains the complexities of carbohydrate counting. She started a new dinner-time educational model called “The Fact of the Day” to teach campers important facts about diet and diabetes. “My aim is to get the kids to focus less on their disease and more on taking responsibility for their health,” she says.

Spreading the word about good nutrition to the expanding elderly population is just as important to Margolius as instilling healthy eating habits in the young. “We now have a revised food pyramid for the elderly that focuses on essential nutrients such as vitamins B-12 and D and emphasizes increased water intake,” she says. “Many older folks don’t realize that water is an essential nutrient.”

Along with the demands of academic studies and community involvement, Margolius is currently president of the Jewish Student Union. She also worked as a resident advisor for two years, and was a teaching assistant in her food sanitation class. “I’ve become a germ and food-safety freak,” she says. In recognition of her hard work and dedication to the field of nutrition, the Northeast Region of the American Dietetic Association named Margolius the Outstanding Dietetic Student for New York State for 2001. Nutrition professor Kay Stearns Bruening nominated her for this prestigious award. “Elisa is a very deserving student with a serious commitment to community service,” Bruening says. “I’m proud of her.”

In a few short months Margolius will begin preparing for graduation and the licensing exam she must take to become a registered dietitian. Although her minor is in gerontology, she has not yet decided on which area of nutrition to focus her job search. “I don’t want to close any doors,” Margolius says. “I want to take in all of the knowledge I can and learn how to communicate it effectively to others.”

—Christine Yackel


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